Thursday, February 13, 2020

After Committing Impeachable Acts Throughout His Entire Impeachment Trial, An Acquitted Trump Continues Committing Impeachable Acts

Hannah Arendt, from The Origins of Totalitarianism:
Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.

In one sense, Maine Senator Susan Collins was correct. Donald Trump did learn a "pretty big lesson" from being impeached. He knows he can get away with anything. But Trump likely was already aware of that, because he continued to commit the exact same crimes for which he was being impeached throughout his entire impeachment trial.

Imagine a serial killer on trial for multiple murders being let out of jail every night to commit additional murders, crimes to which he confesses the next morning (and helpfully provides evidence). But the judge has admitted publicly that he's colluding with the defense team, making sure evidence is suppressed and witnesses are never called. So the accused is set free, and during his post-trial news conference, he stabs a bystander to death in celebration. Despite numerous cops nearby, the murderer is not arrested and he walks off, happily planning his next round of murders.

Law professors Joshua Geltzer and Ryan Goodman state that the firings of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland "should be understood as an escalation in President Donald Trump's ongoing efforts that threaten American democratic institutions".
In case there were any doubt about the motivation for all of this, a series of tweets by the president and his son made clear that Lt. Col. Vindman's ejection was a direct response to the testimony he provided Congress that pointed to the president's wrongdoing. ...

Trump was punishing key witnesses for doing precisely what the United States Congress swore them in to do: explain what they'd seen and heard. ...

Retaliating against them for their testimony was precisely the point for Trump. ... As a former Trump NSC official Fernando Cutz said, "The broader message to career officials is that you can't speak up. Even if you see something illegal, something unethical, you can't speak up. That's the message the president wants to send." ... Friday's ousters are an extension of the second article of impeachment against Trump: obstruction of Congress, and more broadly obstruction of the public's access to the truth.

The [firings] continued the transformation of the instruments of national power into tools of Trump's personal advancement. This exploitation of America's diplomatic, military, and law enforcement mechanisms was the very usurpation of power that got Trump impeached in the first place. ... Having survived impeachment, Trump now seeks to accelerate the redirection of America's instruments of power into his own instruments of power. ...

Trump's expectation for officials is a personal loyalty to him—as former FBI Director James Comey learned in his early White House meeting with Trump and as his immediate successor as Acting Director, Andy McCabe, faced when Trump asked McCabe for whom he voted in 2016. Trump directed fury at then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions when his recusal from the Russia investigation meant that Sessions wasn’t personally protecting Trump. "Where's my Roy Cohn?" Trump reportedly said to other officials in his frustration over Sessions. ...

What shoe might drop next? Trump is reportedly considering, in consultation with his advisors, firing the intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson—another official installed in his current role by Trump himself. Atkinson, very much to his credit, battled others within the executive branch to ensure that the whistleblower complaint that began to unravel Trump's extortion of Ukraine reached congressional overseers in both the House and Senate, where it belonged. Simply put, he did his job ... and, yet again, that's exactly why Trump now might fire him. ... As Trump's former head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, warned, "Firing an Inspector General for processing a whistleblower complaint would be an extraordinary blow to whatever shred of government integrity remains. It would be an atom bomb." ...

As Trump said in an interview with Bob Woodward, "Real power is—I don't even want to use the word—fear" ...

For months, the Trump administration has ... been firing those who've insisted on adherence to the rule of law when that insistence is at odds with the White House. ...

[Trump's recent action is] an important step in the consolidation of power by a president who intends to take the very sins for which he was impeached—exploiting American national power for Trump's personal power, and silencing those who try to call him out for it—and indulge in them more aggressively, even more brazenly.

Trump's public admission that the firings were blatant revenge against the two men for testifying (telling the truth) in his just-completed impeachment hearing is likely itself an impeachable offense. George Conway, writing in The Washington Post, states:
If Richard M. Nixon was to be impeached for authorizing hush money for witnesses, and Trump himself was actually impeached for directing defiance of House subpoenas, then there should be no doubt that punishing witnesses for complying with subpoenas and giving truthful testimony about presidential misconduct should make for a high crime or misdemeanor as well.
Conway points out that Trump's alleged order to the Pentagon to "screw Amazon", whose chief executive owns the Post, is likely also an impeachable offense. As would be his threats against Google, Facebook and Twitter, and his punishment of Puerto Rico's population because its politicians were critical of him.

Trump has committed more crimes than can be counted. It's a disgrace that the Democrats paved the way for his acquittal by bringing only two counts against him, which the Republicans easily swatted away.

Leah Litman, writing for Slate:
Last Tuesday, in explaining her vote to acquit Donald Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Sen. Susan Collins suggested that the president had learned a "pretty big lesson" simply from being impeached and that he would be "much more cautious" about engaging in similar behavior again. By Friday, Trump had issued a series of firings of public officials who had testified against the president during the impeachment inquiry, demonstrating his takeaway from impeachment: He can use the powers of his office to do whatever he wants. Having gotten away with abuses of power again and again, Trump is now unleashed to continue to corruptly use the powers of his office without consequence. ...

