• 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

    Mass Shootings: Memo to all Washington Post Staff

    August 5, 2019 // 31 Comments »


     
    Update 2019: For the youngsters out there, here’s something I wrote in 2013 after some mass shooting nobody even remembers from six years ago. About the only thing that needs changing if I were to resubmit the article today would be to throw in some blah-blah about social media (not a big deal in 2013) and Trump (also not a big deal in 2013). Otherwise, same story.
     

    Update 2013: My article, below, was intended as satire, but yet another very real mass shooting took place just a few hours ago in Chicago, leaving 13 more wounded and dead.

     
     

    (Sorry, it’s been a few days since the last shooting, so this may no longer be timely. This memo was found near the Washington Post offices, with the words “Watergate Uber Alles” scrawled across it in what appears to be human blood. I have been unable to confirm its authenticity, but while reading it a person identifying himself as a Washington Post reporter recently reassigned from foreign correspondent to the Style section came up to me begging for spare change and said it “looked real.”)

    TO: All Washington Post Staff

    FROM: Jeff Bezos, owner

    SUBJECT: Coverage of Mass Shootings
    —————————————————————–

    It seems that mass shooting is more than a passing fad now, so we need to regularize our coverage. This is not only for consistency’s sake, but also, given recent and future staff cuts (don’t worry, most of those laid off from the paper will be offered positions at Amazon’s New Delhi hub), to save time and money. Here are the new SOPs. Anyone not following these will feel a Zappo up the backside from me.

    On the Day

    1) Psychotic killers will be referred to as “shooters.” Anything bigger than a handgun, a “long rifle.” Any long rifle, shotgun, lengthy piece of wood, etc., will be an “assault rifle” or a “military-style weapon” starting in para two. Try to use the word “tactical” whenever possible. The shooter will have worn “military-style clothing” regardless of whether or not the photos show him in a Hello Kitty t-shirt.

    2) While fresh photos of grieving relatives are crucial, specific interviews are a waste of resources. Recycle. Anyone who was in the military in any form is a “veteran who survived combat tours only to ironically meet his demise at home.” Anyone over 28 years old will have “left behind children.” Quote a neighbor as saying the deceased was a regular guy/gal who liked to barbecue, coached Little League, that kind of thing. Throw in a hobby– “He loved fly fishing” or “…his beloved taxidermy collection.” Even if the dude was a convicted drug dealer murderer, in death he was “a good man, well-loved by his pit bull and customers.”

    3) The “shooter” was not a good man. He had an (undiscovered until you dug it up) history of mental illness, though throw in in the lede that he purchased his long gun, assault rifle, grenade launcher or cluster munition legally. Quote a neighbor as saying the shooter “seemed like a regular guy, you know, kept his lawn nice and all.” Quote his mom saying she didn’t know where things went wrong for him, then have her reference unironically the thirty strangled cats she found in his room.

    4) Somebody will need do something “incredibly brave.” Use a cop if necessary, but it’s much better if you can tell about some ordinary office worker who did an extraordinary thing. Quote him/her as “just doing my job” if a cop, “I did what I had to do” if a civilian.

    The Days After

    5) The President will go on TV and say what a tragedy, a nation grieves, blame Congress and/or the other party for inaction, need to possibly think about someday looking into gun control, yadda, yadda but you know, Second Amendment and all that. Just use the last speech’s text again. If presidential approval ratings are below 50%, he’ll appoint a blue ribbon commission to look into this terrible day. When Obama leaves office, remember to change the name.

    6) Re-run the editorial about gun control. If it doesn’t fit in the front section, drop Family Circle from the comics page for a day and stick it there.

    7) Next day, run a photo of flags at half-mast (might as well leave ’em there to save wear and tear!), and print a couple of letters to the editor. Same cranks write in every time so don’t spend a lot of energy on this. Second Amendment, need to have armed guards in schools and public restrooms, think of the children, the violence has to stop, etc.

    Finally, don’t milk it. These stories are good for a day or two, maybe a little more if local, but nothing past that unless a celebrity is involved. Don’t worry about filling the space, there’ll be another mass shooting coming soon enough.

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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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    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

    Seriously WaPo?

    February 4, 2019 // 5 Comments »

    Seriously WaPo, you spent millions on a Super Bowl ad using Tom Hanks to tell us, “Um, guys, really, journalism is good.”
     
