Know Your Dictators

jaroslaw-kaczynski_big Super Express

This is the first in a series of articles I call, “Know Your Dictator”.

Poland

Jaroslaw Kaczynski (PiS – Law and Justice Party is the man making the moves in Poland.

A commenter on quora.com – Piotr Szafranski – calls him a “dictator-in-waiting”.

“Much of the difference between authoritarian and liberal democratic in the political system is based on tradition and custom, not hard law,” says Piotr.

He tells us that the PiS has been throwing out tradition and common decency whenever possible.

Civil Service

  1. They abolished the law prohibiting party membership of career civil servants and fired all the current ones (are loyalty tests next?)
  2. Thousands out of jobs
  3. Jobs will be arbitrarily (without exams) given to PiS’s own party members by way of another new law.

Media

Michal who lives in Poland tells us, “On December 14 the chancellery of the Sejm presented a proposal to change the organization of the media in the Parliament (e.g. creating a modern Media Center, a TV studio in the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish Parliament…”

Michal supports these changes, others see it as an attempt by government to control the message in the media.

https://www.quora.com/Has-Poland-become-a-dictatorship-in-2016

After Trump’s visit in July, 2017 authoritarian moves seem to have accelerated says Oskar Gorzynski in the Daily Beast.

Courts

The government decided the country’s supreme court is corrupt and needed to be purged completely.

(Funny how often this happens as countries’ leaders move towards dictatorship.)

“A bill is introduced that will force all the court’s judges to retire and be replaced – and it is pushed through with lightning speed and without regard for procedures.”

(Is Trump leading up to this?)

Back in Poland,

“the amendment, widely considered unconstitutional and yet to be signed by the president Andrzej Duda (PiS) would give the government virtually unrestrained control over the body – and therefore much of the judicial system.

On the same day “a bill was introduced that amounts to a total purge of all 83 judges in the country’s supreme court, giving Minister of Justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, a virtually free rein in appointing their successors.”

[Kaczynski] had a meltdown and accused the parliament of killing his brother. Talking to the other party, the PO party, Zaczynski revealed that all those reforms are not really about reforming society or the state,” says a political scientist to the Daily Beast, “every one of PO’s (liberal Modern party) MP’s will end up in jail.” (Lock her up. – different circumstances, same refrain)

Political Prison

PiS MP Krystyna Pawlowicz says she dreams of re-instituting the old pre-war prison for political prisoners called Bereza Kartuska.

She also says that when they finish with the courts they will go after the journalists.

(It often sounds as if wanna-be dictators have a play book.)

Eliminate Constitutional Safeguards and the System of Checks and Balances

This has already been done in Poland, the Daily Beast tells us, when the PiS Party paralyzed the Constitutional Tribunal and then took it over.

“Two words describe what is happening in Poland right now: It’s a “hybrid dictatorship,” says Migalski to the Daily Beast, “We no longer deal with a liberal democracy, but it is not yet a full-fledged dictatorship like that of Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey.”

Plans to Make Next Election Impossible to Lose

“Democracy differs from authoritarianism in that the rules of elections are certain, while the outcome is uncertain. In a dictatorship it is the other way around,” says a former PiS politician.

The thorn in Zaczynski’s side may end up being his colleague, President Andrzej Duda.

(Who is the thorn in Trump’s side?)

Citizen protests have been larger than expected.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-trump-set-poland-on-the-path-to-dictatorship

Karolina Wigura, writing in The Guardian in May, 2018 tells us that, “Despite fears over Law and Justice, Poland is not sliding into dictatorship.”

“Poland is not stuck in its current predicament, it is an evolving scene. It’s obvious that Law and Justice has trampled on the constitution, assaulted the independence of the judiciary, and put pressure on women in ways no other government has dared since 1989. But to draw the conclusion that Poland is inexorably sliding into a new brand of authoritarianism is wrong. It misses the nuances and the behind-the-scenes efforts to seek solutions.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/04/law-and-justice-poland-dictatorship

Even as I write this the activities in Poland concerning their possible decisions to leave the EU (or get kicked out) are sending stocks tumbling.

Delving into another country’s politics without historical context has its limitations. However, relying on the analysis of citizens and writers offers good insight.

 

 

 

 

Who’s to Blame?

