Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sunday Reading

Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald:

If you’re going to lie, make it a good one.

Meaning, put some effort into it. Make it convincing. Make sure the truth is not easily discoverable. Don’t just draw on a weather map with a Sharpie.

That’s apparently what Donald Trump or someone in his employ did last week to prove he was right all along in claiming the state of Alabama lay in the path of Hurricane Dorian. He made this claim via Twitter Sunday morning and it was so alarmingly wrong that the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service quickly tweeted an emphatic correction: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

A smart person would have let it go at that. A smart person would have said, “Oops, my bad” and moved on. Trump, not to put too fine a point on it, is not a smart person. Worse, he is saddled with a congenital inability to admit when he is wrong.

So what followed Wednesday in the Oval Office was both predictable and pathetic. Trump trotted out a forecast map on which someone had used a black marker to extend the storm’s possible track across the southeastern tip of Alabama. Reporters asked if someone had drawn on the map. “I don’t know,” said Trump.

Later, he tried to further justify himself by trotting out raw computer model data indicating a low likelihood of Dorian striking Alabama. “I accept the Fake News apologies!” he crowed. But the data were from August 28 – four days before Trump’s lie. By then, everyone in the country knew Alabama was in no danger – everyone but him.

Yes, you’re right. The fact that Trump lies is hardly breaking news. The Washington Post says he’s made over 12,000 “false or misleading claims” since taking office. He’s lied on nations, public officials and presidents. Why not lie on a hurricane?

But it’s not the fact of the lie that occasions these words. It is, rather, the laziness of it.

As noted once before in this space, the quality of a lie is in direct proportion to the respect the liar has for the person being lied to. You would not tell your boss that the reason you’re taking a day off is that you’re needed to do repairs on the International Space Station. No, you put work into a lie, you make it credible, when you respect the person you’re lying to, when his or her good opinion matters.

Otherwise, you draw on a map with a Sharpie and call it a weather forecast.

Point being, we’ve grown so used to the fact that this guy lies that we forget to marvel at how truly bad at it he is. Meantime, the coterie of suck-ups and sycophants he calls an administration insists with a straight face that he’s telling the absolute truth and we’re somehow missing it. We are living the fable of the emperor’s new clothes, only it’s not a fable and the emperor has nuclear weapons.

It gets worse. Roughly coincident with Trump’s whopper, there appeared on Medium an article by psychiatrists David M. Reiss and Seth D. Norrholm, renewing concern about the state of his mental health. “We definitely believe that based upon his observed behaviors, it is clinically indicated that Trump undergo a full and comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation,” they wrote.

So maybe he’s not just lazy. Maybe he’s also mentally impaired.

It’s an alternative that offers a sobering sign of the depths to which we’ve been brought by the bigotry of Republican voters who put him in office and the spinelessness of Republican (and Democratic) lawmakers who keep him there: We face two options, one of which is that the president of the United States simply does not respect the presidency or the people.

And incredibly, that’s the best case scenario.

“I’m Outta Here” — Frank Bruni in the New York Times on Republicans quitting the House.

There was no home for Representative Will Hurd in Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

For a while he tried to make one. For a while he succeeded, if success means preserving some of your dignity while steering clear of Trump’s wrath and surviving politically. Although Hurd’s Texas congressional district voted narrowly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, he held on to his seat that year and again in 2018, but by slim margins. It was anyone’s guess how he’d fare in 2020, and now no one will know. Hurd, 42, isn’t seeking re-election — he and a big, expanding bunch of his Republican colleagues in the House.

We talk and write all the time about the Never Trumpers: those previously stalwart Republicans who cringed at Trump’s entry into the presidential race; grew increasingly apoplectic as he raged on; began to live, courtesy of him, in an unwavering state of unalloyed outrage; and scaled new media and sometimes financial heights as party turncoats, their antipathy toward the president more titillating and telegenic by dint of their loyalty to Republicans before him.

But they’re not the best gauges of his and the party’s political fortunes. Their estrangement and emotional pitch have been changeless.

