• Bad Times for the First Amendment

    October 23, 2021 // 8 Comments »

     

    These are bad times for the First Amendment.

    The very big picture is bad. Progressives woke up one morning to realize they controlled the media. People who thought like them made our movies, TV shows, and most importantly, owned the greatest propaganda tool ever invented, social media. They could significantly influence not only which breakfast cereal America liked best, but also which candidate America should vote for.

    And none of it fell under the First Amendment. That old saw only protects people from government censorship, not corporate censorship or propaganda. The Founders never conceived we the people would want to have our media censored, or that companies would grow more powerful than the government to be able to do so, or that the age-old remedy for misinformation – truth – would become so reviled and feared. Of all the Founders’ omissions of issues unimaginable in the 18th century, this is the one which may prove fatal to the Republic.

    The big picture is bad. Thanks to legal razzle-dazzle aimed at limiting corporate liability for the garbage they publish, Section 230 of the Communication Act was born. This removed the threat of libel to allow social media to become an even more powerful influence in our lives. They could shove anything up America’s nose or down the memory hole penalty free.

    The law reads “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In other words, online intermediaries that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what is on their platforms. So if Twitter wants to only include false happy news about Hunter Biden, it can. If Twitter wants to enable those who spew out out-and-out lies about Trump, it can. They ran amok with Trump and Russia, willfully promoting lies that were part of a professional disinformation campaign Goebbels would have looked at in awe.

    The Founders envisioned media as an essential element of democracy, affording it unique status in the Bill of Rights to inform the people. Social media repurposed that grace into an anti-democratic tool which works like this: a journalist “publishes” a falsehood on social media. The mainstream media then does a story about that tweet, cleverly using Twitter as the quoted source to cover themselves from any claims of libel or obligation to the truth. They are just reporting what was already on Twitter.

    This legal and moral sleight of hand allows places like the NYT to whore out their credibility to front page the most atrocious gossip – see, we’re not saying it’s true, only that it was on Twitter. The power of the 1A protects the NYT, which becomes a front for the partisan work of so-called non-publishers on social media. Think of it as an 1A reach-around.

    This willful journalistic malfeasance could not exist without the collaboration of the search engines to hide the truth. Search engines have become of the most politicized interactions of anyone’s day, shoving information and denying it in equal amounts, all driven by the views of, well, someone, no one is really sure who anymore.

    What we do know for sure is in the end the massive global media infrastructure was recruited to drive Trump from office. Where the effort failed with Russia, Ukraine, January 6, and all the sideshow acts of Emoluments and Stormy Daniels, it finally got enough traction to matter with Covid. Trump killed your grandma. Today the guns are all reloaded, and the media is already declaring 2024 stolen if Trump wins.

    The small picture is also bad. Journalists, who depend on the 1A for their jobs, no longer believe in its most foundational tenet: informing the public to enable them to participate more fully in our democracy. On a small scale, journalism is now a weapon to take 1A rights away from those deemed politically unsuitable. Here’s one case study to spoil breakfast.

    I don’t know Shawn McCaffrey or Christopher Mathias. I do know both of them believe in ideological purity. But one’s a threat to the 1A and one just likes to hear himself talk.

    Shawn belonged to Identity Evropa, which among other things played a role in the 2017 “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville. Chris meanwhile identifies as a journalist for Huffington Post and covers “far right, disinformation, and hate.” He believes Identity Evropa Shawn is dangerous because he is “racist, homophobic and hosts an anti-Semitic podcast.”

    Chris believes Shawn is so dangerous he devoted his own First Amendment rights as a journalist to stomp the wind out of Shawn’s First Amendment right to say hateful things, to the point where Chris and HuffPo stalked Shawn to discover he had enlisted in the Air Force. They turned over their 1A-protected “journalism” to a progressive-aggressive Congresswoman for weaponization, not unlike the two-step practiced by place like NYT and Twitter. The Congresswoman made the Air Force throw Shawn out.

    Why did Chris, HuffPo, and the Congresswoman go so far out of their way to get Shawn out of the Air Force? Because they believe people like Shawn join the military not to serve their country, but “to receive combat training they can use to inflict violence on civilian targets and can recruit other servicemen and servicewomen to their cause.” Journo Chris adds this is “a problem brought into focus by the prevalence of current and former military personnel taking part in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6.” At worst only 15 percent of those arrested had some vague “tie” to military service.

