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“A Chill Wind Blows”: Something More Dangerous Than An Ideological Animosity Toward The Press

Donald Trump, a man who tosses the truth around with the callous disdain of a spoiled child with a toy he has outgrown, has spent much of his campaign calling the media dishonest, even though his manipulation of the media is the only reason he’s the last Republican standing.

He seems to view any unflattering, or otherwise critical, coverage as an attack. His rhetoric suggests that in his mind, adulation is the only honesty.

Such is his wont. And no Republican in a party that continues to veer dangerously toward fact-hostile absolutism has ever lost points with his base by calling the media biased against him.

But there is a strand of these comments and behavior that heralds something more dangerous than an ideological animosity toward the press. Trump keeps signaling that if he had his druthers, he would silence dissent altogether.

At a spectacle of a news conference on Tuesday, Trump laid into reporters for asking simple accountability questions about funds going to charity groups. He even called one reporter a “sleaze” and complained that coverage of his donations to the groups “make me look very bad.”

This isn’t the first time he has used base language to attack reporters with whom he disagreed or was annoyed. The New York Times has collected a comprehensive list of his Twitter insults (often waged against journalists), which simply boggles the mind. (I am among those he has accused of “dishonest reporting.”)

But even that isn’t what’s most troubling. What’s troubling is that under a Trump administration, the First Amendment itself — either in spirit or in law, or both — could be severely weakened. What we have to worry about is a chill wind blowing from the White House.

This is no small thing. Our constitutionally protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press are pillars that make this country great, and different.

Not only did Trump say Tuesday that if he became president he was going to “continue to attack the press,” but in February, he said:

One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.

Exceptions for falsehoods are already part of our libel jurisprudence, but the worrisome nature of that comment lies in its vagueness. What does “open up our libel laws” mean? Is he equating “purposely negative” and “horrible” — both subjective determinations — with “false”?

These principles of free press and free speech, which are almost as old as the country itself, are not things to be tinkered with on the whim of a thin-skinned man who has said flattering things about dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, ruler of a country that the press watchdog group Freedom House calls “one of the most repressive media environments in the world,” where “listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications are considered ‘crimes against the state’ that carry serious punishments, including hard labor, prison sentences, and the death penalty.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that this week Time magazine reported that “a North Korean state media outlet has praised Donald Trump as a ‘wise politician’ and ‘farsighted candidate’ who can reunify the Korean Peninsula.”

Trump’s dictatorial instinct to suppress what he deems “negative” speech, particularly from the press, is the very thing the founders worried about.

In 1737, more than 50 years before the Constitution was adopted, signed and ratified — before the First Amendment was adopted — Benjamin Franklin wrote in The Pennsylvania Gazette:

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”

Our unfettered freedom to interrogate and criticize our government and our leaders are part of our patriotism and an expression of our national fealty.

James Baldwin put it this way: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

And that extends to the country’s politicians.

This idea is so much bigger than Trump, a small man of small thought who is at war with scrutiny.

Freedom of speech and the press are principles that we must protect from this wannabe authoritarian.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 2, 2016

June 6, 2016 Posted by | 1st Amendment, Donald Trump, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trump’s Big, New, Stalinesque Idea”: A Concept With A Dark And Profoundly Un-American History

In a season full of comments we never thought we’d hear during a modern American presidential campaign, this one, spoken at the debate Tuesday night by of course Donald Trump, is arguably the most shocking: “I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

It’s not the first time Trump has said it, but it hasn’t gotten the focus it deserves. This idea of punishing or somehow threatening the family members of criminals has a name. It’s called collective punishment. And it has a history, which as you’d imagine is not pretty—think, oh, Stalin, for starters. And finally it has a status in international law. Under the Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime.

Collective punishment can take and has taken different forms. It doesn’t have to mean family members. In many cases it has meant the relocation/eradication of entire villages in response to rebellious or perceived treasonous acts by a few. It might also mean a kind of generalized and indiscriminate violence visited upon a population. Scholars debate, but surely Southerners would all agree, that William Tecumseh Sherman engaged in collective punishment during his infamous March to the Sea. You know, the one through that state, Georgia, where in the latest poll Trump holds a 27-point lead.

But in many cases, it does refer to families. Trump’s antecedents here are chilling. The Nazis used collective punishment against Poles and others who harbored Jews. The website of Yad Vashem tells the horrifying story of the Ulma family, who hid a Jewish family on their farm in 1942. They got ratted out, and the entire family, including six living children and one more in utero, was shot.

