Donald Trump’s grotesque fraud

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When Donald Trump set up Trump University, he promised to share his “secrets of success.” He said he would tell people how they could “just copy exactly what I’ve done and get rich.” It was a fraud. Now, courtesy of the New York Times, we know for certain it could never be anything but a fraud. The only knowledge Trump can impart to anyone about wealth is an unteachable skill: have rich parents.

As the Times’s investigation revealed, Trump’s success depended on massive transfers of family wealth from his father, real estate developer Fred Trump. Ultimately, Fred Trump gave hundreds of millions of dollars to his children, a staggering amount turbocharged, as the Times reported in extensive detail, reportedly by fraud. By age 3, the Times reports, the young Donald Trump received an income that was the equivalent of $200,000 in today’s dollars from his dad. He was a millionaire before finishing elementary school. The largesse continued into adulthood. He even paid for the adult Donald’s car, and Manhattan offices — the same ones where the future president gave interviews claiming business genius.

The story Trump told on the campaign trail, about how he received only a “small” $1 million loan from his dad to build his business — and one Fred Trump made him pay back. “It has not been easy for me,” he whined. Garbage. The Times reports that the senior Trump loaned his son $60.7 million at a minimum, most of which was never repaid.

So why the pretense? Well, Americans love the myth of the self-made man. A foundational belief in our culture is that anyone can become a millionaire — or even better, a billionaire — with just the right amount of hard work, gumption and smarts. There is an idea that the person who goes out and makes himself — and it is almost always a man — a fortune is somehow a more skilled and smarter human being, capable of using his skill in one industry to master another.

Americans love this myth despite evidence that it is widely exaggerated. The United States has less class mobility than many European nations, but Americans think we enjoy more. In the United States, the quickest and easiest way to make it to the 1 percent of wealth holders and remain in that world is to be born into it.

One reason we might love this myth as much as we do: It allows us to avoid hard discussions about the reality of class in the United States. All too many Americans, the beneficiaries of what I like to call the upper-middle-class welfare state, can convince themselves that they are uniquely deserving. When Jessica Wiederspan, now a researcher studying basic income with Y Combinator, interviewed working- and middle-class families in Rust Belt states, she found many in absolute denial about what their financial backers accomplished for them. One woman, the recipient of family aid that permitted her everything from a nice home (with a mortgage in her mother-in-law’s name) to soccer lessons and summer camp for her children, told the researcher she believed the vast majority of people who did well in the United States, “are people who are willing to work for what they want.” As for the others, she sniffed, “they expect handouts to get from here to here.”

In fact, as both Wiederspan’s research and the Times story shows, it is frequently the rich and well-to-d0 who seek handouts without copping to it. It is the Trump administration that signed into law a tax-reform package that gave the typical worker a tiny and time-limited tax cut, while showering the wealthiest with a massive and permanent cut. It is the Trump administration that is seeking to make staggering cuts in social safety-net programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps, which is the only help available for people who hit a rough patch or are mired in poverty. At the same time, it is the Trump family — and no doubt many other families — who seek to skip out on paying taxes, money that can be used to help those who lack their financial advantages. That too many Americans tacitly accept this reality allows frauds such as Trump to flourish.

By Helaine Olen/WAPO

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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Robert Reich: Trump Keeps Telling These 4 Lies About Economy

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Donald Trump is putting out four big whoppers about today’s economy. Here’s what he’s saying, and here’s the truth:
1. “Best job growth ever.” Wrong. Job growth has actually slowed. In the last 19 months of the Obama administration the economy created 3.96 million jobs. In the first 19 months of Trump’s, 3.58 million.
2. “Lowest unemployment rate ever.” Rubbish. The unemployment rate is now down to 3.9 percent. That’s good. But it doesn’t measure how many people are still too discouraged to look for work or are working part time who’d rather be working full time. The labor participation rate (percent of prime working age work who actually have jobs) has been stuck at 88.9 percent for over a year.
And the current 3.9 percent rate is hardly better than ever in history. It was 3.4 percent in 1968 under Johnson, and below 3.9 percent for much of 1951, 1952, and 1953, under Eisenhower.

