Friday, August 30, 2013

Syria 2: The Dangers of an Internal Mindset and Groupthink

It is all too easy for an Administration to become locked into an internal mindset in such situations, even starting from the best intentions.

Here, we have:

1) A vicious regime, for whom the current murderous occurrences are tantalizing close to attribution--but still unproven;

2) A verbal commitment to act upon these occurrences--with the failure to act having potential consequences upon the dangerous actions of another regime;

3) A strong moral stance by the President and key advisers that adds additional pressure for such action.

However, we also have:

1) A group of rebels who have taken significant and rapidly increasingly losses, who would benefit from precisely such a conclusion;

2) A lack of conclusive evidence, and some evidence that appears to contradict regime responsibility for the acts in East Ghoula;

3) Two regimes that would benefit significantly from action based on conclusions that are found to be incorrect;

4) The now oft-seen and often severe unintended consequences of such action.

It is possible to be seen as strong, responsive, and morally consequential without military action at this point. The absence of conclusive evidence *at this point* is precisely the basis on which to found such a response.

The response should be unambiguous and clear: We are willing to act with clear, great, targeted severity in the face of this more conclusive evidence.

To act before such evidence meets a standard of beyond reasonable doubt is to endanger the very concerns of the President and the Administration at this point, as:

1) It causes the President to appear as if he must act before the facts have been determined--not strong, but acting for fear of being perceived as weak, rather than with the patient strength of acting upon conclusive evidence;

2) It creates the higher probability that the Administration will be proven to be wrong on the basis for such action, making the bar for later, more demonstrably proven and necessary actions significantly higher.

The Administration's message should be unequivocal, unambiguous and clear: 

Should the evidence under review prove that the regime is responsible for the attacks in East Ghoula, there will be a military response sufficient to warn the regime of severe consequences of such acts. 
Any other such acts will receive a similar response.  

However, in the absence of this proof, the Administration must continue to determine its acts regarding this regime with the means, measures and severity commensurate to its other acts against its people and the geopolitical and domestic interests of our nation.

Experiment lets man use his mind to control another person’s movements: Political Implications

From today's WaPo:

Experiment lets man use his mind to control another person’s movements
This has already been demonstrated for 8 years in the famed Cheney-Bush experiment.



Thursday, August 29, 2013


President Obama is considering whether to respond with military action to the chemical attacks in the Jobar, Kafr Batna, Hamoryah, Erbin, Douma, Zamalka, and East Ghouta regions in the suburbs of Damascus.

The President has declared that he would act if the Syrian Government crossed a "Red Line", which included the use of chemical weapons. The failure to act would therefore, be presumed to undermine the credibility of statements of US intention to act.

If the Government is, indeed the perpetrator of the acts, then it can also be inferred that the acts themselves may have been based on the belief that the US would not respond, and that they can act with impunity. 

To fail to respond is therefore to open the door to even more unrestrained action, with just barest veil of cover, in the belief that now, there will be no US response.

If the US were to respond militarily, it would need to do so in a way that is calibrated to sufficiently damage and restrain the Syrian government, without giving such advantage to rebel forces that they will burst from sufficient US leverage and management, given the presence of radical Islamist members among them. Such calibration is an inherent gamble.

More centrally, the moral imperative to act militarily and the nature of these acts rests upon the ability to identify their perpetrator. The information thus far provided is inferential, not conclusive.

Assuming that there is no greater certainty in information that has been kept private:

The essential crucible is thus in the tension between the consequences of the failure to act and the consequences in acting without clarity regarding the perpetrator.

Given that the consequences of military action here will be extremely significant, the standard here should not be a preponderance of the evidence, but certainty beyond a reasonable doubt.

On the basis of the evidence provided, we have not yet met that standard. 

The question thus should become: What is the most severe non-military response that we can provide, that is both diplomatically deft with regard to our explanation for withholding military action at this point, and that has sufficient impact to act proportionately, based upon the preponderance on the evidence. 

With such a response, We do not sacrifice the ability to act militarily should we determine a basis with greater certainty--and our current response should take us just to the place before this line.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Zimmerman Buys a Tactical Shotgun


Three weeks after he was caught speeding in Texas, George Zimmerman visited the Florida headquarters of Kel-Tec, the gun manufacturer that made the PF-9 pistol Zimmerman used to kill Trayvon Martin, where he asked about purchasing a tactical shotgun. 

