Come on Yanks, give him the boot before it’s too late

Posted June 4, 2017 on 3:11 pm | In the category TRUMP, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Okay guys, you’ve made a mistake and proven that democracy doesn’t always work. But now the proof is in the pudding and the profiteer of that foreseeable mistake, who did not even come close to winning the popular vote, has become a global farce. Isn’t there something you can do to return the USA to its designated position as the leading world power and a moral force, instead of the fantasies of a rogue farce, before the damage becomes very difficult to undo?
The US government of the moment may have already proclaimed itself to be an outsider, a non-member of the committee to act responsibly on the future of the planet. All countries, save three – Syria, Nicaragua, who thought the Paris accord didn’t go far enough, and the USA – belong to this world assembly. Russia just signed on. But don’t you have some sort of fail-safe system in place in your constitution to get the US back on the rails of common-sense, following an obviously awful political decision, before it’s too late? Please keep all us outsiders in the picture on this topic, before you sail into the obscurity reserved by history for once- revered empires, that have opted out of unified attempts to deal with a planet’s potentially lethal problems. At the same you are allowing the vacuum of power, caused by your government’s blinkers, to be filled by China, of all nations. Who would have thunk it possible even two years ago.

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Threats to America’s Free Press

Posted May 24, 2017 on 9:52 am | In the category Politics, Press, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Democracy Dies in Darkness –Washington Post Motto

Throughout his Presidential campaign Trump attacked the American press with the notable exception of the unofficial Trump Fan Club: Fox News. But from the start it has been clear that Trump wants to keep the American people ignorant of much of what he actually does or has already done. So for example, early in his campaign he refused to provide press credentials to the Washington Post, apparently believing that would stop it from reporting on the shabbiness of his campaign rallies and the incendiary nonsense he used to fire up his dyspeptic voters. In hindsight a big mistake, given Post editor Martin Baron’s history with the Boston Globe, where he took down the Catholic Church in Boston for its history of sex abuse. Baron led that effort in the face of massive resistance by the institutional Church, a powerful player in Massachusetts politics. So, in the face of Trump’s attempt to muffle the Post, it has turned out to be a leader in investigating and reporting on the chaos and corruption that is the Trump White House.

But the battle to maintain respect for a free press in America continues in the face of ongoing charges of “fake news” from Trump, “alternative facts” from his staff, and total fabrications from Fox News and alt-right make-believe news organizations like Breitbart News. There are numerous examples of government attempts – many successful – to move government operations into the dark and those who treasure an open, accountable democracy clearly have enemies in high places. The shameless twisting of truth by Sean Spicer and Kelly Anne Conway have been on view for over four months with Spicer becoming a pathetic joke for Saturday Night Live and Conway quoted as saying she needs to take a shower after dealing with Trump. But while lying for the boss has historically been considered part of the game, other tactics aimed at hiding the truth are more insidious.

 You Want it Dark? I’ll Kill the Flame.— Leonard Cohen

While Cohen was speaking of darker things than managing the news, the quote is an appropriate metaphor for Trump’s approach to the news: keep it in the dark, which they are trying to do in a variety of ways:

  • When Trump met with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the U.S. the American press was left outside while TASS, the official Russian News Agency was welcomed inside. On his current trip to the Middle East Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a press conference for foreign press but forget to invite the American press.
  • Recently, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price appeared at an event in West Virginia and a reporter questioned him on details of the proposed Trumpcare bill. The reporter was blocked by police and then arrested.
  • Also, within the last week a reporter from C Q Roll Call was manhandled by FCC security guards when attempting to direct a question to an FCC Commissioner in a public hearing. The reporter was then thrown out of the room.
  • Trump’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, admitted in an interview that Trump is actively considering attempting to change U.S. libel laws, hoping to make it easier to silence the press.
  • Finally, in what is apparently representative of the President’s view of a free press, Trump has suggested that the FBI “should consider putting reporters in prison”, placing himself in the same camp as his new friend Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan. Over the past year+ Erdogan has jailed hundreds of journalists for reporting on Turkey’s human rights abuses as he moves Turkey from a secular democracy toward an Islamic near-theocracy. Not so strange bedfellows after all.

In this environment, it is imperative that the press refuse to back down and that the public support their efforts. There are plenty of examples of solid journalism that do not rely on daily attendance at the White House press briefings, where reporters are frequently treated as possible tools of the administration. In fact, the best journalism rarely comes out of the White House press briefings but rather from sources developed through hard work and asking the right questions to the right people. Democracy needs a hard working press that seeks the truth, verifies information from sources, builds a case and then informs the public of what the administration does – not what it says. And this is true for all administrations, not just the current one.