Trump and his administration have internalized the lesson that if no one will stop you, there's no reason to stop. Less than two years ago, the Supreme Court upheld the third iteration of the president's ban on entry by nationals of several Muslim-majority countries ... [making] clear that it would not stop the president from incorporating his bigotry into official immigration policy. ... After receiving a pass on xenophobia, the president has continued to do it again and again. Last week, he expanded the entry ban to cover five additional countries (Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Eritrea, and Myanmar) with substantial Muslim populations. In one of those countries (Myanmar), a group of Muslims (the Rohingya) are fleeing religious persecution and genocide. The president had previously said, according to the New York Times, that Nigerians should "go back to their huts." ...

[I]t does not take a genius to see how that decision signals that the court is unwilling to stop the president from making policy based on bigoted, thinly veiled Islamophobia or racism. The president received the message and has run with it. ... The odds of this Supreme Court reversing course and stopping him this time is virtually nil. ...

With the Senate's blessing, the president will continue to corruptly abuse the powers of his office to undermine elections and our rule of law—and, as demonstrated by the Friday Night Massacre, he will do so in even more aggressive and ostentatious ways. With the court's blessing, the president will expand his racist, xenophobic, and anti-Muslim immigration practices with little limit to what he may try to enact. ...

It is unclear what, if anything, can stop him now.

Less than 48 hours after being acquitted, Trump went on a rambling, delusional rant lasting more than hour, calling the impeachment trial "evil", "corrupt", "phony", "rotten", the work of "dirty cops", "leakers and liars", "very evil and sick people" who were "vicious as hell". "It was all bullshit." "They made up facts." "It was a disgrace." Trump whined that he "went through hell". "Did nothing wrong. Did nothing wrong." "We were treated unbelievably unfairly."

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted "WOW, BLOOMBERG IS A TOTAL RACIST!", referring to comments by the former New York mayor in 2015 defending police policy of stop-and-frisk. Shortly after posting the tweet, Trump deleted it – possibly because he has repeatedly supported the same unconstitutional activity.

Trump called for the nationwide implementation of stop-and-frisk during his 2016 campaign. A federal judge had declared the practice unconstitutional three years earlier. (Verbatim quotes should always be used for Trump.)
I would do stop-and-frisk. I think you have to — we did it in New York. It worked incredibly well. You understand — you have to have, in my opinion. I see what's going on here — I see what's going on in Chicago, I think stop-and-frisk. In New York City, it was so incredible — the way it worked. Now, we had a very good mayor. But New York City was incredible — the way that worked. So I think that could be one step you could do.
Trump repeated his support for the illegal program in 2018, claiming that it "works and it was meant for problems like Chicago".

Meanwhile, Bloomberg's presidential campaign did not deny plagiarizing material from "research publications, media outlets, and a number of nonprofit, educational, and policy groups" for eight of its plans and fact sheets (on maternal health, LGBTQ equality, the economy, tax policy, infrastructure, and mental health). Bloomberg News' style guide states: "Plagiarism is theft. Be prepared to lose your job if you plagiarize."

Bloomberg is also misleading voters when he claims he cut stop-and-frisk by 95% as mayor. In a statement posted on his campaign website, Bloomberg states that by the time he left office, "I cut it back by 95%, but I should've done it faster and sooner. I regret that and I have apologized".

Actually, under Bloomberg's administration, the stop-and-frisk program was vastly expanded, from 97,296 stops in 2002 to 685,724 in 2011 — a more than seven-fold increase. The full extent of the program will never be known because although police officers were required to fill out a form for each stop, it's highly unlikely they did so for each and every instance. Bloomberg stopped the program only after several lawsuits were filed claiming (correctly) that the program violated the basic constitutional rights of city residents.

Slate: "Trump Advisers Hope Secret Service for New Hampshire Rally Interfered With Democratic Voters"
President Donald Trump touched down in New Hampshire Monday on the eve of the state's primary to, as he tweeted beforehand, "shake up the Dems a little bit". ...

Trump, of course, has never been one for larger principles or the greater good or fairness for that matter. Or anything that doesn't suit his immediate self-interest. So it should perhaps be unsurprising that Trump's campaign is also kinda hoping that his visit to the state will make it harder for Democrats to do their civic duty of seeing and evaluating their potential representatives before casting their votes.

Construction crews working on Trump's border wall in southern Arizona are blasting sites at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve for the last 43+ years). Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, told The Intercept that the ancestral homeland and sacred burial sites of Tohono O'odham Nation are along the path set to be blasted.

