The New York Times’ Shameful Accommodation of Stephen Miller

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On Tuesday, approximately an hour after President Trump took to Twitter to compare immigrants entering the United States to vermin, The New York Times issued a confounding statement.

“We conducted an extensive White House interview with Stephen Miller for a weekend story about the Trump administration’s border policy,” it read. “Miller was quoted, on the record, in that story. After the original story was published, producers of ‘The Daily’ [podcast] planned to … use audio excerpts from the Miller interview. White House officials objected, saying they had not agreed to a podcast interview. While Miller’s comments were on the record, we realized that the ground rules for the original interview were not clear, and so we made a decision not to run the audio.”

The weekend story in question traces the genesis of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance,” specifically how the president came to adopt the separation of immigrant children from their parents as policy. Written by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear, the piece quotes extensively from White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, who emerges as the most dogged champion of the practice.

“No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” Miller claimed. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

Of course, there is no immigration law dictating that parents be separated from their children at the border, despite the administration’s best efforts to blame the Democratic Party for its own cruel agenda. As the Times observed, “For George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the idea of crying children torn from their parents’ arms was simply too inhumane—and too politically perilous—to embrace as policy.”

But Miller has proved undaunted. In a separate piece for the Times published Saturday, Davis reveals the White House aide has adopted the president’s fraudulent claim while simultaneously claiming credit for breaking up immigrant families at the border.

“The loopholes, both legal and judicial, are now wholly owned and belong to Democrats, because they alone oppose their changing,” Miller told her. “No one in our government is willing to take moral lectures from people who support and perpetuate policies that grievously harm innocent Americans.”

Meanwhile, Politico reports that Miller, along with officials in the departments of Justice, Labor and Homeland Security and the Office of Management, is quietly plotting “fresh immigration crackdowns” ahead of the midterm elections. New restrictions currently under consideration include “tightening rules on student visas and exchange programs; limiting visas for temporary agricultural workers; making it harder for legal immigrants who have applied for welfare programs to obtain residency; and collecting biometric data from visitors from certain countries.”

The Times released its statement all the same.

It should go without saying that there is no established practice of withholding on-the-record conversations from podcast distribution, but time and again the Gray Lady has demonstrated a willingness to placate the Trump administration in exchange for access. Moments like these expose the limits of transactional journalism. With the Trump administration employing rhetoric and implementing policy that echo the darkest chapters in modern history, the American public deserves to hear its officials explain themselves.

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NYT Carries IDF Attack on Murdered Gaza Medic–Reveals It’s a Smear in 20th Paragraph

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NYT: Israeli Video Portrays Medic Killed in Gaza as Tool of Hamas

Journalism how-not-to: New York Times (6/7/18) puts the attack in the headline, reveals it’s a smear in paragraph 20.

A reporter at the most influential paper in English-language media appears to not know the difference between a government “tightly editing” and selectively editing video. New York Times reporter Herbert Buchsbaum (6/7/18) wrote up a propaganda video posted by the Israeli Defense Force, showing Rouzan al-Najjar–a 21-year-old medic the Israeli Defense Force shot and killed earlier this month—apparently throwing a tear-gas canister, along with a brief clip of her purportedly saying, “I am here on the front line and I act as a human shield.”

The video seems to suggest that throwing a device spewing caustic gas away from people into an empty field is a sort of violence. (“This medic was incited by Hamas,” the video reads as she grabs the canister.) But the primary problem with the IDF video is that it deceptively edits her comments to distort what she said—a fact not noted by the Buchsbaum until paragraph 20, when he threw in this crucial piece of information:

In the longer video, the comment that the military translated as “I act as a human shield” was part of a sentence in which Ms. Najjar said, “I’m acting as a human rescue shield to protect the injured inside the armistice line.”

“Acting as a human shield to protect the injured inside the armistice line” has a radically different meaning than the commonly understood canard about Palestinians using “human shields” to protect “terrorists.” This hugely consequential fact should have led the story; instead, it’s casually tossed out in the third-to-last paragraph. The story here is that the IDF—as it has been doing for decades—casually lies and distorts facts to suit its narrative. Like all militaries, the Israeli military is not presenting a “dueling narrative” in good faith, as a New York Times tweet suggested; it’s manipulating video, hoping credulous journalists help them muddy the waters, as Buchsbaum did.

Indeed, the bizarre IDF press release write-up serves no other purpose than to reframe the gunning down of the unarmed medic from a clear crime committed by Israel to a Fog of War “dueling narratives between Israel and Hamas” tale of “both sidesism.” Buchsbaum vaguely alludes to—but strangely omits—the deceptive editing in the opening with his risible turn of phrase in paragraph two:

The tightly edited video shows a woman identified as the medic, Rouzan al-Najjar, throwing what appears to be a tear-gas canister.

“Tightly edited”? What does this mean, exactly? “Tight” editing is generally considered a compliment in the film and TV world, and says nothing about deliberate omissions for the purposes of misleading the viewer. When videographer Tate B. James confronted Buchsbaum about this fact, Buchsbaum appeared to think he had covered his bases:

 

Either Buchsbaum doesn’t know he’s being misleading, and is thus severely unqualified to be writing for a major paper, or he knows he’s spinning in Israel’s favor, but was hoping no one would really notice. Either way, the New York Times is once again (FAIR.org, 7/14/175/17/185/15/18) using its pages to confuse readers to the benefit of the Israeli military.

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With Literal Nazis Running for Office, NYT Suggests Candidate’s Israel Criticism Is Antisemitic

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NYT: Democratic Candidate Who Criticized Israel Faces Charges of Antisemitism

The New York Times (5/29/18) crafts its headline around a baseless charge from political enemies.

Eight overt white nationalists are running for office in 2018—a new record, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Overt fascists, inspired by the rise of President Donald Trump, have found a place both within and just outside the margins of the official Republican Party. Over 20,000 people voted in a GOP primary this past March for former American Nazi Party member Art Jones, making him the Republican candidate for the US House in Illinois’ 3rd District. Patrick Little, who told NBC(5/3/18) that the “monstrous nature of the Jewish people must be known to the public,” ran as a Republican for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat in California, and got more than 50,000 votes.

With the increase on the US right in overt Nazi activity, one might be surprised to see the paper of record (New York Times, 5/29/18) turn its sights not on this disturbing trend, but on progressive candidate Leslie Cockburn, whose criticism of Israel is being cynically exploited by her opponents in the Republican Party—the same party increasingly finding common cause with a host of white nationalists, alt-right and “alt-light” elements.

Let’s begin with the headline, “Democratic Candidate Who Criticized Israel Faces Charges of Antisemitism.” It’s rare for political reporters to let partisan opponents wholly manufacture a controversy, much less frame it, but when it does happen—as it did in January 2016 when the Times let a number of Clinton operatives smear Sanders as a Commie infiltrator (FAIR.org, 5/25/16)—one can be certain it will be against a left-leaning candidate.

The very existence of this piece makes little sense. The only people in the 1,100-word report who think Cockburn is an antisemite are operatives for the Virginia Republican Party, who have an obvious political agenda. Times reporters Thomas Kaplan and Michael Tackett can’t find a single independent or third-party talking head to accuse Cockburn of antisemitism and the very meeting that frames the piece is expressly said by its attendees to not be about antisemitism, but about Israel:

“None of us think she’s antisemitic,” said Sherry Kraft, one of the organizers of the meeting. “That’s not even an issue. It’s more where are you about Israel.”

