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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

NY Times’ Pointless Exercise

The Daily Escape:

Zion NP, UT – January 2020 photo by csmicfool

Wrongo is confused. The NYT endorsed both Warren and Klobuchar, apparently for the same job. But in reality, they endorsed Klobuchar, the candidate who is polling around 4%, well below the 15% it will take to win any delegates. The endorsement of Warren is secondary, even on their editorial pages, which lists Klobuchar on the left full page, and Warren on the right full page.

Here’s how the Times talked about the difference between the two of them:

“Both the radical and the realist models warrant serious consideration. If there were ever a time to be open to new ideas, it is now. If there were ever a time to seek stability, now is it.

That’s why we’re endorsing the most effective advocates for each approach. They are Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.”

They are not campaigning to be co-presidents, we will get just one nominee. The Times says there are two possible ways forward: Warren’s a radical. Klobuchar’s a realist. This all but guarantees that if Warren is the nominee, Trump’s ads will say: “Even the leftist New York Times thinks Warren is a radical.”

In case you’re unsure, Warren isn’t a radical. She’s demonstrated over and over that she’s moderately progressive, and a pragmatic liberal, with the exception of her poorly-thought-out position on Medicare for All. The NYT has its way with Warren:

“American capitalism is responsible for its share of sins. But Ms. Warren often casts the net far too wide, placing the blame for a host of maladies from climate change to gun violence at the feet of the business community when the onus is on society as a whole. The country needs a more unifying path.”

By contrast, here’s the Times’s critique of Klobuchar. It’s one paragraph plus one sentence about her poor positioning in the race:

Reports of how Senator Klobuchar treats her staff give us pause. They raise serious questions about her ability to attract and hire talented people. Surrounding the president with a team of seasoned, reasoned leaders is critical to the success of an administration, not doing so is often the downfall of presidencies. Ms. Klobuchar has acknowledged she’s a tough boss and pledged to do better…..Ms. Klobuchar doesn’t have the polished veneer and smooth delivery that comes from a lifetime spent in the national spotlight, and she has struggled to gain traction on the campaign trail.”

The Times is playing a cynical game. They’re saying that they are endorsing both Warren and Klobuchar, but they really want Klobuchar, someone who really has very few followers.

It isn’t even clear that Klobuchar is a better moderate candidate than Biden. Clearly he’s older, but he has a national and global perspective that Klobuchar lacks. As a candidate, she’s a lesser Biden, without the black support.

And for Warren, she’s at least as formidable a candidate as Sanders, but she may have a higher ceiling with potential voters.

In most ways, the 2020 primaries so far have been Policy Minutiae on the Democrat’s side, vs. Resentment Politics on the GOP’s. Way more people are persuaded by tribal politics than by policies. If you disagree, look at this from the LA Times which says that a substantial group of Iowa voters are trying to choose between Biden and Sanders:

“Both campaigns believe there is a swath of voters — mostly white, working-class voters, including those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 after backing Barack Obama twice — who are torn between Biden and Sanders, the race’s old-timers. Both men’s campaigns are fishing in that electoral pond as each candidate looks to expand his base in a tight contest.”

Their decision won’t be about Policy Minutiae. More from the LAT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Democratic Party in Polk County, Iowa, which includes Des Moines. ‘Ideology isn’t as important as the personality. To a lot of folks, they feel like they know and can trust both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, regardless of the ideological stuff.’”

For the NYT, the election is shaping up as a contest between a former TV personality who has generated a long list of policy failures, against either a cynical moderate, or a radical progressive, when some people think policies aren’t going to decide the election.

In 2008 and 2012, the Obama campaigns were about the healing power of centrism, without openly bashing the left. Biden and Buttigieg seem to be going that route, but Klobuchar seems more interested in pointing out that She Is NOT One of Them Lefties.

It’s like no one on the Times Editorial Board stopped to ask the question: “Wait – what exactly is the point of this exercise”?

