Integrity Is Not Dead

The word of the day is ‘scandal’ … at least in the halls of Congress, the White House, the senate race in Alabama, college sports (see Hugh Curtler’s post) and the entertainment industry.  I asked the question just a few minutes ago, while commenting on Hugh’s post, if ‘integrity’ had become a thing of the past, just another archaic word. But, there are two examples of integrity from the news of the past week that I think are important to point out. Both involved actions taken that were likely unnecessary, but were done to prevent any breath of scandal, any possibility of controversy, and I applaud the efforts.

First, Robert Mueller, Special Counselor leading the most important of all the investigations into the Russian interference in our 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s role in said interference, removed a top FBI agent, Peter Strzok, this summer from his investigation.  No, the agent had not been a leaker, had not compromised the investigation, but what he had done was sent text messages that were said to express anti-Trump political views.  Okay … and???  Well, ordinarily I would be jumping in defense of this agent, for even though he is an FBI agent, was part of Mueller’s team, he is still a citizen with the rights to free speech that we all have, and who among us have not texted or tweeted anti-Trump sentiments?  But this is different.

Strzok-Mueller

Peter Strzok (left) with Bob Mueller

Agent Strzok is considered one of the most experienced and trusted FBI counterintelligence investigators. He helped lead the investigation into whether Hillary Clinton had mishandled classified information on her private email account, and then played a major role in the investigation into links between President Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Mueller moved swiftly in the face of what could be perceived as bias by one of his agents amid a politically charged inquiry into Trump’s campaign and administration. In this day, with Trump grasping at any opportunity to screech and rant about “fake news” and airing his opinion that Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt”, it is imperative that Mueller and his team keep their noses squeaky clean, even extending to their personal lives. As much as I hate to see a valuable part of the team removed and re-assigned to a clerical job, it is necessary.

The second item involves ABC News and Brian Ross, chief investigative correspondent for ABC News since July 1994.  Early Saturday, on the heels of the news that Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI and would be cooperating with Bob Mueller’s investigation, I happened to catch wind of Brian Ross’ statement that Flynn would testify that President Trump had directed him to make contact with Russian officials while Mr. Trump was still a candidate.

brian-ross.jpg

Brian Ross

Now, note that this was not necessarily a falsehood, and in fact I suspect there may be a great deal of truth to it.  However, it was jumping the gun, for as officials at ABC News said, “We deeply regret and apologize for the serious error we made yesterday. The reporting conveyed by Brian Ross during the special report had not been fully vetted [emphasis added] through our editorial standards process.”

Mr. Ross, who reports on a number of ABC programs, including ABC World News Tonight with David MuirNightlineGood Morning America20/20, and ABC News Radio, has been suspended for a period of four months without pay.  Again, under normal circumstances I would be yelling “FOUL” at the top of my lungs and claiming this to be a strike against a free press.  But these are not normal circumstances.  There is a madman at the helm, and his potential reaction must always be considered.

Brian Ross is a professional who stands above all the rest.  His response to the suspension was this:

“My job is to hold people accountable and that’s why I agree with being held accountable myself.”

This, folks, is a man of integrity. This sets the standard for what journalism ought to be.  I give Brian Ross a two thumbs up for his most superior example.

The importance of Mueller’s investigation cannot be stressed enough.  He must get it right the first time, have every duck lined up straight, for there will be no second chances. Incidents such as the two above can only give the appearance of bias, and that appearance, at this juncture, is all-important.  Had Mueller not relieved agent Strzok from his team, it could have given an appearance of bias within the investigation, which would have no doubt been seized upon by Trump and his minions, compromising the faith of the public in the results.  Had ABC News not taken action against Mr. Ross, it would have played directly into the hands of Trump and those who loudly scream “fake news”.

It is a sad state of affairs that, in this new alternative universe with people of low character in charge of the nation, we must discipline people who are doing a good job, trying to keep us informed and get to the bottom of the crimes against our nation, but that is where we are today.  A portion of We The People screwed up royally on 08 November 2016, and now all of us must pay the price.  My only hope at this point is that Mr. Mueller’s investigation is not somehow de-railed, for I fully believe that at the end of the day, all the strands of this tangled web lead straight to Donald Trump, and I am looking forward to the day that result is made public, leaving no choice but to run the madman out of town on a rail.  Meanwhile, I am thankful for the integrity of Mr. Mueller, ABC News, and others that will be sure to follow in those footsteps.

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Beneath the Surface Lies a Slippery Slope

After a discussion last evening with friend and fellow blogger John about whether it would ever be acceptable to place certain limitations on 1st Amendment freedom of speech, and if so, under what circumstances.  Now, it’s been a lot of years since my last ConLaw class, so I had to dig out some notes and texts, but let us review briefly, the history of free speech in the U.S..

The U.S. Constitution was signed and ratified in 1787, but the first ten amendments, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, was not ratified until 1791.  The first real curtailment of free speech came some seven years later, with the Sedition Act of 1798.  At the time, war with France seemed imminent, Congress and President John Adams feared treason by French sympathisers within the U.S., thus was born the Sedition Act of 1798, which required criminal penalties for persons who said or published anything “false, scandalous, or malicious” against the federal government, Congress or the president. The law expired three years later, but not before 25 citizens were arrested, including a Congressman who was convicted and imprisoned for calling President Adams a man who had “a continual grasp for power.”  Think about this for a minute, folks.  Would not every single person reading this today be in jail, for we have all said much worse than that about our current Idiot-in-Chief!