    This game is not new for Chris and HuffPo. They got an elementary school teacher fired for writing things on “extremist” sites they did not agree with. The teacher also wrote for The Atlantic, Vice, The Daily Caller, and The Weekly Standard, the latter two Chris tells us “let him make his racist sympathies clear in print.” In 2019 Chris and HuffPo “exposed” 11 racist servicemen. Evidence HuffPo amassed included a Facebook posting by one who wrote he likes “Tennessee because it is conservative and Christian, implicitly white.” That’s not even true; the state is almost 17 percent black but whatever.

    Chris the journalist also believes without evidence “many nameless fascists today lead double lives, hiding behind avatars to promote their noxious beliefs online while holding down respectable day jobs in education, military, law enforcement, medicine or government.” He works with whatever the hell the Anonymous Comrades Collective is “to expose Nazis, racists and fascists.”

    By the way, in case you haven’t guessed, paranoid Journo Chris is the threat and Racist Shawn is the one who just likes to hear himself talk.

    When so-called journalists judge ideological purism, we see in practice the same hatred and bigotry, backed up by self-granted righteousness, they claim to oppose. Shawn blathering out of his basement about how gays aren’t suitable for the military is no different than Chris standing atop HuffPo’s platform and saying people like Shawn aren’t suitable for the military.

    Like any good National Socialist of old, Chris is certain what he is doing protects the country in what he wrote is a moment of moral emergency. He and HuffPo are nasty ideologues who believe their ends – ideologically cleansing America – justify the means. Right now that cleansing is a version of cancellation but really, why stop there? Go full Inglorious Basterds and really take out some Nazis as a final solution to free speech, the threat to democracy that keeps electing Republicans.

    Things have moved beyond journalists sniping at each other in print, or even partisan reporting. The case with Chris and Shawn is repugnant because it involves a journalist who finds someone else’s exercise of a Constitutional right so distasteful that he used the full power of an international media organization protected by that same First Amendment to destroy the speaker. That’s far more distasteful than anything out of Shawn’s potty mouth. And, biggest picture of all, that’s what is left of journalism at this point.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Six Critical Foreign Policy Questions That Won’t Be Raised in the Presidential Debates

    October 16, 2012 // 11 Comments »

    (This article originally appeared on TomDispatch and Huffington Post on October 11, 2012. It seems especially useful to review in light of both candidates demanding that the moderator of tonight’s debate not be allowed to ask follow-up questions. Softballs only, please. Indeed, the entire lengthy memo of understanding between the two candidates is an insult to democracy and shows their contempt for the entire process.)

    We had a debate club back in high school. Two teams would meet in the auditorium, and Mr. Garrity would tell us the topic, something 1970s-ish like “Resolved: Women Should Get Equal Pay for Equal Work” or “World Communism Will Be Defeated in Vietnam.” Each side would then try, through persuasion and the marshalling of facts, to clinch the argument. There’d be judges and a winner.

    Today’s presidential debates are a long way from Mr. Garrity’s club. It seems that the first rule of the debate club now is: no disagreeing on what matters most. In fact, the two candidates rarely interact with each other at all, typically ditching whatever the question might be for some rehashed set of campaign talking points, all with the complicity of the celebrity media moderators preening about democracy in action. Waiting for another quip about Big Bird is about all the content we can expect.

    But the joke is on us. Sadly, the two candidates are stand-ins for Washington in general, a “war” capital whose denizens work and argue, sometimes fiercely, from within a remarkably limited range of options.  It was D.C. on autopilot last week for domestic issues; the next two presidential debates are to be in part or fully on foreign policy challenges (of which there are so many). When it comes to foreign — that is, military — policy, the gap between Barack and Mitt is slim to the point of nonexistent on many issues, however much they may badger each other on the subject.  That old saw about those who fail to understand history repeating its mistakes applies a little too easily here: the last 11 years have added up to one disaster after another abroad, and without a smidgen of new thinking (guaranteed not to put in an appearance at any of the debates to come), we doom ourselves to more of the same.

    So in honor of old Mr. Garrity, here are five critical questions that should be explored (even if all of us know that they won’t be) in the foreign policy-inclusive presidential debates scheduled for October 16th, and 22nd — with a sixth bonus question thrown in for good measure.


    1. Is there an end game for the global war on terror?

    The current president, elected on the promise of change, altered very little when it came to George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (other than dropping the name). That jewel-in-the-crown of Bush-era offshore imprisonment, Guantanamo, still houses over 160 prisoners held without trial or hope or a plan for what to do with them. While the U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq — mostly because our Iraqi “allies” flexed their muscles a bit and threw us out — the war in Afghanistan stumbles on. Drone strikes and other forms of conflict continue in the same places Bush tormented: Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan (and it’s clear that northern Mali is heading our way).

