“The Soul of America”

Trump claims he never said Mexico would cut a check for the wall. Let’s go to the tape.

I just finished reading Jon Meacham’s wonderful book, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.” It is both a delightful read and at the same time a cautionary tale. Meacham cautions us, as the New York Times reviewer notes, that America’s survival is not automatic. The book examines times in the past when fear, confusion, and hatred have gripped the country in situations very similar to our own.

I took two main things away from “The Soul of America.” Something that I have told my own children many times – that the struggle never ends and never will and that we have to keep fighting for what’s right because the forces that would haul us backward never stop striving to undo the progress that we have made as a nation. And secondly, when faced with a crushing tsunami of lies and obstructions to the truth, the media needs to continue to publish the facts, even if those facts are unpopular.

Sometimes this requires the media to publish or broadcast those facts again and again. Such is the current situation in which we find ourselves. President Donald Trump is the master liar. He lies, and lies, and lies… And then lies again. He continues to lie even when his lies have been totally debunked and shown to be lies and half-truths. Trump never uses reasoned arguments against his critics but attacks and slanders them as unworthy or cowards or haters of America because they are unwilling to accept his malignant vision of the nation.

The same is true of those minions that doing his bidding like his children, Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Homeland Security Sec. Kirstien Nielsen, to name just a few. They lie in service to Trump. One senses occasionally that they wish they could be more truthful. But access to power numbs any personal misgivings they may have.

This is not the first time a demagogue has sought to rend our country asunder and to divide us into camps. Never before, however, has that person been the president of the United States. As Meacham points out, flawed as they were, past presidents were the ones that help the country move beyond these moments of crisis even if they sometimes did so halfheartedly.

Now we face a crisis unlike any the country has known before. Our president is a man totally devoted to mendacity, to egotism, to personal gain, to the retention of power and not the welfare of the people. This crisis will not be solved easily. Even if Trump is impeached and through some miracle, enough Republican senators voted to convict him and throw him out of office, his malicious and dangerous spirit would survive to haunt us. For, as Meacham again notes, you do not get someone like a Trump without some of the people wanting someone like a Trump.

And so, at the end of his wonderful book, Meacham calls for Americans who care about their country to take up the struggle. And for most of us, that means to take up the struggle politically. To knock on doors, lick envelopes, put up signs or even run for office. We must not shrink from that struggle, and to find a way to talk to and communicate with those who feel differently than we do.

Because the reality is that now that we’ve had one Trump, the chance that we will have another Trump-like politician in our future will be that much more assured. The struggle never ends.

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Old White GOP Men Are Terrified of Ocasio-Cortez

GOP Strategist Calls Ocasio-Cortez ‘The Little Girl.’ She Lets Him Have It.

It’s amazing to me how scared Republicans, and particularly Republican white men, are of new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They attack her relentlessly. The other day when Nancy Pelosi was being sworn in as the new Speaker of the House, the GOP only booed one person when their name was called during the vote and that was Ocasio-Cortez. Conservative talking heads criticize her every move, every idea she has, they even tried to make fun of her because she likes to dance.

Oh how scared they must be. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of covering politics and living in a political family is that you don’t attack someone like this unless you are really scared of what they represent and you need to try to knock them down. Unlike others in the past, however, who have been attacked this way Ocasio-Cortez gives as good as she gets and she is unafraid to clap back. And how it must bother these old white men that a young Latina is unafraid of them.

What really scares them is how much she is admired by young people. Her ideas, like a 70% tax the ultrarich (which is an idea that is supported by several Nobel prize-winning economists), resonate with young people who are struggling with student debt and only able to find minimum-wage jobs. I know my four children all between the ages of 16 and 23 feel that she speaks for them and their concerns. And that is really what has the GOP terrified.

Did the U.S. Cover Up a Civilian Massacre Before Black Hawk Down?

A few years ago, when I was still working at the Christian Science Monitor, photos showing the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq became public. I was writing about what the pictures told us about the US military one day when a member of our management team came by, saw what I was writing, and commented how terrible it was and this was the first time that he’d ever heard of any such thing connected to the US military.

