• Review: Ken Burns’ Vietnam

    October 2, 2017 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Iraq



    Though Ken Burns’ 10-part PBS documentary The Vietnam War doesn’t try very hard, he can’t be blamed for failing as a filmmaker even if he had. It can’t be done. There are too many Vietnam War’s to accurately portray in a documentary, even one 18 hours long. So fair enough. But Burns’ real failure is not as a documentarian per se, it is one of courage.


    Burns teases us at the beginning of the series that there will be courage here, a reckoning of sorts, riffing off the final pages of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, showing war footage in reverse, so bombs return to their mothership’s belly, rockets are sucked out of the bush back onto helicopters, and, in case the point wasn’t clear yet, the 1st Cav walks backwards onto their Huey’s and departs the rice paddy. See, it’s an antiwar movie.

    Well, not really, or maybe not also. Burns quickly moves on to the next test, getting all the greatest hits in. There’s the iconic image of a Vietcong prisoner being shot in the head, and Nick Ut’s photo of a naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm raid, alongside that footage of bombs dropping, exploding Kodachrome orange against greener-than-green foliage. If the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black hadn’t been written during Vietnam, it would be necessary to invent time travel to place it alongside the war. And yep, there’s Dylan, a hippie chick with flowers, grunts in the jungle, Marlboro hard packs and M-16s at the ready. Check, check, check – Oh Suzy Q!

    No, wait, it’s one of those balanced documentaries. Burns treats us to the trope-ish story of Ho Chi Minh foolishly writing fan letters to American presidents over the years, starting way back with Woodrow Wilson at the end of WWI, thinking the American love of freedom, ye olde tale o’ democracy, the experience as fellow colonialists, should in fact bond the United States to his side over the imperialist French. That didn’t happen, you see, so it’s ironic. There’s also a bunch of actual Vietnamese interviewed in Burns’ movie, albeit disproportionately far too many identified as formerly of the “South Vietnamese Army.” The ties to the CIA of several of those interviewed are also left obscured.

    For the Americans in the audience, there’s also a dollop of “Vietnam as a test of manhood/the test of manhood is actually a metaphor for broken American dreams of the 20th century.” Burns had no choice with this one, as it is required as much as the shots of Saigon whores in their tight ao dai’s. America loves the manhood story; it’s the version of Vietnam that allows us to revere a crusty old war monger like John McCain (Episode Four of Burns’ film even includes a shot of George W. Bush in the Air National Guard), and leaves people who took deferments like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton forever in shame.

    Burns does the manhood theme proud, though, slipping us both the noble grunt version via gritty personal anecdotes from guys you don’t know (though rough-and-tumble Marine guy Karl Marlantes pops up), and the Oliver Stone subreddit, where manhood is proved only after it is broken down (forget Platoon, his real telling was in Born on the Fourth of July.) Stone and his subject Ron Kovic don’t appear for Burns’ camera, but a non-celebrity grunt named John Musgrave is on camera to illustrate the journey from gungho killer to “it was all a lie, man.”

    OK, fair enough, Dad shouts at the TV screen, this is Ken Burns for heck’s sake. He does jazz, he does Americana, he gets baseball in a way that sends George Will reaching for the Viagra, of course he’s gonna go folksy. That’s why we donate and get the PBS tote bag each year. At least he filmed this one in color, all 79 individual interviews.

    But where Burns lets us down is where nearly everything that has or maybe will be written about Vietnam lets us down. He is too easy on the politicians who cynically manipulated the public, he is too easy on the bulk of the media who gleefully participated in the manipulation (everything short of proclaiming WMDs in Hanoi), too easy on individual soldiers who took advantage of lax leadership to, in historian Nick Turse’s words, kill anything that moves (My Lai was one, far from the only.)

    Burns drinks too deeply from the cup of “hate the war, not the warrior.” Deaths were committed because of a policy that demanded body counts, a number of “enemy” killed, as the borderless war’s only metric of accomplishment. As Turse writes and Burns omits, “U.S. commanders wasted ammunition like millionaires and hoarded American lives like misers, and often treated Vietnamese lives as if they were worth nothing at all.” In 2017 America, where the military is fetishized, personal responsibility is lost.

    Burns indeed lets all of us off too easy. Us, the American people, the voters, the spectators, the ones who bought the epic story that Vietnam was a struggle between two great forces for the soul of civilization, Communism versus Freedom. The American people in 1962 (or ’65, or ’68, or 1945, or 1954) were not yet cynical. They were easily convinced what was little more than a continuation of colonialism was instead a firewall of the Cold War. We had come out of WWII winners, with anything that would have made that less than the Good War hidden for another couple of generations. Vietnam was then our bad childhood, and should have left us with no such excuse for Iraq (Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya…)

    Burns lets us off too easy because he does not demand we not let it all happen again, and that is his sin, omission.

    “With knowledge comes healing,” the filmmaker told Vanity Fair about his goal, but that is not the film he made.

    We should know better but we were the ones who bought the epic story that Iraq, et al, like Vietnam, was a struggle between two greats forces for the soul of civilization, Terrorism versus Freedom (feel free to substitute in Islam and Christianity.) We had to fight them over there (the beach at Danang instead of the beach at San Diego) or we’d fight them over here, the smoking gun a mushroom cloud over Cincinnati. We let Kennedy and Johnson and Nixon lie to us about the war, then let five successive modern presidents, including a Nobel Peace Prize winner (Kissinger also won the Peace Prize for ending the war he first helped prolong) lie to us about Iraq in a spin of our illusion of invincibility and moral rightness.

    Burns tips his hand in the first minutes of his series when the narrator intones the war was “begun in good faith.” Who could have known Vietnam was a war for independence, not a civil war as sold to the American people? That Pakistan supported the Taliban with U.S. aid money? That there gosh dang it weren’t any WMDs in Iraq? Burns doesn’t tell us that Vietnam was not an exception, it was a template.

    And so we all say “thank you for your service” today with the same uninformed conviction that we said “baby killer” back then. Americans need to die for freedom, yes, that’s standard, but civilians from the other side need to die in vast, angry clouds of millions, too, for their freedom. Agent Orange in the ‘Nam to punish the next generation of slopes, depleted uranium across the Middle East for the baby ragheads. There are no names of any Vietnamese civilians on that wall in Washington DC.

    Burns tried to be all things to all people, while failing at the most important task, making history valuable to the present. He does not seem in search of lessons, only in creating a catalog of Vietnam stuff and leaving it on the table for us to poke at, historical amuse bouche. By eschewing experts from his interviews to focus on “real people” and their anecdotes, Burns by default puts himself into the expert role. He then chooses not to responsibly occupy it.

    Ken Burns had a chance to reach for a higher goal with his work on Vietnam. Instead, there is no reckoning, and it is doubtful there ever will be. You can’t close the book on Vietnam if you want to keep it open for Syria, or Iran, or wherever America again makes war on an industrial scale on nations far less advanced, and commits torture, assassinations, and mass killings all the while trying to hide its dirty hands from the American public with the media’s financially-comfortable cooperation.

    Each of these wars is not the equivalent of stepping on a Lego in a darkened bedroom. It’s the same story, the same war. It has the same ending. It serves the same purpose. It’s Vietnam. We just slog through 18 hours of Vietnam documentary because it lasts 18 hours. After the 25th similar shot of helicopters landing, you may not even be sure why you’re still watching. You want to finish Burns’ documentary with the feeling the American people will rise up and shout “we won’t be fooled again,” but instead shut off the TV knowing we have, and will.



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  • Obama in Hanoi: Vietnam Arms Embargo to Be Fully Lifted

    May 24, 2016 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Military

    obama


    What other nation on earth would signal its intent to “bury the hatchet, and what it believes to be the start of a new relationship, other than the United States, by lifting an arms embargo?


    The United States is rescinding a decades-old ban on sales of lethal military equipment to Vietnam, President Obama announced at a news conference in Hanoi on Monday, ending what the New York Times called “one of the last legal vestiges of the Vietnam War.”

    “The decision to lift the ban was not based on China or any other considerations,” Obama said. “It was based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving toward normalization with Vietnam.”

    So, to sum up: the sale of weapons is a sign of normalization. Appropriate, in that that is what is normal in America’s foreign relations in the 21st century. Not whether a nation is an ally or adversary per se, but whether they are a customer for our defense industry. For example, Saudi Arabia. Sure, they fund Sunni terrorism globally and played a role in the horrible events of 9/11, but they are also one of America’s most prolific buyers of weapons, and so are courted.


    As for the arms ban being “one of the last legal vestiges of the Vietnam War,” one does wonder what the Vietnamese might have say about that.

    Started under false pretenses and brutally fought for unclear purposes, America’s war on Vietnam took a terrible toll. No one really knows, but estimates of the death count on the Vietnamese side run from half a million to a million and half. That is before you include the untold numbers who continue to die or suffer birth defects due to the prolific use of defoliants like Agent Orange. While the American deaths in the war were “voluntary” in the sense that America started the war and pointlessly continued it for years, the Vietnamese had no choice.

    To now say that bygones are bygones, and seal the deal with the export of American weapons into Vietnam, seems a new low in cynicism by a fading American Empire.



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  • Echoes of Vietnam, or Between Iraq and a Hard Place

    June 22, 2015 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Military

    Kim Phuc story

    Words seem to mean different things in the Middle East. “Training” is a new term for escalation, and “Iraq” seems more and more like the Arabic word for Vietnam.

    But the terms “slippery slope” and “quagmire” still mean what they have always meant.


    In 2011, making good on a campaign promise that helped land him in the White House, President Barack Obama closed out America’s eight-year war in Iraq. Disengaged, redeployed, packed up, departed.

    Then America went back. In August 2014, Obama turned an emotional appeal to save the Yazidi people from Islamic State into a bombing campaign. A massive tap was turned and arms flowed into the region. The number of American soldiers in Iraq zoomed up to 3,100, quietly joined by some 6,300 civilian contractors. The reputed mission was training – or whipping the Iraqi Army into shape.

    After another inglorious retreat of the Iraqi Army, this time in Ramadi, the Obama administration last week announced a change: America will send 450 more troops to establish a new base at al Taqaddum, Anbar Province.

    It is clear the United States no longer believes the Iraqi Army exists. What is left of it is largely a politically correct distribution tool for American weapons, and a fiction for the media. America will instead work directly with three sectarian militias in their separate de facto states (current bases in America’s Iraqi archipelago include one in Sunni Anbar, another in Kurdish territory and three in Shi’ite-controlled areas). The hope is that the militias will divert their attention from one another long enough to focus on Islamic State. It is, of course, impossible; everyone in Iraq — except the Americans — knows Islamic State is a symptom of a broader civil war, not a stand-alone threat to anyone’s homeland.

    It is also significant that the United States will circumvent Baghdad’s objections to arming and training Sunni tribes. Baghdad has not sent any new recruits to the U.S. training facility at Ain al-Asad, in Sunni territory, for about six weeks; the United States will instead engage directly with Sunni recruits at Taqaddum. Obama’s new plan will also bring U.S. arms for the Sunnis straight into the new base, bypassing Baghdad’s control.

    This is likely only the beginning of Obama’s surge. General Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined the establishment of what he called “lily pads” — American base-lets scattered around the country. Of course, like Taqaddum, these lily pads will require hundreds more American military advisers to serve as flies, at risk of being snapped up by an Islamic State frog. Any attack on U.S. troops would require a response, a cycle that could draw the U.S. deeper into open conflict.

    The new strategy also revises the role of American troops in Iraq. “Advise and assist” is the new “training.” While careful to say Americans would not engage in combat per se, signals suggest advice and assistance will be dispensed quite close to the front.

    In sum: More troops, more bases, more forward-leaning roles, all operating at times against the will of a host government the United States appears to have lost patience with. The bright light of victory is years down a long tunnel.


    We’ve seen this before. It was Vietnam.


    Some details are different. The jumps from air power to trainers to advisors to combat troops took years in the Vietnam War. Obama has reached the advisor stage in just months. The Iranians fighting in Iraq do share a short-term goal with the United States in pushing back Islamic State, but like the Russians and Chinese in Vietnam, ultimately have an agenda in conflict with American policy.

    Meanwhile, similarities scream. As in Vietnam, a series of U.S.-midwifed governments in Baghdad have failed to follow Washington’s orders; they have proceeded independently amid incompetence and corruption. Both wars are characterized as good versus evil (baby killers in Vietnam, jihadis chopping off heads with swords in Iraq); both were sold under questionable pretenses (humanitarian intervention in Iraq, reaction to an alleged but doubtful attack on U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964) and as part of a great global struggle (against communism, against Islamic extremism). Despite the stakes claimed, few allies, if any, join in. In each war, the titular national army — trained, advised and retrained at great cost — would not fight for its country. The host country is charged with ultimate responsibility for resolving its (American-created) problems, even as America assumes a greater role.

    In Vietnam, Americans were caught between two sides of a civil war. Iraq has at least three but, once again, America sits in the center, used by all, trusted by none. One even sees in Obama a touch of Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. In its obituary, the New York Times wrote, “[McNamara] concluded well before leaving the Pentagon that the war was futile, but he did not share that insight with the public until late in life. In 1995, he took a stand against his own conduct of the war, confessing in a memoir that it was ‘wrong, terribly wrong.’ ” Like McNamara, Obama’s years-long uncertain approach to Iraq may suggest he privately knows the war can’t be won, but publicly escalates it anyway, caught in the roller-coaster of his times and its politics

    One difference between Iraq and Vietnam, however, is sharp as a razor. The United States eventually left Vietnam. Disengaged, redeployed, packed up, departed. But unlike in Iraq, the United States was not foolish enough to go back.




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  • Book Review: American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity

    February 23, 2015 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Afghanistan, Democracy, Iraq, Military

    Kim Phuc story

    Chris Appy’s American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity is a book-length essay on the Vietnam War and how it changed the way Americans think of ourselves and our foreign policy. This is required reading for anyone interested in foreign policy and America’s place in the world, showing how events influence attitudes, which turn to influence events.



    Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam

    Appy’s book is valuable to its readers in showing how Vietnam became the template for every American war since, from novelties like the invasion of Grenada to the seemingly never-ending conflicts post-9/11. But before all that, there was Vietnam, and, larger lessons aside, Appy’s book is a fascinating, insightful, infuriating and thought-provoking study of that conflict, from its earliest days when America bankrolled the French defeat, to the final, frantic evacuation of Saigon. This is a history, yes, but one where events are presented not as isolated factoids but toward building a larger argument. Drawing from movies, songs, and novels, as well as official documents, example after example shows how America was lied to and manipulated.

    We begin with Tom Dooley, a Navy physician who had one of the best-selling books of 1956, Deliver Us from Evil. Presented as fact, the book was wholly a lie, painting a picture of Vietnam as a struggling Catholic nation under attack by Communists, with only America as a possible Saviour. Despite Dooley’s garbage selling millions of copies in its day, few have ever heard of it since. It did however establish a forward-leaning pattern of lies to engage and enrage the American public in support of pointless wars.

    The Dooley line runs through the faux Gulf of Tonkin Incident to fake stories from Gulf War 1.0 of Iraqi troops throwing infants from their incubators to Gulf War 2.0’s non-existent WMDs to Gulf War 3.0’s “Save the Yazidi’s” rationale for America re-entering a war already lost twice. “Saving” things was a common sub-theme, just as Vietnam was to be saved from Communism. It was no surprise that one of the last American acts of the Vietnam War was “Operation Babylift,” where thousands of children were flown to the U.S. to “save” them.

    Vietnam as a Template

    Vietnam set the template in other ways as well.

    — The 1960’s infamous domino theory was raised from the grave not only in the 1980’s to frighten Americans into tacit support for America’s wars in Central America, but then again in regards to the 1991 model of Saddam, never mind the near-constant invocations of tumbling playing pieces as al Qaeda and/or ISIS seeks world domination.

    — Conflicts that could not stand on their own post-WWII would be wrapped in the flag of American Exceptionalism, buttressed by the belief the United States is a force for good/freedom/democracy/self-determination against a communist/dictator/terrorist evil. Indigenous struggles, where the U.S. sides with a non-democratic government (Vietnam, the Contras), can never be seen any other way, truth be damned to hell. Wars for resources become struggles for freedom, or perhaps self-preservation, as we fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.

    — A sidestory to such memes is the invocation of “Munich.” If we don’t stop _____ (Putin?) now, he’ll just go on to demand more. Better to stand and fight than commit the cardinal sin of appeasement. That “appeasement” and “diplomacy” are often confused is no matter. We are not dealing in subtleties here.

    — Killing becomes mechanical, clean, nearly sterile (remember the war porn images of missiles blasting through windows in Gulf War 1.0?) Our atrocities — My Lai in Vietnam is the best known, but there were many more — are the work of a few bad apples (“This is not who we are as Americans.”) Meanwhile, the other side’s atrocities are evil genius, fanaticism or campaigns of horror.


    No More Vietnams

    Appy accurately charts the changes to the American psyche brought on by the war. Never before had such a broad range of Americans come to doubt their government. The faith most citizens had in their leaders coming out of WWII was so near complete that the realization that they had been lied to about Vietnam represents the most significant change in the relationship between a people and their leaders America, perhaps much of history, has ever seen.

    The aftermath — No More Vietnams — is well-covered in Appy’s work. The No More Vietnam mantra is usually presented as avoiding quagmires, focusing on quick, sharp wins. Instead, Appy shows politicians have manipulated No More Vietnams into meaning greater secrecy (think Central America in the 1980’s), more over-the-top justifications (“You don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”) and an emphasis on keeping American deaths inside the acceptable limits of the day to tamp down any public anti-war sentiment.

    Throw in increasingly clever manipulation of the media (“Pat Tillman was a hero,” “Malaki/Karzai is a democratic leader with wide support”) and indeed there will be no more Vietnams per se, even as conflicts that bear all the hallmarks continue unabated. Americans may have developed an intolerance for Vietnam-like wars, but failed to become intolerant of war.



    Post-9/11

    For readers of the 9/11 era, explaining the changes America underwent because of Vietnam seems near-impossible, though American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity succeeds as well as anything else I have read.

    Before Vietnam, we accepted it all. That was the way of it. You could call it patriotism, or you could call it naivety, or even faith. We hadn’t yet realized our leaders would lie to us about things as important as war. There had been no Watergate, no fake WMDs. American Exceptionalism was not a right-wing trope twirled inside the confection of “Morning in America.” Our education was very expensive in the form of that blood and treasure commentators love to refer to.

    You finish with the feeling that Appy wishes the lesson of Vietnam would be for the American people to rise up and shout “we won’t be fooled again,” but close the book sharing with Appy the thought that we have, and will. “There remains,” concludes Appy, “a profound disconnect between the ideals and priorities of the public and the reality of a permanent war machine that no one in power seems able or willing to challenge or constrain… the institutions that sustain empire destroy democracy.”

    How did we reach such a state? Better read this book to find, in Appy’s words, what our record is, and who we now are.




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

  • No, Obama is Not Spending $2.7 Mil on Communist Propaganda in Vietnam

    May 6, 2014 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas

    If ignorance was bliss, you’d think more people would be happy. In the media, ignorance just seems to make people angrier, and thanks to the Internet, we all get to listen to them.


    A number of conservative outlets have featured a story like this one, “Obama Spending $2.7 Mil to Broadcast Communist Propaganda to Vietnam.” The article quotes from somewhere (no attribution or link):

    The Department of Health and Human Services is spending $2,797,979 on a study that brings television to more than a dozen remote villages in Vietnam to study its impact on their culture and reproductive behavior.

    And concludes:

    Can we have a study in which we take away money from government bureaucrats in the United States while using government bureaucrats in Vietnam as a control group to see which country goes bankrupt faster? Instead we’re funding the broadcast of Communist propaganda to rural Vietnamese villages like the anniversary celebration of the Communist Party.

    Disclaimer

    Because I’m trying to dilute ignorance here rather than fan its flames, a disclaimer is needed. I am neither a conservative, nor a liberal, a libertarian, a Presbyterian, a Rastafarian or believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I support public leaders who might serve the public interest, and oppose those who don’t. So, denizens of the Internet, remain in your basements and do not accuse me of loving Obama or hating Obama. Only four more hours to your meds anyway, be strong for me buddy.

    Golden Fleece

    A Golden Fleece Award was presented each month by Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire, from 1975 to 1987, to identify what he viewed as wasteful government spending.

    One Award was given in honor of a $57,800 study of the physical measurements of airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the “length of the buttocks” and how their knees were arranged when they were seated. Another Award made fun of the money spent on insect sex.

    Basic research is often very important, and very easy to mock. The buttocks measuring was one part of data-gathering that led to safety equipment standards for aircraft. Fly sex research led to sterile screw-worms that were released into the wild and eliminated a major cattle parasite from the U.S., saving the cattle industry $20 billion.

    Back to Vietnam

    The media claiming the U.S. is funding Red propaganda, and/or just throwing away money, are, not surprisingly, wrong.

    Reading the actual grant from the U.S. National Institute of Health (for only $705k; not sure where the $2.7 million number came from), we learn that the purpose has little to do with Commies:

    Billions of dollars are spent worldwide on television campaigns to promote population health even though we lack clear evidence of a causal link between television and family formation and reproductive health. Although a substantial research literature documents television’s effects, existing research is primarily associational; making it impossible to establish a causal direction or to eliminate the possibility that a third variable is responsible for the observed associations. In defending these existing research problems, many note that because television is so widely available, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to randomly assign members of a target audience to comparison and intervention groups.

    The idea of researching the impact of something at the cost of maybe millions to better spend billions seems to make sense. The idea of finding a place without any TV that is also safe to work in and somewhat accessible means that isolated hill villages in Vietnam are exactly the kind of location you need.

    We’re All Right

    Weird conservative media, you are wrong about the Vietnam study. People who think they should write in and criticize me for liking or hating Obama, you are too shallow to get this is all not about “liking” a leader anyway, plus of course the fact that Obama himself had nothing to do with an individual NIH grant. In the spirit of a happy ending, I for one feel much better knowing the government is spending at least some of my tax money on basic research, and thus maybe a tiny, tiny, tiny amount less on drones and the NSA.

    A fella can dream, can’t he?



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  • Review: Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

    April 25, 2013 // 0 Comments

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

    There are ghosts in Washington that few will talk about, roaming the halls of the Pentagon, inside the State Department and the CIA, and at the White House, moaning “Vietnam, Vietnam.” Nick Turse, in his new book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, awakens those ghosts and gives them a voice, and in the process has written one of the most important books about the American War in Vietnam. As America again makes war on an industrial scale on nations far less advanced, and commits again torture, assassinations, mass killings and keeps secret prisons while all the while trying to hide its dirty hands from the American public, that Turse’s book was published in 2013 is no accident.

    Kill Anything That Moves is a painstaking, detailed, minutely-cataloged 370 pages of the atrocities America committed in Vietnam . Like much of the scholarship of the Holocaust, Turse seeks to document in straight forward, simple language what happened so that no one will be able to someday pretend—as the men who run from the ghosts in Washington now do—that it never happened. To make clear his intent, Turse gives us a trail to follow, 85 dense pages of sources and footnotes.

    What Happened

    The slaughter at My Lai is the signature event for most Vietnam war historians (the massacre took place almost 45 years ago to date, on March 16, 1968), the single instance, the aberration, the time when a small group of poorly-led soldiers went rogue and gunned down civilians. There were photos this time. Everything else, TV and movies tell us, is an exaggeration, propaganda, the drunken and drugged memories of freaked out veterans who came to hold Jane Fonda in too high a regard.

    What really happened is Turse’s story. His book began with a different focus when as a graduate student in Public Health, Turse began looking into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Vietnam vets. By chance an archivist asked Turse whether he thought witnessing war crimes might be a cause of PTSD and directed Turse to the forgotten papers of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group. That group had been set up by the military in the wake of My Lai to compile information on atrocities, not so much to punish the guilty as to “to ensure that the army would never again be caught off-guard by a major war crimes scandal.” Turse tells us the group’s findings were mostly kept under cover and the witnesses who reported the crimes were ignored, discredited or pushed into silence.

    Until Now

    Kill Anything That Moves is a hard book to read. You want to look away but finally turn the pages and read of mass killings and targeted assassinations of Vietnamese civilians, rape committed casually and coldly in sight of officers, sport killings and road rage incidents. Turse painstakingly documents each incident, in many cases starting with the War Crimes Working Group reports and then adding his own first-person interviews conducted in Vietnam with eye witnesses. Mostly aged, the witnesses speak calmly now, and Turse reports what they say without embellishment. Still, the ghosts are there and you half expect to see drops of sweat on the pages.

    But however horrific the many, many individual acts of brutality are to read about, Turse’s larger conclusion is even worse. Turse comes to understand that most of the atrocities were committed with official sanction, in fact, were committed because of U.S. policy that demanded body counts, number of “enemy” killed, as the borderless war’s only metric of accomplishment. He writes, “U.S. commanders wasted ammunition like millionaires and hoarded American lives like misers, and often treated Vietnamese lives as if they were worth nothing at all.”

    Officers, seeking validation and promotion, made it clear in case after case that their troops must come back from the field with a high body count. Given that demand, standards of accountability were purposefully loose. Any Vietnamese man killed was labeled Viet Cong (VC). When that number was not enough, orders were given to sweep through areas and kill anything that moved or ran, man, woman or child, on the assumption that only a Viet Cong would run. When even that tally was insufficient, civilians were executed in place, the soldiers planting captured Chinese weapons on them to justify the ‘Count. Once reality became so flexible, soldiers lost touch with any standard, creating “rules” that allowed them to kill everyone—if she stands still she is a trained VC, if she runs she is a VC taking evasive action. If men are present the village is VC, if men are missing the village has sent its males off to fight with the VC and so either way, burn it all down.

