The Baltimore brouhaha: Trump is an attention whore and the media are complicit

President Trump threw out the lure last Saturday and the media leaped at it like steelhead going after spinners. For almost a week now, the the media has been salivating over the Cummings/Baltimore story, playing right into Trump’s hands.

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I’m sure that Trump, a manipulative narcissist if there ever was one, has been absolutely loving it.

“Rep, Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous. His district is considered the Worst in the USA…..,,” Trump Tweeted to start it all..

“….As proven last week during a Congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded,” Trump continued. “Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”

According to Politico’s Daniel Lippman, despite Trump’s public anti-media screeds, he religiously reads four daily newspapers — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, as well was a daily print-out of the Drudge Report, all of which have covered the Cummings/Baltimore contretemps like a thick blanket.

Thankfully, at least one outlet, the babylonbee.com, a satirical news site, has approached he whole tempest as a joke with stories such as, Futuristic, Utopian Paradise Of Baltimore Completely Baffled By Trump’s Attacks:

“BALTIMORE, MD—President Trump launched into a deranged attack against the city of Baltimore, calling it “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and a place “no human being would want to live.” This caused extreme confusion within the city — as, having been run exclusively by Democrats for decades and decades, it is a nearly perfect, progressive utopia and a beacon of hope to all.”

But most news outlets have pursued the Cummings/Baltimore stories with the kind of moral outrage and hand-wringing usually reserved for stories of great import.

The New York Times, for example, has been all over the story, with headlines like, “The Rot You Smell is a Racist Potus,” “Trump Accuses Black Congressman and Allies of Being Racist,” and “Some very Specific Things the President Could do to Help Baltimore.”

The Times went so far as to run a story featuring Trevor Noah of The Daily Show defending Baltimore and Fox News asked Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Tavon Austin, who grew up in Baltimore, what he thought about Trump’s comments. Even though Austin said he hadn’t even read Trump’s comments about Baltimore, Fox gave him an opportunity to opine on the city’s tough times.

On the Sunday, July 28 talk shows, commentators couldn’t stay away from the topic, relishing the chance to fulminate ad nauseam about Trump, racism, inequality, inner-city troubles, etc.

Tuesday evening’s network news shows continued with one quoting Trump saying that living in Baltimore is like “living in hell” and interviewing residents for their reactions.

Online news outlets have latched onto the story too. On Tuesday, The Bulwark, an American conservative news and opinion website, ran a 1048-word story, Republicans Can Defend Elijah Cummings Any Time Now. Huffpost has gone wild with Cummings/Baltimore stories, too, posting eight different stories just on Tuesday.

And the whole thing has presented an opportunity for all sorts of detestable people to raise their profile, aided and abetted by the media. For example, Al Sharpton, who shows up repeatedly at hot spots like Nadia Vulvokov in the Netflix series Russian Doll, has jumped on the Cummings/Baltimore flap.

At a Monday news conference in Baltimore with former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele (R), Sharpton said Trump “has a particular venom for blacks and people of color.”

The story continued to draw in the media on Wednesday (July 31). A CBSN reporter, for example, asked a Republican National Committee official whether the controversy would alienate voters of color from the Republican Party.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), also apparently unable to move on, continued the barrage on Thursday, saying Trump should ask “slumlord” Jared Kushner about Baltimore. Here comments generated multiple news stories, including a lengthy story on The Hill and television news stories across the country.

The hand-wringing continued on Friday, Aug. 2, as academics and politicians worked to find an angle they could exploit. William A. Donohue, a Distinguished Professor of Communication at Michigan State University, wrote a piece for The Conversation, an online publication, likening Trump referring to Baltimore as a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess” to the “pattern of dehumanizing language in the lead-up to the genocide committed by the Turks against Armenians, where Armenians were “dangerous microbes.” Donohue went so far as to equate Trump’s remarks to Germans describing Jews as “Untermenschen,” or subhumans, during the Holocaust.

All of the country’s major news outlets, and many secondary ones, have been rabidly pursuing the Cummings/Baltimore story, elevating it to major coverage, as though it matters.

