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“Trump’s Most Impressive Boast Is A Brazen Lie”: An Excellent Time To Re-Adjust The B.S. Detector

Every presidential candidate is going to boast about all of the many reasons he or she deserves voters’ support. It’s how the process works: White House hopefuls, without exception, are going to present themselves as the best possible person for one of the world’s most important jobs.

And with that in mind, Donald Trump, perhaps more than most, seems to take great pride in singing his own praises, celebrating his wealth, judgment, and professed wisdom in ways that have evidently won over much of the Republican Party’s base. Some of these boasts have even impressed a handful of political pundits.

Last week, for example, Patrick Smith, Salon’s foreign affairs columnist, argued that Trump’s views on foreign policy deserve to be taken seriously because the Republican frontrunner opposed the war in Iraq – unlike a certain Democratic candidate.

The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd devoted much of latest column, published yesterday, to a related point.

The prime example of commander-in-chief judgment Trump offers is the fact that, like [President Obama], he thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea. […]

You can actually envision a foreign policy debate between Trump and [Hillary Clinton] that sounds oddly like the one Obama and Clinton had in 2008, with Trump playing Obama, preening about his good judgment on Iraq….

It’s easy to imagine Trump and his campaign team celebrating pieces like these. It’s equally easy to expect a series of related arguments in the coming months from Clinton detractors looking for an excuse to support the GOP’s nativist demagogue.

There is, however, a rather important problem with the entire argument: it’s based on a fairly obvious lie.

Trump’s claim is that he, relying solely on his extraordinary instincts and unrivaled prognostication skills, recognized that the war in Iraq would be a disaster from the outset. The political establishment at the time lacked Trump’s vision, but if insiders had only listened to him, a catastrophic mistake could have been avoided.

Last fall, Trump went so far as to say, in multiple interviews, that he was so outspoken in his condemnations of the U.S. invasion plans in 2003 that officials from the Bush/Cheney White House actually reached out to him, urging him to tone down his criticism before he started turning Americans against the coming conflict.

These are all important assertions in the 2016 race, which may impress Clinton’s critics, but which aren’t even remotely true. Not to put too fine a point on this, but Trump is brazenly, shamelessly lying. There is literally no evidence to substantiate any of his claims, and extensive evidence that proves the opposite.

On Sept. 11, 2002, for example, Howard Stern asked Trump, “Are you for invading Iraq?” Trump replied, “Yeah, I guess so.”

One can certainly characterize this as lukewarm support for the disastrous war, but it’s hardly a position that can fairly be described as opposition. And for a New York Times columnist to tell readers that Trump “thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea” is both wrong and bizarre. (As of this morning, Dowd’s error has not yet generated a correction.)

In fairness, Trump eventually criticized the war in Iraq, but only well after the Bush/Cheney policy took a devastating turn for the worse and it became painfully obvious to everyone that the U.S. invasion had been a terrible mistake. But by the time Trump acknowledged this, he was only repeating observations that had already dawned on much of the country.

The larger dynamic to keep in mind is that some in the political world have not yet come to terms with Trump’s unique style of campaigning: (1) manufacture self-aggrandizing boast; (2) repeat said boast regularly; (3) wait for unsuspecting media professionals to accept boast at face value; (4) repeat.

It’s a shame some haven’t noticed the pattern sooner, failing to recognize the importance of scrutinizing Trump’s demonstrably ridiculous claims, but it’s not too late. The likely Republican nominee will continue to make outrageous boasts with no basis in fact, counting on journalists to simply give him the benefit of the doubt, between now and Election Day. For those who’ve been fooled by Trump’s falsehoods, now would be an excellent time to re-adjust their b.s. detectors accordingly.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 2, 2016

May 3, 2016 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Donald Trump, Iraq War | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Extremes Is All Our Politicians Have Left”: Without A Center, How Does The Nation’s Business Get Done?

“Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold.” — William Butler Yeats

And so this is the presidential campaign of 2016.

