Friday, June 28, 2019

The New York Times, Big Brother and Media Censorship

Updated September 2019

While it got very little notice, a recent acknowledgement by the "newspaper of record", the New York Times, gives us a glimpse into the relationship between one of America's most influential media outlets and Washington.

On June 15, 2019, this is what the New York Times reported:

The Times noted that the "Trump Administration" was responsible for deploying "new authorities" as part of its "digital Cold War" between Russia and the United States.

Not surprisingly, this is what Donald Trump tweeted in response to one of his favourite fake news targets:

The Communications office of the Times responded to President Trump with this enlightening tweet on its official Twitter account:

Note this - "We described the article to the government before publication.".  According to the June 15th article, the author notes that staff from the Times contacted officials at the National Security Council prior to publishing the piece.  In other words, the Times collaborated with the National Security Council to ensure that it was okay to release the story.  

This should be of no surprise,  In January 2018, James Risen, a former New York Times reporter wrote a 15,000 word essay entitled "The Biggest Secret - My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror" which appeared on The Intercept website on January 3, 2018.  In a followup interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, Mr. Risen stated this:

"On the other hand, at The New York Times, I think the fight over the NSA story really helped usher in a change in the way that they deal with the government. The paper is now much more aggressive on national security reporting and much less willing than ever—than it was before the NSA story, to agree to hold or kill stories at the government’s request.You know, they require a much higher bar. You know, they still negotiate on stories, when the government wants to negotiate, but I think they’re much more willing to say no to the government today.  And I think, you know, the experience on the NSA story had—was a big factor in changing that, the way they think about that." (my bolds)

While the New York Times may be "more willing to say no" to Washington than it was in the past, these recent revelations show us that the American mainstream media still plays the game Washington's way.  If it's the unvarnished truth that you want, don't count on getting it from the plethora of mainstream media sources in the United States because it is quite likely that any story that you read about the federal government has already passed through "Big Brother" for "his" approval.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Florida and Anti-Semitism - A New Degree of Protection for Israel

Let's open this posting by looking at the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." (my bold)

In the United States, at the state government level, more than half of states have passed laws that are designed to discourage any semblence of a boycott against Israel.  This legislation is, in part, designed to fight the Boycott, Divest and Sanction or BDS movement.  From the Jewish Virtual Library, here is a complete list of the 27 states which have passed such legislation, the date on which the legislation was passed and a summary of the legislation:

In recent days, one state has taken its anti-Semitism legislation to a higher level.  Here is a bill that was recently signed into law by Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis:

This bill is designed to prohibit discrimination in Florida's educational system under the state's K-20 Education Code and takes great pains to define the term "anti-Semitism". 

Here is the transmission letter for the bill which clearly outlines the reasoning for the law:

Under this legislation, it is forbidden for students or employees of the Florida educational system to have certain perceptions of Jews examples of which include:

1.) calling for, aiding or justifying attacks on Jews.

2.) making stereotypical allegations about Jews including the myth of Jewish control of governments, the economy etcetera.

3.) accusing Jews either individually or as a group which includes the State of Israel for real or imagined wrongdoing by a Jewish person or persons.

4.) accusing Jews or the State of Israel of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

5.) accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel then to the interest of their home nation.

The legislation also includes examples of anti-Semitism as related to the State of Israel including:

1.) demonizing Israel and drawing comparisons of modern day Israeli policy to that of the Nazis or blaming Israel for all religious and political tensions.

2.) requiring that Israel behave in a fashion that is not expected of other democratic nations including focusing human rights investigations only on Israel.

3.) denying Israel the right to exist and its people the right to self-determination

The legislation does have one caveat:

"Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, or the State   Constitution. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to conflict with federal or state discrimination laws."

According to the transmission letter, the bill would not apply to lawful demonstrations and public-forum student speech that fall within the protections of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

What would motivate Governor Ron DeSantis to sign this bill into law?  Back in 2013, Governor DeSantis did meet with members of the highly influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee better known as AIPAC as shown here:

Here the governor comments on Palestine:

Here is a photo of Governor DeSantis during his recent trip to Israel with Professor Ariel Porat from the Buchmann Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University:

During this recent trip to Israel, the Governor signed eight Memoradums of Understanding between Florida schools and Tel Aviv University with the goal of bringing economic activity to Florida.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Governor DeSantis ceremoniously signed the aforementioned law into effect at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem after a historic Florida Cabinet meeting held at the U.S. Embassy during a recent trip to Israel as shown here:

After the signing in Tallahassee, the governor had this to say:

I’m proud to sign this bill to make clear through a bipartisan effort that anti-Semitism has no place in our state and our educational institutions will not tolerate discrimination against the Jewish people.  I was especially proud to hold a ceremonial bill signing in Jerusalem. Florida is the most Israel-friendly state in the country and as long as I’m Governor, we will continue to stand with the Jewish community.