If the media had simply ignored Trump’s blathering, it would have died a natural, and appropriate, death.  OK, maybe the Baltimore Sun had a reason to go with news coverage and a scathing editorial, but that’s it.

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Instead, major media have seen in Trump’s tweetstorm an opportunity to promote rancorous public disputes and contrived mud fights, just as the Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist, observed that the “clear intent of the (CNN) moderation was to spark fights” in Tuesday night’s Democratic debate.

Atlantic magazine writer Adam Serwer got it right. “The mainstream press has internalized Trump’s own reality-show standards for what counts as a significant political development,” Server wrote. “All the world is trashy television, and the president and his opposition are merely producers.”

Trump’s Cummings/Baltimore tweet storms were designed to be a distraction, and they’ve worked particularly well with an American media with a hive mentality, a kind of “On est tous dans le même bain, ” and a consistent race to the bottom. It’s likepornography has gotten more and more crude and explicit in order to compete for attention.

Trump’s outrageous tweets divert the world’s attention, and reporters, from real issues that matter. He manipulates the media by transforming out-of-the-blue poisonous rants into free, must-cover press opportunities. “I remain astonished by the ability of this former reality TV star to be our assignment editor,” bemoaned Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Frankly, Trump has led the media by the nose, as they’ve pursued audiences with ferocity, their eyes more than ever on the bottom line in this difficult time for journalism.

As a Wall Street Journal opinion column by Holman W. Jenkins Jr. put it, “He delights in making us dance to tunes he wantonly types out in the wee hours.” Jenkins went on to mourn “…the apparent ease with which he elicits ritualized behavior from our media.”

When are the media going to wise up?

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George Carlin was ahead of his time: Trump’s 7 Words.

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Back in 1972, ages ago to many of you, comedian George Carlin achieved some notoriety when he crafted a monologue, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”. (For the uninformed, the words were shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Can you write those in a blog post even today?)

“Those are the heavy seven,” Carlin said. “Those are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war,” he said facetiously.

Now the Trump administration has come up with its own list of seven prohibited words. According to news reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been banned from using the following seven words/phrases in budget documents: “vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based.”

We’re becoming Venezuela, where doctors are warned not to diagnose a patient as suffering from “malnutrition”, likely because it would highlight the widespread hunger in the country where, according to a horrific story in the New York Times, starving children are regularly brought to hospital emergency rooms.

Or maybe we’re becoming like Turkey, where you still can’t refer to the massacre of at least 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire during 1915-1923 as genocide.

In some cases, alternatives to Trump’s banned words were suggested to CDC analysts. Instead of saying “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the analysts were given options like, “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the Washington Post reported.

As overused as the 1984 parallel can be these days, the instructions to CDC remind me of Orwell’s dystopian novel’s reference to Newspeak, where words mean what the government wants them to mean. In Newspeak, “blackwhite”, for example, means to believe that black is white, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary, and “joycamp” is a forced labor camp.

In his essay “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell observed that language is “an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.” In that respect, he said, “political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” He was convinced that the language of government was often vague and misleading because its intent was to cloud and/or distract from the truth.

The Trump Administration’s conscious decision to undermine reality goes back at least to January 2017 when Kellyanne Conway, a Trump adviser, used the term “alternative facts,” what Open Culture has called “the latest Orwellian coinage for bald-faced lying.”

The newly announced CDC policy is also part of the corrosion of public policy language in general, what British writer Patrick Cockburn referred to as “the use of tired and misleading words or phrases, their real purpose being not to illuminate but to conceal” and what Orwell called “the defence of the indefensible.”

” The Blair government’s use of a buzzword such as “conversation” – to be conducted with the British people about some issue of policy – was geared to suggest chattiness and fake intimacy, “Cockburn wrote. “In practice, it reinforced people’s sense that they were about to be diddled again by a phoney sense of participation and that the real decisions had already been taken.”

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Can we still say “Moron?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Manafort Indictment: one charge is bogus

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The Department of Justice unveiled indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort today (Oct. 30).

The indictment contains 12 counts. conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

One charge in particular intrigued me, that Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal under the the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), enacted in 1938 to counter Nazi propagandists and amended in 1966 to regulate political and economic lobbyists.

