Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Will Senate Dems cave on Trump SCOTUS nominee?

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports that The stage is set for a brutal Supreme Court fight.

Donald Trump announced yesterday that he’ll announce his Supreme Court nominee tonight, at a dramatic prime-time White House event. There’s been no official word about the president’s choice, though the short list has reportedly narrowed to a handful of conservative jurists.

Let’s start there. motherjones.com invites us to Meet the Top Contenders for Trump’s Supreme Court Pick.

William Pryor Jr. A federal judge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Pryor previously succeeded Jeff Sessions as Alabama’s attorney general. Sessions, Trump’s nominee for US attorney general, has been Pryor’s top backer. Given Sessions’ considerable influence within the administration, this makes Pryor a leading candidate for the court. But Pryor would face a particularly contentious confirmation hearing. He was filibustered for his first federal judicial appointment during the George W. Bush administration because of what critics called his extremist anti-gay views.

Thomas Hardiman.He comes with an endorsement from Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, who serves with Hardiman on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. But when George W. Bush nominated Hardiman to a federal trial court in 2003, the American Bar Association gave him a lukewarm “qualified” rating.

Neil Gorsuch. Many court watchers, noting Trump’s “central casting” approach to staffing, consider the 10th Circuit judge the favorite for the high court seat, if for no other reason than “he looks the part,” as Empirical SCOTUS blogger Adam Feldman put it. David Lat, founder of legal affairs blog Above the Law, tweeted recently that Gorsuch seems like the obvious choice for Trump because “we all know Trump cares about looks, & Neil ‘Silver Fox’ Gorsuch is taller & handsomer than (the already good-looking) Bill Pryor.” Lat also noted, “Judge Gorsuch is a ’winner’—brilliant, pedigreed, tall, handsome—and Trump likes winners.” Unlike Pryor and Hardiman, Gorsuch is also an Ivy Leaguer.

Check out the Mother Jones article for more on these candidates and other possibilties.

We’ll find out who is the nominee this evening (Tuesday). Then the question is whether the Senate Dems have the gumption to play serious hardball in the same way that the Republicans did to Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Benen continues.

The nominee should not, however, expect a warm reception from the Senate Democratic minority. Politico reported yesterday:

Senate Democrats are going to try to bring down President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick no matter who the president chooses to fill the current vacancy.

With Trump prepared to announce his nominee on Tuesday evening, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said in an interview on Monday morning that he will filibuster any pick that is not Merrick Garland and that the vast majority of his caucus will oppose Trump’s nomination. That means Trump’s nominee will need 60 votes to be confirmed by the Senate.

“This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat,” Merkley told Politico, echoing rhetoric he’s used before. “We will use every lever in our power to stop this.”

As for what you should expect from the process, there are a few angles worth watching. The first is whether Senate Democrats are able to stick together the way Senate Republicans did last year, and there’s already evidence that a Democratic blockade will have meaningful gaps.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, a member of the Judiciary Committee told CNN he is still seething over the Republicans’ decision to block Judge Merrick Garland from filling the seat when they refused to hold hearings and votes on his nomination last year.

“But I’m not going to do to President Trump’s nominee what the Republicans in the Senate did to President Obama’s,” Coons said. “I will push for a hearing and I will push for a vote.” Other Democrats privately agreed with that sentiment.

Second, if a Democratic filibuster has enough votes to prevent the nominee’s confirmation, there’s a very real possibility that Senate Republicans will execute their own version of the “nuclear option” and eliminate the 60-vote hurdle altogether.

Finally, let’s not forget that none of this is happening in a vacuum. Donald Trump’s agenda, including his controversial Muslim ban, will likely face tests at the high court, and senators who support Trump’s nominee are indirectly helping clear the way for the president’s most provocative priorities.

Trump, Bannon, Conway, and Mercer Money

AZBlueMeanie (Blog for Arizona) has a lengthy post this morning on the ascension of Steve Bannon to power in the Trump administration, ‘Trump’s brain’, Stephen K. Bannon, elevated to National Security Council. The Blue Meanie reviews the dangers of salting the NSC with political operatives. I think that is the correct emphasis. The danger to our national security is not so much the diminished role of the Director of National Intelligence and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs as I posted Sunday in Fact-checking the National Security Council executive order. The danger is in the elevation of Bannon, the alt-right guy.

How did Bannon come to such power? Follow the money. Consider his financial sponsors covered in this Newsweek report from back in November, Meet Robert Mercer, the mysterious billionaire benefactor of Breitbart.

… by giving millions to a conservative super PAC, Make America Number 1, which his daughter Rebekah chaired, Mercer seems to have bought more influence over Trump’s campaign than any other donor. Rebekah also has ties to Stephen Bannon, the controversial Breitbart News Network executive chairman who was recently named the new administration’s chief strategist and senior counselor, records show. A campaign ethics watchdog and a political group are now calling on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the FBI to investigate those connections because they believe the entanglements between the Mercers, the super PAC and the Trump campaign are illegal.

If Mercer had been content to spend his fortune on just model trains and player pianos, the United States might have just elected its first female president. But the billionaire has been contributing to federal political committees since 1998, according to FEC filings, and began giving to super PACs in 2010, after the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that such committees could receive unlimited donations. Since then, he has given $36.8 million to super PACs.

Close to half of that PAC money—$15.5 million—went to Make America Number 1. When that super PAC was formed in April 2015 (as Keep the Promise 1), it backed Ted Cruz, but in June 2016 it changed names and candidates, shifting to Trump. At around the same time, one of its leaders, Kellyanne Conway, took on a major role in Trump’s campaign, as campaign manager. Some two months later, another leader of that super PAC, David Bossie, joined Trump too. Rebekah Mercer took over the super PAC. “When they get engaged in something, it’s in a big way,” says a person involved in Republican fundraising circuits. “They don’t do anything small.”

So basically what you have here is Rebekah Mercer using the influence of the Robert Mercer money infecting Donald Trump’s campaign - and now the Trump administration - with Bannon, Conway, and Bossie.

The Mercers don’t just support federal candidates. In 2014, the Mercer Family Foundation, a nonprofit Rebekah leads, awarded $18,300,979 in grants and contributions, according to financial filings. Those recipients include a few mainstream ones, such as the American Museum of Natural History and the Moving Picture Institute (Rebekah sits on the boards of both). But the majority of the foundation’s beneficiaries are conservative, even fringe groups: the Heritage Foundation (Rebekah is on the board there too), the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute (Rebekah is a board member) and Citizens United. Some advocate for limited government, free markets and “Judeo-Christian values.” Another is led by researchers who have denied that humans caused global warming.

One of Mercer’s biggest and most intriguing investments was not in a nonprofit and does not appear listed anywhere—he gave at least $10 million to Breitbart News, according to someone involved in Republican fundraising circuits who asked that Newsweek not name him in order to protect his political relationships (he says he knows firsthand about the transaction). Bloomberg reported the money was invested in 2011.

This past August, Bannon left Breitbart to help run the Trump campaign and is about to assume a vital position in the administration. His appointment as a top aide has prompted widespread criticism, including accusations that he is a darling of misogynists, white supremacists and anti-Semites. …

Bannon critics can apparently blame Rebekah; she pushed Trump to bring him on board, the Republican fundraising insider says. Her ties with Bannon go back a few years or more. They served together as officers of at least two nonprofits, Reclaim New York and the Government Accountability Institute. They have also produced at least one documentary together, Clinton Cash, a fearmongering look at the Clinton family’s finances. It was also Rebekah who convinced Trump to hire Conway, according to the fundraising insider. …

With Rebekah Mercer, Conway and Bossie on Trump’s transition team, and Bannon in a top administration role, the Mercer family’s influence now extends deep into the White House. This could be seen as contrary to some of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, such as when he vowed “to fight for every person in this country who believes government should serve the PEOPLE—not the donors,” called super PACs “total scams” and “very corrupt,” and slammed his opponent for receiving money from “hedge funders.” In January, he even criticized Ted Cruz for receiving “$11M from a NY hedge fund mogul,” precisely the amount Mercer had given Make America Number 1 at that point in its previous iteration.

By giving millions to get Trump elected, what did the self-made billionaire hope to get in return? Hillary Clinton proposed a tax on high-frequency trading of securities, which is reportedly a favorite of Renaissance Technologies. A Senate subcommittee has even questioned the company about its use of the tactic. The conservative-leaning advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform had said Clinton’s proposed tax would “burden markets by discouraging trading and investment,” and experts from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimated that such a tax could cost finance companies $185 billion over 10 years. Carrie Levine of the Center for Public Integrity points out that Mercer has previously put money behind opponents of candidates who supported that type of tax.

