AFAM News bits – May 2017

Think about it! How could the formers of our Constitution have had the foresight to make freedom of the press a staple in our Constitution? And if ever there was a time for us to be grateful for their vision, it is now. I am with California Congresswoman Maxine Waters whose unfiltered analysis of the Trump administration refreshes. America is in trouble like never in my lifetime. This president is trying to corrupt America and is closer to succeeding than any past administration that I have lived with or read about. And I am older than many and pretty well read for a layman.
“Trepidation” is the word that seems most adequate to describe my feelings and that of many I’ve talked to. Look it up. It’s not pretty. But there is substantial consolation in knowing that the media, that slept through the election and appeared to succumb to the Trump charm, has awakened to play the role that led to its prominence in one of the most powerful legal documents the world has ever witnessed. The media are confronting power and exposing its corruption and that is heartening.

If you haven’t heard the live Susan Rice interview with MSNBC reporter, Angela Mitchell, (April 4, 2017) then you should go on the web to find it. First, listening to her speak was a breath of fresh air after listening to Donald Trump and his dissemblers, all of whom can never seem to keep a lie straight but are always willing to tell one and to defend it at least until they tell the next one. Rice made clear the distinction between “unmasking” and “leaking,” two terms the Trump administration are trying to confuse people with.

“Unmasking,” of course, is often necessary for national security reasons. Understanding why should not be rocket science for even the least educated. But Rice explained it in words that only a fool could misunderstand. “Unmasking” is legal, normal and necessary for national security agencies to understand the relevance of telephone conversations between two members of a foreign country who might have mentioned a United States citizen in matters that have the potential to cause harm to America. Sometimes, while monitoring the calls of a foreigner, the second party happens to be an American. If a topic of national security interest arises between the foreigner and the American, “unmasking” also might occur if it becomes necessary to understand a potential threat to America. Whichever one of our many intelligence agencies records the information, routinely lists the name of the foreigner and omits the name of the American when it distributes the material to other relevant agencies. It lists the American as “unnamed” #1.

If for reasons of national security it becomes necessary to name the American, the naming is called “unmasking.” The names of many Trump associates and campaign workers were unmasked only among the intelligence community and those privy to them when it became clear that the Russians were trying to influence the outcome of American elections through computer hacking and a disinformation campaign. The very process by which our democracy depends was at risk and it would have been more than gross negligence for our entire intelligence community and the White House to ignore it. It was the solemn obligation of our intelligence community to the American people to investigate it and expose it wherever it led. And unmasking is not illegal.

“Leaking,” on the other hand, is illegal but is as old as the length of time the government has existed. And news reporters have thrived on leaks. And, truth be told, Democracy would be at a loss without them. But, the Obama administration reported its preliminary findings on the Russian activities without releasing names of the Americans involved. It was not until Donald Trump was elected and started tweeting and surrounding himself with shady advisors that the “leaks” to the press started about Trump’s and his associates’ connections to Russia. And if there were no leaks, the press could not have kept the public informed, witnessed by the fact that Trump and company keep trying to confuse the public with false stories such as claiming, with absolutely no evidence, that Susan Rice broke the law by leaking names.

“Certain national security leaders…have the authority to request the identity of an American be unmasked, for example if they feel it is necessary to understand the context of a report and whether it is relevant…Neither Mr. Nunes (Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee supposedly investigating Trump’s ties to Russia) nor the White House has made any evidence public to substantiate the allegations that the Obama administration unmasked names in intelligence reports improperly. (The Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2017)

“…even as Mr. Trump’s approval ratings slumped nationally, they actually went up in the working-class (as in “White”) and Appalachian counties that form his base.” (The Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2017) These are not dumb folks, just ill-informed folks who don’t read a lot. But they could destroy this country.

“The year 2016 “marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom,” reports Freedom House in its latest annual survey. “A total of 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains.” Just 39% of the world’s people live in free countries today, down from 46% a decade earlier….The striking finding in the Freedom House report is that the global erosion of political liberty is largely taking place in the democracies. People are losing faith in freedoms that no longer seem to deliver on the promise of a safer, richer, fuller, fairer life.” (Bret Stephens, The Wall Street Journal, April 4, 1917)

“In 2014, Americans spent $15 million more on Halloween costumes for their pets than we as a nation spent on Legal Services basic field grants. Only one-fifth of low income Americans can access the legal assistance they qualify for….President Trump’s budget would eliminate all federal funding for Legal Services. Not reduce it. Not cut it in half. Zero it out.” (United States Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III, Boston Herald, April 4, 2017)

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has again been voted the most popular governor in the country. 75% of voters polled placed Baker two percent higher than Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan.

What a public relations mess! The sight of airport police forcefully removing a man from his paid seat on a United Airlines plane in order to make room for United Airlines employees was gut wrenching and left many of us wondering how we would have responded as passengers in the same situation. I can’t imagine going along peacefully. And I can’t imagine resisting passively. What airline personnel did was unnecessarily violent and so fundamentally unfair as to make United the pariah of the world. So deserving.

“Trump did not create the conditions for his own rise. During the Obama era, conservative media, particularly talk radio, adopted what Vox’s David Roberts calls a “tribal epistemology.” All facts were filtered for the benefit of the tribe. In this approach, information is only useful as ammunition. And conflicting views are entirely the result of bad faith. This was a political wave well suited to an empty vessel. Trump was willing to say anything the medium demanded.” (Michael Gerson, Washington Post, as reprinted in The Republican, March 27, 2017)

“A commitment to truth is not the only democratic value. It should be accompanied by an appropriate humility and respect for the dignity and rights of others. Both James Madison and Maximilien Robespierre pursued certain truths about human equality; only one employed the argument of the guillotine.” (Michael Gerson, Washington Post, as reprinted in The Republican, March 27, 2017) ■

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