Welcome To World Of Donald Trump

A man walks into a bar in Kansas City. I’m not telling a joke by the way. Many of the patrons are from countries other than the United States. Their physical appearance is a dead give away. The man asks them, as if he had some God given right, what visa did they hold? Were they in the United States illegally? There is cold blooded method in his madness. He leaves and returns to the bar with a gun, killing one person, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian born engineer working for Garmin in the United States. Two other people are wounded, one seriously. The seriously wounded man, is incredibly lucky to be alive and still walking. The bullet narrowly misses his carotid artery and spinal column. This is a racially motivated hate crime. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

A celebrated Australian author of children’s books, Mem Fox, goes to the United States on business. She holds a valid visa and Fox is a regular traveller to the US. By regular, I mean 116 times before, without incident. But this time it’s different. This time she’s travelling directly in the wake of Donald Trump’s anti immigration rantings, his executive order on immigration. Fox is detained and questioned for two hours by US Customs officials. “I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness,” she would later say. “I felt like I had been physically assaulted which is why, when I got to my hotel room, I completely collapsed and sobbed like a baby. And I’m 70 years old.”

Fox tells Australian reporters the Customs officials seem turbocharged with the power granted them by Trump’s order. Fox complains. She receives an apology, but says this will be her last trip to the United States. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

The White House holds a press conference. The media, the fifth estate, exists to hold people like Donald Trump accountable. Now there’s a fine word with a multitude of meaning. Accountable. You see the media exists as a free and independent entity in a flourishing democracy. In fact it is one of the foundations of a true democracy. Politicians are criticised, questioned and held to account. They can be caught out lying. Now there’s another good word. Lying. But when a number of media organisations, like CNN, the BBC and the New York Times, try entering the briefing room, they are barred. Barred from entering? Are you serious? In stark contrast the ‘friendly’ to Donald Trump news services like Fox, One America News Networks and the hideous Breitbart news have no problem attending the White House briefing. In fact they are welcomed with open arms. Trump calls the media, purveyors of fake news. They tell lies according to Trump. It’s a bit like that story of the pot, the kettle and the colour black. If Donald Trump really wants to see mendacity he should look in the mirror more often. Terrorist attack in Sweden anyone? Is this Stalinist Russia? Not it’s the good old USA, the greatest democracy in the world. Yeah right. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

This media ban is unprecedented. It is a disgrace. Nothing like it in the history of American democratic politics. By democratic, I mean democracy. Not the party. These are the actions of a dictator. A man who thinks he’s above the law and now that he’s President, can do whatever he likes, whenever he likes, to who ever he likes. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

The son of the late, Mohammed Ali, the greatest American heavyweight world boxing champion of all time, is detained at a Florida airport and questioned about being a Muslim. I guess the name is a dead giveaway. The same name as Dad. But who cares in Trump America. He sounds like a muslim. And all Muslims are dangerous. Right? Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

Ali junior and his mother, Mohammed Ali’ s second wife, are returning to the United States from a vacation in Jamaica. Ali junior’s lawyer, tells a Louisville, Kentucky newspaper, his client was detained and questioned for two hours by Immigration officials, who repeatedly asked him: Where did you get your name from? Are you Muslim?

Clearly they were not boxing fans. For the record, Ali junior, was born in Philadelphia and holds a US passport. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

Trump’s besieged. He’s taking a beating in the polls. Loved, loathed and despised equally by many including members of his own Government, who keep feeding the media with damaging leaks designed to embarrass and humiliate. So what does he do? Trump takes his message to the American people. Mass rallies of supporters. Hang on. Didn’t we just have a Presidential election campaign? Trump tells them the mainstream media are liars and the economy is going great. And guess what? He says I’m going to keep having rallies, keep talking to the people because I can’t trust anyone. Only a fool would believe him. This man is a bombast. A wrecker and a hater. He can’t be trusted and will trash alliances, relationships and all the goodwill the United States spent decades cultivating. Welcome to the world of darkness. Welcome to the world of Donald Trump.