I’m sure that the blame game is played during every
election season and, in fact, it appears that it is a perennial political
favorite, election year or not. Sometimes politicians place blame to distract
attention away from the responsibilities their own party bears for some
domestic or foreign situation. In the 2016 election it is quite maddening and
entertaining to watch Republicans place the blame on the Obama administration
for things that we have been blaming on George W. Bush. Should we blame Bush
for ISIS or is Obama to blame?
Well there is truth in the cosmic wisdom that all
things are interconnected and if you are a Republican it only takes about 85
steps to get from the argument that places the blame on Bush for the Iraq war
to blaming Obama. You just have to say over and over that ISIS formed because
Obama is weak, or because he used drone strikes, or because he took the troops
out of Iraq too soon, or any of a number of different imagined flaws in the
Obama government.
But all the razzle-dazzle reasoning that links Obama
to ISIS is really just a ploy to hopefully make us forget the much more seminal
role that Bush and the GOP played in destabilizing the Middle East. Republicans
hope that enough time has passed to convince most Americans that Obama is the
one we should be angry with and that the only possible conclusion we can draw
is too elect a Republican. The GOP believes, I think that most Americans have
the attention span and the intelligence of gnats. The blame game is so useful
exactly because it can cause confusion even in those who were once certain they
knew who was responsible.
Today I read an article that blamed elitist
Democrats for the rise of Donald Trump. You might guess that it took more than
a few logical jumps to accomplish that feat of pretzel reasoning. The gist of
the argument is that Democratic Party elites did not back up the middle class
when the corporations left, when the free trade agreements were passed, when
the unions destroyed the marketplace by asking for ever higher salaries and
benefits, when people lost their jobs and their pensions. Instead the Democrats
voted in favor of free trade agreements which hurt the American middle class
and did not continue to support the regulations on Wall Street. The contention
of this author was that the Democrats share with the Republicans the
responsibility for Trump because they abandoned the middle class and the middle
class has, in retribution, abandoned them. It’s creative, but is it true? Surprisingly
this article is from The Daily Kos
which usually leans pretty far left.
Obviously there seems to be enough culpability so
that everyone can be tarnished in the blame game. But probably if blame must be
assigned at all, the bulk of it should go to the group or individual that is connected by the
straightest lines. If you have to jump through too many hoops to follow the
blame trail then we are back in “everything is interconnected” territory. 
There are always lessons to be learned though from
events or situations that are serious enough that they lead us to look around
for someone to saddle with any given mess. In the case of what happened in the
wake of the Iraq War and in the case of what is going on in the 2016 election,
placing blame correctly has everything to do with who should win the election,
although not necessarily who will win the election.
So both parties look around to place the burden of
blame on the other party or on the President or on anyone they can think of if
they want to confuse voters. As a voter I can say that they succeed somewhat in
arguing that day is night and that the guilty party is not who we always
thought it was. By the time the politicians and the media are done with the
blame game we begin to question even the events we lived through. The resulting
brain tangle is one of the reasons many people hate elections and just decide
that they will not vote at all. Be vigilant. Don’t let politicians playing the
blame game stop you from voting. You can always fall back on that old school
saying “your first thought is best.”
By Nancy Brisson