… L. Brent Bozell, founder and president of the conservative nonprofit Media Research Center—Rebekah Mercer is a board member, and it gets a lot of money from the Mercer Family Foundation … insists that the Mercers have no motive besides patriotism and that they fall outside of any D.C. oligarchy. “When you’re a billionaire or a multibillionaire, you really don’t need anything,” he says. “These people are driven by what they believe is good for the country.”

Apparently they think that Trump, via Bannon and the Mercer money, is “good for the country.” I don’t know about that but it’s clear that they think Trump is good for the Mercers.

Trump score update for AZ MoCs

MoCs refers to Members of Congress. Here are the first results for Trump scores for our two AZ Senators and the CD2 Representative.

The 538 computational journalist, Aaron Bycoffe, has published the first report on his Trump Scores in Tracking Congress In The Age Of Trump. An updating tally of how often every member of the House and the Senate votes with or against the president.

Senators Flake and McCain are predicted to vote with Trump 83.4% of the time based on Trump’s margin in Arizona. Both voted with Trump 100% of the time.

Rep. Martha McSally, representing a district that leans less Republican is predicted to vote with Trump 52% of the time. She voted with Trump 100%. The discrepancy puts her at #12 out of all the Republicans in the House. She’s out of step with her constituents, but I’ll bet you are thinking “I told you so.”

Here’s the link to Bycoffe’s explanation of his scores, How this works.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Did Trump take credit for La La Land?

cartoon

What do you think?

How about Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer as co-stars in Trump’s new alternative reality show.

Here are Monday morning toons from AZBlueMeanie.

They are all great, but here is just a sample.

ACLU 24,164,691 - Trump 0

Here are some “significant digits” from FiveThirtyEight.com (via email).

0
Number of refugees who have been implicated in a major fatal terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the Refugee Act of 1980. [CNN]

That is zero. Null. Nil. Nada. The attacks within the U. S. are carried out by radicalized citizens. So Trump’s orders controlling legal immigration and, as former Mexican president Vicente Fox called it, Trump’s “fucking wall”, are worth zero when it comes to Making America Safe Again.

Here are examples of pushback.

10,000
The reaction to Friday’s executive order from some in the private sector was swift: Howard Schultz, the chairman and CEO of Starbucks, committed to hiring 10,000 refugees over the next five years, and Google set up a $2 million “crisis fund” with up to a $2 million employee match to benefit the American Civil Liberties Union, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the International Rescue Committee and the United Nations’ refugee agency. [USA Today, Starbucks]

$24,164,691
While public officials were sorting out their reactions to the executive order, the ACLU sent attorneys to people who were being detained in U.S. airports as a result. The ACLU said it raised more than $24 million in online donations over the weekend, compared with its annual average of about $3 million to $4 million. [Dustin Volz, ACLU]

There are no candidates to support this year, so give some $$$ to the ACLU.

The Trump Score: Computational journalism in action

Aaron Bycoffe, a computational journalist for FiveThirtyEight reports on Introducing The Trump Score.

Scriber’s disclosure: In my academic career I did some research at the intersection of computational linguistics and computational models in cognitive psychology. So I am a true computer geek when it comes to things computational. Computational journalism? How cool is that? Now getting back on track …

Snippets follow.

Donald Trump has Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress — it’s the first time since Barack Obama’s first two years in office that the same party has controlled the U.S. Senate, the House and the White House. Trump’s ability to enact his policies, therefore, will largely come down to how often GOP senators and representatives buck the president’s agenda and, conversely, how often Democrats work with him. To help keep up with this, we’ll be tracking how often members agree with Trump and how that compares with expectations.

We’ll be using two primary measures for each member of Congress: the “Trump score” and “Trump plus-minus.”

The Trump score is a simple percentage showing how often a senator or representative supports Trump’s positions. To calculate it, we add the member’s “yes” votes on bills that Trump supported and his or her “no” votes on bills that Trump opposed and then divide that by the total number of bills the member has voted on for which we know Trump’s position.

We’re also calculating a metric that we’re calling plus-minus. Plus-minus measures how frequently a member agrees with Trump compared with how frequently we would expect the member to, based on Trump’s 2016 vote margin in the member’s state or district. (The “predicted score” is calculated based on probit regression.) Put simply, we would expect a member in a district where Trump did well to be more in sync with him than a member in a district where Trump did poorly. As members vote on more bills, their predicted agreement score will change.

I’ll try to track the Trump score and report it here as available.

Learn from Europe: The Authoritarian Regime Survival Guide

Following is the full text from learnfromeurope.org (h/t Robert Reich via Twitter) This is a good companion to the indivisible guide

“#LearnFromEurope - The Authoritarian Regime Survival Guide”

YEAR 1 Under Authoritarianism - What to Expect?

  1. They will come to power with a campaign based on fear, scaremongering and distorting the truth. Nevertheless, their victory will be achieved through a democratic electoral process. But beware, as this will be their argument every time you question the legitimacy of their actions. They will claim a mandate from the People to change the system.
    Remember – gaining power through a democratic system does not give them permission to cross legal boundaries and undermine said democracy.

  2. They will divide and rule. Their strength lies in unity, in one voice and one ideology, and so should yours. They will call their supporters Patriots, the only “true Americans”. You will be labelled as traitors, enemies of the state, unpatriotic, the corrupt elite, the old regime trying to regain power. Their supporters will be the “People”, the “sovereign” who chose their leaders.
    Don’t let them divide you – remember you’re one People, one Nation, with one common good.

  3. Through convoluted laws and threats they will try to control mainstream media and limit press freedom. They will ban critical press from their briefings, calling them “liars”, “fake news”. They will brand those media as “unpatriotic”, acting against the People (see point 2).
    Fight for every media outlet, every journalist that is being banned, censored, sacked or labelled an “enemy of the state” – there’s no hope for freedom where there is no free press.

  4. They will create chaos, maintain a constant sense of conflict and danger. It will be their argument to enact new authoritarian laws, each one further limiting your freedoms and civil liberties. They will disguise them as being for your protection, for the good of the People.
    See through the chaos, the fake danger, expose it before you wake up in a totalitarian, fascist state.

  5. They will distort the truth, deny facts and blatantly lie. They will try to make you forget what facts are, sedate your need to find the truth. They will feed “post-truths” and “alternative facts”, replace knowledge and logic with emotions and fiction.
    Always think critically, fact-check and point out the truth, fight ignorance with facts.

  6. They will incite and then leak fake, superficial “scandals”. They will smear opposition with trivial accusations, blowing them out of proportion and then feeding the flame. This is just smokescreen for the legal steps they will be taking towards totalitarianism.
    See through superficial topics in mainstream media (see point 3) and focus on what they are actually doing.

  7. They will propose shocking laws to provoke your outrage. You will focus your efforts on fighting them, so they will seemingly back off, giving you a false sense of victory. In the meantime they will push through less “flashy” legislation, slowly dismantling democracy (see points 4 and 6).
    Focus your fight on what really matters.

  8. When invading your liberal sensibilities they will focus on what hurts the most – women and minorities. They will act as if democracy was majority rule without respect for the minority. They will paint foreigners and immigrants as potential threats. Racial, religious, sexual and other minorities will become enemies to the order and security they are supposedly providing. They will challenge women’s social status, undermine gender equality and interfere with reproductive rights (see point 7). But it means they are aware of the threat women and minorities pose to their rule, so make it your strength.
    Women and minorities should fight the hardest, reminding the majority what true democracy is about.

  9. They will try to take control of the judiciary. They will assault your highest court. They need to remove the checks and balances to be able to push through unconstitutional legislation. Controlling the judiciary they can also threat anyone that defies them with prosecution, including the press (see point 3).
    Preserve the independence of your courts at all cost, they are your safety valve, the safeguard of the rule of law and the democratic system.

  10. They will try to limit freedom of assembly, calling it a necessity for your security. They will enact laws prioritizing state events and rallies, or those of a certain type or ideology. If they can choose who can demonstrate legally, they have a legal basis to forcefully disperse or prosecute the rest.
    Oppose any legislation attempting to interfere with freedom of assembly, for whatever reason.

