• Anonymous Sources Tell Us How Democracy Ends

    September 27, 2020 // 1 Comment »

    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.

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    The Obama Doctrine: The Audacity of Ignorance

    March 28, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    Obama



    Think what it must be like to be one of America’s allies.


    You enjoy some trade, watch Beyonce and Brad Pitt at the movies, and visit Disneyland on holiday. But then there’s America again at your cubicle, asking again that you join some coalition, get some troops into another wacky American overseas intervention for freedom, or regime change, or to stop another impending genocide only American can see or stop. What can you do? It’s hard to say no knowing what a big bully the U.S. is, but given how poorly the last one worked out, and the one before that, and the one before that, nobody at home is in favor of another round. Still, you’re stuck giving something, so maybe a few special forces, or a couple of airstrikes, as a token…

    And then you get blamed for being a freeloader when things don’t work out, or America loses interest and expected you to pick up the slack. And why not? America has a lot of coalitions and freedom to look after globally, and just can’t take care of everything.



    The Obama Doctrine

    That bit of sarcasm unfortuately seems to describe the “Obama Doctrine,” as laid out in a legacy-killing interview with the president in Atlantic magazine.

    Specifically, Obama was referring to the 2011 conflict in Libya. Coming on the heels of the fading Arab Spring, Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi’s 34 year stable reign appeared to be weakening. The U.S., after decades of hostility with Libya, had reopened diplomatic relations in 2006. As part of that deal, Qaddafi rid himself of a nascent nuclear program. As unrest, however, spread in 2011, Qaddafi threatened a violent crackdown.

    Obama (all quotes are from Atlantic): “At that point, you’ve got Europe and a number of Gulf countries who despise Qaddafi, or are concerned on a humanitarian basis, who are calling for action. But what has been a habit over the last several decades in these circumstances is people pushing us to act but then showing an unwillingness to put any skin in the game.”

    While there is no doubt many nations expressed concern (who wouldn’t?), it appears only the United States wanted to drive those thoughts into armed conflict. While Obama was allegedly wary of another U.S. military action in the Middle East, his advisors, lead by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, invoked that magic Washington, DC word “genocide,” claiming Qaddafi was about to “slaughter his own people,” and stopping that was a foreign policy “to-do” item for the United States.

    Obama: “So what I said at that point was, we should act as part of an international coalition. But because this is not at the core of our interests, we need to get a UN mandate; we need Europeans and Gulf countries to be actively involved in the coalition; we will apply the military capabilities that are unique to us, but we expect others to carry their weight.”



    Free Riders

    But, according to Obama, that is where the good news ended.

    Obama: “When I go back and I ask myself what went wrong, there’s room for criticism, because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up… [French leader] Sarkozy wanted to trumpet the flights he was making in the air campaign, despite the fact that we had wiped out all the air defenses and essentially set up the entire infrastructure for the intervention.”

    As for the UK, British Prime Minister David Cameron soon stopped paying attention, becoming “distracted by a range of other things,” according to Obama. The basic idea was having arranged the intervention in Libya, and having proceeded with a very small coalition that for practical purposes included no Arab nations, it was going to be up to France and the UK to take over the messy part of the operation, which was ill-defined by the U.S. except as “whatever happened next.”

    And when France and Britain did not jump to achieve America’s goals, what was Obama’s characterization of them?

    “Free riders,” he said.



    The Audacity of Ignorance

    What that Obama Doctrine omits is that the coalition, such as it was, was formed to prevent Qaddafi from harming large numbers of Libyans. However, the mission quickly and without any outside mandate morphed into regime change, with the goal now set to kill Qaddafi and replace him with, well, the U.S. would find someone. As could have been easily foreseen given the failure of a similar policy in Iraq, and as subsequent events proved all too clearly in Libya, the result was chaos. Libya is now a failed state, home to its own Islamic State franchise.

    The audacity of the American president to blame even part of that outcome on other nations speaks to dark things in the American character, and American foreign policy, which will continue to plague the world for some time. And while many globally fear a President Trump, they will be advised to recall Hillary Clinton’s leading role in the Libyan disaster as well.

    Washington lives and works in a bubble, of its own making, of its own ignorance.

    Inside that bubble, American goals are deemed, de facto, to be world goals, and coalitions should form like crystals around them. America alone is the arbiter of what “genocides” need or need not be stopped, and at what point the United States should start something, and then back away, and then perhaps return. The American foreign policy establishment never seems to notice that for all the genocides that need stopping, all the evil dictators that need toppling, and regimes that need changing, few if any nations seem to share America’s zeal for military intervention. Few countries seem so committed to bypassing other tools of foreign policy (diplomacy, trade) and jumping to the literal attack. In fact, few countries seem to want to put skin into the game, to use Obama’s expression, perhaps in large part because it is not their game.



    History is Not Generous

    If Libya was an isolated example, history might be more generous to 21st century America.

    But one must look to Afghanistan, where a shell of the original coalition sent to bust up the Taliban now acts to maintain some-sort of American vassal state. Iraq of course is the uber-example, a war to stop another evil dictator (formerly supported by the United States) that changed under its coalition’s nose into creating a whole new nation-state in America’s image. The same is happening in real-time in Syria, where the U.S. State Department still believes a coalition of 62 nations is furthering whatever America’s goal there might be.

