• I Miss Journalism

    October 5, 2019 // 9 Comments »

    stripper with money

    I miss journalism. I used to enjoy the news. People said things, events happened, and the “news” told me about that. Some were better at shrinking away human bias than others, but by sticking to a solid handful of outlets you could get a decent sense of what was happening.

    Now, columnist Max Boot in the Washington Post has finally put into writing what we have all known for some time: that sort of journalism is dead. The job has shifted to aspirational writing, using selected facts alongside made-up stuff to cause something to happen.

    What Boot made black and white is he does not commit journalism anymore to create Jefferson’s informed public. He writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election, regime change, my bitches. Max: “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.” While reasoned editorials and Op-Eds supporting and opposing policies have always been a part of journalism, what Boot spent the last few years doing was creating and supporting others who created narratives designed to drive Trump himself from office. They manufactured reasons for him to resign, to drive actual impeachment, or at last resort, influence voters too dumb to know what’s good for them.

    We more or less knew this was true even before senior staff at the New York Times had to remind reporters they were “not part of the f*cking resistance,” or before CNN advised the House “go for the jugular vein” and impeach Trump, but it is helpful to see it in daylight. After all, democracy dies in the darkness.

    The uber-created narrative was Russiagate. None of the core substance was true. Trump wasn’t the Manchurian Candidate set in place by Putin in a long con, nor was there a quid pro quo for Russian election help. Yet the media literally accused the president of treason by melding together otherwise unrelated droplets of truth — Trump wanted a hotel in Moscow, some ads were run on Facebook — that could be spun into a narrative which would bring Trump down, if not send him to SuperMax. What was true was of little consequence; what mattered was whether the media could create a narrative the rubes might believe.

    The critical flaw in Russiagate (other than it did not actually happen)) was the media creating an end-point they could not control, Robert Mueller. Mueller, an old school, Deep State man to his core, was made into an Avenger, the Last Honest Man, the Savior of Democracy as the narrative first unfolded and then fell apart like cardboard box in the rain. After Michael Cohen’s Mueller’s dismal testimony, promoted to a crescendo for three full years across the media, there was nowhere to go.

    A much better example which follows the same Bootian construct but which will play out without end is the mash-up story Trump is manipulating both the inner workings of government in the specific and American foreign policy on a global scale for personal gain via… hotel fees.

    At first glance it seems like a non-starter. Trump’s hotels are as much a part of him as the extra pounds he carries. He campaigned as a CEO and announced early on he was not going to leave any of that behind and divest.

    But even as the first cold slap of Trump’s election victory filtered past nascent attempts at unseating him, claiming he lost the popular vote (in baseball and the Electoral College, you win with the most runs, not the most hits, kids), or that votes were miscounted (they were not) or that the sleepy EC would rise from Hamilton’s grave and smite Trump (it did not), a narrative was being shaped: Trump could not become president because of his business conflicts of interest. Some went as far as to claim swearing him in would itself be an unconstitutional act.

    An early proponent was Harvard professor Lawrence Tribe, who dug around in the Constitution’s closet and found the Emoluments Clause, a handful of lines intended to bar office holders from accepting gifts from foreign sovereigns, kings and princes to prevent influence buying. Pre-Trump, the last time the issue was in actual contention was with President Martin Van Buren (no relation) over gifts from the Imam of Muscat.

    The media ran with it. They imagined out of whole cloth any foreign government official getting a room at any Trump hotel was such an emolument. Then they imagined whatever tiny percentage of that room profit actually went to Trump himself represented a bribe. Then they imagined despite the vast complexity of U.S. relations, Trump would alter course against America’s own interests because some guy rented a room. It was Joker-like in its diabolicalness, the presidency itself merely a prank to hide an international crime spree!

    Then they made it happen. The now-defunct leftist site Think Progress ran what might be Story Zero. It was based on an anonymous source claiming before Trump even took office, under political pressure, the Kuwaiti Ambassador canceled a major event at one hotel to switch to Trump’s own DC hotel. It all turned out to be untrue. “Do you think a reception of two hours in the Trump hotel is going to curry favors with the administration when we host thousands of U.S. troops in Kuwait? When we have in the past and still do support American operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?” the Kuwait ambassador asked when some other outlet got around to his side of the story. But no matter.

