US Ranking Falls On Press Freedom Index

The threats to freedom of the press under Donald Trump have led to Reporters Without Borders dropping the rating of the United States to 45th, continuing its downward trend. The United States previously finished No. 43 in 2017 and No. 41 in 2016. Even before Trump, they note restrictions in press freedom due to the prosecution of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act which predated his presidency.

From their report on the United States:

The United States’ ranking fell from 43 to 45 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2018 World Press Freedom Index, continuing its downward trend in the first year of Donald J. Trump’s presidency. In contrast, its northern neighbor Canada gained 4 places due to steps taken to safeguard the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

Donald Trump furthers First Amendment decline

In 2017, the 45th President of the United States helped sink the country to 45th place by labeling the press an “enemy of the American people” in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempts to block White House access to multiple media outlets, routine use of the term “fake news” in retaliation for critical reporting, and calling for media outlets’ broadcasting licenses to be revoked. President Trump has routinely singled out news outlets and individual journalists for their coverage of him, and retweeted several violent memes targeting CNN.

The violent anti-press rhetoric from the White House has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protestsor simply attempting to ask public officials questions. Reporters have even been subject to physical assault while on the job.

Press freedom violations in the country of the First Amendment in fact have become so frequent of late that RSF joined a coalition of more than two dozen press freedom organizations to launch the US Press Freedom Tracker in August, which documented 34 arrests of journalists in 2017, the majority while covering protests (find out more on the tracker).

However, the Trump effect has only served to amplify the disappointing press freedom climate that predated his presidency. Whistleblowers face prosecution under the Espionage Act if they leak information of public interest to the press, while there is still no federal “shield law” guaranteeing reporters’ right to protect their sources. Journalists and their devices continue to be searched at the US border, while some foreign journalists are still denied entry into the US after covering sensitive topics like Colombia’s FARC or Kurdistan.

The US’ decline in press freedom is not simply bad news for journalists working inside the country; the downward trend has drastic consequences at the international level. “Fake news” is now a trademark excuse for media repression, in both democratic and authoritarian regimes. Democratic governments from several countries in the Organisation of East Caribbean States (OECS), have adopted Trump’s favorite phrase when criticizing the work of journalists. Given that criminal defamation still remains on the books in many Caribbean countries, the spread of Trump’s anti-media rhetoric could have very serious consequences for the local press.

Norway and Sweden were ranked at the top for press freedom for the second straight year. North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Syria and China were at the bottom. The report also mentioned the impact of strongmen such as Vladimir Putin:

The Index also reflects the growing influence of “strongmen” and rival models. After stifling independent voices at home, Vladimir Putin’s Russia (148th) is extending its propaganda network by means of media outlets such as RT and Sputnik, while Xi Jinping’s China (176th) is exporting its tightly controlled news and information model in Asia. Their relentless suppression of criticism and dissent provides support to other countries near the bottom of the Index such as Vietnam (175th), Turkmenistan (178th) and Azerbaijan (163rd).

I noted last week how Edward Snowden had joined civil liberties organization in condemning restrictions on free communications in Russia. In a recent interview, Ed Schultz argued that Russia Today provides him with more independence than he had at MSNBC, which he says fired him for his support for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

Damon Linker Asks Why Clinton Supporters Cannot Accept The Truth About Her Loss

Partisan Democrats remain unable to face reality regarding why Hillary Clinton lost, blaming this on James Comey, Russia, or other things which they claim were beyond Clinton’s control. This is despite running against a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, who would probably lost by ten points against anyone other than Clinton. Their recently filed lawsuit would he laughable if not for its attack on freedom of the press. In light of this, Damon Linker asks, Why can’t liberals accept the truth about Hillary’s 2016 failure? Linker wrote:

Like traumatized soldiers after a devastating and unanticipated defeat on the battlefield, a certain kind of partisan Democrat is still struggling with President Trump’s (absurdly narrow) victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Just witness the furious reaction occasioned by a New York Times excerpt from Amy Chozick’s new book about Clinton’s defeat. Because Chozick dared to write that Clinton lost “the most winnable presidential election in modern history,” she (and others, like myself, who’ve made similar claims) inspired a tidal wave of criticism.

After summarizing the excuses made by Clinton and her supporters, Linker concluded:

…Clinton was the worst possible person to answer the angry accusations of a populist insurgency from either the protectionist right or the socialist left. She was too much a contented representative and beneficiary of the very political and economic establishments against which Trump directed his fire. She was the Davos candidate, the woman who defied the advice of her handlers to accept six-figure speaking fees from investment banks at events where she wooed rooms full of potential donors by dreaming of a world of open borders — a world in which the last remaining businesses to pay a decent wage in the Rust Belt would be given the green light to flee in pursuit of ever-higher profits.

To counter that Trump-the-corrupt-real-estate-mogul is just as much a member of the nation’s economic elite misses the political point entirely. A populist defines himself by those he attacks, and Trump attacked those in power. Who did Clinton attack? The “deplorable” voters who were tempted to vote for Trump — and she did it, of course, at a big-ticket fundraiser, before a room full of wealthy liberal donors.

