Information Please

Things aren’t what they seem. The crowds at Donald Trump’s inauguration were the largest crowds ever, far larger that Obama’s previous record crowd. The photographs do show otherwise, but they’re only photographs. And that women’s march the next day wasn’t much. There are the photographs of massive crowds in Washington and every other major American city, and footage of massive crowds in cities around the world, and smaller crowds in every small town in America – but it wasn’t much – maybe twenty-three ugly women on a corner in Alexandria, Virginia, paid by George Soros. And the current angry town hall meetings all across America, where Republican congressmen and senators, now in recess and home again, are getting a local earful about Trump – about Obamacare, which is suddenly popular now that those who finally have health insurance realize that the Republicans have no alternative and never really had one and folks are gonna die, and about the Russian business and how Trump really needs to release his tax returns – aren’t much. Those people might have been bussed in. They might be paid by George Soros. Maybe all of that was set up by Obama to ruin Trump and to somehow take over America again. That’s possible – and those who control information – what everyone agrees is so – control the world. Information, please!

That’s the battle, but some try to have it both ways:

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said Thursday that he had decided not to hold town halls with his constituents because he thought such events turned “into a screaming session.”

Asked if angry protesters at town halls were being paid, King said he thought the town hall attendees were “legitimate,” but that yelling at the events “diminishes democracy.”

“There are people who are just angry, they’re angry that Trump won, that Hillary lost. There are others who are being, I guess, egged on, if you will. So I’m assuming that they’re all legitimate, but to me it just does not serve a purpose.”

So they weren’t bussed in and paid by George Soros, as Obama had arranged, and their concerns are legitimate – but they shout. That’s undemocratic. People shouldn’t shout. People in democracies don’t shout. Peter King will have nothing to do with such nonsense.

That’s one way to look at it, but things look even grimmer to others:

The head of the National Rifle Association painted anti-Donald Trump protesters as violent extremists and compared their disruptions to terrorism during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.

“Ladies and gentlemen, another definition of terrorism is violence in the name of politics,” said Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the NRA. “And criminal violence has no place in political debate.”

These people are out to kill conservatives:

“The left’s message is absolutely clear. They want revenge, you’ve got to be punished,” LaPierre said. “They say you’re what’s wrong with America and now you’ve got to be purged.”

He said many on the extreme left “literally hate everything America stands for” and “are willing to use violence against us.”

Grab your gun. Things are a bit strange in Wayne’s World. His folks are the ones with guns, but the idea is that this sort of thing has to stop, and there are plans for that:

Since the election of President Trump, Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced or voted on legislation to curb mass protests in what civil liberties experts are calling “an attack on protest rights throughout the states.”

From Virginia to Washington state, legislators have introduced bills that would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, indemnify drivers who strike protesters with their cars and, in at least once case, seize the assets of people involved in protests that later turn violent. The proposals come after a string of mass protest movements in the past few years, covering everything from police shootings of unarmed black men to the Dakota Access Pipeline to the inauguration of Trump.

Some are introducing bills because they say they’re necessary to counter the actions of “paid” or “professional” protesters who set out to intimidate or disrupt, a common accusation that experts agree is largely overstated. “You now have a situation where you have full-time, quasi-professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,” said Republican state senator John Kavanagh of Arizona in support of a measure there that would bring racketeering charges against some protesters.

That’s the problem, an attempt to create public disorder, which is no more than information to counter what Kellyanne Conway famously said are Donald Trump’s “alternative facts” – an open admission that this is an information war, about what everyone agrees is so.

That’s the battlefield, and here are some of the weapons:

Arizona’s bill, introduced this week, would open up protests to anti-racketeering legislation, targeting protesters with the same laws used to combat organized crime syndicates. It would also allow police to seize the assets of anyone involved in a protest that at some point becomes violent. It recently passed the state Senate on a party-line vote and is now before the House.

Go to a protest, and it gets rowdy, and you will lose your house and your car and your bank account. That’ll keep people in line, or this will:

An Iowa bill supported by nine Republican sponsors would make protesters who intentionally block highways subject to felony charges and up to five years in prison. The bill’s lead sponsor told the Des Moines Register it was introduced in response to a November incident in which a protest Trump shut down part of Interstate 80 in Iowa.

