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With a headline like "Trump is no longer the worst person in government," one can immediately ascertain that George Will's acerbic way with words has found a target worthy of his snark; this time, he does not disappoint. This sentence in particular made me laugh:

The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America's most repulsive public figure.

Will goes on to describe Pence as "oozing unctuousness from every pore," and calls Joe Arpaio "a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right"--and then drops this gem:

Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.

AlterNet's Cody Fenwick remarks that "Will, who left the Republican Party after the rise of Trump, now seems to hold unique disdain for his formerly fellow partisans who emboldened the president's ascent."

It's about time. Would any other conservative wordsmiths care to follow his example by switching sides and using their talents to similarly good effect?

Trump's fabulism

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TPM's Nicole Lafond reminds us that Trump tried to dupe Forbes about his wealth:

In 1984, when President Donald Trump was a 38-year-old budding real estate mogul, a Trump Organization aide called the reporter who was developing the annual Forbes 400 list to try to convince him that Trump was a billionaire, not a $200 millionaire, as the magazine had suggested the year before

That aide, according to an op-ed from the former Forbes reporter in the Washington Post Friday, was actually Trump himself.

The WaPo piece, by investigative journalist Jonathan Greenberg, even brags that we have the tapes:

In May 1984, an official from the Trump Organization called to tell me how rich Donald J. Trump was. I was reporting for the Forbes 400, the magazine's annual ranking of America's richest people, for the third year. In the previous edition, we'd valued Trump's holdings at $200 million, only one-fifth of what he claimed to own in our interviews. This time, his aide urged me on the phone, I needed to understand just how loaded Trump really was.

The official was John Barron -- a name we now know as an alter ego of Trump himself. When I recently rediscovered and listened, for first time since that year, to the tapes I made of this and other phone calls, I was amazed that I didn't see through the ruse: Although Trump altered some cadences and affected a slightly stronger New York accent, it was clearly him. "Barron" told me that Trump had taken possession of the business he ran with his father, Fred. "Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump," he said. "You have down Fred Trump [as half owner] . . . but I think you can really use Donald Trump now." Trump, through this sockpuppet, was telling me he owned "in excess of 90 percent" of his family's business. With all the home runs Trump was hitting in real estate, Barron told me, he should be called a billionaire.

"This was a model Trump would use for the rest of his career," writes Greenberg, "telling a lie so cosmic that people believed that some kernel of it had to be real:"

The tactic landed him a place he hadn't earned on the Forbes list -- and led to future accolades, press coverage and deals. It eventually paved a path toward the presidency. [...]

Although Trump, posing as Barron, asked Forbes to conduct the conversation off the record, I am publishing it here. I believe an intent to deceive -- both with the made-up persona and the content of the call -- released me from my good-faith pledge. In a 1990 court case, Trump testified that he had used false names in phone calls to reporters. In 2016, when The Washington Post published a similar recording, Trump denied it was him.

"It would be decades," Greenberg continues, "before I learned that Forbes had been conned:"

In the early 1980s, Trump had zero equity in his father's company. According to Fred's will (portions of which appeared in a lawsuit), the father retained legal ownership of his residential empire until his death in 1999, at which point he left it to be divided between his four surviving children and some of his grandchildren. That explains why, after Trump went bankrupt in the early 1990s, he borrowed $30 million from his siblings, secured by an estimated $35 million share of his future inheritance, according to three sources in Tim O'Brien's 2005 biography, "TrumpNation." He could have used his own assets as collateral if he'd had any worth that amount, but he didn't.

The most revelatory document describing Trump's true net worth in the early '80s was a 1981 report from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. O'Brien obtained a copy for his book. Trump had applied for an Atlantic City casino license, and regulators were able to review his tax returns and personal and corporate debt, giving them the most accurate picture of his finances. They found that he had an income of about $100,000 a year, while his 1979 tax returns showed a $3.4 million taxable loss. Trump's personal assets consisted of a $1 million trust fund that Fred Trump provided to each of his children and grandchildren, a few checking accounts with about $400,000 in them and a 1977 Mercedes 450SL. Nowhere did the report list an ownership stake in the Trump Organization's residential apartments. Trump also possessed a few parcels of valuable but highly leveraged real estate, financed with $22.5 million in debt, all of it secured by his father's assets. He did not own a safe deposit box or stocks in publicly traded companies. In sum, Trump was worth less than $5 million, not the $100 million that I reported in the first Forbes 400.

"Later attempts by Trump to paint himself as fantastically wealthy were also duplicitous," Greenberg writes, "according to the New Jersey Casino Commission, which issued another report in 1991:"

His net worth, the commission estimated, was $205 million -- less than 6 percent of what he'd told Forbes. In 1990, the magazine dropped Trump from the list and kept him off it for five years.

To summarize, "Trump's fabrications provided the basis for a vastly inflated wealth assessment for the Forbes 400 that would give him cachet for decades as a triumphant businessman:"

In his book, O'Brien criticized Forbes for rewarding Trump's fabrications, citing interviews with "three people with direct knowledge of Donald's finances" who estimated his true net worth after debts to be "somewhere between $150 million and $250 million." Trump, who had told O'Brien he was worth $6 billion, sued for libel -- and lost. When he lost his appeal in 2011, a New Jersey appellate judge wrote, "The largest portion of Mr. Trump's fortune, according to three people who had had direct knowledge of his holdings, apparently comes from his lucrative inheritance. These people estimated that Mr. Trump's wealth, presuming that it is not encumbered by heavy debt, may amount to about $200 million to $300 million. That is an enviably large sum of money by most people's standards but far short of the billionaires club."

The opacity persists. In 2016, Trump's presidential campaign put out a statement saying the candidate had a net worth "in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS." But he has never released his tax returns, and he has said that the core Trump Organization asset is the ownership of his brand -- an ineffable marketing claim that is impossible to substantiate or refute.

If Trump hadn't been able to dupe Forbes so easily, we might have been spared the sad spectacle of him conning a substantial minority of the electorate.

fury and fantasy

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Salon's Nicole Karlis discusses conservatives who are furious about Facebook's news-feed algorithms:

Given that Facebook is a for-profit corporation, one would think that conservatives would be arguing for the company's right as a free-market actor to do whatever they want with their product. Hypocritically, many conservatives are complaining about Facebook's algorithmic changes to its News Feed, and conspiratorially believe that they have been unfairly targeted by the social media giant.

Fox host Tucker Carlson called it "an act of ideological warfare," Ben Shapiro (editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire) says that "Facebook needs to be held to public account for its constant manipulation of what its users are seeing," and Liftable Media CEO Patrick Brown calls it "very troubling for free speech in this country:"

"It's pretty clear that this is a huge departure from Facebook's normal practices and they're making a decision to support one political side of the conversation against another."

"The power Facebook holds in the media universe is frustrating for all publications," writes Karlis, "but to claim that the social media company is targeting one political party over the other without solid evidence seems particularly partisan:"

Ironically, these conservatives' hard evidence-free claims only help sow the media landscape with misinformation -- which is precisely what Facebook is trying to keep at bay.

Jacob Bacharach discusses major media outlets hiring conservative voices, and notes that The Atlantic, home of Dubya speech writer David Frum, recently added Kevin Williamson from the National Review. "The truth," Bacharach writes, "is that these columnists are all hired as part of a project of desperate make-believe, in which it is possible to imagine that Donald Trump and our present politics really are a singular event, a historic deviation:"

In their fantasy, there remain two broadly similar and functional political parties whose respective ideologies meet in a nebulous but desirable middle, wherein reasonable men and their reasonable institutions can yet function as they ever have. It's a fairly rosy portrayal of American political history to begin with, but there was at least a sense that it was superficially, if only superficially, true. This genteel fiction permits the mandarins of respectable media to indulge the most preposterous fiction of them all, which is that the modern conservative movement in America isn't absolutely and irredeemably deranged.

Colonel Ralph Peters (the "strategic analyst" at Fox who became infamous for calling President Obama "a total pussy" a while back) is now done with Fox:

Col. Ralph Peters was a vocal and vitriolic critic of President Obama, but even he has had enough. In an email sent by Peters to the Fox News staff and obtained by Buzzfeed, Peters explained his decision not to renew his contract.

Here is an excerpt from the full email:

Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.

It's about time that a conservative recognizes the truth...

