Tag Archives: Fake News

The Trump Dossier

This ‘Fake News’ Is Real Enough To Investigate

by Joe Conason

Page of the Trump Dossier

A page from the Trump dossier reportedly compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele.

When Donald Trump denounced the latest hints of his collusion with the Kremlin as “FAKE NEWS!” on Twitter, it was hard not to wonder what he meant, exactly. Having barraged us all for years with fake news about a wide variety of important matters such as Barack Obama’s true birthplace, the charitable work of the Clinton Foundation, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the dangers of childhood vaccination, does Trump mean we should believe the Russians conspired to help him win the 2016 election? Or does he mean that unlike all of his favorite fake news stories, we shouldn’t believe this one?

 Whatever Trump may mean when he complains about fake news, the story of Russian interference on his behalf in the 2016 election is undeniably real. So the president-elect himself finally admitted when, at his press conference, he acknowledged the accuracy of U.S. intelligence assessments of the Kremlin’s culpability in hacking the Democrats. Following a private conversation with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, he finally stopped trying to deny and obfuscate those nefarious thefts of information by his Russian supporters.

The critical question that remains is how far the Russians went in promoting Trump’s election—and whether Trump and his campaign are implicated in that conspiracy.

Only a series of fully empowered probes by law enforcement and Congressional authorities can uncover the truth, but already there are many investigative trails to follow. Consider the recent stunning news reports of a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer about Trump, his campaign, and the Russians, which provoked his enraged “fake news” tweet.  Mesmerized by the dossier’s references to alleged videotape of a Trump encounter in Russia with prostitutes hired to perform a perverse urination ritual, many journalists dismissed the entire document as mere gossip.

Such dismissals revealed nothing except the ignorance of those who uttered them, none of whom appears to understand the nature and purpose of what spooks call “humint,” or human intelligence (as distinguished from surveillance and other data). The Trump dossier is an intelligence file, not a prosecution memo; its purpose is not to prove a case but to point a direction. And as subsequent coverage in the Guardian and Financial Times indicated, its author Christopher Steele is no mere purveyor of gossip. He is a highly respected and experienced former official of MI6, the British foreign intelligence service, where he oversaw the agency’s work in Russia and Eastern Europe for decades. Nobody who knows anything about Steele doubts his reach into the top ranks of Moscow’s political and business sectors.

Indeed, much of what Steele’s dossier reports about alleged contacts between the Trump camp and the Kremlin (as well as its various cutouts) matches what US and other intelligence agencies learned last year from their own Russian sources. That was among the reasons why the director of national intelligence and the directors of the CIA, FBI, and NSA believed the dossier worthy of briefing to both Trump and President Obama.

The details also match many troubling facts already known about Trump and his associates. It is clear, for instance, that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has worked to advance the interests of the Putin regime for well over a decade, and not only in Ukraine. It is also clear that Manafort and his longtime business partner, Washington lobbyist Rick Davis, have cultivated business ties with major Russian oligarchs in Putin’s orbit.

The most notorious of those oligarchs is Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnate of dubious repute who was barred from entering the United States. More than ten years ago, in 2006, Davis was preparing to launch the nascent presidential campaign of the leading Republican candidate – Senator John McCain. As The Nation and other news outlets later reported, Davis and Manafort introduced McCain to Deripaska on a yacht anchored in the port of Montenegro, where the oligarch hosted a “birthday party” for the Arizona senator. If Deripaska and Manafort were attempting to gain a White House foothold, their initiative evaporated when Obama defeated McCain two years later.

 But with that shady episode behind him, McCain probably understands better than most of his colleagues why the Steele dossier—which he personally delivered to the FBI director—demands much more than snarky repartee about “watersports.” Not everything that Steele heard is likely to be true. But if even a fraction proves accurate, the Trump campaign’s Moscow connection will become the biggest political scandal in American history.

@JoeConason is editor-in-chief of , and co-editor of . This article is posted with permission from The National Memo.

When facts don’t matter

Reality becomes a toxic mess

It’s hard enough to find agreement on simple things like what color the sky is, or the grass. Image: Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory,” 1931.

by Stacey Warde

Much of what we believe—whether online, in social media, politics, family gatherings, travels, among friends or sitting alone on the toilet—is colored by our own peculiar blindness.

Nothing is quite what it seems. We make up worlds of our own, hoping they will survive the onslaught of life and reality. We build castles in the sand and, in time, they all come crashing down on our heads.

The world is much different from what we imagine, or claim, or fight and argue over, through all of our personal filters and belief systems. The way the world is and the way we see it are not the same—definitely not when rigged by our religious, political or personal beliefs.

All that, of course, can lead to discord with others, especially those who do not share these beliefs.

It’s hard enough to find agreement on simple things like what color the sky is, or the grass. But, unless delusional, contrary, or hurt in some way, no one would claim the sky is brown, not a clear sky anyway. One might say the grass is brown but that, at least, is debatable.

You can believe whatever you want, and I can do likewise, but that doesn’t make any of it true, or move us closer to agreement, and definitely won’t help us accomplish much.