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 13, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Many Glacier, Glacier NP, MT – 2019 photo by MDodd

Let’s clear the air about Iran and their use of terror. Wrongo isn’t an apologist for Iran, although he thought that the Nuclear Deal was a positive step forward. We need to look carefully at the data supporting what our government and the US media say about Iran’s terrorist activities.

Here’s what the US State Department says about Iran and terrorism:

“Iran remains the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. The regime has spent nearly one billion dollars per year to support terrorist groups that serve as its proxies and expand its malign influence across the globe. Tehran has funded international terrorist groups such as Hizballah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

It also has engaged in its own terrorist plotting around the world, particularly in Europe. In January, German authorities investigated 10 suspected Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force operatives. In the summer, authorities in Belgium, France, and Germany thwarted an Iranian plot to bomb a political rally near Paris, France. In October, an Iranian operative was arrested for planning an assassination in Denmark, and in December, Albania expelled two Iranian officials for plotting terrorist attacks.

Furthermore, Tehran continued to allow an AQ facilitation network to operate in Iran, which sends fighters and money to conflict zones in Afghanistan and Syria, and it has extended sanctuary to AQ members residing in the country.”

From Larry C. Johnson:

“You notice what is absent? A list of specific attacks that caused actual casualties. Plans and plots are not the same as actions. If Iran’s malevolent influence was so powerful, we should be able to point to specific attacks and specific casualties. But you will not find those facts in the U.S. State Department report because they do not exist.”

This State Department Annual Terror report details who is really responsible:

  • The Taliban was responsible for 8,509 deaths and 4,943 injuries, about 25 percent of the total casualties attributed to terrorism globally in 2018
  • With 647 terrorist attacks, ISIS was the next-most-active terrorist organization, responsible for 3,585 fatalities and 1,761 injuries
  • Having conducted 535 attacks, al-Shabaab was responsible for 2,062 deaths and 1,278 injuries
  • Boko Haram was fourth among the top-five terrorist perpetrators, with 220 incidents, 1,311 deaths, and 927 injuries

Not a single group linked to Iran or supported by Iran is identified. Here’s a table from the report’s statistical annex that identifies the worst offenders:

Iran doesn’t make the list. The attacks are predominantly from Sunni affiliated groups that have ties to Saudi Arabia, not Iran.

America takes exception to Iran because we have a long and negative history, but with justifiable complaints on both sides. Recently, Iran has thwarted the US’s actions in Syria. We should remember that Iran is a Shia Muslim state. When we removed Saddam Hussein and destroyed Iraq’s government, the Bush Administration installed Iraqi Shias in leadership. No GW Bush administration policymakers expressed any concern that these Iraqi politicians and military personnel had longstanding relationships with Iran, which naturally increased Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Iran also had a longstanding relationship with Syria. Obama decided that by eliminating Syria’s Bashir Assad, Iran would be weakened, but that policy backfired. Iran, along with Russia, came to the aid of Syria. Assad is now secure, and America’s influence in the ME has been weakened.

Time to wake up America! We need to get educated about which terror groups are committing what terror acts. Back in the 1980s, Iran was very active in using terrorism as a weapon to attack US military and diplomatic targets, but not so much lately. Iran was behind the early development of the IEDs used in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many US soldiers died. That technology is now globally ubiquitous.

The real issue we should be asking our government to resolve is whether we can (or should) halt the expansion of Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Administrations since Carter have bet that isolating Iran diplomatically, ratcheting up economic pressure, and using limited military power will somehow energize the Iranian regime’s opposition and lead to the overthrow of the Mullahs.

They forget that we’ve used that exact policy with both Cuba and North Korea. How has that worked out for America?

We shouldn’t mourn Gen. Soleimani; he was a bad actor who tried to build shadow Shia militaries in many ME Countries. But Trump and Pompeo need to stop ranting about Iran and terrorism.

The actual issues driving Iran’s growing influence in the ME aren’t based on acts of terror. Our recent policies and actions towards Iran are now accelerating their cooperation with China and Russia, not diminishing it.