An internal National Park Service report obtained by The Washington Post showed that the construction could destroy as many as 22 archaeological sites. Grijalva said DHS has repeatedly failed to consult with tribal stakeholders in the region.
It's right in the path. The one indignation of the blasting on the hill is shortly to follow with other indignations and disrespect. DHS had mentioned to the tribes that they would back off on developing the hill, but the work is still being done. ... You would think that in a situation like this, that involves human remains, burial sites, bone fragments that are traced and dated a thousand years or more back, that there would be some sensitivity, for lack of a better word, on the part of DHS and the administration. There is none.
The Trump administration is using the Real ID Act, passed in 2005, to push ahead with construction. The Real ID Act allows the government to waive (i.e., ignore) certain laws because of national security. The Act has been invoked 21 times since 2005, with 16 of those coming in the last two and a half years, under Trump, who has by-passed dozens of laws, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Environmental Protection Act.

Efren Olivares of the Texas Civil Rights Project:
The idea that the secretary of DHS could come to your community and say no laws apply here, what kind of rule of law is that? People should be outraged to know that Homeland Security can wield that kind of power.
Laiken Jordahl of the Center for Biological Diversity:
Draining precious groundwater, bulldozing ancient saguaros and plowing over burial grounds isn't enough. Now they're literally dynamiting a mountain in protected wilderness lands. Nothing is sacred to them, no amount of destruction too grand. We're living a nightmare down here in the borderlands.

On Monday, J.W. Verret, a George Mason University law professor and former member of the Trump transition team, predicted on CNN that Trump will be impeached for a second time. Verrett was asked if Trump's acquittal "will lead the president to feel he can seek foreign help in the election".
There's no question but that he will attempt to do it. ... He will be impeached again, I don't know for what, and it will be legitimate. It could be for things personal having to do with his company.

The New York Times downplayed Trump's vendetta against Vindman and Sondland, relating what happened without any context and treating it as the normal give-and-take of politics.

Jim Fallows of The Atlantic said Trump's behaviour
should have been profoundly troubling to any journalist concerned with accountability. He punished people for refusing to lie under oath for him. He was sending a signal to everyone in the government that their jobs are at stake should they displease him.
The Times stated that Trump, "emboldened by his victory and determined to strike back ... ordered ... Sondland ... recalled from his post ... on the same day that ... Vindman ... was marched out of the White House by security guards".

Dan Froomkin of Press Watch states that while the Times is "technically accurate", "by refusing to plainly situate his actions in their context — that it was an authoritarian assault on people trying to bring facts to light, that those facts exposed Trump as abusing his power, and that anyone who isn't loyal to him is his 'enemy'", the Times lets Trump off too easily. (Googling "media normalizes trump" is instructive.)

Things were a bit different in the UK earlier this month. Journalists decided to collectively boycott a Downing Street briefing on February 3 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson's most senior communications adviser attempted to ban certain reporters from attending.

When reporters from the Mirror, the i, HuffPost, PoliticsHome, the Independent and others were told to leave, the remaining journalists, which included the BBC, ITV, Sky News, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Sun, the Financial Times, and the Guardian, decided to walk out. The Labour party accused Johnson of "resorting to tactics imported from Donald Trump to hide from scrutiny".

The very next day, the White House excluded CNN anchors from its traditional off-the-record pre-State of the Union lunch. No other media objected, as anchors from ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, Fox News, OANN, C-SPAN, CBN, Univision, Telemundo, Sinclair, and Gray TV were all seen in the West Wing. And, as Melanie McFarland of Salon reported:
Cut to Thursday of [last] week, when ABC, CBS, and NBC allowed Trump to ramble live and uninterrupted for more than an hour about his impeachment and the Senate's acquittal ...

In an AP story published that day, representatives from two network newsrooms expressed the thought that the president had a right to be heard "out of fairness" following weeks of TV impeachment hearing in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

This skates by the fact that Trump had ample opportunity [to] have his say in several House committee hearings where he declined to appear and before the Senate in a "trial" he influenced to be a sham. So, in fairness, the networks gave Trump an hour-plus victory lap ... [which] only served the ego of a man who just got away with abusing the power of his office with no consequences, and benefited a Senate that would rather be craven than uphold the sanctity of Constitution. ...

Knowing that nothing journalists are doing will change any minds frozen by whatever ignorance gorgon has them in its thrall should free reporters to stand with their censored and ostracized colleagues on principle.

This is wishful thinking, I realize. ...

But here's a clue for the likes of Chuck Todd, who reportedly broke midday bread with POTUS only to be insulted to his face. If he needs you, he'll grant you that interview regardless whether you share a bag of McDonald's with him or not.
It's unlikely Todd has any integrity left to lose, but selling his pride for that day for a warmed-over Big Mac? #Sad.

What else?

Trump Refuses To Give Federal Workers Their Required Raise

Trump Thinks Head Injuries [Traumatic Brain Injuries] Are A Sign Of Weakness

Did You Know That April Heat Kills A Pandemic?
The insane ramblings from an imbecile:
A lot of people think that [the Wuhan coronavirus] goes away in April with the heat. As the heat comes in. Typically that will go away in April. We're in great shape ...

