Tag Archives: lies

He’ll Lie About ANYTHING

According to a number of news reports, in addition to bragging about his administration’s “excellent” performance during the pandemic (and who are you going to believe, Mr. Perfect or your lying eyes?), Trump plans to accuse hospitals and health officials of lying about the number of Covid-19 deaths. His campaign will insist that the numbers are exaggerated.

His base will probably believe him. (Google “motivated reasoning.”)

Over the past, horrific three plus years, those of us who do believe our own lying eyes have come to realize that there is absolutely nothing Trump won’t lie about, no matter how inconsequential or even counter-productive. He is so intellectually and emotionally defective, it is entirely possible he believes whatever comes out of his mouth. (In a recent op-ed, George Conway of the Lincoln Project suggested that Trump’s frantic lies are an effort to hide his inadequacies from himself; be that as it may, he clearly lacks the capacity to realize how stupid those lies–and his ungrammatical, misspelled angry tweets– make him look to sane people.)

I have recently come across two examples that illustrate the truly majestic sweep of Trump’s dishonesty, and how it manifests in absolutely anything and everything he mentions. The first was from Juanita Jean. 

Well, come to find out, even though Trump constantly says he was great at high school baseball and could have gone pro … no.  Not even close.

She then reproduced a tweet in which Trump bragged that, in high school, his baseball coach had called him one of the best players he’d ever coached.

Yeah, sure. As Juanita Jean notes, the reality was that he was pretty much the kid they picked last for the team.

Slate has managed to unearth nine box scores from Trump’s time at New York Military Academy, which showed a four-for-29 batting record in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons, with three runs batted in and a single run scored. Trump’s batting average in the nine games Slate found box scores for stood at a disappointing .138.

Rational people would say “who cares?” Why would you bother to lie about something that–in the scheme of things–is so trivial? And so easily debunked?

Far more significant is the emerging evidence that Trump is nowhere near as wealthy as he has always claimed to be. His desperate efforts to keep his tax returns secret have led many observers to that conclusion, but up until now, it has all been speculative. With the Supreme Court preparing to rule on whether Trump’s accounting firm must comply with subpoenas for those tax records, Pro Publica has issued a very interesting report about that accounting firm.

The story is titled “Meet the Shadowy Accountants Who Do Trump’s Taxes and Help Him Seem Richer than He is,” a headline that gives a pretty good clue to what the investigation turned up. There was a lot to turn up, too–the investigative team found that in “various episodes” over a period of 30 years, partners of the firm — including its CEO — have been in legal trouble as a result of fraud, misconduct or malpractice.

(And that’s not even counting the New York partner who stabbed his wife to death back in 2016….)

According to Pro Publica, the firm helped Trump pay the least amount of taxes possible, which is what accountants generally do, but it also helped him appear “to be rich beyond imagining”–something that required creating “precisely the opposite impression of what’s in his tax filings.”

This lie is more understandable than the one about baseball. Creepy Steve Bannon is on record opining that, if Trump’s base were to discover that he’s not really a billionaire, the disillusion would trigger mass defections. (In America, there are evidently large numbers of people who believe those lines in “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof: “And it wouldn’t matter if I answered right or wrong; when you’re rich, they think you really know.”)

The legal issue before the Court should be a slam-dunk; as the lower courts properly concluded, no one is above the law, and ordering an accounting firm to hand over documents in its possession doesn’t require a President’s time or attention.But who knows?

I hope I’m wrong, but given Mitch McConnell’s appalling success in politicizing the Supreme Court, I don’t hold out much hope that we’ll see Trump’s taxes before November.

But even without the disclosures that lurk in his tax forms, the polls tell us that most Americans trust medical experts and state health officials far more than a President who only tells the truth accidentally.

Let’s just hope we don’t get invaded by aliens from outer space. If Trump warned us, we’d never believe him.

 

This Isn’t Just Incompetence

My Facebook feed has been full of unkind comments about the “protestors” who gathered together–in close quarters–to bewail the loss of their “liberty” to catch and spread the Coronavirus.