    Though the Emoluments Clause is quite specific, the media then decided every time anyone stayed at a Trump property it was corruption. Even when Trump visited one of his own homes it was corruption because the Secret Service paid Trump for the privilege!

    Now none of that should have mattered. The Secret Service has always paid for the facilities they use for their work because the government cannot commandeer private property or demand/accept free stuff (which of course, ironically, could be seen as a bribe), not from Marriott and not from the Trump Organization. Joe Biden still charges the Secret Service rent on a cottage he owns, so that they can protect him when he visits home in Delaware. Taxpayers shelled out for eight years of Secret Service protection so his spouse, Jill, could hold a paid teaching job at a Northern Virginia community college.

    Never mind. When a business executive stayed at a Trump property, it was corruption. For example T-Mobile booked nine rooms at a Trump hotel, ostensibly to influence a $26 billion merger’s federal approval. Those rooms were worth about $2700. Of course the president, who can shift the stock market for millions with a tweet, prefers to make his illegal money off jacked up hotel bills. Think small has always been a Trump trademark.

    Reuters headlined how foreigners were buying New York condos from third party owners (i.e., not Trump or his company), but it was in a Trump-managed building after all and maybe the monthly maintenance fees would qualify as mini-emoluments? Every apartment sold to a Russian-sounding surnamed individual was corruption fodder. Trump was accused of “hiding” foreign government income at his hotels when servers at the bar failed to ask cash customers if they were potentates or princes (the headline: “Trump Organization Says It’s ‘Not Practical’ to Comply With the Emoluments Clause.”)

    And of course that Air Force crew staying at a Trump place in Scotland. That the hotel forged its relationship with a nearby airport long before Trump became president, and that the Air Force had been using the same airport and hotel hundreds of times long before Trump became president, didn’t stop the New York Times. Another piece speculated the $166 a night the Air Force pays for rooms was always part of Trump’s financial plan for the floundering multi-million golf course.

    Along the way all sorts of other co-joined narratives were tried and dropped: Stormy and Avenatti, the SDNY as Savior, Sharpiegate, something about security clearances, Trump outing a CIA asset inside the Kremlin, imminent war with ChinaIranVenezuelaNorthKorea, a recession that never seems to catch on, the Battle of Greenland, shady loans from Deutsche Bank that never materialize, taxes! taxes! taxes! and more. Some appear and disappear before a rebuttal can even be written. Others die out for awhile with the embers blown to life as needed, such as the idea diplomacy is “earned” by bad guys; that falsehood has impeded progress with North Korea and now on ending the war in Afghanistan (but was OK with Obama and Iran.)

    Places like CNN simultaneously claim Trump is a warmonger and incapable of diplomacy while mocking his efforts to practice it. They claim he has weakened the State Department and then are incredulous when he tries to use it. Forgotten is how around this point in the Bush admin we had started wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was the abandonment of a great American city to Katrina. The Patriot Act stripped us of our privacy. Torture, kidnapping, and indefinite prison without trial became US government policies. With Obama we had around this point attacked Libya triggering a massive refugee crisis which killed so many and is still disrupting Europe, ignored the Arab Spring, laid the groundwork for civil war in Syria, drone murdered several American citizens, and spent trillions to dig out of the financial crisis Bush let happen.

    But to really see how weak the corruption narrative is, you have only to compare it to how the media chose to cover similar questions in the past.

    Outside of anti-war outlets, the Bush family’s long involvement in the oil industry in general and closeness to the Saudis in particular was never really tied to two generations of Bush presidents making war across the mideast. Vice President Dick Cheney’s job running Haliburton and accepting delayed compensation from them even while in office had nothing to do in the MSM with his encouraging no-bid contracts for his old company to run the backstage parts of Iraq War II. There were certainly no talks of impeachment.

    Imagine if the media treated every appearance by Obama as a book promotion? What if each speech was slandered across the channels as corruption, Obama just out there selling books? Should he have been impeached for commercializing the office of president? At the very least this issue should have been discussed by Max Boot on cable news shows.

    The Trump Organization pays to the Treasury all profits from foreign governments. In the 2018, $191,000. The year before the amount was $151,470. So Trump’s in-pocket money is zero.

    Meanwhile Obama’s profit was $15.6 million as an author during his time in office (he has made multiples more since leaving office, including a $65 million book advance.) In the two weeks before he was inaugurated as the 44th president, Obama reworked his book deals. He agreed not to publish another non-fiction book during his time in office to keep anticipation high, while signing a $500,000 advance for a young adult version of Dreams From My Father.