    America’s actions were, in Turse’s words, “Not a few random massacres… But a system of suffering.” The deaths were “widespread, routine and directly attributable to U.S. command policies.”

    In short, the atrocities were not war crimes, they were policy.

    Iraq is the Arabic Word for Vietnam

    Nick Turse’s book wasn’t published by accident in 2013. While it details terrible, terrible things Americans did in Vietnam some 45 or more years ago, one need only open a web browser to see that the atrocities have not stopped—call them out now, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the secret CIA prisons across the world, the black sites in Afghanistan.

    As the Iraq War sputtered to a close, at least for America, Liz Sly of the Washington Post wrote a sad, important story about the legacy of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

    The story highlights, if that word is even permissible here, some of the long series of atrocities committed by the U.S. in Iraq, instances where our killing of civilians, whether by accident or purposeful or something smeared in-between, ruined any chance that the U.S. could in fact capture those hearts and minds and build a stable society in our image. We could hold ground with tanks but only achieve our broader national security goals via memory. It was true in Vietnam, and it will be true in Syria or the Horn of Africa or wherever we drag the fight on to next. Vietnam’s CIA assassination program, Phoenix, was just a low-tech version of today’s drone killings.

    While focusing on the massacre at Haditha, Sly also referenced the killings at Nisoor Square by Blackwater under the “control” of the State Department and several other examples. In a sad coda to the war, even online she did not have space to touch upon all of the incidents, so ones like the aerial gunning down of civilians captured so brilliantly in the film Incident in New Baghdad, or the rape-murder of a child and her family from the book Black Hearts, are missing. There are just too many.

    Accountability?

    Sly’s article quotes retired Army Colonel Pete Mansoor, who commanded a combat brigade in Baghdad in 2003-04 and then returned as executive officer to David Petraeus during the Surge, explaining the fog of war, the ambiguity of decision making in a chaotic urban counter-insurgency struggle, and exonerating those who made wrong, fatal decisions by saying “when you look at it from the soldiers’ point of view, it was justified. It’s very hard.”

    Though I doubt he would find many Iraqis who would agree with him, and though I do doubt Mansoor would accept a similar statement by an Iraqi (“Sorry we killed your soldiers, it was hard to tell the good ones from the bad ones”), his point carries some truth. I cannot let this review of Nick Turse’s book end without asking the bigger questions outside of his scope as a documentarian.

    The issue is not so much how/when/should we assign blame and punishment to an individual soldier, but to raise the stakes and ask: why have we not assigned blame and demanded punishment for the leaders who put those 19-year-old soldiers into the impossible situations they faced? Before we throw away the life of a kid who shot when he should not have done so, why don’t we demand justice for those in the highest seats of power for creating wars that create such fertile ground for atrocity? The chain of responsibility for the legacy left behind in our wars runs high.

    In this rare moment of American reflection Turse’s book offers, ask the bigger question, demand the bigger answer. Those Vietnamese, those Iraqis, those Afghans — and those Americans — killed and died because they were put there to do so by the decisions of our leaders. Hold them accountable for their actions, hold them accountable for America.

    Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam is available from Amazon.com




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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 COIN Failed in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan

    July 3, 2012 // 0 Comments

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

    My former colleague Bill Johnson, himself a veteran of multiple COIN interactions on both the military and civillian sides, offer this insight:

    The problem in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan is not that COIN can’t work. The problem is that one can only counter an insurgency if a legitimate government, supported by the majority of the people but opposed by an insurgency, exists.


    The governments in each of these three cases were illegitimate, created and supported by force from the United States, after which the United States had it’s creation adopt the superficial trappings of democracy in order to have some claim on legitimacy. There was not in any case a legitimate government, and thus no insurgency–legitimate government is a necessary condition for an insurgency to exist.


    What existed in these cases was a legitimate government not to our liking (Vietnam), a power vacuum caused by the total destruction of the existing government (Iraq), and an illegitimate government which we toppled and replaced with another illegitimate government (Afghanistan). In none of these cases could COIN be properly executed. The conditions demanded by COIN theory simply did not exist.


    Our support of Colombia’s battle with the FARC is the closest we have come to actually putting COIN theory into practice, and we and the Colombians have had some success there. This is largely due to the fact that most Colombians support the government established by the Constitution the Colombian people approved in 1991. The sad part about this success story is that there would be no insurgency and no FARC if the United States would do away with its failed policy to ban drugs.



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

  • Susan Rice: No More Vietnams, But in a Bad Way

    June 28, 2012 // 0 Comments

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

    Susan Rice, our ambassador to the UN and someone on the short list to replace Hillary as SecState in 2013, continues to set new personal bests in terms of ignorant statements. Describing (in her acid riddled mind) what makes Obama’s foreign policy distinct from that of its predecessors, Rice mooed:

    We just don’t have that Vietnam hangover. It is not the framework for every decision — or any decision, for that matter. I’m sick and tired of reprising all of the traumas and the battles and the psychoses of the 1960s.


    I could just throw out the old “Those that don’t study history are doomed to repeat it” line here and hit the bar early, but Rice’s remark is so idiotic that I’ll skip happy hour for now (the sacrifices we make for country).

    Tom Ricks starts us off:

    Just because you weren’t alive during the Vietnam War doesn’t mean you won’t go down that road. I generally am a fan of the Obama administration, on both domestic and foreign policy. But the one thing that gives me the creeps is their awkward relationship with senior military officials. Mistrusting the Joint Chiefs, suspecting their motives, treating them as adversaries or outsiders, not examining differences — that was LBJ’s recipe. It didn’t work. He looked upon the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a political entity to be manipulated or, failing that, sidelined. That’s a recipe for disaster, especially for an administration conspicuously lacking interest in the views of former military officers or even former civilian Pentagon officials.

    Anytime anyone tells me that the lessons of Vietnam are irrelevant, that’s when I begin looking for a hole to hide in.


    Rice again now:

    What frustrated me about the 2004 (John Kerry) campaign was, there we were, relitigating ‘Where were you in nineteen sixty-whatever?’ as the big freaking issue between Bush and Kerry — you know, ‘Did you serve, did you not serve, what did your swift boat brothers think?’  And I’m thinking, ‘What does that have to do with me and the world we’re living in today?’ 


    Ok Susan, you ignorant bonehead, here it is:

    Vietnam echoes through everything we do because we are repeating mistakes. We should not invade countries that do not pose a threat to the US. We should not be in wars without a coherent objective. We should not create governments unsupported by their people and then kill Americans trying to prop them up. We should not spend our money and lives abroad when we have problems at home that need those resources. We should not borrow money to fund wars in ways that wreck our economy. We should not piss off the rest of the world unnecessarily with wars of choice. We should not see America’s power solely as the rampant use of military force. We should express a little more humility toward the world and be seen as a little less of a bully. We should stop inventing straw men (communists, terrorists) that feed the military-industrial complex and distract us from the real issues facing America. We should not ignore the lessons of history because they seem politically awkward in an election year.

    Bonus: We should not employ as ambassadors to the UN people so ignorant of history and so ready to throw away lessons for political positioning. You are, to paraphrase Robert Reich speaking of the Clintons, “the arrogance of power combined with the inexperience of youth.”

    Susan, this blog has spent a lot of time drawing lessons from Vietnam, so have a look before you ejaculate dumbness 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.

  • State Department Won the Vietnam War

    May 18, 2012 // 0 Comments

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

    Remember the Vietnam War? You know, the one from Rambo, the war that was supposed to stop Communism from rolling Asia like dominoes? Fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here? Kennedy? Johnson? Nixon? Bueller? The US fought in Vietnam in one form or another from the late 1950’s until we gave up in 1975 and lost. Helicopters on the roof of the Embassy, hippies taking over the country, some history stuff went down, babies.

    Vietnam was America’s first modern counter-insurgency war. There are a lot of definitions of counter-insurgency (COIN), but it boils down to a war that can’t be won and isn’t fought in the traditional Red Guys clash with Blue Guys and the winner seizes territory way, like Private Ryan and Tom Hanks did in World War II. A COIN struggle is characterized primarily by a “hearts and minds” struggle, a multi-spectrum approach to winning the loyalty of the people by protecting them, helping them, establishing a local government, that kind of thing. The failure to do this in Iraq is the subject of my book, and the ongoing failure to do this in Afghanistan will be the subject of some other person’s book to come.

    If you check Wikipedia or ask the Vietnam Vet next door, you’ll find out that we did not succeed in winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese. If you want to read the best book written about how COIN and Vietnam, it is Street Without Joyby Bernard Fall.

    One of the crucial elements of the failure to win the real war in Vietnam was the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) program, run by the same State Department that flopped in Iraq. Formed in 1967, CORDS was headed by a State civilian, Ambassador Robert W. Komer. CORDS pulled together all the various U.S. military and civilian agencies involved in the hearts and minds effort, including State, USAID, USIA and the CIA (who tagged on the remnants of the Phoenix Program, just because). CORDS civilian/military advisory teams were dispatched throughout South Vietnam.

    So how’d that CORDS thing work out for ya’all? It failed in conjunction with the whole war effort. We lost the war. Nothing four Presidents said about Vietnam was true and tens of thousands of people died for no purpose. We did not win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the Looking Glass, according to the State Department’s slick self-congratulatory monthly magazine (thanks taxpayers!), CORDS “was a success” and in fact somehow contributed to the defeat of the Viet Cong in the Delta by 1972, where per the State Department, the wiley Commies couldn’t even muster a squad-sized action. It is true– read it all here in the State Magazine (p. 16) you’re paying for anyway.

    The article is just spiffy, using words like “swashbuckling” non-ironically to describe State’s men in Vietnam, and claiming in 1967 State’s Vietnam Training Center was “the center of things” (1967 was the freaking “Summer of Love” so State thinking their Training Center was the center of anything is beyond nerd land.) We learn that many FS men “enjoyed their tours.” In fact, US military officers “watched in awe” as the first State Department troopers deplaned, just like in that movie Platoon no doubt.

    Here’s a keen description of precisely how State won the Vietnam War (those in Afghanistan now, pay attention):

    [We] would pick a house at random, politely ask if we could come in and chat, and enquire about the perspective of the resident on everything from the state of the rice crop to the price of cooking oil to the honesty of local officials.

    Dammit! Why didn’t we know that before spending $44 billion and nine years trying to solve Iraq and win that war! All we had to do was “politely ask.”

    OK, fun’s over. Here’s the problem. If State is still clinging to the bizarre idea that it succeeded in Vietnam, and propagandizing its own employees with the same, what hope is there that they will ever make any progress about the failures visited upon Iraq, and the failures now ongoing in Afghanistan?

    Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it we’re told. But those who make up their own versions of history to fit present political needs are simply doomed in advance.



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

  • Jeepers, If Only I was Vietnamese

    April 21, 2012 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State




    The State Department just can’t do enough for bloggers’ freedom overseas.


    Here is State social media superhero Alec Ross burning up the Twitter, for freedom:



    The news is less positive for bloggers inside the State Department. Jesslyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project wrote on Salon:

    (The State Department’s) actions are a transparent attempt to retaliate against Mr. Van Buren for his book—by trying to impose bureaucratic and constitutionally-questionable prior restraints on his blogs, evidenced by the facts that 1) Mr. Van Buren is being subject to disparate treatment (hundreds of State Department blogs flow out onto the Internet uncleared); 2) the State Department links to uncleared blogs it likes; 3) none of Mr. Van Buren’s writing or speaking has contained classified orpersonally identifiable information; 4) all his written works (including his book) contain the State Department disclaimer that they do not represent the views of the government; and 5) he has never misrepresented himself as an official spokesman for the State Department (instead, he speaks in the first person and uses bland designators such as “Author”).


    Tại sao là Alec Ross một kẻ ngốc như vậy?



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

  • CIA (Dis)Information Operations Come Home to the US

    May 29, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

     

    Reporters joke the easiest job in Washington is CIA spokesman. You need only listen carefully to questions and say “No comment’ before heading to Happy Hour. The joke, however, is on us. The reporters pretend to see only one side of the CIA, the passive hiding of information about itself. They meanwhile choose to profit from the other side of the equation, active information operations designed to influence events in America. It is 2021 and the CIA is running an op against the American people.

    Leon Panetta, the Director CIA from 2009 to 2011 explained bluntly his CIA did influence foreign media outlets ahead of elections in order to “change attitudes within the country.” The method, Panetta said, was to “acquire media within a country or within a region that could very well be used for being able to deliver a specific message or work to influence those that may own elements of the media to be able to cooperate, work with you in delivering that message.”

    The CIA has been running such information ops to influence foreign elections since the end of WWII. Richard Bissell, who ran the agency’s operations during the Cold War, wrote of “exercising control over a newspaper or broadcasting station, or of securing the desired outcome in an election.” A report on the CIA in Chile boasts the Agency portrayed its favored candidate in one election as a “wise, sincere and high-minded statesman” while painting his leftist opponent as a “calculating schemer.” At one point in the 1980s foreign media insertions ran 80 a day.

    The goal is to control information as a tool of influence. Sometimes the control is very direct, simply paying a reporter to run a story, or, as was done in Iraq, simply operating the media outlet yourself (known as the Orwellian Indigenous Media Project.) The problem is such direct action is easily exposed, destroying credibility.

    A more effective strategy is to become a source for legitimate media such that your (dis)information inherits their credibility. The most effective is an operation so complex one CIA plant is the initial information source while a second CIA plant acts seemingly independently as a confirming source. At that point you can push information to the mainstream media, who can then “independently” confirm it, sometimes unknowingly, through your secondary agents. You can basically write tomorrow’s headlines.

    Other techniques include exclusive true information mixed with disinformation to establish credibility, using official sources like Embassy spokesmen to appear to inadvertently confirm sub details, and covert funding of research and side gigs to promote academics and experts who discredit counter-narratives. The academics may never know where their money comes from, adding to their credibility.

    From the end of WWII to the Church Committee in 1976, this was all just a conspiracy theory. Of course the US would not use the CIA to influence elections, especially in fellow democracies. Except it did. By its nature reporting on intelligence always requires one to work with limited information. Always give time a chance to explain.

    Through Operation Mockingbird the CIA ran over 400 American journalists as direct assets. Almost none have ever discussed their work publically. CIA documents show journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations. The New York Times alone willingly provided cover for about ten CIA officers over decades and kept quiet about it. Such long term relationships are a powerful tool, so feeding a true big story to a young reporter to get him promoted is part of the game. Don’t forget the anonymous source who drove the Watergate story was an FBI official who through his actions made the careers of  cub reporters Woodward and Bernstein. Bernstein went on to champion the Russiagate story. Woodward became a Washington hagiographer. Ken Dilanian, formerly with the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, and now working for NBC, maintains a “collaborative relationship” with the CIA.

     

    That’s the tradecraft and the history. The problem for America is once again the tools of war abroad have come home. The intelligence community is currently operating against the American people using established media.

    Some of it can’t be more obvious. The CIA always planted stories in foreign media for American outlets to pick up. The Agency works directly with Hollywood to control movies about itself. Turn on any of the advocacy media outlets and you see panels of former CIA officials. Journalist Matt Taibbi even created a list (and since ex-‘s need agency clearance to speak, all are of the officially approved class.) None is more egregious than John Brennan, former Director CIA, who for years touted Russiagate when he knew from information gathered while he was still in office it was all a lie.  The uber-lie that Trump was dirty with Russia was leaked to the press most likely by Brennan in January 2017 as the kick off event to the info op still running today.

    Brennan’s role is more than speculation. John Durham, the US attorney leading the ongoing “how it happened” Russiagate investigation into the intelligence community, has requested Brennan’s emails and call logs from CIA. Durham is also examining whether Brennan changed his story between his public comments (not under oath, say anything) and his May 2017 testimony to Congress (under oath, watch out for perjury) about the dossier. Reporter Aaron Mate is less delicate, laying out the evidence Brennan was “a central architect and promoter of the conspiracy theory from its inception.” Even blunter is Senator Rand Paul, who directly accuses Brennan of trying “to bring down a sitting president.”

     

    It was all based on nothing but disinformation and the American press swallowed every bit of it, turning the op into a three year tantrum falsely convincing a vast number of citizens their nation was run by a Russian asset. Robert Mueller, whose investigation was supposed to propel all this nothing into impeachment hearings, ended up exercising one of the last bits of political courage Americans will ever see in walking right to the edge of essentially a coup and refusing to step off into the abyss.

     

    The CIA is a learning institution, and recovered well from Russiagate. Details can be investigated. That’s where the old story fell apart. The dossier wasn’t true. But the a-ha discovery was since you’ll never formally prosecute anyone, why bother with evidence. Just throw out accusations and let the media fill it all in for you. The new paradigm included let the nature of the source — the brave lads of the intelligence agencies — legitimize the accusations this time, not facts. Go overt and use the new, unexpected prestige of the CIA as progressive heros to substantiate things.

    So in December 2017 CNN reported Donald Trump, Jr. had advance access to the WikiLeaks archive. Within an hour, NBC’s Ken Dilanian and CBS both claimed independent confirmation. It was a complete lie, based on fabricated documents. How do you confirm a lie? Ask another liar.

    In February 2020, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) briefed the House Intelligence Committee the Russians were election meddling again to favor Trump. A few weeks earlier, the ODNI briefed Bernie Sanders the Russians were also meddling in the Democratic primaries in his favor. Both briefings were leaked, the former to the New York Times to smear Trump for replacing his DNI, the latter to the Washington Post ahead of the Nevada caucuses to damage Sanders.

    In June 2020 The New York Times stated CIA officials concluded the Russians “secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops.”  The story ran near another claiming Trump had spoken disrespectfully about fallen soldiers. Neither story was true. But they broke around the same time Trump announced his plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, aimed at discouraging pro-military voters.

    Earlier this month The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, claimed the FBI gave a defensive briefing to Rudy Giuliani in 2019, before he traveled to Ukraine. Giuliani supposedly ignored the warning. The story was “independently confirmed” by both NBC and The New York Times. It was totally false.

     

    The American system always envisioned an adversarial role for the media. One of the earliest challenges to freedom of the press was the Colonial-era Peter Zenger case, which established the right of the press to criticize politicians free from libel charges. At times when things really mattered and even as other journalists hid under their beds, men like Edward R. Murrow worked their craft to preserve democracy. Same for Walter Cronkite finally reaching his opposition to the Vietnam War, and the New York Times reporters weighing imprisonment to publish the Pentagon Papers.

    In each of those instances the handful of reporters who risked everything to tell the truth were held up as heroes. Seeing the Times fighting for its life, the Washington Post co-published the Pentagon Papers to force the government to make its case not just against a rival newspaper, but the 1A itself.

    Not today. Journalism is today devoted to eliminating practitioners unwilling to play the game. Few have been targeted more than Glenn Greenwald (with Matt Taibbi as runner up.) Greenwald exploded into a journalistic superhero for his reporting on Edward Snowden’s NSA archive, founding The Intercept to serve as a platform for that work (Greenwald’s downfall parallels Julian Assange, who went from liberal hero for exposing the foundational lies of the Iraq War to zero when his Wikileaks was demonized for supposedly helping Donald Trump.)

    Greenwald’s criticism of the media for accepting Deep State lies as truth, particularly concerning Russiagate, turned him into a villian for progressives. MSNBC banned him, and other media outlets ran stories critical of him. Then something very, very odd happened to make it appear The Intercept outed one of its own whistleblower sources. Evidence suggests the source was a patsy, set up by the intel community, and exposed via Matt Cole, one of The Intercept journalists on this story. Cole was also involved in the outing of source CIA officer John Kiriakou in connection with torture claims. Either way new whistleblowers will think twice before turning to The Intercept. Greenwald recently quit the site after it refused to publish his article on Hunter Biden’s ties to China unless he deleted portions critical of Joe Biden.

    Greenwald seems to have figured out the intel community’s game, writing “the most significant Trump-era alliance is between corporate outlets and security state agencies, whose evidence-free claims they unquestioningly disseminate… Every journalist, even the most honest and careful, will get things wrong sometimes, and trustworthy journalists issue prompt corrections when they do. That behavior should be trust-building. But when media outlets continue to use the same reckless and deceitful tactics — such as claiming to have ‘independently confirmed‘ one another’s false stories when they have merely served as stenographers for the same anonymous security state agents while ‘confirming’ nothing — that strongly suggests a complete indifference to the truth and, even more so, a willingness to serve as disinformation agents.”

    Democracy has no meaning if people simply vote uninformed, as they are propagandized. It will be sport for future historians to mark the thing that most pushed America into decline. Seeing decades of success abroad in using info ops, the CIA and others turned those weapons inward. So seeing her Deep State meddle in presidential politics, simultaneously destroying (albeit mostly with their cooperation) the adversarial media, while crushing faith in both our leaders and in the process of electing them, will certainly be a top qualifier.

     

     

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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 Future is Hawaii

    April 24, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy, Economy


     

    I have seen the future. It looks a lot like Hawaii. What I saw there (absent the beautiful beaches, confused tourists, and incredible nature) was a glimpse of the future for much of America.

    COVID paved the way for internal travel restrictions — Americans moving around inside their own country — never before thought possible, or even constitutional. Hawaii, an American state, had to decide if they accepted American me, much as a foreign country controls its borders and decides which outsiders may enter.

    Hawaii required a very specific COVID test, from a “trusted partner” company they contract with, at the cost of $119 (no insurance accepted.) To drive home the Orwellian aspects of this all, after receiving the test kit I had to spit into the test tube during a Zoom call, some large head onscreen peeping into my bedroom watching to ensure it was indeed my spit. And now of course, after clicking Accept several times, my DNA information is in Hawaiian government hands along with whoever else’s name was buried in pages of Terms of Service. I was rewarded with the Scooby snack of an QR code on my phone.

    Hawaii used to offer the option of skipping the test and doing quarantine on-island. However, they now pre-screen at major airports and so no QR code, no boarding. And for those who don’t think good, today it’s a COVID test, tomorrow other criteria may be applied. Aloha!

    I will add that all the extra health screening at the airport made me a little nostalgic when I finally got to the bombs and weapons detecting set up by TSA. Just like the good old days when we worried about Muslim terrorists instead of each other turning our planes into flying death tubes, I was checked to make sure I was not carrying more than 3 ounces of shampoo. It felt… quaint to remove my shoes alongside everyone else, millions of pairs a day, all because some knucklehead failed to explode his shoe bomb and was subdued by other passengers 12 freaking years ago. For old times’ sake I prepared mentally to subdue my fellow cabin mates. The nostalgia was driven home as the TSA screener made everyone remove their mask for a moment to verify the face matched the ID picture except Muslim women, ensuring every non-Muslim woman passenger got to exhale a couple of COVID-era breaths into the crowd. Viva!

     

    The future in Hawaii strikes you as soon as you clear the airport into that beautiful Pacific air. It smells good in patches, but in fact there are growing masses of homeless people everywhere; the unsheltered homeless population is up 12 percent on Oahu. Coming from NYC I am certainly not surprised by the zombie armies, but these people live outside. You can’t escape them by surrendering control of the subway system, or by creating shelters in someone else’s neighborhood. The homeless here live in tents, some in gleefully third world shacks made of found materials, others in government-paid shanties creatively called “tiny houses.”

    Some make solo camp sites alone on the sidewalk, some create mini-Burning Man encampments in public parks. I’d like to say the latter resemble the migratory camps in Grapes of Wrath, but the Joad family could still afford an old jalopy and these people cannot. The Joads were also headed to find work; these people have burrowed in, with laundry hanging out, dogs running among the trash, rats and bugs happily exploring the host-parasite relationship. These folks stake out areas once full of tourists on Waikiki, and in public spaces once enjoyed more by locals. Drugs are a major problem and whether a homeless person will hassle you depends on which drug he favors, the kind that makes him aggressive or the kind that makes him sleep standing up at the bus stop.

    The future is built around the homeless, literally. My business was in the Kakaako area, once a warehouse district between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, now home to a dozen or more 40 story condos. They are all built like fortresses against the homeless. Each tower sits on a pedestal with parking inside, such that the street view of most places is a four story wall. There is an entrance (with security) but in fact the “first floor” for us is already four floors above ground. Once you’re up there, the top of the pedestal usually features a pool, a garden, BBQ, kiddie play area, dog walking space, all safely out of reach from whatever ugly is going on down below.

    If you look out the windows from the upper, most expensive floors, you can see the ocean and sand but not the now tiny homeless people. They become invisible if you’re rich enough. Don’t be offended or shocked — what did you think runaway economic inequality was gonna end up doing to us? Macroeconomics isn’t a morality play. But for most of the wealthy the issue isn’t confronting the reality of inequality, it is navigating the society it has created. Never mind stuff like those bars on park benches that make it impossible to lay down. The architects in Kakaako have stepped it up.

    These heavily defended apartments can run lots of millions of dollars, with most owners either coming from the mainland U.S. or Asia. They will live a nice life. Most of them work elsewhere, or own businesses elsewhere, which is good, because the future in Hawaii does not look good for the 99 percent below. It’s inevitable in a society that is constantly adding to its homeless population while simultaneously lacking any comprehensive way to provide medical treatment, all the while smoothing over the bumps on the street with plentiful supplies of alcohol and opioids.