If it were a movie, it would be pornography. If it were a sporting event, it would be a cockfight. If it were music, it would be the sound of cats on a hot blackboard.

In other words, it has not been the most high-minded affair.

But beyond the fact that it has been ugly and dispiriting, the campaign has also come to feel … ominous, like a portent of some dystopian future. You wonder if maybe the superficial nastiness of it isn’t truly superficial at all, but rather, evidence of a grim new reality: that we are a nation of 323 million people in 50 states who not only are not united, but don’t particularly want to be.

It is hard to escape a sense that at some level, we have disengaged from one another and that as a result, our politics has shrunken to its extremes, like two boxers who retreat to neutral corners to yell across the ring.

Two men in particular embody this. The first, of course, is Donald Trump, who has channeled angry misanthropy into political power. The reality show impresario has pulled the Republican Party far to the right, using as his prod the inchoate, done-wrong, want-my-country-back rage of those for whom change is always, by definition, threat.

The second man is Bernie Sanders, who has channeled the angry populism of the political left into a movement that is no slouch for power itself. The Vermont senator has yanked the Democratic field — i.e., Hillary Clinton — far to the left, forcing her to compete for the affections of angry, tired-of-being-dumped-on 99 percenters who see democracy being stolen by Big Money and like it not at all.

Don’t misunderstand the point. Sanders has given voice to concerns too often ignored by Republicans and paid lip service to by Democrats. So the argument here is not that there is equivalence between the extremes of left and right. No, the argument — the observation, really — is that they are both, well … extremes. And that, apparently, that’s all our national politics has left.

It is instructive to watch Clinton and Sanders bicker about which is the more ideologically pure. Until recently, that kind of quarrel was restricted to Republicans jousting over who was most “conservative” — by which they meant draconian — on issues like immigration and abortion. Now, apparently, Democrats, too, want their candidates to pledge allegiance to philosophical dogma.

It raises a question: Whither the center? And if there is no center, how does the nation’s business get done? As ungovernable as the country has been under Barack Obama, a center-left pragmatist the Republicans made out to be the reincarnation of Che Guevara, it can only be worse under a leader whose ideological purity is zealously policed and for whom compromise is apostasy.

One struggles to even imagine what the fall campaign will be like. Usually, candidates argue over who has the best ideas for solving a given set of problems. But in neutral corners America, there is not even consensus on what the problems are. Will we have Trump campaigning on Mexicans and Muslims, while Sanders rails about money and malfeasance? Will we be asked only to decide which makes us most angry and afraid?

If so, whither hope?

And here, Democrats will want it noted that they were not the first to abandon the center. Let the record so state. The GOP eschewed all claim to that ground long ago and even purged itself of members who dared wander too close.

Still, the question of who is to blame for a politics of extremism is less compelling than the question of what that politics portends. Two boxers yelling at one another from neutral corners makes for great theater.

But the fighting is done in the center of the ring.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; Then National Memo, February 22, 2016

February 23, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Election 2016, Governing, Politicians | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Donald Trump, The Candidate For The Ladies”: Trump Is Not Just Sexist, But ‘Spectacularly Sexist’

Donald Trump is ready to throw down with Hillary Clinton over the issue of sexism. Being a big fan of the ladies (at least until they hit their 40s), Trump is not going to sit back and take any criticism from Clinton on this subject:

Donald Trump on Sunday accused Hillary Clinton of unfairly trading on her gender while declaring Bill Clinton to be “fair game” as the former president hits the trail to campaign for his wife.

“She’s playing the woman’s card,” Trump said during an interview on Fox News, before turning his attention to Clinton’s husband, declaring him “fair game because his presidency was really considered to be very troubled because of all the things that she’s talking to me about.”

There are a number of things to unpack here. Is Clinton “playing the woman’s card”? Well, yes. In this campaign, much more so than when she ran in 2008, she has talked a lot about how it’s long overdue for a woman to be elected president. She has also stressed many issues that affect everyone but are particularly important to women, like family leave. And she hasn’t shown any reluctance to call out sexism when she sees it.

