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James Bovard

Lessons from Biden’s Disinformation Board Debacle

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President Biden’s campaign to banish (or maybe outlaw) political paranoia took a wallop last spring. In April, the Department of Homeland Security proudly announced that it had created a new Disinformation Governance Board. The following month, the board’s chairman resigned, and Biden administration officials claimed the board was being “paused.” But it remains in the wings awaiting the White House summons for an encore performance.Thought police by another name

From the start, the Disinformation Governance Board looked like a political caricature dreamed up by people who never appreciated either Monty Python or Orwell’s 1984. Given the Biden record, it was unclear whether the new board will be fighting or promulgating “disinformation.” After controversy erupted, an unnamed DHS spokesperson told the Washington Post: “The Board’s purpose has been grossly mischaracterized; it will not police speech…. Its focus is to ensure that freedom of speech is protected.” Geez, why didn’t the Founding Fathers think of adding a clause to the First Amendment creating a nefarious-sounding government agency to ride shotgun on the nation’s media?

Team Biden expected applause and deference when they announced the first disinformation czar for the board, Nina Jankowicz, a 33-year-old Bryn Mawr college graduate who was hailed as an “information warfare expert.” Jankowicz had the type of resume that made the Washington Post swoon — a Fulbright scholar, a graduate degree from Georgetown University, and “stints at multiple nonpartisan think tanks” — all of which were coincidentally progovernment — thus proving that Jankowicz herself was trustworthy.

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Did the FBI Swing the 2020 Election?

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Joe Biden won the 2020 election as a result of 43,000 votes in three states. The election was far closer than the media has usually admitted. There were plenty of dubious factors that could have tipped the scales for a Biden victory, including machinations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The long history of FBI abuse

Though the media usually portray the FBI as the ultimate good guys, the bureau has long history of intervening in presidential elections. Shortly after taking office after Franklin Roosevelt’s death, President Harry Truman commented in his diary: “We want no Gestapo or Secret Police. FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail…. This must stop.” But FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover outfoxed Truman and every subsequent president.

In the 1948 presidential campaign, Hoover brazenly championed Republican candidate Thomas Dewey, leaking allegations that Truman was part of a corrupt Kansas City political machine. In 1952, Hoover sought to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson by spreading rumors that he was a closet homosexual.
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Will Punch-Drunk Biden Take America Down with Him?

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President Biden often looks like a punch-drunk old fighter sent into the ring once too often. At this point, the only thing lower than Biden’s approval numbers is his energy level. Is Uncle Joe too old to rebound?

At this point, Biden is running on little more than fumes and righteousness. In his televised antigun speech Thursday night, Biden proclaimed that he expected most people “to turn your outrage into making this issue [assault weapons] central to your vote.” Biden’s histrionic spiel was far more likely to turbo-charge gun owners than gun banners and could be another coffin nail for Democratic candidates in middle America. Biden perennially tells audiences that banning assault weapons is justified because the Second Amendment didn’t permit Americans to own cannons—a falsehood that even the Washington Post has repeatedly derided.

Inflation is the top issue by a wide margin for Americans nowadays. Biden’s inflation will soon have inflicted a 10 percent cut in the purchasing power of Americans’ paychecks. But Biden is indignant at criticism of his policies. When Peter Doocy of Fox News asked about the impact in January, Biden called him “a stupid son of a bitch.” In a March speech to Democratic members of Congress, Biden raged at being blamed for inflation: “I’m sick of this stuff! … We have to talk about it because the American people think the reason for inflation is the government spending more money. Simply. Not. True.”
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The Latest Media Assault on Freedom

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Prominent journalists are calling for the media to champion a “pro-democracy” bias in how they portray politicians and government agencies. But tub-thumping for democracy — or at least for politicians who claim to be pro-democracy — is a poor substitute for exposing the proliferation of government abuses. Freedom will be the victim if journalists grasp a new pretext to portray government as a trustworthy savior.

