02/26/20 Lisa Loving

This week on Century we speak with longtime activist, journalist, and radio producer Lisa Loving about her book Street Journalist: Understand and Report the News In Your Community. Plus we hear from Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko about the costly ongoing failure that is US war in Afghanistan.

Century of Lies
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Lisa Loving
 Lisa Loving
Download: Audio icon COL022620.mp3




FEBRUARY 26, 2020

DEAN BECKER: The failure of the Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization and the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVay, Editor of www.drugwarfacts.org.

We have a special treat for you today folks. A friend wrote a great book about street journalism and developed some training around it. Lisa Loving is a longtime activist, news reporter, and radio producer living in Portland, Oregon. We sat down recently to talk about street journalism and ways that you can find your voice, write your rant, and put it out in to the world. We are going to hear my interview with Lisa Loving in just a moment, but first – on January 28th, the National Security Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing entitled, “Examining the Trump Administration’s Afghanistan Strategy”. There were three witnesses scheduled, Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo refused to either attend or to send someone in their place. The third witness who actually showed up and the only one with integrity or sense of honor was John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. We are going to hear a portion of Mr. Sopko’s testimony now.

MR. SOPKO: This is the 23rd time I have provided testimony to Congress since I was appointed the Special Inspector General in 2012. It may well be the most important hearing to date. As you both are examining that very critical question and that is if there is to be sustainable peace in Afghanistan, are we prepared for the day after the signing? We are pivotal juncture in our over 18 year involvement in Afghanistan. The potential for a peace agreement with the Taliban is greater than at any time in recent history. While reaching a settlement will be challenging, sustaining it will be equally difficult. It will require coordination and de-confliction among the U.S. and Afghan government agencies, as well as our coalition allies and donors; but most importantly it will require addressing the serious risks that we set forth in the 2019 high risk list that we testified about last year. That report identified, as you noted, eight key areas of the 137 billion dollar reconstruction effort that we believe to be at a high risk of waste, fraud, mismanagement, or mission failure. As I explained last year, those risks do not miraculously disappear when the ink dries on any peace agreement. Moreover, if not addressed, they may threated the sustainability of any peace agreement. Now CIGAR is not taking a position on whether a peace agreement is achievable or practical; although we hope for both nor do we speculate on what provisions it should include. Those decisions we leave to the Administration, Congress, and the able negotiators but what CIGARs report does do is highlight areas that policy makers should be planning for now because as I testified last April, failing to plan is planning to fail. Now I am heartened that under your leadership Chairman Linch and Ranking Member Heis, this subcommittee has attempted to get to the crux of our high risk report; namely, what is our administration planning to do to address these serious threats? I am encouraged that you appreciate every effort must be taken to ensure that the progress purchased with the ultimate sacrifice of over 2,400 U.S. members of the armed services and over 2,000 contractors and nearly a trillion dollars in taxpayer dollars is not lost because we failed to adequately plan. Unfortunately, since my last appearance not much has changed on the ground in Afghanistan to diminish our concerns. The military situation is still a deadly stalemate. The Afghan economy is extremely weak, corruption is rampant, and narcotics production is growing. Reintegration of ex-combatants is problematic, women’s rights are threatened and oversight is restricted by widespread insecurity. Our newest quarterly report, which will be released in a few days, discusses all of these threats and in particular highlights that if peace is to be sustainable, financial support from donors will need to continue and may need to continue for years to come. Let me end with one additional observation. I just came back from Afghanistan at Christmas time and I expect to go back within a month. As Congress and the Administration think about how much money should be spent on reconstruction, they need to consider how those expenditures will be monitored and evaluated and overseen. Now more than ever I caution that if there is a peace agreement and continued assistance provided to the Afghan people, oversight needs to remain mission critical, otherwise you might as well pile up all of the dollars and euros in Massoud’s Circle in downtown Kabul and burn them for whatever good they can accomplish. I am happy to be hear and answer any questions, in particular about the Afghan papers at an appropriate moment. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN LINCH: Thank you, Mr. Sopko. I recognize myself for five minutes for questions. Why don’t we start with that? One of the key takeaways from the documents released by the Washington Post last month on the so-called Afghanistan Papers discloses how data and information has been repeatedly distorted to paint a rosier picture for the American people about the war in Afghanistan. For example, U.S. Military Advisor and retired Army Colonel Bob Crowley said in a statement that every data point was altered to present the best picture possible. Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right. This stood out to me because you have a person on the ground that is giving actionable intelligence to the Congress in terms of the progress of how things are going there, also misleading the general public as well as its representatives. When we have that going on we also have a heightened classification of certain documents that we, and the American public have been getting for years in your report. I just wanted to amplify that a little bit. You used to send us in your reports a heat map of sorts where you show the map of Afghanistan, you show the areas where the government of Afghanistan was basically in control of certain provinces and regions. It showed in a different color the areas where the Taliban was in control and areas where they were contesting government control. That stopped with this administration, which was new and different. On top of the fact that we are getting inconsistent information, they are also concealing in some regard the information that we previously relied upon. According to the DOD, they stopped releasing this information because the indicator of success in Afghanistan was no longer the percentage of territory under government control, but rather, “U.S. and Afghan forces support of Ambassador Kahlizad’s diplomatic effort”. That is a different metric. Why would we – what is the reasoning for that if you can shed some light on that in terms of going from objective evidence to something far more subjective and less evident. You are talking about whether people supported Kahlizad, that is a rather amorphous and subjective standard and it is difficult to follow. I am troubled by it as it shows a rather diffuse and lack of focus target in terms of something that is driving a measurement or metric that is driving our effort in Afghanistan.

