Friday, December 29, 2023

At what cost?

At what cost?

Ted Miller
(originally published in Tumbleweird January 2024)


On October 7th, Hamas terrorists launched more than 3000 rockets into southern Israel from Gaza and coordinated multiple cross border attacks, brutally murdering 1200 innocent people and taking 240 hostages. It was a criminal act of war that shocked the world. There is no way to justify the violent attack morally, ethically, or legally. 


Israel wasted no time in responding with devastating air attacks. Implementing a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, supplies of food, electricity, fuel, and water were cut off. Days later, a ground attack was launched, with tanks and soldiers entering cities and towns to continue the military response. With the exception of a short ceasefire to exchange hostages, the air and ground assault have been relentless. The Israeli War Council’s stated goal has been to “eradicate Hamas.”


After just over two months, more than 20,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed, and more than 50,000 injured. Most of those killed have been women and children. Homes, hospitals, and entire towns have been destroyed. Two million of the 2.3 million residents of Gaza, nearly 90 percent, have been displaced. People are told to evacuate from one location, only to find themselves under attack after they flee to a designated ‘safe’ place. Few have been allowed to leave Gaza. There is insufficient food and clean water, little shelter, and no functioning hospitals. The sick and the injured are dying because care is impossible to provide and humanitarian supplies are practically nonexistent. Very little international aid has been allowed into Gaza.


The October 7th attack on innocent civilians in Israel was horrifying and devastating to the victims and their families. The devastation of the Palestinian people suffering from the response is no less heartbreaking.


There is a philosophy in war called proportional response, meaning the response to a military assault should be proportionate to the violence of the attack, and limited to that necessary for self-defense or to eliminate a threat. Legal pundits have weighed in on the war in Gaza, debating the finer points of international law and the rules of war. I’ve read a number of articles making the case that Israel’s actions in Gaza are legal under international law. Perhaps they are legal, but are they justified?


A few weeks after the Hamas attack, Lucian K Truscott wrote an essay called “What is a War Crime?” Truscott went through a lengthy explanation to say that what Hamas did was a war crime, but that Israel’s response was within the international rules of war, even though thousands of civilians were being killed in the process. 


I commented that, “Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is either moral or ethical.” 


“But a line has to be drawn somewhere, don't you think?” Truscott replied directly to me.


I said, “There are no easy solutions and no clear lines. But there are always choices. Some choices result in innocent deaths, some choices spare those suffering people.”


Proportional response and the rules of war don’t tell us where to draw that line. Who decides what is proportional? When does a defensive military response cross the line of proportionality and become revenge? Or when does that response take on a broader goal beyond self-defense? Whose lives are expendable for the sake of security? 


Lost in all this legal debate are those who really pay the price for this war. It isn’t Hamas, or the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), or the American taxpayer funding the Israeli war machine who pay the consequences. The price for this war is being paid with the deaths of thousands — and the disrupted lives of millions — of innocents who didn’t start the violence, and who only want to live their lives in peace, just like you and me.


But do we think about Palestinians being like you and me, or do we consider them all terrorists by association? Do we really think every human life has equal worth? In war, do all civilian lives matter equally? How many civilian deaths are justified as the necessary cost of battle?


In an interview with the Washington Post in early December, an IDF official explained how, in spite of the number of civilian casualties, they were complying with the law. He said that of the 15,000 people that had been killed, an estimated 5000 of those were Hamas militants. By that count, the cost was two civilians for every militant. 


“That proportion is more than acceptable compared to other armies facing similar challenges in urban battlefields,” the official said. “It’s not that we are okay with any loss of civilians. But in the end, we have no choice. We didn’t start this war.”


Ah, but there is a choice in how to respond. There is always a choice when it comes to violence.


As I was researching how to frame my thoughts on this, I found an article by Jessica Wolfendale of Case Western Reserve University that put into perspective what I have been trying to articulate. In her essay Why all civilian lives matter equally, according to a military ethicist, she provides a way to think about whether an action considers all civilian lives as equal. She used the November 15th Israeli attack on the Shifa hospital as an example. Israel justified the Shifa hospital attack as acceptable in spite of civilian losses because, they claimed, Hamas had a command center and weapons hidden under the hospital.