Ignore Them At Your Peril

Most people in the world will, by now, have heard of ISIS. Why am I wasting time and oxygen talking about a grotesque and barbaric group of extremists? Because we need to take them seriously. Very, very seriously. And, it would be a serious mistake not to. 

Here’s why.

ISIS is wealthier than a small country. They have $2billion in cash and even more in captured assets. With Syria a basket case, ISIS took control of oil fields, electricity plants, and dams as part of its strategy to control key infrastructure. It even continued to collect taxes to fund its invasion of Iraq. Other money making enterprises like ransom payments for hostages have earned millions.

It is better financed than all of the other radical Middle Eastern groups like Hezbollah, the Taliban, Farc and Al Shabaab. ISIS can even pay its fighters a salary.

Right at this moment they are the most dangerous and powerful group of extremists in the world. They have a PR machine, that some observers claim, can rival the slickest Hollywood agency. They have sophisticated strategies and very structured social media tactics and they are growing stronger every day. ISIS produces merchandise including branded T-shirts. Its followers post to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. They even produce a glossy magazine that’s posted online and the Islamic State publishes an annual report complete with infographics detailing its operations.

And like any ambitious corporation hoping to get bigger, ISIS possesses a very clear business and marketing plan. Their stated aim is to create an Islamic state in the Middle East and to recruit fighters from all over the world. ISIS has clearly identified its target audience as young Muslims aged between 20 and 30. They are people who feel alienated and frustrated by the society they are currently living in. What ISIS offers is proving to be a very attractive commodity.

ISIS sees itself as an alternative to Western and Middle Eastern governments around the world. Particularly western Governments that have failed to engage with young Muslims. And ISIS has the runs on the board. Potential recruits see it fighting against the leadership in Iraq and Syria with great success.

One academic who specializes in radicalization, criminal behavior and gangs blames Governments in the United States, Australia and the UK for not reaching out to their young Muslim population. He says that failure has led to the group becoming radicalized. ISIS gives these young Muslims the feeling that they belong to something especially if they are socially disadvantaged, isolated and alienated from wider society.

Most disturbingly, they’ve been flocking to radical movements like ISIS by the thousands. The stats speak for themselves. Three years ago, ISIS had only 1000 members. Now it has an estimated 80 thousand fighters from around the world. Its influence is outstripping other terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, which has been forced willingly or not to take a back seat to ISIS in power, size and influence 

Who would ever have thought that al-Qaeda could be considered moderate in comparison to ISIS with Bin Laden’s successor labeling the Islamic group too extreme. 

But clearly extremism does not put people off from joining. In fact the graphic YouTube beheadings designed to goad countries like the United States into sending ground forces has helped ISIS to recruit more fighters.

Counter terrorism laws are great at helping people feel more secure but they are not going to do the job on their own. If ISIS is, as one diplomat put it, the most capable military power in the Middle East outside of Israel, then Governments are going to have to come up with some better solutions and fast.

Vale James Foley

I read an opinion piece today that made me stop and think. Like all good pieces of journalism should.

It was about the American reporter James Foley who was barbarically murdered by Islamic terrorists who then shamelessly broadcast the deed on YouTube. The intention was very clear. To goad the United States into a ground offensive in Iraq so that they can recruit more young Muslims to the cause.

But Foley’s tragic and senseless death isn’t why I was drawn to the story or even what the story was about. The writer was talking about the incredibly dangerous game that freelance print and photojournalists play in trying to report the news in places that have become too dangerous in the 21st Century.

I say 21st Century because news has never been reported this way in the past. By that I mean freelance journalists are the new frontline troops in the media war to cut costs. They go to these places with little or no budget, backing and sometimes without even basic training. Many times they go without having the endorsement of an established media outlet so they are truly on their own.