    And your best strategy for that is paint yourselves as victims, brave patriots who put their lives in danger to report the news?
     

     
    Oh! My dudes, seriously, a tiny, tiny number of journalists are ever hurt or killed due to their jobs, though a huge number daily seek “Victim Status” on social media bragging about their death threats. The fact they think their job is some heroic or dangerous profession shows how deluded the media has become and I guess, full circle, why WaPo needs to spend millions to convince the public to take what passes as journalism there seriously.

    I much preferred the Super Bowl commercial that seemed to suggest someday little girls will play pro football, or the tribute showing Dr. King’s relatives endorsed the coin toss.

    And by the way, WaPo, that “democracy dies in the dark” catch-phrase is way, way over dramatic, especially coming from a paper that bases most of its political coverage on anonymous sources and documents leaked to harm someone’s political enemies using you as the tool.

      

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    Washington Post Continues War on Democracy

    February 2, 2014 // 19 Comments »

    Hagiographer to the stars “newspaper” the Washington Post continues its war on democracy, this shot fired by columnist Walter Pincus in support praise adulteration of the National Security Agency.


    Pincus starts out showing he obviously can’t handle his growing miasma of hallucinations:

    Should the United States engage in secret, covert or clandestine activity if the American public cannot be convinced of the necessity and wisdom of such activities should they be leaked or disclosed?

    To intelligence professionals, that’s a bizarre question. The answer is that the public’s opinion shouldn’t matter, because espionage, clandestine intercepts of intelligence and covert acts carried out by the United States and other governments are often, by their nature, dirty and mostly illegal operations where they are carried out.



    OK, sure, people’s will in a democracy doesn’t matter, people should not be concerned about what is done in their name, and people should not be concerned about intelligence activities that may harm them or “their” nation. Clear enough Walt.

    Pincus goes on:

    The prime reason for secrecy is that you don’t want the targets to know what you are doing. But often in democracies, another reason is that you don’t want your citizens to know what their government is doing on their behalf to keep them secure, as long as it’s within their country’s law.



    Winner! That is exactly right, people in democracies should definately not know what the government is doing. Just sit back with the teevee and trust our Uncle Big Brother. Well, don’t we all feel better now?

    As for “their country’s law” making things nice and legal, one may note that “their country’s law” in the last few years made torture, kidnapping, indefinite detention, assassination, drone killings of wedding parties and children, as well as the establishment of the 21st century’s first offshore penal colony at Guantanamo legal. If the president does it, it’s legal, yes? Now that is a bit awkward, given that Pincus’ newspaper brought down the president who said that.

    Never mind that “law” at various times in history has also made human slavery, genocide, apartheid and other such nasties perfectly legal. See, it’s a Catch-22 Walter, if it is the government that decides what is “legal” then everything the government may choose to do becomes legal.

    But Pincus is not done slandering democracy yet. Speaking of the presidential commission that recommended changes to the NSA’s worldwide spying:

    The panel said a collection effort should not be initiated “if a foreign government’s likely negative reaction” to it being revealed “would outweigh the value of the information likely to be obtained.”



    Obviously hung over when he wrote this, Pincus should check out the phrase “risk versus gain” on Wikipedia, though likely he still peruses 40 year old smut paperbacks for his “research.” Everything in the world is a balance of risk and gain. Perhaps Pincus could elaborate on what was gained from say tapping into NATO ally Andrea Merkel’s personal cell phone versus the potential damage to U.S.-German relations. Or the impact of U.S. political capital lost in return of whatever was harvested by the NSA from intercepts from NGOs such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Medecins Sans Frontiers.

    You can read the whole article if you care to spit up your breakfast, though the comments section is actually worth a look. If you do not care to read it, I’ll just hand over a short summary: Walter Pincus is given space in a major newspaper to write that the NSA should be able to do whatever it wants at whatever cost to the United States and you, Citizen, should just remain ignorant and shut up about it. Yo, this is Pincus, out!



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    Posted in 2020, Democracy, Trump

    Washington Post War-Mongeringapoloza

    September 16, 2013 // 9 Comments »

    The Washington Post (slogan: We Still Type Well, now Powered by Amazon!) this weekend out did itself in jingoism and war mongering, throwing in some puke-colored pablum about American Exceptionalism to complete a pile that resembles the doggy mess I scoop up every morning using the plastic bag the Post comes in (the bag is so perfectly sized for picking up poop that I still subscribe just to get a new one each morning.)

