Monday, October 17, 2016

Outrage in North Dakota

It’s sad that the ugly entertainment spectacle we call an election has diverted public attention from what at least some of the mainstream media might have recognized as an important story: the protest by thousands of native Americans against the Dakota Access dirty crude pipeline.

Only one journalist — Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now!” — was in North Dakota with a camera crew to record the violence against the protesters by private contractors and their attack dogs last Sept. 3. Her horrifying video and reportage were seen by millions and picked up by some of the mainstream TV networks but the entire situation, including the pollution threat to sources of drinking water for millions of people, still has not received the attention it deserves.

Goodman, meanwhile, was charged with criminal trespass for going to a news scene and reporting on it.  This is activity that is specifically protected by the First Amendment.  She flew to Bismarck Friday and traveled to Mandan, N.D. early today to turn herself in to authorities, face and fight the charges.  She was informed that the prosecutor, Ladd Erickson, had dropped the class B misdemeanor trespassing charge and would instead be filing some sort of riot charge.  It had not been filed as this post is being written.

Goodman delivered her morning broadcast from a lawn across the street from the Morton County court house, where the new charges, if any, would be filed.  

Erickson wasn’t talking today, nor did he respond to messages left by news organizations.  But, a la Trump, he had a lot to say after Goodman’s shocking report aired online.  Goodman, he said, was “a protester basically.”  He asserted that everything she reported “was from the position of justifying the protest actions.”

However, the affidavit he filed with the trespass charges said, “Goodman can be seen on video identifying herself and interviewing protesters about their involvement in the protest.”  Psst.  Ladd, baby; that’s what reporters do.  They identify themselves and their news organization and they interview participants in the news event.

It’s called journalism, Ladd.  And it is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has contended in a court filing that the pipeline route desecrates  burial grounds and other sacred sites.  Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II said Goodman’s reporting “took a lot of courage,” and opposition to the pipeline wouldn’t be where it is today without her reporting.

Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for the Americas for the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists in New York,  said Goodman was clearly working as a journalist when she filmed the Sept. 3 incident, and the committee is “really concerned” about the potential rioting charge. “I think authorities in North Dakota should drop the charges and ensure that all reporters are free to do their jobs without fear of reprisal or intimidation,” Lauría told the Fargo Forum newspaper.

In North Dakota, trespassing is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. Inciting a riot is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.  Ladd Erickson clearly wants to inflict all the pain he can on the uppity journalist who dared to report on the injustice in his back yard.

Someone in North Dakota should give him a copy of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and suggest that he study it.


North Dakota District Judge John Grinsteiner rejected today the riot charge Erickson sought against Goodman.  The judge, at least, is familiar with the First Amendment.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Post-Election Is the Real challenge

Oozing sleaze from every pore, Donald Trump has taken political demagoguery to depths unplumbed since Hitler rose to power in Germany.

Will he be as successful as Der Fuhrer?

Blessedly, polling suggests not.

Frighteningly, the same polling suggests that at least 40 million adult United States citizens support him, many with the same crazed, racist zeal of the Nazi partisans who supported Hitler.

Even if, as it now appears, Trump fails to win the presidency, how will it feel to be one of the saner Americans living amidst the four in ten who are shouting “Kill the Bitch!” and “Fuck Your Feelings” and “Lock Her Up” and far, far worse at the 70-year-old adolescent’s campaign rallies?

My wife and I both know how it feels to be professed liberals in a right-wing zoo.  Even registered Democrats and Democratic candidates in our part of New Mexico are ideologically far to the right of, say, Dwight Eisenhower. When we became open and unabashed critics of George W. Bush and the so-called Tea Party we heard muttered obscenities and thinly-veiled threats to our safety.

These reactions were mild compared to what’s going on now in Trumpland.  The Trumpistas include virtually all of the gun-toters, all of those who advocate the killing of medical professionals who help women terminate unwanted pregnancies, all of those who call for physical harm to Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who advocate ending racial violence, all of those who want our borders sealed and immigrants incarcerated, all of those who think Trump’s sexual assaults on women were OK and Arizona Sheriff Arpaio is a hero . . . the most dangerous elements in our society.

What happens when they don’t get their way in November?

Will they vent their anger with violence against those of us who openly opposed Trumpista candidates?  Will there be shooting and bloodshed?  Will many streets and parks and public venues be unsafe?

That neighbor with the Trump/Pence sign in his yard.  Would his frustration turn to anger?  Would he shoot your dog?  Would he shoot you?

Other elections in this country have been marked by nastiness, by anger, by ugly pushing and shoving.  Most of the worst of it evaporated after election day.

There’s something different about the slime this time around.  It looks like it will linger.  It seems to have eaten into the core of a vast segment of our population.  It has sickened them, blinded them to injustice, made them bloodthirsty, told them that assaulting women and threatening minorities is a perfectly acceptable way of objecting to those perceived evils, political correctness and respect for people of color.

