How media can hit back on Trump’s ‘alternative facts’

Chuck Todd wasn't buying what Kellyanne Conway was selling.

Chuck Todd wasn’t buying what Kellyanne Conway was selling.

No question: The media love to write about the media. And Donald Trump offers an opportunity for fresh fodder from journalists to give advice to other journalists on how best to do their work when confronting the lies of the Hair Twittler administration.

There’s no shortage of “how-to” pieces on media coverage of a President Trump. They run the gamut from “We’re all going to die” to “Now we’re free to be real journalists again.” Reporters are even getting advice from Russian journalists: “Welcome to the era of bullshit.”

The truth—and there still is such a thing these days, even in an “alternative facts” world, as Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway claimed as she lied through her teeth on Meet the Press — is likely somewhere in the middle. Official “news” certainly will lean toward exaggeration, lies, and propaganda from the Trump administration.

Reporters know they’ll be forced to climb “Bullshit Mountain,” as Jon Stewart used to say on The Daily Show. The ridiculous and laughable claims by Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer — living up to the moniker of “Baghdad Sean” — about the small size of Trump’s inaugural crowds are just the latest example. But as long as reporters remember to do their jobs honestly, without worrying about getting skewered in an unpresidential tweet, we’re likely to be served better by the Fourth Estate.

The reaction to the possibility of closing the White House daily briefing room went from  “about damn time — it’s too small, anyway” to “OMG we’ll no longer have access.” When the Trump team conceded that they wouldn’t close the room but would make decisions about who would be in or out of the 50-seat space, the reaction turned to “but that’s the White House Correspondents’ Association’s job!” to Democracy is under assault.

Trump’s shit-show of a press conference and Spicer’s equally bombastic briefing room appearance while refusing to take any questions shows that any news conference by team Trump is going to be worthless anyway. So what is a White House reporter to do?

From the “We’re all going to die” camp comes Washington Post Media Columnist Margaret Sullivan, who predicts that Trump’s presidency will be a “hellscape of lies and distorted reality.”

Trump will punish journalists for doing their jobs. Famously touchy and unable to endure serious scrutiny, he has always been litigious — although, as journalist Tim O’Brien has pointed out based on Trump’s failed suit against him, sometimes unsuccessfully so.

Imagine that tendency, now with executive powers, a compliant attorney general, and a lily-livered Congress. Trump’s reign will probably be awash in investigations and prosecutions of journalists for doing their jobs, stirring up the ugliest of class wars along the way. …

So, we can expect President Trump to lie to the media, manipulate reality, and go after those who upset the notion that adulation is his birthright.

After Spicer’s “news” conference (and we’re using that term loosely), Sullivan had moved on to declare that The traditional way of reporting on a president is dead.

On the other hand, Politico writer Jack Shafer claims that Trump will offer journalism opportunities like never before because now reporters won’t be bound by the usual inside-the-Beltway rules and decorum.

If Trump’s idea of a news conference is to spank the press, if his lieutenants believe the press needs shutting down, if his chief of staff wants to speculate about moving the White House press scrum off the premises, perhaps reporters ought to take the hint and prepare to cover his administration on their own terms. Instead of relying exclusively on the traditional skills of political reporting, the carriers of press cards ought to start thinking of covering Trump’s Washington like a war zone, where conflict follows conflict, where the fog prevents the collection of reliable information directly from the combatants, where the assignment is a matter of life or death.

In his own way, Trump has set us free. Reporters must treat Inauguration Day as a kind of Liberation Day to explore news outside the usual Washington circles. He has been explicit in his disdain for the press and his dislike for press conferences, prickly to the nth degree about being challenged and known for his vindictive way with those who cross him. So, forget about the White House press room. It’s time to circle behind enemy lines. … Opportunities to ignore the White House minders and investigate Trump announce themselves almost daily. …

It’s not winter that’s coming with the inauguration of Trump. It’s journalistic spring.

Hmm. A rogue journalist vs. President News in 140 characters or less? It’s going to take a lot of those rogue journalists — and an even greater number of readers — to have an impact. And those rogue journalists must make sure not to be distracted when Team Trump wants to change the subject of a potential scandal with an outrageous tweet.

Also at Politico, Roger Simon writes that Team Trump’s real problem is that they are upset because the rest of us aren’t obsequious enough.

This is what Trump wants. Our humble submission and respect. Sort of like what a dog gives his master when he comes home at night.

Or the touch of the cap the lower classes used to give the upper classes in days gone by.

Trump wants figuratively, if not literally, a nod of the head, a bend of the knee, a curtsy. A recognition that even though approximately 3 million more Americans voted for his opponent, he deserves not only our submission, but our humble submission.

Simon’s ending advice:

We do not fight against the things we hate. We fight for the things we love.

Do not hate Trump. Love America. And the next four years will fly by.

(Roger, when you’re sitting in a comfortable office in D.C., you have the luxury of letting four years “fly by.” People who could lose health coverage; be deported; get sick because of health hazards from weaker environmental and workplace protections; become the targets of hate crimes because of their skin color, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or politics don’t have that luxury. And those are just a few examples. Just sayin’.)

A group of journalists from alternative media outlets writing at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) offers a manifesto of advice to U.S. journalists covering Trump. Their six rules (discussed in depth at the link) are:

  • Don’t consent to closed-door meetings.
  • Stop normalizing hate.
  • Cover real issues.
  • Diversify the newsroom.
  • Cover local issues.
  • Cover political dissent.

Speaking of lists, the folks at Bill Moyers & Co. offer 10 Investigative Reporting Outlets to Follow. They are Pro Publica, the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Investigative Reporting, now online at Reveal, Frontline on PBS, Mother Jones, the Intercept, Real Clear Investigations, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and BuzzFeed. (Even if you disagree with some of the suggestions, it’s still quite a list.) Moyers & Co. will regularly offer a roundup of the week’s Best Investigative Journalism.

Katrina vanden Heuvel offers some advice in The Washington Post about the need for reporters not to be conned by Trump’s game of “divide and conquer”:

To function properly, the media have to be more than an echo chamber. At the same time, journalists should remember that we all face a common threat from an administration that is hostile to the very notion of freedom of the press. But instead of lamenting Trump’s contempt for the media, the best defense is to get to work and prove that watchdog journalists committed to digging up the truth still have a vital role to play in our democracy.

Indeed, if Trump’s news conference last week taught us anything, it’s that he intends to deploy the same strategy against the media that he used so ruthlessly with voters during the campaign: divide and conquer. As journalists, we can’t allow him to pit us against one another. If he succeeds, it will become even more difficult to defend the American people’s right to know.

Dan Rather is now 85 years old, but he’s still not afraid to take on Trump. He tells reporters that they can’t “back up or back down or turn around.” This interview was in Variety:

Coverage of middle America — what some people call “the flyover states” — needs to increase. But that comes up against the hard reality that the old business model of journalism is shrinking or gone, and the new business model has not yet arrived. So at the very time we need more on-the-ground reporting, there are fewer reporters to do it. …

I think what’s needed now is a re-dedication to the idea that the press, the media, has a special responsibility as part of the checks and balances in our system. We can’t back up or back down or turn around. We can’t get distracted or lose focus or, for that matter, deal in any kind of cowardice, small or large.

On a post on his Facebook page that quickly went viral, Rather also minced no words about “alternative facts.”

What can we do? We can all step up and say simply and without equivocation. “A lie, is a lie, is a lie!” And if someone won’t say it, those of us who know that there is such a thing as the truth must do whatever is in our power to diminish the liar’s malignant reach into our society.