The more interesting and maybe predictive group are the Republicans who, to varying degrees, tried to make do with Trump, found ways to rationalize him and still won’t acknowledge how offensive he is but have fled or are fleeing government nonetheless. He made their participation in political life joyless. He so thoroughly befouled their party’s image that they reek by association. And, thanks largely if not entirely to him, many of them faced or face punishment at the polls.

What to call this crowd? Maybe the Toppled Trumpers. Maybe the Shotgun Trumpers.

Maybe bellwethers.

In the cause of figuring out whether, in November 2020, Trump will be rewarded with a second term, many numbers and dynamics get tossed around: the unemployment figures, the Dow Jones, the trade war, the advantages of incumbency, the peculiarities of the Electoral College and Trump’s approval ratings, consistently low but not entirely static.

Democratic stumbles are raptly chronicled, and there’s much concern — I share it — that the candidates vying for the party’s presidential nomination are at this point tugging it farther to the left than is prudent for the general election. The decriminalization of unauthorized border crossings? Free health care for undocumented immigrants? An end to private health insurance? This is uncertain terrain, and I for one worry that Democrats could be sabotaging themselves and increasing the chances that Trump again prevails.

But at least one constituency is unconvinced of that: Republicans in Congress, especially in the House. They’re making their predictions with their feet, and they’re heading for the exit.

To recap: Before the 2018 midterms, 46 Republicans but only 20 Democrats decided not to seek re-election to their offices in Congress, and among those, 32 Republicans and 11 Democrats weren’t doing that in order to run for some higher, different post. They were just bolting. The discrepancy between the Republican and Democratic numbers amounted to a weather forecast — and an accurate one at that. Although Democrats didn’t improve their standing in the Senate, they picked up a whopping 40 seats in the House.

Heading into the 2020 election, 19 Republicans in Congress have already announced that they won’t seek another term in their current office, a number higher than at the same point two years ago. Of the 19, 17 aren’t retiring from Congress to pursue some kind of political promotion. Meanwhile, only four Democrats in all are retiring from Congress. To analyze these numbers in the context of what happened in the midterms is to conclude that Republicans are limping toward a disastrous Election Day.

Maybe Trump’s fortunes are untethered from his party’s. Maybe, as has happened so often over the course of his charmed life, he will soar while all around him plummet, and they instead of he will suffer for his sins. His campaign associates go to jail; he goes to the Group of 7. The most principled Republicans are driven from the fold; he reigns without principle over a party that has largely bent to his wishes rather than stand up for what it purported to believe.

“Most often I’m asked why so many Republicans aren’t running for re-election,” Dave Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told me. “But I ask why so many are. This isn’t the cruise they signed up for.” He noted that up until a few months before Trump effectively secured the Republican nomination in 2016, not a single Republican in Congress had endorsed him. The first two House members who took that icy plunge — Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California — are now under criminal indictment (though not for anything having to do with Trump).

Both before the midterms and now, Republicans are leaving Congress for all sorts of reasons. But they outnumber Democrats on the way out because, generally speaking, they assume that Republicans will remain in the House minority and they’re exhausted by the tandem experiences of powerlessness and answering for Trump’s chaos and cruelties.

The departures this time around speak volumes about looming threats to the Republican Party. Five of the House Republicans who aren’t running again, including Hurd, are from Texas, a red state whose demographic composition fills Democrats with more and more hope. Two of only 13 Republican women in the House are stepping down. Hurd is the only black Republican in the House — a detail that he underlined in a sort of farewell note that he wrote and posted on his website.

That note, read carefully, is a warning to fellow Republicans and a kind of subtweet of Trump’s spectacularly divisive governing style. “I will stay involved in politics to grow a Republican Party that looks like America,” Hurd wrote, adding that he loves America because “we are neither Republican nor Democrat nor independent. We are better than the sum of our parts.”

Hurd announced his decision not to run again shortly after Trump attacked “the squad” of four congresswomen of color by tweeting that they should “go back” to where they came from. He was one of only four House Republicans who voted to condemn those remarks, which he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour were “racist and xenophobic.”