Presumably part of his law school application. 


The small but crucial element to a democracy is that you need actual democrats in power.

Not those who wish to use democratic processes to pave the way to a totalitarian state. .

Egyptians have realized this.

Is the Purpose of AJA to Provide Greater Free Rein To AJE?

Watching AJE last night--days after the cut off of AJE to the States, and the simultaneous beginning of Al Jazeera America (AJA) on Tuesday.

A new voice on AJE, rather than the nuanced, inferential approach of just days before.

An utterly unsubtle AJE World documentary on Israel.

Essentially, a call to bring the nation to an end.

A combination of arguments: Israelis would be more comfortable in Europe, in any case. They are suffering under the pressure and stress of living in Israel--and would be happier if they returned to Europe.

A bald-faced attempt, obvious, to seduce the young to leave.

No mention of Hamas. Of Hezbollah. Indeed, of those who actually view Israel as a nation. 

Sickening, repetitive, not terribly far from the propaganda of seventy years ago, with a slight but rather obvious gloss.

A rather massive leap from the inferences and knowing tones of the days before AJE was cut off in the United States.

This brings one to wonder:

Was one significant purpose of the establishment of a separate American voice for Al Jazeera to allow it free rein for the full-throated anti-Israel propaganda they have now unleashed, but may have felt unable to fully voice until they cut off America from its sight? 

Repellant. Stands as a modern, slickly produced equivalent of "The Eternal Jew".

I suspect that this is the true voice of AJ on Israel--which it now feels, in burst of relief, free to express.

You should know this. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Powell to NC Gov. McCrory: ""You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud"

Speaking directly after Governor Pat McCrory had departed from the stage, Colin Powell lambasted the state's new voting laws, stating that "You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud", and challenging the Governor: "How can it be widespread and undetected?"

As reported by John Murawski and John Frank in the Raleigh News Observer, Powell, the keynote speaker for the event, was unambiguous in his remarks on the intent and effect of the law:  "What it really says to the minority voters is ... 'We really are sort-of punishing you,'

Powell declared: "I want to see policies that encourage every American to vote, not make it more difficult to vote."

Murawski and Frank reported that McCrory stayed for a portion of Powell's speech, but left before Powell's comments on the State's new voting legislation. 

Read more here:

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The Brilliant Negotiation Work of Antionette Huff

Petula Dvorak, in today's WaPo, notes the work of Antoinette Tuff, bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga, in preventing another young gunman from committing another mass killing.

Anyone interested in how to prevent such a crime-in-progress should hear her successful effort.

Tuff did absolutely brilliant negotiation work.

She continually reassured him, preventing him from impulsive action.

She treated him with the respect that he was obviously hungry for, keeping his likelihood of narcissistic rage, the most frequent precursor of violence, at bay.

She provided him with the very justifications that he hoped to believe, so that he would not act out with hopeless, suicidal rage.

And she made a connection with the assailant, so that he would trust and follow her persistent, comforting yet effective direction.

Unlike many, who, giving in to their own self-righteous fury, would have played directly into the assailant's all-too-present handbook of suicidal rage.

Better than many FBI hostage negotiations, that have ended far more tragically.

Is America Too Boring For Al Jazeera America?

As AJA begins, one of the immediate glaring contrasts between the new network and AJE is in the content of the stories.

AJE provides its ongoing drama of Egyptian political turmoil, the extraordinary tragedy of the dismantling of the Syrian nation,  Robert Mugabe's endless electoral hold on Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, AJA brings out the usual American diet of stories on education, on trading.  They ae trying to supplement this with stories-both directly from AJE and using their own resources--on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the rolling back of the clock in Cairo with the release of Mubarak, but  as the lack of comparative edge becomes more apparent, a question begins to arise:

Is America too boring for Al Jazeera?

In all seriousness, what is lacking is an intensity of focus, a vital central question to the stories thus far on AJA such as that which animates the stories on AJE.  Some of this deficit may indeed be due to the lack of comparative tumult in the US compared to the nations of focus on AJE.

But some may also be due to news habits that have become so deeply ingrained in the US, that even on the new AJA thus far, they have been unable to cull out, define, and portray the vital center at the core of their stories thus far.

It's very, very, early. But, like AJE, there is a tone to be found here, that will be new, American, and is yet to be defined.