There is one group of people who can do a lot — very quickly. And that is Republicans in Congress. Without their support, Donald Trump’s presidency will falter. So here is what I think everyone in the press must do. If you are interviewing a Paul Ryan, a Mitch McConnell, or any other GOP elected official, the first question must be “what will you do to combat the lying from the White House?” If they dodge and weave, keep with the follow ups. And if they refuse to give a satisfactory answer, end the interview.

Facts and the truth are not partisan. They are the bedrock of our democracy. And you are either with them, with us, with our Constitution, our history, and the future of our nation, or you are against it. Everyone must answer that question.

The Columbia Journalism Review published An open letter to Trump from the US press corps. It’s a little late to throw down the gauntlet, and I doubt that such a letter will have members of the Trump team shaking in their boots. Anyway, here are some samples from the letter.

But while you have every right to decide your ground rules for engaging with the press, we have some, too. It is, after all, our airtime and column inches that you are seeking to influence. We, not you, decide how best to serve our readers, listeners, and viewers. So think of what follows as a backgrounder on what to expect from us over the next four years. …

We will set higher standards for ourselves than ever before. We credit you with highlighting serious and widespread distrust in the media across the political spectrum. Your campaign tapped into that, and it was a bracing wake-up call for us. We have to regain that trust. And we’ll do it through accurate, fearless reporting, by acknowledging our errors and abiding by the most stringent ethical standards we set for ourselves.

We’re going to work together. You have tried to divide us and use reporters’ deep competitive streaks to cause family fights. Those days are ending. We now recognize that the challenge of covering you requires that we cooperate and help one another whenever possible. So, when you shout down or ignore a reporter at a press conference who has said something you don’t like, you’re going to face a unified front. We’ll work together on stories when it makes sense, and make sure the world hears when our colleagues write stories of importance. We will, of course, still have disagreements, and even important debates, about ethics or taste or fair comment. But those debates will be ours to begin and end.

We’re playing the long game. Best-case scenario, you’re going to be in this job for eight years. We’ve been around since the founding of the republic, and our role in this great democracy has been ratified and reinforced again and again and again. You have forced us to rethink the most fundamental questions about who we are and what we are here for. For that we are most grateful.

Some decent advice from a variety of sources. Let’s see who listens — and what their results are.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 22, 2017.

Women are coming for you, Donald Trump

One of my favorite signs from the Women's March in Chicago. We're all with each other now.

One of my favorite signs from the Women’s March in Chicago. We’re all with each other now.

What do you do when you plan for a Women’s March that totaled 22,000 people on Tuesday and the crowd grows to 150,000 by Saturday? Or maybe 250,000? You march on.

Just got back from the Chicago event, which was GREAT. Probably the fact that the sun was shining after a few days of rain brought people out to join in one great protest event.

The “march” part was officially canceled after the organizers realized the crowd was too big. The rally went on, but there were too many to get to the rally point, so not everyone heard the speakers. But who cares? We read each others’ signs. We passed out “SHE GOT MORE VOTES” stickers. And we knew we weren’t alone.

People still marched wherever they were, no matter what street they were on, and they were cheered heartily by the surrounding crowd. The El cars were packed on the way into the city in the morning, and cheers and applause greeted the crowds at every stop.

No pussies backing down here.

No pussies backing down here.

So many good signs, many with a pussy theme:

  • We need a leader not a tweeter.
  • Women’s rights are human rights.
  • VAGINALANTE!
  • Pussy Lives = 9; Trump Lives = 0.
  • Keep your tiny hands off my pussy!
  • Keep Loving Louder.
  • RESIST!
  • IF YOU’RE NOT ANGRY, YOU’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION.
  • My mother fought for this 100 years ago. We’re not stopping now!
  • STILL A NASTY WOMAN.
  • Too many DICKS in Congress.
  • I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA.

The crowd was mostly women, but there were lots of men, too, with signs, pussy hats, etc. Lots of pink overall, including pink hair. More of a white crowd, but racially mixed. Several Black Lives Matter signs, too. There were still Hillary gear, signs, and shirts, and lots of “nasty woman” T-shirts and buttons.

Damn straight she did.

Damn straight she did.

A tweet from Joy Ann Reid said there were now 600 of these marches worldwide. There was even one in Antarctica. I look forward to seeing more photos and reading more accounts. You can’t ignore us, President ThinSkin.

Nasty women are all over.

Nasty women are all over.

 

Obama’s last goodbye: Yes, we did, and yes, we still can

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So President Obama has given his last speech to the nation. And he’s left a hole in my heart.

We were lucky enough to get tickets to attend his farewell address. We were among those standing in line for hours to get into the huge convention center hall at Chicago’s McCormick Place where Obama would bid us all goodbye and remind us to live up to the country’s democratic ideals.

But he did something even more important: He challenged those in attendance and the 24 million watching on television not to let the accomplishments of his administration be the end of a movement, but a beginning.

That’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change. You answered people’s hopes. And because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.

The huge, multi-racial crowd at McCormick Place was made up of many campaign veterans from 2008 and 2012. Many carried American flags; one woman even had three adorning her updo. The place was awash with Obama shirts, hats, jackets, stickers, and pins. Many T-shirts proudly proclaimed that the wearer was with one of the many groups affiliated with the campaign: Teachers for Obama. Pennsylvanians for Obama. One woman held her infant daughter—who was obviously not around eight years ago—wearing a pink “My Mama’s for Obama” T-shirt, perhaps passed down from an older sibling, relative, or neighbor.

A woman I phone-banked with in 2008—she must have gotten there an hour or two ahead of us and was far ahead of me as the line snaked around four times the entire length of the convention hall floor—called my name and waved. Our older daughter, who worked on the 2008 campaign and (full disclosure here) has worked for the White House for six years, saw many campaign buddies and current and former co-workers. There was even an “OFAmily” party afterward for anyone who had ever worked on any of the campaigns.

Many had saved and were wearing Obama campaign buttons. Many wore buttons that proudly proclaimed, “I WAS THERE,” sending the message that they were among the million-plus crowd who braved the cold in January 2009 for the inauguration of the first black president. I remember seeing so many of those buttons on the lapels of Chicagoans’ down coats in 2009.

They were there then, and they were there for the farewell address. And now the Obama presidency is over, and the country is better off for it, even as many of us grimly anticipate what lies ahead.

This was the beginning of the line of the 20,000 or so people waiting to get into President Obama's farewell address. Some had lined up at early as 5 a.m. As police finally let them enter the security checkpoint, the crowd started chanting, "Yes, we can."

This was the beginning of the line of the 20,000 or so people waiting to get into President Obama’s farewell address. Some had lined up at early as 5 a.m. As police finally let them enter the security checkpoint, the crowd started chanting, “Yes, we can.”

You may have watched the speech on TV or read the transcript online. You actually got a better view of it than we did; we didn’t have the VIP tickets of those sitting in front of the stage. We stood off to the side in the huge crowd and watched on a giant screen. The sound quality was so-so in such a big hall, and Obama’s words often were drowned out by sustained applause and cheers. I had to read the speech online later to see all the words and watch clips to get the full emotional impact. If you missed the address for some reason, you can read the transcript here or watch it online:

Rather than repeat everything Obama said—that has been well covered by now—I want to share what we felt and what those feelings might mean going forward.

The crowd was diverse in race, age, and ethnicity. It came as no surprise that many African Americans wanted to see the farewell address from the nation’s first black president. But there were Latinos, Muslims (head scarves adorned many heads), and Asians as well. Somehow, I doubt you’d see the same mix at an event for Donald Trump.