    Dana Milbank Teaches American Exceptionalism

    We begin with “journalist” Dana Milbank. Dana was of course a Yale Bonesman, which equipped him to properly catch as Washington politicians pitch him. Dana also fancies himself a sometimes “humorist” in the vein of Mark Twain, assuming Twain had suffered from syphilis or, had it been available, dropped a hell of a lot of bad acid.

    Dana leads his “piece” on Putin with a zinger in the tradition of the greats Murrow and Cronkite:

    I know I speak for many American people when I congratulate you on your English. It was flawless, with none of those dropped articles that plague so many of your countrymen. Please don’t be offended, but I have to ask: Did Edward Snowden help you with your letter?

    Now that’s yer journalism right there ladies and gents! Be sure to tip your waitress.

    Dana then drops some Google Translate knowledge on ya’

    This makes your [Putin’s] crack about “American exceptionalism” all the more perplexing. “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional,” you wrote… But I’m guessing what went wrong here is your translators let you down when they defined exceptional for you as luchshyy (better) rather than razlichnyy (different).

    That’s a funny. According to Google (see, I am the journalist too [or is it to?] “funny” in Russian is smeshnoy. I can Google it in other languages if you like, because that’s my job, to Google stuff for you.

    But Dana saves the best “material” for the whip-snap turn from “funny” (smeshnoy) to a Serious Point:

    When we say we are exceptional, what we really are saying is we are different. With few exceptions, we are all strangers to our land; our families came from all corners of the world and brought all of its colors, religions and languages. We believe this mixing, together with our free society, has produced generations of creative energy and ingenuity, from the Declaration of Independence to Facebook, from Thomas Jefferson to Miley Cyrus. There is no other country quite like that.

    Americans aren’t better than others, but our American experience is unique — exceptional — and it has created the world’s most powerful economy and military, which, more often than not, has been used for good in the world. When you question American exceptionalism, you will find little support from any of us, liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, doves or hawks.

    (Does anyone else still use the terms “doves and hawks”?)

    (Wiping patriotic tears from my eyes) Ah yes, the immigrant experience, like America is the only country with inbound immigration ever in the history of the world. And hey, isn’t Russia made up of a bunch of different nationalities anyway? No mind, the Declaration of Independence stands beside Facebook, as does Jefferson beside Miley, as proof of our exceptional Exceptionalism. That of course is stupid enough, but what Dana did not apparently learn at Yale is that America’s immigrants quickly turned to slaughtering the Native Americans they displaced, even using biological weapons (typhus infected gifted blankets for the win!) In between Miley’s birth and descent into TV slut-for-pay, American Exceptionalism kidnapped and enslaved millions of Africans and still today treats them as second class citizens (it was only within my own lifetime that Virginia legalized interracial marriage.) Of course all those immigrants– the Dagos, the Hunkies, the Kikes, the Polacks, the Micks, et al– were welcomed with open arms and no discrimination.

    As for that American Exceptional “military, which, more often than not, has been used for good in the world,” one guesses there are few Vietnamese, Grenadans, Libyans, Iraqis, torture victims, indefinately detained people and assorted drone victims in the circles that jerk Dana enters.

    Dana, a quick comment: anyone who goes around telling everyone else they’re exceptional isn’t. Same as people who go around saying they’re funny, or handsome. It works best when other people acknowledge your specials, not when you bray about it yourself.

    But There is More: Sebastian Junger

    Appalling in the same pages of the Washington Post (slogan: We’re Still Dining Out on that Watergate Thing, now Powered by Amazon!) is Sebastian Junger. Junger was actually was a real journalist at one time, though as of late his best effort is a U.S. military hagiography piece Restrepo, where Afghans appear only as targets for the plucky Americans, joking one minute, machine gunning some rag heads the next, a sad retelling of every WWII war movie where GI Joe shoots some Japs or Krauts before sitting down for a Lucky Strike and a black and white letter (Google Translate: email) from his bestest gal back home.