  11. They will distort the language, coin new terms and labels, repeat shocking phrases until you accept them as normal and subconsciously associate them with whom they like. A “thief”, “liar” or “traitor” will automatically mean the opposition, while a “patriot” or a “true American” will mean their follower (see point 2). Their slogans will have double meaning, giving strength to their supporters and instilling angst in their opponents.
    Fight changes in language in the public sphere, remind and preserve the true meaning of words.

  12. They will take over your national symbols, associate them with their regime, remake them into attributes of their power. They want you to forget that your flag, your anthem and your symbols belong to you, the People, to everyone equally. Don’t let them be hijacked. Use and expose them in your fight as much as they do.
    Show your national symbols with pride, let them give you strength, not associate you with the tyranny they brought onto your country.

  13. They will try to rewrite history to suit their needs and use the education system to support their agenda. They will smear any historical or living figure who wouldn’t approve of their actions, or distort their image to make you think they would. They will place emphasis on historical education in schools, feeding young minds with the “only correct” version of history and philosophy. They will raise a new generation of voters on their ideology, backing it with a distorted interpretation of history and view of the world.
    Guard the education of your children, teach them critical thinking, ensure their open-mindedness and protect your real history and heritage.

  14. They will alienate foreign allies and partners, convincing you don’t need them. They won’t care for the rest of the world, with their focus on “making your country great again”. While ruining your economy to fulfil their populist promises, they will omit the fact that you’re part of a bigger world whose development depends on cooperation, on sharing and on trade.
    Don’t let them build walls promising you security instead of bridges giving you prosperity.

  15. They will eventually manipulate the electoral system. They might say it’s to correct flaws, to make it more fair, more similar to the rest of the world, or just to make it better. Don’t believe it. They wouldn’t be messing with it at all if it wasn’t to benefit them in some way.
    Oppose any changes to electoral law that an authoritarian regime wants to enact – rest assured it’s only to help them remain in power longer.

And above all, be strong, fight, endure, and remember you’re on the good side of history.
EVERY authoritarian, totalitarian and fascist regime in history eventually failed, thanks to the PEOPLE.

– With love, your Eastern European friends

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fact-checking the National Security Council executive order

I just viewed a segment of this Sunday morning’s edition of Meet the Press in which Check Todd confronted Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus about Trump’s executive order on the National Security Council. Todd, apparently, was under the impression that the order removed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Director of National Intelligence from the Council. Priebus insisted that Todd was mischaracterizing the order and that those two officials were welcome to attend NSC meetings.

Both Todd and Priebus were half right and half wrong. That’s the conclusion of your Scriber after a few minutes of fact-checking.

Part of the problem is that the press, at least some of it, is providing overly simplified misinformation about the executive order. Here’s an example from the Wall Street Journal: Donald Trump Shuffles National Security Council. The WSJ report headline says “Executive measure adds Steve Bannon while removing Director of National Intelligence, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” and the body of the report repeats the assertions.

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump added his top adviser and strategist Steve Bannon to the National Security Council while removing the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he signed a trio of executive measures on Saturday.

Actually, the president’s memo does no such thing. The USA Today has a different - and factual - report that Trump gives Stephen Bannon National Security Council role. True, but they go on to qualify the rolls of the DNI and Joint Chiefs chair.

In one of three executive actions Saturday, President Trump reshuffled the National Security Council to include his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and limited the roles of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The memorandum makes the chief strategist a regular attendee of the principals committee, the Cabinet-level interagency forum that deals with policy issues affecting national security. For Bannon, the Washington outsider who ran the conservative website Breitbart News, it’s another area of federal government in which he will have influence.

The Trump strategist is already considered a controversial choice for chief strategist because of Breitbart News’s tendency to cater to white nationalists and previous comments he’s made (i.e. “turn on the hate”).

The memo also stated that the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff will attend the principals committee meetings when issues related to their responsibilities are needed. According to The Hill, both officials have been regular attendees to principals committee meetings.

Here are the relevant passages from the President’s memo. (The entire memo is here.)

The NSC and HSC shall have as their regular attendees (both statutory and non-statutory) the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the National Security Advisor, the Homeland Security Advisor, and the Representative of the United States to the United Nations. When international economic issues are on the agenda of the NSC, the NSC’s regular attendees will include the Secretary of Commerce, the United States Trade Representative, and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. The Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as statutory advisers to the NSC, shall also attend NSC meetings. The Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist, the Counsel to the President, the Deputy Counsel to the President for National Security Affairs, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget are invited as attendees to any NSC meeting.

So the DNI and Joint Chiefs chair are members of the NSC by law. However, there is another subgroup of the NSC called the Principals Committee. Relevant passages follow.

The Principals Committee (PC) shall continue to serve as the Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States. The PC shall be convened and chaired by the National Security Advisor or the Homeland Security Advisor, as appropriate, in consultation with the appropriate attendees of the PC. The Chair shall determine the agenda in consultation with the appropriate committee members, and the Executive Secretary shall ensure that necessary papers are prepared and that conclusions and decisions are communicated in a timely manner. Invitations to participate in or attend a specific PC shall be extended at the discretion of the National Security Advisor and the Homeland Security Advisor, and may include those Cabinet-level heads of executive departments and agencies, and other senior officials, who are needed to address the issue under consideration.

The PC shall have as its regular attendees the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist, the National Security Advisor, and the Homeland Security Advisor. The Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shall attend where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed. The Counsel to the President, the Deputy Counsel to the President for National Security Affairs, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget may attend all PC meetings.

So the roles of the two officials, DNI and Joint Chiefs chair, are limited in that they attend the Principals Committee meetings by invitation. The questions I would have is why exclude the top military and intelligence officials from meetings of that high-level committee, and why appoint a political hack like Bannon. What does Bannon bring to the Principals table that the DNI and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs do not?

Disinformation from the White House and the disorientation of America

When the President of the United States claims that few is more than many - and gets away with it - you know that our system of government, and indeed our democratic society, is facing a clear and present danger.

The NY Times reports on Lyin’ Donnie’s falsifications and fabrications in ‘Up Is Down’: Trump’s Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past

As a businessman, Donald J. Trump was a serial fabulist whose biggest-best boasts about everything he touched routinely crumbled under the slightest scrutiny. As a candidate, Mr. Trump was a magical realist who made fantastical claims punctuated by his favorite verbal tic: “Believe me.”

Yet even jaded connoisseurs of Oval Office dissembling were astonished over the last week by the torrent of bogus claims that gushed from President Trump during his first days in office.

“We’ve never seen anything this bizarre in our lifetimes, where up is down and down is up and everything is in question and nothing is real,” said Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity and the author of “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity,” a book about presidential deception.

All week long, news organizations chased down one Trump tall tale after another. PolitiFact, a website devoted to checking the veracity of claims by public officials, published 12 “of the most misleading claims” Mr. Trump made during his first White House interview. The Chicago Tribune found that Mr. Trump was incorrect when he claimed two people were shot and killed in Chicago the very hour President Barack Obama was there delivering his farewell address. (There were no shootings, police records showed.) The Philadelphia Inquirer found that Mr. Trump was incorrect when he said the city’s murder rate was “terribly increasing.” (The murder rate has steadily declined over the last decade.) The indefatigable fact checkers at The Washington Post cataloged 24 false or misleading statements made by the president during his first seven days in office.

Trump’s lies are just as much instruments of governance as they are instances of his narcissism.

Mr. Trump’s falsehoods have long been viewed as a reflexive extension of his vanity, or as his method of compensating for deep-seated insecurities. But throughout his business career, Mr. Trump’s most noteworthy deceptions often did double duty, serving not just his ego but also important strategic goals. Mr. Trump’s habitually inflated claims about his wealth, for example, fed his self-proclaimed image of a business genius even as they attracted lucrative licensing deals built around the Trump brand.

Steve Schmidt, who helped manage Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s cascade of falsehoods was “a direct assault on the very idea of representative democracy” in the United States. Mr. Schmidt said that when he heard Mr. Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway defend the Trump administration’s “alternative facts” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, he thought of George Orwell’s “1984,” in which the Ministry of Truth is emblazoned with three slogans: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

“In a democratic government, there must be truth in order to hold elected officials accountable to their sovereign, which is the people,” Mr. Schmidt said. “All authoritarian societies are built on a foundation of lies and alternative facts, and what is true is what the leader believes, or what is best for the state.”

Mr. Lewis argued that the president’s untruths were a deliberate strategy to position the nation’s leading news organizations as the enemy of his administration. “Fact-checking becomes an act of war by the media,” he said.