Maybe, given the realities of polarization, negative partisanship, and certain fundamentals at play in 2016, no Democrat would have won against Trump in a landslide. But I’m quite sure a different Democrat — a Democrat who didn’t so badly misjudge the political moment and squander her many advantages, and who wasn’t incapable of taking a stand on behalf of those many Americans who feel they’ve been left behind by the prevailing policies of the past generation — could have won convincingly, decisively.

Until the party demonstrates a willingness to learn from its mistakes, it will run the considerable risk of repeating them.

Clinton was out-flanked on the left by Trump not only on trade. She also suffered from her far right wing views on foreign policy and interventionism.

Democrats do need to accept reality, as opposed to ignoring the mood of the electorate–as they also did in 2010 and 2014 leading to Democratic losses. Rather than accepting why they lost and correcting the problems, they engage in a sick McCarthyism, attacking those who do point out their mistakes. Rather than embrace potential new voters brought in by Bernie Sanders, they attack the left, have purged progressives from the DNC, and attack more liberal and progressive candidates who are more in tune with the voters, and probably more electable.

DNC Suit Against Wikileaks Is A Dangerous Attack On Freedom Of The Press

In 2016 the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton were exposed for undermining democratic principles by rigging the Democratic nomination and other acts of gross dishonesty. While there were many sources of information regarding this, email released by Wikileaks was instrumental in both verifying what was already suspected and providing new information. Rather than showing any remorse and instituting real reform, the Democratic Party has now initiated the absurd act of suing Wikileaks, Russia, and the Trump campaign based upon their unproven conspiracy theories that the 2016 election was stolen by these groups. In other words, the DNC is filing a lawsuit alleging damages because the truth about them was released by Wikileaks. The most alarming aspect is their attack on freedom of the press by including Wikileaks for publishing leaked or stolen emails provided to them.

This foolish action made the DNC the target of civil libertarians on a weekend in which Donald Trump was also attacking the press. The DNC is including Wikileaks in the suit not because of any claims that they had hacked the DNC, but purely because they posted email they received. Media organizations often publish stolen material and the DNC’s attempt to sue Wikileaks for doing is an attempt to intimidate the media for doing so. This includes The Pentagon Papers, The Panama Papers, and the revelations from Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance. The right of the media to publish stolen documents has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

As Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation wrote, “investigative journalism frequently entails media outlets receiving documents and other private information from people who have stolen them or otherwise broke the law to obtain and release them. To convert that into a legal transgression or part of an unlawful racketeering plot – as the DNC lawsuit seeks to do – is to turn a core part of journalism into something illegal.” They also noted:

Even WikiLeaks’ most devoted critics and enemies are constrained to acknowledge that WikiLeaks’ publications in general – and their disclosure of at least some of the DNC and Podesta emails in particular – informed the public about matters legitimately in the public interest. That’s why literally every major media outlet reported on their contents, why those documents forced the resignation of five top DNC officials and the firing of a CNN commentator, and why the DNC itself believes, as evidenced by this lawsuit, that it changed perceptions of Hillary Clinton.

For an entertaining history on this history in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of newspapers to publish stolen documents watch the recent movie The Post. To use an analogy to The Pentagon Papers, the DNC is not only suing what might be the equivalent of Daniel Ellsberg for stealing the papers, but also suing those in the position of The New York Times and The Washington Post (in the pre-Bezos era).

Is this really the position the DNC desires to be in if they want to have any hope of rebuilding bridges with the left? The Democrats have been the villains of this story. Their attempts to portray themselves as the victims, as opposed to cleaning up the party and embracing reform, is counterproductive if they hope to ever regain the trust of many on the left.

Democratic opposition to the publication of email which exposes the unethical actions of the DNC is also rather hypocritical considering that most of them have probably cheered on Rachel Maddow for airing information on leaked tax returns from Donald Trump.

Wikileaks has been victorious in previous cases in which claims that they were involved in the theft of documents they posted. They have also been the target of Democrats in the past, including several false claims about them from Hillary Clinton.

Wikileaks has responded to this suit stating in a Tweet stating, “As an accurate publisher of newsworthy information @WikiLeaks is constitutionally protected from such suits.” They are also requesting contributions for a counter-suit: “Help us counter-sue. We’ve never lost a publishing case and discovery is going to be amazing fun.”

There are also questions regarding the validity of other aspects of the suit. The generally pro-Democratic blog Vox writes:

…there were many hacks and claims of hacks during 2016, and it hasn’t yet been shown whether any of these Trumpworld and Russia contacts involved coordination on the DNC email leak itself, or even whether any cooperation effort between Trump’s team and Russia involving hacked material did materialize.

The DNC may well be hoping to use this new suit to surface more evidence of this, should it proceed to the discovery stage — but as of now, they don’t have the goods on any Trumpworld involvement with the hack and leak that damaged Democrats specifically.

Slate points out that, “Russia and WikiLeaks are unlikely to cooperate with a U.S. civil proceeding.” They also note that, “The DNC’s evidence of Trump participation in the scheme is limited to suggestive but not conclusive information that has already appeared in media reports.” They questioned the point of this suit, which appears to be primarily a stunt, when these matters are already under investigation by Robert Mueller (and we have yet to see evidence to support many of the claims coming from the DNC). They also noted that some Democrats questioned spending money on this during a conference call reviewing the suit. Slate was not impressed with the response from the DNC:

“We’re not getting into costs regarding this litigation” is not the kind of thing you say, in my opinion, when you are really confident that you are spending your donors’ money wisely during a crucial election year!