Granted, these gatherings were small, and definitely not genuine grass-roots displays. Numerous reports have identified the the rightwing, “astroturf” organizations funding and organizing them. Participants, however, have been drawn from the ranks of the true believers–the people who are convinced by the conspiracy theories of loonies like Alex Jones and who look askance at “elitists” like Dr. Fauci.

A few days ago, I posted about the critical social role played by trust, and the importance of    government in creating it. As the saying goes, fish rot from the head. When you cannot trust anything your government tells you, why would you trust the CDC? Or your doctor? (Why is my doctor pushing vaccines? Is s/he getting a kickback from Big Pharma?)

It’s easy enough to look at the recent protests and conclude that the participants are stupid or demented or both. For that matter, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that anyone still supporting Donald Trump is similarly demented–or so consumed by the racism and bigotry Trump stokes that nothing else, including basic competence, matters.

After all, in order to believe that the pandemic is a politically-motivated hoax–in order to risk your life on that belief, you would have to overlook more than the overwhelming ineptitude of this administration.

You would have to be able to ask–and answer— the following questions:

Why would a President who claims to be addressing (“perfectly”) a serious public health crisis encourage people to rise up against the very measures his administration has advocated to abate that crisis?

Why would a President insist on lying about the availability of testing and equipment? Nearly a month ago, Trump promised that 27 million tests would be available by the end of March. We are now in the latter part of April, and according to most reports,  only 4 million tests have been conducted.

Why would an administration tell the states that dealing with the pandemic is their job, and proceed to make it more difficult for those states to get the protective equipment they need? Reports like this one have been widespread.

Over the last few weeks, it has started to appear as though, in addition to abandoning the states to their own devices in a time of national emergency, the federal government has effectively erected a blockade — like that which the Union used to choke off the supply chains of the Confederacy during the Civil War — to prevent delivery of critical medical equipment to states desperately in need. At the very least, federal authorities have made governors and hospital executives all around the country operate in fear that shipments of necessary supplies will be seized along the way. In a time of pandemic, having evacuated federal responsibility, the White House is functionally waging a war against state leadership and the initiative of local hospitals to secure what they need to provide sufficient treatment.

If a President isn’t doing anything wrong–i.e., stealing us blind, or withholding supplies from states led by Democrats, or diverting funds meant for struggling Americans to wealthy friends and supporters–why does he undermine any and all efforts to monitor his behaviors?

Time Magazine recently reported on Trump’s most recent refusal of oversight. Congressional Democrats had insisted that the bill authorizing pandemic aid contain three oversight mechanisms: an inspector general at the Treasury Department to oversee the $500 billion Treasury fund, and Congress and executive branch panels to monitor the Treasury fund and broadly oversee the law’s implementation. Trump signed the bill, but said he would ignore those provisions, and would not allow the Inspector General overseeing the executive branch’s committee to submit reports to Congress. This is arguably illegal/unconstitutional, and entirely in character: Trump has waged war against rules and Inspectors General throughout his term.

Gee, I wonder why?

Presumably, protestors and others who believe in the various conspiracy theories think that facts–some reported by multiple, credible journalists, some attested to by Trump’s own tweets and bloviations–are false. They, and only they, are privy to the real story.

Many of the dispiriting details of the real real story, of course, probably won’t be known for years. One thing, however, is already clear: the malpractice of this horrific administration goes way, way beyond mere incompetence.

And it is killing people.

 

 

“The Black Guy Did It!”

Have you noticed that whenever there is a particularly sharp public outcry over something Donald Trump is doing–a level of pushback that exceeds the expressions of distaste, disagreement and/or horror that regularly greet his version of “policy”–he blames whatever it is on Obama?

The Washington Post gives four Pinocchios to the latest example of Trump’s “don’t blame me, it was the black guy who did it” evasion, his insistence that his inhumane and illegal family separation policy was really Obama’s. They quote him:

“President Obama had child separation. Take a look. The press knows it, you know it, we all know it. I didn’t have — I’m the one that stopped it. President Obama had child separation. … President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed it, okay?”