The crowd also was primarily young. The majority were in their 20s and 30s—prime ages for campaign workers eight years ago and for current White House staffers. But others were high school students who were too young to vote or campaign in 2008. Why were they there? What made this speech so important?

“I just felt like I had to be here,” said one high school student near me in the crowd who was there with several classmates from Collins Academy High School in North Lawndale, a poor Chicago neighborhood with high crime rates. All were wearing sweatshirts that read, “MY BLOCK. MY HOOD. MY CITY” and are with a program that takes teens from various inner-city neighborhoods on day trips to expose them to other parts of the greater community, always ending with a service project by the kids themselves. Program founder Jahmal Cole and volunteers waited in line in single-digit temperatures the previous Saturday to pick up tickets for his group, but he struck out; the tickets were gone. After a public plea, many Chicagoans donated their tickets to the teenagers. “It would be like seeing Martin Luther King Jr. or John Kennedy speak. It’s history in the making,” Cole said in a story reporting the generosity of the city’s residents.

Many former campaign colleagues hugged each other and traded stories about what they were doing now, showing pictures of spouses and children on cell phones. One young man pushed his mother in a wheelchair so she could be present. She kept telling him how much she appreciated his taking time off work to bring her to the speech. “I don’t mind,” he told her. “I’m glad to share the experience.” When you’re in line for so many hours, there’s a lot you can share with those around you.

Chicago is rightly proud of its native son, even if Obama isn’t really a native and even if he ends up living elsewhere when the family leaves Washington in a few years after his sophomore daughter Sasha finishes high school. (During the speech, as the camera panned the family, many in the crowd wondered aloud why Sasha was missing. I mentioned to a guy next to me that she probably had a test the next morning, which turned out to be correct. But I did like the Twitter suggestions that she was part of a SEAL Team 6 group hunting for Trump’s tax returns.)

Obama got emotional toward the end of his address, thanking his White House staff, the military, Vice President Joe Biden, his daughters, and especially Michelle Obama. Many in the crowd wiped away tears along with the first family.

All that was bittersweet, as it was when he introduced what he called his “final point” about democracy being taken for granted. “NO!” the crowd shouted, not ready for him to leave the stage yet, not ready for anything final.

The image that really punched me in the gut was Obama walking off the stage. That’s when it really hit me: No more Obama. No more soaring rhetoric. No more speeches to soothe the nation after a mass shooting. No more mic-dropping humor at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner. No more calling out Republicans in campaigns. No more outlining the country’s needed priorities during the State of the Union address. No more being the only adult in a room of political children. No more standing up for what’s right.

The speech demonstrated the stark difference between the outgoing and incoming presidents. Obama gave an emotional goodbye with grace and inspiration while Trump exploded in a childish tantrum both on Twitter and a train wreck of a news conference. Talk about going from class to crass, or from the sublime to slime. Even as much as we dread Trump coming into power, that’s made worse when we’re reminded of what we’re losing.

On a Chicago radio talk show the morning after the speech, one caller, after admitting to quite a few tears during the farewell address, said it “felt like your big brother and his family have moved out of the house.”

“You knew they wouldn’t stay forever,” she said. “But you hoped this day would never come.”

The day has come. But if Barack Obama inspired anyone in our audience—or those listening around the country—to “grab a clipboard, gather some signatures, and run for office yourself,” there’s hope. I know three people, never politically active before, who are now running for office on library and school boards. Obama ran on hope, and hope was his final message to us.

Show up. Dive in. Stay at it. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in other people, that can be a risk, and there will be times when the process will disappoint you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America — and in Americans — will be confirmed.

I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 16, 2017.

Why Democrats need to speak with one voice on Obamacare

 Democratic representatives march to cast the final vote for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, carrying the gavel used when Medicare was passed. Will they be this unified again?

Democratic representatives march to cast the final vote for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, carrying the gavel used when Medicare was passed. Will they be this unified again?

You can say all you want about Republican obstructionism, or the fact that getting Democrats to agree is like herding cats. The point is, when one side speaks in unison, the point coming from that side is solidified. When comments from the other side are scattershot, they get lost.

Which side has been speaking with one voice, even if those voices are unified in telling lies? Which voices get shut out of the conversation, even as they make a variety of excellent points?

It’s time to adopt the Republican playbook when it comes to talking about issues, especially when it comes to talking to the media. Right now, with a GOP triumvirate in Washington, Democrats don’t have the luxury of nitpicking each other.

Back in 2010, a Democratic Congress finally passed the Affordable Care Act after months of wrangling. There were hearings in the House and Senate in 2009, starting in May. Minute points about the proposed provisions of the sweeping law were dissected, thrown out, and redeveloped. In the end, despite Democratic concessions, the ACA received zero votes from GOP representatives and senators anyway.

But what did congressional Republicans say about the ACA—every day, every Republican, on Fox News or on any other cable or network news show?

  • It was “rammed through” Congress.
  • The legislation is 2,000 pages long.

Neither of those points is true.

Hearings continued in both houses of Congress for months. You can Google “ACA hearings” and the legislation itself. The final version is 906 pages. Admittedly that’s not short, but that’s a far cry from 2,000 pages. And the final law, with its 906-page count, is printed on pages with lots of white space.

Yet if you asked the average American, chances are they would remember the fact that it was “rammed through” (apparently that’s GOP shorthand for using the reconciliation process, which they’re planning on using to repeal it) and that it was 2,000 pages long. Oh, and that no one read it before it was passed.

The average American remembers those lies because the same talking points were used by every Republican. When is the last time you remember the same talking points used by every Democrat?

The fact that Democrats disagree is no surprise. If you look at the arguments among Democrats, whether on primary battles or what Democrats should focus on now, you always find nitpicking about specifics and percentages. There are plenty of varied and great ideas offered on helping the middle class, winning elections, building infrastructure, fighting the effects of climate change, etc., but there also are always complaints about details.

It reminds me of arguments Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas made in his 2006 book Crashing the Gate. In chapter two, he describes a conference in Monterey, California, for progressive activists about moving forward after the 2004 election. At a session on coalition-building, instead of learning how to work together, many attendees ended up whining, “What about my issue?” Instead of working as one group of 40, they split into five groups.

The bane of the progressive movement had struck—the demand by single-issue groups to focus on their issue to the exclusion of anything else. Even for one hour, in a session about working with other groups, they were unable to pay attention to any issue but their own.

Yes, Republicans disagree, too. That’s why John Boehner gave up his job as House speaker—trying to ride herd over such a disagreeable bunch just wasn’t worth it anymore. Yet when it comes time to vote, you find very few Republicans not toeing the line. And they always say the same thing during media appearances.

During the George W. Bush administration, GOP talking points would be developed and distributed through both the White House and Fox News. It was hard to tell where one stopped and the other began.

After the November 2016 election, there was no shortage of advice from pundits and others on what steps Democrats need to take to avoid sinking into political oblivion. Advice ranged from “How Democrats can build a real opposition to Donald Trump” (Washington Post) to “When Democrats Can Work With Trump, They Should” (Bloomberg).

From the Post piece referenced above:

In the House and Senate, Democrats need leaders who can maintain unity within their caucus and know how to use the institutional levers available to the minority to limit the damage Republicans can do and force them into uncomfortable situations and the occasional outright defeat.

