Fantasies, Fiction, and Falsehoods: That’s The Real Fake News

It’s time to Break It Down!

There are few phrases more oft repeated since the inauguration of the 45th President than fake news. Few people utter it more often than conservatives who nearly spontaneously combust in their effusive efforts to issue a retort to some statement they feel unfairly debases or attacks Donald The Great.

Last night, #45 asserted that he could be the “most presidential” President in the history of the country with one notable exception. Yes, even our current Commander-in-Chief was able to admit that President Lincoln was better. What he actually said was this:

“With the exception of the late great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president in history.”

This most “immodest” Fantasy was something that Trump and his bigly appointed brain was able to conceive, despite, having served only slightly more than six months in the Oval Office, and without having shepherded one single piece of notable legislation to successful completion, i.e., not having passed a (significant) bill. What in the Sam Hill could have possessed him?

Let me be perfectly clear; Donald Trump is not without a noteworthy accomplishment as President. He is, in point of fact, the first President in American history to win and assume office with no prior governing or military experience. While I do not recall him having drawn attention to that point, if he were to do so, I would be among the first to co-sign and extend praise for that singular accomplishment. Though, I must concede, I’m still uncertain whether that says more about his talent, leadership, skills, and abilities, or the collective malfeasance of an electorate that unwittingly dismissed a 228 year-old standard, I’m content to let you be the judge of that. However, that’s not a point of debate; at least not for this post. Feel free to take whatever side of that particular issue you choose. My single point of emphasis in raising this particular matter is Mr. Trump earned kudos for that achievement.

Of course, almost as soon as he took office, he apparently started looking for the most creative of ways to undermine what could be one of, if not his most important personal accomplishment as President, up to and including the here and now. The day after his inauguration, he trotted out his press secretary, Sean Spicer, who immediately began to spray the American people with not fully formed machinations otherwise known as Trump Fiction. Spicey, as SNL affectionately dubbed him, posited that Trump claimed his was the largest Inaugural crowd ever on the National Mall. Not surprisingly, this ludicrous assertion was immediately rebutted with historical film footage and photographs. The Spiceman would ultimately alter this allegation by amending the claim to include televised and Internet coverage. A couple of days after Spicer’s initial bovine excrement, Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, inserted the term alternative facts into the conversation. If this falsehood had been revised any more, it would have needed to have been replaced by Senior Advisor to the President, Jared Kushner’s, SF-86 Form.

In an Orwellian, post-truth, newspeak kind of world, this probably made perfect sense. Otherwise…not so much. As she has subsequently done with a number of other issues, Ms. Conway maintained that #45 believes his crowd was larger. Apparently, ipso facto, facts, proof, and evidence, notwithstanding, that makes it true. Alas, 2017 is not 1984, but the dystopian propaganda model is alive, well, and thriving in TrumpWorld.

Let’s face it. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the knowledge and wisdom of experts while elevating non-experts who lack relevant experience into important jobs across the federal government. You might even say, apart from muckraking tweet storms and rants, pairing high profile posts with incompetent and undeserving appointees is sort of his stock-in-trade. From Education Secretary to Energy Secretary, to Housing and Urban Development Secretary, to Communications Director, to name just four, the President has forced highly successful square pegs of people into hugely important round holes of responsibility. Mrs. DeVos has no public school experience, nor any reported or apparent affinity, Rick Perry didn’t even know the Energy Department, which he famously couldn’t recall as a candidate, is responsible for our nation’s nukes, Dr. Carson did live near public housing; kudos for that (tongue firmly implanted in cheek), and Mr. Scaramucci, whom to his credit, does have TV cred. Yet, he has no experience managing communications. Alternately, what he does have is a Goldman Sachs legacy. Oh yeah, drain that swamp (Said Trump).

To expand the list of examples for your consideration, here are a few interesting, if not bizarre examples of Trump’s philosophy of “Apprenticing” his appointees:

  • Party planner Lynne Patton, who helped plan Eric Trump’s wedding but had no professional experience in housing, was appointed last month to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s office for the region that covers New York and New Jersey.
  • Trump nominated someone who is not a credentialed scientist to be the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist. Sam Clovis has described himself as “extremely skeptical” about the expert consensus on climate change. The post he’s been tapped for has been occupied by a string of individuals with advanced degrees in science or medicine.
  • News broke that Trump will nominate a prominent coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, to serve as the No. 2 at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile, the Trumpists have actively taken steps to prevent experts from doing their jobs. The EPA removed several agency websites in April that contained detailed climate data and scientific information, including one that had been cited to challenge statements made by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. One of the Web pages that was shuttered had existed for nearly two decades and explained what climate change is and how it worked.