Inae Oh, Mother Jones, February 9, 2020:
Trump Is About to Go After Safety-Net Programs, Just Like He Promised Not to Do

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the White House is expected to propose a $4.8 trillion budget that aims to slash these popular programs [Medicare and Medicaid] while increasing spending on NASA, defense, and veterans:
The White House proposes to cut spending by $4.4 trillion over a decade. Of that, it targets $2 trillion in savings from mandatory spending programs, including $130 billion from changes to Medicare prescription-drug pricing, $292 billion from safety-net cuts—such as work requirements for Medicaid and food stamps—and $70 billion from tightening eligibility access to federal disability benefits.
While this reported budget is sure to fail ... it's still striking to witness the vast gulf between Trump's stated pledges and his actual priorities.
January 22, 2020: "At some point they will be [cut]. ... At the right time, we will take a look at that." (CNBC)

February 4, 2020: "We will always protect your Medicare and your Social Security." (State of the Union)

February 10, 2020: "The White House proposes to cut ... $130 billion from changes to Medicare prescription-drug pricing, $292 billion from safety-net cuts—such as work requirements for Medicaid and food stamps—and $70 billion from tightening eligibility access to federal disability benefits." (Wall Street Journal)

A new national poll (Quinnipiac, February 5-9) shows that all of the top Democratic candidates can beat Trump:
Bloomberg beats Trump  51-42
Sanders beats Trump    51-43
Biden beats Trump      50-43
Klobuchar beats Trump  49-43
Warren beats Trump     48-44
Buttigieg beats Trump  47-43
Yes, yes, I know that national polls mean nothing and that it's all about the only states that matter in the Electoral College. Still, it's interesting to know that if the United States was a real democracy Trump would be facing a huge uphill climb with any of the Democrats is worth pondering. He is weak, he isn't strong. On the other hand, he cheats.

Friday, February 07, 2020

"An Invisible Radiation" – A Key Point of Propaganda Is To Exhaust Your Critical Thinking

The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President
How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election
McKay Coppins, The Atlantic, March 2020
After the 2016 election, much was made of the threats posed to American democracy by foreign disinformation. Stories of Russian troll farms and Macedonian fake-news mills loomed in the national imagination. But while these shadowy outside forces preoccupied politicians and journalists, Trump and his domestic allies were beginning to adopt the same tactics of information warfare that have kept the world's demagogues and strongmen in power. ...

In conversations with political strategists and other experts, a dystopian picture of the general election comes into view—one shaped by coordinated bot attacks, Potemkin local-news sites, micro-targeted fearmongering, and anonymous mass texting. ... [I]n the hands of a president who lies constantly, who traffics in conspiracy theories, and who readily manipulates the levers of government for his own gain, their potential to wreak havoc is enormous.

The Trump campaign is planning to spend more than $1 billion, and it will be aided by a vast coalition of partisan media, outside political groups, and enterprising freelance operatives. These pro-Trump forces are poised to wage what could be the most extensive disinformation campaign in U.S. history. Whether or not it succeeds in reelecting the president, the wreckage it leaves behind could be irreparable. ...

As the digital director of Trump's 2016 campaign, [Brad] Parscale didn't become a household name like Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. But he played a crucial role in delivering Trump to the Oval Office—and his efforts will shape this year's election.

In speeches and interviews, Parscale likes to tell his life story as a tidy rags-to-riches tale, embroidered with Trumpian embellishments. He grew up a simple "farm boy from Kansas" (read: son of an affluent lawyer from suburban Topeka) who managed to graduate from an "Ivy League" school (Trinity University, in San Antonio). ...

Over time, he built enough websites for plumbers and gun shops that bigger clients took notice—including the Trump Organization. In 2011, Parscale was invited to bid on designing a website for Trump International Realty. An ardent fan of The Apprentice, he offered to do the job for $10,000, a fraction of the actual cost. ... The contract was his, and a lucrative relationship was born. ...

Parscale slid comfortably into Trump's orbit. Not only was he cheap and unpretentious—with no hint of the savvier-than-thou smugness that characterized other political operatives—but he seemed to carry a chip on his shoulder that matched the candidate's. ...

Perhaps most important, he seemed to have no reservations about the kind of campaign Trump wanted to run. The race-baiting, the immigrant-bashing, the truth-bending—none of it seemed to bother Parscale. While some Republicans wrung their hands over Trump's inflammatory messages, Parscale came up with ideas to more effectively disseminate them. ...

Parscale was hailed for Trump's surprise victory. Stories appeared in the press calling him a "genius" and the campaign's "secret weapon," and in 2018 he was tapped to lead the entire reelection effort. The promotion was widely viewed as a sign that the president's 2020 strategy would hinge on the digital tactics that Parscale had mastered.

Through it all, the strategist has continued to show a preference for narrative over truth. Last May, Parscale regaled a crowd of donors and activists in Miami with the story of his ascent. When a ProPublica reporter confronted him about the many misleading details in his account, he shrugged off the fact-check. "When I give a speech, I tell it like a story," he said. "My story is my story." ...