Then in 1917, Congress passed the Federal Espionage Act prohibiting false statements intending to interfere with the military forces of the country or to promote the success of its enemies.  Do you begin to see where that could come under a variety of interpretations?  And then in 1918, the law was expanded to prohibit any statements expressing disrespect for the U.S. government, the Constitution, the flag, or army and navy uniforms.  Think Colin Kaepernick and the NFL?

The first challenge to the law brought about the Supreme Court’s first case in free speech in the case of Schenck v. United States, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the opinion of the unanimous Court, which sided with the government. Justice Holmes held that Mr. Schenck was not covered by the First Amendment since freedom of speech was not an absolute right. There were times, Holmes wrote, when the government could legally restrict speech.  Though it is a fascinating case, I won’t bore you with it here, for it is not what this post is about, but rather I use it only to lay a foundation.

Now, why did this come up now?  Because of this headline in the New York Times:

US Votes Against Resolution Condemning Nazi Glorification

Well, that sounds rather like the U.S. is planning to encourage Nazism, doesn’t it?  Sounds rather like the work of Bannon/Spence/Trump, eh?  The story, a short Associated Press piece, does little more to enlighten the reader, but there is more if one scratches a bit beneath the surface.

First of all, though the U.S. and Ukraine are the only two nations to vote directly against the resolution, there are 51 nations that abstained from voting.  Second, while I would love to blame Trump and come down hard, the fact is that this is an annual resolution that the U.S. has voted against since at least 2012, so it is really nothing new.

And lastly, perhaps most importantly, the primary reason we cannot support this resolution is the resolution calls on all UN member nations to ban pro-Nazi speech and organizations and to implement other restrictions on speech and assembly. Now do you see the problem?  But this, still isn’t quite the point of this post.  Yes, yes … bide your time, friends, for I am old and slow, but I am coming to the point.

Some in the media, notably Britain’s The Independent and our own Newsweek, have attempted to link the decision not to vote yea on the U.N. resolution to Trump’s failure to condemn Nazism after the deadly Charlottesville rally in August.  Perhaps, who knows?  But it doesn’t matter, for either way, we cannot afford at this time to open that potentially wide door to banning any part of free speech.

It is what’s known as a slippery slope, and you’ve heard me refer to it before.  A slippery slope is an idea or course of action which has the potential to lead to something unacceptable, wrong, or disastrous. Now, think back to the Sedition Act of 1798 for a minute.  You could get into big trouble for saying or writing anything “false, scandalous, or malicious” against the federal government, Congress or the president. Now, think how thin-skinned the person occupying the White House is.  Think how he threatened to use libel laws to stifle the press for saying ‘mean and untrue’ things about him. Think how he defines “truth”.  Think about this statement:  “Trump has no conscience, is not very intelligent, wears a bad toupee and has ugly rolls of flab.” I just made up that statement, but under the Sedition Act of 1798, I could spend up to ten years in jail for publishing that statement on this blog.

Now, we are not talking about a Sedition Act, but simply about banning Nazi speech.  Believe me, I dislike Richard Spencer and all the neo-Nazi thugs as much as anyone but … if we take away their rights to voice their opinions, we leave the door wide open for other constraints on free speech, such as insulting the president or a member of Congress.  Where is the line drawn, and more importantly, who draws that line? Congress?  So far, they have proven willing to lick Trump’s boots and play nice with him, for the most part.  An executive order?

I am not being an alarmist, so much as a cautionary. I do not trust Donald Trump.  He is a sociopathic narcissist who will stop at nothing to further his own desires, to further bloat his already massive ego. And he cares not one whit for this nation nor its citizens.  So, given half an opportunity, would he institute laws making it illegal to insult him?  Absolutely.  If we agreed to the U.N. resolution, it would crack open that door, and before you can bat an eye, he would have it open wide.  I, for one, am not quite ready to give up my rights to free speech, and while yes, I would like to see curtailments on hate speech, this may not be the right time. Meanwhile, we can and must punish anybody who takes Nazism a single step beyond speech and into action.

When we see a headline, hear an idea or opinion, it always pays to do a bit of digging, for often what we see and hear is but the surface, and the truth lies beneath the surface.

The Face of a Monster

A recent story in the New York Times has drawn more criticism than any I have seen for a long time.  I would recommend you read the story, but I will give you the Cliff Notes version, just in case.

Times reporter Richard Fausset was given the assignment after the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, to interview at some length one of the participants in the rally, a man named Tony Hovater who lives in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. The purpose was to try to understand … what causes a man to turn into a monster, and how do we recognize one? Fausset spoke with Hovater a number of times, and also his wife, got a feel for their lives, and the controversy arises because he did not go at Hovater guns blazing in a storm of fury, and further, he did not portray Hovater as a monster of the recognizable sort.

I might have passed over the story, had I not seen no less than three stories in other publications about the controversy.  Without reading those stories, I decided to check it out myself and then read about the controversy.  As I read the story, which I found quite informative, I thought I understood the disdain many might have, for the approach was almost as if to normalize this neo-Nazi, white supremacist hater.  It did annoy me, though at the same time I realized that if the reporter had gone into the first interview with the approach of planning to shred Hovater, he never would have gotten to first base.  A journalist must operate with an open mind, else he will not be a journalist for long.

The story portrays Hovater as a fairly average 29-year-old suburban middle class male, a welder by trade, recently married to the woman he loves, living in a small house with dreams to upgrade, to someday have children, and all the other normal things, even grocery shopping and dining at Applebee’s.  They even have cats! But then there is this whole ‘other’ side to Hovater.  The side where he is adamant that the races are better off separated, although he insists he is not racist. The side of Hovater that posted on Facebook a picture purporting to show what life would have looked like if Germany had won World War II: a streetscape full of happy white people, a bustling American-style diner and swastikas everywhere, commenting “What part is supposed to look unappealing?” And after Charlottesville, Hovater wrote that he was proud of the comrades who joined him there: “We made history. Hail victory.” In German, “Hail victory” is “Sieg heil.”

