A Sucker Punch

February 19, 2015

“I can think of no better way for the Congress to join me in supporting our nation’s security than by enacting this legislation, which would show the world we are united in our resolve to counter the threat posed by ISIL” – Barak Obama

Leading with your chin is always bad form, especially in politics. The newly minted Republican Congress is just about to step into a sucker punch from the White House. The President claims that he needs a new authorization from Congress to pursue the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); an authority the President didn’t think he needed for the last six years.

Mr. Obama prefers to call the al Qaeda doppelganger, the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL). At the same time, he denies the adjective, claiming that ISIS is not Islamic. Such semantic shenanigans are designed, among other things, to avoid illuminating Iraq and Syria, two of the more notable strategic failures on Obama’s watch. The Levant can now be put in the loss column like Iran, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. And the “war of necessity” in Afghanistan now looks like a skidaddle too, just as the war in Iraq now looks like the new “war of necessity.” Follow closely, this gets worse.

The troops that remain in Afghanistan and Iraq somehow are not “boots on the ground,” the same kind of boots that bled in the same theaters previously during the Bush administration. Repeat deployments under the Obama regime don’t seem to qualify as combat tours. Does an all-volunteer force deserve such patronizing babble from the Commander-in-Chief? With administration spin, we are lead to believe that American troops deployed to the Ummah in the future will be more schoolmarms than warriors – in little danger of becoming targets.

Such absurdity might be new insult, but not new injury. The Obama regime and the Pentagon have insisted for years that America is not at war. You could be led to believe that all those body bags and wounded warriors passing through Dover AFB for the last decade were simply casualties from workplace violence. If America is not at war, why then is there a need for any new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), nee “war powers” legislation?

For the good part of a decade, the Oval Office has cultivated strategic failure in South Asia, the Mid-East, and North Africa with the Bush charter. Would another AUMF bill from Congress change the effectiveness of heretofore failed leadership?

The paper drill on Capitol Hill and the semantics charade at the White House may not be coherent strategy but these things do have purpose. The Obama legacy and the 2016 presidential election come to mind.

To date, the Obama foreign policy record is a litany of serial fiasco, indeed the ISIS crisis abroad and the AUMF feint at home serve only to divert attention from the engineered chaos in places like Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan. If the White House can persuade a Republican Congress to sign on to a new war powers resolution, then Democrats will surely argue in 2016 that the foreign policy record for the Obama years is a shared or “bipartisan” failure. The Muslim wars are already bipartisan bungles, why give the next fiasco a legal imprimatur?

Mister Obama’s strategic concerns for the next two years are likely to be focused on personal legacy and blame shifting not defeating ISIS or any other Muslim army in detail. Calling for bipartisanship at this late date has little to do with foreign affairs and everything to do who pays the political piper at the ballot box.

The emerging Islamic state now displacing Iraq and Syria is symptomatic of another imperial Muslim success in the East and another allied failure in the West. In 2016, the Democrats would like Republicans to share blame for the foreign policy and military mess that the next American president is likely to inherit.

Betrayal is the unintended consequence of such venality. Tactical incompetence and strategic impotence is measured in lives. Those who have been killed or maimed may have suffered in vain. The best trained and equipped military in the world has been squandered in small wars that the Oval Office and the Joint Chiefs, by their own admission, have no intention of winning. Half-measures and stability seem to be the new strategic euphemisms for defeat or surrender.

Mister Obama doesn’t need any new authorities, nor does he need obvious Republican collaborators. He might, however, need some cover for Hillary in 2016 and that’s what any new war powers resolution is all about.

Alas, if any new paperwork is required, it should be a declaration of war against a named enemy before another soldier is deployed. The alternative might be a presidential finding of surrender. Surely Abu Bakr al Baghdadi would give a brother like Barak Hussein Obama the best of terms.

Withal, team Obama is beginning to lose its chokehold on the American Left and a pandering Media. Stalwarts like NBC and The Atlantic are finally giving Oval Office foreign and military policy some serious scrutiny. Richard Engel and James Fallows are recent examples, although in both cases you might wonder where they’ve been for the past two decades. Fallows, in particular, has become a skeptic but still has trouble distinguishing between “can do” and “should do.”

Still, Fallows is correct to the extent that feckless European and American politicians, Right and Left, continue to dither with timid policies while Islam is spreading the fires of religious recidivism and barbarity. By now it should be clear that the so-called “moderate” Muslim majority is either passive aggressive, cowardly, or suicidal – maybe all three. If Islam will not fight to save itself from Islamists, why not let the apathetic Muslim majority experience the inevitable? Then allow Allah to sort the rubble.

