TBR News July 1, 2017

Jul 01 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., July 1, 2017:”During his campaign for the presidency, Trump stated that he planned to bring American business back to the United States from China.

At one point, the President of Taiwan planned to meet with him.

Naturally, the PRC objected to this violation of their ‘One China’ thesis and the PRC president met with Trump after he was elected.

Trump, in public, agreed with the ‘One China’ policy and announced that he would not receive the President of Taiwan.

These matters appeared to have been settled but then suddenly, and without any apparent provocation, Trump’s people announced that the US was going to sell Taiwan $1.42 billion in arms.

Naturally, Beijing was astonished and infuriated at this volte face.

Is there a reason for this blatant violation of an agreement?

There does not appear to be much of any kind of a reason for many of Trump’s actions.”

Table of Contents

  • The president of the United States appears untethered from reality
  • Leaked Trump Tape Could Raise Diplomatic, Political Problems
  • States refuse Trump commission request for U.S. voter data
  • Trump blasts states for refusing to give voter data: Twitter
  • U.S. plans to sell Taiwan about $1.42 billion in arms
  • Security Flaw in Israeli Propaganda App Exposed User Emails
  • NYT Finally Retracts Russia-gate Canard
  • Tread Carefully 
  • Amid Turkey’s Purge, a Renewed Attack on Kurdish Culture
  • German Lawmakers Block Israeli Drone Deal After Discovering They’re Armed
  • Blessed Prozac Moments:
  • No, NASA is not hiding kidnapped children on Mars
  • Megyn Kelly Vivisects Bloated Conspiracy Hog Alex Jones

 The president of the United States appears untethered from reality

The way he treated Morning Joe’s hosts is abnormal. And this abnormality has effects that extend far beyond the fate of the Trump presidency

June 30, 2017

by Richard Wolffe

The Guardian

It’s hard to be disappointed by Donald Trump. Unlike his predecessors, he never promised to heal the nation. Or if he did, nobody believed him.

George W Bush said he was a uniter, not a divider. Barack Obama said there was no red America and no blue America. Only the United States of America. The closest thing to a unity message from Donald Trump came at his curiously underpopulated inauguration, when he said: “When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.”

Sadly, the only unstoppable part of America under Trump is his increasingly outlandish brain farts on Twitter. His best shot at uniting the nation is to create a bipartisan sense of disgust at his outbursts.

The latest rallying point for a beleaguered nation came during one of the many moments when the commander-in-chief was watching television.

Other presidents get their information from highly classified briefings in the situation room, in the west wing basement. This one gets his information from cable news shows on the boob tube, which confusingly includes a show called The Situation Roon

Having said that, Trump should try watching Wolf Blitzer’s finest hour instead of his favorite cardboard cutouts on Fox and Friends. He might learn something.

Instead he finds himself trolled to death by the anchors of MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Disclosure: I used to work with Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and their outstanding team for many years. The commentary that follows has nothing to do with my previous relationship with them, their show, and their channel. If any president said anything similar about any person, it would still represent a midnight plunge into the sewer.

In this case, Trump’s tweets about Mika’s intelligence and appearance are themselves a miserable reflection of his own character.

But even beyond his crass sexism and crudely offensive comments, Trump’s desire to jam his way into live TV news reflects something desperate inside the Oval Office. Presidents of any country should find themselves more than occupied with the affairs of state. Presidents of the United States are in the rare position to be overwhelmingly busy with the world.

It is the hobgoblin of the littlest mind to live-tweet your response to a television show. Especially if that mind belongs to a president.

Of course this story gets worse, much worse. The Morning Joe duo revealed on Friday that the Trump White House tried to blackmail them into shutting up about the president’s unhinged performance. That blackmail included the threat of a story to be published by Trump’s journal of record, the National Enquirer. The story would be spiked if Joe and Mika called to apologize.

In the worlds of politics and television, this is a bizarre turn of events. As the chief executive of the most powerful nation on the planet, what could justify such threats and tactics? It’s tempting to say these are the methods of the mob, but frankly the mafia would not stoop to morning television.

Naturally, Trump himself disputes the Morning Joe account. But strangely not the fact that he had a conversation about the National Enquirer with a TV star.

“Watched low rated @Morning_Joe for the first time in long time,” he tweeted unconvincingly. “FAKE NEWS. He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no! Bad show”.

Presidential historians, please take note: the 45th president of the United States felt the most insulting way to end his message to the nation was to criticize Morning Joe as a “bad show”.

Alternative fact: this is the most brilliant marketing campaign that MSNBC has ever conceived in its 20-year history.

It has become acceptable in the media to question Trump’s attachment to the facts, or to assert that this isn’t normal. These are polite euphemisms. Trump isn’t abnormal: he’s behaving like he’s untethered from reality.

The effects extend far beyond the fate of the Trump presidency and the reputations of all who work for him

Exhibit A is the latest incendiary video produced by the National Rifle Association, which has rolled all the Trump-fueled conspiracies into one giant fireball of a call to arms against the liberal saboteurs who are undermining America. This is the kind of argument made by the fascist paramilitaries and dictatorship who terrorized Latin America for several decades.

“They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler,” says the flamethrower Dana Loesch in the video.

“The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”

At a time of international Islamist terrorism, and domestic white nationalist terrorism, this kind of language is the most reckless form of incitement. For people who specialize in understanding terrorist recruitment, it’s entirely self-destructive.

“The NRA is feeding an us vs them narrative of the kind that fuels all extremist movements,” tweeted Cynthia Storer, who helped track down Osama bin Laden himself while at the CIA. “I should know.”

But maybe that’s what Trump and the NRA want to do. Maybe they represent an extremist movement that is happy to encourage other extremists to jump onto the battlefield with them.

The rest of us should resist in much the same way Mrs Donald Trump suggests. Days before her husband’s election, Melania Trump condemned people who use social media to spread insults and lies. “Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough,” she said.

How right she is. Unfortunately, in five very long months, her husband has made the culture even more mean and rough.

“We need to teach our youth American values: kindness, honesty, respect, compassion, charity, understanding, cooperation,” she said.

She could start right at home. Maybe over dinner tonight, with her husband and their son. It’s what you might call a teachable moment


Leaked Trump Tape Could Raise Diplomatic, Political Problems

June 30, 2017

by Richard (RJ) Eskow

The Intercept

This week my program, The Zero Hour, obtained audio of Donald Trump’s remarks to a lavish Washington fundraiser. Media outlets were quick to highlight Trump’s bashing of CNN when it was first published by The Intercept. But it was clear on first hearing that the recording had implications that went well beyond Trump’s well-documented dislike for the media. Personality quirks and media attacks make good copy, but the diplomatic and political implications of Trump’s remarks are more significant.

Trump delivered his remarks at a $35,000 per person event held at his own hotel, a location that drew inevitable (and warranted) accusations that he is using the presidency for personal enrichment. Attendees looked down from windows in the hotel’s imposing façade like grandees at an auto-da-fé as demonstrators chanted against the GOP’s plans for Dickensian health spending cuts in the streets below.

The personality revealed in the recording is the Donald Trump we have all come to know: narcissistic, vain, and ill-informed.  No news there.  Nor was it surprising to hear Trump speak of his Democratic opponents in personally insulting terms.

But it was notable that Trump characterized his fellow Republicans in somewhat dismissive terms.  He seemed unable to offer the obligatory compliments to party allies without first gloating over the fact that he had brought them to their knees.  The resulting bruised egos may haunt him someday.

House Speaker Paul Ryan once disinvited Trump to a campaign event in his native Wisconsin, saying he was “sickened” by Trump’s remarks about women. Ryan quickly reversed himself when Trump won the nomination, and Trump used the fundraiser to remind listeners of that fact.

