A Tweet Too Far?

By now you’ve heard about the infamous Bleeding Mika tweets —

The so-called president has tweeted a lot of outrageous stuff, but this seems to have set a lot of the Beltway types over the edge. Maybe it’s because Joe and Mika are people they know.

If you watch Ana Navarro’s epic rant, be sure to not miss Wolf Blitzer’s face as he tries to maintain composure.

I’ve read one commentary after another today quoting people on Capitol Hill — including some Republicans — saying these tweets were out of bounds. I honestly think we’re seeing a turning point here. Trump is proving even to Republicans that he is utterly worthless as a president. If he were just incompetent but could put on a good act of being presidential that’s one thing, but he can’t even manage that.

Paul Waldman wrote today,

Republicans knew exactly who he was when they all lined up behind him in 2016, even if many harbored the naive hope that he would be changed by the office. But they also assumed that with total control of the government, they would pass a boatload of bills, he’d sign them, and his personal weaknesses wouldn’t much matter. It turns out, however, that it isn’t so simple. As we’re seeing in the health-care debacle currently underway, when you’re trying to accomplish something complex and politically perilous, you need the president. You need him to be a persuasive public advocate for your policy, and you need him to help resolve internal differences and forge consensus.

But Trump fails on both both counts. He can’t be a persuasive advocate because he doesn’t understand the policies he advocates for, and he has focused so relentlessly on telling his base what they want to hear that people outside that base just don’t believe him. When he gives an interview or makes a speech about what Republicans are trying to do, he’s likely to say something that contradicts or undermines their case. And internally, he’s rapidly losing whatever respect he had from Republicans.

I’m going to be really surprised if he finishes his term …

Trump’s Got No Mojo on Health Care

I’ve had some kind of stomach bug for the last few hours, but have decided I will survive. So, back to work.

So today the so-called President said this:

President Trump promised a surprise on the matter, though he did not specify what.

“Health care is working along very well. . . . We’re going to have a big surprise,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “We have a great health-care package.”

Trump offered no details, only reiterating, “We’re going to have a great, great surprise.”

I’m going with “delusional,” myself. The New York Times reported this:

If Republicans do manage to broker a deal — as Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, pledged to do during a lively East Room back-and-forth with the president — it is not likely to be because of Mr. Trump’s involvement. Until Tuesday afternoon, the president was largely on the sidelines as the fate of one of his most important campaign pledges played out.

Mr. McConnell, who kept the president at a polite arm’s length while he oversaw negotiations over the bill, asked Mr. Trump to arrange the meeting with all 52 Republican senators during a morning phone call, in part to show senators the White House was in fact fully engaged, according to two people with knowledge of the call.

When asked by reporters clustered on the blacktop outside the West Wing if Mr. Trump had command of the details of the negotiations, Mr. McConnell ignored the question and smiled blandly.

WaPo is more scathing:

The president is the leader of his party, yet Trump has struggled to get Republican lawmakers moving in lockstep on health care and other major issues, leaving no signature legislation in his first five months in office. The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch is his most-cited achievement to date.History suggests that presidents who have governed successfully have been both revered and feared. But Republican fixtures in Washington are beginning to conclude that Trump may be neither, despite his mix of bravado, threats and efforts to schmooze with GOP lawmakers. …

… The Senate could pass a revised version of the bill once lawmakers return from their July 4 recess and pick up deliberations. Still, some Republicans are willing to defy their president’s wishes — a dynamic that can be attributed in part to Trump’s singular status as a disrupter within his party.

“The president remains an entity in and of itself, not a part of the traditional Republican Party,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a moderate who represents a district Trump lost by 16 percentage points. “I handle the Trump administration the same way I handled the Obama administration. When I agree, I work with them. When I oppose, I don’t.”

The man’s got no political capital at all.

One senior Republican close to both the White House and many senators called Trump and his political operation “a paper tiger,” noting how many GOP lawmakers feel free “to go their own way.”

And, I suspect, they will.

In private conversations on Capitol Hill, Trump is often not taken seriously. Some Republican lawmakers consider some of his promises — such as making Mexico pay for a new border wall — fantastical. They are exhausted and at times exasperated by his hopscotching from one subject to the next, chronicled in his pithy and provocative tweets. They are quick to point out how little command he demonstrates of policy. And they have come to regard some of his threats as empty, concluding that crossing the president poses little danger.

“The House health-care vote shows he does have juice, particularly with people on the right,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said. “The Senate health-care vote shows that people feel that health care is a defining issue and that it’d be pretty hard for any politician to push a senator into taking a vote that’s going to have consequences for the rest of their life.”

Asked if he personally fears Trump, Graham chuckled before saying, “No.”

And so on. Do read the whole thing. See also The GOP’s health-care bill is political kryptonite and The dirty little secret of the GOP’s health care push: Not even Republicans are demanding this.

Mitch McConnell is pushing for a revised bill to be voted on this Friday, before the Senate goes into recess. I’m predicting he will fail. Surprise!

