• I Sorta Know Who Wrote That Anonymous NYT Op-Ed

    September 15, 2018 // 9 Comments »

    That anonymous New York Times Op-Ed writer inside government thwarting Trump’s plans does not understand how government works. Amplified by worn accusations in Bob Woodard’s new book, the Op-Ed is nonetheless driving calls for Trump’s removal under the 25th Amendment to save America.

    But look closer: there are no patriots here, and little new; it’s all nasty politics.

     

    You don’t join government to do whatever partisan thing you think is right; you serve the United States, and take an oath to a Constitution which spells out a system and chain of command. There is no Article 8 saying “but if you really disagree with the president it’s OK to just do what you want.”

    I served 24 years in such a system, joining the State Department under Ronald Reagan and leaving during the Obama era. That splay of political ideologies had plenty of things in it my colleagues and I disagreed with or even believed dangerous. Same for people in the military, who were told who to kill on America’s behalf, a more significant moral issue than a wonky disagreement over a trade deal.

    But the only way for America to function credibly was for us to work on her behalf, and that meant following the boss, the system created by the Constitution, and remembering you weren’t the one elected, and that you ultimately worked for those who did the electing. There were ways to honorably dissent, such as resigning, or writing a book with your name on the cover (my choice) and taking your lumps.

    But acting as a wrench inside the gears of government to disaffect policy (the Washington Post warned “sleeper cells have awoken”) is what foreign intelligence officers recruit American officials to do, and that doesn’t make you a hero acting on conscience, just a traitor. It seems odd someone labeled a senior official by the New York Times would not understand the difference before defining themselves forever by writing such an article.

    So don’t be too surprised if the author turns out to be a junior official not in a position to know what they claim to know, a political appointee in a first government job reporting second- or third-hand rumors, maybe an ex-Bushie in over their head. That will raise important questions about the Times’ exaggerating the official’s importance, and thus credibility, and whether anonymity was being used to buff up the narrative by encouraging speculation.

     

    Next up to sort out are the “new” facts forming the underbelly of calls to end the Trump presidency. The Op-Ed’s release was set by the Times to perfectly dovetail with Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear (It would be interesting to know how much was created by the Times — did contact with the author cause the Times to encourage them to write? Did they have to be persuaded? How much editing was done? How far from the role of journalist into political activist did the Times stray?)

    Neither the book nor the Op-Ed breaks any new ground. Both are chock full of gossip, rumors, and half-truths present from Trump Day One and already ladled out by Michael Wolff’s own nearly-forgotten book and Omarosa’s unheard recordings: the man is clinically insane, mind of a child, acts impulsively, and is thus dangerous. Same stuff but now 18 months shinier and sexier – Woodward! Watergate! Anonymous! Deep Throat! It’s clever recycling, a way to appear controversial without inviting skepticism by telling people what they already believe because they’ve already heard it. What seems like confirmation is just repitition.

    The stuff is chock-a-block with accusations (“Trump is not smart“) denied by those quoted (Jim Mattis and John Kelly, for example.) But one new item, the claim Gary Cohn, Trump’s former economic adviser, walked into the Oval Office and snatched a letter off Trump’s desk, suggests how sloppy the reporting is. Cohn supposedly stopped Trump from pulling out of a trade agreement with South Korea by stealing an implementing letter, preventing Trump from signing it. Woodard writes Cohn did the same thing on another occassion to stop Trump pulling out of NAFTA.

    “Paper” inside government, especially for the president’s signature, does not simply disappear. Any document reaching a senior official’s desk has been tasked out to other people to work on. The process usually begins when questions are asked at higher levels and then sent down to the bureaucracy; no president is expected to know it’s Article 24.5 of an agreement that allows withdrawal. That request creates a paper trail and establishes stakeholders in the decision, for example, people standing by to implement a decision or needing to know ahead of negotiations with Seoul POTUS changed his mind.