Finding common ground with others can be a challenge simply by virtue of the fact that we all see things differently. Still, we try to connect, build tribes and communities. To do so, we find healthy ways to talk, disagree and grapple with our common interests without diminishing or destroying one another.

We find common ground through observation and reflection and conversation. Common ground is the place where ideas and action take shape because we can agree on something, even if we don’t share the same beliefs. We don’t have to believe the same thing to agree on simple, observable facts and from those accomplish amazing things.

It takes a civil society, able to reason, to make good things happen, not one that stays blindly devoted to fanciful beliefs and false ideas, which in turn encourage malignant behaviors and purposes. A civil society doesn’t scuttle facts to suit selfish or greedy aims, nor does it distort truths to reflect a reality of one’s own making. A civil society fosters reasoned discourse. When facts don’t matter, reason quickly slips away from the discourse and society collapses into discord and rancor.

When facts don’t matter, we risk falling into the dangerous habit of turning reality into a slippery unmanageable mess, a hazardous wasteland, in which we ignore truth, blind to observable phenomena, creating chaos and leaving scars everywhere we go, crashing and burning, making fools of ourselves.

When facts don’t matter, we have nothing to discuss. What matters is who can be the most brutal and the most clever, promoting lies and propaganda, claiming exclusive rights and privileges, including the right to violate and harm others.

When facts don’t matter, only two possibilities arise, it’s your way or my way.

Facts don’t matter when we cling to shrouds of prejudice, ignorance, and damaged egos. These shrouds—filters against reality—keep us from seeing clearly, the faces of others become threatening, and we embark on a path of destruction.

We inherited these shrouds from well-meaning but ill-informed elders, or we developed them as defenses to protect ourselves against brutes, or they were cultural standards we embraced that proved in the end to do more harm than good.

We maintain these shrouds through a stubborn refusal to accept things as they are, by seeing the world in only one way, the Archie Bunker way. “This is the way the world is…” Never to let ourselves see through the eyes of another, choosing in fact to scorn, mock or obliterate that person or that person’s vision. Lastly, we join others who share these views, complete falsehoods, clinging precariously to fictions we hope will protect us from ideas and truths and people we don’t like.

If we are to live peaceably, however, we have to find ground upon which we can agree, ground we share in common. The most basic common ground would be facts, observable phenomena, that we agree upon, that make progress possible. Without facts, we’re more likely to impede progress by fighting over who’s right and who gets to dominate.

I know how hard this is, but also how easy, to hold back prejudices and beliefs, and take a moment to listen, to attend the pertinent information and stories that come to us, and seek the deeper, darker, loamy truths about life, and learn to confront our common difficulties in a dignified way, creating a common ground in which most, if not all, of us can thrive, the sole purpose of a worthy tribe.

I know how difficult it is to remove the filters of my own blindness. Just when I imagine that I’ve got things figured out, and think that I shall remove the final shroud to reveal the “uncorrupted truth” of all things personal, human, otherworldly or otherwise—the unfiltered core, finally!—a blight, a corruption of the mind, say, a bruised ego, a past hurt or slight, throws itself into the mix. The shadow emerges and, like a Dali painting, reality once again turns into a slippery gooey toxic thing in which I lose and risk destroying myself.

Even with the best intentions, I have to fight hard to keep a clear picture before me, to set my focus on what is actual and real rather than imagined or believed.

I cannot see the pure light or truth without the correspondence and cooperation of another. I’m as blind as you, and anything that I might say can be perceived as simple nonsense or bullshit—unless there’s some way to observe and confirm and verify. With your help only, will that become a possibility.

So do not believe me when I say that I speak for truth, or know something that you don’t, or pretend that my mind has reached the heights, and that you should come along and see things my way. But please do consider the facts. Let’s discuss and agree on those for a start, and not diminish or destroy life’s possibilities by believing in or embracing a lie.

Falsehoods, lies and treachery lead to death. Even our meagre grasp on tiny bits of truth fail to rescue us from our mortal end, tainted as they are with what is false and misleading.

“There is a way that seems right to a person but it’s end is death.” That’s true for all of us.

I’ve traveled many roads, thinking that I had chosen the best course, only to wind up lost in a pretzel of circling around and around, going nowhere but getting confused and frustrated and angry, making a fool of myself, injuring others, my life spinning furiously out of control. Fortunately, I’ve had friends, family and a tribe to bring me back.

Have you heard of “death by GPS”? That’s where you get stranded in the desert and die because you trusted your cellphone’s map application more than your common sense and ability to observe facts and make well-informed choices. Through a failure of technology and belief, you observe the wrong data, believe a lie, make a bad decision, and get lost and die. It happens, even when your intentions are good.

The most well-meaning, the earthiest and most righteous among us, are prone to lose their way and stumble, missing the path that leads to a better, more secure life, if such a thing is possible. We end up in deep shit as much as as in the golden beam of bliss, all the more reason to enlist the support of our tribe and community, even those whose beliefs do not match our own.

Fortunately, my tribe and community have kept me on course, challenging me to maintain a clear vision, to think correctly and reason from a place of wisdom and strength rather than from foolhardy and fantastical versions of reality based on my prejudices and blindness.