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Erdogan Comes to Washington: a Turkish Lesson in Democracy

Posted May 17, 2017 on 8:11 pm | In the category Erdogan, TRUMP, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Jeff

So President Erdogan came to visit his soulmate D. Trump and the meeting went without incident although Erdogan might have been a tad upset over Trump mistakenly demoting him to Foreign Minister in his remarks. But Erdogan made up for it by introducing his concept of free speech and democracy to Washington DC. Seems Erdogan brought some of his Turkish Storm Troopers with him and when Kurdish activists carried signs outside the Turkish embassy we got schooled in free speech Turkish style. In an incredibly ugly scene Turkish security staff attacked peaceful demonstrators AND DC police – all to protect the name of an Islamic thug who Trump fawned over hours before in the White House.

Two weeks in Turkey a couple of years ago instructed me in the dangers that Erdogan presented in Turkey – and by extension to NATO and the U.S as America tried to cooperate with the Turks in the fight against ISIS on Syria. But all is naught when your erstwhile ally turns out to be an arrogant, authoritarian, dictator with absolutely no commitment to human rights on the most basic level. Hate to say I told you so, but there it is in politicsandpress.com

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Trump and Erdogan: A Conspiracy of Bullies?

Posted May 15, 2017 on 2:04 pm | In the category Erdogan, Human Rights, TRUMP, Turkey, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Later this week President Donald Trump will meet with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in what could be an opportunity to examine policy differences in the two countries. But given Trump’s need for positive feedback means there is some likelihood for it to turn into a celebration of phony mutual respect.

Erdogan will no doubt question Trump about the U.S. decision to provide arms support to America’s Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria. Erdogan has clearly vocalized his displeasure, given Turkey’s long standing view that all Kurds are terrorists, based on a series of deadly bombings in Turkey by a radical Kurdish group within Turkey. This is a complicated issue but one in which each country’s view of its national interest inevitably lead to differences, which in this instance is complicated by Turkey’s important role in NATO.

An issue that resonates in the U.S. is Erdogan’s predilection for throwing anyone who disagrees with him into jail. This has included a large part of Turkey’s nominally free press, teachers, academics, judges, military officers, totaling an estimated 50,000 individuals. In addition over 120,000 public servants have been summarily fired. The fact that Trump’s DNA seems to harbor a deep authoritarian streak makes it likely that this will go unmentioned in their meeting- in fact Trump must be envious of Erdogan’s unrestrained power to imprison the press rather than merely crying “fake news” with every negative news report. In any case Erdogan’s disastrous human rights record in recent years offers an opportunity for Trump to take the high road – an unfamiliar route for him and one he is likely to avoid.

Erdogan also brings with him an historic hatred of a fellow Turk, Fehtullah Gulen, who is in self exile in Pennsylvania and who is, according to Erdogan, responsible for virtually everything that goes wrong in Turkey. Erdogan’s anger boiled over last summer after an attempted coup in Turkey for which Erdogan blamed Gulen. The Obama administration resisted Turkey’s calls for extradition of Gulen but the issue is likely to come up in this week’s meeting and Trump could choose to change that policy.

It is important to know that Trump’s erstwhile, very temporary, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, served as a paid advisor to the Turkish government last fall while advising Trump. Flynn met with Turkish officials and former CIA Director James Woolsey in September to discuss Gulen’s possible extradition. According to Woolsey in a Wall Street Journal piece, the Turkish Ministers in attendance (incl Erdogan’s son-in-law) suggested a clandestine operation that would amount to kidnapping Gulen and taking him back to Turkey. Woolsey reported that he reminded Flynn and the Turks that this was illegal and then had his staff inform Vice President Biden of the meeting. It is impossible to know what Trump knows about this incident but it is easy to remember that Flynn was a major advisor to his campaign, was considered as a running mate and that Trump left him in the position of National Security Advisor for over two weeks after Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed him of Flynn’s work with the Russians.

It seems likely that Trump will be told by staff to be careful dealing with Erdogan but Trump and Erdogan are in too many ways birds of a feather. Each desires authoritarian power, loathes the free press, questions the role of the courts and has a tenuous connection to the truth. If their meeting follows the pattern of past Trump meetings with foreign leaders, he will have made a tremendous new friend, they will share very great plans for the future and back in Pennsylvania, Fehtullah Gulen will be looking for a high powered immigration lawyer. Stay tuned.