At the time of the attack, the hospital was low on supplies and was housing civilians seeking refuge along with patients, including premature babies. In asking whether the attack was proportionate to the military need, and whether civilian lives were being considered equally, Wolfendale phrased the question this way: “If Hamas was hiding a control base under an Israeli hospital and it was Israeli civilians at risk, would Israel think that attacking the hospital would be justified? If the answer is no, then the attack against Shifa hospital is also not justified.”


War is a choice. Violence is a choice. And if we truly value all human life, we will choose an alternative to violence rather than accept civilian casualties as just an unfortunate price to pay.


If those Palestinian civilians were your family, perhaps you wouldn’t be so willing to accept the cost.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The dangerous politics of woke

The dangerous politics of woke

Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird October 2023)


I don’t remember hearing the word ‘woke’ used to describe antiracism before the summer of 2020, but it’s not a new term. I just wasn’t paying attention.


In response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black Americans, many white Americans began to grapple with understanding the role racism has played in our history, and how each of us plays a role in perpetuating systems that continue to privilege some more than others. 


Books on racism topped the best seller lists in 2020 and sold out. Corporations and nonprofit organizations quickly adopted Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements. Antiracist educators and writers dominated talk shows and editorials. White-centered privilege was being challenged everywhere. White America, it seemed, was once again waking up to the realities of systemic racism. Something Black America has always known.


And the term woke started appearing everywhere. 


The idea of staying awake in the face of oppression has been around for at least a hundred years. In 1923, Jamaican social activist Marcus Garvey wrote “Wake up, Ethiopia! Wake up Africa!” In a 1938 song about the Scottsboro Boys, Lead Belly sang “stay woke” in response to Black teenagers falsely accused of raping white women.  In 1940, when a Black union leader discovered Black miners were being paid much less than white miners, he said, “We were asleep. But we will stay woke from now on.” 


By the 2010s, the term was being used more broadly to describe social justice. But like other terms that were coined within a marginalized community, the word ‘woke’ has been transformed into a pejorative. Like CRT and Black Lives Matter, woke has been weaponized as a cudgel against progressive ideas conservatives work so hard to oppose.


Acknowledging our racist history is woke. Support for trans kids is woke. Access to abortion, gay rights, climate action, police and prison reform — anything that challenges conservative ideology — all are woke. And, to the extreme right, woke is somehow anti-American. But what is more American than our commitment to the ideals of equality and humanity set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?


Anti-wokeness is more than a political slogan. In the name of stopping wokeness, our long march towards a more just and inclusive America is being set back. Real people are getting hurt. People who look or believe differently from those who think they are the ‘true Americans’ are being pushed further to the margins.


Injustice continues to exist in the United States. Millions of Americans live in poverty while the wealth gap continues to get worse. The United States has, by far, the highest rate of gun violence and the highest rate of incarceration of any other developed nation. Millions of Americans lack access to basic health care. Too many children go to bed hungry. But instead of blaming this growing injustice on the policies and systems responsible, anti-wokeness blames injustice on the “woke mob.”


Feeding into the fear of change, wokeness is the new scapegoat for the perceived difficulties felt by the average American. If those in power can convince enough of us that our problems will be solved by returning to a mythical American greatness that never existed, they can hold on to their wealth and power while the rest of us turn against each other instead of demanding change for the better.


Garrett Bucks wrote an excellent piece on Substack a few months ago called “What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Woke’” (you should read it).  He warns that it would be a trap to dismiss anti-wokeness as silly or cartoonish. Railing against M&Ms, Black mermaids, and Bud Light seems ridiculous, but we need to remember that those attacks resonate with a large number of Americans who are afraid of the rapid changes in our society, and they are listening. We can’t allow the anti-woke grifters an unchallenged platform to whitewash our history, demonize drag queens, and restrict the rights of anyone who is not white and Christian.


Bucks closes his piece by reminding us that our anger shouldn’t be directed at those who fall into the trap of believing the anti-woke rhetoric. To understand their fear is to take the first step towards overcoming it. He differentiates between those who truly hate, and those who fear. He writes:


“Hatred is nearly impossible to transform. Fear isn’t, though. Fear is an ellipsis. Fear is an invitation. Fear is a desire to be heard. And hearing that fear, in turn, is a first step towards transforming it into empathy.”


Those of us who want a more just world must continue to pay attention to the rhetoric used to turn back progress. The words used may change, but the intent is the same. Words that divide us keep us from working together. We need to call that out when we see it.


