Spin up a nice social hurricane by internationalizing a civil war. As the wind rises, chaos ensues, leading to desperation, anger…and extremism, requiring more war, and so the machine cycles around, and the faster it spins, the more money flies off.
No excuse exists for a unilateral Presidential decision to launch a military attack on another country that is neither posing a direct and imminent security threat to the U.S. nor even posing such a threat to any other identifiable entity. If the White House had time to notify Moscow, it had time to request legal authorization from Congress. War is not the President’s private affair. No member of Congress has any business leaving town this weekend: it is time for Congress to take a stand on the U.S. wars in Syria and Yemen…or is it just a “fake legislature?”
When it comes to the proper, indeed–for liberty, essential relationship of citizens, watchdog groups, academia, and the media with government officials, the rule must be: “Criticism: yes; suppression: no.”
Liberty rests on the right to express opinions. Citizens, politicians, media are free to criticize. Indeed, when it comes to the behavior of politicians, the prime responsibility of the media is to criticize. The first weapon of a dictator is repression of the media, for even before the Strong Arm of the Law can be twisted by a dictator into a weapon against the people, the aspiring dictator must shape public opinion. And that is precisely why suppression of the media by politicians is the worst threat to our freedom, with the suppression of the voicing of political opinions by citizens a close second.
Anyway, is there anything more pathetic than a dictator who threatens citizens for “failing to show respect,” for hurting his feelings?
So, criticism: yes; suppression: no. Any politician who feels he or she has been misrepresented is, under our system of government, more than welcome to explain his or her behavior; indeed, we demand explanation. All are free to express opinions. [Making incorrect factual statements is a distinct issue; this discussion concerns the expression of opinions.] A citizen may criticize any official; a professional media representative is obligated to do so. Investigating malfeasance by officials is the primary duty of the media because trusting officials to be transparent both puts those officials in an intolerable position of moral hazard and effectively compels them to violate the 5th Amendment.
One caveat is important: a distinction needs to be made between freedom of speech of individuals representing themselves simply as citizens and freedom of speech of individuals representing and thus employing the power or prestige of an institution. If it is irresponsible (and punishable in court) for a citizen to yell fire in a crowded theater, it is all the more irresponsible for a policeman to do so. If it is irresponsible and perhaps criminally punishable for a citizen to make racist remarks or tell a lie, it is all the more reprehensible for a government official to do so. Acceptance of a position of power in a democracy confers the duty to behave responsibly. The more powerful an official, the greater the need for media exposure of that official’s behavior. By the same token, the more powerful an official, the more judiciously should an official choose his or her words. The standard of acceptable speech should be far stricter for a powerful official, capable by mere words of provoking hate crimes or inflaming the mob into demanding a war of aggression or frightening an adversary into launching a war, than for the average citizen.
Politicians unwilling to tolerate criticism should find alternative employment. A politician who responds to criticism with threats or insults directed at the individual (rather than explanations for the public) opens himself or herself to the perfectly logical charge that something is being shoved under the carpet. Putin’s arrest of demonstrators voicing their opposition to him and Erdogan’s immediate repression of Kurdish media outlets in reaction to the Kurdish party’s electoral victory may be the two most blatant current examples of this time-worn pattern signaling the rise of a dictator, but every citizen of every country, no matter how “free” or “democratic” or “stable,” must stand constantly on guard against politicians who attack freedom of expression. The one thing no emperor can tolerate is being told he is not wearing any clothes.
The bumbling ineptitude and penchant for cheap political trickery of the GOP health care debacle revealed for those who had not already realized it the spiteful, anti-social, racist contempt of GOP politicians for the American people: punish kids, punish the poor, punish the elderly, punish the very unemployed white male manual workers who elected them in their unseemly rush to condemn what our first black President accomplished. It’s not the uneducated white workers so much as their elected representatives in Congress who are the true deplorables…and now even those who voted for them know it.
Will the lesson stick?
No matter, perhaps. Tax policy is next, and Trump voters will now almost certainly be offered by their elected representatives of the GOP yet another lesson in being served (on a silver platter) by their very own GOP (to the hungry rich). Am I taking any risk whatsoever in predicting that Trump and the GOP will now proceed to offer a bill cutting taxes (for billionaires) while raising taxes for the much scorned bottom 90%?
Note to Democrats: Don’t cheer too loudly; Obamacare, crafted hand-in-hand with Big Pharma, is in truth chock full’o garbage. Time for progressives to step up with a couple clear health care proposals to move things forward.