The practical question is always how low the Fed will allow unemployment to fall before raising rates, for fear of inflation. In 1996, unemployment fell to 4.4 percent, but Fed Chair Alan Greenspan then raised rates. This time around, Fed Chair Janet Yellen and her successor Jerome Powell have been quite accommodating, but Powell is starting to raise rates again.
3. “Fastest economic growth in history.” Wrong again. The economy is now growing at annualized rate of 4.2 percent (that’s for the 2nd quarter). That’s not as good as the 5.1 percent and 4.9 percent achieved in 2 quarters in 2014, or the 4.7 percent in one quarter in 2011. During the Clinton years of 1997-1999, it grew by over 4.5 percent annually. Under Reagan, the recovery averaged 4.4 percent a year. Under Eisenhower, even faster.
4. “Best wages, ever.” Not even close. Today’s hourly wage has less purchasing power than it did over four decades years ago. Adjusted for inflation, the average hourly wage in January 1973 would be $23.68 today. Yet today’s actual average hourly wage is $22.73. And, of course, the lion’s share is going to the top.
Trump is having only one positive impact on the economy: His continuous P.T. Barnum lies about how good it is have improved consumer confidence. Which I suppose is good – until, like the character in the road-runner cartoons, consumers look down and realize there’s nothing under them.

By Robert Reich/truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Here Are 16 of the Dumbest Things Americans Believe — And the Right-Wing Lies Behind Them We’ve gone beyond Stephen Colbert’s’ truthiness’ into a ‘truth-be-damned’ environment.

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The Abuses of History

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Historians, like journalists, are in the business of manipulating facts. Some use facts to tell truths, however unpleasant. But many more omit, highlight and at times distort them in ways that sustain national myths and buttress dominant narratives. The failure by most of the United States’ popular historians and the press to tell stories of oppression and the struggles against it, especially by women, people of color, the working class and the poor, has contributed to the sickening triumphalism and chauvinism that are poisoning our society. The historian James W. Loewen, in his book “Lies Across America: What Our Historic Markers and Monuments Get Wrong,” calls the monuments that celebrate our highly selective and distorted history a “landscape of denial.”

The historian Carl Becker wrote, “History is what the present chooses to remember about the past.” And as a nation founded on the pillars of genocide, slavery, patriarchy, violent repression of popular movements, savage war crimes committed to expand the empire, and capitalist exploitation, we choose to remember very little. This historical amnesia, as James Baldwin never tired of pointing out, is very dangerous. It feeds self-delusion. It severs us from recognition of our propensity for violence. It sees us project on others—almost always the vulnerable—the unacknowledged evil that lies in our past and our hearts. It shuts down the voices of the oppressed, those who can tell us who we are and enable us through self-reflection and self-criticism to become a better people. “History does not merely refer to the past … history is literally present in all we do,” Baldwin wrote.

If we understood our real past we would see as lunacy Donald Trump’s bombastic assertions that the removal of Confederate statues is an attack on “our history.” Whose history is being attacked? And is it history that is being attacked or the myth disguised as history and perpetuated by white supremacy and capitalism? As the historian Eric Foner points out, “Public monuments are built by those with sufficient power to determine which parts of history are worth commemorating and what vision of history ought to be conveyed.”

The clash between historical myth and historical reality is being played out in the president’s disparaging of black athletes who protest indiscriminate police violence against people of color. “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him,” candidate Trump said of professional quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem at National Football League games to protest police violence. Other NFL players later emulated his protest.

Friday at a political rally in Alabama, Trump bellowed: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ” That comment and a Saturday morning tweet by Trump that criticized professional basketball star Stephen Curry, another athlete of African-American descent, prompted a number of prominent sports figures to respond angrily. One addressed the president as “U bum” on Twitter.

The war of words between the president and black athletes is about competing historical narratives.

Historians are rewarded for buttressing the ruling social structure, producing heavy tomes on the ruling elites—usually powerful white men such as John D. Rockefeller or Theodore Roosevelt—and ignoring the underlying social movements and radicals that have been the true engines of cultural and political change in the United States. Or they retreat into arcane and irrelevant subjects of minor significance, becoming self-appointed specialists of the banal or the trivial. They ignore or minimize inconvenient facts and actions that tarnish the myth, including lethal suppression of groups, classes and civilizations and the plethora of lies told by the ruling elites, the mass media and powerful institutions to justify their grip on power. They eschew transcendental and moral issues, including class conflict, in the name of neutrality and objectivity. The mantra of disinterested scholarship and the obsession with data collection add up, as the historian Howard Zinn wrote, “to the fear that using our intelligence to further our moral ends is somehow improper.”