Edward Snowden Joins Civil Liberties Groups In Protesting Restrictions On Free Speech In Russia

Edward Snowden has joined civil liberties organizations including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation in condemning Russia for its attempts to suppress a widely used messenger app used to avoid government monitoring of communications. Newsweek reports:

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has backed a prominent critic of the Kremlin in a tense standoff between Russian authorities and a private messaging app used by millions.

The National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, who fled to Russia from the U.S. in 2013, risked the wrath of the Kremlin when he tweeted his support on Tuesday for messaging app Telegram and its founder Pavel Durov, who is flouting a government request to cease operations in Russia.

“I have criticized Telegram’s security model in the past, but Durov’s response to the Russian government’s totalitarian demand for backdoor access to private communications—refusal and resistance—is the only moral response, and shows real leadership,” Snowden wrote on Twitter.

The messenger tool is facing a formal ban from Russia’s state watchdogs for refusing to allow authorities access to users’ private conversations, despite numerous requests. A Russian court ruled in favor of the ban last week, after authorities argued that Telegram’s encrypted chat feature could be used for criminal or terrorist activities.

Telegram’s privacy is one of its main selling points, and foiling Russian security agents’ attempts to eavesdrop on private chats was part of its raison d’etre, Durov has previously said. The Russian-born developer has refused to comply with the government’s demands and recently pledged millions of dollars toward a “digital resistance” to circumvent the ban.

Durov has said the ban has not resulted in a major disruption of Telegram’s operations, as social media users have shared tips online on tools that help inoculate against blocking the app. The most widely cited tool appears to be the use of so-called VPN anonymizers, which disguise an internet user’s location and allow residents of Russia to access the internet as though they were abroad.

Snowden has also retweeted posts opposing the suppression of Telegraph from civil liberties organizations.

Bloomberg notes that Google and Amazon have become involved in the fight:

Russia’s attempts to ban access to the Telegram messaging service threaten to drag U.S. tech giants including Alphabet Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. into the war with founder Pavel Durov as he turns to proxy servers to bypass the blocking measures.

Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor has already blocked 18 Google and Amazon sub-networks that Telegram used to avoid restrictions, the watchdog’s head Alexander Zharov told the Izvestia daily on Wednesday. More than 15 million IP addresses were blocked as a result, making some third-party internet resources unavailable in Russia, according to Qrator Labs.
 Durov rejected as “unconstitutional” Russian officials’ demands to turn over encryption keys to allow the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, to access users’ messages on Telegram to intercept communications of terrorists. Roskomnadzor started blocking access to the messenger on Monday, after a Moscow court ruled last week that Durov was in breach of Russian law.

Telegram’s Russian founder fought back, offering to pay administrators of proxy servers in bitcoins to help bypass restrictions and saying he plans to spend millions of dollars on what he called “Digital Resistance.” Telegram “remained available for the majority of Russia’s residents” despite the blocking attempts, Durov said Wednesday on Twitter.

Snowden also tweeted, “Journalists working the story of being blocked in Russia should be absolutely clear that if and halt its access to their cloud platform or remove the app from their stores, they are witting collaborators in a censorship campaign, not victims of it.”

In related news, The Verge reports that recent actions by Google to discontinue domain-fronting will hinder attempts at circumventing censorship:

App developers won’t be able to use Google to get around internet censorship anymore. The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain-fronting, which let services use Google’s network to get around state-level internet blocks.

The article quotes Access Now in protesting this change:

“Google has long claimed to support internet freedom around the world, and in many ways the company has been true to its beliefs,” said Nathan White of Access Now. “Allowing domain fronting has meant that potentially millions of people have been able to experience a freer internet and enjoy their human rights. We urge Google to remember its commitment to human rights and internet freedom and allow domain fronting to continue.”

(more…)

Ed Schultz Says MSNBC Fired Him For Supporting Sanders And Suppressed Coverage Of Sanders

During an interview last week, Ed Schultz said he was fired from MSNBC due to his support for Bernie Sanders. As should not come as a surprise to anybody, Schultz also said that MSNBC was “in the tank for Hillary Clinton.”

Schultz discussed how MSNBC tried to suppress coverage of Bernie Sanders. Schultz had planned to cover Sanders’ campaign launch on May 26, 2015 but was told five minutes before air time by MSNBC President Phil Griffen and told, “You’re not covering this.”

Schultz described Griffin as “a watchdog” and said that Griffin exercised considerable control over what he could report at MSNBC. Schultz had a far more favorable description of RT, where he currently anchors a show, saying that RT has not attempted to control what he says as MSNBC had. He said that MSNBC had suppressed coverage of Sanders until he was doing too well in the race to ignore.

Schultz further discussed how the Democratic nomination was rigged for Clinton, and how MSNBC assisted her:

“I think the Clintons were connected to [NBC News chief] Andy Lack, connected at the hip,” Schultz said. “I think that they didn’t want anybody in their primetime or anywhere in their lineup supporting Bernie Sanders. I think that they were in the tank for Hillary Clinton, and I think that it was managed, and 45 days later I was out at MSNBC.”

“I thought it stunk,” he added.

