Tag Archives: Bob MacDonald

Rigged Elections Do Have Consequences

 

Isn’t it beautiful irony that during the campaign Trump claimed the election was being rigged against him, while all along it was being rigged for him?

The Russians (bless their little Ruskie hearts) are being accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computer system in an effort to influence the results of the recent presidential election. Virtually everyone across the political spectrum (except for Trump, who may have benefited from this activity) have expressed outrage over Russia’s blatant attempt to interfere with the delicate balance of American democracy.

And rightly so, because if voters lose confidence in the validity of election results, the divisiveness existing in our current political environment will be exacerbated; maybe to the point of undermining the authenticity of our democracy. This potential problem extends beyond our own shores, because if our election results are brought into question, no longer will America be able to present itself as the model of democracy for other countries to emulate.

If (and there is little doubt) that Russian hackers did make an effort to impact the presidential election, it is a clear violation of our national sovereignty that is so egregious it could be considered an act of war, worthy of retribution. But there is a problem: Russia has, of course, denied any hand in such nefarious activity. For the American government to call out Russia by offering clear evidence that the cyber-attack was initiated and sponsored by the Russian government (maybe all the way up to Putin), the American intelligence services would have to reveal how they know what they know about the Russian activity. Doing so would expose America’s own capabilities to hack into Russian systems; obviously something the intelligence community does not want others to know.

Responding with nothing more than a hissy fit …

In response to Russia’s blatant cyber-attack on our democracy, about all the American government can do publicly is fret and stew over the incident. Investigations can be undertaken and Congressional hearings can shine an indignant spotlight on Russian activities and assume a holier-than-thou stance. The American government can take the high-ground and show the world how despicable the Russian government is by attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, but it can do little else publicly.

There is one problem when it comes to America taking this approach. Our government does not come to the party with “clean hands.” It is like the old cliché of “reaping what you sow.” The painful truth is that America has a long history of attempting to meddle, influence and even rigging elections in other sovereign countries. Examples of this type of American meddling in the elections of numerous democratic countries could – and has – filled numerous books.

“Nation building” and “regime change” have been the basic stratagems of American foreign policy for two centuries. The objective has been to try to assure that the governments of independent countries are sympathetic to the political and economic interests of America. Tactics employed have ranged from funding those who support American interests, all the way to fomenting and financing coups against democratically elected leaders who disagree with American policies. Some efforts to “influence” the “election” of governments favorable to American policy went so far as to include military action and occupation.  

One of the clearest examples of American meddling in the internal affairs of another country involves Iran. In 1953 Mohammed Mossadegh was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. His “mistake” was to oppose the economic interests of America in the Middle East. The CIA funded and fomented a violent coup that replaced Mossadegh with a guy who became to be known as The Shaw of Iran. We all know how that turned out.

In 1954 the CIA instigated and financed the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. His “sin” was to challenge the politically connected United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation. The CIA subsequently backed a series of dictators who maltreated the people of Guatemala for almost 50 years.

One of the most infamous episodes of American attempts to meddle in and influence democratic elections in sovereign countries occurred in 1973. Salvador Allende, an avowed Socialist, had been democratically elected president of Chile in 1970. His policies of industrial nationalization soon had him on the wrong side of American interests. President Nixon personally orchestrated the overthrow of the Allende government and the installation of the ruthless dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. (Allende was said to have “committed suicide” when the CIA backed “rebels” stormed the Chilean Presidential Palace.)   

One of the most brazen examples of America meddling in the democratic elections of another country involved Italy. The Italian elections of 1948 pitted the weak centrist Christian Democrats against a rising tide of influential leftist parties (some clearly Communist) and labor unions. The CIA entered the fray in support of the Christian Democrats with “bags of money” to finance the election campaign. There were even reports that the CIA organized a secret propaganda campaign that included forging documents intended to sully the reputations of opposition leaders.

The pot calling the kettle black…   

The point of this very limited tour of what have been numerous attempts by the American government to disrupt the democratic elections of other sovereign countries is to point out that if Russia did indeed hack into our election, we are only getting a taste of our own medicine. Modern electronic technology may be more subtle than the ham-fisted actions America has employed in an effort to install a foreign government more sympathetic to our interests, but Putin’s objective in meddling in the election is just the same.

There is no doubt that Putin favored Trump over Clinton. By launching a cyber-attack on the DNC and releasing embarrassing communications, Putin was simply taking a page from an American history of interfering in the elections of other countries, in an effort to see a government more favorable to his interests, While there is (and never can be) any credible evidence that Russian cyber-attacks actually influenced the outcome of the election, at the very least they were able to raise a specter concern as the validity of the presidential election. And by doing so, weaken American democracy in the eyes of the world. The end question is: What are we going to do about?