“Objectivity is an interesting and often misunderstood word,” Foner said. “I tell my students what objectivity means is you have an open mind, not an empty mind. There is no person who doesn’t have preconceptions, values, assumptions. And you bring those to the study of history. What it means to be objective is if you begin encountering evidence, research, that questions some of your assumptions, you may have to change your mind. You have to have an open mind in your encounters with the evidence. But that doesn’t mean you don’t take a stance. You have an obligation. If you’ve done all this studying, done all this research, if you understand key issues in American history better than most people, just because you’ve done the research and they haven’t, you have an obligation as a citizen to speak up about it. …We should not be bystanders. We should be active citizens. Being a historian and an active citizen is not mutually contradictory.”

Historians who apologize for the power elites, who in essence shun complexity and minimize inconvenient truths, are rewarded and promoted. They receive tenure, large book contracts, generous research grants, lucrative speaking engagements and prizes. Truth tellers, such as Zinn, are marginalized. Friedrich Nietzsche calls this process “creative forgetfulness.”

“In high school,” Foner said, “I got a history textbook that said ‘Story of American History,’ which was very one-dimensional. It was all about the rise of freedom and liberty. Slavery was omitted almost entirely. The general plight of African-Americans and other non-whites was pretty much omitted from this story. It was very partial. It was very limited. That’s the same thing with all these statues and [the debate about them]. I’m not saying we should tear down every single statue of every Confederate all over the place. But if we step back and look at the public presentation of history, particularly in the South, through these monuments, where are the black people of the South? Where are the monuments to the victims of slavery? To the victims of lynching? The monuments of the black leaders of Reconstruction? The first black senators and members of Congress? My view is, as well as taking down some statues, we need to put up others. If we want to have a public commemoration of history, it ought to be diverse enough to include the whole history, not just the history that those in power want us to remember.”

“Civil War monuments glorify soldiers and generals who fought for Southern independence,” Foner writes in “Battles for Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History,” “explaining their motivation by reference to the ideals of freedom, states’ rights and individual autonomy—everything, that is but slavery, the ‘cornerstone of the Confederacy,’ according to its vice president, Alexander Stephens. Fort Mill, South Carolina, has a marker honoring the ‘faithful slaves’ of the Confederate states, but one would be hard pressed to find monuments anywhere in the country to slave rebels like Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, to the 200,000 black soldiers and sailors who fought for the Union (or, for that matter, the thousands of white Southerners who remained loyal to the nation).”

The United Daughters of the Confederacy, as Loewen points out, erected most of the South’s Confederate monuments between 1890 and 1920. This campaign of commemoration was part of what Foner calls “a conscious effort to glorify and sanitize the Confederate cause and legitimize the newly installed Jim Crow system.”

Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who Loewen writes was “one of the most vicious racists in American history,” was one of the South’s biggest slave traders, commander of the forces that massacred black Union troops after they surrendered at Fort Pillow and the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet, as Foner notes, “there are more statues, markers and busts of Forrest in Tennessee than of any other figure in the state’s history, including President Andrew Jackson.”

“Only one transgression was sufficiently outrageous to disqualify Confederate leaders from the pantheon of heroes,” Foner writes. “No statue of James Longstreet, a far abler commander than Forrest, graces the Southern countryside, and Gen. James Fleming Fagan is omitted from the portrait gallery of famous figures of Arkansas history in Little Rock. Their crime? Both supported black rights during Reconstruction.”

The American myth also relies heavily on a distorted history of the westward expansion.

“The mythology of the West is deeply rooted in our culture,” Foner said, “whether it’s in Western movies or the idea of the lone pioneer, the individual roughing it out in the West, and of course, the main lie is that the West was kind of empty before white settlers and hunters and trappers and farmers came from the East to settle it. In fact, the West has been populated since forever. The real story of the West is the clash of all these different peoples, Native Americans, Asians in California, settlers coming in from the East, Mexicans. The West was a very multicultural place. There are a lot of histories there. Many of those histories are ignored or subordinated in this one story of the westward movement.”

“Racism is certainly a part of Western history,” Foner said. “But you’re not going to get that from a John Wayne movie [or] the paintings by [Frederic] Remington and others. It’s a history that doesn’t help you understand the present.”

Remington’s racism, displayed in paintings of noble white settlers and cowboys battling “savages,” was pronounced. “Jews—inguns—chinamen—Italians—Huns,” he wrote, were “the rubbish of the earth I hate.” In the same letter he added, “I’ve got some Winchesters and when the massacreing begins … I can get my share of ’em and whats more I will.”

