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Confronting “Alternative Facts”
« on: January 11, 2019, 03:25:32 PM »
A fine essay on why opposing bullshit and "alternative facts" rises to the level of a moral imperative.

Rebecca Gordon: Confronting “Alternative Facts”

Life in the United States of Trump

In one of the Bible stories about the death of Jesus, local collaborators with the Roman Empire haul him before Pontius Pilate, the imperial governor of Palestine. Although the situation is dire for one of them, the two engage in a bit of epistemological banter. Jesus allows that his work is about telling the truth and Pilate responds with his show-stopping query: “What is truth?”

Pilate’s retort is probably not the first example in history of a powerful ruler challenging the very possibility that some things might be true and others lies, but it’s certainly one of the best known. As the tale continues, the Gospel of John proceeds to impose its own political truth on the narrative. It describes an interaction that, according to historians, is almost certainly a piece of fiction: Pilate offers an angry crowd assembled at his front door a choice: he will free either Jesus or a man named Barabbas. The loser will be crucified.

“Now,” John tells us, “Barabbas had taken part in an uprising” against the Romans. When the crowd chooses to save him, John condemns them for preferring such a rebel over the man who told the “truth” -- the revolutionary zealot, that is, over the Messiah.

What, indeed, is truth? As Pilate implies and John’s tale suggests, it seems to depend on who’s telling the story -- and whose story we choose to believe. Could truth, in other words, just be a matter of opinion?

Many of my undergraduate philosophy students adopt this perspective. Over the course of a semester, they encounter a number of philosophers and struggle to understand what each is arguing and what to think when they contradict each other. I do my best to present scholarly assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of these varying approaches, but all too often students find themselves drowning in a pool of epistemological confusion. If a philosophy can be criticized, they wonder, how can it be true? The easiest solution, they often find, is to decide that truth is indeed just a matter of opinion, something that has only become easier now that Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office.

A more difficult route out of the morass would be to trust themselves to evaluate the claims of competing theories of how life works and decide, however tentatively, which seems most convincing. But it’s precisely the skills needed to evaluate such competing claims that many of them lack. Often, they doubt that such skills even exist. In this, they are not unlike President Trump who is frequently astonished to learn things that ought to be part of an ordinary citizen’s knowledge base. (Apparently, until he personally stumbled upon the fact, for example, “nobody knew that health care is complicated.”) Their answer to most questions is some version of “nobody knows” or indeedcan know; truth, in other words, is just a matter of opinion.

This popular belief that nobody really does or can know anything is the perfect soil for an authoritarian leader to take root.

But facts really are, as the popular expression has it, “a thing.” Try telling a former resident of Paradise, California, that truth is just a matter of opinion when it comes, for example, to climate change. Paradise, you probably remember, was the town in Butte County that was incinerated last November by the deadliest wildfire in California history. Or rather the deadliest so far, since there can be no doubt -- if you don’t happen to be the president or his climate-change-denying Republican colleagues and cabinet members or part of the 20% of Americans who still refuse to believe the obvious -- that worse is to come. After all, as the Associated Press reported recently, 15 of California’s 20 “most destructive” wildfires have burned in the last two decades.

For President Trump, whether or not the global climate is changing is not a question to be answered by examining evidence. “People like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers,” he told the Washington Post that very November, adding, “As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it.”

To Trump, what is clearly the worst danger threatening humanity is a matter not of fact, but of belief, and possibly even a complete fiction.

From Credibility Gap to Alternative Facts

Donald Trump is hardly the first American president to have a loose relationship with the truth. Back in the 1960s, when the Vietnam War was raging, what was then dubbed the “credibility gap” opened in the minds of journalists and the public -- a gap between President Lyndon Johnson’s assertions about “progress” in that war and “the facts on the ground.” Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who co-directed PBS’s 10-part series on that war, argue that “this radical diminution of trust” in the presidency began with Johnson’s, and later President Richard Nixon’s lies to the American public about what was actually going on there.

Those lies included a specious casus belli and legal underpinning for the full-scale American intervention there (supposed North Vietnamese attacks on two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin). Even the State Department’s official online history now acknowledges that “doubts later emerged as to whether or not the [second] attack... had taken place.” As the war progressed, two administrations rolled out ever more lies about the victory soon to come, especially via post-battle body counts, often presented like sports scores in which the winner was the one with the lower number: Americans, 78; Viet Cong, 475. Miraculously, the U.S. military never appeared to lose a match, which made the public all the more surprised when they lost the war itself. 

In the Vietnam years, at least, such a credibility gap could be acknowledged and an administration forced to confront it. Despite the fact that media outlets now almost routinely tote up Trump’s “untruths” -- his misstatements, false statements, and lies -- by the thousands, his administration has managed to call into question the very existence of any “facts on the ground” whatsoever. This process began in the most literal way on the first day of the Trump era: his inauguration. In January 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted that Trump had drawn “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”

When journalists began comparing photographs of the crowds at Trump’s and Barack Obama’s inaugurations -- the literal facts on the ground -- it became clear that Spicer was lying. (The photos of the Trump inaugural would later be “edited” to fit the president’s desired reality.) Some of us wondered: Would that moment mark the opening of a new credibility gap for the Trump era? And the answer would be: no, it would signal the beginning of something even worse.