[A Facebook campaign in the Philippines, falsely tying grisly local crime stories to drug cartels in order to boost the campaign of Rodrigo Duterte] was emblematic of an emerging propaganda playbook, one that uses new tools for the age-old ends of autocracy. The Kremlin has long been an innovator in this area. (A 2011 manual for Russian civil servants favorably compared their methods of disinformation to "an invisible radiation" that takes effect while "the population doesn't even feel it is being acted upon.") But with the technological advances of the past decade, and the global proliferation of smartphones, governments around the world have found success deploying Kremlin-honed techniques against their own people.

In the United States, we tend to view such tools of oppression as the faraway problems of more fragile democracies. But the people working to reelect Trump understand the power of these tactics. ... [T]hey're building a machine designed to exploit their own sprawling disinformation architecture.

Central to that effort is the campaign's use of micro-targeting—the process of slicing up the electorate into distinct niches and then appealing to them with precisely tailored digital messages. The advantages of this approach are obvious: An ad that calls for defunding Planned Parenthood might get a mixed response from a large national audience, but serve it directly via Facebook to 800 Roman Catholic women in Dubuque, Iowa, and its reception will be much more positive. ...

Parscale didn't invent this practice—Barack Obama's campaign famously used it in 2012, and Clinton's followed suit. But Trump's effort in 2016 was unprecedented, in both its scale and its brazenness. ...

Christopher Wylie, who was the director of research at Cambridge Analytica and later testified about the company to Congress, told me that "with the right kind of nudges," people who exhibited certain psychological characteristics could be pushed into ever more extreme beliefs and conspiratorial thinking. "Rather than using data to interfere with the process of radicalization, Steve Bannon was able to invert that," Wylie said. "We were essentially seeding an insurgency in the United States." ...

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Facebook was excoriated for its mishandling of user data and complicity in the viral spread of fake news. Mark Zuckerberg promised to do better ... But then, last fall, he handed a major victory to lying politicians: Candidates, he said, would be allowed to continue running false ads on Facebook. ...

The Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have reportedly compiled an average of 3,000 data points on every voter in America. They have spent years experimenting with ways to tweak their messages ...

Beyond Facebook, the [Trump] campaign is also investing in a texting platform that could allow it to send anonymous messages directly to millions of voters' phones without their permission. ...

One afternoon last March, I was on the phone with a Republican operative close to the Trump family when he casually mentioned that a reporter at Business Insider was about to have a very bad day. The journalist, John Haltiwanger, had tweeted something that annoyed Donald Trump Jr., prompting the coterie of friends and allies surrounding the president's son to drum up a hit piece. The story they had coming, the operative suggested to me, would demolish the reporter's credibility. ...

[A] few hours later, the operative sent me a link to a Breitbart News article documenting Haltiwanger's "history of intense Trump hatred." The story was based on a series of Instagram posts—all of them from before Haltiwanger started working at Business Insider—in which he made fun of the president and expressed solidarity with liberal protesters.

The next morning, Don Jr. tweeted the story to his 3 million followers, denouncing Haltiwanger as a "raging lib." Other conservatives piled on, and the reporter was bombarded with abusive messages and calls for him to be fired. His employer issued a statement conceding that the Instagram posts were "not appropriate." Haltiwanger kept his job, but the experience, he told me later, "was bizarre and unsettling." ...

According to people with knowledge of the effort, pro-Trump operatives have scraped social-media accounts belonging to hundreds of political journalists and compiled years' worth of posts into a dossier. ... Once a story has been marked for attack, someone searches the dossier for material on the journalists involved [a problematic old joke; evidence of liberal political views] ... Descriptions of the dossier vary. One source I spoke with said ... the dossier had expanded to at least 2,000 people, including not just journalists but high-profile academics, politicians, celebrities, and other potential Trump foes. ...

In the past year, the operatives involved have gone after journalists at CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. They exposed one reporter for using the word fag in college, and another for posting anti-Semitic and racist jokes a decade ago. These may not have been career-ending revelations, but people close to the project said they're planning to unleash much more opposition research as the campaign intensifies. "This is innovative shit," said Mike Cernovich, a right-wing activist with a history of trolling. ...

Instead of trying to reform the press, or critique its coverage, today's most influential conservatives want to destroy the mainstream media altogether. ...

It's a lesson drawn from demagogues around the world: When the press as an institution is weakened, fact-based journalism becomes just one more drop in the daily deluge of content—no more or less credible than partisan propaganda. ...

This attitude has permeated the president's base. At rallies, people wear T-shirts that read ROPE. TREE. JOURNALIST. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED. A CBS News/YouGov poll has found that just 11 percent of strong Trump supporters trust the mainstream media—while 91 percent turn to the president for "accurate information." This dynamic makes it all but impossible for the press to hold the president accountable, something Trump himself seems to understand. "Remember," he told a crowd in 2018, "what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."