The Alt-Right is literally killing people, writes Kate Harveston:

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently counted more than 100 victims injured or killed by members of what is being dubbed the "alt-right." All of the perpetrators hold some common characteristics: white, male and under 40 years old.

On the surface, the majority of the alt-right's "members" appear to be politically disillusioned individuals encouraged to believe that their voices have been drowned out by a left-leaning mainstream news apparatus. Many other strong cultural movements have spawned from these same conditions, though.

From the civil rights struggle of the 1960s to the 1980s punk scene and beyond, movements found success through their ability to cater to a specifically disenfranchised group. These movements historically offer a sense of solidarity and organization to individuals who feel they have otherwise been scorned by society.

"However, this time seems different," Harveston writes, "as the violent alt-right is becoming increasingly empowered and dangerous. How will we counteract this threat in the coming years?"

Our country is undergoing an epidemic of mass shootings unrivaled by any other democracy today. And while these violent acts seem entirely random, almost all the shooters are white men under or around 30 years old -- awfully consistent with the alt-right. [...]

This is a movement fed on misinformation and toxic online forums. How, then, can we begin to strip the violent power from a movement that is fractured, independently operating and widely anonymous?

"A few ideas have been floated," she continues:

We should consider the positive aspects of the internet and our ability to share moving and convincing stories with all members of the community. [...] Gun control legislation is seen as the primary means by which our country can prevent future violent incidents. [...]

Directly confronting members of the alt-right has resulted in violence -- Charlottesville being the clearest example. Other indirect forms of confrontation, including censorship and "outing" online users or alt-right event participants, have been more effective.

"One thing we know," Harveston concludes, is that "The American epidemic of gun violence will continue if nothing changes:"

Since Columbine in 1999, there have been endless mass shootings. Now, a fresh wave of violence is sweeping the nation, and it seems to be most prevalent in a particular demographic: young white males. This issue won't disappear with the older generation. We need to be discussing actionable legislation that will help pave the way for a safer future -- because what we're doing clearly isn't working.

NYT discusses the Maine Republican who ended his candidacy after making a number of derogatory remarks about the Parkland survivors:

A Republican candidate for the Maine State House who disparaged two teenage survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., dropped out of the race after drawing heavy criticism and challengers from both political parties.

The candidate, Leslie Gibson, had been running to represent District 57 in central Maine unopposed, according to The Sun Journal, which first reported the comments he made on Twitter. Mr. Gibson called one Florida student, Emma González, a "skinhead lesbian," and another, David Hogg, a "moron" and a "baldfaced liar."

Later, after the negative attention, "Gibson acknowledged that his responses were "harsh and uncivil" and said it was 'inappropriate to single out' the students." As survivor David Hogg remarked:

"We need good people in office -- people who are actually human and have an ounce of empathy," he continued. "It's hilarious because its ridiculous. They're only proving our point that there are so many bad politicians out there. We almost let somebody that would say something like that win and run unopposed."

NRA spokes-bullshitter Dana Loesch is becoming remarkably consistent at attaining worst-person status for her remarks about Wednesday's "March for Our Lives" protest and walkout. Loesch asserts, "let's be clear -- gun control wouldn't have prevent what happened yesterday," but C&L offers this correction:

In fact, a new Florida gun control law that raises the age to buy a rifle to 21 would have prevented the 19-year-old Parkland shooter from purchasing the gun he used to kill 17 people.

MediaMatters reminds us that the rest of conservative media isn't much better, as they provide platforms for her screeds:

National Rifle Association national spokesperson Dana Loesch told Fox & Friends hosts that the protests were the result of some in the "political class ... trying to exploit this six ways to Sunday."

Chauncey DeVega observes that Hillary is right about states that voted for Trump. "Hillary Clinton has a problem. She tells impolitic truths at inopportune times," and not just her "basket of deplorables" remark. "Clinton let slip another truth about Trump's voters and the 2016 presidential election," DeVega writes:

She continued by saying that "all that red in the middle" of the nation, where Trump and the Republicans tend to dominate, was deceptive because "what the map doesn't show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward." Trump's campaign, she said, "was looking backwards" by playing to white voters who "didn't like black people getting rights" or women leaving the home and getting jobs.

Republicans attacked Clinton's latest comments, of course, as an example of how the Democrats are supposedly "isolated," "elitist" and "out of touch." Some of her fellow Democrats piled on with complaints that Clinton is being "unhelpful" by "re-litigating" the 2016 presidential election instead of looking to the future.

These voices of protest have provided little if any evidence to disprove Hillary Clinton's central thesis. Why? Because the facts are on her side.

"One can still endorse Hillary Clinton's truth-telling," he continues, "while demanding that she should be more precise in her observations:"

It should not be overlooked that Clinton and her team made strategic and tactical errors by paying little attention to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, the states that gave Trump the White House.

Most important, there are many liberals, progressives and other members of the Democratic Party's constituency (nonwhites, gays and lesbians and younger voters) who live in red-state America. They should be embraced and mobilized, rather than being marginalized because of geography.

His conclusion? "The Republican Party is a masterful machine of deception:"

For at least the last 50 years its leaders and media have consistently lied to the American people about almost every issue, including the economy, the environment, international relations, civil rights, crime and health care. This strategy created the poisoned swamp from which Donald Trump and his proto-fascist movement emerged.

The question now becomes whether the Democratic Party will tell the American people the truth in order to win back power, or rely instead on reassuring lies? It is a provocative question. Fighting fire with fire sometimes works. The trick is not to be burned alive in the conflagration.

N+1 magazine looks at gun violence and the war on terror, pointing out that the more things change,

There was something unsettling or self-serving about the excess of praise adults heaped on the Stoneman Douglas students who boarded charter buses bound for the Tallahassee statehouse just a few days after watching their classmates die. "This shooting is different from the other ones," a 16-year-old boy told a Times reporter. "I just have a gut feeling--something is going to change." It's understandable that he should feel this way; insofar as no previous school shooting had happened in his school, to his friends and teachers, this time was different. But his representatives quickly demonstrated that it was not different enough. Florida's legislature voted down a motion to debate an assault weapons ban.

they more they remain the same:

That traumatized children had to learn this about their government in front of national news reporters struck me as a continuation of the shooting, not a response to it. The shooting shows us that the US is a place where children either grow up in fear of random, catastrophic violence or else don't grow up at all. The debate that has followed the shooting shows us that things are going to stay that way.

In a sense, this is reminiscent of terrorism, as "Today's mass shooters have all grown up in a country that lives in a constantly reinforced fear of a certain kind of violent spectacle:"

No other violent act is more feared, more discussed, more capable of causing society to change itself--nothing gets more attention and recognition. The mass shooting is our domestic variant of the jihadist terrorist attack. Were the US to abandon the specter of terrorism as the organizing principle of the country's foreign policy, travel laws, and security procedures, the mass shooting would lose much of its dark appeal. But during this century so far, America has responded to terrorist attacks by deepening its fears and by entrenching itself in militarism and surveillance. It is responding to mass shootings in much the same way. So long as that pattern holds, angry and unstable young men will continue to act in accordance with the world that was made for them to grow up in.

Considering that we, as Americans, are 124 times more likely to die from a gun assault than from a foreign-born terrorist incident, the problem can seem intractable. The media (especially those on the Right) are fixated on the wrong problem, while ignoring the fact that, as In These Times' Leonard C. Goodman reminds us, it's never been about the Second Amendment--it's about corporate profits:

Parkland teenagers are smart enough to understand that the real impediment to sensible gun laws is not the Second Amendment but lawmakers who take industry money through groups like the NRA.

"A familiar pattern has emerged after mass shootings," he observes:

Lawmakers offer thoughts and prayers and then quietly shoot down any restrictions on gun sales, citing their fealty to the Second Amendment.

There is a chance that this time will be different, thanks largely to the teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who are fighting back against lawmakers who protect industry profits over the lives of their constituents.

One relevant example is Senator Marco Rubio, who has received $3,303,355 from the NRA over the course of his career:

Unable to discuss their NRA funding, gun industry lackeys like Rubio fall back on the excuse that the Second Amendment ties their hands and prohibits restrictions on gun sales. This is nonsense.

"Corporate-owned politicians," Goodman concludes, "don't care about the Constitution:"

How many of them have even read it? They make it easy for mass-killers to buy assault rifles because this helps their patrons in the gun industry sell more guns and maximize profits.

Thank you, Parkland teenagers for finally calling them out.