All of which seems perfectly legitimate to me, though you might feel differently. The truth is that for her entire time as a public figure over the last two-plus decades, Clinton has been the target of sexist venom that has no parallel in both its volume and intensity in our recent history. There are a number of ways one can react to it — ignore it, acknowledge it but pretend it doesn’t bother you, call attention to it — all of which she has done at one time or another. You can argue that no one should vote for her solely because she’s a woman, and I doubt she herself would disagree. But you can’t say it won’t be an issue if she’s the Democratic nominee.

And if Trump ends up being the Republican nominee, sexism will be a much bigger issue than it would be with any other GOP candidate. That’s because — let’s be honest here — Trump is not just sexist, but spectacularly sexist. He constantly comments on women’s appearance, treats women differently than men (you’ll remember how, during one of the debate shout-fests, he singled out Carly Fiorina: “Why does she keep interrupting everybody?”) and is plainly horrified and repulsed by women’s bodily functions, whether it’s breastfeeding, menstruation or peeing. And oh yeah, he seems to have a creepy interest in his own daughter.

You can rest assured that if Trump and Clinton are the nominees, there will be multiple occasions on which Trump will say something unbelievably sexist about Clinton or someone else, Clinton will express her outrage, and it will be the topic of extended discussion in the media. Which will serve to reinforce what a big deal it would be to have our first woman president.

But what about Bill Clinton? If you look at what Trump has said in interviews and on Twitter, he’s arguing that not only shouldn’t Hillary Clinton talk about sexism, but Bill Clinton shouldn’t even campaign for her, given his past. The idea that Clinton shouldn’t talk about sexism because she stayed with her husband after he had an affair with a 20-something White House intern has been raised before, but it doesn’t make any more sense now than it ever has. It’s not as though she ever excused his behavior, and it’s hard to believe there are too many voters who abhor sexism and will vote against Hillary Clinton because of her husband’s personal failings.

When Bill Clinton campaigns for her, that’s not going to be what he talks about, and when he does get asked about it, he’ll surely dodge the question with little difficulty. And on the whole, Bill will be an effective surrogate for her. He’ll be able to remind everyone of the successes of his presidency, particularly on the economy, and while Hillary may not be able to claim credit for them, she can certainly argue that she’ll be following a similar approach that will produce similar results.

Yes, there will be questions about his post-presidential activities and what he’ll be doing if he becomes First Spouse. And there’s always the chance that in the heat of political battle he could make mistakes, as he did at certain points in 2008. But Bill Clinton remains extraordinarily popular — in fact, he’s almost certainly the most popular partisan political figure in America. In a national Bloomberg poll last month, 60 percent of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of him (well ahead of the much-improved 45 percent George W. Bush got).

You can argue that candidates’ gender shouldn’t matter at all, or that while it would be good to have a woman president, Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be that woman. But what you can’t say is that Donald Trump is the candidate to support if you want to strike a blow against the kind of sexism Hillary Clinton represents. The only person crazy enough to believe that is Donald Trump.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 28, 2015

December 29, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Sexism, Women | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Authentic Candidates Suck”: What’s Really Behind This Peculiar And Counterproductive Media Obsession With ‘Authenticity’

We’re hearing a lot this week about authenticity, as in Joe Biden has it and Hillary Clinton does not (Kevin McCarthy, meanwhile, maybe a little too much of it). Except that in fact, the reason that authenticity is in the news is that these long-held and superficial media assumptions about Biden and Clinton have been challenged this week by the revelation in Politico that the vice president leaked a story about son Beau’s deathbed wish himself. The Biden camp did not deny that a conversation may have taken place but did deny that any such theoretical conversation that might have happened was intended as a trial balloon that used paternal grief as a launching pad to a candidacy.

