The Smoke Eater For June 12, 2020

An orgy, some B.S., and local news.

A protestor looks out at Willis Tower in Chicago on June 5, 2020.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

Good evening, this is The Smoke Eater for Friday, June 12, and if you have a racist friend, now is the time for your friendship to end.

Quick Hit

* Tom Cotton's orgy * Bullshit artists * Solidarity forever * "Try Again" * “The Patriot Act” *

NOTE: It's only been six months since I started The Smoke Eater; some of you know that for years I've start working hours before the sun comes up. I can't even count how many mornings I was forced to throw out work because of some pre-dawn shitpost. Right now I just don't have the physical or mental capability to do this every day. For the immediate future I'm limiting The Smoke Eater to once or twice a week in order to focus on other aspects of my career that have been neglected for too long. The content will still skew towards news that isn't getting enough attention; I'm not going to pollute an already crowded media echochamber with reblogged blogs, shitposts, or ill-informed rants. I want to put some thought into this project, and I encourage people to read, listen, and watch the sources I link to.

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"This American Carnage"

On Wednesday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the Senate floor to criticize The New York Times for adding a lengthy preface to an op-ed by Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. That op-ed encouraged using the Insurrection Act to create an,"overwhelming show of force" to quell protests that had, as Cotton put it, created an, "orgy of violence." Cotton, who received his BA and JD from Harvard, criticized "elites" who "excused" rioting in major cities the previous weekend as "radical chic" -- a satirical phrase the late journalist Tom Wolfe coined to describe a posh party at Leonard Bernstein's for the Black Panthers in 1970 that featured white servants. Cotton argued that stationing the military in sovereign states "doesn't amount to "martial law'" even if local elected officials did not request federal aid.

Constitutional and legal scholars don't necessarily agree with Sen. Cotton, but admit it's a tragic possibility.

McConnell claimed the apologetic editorial note calling out falsehoods and conspiracy theories in Cotton's piece was a lie, and that the op-ed was published in the tradition tradition of "pushing the envelope" of free expression. Even though a large swath of black journalists condemned its publication, adding it could endanger the lives of black people, McConnell said it, "merely hurt their feelings by making them confront a different point of view."

Fun Fact: In 2006, Cotton accused the NYTimes of espionage for reporting on a program that monitored and disrupted terrorist finances. In defending its reportage, the paper revealed in 2003 then-Treasury Secretary John Snow had invited several newspapers, "on a military aircraft for a six-day tour to show off the department's efforts to track terrorist financing. The secretary's team discussed many sensitive details of their monitoring efforts, hoping they would appear in print and demonstrate the administration's relentlessness against the terrorist threat."

This morning conservative columnist Brett Stephens penned his own op-ed in the NYTimes defending the publication of Cotton's piece. Stephens sanctimoniously echoed McConnell, saying there is a, "spirit of ferocious intellectual intolerance sweeping the country and much of the journalistic establishment with it."

Stephens didn't mention how journalists at the NYTimes work in perpetual fear of Stephens complaining about unpublished stories to editors (AKA: The Brett Stephen's Policy), and ultimately killing it. Stephens didn't mention how last May he created his own outrage mob when he repeated anti-Semitic tropes. Stephens also left out the time he said Black Lives Matter has, "some really thuggish elements," and implied that systemic racism isn't real because, "police go to where criminality occurs." Over the last few years, Stephens has also denied climate change, statistics about college rape; and denigrated Arab people.

Vox's David Roberts argued years ago that inviting the opinions of Brett Stephens and MAGA supporters into the market place of ideas is dangerous as they hold less in common with traditional self-righteous conservatism and more with dangerous authoritarian sycophancy. Speaking with NPR's Bob Garfield, Roberts summarized a recent follow-up piece in which he notes Cotton's op-ed fell far below the Times own publishing standards. MAGA supporters, Roberts explains, have exploited the "good faith" intention of journalism to spread "ethnocentric authoritarianism" (read: Nazi bullshit).