This pro-Clinton bias was not limited to NBC and MSNBC. Schultz also noted how Democratic National Committee member Donna Brazille, formerly at CNN, had leaked debate questions to Hillary Clinton.

Firing Ed Schultz was only part of MSNBC’s attack on the left, and failure to follow journalistic standards, out of their support for Clinton. Immediately after the election stories on MSNBC were blaming Jill Stein for Clinton’s loss. This was based upon the false argument that Stein’s voters would have voted for Clinton if Stein was not on the ballot. (Personally I would have voted for another anti-war candidate such as Gary Johnson as opposed to voting for a warmonger such as Clinton if Stein was not on the ballot–and there is evidence that Clinton’s pro-war views harmed her in the election). They also ignored the much larger number of former Obama voters who voted for Trump as opposed to Clinton in 2016.

MSNBC has subsequently been pushing Clinton’s unproven claims blaming Russia for her loss. FAIR.org (Fairness And Accuracy in Reporting) has criticized their reporting on Russia. MSNBC has also been caught misrepresenting testimony from the Department of Homeland Security to promote conspiracy theories that Russia was responsible for Trump beating Clinton.

A portion of the interview with Ed Schultz is in the video above and the full podcast is available here.

Clinton And Her Apologists Still Wrong In Blaming James Comey For Clinton’s Loss

There should be little controversy as to the main headline coming out of James Comey’s interview with George Stephanopoulos. Donald Trump is morally unfit to be president. The more questionable claims are coming from Clinton supporters who have used this as an opportunity to repeat the absurd claims that James Comey is responsible for Hillary Clinton losing the 2016 election. This is wrong on many levels.

The biggest problem with this is that James Comey would not have been investigating Clinton in the first place if she had not grossly violated the rules regarding the use of email, as was verified by the State Department Inspector General’s report, and  hadn’t handled classified information in a careless manner. The investigation further hurt Clinton as Comey’s report demonstrated that she had repeatedly lied in her public statements about the matter. This gave further credence to her reputation of both seeing herself above the  law and of being dishonest. She further hurt herself when she repeatedly lied about what James Comey had reported.

Hillary Clinton, not James Comey, is ultimately responsible for any problems caused by the email investigation. The Democratic Party also shares the blame after rigging the nomination for Clinton despite the evidence as to how weak a candidate would be (even beyond the ethical questions surrounding their behavior). This was like if the Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon after the public knew about Watergate.

It didn’t take much to see that a scandal of this magnitude could easily cost Clinton the election.This was obvious by March of 2015 when I had a post entitled, Clinton’s Use Of Private Email Suggests Democrats Need To Consider A Plan B For 2016. Instead of exercising common sense, or looking at the facts, many Democrats passed off lies about the scandal which were repeatedly being debunked by the major newspaper fact checkers. Instead of standing up for principle, many Democrats ignored the magnitude of Clinton’s unethical behavior with trite sayings like “but her email.”

The email scandal also highlighted Clinton’s long-standing weaknesses, including her dishonesty and acting like the rules which apply to everyone else do not apply to her. Clinton’s own serious negatives balanced out Trump’s negatives. Clinton’s personal views and record also hurt her, including her record on trade and on foreign interventionism.

The 2016 election was pretty close to a fifty-fifty election, with a close popular vote and an electoral college vote which could have gone either way. The problem for Clinton’s argument is that the race should never have been this close in an election against a candidate as terrible (and morally unfit) as Donald Trump. The polls showed that nominating Clinton, as opposed to another candidate such as Bernie Sanders, meant giving up about ten percent of the vote. That was a costly choice by Democrats.

David Axelrod responded to Clinton’s claims that Comey cost her the election last year:

“It takes a lot of work to lose to Donald Trump,” Axelrod told CNN on Wednesday. “Let me tell you, he was the least popular presidential candidate to win in the history of polling.”

…Axelrod called the 2016 race a “miserable slog” and said nobody in America wants to relive it “except the combatants who keep going back to it.”

“She has a legitimate beef because Comey’s letter was instrumental I think in her defeat, so in a narrow sense she is right about it,” Axelrod said.

“But Jim Comey didn’t tell her not to campaign in Wisconsin after the convention. Jim Comey didn’t say don’t put any resources into Michigan until the final week of the campaign,” he continued.

“And one of the things that hindered her in the campaign was a sense that she never fully was willing to take responsibility for her mistakes, particularly that server.”

Axelrod then offered a piece of advice for Clinton.

“If I were her, if I were advising her, I would say, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t go back and appear as if you’re shifting responsibility.’ … She said the words ‘I’m responsible,’ but the — everything else suggested that she doesn’t really feel that way,” he said.

“And I don’t think that helps her in the long run, so if I were her I would move on.”

Clinton was already in serious trouble, both due to her own personal faults and due to the terrible campaign she had run, in the final days of the election. The American Association for Public Opinion Research cast doubt on the effects of Comey’s letter in analyzing the late polls:

In its effort to explore reasons for the large percentage of late-deciding voters who chose Trump, the report examines a central Clinton claim: that FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress on Oct. 28 of last year, stating that the bureau had discovered additional evidence related to Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state, might have tipped the race.

The report does not find evidence the Comey letter was determinative.