Adam Gopnik at the New Yorker also connects Orwell’s “1984” and Trump’s America.

When Trump repeats the ridiculous story about the three million illegal voters—a story that no one who knows, that not a single White House “staffer,” not a single Republican congressman actually believes to be true—he does not really care if anyone believes it, even if, at some crazy level, he does, sort of. People aren’t meant to believe it; they’re meant to be intimidated by it. The lie is not a claim about specific facts; the lunacy is a deliberate challenge to the whole larger idea of sanity. Once a lie that big is in circulation, trying to reel the conversation back into the territory of rational argument becomes impossible.

The thing is - just about everything Trump says is a “lie that big” so we continue to live in a state of disorientation void of rational argument.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

With immediate effect - then they came for me

Trump’s executive order on Muslim immigrants are enforced with immediate effect - which means now. People already en route, in the air, at the time of the order were detained. Families were split.

The New York Times reports on Refugees Detained at U.S. Airports, Prompting Legal Challenges to Trump’s Immigration Order. Here are snippets. (Read the original article for more on legal action.)

President Trump’s executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees was put into immediate effect Friday night. Refugees who were in the air on the way to the United States when the order was signed were stopped and detained at airports.

The detentions prompted legal challenges as lawyers representing two Iraqi refugees held at Kennedy Airport filed a writ of habeas corpus early Saturday in the Eastern District of New York seeking to have their clients released. At the same time, they filed a motion for class certification, in an effort to represent all refugees and immigrants who they said were being unlawfully detained at ports of entry.

Mr. Trump’s order, which suspends entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, created a legal limbo for individuals on the way to the United States and panic for families who were awaiting their arrival.

Mr. Trump’s order also stops the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely, and it bars entry into the United States for 90 days from seven predominantly Muslim countries linked to concerns about terrorism. Those countries are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

It was unclear how many refugees and immigrants were being held nationwide in the aftermath of the executive order. The complaints were filed by a prominent group including the American Civil Liberties Union, the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center, the National Immigration Law Center, Yale Law School’s Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization and the firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.

The lawyers said that one of the Iraqis detained at Kennedy Airport, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, had worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for 10 years. The other, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, was coming to the United States to join his wife, who had worked for a U.S. contractor, and young son, the lawyers said. They said both men were detained at the airport Friday night after arriving on separate flights.

The attorneys said they were not allowed to meet with their clients, and there were tense moments as they tried to reach them.

“Who is the person we need to talk to?” asked one of the lawyers, Mark Doss, supervising attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project.

“Mr. President,” said a Customs and Border Protection agent, who declined to identify himself. “Call Mr. Trump.”

The arrogance is something we’d expect to see in some tin-pot dictatorship. But that has now come to America. Detainment without representation? No problem. A uniformed agent operating anonymously? Talk to the president.

Here is the kicker - the motivation behind Trump’s order.

The executive order, which Mr. Trump said was part of an extreme vetting plan to keep out “radical Islamic terrorists,” also established a religious test for refugees from Muslim nations: He ordered that Christians and others from minority religions be granted priority over Muslims.

We all should remember what the German pastor wrote about the Nazis: Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the socialists …”

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

Indeed. Who will speak for thee?

Friday, January 27, 2017

The campaign to control the press: Steve Bannon discredits while Trump disinforms

What Trump’s “running war” with the media is all about

Here is some past history that should inform the present: The Press in the Third Reich: Establishing Control of the Press

When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany’s 4,700 papers.

The elimination of the German multi-party political system not only brought about the demise of hundreds of newspapers produced by outlawed political parties; it also allowed the state to seize the printing plants and equipment of the Communist and Social Democratic Parties, which were often turned over directly to the Nazi Party. In the following months, the Nazis established control or exerted influence over independent press organs.

Here, now, in America we have effectively eliminated our “multi-party political system.” If we tread in the footsteps of the Third Reich, control of the press will soon follow.

Already American media is controlled by just six corporations: “almost all media comes from the same six sources. That’s consolidated from 50 companies back in 1983.” So American media ownership is following the same pattern as in the Third Reich example.

Here is another case study from the present by the Huffington Post: Putin’s Press: How Russia’s President Controls The News. “Russia may soon lose some of its last free media.”

After Putin came into power in 2000, he established control over the three main TV stations. In 2001 and 2002, he took control of the two biggest TV channels, ORT (now First Channel) and NTV. The state broadcaster, RTR (now Rossiya 1), was already under his control.

During his subsequent year in power, Putin moved more and more outlets under his influence until he controlled most of the major mainstream media. He appoints editors and general directors, either officially or unofficially. …

… Where will this situation lead? Most likely, honest journalists will have to quit their positions. I’m sending my deepest condolences to colleagues. They are not the first ones though, they are one of the last ones.

So what is happening here and now? Robert Reich reposting at billmoyers.com tells us Trump’s Seven Techniques to Control the Media. “Tyrants always try to suppress a free press; here’s Trump’s playbook.”. For the sake of brevity I’ll list them but you can read the details in Reich’s post.

Democracy depends on a free and independent press, which is why all tyrants try to squelch it. They use seven techniques that, worryingly, [now President] Donald Trump already employs.

Berate the media.
Blacklist critical media.
Turn the public against the media.
Condemn satirical or critical comments.
Threaten the media directly.
Limit media access.
Bypass the media and communicate with the public directly.

Historically, these seven techniques have been used by demagogues to erode the freedom and independence of the press.

The word “media” comes from “intermediate” between newsmakers and the public. Responsible media hold the powerful accountable by asking them hard questions and reporting on what they do. Apparently Trump wants to eliminate such intermediaries.

Discredit first, disinform second

Scriber boils all this down to two steps.

Discredit: “to give people reason to stop believing someone or to doubt the truth of something”

Disinform: Disinformation is intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences.[1][2][3] The English word, which did not appear in dictionaries until the late–1980s, is a translation of the Russian дезинформация, transliterated as dezinformatsiya.[1][2][3] Disinformation is different from misinformation, which is information that is unintentionally false.[4] Misinformation can be used to define disinformation — where disinformation is misinformation that is purposefully and intentionally disseminated in order to defraud.[5] (See the Wiki entry for the citations.)

Evidence for Scriber’s two-step analysis follows.

Steve Bannon carries Trump warfare against the media

New York Times breaking news: Trump’s Chief Strategist Says News Media Should ‘Keep Its Mouth Shut’. The architect of Donald Duck Double-speak fires shots at the press.

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief White House strategist, laced into the American press during an interview on Wednesday evening, arguing that news organizations had been “humiliated” by an election outcome few anticipated, and repeatedly describing the media as “the opposition party” of the current administration.

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile,” Mr. Bannon said during a telephone call.

“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

The scathing assessment — delivered by one of Mr. Trump’s most trusted and influential advisers, in the first days of his presidency — comes at a moment of high tension between the news media and the administration, with skirmishes over the size of Mr. Trump’s inaugural crowd and the president’s false claims that millions of illegal votes by undocumented immigrants swayed the popular vote against him.

Mr. Bannon, who rarely grants interviews to journalists outside of Breitbart News, the provocative right-wing website he ran until last August, was echoing comments by Mr. Trump this weekend, when the president said he was in “a running war” with the media and called journalists “among the most dishonest people on earth.”

During a call to discuss Sean M. Spicer, the president’s press secretary, Mr. Bannon ratcheted up the criticism, offering a broad indictment of the news media as biased against Mr. Trump and out of touch with the American public. That’s an argument familiar to readers of Breitbart and followers of Trump-friendly personalities like Sean Hannity.

You don’t really think that Bannon would stop at that. There is lots more in the Times’ report about Bannon’s campaign to discredit the media.

Dishonest Donald continues the endless stream of lies

The second step is disinformation, the technique perfected by Trump’s friend in Moscow.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) reports that Trump just gave a remarkable new interview. Here’s a tally of all his lies.

1) Trump repeated his false claim that there was rampant voter fraud in the election, and when pressed on the fact that his claim has repeatedly been debunked, Trump said: “No it hasn’t. Take a look at the Pew reports.” The Pew report that Trump is citing did not show what Trump claims it did. The author of that report has repeatedly stated this in numerous interviews.

2) When ABC pressed Trump on the fact that the author of the Pew report undermined his claims, Trump claimed, somewhat unintelligibly, that this author was “groveling.” This is not even remotely true. In fact, the author told The Post’s fact-checking team last night that he stood by his claim that the report did not say what Trump says it did.

