Media

Spies in the Media

Journalists have long been used by governments, wittingly or not, to collect intel and spread disinformation.

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Facebook and Twitter have acquired reputations as the Boris and Natasha of our day, spreading fake news the way British colonists handed out smallpox-infested blankets to Indians. Yet disinformation is a lot older than social media.

Modern Americans could also be forgiven for thinking the 2016 election was the first time a foreign country made an organized attempt to affect a stateside political outcome. But in fact, we've spent decades swimming in false stories spread by governments from Moscow to London (and, for that matter, Washington). Journalists have frequently served as those governments' partners in their propaganda and espionage efforts—sometimes unwittingly and other times with full intent.

Bits and pieces of this reality have emerged via news reports, particularly some 1970s stories by John Crewdson in The New York Times and Carl Bernstein in Rolling Stone. Last year, just before Thanksgiving, the Louisville Courier-Journal had an unusual scoop: One of its own reporters in the mid-1960s had been a full-time CIA officer, hired by a newsroom boss with full knowledge that his new city desk inkslinger had a secret identity. But nobody has pried as many horrifying, hilarious details out of Washington journalism's secret cloak-and-dagger side as Steven T. Usdin in his new book, Bureau of Spies: The Secret Connections Between Espionage and Journalism in Washington (Prometheus Books).

It turns out American reporters spied for the CIA. They spied for the Soviets. And they spied for the British—boy, did they spy for the British, helping them nudge us into World War II, unseat an isolationist congressman, and riddle the U.S. media with fake news.

Usdin has written a good bit about espionage, including 2005's Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley, the story of a couple of members of the Rosenberg atomic spy ring. With Bureau of Spies, he's not just written history but established a broader context for the accusations of fake news that fly around Washington today—a context that a lot of journalists may not find entirely pleasant.

Though it covers seven decades of clandestine journalistic hoodoo, Bureau of Spies is at its liveliest in the 10 or 15 years around World War II, a time when the National Press Building—and especially its bar—"came to resemble Humphrey Bogart's Casablanca," Usdin writes. Reporters, spooks, and spook-reporters from Japan, Great Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union, and the U.S. would slink through the halls and huddle over drinks, swapping and stealing secrets.

In 1940, the British—already at war with Germany and not faring well—set up an intelligence office in Washington intended to nudge the United States away from neutrality and into open support for London. It did so mainly by planting falsified stories in the mainstream American news media. The British Security Co-ordination (BSC) was the Russian troll farm of its day—in Usdin's words, a place where government agents could "craft lies, inject them into news feeds, and then track them as they fly around the globe" (or as the young folks say, post clickbait).

England's spooks were far from operating on their own. In addition to a wink and a nod from President Franklin Roosevelt, who knew about the BSC and ordered the FBI to leave it alone, the Brits benefited from a compliant Washington press corps.

"Scores—perhaps hundreds—of American journalists who believed that fighting fascism justified unethical and, at times, illegal behavior, cooperated with British intelligence in 1940 and '41," Usdin writes. They filled U.S. newspapers and radio stations with fake stories, many of them about anti-interventionist U.S. politicians. One congressman, Republican Hamilton Fish of New York's Hudson Valley, lost his seat after four years of dirty tricks and fabricated stories. Fish, in an angry concession speech, said his loss "should largely be credited to Communists and Red forces from New York City." As the author of a secret history of BSC operations in America noted, "he might—with more accuracy—have blamed BSC."

The journalists in the BSC's pocket were by no means scuffling freelancers or marginal hacks. Some of the fake stories the Brits used to batter Hamilton Fish were written by Drew Pearson and Robert S. Allen, whose syndicated column ("The Washington Merry-Go-Round") was among the most widely read in America. Another British beguilee, Edgar Ansel Mowrer of the Chicago Daily News, had won a Pulitzer in 1933 for covering Hitler's rise to power. By 1940 he was writing, at British behest, a wildly paranoid series of stories suggesting there were German spies hiding under every bed west of Berlin.

Eventually, the BSC's journalistic adventures grew so extensive that the Brits needed a more sophisticated cover for them. Thus was born in 1940 the Overseas News Agency (ONA), a corporate cousin to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wire service. The ONA ostensibly covered Europe's ethnic-minority communities in a straight-arrow, just-the-facts fashion. Actually, it was substantially bankrolled by British intelligence, and many of its reporters were BSC spies. They gathered intel for their London bosses (who offered to share their reports with the FBI, which wasn't interested) and wrote lurid propaganda for their editors, notably including that the German army was rounding up women by the trainload in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and sending them back to the Reich, where "they will be entrusted with the important work of amusing German soldiers, in order to keep up the morale of the troops."

One of the ONA's biggest guns was a syndicated anti-Nazi columnist named Harry Hart Frank. When the war was over, he adopted the pen name Pat Frank and wrote a series of marvelously paranoid Cold War novels, including Alas, Babylon (small Florida town struggles to survive a nuclear war) and Forbidden Area (Russian moles plot to ground the U.S. Air Force and enable a Soviet nuclear first strike). His work for the ONA was just as compulsively readable and just as thoroughly fictional, including stories that France's Vichy government was turning Martinique and Haiti into Nazi military strongholds from which raids could be launched on the Panama Canal, Puerto Rico, and even Miami.

Other ONA stories were more optimistic, particularly one in which Free World astrologers confirmed that the death of a 130-year-old Bedouin fortune-teller was "a sign of a coming defeat for Hitler." (The Brits also sponsored a 1941 U.S. tour by the Hungarian "astro-philosopher" Louis de Wohl, who passed along signs from the stars that Hitler was on a downhill slide. De Wohl came with an impressive résumé—he was chums with Goebbels' personal astrologer.)

Some of the disinformation spread by the ONA and other British intelligence organs would echo through history. BSC files show it spent a lot of time manufacturing the first rumors about Hitler's supposedly crumbling sanity, including "an uncontrollable fear that his mustache is growing more and more like Stalin's, and he has it shaved every morning much closer than usual."

Soon the New York Post printed a story saying Hitler's doctors were in Switzerland consulting with Carl Jung. The Soviet news agency TASS picked up the story, which caught the eye of British papers, and a United Press International (UPI) reporter in London sent it back to Washington. Multiple-source confirmation that Hitler was barking mad! Though Usdin doesn't say so, it's easy to imagine that the bit about the mustache inspired, a quarter of a century later, one of the CIA's signature works: an attempt to discredit Fidel Castro by making his beard fall out. (Somewhat less effective: a BSC attempt to spread a rumor that military rations were causing a wave of impotence among German soldiers.)

In 1940, the British set up an intelligence office in Washington intended to nudge the U.S. away from neutrality in the war by planting falsified stories in the American media.

Useful as the ONA was for getting stories into the U.S. media, there often was no need for cutouts or shell games to trick American reporters into doing the Brits' work. The BSC wrote up an entire series of stories on France's alleged espionage activities in the United States, then gave it to New York Herald Tribune reporter Ansel E. Talbert. The series, published under his name, appeared in about a hundred American papers and won Talbert a congratulatory letter from Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau. "Talbert didn't tell him that his biggest contribution to the series was lending his byline," notes Usdin.

The British were not the only ones who found reporters an easy way into American secrets. Using its wire service TASS as a (very thin) front, Usdin writes, Soviet intelligence by 1941 had recruited 22 U.S. journalists into espionage. Only engineers, crucial to Russian efforts to acquire U.S. military technology, were a more fertile source for Moscow.

Among the 22 was Robert Allen, who with partner Drew Pearson would later plant British-manufactured fake news in their popular column. Even if you think that realpolitik justified Allen's work for the Brits, his collaboration with the Soviets cannot be explained as anything other than pure venality.

Allen began passing secrets to the USSR in 1933, long before they became U.S. wartime allies. (The Russian agency he worked with was known then as OGPU, the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs. It's one of several names Soviet intelligence used and abandoned: Cheka, GPU, NKVD, KGB—a malign alphabet soup that even Vanna White couldn't have kept up with. I'll use KGB for all of them, since the grim essence of their work never changed, even if their names did.) KGB records show that Allen made $100 a month from Moscow, which sounds like peanuts but was actually double what he took home from his syndicated column. For that, he supplied the Soviets with early tips on news he was reporting, including the fact that the newly elected Roosevelt planned to extend formal diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union for the first time.

Such political gossip, even if not top secret, was extremely useful to Stalin's regime—and a pre-CIA Washington had no comparable source on what was going on in the far more secretive Kremlin. "At a time when the United States had almost no capacity to collect or analyze foreign political intelligence and the Kremlin was a black box to American policy makers, men in the [KGB headquarters] were privy to a private conversation between two U.S. senators revealing a controversial, secret policy decision made by America's next president," Usdin writes.

Allen passed along more than just Capitol chatter. He was well-sourced at the Office of Naval Investigations, then the leading U.S. military intelligence outfit, and he kept the Soviets up to date on American spying against Moscow's enemy Japan, including the news that four U.S. agents disguised as Malayan fishermen had discovered extensive Japanese military fortifications in the Marshall Islands.

