The London market opens higher, supported by banks and mining companies.
On October 4 in Niger in central Africa four American special forces soldiers were killed in an ambush by “fifty fighters, thought to be associated with ISIS [Islamic State], a US official said.” In the course of the attack, one US soldier was left behind when the others withdrew, and was subsequently found dead. Nigerien soldiers were also killed, and it is interesting to examine how US media outlets recorded this aspect of what was obviously a disaster for US Africa Command, AFRICOM, the organisation headquartered, bizarrely, in Germany, that has 46 military bases (that we know of) in that continent. (Niger, incidentally, is twice the size of Texas.)
ABC News reported that “a soldier from Niger also died from the attack” while CBS thought that “four Nigerien soldiers died,” and Stars and Stripes went with “several.” CNN’s tally was five but the New York Times didn't mention Nigerien soldiers at all. Fox News, surprisingly, said that four were killed, as did the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, which even expanded to record that there had been eight Nigerien soldiers wounded.
It isn’t to be expected that the US media would ever concern themselves with deep research into how many foreign soldiers are killed in any of the countries in which the US is involved in armed conflict, but the sloppy reporting is a good indicator of the shrug factor.
And the western media continues to shrug about the deep involvement of the US military and the CIA in countries throughout Africa.
President Donald Trump claims he would win an IQ contest against his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson (how bizarre and nationally demeaning that a President of the United States of America can stoop to such childish yah boo behaviour), but it’s a fair bet he would not be able to identify on a blank map of Africa the countries in which his armed forces are at present engaged in various degrees of conflict. As recorded by Alexis Okeowo in the New Yorker, “Publicly, Africa may not be on the radar of the Trump Administration, but it is a priority for the US military. At the moment, seventeen hundred members of the Special Forces and other military personnel are undertaking ninety-six missions in twenty-one countries, and the details of most are unknown to Americans.”
It is intriguing that the US military – the Pentagon – so rarely informs the public of their global operations, yet much of the world knows about them down to the last detail. For example, it’s obvious that the Taliban in Afghanistan are well aware of all the crash-and-bash US special forces assaults in villages, because they have become more expert in avoiding them and then concentrating on defeating the weak, corrupt, and increasingly ineffectual Afghan armed forces. Not only that, but they reap massive propaganda benefit from publicising the fact that the wham-bam kick-the-doors-down infidels have once again struck a blow for Islamic State recruiting efforts. In Africa, it’s much the same game, with no publicity until that becomes unavoidable because there has been a major disaster involving the deaths of US soldiers. (Mere injuries are never mentioned, but some reporters keep an eye on casevac [casualty evacuation] flights arriving for attention of the caring saints at the US military hospital in Landstuhl in Germany. The numbers are interesting.)
The United States military and the CIA have a large presence in Africa and, as recorded by Nick Turse in April, “A set of previously secret documents, obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act, offers clear evidence of a remarkable, far-ranging, and expanding network of outposts strung across the continent . . . AFRICOM lists 36 US outposts scattered across 24 African countries.”
According to the Pentagon “US forces are in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, including support for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts, in their efforts to target violent extremist organizations in the region.” In fact, as CNN reports, “There are about 800 US troops in Niger and the US military has maintained a presence in the northwest African country for five years, with small groups of US Special Operations Forces advising local troops as they battle terrorist groups, including, Islamic State in Greater Sahara, the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram and al Qaeda's North African branch, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” The place is a war zone, and citizens of the US and Europe have little idea about what’s going on in their names — and at their expense in cash, international credibility and growing distrust and hatred of the West.
Mind you, it’s unlikely that very many Chinese citizens are aware of the deep involvement of their country in the African continent, either. But the difference between ephemeral US policy and long-term Chinese strategy is that Washington seeks domination, while China seeks trade and gradual influence and trust.
While attending the UN General Assembly in September President Trump addressed the leaders of several African nations at lunch. He didn’t mention drones or Special Forces or CIA interrogation cells but made clear his enthusiasm for their countries by declaring that “Africa has tremendous business potential, I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich. I congratulate you, they’re spending a lot of money. It has tremendous business potential, representing huge amounts of different markets. It’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go.”