OK—so the story isn’t about “charges of antisemitism,” it’s about criticism of Israel. The headline—which is the only thing a majority of people will read—ought to have said, “Democratic Candidate Questioned About Criticism of Israel.” Instead, criticism of a Middle Eastern government is sloppily conflated with being racist—an equation advanced by the story’s claim that “Mr. Trump has used his Middle East policies to try to drive a wedge between Jewish voters and the Democratic Party.”

In fact, Trump’s signature Mideast policy—the unilateral move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—is deeply unpopular with Jews in the United States (Washington Post, 12/22/17), and is much more accurately described as a policy aimed at appealing to white Christian Evangelicals.

The Times story reports that a book about Israeli intelligence that Cockburn co-wrote with her husband Andrew Cockburn 27 years ago was “panned in several reviews as an inflammatory screed.” It doesn’t mention that the book, Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the US/Israeli Covert Relationship, was also praised, for example, by Kirkus (6/1/91), the standard book review reference, as

a critical, impressively researched history of US/Israeli relations…an unflinching, fact-packed, closely reasoned exploration of our relations with our strongest ally in the Middle East.

The only review quoted by the Times is from the Times itself, in which David Schoenbaum (8/18/91) said that the book was “largely dedicated to Israel-bashing for its own sake.” Not quoted is the passage most relevant to the GOP’s charge of antisemitism, in which Schoenbaum wrote:

Unlike other Israel-bashing volumes, this one at least acknowledges the long shadow of the Holocaust, as well as Stalinist antisemitism, Syrian hysteria, Egyptian and Iraqi poison gas, and Palestinian unloveliness.

The party with the most stake in whether or not Cockburn hates Jews—the Jewish constituents in her district—don’t appear to think she hates them, or any other Jews. The only sources making this claim are those charged with defeating her in the November election: the Virginia Republican Party.

The New York Times profile (11/25/18) of a neo-Nazi featured an image of him shopping for barbecue sauce.

Lumping left-wing criticism of Israel with antisemitism is a go-to tactic by Israel’s defenders, and one done so frequently it wouldn’t merit mention if it weren’t so potentially damaging. Why, one is compelled to ask, would the Times let Republicans totally frame a “debate” that is so razor thin they couldn’t find anyone not on the GOP payroll to take the affirmative position?

The New York Times was much more polite when it did a glossy profile (11/25/18) on an actual, literal Nazi in November last year—a piece widely criticized for providing softball coverage of rising white nationalism.

The Times has covered actual Nazis running for Congress (2/7/183/20/18), but these are candidates who identify as Nazis, wear the label with pride, and almost certainly appreciate the national coverage. The Times even threw in a CYA line about “openly anti-Semitic candidates in Wisconsin, Illinois and California running office as Republicans” in this piece, but this just raises the question: Why aren’t we framing entire articles around this threat? Why indulge partisan speculation and dredge up books from three decades ago when there’s candidates wearing signs around their necks saying, “I’m a Nazi and I hate Jews, vote for me”?

Nor has the Times given any “mainstream” Republican candidates the same type of tea leaf–reading, “some say” interrogation they’re giving to Cockburn. They have yet to publish anything wondering if Paul Gosar of Arizona, who shared a Jew-baiting theory that George Soros manufactured last August’s Charlottesville attack, is an antisemite. Nothing centering Wisconsin Republican congressional candidate Paul Nehlen’s very real and overt antisemitism, simply passive mentions here and there.

There are real, honest-to-god racists in our midst, and they come almost entirely from the right. This likely explains why those running the GOP messaging machine would be so quick to label others’ antisemitic, a sleazy deflection tactic one would expect from a party increasingly associated with white nationalism. What one wouldn’t expect—or at least shouldn’t have to—is that the most influential paper in the English-speaking world would assist such an obvious and cynical smear.

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Promoters of Saudi Prince as Feminist Reformer Are Silent on His Crackdown on Women

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Independent: Human rights groups condemn arrests of Saudi feminists as tainting Mohammed bin Salman's reputation as a reformer

“It appears the only ‘crime’ these activists committed was wanting women to drive before Mohammed bin Salman did” (Independent5/22/18).

During his US PR tour in March, Saudi prince and de facto ruler of the absolute monarchy Mohammed bin Salman (often referred to as “MBS”) touted the progress the kingdom was making in the area of “women’s rights”—namely letting women drive and combatting nebulous reactionary forces that were somehow separate from the regime.

Since then, at least seven major women’s rights advocates—Eman al-Nafjan, Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziz al-Yousef, Aisha al-Manea, Madiha Al-Ajroush, Walaa Al-Shubbar and Hasah Al-Sheikh—have been detained by Saudi authorities and, according to at least one report (Middle East Eye5/22/18), may face the death penalty.

Two of the biggest media corners that helped sell bin Salman as a feminist reformer during the trip and the months leading up to it—the New York Times opinion pages and CBS News 60 Minutes—have not published any follow-up commentary on bin Salman’s recent crackdown on women’s rights campaigners (Independent5/22/18). Let’s review their past coverage:

  • “In some ways, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who serves as defense minister, is just what his country needs…. He would allow concerts, and would consider reforming laws tightly controlling the lives of women.” —New York Times editorial board (“The Young and Brash Saudi Crown Prince,” 6/23/17)
  • “I never thought I’d live long enough to write this sentence: The most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia….There was something a 30-year-old Saudi woman social entrepreneur said to me that stuck in my ear. ‘We are privileged to be the generation that has seen the before and the after.’ The previous generation of Saudi women, she explained, could never imagine a day when a woman could drive and the coming generation will never be able to imagine a day when a woman couldn’t.” —Thomas Friedman (New York Times11/23/17)
  • “He is emancipating women…. He has curbed the powers of the country’s so-called ‘religious police,’ who until recently were able to arrest women for not covering up.”—Norah O’Donnell (60 Minutes3/19/18)

The 60 Minutes interview was panned by many commentators at the time. “A crime against journalism,” The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan (3/19/18) called it.“Embarrassing to watch,” insisted Omar H. Noureldin, VP of the the Muslim Public Affairs Council (Twitter3/20/18). “It was more of an Entertainment Tonight puff piece than a serious interview with journalistic standards.”

The New York Times editorial, while not quite as overtly sycophantic as Friedman and O’Donnell, still broadly painted the ruler as a “bold” and “brash” “reformer.”

Since the mass arrests of women’s group’s on Saturday, the Times news section has run several AP stories (5/18/185/22/18) on the crackdown and one original report (5/18/18), but the typically scoldy editorial board hasn’t issued a condemnation of the arrests. They did, however, take time to condemn in maximalist terms the “violent regime” of Venezuela (5/21/18), insisting on “getting rid” of recently re-elected president Nicolas Maduro, and ran a separate editorial cartoon (5/22/18) showing Maduro declaring victory over the corpses of suffering Venezuelans.

NYT: Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring, at Last

Thomas Friedman (New York Times11/23/17): “It blew my mind to learn…that Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji will be among the first woman singers to perform a women-only concert here.”

Nor did MBS’s biggest court stenographer, Thomas Friedman, find room in his latest column  in his latest column (5/22/18) to note the crackdown. Given Times opinion page editor James Bennet was clear his paper was axiomatically “pro-capitalism” (3/1/18), one wonders whether he views Latin American socialists as uniquely worthy of condemnation, whereas Middle East petrol dictatorships that invest in American corporations and hosts glossy tech conferences deserve nuance and mild “reform” childing. We have to “get rid of” the former, and the latter simply need “guidance” from the US—their respective human rights records a total non-factor.