It is interesting to see that Florida has taken its anti-Semitism laws to a new level that goes far beyond other states' moves to combat the BDS movement.  It will be interesting to see if this sets the standard for state-level legislation that is designed to protect Israel.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

America's Jews on the Trump Administration

With the significant influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States and Congress doing its best to equate anti-Semitism and the anti-Israel movement, I thought that it would be interesting to see how America's Jewish community feels about the Trump Administration, its agenda for Israel and its support for Israel.  A poll taken on the day that the 2018 mid-term election was held gives us a strong sense of the sentiments of American Jews on issues of importance.

Let's look at the background of the poll which was completed by J Street.  The poll sampled the views of 1,139 Jewish voters with an oversample of voters aged 18 to 34, all of whom voted in the midterm elections.  Of the sample, 35 percent described themselves as Reform, 30 percent stated no particular denomination, 20 percent described themselves as Conservative and ten percent described themselves as Orthodox with the remaining 6 percent describing themselves as Reconstructionist or Other.

Now, let's look at some key questions:

Generally speaking, do you think that things in this country are going in the right direction, or do you feel things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track?

Right track - 26 percent
Wrong track - 74 percent

When asked what issues facing the United States are the most important, here are the results:

Health care – 43 percent 
Gun violence - 28 percent
Social Security and Medicare - 21 percent
The economy - 19 percent
Immigration - 18 percent
The environment - 14 percent
Taxes - 11 percent
Education - 8 percent
The deficit and government spending - 8 percent
The Supreme Court - 8 percent
ISIS and terrorism – 7 percent
Israel - 4 percent
Russia - 3 percent
Iran - 1 percent
Other – 8 percent

I find it interesting, particularly given the amount of attention that Congress and the President pay to Israel, Russia and Iran, that a very small proportion of America's Jews feel that these three issues are important.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?

Strongly approve - 13 percent
Somewhat approve - 13 percent
Somewhat disapprove - 10 percent
Strongly disapprove - 64 percent

Do you approve or disapprove of the job Congress is doing?

Strongly approve - 5 percent
Somewhat approve - 16 percent
Somewhat disapprove - 28 percent
Strongly disapprove - 50 percent

With total presidential disapproval of 75 percent and total Congressional disapproval of 79 percent, America's Jewish community has a strong negative impression of the current administration.

Let's now look at the favourability ratings of some people and political organizations with 100 meaning a very warm, favourable feeling and 0 meaning a very cold, unfavourable feeling (i.e. higher favourable and lower unfavourable scores are better):

Given that Jared Kushner is Donald Trump's point man on Middle East and Israel issues, it is interesting to see that he gets an extremely low favourability score when it comes to America's Jewish community.

In closing, let's look at how America's Jewish community feels about key issues facing Israel and the Middle East.  

Do you think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policies have helped Israel's relations with the United States, hurt Israel's relations with the United States, or had no impact on Israel's relations with the United States?

Helped - 32 percent
Hurt – 31 percent 
No impact – 35 percent
Don’t know/refused – 2 percent

People often talk about being "pro-Israel." Do you think someone can be critical of Israeli government policies and still be "pro-Israel"?

Yes - 84 percent
No - 16 percent

Do you support or oppose the agreement (the JCPOA) that the United States and other countries made during the Obama Administration to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran dismantling its nuclear weapons program and allowing international inspectors to monitor Iran's facilities?

Strongly support – 28 percent
Somewhat support - 43 percent
Somewhat oppose  - 16 percent
Strongly oppose – 13 percent
Don’t know/refused – 1 percent

As you may know, President Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear agreement that the United States made with Iran and five other countries. Do you support or oppose Trump's withdrawal from the agreement?

Strongly support - 17 percent
Somewhat support - 16 percent
Somewhat oppose  - 26 percent
Strongly oppose – 41 percent
Don’t know/refused – 1 percent

You will note that America's Jewish community is not a huge fan of Benjamin Netanyahu and that the majority supported the implementation of the JCPOA and are opposed to Donald Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran.

