Isaiah's latest THE WORLD TODAY JUST NUTS "A Hooptie Ride Named Marjorie." US House Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene is eager to visit a DC jail. Instead, she ends up elsewhere and a doctor explains, "No, Marjorie, this is not a DC jail. This is Saint Elizabeth Hospital and we have a padded room for you." Marjorie insists, "Whoever you are, I have always depended on my hatred of others." FYI, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four. Isaiah archives his comics at THE WORLD TODAY JUST NUTS.
Saturday, March 11, 2023
Iraq cracks down on rights, US Ambassador Romanowski continues to alienate the Kurds
Alex MacDonald (MIDDLE EAST EYE) reports on Iraq's ban on booze:
Last month, the Iraqi government published long-proposed legislation banning the import of alcoholic beverages into the country, no doubt including Saddam's beloved Johnny Walker Black Label.
According to the new legislation, the sale or production of alcohol in Iraq is now illegal, while the General Customs Authority in a statement said it had "given orders to all customs centres to ban the entry of all types of alcoholic drinks".
The legislation, originally passed in 2016 but only becoming law after its publication in the official gazette on 20 February, is unlikely to affect the autonomous Kurdistan region that controls its own border crossings.
No, as Julian Bechoca (RUADW) noted last week, it's not going into practice in the Kurdistan. Hadi Mizban (AFP) reports, "Some see the measures as an attempt by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to head off potential political challenges from religious conservatives. They say another motive may be to distract from economic woes, including rising prices and wild currency fluctuations."
This is one aspect of a never-ending crackdown on freedoms and liberties in Iraq. Leave a post on social media and risk being arrested. Now they're going after those who expose truths in real life, face-to-face. RUDAW reports:
Dozens of Baghdad’s teachers and exam proctors on Sunday protested an
arrest warrant issued for one of their colleagues who exposed a case of
fraud relating to a former police official’s son.
Uday al-Salihi, the head of the examination department in al-Rusafa’s education directorate, in February removed a young man from a ministerial examination, accusing him of impersonating the son of former Federal Police Commander Raed Shaker Jawdat, and taking the test on his behalf.
According to Salihi, once he was removed from the exam room, the young man admitted to receiving 5,000 dollars to take the exam instead of Jawdat’s son.
Nonetheless, when the case was brought to relevant authorities, it was
not the impersonator that faced the legal repercussions, but rather
Salihi, who was served an arrest warrant. It is not yet clear what the
proctor has been accused of.
“This is a message for everyone, if you see someone cheating or taking exams on behalf of someone else, just keep your mouth closed and do not speak,” Nidhal Muhammad, a school principal, told Rudaw's Halkawt Aziz on Sunday.
More attacks on the rights of the people? Chenar Chalak (RUDAW) reports:
As Kurds across the Kurdistan Region marked traditional clothing day on
Thursday, Iraqi security forces manning the gates at Kirkuk University
denied entry to students dressed in Kurdish outfits.
“We tried to enter from the main gate, but they told us that we were not allowed,” a geography student at Kirkuk University who dressed up in traditional clothing alongside scores of his fellow Kurdish students told Rudaw English on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They prohibited us from entering the campus from all three gates, telling us there was no such thing as national dress day. We remained in the parking lot until the school day was over,” he said.
Rudaw reached out to the university, but they declined to comment on the ban.
[. . .]
“One year, they ban raising the Kurdistan flag. Then, they ban Kurdish clothing. If it continues like this, in a couple of years they will forbid Kurds from entering the university altogether,” said another student.
Next weekend will see the 20th anniversary of the start of the illegal war. AFP notes:
The years of violence have deeply altered society in Iraq, long home to a diverse mix of ethnic and religious groups. The minority Yazidis were targeted in what the UN called a genocidal campaign, while much of the once vibrant Christian community has been driven out.
Tensions also simmer between the Baghdad federal government and the autonomous Kurdish authority of northern Iraq, especially over oil exports.
In October 2019, young Iraqis led a nationwide protest movement that vented frustration at inept governance, endemic corruption and interference by Iran, sparking a bloody crackdown that left hundreds dead.
Despite Iraq's immense oil and gas reserves, about one third of the population of 42 million lives in poverty, while some 35 percent of young people are unemployed, says the UN.
Politics remain chaotic and parliament took a year, marred by post-election infighting, before it swore in a new government last October.