It’s a pity he hadn’t read the Financial Times in June, when it sagely pointed out that in Africa “In the past 15 years the level of engagement by Chinese state-owned enterprises, political leaders, diplomats and entrepreneurs has put centuries of previous contact in the shade… While Europeans and Americans view Africa as a troubling source of instability, migration and terrorism — and, of course, precious minerals — China sees opportunity. Africa has oil, copper, cobalt and iron ore. It has markets for Chinese manufacturers and construction companies. And, perhaps least understood, it is a promising vehicle for Chinese geopolitical influence.”
Trump doesn’t read the FT or any other source of balanced information, but gets his news and forms his opinions from US television channels, which suits the military-industrial complex very well, as it can count on being unhindered by the White House as it expands its counter-productive military operations across the continent.
Not that China has avoided Africa militarily. Not at all. The United Nations records that China has some 2,600 troops in Africa — all of them firmly under command of UN peacekeeping missions in Congo, Liberia, Mali, Sudan and South Sudan. (The US contributes a total of 48 military personnel and 19 police to worldwide peacekeeping.) The duties of Trump’s soldiers in Africa are, in the words of their chief, General Thomas Waldhauser, to conduct “joint operations, protection of US personnel and facilities, crisis response, and security cooperation.”
General Waldhauser considers that “Just as the US pursues strategic interests in Africa, international competitors, including China and Russia, are doing the same. Whether with trade, natural resource exploitation, or weapons sales, we continue to see international competitors engage with African partners in a manner contrary to the international norms of transparency and good governance. These competitors weaken our African partners’ ability to govern and will ultimately hinder Africa’s long-term stability and economic growth, and they will also undermine and diminish US influence — a message we must continue to share with our partners.”
But the US doesn’t have any genuine partners in Africa. On the other hand, China has created many. As noted by Forbes, “In December 2015, President Xi Jinping ushered in a new era of ‘real win-win cooperation’ between China and Africa. This strategy aims to create mutual prosperity, allowing investors to ‘do good while doing right.’ China has backed this proposal up with a commitment of $60 billion of new investment in major capital projects, which are tied to developing local economic capacity. This level of commitment contrasts starkly with the action, or lack thereof from the West.”
The message is clear. The US military-industrial complex has overtaken and indeed supplanted State Department diplomacy in Africa, as elsewhere in the world, and is intent on escalating its military presence while China is quietly winning friends and influencing people by engaging in massive, well-planned economic projects. No prizes for deducing who is winning in Africa.
The Treasury Committee seeks evidence on the Bank’s efforts to improve its gender and ethnic mix.
Speaking to the BBC, legendary Welsh singer Tom Jones, perhap smore fmaous for his Vegas shows now, confirmed that the scandal in the movie industry, following the revelations regarding Harvey Weinstein, is also common in music.
Speaking at the launch of the “The Voice UK” television programme in Manchester, Jones stated that “Things have always happened in the music industry as well. There's been people complaining about publicists and different things they've been expected to do to get a record contract, just like a film contract."
Unexpectedly, Jones acknowledged that he’d faced this problem when he started out
“Yes. At the beginning, yes…
There were a few things like that. But you avoid it. You just walk out…
But what's tried on women is tried on men as well. But then again, it's not much though. It was just once, really."
Jones said that it left him feeling terrible…
“you think I’ve got to get away from this person and it can’t be like this… There’s always been that element there, that people with power sometimes abuse it.”
The question is whether other members of the music industry follow Jones lead but name names.
"Things happen in showbusiness, and sometimes things are covered up and then they come to light and other people come forward, it's like taking the cork off of a bottle.
Things come out that maybe should've come out years ago, who knows. But that's the way it is with showbusiness, you are in the public eye, and that's it. You have to take the good with the bad. But justice will out. If you've done something wrong you've got to pay for it, or prove that you haven't done anything wrong."
The fact that it’s also been going on in the music industry for many years – Jones began his career in 1963 – is probably not going to surprise anybody.
Earlier this week, The New York Times noted that movements for greater local autonomy appear to be spreading throughout Europe. In some ways, the conflict in Catalonia is just the tip of the iceberg. The Times reports:
Coming on the heels of the Catalan vote, the Lombardy and Veneto referendums are yet another signal of the homegrown conflicts that persist in many of the European Union’s member states. Separatist movements are also simmering in Britain — where voters in Scotland rejected independence in a 2014 referendum but continue to debate the issue — as well as France, Germany, Belgium and Romania.
