Trump Had One Last Story to Sell. The Wall Street Journal Wouldn’t Buy It. – By Ben Smith – The New York Times

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“By early October, even people inside the White House believed President Trump’s re-lection campaign needed a desperate rescue mission. So three men allied with the president gathered at a house in McLean, Va., to launch one.

The host was Arthur Schwartz, a New York public relations man close to President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr. The guests were a White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann, and a former deputy White House counsel, Stefan Passantino, according to two people familiar with the meeting.

Mr. Herschmann knew the subject matter they were there to discuss. He had represented Mr. Trump during the impeachment trial early this year, and he tried to deflect allegations against the president in part by pointing to Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine. More recently, he has been working on the White House payroll with a hazy portfolio, listed as “a senior adviser to the president,” and remains close to Jared Kushner.

The three had pinned their hopes for re-electing the president on a fourth guest, a straight-shooting Wall Street Journal White House reporter named Michael Bender. They delivered the goods to him there: a cache of emails detailing Hunter Biden’s business activities, and, on speaker phone, a former business partner of Hunter Biden’s named Tony Bobulinski. Mr. Bobulinski was willing to go on the record in The Journal with an explosive claim: that Joe Biden, the former vice president, had been aware of, and profited from, his son’s activities. The Trump team left believing that The Journal would blow the thing open and their excitement was conveyed to the president.

Opinion | I Spoke to a Scholar of Conspiracy Theories and I’m Scared for Us – By Farhad Manjoo – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“Lately, I have been putting an embarrassing amount of thought into notions like jinxes and knocking on wood. The polls for Joe Biden look good, but in 2020, any hint of optimism feels dangerously naïve, and my brain has been working overtime in search of potential doom.

I have become consumed with an alarming possibility: that neither the polls nor the actual outcome of the election really matter, because to a great many Americans, digital communication has already rendered empirical, observable reality beside the point.

If I sound jumpy, it’s because I spent a couple of hours recently chatting with Joan Donovan, the research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Donovan is a pioneering scholar of misinformation and media manipulation — the way that activists, extremists and propagandists surf currents in our fragmented, poorly moderated media ecosystem to gain attention and influence society.

Donovan’s research team studies online lies the way crash-scene investigators study aviation disasters. They meticulously take apart specific hoaxes, conspiracy theories, viral political memes, harassment campaigns and other toxic online campaigns in search of the tactics that made each one explode into the public conversation.”

“. . . . Donovan worries about two factors in particular. One is the social isolation caused by the pandemic. Lots of Americans are stuck at home, many economically bereft and cut off from friends and relatives who might temper their passions — a perfect audience for peddlers of conspiracy theories.

Her other major worry is the conspiracy lollapalooza known as QAnon. It’s often short-handed the way Savannah Guthrie did at her town hall takedown of Donald Trump last week — as a nutty conspiracy theory in which a heroic Trump is prosecuting a secret war against a satanic pedophile ring of lefty elites.

But that undersells QAnon’s danger. To people who have been “Q-pilled,” QAnon plays a much deeper role in their lives; it has elements of a support group, a political party, a lifestyle brand, a collective delusion, a religion, a cult, a huge multiplayer game and an extremist network.

Donovan thinks QAnon represents a new, flexible infrastructure for conspiracy. QAnon has origins in a tinfoil-hat story about a D.C.-area pizza shop, but over the years it has adapted to include theories about the “deep state” and the Mueller probe, Jeffrey Epstein, and a wild variety of misinformation about face masks, miracle cures, and other hoaxes regarding the coronavirus. QAnon has been linked to many instances of violence, and law enforcement and terrorism researchers discuss it as a growing security threat.

“We now have a densely networked conspiracy theory that is extendible, adaptable, flexible and resilient to take down,” Donovan said of QAnon. It’s a very internet story, analogous to the way Amazon expanded from an online bookstore into a general-purpose system for selling anything to anyone.”

David Lindsay: Thank you Farhad Manjoo. We need to bring back the Fairness Doctrine as the law of the land.  Here is the most popular comment which I endorse:

Matthew L.,   Chicago1h ago,   Times Pick

“Stopping Coughlin’s hate took a concerted effort, involving new regulations for radio broadcasters…” “Media manipulation” used to be called propaganda. The FCC revoking of the Fairness Doctrine during the Reagan administration opened the door first for conservative talk radio and then for Fox News to flourish as propaganda media for the far right, with no responsibility to truth or objectivity. With the rise of QAnon to political prominence we are now seeing even uglier consequences of the reluctance to regulate either broadcast media or the internet. After 40 years of government-is-the-problem deregulation, does America even remember that yes government can serve the needs of the common good? Do we even believe in a common American good anymore? We had better start. What was once deregulated can be regulated again.