The original story ran on Saturday, 25 November, and the criticism was swift and harsh, so on Sunday, 26 November, the Times posted a response explaining and justifying their stance, and apologizing where appropriate.  In the words of Shane Bauer, a senior reporter at Mother Jones and a winner of the National Magazine Award, “People mad about this article want to believe that Nazis are monsters we cannot relate to. White supremacists are normal ass white people and it’s been that way in America since 1776. We will continue to be in trouble till we understand that.” I agree with Mr. Bauer. For me, the value of the story as written is that it shows we cannot recognize the monsters.  They walk and live among us, they shop in the same grocery stores we do, and their kids play on our kids’ soccer teams.  Their wives sit side by side in the hair salon and they work next to you, but you may never know it.  No, it is not right to normalize hate, but it is important for us to understand that there is no universal face of hate.

Still, I also understand the criticism, for at some point I found myself thinking … “hmmmm just an average Joe?”.  And I did bristle at what I first saw as an attempt to normalize white supremacy, racism, bigotry and hate.  So yes, I understand the criticism … but, I think it was far overdone, the outrage unhelpful and even counter-productive.  A few examples …

“How to normalize Nazis 101!”

“I’m both shocked and disgusted by this article,”

“Attempting to ‘normalize’ white supremacist groups – should Never have been printed!”

“Instead of long, glowing profiles of Nazis/White nationalists, why don’t we profile the victims of their ideologies?”

The Times, I think, handled the criticism in the best possible way, apologizing if people found the story offensive, but explaining the rationale …

“We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers. We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.”

Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy

No media outlet, no reporter, no blogger gets it right all the time.  The more we try, the more opportunities for failure, but also for success. After much thought and pondering, I think the Times story is spot on.  As I said, we need to understand that there is no universal face of evil.  Remember Ted Bundy?  Everyone thought he was a great guy … until … he turned out to be a serial killer, confessing to at least 30 extremely brutal homicides, even keeping the heads of some in his home.  He had a job, a seemingly normal life, yet he referred to himself as “the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet”.

What the Times’ story did was show us that there is no ‘face of evil’. We cannot pick them out of a crowd.  We may chat with our neighbor over the fence daily, yet not know that he is spending his weekends planning neo-Nazi rallies.  I applaud the Times, both for their approach and for their sensitivity when under fire.

Lastly, Mr. Fausset published a second story about his meetings with Hovater, about trying to find the reason for his stance, for his ideology of hate.  Turns out, he began to change course for the same reasons that many are frustrated today:  the political system and its inner workings. “The first time I thought about how a system will protect itself, and its own interests, to protect what it is they really want.” Fausset was looking for an answer to the question: “What prompted him to take his ideas beyond his living room, beyond the chat rooms, and on to Charlottesville, where he marched in August alongside allies like the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, which bills itself as “America’s Premier White Civil Rights Organization”? Where was his Rosebud?”  And in the end, he does not feel he found a definitive answer.  Nor do I, but I think we need to continue asking the question.

 

 

 

More Bits ‘N Pieces from Filosofa’s Mind …

I had too many ideas piling up in my mind, and there simply wasn’t any more room to store them, so this morning I decided to do one of my Bit’s ‘N Pieces posts …


A Freudian Slip?

A Twitterer with the moniker of @ProudResister posted this tweet:

“The solution is simple. Roy Moore: Step down from the race. Al Franken: Resign from congress. Donald Trump: Resign from the presidency. GOP: Stop making sex ual assault a partisan issue. It’s a crime as is your hypocrisy.”

Nothing too unusual there, right?  But what is unusual is that it was re-tweeted more than 1,900 times, and one of those re-tweeters was by none other than the Department of Defense at the Pentagon!

PentagonPentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said in a statement that an authorized operator of the Defense Department’s official Twitter site “erroneously retweeted content that would not be endorsed by the Department of Defense. The operator caught this error and immediately deleted it.”  Hmmmm … maybe … or perhaps it was a Freudian Slip?

@ProudResister, meanwhile, has seen unprecedented traffic on his Twitter feed and some fun comments:

  • When PROUD RESISTER 👊 calls for the President of the United States to resign and the Pentagon retweets it! #RESIST
  • Woah, @ProudResister, you got retweeted by the @DeptofDefense. The internet is forever, DoD. And yes, @realdonaldtrump should #resign.
  • Congrats to my friend, @ProudResister, for the pick-up today by the US military!
  • @ProudResister is my friend ffs. He is posing with me in my Twitter profile pic. Hey Pentagon RT this:#ResignTrump
  • .@ProudResister I’m sure you’re proud of yourself, and still laughing your ass off- I know I am DoD retweets his tweet calling for #ImpeachTrump Will they tell 45 that they were “just joking”?🙃

And on it goes, but you get the idea.  I still say it was no accident.


Did They Forget About Freedom of the Press?

Roy Moore has been headline news for weeks now, and it is much to my surprise that anybody continues to support him, but some do, including the religious leaders in his state. Faith2Action president Janet Porter introduced Moore at the start of a conference in Birmingham Alabama yesterday:

“Ladies and gentleman, I present to you the hero of the day, our valiant leader Judge Roy Moore.”

Somebody quick … bring me a bucket!  Has nobody told these people that Moore has not been a judge since he left the judiciary last year after being suspended for failure to uphold the law?