    Obama and all of the presidential candidates also keep saying much the same thing about how the Sunnis and Kurds need to “step up” to fight ISIS.

    Standing above them all is the grandest of American coalitions at present, that one that seeks to smite Islamic State, in the many countries it has metastasized into. But funny, one hears little any more about any coalition against al Qaeda. Meh, times change, gotta move on.

    One foreign commentator said the United States has “turned into a nation of idiots, incapable of doing anything except conducting military operations against primitive countries.”

    That, perhaps, is the clearest statement of the Obama Doctrine yet.




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    Something Stinks

    September 13, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    There is something very wrong here. I just wasted thirteen minutes of my life watching the supposed trailer of the supposed movie that has inflamed protesters in Egypt and Libya. The film purports to depict scenes from the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

    The version I watched is on YouTube. I have no interest in reposting it here, but YouTube says some half a million people have watched the English version, so go see it yourself if you care to.

    The film is a poorly made and amateur-acted video. The acting is 1970’s porno quality, and most scenes are shot with a cheesy green screen background and hopelessly fake dubbed in dialogue. Most of what you see is offensive to nearly everyone, with rude remarks about child molestation, homosexuality and near-constant vicious remarks about Islam and the Koran. It looks like it was thrown together in an afternoon with the design of just pissing people off.

    The Atlantic has an article linking the film to Florida racist “preacher” Terry Jones, the asshole who got worldwide attention for himself by threatening to desecrate the Koran (thanks media!) Another web site has a few details about the video’s titular producer, who it claims is an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in California. The AP thinks it has found another Coptic Christian who was involved in the film. Gawker interviews one of the “actresses,” seen in the video receiving simulated oral sex, claiming she had no idea what the movie was about. Gawker is also trolling for more info on the whole thing if you care to submit anything (I certainly don’t want it).

    The Internet conspiracy tubes are overflowing, claiming the film is an Israeli and/or CIA deep cover op to justify US military intervention in the Middle East. It all somehow ties into invading Iran and maybe 9/11 somehow. Others claim the film was made by some mysterious Arabs to justify throwing the US out of the Middle East.

    I am not a big conspiracy guy, but everything about this smells bad. Just how did this crappy video come to the attention of so many people? The YouTube version I watched was posted there in July; why now did everyone wake up to it? Who bothered to even spend lunch money on such horrible garbage? There is a lot unknown. I’d like to hope all those people monitoring everything everywhere could take a few minutes to figure out who and what is behind this mess.

    BONUS: For the few dumbasses mumbling about “free speech,” this is not it. Hate speech can and is limitable.



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    The Annals of Chicken Diplomacy

    August 18, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    Joshua Foust over at The Atlantic serves up a terrific article on how the US has used (poorly) “chicken diplomacy” in various ways. A very worthwhile read.

    Foust quotes from We Meant Well:

    The U.S. has engaged in its own odd chicken diplomacy as well. Peter Van Buren, a career Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, published a memoir last year of his time serving in Iraq. One of the the most memorable chapters in his book, appropriately titled “Chicken Sh*t,” is about efforts to revive the Iraqi chicken industry. Van Buren describes the lavish funding a nearby chicken factory received to get new equipment and to hire people.

    The factory, it turned out, was worthless. Brazil dominated the the global market for frozen whole chickens and Iraq just couldn’t produce poultry cheaply enough to compete (Brazil defends this domination zealously). Worse still, van Buren recounted for NPR, the factory didn’t have refrigeration because it did not have electricity — which makes the idea of a frozen chicken factory rather moot. But rather than admitting failure, van Buren and his team actually created a false factory for when touring VIPs came by, hiring random people to sit on the production line while it processed worthless chickens they could never sell, all to impress a Congressional delegation or administration official into thinking the Iraqi economy was thriving under U.S. leadership.


    Interested in reading the full chapter Chicken Sh*t from the Iraq Reconstruction?

    Also, some photos of the chicken factory.



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    The Foreign Service Officer Who Rants Against the State Department

    September 29, 2011 // Comments Off on The Foreign Service Officer Who Rants Against the State Department

    Be sure to check out this excellent piece from the Atlantic on my troubles with the State Department. The author notes:

    While Van Buren may be ratcheting up his rhetoric against State over the last 24 hours, he’s been criticizing the department and the U.S. government pretty much ever since he launched his personal blog in April as a supplement to We Meant Well. In one of his first posts, entitled “Bureaucratic Chlamydia,” Van Buren described the “half-assed nature” in which the State Department prepared “people like me to live and work in a war zone.”

    A month later, Van Buren noted that while the State Department was spending millions to end web censorship overseas, it was censoring TomDispatch, the site he contributed to, in its own offices because TomDispatch ran content from WikiLeaks. Van Buren’s taken his criticism outside the blog as well. In a piece for TomDispatch in June, for example, he questioned State’s long-term plans for Iraq.


    Read the whole article at the Atlantic’s web site.



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