“The evidence for a meaningful effect on the election from the FBI letter is mixed at best,” the report states, citing polls that showed Clinton’s support beginning to drop in the days leading up to the letter. “October 28th falls at roughly the midpoint (not the start) of the slide in Clinton’s support.”

Unfortunately there will continue to be Clinton apologists who will not face the fact that Clinton lost because of being a horrible candidate, who could not obtain a major party nomination for president in a fair campaign, and who went on to run a terrible campaign. Blaming others, whether it is James Comey, Russia, or any of the many others Clinton has tried to blame, does not change this.

Dennis Kucinich Warned About Current US Hostilities Towards Russia and Syria

The US bombing in Syria has made my planned posts on Dennis Kucinich this week even more applicable to current events. Earlier in the week I quoted from a profile of Kucinich in The Washington Post Magazine calling him the future of American politics. As he is currently running for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Ohio, foreign policy was only briefly touched upon in the article, noting that in 2004 he was “the voice for getting out of Iraq.” Now Kucinich is protesting that Donald Trump acted without “congressional authorization in ordering a military attack against Syria tonight. This is a clear violation of the United States Constitution…which makes it clear that only Congress has the power to declare war.”

Kucinich had continued to warn about the direction of US foreign policy in both parties since the days in which he was protesting against the war in Iraq. In October  of 2016 he had an article in The Nation entitled, Why Is the Foreign Policy Establishment Spoiling for More War? Look at Their Donors. War is first and foremost a profitable racket. It was not difficult to see a turn towards a more hawkish foreign policy when the conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton was about to become president, and her opponent was Donald Trump.

In this article from 2016 he cautioned against both the anti-Russia hysteria we are now seeing as well as our current policy regarding Syria. Some excerpts:

According to the front page of this past Friday’s Washington Post, the bipartisan foreign-policy elite recommends the next president show less restraint than President Obama. Acting at the urging of “liberal” hawks brandishing humanitarian intervention, read war, the Obama administration attacked Libya along with allied powers working through NATO.

The think tankers fell in line with the Iraq invasion. Not being in the tank, I did my own analysis of the call for war in October of 2002, based on readily accessible information, and easily concluded that there was no justification for war. I distributed it widely in Congress and led 125 Democrats in voting against the Iraq war resolution. There was no money to be made from a conclusion that war was uncalled for, so, against millions protesting in the United States and worldwide, our government launched into an abyss, with a lot of armchair generals waving combat pennants. The marching band and chowder society of DC think tanks learned nothing from the Iraq and Libya experience.

The only winners were arms dealers, oil companies, and jihadists. Immediately after the fall of Libya, the black flag of Al Qaeda was raised over a municipal building in Benghazi, Gadhafi’s murder was soon to follow, with Secretary Clinton quipping with a laugh, “We came, we saw, he died.” President Obama apparently learned from this misadventure, but not the Washington policy establishment, which is spoiling for more war.

The self-identified liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) is now calling for Syria to be bombed, and estimates America’s current military adventures will be tidied up by 2025, a tardy twist on “mission accomplished.” CAP, according to a report in The Nation, has received funding from war contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing, who make the bombers that CAP wants to rain hellfire on Syria.

The Brookings Institute has taken tens of millions from foreign governments, notably Qatar, a key player in the military campaign to oust Assad. Retired four-star Marine general John Allen is now a Brookings senior fellow. Charles Lister is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, which has received funding from Saudi Arabia, the major financial forceproviding billions in arms to upend Assad and install a Sunni caliphatestretching across Iraq and Syria. Foreign-government money is driving our foreign policy.

As the drumbeat for an expanded war gets louder, Allen and Lister jointly signed an op-ed in the Sunday Washington Post, calling for an attack on Syria. The Brookings Institute, in a report to Congress, admitted it received $250,000 from the US Central Command, Centcom, where General Allen shared leadership duties with General David Petraeus. Pentagon money to think tanks that endorse war? This is academic integrity, DC-style…

The American people are fed up with war, but a concerted effort is being made through fearmongering, propaganda, and lies to prepare our country for a dangerous confrontation, with Russia in Syria.

The demonization of Russia is a calculated plan to resurrect a raison d’être for stone-cold warriors trying to escape from the dustbin of history by evoking the specter of Russian world domination…

As this year’s presidential election comes to a conclusion, the Washington ideologues are regurgitating the same bipartisan consensus that has kept America at war since 9/11 and made the world a decidedly more dangerous place…

t is our patriotic duty to expose why the DC foreign-policy establishment and its sponsors have not learned from their failures and instead are repeating them, with the acquiescence of the political class and sleepwalkers with press passes.

It is also time for a new peace movement in America, one that includes progressives and libertarians alike, both in and out of Congress, to organize on campuses, in cities, and towns across America, to serve as an effective counterbalance to the Demuplican war party, its think tanks, and its media cheerleaders. The work begins now, not after the Inauguration. We must not accept war as inevitable, and those leaders who would lead us in that direction, whether in Congress or the White House, must face visible opposition.

Kucinich was right about the direction we were heading. Not only have we had this weekend’s attack on Syria. We have also seen increased fear-mongering and demonetization of Russia. Part of this comes from Clinton’s neocon allies who have desired regime change in Russia or see other benefits in fueling conflict. This is exacerbated by Democrats who cannot accept that Donald Trump is president because the Democratic Party rigged the primary process to give the nomination to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, and therefore fall for conspiracy theories blaming Russia for her defeat.