The last known evidence of Allen's espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union dates to February 1933. But it would have been easy for the Soviets, holding enough blackmail ammunition to ruin his career and even put him in jail, to forcibly reactivate Allen at any time—including the years during World War II when he left journalism to serve as an intelligence officer for General George Patton in Europe.

Other well-known names in American journalism flirted with the KGB, sometimes without even knowing it. The relationship between reporter and source is peculiar and multidimensional—each side is, to some extent, extracting information from the other—and when the source is a spy, it can be extremely difficult to figure out who is getting the better of the deal.

I speak from experience here. Working on a story about a rogue Texas cop who may also have been a narcotrafficker, I some years back called the CIA to ask if it had ever worked with an Indonesian air-cargo service that once employed him. Well, let me see what I can do for you, said the public information officer. But first, let me just get some information so I know we're all on the same page. This cop you're writing about: What's his name? What's his age? What's his last known address? The questions went on for 20 minutes or so, until the CIA man said, "I think that about covers it. So, the CIA doesn't comment on possible intelligence matters. Thanks for offering us the opportunity, though." After that, I'm more than willing to believe Usdin's conclusion that Washington columnist and New Republic co-founder Walter Lippman was never a witting KGB agent, despite considerable appearances to the contrary.

Any discussion of Lippman and the KGB needs to start with some caveats. The first and most obvious is that it's neither a crime nor bad journalism for a reporter to talk to a spy. Spies may lie to you and almost certainly will try to spin you, but that's true of practically anybody who works for a government. Spies have a lot of information—collecting it is their job, after all—and it makes good sense to try to get them to share some of it. Second, it is entirely possible for a reporter, no matter how good, to talk to an intelligence operative without being aware of it. In 20 years covering Latin America, only once or twice did I meet anybody who announced, "Hi, I'm a spy." Mostly they are under a cover carefully constructed to fool people like journalists. Largely, they succeed.

So the fact that Lippman fluttered around KGB men in Washington doesn't necessarily imply anything negative. He would have been interested in their knowledgeable commentary on Soviet foreign policy, and they would have found almost anything he had to say extremely useful. Lippman was not only an influential journalist but a courtier to Washington's foreign policy establishment, and he was an obvious target for Soviet cultivation on just about any level. Nuggets about his close association with Russian spooks have been emerging for years, and Bureau of Spies piles them higher than ever.

The KGB in 1941 recruited Lippman's secretary, Mary Price, who applied herself to espionage with Stakhanovite zeal. "For two years, she rifled his files, eavesdropped on his conversations and scanned his correspondence, passing on anything of interest" to Moscow, Usdin writes. When an exhausted Price quit the clandestine life to become an open Communist, the KGB kept in close touch with Lippman through Vladimir Pravdin, the TASS Washington bureau chief and, in Usdin's description, "a trained and hardened intelligence operative." The two men met so frequently that Pravdin, in his reports back to his KGB bosses, referred to their conversations as their "usual talks."

The bureau chief's cables to Moscow make it clear that Lippman didn't know he was talking to a KGB officer; he just thought he was chatting up a good source on the Soviet Union. And indeed, Pravdin could have delivered some thrilling scoops had Lippman known the right questions to ask. Among Pravdin's previous assignments were stalking Stalin's enemy Trotsky and murdering an old Bolshevik who had fallen from Stalin's favor.

But Lippman was less concerned with his workaday newspaper readers than his foreign policy chums, to whom he reported as least as slavishly as Pravdin did to the KGB. After one long meeting between the two in May 1944, Lippman passed along what he had learned about Soviet territorial ambitions in Manchuria to senior State Department officials, while Pravdin cabled Moscow about squabbles between Churchill and Roosevelt over the forthcoming Allied invasion of France, U.S. military progress in Asia, and senior FDR adviser Averill Harriman's thinking about Soviet plans for Japan.

Soviet intelligence by 1941 had recruited 22 U.S. journalists into espionage. Only engineers, crucial to Russian efforts to acquire U.S. military technology, were a more fertile source.

Pravdin was just one of several KGB men with press cards offering blandishments to American journalists. It's not exactly shocking that Vladimir Romm, a reporter in the Washington bureau of the official Soviet daily Izvestia, was working for Russian intelligence. What is a little surprising is how easily he mesmerized American journalists, who had no clue at all that Romm was a spy, much less that he had helped administer the Stalin-engineered famine in the Ukraine that starved millions of peasants to death.

"Romm was a living embodiment of Americans' fantasy of Soviet Man: erudite, charming and selfless," writes Usdin. Even the everyman columnist Ernie Pyle was spellbound. "He speaks softly in a low voice," Pyle told his readers. "He doesn't try to sell Russia to you."

The columnist was, no doubt, one of the many Washington newsmen who were shocked when Romm, two years later, was arrested as a Trotskyite saboteur who was plotting to overthrow Stalin. Revealing their utter cluelessness about the way the Soviet Union worked, a group of American reporters, including some from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press, cabled Moscow to explain that there must be some mistake: "He did more than any other Soviet envoy to popularize the Stalin regime in this country."

Romm soon confessed to everything he was charged with—he would eventually be executed, his wife sent to a Siberian work camp, and his son sent to an orphanage—and then testified in one of the show trials in which Stalin was purging all his enemies, real and imagined. Walter Duranty, the notoriously fawning and bafflingly influential Moscow correspondent of The New York Times (who won a Pulitzer for dispatches denying the existence of that 1933 Ukrainian famine that Romm and his colleagues helped create), was stunned by the treachery of his ex-friend. "It is still a mystery," Duranty wrote, that men like Romm "should continue to follow Trotsky" when it was obvious that "Stalin was the man Russia needed."

Duranty's piece was not, Usdin notes in a tone of wonder, the stupidest thing to come from an American in Moscow during the trial. "Duranty was a cynical Stalinist," Usdin observes, "but the American ambassador, Joseph Davies, was something worse: a complete fool." Davies wrote to the Times imploring the editors to stop suggesting improprieties in the trial. Romm didn't have any bruises, Davies declared, so "his testimony bore the hallmarks of credibility."

Some American journalists agreed. The New York Post said it was hard to believe that the show trials were not just, because "not one of the 33 [defendants who confessed] had the courage to let out a protest before the assembled representatives of foreign powers and the foreign press. Not one."

Usdin does not label this editorial stupid, because it was born not of ignorance but of astounding mendacity. Its author was a reporter named Isidor Feinstein, better known in the United States as I.F. Stone. In Moscow, Soviet spymasters referred to him as Blin ("Pancake"), his KGB code name.

Stone was a rabble-rousing left-wing journalist whose I.F. Stone's Weekly newsletter was an inspiration to newspapermen who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. Many remember his sometimes extraordinary investigative reporting (he was one of the few reporters to challenge the U.S. government's claims of a North Vietnamese naval attack in the Tonkin Gulf) while conveniently forgetting his idiocies (he was the only reporter to produce an entire book arguing that the Korean War was started by the South). Stone undoubtedly wrote what he believed, however ludicrous that sometimes was. But Bureau of Spies makes it clear that he was also a knowing Soviet agent for a decade or more.

Pravdin and his associates worked arduously to talk to Stone several times in September 1944. It took a month to get a private meeting where they made a pitch. Stone asked for a lot of money—a sufficiently large sum that Pravdin had to check it with Moscow. Whether Stone got it isn't clear from the available records, but "it is certain that he stayed in touch with Pravdin after the Russian indicated he was an intelligence officer seeking secret information," Usdin writes. "Washington's loudest whistleblower, a man who made a career ferreting out malfeasance and hypocrisy, felt no need to inform his readers that the Soviet Union was trying to recruit him and other journalists as spies."

As with the suspicious personages that dot the media landscape today, many of the characters in Usdin's book are not really spies at all, just ideological wingnuts pushing propaganda for causes that are creepy or crazy or both. James True, who published anti-Semitic newsletters and had patented a wooden club shaped like a cutlass that he called the Kike Killer (in those days before gallantry died, there was even a smaller ladies' version available), may have shared the Nazis' racial views, but he wasn't an informer.

One of his most implacable enemies was, though. John Spivak, a correspondent for the INS wire service (later absorbed by UPI), wrote a brutal exposé of True for the lefty magazine New Masses. The story failed to mention that Spivak was a paid Soviet agent who used his reporting trips as a cover for tracking down Trotskyites for Moscow. His intelligence reports were far more colorful than his newspaper stories; one dispatch to his handlers on a missing German aristocrat claimed that the man was castrated and his wife was a hermaphrodite.

That report also would have been welcome at the White House, where Roosevelt had a yen for sexually outré spy tales. He used syndicated newspaper columnist John Franklin Carter, who moonlighted as a novelist, as his personal spook, dashing hither and yon to collect the sort of stuff that the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the CIA, just couldn't come up with, including the news that the USO's donut dollies were riddled with Nazi agents.