SCOTUS Drops Two Mini-Bombs

I’m calling them mini-bombs, because I suspect they will turn out to be less significant than they seem right now. First, SCOTUS agreed to review Trump’s “travel ban,” and in so doing they allowed a watered-down version of the ban to go into effect. This is from SCOTUSblog:

The lower courts had considered the hardships that the ban would create for the named plaintiffs in the case: two men with family members who want to come to the United States from the affected countries; and the state of Hawaii, whose state university had admitted students from those countries. But, the court explained today, the lower courts’ orders barring enforcement of the ban “reach much further than that,” because they also apply to people living overseas “who have no connection to the United States at all.” When those people are unable to come to the United States, the court reasoned, their constitutional rights are not violated – because they have no right to come to the United States – and their exclusion from the country does not harm anyone in the United States.

The justices therefore upheld the lower courts’ orders blocking enforcement of the ban with regard to the named plaintiffs and others like them – people who “have a credible claim” of a genuine relationship with someone or an institution in the United States. When that relationship is with an individual, the court made clear, it must be a close family member. And when the relationship is with an institution, the relationship must also be a genuine one, rather than one created just to get around the travel ban.

So, if someone has close family already here, or a job, or some kind of documented reason to be here like an invitation to lecture someplace, he or she cannot be blocked from entering the country. People from the Muslim-majority countries named in the original ban who have no prior relationship to anything or anybody in the U.S. will be unable to get visas, however, at least for the time being. Here’s the actual decision.

Justices Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch dissented, stating that they would have just reinstated the ban, period, without regard to a prior relationship in the U.S.

Whether this action today has any bearing on how the Court eventually will rule, nobody can say.

The other mini-bomb is Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, in which the Court ruled that tax funds to fix up a playground could not be denied just because the playground is on church property. I’m going to have to look at this more carefully when I have time, but all along I haven’t been able to see why this case represents any departure from established case law. There is long precedent for tax money going to church organizations who are using the money in a not-religious way.

The three-part test established in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1970), as to whether something violates the establishment clause, basically calls for the law or policy to have a secular purpose, that it neither promotes nor inhibits religion, and that it does not foster “excessive government entanglement with religion.” Seems to me that a state grant to pay for improvements to a playground used by children in a neighborhood kind of fills that bill. I have yet to see what the big deal is about this case.

However, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, wrote a long dissent that I haven’t had time to read. So I think I may be missing something. I’ll get back to you later when I figure out what it is. Here’s the decision.

Saving Nancy Pelosi?

Part of the fallout of the John Ossoff loss is that a number of people are now calling for Nancy Pelosi to step down as Minority Leader in the House. I understand Handel used the terrifying specter of Pelosi in her ads against Ossoff, and it worked. Last year I saw a lot of Republican ads here in Missouri that used Nancy Pelosi against a Democrat, and they appeared to be effective.

I’m ambivalent about Pelosi, frankly. On the one hand, I agree with what Charles Pierce wrote here

In my time on this earth, I’ve seen Republican propaganda turn a decent centrist like Michael Dukakis into a signatory of the Port Huron statement. I’ve seen it turn a decorated war hero like John Kerry into a Francophone poltroon. I’ve seen it turn a radical centrist/Rockefeller Republican like Bill Clinton into a dope-smoking refugee from the Monterey Pop Festival. I’ve seen kindly old Tip O’Neill turned into a Thomas Nast cartoon, and I’ve seen Barack Obama turned into an Islamic Kenyan holy man. I’ve seen an audience created for every one of these manufactured creations, and I’ve seen that audience respond to them as if they had the firmest basis in reality.

So you will pardon me if I’m dubious of the notion that congressional Democrats have to rid themselves of Nancy Pelosi because she was so easily demonized in that Georgia special election. If it wasn’t her, it would have been somebody else. To paraphrase the editor in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, if there’s a conflict between the person and the legend, slander the legend.

On the other hand, I think that the debacle that was last year’s election revealed the Dems desperately need to rebuild the brand. And they’re not going to do that with the same old faces in the top leadership positions. Tessa Stuart wrote in Rolling Stone,

Mailer after mailer, TV ad after TV ad reinforced the link between Ossoff and Pelosi, who internal GOP polling showed had strong negatives for Republican voters in the district. According to the Washington Post, Pelosi had 98 percent name recognition in the district but her approval rating was “35 points underwater.”

In South Carolina, the GOP similarly took pains to link Parnell and Pelosi – even as Parnell campaigned with Tim Ryan, the Ohio congressman who challenged Pelosi for minority leadership in November.

I confess, I don’t entirely get why Pelosi in particular is so hated in red America, but she is. Sexism plays a role in that, I’m sure, which makes it unfair to Pelosi. But last year, as I watched from a red state, it seemed all the Republicans had to do is somehow tie any Democratic candidate to Nancy Pelosi, and that Dem was toast.

