2018/11/14

NY Times makes major screw-up


On the 21st of September, the New York Times published a story suggesting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had seriously proposed wearing a wire in meetings with the President. Criticism of the story was so swift and severe that by the end of the day, Matthew Rosenberg (he covers intelligence and national security for the Times) said: “Enough already: @adamgoldmanNYT & @nytmike broke an important story that advances our understanding of a crucial moment. It’s no plot by pro-Trump forces. It’s good reporting.”

Actually, it’s hard to imagine how the story ever got off the ground when:

Rosenstein disputed this account.
“The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” he said in a statement.

Now, when someone denies a story in which they are accused of taking an action, it hardly means they're innocent. But it does mean that the story needs to be backed up with serious evidence. If the news source doesn't have that stronger evidence, the story needs to stay in the reporter's desk drawer or computer to await the day when better evidence is available.

But the story was based on second-hand, hearsay sources. When the story says of their sources:“The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials...” then that means that nobody who was quoted was actually in the room when Rosenstein said what he allegedly said. That means that Rosenstein's word trumps anything the paper's sources said.

Was the story “important?” Good Heavens, if the story can’t even be substantiated as accurate, then no. By definition, it isn’t important.
Also, it’s not as though a story about hate and discontent and chaos in the early days of the Trump Administration is “news” in any meaningful sense of the word . People generally knew that. No, nothing was “advanced.”

Good reporting? Hardly. This fails Journalism 101.

Was the story consequential? Unfortunately, yes it was. The President immediately accused Rosenstein of having been “hired” by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

ThinkProgress reports that:

The news story has Washington on edge, amid fears that the report may push the mercurial president to fire Rosenstein — an action he has long been rumored to be considering. Such a move would have knock on effects on the ongoing Justice Department probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, an investigation being led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller.

And Sean Hannity of Fox News said that Rosenstein was "leading a silent coup against Trump."

Liberals and conservatives evaluate news differently. A conservative commenting in my local paper dismissed a piece of evidence I produced because it came from a magazine called “Mother Jones.” Obviously, he thought, nothing serious could come out of a news source with such a silly name.
Liberals have little use for knowing where a news item came from. It’s not completely irrelevant, but it’s not among the top five pieces of evidence we need to evaluate a story. In addition to whether a story follows the rules of just plain good journalism as we saw in the story I just cited, then if it's accurate, it will be re-published by several different sources as each of those sources will be expected to do their due diligence to verify the story. Also, if the story is accurate, the other sources are likely to add other details to it.

If a story is crap, it won't go anywhere. The host of Infowars, Alex Jones, came up with the bizarre notion of humanoids, who are “like 80 percent gorilla and 80 percent pig and they're talking." Never heard of this story? Exactly. If the story had any credibility, it would have been re-published by other sources. As it was, it didn't survive getting outside the “hothouse” of Infowars.

2018/09/13

US Democratic vs Nazi platforms

Dinesh D'Souza made a film that Don Jr. saw and clearly, that was Don Jrs. only exposure to the material because he swallowed D'Souza's propaganda wholesale.

"Don Trump Jr. Calls Democratic Party 'The Real Nazis' After Watching D'Souza's Mess"

Okay, so let's look at what the Nazi Party platform of 1920 was:
  1. Unification of Greater Germany (Austria + Germany)
  2. Land + expansion
  3. Anti-Versailles - abrogation of the Treaty.
  4. Land and territory - lebensraum.
  5. Only a "member of the race" can be a citizen.
  6. Anti-semitism - No Jew can be a member of the race.
  7. Anti-foreigner - only citizens can live in Germany.
  8. No immigration - ref. to Jews fleeing pograms.
  9. Everyone must work.
  10. Abolition of unearned income - "no rent-slavery".
  11. Nationalisation of industry
  12. Divison of profits
  13. Extension of old age welfare.
  14. Land reform
  15. Death to all criminals
  16. German law, not Roman law (anti- French Rev.)
  17. Education to teach "the German Way"
  18. Education of gifted children
  19. Protection of mother and child by outlawing child labour.
  20. Encouraging gymnastics and swimming
  21. Formation a national army.
  22. Duty of the state to provide for its volk.
  23. Duty of individuals to the state 
Points 1 through 4, 16 and 21 are specific to Germany's concerns at the time.
Points 5 through 8, 15, 17 and 23 sound just like the Trump Administration today.
9 through 14, 18 to 20 and 22 okay, these sound like items Democrats could agree with. Not so sure about point 11, though. Some nationalization would be good, but lots of Democrats are strong believers in capitalism. 22 is also pretty much straight socialsm. Not really sure either 10 or 12 survived very long then or would survive under Democrats today. Michelle Obama would especially approve of 20.
It's a pretty mixed bag. Certainly Democrats would agree with some of the values expressed, but Don Jr. sounds as though he's citing a very one-sided version and doesn't have enough historical knowledge to really make careful distinctions.