3) Trump said this about all of the people who he falsely claims voted illegally in the election: “Those were Hillary votes. And if you look at it they all voted for Hillary. They all voted for Hillary. They didn’t vote for me. I don’t believe I got one. Okay, these are people that voted for Hillary Clinton. And if they didn’t vote, it would’ve been different in the popular.” There is no way Trump could possibly know this even if those illegal voters existed, which they don’t.

4) Trump said this about his glorious victory: “I had a tremendous victory, one of the great victories ever. In terms of counties I think the most ever or just about the most ever. When you look at a map it’s all red. Red meaning us, Republicans.” The context here was the size of Trump’s victory, but there is no reasonable metric by which his margin was either tremendous or one of the greatest ever. Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million, and the size of his electoral college win was down toward the bottom in historical terms.

5) Trump said this about the size of the audience for his inaugural speech: “When I looked at the numbers that happened to come in from all of the various sources, we had the biggest audience in the history of inaugural speeches.” This is absurdly false, no matter what angle you examine it from.

6) Trump said this about immigration: “We have to stop people from just pouring into our country.” This is not exactly a lie, since “pouring in” is not a precise statement, but it leaves an enormously misleading impression. People are not by any reasonable metric “pouring into our country.” The number of undocumented immigrants in this country has been stable for years. As for Trump’s suggestion that we have failed to “stop” this alleged “pouring in,” experts have said that the flow of illegal immigration has fallen in recent years, and that border security matters less than economic and demographic trends in determining that flow in any case.

7) Pressed by ABC on the fact that Obamacare repeal could mean at least 18 million people lose insurance, Trump said: “Nobody ever deducts all the people that have already lost their health insurance that liked it. You had millions of people that liked their health insurance and their health care and their doctor and where they went. You had millions of people that now aren’t insured anymore.” This is not quite a lie, but it is a flagrant distortion. First there’s the claim that, in measuring the impact of Obamacare, “nobody ever deducts” all of those who supposedly “lost” their insurance. This is silly. One of the most widely cited metrics for measuring the law’s impact comes from Gallup, which measures the uninsured rate. Gallup has found that since Obamacare went into effect, that rate has fallen by more than six percentage points. Thus, it’s also a distortion to suggest that the law has left millions uninsured.

Bannon discredits, Trump disinforms. Trace the history: Hitler, Putin, Trump.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Donald Duck Diplomacy: How Mexico will make America pay for the wall

The headline is a second version of the story. Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) has the first, most common, version and I will start there.

“We’ll be reimbursed at a later date from whatever transaction we make from Mexico … that wall will cost us nothing. I’m just telling you there will be a payment. It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form.”

“A complicated form.” Translation: I’ll come up with some kind of convoluted lie to explain this away later.

Now here is the other version.

RealClearPolitics.com reports on an interview with former Mexican president Vicente Fox in which he says that Mexico will not pay for “the fucking wall.” Fmr. Mexican President Vicente Fox to Trump: We Can Live Without NAFTA, “You Can Not”

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox tells CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the current president of Mexico, Peña-Nieto, should consider canceling his plans to meet with President Trump. Or, if he does meet Trump, that he should walk out of the meeting if Trump insults Mexico.

Fox repeated his pledge that Mexico would not pay for Trump’s border wall on Twitter, after President Trump signed an executive order to begin construction on the border wall today.

Sean Spicer, I’ve said this to @realDonaldTrump and now I’ll tell you: Mexico is not going to pay for that fucking wall. #FuckingWall
— Vicente Fox Quesada (@VicenteFoxQue) January 25, 2017

Rumors spread Wednesday that [Mexican President] Peña-Nieto is “considering” cancelling his meeting with Trump.

That was Wednesday. This is Thursday morning. Meeting cancelled. The NY Times reports that Mexico Cancels Meeting With Trump Over Wall.

The president of Mexico said on Thursday that he was canceling his scheduled meeting with President Donald J. Trump in Washington next week, rejecting the visit after the new American leader ordered a border wall between the two nations.

The move by Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, brings to a head the simmering tensions that have been building for months between the two leaders. After calling for dialogue in the face of Mr. Trump’s vows to build a wall, Mr. Peña Nieto ultimately bowed to public pressure in Mexico to respond more forcefully to his northern neighbor.

The decision to cancel the meeting was the result of a remarkable back-and-forth between the two sparring leaders, much of it delivered on Twitter.

On Wednesday, the new American president signed an executive order to beef up the nation’s deportation force and start construction on a new wall along the border.

Adding to the perceived insult was the timing of the order: It came on the first day of talks between top Mexican officials and their counterparts in Washington, and just days before the meeting between the two presidents.

… In a video message delivered over Twitter on Wednesday night, Mr. Peña Nieto reiterated his commitment to protect the interests of Mexico and the Mexican people, and he chided the move in Washington to continue with the wall.

“I regret and condemn the United States’ decision to continue with the construction of a wall that, for years now, far from uniting us, divides us,” he said.

In Mexico, Mr. Peña Nieto had little political room to maneuver. With Mr. Trump’s order to build the wall, the perceived insults Mexico had endured during the campaign had finally turned into action. Decades of friendly relations between the nations — on matters involving trade, security and migration — seemed to be unraveling.

Calls began to come in from across the political spectrum for Mr. Peña Nieto to cancel his visit, and to respond with greater fortitude to the perceived menace from President Trump. On Twitter, Mr. Trump’s action was referred to by politicians and historians as a “an offense to Mexico,” a “slap in the face” and a “monument to lies.”

Historians said that not since President Calvin Coolidge threatened to invade a “Soviet Mexico” had the United States so deeply antagonized the Mexican populace.

“It is an unprecedented moment for the bilateral relationship,” said Genaro Lozano, a professor at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City. “In the 19th century, we fought a war with the U.S.; now we find ourselves in a low-intensity war, a commercial one over Nafta and an immigration war due to the measures he just announced.”

Yes, elections have consequences. The Donald Duck Dynasty has just demonstrated its Donald Duck Diplomacy.

*UPDATE - Thursday afternoon*: The New York Times has this breaking news. Trump Plans 20% Tax on Mexican Imports to Pay for Border Wall.

President Trump plans to make Mexico pay for his border wall by imposing a 20 percent tax on all imports into the United States from Mexico, raising billions of dollars that would cover the cost of the new barrier.

The proposal, which Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said the president discussed privately with congressional Republicans before giving remarks at a party retreat here, would be a major new economic proposal that could have far-reaching implications for consumers, manufacturers and relations between the two governments.

The new tax would be imposed on Mexico as part of a tax overhaul that Mr. Trump intends to pursue with the Republican Congress. Mr. Spicer said the tax initially would apply only to Mexico, but that the president supports imposing a 20 percent tax on all imports.

Mr. Trump would need new legislation to enact such a comprehensive tax on Mexican imports.

It’s no longer a “low intensity war”. Trump has started throwing economic bombs at the world.

The Voice of Trump: An $800,000,000 state-run propaganda machine?

The Voice of America is in danger of becoming the Voice of Authoritarianism.

What’s going on with the Voice of America? This post is in three parts. I’m going to start with some background and history on VOA, move on to the existential threat it faces in the era of Authoritarian America, and close with research on why it matters to our national psyche and soul.

My source for this is Wikipedia’s entry on Voice of America.

In 1939, the Federal Communications Commission set the following policy:

“A licensee of an international broadcast station shall render only an international broadcast service which will reflect the culture of this country and which will promote international goodwill, understanding and cooperation. Any program solely intended for, and directed to an audience in the continental United States does not meet the requirements for this service.”

For years, during WW II and the cold war, VOA pushed out information about the United States and what we stood for to countries around the entire globe.

By the end of the war, VOA had 39 transmitters and provided service in 40 languages.[15] Programming was broadcast from production centers in New York and San Francisco, with more than 1,000 programs originating from New York. Programming consisted of music, news, commentary, and relays of U.S. domestic programming, in addition to specialized VOA programming.[16]

About half of VOA’s services, including the Arabic service, were discontinued in 1945.[17] In late 1945, VOA was transferred to the Department of State.

Control of VOA passed from the State Department to the U.S. Information Agency when the latter was established in 1953.[17] to transmit worldwide, including to the countries behind the Iron Curtain and to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, VOA covered some of the era’s most important news, including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon. During the Cuban missile crisis, VOA broadcast around-the-clock in Spanish.