We need to continue to stay woke. 



Thursday, August 24, 2023

Democracy needs a free press to survive

Democracy needs a free press to survive

Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird September 2023)


The freedom to report on the government and its leaders without censorship is a fundamental principle of a functioning democracy. When governments and those in power have the ability to censor the media and suppress the voice of the people, despotism takes root and chokes out the democratic rule of law.


The First Amendment guarantees the right of a free press in order to hold government accountable through investigating and reporting on the actions (and inactions) of government officials and organizations. The press is so important in this role that it has often been referred to as the fourth branch of government, a necessary check on the powers of those we elect and those who are appointed to uphold the law.


And because both the constitution and the law recognize the importance of the press, journalists and media organizations are protected from revealing sources and sharing details of ongoing investigations except in the most extreme cases, or when there is probable cause that a journalist has committed a crime.


On August 11, 2023, in Marion, Kansas, city and county law enforcement officers raided the Marion County Record offices, confiscating computers, cell phones, notes, essentially everything needed to publish the paper. In addition to the raid on the newspaper offices, the homes of the Marion Vice Mayor and the home of publisher Eric Meyer, who lived with his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, was also searched and similar items were seized. Joan Meyer died the next day and Eric Meyer believes the stress of the raid contributed to her death.


The warrant for the search and seizure was issued following a complaint by a local restaurant owner who was upset about the paper’s reporting. Additionally, the paper had been investigating information they had received legally from a source about the restaurant owner’s driving record, but the paper had chosen not to publish that information. Following the raid, it was also learned that the paper had been actively investigating the Marion Chief of Police over allegations of sexual misconduct at his previous job, but that investigation was still in progress and there was not yet a plan to publish anything related to that investigation. 


Following the seizure of their equipment, with help from others and an all-nighter, the Record was able to publish their weekly issue on time. You can read their lead story about the incident “SEIZED: But Not Silenced” at


The Marion County Record is a relatively small weekly paper with a circulation of about 4000. With a reputation for hard-nosed reporting and unflinching editorials about local officials, it appears that a local business owner, county sheriff, and a willing magistrate overstepped their legal authority to attack a newspaper they didn’t like.


Vilifying the press is nothing new. For the last four decades, right-wing personalities and politicians have sowed a deep mistrust of the so-called mainstream media in consumers of conservative media. Many of my friends and family refuse to believe anything in traditional media. Long gone are the days when the vast majority of Americans trusted the voices of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow.


Sowing distrust in the media with claims of fake news and liberal bias is one thing (which, as much as I think it undermines our democracy, is largely protected speech under the First Amendment). But using an agency of the government to raid a media company reporting on something you don’t like is unconstitutional. 


Local newspapers in the United States continue to close at a rate of about two each week. And with that, local communities lose the kind of reporting Eric Meyer and the Marion County Record do to hold their local businesses, school boards, county officials, and city council members accountable. 


I hear complaints about our local paper, The Tri-City Herald, all the time. People either repeat the same misguided talking points you hear about national media or complain that they can’t access a paywall restricted article online without paying for it. But without the Herald, who would be reporting on our local issues? We’ve certainly had plenty to write about recently, and I’m thankful that I can read about issues as they happen and have an opportunity to follow up on my own. I don’t have the time or ability to go to every board and council meeting, but local journalists can cover at least some of the issues. 


Local reporters dig into the facts and report them so that we, the members of the community, can stay informed. I don’t want our local council members, school board members, and the sheriff’s office deciding to raid the offices or homes of writers for The Tri-City HeraldTumbleweird, or the Tri-Cities Observer if they feel threatened by the media.


We should all be alarmed at what happened in Marion, Kansas. And we should all be deeply concerned over the loss of local journalism across the country.


Maris Kabas interviewed Eric Meyer shortly after the raid in her Substack column The Handbasket. Mr. Meyer, the publisher of the Marion County Record, takes no salary from the paper (he lives on his pension from his career at the University of Illinois and the Milwaukee Journal). He believes journalism is fundamental to a working democracy. In the interview, he expressed concern about how attacks on the local press by government officials affect everyone in the community.  Mr. Meyer said: 


I talked to one person [in Marion] who said, “Oh, are you sure It's ok that I can talk to you because they might come and seize my computer?” They're afraid. They're really afraid that the police power is unchecked, and that they can be punished like this. And I think that's why I think it's important for us to fight this as much as we can, because it is destroying everything we're trying to do with democracy. … It’s a way to dispirit people from becoming involved in government by making them think that if you do, there's gonna be consequences and they're going to be negative. 


