Category Archives: Politics

Free speech, public discourse and tolerance in 2017

Yesterday, after watching the President’s abject moral failure to categorically denounce Nazism, racism and white supremacy as bad — which, really, should not have been a big ask — I went over to Trump Tower after work to let off some steam and shout at the gleaming black Isengard with my fellow Ents. Honestly, it felt great.

A gentleman on social media got into a discussion with me afterward regarding free speech and political discourse. Now, I don’t think he was a Trump supporter by any stretch, but he was passionate about free speech. The conversation was civil, but I pretty much ended it when I saw the rhetorical trap he was setting with regard to free speech, boiling it down to either for or against.

Obviously, it’s not as simple as that, and the argument goes well beyond whatever one can thumb-type on a bus. So I’m gonna unpack it here. Fair warning: politics and Nazis below. Skip if you’re understandably tired of it all.

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Let’s talk about media leaks

The new, and supremely unqualified, White House communications honcho Anthony Scaramucci threw a public fit this week when some media types got hold of his financial disclosure form. He called it an unauthorized leak and saying he was gonna find out who did it and file charges.

Of course, this end up being a blinding display of ignorance and incompetence, as said form was already in the public domain. But this is what you get when you put a hedge fund manager in charge of political communications, rather like the result you’d get putting a mechanical engineer in charge of heart surgery. Just because you’re smart at one thing doesn’t mean you’re qualified to do something completely different.

As for the leaks coming out of the White House, Congress and the various executive branch departments…well, duh, what did you expect? Leaks happen. Leaks are currency, man. So long as people have agendas and/or axes to grind — and the Trump Administration is causing a run on grindstones all over town — there’s gonna be leaks.

And here’s the thing: In many cases, leaks aren’t bad in and of themselves. We wouldn’t have known about Watergate without leaks. Or Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction. Yes, they can be weaponized to drag people down — ref. Clinton, William Jefferson, who of course should’ve kept it in his pants in the first place. And yes, on very rare occasion, leaks can cause real damage to American interests and lives.

But let’s be super clear. Those occasions are exceedingly rare, and the vast majority of responsible journalists will hold off on publishing leaked information if it impacts intelligence gathering, military operations, court proceedings, etc. There’s an entire system of informal exchanges that happen in these cases; for example. rumor has it The Washington Post is sitting on some great dirt on Trump and not publishing it at the request of special counsel Robert Mueller because it would screw up his investigation.

Now, I didn’t cover much of Washington back in my journalism days, but I did get leaks on the business beat. And I found that they tend to fall into three categories. Read on for some serious journalism wonkery!

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The Doctor, Confederate, and the echoes of history

Well, the culture wars sure came home to roost this week, didn’t they? One step forward, one step back.

First, forward! The 13th Doctor — the time- and dimension-hopping, body-regenerating protagonist of Doctor Who — is going to be a woman, and it’s damn well about time. Pun intended. Women, of course, make up slightly half of the human race, after all, and I think it’s safe to say that Gallifreyan Time Lords (and Ladies!) are similarly proportional in gender, lest there be a shortage of little Time Lords/Ladies. So the fact that it took the 14th iteration of the Doctor (there was a War Doctor between #8 and #9) to get a woman is a statistical outlier, to say the least.

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Communications fail

No, I’m not talking about this blog, which hasn’t been updated in a good long while, sad to say. Between travel and work and getting MJ-12: Endgame off the ground — plus preparing for the launch of MJ-12: Shadows  in September — it’s been rather busy.

Plus, there have been distractions. I know I’m not the only writer grotesquely entranced by the insanity coming out of Washington, from TrumpCare to climate change denial to God-knows-what. But the train wreck that never ceases to amaze me is the utter lack of sensible communications from the White House.

In short — the font of self-inflicted damage is amazing. And so easily avoided, too.

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This is what you get when folks vote against their own interests

Warning: Political rant incoming. Feel free to skip if you like, though I hope you won’t — especially if you think you might disagree. Different perspectives are fun. 

Nearly two months into the great Trump experiment in governmental self-destruction, I hope it’s becoming clear that the populist veneer of the Donald was just that — a veneer. A thin layer of formica made to look like marble, slapped onto plywood, rather like the furnishings in his casinos.

The GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act will result anywhere from 6 million to 10 million people losing health insurance coverage, according to the Standard & Poor’s rating agency (hardly a bastion of liberal socialism), while providing $600 billion in tax breaks to the richest 0.1% of Americans — roughly $200,000 per rich person. Let’s put it another way — that extra $600 billion is enough money to provide $50,000 in basic income for 12 million families of four for a year.

Now, I’m not so much a socialist liberal elitist or whatever to suggest that we do that. But I’m not so blind as to think that even a fraction those immensely rich folks are going to take their $200,000 and increase investment into industries and businesses that will help employ more Americans, as per the thoroughly discredited trickle-down economics the GOP seeks to cling to. No, chances are, that $200,000 will be rolled over into the market, or maybe go toward a really nice first-class vacation somewhere — just like the rest of us do with our tax refunds.

This is not populist. This is not any sort of salve to the middle class. This is a naked giveaway to the most wealthiest people on the planet. And it is shameful.

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The importance of accepting dissent

WARNING: Political rant incoming. That said, no matter your politics, I’d urge you to give it a read.

Just this afternoon, journalists from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, BuzzFeed and Politico were barred from attending a “gaggle” — kind of an informal briefing — with Press Secretary Sean Spicer at the White House. Anybody, of any political affiliation, should see this as the affront to American values it surely is.

Combined with the ever-increasing rarity of Republican congressmen and senators refusing to hold town hall meetings with constituents, apparently for fear of getting yelled at, and a veritable pall is settling upon American democracy. The very notion of the “loyal opposition” has been perverted into believing dissent is traitorous. And the critical function of a free press in American democracy has been mauled and spindled into “fake media” and “alternative facts.”

I cannot overestimate how horrible and threatening this is to the very fiber of America and her values.

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On leaking intelligence reports and the intel community

WARNING: Another political rant forthcoming. Duck and cover if you prefer not to go down this rabbit hole. 

Apparently, the President is quite angry at all the leaks of intelligence information that ultimately led to the resignation of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn’s sin was that, according to many well-sourced news reports (i.e. not fake), he spoke to the Russian ambassador to the U.S. about getting American sanctions removed.

In his anger, Trump has lashed out at both the news media for reporting on the leaks, calling it fake news, and at the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) for leaking sensitive information that, presumably, was not fake. Trump has also appointed an adviser to conduct a review of the IC to get to the bottom of the leaks.

I’ve been a reporter for The Associated Press, and I’ve done academic work on the IC (as well as a lot of research on it for my novels), so I thought I’d throw in my $0.02 here. Let’s break it down this way:

  • What did Michael Flynn do and why does it matter?
  • Where did the leaks come from and why does it matter?
  • What will Trump’s adviser do to plug the leaks, and why won’t it work?

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