    Obama’s books were huge sellers in China, where publishing is largely government controlled, meaning Obama likely received laundered payments via his publisher of Chicom money (Emoluments Clause!) while in the Oval Office. Obama’s own State Department bought $79,000 worth of his books to distribute as gifts abroad.

    As with Trump, nothing Obama did was illegal. There are no laws per se against a president making money while in the White House. Yet no one bothered to raise the Emoluments/corruption question for Obama, and the State Department purchasing $79,000 worth of his books was forgotten fodder for FOX. No one ran stories Obama sought the presidency as a bully ATM machine. No one claimed his frequent messaging about his father was designed to move books. No one demanded hearings on his profits or inquiries into how taxpayer funds were used to buy up his books.

    Only Trump, and Max Boot has confessed why. The media has created a pitch-and-toss game with Democrats, running false, exaggerated or purposely shallowly-reported stories to generate calls for hearings, which in turn breath life into the corruption story for another round.

    “Undeterred by lackluster public support for impeachment,” the New York Times reports, “Democrats have sketched out a robust four month itinerary of hearings and court arguments that they hope will provide the evidence they need to credibly portray Mr. Trump as corrupt and abusing his power.”

    Like Russiagate, this is all an assemblage of droplets of truth which will not lead to criminal charges or impeachment. Unlike Russigate, however, there is no Robert Mueller buzz kill to come, only a vague narrative which can be refreshed as needed, with the only end in sight being Trump somehow driven from office before November 2020, or beaten in the election. Until then, Max Boot and his ilk still have journalism’s new job to do. Journalism is now all for resistance, for condemnation and arousal.

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy, Trump

    Write ‘Yer Own Trump Article: The OpEd-o-Matic

    May 18, 2019 // 9 Comments »


     

    With all the talk of how many jobs have been created during the Trump administration, little attention is paid to one vibrant industry his time in the White House spawned: writing apocalyptic Op-Ed pieces.
     

    You know the ones, articles predicting whatever the news of the day is will be The End of Democracy. Alongside the New York Times and Washington Post, whose Op-Ed pages are pretty much daily End of Days each day, practitioners include chicken little regulars Maddow, Lawrence Tribe, Malcolm Nance, David Corn, Benjamin Wittes, Charles Pierce, Bob Cesca, and Marcy Wheeler.

    You’d have thought after almost three years of wrong predictions (no new wars, no economic collapse, no Russiagate) this industry would have slam shut faster than a Rust Belt union hall. You would have especially thought these kinds of articles would have tapered off with the release of the Mueller Report, but it ended up while Mueller wrote no conspiracy and charged no obstruction, the dang report turns out to be chock-a-block with hidden messages, secret road maps, and voices speaking in tongues (albeit only to Democrats) about obstruction.

    We’ve gone from thinking the president is literally a Russian agent (since 1987, the last year your mom and dad dated!) to worrying the attorney general is trying to obstruct a House committee from investigating a completed investigation into obstruction by writing a summary not everyone liked of a report already released. But the actual content is irrelevant. What matters is there is another crisis to write about! The Op-Ed industry can’t keep up with all the Republic-ending stuff Trump and his henchworld are up to.
     
    Help has arrived. Now anyone can write their own fear mongering article, using this handy tool, the OpEd-o-Matic. The GoFundMe for the AI-driven app version will be up soon, but for now, simply follow these simple steps to punditry!
     
    Start with a terrifying cliche. Here are some to choose from: There is a clear and present danger; Dark clouds gather, the center cannot hold; It is unclear the Republic will survive; Democracy itself is under attack; We face a profound/unique/existential threat/crisis/turning point/test. Also, that “First they came for…” poem is good. Be creative; WaPo calls the present state of things “constitutional nihilism.” Snappy!

    Be philosophical and slightly weary in tone, such as “I am in despair as I have never been before about the future of our experiment in self-rule.” Say you’re sad for the state of the nation. Claim time is short, but there just may be a chance to stop this. Add “…by any means necessary.”