Nietzsche identified three approaches to history: monumental, antiquarian and critical, the last being “the history that judges and condemns.”

“The monumental is the history that glorifies the nation-state that is represented in monuments that do not question anything about the society,” Foner said. “A lot of history is like that. The rise of history as a discipline coincided with the rise of the nation-state. Every nation needs a set of myths to justify its own existence. Another one of my favorite writers, Ernest Renan, the French historian, wrote, ‘The historian is the enemy of the nation.’ It’s an interesting thing to say. He doesn’t mean they’re spies or anything. The historian comes along and takes apart the mythologies that are helping to underpin the legitimacy of the nation. That’s why people don’t like them very often. They don’t want to hear these things. Antiquarian is what a lot of people are. That’s fine. They’re looking for their personal roots, their family history. They’re going on ancestry.com to find out where their DNA came from. That’s not really history exactly. They don’t have much of a historical context. But it stimulates people to think about the past. Then there’s what Nietzsche calls critical history—the history that judges and condemns. It takes a moral stance. It doesn’t just relate the facts. It tells you what is good and what is evil. A lot of historians don’t like to do that. But to me, it’s important. It’s important for the historian, having done the research, having presented the history, to say here’s where I stand in relation to all these important issues in our history.”

“Whether it’s Frederick Douglass, Eugene Debs, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King Jr., those are the people who were trying to make America a better place,” Foner said. “King, in particular, was a very radical guy.”

Yet, as Foner points out, King is effectively “frozen in one speech, one sentence: I want my children to be judged by the content of their character, not just the color of their skin. [But] that’s not what the whole civil rights movement was about. People forget, he died leading a poor people’s march, leading a strike of sanitation workers. He wasn’t just out there talking about civil rights. He had moved to economic equality as a fundamental issue.”

Max Weber wrote, “What is possible would never have been achieved if, in this world, people had not repeatedly reached for the impossible.”

Foner, like Weber, argues that it is the visionaries and utopian reformers such as Debs and the abolitionists who brought about real social change, not the “practical” politicians. The abolitionists destroyed what Foner calls the “conspiracy of silence by which political parties, churches and other institutions sought to exclude slavery from public debate.” He writes:

For much of the 1850s and the first two years of the Civil War, Lincoln—widely considered the model of a pragmatic politician—advocated a plan to end slavery that involved gradual emancipation, monetary compensation for slaver owners, and setting up colonies of freed blacks outside the United States. The harebrained scheme had no possibility of enactment. It was the abolitionists, still viewed by some historians as irresponsible fanatics, who put forward the program—an immediate and uncompensated end to slavery, with black people becoming US citizens—that came to pass (with Lincoln’s eventual help, of course).

The political squabbles that dominate public discourse almost never question the sanctity of private property, individualism, capitalism or imperialism. They hold as sacrosanct American “virtues.” They insist that Americans are a “good” people steadily overcoming any prejudices and injustices that may have occurred in the past. The debates between the Democrats and the Whigs, or today’s Republicans and Democrats, have roots in the same allegiance to the dominant structures of power, myth of American exceptionalism and white supremacy.

“It’s all a family quarrel without any genuine, serious disagreements,” Foner said.

Those who challenge these structures, who reach for the impossible, who dare to speak the truth, have been, throughout American history, dismissed as “fanatics.” But, as Foner points out, it is often the “fanatics” who make history.

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Lies on Afghanistan

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There has never been progress by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, unless you are asking the U.S. military contractors or the Afghan drug barons, of whom an extremely large share are our allies in the Afghan government, militias and security forces, there has only been suffering and destruction. American politicians, pundits and generals will speak about “progress” made by the 70,000 American troops put into Afghanistan by President Obama beginning in 2009, along with an additional 30,000 European troops and 100,000 private contractors, however the hard and awful true reality is that the war in Afghanistan has only escalated since 2009, never stabilizing or deescalating; the Taliban has increased in strength by tens of thousands, despite tens of thousands of casualties and prisoners; and American and Afghan casualties have continued to grow every year of the conflict, with U.S. casualties declining only when U.S. forces began to withdraw in mass numbers from parts of Afghanistan in 2011, while Afghan security forces and civilians have experienced record casualties every year since those numbers began to be kept by the UN.

