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Tag: 2016

Betsy DeVos Flunks Her First Test

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Washington confirmation hearings are both theater and ritual. Behind the ostentatious displays of deference that senators and would-be cabinet secretaries must display toward each other is a useful democratic exercise. To be forced to grovel before one’s political adversaries is a crash course in respecting the norms of peaceful political combat in service of accountability.

Despite garish wealth and ghastly reputations, Donald Trump’s cabinet of generals and plutocrats has not entirely failed to conform to those norms. In two rounds of questioning last week. James Mattis, up for Secretary of Defense, gave some faint hope that he will not live up to the reputation of his nickname, Mad Dog Mattis. In his three rounds of questioning, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson fared worse, evading questions and maybe even perjuring himself.

But even by the low standards of the Trump crowd, billionaire Betsy DeVos, the president-elect’s choice for Secretary of Education, came up short in her Capitol Hill appearance Tuesday evening. While Republican supporters (and the unctuous faux Democrat Joe Leiberman) lauded her as a bold reformer and defender of “school choice,” her Democratic interrogators scored with questions about her command of law and policy, both of which seemed weak, and her political donations, which are legion.

When Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked her about the debate among education policymakers about whether standardized testing should seek to measure student “profiiency” or “growth,” DeVos was clueless. Her answer indicated she had no understanding of the issue, much less a position.

When Senator Robert Casey (D-Penn.) asked if she would support the department’s 2011 guidance for colleges and universities about how to handle sexual assault cases, DeVos balked, saying that would be “premature.”

Asked by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) if guns have any place in American schools, DeVos replied that she had visited a rural school in Wyoming that had a fence to keep out grizzly bears and expressed hope that the school had a gun. In light of the 210 school shootings in America since 2013, DeVos’s answer was flippant at best. Senator Murphy, whose constituents lost their children at Sandy Hook, said tersely, “I look forward to you coming to Connecticut to talk about guns in schools.”

When Senator Elizabeth Warren asked DeVos if she or her children had ever attended a public school, taught in public school or applied for a student loan, DeVos’s answers were no, no and no. DeVos hastened to add she had once mentored students in a public school. That was literally the only public school experience the woman who wants to preside over governmental education policy could cite: a part-time volunteer position.

DeVos seemed to dissemble when Senator Hassan (D-New Hampshire) asked what she, as a board member of the Edgar and Elsie Prince Foundation, thought of the foundation’s $10 million in donations to Focus on the Family, the conservative evangelical group. DeVos said she was not a member of the board and that her mother made all the decisions. Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept tweeted out a copy of an IRS filing showing that DeVos served as vice president of the Foundation. In a followup question, DeVos said that the filing was a “clerical error.” Scahill pointed out the alleged clerical error had been repeated for several years.

For her supporters, DeVos’ unfamiliarity with public education constituted a qualification. Senator Orrin Hatch said he welcomed a Secretary of Education who was “not necessarily of stereotypical education but who might bring new things to the forefront.”

DeVos was most successful in repudiating right-wing positions that are now considered outside of the mainstream. She told Franken she had never believed in so-called conversion therapy to “cure” homosexuality. To Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis) she affirmed equal rights for all students, albeit without actually using any words beginning in L, G, B or T.

The theater of a confirmation hearing inevitably limits its educational benefits, as the DeVos hearing demonstrated. Limited to five minutes of questioning, the senators did not have much time to explore what DeVos actually means by her mantra of “school choice.” Judging by the laudatory introduction by committee chair Lamar Aexander, DeVos is a champion of charter schools and accountability. But aside from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), DeVos faced little questioning about her vision for charter schools in federal education policy, and none about her successful efforts to prevent tighter regulation of Michigan charter schools.

And the partisan tension that suffused the hearing indicated a certain erosion of norms in the confirmation process.