Is that in the long term interest of the US?

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Monday Wake Up Call — Onward Christian Soldiers Edition

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Tucson Mountains, west of Tucson – January 1, 2020 photo by eleminohp

What’s America doing in Iraq? Everyone with an internet connection knows that Trump authorized a lethal drone strike on Iran’s Gen. Qassam Soleimani, a senior member of the Iranian military who was on his way to a meeting with Iraq’s Prime Minister.

You may not be aware that the meeting was called by Iraq’s PM at the behest of the US, as reported by the normally reliable Elijah J. Magnier:

The information that #Iran Qassem Soleimani had an appointment with the PM in Baghdad and came to #Iraq to meet him the next day with established appointment, following a request of Trump for mediation, has been read to all MPs today by the #Iraq/i PM himself.

It seems that the PM’s request of Soleimani was in writing. Let’s be clear about what America did: We assassinated two key military and political leaders on the sovereign territory of Iraq without the permission of the Iraqi Government. The key Iranian guy was heading to a meeting about calming tensions between the US and Iran. It’s a classic hit that could have been in “The Irishman”.

No one argues that Soleimani wasn’t our enemy. Democrats were caught flat-footed by Trump’s action. Most of the 2020 candidates tried to walk a thin line, glad Soleimani was dead, but deploring the process. Biden said it could leave the US:

 “On the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East.”

Bernie:

“Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.”

Warren:

“Trump’s reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict.”

And House Leader Nancy Pelosi:

“American leaders’ highest priority is to protect American lives and interests. But we cannot put the lives of American service members, diplomats and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions.”

Some Dems claim that this is Trump’s “Wag the Dog” play. Plenty of Republicans celebrated Soleimani’s death as a decisive blow against terrorism. Their comments can be summed up as: “Boy, we showed those Iranians who is boss”.

Are we getting the real story? Here’s a series of tweets by Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a ME journalist who says the reports that the Iraqi government voted to expel US troops is not correct:

Continued from Abdul-Hussain: (emphasis by Wrongo)

…to kill Soleimani). What happened is different.

1- Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi sent a letter to Parliament in which he argued US troops exist in Iraq, not based on a treaty ratified by Parliament, but on 2 letters from past cabinets to the UN. Hence, Parliament has no role in ejection.

2- Iraqi PM’s trying to trade disarming Shia militias for limiting scope of US troops. He wrote: “Whoever wants to become a political power, has to surrender arms, join armed forces, and forgo any political allegiance (i.e. to Iran) other than to military and commander-in-chief.”

(He’s talking about the militias that attacked the US Embassy)

“3- #Iraq parliament barely had a quorum for session on ejecting US troops. Sunni and Kurdish blocs boycotted the session (thus taking America’s side over Iran), and thus quorum was 170 of 328 (half + 4)…

4-The text Iraqi Parliament voted on was not a legislation, but a non-binding resolution.”

/snip/ (brackets by Wrongo)

“6- In his letter to Parliament, [PM] Abdul-Mahdi clearly states that Iraqi interest is to maintain neutrality between America and Iran, and that if Iraq antagonizes America, it risks losing its international status (and implicitly oil revenue, just like Iran).

7- NYT is, by far, much more pro-Iran than Wash Post. The post reported that “tens of thousands” mourned Soleimani in Ahwaz. NYT made the number of mourners “hundreds of thousands.”

Abdul-Hussain concludes:

“The most probable outcome of #Soleimani‘s killing is more of the same: Low-intensity Iranian warfare against America, Iran never engaging in direct war, but maintaining her proxy war, fighting America to the last Arab. But with Soleimani out, Iranian proxy war will be much weaker.”

Wake up America! We should be asking: “What’s our end game with Iran and Iraq?” That’s the question that Trump should have asked before giving the green light to kill Soleimani. Getting that answer should be a non-partisan request of the Trump administration.

The game remains the same. Republicans say here’s another very bad man who had to go. Democrats are saying he was a very bad man, but have you people thought through the consequences of taking him out?