And what else do they need to build that opposition? They need organizations that will sue the Trump administration and submit thousands of FOIA requests to find out what it’s actually up to, since the Republican Congress certainly won’t be carrying out any oversight. They need an intense focus on state legislative races — backed up by ample funds from the liberal billionaires who are ordinarily more interested in what happens in Washington — to reverse the gains Republicans have made at the state level in the last eight years.

Note the key phrase “unity within their caucus.” Democratic opposition won’t mean a thing if it’s not delivered with a unified voice.

(We’ll ignore the advice from the Bloomberg columnist, who advises Dems to work with Trump and the Republicans on issues such as an infrastructure bill. The columnist claims that refusing to work with Republicans means Democrats will have no “no chance to influence policy.” As if Trump and Republicans would ask for or accept that input anyway.)

There are many good ideas and strategies for fighting Trump and congressional—and state—Republicans. Rather than complain that some don’t pass a purity test, let’s see implementation of unified ideas and talking points.

The New York Times had an opinion piece on why Democrats should adopt the strategies of the Tea Party. Because as racist, threatening, and full of lies as they were, the tactics worked.

The Tea Party’s ideas were wrong, and their often racist rhetoric and physical threats were unacceptable. But they understood how to wield political power and made two critical strategic decisions. First, they organized locally, focusing on their own members of Congress. Second, they played defense, sticking together to aggressively resist anything with President Obama’s support. With this playbook, they rattled our elected officials, targeting Democrats and Republicans alike.

Politics is the art of the possible, and the Tea Party changed what was possible. They waged a relentless campaign to force Republicans away from compromise and tank Democratic legislative priorities like immigration reform and campaign finance transparency. Their members ensured that legislation that did pass, like the Affordable Care Act, was unpopular from the start. They hijacked the national narrative and created the impression of broad discontent with President Obama.

Let’s go back to the example of the ACA. Republicans are bent on repealing it and already have introduced legislation in the Senate to do so. House Republicans already have taken some 60 votes to repeal. Of course, even after nearly seven years, nothing serious has been suggested as a replacement. “Repeal and delay” is the new tactic, even though such an approach would make the individual insurance market crash and burn, and the benefits of the legislation would be gone.

So far, Democrats have been meeting to plan strategies. Democratic representatives across the country are scheduled to hold meetings with constituents to describe the downfalls and idiocy of the Republican repeal-and-delay approach. President Obama met with Democratic leaders to decide on the best tack for what to do about repeal, and offered the advice, “Make Republicans own it.”

What’s not needed right now is Democratic infighting about what’s wrong with the ACA; how it should have been single-payer all along; how the bill should have done X or Y differently; whether to cooperate with the GOP or not. One position. From everyone. Calling it “#MakeAmericaSickAgain” isn’t too bad a start.

No, Democrats have one job, and every Democrat must say the same thing: The public will be the losers if the ACA is repealed, and it will be the Republicans’ fault. Donald Trump can tweet all he wants that it will be the Democrats’ fault, but no one’s buying his words.

Look, we’re not going to agree on every approach made by Democrats in Congress. But as a party in the minority, we can’t afford petty disagreements.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 8, 2017.

What the media missed in 2016

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It’s not hard to pick out the over-reported stories of 2016: The media obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails and the nonstop coverage of Donald Trump top the list. But what stories got passed over?

The staff at billmoyers.com did a roundup of many issues that got ignored. Those issues deserved a closer look and shouldn’t have been relegated to a news black hole. The sins of omission range from not covering election-related policy positions to basically ignoring the Republican-led Senate’s refusal to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court to silence on this year’s success of the nation’s safety net in getting people out of poverty.

The overall list comes from reporters, editors, and bloggers. Here are some highlights:

Ben Adler, politics and policy reporter, Grist: Policy issues.

The elite mainstream media considers only certain issues as important — US economic growth, the supposed looming crisis of Medicare and Social Security shortfalls, Middle Eastern war, and Hillary Clinton’s email server — and just ignores everything else. In so doing, they have done a great disservice to the American public.

Ari Berman, senior contributing writer at The Nation: GOP voter suppression.

Far too many in the media ignored the GOP’s attack on voting rights. There were 26 debates during the presidential primaries and general election, but not a single question about the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Cable news devoted hours and hours to Trump’s absurd claim that the election was rigged against him while spending precious little time on the real threat that voters faced.

Tom Engelhardt, editor, TomDispatch: Afghanistan, America’s longest war.

My nominee for 2016 — another topic that got not a single question or comment in those debates — would be the Afghan War, now officially the longest in US history. It’s 15 years since the Bush administration, the CIA and the US military “liberated” that country, and still the war there goes on (and goes increasingly poorly); close to 10,000 American troops, not including private contractors, continue to be stationed there on enormous bases (and are still dying in small numbers); in the Pentagon, officials talk about a “generational” approach to that war extending into the 2020s; US air power has once again been unleashed there as the strength of the Taliban grows. And yet here, both in the media and in the consciousness of the American public, it remains the war that time forgot.

Chris Hedges, columnist for Truthdig: The Trump voter. (I disagree — I think Trump followers got lots of coverage, but here’s his say.)

The media, trapped in their echo chambers of talking heads and official pundits, myopically focused on ratings and advertising revenue, utterly failed to capture the incendiary mood of a disenfranchised working class that elected Donald Trump. The press fleetingly admitted it got it wrong. It then went straight back to filling air and print time with the court gossip of who would or would not be appointed to positions of power. The corporate press, which eschews reporting on issues of substance, functions primarily as courtiers and entertainers not journalists.

Dahlia Lithwick writer and podcast host at Slate: Merrick Garland.

I would suggest that the most under-covered story of the year was the Merrick Garland nomination at the Supreme Court. What began with impetuous tweets only hours after Justice Antonin Scalia died, turned into a full-scale policy to keep anyone President Obama tapped from having a vote, a hearing or even — in most cases — a courtesy meeting with a manifestly qualified centrist judge. The perfectly pretextual arguments proffered: That the president is a lame duck for a quarter of his term in office; that this particular seat was of some weighty significance that required “the people” to decide, were both unprecedented and unsound. That they morphed over the summer into GOP promises of full-scale obstruction for any nominee Hillary Clinton would put forward over four years in office shows that both arguments were also, in fact, lies.

Jeremy Slevin, associate director of advocacy, poverty to prosperity program at the Center for American Progress, and Greg Kaufmann, editor of TalkPoverty.org: The social safety net.

Poverty would be nearly twice as high without our safety net. It was overlooked last year, and it was missed again this year too, when we learned that 38 million people escaped poverty thanks to public investments.

When we hear politicians talk about “government,” it is often as a distant bureaucracy — the IRS ‘taking your tax dollars’ or the bloated Pentagon budget. Lost in the conversation are the millions of people who receive services or assistance that they cannot obtain through the private sector. This includes everything from Social Security to food stamps to rental assistance to Head Start to school lunch programs.

Those are just a few examples of media failures in 2016 — go check out the whole list to learn more. Commenters chimed in with suggestions of their own. And where was discussion of the lack of coverage about climate change? But even spelling out these failures out probably won’t make any difference. Don’t expect the media to rush in to start covering these topics.

After all, Kim Kardashian is back on social media, and Donald Trump released some new tweets today, so what else matters?

Solar power cheapest new form of energy in nearly 60 countries

Solar mirrors in Morocco. Developing countries are learning that installing solar power is the most cost-effective method of generating electricity.

Solar mirrors in Morocco. Developing countries are learning that installing solar power is the most cost-effective method of generating electricity.

Donald Trump and the climate deniers and fossil fuel company backers he’s nominated for his cabinet don’t realize it—or refuse to believe it—but the world is starting to pass them by when it comes to developing new sources of power. In the developing world, solar power is becoming the most cost-effective new source of electricity.

