The media as the resistance

NYTIMES

Jill Abramson, a former executive editor of the New York Times, has a few things to say about the paper’s coverage of President Trump. In a Columbia Journalism Review piece, she warns that the paper needs to be careful not to “create the appearance of a pile-on… that needlessly inflame Trump loyalists.”

“Precisely because of its influence, the Times’s tone and sense of proportion in covering the president must be pitch perfect,” Abramson says. She notes statements by the paper’s current Executive Editor Dean Baquet, “Our role is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump,” and by David Sanger, a Washington correspondent for the Times, that it would be “the biggest single mistake . . . to let ourselves become the resistance to the government.”

To put it mildly, I’m far from a Trump loyalist, but I’ve seen the Times’ blatant bias in its coverage of Trump’s recent package of immigration proposals.

“White House Makes Hard-Line Demands for Any ‘Dreamers’ Deal”, the NY Times screamed on Oct. 8.

DACA PROTEST

The paper went on to say Trump’s “demands” threaten a bipartisan solution.

“WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday delivered to Congress a long list of hard-line immigration measures that President Trump is demanding in exchange for any deal to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, imperiling a fledgling bipartisan push to reach a legislative solution.”

The Washington Post blared on the same day:
“Trump administration releases hard-line immigration principles, threatening deal on ‘dreamers’ “

RealClear Politics fell in line, too. “ “An array of hard-line immigration priorities the White House outlined to Congress Sunday were quickly rejected by Democrats as complete non-starters, jeopardizing the chances of striking a deal to shield hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

 The Boston Globe, the L.A. Times, USA Today and multiple other news outlets piled on with the same “hard-line” cliché.

 Wait a minute. Why are Trump’s proposals “hard-line” and not the Democrats demands?

A little history is in order.

When President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals   (DACA) program in the Rose Garden on June 15, 2012, it hardly reflected a middle-of-the-road consensus. If anything, it represented hard-line hard-left thinking, but the media didn’t describe it that way.

This despite the fact Republicans vigorously denounced the move as an abuse of executive power. The action is “a politically-motivated power grab that does nothing to further the debate but instead adds additional confusion and uncertainty to our broken immigration system,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

And when Obama said in 2014 that he intended to expand DACA so more people would be eligible, 26 states with Republican governors went to court to stop him. Resistance broke out as well when Obama took executive action to grant deferred action status to illegal immigrants who had lived in the United States since 2010 and had children who were either American citizens or lawful permanent residents.

In both cases, courts blocked Obama’s actions and in June 2017 the Trump Administration officially rescinded the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans order.

In other words, Obama’s actions were pretty hard-line. But the media didn’t describe them that way.

Trump’s current package of immigration proposals includes a dozen proposals grouped into three broad areas — border security, interior enforcement and merit-based immigration. Key elements are:

  • Build a southern border wall and close legal loopholes that enable illegal immigration and swell the court backlog.
  • Enforce our immigration laws and return visa overstays.
  • Merit-based immigration system. Establish reforms that protect American workers and promote financial success.

The Democrat’s reaction? Immediate, unqualified, harsh, hard-line dead-on-arrival rejection of Trump’s plan. “This list goes so far beyond what is reasonable,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer  and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.”

Why do the media label Trump’s proposals “hard-line”, but not apply the negative appellation to the Democrat’s outright rejection of them and insistence on their positions? Why aren’t the opening positions of both sides simply described as starting points for negotiation? Then we can decide what we think of them.

That would be more responsible than the major media becoming the resistance.

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Trump’s Immigration Order: Fact Checking The Fact Checker

4-pinnochios

There’s little question that President Trump thoroughly botched the rollout of his immigration order on Jan. 27. But so-called fact checkers don’t need to try to tip the scales even further.

“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months,” Trump said on Jan. 29.

Some background.

Following the arrest of two Iraqis in Kentucky in May 2011 for terrorism, Obama pledged to re-examine the records of 58,000 Iraqis who had been settled in the United States and the administration imposed more extensive background checks on Iraqi refugees.