Recently, Trump’s political appointees at the Interior Department abruptly removed two top climate experts from a delegation scheduled to show Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg around Glacier National Park.

The administration is heavily populated with people who lack qualifications that would have been prerequisites to get the same jobs in past Republican and Democratic administrations. It starts at the top: No one not named Trump seriously believes that the president’s daughter and son-in-law could have gotten their plum West Wing jobs if not for nepotism.

Jared Kushner purportedly proposed to Russia’s ambassador the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin last December, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring by the U.S. government.

The president, for his part, didn’t want any professionals from the government, including the Russia expert on the National Security Council, to sit in on his meeting with Vladimir Putin. The Russians also reportedly recommended that a note taker be present, but Trump refused.

Trump attacked federal judges who found that his travel ban was unconstitutional. Then he criticized professional lawyers in his own Justice Department for pursuing a “watered down” version of the ban that could withstand judicial scrutiny.

The director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, a persistent critic of the Trump administration’s approach to ethics, stepped down last week nearly six months before his term was scheduled to end. Walter M. Shaub Jr. drew the ire of administration officials when he challenged Trump to fully divest from his business empire and chastised Kellyanne Conway for promoting Ivanka Trump products from the White House briefing room.

Trump said he knew more about war than the generals. He cast doubt upon the medical community consensus that vaccines do not cause autism. And he said a federal judge of Mexican descent couldn’t objectively adjudicate a fraud lawsuit against Trump University because of his heritage. That judge was born in Indiana, by the way. Speaker Paul Ryan called this “the textbook definition” of a racist statement at the time.

Trump’s embrace of experts and expertise is situational. Candidate Trump often claimed that the government’s unemployment rate was “totally fiction,” even though the economists who tabulate it are insulated from political pressure. “Don’t believe these phony numbers,” Trump said at a rally last year. “The [real] number is probably 28 [percent], 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”

But when there was a good jobs report in March, which showed the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent, then-press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump now believes the same numbers. “They may have been phony in the past, but they are very real now,” Spicer said.

In a new book entitledThe Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters,” Tom Nichols describes Trump’s victory last November as “undeniably one of the most recent—and one of the loudest—trumpets sounding the impending death of expertise.” 

“The abysmal literacy, both political and general, of the American public is the foundation for all of these problems. It is the soil in which all of the other dysfunctions have taken root and prospered, with the 2016 election only its most recent expression.

In summation, despite the cacophonous cries of right wing outrage, there consistently appears to be plenty of there, there. To wit, I submit to you, “Fantasies, Fiction, and Falsehoods: That’s the Real Fake News!”

I’m done; holla back!

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Another Day, Another Meeting: From Russia With Love

It’s time to Break It Down!

We are having another frenetic news week. Welcome to 2017. To be sure, in the current environment, that’s not an unusual occurrence. Yes, of course there have been hectic news weeks in the past. And there will be more. However, a lot of people I know believe that TrumpWorld has brought us to a unique intersection in history; one unparalleled by almost any measure, except for those that are irrevocably slanted hard right.

A few of the more notable news stories to hit the airways and newsstands since the weekend include:

  • A Fox News Analyst (Shepard Smith) actually called Donald Trump a liar
  • Sean Spicer fell behind the info curve, claimed Kushner’s meeting was about Russian adoption (a euphemism for removing sanctions against human rights abusers)
  • Trumpcare faces demise as two more senators withdraw support
  • With insufficient support for Trumpcare, Trump says let Obamacare fail
  • Tropical Storm Don weakens in the Caribbean, while Tropical Storm Hilary (one L) emerges in the Eastern Pacific
  • The GOP-friendly Wall Street Journal renders a scathing assessment of Donald Trump’s Russiagate (my term, not the Journal’s)
  • A previously unreported meeting between Trump and Putin revealed

That’s seven separate stories and the week is just halfway over. Any of them would fuel a righteous panel discussion or a spirited debate among folks with opposing views; possibly, among even people with similar views. As for today’s post, I saved the best for last. I will elevate and discuss, briefly, the most recently disclosed meeting between Trump and Putin on July 7th during the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.

To frame this meeting, which Team Trump says was really not a meeting unto itself, but just an extension of the previous meeting of approximately two hours that has been reported. According to the White House’s official statement, it was “brief.”