CBS ran a  50-second story on the “emancipating” MBS’s crackdown on its web-only news network, CBSN (5/21/18), and an AP story on its website (5/19/18), but CBS News has thus far aired nothing on the flagrant human rights violation on any of the news programs on its actual network, and certainly nothing in the ballpark of its most-watched prime time program, 60 Minutes.

If influential outlets like the Times opinion section and CBS News are going to help build up bin Salman’s image as a “reformer” and a champion of women’s rights, don’t they have a unique obligation to inform their readers and viewers when the image they built up is so severely undermined? Shouldn’t Bennet’s editorial board and Friedman—who did so much to lend legitimacy to the Saudi ruler’s PR strategy—be particularly outraged when he does a 180 and starts arresting prominent women’s rights advocates? Will 60 Minutes do a comparable 27-minute segment detailing these arrests and their chilling effect on activism?

This is all unlikely, since US allies’ crackdown on dissent is never in urgent need of clear moral condemnation; it’s simply a hiccup on the never-ending road to “reform.”

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The Tired Trope of Blaming Trump on ‘Liberal Smugness’

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In an attempt to understand the coalition that gave Trump his narrow victory, for the past year and a half the press has spun a whole new subgenre of stilted, tautological feature reporting on how Trump supporters support Trump.

And in their opinion sections, corporate media have fared no better. They have routinely given platforms to those who claim, with little to no firm evidence, that Trump’s election and his steady (though historically low) popularity (as well as his predicted eventual reelection) are all partly if not wholly the fault of liberal smugness and left-wing political correctness run amok.

Just last week, the Washington Post picked up the theme in a post with this matter-of-fact title: “Trump Voters Stay Loyal Because They Feel Disrespected.” Citing a small survey of voters in one county in Michigan by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, the Post simply repeats this conventional wisdom without skepticism. Of course, pollsters like Greenberg are in the business of getting more clients based on their purported insights into the electorate, no matter how tenuous or anecdotal their proclamations prove to be later. (Remember the pollster-cited “NASCAR Dads” and “Security Moms” in the 2004 election that nobody could actually find?)

But the proof presented in these arguments is routinely shot through with logical holes that go unaddressed. Neither Greenberg nor the Post seem to notice the massive lack of self-reflection, my-side bias, and obvious hypocrisy found in these anecdotal grievances. Consider this passage:

Trump voters complain that there is no respect for President Trump or for people like them who voted for him. One older white working class woman from Macomb recalled when she first started voting, “there was so much respect for the president. And I don’t care what he did, or what he said, there was always respect. It was always ‘Mr. President.’ And now, it disgusts me.”

Did Greenberg ask this woman her opinion of Trump’s years of Birther lies about President Obama? Who knows? Was there any specific inquiry as to what, if any, type of criticism of Trump from the left she or others like her would deem appropriate or respectful? Apparently not. Might “liberal condescension” just be a convenient fig leaf for hardened, motivated reasoning from an older, white demographic that is already heavily predisposed to like Trump, regardless of what liberals say? You won’t find any answers to legitimate questions like that here or elsewhere in these feckless claims. But that hasn’t stopped some of the most prestigious media outlets in the country from helping to perpetuate them.

The Washington Post is by no means alone. Politico ran its own essay targeting liberal “smugness” and blaming “the left” for Donald Trump’s victory right after it happened. Among many other examples over the past 18 months are op-eds in the Guardian (“With Every Sneer, Liberals Just Make Trump Stronger,”) CNN (“Democrats: The Party Who Cried Racist,”) and the Post yet again, when the paper’s resident columnist-cum-fossil fuel lobbyist, Ed Rogers, conveniently blamed conservative voter alienation on an old standby in right-wing grievance-mongering: “The Democrats’ Use of the Race Card Does Real Harm”).

Former New York Times columnist Josh Barro, in a column for Business Insider, zeroed in on the grave ills of left-wing cultural signaling with “Liberals Can Win if They Stop Being So Annoying and Fix Their ‘Hamburger Problem.’” (That problem is that they’re supposedly “too ready to bother too many ordinary people about too many of their personal choices.”)

For her part, Caitlin Flanagan at The Atlantic fingered the “sneering hosts” and “liberal smugness” of the likes of Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee and Saturday Night Live. All their sarcasm and jokes at the expense of the president and conservatives were proof of “How Late Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump” as well.

But perhaps nowhere among the ranks of the establishment press will you find this “liberal smugness” argument more frequently than in the New York Times. The paper began indulging this op-ed narrative before the voting even began. Ross Douthat’s late-September column, “Clinton’s Samantha Bee Problem,” presaged Flanagan’s by a full eight months, calling out liberal comics as “propagandists” and “indoctrinators” whose “hectoring” was pushing more people to embrace Trump.

Right after the election, the Times ran “Stop Shaming Trump Supporters.” Just weeks later, the Times’ Maureen Dowd generously gave her Thanksgiving column over to Kevin, a conservative family member who, without any sense of irony, condemned liberal condescension with a heavy dose of his own:

Here is a short primer for the young protesters. If your preferred candidate loses, there is no need for mass hysteria, canceled midterms, safe spaces, crying rooms or group primal screams. You might understand this better if you had not received participation trophies, undeserved grades to protect your feelings or even if you had a proper understanding of civics.

Left unmentioned by Dowd’s relative: what a “proper understanding of civics” would say about the Republican congressional leadership planning from the very night of Obama’s first Inauguration to undertake unprecedented obstruction of his presidency, as well as eight straight years of likening him to everything from the “antichrist” to a “monkey” to an “Islamic terrorist.” But this kind of convenient historical omission is also typical fare for this flawed genre.

It didn’t stop there. A few months later, the Times re-framed this argument as a question, while ignoring the answer that Betteridge’s Law would offer for an op-ed with the loaded headline: “Are Liberals Helping Trump?”  Around the time of this year’s State of the Union, the paper published a conversation that included columnist Frank Bruni, headlined “Enough Trump Bashing, Democrats.”

This past March, Times readers were treated to “When Smug Liberals Met Conservative Trolls,”  a classic both-sides op-ed from Reason’s editor-in-chief that employed reductive false equivalence about the failed DACA compromise: “The left labeled the right racist; the right accused the left of hating America. No substantive policy change resulted.” Of note: the op-ed writer didn’t feel it germane enough to mention that in a bipartisan meeting on DACA and immigration, the president apparently called Haiti and African nations “shithole” countries, or that two prominent Republican senators then used legalistic excuses to provide him with political cover for his xenophobic remarks, or that right-wing pundits and supporters online also closed ranks around, if not openly endorsed, Trump’s reported racism.’

Then, this month, the paper ran its latest installment in this series: “Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think.” Written by Gerard Alexander, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia, the op-ed traffics in the same old tired tropes and one-sided examples as its predecessors. In a stroke of self-parody, Alexander literally begins his essay with the lazy rhetorical defense mechanism of “Some of my best friends are (X),” that has long been the go-to excuse for people who have just made or are about to make a specious, if not discriminatory point about people who are (X). True to form, in the next paragraph he follows with wild, completely unprovable speculation: a “backlash that most liberals don’t seem to realize they’re causing—is going to get President Trump re-elected.”

Blame-the-liberal is a time-honored tradition among conservatives and predates Trump’s rise by years, decades even. It has been the ethos of Fox News since its first day on the air, reaching back through the presidencies of Obama (“Why Are Liberals So Rude to the Right?”: Guardian) and Bush  (Mona Charen’s 2004 book Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help [and the Rest of Us]), all the way to the very origins of the modern conservative movement, when William F. Buckley expressed his infamous disgust with effete liberals by preferring governance by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book to the faculty of Harvard.