    Then choose a follow-on quote to reinforce the danger, maybe from: The Federalist Papers, especially Madison on tyranny; Lincoln, pretty much anything about “the people, government, test for our great nation, blah blah;” the Jack Nicholson character about not being able to handle the truth; something from the neocons like Bill Kristol or Max Boot who now hate Trump. Start with “even” as in “even arch conservative Jennifer Rubin now says…”
     
    After all that to get the blood up, explain the current bad thing Trump did. Label it “a high crime or misdemeanor if there ever was one.” Use some legally-like words, such as proffer, colorable argument, inter alia, sinecure, duly-authorized, perjurious, and that little law book squiggly thingy (18 USC § 1513.) Be sure to say “no one is above the law,” then a dramatic hyphen, then “even the president.” Law school is overrated; you and Google know as much as anyone about emoluments, perjury, campaign finance regulations, contempt, tax law, subpoenas, obstruction, or whatever the day’s thing is, and it changes a lot. But whatever, the bastard is obviously guilty. Your standard is tabloid-level, so just make it too good to be true.

    Next, find an old Trump tweet where he criticized someone for doing just what he is doing. That never gets old! Reference burning the Reichstag. If the crisis you’re writing about deals with immigration or white supremacy (meh, basically the same thing, amiright?), refer to Kristallnacht.

    Include every bad thing Trump ever did as examples of why whatever you’re talking about must be true. Swing for the fence with lines like “seeks to destroy decades of LGBTQIXYZ progress” or “built concentration camps to murder children.” Cite Trump accepting Putin’s word over the findings of “our” intelligence community, his “very fine people” support for Nazi cosplayers, the magic list of 10,000 lies, how Trump has blood on his hands for endangering the press as the enemy of the people, and how Trump caused the hurricane in Puerto Rico.

    And Nixon. Always bring up Nixon. The context or details don’t matter. In case Wikipedia is down, he was one of the presidents before Trump your grandpa liked for awhile and then didn’t like after Robert Redford showed he was a clear and present danger to Saturday Night Live, or the Saturday Night Massacre, it doesn’t matter, we all agree Nixon. Jeez, Nixon.
     
    Focus on the villain, who must be unhinged, off the rails, over the edge, diseased, out of control, a danger to himself and others, straight-up diagnosed remotely mentally ill, or under Trump/Putin’s spell. Barr is currently the Vader-du-jour. The New York Times characterized him as “The transformation of William Barr from respected establishment lawyer to evil genius outplaying and undermining his old friend Robert Mueller is a Grand Guignol spectacle.” James Comey went as far as describing Trump people as having had their souls eaten by the president. That’s not hyperbole, it’s journalism!

    But also hold out for a hero, the Neo one inside Trumpworld who will rise, flip, or leak to save us. Forget past nominees like the pee tape, Comey, Clapper, Flynn, Page, Papadopoulos, Manafort, Cohen, Mattis, Kelly, Barr, Linda Sarsour (replace with Ilhan Omar,) Avenatti, and Omarosa to focus on McGahn. He’s gonna be the one!

    Then call for everyone else bad to resign, be impeached, go to jail, have their old statues torn down, delete their accounts, be referred to the SDNY, be smited by the 25th Amendment, or have their last election delegitimized by the Night King. Draw your rationale from either the most obscure corner of the Founders’ work (“the rough draft, subsection IIXX of the Articles of Confederation addendum, Spanish language edition, makes clear Trump is unfit for office”) or go broad as in “his oath requires him to uphold the Constitution, which he clearly is not doing.” Like Pelosi, mention how Trump seems unlikely to voluntarily cede power if he loses in 2020.
     
    Cultural references are important. Out of fashion: Godfather memes especially about who is gonna be Fredo, ‘bots, weaponize, Pussy Hats, the Parkland Kids, Putin homophobe themes, incest “jokes” about Ivanka, the phrases the walls are closing in, tick tock, take to the streets, adult in the room, just wait for Mueller Time, and let that sink in. Period. Full Stop.

    Things you can still use: abyss, grifter, crime family, not who we are, follow the money. Also you may make breaking news out of Twitter typos. Stylistically anyone with a Russian-sounding name must be either an oligarch, friend of Putin, or have ties to the Kremlin. Same for anyone who has done business with Trump or used the ATM in the Deutsche Bank lobby in New York. Mention AOC somewhere because every article has to mention AOC somewhere now.

