Monday, January 27, 2020

BULLYING THE FREE PRESS



Last Friday, National Public Radio host Mary Louise Kelly reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had stormed out of an interview with her at the State Department because he was irritated by her questions regarding his failure to defend former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was the target of a smear campaign orchestrated by President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, prior to her removal from the post—an incident that is at the heart of current impeachment proceedings against the president.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
But before she could leave the building, a State Department aide escorted Kelly to a room where Pompeo was waiting for her. For the next several minutes, the secretary of state berated and swore at her for questioning him  about Ukraine, asking her if she really thought “Americans give a fuck” about Ukraine. In an attempt to humiliate Kelly, he had his aides bring a map with no names or writing on it and demanded that she point to Ukraine. To his chagrin, she did so without hesitation—despite the fact that, by any professional standard, she would have been justified in telling Pompeo to point to it himself.
Pompeo later accused Kelly of lying to him by saying there would be no questions about Ukraine. Kelly says she specifically told the secretary’s staff in preparation for the interview that Ukraine would definitely be on the docket. He also said she had told him their conversation after the failed interview would be off the record. Kelly denies this, saying she was merely led into the room and was told to turn her recorder off before Pompeo started dressing her down. Furthermore, it is worth considering that the journalist might well have considered herself to be under duress, given the situation. Nor is this the way that off-the-record negotiations work between interviewer and inteviewee. 
NPR anchor Mary Louise Kelly
Pompeo says he has nothing more to say about the interview. President Trump’s reaction has been to say that he doesn’t know “why NPR even exists.” It seems clear to me that both men think that public media should be at the service of the administration and the chief executive, not at the service of truth, professionalism and objective reporting in its task of informing the public.
Interestingly enough, I have a case in point of my own from a quarter-century ago. During the Clinton era, I was a stringer for several years for the United States Information Agency (USIA), a state-funded information-gathering organization that operated out of Washington from 1953 to 1999. When they first offered me the gig I almost turned it down saying that I was an independent free-lancer and didn’t want “to work for the government.” The assignment editor at the time, Andrew Lluberes, said I needn’t worry. The USIA was just like any other news agency. I should think of them as a kind of American BBC.
My one condition for accepting the assignment was that, as long as I got the facts straight, my work should never be subject to censorship.
The test came when I—like a lot of other American foreign correspondents—was investigating a lead about a chapter that was included in the training manual for the notorious School of the Americas, known today as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Back in the seventies and eighties when I was covering the bloody machinations of various authoritarian regimes in South America for several newspapers in Britain and the US, the School of the Americas was fondly known among American and British correspondents as “Dictator School”, since it was hard to find a leading operative member of the region’s military regimes who hadn’t been through training at the US facility in Panama.
Washington long tried to sell the SOA as an American mutual training facility located in the Panama Canal Zone for military personnel from throughout Central and South America. It was, successive US administrations held, a training ground in the fight against communist subversion and terrorism. The school indeed imparted useful instruction on counterinsurgency, jungle warfare, survival, strategy and tactical planning. But it had been persistently reported that it also provided chillingly effective methodology for the application of physical and psychological torture of prisoners, as a means of collecting compelling intelligence. Indeed, when American civil rights groups and news professionals reported on the gross human rights violations being carried out by dictatorial regimes from Guatemala and El Salvador in the north to Chile and Argentina in the south, Latin American military men would scoff and say, “You think the United States doesn’t use torture? They literally wrote the book on it!”
But following the Reagan era, which, after the scrupulously human and civil rights-oriented administration of US President Jimmy Carter, re-opened the floodgates in South America to human rights abuses, the SAO came under scrutiny. The Reagan foreign policy for the region was a sort of point/counterpoint message that the region’s authoritarian regimes should start moving toward a democratic opening, but should first get left-wing “subversion” cleaned up, and for that, the US was willing to turn a blind eye.
That was the almost literal message that military leaders in Argentina, where I was based, received from Reagan’s envoy, National Security Adviser Jeane Kirkpatrick, almost as soon as Carter moved out of the White House and Reagan moved in. Placing Kirkpatrick in historical context, she was a staunch McCarthyite-style anti-communist who counseled Reagan to follow his own anti-communist political instincts and lend American backing to some of the bloodiest far-right military regimes that the Americas had ever known. She was said to be particularly fond of then-Argentine dictator General Leopoldo Galtieri, urging Reagan to side with the Argentine regime over Britain in the ten-week Falklands/Malvinas War. It would be  hard to separate her influence from Galtieri’s clear—but, as it turns out, erroneous—confidence that the Argentine dictatorship would have Washington’s support for a full-scale invasion of the British-held Falklands to back Argentina’s 150-year-old claim to the archipelago located off of the country’s Patagonian coast. This was a stance that was staunchly opposed by Reagan’s then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig.
Reagan security adviser Jeane Kirkpatrick
Kirkpatrick was also one of the Reaganites who favored the conspiracy to skim money off of US arms sales to provide backing for the extreme right-wing Nicaraguan Contras, a position which ran sharply counter to that of then-Secretary of State George Schultz, who argued that because of the gross human rights abuses carried out by the group, doing so would be “an impeachable offense”.
American philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky once dubbed Kirkpatrick the “chief sadist-in-residence of the Reagan Administration” and pointed to both her hypocrisy and that of the administration in claiming to be “protecting democracy” by saving the region from communism, while actively supporting brutal military regimes that showed no respect for human rights or democracy. When four American Catholic missionary nuns were raped, beaten  and murdered in El Salvador by a paramilitary hit squad formed by five members of the country’s National Guard, Kirkpatrick backed the official story that the country’s dictatorial regime had had nothing to do with the incident, while adding that “the nuns weren’t just nuns.”
But in line with that hypocritical government policy, throughout the eighties, one after another of the former military regimes gave way to some form of more pluralistic government. And as a result, there began a kind of historical revision of the preceding years in which the victims of the former regimes were now governing the countries in question, and as such were digging back into the motives and methods by which dictators had ruled. In the process, the SOA came back into sharp focus.
And this was where I came in.
In October of 1996, the USIA assigned me, as special correspondent, to cover an Americas defense ministers’ conference held at the idyllic Llao-Llao Hotel Resort, located at the confluence of Lakes Nahuel Huapi and Moreno, within overland hiking distance from my home in Patagonia. (I can see the roof of the lodge-like hotel in the distance from my upstairs window). As soon as I got the gig, I decided that I would seek an occasion to question then-US Defense Secretary William Perry about information that was rapidly coming to light regarding “torture training” at the SOA.
In the timeline of the years leading up to this inter-American Defense Ministers’ meeting, a list of some 60,000 SOA graduates de-classified in 1993 was virtual confirmation that not only dictators but also death squad members and paramilitary assassins had received SOA training. Two bills were presented in the US Congress to cut funding to the school but neither ever made it out of the House. Both bills were introduced by Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. Despite their failure to pass, Kennedy did manage to secure requirement of a report on the school’s status with regard to the promotion of respect for human rights.    
In 1995, the House Appropriations Committee urged the Department of Defense to make greater efforts to inculcate staunch defense of human rights into SOA training. Not convinced as to the efficacy of this urging, Kennedy introduced a bill that year to completely pull the plug on the SOA and shut it down. It should be replaced, the congressman suggested, “with a US Academy for Democracy and Civil-Military Relations.” But that bill also stalled out while awaiting executive comment from the Clinton administration.  
Again in 1996, a congressional committee urged the Defense Department to promote effective efforts to incorporate human rights training into the regular curriculum of the school and to monitor the human rights performance of its graduates.
It wasn’t until September of 1996, that the Pentagon made training manuals from the School of the Americas available to the public. Those materials confirmed that tactics included in the manuals “violated American policy and principles.” Then Representative Nancy Pelosi said that the material released by the Pentagon had “confirmed (her) worst suspicions. Namely, that “US Army intelligence manuals, distributed to thousands of military officers throughout Latin America, promoted the use of executions, torture, blackmail, and other forms of coercion.” Among other things, she indicated, US taxpayer dollars had been used to promote tactics based on “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions, and the use of truth serum.”
So, in early October, when Secretary Perry arrived in Patagonia for the inter-American meeting, the SOA’s heinous past was fresh news. And when Perry organized a Q and A session for American correspondents, I was quick to get my question about the SOA in at the outset. I was prepared for Perry, who was there for a conference on cooperation between Latin American and US defense administrations, to be upset by the questions and perhaps to tell me that it wasn’t the time or place to talk about the SOA, especially since I had identified myself as special correspondent for the state-owned USIA. And, indeed, he was shaken by my questions and my insistence. But there was no attempt to shut me up.
Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry
Instead, Perry called the materials “shocking” and said that even though the teaching of tactics that were in complete violation of human rights formed “only a small percentage” of the entire program, “that is not an excuse.”
“I want to emphasize,” I quoted him as saying, “that what was done was wrong and totally unacceptable.” He said that an effort had been made to destroy all copies of the manual except one kept by the Counsel General. And he added that the Clinton administration had launched an investigation to ensure that no other military instruction manuals approved by the Pentagon supported practices that violated human rights.
Clearly, this was a burning issue that placed the US, and successive administrations, in a bad light. And the SOA remained a thorn in the side of US democracy into the 21st century, with continuing reports of its adherence to tactics that violated human rights. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that human rights researcher Ruth Blakeley indicated, following interviews with personnel from the SOA’s successor organization, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, and anti-SOA protesters that “there was considerable transparency...established after the transition from SOA to WHINSEC. She added that “a much more rigorous human rights training program was in place than in any other US military institution.”
My point here is that, at no time was I bullied by Defense Secretary Perry, the Clinton administration or the USIA to desist from writing and filing the story. Nor was I chided by Perry or his people after the press conference for putting him on the spot. On the contrary, they took me as a professional doing my job and they responded with the professionalism of people paid to do the work of the government—not of the president. My story was published without a single edit.
There’s a lesson in here for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, in seeking to bully journalist Mary Louise Kelly, has acted with the same mafia thug attitude to the interview with NPR as his boss did when he allegedly told his henchmen, Lev Paras and Rudy Giuliani, that he wanted career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch “taken out”. And as a ranking public figure, it is also clear that Pompeo has not only disrespected Kelly but has also perpetrated a direct attack on freedom of the press, by seeking to intimidate a reporter who asked him uncomfortable questions.
These are not attitudes that should be considered acceptable from leaders of a country that still stakes any claim whatsoever to being a democracy. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

