Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Holidaze: Immolation Nation

Australia now enters month three of the worst wildfires in the country's recorded history, and there's no end in sight to temperatures over 110 degrees, massive destruction of homes and wildlife, devastating drought, and pictures that look like the mouth of Hell itself.

As the fire stalked the east coast of Australia on Tuesday, the daytime sky turned inky black, then blood red. Emergency sirens wailed, followed by the thunder of gas explosions. Thousands of residents fled their homes and huddled near the shore. There was nowhere else to go.

Apocalyptic scenes like these in Mallacoota, a vacation destination between Sydney and Melbourne, came on the last day of the warmest decade on record in Australia. The country is in the grip of a devastating fire season, with months of summer still to go, as record-breaking temperatures, strong winds and prolonged drought have ignited huge blazes across the country.

The government prepared to deploy navy vessels and military helicopters to help fight the fires and evacuate people.

The devastation is immense. In the state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, more than 900 homes have been destroyed and nine million acres have burned since November. About 90 fires were still raging in the state on Tuesday, with about three dozen more across the border in Victoria. At least 12 people have died.

Australia is normally hot and dry in summer, but climate change, which brings more frequent and longer periods of extreme heat, worsens these conditions and makes vegetation drier and more likely to burn. The country recently concluded its driest spring on record. That was followed in mid-December by the hottest day on record, with average highs across the country of 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Polls show a large majority of Australians view climate change as an urgent threat and want stronger government action to combat it. The catastrophic fire conditions have put an intense focus on the Australian government’s failure to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which traps heat when released into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a conservative, has made it clear that Australia’s economic prosperity comes first. Even as his country burned, he has said repeatedly that it is not the time to discuss climate policy.

“We have stood up to these terrible disasters before, and we have come through the other side,” he said in his New Year’s Eve address. “We will rebuild and we will stay strong

The Morrison government won't lift a finger to change anything, and Australia will continue to burn every summer.  The thing about climate change, and people who refuse to do anything about it, is that eventually the destruction will become so awful that people will revolt.

When that happens, I'm not sure what will become of humanity.  But I foresee bloody conflict ahead for a lot of places as people fleeing the ravages of climate change run into realpolitik and the people with the rifles and tanks.

Get used to scenes like this over the decades ahead.  Not all of us are going to make it.

Holidaze: We Learned Nothing From 2009

I've had my problems with Joan Walsh over the years, but she's absolutely right in her look back at the last decade, and pins the events of the rise of Trump to the cowardice of both the media and of Democrats starting in 2009.

I had a strange spot from which to regularly witness this f&$%ing decade: cable news green rooms, tiny flash cam cubbies and convivial tables of televised political-panel chats; mostly on MSNBC, occasionally on Fox, and lately CNN. Once the euphoria of Obama’s inauguration subsided, it quickly became clear to at least a few of us that we were witnessing a profound racial backlash. In the early days of the anti-Obama Tea Party, journalists were required to say the uprising was about government spending run amok (I covered San Francisco’s first Tea Party event, on Tax Day 2009, and tried to give attendees the benefit of the doubt, though I couldn’t miss the guy demanding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi examine Obama’s birth certificate, an early “birther.”)

Fox News, always a site of white racial anxiety (remember when Barack and Michelle gave one another “terrorist fist jabs” during the 2008 campaign?) immediately became a clubhouse for white panic. Fox went from hyping the lame thuggery and purported voter intimidation of the tiny, impotent New Black Panther Party, to “exposing” some past controversial political views of Obama’s black “green jobs czar” Van Jones (which led to bipartisan demands for Jones to resign), to promoting doctored videos “showing” the black-led community empowerment group ACORN supposedly helped a “pimp” avoid paying taxes (which led to a bipartisan push to defund ACORN), to pushing another Andrew Breitbart (RIP) story that former NAACP leader Shirley Sherrod used a government job to discriminate against white farmers when the truth was the opposite (which led to bipartisan demands that Sherrod be fired).

Yes, my point is: Fox is evil, but it sometimes succeeded because Democrats are cowards, and utterly unprepared to fight evil enemies. Hosts like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and the rising Sean Hannity regularly peddled those and other racial panic stories, while the mainstream media generally, and even leading Democrats, tried hard to avoid seeing what was happening.