Bryan Lanza, who worked for the Trump campaign in 2016 and remains a White House surrogate, told me flatly that he sees no possibility of Americans establishing a common set of facts from which to conduct the big debates of this year's election. Nor is that his goal. "It's our job to sell our narrative louder than the media," Lanza said. "They're clearly advocating for a liberal-socialist position, and we're never going to be in concert. So the war continues."

Parscale has indicated that he plans to open up a new front in this war: local news. Last year, he said the campaign intends to train "swarms of surrogates" to undermine negative coverage from local TV stations and newspapers. Polls have long found that Americans across the political spectrum trust local news more than national media. If the campaign has its way, that trust will be eroded by November. "We can actually build up and fight with the local newspapers," Parscale told donors, according to a recording provided by The Palm Beach Post. "So we're not just fighting on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC with the same 700,000 people watching every day."

Running parallel to this effort, some conservatives have been experimenting with a scheme to exploit the credibility of local journalism. Over the past few years, hundreds of websites with innocuous-sounding names like the Arizona Monitor and The Kalamazoo Times have begun popping up. At first glance, they look like regular publications, complete with community notices and coverage of schools. But look closer and you'll find that there are often no mastheads, few if any bylines, and no addresses for local offices. Many of them are organs of Republican lobbying groups; others belong to a mysterious company called Locality Labs, which is run by a conservative activist in Illinois. Readers are given no indication that these sites have political agendas—which is precisely what makes them valuable. ...

According to one study, bots accounted for roughly 20 percent of all the tweets posted about the 2016 election during one five-week period that year. And Twitter is already infested with bots that seem designed to boost Trump's reelection prospects. ...

As the president's reelection machine ramps up, Democratic strategists have found themselves debating an urgent question: Can they defeat the Trump coalition without adopting its tactics?

On one side of this argument is Dmitri Mehlhorn, a consultant notorious for his willingness to experiment with digital subterfuge. During Alabama's special election in 2017, Mehlhorn helped fund at least two "false flag" operations against the Republican Senate candidate, Roy Moore. For one scheme, faux Russian Twitter bots followed the candidate's account to make it look like the Kremlin was backing Moore. For another, a fake social-media campaign, dubbed "Dry Alabama," was designed to link Moore to fictional Baptist teetotalers trying to ban alcohol. ...

When The New York Times uncovered the second plot, one of the activists involved, Matt Osborne, contended that Democrats had no choice but to employ such unscrupulous techniques. "If you don't do it, you're fighting with one hand tied behind your back," Osborne said. "You have a moral imperative to do this—to do whatever it takes."

Others have argued that this is precisely the wrong moment for Democrats to start abandoning ideals of honesty and fairness. ... "I don't think the Democratic campaign is going to need to make stuff up about Trump," Judd Legum, the author of a progressive newsletter about digital politics, told me. "They can stick to things that are true." ...

There is perhaps no better place to witness what the culture of disinformation has already wrought in America than a Trump campaign rally. One night in November, I navigated through a parking-lot maze of folding tables covered in MAGA merch and entered the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo, Mississippi. ...

Once Trump took the stage, he let loose a familiar flurry of lies, half-lies, hyperbole, and nonsense. He spun his revisionist history of the Ukraine scandal—the one in which Joe Biden is the villain—and claimed, falsely, that the Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams wanted to "give illegal aliens the right to vote." At one point, during a riff on abortion, Trump casually asserted that "the governor of Virginia executed a baby"—prompting a woman in the crowd to scream, "Murderer!"

This incendiary fabrication didn't seem to register with my companions in the press pen, who were busy writing stories and shooting B-roll. ...

After the rally, I loitered near one of the exits, chatting with people as they filed out of the arena. Among liberals, there is a comforting caricature of Trump supporters as gullible personality cultists who have been hypnotized into believing whatever their leader says. The appeal of this theory is the implication that the spell can be broken, that truth can still triumph over lies, that someday everything could go back to normal—if only these voters were exposed to the facts. But the people I spoke with in Tupelo seemed to treat matters of fact as beside the point.

One woman told me that, given the president's accomplishments, she didn't care if he "fabricates a little bit." A man responded to my questions about Trump's dishonest attacks on the press with a shrug and a suggestion that the media "ought to try telling the truth once in a while." Tony Willnow, a 34-year-old maintenance worker who had an American flag wrapped around his head, observed that Trump had won because he said things no other politician would say. When I asked him if it mattered whether those things were true, he thought for a moment before answering. "He tells you what you want to hear," Willnow said. "And I don't know if it's true or not—but it sounds good, so fuck it."

The political theorist Hannah Arendt once wrote that the most successful totalitarian leaders of the 20th century instilled in their followers "a mixture of gullibility and cynicism." When they were lied to, they chose to believe it. When a lie was debunked, they claimed they'd known all along—and would then "admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness." Over time, Arendt wrote, the onslaught of propaganda conditioned people to "believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true."

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Sometimes, I Miss New York City

Longtime New Yorkers are well aware what a complete shithead he is (and has always been).