“We’ve actually done very well together,” Trump said of Ryan. “He gave me a little hard time during the election (inaudible) but now are getting along great. He’s actually a good man,” Trump said.

The good man was out doing the bidding of Trump, Trump told the audience. “Where’s Paul? He’s here somewhere. Oh, he’s doing another fundraiser, I like that about him. They shipped him to another fundraiser.”

Trump’s shout-out to White House Chief of Staff and former RNC chair Reince Priebus, who is well-known and well-liked by party leaders, included several awkward beats as the president mocked Priebus’ first name.

Trump was particularly rough on Ohio Governor John Kasich, his former rival in the Republican presidential primaries. “We were always told you can’t win unless you win Ohio,” the president said. “I had a little problem with Ohio: The governor was against me, and the Republican Party was against me.”

“Now we have everybody,” the president added. “Actually, the governor was very nice. He called me the day after the victory to congratulate me. I said, ‘You’re a little bit late.’”

Trump will need to win Ohio again in 2020.

On matters of policy, Trump cited waiting times at the VA before offering a solution:

“If they have a nine-day wait,” Trump asked rhetorically, “why don’t they just go see a doctor and our country will pay the doctor? It’s really the least expensive thing that could happen. [We would] have to go out and negotiate some good prices with good doctors … Why don’t we do it?”

Although he was speaking of the VA, Trump had just unwittingly endorsed the concept of Medicare For All.

On the international front, Trump said that he supported NATO but repeated his demand that other countries “pay their fair share,” adding: “Aren’t we tired of being the fools in this country?”

Trump waded heavily into an ongoing confrontation involving Saudi Arabia and its allies on one side and Qatar on the other, when he complimented the Saudi king and accused Qatar of providing “hundreds of millions of dollars” in support for “radical Islamic terrorism.” While there have been accusations against Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s support for fundamentalist groups has also been linked to the spread of terror.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have closed the Qatar border and made a number of “non-negotiable” demands, including the closing of the Al-Jazeera news network.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reportedly trying to mediate between the parties. Trump’s remarks won’t help, especially since he compounded them with a wisecrack about the name “Qatar.”

“We’ve always [pronounced it] Qa-TAR. It’s QAT-er they prefer,” Trump said, adding: “I prefer that they don’t fund terrorists.”

Predictably, mainstream news outlets gave extensive coverage to Trump’s remarks about CNN, its president, and commentator Van Jones. Those remarks ended with Trump wondering whether the president could sue reporters for libel. One legal expert has concluded that he could, although it would be difficult. But another attorney concluded that the president could also be the target of a libel suit, something Trump may want to bear in mind in the future.

We released this recording because we believed it was in the public interest to do so. It offers fertile ground for further investigative journalism, especially regarding Trump’s financial relationships with Saudi Arabia and the likelihood of a political split in the GOP if Trump’s popularity falls among the party’s base voters.

Democrats should bear in mind, however, that Vice President Mike Pence will not be a better president on policy issues, and will probably be worse. Pence would almost certainly also be much more effective at passing the party’s right-wing agenda.


States refuse Trump commission request for U.S. voter data

June 30, 2017

by Chris Kenning


CHICAGO-A growing number of U.S. states refused on Friday to give voters’ names, addresses and sensitive personal information to a commission created by President Donald Trump to investigate alleged voter fraud, saying the demand was unnecessary and violated privacy.

“This commission was formed to try to find basis for the lie that President Trump put forward that has no foundation,” Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes told Reuters in an interview.

Republican Trump has made unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally for his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. He established the panel by executive order in May despite evidence that voter fraud was not widespread.

Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity sent a letter to all 50 states on Wednesday asking them to turn over voter information including names, the last four digits of social security numbers, addresses, birth dates, political affiliation, felony convictions and voting histories.

The request from commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach caused a backlash in states including Virginia, Kentucky, California, New York and Massachusetts, where election officials said they would not provide all the data.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said on Thursday that handing over information would only serve to legitimize debunked claims of widespread voter fraud.

More than 20 states said they would not or could not provide some or all of the information requested, according to statements from election officials and media reports.

Some said certain data such as social security numbers were not publicly available and that they would turn over only public information. Others raised privacy concerns or questioned the need to examine voter fraud.

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said in a statement that he had not seen the letter but would rebuff the commission.

“They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” he said.

Kobach, the secretary of state for Kansas, has been a high-profile advocate of tougher laws on immigration and voter identification.

His office did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Kobach was quoted in a Kansas City Star article as saying that his own state would not provide social security numbers at this time since they are not publicly available. Kobach did not rule out providing that information in the future.

In his letter, a copy of which was provided to Reuters by the Connecticut Secretary of State’s office, Kobach also asked states for feedback on how to improve election integrity and for evidence of voter fraud and convictions of voter-related crimes since 2000.

Civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers have called the commission a tactic to suppress votes against Republicans.

“States are right to balk at turning over massive reams of personal information in what clearly is a campaign to suppress the vote,” Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, said in a statement on Friday.

While the public availability of voter data varies by state, the request raises privacy concerns, said Richard Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, professor who studies election law.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Ben Klayman and Grant McCool)


Trump blasts states for refusing to give voter data: Twitter

July 1, 2017


President Donald Trump lashed out on Saturday at the growing number of states refusing to give voters’ names, addresses and sensitive personal information to a commission he created to investigate alleged voter fraud.

“Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?” Trump said on Twitter.

More than 20 states have declined the requests, saying they are unnecessary and violated privacy, according to statements from election officials and media reports.

“This commission was formed to try to find basis for the lie that President Trump put forward that has no foundation,” Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Gr

Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity sent a letter to all 50 states on Wednesday asking them to turn over voter information including names, the last four digits of social security numbers, addresses, birth dates, political affiliation, felony convictions and voting histories.

Republican Trump has made unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally for his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. He established the panel by executive order in May despite evidence that voter fraud was not widespread

The request from commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach caused a backlash in states including Virginia, Kentucky, California, New York and Massachusetts, where election officials said they would not provide all the data.

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann had said in a statement that he did not see the letter but would rebuff the commission.

“They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” he said.

(Reporting by Joel Schectman and Chris Kenning; Editing by Bernard Orr)


U.S. plans to sell Taiwan about $1.42 billion in arms

June 30, 2017

by David Brunnstrom and Arshad Mohammed


WASHINGTON-The United States plans to sell Taiwan $1.42 billion in arms, the first such sale under the administration of Donald Trump and a move sure to anger China, whose help the president has been seeking to rein in North Korea.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters the administration had told Congress of the seven proposed sales on Thursday.

“It’s now valued about $1.42 billion,” she said.

The State Department said the package included technical support for early warning radar, high speed anti-radiation missiles, torpedoes and missile components.

Nauert said the sales showed U.S. “support for Taiwan’s ability to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” but there was no change to the United States’ long-standing “one China” policy, which recognizes Beijing and not Taipei.

The United States is the sole arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-ruled island under its control.

Beijing has given Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen the cold shoulder since she took power last year because she leads an independence-leaning ruling party and refuses to recognize the “one China” policy.

On Friday, Tsai’s office said that her government will continue “to seek constructive dialogue with Beijing, and promote positive developments in cross-strait relations.”

“(The arms sale) increases Taiwan’s confidence and ability to maintain the status quo of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Tsai’s office tweeted.

Asked about the sale at an event on Thursday evening in Washington, China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai said the United States was “incorrigible” when it comes to Taiwan, the official party paper the People’s Daily reported on its website.

“But we should still continue to instruct (them) and continue advancing on the right track of China-U.S. relations because this is what truly fits with for both countries’ long term interests,” the paper quoted Cui as saying.

The sale, which requires congressional approval, would be the first to Taiwan under Trump and the first since a $1.83 billion sale that former President Barack Obama announced in December 2015, to China’s dismay.

