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the nation

Fox settlement, Afghanistan exit, Meta vertigo, Role reversal in NYC

A few items accumulated that we thought worth the telling as a reprieve from the usual long-form single subject tract:

1. disappointed that Fox and Dominion settled?

There's no end of print about Tucker Carlson's removal but let's go back to the $787,500 settlement that helped send him on his way.

Many had hoped for the day-by-day combat of a trial, for the schadenfreude of watching media titan Rupert Murdoch and the network's stars humbled as they took their turns in the dock.

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell disabused his viewers of thinking article illustration
Dominion Voting Systems could have done better with a savvy disquisition on the practicalities of civil suits that we believe few are aware of, not this writer anyway.

First, in civil suits no one goes to jail. Accountability can be meted out only in the form of money.

"The jury would only have a form to fill in the amount that Fox would have to pay...And if that jury awarded an amount that a judge or an appeals court considers excessive, they can simply reduce that amount of money, and reduce it dramatically."

Judges reduce jury verdicts in civil cases all the time because the damages awarded by the jury have to make some economic sense. "The jury can't just pick a huge number to make themselves feel good."

Moreover, the judge ordered no cameras and no recording devices in the courtroom, "You were never going to hear Tucker Carlson's or Rupert Murdoch's voice answering questions under oath. All the public would get would be a recitation by television hosts reading from a transcript. "It is extremely rare to have any surprises in civil litigation like this", said O'Donnell. The prosecution lawyers would be asking the same questions they had already asked in the under-oath depositions, and we've already heard the answers, the media delirious with joy in telling them to us in advance of the trial.

Also to be understood about civil litigation is that the amount demanded by the plaintiff is always double or triple what they ever hope to get. So when you hear, "Dominion caved, they settled for less than half of what they sued for", they rarely get anywhere near half. What is extraordinary here is the supposition that the 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch did not want the humiliation of being grilled by some prosecutor out to make a name for himself. His corporation has a mountain of money. Just pay them off.

Besides, jury verdicts in civil cases are "theoretical money that you have to chase for years and years and years to try to collect". Fox could have successfully appealed that verdict as excessive and seen the award dramatically reduced to say double or triple the value of the small Dominion company. Instead, they got "real money that'll be paid right now" is O'Donnell's point.

"Just ask the people trying to get their money from Alex Jones and those people are parents of children who were murdered, who have the highest moral case against Alex Jones, and they are going to spend years and years chasing that money."

So be satisfied, if guilty is your verdict, that the $787,500 awarded to Dominion Voting Systems is the biggest number "in the history of defamation cases in the world", said O'Donnell.

2. Biden acknowledges calamitous Afghanistan withdrawal but…

The administration took two years to come up with a review that admitted it had moved too slowly evacuating Afghanistan, but that's a conclusion that was obvious to an outsider like this publication even before the evacuation at the end of August in 2021.

In mid-June of that year we ran "American Betrayal Again? Thousands Left Behind in Afghanistan?", which not only foretold what was about to happen but what was already happening:

"As in Vietnam, as in Iraq, as in Syria, the United States has left behind the thousands who helped our military in Afghanistan …As a result of Joe Biden's haphazard, unplanned evacuation, America has betrayed thousands of Afghans who helped our country … President Biden seems only at this last minute to have discovered that we are entirely unprepared to rescue the interpreters, drivers, cultural advisers, security guards, many of whom have been embedded with our troops, living with them at remote firebases, risking their lives on combat patrols, and now face inhuman retribution by the Taliban for their having rendered essential service to the U.S.

He pledges that thousands of Afghan interpreters for the US military will be evacuated as American forces leave. He has no idea how and perhaps should worry that he faces his own Saigon moment. "

White House spokesman and retired admiral John Kirby stressed that the administration was surprised how swiftly the Taliban had overtaken the country that summer, which is not an explanation why the administration had left to the last minute a departure at a date of their choosing they had announced early that year. (Biden had originally picked September 11, no less than the 20th anniversary even, a startling indiscretion.)

Biden spent that first year of his presidency preoccupied with Build Back Better and paid no discernible attention to the Afghan pullout coming at him. Like Biden, Trump had been equally inattentive, obsessed in the fall of 2020 with planning how to overturn Biden's election January 6th.