Dislike of Ted Cruz Unites Both Parties

Rich Lowry sees conspiracy in the remarkable degree of dislike for Ted Cruz:

Henry Adams said that politics is the systematic organization of hatreds. For the left, over the past year it has seemed at times to be the systematic organization of hatred of Ted Cruz.

It is possible that what Lowry has instead seen is the simultaneous expression of independent dislike, rather than something more conspiratorial.

After all, after only two months, both Republican and Democratic legislators found themselves having the same reaction:

"Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, has only been a U.S. Senator for 43 days, but he's already accomplished the amazing feat of uniting both sides of the aisle. Less than six weeks into his term, a remarkable number of both Republicans and Democrats have come forward to say that they think Cruz is kind of a jerk. In a steady stream of reports from his new colleagues, Cruz's rudeness comes in both public and private, and it's not just the words he uses but also how many of them he uses."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

AJA "Inside Story" Update

AJA's "Inside Story" coming along nicely on Day 2. Smoother, more interactive and alive ala AJE with the round table format, and they took the risk of leaping fully into a high-level discussion on Egypt, with Laurence Korb, Sahar Aziz, the very well-versed UT law professor, and Ashraf Haggazi from  Harvard.  Libby more comfortable and alive. You can begin to see the firm that the AJA version of the AJE standard will be here.  A good sized leap forward on Day 2.

AJ in America: Note

I'll be following the arrival and growth of Al Jazeera America here. It's a fascinating phenomenon--a Qatari funded network attempting, with considerable thought, consideration, and attention; with the successful, nuanced experience of AJE, and at a moment when news forms are in a state of desperate, ambiguous flux, to break into and influence the consciousness of the American public.  At once a radical gamble, but clearly being executed with patience, resources and experience that characterize the network.

We will watch, consider, and comment closely as what is now barely apparent to most in the US attempts to emerge into the moving American mind.

AJA: One Day, Finding Their Way

Al Jazeera America is on the air, and it is a reasonable base from which to find its way.

The major issue they seem to confront from the start is how to capture the intellectual directness, immediacy, intense and high-quality connection to the issue of the moment along with the broad, nuanced intellectual continuity of Al Jazeera English--a persistent high-bar creation of detailed coverage and examination of focal issues, and breadth of intellectual exploration of international ones--in the context of US News:

What are the focal issues and intense questions, such that a continuity of high-bar coverage can be created?

This is also a work-in-progress given the attempts to thread this with what appears to be a belief that they need to bring sufficient comfort and familiarity to US viewers to allow them to transition from known channels.

Some of this work is integrated, well-conceptualized, and effective--the introduction of news anchors and reporters who both expand the traditional, stereotypical American notions of "diversity", and are clearly rooted and based in America.

Some of it, understandably, will need to grow into a more vital, connected version of its current self.

One of the main issues is, in a nation of considerable breadth of issues, and without either replicating the lockstep focus of existing channels is: Where to aim, in order to create a consistent vision?

This is apparent across the initial efforts, but it is entirely understandable. There is a need to find the complement of issues that will constitute the vital and compelling present, as it is lifted from the repetitive voice of current news into a more detailed, intellectual, focal, vital form, as that can exist for an American audience

"Consider This", an effort thoroughly rooted in the AJE tradition of attempting to shake and increase the malleability of current mindsets, like many of the original efforts, seems to lack this clear sense of where to aim from the start.  Day one, yes. But it lacks a certain sharpness of topic and discussion that is characteristic of AJE efforts, that seems likely to carry for a time until and unless it finds itself.

There must be a willingness to risk full engagement with the issue as it stands, and drop the habitual, ingrained American eagerness to please.

"Inside Story", the AJA version of a AJE hallmark, hosted by Libby Casey, is closer to the mark from the start. Casey, trained in the C-SPAN tradition, is far more comfortable staying simply with the facts, and the questions that emerge from them, and allowing the intellectual quality of the guests to fully emerge.

Understandably, AJA is hoping to draw viewers with the familiar faces, and introduce and comfort them in this way to the full channel content.  This does create another close-call dilemma, however.
The star power of the perfectly likable Ali Velshi, for example, is limited, and is both not terribly representative nor nearly as compelling as the far more gripping, intellectually challenging content of, say "Inside Story".