And this from Alan Keyes, chairman of Renew America and a former Senate and presidential candidate:

“I stand with Judge Roy Moore, because he never leaves God out. Roy Moore stands on the premise that when you come to strip away a man’s rights, you spit in the face of God. If that’s what they’re doing to him, if when the rights of your representative are stripped away, what is the logical conclusion? That you’re rights are stripped away, that your rights are gone.”

The speeches praising Moore and denigrating his detractors went on for a full two hours, and even a Rabbi got in on the act.  But what I find most galling is that the media was largely blamed for the accusations against Moore and told by religious leaders to “hush”!

Flip Benham, the evangelical leader of Operation Save America, told the media present during his address, “Your knee is gonna bow, and you’re gonna confess, you have no choice. Hell is a place you choose to go!”  Say WHAT???

At the beginning of the conference, the event planner informed reporters that organizers “have requested no questions about any of the allegations”. When the question and answer portion arrived, the first question came from a CNN reporter who asked Moore whether or not he had touched any of the women who have alleged he sexually harassed them in some way. Moore’s supporters yelled in anger. “He’s already answered that,” said one. “Hush,” said another. “Stop lying,” said yet another.

A second reporter asked a similar question, at which point Moore and his wife Kayla stood up and exited the room, and the press conference came to an abrupt halt. “You were told not to ask about that,” a woman supporting Moore said angrily to the CNN reporter. “You make me sick,” another woman said to him.

And then Alan Keyes jumped on his soapbox and berated the press:

“You refused to stop your abuse. Asked, and answered, again and again. He could answer that question a thousand times, and if a thousand accusations were made, he could answer every one a thousand times and you would prove yourself a liar.”

And a supporter, Ginger Barbee …

“You were asked to ask questions about the issues, the issues about our country. You were not asked to ask personal questions about Mr. Moore. We wanted to hear what he had to say about the issues, and you did not allow it because you are the fake, lying news from the swamp.”

Ahem … excuse me, people, but is not the job of the press to ask the tough questions?  And is not Freedom of the Press covered under the very same Constitutional Amendment as Freedom of Religion?  Enough evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Moore exists to convince even the Republican National Committee to withdrew their support of Moore, and both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have requested that he step down. Mr. Moore’s blind-faith followers may know a lot about their religious tome, but they need some lessons on the Constitution!

And if I had any doubts whether he still had a loyal following, I guess those doubts have been put to bed.


A List Too Long …

Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak appearing in a television interview with state-owned Russia-1, stated that he would not even attempt to name all of the Trump officials he met with because … wait for it … the list is so long that it would take him more than 20 minutes.  I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Kislyak

Sergey Kislyak


A Large Unemployment Check …

On October 29th, Juli Briskman was photographed giving the middle finger to President Donald Trump’s motorcade during a weekend bike ride in Virginia.  The photo went viral and on the following Monday morning, Briskman, who worked for a federal contractor, Akima, felt that she ought to give a ‘heads up’ to her boss, since she was spattered over much of the internet.  Her honesty earned her a termination of her employment.

girl on bikeShe says she does not regret what she did and stands by her actions.  Good for her!!!  It is not against any law that I am aware of to flip off a jerk who just happens to be in the White House.  But, the reality is that Ms. Briskman is a single mother of two and needs income.

Enter a man named Rob Mello, of Hudson, Massachusetts. Mello created a GoFundMe campaign to support Briskman and her family.  As of Wednesday afternoon, the account had raised over $100,000 from over 4,000 donors and had been shared more than 10,000 times!

Hmmmm … I wonder if I ….


And thus concludes another episode of the bits ‘n pieces from my mind.  I think you can see that it is rather like a messy closet in there, yes?  Have a great day, friends!

silly grin

 

Nothing To See Here Folks … Nothing At All

His name is Michael Christopher Estes … a name few of us have ever heard, even though he planted a bomb in the Asheville, North Carolina airport just over a week ago, on October 6th.  Now why do you think you’ve never heard of Michael Christopher Estes and his attempted bombing?  Look at his picture and see if you can guess.

estesIf you guess that this event was under-reported because he is a white man, you would be right.  Had he been Muslim, of Middle-Eastern, Hispanic or African-American ethnicity, this news would have played 24/7 on all of the major media outlets.  Trump would have been screaming ‘terrorism’ at the top of his lungs, claiming it supports his call for a Muslim ban and a border wall, and the name Michael Christopher Estes would, by now, be a household word.

You can read the details of the story on NPR, for it is not my purpose to re-tell the story.

This is not the only one this year that we likely didn’t hear about:

  • In February, a Florida man named Mark Barnett allegedly created improvised explosives to plant in Target stores along the East Coast as part of a profit-driven bomb plot. Someone he allegedly attempted to recruit to his plot turned Barnett into authorities and he was charged in federal court; his federal case is ongoing.

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  • In July, Luke Mullen was arrested after allegedly making bomb threats against the Colorado Springs Airport; police say he had four explosive devices and a machete inside his vehicle.

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  • Also in July, a blast outside the Bixby Air Force Recruitment Office in Oklahoma caused property damage but no injuries. Benjamin Roden, a former airman, was arrested and is facing federal charges in connection with the incident.