Or these will:

Washington lawmakers are considering a bill to increase penalties for people blocking highways and railways, acts that the bill’s sponsor has characterized as “economic terrorism.”

A bill introduced by Republican George Gainer in the Florida Senate this month would provide criminal penalties for protesters obstructing traffic and exempt drivers from liability if they struck a protester under certain conditions. It was filed this week, and if enacted would take force on July 1.

Yes, anyone who runs over a protester, intentionally or not, will face no charges at all, and there’s this:

A North Carolina Republican has pledged to introduce legislation making it a crime to “threaten, intimidate or retaliate against” current or former state officials, in response to an incident involving the heckling of Gov. Pat McCrory. The Senator proposing the legislation, Dan Bishop, confirmed via email that he still intends to introduce the legislation, perhaps as early as next week, after consulting with potential co-sponsors.

It’s unclear whether heckling a politician will be a misdemeanor or a felony, but it will be a crime, which would solve Peter King’s problem, but this Washington Post item also adds perspective:

This is by no means the first time in American history that widespread protests have inspired a legislative backlash, says Douglas McAdam, a Stanford sociology professor who studies protest movements. “For instance, southern legislatures – especially in the Deep South – responded to the Montgomery Bus Boycott (and the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education) with dozens and dozens of new bills outlawing civil rights groups, limiting the rights of assembly, etc. all in an effort to make civil rights organizing more difficult,” he said via email.

“Similarly,” he added, “laws designed to limit or outlaw labor organizing or limit labor rights were common in the late 19th/early 20th century.”

But it’s still nonsense:

The ACLU’s Rowland says the new bills are not about “creating new rules that are necessary because of some gap in the law.” She points out, for instance, that “every single city and county in the United States” already has laws on the books against obstructing traffic on busy roads.

Rather, Rowland says the laws’ intent is “increasing the penalties for protest-related activity to the point that it results in self-censorship among protesters who have every intention to obey the law.”

That’s the idea, isn’t it? It may be necessary:

Republican Rep. Mo Brooks said Thursday that protests at town halls around the country might prevent Republican lawmakers from repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“I’ll tell you, Toni, there are, in my opinion, a significant number of congressmen who are being impacted by these kinds of protests and their spine is a little bit weak,” the Alabama congressman said in an interview on “The Morning Show with Toni & Gary” on WBHP 800 Alabama radio. “And I don’t know if we’re going to be able to repeal Obamacare now because these folks who support Obamacare are very active, they’re putting pressure on congressman and there’s not a counter-effort to steel the spine of some of these congressmen in tossup districts around the country.”

Mo Brooks knows that his side is losing the information war. They need a pep-talk. It’s half time. Go out and win one for the Gipper, even if the Gipper here is played by Donald Trump, not Ronald Reagan.

But there are other ways to win this information war:

The White House blocked a number of news organizations from attending an informal briefing Friday – a rare and surprising move that came amid President Trump’s escalating war against the media.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer banned reporters from CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times and BuzzFeed from attending a “gaggle,” a non-televised briefing, but gave access to a number of other reporters, including those representing conservative outlets.

The White House said the decision was not made to exclude journalists from organizations that have been the most critical of Trump in their reporting in favor of those who are more favorable. Although the invited included Fox News, Breitbart and the Washington Times – all considered sympathetic to the administration – the approved list also included CBS, NBC, ABC, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Time and the Associated Press.

However, reporters from AP and Time decided against attending the briefing in protest of the exclusion of other news outlets.

This may be a minor matter, an informal non-televised briefing held daily, but it is one skirmish in a larger war:

The unusual ban came the same day that Trump, appearing at an annual gathering of conservatives, launched another round of complaints about the news media. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Trump called reporters “dishonest” and “fake” and denounced the use of anonymous sources in reports about his administration.

Trump himself has served as an anonymous source on occasion and in the early 1990s occasionally posed as a fake anonymous source to promote himself. His blast about anonymous sourcing came a few hours after senior White House officials demanded anonymity from reporters in a briefing to criticize a CNN report that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had asked FBI officials to publicly disavow stories about Trump campaign aides’ contacts with Russian sources.