8 Replies408 Recommended

As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place – The New York Times

“The instructions were clear: Write an article calling out Sara Gideon, a Democrat running for a hotly contested U.S. Senate seat in Maine, as a hypocrite.

Angela Underwood, a freelance reporter in upstate New York, took the $22 assignment over email. She contacted the spokesman for Senator Susan Collins, the Republican opponent, and wrote an article on his accusations that Ms. Gideon was two-faced for criticizing shadowy political groups and then accepting their help.

The short article was published on Maine Business Daily, a seemingly run-of-the-mill news website, under the headline “Sen. Collins camp says House Speaker Gideon’s actions are hypocritical.” It extensively quoted Ms. Collins’s spokesman but had no comment from Ms. Gideon’s campaign.

Then Ms. Underwood received another email: The “client” who had ordered up the article, her editor said, wanted it to add more detail.”

Editorial and Opinion | Donald Trump: The Worst President in Modern History? – The New York Times

“Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II.

Mr. Trump’s ruinous tenure already has gravely damaged the United States at home and around the world. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents, shattering the norms that have bound the nation together for generations. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is a man unworthy of the office he holds.

The editorial board does not lightly indict a duly elected president. During Mr. Trump’s term, we have called out his racism and his xenophobia. We have critiqued his vandalism of the postwar consensus, a system of alliances and relationships around the globe that cost a great many lives to establish and maintain. We have, again and again, deplored his divisive rhetoric and his malicious attacks on fellow Americans. Yet when the Senate refused to convict the president for obvious abuses of power and obstruction, we counseled his political opponents to focus their outrage on defeating him at the ballot box.

Nov. 3 can be a turning point. This is an election about the country’s future, and what path its citizens wish to choose.  . . .  “

Read the Full Editorial (using the link at the top)

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Opinion | There Will Be No Trump Coup – By Ross Douthat – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

“Three weeks from now, we will reach an end to speculation about what Donald Trump will do if he faces political defeat, whether he will leave power like a normal president or attempt some wild resistance. Reality will intrude, substantially if not definitively, into the argument over whether the president is a corrupt incompetent who postures as a strongman on Twitter or a threat to the Republic to whom words like “authoritarian” and even “autocrat” can be reasonably applied.

I’ve been on the first side of that argument since early in his presidency, and since we’re nearing either an ending or some poll-defying reset, let me make the case just one more time.

Across the last four years, the Trump administration has indeed displayed hallmarks of authoritarianism. It features egregious internal sycophancy and hacks in high positions, abusive presidential rhetoric and mendacity on an unusual scale. The president’s attempts to delegitimize the 2020 vote aren’t novel; they’re an extension of the way he’s talked since his birther days, paranoid and demagogic.

These are all very bad things, and good reasons to favor his defeat. But it’s also important to recognize all the elements of authoritarianism he lacks. He lacks popularity and political skill, unlike most of the global strongmen who are supposed to be his peers. He lacks power over the media: Outside of Fox’s prime time, he faces an unremittingly hostile press whose major outlets have thrived throughout his presidency. He is plainly despised by his own military leadership, and notwithstanding his courtship of Mark Zuckerberg, Silicon Valley is more likely to censor him than to support him in a constitutional crisis.”

Opinion | Who’s the Tax Cheat: The Lady in Jdonaldail or the Man in the White House? – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Douglas Healey for The New York Times

“While reading that President Trump had claimed $70,000 in highly dubious tax deductions for hair styling for his television show, I kept thinking about a homeless African-American woman named Tanya McDowell who was imprisoned for misleading officials to get her young son into a better school district.

McDowell was sentenced to five years in prison in 2012, in part for drug offenses and in part for “larceny” because she had claimed her babysitter’s address so her son could attend a better school in Connecticut.

In some sense both Trump and McDowell appear to have cheated on their taxes. McDowell sent her son to a school district without paying taxes there. And according to The Times’s extraordinary reporting, Trump may have illegitimately claimed a $72.9 million refund that the I.R.S. is now trying to recover.

In addition, my ace Times colleague James B. Stewart reported that hair styling is not a deductible expense and that, in any case, Trump’s hair expenses for his “Apprentice” TV shows should have been reimbursed by NBC — in which case Trump may have committed criminal tax fraud.

Credit…Rose M. Prouser/CNN, via Reuters

The bottom line: We imprisoned the homeless tax cheat for trying to get her son a decent education, and we elevated the self-entitled rich guy with an army of lawyers and accountants so that he could monetize the White House as well. (Sure enough, Trump properties then charged the Secret Service enormous sums for hotel rooms and other fees while agents were protecting Trump.)

The larger point is not that Trump is a con artist, although he is, but that the entire tax system is a con. The proper reaction to the revelations about Trump’s taxes is not to fume at the president — although that’s merited — but to demand far-reaching changes in the tax code.