Carter's best source was Putzi Hanfstaengl, a Harvard grad and Nazi defector whose accomplishments included inventing the Sieg Heil chant. (His wife supposedly talked Hitler out of suicide in his youth, a surprisingly undercelebrated achievement in mental health circles.) Hanfstaengl deluged FDR with sexual gossip, including supposed details about Hitler's fetish for whips, his infection with the clap by a Jewish prostitute in Vienna, and his inability to attain "real and complete sexual fulfillment." Women had to do something special to get Hitler off, Hanfstaengl confided, "the exact nature of which is a state secret." Roosevelt read this stuff in his White House bed at night, then locked it in his personal safe.

Alas, in those unenlightened times, Hanfstaengl fell under suspicion of being gay. ("While Carter was happy to associate with a racist anti-Semitic Nazi, he was wary of homosexuals," Usdin notes drily.) The president's journalist pal Clare Boothe Luce, valiantly trying to restore the credibility of a key intelligence source, suggested leaving the defector alone with Somerset Maugham's gay German secretary to see if they would jump on one another. But when the two were introduced, Hanfstaengl begged Carter to get rid of the secretary.

"One of the things I couldn't stand about Hitler," he explained, "was all the fairies he had around him." Case closed.

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129 responses to “Spies in the Media

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  2. “Journalists have ALWAYS been used by governments, wittingly or not, to collect intel and spread disinformation.”

    FTFY

    1. In New York, we also use journalists to disseminate appropriate information on certain delicate matters. Without proper reporting from the press, the way we decided to handle the nature of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged encounter with a female hotel employee who entered his room might have been transformed into something quite different from what it was; and without accurate, deadpan coverage?taking words at face value according to our specific instructions?our efforts to suppress illegal “parody” of a reputable NYU department chairman might have been hindered by unpleasant objections from the so-called “First Amendment community.” Imagine if the press had chosen to inappropriately emphasize things like “irony,” “humor” and “corruption.” Things might have gone quite differently then, a result we were able to avoid thanks to our good relations with numerous media outlets. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

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  3. Currently the mainstream media isn’t journalism, it isn’t news, it’s an outrage of the day propaganda delivery vehicle.

    1. “Journalism” as some Higher Calling to the Truth is a myth the Progressive Left came up with to distract us from developing media with OTHER biases. The plain fact is that Newspapers began as political broadsides and never strayed far from their roots. What is different about modern Media is not the bias, but the incompetence. They used to be better both at telling the story and hiding the distortions. Too long spent without effective opposition have atrophied their ability to work against effective opposition.

      1. I can’t wait till everyone drops the Edward-R-Murrow most-trusted-source-in-America pretense of objectivity.

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  4. Free speech on social media can make us aware of media propaganda but real self defence requires knowledge to discern it ourselves.

    Propaganda is induced psychosis.

    The famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, having mapped human psychosis, worked with his nephew Edward Bernays to reverse engineer it into a weapon to be used to control the unknowing masses.

    Emotion only exists in the absence of reality, reason. No emotion requires rational scrutiny.

    Propaganda works by making any issue emotional, so the facts don’t matter in a post truth way; then by inserting fake news or lies to elicit the desired reaction. Like road rage but in a long term psychosis way.

    It is how to have control, power over people. All governments use the media to do it. The media knows they’re doing it.

    It is a conspiracy. What do you think of conspiracies? How does that make you feel?

    1. I see this as going back to Plato’s cave and, especially, his noble lies.

      The shadows on wall are our news media, and they’re especially effective at spreading noble lies (with maybe the best of intentions!). Noble lies, in this sense, means that it’s easier to get the general public to support the decisions of the government when they believe what the government is saying regardless of whether it’s actually true.

      Take it to Machiavelli, as well. The government has an enormous interest in telling us whatever we need to hear in order to support whatever it wants to do.

      Even here at Reason, even here in comments, you’ll find people who want us to believe certain things because they think the world would be a better place if only more people believed those things. There are people pushing climate change data because they think the world would be a better place if it were socialist. There are people who refuse to even consider the data because they believe that rejecting that data is essential to the future of capitalism–and they think the world would be a better place if it were more capitalist.

      If the fact is that the world would be a better place if it were more capitalist regardless of what the climate data says, then the question for capitalism doesn’t hinge on what the climate data says. Why fall for distractions? Obsess over the irrelevant minutia of every tree, and we will lose our way in the forest.

      1. Everywhere and everything that can be manipulated is subject to propaganda.

        Economic capitalism uses the emotions of fear and greed to manipulate us to put the benefits of personal wealth above all else, including suffering.

        Theoretical capitalism puts our survival at the top so we will cause suffering until our own survival is threatened unequivocally.

        Socialism can be manipulated too but lacks this one check and balance.

        It is why I am a proponent of eliminating corruption.

        1. “Economic capitalism uses the emotions of fear and greed to manipulate us to put the benefits of personal wealth above all else, including suffering.”

          I suspect you have either rejected or failed to internalize Adam Smith.

          We tend to anthropomorphize animals when we talk about why they evolved the way they did or why they specialized. No, the red footed birds Darwin found on the Galapagos didn’t hold a Yalta conference and decide to head for a different niche from the blue footed birds. It wasn’t “instinct” that made them specialize into two distinct species either. They were simply reacting to market forces. There was a greater supply of resources available over there for those who could specialize and more competition over here for those who couldn’t.

          One of the great failures of social Darwinism was its failure to account for altruism as a specialized adaptation like that–as product of those same market forces. And there are numerous examples of altruism emerging through evolution in the natural world. That shouldn’t be surprising to atheists (if altruism had never arisen through evolutionary processes, its existence would make an excellent argument for belief in God), but it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who understands Adam Smith either. After all, he was effectively writing about the emergence of benevolence from competitive systems as early as 1759 in “Theory of Moral Sentiments”.

          1. Birds aren’t humans.

            Destroying the ability to survive, by maximizing immediate wealth, puts one on the wrong side of evolution.

            1. Only regulation, your worst socialist fear, prevents the greedy from destroying what we must all share to survive.

              How would capitalism work on a Mars habitat, where every resource is crucial to everyone’s survival?

              This planet is just a large habitat.

              1. Better than socialism would.

                1. You mean greed based decisions would be better than working together to develop the best plan to utilize resources for everyone’s benefit and survival and then enforcing that plan?

                  1. “…working together to develop the best plan to utilize resources for everyone’s benefit and survival” = central planning, which has been repeatedly shown to be inferior to the free market (or “greed “) for allocating scarce resources.

                  2. Rob Misek|2.24.19 @ 3:15PM|#

                    You mean greed based decisions would be better than working together to develop the best plan to utilize resources for everyone’s benefit and survival and then enforcing that plan?

                    Please, please, please – show me a historical socialist society that ever worked together to utilize resources for everyone’s benefit and survival and then enforcing that plan.

            2. Birds aren’t humans, and yet we’re both subject to market forces–whether we like it or not–and benevolence (altruism) appears to emerge from those forces, just like Adam Smith said.

              Your focus on the maximization of “wealth” is off for a number of reasons. Among them, you don’t seem to appreciate that the maximization of profit keeps costs low and products as widely available as possible. (Profit is the difference between revenue and cost, so cutting costs is the easiest way to maximize profit without being undercut on price by the competition).

              No one is making much of a profit in Venezuela, and that’s why huge swathes of the people there are suffering from malnutrition. Doesn’t sound very evolved. I saw that Maduro’s thugs attacked and killed Venezuelans, yesterday, for trying to get food and medicine across the border into Venezuela. Doens’t sound very benevolent.

              Sounds like they need some Adam Smith in their lives. If the people of Venezuela had been free to maximize wealth, none of this would be happening.

              1. What they need is to be fre from corruption.

                Any form of governance works in an environment free of corruption.

                No governance, regulation, doesn’t work anywhere.

                1. Rights are choices and the obligation to respect them. Even property rights are the right to make choices about who uses something, when it’s used, how it’s used, etc. The legitimate purpose of government is to protect our right to make choices for ourselves. We should all be free to make choices for ourselves so long as we don’t violate someone else’s right to make a choice for himself or herself.

                  People violating our right to make choices for ourselves is called “crime”. It’s what makes things like rape and theft a crime. Government violating our rights is what we’re talking about when we talk about “injustice”. Government making choices for us about how our property is used might make an excellent definition for “corruption”. You seem to advocating corruption as if it were the solution to corruption.

                  1. Every one of your assertions, is a thinly disguised social regulation, socialism.

                    Without them, your skull would adorn someone’s dashboard as the market demands.

                    1. “Every one of your assertions, is a thinly disguised social regulation, socialism.”

                      Restricting the coercive power of government to protecting our right to make choices for ourselves is only “social regulation” in the broadest sense.

                      If you think laws against theft, murder, and rape are “social regulation”, that’s one thing. If you imagine that these things are only crimes because the government says so, you’ve left the realm of rationality behind.

                      Theses things would be crimes even if the government didn’t say so.

                    2. Socialism is an economic theory that features government ownership of key industries, prices set by something other than markets, and the redistribution of wealth.

                      Capitalism features private property, private ownership of industry, and prices set by markets.