ELIZABETH AND BERNIE—HONEYMOON OVER?



In covering the first US Democratic Party Presidential Debate of 2020, held last Tuesday evening, the mass media tended to gloss over most of the major issues and political philosophies discussed and to focus instead on a petty spat between the two most progressive candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. This focus is part of a “reality TV” trend that has been accentuated in news coverage over the past three years as an outgrowth of the mentality generated by the administration of President Donald Trump—himself the former host of a TV reality show called The Apprentice, in which his signature line was, “You’re fired!”
The debate, held on the campus of Iowa’s Drake University and hosted by the CNN cable news network and The Des Moines Register, delved into numerous pressing issues, but CNN had already been pushing the supposed rift between Sanders and Warren as a talking point in its news and commentary broadcasts since the day before when the story broke. And in hosting the event, CNN moderators continued to pick at it during the debate. According to reports from CNN and The New York Times that quoted anonymous sources, Warren had claimed on Monday night that Sanders had told her in a private one-on-one meeting in 2018 that he didn’t think a woman could win the presidency. Sanders reacted to the reports accusing Warren’s campaign staff of lying about what had happened in that meeting.
Elizabeth and Bernie, old friends
The reports clearly took Sanders by surprise, particularly since, until now, he and Warren have been drawing on their long-time friendship and their similar liberal values to maintain a kind of political honeymoon, while other Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential race have increasingly indulged in eating their own. Former Democratic hopeful Kamala Harris’s attack on former Vice-President Joe Biden for consorting with racists in Congress during the civil rights era and Warren and Amy Klobuchar’s attempts to portray former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg as inexperienced, sold out to the rich and talking from a kind of script rather than from experience have been among some of the most damning of these assaults.
Until now, Sanders and Warren have managed to remain above the fray and have not only shown restraint but also great respect for each other. But with Sanders increasingly trending as the number one challenger to Biden’s lead among Democratic candidates and with Bernie’s rise coming at the expense of both Biden and Warren, it appears likely that the rift was indeed engineered by Warren’s campaign as a means of differentiating her from Sanders. Instead of doing so based on the broader issues, however, Warren’s campaign strategists seem to have decided to play the gender card by seeking to show Sanders as somehow misogynistic, when, by all accounts, he is probably the male candidate from either party who least deserves the term.
Perhaps the idea was to create hostility between Sanders and women voters. A study in The Economist last September showed that women under 45 made up a larger share of  Bernie’s base than men in their same age group did, running counter to the previous idea that Sanders’ supporters were overwhelmingly white and male, to the virtual exclusion of other groups. This has to have worried Elizabeth Warren’s strategists, and it seems clear that they felt it was important to come out of their corner throwing haymakers from the start in the first month of the election year. But the fact that, when the story first broke, Warren refused to comment might point to ambivalence on the senator’s part about going the route her campaign was marking. In the end, however, she did. She later appeared to be toning down the language of the initial claim, saying that Sanders had said he didn’t think a woman could win and she had “disagreed”.
At the debate, although both Sanders and Warren must both have suspected that it was inevitable, the question came out of the blue about halfway through the event. That was when CNN's Abby Philip—one of the first journalists to report the rift and now a debate moderator—addressed Sanders saying, “...Senator Warren confirmed in a statement that in 2018, you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?” To which Sanders replied, “Well, as a matter of fact, I didn’t say it, and I don’t want to waste a whole lot of time on this, because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want.
“Anybody that knows me knows that it’s incomprehensible that I would think that a woman could not be President of the United States. Go to YouTube today. There’s a video of me 30 years ago, talking about how a woman could become President of the United States. In 2015, I deferred, in fact, to Senator Warren. There was a movement to draft Senator Warren to run for President, and you know what? I stayed back. Senator Warren decided not to run, and I did run afterwards.
“Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes. How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become President of the United States? Let me be very clear. If any of the women on this stage or any of the men on this stage win the nomination … I hope that’s not the case. I hope it’s me. But if they do, I will do everything in my power to make sure that they are elected in order to defeat the most dangerous President in the history of our country.”
Abby Philip insisted then, “So, Senator Sanders, I do want to be clear here. You’re saying that you never told Senator Warren that a woman could not win the election?”
“That is correct,” Sanders replied.
What the CNN moderator did next showed quite clearly that she was trying to bait the two liberal senators into a “he said/she said” argument. Totally disregarding the denial that she had just asked Sanders to confirm, she turned to Elizabeth Warren and said, “Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?”
The bias in her question was so ludicrously obvious that there was a ripple of laughter in the audience. It was a question that seemed to say, “He’s lying.” Despite the opening Abby Philip was giving her, however, Warren was measured in her answer. She said, “I disagreed,” going on to add, “Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. But look. This question about whether or not a woman can be President has been raised, and it’s time for us to attack it head-on...I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at people’s winning record...Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost ten elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women. The only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican anytime in the past 30 years is me, and here’s what I know. The real danger that we face as Democrats is picking a candidate who can’t pull our party together or someone who takes for granted big parts of the Democratic constituency.”
But it wasn’t until the debate ended that the real fireworks erupted, unfortunately on camera and with an open mic. That was when Warren walked over to Sanders and, when Sanders extended his hand and smiled, she refused to shake it and kept her own hands tightly clasped in front of her chest. “I think you called me a liar on national TV,” she said.
Tense moment...
Taken aback, Sanders said, “What?”
“I think you called me a liar on national TV,” Warren said again.
 Visibly irritated, Sanders said, “You know, let’s not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion.”
 “Anytime,” Warren said.
Sanders responded, “You called me a liar. You told me...” but then he thought better of continuing the discussion to the delight of the media and said again, “All right, let’s not do it now,” before rushing off the stage.
Encompassed within the answer that Senator Warren gave to Abby Philip was the key to why Warren’s campaign might have decided to allege the content of a private 2018 conversation at this particular time. It was because it appeared to be a convenient response to a question that isn’t being asked aloud, but which is arising among many of those who want to make sure the Democratic candidate, whoever it might be, can indeed beat Donald Trump, because the thought of another four years of Trumpism is terrifying and repugnant to them.
And here too might well be where the 2018 private discussion between two old friends and Senate colleagues came up. As Sanders said, it is practically impossible to imagine him saying that a woman could not be president of the United States, but perhaps what he wondered aloud was whether, in the misogynistic, discriminatory, white-male-privileged, un-politically-correct climate generated by the Trump regime, would a woman, indeed, be able to win a presidential election in 2020 for the first time in US history? (Well, second if you count Hillary Clinton’s having the last election plundered from her by the Electoral College). It’s an honest question that, despite its honesty, certainly doesn’t preclude a female-led Democratic ticket, no matter what the odds against her might be, since the two women on that debate stage last Tuesday are nothing if not competent to serve.
So perhaps it’s not that either of the senators involved is lying. But that they’ve allowed the media and their political rivals to buffalo them into a public spat over what is very likely a complete misunderstanding based on words taken out of context.
In the end we’ll never know. Since it would appear that the only people who really know what was said in that private meeting are Elizabeth and Bernie. And we can only hope that they will mend their fences soon since there has never been a moment when a united liberal front has been more vital to American democracy.   