The Media, Part 2

Once you perceive the important role the media plays in our
society then it becomes clear, I would think, that those in the media bear a
heavy burden of responsibility. Journalists can try to be as truthful as
personal perceptions allow, they can twist and spin the facts by pretending
that commentary is news, or they can even lie.
Propaganda can be subtle or it can be obvious. Journalists can
pick a focus group of people, such as middle class white folks, figure out what
they think (profile them) and then feed them an interpretation of the news that
exploits their mindset. The propaganda can be organized on behalf of any group
that sponsors it, such as the GOP or the Tea Party. This is not necessarily
new, but, given a news cycle that repeats hour after hour, day after day, is
probably more effective at “brainwashing” a target audience in a more casual,
folksy way than ever before.
Is this wrong? Should people in the media, who are almost our
sole source of news and information, bear a moral responsibility to be as
objective and factual as possible? If someone in the media is actually offering
commentary on the news should there be a disclaimer? If people agree with the
way commentary is slanted are they always more likely to believe it is factual?
There are so many citizens commenting on mainstream media articles
and on social media websites who seem brainwashed, who parrot, almost word for
word the same nasty insults if anyone disagrees with them, who quote the same
right wing sources as if they were Bible verses. Does this signify that there
are propaganda strategies that are so effective that if might be immoral to use
them, even in a society that holds free speech as dear as we do? How could
people listen to blatantly skewed commentary and come to passionately defend
such information as straight-forward news?
The reason people mention Hitler so much these days is that
they believe that what I just described is exactly how a creepy little man like
Hitler was able to create a mass movement in Germany. He told a disillusioned
but proud group of people that if they joined him they could win back their
national pride. In America both sides have accused the opposition of leading
Americans astray in the manner of Hitler. Are our leaders acting in the twisted
manner of a master manipulator as the media often claims? The answer depends on
who you ask. The GOP accused Obama of acting like Hitler. FOX news has hinted
that Obama acts like Hitler. However it is a common tactic on the right to
accuse someone else of acting the way you are actually acting as a sort of
deflection.
If the media will not act in a moral fashion and tell us when
we are getting news and when we are hearing opinions should we pass laws that
require them to label their content? I don’t think we would be happy doing that
because it would curtail freedom of speech. Obviously all we are left with is
appealing to the better instincts of our media outlets and their journalists. But
as long as money and profit play such large roles in our culture I suspect some
in the media do not feel their better instincts, not so much.
All an educated citizenry can do is analyze what they hear and
try to consult sources that slant all different ways. It is interesting that
the same people who are trying to use media to exploit the downturns and disillusionment
of the white middle class are arguing against free public education and against
teaching things like critical thinking. You cannot hang on to freedom if you
are not educated to read, write, and understand all the language and the intent
of the language that is constantly being broadcast to your brain. We should be
learning a lot about propaganda and manipulation because we have been subject
to large doses of each. Hopefully we will be less susceptible in the future.
Perhaps, perhaps not. Seduction is powerful even when it uses only words.
By Nancy Brisson

The Media

We may not always like the media, or parts of the media, or
certain voices within the media, and we are certainly offered a lot of choices.
Some Americans like to collapse everyone in the media into one cynical package
and pretend that they do not have to rely on the media, in some form, to draw
conclusions about everything under the sun. And this is especially true in
politics.
When you buy a piece of electronics you might solicit personal
advice from friends or read the possibly unreliable online reviews or talk to a
salesperson in a big box store who is there to drive up the store’s profits. We
eventually learn that totally objective advice on any subject is almost
impossible to come by. And we learn to accept that in some areas we have only
the media to rely on.
In the earliest days of our nation some people probably only
knew candidates for government through broad sheets or news sheets, although
America was quite small and there may have been large numbers of citizens who
actually knew the candidate much as we know candidates running for local
government today.
We have seen old movies and newspapers that show candidates
taking trains (once trains were available) out to small towns and larger cities
all across America, waving to voters, stopping to give a stump speech and
moving on. Many citizens got to see a candidate in person in this way. Some even
got to shake his hand (there were no female candidates although there were sometimes
wives of candidates).
Today few of us have seen a candidate in person unless we live
in an early primary state. I saw Dan Maffei in person when he was running for
Congress. I saw Bill Clinton in person but only after he was no longer President.
I saw Joe Biden when he was actually VP. I did not meet them or shake their
hands but I heard them speak on behalf of Mr. Maffei who eventually lost his
seat to a Republican that most voters did not even know, but who was endorsed
in the local newspaper.
So we rely on the media and there is lots of it. We have print
newspapers, online newspapers, magazines, online magazines, and online commentary
sites like Slate, Politico, Daily Kos, Salon, and many, many more. We have
cable television media sources like CNN, FOX, MSNBC, C-SPAN and network media
on ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS, and we have all of our local news channels. We have
radio media used by people who are on-the-go and cannot access TV all of the
time.
Candidates are swamped by media. There are so many microphones
pointed at them we can barely see them. Donald Trump is just about the only
candidate who is meeting large numbers of Americans in person and this could be
one reason his followers defend him beyond what most of us consider reason. It
also tends to make him look sort of fearless, or it would if any dissenters
were not at the mercy of his followers. But however often Donald harangues the
media and excoriates anyone who dares to critique him in any way, he too must
and does rely on the media to take his message to most Americans.
Oddly, while we have this proliferation of national media, we
are losing media in the local market because our print newspapers are folding.
I like the way Rachel Maddow always brings this to our attention. This is a bad
thing. It will put candidates for our Federal government even more out of reach
for voters. Will online news sites that are local find the funds to pay
reporters so that we continue to get news that focuses on regional concerns?
When the print equivalent of a website goes out of business does the online
version suffer?
All our online media is disappearing behind the pay wall.
Keeping track of all those electronic fund transfers, even if you can afford
them, is a real headache. These EFT’s do not always occur on the same date
making budgeting even more difficult. Most of us cannot afford to read every
source we would like to. In the old days we could go to the library to read the
big newspapers and magazines. If print sources keep going out of business this
may not always be the case. News might become the province of the wealthy.
Skewed media is certainly not new, but it has had a profound
effect on political discourse in America in the last several decades. I still
contend that the right wing in America would not be so united in fringe
extremism if it were not for Talk Radio and FOX news. Left wings talkers were
nowhere near as effective in riling up their voters because possible they did
not understand the angst of the audience they were addressing.
In these days when there is an invisible ideological line that
separates the American people it is especially easy to see how dependent we are
on our media people to create our national spirit or even to pit our spirits
against one another. I don’t see any way the media will become less important
in sharing information, opinions, and even disseminating propaganda unless we
devolve into anarchy or evolve into a totalitarian state. Most of us will never
get to know our political candidates as friends, neighbors, part of our social
group.
We only have the media. If we could rely on their professional
objectivity it would be easier for us all to take in facts and make reasoned
decisions. Too bad we are not all computers. We are people and we like a little
emotion in our news. Our very nature as humans encourages the media sources to
outdo each other in order to catch our attention or sway our minds into sharing
their passionately-held beliefs.
This is the legacy of a free press. Sometimes we love it,
sometimes we hate it but, hopefully, we always treasure it, continue to wend
our way through the conflicting messages, and never give into the temptation to
turn it into one clear, sanitized and leadership-approved voice. Freedom is
hard but it is too wonderful to ever give up without a fight.
By Nancy Brisson