     

    Hawaii’s economy may be the future. Very little is made here. As making steel and cars left the Midwest in the late 2oth century, so did Hawaii’s old economy based on agriculture. It was cheaper to grow food elsewhere and import it to the mainland. The bulk of pineapple consumed in the United States now comes from Mexican, Central and South American growers same as steel now comes from China, and the few pineapple fields in Hawaii are for tourists. Hawaii now depends on two industries: tourism and defense spending. And both are controlled by government.

    Tourism accounts directly for 24 percent of the state’s economy, more if one factors in secondary spending. The industry currently does not exist in viable form, with arrivals down some 75 percent. Unemployment Hawaii-wide is 24 percent, much more if you add in those who long ago gave up looking or are underemployed frying burgers. Much is driven by COVID. Will those ever recede? No one knows. When might things get better? No one knows. The decisions which control lives are made largely in secret, by the governor or “scientists,” and are not subject to public debate or a state congressional vote. One imagines a Dickensonian kid in hula skirt asking “Please sir, may we have jobs?”

    Everyone knows Pearl Harbor, not only once a major tourist destination but also a part of direct Pentagon spending which pumps $7.2 billion into Hawaii’s economy, about 7.7 percent of the state’s GDP. Hawaii is second in the United States for the highest defense spending as a share of state GDP, and that’s just the overt stuff. Rumor has it the NSA has multiple facilities strewn around western Oahu with thousands of employees. All those government personnel, uniformed or covert, do a lot of personal spending in the local economy, much as they do in the shanty towns which ring American bases abroad. Everyone relies on local utilities like water, power, and sewers, and those bases need engineers, plumbers, electricians and others. Many are local residents either directly employed by DoD or working through contracts with private companies. The point is even more then tourism, this large sector of the economy is controlled by the government. At least they’re still working.

    Another important sector of the Hawaiian economy is also government controlled, those who live entirely on public benefits. Benefits in Hawaii are the highest in the nation, an average of $49,175 and untaxed. For the last 9 years Hawaii spent more on public welfare benefits, about 20 percent of the state budget, then it did on education. More than one out ten people in Hawaii get food stamps (SNAP), though the number is higher if you include free lunches at school and for the elderly. Fewer working people means fewer tax paying people, so this is unsustainable into the future.

    Who owns the future? The government in Hawaii owns the land. The Federal government owns about 20 percent of everything, and the state of Hawaii owns some 50 percent of the rest. Do Not Enter – U.S. Government Property signs are everywhere if you take a drive out of town. There are also plenty of private roads and gated communities to separate the rich from the poor, but the prize goes to Oracle owner Larry Ellison who owns almost the entire island of Lanai, serving as a gatekeeper inside another gatekeeper’s turf. For the rest of the people, homeownership rates in Hawaii are some of the lowest in the nation.

    The good news (for some…) is in the future whites will be a minority race in all of America. They already are in Hawaii. Asians not including Native Hawaiians make up 37 percent of the population, with whites tagging in at 25 percent. Local government, some 55 percent of the jobs, is dominated by people of Japanese heritage. Japanese heritage people also have the highest percentage of homeownership, 70 percent. Almost all have a high school diploma, and about a third have a four-year college degree.

    The well-loved mainland concept of “people of color” fades quickly in Hawaii, where Japanese color people are a majority over everyone else. And unlike in some minds, people in Hawaii are very aware that the concept of “Asian” is racist as hell, and know the differences among Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese. Things are such that local Caucasian and Hawaii Democratic Congressman Ed Case said he was an “Asian trapped in a white body” and meant it as, and was understood in Hawaii as, a good thing and was echoed by Case’s Japanese-American wife.

    White supremacy has clearly been defeated here, though I am not sure BLM would be happy with how that actually worked out without them. On a personal note, I will say as a white-identifying minority I was well-treated by the police and others. I was not forced to wear one of those goofy shirts or add an apostrophe to words while in Hawai’i against my cultural mores, so there may be hope yet in the future I saw.

     
     
     

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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 Keeps Canada Safe at Night? Joe Biden?

    March 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Military, Syria

     

    We know what keeps America safe at night — rough men on the walls stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm, duh. But what about Canada? Or say, Cambodia or Bolivia?

    This is by way of trying to figure out why Joe Biden bombed Syria and derailed the resumption of the Iran nuclear accord, and why he has called off, delayed, or stalled further withdrawals from the places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria along the bloody trail of the old Global War of Terror. Canada (along with Cambodia, Bolivia and most others) never sent any of their rough men to most of those places to begin with, absent Afghanistan where some Canadian forces were deployed until 2014, a long 7 years ago. The peak was only about 2,000 soldiers anyway. Canada maintains a handful of small foreign outposts, mostly to handle logistics. They’re not fighting anyone anywhere.

    The U.S. famously has some 800 bases strewn around the globe, with troops in 150 countries, and boasts its special forces during any given week are deployed in 82 nations. Many of those Sneaky Pete’s are killing people in those places without the knowledge of the “host” country. Last year they operated in 72 percent of the nations on this planet, including 13 African nations. Can you name them? Why were Americans risking their lives in Burkina Faso? So we can sleep better?

     

    Few expected much from Joe Biden foreign policy wise, and he has delivered. About a month into office he bombed Syria. The ostensible justification was the target was not “Syrian” but 22 people associated with Iran. Militias in Iraq allegedly under Iran’s control killed an American contractor in Erbil so the bombing in Syria was retaliation for that. This was not only supposed to be a legal, moral, and ethical act by the Home of Democracy (c), it was supposed to have accomplished something toward Americans being safer. It did not; a U.S. airbase in Iraq was rocketed a few days later.

    Imagine Chinese aircraft flying halfway around the world and killing 22 people in Detroit in retaliation for something that happened in, wherever, Thailand. That OK? Whatever nations are looking to China for “leadership” (one of the things Biden was to restore after Trump broke it) might not be sure. China is an interesting example, because they did not retaliate against the United States for bombing their embassy in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. As in 1988 when an American cruiser shot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board, Washington just said it was a mistake so no retaliation was necessary. The world is encouraged to accept America alone does bad things for good reasons. Or no reason at all. Talk about uniqueness.

    If I thought like a Canadian, I would find it difficult to understand why the U.S. has to fight everyone. It is very hard to imagine America has enemies who need killing in 72 percent of the nations on earth. Or maybe not — after decades of invading, bombing, and regime changing, maybe they really do hate us. The relationship between the U.S. bombing people and people not caring for the U.S. seems unclear to Joe Biden and most of his predecessors, however.

    Thinking like an American, the ostensible reason for all this bombing seems to be Hitler. He’s why we couldn’t support Trump’s nuclear diplomacy with North Korea and no other president has even tried for 20 years, and why Biden seems reluctant to revive the Iran nuclear accord. In 1938 olde timey British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain got hoodwinked by Hitler. No American president wants to be Neville Chamberlain. So every bad guy in the world, whether Slobo Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad, the cabal that runs Iran, Hugo Chavez, Castro even dead, is Hitler.

    It follows every friction point is Munich 1938 and the only way to deal with it without appearing Chamberlain-level weak is to attack just one more country. When actual fighting cannot be on the table, presidents are content with crippling sanctions, a kind of economic Guantanamo, as have been in place against Cuba since about when the Beatles first came to America, before that with North Korea, and since roller disco was popular in the case of Iran.

     

    It works for us, at least as far as politicians are concerned. They don’t look like Neville Chamberlain. They hardly ever suffer any consequences. There is absolutely no demanding of accountability (the new Washington watch word) for any act of war committed by any American president, including those who lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and created a global torture system the actual Hitler would have been happy to have franchised. Foreign policy in general is not a constraint on policymakers, because most of the public doesn’t care about it (quick, find Burkina Faso on a map.) Those that do care usually are pretty supportive of America’s wars, love the troops and all that. Washington and the media help out, spending most of a decade messaging “we have to be at war” post-9/11 for example, and that poo stain doesn’t wash out easy. The thing that finally turned the country against the Vietnam War, the draft of nice white middle class kids, is gone. Also gone are the waves of body bags, as much of modern killing is death from way above.

    The other reasons Joe Biden bombed Syria are equally familiar and equally false. We have backed away from “we need to protect the oil” since the first Bush Gulf War in 1991 though the phrase had a good run. Still out there is some version of “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” No one has invaded the U.S. since 1812, and when push came to shove on 9/11 a bunch of guys with box cutters worked around the $305.4 billion 2001 military budget. People on the left used to talk about “The American Empire” but even that has turned out to be pretty weak; we don’t imperially profit by raping conquered lands as a proper empire does. Where is our Raj? Our Opium War? Our rubber plantations and breadfruit farms? America got no oil from Iraq and no minerals from Afghanistan.

    We instead mostly wreck places (Libya and Vietnam come to mind) and then abandon them, or grab a little land for yet another overseas base. Americans sometimes talk like it’s all a great game of Risk, but war to simply grab resources and territory isn’t how things have worked for a long time. Other justifications? Ask any still living Iraqi how “spreading democracy” worked out. Stopping various genocides comes up from time to time, though when a real one came along in Rwanda the U.S. wasn’t up for it. And, oh yeah, Biden is the leader of the free world. Was there a vote, because if so it’s likely Andrea Merkel would have won. Did American get tasked by all other good countries to protect them, as if Canada couldn’t build a nuke if it wanted one and who is threatening them anyway? The Canadian military could invade Burkina Faso if they wished to. They just don’t wish to.

    The fall back justification since 1945 has been the myth that the U.S. is engaged in some global muscle-tussle to be the most powerfulist place. It used to be just Russia, but lately China seems to be the one we imagine challenging us everywhere while still owning the largest foreign share of American debt and making nearly everything sold in our stores. When was the last time China shot at us, never mind invaded us? Some may even remember we already defeated globalist Russia once before (Google “the Cold War, we won.”)

    Military spending does absorb over half of the federal government’s discretionary budget, meaning more money is spent on the Pentagon than on schools, infrastructure, climate, research, and diplomacy combined, so that may also have something to do with all this. Fun fact: in addition to leading the world in bombing, America is also the leading global arms dealer.

     

    Most of Joe Biden’s foreign policy team are brutalist left-overs from the Obama administration, the one that invaded Libya and set the ball rolling in Syria and Ukraine. They’re needed in 2021 about as much as mimes at a funeral. Head of the gang is Victoria Nuland, who worked to start her own war in Ukraine a few years ago. Supporting her are Tony “Global Policeman” Blinken and Susan Rice, she of invading Libya fame.  Maybe they and the others of the Class of 2016 will finally have those full-on wars  have always wanted but a stronger president like Obama sort of resisted. Bloody Nuland says more wars are basically a requirement. She co-wrote an article titled “Superpowers Don’t Get To Retire,” proclaiming “there is no democratic superpower waiting in the wings to save the world if this democratic superpower falters.” With policy friends like this, it’s clear why Biden bombed Syria and will do more of that kind of thing as opportunities arise.

    “America is back,” Biden bleats at every opportunity. What that means America is back to business as usual, and that means people abroad are gonna die. Blame Canada.

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

  • Jeffersonian or Springsteenian Democracy?

    February 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

    That Super Bowl commercial could have been so much worse. 

     

    “This is Bruce ‘Born to Run’ Springsteen, and when I’m driving down Thunder Road in my Pink Cadillac listening to some Radio Nowhere looking for a Red Headed Woman, I know these aren’t my Glory Days any more. So it ain’t no sin to be glad for Cialis. Come on up for The Rising!”

     

    Or imagine Springsteen promoting a reverse mortgage, or some prescription drug with an X and Z in its name, ending with Bruce saying “Check with your doctor, and tell ’em the Boss sent ya.”

     

    I can forgive Bruce for recycling footage and the same damn clothes from his Western Stars movie in that Super Bowl commercial. I’ll give him a pass for the faux accent which no one in New Jersey, or maybe anywhere in earth orbit, actually sounds like. I’ll even forgive his semi-annoyed tone (“I’ve told you people all this before but I guess I gotta go over it one more time.”) And no worries about whether Bruce sold out or not. Of course he did. He has always been clear (see his autobiography and Broadway show) that he is mostly an actor playing a character called “Bruce Springsteen.”

     

    What I can’t overlook is Bruce is just wrong. The answer does not lie in Americans reaching the middle, as Bruce sternly instructs in his infomercial, but respecting the end points on either side as valid positions.

     

    Let’s start with the Boss himself. Despite all the guff shoveled around the media about Bruce avoiding politics for so long, that has never been the case. Very early in his career Springsteen appeared at the No Nukes concerts. Not the “let’s have some nuclear power plants but not too many” concert. His opposition to the Vietnam War grew to opposing America’s jingoistic wars broadly. His stance on economic inequality is the cornerstone of his songbook — think Nebraska and Ghosts of Tom Joad. He supported BLM before it had its own initials; remember American Skin (41 Shots) from 2001?

     

    Bruce has also always been about partisan politics, scolding the Reagan administration throughout the entire Born in the USA album, and actively campaigning for four Democratic presidential candidates. He even joked-not joked about moving to Australia if Trump was re-elected.

     

    A guy who calls himself The Boss has never been about seeking the middle, as he says is our goal in his commercial. He has always taken positions, proudly and clearly. And that is more than OK, it is what America should be about.

     

    The Founders made clearer than a ringing Clarence Clemons sax solo vigorous debate was critical to their vision of a democracy. They baked that into the Constitution via the First Amendment, ensuring free speech and the right to assemble. And no middle ground there — it says “Congress shall make no law…” and with narrow exceptions the Supreme Court has kept it that way for a couple of hundred years.

     

    The Founders had no problem with compromise when that seemed the best they could do; in the extreme they even bargained enslaved human beings into being counted as only 3/5 of a white man. But the thrust was never toward a goal of 50-50, a simplistic Springsteenian middle ground instead of the balanced Jeffersonian one. The founding documents gave equal powers to very unequal states. The whole sloppy mess of democracy is full of 2/3 of this and majority that.

     

    There would come very different ideas on once established things like whether women could vote. But after a robust process women got the vote, an extreme position. There was no meeting in the middle, say granting women a partial vote, or only letting them vote in national elections. The key is the mass of Americans accepted the result, and the ladies getting the vote seems to have worked out for us all.

     

    When we try to meet in the middle we usually end up with most people unhappy. In Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court tried to hit some theorectical middle in granting nearly unfettered abortion rights in the first trimester, giving the states more decision making for the second, and leaving third trimester abortions as the very difficult decision they are. The results were that from the instant the opinion was issued one side demanded even freer access to abortion while the other tried to make access difficult at every step. Roe is settled law but not a settled issue.

     

    Contrast that with the decision by the Court to allow same-sex marriage. One side of that debate just plain lost, and the country moved on to the sideshow of arguing about baking cakes for the receptions. Meh.

     

    What is missing today in the majority of our Red-Blue is neither side understands the process. The goal is no longer to debate and resolve and move on. Today there is little respect for the other side and no empathy, just contempt and disgust. Their opinion is not only wrong, it is insane, dangerous, bonkers, a literal threat to our survival as a nation. How many times did we hear about the end of the rule of law, the end of democracy, fascism via racism, and that the Reichstag was burning during the Trump years?

     

    More than anyone’s ideas being wrong, we see him or her as a horrible person just for holding those ideas. The goal today is not to beat the other idea on the playing field. It is to cancel the speaker, deplatform him, hunt him down, demonize him, make it so he can’t find a job, burn his books, smite him with Terms of Service, eliminate his ideas if not the speaker himself. Or maybe impeach him as a private citizen, strip away his right to run for future office, force him out of his own house in Mar-a-Lago, and I don’t know, hear the lamentations of his women. The middle ground is a killing field.

     

    We end up believing that accepting the results of an election is optional if our candidate loses. We take “credible accusation” as a new standard, but only of course when it produces our desired results. Doxxing someone online or assaulting them in a restaurant is justified if he commits thoughtcrime. It has gotten to the point where even journalists have joined the scolds and censors to crusade against the First Amendment today to silence an opposing view without a thought to what will happen tomorrow to their own ideas when the wind shifts.

     

    So Bruce, would you take another crack at this commercial? You can keep the same B-roll images, even that kinda silly cowboy cosplay outfit (would a 20-year-old you have worn that into a seaside Jersey bar?) but let’s rewrite the script:

     

    “We demand diversity now in everything but thought and don’t see the irony. We’re in danger of losing what we strived and fought for, respect for different opinions. Don’t work toward the middle. Who has risked everything for a half-baked compromise? Anyone ever washed a rental car? No, you think hard, and you stake out a position, knowing the other guy is doing the same. Then you talk it out, you argue, you stomp your feet, write Op-Eds, and organize protests. You don’t repress speech you disagree with, you listen to it, then counter its ideas with better ones.

     

    “Then you turn it over to the wise tools the Founders granted us. They differ from issue to issue. So an election, or a Senate vote, or a court decision. And then you accept that outcome with neither celebration nor triumph and you respect those whose ideas didn’t make it. That’s our common ground.

     

    “It’s not about trying to all think the same way. It is about grasping for a higher rung because we don’t. We all live in one country and we all in the end want a life where we can care for family, do honest work, and join in this prayer for our freedom. The messy, awkward, slow way forward is well-marked for us.

     

    “Also, please buy this Jeep. Patty’s on me to put in a new pool at home before spring.”

     

     

     

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

  • Bad Arguments the Left is Using to Destroy Conservative Speech

    January 14, 2021 // 0 Comments

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


     
    Some Bad Arguments the Left is Using to Destroy Conservative Speech

    The graced haiku of the First Amendment was defeated in this current age not by jack booted thugs but by Terms of Service.

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way. From 1984 through every dystopian movie, as well as the sordid history of real dictatorships past, the loss of free speech was supposed to come from the top down. A powerful man crushes the press, brown shirts take over TV stations, that sort of thing. Nobody foresaw the loss of free speech in a once great democracy would come – by popular demand – from many of The People themselves.

    But that is what is happening in these extraordinary times here in Post-Constitutional America. Before this, the other great losses of rights once confirmed in blood followed dark tradition: after killing four Americans by drone, Barack Obama’s attorney general claimed the president’s personal deliberation constituted enough due process to satisfy the Fifth Amendment. Exaggerated fear of terrorists saw the Fourth Amendment rights to privacy obliterated by the NSA and welcomed by the frightened masses.

    What Americans once saw as our highest values became luxuries that in a time of fear, first 9/11, then Trump, the country believed it could ill afford. Justice, fairness, and free speech became a risk, their indulgence a weakness.

    Among the rights lost, free speech is arguably the most dear. Without free speech people stop thinking, losing all but a narrowing band of ideas. Open discussion, debate, and argument are the core of democracy, good ideas defeating bad ones in the marketplace of the mind. Fascism seeks to close off all ideas except its own, falsely labeling dissent as disloyal, insubordinate, seditious, insurrectionist, and ultimately unlawful.

    Any discussion of free speech must acknowledge despicable people and their ideas have always existed. These people will use any freedom they have to promote the worst of ideas. Yet it is equally important to remind how at different times in our history speaking out against slavery, against war, against or for one politician or another, have all been seen as despicable. Restrictions on free speech have been used to ban great literature, books about women’s reproductive health, and photos once deemed “pornographic” now displayed as art. Someone will always find an idea or word offensive. Allowing that person to judge for all of us has never proven to be on the right side of history. The times when America stepped back from free speech – the WWI era Sedition Act, the McCarthy Years – are not the years we are proud of.

    Trumpism, neo-Nazis, alt-right, white supremacists, QAnon, Pepe, and the racists is sadly nothing new. Indeed many of those groups in different forms have been around for decades. What is new is Leftists are aggressively embracing many of the same tools once used to try and stop the anti-war movement, feminists, and other progressive groups in the past. Those tools which directly offend the Bill of Rights include violence, suppression, censorship, and twisty quasi-legal reasoning about incitement and sedition. In addition are the tools of the bully, including misuse of the No Fly List to ban pro-Trump travelers for their political beliefs, “canceling” by mustered mobs, and blacklists to bar people from earning a living due to their politics.

    But something else new turns up the dial: technology, coupled with the metastisization of new global media unabashedly willing to take advantage of not being under the control of the 1A. Combine that technological reach with liberal autocratic zeal all hidden behind the justification that Because Trump, Nazis, white supremacists, etc. the ends justifies the means and you have trouble. The justification is Everything Is Different and the old rules don’t apply. The democratic ideal of free speech is now a threat to democracy.

    The literal first shot was fired, er, thrown, at the Trump inaugural. Richard Spencer was explaining live on camera the meaning of Pepe the Frog, a silly cartoon figure somehow adopted as a mascot by the movement Spencer promoted. An anonymous black-clad antifa protester ran into the scene and sucker punched Spencer. His free speech was ended by that act of violence.

    There followed tens of thousands of comments on the YouTube videos of the attack. The standard response was “I don’t condone violence but…” and then go on to condone violence if it was directed against “Nazis.” It only got worse. In 2021 the Leftists of social media cheered the shooting death of unarmed Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt at the hands of the Capitol Police. “She earned that bullet…” read one typical remark. “Don’t forget that she was participating in a domestic terrorist attack!”

    Another popular sentiment which echoed from 2017 into 2021 is to claim violence is justified as a leftist response to hateful speech by the right, and that if perhaps more people had punched Hitler in the early days the world would be a better place. More than a few people also suggest punching someone in the head is in fact a form of protected free speech itself, and others seem to think whatever they label as “hate speech” is a crime. Others used phrases along the lines of “the end justifies the means” and “by any means necessary.” It was if half the nation had simultaneously flunked AP Government.

    Following the Spencer attack, similar violence landed at Middlebury College, then at a rally where one protester who displayed a Confederate flag was attacked, and at the University of California Berkeley (the university was ironically home to the Vietnam War protest-era Free Speech Movement.) Institutions, including Berkeley, Ohio State, Penn State, and New York University, canceled, postponed, or scheduled into dead zones speeches by conservative speakers, citing public safety concerns.

    The undergirding philosophy was in place. The stage was set for a series of arguments to sate the desire to restrict speech. Let’s look at some, and why they do or not hold up.

     

    The First Amendment Only Applies to Government

    The First Amendment only applies to government, and so corporations are free to censor, restrict or shut down speech altogether.

    Short Answer: True. The interplay between the 1A and corporations like Facebook is the most significant challenge to free speech in our lifetimes. It can only be resolved by a landmark Supreme Court challenge.

    Until very recently no entity existed that could censor at scale other than the government. The arrival of global technology controlled by mega-corporations like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Amazon brought first the ability the control speech and soon after the willingness to do so. The rules are their rules, so we see the permanently banning the president of the United States from tweeting to his 88 million followers while allowing the Iranian and Chinese governments to speak freely to those same people. At the same time Trump was suspended from social media for inciting violence Twitter allowed the hashtag #HangMikePence to trend. Violence in one location is a threat to democracy while similar violence is valorized if under a BLM flag.

    The ability of a handful of people nobody voted for to control the mass of public discourse has never been more clear. It represents a stunning centralization of power. It is this power which negates the argument of “why not start your own web forum.” Someone did – Parler – until Amazon withdrew its server support, and Apple and Google banned the app, and silenced them. The same thing happened to The Daily Stormer, driven offline through a coordinated effort by multiple tech companies, and 8Chan, deplatformed by Cloudflare (Parler is suing Amazon under antitrust laws to regain its platform, and may seek a new provider in the interim.)

    Try an experiment. Google “Peter Van Buren” with the quotes. Most of you will see on the first page of results articles I wrote four years ago for Leftist outlets like The Nation and Salon. Almost none of you will see the scores of weekly columns I wrote for The American Conservative over the past four years. Google buries them, like they never even happened. Try the same on the tiny DuckDuckGo search engine and the conservative articles appear.

    Currently safe from the 1A as private companies, and with the legal shield of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, there is nothing to stop Twitter and the others even as new technologies create new opportunities to control speech. The election of 2020, when they hid the story of Hunter Biden’s laptop from voters, and the election’s aftermath, when they banned the president and other conservative voices, was their coming-of-age moment, the proof of concept for media giants. Many on the Left cheered the companies’ actions. No surprise. Presciently, Senator Chris Murphy, seeing the power available, had earlier demanded social media censor even more aggressively for the “survival of our democracy.”

    While there are few things to currently prevent corporate censorship, whether for their own purposes or as a proxy for the Democratic Party as Murphy demands, there are some counter-veiling legal currents which recognize the need to extend the 1A.

    One victory confirmed the status of social media, when the Supreme Court struck down a law prohibiting sex offenders from using Facebook. Justice Kennedy wrote in Packingham v North Carolina social media is now part of “the modern public square” so denying access violated the First Amendment. The Court concluded in a separate case “public access cable TV channels constituted a public forum, notwithstanding that they were operated by a private company.” Recognizing new media, even if administered by private companies, as the modern equivalent of the public square is an important step.

    The next step is recognizing the civic responsibility of those providing public forums as part of the process of chipping away at the public-private divide shielding the big media companies.

    The Supreme Court recognizes two categories of public fora: traditional and limited public forums. Traditional public forums are places like streets, sidewalks, and parks. Limited public forums are not traditionally public, but ones the government has purposefully opened to some segment of the public for “expressive activity.” By inviting the public to Facebook for comment, the government transforms a private place into a limited public forum which should be covered by the 1A. The Court only requires a “forum” for 1A purposes “to be private property dedicated to public use” or when the government “retains substantial control over the private property.” Like how the government cannot censor public library books even if the library is located in a private storefront.