In the epistemological universe of the president and his base, a credibility gap is inconceivable, because there are no facts on the ground to begin with. Or rather, we are invited to choose from a range of “alternative facts,” as Trump aide Kellyanne Conway so unforgettably put it. His press secretary can’t lie, no matter what the (unedited) aerial photos of those crowds may show, not when what you might perceive as a lie is simply someone else’s statement of alternative fact.

Trump’s is not the first administration in recent memory to suggest that truth is a matter of what you choose to believe -- or, if you prefer, a matter of faith. In “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” a 2004 New York Times Magazine article, journalist Ron Suskind reported on discussions among various administration insiders about the president’s worldview. An unnamed former aide to Ronald Reagan assured Suskind, for instance, that, for President Bush, truth was in fact absolute. It just wasn’t based on evidence:

“This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about al-Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them... 

"This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence."

A Bush aide (later identified as key adviser Karl Rove) similarly disparaged evidence-based reality, though in his case by favoring facts created not through faith but power. As he so resonantly explained to those stuck “in what we call the reality-based community":

"That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Everything Is Possible and Nothing Is True

Not surprisingly, among its critics Donald Trump’s presidency has inspiredany number of references to political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s description of the dismantling of truth by authoritarian regimes of the previous century. In her 1951 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt described the process this way:

"In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.”

Our aspiring authoritarians (and the Russian internet trolls who assist them) understand this strategy well: Was Barack Obama born in the United States? Nobody knows for sure, but many people believe he wasn’t. Did Hillary Clinton run a secret pedophile ring from the basement of a Washington pizzeria? Nobody knows for sure, but some people believe she did. Do the Obamas have a 10-foot wall around their Washington home, suggesting that, according to the president, the entire country just needs a “slightly larger version” of the same on its southernmost border? Nobody knows, and in any case, how can we believe a photo of the house without such a wall offered by the Washington Post? Photos, after all, can easily be faked. Did Russia interfere in the 2016 presidential election? Nobody knows for sure, not even Donald Trump, despite having been shown substantial evidence that it did.

The cumulative effect of a mounting number of claims about which “nobody knows” the truth is a corresponding rise in the belief that nobody can know what is true. All evidence is equally valid (or invalid), so what’s real is as optional as the possible endings in a “choose-your-own-adventure” TV show.

If the world was “ever-changing” and “incomprehensible” to “the masses” in the authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century, how much more incomprehensible is the turbo-charged, Internet-fueled world of 2019? Today’s propaganda can be not only omnipresent but precisely tailored to specific audiences, even if its objectives (and often sources) may not be obvious at first glance.

We are used to thinking of propaganda (a word whose Latin roots mean “towards action”) as intended to move people to think or act in a particular way. And indeed that kind of propaganda has long existed, as with, for example, wartime booksposters, and movies designed to inflame patriotism and hatred of the enemy. But there was a different quality to totalitarian propaganda. Its purpose was not just to create certainty (the enemy is evil incarnate), but a curious kind of doubt. “In fact,” as Russian émigrée and New Yorker writer Masha Gessen has put it, “the purpose of totalitarian propaganda is to take away your ability to perceive reality.”

Eroding the very ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy has been, however instinctively, the mode of the Trumpian moment as well, both the presidential one and that of so many right-wing conspiracy theorists now populating the online world. When everybody lies, anything can indeed be true. And when everybody -- or even a significant chunk of everybody -- believes this, the effect can be profoundly anti-democratic.

Such belief, born of the relentless rush of falsehoods and conspiracy theories, doesn’t just rile people up and make them wonder what in the world is true. It also generates a yearning for a single voice to rise above the crashing waves of claims and counterclaims, a voice that can be trusted.

In a world in which people sense that truth no longer matters, it doesn’t make a difference whether what that voice says is true. What matters is that the voice is strong and confident. What matters is that it is authoritative even in its falsehoods. And if that reminds you of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines or Brazil’s newly inaugurated hard-right president Jair Bolsonaro, or Donald Trump, it should.

Why Telling the Truth Matters

Most of what we know, we learn not through personal experience, but because of the reports of other trusted human beings. I have never performed the double-slit experiment, but I know that electrons can behave both as particles and waves. I haven’t recorded ocean or air temperatures over the course of a century, yet I know that on average, the Earth’s air, land, and waters are growing dangerously warmer.

It’s because so much of what we know depends on the truthfulness of others that the philosopher Immanuel Kant believed lying was always wrong. His reasoning was that when we lie to another person, we fail to respect her infinitely valuable capacity to encounter the world and think about the moral choices she’ll make in it. By refusing to tell her the truth, we treat her not as a person, but as an instrument -- a tool to get something we want. We treat her like a thing.

I suspect that Kant was right, although one of my other favorite ethicists, Miss Manners (the journalist Judith Martin), argues that certain fictions (“this is delicious!”) are the lubricant without which society’s wheels would freeze in place. Perhaps -- you knew I was going to say this! -- the truth lies somewhere in between.

However, I am certain of one thing: that truth-telling is the bedrock of democracy. When we routinely assume that our fellow citizens and government officials are lying, it becomes impossible to work together to determine how our neighborhoods, our cities, or our country should function. When we abandon the effort to figure out what is true, we cede the field to anti-democratic leaders who derive their “just powers” not “from the consent of the governed” but from the acquiescence of the willingly deceived.

Anyone who has tried to tell the truth consistently knows how difficult it is to do so. The temptations to lie are powerful, in politics as in daily life. As the poet Adrienne Rich wrote in “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying,” when we claim we are lying because we don’t want to cause pain, what we really mean is that we don’t want “to have to deal with the other's pain. The lie is a short-cut through another's personality.”