In nearly 60 lower-income countries, the average price of solar energy has dropped to $1.65 million per megawatt in 2016, just below wind at $1.66 million per megawatt. That means new energy development projects will focus on solar energy rather than wind power.

“Unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects,” says a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research and analysis organization for those investing in the energy industry.

According to a mid-December 2016 story from Bloomberg Technology about the report, called Climatescope:

This year has seen a remarkable run for solar power. Auctions, where private companies compete for massive contracts to provide electricity, established record after record for cheap solar power. It started with a contract in January to produce electricity for $64 per megawatt-hour in India; then a deal in August pegging $29.10 per megawatt-hour in Chile. That’s record-cheap electricity—roughly half the price of competing coal power.

“Renewables are robustly entering the era of undercutting” fossil fuel prices, BNEF Chairman Michael Liebreich said in a note to clients.

Undercutting fossil fuel prices. In other words, doing it more cheaply. And when you’re building a new infrastructure for electricity with limited resources—and you’re a country with abundant sunshine—you go with the least expensive option. And that ain’t coal, gas, or oil.

This chart from Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows the average cost of new wind and solar projects from 58 emerging-market economies. The countries studied include China, India, and Brazil.

The Bloomberg data show how the price of solar power has dropped to a third of what it was in 2010.

The Bloomberg data show how the price of solar power has dropped to a third of what it was in 2010.

The low-cost contracts discussed in the Bloomberg report are for new projects. It adds:

When all the 2016 completions are tallied in coming months, it’s likely that the total amount of solar photovoltaics [PVAs] added globally will exceed that of wind for the first time. The latest BNEF projections call for 70 gigawatts of newly installed solar in 2016 compared with 59 gigawatts of wind.

The overall shift to clean energy can be more expensive in wealthier nations, where electricity demand is flat or falling and new solar must compete with existing billion-dollar coal and gas plants. But in countries that are adding new electricity capacity as quickly as possible, “renewable energy will beat any other technology in most of the world without subsidies,” said Liebreich.

This new development of cheaper solar power is being described as a turning point in the energy industry. “The world … is adding more capacity for clean energy each year than for coal and natural gas combined. Peak fossil-fuel use for electricity may be reached within the next decade,” according to the story in Bloomberg.

Another story about the report in Science Alert discussed how the growth in solar marks some new milestones.

Solar is booming for a number of reasons, including falling equipment costs, new business models like Tesla’s home batteries, growing investment, and a rise in clean energy policies.

It’s also worth noting that prices fluctuate across the world, and solar isn’t the cheapest deal everywhere just yet — the cost depends on sunshine availability, plus the energy contracts that are already in place, and what government subsidies are on offer.

But it’s still a landmark moment for new energy costs in developing nations, and goes hand-in-hand with renewable energy now having become the largest source of new power capacity in the world. …

Last year, China invested $103 billion in solar projects, more than the US ($44.1 billion), the UK ($22.2 billion), and Japan ($36.2 billion) put together.

Other points from the Climatescope report:

  • Steep solar equipment cost efficiencies are catalyzing build and driving economic growth.
  • Cheap solar, innovative business models, and a new breed of entrepreneurs are revolutionizing how energy access issues are addressed in least developed nations.
  • Developed economies are accelerating funding for clean energy in emerging markets.
  • Clean energy policies are becoming more widely adopted across Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In ranking and profiling emerging markets for their ability to attract capital for low-carbon energy projects, the top-scoring markets were China, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, South Africa, and India.

There are other reports of the growth of solar energy. The World Economic Forum released a report in December 2016 detailing the boom in renewable energy investment. Coal is still the world’s biggest supplier of energy, but oil is dropping quickly, and renewable energy is showing the greatest growth. “Solar and wind is now the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries,” says an online story on the WEF report in Quartz.

As prices for solar and wind power continue their precipitous fall, two-thirds of all nations will reach the point known as “grid parity” within a few years, even without subsidies. “Renewable energy has reached a tipping point,” Michael Drexler, who leads infrastructure and development investing at the WEF, said in a statement. “It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns.”

Those numbers are already translating into vast new acres of silicon and glass. In 2016, utilities added 9.5 gigawatts of photovoltaic capacity to the U.S. grid, making solar the top fuel source for the first time in a calendar year, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s estimates. The U.S. added about 125 solar panels every minute in 2016, about double the pace last year, reports the Solar Energy Industry Association.

As James Rado and Gerome Ragni wrote in the 1967 musical Hair, “Let the Sunshine In.” The words were for a different context, but they seem strangely prophetic today.:

We starve, look at one another, short of breath
Walking proudly in our winter coats
Wearing smells from laboratories
Facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasy
Listening for the new told lies
With supreme visions of lonely tunes.
Originally posted on Daily Kos, Jan. 1, 2017.

Even after Trump win, why I still have hope (and it has nothing to do with Jesus)

 This was from the Democratic National Convention, but the feeling is still going strong.


This was from the Democratic National Convention, but the feeling is still going strong.

I’m a church-going Christian, even as some of you reading this likely are not. No matter. This year, my hope going into 2017 has nothing to do with the birth of Christ, often referred to as the hope of the world. No, my hope is that, after being beaten in November, we’ve learned some important lessons. Progressives have learned to step it up and take matters into their own hands.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re still screwed in lots of ways. A cabinet full of unqualified and dangerous picks combined with a Republican-controlled House and Senate can do some real damage, especially with a narcissist and liar-in-chief as president, one who is still playing the media like Nero played the fiddle. That doesn’t even include GOP control at the state level, which is equally as bad.

My hope goes deeper. Have you noticed a change in your friends and acquaintances? I have. People who used to be non-political are being forceful and taking a stand against Trump. People who would never have done so much as sign an online petition are asking others to make phone calls and send letters to elected officials. They’re sharing information widely about courses of action and are calling on others to do the same.

The election of Donald Trump has awoken a sleeping giant on the left. Now we’re the ones who are mad as hell. And we’re not going to take it anymore.

We’re all still grieving because of Donald Trump’s election, and we’ll be feeling the consequences for at least four years (assuming he doesn’t pull a Sarah Palin and quit early to spend more time with his businesses).

But something seems to have changed. More and more, people are taking an active role in fighting back. They’re organizing. They’re calling senators and representatives. They’re sending money by the boatload to groups like the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and many environmental groups.

A story in Business Insider reported that within a week after Trump declared victory, the ACLU took in $7.2 million. Planned Parenthood received 80,000 new donations. The Trevor Project, which offers suicide prevention services for young LGBTQ people, was $200,000 behind in annual donations on Nov. 8, but it caught up after the election. The Council on American-Islamic Relations received 500-plus volunteer applications, a figure the group’s communications director called “simply unprecedented.”

That was just in one week. Those groups won’t have final fundraising figures, new member totals, or volunteer numbers until the end of the year, when many people make their donations, but it’s all a huge step forward.

Some of the nation’s newspapers are reporting a surge in electronic and regular subscriptions. The New York Times reported 132,000 new subscriptions shortly after the election. The Washington Post reported that it was ending the year in the black—it’s now a profitable and growing company. Yes, it’s corporate ownership. But people are starting to realize that 24/7 cable news stations and “post-truth” aren’t cutting it.