MR. SOPKO: You are right on point on changing the metrics. I can’t give you an answer because there was never a real good explanation given to us for why district control and population control was no longer relevant and I think the point you make Chairman is apropos of a broader problem that we have. Every metric that you would find useful that we use to provide you the Congress, and the American people in our quarterly reports is now either classified or no longer available. Some of it is available in a classified setting and I know Chairman, you and I have spent some time there briefing on it. You know how difficult it is to use that but this is information that we have been providing publicly for years and then it was taken away so that is a problem. I can’t answer why they would eliminate that.

CHAIRMAN LINCH: So when I was there in October – you have been there more recently – we asked General Miller why we were not getting that information in a form and a context that I can actually talk to my constituents about because something like that is classified even though I can go down to the skiff and look at the heat maps and look at the other information but I can no longer discuss that with my constituents at town meeting or even among members of congress who don’t have the necessary clearance, so that is problematic. In October I did ask General Miller and I know that Speaker Nancy Pelosi did as well about denying us those maps and that information and he acknowledged the difficulty that presented to Congress and to the public. To your knowledge, having been there more recently, are they still abiding by that policy of not giving the United States Congress that information in a public format or have they still excluded it from your quarterly reports?

MR. SOPKO: It is still excluded from our quarterly report and you will see in another – I think we’ve actually sent up the embargoed copy and I think it is released in two days – you will see all of the material that is still classified. No, they are not collecting that information.

CHAIRMAN LINCH: Okay. Thank you very much.

DOUG MCVAY: That was John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. He was testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Reforms subcommittee on National Security. We also heard questions from the Subcommittee Chair, Representative Stephen Linch from Massachusetts. You are listening to Century of Lies, I am your host, Doug McVay.

Lisa Loving is a journalist based in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of Street Journalist: Understand and Report the News in Your Community. Lisa, thank you for joining me.

LISA LOVING: Thank you for having me.

DOUG MCVAY: First off, what do you mean by street journalism?

LISA LOVING: There are a few terms that my publisher and I kicked around and we started out with Citizen Journalist, but we are talking really about grassroots journalism – old school journalism. You don’t have to be a citizen of anything to be that person and you also don’t have to do it in the street. As I think about what is street journalism, I just think of community based grassroots journalism that everyday people can do.

DOUG MCVAY: Talk me through your book, Street Journalism. Is it a reference manual or a training guide?