But he’s in a much larger crowd of House Republicans who, for all their usual silence, privately bristle or gasp at Trump’s behavior. After Trump’s “go back” ugliness, Representative Paul Mitchell of Michigan publicly tweeted to the president that it was “beneath leaders” and that “we must be better than comments like these.” He had previously taken Trump to task for comments after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., that some white supremacists were very fine people.

Mitchell has at this point apparently had enough. He announced in late July that he’d leave the House at the end of this term, which is only his second. He cited the “rhetoric and vitriol” that dominate our politics now. Make no mistake: Those are synonyms for President Trump.

Doonesbury — Woo woo?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Bad For Business

The New York Times dug into the clues available on Trump’s business dealings in the 1980’s and 90’s and found out to no one’s surprise whatsoever that he is really lousy at it.

By the time his master-of-the-universe memoir “Trump: The Art of the Deal” hit bookstores in 1987, Donald J. Trump was already in deep financial distress, losing tens of millions of dollars on troubled business deals, according to previously unrevealed figures from his federal income tax returns.

Mr. Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition.

The data — printouts from Mr. Trump’s official Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts, with the figures from his federal tax form, the 1040, for the years 1985 to 1994 — represents the fullest and most detailed look to date at the president’s taxes, information he has kept from public view. Though the information does not cover the tax years at the center of an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Congress, it traces the most tumultuous chapter in a long business career — an era of fevered acquisition and spectacular collapse.

The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.

In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.

Over all, Mr. Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years. It is not known whether the I.R.S. later required changes after audits.

Since the 2016 presidential campaign, journalists at The Times and elsewhere have been trying to piece together Mr. Trump’s complex and concealed finances. While The Times did not obtain the president’s actual tax returns, it received the information contained in the returns from someone who had legal access to it. The Times was then able to find matching results in the I.R.S. information on top earners — a publicly available database that each year comprises a one-third sampling of those taxpayers, with identifying details removed. It also confirmed significant findings using other public documents, along with confidential Trump family tax and financial records from the newspaper’s 2018 investigation into the origin of the president’s wealth.

The bottom line is that he’s a fraud and always has been; no different than that guy on late-night TV who sells you all-natural boner pills and prostate cures or foam-filled pillows for $100 a pop.  He made his millions and lost them twice over because he sucks at actually working but makes up for it with bluster and bullshit.  That’s the one thing he is good at.  Thirty years ago it only mattered to the bankers or the poor schmucks who bet on him — and the tenants in his properties — but now he’s in the White House and running the same con.

Ain’t that America.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

It Never Stops

This is just amazing.

It took President Trump 601 days to top 5,000 false and misleading claims in The Fact Checker’s database, an average of eight claims a day.

But on April 26, just 226 days later, the president crossed the 10,000 mark — an average of nearly 23 claims a day in this seven-month period, which included the many rallies he held before the midterm elections, the partial government shutdown over his promised border wall and the release of the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the presidential election.

This milestone appeared unlikely when The Fact Checker first started this project during his first 100 days. In the first 100 days, Trump averaged less than five claims a day, which would have added up to about 7,000 claims in a four-year presidential term. But the tsunami of untruths just keeps looming larger and larger.

As of April 27, including the president’s rally in Green Bay, Wis., the tally in our database stands at 10,111 claims in 828 days.

In recent days, the president demonstrated why he so quickly has piled up the claims. There was a 45-minute telephone interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News on April 25: 45 claims. There was an eight-minute gaggle with reporters the morning of April 26: eight claims. There was a speech to the National Rifle Association: 24 claims. There was 19-minute interview with radio host Mark Levin: 17 claims. And, finally, there was the campaign rally on April 27: 61 claims.

The president’s constant Twitter barrage also adds to his totals. All told, the president racked up 171 false or misleading claims in just three days, April 25-27. That’s more than he made in any single month in the first five months of his presidency.

About one-fifth of the president’s claims are about immigration issues, a percentage that has grown since the government shutdown over funding for his promised border wall. In fact, his most repeated claim — 160 times — is that his border wall is being built. Congress balked at funding the concrete wall he envisioned, and so he has tried to pitch bollard fencing and repairs of existing barriers as “a wall.”