On Jan. 20, the same day as the inauguration, plans are underway for a major concert in Miami to run counter to the inaugural balls in Washington. The concert is being called “We the People” and is being organized by concert promoter Mark Ross, son of late Time Warner CEO Steve Ross. Some involved in the event’s planning said, “The talent is banging on our doors to do this,” although there has been no announcement on who might be performing. There also are plans to coordinate the concert with fundraising for groups like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the SPLC, and others.

During the inauguration ceremony itself, a group of musicians in Nashville is planning a “silent inauguration” in a local park by doing just that—staying silent for 15 minutes at 10:45 a.m. when Trump takes the oath of office. When word of the Nashville event got out, organizers were contacted by others around the country hoping to hold similar silent vigils.

The NAACP has scheduled a “People’s Inauguration” on January 21, the day after the inauguration, at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The event, featuring a speech by hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper, will be a gathering of youth activists “to organize and plan how to respond to new civil rights threats expected under a new administration and Congress in 2017.” Organizers also are planning a “People’s Inaugural Ball” on January 20. I’m guessing the talent there will be a lot better than what the Trump team reportedly hasn’t been able to line up for the official inauguration events. Trumpland is reportedly dangling ambassadorships in front of agents in an attempt to get some A-list entertainers (I don’t put Ted Nugent in that category).

Also set for January 21 is the Women’s March on Washington. More than 100,000 people are planning to attend so far, coming by the busload from around the country. Similar marches the same day by women (men are also welcome) are being planned nationwide. If you’re interested, organizers ask participants to register at an official Eventbrite site to get a better handle on numbers.

In Chicago, hours after Trump’s victory, three women started a volunteer consulting group to encourage more Illinois women to run for office. They called it Rodham Consulting (after you-know-who) and have heard from 100 possible candidates so far. My own local Democratic organization scheduled phone banking to sign up people for the Chicago Women’s March on January 21. “The resistance has begun,” read the email asking for volunteers.

A powerful piece from The Guardian outlines why it’s so important to fight back and gives some ideas how.

If we’re artists, writers, critics, publishers, directors or producers of film or television, we reckon honestly with our role in shaping the American psyche. We ask ourselves why so many people just couldn’t see a 69-year-old woman in our nation’s leading role, and why they might choose instead a hero who dispatches opponents with glib cruelty. We consider the alternatives. We join the time-honored tradition of artists resisting government oppression through our work.

If we’re journalists, we push back against every door that closes on freedom of information. We educate our public about objectivity, why it matters, and what it’s like to work under a president who aggressively threatens news outlets and reporters.

If we’re consumers of art, literature, film, TV and news, we think about what’s true, and what we need. We reward those who are taking risks to provide it.

If we’re teachers, we explicitly help children of all kinds feel safe in our classrooms under a bullying season that’s already opened in my town and probably yours. Language used by a president may enter this conversation. We say wrong is wrong.

If we’re scientists, we escalate our conversation about the dangers of suppressing science education and denying climate change. We shed our cautious traditions and explain what people should know. Why southern counties are burning now and Florida’s coastal cities are flooding, unspared by any vote-count for denial.

If we’re women suffering from sexual assault or body image disorders, or if we’re their friends, partners or therapists, we acknowledge that the predatory persona of men like Trump is genuinely traumatizing. That revulsion and rage are necessary responses. …

We refuse to disappear. We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble. Every soul willing to do that is part of our team, starting with the massive crowd that shows up in DC in January to show the new president what we stand for, and what we won’t.

There’s safety in numbers, but only if we count ourselves out loud.

No doubt many of you are part of the “Pantsuit Nation” Facebook group. That’s been an outlet for so many who have been disheartened by Trump’s election, and it lets people tell personal stories about how they haven’t given up and how they’re fighting back. It has nearly 4 million members, and it contains tales of how people are fighting discrimination. There are narratives of people standing up for perfect strangers when they see them being bullied.

And it describes avenues for action. One Pantsuit Nation originator posted this as her New Year’s resolution: “I’m going to be relentless.”

So enjoy your holidays. On Christmas Eve, we went to church to pray, hear the Christmas story, light candles, and sing “Silent Night.” Christmas Day will be spent with family. Happy holidays to all, whether you have a Christmas dinner, go out for Chinese food, or enjoy a Karamu feast. Thanks to all who have to work on the holidays in the medical profession, law enforcement, fire departments, or news media—I sometimes worked holidays when I was at daily newspapers.

Then it’s back to work. It’s time for all of us to be relentless. Whether we’re wearing a pantsuit or not.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 24, 2016.

Donald Trump’s contemptible cabinet (with poll!)

 Even though Ben Carson admitted he wasn't qualified to serve in government, he's Trump's choice to run HUD. Maybe he's channeling a new wacko theory on pyramids.


Even though Ben Carson admitted he wasn’t qualified to serve in government, he’s Trump’s choice to run HUD. Maybe he’s channeling a new wacko theory on pyramids.

To say that some of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks are unqualified, frightening, and downright dangerous is an understatement. To say that many shouldn’t be let anywhere near a position of power in government is obvious.

Some make up his basket o’ billionaires, because Trump said he wants “people that made a fortune” in his cabinet. Most have no government experience. Many have ties to the fossil fuel industry and are the most anti-environmental choices in history. We suspect that at least one might have an IQ similar to room temperature—in Celsius (since so many don’t appear to believe in science, they might think that’s a compliment).

What do they have in common? Many supported Trump’s presidential bid, even if they were late to the party, and some donated and raised huge amounts to elect the narcissist-in-chief. Most important: Trump’s kids approve of the nominees.

While all are not universally awful choices, many pundits are calling the Trump cabinet picks his own basket of deplorables. From a post on Counterpunch:

As our new “Celebrity-in-Chief,” maybe Don the Con is previewing a new game show called “The Apprentice Cabinet.”

Whatever the motivation, it is depressingly clear that these nominees are either spectacularly unqualified, right wing zealots of the worst sort, or, in Simon Schama’s words, a “cesspool of crony capitalism,” or, in some cases, all three at once. A regular Trifecta! The speaker of the California Assembly has provided another triadic and alliterative description: “Bullies, Billionaires, and Bigots.” My own preference is an admixture of the TV series “Game of Thrones” with the Book of Revelation. So I would categorize the picks under the Grand Triad of “The Three Dragons of the Apocalypse: Greed, Stupidity, and Authoritarianism.”

Let’s do a Trump cabinet roundup. Warning: Depression is bound to follow.

Rex Tillerson at the State Department. After he humiliated Mitt Romney by feeding him frogs’ legs while blowing a raspberry, the liar-in-chief-to-be was still dissatisfied with his options. So he listened to several D.C. insiders—all with business and financial ties to ExxonMobil—and picked the oil company CEO. Tillerson has spent his career at the oil giant and signed billions of dollars in deals with the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft, deals that (among other things) would let Exxon pursue oil drilling in Russian Arctic territory. The deals were scotched, however, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against Russia. But Tillerson and his best bud, Russian President Vladimir Putin, are betting that sanctions will be lifted, enriching folks who are already rich. Like Tillerson, who owns $218 million in Exxon stock. Already some Republican senators have raised “serious concerns” (what would politicians do if they couldn’t raise serious concerns?) and hinted that they might oppose the pick, such as South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham. Let’s hope a majority of senators say nyet!

Tom Price at the Department of Health and Human Services. Price, an orthopedic surgeon and Republican congressman from Georgia, wants to abolish the Affordable Care Act, privatize Medicare, cut Medicaid, and defund Planned Parenthood. He advocates letting doctors balance-bill Medicare patients, meaning they could charge whatever they want and ask patients to pay for what Medicare doesn’t. Price never met a social safety net program he didn’t want to trash, especially when it comes to women’s health.

