Trump’s DHS to monitor and compile an “undesirable” media database

There is a very good reason the Constitution’s Framers and Founding Fathers made “freedom of the press” a top priority in the young nation’s Constitution and included it in the Bill of Rights’ First Amendment. That reason has been reiterated by champions of freedom and democracy throughout history and that particularly includes from this nation’s founding continuing to the 21st Century threat posed by an aspiring tyrant. At least in free societies the concept of a free press is regarded as sacrosanct and until recently, that was the case in America. A little over a week ago, a former Daily Kos writer and activist now working at the The Intercept, Shaun King, discovered the harsh truth about being an activist journalist living in Trump’s America.

Democracy Now reported last week that Mr. King and his family were detained by Customs and Border Patrol agents at JFK International Airport and endured questioning about his activism in support of Black Lives Matter. Mr. King reported that after being called out by name, he and his family were taken to a “secluded questioning room” where the officer, who “had clearly been reading his tweets,” asked about his “support for the Black Lives Matter movement.” It is a sad commentary, but it appears that going forward there will be an increasing number of Americans facing detention, or at least heavy-handed government scrutiny, by Trump’s security forces based on the “sentiment” in what they write or say.

Whether it was Founding Father and third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, or war hero and U.S. Senator John McCain, they concur with no small number of American leaders insisting that America as it was created cannot survive without a free press . Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786:

The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted, when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

Well over two centuries later, and in response to the speech and actions of the “aspiring dictator” Trump, Senator John McCain defended the free press while he was in Munich Germany saying:

“We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve […] democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, […] we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time.”

Not to be outdone, Arizona’s other Republican Senator Jeff Flake took to the floor of the Senate to give a speech assailing Trump for perpetually attacking the media for factual reporting. Suffice it to say, even Republicans comprehend the importance of a free press for a bevy of reasons, but none more so than protecting democracy. Republicans cannot ignore the threat to democracy posed by Trump.

That is why it was, although sickening, not shocking that the anti-democracy Trump administration is targeting the free press by giving a federal law enforcement agency the authority to target Americans who express the “wrong sentiment” in what they write, share on social media, or insinuate in a recording. And let’s face it; the “wrong sentiment” includes anything contrary to what Trump thinks is the “right sentiment.”

Bloomberg reported that a FedBizOpps.gov posting by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the heading, “Media Monitoring Services” is nothing less than a devious “big brother” type maneuver if there ever was one. There was an attached Statement of Work that outlined precisely what the federal law enforcement agency planned to do to bring the media and many Americans into compliance with all things Trump; gather and monitor the activities of the public media and everything and everyone associated with it.

Now, it appears that Senator McCain’s warning about losing “our” personal liberties is not something that is going to happen “over time.” The threat from Trump’s Department of Homeland Security with an attack on the free press is a dangerous portent that the aspiring tyrant is attempting to keep pace with a rash of attacks on the media worldwide.

This is underway in America, “traditionally one of the bastions of press freedom,” where a powerful federal agency is planning to compile a comprehensive list of journalists, social media influencers, bloggers, and podcasters to monitor what they are “putting out to the public” with a particular interest in the “sentiment” they express.

As Michelle Fabio noted:

We are entering potentially dangerous territory with the government keeping track of the ‘sentiment’ of American citizens in a Department of Homeland Security media database.”

The primary concern of the Trump administration is “the sentiment” being expressed by private American citizens, media organizations, bloggers, print journalists and Americans active on social media. It is unlikely that DHS is going to do the same level of monitoring of “foreign” sentiment towards America as the other intelligence agencies such as the NSA and CIA. This action is targeting domestic “sentiment” and although it is normal for dictatorships Trump aspires to emulate, it is an abomination in an alleged “free society” anywhere in the world, much less in the United States of America.

It is nothing less than an outrage in a liberal democracy that a federal agency is monitoring and compiling data on what the dictionary deems are private citizens’  “views of, or an attitude toward, or an opinion of a particular situation or event.” Only someone who has been comatose for the past two years is unaware that the prevailing sentiment in America, and around the world, toward Trump is overwhelmingly negative. It should terrify all Americans that expressing those sentiments is deemed “dangerous” enough to warrant Homeland Security putting them in a federal law enforcement database; something that is unprecedented except in dictatorships.

An organization that has spent the past nearly 40 years monitoring press freedom, Freedom House, “recently concluded that global media freedom has reached its lowest level in the past 13 years.” The organization places the blame for less press freedom on government threats to journalists and media outlets in “major democracies” and “authoritarian countries like Russia and China.” The report also noted that:

It is the far-reaching attacks on the news media and their place in a democratic society by Donald Trump, first as a candidate and now as president of the United States [White House occupant] that fuel predictions of further setbacks in the years to come.”

This action is a dangerous administration’s attempt to rule by tyranny and intimidation and little else. It is also not the first time the Trump administration has suggested keeping a federal database of “undesirables.”

First they proposed forcing American Muslims to “register” in a national database, and then attempted to garner the highly-personal voting and citizenship information from Americans with a bogus “commission” to ferret out the non-existent massive voter fraud. Now they have tasked a federal law enforcement agency with compiling a database consisting of journalists, media organizations, bloggers, podcasters and “influencers” on social media based on their “sentiment?”