The fact is FARA is a paper tiger, frequently ignored and rarely enforced.

FARA requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. There are about  2,000 foreign agents registered under the Act representing more than 100 countries.

The Center for Public Integrity released a study, “The hired guns who advocate for the world’s worst human rights abusers” – a research report that highlighted the PR firms that make the most money representing clients that violate human rights.

The study said FARA records revealed that “that the 50 countries with the worst human rights violation records have spent $168 million on American lobbyists and public relations specialists since 2010.”

The fact is, Washington, D.C. is packed with public relations professionals and lobbyists who work for foreign governments, many of them with reputations for corruption and human rights abuses.

Another fact is that the registration process under FARA  is often altogether ignored or treated as an afterthought, with many registrants filing retroactive registrations, or only supplying partial submissions.

An internal DoJ audit of the NSD’s enforcement and administration of FARA, conducted in 2016, found that only 23 percent of filings from 2013 to 2015 were filed on time—62 percent were submitted late.[6] Likewise, only 44 percent submitted their supplemental statements in a timely fashion, and 10 percent did not submit any follow-up supplemental materials.

“The Congress didn’t necessarily want to have a strong enforcement mechanism, ” said Kenneth Doyle, the Senior Editor for Bloomberg’s Money & Politics Report. ” There are principal reasons in terms of the First Amendment and not wanting to be too tough on people’s ability to petition the government, and then there are practical reasons of not wanting to be too tough on lobbyists who are important to the way that Washington works. I think they did it deliberately, saying, ‘Well, we’ll have a disclosure system, but it’s not going to have a strong enforcement mechanism and we’ll see what happens.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

DACA Lawsuit is dead in the water

DACA PROTEST

“If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts,” goes an old legal aphorism. “ If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”

Sixteen state attorneys general, all Democrats, have decided to pound the table to stop President Trump from rolling back Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Their lawsuit in federal court in the Eastern District of New York asserts:

“Rescinding DACA will cause harm to hundreds of thousands of the States’ residents, injure State-run colleges and universities, upset the States’ workplaces, damage the States’ economies, hurt State-based companies, and disrupt the States’ statutory and regulatory interests.”

In other words, people who come into the United States illegally shouldn’t be subject to deportation because they generate economic activity. Drug dealers generate economic activity, too, but I don’t see attorneys general arguing they should, therefore, be able to do their business without restraint. Millions of people from other countries who are overstaying their visas in the United States generate economic activity, but that doesn’t exempt them from the law if they are caught.

Trump has the law on his side because DACA is likely unconstitutional as an overreach of executive authority. Meanwhile, most of the media,  instead of recognizing the illegality of Obama’s action and the need for comprehensive constitutional immigration reform, concentrates on touching stories that suggest supporters of Trump’s decision lack concern for the 800,000 children of illegal immigrants covered by DACA.

Not that any of this matters, of course. Trump, who blasted out his administration’s intention to rescind DACA if Congress doesn’t come up with a legislative alternative within six months, undermined his stern threats when he subsequently tweeted:

“Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue! — Donald J. Trump”

@realDonaldTrump, September 6, 2017

So much for Trump’s hard-nosed commitment to principle. And so much for any chance the Democrats will be willing to compromise.

The Attorneys General Letter to Trump: The Rest of the Story

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After the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville and Trump’s controversial response, the media reported eagerly on a letter signed by 67 former state attorneys general and top government lawyers reminding the country of the need to respond vigorously to hate.

“There are times in the life of a nation, or a president, or a state attorney general, when one is called upon to respond directly to the voice of hate,” they wrote in a letter released on Monday, Aug. 21.

The letter cited how, in 1976, Bill Baxley, Alabama’s Attorney General, responded to a threatening letter from a Ku Klux Klan leader. “…all who seek to equivocate in times of moral crisis” should look to the 1976 response of Alabama’s attorney general at the time to the Ku Klux Klan: “[K]iss my ass.”

Though it didn’t mention him by name, the letter was clearly intended as a condemnation of President Trump.

The media jumped on the story.

“Dozens of former attorneys general urge Trump to tell KKK ‘kiss my ass’,” said The Hill.