Cristina Orsini explains how the "fake news frenzy threatens dissent, pointing out that it's "often a catch-all term, used to smear opposing points of view:"

This is why it is crucial for people around the globe to understand the impact that current narratives on fake news and proposed solutions may have on their potential to be active and free citizens, in order to preserve the possibility of dissent and maintain a pluralistic and informative public sphere.

The US is not yet Iran, Egypt, or Brazil, she writes, but "content regulation to fight fake news is concerning activists in what would be considered well-established democracies as well:"

For example, in June last year the German parliament voted for a bill to fine social media platforms that fail to remove illegal content within 24 hours, which can include hate speech and fake news. This triggered concerns over accidental and privatized censorship due to the short time-frame allowed for analysis of each case. Emmanuel Macron started 2018 by announcing that his government is developing rules to crack down on fake news, including the possibility for judges to block accounts.

Orsini continues by noting that "top-down approaches to fake news disregard the existence of propaganda and the fact that misinformation can be spread by governments themselves and used to advance their own interests:"

Letting governments control narratives can result in the homogenization of available information, which would be dangerous for democratic debate, and paradoxical if this was to occur in the name of protecting "truth" itself. [...]

However, investing social media platforms, and thus private companies, with the task of managing content can be extremely problematic. Social media platforms have been criticized for their lack of transparency about the mechanisms and algorithms used to prioritize content, often influenced by the power of money and by a business model based on maximizing clicks for advertisement purposes.

Creeping infotainment is one risk, and another is that "social media platforms can be co-opted by governments:"

For example, Facebook has been removing content published by Palestinian activists at the request of the Israeli government. This has created an asymmetrical social media sphere where hate speech and misinformation by some is removed, but not by others.

"It is perhaps critical thinking itself," she concludes, "that is most deeply challenged by the fake news frenzy:"

In the words of Frank La Rue, a human rights lawyer and assistant director-general for communication and information at UNESCO, "fake news is a trap. Why? Because ... they are trying to dissuade us from reading the news and thinking." In other words, fake news narratives risk making citizens increasingly cynical about information in general, which could result in a sort of agnosticism to news and information. This could lead to public disengagement, a condition in which the powerful go unchallenged and collective action for the defense of citizens' rights becomes harder to achieve. [...]

Most activists seem to agree that if an antidote to fake news exists -- within a truly democratic society where freedom of expression is respected -- it will arrive through education and be based on critical thinking.

Sophia A. McClennen expresses concern that we are a nation of ignoramuses:

In the days after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we learned that we weren't just fighting gun violence in our country; we were also fighting bots that were using Facebook and other social media platforms to control the narrative and sow division. Parallel to bot propaganda after the shootings, a similar disinformation campaign popped up after the premiere of "Black Panther," with images of violence circulating on Twitter suggesting that white people weren't welcome at the screenings.

Suddenly the breaking news story is that bots and trolls and other agents of disinformation are not only trying to influence our elections, they are trying to cause conflict among U.S. citizens. And of course, most of the news coverage hysterically suggests that the source of these digital media attacks is primarily Russian.

"The real problem," she tells us, "is that the United States is one of the least intelligent nations in the developed world:"

We aren't good at processing and analyzing information, and that makes us suckers for bots, trolls and all other sorts of disinformation tactics. [...] Study after study shows that the United States underperforms in literacy across the developed world -- especially given its resources. But that isn't even the core issue; the real problem is the way we have consistently devalued quality education across all levels for decades.

Consider the fact that 14 states teach creationism in public schools. Add to that the reality that a Pew Research Study from 2015 found that 34 percent of Americans reject evolution entirely, saying humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

But it isn't just our knowledge base that's the problem; it's the fact that the United States has effectively abandoned the notion that investing in education is critical for the future of our nation.

The situation is no better after high school, because "The same pattern is true for higher education:"

States continue to slash support for public colleges and universities and funding remains below historic levels. Overall, state funding for public two- and four-year colleges in the 2017 school year was nearly $9 billion below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation.

It should come as no surprise that reduced investment in education leads to lower student outcomes and to poorer critical thinking skills. [...]

And as convenient as it might be to turn this into a partisan problem with the Republicans as the stooges and the Democrats as the sharp ones, that approach won't work. Sure, we have considerable data on the gullibility of the Republican brain and the fact that fake news was shared far more often by Republicans, but, in the end, this is a truly bi-partisan problem on a national scale.

"The parties may have their own special brands of ignorance," McClennan observes, "but there is plenty of dumb to go around:"

So before we overly invest energy and resources into shutting down propaganda, hoax news and other forms of disinformation, we should probably make an effort to wise up. Philosopher Steven Nadler wonders if it is even possible to "fix American stupidity," a mindset he describes as intellectual stubbornness. Yet, thus far, we have stubbornly refused to take stock of our own critical thinking failures. The stupidest thing we could do is try to solve this problem by ignoring our own collective stupidity.

"their own facts"

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Kellyanne Conway claims that "the American people [by which she means GOP voters] have their own facts," writes Salon's Charlie May. Mark Simone (from a New York radio station) started things off by claiming that "liberals seize more and more control of the infrastructure, they control the newspapers, they control the networks:"

He added, "In the last few years, they've taken total control of the fact checking sites, and they're very slanted. Something's got to be done about this." [...] "Americans are their own fact checkers," Conway said. "People know, they have their own facts and figures, in terms of meaning which facts and figures are important to them."

"Conway's bizarre interviews may make for appealing soundbites and headlines," May continues, "but it is also truly stunning to see how disconnected the Trump administration, and pro-Trump media punditry are from reality:"

American politics have become increasingly, and dangerously, polarizing in recent years, but Conway's doublethink Orwellian rhetoric has made it near impossible to get people to even agree on an establish set of facts in order to have a productive debate or conversation about the issues. Instead, we have opinions masquerading as truths in a dialogue where even simple math is beginning to be denied in order to fit into a political agenda.

Forget "alternative facts" the Trump administration is establishing their own alternative reality through it's own Ministry of Truth.


Steve Benen has exposed the GOP's deficit scam at MSNBC:

Up until fairly recently, federal officials believed the nation would have to raise the debt ceiling by late March or early April. Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office said action will be required even sooner - because the Republican's $1.5 trillion tax cut is already starting to affect U.S. finances.

[The effect is negative, as expected.]

A separate New York Times report added this week that annual budget deficits "are creeping up to $1 trillion and the national debt has topped $20 trillion." The Treasury Department "will need to borrow $441 billion in privately held debt this quarter," which is the largest sum in eight years.

And yet, Republicans - ostensibly, the nation's fiscal hawks and stalwarts of fiscal responsibility - have nothing to say about this. The issue has largely disappeared.

"The underlying issue here," he continues, "is one of the most cynical political scams Americans have ever seen or will ever see:"

Remember the Tea Party movement? According to many of its leaders, one of its principal goals was deficit reduction: annual budget shortfalls, they said several years ago, threatened the future of the nation, its families, and its security.

And because Republicans have an amazing ability to dictate the public conversation, everyone played along, taking the deficit seriously throughout the Obama era. To reject the fiscal argument was to condemn our children and grandchildren to future misery.

Under Obama, however, the deficit shrunk in his first seven years by a trillion dollars - that's "trillion" with a "t" - at which point the issue quietly lost its potency.

At least in theory, for those who care about the deficit, the issue should be back with a vengeance. But it's not: even as the deficit gets significantly larger, due entirely to deliberate Republican choices, the public conversation largely ignores the issue.

It's almost as if--to provide yet another example--the allegedly "liberal" media is in actuality a generally conservative presence in our lives.

Trump's ratings

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Well, that didn't take long: Politico points out that Trump is already lying about the size of his SOTU audience, claiming that its 45.6 million people was "the highest number in history." However, the facts are somewhat different:

Obama's early speeches before Congress significantly outdrew Trump's: his first address to a joint session of Congress, in 2009, drew 52.3 million viewers and his first State of the Union address, in 2010, attracted 48 million.

Former President George W. Bush also delivered State of the Union addresses that attracted more viewers than Trump's. Bush's 2003 speech, which took place weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, drew 62 million viewers, while his 2002 speech, months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, attracted 51.7 million.

Former President Bill Clinton's 1993 joint address to Congress, meanwhile, drew 66.9 million viewers.