But Stalin was the master of collective punishment. It was for a time against the law in the USSR to be a family member of a counter-revolutionary or obscurantist or what have you. Stalin said in November 1937: “And we will eliminate every such enemy… we will eliminate his entire lineage, his family! Here’s to the final extermination of all enemies, both themselves and their clan.”

In our own time, Israel is practicing a form of collective punishment every time it blows up the home, often in occupied East Jerusalem, of the family of a suspected terrorist or even in some cases a teenager who got caught throwing some stones at the military. North Korea has been known to imprison the family members of dissidents.

This behavior is covered in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which reads in its entirety: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

The definition of “protected persons” is a little complicated, and you can read it here, but it includes both citizens of a given country (“nationals”) and non-nationals who find themselves in the hands of a hostile power, which President Trump’s America would surely be to Muslim non-citizens, morally if not always legally.

So now comes the question: What does Trump mean by “very tough”? He probably won’t say. Let’s grant that he doesn’t mean execution. He’s not that crazy. In his mind, he might “just” mean detaining family members, putting the screws to them, seeing what they know. Obviously, under any number of circumstances, interrogation of family members of those who commit crimes is reasonable. It happens every day, hundreds of times across the country.

But Trump sounds like he’s talking about more than that. The way he appears to think about these things, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched to imagine that he might envision, say, detaining the family of someone who commits a future terrorist act. You know, just to teach the others a lesson.

A Trump administration could probably find some antique (or not) federal law under which to do such a thing, and then fight the inevitable court challenges and see what happens. And if such a case landed before the right kind of Federal Society judge, well, it seems unlikely that any American federal judge could possibly justify such a thing, but in a country that actually elected Donald Trump president, who knows? And would the GOP really object? After all, we already have the precedent of Republican officials from John Yoo to Dick Cheney telling us that we don’t have to bother with all that Geneva twaddle.

It’s yet another new Trump low, and it raises the specter of a lawless government ditching norms that we’ve (mostly) stood by for decades. And if we ditch them, look out, because others will too. One doubts we will, but the mere fact that the front-runner for the Republican nomination is putting this stuff into the national discourse is horrible enough. And good God, what’s coming next week?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 17, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Geneva Conventions, Joseph Stalin, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If Cheney Wants A Conversation About Iran…”: He Needs To Appreciate The Role He Played In Creating This Mess

Even most Republicans will concede that the GOP campaign to derail the international nuclear agreement with Iran is going poorly, and barring any major developments, the diplomatic deal will move forward over the objections of far-right lawmakers.

But Politico reports that one die-hard critic still has something to say.

Dick Cheney will speak out against the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran during a speech next month at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. […]

Cheney will speak on Sept. 8 – just a week ahead of the Sept. 17 deadline for Congress to vote on the deal’s authorization.

The White House hasn’t officially said anything in response, but I have to assume officials in the West Wing are delighted to see the failed former V.P. take the lead in condemning the agreement. It makes it that much easier to deliver a simple message to congressional Democrats: when it comes to national security in the Middle East, and the prospect of yet another war, do you want to partner with Dick Cheney or with President Obama?

But even putting all of the political wrangling aside, what the former vice president just doesn’t seem to appreciate is the role he played in creating the mess that the president is cleaning up.

Revisiting our discussion from several weeks ago, let’s not forget that Iran didn’t have a meaningful nuclear weapons program until Tehran developed one – during the Bush/Cheney administration. It was on Cheney’s watch that Iran’s total number of centrifuges grew from 164 to 8,000.

What kind of price did Iran pay for taking these provocative steps? Actually, Cheney didn’t do anything – he was busy watching his Iraq policy destabilize the entire region while allowing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program to expand without any pushback from Cheney’s administration.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an aggressive hawk and no ally of Democrats, conceded not too long ago, “I think the Bush administration, they were a miserable failure when it came to controlling Iran’s nuclear ambition.”

I suppose it’s possible that Cheney has scheduled his AEI speech to deliver a public apology and acknowledge the ineptitude of his approach. But I have a hunch that isn’t what he has in mind.

About a year ago, Cheney appeared on a Sunday show and was asked about his stunning failures while in office. “If we spend our time debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago, we’re going to miss the threat that is growing and that we do face,” he replied.