Prime Minister Mohammed Shiaa al-Sudani has vowed to fight graft in Iraq, which ranks near the bottom of Transparency International's corruption perceptions index, at 157 out of 180 countries.
Earlier this week, I noted that the new US Ambassador to Iraq was being seen as anti-Kurdish because she can never note the Kurds in her Tweets. That was based upon social media perceptions and two friends in the State Dept. This site's the only one to comment on this perception. I have no idea why news organizations have staff because this is something anyone could have weighed in on. But they don't. I'm not sure who they think they are protecting or helping. It's certainly not the American people and it's not even the US government that's being protected. If an ambassador is getting a bad reputation, that's something tax payers have a right to know since they're the ones paying the salary of the ambassador and the costs to house the ambassador in the host country.
At any rate, the item that went up here was used to again argue to Ambassador Alina Ramoanowski that she needed to find a way to start including the Kurds in her Tweets. I knew it would be, that was discussed with both friends at the State Dept before I posted it here.
She did post a Tweet. One. And my friends are much more positive about it than I am.
التقى @SecDef لويد أوستن في أربيل مع @IKRPresident نيجيرفان برزاني لإعادة التأكيد على شراكتنا مع حكومة كوردستان العراق @Kurdistan. تلتزم الولايات المتحدة بدعم جهود @KRG_MOPE لتحديث وتوحيد قوات البيشمركة لضمان الهزيمة الدائمة لداعش. @USCGErbil pic.twitter.com/Rj7dqLUCYa— Ambassador Alina L. Romanowski (@USAmbIraq) March 7, 2023
In Erbil, U.S. @SecDef Lloyd Austin met w/ @IKRPresident Nechirvan Barzani to reaffirm our partnership with @Kurdistan Regional Government. US is committed to supporting @KRG_MOPE efforts to modernize & unify Peshmerga forces to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. @USCGErbil— Ambassador Alina L. Romanowski (@USAmbIraq) March 7, 2023
That's the same Tweet. One version is in English. And that's why I'm not impressed. She's seen as anti-Kurd. What's the other language used? I don't read Kurdish. I can read the non-English Tweet . . . because it's in Arabic.
If the point is to prove that you're not anti-Kurd by Tweeting about the Kurds, I don't really get how you change that perception by Tweeting in Arabic and not Kurdish.
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Friday, March 10, 2023. While the Iraqi government bans booze, the US Congress holds one of the most embarrassing hearings of this century.
I am not a fan of The Twitter Files. I've referred to them repeatedly as The Twitter Dumps. I do not see it as reporting. A series of Tweets is not reporting in my opinion. The Twitter Files, for any unaware, are internal communications within Twitter and external requests -- from various government figures -- coming in to Twitter. They seek to explain how censorship took place.
There is no question that censorship took place prior to Elon Musk purchasing Twitter (and Elon has censored since purchasing Twitter). Elon appears to be censoring due to vanity and on his own whim whereas The Twitter Files are addressing issues of government figures and agencies attempting to censor free speech.
A number of journalists have dropped Tweets and it's been about as attractive and desirable as US House Rep Gerry Connolly dropping trou.
My objections have been that you need to write an article. I don't need your Tweets and I don't have time for them. I'm not the only one who feels that way. Yes, the devoted fan base of various writers can go through hundreds of Tweets. That's not the reality for most of us who have full lives and things to do. In addition, and I'm not sure this has gone up here in relation to this multitude of Tweets, I don't have the eyes for it. I'm not seeing multiple eye doctors, having injections and lasers, having surgeries because my eyes are doing great. Since the pandemic started, I've tried to have a ton of stuff up here and that's because it was a depressing, sad, scary time for all of us. (I'm not trying to imply that COVID 19 has ceased to exist. Just noting that most of us have calmed the f**k down.) There are times when there's a stoppage in that here. An hour or two, sometimes three. And that's because I've reached a point where the eyes have given out. That happens very frequently with my vision now. Especially on Sundays which is why I'm no longer in the mood to work forever on THIRD. I reach the point where my vision is going and I say, "That's it, I've got to go write the Sunday night entry at THE COMMON ILLS and that's all I've got left." So, no, I don't have time to read over a never-ending series of Tweets that are unfocused and unformed and are not anything like what people expect from reporting.