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The Slow Death of Obamacare

Posted May 5, 2017 on 2:36 pm | In the category Healthcare, Politics, Press, Taxes, TRUMP, U.S. Domestic Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“Trumpcare isn’t a replacement of the Affordable Care Act. It’s a transfer from the sick and poor to the rich and healthy.” – Robert Reich

The near death of Obamacare, long prayed for by Tea Partiers and Republicans arrived yesterday in the House of Representatives, but once again a stupid, useless bill from the Paul Ryan Chamber of Horrors will most likely suffer a slow, painful, disappearance in the Senate. As for Potentate Trump – this victory will not satisfy him, because nothing really satisfies him other than a standing ovation, which he will not get for this atrocity.

The Republican members of the House of Representatives voted yesterday for a bill that will make health insurance too expensive for those with pre-existing conditions and others including those older Americans not yet on Medicare, while lying about the actualities of the bill. This is obviously a time for the American press to do its job. Report the facts and tell the truth.

The plan is a classic trump “deal”, promise and renege. Trump’s history of not paying for services is well known and well reported. Bankruptcies and simply refusing to pay for services rendered is the playbook of a petty crook and thug – well documented – joined in this instance by Paul Ryan in applying this tried and true Trumpian approach to scamming people – this time out of their health care. In joining forces with Trump, Ryan is learning from the master scammer. A recent obvious example is Trump University which had to pay out $25 Million to scammed students.  There is a useful and entertaining catalog of his scandals and scams in a recent issue of the  Atlantic, which can be found here.

Here is how this scam works – for those with pre-existing conditions – like cancer, diabetes, birth defects, (even pregnancy!) etc. , insurance companies no longer would have to accept them at normal insurance costs, but the federal government would provide some financial assistance to those states that develop high risk pools to help cover the costs associated with insuring these people. There is absolutely no question that the amount of money in the bill is inadequate to cover such costs but those mythical “moderate” Republicans felt they had sufficient cover to vote for it.

In Republican America that is all that is required – sufficient cover to allow a vote that is inexcusably dishonest and venal. And what are the chances of states like Kansas and Wisconsin providing that kind of support? How about zero.

It is no longer a reasonable expectation that Republican Representatives will vote on reason, facts or the good of the country. But as long as the Senate avoids drinking the Kool Aid it remains a meaningless vote. Ryan’s crew may think they have fulfilled their wildest dreams, might need to change their pajamas, and can go home to their districts and boast that they voted to screw several million people out of health insurance. Witness the bizarre, obscene celebration at the White House yesterday afternoon.

This really is a time for the press to step up and explain to their readers/listeners just what it all means: That the losers are: the poor, the middle class, the old, Planned Parenthood, state governments, hospitals, medical professionals, people with pre-existing conditions, and veterans.

The winners include: the rich, who get a nearly $600 billion tax break by reducing healthcare taxes that primarily affect the wealthiest 10%, insurance companies who can now charge 5X for premiums for older people, and of course, Congressmen/women, who are exempt from the rules of the bill. A good analysis of the financial aspects of the bill is provided by Robert Reich.

Pressure now lies on the Senate to prove that America has not gone totally insane. I’m not recommending anyone bet on that; save your money for your increased healthcare costs.

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A Warning From France

Posted April 26, 2017 on 9:50 am | In the category Election, Europe, Germany, Politics, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

The news from France this week was marginally positive with the caveat that a crypto-fascist did come in second and will be in the run-off for President. But for now it seems that the run of Crazy might be winding down after its success in the UK Brexit vote and the election of America’s Chief Clown. Since then the Netherlands has avoided electing neofascists and now France – in the first round of what is one of the West’s most significant electoral tests since the rise of Hitler – has apparently taken a first step towards political sanity. Recognizing that if Macron wins the presidency he will most likely not have a Parliament of his own party, which will likely return France to its tried and true politics of avoidance of real issues and solutions. So the relief may be temporary.

But perhaps the most interesting lesson of this election is that France’s traditional political parties failed to place a candidate in the runoff. And that was the preferred result with the other two major candidates representing, in one instance, the historic corruption of French politicians, and in the other, the amazing capacity for craziness of the French Left. Now it is up to Macron to maintain his lead over Le Pen in the runoff and bring some reassurance not only to France but to the entire EU by waging a serious, competent campaign.

For the U.S. the warning from France was another shot across the bow of our major political parties. It is a reiteration of the warning provided by Trump and another reminder of the failure of both parties to connect to the people with policies and programs that people could understand and respect. The fact that the Republican Party now controls the Congress AND the presidency is less a positive review of their policies than a bizarre accident of fate: long-time self-identified Democrat Donald Trump ran in the Republican primaries because he understood that the competition was composed of losers like Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, etc. It is instructive that the only traditional, mainstream Republican candidate was John Kasich and he never gained any traction.