To thrive and advance, we need a tribe and a common ground, a landscape observable by all, out of which come shared ideas, stories and practices that move us forward, where facts matter and can make all the difference in whether we live or die. §

On the run after Trump win

It’s not easy being Muslim in a country that thinks you’re Mexican

Poet and author Ibrahim Ahmed, a Muslim who has been mistaken for a Mexican, went into hiding soon after Donald Trump declared he would banish Muslims from the US. He was last seen heading for Mexico.

by Ibrahim Ahmed

Now that fiction counts as news it’s getting harder to know the difference, or why it even matters.

I doubt anyone knows when I’m reporting news or creating fiction that traffics as “news,” and it doesn’t seem to matter, not when you can create your own story, your own version of the “facts,” and make money and increase your followers on Twitter. I do it all the time.

I’ve been telling my wife, for example, all kinds of stories, some factual, some not, and she, in turn, has been making up stories about me. I’ve been cherry-picking bits and pieces of these stories and posting them as “news,” some of which have gone viral.

My wife’s not impressed, however, and she’s started sending me turd and foot fetish emojis in response.

Recently, she got pissed about my drinking and bar-hopping, and turned me over to the feds by telling them I’ve run off to Syria to meet with ISIS recruiters. She thinks I’m hiding out in Fresno. She thinks I’m a no-good bum, drinking, carousing and running from the law.

She threatened to vote for Trump if I didn’t come home immediately. I told her she’d regret it, and she’d get deported, and she’d just have to wait until I take care of some personal business before I come home.

“Personal business?” she mocked. “You call masturbation ‘personal business’.”

My wife’s not impressed, however, and she’s started sending me turd and foot fetish emojis.

Contrary to rumors, I’m not working the streets of Las Vegas, posing as a high-rent hooker and robbing people once I get them into their motel rooms, nor have I given up my manhood, nor do I plan to come out as the world’s first Muslim transvestite who’s about to have the “procedure.”

In fact, I’ve been hiding out in Orange County, Calif., living briefly with a Mormon couple that took pity on me after the election. I’d been haunting Laguna Beach bars, sleeping in my car, when I decided to try a bar in Irvine.

I met them at the bar down the street from their home. I could tell right away they were good people. Nice shoes, nice clothes, prim and proper, hair in all of the right places, although they’d come, they told me, to let their “hair down a little,” even though Mormons don’t ordinarily drink.

“Are you from Mexico?” they wanted to know.

“Ah, no, I’m recently from Fresno, where I lived in a ramshackle trailer for a few weeks and worked with a crew of Mexicans as a farmhand because the rancher thought I was…”

“Oh, you poor fella!” the wife interjected. “You’re a migrant worker!”

They told me about their love of canning and building a family, and the husband winked, after his second beer, when he hinted at the possibilities of a heaven populated with many wives. He seemed to know I’d like that idea. We downed a few more beers and pretty soon they were inviting me to come stay with them “until the heat dies down, maybe after they build that wall.”

I moved into an extra room, which they had turned into a pantry, its walls lined with canned goods and basic staples. I quickly scored a job with Uber. The couple thought I was a Mexican immigrant until, after a week of living with them, they saw my “morning prayers.”

I’d left the door cracked a little and was on the floor, kneeling down, looking under the cot for my car keys, and blurted out in a panic:  “Please, Allah, just let me find my keys and get back home to Grover Beach before my wife, or some alt-right kook, kills me first.”

The wife was standing there and she was horrified. “Would you mind handing me that bag of flour above your head, please?” she asked, pretending she hadn’t seen me kneeling on the floor or heard my pitiful supplication. Then, “Are you Mexican and Muslim?”

“Well, sort of….” I didn’t know what to tell her. I’d made up so many stories, I didn’t know where to begin. If Facebook can destroy the world of thought and conversation by doling out unfettered lies and fake news, I mused, then I will start by telling the truth. “…I’m on the run, actually.…”

“OH.MY.GOD!” She dropped the bag of flour on the floor and it burst into a white Jackson Pollock mess all over the tiles. “You’re a Mexican terrorist?!”

“No, ma’am, I’m not a Mexican and I’m not a terrorist, I’m a Muslim, a not-so-good Muslim, on the run from my wife, who’s turned me into the feds, and now she wants me back…”

“Get out!” the husband shouted. He stood behind me, shotgun cradled in his arm. “GET OUT!” With his free hand, he waved me out of the house. “Get your things and get out!”

“But…”

“Leave! You’re not welcome here anymore.”

I grabbed my belongings and I as walked out the door, I heard the wife on her phone, “Yes, homeland security?”

I drove straight to the nearest used car lot and made a quick transaction, trading in my Honda for a VW bus and headed south to Laguna Beach to have a few drinks at the Marine Room Tavern where a live band was playing the blues.

I found a place at the bar and ordered a whisky.The place was jumping and between songs an old man playing the trombone slammed down his vodka tonic, grabbed the mic and shouted: “Let’s all get drunk and be somebody!” §

Ibrahim Ahmed is a poet and essayist who has been hiding from the feds, sending dispatches from the road about what it’s like to be a Muslim in America.