Super Bowl 50 - Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos


  • In August, Elijah Blankenship in Ohio was arrested and charged with creating multiple homemade explosives. His arrest came shortly before an anti-racist vigil in honor of the victims of the Charlottesville, Va., attack, but court records don’t indicate whether there was a connection to the event.

blankenship


  • In September, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that Douglas Kennedy of Tifton, Ga., was charged with manufacturing explosive devices after a bomb went off in the parking lot of the Tift Regional Medical Center; no one was injured. Kennedy had allegedly constructed and detonated at least three other bombs, none of which hurt anybody.

kennedy


For the most part, these stories were only reported locally, did not receive national attention in the media, and received no mention from anybody in the Trump administration.  Even the conspiracy theorists Jones, Hannity, Limbaugh and their ilk were silent on this one! The case of Estes would still lie buried in the archives of the Asheville Citizen Times newspaper if it were not for civil rights activist Shaun King, writing for The Intercept.  Since King’s article was published on October 11th, the story has been picked up by the mainstream media, including the New York Times, USA Today, Salon, NPR, Fox News, CBS News and others.  Nearly a week after the fact.  Would any of these outlets have published the story were it not for Shaun King’s article? I think we know the answer.

White males committing acts that might otherwise be labeled ‘terrorism’ do not elicit the attention of Donald Trump, and these days if Donald Trump does not have something to say about an event, then it is not newsworthy.  White males committing crimes is of no interest to Trump because it does not fit his agenda.  I get that, and I have low expectations of Trump anyway. But frankly I expect better out of our press.  I expect our press to push these stories, to inform the public so that Trump’s blind-faith followers can no longer deny that most acts of terrorism in this country are actually committed by white citizens, not Muslims, not Latinos, but white, male citizens.

I have come out in defense of our free press many times in recent months, and I will continue to do so as long as I have breath, for I firmly believe that the freedom of press to investigate and report, to keep us informed, is the very core of our democracy.  I believe that if we allow government to place constraints on the media, we will too soon become much like Turkey – a democracy in name only.  However, with that freedom comes a responsibility to act as a free press, to report all the news, not just the news that has Trump in the headlines, or about which Trump is tweeting. By ignoring these stories, the press is playing directly into Trump’s hand.

Fortunately, the bomb that Estes left in the Asheville airport was found and defused by police before it could do any harm, but that and the other cases I mentioned had the potential to cause serious harm, injuries and even death.  When he was arrested the following day, Estes told police that he was “preparing to fight a war on U.S. soil” and that this bomb was but one part of that war. That, folks, should frighten us a lot more than the refugee from Syria, the laborer from Mexico. How is that not newsworthy, yet every word that spews from the mouth of Donald Trump, is ‘breaking news’?

I understand that the mainstream media are for-profit organizations, that they are in business to make money, and that as such they must use their resources to report the stories they believe the people want to see.  But to ignore these stories, to give them less attention simply because it was a white male rather than a Syrian or a Mexican who committed the crime, is wrong.  We must hold the press accountable to report all the news, not to cherry pick and report only what Trump is doing.

In Support Of The 1st Amendment – Senator Ben Sasse

I am finding some things to like in some of the republican members of Congress these past few weeks.  Some of them are beginning to realize how dangerous the man in the Oval Office is, how inappropriate his words and actions are, and how he is sullying the office and all that it stands for.  And they are speaking up and speaking out.  Unfortunately, those who are beginning to realize what is happening are also some of the ones who are declining to run for re-election next year.  Figures.

ben sasse.jpeg

Senator Ben Sasse

I knew very little about Senator Ben Sasse until yesterday, though I had heard the name.  But yesterday, he impressed me … not once, but twice, both times in defense of freedom of the press!  It started when Trump fired off a series of ridiculous tweets claiming he might consider retaliation against NBC for a story they printed that Trump claims to be untrue, and then a general threat against all ‘network news’.

“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” 9:55 AM – Oct 11, 2017

“Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!” 8:09 PM – Oct 11, 2017

Ben Sasse responded in tweet with …

“Mr. President: Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?” 9:03 PM – 11 Oct 2017

I cannot think of a more appropriate response.  Good job, Ben Sasse!

And then came Trump’s appearance on Idiot of the Week Sean Hannity’s program.  Here is a brief excerpt …

Trump: Media is bad. They are really dishonest people. These are very, very dishonest people in many cases, in many cases. And not all. Look, I know some reporters, I know some journalists that are phenomenal people, very straight, very honest. But there’s such dishonesty. I mean, you know, it’s interesting. If I was just watching television, you don’t know whether or not because, you know, you’re just watching a report. But when you’re the one being written about, you know if it’s good or bad and it’s always, they try and make it negative. So, the media — I call it fake media. It is fake. It is so much fake news. And we have to understand —

Hannity: Do you agree with that? Fake news?

Trump: You know, and I only say it, so when people read things, they can understand that so much of it is indeed fake.

After the interview, Hannity apparently saw Senator Sasse’s tweet and responded …

“One of the biggest mistakes in my career was supporting @BenSasse. Just useless,” 10:37 PM – Oct 11, 2017

And Sasse again responds with wisdom and without vitriol …

“Sorry, Sean — you changed, not me. Some of us still believe in the Constitution. No President should play with censoring news they dislike.” 5:29 PM – Oct 12, 2017

Now, I am not a fan of this back-and-forth tweeting.  I think the heavy reliance government leaders place on Twitter as their primary mode of communication is unprofessional and a deterrent to intelligent speech.  However, my point today is that here is a republican senator who is willing to stand for the 1st Amendment right to free speech and a free press, and that impresses me.

A quick trip to Senator Sasse’s Facebook page shows a letter to his constituents dated February 2016 in which he explained to them that he could not, in good conscience, support Donald Trump, and he very soundly stated his reasons.  I could question, of course, where he stood during the vote to repeal and replace ACA, for obviously his was not one of the much-needed ‘nay’ votes.  But for the moment, I will content myself with the fact that he is supporting the press rather than the ‘man’ who is seeking to constrain the voice of the free press, the voice of America.