I understand that the plan is one of gradual transitioning from the familiar smiling voice of the for-so-long contrived American news persona, to the more authentic, intellectually complex, genuinely challenging voice of AJE, but the reverse may also occur--the unintended consequence that viewers may come to expect more of the same--news shaped to limit and please--and this may not fully blend with, or allow viewers to create with the channel the persistent image of a new, frank, uncontrived news, authentically unafraid to address focal issues of the day from multiple perspectives, and without the always deadening, flattening regression and repression to the mean--the limitation of fear of being too smart, too central, too on point, the fear of alienating advertisers or donors that has shaped and limited our view of the world, and which AJA has the opportunity to genuinely change.

Now, that being said: A full start from 0 to 120 might leave viewers bewildered.  This is clearly a well-thought out, and considered approach.  Though not without its risks, such as those described above, it is reasonable planning and risk management--the type of long-term thinking which, as I mentioned yesterday, is a remarkable hallmark of the AJ approach.

But--they will need to move it forward, and trust the audience to grab intellect, to make it begin to stick. Audiences are hungry for it. Do not underestimate. Give it to them.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

AJA Hires Casey

AJA has poached Libby Casey from C-SPAN, a sign of the quality that they intend to recreate from their AJE news anchors in American form--intelligent, steady, calm, no hype, unbiased, with strong interviewing as well as anchoring experience.

Also a good sign that they intend to replicate the intellectual level of AJE, rather than lean "American"--intelligent and informed rather than sensational anchors and guests. 

Al Jazeera English Shifts To Al Jazeera America: News, Quality, and A Remarkable Agenda

If you haven't been watching Al Jazeera English, you should.

Although, if you are in the U.S., for now, you can't.

Al Jazeera English (or AJE, as it is commonly known), is probably best known in the United States for its association with the "War on Terror" during the years of the Bush Administration. For those who know no more of it than this, they may have a vague sense of associations of un-American messages related to those years.

As someone who is finely tuned to the nuances of propaganda--and who had also grown tried of the increasingly intensifying drumbeat of desperation of commercial news here as it wrestles in the ambiguous struggle for survival, the constant sense of selling, dumbing down, falsity, and the shrill desire to grab eyeballs that moment--I first turned on AJE during the events of Arab Spring.

I found it to be the immediate, the most detailed and the most reliable reporter of those events. While they too were growing and changing over and since those days, it was clear that if you wanted ongoing coverage of those events, AJE was filled with on-the-ground coverage.

What increasingly emerged--and what I think has also grown with the increased attention that the network has received since that time--is the remarkably intelligent, serious quality of the network.

It produces news and original programming that is better than anything in English cable news being produced--at a much higher level of intelligence than CNN or PBS. Unlike either of these, for the most part, it does not pander. It does not assume that the news needs to be shaped in order to play to a lack of intellect or understanding. It does not--except in certain circumstances, to be discussed--sell or hype for the sheer sense of attempting to add drama, excitement and therefore extended attention to the news.

News presenters are not "personalities" in the American sense, nor do they have the complete, more icy remove of BBC presenters. Rather, they are dignified, articulate, usually female, presenting largely without inference as to personal position or belief (with one exception).  When they shift into the role of interviewers, they show intellect, knowledge of the subject, a willingness to question closely and on the facts--they shift with a degree of sharpness and usually a great degree of informed intellect on the issue at hand. There is utterly no attempt to "hype" an issue in order to draw greater viewer attention--without the commercial imperative, this simply falls away.

Its original programming is superb.  The program "Witness", an hour-long documentary series, produces some of the most keenly observed, human, perceptive documentary programming that I have seen.  Some of this is produced for Al Jazeera, while some is purchased from other production companies.  In both cases, there is a coherent mission--multiple in fact--one of which is to portray human experience with the complexity and nuance with which it occurs in life.  Whether it is Kari Ann Moe's superb documentary "Bravehearts", on the Breivik Norway shootings; a portrait of a Riga photographer, or countless other weekly efforts, the consistent level of quality is remarkable.

They seek to grasp the thought of the human mind from myriad directions--and keep trying new approaches.

A debate series from Oxford Union is one example. The debate with Richard Dawkins, rather than the pulled-punches half-questions of American programming, always fearful of offending sensibilities, was entirely absent. It was high level, an extremely well-prepared interview who had Dawkins on the run--tremendous programming, and probably the most difficult debate that Dawkins had faced. I don't think that he had expected this.

"Inside Story", one of its tent pole programs, provides multiple subject interviews on a news topic of the day, with experts chosen for authentic expertise, questions asked that do not shrink from centrality or complexity, and guests given space to give complete answers and to fully interact.