In 1993, the Clinton administration advised cutting funding for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as it was felt post-Cold War information and influence was not needed in Europe. This plan was not well received, and he then proposed the compromise of the International Broadcasting Act. The Broadcasting Board of Governors was established and took control from the Board for International Broadcasters which previously oversaw funding for RFE/RL.

In 1994, President Clinton signed the International Broadcasting Act into law. This law established the International Broadcasting Bureau as a part of the U.S. Information Agency and created the Broadcasting Board of Governors with oversight authority. In 1998, the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act was signed into law and mandated that BBG become an independent federal agency as of October 1, 1999. This act also abolished the U.S.I.A. and merged most of its functions with those of the State Department.

The threat of a Voice of Authoritarianism

Politico.com published an update on the VOA’s status last month (Dec 12) in Trump to inherit state-run TV network with expanded reach, saying “A provision tucked into the defense bill guts the Voice of America board, stoking fears that Trump could wield a powerful propaganda arm.”

President-elect Donald Trump is about to inherit a newly empowered Voice of America that some officials fear could serve as an unfettered propaganda arm for the former reality TV star who has flirted for years with launching his own network.

Buried on page 1,404 of the National Defense Authorization Act that passed last week is a provision that would disband the bipartisan board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent U.S. agency that includes Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Networks.

The move — pushed by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce as a way to streamline the agency — concentrates control into a powerful CEO who is appointed by the president.

That change, combined with a 2013 legislative revision that allows the network to legally reach a U.S. audience, which was once banned, could pave the way for Trump-approved content created by the U.S. diplomacy arm, if he chooses to exploit the opportunity.

A Republican government official familiar with the agency’s work warned that abolishing the board will make it susceptible to the influence of Trump’s allies, including his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart News before joining Trump’s campaign.

“There’s some fear among the folks here, that the firewall will get diminished and attacked and this could fall victim to propaganda,” the Republican official said. “They will hire the person they want, the current CEO does not stand a chance. This will pop up on Steve Bannon’s radar quickly. They are going to put a friendly person in that job.”

Because of the modification of the Smith-Mundt Act in 2013, the BBG can now broadcast in the U.S., too. But the influence on the domestic market could be even more subtle, the Republican official warned.

The changes to VOA governance and mission has indeed popped up on Bannon’s radar and there is no doubt that Trump will “exploit the opportunity”.

Rachel Maddow picked up the story yesterday evening and she explored the consequences of the 2013 and 2016 laws and the moves by the Trump administration to control VOA. Here’s the video from yesterday evening (Jan 25).

(If that embedded video does not work on your browser, try this link to Rachel’s video.)

It warrants repeating: “No President Has Ever Been Able To Use The Resources Of The U.S. Government To Have Broadcasting Resources” Like This, “But They’ve Done It Now”

Few is many and many is few

Dan Rather, appearing on The Rachel Maddow Show last night (Jan 25) noted that 2+2=4 is true but that 2+2=5 is not. However, more and more people are willing to say that 2+2=5 even when provably wrong. Here’s the relevant research on denying the reality of your own senses.

Washington Post researchers report This is what Trump voters said when asked to compare his inauguration crowd with Obama’s. I’ll try to make this brief and cover the principal results.

On the first full day of the Trump administration, White House press secretary Sean Spicer admonished the news media for reporting that the crowd that witnessed Trump’s inauguration was smaller than other recent inauguration crowds, claiming, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.”

What made this attempt by a Trump staffer to spread misinformation particularly egregious was the abundance of clear photographic evidence proving Spicer’s statements false. So how far are Trump supporters willing to go to accept his administration’s argument?

… we surveyed 1,388 American adults. We showed half of them a crowd picture from each inauguration (see below) and asked which was from Trump’s inauguration and which was from Obama’s.

For the other half, we asked a very simple question with one clearly correct answer: “Which photo has more people?”

For the question about which image went with which inauguration, 41 percent of Trump supporters gave the wrong answer; that’s significantly more than the wrong answers given by 8 percent of Clinton voters and 21 percent of those who did not vote.

But what’s even more noteworthy is that 15 percent of people who voted for Trump told us that more people were in the image on the left — the photo from Trump’s inauguration — than the picture on the right. We got that answer from only 2 percent of Clinton voters and 3 percent of nonvoters.

Even when the photographic evidence was directly in front of them and the question was straightforward, one in seven Trump supporters gave the clearly false answer.

There are two ways to explain this pattern. One is that the Trump supporters actually believe that a few is greater than many. Alternatively, these folks might be just using their answers to express support for Trump (and for his claims).

On one hand, some may find it reassuring to discover that at least some Trump supporters may not really believe the misinformation they express in surveys.

But that may not matter. The fact is that the Trump supporters are willing to say that few is more than many even when the factual evidence is right in front of them. The authors conclude:

… the Trump administration already accuses others of producing “fake news,” and instead offers its own (false) “alternative facts.” If a significant portion of Trump supporters are willing to champion obvious fabrications, challenging fabrications with facts will be difficult.

And now Trump has the means to turn VOA into a sound machine for his fabrications and “alternative facts.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Alternative Facts in The Age of Orwell

This post is particularly apt given the other post on “the true and correct” account of the inauguration.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports on how Trump World tries to defend its reliance on ‘alternative facts’.

Occasionally, a political figure coins a phrase that becomes an instant classic. In the case of Trump World, it happened just 48 hours after the new president’s inauguration.

Trump and his team have been furious about the evidence that the Republican’s inaugural crowd was rather paltry, leading White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to upbraid reporters on Saturday with bizarre claims. A day later, Kellyanne Conway, a top member of Donald Trump’s team, told NBC News’ Chuck Todd that the White House has “alternative facts” to share.

As the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan noted the other day, the phrase makes clear “we’ve gone full Orwell.”

Occasionally, a political figure coins a phrase that becomes an instant classic. In the case of Trump World, it happened just 48 hours after the new president’s inauguration.

Trump and his team have been furious about the evidence that the Republican’s inaugural crowd was rather paltry, leading White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to upbraid reporters on Saturday with bizarre claims. A day later, Kellyanne Conway, a top member of Donald Trump’s team, told NBC News’ Chuck Todd that the White House has “alternative facts” to share.

As the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan noted the other day, the phrase makes clear “we’ve gone full Orwell.”

Trump World doesn’t quite see it that way, as Sean Spicer tried to explain last night. The New York Daily News reported:

The newly appointed top White House spokesman made that connection on Fox News Tuesday night while defending his colleague, Kellyanne Conway, who recently came under fire for using the term “alternative facts” to describe exaggerated inauguration attendance numbers.

“There are times, like anything else, it’s not alternative facts, it’s that there’s sometimes you can watch two different stations and get two different weather reports,” Spicer told Fox host Sean Hannity. “That doesn’t mean the station was lying to you.”

If only that made sense, it might be easier to take the White House press secretary seriously.

Let’s go with Spicer’s analogy for a minute. Let’s say you tune in to a couple of local television stations, and one of them told you it was warm and sunny in your area yesterday, while the other reported there was a blizzard. Does it mean one of the stations was lying to you?

Well, yes, actually it does. Meteorologists may reach different conclusions about future events, but when it comes to reporting on factual details on developments that have already happened, there’s no room for facts vs. alternative facts.

This is just the beginning of Age of Orwell. Reminders about 1984 apropos current events follow (from goodreads.com).

  • "He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
  • "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
  • "… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
  • "Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand [Trump and the GOP].”

A true and correct account of the inauguration

Alexandra Petri writing in the Washington Post tells The true, correct story of what happened at Donald Trump’s inauguration. It’s a must read. Here are teasers.

Here is the fair and unbiased story about the inauguration written in compliance with the Trump style guidelines that we should have been obeying all along.

Nothing that has ever happened or will ever happen was as great as Donald Trump’s inauguration.

You can stop right there. But why would you want to?

The crowd was magnificent and huge, bigger than any crowd had ever been before! It stretched all the way to the moon. The Pope, who was there, confirmed it.

“Thanks for being here, Pope,” Donald Trump told him.

“Are you kidding? You’re my best friend,” the Pope said. “I wouldn’t miss your big day for anything!” He gave Donald Trump a big high-five.

The media was there, too, and they were very sorry. “Donald,” the newscasters said, “we were mean to you. We used to laugh and call you names. We were no better than all of the other reindeer. How can you ever forgive us?”