I have created a new award that I will issue on occasion, when I feel it is deserved, and Senator Ben Sasse is the first recipient of Filosofa’s Golden Thumbs Up Award

golden thumb upPaul Ryan also came out in support of a free press when speaking with a reporter, though he sidestepped mentioning Trump …

“I’m a constitutional conservative. I’m for the First Amendment. I don’t always agree and like what you guys write, but you have a right to do it. And I’m a constitutional conservative, and I’m just going to leave it at that.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s threats to revoke the broadcast licenses of NBC or any other legitimate news outlet are empty threats … at least at this time.  First, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) only licenses individual stations, not networks like NBC.  While station licenses can be questioned by community members, it has been more than twenty years since the FCC has refused to renew a broadcast license, and the odds of them doing so now are slim-to-none.

Even so, Trump’s threat must be considered dangerous, for Trump’s new FCC chairman, installed in January, is Ajit Pai, a man who is openly against internet privacy, a strong supporter of Donald Trump, and I do not trust that he might not be willing to tweak a few rules to keep Trump happy.  Interestingly, while criticizing the legitimate, mainstream press, Trump gives conspiracy theorist and purveyor of fake news, Sean Hannity, an interview.  Speaks volumes, don’t you think?

Nothing To See Here, Folks …

It was only a tweet … no more than 140 characters, and not much different than many others he has thumbed over the past two years, but it sent a shockwave through the media and the thinkers in the nation.

“Why Isn’t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!”

I have used the terms ‘authoritarian’ and ‘autocrat’ in the same sentence with ‘Trump’ more than a few times over the past two years.  Some thought I was being a bit alarmist, others overlooked it as ‘writer’s hype’.  Whatever meaning my readers chose, I meant it as seriously as I have ever meant anything.  I am given to deep thought, not hyperbole, so when I say Trump is a ‘wannabe king’, I am calling it as I see it.  And now others are seeing it as I have for months … years.

The tweet was one of those early morning ones … we all picture him sitting on the potty, his handlers not yet having arrived to wash and dress him.  Understand that by “fake news”, Trump means news that does not praise him, news that … GASP … has the unmitigated gall to actually criticize him.  The truth — as hundreds of fact checks have shown — is that the biggest purveyor of fake news in the country right now is Trump. According to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog, Trump has made 1,145 false or misleading claims in his first 232 days in office. That’s 4.9 false or misleading statements per day.  Think about that one for a minute.  Even the biggest fibber I have known couldn’t top that record.

Trump has praised Alex Jones, the purveyor of imagination-based conspiracy theories, saying things such things as, “Your reputation’s amazing. I will not let you down.” His favourite network for news is the unquestionably biased Fox News.  And he licks the hand of Breitbart’s Steve Bannon.  Yet he calls the most reliable news outlets in the nation “fake news”.  All of which we have learned to live with, learned to take with a grain of salt, else simply tune out, as the bratty child who goes around all day long whining the same whine. This, then, is the danger … that his rhetoric, his lies, become the norm and we adapt by tuning them out, by ignoring him.

But a threat, however vague, against the Fourth Estate, is a threat against us all, and it rings as loudly of authoritarianism as did the sound of jackboots on the cobbled pavement of the Nuremberg parade grounds where Hitler held his propaganda rallies.

Virtually every president has had issues with the press … it is the nature of the beast.  But none before have been so convinced the media is comprised primarily of liberals trying to push their agenda behind the guise of neutrality. Does Trump actually believe what he claims, or is it more rhetoric, the sole purpose of which is to keep his followers riled?  Who knows?  It doesn’t matter, for either way, it is a dangerous game and one that needs to end before this travesty results in more unfettered power for Trump and less transparency for We The People.

As I typed that previous sentence at 12:50 a.m., the following banner flashed across my screen …

DOJ demands Facebook information from ‘anti-administration activists’

And the ‘developing story’ thus far …

Trump administration lawyers are demanding the private account information of potentially thousands of Facebook users in three separate search warrants served on the social media giant, according to court documents obtained by CNN.

The warrants specifically target the accounts of three Facebook users who are described by their attorneys as “anti-administration activists who have spoken out at organized events, and who are generally very critical of this administration’s policies.”

The information requested … nay, demanded … would include any and all who have visited their pages or interacted with them via post, chat, comment, etc.  Think about that last post you commented on yesterday, the one criticizing Trump for _________________________ (fill in the blank).  Perhaps it originated by one of the three activists being investigated.  You are now on the radar.

On the campaign trail last year, Trump said …

“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 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.”

I found that chilling then … I find it even more so tonight.  This is a man who wanted the job of president for one reason only:  power.  But, as he settles in, if he can be said to be doing so, he is finding that the power he envisioned has limits, that he is not a king, but rather an elected official who answers to the citizens of this nation.  The citizens, with the exception of his lemmings, are not happy.  He really doesn’t care that we are not happy, except … in our unhappiness, we are petitioning our members of Congress, and we are speaking out loud and clear.  His dilemma, then, becomes how to ensure that we do not have access to the goings-on in his administration.  How best to do that?  I leave that to you to answer for tonight, for I am tired. Think about it.

Does It Matter? HELL YES It Matters!

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you do not like Donald Trump.  And let’s say that one day you are putzing around on the great Internet, and you come across a website that is predominantly anti-Trump, so you decide to check it out.  You read an article or two, make a comment or two, perhaps respond to a few poll questions, and then you move on.

knockA month later, there is a knock on the door, and there stand two men in dark glasses, asking if you are _______________ (insert name)?  Why are they there?  What do they want?  They most likely want your computers and cell phones, but they may also wish to search your home. What do they want?  They want your right to freedom of speech.