I told him it was far from the first time that the US military had been accused of atrocities during wartime. The US war in the Philippines (in fact, the US committed so many atrocities in his conflict that then Pres. William McKinley asked the press not to write about them because it was endangering his chances of reelection), World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq all saw such atrocities take place along with an effort by the US military and the US government to cover up these incidents. We like to excuse these incidents as “the fog of war” but very often as with the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, American troops and commanders knew exactly what they were doing.

But this was a new one to me. In an attack described as “mass murder” by Human Rights Watch, US forces destroyed a building in which many Somali elders had gathered to talk about ways to find a peaceful solution to the problems in Somalia. Over 200 civilians were killed. The attack so angered Somali citizens that they attacked and killed four Western journalists in retaliation. The attack also played a direct role in the incident we know as “Black Hawk Down,” where several American soldiers were killed and their bodies dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

At the time, there didn’t seem to be any reason for the Somalis brutal treatment of the bodies of the dead American soldiers. Now that this incident is being exposed, perhaps it gives us more context to understand this horrifying reaction.

How 2 Student Reporters Exposed One Of The Internet’s Biggest Neo-Nazis

And this, friends, is why we need good solid journalism more than ever. These two Canadian journalism students at Concordia University in Montréal, through hard work and lots of shoe leather, discovered the identity of one of the most racist and terrifying figures promoting hatred on the Internet. They did so knowing that they would be attacked by the far-right not only digitally but perhaps even physically.

With the help of a reporter on the Montréal Gazette, their hard work led them to a self-employed information technology consultant in his early 30s, Gabriel Sohier Chaput, also a resident of Montréal. Unlike the United States, Canada has laws against hate speech. In Montréal when police moved in to arrest him, he vanished and his whereabouts are still unknown.

The actions of these two students illustrate why journalists become journalists. We don’t do it because we think that one day they’ll make a movie about what we do and ask some big Hollywood personality like Robert Redford to portray us. Most of us start our careers at small papers or media outlets reporting on local council meetings or chasing ambulances. We do it because we care about the truth and we believe that people have a right to know the truth, even little truths like you learned at council meetings. Sometimes that truth makes people angry, even the people who should know about it. That will not stop us from doing what we need to do.

It’s why people like Gabriel Sohier Chaput need to know we are out there and we will not stop at exposing what they do.

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Democrats Know How to Play Dirty Tricks Too – Musings, 12/27/18

[Illustration by Georgia Democrats, Creative Commons]

Internet billionaire Reid Hoffman apologizes for funding a group tied to disinformation in Alabama race

And they don’t like being caught doing it any more than the Russians or the Republicans did.

Apparently, a pro-Democrat research firmed used “Russian-like disinformation tactics” during the Alabama Senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones (Jones apparently had no idea this was being done). And these dirty Russian like tactics were done by none other than the firm that presented a major report on the Russian disinformation campaign to the Senate.

This disinformation campaign was apparently funded by Internet billionaire (anytime I see Internet billionaire I always get suspicious) Reid Hoffman, co-founder of Linked In who was throwing around a lot of money to support democratic causes. He apologized for supporting this one in particular but offered no real details about the actual campaign itself.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Leave it up to the Democrats to shoot themselves in the foot while at the same time finding a way to make Vladimir Putin and his Russian thugs seem less ominous. I don’t know who okayed this particular operation but whoever it was needs to have his goddamn head examined. Idiot.

LeBron James apologises for ‘Jewish money’ Instagram post

LeBron James said that when he posted the lyrics from a song by 21 Savage he thought it was a “compliment.” LeBron James is no dummy so I fail to see how he could think that any reference to the term “Jewish money” is a compliment when it reinforces an anti-Semitic stereotype that stretches back centuries. Republican politicians and right-wing talking heads have been using it lately to smear Jews like George Soros.

Maybe he really didn’t know. But I hate the “I’m sorry if I offended anybody” nature of his apology. How about just saying “I screwed up and used a really anti-Semitic reference that did offend a lot of people.” And then using his massive bully pulpit to explain to people why it’s anti-Semitic. At this moment in history, with the Pittsburgh shooting so fresh in our memories and regular attacks on Jews in the U.S., it could’ve made a big difference if he had handled in the right way.