    In other words, by providing a public forum Facebook, et al, assume a new role. It seems reasonable that some protections for the public speech there be offered. They may not apply to Aunt Lisa’s cat pictures but should apply to her posting in favor of some local legislation on the ballot.

    Bottom Line: Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections through the forum it provides is just another company that sells stuff is to pretend the role of unfettered debate in a free society is outdated. There are legal arguments to extend limited 1A protections to social media. Section 230 could be amended. However, given Democrats disproportionately benefit from corporate censorship and current Democratic control of the government, no legislative solution appears likely.

    Hope rests instead with the Supreme Court expanding the 1A to social media, as it did when it grew the 1A to cover all levels of government, down to the hometown mayor, even though the Constitution specifically only mentions Congress. The Court has long acknowledged the flexibility of the 1A in general, expanding it over the years to acts of “speech” as disparate as nudity and advertising. But don’t expect much change any time soon. Landmark decisions on speech, like those on other civil rights, tend to be more evolutionary than revolutionary.

     

    Free Speech May Provoke Violence (A Clear and Present Danger)

    Some claim conservative speakers who use anti-LGBT or racist slurs to fire up their audiences can be banned or shut down. They say such speech is the equivalent of yelling Fire! in a crowded movie theater.

    Short Answer: The standards for shutting down speech are purposefully restrictive, and well-codified. Most pundits and politicians come nowhere close. This excuse is over-used.

    The Fire! line from Supreme Court decision Schenck v. United States is often cited as justification for limiting free speech. Here’s what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:

    “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.”

    The full decision says the First Amendment doesn’t protect speech that meets three conditions: 1) the speech must be demonstrably false; 2) it must be likely to cause real harm, not just offense or hurt feelings, and 3) must do so immediately. Words in these decisions have hyper-specific legal meanings, often defined through multiple cases, which is why simply Googling a term and passing judgment on its vernacular via Twitter usually is wrong.

    This interpretation of the First Amendment imposed restrictions on speech. But Schenck was what jurists call bad law, in that it sought to use the Espionage Act against a Socialist pamphleteer opposing WWI to stop free speech, not protect it. The case was eventually overturned, and in truth Holmes’ statement was better understood not as a 21st century test but to simply mean that while the First Amendment is not absolute, restrictions on speech should be narrow and limited.

    It was the later case of Brandenburg v. Ohio (below) that refined the modern standard for restricting speech past Fire! But Holmes’ “fire in a crowded theater” line sticks around as a kind of inaccurate shorthand.

    Bottom Line: The Supreme Court set a very high bar against restricting speech based on the idea that what was being said leading to harm, then in a later case moved the bar even higher. Offense or general threats alone are insufficient to justify silencing someone. People who cite “fire in a crowded theater” miss the fact that a more nuanced version of restrictions followed which currently controls speech.

     

    Speech Can or Should Be Restricted Based on Content (Hate Speech)

    There are no laws against “hate speech.” A speaker can insult people by their race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Often words are carefully chosen to inspire and promote hate or to appeal to crude and base instincts. Indeed, that is their point.

    Short Answer: You cannot restrict hate speech. Hate speech per se does not exist in American law. Free speech means just that, with carefully limited restrictions sketched out by the Court.

    Brandenburg v. Ohio (Clarence Brandenburg was a KKK leader in Ohio who used the N-word with malice) precludes hate speech from being sanctioned as incitement to violence unless (1) the speech explicitly or implicitly encouraged the use of violence or lawless action; (2) the speaker intends their speech will result in the use of violence or lawless action, and (3) the imminent use of violence or lawless action is the likely result of the speech.

    A hostile reaction of a crowd does not automatically transform protected speech into incitement. Listeners’ reaction to speech is thus not alone a basis for regulation, or for taking an enforcement action against a speaker. The speaker had to clearly want to, and succeed in, causing some specific violent act to take place. Intent in particular is purposely hard to prove.

    The Brandenburg test is the Supreme Court’s final statement to date on what government may do about inflammatory speech that seeks to incite others to lawless action. It was intended to resolve the debate between those who urge greater control of speech and those who favor as much speech as possible before relying on the marketplace of ideas to sort things out. Yet corporate censors have simply created their own definition of incitement, with Twitter suppressing the speech of 70,000 users simply for retweeting material with “the potential to lead to offline harm” under its Orwellian named Civic Integrity Policy.

    A second type of speech is categorically excluded from First Amendment protection and often erroneously labeled hate speech: “fighting words.” This category of unprotected speech encompasses words that when spoken aloud instantly “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace… [and is] “likely to provoke the average person to retaliation.” Offensive statements made generally to a crowd are not excluded from First Amendment protection; the insult or offense must be directed specifically at an individual.

    The law is similar for sedition. Sedition broadly refers to seeking to overthrow the U.S. government by force. It is intimately tied to the concept of free speech in that any true attempt at overthrow will need to be preceded by persuasion, rabble rousing, and the stirring up of crowds. The line between criticizing the government and organizing for it to be overthrown is a critical juncture in a democracy.

    Current law requires the government prove someone conspired to use force. Simply advocating broadly for the use of violence is not the same thing as violence and in most cases is protected as free speech. For example, suggesting the need for revolution “by any means necessary” is unlikely to be seen as conspiracy to overthrow the government by force. But actively planning such an action (distributing guns, working out the logistics, actively opposing lawful authority, etc.) could be considered sedition.

    All of this may soon change, however. Joe Biden and other Leftist thinkers have been active considering new laws against “domestic terrorism” which will likely draw from and enlarge the current definition of sedition, so expect to hear more about all this. The new laws may seek to define beliefs such as “whites are a superior race” not as bad science or an unsavory opinion but as an actual threat, an illegal thought. Proposals include prohibiting people with such beliefs from joining the military or law enforcement.

    The upshot is apart from some very narrow exceptions the obligation to free speech exists independent of the content of that speech. This is one of the most fundamental precepts of free speech in a democracy. There is no need for protection for saying things people agree with, things that are not challenging or debatable or offensive. Free speech is not needed for the weather and sports parts of the news. Instead, free speech is there to allow for the most rude, offensive, hateful stuff someone can imagine. The true tests for a democracy come at the edges, not in the middle.

    That is why it should make a college age ACLU donor proud to know her $25 contribution helps both BLM and Nazis to say what they think, but it apparently does not. Some 69 percent of American college students believe hate speech (defined as “language intentionally offensive to certain groups”) should be (unconstitutionally) banned.

    A professor at New York University wrote plainly, albeit as if he was unaware of the Constitution, “Freedom of speech means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned… [I]nvoking a pure model of free speech that has never existed, the dangers to our democracy are clear and present.”

    The good people at NYU who believe in censoring speech have some opposition. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared unpopular ideas should have their opportunity to compete in the “marketplace of ideas,” understanding free speech is not an ends but a means in a democracy. Justice Louis Brandeis held people must discuss and criticize ideas, that free speech is not only an abstract virtue but also a key element that lies at the heart of a democratic society. Even the fact that speech is likely to result in “violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.” Brandeis concluded “the deterrents ordinarily to be applied to prevent” violence and disruption “are education and punishment for violations of the law, not abridgment of free speech.”

    Bottom Line: There is no justification for restricting speech so that people are not offended. Speech may offend, indeed that may be its point, but bad ideas are then defeated by better ideas. It’s the law.

     

    What’s Said May Provoke Violence (Public Safety)

    The idea a university or other venue cannot assure a speaker’s safety, or that the speaker’s presence may provoke violent protests, or that the institution just doesn’t want to go to the trouble or expense of protecting a controversial speaker has become a go-to justification for canceling or restricting speech. Berkeley cited this in canceling and then de-platforming (rescheduling her when most students would not be on campus) Ann Coulter, and New York University cited the same justification for canceling a conservative speaker.

    Short Answer: Canceling a speaker to protect them or public safety is the absolute last resort, and some risk to safety is part of the cost to a free society for unfettered speech.

    The most glaring misuse of this argument is when such a justification is applied only toward one strain of speech, say unilaterally against conservative speakers and not against others. The conclusion can only be danger comes from unpopular ideas based solely on their being presented on a left-leaning campus. The argument of restricting a speaker “for their own safety” who is otherwise willing to take on certain risks to make their voice heard can thus be applied in a biased manner. Restricting speech for safety needs to be content neutral.

    Public safety has been long (mis)-used to silence otherwise protected speech. Such thinking has been used to deny permits for civil rights marches, with law enforcement saying they could not protect the black protesters from the KKK. Both sides in the abortion debate have used this argument as well outside clinics.

    While institutions do have an obligation to public safety, that obligation must be balanced against the public’s greater right to engage with free speech. The answer is rarely to ban speech outright simply to maintain order.

    One landmark case from 2015 provides some of the clearest guidance yet. The case involved a group called the Bible Believers who used crude language (“Turn or Burn”) at an LGBT gathering. The Court held:

    “When a peaceful speaker, whose message is constitutionally protected, is confronted by a hostile crowd, the state may not silence the speaker as an expedient alternative to containing or snuffing out the lawless behavior of the rioting individuals. Nor can an officer sit idly on the sidelines — watching as the crowd imposes, through violence, a tyrannical majoritarian rule — only later to claim that the speaker’s removal was necessary for his or her own protection. Uncontrolled official suppression of the privilege [of free speech] cannot be made a substitute for the duty to maintain order in connection with the exercise of that right.”

    The understanding that law enforcement, or any institution, can turn first to shutting down speech that requires physical protection, has failed the courts’ tests in cases as diverse as Occupy to a Christian group bringing a pig’s head to a Muslim Arts festival. The court has long recognized content-based regulation of speech in a public forum is permissible only when the regulation “is narrowly drawn to achieve that end.”

    Bottom Line: An institution cannot cite avoiding public disruption as the initial or sole reason to restrict speech. The problems of having an unpopular person speak are outweighed by the obligation to protect free speech. Maintenance of the peace should not be achieved at the expense of the free speech.

     

    Free Speech May Be Challenged by the Heckler’s Veto

    Another misargument is the Heckler’s Veto is in itself protected speech. Some on the Left feel while someone may have a right to speak, someone else has the right to shout them down and prevent them from being heard.

    Short answer: Free speech is not intended to mean whomever can literally “speak” the loudest. The natural end of such thinking is mob rule, online or off.

    Legitimate ways exist to challenge speakers, including engaging them or ignoring them entirely. In contrast, using a Heckler’s Veto to keep unpopular speakers from expressing their views not only stifles a particular idea, but threatens to chill public discourse generally by discouraging others with controversial ideas from sharing them. Who wants to stand up only to be shouted down by a mob, online (for example, via hacking or denial of service attackers) or offline? Protesters cannot unduly interfere with communication between a speaker and an audience. The Supreme Court concluded the government’s responsibility in these circumstances is to control those who threaten or act out disruption, rather than to sacrifice the speaker’s First Amendment rights.

    The most insidious use of the Heckler’s Veto is to have audience members create a disruptive situation that compels law enforcement to shut down a speaker for them, abusing their own freedom of speech to get the government to shut down someone else’s.

    Bottom Line: Balancing the rights of the speaker, those who wish to hear them, and those who wish to protest is complicated. But simply shutting down one party entirely, or allowing one party to block the rights of the others, is illegal.

    It is nearly professional suicide today to defend rude or racist speech on principle, that the right to speak exists almost fully independent of what one says. It is easy in divided post-Trump America to claim the struggle against fascism (racism, misogyny, white supremacy, etc.) overrules the old norms.

    But imagine your views, which today match @jack and Zuck’s, change. Imagine Zuck finds religion and uses all of his resources to ban legal abortion. Consider a change of technology which allows a Russian or Chinese company to replace Google in dictating what you can read. Instead of the outright glee the Left showed over the end of Parler and the misuse of the already evil No Fly List against Trump supporters in DC imagine the same used against something you personally believe in. Imagine the criminalization of certain thoughts and beliefs.

    There may be some hope. The American Civil Liberties Union warned the suspension of Trump’s social media accounts revealed “unchecked power.” The ACLU said the decision could set a precedent for big tech companies to silence less privileged voices if they chose. Once a leading voice for unfettered speech, the ACLU started applying a “woke” political litmus test to its chosen fights during the Trump years. It seems the organization finally figured out that censoring speech anywhere, even with Trump, is a threat to speech everywhere.

    Censorship is inherently wrong. People demand it when it supports their point of view (anything to dump Trump) but can’t seem to understand it will never stop there. As one former ACLU director explained “Speech restrictions are like poison gas. They seem like they’re a great weapon when you’ve got your target in sight. But then the wind shifts.

    Free speech protection covers all the things people want to say, from the furthest left to the furthest right. It’s messy as hell, and it is our essential defense against fascism and control, whether from the left or the right, from the government or from corporate actors.

     
     

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

  • Cleaning Up Biden’s Leadership Leftovers in Iraq

    January 9, 2021 // 0 Comments

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

    As Trump leaves office the only president to have not started a new war since WWII, and Joe Biden, who supported so many of America’s wars, including voting for and (vice-) presiding over the second and third Iraq Wars, heads into office, the talk is again what should be the most terrifying words anyone outside the U.S. could hear: American Leadership. Thing is, we haven’t really cleaned up the leftovers from the last bout of such leadership yet.

    President-Elect Biden pulls no punches about how he feels about Trump’s lack of war, saying “Trump has abdicated American leadership in mobilizing collective action to meet new threats. This is the time to tap the strength and audacity that took us to victory in two world wars and brought down the Iron Curtain.”

    ‘Merica, hells yeah! In a 2015 speech SecState-nominee Antony Blinken employed some version of the word “leadership” 16 times. Biden himself wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs titled “Why America Must Lead Again.” Last week, when he introduced his national security nominees, he said that “America is back, ready to lead the world.” Let there be no doubt in foreign policy terms leadership is the happy-talk, bipartisan, and benign euphemism for America First nationalism. And that usually means some sort of war. Biden already has his warriors in place from the Obama years: Bloody Susan Rice, Blinken at State, Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense. There will be others filling in the mid ranks as those principals call in their former deputies, who call theirs. Turn the leadership dial up to 11 and burn the house down!

    The problem with America’s leadership spurts is that they are often left uncompleted. They are played for U.S. domestic political consumption and thus appear in four year bursts, and leave behind a mess someone else has to clean up when those politics shift. Worst of all, no one in America seems to ask those nice foreigners overseas who are about to be freed, liberated, encouraged to revolt, or otherwise enlightened by the arrival of the American Empire if they indeed want any leadership today.

    So maybe before spewing out any new leadership, Biden could start by cleaning up some of the leadership he and others left behind. Start with Iraq.

     

    Quick, Jeopardy-style, when did the Iraq War end? Correct answer of course is “What is never.” America wrecked the place from the air in 1991, then invaded by land in 2003. Those American troops mostly left in 2010, then returned in 2014, and loiter like last year’s dropouts in the high school parking lot in unknown but relatively small numbers today. The American Embassy in Iraq, physically still the size of the Vatican and once the largest embassy in the world in diplomatic headcount, sits mostly empty with a security guard-to-diplomat ratio that would embarrass any Twitter warrior.

    You would wish that was all, but the horrors of the Iraq Wars are such that even bodies already buried find their way to the surface. Among the many U.S. atrocities few today know about (Google “Haditha Massacre,” “Mahmudiyah rape,” and if you don’t know what happened there, “Abu Ghraib torture”) loom the Nisour Square murders.
    On a hot as hell September 16, 2007, Blackwater mercenaries hired by the State Department as security killed 17 Iraqi civilians, including two children, and injured 20, in Nisour Square, central Baghdad. The U.S. lied and prevaricated for years, until finally the truth slithered out that none of the Iraqis were armed, the Blackwater guys panicked, and their so-called defensive fire was beyond any legitimate rule of war. The State Department tried to intervene, allowing the defendants to claim State’s own Diplomatic Security officers had offered them on-the-street immunity in return for later recanted testimony (Nisour Square wasn’t the only time State lied to cover for Blackwater.) It took seven full years until four Blackwater employees were convicted in a U.S. court. All four were pardoned by Donald Trump in December 2020.
    “That was years ago” say many of the same Americans willing to connect a police shooting today to the first slaves arriving on this continent in 1619. Though the average American might remember something bad happened with Blackwater, every Iraqi knows what Nisour Square stands for: American invasion, false promises of freedom, arrogant use of power. The same way Vietnamese know My Lai and thousands of other such incidents whose names never made it into the American press. Or perhaps how the remaining scraps of the Lakota people still reference Wounded Knee. No reckoning allowed save the marvelous sleight of hand of America’s fragile memory.
    I’ve been to Nisour Square. It is a giant roundabout, a confusing place made worse by the Iraqi practice of driving with total disregard for traffic laws if not physics and, at the time, the American convoy practice of never slowing and never stopping for any reason. The place smells of diesel fuel and the cheap gas the old Iraqi cars ran off. There’s a perpetual blue-gray haze over the intersection. It is so noisy there most people would not have been aware of the attack, at least until Blackwater started using grenades against civilians.
    At the very beginning of my Iraq tour with the State Department Blackwater provided my security. They were bullies. They grab-assed women. They were sloppy with their weapons. You could practically get a contact high off the steroids they used just by hanging around. Count on them to wear the most expensive sunglasses and the most unnecessary gear (gold man bracelets, tactical hair gel), a bit like Jersey Shore rejects. Aryan and dudely. In my book I called them “a frat house with guns.” It is easy to imagine how it all happened.
    The Trump pardon of Blackwater personnel for their role in the Nisour Square killing was a grotesque mistake Biden will shrug off as if he had nothing to do with it. But the absolute lack of focus on what put those Blackwater killers and their State Department charges in Nisour Square in the first place — the lust to exert some American Leadership and reform the MidEast — assures it will happen again. The rest of the world knew this was all wrong long before Trump. Does Biden?
    Biden’s foreign policy does not start at zero on Day One. All the good American leadership failed to do lingers. Even while the physical infrastructure damage from Iraq War I keeps water and sewage resources to third world standards, the Iranian-installed government which took over after the chaos of War II 2003-2010 remains in power. The anti-ISIS War III campaign of 2014 created tens of thousands of internal refugees in Iraq, mostly Sunnis the majority Shia government blames for ISIS’ initial successes, and many of them are about to die.

    Years after the destruction of ISIS at least one million Sunni civilians remain in government-run displacement camps. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, backed by Tehran, has made shutting the camps a priority. Initial closures have already left more than 100,000 people homeless as winter comes and the pandemic continues.

    The Iraqi government plans to soon close the remaining camps, forcibly return the Sunnis to their villages. It will be a bloodbath. In many cases the places they came from still resemble the ruins of Dresden; there physically are no homes. Other Sunnis already know their Shia neighbors took what property they once held and have nothing to return to. The worst off face retribution for siding with ISIS, or because rumor says they did. Memories are long in the Middle East. Revenge reaches across generations. Blood for blood. The best scenario awaiting a few is to become a permanent underclass in Shia Iraq, ripe for exploitation by whatever Sunni group replaces ISIS which replaced Al Qaeda because across three wars of leadership the U.S. never resolved the underlying core issues in Iraq and just made them worse.

    The Obama-Trump leadership strategy was medieval: kill people until there was no Sunni-supported Islamic State left inside Iraq, then allow the Iranians and Shia Iraqis to do whatever they pleased with the Sunnis in the aftermath, expedience over morality. This was the big takeaway from the Iraq War III of 2014 onward: there would be no political follow-on, no nation building. The United States would pay no mind to internal Iraqi actions. Genocidal-scale events that might have once set American front pages atwitter aren’t even worth a tweet today. Whatever happens in Iraq to the displaced persons, the U.S. is not involved.

    Americans demanded answers when Trump sent refugees back across the border to Mexico to await processing, but remain willfully ignorant of the hundreds of thousands of internal refugees created by American actions left to disappear somehow in Iraq. But in a way perhaps this is hardly worth noting. It is part of the American way of leadership, arriving unwanted in some third world nation with promises to liberate and then leaving when that war turns into an unwanted child. And so our wars leave behind the children, refugees in Iraq and elsewhere, literal unwanted kids from Vietnam. We walk away from the destruction we create, having burned out the jungles in Southeast Asia with Agent Orange and turned functioning countries like Libya, Syria, and Iraq who dare bark at the American Empire into failed states.
    When Joe Biden speaks of the need for American global leadership, perhaps he should first talk to those we have already left behind.

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

  • America in Black and White

    December 18, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy

    The New York Times was startled to learn pre-COVID America’s 614 billionaires were worth a combined $2.95 trillion. As the Dow hit record highs last week, there are now 650 billionaires and their combined wealth was now close to $4 trillion.

    It is kind of neat that big-names in places like the NYT have finally noticed the state of economic inequality in America, albeit for all the wrong reasons (something else endemic to instead blame on Trump as he goes out the door.)

    In the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, American billionaires’ wealth grew by a third during the worst of COVID. Where’d all their new money come from? You, paying interest up to the Lord of Manor. For example, Dan Gilbert, chair of Quicken Loans, was worth $7 billion in March; he now has $43 billion. It takes a lot of poor people to sustain that amount of wealth at the top. Listen for the sucking sound as the cash moves.

    If like the NYT you are only figuring this out now you are way too far behind to really matter. A tiny percentage of Americans own, control, and benefit from most everything; call it one percent but a large number of the one percent are just slugs and remoras (hedge fund managers, corporate lawyers, etc.) who feed off the crumbs left by the .01 percent You know a handful of the real rich names — Bezos, Gates, Buffet — but only because they own public facing companies. Most of the others prefer less public lives while they control the public. And silly you, you worried that it was the Russians who stole the election.

    Now to talk about conspiracy theories is to imply that something “different” happened, that the system did not work as usual and as intended; for example, instead of an election the president was assassinated to change of who was in charge. The term conspiracy has kind of a bad feel to it. So let’s not call whatever happened this autumn to elect Joe Biden a conspiracy. But here is what happened, so see if you have a better word.

    The corporate media owned by that .01% spent four years attacking Trump. Then it sent information about Hunter Biden that would have changed the election down the memory hole, and policed social media to Joe’s advantage. Corporate pharma, also owned by the same people, held back announcement of Covid vaccines until just after the election. And guess what — “something” happened again in Democratic primaries that started with some of the most progressive candidates since Henry Wallace to instead push a politician known as the Senator from Mastercard into the White House, where he promptly filled his Cabinet with the same old thinkers corporate America liked from the Obama years. A highlight is Janet Yellen at Treasury, who helped run the massive corporate bailout that created the .01 percent out of the one percent after the Great Recession. No wonder Biden told donors “nothing would fundamentally change” for the wealthy when he’s in charge.

    One of the reasons economic inequality has ramped up to where it is after a slow remaking of society in the 1970s has been a clever manipulation of the people most impacted by it. Naturally, they first need to be divided so they will not work together. That was so simple it is genius: poor people of color are victims of racism and can’t climb up until that’s all cleared up, while poor white people are too lazy and stupid to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Encourage the POC to feel jealous of the chances the dumbs whites throw away and blame the whites for racism. Get the white folks to believe POC live off handouts. A trick as old as mud, set two sides against each other. As long as racism, the fate of the Rust Belt, and economic inequality are separate topics talked about by different people (blacks, whites, and socialist hippies) nothing changes.

    Please don’t think this is too original a thought. Lyndon Johnson pretty much gave the basic thesis statement in 1960 years before he kicked off the War on Poverty, in Appalachia, for the poor white people who were then the Democratic base. Johnson said “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket.” The final step is to make it impossible to talk about any of this.

     

    There’s a new book out, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the “Real America.”  There’s a new movie out of an old book, Hillbilly Elegy. The National Review has its own white trash story  and the MSM has made parachuting its elite columnists into the Heartland to write thought pieces into a sub-genre that could sit aside Business and Sports on the masthead. Whatever all those writers think their point is, their point ends up being poor whites are very different than poor blacks.

    The whole poverty-class cosplay industry got a meth-like boost in 2016 when east coast liberals tried to find another reason why Donald Trump won after their friends and fellow journalists snatched up Russian interference. Blaming Putin of course petered out after a three year run, about as long as Hillbilly Elegy took to move from book to movie. Why the fascination with white trash?

    Poor white people are a stand in for poor blacks. Kinda by proxy, the way the movie M*A*S*H* set in Korea was really criticism of America’s war in Vietnam. White liberals can say anything they want about Appalachians, stuff they can’t get away with saying about blacks.

    Nick Kristof of the New York Times, visiting Jackson, Kentucky, was shocked by parents who were taking their children out of school because improved academic performance would threaten $700-a-month Social Security disability benefits. These benefits have accrued over various feel-good administration gestures to the point where they are are paid out for nebulous afflictions such as loosely defined learning disorders in eight-year-olds. But Kristof wins for accidental honesty: “This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency.”

    Next up is Kevin Williamson, because his Big White Ghetto is one of the newest books which says the same thing as all the others. Williamson writes, for example, without controversy “welfare has made Appalachia into a big and sparsely populated housing project — too backward to thrive, but just comfortable enough to keep the underclass in place.” Now imagine the exact sentence with a little tweak — “welfare has made parts of New York City into a big and sparsely populated housing project — too backward to thrive, but just comfortable enough to keep the black underclass in place” and imagine all hell breaking loose on Maddow that night. Imagine if Ta Nehisi Coates, instead of making a career out of cataloging black victimhood, said “Get off your asses, brothers. They hiring at KFC.”