Like Catalonia – and unlike Scotland – the Lombardy and Veneto regions of Italy are among the wealthiest regions, and send enormous amounts of tax revenue to Rome. Italy's southern regions, which are significantly poorer than northern Italy, have benefited from Northern wealth ever since Italians were all forced into a single nation-state in the late nineteenth century.
This has never been forgotten by Italians from Veneto, many of whom participated in a referendum in 2014 to declare Independence. Naturally, the Italian government in Rome declared the vote invalid. At the time, however, I interviewed one of the organizers Paolo Bernardini about the referendum. (See "Inside Venice's Secession Movement.") At the time, secessionists liek Bernardini appeared to be pursuing immediate and total independence from Rome, while remaining inside the EU:
A tiny majority of Veneto people are in favor both of the EU and of the Euro as a currency. So I envisage a little, rich state, playing a major economic and political role in the EU, a stabilizing role. It will interact naturally with other rich and similar states, Bavaria (still part of Germany), Austria, and the Netherlands. It will be a Finland in the Adriatic.
According to the Times piece, though, supporters of Northern independence have gone back to taking small steps, and realize – probably correctly – that there are numerous steps that must be taken between the status quo and total independence.
The new effort appears to be focused on conducting local plebescites demanding more local autonomy. This doesn't conflict with the goal of eventual independence, of course, although it probably is an essential first step.
A region taking a gradualist approach is the Flemish-speaking region of northern Belgium, also known as Flanders. The Flanders situation has been noted in a multitude of media outlets looking to find "the next Catalonia." CNBC reports:
Political groups such as the New Flemish Alliance, a nationalist, conservative group which is dominant in the Belgian parliament, advocate a gradual secession of Flanders from Belgium. Euronews reported that the party even hung a Catalan flag outside its headquarters recently in support of the Spanish separatist region. With elections in 2019, the issue of Flemish independence is not likely to disappear soon.
The Catalonia and Scotland situations have brought secession issues to the fore in the English-language media, but there's nothing new about Belgium's problem. The unlikely unions of French-speaking and Flemish-speaking regions date back to 1830 when northern regions of Belgium won independence from the Netherlands. The resulting union known as Belgium has never been a totally comfortable one, as noted in a 2007 Chicago Tribune article, which compared Beligum to an unhappy and tired married couple:
They stay together mainly out of habit, and also because it would be such a headache to break up the household and divide the communal property.
If you know a couple like this, then you will understand the Belgians.
Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia are trapped in a loveless marriage called Belgium.
In today's Europe, divorce no longer carries the opprobrium it once did. The Czechoslovakians had a very amicable split in 1993. The Yugoslavs less so. Even Scotland and England are talking about a separation.
But in Brussels, which these days feels more the capital of the far-flung European Union than the capital of a medium-size European nation, polite Belgian politicians don't like the D-word. They wish the whole issue would just go away.
It won't. That much became clear in December when RTBF, the French-language state broadcaster, interrupted its regular programming with an urgent bulletin announcing that Flanders had declared independence.
Grainy footage showed King Albert II and Queen Paola heading for the airport to flee the country. There also was video of trams stopped at the new Flemish border, and live interviews with familiar politicians discussing the crisis.
Not until half an hour into the broadcast did the message "This is fiction" appear on the screen. Too late. Embassies in Brussels already had scrambled to seek clarification while thousands of worried callers jammed RTBF's switchboard…
Belgian politicians were not amused.
Mind you, this was back in 2007 before it had become well established that the Scots could vote on their own Independence, and before the British voted for Brexit.
These more recent developments make regionalist movements such as those in Spain, Italy, and Belgium of increasing notability.
The question remains, however, if nation-states lacking the Anglo-Saxon deference to electoral politics will be as tolerant of election outcomes as the British appear to be.
The Democracy Problem
At the core of all these issues remains an unanswered question: If a majority of voters in a region vote for independence or greater autonomy, will the vote be respected by the central government?
After all, European nation-states have for decades been lecturing the rest of the world about the wonderfulness of democracy and how "the will of the people" must prevail. At the national level, it is simply assumed that "the will of the majority" is what grants a state a "right" to rule over the citizenry.
But if a majority in a specific region votes for a divorce from the central government, is all this talk about democracy and the will of the majority to suddenly be ignored?