“Former Attorneys General Urge Trump To Condemn Hate With ‘Moral Clarity’,” wrote HuffPost.

“More than 60 former attorneys general from U.S. states and territories released a letMonday seeking to provide clarity on how to respond to acts of hate,” declared the Washington Post.

“Citing former Alabama AG, officials urge Trump to tell KKK to ‘kiss my….” blasted AL.com, an Alabama news site. “The signatories represent both major parties and 36 of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico,” The New York Times reported.

From the headlines and stories in media across the board, most people likely concluded the letter was truly bipartisan.

Not so fast.

I didn’t see any media outlet note that of the 67 signatories to the letter, all but 12 were Democrats, many of whom left office decades ago. It took me very little time to ascertain this from available records, so obviously the major media weren’t prevented from doing the same.

The letter was essentially a political hatchet job. This isn’t to excuse trump for his offensive comments, but to say that too many journalists hide behind a facade of objectivity. In this case, for all their claims of fairness and balance, the media owe us better.

The Washington Post highlighted that the signers included “several former officials who went on to even more political prominence,” but it cited only former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman, former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. It didn’t note that all three were Democrats.

Media coverage also didn’t note the sullied reputations of some of the Democrat signers.

None of the media pointed out that signer State Attorney General Charlie Brown, Democrat of West Virginia, abruptly resigned in August 1989 in exchange for an end to a grand jury investigation into his campaign financial records and allegations that he lied under oath and planned to pay $50,000 in hush money to a former secretary who claimed to need an abortion.

None of the media pointed out that signer State Attorney General Steve Clark, Democrat of Arkansas, resigned as Attorney General and withdrew from a race for governor in 1990 after a scandal. The Arkansas Gazette newspaper reported that his office spent a suspicious $115,729 on travel and meals, and that his vouchers listed a lot of people who said they’d never been his guests. Clark was convicted of fraud by deception.

Nobody pointed out that signer Jim Guy Tucker, an Arkansas Democrat who served as the state’s 43rd governor and Attorney General, resigned the governorship in 1996 after he was convicted of one count of conspiracy and one count of mail fraud.

As radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say in his velvety voice, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

What Does the Resistance Want?

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 Good grief. Another nationwide anti-Trump march is in the works.

 Indivisible, a national anti-Trump movement advocating a permanent, organized rebellion, is calling for a March For Truth on Saturday, June 3.

“Let’s rise together to call for a fair and impartial investigation into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia and demand the pursuit of truth.” Indivisible says.

Indivisible says marches are already planned for at least 50 cities across the country. Portland’s is set to take place at Terry Schrunk Plaza in Portland.

The March for Truth will follow the March for Science, the Tax March, the People’s Climate March and the Women’s March.

We’re starting to look like France, with its perpetual violent protests over such things as police brutality, politicians, labor laws, pay policies, pension reform, education reform, nurse suicides, the ruling elite and just about everything else.

But as the US progressive-led protests multiply, what exactly is the point?

“Resist!” the protesters exclaim. Resist what? That they lost an election? That the winner is not advocating the policies and programs the loser and her backers favored?

The protests may be an emotionally rewarding bonding exercise, but as a New York Post column noted, “In a self-governing republic with established democratic processes, there is no honorable role for “resistance.”

This resistance suggests progressives only support free elections if they win.

“Those who lose elections in free countries are the opposition, and can fix that by winning their next election,” the Post column said. “Instead of asking why they lost, the ‘resistance’ decided to pretend the loss of any election amounts to oppression and have adopted the language of revolution to rally themselves.”

Making things more deplorable, the principal organization behind the protests doesn’t disclose who is funding them. That organization, The Indivisible Project, is a registered 501c(4) nonprofit that says its mission “… is to fuel a progressive grassroots network to defeat the Trump agenda. “

Indivisible’s most recent Facebook post features a plea for donations and includes a lengthy explanation of its fundraising philosophy, but leaves out any mention of transparency. It highlights that a major donor has agreed to match all donations dollar-for-dollar until the beginning of Memorial Day recess, May 26th.

But at a time when progressives complain about dark money in politics, the major donor is not named.