    Or try this one: “The government gives people checks, but nobody teaches them how to live,” says a former high-school principal who spoke with Williamson in Kentucky.” Imagine your favorite conservative talk radio host saying “the problem among blacks is the government gives them checks, but never teaches them how to live.” Shall we talk about single moms in Appalachia whose baby daddies cook meth or shall we talk about deadbeat black dads who cook meth in the South Bronx? Write a book about the former and you’ll vie for a Pulitzer. Try that with the latter without making it a how-to on victimhood and Oprah will skin you alive on the TV.

    Here’s some evocative street scene talk about Appalachians: “Jimmy is attached to one of the clusters of unbusy men who lounge in front of the public buildings in Booneville — ‘old-timers with nothing to do,’ one observer calls them, though some of those ‘old-timers’ do not appear to have reached 30 yet, and while their Mossy Oak camouflage outfits say ‘Remington,’ their complexions say ‘Nintendo.’”  How far would a writer get with: “Tyron’e is attached to one of the clusters of unbusy men who lounge in front of the hookah shops in Compton — ‘old-timers with nothing to do,’ one observer calls them, though some of those ‘old-timers’ do not appear to have reached 30 yet, and while their NBA jerseys say “LeBron” their complexions say “Nintendo.”

    Or less serious but basically a taste of the same, remember SNL’s serial skits of Appalachian Emergency Room, featuring comical rednecks with comical injuries; one ongoing character came in with all sorts of things stuck up his anus. It was as if the Beverly Hillbillies image of rural people had never been updated. Imagine if Amos and Andy were still on, or maybe just a new series called Ghetto Emergency Room featuring hilarious episodes of gunshots and ODs.

    A forced viewing of Hillbilly Elegy showed it is to truth what hemorrhoids are to pleasant mornings. Just when you would think they had exhausted every “hick in the big city” cliche they pull out the old one where the protagonist gets invited to a fancy dinner party and is intimidated by which of the multiple forks to use. “What to Do” with all the forks was fully explained in the movie Titanic dinner scene, where the exact same scenario took place. Also there is always the church trick, just kneel when other people do. Or figure a guy like the main character in Elegy who went through an undergrad education, the Marine Corps, and got into Yale would puzzle it all out. This use of cliche for poor, dumb, white characters is routine. I wonder how many movies that feature poor, dumb, POC trying to make it would dare do the same. That’s be racist, right, mocking a ghetto kid for not knowing White Manners, whereas anything goes with slack jawed yokels. Even street-smart Eddie Murphy in Trading Places ultimately turned his lack of White Manners into an advantage. Imagine the Elegy guy saving the day at Yale in a tobacco spitting contest!

    Among the other terrible things about the Elegy movie (and the book, but less so) is a near total lack of empathy for any of the characters. They are all presented as terrible people, and all their problems are their own fault and made worse by their own actions. They are not presented in any way as victims of larger forces (such as racism or urban gentrification), as is common in stories like this about POC (think Boyzz in the Hood or Do the Right Thing.) There is no leavening poor white problems. Even the shared drug problem, same stuff, cheap crank, is treated differently. Black folk are victims of some white conspiracy, maybe even the CIA, to keep them down by flooding the ‘hood with narcotics. White trash? They have no self-restraint. Same as them using abortion as a cure for recreational sex.

    We tend to forget the War on Poverty started in Appalachia, under Lyndon Johnson in 1965, aimed at poor whites. It failed to help them, as it failed to help blacks as the program later grew. Too much welfare of the wrong kind without real jobs to back it just created generational dependencies. But we can only talk about one demographic group that way.

    That seems to be the take away from another new book, The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again. After an exhaustive study of decades of data, author Robert Putnam concludes the many gaps between blacks and whites — education, health, employment, financial — narrowed between 1940 and 1970, driven by the Great Migration into northern industrial jobs. Then around 1970 black life fell into a decline which continues today. Putnam is right as far as he goes, but he misses the big picture in his race to blame racism. From 1940 to 1970 the lives of all lower class Americans of all races improved, especially up north where what became the Rust Belt was once the manufacturing center of the universe. Everyone rose, and fell, the same. Real, adjusted wages were never higher for all Americans then in 1972. But the The Upswing only follows part of the crowd down.

    Putnam and so many others ignore how economic insecurity engulfs more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60. Pessimism among whites about their economic future is today at its highest point since 1987. More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks. Buchanan County, 99 percent white in southwest Virginia, is among the nation’s most destitute places, with poverty at 24 percent.

    So today we are allowed to mock one failed group as dumb Trump rednecks and treat them as subjects of a nature documentary. Blacks, they’re victims with the president elect still two-stepping around comments on reparations due. Don’t expect much progress for either group until we are allowed to talk openly about both. Try saying all American lives matter and you risk a broken nose. And wake me when a book called Urban Elegy becomes a best seller.

     

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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 Revenge

    December 5, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    AOC should talk. In fact, she has. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said “Trump sycophants” should be held accountable for their “complicity in the future” and wants their Tweets archived, preserved as evidence presumably for some sort of people’s revolutionary tribunal. AOC is just one of many who want some. The talk in Washington is about revenge. It is not pretty.
    There’s a separate Trump Accountability Project designed to ensure “members of the Trump administration responsible for loosening the guardrails of our democracy are not rewarded in the private sector.” A WaPo columnist wrote the people helping Trump now should “never serve in office, join a corporate board, find a faculty position or be accepted into polite society. We have a list.” During the McCarthy years that was known as a blacklist; you’ll never work in this town again, comrade. Other people are simply estranging themselves from the Trump-supporting parents who raised them. Some suggest truth-and-reconciliation commissions.  The NYT wonders out loud if America Can Restore the Rule of Law Without Prosecuting Trump?
    Some have even  fantasized Trump will be arrested as Biden is inaugurated, complete with a tense face off between the Secret Service protective detail and the arresting FBI agents as Trump tries to flee. But never mind blacklists or shunning (“Will Manhattan’s Elite Really Spurn Ivanka and Jared?” gushes a headline) the real blood people want to be spilled would occur in the judicial system. Release the DOJ hounds. Replay the Nuremberg Trials. The goal is vengeance: in the minds of the werewolves Trump and his extended family belong in jail — for something, maybe just for being them, or destroying democracy, kids in cages, soul of America battered — and if somehow that is not possible then they should be driven into poverty.
    Keeping in mind that Trump was not responsible for the Holocaust, tyranny, totalitarianism, gulags, secret police disappearances, genocide, apartheid, a torture regime, offshore penal colonies, gassing his own people or the like, the calls seem a bit extreme. But in many ways we live in extreme times, so what are the chances President Biden would release the full force of the American system against his former rival?
    Zero.
    The simplest explanation is persecuting, humiliating or prosecuting political opponents after they lose is third world stuff. Biden won. There is no political value in dancing on Trump’s grave or in the criminalization of policy differences. Carter didn’t try it with Nixon, Bush I pardoned not prosecuted six Reagan White House officials who were involved in the Iran-contra affair, Bush II didn’t prosecute Lyin’ Bill Clinton, and Obama didn’t do it with George “The Torturer” Bush and his henchmen. Despite leading chants only weeks ago of  “lock her up,” even Trump didn’t do it when he had the power to try. Biden has a full plate and the last thing he wants is for some politically-motivated prosecution to ensure all wounds are kept open. Nope, nobody is throwing Baby political advantage out with the Trump bathwater.
    Biden also knows he can’t unring the bell. If he goes after his predecessor he’s next, when the sides inevitably switch again. Mindful of the failures of Russiagate and impeachment (absent being “saved” by COVID those bungles should have cost the Dems the election) Biden also doesn’t want to start with a non-win. Any prosecution of Trump will be endlessly tied up in questions of privileged conversations, sealed records, and evidence fights, followed by loyalist hearings into Hunter and His Most Excellent China Deal. You think Biden and his DOJ wants to have that stink on their shoes heading into the 2022 midterms (and yes they are already thinking ahead)? Yeah, also, it’s time to heal or whatever.
    No, the real wet dreams for revenge rest with the Southern District of New York (SDNY; led by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance but ultimately controlled by Biden’s Department of Justice) and failing that, the New York State Attorney General Letitia James. The former already failed in 2012 to indict Trump’s children after they were accused of misleading investors, and faced judicial rebukes in the past for sloppy work and political motivations. The latter is beloved by progressives as an angry woman of color with a habit of talking bad ass. Either way the narrative runs like this: both offices have been compiling nasty stuff against Trump, held back only by custom which prevents them from indicting him as long as he’s the president. As of January 20 he is open game. In addition, if they can press New York state level charges, those are exempt from any federal pardon Trump might get from himself or from Mike Pence through some president-for-a-day 25th Amendment witchcraft.
    Leaving aside the untested law surrounding self-pardons, as well as double jeopardy concerns (NY’s laws there are among the strictest in the country; SDNY already failed in its prosecution of Paul Manafort based on double jeopardy) related to anything to do with impeachment or something under IRS audit, and the questions of jurisdiction and extradition (Trump is a Florida citizen) the forces of good have got to have something they can actually prosecute Trump for. An actual crime. Being an evil president or making mean decisions on immigration do not count in actual courts (and good luck finding an impartial jury.) The biggest problem with all this desired vengeance is the same thing that failed Russiagate; it is based on an assumption Trump must have done something wrong. The creation of a “crime” such as drove the impeachment only worked because of a partisan House willing to play along. The New York state system is no such kangaroo court, and affords defendants far more protections than federal courts. There are strict rules governing evidence that can be presented to a grand jury, and even minor procedural errors can result in indictments being thrown out. “If you’re a white-collar defendant, you’d rather be in New York State court than in federal court any day of the week,” said SDNY’s former top deputy.
    That said, a politically-minded prosecutor can always find some way to file charges for the show value, even while knowing the case will disappear on motions. But the hope is beyond a media event like that, somewhere in the complex finances of the Trump Organization lies a smoking gun. The problem with that for anything tax/finance related, one must remember the IRS and the New York Department of Revenue have had Trump’s taxes for decades. Whatever the SDNY hopes they show, the IRS, Treasury, FBI, NY state, NJ Gaming Commission and who knows who else already has seen them, or could have if they had suspicions, and for decades have not prosecuted Trump. The current IRS audit of Trump has been ongoing since 2010 and there is nothing to indicate it will conclude anytime soon. The IRS also tends to conclude cases by asking for money, as criminal fraud is very difficult to prove. In tax-fraud cases, prosecutors are required to prove misconduct was intentional by the principal, a high bar. A jury might wonder if Trump’s daughter’s consulting services were worth $740,000, but if Trump argued he valued them at that level, that could constitute a viable defense against fraud even if the deduction was ultimately disallowed. Trump’s teams of accountants also gives him personal cover for many potentially fraudulent claims.
    Another idea is Trump misvalued some New York real estate to obtain loans, a civil offense at worst usually settled with new assessments or a fine. The city of New York assesses a value to each property for tax purposes. Nearly every property owner in NYC believes his assessed value is too high and pushes back, to the point where this is not even handled by a court, instead through a tax commission grievance process. Owners want a lower value to pay less tax, except when they approach a bank for the equivalent of a refi loan, when they want their property to seem more expensive to secure a bigger loan. It is the bank who then decides what a property is worth to them as collateral, via their own due diligence. It is always complicated, as much art as science; beyond the usual valuation factors of location, location, location, some buildings in New York are iconic, or famous for their brand name (coug, cough, “Trump”), what history they represent, etc. Some just have nice views. Sometimes the bank is generous because in return for the loan they’ll secure some other business of value to them. Over-valuing/under-valuing real estate in New York City is sport, but as a crime is so much not ado about nothing it is not going to send anyone to jail. Imagine the yawns as a grand jury listens to accountants explain Trump’s tiered exemptions, and how their value is subtracted from the DOF assessed value to calculate a taxable value which is then multiplied by the current tax rate for the specific assigned property class. Tomorrow we’ll talk about easements going back to when Mayor Koch was in charge!
    That leaves Stormy. Michael Cohen would be the star witness in this Last Great Hope. At his 2019 televised hearing Cohen displayed a check for $35,000 from Trump to him, which was supposedly part of $130k paid to Stormy Daniels (there is at least one other woman, Karen McDougal, as well) under a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to keep quiet about her affair with Trump. This one seems to have it all — lurid details, opportunities for the media to run bosomy photos of Stormy, and a recycling of all those Godfather references when Michael the Consigliere, the Fixer Cohen takes the stand. A case built around events predating the Trump presidency dependent on the testimony of gold digging porn star and a disbarred felon lawyer trying to sing his way out of jail that a grand jury will sign off on? As the kids say, it’s complicated. Complicated enough it deserves its own article, next week.

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

  • Anonymous Sources Tell Us How Democracy Ends

    September 27, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

    Watch how this is done: Joe Biden plans to resign after only one year in the White House, according to someone with direct knowledge of the Bidens’ plans.
    A senior official at Northern Virginia Community College confirmed Jill Biden reached out recently to see if she could resume teaching if her husband was elected; Dr. Biden famously taught there while her husband served as Vice President and had befriended the official. The College immediately offered Dr. Biden a four year cycle of classes. She replied, however, she wanted to make only a one year commitment. “We won’t be in Washington for the full term,” Biden reportedly explained. “Joe’ll stay in office for a year and work on some signature issues like cancer research, but Kamala will be doing the heavy lifting from day one. Joe will quietly resign and give her plenty of time to make the job her own. It’s set in stone I’m afraid. I wouldn’t let him run any other way given his health.”
    I made that up. See how easy it is? Start with a known bias, that many people believe Joe Biden won’t serve his whole term. Play off the fear he is a Trojan Horse. Tell people what they already believe, Harris is selected, not elected. Use your own credibility to overcome the lack of it in your sourcing. Include some truth (Dr. Jill Biden did teach at Northern Virginia Community College during the Obama administration) and then take advantage of the magic of anonymous sources. Allow for faux confirmation — if another journalist contacted the college, they just might have indeed recently heard from Jill about teaching.
    This comes in the context of a recent article in The Atlantic by Jeff Goldberg, where anonymous sources claim the president disrespected America’s military. Goldberg’s piece was followed by former Russiagate FBI agent Peter Strzok telling another Atlantic writer, without evidence the equivalent of an no-name source, Trump is controlled by the Russians. Then came the return of Alexander Vindman (powered by an anonymous source, er, “whistleblower”) and excerpts from Bob Woodward’s Rage claiming without examination or details Dan Coates and Jim Mattis planned “collective action” against the president. Those are a few recent examples; in a four year tantrum the media has recklessly published anything anti-Trump without concern for truth, little better than the minor celebs who take to Twitter to announce #TrumpisaPedo who craves sex with his own children. Journalism has become propaganda, its purpose not to inform but to advocate. Influence operations. Propaganda.
    It’s worth poking a lot of holes in Goldberg’s article as an example because of its exclusive use of anonymous sources in pursuit of advocacy, in this case, trying to chip away at Trump’s pro-military base. Though Goldberg’s article talks about events from as long as four years ago, it was released alongside a current Military Times poll showing Biden gaining some support among service members, and dovetailed with fuzzy reporting Trump ignored Russian bounties on Americans in Afghanistan.
    The question of motive makes the validity of the sources ever more important. How do we know Goldberg didn’t make things up, or at least allow himself to be used for his partisan end as he did in advocating for the whole false narrative of WMDs and the Iraq War? Unless you are Goldberg’s mother or the town mayor from Jaws, credibility comes from the sources, not a writer’s inner soul. Goldberg comes up lacking. As a former diplomat, I staffed overseas presidential visits from Reagan to Obama. I sat in on planning meetings, and got a pretty close up view of the Secret Service. The president exists inside a series of bubbles, forgive me, like those nesting Russian dolls. The innermost bubble, the one where someone might hear his personal thoughts, is reserved for very, very few people. The universe of people who could have physically been close enough to Trump (or any president) to overhear sensitive remarks is tiny.
    So if we know the names of the sources it will be easy to place them in that special group, or not. If we know the names, it would be easy to check photos to see if they were where they would have needed to be to overhear. It would be easy to see who else was around to confirm or deny the story (11 Trump officials deny it by name, zero confirm.)
    A real reporter would also provide context, what was said before and after the damning remarks; it is not uncommon for civilians to respectfully ask what motivates men to run into fires, to sacrifice themselves for a buddy, to stand in harm’s way. Goldberg’s sources say Trump remarked to former White House chief of staff and retired Marine General John Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” He said this at Arlington National Cemetery at the gravesite of Kelly’s son, a Marine who died in Afghanistan. This photo shows who was there — Kelly, two family members, Trump, and Pence. This would have been the moment when Trump would have made his remark, and those are the only five people on earth who would have heard it. Trump and Pence deny it; the Kelly family has been silent from which one cannot draw any conclusion. The same photo set shows Trump meeting later with other Gold Star families, none of whom claim he made any disparaging remarks.
    There is also a sniff test to be applied. The credibility of journalism should not depend on the reader’s biases. Trump mocking Kelly’s son’s sacrifice at graveside would be among the most horrible things anyone could do to a parent. Who would say such a thing? There is no record of the worst humans in history, men like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, saying such things. There is no record of people such as concentration camp guards, men capable of killing children, saying such things. And would Kelly, a blooded Marine, stand silently with his family, accomplices in their own humiliation, then release the information only years later hiding behind the skirt of some minor journalist to score a glancing political point?
    Knowing the names of the sources also allows us to judge the credibility of the so-called confirmations by other journalists. Do their confirmations consist of nothing more than the same people who spoke to Goldberg repeating the same things to a second writer? That’s just saying the same thing twice, not a confirmation. Are the confirmations from people who heard the information second hand? The potential for circular confirmations is great and risky. It would also be easy to see who harbors grudges and deserves to have their motive to lie reviewed. It would be easy to ask a named source why he waited several years to reveal this information, just as an election is heating up. Knowing the names resolves the risk. Trust but verify.
    There are other sniff tests. Much has been made of the presumptive sources being “military men” who would not criticize the president. They are also not stupid, and if they did serve as sources knew exactly that they were attacking the president for political purposes weeks before the election. In addition, Kelly (Mattis, McMaster, et al) all took civilian positions in the Trump administration, and served out of uniform, so their refusal to comment is unjustified. The idea Goldberg would never risk his reputation as a journalist by writing a lie is silly. Goldberg and The Atlantic wholeheartedly supported the lies of the WMD story in Iraq and the lies of the Russiagate story. You can lie all you want as long as you tell people what they want to hear.
    Though it got much less attention, The Atlantic followed up Goldberg with a piece that included a named source but allowed him to simply list out baseless accusations of treason. Former FBI agent Peter Strzok sees Grassy Knolls everywhere. The Atlantic helps him along, introducing the back and to the left theory by saying “Despite multiple investigations by the FBI, Congress, and Mueller’s team, Americans have still never learned the full story about the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia or Trump’s own decades-long financial ties with Russia.” Oh. Like what?
    Well, Strzok says he doesn’t really know, but it must be hidden in Trump’s taxes (which the IRS has reviewed for decades.) The writer feels it in her ample gut, too, stating “Strzok was getting too close to the truth” without actually saying what that “truth” might be other than it would be bad. Ah, from Strzok: “I do think the president is compromised, that he is unable to put the interests of our nation first, that he acts from hidden motives, because there is leverage over him, held specifically by the Russians but potentially others as well.” That is a straight-up accusation of treason, a capital offense.
    And there both the writer and the source just leave it, no specifics, no follow-up questions, not even a pee tape. We’re left to fill in They Are All In On It, everyone who could have blown this wide open is dummied up — FBI, CIA, NSA, DOJ, Congress. Remember Mr. X, the character in JFK played by Donald Sutherland? Strzok wants to be him. Problem is he’s not good enough for an Oliver Stone film, so he’s just out there pimping his book.
    Same for some of the gotchas in Bob Woodward’s Rage. What reveals Woodward in this case as a propagandist, not a journalist, is his lack of curiosity. For example, he quotes Mattis and Coates as talking about the possibility of “collective action” against Trump. And then drops it. You’d think Woodward would have asked “Tell me more about that, what were you thinking?” A strongly worded Op-Ed or tanks on the White House lawn? Who else would have been involved? Was this the first time this was raised or almost the last? Woodward goes on to report Coates “felt in his gut” the Russians have something on Trump. Coates was of course the Director of National Intelligence, with the full reach of the global U.S. spying apparatus at his control. He was in a position to do much more than have a gut feeling on things, but Woodward leaves it at that. Woodward purposefully allows the audience to decide what Mattis and Coates were up to, filling in the silence in whatever their worst nightmare was.
    The Atlantic articles are sucked oranges. They are a rehashed muddle of Trump’s Worst Hits, accusations, and gossip people either have believed for several years because they will believe anything bad about Trump, or which people dismiss as a muddle of unsourced Trump’s Worst Hits, accusations, and gossip. It is what comes next that matters.
    The danger is in not snapping back. If Trump wins in November, does the media just pick up where they left off? Do they simply find a new cause to drive a new impeachment, demanding the 25th Amendment in published pieces while hinting at assassination in their ALL CAPS social media? Goldberg’s article got far too much attention for how little it had to say. But it has not gotten enough review as a marker, the place we had to end up when the media wholeheartedly advocated for the Iraq War based on lies. It is where we had to end up when the media buried things of concern with Hillary and helped create Russiagate out of anonymous sources. It is where we had to end up when the MSM uses its own freedom of speech to quash dissenting voices  (deplatforming is the 2020 term), dismissing them as unpatriotic in 2003 and as “useful idiots” and Russian bots in the current world.
    In defense of what they call advocacy, journalists often cite Walter Cronkite speaking out against the Vietnam War, or Ed Murrow publicly shaming Joe McCarthy. Not only are such  gold-standard examples rare enough that the list often ends there, they ignore negative examples, the most gleaming of which was the advocacy for the post-9/11 horrors. They also ignore how Cronkite’s and Murrow’s advocacy came at the end of dispassionate study, deep introspection, and clear sourcing. They did not seek to win the argument by literally rewriting history, as in the NYT’s 1619 Project. Cronkite and Murrow broke the objectivity wall not for a favored candidate, but over issues of deep national importance. And they knew the difference.

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

  • Democrats Unveil the Most Cynical Campaign in American History

    August 30, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

     

    With the Democratic virtual convention history, excitement among voters ranges from lukewarm to sort of lukewarm while America deteriorates around them like a man being shaved by a drunk barber.

    The convention made it clear — the Democratic candidate is not Trump. And he is not our candidate. You can call our guy Biden if you remember his name. Either way just vote for the one not named “Trump.” It’s easy. In fact 60 percent of Biden voters say their support is more against Trump than for Joe.

    Everything else is uphill.

     

    The Not Trump candidate is an old white man, but don’t pay attention to age, gender, or race even though he’s the same as Trump. The Democratic vice presidential candidate is younger, blacker, and less male so in her case age, gender, and race are very important. Kamala Harris exists as a lure to get a few depressed prog voters to bite on Ole’ Man Biden. That voters rejected her in favor of Biden in the primaries illustrates the cynicism: it didn’t matter, any black woman without too much political baggage would do.

    About Kamala being a woman and all. Pink Hats, Hillary claiming misogyny helped defeat her. Yeah, we hit that pretty hard. Yet Democratic primary voters consistently rejected six decent women candidates to winnow the field down to two men. Harris herself was thumped badly, the high point of her failed run being humiliating Joe Biden as a racist in the first debate. We now need you to ignore all that.

    For four years Democrats chummed the water with talk about progressive issues like free healthcare, free college, college loan forgiveness, abolishing the Electoral College, you know, the Bernie stuff. Neither Biden nor Harris is into much of that and despite Bernie coming in second place twice his ideas are going to have as much influence on Biden as they are on Trump. Same for all the others hyped along the way to keep everyone’s attention, Beto, Pete, Stacey Adams, AOC, Warren, before featuring the lost John Kasich, the lonely Colin Powell, and the ghostly Cindy McCain at the convention to make it clear how little the party really cared about all that. Viewers might have expected the whole thing to shift into a commercial for reverse mortgages, or maybe adult diapers.

     

    A few more, sorry. You know how during COVID the post office delivered everything you needed? We now need you to believe the greatest election fraud conspiracy in the history of democracy is unfolding inside the same place. Yes, that post office, the one with the confusing signs about postal classes where grandpa buys those things he calls stamps. That place will likely end democracy because this election will have so many mail-in ballots and Democrats believe all those mail-in ballots will be for them and each requires its own blue corner mailbox. So Trump will win because Republicans will vote by magic laser beam or something.

    Before she woke up Kamala was a prosecutor, a person whose job it is to put young black men in jail. She liked the police. Harris specifically did not adopt what is known as a “Brady Policy” under which she would disclose past misconduct by law enforcement in order to help ensure defendants received a fair trial. She hid misconduct instead, at least until she received a judicial reprimand and had 1,000 criminals released as unfairly convicted by her. Joe Biden sort of helped, too, authoring a  law making it easier for prosecutors like Harris to put young black men in jail. We know it kind of sounds like they were on the wrong side of Black Lives Matter until they wanted black votes but trust us, we’re not going to talk about it ever again. We’re certainly not going to replay Tulsi Gabbard weaponizing Harris’ prosecutorial record against her in a later debate which ended one of their careers.

    On that same list of things not to talk about, we know everyone enjoyed saying President Bone Spurs. Yep, his pug faced rich daddy got a doctor to pretend little Donny had bone spurs and so was exempt from dying in Vietnam. Well, fuggedaboutit.

