Spin Wars & Spy Games: Global Media and Intelligence Gathering

As most long-standing news outlets have shuttered their foreign bureaus and print operations, the role of global news networks (GNNs) as information collectors and policy influencers has changed in tandem. Western GNNs are honored for being untethered to government entities and their ability to produce accurate yet critical situational analyses. However, with the emergence of non-Western GNNs and their direct relationships to the state, the independent nature of our global news cycle has been vastly manipulated.

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In Spin Wars & Spy Games, Kounalakis uses his interviews with an expansive and diverse set of GNN professionals to deliver a vivid depiction of the momentous sea change in mass media production. He traces the evolution of global news networks from the twentieth century to now, revealing today’s drastically altered news business model that places precedence on networks leveraging global power. This eye-opening narrative transforms our understanding of why countries like Russia and China invest heavily in their news media, and how the GNN framework operates in conjunction with state strategy and diplomatic sensitivity.

Profoundly meticulous and insightful, this seminal work on the current state of transnational journalism gives readers a first-hand look at how global media powers shape policy and morph the public’s consumption of information.  READ MORE & PURCHASE

McCain & American Century struggle to survive

Independence Day brings out this country’s most patriotic expressions, from marching flag-wavers to parades of fez-wearing Shriners in mini-cars. This year, America celebrates its 242nd birthday, a year when the country actively redefines its concept of greatness.

America’s role in the world is rapidly changing, going from being the world’s policeman to loutish neighborhood beat cop. No one exemplifies the post-WWII generation of public servants who understood and promoted American global leadership than the now terminally ill U.S. Senator John McCain.

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He would be the first to admit that he is an imperfect man, but the last to believe that America’s role is obsolete, immoral, or defined strictly by economic interests and presidential whim. He has sacrificed his time and his body to fight against the shrill and the small-minded who argue that America’s sins and historic mistakes are anywhere near morally equivalent to the Mao massacres, Stalin scourge, or Hitler holocaustREAD MORE

Cut the charade and crown the president

Wow! Did the Supreme Court just give the president the power of decree? Finally, a branch of the United States government that recognizes its junior status and accedes to the supreme authority of the executive branch. The travel ban ruling is a parsed argument that effectively states the president of the United States has the authority to proclaim that his national security policies are overarching and that his being is infallible.

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A malleable, rubber-stamping Congress and a freshly quiescent Judiciary have now fully abdicated their roles as a check on presidential power and collectively put a bow around a now fully-evolved imperial presidency. They just packaged and presented this generous gift to President Donald J. Trump.

Yes, the travel ban ruling is a reasoned and narrow decision that focuses on the executive’s authority over immigration. But the effect of the ruling ignores the express intention of the president’s ban. It also fails to acknowledge that the current Oval Office occupant defies reason, while, ignores previously limiting checks, and takes every opportunity to expand the powers of his office. Justice may be blind, but it is not supposed to be deaf and dumb, too.  READ MORE

Be outraged about kids in cages. But save some ire for the worst refugee offender: China

Caging kids at the U.S. border is reprehensible. But as first ladies, governors, celebrities, and citizens of all political stripes line up and strike out against the inhumane practice of separating children from parents seeking refuge, everyone should save some ire and outrage for one of the world’s greatest offenders and dissemblers of refugee rights: China.

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Despite having signed onto the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, China has gone to incredible lengths to redefine and reclassify foreigners who seek asylum on Chinese territory, allowing an appearance of having received “foreign” refugees. In fact, China is practicing the same type of refugee policy it pursues when it comes to international trade. It is willing to export its massive population at high numbers, send them abroad for education, work, and to establish cultural beachheads and corporate outposts (as with steel), but is unwilling and vehemently opposed to accepting a modicum of duty-free imports or unwashed masses.

China, unfortunately, is not alone. Russia and Turkey use refugees as weapons, Italy’s new government is stalking them and preparing them for deportation, Hungary makes it clear that they are unwelcome public targets. Increasingly, the rest of the West sees them as an unmanageable burden or parasitic horde who threaten nativist cultures, take jobs, drain welfare, change the national character, overwhelm communities, breed terrorists, and create chaos. Refugees and their children are having a hard time finding a new home.  READ MORE

Guess who's coming to a White House dinner? Dictators and despots

Kim Jong Un just got one of the most coveted invitations for any foreign leader — a White House visit. If the Singapore Summit delivers results and continues to serve President Trump politically, that door will stay open and the invitation will remain valid. That would make Kim the latest in a string of despots and dictators who over the years get to pose for an Oval Office grip and grin.