It’s that Russian thing again, getting hotter:

While Trump made lambasting the media a regular feature of his presidential campaign – and banned about a dozen news organizations from covering his rallies – he seemed to ratchet up his rhetoric last week by tweeting that various news outlets were “the enemy of the American people.” He repeated that description on Friday in his speech at CPAC. And Late Friday night, Trump kept up his Twitter attack, writing: “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country. The failing @nytimes has become a joke. Likewise @CNN. Sad!”

Yes, they’re the enemy of the American people, and one should know one’s enemies:

The selected group included One America News Network, a small, conservative cable network that was founded in 2013 and has given favorable coverage to Trump. Among those excluded was CNN, which on Thursday broke the story of Priebus’s contacts with the FBI, and the New York Times, which first reported last week on alleged contacts between Trump’s campaign advisers and Russian officials. BuzzFeed, another excluded outlet, was the sole publisher of a 35-page dossier containing unproven allegations about Trump, including supposed compromising personal information.

Spicer’s move was almost immediately denounced by news organizations as unfair and a step toward throttling the press.

“It’s not acceptable,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper said on his afternoon program. “In fact, it’s petulant … This White House doesn’t seem to value a free press. There’s a word for this. The word is ‘un-American.'”

Trump was arguing that it’s un-American to report, from anonymous sources, that his chief of staff asked the FBI to say that there was nothing to this Russian business, and the FBI refused. That was great danger to our country? That was a danger to Trump.

Josh Marshall tries to straighten this out:

The places breaking the unwelcome Trump/Russia stories are blocked.

CNN is in high dudgeon over this, as are other outlets, which is entirely understandable. But I’d like to make a basic point about how we should see this, how journalists and news organizations should treat this. I think it is both more accurate and more productive to see this as cowardice rather than some sacrilege against journalism.

That’s what we’re dealing with here:

It is far preferable to have a President and a White House who believe in democratic and American values. But we don’t. It is best to recognize that fact and act accordingly. Whining is never a good look for journalists, for myriad reasons. Not least of which is that it plays into all the tools that authoritarians mobilize against a free press and American values.

That can be done:

The answer to attacks on journalism is always more journalism. The most consequential reporting being done right now isn’t happening in the briefings. It’s happening with the ‘anonymous sources’ that President Trump says need to stand before him for retribution.

Marshall sees that as un-American:

Authoritarianism is inimical to American political culture. It is a sometimes visitor, an annoying relative. But it has never been a welcome visitor or an owner of the national home. This doesn’t mean that our history is unblemished. Far from it. To pick only one of the most glaring examples, even after emancipation, for almost a century the American South maintained a political system of democracy for whites and terror-enforced near-rightlessness for blacks. But that doesn’t change the continuities of political culture for whites, which non-whites and other minority groups have fought for decades and centuries to enter on equal terms. We know what our culture and traditions are. This isn’t it.

This is Trump’s problem:

Authoritarians always portray attacks on a free press as a sign of strength when in fact it’s sign of cowardice and weakness. Perhaps another way to put it is that weakness and strength have a particular meaning for free people. Fear of free people or violence against their mores is weakness. In our tradition if you fear free society, if you run to toadying sycophants to avoid being challenged, or demand followers toast your every action with superlatives, you’re a coward. You’re weak. You lack the strength to lead. This isn’t Russia. It’s not Horthy’s Hungary. This is America.

This isn’t surprising. We got a look yesterday at the mind and driver behind Trumpism, Steve Bannon. Bannon pitches himself as a champion of American ‘nationalism’, but it is a peculiar nationalism which takes most of its ideas and examples from the toxic and blooded authoritarians of 1930s-era Central and Eastern Europe. It’s no accident that we also learned today that Bannon’s ‘nationalist’ intellectual, Sebastian Gorka, was actually involved in forming a far-right political party in Hungary with known anti-Semites as recently as the aughts. So the guy who is going to give us American nationalism was born in Britain, set up shop as a rightist nationalist in Hungary before deciding to show up in America and become a citizen. Are we even sure we’re the last stop on his global tour?