In a grander context, with a different cast of characters, that characterization might just fly. But in TrumpWorld…er, I mean, today, given some of the unusual details we have logged into our consciousness, not so much.

This meeting lasted for nearly an hourly, according to a Trump staffer, and included only three people: Trump, Putin, and a Russian translator. When conceding that Trump’s source for understanding the meeting was a Russian translator, the White House source indicated that the U.S. translator at the dinner spoke Japanese. How interesting!

Now no matter how much one embraces the narrative that Mr. Trump is the master deal maker, and great communicator, it’s worth being reminded of his numerous communications faux pas when left to his own devices, whether on Twitter, or in person. Of course, this is not the first time Trump has pushed the envelope in meeting with the Russians. Back on Wednesday May 10th, he met with top Russian officials in the Oval Office. White House officials barred reporters from witnessing the moment. They apparently preferred to block coverage of the awkwardly timed visit as questions swirled about whether the president had dismissed his F.B.I. director in part to squelch the investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Moscow.

The Russians conveniently brought their own media, a largely state-run operation, in the form of an official photographer. They quickly filled the communications vacuum with their own pictures of the meeting with Mr. Trump, Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, Moscow’s ambassador to the United States. Within minutes of the meeting, the Foreign Ministry had posted photographs on Twitter of Mr. Trump and Mr. Lavrov smiling and shaking hands. The Russian embassy posted images of the president grinning and gripping hands with the ambassador. Tass, Russia’s official news agency, released more photographs of the three men laughing together in the Oval Office.

In explaining, and perhaps, more aptly, defending, the circumstances of the meeting, White House staff said the conversation took place in full view (though without translators, probably not understanding) of other world leaders and their spouses at a dinner hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The White House sought to downplay the significance of the “discussion.” Their statement maintained:

“It is not merely perfectly normal, it is part of a president’s duties, to interact with world leaders.”

You know what? That’s true. But you know what is not perfectly normal, or heretofore considered part of the President’s duties? How about taking a meeting in the White House with Russian media, while barring the American press? Or, staying off camera while the Russians follow-up the meeting(s) between our two Presidents, by stating that our President accepted the denial of their President over hacking accusations, when our intelligence agencies are the source of the accusations? Or, how about proposing a joint cyber-security initiative with the country the U.S. intelligence community unanimously concludes hacked our systems…in an effort to hurt your opponent, and help you? Or perhaps, reflection on your number 1 son (chronologically), your son-in-law, and your campaign manager meeting with Russians who say they have intel that will hurt your political rival? The Russians, mind you! No, that is not normal, never was, never will be.

I know a number of individuals of the conservative persuasion. Of those I converse with on a regular basis, most of them say Mr. Trump is doing exactly what they wanted him to do when they voted for him. They not only believe he is acting in a way that is sure to Make America Great Again (MAGA), but that it’s actually happening right before our eyes. Moreover, the only people who don’t realize this are Trump-hating Democrats and liberals.

In point of fact, Democrats are resisting this administration on many levels. If you read my post last week, you know that doesn’t concern me in the least. Many conservatives go into apoplexy, or in some cases, at least feigned apoplexy over this resistance. I must admit my cynicism is heightened whenever I can find no similar apoplectic shock at the constant derision and resistance to all things Obama that was a national constant for the previous eight years. One of the fave responses by conservatives seems to be, Republicans were elected to obstruct Obama. Really? The hades you say! In that case, Democrats were elected to obstruct all things Trump. Resist! And so it is, Another Day, Another Meeting: From Russia With Love!”

I’m done; holla back!

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Unprecedented Obstruction: The Unmitigated Inconvenience of Karma

It’s time to Break It Down!

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the Senate would forego the first two weeks of its anticipated August Recess. The move was unusual on its face, but the reason offered was sheer partisan political poppycock. Leader McConnell blamed Democrats and their “Unprecedented Obstruction,” for the delay and abbreviation of the Senate’s much anticipated month-long summer hiatus. He then cited a couple of examples of the lack of cooperation the mean old Democrats were foisting upon his genial GOP colleagues.

This post is straight forward, and will be brief. It begins and ends with my observation that Mr. McConnell is either operating with an extreme memory deficit, or he doesn’t believe his fecal excretion is malodorous. Unprecedented Obstruction? Puhleeze!