Similarly, in democratic politics and organizing, the lie is a shortcut through the hard work of listening to other people’s arguments and formulating our own. Suppose your senatorial candidate (like the one for whose election I recently worked) favors raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. It’s tempting to promise potential voters (especially the many voters who don’t know what a senator can and can’t do) that if your candidate wins, their wages will definitely rise. Electing your candidate may indeed make that more likely, but it’s hardly a guarantee.

In the short run, promising that wages will go up wins more elections than saying they might. But in the long run, this kind of shortcut drives people out of the democratic process, because they stop believing that candidates ever keep promises.

Even in a life-or-death campaign (such as the effort to unseat Trump will be, if he’s still around in 2020), we need to build democratic relationships based on telling the truth as well as we know how. Only if we can trust each other to try to be honest can we hope to rebuild something resembling a truly functioning democracy. Otherwise, sooner or later this country will be seduced by the siren song of yet another strong and authoritative voice.

Humans are finite creatures and any truth we lay claim to will of necessity be partial, multi-faceted, and complex. At our best, we see only part of what is there and articulate only part of what we see. The promise of democracy -- when it works -- is the possibility of combining all those partially glimpsed and imperfectly reported realities into a still imperfect, but nevertheless better, whole.


Rebecca Gordon teaches philosophy at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

Copyright 2019 Rebecca Gordon. First published inTomDispatchand included in Vox Populi with permission.

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Surly1

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U.S. HAS SPENT SIX TRILLION DOLLARS ON WARS THAT KILLED HALF A MILLION PEOPLE SINCE 9/11, REPORT SAYS

BY

The United States has spent nearly $6 trillion on wars that directly contributed to the deaths of around 500,000 peoplesince the 9/11 attacks of 2001.

Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs published its annual "Costs of War" report Wednesday, taking into consideration the Pentagon's spending andits Overseas Contingency Operations account, as well as "war-related spending by the Department of State, past and obligated spending for war veterans’ care, interest on the debt incurred to pay for the wars, and the prevention of and response to terrorism by the Department of Homeland Security."

The final count revealed, "The United States has appropriated and is obligated to spend an estimated $5.9 trillion (in current dollars) on the war on terror through Fiscal Year 2019, including direct war and war-related spending and obligations for future spending on post 9/11 war veterans."

"In sum, high costs in war and war-related spending pose a national security concern because they are unsustainable," the report concluded. "The public would be better served by increased transparency and by the development of a comprehensive strategy to end the wars and deal with other urgent national security priorities."

4863570 U.S. Marines with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground T

ask Force, Crisis Response-Central Command fire 120-millimeter mortars in support of coalition efforts to defeat the Islamic State militant group at an undisclosed location in Syria, on September 10. CORPORAL GABINO PEREZ/U.S. MARINE CORPS/DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

The U.S. embarked on a global war on terror following the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 and were orchestrated by Islamist militant group Al-Qaeda. Weeks later, the U.S. led an invasion of Afghanistan, which at the time was controlled by Al-Qaeda ally the Taliban. In March 2003, Washington overthrew Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, accusing him of developing weapons of mass destruction and harboring U.S.-designated terrorist organizations.

Despite initial quick victories there, the U.S. military has been plagued by ongoing insurgencies these two countries and expanded counterterrorism operations across the region, including Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. In 2014, the U.S. gathered an international coalition to face the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), which arose out of a post-invasion Sunni Muslim insurgency in Iraq and spread to neighboring Syria and beyond.

Wednesday's report found that the "US military is conducting counterterror activities in 76 countries, or about 39 percent of the world's nations, vastly expanding [its mission] across the globe." In addition, these operations "have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, in the US and abroad."

Overall, researchers estimated that "between 480,000 and 507,000 people have been killed in the United States’ post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan." This toll "does not include the more than 500,000 deaths from the war in Syria, raging since 2011" when a West-backed rebel and jihadi uprising challenged the government, an ally of Russia and Iran. That same year, the U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance intervened in Libya and helped insurgents overthrowlongtime leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, leaving the nation in an ongoing state of civil war.

20181115_cost_war_terror_newsweek_720 A chart details the financial and human cost of the "War on Terror" since the deadly events of September 11, 2001. The toll of deaths may be much higher and is also compounded by hundreds of thousands killed by the side effects of such conflicts. WATSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS/BROWN UNIVERSITY/STATISTA/NEWSWEEK

The combined human cost for the U.S. throughout its actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan was 6,951 troops, 21 civilians and 7,820 contractors.

"While we often know how many US soldiers die, most other numbers are to a degree uncertain. Indeed, we may never know the total direct death toll in these wars. For example, tens of thousands of civilians may have died in retaking Mosul and other cities from ISIS but their bodies have likely not been recovered," the report noted.

"In addition, this tally does not include 'indirect deaths.' Indirect harm occurs when wars' destruction leads to long term, 'indirect,' consequences for people’s health in war zones, for example because of loss of access to food, water, health facilities, electricity or other infrastructure," it added.