It wasn’t always like this. Wars used to be covered by seasoned reporters who worked for long established media organizations that had the budget to maintain correspondents and a bureau in trouble spots around the globe. But those days have long gone especially for the print media and increasingly for television. Replaced by fresh-faced eager reporters who work freelance, so they are paid per story and prepared to take crazy risks to get it. This trend’s been happening overtime for some time But the Libyan conflict in 2011 was in some ways the catalyst. It acted like an irresistible magnet for freelance journalists who offer a much cheaper option for mainstream media wanting to cover that story. Apparently there were so many freelancers working in Libya at the time of the Gaddafi overthrow they outnumbered the rebels on the frontline.

According to those who were there, the freelancers and the rebels along with an ever-dwindling number of staff reporters would advance forward or backward to safety when the Gaddafi forces advanced. One of those freelancers was James Foley.

According to those who knew him, James Foley was courageous and a very nice man to know. He’d been a former reporter for a US military newspaper, before arriving in Libya full of hope, purpose, opportunity and the belief that he might have been immune to the dangers he faced. In fact there was no shortage of like-minded individuals keen to begin earning their stripes war reporting. And there was no shortage of media outlets willing to buy their images and stories. In fact it was a buyer’s market. Many freelancers prepared to work without insurance, expenses or even the airfares to get them home.

And as Libya deteriorated, it became less clear as to who were the good guys and who were not, and freelancers like James Foley had to make judgment calls on who to trust and when to leave. Safety in numbers ended up being the strategy they followed and it resulted in journalists like Foley forming strong bonds with colleagues he worked alongside and who would share a prison cell with him. In 2011, Foley was captured in Libya along with two other freelancers. A South African photographer travelling with them was killed in the incident. This time Foley was lucky. He was freed after 44 days in captivity. But instead of doing some soul searching and taking stock, James Foley plunged on in again to begin reporting from dangerous places. When Libya became yesterday’s news it was replaced by a more dangerous conflict, the civil war in Syria. It was more bloody and unpredictable. Media organizations were again looking for daring tales and images from the frontline and freelancers like James Foley wanted to take up the challenge even if it meant surviving on nothing more than your wits. In late 2012 and mid 2013 the risks began to outweigh the rewards. Working in northern Syria became next to impossible because of the ever-present threat of kidnap.

James Foley’s luck ran out for a second time in late 2012. He and a photographer were captured ironically on the last day of a two-week trip in an area of the country they had visited many times before. Foley’s captor was a local warlord who would later join the Islamic State. Now, I don’t mind admitting I have a major problem with all of this. What I find hard to reconcile is that 11 additional journalists were kidnapped in Syria in the following year yet the demands for freelance work continued unabated. This kind of journalism has no doubt created opportunities but at the same time it has allowed established media organizations to outsource their coverage for a bargain basement price to reporters prepared to take the risk. It’s called all care but no responsibility.

It has meant that freelancers like James Foley end up paying a terrible price. The Middle East may well be the most important story this century. I just don’t happen to think the price being paid for the privilege of reporting the story is worth it.


What The Hell Is Going On?

More and more these days things are happening in such a way that makes me keep asking myself the question: What the hell is going on?

Take this as a for instance. The story begins with an 18-year- old unarmed man, gunned down in a Missouri street after a confrontation with police. Two journalists, Huffington Post reporter Ryan J Reilly and Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery sent to cover the story are arrested for their trouble by a SWAT team in McDonald’s of all places.

Of course the reporters were expectedly outraged and tweeted their arrest and even showed video recordings on their mobile devices. So what’s my point? It’s this:

The 18- year- old man who died at police hands was killed in a predominantly black neighbourhood in controversial circumstances. By all reports in a quiet area that rarely sees trouble. The FBI is now investigating what happened after witnesses and police gave conflicting accounts of what led to the death of the young man only a couple of days before he was due to start college.

Now you might think that police having already been involved in controversy might be somewhat circumspect in how they go about things back in this neighbourhood. I am not suggesting they stop upholding the law. What I mean is not doing anything that might inflame the situation and cause more violence.

But it would seem that police in that particular area of Missouri had a very different take on how they should behave. Instead of softly, softly they took what witnesses claim was a very, heavy handed approach in dealing with the crowd that had gathered to conduct a vigil for the dead man. They used tear gas and rubber bullets.