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Surprise! There Is A Less-Convincing Liar Than Donald Trump

For someone who lies constantly — roughly 16,000 documented, public lies since being inaugurated — Donald Trump is surprisingly bad at it.

Trump will lie about anything, even if there is no reason to lie. And so many of his lies are blatant, preposterous, and obviously pure nonsense.
"I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president."

"I have proven to be far more correct about terrorism than anybody — and it's not even close."

"I know more about ISIS than the generals do."

"Many people have commented that my fragrance, 'Success' is the best scent & lasts the longest."

"I know more about courts than any human being on Earth."

"I know more about renewables [renewable energy] than any human being on Earth."

"Nobody knows more about campaign finance than I do."

"Nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world."

"Nobody knows more about technology than me."

"Many people have said I'm the world's greatest writer of 140 character sentences."
It turns out there actually is someone who is a less-convincing liar than Donald Trump. ... His son, Eric Trump. ... A tweet from last month:

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Trump: "With Me, There's No Lying." He Also Spoke Of Thomas Edison In The Present Tense (Edison Died 88 Years Ago).

President Donald Trump, at a press conference in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, January 22, 2020:
With me, there's no lying.
Right. ... Well, I have to go now, Donald, because I'm due back on the planet earth. The reality-based community knows Trump is rapidly closing in on at least 17,000 publicly-uttered lies in the last three years.

[N]early 70 times he has claimed that a whistleblower complaint about the call was inaccurate. The report accurately captured the content of Trump's call and many other details have been confirmed. Nearly 100 times, Trump has claimed his phone call with the Ukrainian president was "perfect," even though it so alarmed other White House officials that several immediately raised private objections. ...

As Trump approaches a tough reelection campaign, his most repeated claim — 257 times — is that the U.S. economy today is the best in history.
I wish there were stats for the last nine presidents (back to Nixon), because we could use some context. But you'd probably have to confine the examined statements to speeches and press conferences, to create a level playing field.)

Also: In an interview on Wednesday with CNBC's Joe Kernen while in Davos, Switzerland, Trump appeared to believe (a) Thomas Edison is still alive (he died in 1931) and (b) the wheel was invented by Americans (which is almost understandable, since Trump thinks the US has been around for thousands of years (sharing with Italy a "cultural and political heritage dating back to Ancient Rome"), but the wheel was actually invented by the Mesopotamians about 5,500 years ago).
Kernen: Tesla's now worth more than GM and Ford. Do you have comments on Elon Musk?

Trump: Well -- you have to give him credit. I spoke to him very recently, and he's also doing the rockets. He likes rockets. And -- he does good at rockets too, by the way. I never saw where the engines come down with no wings, no anything, and they're landing. I said I've never seen that before. And I was worried about him, because he's one of our great geniuses, and we have to protect our genius. You know, we have to protect Thomas Edison and we have to protect all of these people that -- came up with originally the light bulb and -- the wheel and all of these things. And he's one of our very smart people and we want to-- we want to cherish those people.
Chris Cillizza, CNN:
For the entirety of Donald Trump's presidency, I have gone through the transcript of a good number of the speeches and interviews he has given. In doing that, one thing has become crystal clear to me: He is one of the least articulate -- if not the least articulate -- politicians ever to make it onto the national stage. ... [H]e lacks the ability to speak extemporaneously in anything close to an effective manner. ...
Trump's comments "sparked concerns about [Trump's] mental health among attorneys, former government officials and a Yale University psychiatrist," according to Salon's Igor Derysh.

Maya Wiley, a former attorney for the ACLU and NAACP, told MSNBC's Brian Williams that she found Trump's statements
both sad and disturbing. I do have to wonder what that means for him cognitively and whether or not something is going on. ... To speak about Thomas Edison as if he is still alive is simply something that is scary. ... We should be very concerned about his health.
Williams replied: "You're not the first person to say that." ... Edison died in 1931, by the way.

Yale psychiatry professor Bandy X. Lee says Trump's comments show a "marked worsening" of his mental state.
He is less able to stay with a topic, to find complex words, to form complete sentences. And the content of his words is becoming more impoverished, if not nonsensical. Connecting the present to a distant past or to history is common in progressive dementia, and while dementia is still not a diagnosis we can make without detailed medical records, these are serious signs of deterioration we should not ignore. ... His impairment should be very clear to everyone ... [I]t is inhumane, either for him or for ourselves, to continue to prop up this man as being normal.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Passing Warm Gas In A Leftish Direction

Despite occasional warm gas passed in a leftish direction, establishment Democrats never had any intention of allowing a left political program to move forward.
That is the perfect description of the lip service Democrats pay to progressive ideas.

Bonus snip:
[T]he Obama administration chose to overthrow the democratically elected President of Ukraine to install a puppet government hostile to Russia ... Hillary Clinton was Barack Obama's Secretary of State when the Ukrainian adventure was being conceived. ... The Obama administration saw Ukraine as a steppingstone to ... control the distribution of Russian oil and gas to benefit American "interests." ...