LISA LOVING: I like to think of it as a cookbook for anyone who is interested in picking up the tools of journalism or even just understanding how they actually work. It starts out with ethical guidelines and house rules about what journalism is and is not and I am really big on the aspects of journalism and information gathering in this book. It starts out with some house rules like don’t make shift up and it goes in to how to decide if something is a story or not and what makes something newsworthy. I go in to the tools themselves such as information gathering, how to interview people, how to build community around your work. The fact checking chapter is my favorite part of the entire book. There is also a part of it that gives tips on how to set up a platform for yourself once you have created this journalism and how you get it to people. Again, I think that the most important aspect of the book is making people understand that everyday people can do this. You do not need a master’s degree and it is not brain surgery to do journalism. Who, what, where, how, and why. Tell the stories of people whose stories don’t get told so much anymore. A lot of people actually do not realize that there are tons of thousands of fewer working journalists on the ground in this country compared to ten years ago and earlier as well. We literally have fewer people collecting information and making it available for us to understand the world around us. One other thing that I think is important is that right now journalism and the information ecosystem is collapsing. There are many collapsing industries in the United States of America right now, I could make a list but journalism is one of them. I think that when it comes to how we are going to be getting news ten years from now – we don’t even know. Please don’t say it is going to be Facebook. Please, no. When it comes to innovating journalism and figuring out what’s new, none of the major innovations in journalism over the past generation came out of a newsroom. None of these media outlets, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube – none of them came out of a newsroom. So if you care about information and if you care about informed voting and communities, I think it is important to note that it is really people outside of journalism that innovate this industry and my biggest goal is to try to empower as many people as possible to potentially innovate journalism so that in ten years we will be hopefully better informed than we are now.

DOUG MCVAY: That leads me right to the next question. You are also doing some street journalism trainings. Tell me about that?

LISA LOVING: Yes, I have a few trainings I am still ramping up to put them online. My favorite one is not taken from the book and it is called, “How to Write Your Rant”, it basically shows people how to use critical analysis to create a persuasive message in four easy steps. I have given that workshop from coast to coast. I have taught it to teenagers, senior citizens, and all kinds of people in between. I feel really strongly about that one, especially in the run up to our 2020 elections here but I also have a workshop called, “7 Ways to Use Your Cellphone in Journalism, and 3 Ways You Should Never, Ever Use It”. So many people are already doing this work seriously and I think that what the piece of information people do not always have is the ethics involved in pulling out your cellphone and using it to create a piece of journalism or any kind of media at all. I have other trainings coming up that are not quite ready yet. One of them is going to be about how to interview people and I have another one I am developing on oral histories with your cellphone and how people can literally use their cellphone to go and gather the historic perspectives of the people around them. A lot of times we think of oral history as something that old people do but when we watched the teenagers do the big climate change walkout last year, someone should have been interviewing those teenagers to ask them about their work. They are kids, but it is history that they were making. I have a few others including a six-part on basics of journalism coming up.

DOUG MCVAY: That is terrific. Now on “How to Write Your Rant”, you said there are four easy steps. Give me a short version?

LISA LOVING: The most important thing in a lot of the trainings I do is that when you are doing journalism or any kind of information gathering, your number one job is figuring out what is most important. I think of it as the burning fact approach to information gathering. When you are writing your rant, and by rant I mean Letter to the Editor, testimony before a city council, public appeal for an important issue or even talking to your mom at the grocery store. You are basically starting out with a strong opinion about something and you are writing it in a sentence format or speaking it in a sentence format, and then you are coming up with two or three supporting statements about that most important burning topic. Those three supporting statements might just be the most important information about that topic or they could be perspectives on why it is important – just three supporting sentences to support your main topic, and then the fourth part is when you restate your important point in different words if you can, and then add a call to action. What do you want people to do? In the end its one important point with two or three supporting facts and then the call to action based on that point. That is really the long and the short of it.

DOUG MCVAY: With regard to your trainings, “How to Write Your Rant”, and “7 Ways to Use Your Cellphone in Journalism, and 3 Ways You Should Never, Ever Use It”, if people were interested in bringing you in to do a training, how would they get in touch?

LISA LOVING: I have a website: www.street-journalist.com. I am also on Facebook but it is not my favorite platform. I don’t trust Facebook and I think it is a monopoly that is going to be possibly taken apart by federal government in an Anti-trust lawsuit, as there is already an anti-trust lawsuit against Facebook and Google. I am also on Twitter. Ask somebody – everybody knows me. You can reach me, I am not hiding.

DOUG MCVAY: You were telling me about some of the other trainings that you are developing. What other kind of projects are you working on these days? I know that you have a podcast that you are working on with the election. Tell me about the podcast.