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Washington, D.C., is no stranger to accommodating the dangerous and despised and Kim would feel right at home in a city that bends to the brutal and barbarous. The capital has never reflected the homegrown values of heartland America or the general piety of her people. It is guided by a moral compass that sometimes points to True North. More often than not, however, that “compass” resembles a moral weathervane. Cynicism is an established trait in the nation’s capital, where power is the currency of the realm and no amount of moral outrage will change the political need and diplomatic necessity to practice the unsatisfying art of the possible.

So strike up the band and hang the bunting for the next state visit by a foreign deplorable.  READ MORE

Angry about U.S. primary results? Be thankful it's not a Venezuelan-style sham election

Election day in America reinforces our democratic values and reminds us that power resides in the hands of the people. Depending on your party preference and perspective, the meaning of this week’s regional U.S. elections vary (Disclosure: My wife, Eleni Kounalakis, just won a primary race for Lt. Governor of California). Yet, unlike elsewhere in the world, the legitimacy of the 2018 midterm primary races is not questioned. No one is seriously crying wolf.

In too many nations, however, the electoral process and democratic institutions are fractured and failing.

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From Turkey to Russia, Venezuela to Iraq, recent foreign elections have harmed the spirit and promise of democratic participation by drowning out minority voices, enriching crony capitalists, and enshrining pseudo-royalty into more secure and permanent tenures.  READ MORE

Hawaii volcano and China Sea islands alter world's geography

Kilauea’s volcanic lava flows are not only burning down Hawaiian homes on their path towards the Pacific Ocean but also creating new territory, adding landmass to the American state and making the Big Island even bigger.

For years, Hawaii has been growing its shoreline with hardening, layered lava at a slow and steady pace. Since 1983, Hawaii has grown by 570 acres and is the only state to be physically expanding at a time of globally melting ice caps and rising oceans. Geologic change is usually a lot slower paced at altering the face of the earth and the facts on the ground.

 Lava burns a tree in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii, Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Authorities were racing Tuesday to close off production wells at a geothermal plant threatened by a lava flow from Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island.

Lava burns a tree in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii, Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Authorities were racing Tuesday to close off production wells at a geothermal plant threatened by a lava flow from Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island.

Human time, however, is much faster and accelerates dramatic changes in political geography. New Chinese islands arise today where there once were only coral reefs. Russia expands and redefines its own territory by building bridges to foreign peninsulas it occupies and claims. Israel and China legitimize their claims over contested towns and turf, asserting their regional dominance by achieving the world’s diplomatic recognition.  READ MORE

Trump moves fast and breaks things to disrupt world

Hang out in any Silicon Valley café and the word “disruption” is sure to be uttered at a nearby table. It is the keyword to unlock funding for forward-leaning ideas and the approach toward cutting out the middle man in transactions, leaving behind the inefficiencies in mediation, and burying the slow-to-change and inertia-bound in industry. Disruption is everything and everyone wants a piece of it. Including the American people.

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Disruption has hit every industry, from car transportation services to hotel lodging. 2016 brought it to foreign policy when a tried, tested and predictable former secretary of state was turned down for her star turn at the U.S. presidency in favor of a bull in the china shop disruptive agent of anti-globalist chaos and firm believer in realism’s international anarchy.  

As in every case of disruptive change, there are decided winners (Uber, Airbnb) and clear losers (taxis, hotels) and a lot of people out of work and scratching their heads because they didn’t see what just hit them.  READ MORE

Deal or no deal: America wants a new Iran

The rift between America and Iran is currently as unbridgeable as the Persian Gulf. Iran and the United States are in a full-fledged battle to exert more influence over the Middle East, control the flow and price of energy, and to effect Israel’s status and survival. With President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the next phase of this battle has just begun.

 In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with a group of school teachers in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Khamenei has challenged President Donald Trump over America pulling out of the nuclear deal, saying, "You can not do a damn thing!" a day after Trump announced he was renewing sanctions on Iran. 

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with a group of school teachers in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Khamenei has challenged President Donald Trump over America pulling out of the nuclear deal, saying, "You can not do a damn thing!" a day after Trump announced he was renewing sanctions on Iran. 