Let’s just park the whys and wherefores of this particular incident for the moment and focus on an equally important issue: What I would describe as the disturbing and menacing images of the police response that are being shown on social media and on TV.

In fact one commentator took up this theme and made a very good point, in my view, by way of a comparison. He said on the one hand, the use, and some might say abuse, of contentious anti-terrorism powers for intelligence agencies has been well documented and heavily debated thanks to Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

But what has quietly slipped through, under the radar, is the fact that United States Governments have been quietly arming their police and turning them into para-militaries.

Critics are now saying that the days of accountable, civilian police held up as a cornerstone of a democratic and free society are long gone and we better get used to it. Instead we now have the rule of the gun. Forget about the presumption of innocence. Your presumed to be armed and dangerous and that’s where it begins and ends. And, the critics say, it’s delivering a blunt message to America’s poor, ethnic and anti-establishment communities: WE are a para-military style police and YOU are the enemy.

So where is the evidence of the re-arming of police? Well let’s just go through a checklist of the kind of gear police carry these days: Assault Rifles, Combat Helmets and Nightime Goggles. They ride around in armoured vehicles that also have grenade launchers. Battle equipped police are smashing down doors with battering rams, throwing stun grenades and smashing through doors and windows as if they are on some kind of military operation. Not the sort of kit or behaviour normally associated with suburban cops.

Of course these developments have the American Civil Liberties Union jumping up and down on the one spot. The ACLU points out that American neighbourhoods are not war zones. Our police officers should not be treating us, the general public, as if we were their enemies. And to make matters worse, the Pentagon is helping. Large quantities of surplus military battle uniforms, protective gear and heavy weapons stockpiled after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were given a new home. Following 9/11 the U.S Department of Homeland Security handed over this equipment to State Police. And as the ACLU also points out, if the Government hands over heavy-duty weapons to State Police they are going to use them even if the situation doesn’t call for that kind of firepower.

Doctor Tom Nolan, the chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at New York State University made the interesting point. He said many communities now view the police as an occupying army. The once close relationships police forged with communities are being smashed by the mindset of what he called the Warrior Cop.

Some lobby groups are claiming that 5000 civilian Americans have been killed at the hands of the new military style police since 9/11. I am not in a position to comment on the validity or otherwise of those statistics. But what I can say is that there are plenty of examples where disproportionate police force was used. Take the case in Arizona where an Iraqi veteran was shot 22 times while sitting in his kitchen. The 7-year-old Detroit girl shot by police after she leapt out of her bed which had been set on fire by police smoke grenades.

Critics say there is also growing evidence that Police Special Weapons and Tactics Squads reserved for the most serious armed confrontations like sieges and armed hostage taking are being used in incidents of a more minor nature. In the 1980s there were fewer than 3000 SWAT raids in the United States. By 2005 that number had exploded to 45,000. What’s worse says New York State University’s Doctor Tom Nolan, people charged with no crime are treated as if they are guilty with the violent intrusion into their home based on the mere suspicion of low-level crime. And the vast majority of these raids are against black Americans and Latinos.

As some commentators point out what is also being observed is that police in the United States are not not only vigorous in upholding the law, they seem to think they are above it. Even the Central Intelligence Agency was taken to task after it was discovered that the CIA had been spying on Congress men and women responsible for monitoring its behaviour.

I should hasten to add that this is not an exercise in police bashing. Most people appreciate and understand the difficult job police do for us every day. But in every healthy democracy there must be checks, balances and accountability. Recently the absurd situation arose where a Massachusetts police SWAT team managed to dodge Freedom of Information requests on its activities by claiming it was a private corporation contracted to multiple police departments and therefore had the right to claim commercial confidentiality.

I accept we live in a changed world. But I share other people’s concerns that this might be counterproductive. That arming the police to the teeth does not do much to reassure the general public that they are safe and out of harm’s way. Instead it reinforces the notion that we are all unsafe and in danger. Maybe from the very people whose sworn duty it is to protect us.