Ludwig von Mises, of course, in his book Liberalism, advocated for the idea that any region, right down to the village level, be allowed to gain independence based on the outcome of a freely held plebiscite.
In recent years, opponents of independence movements in Italy and Spain have bickered over the way these votes are being conducted, and over the extent to which a majority actually wants indepenence.
These arguments are good at buying time, but they conveniently ignore the central problem at hand: if Catalonia held a fair-and-square election, and, say, 75 percent of eligible voters opted for independence, would the Spanish government allow independence? What about a similar situation in northern Italy? It's a yes-or-no question, but it doesn't seem to be one either the Spanish or Italian government is willing to answer.
Thus, Europe's democracy problem persists. Is democracy only allowed when it is no threat to the established status quo for nation-states? Should the central government send in the troops to beat citizens and seize ballots when people vote "the wrong way"?
This isn't just a problem for Europe, of course. Most of the "democratic" world, including Europe and the Americas, has a similar problem.
Old Borders Have Outlived their Usefulness
As time goes on, though, it's going to be harder and harder for nation-states to defend the current configuration of their national borders.
The current model of nation-states is based on the idea that a single metropolis, or a group of them, can control surrounding rural frontier areas for reasons of military strategy and to ensure a food supply for the metropolis. In return, the wealthy metropolis will protect frontier areas from foreign invasions, and provide some semblance of order to far-flung regions lacking the wealth and power of the metropolis.
This system of nation-states began to take firm shape in the seventeenth century, and was finally solidified in the nineteenth. The world wars of the 20th century showed us the heights to which nation-states can reach, and the extent to which they can seize and control resources.
This old model, however, was initially based on the idea that populations would be largely agricultural and rural, and that personal, cultural, and economic networks would be focused around the nation-states themselves, and the people within them.
As time has gone on, though, urbanization, international trade, and international communications have grown far beyond what the national governments of old could have ever imagined. Capital cities in nation states no longer command the attention and economic focus of other powerful cities within their nation states, and trade with foreign populations has in many cases become more important that trade within one's own nation-state. Agriculture is no longer a key source of wealth, which makes city-states with only small rural hinterlands increasingly viable.
At the same time, these newly forced international connections reduce the importance of the old nation-states as "protectors" from the neighboring regions. After all, if trade with the foreigners next door is just as important as trade with one's own countrymen, it becomes increasingly difficult to see what one's national government is offering protection from.
Does northern Italy really need protection from Austrian or Swiss invaders? Does Flanders need protection from the Netherlands? In an age of thorough economic integration, a war between two European states would mostly be a matter of mutually-assured economic destruction.
Nevertheless, the force of habit is an important factor in political ideology. Many people continue to see their national borders as quasi-sacred, reacting with horror at the idea that their nation-state should be "dismembered." National governments are careful to downplay the fact that the borders of most modern nation-states barely reach back as far as the nineteenth century. Even a look at a map of Europe from 1945 should disabuse us of any notion that national boundaries are anything but temporary.
In fact, border changes can often be measured in lengths of time similar to those of a single human lifetime. But this doesn't stop commentators from declaring that such-and-such region or such-and-such state (i.e., California) will never secede or dramatically change its national status.
In politics, claims of "never" should always be treated as laughably naive. 100 years is quite long enough to completely change the map of the world.
Following his sudden re-appearance on The Ellen Show after vanishing for 6 days, numerous questions remain unanswered about Mandalay Bay shooting hero Jesus Campos' timeline and perhaps more concerning stil is that The Daily Mail reports that he was pressured into giving his only interview to Ellen DeGeneres because the giant company that owns the Las Vegas casino feared he would spill the beans about the shooting timeline if he was grilled by real journalists.
As we detailed previously, Campos had originally agreed to do five interviews, all on Thursday last week, but suddenly went missing, his union boss, who was helping set up the deal, told DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview. David Hickey, president of the Michigan-based International Union, Security Police and Fire Professionals of America, would not confirm that MGM was behind the decision, but said the company certainly influenced Campos.
‘I was in a meeting with MGM’s upper management and they were definitely concerned about how tough someone like Hannity would be on him and they voiced their opinions,’ Hickey said.
He said all sides had agreed parameters for the interviews. ‘Everyone knew he wasn’t to talk about security protocols, staffing or training or give out names of employees.’