Then there was the almost immediate uptick in political violence. In April, 2009, a Glenn Beck fan killed three police officers in Pittsburgh. In May, an anti-abortion terrorist murdered Dr. George Tiller in the Wichita church where he served as an usher. In June, an elderly white birther murdered a guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. In August, anti-Obama protester William Kostric brought a loaded gun to a New Hampshire town hall meeting with Obama, and carried a sign referencing Thomas Jefferson’s famous credo, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots.” Folks in the media debated what Kostric was trying to say. (You can understand why I insisted on roping in 2009 into this decade.) But the political violence continues and has worsened—from Charleston to Charlottesville to Pittsburgh to El Paso—ever since.


I covered all of this, and I had the distinction of being mocked, at least twice, by the cable hosts I loved the most, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. After I debated disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly in July 2009, over whether his violence-tinged rhetoric contributed to the climate that led an anti-abortion zealot to murder Dr. George Tiller, Stewart played our heated exchange and distilled it down to each of us saying the other had blood on their hands (admittedly not my finest moment), and mocking us with the zinger “No backsies!”
The fact that I got thousands of hateful emails and a few old fashioned snail-mail letters, some of them threatening harm to me and my daughter, while O’Reilly railed at me every night for almost a week from his top-rated multi-million-dollar Fox perch, didn’t figure in the sketch. We were simply “both sides.” It prefigured Donald Trump’s “many fine people, on both sides” after Charlottesville—but for laughs.

Maybe worse, I was apparently mocked at the stupendously awful “March to Restore Sanity” Stewart and Colbert sponsored in October 2010, for calling the people behind the uptick in political murder “gun nuts.” I say “apparently” because multiple people told me I was in some compilation video of the divisive people on “both sides,” the partisan “crazies” who needed to be called out so that bipartisan “sanity” could be restored, but I’ve never been able to find it online. Whether or not I was mocked doesn’t really matter; we know the “march” occurred, and was intended to promote nonpartisan solutions to the rising climate of hate. Which was mostly, can we now admit, coming from one side? But again, in this f&$%ing decade, criticizing “both sides” was apparently the only way to acknowledge the rot emanating from one side.

But I didn’t only face this on Fox or, occasionally, from folks I admired on Comedy Central. I ran up against it sometimes on MSNBC too. On “Hardball,” longtime political analyst Pat Buchanan regularly attacked me as an elitist for deriding the racism of the growing Tea Party, even as he recognized them as the descendants of the George Wallace voters he’d welcomed into the GOP four decades earlier. The first time he did it, I was gob-smacked, thinking I’d won the debate. But new rules, put into place under Obama, meant you couldn’t even dismiss George Wallace voters as racist anymore. Back-dated by Buchanan, and a precursor to the right’s Trump analysis, the Wallace voters’ problem was merely “economic anxiety” combined with resentment that “elites” like me didn’t like them. Never mind that Buchanan came from a wealthy Washington D.C. family and I grew up a working-class New Yorker.

Meanwhile, I lost my regular invite to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” the day in early 2010 when I failed to correctly identify the person Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski believed was the MSNBC equivalent of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. I can still find the video and transcript, courtesy of the right-wing Web that loved how a “clueless” me was schooled, especially by Brzezinski:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: …I think it helps us all to say there are extreme voices on the left, there are extreme voices on the right, and it’s our responsibility to call out people, I believe, on our side.

JOAN WALSH: Who would you have me call out? I mean who would you say on the left is comparable to Rush and…

SCARBOROUGH: Don’t do it.

MIKA BREZEZINSKI: Mmm-mmm! No thanks, Joan. We’re good. We’re good.

SCARBOROUGH: Can we talk about the Chinese now?

MIKA: I think it’s all very obvious.

WALSH: Is it obvious? Who on the left is comparable to Rush and Glenn on the right?

MIKA: Okay, Joan, if it’s not obvious to you I’ll talk to you off-set. I mean, my God! Alright so let’s read from the Washington Post…

SCARBOROUGH: We’ll talk off-set.

WALSH: Okay…

MIKA: Seriously, it’s like BLIP… BLIP… BLIP… right in front of you and you’re like [imitates willfully clueless Walsh] “I’m sorry, I don’t see it!”

