the wire

On a picture of Dustin Hoffman 

At the top of the page we have a picture of Dustin Hoffman from ‘All the President’s Men’. We chose this image because it encapsulates our idea of journalism, and we appreciate the movie for the photography, the pacing and camera movement, and for being a great sample of the 1970’s artistic scene in the New Hollywood genre. Recent allegations about Hoffman’s actions on the set of the 1985 movie ‘Death of a Salesman’ have led him to issue this apology: “I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.” 

Update: This video that has emerged of John Oliver confronting Dustin Hoffman at a panel for Tribeca shows Hoffman repeating an old trick of choosing not to understand – asking “am I the powerful man?” Hoffman’s excuses ranged from never knowing who Graham Hunter was to a “family” atmosphere on set where any joke was possible, he then questioned Graham Hunter’s integrity, asking Oliver “do you believe this stuff you read?” According to Hoffman, playing a woman in Tootsie makes him both a feminist and an authority on open-mindedness and the flow of fake newsThe video proves his attitude to be nauseating and beside the point, Hoffman becomes the latest in a long line of men who think it appropriate and unburdening to reaffirm their supposed respect for women who have been their victims.

Amidst the sexual misconduct scandal, artists and people of influence have been proven guilty of exerting their power and obtaining sexual favours from hopeful women, and to a lesser extent men, who have looked to make a career in the industry. It has revived the debate on the separation between the artist and the reception to their output. Looking through film-making history at Hitchcock’s behaviour, to the onscreen rape of Maria Schneider by Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris, the fact that Roman Polanski has been on the run from the United States since 1978, and that Woody Allen has avoided prosecution despite numerous misconduct allegations, it’s clear that Harvey Weinstein did not fall out of the blue sky. Institutions of art, as well as administrative structures, always contain imbalances of power between individuals. 

Societies’ new approach to transparency and social justice means that each individual member of the public has to put into context that imbalance of power when we watch TV or movies, or listen to music. There is a varying personal degree to which people can differentiate what they consume from its creator. For us, Louis C.K.’s comedy is too close to his behaviour, as is Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose’s political commentary, and a re-watch of American Beauty doesn’t allow us to separate Kevin Spacey from his actions. We are certain that Dustin Hoffman’s career has had profoundly negative affects on others working in the industry, and his stardom is continuously problematic, but we think its possible to separate some of his work from his personality. This is a selfish male view. There is no permanence (or pertinence for that matter) in our viewpoint, and for a while we have tried to articulate our anxiety about keeping the picture up. It’s a good picture, but it feels bad to look at it.      

Conor O’Donnell and Paul Piffaut.

F-18E-VFA-14

Kipling’s great game in the Euphrates Valley

In a rare show of force from the United States above Syrian airspace, home of the random barrel bomb drops on civilians populations, a U.S. navy F/A 18E shot down a Syrian air force Su 22 over North Eastern Syria near the city of Raqqa. The Syrian and Russian airforces have for long been left unchallenged to wage an expansive bombing campaign on opposition held territory, using barrel bombs – a barrel filled of cheap materials and TNT in order to produce the most amount of  shrapnel – to cluster ammunitions, phosphor incendiary bombs and chemical weapons. A campaign that has pushed millions outside the country and by the use of terror on non combattants is the cause for countless human rights abuses which may well include genocide. Despite the constant flow of strongly worded press releases on the matter, on this occasion the Syrian government plane was bombing or intended to bomb U.S. allied militias, predominately composed of Kurdish fighters, that are fighting the terror organisation Daesh in the region. The decision by the U.S. military to act so decisively to protect its allies inside Syria reflects a new shift in U.S. military strategies in the Syrian civil war now in its 6th year.

Over the years of the conflict, the government of Bashar al Assad has struggled to fight the armed opposition with its Syrian armed forces and has therefore increasingly needed foreign help to stay in power and avoid being put on trial in the Hague for crimes against humanity. Russian and Iranian forces have rushed to Assad’s help for very different reasons. Putin’s government has always been looking for ways to legitimise its brutal rule and monopoly of state institutions through sham elections and rampant corruption by shifting the public’s attention towards outside threats. This tactic put him in power through the 1999/2000 apartments bombings in Russia, a few years later he restarted the Chechen war pushing it to unbelievable levels of violence and terror on civilian populations, then the wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, followed by the creation of a civil war in Eastern Ukraine and the land grab of Crimea, its latest trick is the Syrian campaign. This long standing strategy of state manipulation of the public is in some way nothing but ratings for national television, assuring Putin and his allies that Russian citizens stay home in front of the news instead of protesting in the streets. The biggest problem of foreign help to Assad’s brutal regime rests in Iran’s involvement and its ambitions in shaping the Middle East.