By attacking Assad’s Russian-guarded territory and then publicly asserting the right and intent to continue doing so as needed to prevent Hezbollah/Lebanon from acquiring arms Israel does not want them to have, Israel has launched an embarrassing challenge to Russia, effectively telling the world that, Putin’s year-long military intervention in the Mideast notwithstanding, it is Israel rather than Russia that stands supreme as military arbiter of the Mideast.
Observers can only wonder if, during Netanyahu’s recent visit, Putin truly offered him permission to attack Russia’s allies at will and subsequently brag about it…and what Putin imagines he will receive in return. Israeli media hypothesized that indeed Putin may have made such a concession:
Friday’s strikes resemble closely the pattern of the attack in December 2015 on a Damascus suburb in which nine operatives working for Iran were killed, including Samir Kuntar, the murderer of an Israeli family who had been released by Israel in a prisoner exchange in 2008 and was believed to be planning new cross-border raids. That strike took place just three days after Netanyahu and Putin had spoken by telephone and was the first to be carried out after Russia had placed an air-defense shield over large areas of Syria, including its capital.
It was unlikely then, back in December 2015 and on Friday, that Israel would have attacked in Syria, within Russia’s zone of operations, if it thought the Kremlin would react with anger. [Haaretz 3/19/17.]
Whatever Putin conceded in private, he no longer looks like the leader of a rising superpower.
As for Netanyahu, he risks much so publicly making a fool out of Putin. One may fairly question the likelihood that Putin will be content to enjoy the pleasures of managing the Mideast in practice if he must appear to be kowtowing to the likes of PM/FM Netanyahu and DM Lieberman.
Yet, there is thought behind the risk. What Netanyahu and Co. stand to gain from exposing the real value of Russian protection for Israel’s Shi’i adversaries goes far beyond a few weapons for Hezbollah. If Russia can only protect its allies to the degree permitted by Netanyahu, both Syria and Iran will have fundamental cause to reconsider their alliance with Russia.
Russia’s RT news station quoted the Israeli Defense Minister’s blunt warning that “Israel’s security is above everything else; there will be no compromise.”
Lieberman left no room for consideration of the security of Russia’s allies. Will Putin trade his Shi’i crescent alliance cutting across the center of the Mideast for an alliance with the increasingly right-wing Israel? With Israel demanding the freedom to defy Russian interests, it is not clear how Russia would benefit from such a deal. With his Syrian military bases in operation and his plan to split Turkey from NATO progressing smoothly, is Putin now trying to hijack a certain unsinkable aircraft carrier?
With Trump proclaiming his desire to improve relations with Russia, why would any member of his Administration try to hide contacts with Russian diplomats? Why are they not bragging about avoiding a new Cold War? Politicians win by doing things; why are these politicians trying so hard to cover up what they have been doing with Russia?
Much could be criticized about bias in the reporting of the mainstream U.S. media–its sensationalism, traditional political bias (either pro-Administration or anti-Administration, as the case may be), its superficiality, its shortsightedness, and its constant effort to whitewash American sins. Nonetheless, the efforts of politicians to avoid transparency constitute a far greater threat to the freedom of Americans. In arguments over bias in the behavior of the media, the broader context of the efforts of politicians to classify information to avoid personal embarrassment rather than to prevent the country’s enemies from gaining access should always be the primary consideration. The American public has little leverage over corrupt officials without the constant probing of a free media.
Now, consider the theoretical situation of the appearance of fraud linked to a powerful foreign government by a presidential appointee. Add the failure of the appointee to respond to a written request by multiple U.S. senators to provide information concerning said case, giving the appearance that the appointee is trying to cover it up until after Senate confirmation of his appointment. A troubling media report is followed by a formal request by Congressmen for an explanation, leading to…silence.
At this point, the issue of media behavior becomes simply irrelevant: when the very behavior of the official or appointee criticized by the media appears to confirm the media’s accusations of impropriety, then the only issue of concern is the appearance of an effort to cover up improper behavior by the appointee. The crucial requirement for the healthy functioning of the democratic system and for the integrity of the administration is to achieve full transparency before any other related actions, e.g., the Senate confirmation vote, take place. Anything less creates an appearance, a presumption of guilt. A government body responsible for determining the suitability of an appointee that does not investigate such an appearance is flouting its responsibility to the American people. The media cannot fairly be accused of bias when the absence of transparency by officials obstructs the media’s duty to investigate the government.
Responsible officials in a democracy understand that their first duty is to defend the system. Choosing among the infinite array of possible policies is secondary.