It is hardly arguable that the government does not already monitor everything Americans are reading, saying, and writing, and by its very nature everything related to the “media” is not secret. However, the concept of a federal agency monitoring the “sentiments” of Americans and creating a federal database based on those “sentiments” is chilling. It is also another indication that America under Trump, since his poorly-attended inauguration, is experiencing the exact same process that eventually gave the world North Korea, Russia and Nazi Germany.

Jeff Flake’s Speech Targeted Republicans and Trump

It is unusual for a sitting United States senator to publicize their intent speak about a member of their own party in a less than flattering manner, but these are unusual times with an unusually despicable malcontent in the Oval Office. What is not unusual for the Republican Party is to stand unified behind a despicable malcontent in the White House no matter the danger that cretin poses to the nation; Republicans’ party loyalty supersedes any regard for the nation. No matter what Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said about his party’s standard-bearer in his speech to the Senate, Donald Trump personifies the Republican Party and he enjoys telling the entire world how much of a true Republican he really is.

The only issue Republicans as a political party will ever have with Donald Trump is his big mouth and it is high time “the resistance” gets the message that one Republican senator’s criticism of Trump is the extent of the GOP’s opposition to anything Trump has done or will do. If that were not the case, Republicans would have impeached Trump and threw him out of office months ago because Mike Pence would do their bidding with much less controversy than Trump.

Is is interesting that Jeff Flake has been criticized for speaking out against Trump by Americans on the left and the right. One understands why dyed-in-the-wool Republicans condemn Flake, but it is an honest-to-dog mystery why anyone on the left calls him a hypocrite, or claims he is insincere for not “taking action” to thwart Trump’s agenda. Flake has never been a fan of Donald Trump, but he has voted faithfully with his fellow Republicans and that seems to be an issue with some people as if Flake is supposed to vote like a strong progressive just because Trump is in the White House.

In his Senate speech on Wednesday, and since Trump’s poorly attended inauguration, Flake never criticized Trump’s policy positions because they are by and large Republican policy positions. However, he has condemned Trump for the damage Flake thinks Trump is wreaking on the Republican brand with his lying big mouth.  It is almost certain that Flake’s condemnation of Trump is founded on preventing what he says is “Trumpism making Republicans unelectable” and little else. Flake is a Republican and it is naïveté to believe his criticism of Trump is driven by some altruistic regard for the state of the nation. If that were the case he would not vote with the Republican Party to dismantle the government.

Ed O’Keefe over at the Washington Post said Mr. Flake’s remarks were scheduled to coincide with Trump’s “Oval Office awards show” when he announces the federal government’s official “fake news prizes.” And although most of Flake’s comments went straight to the only issue Republicans have with their hero in the Oval Office, his speech should be seen as a damning indictment of the Republican Party.

Republicans have spent the past year sitting idly by and tolerating Trump saying out loud what the majority of Republicans believe as strong conservatives, but it was not why Flake attempted to humiliate Republicans. Apparently Flake is concerned about Trump’s shameful and repulsive statements about the news media as “enemies of the people” that few Republicans have had the nerve to criticize. Flake said:

It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies.

This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s Trump’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements.

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.

Of course, the president Trump 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.”

There have been commentaries criticizing Flake for comparing Trump to Stalin and they are only valid to a point. Of course Trump has not embarked on the murderous rampages Stalin is noted for,  but he has praised vicious 21st Century murderous tyrants and it should raise red flags among more than just one sitting Republican senator. Nevertheless, Mr. Flake is right that Trump has incorporated many of the “memes” tyrannical dictators like Stalin and Hitler used to great effect.

What is noteworthy is that Flake has never criticized Trump for promoting typical Republican policies or issuing executive orders rescinding Obama-era measures Republicans have vehemently opposed since their inception. It is why he is not a hypocrite for criticizing Trump while voting for Republican legislation that Trump pledges to sign into law. When Jeff Flake, or any Republican in Congress, votes for Republican (read Heritage Foundation) measures, they are not voting either “with Trump” or “for Trump.” Flake would vote with his party no matter if a Democrat or Republican is in the White House. If anything, Flake should be given some credit for at least a semblance of respectability to criticize what are clearly the words of a despot.

Flake’s condemnation of Trump was not necessarily meant for Trump’s ears or he would not have addressed his colleagues in the Senate.  Although it is likely that Flake was happy to unleash a little criticism in Trump’s direction, his speech was for Republicans in hopes they will distance themselves from an honest-to-dog maniac, however unlikely that seems. It is curious that Republicans are still standing united behind Trump and it cannot possibly be, as many pundits claim, because they need Trump to sign any legislation they pass. If Trump is gone then every piece of legislation passed by Republicans would be immediately signed into law by any other Republican along the chain of succession. It is likely that Republicans as a party really do not have many issues with Trump and it is not solely because they fear repercussions from the base.