    So paper isn’t forgotten. I know, I had a job working as the Ambassador’s staff assistant in London where most of my day was spent tracking letters and memos on his behalf. Inside the State Department an entire office known as The Line does little else but keep track of paper flowing in and out of the Secretary of State’s actual In/Out boxes. This isn’t just bureaucratic banality at work; this is how things get done in government, as documents with the president’s signature instantly turn into orders.

    So even if, playing to the public image of a dotard-in-chief, Trump didn’t remember calling for that letter on South Korea, and thus never missed it after Cohn allegedly stole it to change history, a lot of other people would have gone looking for it. Stealing a letter off the president’s desk is not the equivalent of hiding the remote to keep grandpa from changing channels. And that’s to call the claim absurd even before noting how few individuals the Secret Service allows into the Oval Office on their own to grab stuff. While the example of the stolen letter is a bit down in the bureaucratic weeds, it is important because what is being widely reported, and accepted, is not always true.

     

    The final part of all this which doesn’t pass a sniff test is according to the Op-Ed, 25th Amendment procedures to remove the president from office were discussed at the Cabinet level. The 25th, passed after the Kennedy assassination, created a set of presidential succession rules, historically used for short handovers of power when a president has gone under anesthesia. Most relevant is the never-used full incapacitation clause.

    An 2018 interpretation of that clause made popular by TV pundits is now the driver behind demands that Trump is so stupid, impulsive, and insane he cannot carry out his duties, and so power must be transferred away from him today. While the Op-Ed writer says the idea was shelved only to avoid a Constitutional crisis, in fact it makes no sense. The 25th’s legally specific term “unable” does not mean the same thing as the vernacular “unfit.” An unconscious man is unable (the word used in the Amendment) to drive. A man who forgot his glasses is unfit (not the word used in the Amendment), but still able, to drive, albeit poorly.

    The use of the 25th to get Trump out of office is the kind of thing people with too much Google time, not senior officials with access to legal advice, convince themselves is true. The intent of the amendment was to create an administrative procedure, not a political thunderbolt.

    But intent aside, the main reason senior officials would know the 25th is not intended to be used adversarially is the Constitution already specifies impeachment as the way to force an unfit president out. The 25th was not written to be a new flavor of impeachment or a do-over for an election. It has to be so; the Constitution at its core grants ultimate power to the people to decide, deliberately, not in panic, every four years, who is president. Anything otherwise would mean the drafters of the 25th wrote a backdoor into the Constitution allowing a group of officials, most of whom were elected by nobody, to overthrow an elected president they simply think turned out to be bad at his job.

     

    The alarmist accusations against Trump, especially when invoking mental illness to claim Americans are in danger, are perfectly timed fodder, dropped right after Labor Day into the election season, to displace the grinding technicalities of a Russiagate investigation. Political opponents of Trump had been counting on Mueller by now to hand them November amid a wash of indictments, and thus tee up impeachment with a Democratic majority in the House.

    Since Mueller, alongside economic collapse at home, trade wars everywhere, a nuclear arsenal as yet un-unleashed, war with North Korea and Iran, have all failed to materialize, and lacking much of unified theme themselves, for Democrats it’s making the midterms Trump vs. Trump, with the carefully timed help of the New York Times. The Op-Ed does indeed signal a crisis, but not a Constitutional one. It is a crisis of collusion, among journalists turned to the task of removing a president via what some would call a soft coup.

    Because it’s either that, or we’re meant as a nation to believe an election should be overturned two years after the fact based on a vaguely-sourced tell-all book and an anonymous Op-Ed.




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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    The White House Easter Egg Roll, Alongside the Republic, is in Peril!!!!!!

    April 12, 2017 // 10 Comments »



    The Two Minutes Hate was a daily event in which the proles in George Orwell’s 1984 watched a movie of the Party’s enemies and screamed out their hatred for exactly two minutes. Orwell wrote:

    A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.

    That seems to be what’s happening with our media, especially outlets like the New York Times, who are stuck in a loop of denial some six months after the election. Each day it seems they find fellow party members something Trump to direct their hate at.