2018/09/07

Iran invasion


I first looked into the idea of invading Iran back in 2003, after Baghdad fell, in response to neocons saying "Real men go to Tehran." Situation hasn't changed much. The pressure on the moderate president Hassan Rouhani is certainly having a political impact, and international business is being forced away from doing business in Iran, but as Rouhani gets less popular, it’s the anti-American hard-liners in Iran that politically benefit.

I said at the time that the US needed a "Colonial Corps" to successfully occupy Iraq. What we urgently needed at the time and what we’ll need to occupy Iran is a large group of paramilitary administrators to run things at the municipal level. A piece from the Modern War Institute says: "Right now the US military does not have personnel with deep specialization in conducting or overseeing the type of occupation that Karle argues is an unfortunate necessity of being prepared for all possibilities."

Also, US air operations have been ongoing for the past 25 years, meaning that tool has gotten pretty worn and dull. But as in Iraq, battlefield success is only the first step. Iranians are trained, organized and ready to undertake extended guerrilla war.

First, if I were to invade Iran, there are a couple of possibilities we can eliminate. Strike from Afghanistan? That country isn't really secured as the Taliban is alive and well and there have been battles around Farah, right about where a US invasion of Iran would jump off from. 

Strike from Pakistan? The country puts up with our using them as a supply dump for Afghanistan and even that has caused friction in the past.

Strike from Iraq? The country is modernizing under it’s newly elected leader Muqtada al-Sadr, but there are definitely troubles there. A large American presence in the country could be disastrous. It would a big risk to our supply lines.

Strike past the Strait of Hormuz and from the Persian Gulf? American military people believe the US Navy would prevail, but clearly, for the Navy to launch an attack from the Gulf would require some extensive fighting beforehand. It’s possible Iran would block it off and leave our naval forces stranded in the Gulf with no re-supply able to get in. Even a temporary cut-off would be a humiliation.

If I were in charge, I'd hit their beaches right above the Gulf of Oman, the town of Chabahar appears to be a good landing spot. Kerman is a substantial city that's well short of Tehran and there are nuclear plants North and West of there. That's about 600 miles from Chabahar, some of the terrain fairly smooth, some rocky and fairly elevated. Our supply lines would be getting attacks long before our forces reached Kerman. Our Army may make it over a thousand miles more, all the way to Tehran, (about 1,800 miles from Chabahar).

But we'd need to guard every mile of that supply line or, at the very least, to deliver all supplies in armed convoys. What would be the consequences of an insufficient force to cover supply lines? The Iraqi ammunition dump of Al Qaqaa was looted after the Army passed by and left too small a detachment to guard it. To get the necessary troops to guard the supply line, we'd need to institute a draft. That would be hugely unpopular!


2018/08/12

More on US and Iran deal

The US Ambassador to Britain sobs a great gusher of crocodile tears about how Iran cares so little for the opinions of its people. "Iranian protesters were chanting that 'the nation is begging, while the master lives like God.'”  Not that the US has any sort of problem with income inequality or that the current presidential administration was any sort of shining example of that [/snark]. Newsweek: “The politically powerful rich get to pay low taxes, while the politically marginalized poor bear the burden but can do nothing about it.”

Iran "is sponsoring Hizbollah terrorists in Lebanon." Hizbollah is part of the Lebanese government with cabinet positions. They're hardly just "terrorists." 

Iran "is arming militants in Yemen." The Hindu says Yemen is "among the poorest in West Asia" and that the United Nations is calling the Yemen situation "the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis." Yemen has now suffered "three years of relentless bombing." The piece doesn't even mention Iran, meaning that Iran is not playing a meaningfully serious role there.

Yes, the US President decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement three months ago. "The decision was not taken lightly." Erm, actually, it was. The President did not present any real reasons for pulling out. There was no real debate on the issue and no non-supporters have been converted into supporters. The reasons given by the BBC are 1. Shredding the Obama legacy, 2. A pivot to Netanyahu and 3. New faces in the room. None of these count as weighty or serious reasons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made extended remarks on why the US wanted to pull out of the nuclear agreement with Iran. I have to say, I wasn't the slightest bit impressed. The editorial by the US Ambassador to the UK, Robert Wood, isn't any more convincing.

2018/07/23

President Trump: "I got this now"


I was very struck by this quote:

[President Trump] was more easily swayed by advisers, more easily put in one direction or another. And now, sometime around the turn of the new year you could feel, really, him feeling more emboldened, more understanding of what the job was, sort of some level of, "I got this now," and that is what has changed and that's not small.

