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May 14, 2018
Pay-to-Play in the Press: A Case Study

If Donald Trump was a Marvel character, his name might be something like "DeceptiCon." That is, the never-before-seen frequency and magnitude of Trump's lies combine to create a Cloak of Confusion, a black hole-like force from which the truth seemingly cannot escape. Defying the laws of physics and logic, he was after all a Schrödinger's Candidate, often for and against the same thing at the same time. And now as the Heisenberg Uncertainty President, it is virtually impossible to ever simultaneously know what Trump would believe, say, and do on any issue. Most insidious of all, DeceptiCon has produced learned helplessness in almost all who observe him, especially among members of the media. Slowly but surely, the search for objective truth is abandoned as Trump's unceasing torrent of frauds, falsehoods, and fictions is gradually accepted as routine, normal, and even entertaining.

This process was essentially complete well before Election Day in November 2016. On August 18, 2016, Trump relaunched his campaign under the guidance of Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon. In what was billed as a major address in Charlotte, North Carolina, Republican nominee Trump pledged:

"One thing I can promise you is this: I will always tell you the truth."

Of course, his meta vow wasn't true. Not even close. A quick check of Politifact on August 19, 2016 revealed that Donald Trump always told the truth only about 30 percent of time. Of 223 statements evaluated by Politifact, a staggering 157 of them (70 percent), were rated as "Mostly False," "False," or "Pants on Fire." Almost two years later, that ratio (377 of 553 statements, or 68 percent) still holds. Robert Mann's 2016 conclusion that Donald Trump lied far and away more than other major party candidate in recent history has only been confirmed since. As the New York Times documented in December 2017, "In his first 10 months, Trump told nearly six times as many falsehoods as Obama did during his entire presidency." All told, the Washington Post Factchecker reported on May 1, "President Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims so far."

Nevertheless, this man became president of the United States. He holds the office still. Back on September 5, 2016--just days after it was revealed that Trump had engaged in a pay-to-play scheme with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to halt an investigation into Trump University there--Paul Waldman presciently summed up the dynamic that would make Trump's path to the Oval Office possible:

It's not that there isn't plenty of negative coverage of Trump, because of course there is, but it's focused mostly on the crazy things he says on any given day...

That's important, because we may have reached a point where the frames around the candidates are locked in: Trump is supposedly the crazy/bigoted one, and Clinton is supposedly the corrupt one. Once we decide that those are the appropriate lenses through which the two candidates are to be viewed, it shapes the decisions the media make every day about which stories are important to pursue.

Not just which stories are important to pursue, but how. As a look back at the coverage of the Clinton Foundation shows, that dangerous dynamic is still at work. But with the latest revelations from the Michael Cohen/Stormy Daniels sagas, hopefully not for much longer.

Continue reading at Daily Kos.

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May 7, 2018
Next Year in Tehran?

As President Obama faced the looming re-election campaign in the spring of 2012, he issued a stern challenge to those critics of his approach to the Iranian nuclear program. "When I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do," Obama pointed out, "It turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years." Slamming the "casualness" of their incendiary rhetoric, President Obama declared, "This is not a game." And that wasn't all:

"If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk."

Six years later and on the eve of the third anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to by Iran and the P5+1 powers, the cheap talk is back. That's because Donald Trump has set himself a May 12 deadline to reimpose sanctions on Iran if Tehran does agree to major new concessions beyond the scope of the deal. And while France, Germany, the U.K., and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have pleaded with him to continue the agreement with which Iran has consistently complied (the International Atomic Energy Association [IAEA] has now certified that compliance 9 times), Trump is threatening to rip up the accord. And if he does, Donald Trump could unleash a devastating regional conflict that will make the Iraq war seem like a walk in the park.