In other words, the failed former V.P. can’t be bothered to defend his own record – probably because it’s indefensible. The fact remains, however, that Cheney stood by and watched as Iran’s nuclear program expanded, and it’s President Obama who didn’t just talk about addressing the problem; he’s actually doing it.

The less Cheney has to say on the subject, the better.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 24, 2015

August 25, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Dick Cheney, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Hey, GOP: Give Peace With Iran A Chance”: There’s No Reason To Listen To The Warmongers Who Always Get This Stuff Wrong

I’m not an expert on these things, so I don’t know what I think of the Iran deal yet. Some people I know who are certainly pro-deal and know something about all this found the agreed-upon framework to be more detailed than they expected, so that’s good. But there are many more details to be worked out and many rivers to cross.

But you know who else I bet isn’t an expert on these matters? Scott Walker. And I’d invite the Wisconsin governor to join me in withholding judgment until we’ve had the chance to study the fine print and ask experts what it all might mean, but I suspect that would be pretty futile. Greg Sargent on Thursday afternoon picked up on  a revealing comment Walker made to, who else, a right-wing talk radio host. The host, Charlie Sykes, actually asked Walker a skeptical question. They get so discombobulated when someone who’s supposed to be on the team asks a real question. And look at what Walker said:

SYKES: You have said that you would cancel any Iranian deal the Obama administration makes. Now would you cancel that even if our trading partners did not want to reimpose the sanctions?

WALKER: Absolutely. If I ultimately choose to run, and if I’m honored to be elected by the people of this country, I will pull back on that on January 20, 2017, because the last thing—not just for the region but for this world—we need is a nuclear-armed Iran.

By “our trading partners,” Sykes means chiefly England, France, and Germany—the other countries (along with Russia and China) involved in the Switzerland negotiations. This is a major point of disagreement between liberals and conservatives, because conservatives say that we should have walked away from the Lausanne table and regrouped with our trading partners and imposed even tougher sanctions to bring Iran more quickly to its knees. Liberals contend, as President Obama did during his Rose Garden announcement of the deal, that these partners don’t want to maintain sanctions, and that if we’d walked away, it would have been the sanctions regime that that would have cracked, not Iran.

So Sykes was saying here to Walker: If the sanctions collapse, which will leave Iran on stronger economic footing and take out of our hands the one club over them we have—even at the risk of that happening, you’d cancel a deal? And Walker said yes. Not “depends on the deal.” Just “absolutely.”

The man is not in the realm of evidence here. He is in the realm of dogma, and dogma is all we’re going to get from these people. As I’m writing these words, we have yet to see the statements from most of the GOP presidential contenders, but gaming out what they’re going to say is hardly history’s greatest guessing game. Marco Rubio did come out of the gate pretty fast with a statement whose money line referred to “this attempt to spin diplomatic failure as a success.” You remember him: the same Rubio who doesn’t know that Iran and ISIS are enemies.

I once thought there would be a chance that Rand Paul might say something more interesting. He’s “dark,” his press office says, until after Easter, so we’re apparently not getting anything out of him now. But no matter. Whatever his past interesting heterodoxies on foreign policy, he now knows he just has to bash Obama and say what the rest of them are saying, and so in all likelihood he will.

Thus, one interesting question for the coming weeks: Will there be one Republican, just one, either among the candidates or in the Congress, who will actually step forward to say something like, “You know, now that I’ve read this and talked to experts, I’ve concluded that it’s worth giving this a shot?” One? You probably laughed at the naiveté of the question. I admit it does sound naive, but this shouldn’t allow us to lose sight of the fact that it’s tragic that things have come to this point, that we simply accept in such a ho-hum way that the Republicans are going to oppose anything with Obama’s name on it, not just when it comes to tax policy and such, but matters of war and peace.

This seems a most apt time to remember some aspects of the neoconservative track record that they’d rather the rest of us forget. North Korea is one, remember that one? The Hermit Kingdom started working on a nuclear program in earnest in the 1980s. In 1993, the North Koreans threatened to withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty. Diplomacy then commenced under Bill Clinton, leading to the 1994 Agreed Framework. The Framework had a checkered history—mostly because (cough cough) hardliners in Congress repeatedly refused to let the United States live up to its side of the agreement—but the long and short of it was that in the 1990s, North Korea didn’t aggressively pursue a nuclearization program.