Problem is, as this announcement by the Press Secretary very clearly demonstrates, the President doesn’t “have it” at all. He’s no more responsible or aware of the needs of the office or has any more gravitas then when he was first inaugurated. As Think Progress starts off:

Perhaps three of the most consistent hallmarks of Donald Trump’s administration were on display Monday at Sarah Sanders’ press briefing. In a single announcement, the administration demonstrated wild hypocrisy, pettiness toward critics, and total incompetence.

Their first justification was that security clearances have been “politicized.” This is right after it was revealed by the just-released justification for the FISA Court to authorize surveillance of Carter Page that the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes lied for explicitly political purposes. Nunes complained that the FBI had covered up the political origins of the Steele Dossier. The just-released applications showed that they did no such thing.

Another charge was that several people with clearances “monetized, their public service and security clearances.” This is from an administration where the President’s daughter has received copyrights from China for “baby blankets, towels, curtains, picture frames, furniture and rugs.“ Also, Donald Trump owns a hotel in Washington DC that many feel violates the Emoluments Clause. So the Trump Administration really does not have the moral high ground here.

This charge is such a complete and utter joke -

Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia — or being influenced by Russia — against the President is extremely inappropriate, and the fact that people with security clearances are making baseless these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.

We’ll have to wait for the final report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is actively investigating these precise charges, but the Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III had to recuse himself from any Russia dealings because of numerous unreported contacts between himself and Russian officials.

Was the President “influenced by Russia”? Well, consider that a week after the President and Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, spent over two hours in a private discussion and that members of the President’s own staff know virtually nothing about what the two of them said, yeah, I’d say that falls under the heading of improper influence.

Lots of miscellaneous problems here as well, including the criteria for revoking security clearances. Merely criticizing the President isn’t one of the legitimate reasons for pulling someone’s security clearance. Sorry, I just don't think the President has "got this now" at all!

2018/07/09

The President's real problem


The NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd put out a piece called "For whom the Trump trolls" yesterday (No link because the NY Times charges if I read more than five pieces a month). Dowd is a columnist that bloggers have refused to review since, back in 2013, she blamed President Obama for what was certainly a crappy situation, but one that had nothing to do with his skills as president.

The fact that Ms. Dowd conveniently overlooks when comparing Obama's performance to that of past presidents is that he is the only one who has ever had to deal with an out-of-control abuse of the filibuster process. It's a lot easier to get a majority of your party's senators onboard in support of controversial bills when all you need is a majority, not a super-majority.

As of 2013, Obama had been in office long enough, Dowd really had no excuse not to know this, but she played the "mean girl" anyway.

Now she's saying that President Trump has a "Twitter addiction." I told my younger brother that, who lives in New York City and he replied "She didn't figure that out five years ago?"

Here's a good discussion of behavioral problems and "addiction" that makes it clear that addiction really isn't the right word in a lot of cases, nor should we blame the actual video games. The piece reminds me of when I read a Dear Abby letter a few decades ago. A woman complained of having an "Internet addiction" and by her description, it was clear that yes indeed, she had many problems, but like the gamers in the Kotaku piece, if the internet hadn't been her undoing, something else would have.

In the case of the President and Twitter, he clearly has a lot of problems, but Twitter is merely a tool and isn't responsible for anything. As someone pointed out, he made a comment concerning Senator Elizabeth Warren that started off as a rape “joke,” then turned into an ethnic insult and then just trailed off, the audience laughing uproariously the whole time. He also insulted Congresswoman Maxine Waters, saying she was at an IQ level that amounted to mental retardation. No, Dowd is wrong. The real problem with the President is that he’s just a complete asshole.

2018/06/26

Response to press conference

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders goes into a lengthy defense of President Trump and his policies.

My responses:

First off, "white supremacist" is more of just a plain old, accurate description of President Trump than it is an over-the-top insult. Basic problem with the Press Secretary's defense of the President is that it presents Trump as someone that the actual person bears no resemblance to.

Second, I find it quite interesting that Sanders has to go all the way back to May 2017 when Kathy Griffin presented a stunt photo (depicting Trump as beheaded) in order to find examples of "unfairness" towards him. As a matter of fact, public reaction to Griffin's stunt was so strongly negative, she essentially didn't have a comedy career for over a year. People now consider that she's spent enough time in penance that she's now rehabilitated and she's now doing comedy again.

If, on the other hand, we were to look for examples of a fascist, white supremacist-style policy on Trump's part, the policy of separating the children of brown people* from their parents on the Mexican border is a current, today, right now example.

*Most of the current group of migrants comes from Central America, where they're fleeing violence, gangs, drugs, etc.