It has taken this country to a new and abysmal place.  Simply defeating Donald Trump in the presidential election won’t end it.

Someone must come forth to lead the country — even the Trumpistas — in another direction.  Hitler’s Germany never produced such a someone.  Can the United States of America do so in 2016?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Trump Gonna Sue! Trump Gonna Sue! (Heh-heh)

Oh, how I hope Trump sues the New York Times.

You sue a news organization for libel and the news organization’s attorneys are entitled to conduct a legal process called “discovery,”

As an editor, I worked with many of the best libel lawyers in the business on processes of discovery.  The late, great Ken Murray of the Detroit Free Press specialized in written interrogatories.  I’ve seen high-powered lawyers in their aluminum suits and alligator shoes burst into the Free Press newsroom and throw down their legal papers in a barrage of insults and threats. I’ve heard their clients shout to the heavens alleging falsehoods in our reporting,

I’ve seen those same clients cringe, and their lawyers melt, reading Ken’s probing interrogatories, which would have required them under oath to divulge their dirtiest secrets and worst tax scams.  Lawsuit withdrawn.

Ken never lost a libel suit that went to trial.  Once, the Free Press was found not guilty of libel but the judge did hold that a single statement in the article being litigated did in fact defame the reputation of the litigant.  The judge ordered the paper to pay the value of the defendant’s tarnished reputation — $1 — which Ken paid out of his own pocket.

He never coached reporters before they were deposed by opposing counsel in the discovery process.  “Just tell them what you told me when we were discussing the story before publication,” he would say.  Once, a wealthy businessman sued us after he had been named in one of our stories about profiteering during the Detroit riot.  Undeterred by Ken’s interrogatories, the  businessman’s lawyers went ahead with discovery, deposing one of our reporters, a doe-eyed, soft-spoken beauty who was as ruthless an interviewer as Sy Hersh.  The lawyer waded in while Ken — who was entitled to object if the questioning went out of line — simply smiled and remained silent.  Our ice maiden turned the bullying lawyer into a sweat-stained wretch, who broke off the deposition and withdrew the lawsuit.

I suspect the same fate lies in store for Trump’s lawyers if they were to actually follow through on their threat to sue the Times. I’ve worked with  Times lawyers vetting sensitive stories before they were published.  I know how they operate in discovery.   I presume today’s Times lawyers are as skilled as the ones back then.  The amount of damaging information they might unearth about Trump is almost beyond comprehension,  No doubt Times reporters are salivating at this very moment in anticipation of getting their hands on some of that stuff.

And then there’s the matter of deposing witnesses.  Some poor bastard representing Trump will have to go after Jessica Leeds in a legal setting.  It’ll be the ice maiden v. the shark all over again.

I know how that one turns out.  

Leeds was asked during a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper if she was afraid of Trump and his lawyers, who are boasting that they have “devastating evidence” against Trump’s accusers.

Leeds looked for all the world like the doe-eyed reporter who disemboweled a legal shark in that Detroit case years ago.

“We’ll see,” she said with a disarming smile.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Don't Pester Merikins with Serious Stuff

The American voter has been dumbed so far down that he no longer cares about issues any larger than Trump’s, er, “hands” or his own wallet.

Thus issues on which the very fate of the human race and its planetary home may depend barely register, if they register at all, on the Richter scale of political polling.

In the so-called “debate” between Trump and Clinton, for example, there was no reference to climate change. Yet, for the first time in more than 4 million years, the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is above 400 parts per million and staying there.  (In one million pounds of the air we breathe, there are 400 pounds of CO2.) Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. Even if emissions were to drop to zero today, we would be aware of no positive effect in our air for almost a century.

Before the Industrial Revolution, when humans first began spewing masses of CO2 into the atmosphere, fhe carbon dioxide level io earth was about 280 ppm.  The allowable level for human health is thought to be between 250 and 350 ppm.  We have now entered dangerous territory, not just because greenhouse gases accelerate climate change, but also because too-high levels in themselves constitute dire threats to our health. Since humans weren’t around the last time Earth had such high levels, we are sailing on uncharted seas, not knowing where be dragons.  But the soaring frequency of extreme weather events, the rising seas, the wildfires, the monster storms and floods are dramatic warning signs that we cannot afford to ignore.  Perhaps when the last Manhattan skyscraper goes under water, or all of Louisiana and parts of Mississippi are wiped out by cholera, some genius debate moderator will think to ask a political candidate a serious question about climate change.

Or about nuclear policy.

Toward the end of the last so-called debate, the moderator asked, "On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation's longstanding policy on first use.  Do you support the current policy?”

Trump replied first.  Russia, he said, has “a much newer capability than we do; we have not been updating from the new standpoint."  Yes, he actually said that: "updating from the new standpoint." Still more gibberish followed, with Trump insisting that China could prevent North Korea from using nukes and prevent Iran from getting them.  Or something.  Clinton said, well, we Americans need to keep our word.  Or something.