“Forgive you?” Donald Trump asked. “I’ve already forgotten.” He smiled a big, beautiful smile. That was just who Donald Trump was: forgiving, like Jesus, but blond.

All Trump’s women were there writhing in adulation.

Donald Trump pulled out a violin and played a solo, and then he pulled out a guitar and played an even sicker solo. The whole ground was soon covered with women’s undergarments. (Millions of women were there to support Donald Trump, and they were all AT LEAST sevens.) Also, every woman that Donald Trump had ever dated was there, and they were not upset with him, just ashamed that they had not lived up to his required standard.

Bono, and Bruce Springsteen, and Elton John, and the Rolling Stones, and Beyonce, and all the top artists were there. They fought hard over who would be allowed to sing. Finally Bruce Springsteen won. Bono cried and cried, and the other artists had to console him. When Bruce Springsteen had finished singing, he walked over to Donald Trump, extended his hand, and said, “You are the only real hero left in the world.”

Donald Trump is the star. People love him.

He won the popular vote, too.

No go fill in the other topics at the “true story.”

Ooops, there it is!

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com
.

We knew it was coming and awaited it with dread. And, drumroll please…crash goes the cymbal! Yes, here it is, this year’s attempt to exponentially expand Arzona’s voucher (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or ESA) program. Of course, the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) chief water carrier for Arizona, Senator Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, is the one proposing the expansion. Lesko claims the expansion of ESAs will “not lead to a mass exodus of children from public schools.” I, for the most part, agree with that statement since Arizona parents have made it clear district schools are their choice with 80% of students attending district schools and another almost 15% in charter schools.

But, to infer a massive voucher expansion will have no negative impact on district schools is disingenuous at best. No matter how slowly students may attrit from district schools, each student’s departure leaves behind a 19% budget shortfall. That’s because there are numerous fixed costs (teacher salaries, facility maintenance, utilities, buses, etc.) that cannot be reduced student by student. The siphoning of dollars from our district schools has been steadily increasing and just exacerbates an already inadequately resourced system.

This isn’t the first year the Legislature has attempted to expand the voucher program. In fact, they’ve been successful in expansions every year since the ESA program was launched in 2011. This isn’t even the first time a full expansion has been attempted, with a very similar proposal going down in flames last year due to public outcry and a perceived conflict with securing voter approval of Prop. 123. This year though, Lesko has sweetened the deal by requiring the testing of students attending private schools on vouchers. She says she "doesn’t personally think this requirement is necessary," but obviously is trying to defuse the argument from voucher opponents that there is no accountability or return on investment for vouchered students.

She is right about one thing, district education advocates want more accountability and transparency where taxpayer dollars are spent on the myriad of school choice options. As the only schools governed by locally elected school boards and with annual efficiency reports published by the Office of the AZ Attorney General, district schools are the only schools fully accountable and transparent to the taxpayers. Pro-choice advocates tout that parents should have the right to choose where they send their child to school at government expense. As a taxpayer, I maintain I have the right to know the return on investment of my tax dollars. Their right should not trump mine.

Senator Lesko also infers that vouchers will save money because the average voucher amount for students without special needs is $5,200, yet it costs $9,529 to educate Arizona’s average student in public schools. This is misleading because she is comparing apples and oranges and she knows it. The $9,529 figure she quotes is a total of all funding sources, federal, state and local (bonds and overrides) while the $5,200 is only state funding. So, if a student transfers from a district where state funding is offset by locally supported funding (due to the equalization formula), that student’s voucher will actually cost the state general fund more than if that student had remained in their district school. Lesko also notes that vouchers and school choice are a national trend as evidenced by President Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

Oh no, she did NOT go there! Trying to sell vouchers as mainstream by pointing to Trump’s nomination of DeVos is akin to denying global warming by citing colder temperatures in parts of the country. After all, DeVos’ success with promoting school choice in Michigan has been dismal. In the two-plus decades she has championed this crusade (those knowledgeable about DeVos will understand my choice of that word), she has purchased legislative influence to expand charters and greatly reduce accountability. She has also worked hard to introduce vouchers in the state, but thus far, the voters have prevailed to keep those “wolves” at bay. And the improvements she has promised haven’t materialized with scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 4th graders declining from 28th in reading and 27th in math in 2003, to 41st in reading and 42nd in math in 2015.

According to the Arizona Capitol Times, the American Federation for Children (AFC) is pushing vouchers nationwide. I’m only going to give you three guesses as to who the chair of AFC is, and the first two don’t count. Yep, none other than Betsy DeVos. In addition to pushing for school choice and vouchers around the country, AFC has spent big bucks on rewarding those legislators working to expand privatization and punishing those who try to stand up for the 90% of students attending our nation’s districts schools. As reported by Richard Gilman on his website BringingUpArizona.com, AFC is a 501(c)4 free to pour dark money into political campaigns. And pour they have. Gilman writes, “Since its inception in 2010, the organization has poured nearly three-quarters of a million dollars into Arizona elections in a largely successful effort to sway the makeup of the Legislature.” The state’s “demonstrated appetite for school choice” is what AFC cites for its focus on Arizona. Of course, common causes make "strong" bedfellows and Gilman tracks AFC’s interest in Arizona back to Clint Bolick (once Vice President of Litigation at the Goldwater Institute and now AZ Supreme Court Justice.) Bolick served as the first president and general counsel for the Alliance for School Choice (AFC’s predecessor.)

But, I digress. The point is that no matter what snake oil the corporate reformers try to sell us, there is an incredibly well-funded, high-powered effort to have two school systems in Arizona. One is the commercial system of charters, private, parochial, virtual and homeschools that serve the whiter and wealthier students, and the other is the district schools, starved for resources, that will have the poorer, browner, and more challenged students to educate. According to recent polls, this is not what the vast majority of Arizonan voters want. But, until Arizonans clearly draw the nexus between voting for Legislators who don’t support our public district schools (most of them with an “R” after their name), and the fact that our district schools are way under resourced, nothing will change. If we want something different, we have to do something different. To continue doing the same thing and expecting different results, is as you know…the definition of insanity.

A clear and present danger: Trump's control of the press

Scriber is on vacation through Thursday. Unfortunately he cannot escape the news. It’s one holy s#!t moment after another.

I have come to believe that, amidst all the turmoil and disorder being created by Daffy Donald, the most immediate threat to our democracy is that poised by Trump’s war with the press. The single most potent thing authoritarian regimes do is to seek and obtain control of information and that means controlling the press.

We already know - or should know - that Trump is actively seeking to destroy the credibility of the independent, free press. If you have doubts, check out the now notorious rant by Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, reported among other sources by the [Washington Post][wapo] and spoofed by Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker.. Listening now (Wednesday, Jan 25) to Good Morning America, Trump doubles down on his false claims about winning the election because of voter fraud. Basically he is telling the big lie and Spicer goes before the White House press corps and claims to have evidence. But the only evidence cited is what Trump believes.

Robert Reich identifies Trump’s Two-Step Strategy To Take Over the Truth.

Donald Trump is such a consummate liar that in coming days and years our democracy will depend more than ever on the independent press – finding the truth, reporting it, and holding Trump accountable for his lies.

But Trump’s strategy is to denigrate and disparage the press in the public’s mind – seeking to convince the public that the press is engaged in a conspiracy against him. And he wants to use his tweets, rallies, and videos to make himself the only credible source of public information about what is happening and what he’s doing.

It is the two-step strategy of despots. And it’s already started. It was officially launched the first full day of the Trump administration.

Step 1: Disparage the press and lie about them.
Step 2: Threaten to circumvent the press and take the “truth” directly to the people.

Reich concludes: “Trump and his advisors – Steven Bannon, formerly of “Breitbart News” as well as Spicer and others – understand that if a significant portion of the public trusts Trump’s own words more than they do the media’s, Trump can get away with saying – and doing – whatever he wants. When that happens, our democracy ends. ”

Check out Reich’s post for the evidence for each of his two steps.

What protections can the press invoke in defense against the dark arts of Trumpian dishonesty and disparagement? Apparently damn few according to the authors of this op-ed in the NY Times, Don’t Expect the First Amendment to Protect the Media. (RonNell Andersen Jones is a law professor at the University of Utah. Sonja R. West is a law professor at the University of Georgia.) Here are snippets.