The question of why, in the minds of Trump and his generals, Soleimani had to die this week is what needs to be explained to the American public.

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Saturday Soother – October 26, 2019

The Daily Escape:

British Museum, London – October, 2019 iPhone photo by Wrongo

There’s news in the UK about something that would never happen in the US. The British media regulator OfCom is urging the BBC to call it as they see it.

OfCom, in a review, called on the BBC to not be so focused on being neutral, especially if one group is peddling information not backed by the facts. This is notable because OfCom is in charge of making sure UK broadcasters follow UK media rules, including a commitment to “due impartiality”:

“BBC journalists should feel able to challenge controversial viewpoints that have little support or are not backed up by facts, making this clear to viewers, listeners and readers….Our research shows that audiences have respect for the caliber of the BBC’s journalism and expect its reporters to investigate, analyze and explain events. This should give the BBC confidence to be bolder in its approach.”

This is a frontal attack on the “both sides” obsession we see in the US. Are you listening, New York Times and PBS? Presenting the both sides arguments fails because an issue is often more complex and nuanced than only two sides can/will portray. Most US outlets also fail to insure that the sides they are presenting are equally credible.

Giving both sides equal time when one side presents a consensus view supported by evidence, and the other is a fringe view supported by anecdotes doesn’t give us either fairness or impartiality. The strength of one argument is diminished while the other is bolstered. Equal ≠ fair.

Despite the Trump administration’s opening a criminal investigation of the FBI, with all THAT implies, it’s time for your Saturday Soother, time to get away from the brain-melting news of the week, and to focus on those weekend things that float your boat.

Let’s start by taking a look at a painting Wrongo saw in the UK National Gallery, “A Woman”, by Robert Campin. It is part of a pair, the other being “A Man”, and the work is entitled “A Man and A Woman”. It was painted in 1435. Campin died in 1444, but notice how advanced his technique with oils was 600 years ago:

(iPhone photo by Wrongo)

Next, take a walk around London (at least in your mind), and visit the Climpson and Sons coffee bar in the Old Spitalfields Market. Belly up to the bar and order a cup of their Finca San Jeronimo Miramar, with flavors of cacao, whipped cream and apricot. You can order a bag of ground Finca San Jeronimo for £9.50/250g.

Now, look around at the crowd bustling through the Market, most intent on forgetting about Brexit while they shop. While people-watching, put in your Bluetooth earbuds and listen to “The Last Night of The Proms” from the Royal Albert Hall. The Proms are concerts which are part of a big music festival. “Proms” is short for “Promenade Concerts”. Here’s part of the Last Night from 2012, with great views of the crowd and the Royal Albert Hall:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 23, 2019

Iran’s solution to possible war with the US. If this happened, Trump would say he got a love letter from the Ayatollah:

Little-known technology shows Pentagon the best story to use about its reasons for war:

This week, the Trump administration argued in court that detained migrant children do not require basic hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes in order to be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions:

Mitch ain’t willing to discuss reparations:

Reparations are a difficult subject. As the historian Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” He meant that you either abide the status quo, or you oppose it. You either commit yourself to be the best anti-racist you can be, or you don’t. Whichever you choose, you should be honest in how you frame your choice. Saying that reparations are not worth pursuing, or simply doing nothing about them, is an implicit defense of the policies and systems that have created our present-day racial inequities.

The Supremes held 7-2 that a cross located in a war memorial could be displayed on public property (at a traffic circle). They said that some crosses are merely historic icons. Their decision favors one religion over others, and it seems hostile towards religious minorities. And why won’t Christians act like Christians?

How the Capitalism game actually works:

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Saturday Soother – War With Iran Edition, June 22, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Na Pali Coast, Kauai HI – 2019 photo by Santahickey

It’s tough to wake up on a Friday morning and find out that during the previous night, America almost started a war. On Thursday night, Trump allegedly pulled back from a military strike he had earlier authorized against Iran.