    See when Uncle Joey was younger he too did not go to Vietnam. Joey got five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War, same as Trump. And in 1968, when his Joe’s student status was wrapping up, he was medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma. Asthma can be nasty stuff or it can be a bone spur. In Joe’s autobiography he described his active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player, and lied (note to fact-checkers doing their research: Biden lies are called gaffes) about being on the University of Delaware football team. His vice presidential physicals mention multiple aneurysms. Asthma, no. And Joe said “You have somebody who thinks it’s alright to have somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled to do it. That is an assault on the honor of this country.” Almost vice president Senator Tammy Duckworth, who was wounded in Iraq because she did not have asthma, called Trump a “coward.” But not Joe, got it?

    Same thing with sexual harassment. Fun for awhile, but Biden’s treatment of women means it’s a no-touch zone from now on. Go Google “Anita Hill” and you’ll get it. Same for “Tara Reade.” Tara’s been telling people since the 1990‘s Biden stuck his fingers in her private place unwanted, which is the same as Trump “grabbing them by the pussy” but maybe not. This will all get a little harder to pretend away when we spend the autumn replaying Kamala pounding #BelieveWomen into Americans’ skulls and tearing into Brett Kavanaugh for being a rapey high school kid but we pulled it off with Bill Clinton in 2016 and we can do it again.

    Kamala, wasn’t she fierce and nasty in cross-examining Brett Kavanaugh! And she tore new ones when Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr had their confirmation hearings, too. A street fighter! Let’s say that and not focus on the fact that she failed and all three men were confirmed, sort of like in her old world criminals were released back on the street because the prosecutor sounded good on the teevee but actually failed to make a real case as if she was doing it more for her than you which we acknowledge sounds sorta bad when you say it that way.

    Corruption used to be a good one to use against Trump. Unfortunately, after leaving the Obama White House, Joe and his wife made more than $15 million, mostly via sweetheart book deals. In fact, Joe and his wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 as they did in the previous 19 years combined. The University of Pennsylvania gave Joe $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to offer him indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching. And sure, Biden charges the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on his property so they can protect him which sounds like Trump but well, isn’t. And there’s all that business with Joe and his son in Ukraine, and Joe and his son in China. But it’s not like Trump in any way. So talk about Beau, the dead soldier son, not the other one.

    And even though it was individual state governors, mostly Democrats, who closed your schools, threw you out of work, closed the bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, stores, beaches, gyms, and churches, and banned football, graduations, funerals, last visits with terminally ill loved ones, fathers at their child’s birth, and interstate travel while allowing BLM protests which did not in any way spread the virus, we need everyone to blame Trump. Simpler? OK, if Trump wins you are going to die.

     

    The Democratic vision is the most cynical of any in American history. It says “we have no vision” but you all need to square up and vote for a mediocre candidate with a AI-chosen running mate anyway. No real details of betterment through policy, no hope and change, no American dream, but a threat. As Michelle Obama said “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can.” In other words, vote for us or else.

    We’re about to really find out whether anyone would really be better than Trump. The Dems dangled Bernie and Warren and delivered a candidate from when Luke married Laura in the same voice a waitress uses when she says “Um, sorry, out of Coke. Diet Mr. Pibb OK?” Joe Biden is so old he’s lost the race for president twice already and comes off like grandpa putting himself out there for one last fling after Grandma Obama passed away. But think how hard this all was; the Democrats only had four years and couldn’t even get rid of Hillary in that time.

    But stay positive. Biden-Harris have four clean aces: 1) maybe Obama will come back for policy cameos; 2) Joe will probably die in office and Democrats will finally check the box with a backdoored first woman president; 3) Despite his drooling on his tie, Joe’s cognitive decline is no worse than Trump’s and 4) no matter what, he’s not Trump. The Democrats, who could have swung for the fence this time, are instead betting the house on that last 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.

  • Unblock TV Box Reveals All About COVID, America, and Maybe Sweden

    June 10, 2020 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020


    So is this it? The last COVID column? Writing from New York I feel behind the curve (we’re still locked down) much as returning from Iraq and wanting to tell everyone what I saw only to learn most people had already changed the channel.
    We didn’t all die fighting over the last ventilator. Human colonies still exist in Georgia and Florida. Six Flags is gonna reopen soon. Joe Biden re-appeared in public (masked so he couldn’t hack up a new “gaffe,”) Trump is still president, the stores are full again with iJunk from China and despite any real imagined “Second Wave” (remember ISIS? The Yazidis? Kurd genocide?) it looks like most Americans are kind of done with this. We tend to binge watch now anyway, and the good part is over.
    Not for me. To pass the time inside while I wait for America’s governor to realize the COVID zombies on NYC streets are actually just our homeless emerging from the subways to molt, I’ve been watching TV news from around the world.
    I bought a Chinese-made streaming device of ambiguous intellectual property rights morality that delivers over 700 free TV stations from around the globe. I’ve made a little obsession watching COVID news from dozens of countries in English where I can find it, some in languages I know a little of, some in languages I can’t even identify. Grossly unscientific as well as probably a little illegal, but if you watch enough of it the patterns become very, very clear.
    No nation on earth tore itself apart over a virus response like the U.S. There was plenty of debate globally over the right thing is to do, but it all appeared intended to be productive and not politically-motivated destructive in nature. Not to say the U.S. media didn’t try to show the leadership they claim the world wants from us; while the BBC headlined new vaccine trials, CNN ran a report based on “sources” claiming the four countries which make up Great Britain are at odds with each other over how to respond. CNN even helpfully reminded Americans “Wales and Northern Ireland too often feel like an afterthought.” Indispensable nation FTW!
    In Italy, the news simply reported the Prime Minister announcing the sensical “We’re facing a calculated risk opening in the knowledge that the contagion curve may rise. We have to accept it otherwise we will never be able to start up again. Italy would end up with a strongly damaged economic and social structure if it waited to relax distancing measures until a vaccine becomes available.” The headline on what would have triggered calls for impeachment if not in the U.S. translated into something like “Relaxing social distancing is a calculated risk.”
    Perhaps most importantly of all, I found no other nation where a large number of people were convinced their leader was literally trying to kill them, to the point nightly news in America is still weeks later falsely reporting Trump wanted people to drink bleach. This is more than one item on this list. It is the core of America’s failure, the willingness to believe their government is not simply men who make mistakes, but men out to kill them. You can’t get past that, forgive it, correct it.
    No other media I found globally did what the NYT did on May 24, just ahead of Memorial Day, devote its front page to the names of COVID-dead Americans, the first front page in four decades to be just words, no photos or graphics. One has to go back to LBJ and the Vietnam War to find something similar — hey hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today? people chanted — holding the president himself directly responsibility for the deaths of individual Americans. LIFE magazine later devoted most of an issue to the photos of the men who died in Vietnam one week (which included Memorial Day 1969), a shocking sum of a failed policy. In 2020 the social/MSM toadies took the Times’ bait, and superimposed images of Trump golfing over the names. For readers who know history, the connection to Vietnam was undeniable. The direct responsibility link seems however more a creation of 2020 than the realization it was in 1969. The message’s intent was unambiguous: he killed them.
    I found no other nation where a large number of people were convinced their neighbors were also literally trying to kill them by not wearing masks, or any place where the decision to mask or unmask is seen so significantly as a political one. In Taiwan the government said people should wear masks, and then distributed them, and made extras easy to obtain. In other places cops hand masks to people who aren’t wearing one. Everyone in Japan just put them on. Americans weren’t sure where to find them and had to create their own masks via little handicraft projects, and then have to make heart-felt decisions multiple times a day under the judgement of strangers. Outside the U.S. a mask seems to just be a mask, whether you’re wearing one or not.
    People nearly everywhere they are able to criticize their government did so, and the debate in the UK and elsewhere over decisions was robust (they don’t all like their leader, either.) But nowhere except the U.S. was everything on TV so centered on blame, looking backward, rather than getting it right, look forward.
    No where else did armed protesters challenge their government. No place else where government decisions on which stores to allow open are so closely tied to broader over-arching national political themes. In no other place did anyone cry “give me nail salons or give me death.” I saw nowhere else where the response was so geographically different, where in one region bars were open and in another the police arrested people for not having a mask.
    America is the only place using the virus to justify less public transportation.
    With the possible exception of China responding to U.S. criticism, I cannot find any place that made the virus into a signature foreign policy issue, and feinted toward punitive actions to come. Borders got shut, then opened, as expedients, not as sneaky answers to unresolved immigration policy.
    No place else seems so determined to find new crises within the crisis — the virus yes, but in America we had a sub-crisis-of-the-week. Not enough tests, not enough doctors, not enough PPE, not enough ICU, not enough ventilators, no enough lockdown. And of course each sub-crises comes with its own sub-blame game.
    Not everywhere holds press conferences. Swedes tune in to the dry daily news conferences that pace like farm price reports. Of course the U.S. press have always been aggressive questioners, but I cannot find anywhere where open mockery and loaded passive-aggressive questions so dominate any discourse. This follows through to the “news” itself, so much of which is simply name calling, saying people are bonkers, stupid, mentally ill, incompetent, corrupt, and liars. This has uniquely spilled over into entertainment. It is very difficult to find anything produced in the last few years labeled in America as “comedy” that is not just name calling and mockery aimed at one side of the political spectrum. I cannot find anywhere outside these United States where media stars attack each other, where networks engage in ideological name calling, and claim each other distorts the facts to the point they are producing foreign propaganda, are anti-democratic, or are a literal threat to the nation. You get a little of that during Prime Minister’s question time on the BBC, but they are much more clever. Otherwise, you have to read the tabloids for it.
    No other nation has a cheerleading squad embedded in its media happy when a possible cure fails. Except when talking about America’s reaction, everywhere else hydroxychloroquine is just another medicine to be evaluated. Hope is rationed in America because it is a political weapon.
    I see nowhere else people wish fellow citizens get sick and die to prove a political point — You reopened too soon! You didn’t wear a mask! You voted Republican so die! Your third-party vote will kill grandma! I don’t see elsewhere the U.S.-standard told-you-so story, something with the headline “Barber Who Defied Lockdown to Cut Hair Tests Positive.”
    Racism is not unique to the United States but I cannot locate anywhere else where it is so embedded in the way the nation talked about or dealt with the virus, real stuff or imagined. Same for a search for “communities” hurt more than you by the virus: LGBT people, immigrants, Asians in general when just Chinese are not enough, special needs kids, a lip-reader who can’t understand masked people, prisoners, heroes who stock shelves, various “survivors” of other bad things, an endless search for more victimized victims. At the same time, no one seems driven to create and fetishize “heroes,” from cashiers to trash collectors. Same for countries with woman leaders; they don’t make a big deal of it but the American media sure does. The press from those women-led countries just talks about Leaders. They talk about competence in government not gender.
    No one else seemed so anxious to both undercount and overcount the virus deaths. A fair number of nations seem to want to underplay their death tolls, but nowhere is it both under and over at the same time.
    I don’t see anywhere else where whatever is on one’s political agenda (free college, debt forgiveness, public housing, social programs, guaranteed income, economic inequality, national service, freedom of religion, right to bear arms, abortion rights, the freaking post office and voting by mail) is being so directly tied to a virus response one way or another.
    So that’s it for COVID, a good couple of seasons’ worth. I’m still inside, though. Anybody heard anything good about this Netflix thing? I’m looking for something new to pass the time. Jeez, I gotta get out more.

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

  • Requiem for the U.S. Department of State, Part II of II

    May 26, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, NSA

    The Department of State has been adrift for the past handful of administrations, an agency without agency, personnel, or budget, in search of a mission. It is the essential agency which does nothing that matters anymore. As seen in Part I of this article, a number of secretaries of state, from the politically royal to the politically disabled, have failed to impact diplomacy. How did this all happen?

    Traditional diplomacy began as a necessary expedient. Nations had business with one another, but messages could take weeks to travel from one capital to another. Instead, ambassadors were sent out, empowered in the case of the U.S. as the President’s personal representative to speak in his name with the full force of the United States. Heady stuff. Messages back to Washington would report final results, such Ben Franklin letting the boys at home know he’d knocked out a treaty with France against Great Britain so we might win the Revolution after all. Hundreds of year later communications improved to the point where world leaders can now text each other, but those ambassadors and embassies remain as if Ben was still out there.

    Leaders came and went. For every Abraham Lincoln there were a lot of Millard Fillmore’s and Taylor’s (John and Zach) who mattered little. With exceptions along the way (FDR stand outs), presidents did not conduct first-name diplomacy or tie themselves up with the details of foreign affairs. They had secretaries of state for that. Everything shifted under Richard Nixon, whose interest in first-person diplomacy with China and reluctant ownership of the Vietnam War sent the State Department into a supporting role.

    The change began under Nixon. Events both internal and external to the U.S., its State Department, and the world, did the rest.

     

    A Rubik’s Cube, Not a Chessboard

    The world has changed even as the State Department is still largely configured for the early 20th century. State’s primary organizational unit is the nation-state, and so it divides itself into the “China Desk” or the “Argentina Desk.” Inside that unit, it is assumed the host country has a government that works more or less like ours, with a Foreign Ministry, some rational system of sending policies up to the leader, in most cases some sort of press, that kind of thing. So inside the country desk State organizes fiefdoms along subunits of Political, Economic, Press, and Trade. New diplomats arrive in foreign capitals to go off in search of their one-to-one counterparts. Everyone at Foggy Bottom assumes the basic framework applies from Albania to Zimbabwe. Over the years State has created regional divisions (East Asia) and topical divisions (Science and Tech) but overlaid these across the geographic divisions so that ideas skitter sideways and up and down simultaneously. The result is usually paralysis when it is not confusion. The problem is not determining who is in charge per se, but that 10-12 people all think they are in charge.

    The days of seeing the world as a chessboard are over. It’s now closer to a Rubik’s Cube that Washington can’t figure out how to manipulate. In many cases no one in State can get to the policy task itself, busy as they are arguing over who has the lead on some issue. In most cases senior decision makers elsewhere in Washington leave State to its internal fussing and seek guidance elsewhere — CIA, NSC, the Pentagon.

    No one outside of official Washington can appreciate how much 9/11 altered the way the U.S. Government thinks about itself. The shock changed the posture of the government from one of at times satisfied with passivity in its more distant foreign affairs to one demanding constant action. Presidents from that day forward would probably have preferred each Federal worker go out and strangle a terrorist personally, but if that was not possible everyone was to find a way to go to war. State never really has.

    Things change slowly if at all. State has no tanks or battleships, just people as its primary way of getting things done. In 1950 State had 7,710 foreign service officers. Pre-9/11 they had 7,158. Today it’s still only about 8,000.

     

    Growing Sophistication of Foreign Actors

    The traditional image of the older gentleman from the embassy meeting with the local king is for the movies. Foreign actors have gotten much more sophisticated in their ability to demand VIPs to fly in to finalize deals, and in playing local staff off against the real decision makers scattered throughout Washington. Those foreign actors understand today State is less than a one-stop portal into the USG and more of just one player to manipulate alongside others.

    In almost every nation, smaller bureaucracies allow easier bundling/unbundling of issues, something which befuddles State — Country X says if you want that naval base you have to cut American tariffs on cinnamon imports. State throws up its hands, paralyzed, knowing their real diplomacy will involve the Pentagon and whoever the hell does spice tariffs in what, Treasury? Commerce? Senator Johnson’s office, whose district controls most cinnamon packaging? The other side is scheming clever demands while State organizes Zoom calls. The joke inside the Department is deals abroad fail on diplomatic efforts inside the Beltway.

    Similarly, in most places abroad the U.S. has three centers of representation who vie for the authority of the United States, and are played off one another by smart foreigners. The Department of Defense maintains relationships with foreign militaries. The intelligence community does the same with host country spies and cops. State tries with everyone left over. Depending on the country, the civilians State interfaces with may matter little in a power structure dominated by say the army, or the local version of the CIA. That renders the American ambassador second place on his own team, never mind in the eyes of the locals. That ambassador may not even know what his own country’s military or spies are up to, leading to naughty surprises and the loss of credibility as a hollow figurehead.

     

    Militarization

    Negotiating in Iraq with a minor tribal leader for safe passage, he asked me as the State Department representative how many goats I was offering. About five seconds into my response on the need for lasting friendships, an U.S. Army major cut me off saying “I can get goats” and I no longer mattered to the negotiation, the war, maybe the 21st century itself.

    It is all about resources. The military has more people, more hardware, and more cash. From Great Britain to some valley in Garbagestan the military can offer new friends shiny tools (Section 1206 funding: for the first time since President Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, President George W. Bush allowed that the U.S. military would fund many weapons transfers directly from its own accounts, bypassing the State Department. Conspicuously absent from the debate over Section 1206 was Condoleezza Rice, America’s then Secretary of State.) State meanwhile needs a couple of days to arrange transportation to the meeting.

    Stephen Glain’s State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire is a sober biography of the Department since World War II. The choice of word — biography — is significant, in that traces the decline in old age of State as America’s foreign policy is increasingly made and carried out by the Pentagon. In particular Glain understands the military is organized for the new world order.

    “The yawning asymmetry is fueled by more than budgets and resources (though the Pentagon-State spending ration is 12:1), however. Unlike ambassadors, whose responsibility is confined to a single country or city-state, the writ of a combatant commander is hemispheric in scope. His authority covers some of the world’s most strategic resources and waterways and he has some of the most talented people in the federal government working for him. While his civilian counterpart is mired in such parochial concerns as bilateral trade disputes and visa matters, a combatant commander’s horizon is unlimited. ‘When we spoke, we had more clout,’ according to Anthony Zinni. ‘There’s a mismatch in our stature. Ambassadors don’t have regional perspectives. You see the interdependence and interaction in the region when you have regional responsibility. If you’re in a given country, you don’t see beyond its borders because that is not your mission.’”

    Adding to the problem is about a third of State’s ambassadors are political appointees, amateurs selected mostly because they raised big campaign bucks for the president. The United States is the only first world nation that allots ambassador jobs as political patronage.

     

    Self-Destruction

    State’s once-valued competitive advantage was its from-the-ground reporting. Even there the intelligence community has eaten State’s sandwiches with the crusts cut off — why hear what some FSO thinks the Prime Minister will do when the NSA can provide the White House with real time audio of him explaining it in bed to his mistress? The uber revelation from the 2010 Wikileaks dump of documents was most of State’s reporting is of little practical value. State struggled through the Manning trial to show actual harm was done by the disclosures. Some 10 years later there hasn’t even been a good book written from them.

    Under the Trump administration the State Department has seemingly sought out opportunities to sideline itself, now and in the future. Even before the 2016 election results were in, diplomats leaked a dissent memo calling for more U.S. intervention in Syria, a move opposed by Trump. Soon after Rex Tillerson took office, his diplomats leaked another memo very close to insubordination opposing the State Department’s role in Trump’s immigration plans. In yet another dissent memo, Foggy Bottom’s denizens claimed their boss violated a child soldier law. FYI: Nothing substantive came of any of those leaks/memos.

    Everyone in the current White House knows how many scandals of the last few years have criss-crossed the State Department: slow-walking the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails (after helping hide the existence of her private server for years), turning a blind eye to Clinton’s nepotism hiring her campaign aides as State employees (remember Huma?), the Foundation shenanigans, the crazy sorrow of Benghazi remembered, the Steele Dossier and many things Russiagate and Ukraine. Most of the impeachment witnesses were from the State Department, including one who claimed to surreptitiously listen in on phone calls with his political appointee ambassador to tell all later to Congress. That’s an awful lot of partisanship woven into an organization which is supposed to be about being non-partisan.

    Nobody trusts a snitch, Democrat or Republican. What White House staffer of any party will interact openly with his tattletale diplomats, knowing they are saving his texts and listening in on his calls, waiting? Hey, in your high school, did anyone want to have the kids who lived to be hall monitors and teacher’s pet as their lunch buddies?

     

    America’s Concierge Abroad

    What’s left is what we have, the State Department transitioned to America’s concierge abroad. It’s relevancy to top-tier foreign policy is questionable, and its work now mostly logistical. Embassies are great bases for intel work, military offices, the occasional evacuation, to grind out some visas, and for ceremonial events. Someone has to be out there to arrange VIP visits and tidy up local issues. For me, while stationed in the UK, I escorted so many Mrs. Important Somebody’s on semi-official shopping trips I was snarkily labeled “Ambassador to Harrod’s Department Store” by my colleagues. In Japan I found out my duties included re-authorizing radio certificates for American seamen under an early 20th century treaty.

    One of The Blob’s greatest accomplishments has been to convince a large number of Americans everything pre-Trump was normal and everything since is extraordinary. That sets up the idea that extraordinary means are needed to deal with unique threats, and that sets up throwing away the rules because ends justify the means. Meh. The work known as diplomacy otherwise continues in some sort, albeit done by people outside the Department of State. Future presidents will need to change that, or, if history serves, live comfortably with it.

     

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

  • Requiem for the U.S. Department of State, Part I of II

    May 20, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Afghanistan, Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Military, Syria, Trump


     
    Saying “Mike Pompeo” out loud feels odd, like mouthing the name of an old girlfriend, or shouting out your GMail password. It just feels wrong in your mouth, because what’s Mike or the State Department done lately? As the Trump administration wraps up its first term focused on domestic issues, it occurs the United States has passed almost four years without a foreign policy, and without the need for a Secretary of State or a department of diplomats behind him.
     
    On his first anniversary in the job Pompeo told assembled diplomats “We needed everyone in their place, working on the mission, if we were going to achieve this mission on behalf of the president” but never actually said what that mission was. A Google query shows “Searches related to Mike Pompeo Achievements” include “mike pompeo weight – mike pompeo net worth.” One can easily imagine Pompeo, even pre-COVID, slipping out the side door at Foggy Bottom shouting “I’ll be working from home, check with my deputy if anything comes up” while his wife is waiting in the car for him, Ferris Bueller-style.

    We had high hopes for Mike. He and John Bolton (as National Security Advisor) were the Bad Boys who were supposed to start wars with Iran and North Korea, outdo Cheney and even challenge the legend himself, Henry “Bloody Hands” Kissinger. Pompeo watched as not much happened between the U.S. and North Korea. He watched as the ending of the Iran nuclear treaty caused not much to happen. John Bolton, who liberals expected to see on a throne in Tehran rolling a mullah’s bloody head around his lap, instead sits by the phone hoping a think tank will offer him an intern to listen to his stories, or maybe Dancing with the Stars will ring needing a last-minute. That show on Fox?

    Prior to Pompeo, the Secretary of State was Rex Tillerson. Tillerson couldn’t even come up with an elevator speech of his accomplishments when asked, listing as he left office North Korean sanctions which achieved nothing, alongside his own mea culpas for failing to make progress in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq, where with a straight face he noted there was “more to be done.” A bit hard to blame him, as Trump chose a policy of stasis, not wanting to withdraw the last trooper and forever be the man who lost Afghanistan. Imagine if the U.S. had followed similar political caution and still garrisoned Vietnam?

    Commentators wrote Tillerson would be remembered as the worst secretary of state in history. Wrong. He made no significant blunders, gave away nothing. He just didn’t do much at all. His actual only real accomplishment was a humiliating apology tour of Africa meeting with leaders on the periphery of U.S. foreign affairs grouchy over the president calling their nations sh*tholes.

     

    It would be easy to blame Trump, his open mic night style of making decisions, his decrees by Twitter, sucking all of the diplomatic air out of the room and suffocating up-and-coming diplomats like Mike and Rex before they even had a chance to try on their plumed hats. Unlike his predecessors, Trump never took advantage of his get-one-free foreign incursion along the lines of invading Grenada, occupying Lebanon, or an adventure in Somalia, never mind the big ticket items like Iraq Wars I-III. Sure, Trump did bomb Syria (who hasn’t?) and nipped at Iran, but the tumescence was over before the media could even declare the end of the world again.

    One can imagine meetings with friendly foreign nations in the Age of Trump: “Anything new from your side? No, you? Nah, something on Twitter from POTUS about armageddon, misspelled. Say, Crimea still giving you trouble? A little, whatever, you watching Tiger King? Pretty funny. Quite.”

     

    So turn the page backwards to John Kerry, Obama’s second term Secretary of State. Kerry imagined himself a Kennedy-esque man of action, Flashman at the ready, and had the State Department keep an online tally of how many miles he had traveled doing diplomatic stuff. The Nation called him “One of the Most Significant Secretaries of State in the Last 50 Years,” heady company when you realize the list includes Acheson, Dulles, Rusk, and Kissinger.

    OK, but… Kerry’s signature accomplishment, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, faded quickly. As negotiated the thing was only for ten years anyway, and would be about half over even if Trump had not walked away. And that’s giving Kerry full marks for getting an agreement where the National Security Council did much of the heavy lifting, and one which the Iranians wanted badly enough to help their economy they were willing to trade away a lot of Wonka tickets. Kerry’s work with the TPP and Paris Agreement also showed good effort. We’ll put them up on the fridge next to the one song Ringo got onto each Beatles album. Kerry’s muscular efforts came to little substance (albeit through little fault of his own) but the legacy business is harsh.

    After that, you have John Kerry helping muck up Syria. Kerry floundering in the Ukraine and Crimea. Kerry failing to move the ball forward in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Palestine, or blunting China as it assumed a pivotal role in Asia in every way except militarily (they’re working on it.)

    That Nation article praising Kerry also cites as achievements “the military retaking of Mosul, the sponsorship of an Oceans Conference, the strengthening of the Gulf Cooperation Council…” all of which mean what in 2020? Kerry did sing Happy Birthday to Vladimir Putin at the APEC conference in the midst of a U.S. government shutdown. Kerry’s most significant achievement was leaving many Democratic voters secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush beat Kerry to take on a dismal second term.