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When it Comes to “Fake News” the Media Might Want to Look in the Mirror

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The media is going absolutely bonkers over the emergence of what is being called “fake news” popping up all over social media. Following the election, the media seems to be exhibiting a type of postpartum depression caused by the sudden lack of attention-grabbing “news” to report. Seeking to fill this void, the media has raised the fearful specter of “fake news” polluting their well of “real news.” Such news reports by the media are, in and of itself, faked news. For the media to “cry wolf” about fake news is like a politician self-righteously decrying hypocrisy in politics. And don’t fall prey to the pathetic media excuse that the habitat of “fake news” is only Facebook and fringe web sites. (Some suggest that “fake news” started when the Old Testament reported that God created the earth in seven days.)

The reality is that virtually all news is “fake news” in some form or another. It has always been that way and most likely always will be. The reason for this is simple: To survive (not to mention make a profit) newspapers and magazines have to give you a reason to buy their product and television has to attract viewers. The media moguls learned long ago that dramatic, salacious, sensational, spicy and even over-the-top exaggerated stories are what sells papers and puts people in front of the television.  

Fake news can be like a rolling stone that picks up momentum as it goes along …

There are legions of almost daily examples of this type of approach to “journalism,” but one example can serve as a surrogate for the many. During 2014 there was ongoing coverage of what was described (by the media anyway) as an epidemic of sexual abuse on college campuses. In early November that year Rolling Stone magazine came forth with high-powered publicity campaign touting a soon to be released documented expose of rampant sexual abuse on college campuses. Representatives of Rolling Stone appeared on cable and network television shows hyping the soon to be released article.

The article, salaciously titled, “A Rape on Campus” was published in the November 19 issue of the magazine. The article purported to describe a young coed “gang raped” at a fraternity party on the campus of the University of Virginia. The publicity and outrage generated by the story was enormous, but it soon became clear that this story was nothing but “fake news.” It turned out the so-called “victim” had fabricated the entire story. As other media outlets showed, it would have taken very little effort on the part of Rolling Stone editors to debunk the story before it was published. But infected with a fever to gain needed publicity for the magazine and increase sales, journalistic ethics were compromised.

It depends on what you want the news to be …

Not to be discounted in the reporting of “fake news” is the reality that most, if not all, media outlets have their own particular slant to the “news” they report. This often thinly disguised bias is targeted to appeal to a specific segment of potential readers or viewers. Rather than an honest effort to educate and inform, media outlets will (to be kind) slant their news coverage in such a way so as to appeal to the pre-conceived notions of their target audience. Elements of the news that fit the desired viewpoint are reported in depth, while points that may lead to a different conclusion are short-shifted or ignored.

The New York Times declares on its masthead, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” but all the news that’s fit to print most often appeals only to the eastern, liberal establishment. By its very name, The Wall Street Journal signals its target audience and its articles reflect it. Fox News (an oxymoron if I’ve even heard one) claims to be “fair and balanced,” but the focus of its coverage is anything but that and is intended to attract an audience that believes big government is nothing more than an evil conspiracy threatening their freedom. On the other hand, MSNBC seems to target its programming at those who believe they need big government to protect their freedom.

The point is that all this media prejudice when reporting the news from a particular point of view pollutes that news and in essence makes it fake.

Separating fake from the real news …

No doubt about it, it is difficult to scrutinize a news story to determine what is real and what is slanted opinion, but it can be done. The reason many of us are susceptible to fake news is because it appeals to the notion of what we want the news to be. Since we agree with it, it is easy to accept it. The problem is that this takes away our ability to question and challenge what we hear or read. There are (at least) two sides to every story and unless we are willing to make the effort to understand all viewpoints of an issue, we are at risk of falling prey to fake news.

When we react in a knee-jerk fashion to a media story – either for or against – without questioning or challenging its intent and voracity, we leave ourselves vulnerable to being manipulated

The reality is that if we don’t know enough to recognize that the news we are reading or watching is slanted toward a particular viewpoint, we don’t know enough. If we find ourselves in agreement with all the news we read or view, we are not getting enough news. Only by being willing to expand the horizons of the sources of the information we receive can we gain a perspective that will allow us to determine the difference between real and fake news.