A week after the raid, the warrant was withdrawn, and the paper’s equipment was returned. The Record has hired a digital forensic company to determine whether any of their sensitive records were accessed after the equipment was seized. But the Marion County Record will continue to do the work for the people of Marion County.


Support local journalism, support the media companies that can do deep investigative reporting at a regional and national level, and continue to support a free press. Without it, democracy will die.


Thursday, June 22, 2023

Organize to save democracy

Organize to save democracy 

Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird July 2023)


I learned a new word this month while researching how democracies fail. Autogolpe is a ‘self-coup’, or a type of government takeover by a leader who came to power through legal means, but then stays in power (or attempts to do so) through illegal means. This seizure of government power happened so frequently in Latin America that it led to our use of Spanish for the term. But it has happened in countries around the world. Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and Vladimir Putin all consolidated their power through an autogolpe. Asia and Africa have also experienced government takeover from within.


An autogolpe was something many of us thought could never happen in the United States… until January 6, 2021. We shouldn’t have been surprised.


Donald Trump and his supporters attempted to seize power following a lawful election he lost. So far, this attempted autogolpe has been unsuccessful because enough Republican officials upheld the law and refused to violate their oath to the Constitution. 


As I wrote in Can we save our democracy (Nov 2021) and A republic if you can keep it (Nov 2022), efforts to suppress and disenfranchise voters through voter suppression, disinformation, empowering legislatures to override elections, and extreme gerrymandering are continuing. But there is some hope. Last month’s Supreme Court ruling in Allen v. Milligan decided that Alabama had limited Black voter representation in Congress through extreme gerrymandering. Although this surprise ruling is encouraging, there is no guarantee that the right to vote will continue to be protected by the courts. 


One of the biggest threats to our democracy is that too many of us don’t realize that the threat even exists. Most Americans don’t realize how fragile our government is, or how close we are to a single party autocracy. Most of us don’t pay attention to politics. We are so busy trying to take care of ourselves, our families, and our jobs that we don’t have the time to follow what’s happening in our local, state, and federal government. We are so comfortable with the status quo that we don’t recognize the danger we are in by allowing our political norms to erode. We vote on hot button issues and soundbites. And the guardrails of political norms that have protected our democracy in the past are in jeopardy.


Our political norms are eroding. 


An April 2023 survey by the University of Chicago Project on Security & Threats (CPOST) showed that one in five Americans still believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. One in twenty still think the use of force is justified to return him to the presidency. Professor Robert Pape, director of CPOST, said that “political violence is going from the fringe to the mainstream…. What you’re seeing is really disturbing levels of distrust in American democracy, support for dangerous conspiracy theories, and support for political violence itself.”


It is not surprising that the poll showed an extreme level of polarization in the United States, but more concerning is that a majority of Americans don’t believe elections will solve our most pressing political and social problems. What this indicates to me is a loss of confidence in our system of government which can lead directly to a loss of that system altogether.


In a recent interview with three Harvard political scholars, Erica Chenoweth said: 


“I think it’s not an issue of polarization because it’s totally asymmetrical. What we have is radicalization on the right and fragmentation on the center and left. What is needed in that type of environment is unprecedented levels of civic cooperation among those that have up until now been pretty fragmented. We’re talking about much more sophisticated and deliberate modes of community organizing and cooperation across the pro-democratic civil society that we do have in the country but that [haven't] had to work those muscles in a really long time.”


In the same interview, Archon Fung said:


It’s pretty hard to identify whose job it is to fight for democracy. Everybody’s fighting for their values, for their issues, whether it’s social justice, or health care, or environment, or pro-life or pro-choice. For a long time, we’ve taken the democratic structure for granted. I think the silver lining is a lot more people are not taking that structure for granted.”


Chenoweth followed with:


“Nobody’s going to ride in on a white horse, but it also is up to all of us to do what we can — organizing one’s neighborhood block to find out how people are doing, recommitting to caring for one another, developing those thick ties of social connection. That really is where democracy lives. One of the things that has been too easy for the Democratic Party in this country, and the people who vote Democratic, is to think that it’s all about the White House, it’s all about the national level. We’re going to come to a time when what we’re doing at home and in our communities and within the states is going to be really important in determining the type of lives that people are able to lead.”