                      Although in a more capitalistic society, more of the work of the police might be privatized, capitalism doesn’t preclude the existence of police. You seem to be picking out aspects of civil society and pronouncing them “socialism” or “social regulation” without any rational basis.

                      Small state libertarians still want taxes to pay for the essentials of government. I doubt we’d tax income because that’s half the formula for socialism, but we’d still want the government to do three things.

                      1) Police to protect our rights from criminals.

                      2) Courts to protect our rights from the police.

                      3) A military to protect our rights from foreign threats.

                      Even anarcho-capitalists want some of those things. They just want to use private contractors to accomplish them–and they’re about as far away from socialism as you can get.

                    3. “Without them, your skull would adorn someone’s dashboard as the market demands.”

                      The reasons I don’t steal, rape, or murder have nothing to do with the fear of government. There are people who only refrain from doing those things because of the fear of government. They’re psychiatric cases called “psychopaths”. They’re unusual. It’s a good thing we have police to protect our rights from criminals.

                    4. You have used the term “market forces” to conflate two dissimilar things. It doesn’t support your argument.

                      The financial markets based on greed as the basis for a capitalist economy are nothing like the natural law forces which act upon all living things on this planet.

                      Most notably, all economies work within the latter. That is not a capitalist phenomenon.

                      Just so you don’t get distracted again.

                      Also, what does anyone really own? We all die and since we can’t take it with us, we don’t own it.

                      If the rich buy everything as the market allows them to, how does that enable freedom for all?

                    5. Retards like Rob always use stuff like police and welfare as forms of socialism. It’s why they think Scandinavian countries are socialist instead of Capitalist with generous safety nets.

                    6. Far more skulls adorn dashboards in all real-world socialist societies than in the ‘greedy, amoral’ free-market ones.

                    7. Here’s what I don’t get.

                      You keep talking about how we *need* regulation – all we’re doing is pointing out that we’d like to regulate *the government*.

                      And you freak out about that.

                      What is it about government that is different from everything else in the world that *it, and it alone*, doesn’t need regulation?

                    8. When have I ever suggested that government didn’t need regulation?

                      If you can’t refute what I have said, don’t fabricate something you might.

                    9. He seems to be confused about socialism. He thinks everything the government does is socialism. It isn’t.

                      Prosecuting murderers is not socialism.

                      It just isn’t.

                2. EVERY organization ever conceived, every person, yes even all animals, are corruptable. Everyone has a price for everything they do. It’s like arguing whether dating and marriage are forms of legalized prostitution.

                  The difference you fail to see is that governments have such limited accountability (an election every two or four years, really?) that they cannot fail the way businesses and people can. Ken is using “market” in its broad sense, as in “market of ideas”, “market of species”, etc.

                  If you honestly think government is not corrupt, then you are willfuly blind and have corrupted yourself beyond redemption. Governments breed corruption precisely because they cannot fail. Any business which got even one percent as corrupt as government would be held accountable by markets and go bankrupt.

                  Except, of course, when that corruption is hand in hand with government corruption.

                  1. I support the eradication of corruption. Do you? If not, there would be no reason for anyone to ever believe a word you say.

                    For the first time in earths history, we have the ability to record or memories and have them stored safely in the cloud.

                    This means all corruption can be recorded from many angles. Corruption cannot exist when it is exposed as long as justice exists.

                    So it boils down to whether you are for against corruption. Once eradicated, people are still free to be corrupt, then once caught, lose their abused freedoms.

                    1. Why stop with the eradication of corruption? I say we eradicate all evil from human beings and when all men have become angels truly we shall have created a paradise on Earth.

                    2. This report is maybe twelve years old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried til River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear, ’cause there’s a universe of folk that are gonna know it too. They’re gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I’m asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. ‘Cause as sure as I know anything I know this: They will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground, swept clean. A year from now, ten, they’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people… better. And I do not hold to that.
                      –Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity (2005)

                    3. People have free will to be evil even after being caught and incarcerated for corruption.

                3. If we were capable of governing without corruption, we wouldn’t need governing in the first place.

                  1. Bingo.

                    Except we are capable of eradicating corruption with technology.

                    Yes, doing so will be a complete social game changer.

            3. Birds aren’t humans.

              Whoa. Hold on just a second there, Isaac Einstein.

              1. The funny thing is, if a Mars colony were run by the market, it would surely end up better off. Instead of idiot committees or whatever deciding whether resources should be devoted to having an excess of air processed, more food grown, more water purified, more clothing made, etc… The market could decide based on pricing, and people would get more of what they actually want, and not get more of that which they don’t want.

                This is why the USSR would end up drowning in random shit (brown belts or whatever) that nobody wanted, yet there wouldn’t be enough shoes to go around that people actually needed.

                There are very limited situations where things need to be planned out by SOMEBODY in a position of government power… But here on earth, or even on Mars, there are VERY FEW where it is needed. Hence letting people decide spontaneously tends to be the best way in almost all cases.

                1. Not according to the people at NASA who have the responsibility and far more credibility than you on the subject.

                  1. NASA has credibility on this question?

                    Here’s a NASA apologist defending the $50 billion NASA has spent on a moon shot that still hasn’t happened–and something we already accomplished in 1968.

                    “As far as I’m concerned, SLS and Orion are doing their jobs of providing work for NASA centers and contractors and giving the US a sense of national pride to have a major goal to work toward,” Forczyk said. “They are not meant to be quick, cost efficient, or sustainable. They are symbolic grand acts of a grand nation.”

                    http://arstechnica.com/science…..l-distant/

                    There’s NASA’s credibility for you. NASA is a joke.

                    Have you not seen what Elon Musk, Virgin Galactic, and other private entities are doing to NASA? We’ll have private hotels on the moon for tourists before NASA colonizes anything.

                    1. Yup. As if by MAGIC the second private firms got into the space game, the cost per pound of launching stuff into space dropped by something like 90%. And is still going down mind you.

                      I can agree that stuff that is so insanely inefficient that no sane private company would ever even attempt it may need government to kick start it… Going to the moon in the 60s was one such thing actually. As was developing the nuclear bomb. But for doing anything else, the private sector kills it. And going to the moon or mars is REALLY not super cutting edge anymore. All the basic physics has been known for ages, and the tech employed is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

                      That said, if there had been a profit incentive in the 60s, the private sector probably still could have pulled it off cheaper and better than NASA. There just wasn’t a reason for business to want to do it back then at that level of expense.

                    2. The private sector may be the first to put a hotel on the moon for the rich.

                      The free market stops at the ticket.

                      Life there tightly regulated for the safety of everyone there.

      2. “There are people who refuse to even consider the data because they believe that rejecting that data is essential to the future of capitalism–and they think the world would be a better place if it were more capitalist.”

        I review the data and reject that which has been manipulated, e.g. by lowering temps from the past, or hiding the decline, or cherry picking tre rings, or selectively presenting ice cores, etc.

        Nevertheless the world would be better if it were more capitalist, because central planning can NEVER make judgments that accurately reflect individual situations.

        1. “If the fact is that the world would be a better place if it were more capitalist regardless of what the climate data says, then the question for capitalism doesn’t hinge on what the climate data says. Why fall for distractions? Obsess over the irrelevant minutia of every tree, and we will lose our way in the forest.”

          If they can manipulate the data to get the results they want, then you’re playing into their hands by arguing about the data–and you’re doing so unnecessarily if the question of whether we should be capitalist doesn’t depend on what the climate data says.

          If AGW is a real problem, free market capitalism is much more likely to address and solve that problem–and sooner–than socialism. This remains true regardless of what the climate data says. Their hand-waving is meant to distract you. Don’t get distracted.

          1. AGW alarmism IS a real problem. It distorts science, economics, and government. Demonstrating its shortcomings is a very worthy cause. This cause aligns with being a proponent of capitalism. We can, and must, do both.

            1. I hope the point isn’t getting lost here, which is that we shouldn’t try to persuade people to believe things–regardless of whether they’re true–simply because we think the world would be a better place if everyone believed our lies.

              Advocating for capitalism doesn’t require me to check my intellectual honesty at the door. I don’t need to lie to advocate for capitalism. And if libertarian capitalist solutions are better than authoritarian socialist solutions, then what the data says about the existence of the problem isn’t the important question.

              I suspect a lot of my fellow libertarians have come to believe that the only solutions to climate change are authoritarian and socialist, and that’s why they have a hard time resisting the urge to argue about data that doesn’t really matter to the big question.

              On the one hand, they know that the left is full of shit when it comes to AGW, but on the other hand, they seem to believe the left when the left says that the only solution is socialism. Socialism isn’t the only solution to anything.

              1. With AGW the reason I don’t buy the hype is because of the data. If I DID buy the hype, I would still believe in capitalism, and try to find capitalist answers to the problem. There is a BIT of a tragedy of the commons element in AGW, if it were actually bad or mostly man made, but not so much that I don’t think capitalist solutions wouldn’t work, and probably work best.

                More broadly, the REASON I hold some non libertarian positions is precisely because real world evidence, logic, and common sense dictates that purist libertarian thinking is retarded on some subjects. They’re very few and far between… But they are some biggin’s.