Matt Stoller wrote,

Popularity isn’t everything, but in this case, the American people are right. It is time for Pelosi to go. Passing the torch would be the right thing to do, and not just because of horserace politics. Pelosi is an excellent vote-wrangler and fundraiser, and she has a long and honorable record of defending a certain type of Democratic politics. But at this moment in history, her political frame is a barrier to the much-needed renewal of the Democratic Party.

Stoller calls this the “pity problem”:

When Pelosi sees poverty or discrimination, she sees the people being affected as unfortunate victims who need and deserve a helping hand. Poverty and discrimination are unfortunate. But more fundamentally, they represent a lack of freedom ― freedom that someone, or some system, has taken from you. You are not free if you can’t afford to see a doctor. You are not free if you cannot access a good education because of your race or income. You are not free if your landlord can cheat you because you’re poor. You are not free if you are a family farmer being driven under by meatpacking monopolists. 

Poverty as a lack of freedom connects with a larger problem: More and more of us are having our liberties stolen. Entrepreneurs are savaged by private equity firms and monopolies, young lawyers are burdened by student debt, and we are all being subjected to a health care system full of egregiously large and mismanaged hospital systems, pharmaceutical companies and drug stores. Poverty is a concentrated form of the problems all Americans are increasingly facing.

Too many Democrats have never thought about their politics in this way, or considered the notion that there might be an alternative frame through which to pursue a progressive agenda.

This issue, as venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, put it, is deep. “Pelosi, and the rest of the party learned everything they know about economics from Trickledown’ers,” he said on Twitter. “Thus, they think there is a trade-off between growth and fairness and cannot articulate an economic story distinct from Republicans, except with pity.” 

Put another way — the Dem leadership suffers from a big lack of imagination and a narrow perspective on what’s needed and what’s possible. This in turn has left a lot of people frustrated with the Dems.

Alejandro Chavez, Democracy for America’s campaign manager, told The Fix:

Nancy Pelosi is not where we need to go. She’s failed leadership. While she might be doing some great things in her district, the truth is she’s the person who’s been leading this front that we’ve been running on for years, so she has to go as leadership.

What she’s doing isn’t working. She’s the leadership, it’s failed and, ultimately, it’s her responsibility.

But then there’s the question of who should replace her.  And this brings up another issue that is not just true of Pelosi, but of the Democratic Party national leadership generally. It seems to be more difficult for younger talent to break into the Dem Party power structure than is true of Republicans. Dem leadership is just plain old. Dana Milbank wrote last year,

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, will be 77 next year.

Steny Hoyer, her deputy, will be 78.

Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 Democratic leader, will be 77.

Their current ages, if combined, would date back to 1787, the year George Washington presided over the signing of the Constitution.

It is time for them to go.   …

… Democrats would benefit from some fresh blood to take on Donald Trump, the oldest president ever elected for the first time, and to revive enthusiasm among millennials, who didn’t turn out in the numbers Democrats needed.

After the debacle that was last year, the Democratic Party needs to be able to hang out a shingle that says “under new management.” Seriously.

Give ’em Hell, Dems!

Let’s start on a positive note, which is a campaign advertisement for Randy Bryce, who is running as a Democrat for Paul Ryan’s House seat:

I like this ad, and I like this guy. He seems authentic. He makes me think of my dad, a machinist, and a lot of his friends who were blue-collar guys. I hope he intends to wrap Donald Trump around Paul Ryan’s neck.

Compare/contrast to the recently defeated John Ossoff, who ran a hyper-cautious, centrist campaign for a House seat in Georgia against far-right wackjob Karen Handel. This is from Paste:

I mean, when the New Yorker wrote about him, the piece was titled, “Jon Ossoff, With Election Day Looming, Explains His Cautious Politics.” The entire piece is cringe-inducing—this is a man who refuses to say anything with any passion or real belief, a bloodless suit mindlessly mimicking Barack Obama‘s gestures—but my favorite part came when he refused to attack after his opponent ACTUALLY UTTERED the following sentence at a debate: “I do not support a livable wage.” …

… The strategy here was clear—Georgia’s sixth is a moderate Republican district, Mitt Romney country, and Ossoff tried to win by running as a moderate Republican. Which, again, is right in line with what the ruling corporate wing of the Democratic party has been doing since the ’90s. But it’s stupid, and you know why?

There’s already a Republican party.

You cannot out-flank these people from the right. If there’s a mantra the left should internalize, it’s this: Republicans beat centrist Democrats. Always. And the crazy thing is, moderation never saves the Democratic candidate from being portrayed as America’s answer to Che Guevara. Ossoff is basically a Republican, but look at the ads they ran against him! They either paint him as Nancy Pelosi’s no. 1 San Francisco latte butler or imply that he’s Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command. There’s a wonderful irony here—the further you drift from any appearance of socialism, the more viciously Republicans will smear you as the reincarnation of V.I. Lenin.