“As a result of the Kentucky case, the State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011, federal officials told ABC News — even for many who had heroically helped U.S. forces as interpreters and intelligence assets,” ABC News reported. ABC said that as a result of the visa pause, an “Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays.”

At a congressional hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said a hold had been placed on Iraqi visa applications “…until they could be more stringently vetted to ensure that we’re not letting into the U.S. people who would do Americans harm.”

The Economist reported, “Immigration authorities soon began rechecking all Iraqi refugees in America, reportedly comparing fingerprints and other records with military and intelligence documents in dusty archives. About 1,000 soon-to-be immigrants in Iraq were told that they would not be allowed to board flights already booked. Some were removed from planes. Thousands more Iraqi applicants had to restart the immigration process, because their security clearances expired when the programme stalled.”

The result? The pace of visa approvals slowed to a crawl, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2011, telling of an Iraqi who had served as an interpreter for the U.S. military and was unable to secure a visa to the U.S. “…Thousands of former interpreters have been cast adrift, threatened by insurgents as they wait for the federal bureaucracy to act,” The Times reported.

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler initially argued that since Obama didn’t announce an actual ban on Iraqi visa applications, but “danced around” the question, what Obama did bore no resemblance to Trump’s order. Kessler said further that Trump’s policy wasn’t the same because because Obama’s policy didn’t prevent green card holders from traveling to the United States (though the Trump administration has since made it clear that green card holders are not affected by Trump’s Executive Order).

So Kessler said the assertion that Trump’s policy was similar to Obama’s action in 2011 “was worthy of at least Two Pinocchios”. The Washington Post explains what this means as follows:

 Two Pinocchios

Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people. (Similar to “half true.”)

More disturbing, Kessler later updated his rating to Three Pinochios” in light of new information”.

The Washington Post explains what this means as follows:

Three Pinocchios

Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions. This gets into the realm of “mostly false.” But it could include statements which are technically correct (such as based on official government data) but are so taken out of context as to be very misleading.

Kessler said his revised rating was based on statements by two former Obama Administration officials, as though they should be the final word. One of those officials said there was no ban on Iraqi refugee admissions under Obama because although there were processing delays, but here was was no single month during which no Iraqis arrived in the U.S.

Another former Obama Administration official said there may have been “a lower level of Iraqi resettlement” for a period, “there was never a point during that period in which Iraqi resettlement was stopped, or banned.”

Kessler also reiterated that Trump’s order was different because Obama’s policy did not prevent green-card holders from traveling to the United States. (Again, Trump’s order did not do this either)

Fact check? I don’t think so.

It would have made more sense for Kessler to simply say “In my opinion…” rather than try to disguise himself as an unbiased truth-teller.

The fact is that although Obama did not announce a ban on visa applications by Iraqis, the impact was essentially the same. To say otherwise is a dishonest portrayal of reality and as disingenuous as can be.

 

It’ll be too damn bad if Trump gets walloped

The glee was palpable. This past weekend, E.J. Dionne Jr., a liberal columnist at the Washington Post, exuberantly declared that Donald Trump’s candidacy is set to implode.

But such elation may be misplaced if Trump’s defeat allows the status quo politicians, power brokers and so-called thought leaders to claim victory and dismiss the concerns of many of his frustrated and embittered supporters.

PoliticsAsUsual

Trump’s supporters reflect a lot of discontent that’s boiling up in this country. If it’s just dismissed as the complaints of a fringe and we return to politics as usual, that would be a tragedy.

It would mean ignoring millions of Americans like Sam W., a longtime friend from back East.

Sam called me the other day to shoot the breeze. We started talking about cycling tours and our children, but it wasn’t long before the conversation turned to politics.

And off he went, hardly pausing for a breath.

Sam’s a professional, has a graduate degree and is drawn to Donald Trump, partly because of his disgust with politics as usual. In an exasperated tone, he said he felt that the pundits, the media and political leaders in both parties are demonizing him and others like him as poorly educated, ill-informed, racist bumpkins who need to get with the program.