Then came the neocons, and Dubya, and the axis of evil business, and soon enough North Korea was enriching uranium like there was no tomorrow. Remember the test bombs it was launching about a decade ago out toward Japan? All that started because Pyongyang took Bush at his belligerent word. Today it’s estimated that North Korea has enough separated plutonium for six to eight bombs. We rattle our saber, it makes smaller countries want to go nuclear. It’s really not very complicated.

Far from weakening North Korea, the neocon posture strengthened it. And speaking of strengthening, what about Iran? It’s the neocons’ war in Iraq that gave Iraq to Iran. They strengthened Iran. And if they get their way they’re going to do it again, if and when they manage to kill this deal and then Iran says OK, the hell with you, we’re building the bomb as fast as we can.

I’m not all yippee, Nobel Peace Prize for Kerry about this deal. I expressed my reservations the other day, and they remain. The administration deserves credit on one level just for getting this far—negotiations like these are amazingly hard. But we’re still only across midfield here.

Even so, if it’s hard to decide what precisely to be for, it’s laughably easy to figure out what to be against: reflexive and dogmatic opposition undertaken for the purposes of making sure you get your anti-Obama ticket stamped that will hasten the day either that a) Iran gets the bomb or b) we start a war to prevent that. Maybe it’s a little cliched to say give peace a chance, but thanks to the neoconservatives, we’ve given war plenty of chance, and all it’s done is strengthened Tehran and given us ISIS. Will these people ever look in the mirror?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 3, 2015

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Iran, Neo-Cons, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The ‘Obama Refuses To Lead’ Crowd Falls Silent”: It’s Striking To Realize What The President Has Done Just Since The Midterms

Kevin Drum pauses today to take stock of the recent actions from President Lame Duck.

So how have things been going for our bored, exhausted, and disengaged president? He’s been acting pretty enthusiastic, energized, and absorbed with his job, I’d say.

It’s funny, in a way, to think about how long ago the midterm elections seem. Seven weeks ago, President Obama was apparently supposed to be a defeated man, crushed by an electoral rebuke, pushed into irrelevancy by an ascendant far-right majority in Congress. It was up to the White House, the Beltway said, to start looking for new ways to make Republicans happy.

There’s a script that lame-duck presidents are supposed to follow, and gosh darn it, Obama would be expected to play by the rules, slipping further and further out of frame.

But given today’s developments, it’s striking to realize what the president has done over the 58 days since the midterms.

Obviously, there’s today’s historic announcement about U.S. policy towards Cuba. There’s also Obama’s breakthrough climate agreement with China, the successful secret mission that freed American prisoners in North Korea, and the sharp reduction of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

And that’s just foreign policy. Closer to home, the president has unveiled a major new immigration policy that will bring new hope to 5 million immigrants; he’s taken the lead on net neutrality; and he’s scored a series of confirmation victories in the closing days of the Senate.

All of this comes against the backdrop of an improving job market, a highly successful ACA open-enrollment period, falling gas prices, a Russian crisis that arguably benefits the United States, and the number of Ebola cases in the United States falling to zero.

The White House’s many critics don’t want to hear this, but if Obama were a Republican, it’s likely we’d be inundated with coverage about how “President Comeback just got his mojo back.”

Indeed, I continue to think about Dana Milbank’s column from two weeks ago today.

…Obama has demonstrated a preference to mull rather than to act. Former Obama Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, in his memoir, wrote that Obama too often “relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.”

Today’s historic agreement with Cuba belies such criticism – plenty of presidents have talked about a more sensible course on Cuba, but this president actually did something about it. This required some bold leadership and a willingness to take a risk on a contentious issue, and Obama delivered.

To be sure, we can and should argue about the merits of the president’s decisions. Maybe this dramatic foreign policy shift is a major step forward, maybe not.  Perhaps Obama’s post-midterm moves will advance the nation’s interests, perhaps not.

But the point is, for all the chatter about a disengaged president who’s reluctant to act, the last seven weeks prove those assumptions wrong. Obama has clearly taken charge, pursuing an ambitious agenda with striking vigor.

Every pundit who carelessly throws around the “why won’t Obama lead more?” cliches clearly needs to rethink the thesis.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 17, 2014

December 18, 2014 Posted by | Midterm Elections, President Obama | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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