Los Angeles-based tech company DreamHost set up a website, www.DisruptJ20.org, last year after the 2016 presidential election to help coordinate inauguration day protestors.  Some 1.3 million people visited the site at one time or another, and now the U.S. attorney’s office in the District of Columbia has issued a search warrant for email addresses, names, photos and blog posts of the people who visited the site.

U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips justifies the warrant by saying, “That website was used in the development, planning, advertisement and organization of a violent riot that occurred in Washington, D.C. on January 20, 2017.”  But the federal government has already charged more than 200 people in connection with the protests that injured six police officers and damaged store windows and at least one vehicle.

DreamHost raised concerns with Assistant U.S. Attorney John W. Borchert about the scope and constitutionality of the warrant, fearing it was overbroad and possibly in violation of the 1980 Privacy Protection Act. That was when prosecutors responded with a motion to compel the company to turn over the requested records.  They also argued that the Privacy Protection Act does not preclude the government from seizing even “protected” materials with a search warrant.

Last month, DreamHost filed a reply arguing that the warrant’s breadth violates the Fourth Amendment and also raises First Amendment issues. Mark Rumold, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that no plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of such breadth, “other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible.” Even people who were nowhere near Washington on Inauguration Day who visited the website will have their data “swept into a criminal investigation,” he said.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin ordered the company to comply with the warrant, but last week DreamHost filed a motion asking that the judge put his order on hold while they consider whether to appeal. Prosecutors, concerned that such a delay could hinder their cases against dozens charged in Inauguration Day riots, have asked the judge to force DreamHost to turn over the data immediately.

In a recent interview, DreamHost’s co-founder and chief executive, Dallas Kashuba said …

“This is a fundamental issue of online privacy and how the Internet works. If this goes the wrong way, it could detrimentally impact the Internet itself. If people become afraid to access websites because they may be found out, it could chill the online communication.”

I find this whole thing deeply concerning in the era of Trump and Jeff Sessions.  Most everybody reading this writes for at least their own blog.  Some of us also publish in other publications as well. In the course of our writing, we do research, seeking facts and opinions, and frequently our research takes us to sites that may be controversial.  I may well have, at some point in time, accessed the DisruptJ20 site seeking information.  Does that make me a criminal, subject to investigation by the Department of Justice?  It should not.

Let us put this in perspective.  It is not against the law to access an anti-Trump website.  It is not against the law to write a blog or an OpEd that speaks against Donald Trump.  It is not against the law to plan, organize or participate in a protest march or rally.  If violence ensues at said protest, then it is against the law to throw rocks and bottles, damage property or threaten bodily harm, and anybody who engages in such behaviour should certainly be arrested.  But not everybody who may have high-fived the protest, or even been on the scene, peacefully protesting is breaking the law.

I do not know how this will turn out, and if the federal government has its way, I cannot predict what damage will be done to the future of free speech, but I do see this as very concerning.  As I have been saying, we need to keep our eye on the ball, lest somebody steal the ball from beneath our very noses.

Shoes Are Not News …

Dear Free Press … You Blew It … Again

I applaud our press … they have kept us informed despite a secretive and contrary administration.  They have found resources where there might have been none.  They are our last best hope to remain free of the heavy hand of an unhinged dictator.  But this week they blew it.

stop-press4Credibility.  It’s all about credibility.  Too many, following Trump’s claims of “fake news” question the mainstream, legitimate press already.  They must maintain high standards, be their own fact-checkers, and most importantly, focus on what is important.  And quite frankly, Melania Trump’s shoes are not what is important.  Nobody cares if Melania wants to wear 6” stilettos to traipse through the flood water in Texas.  Well … nobody should care.  Those who do, wouldn’t understand real news if it punched them in the nose, so they don’t count.

Remember when First Lady Obama had the gall to … gasp … wear a sleeveless dress to some event or another during President Obama’s first few months in office?  The press was all over that one too.  Now, the New York Times and most other major publications have a ‘fashion’ section, and if they wish to analyze Melania’s shoes in that section, then fine.  But it should not, as it was five days ago, be front page news that …

“When is a shoe not just a shoe? When it is a pair of very high, needle-thin heels worn by the first lady of the United States on her way to the site of a natural disaster. Then it becomes a symbol for what many see as the disconnect between the Trump administration and reality; another example of the way in which this president and his family continue to define “appropriate” their own way; and an excuse for partisan name-calling.”

shoes-1.jpgMind you, I am not disputing the above statement, for it is the truth.  I am merely saying that it is not news, it is not sound journalism, it is not the most relevant issue of the day, and it does nothing for the credibility of the source, in this case the New York Times, though The Washington Post and others also jumped on the bandwagon.  Predictably, Fox News and others didn’t miss the opportunity to criticize …

“Politico, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Vanity Fair all went as low as they could go — all the way to the floor — to attack Melania Trump. Readers were astonished at how ridiculous the media were willing to be to savage team Trump.

Here’s how they decided to play footsie with Melania: Politico’s “Melania’s stiletto sideshow,”  Vanity Fair’s “What Not to Wear to a natural disaster,” and, the Times’s “a symbol for what many see as the disconnect between the Trump administration and reality.”

And of course a few comedians had their say …

“But people weren’t talking about the nuclear missile that Kim Jong Un tested, because Melania Trump apparently did something much worse, She went to Houston wearing high heels.” – Trevor Noah of The Daily Show

Focus, dear press, focus.  We need you to do better than this.  We need you to be reporting on the important news of the day, not on what Ms. Trump chooses to put on her feet. Frankly, I don’t care if Melania chooses to wear cute little bunny slippers … given her past profession, I am just happy to see her fully clothed!

