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Archive for the ‘notes on the human condition’ Category

You’ve heard it everywhere: Trump’s “Muslim ban” is inadequate on the one hand — the list of seven nations fails to include, for example, Afghanistan — and unconstitutional on the other hand. We are told that the President’s executive order only makes us more unsafe — and, indeed, his actions have been met with dismay throughout much of the world.

A surprising thing happens, however, upon taking one small step back from the maelstrom: In doing just that, I was given pause to reconsider what I thought I knew based on mainstream media reporting — thanks to the work of fellow WordPress blogger Seth J. Frantzman, Ph.D.

Frantzman did something extraordinary — well, it ought not be uncommon but in today’s climate it most definitely is: he read the full text of Trump’s executive order. 

So what, exactly, is the deal with the list of seven nations pundits and reporters frequently cite?

The first thing that becomes apparent in reading the text of the President’s order is that there is no “list” per se. The nations thought to pose a disproportionate terrorism risk are referred to as “countries of concern”. In fact, only one country is implicitly named by Trump’s so-called travel ban: Syria.

The executive order contains another surprise. It expresses a not-so-controversial intent to improve vetting procedures to rule out unlawful practices against women, gays and religious minorities. From the order:

In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Based on media reporting, how many of us appreciate that the vetting the President is calling for concerns refugees’ tolerance of minorities, religious, sexual or otherwise?

How many of us, similarly, appreciate that the executive order, in Section 5 (e), also states that the Secretary of States and Department of Homeland Security can lift these restrictions on a “case-by-case basis”?

How many of us appreciate, finally, that what the media is calling “the list” is referenced in Trump’s order only indirectly — as defined, ironically, in legislation dating to 2015, signed by President Obama?

While there is no doubt that President Trump’s actions will continue to trigger controversy,  there is a deeper moral to the story that we cannot afford to overlook: We must begin to appreciate now, before civil unrest breaks out, that social media and media at large has found a winning formula: Fear. In local broadcast news, there is a longstanding saying among reporters and producers: “If it bleeds, it leads”. Speaking of a temporary travel ban as if it is permanent — as if the sole purpose is to hurt and harm Muslims — is the political equivalent of “If it bleeds, it leads”.

Far from tempting a Constitutional crisis, the vetting improvements that the President calls for concerns religious minorities (treatment thereof), women (treatment thereof) and sexual orientation (treatment thereof). To read social media and media at large, however, one would be forgiven for concluding that the only motive is pure, unadulterated evil. Instead, as is often the case in life, shades of gray emerge. This matters not because there is any requirement to support Trump’s actions — those are personal decisions every American has the right to decide for him- or herself. Unbiased reporting of events and actions matters not for the President’s sake but for ours. Why? Because the price of playing we the people against one another will be riots in the streets. Keep up this climate of hysteria driven by self-serving omissions and “alternative facts” and people are going to get HURT here — if not also abroad — because the rhetoric has become toxic.

To the extent Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was marked by hurtful or misleading rhetoric we must also appreciate that such behavior does not exist in a vacuum. Donald Trump is as much a product of the times as any of us. In a climate that is increasingly sensationalized, members of the Fourth Estate are hardly immune.

If ever there was a time to embrace the axiom “take it with a grain of salt”, this is as good of a time as any.

If and when violent clashes occur in the streets of this country, we can’t blame Trump and Trump alone. Although the President’s actions will, without a doubt, instigate controversy, what we do with that “bad news” is up to us. Do we bring down the house — do we destroy our hard work abroad and at home for the sake of proving this man dead-wrong? How far do we — ordinary Americans, yes, but in particular those in media and leadership — go to make a point?

We can no longer deny it: the exploitation of fear through media and social media has become its own force to be reckoned with — apart from whatever policy our political leaders propose. As Americans, we must begin to appreciate this much if only because our safety here and abroad depends on it.

As consumers of news and current events the new rule-of-thumb for the foreseeable future boils down to this: Do not accept any report, no matter the source, at face value. Do your homework: read the source documents, identify nuances and make up your own mind.

Putting a dent in the national hysteria — which must soon occur if we are to forestall an even more tragic global backlash — depends not just on those who occupy the White House. It depends on us — you and I. Today, more than ever, the basic efforts of an informed citizenry — with or without mainstream media cooperation — are paramount. We did not learn how to read and write merely to graduate high school or college and land a job. We learned everything we did — in school, from loved ones — for just these sorts of times. So roll up your sleeves and put on your thinking caps, America. The next four years are going to be one bumpy ride. But remember: This too shall pass.

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Some years after the G. W. Bush administration’s entry into the Iraq war, American news outlets admitted to dropping the ball. Mainstream media acknowledged they did too little to question the purported evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whereas challenges to the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq and the 9/11 tragedy were linked aired only belatedly. Over a decade later, the U.S. media has again dropped the ball. This time, though, the actors are different: Ukraine vs. Russia.

To hear mainstream U.S. media tell it, one could be forgiven for the belief that any and all claims of a Neo Nazi presence in Ukraine are propagandist fragments of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s imagination. The tragic shoot-down of Malaysian flight MH 17 — on the anniversary of World War I — has only added to the pressure that the West intervene. Still, media fails to recognize its role in perpetuating conflict.

Shortly before the U.S. began trotting out the interim Ukrainian prime minister following the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected president earlier this year, The Guardian published profiles of Ukrainian parliament members. Putin, it turns out, was not lying. Historically, elements within the region sympathized with fascist Germany and some fought on Hitler’s side during World War II, prompting animosities that exist to this day.

Why does this matter? Because failure to appreciate our present — and to grasp our past — may doom us to repeat history.

In an apparent effort to turn down the heat, journalist and Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication dean, DeWayne Wickham, argues in a March USA Today piece that U.S. hegemony in the creation of Panama and Russia’s hegemony with respect to Ukraine are not terribly different.

Judging from the response the piece drew, Wickham’s point was lost on many readers. Accusations mounted: Wickham had attempted to excuse Putin’s audacity in Crimea. Wickham had cited an passé example, irrelevant because the creation of Panama took place over 100 years ago.

It’s all too easy to dismiss the events of the past — or, conversely, latch onto the tragedy of the moment (flight MH 17) — to justify an existing conclusion. But this time getting the facts right matters because the wrong response may very well provoke another Great War.

Wickham concludes that neither the U.S. or Russia has the moral high ground within a historic context. So what’s the point in comparing U.S. and Russian hegemony if it is not for the purpose of excusing anyone? Perhaps this: As Americans better appreciate our role in history, it becomes apparent that escalating international tensions often travel a well-worn path. If keeping history alive to tell the tale of hubris past gives pause to the drums of war, so be it. The alternative is to take two, three, four, even five geopolitical wrongs and to make-believe might makes right.

Haven’t we been down this road before?

 

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The Washington Post asks, “Was it ‘crazy’ for this scientist to re-create a bird flu virus that killed 50 million people?

Let me cut to the chase.

Yes.

Just about anyone paying heed the past five to 10 years might have noticed a near-constant drumbeat on the possibility of pandemic: SARS, bird flu, swine flu — the so-called Zombie Apocalypse, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control! Inundated by pandemic warnings, one could be forgiven for wondering what the powers that be know that we apparently do not. If Mother Nature won’t cull the herd fast enough might a self-fulfilling prophecy of the pandemic kind do?

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