Here’s the quick catch-up, if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Back in August Maureen Dowd of the Times wrote this column about how Biden might run for president because it was Beau Biden’s dying wish that his father challenge Hillary Clinton. Dowd, appearing to paraphrase her source, wrote that Beau argued to his father that “the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.” She revealed nothing at the time about her sourcing. Everyone assumed it came from somewhere inside Biden world, but quite possibly without his knowledge, from someone who wanted to see him run.

But from Biden himself? To America’s most prominent Hillary-hating columnist? It has not seemed, to a number of observers of the situation, like a very “authentic” thing to do, for this man who gets so many points from the media for his authenticity.

I raise the episode not to assess Biden on the authenticity scale, but to argue that authenticity is overrated in the first place. I hate authenticity. Authenticity sucks. It’s a substitute for critical thought and actual argument, and the political media harp far too much on it.

Here is my theory about why they do. Political reporters (not columnists) feel the need to be objective, and of course properly so. They’re not supposed to be seen as taking sides. As such, they have to refrain from passing judgments on candidates’ ideological positions. To do that—to decide that Bernie Sanders’s stance on monetary policy is better than Marco Rubio’s—would constitute bias. And that’s the biggest no-no you can commit in the straight-news reporter game.

Yet, reporters are human beings (mostly!), and human beings have a natural need and urge to pass judgments—to make some kind of moral order out of the chaos that swirls around us. And since they can’t do it on the basis of ideology, then they have to do it on the basis of something else. And that something else is sincerity. So for the political reporter it doesn’t matter so much what so-and-so believes. What matters is that he believes it, and conveys that he believes it, with sincerity.

I can’t tell you the number of straight-news reporters who’ve said to me over the years something like: Yes, OK, Ted Cruz or Lindsey Graham or whoever may be a little out there, but you know what? At least he really means it. What you see with him is what you get. To which I would rejoin, well, that’s fine, but so what; all that means to me is that when he starts World War III or resegregates our school system via his court appointments or gives the 1 percent another whopping-big tax cut, he’ll be doing so sincerely. But this (as I knew going in) was always a loser of an argument to an objective reporter, because they divorce themselves emotionally from the whole idea of outcomes.

And this is how political journalists end up assessing politicians with such a preponderant emphasis on their authenticity. They aren’t allowed to make subjective ideological judgments, so they make them on the basis of personality. It’s why they dwell excessively on matters like explaining to you which candidate you’d rather have a beer with. That was one great scam, by the way, back in 2000—persuading the American public that they’d all rather have a beer with the candidate (Dubya) who didn’t drink beer!

So. Back to Biden and Clinton. I have eyes and ears and I can readily see why Biden comes across as more authentic. Of course a lot of this has to do with gender, because the gestures and habits that create the impression of authenticity—the glad-hand, the backslap, the knowing wink—are gestures that code male. But not all of it has to do with gender. There is no doubt that Clinton is a bit stiff in public and is stand-off-ish with journalists, and of course we did just see an example of her reversing field on a major issue (the TPP).

She also completely and utterly lacks the Defuse Gene—the ability to make a budding scandal melt away with a quip that carries just the right balance of self-deprecation (i.e., acceptance of some responsibility for the mess) and needed perspective-keeping (i.e., what I’m accused of here isn’t so awful in the grand scheme of things). Instead she seems always to have had the Detonate Gene—her handling of these things has almost always made them worse.

But I don’t care whether she’s authentic. In fact, I don’t care whether any of them is authentic. I just care what they do. I’d much rather have a president who inauthentically raises the minimum wage and passes paid family leave than one who authentically eliminates the federal minimum wage and does what the Chamber of Commerce tells him to do on all such matters.

Now I recognize that I’m an extreme case. But I do think—and let’s end on this quasi-hopeful note—that the American people are somewhere in between the two extremes of me on the one hand and objective reporters on the other. Americans care about authenticity, but not as much as reporters do, and not nearly as much as reporters think they do. And they do care about positions.