But he said the company — that, like most of Vegas’s casino industry, obsessively controls what employees are allowed to say to the media — was pressuring Campos not to give too much away.
‘I thought they were being negative, telling him that someone was going to be tough and how they were worried about his health — it wasn’t the thing he needed to hear four hours before the interviews were going to begin.’
Hickey said he met with the MGM executives at a location in Las Vegas where Campos was staying. They met in the living room but he wanted a word with some of the management team in private so they went into the bedroom.
When they returned, Campos had gone, and Hickey said he hasn’t seen or heard from him since. The next thing he knew the security official had bailed on the five interviews.
Then he learned on Monday that instead of appearing on a news show he would go on Ellen.
‘It certainly wasn’t my choice that he should appear on that circus,’ Hickey told DailyMail.com.
Ellen did not press him on the official timeline of the shooting, which has changed three times since the massacre.
And that appears to have been MGM's plan.
When he went through his recollection of the night, she did not press him to clarify some of the lingering questions about the official timeline – such as whether he or hotel officials delayed calling police for six minutes after he was shot.
If that version is proven to be true, it could open MGM to massive costs from lawsuits.
DeGeneres told him:
'I know you've had so many people asking for you to tell the story and talk about it and I understand your reluctance. You're talking about it now and you're not going to talk about it again.
‘I don't blame you. Why relive it over and over?'
Sources told DailyMail.com, MGM is worried that families of the 58 people murdered as well as many of the 546 injured in the Mandalay Bay massacre will launch lawsuits potentially worth billions of dollars against the company, and they thought Campos might not keep his story straight under the pressure of the TV lights and tough questioning.
That is why Campos, 25, appeared on a daytime chat show hosted by a fast-talking, dancing comedienne, rather than take questions from TV hardhitters such as Fox News’ Sean Hannity, NBC News or ABC News.
‘MGM was behind the decision to call off all the interviews and did a deal with Ellen, knowing she would not play hardball on the timeline as long as she had the exclusive,’ a TV insider told DailyMail.com.
The stench of coverup continues…
The firm recalled 1.2m cars in Japan because uncertified technicians performed final checks.
When it comes to the cost of living in cities, a general rule of thumb is that housing prices are much higher in the country’s economic and population hubs, especially in the cities along the coasts.
As Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins notes, particularly in recent years, prices have been pushed sky-high in places like New York City or San Francisco through a combination of limited supply of new homes, increasing demand, shifting demographics, and government regulations.
PUTTING IT INTO PERSPECTIVE
Today’s visualization from HowMuch.net applies a common denominator to compare 97 of the biggest cities in the United States. Using a measure of median household income against the average mortgage payment in each city, we get a gauge of how many hours must be worked each month just to pay down the house.
The visualization uses data from the U.S. Census for household income and Zillow for median home listing price, while calculating mortgage payments based on a standard 30-year term.
Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist
Using the above method to compare the amount of hours it takes to pay down a monthly mortgage, we see some interesting contrasts in the country.
Here are the five most expensive cities in the United States for housing:
With about 170 hours in a normal work month, the average people in these cities are spending 50% or more of their income just to pay down their mortgages. It’s worst in New York City and Los Angeles, where at least 65% of income is going towards housing.
These cities stand in stark contrast to the five cheapest cities based on hours of work needed:
In a city like Memphis, TN it takes only 18.4 hours of work a month to pay down the average mortgage. That’s equal to only about 10% of monthly household income.
Interestingly, even though coastal hubs have high prices relative to the cities in the middle of the country, they differ quite widely against each other. This discrepancy does not necessarily show in terms of ranking, but more in terms of the actual hours of work needed.
Washington, D.C., for example, requires less than half the hours of work to pay down a mortgage than Los Angeles or New York City. Meanwhile, a popular west coast hub like Seattle only needs 72.8 hours in comparison to New York’s 113.5 hours.
As the Russia-gate hysteria spirals down from the implausible to the absurd, almost every bad thing is blamed on the Russians, even how they turned the previously pristine Internet into a 'sewer'…
With the U.S. government offering tens of millions of dollars to combat Russian “propaganda and disinformation,” it’s perhaps not surprising that we see “researchers” such as Jonathan Albright of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University making the absurd accusation that the Russians have “basically turned [the Internet] into a sewer.”
