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Lights out on Western Civilization? The Issue may not be Trump but the Media’s Skepticism about Truth

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I teach beginners’ philosophy at Barry University in Miami. I usually start my courses examining the trial of Socrates as narrated in Plato’s Apology. We discuss the Socratic method and what exactly did Socrates mean by his famous slogan “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We reflect on the concept of Sophistry distinguishing it from philosophy proper. I stress that we have to distinguish sophistry from philosophy.

The former is interested in winning arguments and persuasion; the latter is interested in searching for and finding the truth, even when inconvenient. It’s what distinguishes a Socrates, the father of Western philosophy, from a Protagoras, the father of rhetorical sophistical argumentation. I then ask this question: without a belief in truth is philosophy possible?

Most students will answer correctly. It would be impossible and I, teaching the subject, would be either a fraud (as some sophists were even in ancient times) or an hypocrite. Then I ask another question: does the media believe in truth nowadays? Here again most students answer correctly and point out that the media are interested mostly in polls and ratings, in the balancing of opinions, in utilitarian social goals and purposes, and most of them neglect the truth. I then point out that in effect they have arrived at the modern definition of sophistry. We of course do not call these people sophists nowadays; we call them politicians. Their enablers, we will argue further down, are the modern journalists.

Enter Donald Trump dwelling in the cave of delusions and ignorance. He’s the latest in a long line of American demagogues but he is the one who has come closest to the White House. He may actually become our next president, to the detriment of the nation and democracy. That makes him the most dangerous of them all. There is indeed in American history a long list of demagogues, unscrupulous political opportunists and bigots who feed on fear; it’s like a recurring virus which lies dormant for a while but then it resurges at opportune times and spread very rapidly like a wild firestorm sucking the oxygen out of democracy. Indeed, sophistry is still with us, twenty five centuries after the trial of Socrates.

Those types tend to be swaggering bullies, narcissistic self-promoters full of innuendos, false promises and hatred of others, especially the others with a different race, faith, gender or ethnic background. Today the banner is carried by Donald Trump, but other ignoramuses and charlatans have came before him. One thinks of “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, the South Carolina governor and senator who led vigilante terror attacks with a gang called the Red Shirts and praised the efficiency of lynch mobs. Also radio’s charismatic Father Charles Coughlin, the anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist Catholic priest who reached an audience of up to 30 million with his attacks on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Also the New Deal; Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo, a member of the Ku Klux Klan who vilified ethnic minorities and deplored the “mongrelization” of the white race. One also thinks of Louisiana’s corrupt and dictatorial Huey Long, who promised to make “Every Man a King.” And of course, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama and four-time presidential candidate who vowed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Lastly, there is McCarthy: an ego-swollen provocateur of the first order. Like Trump he would say that “I have here in hand a list” never showing the list but then later falsely accusing those whom he considered subversives and destroying many lives and careers.

They were all leading under the banner of populism: promising the people what they had been deprived of by the establishment and the rich and powerful and a fairer redistribution of wealth. Funny thing is that Trump belongs to the class of rich people and in fact got rich by exploiting the working class and often leaving them holding the bag via bankruptcy laws favorable to the rich. Superficially this may seem fair, but it came at a price. The price was nativism advocating the building of walls and keeping immigrants out. The xenophobia extends not only to people but to ideas that are deemed dangerous.

In the end, McCarthy was brought down. A brave journalist called him out on the same television airwaves that helped the senator become a powerful, national sensation. It was Edward R. Murrow, and at the end of an episode exposing McCarthy on his CBS series See It Now, Murrow said: “It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.”

There also was the brave and moral lawyer Joseph Welch, acting as chief counsel to the US Army after it was targeted for one of McCarthy’s inquisitions. When McCarthy smeared one of his young associates, Welch responded in full view of the TV and newsreel cameras during hearings in the Senate. “You’ve done enough,” Welch said. “Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?… If there is a God in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further.” That was way back in 1954.

And those are just a few examples. To the contrary what prevails nowadays is the indifference of the so called “guardians of the truth,” namely the media. Since the birther movement of three years or so ago, out to discredit the legitimacy of a sitting president, the media has not challenged the nefarious, redolent of racism, false premises of Donald Trump; they have in fact allowed the Frankenstein monster to grow and flourish. The monster now threatens the very existence of the party of Lincoln which is also responsible for the monster. They are now applying a double standard. Rather than use a common standard for all candidates, they are grading Trump on a curve as if he were a dumb third grader, unable to carry on a rational argument. Nevertheless, we are expected to trust him with his finger of the nuclear button.