TPM snarks that "Trump may have been confused while watching the "Fox and Friends" morning broadcast:"

Co-host Steve Doocy noted that Trump pulled in more viewers than Obama's final state of the union, but he offered the caveat that "fewer people watch" the longer a president is in office. He then boasted about Fox News' ratings for the speech, which were the network's highest ever. Trump also noted this in his tweet.

NYT's look at Resistance at the Grammys observes that Hillary Clinton "read a passage from the new book Fire and Fury that claimed President Trump liked pre-made McDonald's food because he was afraid of being poisoned:"

Her cameo lasted less than 20 seconds. She read just one sentence from a 336-page book.

Although "Democrats see opportunity in awards season [...] as a way to reach critical constituencies of young, Latino and African-American voters," there are caveats. "Democrats and Republicans alike," the piece continues, "said Monday that the organized, concerted effort by the Grammys, topped off with Mrs. Clinton's appearance, could only make the nation's red state-blue state divide more pronounced:"

"When a famous person can use their celebrity to spread information about why someone should get off the sidelines and vote, that's a good thing," said Rebecca Katz, a Democratic strategist from the party's progressive wing.

But, she added it's a fine line. "You never want a celebrity to make a voter feel like they're wrong or that opinion's stupid."

WaPo examines conservative magazines and their stances (to varying degrees) against Trump, particularly Rich Lowry's National Review, which WaPo calls "the country's preeminent conservative magazine:"

Lowry reached out to a wide range of conservatives, hoping to hit Trump from as many angles as possible. The eventual collection [from all the way back in January 2016], titled "Against Trump," featured essays by 22 contributors -- many of them editors of other conservative publications, including William Kristol, then editor of the Weekly Standard; John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary; R.R. Reno, editor of First Things; Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs; and Ben Domenech, co-founder of the conservative website the Federalist. The issue came out on Jan. 21, 2016, 11 days before the Iowa caucuses, and it generated enough notice that Trump himself felt compelled to respond. "National Review is a failing publication that has lost it's way," he tweeted. "It's circulation is way down w its influence being at an all time low. Sad!"

In addition to Rich Lowry's National Review (100,000 circulation), there is also The Weekly Standard (65,000 circulation), John Podhoretz's Commentary (26,000 circulation), American Affairs (12,000 circulation), and The American Conservative (5,000 circulation), also-rans such as Modern Age, and New Criterion are mentioned--but The American Spectator, home of the infamous Arkansas Project, did not make the list.) "Two surprising stars of the Trump era," WaPo writes, "have been the Claremont Review of Books and the religious journal First Things:"

It was in the normally restrained Claremont Review of Books that someone going by the name "Publius Decius Mus" (later revealed to be Michael Anton) published "The Flight 93 Election," an influential essay arguing that the election of Trump [see my analysis here], however extreme the risks, was the only hope of preventing a complete surrender to the cultural left.

I still read these magazines on occasion--CRB foremost among them--but the general decline of conservative magazines has been clear for some time, paralleling the decline in conservatism itself. WaPo's summation is replete with a backward-looking mawkish naïveté:

As much as their contributors may differ in opinion or even dislike one another, what unites these magazines -- and distinguishes them from right-wing outlets like Breitbart -- is an almost quaint belief in debate as an instrument of enlightenment rather than as a mere tool of political warfare. [...]

With so many Americans today engaged in partisan war, any publication with a commitment to honesty in argument becomes a potential peacemaker. It also becomes an indispensable forum for working out which ideas merit a fight in the first place. This is what, in their best moments, the conservative magazines are now doing.

Tomi Lahren gets pilloried by Crooks and Liars as "Fox News' blonde-haired, blue-eyed millennial Jeanine Pirro-in-training" for this bizarre tirade:

"The left, which dictates popular culture, brainwashes young people into believing they live in a world where 64 gender options are up for selection, everything is free, Beyonce is a god-queen, and eating detergent is funny!," she ranted.

"I know what you're thinking -- the Tide Pod Challenge couldn't possibly be political, could it?" Lahren asked.

Preaching with an air of wisdom she does not possess, Lahren waggled her rhetorical finger and said, "Actually, yes it is. It's just the latest symptom of a larger problem -- the breakdown of the American family. It's what happens when kids aren't taught boundaries, respect, consequences, or logic."

Crooks and Liars wonders "who it is in the political sphere who might be sending kids a message about boundaries, respect, consequences, or logic:"

Behold! It was not liberals! I think about Donald Trump being elected after bragging about grabbing women by the pussy, and wonder why there were no consequences, and there was no respect shown to those women.

I think about the idea of Nazis and misogynists occupying high-ranking positions in our school systems and how there are no consequences, boundaries, or respect.

I think about how Fox News uses its platform to spout venom and poison the body politic. It's almost as if they shovel poison pods into the minds of their viewers daily, addicting them to fear, hate and more venom. Always more venom. And I think, where are their boundaries, respect, consequences or logic.

Salon summarizes Lahren as "a 25-year-old who only just got off her parents' health insurance and has never been responsible for the sole care of so much as a sugar glider and still has the temerity to lecture parents on how they're failing their children and their country. Learning is beyond her."

It amuses me to see conservatives complaining about liberal bias--from Republicans. For example,
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) "who is not known for having the keenest intellect on Capitol Hill," wrote on Facebook that "the media was [sic] never this critical to President Obama, the recent Harvard study proves that the media has [sic] applied a completely different standard to President Trump." [The "different standard" in Trump's case was that they puffed up his early candidacy into a newsworthy event with billions of dollars' worth of free publicity, but that's another story.]

"Duncan, like many on the right, sees a recent study of the mainstream coverage of Trump's first 100 days in office," the piece continues, "as solid proof that the media treat Trump unfairly:"

It looked at news reports "in the print editions of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, the main newscasts of CBS, CNN, Fox News, and NBC, and three European news outlets," and found that 80 percent of Trump's coverage by those outlets was negative - significantly higher than the shares for Barack Obama (41 percent negative), George W. Bush (57 percent) and Bill Clinton (60 percent) at this point in their presidencies. Conservative publications greeted the report with headlines like, "Harvard Study Confirms Media Bias Against Trump," and "Harvard Report: There Is A Huge Anti-Trump Bias In Corporate Media."

"The obvious response," the piece observes, "is that the vast majority of stories about famine, natural disasters, and genital warts are negative, and that doesn't imply a bias on the part of those writing them:"

Trump's young presidency has been a train wreck, his White House has been mired in largely self-inflicted scandals and his legislative agenda has so far gotten nowhere in Congress. And Trump, unlike his predecessors, has a penchant for impulsively tweeting dubious claims and inflammatory nonsense. [...]

Ironically, the Shorenstein study did find significant bias at one media outlet: Fox News was a lone outlier in that almost half of its Trump coverage was positive. Looking back at 100 days marked by chaos and failure, it's hard to imagine what a truly fair and balanced news outlet possibly could have covered in order to run so many positive segments.

As the study itself notes, "the fact that Trump has received more negative coverage than his predecessor is hardly surprising:"

The early days of his presidency have been marked by far more missteps and miss-hits, often self-inflicted, than any presidency in memory, perhaps ever.

What's truly atypical about Trump's coverage is that it's sharply negative despite the fact that he's the source of nearly two-thirds of the sound bites surrounding his coverage.

"Trump's first 100 days were a landmark," the study continues, partly because "Trump did most of the talking:"

He was the featured speaker in nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of his coverage. Members of the administration, including his press secretary, accounted for 11 percent of the sound bites. Other Republicans, including Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, accounted for 4 percent. Altogether, Republicans, inside and outside the administration, accounted for 80 percent of what newsmakers said about the Trump presidency. [emphasis added] Democrats did not have a large voice in Trump's coverage, accounting for only 6 percent of the sound bites. Participants in anti-Trump protests and demonstrations accounted for an additional 3 percent.

One can hardly fault the "liberal" media for the fact that quoting Trump and other Republicans is considered to constitute negative news.

In explaining how Bill O'Reilly ruined the news, Sophia A. McClennen notes "the firing of O'Reilly, which follows the departure of Fox News founder Roger Ailes" and asks, "what will these shifts at Fox News really mean? Are we really rid of these two vile characters?"

It's not likely and here's why: While there is much-needed and valuable attention now being paid to their predatory sexism, that behavior was only one part of a much larger diabolical worldview. Ailes and O'Reilly were of a piece, cut from the same cloth.