In February, President Donald Trump estimated that "we have spent $7 trillion in the Middle East," saying "what a mistake" it was. Weeks later, he reportedly told his military advisers to prepare a plan to withdraw from Syria as the war against ISIS entered its final phases, though senior Washington officials have since expanded the U.S. mission— considered illegal by the Syrian government and its allies—to include countering Iran and its allies

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Surly1

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New data makes it clear: Nonvoters handed Trump the presidency
« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2019, 04:24:59 PM »
There are lies, damned lies, and those who tell you that voting doesn't matter. RE, take a richly deserved bow. You helped make Trump happen.

Evidence: get you some.

New data makes it clear: Nonvoters handed Trump the presidency


Then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands as he arrives at a campaign rally on Aug. 30, 2016, in Everett, Wash. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Most of our assessments of the electorate in 2016 are dependent on estimates. Polling before the election that suggested where people were leaning; exit polling after the fact that gives us some sense of who actually turned out. When more than 137 million people vote, understanding exactly who they were and why they voted the way they did necessarily involves some guesswork.

On Thursday, though, Pew Research Center released an unusually robust survey of the 2016 electorate. In addition to having asked people how they voted, Pew’s team verified that they did, giving us a picture not only of the electorate but also of those who didn’t vote. There are a number of interesting details that emerge from that research, including a breakdown of President Trump’s support that confirms much of his base has backed him enthusiastically since the Republican primaries.

The data also makes another point very clear: Those who didn’t vote are as responsible for the outcome of the election as those who did.

As we noted shortly after the election, about 30 percent of Americans were eligible to vote but decided not to, a higher percentage than the portion of the country who voted for either Trump or his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Pew’s data shows that almost half of the nonvoters were nonwhite and two-thirds were under age 50. More than half of those who didn’t vote earned less than $30,000 a year; more than half of those who did vote were over age 50.

Pew’s data allows us to see very specifically how voter turnout and candidate support compare. By looking at the preferred candidate in a demographic group and then comparing the density of that group in the population that voted with the density in the nonvoting population, we get a sense for how nonvoters determined the 2016 results.

We’ll start simply. Women tended to prefer Clinton to Trump and made up a higher percentage of the voting population than the nonvoting population. That split alone helps explain Clinton’s popular-vote victory.

But “women” contains multitudes. Black, working-class Democratic women; white, wealthy Republican women. The split by party shows how that makes a difference: Republicans made up more of the voter pool than the nonvoter pool and, unsurprisingly, broadly supported Trump.

(Remember: We’re not comparing actual turnout to the pool of registered voters — we’re comparing percent of voters to percent of nonvoters. In a world where voting doesn’t vary by demographic, the percent of voters from any group would be the same as that group’s percentage of nonvoters. If a demographic group votes less than another, though, it will be below the centerline while the other group is above it.)

Looking at race and ethnicity, we see how the heavier turnout of white voters affected the contest. Black and Hispanic voters voted much more heavily Democratic than white votes backed Trump, but they turned out less.

While half of nonvoters were white, 74 percent of voters were.

An even more dramatic example of that comes when we look at age groups.

People under 30 preferred Clinton by 30 points but made up much more of the nonvoter population than the population that actually voted. A third of nonvoters were under 30; only 1 in 8 voters was in that age group.

Here’s what the income divide in Pew’s chart looks like.

Each of these demographic groups contains fragments of the others, of course. Some of those earning under $30,000 in income are Republican or black or female. If we overlap race and income, the dots above separate a bit.

Whites making more than $30,000 a year skewed Republican and made up more of the voter pool than the nonvoter pool. Poorer whites and nonwhites generally made up more of the nonvoter pool than the voter pool.

Income and education generally correlate, but the chart looking at education and race is remarkably different from the chart above. College graduates leaned toward Clinton — but whites without college degrees voted heavily for Trump. Nonwhites without a college education were 40 percent of the nonvoter pool and only 1 in 5 actual voters.

Evangelicals were the most strongly pro-Trump of the religious groups of voters, and they represented more of the voting pool than the nonvoting pool. Black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics made up less of the voting population than the nonvoting population — and strongly preferred Clinton.

If we step back and look at the bigger picture — all the demographic data points from Pew’s analysis, including those above — the expected trend emerges.

Demographic groups that preferred Trump were three times as likely to be a bigger part of the voter pool than nonvoters. Among groups that preferred Clinton, they were about 50 percent more likely to be a bigger part of the nonvoting community.

Clinton nonetheless won the popular vote. But an increased turnout of under-30 voters in, say, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan could easily have changed the results of the history.

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline K-Dog

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Re: Confronting “Alternative Facts”
« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2019, 04:43:15 PM »
In the next election he can vote for me.
Under ideal conditions of temperature and pressure the organism will grow without limit.

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Re: Confronting “Alternative Facts”
« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2019, 03:47:12 AM »
In the next election he can vote for me.

That's really clever.

Trump's victory margin smaller than total Stein votes in key swing states
https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/308353-trump-won-by-smaller-margin-than-stein-votes-in-all-three

Pud-whacking cynics can tell you that voting doesn't matter. But when you do, be prepared to explain why fascists work overtime to steal it, restrict it, cage it, suppress it, and otherwise place barriers to the 'wrong" people exercising it.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2019, 10:11:27 AM by Surly1 »
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

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WHY A.G. SULZBERGER TOOK ON TRUMP IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2019, 10:14:49 AM »
“HERE HE IS USING THIS TERM ‘TREASON’”: WHY A.G. SULZBERGER TOOK ON TRUMP IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Murdoch’s paper is a fierce competitor to Sulzberger’s Times. But Trump raised the stakes—and Sulzberger wanted to reach the business leaders and conservatives who read the Journal.