Where are the profiles in courage of today? Nowhere to be seen. Most of the Republican Party has acquiesced in the nomination of a bigot as its final choice. Should we be surprised? Not really, considering that their years of kowtowing to extremism in the appeasement of their base, have allowed Trump and his nightmarish sideshow to steal into the tent and take over the circus. Once again, the virus has spread through the body politic contaminating all. What is desperately needed is the sunlight out of the cave of ignorance, the clearing torch of truth. But are today’s journalists capable of such a feat? One wonders.

To my knowledge, no journalist has mustered enough courage and integrity to ask Trump outright “Have you no decency, sir?” None has dare to call him what he is to his face: an chronic liar; one that uses lying as a an amoral strategic tool to crush his opponents. None has reprimanded him publicly and to his face for his ignorance, and most disturbing, for glorying in his ignorance.

Lately Trump has taken to praising Putin on Russian TV. And journalists simply acquiesce. We will soon have political debates wherein garbage will be thrown on the wall hoping that it sticks with the moderators doing no fact checking and determine if what was proffered has any connection to reality. Perhaps they’ll assign a Pinocchio nose the next day and Trump will use that to double down on what he said the night before.

The question arises: why do we continue to see these sad scenarios. Well, as a philosophy professor I’d have to say that presently the media seems incapable of rendering objective judgments based on the truth of the facts. Somehow, that is seen as “taking sides” and “being partial,” or not being “fair and balanced.” It all revolves about balance parading as fairness. In reality what we have is an incredible skepticism about truth; a skepticism about the possibility of arriving at truth, a truth which by an and large has become relativistic. Truth is relative to one’s convenience or one’s utility, or one’s “progress” understood materially and instrumentally. This is what every philosophy teacher who believes that philosophy is the search for the truth, has to contend with nowadays. He/she has to contend with the affirmation that reality is biased against one’s opinion, and that opinion is more important than the truth. We are of course all entitled to our opinion but the distinction of opinions based on facts and knowledge and opinions based on ignorance is somehow overlooked. In other words we don’t believe in truth any longer. Like Pilate we ask the question: what is truth? What we expect is a Machiavellian answer based on geo-political relative considerations and therefore relative itself.

In conclusion, the media has to decide if they wish to be in the truth business or in the business of reality shows, polls, ratings, false equivalences to keep everybody happy and consuming their product. If they decide not to decide, that in itself will be a decision. When democracy is finally lost, we will then realize that the issue cannot be avoided: either the truth makes one’s free, or the denial of the truth will makes us slaves while parading our love of country and freedom. Time is running out.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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America’s Two-Tiered Justice System

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The Constitution states only one command twice. The Fifth Amendment says to the federal government that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, uses the same eleven words, called the Due Process Clause, to describe a legal obligation of all states. These words have as their central promise an assurance that all levels of government must operate within the law and provide fair procedures to all its citizens.

In this politically divisive climate, the central promise has been broken with little to no assurance that one can trust the American democratic system where some courts have disavowed their responsibility to uphold the Constitution’s meaning of the laws passed by Congress. For instance, the Bill of Rights was passed because of concepts such as freedom of religion, speech, equal treatment, and due process of law were all deemed so fundamental to protect every legal resident in the nation; yet we are now witnessing politically charged judicial appointments eradicating these principles under which all persons and entities are accountable to equally enforce and independently adjudicate, as well as being consistent with international human rights.

On the heels of the Chinese coronavirus, there is an escalating epidemic of unequal justice and character assault where much of the news media is politically aligned with the rulers in turning a blind eye or complicit in the coverup; and in some cases, ravenously endorses the demise of what has essentially now become political dissidents falsely accused, intimidated, and jailed. While many Americans are attempting to scrape by in difficult times, they remain astute to the moral failure of the elites in power as well as the tacit elected opposition’s assiduous silence in whitewashing the legal duplicity. Historical trends over centuries of betraying the peasants eventually succumbs to a reckoning where the privileged corrupt politician and their corporate fascists will be exposed and held accountable in some fashion.  

Americans are confounded by the coronavirus decrees requiring masks to be worn for thee and not for me double standards. The politicians hammer away at enforcing mask mandates on the common folk, yet they do not adhere to their own edicts while attending fine dining with their elite backers. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Californian Governor Gavin Newsome, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot all violated their own mask mandates in public venues while the masked servants waited on them.