The previous package included two navy frigates in addition to anti-tank missiles and amphibious attack vehicles.

A State Department official said the latest package primarily represented “upgrades to existing defense capabilities aimed at converting current legacy systems from analog to digital.”

Taiwan’s defense ministry said the items would enhance air and sea combat capability and early warning defenses. It said Taiwan and the United States would continue to consolidate their security partnership to contribute to long-term stability in the region.


In a strong sign of congressional support, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee welcomed what he called the “long-overdue” arms sale.

“Sales of defensive weapons, based on Taiwan’s needs, are a key provision of our commitments as laid out by the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances,” said Rep. Ed Royce, referring to legislation and informal guidelines that steer U.S. relations with Taiwan.

Earlier on Thursday, China responded angrily and said it had protested to Washington after a U.S. Senate committee approved a bill calling for the resumption of port visits to Taiwan by the U.S. Navy for the first time since the United States adopted a one-China policy in 1979.

The bill also directs the Pentagon to help Taiwan develop an indigenous undersea warfare program and recommends strengthened strategic cooperation with Taipei.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said the bill was in violation of the principles of U.S.-China relations and called on Washington to halt military drills with and arms sales to Taiwan “to avoid further impairing broadly cooperative China-U.S. relations.”

U.S. officials told Reuters this week that Trump – who alarmed Beijing after assuming office by breaking with decades of precedent and talking to Taiwan’s president – was becoming increasingly frustrated with China over its inaction on North Korea and trade.

According to the officials, Trump is now considering trade actions against Beijing, despite having heaped praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping after an April summit.

Also on Thursday, Washington stepped up pressure on Beijing by imposing sanctions on two Chinese citizens and a shipping company for helping North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and accusing a Chinese bank of laundering money for Pyongyang.

Trump plans to meet Xi again on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany next week, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, David Brunnstrom and Yeganeh Torbati; Additional reporting by J.R. Wu in TAIPEI and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING; Editing by Richard Chang, Jonathan Oatis, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

Security Flaw in Israeli Propaganda App Exposed User Emails

June 30 2017

by Mattathias Schwartz

The Intercept

A propaganda app connected to the Israeli government failed to include basic privacy and security protections, putting the email addresses of at least 1,900 of the Israeli government’s most ardent supporters at risk. The vulnerabilities in the app, called Act.il, were discovered by an independent security researcher, who disclosed the flaws to the Intercept.

Act.il has been touted for months by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs. It was funded by three non-profit partners — Maccabee Task Force, a pro-Israel campus group; the Israeli-American Council, a non-profit that promotes ties between the U.S. and Israel; and IDC Herzliya, an Israeli research institution. All three organizations receive substantial funding from the billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has poured money into right-wing pro-Israel causes and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“I was shocked to find that email addresses for users were being shared across the Internet whenever a search is performed,” said the security researcher, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid repercussions from the Israeli government and its supporters. The researcher provided the Intercept with a list of email addresses gleaned from Act.il’s users as well as proof that anyone with rudimentary programming skills could obtain the same information by watching the app’s network traffic.

The Intercept informed Rallyware, the app’s developer, of the vulnerability last week and provided additional details on June 25. On June 28, Rallyware acknowledged by email that they had changed the app in response to The Intercept’s inquiry. “Due to the open community nature of the Act.il app, certain user information was shared among community members,” Rallyware wrote. “As your initial question suggested an opportunity for abuse of that feature, we have since limited this functionality.”

The security researcher who first discovered the vulnerability agreed that it had been “patched.”

Act.il is part of a series of efforts by the Israeli government and its supporters at hasbara, a Hebrew word for explanation that is frequently used to describe public diplomacy or propaganda by Israel and its advocates. Programs dealing with hasbara are part of a long-running effort to influence Western audiences’ perceptions of Israeli policy. “Starting today, you are going to tell the whole world the real truth about Israel,” said the Israeli model Yityish Aynaw, in a video promoting the act.il. Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, pointed to the involvement of Gilad Erdan, who heads up Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

The security flaws allowed users to gain access to other users’ information. Anyone can see the names and avatars of Act.il users by creating an account and logging into the app. But user email addresses, which appear to be private, can be easily collected through the app’s public-facing interface. A somewhat similar vulnerability led to the exposure of email addresses belong to more than 100,000 early iPad buyers in 2010.

In the age of social media, many governments seek to deploy armies of sympathetic followers to endorse their messages and spread them through social networks. Rather than rent out mercenaries — bot armies, hackers, and click farms — Act.il is part of an attempt to muster a reliable corps of sympathetic volunteers to do this work of spreading pro-government messages.

But not everyone on the app was a mere volunteer. A review by the Intercept of the email addresses that became available through the security flaws suggested that dozens of Act.il’s earliest users have email addresses connected to organizations that funded or developed the app. That means Act.il, which purports to be a grassroots campaign, was essentially seeded with paid activists.

Available in both Hebrew and English, Act.il awards users badges and points for completing “missions” — tasks or assignments — that involve spreading news stories and other messages through social media. Most promote positions taken by right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and focus on pushing back against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (or BDS) movement. BDS seeks to leverage non-violent tactics to punish Israel economically for its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories. According to another Haaretz report, Erdan, the Israeli minister has attempted to set-up an internal government database to track Israeli supporters of the BDS movement.

One recent Act.il mission required users to report an anti-Semitic caricature — a skull-faced woman with a Star of David on her chest, squatting on a globe and nursing the devil — to Facebook moderators. Others told users to retweet specific reports. One assignment highlighted Israeli counter-terrorism cooperation with British authorities. Another called on participants to promote a media story that Warren Buffett was going to push private investors to buy Israeli bonds.

A skeptical report on the campaign from Haaretz pointed out that Act.il gave a slanted label to an in-depth Al Jazeera video on the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, calling it “demonization and incitement.”

The security researcher told the Intercept that Act.il’s leakage of personal information reflects badly on the claim that the app’s claim to help protect the state of Israel. Email addresses, they added, can be used by hackers as an “attack vector” for delivering malware and spear-phishing for passwords. Spear-phishing was famously deployed last year against the Gmail account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

NYT Finally Retracts Russia-gate Canard

A founding Russia-gate myth is that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies agreed that Russia hacked into and distributed Democratic emails, a falsehood that The New York Times has belatedly retracted

June 29, 2017

by Robert Parry

Consortium News

The New York Times has finally admitted that one of the favorite Russia-gate canards – that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concurred on the assessment of Russian hacking of Democratic emails – is false.

On Thursday, the Times appended a correction to a June 25 article that had repeated the false claim, which has been used by Democrats and the mainstream media for months to brush aside any doubts about the foundation of the Russia-gate scandal and portray President Trump as delusional for doubting what all 17 intelligence agencies supposedly knew to be true.

In the Times’ White House Memo of June 25, correspondent Maggie Haberman mocked Trump for “still refus[ing] to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get him elected.”

However, on Thursday, the Times – while leaving most of Haberman’s ridicule of Trump in place – noted in a correction that the relevant intelligence “assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”

The Times’ grudging correction was vindication for some Russia-gate skeptics who had questioned the claim of a full-scale intelligence assessment, which would usually take the form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE), a product that seeks out the views of the entire Intelligence Community and includes dissents.

The reality of a more narrowly based Russia-gate assessment was admitted in May by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan in sworn congressional testimony.

Clapper testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8 that the Russia-hacking claim came from a “special intelligence community assessment” (or ICA) produced by selected analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI, “a coordinated product from three agencies – CIA, NSA, and the FBI – not all 17 components of the intelligence community,” the former DNI said.

Clapper further acknowledged that the analysts who produced the Jan. 6 assessment on alleged Russian hacking were “hand-picked” from the CIA, FBI and NSA.