She continues by observing that "allegations of O'Reilly's sexism, misogyny and predatory behavior are literally the tip of the iceberg." In addition to chestnuts such as "Punditry over journalism," "Polarization," "Mainstreaming of misogyny, racism and bigotry," and "Hubris disguised as patriotism," her list includes:

2. Fake news

PolitiFact has reported that only 10 percent of O'Reilly's comments on his show were true and 53 percent were mostly false or bold-faced lies.

But it isn't just the lying that makes fake news powerful. It is the packaging of the lie within a sense of outrage. O'Reilly literally perfected the use of fake news to get viewers to freak out.

5. Fear over reason

The O'Reilly approach to covering current issues was to hype fear and foster anxiety, a practice that has spilled into much news media and a constant staple of alt-right reporting. Scholars of democracy know that citizens can't make rational decisions when they are busy freaking out, but that approach can be very successful in keeping viewers tuned to their TVs.

6. Loyal viewers

The fear-based nature of O'Reilly's show logically led to a highly loyal viewership. Because O'Reilly consistently demonized the "left media," he managed to convince his viewers that he and only he could be trusted. This is one reason why his show had such a loyal viewer base.

7. Dumbing down viewers

The O'Reilly approach to news was not about informing members of his audience; it was about getting them riled up and angry at the left, [which] explains why its viewers consistently poll as the least informed in the nation.

9. Crying victim while bullying

Much in the same way that Trump suggests protesters against him must be paid operatives, O'Reilly always cries victim while he bullies his opponents. [...] Rather than address the substance of the accusations, O'Reilly cries foul and suggests that he is the subject of a witch hunt. This strategy makes it virtually impossible to discredit him to his loyal subjects who will all agree that their hero has been falsely accused.

10. Making it all "an act"

This is an echo of the defense of Limbaugh and others of being "just an entertainer" when caught in yet another lie. As McClennen writes,

The [left-wing] comedians just kept the rest of us sane and better informed while the so-called news offered by Fox and friends divided the nation and dumbed us down.

Henry Giroux discusses how we are thus being prepared for American-style authoritarianism:

It is impossible to imagine the damage Trump and his white nationalists, economic fundamentalists, and white supremacists friends will do to civil liberties, the social contract, the planet, and life itself in the next few years.

Rather than address climate change, the threat of nuclear war, galloping inequality, the elimination of public goods, Trump and his vicious acolytes have accelerated the threats faced by these growing dangers. Moreover, the authoritarian steam roller just keeps bulldozing through every social protection and policy put in place, however insufficient, in the last few years in order to benefit the poor, vulnerable, and the environment.

"As the Trump regime continues to hollow out the welfare state," he continues, "it builds on Obama's efforts to expand the surveillance state but with a new and deadly twist:"

This is particularly clear given the Congressional Republicans' decision to advance a bill that would overturn privacy protections for Internet users, allow corporations to monitor, sell, and use everything that users put on the Internet, including their browsing history, app usage and financial and medical information.

This is the Orwellian side of Trump's administration, which not only makes it easier for the surveillance state to access information, but also sells out the American public to corporate demagogues who view everything in terms of markets and the accumulation of capital.

It is the combination of corporate and governmental power that is most dangerous:

The supine response of the mainstream press and the general public to ongoing acts of state and corporate violence is a flagrant and horrifying indication of the extent to which the United States government has merged the corporate state with the military state to create a regime of brutality, sadism, aggression, and cruelty. State sovereignty has been replaced by corporate sovereignty. All the while, militarized ignorance expands a culture awash in public stupidity and views critical thought as both a liability and a threat making it all the more difficult to recognizes how authoritarianism appears in new forms.

The established political parties and politicians are nothing more than crude lobbyists and shock troops for the financial elite who believe everything is for sale.

"Trump's brand of authoritarianism," he continues, "is a combination of the savagery of neoliberalism and civic illiteracy on steroids:"

This legacy of neo-fascism represents more than a crisis of civic literacy and courage, it is a crisis of civic culture, if not politics itself. As civic culture wanes, a market based ideology increases its grip on the American public. This militant ideology of sadism and cruelty is all too familiar and is marked by unbridled individualism, a disdain for the welfare state, the elevation of unchecked self-interest to an organizing principle of society, the glorification of militarism, and a systemic erosion of any viable notion of citizenship.

Giroux stresses the difficulty of "both educating people and creating broad-based social movements dedicated not merely to reforms but transforming the ideological, economic, and political structures of the existing society:"

A formidable resistance movement must work hard to create a formative culture that empowers and brings together the most vulnerable along with those who inhabit single issues movement. [...]

A moral political coma now drives an authoritarian society that embraces greed, racism, hatred, inequality, stupidity, disposability, and lawlessness, all of which are celebrated as national virtues.

Can we overcome the Fox fascists in time? Let's turn to the towers of academia, where David Masciotra explains the truth about campus free-speech wars:

Many right-wing paranoiacs accuse the professorate of attempting to "indoctrinate" the student body according to a Marxist agenda of critical race theory and intersectionality. I would settle for someone raising his hand and saying, "I liked the Hemingway story."

Far from feeling under threat from students who enforce their increasingly sensitive and hostile ideology on their surroundings, the only complaints I have received are grade protests.

"My struggle is not to engineer a worldwide revolt against the interlocking matrix of oppression but to enjoy a simpler achievement," he writes, "that all the students in my class follow the instructions about how to write their papers:"

There is an unbreachable distance between the debates professional commentators initiate and maintain -- and the real lives of most Americans. An observation on the gap in comprehension that separates what mass media staffers understand from ordinary citizens' experience might seem banal, but that simple truth almost always evades the countless Twitter feeds, podcasts and websites devoted to running in the opposite direction toward the newest flashing light of invented or exaggerated discord.

"Conservative pundits and liberal polemicists run laps around a track they have designed and built," he writes, "rather than exploring the world outside"--something that he calls the "Outrage Olympics:"

The paid pundit suffers under no greater fear or anxiety than the threat of irrelevance. When factual data emerges with the capacity to destroy the pundit's acumen, it quickly finds itself in the incinerator, discarded and forever ignored.

Then down the Memory Hole it must go...

The cacophony of shrieking over would-be tyrants plotting hostile takeovers of universities from their dorm rooms silenced the revelatory survey from the National Coalition Against Censorship, demonstrating that of 800 university professors, only a handful ever used "trigger warnings" or reported students asking them to use trigger warnings.

As far as the fear of universities teeming with student activists, Masciotra busts that myth as well, noting that "only 9 percent of them expressed interest in even attending a campus protest:"

Eighteen-year-old coeds as oppressors in training with diabolical schemes to transform classrooms into Maoist re-education centers make for exciting villains in a melodramatic made-for-TV movie, but the problem with their appearance in newspapers, magazines and internet journals is that they are a species as rare as trigger warnings.

Ijeoma Oluo's experiences in deleting men's comments online have had a souring effect:

I used to love debate. I believed in testing ideas and theories, and in the power of discourse. And I thought that debate, the back and forth of ideas, was instrumental to that. This love carried me through my Political Science degree. But I've found that there are two types of debate. There's the debate of ideas represented in new vs. old schools of thought, nuanced critique, new study, and the progression of circumstance and ideas. And then there's the patriarchal sport of debate now given new life in the age of the internet.

"The latter," she observes, "is harmful, distracting bullshit:"

In this white supremacist, transphobic, ableist, misogynistic, hyper-Christian society, the majority of our speech platforms were built off the loud espousals of hatred that still hurt so many today. There is no lack of space for a white man who thinks that Mike Brown was a thug who deserved to die. There is no lack of space for a Midwestern white woman who lives thousands of miles away from anywhere that could be a target of tourism, let alone terrorism, and yet wants to spread fear of Muslim extremism. That side of the debate is heard in deafeningly loud decibels, to the detriment of the rest of us.

And honestly, these are not subjects that should still be up for debate to begin with. Whether or not a woman deserves the same pay as a man should not be up for debate. Whether or not a cop should be able to shoot an unarmed black man in the street without consequence should not be up for debate. Whether or not trans people should be able to use the restrooms that match their gender identity in safety should not be up for debate. Whether or not sick people and many disabled people should be allowed to suffer and die without medical coverage in the richest country in the world should not be up for debate.