And I think that is the key. It really must start locally. We’ve seen how national politics has infected our local politics here in Eastern Washington. Instead of focusing on improving our communities and providing basic services, partisanship has divided us and prevented us from working on all the non-partisan issues we all have in common.


Every major step towards a better government has come through community organizing. Abolition, suffrage, civil rights, and a more just and equitable nation were achieved by the people working against those who wanted to maintain a system benefitting the few at the expense of the many.


Let’s work on restoring local connections in our communities. Support local organizers working together to make our communities a better place. 


Don’t let those who are pushing hot button social issues divide us when we really should be paying attention to restoring faith in our elections and support for our system of government. 


We are the government. We have the power. Let’s organize and use it. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

White supremacy in the ranks

White supremacy in the ranks

Ted Miller

(published in Tumbleweird June 2023)


When I heard about the arrest of Jack Teixeira for leaking classified information which has significantly damaged our national security — documents he had access to as part of his work as an IT professional in the Air National Guard — I wondered how he was able to obtain and keep his security clearance. 


Teixeira has been charged with posting hundreds of pages of highly classified documents on a Discord chat server, which was then shared widely. His posts included secrets that undermine the war in Ukraine and other intelligence on U.S. allies and adversaries. To say this leak undermines our national security is an understatement. 


I held a top-secret security clearance for much of my life, both as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy and in support of my work with the Department of Energy. I know how background investigations are conducted. I have been interviewed as part of security background investigations for friends, colleagues, and neighbors. And the interviews always include questions about the candidate’s behavior, background, financial security, and whether there is any reason to question their loyalty to the United States.


Why didn’t anyone speak up about Teixeira?


Prosecutors in the Teixeira case have said he has a history of disturbing behavior, including a suspension in high school for violent and racist threats. He recently made a post about his conspiracy theories related to (and his interest in carrying out) mass shootings, and has posted numerous violent, racist, and anti-government statements.


His repeated mishandling of classified information was known by his military supervisors. He had been written up numerous times for not following the rules for classified material access, but records show he was allowed continued access even after ignoring instructions to stop accessing information he had no need to know.


So, how was he able to obtain and keep his security clearance? How was he even allowed to serve in the military with such violent, racist, anti-government views?


Because, like so many others, his views weren’t acknowledged as the threat they truly are. 


FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress following the attack on the U.S. Capitol that “January 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now, and it’s not going away anytime soon. At the FBI, we’ve been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now.” Wray went on to say, “The amount of angry, hateful, unspeakable, combative — violent, even — rhetoric on social media exceeds what anybody in their worst imagination (thinks) is out there.”


Should we really be that surprised?


As a society, we have always looked the other way when our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members express their racist and anti-government views. We don’t consider those views as harmful until it’s too late.


White supremacy is a deeply embedded problem in both the military and police forces. Leaders and peers are either complicit or complacent about the threat and are too often unwilling to call out the problem or to take action. Passing off white nationalist rhetoric as locker room talk allows that incendiary language to smolder until the flames of hate result in violence.


We blame the police violence against unarmed Black Americans on rogue ‘bad apple’ police officers rather than recognizing it as a systemic problem. But studies show that racist views are endemic in police departments across the country. In April, the San Jose Mercury News reported that police officers in the city of Antioch routinely expressed racist, violent views in a private text messaging group — and openly used such language in front of their fellow officers and superiors — without fear of reprisal. Not only did they refer to Black citizens in the most vile racist terms, they openly celebrated violence against community members and called for violence against Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who is Black.


Why did it take an FBI investigation to uncover this? How many other police departments have a similar culture? 


In Oklahoma, McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy and three other county officials were heard on a recording discussing the murder of local journalists they didn’t like, lamenting that they are no longer allowed to hang Black people, and that “they [Black people] got more rights than we got.” Following the news release of those recordings, Governor Kevin Stitt released a statement saying, “I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County. There is simply no place for such hateful rhetoric in the state of Oklahoma, especially by those that serve to represent the community through their respective office.”


Why should the governor have been surprised? 

Why are any of us surprised? 


Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, when questioned about white nationalists in the military, told a reporter in an interview this month, “They call them that [white nationalists]. I call them Americans.” Tuberville has blocked over 200 Department of Defense nominations in the Senate to protest ‘woke’ military policies he doesn’t like. He claims that current efforts of the military to combat extremism and white supremacy are hurting military recruitment.