                I for one have never understood the idea that rigid adherence to an arbitrary ideology should take precedence over real world outcomes. If pure libertarianism created nations that were impoverished, un-free, crime ridden, hellish places to be… Why SHOULD anybody be in favor of it? Because it’s theoretically more moral? Who cares if it makes things literally hell.

                Fortunately freedom and good outcomes line up 99% of the time. For those other 1%, like open borders, I’m fine with not being a purist. The people who openly admit they’d rather turn the USA into a 3rd world toilet than limit immigration are mad men IMO.

                I think lying because they can’t accept their ideology doesn’t produce a good result, but they consider the ideology more important than outcomes, is precisely why we see so much stupid from ideologues of all varieties.

      3. If the fact is that the world would be a better place if it were more capitalist regardless of what the climate data says, then the question for capitalism doesn’t hinge on what the climate data says. Why fall for distractions?

        Because the question for free enterprise doesn’t decide what happens to free enterprise.

        There may be more or less free enterprise depending on whether people believe climate is changing in certain ways, on whether it’s believed drugs are safe, etc. Because you alone are not deciding.

        1. “There may be more or less free enterprise depending on whether people believe climate is changing in certain ways”

          Then that’s the source of the problem.

          Address the source of the problem.

          If AGW and climate change are serious issues, then the solutions will come from innovation, technology, smart investments, and all sorts of other wonderful things that are highly correlated with capitalism and not really correlated with authoritarian socialism at all.

    2. Emotion only exists in the absence of reality, reason. No emotion requires rational scrutiny.

      Emotion/instinct is far different than that assertion. You seem to be implying that humans can actually get rid of or subordinate emotion/instinct if only we can learn to become more rational. That is the great delusion of the Enlightenment. Freud’s great accomplishment was to move the source of emotion/instinct from the heart/guts/etc to the brain. Confirmed later when psychology starts looking at more ‘normal’ people and when we could see how different parts of the brain process the same information.

      Propaganda is not done TO US. It is something we do to ourselves – and there is no possible way we can ‘change’ ourselves not to do it to ourselves. It is a biological part of being human. Making that information input more conscious to other parts of our brain may allow for more ‘internal conflict’ re what to do with that information. Which may make our response more ‘rational’ – or may kill us.

      You’re correct imo that everything related to ‘communications’ changes once you realize the implications of this. Those who have the resources to commo en masse (govt, media, corporations, advertisers, Web2.0, etc) are going to also have the resources to know how to manipulate us into doing – quickly and without even being conscious of it – what they want us to do. And those who are individual recipients of that commo haven’t yet created a way to resist that en masse.

      1. Are you actually trying to use reasoning to argue that we cannot be rational?

        Being rational won’t kill you.

        1. Paralysis by analysis is a very real thing and can kill you. Just ask a deer who tries to process some new phenomenon like a headlight at night.

          1. Deer don’t speak English.

            Who’s paralyzed, the person who fears knowledge or the one fearlessly exploring it?

            1. They don’t need to speak English or transmit information. They are simply trying to process incoming information. A strange light. Then a bit later a very unfamiliar noise that is unlike any predator noise they know. No already-processed smell of a predator. No higher-level concept that something will kill it just because it can. Nothing at all that triggers the emotion/instinct of the flight/fight response that it has learned can save its life. Then BOOM. No more fight/flight response. No learning to pass on. Just dead. All that deliberate (and yes one could even say rational and scientific in a deer sense) attempt to gather a bit more information to understand something – useless.

              The entire purpose of ‘propaganda’ is to impel en masse response/action in that id/amygdala part of our individual brain. But that doesn’t mean you can get rid of the id.

              1. Nice, but I think your base analogy is wrong. Deer aren’t paralyzed by analysis of unusual sights and sounds. In fact, cars are not unusual sights and sounds to deer; they hear and see cars all their lives.

                Deer evolution taught them to freeze in reaction to predators. Keep still and be harder to see. It works too — in a forest. Not so much in the middle of a paved road.

                There’s no analysis going on, just instinct.

                1. Deer have very different familar predators. A solitary cat, a pack of wolves, fire. Freeze is a first response to all new information of potential significance and yes that is instinct and is not much different than our instinctive response to same – pay closer attention. Deer freeze to a wind rustling leaves or the crack of a tree. Once they have enough information to know what sort of predator it is, they don’t stay frozen. They flee in the most-rational-but-burned-into-instinct way to evade the particular threat.

                  I actually don’t know whether deer behavior is different re cars in the day v cars at night but I’ll bet it is. And the problem for the deer is that ‘car in day’ is quite different from ‘car at night’.

                  My point being that we have those instinctive responses too – which can be manipulated. Start ad with loud sound or bright color or something to get attention. And then present the information to your target that will most increase the probability that they will DO what you want them to do. In marketing, maybe it’s something like psychographics which originated in Maslow’s hierarchy. In US politics, it’s much simpler – fearmonger the other choice via negative ads while raising the stakes to prevent abstention. If we had third-parties, it would become far more complicated.

                  1. As an aside – if the LP could figure out how to use psychographics in political campaigns/events, they would move mountains. DeRps have to stay in their current mode – which is structurally not much different (just more data) than the very first modern marketing efforts of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

                  2. We have some smart deer around here. 1 didn’t cross in front of my car w the 2 others that did. This 1 waited until I stopped, then looked at me, wagged its tail & crossed. It must’ve been thanking me for stopping.

            2. Thing is JFree, as thinking beings, we can and should take the time to consider things of importance.

              It is true that in the middle of a literal battle one must simply act on instinct, act on your gut intuition, etc. There are many such types of situations in life.

              However pretty much every political issue is NOT such a situation. There is basically NEVER any issue that MUST be decided within a matter of seconds, or minutes, or hours, or usually even days. The few issues of that sort that pop up now and again are true emergencies that the president/PM and top people must make, but even then usually with proper consideration of facts.

              As far as regular policies, there is no excuse to NOT reason through things.

              It is true that most people just emote through issues… But that is because they are fools following their basest instincts. Intelligent people tend to behave in this manner far less, although nobody is perfect. So, the reality is most people are emoting idiots, and politicians encourage them to be this way, rather than think things through. It’s the path of least resistance, so most just do this. But it doesn’t mean it is the right way, or the only way, to do things.

              1. I think you are conflating very different groups of roles that we have in a modern society. We are not in a Jeffersonian society of yeomans on our own farm directly responsible for near everything that affects our lives. Or a Toquevillean society of small towns where we have to be on the school board this year and a volunteer firefighter next – and oh the library has a leaky roof and the butcher is throwing dead carcasses in the river.

                Those are societies where there is a direct relationship between the amount of time we commit to understanding issues we face and the outcomes that result because we are now the decision-maker – or we will be next year. On which we built our system of govt and created all the notions like consent of the governed and separation of powers and such. Those societies no longer exist.

                We have delegated/abdicated direct responsibility for decisions to others. Or decisions made outside our area of knowledge affect us. Where our role is limited to granting/withholding consent – en masse. And we don’t actually benefit by spending time understanding things we no longer can control. That’s the society that is. And even if we want to return to the society that was (and don’t believe for a second that that desire is universal cuz the old days were shitty for women, minorities, oddballs, etc), it is the society that is that has to make the decision to change itself.

                1. If you can’t control what affects you, you aren’t free.

                  You have stopped trying.

                  Yours is a self fulfilling prophecy.

                  1. I know the argument Jfree, it’s not worth anybodies time to stay knowledgeable, because they would be better off doing something else, etc. I get the argument.

                    But it’s wrong. If everybody spent just a TOUCH more time having a clue how the world worked, we could be living in a vastly better system, so much so that everybody would be notably materially better off.

                    See Europe vs USA as an example. Americans have slightly better views on many important issues, and we reap MASSIVE rewards for it.

                    The real trouble is too many people are too dumb to get some things even if they try. This is why universal suffrage was a horrible idea. But we’ll probably not be rolling that one back anytime soon, so we’re probably just doomed.

  5. The Spanish may not have sunk the Maine. The Lusitania may well have been carrying munitions and a legitimate target. The Second Gulf on Tonkin Incident may well have been a hoax. Saddam Hussein may not have tried to procure yellow-cake from Niger.

    How are we supposed to know what to believe when the only legitimate authorities as to their veracity may be the people who are trying to fool us? That’s not a rhetorical question. There is an answer, and the answer is to focus on the interests of the United States rather than the veracity of any given incident.

    The question shouldn’t have been whether the Spanish sank the Maine. The question should have been whether war with Spain was in the best interests of the United States.

    The question shouldn’t have been whether the Lusitania was breaking the German blockade but whether war with Germany was in the best interests of the United States.

    The question shouldn’t have been whether the Second Gulf of Tonkin incident was a non-event. The question should have been whether war in Vietnam was in the best interests of the United States.

    The important question wasn’t whether Saddam Hussein tried to procure uranium from Niger. The important question was whether bombing, invading, and occupying Iraq was in the best interests of the United States.