“It’s really discouraging,” Sam said, “to be labeled a nutcase and a low-knowledge voter because I think the leaders of both parties have utterly failed us in confronting America’s problems.”

His litany of frustrations was a long one.

When he argues that massive illegal immigration and sanctuary cities undermine the rule of law, sanctimonious liberals call him a bigot, he said.

When he lambastes Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s disastrous lead-from-behind foreign policy, the collapse of one Middle East country after another, Russia’s takeover of Crimea and ascendency in Syria and other international messes, he said he’s dismissed or ignored.

Sam also endorses the argument that some international defense agreements need to be reexamined. “Too many countries are only able to afford their cushy social welfare programs because the U.S. picks up the tab for their security,” Sam said. “That’s crap. When our own budget is strained, isn’t it legitimate to consider more sharing of the burden?”

When he expresses his frustration with the latest PC controversy, such as  the complaints by Emory University students that somebody writing “Trump 2016” in chalk on a campus sidewalk makes them feel unsafe and in pain, he’s accused of being a narrow-minded old fogie.

Sam is also disheartened with the failure of both parties to honestly tackle the ever-expanding national debt. When George W. Bush left office in January 2009, the national debt was $10 trillion. Now in the eighth year of Obama’s presidency, it is over $19 trillion.

But neither party is talking seriously about the critical need to reduce federal spending and avoid a debt crisis. Democrats never seem to give a damn, Sam said, but the Republicans aren’t much better because they say they care, but the truth is they still vote for budget busting bills.

Sam also doesn’t think either party has really shown much real concern for the poor. The Democrats just want to expand the welfare state and generate thank-you votes, he said, and the Republicans seem insensitive to the legitimate concerns of struggling Americans.

For that matter, the establishment elite of both parties doesn’t seem to understand the legitimate worries of the middle class either, Sam said. A lot of Americans are really scared and struggling just to stay in place, he said, but politicians seem more focused on catering to big banks, corporations and the wealthy.

And think about what we may end up with if Trump is pushed out, Sam said. “On the Republican side we could be faced with Ted Cruz, a right-wing bible-thumping moralist who is a pariah in his own party. On the other side, Hillary Clinton is an uninspiring and widely distrusted candidate whose entire family stinks of greed and appears oblivious to common standards of conduct.”

“An awful lot of Americans are just completely disillusioned with U.S. politics as usual,” Sam said.

 “Whether they are the academic, media, and entertainment elites of the Left or the political and business elites of the Right, America’s self-appointed best and brightest uniformly view the passions unleashed by Trump as the modern-day equivalent of a medieval peasants’ revolt. And, like their medieval forebears, they mean to crush it,” the National Review said earlier this year.

If they succeed, and then ignore the concerns of Sam and millions of Americans like him, the prognosis for stability and progress is not good.

The San Bernardino massacre and the failed U.S. visa system

(Addendum: Dec. 10, ABC News, http://abcn.ws/1QfISlG)

Farook and Malik’s marriage isn’t the only one garnering suspicion. In the midst of the investigation into Farook’s family, new details have emerged about the use and possible abuse of the government marriage citizenship program involving Enrique Marquez, the man who officials told ABC News originally bought two of the weapons used in the San Bernardino attack and was married to Mariya Chernykh, who moved from Russia to the United States in 2009.

——

(Addendum: Dec. 9, NY Times ,http://nyti.ms/1NcHEUE)

James+Comey+Jr+Senate

“The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said Wednesday that the couple who waged a shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., last week had been talking of an attack as far back as two years ago, before the United States gave the woman approval to enter the country…The disclosure raised the possibility that American immigration and law enforcement authorities missed something in the woman’s background when they granted her the approval.”) I’ll say.

——

Not to worry, says the U.S. government. Immigration law is strictly enforced.