A.G. Sulzberger
A.G. Sulzberger
By Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week was notable not just for its message—”Accusing the New York Times of ‘Treason,’ Trump Crosses a Line”—but for the platform where that message was broadcast. For one thing, it is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for the publisher of a major American newspaper to publish a high-profile opinion piece in the pages of another American newspaper. It is even more remarkable when it’s the man ultimately responsible for the Times’s liberal editorial page publishing something in the Journal’s famously red-blooded opinion section. Never mind that the Times and the Journal have become stronger rivals over the past 10 years, as Rupert Murdoch has moved the Journalcloser to a general-interest newspaper, with broad appeal outside of business and finance. Times media reporter Edmund Leecaptured the moment perfectly on Twitter: “That the publisher of the New York Times wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal underlines the gravity of it all.”

I called Sulzberger to ask him about his decision to write this op-ed and place it in the Journal, and he walked me through his thinking. The Times publisher had already twice met with Donald Trump in person to discuss his concerns regarding the president’s anti-media rhetoric. This time Sulzberger was in the car with his family in upstate New York when Trump hit send on Saturday’s provocative tweet: “Do you believe that the Failing New York Times just did a story stating that the United States is substantially increasing Cyber Attacks on Russia. This is a virtual act of Treason by a once great paper so desperate for a story, any story, even if bad for our Country.....”

“After his tweet, and his attack on the New York Times, and the accusation of treason, I just sat with that word for a while,” Sulzberger told me. “Beyond the significance of this big word, ‘treason,’ which is being recklessly wielded against one of the country’s leading independent news organizations by someone who has the authority to prosecute treason, and beyond the fact that it was inaccurately wielded, after the Times went through all the right steps that a responsible news organization goes through when reporting on a national security issue, having reached out to three different arms of the national security apparatus to see if they had any concerns, and all three told us they did not—beyond all of that, I just started to wonder, What could be next?”

Trump’s attacks on the Times have evolved, from the relatively playful “Failing New York Times” to the darker and more troubling “Fake News New York Times” or “ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE,” which is “a phrase,” Sulzberger noted, “with a long and disturbing history, a phrase that was embraced by both Hitler and Stalin to justify the persecution and execution of enemies.” Now, Sulzberger continued, “here he is using this term ‘treason,’ which has a clear legal meaning—it’s a crime that’s punishable by death. It just felt like he had reached the logical limit of his rhetorical attacks. But also my concern began to be, this is someone who has shown every inclination of not just continuing, but escalating his attacks on journalism and journalists, and if he’s still inclined to do so, all that’s left is to start putting his threats into action. I felt like the longer I thought about it, the more I felt like that was something that had to be said out loud, that it was a concern that should be shared with the public.”

Sulzberger said he felt that this message would be more powerful if it ran in a publication other than his own, because attacks on the press are not something that affect just one institution. And he felt it would be especially powerful if it ran in the Journal.

“I thought there was value to reaching a different audience with this message. Folks who are maybe more conservative, folks who are influential in the business community,” Sulzberger said. “One of the concerns I have right now is, if you look at who’s responding to the attacks on journalists, it tends to be journalists. Folks like Marty Baron, folks like me. And I worry that it’s easy for the public to regard that as institutions looking after their own self-interest. I don’t view it that way. I really hope that other leaders will raise their voices as well. It shouldn’t just be journalists defending journalism. I think any successful business leader will tell you how valuable the free and trustworthy flow of information is for their ability to be successful.”

Sulzberger reached out directly to the Journal’s editorial-page editor, Paul Gigot. He sent him the piece with a short note. Gigot said he’d take a look and get back to him, which he did shortly thereafter, telling Sulzberger they were going to run the op-ed. “The Wall Street Journal is an excellent news organization, and part of being an excellent news organization is turning down pieces, so there’s always the thought that a piece might be turned down,” said Sulzberger. “He was incredibly gracious.”

Since the op-ed was published on Wednesday, he’s heard from a handful of the types of influential and powerful people he was hoping to reach. He read me part of an email he received from someone he described as one of the nation’s most prominent business leaders: “The attacks on the freedom of the press and freedom of expression are deeply troubling. It’s important that you’re making this case.”

As for working with Gigot and his team, Sulzberger said, “It was a good process, and I give them a lot of credit for running it.”

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

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Russian State TV Laughs at Trump’s Fourth of July Parade
« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2019, 04:13:47 PM »
Russian State TV Laughs at Trump’s Fourth of July Parade
Commentators called the celebration “weak” and “low energy”




A Russian state TV news program laughed at President Donald Trump’s Fourth of July parade this week. According to the Washington Post, the hosts of Rossiya 1’s 60 Minutes program ridiculed everything about Trump’s “A Salute to America” military extravaganza.

One of the hosts, Yevgeny Popov, chided the president, saying sarcastically, “The greatest parade of all time is going to be held today in Washington, that is what our Donald Trump has said.”

Popov roasted Trump, saying, “The American president announced he would show us the newest tanks.” But, “these are Abrams and Sherman tanks, used during World War II and withdrawn from service in 1957.”

Co-host Olga Skabeyeva joined in the mock-fest, saying, “The paint on these vehicles is peeling off. There are no cannons, and their optics have been glued on with adhesive tape.”

Skabayeva tweeted footage of the tanks being towed and added laughing emojis while writing, “Putin’s America.”