The New York Times wrote: “Trump Approves Strikes on Iran, but Then Abruptly Pulls Back”. The NYT says that Trump’s hawks, Bolton, Pompeo, and CIA Director Gina Haspel, had argued for the strike, while the Pentagon was said to have been against it. The NYT report includes this paragraph: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Asked about the plans for a strike and the decision to hold back, the White House declined to comment, as did Pentagon officials. No government officials asked The New York Times to withhold the article.”

It’s curious. If Trump was serious about attacking Iran, what purpose was served by the WH giving this story to the NYT? Not everyone bought the claim that a planned attack was called back. Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar on international conflicts, tweeted:

Jeffrey Lewis @ArmsControlWonk – 3:43 UTC – 21 Jun 2019

I don’t buy this. Trump’s team is trying to have it both ways — acting restrained but talking tough. This is pretty much what Nixon did in 1969, too. Why not just admit that sometimes restraint is smart?

He goes on to link to the 1969 NYT piece referenced above:

The @nytimes ran the same story Nixon in 1969. Nixon was not going to retaliate but he wanted people to think he almost did — and the Gray Lady obliged. —> Aides Say Nixon Weighed Swift Korea Reprisal

On May 6th 1969, the Times carried a story that Nixon decided not to escalate when the NoKo’s shot down a US Navy plane. So, this current storyline of “a strike was ordered, but Trump held back and saved the day” might also have been coordinated by the WH and the NYT.

If the threat of another Middle East war wasn’t bad enough, a new IMF study shows that US $5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017. The latest available country breakdown is for 2015. In that year, the US was the third-largest subsidizer of the fossil fuel industry, providing $649 billion in subsidies. China and Russia ranked first and second, respectively.

You should be outraged that the $649 billion we spent in 2015 is more than 10 times the 2015 federal spending for education. America has to change its priorities. The true costs to America of using fossil fuels has to include these subsidies.

These two stories about fossil fuels show our government’s fealty to the oil industry.

The average person didn’t notice that on the day the American drone was shot down in the Straits of Hormuz, the price of oil jumped 10%. Trump surely was told this, and the risk of higher oil prices caused by his risky foreign policy may have reduced his desire to strike at Iran.

For whatever reason, we’ve finally seen a prudent move by Trump. It’s a face saving gesture: he appears both tough and reasonable simultaneously. Also, it is encouraging that he used the concept of proportionality, saying that the planned strike would have been too harsh a retaliation for losing one drone.

We can expect his neo-con advisors and the FOX fringe to try to undercut his decision. Maybe then he’ll understand it’s time to clean house.

So, on this Saturday, it may be difficult to get soothed, but let’s try our best. Wrongo and Ms. Right are on Cape Cod with daughter Kelly, where rain is dominating the weather. In honor of being here, today we’ll brew up a large cup of Wellfleet’s Beanstock Coffee Roasters’s old reliable Wellfleet Blend ($11.99/12oz.).

Now, settle back and listen to “The Hebrides”, Op. 26 “Fingal’s Cave” by Felix Mendelssohn. It is played by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra, conducted by Scott Sandmeier.

Mendelssohn actually visited the west coast of Scotland in 1829. It was part of Mendelssohn’s three-year Grand Tour, a common excursion taken by young men of wealthy families as a part of gaining cultural literacy. Here is “The Hebrides”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Dysfunction in the House?

The Daily Escape:

Doubtful Sound, NZ – photo by patlue1101

Wrongo doubts that the way Congressional Democrats are going about their business will make them completely successful in 2020. The media would have us believe that the House is all about investigations. That is compounded by the way they are spinning their wheels about a decision to impeach Trump.

In reality, House Democrats haven’t been squandering time. In addition to the investigations, they’ve been passing legislation. In all, the House has taken up 51 bills since January, of which, 49 have passed.

Do you remember the House voting to end the longest government shutdown in history? Or, passing a bill to lower prescription drug prices, or to protect preexisting medical conditions? They also passed nine bills on veteran’s issues. You should remember HR-1, aimed at getting money out of politics and increasing transparency around donors, and expanding voting rights.

