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Dirty Little Secret: ‘Think Tanks’ are Among Top Culprits in Media Disinformation Crisis

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Most consumers are unaware off the mainstream media’s dirty little secret. Think tanks are increasingly taking advantage of tight news budgets to influence the press agenda in favor of their sponsors.

Decades ago, these outfits generally operated as policy advisories. Although, some were comfortably enumerated ‘retirement homes’ for distinguished public servants or intellectuals. However, in modern times, they have become indistinguishable from lobbying firms. With the budgets to match.

On the Russia (and broader Eastern European) beat, think tank influence is becoming increasingly dangerous and malign. And it’s leading to a crisis in journalistic standards which nobody wants to acknowledge.

Two cases this week highlight the malaise.

Right now, Hungary and Ukraine are embroiled in a standoff regarding the rights of ethnic Hungarians in the latter country. The disagreement is entirely local, with roots in the 20th century carving-up of Budapest’s territory after it found itself on the losing side in both World Wars. As a result, lands were dispersed into other nations – former Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union.
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President Trump’s Iran Policy – Is It ‘Normal’?

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It’s not often that US Government officials are honest when they talk about our foreign policy. The unprovoked 2003 attack on Iraq was called a “liberation.” The 2011 US-led destruction of Libya was a “humanitarian intervention.” And so on. So, in a way, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was refreshingly honest last week when, speaking about newly-imposed US sanctions, he told the BBC that the Iranian leadership “has to make a decision that they want their people to eat."
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US Directs Iran to Act Like a ‘Normal’ Country. What is a Normal Country?

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After reimposing crippling sanctions on Iran this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened that Iran should “act like a normal country, or see its economy crumble.” But, how exactly does a “normal” country act?

Since the dictat was issued from Washington DC, it seems only fair to start there. Is the United States itself a “normal” country? What makes a “normal” country as opposed to an “abnormal” one?

Foreign Policy

If the US is indeed a “normal” country, there is a lot we can glean from that, including that a militaristic and bullying foreign policy, which regularly features bombings, invasions and the sponsorship of regime change operations around the world, is normal behavior. If this is normal, is Mike Pompeo suggesting that Iran should start invading its neighbors and engineering foreign coups?

The ideology of “American exceptionalism,” the belief that the US is inherently good and unique among nations, is so pervasive in American society and media, that any politician who does not strictly adhere to it will find themselves labeled as un-American or unpatriotic.
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We Are Headed For Another Tragedy Like WWI

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We are now before the 100th anniversary of World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars. While honoring the 16 million who died in this conflict, we should also condemn the memory of the politicians, officials and incompetent generals who created this horrendous blood bath. I’ve walked most of the Western Front of the Great War, visited its battlefields and haunted forts, and seen the seas of crosses marking its innumerable cemeteries.
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US envoy: Russia should allow Israel air strikes in Syria

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US envoy to Syria James Jeffrey said yesterday that Russia should maintain a “permissive approach” towards Israeli airstrikes in Syria.

Speaking with journalists via a conference call, Jeffrey explained that “in the past Russia has been permissive in consultation with the Israelis about Israeli strikes against Iranian targets inside Syria,” adding that: “We certainly hope that that permissive approach will continue”.

Jeffrey said that Israel has “[an] existential interest in blocking Iran from deploying long-range power projection systems such as surface-to-surface missiles [in Syria]” and “we [the USA] understand this existential interest and we support Israel,” the Times of Israel reported.

Jeffrey’s comments come amid heightened tensions between Israel and Russia after the downing of a Russian military plane over Syrian airspace in September. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces allegedly mistook the Russian jet for an Israeli aircraft, having been simultaneously responding to Israeli attacks on targets in Syria’s coastal region of Latakia.

The incident sparked a diplomatic row after Russia’s Defence Ministry claimed that the Israeli jets carrying out the strikes in Latakia used the Russian plane as cover to allow them to approach their targets without being hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Russia placed the blame for the incident – in which 15 Russian personnel died – squarely with Israel, calling its actions “irresponsible” and accusing it of not giving Moscow sufficient notice of the attack.
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Iran's Leadership Must Decide 'If They Want Their People To Eat' - Pompeo

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Less than a week after US Secretary of State Secretary Mike Pompeo told Fox News Sunday that the "Iranians are responsible for the starvation' of Yemeni civilians" he's again issued hugely provocative words, telling the BBC during an interview that Iranian "leadership has to make a decision that they want their people to eat" in reference to the latest round of US sanctions. 