People like those in the Antioch Police Department — along with others like Jack Teixeira, Sheriff Kevin Clardy, and Senator Tommy Tuberville — seem to think that only white Christians can be ‘true’ Americans. They believe that progressive policies towards equality are a threat to their place of privilege, and therefore a threat to the United States of America.


They fail to recognize the real threat.


White nationalists have no place in the military or our police force. We must call out white supremacy in the ranks. We must recognize the threat when we see it. We can’t wait for an FBI investigation or a journalist’s report, and we can no longer act surprised when the extremists among us are exposed. 


White supremacy is not just a threat to anyone who is not a white Christian, but a threat to the very existence of our constitutional democratic republic.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Deadly Fear

 Deadly Fear

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird May 2023)


When I read about an 84 year old white man in a Kansas City suburb shooting unarmed Black teenager Ralph Yarl through his front door, saying he was “scared to death,” I remembered a similar incident I wrote about five years ago, when a 14-year-old Black teenager, lost on his way to school, was fired upon when he knocked on a white neighbor’s door to ask for directions. In both cases, the perceived threat was only in the mind of the homeowner, stoked by the relentless fearmongering of politicians, conservative news media, and organizations like the NRA who want to capitalize on that fear.


Fearful and angry men shooting first and asking questions later is becoming an epidemic. Within a week, several examples of innocent people being shot by a trigger-happy ‘good guy with a gun’ have made the national news. 


In upstate New York, Kaylin Gillis was killed when the car she was riding in turned in to the wrong driveway. As the car was turning around and leaving, the homeowner fired on the vehicle, killing the 20-year-old honor student who hoped to become a marine biologist. Near Austin, Texas, a cheerleader who got into a car she thought belonged to her friend was shot after she got out of the car but before she could apologize. And in North Carolina, a man shot a 6-year-old and her parents when they tried to retrieve a basketball that had bounced into the man’s yard.


In each of these cases, and likely many others around the country, the victims were just doing something every one of us has done. But rather than trying to understand the mistake and respond with reason, the shooters reacted with fearful violence and deadly consequences.


None of this should be a surprise. The gun industry used to market their products as something for responsible sportsmen, emphasizing safety and citizenship. But as former gun industry insider Ryan Busse wrote in The Atlantic — “The Gun Industry Created a New Consumer. Now It’s Killing Us.” July 25, 2022 — advertising began a shift in the 1990s towards marketing guns as a means for young men to get their ‘man card’. 


After the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire in the mid 2000s, marketing took an even darker turn. As manufacturers saw the opportunity to sell ever more deadly weapons, they began creating their own market by instilling fear of Antifa, Black Lives Matter protesters, and many of the other right-wing ‘bogeymen’ that are statistically much less likely to commit violence than the fearful white man.


This same rhetoric is used by politicians and right-wing news media to hold the attention of their audience and supporters. Those who consume the 24-hour barrage of fear from the likes of Tucker Carlson are afraid to leave their own homes without carrying a weapon. Republican-led states are eliminating gun regulations, claiming that individual citizens need unlimited access to weapons to defend their homes and families. So-called ‘stand your ground’ laws encourage the use of firearms as a first response rather than a last resort.


But more access to guns does not reduce gun violence. To the contrary, statistics compiled by Everytownshows a direct correlation between states with fewer gun restrictions and higher rates of gun violence. 


“True Americans must be prepared! Get a gun to protect yourselves, because the government and the liberals aren’t going to do it! They are coming for your guns, your wives, your children! Don’t trust them. Don’t trust the media. Those people (Mexicans, Blacks, immigrants, democrats) are coming for you. Those people are going to replace you! Liberals want to defund the police and let all the violent criminals out on the street!  Vote for me and I’ll protect you! Buy more guns to protect yourself!  Stand your ground. Shoot first and ask questions later!”


With such inescapable rhetoric, It's no wonder so many live with an irrational fear of the other, which leads to irrational behavior. 


Shooting a lost teenager through your front door out of fear is irrational. Shooting a 6-year-old retrieving a basketball from your front yard is irrational. Shooting someone in the back as they try to escape from you is irrational.