The Democrats had Hillary Clinton whose campaign never articulated a serious and convincing reason for her candidacy. “It’s her turn” was simply not enough for the millions of people who have seen their quality of life dissipate, the unfairness of the American economy, and the quality of political discourse turn into people simply yelling at each other. It did not help that Clinton had enriched herself with Wall Street speeches and then run a campaign that cheated Bernie Sanders’ followers out of a fair shake. But her failure was a lack of recognition of the depth of anger and despair among a swath of non urban voters in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. While Clinton won the popular vote she lost where it mattered among voters who are simply pissed off. And the blame is not hers so much as the Party’s, which left a large part of its membership behind and never articulated a measure of progressive hope.

The lesson from France – and from the UK and the U.S. – is that there are a lot of people who are angry, who have been left behind, who believe they don’t matter, and who have understandably lost faith in their politicians and their political parties. And then there are the 50% who don’t even bother to vote. Easy to blame them but maybe they need to believe in something for which to vote.

The warnings have been made and it is time for political parties to move beyond serving the needs of their primary funders and candidates and on to the needs of the people they claim to represent.
France’s runoff election is on May 7, and will be followed later in the year by elections in Germany. We shall see what lessons come from those events.

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When is the next aircraft carrier coming?

Posted April 23, 2017 on 1:50 pm | In the category Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

April 12, 2018 – by direct presidential command: immediate change of course – the Carl Vinson to sail asap to the coast of North Korea.  Roger!  Okay and about time, the new US government under its new czar has taken its kid gloves off and displayed its cards with a flourish.  This time it’s the real deal – no more invisible and meaningless lines in the sand, this time they send in the marines, okay this time it will be a titanic aircraft carrier lurking off coast – the Carl Vinson -with an accompanying armada  of disposable destroyers, etc. to scare the  bejeezus out of the weird North Korean nuclear wannabees.

April 19  One thing:  Australian sources report a large armada of unidentified ships has been spotted sailing south towards Australian waters, and a US Navy press photo confirms that the Carl Vinson sailed through the Straight of Sunda between Java and Sumatra, 5000 kilometres south of North Korea on April 18.   Holy Moley.  Can it be that the US military doesn’t know where its various aircraft carriers are lurking.  Or that it doesn’t know where North Korea is?  Now that  scares the bejeezus out of everybody, not just the Australians

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WATERGATE REDUX

Posted April 6, 2017 on 10:00 am | In the category Press, Uncategorized | by Jeff

The NY Times reported yesterday that student journalists at Pittsburg, Kansas High School did a terrific job of investigative journalism for the High School’s newspaper, the Booster Redux. Seems the town of Pittsburg hired a new Principal for its High School and outlined her impressive credentials in introducing her to the town. Among her credentials: “diverse and extensive experience”, “chief executive of a consulting firm that advised companies on education”, and Master’s and PhD degrees in education from Corllins University as well as
a BA degree in Fine Arts from the University of Tulsa.

The student reporters set out to do a profile of their new Principal and the fun began. During a series of interviews the students began to suspect something was wrong when details in the interviews did not match her written record and led them to dig further. It turns out that the University of Tulsa does not award a BA in Fine Arts, Corllins University does not physically exist but will sell an advanced degree to all comers. Furthermore the Principal had been released from a teaching job in Dubai for unspecified reasons.

It is not surprising that a group of eager high school journalists could ferret out the information but it is somewhat surprising that the faculty advisor and Superintendent of Schools supported them and the process throughout, High school newspapers in America are frequently tightly controlled and censorship is common. But kudos to Pittsburg High School for providing an opportunity for their students to learn valuable lessons about the importance of a free press and how serious journalists can make a difference.

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LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS JOURNALISTS

Posted March 29, 2017 on 11:26 pm | In the category Politics, Press, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

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We are living at a time that might very well be when the American press discovers the way to overcome the nonsense and craziness that floods the internet and forces America to recognize that good journalism costs real money and requires real independence. The 2016 election illustrated what has happened with the turn away from paid news to free internet news – much of the latter turning out to have come to us via Russian and East European internet hacks aimed at the too susceptible Americans seeking easy negative answers and drinking the Kool Aid.

In 1973 I lived outside of Washington DC and worked in the city. It was a tedious bus ride made easier by the Washington Post and its daily dose of Watergate news. There is something about getting up in the morning to the news of the next step in the demise of a cheap, petty politician whose psychology placed him on the path to political demise that makes it easer to roll out of bed at 6 AM.