But Alexander’s shtick is literally repetitive. In fact, he made the exact same argument in the Washington Post eight years ago, in “Why Are Liberals So Condescending?” And while his cherry-picked instances of left-wing insufferability have been updated, mostly—Alexander couldn’t resist playing at least one Golden Oldie in both pieces, the favorite right-wing taunt about Obama’s “they cling to guns and religion” remarks from the 2008 campaign—the beats are nonetheless the same throughout. As is his bad-faith characterization when contrasting liberal vs. conservative rhetoric. (The racist Birther conspiracy theory and unparalleled GOP obstruction is again completely overlooked.) Recall the tsunami of bile spewing forth from Fox News and right-wing radio during Obama’s first term, and then decide for yourself if his description below matches reality:

Of course, plenty of conservatives are hardly above feeling superior. But the closest they come to portraying liberals as systematically mistaken in their worldview is when they try to identify ideological dogmatism in a narrow slice of the left (say, among Ivy League faculty members), in a particular moment (during the health-care debate, for instance) or in specific individuals (such as Obama or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom some conservatives accuse of being stealth ideologues). A few conservative voices may say that all liberals are always wrong, but these tend to be relatively marginal figures or media gadflies such as Glenn Beck.

This reading of history is patently preposterous to any sentient human. But even setting that aside, one might think that Alexander would feel compelled in his latest Times op-ed to acknowledge that  in the age of Trump, right-wing invective against the left (and the media, a common stand-in for the left ) really has intensified. Instead, he shrinks down Trump’s vast compendium of discriminatory and bigoted remarks to a mere two passing incidents, minimizes them with murky language, and then helpfully distances his supporters from even that tiny sliver of intellectual honesty:

Admittedly, the president doesn’t make it easy. As a candidate, Mr. Trump made derogatory comments about Mexicans, and as president described some African countries with a vulgar epithet. But it is an unjustified leap to conclude that anyone who supports him in any way is racist.

This is a thinly veiled shot at Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” comment about Trump supporters during the 2016 campaign. Which she apologized for, and which, if we’re being fair, was aimed at what she said were the “half” of Trump’s supporters that endorsed racism, sexism or other discriminatory policies.

Racism is obviously a bipartisan problem with deep, systemic roots and a long, toxic legacy in our country. But Alexander doesn’t even attempt to grapple with those broader issues, or deign to mention the racist “Southern strategy” that the Republican Party employed for decades—and that Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman apologized for. Rather than acknowledging that sexism and racism remain very real and pernicious phenomena in our society, these op-eds typically treat the words as mere insults that the left manipulatively and indiscriminately lobs at conservatives for almost every little thing they do.

That is a key point: It is the intense reaction among conservatives to being labeled racist or bigoted that is a through-line in this liberal-smugness-only-makes-conservatives-more-reactionary argument. Time and again, any underlying racism or discriminatory policies cited by liberals are treated as mere pretense to stigmatize those on the right. This manifests itself in almost absurdly reductive ways. Consider New York Times editorial page columnist Bari Weiss’ comment on Twitter this month:

When conservatives, classical liberals or libertarians are told by the progressive chattering class that they—or those they read—are alt-right, the very common response is to say: Screw it. They think everyone is alt-right. And then those people move further right.

There is a lot here to unpack. First off, how does this tetchy, spiteful backlash by conservatives that Weiss and others claim is a “common” phenomenon comport with the right-wing’s overwhelming disdain for thin-skinned “snowflakes,” or being “triggered,” in their sarcastic lexicon? (A Pew survey from July found that by a ratio of about five-to-one—83 percent to 16 percent—Trump supporters say too many people are easily offended.) And what does it say about the principles of conservatives if exposure to criticism by left-wing pundits makes them suddenly more sympathetic to rancid white nationalists or Nazi ideology?

Likewise, is there any reliable evidence that this widespread, liberal-triggered backlash behavior even exists? It is true, per a 2017 Cato survey, that

strong majorities of Republicans (73 percent) and independents (58 percent) say they keep some political beliefs to themselves…while a slim majority (53 percent) (of Democrats) do not feel the need to self-censor.

But being less likely to air one’s opinions—possibly out of shame or embarrassment—is not proof that conservatives are changing their opinions, or retrenching further to the right due to liberal hectoring (or, for that matter, that those opinions are worthy of sharing in the first place).

One might expect a political science professor like Alexander would be eager to cite professional research or an academic study or two to finally prove the liberal-smugness effect. Notably, neither he nor his fellow conservatives ever bother with this step—and the mainstream op-ed editors giving them a platform don’t seem to care. Instead, it is enough to simply state the claim as self-evident, or to quote a handful of random people who make sweeping claims about the abuse they face from unnamed liberals, as a way to justify what could just as easily be fairly predictable, baked-in support for Trump by Republicans.

Note this claim from the Times op-ed last February:

Conservatives have gotten vicious, too, sometimes with Mr. Trump’s encouragement. But if political action is meant to persuade people that Mr. Trump is bad for the country, then people on the fence would seem a logical place to start. Yet many seemingly persuadable conservatives say that liberals are burning bridges rather than building them.

The presence of a journalistic weasel word like “seemingly” should be a red flag for editors, a signal this “there, but for the disgrace of liberals, go I” premise is as ephemeral as the supposed snowflakes that conservatives claim liberals have become. Note how convenient it is that the conservatives in this formulation get to have it both ways: expressing personal remorse for some of Trump’s most egregious behavior, but then blaming their continuing support for his presidency on an external factor like culture war hectoring from liberal bullies. It’s easy to see why this idea has become almost an article of faith among some conservatives: It simultaneously offers self-righteousness and absolution.

In fact, however, a University of Maryland working paper that studied reactions to the 2016 election cast doubt on the premise of liberal shaming driving conservatives further toward the right. As it noted, there was no statistically significant evidence of a backlash by conservative voters when confronted with liberal critiques of Trump being racist. In fact, the paper found that conservative racial animus in response to liberal election messaging was rooted in pre-existing biases, which is why those same conservatives also rejected claims of Trump’s racism that came from Republicans. Or, as the paper concludes:

Racially conservative whites are resistant to a racialized counter-strategy. In other words, they are motivated to reject information critical of their preferred candidate because it is inconsistent with their existing racial attitudes and views about the candidate.

This study dovetails with an analysis done by The Nation of pre- and post-election surveys which found that racial resentment, not economic anxiety, played an instrumental—and consistent—role in support for Trump during the last presidential campaign.

Both racial resentment and black influence animosity are significant predictors of Trump support among white respondents, independent of partisanship, ideology, education levels and the other factors included in the model. The results indicate a probability of Trump support higher than 60 percent for an otherwise typical white voter who scores at the highest levels on either anti-black racial resentment or anti-black influence animosity. This compares to less than 30 percent chance for a typical white voter with below average scores on either of the two measures anti-black attitudes.

These inconvenient facts simply don’t register to those seeking to pin the blame for Trump on those who oppose him. Instead, the only academic argument that regularly appears in “liberal smugness” canon comes via social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who has become a popular figure within the establishment media thanks to his hand-wringing, pox-on-both-houses rhetoric, which lines up neatly with the faux-objectivity of much of the press.

Haidt’s role in “liberal smugness” op-eds is typically to bemoan partisan invective, while also subtly endorsing conservative victimization. In the February 2017 New York Times op-ed, Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise also cites a Haidt research study that found “extreme political protest”—defined as “inflammatory rhetoric, blocking traffic, or damaging property”—by Black Lives Matter and anti-Trump supporters tended to result in lower public support. In that op-ed, his findings, along with a quote from a 72-year-old white female retiree who voted for Trump, is held up as de facto proof of the counterproductive nature of liberal scolding and political action.