    Junger’s article is pretty basic White House talking points reiterated, the need to Protect the Children as long as they are foreign children on the side we support and their deaths are well-covered by media. Nothing real new there. There are however a couple of true blue winners tucked in among the boilerplate:

    We are safe in our borders because we are the only nation that can park a ship in international waters and rain cruise missiles down on specific street addresses in a foreign city for weeks on end.

    First of all, at a minimum, the Russians, the Chinese, the British and the French can rain cruise missiles onto foreign streets if they like. They just don’t do it all the time like America does. Our safety within our borders is arguable, not only for the odd acts of terrorism, or the near-constant gun violence in our cities, but of course for the total abandonment of our freedoms to “secure” us.

    There’s more. Junger, likely dripping with his own manly juices as he dictated the next line to his “valet” Manual, said:

    I find it almost offensive that anyone in this country could imagine they are truly pacifist while accepting the protection and benefit of all that armament. If you have a bumper sticker that says “No Blood For Oil,” it had better be on your bike.

    First, I for one did not ask for the U.S. military to go around the world killing foreigners on my behalf. Second, I do not believe that constantly, aimlessly killing people who are not threatening us does much more than create an endless cycle of revenge and thus more war and of course, that oil thing. Junger my man, why does the U.S. have to bleed for oil? Let’s pretend we didn’t– what would the oil producing states then do, drink the shit? No, capitalism is a reliable tool. Nations with oil would continue to sell oil, because they like being very rich. They would sell oil to countries with money to buy oil. What would be different is that American companies would not control the oil flow and would not assure themselves of obscene profits. So the slogan isn’t No Blood for Oil (you can’t put a bumper sticker on a bike anyway), it is No Blood for Corporate Profits.

    Another Jungerism:

    The United States is in a special position in the world, and that leads many people to espouse a broad American exceptionalism in foreign affairs. Even if they’re correct, those extra rights invariably come with extra obligations. Precisely because we claim such a privileged position, it falls to us to uphold the international laws that benefit humanity in general and our nation in particular.

    Riiiiight, those darned international laws. Like not torturing people. Like not indefinitely detaining people without due process. Not not violating other nation’s sovereignty (Google Translate calls that an “invasion”) with drones and special forces. Like not refusing to sign the landmine and cluster munitions treaties. Like not rendering people. Like not possessing our own chemical weapons. Like not being the only nation in history to use a nuclear weapon, twice, against civilian populations. Like not withdrawing from the International Criminal Court because we’re afraid they will prosecute our leaders for these crimes. Like not invading Iraq for no reason but empire and spite. If you are going to set yourself up as the International Law guy, you can’t cherry pick which laws you’ll uphold and which you’ll trod upon.

    As for all the wonder we accomplsihed in the Balkans (including bombing the Chinese Embassy in violation of international law) there are those collateral damages (Google Translate: Slaughtering innocent people who got in the way of our Exceptionalism). Junger’s got that covered:

    The civilian casualties where there were strikes were terribly unfortunate, but they constituted a small fraction of casualties in the wars themselves.

    See, that’s exceptional. We can kill innocent people as long as we keep the head count (ba bing!) to whatever Junger decides is a small fraction. But least he is consistent. As for that thing about 100,000 already dead in Syria but 1400 dying by gas is a reason for war:

    The civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people essentially one person at a time, which is clearly an abomination, but it is not defined as a crime against humanity.

    See, it is all about how you say things. Words are important, they teach that in journalist school, even the online ones Washington Post (slogan: We DOn’t Have Editoors ANymorer, Powered by Amazon!) writers attend.

    We’ll give Junger one more line:

    At some point, pacifism becomes part of the machinery of death, and isolationism becomes a form of genocide.

    Dude, dude, another thing they teach in J-School is not to plagiarize. The correct line is “War is Peace, and Peace is War.”



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    Federal Government’s Version of Indefinite Detention

    April 6, 2013 // 16 Comments »

    The Washington Post ran a comprehensive piece on the Federal Government’s version of indefinite detention without trial for its own employees, placing unwanted employees on “admin leave.” Having been the victim of this money-wasting bit of nastiness myself, I am all too familiar with the game.

    Seeking to avoid offering an employee a chance to defend him/herself against political, personal or just dumb accusations, the Feds place that employee on “admin leave,” or call it “telework.” The person is paid, accrues vacation time and sick leave, but essentially is otherwise disappeared from the work force. S/he does not report to any office, is not held responsible for any real tasks and is never formally disciplined. S/he… just… goes… away. No muss, no fuss.