President Biden was caught on video walking maskless through a swanky Washington restaurant in violation of the District’s laws on facial coverings, yet regular citizens are subject to civil penalties which result in fines of $1000.00 or revocation of licenses during the COVID-19 emergency. In defending the emperor, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said we should ‘not overly focus on moments in time that don’t reflect overarching policy.’ These double standard by the progressives are a far cry from Americans being punished and ostracized all over the country for not wearing a mask.

Identity politics has resulted in two systems of justice – one where BLM rioting and looting is described by the media as peaceful demonstrations and where assaulting police has no criminal consequences; yet the January 6th actions at the Capital has resulted in the largest round up of protesters ever seen in America. It is estimated that the Federal Government has upwards to 70 rioters/trespassers in solitary confinement and they are only let out in a larger area for one hour at 2 am due to COVID. Some of those being held in detention have been charged with trespassing on restricted grounds, others with assault and obstruction, and some haven’t been charged with anything. There are no bail hearings for these political activists yet BLM and Antifa rioters typically spend one night in the brig and let out the next day to rejoin the frontlines of carnage.  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vocally pushed for the January 6th ‘insurrectionists’ to be added to the TSA no-fly list. Civil liberties are being trampled by exploiting insurrection fears with people in attendance no longer permitted to take a flight in their own country and they have not been convicted of a crime. This action by the government had previously only happened to suspect foreign terrorists, and now it is happening to Americans under suspicion. We see no similar actions taken against the militant Antifa anarchists who attacked and torched federal buildings in Portland.

Washington DC has essentially been abusing these inmates in captivity. There have been complaints on the nourishment of their fellow Americans where they are served white bread and a packet of tartar sauce. This is ultimately a violation of the 8th Amendment that prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, nor cruel and unusual punishments, and from inflicting unduly harsh penalties. Some judges are expressing concern at the length of these pretrial incarcerations, however they’ve largely deferred to the Justice Department. Meanwhile anarchists who burn down buildings and shoot projectiles at police officers and federal buildings have charges dismissed. Justice is not equal.   

One female trespasser was shot dead by police during the Capital unrest and there was no outcry or charges against the officer. She was white and a Trump supporter. Federal prosecutors are not seeking criminal charges against the police lieutenant whose single shot killed Ashli Babbit, the 14-year veteran who served four tours with the US Airforce. If the unarmed Babbit committed any crime, it would have been for trespassing, a misdemeanor that should have seen her arrested and not slain. The lieutenant’s life was not at risk nor was he saving the lives of others as he stood with numerous police officers in riot gear and strapped with submachine guns. If a member of BLM was shot dead by police during an unlawful riot, there would have been an immediate racial outcry from political elites and from across the news media for justice followed by looting local retailers and ransacking a police precinct. The action by BLM is considered righteous violence whereas the slain Babbit had it coming to her.  

On a very disturbing and new level of injustice is the threatening actions being taken against parents of schoolchildren by the Department of Justice. Most Americans are familiar with the Patriot Act following 9-11 where the National Security Division conducts counterterrorism operations against foreign adversaries planning suicide bombings and stealing nuclear secrets. Now the Biden Administration, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, has turned the NSD’s crosshairs against everyday Americans conducting their civil duties and free speech as school board meetings.

Garland’s actions followed the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) claim that American public schools and its education leaders are under immediate threats and intimidation as parents grow frustrated over the divisive neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory being injected into their children’s curricula. This is clearly an injustice to weaponize the DOJ and FBI investigators to intimidate and arrest parents under the same counterespionage to that of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Parents may be angry, but they are certainly not domestic terrorists in taking on the powerfully partisan school unions who somehow believe they are justified to influence civilization by indoctrinating their children.        

Garland’s poster boy for his hideous partisan support of the NSBA is a Virginia father who was arrested at a school board meeting when he attempted to raise the alarm over his young daughter being raped in the school washroom. The father became the symbol of angry parents confronting school officials when he was taken down by several police officers and apprehended for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He became vocally upset when school officials denied the attack on his daughter, but he was not physically confrontational.

