Saturday, January 28, 2017

‘Up Is Down’: Trump’s Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past


The New York Times logoThe New York Times

The New York Times



President Trump on Air Force One after a trip to Philadelphia on Thursday. As a businessman and candidate he often made fantastical or false claims, and in his first days as president he has issued a series of untruths.© Doug Mills/The New York Times President Trump on Air Force One after a trip to Philadelphia on Thursday. As a businessman and candidate he often made fantastical or false claims, and in his first days as president he has issued a series…

As a businessman, Donald J. Trump was a serial fabulist whose biggest-best boasts about everything he touched routinely crumbled under the slightest scrutiny. As a candidate, Mr. Trump was a magical realist who made fantastical claims punctuated by his favorite verbal tic: “Believe me.”

Yet even jaded connoisseurs of Oval Office dissembling were astonished over the past week by the torrent of bogus claims that gushed from President Trump during his first days in office.

“We’ve never seen anything this bizarre in our lifetimes, where up is down and down is up and everything is in question and nothing is real,” said Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity and the author of “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity,” a book about presidential deception.

It was not just Mr. Trump’s debunked claim about how many people attended his inauguration, or his insistence (contradicted by his own Twitter posts) that he had not feuded with the intelligence community, or his audacious and evidence-free claim that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote only because millions of people voted for her illegally.

All week long, news organizations chased down one Trump tall tale after another. PolitiFact, a website devoted to checking the veracity of claims by public officials, published 12 “of the most misleading claims” Mr. Trump made during his first White House interview. The Chicago Tribune found that Mr. Trump was incorrect when he claimed two people were shot and killed in Chicago the very hour President Barack Obama was there delivering his farewell address. (There were no shootings, police records showed.) The Philadelphia Inquirer found that Mr. Trump was incorrect when he said the city’s murder rate was “terribly increasing.” (The murder rate has steadily declined over the last decade.) The indefatigable fact checkers at The Washington Post cataloged 24 false or misleading statements made by the president during his first seven days in office.

But for students of Mr. Trump’s long business career, there was much about President Trump’s truth-mangling ways that was familiar: the mystifying false statements about seemingly trivial details, the rewriting of history to airbrush unwanted facts, the branding as liars those who point out his untruths, the deft conversion of demonstrably false claims into a semantic mush of unverifiable “beliefs.”

Mr. Trump’s falsehoods have long been viewed as a reflexive extension of his vanity, or as his method of compensating for deep-seated insecurities. But throughout his business career, Mr. Trump’s most noteworthy deceptions often did double duty, serving not just his ego but also important strategic goals. Mr. Trump’s habitually inflated claims about his wealth, for example, fed his self-proclaimed image of a business genius even as they attracted lucrative licensing deals built around the Trump brand.

Stephen K. Bannon, center, Mr. Trump’s chief White House strategist, and Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, in Washington on the morning of the inauguration. On Wednesday, Mr. Bannon told The New York Times that the news media was “the opposition party.”© Hilary Swift for The New York Times Stephen K. Bannon, center, Mr. Trump’s chief White House strategist, and Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, in Washington on the morning of the inauguration. On Wednesday, Mr. Bannon told The New York…

Nearly 30 years ago, in his best-selling book “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump memorably extolled the advantages of “truthful hyperbole,” which he described as “an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.” It is one thing when the hyperbole comes from a reality TV star exaggerating his ratings to a roomful of television critics. The stakes are infinitely higher when it comes from the leader of the free world, and this reality is provoking alarm from many across the political spectrum.

Steve Schmidt, who helped manage Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s cascade of falsehoods was “a direct assault on the very idea of representative democracy” in the United States. Mr. Schmidt said that when he heard Mr. Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway defend the Trump administration’s “alternative facts” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, he thought of George Orwell’s “1984,” in which the Ministry of Truth is emblazoned with three slogans: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

“In a democratic government, there must be truth in order to hold elected officials accountable to their sovereign, which is the people,” Mr. Schmidt said. “All authoritarian societies are built on a foundation of lies and alternative facts, and what is true is what the leader believes, or what is best for the state.”

Mr. Lewis argued that the president’s untruths were a deliberate strategy to position the nation’s leading news organizations as the enemy of his administration. “Fact-checking becomes an act of war by the media,” he said.

Indeed, last Saturday, on Day 2 of his administration, Mr. Trump told hundreds of C.I.A. employees that he had “a running war with the media” and called journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” The next day, his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, accused the news media of trying to “delegitimize” the new president and promised, “We are not going to sit around and let it happen.” By Wednesday, Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief White House strategist, was referring to the news media as “the opposition party” during an interview with The New York Times.