LISA LOVING: I am working with the Pacifica Foundation and Public News Service with an incredible producer named Lilly Bulky, and the show that we are doing is called 2020 Talks. It is a three minute daily recap of what is happening in the Iowa Caucuses. That might sound really boring, but that is the roots of the upcoming Presidential election. Lilly is really the star of that audio podcast, which is distributed through the Public News Service and Pacifica Foundation. Community radio stations could pick this up from www.audioport.org. It is fascinating how all of the issues that impact the world find their way filtering through the Iowa Caucuses, which are the very first decision making events that happen in the Presidential elections. That issue itself is being questioned, which is fascinating. I am trying to work out more journalism podcasts, but they have not been launched yet. I would love to collaborate with anybody out there if you are listening to this right now. I never get tired of helping people, supporting people, and giving advice.

DOUG MCVAY: In that case, remind folks again how to follow you on social media and your website.

LISA LOVING: It is www.street-journalist.com, and Lisa Loving on Facebook and Twitter.

DOUG MCVAY: Any closing thoughts for my listeners?

LISA LOVING: I think that the most important thing when we look at the freefall collapse of information dissemination in the United States and around the world as well is that we as a society in the United States have been organizing our communities around politics for hundreds of years. We organize around political issues and political parties but I think it’s time that we organize our communities around information because there is not going to be a cavalry coming. Where I live in Oregon, The Oregonian, which is more than 150 years old, has not been a daily in years. There are so few people left there and they are wonderful people, but they cannot cover everything so the key thing here is that everyday people including teenagers, seniors, or anyone that is interested should really figure out how to do this work. There are plenty of people doing it and they are creating fascinating media outlets, some of them are even based in social media and on YouTube doing things because there is a need. The secret sauce of my book, Street Journalist: Understand and Report the News in Your Community is that once you understand how this stuff works you are in a better position to better understand what is good media when you encounter it. You are in a better position to use your tools about fact checking and things like that when you are reading the New York Times or listening to Fox News, or MSNBC. It empowers you to basically figure out what you could innovate. What does innovation mean? All of these fascinating social media platforms, including Match.com, these are all information centers. Last year China shut down almost all of the platforms that the protestors in Hong Kong could use so that started organizing on Match.com, which is a dating app. One of my favorite things is when everyday people learn how these tools work and they come up with ideas for what needs to happen and they bend these tools for their immediate needs. One last thing I want to say is that I am also working on a riot reporting class because I think we are going to see a lot more unrest in the streets while there is already unrest in the streets that is not being reported. I hear people on social media saying that people in the United States should be marching in the streets. I am here to tell you that we are doing that and you may not be hearing about it and that is straight up. I just have to plant a few seeds in people’s minds like that.

DOUG MCVAY: Lisa Loving, thank you very much.

LISA LOVING: Doug McVay, thanks for having me.

DOUG MCVAY: That was my interview with Lisa Loving who is a journalist and the author of Street Journalist: Understand and Report the News in Your Community. Learn more, get a copy of the book, find out about scheduled trainings, and maybe even find out how to schedule a training in your community by going to the website: www.street-journalist.com. You are listening to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVay, Editor of www.drugwarfacts.org.

The International Narcotics Control Board will release its annual report and precursors report on Thursday, February 27th at the U.N. Office in Vienna. If the news conference webcast goes as planned then I will have some audio for you from it on the next show. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs holds its 63rd Annual Session from March 2 – 6. I hope to bring you some audio from that meeting if the U.N. Office in Vienna has ironed out the technical glitches, there may be a live webcast. The UNOV website now has instructions about listening to meetings via Skype so that’s possibly how we’ll get the audio. One way or another. The National Institute on Drug Abuse will hold its National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week March 30 – April 5th this year. This is NIDAs annual propaganda exercise aimed at middle school and high school kids. One of the big events for the week is Drugs and Alcohol Chat Day, which this year will be held on April 1st. That is right, NIDA is holding a Drugs and Alcohol Chat Day for middle and high school students on April fool’s.

FEMALE VOICE: Long ago in Oakland, California, I was asked by a group of children what to do if they were offered drugs and I answered, just say no.

DOUG MCVAY: That’s it. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies, we are a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. You can find us on the web at: www.drugtruth.net. I have been your host, Doug McVay, Editor of www.drugwarfacts.org.

The Executive Producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including Century of Lies as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and or course our daily 420 Drug War News segments are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network homepage at: www.drugtruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook as well, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember, knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter: @DougMcVay, and @drugpolicyfacts. We will be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. This is Doug McVay saying so long!

For the Drug Truth Network this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition, the Century of Lies. Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy.