Number 546 January 22, 2014

This Week: The (Fading) Empire Tries to Strike Back

"Quote" of the Week: "Virtually Impossible to Solve"
Threatening The Threat
Attacking Edward Snowden Via the Media: No Evidence Needed


I plan to do a little catching up in the next month or two in these pages. I have a pile of clippings and notes from the end of 2013 that I never found time to discuss, so I'm thinking I'll send a few of those your way. On the other hand, amazing new stories seem to come along every few minutes, so maybe I'll go with that flow.

As always, if you have any ideas about issues you'd like me to talk about, send them along. As fanatically as I look at the news, I miss a lot. And, of course, sometimes your ideas are better than mine!

Thanks to all of you who have supported Nygaard Notes in the past year. 2013 was our best year yet for Pledges. You keep me going!



"Quote" of the Week: "Virtually Impossible to Solve"

Here is the lead paragraph of an article on page 8 of the January 17th New York Times:

"Nations have so dragged their feet in battling climate change that the situation has grown critical and the risk of severe economic disruption is rising, according to a draft United Nations report. Another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies, experts found."

Another, later paragraph:

"Nations have agreed to try to limit the warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. Even though it will be exceedingly difficult to meet, this target would still mean vast ecological and economic damage, experts have found. But the hope is that these would come on slowly enough to be somewhat manageable; having no target would be to risk catastrophic disruption, the thinking goes."

So that's how the thinking goes, is it? Too bad "the thinking" doesn't make this front-page news. On the front page of that day's Times space was instead reserved for a major article about Michelle Obama's 50th birthday party.


Threatening The Threat

USA TODAY ran an article on November 26th based on what I call the "Imperial Mindset." One of the things to which that phrase refers is the unquestioning acceptance of the idea that the Imperial Power has the right to do whatever it wants, wherever and whenever it wants, and other countries do not have that right. (I've written about this at some length, including in my piece "War is Peace. Self-Defense is a Threat," in Nygaard Notes #501.)

The headline of the Page 6 USAT article was "Pentagon Builds Forces in Pacific; Idea Is to Withstand Chinese Missile Attack." Keep that word "attack" in mind as we look at the first paragraph:

"The Pentagon is fortifying bases in the Pacific and looking to revive World War II-era air bases as part of an effort to survive a Chinese missile attack that could wipe out critical installations on Okinawa and elsewhere, military records, interviews and congressional testimony show."

"Critical installations" refers to U.S. military bases. Foreign Policy magazine reported in August that "the idea behind" the "so-called 'pivot to Asia'" undertaken by the Obama administration "is simple: ring China with U.S. and allied forces, just like the West did to the Soviet Union, back in the Cold War." China is already surrounded by U.S. bases, as a glance at the map of bases will show.

The article then tells us that "Chinese missiles have been a preoccupation of Pentagon planners who worry they could be used as a threat to deny access to the region by U.S. ships, planes and troops."

Here's the third paragraph, my favorite: "Chinese ballistic missiles put virtually every U.S. base in the Pacific under 'heavy threat,' said Michael Lostumbo, director of the RAND Center for Asia Pacific Study. A RAND report found 90% of the bases were within 1,080 nautical miles of China."

That "critical installation" on Okinawa is 450 miles from the coast of China. About the same distance as from Mexico City to Harlingen, Texas. The U.S. air base at Kunsan Korea is 260 miles from the Chinese coast, about the same as Miami to Havana.

In order to step outside of The Imperial Mindset I often advise people to Reverse the Headline, and imagine what it would look and sound like if the roles of the main actors were switched. It's hard to do in this case, as we'd have to start by imagining that the United States was "ringed" by Chinese military bases in Mexico City, Havana, Toronto, and Winnipeg. But if we could imagine that, then try this headline: "China Builds Forces in Caribbean; Idea Is to Withstand American Missile Attack."

The absolute right to do whatever we want, wherever and whenever we want is actually written into official military doctrine. It can be found in a January 2012 document called "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense," commissioned by President Obama to "guide our defense priorities and spending over the coming decade."

I reported on it at the time, and it's a truly Orwellian document. Only one piece of it is relevant here, and that's the piece that has to do with the U.S. response if any nation—anywhere—gets it in their head to try to get the United States to stay away. Such attempts are known in military circles as "anti-access/area denial (A2/AD)." The Pentagon describes its "mission"—should anyone try to get in our way—as follows:

"Project Power Despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges. In order to credibly deter potential adversaries and to prevent them from achieving their objectives, the United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged. In these areas, sophisticated adversaries will use asymmetric capabilities, to include electronic and cyber warfare, ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced air defenses, mining, and other methods, to complicate our operational calculus. States such as China and Iran will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projection capabilities, while the proliferation of sophisticated weapons and technology will extend to non-state actors as well. Accordingly, the U.S. military will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) environments." [Emphasis in original.]

Those "environments" are sometimes known as "countries." And some of those countries may prefer that the United States not be allowed to "operate effectively" off their coasts or near their borders. For those who accept Imperialism as normal, such expressions of sovereignty will be seen as a "threat." Meanwhile, outside of our borders, the U.S.'s "ability to project power" is perceived by many to actually BE a threat, which gives fuel to all kinds of resistance, including what we know as "terrorism."

The higher one goes in a power pyramid, the harder it is to see reality, and reporting like that seen in this recent USA Today article seriously obscures the reality of the imperial designs of the U.S., and that ignorance endangers us all.


Attacking Edward Snowden Via the Media: No Evidence Needed

In my article on The Year's Top News Stories last week I talked about what I call the media's PET. That stands for the Placement, Emphasis, and Tone of news stories. I mentioned the PET of the media's reporting of the recent gigantic theft of personal data from the Target Corporation, and how it portrayed Target as the victim, ignoring the 110 million people whose data was stolen. Another great example presented itself this week, in reports about Edward Snowden that came out in the news on Monday, January 20. We'll see how choices about PET can allow for the all-too-familiar situation in which the media system can get the facts right, but the gets story wrong.

The headline in the Star Tribune "reprint" of a Washington Post article ("by Hayley Tsukuyama, Washington Post") was headlined "Officials Wonder if Snowden Was a Spy."

[A lengthy digression: I put the word "reprint" in quotes because not a single word in the first seven paragraphs of the actual article by Hayley Tsukuyama in the Washington Post appears—anywhere—in the Star Tribune article. And it's not until the fifth paragraph of the Star Trib article that we see any text that is in the Post article. At the end of the article, the Star Trib added the disclaimer "The Associated Press contributed to this report." However, much of what is in the Star Trib doesn't seem to appear either in the Post or in any of the AP stories filed on that day on the subject of Snowden. In my mind, then, this article was not "by Hayley Tsukuyama, Washington Post," since major "contributions" were made to the article by sources unnamed. So, as we go along, it's hard to know exactly who is responsible for the PET of this story, but take your pick, I guess, since I'm talking about a pattern in the media system, not any particular outlet.]

Anyway, whoever wrote it, here's the lead paragraph in the Star Tribune: "Edward Snowden, who leaked classified National Security Agency documents, might have been working for Russian spy services before he left his job as an NSA contractor last year, the heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees said Sunday."

And the third paragraph goes like this: "Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked whether she agreed with [House Intelligence Committee chair Mike] Rogers that Snowden may have had help from the Russians. 'He may well have. We don't know at this stage,' she said."

Well, it's certainly true that Snowden "might" have been working for Russian spy services. Just as he "might" have been working at McDonald's. And he "may" have had help from "the Russians" or, for that matter, from the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff. This is not journalism, folks. Any news organization that uses the words "may" and "might" when reporting wild accusations like these has serious problems.

To its credit (I guess) the Star Trib article followed the previous statement with this one: "Neither Rogers nor Feinstein offered evidence that Snowden had been working with Moscow." And, later on, the Star Trib reports that "Ben Wizner, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who advises Snowden, told the New York Times on Sunday that the accusation that Snowden had been recruited by Russian spy services was 'not only false, it is silly.'"

Neither the word "evidence" nor the word "silly" appear in the original article "by" Hayley Tsukuyama, nor the Associated Press article, so who gets the credit for noting the lack of evidence? I don't know, but the New York Times article did a little better, remarking that, after an investigation that has gone on for a year or so, "A senior F.B.I. official said on Sunday that it was still the bureau's conclusion that Mr. Snowden acted alone." Which may or may not be true, but that's the point here: Any of this may or may not be true.

What happened last weekend was that two very powerful people—the chairs of the Intelligence Committees of both the U.S. House and the Senate—went on national television (the influential Meet the Press program) and launched McCarthyite attacks on Edward Snowden. The very definition of McCarthyism, in fact, is "the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence." Not only did these elected officials fail to even make a pretense of providing evidence, but the host of the show asked for none.

There's no reason to think that the facts in the Star Tribune story (whoever wrote it) are not true. High-ranking officials did indeed accuse Edward Snowden—in the most cowardly, unsubstantiated way— of disloyalty, subversion, or possibly treason. So, there is a story here, but what is it? Well, the PET of the mass media seems clear enough: The Star Tribune put it on the front page; that's the Placement. The Emphasis was on the unsupported statement that Snowden "might have been working for Russian spy services." And the Tone was hysteria: A spy in our midst, troops at risk, The Russians, etc etc. Scary stuff!

So, what might the PET have been in a newspaper that cares about journalism, and that remembers Joseph McCarthy? The story would, and should, be on the front page, but the Emphasis would be on high-ranking elected officials engaging in McCarthyite tactics in a very public forum. And the tone would be alarm that the people in charge of investigating the Snowden revelations appear to be trying to smear the subject of their investigation via the media, rather than seeking the truth through an impartial investigative process. This should be front-page news in any case, but even more so in the context of the post-9/11 attack on civil liberties that Snowden's revelations are doing so much to challenge.

Here's a Nygaard Notes Alternative Headline: "High-Ranking Legislators Accuse U.S. Citizen of Treason; No Evidence Offered; Echoes of McCarthy Hearings of Sixty Years Ago." A different headline, a different PET, a different story.