Business Insider flagged a tweet from Russian media analyst Julia Davis, who said the broadcast bashed Trump’s “A Salute to America” speech, calling him “weak” and “low energy”— a nickname that Trump used to chide Jeb Bush during the 2016 Republican primaries. Davis also wrote that the commentators laughed at Trump’s ignorance when during the speech he said that American troops in the Revolutionary War “took over airports.”

Nothing is discussed on Russian “news” programs without being green-lighted by Vladimir Putin. This type of mockery, from what Trump likely considers a personal ally, might surprise the president and his supporters. But the lesson from Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election wasn’t that Russia was in lockstep with Trump or his messaging, it was about sowing seeds of discontent within the American electorate. The calculation to go after Trump in this case may be more about continuing that tact. It surely wasn’t a free Russian press comically riffing at the president’s expense, of that we can be sure.

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

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Declassified CIA Document Reveals Iraq War Had Little Justification
« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2019, 05:30:11 PM »
Thus confirming what most of us felt to one true at the time.

Declassified CIA Document Reveals Iraq War Had Little Justification
 Recently declassified documents reveal what we all felt was true at the time: that there was little justification for the Iraq war.

https://newspunch.com/declassified-cia-document-reveals-iraq-war-had-zero-justification/?fbclid=IwAR3DdjPyG_jkzUAyjxgXrSySXAvzGO8fnZuTxJWSOWMC2f2plb99Jgi67LE



The justification for going to war in Iraq thirteen years ago, was based on a 93-page classified document that allegedly contained “specific information” on former Iraqi leader President Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs he was apparently running.

Now that document has been declassified and it reveals that there was little justification for the Iraq war. 

Vice.com reports:

The CIA released a copy of the NIE in 2004 in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, but redacted virtually all of it, citing a threat to national security. Then last year, John Greenewald, who operates The Black Vault, a clearinghouse for declassified government documents, asked the CIA to take another look at the October 2002 NIE to determine whether any additional portions of it could be declassified.

The agency responded to Greenewald this past January and provided him with a new version of the NIE, which he shared exclusively with VICE News, that restores the majority of the prewar Iraq intelligence that has eluded historians, journalists, and war critics for more than a decade. (Some previously redacted portions of the NIE had previously been disclosed in congressional reports.)

For the first time, the public can now read the hastily drafted CIA document [pdf below] that led Congress to pass a joint resolution authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, a costly war launched March 20, 2003 that was predicated on “disarming” Iraq of its (non-existent) WMD, overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and “freeing” the Iraqi people.

A report issued by the RAND Corporation last December titled “Blinders, Blunders and Wars” said the NIE “contained several qualifiers that were dropped…. As the draft NIE went up the intelligence chain of command, the conclusions were treated increasingly definitively.”

An example of that: According to the newly declassified NIE, the intelligence community concluded that Iraq “probably has renovated a [vaccine] production plant” to manufacture biological weapons “but we are unable to determine whether [biological weapons] agent research has resumed.” The NIE also said Hussein did not have “sufficient material” to manufacture any nuclear weapons. But in an October 7, 2002 speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, then-President George W. Bush simply said Iraq, “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons” and “the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.”

One of the most significant parts of the NIE revealed for the first time is the section pertaining to Iraq’s alleged links to al Qaeda. In September 2002, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed the US had “bulletproof” evidence linking Hussein’s regime to the terrorist group.

“We do have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad,” Rumsfeld said. “We have what we consider to be very reliable reporting of senior-level contacts going back a decade, and of possible chemical- and biological-agent training.”

But the NIE said its information about a working relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq was based on “sources of varying reliability” — like Iraqi defectors — and it was not at all clear that Hussein had even been aware of a relationship, if in fact there were one.

“As with much of the information on the overall relationship, details on training and support are second-hand,” the NIE said. “The presence of al-Qa’ida militants in Iraq poses many questions. We do not know to what extent Baghdad may be actively complicit in this use of its territory for safehaven and transit.”

The declassified NIE provides details about the sources of some of the suspect intelligence concerning allegations Iraq trained al Qaeda operatives on chemical and biological weapons deployment — sources like War on Terror detainees who were rendered to secret CIA black site prisons, and others who were turned over to foreign intelligence services and tortured. Congress’s later investigation into prewar Iraq intelligence concluded that the intelligence community based its claims about Iraq’s chemical and biological training provided to al Qaeda on a single source.

“Detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi — who had significant responsibility for training — has told us that Iraq provided unspecified chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qai’ida members beginning in December 2000,” the NIE says. “He has claimed, however, that Iraq never sent any chemical, biological, or nuclear substances — or any trainers — to al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan.”

Al-Libi was the emir of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, which the Taliban closed prior to 9/11 because al-Libi refused to turn over control to Osama bin Laden.

Last December, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a declassified summary of its so-called Torture Report on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program. A footnote stated that al-Libi, a Libyan national, “reported while in [redacted] custody that Iraq was supporting al-Qa’ida and providing assistance with chemical and biological weapons.”

“Some of this information was cited by Secretary [of State Colin] Powell in his speech to the United Nations, and was used as a justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq,” the Senate torture report said. “Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the claim after he was rendered to CIA custody on February [redacted] 2003, claiming that he had been tortured by the [redacted], and only told them what he assessed they wanted to hear.”

Al-Libi reportedly committed suicide in a Libyan prison in 2009, about a month after human rights investigators met with him.

