US President Trump’s threats this week to shut down critical news media is an ominous sign of how fragile American democratic rights have become.
For Donald Trump to impugn media freedom – albeit in his usual whimsical, boorish fashion – nevertheless shows how far democracy has been eroded in the “land of the free”.
The latest furore followed a report this week by NBC in which Trump purportedly harangued his top Pentagon advisers for a 10-fold increase in the US nuclear weapons arsenal.
Trump’s outlandish demand was reportedly made during a high-level national security meeting back in July. It was the same meeting during which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is said to have scoffed at Trump’s antics and called him a “moron”.
Trump has reacted angrily to the reports, dismissing them with his characteristic jargon as “fake news”.
But, adding to the furore, the president also went on to question whether the broadcasting license of NBC and other networks should be cancelled because of what Trump views as “fake news”. That is, the president is speculating on shutting down media outlets.
Such a move by a president would be legally unviable, according to US laws. But it shows the kind of slippery slope that US media and democratic rights are on.
Trump’s latest musing about shutting down NBC and other channels drew predictable outcry from US media, who rightly to a degree, deplored his attack on democratic rights.
The irony is, however, that the attack on American democratic rights has already been underway before Trump entered the White House, and without much protest from the same media outlets who are now railing against Trump over these rants. We can point to the increasing surveillance powers of federal intelligence agencies which have steadily encroached since the September 2001 terror incidents in New York and Washington DC.
Media freedom in the US has been under assault for a long time.
Trump’s latest outburst is not a one-off anomaly. In recent weeks, the US government has moved to severely restrict the freedom of Russia-based news media operating in the country. A move that has so far not been reciprocated by Moscow on US media operating in Russia.
Russian state-owned news channel RT has been forced to register as a “foreign agent” which will curtail how it carries out normal journalistic functions. Sputnik, another Russian state-owned channel, is also under investigation by US authorities over allegations of destabilizing American politics with “fake news”.
The crimping of Russian news media is part of a wider campaign to suppress all alternative media outlets, including US-based websites, which are being labelled as agents of “foreign interests” because of merely posting articles sourced from RT and Sputnik.
The willing participation of US internet companies, Google, Twitter and Facebook, in blocking news sources that are designated “fake” or “interfering in US politics” is another troubling sign of how citizens’ access to information is being curtailed. These gatekeepers of information are openly moving to restrict access to “authoritative”, “respectable” media outlets. Many of these “respectable” news outlets, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, have in the past been guilty of purveying outrageously fake news, like the “weapons of mass destruction” claims which led to the 2003 US war in Iraq that killed over a million people and unleashed on the world the ongoing scourge of jihadist terrorism.
There is absolutely no credible evidence that Russian news media or alternative US-based sites are systematically engaged in an “influence campaign” to destabilize American democracy.
Sure, there is plenty of false information on the internet available through platforms like Facebook, which most Americans now rely on for their news feed. But to lay the blame for this on Russian media is preposterous scapegoating. What really is the issue here is that US authorities and established media companies simply can’t abide rival outlets that are providing an alternative, critical perspective.
For example, Russia’s RT and Sputnik have given much critical coverage on the war in Syria, as well as conflicts in Ukraine, Yemen and elsewhere. Both channels have reported, with documentary evidence, on how the US government and its NATO and regional allies have been complicit in an illegal, covert war for regime change in Syria involving support for extremist militant groups.
This is a critical perspective with grave legal and political implications for Washington and its allies. Just because the US government does not like this kind of unflattering coverage does not legitimize its opprobrium of “fake news”. The latter charge is brazenly being used as a pretext to censor discomfiting information.
There are many other international issues where Russian media are giving a valid, alternative viewpoint. And because official US interests are offended by this critical perspective, the authorities are moving to ostracize Russian media with the spurious allegation of “foreign agents” and “undermining American democracy”.
But the paramount issue here is that this is an audacious attack on American democratic rights of free media and freedom of speech, as supposedly enshrined in the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
All of the US established news media have propagated the bogus narrative of “Russian influence” and “Russian fake news”. This narrative plays well for political opponents of President Trump, primarily in the Democrat party. On this issue, Trump is right when he denounces as “fake news” the campaign to pillory Russia and to allege that the Kremlin directed state-owned media to influence the November presidential election in Trump’s favor.