Militant to a fault and most willing to offer America’s soldiers for the defense of such foreigners as least deserved their help, exposed by the heat of campaign as not really up to being President, this poor conservative who could not tell a Sunni from a Shi’i but thought he could decide who America’s friends were, suddenly—in a bizarre twist of fate— found his calling defending not some pseudo-ally with America’s armed might but true, liberal, Madisonian, Jeffersonian American values with his voice and his courage. Who could have imagined that it would be a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who would become the champion of such liberal values as freedom of speech and freedom of the press? Who could have imagined that the Chairman, or indeed any chairman of an armed services committee, would turn out to be the one, single senator capable of teaching Americans about how a politician on the make can become a dictator and overthrow American democracy?
If the destruction of the fourth estate—a press free to criticize power, to expose the nakedness of the emperor—is not, as the Chairman stated, the first step toward dictatorship, then it is certainly one of the first four steps, the other three being setting up a minority as scapegoat, endlessly repeating the Big Lie, and undermining the independence of the judiciary…and these other three steps have of course already most firmly been taken. Perhaps only one further step exists in the basic recipe for establishing a dictatorship: starting a war.
It does not matter whether a politician establishes a precedent intentionally; it does not matter whether a politician takes advantage of the precedent. Precedents do not die by themselves: they sit silently on the shelf, loaded guns for anyone to grab and fire without having to justify themselves (“why not? Joe did it!”). That is why they are called “precedents.” The precedents of attacking the judiciary as an institution independent of Presidential desires, of attacking the right and duty of the media to criticize power and expose its limitations, of making scapegoats out of innocent minority groups are vastly more important than any particular policy of the day. Whatever the intentions of the Administration, its actions in one short month constitute a text-book example of how to turn a democracy into a dictatorship and thus establish an incredibly dangerous precedent that must be denounced and rejected in the clearest possible terms. Otherwise, someday, someone will seize this poisoned precedent and use it for nefarious purposes.
To make the above point crystal clear, the structure of the house of democracy rests upon a number of pillars, of which four of the most important are: an independent media; an independent judiciary; a constrained president; and respect for groups (racial, sexual, political, age, educational level, political perspective). Senator McCain stands out among GOP leaders for the clarity of his defense of these pillars of democracy, in contrast to the many who, for superficial reasons of particular policy preferences, profess to be satisfied with the current oppressive atmosphere of hostility toward this or that group, this or that profession, this or that sex, this or that branch of government.
So, whatever one may think of Senator McCain’s long career, whether or not one may think that his survival of POW camp entitles him to be called a “hero,” his defense this week of his own party’s negligent, if not hostile, attitude toward the independence of the media entitles him to be considered a true hero.
Some people tell outrageous lies to awaken people. Senator Al Franken likes to state the truth, truth that everyone knows but no one is willing to admit, to awaken people.
Sen. Al Franken said Sunday President Donald Trump’s references to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” are “racist.”
His comments came after Trump reportedly attacked Warren in a closed-door meeting with several senators, telling the Democrats who attended that “Pocahontas is now the face of your party.” [CNN.]
The interesting question about the Pocahontas remark is not whether or not it is racist to sneer at the opposition political party for having a leader with non-white DNA in her blood but why Trump is apparently so profoundly worried over the rising prominence of Senator Warren. Yes, Warren’s thoughtful remarks on the reliability of the U.S. financial system, the protection of consumers, and the need for an attorney general of the U.S. who will defend the civil liberties of all Americans are a fresh breeze in the partisan heat of Washington’s endless self-serving propaganda, but after all, Trump just won! He is President. Warren, on the other hand, is just one of the senators of the defeated party and not even (so far) the Senate minority leader. Yet the honor of special treatment is now almost daily being bestowed upon her by one top Republican after another.
The important point here, it seems to me, is not even that Republican leaders seem so overawed by the calm, thoughtful, and cerebral demeanor of the senior senator from Massachusetts, but that they spend their time attacking her, personally, as opposed to talking about the fundamental societal concerns that she keeps perversely insisting upon discussing. Have we heard a GOP leader state that quoting the wife of Dr. King is unacceptable? Have we heard a GOP leader state that Wall St. financial corruption is good for America? Have we heard a GOP leader state that the way to “make America great again” is to grant a free hand to corporations to cheat American consumers? Nope, afraid not; the GOP wants to interrupt her, shut her up, and make crude remarks about…her DNA?!?
For those Americans who have never had the privilege of serving in Washington, it is perhaps worth pointing out that in Washington’s particular culture, when you have no answer to counter an opponent’s point, it is customary to slap them down with an irrelevant insult.
Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Policy Concerns:
Democracy thrives to the degree that the society adopting that system of government is made up of individuals who treat each other with respect. Without the voluntary agreement of the members of the population to treat each other with respect and to demand that their elected and appointed officials treat citizens with respect, all the tools of liberty–supreme courts, term limits, separation of powers, bills of rights, etc.–are worthless.