Trump’s penchant for repeating false claims is demonstrated by the fact that The Fact Checker database has recorded nearly 300 instances when the president has repeated a variation of the same claim at least three times. He also now has earned 21 “Bottomless Pinocchios,” claims that have earned Three or Four Pinocchios and which have been repeated at least 20 times.

I take that back.  It’s not amazing.  It’s worse.  It’s the new normal.

As Digby reminds us, when Bill Clinton lied on TV about not having sexual relations with that woman, we got speech after high-dudgeoned speech from the Republicans about how character counts and how can we explain this to the children and he must be impeached.  So here we are twenty years later and not only are those same people (hi, Lindsey Graham) shrugging it off, they’re actually defending the lies and the perpetrator of them.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Your Lyin’ Eyes

From the Washington Post:

A day after ridiculing his top intelligence officials as “passive and naive” and claiming they were ignorant about world affairs, President Trump on Thursday said the media had fabricated a conflict and that the officials were “misquoted” by the press after a public congressional hearing that was carried live on television.

[…]

“Just concluded a great meeting with my Intel team in the Oval Office,” Trump tweeted, with a picture of CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others seated around the Resolute Desk. The officials “told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate Hearing was mischaracterized by the media – and we are very much in agreement on Iran, ISIS, North Korea, etc.,” Trump wrote. “Their testimony was distorted press….”

“I would suggest you read the COMPLETE testimony from Tuesday,” the president added. “A false narrative is so bad for our Country. I value our intelligence community. Happily, we had a very good meeting, and we are all on the same page!”

The hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee was public and carried on multiple TV networks. Coats, speaking on behalf of the other five witnesses, submitted 42 pages of written testimony on a wide range of security threats. Video of the hearing was posted on the committee’s website.

“They said that they were totally misquoted, and they were totally — it was taken out of context,” Trump said in an exchange with reporters. “I’d suggest that you call them. They said it was fake news, which frankly didn’t surprise me.”

So how could they be misquoted when it was on live TV?

Forget impeachment, folks.  This is Amendment XXV time; the part where the president is incapable of carrying out the duties and so on.  Of course, he’s been that way since Day 1, so…

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Never-Ending Mission

Glenn Kessler, the Fact Checker at the Washington Post, has had to come up with a new measure for the number of lies a politician tells and how often they repeat them.

The scale used to be one to four Pinocchios: one Pinocchio was a fib; four was a blatant falsehood.  But now we’re in the Trump era and that quaint measurement is shot to hell.

To accurately reflect this phenomenon, The Washington Post Fact Checker is introducing a new category — the Bottomless Pinocchio. That dubious distinction will be awarded to politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.

The bar for the Bottomless Pinocchio is high: The claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker, and they must have been repeated at least 20 times. Twenty is a sufficiently robust number that there can be no question the politician is aware that his or her facts are wrong. The list of Bottomless Pinocchios will be maintained on its own landing page.

The Fact Checker has not identified statements from any other current elected official who meets the standard other than Trump. In fact, 14 statements made by the president immediately qualify for the list.

The president’s most-repeated falsehoods fall into a handful of broad categories — claiming credit for promises he has not fulfilled; false assertions that provide a rationale for his agenda; and political weaponry against perceived enemies such as Democrats or special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The number of Bottomless Pinocchios is legion, ranging from Mexico building the Wall to car companies building new plants to the number of people that showed up at his inauguration, and on and on.

The problem with fact checking Trump is two-fold: it’s never-ending (as it should be for any public figure who can change our lives) and the lies never die.  They’re zombies; no matter how often they’re debunked, disproved, and even mocked, they still get repeated and passed on by the gullible or those who would rather repeat a flaming lie than accept the boring truth.  (And, like zombies, they’re in search of brains.)

So while I applaud Mr. Kessler and his mission to expose the lies and the lying liars who tell them, he’s like Voyager 2: there’s no end in sight to his mission.