I’ve made this speech before, but here it is again: The Republicans are now an ideologically right-wing party. The Democrats, however, are not an ideologically left-wing party. Instead, they seem to be trying to broker interests among a lot of constituencies, including urban minorities and the business community.  They are perpetually threading fine policy needles so as to not anger any particular group, but in doing so they becomes champions of nobody. 

Yes, Democratic policies, on the whole, are at least sane and generally beneficial to most Americans, which is not something you can say about Republican policies. But too often when a Democratic politician tells voters “I’ll fight for you,” what that means is something like “I’ll save you some leftovers.”

Paul Kane’s article in WaPo is headlined “Ossoff chose civility and it didn’t work. How do Democrats beat Trump?

In Ossoff, Democrats hoped they had found a potential new path to defeating Republicans with a message of peace and civility. They calculated that the fiery rage, often associated with supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), would not win over moderate Republicans and centrists, whose support Ossoff needed to have any chance to win a district that Tom Price, the six-term congressman who is Trump’s health secretary, won by more than 20 percentage points in November. …

… This was the beta test for the DCCC’s theory of the 2018 case that well-educated, suburban voters who swung away from Trump last year would reject GOP candidates for Congress.

What they don’t get is that there’s a big difference between inchoate rage and fire in the belly. The latter is what’s missing from too many Dems. It’s not enough to put up pleasant candidates who at least don’t scare the chickens. The electorate isn’t in the mood for “safe.” Bleeping stand for something, Democrats!

Maybe, once in a while, ask “What would Harry Truman do?” Would Truman have let a line like “I do not support a livable wage” pass without remark? I don’t think so. They didn’t call him “Give ’em hell, Harry” for nothing.

What would Truman say about the current state of the Dem party? Nothing good, I don’t think.

Will Bunch wrote,

Jon Ossoff was a very sincere candidate, and he seems like a nice young man. Running for office in today’s climate is a brave thing. But I listened to an interview that he did with NPR on Tuesday morning, and by the end I practically wanted to gouge my eyes out. It was the some of the most insipid, focus-group-tested-and-consultant-approved meaningless happy talk I’ve ever heard from a Democrat, which is saying a lot. He wanted to bring tech jobs to Atlanta, and cut wasteful spending. Health care needs to be — somehow — “affordable.” Ossoff and the Democrats couldn’t have run a more effective “show about nothing” if Seinfeld’s Larry David had been their show-runner. No wonder voters curbed their enthusiasm.

Why can’t Dems grow a spine? Paul Waldman wrote this about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (emphasis added) —

When I asked Jeff Hauser, the director of the Revolving Door Project and a former Democratic operative who has been critical of the DCCC, to lay out this case for me, he argued that the organization shapes how individual races play out, especially in their early stages. Here’s part of the email he sent in reply:

  • The DCCC recruits candidates and influences primaries by signaling who is viable or not to donors and state and local party actors.
  • Mega-donors and independent expenditure groups take cues about which races matter and which messages work from the DCCC.
  • Young but experienced political staff are often directed to campaigns by the DCCC — there are a lot of arranged staffing marriages where candidates and staff, even campaign managers, barely know each other.
  • And candidates pick and choose messages with an eye toward being in line with the DCCC’s thinking, as they know direct contributions and independent expenditures go to campaigns in line with the DCCC.
  • When Ossoff went wholly bland and didn’t run on Trump, Russia, or almost anything else readily identifiable as an issue, that represented a campaign following DCCC directions.
  • If you are a Democrat and think Ossoff blew an opportunity and fear more of the same in 2018, you need the DCCC’s theory of the electorate to improve.

Hauser said that as important as those broad national factors are, “the difference between a great and poor DCCC could easily be 20 seats won or lost.” If that’s true, it’s the difference between not taking the House and taking the House.

In short, the donors, “expenditure groups” and lobbyists pick the candidates. But the problem with that is that the donors and lobbyists have their own agendas that don’t exactly match what’s going on in real-world America. Lee Fang writes at The Intercept that several people who were behind Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year are now trying to cash in on the Trump agenda:

Lobbying records show that some Democratic fundraisers, who raised record amounts of campaign cash for Clinton, are now retained by top telecom interests to help repeal the strong net neutrality protections established during the Obama administration.

Others are working on behalf of for-profit prisons on detention issues, while others still are paid to help corporate interests pushing alongside Trump to weaken financial regulations. At least one prominent Clinton backer is working for a health insurance company on a provision that was included in the House Republican bill to gut the Affordable Care Act.

While Republican lobbyists are more in demand, liberal lobbyists are doing brisk business that has them reaching out to fellow Democrats to endorse — or at least tamp down vocal opposition to — Trump agenda items.

Again, these are the people who help pick the congressional Democratic candidates.

I can just about guarantee that the DCCC will fail to support Randy Bryce in Wisconsin next year, while Ryan will have all the cash he wants from the GOP and Wall Street. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the DCCC tries to kneecap Bryce in the primaries to run a nice, pleasant, centrist candidate who looks better in a suit in the general election against Ryan. I hope I’m wrong.