    Enter a lengthy story on… how the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn appears to be teetering on the edge of failure, along with the Republic (see, it’s a metaphor.)

    It seems that (and watch the dates) back in February the company that makes the wooden eggs for the egg roll tweeted at the White House to put in an order, Twitter apparently the only communication tool left functional in the DC area. The White House indeed put in an order in early March. The free tickets given away are late, and only one Sesame Street character will be there.

    That’s it. That’s really the entire story.


    Well, not really, according to the Times. See, it turns out this Egg Roll is way more important than a nice thing for selected kids to enjoy. Per the NYT:

    Could this White House, plagued by slow hiring and lacking an on-site first lady, manage to pull off the largest, most elaborate and most heavily scrutinized public event of the year?

    “It’s the single most high-profile event that takes place at the White House each year, and the White House and the first lady are judged on how well they put it on,” said Melinda Bates, who organized eight years of Easter Egg Rolls as director of the White House Visitors Office under President Bill Clinton. “I’m really concerned for the Trump people, because they have failed to fill some really vital posts, and this thing is all hands on deck.”

    I had no idea it was the Easter Egg Roll, not any of those state dinners or VIP visits, that was the highest profile event of the year. I also did not know that someone out there judges the president and first lady on how the Egg Roll comes off. I also never heard the phrase “on-site first lady” used as if she was some sort of hotel amenity.

    It gets worse. There are other issues. The Times tells us the event may even include “military bands in place of A-list entertainers like Justin Bieber.” In addition, it does not appear the Yoga Garden from all eight of the Obamas’ Easter Egg Rolls will be around this year either.



    How does the Times know this kind of critical information so as to carry out its First Amendment responsibilities? From sources, who “spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe the plans for the Easter Egg Roll.”

    For the love of God, the venerable New York Times is now justifying the use of anonymous sources to report on plans for the White House Easter Egg Roll. The reporters who risked their freedom to report on the Pentagon Papers sit in silent judgement on you all.


    I’ve been reading the news for some 50 years, through Johnson and the Vietnam war, Nixon and Watergate, the Reagan era, Clinton-Lewinsky, the Bushes, and Obama. There has never been a time when so-called legitimate journalism trafficked in silliness, open mockery, name calling, and simple character slagging as a matter of daily news.

    The Easter Egg Roll is not an important thing. America faces new war in the Middle East (plenty of old war, too) and challenges across the globe. The Secretary of State is in Moscow. There are real things going on, but Americans seem far more concerned about how much a golf trip to Florida costs (as if most of security is not a fixed cost that happens with every president — remember the Bush and Reagan ranches, the elder Bush’s weekends in Kennebunkport?) than anything that matters past a few news cycles.

    A prediction: the Easter Egg Roll will take place as scheduled on Monday. It’ll be OK. Kids will have fun. There really isn’t a story here. Well, maybe a story about how far the standards have journalism have fallen as America recovers from its national stroke post-November, but nothing about Easter eggs.




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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Can’t Judge Fake News in the Dark

    February 10, 2017 // 76 Comments »



    This isn’t about Trump. It’s about judging the media, whoever and whatever they report on. It is about reading critically when so much out there is just simply inaccurate. Not maybe inaccurate, pure dead solid perfect stupid. So don’t call me a nazi.

    Step One is to note if the story you’re reading/seeing is all or mostly unsourced, or anonymously sourced. Red flag.

    Step Two is to see if the story is bombastic, dramatic, something that really makes you angry. Something that adds to or dovetails with something you already believe is true. If it sounds like gossip, that’s probably all it is. Red flag.

    Step Three is to check if the story is a negative one about a person or subject from a media outlet that celebrates its partisan position. Red flag.

    Congratulations! You’ve got a sample target, and are ready to apply a basic test.

    Ask who would know the information, why would they tell anyone, and apply a light sniff test: does it make any sense at all?


    Here’s one to practice on, courtesy of the New York Times. There are no sources at all for the most part, and the story is bombastic, suggesting the people in the White House are dumber than third graders. The Times has had trouble with objectivity concerning the administration. Much of the story sounds like mean gossip.