    1. Even if you believe that the United States defending itself is in our best interests in cases like the Second Gulf of Tonkin Incident, you must make that case within the context of our interests–including all the disadvantages of going to war. In short, when we focus on our own best interests (rather than the veracity of any particular incident), we minimize the damage that can come from being fooled by fake news.

      1. The problem you’re ignoring is that the presumptive facts in dispute are such as to bear on questions of national self-interest.
        You’re pretending we can ignore all the details and focus on the big picture, ignoring the obvious fact that without the details there is no big picture.

        1. I suppose we could take the Iraq War as an example of what I’m talking about.

          “WASHINGTON (AP) ? Nearly seven in 10 Americans believe it is likely that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, says a poll out almost two years after the terrorists’ strike against this country.

          Sixty-nine percent in a Washington Post poll published Saturday said they believe it is likely the Iraqi leader was personally involved in the attacks carried out by al-Qaeda. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents believe it’s likely Saddam was involved.”

          http://usatoday30.usatoday.com…..iraq_x.htm

          Six months after we invaded Iraq, a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents believed that Saddam Hussein was personally complicit in 9/11. Some of that may have had to do with the anthrax attack, but a lot of it probably had to do with the Bush administration hyping Saddam Hussein’s ties to Al Qaeda and Hussein’s refusal to submit to weapons inspections.

          1. I maintained at the time that the best interests of the United States was not to remove Saddam Hussein from power–regardless of whether he had WMD. In fact, all the excellent reasons for George H. W. Bush not to remove Hussein from power in 1991 were still excellent in 2003–seen within the context of America’s best interests.

            If you account for the veracity of specific incidents within the context of our best interests–even if you fall for a lie–you will find that less harm is done by those lies than if you had focused primarily on the veracity of specific incidents.

            Should the question of whether it’s best to bomb, invade, and occupy Iraq, spend $1.3 trillion, suffer thousands of American casualties, remove a significant check on Iranian expansion, not to mention the suffering of Iraqi civilians–should doing all of that be justified by the question of whether Saddam Hussein has mobile WMD labs like the ones Colin Powell showed us pictures of?

            Yes, I can account for questions of veracity within the context of a discussion about our best interests, but any question of veracity, like that, considered outside the context of our best interests is sure to be a loser.

            I should add here that casus belli is only one example of this principle. It’s widely applicable. The question of whether homophobia, racism, and Trump voters are a problem is much bigger than the question of whether one incident of homophobia, racism, and MAGA hat wearing was a hoax.

            1. Couldn’t it be argued that the truthfulness of the claims can have an impact on what the US’ best interests are?

              If Saddam IS getting yellow cake, presumably it would be in our best interest to stop that. I’m not arguing that it would be, only that the details impact the variables that go into the calculus of what constitutes “best interest.” As such, the whole point of “without details you dont have a big picture” still remains valid.

              I would agree with you insofar as maintaining a sober look at reality in total is a requisite to wisdom, even while considering specific events and details.

              1. There is an argument to make that if Saddam Hussein had actually been the source of the anthrax attack, that it would have justified war against him and removing him from power. Even in that case, however, the benefits of occupying Iraq would be juxtaposed against the downsides of occupation–which proved to be many in practice.

                Ronald Reagan bombed Qaddafi in retaliation for the Lockerbie bombing, which had killed 179 Americans, without occupying Libya. The anthrax attack after 9/11 scared the hell out of everybody, but even if had been orchestrated by Saddam Hussein, the fact that occupying the country (rather than just bombing him) is in our best interests still needs to be made.

                1. The “anthrax attack” was the most terrifying part of 9/11 to me. The airline hijackings and building collisions were unlikely to be repeated and, though devastating to the those directly affected, their friends, and their families, the real damage was local and comprehensible. The same goes for suicide bombings, truck rampages, and shootings by terrorists. Such barbarous atrocities are appalling, but terrorists resort to such tactics because they are weak, not strong, and they do really pose an existential threat.

                  The anthrax story was different: it suggested that dedicated, murderous terrorists had obtained weapons-grade anthrax with extraordinary dispersion characteristics. People from Florida to New England died from anthrax inhalation. The initial story suggested that a foreign government had supplied terrorists with this material in quantities unknown. The potential was unknown, the threat was quite possibly existential, and the potential targets could be widespread and virtually anywhere.

                  1. Not everybody who says Iraq was involved in 9/11 is stupid or uninformed. I’ve no doubt that a very large fraction of people conflate the events of 9/11 with the anthrax incidents that occurred shortly before and shortly afterwards. “Informed sources” made sure that the media reported that the bacillus was of a strain known to be in the possession of the Iraqi government and the retired generals and intelligence experts on cable news openly speculated about Saddam as the villain.

                    It turns out that, though Robert Mueller’s FBI did a terrible job in the anthrax investigation from beginning to end, it seems pretty clear that the perpetrator of the anthrax incident was, in fact, an employee or other other agent of the United States federal government and that the material used in the anthrax incidents was, in fact, produced for and property of the United States federal government.

            2. Hindsight is 20-20. WMD, if present, could have found their way to the US, potentially killing millions. Yes, very unlikely, but when the world’s smartest, most honest general is telling you to worry, most of us will worry.

              Cooler heads, as you suggest, could have mentioned that we had Saddam boxed in very well. But not many did. Wasn’t the vote 89-4 or something?

              Looking forward, what to do about Iran or N Korea if we determine they have nuclear capability to strike us? How certain are you that a nuke can’t be sent to Honolulu? At what point do we act?

              (I don’t pretend to have the answer, only to point out the fog of war exists)

              1. I said this at the time and still stand by it: we should’ve made peace with Saddam as he got the message and knew full well that we were top dog. The Baathists were enemies of AQ and we could’ve had Iraq do our dirty work.

                It would’ve been interesting to see how Saddam would’ve survived in the Arab Spring.

              2. A huge argument for the mistake of invading Iraq for a second time, is that it took vital resources away from keeping North Korea from getting their nukes.

                After we kicked Iraq out of Kuwait, the USA had massive Islamic goodwill and we ruined most of it on no-fly zones over Iraq and stationing troops in the Middle East.

                North Korea and Iran are a threat to the USA interests like Iraq was. Now Iran and North Korea have ICBMs and NK has nukes.

                1. Pretty much. I’m of the mind that we really shouldn’t give a shit what dictators abroad are doing, provided they aren’t directly threatening us. If we weren’t constantly threatening to fuck with all of them, I suspect NONE of them would ever have any intention of fucking with us.

                  Our standing policy SHOULD be that we will literally nuke the 10 largest cities in any country that dares to attack us. PERIOD. No exceptions. And if anybody does it, fucking nuke them once in their capitol to make the point, and tell them we’ll do the next 9 if anything else happens.

                  Nobody would fuck with us EVER AGAIN. If we wanted to be super nice, we could blow up a nuke over a low population part of their country for the point making explosion, as it would probably work still.

                  Other than that, who cares what these assholes do? People forget that in a lot of areas you NEED a strongman in charge, or else there will be utter chaos.

                  Most of the rest of the world IS NOT filled with people and cultures like we have in Europe, the Anglosphere, and the less fucked up countries in Asia. If they will ever end up stable republics it will be over a long period of time, and because THEY want it themselves… Not overnight because the USA says so.

    2. The Spanish probably didn’t sink the Maine. The Lusitania was quite definitely caring military supplies, and was quite definitely a legitimate military target. OTOH, the Zimmerman Telegram was quite enough to justify declaring war with Germany…..if we wanted to.

      About the second Gulf of Tonkin incident, I have no opinion (other than all sides involved were lying bastards).

      Whether Saddam tried to obtain yellowcake from Niger, when we invaded we FOUND yellowcake he wasn’t supposed to have. Indeed, Saddam had never come within shouting distance of meeting the terms of surrender that ended the First Gulf War, so, technically, we were still at war with him. This is important; it made finishing his government off vital if we wanted anyone to take future negotiations with us seriously.

      Conducting foreign relations on the basis of, what is good for the United States (Instead of worrying about what the Transnational Cosmopolitan Ninnies will think of us) would be a wonderful change.

      Pity it probably ain’t gonna happen.

      1. “Conducting foreign relations on the basis of, what is good for the United States (Instead of worrying about what the Transnational Cosmopolitan Ninnies will think of us) would be a wonderful change.”

        My point here is that this is the way we should encourage our friends and families to think about these things. It’s working from the bottom up.

        We minimize the impact of fake news on average people’s opinions when we get average people to stop forming their opinions based on spectacle like incidents that should only be considered within the context of what’s the best policy going forward. Things that aren’t in our best interests can be justified outside the context of our best interests.

        If Assad had used chemical weapons against American soldiers, then a U.S. occupation of Syria would be justified. Whether a U.S. occupation of Syria would be in our best interests (even from a security standpoint) would still be an open question. There may be other ways to retaliate and deter further attacks without costing us a cool $1.5 trillion only to maybe leave us in a more precarious security position than we were before–like what happened in Iraq.

    3. the answer is to focus on the interests of the United States rather than the veracity of any given incident.