And if you, in 2017, think that these issues should be up for debate, it is because you've willfully ignored or dismissed the fact that these debates have been had for decades, if not centuries, and progress and general human decency have already shown the fatal flaws of your arguments. There is no debate right now that will convince a flat-earther that the earth is round. If you think the earth is flat in 2017, it is because you are determined to think the earth is flat in 2017, not because you haven't seen enough evidence. You are choosing to climb up on a cross of archaic bullshit, and I certainly have no intention of climbing up with you.

"And so," she continues, "I just do not have these useless, outdated, repetitive, one-on-one debates:"

When a comment about how "illegals need to get out" is left on my post voicing concern over families being torn apart over this country's xenophobia, I just delete it. I don't have time to debate something so backward, and I don't have time to explain. My page is my part of the debate at large, this is true. But I'm not debating those who show up wedded to bigotry, I'm debating those who are instead wedded to the inertia of inaction and ignorance.

"It is 2017," she concludes, "and whether or not a black woman has a right to decline conversation from a white man is not something that should be up for debate. So I won't."

Trump made zero false or misleading claims for an entire day, notes a surprised WaPo:

Donald Trump has been president for 41 days, and he finally put up a goose egg: no factual errors or misleading statements for a full day, midnight to midnight, according to The Washington Post's great Fact Checkers, Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee.

All he had to do, it turns out, was say almost nothing.

Trump made only one tweet on Wednesday (consisting of the two words "THANK YOU!") and "basically no public comments:"

It's also important to note that Trump's sudden factual restraint comes with a massive caveat: It came the day after arguably his worst factual day as president. On Tuesday, the same day in which his speech earned plaudits for its delivery and presidentiality, Trump made 26 misleading or counterfactual claims.

Trump has now made 190 false or misleading in 41 days as president, and his media diet--heavy on Faux News--isn't helping:

Bloomberg Technology reported, "The president now spends hours some mornings watching Fox News, switching occasionally to CNBC for business headlines, along with a daily diet of newspapers and press clippings, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. On the evenings when he doesn't have a dinner or briefing, Trump will spend most of his TV-viewing time watching Fox News shows hosted by Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, the aide said."

This is the most important job in the world, and Donald Trump is spending his time watching Fox News. It's really is like America has elected it's cranky, racist retired uncle to run the country.

It is amazing how much free time that a president has when he doesn't bother reading intelligence briefings, studying, or holding important meetings.

fake leaks?

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NCRM's David Badash reported that Sean Spicer held a dramatic meeting for White House staffers:

Sean Spicer is so angry about leaks coming out of the White House he held a meeting with his own staff to try to end the damaging disclosures - which immediately leaked.

Politico lays out the scene:

Upon entering Spicer's office for what one person briefed on the gathering described as "an emergency meeting," staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a "phone check," to prove they had nothing to hide.

Spicer "was accompanied by White House lawyers" and then things got ugly:

...he explicitly warned staffers that using texting apps like Confide -- an encrypted and screenshot-protected messaging app that automatically deletes texts after they are sent -- and Signal, another encrypted messaging system, was a violation of the Presidential Records Act, according to multiple sources in the room.

The phone checks included whatever electronics staffers were carrying when they were summoned to the unexpected follow-up meeting, including government-issued and personal cellphones.

Spicer also warned the group of more problems if news of the phone checks and the meeting about leaks was leaked to the media. It's not the first time that warnings about leaks have promptly leaked. The State Department's legal office issued a four-page memo warning of the dangers of leaks, and that memo was immediately posted by The Washington Post.

"The push to crack down on leaks," Politico notes, "follows a week in which the president ratcheted up his criticism of the press and condemned the free flow of information from parts of his administration:"

On Friday, Trump called the media the "enemy of the American people" during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in which he railed against journalists for using anonymous sources.

"I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It's fake, phony, fake," Trump said. "A few days ago, I called the fake news 'the enemy of the people,' and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none."

If Trump's claim (that "no sources" are leaking to the press) is true, then why is Spicer worried about leaks?

Unlike the Tea Party, the #Resistance has truth on its side, notes Jon Perr. "The signs of sizable, sustained and seriously angry opposition to President Trump and the Republican agenda are everywhere:"

Trump's first weekend was marked by the Women's March that brought over three million Americans to streets of cities and towns in states red and blue. His disturbing and dangerous executive order on immigration and travel was met with thousands of protesters in airports across the country, while an army of lawyers mobilized to protect visa holders and legal U.S. residents from Trump's draconian Muslim ban. Meanwhile, massive crowds are greeting GOP Congressmen at town hall meetings and public events back in their districts, causing abortion-restricting, Obamacare-repealing, Medicare-privatizing and climate change-denying hardliners to flee from their own constituents.

It's not all about the numbers, and Perr observes that "you have to respect the liberal activists and progressive protesters of 2017 for something else:"

They have the truth on their side. The contrast with the Tea Partiers of 2009 could not be more stark. On health care, taxes, federal spending, President Obama's American citizenship as with almost every issue large and small, the Tea Baggers' unrighteous indignation was untrue.

Remember when Reagan Treasury official Bruce Bartlett sniped that, "For an anti-tax group, they don't know much about taxes"? Also note the faux fury and "the slanders the Tea Party, the GOP and their conservative echo chamber deployed in their all-out effort to stop what became Obamacare:"

It was, after all, the Affordable Care Act, that mobilized those hardest of right-wing hardliners to overwhelm Democratic town hall meetings in the summer of 2009 and propelled the GOP to its massive victory in the 2010 midterms. And virtually all of their anti-Obamacare talking points were lies. [...]

The "death panels" fraud wasn't the only one Republicans and their Tea Party storm troopers deployed in their blitzkrieg on the Affordable Care Act. As Republican spin-master Frank Luntz counseled, right-wingers inside Congress and out denounced Obamacare as a "government takeover of health care."

"The Tea Party dissembling about the ACA" [which was declared the Politifact Lie of the Year for 2010], Perr continues, "hardly ended there:"

When President Obama told a joint session of Congress in September 2009 that undocumented immigrants would not be eligible for coverage under Obamacare, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted, "You lie." It was, of course, the Tea Party darling who was lying.

Squaring off against the impervious-to-facts "keep your government hands off my Medicare" mentality isn't as easy as one might hope, though:

The Tea Party was wrong about just about everything it stood for, but not the politics of its fury. In 2010, the GOP won an overwhelming triumph, regaining the House and taking over state houses nationwide. In 2014, Republicans retook the Senate and in 2016, the White House. Manufacturing outrage works.

He then notes that President Obama, among his other achievements, "cut unemployment from a high of almost 10 percent to under five:"

Since he first took the oath of office, federal spending has been flat, while annual budget deficits have been reduced by more than half. The percentage of Americans without health insurance has brought down to the lowest level on record. Nevertheless, majorities of Americans (or at least, Republicans) believe the reverse is true.

"The list of right-wing smokescreens and deceptions--that 'tax cuts pay for themselves' or the U.S. military has been 'gutted'--goes on and on," he notes:

The Birther Myth--that Barack Obama was a Muslim born outside the United States--didn't just make Donald Trump a Tea Party favorite. During the 2016 GOP primaries, as researcher Philip Klinkner of Hamilton College found, "The easiest way to guess if someone supports Trump? Ask if Obama is a Muslim."

To put it in a nutshell, before there was "fake news," there was the Tea Party.

Bob Cesca's Salon piece "Taking the Resistance to Trumpland" points out that "The message of the resistance hasn't broken through Trump's wall of mendacity:"

Couple the large-scale Russia scandal with his explosive diarrhea of horrendous tweets and public statements, along with the fact that his own staffers think he's mentally unstable, and there's simply no logical reason why Trump hasn't been driven from office in disgrace.

"Republicans still support Trump by overwhelming margins," he mentions, as "86 percent of GOP voters still approve of Trump's job performance so far:"

The problem here is obvious. Voters who still support Trump aren't getting the news. The ongoing Trump catastrophe isn't breaking through the firewall of disinformation at Fox News or AM talk radio, and, so Trump's popularity remains unnaturally higher than it should be. Shockingly, much of the news you're reading and watching throughout a typical day is being intercepted and buried by pro-Trump media outlets and publications, making it virtually impossible for Trump voters to get a full taste of how irresponsible they were by electing a professed sexual predator and/or a mentally unstable game show host to be president.

A key part of correcting this will be bursting their false narrative of white victimhood. Despite mockery of #triggered snowflakes and "safe spaces," writes Sean McElwee, "feelings of victimhood are central to Trump's appeal:"

Far from being concerned about "facts, not feelings," Trump supporters and the conservative movement have created a false narrative of victimhood that motivates their supporters.