America: Less Exceptional Than It Used to Be

The Social Progress Imperative is a U.S.-based nonprofit that produces an annual index of countries, ranked by their social and environmental standing. Well, according to this index, WaPo says, the U.S. is a second-tier nation.

With an overall score of 86.4/100, the United States ranks 18th out of the 180 countries measured, a slot that makes the United States a “second-tier” country, according to the index. “The U.S. has been pretty consistently underperforming given its GDP relative to other developed nations,” Michael Green, CEO of the Social Progress Imperative, told The Washington Post. “The U.S. has been underperforming for some time now, but what we see now is that the U.S. has basically flatlined on social progress since 2014. “The fact that the U.S. is in the second tier is not the product of one or two administrations, but decades of underinvestment and failure to address the problems people face,” he added.

Well, drat.

The index ranks nations on the basis of 50 major measures as varied as “freedom of expression” and “wastewater treatment.” While second-tier countries generally offer their citizens access to nutrition, sanitation and electricity, they lag behind in measurements for civic engagement, communal cohesion and safety nets.

We’re still exceptional at providing people with education and with basic sanitation needs, liked piped water, the report says. But, seems to me, given Betsy deVos and Flint, we must be heading for third-tier status fast.

The index measures the quality of life for 98 percent of the world’s population. The top of this year’s index — a section labeled “Very High Social Progress” — is dominated by northern European nations, such as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, all of which score at least 90. In the second tier, which begins with Belgium at 15, the United States is sandwiched between Japan at 17 and France at 19. Argentina rounds out the section — labeled “High Social Progress” — at 38.

I suppose we can take comfort that we still have it way better than the Argentinians do.  Note that Canada and Australia seem to be doing pretty well, too, according to this map.


The two areas in which the U.S. is under-performing most bigly are “health and wellness” and “tolerance and inclusion.” Here’s what the report says about “health and wellness”:

Italy (84.81) ranks second in the world on Health and Wellness with long life expectancy and a low level of premature deaths from non-communicable diseases and suicides. Japan (79.89, 20th) and France (79.06, 22nd) have the highest and second highest life expectancy (at 60), but Japan ranks 114th on suicide rate and France ranks 106th. The US performs far below countries at the same level of GDP per capita, registering relative weaknesses on all indicators in the component.

And, of course, we’re going to be even less great again if that monstrosity of a Republican health care bill gets passed.

The Social Progress Imperative index creating people were broadly disappointed with the whole world in the area of “tolerance and inclusion,” but said this:

The United States and Canada have both experienced declines in Tolerance and Inclusion due to decreasing religious tolerance and increasing discrimination against minorities. But whereas tolerance for immigrants has also declined in the United States, it has slightly improved in Canada. In the US, Tolerance and Inclusion scores declined significantly due to an increase in anti-Semitic activities and an increase in discrimination against minorities. The US ranks just 23 in the world across this component, placing it behind less prosperous countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Costa Rica.

Ooops — Argentina pulls ahead in this category. Double drat.

Overall, the index considers the U.S. to be “under-performing.” Based on the GDP per capita, there should be a much better qualify of life here than there is.

Okay, try to look surprised. Just try.

Update: Timothy Egan, “Our Fake Democracy

What Makes Fake News Fake: Another Example From Palmer Report

There continues to be confusion about what makes fake news fake. So I’d like to demonstrate with a new story from Palmer Report.

I’ve been using Palmer Report as an example of a fake news site, even though it isn’t the only one by a long shot. But Palmer has a loyal following on the left who refuse to see why his reports are not trustworthy. So let me explain.

Today’s example is a story headlined “Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit is giving up Donald Trump’s money laundering records.” Now, I personally have long believed Trump’s real estate business could very well be involved in money laundering. It’s also the case that the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit has investigated Trump properties for money laundering. It’s also the case that this financial crimes unit has agreed to share some documents regarding Trump’s finances with the Senate Intelligence Committee. That much of Palmer’s report is true.

So what’s the problem? First — a careful reading of the CNN story Palmer himself uses as a source doesn’t say squat about those Treasury documents containing evidence of money laundering. We don’t know what’s in those documents. It’s not even clear that the crime unit, FinCEN, is sharing everything it has on Trump with the Senate. The story just says they’re handing over some documents with information relating to connections between the Trump campaign and Russian financiers.

Second, while it’s true that FinCEN has investigated Trump properties for money laundering activities, they haven’t publicly accused anyone in the Trump organization of actually doing any money laundering. Palmer, of course, says otherwise. Palmer claims:

As Palmer Report was the first to report back on April 15th (link), the Treasury FinCEN division busted the Trump Taj Mahal casino for money laundering back in the spring of 2015.

Here’s a more reliable source, NPR:

The Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, which opened in 1990 and closed in 2016, was repeatedly cited for having inadequate money-laundering controls, not an unusual charge in the gaming business.