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

MARA: MAKING AMERICA RACIST AGAIN


US President Donald Trump's retweeting this week of an atrociously photo-shopped meme of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in Middle Eastern garb with the Iranian flag behind them does little to harm his intended political targets. In fact, they can use it to their advantage in pointing to just how immature, unhinged, unethical and clueless the president really is.

But the problem with this is that Trump no longer represents just the bad-boy Donald of New York real estate infamy, but the presidency (and, hence, the people) of the United States. And the problem with the retweeted meme itself is this: It is racist. It is a racial and religious hate tweet for which other Twitter users might be thrown off the platform. It suggests that all Iranians and all followers of Islam are terrorists. It reinforces his mad-dog base's prejudice against Muslims and it subliminally encourages them to take action against non-Christians and Middle Eastern peoples in general, as well as against Democrats, who Trump surrogates are seeking to link with fanatical Islamist terrorism.
This sort of thing is par for the course for Bigot-in-Chief Donald Trump, but it is totally unworthy and completely inappropriate for the office of the presidency, whose job it is to govern for and to protect all Americans equally. 
The meme's message makes already threatened Muslims still less safe than they were before in the Era of Trump, by clearly demonstrating the president's prejudice against them.If a common citizen were to do something like this at school he or she would be expelled. And if they did it at work, they would be fired. But when this sort of blatant race-baiting comes from the White House (this White House), it's just "Trump being Trump" and gets a pass. Why? Because, over the last three years in the Era of Trump, we have, unfortunately, become all too accustomed to a scandalously low bar that has been set for the presidency. 
There has never been a president like Trump before, a man in the Oval Office who appears to be completely bereft of humanity, of social propriety, of racial, religious and political tolerance, of democratic fervor and of human empathy. The problem is twofold and projects a long shadow, because it sets a precedent for the behavior of future leaders, who, in accordance with the principle of "whataboutism", will always be able to point to "what Trump got away with" in order to justify their own crass disregard for political correctness, for democracy and for the Constitution, and to exonerate them for their own general misdeeds. 
When they do, we will no longer be able to use the argument that this was just "Trump being Trump", because whoever the future bad-actor president might be can always say, "Yes, and this is just me being me. Get used to it!" 
Perhaps this should be one of numerous pieces of evidence on which to base another article of impeachment: Conspiring to incite racial, religious and political violence among Americans.


Friday, December 27, 2019

AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE: "JUST TOO EXPENSIVE"


For the first time in US history, the 400 wealthiest people are paying less in taxes than any other group in the US. It is estimated that the tax cuts that most benefit the top one percent will cost the Treasury at least 1.3 trillion dollars in the medium term.
The US military budget, nearly 700 billion dollars, is roughly equivalent to the combined military budgets for the seven next most militarized countries in the world and dwarfs the budget of its next-in-line rival, China.
When banks and insurers hit the skids under George W. Bush, the US came up with 700 billion dollars to bail them out.
But when it comes to funding affordable health care, US government pockets are always empty, it seems.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
When you save the bacon of banks and insurers who defrauded the country in cahoots with the government, it's called "a bailout" and they're "too big to fail" despite their shoddy business practices. When you seek to ensure that every American gets the excellent health care that they deserve and should be able to expect in the richest nation on earth, it's called "socialism" and it is hissed as if it were a dirty word.
Maybe that's the real meaning of "affluent society"—a place where only the rich and powerful benefit, and where what is morally and ethically correct is just too expensive.

In the link below, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortéz takes on Cris Cuomo on this very subject.

https://www.facebook.com/OccupyDemocrats/videos/688577448296393/

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

JUST CRAZY


Used to be that the GOP would have frothed at the mouth if anyone in any party had suggested that the FBI was anything but the world's premier police force.
Now they nod in agreement with the madman in the White House when he and his pocket-attorney general rail against "FBI spying" and call that organization's agents "scum".

Back when liberals suggested that J. Edgar Hoover's anti-communist zeal was going beyond the limits of acceptable investigation and becoming a new Salem witch-hunt, Republicans said that they were commie pinkos who were a threat to the country and needed to be jail. Now, anything that is not in obsequious agreement with the Party of Trump narrative is a seditious conspiracy.
Amnesiac hypocrisy at its most ludicrous.

Read more about Trump's latest bizarre antics at the Real Clear Politics link below.
https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/12/10/trump_fbi_scum_have_destroyed_lives_of_great_people.html