The Media Blasts the Progressives

Sunday morning did not have much media presence on
our TV’s because of soccer, which the networks hope will be the next great
sports craze. However in just the tiny bit of time intellectuals were allowed
this morning the media managed to warn Progressives that they were too focused
on the middle class and they were about to ignore hordes of voters among the
poor. Applying a bit of logic to this piece of skewed nonsense will show that
Progressive/Liberal agenda items are not only important to the middle class; they
could also be very important for those who are considered poor. But what the
media may be suggesting is that the poor are deficient in logical thinking
skills and will never realize these social programs would also help them.
(Surely, the media wouldn’t do that!)
Americans who accept low paying jobs because they
lack training and/or education often cannot afford to work because child care
costs would wipe out their income. Single moms are in an especially precarious
situation when they have no nearby family support system. If you can drop your
children at home and if you know your Mom’s a nurturing person with a healthy
lifestyle, then you are lucky indeed. Free day care along with universal pre-K,
are certainly programs that would help lift some people out of poverty and programs
which would also help the middle class.
Free training and college, another Progressive goal,
especially if accompanied by reliable child care and pre-K and after-school
programs is a triple whammy that might make astonishing inroads into the number
of poor in the country. These same things would also provide security to the
American middle class. Children would be cared for systematically and parents
could work with less guilt and fewer interruptions. For the middle class these
are peace-of-mind-items but would also help folks climb their career ladders.
For the poor they could be the difference between failure and success. These
programs might attack those pockets of stubborn poverty in America that we
discuss so often and create pathways out.
Progressives also believe, and the experiences of
other nations which have these supports in place show, that these programs also
improve day-to-day life for the middle class and help them concentrate on their
jobs when they are working and concentrate on their families when they are not,
instead of being torn between two loyalties. Family leave helps families deal
with illness, death, and crisis within the family without losing their
livelihood.
I love the Progressive/Liberal agenda for its sheer
audacity. To peddle growth in the midst of a push for drastic austerity takes a
lot of chutzpah.
And this stuff, while jaw-dropping, does not strike
us as being as nutty in a way as the right wing diatribes have been. If you ask
me who makes arguments closer to the promises we believe are made by our
Democracy, I would have to go with the Progressives. There is also the argument
that we like these things Progressive want to fight for; we want these things;
these things would be a godsend for both the middle class and the poor.
But we have been beaten down; we have been shown our
greed and the affects that our greed has had on the Federal budget and we are
ready to take our punishment. We are almost convinced it is just. We are almost
persuaded that we cannot ask the rich to part with one more red cent of their
hard-earned bucks. I say this with sarcasm but the part of the middle class
which feels comfortable, that feels on the verge of attaining enough wealth to
put their money worries to rest, are truly loathe to touch up the very rich for
these programs (even if our tax structures and our laws are funneling all America’s
money into a very few pockets).
Both propaganda and direct observation, I might add,
have done their work. Americans with a strong work ethic feel like they have
wage suckers attached to every window, door and crevice in their homes (thank
you Progressive Insurance for that image). Perhaps they are right, but I
believe the number of wage suckers would also be trimmed by adopting a more
progressive approach to social programs (along with a really effective new way
to wean people off opioids and other debilitating addictive substances.)
The middle class is ready to cut the wage suckers
loose. Everyone should have to work and plan and save and climb. That’s the
American way. And, yes, it is, but it has left a lot of wage suckers and those
unable to work circling the drain. Abandoning them will not improve America. It
will make it sadder and scarier. People will not just go live in suburbs, they
will have to live in walled and guarded communities and be very choosy about
who they let in. Or we can try one more time to help those who need it find a
way to live independent and productive lives.