Unlike other Trump nominees, DeVos did not submit an ethics agreement before the hearing, stating how she would avoid conflicts of interest. Russell Berman of the Atlantic says that DeVos is the first cabinet nominee in more than a decade to sit for a confirmation hearing without such an agreement in hand.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked Alexander for another round of questions, as was done for Mattis and Tillerson. Alexander rebuffed her. The committee would treat DeVos the same way it treated President Obama’s education nominees, he said. Arne Duncan and John King had only faced one round of questioning, so DeVos would only face one round.

Eliizabeth Warren politely objected, noting in fact that she had asked for a second round of questions at the hearing for John King, and reminded Alexander that he had granted her request. Warren wondered why the fact that no Republicans wanted to ask additional questions of an Education Secretary should be cited as precedent preventing Democrats from asking additional questions.

“Will the record show that this is the first time that [a senator] has asked for another round of questions and was refused?” she asked Alexander.

“I have to bring this to a conclusion,” the chairman replied, adjourning the hearing without answering the question.

Courtesy was spurned and DeVos was spared. The committee is scheduled to vote on her nomination on January 24.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent.

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at a “Thank You USA” tour rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S. December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Intelligence Agencies Probe Possible Covert Kremlin Aid To Trump

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Trump Scorns Probe Into FBI Pre-Election Handling Of Clinton Emails

(Reuters) – Donald Trump responded with derision on Friday to news of an investigation into the FBI decision to make public an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails days before the Nov. 8 presidential election, a decision that Clinton said was a factor in her defeat.

The Justice Department said on Thursday it would investigate the FBI actions.

FBI Director James Comey said on Oct. 28 the agency was reviewing emails that might be relevant to a previous inquiry into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, then announced on Nov. 6 that the fresh review had yielded nothing to change the agency’s finding that she was not guilty of criminal wrongdoing.

“What are Hillary Clinton’s people complaining about with respect to the F.B.I. Based on the information they had, she should never have been allowed to run – guilty as hell,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Friday.

“They were VERY nice to her. She lost because she campaigned in the wrong states – no enthusiasm!” added the Republican president-elect, who is due to enter the White House in a week.

Democrats said Comey’s announcement of the new inquiry into the emails in October damaged her standing with voters right before the election, and he faced complaints that his moves were politically motivated. Announcing its inquiry on Thursday, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said it was looking into decisions leading up to Comey’s public statements and whether they may have been based on “improper considerations.”

Trump assailed Clinton over the email issue throughout the 2016 election campaign, and crowds at his rallies often chanted “lock her up!” In a debate in October, Trump vowed Clinton would “be in jail” over the matter if he became president, although in a New York Times interview soon after the election he indicated that he would not pursue prosecution.

After a year-long probe into whether Clinton mishandled classified information with her email practices, Comey said in July that while Clinton and her staff had been extremely careless, the agency recommended no charges be brought.

Brian Fallon, Clinton’s spokesman, told MSNBC on Thursday that Comey’s actions before the election “cried out for an independent review.” Referring to Trump’s reaction, Fallon said on CNN on Friday: “Those tweets are just the latest indication that Donald Trump is someone who is very insecure in his victory.”

Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate said Comey’s statements were not “fair, professional or consistent with the policies of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Comey said on Thursday the FBI would cooperate fully with the investigation.

Trump will not have the power to dismiss the investigation. Federal law permits U.S. presidents to dismiss inspectors general for federal agencies, as long as the president provides Congress a written justification for the removal 30 days in advance.

(Reporting by Washington Newsroom; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Howard Goller)

IMAGE: U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump  (R) speak at campaign rallies in Westbury, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016 and Toledo, Ohio, U.S. September 21, 2016 in a combination of file photos. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Jonathan Ernst/Files

Trump Coverage Should Reflect That He Is Historically Unpopular

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

There are lots of ways the political press continues to normalize President-elect Donald Trump’s often radical behavior. From regurgitating his vague tweets as news while he refuses to grant press conferences, to shying away from calling the serial prevaricator a liar, journalists continue to play nice.