As it turns out, that next disaster is being encouraged by many of the same voices who brought you the first one. Despite opposition from much of his current and former military leadership, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu re-emerged this week to urge Trump to back out of the deal. His English-language PowerPoint presentation only supported what American intelligence had concluded in its 2007 and 2011 National Intelligence Estimates: Iran had a clandestine nuclear weapons program which it halted in 2003. (Of course, Bibi was silent about the last time he pressed Americans to attack an Israeli foe in 2002, when he predicted, "If you take out Saddam's regime, I guarantee you it will have positive reverberations on the region.")

Former Bush National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice--the same Condi Rice who in the fall of 2002 warned "we don't what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"--proclaimed on Tuesday that "I don't think it's the end of the world if the administration leaves the agreement." And failed Iraq war cheerleader-turned-Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who in 2015 penned a New York Times op-ed titled simply "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran," promised a conference of the Iranian resistance group "People's Mujahedeen" (MEK) in Paris last year that the United States would go Old Testament on the Ayatollah's government in Iran:

"The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs' regime in Tehran. The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change and, therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself. That's why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!"

Leave aside for the moment America's calamitous experience with regime change and preventive war in 21st century. Bolton, Bibi, Condi, and their ilk are casually omitting two vital points when it comes to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Either the United States and its allies will immediately need a robust inspection regime to foreclose the possibility of Iranian cheating or they will need to launch a massive military campaign to thoroughly destroy the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. To put it another way, choosing to "jettison" the current JCPOA agreement means the Trump administration will either need a new accord very much like it or it will have to go to war.

Continue reading at Daily Kos.

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May 1, 2018
America in Black and White in Alabama

In an age of "both sides do it" and "teach the debate," some issues are simply black and white. So it was this week in Alabama, where truth and myth, hate and hagiography collided in two stories of the ongoing legacy of the Civil War and white supremacy. On Monday, the "Heart of Dixie" celebrated "Confederate Memorial Day," a holiday whose origins unsurprisingly date back to 1866. But while Alabama state offices and courts closed on the 23rd to honor the Confederacy's fallen soldiers and their "Lost Cause," just three days later the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened its doors in Montgomery. There, visitors were presented with the stark reality of the South's decades of racial lynching at a location just a few blocks from the expansive Montgomery slave market those Confederate dead fought to preserve.

While Confederate Memorial Day is part of the sinister, 153-year effort "to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity," the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative has documented 4,400 of the thousands of lynchings of African Americans across the South which followed its fall. No patriotic American worthy of that name can look away from horrifying truths like these. As the New York Times described just a few:

The magnitude of the killing is harrowing, all the more so when paired with the circumstances of individual lynchings, some described in brief summaries along the walk: Parks Banks, lynched in Mississippi in 1922 for carrying a photograph of a white woman; Caleb Gadly, hanged in Kentucky in 1894 for 'walking behind the wife of his white employer'; Mary Turner, who after denouncing her husband's lynching by a rampaging white mob, was hung upside down, burned and then sliced open so that her unborn child fell to the ground.

And what noble cause and lofty principles inspired this bestial, bloodthirsty cruelty? Why were Dangerfield Newby's ears cut off as trophies after John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid of 1859, as were the ears, nose, and genitals of Sam Hose during his torture and dismemberment in 1899? Why did Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest butcher hundreds of surrendering black Union troops at Fort Pillow in 1864 and white militiamen slaughter 100 African-Americans in Colfax, Louisiana, who were merely trying to safeguard the results of the local elections there in 1873? As Jane Coaston recently explained ("Confederate Memorial Day: when multiple states celebrate treason in defense of slavery"), Alabama Confederates like Stephen F. Hale made no secret of the obvious in December 1860:

What Southern man, be he slave-holder or non-slave-holder, can without indignation and horror contemplate the triumph of negro equality, and see his own sons and daughters in the not distant future associating with free negroes upon terms of political and social equality, and the white man stripped by the heaven-daring hand of fanaticism of that title to superiority over the black race which God himself has bestowed?

Continue reading at Daily Kos.

