Category Archives: GWOT

Headlines of the day: Today in Trumplandia™


From the Washington Post, the three leading front page stories:

Secretary of state nominee pushed for Exxon deal in Iraq despite U.S. plea

  • The 2011 oil exploration deal overseen by former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson — whose confirmation hearings to become secretary of state begin Wednesday — defied U.S. diplomats’ requests that the company wait, fearing such an agreement would undermine their credibility with Iraqi authorities and worsen ethnic tensions that had led Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Defense nominee urged U.S. strike against Iran during Iraq War

  • Gen. James Mattis’s falling-out with the Obama administration over Iran offers perspective into how he would lead the world’s largest military and the advice he would bring during sensitive Situation Room debates.

Over China’s objections, Ted Cruz and Texas governor meet with Taiwanese president

  • The meeting is likely to irk officials in Beijing amid already heightened tensions between the U.S. and China.

Chart of the day: Adding fuel to MENA flames


From Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2008-2015, a report by the Congressional Research Service, a look at who’s selling arms to nations in the inflamed Middle East/North Africa region [click on the image to enlarge]:

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Mainstream media, Silicon Valley gave us Trump


Donald Trump took his ego, his sociopathy, his wealth, his brand, and his unparalleled skills at playing the American mass media and parlayed them into a new domicile, and hopefully one he can’t brand.

No other president-elect has revealed his major policy decisions, his appointments, and his outrageous opinions o Twitter, bypassing the press corps and forcing them to dance to his tune.

Consider, then, this essay, titled “10 ways the tech industry and the media helped create President Trump,” from Damian Radcliffe, Caroline S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon, writing in The Conversation, an open source academic journal written for the general public:

Three weeks after Donald Trump won a historic victory to become the 45th president of the United States, the media postmortems continue.

In particular, the role played by the media and technology industries is coming under heavy scrutiny in the press, with Facebook’s role in the rise of fake newscurrently enjoying considerable coverage. This represents a shift from earlier in the campaign, when the volume of media airtime given to Trump was oftenheld culpable for “The Apprentice” star’s political ascendancy.

In truth, a Trump presidency is – in part – a reflection of the status and evolution of the media and tech industries in 2016. Here are 10 ways that they combined to help Trump capture the White House in a manner not previously possible. Without them, Trump might not have stood a chance.

Inside the tech industry’s role

1) Fake news looks a lot like real news. This is not a new issue, but it’s a hot topic, given the social media-led explosion of the genre. As BuzzFeed found, fake news can spread more quickly than real reporting.

President Obama has weighed in on the problem, as have investigative reporters. And The New York Times found that fake news can “go viral” very quickly, even if it’s started by an unassuming source with a small online following – who subsequently debunks their own false story.

2) Algorithms show us more of what we like, not what we need to know. Amazon, Netflix and Spotify demonstrate how powerful personalization and recommendation engines can be. But these tools also remove serendipity, reducing exposure to anything outside of our comfort zone.

Websites like AllSides, and the Wall Street Journal’s Red vs Blue feed experiment – which let users “See Liberal Facebook and Conservative Facebook, Side by Side” – show how narrow our reading can become, how different the “other side” looks, and how hard it can be to expose ourselves to differing viewpoints, even if we want to.

3) Tech doesn’t automatically discern fact from fiction. Facebook doesn’t have an editor, and Mark Zuckerberg frequently says that Facebook is not a media company. It’s true that Facebook content comes from users and partners, but Facebook is nonetheless a major media distributor.

More than half of Americans get news from social media; Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla. “The two-thirds of Facebook users who get news there,” Pew notes, “amount to 44 percent of the general population.” But its automatic algorithms can amplify falsehoods, as happened when a false story about Megyn Kelly trended on Facebook this summer.

4) The rise of robots. It’s not just publications and stories that can be fake. Twitter bots can look the same as real Twitter users, spreadingfalsehoods and rumors and amplifying messages (just as humans do). Repeat a lie often enough and – evidence suggests – it becomes accepted as fact. This is just as true online as it is on the campaign trail.

My mother always warned me not to believe everything I read in the papers. We need to instill the same message in our children (and adults) about social media.

5) Tech has helped pull money away from sources of real reporting. Google, Facebook, Craigslist and others have created new advertising markets, diverting traditional ad revenues from newspapers in the process.

Meanwhile, programmatic advertising, which uses computer algorithms to buy – and place – online ads, is changing the advertising dynamic yet again. This canmean companies unintentionally buy ads on sites – such as those from the alt-right – which don’t sit with their brand or values; and that they would not typically choose to support.

The media played its part, too

1) Fewer ad dollars means fewer journalistic boots on the ground. Data from the American Society of News Editors show that in 2015 the total workforce for U.S. daily newspapers was 32,900, down from a peak of 56,400 in 2001. That’s 23,500 jobs lost in 14 years.

Though some of these roles have migrated to online outlets that didn’t exist years ago, this sector is also starting to feel the cold. A reduced workforce has inevitably led to less original journalism, with fewer “on the beat” local reporters, shuttered titles and the rise of media deserts. Cable news, talk radio, social networks and conservative websites – channels that predominantly focus on commentary rather than original reporting – have, in many cases, stepped in to fill these gaps.