A complete list of what the House has passed is here. Despite Trump’s complaints about doing nothing on infrastructure, lots of legislation has been passed in the House.

The few things the House has been able to agree with Senate Republicans on include the bill to reopen the federal government, a resolution to end US involvement in Yemen (later vetoed by Trump), and the recent federal disaster aid agreement.

So why does the media make it seem like Congress isn’t getting anything done? The vast majority of their bills hit a dead end in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the media is only interested in the investigations, and the fight with the White House.

Trump’s attempts to thwart these investigations have turned into a mud wrestling contest between the administration and the Democratic committee chairs. Congress is attempting to perform its constitutionally mandated role of overseeing the executive branch, while Trump is attempting to obstruct their oversight.

A few individuals have agreed to testify, others, including AG Bill Barr and former WH counsel Don McGahn, have been held in “civil contempt” of Congress.

In the case of the Census question, the media gets it wrong. The DOJ handed over tens of thousands of pages about the Census question, but the media didn’t mention that those materials were not what was subpoenaed, and in some cases, not even relevant. Thus, Barr’s contempt citation.

Civil contempt has no teeth, unless enforced by the courts. Even then, after a federal court held that Trump cannot block a House subpoena targeting his accounting firm, Trump’s lawyers filed a brief asking a federal appeals court to reverse this decision. That case will languish until it is decided by the Supreme Court, most likely, next year.

We could nap from now until September, and wake up to find zero progress in Congress on their investigations. Nothing will happen until after the August recess, and most likely, we won’t see much until next year.

A decision to open an impeachment inquiry strengthens immeasurably all of Congress’s arguments for information. They would have an unambiguous Constitutional basis for their demands, much stronger than what backs their common legislative oversight demands. It all might still wind up in the courts, but Congress’s chances of prevailing would be enhanced.

Finally, Trump walked into a propeller on Wednesday when he said he would accept opposition research from a foreign government. It is illegal to accept foreign campaign contributions, although an exchange of political information isn’t unambiguously a contribution. Mueller didn’t decide if opposition research provided for free by a foreign government constitutes a “thing of value” and thus is an illegal foreign campaign contribution.

OTOH, you would think that Mr. Art of the Deal must know that if he accepts information that is useful to his campaign from a foreign government, it comes with strings attached. When he then says he’d do it again, he shows that he’s learned nothing from 2016, or from the Mueller Report’s conclusion about foreign government intervention in the 2016 election.

Trump has again invited the Russians and others to intervene in our elections. The question is will he get away with it?

Should Congress continue down the path of waiting on the courts to decide to get them the information they need to make a case? Or, should they launch an impeachment inquiry that limits the legal defenses of the administration?

Time has come for the Congressional Democrats to leave the “do little, say less” portion of their current term behind. We are already six months into the current Pelosi Speakership. That means just 18 months remain until the House is up for re-election.

The war for 2020 has already begun. Democrats shouldn’t worry about the political implications of an impeachment inquiry. It’s time to do what’s right by holding the Trump administration accountable.

It’s time to let America know what Democrats in the House are doing.

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Plenty of Fallout From Mueller’s (Non) Findings

The Daily Escape:

Monument Valley – photo by Nathan Fitzgerald

How comfortable will Americans be with Trump in the White House, now that they have learned that he did nothing prosecutable while he was trying to get the job?

Larry Sabato at University of Virginia, says that the fate of the Trump administration is now in the hands of the voters in November 2020:

“Democrats only control who they nominate and what they emphasize in the campaign….On policy, Democrats have a wide variety of subjects that could allow them to make a favorable contrast with Trump: climate change, health care, and economic fairness, just to mention three. The message and the messenger will be critical.”

Sabato points out that the Democrats did not run on the Mueller probe in the 2018 mid-terms, and that for the most part, the announced 2020 candidates haven’t really been doing much of that either.