Yet, as any intelligence expert will tell you, if you “hand-pick” the analysts, you are really hand-picking the conclusion. For instance, if the analysts were known to be hard-liners on Russia or supporters of Hillary Clinton, they could be expected to deliver the one-sided report that they did.

Politicized Intelligence

In the history of U.S. intelligence, we have seen how this selective approach has worked, such as the phony determination of the Reagan administration pinning the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II and other acts of terror on the Soviet Union.

CIA Director William Casey and Deputy Director Robert Gates shepherded the desired findings through the process by putting the assessment under the control of pliable analysts and sidelining those who objected to this politicization of intelligence.

The point of enlisting the broader intelligence community – and incorporating dissents into a final report – is to guard against such “stove-piping” of intelligence that delivers the politically desired result but ultimately distorts reality.

Another painful example of politicized intelligence was President George W. Bush’s 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD that removed State Department and other dissents from the declassified version that was given to the public.

Since Clapper’s and Brennan’s testimony in May, the Times and other mainstream news outlets have avoided a direct contradiction of their earlier acceptance of the 17-intelligence-agencies canard by simply referring to a judgment by “the intelligence community.”

That finessing of their earlier errors has allowed Hillary Clinton and other senior Democrats to continue referencing this fictional consensus without challenge, at least in the mainstream media.

For instance, on May 31 at a technology conference in California, Clinton referred to the Jan. 6 report, asserting that “Seventeen agencies, all in agreement, which I know from my experience as a Senator and Secretary of State, is hard to get. They concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign, to influence voters in the election.”

The failure of the major news organizations to clarify this point about the 17 agencies may have contributed to Haberman’s mistake on June 25 as she simply repeated the groupthink that nearly all the Important People in Washington just knew to be true.

But the Times’ belated correction also underscores the growing sense that the U.S. mainstream media has joined in a political vendetta against Trump and has cast aside professional standards to the point of repeating false claims designed to denigrate him.

That, in turn, plays into Trump’s Twitter complaints that he and his administration are the targets of a “witch hunt” led by the “fake news” media, a grievance that appears to be energizing his supporters and could discredit whatever ongoing investigations eventually conclude.

Tread Carefully 

The Folly of the Next Afghan “Surge”

July 1, 2017

by Danny Sjursen


We walked in a single file. Not because it was tactically sound. It wasn’t — at least according to standard infantry doctrine. Patrolling southern Afghanistan in column formation limited maneuverability, made it difficult to mass fire, and exposed us to enfilading machine-gun bursts. Still, in 2011, in the Pashmul District of Kandahar Province, single file was our best bet.

The reason was simple enough: improvised bombs not just along roads but seemingly everywhere.  Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. Who knew?

That’s right, the local “Taliban” — a term so nebulous it’s basically lost all meaning — had managed to drastically alter U.S. Army tactics with crude, homemade explosives stored in plastic jugs. And believe me, this was a huge problem. Cheap, ubiquitous, and easy to bury, those anti-personnel Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, soon littered the “roads,” footpaths, and farmland surrounding our isolated outpost. To a greater extent than a number of commanders willingly admitted, the enemy had managed to nullify our many technological advantages for a few pennies on the dollar (or maybe, since we’re talking about the Pentagon, it was pennies on the millions of dollars).

Truth be told, it was never really about our high-tech gear.  Instead, American units came to rely on superior training and discipline, as well as initiative and maneuverability, to best their opponents.  And yet those deadly IEDs often seemed to even the score, being both difficult to detect and brutally effective. So there we were, after too many bloody lessons, meandering along in carnival-like, Pied Piper-style columns. Bomb-sniffing dogs often led the way, followed by a couple of soldiers carrying mine detectors, followed by a few explosives experts. Only then came the first foot soldiers, rifles at the ready. Anything else was, if not suicide, then at least grotesquely ill-advised.

And mind you, our improvised approach didn’t always work either. To those of us out there, each patrol felt like an ad hoc round of Russian roulette.  In that way, those IEDs completely changed how we operated, slowing movement, discouraging extra patrols, and distancing us from what was then considered the ultimate “prize”: the local villagers, or what was left of them anyway.  In a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign, which is what the U.S. military was running in Afghanistan in those years, that was the definition of defeat.

Strategic Problems in Microcosm

My own unit faced a dilemma common to dozens — maybe hundreds — of other American units in Afghanistan. Every patrol was slow, cumbersome, and risky. The natural inclination, if you cared about your boys, was to do less. But effective COIN operations require securing territory and gaining the trust of the civilians living there. You simply can’t do that from inside a well-protected American base. One obvious option was to live in the villages — which we eventually did — but that required dividing up the company into smaller groups and securing a second, third, maybe fourth location, which quickly became problematic, at least for my 82-man cavalry troop (when at full strength). And, of course, there were no less than five villages in my area of responsibility.

I realize, writing this now, that there’s no way I can make the situation sound quite as dicey as it actually was.  How, for instance, were we to “secure and empower” a village population that was, by then, all but nonexistent?  Years, even decades, of hard fighting, air strikes, and damaged crops had left many of those villages in that part of Kandahar Province little more than ghost towns, while cities elsewhere in the country teemed with uprooted and dissatisfied peasant refugees from the countryside.

Sometimes, it felt as if we were fighting over nothing more than a few dozen deserted mud huts.  And like it or not, such absurdity exemplified America’s war in Afghanistan.  It still does.  That was the view from the bottom.  Matters weren’t — and aren’t — measurably better at the top.  As easily as one reconnaissance troop could be derailed, so the entire enterprise, which rested on similarly shaky foundations, could be unsettled.

At a moment when the generals to whom President Trump recently delegated decision-making powers on U.S. troop strength in that country consider a new Afghan “surge,” it might be worth looking backward and zooming out just a bit. Remember, the very idea of “winning” the Afghan War, which left my unit in that collection of mud huts, rested (and still rests) on a few rather grandiose assumptions.

The first of these surely is that the Afghans actually want (or ever wanted) us there; the second, that the country was and still is vital to our national security; and the third, that 10,000, 50,000, or even 100,000 foreign troops ever were or now could be capable of “pacifying” an insurgency, or rather a growing set of insurgencies, or securing 33 million souls, or facilitating a stable, representative government in a heterogeneous, mountainous, landlocked country with little history of democracy.

The first of these points is at least debatable. As you might imagine, any kind of accurate polling is quite difficult, if not impossible, outside the few major population centers in that isolated country.  Though many Afghans, particularly urban ones, may favor a continued U.S. military presence, others clearly wonder what good a new influx of foreigners will do in their endlessly war-torn nation.  As one high-ranking Afghan official recently lamented, thinking undoubtedly of the first use in his land of the largest non-nuclear bomb on the planet, “Is the plan just to use our country as a testing ground for bombs?” And keep in mind that the striking rise in territory the Taliban now controls, the most since they were driven from power in 2001, suggests that the U.S. presence is hardly welcomed everywhere.

The second assumption is far more difficult to argue or justify.  To say the least, classifying a war in far-away Afghanistan as “vital” relies on a rather pliable definition of the term.  If that passes muster — if bolstering the Afghan military to the tune of (at least) tens of billions of dollars annually and thousands of new boots-on-the-ground in order to deny safe haven to “terrorists” is truly “vital” — then logically the current U.S. presences in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen are critical as well and should be similarly fortified.  And what about the growing terror groups in Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Tunisia, and so on?  We’re talking about a truly expensive proposition here — in blood and treasure.  But is it true?  Rational analysis suggests it is not.  After all, on average about seven Americans were killed by Islamist terrorists on U.S. soil annually from 2005 to 2015.  That puts terrorism deaths right up there with shark attacks and lightning strikes.  The fear is real, the actual danger… less so.