But there’s a tell in that Trump voter’s quote about the 2017 Inauguration and Women’s March protests, which were overwhelmingly peaceful: “I don’t have a problem with protesting as long as it’s peaceful, but this is destroying the country.” So even when liberals meet the supposed criteria for acceptable dissent, they’re still doing it wrong.

We’ve seen this scenario play out many times before. Massive protests that criticize the status quo are routinely seen skeptically or even unfavorably by large portions of the public, regardless of party. And, as our history has shown, massive protests must often raise awareness of unpopular ideas in order for those ideas to become popular in the first place.

For example, a review of historical polling from the Civil Rights movement finds that strong majorities of the American public disapproved of both the Freedom Rides and lunch counter sit-ins in 1961. In 1963, 60 percent of Americans expressed unfavorable opinions about that year’s upcoming March on Washington. And just a month before the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, a Gallup poll found three out of four Americans thought “mass demonstrations” would hurt more than help the cause of racial equality.

Untold numbers of establishment politicians and pundits in that era likewise warned activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. and his liberal political allies that they too would face a backlash for daring to call out segregation and those who support it as favoring institutionalized racism. Refrains of those demands for patience from King and comity in his movement’s tactics echo through the op-eds that damn “liberal smugness”  today.

The reality is that these op-eds are little more than fig leaves masking a concerted effort to delegitimize, neuter and stifle even measured, serious liberal criticism. While there are certainly extremists on the left who abuse loaded terms like “racist,” “sexist” and “Nazi,” the liberal-smugness-backlash argument uses these fringe examples to paint with the same broad brush that it accuses the left of using.

Most notably, these editorial arguments betray an intellectual dishonesty about trying to solve the problem they are supposedly diagnosing. Time and again, they expend almost all their energy gnashing their teeth at the alleged sins of liberal smugness and its supposed impact of the right. And yet there is never a corresponding effort to explain how, exactly, those on the left can engage conservatives on deep political differences without inadvertently alienating them.

Consider this Guardian op-ed’s—typically ambiguous—advice for what liberals should do to express their displeasure or disagreement with Trump and those who enable his policies:

But Trump and his supporters thrive on the venom of their liberal tormentors. The old maxim should apply: Think what your enemy most wants you to do, and do the opposite. Tolerating Trump may stick in the craw, but it must be counter-productive to feed his paranoia, to behave exactly as his lieutenants want his critics to behave, like the liberal snobs that obsess him.

What does this “tolerating” entail, specifically? And how does it differ from a crude attempt at reverse psychology that is tantamount to getting liberals to voluntarily squelch their own dissent?  You won’t find out from these supposed analyses of conservative feelings.

Former Times columnist Josh Barro did make more of an effort than most in his Business Insider column, but it still reeks of incredibly vague platitudes, ripe for easy manipulation and misinterpretation:

Don’t tell people they should feel guilty…. Say when you think the liberal commentariat has gone overboard…. Offer an agenda that provides benefits people can see as mattering in their daily lives…. Don’t get distracted by shiny objects.

As for Alexander’s Times piece, this is the extent of his advice for how liberals can break through and reach on-the-fence moderate conservatives in the marketplace of ideas:

Champions of inclusion can watch what they say and explain what they’re doing without presuming to regulate what words come out of other people’s mouths. Campus activists can allow invited visitors to speak and then, after that event, hold a teach-in discussing what they disagree with. After the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that states had to allow same-sex marriage, the fight, in some quarters, turned to pizza places unwilling to cater such weddings. Maybe don’t pick that fight?

Boil it down, and you start to see the impossibly small needle liberal criticism and protest is being asked to thread by this argument: Carefully police your own rhetoric, but give those on the right the benefit of the doubt even when not policing theirs; assert your constitutional rights to free speech and against discrimination, but not in a disruptive way, and maybe not all the time.

This argument appeals to corporate media opinion editors because they almost universally fetishize calls for more respect and civility in politics, which have their own problematic history of abuse. But, in fact, this “liberal smugness” narrative is something much different and more insidious. It’s a zero-sum proposition that seeks to carve out special treatment for the beliefs of conservatives, while intentionally narrowing the acceptable tactics, voice and messaging of liberals. It’s a stealth closing of the Overton window from the left, positioned as an opening to give more fresh air to the right. It is not a new, insightful, or, at bottom, intellectually honest argument, and the op-ed editors who are willingly perpetuating it are doing both the public and the press a serious disservice.

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Blaming the Victims of Israel’s Gaza Massacre

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Gregory Shupak / FAIR.

Israel massacred 60 Palestinians on Monday, including seven children, bringing to 101 the total number of Palestinians Israel has killed since Palestinians began the Great March on March 30. In that period, Israel has killed 11 Palestinian children, two journalists, one person on crutches and three persons with disabilities.

Monday’s casualties included 1,861 wounded, bringing total injuries inflicted by Israel to 6,938 people, including 3,615 with live fire. Israel is using bullets designed to expand inside the body, causing maximum, often permanent damage: “The injuries sustained by patients will leave most with serious, long-term physical disabilities,” says Médecins Sans Frontières.

On the 70th anniversary of Israel’s so-called “declaration of independence,” the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem—a city Israel claims as its own, despite what international law says on the matter—and Palestinians undertook unarmed protests in reaction to the move and as part of the Great Return March. Although to this point, the only Israeli casualty during the entire cycle of demonstrations has been one “lightly wounded” soldier, considerable space in coverage of the massacres is devoted to blaming Palestinians for their own slaughter.

Two of the first three paragraphs in an NBC report provided Israel’s rationalizations for its killing spree. The second sentence in the article says that the Israeli military:

accused Hamas of “leading a terrorist operation under the cover of masses of people,” adding that “firebombs and explosive devices” as well as rocks were being thrown towards the barrier.

Washington Post article devoted two of its first four sentences to telling readers that Palestinians are responsible for being murdered by Israel. Palestinian “organizers urged demonstrators to burst through the fence, telling them Israeli soldiers were fleeing their positions, even as they were reinforcing them,” read one sentence. “At the barrier, young men threw stones and tried to launch kites carrying flames in hopes of burning crops on the other side,” stated the next one, as though stones and burning kites released by a besieged people is violence remotely equivalent to subjecting people to a military siege and mowing them down.

The New York Times article said that “a mass attempt by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating Israel from Gaza turned violent, as Israeli soldiers responded with rifle fire,” painting Israel’s rampage as a reaction to a Palestinian provocation. Like FAIR has previously said of the word “retaliation,” “response” functions as a justification of Israeli butchery: To characterize Israeli violence as a “response” is to wrongly imply that Palestinian actions warranted Israel unleashing its firing squads.

Yahoo headline described “Violent Protests in Gaza Ahead of US Embassy Inauguration in Jerusalem,” a flatly incorrect description in that it attributes the violence to Palestinian demonstrators rather than to Israel. The BBC did the same with a segment called “Gaza Braced for Further Violent Protests.”

One Bloomberg article by Saud Abu Ramadan and Amy Teibel had the same problem, referring to “a protest marred by violence,” while another one attributed only to Ramadan is headlined “Hamas Targets Fence as Gaza Bloodshed Clouds Embassy Move,” as though the fence were Monday’s most tragic casualty. Ascribing this phantom violence to Palestinians provides Israel an alibi: Many readers will likely conclude that Israel’s lethal violence is reasonable if it is cast as a way of coping with “violent protests.”