Similarly, any progress in reconstructing or developing Afghanistan has been found to be non existent despite the more than $100 billion spent by the United States on such efforts by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). $100 billion, by the way, is more money than was spent on the Marshall Plan when that post-WWII reconstruction plan is put into inflation adjusted dollars. Oft repeated claims, such as millions of Afghan school girls going to school, millions of Afghans having access to improved health care and Afghan life expectancy dramatically increasing, and the construction of an Afghan job building economy have been exposed as nothing more than public relations lies. Often displayed as modern Potemkin Villages to visiting journalists and congressional delegations and utilized to justify continued budgets for the Pentagon and USAID, and, so, to allow for more killing, like America’s reconstruction program in Iraq, the reconstruction program in Afghanistan has proven to be a failure and its supposed achievements shown to be virtually non-existent, as documented by multiple investigations by SIGAR, as well as by investigators and researchers from organizations such as the UN, EU, IMF, World Bank, etc.

Tonight, the American people will hear again the great lie about the progress the American military once made in Afghanistan after “the Afghan Surge”, just as we often hear the lie about how the American military had “won” in Iraq. In Iraq it was a political compromise that brought about a cessation of hostilities for a few short years and it was the collapse of the political balance that had been struck that led to the return to the violence of the last several years. In Afghanistan there has never even been an attempt at such a political solution and all the Afghan people have seen in the last eight years, every year, has been a worsening of the violence.

Americans will also hear tonight how the U.S. military has done great things for the Afghan people. You would be hard pressed to find many Afghans outside of the incredibly corrupt and illegitimate government, a better definition of a kleptocracy you will not find, that the U.S. keeps in power with its soldiers and $35 billion a year, who would agree with the statements of the American politicians, the American generals and the pundits, the latter of which are mostly funded, directly or indirectly, by the military companies. It is important to remember that for three straight elections in Afghanistan the United States government has supported shockingly fraudulent elections, allowing American soldiers to kill and die while presidential and parliamentary elections were brazenly stolen. It is also important to remember that many members of the Afghan government are themselves warlords and drug barons, many of them guilty of some of the worst human rights abuses and war crimes, the same abuses of which the Taliban are guilty, while the current Ghani government, and the previous Karzai government, have allowed egregious crimes to continue against women, including laws that allow men to legally rape their wives.

Whatever President Trump announces tonight about Afghanistan, a decision he teased on Twitter, as if the announcement were a new retail product launch or television show episode, as opposed to the somber and painful reality of war, we can be assured the lies about American progress in Afghanistan will continue, the lies about America’s commitment to human rights and democratic values will continue, the profits of the military companies and drug barons will also continue, and of course the suffering of the Afghan people will surely continue.

By Mathew Hoh

Posted by The NON-Conformist

President Trump Angry about Flynn Leaks

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Image: Time Magazine

After the messy and high-profile resignation of Michael Flynn, the president and at least one key congressional Republican have directed their ire at the leaks that exposed the now-former National Security Advisor’s clandestine conversations with Russian officials. “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) echoed the president’s concerns.

“I am going to be asking the FBI to do an assessment of this to tell us what’s going on here because we cannot continue to have these leaks as a government,” he told Fox News.

More from Time Magazine

Posted by Libergirl

Obama’s lethal deportation machine: Trump’s anti-immigration measures are intense, but nothing new

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“We have to remain vigilant of what Obama’s actual policies were, and not just pay attention to the rhetoric”

On Jan. 18, Barack Obama used his final press conference as president to pledge to the public that he will speak up if the administration of Donald Trump crosses a line, whether that’s imposing “systematic discrimination” or silencing the press. “There’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake,” Obama told journalists assembled in the White House briefing room. “I would put in that category efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids and send them someplace else.”

Yet the president’s palliative remarks that afternoon concealed a more harrowing truth: Sweeps and forced expulsions of children would not constitute a break with norms of his own administration, which oversaw more deportations than any other in U.S. history. During Obama’s tenure, mass incarceration of mothers and their children became a mainstay of the U.S. response to the violent displacement of peoples across Central America. And amid the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, Obama has greatly expanded the deportation machine, overseeing a higher number of border patrols than any previous administration. That deportation machine is now being handed to Trump, whose administration is aggressively delivering on his campaign pledges to slam the door on refugees and migrants.

More from Alternet via Salon

Posted by Libergirl

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