But he’s LeBron James. So he gets to skate. The NBA accepted his explanation that it was a mistake. ESPN carried a short piece about the comment, no doubt not wanting to upset one of America’s biggest sports stars. While this story may fade in a day or two, you have to wonder if LeBron’s posting the remarks, followed by his weak apology. will linger. Millions of young people pay attention to what he does and says. As this piece in SB nation puts it, will there be people who now think it’s okay to make allusions to “Jewish money” because LeBron did?

The Dollar Store Backlash Has Begun

An interesting piece about the boom of Dollar Stores across the United States and what it says about the real economy – not the one followed by billionaires on Wall Street, but the one everyday people live in. Basically, the article argues that if a Dollar Store appears in your neighborhood that means your neighborhood is in economic trouble.

Trump Brags To Troops About A Fictional Giant Pay Raise He Got Them

Because he’s Donald Trump and because lying is as natural to him as breathing is to most human beings, President Screw-Up couldn’t help himself when he went to visit U.S. troops in Iraq over Christmas. First, I’m glad he went to visit the troops. That’s a good thing. But rather than quietly and humbly (ha ha) thanking the men and women who put their lives on the lines for America every day, he tried to make the event all about himself by bragging that he had got them their first pay raise in a decade and it was a 10% pay increase!

Lies, damn lies and pretty poor statistics.

First, the military receives a pay increase every year. So the last time the military got a pay increase was last year, not a decade ago. And the pay increase they are receiving this year is 2.6%, not 10%. The people that I know in the American military watch their money pretty closely because we really don’t pay them very well. They are more than well aware of what is in their paychecks. They would know immediately that he was just gasbagging them. But Trump believes he can baffle the entire world with his bullshit.

By the way, that wasn’t the only screw-up that President Screw-up made. After his trip, he posted a video of his meeting with Seal Team Five, which had been deployed to Iraq. Only you’re not supposed to do that. Technically, as president of the United States, he can make any secret instantly not secret. But we all know he wasn’t thinking that.

Instead he posted a video that revealed the identities of members of a special operative squad. People who actually pay attention to things like security say that the president’s actions would normally be viewed as a violation of operational security because it endangers the lives of the members of that team. Not that Donald Trump ever even thought about that for a second.

Americans Trust Clergy Less Than Ever, Gallup Poll Finds

With good reason. Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals do bad things to little boys and little girls. Evangelical clerics turn a blind eye to the many sins of Donald Trump in order to get the power that they want. There are many good people of faith in the United States. There may be even some in the clergy. But as the article above points out “a whole lot of really bad apples” spoil the bunch.

I do note that the group immediately below the clergy were journalists. We are unpopular because we tell people things they don’t want to hear. The clergy is unpopular because too many of them are liars and hypocrites. Like Congress, which finished last in the poll.

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Christie’s “Crazy Uncle” Theory of Donald Trump

Christie compares Trump to ‘72-year-old relative’: Harder to convince them they’re not doing the right thing

A lot of families have them. An older relative, usually an uncle (although in my case it was a great aunt) who you wish you didn’t have to invite to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner but you have to because he’s related. The reason you wish you didn’t have to invite him is that you know he is going to sit there throughout dinner talking too loudly, pronouncing crazy theory after crazy theory, muttering darkly about “the blacks” or “the Mexicans”, telling you repeatedly why he thinks the country is going to hell in a handbag, and attacking anyone who dares to challenge him on his totally stupid and unrealistic theories.

“When people get older, they become more and more convinced of the fact that what they’re doing is the right thing and it becomes harder to convince them otherwise.”

Well, according to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, this is Donald Trump. Trump has become the “crazy uncle” who always thinks he’s right and is not willing to change. Christie made the comparison while appearing on a Sunday talk show and explaining why it will be difficult for Trump’s advisors to get him to change. “When people get older, they become more and more convinced of the fact that what they’re doing is the right thing and it becomes harder to convince them otherwise, ” Christie said.

Lovely. Well, it’s hard enough to have a crazy uncle in your family. To have a crazy uncle running the country is a BIG problem.