I wish that Kucinich was running for a position more related to foreign policy than a Governor. There are far too few anti-war voices left in Congress. One is Tulsi Gabbard, who traveled to Syria with Kucinich last year, and last week did write Donald Trump last week urging against a military strike against Syria.

Matt Taibbi Tries To Explain Why We Should Avoid War With A Nuclear Power

Add Matt Taibbi to those I mentioned yesterday warning about going to war in Syria. He has an article in Rolling Stone entitled,  If We’re on the Brink of War, the Fault Is Ours, Not Trump’s or Bolton’s.

So here we are, on the brink. Here’s Donald Trump’s tough-ass tweet about how he’s about to mix it up with both Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!  –Donald J. trump 

The fate of humanity now rests in the hands of this Twitter-obsessed dingbat executive and his new national security adviser, John Bolton – one of the most deranged people to have ever served in the United States government, a man who makes Jeane Kirkpatrick look like Florence Nightingale.

With these two at the helm, we are now facing the imminent possibility of direct military conflict with a nuclear enemy. No one in the popular press is saying it, but there could easily be Russian casualties in Trump’s inevitable bombing campaign. Which will then put the onus on a third lunatic, Vladimir Putin, to respond with appropriate restraint.

Ironically, pretty much the only places where you will read today about the frightening possibility of Russian casualties are in military journals, in the nervous musings of Pentagon officials. Here and there you will see reports of concern about what might happen if we kill the wrong Russians, or the wrong quantity of Russians. One outlet calmly suggested the Russians might step up “harassment” of U.S. warplanes and outposts if we kill too many of theirs, as if this would not cause the whole world to soil itself in terror.

So to recap: the most terminally insecure president ever sits in the White House, advised by one of the most war-crazy hacks in the history of federal service, at the outset of a fully avoidable proxy war with an enemy that possesses thousands of lethal thermonuclear warheads aimed directly at us.

Bear in mind that virtually any exchange of nuclear missiles between these two countries would mean the absolute end of civilization. We could all, right now, be minutes away from the end of everything, especially given who holds the respective buttons.

Taibbi notes that there was hope for a different outcome:

But we had a head start in dodging the bullet with Trump, as one of the few not-terrifying qualities he demonstrated as a candidate was his seeming reluctance to get into unnecessary wars. Trump was specifically on record as wanting to “stay out of Syria.”

Taibbi notes that Trump’s isolationism was “at least partly insincere.” He also notes that, “unlike his racism and xenophobia and lack of sympathy for the poor – issues where there are obvious currents visible in what passes for his mind – Trump is highly suggestible in matters military.”

Unfortunately any attempts to influence Trump have been in the wrong direction:

As president, however, the one time he received praise from the Washington consensus was when he bombed Assad last year. You might remember that as the time when Fareed Zakaria gushed on CNN, “Donald Trump became president tonight,” and a tumescent Brian Williams countered by calling the bombs “beautiful” 8 times in 30 seconds, quoting Leonard Cohen as he said, “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.”

Taibbi next showed several examples of Trump receiving criticism for talking about leaving Syria and many, including Democrats like Howard Dean, taking the wrong position. Taibbi wrote:

“Trump’s Syria Policy Isn’t Retrenchement, It’s Pandering,” sneeredForeign Policy.

“Chaos reigns with his president,” said Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono, calling the withdrawal plan “incoherent.”

Howard Dean, a man I once voted for because he at least tepidly opposed a pointless Middle Eastern war, decided to use this occasion to taunt Trump in schoolyard fashion.

“Why are you such a wimp for Assad and Putin?” Dean tweeted.

This is just one of the reasons why I am glad I did not trust or vote for Howard Dean in 2004.

Taibbi concluded by repeating the consequences of those who now advocate attacking Syria over the alleged poison gas attack:

One could maybe understand this attitude from millennials, who weren’t raised amid The Day After or “99 Luftballoons” or “1999” or Failsafe or Dr. Strangelove even, and have never experienced even fake angst about growing up under the specter of nuclear war. But all the preceding generations should know better. We all grew up aware it could all be over in a heartbeat.

This is probably the most serious showdown between nuclear powers since the Cuban missile crisis, or at the very least, the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983.

The oft-derided Doomsday Clock, kept by the Union of Atomic Scientists, describes us as closer to nuclear war than at any time since 1953, when both the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear weapons for the first time. “The continued existence of urban, technological civilization will soon hang in a precarious balance,” the Scientists predicted then…

That Trump might forget the awesome danger of nuclear war is a given. The man is a fool. But what’s our excuse?

Taibbi’s Twitter page shows that many others are as foolish as Trump. For example: “Hacking our election was an act of war. No different than Pearl Harbor. I’d proudly fight if I were younger. Remember our Hillary!!! ”

Tabbi replied: “How do you think war with Russia goes? With rifles and bayonets, like at Iwo Jima? This is the nuclear age. In the best case, it’s a big noise, most everyone dies, and the lucky ones get fifty years of MREs.”

Remember Hillary? The ultra-hawk who is just barely less dangerous than John Bolton? She’s the one who supported Syria bombing last year, and who previously supported greater intervention in Syria, which would have placed us at considerable risk of confrontation with Russia. To compare trivial meddling in the election, which had no effect on the result, to Pearl Harbor is utterly insane. Yet many have been making exactly that comparison, or comparing it to 9/11.