The biggest fallout from the Mueller investigation is that Trump gets to say he’s an undeserving victim for the next two years. No matter what negative things may come out in the next two years, Trump has been inoculated against real political harm. He can always say it’s the same people who were wrong about him during the Russia investigation. He’s certain to keep saying the media’s coverage of him is “Fake News”.

One victim of Mueller’s non-findings is the main stream media. They were largely anti-Trump and anti-Russia throughout the Russia investigation. Now, they look biased in exactly the manner that Trump has been saying they were for the last two years.

Matt Taibbi has an article, “It’s official: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD” in which he says:

“Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.”

He means most of the mainstream media. It’s a long read in which Taibbi highlights several media outlets including the NYT. He starts with Monday’s Times editorial: “We don’t need to read the Mueller report”. Taibbi says they make that point because: (brackets by Wrongo)

“We [the NYT] know Trump is guilty, Baker at least [NYT’s Peter Baker] began the work of preparing Times readers for a hard question: “Have journalists connected too many dots that do not really add up?”

He compares the media’s coverage of Russiagate to their coverage of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when we were making the decision to invade during GW Bush’s administration. In hindsight, the media was badly compromised then when they dutifully reported what the administration wanted them to report.

Finally, the Democrats have to deal with their own fallout. They can continue investigating Trump, looking for some fire behind all the smoke. Or they can move forward, and focus on building a winning campaign for 2020. It’s possible that the ongoing House investigations of Trump may bear fruit, and provide some campaign fodder.

Journalism in 2019 appears to have returned to the way it was in America’s early history. It’s become another partisan element in our politics. And, as the process of journalism has decayed, somehow, people’s ability to contextualize facts seems to have decayed right along with our journalists.

The reputation of the American media as free, independent and truth-seeking was always a myth. Think about our unjustified Spanish-American war (“Remember the Maine”) was more than 100 years ago and it was promoted by the press (Hearst papers).

Then there was that pesky Vietnam War, which the US press supported for years. Back then, we had music, like Country Joe’s “(1, 2, 3, 4) What are We Fighting For”, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” and Neil Young’s “Four Dead in Ohio” as our alternative news media.

We do know that Russia conducted a sophisticated information operation to influence the 2016 election. Mueller’s investigation firmly established this. But Wrongo still doesn’t see anything to say their efforts upended the 2016 electoral results.

The various Congressional and DOJ investigations will continue, just as sure as the sun will rise in the east. What is uncovered is likely to be more of the same, and not advance the ball towards the goal line.

Hopefully soon, we’ll see a press conference by AG Barr and Mueller. That will be must-see TV.

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The Biggest News Story of 2018

The Daily Escape:

Santa Dash, Glasgow Scotland, 2012 photo via Just Run lah

Hope that you had a relaxing Christmas, one that you will remember, and not because you bought a Lexus. Here at the Mansion of Wrong, the party is still underway. Our last guests will be leaving on January 2nd.

In reading the endless lists of the most important news stories of 2018, Wrongo felt that the major news story was Trump’s awesome amount of lying. Back in the dark ages, before GW Bush and Cheney, the idea of a president lying outright to the American people was cause for outrage. The liar’s poll numbers would drop immediately and all of the press would call out the transgression.

Now, when Donald Trump actually lies daily, telling whoppers that are stunning to behold, there is little outrage, and certainly none from the Right. This is exacerbated by the main stream media, many of whom report Trump’s lies as if they’re news stories, often without providing any context that tells the truth of the matter. They have become complicit in Trump’s dishonesty, and we all suffer as a result.

It’s Orwellian: Lies become truth, truth is devalued. We can’t be an informed people when the information we receive is often full of lies and distortions.

This is without question, the biggest story of 2018.

Next column, Wrongo will reprise his 2018 Wrong predictions, looking back on the year that was, scoring his successes and his prognostication failures.