They care a lot about positions, actually. No, they’re not sitting there combing through issue books and thinking about what the optimal payroll tax formula might be. But the voting public—the nonvoting portion of the public is another matter—has a pretty decent sense of what parties and candidates stand for. And these things still matter to most people, and it’s my job—and yours if you’re with me—to make them matter more. The cult of authenticity must be smashed.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 10, 2015

October 11, 2015 Posted by | Authenticity, Political Media, Political Reporters | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Moneyed Elites Get Richer The Old-Fashioned Way; Stealing”: Preferential Tax Treatment For The Narcissistic Money Manipulators

With the 2016 presidential campaigns in full swing, the burdens of the working middle class have taken center stage. And believe it or not, there is bipartisan support from the frontrunners on a key issue brought up over and over again. Donnie Trump is for it. Hillary Clinton is for it. Jeb Bush is for it. Bernie Sanders is for it. Even Barack Obama is for it. And the American people are overwhelmingly for it.

The “it” that’s drawing such broad support is the idea of ending a ridiculous tax loophole that was written by and for the richest, most pampered elites on Wall Street. An obscurely titled “carried interest” tax break allows billionaire hedge-fund hucksters to have their massive incomes taxed at a much lower rate than the one retail workers, Main Street businesses, carpenters, and other modest-income people must pay.

Keep that carried interest tax loophole in mind when I tell you this number: 158,000. That’s the number of kindergarten teachers in America. Their combined income in 2013 was $8 billion. Here’s another number for you: 25. That’s the number of America’s highest-paid hedge fund operators whose combined income in 2013 was $21 billion. Yes, just 25 Wall Street greedmeisters hauled off $13 billion more in pay than was received by all of our kindergarten teachers — the people we count on to launch the education of the next generation.

Which group do you think is rewarded by law with the lowest rate of income tax? Right: the uber-rich Wall Streeters! Incredibly, Congress (in its inscrutable wisdom) gives preferential tax treatment to the narcissistic money manipulators who do practically nothing for the common good. Even flamboyant celebrity narcissist Donnie Trump sees through the gross inequality of this tax scam: “The hedge fund guys didn’t build this country,” The Donald recently barked. “These are guys that shift paper around, and they get lucky. The hedge fund guys are getting away with murder.” Indeed, while dodging through this loophole, they pay about half the tax rate that kindergarten teachers are assessed. In effect, Wall Street’s puppets in Congress let this tiny group of moneyed elites steal about $18 billion a year that they owe to the public treasury to finance the structure and workings of America itself.

This privileged treatment of pampered paper- and money shufflers over people who do constructive work in our society adds to America’s widening chasm of inequality. It’s so unfair and unpopular that even Donald, Hillary, Jeb, Bernie and others are saying that it has to go. So it’s bye-bye, loophole, right?

Ha — just kidding! Trump can mouth all he wants, but no animal hath such fury as a hedge funder whose special tax boondoggle is threatened. Trump had barely gotten the word “unfair” out of his puffy lips before the tax-loophole profiteers deployed battalions of lobbyists, PR flacks, and front-group operatives out to defend their precious carried-interest provision. One group, with the arcane name of Private Equity Growth Capital Council, rushed a dozen Gucci-clad lobbyists to Capitol Hill to “inform” lawmakers about the virtues of coddling Wall Street elites with tax favors.

Of course, “informing” meant flashing their checkbooks at key members of Congress. After all, even the loudest blast of political talk is cheap — and it’s the silent sound of a pen writing out a campaign check that makes Washington World keep spinning in favor of the rich.

Sure enough, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) , the two lawmakers who head Congress’ tax-writing committees, quickly announced that — the will of the people aside — there would be no repeal of the hedge-fund loophole anytime soon. The inequality that is presently ripping our society apart is not the result of some incomprehensible force of nature, but the direct result of collusion between financial and political elites to rig the system for the enrichment of the few — i.e., themselves — and the impoverishment of the many. There’s a word for those elites: thieves.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, September 30, 2015

October 1, 2015 Posted by | Carried Interest Loophole, Economic Inequality, Hedge Fund Managers, Wall Street | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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