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Obama makes radical reverse on Israeli aggression


We begin with a screencap of the banner headline from the New York Daily News, a paper that took a strongly anti-Trump stance through the campaign, sided with the Donald on this one:

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The story is one of a waning administration’s abrupt reversal on a policy which has poisoned bother the Middle East and the United States, which has staunchly backed Israel’s systematic looting of resources and land — as well as the homes and livelihoods — of countless Palestinians under its ruthless drive to forge a Greater Israel.

Our first selection from from the New York Times:

Defying extraordinary pressure from President-elect Donald J. Trump and furious lobbying by Israel, the Obama administration on Friday allowed the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

The administration’s decision not to veto the measure reflected its accumulated frustration over Israeli settlements. The American abstention on the vote also broke a longstanding policy of shielding Israel from action at the United Nations that described the settlements as illegal.

While the resolution is not expected to have any practical impact on the ground, it is regarded as a major rebuff to Israel, one that could increase its isolation over the paralyzed peace process with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, who have sought to establish their own state on territory held by Israel.

Applause broke out in the 15-member Security Council’s chambers after the vote on the measure, which passed 14 to 0, with the United States ambassador, Samantha Power, raising her hand as the lone abstention. Israel’s ambassador, Danny Danon, denounced the measure, and castigated the council members who had approved it.

From the Guardian, the Obama administration’s rationale:

Explaining the US abstention, Power said the Israeli settlement “seriously undermines Israel’s security”, adding : “The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades.”

Power said the US did not veto the resolution because the Obama administration believed it reflected the state of affairs regarding settlement and remained consistent with US policy.

“One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict. One had to make a choice between settlements and separation,” Power said.

The US decision to abstain was immediately condemned by Netanyahu’s office as “shameful” which pointedly referred to Israel’s expectation of working more closely with Donald Trump.

Trump tweeted his reaction:

blog-trumpsterMore from the Associated Press:

Trump demanded that Obama veto the resolution and tweeted after the vote, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th” — when Trump takes office.

It would be virtually impossible, however, for Trump to overturn the resolution. It would require a new resolution with support from at least nine members in the 15-member Security Council and no veto by one of the other permanent members — Russia, China, Britain or France, all of whom supported Friday’s resolution.

Republicans, who control Congress, immediately threatened consequences. Sen. Lindsay Graham, who heads the Senate panel in charge of U.S. payments to the U.N., said he would “form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce” funding. He added that countries receiving U.S. aid could also be penalized for supporting the resolution.

Under U.N. rules, failure to pay dues leads to the loss of voting privileges in the General Assembly.

The vote on settlements sparked behind-the-scenes discussion in the usually divided Security Council on what else might be achieved on the Israeli-Palestinian issue while Obama is still in the White House.

And the reaction from Israel, via Al Jazeera English:

In addition to calling it “shameful”, Israel also recalled its ambassador to New Zealand and Senegal for their role in the passing of the resolution.

“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms.” said Netanyahu.

“At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half-a-million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and calls the Western Wall ‘occupied territory’.”

On Saturday, Netanyahu also instructed the Foreign Ministry to end all aid programs to Senegal and to cancel a planned visit to Israel by the Senegalese foreign minister.

And while both Trump and the Obama administration have obsessed over the rise of terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. intself, consider an important reminder from Richard P. Mitchell, Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, writing under his nomme de blog, Juan Cole:

Jerusalem is extremely important and holy (just after Mecca and Medina) to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

One of the three major motivations for Usama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda to attack the United States in 2001 was the Israeli occupation of the Muslim parts of Jerusalem. (The other two were the US sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s that were thought to have killed 500,000 children, and the presence of US troops at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia).

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s provocative demarche on the Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem in 2000 caused Bin Laden to try to move up the date of the planned attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., as ‘punishment’ for Sharon’s implicit threat.

Bin Laden composed a poem for his son’s wedding in Afghanistan in fall of 2001, “The wound of Jerusalem is making me boil. Its suffering is making me burn from within.” Bin Laden was a mass murderer and not a good Muslim, but his rage over Jerusalem is shared by many in the Muslim world

A vengeful Trump has all of Big Brother’s tools


And more. . .

Donald J. Trump is a man who reacts to legitimate criticism with rage, taking to Twitter to denounce and defame anyone who dares question His Regal Purulence, even if it’s just a college student with legitimate questions.

But once in office, this man of arrogance and hubris will have at his fingertips, the most powerful espionage apparatus in the history of the Homo sapiens.

And because of laws and precedents set by legislators, courts, and his predecessors in office, Trump will have the power to enlarge that spook machine to levels a Hitler and Stalin could only envy.

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at New York University, spells out those powers and their implications in a post for the center’s blog:

President-elect Donald Trump is about to inherit the most powerful surveillance apparatus in history. Combining unprecedented technological capabilities with a lax legal regime, his spying powers dwarf anything the notorious FBI director J. Edgar Hoover could have fathomed.