     

    But Hillary! Never mind “one of,” Google chair Eric Schmidt called her “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson” (suck it, Kerry.) Secretary of State was only the first half of the prize Hillary got for clearing the way for Obama in 2008 (Barack shooing Joe Biden aside for her in 2016 was the second) and Clinton made the most of it. For herself. Ignoring America’s real foreign policy needs (or was she being ignored?) she turned the State Department into an arm of her Foundation, projecting “soft power” on things like women’s issues and AIDS to match her eventual platform, all the while generating B-roll for the campaign like a chunky Angelina Jolie. She also had the Department obsessively document her constant travels, with formal photos of Secretary Clinton alongside world leaders as well as selfies of Hil letting her hair down among her own diplomats. “Texts from Hillary” predated Instagram. Not a pair of dry panties to be found over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    But in the tally of history, Hillary Clinton accomplished… not much. Time Magazine listed her key accomplishments as “the liberation of Libya, establishment of diplomatic ties with Burma and the assembly of a coalition against Iran.” In a summary piece, USA Today singled out “Clinton convinced Chinese leaders to free blind dissident Chen Guang Cheng,” who returned the favor by joining an American think tank opposing abortion and gay marriage.

    From the horse’s mouth, quoting Hillary Herself, key accomplishments were “hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.” Not resume items as momentous as forever changing the Cold War balance of power by opening China like Henry Kissinger or assembling the first Gulf War coalition like James Baker. Meanwhile, the world owes Hillary for her significant contributions to the failed state of Libya and the subsequent refugee flow, the human misery of Syria, the missed chances of the Arab Spring, and failing to end other wars she helped start or voted for.

    A generation before Hillary we have Colin Powell and Condi Rice, whose only accomplishments as Secretary were to march America into the desert and abandon her there (Colin) and march the State Department into the desert with the guaranteed-to-fail mission to create democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and abandon her there (Condi.)

     

    The good news is the U.S. is experiencing a peace of a sorts not by sweating out the sins of diplomacy, but just by not going around the world throwing matches into buckets of gasoline. Trump has made little use of his Secretaries of State and their Department. No recent president made much use of those diplomats either, so they are unlikely to be missed.

    The next Secretary, whether working for Trump or Biden, will find themself in charge of a Cabinet agency is search of a mission. They may very well end up somewhere between the traditional ceremonial role of the Vice President, attending conferences and funerals, or perhaps simply overseeing a network of embassies to serve as America’s concierge abroad, arranging official visits for fact-finding Members of Congress, and hosting senior Washington policy makers in town to do the heavy lifting of international relations.

    If the U.S. government had to downsize into a smaller capital, the State Department would likely end up on the curb, alongside those boxes of the kids’ elementary school drawings. Cute, sentimental, good times, but why did we keep them all these years?

    How did this happen? In Part II of this article, we’ll look at the factors internal to State and the United States, and those external, global changes, that left the Department adrift.

      

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

  • Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

    April 18, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy, Economy, Post-Constitution America


     

    The talk in New York is about when to return to normal. But that misses the point; normal never really left, it just changed clothes. We traded economic disparity expressed through poverty for economic disparity expressed through viral death. The real problem isn’t when we’ll return to normal, it is that we will.
     

    All the energy that made this city more than livable, made it desirable, is gone. It’s just a big, empty place now, all the seams showing. The closed stores still have St Patrick’s Day decorations. Time stopped in March. I am a native New Yorker by birth, seven years now returned. I don’t know how many times we can all stand on the ledge and not jump. From 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, Super Storm Sandy. This feels more like the gray of post-war East Germany than the white hot panic of late WWII Berlin.

    New York state has more corona cases than any other country in the world. About half of all U.S. deaths are here in the broader New York area. Sure, there are other hot pockets but while NYC counts the bodies in the thousands there are some states still in single figures and most others in the hundreds. The stars may soon again hold benefit concerts for us, echoing post-9/11’s “ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” When the city talks in its sleep what many remember most is the kindness people showed toward one another that blue September, little courtesies of holding doors and allowing someone to cut the line, half smiles from total strangers in a place where such vulnerability could previously have made you prey.

    Not with the virus. We snap at each other, enemies now, each a potential carrier. This is a not a city which lends itself to personal space without a flash of aggressive eye contact. Walk without a mask and someone will snap at you. Two guys hissing something in Spanish at an Asian woman. Lines to enter the food store with everyone watching like North Korean border guards for sneaks. SNL and late night never mocked Bush in the immediate 9/11 aftermath. If we ever were one we are not now. Because we are for certain not all in this together as Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “Everyone is subject to this virus. I don’t care how smart, how rich, how powerful you think you are.”

    That is not true. The virus is highly concentrated in the poorest Hispanic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx. The viral death rate for Hispanics is 22 people per 100,000; for blacks 20 per 100,000 while the rate for whites is 10 per 100,000. For whites even that is deceptive, given the hot spots in the isolated Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn versus the paucity lack of white deaths in the high-income areas. Poorer people are more likely to die at home than in a hospital, and so the surge in at-home deaths, most never tested, suggests the death rate for the virus is being under-counted. Overall the virus is twice as deadly for Hispanics and blacks than whites in NYC.

    In New York we speak hundreds of languages but not to each other. A map of viral cases neighborhood-by-neighborhood tells the tale. America’s most diverse city, America’s most sanctimonious city about that, is also one of her most segregated on the ground.

    New York City is also the most economically unequal city in the country. It is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. Living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the largest homeless population of any American metropolis. The number of New Yorkers who live below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia or Phoenix, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. The billionaires fund the social services and the poor clean the homes and scavenge the trash of the billionaires.
     

    The reasons are the same reasons. Poor neighborhoods are served by the city’s miserable public hospitals, not its world-class private ones. A virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. The problem is the quality, not the quantity, of healthcare. “We are watching, in real time, racial disparities and the pandemic of poverty,” one assemblyman said.

    Poor people suffer from comorbidities (86 percent of the dead have one), particularly the ones of bad diets like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Hypertension is 3x more prevalent, and diabetes 5x more, in the South Bronx than in well-to-do lower Manhattan. Influenza, which has already killed about twice as many people this season as COVID-19, follows a similar pattern.

    The Elmhurst neighborhood in Queens is “the epicenter within the epicenter,” according to the mayor. Some 64 percent of its residents are Hispanic, and the median household income is three-quarters of that of the metro area. Nearly 11 percent of households there are multigenerational. The grouping of young (who carry the virus without symptoms) and elderly together helps drive the higher infection rates.

    Park Slope, Brooklyn, has some of the city’s lowest rates of COVID-19, 56 percent below average. Two-thirds of its population is white and the median household income is one and a half times greater than average. Less than two percent of households are multigenerational. But when the Surgeon General specifically admonished people of color to stop drinking and using drugs during the pandemic to power up their immune systems he was called a racist.
     

    This is the normal. The economic disparity driving the viral load in NYC was here long before the virus; COVID-19 was superimposed on that sordid base. What is happening now, the deaths, was always happening, albeit slower. This mocks what pundits are calling the big question, how to balance the city’s health and the city’s economic needs, when to re-open for business. Economic inequality has been killing people all along, and keeping poor people from working by decree only makes them poorer and eventually sicker. It is a slow death as opposed to the quick countable deaths from the virus.. Tom Hanks will thank the food delivery guys for their service on SNL but we still won’t pay them a living wage.

    One of the things blamed in NYC was the late decision to close the public schools. Many wealthy private schools closed on their own in early March. The mayor kept the massive public school system open until the middle of the month not for educational reasons, but because it doubles as a social service center for poor children, including 114,000 who are homeless.

    More than half of all public students get their meals at school, and for the homeless kids it is the only place they can wash clothing and clean themselves. Birth control and STD testing for kids from strict Hispanic Catholic homes mostly happens surreptitiously through the schools. The schools provide daycare so poor people can work, and are the last hope to keep a few children out of gangs and offer them a break from abusive homes. “Given the alternatives, schools are a safer place for many kids,” one teacher said. Closing the schools was a “last resort,” judged a better option than hiding from the virus at one point. The uptick in child violence and domestic violence in general New York is experiencing now was understood to be coming, collateral damage.

    The city made up its mind a long time ago. During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which killed 30,000 New Yorkers, the Health Commissioner demanded public schools be kept open, believing the risks of gathering kids together were outweighed by the benefits of giving them a break from their crowded and unsanitary tenement apartments. The Commissioner also noted working immigrant parents had no time to care for their kids, better to have them looked after at schools. As he put it, sick people don’t go to the theater when they feel bad but they do go to work.

    Same for the subway system, still running 24/7, a remarkably effective way to spread the virus. As in 1918, poor people can’t work remotely. NYC kept the public schools open, and keeps public transport running, then and now, knowing it would spread the virus, because the alternative hardships seem worse.
     

    I’ve lived in the developing world and you get used to this. You have and they don’t, way it is, beyond one man’s blame and seemingly any man’s fix. The biggest barrier to some sort of “re-opening” in NYC is to figure out how to express that in palatable terms for 2020. Not that we weren’t already already doing it for the last hundred years, but now we need to make rules to govern our apartheid of dollars that sound OK in the Sunday Review section. The rest is just logistics.

     

    BONUS

    New York is not alone. In Chicago, more than 70 percent of the deaths related to the coronavirus were among black residents, though blacks make up only a third of the city’s population. In Michigan, black residents make up just 14 percent of the population, but over 40 percent of the COVID-19 deaths.

    It was always sort of this way, but maybe a slightly better version of it. Up until the 1970s or so, New York had always been about The Deal. You put up with the filth, the crowding, the lack of empathy, and she’ll throw you a bone. If you really make it, the luxuries of the world are available at your fingertips. In the middle, for the plumbers and the clerks, a spring afternoon at the stadium with a hot dog and a beer (or nowadays more commonly, a churro) reached at heaven. For the immigrants, from the 19th century Irish, Germans, Jews, and Italians to today’s Dominicans and Vietnamese, work until you’re running, burned, and near blind, and we’ll educate your kids so they don’t have to.

    We did away with The Deal when we switched to more disposable workers. A janitor I know tells the tale. His father came to New York from Puerto Rico a few Americas ago. Dad worked nights until he bought a house in Queens. Miguel’s brother is out of work with a high fever, but the real worry is dad, diabetic and elderly and living downstairs. Miguel cleans for rich people and “can’t get sick” because he’s now holding the family purse. He’s angry his kids have to “online school,” because he wants them to make the move, third generation, up and out, and online isn’t going to be enough.

     

     

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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 Virus Comes for the Bernie Campaign

    April 15, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy


     


    RIP the Bernie Campaign. We’re left with Joe Biden, and that means the real race is now between Trump and the Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the panic and political opportunism surrounding it.)

     

    What will be missed in the post-Bernie analysis is the key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017, the Democratic Party and their media lickspittles telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. That strategy eliminated Bernie because whatever Bernie was, he was not a hero. He said it himself many times – “this is about a movement, it was never about one man.” The rest of them, the Beto’s and Pete’s and Kamala’s, were props, K-Pop media creations to satisfy a desire for diversity the media itself had mostly created.

    Twitter isn’t real life, and an important rule of the con is never believe your own bullsh*t. The Dems will ignore this and hope like hell some VP choice will negate all of Biden being Biden without realizing they never should have picked Biden.

    If Bernie ever had a chance in 2020 (and that is very unclear, his moment was in 2016 though the Democratic establishment ignored the yearning he represented because it was Her Turn, the big pay off for sticking with Bill, the second half of the pay off for standing aside for Barack) to move his ideas out of his Facebook friends’ circle into the mainstream. The Virus drove a dying progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. New ideas are scary enough in good times. Nobody wants to reform capitalism or talk about reparations in the middle of the war for survival the MSM told us we were in. AOC who?

    And now Joe Biden stands alone. Usually being the last man standing at the end of a fight means you won. But Biden is a black hole for enthusiasm, a dishrag (can you name one signature Biden proposal?) , a stand-in a candidate who through no fault or promise of his own will be the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.)

    With Trump big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    There’s the major problem of by choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

     

    This is now a one-issue race, the Virus. After more than three years of trying the Democrats (absent Bernie perhaps) have put few ideas forward. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump, while the public remains unmoved as they have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

    Long before anyone votes the Virus is going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we long did with Russiagate) “but just wait!” blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000, many still unused) should embarrass him as only a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Trump scores a win, or he says “the media never gave me a chance but we tried while they just whined it won’t work.”

    The end result is many people will return to sanity and understand, again, disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media preternaturally assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill everyone after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role.

     

    After Russiagate, impeachment, and the imploded primaries, the Virus is the Dems’ last swing at Trump. There won’t be time for another round. It will be a tough sell come November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when all they have to offer is a mistelling of events nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling passed off as journalism. Fauci, Cuomox2, the Hero Docs and Nurses, and whatever still-to-come good guys the media will have created so they don’t have to credit Trump with any success won’t be on the ballot. All the faux controversy, like the impeachment hearings, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America.

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into New York and New Jersey, the other scraping past most of the country. More than half of all cases and deaths nationally are in the New York City area.

    Even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is instead highly concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods; a Virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if the pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and not largely even a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation. Other hot pockets will flash, but the draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if things stay steady.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all this in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will also help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.

    Looking back to Vietnam, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see desperate liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day. Imagine a July 4 Trump rally, him congratulating the crowd for having beaten back the Virus as they shout USA! USA!

     

    The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus, with Joe Biden as a slightly interested bystander.

     

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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 Trump vs. The Virus in November

    April 14, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

     

    There’s a new variant on an old joke. Trump and Biden are in the woods and see a bear racing toward them. Trump starts to run. Biden says “You can’t outrun a bear!” Trump replies “I only have to outrun you.” The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Approval ratings only measure how fast one guy runs, and miss that’s it is a two-man race. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus to see who the virus, er, bear gets.

     

    The Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the political panic and opportunism surrounding it) drove the progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. No more Parkland Kids, no more Pink Pussy Hats, Beto who? Mayor Pete who? Got a Plan for That who? Articles in HuffPo about how the publishing industry is especially unfair to left handed LGBT disabled Muslim people with eczema seem like Olde English. AOC is an artifact reduced to demanding free stuff from the government not from her ravaged district in the Bronx, but broadcasting from her DC luxe condo. When Bernie finally quits he’ll be lucky to make the “And in other news today…” part of the broadcast.

    Biden is a dishrag, through no fault or promise of his own the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.) By choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system kinda sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden ten years ago and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

    With Trump dominating the media, big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    The key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017 has been the Dems telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. They have put few ideas forward on the road to making this a one issue election. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump does, while the public remains unmoved as they generally have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, Emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, trade crisis that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, ending of abortion rights that never happened, ending of LGBT rights that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork to include appropriating an additional $25 million in salaries and expenses for the Dem-controlled House. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

     

    Long before anyone votes this is all going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we did with Russiagate) the “but just wait” game of blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat that Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000) should embarrass him; a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then the masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill us all after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role. George W. Bush was reelected despite Katrina.

    So it will be a tough sell in November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when they mostly have to offer a mistelling of Trump calling the virus a hoax nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response over those nine months will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling the media passes off as journalism. Cuomo, Fauci, Birx, Cuomox2, and whatever still-to-come good guys and bad guys the media will have created won’t be on the ballot. Might as well recycle those pleas for Michael Avenatti to run for president.

    All the faux controversy as the media tries desperately to create gossip (Are Trump and Fauci fighting?), what did or did not happen “fast enough” in January, like the impeachment hearings that took place alongside that, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America. At what point might the numbers matter? For comparison, here are causes of death in America (2019) not being blamed on Trump as corona reaches 12k: cancer 606k, car accidents 39k, regular flu 34k, and in 2009 due to H1N1, 12k. Some states still have corona deaths in single digits. Now imagine Trump thanking and congratulating all those spared for their sacrifices and efforts at successful social distancing. USA! USA! We did it, together!

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into the New York-New Jersey area, and the other scraping past most of the country. Some half of the cases and deaths for all of the United States are in the New York City area. Hot pockets exist across the nation but there are only relative handfuls of cases in many states. The draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if that stays steady. This could be a NYCish problem, like Super Storm Sandy, devastating but isolated. By September rock stars may be again holding benefit concerts for The People of New York. Think Springsteen revising The Rising (“Come on up for the nurses, come on up wash your hands with mine.”)

    The thing is that even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, scrapping what one writer called post-9/11 “the ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” Because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is highly concentrated in the poorest ethnic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx, along with mini hot spots in Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn. NYC is fighting like hell to hide the demographic data, but studies suggest a Virus patient in the Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and largely not only just a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all that in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.
     
    Looking back to the Vietnam era, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now in April, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day.

      

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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 My Time as Bernie Burns Out

    March 16, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump


     

    How did the Democrats end up with Joe Biden their presumptive nominee?
     

    After three years of preparatory media artillery fire about diversity and change, those stupid pink hats, and chumming the electorate with promises of free college alongside all the healthcare-they-care-to-eat, Democrats started with six women, a couple of black people, the gay one, a huge mix of experience and background, and progressive ideas ranging from the necessary to the kooky.

    Here’s the full list of players — Biden, Gabbard, Sanders, Warren, Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Steyer, Patrick, Yang, Bennet, Delaney, Booker, Williamson, Castro, Harris, Bullock, Sestak, Messam, O’Rourke!, Ryan, de Blasio, Gillibrand, Moulton, Inslee, Hickenlooper, Swalwell, Walsh, Sanford, and some guy from West Virginia named Richard Ojeda.

    How many of their faces can you picture?
     

    The Democrat party ended up choosing the only candidate from 1958, 77-year-old Joe Biden. He’s old, he’s tired, he lost the race for president twice already (once for plagiarism and lying about his education), and he appears to be in some state of cognitive decline. Between the hair plugs and too-much botox he looks waxy, like grandpa putting himself out there for one last fling after grandma Obama passed away God rest her soul. That Biden is required to chose a woman as his VP as a sop to the last three years only serves to emphasize the tokenism of the moment — ironically it is the Democratic party which has demonstrated a woman, gay person, or POC can’t be elected president but here, see, we’ll put your photo on the refrigerator so everyone can see how hard you tried.

    The entire premise of the Democratic primary was false. It misunderstood Trump’s election as a fluke if not an outright scam, and that The People wanted a revolution. This was sustained by a relatively small group of disconnected people who through cancelation culture, peer pressure, and the need to fill a 24/7 media vacuum convinced each other they were right. So when a mediagenic Hispanic woman won a nothing race by a few votes against a sleepy incumbent in the Bronx, they told each other they were right and AOC is the proof. The echo chamber made it seem they were always right as they serially proclaimed new saviors, off-stage The Squad, on stage Beto! and Pete predominantly, though Booker, Harris, Klobuchar and others were granted mini-moments after a decent debate performance or some minor event. Some call it the “pundit fallacy,” a belief driven inside the echo chamber that Americans are at heart progressive people who haven’t yet been educated to vote the way they really should.

    The problem was as soon as the actual people were allowed a word it all fell apart. The primary narrowed very quickly. White voters didn’t like the black candidates. Novelty candidates like Yang and Steyer sucked up bandwidth and confused the electorate. Midwesterners were terrified of initiatives aimed at transgender, reparation, and illegal immigrant support blocks that existed only in the minds of candidates who read too much in the Atlantic and The Nation. Everyone wanted better healthcare but very few agreed a massive upheaval of our capitalist economic system was the way forward on that. The candidates went out of their way to ignore public opinion on these issues and alienate voters, especially purple voters. Maybe next time the party can find a progressive thinker who also likes to hunt deer.

    Now quick, name one of Biden’s signature policy initiatives.
     

    The second-to-last man standing, Bernie, was artificial. Unlike everyone else in the field, he started with a pre-built organization, fully-formed policies, and a cash load from 2016. He had a certain glow to him, having been treated so unfairly in 2016 but that did not help much when there was no anti-Hillary vote to glom. But while initial powerups allowed Bernie to survive, he never grew. The new voters he counted on never appeared, at least not for him. Voter turnout did increase on Super Tuesday compared with 2016 but most of those new voters went for Biden. Bernie was the rock band still touring behind its one smash hit; the audiences are the same people who loved them in the 70s, just older now, even as the size of the venues shrunk.

    The process of elimination reality drove forward was nudged by old-fashioned party power plays. Black voters were massed by local pols in South Carolina to come out for Biden. Someone behind the curtain (almost certainly Obama) made the calls to Buttigieg and Klobuchar and told them, as he likely did in 2016 with Biden to clear the way for Hillary, “kid, this ain’t your night.”

    You end up with Joe Biden.
     

    One writer called Biden’s success the product of the “politics of exhaustion,” seeing a Democratic electorate not anxious for change, but one that’s just tired, and tired of being tired. The unrelenting apocalyptic news cycles of the past few years depressed them and finally burned them out, and all they want is to tune out and put someone acceptable enough in charge. When Nancy Pelosi declared the morning of Super Tuesday “Civilization as we know it is at stake in the 2020 election” they had had it.

    Exhausted, you end up with Joe Biden, running on three things: 1) he’s not Trump; 2) maybe he’ll die in office and his VP will take over early in his term and 3) Joe’s cognitive decline appears slightly less than Trump’s in the race for Mr. Alzheimer 2020 but we’re not sure. Not exactly “Hope and Change.”

    Biden candidacy also means sweeping three years of Democratic messaging under the bed. The list of subjects Joe won’t be able to talk about is a long one. Russiagate imploded on its own. Impeachment centered Hunter Biden and ain’t nobody on the Democratic side gonna bring that up.

    President Bone Spurs? Biden received five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War, same as Trump. In 1968 when his student status was wrapping up, Biden was medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma. Yet in his autobiography he described an active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player. He also lied about being on the University of Delaware football team.

    Trump’s naughty finances? After leaving the Obama White House Joe and his wife made more than $15 million, mostly via a sweetheart book deal. Biden and his wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 as they did in the previous 19 years combined. The University of Pennsylvania gave Joe $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to grant him indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching. Biden charged the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on his property so they could protect him. Since leaving office Biden made $2.4 million on speaking engagements, including $10,000 for travel expenses to the University of Buffalo. A speech at Southwestern Michigan in October 2018 included $50,000 in travel expenses (for the rubes out there, travel expenses are not taxable income.)

    Taxes? After failing to close the loophole with Obama, Joe left office to create his own S Corporation, so he receives money for things like book advances and speaking fees not directly, which would cause him to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as with salaries, but laundered as divestitures from a corporation he owns. As corporate money, nasty personal taxes are fully avoided, and the corporation can claim nearly unlimited “business expenses” to be deducted against those profits. Joe’s S Corp also donated his own money back to his PAC. Legal laundering.

    Trump’s sexism and racism? Young people, Google “Anita Hill” now. You’ll be hearing a lot about her come the fall.

    Biden represents to many Democrat voters semi-living proof they will never see healthcare reform in their lifetime (Biden’s comeback drove a $48 billion gain for health insurance stock; they know.) Absent a timely cardiac event, they will not see a woman president for who knows how many years. Income inequality will remain the salient descriptor of our society. To win, Biden will have to break the record for oldest man to be sworn in as president (Trump holds the title now.)

    Biden’s worst enemy heading into November will be low voter turnout. His opponent for Democratic votes will be Mr. Just Stay Home. That’s why those polls which show broad dissatisfaction with Trump are useless. The Trade Joe Moms of Northern Virginia are never going to vote for Donald Trump. But they just might vote for no one. There are ominous signs; polls for several states Biden won on Super Tuesday, including Massachusetts, Texas and several southern states that helped catapult the former vice president into front-runner status found young voters did not show up at the rate they did in 2016. Same problem for disrespected Bernie supporters who just might sit November out.

    The black voters who saved Biden in South Carolina are notoriously fickle when it comes to turn out. Older Americans, who favor Trump, historically turn out at 30 to 40 percent higher rates than the youngest voters. The exaggeration of white privilege that became a cornerstone of the Democratic party — whites are racist, illiterate opioid-soaked gun nuts — is also one of the ways Democrats risk losing the 2020 presidential race, as it leads inexorably to the devaluation of voters needed to clinch the Electoral College.
     

    Biden’s presumptive status as nominee triggered the MSM hive mind to drop any talk of the issues which have dominated their agenda for three years in favor of droning about electability. It makes little sense. Why else vote for someone if not for what he represents and will do? You want electability, run a puppy. Biden represents the end state of a political thinking that literally anyone must be better than Trump. The backup plan seems to be rooting for the coronavirus to  trigger a massive recession.

    That’s betting the whole house on one thin straw. It’s what happens when you settle for Joe Biden.
     

     

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

  • Defamation: Enter Sandmann v. CNN

    January 25, 2020 // 0 Comments

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

    Once again a geopolitical event — this time, the killing of an Iranian General — was falsely blown by agenda-driven journalism into ItIsWWIIIWeAreAllGonnaDieBecauseTrump and then within a handful of days we realize no, not the case. Again.

    The facts never support the media contentions, but the facts seem to matter little. The need to drive an agenda,  Orange Man Bad, controls.