At this point, for America and Europe, doing little or nothing might be the most prudent economy of force option.

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Keywords: Islamism, ISIS, ISIL, terror, war powers, Obama, al Baghdadi, Richard Engel, James Fallows

Baghdadi,

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Brian Williams and NBC: No honor, No shame. No future

February 9, 2015

“I became a journalist because I didn’t want to rely on newspapers for information. “ – Chris Hitchens

Brian Williams has been the face of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and now he seems to be the face of shameless too. Williams has regaled his gullible Media colleagues for a decade or more about a brush with death in Iraq that never happened. The Stars and Stripes, not the NY Times or the Washington Post, busted Mr. Williams. According to the chronology revealed in the Stars and Stripes, the false tale of near death in combat was embellished over time, becoming more heroic with each telling to audiences like David Letterman and Alec Baldwin.

Blowing a fairytale past Deborah Turness, Baldwin, or Letterman is no surprise, but hockey fans are another matter. Seems that somewhere out in flyover country, some 3rd Infantry Division veterans saw Brian’s fatal, and hopefully final, version of stolen valor – and dropped a dime to the newspaper of record for American GI’s.

Williams was at the Ranger’s game in New York burnishing his “I support the troops” facade by posing with a disabled veteran and spinning another “combat” yarn about himself at the same time. The William’s ego spot at Madison Square Garden was never about the sacrifices of real veterans.

The cameo was about hubris, worse still, stollen valor.  Real veterans, real heroes, and real combat casualties languish in the parking lots of an inept Veterans Administration, while poseurs like Brian Williams try to bask in reflected glory. The charade continued for more than a decade, abetted by the silence of network colleagues. Williams was not alone on that trip to Afghanistan. Who checks the fact checker?

NBC and Williams were exposed by ordinary soldiers in a GI newspaper.  Such   duplicity says everything about federal standards and the national Press today. Williams was not outed by the White House.  A President that consistently apologizes for terror culture is unlikely to criticize an ally like NBC. Williams was not outed by other Media regulars like network crew members and colleagues at Public Television, ABC, or CBS. Williams was not exposed by the brass at the Department of Defense either, the institution with the true record of aircraft movements and combat incidents. Williams was outed by the very grunts he pretends to support. In short, the most popular network anchor in America was exposed by his antithesis – real soldiers telling the truth.

According to eyewitnesses, Williams and his entourage did not arrive at the scene of the Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) assault until an hour after the shooting stopped. Williams apparently seized an opportunity to exploit their grace under fire. The helicopters and troops involved were then stranded for two days by a sandstorm. The worst of William’s experience was a weather delay, an event more common in Chicago than Iraq. Chicago might be more dangerous too.

Hilary Clinton spun a similar “combat” fiction in Bosnia when her husband was dismantling Yugoslavia. Yet, with professional politicians, nobody expects the truth. A better comparison would be with Dan Rather, another celebrity anchor formerly over at CBS. Recall that Rather used forged documents to try to discredit George Bush’s Air Guard service. Like Williams, Rather tried to spin his fraud with “the fog of memory” excuse too. Rather got fired for his stunt. Williams is still on the NBC payroll.

No surprise then that the first Media standard bearer to come to the defense of Brian Williams was “Gunga” Dan Rather. What’s to defend?  A lie?

Becoming the news is a fatal flaw for any objective journalist. Brian Williams is now the news – and a serial liar to boot. His integrity is forfeit. Just as any CBS coverage of the military is suspect, NBC now labors under the same cloud. If you are supposed to be in the fact finding business, credibility is the only currency. NBC and Brian Williams are now bankrupt.

Rather and Williams at the top of their networks is a symptom of more fundamental Media problems: the conflation of news and entertainment, sub rosa anti-military sentiment, and political pandering.

Clearly, Williams like so many of his colleagues are more Kardashian than journalist, professional celebrities. Williams is the most popular of all news anchors, a one man advertising revenue rainmaker.

Let’s not kid ourselves about poseurs like Rather and Williams, their spin on things military is patronizing, revealing an underlying contempt for the real sacrifices made by soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen.

Media coverage of war itself is now a fraud. The President, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense will not name the enemy nor call the ideological struggle with Islam and the battles with Islamists a war. Good men and women are maimed and killed in wars where generals and politicians have no intention of winning. Death without strategy or purpose is the dirty little secret yet to be covered by what critics like Limbaugh rightly calls a “drive-by” Media, a pandering Press corps.