Many privacy and civil rights advocates worry Trump will seek to expand these powers further in order to spy on Muslim Americans, activists and political opponents. The truth is, he won’t have to. Because of our country’s rush to strip civil liberty protections from surveillance laws after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Trump will already have all the powers he needs and more.

How did we get here? The laws that until recently safeguarded Americans from sweeping government intrusion were established in the 1970s, after a special Senate investigation revealed widespread abuses of intelligence-gathering. Almost every president dating to Franklin D. Roosevelt had a version of Richard Nixon’s infamous “enemies list,” resulting in wiretaps of congressional staffers, executive officials, lobbyists, law firms and reporters. Between 1956 and 1971, under the program dubbed COINTELPRO (short for “counterintelligence program”), the FBI routinely spied on anti-war protesters and civil rights organizations. The bureau targeted Martin Luther King Jr. with particular ferocity, bugging his hotel rooms and using the resulting evidence of infidelity to try to induce him to commit suicide.

To stem the abuses, the government implemented laws and regulations that shared a common principle: Law enforcement and intelligence agencies could not collect information on an American unless there was reason to suspect that person of wrongdoing. In some cases, this meant showing probable cause and obtaining a warrant, but even when no warrant was required, spying without any indication of criminal activity was forbidden.

The thinking was that if officials had to cite objective indications of misconduct, they wouldn’t be able to use racial bias, political grudges or other improper motives as a reason to spy on people. This logic was borne out, as government surveillance abuses went from being routine to being the occasional scandalous exception.

Then came Sept. 11. As swiftly as the principle had been established, it was rooted out. In 2002, the FBI abolished a rule barring agents from monitoring political or religious gatherings without suspicion of criminal activity. A 2007 law allowed the National Security Agency to collect calls and emails between Americans and foreign “targets” with no warrant or demonstration of wrongdoing by the American or the foreigner. Revisions to Justice Department guidelines in 2008 created a category of FBI investigation requiring no “factual predicate” — meaning no cause for suspicion. The list of erosions goes on.

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Trump’s not Adolf Hitler, says Noam Chomsky


While Adolj Hitler was a sincere, dedicated ideologue, Donald Trump is a thing-skinned megalomaniac, firing off tweets at 3 a.m. when anyone angers him, says Noam Chomsky in this extended interview with Al Jazeera.

And in some ways he’s worse: “The most predictable aspect of Trump is unpredictability. I think it’s dangerous, very dangerous.”

And in many ways, he says, it’s the Republican Party itself that’s the greatest threat to humanity’s future.

Topics covered include the failure of the news media to cover real issues, climate change, Barack Obama’s assassination program, NATO and threats to peace in Eastern Europe, and more

From Al Jazeera English’s UpFront:

Noam Chomsky on the new Trump era

And prepare for a new crusade against Islam


Turns out the Crusades aren’t just a dimly remembered historical era, the Hholy wars launched to seize control of the Middle East and wi the world for Christianity.

They’re very much alive in the minds of the President elect’s National Security Adviser, and he outlines them in a new book, The Field of Fight, penned with Michael Ledeen, a former member of Ted Cruz’s campaign team the man who helped sell the George W. Bush administration on the infamous “yellow cake” forgery used as justification for the invasion of Iraq and the ultimate rise of ISIS.

Ledeen was also the key intermediary in the infamous Iran/Contra Affair that lead to a sale of arms to Iran in return for the promise to free the American Embassy hostages taken after the fall of the corrupt Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a scandal that would permanently tarnish the Reagan administration. And he wants “regime change” in [read war with] Iran.

Oh, and he’s also alleged to have been a key ally of Italy’s spy services in trying to discredit Bill Clinton during his presidency, and he’s a notorious ally of the zealots in Israel’s Likud Party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

[For a dissection of this infamous neocon, see this brilliant Vanity Fair dissection by Craig Unger.]

In other words, if you want a hoax to justify a war, Ledeen’s your go-to guy.

On to the story, from the Washington Post:

The next world war is already here. It’s a religious war. And the United States is losing.

Such is the vision of Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the retired Army three-star general who is set to become White House national security adviser after President-elect Trump takes the oath of office. Thus far, Flynn is best known for his fire-breathing speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer. But six days before leading GOP delegates in a frenzy of “USA!” and “Lock her up!” chants, Flynn published a book detailing this new fight — in his telling, a multi-generational and civilizational conflict against radical Islam. “We’re in a world war,” he writes, “but very few Americans recognize it, and fewer still have any idea how to win it.”

>snip<

Though he calls for “destroying the jihadi armies,” Flynn is as focused on ideological warfare as he is on drone strikes or special operators. While Trump has said he’ll pursue a closer relationship with Russia and Vladi-mir Putin, in his book Flynn regards Moscow as part of a worldwide “enemy alliance” against the United States and concludes that the Russian president is an untrustworthy partner in the fight against the Islamic State.

Perhaps most revealing, Flynn seems quite comfortable with the prospect of a religious war. “This kind of war is not at all new. It created our world,” he writes, citing the Protestant Reformation. “The world badly needs an Islamic Reformation, and we should not be surprised if violence is involved. It’s normal.”

In the parlance of the day, one might say Trump’s national security adviser is normalizing holy wars.