Relations between the two nations are complex and will be forever colored by the 1979 Iranian Revolution that filled American TV screens with images of a helpless nation held hostage. Violent images are seared into the American mind of blindfolded U.S. embassy personnel in Iran and American flag-burning student protesters shouting, “Death to America.” President Jimmy Carter’s failed attempt at a hostage rescue resulted in a crashed helicopter and more death. Fear, anger and hate grew between Tehran and Washington. Iran’s current Islamic theocratic government was born of this revolution and is the direct inheritor of this violent legacy.  READ MORE

The Other White House Correspondents Dinner – Russia Edition

On the banks of the Moscow River, standing tall, a gleaming white edifice, the site of the 1991 Russian resistance, where Boris Yeltsin climbed atop a tank and stood up against a Soviet military coup, is the Russian White House - the “Bely Dom” on the Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment.

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Unbeknownst to most is that they, too, have an annual correspondents dinner. It is lesser known because it is held in an undisclosed location, in a bunker near Gorky Park. The few surviving Russian White House correspondents gather to celebrate their dwindling numbers, giving scholarships to the families of “missing” and defenestrated journalists.

This year’s guest speaker was comedian Wolf Sheepovich Michellovskaya. As always, it was held on May Day, International Workers Day, and portions were surreptitiously recorded. President Vladimir Putin was not in attendance, off instead to Sevastopol to celebrate the holiday in a springtime pageant and parade in his honor.  READ MORE

Kanye West can help Trump recognize the Armenian genocide

Armenia is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Kanye West and the Kardashians. Truth is, however, Kanye has always cared and sang about justice and his wife's Armenian-American family has always felt strongly about the need to recognize one of the world's greatest crimes and injustices — the Armenian genocide.

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Kanye should leverage his newfound kinship with President Trump to prod him towards doing what no other sitting American president has done: Use an executive order to declare that the murderous events of 1915 were the world’s first modern genocide.

Genocide means a single group is targeted for systematic and premeditated death and extinction. Armenian families who survived the genocide await the world’s recognition of this reprehensible event. America officially regards it as regrettable, unfortunate, and tragic, but does not recognize it as the event that spurred the word “genocide.” It is time.  READ MORE

First Lady Barbara Bush made a difference. Can Melania?

First ladies since Eleanor Roosevelt have developed over the years to do more than serve merely as White House hostess-in-chief. Barbara Bush took on an issue, applied her passion, and tried to move the needle on literacy. It’s now time to deploy Melania Trump where she can potentially make a difference. It’s time for her to visit her Central European home region to try and bring those countries back to the American fold.

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Foreign-born and bred, Melania is the first modern First Lady who cannot accede to the presidency. A Slovenian immigrant to America, she speaks Central Europe’s language. Literally. A Southern Slav, she is familiar not only with the region’s spoken tongues, but also their unspoken cultural tics, social norms and political history.  READ MORE

CBS News Commentary with Errol Barnett

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The United States, along with the U.K. and France, attacked Syrian targets in retaliation for the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons last week in Douma. Markos Kounalakis, a foreign affairs columnist for McClatchy News and visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, joins CBSN to discuss Russia's response to the airstrikes - and more.  VIEW VIDEO

Journalists need to watch out for Turkey

Working as a Middle East correspondent can be hazardous to your health. Freelance journalist Austin Tice is approaching the six year mark since his kidnapping in Syria. Reporter Marie Colvin was tracked and targeted for lethal attack by the Assad regime.

Things have certainly gotten hairier for foreign reporters, but even more so for local journalists as regional tensions rise, alliances become fluid, nationalism grows, and refugee populations are on the move.

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It’s not just Syria and Iraq, either. While the Trump administration weighs how further to respond to Damascus’s latest chemical weapons attack, the whole neighborhood is in flux and rules are being actively rewritten. Slowly, surely, countries once considered welcoming and safe are turning more menacing for both citizens and strangers. Turkey is the latest to flip.  READ MORE

Facebook and its Global Village need a mayor to represent us

Facebook is the largest community in the world. It is also one of the least democratic institutions on earth. That’s why Facebook needs a mayor.

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In non-virtual communities – meaning “IRL” (In Real Life) physical cities and states – where people interact face-to-face daily, societies have developed self-governing structures and policing institutions to serve and protect them. Private companies like Facebook, however, were not organized around democratic ideas or social justice principles. Despite the often lofty mission statements of social media companies, they are businesses put together for one reason: To make money. Oodles of it.

Thanks to the “network-effect,” unplanned, but highly profitable, communities have grown on these internet platforms to number in the billions. Greater in size than any nation-state. More politically powerful than any party or person. They cross borders and span the globe.  READ MORE