The second paragraph of the Bloomberg article solely written by Ramadan says that:

Gaza protesters, egged on by loudspeakers and transported in buses, streamed to the border, where some threw rocks, burned tires, and flew kites and balloons outfitted with firebombs into Israeli territory.

This author—like the rest in the “Palestinians were asking for it” chorus—failed to note that Israel’s fence runs deep into Palestinian territory and creates a 300-meter “buffer zone” between Palestinians and Israeli forces, which makes it highly unlikely that the kites and balloons of the colonized will have an effect on their drone-operating, rifle-wielding colonizers, let alone on people further afield in Israeli-held territory.

The New York Times editorial board wrote as though Palestinians are barbarians against whom Israel has no choice but to unleash terror:

Led too long by men who were corrupt or violent or both, the Palestinians have failed and failed again to make their own best efforts toward peace. Even now, Gazans are undermining their own cause by resorting to violence, rather than keeping their protests strictly peaceful.

The board claimed that “Israel has every right to defend its borders, including the boundary with Gaza,” incorrectly suggesting that Palestinians were aggressors rather than on the receiving end of 100 years of settler-colonialism.

Moreover, like the Times and Bloomberg articles discussed above, the editorial attempts to legitimize Israel’s deadly violence by saying that it is defending a border that Palestinians are attempting to breach, but there is no border between Gaza and Israel. There is, as Maureen Murphy of Electronic Intifada pointed out, “an armistice line between an occupying power and the population living under its military rule” that Palestinians are trying to cross in order to exercise their right to return to their land.

Washington Post editorial called the Palestinians hunted by Israel “nominal civilians.” Apart from being a logical impossibility (one either is or isn’t a civilian), the phrase illuminates how too much of media think about Palestinians:  They are inherently threatening, intrinsically killable, always suspect, never innocent, permanently guilty of existing.

Business Insider piece by columnist Daniella Greenbaum described “Palestinian protesters who ramped up their activities along the Gaza strip and, as a result, were targeted by the Israeli army with increasing intensity.” Greenbaum’s use of the phrase “as a result” implies that it was inevitable and perhaps just that Palestinians’ “ramped up activities” led to Israel mowing down a population it occupies, 70 percent of whom are refugees Israel refuses to allow to return to their homes.

Greenbaum then climbs into the intellectual and moral gutter, claiming that:

absent from the commentary that children have unfortunately been among the injured and dead are questions about how they ended up at the border. On that question, it is important to recognize and acknowledge the extent to which Palestinians have glorified violence and martyrdom — and the extent to which the terrorist organization Hamas has organized the “protests.”

In her view, dozens of Palestinians died because they are primitive savages who take pleasure in sacrificing their own children, not because Israel maintains the right to gun down refugees in the name of maintaining an ethnostate.

In a rare instance of a resident of Gaza allowed to participate directly in the media conversation, Fadi Abu Shammalah wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that offered an explanation of why Palestinians are putting their lives on the line to march. Life for the people of Gaza, including for his three young sons, has been “one tragedy after another: waves of mass displacement, life in squalid refugee camps, a captured economy, restricted access to fishing waters, a strangling siege and three wars in the past nine years. ” Recalling the concern for his safety expressed by his seven-year-old child, Shammalah concludes:

If Ali asks me why I’m returning to the Great Return March despite the danger, I will tell him this: I love my life. But more than that, I love you, Karam and Adam. If risking my life means you and your brothers will have a chance to thrive, to have a future with dignity, to live in peace with all your neighbors, in your free country, then this is a risk I must take.

Palestinians have a right to liberate themselves that extends to the right to the use of armed struggle, yet as Shammalah wrote, the Great Return March signifies a “nearly unanimous acceptance of peaceful methods to call for our rights and insist on our humanity.” Nevertheless, based on media coverage, readers could be forgiven for concluding that it was Palestinians, not Israel, who carried out what Doctors Without Borders called “unacceptable and inhuman” violence.


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Trump Gets a Long List of Questions From Mueller, N.Y. Times Writes

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON—Special counsel Robert Mueller has given a list of almost four dozen questions to lawyers for President Donald Trump as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump obstructed justice, according to a report published in The New York Times.

The Times obtained a list of the questions, which range from Trump’s motivations for firing FBI Director James Comey a year ago to contacts Trump’s campaign had with Russians.

Although Mueller’s team has indicated to Trump’s lawyers that he’s not considered a target, investigators remain interested in whether the president’s actions constitute obstruction of justice and want to interview him about several episodes in office. The lawyers want to resolve the investigation as quickly as possible, but there’s no agreement on how to do that.

Many of the questions obtained by the Times center on the obstruction issue, including his reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation, a decision Trump has angrily criticized.

Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow declined to comment to The Associated Press on Monday night, as did White House lawyer Ty Cobb.

The questions also touch on the Russian meddling and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin in any way. In one question obtained by the Times, Mueller asks what Trump knew about campaign staff, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, reaching out to Moscow.

Mueller has brought several charges against Manafort, but none are for any crimes related to Russian election interference during the 2016 campaign. And he has denied having anything to do with such an effort.

The queries also touch on Trump’s businesses and his discussions with his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, about a possible Moscow real estate deal. Cohen’s business dealings are part of a separate FBI investigation.

One question asks what discussions Trump may have had regarding “any meeting with Mr. Putin,” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another question asks what the president may have known about a possible attempt by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to set up a back channel with Russia before Trump’s inauguration.

Additional questions center on Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his discussions on sanctions against Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition. Flynn is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigators.

“What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?” reads one question. Another asks if there were any efforts to reach out to Flynn “about seeking immunity or possible pardon.”

Flynn was fired Feb. 13, 2017, after White House officials said he had misled them about his Russian contacts during the transition period by saying that he had not discussed sanctions.

The following day, according to memos written by Comey, Trump cleared the Oval Office of other officials and encouraged Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

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U.S. Establishment: Nixing Arms Control

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Ray McGovern / Consortium News.

John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser to President Donald Trump is the latest blow to hopes for a less confrontational U.S.-Russia relationship that would include new talks on arms control. Mutual trust is now hanging by a very thin thread.

One wag suggested to me that the Bolton appointment should not really come as a surprise, since it fits the recent Washington pattern — if White House chaos can be considered a pattern. For Kremlin leaders, though, White House zig-zags are no laughing matter. Let’s try to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine how the unfolding of recent events may have looked to them.

On March 1 in his state-of-the-nation address, President Putin revealed several new strategic weapons systems that Russia developed after the Bush/Cheney/Bolton administration abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had been the cornerstone of strategic stability for the previous 30 years. (John Bolton is included in that august company because, as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, he was Vice President Dick Cheney’s enforcer to put the kibosh on the ABM Treaty.)

You would not know it from the “mainstream media,” but in that same speech Putin offered to “sit down at the negotiating table” and “work together … to ensure global security” — taking into account the strategic parity Moscow claims.

Referring to what he called “our duty to inform our partners” about Russia’s claimed ability to render ABM systems “useless,” Putin added: “When the time comes, foreign and defense ministry experts will have many opportunities to discuss all these matters with them, if of course our partners so desire.”

One “Partner” So Desires

On March 20, two days after Putin was re-elected President of Russia, President Trump decided to congratulate the winner — as is the custom — without insulting him. For this he was excoriated by mainstream media for squandering the chance to point his finger, once again, at alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Sitting atop Mark Landler’s New York Times article that day was this headline: “Trump Congratulates Putin, but Doesn’t Mention Meddling in U.S.”