      That sounds nice – but it is just words. And those words can – and will – be wrapped around any particular facts of any incident if ‘focus on the interests of the US’ are the words that create an emotional impact on enough people to ensure quick action.

      IOW – it is very possible to associate ‘what is in the best interests of the US’ with pretty much every possible course of action re every possible incident. If you’ve created a ‘first-mover advantage’ re the use of that phrase, then the first use of that phrase will create action – and once the action occurs very little thinking will occur from then on.

      1. “It is very possible to associate ‘what is in the best interests of the US’ with pretty much every possible course of action re every possible incident.”

        Going further with the Iraq example, the argument that we should depose Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq because he attacked us with anthrax is far easier to sell to easily manipulated people than the argument that Invading Iraq is in our best interests because . . . the war will pay for itself, the people of Iraq want American style democracy, and once people elsewhere in the Muslim world see how great a Democratic Iraq is, they’ll all want a new government just like it.

        Those arguments were never particularly persuasive with me, and I don’t think it’s just me. Those arguments just weren’t as well supported by the facts, not as well as the arguments that removing Iraq as a check against Iran wasn’t in our interests, that occupations inspire revolts pretty much whenever they happen, that the occupation was likely to be extremely costly, and that the Pottery Barn rule means that it’s a whole lot easier for us to get into a quagmire than it is to get out after we break things.

        1. I’m one of the few who will admit that I supported the Iraq War – in principle. For reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with any reason that was ever publicly voiced as a reason for the Iraq War (except in a very brief article by Walter Russell Mead who is one of the only general foreign policy people I respect – not always agree with but merely respect).

          And the fact that those reasons were never discussed told me that we would completely fuck up everything in the aftermath because those reasons that were publicly discussed would mean fighting a different war and a different post-war than the one I thought was justified. And I understood all that before we went in – which led me to questioning why the fuck we were gonna do this.

          The whole thing pissed me off.

      2. Before we knew that the Smollett case was probably a hoax, it was already wrong to argue that if Smollett was attacked by homophobic and racist Trump voters, then instead of voting for Trump, people should vote for Kamala Harris. Even within the context of race in America, what’s Kamala Harris’ history on the Drug War? And then we still haven’t looked at things like what’s in our best interests in terms of the economy? Where is Kamala Harris on deregulation, spending, and taxation? Should we ignore all those issues and support Kamala Harris because some Trump voters are homophobic and racist? Again, that argument didn’t compute before we found out it might be a hoax–because it isn’t centered on our best interests.

        The argument that we should depose Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq because Saddam Hussein attacked us with anthrax suffers from the same problem. If you want to argue that occupying Iraq is in our best interests because Saddam Hussein attacked us with anthrax, I’m all ears. I’ll listen to that argument. However, if you want to argue that we should occupy Iraq regardless of what’s in our best interests? That argument is a non-starter. We limit the damage fake news can do to us when we’re pursuing out best interests–even if unwittingly using fake news in our arguments sometimes leads us astray.

    4. You’re correct, but I think your phrasing is imperfect.

      Rather than “in the best interests of the United States”, each such reference should say “in the best interests of the ruling elite of the United States”.

      1. I’m talking about the arguments we make to each other.

        Whether we support or oppose doing “X” should not depend on the veracity of Incident One–not when the appropriate question isn’t whether Incident One is verified but whether doing “X” is in our own interests (from our own perspectives).

        The American people will find themselves less susceptible to the negative consequences of in believing fake news when self-interests so often (and so thoroughly) reveal the unimportance of Incident One.

        The question of whether Barack Obama should invade and occupy Syria in response to Assad using chemical weapons against his own people does not rest on the question of whether chemical weapons were actually used. The appropriate question is whether the American people should support Obama storming into the Syrian quagmire. The fact is that occupying Syria was probably not in our best interests–regardless of whether chemical weapons were actually used. If we can get our fellow Americans to focus on our national interests, we’ll find that the veracity of a fake news story becomes less important when deciding what to support or oppose. And that’s what we want!

        Well, that and grilled cheese sandwiches.

        1. I like grilled cheese sandwiches.

        2. I like grilled cheese sandwiches.

        3. I like grilled cheese sandwiches.

          1. jfc. wtf?

            1. Squirrels LOVE grilled cheese sandwiches

        4. While you’re correct that our own best interests (America first, if you will…) should drive discussion, at times the veracity of “incident X” is an important factor in that discussion.
          For example with Syria, the truth of Assad using gas on his own people is important. The discussion should still revolve around what the best response is for our own interest, but if there is significant reason to doubt the veracity of X it should be brought up as it will frame subsequent incidents. If we have reason to doubt the gas attack, why is the gas attack being promoted? Cui bono?
          The same with regards to climate change. If bad data is being used, to what end? Again, cui bono?
          Yes, our interests are paramount. So why, what possible motivations, might some have to try to convince us of that our interests are what they say our interests are?
          To the extent that they’d mislead us, that reveals something about their motivations and the reliability of those interests they push.

        5. Ok, I see what you mean. However, before Americans can accurately determine what is in the “national interest”, they must first be disabused of the indoctrination they received in government schools. Lots of Americans think the the US government has godlike powers that make it nearly omniscient, nearly omnipotent, and potentially omnipresent. Because of that, when Americans learn that something awful is happening in Northwest Jihadistan (which is just south of one of those other ‘stans) or some African country has laws against homosexuality, the US government has the capacity to intervene. This myth has a very strong hold on the minds of Americans and greatly influences what they think is in the “national interest”. Even sophisticated policy intellectuals spout nonsense about “responsibility to protect” being in the “national interest”.

          1. Hell – spreading democracy, protecting Estonia from those evil Ruskis, and making Honduras great again are sold as being in the best interests of America.
            The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all…

            1. I hope the point is getting across that framing the debate that way improves the policies we get. Yes, honest people can and are wrong about which policy is actually in our best interests, but when they frame the debate in those terms, the veracity of fake news (AKA noble lies) becomes far less important.

              Framing things in terms of our best interests also makes it easier to change course when we make mistakes.

              Maybe we were wrong about it being in our best interests to occupy Iraq. Once it becomes clear that it’s not in our best interests to occupy Iraq, then with our best interests as our guide, we can leave–rather than obsess over whether ISIS is mean and nasty.

              Because ISIS is mean and nasty might somehow influence whether it’s in our best interests to stay, but outside the context of an argument over whether it’s in our best interests to occupy Iraq, the fact that ISIS is mean and nasty doesn’t justify staying by itself.

  6. Men only draft unconstitutional.

    https://preview.tinyurl.com/y5oxcenj

    Now we need affirmative action to make up for 160 years of oppression!

    1. “Affirmative action”?! REPARATIONS!!

    2. Haha. The Lefties need the military to be on their side since More and more Americans are fighting against the Socialist takeover.

      Any woman who thinks that average women can fight like average men is delusional and should never be in a position to run our military. Most women would wash out of the military if the physical fitness standards were the same for men and women.

      Make the physical fitness standards the same for men and women and then we can revisit the issue to see how women are left after this change.

      1. Why do those women not identify as men so that thry can fight as men?

      2. Seriously, this shit is getting out of hand.

        I doubt 1/500 women are up to snuff in ALL areas the way most men are for combat duty. How in gods name can anybody really fool themselves into thinking otherwise?

        Frankly, it’s stupid to even let in the 1/500 woman who might be 6’2″ and actually strong enough to do these tasks too, because all the trouble created by having a few women around simply isn’t worth it. But all the weak sauce ones they will likely let in, ya know 5’4″ chicks who could not POSSIBLY drag a big burly male wounded comrade away from a conflict zone, are going to fuck things up beyond belief.

        Sometimes even if there are a few outliers, as there always are, it’s just not worth the trouble to accommodate them.

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  8. “the way British colonists handed out smallpox-infested blankets to Indians.”
    This is a glaring and most likely unwitting, example of how effective this technique can be. This idea has become so widely accepted b/c of its repetition that no one, not even for a second, questions its validity. It is one of the preliminary subversive messages taught universally to school children begun by “reports” of events. These events if they happened, did so 400+ years ago and were propagated without hard evidence or qualification at to the frequency, location, and/or acceptance of the practice.

    1. Yeah, I always laughed at this one. Try to get this picture in focus;

      “Here Lieutenant, take these smallpox infected blankets and hand them out to the Indians.”
      LT; “Yes, sir, right away” “Hey, sergeant, take these smallpox infected blankets and hand them out to the Indians.”
      Sgt;”Yes, sir, right away” “Hey, corporal, take these smallpox infected blankets and hand them out to the Indians.”
      Cpl; “Yes, sir, right away” “Hey, private, take these smallpox infected blankets and hand them out to the Indians.”
      Pvt; “Are you out or your mind?! Sir.”

    2. Yes, it was amusing to see an article about “fake news” uncritically repeating…fake news.

      There is only one documented instance of the British intentionally giving smallpox-contaminated blankets to the local tribes, during the siege of Fort Pitt in 1763, and even then there is no evidence it was effective as there already was a smallpox outbreak going on in the villages at the time.