That is odd, but this is an aberration:

The American experiment is a kind of de facto exile, perhaps an internal exile, but an exile still. The good news is that the majority doesn’t support Trumpism. But Trumpism has taken possession of the key powers of the state. It will require being aggressively American to beat back Bannon’s thuggish practices and contempt for the habits of free people.

Jake Tapper is working on that, but the information wars continue. In the Washington Post, Greg Miller had the Friday night scoop with Trump administration sought to enlist intelligence officials, key lawmakers to counter Russia stories:

The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.

Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.

The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia.

Again, they wanted “their” information out there and did what they could:

The decision to involve those officials could be perceived as threatening the independence of U.S. spy agencies that are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues, as well as undercutting the credibility of ongoing congressional probes. Those officials saw their involvement as an attempt to correct coverage they believed to be erroneous.

The effort also involved senior lawmakers with access to classified intelligence about Russia, including Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees. A spokesman for Nunes said that he had already begun speaking to reporters to challenge the story and that, “at the request of a White House communications aide, Chairman Nunes then spoke to an additional reporter and delivered the same message.”

The Trump administration’s actions reflect its level of concern about coverage of its relationship with Russia. Trump has continued to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin, even after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had interfered in the U.S. presidential race to help Trump win.

Trump has also repeatedly disparaged the intelligence agencies that his administration last week turned to for support. Shortly before taking office, Trump accused U.S. spy agencies of a Nazi-style leaks campaign to smear him.

Our spy agencies refused. The heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees, investigating Trump, did not. The work of those committees is now compromised. Who will believe anything they conclude? If Trump had wanted calls for an independent kind of 9/11 Committee he couldn’t have done more. Information, please!

Team Trump is losing this war, and there was the other Friday night scoop:

Analysts at the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump’s travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States.

A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria’s civil war started in 2011.

That was unfortunate:

Trump cited terrorism concerns as the primary reason he signed the sweeping temporary travel ban in late January, which also halted the U.S. refugee program. A federal judge in Washington state blocked the government from carrying out the order earlier this month. Trump said Friday a new edict would be announced soon. The administration has been working on a new version that could withstand legal challenges.

There’s a lot of detail here, but it comes down to this. Trump directed the analysts at the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence operation to find proof that those seven countries were a real problem – only that proof would save his travel ban. They looked. They found nothing. They reported that. Homeland Security spiked the report. Someone at Homeland Security got pissed and leaked the report to the Associated Press and now it’s on line for everyone to see – and the Trump team is trying to explain that. They lost this battle in the information war.

And they lost this one too:

President Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser has told his staff that Muslims who commit terrorist acts are perverting their religion, rejecting a key ideological view of other senior Trump advisers and signaling a potentially more moderate approach to the Islamic world.

The adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, told the staff of the National Security Council on Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” according to people who were in the meeting.

That is a repudiation of the language regularly used by both the president and General McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn, who resigned last week after admitting that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about a phone call with a Russian diplomat.

It is also a sign that General McMaster, a veteran of the Iraq war known for his sense of history and independent streak, might move the council away from the ideologically charged views of Mr. Flynn, who was also a three-star Army general before retiring.

Those who control information – what everyone agrees is so – control the world. McMaster wins battles too. That’s his thing.

And there was this minor battle:

When President Donald Trump took the stage Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he was greeted with cheers, chants of “USA,” and dozens of Russian flags.

Two young, progressive activists from DC, Jason Charter and Ryan Clayton with the group Americans Take Action, purchased tickets to the conference, and handed out nearly 1,000 flags to attendees as a prank. After they were thrown out of the conference, they told Talking Points Memo they wanted to “shed light on an important issue” – namely, the drip of revelations of backchannel communications between the Russian government and the Trump campaign – and allow people to “get a laugh out of their day.”

CPAC staff quickly confiscated the flags, but not before lots of photos of Trump folks waving Russian flags went viral. This was guerilla warfare. Information wars can be fun too. Things aren’t what they seem, but sometimes they are.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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