The NIE goes on to say that “none of the [redacted] al-Qa’ida members captured during [the Afghanistan war] report having been trained in Iraq or by Iraqi trainers elsewhere, but given al-Qa’ida’s interest over the years in training and expertise from outside sources, we cannot discount reports of such training entirely.”

All told, this is the most damning language in the NIE about Hussein’s links to al Qaeda: “While the Iraqi president “has not endorsed al-Qa’ida’s overall agenda and has been suspicious of Islamist movements in general, apparently he has not been averse to some contacts with the organization.”

The NIE suggests that the CIA had sources within the media to substantiate details about meetings between al Qaeda and top Iraqi government officials held during the 1990s and 2002 — but some were not very reliable. “Several dozen additional direct or indirect meetings are attested to by less reliable clandestine and press sources over the same period,” the NIE says.

The RAND report noted, “The fact that the NIE concluded that there was no operational tie between Saddam and al Qaeda did not offset this alarming assessment.”

The NIE also restores another previously unknown piece of “intelligence”: a suggestion that Iraq was possibly behind the letters laced with anthrax sent to news organizations and senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy a week after the 9/11 attacks. The attacks killed five people and sickened 17 others.

“We have no intelligence information linking Iraq to the fall 2001 attacks in the United States, but Iraq has the capability to produce spores of Bacillus anthracis — the causative agent of anthrax — similar to the dry spores used in the letters,” the NIE said. “The spores found in the Daschle and Leahy letters are highly purified, probably requiring a high level of skill and expertise in working with bacterial spores. Iraqi scientists could have such expertise,” although samples of a biological agent Iraq was known to have used as an anthrax simulant “were not as pure as the anthrax spores in the letters.”

Paul Pillar, a former veteran CIA analyst for the Middle East who was in charge of coordinating the intelligence community’s assessments on Iraq, told VICE news that “the NIE’s bio weapons claims” was based on unreliable sources such as Ahmad Chalabi, the former head of the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group supported by the US.

“There was an insufficient critical skepticism about some of the source material,” he now says about the unredacted NIE. “I think there should have been agnosticism expressed in the main judgments. It would have been a better paper if it were more carefully drafted in that sort of direction.”

But Pillar, now a visiting professor at Georgetown University, added that the Bush administration had already made the decision to go to war in Iraq, so the NIE “didn’t influence [their] decision.” Pillar added that he was told by congressional aides that only a half-dozen senators and a few House members read past the NIE’s five-page summary.

David Kay, a former Iraq weapons inspector who also headed the Iraq Survey Group, told Frontline that the intelligence community did a “poor job” on the NIE, “probably the worst of the modern NIE’s, partly explained by the pressure, but more importantly explained by the lack of information they had. And it was trying to drive towards a policy conclusion where the information just simply didn’t support it.”

The most controversial part of the NIE, which has been picked apart hundreds of times over the past decade and has been thoroughly debunked, pertained to a section about Iraq’s attempts to acquire aluminum tubes. The Bush administration claimed that this was evidence that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear weapon.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice stated at the time on CNN that the tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs,” and that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

The version of the NIE released in 2004 redacted the aluminum tubes section in its entirety. But the newly declassified assessment unredacts a majority of it and shows that the intelligence community was unsure why “Saddam is personally interested in the procurement of aluminum tubes.” The US Department of Energy concluded that the dimensions of the aluminum tubes were “consistent with applications to rocket motors” and “this is the more likely end use.”

The CIA’s unclassified summary of the NIE did not contain the Energy Department’s dissent.

“Apart from being influenced by policymakers’ desires, there were several other reasons that the NIE was flawed,” the RAND study concluded. “Evidence on mobile biological labs, uranium ore purchases from Niger, and unmanned-aerial-vehicle delivery systems for WMDs all proved to be false. It was produced in a hurry. Human intelligence was scarce and unreliable. While many pieces of evidence were questionable, the magnitude of the questionable evidence had the effect of making the NIE more convincing and ominous. The basic case that Saddam had WMDs seemed more plausible to analysts than the alternative case that he had destroyed them. And analysts knew that Saddam had a history of deception, so evidence against Saddam’s possession of WMDs was often seen as deception.”

According to the latest figures compiled by Iraq Body Count, to date more than 200,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, although other sources say the casualties are twice as high. More than 4,000 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, and tens of thousands more have been injured and maimed. The war has cost US taxpayers more than $800 billion.

In an interview with VICE founder Shane Smith, Obama said the rise of the Islamic State was a direct result of the disastrous invasion.

“ISIL is a direct outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion,” Obama said. “Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.”

Iraq October 2002 NIE on WMDs (unedacted version)

This article was originally published in 2015 and is frequently updated

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Surly1

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Trump is convinced there is a conspiracy to exaggerate recession fears
« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2019, 07:10:42 AM »
Goddamn democrats.

Trump is convinced there is a conspiracy to distort economic data and exaggerate the prospect of a recession

Tom Porter


President Donald Trump at a meeting with automotive executives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House last year in Washington.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Recession Watch Banner

  • President Donald Trump has privately expressed concerns that opponents are exaggerating the prospects of a recession to damage his reelection chances in 2020, The New York Times reported Sunday.
  • Spooked by economic data, the president last week sought the advice of finance bosses on the prospects for the US economy, according to reports.
  • A rare inverted yield curve in bond markets and global economic slowdown has been cited by some economists as indicating that a recession may be on its way.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump has claimed in private conversations that opponents are conspiring against him to skew economic data and damage his chances of reelection in 2020, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Sources familiar with the matter told The Times on condition of anonymity that the president had told aides and allies that opponents were seeking to rob him of a key strength entering the 2020 election campaign — the strength of the economy during his presidency.

