Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Deal Or No Deal

Remember when Trump went to Saudi Arabia and then bragged about sewing up a “$110 billion arms deal”?

Yeah, right.

Via Lawfare (HT digby):

I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them “intended sales.” None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.

This is no different than the salesman strolling into a business, schmoozing with the receptionist, helping himself to a Snickers Fun-Size out of the candy dish, dropping a bunch of sales brochures on the desk, and then going back to the office to tell his boss it’s a done deal; we’ll wrap it up real soon.

It’s all bullshit.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Steaming Pile

From the White House policy chief Stephen Miller on TV yesterday, via TPM:

The United States of America has a terrorism problem. We’ve had hundreds cases of foreign national[s] entering our country from other countries and plotting, attempting, or even carrying out terrorist attacks. We’ve spent countless dollars a year, and we have thousands of federal officers and investigators who do nothing but run around the country trying to stop terrorist attacks for no other reason because we make the mistake of letting people in who harbor hatred for this country.

Now they’re just making it up as they go along.

By the way, if you want to know more about who Stephen Miller is and his background working for Jeff Sessions and various white supremacist groups, read the profile on him from Mother Jones from December.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

“Voter Fraud” Is A Fraud Itself

From the New York Times:

President Trump intends to move forward with a major investigation of voter fraud that he says cost him the popular vote, White House officials said Wednesday, despite bipartisan condemnation of his allegations and the conclusion of Mr. Trump’s own lawyers that the election was “not tainted.”

In his first days in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump has renewed his complaint that millions of people voted illegally, depriving him of a popular-vote majority. In two Twitter posts early Wednesday morning, the president vowed to open an inquiry to reveal people who are registered to vote in multiple states or who remain on voting rolls long after they have died.

“We have to understand where the problem exists, how deep it goes, and then suggest some remedies to it,” said Sean Spicer, the president’s press secretary. He said the White House would reveal more details this week.

There’s a difference between fraudulent voter registration and actual voter fraud. The registered election rolls can have lots of mistakes such as dead people still listed, people who moved away, or people who jokingly registered their cat. It requires a lot of work to keep those rolls up-to-date. (Would that they were as good as the development offices at certain schools, colleges, and universities about tracking down alumni who move without telling them…) But when it comes to actually voting, as in showing up at the polls to cast a ballot, that’s what matters. I have voted in every major election since 1972 and I have yet to vote where I wasn’t asked to confirm my name, my address and my signature. So Trump is exploiting the ignorance of the people who think registration is the same as voting.

Not only that, but if “millions of illegals” voted, it would have required a massive secret effort on the part of the fraudsters to pull it off involving thousands of poll workers in every state and in every precinct.  They would have to have been either sworn to secrecy under dire threats or bought off on such a massive scale as to boggle the mind.

Finally, you’d think that if there was this vast conspiracy to get millions of “illegals” to vote, they’d at least have done it in states where it would have changed the Electoral College vote. So the conspirators were crafty enough to pull this off without anyone noticing it on Election Day, but too stupid to figure out where to do it? Erm…

In short, claims of voter fraud on a massive scale are bullshit.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Fine Print

So Trump was able to get Carrier to hold on to some jobs in Indiana.  That’s truly great for those people who might have been unemployed.  But with anything from a great deal on a car loan to “join free for a month!”, there are always some hidden traps that take the joy out of it and make you wonder if it was worth it.

Steve Benen has the details:

1. Carrier jobs are still moving to Mexico. While the company will receive $7 million in taxpayer money to keep roughly 800 jobs in Indiana, the Wall Street Journalreports that Carrier “still plans to move 600 jobs from the Carrier plant to Mexico,” plus moving another 700 other jobs that will be lost when it closes a separate plant in Huntington, Ind. In other words, under Trump’s alleged triumph, the one that will teach a valuable lesson to American companies, Carrier is shipping 1,300 jobs from Indiana to Mexico, even as receives millions of dollars from the state.

2. This is the exact opposite of what Trump said he’d do. As a presidential candidate, Trump mocked government efforts to keep employers stateside with grants, tax incentives, and low-interest loans. Candidate Trump said that approach “doesn’t work,” which is why he’d use a stick rather than a carrot: “What you do is you tell them, ‘You move to Mexico, you`re going to pay a 35 percent tax bringing these products that you make in Mexico back into the country.’”