While the Trump Administration continues to implement policies that they believe play to their Jewish base, outside of the heavy influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, there are actually a relatively small percentage of Jewish Americans that support the Trump agenda for Israel and the greater Middle East.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The National Endowment for Democracy - Supporting America's Democratic Agenda

Washington's non-stop blathering about Russian electoral interference seems to be unending and we can assure ourselves that it will continue ad nauseam as we enter the 2020 presidential election cycle.  While America's political leadership takes great pains to assure American voters that Russia is to blame for America's political woes, it doesn't take much digging to find that Washington is guilty of the same crimes that it is accusing Vladimir Putin of undertaking.

Let's start by looking at a key player in Washington, the National Endowment for Democracy or NED.  NED claims that it is a private, nonprofit foundation "dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world."  NED was founded in 1983 as you can see in this announcement from then-President Ronald Reagan:

NED's Statement of Principles and Objectives reads as follows:

"Democracy involves the right of the people freely to determine their own destiny.

The exercise of this right requires a system that guarantees freedom of expression, belief and association, free and competitive elections, respect for the inalienable rights of individuals and minorities, free communications media, and the rule of law."

As I noted above, NED touts itself as a "private" foundation, in other words, it is independent of government. That could not be further from the truth.  Here's what NED has to say about itself that belies its true character:

"NED is a unique institution. The Endowment’s nongovernmental character gives it a flexibility that makes it possible to work in some of the world’s most difficult circumstances, and to respond quickly when there is an opportunity for political change. NED is dedicated to fostering the growth of a wide range of democratic institutions abroad, including political parties, trade unions, free markets and business organizations, as well as the many elements of a vibrant civil society that ensure human rights, an independent media, and the rule of law.

This well-rounded approach responds to the diverse aspects of democracy and has proved both practical and effective throughout NED’s history. Funded largely by the U.S. Congress, the support NED gives to groups abroad sends an important message of solidarity to many democrats who are working for freedom and human rights, often in obscurity and isolation.

The Endowment is guided by the belief that freedom is a universal human aspiration that can be realized through the development of democratic institutions, procedures, and values. Democracy cannot be achieved through a single election and need not be based upon the model of the United States or any other particular country. Rather, it evolves according to the needs and traditions of diverse political cultures. By supporting this process, the Endowment helps strengthen the bond between indigenous democratic movements abroad and the people of the United States — a bond based on a common commitment to representative government and freedom as a way of life.

From its beginning, NED has remained steadfastly bipartisan. Created jointly by Republicans and Democrats, NED is governed by a board balanced between both parties and enjoys Congressional support across the political spectrum. NED operates with a high degree of transparency and accountability reflecting our founders’ belief that democracy promotion overseas should be conducted openly."

For an organization with a "nongovernmental character", it certainly is closely linked to Washington, isn't it?  In fact, NED receives its funding through an annual appropriation from the United States Congress through the department of State.  NED does state that it is NED's independent Board of Directors that controls how the appropriation is spent.  Here is the current board noting that Elliott Abrams, an American diplomat who is now Donald Trump's U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela is currently on leave:

The list reads like a who's who of Washington, doesn't it?  

NED claims that it works as follows:

1.) Helping democrats in closed societies by working with both democrats within the country in question and those in exile.

2.) Consolidating democracy boy strengthening institutions and procedures of electoral democracy to ensure fair elections.

3.) Applying a multi-sectoral approach through its four core institutions which represent America's two political parties, its labour movement and its business community.

4.) Co-operating with other democracy foundations to encourage all established democracies to create organizations that are similar to NED.

5.) Cultivating partner organizations in new democracies who will then share their democratic expertise with democrats in nations that are not currently democratic.

6.) Building a worldwide movement for democracy.

NED funds only organizations that are non-governmental, a rather ironic choice given its own ties to Washington.  Each year, NED makes direct grant to more than 1600 non-governmental groups that are working for democracy in more than 90 nations around the world.  An average grant lasts for 12 months and is around $50,000 in size.