The GOP instituted an obstruction plan so sublime it inspired a book. I’ll get back to that. First, let’s face it. McConnell’s own fingerprints are all over the Party’s efforts to obstruct President Obama. In October 2010, speaking of the GOP, he famously said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

For a time, many of us thought the Republican Party’s organized anti-Obama recalcitrance started there. It would take a while, but we would later learn that we were wrong, and that the Republican Party’s maleficence started the night of President Obama’s first day in office. Contemporaneous with the evening’s Inaugural Balls, a cabal of GOP Congressmen met for dinner and deception at the Caucus Room, a high-end D.C. establishment about a mile from the evening’s main festivities. Their master plan, devised over several hours, was a plot, not just to win back their recently lost political power, but also to waylay President Obama’s legislative agenda.

The book, referenced above, written by Robert Draper in 2012, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives,” details the steps the GOP laid out as the way forward. According to Draper, the guest list that night included a proverbial Congressional Who’s Who. In attendance were:

  1. Eric Cantor – VA
  2. Kevin McCarthy –CA
  3. Paul Ryan – WI
  4. Pete Sessions – TX
  5. Jeb Hensarling – TX
  6. Pete Hoekstra – MI
  7. Dan Lungren – CA
  8. Jim DeMint – SC
  9. Jon Kyl – AZ
  10. Tom Coburn – OK
  11. John Ensign – NV
  12. Bob Corker – TN
  13. Newt Gingrich (Former GA Representative and noted GOP intellectual)
  14. Frank Luntz (Event organizer, GOP wordsmith)

Notably absent were then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, and House Minority Leader John Boehner R-OH – who, according to Draper, had an acrimonious relationship with Luntz. The group devised a four-point plan. The steps of which included:

  • Go after Geithner. (And indeed Kyl did, the next day: ‘Would you answer my question rather than dancing around it—please?’)
  • Show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies. (Eight days later, Minority Whip Cantor would hold the House Republicans to a unanimous No against Obama’s economic stimulus plan.)
  • Begin attacking vulnerable Democrats on the airwaves. (The first National Republican Congressional Committee attack ads would run in less than two months.)
  • Win the spear point of the House in 2010. Jab Obama relentlessly in 2011. Win the White House and the Senate in 2012. (Despite their best efforts, that White House gambit did not pan out).

You want a blueprint for obstruction Mr. McConnell, I would say, this is it. At the end of the meeting Newt Gingrich said:

“You will remember this day. You’ll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown.”

It’s instructive to recall, at that time 700,000 people a month were losing their jobs and the American economy was in the most horrible tailspin since the Great Depression.

And the Republicans wanted to keep it that way.

That dear reader is some obstruction for you. McConnell is not alone in grousing about Democratic obstruction. Conservatives often lead with that trite lament. My curt response always is, “Consider the example of the last eight years.” I have been known to express empathy for a variety of reasons, but quite frankly, the temerity of anyone suggesting such a thing strikes me as ludicrous. Particularly if said someone was either a party to snubbing President Obama’s agenda to repair our fractured country, or said someone was supportive of the efforts of those who did so. Quite simply, the current claim is bogus, and I frame it thusly, Unprecedented Obstruction: The Unmitigated Inconvenience of Karma!”

I’m done; holla back!

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Independence Day: Free At Last Redux

It’s time to Break It Down!

Today’s post is a revised reprint of a blog I originally published July 9, 2008, and then subsequently in the July 4, 2012 Edition of “Break It Down!” Since yesterday was the 4th of July, this redux version is quite timely. I hope you had a wonderful Independence Day, 2017, and that you will enjoy this week’s blog.

So as I approached this Fourth of July, as always, I did so with a complicated panoply of thoughts, a few of which I will share here. Our great country, and yes, by many measures it is great, strives to be all it can be, at home and abroad. It’s apropos to note we have been successful on many fronts. On others, we still have work to do. It’s fair to embrace our successes, and necessary to accept our challenges. Doing both is the only way we can reach our true potential.

As African Americans, we often find ourselves pulled in divergent directions over how to address this day; perhaps everyday. A hundred fourteen years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois framed it thusly in “The Souls of Black Folk:”

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.  One ever feels his twoness, –an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

I endorse his views on the subject.

But lest anyone rush to judge Du Bois, he is not alone; he is not even the first to cast a disparaging eye at the relationship between African Americans and the Fourth of July. On July 5, 1852, fifty-one years earlier, Frederick Douglass gave a speech at Corinth Hall, in Rochester, NY, his home. In a passage of that speech, Douglass said:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Suffice it to say neither Douglass, nor Du Bois was sold on the notion of the Fourth of July as a pure as the driven snow family friendly holiday. But that is not the sole point of this post.