Newer efforts attempt to stay directly connected to new approaches. "The Stream", which had a bit of clunky start but now is a vital part of the network, integrates Twitter, Skype, and in-studio guests for extremely lively and informed topics of immediate concern. "Earthrise" attempts to inspire via new approaches to environmental issues.

There is a constant and consistent theme to these and other Al Jazeera programming, and it pulses through the channel as its clear purpose and mission--a remarkably nuanced, patient attempt to cause viewers to re-evaluate their current perspectives, to gently, persistently, like water against the cliffs, erode and change long held patterns of thought.

There is one particular pattern of thought that AJE addresses centrally, as its core mission, across programming: That oppressed people, removed from their land, by an unfair oppressor, should be allowed to return.

Through analogy, through portrayal of individuals, groups of all kinds, AJE constantly brings this message. And, with fair consistency--never too stridently, often by inference, but always present--is its one ideological position--that Israel is oppressing the Palestinians.

It is fair to surmise that the AJE enterprise is a remarkably brilliant, extraordinarily executed concept. Based on the realization that the only way to truly resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not through short-term, repeated efforts at agreement, which are always met by the same unchanged minds representing unchanged populations, but through the long-term, nuanced effort to change minds.

Never pushing too hard, which only raises resistance, provoking once again the long-held beliefs to the surface, but easing in, again and again, through analogy, through representations of the conflict through countless modalities--oppressive polluters vs. oppressed victims, Crimean refugees forced from their land seeking return--AJE appears to be based on the conclusion that the only way to bring sympathy to the Palestinian cause in a transformational form is to adopt the broad, long-term, multi-modal strategy of transforming minds.  And they wrap this message--provided again and again--in news and programming that is otherwise of extremely high quality. How could this message--their sole ideological constant--not also be true?

As such, they are a genuinely remarkable project--unmistakably an anti-Israel network, with an entire 24-hours of news and programming formed, ultimately around that purpose.  This may be the most sophisticated, nuanced propaganda that has ever been produced.

This is not to say that the network, and certainly many who work their as journalists, writers, reporters, do not have other purposes.  Certainly AJE is part and parcel of the Qatari mission to impact culture more generally--as we have seen in art, for example--and to wield influence, including influence that may affect its own fortunes (see, for example, its current series on the French-Algerian connection and the role of ELF Petroleum in French and African politics).  And there is a frustrated, angry passion, which sometimes boils over, but clearly is part of the network mission and culture not to show overtly--that media is dominated by unfair "others".

This leaves AJE as an extraordinarily enterprise. Of the highest quality--as it must be, to reinforce its view and mission. Filled with programming that, lacking the commercial imperative as it exists in the US, deals with the viewer with assumptions that they can be given intelligence, complexity, and nuance. Filled with a persistent human imperative--to pay attention to the position of the oppressed.

And with a particular vision of who the oppressed might be.

Now, as AJE departs from America, and AJA begins--today--a new mission begins.

The decision to block AJE with the start of AJA, while based primarily on cable system carriage issues, is no doubt also intended to cleanly establish the "American" image of the channel. And, indeed, they have gone to great lengths to construct an image that will both feel "American" to viewers, rather than English-International, and at the same time something new. A number of former CNN personalities--Ali Velshi, Soledad O'Brien, among others, with Tony Harris having joined AJE earlier and now working for AJA--and other familiar faces will provide new viewers with a sense of credibility, familiarity, and transition.  Even the presence of commercials--while it always does help to have someone else paying some of the bills--allows Americans who still have uncomfortable associations with Al Jazeera and the GWOT to feel as if they are in a familiar environment.

I believe that, although it will take some time, the channel will be successful--far more than its "Current" predecessor--and, as particular stories begin to break out in which they have special expertise,  bringing new viewers and gradually expanding the audience--an alternative to CNN and MSNBC with which many will be surprised.

Nonetheless, you can see what the mission is, building upon the successes that they have already achieved. And it is a similarly sweeping vision as that of AJE. No less a gamble than to transform America--through the persistent, long-term modality of a news channel. Present each day. Delivering its message to the people. With an appeal to their sense of being oppressed, of not being told the truth, of being dealt with fairly.

And with particular messages that it also wishes--slowly, patiently, with nuance, and in a multiplicity of forms, surrounded by quality, to make more normal, comfortable, acceptable, changed--believed.