Except, with Carrier, Trump’s doing exactly what he promised not to do, ignoring the solution he assured voters would work “easily.”

3. Moral hazard exists. As we discussed yesterday, paying off companies that threaten to ship jobs out of the country is not the basis for a sustainable, national manufacturing strategy. On the contrary, it creates a problematic set of incentives: if companies are led to believe the government will give them money to stay in the United States, every employer, whether they have outsourcing plans or not, will have a strong incentive to routinely call up the Trump White House and say, “Give us a sweet, taxpayer-financed deal or we’re out of here.”

4. Beware of unknown incentives. We know about the $7 million. We don’t know for certain whether there are any as-yet-unreported parts of the deal. The Wall Street Journalpiece added the federal government is an important customer for Carrier’s corporate parent, United Technologies: “The U.S. military accounts for about 10% of United Technologies’ $56 billion in annual sales, for products like the engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.”

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, said he would be asking more about the Carrier deal and said he would inquire whether there were promises about defense contracts.

“I want to know whether the president-elect promised special federal tax breaks for a single company,” Mr. Wyden said Thursday. “I want to do everything I can to keep jobs in the United States, but there are some questions here.”

5. Conservatives should be howling: I’m so old, I remember when conservatives were disgusted with the idea of politicians using government money to pick “winners and losers.” Apparently, the right didn’t mean it.

The people who really got the fuzzy end of this lollipop are, in the long run, the American taxpayers and especially those in Indiana who are basically making up the difference to Carrier/United Technologies for what they would have saved if they had moved to Mexico.  Seven million dollars in “tax incentives” means either the taxpayers will pony up the difference somehow to balance the loss, or they will just go without whatever the $7 million was going to pay for in the first place, be it an infrastructure project or school funding or perhaps even a “tax incentive” to the taxpayers themselves.  But math is math; you cut something from one line, you’ve got to add it back somewhere else.

But apparently the good people of Indiana and Carrier were so taken with the idea that hey, Trump is coming to our town and saving us they really don’t notice — or care — that they’re the ones who will end up losing.  Will Trump come back and save them?  I wouldn’t count on it.

This Is What We’re In For

James Fallows at The Atlantic came back from China the other day and then ventured into Wonderland.

This morning, straight off the plane from Shanghai, I was on The Diane Rehm Show with Margaret Sullivan, much-missed former Public Editor of the NYT who is now with the WaPo, and Glenn Thrush of Politico. We were talking about how to deal with the unprecedented phenomenon that is Donald Trump, related to the “Trump’s Lies” item I did two days ago.

You can listen to the whole segment here, but I direct your attention to the part starting at time 14:40. That is when Scottie Nell Hughes, Trump stalwart, joins the show to assert that “this is all a matter of opinion” and “there are no such things as facts.”

You can listen again starting at around time 18:30, when I point out one of the specific, small lies of the Trump campaign—that the NFL had joined him in complaining about debate dates, which the NFL immediately denied—and Hughes says: Well, this is also just a matter of opinion. Hughes mentions at time 21:45 that she is a “classically studied journalist,” an assertion that left Glenn Thrush, Margaret Sullivan, Diane Rehm, and me staring at one another in puzzlement, this not being a normal claim in our field.

It’s worth listening in full. This is the world we are now dealing with.

“There are no such things as facts.”

Somewhere amidst the flames of eternal damnation and Fox News, Josef Goebbels is nodding in agreement and saying “See, the good ones never die.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Same Story, Different Decade

Paul Krugman on what the press and its enablers are doing to Hillary Clinton.

Americans of a certain age who follow politics and policy closely still have vivid memories of the 2000 election — bad memories, and not just because the man who lost the popular vote somehow ended up in office. For the campaign leading up to that end game was nightmarish too.

You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged what would happen during his administration — an administration that, let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.

Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression that Mr. Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al Gore — whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the Bush plan were completely accurate — as slippery and dishonest. Mr. Gore’s mendacity was supposedly demonstrated by trivial anecdotes, none significant, some of them simply false. No, he never claimed to have invented the internet. But the image stuck.

And right now I and many others have the sick, sinking feeling that it’s happening again.