A shocked Walsh was left with her mouth hanging open.

I am sure my mouth did hang open. It just hung open again, reading that exchange. “Off-set,” and also later on the Web, it was “revealed” to me that the correct answer was then-MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Folks, Olbermann has had his career and personal ups and downs, and I have had my own with him, but there is no way that he ever—then or now—spewed the crazy hatred, let alone the casual racism, of Limbaugh or Beck. Of course, the history of this f&%^cking decade shows that “Morning Joe” later opened its airwaves to candidate Donald Trump whenever he chose to phone in—and even later turned on him, to the hosts’ credit. But “even later” was too late. The damage had been done.

Trump's racist birther garbage was apparent eleven years ago, and so was the failure of our media and the Democrats.  The signs were there, and at every turn last decade the country gave in to him.

Now in 2020 we have one last chance to stop him, or the country is done.

Holidaze: They Learned Nothing In 2019

Our media is bad, it has been bad for years, that lack of common sense in the media is a big reason we have Trump in the White House, and after three years of this hurricane of fecal matter flying around the country leaving destruction in its wake, our media betters are still the same awful clods they were in 2016, as evidenced by Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple interviewing NY Times reporter Adam Goldman on the Steele dossier.

What was your first reaction to the dossier? Were you wary of it?

I hadn’t read the dossier until BuzzFeed published it. I was at The Washington Post, and I left in late August [for the New York Times], and I started hearing rumors, but nobody actually told me anything. I’m at the Times; I’m doing terrorism; I’m dealing with the Clinton Foundation; and I don’t actually read the dossier until it’s online.

Were you part of Steele’s media tour?

No, I was not.

You heard rumors, and then BuzzFeed posted it, and then did your focus turn to it?

No, my focus didn’t turn toward it because I was subsumed with the FBI Russia investigation itself, all the different components to it, right? Figuring out if he was under investigation, right? What was it based on, what were the origins of Crossfire Hurricane? I was trying to figure out the past and trying to keep up with what the FBI was doing. So the dossier for me was not a central — there was a lot of reporting to be done, and I wasn’t the one focused on the dossier.

But then it did obviously, eventually come closer into your world.

Of course I remember reading the memo — the [Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) memo claiming surveillance overreach at the FBI], the dueling memos from the Dems and the Republicans. … Who was right and who was wrong? The dossier had been used, we knew, from Nunes’s memo. We didn’t know how much of it was used, and we didn’t have a good understanding of what the FBI had done to vet it. The assumption was they certainly were trying to. And, well, what did they know that we didn’t know? And then how many months ago, the deputy attorney general says they need to look into this. There were all these accusations floating around. So the deputy attorney general has the IG start looking into it. But really for me, as the guy covering the FBI, I was very interested in what the IG was doing. There was a lot going on, as the IG developed his case and more people started to talk to more people, I was able to get a better sense eventually there were going to be problems not only with the dossier but obviously big problems with the FISA.


I might have figured [that the FBI had interviewed the dossier’s primary sub-source in January 2017] in early 2019 or late 2018. And that for me was an extraordinary moment: Right? I knew, s---, there were problems. So now there’s some indication that there were problems with the dossier and the FBI had a sense of it. But there were only a handful of people in that room with the source [in January 2017]. And I couldn’t — to be able to write a definitive story with the details the IG had was, I guess, a bridge too far, right? It was a mountain too high for me. Because as the IG report shows, the information didn’t even get to the FISA court. So it somehow rested with this very small group of people in the FBI. I did identify one former law enforcement official who I thought would know about it and I’m sure probably did, and this person did not answer any of my requests. So I went to great lengths to try to build out that information and also figure out who the primary [source] was, and it proved to be extraordinarily tough. I mean, you can imagine: That was an explosive part of the IG report. I would have liked to have known and reported what he said in January of 2017. If I had learned more, I would have liked to have written a much larger, more important story informing the public [about] the problems that the FBI uncovered.