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April 23, 2018
Abortion, Free Speech, and the Right to Lie

In a recent episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver led a 20-minute deep dive into the world of "crisis pregnancy centers" (CPCs). With more than 3,500 such locations around the nation (more than double the number of facilities providing abortion services in the United States), CPCs exist to dissuade women from choosing to terminate their pregnancies. In pursuit of their mission to prevent abortions by almost any means necessary, crisis pregnancy centers can and do deceive their clients about what "care" they do offer (counseling, literature, videos, and "jelly on the belly") and don't provide (most notably abortion information and procedures). And as Oliver highlighted, no falsehood is too egregious--whether about the nonexistent link between abortion and breast cancer, mythical "post-abortion syndrome," fraudulent "facts" on fetal pain, or bogus statistics on the supposed dangers of the procedure--to keep it out of the talking points of the centers' ardent anti-abortion proprietors.

But for all the eye-opening moments in his hilariously disturbing segment, John Oliver omitted two points of badly needed context when it comes to the disinformation campaign being waged by America's crisis pregnancy centers. In March, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a challenge to a California law requiring the 200 CPCs there to notify women that the state provides free or low-cost health care, contraception services, and abortion. From their questioning, the justices seemed skeptical of California's effort to limit the free speech rights of the Golden State's crisis pregnancy centers. Yet even as the Roberts-led court seems likely to protect the principle that these anti-abortion enterprises may lie to American women, Republican-controlled states around the country continue to mandate that abortion providers must lie to their patients.

At the heart of this and future cases are two considerations central to the free speech law in the United States.

Continue reading at Daily Kos.

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April 13, 2018
Gingrich: Fox News Must Punish Me for Comparing FBI to Gestapo and Stalin

By now, most Americans know not to take former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at his word. The Fox News regular and failed GOP presidential candidate, after all, is on his third religion and his third wife. (Callista Bisek, currently Mrs. Gingrich No. 3 and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, was previously known as Newt's "frequent breakfast companion" during his marriage to wife No. 2.) So it is with Gingrich's comparison Wednesday of FBI agents to Hitler's Gestapo and Stalin's secret police. As it turns out, back in 2005, Newt demanded the Senate censure Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin for saying much the same thing about American torturers at Guantanamo Bay.

Appearing on Fox and Friends on April 11, Gingrich was appalled that federal agents acting under lawfully-obtained search warrants had raided the homes and offices of Donald Trump's former campaign manager and current personal lawyer. Despite Michael Cohen's admission that the FBI team was "professional" and "courteous" in obtaining evidence of possible crimes, Gingrich invented a myth of lawless, goose-stepping storm troopers kicking down doors:

"The fact is, that Rod Rosenstein has not done his job. He has not supervised Mueller. This whole thing is an absurdity.

We've now had one Paul Manafort and his wife in their pajamas at 3:00 in the morning, having the FBI break down the door. We've had this real last week, Cohen, the lawyer have the door taken off the hinges at 6:00 in the morning.

We're supposed to have the rule of law. It ain't the rule of law when they kick in your door at 3:00 in the morning and you're faced with armed men and you have had no reason to be told you're going to have that kind of treatment. That's a -- that's Stalin. That's the -- that's the Gestapo in Germany. That shouldn't be the American FBI." [Emphasis added.]

But while Trump water-carrier Gingrich is content to slander the Federal Bureau of Investigation now, it was a different story when Dick Durbin was telling the truth about America's shame in Gitmo.

On June 14, 2005, Senator Durbin took to the Senate floor to address his colleagues about the disturbing revelations of detainee abuse surfacing from Guantanamo Bay. Reading a statement from an FBI agent about the mistreatment of and cruelty towards prisoners he observed there, Durbin lamented:

"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners."

The response from the right was fast and furious. Leading the charge in defense of America's "enhanced interrogation techniques" (a term, by the way, introduced in the original German by the Gestapo), was Newt Gingrich. Four days later, Gingrich demanded the Senate censure Durbin for having "dishonored the United States and the entire Senate." As the Washington Post's Richard Cohen noted at the time:

Continue reading at Daily Kos.

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