    Remember how Trump will start WWIII with China over Taiwan’s inauguration phone call, Trump will start global economic war with China trade sanctions, Trump will start WWIII by withdrawing from NATO, Trump will start a wider war in Syria bombing Russian bases, Trump will start a  war moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Trump will start WWIII pulling out of Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement, Trump will start WWIII with North Korea, Trump will sell out the U.S. to get peace with North Korea because he wants a cheap Nobel, Trump will start WWIII because he is Hitler, erratic, mentally ill, impulsive, isolated, Trump will ___ to distract from Mueller, Comey, impeachment, Trump will start a war over Venezuela, Trump will start a genocide of Kurds with Turkey, Trump will start a Mideast war after Iran attacked a Saudi oil facility or shot down a drone, Trump will start a civil war inside the U.S. after Charlottesville, or to stop the midterms, or to prevent the next election, or he won’t leave if he loses, Trump is a Russian asset, Trump owes Putin billions, Trump is Putin’s cockholster, Trump is a pee tape sex pervert, Trump will start a recession, Trump will trigger a depression, Trump is rich from emoluments, Trump is almost bankrupt with hidden taxes, the stock market will crash, trade wars will end global capitalism, Trump killed all the Puerto Ricans, Trump will take away health care, Trump will imprison LGBTQXYZ people, Trump will end legal abortion, Trump has America on the brink…

    One can find dozens of articles on any of the subjects above. By my count the NYT’s Paul Krugman predicted LINK a Trump recession 17 individual times, the first even before inauguration, alongside many more instances of the clear and present dangers of tax cuts, market bubbles, tariffs, and more. MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow devoted her entire show for about two years to the walls closing in on Trump, repeating “tick tock” like some modern version of the Rain Man.

    Columnist Max Boot in The Washington Post put into writing what we have all known for some time: real journalism, Jefferson’s informed citizenry and all that, is dead. The job has shifted to agenda writing, just plain made-up stuff to drive events. Boot is at least honest that he writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election, “Much of my journalism for the past four years has been devoted to critiquing President Trump and opposing the spread of Trumpism. But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office… I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.”

    The worst agenda journalism reads like bad anti-Trump fan fiction, worse than the basement Star Wars stuff where Leia always ends up without her golden bikini. Trump is a spy. Trump digs golden showers. Turn around his jest, and if Trump saved a man’s life in the middle of Fifth Avenue Don Lemon would explain that night why that was wrong, and an existential threat to the rest of us if not Democracy itself. If it doesn’t pass even the sniff test, well, it was designed to. When writing for a fan fiction audience one simply need to feed them the raw meat they crave (naked Leia, Orange Man Bad.) Truth, subtlety, challenging thought have no place and indeed no value. That’s kind of what you expect when the goal is basement Solo pleasures, but it is now one of the drivers of the national mainstream media in America.

     

    The giveaway that journalism is near-singularly devoted to an agenda, frightening the public in service of driving Trump somehow from office, is how the mistakes are always wrong in same direction. Meanwhile none of the people who keep track of the lies Trump tells and who are demanding “fact checks” before ads are allowed to run on social media seem to spend any time on the other side of the equation. Who would accept a track record this bad from their doctor, lawyer, their nail technician (“No, seriously, cracked nails are hot this year, it was in the NYT”)? Is there any price to be paid for agenda journalism?

    Assuming credibility, professionalism, and self-respect are apparently worth about zero, the price tag for agenda journalism looks to be about $25 million. That’s what CNN is reported to have paid settling a defamation case brought by Covington High School student Nick Sandmann charging the network “maintained a well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald Trump and established a history of impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president.” The amount is probably half what CNN spends yearly just on botox for Anderson Cooper but as Cooper’s estheticians are prone to say, it’s a start.

    Almost a year ago to the day Sandmann and his Catholic school classmates traveled to Washington, DC to join anti-abortion protests. Sandmann was photographed grinning at a Native American DC protest regular. The media with one mighty flatulent blast knew what to do. Based solely on a YouTube clip, outlets like CNN and WaPo imagined Sandmann, wearing his MAGA cap, as the distillation of everything evil, some redneck crapper from Kentucky a hatin’ women and a protestin’ them abortions and rubbing his smug grin in the face of a noble Native American POC supposedly trying to defuse a tense situation with native drumming. The drummer was also quickly (but wrongly) glorified as a Vietnam Vet.

    Blue Check Twitter suggested Sandmann be punched in the face, and veiled suggestions of mob action led to threats, Sandmann’s family temporarily run out of their home, the kid dropped from school trips, and other disciplinary action to include coerced apologies. The second wave was pearl clutching Op-Eds about what Trump has turned us into, and look, it has spread to The Children. The media implied Sandmann deserved it because of his politics. Contrast that treatment with the beatification bestowed on #Resistance kids like Greta Thunberg, and the good victims of the Parkland shooting (the Parkland kid who supports the Second Amendment meanwhile was media-doxxed out of his Harvard scholarship.)

    Not only was all of that absolutely wrong (Sandmann was never an aggressor, and alongside his peers, said nothing in return to those taunting him, even though CNN claimed they “looked like they were going to lynch” the Black Hebrew Israelites who actually started the whole thing) it wasn’t even news. Students on a field trip, with the media appointing Sandmann their symbolic oberfuhrer, were fashioned into props to fit the characterization people who wear MAGA hats are intolerant. The media cared little for the truth when they had their entire white nationalist anti-Trump agenda as they imagine it exists packaged in one handy snapshot.

    The media counts on America to forget their propaganda fails and move on. Only this time it turned out differently. Sandmann is suing a range of journalists individually, including Maggie Haberman, Ana Navarro, and Shaun King for slurs they threw at him on Twitter, and their employers for directing their massive global platforms to beat up an innocent high school kid. Included in the swath of lawsuits by Sandmann are CNN, MSNBC’s parent company, the AP, Gannett, and the Washington Post. In the words of the suit, they “brought down the full force of [their] corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child.”

    Representative Ilhan Omar, who tweeted the boys yelled “it’s not rape if you enjoy it” when they did not, is exempt from the suit as a public office holder. “Comedian” Bill Maher, who called Sandmann a profane name on TV, also likely enjoys a legal exemption for satire. Maher topped off his coverage of the events by making a child rape joke about Sandmann, stating “I do not get what Catholic priests see in these kids.”

     

    While the many suits are pending, this month CNN independently reached a cash settlement with Sandmann, one of those we-sorta-admit-it but legally do not admit, in the words of the lawsuit, to defaming Sandmann by accusing him of “engaging in racist conduct” without properly investigating the incident. The suits contend CNN and the others would have “known the statements to be untrue had they undertaken any reasonable efforts to verify their accuracy before publication.” In other words, CNN willfully failed to commit journalism, the finding of facts, the asking of questions in lieu of packaging what was actually nothing at all into a steamy piece to fit an existing agenda.

    With a win in Sandmann’s pocket and as his cases against the other media outlets work their way through the courts, others also appear ready to challenge agenda journalism via the defamation laws. Ten more Covington high school students are now suing various media for defamation. Elsewhere, writer Peter Brimelow is suing the NYT for labeling him an “open white nationalist.” Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Donald Trump, filed suit against Fox a month ago claiming defamation. George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, filed a defamation suit against HarperCollins, the Martin family lawyer’s publisher. Trump critic and Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig is suing the NYT, accusing them of publishing “false and defamatory” information about him. Melania is suing all sorts of outlets for defamation. Representative Devin Nunes sued CNN last month claiming the network defamed him with false reports he traveled to Vienna to meet with the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden helped oust in 2016.

    Under current law, most of those suits will fail. Going forward, how powerful a weapon defamation lawsuits might prove to be against agenda journalism will depend on how flexible the courts choose to be. Historically they have given great leeway to anyone, journalist or not, who appears to libel (an untrue defamatory statement in writing) or slander (same, but orally) public figures. The idea is if you put yourself out there as an actor, or a politician, you’re expected to take a few slings and arrows and so the standards of proof are higher. This is what allows tabloids like the National Enquirer to get away with making up stories about popular figures as their basic trade. Defamation as a business practice was once upon a time what they did, and not what places like the media of record are now about.

    The major defenses against defamation are truth, or that the alleged defamatory statement was a statement of opinion. If CNN were to prove Nunes did go to Vienna as reported, that would end his suit. One woman who claims Trump raped her several decades ago is now suing him, claiming his Constitutionally-protected statement of innocence defamed her. Her suit demands he prove the truth of his denial to escape judgement. Opinion is exempt when it is truly some sort of opinion — Nunes is the worst Congressman ever — and not just when it is fudged along the likes of “This reporter’s opinion is Nunes traveled to Vienna.”

    The hope would be justice recognizes a new media environment has crawled out from the mud, one which drags innocent people onto the national stage unnecessarily and without context in a way which is unethical and exploitative. And that even public figures, never mind the voters who select them, deserve accurate, factual reporting.

    Yeah, one can hope. But in the case of CNN and Nick Sandmann, it appears the network would rather pay out a couple of million dollars then to roll the dice to see what a court would say. And hey, small world: Nick Sandmann’s attorney, Lin Wood, is the same person who successfully represented Richard Jewell in his defamation suit against CNN years ago, when the network falsely labeled him the Atlanta Olympic Park bomber.

    In a rare breath of self-examination, columnist David Brooks wrote “Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable. The anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.”

    That CNN has not made any noticeable changes in its stream of agenda journalism since the original incident a year ago, or since settling with Sandmann, suggests what they paid out is to them a reasonable price to continue to lie to the American public. Defamation settlements are just another business expense. The Founders assigned journalism a specific role to ensure that citizens would be able to carry out informed debates. Truth, they understood, is more than an ideal, it is a perspective. Yet over the last three years serious journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush to do away with Trump, not by honest persuasion but by any means necessary. Fear won out, and so objectivity is now #Collusion. Seeking facts before going viral is so 2015. The media picks on kids because they can’t get Trump. We asked for an informed citizenry and we got Mean Girls.

     

     

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  • (No) World War III with Iran

    January 15, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Military, Trump

    History will judge the long-term impact of the death of Qassem Soleimani. In the short-to-medium term, let’s step back from the fear-mongering to remain purposefully agnostic towards the meaning of Soleimani strike itself to instead focus on the geopolitical factors which make the large-scale war many fear unlikely.

    For Iran to provoke a large-scale war is suicide. They have no incentive to escalate to that level, though they may conduct attacks consistent with the last decades. Those attacks, and the U.S. responses, will in the current political and media climate (#WWIII was trending on Twitter and frightened youngsters crashed the Selective Service website worried a draft is forthcoming) consume our attention far beyond their actual impact, but they will in reality cycle inside the rough rules of what diplomats call escalation dominance, the tit-for-tat trading of controlling the moment, trying to stay under the victims’ threshold of response. Emotion is for amateurs.

    The most recent series of events bear this out. Iran and/or its proxies have fired on U.S. bases in Iraq multiple times, initiating the current escalation that included Soleimani’s death and this week’s missiles launched from inside Iran at American bases at Al Asad and in Erbil. Yet according to one long-time regional observer, “This doesn’t yet feel like a major escalation. Iran can claim it took revenge. Feels more like an escalation to deescalate.” Among other signals, the missiles’ long flight time, over some 200 miles, gave obvious warning to areas already on alert.

    Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted Iran was finished fighting and was not actively pursuing further escalation. Trump undertook no immediate counter-attack, and in a speech spoke only of further economic sanctions alongside some vague thoughts on future agreements. The two countries’ actions add up to a collective “We’re done if you’re done” for this round.

    This was all to be expected. Iranian leaders know theirs is a developed, industrialized nation, unlike places like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq (and Vietnam before those.) It does not need to be invaded or occupied, it can be destroyed from the air. As only a regional power, it suffers from a massive technological disadvantage in any conflict the U.S., a nation, perhaps sadly, now long past the calculations of “kill a few Americans and watch them run” that drove it from Somalia in 1993 after “Black Hawk Down,” or out of Lebanon after the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks by Iranian-proxy Hezbollah. Unlike years past, America is willing to take a punch to throw back two. Iran’s political leaders are aware of the limits of asymmetric warfare in this world, especially because America’s lack of dependence on Persian Gulf oil means 2020 is not 1991.

    Iran, under sanctions, is near totally dependent on what oil it can export. Oil requires massive infrastructure, all of which can be bombed. Iran’s military operates in large part out of fixed sites. Its navy is small and its bases can be destroyed from the air, its harbors mined from above and below the water. The Iranian military is ranked globally below Brazil and Italy.

    I’ve been to Iran. I saw the martyrs memorial outside the main marketplace in the holy city of Mashhad, with the names of Iranians who died fighting the U.S. in Iraq from 2003 forward; Soleimani is respected by many Iranians, but he is neither the first nor the last soldier to die in this ongoing long war.

    Iran’s government meanwhile is a tense coalition of elected civilians, unelected military, and theocrats. None would stay in power following a major war. They face an almost schizophrenic population, happy to chant Death to America but equally open to the idea, albeit on more liberal terms than five American presidents, Republican and Democrat, have been willing to offer, of finding a way out from under sanctions that would release their potential and open them to the world.

    Iran understands its limits. Think about the provocations Iran has been forced to endure without escalation: U.S. troops landing in-country in a failed hostage rescue in 1980, U.S. support for Iraq in using weapons of mass destruction and the provision of intelligence which allowed the Iraqis to rain missiles on Iranian cities in 1980s, the U.S. shooting down an Iranian civilian aircraft, killing some 300 innocents in 1988, U.S. invading and occupying Iran’s eastern border (Iraq 2003) and western approaches (Afghanistan 2001) and maintaining bases there. In 2003, when Iran reached out following initial American military successes, George W. Bush flippantly declared them part of an Axis of Evil. U.S. forces then raided an Iranian diplomatic office in Iraq and arrested several staffers in 2007. The U.S. has kept crippling economic sanctions in place for decades, conducted the Stuxnet cyberattack in 2010 destroying Iranian nuclear centrifuges, and another 2019 cyberattack, never mind what the Isarelis have done covertly. Nothing led to a wider war. Soleimani died in context.

    Iraq, politically and geographically in the middle, has every reason to help calm things down. Despite the rhetoric, the Iraqi government needs the U.S. in situ as a balance against Iranian hegemony and as a hedge against the rebirth of ISIS. The recently passed, non-binding resolution for U.S. troops to leave Iraq carries no weight. It was passed by a divided government in caretaker status, applies only to the withdrawal of the anti-ISIS joint task force, and lacks both a timetable to happen and a mechanism to enforce it. Even that symbolic vote was boycotted by Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish (so much for losing the Kurds as allies) legislators, illustrating the difficulties a coalition Iraqi government faces in getting anything done.

    Should Iraq somehow find a way to move against the U.S. troop presence, promised American sanctions on Iraqi oil would devastate the economy and likely topple a government already besieged by its citizens of all backgrounds for failing to provide necessary basic services. The $200 million in direct aid the U.S. paid Iraq last year is a tiny portion of billions flowing in from Washington via loans, military assistance, training funds, etc. That all would be missed. Iraq needs a relative state of peace and stability to hold on. It will make ceremonial anti-American actions to appease its Shia majority and make it appear it is not being ordered around by the Americans it loves to hate, but the U.S. is not be driven out of Iraq.

    America itself has no reason to escalate any of this into a real war. Iran is strategically more or less where it has been for some time and there is no U.S.-side driver to change that now. Chaos in Tehran serves no purpose, and war would spiral the nation into a series of internal struggles spiced with fissionable material that has no place in a foreign policy calculus in an election year at home. Trump gets the political credit (84 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents approve of the strike) from his base for a tough-guy move with none of the sticky problems a wider conflict would create. His post-missile attack remarks position him as open to new talks of some kind.

    To accept the U.S. will start a major war assumes a fully irrational actor unfettered. Many people want to believe that for political purposes, but the hard facts of the last three years say when it gets to this strategic level Trump has not acted irrationally. Same this time; he did not act irrationally, or even provocatively, in the aftermath of the Iranian missile launches.

    It’s hard to point to any irrational act, a decision made that is wholly without logic or reason, a choice Trump knew would have dire consequences yet went with anyway. Forget the tweets; they have never added up to much more than fodder for pop psychologists, impulsive remarks not followed by impulsive acts. Absolutely none of the apocalyptic predictions have come to pass. See North Korea, where Trump was supposed to start WWIII two years ago, or the trade wars that were to destroy the global economy, or any of the other pseudo-crises. In sum, no new wars. Economy chugging along. Trump manipulating Democrats into practically putting Che-style Soleimani T-shirts up on Etsy. The current commander-in-chief is likely to start a war? He’s the only recent president who hasn’t.

    If any of arguments above seem familiar, it’s because some are recycled bits and pieces from when Trump was in a Twitter fight with North Korea two years ago, and Democrats and the media insisted we were on the threshold of war.

    So forget the irrational actor argument. What is different going forward (Iran and the U.S. will clash again) is the risk that does exist with the post-1979 generation in the military and Deep State, those who remember the biggest red line of all, when the Iranians took 52 American government personnel hostage out of the American Embassy in Tehran. A lot of bad things happen out there in the world, good guys get chalked up, intelligence officers rolled, bombs go off in crowded nightclubs, drones shot down, but stone-cold taking hostages in diplomatic status right out of their embassy offices just isn’t done.

    The Nazis didn’t do it, the Communists didn’t do it, neither did dictators from the Kims to Pol Pot. Iran did, and the blood runs bad inside U.S. government old timers even today. Though they obviously failed this round, those people will try to get to Trump again after the next provocation with Iran. Revenge some say isn’t a policy. Maybe true; but revenge can be a goal and some will see their chance to use Trump’s willingness to act unilaterally and any miscalculation of over-reach by Iran as the excuse. There lies any real danger.

     

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  • On the Afghan Papers, Tequila, and Anne Smedinghoff

    January 3, 2020 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Democracy, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen


     

    It’s common this time of year to write review articles making sense of the events of the last 12 months. But what all of them will omit is one of the most important stories of the year. For the first time in some two decades America hasn’t started a new war.

    In 2019 34 American service members died in war. In 2009 it was 459, in 2003 it was 526. A total of 6857 since the post 9/11 wars commenced in 2001 with the invasion of Afghanistan. Bush began that war, then invaded Iraq in 2003. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 then immediately expanded the war in Afghanistan. He went on to restart America’s war in Iraq after it was over the first time, launched a new war to turn Libya into a failed state and trigger the refugee flows still disrupting EU politics, engaged the U.S. in Yemen, abetted a humanitarian crisis in Syria, and set off yet another refugee flow into Europe through military intervention. So three full years without a new war is indeed news.

    This year also brought mainstream confirmation of the truth behind the Afghan War. The Washington Post, long an advocate for all the wars everywhere, took a tiny step of penance in publishing the “Afghan Papers,” which show the American public was lied to every step of the way over the past 18 years about progress in Afghanistan and the possibility of some sort of success. Government officials from the president(s) to the grunt(s) issued positive statements they knew to be false and hid evidence the war was unwinnable. The so-called Afghan Papers are actually thousands of pages of notes created by the Special Inspector for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog federal agency created to oversee the spending of close to one trillion dollars in reconstruction money.

    The SIGAR documents (all quotes are from the Post’s Afghan Papers reporting) are blunt. “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking… If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction, 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added. “Who will say this was in vain?” There are plenty of similar sentiments expressed going back a decade, with hints of the same almost to the first months of the conflict. The record of lies is as stark, final, and unambiguous as the death toll itself.

     

    Underlying all these comments given to SIGAR confidentially (WaPo had to fight a hellish FOIA battle to get these Papers released and even then most names were redacted) is a subtheme of what happens when the public finds out they’ve been lied to? The lesson there is a clear one: the public will have it shoved under their noses and ignore it repeatedly. The “secrets” of what was going on in Afghanistan were available for any who cared to call bullsh*t. Everything that failed in Afghanistan was at some level a repeat of what had failed earlier or concurrently in Iraq. The Papers quote an Army brigade commander in eastern Afghanistan who told government interviewers that he often saw nation building proposals that referred to “sheikhs” literally cut-and-pasted from reconstruction projects in Iraq. (“Sheikh” is an Arabic title of respect regularly misused by the military in Iraq but inapplicable across most of Afghanistan.) Many reconstruction personnel on the civilian side were transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan, and senior military leaders followed enlisted sons and fathers in doing deployments in both nations.

    On paper the story was the same. Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks exposed the lies in Iraq, only to face jail time and personal destruction. Whistleblower Matt Hoh, who served in Iraq as a Marine and in Afghanistan with the State Department, resigned in protest and told all as far back as 2010. My own book on Iraq exposed reconstruction was a failure in 2011, as did Chris Coyne’s on reconstruction in Haiti in 2010, or Douglas Wissing or Anand Gopal on Afghanistan or more recently Scott Horton’s in 2017. The Army’s Lt. Col Danny Davis, or even SIGAR’s own reporting over the years told much of the same story if anyone had bothered to read it. If anyone had looked deeper, they would have seen the same errors in reconstruction made many times before, from Somalia to the massive CORDS program in the Vietnam War.

    The Papers also show during the peak of the fighting in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, U.S. politicians and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other projects the faster things would improve. Aid workers told SIGAR from the ground “it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.” One staffer with the Agency for International Development claimed 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.” A contractor explained he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home, and “he said hell no. I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.”

    It was never a question of would it work, but more of a question of finding any example in the past where it did work. The one cited by so many NEOCON believers was the post-WWII Marshall Plan, as if loans to German and Japanese industrialists to rebuild factories and retool from tanks to cars had anything to do with the medieval economy of Afghanistan.

    But perhaps owing to their roots as the watchdog of the reconstruction program, SIGAR saves some of its most laser-like commentary for nation building.

     

    But Afghanistan was always supposed to be more than a “kinetic” war. The real battles were for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, with money as the weapon. Democracyfreedompluralisticsociety would be created from the primeval mud, with roads and bridges and factories as its Adam, and schools for boys and girls as its Eve. One of the core lies told to the public, and to each other on the ground in Afghanistan, was that a large portion of reconstruction money should be spent on education, even though Afghanistan had few jobs for graduates. “We were building schools next to empty schools, and it just didn’t make sense,” a Special Forces officer explained. “The local Afghans made clear they didn’t really want schools. They said they wanted their kids out herding goats.”

    “There was not a willingness to answer questions such as, what is the meaning of this number of schools that you have built? How has that progressed you towards your goal?” said John Garofano, who supported the First Marine Expeditionary Force in its reconstruction spending in Helmand Province. “How do you show this as evidence of success and not just evidence of effort or evidence of just doing a good thing?”

    And it is on that specific bruised prayer of a lie that Anne Smedinghoff, the only State Department Foreign Service officer to lose a life in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, died.

    This is what all those lies detailed in the Afghan Papers translate into on the ground. Anne was a diplomat, just 25 years old, assigned by the State Department to create good press in Afghanistan so the people at home could see we were winning. It was a hard fight, her work was supposed to show, but the sacrifices were worth it because we are accomplishing this. This in the very specific case which destroyed Anne was handing out unneeded books to Afghans who lacked clean water and childhood vaccines twelve years into America’s longest war so she and (important) more senior people could be photographed doing so. Inside the beltway this was called a “happy snap,” photos of Americans doing good with, albeit always in the background, smiling Afghans lapping it up. Through a series of grossly preventable micro-errors in security nested like Russian dolls inside the macro-error of what Anne or any American was doing in rural Zabul, Afghanistan anyway, Anne’s body was blown into pink mush by jagged fragments of steel from an IED.

    The school where Anne was killed was “built” by the U.S. in October 2009, only to enjoy a $135,000 “renovation” a few months later that included “foundation work, installation of new windows and doors, interior and exterior paint, electricity and a garden.” The original contractor did miserable work but got away with it in the we’ll check later Potemkin world where the appearance of success trumped actual results. The Army noted as the school opened “The many smiles on the faces of both men and women showed all were filled with joy and excitement during this special occasion.” That the Afghans in the area likely needed sewage processing to lower infant mortality levels from water borne disease was irrelevant, they got a freaking school.

    The limited official reporting on what happened to Anne bungled most of the details, and State clung (as they later did with Benghazi, some lessons are learned) to a weak tea that the “cause” of Anne’s death were the actions of the bad guys, anything we did up to our very presence on the ground treated as a kind of background. The desire to not look too deep was underscored by then Secretary of State John Kerry, who said “she tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future” and smoothed the media into blending Anne’s death into what the entire world now knows is the fake narrative Anne herself died trying to create.

    Kerry is an easy target because of his Vietnam-era protests, including his famous question to Congress in 1971 “Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

    To the State Department, what mattered in the life and then death of Anne Smedinghoff was damage control to what the Afghan Paper show they secretly knew was an already-failed story.

     

    Anne was only one of thousands of Americans, and, literally-only-God-knows how many Afghans, who died for the lies in the Afghan Papers. Same in the other countries America made war against, Syria and Libya for example, whose “papers” exposing those lies we await. So that’s why the biggest story of 2019 is the one no one seems to want to talk about, that for the first time in decades we seem to be slowing this all down.

    When someone writes now, in light of the reveals of the Afghan Papers, Anne died in vain, someone else will dismiss that as playing politics with a young woman’s death. But if you will read one more sentence, read this: Anne’s presence in Afghanistan was about politics, and her death delivering books for a photo op was a political act in support of lies. Her death thrusts her into the role of symbolism whether anyone likes that or not, and our job is simply to determine what she is indeed a symbol of and try to learn from that.

    For me, I learned on the same day Anne died an airstrike elsewhere in Afghanistan inadvertently killed ten children. I learned on the nights I think too much about things like that it usually takes a fair amount of tequila to abort my thoughts. And I take no pride in admitting I usually just drink from the bottle. But tonight I’ll use a glass, so I can raise it to Anne. I know she won’t be the last, there’ll be another set of “papers,” but there’s always hope at the bottom of a glass, isn’t there?

      

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