The father said it is scary that our government will weaponize themselves against parents and they’re using my video across the nation to spread fear; while the school officials did not seem to want to listen to him regarding his daughter being assaulted by a boy wearing a skirt who took advantage of transgender rules to access the girl’s washroom. The boy has now been charged with two counts of forcible sodomy, one count of anal sodomy, and one count of forcible fellatio related to the incident at that school. At a later date, the same boy was charged for a similar attack at neighboring school where he allegedly forced a victim into an empty classroom where he held her against her will and inappropriately touched her.  Regardless of the raped daughter, Garland and the NSBA still have their video of the father being wrestled down to support the use of the FBI against parents and send a chilling effect on harmless dissent.  

The Russian collusion narrative against then President Donald Trump may seem dated, however it can never be swept aside or forgotten in what may well have been the biggest political scandal and injustice to a man in American history. The country endured four years investigating Russian collusion into the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 presidential win with senate and congressional impeachment hearings over a Clinton-paid-for fake dossier, the biased Obama hatchet men overseeing the FBI and CIA shirking the law, a frenzied media that never let up on Trump’s guilt, and a special counsel comprised of Clinton partisans that turned over every leaf that eventually found the nearly crucified Trump to be innocent of the false charges. The former president had to withstand an incessant blitzkrieg of injustice through his entire presidency while leading the most powerful country in the world.   

On the hand, there is compelling evidence that President Joe Biden spent years while in government enriching himself through family ties, specifically his son Hunter, to the tune of millions of dollars in foreign money from China, Russia, and Ukraine. The foreign players simply used the unqualified son to leverage access to Biden while satisfying Hunter’s greed and questionable lifestyle. Biden has little to no ability to stand up to China or Russia knowing they are holding damaging transactions over his head. There have been no investigations into Biden’s quid-pro-quo against Ukraine or the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to Biden family members, no impeachments, and the news media buried these stories; including damaging information found on Hunter’s laptop during the 2020 presidential election. Had Trump and his sons engaged in these activities, there would have been a very different level of justice.   

What of this injustice that is making its mark on history? If we take a moment to think through the confusion of the moment and see the morale issue involved, then one may refuse to have this sense of justice distorted to grip power rather than for the good of the country. Those who have sown this unjust wind may eventually reap a whirlwind that provokes reform by convulsion of the people instead of a natural order of business. We must all remember that democracy lies with the people of this land and whether the nation will be stirred to stand for justice and freedom in this hour of distress and go on to finish in a way worthy of its beginning.  

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Biden’s Department of Justice: parents as domestic terrorists

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In recent developments in the United States, US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, and the FBI have put under the FBI radar parents as potential domestic terrorists. You heard it right. This is now a new formal legal policy contained in memos of the Department of Justice trying to reign in parents discussions on Biden’s new school curricula. They are not going after potential outbursts but outright terrorism. 

This is an attack on freedom of speech in the sense that parents have the right to discuss and disagree with the new Biden school curricula. This is where the issue originated: parts of Biden’s new school curricula are not accepted by many parents and if they disagree, the FBI treats them now as potential domestic terrorists as a matter of policy. Apart from a First Amendment case, this is also a case for international human rights law and I reported the development to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech this week hoping to get a statement.

The Department of Justice is referring to some constitutional provision on “intimidation of views” to override and take down one of the most firmly established rights, the right to freedom of speech, in quite frankly a ridiculous interpretation. Those parents that dare to speak up against controversial parts in the new text books could be investigated for domestic terrorism. This is the most incompetent interpretation on limitations of freedom of speech I have seen in awhile. 

Garland and the FBI have totally lost their marbles. The woke discussion is not funny to me anymore. It increasingly looks like a woke tyranny that has nothing to do with rights and equality anymore but simply serves as a vehicle to empower the FBI to run wild against regular people. This lunacy needs to be stopped.

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Iran poll contains different messages for Biden and Raisi

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“It’s the economy, stupid.” That is the message of a just-published survey of Iranian public opinion.

However, the substance of the message differs for newly elected hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the Biden administration as Mr. Raisi toughens his negotiating position and the United States grapples with alternative ways of curbing the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme should the parties fail to agree on terms for the revival of the 2015 international agreement.

Iranians surveyed last month by Iran Poll and the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies were telling Mr. Raisi that they are looking to him to alleviate Iran’s economic and other problems and have little hope that a revived nuclear agreement will make the difference, given lack of trust in US and European compliance with any agreement reached.

The Iranians polled seemed in majority to endorse some form of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s notion of a “resistance economy” as a way of blunting the impact of the US sanctions imposed by former President Donald J. Trump after he walked away from the nuclear agreement in 2018. Some 65 per cent of the responders said they favoured a self-sufficient economy; 54.2 per cent expected the economy to at least improve somewhat in the next three years.