So the media may be correct about the factoid they
offered which said that Progressive/Liberal talk is focused on the middle class
and that they will lose a lot of votes with this kind of focus. Clearly,
though, the same social programs that are offered to assist the middle class,
would be even more helpful to the poor. It’s a bold approach. When all are moaning
about debts and cuts, go big. Spend money to make money. If were headed for a
25 year long great depression on our current path, risk-taking might be just
the trick to turn the whole thing around. We would be betting on the same
Americans we have been talking about kicking to the curb. Now, that’s
Progressive!
By Nancy Brisson

The Media – Not Activists

We have to keep in mind that although the media is very good
at calling our attention to areas of governance and life that need our
attention, it is easy to forget that it is not the media’s job to find
solutions and enact laws that apply these solutions. The media seems to be full
of passionate activists these days and we accept that media people may
represent a certain political point of view depending on the news channel they
work for and that this is true for print media, radio, and television. 
We have
had lots of evidence that the media can harangue us, persuade us, prod us, or
propagandize us, although the length of time these effects last can vary by the
skill of the media presenter (or the presentation), the number of times the
message is presented to us, the circumstances that surround someone while
receiving the particular message, and the power of competing messages.
When it comes to turning a media message into action, guess
who is expected to act? That would be the listeners, either us or our representatives,
we are expected to act. This means that if the press can’t act and our
representatives in government won’t act and we are looking around to see who
will act then nothing at all will happen.
I guess we figure since the media is so good at opining
about what must be done that this guarantees that action will be taken,
problems will be solved, budgets will be balanced, wars will end, and injustice
will be overcome. But the media does not make policy; it can only influence
policy. Watching a media source that agrees with your politics makes you feel
righteous and well-informed. It makes you smile and shake your head in the
affirmative, and perhaps the neighbors passing by may hear an occasional and
impassioned “yes”! But even if you watch every day and shake your head yes and
smile each and every day, you still get up the next day and realize that it is
all words (and maybe a few numbers) and that all the same problems are still
there.
So what can you do if Congress has been brought to a halt by
extremists in politics, and the media, being the media, cannot make policy?
Well citizens don’t have many legal moves. We can write Congress, the same
Congress that is stalled by stubborn obstructionists. We can demonstrate, once
we decide which issues require our voices to turn them in to those squeaky
wheels that will get the most attention. Of course someone has to take charge
and plan a demonstration and when, as in this case, there are so many squeaky
wheels that the squeaky wheel rule breaks down, then we need someone to
prioritize the items that need our attention the most, someone to perform a
sort of political triage.

The third option we have is to elect people who like the
policies we favor, but will be willing to find a middle road between a divided
America. Since we obviously have no negotiators in Congress, since we have so
many immovable, inflexible Republicans, our only hope is to elect Democrats in
2014 and keep electing them until those who halted our government are replaced
with those who want America to function and prosper.
By Nancy Brisson