Trump keeps doubling down on that falsehood. Every time he is attacked about family separation, he repeats it. As the Post reports,

This is a Four Pinocchio claim, yet Trump keeps repeating it when he’s pressed on family separations.

Repetition can’t change reality. There is simply no comparison between Trump’s family separation policy and the border enforcement actions of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

In the article, the fact-checker reports that the Obama Administration had actually rejected such a proposal, and that neither the Obama Administration nor the Bush Administration had created or enforced a policy of family separation.

The zero-tolerance approach is worlds apart from the Obama- and Bush-era policy of separating children from adults at the border only in limited circumstances, such as when officials suspected human trafficking or another kind of danger to the child or when false claims of parentage were made.

The article concludes with quotes from Trump–responses to questions, tweets, etc.–documenting the number of times he repeated the lie that the policy was inherited from Obama, and the article links to the copious database of Trump lies that the newspaper maintains.

This particular falsehood illustrates the two utterly reliable aspects of the man who inexplicably occupies the Oval Office: his hatred of Barack Obama (how dare a black man be so obviously superior to him?) and people of color generally; and his inability to tell the truth. (I’m not sure he even recognizes the difference between objective facts and his preferred fantasies.)

The problem is, as Joseph Stiglitz has  recently reminded us,  America’s successes–both moral and economic–have rested on a process of experimentation, learning and adaptation that requires a commitment to ascertaining the truth.

Americans owe much of their economic success to a rich set of truth-telling, truth-discovering and truth-verifying institutions. Central among them are freedom of expression and media independence. Like all people, journalists are fallible; but, as part of a robust system of checks and balances on those in positions of power, they have traditionally provided an essential public good.

America’s “greatness” has depended upon–and varied with– the extent to which the nation has adhered to that truth-telling and has honored human rights and the rule of law. Greatness is not a product of bluster, or White Supremacy, or faux Christianity, or the worship of wealth and power and celebrity; it is a product of evidence-based allegiance to individual liberty and civic equality.

If we really want to make America great, we need to eject Trumpism, with its racism and “alternate facts,” not just from the White House, but from American culture.

How The Big Lie Works

Most of us have heard the famous quote by Hitler henchman Joseph Goebbles, who said  “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

The importance of repetition to this formula has been confirmed by a recent study  conducted by three scholars at Yale–a psychologist, an economist and a professor of management. They were researching the so-called “fake news” phenomenon in the wake of the 2016 election, and a key conclusion was that repeated exposure to inaccurate or false information makes its acceptance far more likely.

Subjects rate familiar fake news (posts they have seen even only one time before) as more accurate than unfamiliar real news headlines. The perceived accuracy of a headline increases linearly as the number of times a participant is exposed to that headline grows, suggesting “a compounding effect of familiarity across time.”

The research findings suggest that “politicians who continuously repeat false statements will be successful, at least to some extent, in convincing people those statements are in fact true,” and that the echo chambers so many voters inhabit create “incubation chambers for blatantly false (but highly salient and politicized) fake news stories.”

The salience of repeated disinformation makes it incredibly difficult for experts and real journalists to debunk widely accepted beliefs, especially beliefs about the success or failure of complex public policies. I’ve previously cited papers written by Peter the Citizen, the nom-de-plume of a former staff member in the Reagan White House, whose area of expertise is welfare policy. Unlike current Republican lawmakers, Peter is interested in making welfare policies actually work for people in need, and for the past several years he has tried to “speak truth to power”–to call out his fellow conservatives when they engage in self-serving “big lies.”

For example, in response to a publicized interview titled “Maine Shows How To Make Welfare Work,” in which Jared Meyer, a senior research fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, interviewed Mary Mayhew, former Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Peter meticulously countered what he labeled “conservative talking points and misleading data analyses.”

Another paper, “The Failure of Conservative Welfare Reform is what ‘Traps the Poor in Payouts’: A Response to Adam Brandon,”  responds to–and rebuts– one of the often-repeated assertions that reforms instituted by then-Wisconsin-governor Tommy Thompson improved the lives and incomes of poor people in that state.