McElwee quotes Corey Robin from his book The Reactionary Mind:

Far from being an invention of the politically correct, victimhood has been a talking point of the right ever since Burke decried the mob's treatment of Marie Antoinette. The conservative, to be sure, speaks for a special type of victim: one who has lost something of value, as opposed to the wretched of the earth, whose chief complaint is that they never had anything to lose.

"Trumpism is a movement built around the loss of privilege and perceived social status and a desire to re-create social hierarchy," McElwee writes, "one that requires its adherents to live in a state of constant fear and victimization:"

This mythology requires extensive ideological work and media filtering to remain true. Conservatives must create an ideological bubble in which crime is out of control (instead of hovering near historic lows), the rate of abortion is rising (instead of falling), refugees are committing terrorist attacks en masse (they aren't at all) and immigrants are taking jobs (it's the capitalists), all while the government is funneling money to undeserving black people (black people receive government support in accordance with their share of the population, despite making up a disproportionately large share of the poor). Conservatives, and many in the general public, believe that Muslims and immigrants (both legal and unauthorized) make up a dramatically larger share of the population than they actually do.

"At the same time," he continues, "the right has created a caricature of their opponents on the left:"

In this imagined caricature, the left is sensitive to being "triggered" at every corner, but also capable of unspeakable political violence. The activist left are "snowflakes" on one hand, and brutal killers on the other. In reality, political violence has long been a tactic of the right, from the labor violence that left thousands of workers dead to lynchings to brutality against peaceful protesters inflicted by corporate security and police to the harassment of women seeking abortion, the destruction of abortion clinics and the assassination of doctors who provide abortions. The rhetoric of victimization has costs -- white supremacists are committing unspeakable violence to combat the perceived threat of immigrants, Muslims and people of color. For the next four years, we are likely to have a government driven by perceptions of white Christian victimhood.

Another all-too-prevalent misperception on the Right is the "liberal media" myth:

One would expect Trump -- a reality TV star who clearly understands the importance of ratings -- to have a pretty good idea how the mass media works in America. In public, however, the president espouses a simplistic right-wing view of the press, portraying it as an all-powerful monolith that is always out to unfairly smear him and advance a sinister left-wing agenda. (Trump may believe this to a degree, but he has clearly been playing on the right's ingrained distrust and paranoia.)

And thus, in Trump's mind, the press is the "opposition party," as his chief strategist Steve Bannon put it last month. It deliberately underreports Islamic terrorist attacks while overreporting or manufacturing bad press, such as mass protests, his slipping approval rating or public opinion polls that disapprove of his agenda.

In reality, the mainstream media, or the "corporate media," is driven primarily by business rationale and the profit motive, not some left-wing or liberal agenda.

For a specific--and highly relevant--example, see this Harvard Gazette article about researcher Thomas Patterson:

Given all of the attention that was devoted to Trump by the press, it certainly wasn't surprising that he got the lion's share of the coverage. The interesting part is how much of that was favorable coverage, which contradicts the media narrative that they were tough on him from the beginning.

Patterson's Harvard study from last June found that "Trump got the most coverage of any candidate running on either side" during the primaries, and that the vast majority of it "was favorable in tone:"

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton received the "least favorable coverage of any Democratic or Republican candidate," and during the first half of her campaign there were "three negative reports about her for every positive one." That was partly because Clinton undeniably came with extensive political baggage, but it also discredits the right-wing narrative that the media was a propaganda machine for Clinton.

(Not that logical consistency has ever been one of their strengths...)

Besides reality-TV-style political campaigns, terrorist attacks and other calamities tend to bring in big ratings for news networks, which means Trump has it completely backwards when he claims that those in the media "have their reasons" for underreporting terrorism. In fact, they have every reason to overreport and sensationalize terrorism -- which they do. This sensationalism has resulted in a false perception of violence and danger, leaving Americans extremely fearful of terrorism even though they're more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than to die in a terrorist attack.

Here is some detail from the study:

This paper evaluates news media coverage of the invisible primary phase ["the period before a single primary or caucus vote is cast "] of the 2016 presidential campaign through the lens of the election reporting of eight news outlets--CBS, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

"Trump's coverage was worth millions in free exposure"--the paper estimates $55 million during this phase alone--and which the paper describes as "an unprecedented amount of free media." Additionally, despite the candidate's best efforts to demonstrate his unfitness for office, the majority of his coverage was favorable:

20170213-favorablecoverage.JPG

What happened on the Democratic side of the 'invisible primaries'?

Over the course of 2015, the Democratic race got less than half as much news exposure as the Republican race.

Less coverage of the Democratic side worked against Bernie Sanders' efforts to make inroads on Clinton's support. Sanders struggled to get badly needed press attention in the early going. With almost no money or national name recognition, he needed news coverage if he was to gain traction.

"Whereas media coverage helped build up Trump," the paper observes, "it helped tear down Clinton:"

Trump's positive coverage was the equivalent of millions of dollars in ad-buys in his favor, whereas Clinton's negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end.

Here, for example, is the consistently negative tone of Clinton's coverage:

20170213-negativetone.png

Perhaps we should be investigating the Trump campaign's collusion with domestic media outlets, and not merely with Russian oligarchs.

Vox's Libby Nelson speculates about an impending executive order, and does a great job explaining the outrage over Trump's statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that managed to slight Jews:

President Donald Trump released a brief statement to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a small, symbolic step taken by past presidents to mark one of the world's greatest tragedies. It didn't take long for many people to notice that a key word was missing: Jews.

"It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust," Trump's statement began. "It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror."

As critics quickly noted, there was no mention that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, or an acknowledgment of the virulent, state-sponsored anti-Semitism that led to their deaths -- details that are crucial and commonplace in most discussions of the Holocaust.

Upset over the dearth of positive stories, Conway seems to be inching toward an anti-press pogrom. She even defends Stephen Bannon's statement that "The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while. [...] The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence and no hard work. You're the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party. You're the opposition party." Chris Wallace asked, "Kellyanne, do you understand how offensive that is?" to which she responded, "I'm here [on cable TV] every Sunday morning:"

I haven't slept in a month. I believe in a full and fair press. But with the free press comes responsibility. And responsibility is to get the story right. Biased coverage is easy to detect. Incomplete coverage impossible to detect. That's my major grievance, is the media are not -- they're not giving us complete coverage.

President Trump has signed all these executive orders this week. He's met with these heads of states. He's done so many things to stimulate the economy, to boost wages, to create jobs. Where's the coverage?

Daily Kos's Laura Clawson reminds us that "Kellyanne Conway continues to be a factory for a mind-boggling combination of ridiculous nonsense and terrifying nonsense:"

Notice she doesn't say she believes in a free press, but a "full and fair" one, whatever that means. Fair to Trump, as Trump sees it? But mostly, here's a statement that requires more than the world's tiniest violin. We need the world's tiniest symphony playing a requiem for poor Kellyanne and her gaping, seeping wounds and lack of sleep. [...]

This is pathetic. Except that the threat to the country that this mindset represents can't be underestimated.

"alternative facts"

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Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse take some time to examine "alternative facts" and the necessity of a liberal education, pointing out that Kellyanne Conway's "turn of phrase and her broader point [...] occasions a crucial lesson about the place of liberal education in a democratic society:"

Interpreted more charitably, Conway's 'alternative facts' involve (1) clarifications of the Press Secretary's claims, and (2) evidence in favor of those clarified claims. To be sure, even on this charitable interpretation, Conway's remarks are disappointing, if only because it's the Press Secretary's job to clarify claims by the administration, not to deliver statements that are in need of clarification. But there is another, more significant, disappointment.

The trouble starts with Conway's use of the word 'facts.' She really means something like counter-evidence or complicating consideration. Confusion emerges because, when disagreeing over the facts (in this case, the number of people who witnessed an event), one must present other facts. That is, one must argue, and when we deploy, we must first distinguish between premises and conclusions and then assess how the premises support those conclusions. That's simple logic, but it's all important.

The Orwellian interpretation has it that Conway flatly asserted a favored alternate conclusion, and presented no arguments, but only referred to 'facts' of her own creation. But the more charitable line we've suggested has it that she presented complicating reasons, or rebutting facts: (1) Spicer was talking about witnesses rather than attendees; (2) the number of witnesses to the inauguration (on television and streaming media, et al, worldwide) was far larger than the number of attendees in Washington.