There is simply no evidence that Russian news media were or are engaged in anything nefarious to destabilize US democracy. Russian media have and do give critical news coverage. If that “destabilizes” Washington’s illicit activities in overseas’ wars then that’s what responsible journalism should be doing. To curb this journalism because it offends geopolitical interests is, frankly, censorship and the actions of a tyrant.
Trump’s latest threats to shutdown the American news channel NBC over alleged “fake news” are indeed menacing. The NBC report on Trump’s nuclear weapons ranting appear to be credible in any case.
But the outcry from US media over Trump’s boorish threats are hypocritical. Their concern seems to be based on a superficial contempt for Trump as a loathsome individual – as opposed to a principled defense of democratic rights, and media freedom in particular.
The US media outlets that are piously railing against Trump over his “assault on the Fourth Estate” are the same outlets which have piled on the pressure to suppress alternative media outlets like Russia’s RT and Sputnik, as well as other US-based independent information sources that are being demonized in McCarthyite fashion as “foreign agents”.
And, again, much of this hostility towards alternative media is motivated by the fact that these alternative media have admirably exposed the hypocrisy and criminality of US authorities. Also exposed is the aiding and abetting by the servile establishment media who have long covered up for the US authorities and their illicit activities in overseas’ wars and against citizens at home.
American democratic rights are indeed on thin ice. But that was the case long before the elephantine Trump arrived on the scene. His clumsy lurching is merely serving to illustrate how treacherously thin the ice has become upon which US democracy now stands.
[DS added the video report.]
Under pressure: Washington targets RT with foreign agent legislation
RT on Oct 17, 2017
With RT coming under increased pressure from Washington, which is urging our channel to register as a foreign agent in the U.S, Russia has promised to retaliate with tit-for-tat measures if RT is forced onto the list.
Washington: The Bleeder of the ‘Free World’
Among the many self-flattering epithets it gives itself, the US has always claimed to be the “leader of the free world”. It’s a rather patronizing notion that America views itself as a selfless protector and benefactor of its European allies and others. This fairy tale depiction of the world is coming to a rude awakening as American power buffets against the reality of a multi-polar world.
Less a world leader and more like a blood-sucking leech on international relations.
We got a clear view of the contradiction in America’s narcissistic mythology with US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he was disavowing the multinational nuclear accord with Iran last Friday.
Trump didn’t axe American participation in the deal just yet, but he has put it on notice that he or the US Congress may terminate the accord over the next two months. How’s that for high-handed arrogance?
However, there was near-unanimous push back around the world to Trump’s disparagement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was originally signed in July 2015 by the US, Russia, China, European Union and Iran. All the signatories uniformly rebuked Trump’s attempt to undermine the deal, which is supposed to lift international economic sanctions off Iran in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.
While Trump accused Iran of “multiple violations” of the accord, all the other stakeholders asserted satisfaction that Iran has in fact fully implemented its obligations to restrict uranium enrichment and weaponization of its nuclear program. The UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, also responded to Trump’s claims by reaffirming that eight consecutive monitoring reports have found Iran to be fully compliant with the JCPOA.
Britain, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China, have firmly said that the nuclear deal – which took two years to negotiate during Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House – is not for renegotiation. A point which was reiterated too by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The deal is also written into international law, having been ratified unanimously by the UN Security Council back in 2015. In a stinging admonishment to Washington, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Morgherini said:
“This deal is not a bilateral agreement … The international community, and the European Union with it, has clearly indicated that the deal is, and will, continue to be in place.”
Russia also denounced Trump’s over-the-top aggressive rhetoric towards Iran. The American president was almost foaming at the mouth when he labelled Iran “the world’s top terror sponsor” and accused Tehran of fueling conflict across the Middle East. Moscow said such rhetoric was unacceptable and inappropriate. Iran dismissed Trump’s accusations as baseless lies.
Evidently, Russia, China and the Europeans do not share America’s debased caricature of Iran. And who in their right mind would? The hackneyed American allegations against Iran are – as usual – not backed up with any evidence. They rely on bombastic assertion repeated ad nauseam. It is especially ironic and odious for Washington to accuse others of sponsoring terrorism, given the litany of illegal wars it has launched across the Middle East and the steadily emerging evidence of US links to terror groups in Syria’s six-year war.