    Finally, your OpEd should end either with this House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler faux Kennedy-esque quote “The choice is simple: We can stand up to this president in defense of the country and the Constitution and the liberty we love, or we can let the moment pass us by. History will judge us for how we face this challenge” or, if you want to go old school, this one from Hillary saying “I really believe that we are in a crisis, a constitutional crisis. We are in a crisis of confidence and a crisis over the rule of law and the institutions that have weathered a lot of problems over so many years. And it is something that, regardless of where you stand in the political spectrum, should give real heartburn to everybody. Because this is a test for our country.”

    Crisis. Test. Judgment of history. Readers love that stuff, because it equates Trump’s dumb tweets with Lincoln pulling the Union together after a literal civil war that killed millions of Americans in brother-to-brother conflict. As long as the rubes believe the world is coming to an end, you might as well make a buck writing about it.
      

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    New York Times Speculates the Secret Service May Murder Trump

    October 25, 2018 // 29 Comments »

    Jesus to Trump: Drop Dead

    For no real reason just two weeks ahead of the midterms and only a day after pipe bombs were sent to politicians across the country, the New York Times commissioned and published five authors to write “fiction” about President Trump and Russia that reads like a modern-day Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Here’s a sample:

     

    — One story has Trump pardoning everyone who testified against him to Mueller and then pseudo-resigning via the 25th Amendment with a promise from Pence to pardon him. The deal lets Trump live in the White House and play lots of golf while Pence is called the Acting President. Some nasty bits about how “close” Trump and Ivanka are, too;

    — One has the Secret Service helping murder Trump after an assassin sent by Putin to take out his failing agent can’t complete the hit. As the Russian’s gun jams, we read: “The Secret Service agent stood before him, presenting his Glock, butt first. ‘Here,’ the agent said politely. ‘Use mine…’;

    — One story has Trump instigate cyberwar with Russia, including flooding Russian TV with a biopic about dissident punk band Pussy Riot starring the American actress Reese Witherspoon (this is the mildest of the five);

    — Another posits Edward Snowden, still in exile in Moscow, controls the “pee tape” and ponders releasing it before the 2020 election after he failed to do so prior to 2016. This story also manages to mock Snowden’s patriotism and suggest the Russians control him via threats to his girlfriend;

    — The last features a new “dossier” surfacing which reveals Trump and Putin cooperating on money laundering. Trump calls Putin to warn him there’s a leak inside the Kremlin, and Putin tells Trump he did it because Trump failed to carry out his part of the bargain — Russia would get him elected if he wiped away the sanctions. Trump is a liability now, and Putin will give the Democrats the information they need to impeach him.

    I wanted to read these like they were bad fan fiction, you know, the kind that features a bikini-clad Princess Leia arriving on earth desperate to mate with teenage Star Wars fans. Instead, it comes off as hateful, nasty, like a snuff film, the worst impulses transferred from someone’s bad brain to a tangible medium.

    Yes, violence is bad, but if the NYT wants to give its readers a hard-on imaging the Secret Service murdering the president, I guess that’s ok nowadays. And where the stories aren’t violent porn, they are childish in making fun of Trump’s hair over and over, like a lounge lizard comic recycling bits he heard on Kimmel last week. The Russian assassin stays in a Trump hotel and we get this line of Pulitzer-prose: “The bar of soap had the hotel name stamped into both sides. He made sure to wash his ass with it.” Just what you expect now I guess from the “newspaper of record.”

    Because I know the Times is interested in always showing both sides to an issue, I’ve sent in my own fun stories for their consideration. One has Cory Booker and Kamala Harris lynched by the Secret Service after a white nationalist’s rope breaks. Another features Elizabeth Warren receiving fake DNA test data from her Chinese handlers, the same people who created the birth certificate making it look like Obama was born in Hawaii, “Operation Moana Pocahontas.” There’s a tale with Joe Biden, where he lusts after one of his sons (but not the dead one, there are limits!) The best story features Ed Snowden in possession of the actual video showing Hillary Clinton killing Vince Foster.

    The Times had previously paid off progressive hero-writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to produce a snarky little made-up “story” showing Melania is an air headed bitch, alongside some lovely hints of Daddy’s incestous relationship with Ivanka as the wife he would never have. Regardless of what you think about Trump, it is inconceivable the Times would have done this with any other president, or any other person. It is unworthy of a newspaper that otherwise pretends to do serious journalism. It is a marker for historians cataloguing how far we have fallen.

    Read it yourself.

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    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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    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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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, 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 2020, 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 2020, 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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