With the Russian 2016 election meddling narrative in mind, let's look at a sample of some of the projects that this so-called "private foundation" undertook in Russia in 2018 and how much was spent on each project:

This is just a small sampling of NED's activities in Russia.  IN case you happen to think that 2018 is a "one off", here is a partial listing of what NED did "for" Russia in 2016, the same year that Washington accuses Russia of meddling in the American electoral system:

In 2016, NED gave 108 grants totalling $6.8 million to influence Russia's political system.

It is very apparent that NED's overt actions in Russia and other nations around the world are very similar in scope and style to the Central Intelligence Agency's covert nation re-engineering operations.  While the spending of taxpayers' dollars by NED is insignificant compared to what is spent on the American intelligence community as a whole, the spending of any amount of money to influence democracy by funding groups that have parallel interests to Washington's agenda in other nations can only be viewed as meddling.

The National Endowment for Democracy - "Supporting Freedom Around the World".  That is, freedom and democracy "American-style".

Monday, June 24, 2019

Iran's Military Strength 2019 Edition - A Lengthy War of Attrition

With these tweets from Donald Trump, proclaiming America's military might, I thought that it was an excellent opportunity to present my readers with an analysis of Iran's military capabilities:

On an overall basis, when all aspects of the nation's military are considered, Iran's military strength is rated as 14th out of 137 in the world as shown on this graphic:

1.) Military personnel and potential personnel: According to Global Firepower, Iran has 523,000 active military personnel, putting it in eighth place in the world as shown here:

Iran also has 350,000 reserve personnel (17th place) and has 1,394,476 citizens reaching military age every year.  By way of comparison, the United States has 860,000 reserve personnel, Russia has 2,572,500 and China has 510,000 personnel in their reserves.  The United States has 4,188,274 citizens reaching military age every year, Russia has 1,306,449 and China has 19,614,518 citizens reaching military age annually.  The data concerning the number of citizens reaching military age is critical given that the wars of today often drag on for years and even decades meaning that nations must be able to recruit new members as their older military personnel age or either die or are injured in combat.

2.) Aircraft forces: On an overall basis, Iran's air strength ranking is not terribly impressive, coming in at 24th place, well behind the United States in first place, Russia in second place, China in third place and even Saudi Arabia, one of Iran's key foes, coming in twelfth place.  Iran has 509 military aircraft which is broken down as follows (with strength ranking in brackets):

Fighter aircraft - 142 (17th)
Attack aircraft - 165 (18th)
Transport aircraft - 89 (7th)
Training aircraft - 104 (29th)
Total helicopters - 126 (34th)
Attack helicopters - 12 (32nd)

Note that UAVs are not included in this total.

3.) Land forces: On an overall basis, Iran's land force ranking comes in at 18th place and can be broken down as follows:

Combat tanks - 1634 (18th)
Armoured fighting vehicles - 2345 (31st)
Self-propelled artillery - 570 (11th)
Towed artillery - 2128 (8th)
Rocket projectors - 1900 (4th)

4.) Naval Strength: On an overall basis, Iran is considered to have one of the world's more powerful naval forces when measured in terms of total inventory as shown here:

Iran's 398 naval assets are divided as follows:

Aircraft carriers - 0
Frigates - 6 (27th)
Destroyers - 0
Corvettes - 3 (32nd)
Submarines - 34 (5th)
Patrol vessels - 88 (9th)
Mine warfare - 3 (44th)

While it is clear that Iran's military is not on par with that of the United States, it does have sufficiently inventory and personnel as well as the technical expertise to wage a long war of attrition as they proved in the 1980s with Iraq, a nation that was largely armed by the United States.  Winning a war is not always dependent on military strength.  I believe that there are other factors at play in this case:

1.) The willingness of Russia and China to stand aside while the United States "re-engineers" Iran.    Both Russia and China have significant economic investments in Iran, particularly in the nation's oil and gas sector, that they will absolutely not want to fall into the hands of Washington.  

2.) The willingness of American voters to see American military personnel return home in body bags, particularly if hostilities are lengthy.

3.) The willingness of Iranians to defend their homeland from an outside attacker whether or not  they back their current government leadership.  When someone's home is threatened, logic does not always play a role in an individual's decision-making process.  We also have to keep in mind that the religious leadership is well-entrenched in Iran, unlike the situation with Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

While the United States forces may be "cocked and loaded", the outcome of a war against Iran is anything but certain.  Once American servicemen start dying for this rather nebulous cause, it will be the reaction of American voters that will ultimately determine the extent and duration of yet another Middle East military, nation re-engineering "adventure".