    We’ll zoom in on a couple of opening lines, keeping in mind this was presented on the front page as news:

    President Trump loves to set the day’s narrative at dawn, but the deeper story of his White House is best told at night.

    Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit.

    So the venerable New York Times reports Trump’s aides sit in the dark because they do not know how to operate light switches.

    Seriously? Light switches are rarely complex. Those aides have been on the job for about two weeks and have not figured out how to turn on the lights? And by the way, the White House is full of non-political, permanent staff, including servants, janitors, the Secret Service, secretaries. Hell, you can dial zero on the house phone and ask for maintenance. It is simply impossible for the Times’ statement to be true, and it would have had to have been reported by one of the aides themselves, because no one else was there, or could see what was happening in the dark.

    Next up: the line about visitors wandering the halls looking for an exit.

    Access to the White House is as controlled as anywhere in the United States. One does not simply walk around trying doors. Visitors are escorted, the Secret Service is stationed everywhere, and there are cameras and motion detectors. Being alone inside the White House is a privilege allotted to very, very, very few people ever. Visitors are badged and checked in and out. The building itself is not a suburban movie theatre, with lots of doors opening out into the parking lot. Visitors go in and out via a limited number of portals. It is simply impossible for the Times’ statement to be true.

    Later in the same story the Times reports:

    When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home.

    While the image of old man Trump wandering around the place in his robe and slippers, perhaps hair amuss, is amusing, the statement is ridiculous as news.

    If the White House is hyper-controlled space, the Residence, the second floor where the president actually lives, is doubly so. Access is strictly limited to those personally invited by the president, staff who have worked there decades, and a handful of Secret Service stationed outside key doors. The idea is to offer a respite, a personal space for the family.

    The White House staff and Secret Service have a long tradition of not leaking intimate details of the First Family. They would throw away a decades-long career if they did. Neither group has leaked salacious gossip over the years about presidential affairs, husband and wife fights, drunkenness and the like in real time. It is incredulous that the Times would have any idea what Trump does inside his own living room.

    Another caution would be reports that purport to know what a senior policy maker is “thinking,” the very ideas and feelings in his head. While anything is of course possible, how likely is it that someone in public life would voice those things to people junior enough to leak them (oh but you want to believe it, don’t you?) Here’s the Times again:

    Cloistered in the White House, he now has little access to his fans and supporters — an important source of feedback and validation — and feels increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job and the constant presence of protests.

    The first line is of course easily destroyable, as the president can invite anyone into the White House, and most anyone would be happy to rush in. And don’t his son-in-law and daughter Ivanka live just down the street in DC? In addition, should Trump want to talk with “fans and supporters,” there is that telephone thingie. Obama famously had a guarded private number for a handful of friends, and Bill Clinton, keeping with his times, used a personal FAX machine whose number was changed regularly and distributed to very few long-time associates.

    And by the way, how could the Times, or anyone really, know Trump is “increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job”? What does pinched even mean? Did someone deep inside Trump’s inner circle overhear him say “Dammit, I am feeling pinched as hell” and rush to whisper that in a reporter’s ear? Can someone be “increasingly” pinched after only some two weeks on the job?


    The piece goes on and on, claiming Trump obsessed over the drapes in the Oval Office, watches TV during lunch (!), somehow indicated to somebody that the Oval Office “is a totem of a victory that validates him as a serious person,” and startlingly, “ordered that four hardback chairs be placed in a semicircle around his desk” which seems to be important for some reason never really explained.




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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Snowden Leaks Old Journalism Textbook, Media Shocked

    February 21, 2014 // 17 Comments »

    In yet another dramatic revelation flowing out of whistleblower Edward Snowden, a journalism textbook from 1983 has been sent to several large media outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Times and the trailer park where Fox News is thought to originate.

    “To say we’re shocked is an insult to electricity,” said a spokesperson from the Post while speaking with the media, who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak with the media. “We had no idea. Not a clue.”