Some of the worst today are the political spinners on Public Radio and Television, taxpayer funded propagandists. The News Hour on 6 February featured Mark Shields and David Brooks commentary on President Obama’s appearance before the National Prayer Breakfast. On that occasion, Obama lectured Christian and Jews about the Crusades, Inquisition, and the European slave trade. More White House excuses just after ISIS beheaded two more journalists followed by the incineration of a live Jordanian pilot with a video feed to the internet.

Both Shields and Brooks endorsed the President’s message. Never mind that all three histories cited are irrelevant to the Islam problem and associated terror. Never mind that these very same justifications are used as propaganda by al Qaeda and ISIS. And never mind that Obama, Shields, and Brooks forgot to mention that today’s slave trade is almost exclusively a joint black-African/Muslim enterprise (see Boko Haram for just one example).

Journalism is literally losing its head. On a global scale, Islamists decapitate the very Media cowards who apologize for Muslim behavior. At the same time, too many reporters at home are willing to commit professional perjury, frequently in the name of Islam. Withal, the message is clear. Neither side can trust journalists these days.

Williams has taken himself off the air for a few days while NBC does some internal navel gazing. The longer the network dithers, the worse this soap opera becomes. Williams has created his personal Katrina. Now he needs to fall on his sword, behave like a man. Surely Public Television has a slot for Williams.

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If Ash Carter and Martin Dempsey at DOD want to do something serious about stolen valor, they might start by revoking the military Press credentials of NBC and Brian Williams. Media jock sniffers don’t deserve a free ride on any military conveyance or protection in war zones at taxpayer expense. If sanctions can be imposed on Russia, Iran, and Cuba; surely, sanctions against a dishonest journalist and a network that defends frauds is not too much to ask. American warriors and veterans deserve to be covered by men like Ernie Pyle, not by liars and milksops like Dan Rather at CBS and Brian Williams at NBC.

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Murphy Donovan writes about the politics of national security. GMD is a veteran of the East Bronx. He also served in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive (1968) and the Invasion of Cambodia (1971).

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The Age of Musterbation

February 3, 2015

                                               

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”  – E. R. Morrow

Media icons are often given credit for thoughts that originated with their betters. The “nation of sheep” metaphor is an example. Thomas Jefferson addressed the subject in the Federalist Papers, long before Edward R. Morrow. And before that, herd similes might be traced to the Old and New Testaments. William J. Lederer wrote a book on the subject in 1961, a follow up to the best-selling Ugly American (1958).

Lederer’s lament focused on a passive electorate, arrogant foreign policy apparatchiks, and myopic politicians;  the tendency of Americans to fail to educate themselves about issues and then throw good money after bad at home and abroad. In short, Lederer despaired of passive voters and venal politicians, a nation where profligate spending sustained failed institutions.

Much has changed in the last 50 years, including language and internet culture. Neologisms abound, the most telling of which is “musterbation.” Albert Ellis (1913-2007) coined the term to describe clients who felt that they “must, should, or ought” to do things that had no rational basis. Much online activity could be described as grazing, peeping, or musterbation. Just one vowel away from onanism, the musterbater is compelled to join, mimic, exhibit, and conform. In such culture, the poorly read are easily led.

Former Congressman Anthony Wiener (D/NY) might be a chronic musterbator, compelled to use the internet in ways that defy reason, reputation, and common sense.

The modern tax dollar still buys votes but few solutions. Indeed, popular music has escalated the zoological hyperbole in a bit of telling doggerel by Otep Shamaya:

We’ve become a nation of wolves, ruled by sheep.
Owned by swine, overfed, and put to sleep.
While the media elite declare what to think,
I’ll be wide awake, on the edge, and on the brink.

On the brink of what is the question? Clearly a herd culture is the dominant social artifact of the early 21st Century. The most obvious symptoms are the internet and associated “social” networks.

So who are the wolves today? Here we could borrow an analogy from the “Occupy” movement, that 99 percent majority alleged to be victimized by the wealthy one percent. Such comparisons are true to the extent that all politics, right or left, are dominated by a small elite, a “vanguard” of one sort or another: commercial, political, or military mandarins. Art, too, is fashioned by elites for the herd.

On occasion, a sacred cow is trashed and the herd is spooked. Salman Rushdie, the Danish cartoon Press, Sony Pictures, and Charlie Hebdo might take a bow here.