People on the right on Twitter criticized us for our pre-IG leak stories. I thought they were all very sound. The New York Times was the first newspaper to identify Kevin Clinesmith by name. [Clinesmith is the FBI lawyer who, according to the Times account, “altered an email that officials used to prepare to seek court approval to renew the wiretap.”] My colleagues and I had the first comprehensive story about the main takeaways: No evidence of bias, no — [Joseph] Mifsud wasn’t working for the FBI, Crossfire Hurricane was legit; and these were all important takeaways. The immediate two stories we wrote — I wrote there are many errors, omissions and mistakes [in the FISA applications]. And I wrote there’s exculpatory evidence they should have included about [George] Papadopoulos and the FISA and about Carter [Page]. I didn’t have the nitty-gritty detail of a 500-page report to be able to walk through all 17 of those significant errors. And frankly it wasn’t even clear to me what Clinesmith had done and how he had altered that email. I had a sense of that. … The way it was described to me it was he took something from the positive and made it into a negative. And that’s what he did. … It was an important report, and I think we did a pretty good job previewing what a lot of it was going to say on a macro level.

Everything you did predict actually was in the report. The criticism, such as it is, is a matter of weighting.

Well, the president of the United States has been accusing the FBI of a coup. He said it in that news conference afterward, they tried to overthrow the government. This is a big, weighty accusation. Why wouldn’t we have tackled that one: Was the president right, did the president know something we didn’t? And if the president was right, that’s pretty extraordinary.


Also: I was very careful with this language reporting they hadn't placed reporters or undercovers inside the campaign. That was also a major takeaway.

Given that you’ve covered the FBI forever and law enforcement forever and surveillance and all this stuff, tell me what you think about the semantics and the technicalities of this debate about spying.

I mean, look, Matt Apuzzo and I wrote the NYPD stories [about the NYPD’s illegal surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods, for the Associated Press]. We used the word “spying” because it seemed that the NYPD didn’t have a legal justification to do what they were doing: going into coffee shops, eavesdropping on private citizens in public spaces, gathering intelligence about communities and putting them in secret documents. People had done nothing wrong and were not accused of doing anything wrong. In this particular case, you have what the IG says are informants who didn’t violate any rules or policies being used as a legitimate law enforcement investigation. Attorney General William P. Barr thinks it’s spying. I don’t think I would hesitate to use the word “spying” if they had found something illegal. If lawful surveillance is spying, then is every FBI investigation they do spying? Did they spy when they busted those NFL players for health-care fraud? God knows what they did in that investigation.

Is the investigation into Rudy and Lev and Igor — is that spying? Where is the line between lawful surveillance and spying?

It’s like torture, right? … The implication of “torture” is that somebody did something wrong. They violated someone’s human rights.

You reported in April about the alleged flimsiness of the dossier.

I had just been collecting a lot of information wanting to do a story about all of this. I'd just been filling up this bucket until I had enough information to write a story. And I kept refilling the bucket.

It was cited on “Hannity.” How do you feel oftentimes to see Sean Hannity and Trump rip the New York Times and then rely on it the next day?

I don’t pay much attention to it. But I’d love to go on “Hannity.” 
David Kris was on the Lawfare podcast and said he needed to emphasize a million times that the FISA problems were not political and he couldn’t emphasize that enough. And I know that there are representations in the Horowitz report saying that he couldn’t find political bias —

That’s fine, but he also said he didn’t get reasonable satisfactory answers. I mean, there were so many screw-ups. How is that possible — basic stuff that people were incapable of doing? My position is that we’re going to go with the Horowitz report until we learn otherwise from U.S. Attorney John Durham or whoever — somebody reputable.

And I mean, Goldman is a solid reporter, and Wemple has been all over the Trump regime's treatment of the media, but Goldman would also love to go on the Junior Fascist Hatred Hour, and Wemple is now up to part seven (this interview) of his long-winded criticism of how the media absolutely failed America in every sense of the word by even reporting on the Steele dossier and the Carter Page story.

Wemple has gone so far as to trash Steele himself, going after McClatchy for the Michael Cohen Prague story, slagging Rachel Maddow's coverage of the story over the months, and defending disinformation conduit John Solomon, among other attacks over the last several weeks that's had Wemple cited positively by the very right-wing outlets that have been horrible to him for years.

The media has learned nothing in 2019.  They still believe the Trump regime is operating in good faith. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, their salary depends on not understanding that Trump is their mortal enemy.
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