Nobody challenged either candidate’s nonsense or demanded elucidation of their positions.  

Debate over.

The fact is that the world is closer to nuclear war right now than at any point since the Cuban missile crisis.  Clinton’s record demonstrates a propensity to push potential enemies so far that we will be forced into conflicts likely to escalate quickly into nuclear ones.  Trump has no real “record” on nuclear policy or any other serious topic.  He has a record of vile middle-of -the-night telephone calls.  One can easily imagine his ringing up the palace in Pyongyang around 3 a.m. and saying to Kim Jong-un, "Hey, you fat little slanty-eyed prick, guess what button I’ve got my finger on?"

Does anyone care?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Did the U.S. Sabotage Colombian Vote?

Because it has been there so often and for so many years, the black hand of U.S.corporations and government agencies is always suspected in Latin American political events.

So it is with the stunning defeat by voters in Colombia of the agreement to end more than half a century of conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) —the longest-lived armed insurgency in the Western Hemisphere. The vote was extremely close — a margin of barely 60,000 votes out of 13 million cast — and the opposition was led by a pal of Washington’s neoliberal crowd, former President Alvaro Uribe. 

Uribe’s successor, President Juan Manuel Santos, succeeded where several predecessors had failed, negotiating a peace agreement that had been secretly brokered by the  Communist government of Cuba. The negotiations came after Santos had irritated Washington by normalizing his country’s relations with the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez, another target of Washington’s regime-change hawks.  Santos and Uribe had been political allies, but when Santos ran for re-election in 2014, Uribe supported his opponent. Santos pledged to intensify the quest for peace with Farc and won a close run-off for re-election.

Now the worm has turned, as it has elsewhere in Latin America, generally with a nudge, or more, from the vast U.S. bag of dirty tricks.  Would that we in the U.S. had a reliable source of good journalism about our Southern Hemisphere neighbors.

Instead, we must rely on non-aligned journalists like Chris Hedges, a former award-winning correspondent in Central America.

“A decade ago,” Hedges writes, “left-wing governments, defying Washington and global corporations, took power in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.  .  .charismatic leaders such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Luiz Ina'cio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, won huge electoral victories. They instituted socialist reforms that benefited the poor and the working class. They refused to be puppets of the United States. They took control of their nations' own resources and destinies. They mounted the first successful revolt against neoliberalism and orporate domination. It was a revolt many in the United States hoped to emulate here.

“But the movements and governments in Latin America have fallen prey to the dark forces of U.S. imperialism and the wrath of corporate power. The tricks long practiced by Washington and its corporate allies have returned -- the black propaganda; the manipulation of the media; the bribery and corruption of politicians, generals, police, labor leaders and journalists; the legislative coups d'e'tat; the economic strangulation; the discrediting of democratically elected leaders; the criminalization of the left; and the use of death squads to silence and disappear those fighting on behalf of the poor. It is an old, dirty game.

“President Correa, who earned enmity from Washington for granting political asylum to Julian Assange four years ago and for closing the United States' Manta military air base in 2009, warned recently that a new version of Operation Condor is underway in Latin America. Operation Condor, which operated in the 1970s and '80s, saw thousands of labor union organizers, community leaders, students, activists, politicians, diplomats, religious leaders, journalists and artists tortured, assassinated and disappeared.

“The intelligence chiefs from right-wing regimes in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and, later, Brazil had overseen the campaigns of terror. They received funds from the United States and logistical support and training from the Central Intelligence Agency. Press freedom, union organizing, all forms of artistic dissent and political opposition were abolished. In a coordinated effort these regimes brutally dismembered radical and leftist movements across Latin America. In Argentina alone 30,000 people disappeared.

“Latin America looks set to be plunged once again into a period of dictatorial control and naked corporate exploitation. The governments of Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, which is on the brink of collapse, have had to fight off right-wing coup attempts and are enduring economic sabotage. The Brazilian Senate impeached the democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff. Argentina's new right-wing president, Mauricio Macri, bankrolled by U.S. hedge funds, promptly repaid his benefactors by handing $4.65 billion to four hedge funds, including Elliott Management, run by billionaire Paul Singer. The payout to hedge funds that had bought Argentine debt for pennies on the dollar meant that Singer's firm made $2.4 billion, an amount that was 10 to 15 times the original investment.”

Latin America has long been fertile ground for populist movements of the left, largely because it has for so long been cursed with inequality. The outrages of big land owners against small, struggling farmers gave birth to the Farc movement in Colombia in 1964. Santos’s peace deal with the revolutionaries would have given them seats in the national parliament, and other incentives to lay down their arms and commit to what Santos has called a “long-lasting peace.”

Once again, the dream of peace has been shattered. Given the shameful record of United States interference in Latin american affairs, why wouldn’t there be suspicions that Yankee black ops somehow sabotaged the Colombian vote?