As for the third point, it’s simply preposterous. One look at U.S. military attempts at “nation-building” or post-conflict stabilization and pacification in Iraq, Libya, or — dare I say — Syria should settle the issue. It’s often said that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Yet here we are, 14 years after the folly of invading Iraq and many of the same voices — inside and outside the administration — are clamoring for one more “surge” in Afghanistan (and, of course, will be clamoring for the predictable surges to follow across the Greater Middle East).

The very idea that the U.S. military had the ability to usher in a secure Afghanistan is grounded in a number of preconditions that proved to be little more than fantasies.  First, there would have to be a capable, reasonably corruption-free local governing partner and military.  That’s a nonstarter.  Afghanistan’s corrupt, unpopular national unity government is little better than the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam in the 1960s and that American war didn’t turn out so well, did it?  Then there’s the question of longevity.  When it comes to the U.S. military presence there, soon to head into its 16th year, how long is long enough?  Several mainstream voices, including former Afghan commander General David Petraeus, are now talking about at least a “generation” more to successfully pacify Afghanistan.  Is that really feasible given America’s growing resource constraints and the ever expanding set of dangerous “ungoverned spaces” worldwide?

And what could a new surge actually do?  The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is essentially a fragmented series of self-contained bases, each of which needs to be supplied and secured.  In a country of its size, with a limited transportation infrastructure, even the 4,000-5,000 extra troops the Pentagon is reportedly considering sending right now won’t go very far.

Now, zoom out again.  Apply the same calculus to the U.S. position across the Greater Middle East and you face what we might start calling the Afghan paradox, or my own quandary safeguarding five villages with only 82 men writ large.  Do the math.  The U.S. military is already struggling to keep up with its commitments.  At what point is Washington simply spinning its proverbial wheels?  I’ll tell you when — yesterday.

Now, think about those three questionable Afghan assumptions and one uncomfortable actuality leaps forth. The only guiding force left in the American strategic arsenal is inertia.

What Surge 4.0 Won’t Do — I Promise…

Remember something: this won’t be America’s first Afghan “surge.”  Or its second, or even its third.  No, this will be the U.S. military’s fourth crack at it.  Who feels lucky?  First came President George W. Bush’s “quiet” surge back in 2008.  Next, just one month into his first term, newly minted President Barack Obama sent 17,000 more troops to fight his so-called good war (unlike the bad one in Iraq) in southern Afghanistan.  After a testy strategic review, he then committed 30,000 additional soldiers to the “real” surge a year later.  That’s what brought me (and the rest of B Troop, 4-4 Cavalry) to Pashmul district in 2011.  We left — most of us — more than five years ago, but of course about 8,800 American military personnel remain today and they are the basis for the surge to come.

To be fair, Surge 4.0 might initially deliver certain modest gains (just as each of the other three did in their day).  Realistically, more trainers, air support, and logistics personnel could indeed stabilize some Afghan military units for some limited amount of time.  Sixteen years into the conflict, with 10% as many American troops on the ground as at the war’s peak, and after a decade-plus of training, Afghan security forces are still being battered by the insurgents.  In the last years, they’ve been experiencing record casualties, along with the usual massive stream of desertions and the legions of “ghost soldiers” who can neither die nor desert because they don’t exist, although their salaries do (in the pockets of their commanders or other lucky Afghans).  And that’s earned them a “stalemate,” which has left the Taliban and other insurgent groups in control of a significant part of the country.  And if all goes well (which isn’t exactly a surefire thing), that’s likely to be the best that Surge 4.0 can produce: a long, painful tie.

Peel back the onion’s layers just a bit more and the ostensible reasons for America’s Afghan War vanish along with all the explanatory smoke and mirrors. After all, there are two things the upcoming “mini-surge” will emphatically not do:

*It won’t change a failing strategic formula.

Imagine that formula this way: American trainers + Afghan soldiers + loads of cash + (unspecified) time = a stable Afghan government and lessening Taliban influence.

It hasn’t worked yet, of course, but — so the surge-believers assure us — that’s because we need more: more troops, more money, more time.  Like so many loyal Reaganites, their answers are always supply-side ones and none of them ever seems to wonder whether, almost 16 years later, the formula itself might not be fatally flawed.

According to news reports, no solution being considered by the current administration will even deal with the following interlocking set of problems: Afghanistan is a large, mountainous, landlocked, ethno-religiously heterogeneous, poor country led by a deeply corrupt government with a deeply corrupt military.  In a place long known as a “graveyard of empires,” the United States military and the Afghan Security Forces continue to wage what one eminent historian has termed “fortified compound warfare.”  Essentially, Washington and its local allies continue to grapple with relatively conventional threats from exceedingly mobile Taliban fighters across a porous border with Pakistan, a country that has offered not-so-furtive support and a safe haven for those adversaries.  And the Washington response to this has largely been to lock its soldiers inside those fortified compounds (and focus on protecting them against “insider attacks” by those Afghans it works with and trains).  It hasn’t worked.  It can’t.  It won’t.

Consider an analogous example.  In Vietnam, the United States never solved the double conundrum of enemy safe havens and a futile search for legitimacy.  The Vietcong guerillas and North Vietnamese Army used nearby Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam to rest, refit, and replenish.  U.S. troops meanwhile lacked legitimacy because their corrupt South Vietnamese partners lacked it.

Sound familiar?  We face the same two problems in Afghanistan: a Pakistani safe haven and a corrupt, unpopular central government in Kabul.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, in any future troop surge will effectively change that.

*It won’t pass the logical fallacy test.

The minute you really think about it, the whole argument for a surge or mini-surge instantly slides down a philosophical slippery slope.

If the war is really about denying terrorists safe havens in ungoverned or poorly governed territory, then why not surge more troops into Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan (where al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin-Laden are believed to be safely ensconced), Iraq, Syria, Chechnya, Dagestan (where one of the Boston Marathon bombers was radicalized), or for that matter Paris or London.  Every one of those places has harbored and/or is harboring terrorists.  Maybe instead of surging yet again in Afghanistan or elsewhere, the real answer is to begin to realize that all the U.S. military in its present mode of operation can do to change that reality is make it worse.  After all, the last 15 years offer a vision of how it continually surges and in the process only creates yet more ungovernable lands and territories.

So much of the effort, now as in previous years, rests on an evident desire among military and political types in Washington to wage the war they know, the one their army is built for: battles for terrain, fights that can be tracked and measured on maps, the sort of stuff that staff officers (like me) can display on ever more-complicated PowerPoint slides.  Military men and traditional policymakers are far less comfortable with ideological warfare, the sort of contest where their instinctual proclivity to “do something” is often counterproductive.

As U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24 — General David Petraeus’ highly touted counterinsurgency “bible” — wisely opined: “Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.”  It’s high time to follow such advice (even if it’s not the advice that Petraeus himself is offering anymore).

As for me, call me a deep-dyed skeptic when it comes to what 4,000 or 5,000 more U.S. troops can do to secure or stabilize a country where most of the village elders I met couldn’t tell you how old they were.  A little foreign policy humility goes a long way toward not heading down that slippery slope.  Why, then, do Americans continue to deceive themselves?  Why do they continue to believe that even 100,000 boys from Indiana and Alabama could alter Afghan society in a way Washington would like?  Or any other foreign land for that matter?

I suppose some generals and policymakers are just plain gamblers.  But before putting your money on the next Afghan surge, it might be worth flashing back to the limitations, struggles, and sacrifices of just one small unit in one tiny, contested district of southern Afghanistan in 2011…

Lonely Pashmul

So, on we walked — single file, step by treacherous step — for nearly a year.  Most days things worked out.  Until they didn’t.  Unfortunately, some soldiers found bombs the hard way: three dead, dozens wounded, one triple amputee.  So it went and so we kept on going.  Always onward. Ever forward. For America? Afghanistan? Each other? No matter.  And so it seems other Americans will keep on going in 2017, 2018, 2019…

Lift foot. Hold breath. Step. Exhale.