In January, Washington Post columnist Perry Bacon called for a “pro-democracy media,” vigorously describing “long-standing Republican tactics such as aggressive gerrymandering as … dangers to democracy.” Bacon frets because “gun-shy editors” fail to denounce Republican “radicalism” in banner headlines. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan declared, “That American democracy is teetering is unquestionable” due to pro-Trump Republicans, requiring a “new pro-democracy emphasis” to be “articulated clearly — and fearlessly — to readers and viewers.” Post columnist Brian Klaas admits that “the media adopting a pro-democracy bias … effectively means being pro-Democratic [Party],” but there is no alternative except to “unequivocally and unapologetically condemn” Republicans.

What could possibly go wrong from journalists pretending that only one political party threatens Americans’ rights and liberties? Demonizing one political party tacitly saints their opponents. But both Republicans and Democrats have a long record of unleashing federal agencies and ignoring the subsequent constitutional carnage.

Urging the media to become “pro-democracy” is reminiscent of a corporation that is almost bankrupt and gambles everything on a desperate “Hail Mary” pass. A June 2021 survey by the Reuters Institute reported that only 29 percent of Americans trusted the news media — the lowest rating of any of the 46 nations surveyed. A Gallup poll last year revealed that “86 percent of Americans believed the media was politically biased.” Practically the only folks who don’t recognize the bias are the people who share the media’s slant.
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The Supreme Court Uses Twisted Logic to Protect US Agents Committing Torture

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The Supreme Court declared last week that Americans have no right to learn the grisly details of CIA torture because the CIA has never formally confessed its crimes. The verdict symbolizes how the rule of law has become little more than a form of legal mumbo-jumbo to shroud official crimes. Why should anyone expect justice from a Supreme Court that covers up torture?

In 2002, the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian radical, in Pakistan, mistakenly believing he was a kingpin with al-Qaeda. The CIA tortured him for years in Thailand and Poland. As dissenting Justice Neil Gorsuch noted, the CIA “waterboarded Zubaydah at least 80 times, simulated live burials in coffins for hundreds of hours,” and brutalized him to keep him awake for six days in a row. The CIA has admitted some of the details and Zubaydah’s name was mentioned more than a thousand times in a 683-page Senate report on the CIA torture regime released in 2014.

This case turned on the invocation of a holy bureaucratic relic of dubious origin—state secrets. As the court’s 6–3 ruling, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, noted, “To assert the [state secrets] privilege, the Government must submit to the court a ‘formal claim of privilege, lodged by the head of the department which has control over the matter.’” After a government agency claims the privilege, the court “should exercise its traditional “reluctance to intrude upon the authority of the Executive in military and national security affairs,” Breyer wrote. And the most important role for the Supreme Court nowadays is apparently to sanctify the privileges it has awarded federal agencies that committed crime sprees.
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The Media War on Canadian Truckers: Is Freedom Public Enemy Number One?

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The denigration of the Canadian trucker protest convoy exemplifies how freedom is now the biggest villain of the covid-19 pandemic. A Washington Post cartoonist portrayed the trucker convoy as “fascism” incarnate while another Post column derided the “toxic ‘Freedom Convoy.’” Anyone who resists any government command is apparently now a public enemy.

The trucker protest was spurred by the Canadian government’s sweeping covid vaccine mandate. Many truckers believe the risks of the vaccine outweigh the benefit and, more importantly, that they have the right to control their own bodies. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau declared on Monday, “There is no place in our country for threats, violence or hatred.” Except for the hatred Trudeau whips up by denouncing vaccine mandate opponents as “racist” and “misogynistic.” And except for the “threats” and “violence” used by government enforcement agents to compel submission to any pandemic decree issued by Trudeau or other politicians.

Since the start of this pandemic, many people who boasted of their trust in “science and data” also believed that absolute power would keep them safe. According to their scorecard, anyone who objected to government commands was the equivalent of a heretic who must be condemned if not banished from every place except the cemetery. North of the border, Quebec epitomizes this intolerance with its new edict prohibiting unvaccinated individuals from shopping at Costco or Walmart.
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Raiding the World Bank: Exposing a Fondness for Dictators

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I have always had a bad attitude toward official secrets regardless of who is keeping them. That prejudice and John Kenneth Galbraith are to blame for an unauthorized withdrawal I made from the World Bank. 