It was easy to despise Nixon for his shameless duplicity on Vietnam which had led to an additional 25000 American deaths along with literally countless deaths of Cambodians and Vietnamese in the name of my country. To see him go down was the pleasing result of the courage and commitment to truth of the mainstream American press. The fact that they let Henry Kissinger get away remains an unpleasant footnote but we took what we could get.

Now we have a similarly damaged president – psychologically unfit, intellectually deficient, and thoroughly dishonest – and the mainstream press is on the case. It is early to count on a particular ending but the signs are there. A Republican Congressman heading the Intelligence Committee and being slowly sucked into the morass of dishonesty that distinguishes a cover up of massive proportions. But there is a hope that we will see Trump get what he deserves – perhaps an early retirement, maybe even an impeachment, but minimally a recognition of what a waste he is as President. We shall see…

What many Americans have discovered is that there are serious journalists who work hard – with integrity – to bring to them the facts that add up to truth over time. So let’s recognize the work of the Washington Post, the New York Times, CBS News, even lately CNN, and those others who are out there giving us the raw data that wise people can use to understand what is being done to them under the guise of a phony American populism. These media outlets have each been criticized in tweets (tweets? Good God). Big American media does not typically pose a threat to power – but they did it in 1973 against a dishonest and mentally ill president and they are doing it again.

Trump has been critical of that part of the press that is doing its job and he has done everything he can to cow them. It is not working – he is being called on every falsehood, lie, fantasy that he calls up and it is the main stream, serious media that is doing it. As a newspaper junkie it is fun to watch it unfold and to put my money on the press to win this one as they did in 1973. It was essential for the truth to be told in 1973; it is as essential now when there are fantasists, crazy conspiracists and just plain liars out there trying to persuade us that facts don’t matter, that science is irrelevant, that kleptocracy is the way to go, that oligarchy is a good thing, that fascism is acceptable. Yes, a free press is our vaccination and our protection from the worst instincts of ourselves. Buy a newspaper.

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TRUMP IN CONTEXT

Posted March 10, 2017 on 5:24 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Politics, Press, TRUMP, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“Liberalism itself has failed, and for a pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represented it.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

So, is Donald Trump just the tip of the iceberg? Elections coming up in Europe might help tell us whether the age of Western liberal democracy is heading towards the exit.

While we rightly pay a lot of attention to the national disaster known as Trump it may be that he is only the first among many. The first clue that the West was heading into stormy weather was the UK’s Brexit vote – a vote that forced the Prime Minister out of office, replaced him with a pale imitation of Margaret Thatcher and has proven to be a first crack in the European Union. Then came Trump’s surprise win which has produced the beginnings of a major make-over of America’s economic and social reality, and not for the best.

But obsessing on Trump allows us to ignore a trend that has been developing for some time. Recent or upcoming elections in France, Hungary, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Poland have all indicated that Western liberalism is in decline. Poland now has a nationalist government with a shaky relationship to the EU; NATO member Turkey has effectively eliminated a free press while it heads toward a major policy conflict with the U.S. over Turkey’s unwillingness to accept American collaboration with Kurdish fighters in Syria; France is looking at a national election in which the National Front’s right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen is almost surely going to be one of the two finalists for President with a serious opportunity to win; The Netherlands’ parliamentary election this month is very possibly going to hand a victory to Geert Wilders’ extreme right-wing Freedom Party; and Hungary has already elected a Prime Minister who has turned the country against much of what have been Western values. Add to these, the strong arm tactics of Netanyahu in Israel, the rise of Russian influence in Serbia, and the rising risk to Merkel’s reign in Germany and we have the approach of a new world order.

There has been considerable press discussion of the role of Russia in all of this but the press might better put its efforts into exploring the failures of the West to develop and maintain working economies that provide jobs and benefits to restless, discouraged populations. There are exceptions – notably Germany and Canada – but by and large the West has produced an environment in which the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing, the opportunities for high quality lives have diminished for most people and economic growth is almost non-existent.

While Trump’s electoral victory no doubt hinged on many issues, in the states where it was decided, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin – the economy rose to the top. Whether Trump has the solution is highly questionable but a moot point. Probably he does not, but the Clinton campaign managed to largely ignore the issue and the people who felt it the most. This issue may also be playing out in France, the Netherlands, the UK and the rest of Western Europe. “It’s the economy, stupid” was the mantra that Bill Clinton ran on successfully in the 90’s; it may still reflect the dominant issue that affects the most people throughout the world and that determines the winners and losers of elections. So investment in defense grows while investment in production declines and the quality of the lives of the people our defenses protect remain in the background. Go figure.

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