    Just money and lives wasted.

    The article is worth a read to help you understand yet another way the childish Federal government has become a dysfunctional adult.



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    Told You So: WaPo Puff Piece on Haiti Reconstruction Deflated by Truth

    October 3, 2012 // 8 Comments »

    The default media plan at State is to follow anything negative in the press with a planted puff piece. Rather than tackle the facts in a negative story (seeking to refute them with other information, or to make corrections), State’s modus is to seek ink that just says everything is actually wonderful, without mentioning the offending original articles.

    That P.R. 101 (online university) shit lasts only as long as it takes the truth to ooze out. In the case of Haiti reconstruction, about six weeks.

    Following a scathing Associated Press investigation into the failure of State to reconstruct Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake (Less than 12 percent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery), State first tried an “Op-Ed” by the ambassador blithely mumbling that all was well. That was back in late July.

    It took almost a month more, but State did finally select its author for the real puff piece, in this case some hack named David Brown at the hometown Washington Post (slogan: still dining out on that Watergate thing). Brown’s work at the Post has been mostly on health issues, mainly HIV/AIDS, with the odd bit about Warren Buffet’s prostrate (not good) and Dick Cheney’s artificial heart (“doing exceedingly well”). As such, he was obviously the perfect guy to write authoritatively on how wonderful reconstruction is in Haiti.

    On August 20, with a follow up a week later, this blog called the Post out as hacks, who were fed a puff piece and gleefully took it all down. There was never any response to my inquiries to the Post’s ombudsman.

    So a BIG surprise after all that happy talk when USAID’s own Inspector General released a report which says the largest U.S. contractor working to stabilize Haiti is “not on track” to complete its assignments on schedule, has a weak monitoring system and is not adequately involving community members. It seems that Washington D.C.-based Chemonics (also a big player in the wonderful Afghan reconstruction fiasco) won a $53 million, 18-month contract from USAID in 2011 to help Haiti strengthen its economy and public institutions. USAID’s Office of Inspector General released a report Monday that found Chemonics had a series of slips, including using arbitrary ways of evaluating its work, failing to hire local workers, and going ahead with potentially damaging environmental projects before they were approved.

    Here’s one secret to State’s success with contractors from that report: Chemonics is also responsible for setting up its own system of evaluation.

    Again, breaking news, most of those criticisms mirrored the earlier ones State denied and the WaPo over-looked.

    How do you know when USAID and State are lying to you? Their lips move. Will Congress please stop giving money to these people? It will be a mercy killing at this point.



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    Serious Questions about a Haiti Reconstruction Puff Piece

    August 20, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    The default media plan at State is to follow anything negative in the press with a planted puff piece. Rather than tackle the facts in a negative story (seeking to refute them with other information, or to make corrections), State’s modus is to seek ink that just says everything is actually wonderful, without mentioning the offending original articles.

    Following a scathing Associated Press investigation into the failure of State to reconstruct Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake (Less than 12 percent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery), State first tried an “Op-Ed” by the ambassador blithely mumbling that all was well. That was back in late July.

    It took almost a month more, but State did finally select its author for what appears to be a real puff piece, in this case some hack named David Brown at the hometown Washington Post (slogan: still dining out on that Watergate thing). Brown’s work at the Post has been mostly on health issues, mainly HIV/AIDS, with the odd bit about Warren Buffet’s prostrate (not good) and Dick Cheney’s artificial heart (“doing exceedingly well”). As such, he was obviously the perfect guy to write authoritatively on reconstruction in Haiti.

    Without too much surprise, Brown tells us of the wonderful work State, via its USAID arm, has done in one micro-neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. The short version is that in this one neighborhood, 500 people have new houses, lots of locals were employed to do the work, and civic improvements accompanied the new homes. It is a real success story. Read it yourself.

    Some Questions

    Here are the questions I sent to the Washington Post Ombudsman about the article. Should I receive a reply, I will feature it on this blog. Had the article addressed these points it might have floated above puff piece.

    Did David Brown locate this rebuilt neighborhood on his own, or did State direct him to it? Did Brown fly to Haiti specifically to do this story? What role did State/USAID play in his access to the neighborhood? Was he accompianied by anyone from State/USAID at any time? Brown does not seem to cover Haiti, State or reconstruction issues. How did he end up with this story?