"In the coming months and years," the authors write, "we as a democratic citizenry will need to develop the skills necessary for avoiding and diagnosing such failures of discourse:"

We need to reacquaint ourselves with concepts like reason, evidence, justification, argument, and objection. We need also to cultivate skills of reading and listening closely, not with suspicion, but with a critical eye and ear. And these skills enable creative and clear thinking, too.

It's for this reason we think that the humanities and liberal arts are good for democratic citizens. Reading, thinking, and writing about literature and ideas sound to too many like only so much indulgent bullshit, but it's not. At least when it's done well. (We addressed this point in reply to Marco Rubio's line about "less philosophers, more welders" line.) [see here, here, and here]

"On our more charitable interpretation," they continue, "then, Kellyanne Conway's alternative facts phrase isn't the dark Orwellian statement so many see:"

Rather, it's an awkwardly phrased and largely inept observation that issues are complicated and reasons can conflict. And she's frustrated that she's being interpreted so consistently badly.

It's easy to see why, in this White House's mendacious muddle, Conway isn't getting the benefit of the doubt--but we should, perhaps, offer the more liberal interpretation. Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad's look at data nihilism and agnothology [see my review of the Proctor/Schieneinger book here] wonders whether "in an era of post-Truth, fake news and alternate facts, is data really that relevant?"

One can do all the fact checking in the world but it won't matter if the person to whom the evidence is being presented gives the rejoinder, "What does evidence got to do with it?" Welcome to the brave new world of Data Nihilsm, a term coined by Terry Morse to denote outright denial of data. Closely related to the study of data nihilism is Agnothology or the study of culturally induced ignorance.

"The information age only makes things worse," he continues, "by enabling the creation of echochambers:"

Thus the Internet has created a free for all lunch buffet of information where cherry picking the facts can be used prove anything. If that does not work then one does not even need to cherry picks anything, one can just invent alternative facts and feed them to a populace willing to eagerly believe and regurgitate the 'facts.'

"Alternative" or otherwise...pick your poison.

FakenewsBook

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Whether it's adding President Obama to Mount Rushmore or giving free cars to welfare recipients, notes MediaMatters, Facebook's fake news problem means that biased BS is pushed to nearly five million followers:

"The Facebook page for Proud To Be Conservative, with more than 1.5 million followers," notes MediaMatters, "also exclusively shares content from the AmericanNews.com website:"

American News posts -- whether sharing fake news or pushing highly partisan and heavily spun content -- have several traits that are common to the content pushed by fake news purveyors: They use classic clickbait headlines, actively seek to confirm far-right ideology, and exploit bigotry and biases.

MediaMatters continues by noting that "the distinct problem of fake news has several unique symptoms, including a startling level of opacity, which is exemplified by American News:"

Hyperpartisan pages that push fake news stories [....] like American News, often make it nearly impossible to find any information about the people contributing to their pages or the entities operating them -- even as they rake in tens of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue. This secrecy allows them to remain unaccountable for the content they share, which often includes copied or plagiarized content from other such sites, shared to further spread patently false information.

In summary, "the social media giant clearly has more work to do in addressing its fake news problem; without action, it remains complicit in American News' deceptive fake news tactics."

Trump's fake news

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AlterNet's Kali Holloway writes about Trump's history with fake news, noting that "Fake news is the one thing Trump hasn't claimed to have invented that he actually deserves at least partial credit for inventing:"

He has been spreading fake news since it was just called "lies," and he's shown that winning the presidency will only increase his fake news output. Trump puts out so much misinformation he is a fake news factory unto himself, an artisan of lies, a curator of untruths. Real estate may be his job, but lying is his career, hobby and passion project.

Trump has put thousands of fake news stories out there, some enormous and others so small you wonder why he bothers.

Holloway lists 14 fake news stories that Trump has "created or promoted:" Lying about anti-Obama birtherism and anti-Hillary health scares, spreading rumors about JFK's assassination, demanding the death penalty for the (innocent) Central Park 5, inventing thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheering 9/11, proposing that Scalia was murdered, spreading "completely fabricated numbers for black murder rates," alleging millions of illegal voters, claiming that climate change is a Chinese hoax, promoting the nonexistent vaccine/autism link, suggesting that Cruz and Rubio weren't eligible to run, and blaming "professional protesters, incited by the media" for the demonstrations against him.

All that, and he hasn't even been sworn in yet!

The ACLU provides a hopeful note that dissent is a powerful antidote to propaganda:

Fifty-five years ago this January, the ACLU of Northern California was busy filling orders from across the country for copies of its recently produced film, "Operation Correction." The film was a response to a piece of Red Scare propaganda, "Operation Abolition," which was produced by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and depicted civil liberties activists in San Francisco as violent "communist agents" bent on destroying the fabric of America.

"College students from UC Berkeley and Stanford mobilized to protest the hearings and take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of association," the piece continues,

Through manipulative editing and voiceover narration, HUAC's "Operation Abolition" used real news footage to portray the student activists as violent and dangerous "hardcore Communist agents" and "indoctrinated and trained dupes." [...]

While "Operation Abolition" was being viewed by millions of Americans at town halls and colleges across the country, the ACLU produced "Operation Correction." Our executive director at the time, Ernest Besig, narrated the exact same footage and explained the propagandistic tactics being used to mislead the public.

"People flocked to see it," the piece continues, and "Historians credit HUAC's 'Operation Abolition' with backfiring spectacularly:"

Young people across the country were shown the film at school, saw right through it, and decided they should make their way to Berkeley -- after all, that's where all the action was. Four years later, the UC Berkeley Free Speech Movement began.

Let's remember this moment in history as a lesson in the power of free speech and free thought. And let's remember it as proof that if we remain vigilant, lies can wither in the face of truth.

That worked against HUAC's lies, and it will work against Trump's as well.

O'Keefe owned

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James O'Keefe got owned, and it's delightful:

Here's a stinging quotation from narrator Lauren Windsor:

Convicted criminal and right-wing con artist James O'Keefe and his cohorts in the Trump Foundation-funded Project Veritas are at it again; this time, infiltrating progressive groups in an attempt to create a storyline smearing progressives by promising to fund money for violent schemes to unsuspecting advocates. But this time the tables were turned. We received a tip on suspicious behavior and immediately recognized O'Keefe's malicious handiwork. We partnered with Ryan Clayton of Americans Take Action and launched a counter-sting.

The question, "is James O'Keefe still conducting political hit jobs on the president-elect's behalf?" is all too pertinent.

The whole picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words cliché is sometimes true, but here it's worth a thousand shaking heads:

20170111-obamacare.jpg

H/t to Daily Kos for both the hilarious meal above, and the dessert below:

20170111-obamacarenotaca.png

Comey

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Vox's team bluntly states that Comey cost Clinton the presidency:

Donald Trump has called his election a historic landslide, but it was anything but. Only two other presidents have been elected with smaller popular vote margins since records began in 1824. His edge in the Electoral College, while decisive, depends on less than 80,000 votes across three states (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) out of more than 135 million cast nationwide. It was a very close election.

Despite this, conservatives "have scoffed at the claim that the [Comey] letter changed the outcome of the election, suggesting that it's a convenient excuse for a weak candidate who made some questionable strategic decisions:"

But the Comey effect was real, it was big, and it probably cost Clinton the election. Below, we present four pieces of evidence demonstrating that this is the case.

After detailing the historical uniqueness of Comey's letter, Vox notes that "Clinton's margin over Trump falls dramatically in national polls directly after the Comey letter and never recovers:"

It's worth noting that Comey also made headlines in July [...] every time Comey and emails were driving the news cycle, Clinton's national polling numbers took a significant hit."

"Democrats," writes Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, "didn't lose because their message was unpopular or because they're out of touch or because they're insufficiently centrist or insufficiently leftist:"

That just wasn't the problem. The Democratic message was fine; Democrats are perfectly well in touch with their constituencies; and they weren't perceived as too unwilling to shake things up. Even with eight years of Democratic rule acting as a headwind, Hillary Clinton's default performance was a substantial win.

The only reason it didn't happen is because James Comey basically decided to call her a liar and a crook--based on absolutely no new evidence and with everyone in the world advising him not to--with 12 days left in the election. That was something she couldn't overcome, and it has nothing to do with the basic Democratic message.

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