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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