When I lived in Boston in the late 1970s, I paid $25 to attend a series of lectures by Galbraith on foreign aid and other topics. The louder Galbraith praised foreign aid, the warier I became. His hokum spurred my reading and led me to recognize that foreign aid is one of the worst afflictions that poor nations suffer. As one critic quipped, foreign aid is money from governments, to governments, for governments.

After I moved to Washington, foreign aid became one of my favorite targets as an investigative journalist. When I talked to the chief of the US Agency for International Development (AID), Peter McPherson, in 1985, my blunt questions had him literally screaming at me within four minutes of the start of the interview. McPherson probably screamed even louder when he saw the article I wrote thrashing AID.
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The DC Sniper Rampage: The Biggest Police Debacle of the Century?

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Those who forget police debacles could be the victims of the next law enforcement fiasco. Former Montgomery County, Maryland, police chief Charles Moose passed away on Thanksgiving Day. He became famous as the most prominent law enforcement official during a three-week sniper rampage in the Washington area in 2002. The Washington Post ran a front-page piece on his death, and career and local officials hailed him as a “great leader” and “terrific” while the media touted him as a “hero.”
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The Biden Crackdown on Thought Crimes

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The Biden administration is seeking to radically narrow the boundaries of respectable American political thought. The administration has repeatedly issued statements and reports that could automatically castigate citizens who distrust the federal government. We may eventually learn that the new Biden guidelines spurred a vast increase in federal surveillance and other abuses against Americans who were guilty of nothing more than vigorous skepticism.

Biden is Nixon on steroids

The Biden team is expanding the federal Enemies List perhaps faster than any time since the Nixon administration. In June, the Biden administration asserted that guys who are unable to score with women may be terrorist threats due to “involuntary celibate–violent extremism.” That revelation was included in the administration’s National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, which identified legions of new potential “domestic terrorists” that the feds can castigate and investigate.

The White House claims its new war on terrorism and extremism is “carefully tailored to address violence and reduce the factors that …infringe on the free expression of ideas.” But the prerogative to define extremism includes the power to revile disapproved beliefs. The report warns that “narratives of fraud in the recent general election … will almost certainly spur some [domestic violent extremists] to try to engage in violence this year.” If accusations of 2020 electoral shenanigans are formally labeled as extremist threats, that could result in far more repression (aided by Facebook and Twitter) of dissenting voices. How will this work out any better than the concerted campaign by the media and Big Tech last fall to suppress all information about Hunter Biden’s laptop before the election? And how can Biden be trusted to be the judge after he effectively accused Facebook of mass murder for refusing to totally censor anyone who raised doubts about the COVID-19 vaccine?
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Why Government Cover-Ups Succeed

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“It’s not necessary to censor the news, it’s sufficient to delay the news until it no longer matters,” Napoleon Bonaparte reportedly said. The same standard helps explain why Washington politicians and federal agencies usually get away with covering up their lies and abuses.

Many people assume that unless the government actively censors, people will learn what the government has done. But most government cover-ups succeed. Daniel Ellsberg, who risked life in prison to leak the Pentagon Papers, related in his 2002 memoirs: “It is a commonplace that ‘you can’t keep secrets in Washington’ or ‘in a democracy’…. These truisms are flatly false. They are in fact cover stories, ways of flattering and misleading journalists and their readers, part of the process of keeping secrets well. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of secrets do not leak to the American public.”

Cover-ups succeed because people defer to promises by government officials to investigate themselves. This was how the Nixon-era Pentagon buried scores of Vietnam atrocities even after confirming the carnage. After the My Lai controversy exploded, many US soldiers reported other atrocities to the Pentagon. Nine thousand pages of documents were compiled confirming more than 300 war crimes, including seven other massacres of civilians by US troops. David Hackworth, a retired colonel and the most decorated officer in the Army, later commented, ‘’Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go…. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’’ American soldiers faced more legal perils for reporting than for committing atrocities.
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