Yesterday morning, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled "The Weaponization Of The Federal Government On The Twitter Files." A badly worded title but a very clear one except to members on the Democratic Party side of the aisle who kept trying to interject that they (Republicans on the Committee and the two witnesses) were saying it was just censorship against conservatives. No, they weren't saying that. They didn't even say that, as Committee Chair Jim Jordan pointed out near the middle of the hearing.
The Democrats on the Committee -- let me stop there. I was going to say they embarrassed themselves in the hearing. Actually, they embarrassed themselves prior to that.
Who are these Democrats at the hearing? It's March. They were sworn in back in January. It's March. Go to their website -- even just the Democrats website -- for the House Judiciary Committee and you'll see that several of the people making asses of themselves yesterday are not even on the Committee. I'm looking at, for example, the worthless post that Stacey Plaskett has. Worthless because it's a non-voting post. She's representing the Virgin Islands. She can't vote in any session because she doesn't have voting rights. But damn, can she hijack a hearing and be nasty and rude.
But look at her assignments. That's the official Congressional page for the Committees she's assigned to. I don't see the House Judiciary Committee on there. And Ranking Member -- as she was billed in the hearing. In what crazy world does the Democratic Party make a non-voting member the Ranking Member of a Judiciary Committee? Not a Subcommittee, a Committee. As fake as her hair, Stacey is nothing but an opportunist. That's why the Brooklyn born and raised Stacey represents the Virgin Islands. She moved there to establish residency to get the Congressional seat. It's why she's a Democrat today. She switched political parties as she embarked on her plan to be elected to Congress -- switched after the Iraq War had been going on for five years, switched after the age of forty. A fake ass. And a loud mouth. She was raised by parents but you'd never know it from yesterday's performance. And maybe someone actually from the Virgin Islands should represent that territory in Congress and not the Brooklyn born and raised Stacey who went to college in France?
We're focusing on Matt's testimony and this is a collection from the first hour and a half of the hearing.
I would say I spent ten years covering the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. That was obviously a very serious issue, but -- uhm -- this Twitter files story and what we're looking at now and what we're investigating now? I don't think there is any comparison. This is by far the most serious thing that I've ever looked at and it's -- it's certainly the most grave story that I've ever worked on personally.
[. . .]
Mr. Congressman, my disagreement with the issue [the unproven allegation that Russia interfered with the 2016 US election] [US House Rep Stephen Lynch cuts him off] -- Okay, then well I'm going to answer not in the sense that you're putting it. I think all countries engage in offensive information operations. It's a question of scale. And The Twitter Files [cut off again by Lynch]. I don't know and I'd say it's irrelevant [cut off again by Lynch].
[. . .]
So a great example of this [scale mattering] is a report that the Global Engagement Center sent to Twitter and to members of the media and other platforms about what they called "The Pillars of Russian Disinformation." Now part of this report is what you would call -- I think you would call traditional, hardcore intelligence gathering where they made a reasoned, evidence-based case that certain sites were linked to Russian influence or linked to the Russian government. In addition to that, however, they also said that sites that "generate their own momentum and have opinions that are in line with those accounts are part of a propaganda eco system . Now this is just another word for guilt by association. And this is the problem with the whole idea of trying to identify which-which accounts are actually INTERNET RESEARCH AGENCY [Russian trolls] and which ones are just people who followed those accounts or reTweeted them. Twitter initially did not find more than a handful of IRA accounts. It wasn't until they got into an argument with the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that they came back with a different answer.
[. . .]
I've done probably a dozen stories involving whistle-blowers. Every reported story that I've ever done across three decades involved sources who have motives. Every time you do a story you're making a balancing test between the public interest -- [cut off by US House Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz].
[. . . After Wasserman Schultz refused to allow him to answer and after she told him what he thought and how he acted and what his income was -- none of which was probably right -- US House Representative Dan Bishop gave Matt a brief moment to respond.]
Sure, just quickly, that moment on THE JOE ROGAN SHOW, I was actually recounting a section from Seymour Hersh's book REPORTER where he described a scene where the CIA gave him a story and he was very uncomfortable. He said that "I who had always gotten the secrets was being handed the secrets." Look, again, I've done lots of whistle-blower stories. There's always a balancing test that you make when you're given material. And you're always balancing newsworthiness versus the motives of your sources. In this case, the newsworthiness clearly outweighed any other considerations and I think everybody else who worked on the project agreed. [. . .] I would like to clear up some things that have been misrepresented. Not one of us has actually been paid to do this work [The Twitter Files]. We've all traveled on our [dime], we've hired our personnel on our own. And I've just hired a pretty large team to investigate this issue out of my own pocket.