    A huge national security state has been codified in a host of new or expanded intelligence agencies under the Homeland Security umbrella, and Washington seems able to come up with nothing more than a whack-a-mole strategy for ridding itself of the scourge of terror, an endless succession of killings of “al-Qaeda Number 3” guys. Counterterrorism tsar John Brennan, Obama’s drone-meister, has put it this way: “We’re not going to rest until al-Qaeda the organization is destroyed and is eliminated from areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Africa, and other areas.”

    So, candidates, the question is: What’s the end game for all this? Even in the worst days of the Cold War, when it seemed impossible to imagine, there was still a goal: the “end” of the Soviet Union. Are we really consigned to the Global War on Terror, under whatever name or no name at all, as an infinite state of existence?  Is it now as American as apple pie?


    2. Do today’s foreign policy challenges mean that it’s time to retire the Constitution?

    A domestic policy crossover question here. Prior to September 11, 2001, it was generally assumed that our amazing Constitution could be adapted to whatever challenges or problems arose. After all, that founding document expanded to end the slavery it had once supported, weathered trials and misuses as dumb as Prohibition and as grave as Red Scares, Palmer Raids, and McCarthyism. The First Amendment grew to cover comic books, nude art works, and a million electronic forms of expression never imagined in the eighteenth century. Starting on September 12, 2001, however, challenges, threats, and risks abroad have been used to justify abandoning core beliefs enshrined in the Bill of Rights. That bill, we are told, can’t accommodate terror threats to the Homeland. Absent the third rail of the Second Amendment and gun ownership (politicians touch it and die), nearly every other key amendment has since been trodden upon.

    The First Amendment was sacrificed to silence whistleblowers and journalists. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were ignored to spy on Americans at home and kill them with drones abroad. (September 30th was the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration’s first acknowledged murder without due process of an American — and later his teenaged son — abroad. The U.S. has similarly killed two other Americans abroad via drone, albeit “by accident.”)

    So, candidates, the question is: Have we walked away from the Constitution? If so, shouldn’t we publish some sort of notice or bulletin?


    3. What do we want from the Middle East?

    Is it all about oil? Israel? Old-fashioned hegemony and containment? What is our goal in fighting an intensifying proxy war with Iran, newly expanded into cyberspace? Are we worried about a nuclear Iran, or just worried about a new nuclear club member in general? Will we continue the nineteenth century game of supporting thug dictators who support our policies in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya (until overwhelmed by events on the ground), and opposing the same actions by other thugs who disagree with us like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad? That kind of policy thinking did not work out too well in the long run in Central and South America, and history suggests that we should make up our mind on what America’s goals in the Middle East might actually be. No cheating now — having no policy is a policy of its own.

    Candidates, can you define America’s predominant interest in the Middle East and sketch out a series of at least semi-sensical actions in support of it?


    4. What is your plan to right-size our military and what about downsizing the global mission?

    The decade — and counting — of grinding war in Iraq and Afghanistan has worn the American military down to its lowest point since Vietnam. Though drugs and poor discipline are not tearing out its heart as they did in the 1970s, suicide among soldiers now takes that first chair position. The toll on families of endless deployments is hard to measure but easy to see. The expanding role of the military abroad (reconstruction, peacekeeping, disaster relief, garrisoning a long necklace of bases from Rota, Spain, to Kadena, Okinawa) seems to require a vast standing army. At the same time, the dramatic increase in the development and use of a new praetorian guard, Joint Special Operations Command, coupled with a militarized CIA and its drones, have given the president previously unheard of personal killing power. Indeed, Obama has underscored his unchecked solo role as the “decider” on exactly who gets obliterated by drone assassins.

    So, candidates, here’s a two-parter: Given that a huge Occupy Everywhere army is killing more of its own via suicide than any enemy, what will you do to right-size the military and downsize its global mission?  Secondly, did this country’s founders really intend for the president to have unchecked personal war-making powers?


    5. Since no one outside our borders buys American exceptionalism anymore, what’s next? What is America’s point these days?

    The big one. We keep the old myth alive that America is a special, good place, the most “exceptional” of places in fact, but in our foreign policy we’re more like some mean old man, reduced to feeling good about himself by yelling at the kids to get off the lawn (or simply taking potshots at them).

    During the Cold War, the American ideal represented freedom to so many people, even if the reality was far more ambiguous. Now, who we are and what we are abroad seems so much grimmer, so much less appealing (as global opinion polls regularly indicate). In light of the Iraq invasion and occupation, and the failure to embrace the Arab Spring, America the Exceptional, has, it seems, run its course.

    America the Hegemonic, a tough if unattractive moniker, also seems a goner, given the slo-mo defeat in Afghanistan and the never-ending stalemate that is the Global War on Terror. Resource imperialist? America’s failure to either back away from the Greater Middle East and simply pay the price for oil, or successfully grab the oil, adds up to a “policy” that only encourages ever more instability in the region. The saber rattling that goes with such a strategy (if it can be called that) feels angry, unproductive, and without any doubt unbelievably expensive.

    So candidates, here are a few questions: Who exactly are we in the world and who do you want us to be? Are you ready to promote a policy of fighting to be planetary top dog — and we all know where that leads — or can we find a place in the global community? Without resorting to the usual “shining city on a hill” metaphors, can you tell us your vision for America in the world? (Follow up: No really, cut the b.s and answer this one, gentlemen.  It’s important!)


    6. Bonus Question: To each of the questions above add this: How do you realistically plan to pay for it? For every school and road built in Iraq and Afghanistan on the taxpayer dollar, why didn’t you build two here in the United States? When you insist that we can’t pay for crucial needs at home, explain to us why these can be funded abroad. If your response is we had to spend that money to “defend America,” tell us why building jobs in this country doesn’t do more to defend it than anything done abroad.


    Now that might spark a real debate, one that’s long, long overdue.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Remember Iraq? Romney, Obama Fail To Make War Part Of Campaign

    October 14, 2012 // 21 Comments »

    Dan Froomkin of the Huffington Post deserves our thanks for being one of the few journalists out there still writing about Iraq.

    Remember that? America invaded Iraq in 2003 and occupied the country for some nine years, at the cost of over 5,000 American and who-the-f*ck knows how many Iraqi lives. Of all those troops the candidates are always honoring and planning to help (start anytime, guys), many served in Iraq.

    Yet the Iraq War is a ghost, barely mentioned anywhere and about as popular on the campaign trail as herpes on toast.

    Dan reminds us:

    But the U.S still maintains a significant diplomatic presence there, in the form of the largest and most expensive ($6 billion a year ongoing operating costs) embassy ever built. Iraq is at long last becoming a geopolitical force in the region — but an increasingly authoritarian one, closely allied with Iran.


    Dan quotes me as arguing:

    …the war in Iraq showed the United States’ enemies its weaknesses. America’s power was demonstrated to have very clear limits. We have the world’s most powerful military, but there seems to be a back door in terms of how to bleed it, how to defeat it.


    The full piece is well worth reading, especially since you won’t hear a word about Iraq from either candidate.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Sometimes being right doesn’t solve a damn thing

    April 19, 2012 // 2 Comments »




    People ask the question in various ways, sometimes hesitantly, often via a long digression, but my answer is always the same: no regrets.

    In some 24 years of government service, I experienced my share of dissonance when it came to what was said in public and what the government did behind the public’s back. In most cases, the gap was filled with scared little men and women, and what was left unsaid just hid the mistakes and flaws of those anonymous functionaries.

    What I saw while serving the State Department at a forward operating base in Iraq was, however, different. There, the space between what we were doing (the eye-watering waste and mismanagement), and what we were saying (the endless claims of success and progress), was filled with numb soldiers and devastated Iraqis, not scaredy-cat bureaucrats.

    That was too much for even a well-seasoned cubicle warrior like me to ignore and so I wrote a book about it, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. I was on the spot to see it all happen, leading two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in rural Iraq while taking part up close and personal in what the U.S. government was doing to, not for, Iraqis. Originally, I imagined that my book’s subtitle would be “Lessons for Afghanistan,” since I was hoping the same mistakes would not be endlessly repeated there. Sometimes being right doesn’t solve a damn thing.

    The whole story makes for an interesting read, especially the part about how the book came to be published. You can read the original article about all this on TomDispatch.com.

    The piece was also reprinted at a number of other sites:

    Salon

    Huffington Post

    The Nation

    Le Monde

    NewsDay

    Daily Kos

    American Conservative Magazine

    Asia Times

    Truthout

    Mother Jones

    Middle East Online

    Michael Moore

    Newser

    Whistleblower.org

    FM Blog

    Al-Arab Online

    Antiwar.com

    ZNET

    Juan Cole, Informed Comment

    OpEd News

    Socialist Worker Online

    War in Context

    Nation of Change

    Smirking Chimp

    Commondreams

    Alternet

    Michigan Blogger

    Government Accountability Project

    Daily Attack

    Democratic Underground

    One News Page

    Foreign Moon

    Pacific Free Press




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America