Another uninformed reader tweeted, “Putin’s possession of nukes does not mean he intends upon using them or HAS THE CAPABILITY OF USING THEM. Putin actually believes his delivery systems are worthless for the exact same reason that i do. our missile defenses are much further developed than disclosed.”

Does anyone in their right mind really think that it is worth risking a nuclear attack?

As I tweeted and posted on Facebook: “My opposition to going to war with a nuclear power over inconsequential Facebook ads or even a suspected poison gas attack does not mean I support either Putin or Assad. It means I oppose the destruction of the earth in a nuclear holocaust.

Two People Speaking Out Against War In Syria

It is a shame that a xenophobic conservative like Tucker Carlson is making more sense about Syria on Fox than most others in the news media, including the supposed liberals on MSNBC. During the show (video above) Carlson questioned the wisdom of military action in Syria:

With Assad gone, who would run it exactly? Do we have another strongman in place to install? Or is it our hope that a stable democracy will magically appear in the wake of this protracted civil war?

And who exactly are these moderate rebels you’re always hearing about, the ones that we’re supporting with your tax dollars?

Meanwhile Newsweek warns: RUSSIA PREPARES FOR WAR WITH U.S., INSTRUCTING CITIZENS TO BUY WATER AND GAS MASKS:

Claiming that some Americans are preparing for a coming war with Moscow, Russian state-owned television explained to the country’s residents how to stock their bunkers with water and basic foodstuffs in case a war breaks out.

Warning that the potential conflict between the two superpowers would be “catastrophic,” an anchor for Russia’s Vesti 24 showed off shelves of food, recommending that people buy salt, oatmeal and other products that can last a long time on the shelves if they plan to hide in a bunker. Powdered milk lasts five years, while sugar and rice can last up to eight years, the newscaster explained before showing videos of pasta cooking in a bomb shelter.

In contrast to the calls to go to war, Stephen R. Weissman, former staff director of the House Subcommittee on Africa, discussed a more rational policy at In These Times:

The United States has intervened militarily in civil wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen to defeat Al Qaeda, associate America with a democratic “Arab Spring” and support the ambitions of friendly Middle Eastern governments. Yet little progress towards these objectives has occurred, partly because American policies were misplaced. Central Al Qaeda has long been located in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring proved ephemeral. Meanwhile, intervention has damaged many fundamental American interests. It has strained relationships with U.S. partners, stoked interstate tensions, threatened to plunge the U.S. into new military commitments, burdened America’s complex relationship with Russia, contributed to tremendous losses of human life and aggravated U.S. budgetary deficits.

What to do? Critics of the Obama administration’s “weakness” have urged the United States to double down on its use of force. Though wary of domestic political constraints on further American casualties, the Trump administration has ventured partway in this direction. In Afghanistan, it added a few thousand troops to the 11,000 already present, loosened constraints on American military operations and suspended security assistance to Pakistan over its failure to crack down on Taliban sanctuaries. In Syria, it reportedly ended major CIA covert military assistance to “moderate” rebels, but, after helping subdue the Islamic State in Northern Syria, maintains 2,000 U.S. troops and considerable air power in the region as “leverage” against the Bashar al-Assad regime and Iran. In Yemen, it has escalated military support—arms sales, intelligence and refueling of military aircraft—to the Saudi-led coalition defending the displaced government against Houthi rebels.

Nevertheless, no amount of politically permissible U.S. military escalation will rescue failing U.S. policies. Local U.S. clients suffer from political and military dysfunctions that cannot be alleviated by outside economic and military aid. At the same time, their opponents have been supplied by Pakistan, Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran and Russia with enough resources to avert defeat and even gain ground.

A more promising route to protect America’s political and humanitarian interests exists, but you will not hear much about it from the executive branch, Congressional foreign policy leaders, prominent Washington think tanks and mainstream media. It is to pursue an end to these wars through mediated, compromise political settlements based on ground-level realities—leavened with as much justice and accountability as can be achieved.

Does this sound naïve? It is what the United States did in helping to resolve seven civil wars (in three of which the U.S. military had been involved) between 1990 and 2005 in Bosnia, Burundi, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (an interstate as well as intrastate conflict), El Salvador, Mozambique and Sudan. This was an era when the Cold War ran down, enabling U.S. political and opinion leaders to address these conflicts forthrightly. Today, their vision is clouded by fearful overreactions to international terrorism and Iran’s regional rivalries. Still, from 1990–2013 a larger percentage of civil wars were resolved by negotiated settlements than by military victories.

The seven wars endured from four to twenty-two years (four lasted at least eight years). Individually, they resulted in anywhere from tens of thousands to, in Congo’s case, 3.5 million military and civilian deaths. But once serious peace talks began, six of the negotiations were completed in less than three years. Every one of these accords was achieved through external mediation among the parties to the conflict. As former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere told me in 1997, after having led the effort in Burundi for two years, “One thing I know, they can’t do it on their own.”

Weissman discussed this in further detail. Diplomacy may or may not work, but dropping more bombs on Syria will not help keep people in Syria more safe. It might escalate to the nuclear war they are talking about in Russia.