    The story says $8.5 million US tax dollars were spent repairing or replacing 500 homes. That works out to a very rough figure of $17,000 per home. Haitian GDP is about $1300 a person a year, among the world’s impoverished. Is $17k per home expensive? Typical costs? What does the figure actually mean?

    Why did reconstruction seem to succeed so well in this one micro-area while failing broadly? Are there lessons to be learned and applied elsewhere in Haiti or is this an anomaly?

    The Associated Press piece focused in part on how little reconstruction money actually makes it to Haiti instead of being siphoned off by US contractors. Brown’s article claims all but four workers used on this project were Haitian. At the same time, he notes that the project sent only $1.4 million of the $8.5 million total into the local economy. That seems to suggest over $7 million bucks went somewhere else. Where did it go?

    Brown’s article, which ran on the front page of the Post and continued inside, quoted only two people connected with the project by name, the project manager paid by USAID and one engineer paid by USAID. Why were there no quotes from any of the Haitian residents of the new dwellings? Why were there no quotes from any local Haitain officials? Did the WaPo editors cut out such quotes? Did they not ask Brown to obtain such quotes? How did Brown fact-check the details given to him by the USAID-paid people? DID Brown fact check those details?

    As I learned in Iraq, building things is relatively easy given massive amounts of money. The real magic is sustainability. Brown tells us “Groups of houses share 23 septic tanks and 100 bucket-flush toilets, which can be locked for privacy. Twenty solar-powered lights illuminate streets.” What plans and whose money are in place to repair and maintain that technology? Who/how will the septic tanks be drained or pumped out? What happens when the first solar light needs replacing? Will any of this be there working a year from now? If so, under what plan? The article calls the work in Haiti a “renaissance,” a pretty dramatic word that is empty, meaningless and damned temporary unless there is a sustainability plan in place.

    Almost all the details in the story are unsourced. Brown talks about the number of septic tanks, a kidnapping and decisions taken collectively by the neighborhood. He does not say where any of this information came from. Where did this information come from?

    Brown states:

    Another big problem was that wider paths and outdoor places to sit were neighborhood priorities but there was not any unoccupied land for them. As the project evolved, 201 households agreed to reduce the size of their plots, 171 agreed to reshape them, and 51 agreed to share their plots with another family by living in two-story houses.

    This is a huge thing to have accomplished. In reconstruction work, the easiest thing to do is simply to redo what was destroyed, urban problems and all. Destroyed too-narrow streets are replaced with new too-narrow streets because it proves inexpedient to resolve the many disputes. How did this process actually work out in Haiti? Did it really happen? If it did, the method used should be a critical element toward replicating this success throughout Haiti. Did State/USAID lead negotiations? Was there some sort of local micro-government?

    Since it is unlikely that such agreement spontaneously emerged, leaving out the process raises questions about whether Brown had any idea what he was writing about, or was simply a notetaker for USAID’s propaganda machine.


    Over to you, Washington Post Ombudsman.

    BONUS: The Haitian government has hired an ex-Bill Clinton administration guy to act as a lobbyist, seeking to influence US decision-makers on aid and rebuilding issues.




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    Feeling Insecure? Better Spend More

    October 4, 2011 // Comments Off on Feeling Insecure? Better Spend More

    Walter Pincus, in today’s Washington Post, asks the money question: with severe congressional cuts in State’s fiscal 2012 spending request, shouldn’t the administration take a “tougher look at what those programs accomplish?”

    In State’s $59 billion overall request, a $1.6 billion is for security costs, much of that draining into the pockets of private security contractors in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In Iraq, for example, the number of Americans in Basra will actually increase significantly in the months ahead as the State Department dramatically expands its consulate. Officials say the consulate will employ more than 1,200 people, making it larger than most embassies. The bulk of its employees will be security contractors. Ka-ching!

    Questioning whether assistance programs in rural Afghan areas can succeed when they require “the presence of heavily armed security contractors,” the Senate panel’s report urged State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to reduce such programs “to only what can be effectively managed, monitored, and sustained.”

    “In the current budget environment, such high security costs are not sustainable,” the Senate Appropriations Committee concluded.

    That said, there is no stopping State when security spending is concerned.

    A notice in today’s Federal Register informs us of a “Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC).” It seems that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security intends to build a large training center at the former Fort Pickett in Virginia. The center is expected to train 8,000-10,000 students per year and include both hard skills training, such as driving tracks, firing ranges, mock urban environmental, and explosives ranges; soft skills training, such as classrooms, simulation labs, and a fitness center; and support facilities such as administrative offices, dormitories, a dining hall, and emergency response facilities.

    The Registry entry only announces the environmental impact statement, and so no dollar figures for what this training center will cost are included.

    Pincus, in his Washington Post article, concludes “The Pentagon, faced with the prospect of deep reductions, is reviewing the services’ roles and missions, many of which have not been reviewed for years. The State Department and foreign assistance programs need the same review.”




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    It looks like Iraq is off its Meds Again

    June 22, 2011 // Comments Off on It looks like Iraq is off its Meds Again


    It looks like Iraq is off its meds again.

    On Tuesday, at least 27 people, many of them police, were killedand more than 30 wounded when a pair of bombs exploded by the house of the provincial governor in the central Iraqi city of Diwaniyah.

    The explosion in Diwaniyah followed the bombing of a French embassy convoy in Baghdad on Monday, wounding several Iraqis, and a blast Sunday targeting a western security company guarding a client in the southern oil region of Basra. That attack, on a route traveled by oil companies and western firms, left one Iraqi and one Westerner wounded.

    Meanwhile, despite elections in March 2010, and forming a government in December, the cabinet has failed to date to name its security ministers.

    Meanwhile, most Iraqis live with minimal services, intermittent power, murky water, nonexistent sewers. Lack stalks the country; this article delves into the lives of those in Iraq who make a living scavenging US-left behind trash, reminding that some 23% of Iraqis live in poverty.

    Gunmen blasted their way into government offices in central Iraq on last week with two car bombs and suicide blasts that killed seven people. Militants involved in the attack in Diyala’s provincial capital of Baquba exchanged fire with Iraqi security forces, holding them at bay, in a siege that lasted nearly three hours.

    The fight only ended after US military assistance, including troops, armored vehicles and helos, arrived and intervened.

    But we sort of knew the Iraqi Army just isn’t all that it can be. The Washington Post tells us:

    According to Iraqi politicians and military officers, the country’s armed forces remain dysfunctional, with power dangerously decentralized and wielded by regional fiefdoms controlled by Iraq’s top politician.

     

    Ho, ho, it’s funny. We have spent billions training the Iraqi Army and there is not much to show for it; these guys must be the slowest learners on the planet (ED: No, that would be the Afghan Police). The Iraqi Army remains an almost gleefully silly Third World organization. US soldiers whose unrelished task it was to “train” the Iraqis would tell tales of rifles so dirty and rusty that they would not fire, and levels of discipline so poor that it was scary just to be around the troops and their weapons.

    On joint bases, such as FOB Loyalty (Peter had more than a few sleepovers there) where five Americans lost their lives in early June, Iraqi vehicles with mounted machine guns, full belts of ammo in the weapon, would be left parked here and there, sometimes left running out of fear they would not start later. It was not odd to see a loaded AK leaning against the wall, its owner having run off to the toilet. One training trooper watched with some sense of entertainment as a company of Iraqi BMPs tried to start their engines, only to find that about one out of three would not even turn over.

    It’ll be awhile before the Iraqi Army is ready for varsity play. Eight years after invading, decimating and then disbanding the Iraqi Army, let’s not make their ineptitude a reason to remain in Iraq, ‘Kay?

    It is critical not to buy into the media vibe that these attacks are “bad guys versus the government.” They are not. The “government” in Iraq is a hodge-podge of militias, gangs and factions, each one controlling a part of the whole. An attack against the police in an area is one faction seeking turf or exacting revenge. We use the term “government” only a a convenience.

    And please note that these attacks continue in a steady stream while the US still maintains a sizable combat force in Iraq. A smaller, hold-on force post-December 2011 will be even more limp. Even worse, since these are factional struggles, anytime the US intervenes the US is choosing a side, whether we do it willingly or (most often) out of ignorance. That can only weaken our overall position by setting up US forces for a revenge strike, or allowing us to wake up one morning on the losing side without even knowing it.

    Really kids, time to come home.



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