Keep walking… to defeat… but together.

Amid Turkey’s Purge, a Renewed Attack on Kurdish Culture

June 29, 2017

by Patrick Kingsley

New York Times

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — Gosto’s kebab shop is not the only diner on its block, let alone on its street. It is, however, the one that perhaps reveals most about the threat to Kurdish culture.

Its owner and manager — the cheery, chubby Vural Tantekin — turned to the kebab trade only in January, after the city authorities sacked most members of his municipally run theater troupe.

“The reason,” said Mr. Tantekin, during an interview squeezed between kebab orders, “was to stop us from performing in Kurdish.”

For people like Mr. Tantekin, the fate of Diyarbakir’s theater troupe is emblematic of an ongoing assault on Kurdish culture at large.

Since the founding of the Turkish republic in 1923, which enshrined a monocultural national identity, the country’s sizable Kurdish minority — around 20 percent of the population — has often been banned from expressing its own culture or, at times, from speaking the Kurdish language.

Turkey’s current leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, loosened many of these restrictions toward the end of the last decade, in what some described as a “Kurdish opening.” But repression began again after a cease-fire with Kurdish militants fell apart in 2015. It accelerated further during the crackdown that followed last year’s failed coup.

The crackdown was nominally intended to target the plotters of the putsch. But it has also been used as a smoke screen to squeeze other groups and movements that promote narratives deemed problematic by the government. More than 140,000 people have been fired or suspended from their jobs, and up to 50,000 have been arrested. Among them are those who, like Mr. Tantekin, promote the concept of a unique Kurdish culture.

The suffocation of Kurdish expression in Turkey constituted the latest rollback of reforms Mr. Erdogan put in place during his first decade in power.

Yet the fate of the Kurds has long been one of the central themes in the recent history of the region; one that ignores borders. Kurds in Turkey have been inspired by Kurdish gains in Iraq and Syria, two countries where the Kurds were repressed. Across Turkey’s southeastern border, Kurds run an autonomous zone in northeast Iraq and will hold an independence referendum in September. To Turkey’s south, Syrian Kurds have carved out a territory in northeast Syria and their militias are America’s main partner in the campaign to retake Raqqa, the proclaimed capital of the Islamic State.

And continued successes of those movements will likely further encourage the ambitions of the Turkish Kurds.

Across southeast Turkey, where most people are Kurdish, Mr. Erdogan’s government fired over 80 elected mayors and replaced them with state-appointed trustees. Here in Diyarbakir, the spiritual capital of Turkish Kurdistan, the trustee not only fired most of the city’s municipally employed actors, but also 80 percent of the staff of the municipal department that promoted the teaching of Kurdish and other minority languages.

In towns across the region, trustees have changed the names of streets previously named for prominent Kurdish figures, or removed statues of Kurdish heroes. More than a dozen lawmakers from the main pro-Kurdish party have been arrested in recent months. A Kurdish artist was jailed for doing a painting of the ruins of Nusaybin, one of several Kurdish towns partly destroyed in 2015 during fighting between the Turkish army and Kurdish militants.

Kurdish or pro-Kurdish journalists are some of the principal victims of the post-coup crackdown on free speech. According to the Free Journalist Society, a now-banned, pro-Kurdish news media watchdog, 173 journalists are now in Turkish prisons; of those, 50 worked for Kurdish or pro-Kurdish news outlets.

Turkey’s only Kurdish-language newspaper, Azadiya Welat, was closed last summer — along with at least 10 television channels that broadcast, at least in part, in Kurdish. Even a Kurdish cartoon channel, Zarok TV, was banned for several months before being allowed to reopen in December.

The government says all these closures, bans and arrests are legitimate.

Those fired or now in jail were representatives of or apologists for the P.K.K., the main Kurdish militant group, said Galip Ensarioglu, a lawmaker from Mr. Erdogan’s party who represents Diyarbakir in Parliament. Their dismissal, Mr. Ensarioglu added, does not amount to a crackdown on Kurdish culture, but on the supporters of terrorism.

“There might be some people who were purged because they were considered dangerous — or people who were doing political activities under the name of cultural activities — but never, ever have cultural activities been stopped,” Mr. Ensarioglu said in an interview.

The question of who has the right to speak for Kurdish culture is complex, since Kurds are not a single homogeneous block. Around 30 percent of Diyarbakir’s residents voted with the government in a referendum to grant sweeping powers to Mr. Erdogan’s office. Tens of thousands of Kurds across southeastern Turkey also belong to the Village Guards, a state-sanctioned militia that assists Turkish soldiers in their fight against the P.K.K.

Mr. Erdogan’s Kurdish critics, however, say there is nothing ambiguous about the government’s intentions.

“The aim of the government is very clear,” said Hakki Boltan, the head of the Free Journalist Society, and a former editor in chief of Azadiya Welat. “The policy is to end the Kurdish political movement and the wider Kurdish culture.”

The crackdown on Kurdish culture caught some by surprise, because until recently Mr. Erdogan was widely perceived to have eased restrictions on Kurdish life and language. He also brokered a historic cease-fire with the P.K.K.

Though never enshrining Kurdish as an official language in the Turkish Constitution, he allowed a limited amount of Kurdish-language classes at the high school level and opened a Kurdish-language television channel.

But the situation began to unravel in June 2015, when the peace process broke down, and Mr. Erdogan began once more to tighten restrictions on Kurdish society. Mr. Erdogan’s supporters argue that his hand had been forced: “It was the P.K.K. that said they were done with the peace process,” Mr. Ensarioglu said.

Mr. Erdogan’s critics, however, have another narrative: that by this point Mr. Erdogan was spoiling for a fight. His party had just suffered its worst electoral performance in a decade, hemorrhaging votes to both a new pro-Kurdish alliance and a right-wing nationalist party that opposed his Kurdish overhauls.

Feeling betrayed by Kurdish voters and seeking to win back the nationalists, Mr. Erdogan had already decided to revert to the Turkish state’s traditional stance on Kurdish issues — or so the argument goes.

“Simply to get nationalist support,” said Mehmet Kaya, the head of the Tigris Social Research Center, a think tank based in Diyarbakir, “there began a complete cultural and political attack on the Kurds.”

In Diyarbakir, that perceived policy has involved firing the city’s two co-mayors and canceling plans they promoted to introduce intensive, yearlong, state-funded Kurdish courses for anyone of any age or standard.

The Kurdish name for the city, Amed, was later removed from some city signs, in a move that was repeated in other Kurdish towns. In Van, for instance, about 250 miles away, the state-appointed trustee renamed a park previously named for Tahir Elci, a popular Kurdish lawyer.

In Sur, the ancient district at the center of Diyarbakir, an even more controversial transformation is underway. Contained within a ring of walls first built during the Roman era, Sur was until recently a charming warren of winding streets that many Kurds regarded as the symbolic heart of the Kurdish nation.

But now much of Sur is not only destroyed but also sealed off. Some 2,000 buildings are estimated to have been destroyed or damaged in the fighting and 20,000 residents displaced.

The provincial governor, Huseyin Aksoy, says the area will be rebuilt according to its original character, along the lines of a renovation plan agreed to in 2012 by the mayor, who was pro-Kurdish.

“When’s it’s finished,” Mr. Aksoy said in an interview, “the old atmosphere of Sur will return again.”

Some locals scoff at this.

“They want to Turkify and Islamify the area,” said Abdullah Demirbas, a former mayor of Sur.

Some caution, nevertheless, that the state is not the only obstacle to Kurdish cultural expression. After Abdullah Keskin — the head of Avesta, Turkey’s largest Kurdish-language publisher — criticized Kurdish insurgents for starting a fight in residential districts like Sur, a depot housing his books mysteriously burned down a few days later.