The mainstream media may have learned their lesson, for yesterday, as the Trumps once again headed for a “do-over” photo op amidst the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, the above-named media outlets were silent on Melania’s fashion statement, though other, less reputable publications such as The Blaze, Mirror, and The American Spectator picked up the ball and reported on Melania’s “defiance” of the criticism earlier in the week, as she sported her ‘snakeskin stilettos’.  Personally, I have never understood why anybody would wish to try to walk in those things, but that’s just my opinion. I have enough trouble balancing on my flat feet!

shoes-2The mainstream media has always been under a magnifying glass, criticized when they get it wrong but rarely praised for getting it right.  Under the present administration, the scrutiny is even more intense, with daily attacks on the press by not only Trump, but many of his advisors and minions, not to mention the right-wing media outlets and conservative pundits.  It is more imperative than ever that the press leave Melania’s fashion choices to the fashion pages and instead keep the ‘news’ section for real news such as North Korea’s missile tests, Trump’s abhorrent staff picks, his attempts to destroy federal regulations, and his undermining of foreign relations, to name a few.  Focus on the connections between Russia and Trump last year, focus on the connection between Hurricane Harvey and carbon emissions.  Just don’t throw away your credibility, for our very freedom depends on you, our press, to shine the light in the dark corners. Shoes are not news.

P.O.P. — Protect Our Press!!!

I did not and will not write an analysis of Trump’s speech in Phoenix, Arizona on Tuesday night.  Simply put, it was a disgusting display of lies, self-promotion, arrogance and rants against anyone and anything that has opposed him for the past seven months.  Oh yes, and throw in some bullying and a few threats as well.  That said, there is one element of his rambling speech that does bear shining a light on, and that is his almost non-stop attacks on the free press.

free-speech-3For those of you who read my blog regularly, yes, I AM obsessed with the freedom of the press and rail loudly against anything I perceive as a threat to it.  Why?  Because the free press is every bit as much a part of those checks and balances that rein in the person sitting in the Oval Office, and that person needs to be reined in, perhaps more than any in recent memory. Without our free press, we have no claim on being a democratic republic, a nation where people are free to speak their mind, even when it is to disagree with the person in the White House.

Is the press perfect?  No, of course not.  Could they do a better job?  Certainly.  In the words of one of my favourite New York Times writers, Nicholas Kristof …

Kristof-2.jpgLook, we in journalism deserve to have our feet held to the fire. We make mistakes all the time, and too often we are superficial, sensationalist, unfair, defensive or diverted by shiny objects. Critics are right that we in the national media are often out of touch with working-class America, and distressingly often, we are lap dogs instead of watchdogs.

Yet for all our failings, journalism remains an indispensable constraint on power. Trump has systematically tried to delegitimize the institutions that hold him accountable — courts, prosecutors, investigators, the media — and that’s the context for his vilification of all them, for we collectively provide monitoring that outrages him.

During Trump’s campaign-style rally (when will he realize that a) he won the bloomin’ election, and b) he will be long gone before the next?) he called journalists “sick people”, accused the news media of “trying to take away our history and our heritage” and questioned their patriotism. “I really think they don’t like our country,” he said.

free-press-2.jpgFor more than a year we have listened to Trump disparage the press, but on Tuesday he seemed to kick it up a notch or two. Margaret Sullivan, a media columnist for The Washington Post, called it “the most sustained attack any president has ever made on the press.”

On ABC’s Good Morning America, Cecilia Vega said on Wednesday of Trump’s Tuesday media-bashing that “this was incitement, plain and simple. This one felt different. It really feels like a matter of time, frankly, before someone gets hurt.” The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has identified 16 physical attacks on journalists in 2017,  in addition to 20 arrests of journalists and 12 searches and seizures.

Mr. Kristoff agrees with Ms. Vega’s assessment, saying, “When Trump galvanizes crowds against reporters in the room, I worry that we may lose journalists in the line of duty not only in places like Syria but also right here at home. Trump will get people hurt.”

free-press-3.jpgDonald Trump and his supporters keep pointing to the 2nd Amendment, but today I point to the more important 1st amendment.  The freedom of the press to do their job, to keep us apprised of what our elected representatives are doing, is a stanchion of our very democracy.  They are not perfect.  Many a morning I get up, open up the New York Times or Washington Post website and utter a sigh of disgust as I am faced with story after story issuing the same news I read before I went to bed three hours earlier.  More often than not, I have to dig for the tidbits of real news, else go to European sources such as Reuters, the Guardian or BBC.  But perfect or not, they are ours.  They are trying, and I do not wish to live in a world without them.  I do not intend to live in a nation where journalists can be arrested for reporting something that the prez disagrees with or simply does not like.

A bit of true irony here … Trump keeps referring to the “failing New York Times”, yet nothing could be further from the truth.

NYT-stock.pngThe price per share of New York Times stock has nearly doubled, from $10.80 on November 3rd, to $19.95 on July 27th.  And readership?  According to CEO Mark Thompson, “We added an astonishing 308,000 net digital news subscriptions, making Q1 the single best quarter for subscriber growth in our history.”

nyt-readership.jpg

That’s failure?  I can’t wait to see success!

Mr. Kristof’s closing words will serve as mine also:

This is an extraordinary moment in our nation’s history, for we are enduring an epic struggle over the principles on which our country was founded. These include the idea that a flawed free press is an essential institutional check on flawed leaders.

So may I humbly suggest that when a megalomaniacal leader howls and shrieks at critics, that is when institutional checks on that leader become a bulwark of democracy.