Washington Post Magazine Does Profile On Dennis Kucinich, Calling Him The Future Of American Politics

The Washington Post Magazine took a lengthy look at Dennis Kucinich, who is now running for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Ohio. Here are some excerpts:

“Kucinich was ahead of his time in terms of having that progressive politics before it’s popular, before it’s cool,” says Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution, the national progressive advocacy group born out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. (Our Revolution has endorsed Kucinich in the governor’s race, though Sanders himself has not taken a position.)

…The candidate himself is too humble and shrewd to take credit for the drift of the times. “To me, it’s arrogant to say, ‘Well, everyone has caught up to me,’ ” Kucinich told me recently. “In terms of where I fit in all this, I was holding that space in the party for 16 years [in Congress] relating to what America’s priorities should be. Trade that included workers’ rights, human rights, environmental-quality principles, a universal single-payer not-for-profit health-care system. And stopping these wars.”

It is indeed too much to say that Kucinich begot Sanders or Trump. Sanders himself was advocating for progressive causes for decades before he picked up 1,900 delegates to Hillary Clinton’s 2,800 in the 2016 primaries — far outstripping Kucinich’s total in 2004. Moreover, Kucinich himself has always had limitations as a politician, and in his upcoming race, he may well lose the nomination to Richard Cordray, who is supported by huge swaths of the Democratic establishment.

Win or lose, however, it is undeniable that Kucinich has long been tuned to a political frequency that few heard until it became a roar. He has vied for offices at nearly every level of American democracy and failed spectacularly while running for the presidency in both 2004 and 2008; nobody has been a has-been in quite the way Dennis Kucinich has been. And yet, right now, there may be no better guide to the strange condition of American politics in 2018…

When it’s his turn to speak, Kucinich takes the microphone and walks to the front of the stage like a tent-revival crusader. He’s dressed in skinny jeans, wingtip boots with thick treads, jacket and tie. His default facial expression is delight, and he wears it now as he prepares to sketch a two-minute fable of how Ohio, and America, got here.

“The Democratic Party lost its soul when they made book with corporate America and started taking corporate America’s money, and it blurred the differences between the two parties,” he says in the voice of a larger man, building in volume and pitch. “The American people caught on because the trade agreements that were made under Democratic administrations said they were going to protect jobs, the environment, workers’ rights. None of those things happened. And so all across this state people got used to the idea that the Democrats would say one thing and do another and wouldn’t deliver. And that opened the door for the candidate who won in 2016.” Trump took Ohio by 8 points. “I can be the person who can bring those people who voted for Donald Trump back into the party,” he declares.

The school shooting in Parkland, Fla., occurred 11 days before the forum, and Kucinich seizes on it to separate himself from the other candidates. In coming days, his campaign will circulate a video of Cordray, as state attorney general, speaking at a Second Amendment rally in 2010 after having submitted a brief in support of a Supreme Court case pursued by gun-rights advocates. “Rich, there’s a reason why you got an A from the NRA and why I got an F,” Kucinich says. “I stand for an assault-weapon ban in the state of Ohio, for the possession, the sale. Where do you stand?”

…When I asked him about his gig as a Fox News contributor, which ended when he started running for governor, he said he’ll use any channel to reach people. He pointed to stands he has taken in his gubernatorial campaign on guns, health care, education, energy and the environment that would be anathema to Trump. “I find myself disagreeing with the president on most everything,” he said. But he told me he can’t help sharing Trump’s wariness toward America’s secret agencies. He cited the discredited evidence used to justify the invasion of Iraq as another example of intelligence sources shaping policy in dubious ways. And he described his own strange personal brush with alleged wiretapping: In 2015, reporters for the Washington Times played for Kucinich a recording of a telephone conversation he had in his congressional office four years earlier with Saif Gaddafi, son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. The son was reaching out to Kucinich because he was a leading American voice against the intervention in Libya. The Times reporters did not reveal from whom they got the recordings, which the story said were “recovered from Tripoli.” Kucinich told me the plausible source was a “U.S. or U.S.-related agency,” though he can’t prove it. Later, in early 2017, after Trump charged that Obama had wiretapped him, Fox host Bill O’Reilly invited Kucinich on the air to talk about the Libyan recordings. “If a member of Congress can have his phone tapped on a policy matter, hey, this could happen to anybody,” Kucinich told O’Reilly.

Kucinich’s suspicions about intelligence agencies and worries about tension with Russia are things liberals fretted over a couple of generations ago. Today they are an affront to mainstream Democrats and Trump haters, even as they are shared by right-wing followers of Trump and left-wing skeptics of the liberal and moderate establishments of both parties. In a shaken-up America, Kucinich’s views on foreign policy and related matters mark a new kind of ideological convergence. As Glenn Greenwald suggested to me, “There is a kind of union between neocon centrist Republicans and centrist Democrats against people who are outsiders on the right and outsiders on the left, who are starting to see a lot of things in similar ways as well. And Kucinich is a perfect example of that.”

I wish Kucinich good luck, but wish that instead of running for Governor he was returning to Congress where we need more anti-war voices such as  his. This is especially true with many Democrats joining with Republican neoconservatives,  promoting confrontation against countries such as Syria and Russia. More on this in a follow-up post on Dennis Kucinich.