“It feels like this was part of the plan all along,” Mr. Lewis said.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has written about Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s brazen willingness to deny “objective reality” had, if nothing else, succeeded in diverting public attention from matters of more lasting consequence, like his flurry of executive orders. “I don’t know that he is doing it strategically,” she said, “but it certainly had the impact of a magician’s sleight of hand.”

Deception, dissembling, exaggeration — what Fortune magazine called his “astonishing ability to prevaricate” — has deep roots in Mr. Trump’s business career. In innumerable interviews over the years, Mr. Trump glibly inflated everything from the size of his speaking fees to the cost of his golf club memberships to the number of units he had sold in new Trump buildings. In project after project, he faced allegations of broken promises, deceit or outright fraud, from Trump University students who said they had been defrauded, to Trump condominium buyers who said they had been fleeced, to small-time contractors who said Mr. Trump had fabricated complaints about their work to avoid paying them.

In the early 1980s, a New York City housing court judge ruled that Mr. Trump had filed a “spurious” lawsuit to harass a tenant into vacating a Trump building. In the early 1990s, a federal judge ruled that despite Mr. Trump’s denials, there was “strong evidence” he and his subordinates had conspired to hire undocumented workers and deprive them of employment benefits. In the case of Trump University, Mr. Trump repeatedly claimed that he had “handpicked” each of the instructors who were hired to teach students the secrets of his real estate investing strategies. Yet during a deposition, Mr. Trump struggled to identify a single instructor, even after he was shown their photographs.

The price Mr. Trump paid for this record of prevarication was modest and manageable. His lawyers quietly settled cases when necessary, almost always after binding plaintiffs to secrecy. Some major banks and law firms quietly pulled back from doing or seeking business with the Trump Organization. Skeptical judges turned away his libel suit against a journalist who wrote a book calling into question the amount of his wealth. But usually, by the time the truth caught up, Mr. Trump had moved on to the next big thing.

Once he stepped into the political arena, however, fact-checking operations began cataloging his false statements in ways he never experienced during his years as a real estate developer and reality television star. PolitiFact, for example, has scrutinized 356 specific claims by Mr. Trump and found that more than two-thirds of the claims were “mostly false,” “false” or, in 62 cases, “Pants on Fire” false.

“Trump is a different kind of figure than we’ve ever seen before in our 10 years of fact-checking,” Bill Adair, the creator of PolitiFact and a journalism professor at Duke University, said in an interview. “No one has come close to Trump in the high percentage of falsehoods.”

Mr. Trump’s election alone is evidence he did not pay a high price for his plethora of false claims on the campaign trail. Nor are there many signs that his loyal base of supporters is troubled by the misstatements he has made in the first week of his presidency.

“There’s no question that the messages and the actions of the first week are deeply resonating with tens of millions of Americans,” Mr. Schmidt said. And even if some Republican leaders in Washington view the president’s behavior as “strange” or “worrisome,” he said, they are for now more focused on the tax cuts and deregulation they hope to achieve under his administration.

Mr. Trump has given conflicting signals about whether he understands the difference between fallacies uttered by the president of the United States and promotional puffery from a real estate developer boasting of his latest hotel or golf course. In Mr. Trump’s first interview as president, David Muir of ABC News asked, “Do you think that your words matter more now?”

“Yes, very much,” Mr. Trump said.

Yet then Mr. Muir asked, “Do you think that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence?”

“No, not at all,” he replied. “Not at all because many people feel the same way that I do.”

As if to prove the point, Mr. Trump then doubled down on his lie about millions of illegal votes. “Believe me, those were Hillary votes,” he said. “And if you look at it, they all voted for Hillary. They all voted for Hillary. They didn’t vote for me.”

For Ms. Goodwin, Mr. Trump’s week of reality distortions brought to mind Lincoln’s address to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Ill., on Jan. 27, 1838, where he made an appeal to Enlightenment values as the best antidote to what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” “Reason — cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason — must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense,” he said.

“He was worrying about authoritarian behavior,” Ms. Goodwin said.

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Legal challenges mount for Trump’s travel ban from 7 Muslim countries


Liz Goodwin

Senior National Affairs Reporter

Yahoo NewsJanuary 28, 2017


Civil liberties groups are challenging Donald Trump’s executive order barring all immigration from seven majority-Muslim nations for 120 days, which the president signed Friday evening. Donald Trump also temporarily canceled admissions from the entire U.S. refugee program.