No, history has given us the gift of some intriguing coincidences, as well as some compelling ironies. In observing both, there are times when, even though I hold him/her in great awe, I am convinced God is, if not a confirmed jokester, at least the owner of a genuinely robust sense of humor.

During a number of past holidays, I have addressed ad nauseam, the “principle of incompatibility” that divides holidays from structured endeavors such as reading, studying, and heaven forbid, working. To that end I usually try to ratchet it down a notch or two, or several, during holidays. The fact that today is July 4thAmerica’s official Independence Day, makes that messaging exceedingly apropos.

Looking back at Independence Days past, 1826 probably held one of the more noteworthy coincidences.  July 4th, 1826, marked not only the 50th Anniversary of American Independence, but was also the day two of our nation’s Founding FathersJohn Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died. Yes, they died the same day in the same year. Such an occurrence today would almost certainly serve as a catalyst for rumors of a death pact.

Adams and Jefferson shared more than joint status as two of the fifty-six co-signers of the Declaration of Independence; they also went on to become the 2nd and 3rd Presidents of the United States, respectively. It is reported that Adams’ last words were, “Jefferson still survives.” However, unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had died earlier that day.

Adams and Jefferson had quite a concurrent history.  Adams was the first to serve as America’s Vice President, he was the first President to live in the executive mansion (known today as the White House), and he was also the first President to be defeated in a re-election bid…by Jefferson, who had served as his Vice President.

Thomas Jefferson went on to become President after defeating Adams, but not without a bit of what we would think of today, as drama.  Aaron Burr tied Jefferson with 73 electoral votes.  As a result, the election was sent to the House of Representatives to determine the winner. After 36 ballots (that’s right 36), Jefferson prevailed. In later developments, Burr, who served for a time as Jefferson’s Vice President, killed Alexander Hamilton, who was also a Founding Father, in a duel. Not surprisingly, Burr’s career in politics took a precipitous decline afterward, although he was never convicted of a crime for his role in the incident.

Burr’s leaving the office meant Jefferson had to secure another Vice President for his second term as President. After 203 years, P-Funk fans still tip their hat to Jefferson, as he selected George Clinton to hold the second chair. (Funk-a-teers and P-Funk Mythology devotees will know what I mean…see George Clinton, musician, and his anthem Atomic Dog, as a point of reference).  I digress!

The virtually concurrent deaths of Adams and Jefferson marked an intriguing Independence Day coincidence of considerable magnitude. This past Friday July 4, 2008, Independence Day again collaborated with the death of a prominent political figure, this time in what many consider a compellingly ironic twist. Former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, popularly known as Senator No, a nickname he appeared to relish, died leaving a legacy that will be debated, by supporters and detractors for many years to come.

It is a fact that there are those who consider Helms a patriot. Others have cited his “courage” to stand against the forces of change, on issues ranging from gay rights to trade agreements, to foreign aid. Many of his most notable tirades focused on issues of civil rights and affirmative action, and funding for AIDS research. He was also a leading Senate opponent of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, and he authored and/or approved the infamous, in North Carolina anyway (but highly effective), “white hands” commercial, aired during the first of two Senate campaign battles against former Charlotte Mayor, Harvey Gantt (1990).  For that moment in time at least, Senator No drove the concept of negative campaign advertising to a new and ugly low.

The Honorable Senator No appeared to take great pride in his predictable opposition to progressive ideals, and often needled the media when he felt he had bested their desired interests. He earned the distinction of being North Carolina’s longest serving Senator. That is a noteworthy accomplishment, and cannot be diminished.

However, it must be noted that many of the tributes and editorials that began streaming forth Friday (July 4, 2008) sanitized the bigotry and raw mean-spiritedness that marked so many of Helms’ political encounters; especially his triumphs. His was a divisive, zero-sum brand of politics that often targeted the historically disenfranchised for more abuse, insult, and exclusion. In that light, it is impossible to deny the essence of irony in the events of Independence Day, 2008. He was a bona fide Tea Party hero, before his time. One can almost envision the spirit of King, after having scaled the mountaintop, uttering that famous three-word phraseFree at Last!  Indeed, it’s “Independence Day: Free at Last Redux!”

I’m done; holla back!

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