Here’s another way Trump’s getting the benefit of the doubt: He’s a wildly unpopular political figure, yet the press continues to gloss over that fact while granting him soft coverage.

In terms of polling data, there’s virtually no good news for Trump. The results generally point in the same direction: He’s widely disliked and inspires little confidence in his presidential abilities.

This stands in stark contrast with characteristically stronger bipartisan approval for presidents-elect in recent decades. For instance, in 2008, “50 percent of John McCain’s voters approved of Barack Obama’s handling of his presidential transition,” noted an NBC News report. And as NPR reported, “Even after a prolonged recount and Supreme Court decision, George W. Bush received 29 percent approval from Democrats in 2001.” This is 14 percentage points higher than the same Pew statistic for Trump.

Trump’s contrast with Obama in late 2008 is stunning: Obama entered 2009 with a 68 percent favorable rating. Today, Trump’s favorable rating stands at an anemic 43 percent. And if history is any indication, that rating is almost certain to go down once the new president takes office.

A plurality of Americans think he will be a “poor” or “terrible” president. His cabinet picks enjoy historically little support, and 54 percent of adults say they’re either “uncertain (25 percent) or pessimistic and worried (29 percent) about how Trump will perform during his presidency.” Meanwhile, 68 percent would describe the president-elect as “hard to like,” and less than half of Americans are confident in Trump’s ability to handle an international crisis.

Those numbers are off-the-charts awful for an American president-elect. On average, 71 percent of Americans were confident that Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton could handle an international crisis, when polled after each was newly elected. Today, just 46 percent are confident about Trump’s ability to handle such a crisis.

Modern American history hasn’t seen anything like this. So what explains the press’s passive, often genuflecting coverage of Trump since November?

“Watching the formation of Donald Trump’s presidency, the press coverage is disappointingly weak and thin,” John Dean recently wrote in Newsweek. “The news coverage of the transition of the most unqualified man ever elected to the White House is as weak and wishy-washy as it was at the outset of his campaign.”

And as Media Matters stressed last month:

In the weeks since Election Day, political journalism has largely fallen short both in style and substance. Journalists watching from the sidelines have been reduced to parroting Trump’s publicly available tweets — allowing him to drive the news cycle — and have bungled one of the most important roles the press plays during a transition period: the vetting of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominations and appointments.

If Trump had just posted a 49-state, Reagan-esque landslide victory, I could more readily understand why the press would be acquiescing so regularly. But Trump just made history by losing the popular tally by nearly three million votes and remains, without question, the least popular president-elect since modern-day polling was invented.

Yet members of the press seem unduly intimidated by his presence, and have even rewarded him with chatter of an invisible “mandate.” (He has none.) Noted John Nichols at The Nation, “It’s absurd to claim that [Trump’s] administration and this Congress enjoy enthusiastic popular support. They don’t.”

Yes, some news outlets have highlighted Trump’s miserable standing with the public, and what the political implication might be for him this year. “Trump will enter the White House as the least-popular incoming president in the modern era of public-opinion polling,” Politico announced in late December.

But those kinds of stories have made for spot coverage, passing reports here and there about Trump’s approval ratings. But why isn’t that the running narrative about Trump’s presidential transition? Where is the endless cable news hand-wringing about Trump standing poised to be a failed president even before he’s inaugurated? Or about the mountainous challenge he faces in trying to lead a country that largely does not support him or even find him likable?

Does anyone think that if Hillary Clinton had won in November while badly losing the popular vote to Trump, and then posted historically awful approval ratings during her transition, that story would not dominate Beltway coverage day after day, week after week?

And don’t forget the press’s entrenched fascination with Obama’s public approval during his presidency, particularly the desire to depict “collapsing” support when, in fact, Obama’s approval rating remained stubbornly stable for years.

There’s a glaring Trump transition story hiding in plain sight: He’s historically unpopular. The press ought to start telling that tale on a daily basis.