We interrupt this column for a quiz question: What county in the United States has the highest rate of tax audits?

The answer is Humphreys County in rural Mississippi, where three-quarters of the population is Black and more than one-third lives below the poverty line, according to ProPublica and Tax Notes. Tax collectors go after Humphreys County, where the median annual household income is $28,500, because the government targets audits on poor families using the earned-income tax credit, an antipoverty program, rather than on real estate tycoons who pay their daughters (that’s you, Ivanka!) questionable consulting fees to reduce taxes.

The five counties with the highest audit rates in the United States, according to Tax Notes, are all predominately African-American counties in the South.

Meanwhile, zillionaires claim enormous tax deductions for donating expensive art to their own private “museums” located on their own property. That’s the kind of scam that works if you’re a billionaire, but not so well if you’re my old friend Mike, who is homeless and once gave his food stamp card to a friend to buy groceries for him. The government responded by suspending Mike’s food stamps.

Tax cheats thrive because Congress has slashed the I.R.S. budget, so that the risk of audits for people earning more than $1 million per year plunged by 81 percent from 2011 to 2019. The I.R.S. has opened audits on only 0.03 percent of returns reporting income of more than $10 million in 2018 (that percentage probably will rise), according to the Center for American Progress.

Need more evidence of systemic unfairness? Trump is still holding on to the almost $73 million that he appears to have bilked out of the I.R.S. a decade ago, even though the I.R.S. is contesting his maneuvers. For wealthy people like Trump, taxes become something like a long negotiation.

An undocumented immigrant housekeeper who had worked for the Trump Organization posted tax statements on Twitter showing that she had paid more federal income taxes than Trump himself had in many years. And by one estimate, the failure of wealthy Americans to pay their fair share forces everyone else to pay an extra 15 percent in taxes.

At the same time, almost one-fifth of American families with children report that they can’t afford to give their kids enough food.

A starting point for a fairer system would be auditing the wealthy as aggressively as impoverished Black workers in rural Mississippi. The economists Natasha Sarin and Lawrence Summers estimate that 70 percent of tax underpayment is by the top 1 percent and conclude that tougher enforcement by the I.R.S. could raise $1 trillion over a decade.

Investing in the I.R.S. to go after rich tax cheats not only promotes fairness but also pays for itself: Each additional dollar spent on enforcement brings in about $24.

Remember Leona Helmsley, the wealthy hotel owner who was prosecuted for cheating on her taxes? She sadly had a point when she reportedly scoffed: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

On the bright side, Helmsley ended up in prison. I generally believe that in America we over-incarcerate, but I’m appalled that we treat a man with a gilded life and $70,000 in hair styling deductions more gently than a mom who cheats to try to give her son a better future.”   -30-

NYT Editorial | To Hold Police Accountable, Ax the Arbitrators – The New York Times

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The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

“Since the death of George Floyd sparked a wave of national protests, at least 42 of the 50 largest cities in the country have adopted new rules aimed at curbing abuses by the police, according to a tally by Samuel Walker, an expert on police accountability who is affiliated with the University of Nebraska Omaha. From May through August, 15 cities banned chokeholds. A dozen passed “duty-to-intervene” statutes, requiring police officers to act if they see a fellow officer endanger a civilian. Still others banned so-called “no knock” warrants or changed policies related to the use of force.

Those reforms are important in and of themselves, and they also serve as a reminder of the power of collective action to influence new policies. Yet this list’s potential to create real change will be seriously limited unless city leaders and state lawmakers take on an entrenched barrier to reform: labor arbitrators. These are the men and women who routinely reinstate abusive officers who have been fired for misconduct.

Labor arbitrators have ordered police chiefs to rehire officers fired for deeds as outrageous as sexually assaulting a teenager in a patrol car, driving the getaway car in a murder and fatally shooting an unarmed driver, according to a 2017 investigation by The Washington Post.

Cases like these have a corrosive effect on society, serving as proof to many Americans that the current system cannot be reformed. These cases also demoralize mayors and police chiefs who have worked hard to remove problem officers, only to face orders from unelected arbitrators to give those abusive officers their badges and guns back. It doesn’t matter how much a police department overhauls its use of force policy, or how strictly a police chief enforces those new rules if unelected arbitrators reverse the punishments of officers who violate the rules.”

“. . . .  Much more needs to be done to rein in the power of labor arbitrators, but at least it is a start. Cities that are interested in taking this on could look at municipalities in California, like Burbank and Cathedral City, that have hybrid systems where arbitration decisions are nonbinding. Officers still have the right to argue their cases before a neutral body, but the ultimate decision to terminate an officer is left in the hands of the city manager, who is accountable to the community. That’s where it belongs.”