As Peter’s research has convincingly demonstrated, when sound methodologies and scholarly rigor are applied, the pat defenses of welfare reform, TANF, and various other punitive state policies prove hollow. They have not incentivized work (after all, the majority of welfare recipients are children, the elderly and the disabled) and they’ve done little or nothing to actually help poor people. Worse, the block grant structure turns funding streams purportedly intended to ameliorate poverty into massive “slush funds” for Governors.

But the “big lie” apparently works as well with policy wonks as with the general public. Repeat sunny but discredited analyses often enough, and they become conventional wisdom. Repeat ridiculous conspiracy theories often enough, and they become memes.

Mitch McConnell and the Administration continue to insist that their “healthcare” bill is better than Obamacare. Rightwing media has repeatedly reported Kellyanne Conway’s denial that Medicaid is being cut.

I have proof that Donald Trump is really an alien. (That explains his inability to spell or use the English language properly.) He was sent from Alpha Centuri to test America’s ability to deal with a destabilizing madman…Post it to Facebook and tell all your friends.

Lying With Impunity

Okay, so here’s what worries me. A lot.

In the most recent GOP debate, we were treated to outright prevarication. Lies. Blatant untruths. The fact that politicians of both parties will lie (this certainly isn’t the first time!) is not what concerns me; what scares the bejeezus out of me is the fact that they can do so secure in the knowledge that very few members of their target audience will know enough to know that they are lying.

Let’s take a few examples.

Take Carly Fiorina (please!). She said she wants to “bring back the warrior class — Petraeus, McChrystal, Mattis, Keane, Flynn. Every single one of these generals I know. Every one was retired early because they told President Obama things that he didn’t want to hear.”

In the real world, Petraeus left to head up the CIA, and subsequently resigned after a sex scandal. Keane served under George W. Bush, and resigned in 2003. McChrystal was ousted after Rolling Stone reported comments amounting to insubordination.

Chris Christie boasted about his relationship with Jordan’s King Hussein–“When I stand across from King Hussein of Jordan and I say to him, ‘You have a friend again sir, who will stand with you to fight this fight,’ he’ll change his mind.” Small problem: Hussein’s been dead for 16 years.

Christie also criticized Obama’s “reckless incompetence” for allowing Russia’s “recent partnership” with Syria. That “recent” partnership goes back to 1971, when the USSR established a huge warm-water navy port in Syria. It’s been there ever since.

Several debate participants criticized the Obama administration’s “political correctness,” asserting that such “political correctness” prevented monitoring of social media and was the reason authorities missed “jihadist” postings by the female San Bernadino shooter. Except, as the head of the FBI has patiently explained, there were no such postings.

Factcheck has posted a lengthy list of GOP “misstatements,” ranging from relatively minor errors (as when Rick Santorum–who isn’t going anywhere anyway– said “10 years ago I put the sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program,” when he really sponsored a bill that largely codified existing sanctions) to more consequential assertions (for example, Lindsey Graham repeated the claim that the U.S. spends $350 billion “to buy oil from people who hate our guts,” although over a third of America’s oil imports in 2014 came from Canada, and another 9 percent from Mexico.)

A disquieting number of the misstatements made during the debate cannot fairly be labeled “lies” because those uttering them so clearly had no idea what they were talking about. (“Targeted” carpet-bombing? really?)

And therein lies the real problem. We have these embarrassingly unqualified candidates because we have large numbers of civically-illiterate citizens. People supporting Trump, Cruz, Carson, et al, apparently don’t know when they misstate facts, don’t know when proposals they are applauding (deporting 11 million Mexicans, only allowing Christian Syrians to enter the country, etc.) are impossible or unconstitutional or both.

I am convinced that the voters responding to the ignorance, nationalism and racism being delivered by the “clown car” candidates are a minority. Most Americans are better–and smarter– than that.

The question, however, is: who is more likely to vote?