The Occupy model is, however, poor arithmetic. Surely wealth is a consideration, but the middle class is as big today as it has ever been and America’s “poor” would be rich by any Third World metric.  Nonetheless, the Occupy lament does help to distinguish between wolves and sheep.

Alas, the real difference is power not wealth.  All wealth is power, but power is not necessarily wealth.  The Clintons, for example, left the Oval Office claiming to be broke. And we may not have seen the last of that poverty- stricken power pair either.

Autocratic, inherited, or democratic power is difficult to parse today. The despotism of dictators seems to have been supplanted by a tyranny of democratic tenure. Here, again, the Clintons come to mind. The reality of all politics, in the end, is consumption. Neither wolves nor shepherds care much about the venue as long as there’s something or somebody to eat.

Apex predators breed and feed in industry and government. The National Security Agency (NSA) and Facebook are examples. Indeed, there’s a chicken or egg conundrum between the two. No matter, both operate with the same business model; a one-way mirror that monitors, collects, and exploits “meta data” for different ends.

The social network/sheep herding meme is not just another simile. Numbers matter to both every day. The digital and grazing worlds only make sense when the numbers are large enough. Facebook has a billion members and makes billions in advertising revenues on those numbers. Mark Zukerberg says he wants the world on the internet – and by implication, in the Facebook pasture too.

Facebook is just one example here, but most telecoms, internet providers, social networks, or financial service companies are operating varieties of the same model, recruiting a large “voluntary” membership and then exploiting “metadata” (the antiseptic euphemism for behavior) for profit. Chaps like Zuckerberg are not your “friend” and he is not in your “circle.” Mark and his dot.com colleagues are the new elite, wolves, one percenter’s who have developed clever schemes to monetize your behavior – and your privacy.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and General Keith Alexander’s NSA are both fond of uniforms too. Zuckerberg‘s tee shirt, jeans, and hoodie are as symbolic as Alexander’s Class A bemedaled greens. Zuckerberg is suited to look like a hip populist just as surely as Alexander is dressed to look like a guardian, Big Brother’s goal keeper.

The infamous “back doors” of the telecoms, internet providers, and social networks are both collaborative and invasive. Hard to know whether industry or government is the worse offender. There’s no mystery, however, about who is getting buggered.

The Lavabit story is illustrative. Lavabit was one of the few secure internet companies that tried to provide email services free of snoops and data miners. Their motto was “privacy before profit.” When Lavabit’s owner/operator, Ladar Levison, refused to play catamite for FBI/NSA agents, Lavabit was forced out of business with an avalanche of subpoenas, court orders, gag orders, fines, and threats of prison time. After l’affaire Snowden, official Washington, including the judicary, fell on Levison like a ton of bricks.

Ironically, chaps like Edward Snowden are made possible by such federal excess. Contemporary whistle blowers and disloyalty are created problems. Federal mandarins, with NSA and FBI on point, are the top dogs on the internet, the most voracious wolves. Alas, their appetites and capacity for abuse are funded with federal tax dollars.

Predator and prey are separated by perspective, scopophiliacs and exhibitionists joined by uncommon interests. Self-consciously Orwellian language defines cyber space. Sheep are corralled as members, followers, or friends. ‘Search’ on the net is often described as “surfing” as if stroking a laptop or smart phone required skill or exertion.

Measures of merit in cyberspace are mostly about affirmation: membership, pseudonyms, likes, tweets, retweets, page views, site visits, or comments. Belonging and ego are the weft and warp of cyberspace. Joining the flock, growing the flock, controlling the flock, and exploiting the flock are the shared interests of the needy, seedy, and greedy alike.

The “tweet” is the ideal medium for sheep, hustlers, or underachievers – cryptic faceless bursts confined to 140 characters. Tweets are to literature what rap is to music.

Each social circle has different passwords as if privacy were really a consideration. In fact, social networks, the telecoms, police, and intelligence agencies are co-conspirators in the “meta data” roundup. The stealth of wolves is reinforced by anonymity of sheep.

Pseudonymous internet usage has little to do with privacy, or freer speech, and everything to do with mischief.

Hacking is an example. If there are no privacy standards for government or commercial voyeurs, why expect rogue sheep to worry about private or privileged commercial or classified information? Edward Snowden is not just the product of a culture of deception, but his revelations about NSA, like those about Sony Corporation, are a kind of poetic justice.

To mix some metaphors, a culture of wolves and sheep is sure to be a free fire zone. The age of musterbation is a target rich environment.