FinCEN fined the casino $10 million in 2015, although Trump had long before declared bankruptcy and had little real involvement in the property.

If NPR is right, Palmer lies when he said the Trump Taj Mahal was “busted for money laundering.” It was cited for having inadequate money laundering controls. That’s quite a bit different. And as NPR said, by 2015 Trump was no longer involved in the Taj Mahal, and even if actual money laundering had been found there, it wouldn’t necessarily have been tied to him.

Back to Palmer:

This was announced in a press release on the FinCEN website (link), but it only became a part of the Senate’s Trump-Russia investigation after our research team dug it up and publicized it.

If you follow the link to the FinCEN website, and actually read the press release, you find that NPR is right and Palmer is wrong. FinCEN fined the Trump Taj Mahal for inadequate money-laundering controls, not for actual money laundering.

Trump Taj Mahal, a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, admitted to several willful BSA violations, including violations of AML program requirements, reporting obligations, and recordkeeping requirements. Trump Taj Mahal has a long history of prior, repeated BSA violations cited by examiners dating back to 2003. Additionally, in 1998, FinCEN assessed a $477,700 civil money penalty against Trump Taj Mahal for currency transaction reporting violations.

FinCEN may have suspected actual money laundering was going on, but apparently they couldn’t prove it. But, again, in 2015 Trump was mostly out of the casino business already. In fact, according to this in-depth report in the New York Times, Trump walked away from his own casino business in 2009, dumping the debt-ridden mess on the shareholders. After that he was no longer even on the board of the company, even though his name was on the buildings.

So what FinCEN found going on in the Trump Taj Mahal in 2015 probably is irrelevant to Donald Trump, no matter how breathlessly Bill Palmer tries to pump it up into a big exclusive scoop. If other news outlets weren’t making a big deal out of the 2015 press release — and Palmer isn’t the only one who found it — it’s probably because the professionals realized it wasn’t that significant.

I’m not bringing this up to make excuses for Trump. I’m bringing this up because I think facts are important. We do not need alternate facts; the standard facts ought to suffice.  Palmer is not reporting facts. He’s reporting speculation, and in some case he’s reporting lies.

If you have done real news reporting for an actual newspaper or other professional news medium — and I have — you learn to be very careful that your facts are, well, factual. People who are sloppy with the factual details get caught, eventually, and that’s the end of their careers. So it doesn’t matter how fervently you believe X to be true; if you cannot corroborate X with a reasonable source, you can’t put it in the story. But owners of clickbait sites answer to no professional standards, and as long as they don’t write anything slanderous or libelous, they can bamboozle away.

More from the Palmer Report:

The Senate Intel Committee is now looking to get to the bottom of the money laundering bust, which came at a time when Donald Trump was still part owner of the Taj Mahal. The punishment came in the form of a $10 million civil fine, and the press release did not state the nationality of the individuals who were laundering money through the casino. There is widespread suspicion, but not yet publicly available proof, that the Russians were the culprits, and that Trump knew about it. In sufficiently large dollar amounts, it would be impossible for a casino not to be aware of money laundering taking place on its floor.

So let’s unpack this. Was Trump still a part owner of the Taj Mahal in 2015? Sort of. According to the Associated Press, Trump “cut most of his ties with Atlantic City in 2009, though he retained a small stake in its parent company, Trump Entertainment Resorts, in return for the right to use his name.” As the New York Times story already cited said, he walked away from his casinos in 2009, giving up his position on the board of directors. It’s well known that after 2009 he no longer had anything to do with the casinos, operationally. But he did retain some shares in the parent company, so technically he was a “part owner.”

But the rest of Palmer’s paragraph is just fiction. FinCEN didn’t claim to have found anyone laundering money through the casinos, so they couldn’t very well state the nationality of the individuals they didn’t catch.

So now that the Senate has managed to twist the Treasury Department’s arm into turning over the money laundering records in question, it should allow the Senate Intel Committee to follow the money and determine the identities and motives of those who were laundering the money at Trump’s casino, as well as Donald Trump’s connection to those individuals.

And that’s it. That’s the whole money laundering scoop. This is not a serious news story.

Again, I’m not saying money laundering wasn’t going on in those casinos, I’m saying that the Treasury Department never cited those casinos for money laundering, just for bad record keeping and reporting compliance. FinCEN may have more evidence it hasn’t made public, but apparently not enough to seek an indictment.

I do think there’s a large possibility that the Trump real estate business has been used for money laundering purposes. I’m not the only one who thinks so; you can find lots of people connecting those dots. For example, Jeremy Venook wrote in the Atlantic,

According to The New York Times, Trump attempted to rekindle his Russian connections during one of his brushes with bankruptcy in 1996, saying he had never been “as impressed with the potential of a city as I have been with Moscow.” Once again, the proposed development, this time an underground shopping mall near the Kremlin, fell through. In the process, though,Trump developed a partnership with a development company called the Bayrock Group, which was founded by a former Soviet official and a Russian-American businessman who has since been implicated in a stock-manipulation and money-laundering scheme involving members of the Russian mob.