A tourist attempts to silence an anti-Trump protester in front of the White House, July 3, 2019.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

"Bullshit Artist"

Back in 2016, about a month before we learned about Russian fuckery, and how much Trump likes to "grab'em by the pussy," Fareed Zakaria called Trump a, "bullshit artist" on live T.V. He did it again in his Washington Post column, and again on his own show. Zakaria's point was that Trump seemed unconcerned with being a geyser of "bullshit," or if journalists fact-check him. According to WaPo, Trump has made over 18,000 "false or misleading claims" since taking office in 2017.

Arron Blake writes that while public opinion polls show broad support for the protests, conservative media has been framing protests as violent uprisings by rerunning old footage, downplaying the administration's brutal assault on Lafayette Square, and shrugging off the concerns of top military officials.

These tactics are similar to the way Russian state media has framed the largely peaceful protests. In casting them lawless race riots and using casually using racist phrases, the Kremlin is attempting further divide Americans (as was described in the Mueller report) while simultaneously insulating Russian President Vladimir Putin from his own economic, social, and political weaknesses.

The Kremlin's hope, according to foreign policy nerds, is to get outraged journalists and social media shitposters to reprint their hate mongering garbage. The Center European Policy Analysis explains that this is a simply a rehash of a Soviet-era propaganda campaigns intended to, "confuse and distract us, to disrupt our democratic processes, to undermine public trust, and to drive wedges in the transatlantic alliance."

Fun Fact: Putin is racing to build support for a constitutional amendment that will allow him to hold power until 2036. A vote on the amendment is scheduled for July 1, and Putin has been struggling to hold a parade on June 23 for Liberation Day (the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II) but his plans have been hampered by the raging coronavirus. Earlier today the NYTimes reported that at least 12 major Russian cities had declined to hold celebrations in fear of further spreading the coronavirus.

Despite a their own history of atrocities against protesters, other authoritarian governments have launched their own disinfo campaigns aimed at destabilizing the U.S. China is using the images of violent suppression and assaults on journalists to call the U.S. hypocrites while it simultaneously cracks down on Hong Kong's independence movement, imprisons Uighur Muslims, and actively censors mentions of the Tienanmen Square massacre. In Iran, government officials have taken to Twitter to compare the death of George Floyd to the administration's crippling economic sanctions even though the regime banned Twitter and Facebook  during the Green Movement. Following the Arab Spring, Iran tried in vein to crush protest movements by slaughtering activists in the street, most recently as this past December.

The insecurity of these regimes is not without a sense of irony. Solidarity protests have erupted all over the world using Black Lives Matter as a rallying cry against rising authoritarianism, racial discrimination, and the legacy of human slavery, Vox's Jen Kirby explains. Years of war and strife have caused immigrants from the Middle East and Africa to flee their homelands only to find segregation, squalor, police brutality, and prison in Europe. Mary L. Dudziak writes in Foreign Affairs that the global protests mirror calls for civil rights that broke out in the 1960s.

A protester holds up a sign at a rally in Chicago, June 5, 2020.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

"Try Again"

Foreign correspondents stationed in the U.S. are still struggling to give their own readers a sobering reality check as they try to explain the fallacy of American exceptionalism. As Nigerian journalist AbdulRasheed Abubakar tells Foreign Policy, "People actually think that America is the best, most perfect country in the entire world ... People of African descent love America so much because they believe you can freely express yourself and you are protected by the laws of the land. When this happened, it was a big disappointment."

Media outlets large and small are now risking their lives to cover the protests even as law enforcement agents deliberately target the press. Bellingcat has tracked 140 different incidents of police attacking journalists in the U.S. For reference, there were only 150 incidents reported by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in all of 2019. Independent journalists like Reb Z are live streaming protests to ensure greater accountability, while others like Linda Tirado lose a fucking eye for the story. (Linda tells me she plans to get a tattoo over the scar that says, "Try Again.")

One More Thing...

The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj: The News Industry Is Being Destroyed (via Netflix)

OK, here's a cute critter video: LULU and Friends!

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