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How Russian Money Bailed Out Trump

How Russian Money Helped Save Trump’s Business

A great investigative piece by Foreign Policy that shows just how much Donald Trump owes to Russian oligarchs and banks.

As the early 90s, American banks were finished with Trump and his money-losing ways. He was a terrible businessman. As late as 2003 he was in desperate financial trouble and pressed his siblings to sell off his late father’s estate which Fred Trump had warned them not to do when he was alive. Then he declared bankruptcy again in 2004.

But Trump made a comeback largely due to an influx of foreign capital in particular from Russia.

But remember, he has no business dealing with Russia. The Donald told us so himself…

Faces of a new capitalism: How Millennials are embracing socialist values

I’m not sure why socialism is a “new capitalism,” but this is still a good piece from the Christian Science Monitor and spot on. As a longtime socialist myself (and a strong supporter of the NDP in Canada) I have seen much of this change in my own children and their friends. It’s been seven years since the Occupy Wall Street movement. While it didn’t make big inroads at the time, its ideas spread, particularly among young people.

On the one hand, you see the growth of corporations like Amazon, which has been tagged as being anti-worker for many of its practices. Yet even Amazon is paying its workers more money these days, attuned to the change in public perception about the way businesses treat workers.

There is something happening in the American economy. It’s not gonna happen all at once. But ten years from now the American economy will be a much socialist (in the Canadian or European model) as capitalist. Can’t happen fast enough for me.

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A 14 member and two chamber Supreme Court?

(My apologies for not posting recently. Battling a wicked cold.)

Trust in the justices of the Supreme Court is waning. Here are three w ays to fortify the court

An interesting article from the Los Angeles Times written by Bruce Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale. He argues that the current Supreme Court which heard 250 cases in 1970 and only about 65 last year is being overwhelmed by the number of petitions for review. He advocates a court structure similar to the one used in Germany – two chambers consisting of seven justices each, one to hear constitutional matters and one to address questions of statutory interpretation. On truly monumental issues the 14 justices would rule together.

He also thinks the Senate should return to a 60 vote minimum to confirm a Supreme Court justice and that while justices should be appointed for life, they should only serve on the highest court for 14 years. After 14 years they would move to the appeals court.

Whatever the solution, there is no doubt that the Supreme Court needs to be reformed. I find some of these ideas intriguing.

The most popular fact-checks of 2018

A Christmas bonus from the Washington Post! A cornucopia of four Pinocchios from Donald Trump, of course. But also Bill Clinton’s stammering performance trying to defend his past behaviors with women and two posts from Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who apparently needs to learn that people pay attention to hyperbole when you come to Washington. Oh yes, and Beto O’Rourke’s claim that he did not flee the scene when he was involved in a drunk-driving accident many years ago.

Church knew for years L.A. bishop had been accused of abuse

Another good piece from the Los Angeles Times about how the Catholic Church protected an LA bishop accused of abuse as far back as 2002. He was actually made a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 2004. Somehow when the Vatican released a list of bishops who have been accused of sexual crimes, Bishop Alexander Salazar’s name was left off the list. The first time the abuse became public was when he passed in his resignation to Pope Francis on Wednesday.

Needless to say just another case of the church covering up a nightmare of sexual abuse. Pope Francis more or less came out today, Friday, December 21, and said that priests guilty of sexual abuse were on their own and that their fate would be left to secular authorities.

Well, I’ll wait and see how that goes. I won’t hold my breath.

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Musings, 12/12/18: Try Googling ‘Idiot’ to see a Trump montage

Trump - Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons
Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

Congresswoman to Google CEO: Why when I search ‘idiot’ do I get pictures of Trump?

Do you have to ask?

Apparently, GOP reps are angry that when you Google the word idiot, you get picture after picture of Donald Trump. (How could you not?)

To quote from the Washington Post,”Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, who was testifying Tuesday morning before the House Judiciary Committee, tried to explain to the roomful of mostly tech novices how the algorithms take into account some 200 factors — such as relevance, popularity, how others are using the search term — to determine how to best match a query with results.”