The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, created a vacuum that has allowed Iran to assert its grand ambitions of reaching the Mediterranean sea and its ally, the Shiite paramilitary organisation Hezbollah, in Lebanon. This ambition rests on the use of military proxies and the politicisation of the Shiite faith in the Muslim world. After the threat posed by Sunnis extremists militias on the holiest shrines of Shiite Islam in Iraq in the mid 2000’s, Iran sponsored Shiite militias to protect those shrines and defend the Shiite populations of Iraq from Sunnis extremists. Those militias made possible the assertion of power by Shiite factions in Baghdadi politics and Iraq’s realignment towards Teheran after years of hostility between them.

Iran’s military used the same strategy in Syria to prop up Assad’s regime and assert Iran influence over the region. However while it also sent elite troops of its military, it mainly sent Afghan refugees recruited in militias through coercion tactics that partially explain the influx of Afghan refugees in Western Europe, as Iran was no longer safe for Afghan families wishing to have normal lives. Today the real danger those Shiite militias pose to the Middle East rest on Saudi Arabia’s view of the threat they pose. The mainly Sunni absolute monarchy has since the 2003 Gulf War felt increasingly threatened by Iran’s influence over the Middle East one reason being its large Shiite minority population long treated as second grade citizens by the Sunni majority and its potential revolt against Ryad.

As the terror organisation Daesh’s territory in Syria and Iraq is shrinking, the biggest question rests on what will happen to these territories and who will fill this vacuum and control them?

Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 19.33.08

As it is visible in the smaller map on the right hand side of this picture, Saudi Arabia which is below both Jordan on the left side of the yellow square and Iraq, marked on the mini map, is somewhat close to the remaining areas controlled by the terror organisation Daesh, in black on the map. The red areas on the larger map are the Syrian government forces and its allies, these fighters are mostly composed of Iranian controlled militias and are seeking to link up with different Iranian controlled militias coming from Iraq over the Euphrate valley and the cities of Deir es Zor and Al Qa’im. The Kurdish militias, in yellow on the map, may decide to not move into this valley leaving the fight against the terror organisation Daesh and the control of the valley to either Syrian Sunni forces aligned with Saudi Arabia, in green on the map, or Iranian controlled militias. This will set the stage for another phase of the proxy war waged by the two Middle East powers inside Syria.

How Saudi Arabia will react to the creation of a land route between Teheran and Beirut is frightening for its unpredictable nature and its new found willingness to use military force, as well as the promotion of foreign policy hawks inside the kingdom. This is why the U.S. army is looking to carve for itself a way to limit Iran influence in the region and is willing to send military forces, build military bases and defend its allies inside Syria. Its aim is not necessarily regime change in Damas but to avoid more bloodshed and the expansion of the Syrian war into a full blown Shiite-Sunni World War in the Middle East.

Paul Piffaut

Sauveur, a member of the French National Front (FN) political party pastes a poster on a official billboard for French National Front (FN) political party leader Marine Le Pen as part of the 2017 French presidential election campaign in Antibes

Branleur Eniste Vs 1930’s Walkyrie

Either Macron or Le Pen will be the president of the French Republic. Both portray themselves as anti-establishment candidates, outside of the usual Parisian politics. Yet, they are both well included in the establishment and exemplify the deep structural issues of French politics going back to the 1789 revolution.

Macron is an opportunist, educated in the Parisian universities that have spawned the exact same graduates since ‘45, technocrats without human skills, with power and money, who bathe themselves in false intellectualism and universal knowledge. He is the heir of the left-right traditional parties, claiming to represent an electorate and a political ideology, and just like the socialists and conservatives he stands for the status quo, the functionality of the French state.

His main advantage is his age, he could be able to bring new ideas to French politics and that would already be a massive achievement considering how normalised the immobilism of the French republic has become. I have voted for him and I will do so again, despite my profound resentment to his personality and egocentrism, educational background and style of politics.

French voters refuse to see their vote in a utilitarian way; they value ideology over voting against a candidate. I think they could not be more mistaken; a vote only counts if added up, absolutely no one cares of your politics. When they count your vote, your individuality counts in the collective, and the consequences are in the French community.