Nancy Pelosi apparently believes that she can ... simultaneously 1) end the momentum of left political ascendance, 2) bring the Democrats' donor base back into the fold, 3) raise Joe Biden to the top of the 2020 heap, and 4) end talk of a Green New Deal, Medicare for All and a Job Guarantee. Early reports suggest the bourgeois left is on board with her program. ...

Trump could have spent five minutes on the internet and found so much dirt on Joe Biden — such as his actual record of public "service," that he could easily win the 2020 election ...
Researchers have used machine-learning (a reading robot!) to read 3.5 million books published between 1900 and 2008, and tally all the adjectives used to describe men and women. ... When positively described, women are almost always considered at the physical level, whereas men are generally described according to their inherent virtue.
Computer scientist and assistant professor Isabelle Augenstein of the University of Copenhagen's computer science department:
We are clearly able to see that the words used for women refer much more to their appearances than the words used to describe men. Thus, we have been able to confirm a widespread perception, only now at a statistical level.
Apparently, Fox is not supportive enough:
The president told reporters Thursday that his team is kicking around the idea of launching a news outlet that will report on him the way he wants to be reported on. ... "CNN is a voice that seems to be the voice out there. It's a terrible thing for our country. We ought to start our own network and put some real news out there, because they are so bad for our country."
Interesting Numbers From 2016
California, Oregon, Washington:    Clinton beat Trump by 5,010,652 votes
The Other 47 States:               Trump beat Clinton by 2,141,961 votes
The New York Times shows absolutely no sign of slowing down in its rapid devolution towards becoming The-New-York-Post-For-People-Who-Can-Read. The paper repeatedly and intentionally ignores the most basic rules of journalism to present one-sided coverage (which is also Fox's modus operandi).

The Times again, as noted by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR):
What the New York Times did was essentially put the Edenwald Houses through a media perp walk, by insinuating to its readers that not only was Edenwald infested by gang violence, but that it had something to do with Officer Mulkeen's death. The Times sprinkled the word "gang" eight times into its story, dedicating multiple paragraphs to strike home the gang theme–though it wasn't even clear that Williams was a gang member.
New York Times, October 1, 2019:
Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That's not allowed either, they told him. "The president was frustrated", said Thomas D. Homan, who had served as Mr. Trump's acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, recalling that week in March 2019.
Nice to see one of the best news commentary websites I used to follow from more than 15 years ago is still going strong: "Rightwing Blackout On The Alligator Moat Story". Americans are actually already supporting this type of law enforcement. (Nearly 10,000 people have been shot in less than 2 years.)

The Atlantic, September 2019:
The detention camps weren't enough.

The policy of deliberate child torture was insufficient.

The neglect of Americans displaced by natural disasters didn't pass muster.

The hush money shelled out to the president's former mistresses in violation of federal law was too small a crime.

The president using his office to enrich himself wasn't sufficient.

Deflecting blame from a foreign government's effort to elect the president while seeking financial gain from that government, and then attempting to obstruct the investigation, was deemed too complicated to pursue. ...

Millions of Americans wake up every day worried that Donald Trump's actions will hurt someone they love, but until he used his authority to go after someone beloved by the Democratic establishment, party leaders didn't quite grasp the urgency.
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), October 1, 2019:
Newsweek (9/18/19) reports NATO is losing "superiority" over Russia, without mentioning that the alliance's combined military budget is 17 times that of Russia.

If it weren't for the serious possibility that this unproductive brinkmanship could lead to nuclear war, accidental or otherwise (Guardian, 10/15/12; CounterPunch, 1/9/18), it would be funny how easily Newsweek's report is undermined by earlier reporting from Newsweek. ...

It's clear that Noam Chomsky's explanation of US media presuming ownership of the world is still relevant, given how Newsweek has internalized and amplified the perspective of American empire when it laments over the possible end of "unquestioned US global dominance." Newsweek characterizes as threatening—and in need of containment—something as banal as nation-states' willingness to use military force to defend their strategic interests and spheres of influence, because it assumes only the US is entitled to those things ...

Despite Newsweek's claims of there being "great power competition," there really is no competition. An earlier Newsweek report (6/3/18) found that Russia operates "at least 21 significant military facilities overseas," compared to the US having between "600 and 900 military 'sites' on foreign soil," likely more foreign military bases than any nation in history.

When you have to convince Ronald Reagan to be more racist, well, you must be a real piece of work.
Biden is correct that the surge began in the 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s, but a closer look at his role reveals that it was Biden who was among the principal and earliest movers of the policy agenda that would become the war on drugs and mass incarceration, and he did so in the face of initial reluctance from none other than President Ronald Reagan.
Jeffrey St. Clair, Roaming Charges:
Bernie could have spent the last four years building an independent party or taking over the wreckage of the Greens. Instead, he spent it recruiting young progressives into the same party that had just drawn-and-quartered him. ... The only real surprise is that Bernie dragged his troops through the charade one more time expecting a different result.
(Post compiled in October 2019.)