[. . .]
I think it's none of the government's business which journalists a private company talks to and why. I think every journalist should be concerned about that and the absence of interest in that issue by my fellow colleagues in the mainstream media is an indication of how low the business has sunk. There was once a real Esprit de Corps and comradery within media. Whenever once of us was gone after, we all kind of rose to the challenge. [. . .] That is gone now. We don't protect one another.
There were a couple of very telling e-mails that we published. One was by a [Twitter] lawyer named Stacia Cardille where the company was being so overwhelmed by - by requests from the FBI. In fact, they gave each other a sort-of digital high-five after one batch, saying, "That was a monumental undertaking to clear all of these." But she noted that she believed that the FBI was essentially creating, doing word searches keyed to Twitter's terms of service -- looking for violations of terms of service specifically so that they could make recommendations along those lines which we found interesting. [. . .] I think you cannot have a state-sponsored anti-disinformation effort without directly striking at the whole concept of free speech. I think the two ideas are in direct conflict and this is a fundamental misunderstanding. I think a lot of the people who get into this world -- some of them, I believe, in a well-meaning way, I think they're actually trying to accomplish something positive. But they don't understand what free speech means and what happens when you do this. It undermines the whole concept -- that truth doesn't come from -- it isn't mandated, that we arrive at through debate and discussion.
I've presented the above that way to allow Matt to have his say. We've also focused on big issues. There are two exchanges I'm planning on carrying over to THIRD for the weekend.
But my chief criticism has been that we do not have anything concrete from Matt. So that is one effort to provide/address that. It's also why we're ignoring Michael Shellenberger. And it's why I posted Matt's opening statement last night and why we're including it below.
Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government
Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives
March 9, 2023
Chairman [Jim] Jordan, ranking member [Stacey] Plaskett, members of the Select Committee,
My name is Matt Taibbi. I've been a reporter for over 30 years, and a staunch
advocate for the First Amendment. Much of my three decades have been spent
at Rolling Stone magazine.
Today, I'm here because of a series of events that began late last year, when I
received a note from a source online.
manipulation... was going on at Twitter?"
out. To say these attracted intense public interest would be an understatement.
My computer looked like a slot machine as just the first tweet about the blockage
of the Hunter Biden laptop story registered 143 million impressions and 30 million
But it wasn’t until a week after the first report, after Michael Shellenberger, Bari
Weiss, and other researchers joined the search of the "Files," that we started to
grasp the significance of this story.
of information globally. A free internet would overwhelm all attempts to control
information flow, its very existence a threat to anti-democratic forms of
machine learning and other tools to turn the internet into an instrument of
censorship and social control. Unfortunately, our own government appears to be
playing a lead role.
tweets before the 2020 election, where we read things like:
would be attached to excel spreadsheet with a long list of names, whose accounts
were often suspended shortly after.
government across tens of thousands of emails led to a series of revelations. Mr.
Chairman, we've summarized these and submitted them to the committee in the
form of a new Twitter Files thread, which is also being released to the public now,
on Twitter at @ShellenbergerMD, and @mtaibbi.
We learned Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other companies developed a formal
system for taking in moderation "requests" from every corner of government: the
FBI, DHS, HHS, DOD, the Global Engagement Center at State, even the CIA. For
every government agency scanning Twitter, there were perhaps 20 quasi-private
entities doing the same, including Stanford's Election Integrity Project,
Newsguard, the Global Disinformation Index, and others, many taxpayer-funded.
associations, or sympathies are deemed to be misinformation, disinformation, or
malinformation. The latter term is just a euphemism for "true but inconvenient."
Plain and simple, the making of such lists is a form of digital McCarthyism.
or de-platforming, but to firms like PayPal, digital advertisers like Xandr, and
crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. These companies can and do refuse service to
law-abiding people and businesses whose only crime is falling afoul of a faceless,
unaccountable, algorithmic judge.
punishment without due process is horrifying.
last line of defense in such cases.
Twitter declined to remove an account right away, government agencies and
NGOs would call reporters for the New York Times, Washington Post, and other
outlets, who in turn would call Twitter demanding to know why action had not
"disinformation" without striking at the essence of the right to free speech. The
two ideas are in direct conflict.
also inspired the infamous "Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798," which outlawed
"any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against Congress or the president."