Life was also worse in the past for the Kurdish community, Mr. Keskin says. When he was a child, even Kurdish music was banned. When his family — who lived just north of the Syrian border — held a wedding, they had to enlist Syrian Kurds to perform Kurdish music from the southern side of the border.

Things have not yet reached that level today, Mr. Keskin says. So far this year, his company alone has published more Kurdish books than the entire Kurdish community managed to during the first 60 years of the Turkish republic. But he allows that the government’s actions in the last two years still constitute “a kind of coup against Kurdish language and culture.”

Here and there, however, artists and activists are trying to make the most of a tough situation. Mr. Tantekin, the actor, has left the trade. But several of his former colleagues have set up their own private theater in the basement of a mall.

Their former theater fit 1,700. This tiny basement seats just 80. But it is a sart, says Berfin Emektar, one of the players.

“The show,” she said with a smile, “goes on.”

German Lawmakers Block Israeli Drone Deal After Discovering They’re Armed

The drone deal was estimated at 580 million euros, for the leasing of three to five remotely-piloted vehicles

June 29, 2017

by Gili Cohen and Reuters


A deal for Germany to lease Israeli drones has been blocked by the former’s Social Democratic Party because the unmanned vehicles can carry weapons, according to Die Welt newspaper.

The SPD blocked the deal to lease the Israeli-made remotely piloted Heron TP vehicles (known locally as the Eitan) from the Israel Aerospace Industries in the Bundestag’s budget committee, the German newspaper reported on Wednesday evening.

The drone deal was estimated at 580 million euros for the leasing of three to five remotely-piloted vehicles.

Despite the report, Israel is still hoping thje deal will go ahead, even if not under the current German parliament.

When the deal was announced last year, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that the drones were chosen because they can be armed, adding that “it is important for the protection of soldiers.” But this ability to carry weapons was also the main reason for the SPD’s objections to the deal.

The German parliament is now about to begin its summer recess and a national election is scheduled for September. Die Welt reported that members of parliament said the deal was “dead” – but the possibility still exists, though rather unlikely, that it will be brought back for approval after the election.

In Israel, the battle over the leasing of the drones was not only a political matter but was also preceded by a legal struggle with American weapons maker General Atomics. The company petitioned the German courts to cancel the Israeli deal, but the petition was rejected in May.

Sources in the Israeli defense establishment have expressed hope in recent months that despite the conflict between the Israeli and American defense industries, the Israeli drone is the one that will be chosen in the end.

Germany already has three earlier versions of the Heron reconnaissance drone, which are deployed in Afghanistan. They are maintained by Airbus and cannot be armed.  The new drones are to serve as an interim measure until the EU develops its own, von der Leyen said. Germany, France, Italy and Spain plan to jointly develop a drone by 2025.

The possibility of a compromise was raised recently. According to the compromise, Germany would only buy the drones – but without any additional armaments. But when it was discovered that the training for using the drones would require arming them, the compromise was no longer acceptable to the SPD lawmakers.

The procurement of the drones, favored by the military because they are compatible with models they already own, has been a matter of contention between the parties in the ruling coalition government.

The deal is considered unusual because the drones are being leased rather than purchased. The deal would have based the drones in Israel and German RPV pilots would have operated them from Israel – at least at the beginning. Haaretz reported in the past that the German drone operators would be trained on simulators at Israeli air force bases.

Blessed Prozac Moments

No, NASA is not hiding kidnapped children on Mars

July 1, 2017

by Peter Holley

The Washington Post

The situation for human beings on Mars is dire, and not just because the red planet’s atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide and the average temperature is -81 degrees.

There’s also the issue of the child-trafficking ring operating in secret on the planet 33.9 million miles from earth, according to a guest on the Alex Jones Show.

“We actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride,” Robert David Steele said Thursday during a winding, conspiratorial dialogue with Jones about child victims of sex crimes. “So that once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony.”

NASA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But Guy Webster, a spokesman for Mars exploration at NASA, told the Daily Beast that rumors about live humans on Mars are false.

“There are no humans on Mars,” he said. “There are active rovers on Mars. There was a rumor going around last week that there weren’t. There are, but there are no humans.”

Jones is known for peddling elaborate and debunked conspiracy theories on his radio show, which airs on 118 stations around the country and reaches millions of listeners. The site had 4.5 million unique page views in the past month and more than 5 million from mid-April to mid-May, according to Quantcast. His YouTube channel has more than 2 million subscribers.

Among his most well-known accusations in recent years is that the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 children and six adults were killed at a school in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax. Jones has claimed that the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and, more recently, promoted the “Pizzagate” conspiracy, which alleged that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was linked to a child-sex ring operating from the basement of a suburban Washington D.C. pizzeria.

The theory originated on Reddit, where a user claimed hacked emails belonging to Clinton campaign manager John Podesta revealed evidence of an international child-sex ring. The key, the user alleged, was replacing the word “pizza” with “little boy.”

From that moment, the conspiracy theory took on a life of its own, culminating in a North Carolina man firing a military-style assault rifle inside the restaurant in December. Edgar Maddison Welch told investigators he was there to save abused children. Instead, he pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges in March and was sentenced to four years in prison last month.

Confronted about his Sandy Hook allegations during a controversial interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly last month, Jones hedged.

“I tend to believe that children probably did die there,” he told the anchor. “But then you look at all the other evidence on the other side. I can see how other people believe that nobody died there.”

On Thursday’s Infowars broadcast, Steele appeared to connect the kidnapped children being held captive on Mars to pedophile rings who allegedly use children for their youthful body parts and energy.

“Pedophilia does not stop with sodomizing children,” Steele said. “It goes straight into terrorizing them to adrenalize their blood and then murdering them. It also includes murdering them so that they can have their bone marrow harvested as well as body parts.”

“This is the original growth hormone,” Jones said.

“Yes, it’s an anti-aging thing,” Steele replied.

Megyn Kelly Vivisects Bloated Conspiracy Hog Alex Jones

One of America’s greatest goofs ODs on his own self-importance on national TV

June 20, 2017

by  Matt Taibbi

Rolling Stone

Last year around election time, I sent a clip of Infowars lunatic Alex Jones to a friend. It was one of the ultimate Jones set pieces: his classic “gay bomb” rant, where the balloon-faced TV host turns baboon-ass red working himself up into a rage about Pentagon-designed hormonal weaponry that supposedly can “turn the frickin’ frogs gay!”

“What do you think tap water is?” he croaks, in the broadcast. “It’s a gay bomb, baby!”

My friend wrote back. “Who the hell is that?” he said.

Why, I responded, that’s Alex Jones, one of the most influential people in the United States.

My friend didn’t believe it. “Come on, this is a gag or something,” he said. His actual quote was that the Jones show was like a Nazi version of Tommy Boy, which to him was too funny of an idea to have been generated unironically.

This isn’t an uncommon reaction. Most sane people can’t process Jones. Nor can they deal with the fact that he drew 83 million page views during election month last November, or that Infowars had 5.3 million unique visitors in May of last year.

Jones also has one very specific audience member: Donald Trump. The New York Times reported in February that Jones “is apparently taking on a new role as occasional information source and validator for the president.”

Jones, who once insisted the Sandy Hook massacre was a “fake,” has the kind of mind with which Trump connects. On November 14th, his Infowars site re-reported a claim that “three million votes in the U.S. presidential election were cast by illegal immigrants.” Two weeks later, Trump clearly parroted the report, saying he won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

That influence is why it was so beneficial to see NBC’s Megyn Kelly tear Jones to pieces on this past weekend’s Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly.

There was a controversy about the show. Some of the parents of Sandy Hook victims were understandably upset that Jones was being given airtime on “legitimate” TV, and protested the interview.