The GOP lawmakers didn’t believe it sticking to their long disproved and ridiculous assumption that ONE person was directing Google to do it, and it was not the result of thousands of Google users posting pictures of Trump with the word idiot attached.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu (Cali.) had the best response to the GOP whining.

“If you want positive search results, do positive things. If you don’t want negative search results, don’t do negative things. And to some of my colleagues across the aisle, if you’re getting bad press articles and bad search results, don’t blame Google or Facebook or Twitter, consider blaming yourself.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders Wants To Be Remembered For Being ‘Transparent And Honest’

Oh Sarah, we all wish for the impossible from time to time.

You have as much hope of being remembered for being “honest and transparent” as I do of being remembered as the greatest right-handed batter in slo-pitch softball history. Just ain’t gonna happen.

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Musings, 12/10/18: “Don’t Insult My Country, Dotard”

French Government Slams Trump: Stop Interfering And ‘Leave Our Nation Be’

Having grown up Canadian, I remember very well the last time a French politician tried to interfere in the affairs of another country. I refer to, of course. the late French president Charles de Gaulle and his “Vive la Québec libre” comment made while visiting Québec in 1967. Lester Pearson’s Canadian government sort of told dear Charles to shut up and get out and he left the country.

More or less the same thing happened this past weekend, only it was France who was on the end of obnoxious comments, in this case tweets, by another world leader. That obnoxious world leader, of course, was Donald Trump. Trump, who hates not being the focus of every story no matter where it is happening in the world, decided to toss in his two cents worth about the protests by the yellow vests in France. Trump made the protests all about the Paris Accord on climate change and deluded himself into thinking that the crowds were chanting “We want Trump.” (This is only because this is what Donald Trump chants when he is alone by himself in the bathroom.)

And while some members of the French government politely told der Trump to back off, some people did not use diplomatic language at all. Joachim Son-Forget, a member of the French National Assembly, responded to Trump’s comments, by tweeting himself the unforgettable phrase that Trump was suffering from “cerebral incontinence.” (Ah, the French do have a way with words.) He followed this up by borrowing Kim Jong Un’s insult about Trump, “Don’t insult my country Dotard.”

The yellow vest protests have been extremely violent and widespread in a way that only protests in France can be. America had a similar protest over the way our government is being run. It was called the 2018 midterms.

Ontarians, we’re all living in a Dukes of Hazzard show now

I don’t think my American friends can truly appreciate what a brainless nincompoop Doug Ford is and what a mystery it is that he was elected premier of Ontario. The true reason was, of course, that the former Liberal government was so hated and despised by the average voter in Ontario they would’ve elected a blowup sex toy as the next premier. Doug Ford is not a blowup sex toy although he probably has the intelligence of one.

This is a great column by my friend and fellow Canadian Nieman Stephen Mayer that paints Ford with just the right brush. He not only acts like Boss Hogg and runs the government of Ontario like Boss Hogg ran Hazzard County, he looks like Boss Hogg. As Stephen points out in this column, it appears he’s installed his own version of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane as the head of the Ontario Provincial Police.

I think the voters of Ontario must feel like they were on this wild bender, are slowly starting to sober up and asked themselves “Oh my God, what did we do?”.

Tumblr’s New ‘No Sex’ Rules Show The Problems Of FOSTA And EU Copyright Directive In One Easy Move

While the Boomer Generation and those over the age of 40 have been fascinated by the recent court filings by special counsel Robert Mueller concerning our dear president, younger people have only one topic on their mind – the decision by the popular social media network Tumblr to ban pornography from its site in the very near future. Tumblr, which is owned by Verizon through its purchase of Yahoo, made this decision because of a report of child pornography on Tumblr, which led to their app being pulled off of the Apple App Store. Tumblr reacted to these reports by immediately taking down these deeply offending images.

But Verizon, which has decided to surrender rather than fight for free speech, has decided to ban all “pornographic” images on Tumblr. They are using bots to hunt down these images. Which of course has led to complete chaos and the banning of anything that has a flesh tone (or in some cases is nothing at all to do with sex). Tumblr has been a safe space for many members of the LGBT community and some sex workers who used Tumblr to alert each other to the potential dangers of particular customers. But it’s the average user who is infuriated by Verizon’s move. In my own home, my children who are of the ages between 23 and 18 can talk of little else and how angry they are. They plan to leave Tumblr and I predict millions more will as well.