Now, listen to Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss perform “The Wexford Carol”, an ancient Irish carol. The great Canadian violinist, Natalie MacMaster joins them. This is from their 2008 album, “Songs of Joy & Peace”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Facebook’s Fail

The Daily Escape:

Fall at Birdseye Hollow State Forest, NY – 2013 photo by seabamirum

The NYT has a long read about Facebook (FB) called “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis“. It paints a picture of a company that doesn’t know its customers, its technology or its ethics. Here is a digest of the NYT’s findings: (emphasis in all quotes by Wrongo)

In fall 2016, Mark Zuckerberg…was publicly declaring it a “crazy idea” that his company had played a role in deciding the election. But security experts at the company already knew otherwise.

They found signs as early as spring 2016 that Russian hackers were poking around the Facebook accounts of people linked to American presidential campaigns. Months later, they saw Russian-controlled accounts sharing information from hacked Democratic emails with reporters. Facebook accumulated evidence of Russian activity for over a year before executives opted to share what they knew with the public — and even their own board of directors.

The company feared Trump:

In 2015…presidential candidate Donald J. Trump called for a ban of Muslim immigrants…Facebook employees and outside critics called on the company to punish Mr. Trump. Mr. Zuckerberg considered it — asking subordinates whether Mr. Trump had violated the company’s rules and whether his account should be suspended or the post removed.

But…Mr. Zuckerberg…deferred to subordinates who warned that penalizing Mr. Trump would set off a damaging backlash among Republicans. Mr. Trump’s post remained up.

Most disturbing was FB’s disinformation and lobbying campaign:

As criticism grew over Facebook’s belated admissions of Russian influence, the company launched a lobbying campaign — overseen by Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer — to combat critics and shift anger toward rival tech firms.

Facebook hired Senator Mark Warner’s former chief of staff to lobby….Ms. Sandberg personally called Senator Amy Klobuchar to complain about her criticism. The company also deployed a public relations firm to push negative stories about its political critics and cast blame on companies like Google.

Those efforts included depicting the billionaire liberal donor George Soros as the force behind a broad anti-Facebook movement, and publishing stories praising Facebook and criticizing Google and Apple on a conservative news site.

But the lobbying and disinformation was dark and wrong. FB used a Republican opposition-research firm Definers Public Affairs, and its connections to the Anti-Defamation League to link the anti-FB movement to George Soros and claim that some criticism against FB was anti-Semitic.

  • A research document circulated by Definers claimed Soros was an “unacknowledged force” behind the widespread condemnation of Facebook.
  • A news site called NTK Network, an affiliate of Definers, also published articles that bashed Google and Apple for “unsavory business practices.”
  • The Times reports that while NTK Network did not obtain large audiences, its content was picked up by Breitbart.
  • FB also called on the Anti-Defamation League to flag a sign used to depict Zuckerberg as an octopus encompassing the globe as anti-Semitic.

There’s more. After The NYT, The Guardian and others published a joint investigation into how user information was used by Cambridge Analytica to profile American voters, Facebook executives tried to contain the damage. FB hired a new chief of lobbying to quell the bipartisan anger in Congress, Kevin Martin, a Bush administration veteran, and former FCC Chair.

Just before Sandberg’s Congressional testimony, Facebook’s lobbyists asked Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Intelligence Committee chair to limit questioning to the topic of election interference. It worked. Burr issued a stern warning to all committee members to stick to that topic.

There are three big picture take-aways from the Times article about Facebook.

First, nearly everyone in America hates the media, but without them, we wouldn’t know anything about these FB actions. We wouldn’t know that FB was willing to distribute disinformation to save its skin. So, let’s not give up on the media and journalism.

Second, America needs to learn from how Europe is fighting Google and Facebook on privacy and content, and do the same. They have created very specific rules and guidelines and have issued very expensive fines to these companies.

Third, why do these high-tech executives fail to see the big picture? Sandberg and Zuckerberg have had huge financial success, but their business is an ethical and moral failure.

The Times article shows that they value power, their egos, and their money far more than whatever good the Facebook service can deliver.

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