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin wall in Moscow, Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Robert Parry)
I’ve been operating on the Internet since 1995 and I can assure you that the Internet has always been “a sewer” – in that it has been home to crazy conspiracy theories, ugly personal insults, click-bait tabloid “news,” and pretty much every vile prejudice you can think of. Whatever some Russians may or may not have done in buying $100,000 in ads on Facebook (compared to its $27 billion in annual revenue) or opening 201 Twitter accounts (out of Twitter’s 328 million monthly users), the Russians are not responsible for the sewage coursing through the Internet.
Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans and pretty much every other segment of the world’s population didn’t need Russian help to turn the Internet into an informational “sewer.” But, of course, fairness and proportionality have no place in today’s Russia-gate frenzy.
After all, your “non-governmental organization” or your scholarly “think tank” is not likely to get a piece of the $160 million that the U.S. government authorized last December to counter primarily Russian “propaganda and disinformation” if you explain that the Russians are at most responsible for a tiny trickle of “sewage” compared to the vast rivers of “sewage” coming from many other sources.
If you put the Russia-gate controversy in context, you also are not likely to have your “research” cited by The Washington Post as Albright did on Thursday because he supposedly found some links at the home-décor/fashion site Pinterest to a few articles that derived from a few of the 470 Facebook accounts and pages that Facebook suspects of having a link to Russia and shut them down. (To put that 470 number into perspective, Facebook has about two billion monthly users.)
Albright’s full quote about the Russians allegedly exploiting various social media platforms on the Internet was: “They’ve gone to every possible medium and basically turned it into a sewer.”
But let’s look at the facts. According to Facebook, the suspected “Russian-linked” accounts purchased $100,000 in ads from 2015 to 2017 (compared to Facebook’s annual revenue of about $27 billion), with only 44 percent of those ads appearing before the 2016 election and many having little or nothing to do with politics, which is curious if the Kremlin’s goal was to help elect Donald Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton.
Even former Clinton political strategist Mark Penn has acknowledged the absurdity of thinking that such piddling amounts could have any impact on a $2.4 billion presidential campaign, plus all the billions of dollars worth of free-media attention to the conventions, debates, etc. Based on what’s known about the Facebook ads, Penn calculated that “the actual electioneering [in battleground states] amounts to about $6,500.”
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday, Penn added, “I have 40 years of experience in politics, and this Russian ad buy mostly after the election anyway, simply does not add up to a carefully targeted campaign to move voters. It takes tens of millions of dollars to deliver meaningful messages to the contested portion of the electorate.”
Puppies and Pokemon
And, then there is the curious content. According to The New York Times, one of these “Russian-linked” Facebook groups was dedicated to photos of “adorable puppies.” Of course, the Times tried hard to detect some sinister motive behind the “puppies” page.
Similarly, CNN went wild over its own “discovery” that one of the “Russian-linked” pages offered Amazon gift cards to people who found “Pokémon Go” sites near scenes where police shot unarmed black men – if you would name the Pokémon after the victims.
“It’s unclear what the people behind the contest hoped to accomplish, though it may have been to remind people living near places where these incidents had taken place of what had happened and to upset or anger them,” CNN mused, adding:
“CNN has not found any evidence that any Pokémon Go users attempted to enter the contest, or whether any of the Amazon Gift Cards that were promised were ever awarded — or, indeed, whether the people who designed the contest ever had any intention of awarding the prizes.”
So, these dastardly Russians are exploiting “adorable puppies” and want to “remind people” about unarmed victims of police violence, clearly a masterful strategy to undermine American democracy or – according to the original Russia-gate narrative – to elect Donald Trump.
A New York Times article on Wednesday acknowledged another inconvenient truth that unintentionally added more perspective to the Russia-gate hysteria.
It turns out that some of the mainstream media’s favorite “fact-checking” organizations are home to Google ads that look like news items and lead readers to phony sites dressed up to resemble People, Vogue or other legitimate content providers.
“None of the stories were true,” the Times reported. “Yet as recently as late last week, they were being promoted with prominent ads served by Google on PolitiFact and Snopes, fact-checking sites created precisely to dispel such falsehoods.”
There is obvious irony in PolitiFact and Snopes profiting off “fake news” by taking money for these Google ads. But this reality also underscores the larger reality that fabricated news articles – whether peddling lies about Melania Trump or a hot new celebrity or outlandish Russian plots – are driven principally by the profit motive.