Le Pen represents an uglier side of French politics, the profound structural racism (who isn’t white on French political TV?) and adoration of counter-current leadership, similar to the rise of the Tea Party in the United States, driven by an ever-present hyper-conservatism, the same strand that took aim at the inclusiveness and universality of the declaration of human rights and the first French revolution. Her party has a strong base of historical revisionism, it was founded by Nazi sympathisers, and its leaders, mostly white men over 35, have been deeply involved in violence against the non-white minorities of France, as well as engaging in negationist rhetoric. Their 20 % in the first round speaks for itself on the nature of the French education, which idealises a sense of Frenchness that is untrue.

Both candidates’ political agenda count for very little, simply because French politics centres on the likability and the personality of the candidates, their values and proposals are only window dressing, de la poudre aux yeux. Yet, given the choice between an investment banker that spends too much time in front of the mirror, and a party funded through Russian and laundered money, that basks itself in a toxic ideology – as a human being the choice isn’t hard.

If the elections have revolted many, why not get involved in politics and attempt to reform the system through parliament? The second turn vote is not for this revolt. It is between a France that can function as a state in the 21st century and the dream of a state that has never existed, the closeness and the protectionism advocated by the Front National has never existed, France has always been an open country and an actor in international politics.

I was born in Brussels, a pure product of the Brussels elite – not totally French but at least completely human, and to every human being out there, don’t vote for the Nazis.

Paul Piffaut

messi a“He is always decisive, even when he is at home having his dinner.” – Luis Enrique

Meth of a Rockette’s Kick

Sunday night, killer week. In a tight game that saw some creative approaches to defending and even better goals, it was Barca who got to remind us what the point of all of this is. Before we go in for tired partisanship, we should remember that this Barca team is not exactly the free-flowing bohemian artiste collective of the past, and Real not quite the bludgeoning Francoists that we ache to loathe – they have their share of artists in Isco and Asensio – but far and away beyond it all is Messi. He can wait that extra second, and hover in that half-turn position with greater balance than any before accelerating into spaces that terrify.

This fear led to a fight response in the bodies of los galácticos, and left Messi with a mouth full of tissue after catching Marcelo’s elbow. Yet his influence would grow, Casemiro’s undersized shirt and shining face, as well as his attempts at stopping his opponent, would become increasingly uncomfortable to look at after Messi cancelled out his opener and drew him in easily enough times for a red to have been shown. If Casemiro had shown some semblance of composure, the same couldn’t be said for Ramos, who received his 22nd red card for Los Blancos after hurling himself with both feet towards Messi.

There are countless games that end even, with hand-shaking and maybe-we-could-haves, at 2-2 in the 85th minute this was nearly one of them, but it came to an ending which befitted the performance of the greatest player of all time. The thing that separates Messi from the rest is time; the other kids chase after the ball until they’re dizzy while he hangs back. There wasn’t much of it left, it went fast and slow but felt endless after he had settled it. And where had football been anyway? In the back pockets of some aging Italians, or being hunted down by this modern man-marking technique? Barca ignored recent setbacks, playing out from the back with abandon, the sequence that lead to the last kick of the game, it subverted the rigidity of it all, no more lines of idiots smashing into one another, just Messi stood with his shirt as a reminder, letting waves of silence wash over. It was a familiar connection that won it; Alba on the overlap, pullback to Messi. Football is still with us, copies of The Art of Defending lie rotting in bins, only Messi could make it come back, make it connect, make it come true, and that’s it – a rockette’s kick.

Conor O’Donnell

cambridge analytica

Big Data’s Snake Oil

“We bake a cake; it’s got 10 ingredients in it. Psychographics is one of them; it’s very difficult to isolate exactly what the impact of that ingredient is.”

  • Alexander Nix, Chief Executive of Cambridge Analytica.

Nix and company, Cambridge Analytica, who began work with the Trump campaign last August have recently admitted that “psychographics” played little to no part in the result of the 2016 election, and have been unable to name a single race where their creation proved critical to victory. It has led to questions about the overall effectiveness of “psychographics,” which is the creation of individual political messages based on information acquired originally through Facebook and OCEAN tests, and then expanded through ‘data points’ (age, shopping history, favourite TV shows) to cover the entire country.

For example, on the issue of voter ID: “For people in the ‘Temperamental’ personality group, who tend to dislike commitment, messaging on the issue should take the line that showing your ID to vote is ‘as easy as buying a case of beer’. Whereas the right message for people in the ‘Stoic Traditionalist’ group, who have strongly held conventional views, is that showing your ID in order to vote is simply part of the privilege of living in a democracy.”