See also “Trump and Money Laundering: The Key Questions to Ask” by Cerelia Athanassiou at Newsweek and “Do Trump’s Murky Financial Ties to Russia Connect to Money Laundering?” by Bill Buzenberg at Mother Jones. Lots of dots that might connect; lots of circumstantial evidence. Some of Trump’s business associates appear to be in it up to their necks. I think it’s very likely that Trump was in on it, too.

But we don’t know for sure yet. My believing this is true doesn’t make it true. We don’t know what FinCEN knows. We don’t know what are in the documents that FinCEN will share with the Senate. Bill Palmer doesn’t know, either. And that’s why this story is fake news.

Even if we find out some day that Trump really was directly involved in laundering money through his casinos for Russian mobsters, which is entirely possible, this story will still have been fake news, because it was making assertions without having the facts to back them up at the time.

So please, people, let’s try to keep it real.

Stuff to Read About Trumpcare

Word is that Republicans are going to push for a vote on the Senate version of Trumpcare by Thursday, June 29. This is the mystery bill they’ve been writing in the shadows; there is no substantive debate because the details are being kept under wraps. Will the Republicans succeed? It depends on whom you ask. Here are some links. If you read through these, you will know as much as I know, anyway.

Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone, WTF Is Going on With the Secret Senate Version of Trumpcare?

Ezra Klein, Vox, The real reason Republicans can’t answer simple questions about their health care bill

Dylan Scott, Vox,  3 ways Senate Republicans can pass Obamacare repeal (And four ways they could fail)

Greg Sargent, Washington Post, Sorry, folks. The GOP’s devious strategy for ramming Trumpcare through is working

Tierney Sneed, Talking Points Memo, Dems Gear Up For Make-Or-Break Moment On Obamacare Repeal

Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, The McConnell Corrupt Bargain And The Fallacy of Policy Literalism

Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, The Moderates’ Tale (or the Play-Acting Before the Cave)

Fables and Falsehoods: When Lefties Fall for Fake News

I hope everyone enjoyed Father’s Day. I was kind of out of it yesterday and didn’t pull myself together to post anything. But now I’m back.

“Fake news” is a vast topic, but I want to zero in on something I see going on among leftie websites and social media. An Atlantic article from February discussed the increasing tendency of online lefties to share “fake news,” defined as “online stories that look like real journalism but are full of fables and falsehoods.” Some days social media is one link to a fake news story after another.

As the Atlantic article says, fake news on the Left and Right are not equivalent. Leftie fake news usually is not deliberate propaganda. Usually it exploits wishful thinking. It’s a headline blurting out something we may want to be true, so people can’t resist clicking on it. The story itself may not deliver what the headline promises, however.

For example, a story being spread around today is headlined “Donald Trump wants to resign.” If you read the actual article, you find a lot of filler copy that finally gets to a quote pulled out of Politico

“But Trump, too, is cognizant of the comparison to Nixon, according to one adviser. The president, who friends said does not enjoy living in Washington and is strained by the demanding hours of the job, is motivated to carry on because he ‘doesn’t want to go down in history as a guy who tried and failed,’ said the adviser. ‘He doesn’t want to be the second president in history to resign.’”

That’s it. That’s the entire “scoop,” and it’s neither original nor does it actually say that Donald Trump wants to resign. It says he’s miserable at the job, yes, but that he doesn’t want to resign. This example is mostly innocuous, but going by social media comments the headline caused a lot of people to believe Trump is about to resign.

This is right up there with last year’s number one fake news story on the Left, that Hillary Clinton was about to be indicted. Any day now. Just you wait and see. Any day now …

Sometimes there’s a headline with no story — see “Donald Trump Is Going to Prison.” There’s no story; just the author’s prediction. This kind of story comes closer to being a hoax than propaganda, but the point of it is to get people to click on the link and thereby earn the site owners advertising revenue.

The people who write these sites (such as Bill Palmer of Palmer Report, who also happens to be a jerk, IMO) are not “journalists” even in a broad sense of the word. They do no legwork, make no phone calls, cultivate no sources. They pull out pieces of news stories published in legitimate news sources, wrap them in a lot of extra verbiage to plump them and make them look more substantial, slap an incendiary headline on them, and hit publish. Then they wait for the clicks to come in.

Sometimes these fantasies are unintentionally hilarious. Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor of Patribotics came up with this one last month:

Multiple sources close to the intelligence, justice and law enforcement communities say that the House Judiciary Committee is considering Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States.

Sources further say that the Supreme Court notified Mr. Trump that the formal process of a case of impeachment against him was begun, before he departed the country on Air Force One. The notification was given, as part of the formal process of the matter, in order that Mr. Trump knew he was not able to use his powers of pardon against other suspects in Trump-Russia cases. Sources have confirmed that the Marshal of the Supreme Court spoke to Mr. Trump.