A large number expressed confidence that Mr. Raisi would significantly lower inflation and unemployment, increase Iran’s trade with other countries, control the pandemic and root out corruption.

Meanwhile, 63 per cent suggested that Iran’s economic situation would be the same, if not better, if there were no return to the agreement and the government continued to pursue a civil nuclear programme. The figure seemed at odds with the 80 per cent who said Iran’s economic situation would improve if Iran and the United States returned to the agreement and both fulfilled their obligations under the deal.

The divergence may be a function of the fact that the poll, unsurprisingly, indicated that Iranians (64.7 per cent) had little trust in the United States living up to its commitments even though they expected the Biden administration to return to the deal (57.9 per cent). As a result, 73.1 per cent of those surveyed said Iran should not make concessions given that world powers would not live up to commitments they make in return.

At the same time, 63 per cent blamed the troubled state of the economy on domestic mismanagement rather than US sanctions. Only 34.4 per cent believed that the sanctions were the main cause of their economic difficulty. Iranians pointing the finger at the government rather than external forces was also reflected in the 60.5 per cent of those polled blaming Iran’s water shortages on mismanagement and bad policies.

The poll suggested that by emphasising domestic mismanagement, Iranians were going to judge Mr. Raisi on his success or failure in countering the debilitating effect of the sanctions even though 77.5 per cent of those surveyed said that the sanctions had a negative or somewhat negative impact on the economy.

Implicitly, Iranians were holding former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responsible for the mismanagement given that Mr. Raisi only took office in August. Rated very favourable by 61.2 per cent of Iranians surveyed in 2015, Mr. Rouhani’s favorability dropped to 4.6 per cent in the most recent poll. By contrast, the favourable views of Mr. Raisi soared from 38.3 per cent in 2014 to 77 per cent last month. IranPoll and the Center have been conducting annual of surveys since 2014.

Mr. Raisi may have taken pleasure from that but more importantly, the poll implicitly suggested that he does not have much time to produce results before his significant public support starts to wane.

Of those polled, 66.7 per cent expected Mr. Raisi to improve Iran’s international standing, 55.7 per cent said he would be in a better position to negotiate with world powers, and 45.2 per cent predicted that he would enhance Iran’s security. Those expectations may have been to some degree validated in the public’s mind by last month’s acceptance of Iran’s application for membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that groups China, Russia, India, Pakistan and several Central Asian states.

The survey results seemed to suggest that ordinary Iranians were framing their message to the United States differently from the assessment of prominent scholars and analysts. The divergence may well be one primarily of timing but nonetheless has implications for policymaking in Washington. The message of the respondents to the poll was one of immediate impact while analysts and scholars appear to be looking at the middle term.

Without referring to the poll, Vienna-based economist and strategic consultant Bijan Khajehpour argued this week, seemingly contrary to the poll, that “mismanagement and the Covid-19 pandemic have both contributed to Iran’s poor economic performance in recent years, but it remains that US sanctions…will be the key factor in determining Iran’s future prospects.”

Mr. Khajehpour went on to say that “high inflation, capital flight and the erosion of household purchasing power alongside mismanagement of resources and the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure have the potential to spark more protests and further undermine the already faltering legitimacy of the Islamic Republic in the eyes of the public.”

No doubt, the jury is out on how Iranians respond if and when Mr. Raisi fails to live up to their expectations. If the past is any indication, Iranians have repeatedly taken to the streets at often substantial risk to liberty and life to make their discontent with government performance evident as they did with the low turnout in this year’s election that brought Mr. Raisi to power.

The risk of renewed protests was reflected in the fact that responses to various questions regarding the electoral system, the limited number of presidential candidates (because many were barred from running), and the public health system showed that it was often a slim majority at best that expressed confidence in the system.

Add to that the fact that 68 per cent of respondents to the poll said that the objectives of past protests had been a demand that officials pay greater attention to people’s problems.

Yet, at the same time, they were telling the United States that its efforts to generate pressure on Iranian leaders to moderate their nuclear and regional policies by imposing harsh sanctions had for now backfired. Iranians were backing a tougher negotiating position by the Raisi government.

Ultimately that could be a double-edged sword for Mr. Raisi. He has to prove that he can be tough on the United States and simultaneously improve the lives of ordinary Iranians. Failure to do so could have in Mr. Khajehpour’s words “unpredictable consequences.”

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