But other groups objected to the report on the more general – and disturbingly prevalent – view that covering a noxious figure somehow equates to empowering that person. Incredibly, even other media organizations contributed to this chorus, with Huffington Post going so far as to denounce Kelly for giving Jones a “platform.”

This new media version of the campus “no-platforming” movement believes that news organizations automatically help insidious figures by allowing them to speak extemporaneously, or even to be seen onscreen. In fact, groups like Media Matters went so far as to say that the best part about Kelly’s report was that it showed Jones as little as possible:

“The segment benefited from devoting very little time to Kelly’s interview with Jones, minimizing his opportunity to appeal to her audience. Instead, through strong voiceover, clips from Jones’ program featuring the host spouting conspiracies, and interviews with a conservative commentator who opposes Jones’ influence and the father of a child who died at Sandy Hook, Kelly explained how Jones operates, the harassment his targets experience, and his close ties to President Donald Trump.”

This is a crazy conception of how media is supposed to work. Judging a report by how tightly it keeps control over whatever you think the desired message is supposed to be is pretty much the opposite of what we’re taught to do as journalists. We’re describers, not politicians, and the best way to convey the essence of Jones is to let him betray it himself.

Trying to “minimize his opportunity to appeal” to audiences also totally misunderstands how people consume media. If you bend over backwards to keep an interview subject from talking, and stack the deck in your report with negative takes and loads of derisive voice-over, what viewers will perceive – 100 percent of the time – is that you’re afraid of your subject.

Kelly graphically demonstrated the benefits of not running from your interview subject. She challenged Jones over and over about Sandy Hook statements like, “The whole thing is a giant hoax.”

Jones offered a stream of nonsensical answers to these queries, to which Kelly asked brutal and correct follow-ups, like: What happened to the children, if they weren’t killed?

To which Jones squirmed and fidgeted and said ridiculous things like, “Listeners and other people are covering this, I didn’t create that story.”

After four or five exchanges of this sort, Jones in an offhand way suggested that maybe he was just playing “devil’s advocate” when he said what he said.

Kelly pounced. “Was that devil’s advocate?” She reread his direct quotes, repeating, “The whole thing is a giant hoax. The whole thing was fake.”

Jones paused for about five seconds before he answered. You could tell he was trying to a) remember what he’d said then, and b) think of what exactly he could get away with saying now. He was cornered.

“Yes,” he finally answered, and quickly rifled through the drawers of his mind to shake loose something like a plausible explanation for that “yes”:

“Because I remember, even that day, to go back from memory, then saying, ‘But then, some of it looks like it’s real…”

Jones couldn’t defend his work in a legitimate setting. He wasn’t able to argue, as he once did in a child custody hearing, that he is just a “performance artist.” Forced to come up with a non-ridiculous explanation for his rants, he was completely exposed.

It’s ironic, given that she worked for so long at Fox, but Kelly’s report on Jones pulled the lid back on the easiest and most profitable con in our business: winding u angry middle-aged white guys. Jones is just the latest model in a long line of bloviating conservative media hucksters whose job it is to stoke middle-class paranoia for fun and profit.

The original offerings in this product line, like Bob Grant and Barry Farber, were too polished, over-subtle and often too-transparently schticky. Many were former actors, scholars or comedians who took up being shouty drive-time douchebags only as lucrative late-career options.

Until the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated in 1987, remember, anchors and disc jockeys couldn’t get hired by just by being vituperative finger-wagging blowhards. A lot of those people had gotten on the air because they had good voices, or the gift of gab, or senses of humor.

Rush Limbaugh, who was a little-known Pittsburgh top-40 DJ working under the name “Jeff Christie,” was an early example. (Listen to Rush/Jeff slickly intro-ing Stevie Wonder’s classic “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” on this clip, for a laugh.)

The problem is that whatever sliver of talent or humor or erudition gets these characters on the air in the first place ultimately betrays them in the hate-vendor game.

If there’s no real monster underneath, and you’re instead just a financially desperate comedian or actor spinning up audiences with wild tales about scissors-bearing feminists or hordes of diseased Mexicans Headed This Way, sooner or later, listeners who want the real thing will be able to tell.

Take Glenn Beck. He made an all-out assault on the angry-dude market by selling breathlessly baroque conspiracy theories miles beyond what the likes of Bill O’Reilly would ever have the brains to invent.

But Beck just wasn’t quite mean enough underneath. His insult-and-rage game was weak. Listen to him scream, “Get off my phone you little pinhead!” in this clip.

That’s 100 percent a put-on riff by a professional radio guy who’s been in the business since he was 15 (I can almost hear him saying, “Hey, did you like my hangup in hour 3 today?”), not a genuine rage addict. Beck was far more likely to fall to pieces and start crying on the air than blow his dome and start punching walls.

Not Alex Jones. He is the inevitable end to these decades of mis-evolution, the Nexus 6 of tantruming conservative spleen merchants.

Unlike Rush, who clearly wanted to be a comedian – Limbaugh’s riffs on Louis Farrakhan-style numerology were wannabe Poconos material all the way – Jones has no sense of humor, as in literally none. Sean Hannity is funnier than Jones, which is really saying something.

Jones is not an aspiring linguist like Farber, or an ex-lefty intellectual like Mike Savage, or an actor like Fred Thompson, or a wannabe rock star like Mike Huckabee.

Jones is just angry. There’s nothing else to his act. There’s no riffing, no jokes, no cleverness: just pure, uncut middle-aged bile for his 78 percent male audience, to whom Jones hilariously hawks masculine supplements.

He’s an epic dingbat, but one of tremendous power and influence. People need to understand how acts like his work and why. No effort to consign him to the margins is going to be successful, because he’s already burst way beyond those parameters.

I understand the Sandy Hook parents wanting him off the air. But media figures should know that the fastest way to heighten the influence of people like Jones is to boycott them from “polite” company. In exactly the same way even the dullest book becomes a smash hit once it’s censored, we make inadequate losers like this look like giants by pretending they don’t exist.

Props to Kelly for showing that challenging jackasses works. And God help us if the press ever stops believing that.

‘Infowars’ host Alex Jones claims he recorded pre-interview chat with Megyn Kelly to protect himself from misrepresentation.

From Wikipedia

In February 2017, the lawyers of James Alefantis, owner of Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, sent Jones a letter demanding an apology and retraction for his role in pushing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Under Texas law, Jones was given a month to comply or be subject to a libel suit. In March 2017, Alex Jones apologized to Alefantis for promulgating the conspiracy theory and retracted his allegations.

In April 2017, the Chobani yogurt company filed a lawsuit against Jones for his article that claims that the company’s factory in Idaho, which employs refugees, was connected to a 2016 child sexual assault and a rise in tuberculosis cases As a result of the lawsuit, Jones issued an apology and retraction of his allegations in May 2017

On June 9, 2013, Jones appeared as a guest on the BBC’s television show Sunday Politics, during a discussion about conspiracy theories surrounding the Bilderberg Group meetings with presenter Andrew Neil and journalist David Aaronovitch. A critic of such theories, Aaronovitch implied that they either do not exist or that Jones is a part of them himself. Jones began shouting and interrupting, and Andrew Neil ended the interview, describing Jones as “an idiot and “the worst person I’ve ever interviewed”. According to Neil on Twitter, Jones was still shouting until he knew that he was off-air.

Comment: The popularity of Jones, a bombastic prevaricator par excellence, is proof positive that there is a large segment of the American population that have IQs equal to their shirt collar size. In their addled ranks one finds those who believe that the sea levels are not rising but the land is sinking, that giant lizards rule the world, that there is a plan on the part of Putin to invade Ohio from Canada and put all the good-looking women into a sex-slave camp in Dayton, ed






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