On Saturday morning, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that legal permanent residents of the United States with green cards are included in the ban, and will not be allowed to reenter the country. Later, the agency said they would decide on a “case-by-case” basis. As officials raced to understand the new executive order, U.S. green card holders from Iran and the six other countries were reportedly kicked off flights, sent back to their country of origin or detained at airports. (The banned countries are Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya.)

Less than 24 hours after Trump signed the order, at least three lawsuits challenging the ban have been filed or are in the works. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court Saturday on behalf of two Iraqi men who were detained at John F. Kennedy Airport on Friday night. The men were both granted visas before Trump’s order was signed, but were detained upon arriving in the United States, due to the order.

One of them, Hameed Darweesh, was released Saturday afternoon. He was granted a special immigrant visa for his service to the U.S. Army as a translator for 10 years in Iraq. “We know America is the land of freedom,” he said in a brief press conference after his release, adding that he was “grateful” to the country for accepting him.

The ACLU is going forward with its lawsuit on behalf of the other detained man. It seeks an immediate injunction barring the Trump administration from blocking immigrants based on his executive order, arguing that the order is illegal based on a a 1965 law banning discrimination in immigration based on national origin.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to end earlier quota systems that gave preference to immigrants from European nations. As David Bier of the libertarian Cato Institute argues, this law prevents immigrants from being discriminated against based upon “the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence.” If Trump wants a ban on entry from these countries — even temporarily — he needs Congress to pass that law, Bier argues.

Trump is relying upon a 1952 law that allows president to “suspend the entry” of “any class of aliens” if they disadvantage the United States. But Bier and other legal scholars believe the 1965 law supersedes that right.

“The 1965 law is clear,” said legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine. “The law prohibits discrimination based on national origin. This is discrimination based on national origin.”

The ACLU is also considering crafting a new challenge arguing that the executive order violates the establishment clause of the Constitution, which prevents the government from favoring one religion over another.

“Donald Trump has made it very clear that this is designed to disfavor Muslims on the one hand and to favor Christians on the other,” David Cole, the legal director of the ACLU, told Yahoo News. “He told Christian Broadcast News that that was the whole purpose of it: to give priority to Christians.”

Trump told Christian Broadcast News on Friday that he would give Christians the “priority” in the refugee program.

“It’s black-letter establishment clause law that the government cannot take sides between religions,” Cole said. “The order on its face does that.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is also filing a lawsuit in federal court with 20 plaintiffs who argue that the intent of the executive order is “to ban people of the Islamic faith from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States” — a violation of the establishment clause.

The apparent inclusion of green-card holders from the seven countries in the ban is likely to present its own raft of lawsuits.

“They have at least a statutory right to reside in the United States permanently and to return to the United States,” Cole said. “To the extent that President Trump has sought to override that statutory right, yes, they might be another problem.”

About 500,000 people from these seven countries have received green cards over the past decade, ProPublica estimates.

Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston, said she has been “up all night” fielding calls from family members and friends worried that their loved ones who hold green cards won’t be able to return to the country. One of her clients, a U.S. green card holder from Iran, works for Chevron in Houston and was due to arrive in the city at around 4 p.m.

“I’m waiting on standby to see what happens to him,” she said. “I’m very concerned.”

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Illinois Attorney General's office: Move to stop state payroll has 'everyone unhappy'



Kim Geiger and Monique GarciaContact ReporterChicago Tribune

Privacy Policy

Attorney General Lisa Madigan's new attempt to stop state worker paychecks from going out on time came more than 10 months after Illinois' high court overruled what her office called the "sole legal basis" for salaries being paid during the historic budget impasse.

The move caught both Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the largest state worker union — usually foes in the ongoing power struggle at the Capitol — by surprise. And it came from an often-cautious state attorney general, who has stayed out of the daily grind of the budget fight, which is being waged on one side by her father, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general said Friday "now is the best time" to revisit the ruling, which has kept state government from shutting down during the 18-month budget stalemate. Madigan contends it also has allowed the politicians at the center of the fight to avoid the sense of urgency needed to foster a deal.

Rauner on Friday suggested that she was acting on political motivations to "create a crisis" and give Democrats the upper hand in budget negotiations. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees leader Roberta Lynch, in a letter to members, blasted the move as a "harmful and irresponsible legal maneuver."

Maura Possley, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the uproar over the decision from multiple sides showed she didn't intend to help any one side.