      In fact, the evidence suggests the Indians were the ones who gave it to the British who occupied the fort.

    3. It apparently happened once.Two blankets total, and likely didn’t work because the hostile indians outside the fort were all smallpox survivors and the source of the outbreak inside the fort.

    4. I read that as part of his fake news comparison, not an accusation.

      Facebook and Twitter have acquired reputations as the Boris and Natasha of our day, spreading fake news the way British colonists handed out smallpox-infested blankets to Indians. Yet disinformation is a lot older than social media.

      Poorly worded maybe; perhaps the sarcasm was a bit too subtle.

    5. How would they have known the blankets were “small pox infested” when this alleged event happened at least a 100 years before the germ theory of disease was identified?

      1. Because people aren’t stupid and notice cause and effect. Richard I was a major leader in the 3rd crusade, which entailed retaking fortresses the Christians had built years before but were now in Muslim hands. During seiges, his troops would catapult dead bodies of men and horses into the besieged fortress in order to spread disease. During plagues, those who could afford to left the cities. People knew disease could be spread before the discovery of germs.

      2. People were well aware of the infectious nature of some diseases long before the agents of infection were discovered.

      3. Smallpox inoculation was written about by Voltaire – practiced by Cotton Mather from information he received from his slave about what the practices were in Africa.

        And the event is not ‘alleged’. There are a half dozen or so letters among British officers discussing infecting the Indians and other means of deliberate genocide. And at least two letters from Fort Pitt describing the distribution of those blankets. Whether it happened later is maybe questionable – but probably not unlikely considering the commanding general (Amherst) later became the Royal Gov of VA and then the Commander of the Forces (roughly comparable to Gen Marshall during WW2) from 1778-1795

        1. Psh. I guess you could call it attempted genocide of a particular tribe… But nobody EVER attempted total genocide of the Indians. If we had wanted to, we easily could have. They had no means to stop us. We didn’t. We tried to educate them and raise their standard of living. Many took to it, and ended up making folks like me with some Injun blood. Others didn’t, and then bitched about being poor for centuries, even though they have a higher standard of living than they did pre Euro settlement…

          The reality of the conquest of the Americas is that natural spreading of disease killed almost every Indian that died.

          We actually killed VERY few in active wars in what is now the USA. The biggest wars we ever fought had death tolls barely in the thousands. Indians were killing more of each other for most of this time than white people did.

          The reality is we simply demographically drowned them out via mass immigration from Europe! There are as many Indians alive today as some of the estimates for their pre European arrival population, and far MORE than there were post disease spreading when we were really taking over the territory of the US.

          South/Central America may be different, I only know broad strokes about some parts of colonization down there. But from what I know it seems to be much the same as it was in NA.

          1. But nobody EVER attempted total genocide of the Indians.

            Direct quote from the commanding officer in a letter – You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. That is not a very unusual quote from a military officer re Indians – you know Only good Indian….

            If we had wanted to, we easily could have. They had no means to stop us. We didn’t.

            Well that’s nonsense. We had the temporary advantage of ball-loading muskets – which aren’t any better than bows/arrows/hatchets once the initial shock of the noise wears off – and that only lasts until they get muskets too.

            We tried to educate them and raise their standard of living.

            Yes I’m sure you can delude yourself into pretending that we were being altruistic here. But that is almost non-existent in written evidence by the people who were actually doing that then – while others were taking their property, denying them a livelihood, obliterating their self-identity, their communal identity, and everything they believed/wanted, and with the Cherokee/Georgia cases ensuring that there was no place for them inside the jurisdiction of the US. That IS cultural genocide.

            Past is past and everyone then is dead. But those who whitewash the past are usually more guilty of trying to keep the past alive for self-serving purposes than those who seek acknowledgement/apologies of the past.

            1. Jesus. I’m actually a good chunk native, and this is nonsense.

              YEAH, we DID slaughter lots of indians in individual situations. Nobody denies that.

              However we NEVER attempted to ACTUALLY kill every single Indian in the USA. EVER. As I said, if we wanted to, we could have. We had them utterly crushed and defeated, and could have simply lined them all up and shot ever last one of them into pits, like the Nazis were doing on the Eastern front. WE DID NOT DO THIS. Heck, we did after some battles, but not most, and certainly not all. We spared them when we didn’t need to.

              We DID try to civilize them, after taking their shit. Rome did the same to barbarians! Bible thumpers tried to convert them and tried to educate them. Many actually took to it I would add… The funny thing is, the ones that did get educated mostly “disappeared” leaving behind only those that never adapted, because the ones that integrated melted into the white population, like my ancestors! It definitely was an attempt to destroy their primitive culture, but it also materially lifted up any that took to it.

              It was a messy, complicated lot, but you can’t JUST look at half the picture buddy. Indians today are better off materially than they ever would have been without Europeans. If they got over their being butthurt, they could still have and enjoy their cultural stuff, AND have more affluence.

  9. “Modern Americans could also be forgiven for thinking the 2016 election was the first time a foreign country made an organized attempt to affect a stateside political outcome.”

    Does this refer to the laughable GIFs? Or the lame ‘peeing on the hooker’ that the hag tried?

    1. Well, foreign countries are affected by our elections. Why wouldn’t they want to have a say in what happens?
      At least we don’t allow them to openly vote in the elections like certain blue states.

      1. Don’t give them ideas.

  10. Spies may lie to you and almost certainly will try to spin you, but that’s true of practically anybody who works for a government.

    Do they still teach that in Journalism schools? That if some anonymous high-level official inside source close to the situation wants to give you the inside scoop on what secret goings-on are secretly going on, your first thought should be, “Why are you telling me this? What’s in it for you?” and maybe be a little skeptical rather than run straight out to report this latest “bombshell” for the umpteenth time.

  11. “2016 election was the first time a foreign country made an organized attempt to affect a stateside political outcome”

    Lol

  12. The recent feature-length documentary, All Governments Lie is subtitled Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone. To the extent that it covers I.F. Stone, it is a hagiography.

    The documentary makes zero mention of the facts and history reported in Spies in the Media.

    I wonder why.

  13. +1 “muscular” foreign policy speech.

  14. Speaking of muscular foreign policy, I have been praying for a thread on H&R appropriate to talk about Venezuela. This is as close as I can come. Our sorry media are missing another huge story, because one of the many things at play here is Putin’s inversion of the Monroe Doctrine.

    The MD was the American declaration that foreigners better not meddle in Central or South America, or they would maybe get whacked with a big stick. The new Putin version declares the USA better leave the Maduro thugs in Venezuela alone. It is rumored that Russian mercenaries are reinforcing the dictator’s forces.

    Our media pays no mind to this because (1) Oscar night (2) Bernie Sander leads in polls and Venezuela embarrasses him as a topic, and (3) they hate Trump, who is looking muscular.

    Sen. Marco Rubio has hinted that Maduro could go the way of Libya’s Qaddafi, which was a gruesome end, but more relevantly to the media, was orchestrated by Obama and Clinton, which means they could cheer for it.

    The Dems don’t really have a candidate who can do muscular foreign policy, except maybe Biden or Hillary if she comes off the bench, but their combined ages almost equal the Monroe Doctrine.

  15. Amazing. A journalist actually admitting that most journalism is merely propaganda! One of the things that I’ve found VERY disturbing about Reason is how they contort themselves to never call out places like WaPo or the NYTs when they’re OBVIOUSLY just shilling for The Cause. It’s like they just refuse to admit the obvious. So I’m glad they can run at least ONE article stating the obvious.

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  17. I’m sure the US did do that in the past, but our journalists are no longer smart or competent enough to be spies.

    1. No, as Dan Rather said after the Iraq invasion, “we were merely stenographers, going to government briefings and reported what we were told…. if we had asked the tough questions, we might not have gone to war”.

      They do this for access to sources. Asking tough questions gets your access, story and income cut off.

      Minions are useful idiots, becoming conspirators with government propaganda as they climb the corporate ladder.

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  19. This was a good read but coulda been condensed into: They’re useful (and sometimes willing) idiots.

    “…Revealing their utter cluelessness about the way the Soviet Union worked, a group of American reporters, including some from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press,”

    If there’s one class that is over hyped and thinks too highly of itself, it’s the journo-class. The self-anointed intellectual overlords are easily duped. And nothing has changed when it comes to pushing war. Just look at how they react in suspicious unison with Gabbard.

    “Walter Duranty, the notoriously fawning and bafflingly influential Moscow correspondent of The New York Times (who won a Pulitzer for dispatches denying the existence of that 1933 Ukrainian famine that Romm and his colleagues helped create), was stunned by the treachery of his ex-friend. “It is still a mystery,” Duranty wrote, that men like Romm “should continue to follow Trotsky” when it was obvious that “Stalin was the man Russia needed.”

    Plus ca change….

    I still can’t believe people take the Pulitzer seriously. Next to (some) Nobel prizes and Oscars, it’s a fraud that doles out awards to industry pals or in the case of the Oscars to the most ‘woke’.

  20. Fake News: The Myth of Smallpox Blankets. Stop empowering serial fabricator Ward Churchill!

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