I would like to give the press the benefit of the doubt and assume that they — the New York Times, the Associated Press, the cable outlets — don’t have it in for Hillary Clinton; at least consciously.  I am sure that they will all swear on a stack of Edward R. Murrow biographies that they are doing their level best to be objective; or at least what they consider to be objective, which is to say that “both sides do it” and that if Donald Trump is a grifter and a con artist, Hillary Clinton can’t be trusted with a BlackBerry and that’s the same thing.

That’s not malicious journalism, it’s just lazy.  There’s plenty of evidence of Mr. Trump’s mendacity and bullshit — he’s built his empire on it — and yet they’re covering him like he’s a Kardashian, not someone to sit in the same office as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt.  Meanwhile, everything Hillary Clinton does is suspect, and there’s a full-blown right-wing industry that readily supplies the rumors, the innuendos, and the fiction to knock her down.

But lazy journalism is worse than the deliberate lies of the Hate-Hillary industry.  They have an agenda, but the press has a duty to report the facts and the truth.  As Dr. Krugman concludes,

…the best ways to judge a candidate’s character are to look at what he or she has actually done, and what policies he or she is proposing. Mr. Trump’s record of bilking students, stiffing contractors and more is a good indicator of how he’d act as president; Mrs. Clinton’s speaking style and body language aren’t. George W. Bush’s policy lies gave me a much better handle on who he was than all the up-close-and-personal reporting of 2000, and the contrast between Mr. Trump’s policy incoherence and Mrs. Clinton’s carefulness speaks volumes today.

In other words, focus on the facts. America and the world can’t afford another election tipped by innuendo.

The only problem with that is that it’s a lot easier to run with the innuendo and make it to Happy Hour than it is to actually do some real reporting.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Nothingburger

What Josh Marshall said about the damn e-mails.

A brief note on the State Department IG Report on the Clinton email issue. The ledes of a lot of stories present this as a rough hit for Clinton, bad news blah blah blah. Let’s focus on the essential point: Despite the fact that there are some real questions about the impartiality of the IG, the report says the issues with the management of the Secretary of State’s emails are of longstanding and go back with the last five Secretaries of State. The report also singles out Colin Powell, who had a similar set up. The criticism is there. It definitely wasn’t a good arrangement. But to see this as a damaging report after the hyperbolic and frequently insane coverage of this issue is crazy. This was never more than some poor judgment overlayed by a big bureaucratic pissing match all slathered over by a thick layer of partisan game playing and media derp.

Like most Clinton scandals, if there there hadn’t been months, maybe more than a year of weird conspiracy theories, expected perp walks and general nonsense, one might read this and say, wow, that’s disappointing. But after all that, it’s just a big nothingburger. Like it almost always is.

Well, at least we know what Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Joe Scarborough, Sean Hannity, and Donald Trump will be shrieking about for the next couple of days until some other shiny object comes along.

Friday, April 29, 2016

There Are Limits

I can find something to laugh at in almost anything, but there are limits, and mocking someone with dementia is going over the line.

Having already famously portrayed former President George W. Bush in various comedy sketches, Will Ferrell is now setting his sights on another former commander-in-chief.

Sources tell Variety Ferrell is attached to star as President Reagan in the Black List script “Reagan.”

Penned by Mike Rosolio, the story begins at the start of the then-president’s second term when he falls into dementia and an ambitious intern is tasked with convincing the commander-in-chief that he is an actor playing the president in a movie.

I don’t know how anyone finds that funny.  Sure, we made jokes about Reagan and his age and his B-list movie career, but when it became known that he had Alzheimer’s disease, that should have put it out of bounds.  Dementia is hell, especially for the people who have to take care of the patient, and exploiting it for laughs and money is just plain cruel.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Unequal Treatment

Predictions of violence at political rallies have been a part of the scene for a while now, and on Saturday the New York Times went in to painful detail to point it out.

In foreboding conversations across the political world this past year, a bipartisan chorus warned that the 2016 presidential campaign was teetering on the edge of violence.

The anger from both sides was so raw, they concluded — from supporters of Donald J. Trump who are terrified they are losing their country and from protesters who fear he is leading the nation down a dark road of hate — that a dreaded moment was starting to look inevitable. “I don’t see where that anger goes,” the historian Heather Cox Richardson predicted a few weeks ago, “except into violence.”