Mandarins like Zuckerberg might pay lip service to the privacy concerns of his Facebook flock, but in the real world ironies abound.  Zuckerberg just purchased four neighboring estates in California to assure his personal privacy. Would that he and the rest of the cyber moguls had as much concern for the privacy of computer users,

The difference between political and commercial wolves is profound. The Director of NSA is an appointed official who serves at White House whim. Social satraps like Zuckerberg at Facebook, in contrast, are elevated by acclamation, thousands of stockholders and billions of sheep voting with each equity purchase or each new membership.

If you believed the recent Zuckerberg interview in Time (15 Dec 14) you might think that Facebook is all about connectivity, compassion, education, democracy, and globalization. Compared to Zuckerberg, former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is an honest man. Zuckerberg’s hip hop, photo shopped double talk makes Weiner’s junk shots look like tweet candor.

The Facebook czar would have us believe that connectivity is more important than other human needs, things like: employment, potable water, good nutrition, civil society, or flush toilets.

Really, Mark? Giving internet access to the poor and semi-literate is like feeding infants flip phones instead of strained bananas.

With Facebook you can “like” a post as much as you like, however, there is no button to click for disapproval, no way to dissent. On Facebook, the sentiment is yes or nothing, a virtual kindergarten for musterbaters. Internet culture is at once nurturing and infantile.

Cyber herding is a kind of electronic fascism in other ways. Try resigning from or removing a post from a social network, especially data that has been rebroadcast! Try restraining or identifying a bully or an obnoxious troll!  See how much help you get from providers, social forums, or the telecoms with civility complaints of any sort.

Indelible membership is aggravated by the spread of real world political fascism over the internet. Just a few examples would include al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, Boko Haram – NPR or CNN.

The virtual world is not fertile ground for peace, civility, or democracy either. Online games are a pathological subculture where blowback can be measured with shell casings or body bags at schools, theaters, and on the back streets of  Newark or Washington, DC.

Indeed, cyberspace amplifies the science, reason, and morality debate. The internet has been weaponized. And like its nuclear, chemical, or biological cousins, another example of scientific and engineering vacuity, the moral void that asks what and how – but seldom asks should.

Zuckerberg’s world view is just another mutation of engineering arrogance refracted through a progressive lens, a view that confuses technology and the passage of time with progress. The ideological assumptions behind technical optimism are even more naïve. Democracy is not a default setting beyond the EU or the US. Zuckerberg may have been touched by the romance of Hegel and Marx, but he was never exposed to pragmatism of Huntington and Kissinger.

Kissinger argues that there are only two primal narratives in the political world: hegemony and balance of power. In short, the pragmatic politician either imposes his will or negotiates a modus vivendi. The first option is expensive, tenuous, and dangerous; the second requires patience, creativity, and mutual trust. Option one is a zero sum game and option two is a plus sum roll of the dice.

Like the political world, the internet is a clash of civilizations, a win/lose enterprise for guys like Zuckerberg, parsing the universe into firsts or thirds, developed or emerging, educated or ignorant, rich or poor. The “emerging” story is usually just another narrative, the marketing of wishful thinking at the expense of experience. Some social problems are insolvable.

The internet accelerates a binary tautology nonetheless, populated as it is by mustabators and manipulators, digital sheep and wolves.

Like the world of politics, the internet requires a narrative. The story line may have little to do with truth, fact, or reality. Like a fairy tale, acceptance is a function of skillful telling and guileless belief. Indeed, truth is a handicap in both worlds. No one wants to hear that they are being used or manipulated.

Alas, truth is a bitch. She doesn’t care whose feelings get hurt. Government and industry moguls, on the other hand, are more circumspect. Federal or industry mendacity is not a vice in the information age. Lying is necessary – and apparently sufficient.

If modern Media is a “wasteland,” the metaphorical lexicon might be too shallow to characterize social network or virtual culture. Exhibitionists, voyeurs, thugs, and manipulators litter the digital landscape. Sixty years ago, the ugly American was a clueless State Department drone. Today, Media curs and federal voyeurs are the top dogs – and just as ugly.

“Those who know the least obey the best.” – George Farquhar

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The author is an NSA alumnus. GMD does not belong to any social networks except LinkedIn where he has been a hostage for years. No amount of phone calls or emails have severed the link with LinkedIn. This essay was published in the February 2015 edition of the New English Review.

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Tags: Facebook, NSA, Mark Zuckerberg, Keith Alexander, Otep Shamaya, Albert Ellis, Garrett Hardin, Sony Pictures, back doors, self-censorship, hacking, social networks, musterbation, nation of sheep, and ugly Americans.