Steven Mnuchin at the Treasury Department. Mnuchin, who spent years at Goldman Sachs, was known as the “foreclosure king” and benefited bigly off the 2008 housing crisis. His bank once tried to foreclose on a 90-year-old woman because she mistakenly underpaid her mortgage by 27 cents. Guess Trump saw Mnuchin, a hedge fund manager and Hollywood producer, as a kindred spirit because they both saw “opportunity” in the housing collapse (“That’s called business,” as Trump said in the first presidential debate). That, and the fact that Mnuchin was Trump’s top fundraiser.

Wilbur Ross at the Commerce Department. Ross, a billionaire private equity investor and specialist in leveraged buyouts, has made money by buying distressed companies. He actually has some support from organized labor for saving steel jobs, but he also was responsible for layoffs of textile workers and coal miners. And 12 miners died in an explosion at one of his mines that had been cited for numerous safety citations. Ross, the richest in the bunch, also was a big Trump cheerleader and donor.

Jeff Beauregard Sessions III as attorney general. The Alabama senator was deemed too racist by fellow Republicans to be confirmed as a federal judge, and he’s been seething about it ever since. “Just the thought of him overseeing the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is frightening,” said attorney J. Gerald Hebert, who knew Sessions when Hebert worked on voting rights in the 1980s. What does Sessions care about? It’s better to list what he doesn’t care about: voting rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, solving immigration issues, and any form of legalized marijuana.

John Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, is actually considered a “middle of the road” pick, and it could have been worse. Some of the other rumored choices were Kansas Secretary of State and vote suppressor Kris Kobach, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke (who advocated “pitchforks and torches”), and defeated (finally!) Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

James Mattis at the Defense Department. The retired Marine Corps general earned the nickname of “Mad Dog” for statements such as “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” Sounds like a charmer. He has been hawkish on Iran. But at least he’s against torture.

Elaine Chao at the Transportation Department. Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who all but threatened political blackmail if news about how Russian cyberhacking was made public before the election. Is this political payback for McConnell making sure the story stayed partially under the rug? At least Chao has some government experience, having been Labor secretary in the George W. Bush administration.

Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education. Why would Trump pick someone who doesn’t believe in public education? Who pushes charter schools and private school vouchers? Because the heir to the Amway fortune donated money to his campaign, of course. Speaking of fortunes, she should pay the $5.3 million in fines she owes to the state of Ohio because her now-defunct school-choice PAC violated the state’s campaign finance laws. Hey, maybe Trump can find a little extra cash in the Trump Foundation, since settling lawsuits seems to be what he thinks foundation money is for.

Ben Carson at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Pick your favorite Ben Carson theory of lunacy: The pyramids were built for storing grain? God gave the retired pediatric neurosurgeon the answers to his chemistry final in a dream? NASA made it to the moon because God was in the Declaration of Independence? All of those whackadoodle theories have nothing to do with housing policy, unless you count the pyramids, which did house dead folks. But then again, nothing he’s ever done has anything to do with housing policy.

Ryan Zinke at the Department of the Interior. The Montana freshman congressman, said to be a friend to big oil, is an outdoorsman and hunter, and he reportedly hit it off with Donald Trump Jr., also an avid hunter. Guess bumping chests with the Trump boys trumps conservation expertise.

Andy Puzder at the Department of Labor. Puzder made a fortune with fast-food franchise companies like Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., but he’s against raising the minimum wage and doesn’t like paying overtime. Instead, he likes commercials with models in bikinis eating burgers. Not exactly what the working man or woman needs.

Rick Perry at the Department of Energy. Remember when Perry famously tanked at a Republican debate for his “oops” moment? When he couldn’t remember the third department he was going to abolish? Yeah, it was Energy. Is this really the guy we want in charge of the nuclear weapons stockpile? Maybe this is Trump’s big joke on Perry—maybe he’s going to abolish the department himself after the GOP Senate confirms the man Molly Ivins often called “Governor Goodhair.” All in retaliation for the time Perry called Trump a “cancer on conservatism” and “toxic.” Oil lover Perry is also on the board of the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline.

We still don’t know Trump’s pick for Agriculture secretary. But we hear Old MacDonald is available, and he can sing “E-I-E-I-O.” Nor has there been an announcement of Trump’s choice for Veterans Affairs. Hey, since Trump loves appointing generals and David Petraeus was passed over at State, maybe this would be a good fit. If Petraeus’ probation officer agrees.

Some posts still need Senate approval and are considered Cabinet-level even if they’re not technically in the cabinet.

Mike Pompeo as CIA director. The Kansas congressman, rumored to be the love child of Charles and David Koch because he’s received more contributions from Koch employees than anyone else running for office, is enthusiastic about torture. He wants to bring back NSA spying. He thinks whistleblower Edward Snowden deserves a death sentence. And he says the detainees at Gitmo “are treated exceptionally well.” Everything you’d ever want in a CIA chief.

Linda McMahon as head of the Small Business Administration. Because what says small business success to folks trying to get a new business off the ground like the billionaire head of a fake wrestling outfit such as World Wrestling Entertainment?

Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency. Talk about an oxymoron. Pruitt, a Republican climate change denier who is the Oklahoma attorney general, has sued the EPA numerous times to halt environmental regulations. Never mind the fact that Oklahoma is awash with fracking-caused earthquakes—the more fracking, the better, believes Pruitt, who has ties to the fossil fuel industry. Putting Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA is “like appointing Darth Vader to lead the Rebel Alliance,” says Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

Nikki Haley as United Nations ambassador. The South Carolina governor wasn’t originally a Trump fan, but appointing her to the post paves the way for her lieutenant governor, Henry McMaster (who was an early endorser), to become guv of the Palmetto State and run as an incumbent in 2018.

This list leaves out Trump’s other stellar picks who don’t need Senate approval, such as retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as national security adviser, who has a habit of leaking classified information and spreading wild conspiracy theories; Steve Bannon of Breitbart fame as top political adviser to keep bending Trump’s ear about white nationalism; Reince Priebus as chief of staff, second in weaseldom only to House Speaker Paul Ryan; and the Trump offspring, who will be “running the businesses” while having nothing at all to do with government. This is even as they continue to sit in meetings with world leaders, potential Cabinet picks, and U.S. industry mavens and as Ivanka is rumored to be getting White House office space normally reserved for the first lady while Melania stays ensconced in Trump Tower.

To make you feel even worse, the secretary of state is the first cabinet official in line for the presidency should anything happen to the president, the vice president, the speaker of the House, and the president pro tempore of the Senate. Sort of puts the Rex Tillerson-Vladimir Putin bromance in a whole new light.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 18, 2016.

Faith communities band together to fight gun violence

december-sabbath-weekend

Across the country, faith communities are joining gun safety groups December 14 through December 18 to call attention to the epidemic of gun violence.

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence is a coalition of more than 50 denominations and faith-based organizations “united by the call of our faiths to confront America’s gun violence epidemic and to rally support for policies that reduce death and injury from gunfire.” It is joining with the Newtown Foundation and other gun safety groups such as States United to Prevent Gun Violence to organize events around the country.

December 14 is the anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six educators were shot and killed.

The five-day period is being called Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend. Churches, temples, and other houses of worship nationwide are planning events “to remember those who have lost their lives to gunfire, pray for those whose lives have been forever changed because of the loss of a loved one, and to educate one another on proven strategies to reduce gun violence.” In 2015, 500 houses of worship in 46 states held events during the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend. The December Sabbath website offers suggestions for worship services, sermon topics, candlelight vigils, and other ideas, and tailors them to various faiths.