Except that it isn’t.

san-bernardino-shooting-pictures-20151202-thumbnail

Tashfeen Malik, who pledged her fealty to ISIS and joined with her husband to brutally slaughter 14 people in San Bernardino, came to the United States on a “fiancée visa”, otherwise known as a K-1 visa.

Tashfeen Malik

Tashfeen Malik

Under the law, the spouse-to-be from a foreign country is allowed to enter the United States for 90 days so that the marriage ceremony can take place. Once the marriage takes place, the spouse may apply for permanent residence and remain in the United States while U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services processes the application.

The government says the fiancée visa system is very rigorous and strictly enforced. If the foreigner doesn’t follow the law, they have to go home.

The problem is violations of U.S. visa law are routinely ignored.

The fact is that about 40% of the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States aren’t low-income people from Mexico and Central America. Instead, they are foreigners who arrived legally, often on fiancée, tourist or education visas, and just never left. They became what are simply labeled “overstayers”.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the government doesn’t even compile information on the millions of overstayers, leaving it to others to piece together a snapshot of who they are and where in the U.S. they live.

So much for homeland security.

 

Disillusionment and despair: the Trump turmoil

Donald Trump isn’t a candidate.

Donald-Trump-Caricature

He’s a stand-in for the alienation and disillusionment so many Americans feel as both the Republican and Democratic parties have failed us.

How could it be otherwise when so much seems so wrong and fakery, misdirection, and outright lies by both parties have been so pervasive?

Consider:

  • The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality in the United States since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression. By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years.
  • The 2009 $830 billion stimulus package, with a claimed focus on shovel-ready projects, was supposed to fix things after the Great Recession. The legacy instead – a slow growth economy. The first 23 quarters of the recovery, which officially began in June of 2009, had an annual rate of growth of just 2.1 percent.
  • The distribution of wealth in the United States is even more unequal than that of income. The wealthiest 5 percent of American households held 54 percent of all wealth reported in 1989, rose to 61 percent in 2010 and reached 63 percent in 2013.
  • 71 percent of Americans say life has gotten worse for middle-class Americans over the past 10 years.
  • Today’s fifty-somethings may be part of the first generation in American history to experience a lifetime of downward mobility, in which at every stage of adult life, they have had less income and less net wealth than did people who were their age ten years before.
  • There is now less economic mobility in the United States than in Canada or much of Europe. A child born in the bottom one-fifth of incomes in the United States has only a 4 percent chance of rising to the top one-fifth.
  • Young Americans (ages 18-34) are earning less (adjusted for inflation) than their peers in 1980 ; the college graduating class this year left with an average student debt of $35,051.
  • In 1986, President Reagan signed legislation that was supposed to fix the illegal immigration issue once and for all. Three million applied for legal status and about 2.7 million received it. Today, about 11.7 million immigrants are living in the United States illegally. So much for the fix.
  • Despite all the “mission accomplished” and “victory is at hand” assurances, America has been at war in the Middle East for the past 15 years, with little to show for it, billions of dollars down a rathole, thousands of American soldiers dead and wounded, and continuing chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
  • Despite the billions the government has spent on poverty-related programs, half of children age three and younger live in poverty.
  • The White House wants to “press the reset button” on one of Washington’s biggest challenges: its increasingly troublesome relationship with Russia,” Vice President Biden, 2/7/2009; “We’re going to hit the reset button and start fresh (with Russia),” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 3/6/2009
  • “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.” President Obama, 6/6/2009.
  • “I ended the war in Iraq, as I promised. We are transitioning out of Afghanistan. We have gone after the terrorists who actually attacked us 9/11 and decimated al Qaeda.” President Obama, 9/14/2012
  • Despite assurances from some politicians that all’s well, the Medicare program has $28.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years. Together with Social Security’s $13.3 trillion shortfall, the government has accumulated entitlement spending commitments that far exceed our capacity to pay for them.
  • In the 2012 election cycle, a tiny elite of the U.S. population, just 0.40 %, made a political contribution of more than $200, providing 63.5% of all individual contributions to federal candidates, PACs and Parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
  • Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign to date, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.