The Biden report — summarized in what The Wall Street Journal called "12 pages of narrative gaslighting" — laid much of the blame on the Trump administration. "The buck for that dark episode stops with President Biden", said the Journal.

That needs rebuttal because the buck did start with Trump. It was he who decided we should leave Afghanistan, he who cut a deal with the Taliban, a deal that disastrously released 5,000 Taliban prisoners, freeing them to rejoin their ranks against the country and U.S. forces. So we have to keep the record straight.

Days ago, Tucker Carlson, who had called Trump "a demonic force" and had texted a Fox colleague "I hate him passionately", gave Trump the full hour of his show to work his way back into Trump's graces. The once-president rightly called Biden's Afghanistan "so horrible" but claimed, "That had nothing to do with me, I would've gotten out with strength and dignity". Not true.

His deal with the Taliban called for U.S. forces to be out of the country by May 1, 2021, yet in November he had ordered a troop drawdown from 4,500 to 2,500 by January 15, just five days before Biden took office. So much for "strength". (There had been over 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he took office). He had left Biden too few troops to hold off the Taliban. Trump had said, "I don't need exit strategies". In the Carlson interview, he said, "You know, we had a system of getting out", but he had taken no action with his own May 1 deadline looming. His administration had refused to coordinate with the Biden administration's transition team which said there was no plan. Which is why, faced with the impossible logistics of extraction three months after his inauguration, Biden extended the departure from May 1 to August 30. He then turned his attention elsewhere, squandered the four months, and left thousands stranded in the country.

3. zuckerberg's metaverse more like meta vertigo

Last November we did a piece called "Upheaval Roils the Social Media World" that included Mark Zuckerberg, article illustration
convinced he had seen the future, having embarked on "a transformation of Meta Platforms [the renamed Facebook] that is draining the company of billions of dollars". As said then…

"Mark Zuckberberg's oft-stated goal for Facebook was connection, to bring people together. He clearly wants to take that from a flat screen that scrolls posts from friends and family to a three-dimensional world of interaction where those same people, in avatar form, can come together to talk and do things jointly. The question is whether the real world will want to spend their days wearing headsets and living virtually. An epic fail could be in the making."

Investors balked at Zuckerberg's fantasm and the billions he is spending on it. Meta's stock price is down 43% from its peak. A host of companies in Silicon Valley have shed tens of thousands of their employees, but Meta is first among them with 26,000 given pink slips — 30% of the company's work force — and more layoffs to come, says a Wall Street Journal article about the company's "morale crisis". It's "the year of efficiency" says Zuckerberg, or has he realized his metaverse plan is goofy and has panicked.

In any event, we're wondering what did those 26,000 people do all day that made them so expendable?

Simultaneously we learn that amidst the leaked intelligence documents that have been floating about the Internet is a Russian claim that social media companies have only detected a tiny 1% of the Kremlin's phony accounts. The Washington Post says,

"The Russian government has become far more successful at manipulating social media and search engine rankings than previously known, boosting lies about Ukraine’s military and the side effects of vaccines with hundreds of thousands of fake online accounts."

As to what the 26,000 did all day, it looks like a safe bet that among those let go are thousands whose job it was to identify and block accounts in the name of non-existent people. With the Russians discovering how successful their efforts have been, paired with staff cutbacks at all social media companies, not just Meta, are we likely to see a flood of disinformation and propaganda like nothing before as we head toward another presidential election year?

4. what goes around

In 1989 five black and Hispanic teenagers from Harlem were tried and sentenced for savagely beating and raping a white woman jogger in Central Park. It was a sensational story of youths on a rampage in the park at night that they called "wilding".

Outraged, Donald Trump spent $85,000 on full-page ads in the New York newspapers calling for the death penalty. “Muggers and murderers,” he wrote, “should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes”.

The Central Park Five, as they came to be known, had served from 5 to 13 years in prison when exonerated by DNA evidence. But Trump has never apologized and, as someone unable to admit he is wrong "still insists they are guilty", we said here back in 2017.

What a remarkable turn of events, therefore, that one of the five, Yusef Salaam, now 49, announced his candidacy for a City Council seat in Harlem at just about the same time that Donald Trump was hauled before the court downtown to be arrested for 34 counts of misdemeanor and possible campaign finance violations.

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