Thus, the commitment by all the signatories – except Washington – to the Iranian nuclear deal is a stunning rejection of Trump’s aggressive stance towards Iran.
Ahead of Trump’s anticipated disavowal of the JCPOA on Friday, Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel warned that such a move would “drive a wedge between Europe and the US”. Significantly, Gabriel said that Trump’s spurning of the accord was “driving the EU towards Russia and China”.
France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire also warned the US not to interfere in Europe’s growing commercial ties with Iran. He was quoted as saying: “The US must not appoint itself as the world’s police man”.
Trump’s hostility towards the Iran nuclear treaty has created dissent within his own cabinet. His secretary of state Rex Tillerson and the defense secretary James Mattis are among those who were urging Trump to uphold the JCPOA. In the Congress, there are also many opponents to Trump’s desire to axe the deal, even among his Republican party. It remains to be seen if the Congress will call for new sanctions on Iran over the next 60 days, as Trump has requested. If Congress does, it will mean the US crashing out of the accord.
In theory, of course, the EU, Russia and China can continue to uphold the nuclear accord with Iran and conduct international trade and investment without the Americans. Russia and China have signed major oil and gas pacts with Iran over the past two years.
The European states have also lined up huge commercial projects and investments with Tehran in sectors of energy, engineering and infrastructure. Germany and France in particular have seen their exports to Iran soar since the signing of the JCPOA. With Iran’s 80 million population and vast oil and gas reserves, the Persian nation represents lucrative opportunities for Europe, given too the geographical proximity.
But the US is still able to exert tremendous power over international banking to the extent that it is having a chilling effect on other countries doing business with Iran. The European states are particularly vulnerable to American pressure.
In a Bloomberg report, it headlined: ‘Trump’s Iran Decision Throws Uncertainty Into Business Plans’.
The report goes on:
“Since a landmark nuclear agreement freed Iran’s economy from crippling economic sanctions, investors eager to tap the country’s energy reserves and its 80 million consumers have waited for signs it was safe to enter the market in full force… Donald Trump is about to signal that they should keep waiting.”
The US view of Iran is so warped – much of it from relentless propaganda demonizing the Islamic Republic – that it is evidently incapable of normalizing relations as it is obligated to do under the multilateral nuclear deal. Trump ironically accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit of the accord” when it is the US that has worked assiduously to undermine it.
Since Trump took office, he has reportedly cancelled all export licenses to Iran. His administration and the Congress have slapped more “secondary sanctions” on Iran over allegations that it is destabilizing the Middle East and for its support to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
These bilateral US sanctions inevitably have a deterrent effect on other nations doing business with Iran out of fear that they may be penalized in the future. Long-term investments over several years are prone to prohibitive risks due to the uncertainty about what Washington’s capricious policy towards Iran will be.
America’s unilateral, hegemonic conduct – accentuated under Trump – is rapidly alienating other nations. This president seems to operate a “withdrawal doctrine”, as Richard Haass, president of the DC-based Council on Foreign Relations, commented. Trump’s contempt for multilateral obligations peaked with his announcement back in June on backing out of the Paris Climate Accord. It has peaked again with his repudiation of the UN-backed Iran nuclear deal.
What is becoming increasingly apparent is that US unilateralism is all about pandering to its own selfish interests. Trump’s administration has hit Russia with more sanctions and has warned that European energy companies involved in developing the Nord Stream 2 gas project with Russia’s Gazprom will also be sanctioned. The flagrant agenda here is for the US to replace Russia as Europe’s gas supplier, selling its own more expensive fuel to Europe.
Likewise US hostility and sanctions on Iran are not just limited to its own perverse policies. Washington also wants to block others from also doing legitimate business and trade with Iran. For the Europeans struggling to boost their flagging economies, the impediments being thrown in their way by the US over Iran are another source of resentment towards American unilateralism.
This is not the idealized conduct of the self-proclaimed “leader of the free world”. America is increasingly seen as the “bleeder” – a declining power which wants to suck the economic lifeblood from others in order to sustain itself. This untenable American unipolar craving is inevitably hastening the reality of a multipolar world, as Europeans in particular realize that they can no longer afford to prop up America’s economic obesity.
[DS added the video report.]
On Iran, Trump Follows the Neocons
TheRealNews on Oct 16, 2017
In sabotaging the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump is listening to — and following the playbook of — the neocons behind the Iraq war, says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson.
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