What lies behind this is a new law known as FOSTA (or SESTA) which was put into effect in April of this year. Before they became law, the Internet was ruled by the “safe harbor” provision of the 1996 Communications and Decency Act which basically protected Internet sites from third-party postings. FOSTA, which creates a runaround to the CDA, was enacted as a way to curb sex trafficking on sites like Backdoor (which has since gone out of business) but has done little to stop sex trafficking and only endangered free speech on the Internet. In fact recent statistics show that there are more sex trafficking posts available on the Internet only now they are located on sites which have no interest in cooperating with the police, which Backdoor did do.

This is yet another case of moralistic do-gooders using a sledgehammer to solve a problem that needed a thumbtack. Politicians who want to connect to the millennial generation need to pay attention to this issue. They need to study it and talk intelligently about it if they want to harvest the votes of young people.

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Musings:12/09/18 – Say Hello to the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss

William Barr Is Jeff Sessions Without the Baggage

Just in case anyone thought that William Barr will bring a new approach to the Justice Department needs to remember that this is Donald Trump’s administration. Trump would not have chosen Barr, who’s been auditioning for the position for several months now, if he did not think that Barr would not only continue Jeff Sessions’ far-right approach to issues like police reform or criminal justice reform but also give him a man in the Department of Justice who he could count on to obstruct the Russia investigation as much as possible.

As this article in Slate explains, Barr is basically Jeff Sessions without the baggage. Perhaps not as racist, certainly as homophobic and who can certainly be counted on to continue Sessions’ battles against civil liberties and civil rights. Really not much of an upgrade.

Ex-Harper immigration minister calls out Scheer over ‘factually incorrect’ statements on UN migration pact

It really must be embarrassing for Canadian conservatives almost every time Andrew Scheer opens his mouth. Because every time he opens his mouth he seems to stick his foot in it. Scheer, who wants to pretend he is Canada’s Donald Trump (only without the money and the “big brain”) does share some of Trump’s greatest features: he doesn’t seem to care much about reading or actually learning the facts of the situation.

It’s pretty embarrassing when a member of your own party and former minister in the government of Stephen Harper (a group not known for being warmhearted towards any issue of immigration) basically tells you not only are you wrong but you are very wrong.

Watching Andrew Scheer’s performance from afar is like watching a car wreck unfold before your eyes. You really can’t do anything to stop it but it’s fascinating to watch.

Harvard’s Bipartisan Congressional Orientation Under Fire For Being Too Corporate

Boys, there’s a whole bunch of new sheriffs in town and they are not just going to go along to get along. If the Democratic Party thinks that the new progressive members elected in the 2018 midterms will just quietly lineup support the status quo, I think they are starting to realize that it ain’t gonna happen. The great danger is, of course, that this new progressive group within the Democratic caucus will become the “Freedom Party” of the left. Time will tell.

But it is obvious from the reaction to the overwhelmingly corporate nature of the orientation at Harvard, and its complete lack of any voices from labor or from any other progressive area, that these new voices are going to demand some changes and they are not going to do so quietly.

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Musing, 12/07/18: The Hypocrite in the Oval Office


Making President Trump’s Bed: A Housekeeper Without Papers

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Donald Trump is a hypocrite. He’s been saying one thing and doing something else his entire life and certainly his entire presidency. Trump lies the way other people breathe – it’s an automatic function that happens without thinking.

But this piece of business is particularly egregious. For a man who tried to derail Democrat hopes in the 2018 midterms (and fortunately failed) by turning a caravan of tired, hungry and scared immigrants into a desperate band of disease-ridden, sexually assaulting, desperate invaders in order to play to his base (and what a good word that is for them – base) the reality that for years he has hired illegal immigrants at his resort facilities is hypocrisy of such an order it cannot possibly be measured. In particular, the woman in this New York Times story, who has been personally responsible for looking after Trump when he visits his New Jersey golf course.

Has there ever been such a liar, such a scoundrel, such a grifter, such a hypocrite to occupy the presidency? I think not.

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