Agitated by news reports and warnings by economists of recession signals, the president has privately claimed that "forces that do not want him to win" have been exaggerating the damage his trade war has caused the global economy, according to the report. Trump has repeatedly aired conspiracy theories during his presidency, on issues such as the recent death of the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein as well as Hillary Clinton's private email server.

« Last Edit: August 19, 2019, 07:14:30 AM by Surly1 »
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Surly1

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We Will Never, Ever Be Rid of Donald Trump
« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2019, 05:09:42 AM »
We Will Never, Ever Be Rid of Donald Trump
By Frank Bruni


House Democrats are inching closer to a formal impeachment inquiry, as if that’s how best to exorcise Donald Trump from the body politic. Mark Sanford just became the third Republican to announce a 2020 primary challenge and to dream of a successful insurrection against an emperor whom most of the party meekly obeys.

And 10 Democrats will take the stage on Thursday night for their party’s next presidential debate, each determined to present himself or herself as the surest route to the far side of Trump.

So now is as good a time as any to state what should be obvious to anyone who has considered Trump’s psychology, registered his megalomania and taken full account of his behavior to date.

We will never, ever be rid of him.

Oh, sure, we may remove him from the presidency, which is no small thing. But that won’t get him out of the nation’s bloodstream. It sure as hell won’t shut him up. If you think he has demolished all the norms of what it means to be the president of the United States, just wait until you see the sledgehammer he takes to the traditional role and restraint of former presidents.

He won’t be at an easel in remote Texas, like George W. Bush. He won’t be biting his tongue and taking big, deep, centering breaths, like Barack Obama.

A foundation devoted to good works? Been there, done that, and it was a perfect mirror of the man, which is to say a complete sham. It’s under investigation by theState of New York.

No, he’ll be tweeting, bleating, ranting and raging in precisely the manner that he is now, just without the nuclear codes. And if that transition happens after November 2020, he’ll declare the election suspect, fraudulent, the result of a media crusade against him, the fruit of illegal votes. He pressed that narrative in 2016 even though he was declared the victor. A winner that sore is poised to be an epically nasty loser, and I have an easier time imagining a “Thelma and Louise” remake starring Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin than I do the Trumps graciously beckoning the Warrens across the threshold of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

[Get a more personal take on politics, newsmakers and more with Frank Bruni’s exclusive commentary every week. Sign up for his newsletter.]

The post-Trump landscape — or, rather, the impossibility of one — is on my mind in part because of a prediction by Brad Parscale, the manager of the Trump 2020 campaign, at a California Republican convention last weekend. “The Trumps will be a dynasty that will last for decades, propelling the Republican Party into a new party,” he said in a speech to delegates.

Then The Atlantic published a riveting cover story by McKay Coppins that in some ways raised the same prospect, reporting that Ivanka and Don Jr. are jockeying to be their dad’s rightful political heir and noting that the Trump progeny are genetically wired to wring every last droplet from their father’s celebrity that they can.

Flashing back to the night in November 2016 when the family watched the election returns, Coppins wrote that they were in shock, because Trump “was supposed to go down in a spectacular blaze of made-for-TV martyrdom that all of them could capitalize on. Ivanka had a book coming out. Don and Eric were working on a line of patriotically themed budget hotels. And preliminary talks were underway to launch a Trump-branded TV network that would turn disgruntled voters into viewers. Now they needed a new plan.” Apparently it’s one modeled after the Kennedys and the Bushes, only with a much bigger budget for hair and makeup.

Best of luck, Trumpkins. I just don’t see it. Ivanka — or, as I like to think of her, Our Lady of the DMZ — has shown a shocking tone-deafness during her White House romp. And Don Jr. was the nitwit emailing ecstatically and then lying badly about that June 2016 meeting with the Russian, um, adoption evangelists. These two have all of Dad’s gall but only a scintilla of his guile.

Trump won’t hang around by proxy, in a next generation of opportunists with his surname or agenda. That would negate the whole point of his pivot into politics. It wasn’t to promote ideas; it was to promote himself. Health permitting, he’ll move heaven and earth to maintain his omnipresence in American life, by which I mean he’ll be as outrageous as he must to stay in the news. And we in the media will confront a decision: Give him what he wants, or let go of him and all the eyeballs he draws?

Even if we let go, there’s the strong possibility, as Coppins noted, that he’ll establish his own media enterprise, with a network where the news really is fake, adulation doesn’t hinge on nuisances like the ballot box and Sean Hannity isn’t the model forTrump veneration. He’s the baseline.

From that coddled perch Trump can take out his big black Sharpie and write higher vote counts over his actual, official ones. He can draw horns on John Bolton and a halo over William Barr. He can sketch a second White House adjacent to the first one but taller, with gold trim.

That’s where he’ll be living, his power fictive but his presence ineluctable, snappily ever after.

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline RE

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Re: We Will Never, Ever Be Rid of Donald Trump
« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2019, 08:00:19 AM »
Even David Koch and David Rockefeller died.

We'll get rid of Trump sooner or later, by one means or another.

RE
Save As Many As You Can

 

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