That was not Trump’s only offense. He also disregarded instructions to berate Putin with the evidence-and-logic-free accusation that Moscow poisoned, for no apparent reason, a former Russian spy and his daughter living in the UK. Landler lamented, “Instead, Mr. Trump kept the focus of the call on what the White House said were ‘shared interests’ — among them, North Korea and Ukraine — overruling his national security advisers …”

Parsing the NYT

The Times’ initial report included “arms control” in the headline and quoted Trump: “We had a very good call … We will probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.” It was not long, however, before the NYT pared down that last sentence to “We will probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future.”

Landler did include (buried in paragraph 25 of 29) the following: “During their call on Tuesday, a senior official said, Mr. Trump told Mr. Putin he had been concerned by a recent speech in which Mr. Putin talked about Russia developing an “invincible” intercontinental cruise missile and a nuclear torpedo that could outsmart all American defenses.”  But Landler (or his editors) took pains to omit any mention of Trump’s actual reaction in suggesting an early summit to discuss arms control.

Parsing what is allowed to appear in the NYT (sometimes in altered iterations) is not very different from the “Kremlinology” tools that we analysts used to apply, back in the day, to eke insights out of the turgid prose in Pravda, Izvestiya, and other Soviet media.

Moreimportant, how the NYT played Trump’s reaction to Putin’s re-election — specifically, his swiftly excised suggestion of an arms control summit, probably did not escape notice among present-day Russians who do analysis of U.S. media. It requires little imagination to conclude that for the U.S. Establishment, for which the NYT is a mouthpiece, arms control is off the table, despite anything the President may have said.

Lots of $ For Arms Dealers

There are a lot of powerful people making a lot of money profiteering from arms manufacture and sales, with a portion of the profits going to senators and representatives in Congress, who get re-elected and then oblige by appropriating still more funding for what Pope Francis warned Congress are the “blood-drenched arms traders.”

On March 26 President Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats the U.S. identified as intelligence agents and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle, in response to Russia’s alleged role in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the former Russian spy now living in England. Russia responded tit for tat, expelling 60 U.S. diplomats and closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. Russian culpability for the poisoning is far from proven.

Doesn’t Make Sense

Writing on March 28, Gary Leupp, history professor at Tufts University, put it this way: “Why follow up that cordial call [the congratulatory one] to Putin with the expulsion of so many diplomats? What the hell. Doesn’t make sense.” Leupp worries that as President Trumps political situation deteriorates, “he will be more prone to lean on his generals … while also heeding the horrific Bolton. This is a very bad situation.”

Another encomium came this week from author Daniel Lazare who pretty much summed it up:

“John Bolton is without doubt a dangerous man. Not only did he champion the war against Saddam Hussein, but, even before U.S. troops had set foot in Iraq, he told Israeli leaders that the next step would be to take out Syria, Iran, and North Korea, a goal he has pursued with single-minded consistency ever since. For Bolton, the aim is to create a growing cascade of Third World wars so as to propel the U.S. into a position as unchallenged military dictator of the entire globe.  The more numerous the conflicts, the more he’s convinced that the U.S. will come up on top.”

Bolton’s Return

There is great — and justified — concern that John Bolton will have the President’s ear and reinforce Trump’s worst inclinations. A Yale law school graduate, Bolton has not shown much respect for the law. His record places him toward the top of the list of “crazies,” the sobriquet we all used for those who later became known as neoconservatives. I discussed this background in a recent interview on Intercepted. (See 16-minute segment beginning at minute 35.)

Back in the day, I recalled, when I was working at CIA in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, we didn’t talk about neocons, we talked about “crazies.” We noted that George H.W. Bush was careful in keeping “the crazies” in check, giving them positions in government with prestigious job titles but where they couldn’t do great harm to the country.

When George Bush, Jr. came in, he put the crazies in positions of power. Under John Bolton’s influence, George W. Bush took the extreme step of scrapping the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was the bedrock for strategic stability since 1972 when it was signed. Bolton was also one of the prime movers behind the Iraq invasion.

Despite Trump calling the Iraq war “a big fat mistake,” apparently he now admires Bolton for his many Fox News appearances, and he is, of course, the darling of the “blood-soaked arms traders.”

Negotiating Style

Let me add one new vignette regarding his negotiating style: A senior U.S. diplomat recently shared with me that, when Bolton was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, a colleague diplomat provided a rather revealing insight into Bolton’s attitude toward international treaties.

That colleague had just returned home from arms control talks between Bolton and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov, and described how surreal and embarrassing it had been to hear Bolton lecture Mamedov about how international treaties are worthless, with the Russian arguing strongly that treaties are important and should be taken seriously.

Just the guy for the job. Strap yourself in.

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The Normalization of War

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Andrew J. Bacevich / TomDispatch.

Dear Mr. A.G. Sulzberger:

Congratulations on assuming the reins of this nation’s — and arguably, the world’s — most influential publication. It’s the family business, of course, so your appointment to succeed your father doesn’t exactly qualify as a surprise.  Even so, the responsibility for guiding the fortunes of a great institution must weigh heavily on you, especially when the media landscape is changing so rapidly and radically.

Undoubtedly, you’re already getting plenty of advice on how to run the paper, probably more than you want or need.  Still, with your indulgence, I’d like to offer an outsider’s perspective on “the news that’s fit to print.”  The famous motto of the Times insists that the paper is committed to publishing “all” such news — an admirable aspiration even if an impossibility.  In practice, what readers like me get on a daily basis is “all the news that Times editors deem worthy of print.”

Of course, within that somewhat more restrictive universe of news, not all stories are equal.  Some appear on the front page above the fold.  Others are consigned to page A17 on Saturday morning.

And some topics receive more attention than others.  In recent years, comprehensive coverage of issues touching on diversity, sexuality, and the status of women has become a Times hallmark.  When it comes to Donald Trump, “comprehensive” can’t do justice to the attention he receives.  At the Times (and more than a few other media outlets), he has induced a form of mania, with his daily effusion of taunts, insults, preposterous assertions, bogus claims, and decisions made, then immediately renounced, all reported in masochistic detail.  Throw in salacious revelations from Trump’s colorful past and leaks from the ongoing Mueller investigation of his campaign and our 45th president has become for the Times something akin to a Great White Whale, albeit with a comb-over and a preference for baggy suits.

In the meantime, other issues of equal or even greater importance — I would put climate change in this category — receive no more than sporadic or irregular coverage.  And, of course, some topics simply don’t make the cut at all, like just about anything short of a school shooting that happens in that vast expanse west of the Hudson that Saul Steinberg years ago so memorably depicted for the New Yorker.

The point of this admittedly unsolicited memo is not to urge the Times to open a bureau in Terre Haute or in the rapidly melting Arctic. Nor am I implying that the paper should tone down its efforts to dismantle the hetero-normative order, empower women, and promote equality for transgender persons. Yet I do want to suggest that obsessing about this administration’s stupefying tomfoolery finds the Times overlooking one particular issue that predates and transcends the Trump Moment. That issue is the normalization of armed conflict, with your writers, editors, and editorial board having tacitly accepted that, for the United States, war has become a permanent condition.

Let me stipulate that the Times does devote an impressive number of column-inches to the myriad U.S. military activities around the planet.  Stories about deployments, firefightsairstrikes, sieges, and casualties abound.  Readers can count on the Times to convey the latest White House or Pentagon pronouncements about the briefly visible light at the end of some very long tunnel. And features describing the plight of veterans back from the war zone also appear with appropriate and commendable frequency.