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With the results of the November election, many gun safety groups are looking for other avenues to fight gun violence and other ways to advocate for gun safety. The Faiths United group hopes that the December Sabbath weekend gives people across the country a chance to band together to fight gun violence. The group still backs the common-sense gun safety measures supported by a majority of Americans:

  • Requiring every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check.
  • Getting military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines off the streets.
  • Making gun trafficking a federal crime.

There will be a “National Vigil for All Gun Violence Victims” at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on December 14 as well as local events around the country. Check this list to find an event near you.

How Trump turned 2016 into George Orwell’s 1984 

From the 1956 film version of 1984. Post-truth, anyone?

From the 1956 film version of 1984. Post-truth, anyone?

No one would ever argue that the election of Donald Trump equals the dystopian result in George Orwell’s 1984. But there sure are a lot of frightening similarities.

For those who haven’t read the 1949 book or seen a movie version since high school or college (or if you missed it completely), the story is set in a bombed-out world divided into three superstates after a global war. The story’s protagonist, Winston Smith, lives in Airstrip One (what used to be Great Britain) in Oceania, England having been swallowed up by North America. He’s in the middle tier of citizenry, a member of the “Outer Party” (the elite top two percent make up the “Inner Party,” and the other 85 percent, the workers, or “Proles,” are the vast uneducated masses). Winston has a bureaucratic job altering and rewriting history to fit the Party’s narrative as part of the Ministry of Truth—basically the propaganda department.

Orwell wrote the book after World War II in response to the Cold War and the idea of a totalitarian state. 1984 came after Animal Farm, his definitive fictional work on the Russian Revolution, Communism, and totalitarianism. But 1984 and its ideas grew in popular culture so that its references have become commonplace.

So many phrases and ideas from the story are now a part of our everyday language. Even those who haven’t read the book know that “Big Brother is watching you” refers to an authoritarian government, like the omnipresent telescreens in public places and in the homes of every Party member. We recognize terms like “thought police” and “doublespeak” from context without realizing their origins. When we forget something, it goes down the “memory hole,” to be lost forever, just like the papers Winston Smith uses to rewrite history or the people who are vaporized into non-persons. If anything goes down the hole, it never existed. From the novel:

“Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it: in Newspeak, “doublethink.”

Language from 1984 also resonated in the 2016 election. The fake news, euphemisms, lies, and “post-truth” we experienced from President-elect Donald Trump and his campaign surrogates, the false planted stories in social media from Russian agents or wherever all bring to mind the “Newspeak” used in the novel. The national media’s normalization of terms and ideas from the Trump campaign only further blurred the truth, and we’re left with a country picking and choosing “post-truth” facts and believing outright lies.

Welcome to Donald Trump’s America.

Words in 1984 often mean the opposite of what they appear to mean. The Ministry of Love is the home of the authoritarian law and order arm of the Party. The Ministry of Plenty is in charge of rationing. The Ministry of Peace orchestrates the ever-present war. Words also get shortened to dilute their meaning: Using a phrase like “Minitru” for the Ministry of Truth doesn’t create the full negative connotation of the definition, in the same way that “alt-right” is a way of neutralizing and declawing the terms white supremacist or white nationalist.

When Trump uses projection to criticize an opponent, whether it was a fellow Republican, Hillary Clinton, the media, or anyone or anything on the receiving end of his tweets and bombastic tirades, he is transferring his own shortcomings to them: they are at fault, not him; they are guilty, not him. This is his version of Newspeak.

And his voters believe him, just as the citizens believe the Party in 1984. From the novel:

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.

A story from The New York Daily News gives several examples of parallels between 1984 and the Trump campaign.

Doublethink is an inherently contradictory part of Newspeak and 1984 Party politics. According to the novel, doublethink is, “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.”

In other words, it’s pretty much the basis of Donald Trump’s campaign.

The Proles — the lower-class people who make up the majority of Oceania’s population — are largely ignored by the government. They don’t face the same kind of indoctrination that the Inner and Outer Party members do and for the most part they’re kept under control by rumors spread by the Thought Police and easy access to various vices.

“Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds,” Orwell wrote. They’re also placated with easy access to Party-produced porn and certain crimes — including prostitution, drug-dealing and racketeering — go pretty much unchecked in the prole portions of town. Basically, the idea is to keep the proles placated and distracted, so that they don’t pay any attention to the political machinations moving the world around them.

Today, in a world where a naked Kardashian selfie can attract more attention than the State of the Union, it’s not hard to see some parallels.

A commentary from WBUR, one of Boston’s public radio stations, during the Republican primaries now seems eerily prescient about Trump’s appeal and success. TV footage and recordings of Trump’s words and contradictory positions didn’t matter if he disowned them later, over and over again. A lie told one day could be denied the next day, over and over again.

As Orwell noted, “… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

Like all great demagogues before him, that’s a principle that Donald Trump understands and embraces. …

Assert anything often enough and with enough vigor, Trump believes, and people will accept it. But he goes a step farther than his equally cynical brethren in this and past political races. Trump has intuited that by constantly repeating that he’s a winner, that people love him, that his poll numbers are better than anyone else’s, he can marginalize the non-believers. If the majority of people say that he is the best, then that is the de facto truth, just as in Orwell’s Oceania, if the party says 2+2=5 and enough citizens repeat it, the dissenter — the statistical outlier — is, by definition, insane. After all, in Oceania and presumably in TrumpWorld, “Sanity is statistical.”

There have been several movie and made-for-TV versions of this book. There were TV versions in 1953 (CBS) and in 1954 (BBC). The original film was in 1956 and featured Edmund O’Brien as Winston Smith.

This clip is from the 1984 version (yes, one was made in … 1984) featuring John Hurt as Winston Smith. This is from the daily “Two Minutes Hate” in which all Party members must participate in an exercise designed to harden them against the enemy. This enemy, Emmanuel Goldstein, supposedly the leader of the underground Brotherhood, is shown onscreen, his words drowned out by a crowd growing more and more agitated, crying, “Kill him!” and “Death!”

Really, how different is that from the chants of “Lock her up!” and “Hang the bitch!” from crowds at the Republican National Convention and at Trump rallies? How different is that from demands from Trump surrogates to execute Hillary Clinton? All for using a private email server?

There were so many lies told during the 18 months of this election—Politics USA reported that 91 percent of Trump’s utterances were false—that fact-checkers couldn’t keep up with him. Media played his words verbatim without any context, and those words have been accepted as gospel by true Trump believers. When people point out Trump’s lies now, TrumpleThinSkin reacts with a childish, insulting tweet. The truth-tellers are vilified and threatened. How long before one of Trump’s rabid supporters turns to violence?

When the president of a United Steelworkers local at the Indiana Carrier plant said on TV that Trump “lied his ass off” to Carrier workers about jobs, the union president began receiving threats. The recent example of “Pizzagate” had a would-be vigilante carrying an unlicensed AR-15 assault rifle into a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor to “self-investigate” a “child sex-trafficking ring” supposedly led by Hillary Clinton. The scenario is so ludicrous that it reads like a bad TV script, but the only reason tragedy was averted was that the loser gunman fired his rifle but didn’t hit anyone—the restaurant’s employees had fled in terror. Yet those conspiracy theories about the supposed sex ring were widely spread on social media before the election and were even retweeted by the man Trump chose to be his national security adviser.

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” Orwell wrote.

Pure wind, with no substance. It’s going to be a long four years.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 11, 2016.

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