IMAGE: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during a campaign event at the Trump Soho Hotel in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., June 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

U.S. Judge Rejects Bid For Pennsylvania Election Recount

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge in Pennsylvania on Monday rejected Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s request for a recount of the state’s ballots in last month’s presidential election and an examination of voting machines for evidence of hacking.

The decision came on the same day that Wisconsin election officials expect to complete that state’s recount, although the results will not change the outcome.

Stein, who finished fourth in the election behind President-elect Donald Trump, had challenged the results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. All of those traditionally Democratic strongholds supported Trump, a Republican, in the Nov. 8 vote.

The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday denied Stein’s last-ditch appeal to secure a recount there.

Even if all three recounts had taken place, it was considered highly unlikely that they would flip the overall result from Trump to Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

Stein had argued that Pennsylvania’s use of electronic voting machines with no paper trail in some districts left the system vulnerable to hacking.

In a 31-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond in Philadelphia said there was no evidence suggesting hacking had occurred. He also emphasized that the deadline to certify the state’s electoral votes is Tuesday, making it impossible to hold a recount in time.

Diamond said “suspicion of a ‘hacked’ Pennsylvania election borders on the irrational.”

Stein could appeal the court’s decision. Her campaign did not immediately comment.

While there is no evidence of large-scale voting machine hacking, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia targeted Clinton in a series of cyberattacks on Democratic Party groups. Trump has questioned those reports.

U.S. presidential elections are determined not by the overall national popular vote but by the Electoral College, which awards votes based on the outcome in each state.

Trump, who won a projected 306 Electoral College votes to Clinton’s 232, is set to take office on Jan. 20. Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.6 million ballots nationwide, according to the latest count.

Stein did not win any electoral college votes.

As of Monday morning, the Wisconsin recount was 95 percent complete and showed Trump with a increase of 628 votes, Clinton with an increase of 653 votes and Stein with an increase of 68 votes.

Trump won Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan by more than 27,000, 68,000 and 11,000 votes, respectively.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Additional reporting by Timothy McLaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Bill Trott)

IMAGE: Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein speaks during a news conference outside Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S. December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Recount Effort To Explore Whether Russia Hacked The Vote For Trump

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet. 

Investigating Russia’s role in interfering and possibly hacking the 2016 presidential election vote is at the center of the Green Party-led recount effort.

The recount entered a new phase on Saturday, when both the Hillary Clinton campaign and Donald Trump transition team issued dueling statements about the need to verify the votes in the three states that gave Trump an Electoral College majority. But beyond their appearances, with Clinton’s campaign saying it would participate in the effort, was a remarkable development: the prospect that recount will try to investigate the biggest unanswered question hanging over the election beside who won: did Russia take steps to hack the vote?

Trump called the recount a “ridiculous” effort by the Green that was fleecing donors of the nearly $6 million raised by midday Saturday. But the statement by the Clinton campaign’s top lawyer, Marc Elias, noted in its opening paragraphs that the election, the Democratic Party, and their campaign was repeatedly targeted by the Russians.

“This election cycle was unique in the degree of foreign interference witnessed throughout the campaign: the U.S. government concluded that Russian state actors were behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and the personal email accounts of Hillary for America campaign officials, and just yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the Russian government was behind much of the “fake news” propaganda that circulated online in the closing weeks of the election,” Elias wrote on Medium.com, then elaborating their private investigative efforts to assess the impact of Russian interference in the campaign.

Going even further, the first recount petition filed by the Greens, in Wisconsin, primarily focused on Russian hacking, not on the more easily understood line of inquiry of different voting technologies reporting different margins of victory for Trump despite their location.

The Green’s petition opens by stating they believe “an irregularity” has occurred affecting the entire state. It goes on to say that in August, “foreign operators breached voter registration databases in at least two states and stole hundreds of thousands of voter records” at the same time the e-mail systems of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign were hacked and put online. It lists warnings by federal homeland security officials to states to take steps to protect these databases, and then lays out its theories. First, Wisconsin’s voting systems are aging and known to be susceptible to hackers, “including they can be breached without detection and even after certain security measures are put in place.” And that may account for “a significant increase in the number of absentee voters compared to the last general election. This significant increase could be attributed to a breach of the state’s electronic voter database.”

That summation and line of inquiry has been reported by AlterNet before. However, the Green’s petition, went further to explain what they are going to be looking for as the recount ensues. The first piece of supporting evidence is an affidavit by J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan professor of computer science and engineering, and director of the Center for Computer Security and Society based in Ann Arbor. He was part of the team set up by California’s ex-Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, that reviewed the vulnerability of its electronic voting systems and led to the state banning the same machines used in Wisconsin.

Russia tried to breach voter registration databases in 20 states last summer, Halderman said, citing the Department of Homeland Security as his source. “Russia has sophisticated cyber-offensive capabilities, and it has shown a willingness to use them to hack elections elsewhere. For instance, according to published reports, during the 2014 presidential election in Ukraine, attackers linked to Russia sabotaged Ukraine’s vote-counting infrastructure, and Ukranian officials succeeded only at the last minute in defusing the vote-stealing malware that could have caused the wrong winner to be announced,” he wrote, referencing and submitting a June 2014 Christian Science Monitor article that described the hacks and averted tampering.

Not mentioned in the Green’s filing was Paul Manafort, who came aboard Trump’s campaign last spring and shepherded it through the Republican National Convention until he was forced to resign because of a multi-million dollar cash payment from consulting in Ukraine, and he was working for the pro-Russian side of June 2014 Ukranian election, the Washington Post reported last August. “Even with [pro-Russian Viktor] Yanukovych out of the country, the [New York] Times reports Manafort kept working in Ukraine with the president’s former chief of staff to help keep the pro-Russian party in the political game. It worked. The party ended up being a significant influence in parliament.”

Halderman’s affidavit continued, saying the same vote tampering that occurred in Ukraine could have occurred in some of 2016’s presidential swing states.

“If a foreign government were to attempt to hack American voting machines to influence the outcome of a presidential election, one might expect the hackers to proceed as follows,” Halderman continued. “First, the attackers might probe election offices well in advance to find ways to break into the computers. Next, closer to the election, when it was clear from polling data which state would have close electoral margin, the attackers might spread malware into voting machines into some of the states, manipulating the machines to shift a few percent of the vote to favor the desired candidate. This malware would likely be designed to remain inactive during pre-election tests, perform its function during the election, and then erase itself after the polls closed. One would expect a skilled attacker’s work to leave no visible signs, other than a surprising electoral outcome in which results in several close states differed from pre-election polling.”

America’s voting machinery is especially vulnerable to that scenario, Halderman said, noting that he personally has installed malware in electronic voting machines to achieve that exact result. Whether voting machines are connected to the Internet “is irrelevant,” he said, which is directly applicable to Wisconsin, where their safeguards include keeping their voting machines offline, state election officials have previously told AlterNet. All it takes is one memory card to be inserted into the system at any point, he said, for such malware to be spread.

“This explanation is plausible, in light of other known cyber attacks intended to affect the outcome of the election; the profound vulnerability of American voting machines to cyberattack; and the fact that a skilled attacker would leave no outwardly visible evidence of an attack other than an unexpected result,” Halderman reiterated. “The only way to determine whether a cyber attack affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election is to examine the available physical evidence—that is, to count the paper ballots and paper audit trail records, and review the voting equipment… Using the electronic equipment to conduct the recount, even after first evaluating the machine through a test deck, is insufficient. Attackers intending to commit a successful cyber attack could, and likely would, create a method to undermine any pre-tests… Voting equipment that might yield forensic evidence of an attack includes the voting machines, removable media, and election management system computers. Paper ballot, paper audit trails, and voting equipment will only be examined in this manner if there is a recount.”

