IS THE AMERICAN PRESS UP TO THE CHALLENGE?

Posted January 28, 2017 on 7:11 pm | In the category Politics, Press, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

I take a grave view of the plight of the press. It is the weak slat under the bed of democracy.
A.J. Liebling

With the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President, the United States is now faced with the rather considerable task of making him appear to be the new normal. The press, in particular, will struggle with the task of being fair to him while not ignoring his past behaviors and the ongoing and emerging truths about his personal ethical background, business behaviors, and tendencies toward self-serving grandiose rhetoric in support of his own ego. And then, there are the lies. The traditional press tends to avoid calling politicians – especially presidents – liars but we seem to have entered a non traditional situation in which the President is not shading the facts but is rather ignoring them in order to manufacture new, “alternative facts”. This has led our two major newspapers – The NY Times and the Washington Post – to begin ongoing logs of Trump’s lies. There is no need to regurgitate the list of lies to date here – any sentient human can follow those in the daily press and even on major TV network news programs.

Of course there will always be outliers – Fox News, which is to be expected, and the NY Post which seems to be Trump’s personal choice as newspaper of record. And it has been disturbing to note the overly cautious approach of the PBS Newshour which so far has avoided calling out the Fabricator in Chief. But CNN has made an obvious commitment to fight back from Trump’s lies about its coverage of the U.S. intelligence agencies’ investigation of reports of Trump-Putin conspiracies. As for the Alt Right news outlets like Breitbart News, there is no reason to expect them to become honest now that their use of fake news has helped elect their man. And the White House news operation is for now led by Sean Spicer who almost immediately made a fool of himself while embarrassing an office that, under past Presidents has at least made a pretense of honesty and commitment to facts.

So, with a daily dose of bizarre tweets from Trump, a threat to close the White House to working press, a press spokesman committed to ignoring facts and manufacturing fantasies designed to protect his boss, a freeze on information flow from government agencies, a cast of lieutenants organized purposely to mislead and a public not always inclined to do the work of separating fact from fiction, the press has a major challenge.

If the past can be trusted as a clue to the future we can expect the Washington Post to continue to provide leadership in providing tough, fact-based journalism that has been their hallmark during the campaign. The NY Times can be predicted to be tough but possibly somewhat less inclined to do the kind of hard reporting that has characterized the Post under Managing Editor Marty Baron. Several other papers can be counted on for solid work, among them the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and the McCatchy papers.

Editorials and op ed pieces will continue to cover a range of opinion which is appropriate. But it is up to the reader(s) to assess these pieces with an eye to the background of the authors. For an obvious example, if Newt Gingrich offers his wisdom it is safe to assume that it will be self-serving, pompous blather. We are all left with the need to remember, “reader beware” and to actually think about what it is we are reading, from whence it comes and whether it has a basis in fact. This is not always easy, but newspapers have a record and while all have made mistakes in the past (see Judith Miller on Iraq War in the Times) all have an historic record that provides a basis on which to form a judgment. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for one scary ride.

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The World According to Trump

Posted December 10, 2016 on 8:15 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iran, NATO, Russia, TRUMP, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

If the President elect of the U.S. has a world view it is a mystery. Similarly, if he has a strategic foreign policy strategy for the U.S. it too is a mystery. But there are clues that lead to thoughts of possible threats to world stability and, by extension, to American security.

Trump’s recent break from U.S.-China policy by accepting a call from the President of Taiwan was initially presented by much of the press as a faux pas. It was subsequently presented by the Trump camp as a clever, thought-out strategy to put pressure on China to bend to the will of the President elect. This theory is as realistic as his plan to have Mexico pay for America’s Great Wall. U.S. policy toward China was transformed in the Nixon years and clearly both countries have benefited from what was seen then as a seismic shift. Trump risks changing the nature of the relationship at a time when the U.S. has been focusing on developing stronger economic ties throughout Asia – the continent with the fastest growing economy.

During his campaign, Trump provided his view that NATO had become a too costly commitment for the U.S. and one that was unnecessarily confrontational to Russia. He has threatened to weaken America’s commitment to the NATO treaty that has served American and European vital interests for over 50 years, unless the European members step up their financial stake in NATO. While there may be a reasonable argument that Europe has not shouldered its share of the costs, (arguably true for some countries, not so for others) reducing America’s commitment to NATO would give a message to Russia that an invasion of the Baltic states could be a risk worth taking. As it did when invading Eastern Ukraine, Russia could argue that they are assisting ethnic Russians gain their freedom. It is curious that Turkey’s President Erdogan is the one NATO leader that Trump has reached out to with praise. He is the one NATO leader who is turning his country into a near dictatorship, with thousands summarily jailed, including hundreds of journalists who have been critical of him.

Trump has been highly critical of the Iran nuclear deal which has been supported by the members of the UN Security Council (incl. Russia and China), as well as America’s European allies. In criticizing the agreement Trump joins Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, several Republican Senators, right wing ideologues like John Bolton, and several major funders of GOP candidates, notably casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. While Trump has said he would walk away from the deal it is easier said than done, since our European allies and other treaty signatories would refuse to follow suit and American economic interests would likely suffer as other countries’ businesses take advantage of the U.S. reneging on the deal.

Trump has reached out with praise to the new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who has become a human rights nightmare as he exhorts his countrymen to summarily execute anyone in the country suspected of being involved in drugs. This has led to thousands of killings – many simply murders – with no reference to a system of justice. In this case Trump is making a mockery of the U.S.’s historic commitment to human rights and systems of law. His behavior shrinks our stance in the world and begins to provide a nasty model for the application of quasi fascist behavior. See this NY Times piece for a taste of Duterte’s world:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/07/world/asia/rodrigo-duterte-philippines-drugs-killings.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

Trump has not said much about Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East in general other than to criticize Obama for failing in everything he has done in that part of the world and claiming that he will defeat ISIS almost as soon as he is in office. The decisions his administration make in that region will affect millions long into the future and we are largely left to guess as to what he would actually do.

Trump has made it clear that he believes he has a special relationship with Russian President Putin and indeed he may. They share a capacity for bullying, a disregard for human rights, a sensitivity to criticism, a willingness to harass the press (in Putin’s case including murder and imprisonment) and an attraction to kleptocracy. He does not seem to worry about what Putin has done in the world – e.g. Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya, etc. – and has been eager and able to participate in the Russian economy, an economy that could teach Wall Street a thing or two about cronyism.

There is currently much talk of giving Trump a chance before judging him. Since he was elected we have no choice but to give him his chance, but judging can begin anon. Look at his appointments, listen to his words, read his tweets and form a judgment. If he fools us and turns out to be realistic, thoughtful and intelligent then we can adapt our judgment. Looking at his appointments to date, his short list for Secretary of State, and his statements during and after the campaign, it seems unlikely we will find that necessary.

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