As the interview was with BBC Persian, Pompeo's words were immediately translated from English and broadcast to the Iranian public through BBC's Persian-language publication. Pompeo repeated his theme that Iran is the world's foremost state sponsor of terror and a "destabilizing influence" in the Middle East while ultimately blaming the country's economic suffering on the intransigence of the country's leaders. 

Pompeo's words came on the heels of Iran's foreign ministry issuing a formal response to this week's US sanctions snap back on the energy sector, publishing a 3-minute video of FM Javad Zarif on Tuesday wherein Zarif emphasized that the sanctions mainly targeted average Iranian citizens, referencing "the economic warfare that directly targets the Iranian people."
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We Don't Need Daily Press Briefings at the White House

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There was an unseemly verbal brawl Wednesday in the East Room of the White House in which members of the press who are avowed enemies of President Trump (Acosta, Peter Alexander and April Ryan among others) attempted to debate the president over the wisdom and probity of his actions as chief executive of the federal government.
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Edward Snowden: Saudi Used Israel Spyware to Target Khashoggi

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US whistle-blower Edward Snowden yesterday claimed that Saudi Arabia used Israeli spyware to target murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Addressing a conference in Tel Aviv via a video link, Snowden claimed that software made by an Israeli cyber intelligence firm was used by Saudi Arabia to track and target Khashoggi in the lead up to his murder on 2 October inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Snowden told his audience: “How do they [Saudi Arabia] know what his [Khashoggi’s] plans were and that they needed to act against him? That knowledge came from the technology developed by NSO,” Israeli business daily Globes reported. Snowden accused NSO of “selling a digital burglary tool,” adding it “is not just being used for catching criminals and stopping terrorist attacks, not just for saving lives, but for making money […] such a level of recklessness […] actually starts costing lives,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

Snowden – made famous in 2013 for leaking classified National Security Agency (NSA) files and exposing the extent of US surveillance – added that “Israel is routinely at the top of the US’ classified threat list of hackers along with Russia and China […] even though it is an ally”. Snowden is wanted in the US for espionage, so could not travel to Tel Aviv to address the conference in person for fear of being handed over to the authorities.

The Israeli firm to which Snowden referred – NSO Group Technologies – is known for developing the “Pegasus” software which can be used to remotely infect a target’s mobile phone and then relay back data accessed by the device. Although NSO claims that its products “are licensed only to legitimate government agencies for the sole purpose of investigating and preventing crime and terror,” this is not the first time its Pegasus software has been used by Saudi Arabia to track critics.
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Will the ‘Taiwan Question’ Give Rise to a World War III Scenario?

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The United States and China are set to go head-to-head over disputes in relation to Taiwan and the South China Sea, with deadly consequences on the immediate horizon.

You wouldn’t know it with all the media hype over the US mid-term elections, but the US and China are on a deadly collision path in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. In the last two months, the US military has flown B-52 bombers and carried out its so-called “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea. There have also been instances of US warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait in support of Taiwan, an island which China considers to be a rogue part of Chinese territory.

On a side note, it is amazing to say the least that the US believes it should have the “freedom to navigate” in the South China Sea, yet seems to get up in arms when Iranian ships expect the same kind of freedom in the Persian Gulf.

Near-collisions in the South China Sea

Last September, US and Chinese warships almost collided when sailing near an islet claimed by Beijing in the Spratly Islands. Reportedly, the Chinese warship threatened the US Destroyer that it would “suffer consequences” if it did not move, as it sailed within 45 yards of the American vessel.
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Trump Fires Sessions - A 'Constitutional Crisis'?

President Trump's acceptance of his Attorney General Jeff Sessions' "resignation" letter has caused a paroxysm of protest among the #resistance movement who see impeachment just around the corner. Suddenly a Jeff Sessions they have despised since his appointment is the linchpin of US democracy! Is it all about politics and nothing about policy? Is the "war at home" getting all the more dangerous? Tune in to today's Liberty Report...
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