This scenario of examining the entire voting system is not what the state of Wisconsin is envisioning when conducting the recount, according to a statement by the state election administrator, Michael Hass, on Friday, saying that the Green Party has filed for its recount.

“In a recount, all ballots (including those that were originally hand counted) are examined to determine voter intent before being retabulated. In addition, the county boards of canvassers will examine other documents, including poll lists, written absentee applications, rejected absentee ballots, and provisional ballots before counting the votes.”

Haas said that the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s role in the recount is “to provide legal guidance to the counties during the recount, and to certify the results.” This is a new state board composed of partisan appointees by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who disbanded the state’s former Government Accountability Board, which was comprised of retired state judges and was among the most highly respected election oversight panel in the country.

In other words, these preliminary and contradictory statements from the Clinton campaign, Green Party and Wisconsin election administrator show why the upcoming presidential recount is not just going to be controversial and headed into court at many steps along the way. It shows that the Greens are taking the lead in advancing the one storyline that the Clinton campaign did not get the media to heed—the extent to which Russia may have tampered with America’s voting machinery and tilted the result to a candidate who embraced Vladimir Putin.

“Because we had not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology, we had not planned to exercise this option ourselves, but now that a recount has been initiated in Wisconsin, we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides,” Clinton counsel Marc Elias said on Saturday. “The campaign is grateful to all those who have expended time and effort to investigate various claims of abnormalities and irregularities. While that effort has not, in our view, resulted in evidence of manipulation of results, now that a recount is underway, we believe we have an obligation to the more than 64 million Americans who cast ballots for Hillary Clinton to participate in ongoing proceedings to ensure that an accurate vote count will be reported.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights, campaigns and elections, and many social justice issues. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

IMAGE: A ballot is placed into a locked ballot box by a poll worker as people line-up to vote early at the San Diego County Elections Office in San Diego, California, U.S., November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Fake News Will Have Real Consequences

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be.”

Thomas Jefferson

There is good news on fake news.

As you doubtless know, the proliferation thereof has people fretting. President Obama has dubbed it a threat to democracy. And there is a rising demand for social-media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, often used as platforms for these viral untruths, to take corrective action.

But the good news is that anyone who wishes to avoid fake news can do so easily. There is, in fact, a news platform that specializes in gathering and disseminating non-fake news. So committed are its people to this mission that some have been known to risk, and even to lose, their lives in the process.

Granted, this platform is imperfect — sometimes it is guilty of error or even bias. But hardly ever will you find it trafficking in intentional falsehoods.

So what, you ask, is this miracle medium? Well, it’s called a “newspaper” Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Ahem.

Yes, there is a point here, and it is this: The facts are knowable — and easily so. So the proliferation of fake news should tell you something.

Before we go further, though, a definition of terms. Fake news is not to be confused with satirical news as seen on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “Last Week Tonight.” Fake news is not a humorous comment on the news. Rather, fake news seeks to supplant the news, to sway its audience into believing all sorts of untruths and conspiracy theories, the more bizarre, the better.

There is, for instance, the “story” that opponents of Donald Trump beat a homeless veteran to death. Didn’t happen.

There is also the “story” that Hillary Clinton molested children in the backroom of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. Also didn’t happen.

The New York Times recently did a case study of a fake news story. It originated with Eric Tucker, a marketing executive in Austin who posted pictures of buses he claimed had been used to to transport paid protesters to an anti-Trump rally. This blew up on Facebook and Twitter. By the next day, Trump himself was tweeting about “professional protesters, incited by media.”

But this, too, didn’t happen. The buses had, in fact, been hired by a software company for a conference. Asked why he didn’t check this,Tucker told the Times, “I’m also a very busy businessman and I don’t have time to fact-check everything that I put out there.”

Can we get a Bronx cheer right here for “citizen journalism?”