The Truth About Fake News
Occasionally, the U.S. mainstream media even acknowledges that fact. For instance, last November, The New York Times, which was then flogging the Russia-linked “fake news” theme, ran a relatively responsible article about a leading “fake news” Web site that the Times tracked down. It turned out to be an entrepreneurial effort by an unemployed Georgian student using a Web site in Tbilisi to make some money by promoting pro-Trump stories, whether true or not.
The owner of the Web site, 22-year-old Beqa Latsabidse, said he had initially tried to push stories favorable to Hillary Clinton but that proved unprofitable so he switched to publishing anti-Clinton and pro-Trump articles, including made-up stories. In other words, the Times found no Russian connection.
The Times article on Wednesday revealed the additional problem of Google ads placed on mainstream Internet sites leading readers to bogus news sites to get clicks and thus advertising dollars. And, it turns out that PolitiFact and Snopes were at least unwittingly profiting off these entrepreneurial ventures by running their ads. Again, there was no claim here of Russian “links.” It was all about good ole American greed.
But the even larger Internet problem is that many “reputable” news sites, such as AOL, lure readers into clicking on some sensationalistic or misleading headline, which takes readers to a story that is often tabloid trash or an extreme exaggeration of what the headline promised.
This reality about the Internet should be the larger context in which the Russia-gate story plays out, the miniscule nature of this Russian “meddling” even if these “suspected … links to Russia” – as the Times initially described the 470 Facebook pages – turn out to be true.
But there are no lucrative grants going to “researchers” who would put the trickle of alleged Russian “sewage” into the context of the vast flow of Internet “sewage” that is even flowing through the esteemed “fact-checking” sites of PolitiFact and Snopes.
There are also higher newspaper sales and better TV ratings if the mainstream media keeps turning up new angles on Russia-gate, even as some of the old ones fall away as inconsequential or meaningless (such as the Senate Intelligence Committee dismissing earlier controversies over Sen. Jeff Sessions’s brief meeting with the Russian ambassador at the Mayflower Hotel and minor changes in the Republican platform).
Saying ‘False’ Is ‘True’
And, there is the issue of who decides what’s true. PolitiFact continues to defend its false claim that Hillary Clinton was speaking the truth when – in referencing leaked Democratic emails last October – she claimed that the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies “have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (right) talks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, with John Brennan and other national security aides present. (Photo credit: Office of Director of National Intelligence)
That claim was always untrue because a reference to a consensus of the 17 intelligence agencies suggests a National Intelligence Estimate or similar product that seeks the judgments of the entire intelligence community. No NIE or community-wide study was ever done on this topic.
Only later – in January 2017 – did a small subset of the intelligence community, what Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described as “hand-picked” analystsfrom three agencies – the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation – issue an “assessment” blaming the Russians while acknowledging a lack of actual evidence.
In other words, the Jan. 6 “assessment” was comparable to the “stovepiped” intelligence that influenced many of the mistaken judgments of President George W. Bush’s administration. In “stovepiped” intelligence, a selected group of analysts is closeted away and develops judgments without the benefit of other experts who might offer contradictory evidence or question the groupthink.
So, in many ways, Clinton’s statement was the opposite of true both when she said it in 2016 and later in 2017 when she repeated it in direct reference to the Jan. 6 assessment. If PolitiFact really cared about facts, it would have corrected its earlier claim that Clinton was telling the truth, but the fact-checking organization wouldn’t budge — even after The New York Times and The Associated Press ran corrections.
In this context, PolitiFact showed its contempt even for conclusive evidence – testimony from former DNI Clapper (corroborated by former CIA Director John Brennan) that the 17-agency claim was false. Instead, PolitiFact was determined to protect Clinton’s false statement from being described for what it was: false.
Of course, maybe PolitiFact is suffering from the arrogance of its elite status as an arbiter of truth with its position on Google’s First Draft coalition, a collection of mainstream news outlets and fact-checkers which gets to decide what information is true and what is not true — for algorithms that then will exclude or downplay what’s deemed “false.”
So, if PolitiFact says something is true – even if it’s false – it becomes “true.” Thus, it’s perhaps not entirely ironic that PolitiFact would collect money from Google ads placed on its site by advertisers of fake news.