When President Trump declared on Saturday that reporters are “among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” it was not the first time he had disparaged the press. Nor was it out of character when, later that same day, his press secretary threatened “to hold the press accountable” for reporting truthful information that was unflattering to Mr. Trump. Episodes like these have become all too common in recent weeks. So it’s comforting to know that the Constitution serves as a reliable stronghold against Mr. Trump’s assault on the press.

Except that it doesn’t. The truth is, legal protections for press freedom are far feebler than you may think. Even more worrisome, they have been weakening in recent years.

It is primarily customs and traditions, not laws, that guarantee that members of the White House press corps have access to the workings of the executive branch. Consider the Department of Justice’s policy of forcing reporters to reveal confidential sources only as a last, rather than a first, resort. Journalists have no recognized constitutional nor even federal statutory right for such protection. It’s merely custom.

This is why we should be alarmed when Mr. Trump, defying tradition, vilifies media institutions, attacks reporters by name and refuses to take questions from those whose coverage he dislikes. Or when he decides not to let reporters travel with him on his plane, or fails to inform them when he goes out in public. Or when he suggests he might evict the White House press corps from the West Wing and have his administration, rather than the White House Correspondents Association, determine who gets allowed to attend briefings.

We cannot simply sit back and expect that the First Amendment will rush in to preserve the press, and with it our right to know. Like so much of our democracy, the freedom of the press is only as strong as we, the public, demand it to be.

By all means march. March for civil rights. March against bigotry. March for health care. But don’t forget to march in defense of a pillar of our democracy - the freedom of the press. The freedom to ask questions of our elected officials and their responsibility to provide truthful answers. Your freedom rests on it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday Tidbits

Scriber is on vacation through Thursday.

Here are some tidbits from the FiveThirtyEight newsletter “Significant Digits”.

45 percent
President Trump currently has a 45 percent job approval rating after three days in the presidency according to the Gallup tracker. All presidents since the beginning of the Gallup tracker have had a net approval rating 32 points or higher, with the exception of President Trump, who has a net approval rating of 0. The same percentage of respondents approve of the job he is doing as the percentage who disapprove. [FiveThirtyEight]

This one is relevant to our own proposed copper mine, Rosemont now pushed by the Canadian firm HudBay.

3,000
Approximate number of geese killed by toxic waste emanating from a former copper mine in Montana this past weekend. Regardless of how you feel about geese, toxic waste or copper mines, this should prove an instructive moment for how the Trump Environmental Protection Agency will handle the Superfund site. [The Guardian]

And here is AZBlueMeanie’s summary of the law suits headed Trump’s way over his businesses, conflicts of interest, and release of tax returns. Most notable is the suit on the Emoluments clause by CREW, CREW to file lawsuit against Trump under the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Festering Wound

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

First, let me be absolutely clear. I will applaud any modicum of success Donald Trump realizes as POTUS. It’s currently hard to envision, but if it does happen, I will give credit where credit is due. My bottom line is that I want our country to succeed and flourish.
Second, although I didn't vote for him, I don’t believe President Trump is the worst threat to our democracy. He is just the most visible symptom…the metaphorical “pus” that oozes from the infected wound. Yes, part of reason he was elected is that middle America is tired of being ignored and wants change. I get that. I wish our system had offered them better choices. But, he was also propelled to victory because of the “bacteria” of racism and hatred, fed by the “talking heads” and Internet content of questionable veracity. Over time, this bacteria infected the wound, generating the “pus” which indicated a problem.

What was the original wound? Well, it depends on how far back you want to go. In my lifetime, I think it would have to be the denial of civil rights that led to the civil rights movement that led to resentments (that I believe were unjustified) that so significantly wounded our national psyche. Please don’t get me wrong. President Lyndon Johnson was absolutely right to sign the Civil Rights Act in 1964. It helped right many of the wrongs that had permeated for too long against way too many. Unfortunately, the change in law was, in some ways, just a band-aid that masked the wound. It helped the healing begin, but did not deliver the antibiotics to cure the sickness. No doubt, the antibiotics (eradicate poverty, fix the criminal justice system, win the war on drugs) were huge pills that we weren’t willing to swallow. As a result, the wound never properly healed.

The more optimistic part of me says, “at least now the hatred and resentment is out in the open. At least now we can see the extent of the sickness and begin to deal with it.” Problem is, it will now take even more powerful and costly antibiotics to heal the wound, assuming we could even agree what the wound is.

A couple of days ago, I was listening to NPR’s “On Point.” The discussion was about President Obama’s legacy and a caller said he was really glad Obama was gone because of “the hate he sowed.” The show’s host was obviously incredulous and asked the caller why he thought this. The caller said, “when Trayvon Martin was killed, Obama immediately came out with a statement about how ‘it could have been my son.’” The host said he didn't think there wasn’t anything racist in that statement, rather, President Obama was trying to empathize with Trayvon’s family. The caller though seemed undeterred. I don’t think he was trying to be inflammatory, but sincerely believed Obama was stoking racism. Try as I might, I can't begin to understand how he came to that conclusion and it makes me really sad for our country and our democracy. Day after day, especially since Trump’s election, I encounter viewpoints from neighbors and acquaintances that are 180 degrees different from mine on a myriad of issues. How did we get to this place and more importantly, what are we going to do about it?

Obviously there were a combination of factors that brought us here. First, the choice of “news” sources we now enjoy ensures there is much less homogeny in our perspectives than when Walter Cronkite told all of us “that’s the way it is” at the end of each day. Not only that, but algorithmed social media continually feeds us “news” that only serves to ingrain the beliefs we already hold. This is compounded by the “echo chambers” “that allow us to promote our favorite narratives, form polarized groups and resist information that doesn’t conform to our beliefs.”

Second, some of us have lost the true meaning of patriotism. I contend patriotism is not about symbolism such as wearing a flag pin or flying the flag. In fact, George Washington implored Americans to “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” Rather, as John F. Kennedy said, patriotism is about asking “what we can do for our country” versus what “our country can do for us.” Patriotism is also, as Republican President Theodore Roosevelt said, “to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”  Our nations’ newest President would do well to heed the words of his 26th predecessor who was after all, immortalized on Mt. Rushmore for being one of the most popular and important of our Presidents.

Third, is our “me-first” attitude at the expense of any concern for the common good. Government is evil and should be reduced in size “where we can drown it in the bathtub” said Grover Norquist. And yet, government is us. It is our collective voice. It is the entity that we elect to ensure the safety and security of our citizens and the education of our children. In fact, our lack of national committment to a well-rounded, well-resourced, and truly public, educational system is a great example of the “me-first” attitude. The school choice movement, pushed by corporate profiteers, is cleverly devised to take advantage of this. It is not about ensuring ALL children have every opportunity to succeed, just “my” kid. It IS about resegregating our society by socio-economic status thereby over the long-term, ensuring wealth inequity is only exacerbated. It is also about reducing the people’s voice in our democracy and funneling as much of the $700 billion education market to the private sector as possible. It should be no surprise this is the goal of the rich and powerful. After all, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” The less we all think it seems, the more our leaders can…well…“stink”, without us calling them on it.

Last, is our collective laziness surrounding the exercise of our civic duties. “Somebody” we say, should vote, should call, should march, should write letters, should run for office. Truth is, all of us should do most of those things. Charles de Montesquieu, a French philosopher who lived in the 17th and 18th century, said, “The tryanny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.” A democracy simply must have an engaged citizenry to be successful. I believe one of the important ways to be engaged is for each of us to pay our fair share of taxes. Author Alain de Botton eloquently said, “Paying tax should be framed as a glorious civic duty worthy of gratitude - not a punishment for making money.” Performing jury service or signing up for the draft are two other ways we fulfill our civic duties. The important point is that each of us realizes that the freedoms we enjoy don’t come free.

As for what we can do to turn things around, well therein lies the rub, right? I’m pretty sure that it starts with listening to each other again. As the saying goes, “that’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth.” It’s not just enough to listen though, we must actually hear and respond with compassion because even though it doesn’t seem like it now, we really are all in this together. If we could just find some common ground, we could start to rebuild. This rebuilding would initially look like tolerance of each other but hopefully would work its way up to acceptance. It would require respect for one another’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and that each of us strive to develop a “more perfect union.” Of course, to truly be a “more perfect union” we must understand that there are blue states and red states, white people and people of color, Christians and Muslims, men and women, etc. We must understand that our diversity doesn’t “ruin” America, it is what makes us great. It is what has always made us great. United we stand, divided we fall. Words to live by, now more than ever.