Republicans really only have one issue with Trump and it is not his racism, pathological lying, devotion to foreign leaders, or using his position to enrich himself and his family; those are all uniquely Republican traits. The GOP’s only problem with Trump is that he is not timid about vocalizing his uniquely Republican traits. Just because Republicans are not openly calling  the news media “enemies of the people” for debunking Republicans’ lies and misinformation campaigns, they likely have harsh words for the press behind closed doors.

It is unclear exactly what Jeff Flake expected to accomplish criticizing his own party for tolerating a “shameful and repulsive despot.” He may be legitimately concerned that “Republicans are as damned if they stick with Trump” as Flake is “repulsed” by Trump calling the media “enemies of the people.”  The only thing that is crystal clear is that Republicans as a political party are not going to abandon Trump; because although he is shameful and repulsive, he is a dependably staunch Republican.

As Amber Phillips at WaPo noted, Flake’s speech should be “categorized as one more example of the no-win situation Trump is putting the Republican Party in.” It is a situation that Flake said “Republicans have to stop excusing or ignoring or we are lost.”

Putin And Trump Dangerously Commiserate Over “Hurtful” Media

 

There have been plenty of reports and commentary about how crucial to a functioning democracy a free press is, and although it is the 21st Century the term “media” has replaced “the free press” to include more than just newspapers. Even George W. Bush, often at odds with the media during his tenure as president, said in February last:

I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need the media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.”

Whether one liked George W. Bush as president or not, and there are myriad reasons to criticize his administration, he never attacked the media. And in fact, he did pressure Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to “embrace a free press;” in February he warned that his efforts then are being undermined now by Trump’s attacks on the media.

It’s kind of hard to tell others to have an independent free press when we’re not willing to have one ourselves.”

Today it is actually a worse situation than Mr. Bush commented on four months ago and this weekend at the G20 Summit that was painfully obvious. It was bad enough that Trump disparaged the American intelligence community, real President Barack Obama and the media during a speech in Poland, but a brief exchange between Putin and Trump during their “private” meeting is a clarion call of alarm to American journalists and democracy.

It is unclear if demeaning the press was on the agenda for Trump and Putin’s alleged first one-one-one meeting at the G20 summit, but the subject definitely came up. The two fascists waited until reporters were convened to cover the “meeting” to “trade disparaging comments about the reporters” in the room doing their jobs.

During a scheduled photo op session prior to the highly anticipated private meeting between Trump and his hero Vladimir Putin, the Russian tyrant leaned in to Trump and pointed to the group of journalists in the room, and asked like a Mafia boss:

These are the ones hurting you?”

Trump replied, like a low-level street criminal crying to the Mafia Don:

These are the ones. You’re right about that.

What is unclear is whether or not Putin asked Trump if he wanted “his people” to “make the problem go away;” a prospect that is not remotely out of the realm of possibility.

The brief exchange between the two fascists, Putin and Trump, drew less outcry than expected from journalists, although a few of them did cite what they termed “the troubling media landscape in Moscow.” Now it should be particularly troubling for American journalists that Trump was personally commiserating with the murderous Putin about journalists he agreed were “hurting” him.

In Trump and Putin’s authoritarian worldview, “hurting a corrupt leader” is code for the media doing doing its job reporting the news and events as they happen. The exchange is especially troubling because nearly 60 journalists have been executed in Russia since 1993; including Vladimir Putin’s critics and those reporting on Russia’s storied political corruption.

Although it’s true Trump isn’t yet ordering his minions to start murdering journalists, he is doing the next best thing; calling the American media “the enemy of the people” and claiming any story failing to praise him “fake news.”

Add to that incitement, Trump putting up a doctored video this past week of him beating CNN senseless, and then his punk-ass son sharing a video of Trump shooting down a jet with CNN superimposed on it; a “meme” junior Trump claimed was “one of the best I’ve seen.”

There has already been action on Trump’s behalf by his Nazi supporters who started identifying CNN employees (doxing) so other fascists could harass and intimidate what Trump identified as “enemies of the people,” and issue threats to “hunt down their children” That includes CNN journalists getting death threats. And, as no small number of pundits noted, Trump’s attacks on the media at home and abroad are exactly what other tyrants want to hear to justify their attacks on the press, often murderous attacks.

The president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas said,

“Potus disparaging abroad of US media dilutes respect for American democracy & gives license to autocrats to crack down on their own media.”

NBC’s Chuck Todd added:

A trashing of the American press corps and Intel community in Eastern Europe of all places. Could Putin have asked for anything more?”

As former President Bush said, “the media is indispensable to democracy,” and that “it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.” Those two comments inform exactly why Donald Trump is waging a seriously dangerous war against a free press and by extension America’s fragile democracy. Like any aspiring fascist tyrant, Trump detests the concept of democracy and he wants to continue abusing his power without criticism, much less reporting.

Although Trump’s attendance at the G20 signaled an end to American leadership in global economics, trade and foreign policy, it did give Americans some insight into how much Trump really is like Vladimir Putin. And if Americans believe it is only a frightening prospect for the media, they haven’t been paying attention to the inhumane conditions in Putin’s authoritarian Russia. But not to worry, at the rate Trump is aspiring to be like Vlad, they are about to experience Russian-style tyranny right here in America.