So anyone reading the Times for a week or a month will have absorbed the essential facts of the case, including the following:

* Over 6,000 days after it began, America’s war in Afghanistan continues, with Times correspondents providing regular and regularly repetitive updates;

* In the seven-year-long civil war that has engulfed Syria, the ever-shifting cast of belligerents now includes at least 2,000 (some sources say 4,000) U.S. special operators, the rationale for their presence changing from week to week, even as plans to keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely take shape;

* In Iraq, now liberated from ISIS, itself a byproduct of U.S. invasion and occupation, U.S. troops are now poised to stay on, more or less as they did in West Germany in 1945 and in South Korea after 1953;

* On the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. forces have partnered with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud in brutalizing Yemen, thereby creating a vast humanitarian disaster despite the absence of discernible U.S. interests at stake;

* In the military equivalent of whacking self-sown weeds, American drones routinely attack Libyan militant groups that owe their existence to the chaos created in 2011 when the United States impulsively participated in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi;

* More than a quarter-century after American troops entered Somalia to feed the starving, the U.S. military mission continues, presently in the form of recurring airstrikes;

* Elsewhere in Africa, the latest theater to offer opportunities for road-testing the most recent counterterrorism techniques, the U.S. military footprint is rapidly expanding, all but devoid of congressional (or possibly any other kind of) oversight;

* From the Levant to South Asia, a flood of American-manufactured weaponry continues to flow unabated, to the delight of the military-industrial complex, but with little evidence that the arms we sell or give away are contributing to regional peace and stability;

* Amid this endless spiral of undeclared American wars and conflicts, Congress stands by passively, only rousing itself as needed to appropriate money that ensures the unimpeded continuation of all of the above;

* Meanwhile, President Trump, though assessing all of this military hyperactivity as misbegotten — “Seven trillion dollars. What a mistake.” — is effectively perpetuating and even ramping up the policies pioneered by his predecessors.

This conglomeration of circumstances, I submit, invites attention to several first-order questions to which the Times appears stubbornly oblivious. These questions are by no means original with me. Indeed, Mr. Sulzberger (may I call you A.G.?), if you’ve kept up with TomDispatch –— if you haven’t, you really should — you will already have encountered several of them.  Yet in the higher reaches of mainstream journalism they remain sadly neglected, with disastrous practical and moral implications.

The key point is that when it comes to recent American wars, the Times offers coverage without perspective. “All the news” is shallow and redundant. Lots of dots, few connections.

To put it another way, what’s missing is any sort of Big Picture. The Times would never depict Russian military actions in the Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria, along with its cyber-provocations, as somehow unrelated to one another. Yet it devotes remarkably little energy to identifying any links between what U.S. forces today are doing in Niger and what they are doing in Afghanistan; between U.S. drone attacks that target this group of “terrorists” and those that target some other group; or, more fundamentally, between what we thought we were doing as far back as the 1980s when Washington supported Saddam Hussein and what we imagine we’re doing today in the various Muslim-majority nations in which the U.S. military is present, whether welcome or not.

Crudely put, the central question that goes not only unanswered but unasked is this: What the hell is going on? Allow me to deconstruct that in ways that might resonate with Times correspondents:

What exactly should we call the enterprise in which U.S. forces have been engaged all these years?  The term that George W. Bush introduced back in 2001, “Global War on Terrorism,” fell out of favor long ago. Nothing has appeared to replace it.  A project that today finds U.S. forces mired in open-ended hostilities across a broad expanse of Muslim-majority nations does, I suggest, deserve a name, even if the commander-in-chief consigns most of those countries to “shithole” status. A while back, I proposed “War for the Greater Middle East,” but that didn’t catch on. Surely, the president or perhaps one of his many generals could come up with something better, some phrase that conveys a sense of purpose, scope, stakes, or location. The paper of record should insist that whatever it is the troops out there may be doing, their exertions ought to have a descriptive name.

What is our overall objective in waging that no-name war?  After 9/11, George W. Bush vowed at various times to eliminate terrorism, liberate the oppressed, spread freedom and democracy, advance the cause of women’s rights across the Islamic world, and even end evil itself. Today, such aims seem like so many fantasies. So what is it we’re trying to accomplish?  What will we settle for? Without a readily identifiable objective, how will anyone know when to raise that “Mission Accomplished” banner (again) and let the troops come home?

By extension, what exactly is the strategy for bringing our no-name war to a successful conclusion? A strategy is a kind of roadmap aimed at identifying resources, defining enemies (as well as friends), and describing a sequence of steps that will lead to some approximation of victory.  It should offer a vision that gets us from where we are to where we want to be.  Yet when it comes to waging its no-name war, Washington today has no strategy worthy of the name.  This fact should outrage the American people and embarrass the national security establishment. It should also attract the curiosity of the New York Times.

Roughly speaking, in what year, decade, or century might this war end?  Even if only approximately, it would help to know — and the American people deserve to know — when the front page of the Times might possibly carry a headline reading “Peace Secured” or “Hostilities Ended” or even merely “It’s Over.” On the other hand, if it’s unrealistic to expect the ever-morphing, ever-spreading no-name war to end at all, then shouldn’t someone say so, allowing citizens to chew on the implications of that prospect?  Who better to reveal this secret hidden in plain sight than the newspaper over which you preside?

What can we expect the no-name war to cost?  Although the president’s estimate of $7 trillion may be a trifle premature, it’s not wrong. It may even end up being on the low side.  What that money might otherwise have paid for — including infrastructure, education, scientific and medical research, and possibly making amends for all the havoc wreaked by our ill-considered military endeavors — certainly merits detailed discussion. Here’s a way to start just such a discussion:  Imagine a running tally of sunk and projected cumulative costs featured on the front page of the Times every morning. Just two numbers: the first a tabulation of what the Pentagon has already spent pursuant to all U.S. military interventions, large and small, since 9/11; the second, a projection of what the final bill might look like decades from now when the last of this generation’s war vets passes on.

Finally, what are the implications of saddling future generations with this financial burden?  With the sole exception of the very brief Gulf War of 1990-1991, the no-name war is the only substantial armed conflict in American history where the generation in whose name it was waged resolutely refused to pay for it — indeed, happily accepted tax cuts when increases were very much in order. With astonishingly few exceptions, politicians endorsed this arrangement.  One might think that enterprising reporters would want to investigate the various factors that foster such irresponsibility.

So that’s my take. I’m sure, A.G., that journalists in your employ could sharpen my questions and devise more of their own.  But here’s a small proposition: just for a single day, confine Donald Trump to page A17 and give our no-name war the attention that the Times normally reserves for the president it loathes.

I’m not a newspaperman, but I’m reminded of that wonderful 1940 Hitchcock movie Foreign Correspondent.  I expect you’ve seen it.  Europe is stumbling toward war and Mr. Powers, head honcho at the fictitious New York Globe, is tired of getting the same-old same-old from the people he has on the scene. “I don’t want any more economists, sages, or oracles bombinating over our cables,” he rages. “I want a reporter.  Somebody who doesn’t know the difference between an ism and a kangaroo.”

His rant requires deciphering. What Powers wants is someone with the combination of guts and naiveté to pose questions that more seasoned journalists trapped in a defective narrative of their own creation simply overlook.

So he pulls the decidedly unseasoned and spectacularly uninformed John Jones off the police beat, renames him Huntley Haverstock, sets him up with an expense account, and sends him off to take a fresh look at what gives in Europe.  Haverstock proceeds to unearth the big truths to which his more sophisticated colleagues have become blind.  Almost singlehandedly he alerts the American people to the dangers just ahead — and he also gets the girl.  Terrific movie (even if, given Hitchcock’s well-documented mistreatment of women, it may be politically incorrect to say so).

Anyway, A.G., we need you to do something approximating what Mr. Powers did, but in real life.  Good luck.  I’m in your corner.

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