As noted above, real journalists regularly produce real news that is easily accessible. So the rise of fake news speaks not to the unavailability of the real thing, but, rather to a preference for the phony one. It is no coincidence fake news almost always seems to find greatest purchase among conservatives, or that the stories it tells almost always seem to validate their sense of their own victimhood.

But the president is right — these lies are eating like termites through the foundations of democracy, a process likely to accelerate as Obama is succeeded by one of the chief national distributors of this political manure. The right wing has led us so far down the rabbit hole of its alt-right alt-reality that we now face the very real prospect of military and policy choices hinged on things “people are saying” or tweets from those who are “too busy” to check facts.

One recalls what Jefferson said about the incompatibility of ignorance and freedom — and one wonders how long we have. Fake news drives a fake worldview. But the decisions made from that will be real.

And the consequences, too.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

IMAGE: A logo of Twitter is pictured next to the logo of Facebook in this September 23, 2014 illustration photo in Sarajevo.  REUTERS/Dado Ruvic 

Thanksgiving Is More Than Just One Day

“Eight-hundred forty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents,” he said.

“Huh?” I said.

“The retail price of a stainless-steel Kenmore 4.2 cubic foot freestanding gas range,” said God, pointing to the television.

On the screen, an excited young woman blurted, “Twelve hundred dollars!”

Drew Carey looked sad for her as he revealed the price. God shook his head. “I tried to tell her,” he said. “If people would only listen to me …”

“Oh,” I said, and returned to the book I wasn’t reading.

God regarded me a moment. Then he said, “Transmission?”

I looked up. “What?”

God said, “I asked if you brought the car in because your transmission went blooey. Obviously, something’s got you down.”

I sighed and closed the book. “Trump,” I said.

“Trump?”

“The guy that’s going to be our new president,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” said God. “With the hair, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “That guy.”

“Well, what about him?”

On the screen above us, some man had Drew Carey in a bear hug. I sighed. “He’s the worst excuse for a leader I’ve ever seen,” I said. “What kind of ‘president’ spends his time whining about how he’s treated on ‘Saturday Night Live?’

Or has to pay out $25 million to resolve a fraud case en route to inauguration? Not to mention that he’s assembling a cabinet only a Klansman could love.”

“Frightening,” said God.

“Yes,” I said. “Now here it is Thanksgiving and I find that, well, I’m just not feeling very thankful.”

God was incredulous. “But look at all I’ve given you. You’ve got that great wife, you have a house, you have health, you’ve got that new granddaughter toddling around.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Of course, I’m thankful for all that. But the country … ”

“You should thank me for the country, too,” he said.

“How?” I said. “Like I just told you, there’s nothing to be thankful for.”

“I disagree,” said God. “ I did some of my better work here.”

“Oh?” I said. “Which part? The bigotry, the stupidity or the misogyny?”

God gave me a level look. “You’re angry,” he said.

“Yeah,” I admitted. “I probably will be for the next few years.”

“Why?” asked God.

“Why?! Didn’t you hear what I said about the dope we elected? About the Masters of Evil he’s surrounding himself with?

I expect better from this country.”

“You expect better,” said God.

On the screen above, some lady shrieked and bit her fingernails as the Big Wheel spun.

“Yeah,” I said. “I do.”

“And what gives you this expectation?”

“This is America,” I said.

God laughed. “You people always say that word like a magic spell,” he said. “But there is no magic in it. Certainly no guarantee.

You may expect better in America only because here, you have the freedom to demand better — and to work toward better.

That’s all ‘America’ means. You had that freedom before this Trump person was elected, and you have it still. Not everyone does.”

“So you’re saying the fight to form a more perfect union is always ongoing?

And that even in our current predicament we can draw strength from knowing that?

You’re saying that God abides even now, and that these are things to be grateful for on Thanksgiving Day?”

God smiled. “I’m saying thanksgiving is not a day.”

“Wow,” I said. “I never thought about it like that.”

“You’re welcome,” said God.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts’ column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

IMAGE: Via Flickr