Fear is a primal human emotion. Our natural response to fear is not rational; it is inherent in our biology to respond to danger. When that irrational fear has a lethal weapon readily available, innocent people are injured and killed.


As Yoda is famous for saying in another galaxy: “Fear is the path to the dark side… fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering."


We are a nation divided by fear — fear that is fed by those who want our vote or our money. And we are all suffering with too much violence.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right when he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.


And I’m afraid.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Правда (Pravda)

 Правда (Pravda) 

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird March 2023)


During the height of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, I always thought the title of the Soviet newspaper, Pravda, was the epitome of irony. Pravda — or ‘truth’ in English — was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I often wondered how many Russian citizens actually believed what they read in Pravda, and whether they were aware that what they read was only what the leaders in power wanted them to believe. Even today, Russian propaganda has a completely different ‘truth’ about the Russian invasion of Ukraine than what we see in the Western free press.


But what is the truth? In a free society, does the truth always win?


The First Amendment was written as a check against an overreaching government that would use its power to limit speech, control the press, or infringe on the right to peaceably protest. The Constitution guarantees those rights in order to limit the ability of the government to use its power against the people.


Having a free press is essential to hold accountable those who would use the government for their own gain. Freedom of the press is so important that it has sometimes been called the fourth estate or the fourth branch of government. The right to criticize government policy and public officials, even with the use of inflammatory language, is a fundamental right that has been repeatedly affirmed by the Supreme Court, most notably in the 1964 decision New York Times v. Sullivan.


But what if the press isn’t working to protect the interests of the people, of our democratic principles? What if the press is more interested in their profitability than they are in reporting the truth? 


The recent legal filing in Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News Corporation (FNC), portions of which were released on February 16, provides explicit details of how the corporate leadership and top personalities at Fox knew what they were telling their viewers wasn’t true. But they continued to spread lies and disinformation, telling their audience what they wanted to hear instead of the truth. Why? 




Texts between top FNC personalities and corporate leadership show that they knew claims of election fraud were false, that Dominion voting machines were not to blame, and that Joe Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election. 


When reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact checked a Trump tweet, correcting him with statements that election officials had found no evidence of fraud and that there was no evidence that voting systems had deleted, lost, or changed votes, Tucker Carlson sent this text to Sean Hannity: “Please get her fired… Seriously… What the f*ck? I’m actually shocked… It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”


Example after example of messages like these show that Fox was more concerned with the bottom line than with telling the truth and protecting our democracy.


Republican leadership, afraid of the same demographic to which Fox News panders, refuses to acknowledge the truth more than two years after the 2020 election. Indeed, dozens of Republican candidates ran on a claim that the 2020 election was rigged or fraudulent. That repeated claim, that our elections cannot be trusted, is undermining the foundation of faith in our democracy. A Newsweek poll in November 2022 found that 40% of Americans still believe Trump’s Big Lie.


There’s an old joke that goes: “How can you tell a politician is lying? His lips are moving.” But there’s a difference between political spin and outright lies. And when the media not only repeats those lies, but amplifies them to the point of creating doubt in our electoral system, they are attacking our country from within. When profit is more important than the truth, the free press becomes an accomplice of our enemies instead of an essential protector of the people’s government.


Fox News is just an extreme example. All media includes spin. Selection of what to report, how to report it, which perspectives to promote and which perspectives to avoid — all are influenced by corporate media owners, editors, and reporters. Journalists can’t avoid their own biases and opinions, even those that work hard to be objective. (And opinion pieces aren’t news, although the line between them is often intentionally muddled.)


The so-called mainstream media has become increasingly sensational. To grab more market share, they use click-bait headlines and divisive rhetoric. Americans think we are more polarized because we are told that we are. At the heart of the loss of a common truth is corporate media repeating false equivalencies and using both sides-isms, with social media providing an amplifying feedback loop of noise. 


Time and time again the media — and that’s across the political spectrum — focuses more on the politics and division than on the issues. They are echoing what they think their readers and viewers want to hear. They obfuscate the truth to maintain the status quo. And while most of us are looking in the wrong direction for someone to blame, the corporate politicians continue to get elected, the rich keep getting richer, the problems in this country continue to fester, and the truth gets harder to find. 


Carl Sagan, in his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, wrote:


“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”


Let’s not allow ourselves to be bamboozled. Look through the noise and spin for the actual truth, not the “alternative facts” someone else is trying to sell us.