Here is something that will sound familiar: supporters of that law were quick to
France. Alexander Hamilton said Thomas Jefferson and his supporters were "more
Frenchmen than Americans."
country where power is given to people "whose suspicions may be the evidence."
silence our fears for the safety of our rights: that confidence is everywhere the
parent of despotism.
society we don't mandate truth, we arrive at it through discussion and debate.
Any group that claims the "confidence" to decide fact and fiction, even in the
name of protecting democracy, is always, itself, the real threat to democracy.
This is why "anti-disinformation" just doesn’t work. Any experienced journalist
knows experts are often initially wrong, and sometimes they even lie. In fact,
when elite opinion is too much in sync, this itself can be a red flag.
now investigating initially labeled the idea that Covid came from a lab
"disinformation" and conspiracy theory. Now apparently even the FBI takes it
possible to instantly define and enforce a political consensus online, which I
believe is what we’re looking at.
people around the world is the way we don't let anyone tell us what to think,
certainly not the government.
speak, is the best defense left against the Censorship-Industrial Complex. If it can knock over the first and most important constitutional guarantee, it will have no
serious opponent left anywhere.
most precious right, without which all other democratic rights are impossible.
His opening statement and the testimony we highlighted earlier address my big criticism of The Twitter Files. He's also apparently -- see his remarks above -- hiring staff to assist him with this so maybe we might get an actual report from him at some point.
Some comments? Gerry Connolly -- does he even sit on the Committee. I didn't think so and I don't see him listed as a member. But if he's going to ask questions of a witness, he needs to learn how to say "Taibbi." There were two witnesses for the hearing that lasted over two hours. He thought enough to bring along his ridiculous scarf. He thought enough to bring up Chrissy Teigen -- even if he didn't know how to pronounce her last name either. He's not a member of the Judiciary Committee. He needs to retire. He's been an embarrassment for years. He's wept in Congress and wah-wahed and wah-wahed afterwards about us noting what a big crybaby he is.
He's ridiculous. Gerry at his most bitchy in the hearing: "Thank you for your understanding of our Committee, I have a different understanding."
Gerry, you big cry baby, it's not your Committee, you don't sit on it. It's more Matt's Committee than it will ever be yours. The only "our" is the US taxpayer. Please stop wasting our money so you can play the soap opera queen diva. And if you're going to be a diva, do something about that awful chin waddle -- or at least don't draw attention to it with a girlish scarf. 56 degrees yesterday but Gerry needed a scarf. All I'm doing is noting the ugly reality. In fact, I think we have video of Gerry leaving the hearing.
And, Stacey, you shouldn't be a Ranking Member if you're so ill prepared that when the witness you're questioning mentions Bari Weiss -- a former NYT columnist and someone who's been publishing The Twitter Files -- and you respond "Mr. Weiss," you really shouldn't be billed as Ranking Member and probably shouldn't be on the Committee.
"I didn't ask a question, I didn't ask you a question, sir." Rude ass Plaskett. I've been at how many hearings and I have never, ever seen anything like that. And I was at the hearing where then-US House Rep Steve Buyer stormed out of the chamber and slammed the door when a journalist was testifying.
Dropping back to September 15, 2010:
Turning to Iraq quickly and briefly, AP reports:
Only a few months into its term, Iraq’s government is suddenly enforcing a long-dormant law banning alcohol imports and arresting people over social media content deemed morally offensive.
The crackdown has raised alarm among religious minorities and rights activists.
Some see the measures as an attempt by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to head off potential political challenges from religious conservatives and to distract from economic woes, such as rising prices and wild currency fluctuations.
The ban on the import, sale and production of alcohol was adopted in 2016, but was only published in the official gazette last month, making it enforceable.
Iraq's customs department gave orders on Saturday to start enforcing a ban on alcohol imports that became law last month despite divisions over the legislation. But the specialist retail stores that dominate alcohol sales in the virtual absence of bars or licensed restaurants remained open for business, at least in Baghdad, an AFP correspondent reported. Public alcohol consumption is frowned upon in mainly Muslim Iraq but beverages can be readily purchased from liquor stores, many of them run by Christians or other non-Muslims.
The application of the law, however, drew fire from Christian lawmaker Farouk Hanna Ato, who said the legislation "contradicts the foundations of the Iraqi Constitution.”