While the idea of personalised ads which change their tonality based on the recipient is slightly alarming, and it was reported beforehand to have supressed votes in some areas, others have claimed that there is no proof these adverts can change the mind or behaviour of voters. There are two assumptions: first that people who buy the same things and have the same habits — the same ‘data points’ — have similar personalities; secondly that your personality will help predict, say, whether you go for Coke or Pepsi, Clinton or Trump. Nevertheless, there isn’t enough consensus on the methodology and the effectiveness of the work Cambridge Analytica do to pin them down, currently descriptions land anywhere between “weaponised AI propaganda machine” and “all hat, no caddle.”

More serious worries relate to those funding Cambridge Analytica, Robert Mercer, who has financial involment in the Trump campaign at “bizarre and potentially illegal” levels, is described as being at the heart of a multi-million dollar propaganda network. The super pac run by the Mercers paid Glittering Steel—a film-production company that shares an address in Los Angeles with Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart News—two hundred and eighty thousand dollars, supposedly for campaign ads attacking Hillary Clinton. Although Bannon was running Trump’s campaign, it appears to have paid him nothing. Meanwhile, the Mercers’ super pac made a payment of about five million dollars to Cambridge Analytica, which was incorporated at the same address as Bannon Strategic Advisors.”

Mercer has previously poured money into polling which suggested that the U.S. was ready for an outsider candidate, or a strong-man, and holds a similar contempt for the political establishment as Bannon. His allegiances in the 2016 campaign, along with Cambridge Analytica, shifted from Cruz to Trump, and after the success of the election his daughter was given a seat on the transition team, while Trump himself described the family’s work as “instrumental.” The level of influence now afforded to Mercer is the epitome of the art of the deal – sell the presidency to the highest bidder.

Conor O’Donnell

believeme

Believe Me

What is a desk without a computer?

What does it mean to consistently tell lies that can easily be disproven? The war on truth began with the president making frivolous claims about crowd size and weather on Inauguration Day, but has moved onto more problematic insistences; that the 2016 Election suffered from widespread voter fraud – which allows him to pretend he won the popular vote, that the mainstream media shouldn’t be trusted, and even the suggestion that people would willingly subject themselves to the sound of his voice.

Considering all of these mis-truths at once positions the administration firmly at odds with reality. The intentional undermining of neutral governmental committees and the media allows the administration to assert that any viewpoint, checked or unchecked, is as valuable as another. The idea that there is no consensus that we can build around is helpful for any authoritarian figure, it is a chance to say – if nobody knows the truth, why not believe me?

The similarities between Trump’s disinformation campaign and the tactics used by Russia are striking, although Russia’s online efforts are much less off-hand that Trump’s misdemeanours, yet it has been beneficial for both parties. Trump extended a generous hand with the use of the Soviet technique “Whataboutism” to defend criticism that Putin is a killer – countering that statement with “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?” Blurring the lines between truth and fiction until we cannot separate them degrades any shared sense of justice we can have, and makes morality nothing more than a game of one-upsmanship.

This behaviour looks like returning a favour (but is more likely ineptitude) for the help he received during the election from Russia, undermining the opposition and boosting his online following. State-funded troll farms worked hard to ensure his campaign received the assistance it needed in the cyber-sphere, creating trends and fuelling conditions for conspiracy that have become more prevalent recently. Generally the dezinformatsiya which comes out of these troll buildings works by creating an atmosphere of confusion and anger, although the end purpose is ultimately to cloud our judgement, and make us feel lost in an immense sea of distortion.

The mantra of Margarita Simonyan, who heads RT, is: “There is no such thing as objective reporting.” The words echo Trump’s distrust of the media, and go some way to explaining the disillusionment that leads many including Trump to seek their news from such dubious sources (RT not included in his case.) Whether or not he then lies of his own accord, or simply just reads what’s in front of him, one certainty is that he spends plenty of time repeating the same phrase – “believe me.”    

Conor O’Donnell

sith-bannon

The Loss of the Will to Win

“The road to the establishment of an Islamic Republic in the United States starts slowly and subtly with the loss of the will to win.”

  • From ‘Destroying the Great Satan,’ a film script by Steve Bannon.

Oscar-winning screenwriter and Sith Lord Steve Bannon has accumulated great power inside The White House, shaping recent policy – including the travel ban from several majority Muslim countries – towards Islamophobia, of which he has a well-documented history. As former Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, a website which has regularly and openly given platform to Islamophobia in its articles and heralded critics of Islam, Bannon sought to align himself with various Republican presidential nominees until eventually striking gold with Trump.