It was reported this week that Mr. Trump had texted Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn the message ‘Stay strong’. This might be interpreted as an attempt to intimidate a witness, sources say.

Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein met with the House Judiciary Committee this week in closed session.

The authors have previously reported exclusively on Patribotics that a sealed indictment exists against Donald Trump.

And, of course, that’s now how this works. That’s not how any of this works. Give David Frum credit for a sense of humor:

Also, too:

Probably not remarkably, this episode appears to have done nothing to hurt Louise Mensch’s credibility with her fans, who insist she is always right.

I guarantee you can bleeping make up something absolutely ridiculous out of whole cloth, write about eight paragraphs of mostly filler text that doesn’t actually say anything, and with the right headline it will go viral in hours. Here are some headlines you can use — “Trump Spends Three Hours a Day Diddling Himself, Sources Say.” How about “Secret Court Declares Hillary Clinton Election Winner.” (or) “Hillary Clinton Sues DNC to Force Her Name on 2020 Ballot.” Take your pick on that. “Bernie Sanders Working With Trump to Undermine Democrats.” I believe I’ve seen that one, actually.

One area where there is genuine propaganda going on is in the Russian hacking story. As I wrote a few days ago,  I keep running into lefties who sincerely believe this whole Trump-Russia thing is just something like a false flag operation being run by Clinton supporters in media and government. And you can find all kinds of “news” stories providing, um, alternative facts supporting that position.

Basically, wherever there’s a strongly held opinion, someone somewhere will set up a fake news site to cater to it. These days a professional-looking news site can be set up for practically nothing. It’s a fairly simple, and completely legal, way to make some money. I wish I were unethical enough to do it myself.

Image found at https://modernliberals.com/the-palmer-report-is-not-news-and-its-an-insult-to-the-left/clickbait-kitten-palmer-report/

But beside misinforming people, fake news sites also are parasites. They rip off work done by actual reporters and leech revenue that should go to organizations paying the salaries of actual reporters.

And yes, as a blogger I rip off a lot of work done by others, too, but I don’t pretend The Mahablog is a news site. If I ever stumble across an actual scoop I’ll let you know, though.

Josh Marshall wrote this week,

Early this week, Time Inc. laid off 300 employees across its properties. On Wednesday, Huffpost laid off 39 employees. Then later that day Vocativ, another digital media site, laid off its entire editorial staff. Huffpost’s layoffs were part of a much larger retrenchment (2,100 layoffs) at Oath, the new company which combines what used to be Yahoo and AOL.

That’s just this week. If the quality of journalism is suffering, part of the reason is that the news business model is in a state of flux these days. Newspapers, once the backbone of journalism, are going the way of the horse and buggy. Over the past several years all manner of news bureaus have had to cut staff. Television news appears to be holding steady, but much of television news is less news reporting and more opinion programming, which is a lot cheaper to produce. Years ago cable news filled up with programs featuring party hacks yelling at each other. Actual in-depth journalism is a rare thing.

So I’d like to ask people to be more careful about who you link to. If you find a story with a promising headline, pay attention to the website it’s hosted in. Have I heard of this site? How can I tell if it’s legitimate?

If it seems to be a newspaper, is it a real newspaper? Fake newspapers abound on the web.  One way to check is to find out what city it’s published in; a real newspaper will be mostly local news, so the location should be immediately obvious.  If the location isn’t obvious, assume it’s fake.

Is it The Onion (not fake, but satire)? Is it Jared Kushner’s Observer (Kushner uses it to troll lefties)?

If you aren’t sure about the source, can you corroborate the basic story by finding it in other sources? If it’s real news, multiple sites will pick it up the same story pretty quickly. If the story appears no where else, assume it’s fake.

If the story is just quoting another news source, do the world a favor and link to the original news source. Let the news medium that actually did the legwork get the clicks. Don’t let the parasites win.

Does the writing seem to take a while to get to the point? That’s usually fake news; real journalists put the meat of the story in the first sentence or two.

That said, an online news source isn’t necessarily “fake” if it publishes perspectives different from yours. If you refuse to use news media that do not perfectly reflect your views, that’s another kind of problem, and a serious one. But it’s your problem.


Dumb and Dumber

Last night a couple of right-wing loons tried to shut down the performance of Julius Caesar in Central Park. I found a photo of one of them and annotated it:

You are welcome to use the image wherever. See the New York Times and Washington Post on what went down. I already wrote the New York Times:

Regarding “Two Protesters Disrupt ‘Julius Caesar’ in Central Park” (June 17) — The alleged disruptors are guilty of massive cultural illiteracy, since Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a warning against violence, not a celebration of regicide. They should be required to watch or read the play and write essays explaining what it’s about. Failing that, they could be sentenced to wearing dunce caps and writing “I will stop being a culturally illiterate twit” on a blackboard ten thousand times. And put a film of that on social media, please.

See also: