Slime

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Conservative television is poisoning local TV networks. Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns the highest number of television stations in the U.S., is forcing local affiliates to pump out pro-Trump, anti-media (and anti-truth) propaganda – often over their objections. See the CNN video and article below. The media can’t be free if one company owns a critical a mass of stations. This is poisonous slime and has to be resisted.

CNN article Sinclair promos

 

 

The Trump Effect: More Bad News

Journalists

Senator Jeff Flake (Arizona) in his address to Congress on January 17th, made the point that dictators around the world are following Trump’s lead by calling any news they don’t like, fake. This CNN article examine’s its influence in Southeast Asia.

The most significant line in the article comes from a former Al Jazeera journalist (now a professor of journalism at Queensland University) who spent more than 400 days in captivity in Egypt after being convicted of spreading fake news, who said ” Trump has “shown no inclination to criticize or oppose (authoritarian) regimes.”

Full Article from CNN:

Asia’s strongmen follow Trump’s lead on fake news by Euan McKirdy, CNN

This is major. Senator Jeff Flake compares Trump’s rhetoric to Stalin in a speech everyone should read

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I thought this address was important enough to repost in its entirety. Outgoing Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona made a landmark speech on the floor of the Senate.

READ FULL ADDRESS BELOW

He took head on the atrocious behaviour of the Trump administration – the constant lying and the bullying of the press. He compared Trump’s phrases to Stalin’s (which I don’t think is overdoing it) and gave examples of dictatorial leaders using Trump’s phrase “fake news” to oppress their opponents. He even brought up the Founding Fathers (I was glad to hear this as I urge people to ask “what would the Founding Fathers do?”). The speech is significant because it might indicate a tipping point in the battle against the ‘post-truth’ era, created largely by the Trump and the now-nationalist Republican Party. Credit goes to Senator Flake for speaking out against his own party. Imagine putting the country ahead of the party? Republicans don’t like that. Predictably many Republicans and Trump sycophants have condemned Flake for his remarks. Also yesterday, on the same day Flake addressed congress, the Senior Senator from Arizona, John McCain had an opinion piece  in the Washington Post imploring Trump to stop attacking the press.I will post separately as it is so important.

Of course the issue of how important a free press is to a democracy was very important to Hitchens, and one about which he spoke of often. I can only imagine how the talk show circuit would be leaps and bounds better if he were still living.

Here is the text of the Flake Address:

From CNN, Jan 17, 2018: http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/17/politics/jeff-flake-speech/index.html

(CNN)Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to rebuke President Donald Trump for his repeated attacks on the media. Read Flake’s speech as it was prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, near the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident …” So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America.

As the distinguished former member of this body, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, famously said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan’s proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history.
It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last.
2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine “alternative facts” into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. “The enemy of the people,” was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.
Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader.
This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward — despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him “fake news,” it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.
I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of US based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.
According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on “false news” charges.
Mr. President, so powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office. Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful — in fact, we question the powerful most ardently — to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship — and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.
No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.
Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t.
No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism — who must constantly deflect and distort and distract — who must find someone else to blame — is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.
Now, we are told via Twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the “most corrupt and dishonest” media awards. It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.
And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.
Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth — and not partners in its destruction.
It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial — such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year’s inaugural.
But many untruths are not at all trivial — such as the seminal untruth of the president’s political career – the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama. Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate — to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all — the supposed “hoax” at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a “hoax” — as the president has many times — is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security. It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.
Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to further attacks. We are told by our intelligence agencies that those attacks are ongoing, yet it has recently been reported that there has not been a single cabinet-level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one. What might seem like a casual and routine untruth — so casual and routine that it has by now become the white noise of Washington – is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.
Mr. President, let us be clear. The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.
Mr. President, every word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports.
But a recent report published in our free press should raise an alarm. Reading from the story:
“In February…Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, “You can forge anything these days, we are living in a fake news era.”
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being “demonized” by “fake news.” Last month, the report continues, with our President, quote “laughing by his side” Duterte called reporters “spies.”
In July, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained to the Russian propaganda outlet, that the world media had “spread lots of false versions, lots of lies” about his country, adding, “This is what we call ‘fake news’ today, isn’t it?”
There are more:
“A state official in Myanmar recently said, “There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news,” referring to the persecuted ethnic group.
Leaders in Singapore, a country known for restricting free speech, have promised “fake news” legislation in the new year.”
And on and on. This feedback loop is disgraceful, Mr. President. Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.
We are not in a “fake news” era, as Bashar Assad says. We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.
In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action. Add to that the by-now predictable habit of calling true things false, and false things true, and we have a recipe for disaster. As George Orwell warned, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”
Any of us who have spent time in public life have endured news coverage we felt was jaded or unfair. But in our positions, to employ even idle threats to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions. Simply put: it is the press’s obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people’s right to criticize their government. And it is our job to take it.
What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? President John F. Kennedy, in a stirring speech on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, was eloquent in answer to that question:
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
Mr. President, the question of why the truth is now under such assault may well be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world — made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democratic institutions.
We are a mature democracy — it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring — or worse, endorsing — these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.
I sincerely thank my colleagues for their indulgence today. I will close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith that I find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques, and as a young missionary in England he contemplated the question: “What is truth?” His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that I grew up with, titled “Oh Say, What is Truth.” It ends as follows:
“Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst.
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal… unchanged… evermore.”
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

Hitchens to the Rescue (at least on Ann Coulter)

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Recently irritated by a stance taken by Ann Coulter,  I searched the web to see if she and Hitch ever crossed paths. The occasion for my irritation was her appearance on TV last week where she defended Donald Trump’s campaign manager, who was arrested for assaulting a female reporter at a rally. I thought she bulldozed over both the weak host and a guest who was brought on to provide the opposing view. It was one of those times where I wished Hitchens was the opponent, as he would have, I imagined, really stuck it to her with a scathing argument. With a quick search I found that he had not only met Ms. Coulter, but had reviewed one of  her books, “Godless: The Church of Liberalism” for The Liberal. Hitchens did not disappoint with his review:

 

Reprinted from The Liberal

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TRY sipping this single sentence and then rolling it around your tongue and palate for a while:

If Hitler hadn’t turned against their beloved Stalin, liberals would have stuck by him, too.

Well, I am being paid to parse and ponder that statement and I don’t understand it, either. Does it intend to say that liberals loved Hitler but drew the line at his invasion of the Soviet Union? Should it, rather, be interpreted as meaning that liberals were in love with Stalin but jumped ship when he was attacked by Hitler? It is remarkable to find so much intellectual and syntactical chaos in an assertion that contains no more than fifteen words.

But then, I have the distinct feeling that people do not buy Ann Coulter’s creed-screeds and speed-reads in order to enhance their knowledge of history or their command of syllogism. She has emerged as a persona because she has mastered the politics of resentment, and because she can combine the ideology of Human Events (the obscure ‘Joe McCarthy was right’ magazine) with the demand of the chat-show bookers for a tall blonde with a very rapid delivery on a wide range of subjects. The cover of this book – which follows the success of its forerunners Treason and Slander: titles that require little elucidation – shows her in a low-cut black dress with a prominent crucifix dangling over a modest cleavage. The needs of showbiz notwithstanding, I cannot fathom the reason for this slight come-hitherishness. Miss Coulter is not married and ought therefore, by her own loudly-proclaimed standards, to be a virgin and to remain so until further notice.

I used to know her slightly during the days when we both believed, for different reasons, that Bill Clinton was unfit to be President. I well remember her shock and anguish when Paula Jones, whose lawsuit had initiated the impeachment meltdown, posed in the buff for an inexpensive men’s magazine. I took the view that even a bad girl has the right not to be crudely importuned by her politician boss, but Miss Coulter seemed deeply and genuinely shocked: she had believed all along that Paula was a fragrant young thing, quite innocent of the vile nature of the male animal; and it is this innocence of her own, I think, for which she attempts to compensate by adopting a tough-guy (yes, I do mean to say ‘guy’) manner.

Here is another instance of the sheer incoherence that results from a mixture of feigned rage and low sarcasm:

If liberals are on Red Alert with one born-again Christian in the cabinet of a Christian president, imagine how they would react if there were five. Between 25 and 45 percent of the population calls itself “born-again” or “evangelical” Christian. Jews make up less than 2 per cent of the nation’s population, and yet Clinton had five in his cabinet. He appointed two to the Supreme Court. Now guess which administration is called a neoconservative conspiracy? Whether Jews or Christians, liberals are always on a witch hunt against people who appear to believe in God.

Again, and quite aside from its junk statistics (that space “between 25 and 45 per cent” appears to involve quite a margin of error) and its junk statistical comparisons (does Coulter really want me to name all the Jews who serve on President Bush’s foreign-policy team?), this passage seems to license the ultra-left and ultra-right innuendo that the terms ‘neoconservative’ and ‘Jew’ are interchangeable. The intellectual disgrace of this is self-evident, and so is its vulgar ignorance: say what you will about Leo Strauss, he did not even “appear” to believe in any deity. More noticeable, though, is the way that the abject confusion, with its resounding non sequitur of a concluding sentence, impels her to the negation of her own supposed “argument”. These are the pitfalls that are set by spite and by haste, and Coulter topples leggily into them every time.

Since her books always pull enough of a crowd to put them on the bestseller list, the editors and fact-checkers at her publishing house evidently go on vacation when the manuscripts float in. For all her show of biblical learning, she does not know the meaning of the word “shibboleth”, for example. She attacks those who seek “the removal of ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance”, when the case is that the Pledge should be restored to its original form, which did not include those two words. Are not conservatives supposed to manifest great respect for ‘original intent’? And then there’s the crass choice of words:

If Democrats ever dared speak coherently about what they believe, the American people would lynch them.

Leave aside the fact that most of what Coulter adduces is taken straight from the very mouths of Democrats who are coming right out with it, and notice the clumsy elision that interchanges “liberal”, “Democrat” and “Left”(and skip over the unironic use of the word “coherently”), the term to avoid here would have been “lynch”. Never to be employed flippantly, this expression has a real-time and real-life significance, which was felt very onerously in quite recent memory. Its disappearance, and the abolition of what went with it, is admittedly not due to “Democrats”, who ran Dixie as a private fief for far too long, but does redound very much to the credit of those American liberals and – even worse! – leftists who provided most of the energy of the Civil Rights movement. The umbrella group in this campaign was even called the ‘Southern Christian Leadership Conference’, not that this prevented many secularists and atheists from participating in it. Finally, I think we can safely say that Dr Martin Luther King “appeared” to believe in god. So, slice it as you will, Coulter finds herself inventing new ways in which to be wrong.

As it goes on, the book begins to seem more like typing than writing, and its demonstration of the relationship between poor language and crude ideas becomes more overt:

Assuming you aren’t a fetus, the Left’s most dangerous belief is their adoration of violent criminals.

Well, as I try to teach my students, if you write that “as a young man, my grandmother used to read to me”, you slightly insult your grandmother by stating that she used to be a young man. It’s not that hard to make the assumption Coulter demands here – that you are neither the Left nor a fetus – but the dangler is complemented in the same sentence by an inability to associate a singular Left with its supposed adoration of violent criminals. Some right-wingers has a marked tendency to make this mistake.

Shall I be fair? Coulter was trained as a lawyer, and she does have an understanding of the rules of evidence. There is one quite strong passage where she exposes, with some forensic wit, the bogus claims made by the conceited Joseph Wilson about his dealings with Niger. Just for once, she mostly lets the record speak for itself, and thus allows the indictment of those liberals who fell for Wilson to occur, as it were, naturally. With the help of some (generously acknowledged) right-wing clippings-services and quote-providers, she has no difficulty in highlighting various jaw-dropping remarks made by feminists, ‘pro-choice’ types, Hollywood narcissists and the more Malthusian ‘environmentalist’ faction. She re-opens the case of Willie Horton, the exploitation of whose story has become a fetish among liberals, and forces the reader to reconsider. If it matters, I am with her on the tepid climate of moral and political relativism which, while it wants all children to do equally well at exam time, also regards the United States as no worse than the Taliban and thus, by an unspoken logic, as no better. But a polemic against this mentality cannot really be written by a McCarthyite.

The closing chapters are lifted from the brief submitted by the absurdly-named ‘intelligent design’ school to a recent trial in the town of Dover, Pennsylvania. Not so long ago, when the voice of liberalism was muted, the ‘Creationists’ – to give them their correct name – sought to forbid the teaching of evolution. Now that they no longer feel confident enough to impose themselves in this manner, they have fallen back on a spurious ‘equal time’ plea, whining that pseudo-science should be taught, in the name of ‘fairness’, alongside the real thing. In the Pennsylvania case, as in other recent trials in Ohio and Kansas, not only were the Creationist members of the school board thrown out by voters, but it was decided by the courts that the proposed teaching of ‘intelligent design’ was (a) a violation of the United States Constitution; and (b) a fraudulent waste of time for both teachers and judges. (By the way, it seems to me that these outcomes ought to alter the picture, beloved by so many European liberals, of the United States as a wasteland of fundamentalist knuckle-draggers). Coulter, the super-patriot and flag-waver, is a true reactionary in that she yearns for the time when the keyword of her title, as in ‘Godless Communism’, was a mantra for the simple-minded. In a world where the true enemies of civilization are much, much more godly than the blonde goddess of the hard Right, Coulter is reduced to a blitzing of soft civilian targets – one redeemed only by its built-in tendency to fall so wide of the mark.
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.