As H.L. Mencken said, “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule — and both commonly succeed, and are right.”

 

Obama and Immigration: shoot me now or shoot me later

“Shoot me now or shoot me later,” Javert belted out in Les Miserables.

In the same vein, you know Obama’s going to do it. It’s just a matter of when.

President Obama is going to issue sweeping executive orders on immigration, but just not yet. Instead, he’s going to do it when he thinks there will be less political damage.

immigration1

immigration2

Earlier this year Obama said that inaction by Congress was going to force him to make major immigration changes by executive order before the end of summer.

But on Sept. 7, Obama said he’d wait until after the November elections to take action. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Obama said he would act before the end of the year. “…it’s going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration…,” he said.
Pollster Pat Caddell took a more cynical perspective, asserting that Obama, by deciding to defer action until after the November elections, is really saying, ‘Hey, dummies after you’ve voted, then I’m going to drop this on you.”

Obama’s decision allows liberal Democrats running in liberal states or districts to publicly whine and complain about the delay while allowing Democrats in conservative states or districts to try to avoid the subject altogether.

Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, for example, were all worried that executive actions by Obama would jeopardize their tight races in conservative-leaning states. Now they can rest easier.

But some Democrats and Republicans may find that delay is not without its costs.

As the New York Times reported, Angela M. Kelly, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said Latinos are going to expect Mr. Obama to take even more expansive executive action later this year, given the delay.

Obama’s executive orders on immigration: A feast for special interests

“A government above the law is a menace to be defeated.”
Lord Scarman

“This is a nation of laws,” President Obama proclaimed on Tuesday during his plea for calm in Ferguson, MO.

Yes it is. And the President of the United States, who appears to be unable or unwilling to work with Congress on immigration, shouldn’t be focusing his energies on how to go around it.

obama-cnn

“America is a nation of laws, which means I, as the president, am obligated to enforce the law. I don’t have a choice about that. That’s part of my job,” Obama said in March 2011, at an event hosted by the Spanish-language television network Univision.

“There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president,” Obama added.

So there’s something very dispiriting about his administration’s current maneuvering, in collusion with an array of special interests, to bypass Congress and circumvent immigration law through executive orders.

It reminds me of my time as staff on a committee of the House of Representatives when an impatient constituent complained about House inaction on a piece of legislation. Rep. Edwin Forsythe (R-NJ), the ranking minority member of the committee, replied that the Founders intended Congress to be deliberate. “It keeps a lot of bad bills from passing,” he said.

Instead of letting that legislative process play out, there’s something odious about all the special interests sidling up to Obama and his advisors behind closed doors to plead their case. They haven’t succeeded in pushing Congress to pass an immigration bill to their liking, so they’re happy to win by going in the back door.

This is where special deals for special interests, many of which have likely contributed generously to Obama and Democrats, can get their rewards without public exposure.

In an interesting juxtaposition of stories in today’s New York Times, one story highlighted Obama’s disengagement with Congress. “…nearly six years into his term, with his popularity at the lowest of his presidency, Mr. Obama appears remarkably distant from his own party on Capitol Hill, with his long neglect of would-be allies catching up to him,” the story said.

Meanwhile,another story outlined Obama’s plans to use executive orders to make “potentially sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration system without Congress.”

”America cannot wait forever for them to act,” Obama said of Congressional Republicans.

But the unwillingness of Congress to act on a president’s priorities shouldn’t mean defaulting to unbridled executive action. Rather, it should lead to more aggressive effort to secure Congressional votes.

When faced with Congressional resistance to his civil rights proposals, President Johnson didn’t retreat to the oval office to invent spurious ways to bypass Congress. As Robert Caro has so ably documented, Johnson worked every angle, twisted every arm, and glad-handed every critic to secure passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

According to Caro, when Johnson embarked on his campaign for a civil rights bill, his allies cautioned him about using up his political capitol on a important but doomed effort so soon after ascending to the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination.

Johnson’s reply? “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”