    “For example, it says here that ‘journalists’ are supposed to gather facts, analyze them, and then ‘report’ what they learned,” stated an unnamed former somebody. “This flies in the face of our current practice of transcribing what government officials tell us anonymously and then having someone read that aloud on TV. We are still trying to find out more about the ‘analyze’ function of journalism, but Wikipedia is down right now.”

    Fox News went on to say that a chapter in the book about naming sources so that readers themselves could judge the value and veracity of the information “just came from Mars” as far as the organization is concerned. “I mean, if we named our sources, they’d be held accountable for what they say, you know, and I doubt we’d have much access to the big boys after that. We’d have to start hiring people just to go out and gather news, maybe outside the office even, instead of just from the web. Something like 90% of our content comes from press releases from ersatz think tanks controlled by PR firms. Our whole business model would have to change. And that thing about ‘questioning’ what the government says? How are we supposed to do that? Who do they think we are?”

    New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, speaking on behalf of the paper from his soundproof bubble removed from reality, explained “That J-school book is potentially a game changer, if you believe it is not just another disinformation scheme. For example, how credible is this bit– it says that simply getting two quotes from two sources that 100% contradict each other isn’t what reporting is. So here, in my latest column, where I have Obama saying ‘health care is good,’ and Sarah Palin saying ‘no, it sucks dick,’ somehow is wrong? Give me a break.”

    Multiple sources say, however, that the single most shocking thing to emerge from the leaked textbook is that “news” and “journalism” are supposed to inform, enlighten and educate people, an essential part of our democracy, and are not simply another form of entertainment.

    The spokesperson from the Washington Post was blunt: “That’s just bullshit. Anyway, here’s another cute cat picture.”



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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Targeted Killings Wreck Iraqi Democracy

    May 12, 2011 // Comments Off on Targeted Killings Wreck Iraqi Democracy

    Good news America! Of the 214 known violent deaths in Iraq in April 2011, a chunky third to half were caused by assassination– targeted killings– typically by silenced pistol or a magnetic sticky bomb on someone’s car.

    Popular targets for Iraq’s “bullet democracy” include politicians, cops and generals. Democracy has so taken hold in Iraq that many public figures now use taxis to move around, eschewing the more visible official vehicles which scream TARGET. This mimics the rough and tumble nature of any new democracy, same as in the early days of the United States, when the Founders often switched horses to avoid Tory sticky bombs and silenced cutlasses. Someday soon the US will rewrite the Articles of Confederation for them and Iraq will be a nice place again until they pass the Stamp Act or something.

    It is generally seen as good news that the deaths in Iraq cover all political and religious flavors and are not a sign of rising NARROW sectarianism in the bizarre way these things are calculated in Iraq. In that same vein, many positive thinkers will quickly remind you that the 214 dead are nothing compared to the 2000 dead per month seen back in 2006. It’s an improvement!

    It is bonehead thinking like that that allows paid dweebs like NYT’s David Brooks to scribble articles like Nation Building Works. Even more humorful given that a year has passed to make Brooks’ predictions even lamer, how can otherwise educated people keep doing things like pulling out one strand of hair from the wig (Brooks: lots of Iraqis have cell phones and Internet) and extrapolating from that that the $58 billion reconstruction was a success. The Marshall Plan was cheaper and did not include multiple targeted killings per day David.

    To be fair, no one is really sure exactly how many people died by violence in Iraq. In April for example, Iraq Body Count reported 283 deaths, icasualties had 152, and Iraq’s ministers reported 211. That averaged out to 214 deaths per month, and 7.1 per day. Of course there were also an (averaged) 266 wounded by violence in April as well.

    Just for fun, it is also important to note that violence in Iraq targeted at intellectuals has forced many out of the country. Some two-thirds of Iraq’s physicians have left or been killed, along with many university professors. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 300 academics have been killed since 2003, while more than 30,000 attacks against educational institutions have occurred. School’s out baby!




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