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Trump Should Focus on Replacing Obamacare

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A cornerstone of Trump’s campaign for president was the promise he would repeal and replace Obamacare. And rightly so, because Obamacare is an unmitigated failure. The promise of Obamacare was to provide “patient protection and affordable healthcare” for some 40 million uninsured Americans. The plan has failed on both points.

The saga of Obamacare is a great example of wanting to do the right thing, but going about it the wrong way. Obamacare as we know it came about because President Obama capitulated to the merchants of the devil – the health insurance industry – in order to strike a deal on healthcare reform. The great myth surrounding Obamacare is that it is some type of government provided healthcare coverage like Medicare, but it isn’t. Under Obamacare the government has nothing to do with the type of coverage offered, the quality of the services provided or the cost consumers pay for healthcare; that is all left up to the whims of private health insurance companies.

Obamacare is nothing more than a (clunky, complicated) website that is intended to match-up those who need healthcare coverage with private, for-profit insurance companies looking to sell their policies. The only requirement for insurance companies to market their policies on the “exchange” is that pre-existing conditions are covered and children can be included under the policy until age 25. Beyond that, insurance companies are free to determine the structure of the policies, the provider networks the insured must use, deductibles and the co-pays – the amount the insured must pay out of pocket; and those can run as high as 40 percent of medical charges. Most important, the insurance companies are free to charge any premium they desire and increase those premiums at will. In short, Obamacare has become nothing more than a profitable boondoggle for insurance companies. As usual, the ones left holding the short end of the stick are individuals who most need and can least afford healthcare coverage.

In addition, employers who are mandated to provide employees with healthcare coverage are free to use all sorts of machinations to avoid this responsibility. (For example, hiring employees as part-timers and making sure they work less than 40 hours a week.) This forces the employees to use the Obamacare website and be pillaged by the insurance companies.

Be careful what you wish for …

With a Republican soon to be in the White House, the Republicans in Congress who believe healthcare is a privilege based on the ability to pay, rather than a right of citizenship, are stupid-drunk giddy over the prospect of killing Obamacare, but they need to be careful what they wish for. There may be one problem that could turn their dream into a nightmare. While that Republican soon to be in the White House has savaged Obamacare, he has consistently supported the rights of every American to have healthcare coverage. Over the years Trump has repeatedly praised the concept of universal healthcare.

On 60 Minutes Trump said, “Everybody’s got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say because a lot of times they say ‘No, no, the lower 25 percent that can’t afford private.’” He continued, “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not.”

On the Larry King Show Trump bluntly proclaimed, “If you can’t take care of your sick in the country, forget it, it’s all over … I believe in universal healthcare.”

In his book The America We Deserve Trump wrote, “We must have universal healthcare … I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by healthcare expenses …”

So the Republicans in Congress may be in for a bit of a surprise blowback from their Republican president when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of repealing Obamacare, without offering a reasonable alternative for millions of Americans who lack access to healthcare or don’t have the ability to pay the exorbitant premiums charged by private insurance companies.

What is the alternative that Trump could propose?

If Trump is sincere in his belief that all Americans should have affordable access to basic healthcare services, he could achieve that goal by simply expanding the scope of two healthcare plans already in existence – Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare provides effective and efficient medical care for millions of Americans age 65 and over. Medicaid – a combination of state programs funded by the federal government – provides medical care to millions of low income individuals.

The point is that these two programs have processes and procedures in place and in point of fact are paying for the healthcare provided by hospitals, care givers and doctors for millions of Americans. Patients are free to select any of the 95 percent of hospitals and doctors who accept Medicare payments to provide their care. This is not the government deciding or providing the healthcare, but simply being the “single payer” of the benefits provided by private hospitals and doctors.

So the question is: Why not repeal Obamacare and replace it with the two national healthcare programs already in existence and functioning effectively? There is no need to create an entirely new bureaucracy. The simplest and most direct way to offer basic healthcare to all Americans at affordable costs is to expand and enroll everyone – at all ages – into Medicare or Medicaid.

Of course, this can’t be done with a flip of a switch, but an organized national phase-in of Medicare over time could make it happen. For example, in the first year those 60 to 65 would be eligible for Medicare, then the next phase would include those 50 to 55, and so on until everyone is covered. This would allow for Obamacare to be repealed and phased out at the same pace Medicare is expanded.

This approach could be a win-win for everyone. Trump and the Republicans could fulfill their campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare; Trump could remain consistent in his call for universal healthcare and, most important, all Americans could finally join the millions of citizens of every other industrialized nation in the world for whom basic healthcare is a right of citizenship, not just a privilege for the wealthy.

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