"We filed this petition because of a lack of action by everyone involved, it seems to be making everyone unhappy," Possley said.

Attorney General Madigan's motion asked the court to lift its order and stop state salaries at the end of February in the absence of a budget. Possley said the idea was to try to spark action on the part of Rauner and lawmakers.

"Asking the court to impose a deadline for the governor and legislature to do their jobs will solve the crisis, not create it," she said. "The governor and legislature can resolve this situation at any time and they have had ample time to do that."

AG Madigan asks judge to lift order to pay state workers during impasse

AG Madigan asks judge to lift order to pay state workers during impasse

The action came as the state Senate went home Thursday after delaying plans to vote on sweeping legislation aimed at ending the budget standoff, and as AFSCME is scheduled to start voting Monday on whether to strike over lack of a new contract with the Rauner administration. The prospect of a halt in paychecks could change the calculus for workers as they weigh the wisdom of waging a first-of-its-kind strike.

The payroll issue dates back to the early days of the budget stalemate, in July 2015, when AFSCME and 12 other unions asked a downstate St. Clair County Circuit Court judge to require that the state keep payroll flowing for public employees despite a lack of a spending plan. The unions argued that failing to pay workers in full was a violation of their collective bargaining agreements and that a higher court had reached a similar conclusion in a different case related to back pay withheld from workers under former Gov. Pat Quinn.

The St. Clair County order contradicted an earlier ruling from a Cook County judge in which Madigan argued state workers should not be paid beyond the $7.25-per-hour federal minimum wage. At the time, she said the state should comply with federal labor laws when Illinois was without a budget.

Gov. Bruce Rauner

Gov. Bruce Rauner greets attendees after he arrives for the Fueling America's Economic Growth 2017 Summit at Hotel Allegro in Chicago on Jan. 27, 2017. 

(Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

The Illinois Supreme Court later overturned the ruling in that back pay case, saying that the workers weren't entitled to pay lawmakers haven't approved. The ruling sparked speculation that the attorney general might go back to the St. Clair County judge and try to lift the order that had been keeping state workers paid during the budget war. But she stayed out of it until this week.

Last summer Rauner and Democrats who control the Illinois General Assembly agreed to a stopgap spending measure that would keep other state government spending going through the end of the year. The idea was to get past the November election, which was preoccupying lawmakers tied up with their campaigns.

That temporary spending plan expired Jan. 1, returning the state to its awkward position of being able to pay state worker salaries while stiffing nonprofit service providers and starving universities and college students of cash and grants.

Madigan, in her Thursday court filing, contended she's trying to raise the pressure to get a budget in place, saying the judge's order "has allowed the legislative and executive branches to fail to fulfill their constitutional duties without facing the real threat of a government shutdown."

"With no possibility of a government shutdown to force action by the legislative and executive branches, the state has continued to operate without a budget to fund many services provided by vendors and grantees," Madigan's court paperwork read. "Those vendors and grantees and the many Illinoisans they serve are bearing the brunt of this egregious and untenable budget impasse. This situation does not usually happen for long on the federal level or in other states precisely because the possibility of a government shutdown eventually leads to the passage and enactment of a budget."

Rauner on Friday questioned Madigan for what he suggested was a "direct attempt to cause a crisis, to force a shutdown of the government, to force another stopgap spending plan, short-term, unbalanced, incomplete, as a step to force a tax hike without any changes to our broken system."

"I hope that's not what this is. I hope the attorney general will reconsider," Rauner said in a statement he delivered to reporters after speaking at a Chamber of Commerce event in downtown Chicago. Rauner declined to answer questions from reporters.

AFSCME leader Lynch, in the letter to her members, vowed to go to court and try to keep paychecks moving.

"I want you to know that AFSCME is prepared to return to court in opposition to the Attorney General's motion and to pursue every available legal means to halt her action," she wrote. "The Attorney General is justifying her action by citing the urgent need for a resolution of the state budget stalemate. ... However, the need for a budget resolution can in no way justify the Attorney General's harmful and irresponsible legal maneuver."

Speaker Madigan's office, meanwhile, said there was no coordination between the speaker and the attorney general.

"It seems completely illogical," said Speaker Madigan spokesman Steve Brown. "The office of the attorney general acts on its own."

A spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton said the attorney general's move underscores the need for a budget resolution sooner rather than later.

"This would appear to add to that sense of urgency," said spokesman John Patterson.

The Chicago Tribune's Haley BeMiller contributed.

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