This weekend it finally arrived.

Ah, yes, it only took them to the second paragraph to get to the great equivocator — both sides do it — before launching into a description of Friday night’s melee that canceled Mr. Trump’s rally in Chicago.

Despite the fact that what remains of the GOP field is laying this squarely at the feet of Mr. Trump — of course they have their motives for blaming him — it is the mantra of the media to play the objectivity card by saying that both the Democrats and the Republicans are angry and therefore the inevitable fisticuffs or worse will break out.

Now both Republican and Democratic leaders are predicting a long, grim and pugnacious phase of the presidential race.

“I’ve gotta believe it’s only gonna get worse,” said William M. Daley, the son of Chicago’s famed mayor, Richard Daley, who presided over the violent 1968 Democratic convention. “Both sides are fueling this,” he added.

The problem with that is that so far no one has reported any scuffles at a Bernie Sanders rally.  Hillary Clinton hasn’t ordered her security detail to “get ’em out” when a person heckled her.  And if anyone seriously thinks that somewhere in some boiler room in Brooklyn or Burlington there’s a plan to send out infiltrators to disrupt Trump’s rallies, I have a few conspiracy theories I’d like to sell them at bargain prices.

It’s always a safe retreat to blame both sides so that that reporters make it sound so objective and boil it down to a false equivalency.  It makes it easier for the bullies to say “It all started when he hit me back.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Triumph of Bullshit

I haven’t heard anyone explain this small but crucial point about Donald Trump’s story about seeing people celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001:

At the time of the attack, did we know that it was planned and carried out by Osama bin Laden and his allies?  I don’t remember the blame being laid at his feet on that day, nor do I remember them taking credit for it at the time.  So how could Muslims in New Jersey or anyone “celebrate” the attacks that day if they didn’t know who caused it?

Mr. Trump said:

There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down… I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down. And that tells you something. It was well-covered at the time.

The first World Trade Center collapsed at 9:59 a.m., less than an hour after the plane hit; the second tower fell a half hour later.  It wasn’t until the second tower was hit that we knew it was more than just an accident.  So how did the “large Arab population” know who did it and how did they coordinate their celebration to take place “as the World Trade Center came down”?  Maybe we should ask Mr. Trump about that.

But there really isn’t any point in doing that.  Calling him out for his lies is a waste of time because he knows exactly what he’s doing.

Jeet Heer in The New Republic:

… the increasingly frequent tendency of Trump’s critics to label him a liar is wrongheaded. Trump is something worse than a liar. He is a bullshit artist. In his 2005 book On Bullshit, Harry G. Frankfurt, emeritus philosophy professor at Princeton University, makes an important distinction between lying and bullshitting—one that is extremely useful for understanding the pernicious impact that Trump has on public life. Frankfurt’s key observation is that the liar, even as he or she might spread untruth, inhabits a universe where the distinction between truth and falsehood still matters. The bullshitter, by contrast, does not care what is true or not. By his or her bluffing, dissimilation, and general dishonesty, the bullshit artist works to erase the very possibility of knowing the truth. For this reason, bullshit is more dangerous than lies, since it erodes even the possibility of truth existing and being found.

So there really isn’t any point in asking Mr. Trump to explain his glaring inconsistencies in his tales of terror or demand that he produce the non-existent footage of the celebrations he claims he saw.  He doesn’t care that what he says isn’t true, and as long as he can convince other people that not only did he see it happen, so did they, he will continue.

The triumph of bullshit has consequences far beyond the political realm, making society as a whole more credulous and willing to accept all sorts of irrational beliefs. A newly published article in the academic journal Judgment and Decision Making links “bullshit receptivity” to other forms of impaired thinking: “Those more receptive to bullshit are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.”

It’s no accident that Trump himself is receptive to bullshit ideas promulgated by the likes of anti-vaxxers. A President Trump, based on his own bullshit receptivity and his own bullshit contagiousness, would lead a country that is far more conspiratorial, far more confused, and far less able to grapple with problems in a rational way. Trump’s America would truly be a nation swimming in bullshit.

Pull up your pants; it’s too late to save your shoes.