As Campaign Manager for Trump he interlaced speeches and TV ads with language that heavily recalls anti-Semitic thought, by asserting that George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein are “controlling the levers of power in Washington.” He also alluded to secret meetings with banks, which prompted the Anti-Defamation League to speak out.  Viewed alongside The White House’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that failed to mention Jewish people, an attempt to “universalise” the suffering, which ultimately is to strip it of its meaning, the outlook of the office appears increasingly bleak.

Now as Chief Political Strategist, he claims that the media is “the opposition party.” When Bannon attempts to undermine the press and political norms, he takes a destructive approach that’s consistent with his intention to “bring everything crashing down.” The travel ban is a good indication of his looseness with tradition: it has underlined an attempt to undermine the courts and its judges, as well as procedural norms that dictate the rolling out of executive orders. The extent to which he can bend the rules is yet to be seen.

Conor O’Donnell

donald-trump-jeff-sessions

The Moscow Loop and Trumpian Politics

To the surprise of some, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man who described the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as “intrusive,” has managed to get himself in a headlock by saying words, after having lied under oath about meetings he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Sessions later declared he will recuse himself from any investigation on Russian interference in the last presidential election from his own Department of  Justice. He is the second Trump official to be linked to this scandal, and more particularly, the hacking of several email servers of the Democratic Party. Former national security adviser Flynn resigned over his apparent lack of communications surrounding a meeting he had with the same Russian Ambassador. Their lack of transparency in their communications with an enemy of the United States of America begs a question, why lie?

During his confirmation hearing Sessions was asked if he had met any Russian officials, at the time he was surprised by the question and his brain froze, he couldn’t recall meeting the Ambassador. This version is sensibly different from the strong denials he gave when the story first broke out, just like Flynn. It has to be noted that Sessions knew that this question would be coming in his confirmation hearings for Attorney General, he was prepared for any question regarding Russia and its representative to Washington.

On the same day long awaited bi-partisan investigations in Russian interference in the 2016 US election was started by different Senate justice subcommittees. This investigation seemed almost inevitable as the Trump administration has never been able or willing to denounce any Russian interference in the election despite mounting evidence from his own spy agencies on the hacking of several email servers of the Democratic Party and their subsequent release on Wikileaks. During the presidential campaign, Trump had dramatically asked Russia to release any information they had on Democrats and repeatedly called for stronger links with Russia, including the removal of economic sanctions on Russian officials, he claims – if you think about it, it would be nice if both countries got along.

The links between the people who were involved in the Trump campaign and Russian officials make up a lengthy list, from Paul Manafort, who was found to have created pro Kremlin lobbyist groups in Washington – with Kremlin money – and help prop up the authoritarian government of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, with the same money. The list also includes Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a friend of the Russian president. Trump aide Stephen Miller allegedly met with a Russian intelligence official in Prague according to an “oppo” dossier (whose goal is to find dirt), linking blackmail through compromising material on the president of the United States.

If Trump is to be impeached, the evidence and the information gathered on him needs to be of the same implications and magnitude as the scandal that brought Nixon’s resignation. Trump ran a smear campaign against the democratic opponent not unalike to former President Nixon, exerting enough media pressure to open a new investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices – among those claiming that these practices could have jeopardized national security was Mike Pence, who joined Clinton in using a private email for public matters, showing both to be proficient users of modern technologies.

In 2017, both houses of Congress are in the hands of a highly conservative GOP – propelled by popular resentment in American politics, the tea party movement and a general lack of voting participation by large parts of population. The turnout in the 2016 Election was 55%. The polarised climate of the post Bush era leaves little confidence in the success of a bi-partisan effort to shine full light on the Russia links. As Nancy Pelosy, the House Minority Leader, stated – Congress tried to impeach Bill Clinton for far less than what the Attorney General has done.

If the investigation does unravel, the consequences of a real republican president in the event of Trump resignation, either Mike Pence or Paul Ryan, promoting Republican orthodoxy across all sections of the federal government, should create fear in all who believe in social equality. Federal spending would be cut across sectors with disagreeable legislation repealed, alongside regulations in the banking sector and aims to establish Kansas-style economic policy, a proven failure as an experiment. The Senate has been crawling at the tortoise pace of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a while, if it starts walking again, it’ll be in the wrong direction.

Paul Piffaut

Advertisements