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Acting DNI Deploys Pseudo-Document To Promote ‘Obamagate’ Melodrama

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a former Fox News contributor and Republican Party stalwart who was appointed to lead the U.S. intelligence community because of his loyalty to President Donald Trump, provided a document of his own devising to Congress on Wednesday. It promptly leaked to the press. Republicans, including Trump himself, immediately seized on the content in the document as evidence of vast Obama administration malfeasance. Fox hosts spent the next two days incessantly declaring that it vindicated their conspiracy theories, turning their attention away from the coronavirus pandemic. And more credible media outlets, buffeted by the partisan claims, responded with a flurry of stories, at times failing to properly contextualize the story.

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Trump’s Investment Boom — And Other Economic Myths

What sort of machine is the economy? The common conception is that it’s a fragile and sensitive device, highly responsive to both good and bad government policies. Pessimists worry that one or two wrong moves from Washington will cause it to seize up. Optimists think the right change in tax or regulatory policy can supercharge it.
The administration shares this general outlook.

Early in Donald Trump’s presidency, he and his economic advisers hailed what was coming. With Trump’s policies, declared Stephen Moore, “four percent growth can and should be the new normal in America.” After the president signed his big tax cut, Lawrence Kudlow said, “We’re on the front end of an investment boom.”

It was a nice fantasy. In 2017, real GDP grew by 2.2 percent; in 2018, it increased by 2.9 percent. In 2014 and 2015, under Barack Obama, the figures were 2.5 percent and 2.9 percent.

The investment boom hasn’t happened. “A slim five percent rise in 2019 capital spending is in store, down from last year’s six percent gain,” reported Kiplinger last month. “That is a small annual gain compared with past decades, when double-digit increases in capital spending were relatively common.”

The administration didn’t have any magic dust. Economic growth appears to be settling down around the level that Trump disparaged when Obama was president. The new normal is not much different from the old normal.
The latest Wall Street Journal survey of 60 economists found that they expect real GDP growth to total less than 2 percent in the second, third and fourth quarters of 2019. In 2016, the term Stephen Moore used for that rate of growth was “sluggish.”

“It’s no surprise,” Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told WBUR. “Nearly everyone who looked at this, other than the Trump administration itself, felt that this would have very little effect on the economy.”

Trump’s critics, however, have also exaggerated his importance to the economy. Immediately after the election, Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman predicted a global downturn — though he quickly retracted that forecast. A year ago, Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Ethan Harris warned that Trump’s trade war could cause a recession.

So far, however, the U.S. economy has kept chugging on along. Some sectors, particularly agriculture and autos, have suffered, but their troubles haven’t spread too far. The looming prospect of a bigger trade war with China and Europe has yet to throw much sand in the gears.

If anyone has shown presidents don’t matter for the economy, it’s Trump,” George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen told me. “All the uncertainty simply has not stalled the recovery.”

Other economists think Trump has had some effect on the economy. Says John Cochrane of Stanford University and the Hoover Institution, “The recent boost in growth does have something to do with deregulation.” Northwestern’s Robert Gordon says the tax cut boosted GDP growth, but only temporarily. He also says, “The uncertainties around tariffs and trade have contributed to caution on the part of businesses.”

But Trump has made less difference, for good or ill, than most people expected. The evidence suggests that for the most part, the economy is not fragile and flighty but sturdy and resilient. It’s not a lightweight canoe that requires endless adjustments and can be knocked off course by every ripple or breeze. It’s an aircraft carrier, moving forward in fair weather or foul and not easily stopped.

The tax cut that Trump said would be “rocket fuel” for the economy looks more like regular unleaded. The administration, however, is not about to admit that its policies are mistaken or ineffectual; it has to be that some powerful, sinister force is impeding them.

That would be the Federal Reserve, which the president and his allies blame for not cutting interest rates. But if his policies were as potent as we’ve been told, they would not wilt because our low interest rates are not a quarter-point or a half-point lower.

Back in 2016, Moore wrote: “The lesson of the Fed under Ben Bernanke and now Yellen is that easy money is no economic solution to this decade-long malaise. As economist Larry Kudlow puts it: ‘The Fed can print money, but it can’t create jobs.'” Now, they see easy money as the only hope.

Everyone knows how to take care of the economy, and often they’re wrong. Fortunately, it can usually take care of itself.

Hannity Urging New Attorney General To Investigate Trump’s Enemies

Sean Hannity, the Fox News host with the ear of President Donald Trump, has a message for newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr: Investigate the president’s political enemies — from former leaders of the Justice Department and FBI to Obama administration appointees to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — or suffer the consequences.

Fox’s leading propagandists spent much of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tenure denouncing him over his refusal to turn their conspiracy theories into federal investigations. Hannity apparently has reason to believe that Barr, who has spoken favorably about the notion of appointing a special counsel to look into the Uranium One pseudo-scandal about Clinton, will be more pliable.

On Thursday night, just hours after the Senate confirmed Barr, Hannity crowed, “My sources telling me tonight things are happening as we speak.” The Fox host went on to detail numerous purported crimes he said had been committed by 10 “deep state actors,” including former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

“Over the next year with a brand new attorney general, William Barr, this country — we’ve got to decide,” Hannity concluded. “You want to save the United States? You want to be a constitutional republic? You want equal justice under the law? Do you want a dual justice system, or do you want America to be handed off to your kids and grandkids as a banana republic?”

Later in the program, Gregg Jarrett, the Fox legal analyst whose role at the network is to explain why the president and his team did not break the law but all of his critics did, claimed that “more than a dozen” Obama-era officials had committed crimes and that Barr “should haul them all in front of a federal grand jury.”

“What about Hillary? Does she get held accountable?” Hannity asked. “They should reopen the investigation; it was a fraud,” Jarrett responded.

Hannity has been urging Barr to investigate Trump’s enemies and predicting that he would do so ever since Barr was nominated in December.

On January 15, the day of Barr’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hannity presented a “road map of corruption for the new attorney general-to-be,” dozens of federal crimes that, according to Jarrett, may have been committed by 10 Obama-era officials.

The Fox host added that Barr “must also revisit Hillary Clinton’s various crimes, like, oh, deleting subpoenaed emails, and deleting your hard drive and washing it with BleachBit and busting up devices and ripping out SIM cards.”

Over the past month, Hannity and his cronies have maintained a constant drumbeat of calls for Barr to probe these officials. His is not the only program generating such demands; on Thursday night, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs urged Barr to investigate Chief Justice John Roberts because of his purported role in the surveillance of a Trump campaign aide.

Fox has vast influence over the Trump administration because the president both regularly watches the network’s programming and privately seeks advice from its commentators. Trump’s decision this week to declare a national emergency in order to obtain border wall funding, for example, came after Hannity and Dobbs spent weeks demanding that action. And Sessions’ own relationship with the president was damaged in no small part because Trump kept hearing his Fox allies lashing out at his attorney general.

Barr is being presented with a choice: He can follow the directives of Hannity and his crew and conduct rigorous investigations into Clinton and other Fox targets, or he can try to weather the storm that they will create if he refuses to do so.

Yes We Can: Obama Defends American Values In Emotional Farewell

CHICAGO (Reuters) – With a final call of his campaign mantra “Yes We Can,” President Barack Obama urged Americans on Tuesday to stand up for U.S. values and reject discrimination as the United States transitions to the presidency of Republican Donald Trump.

In an emotional speech in which he thanked his family and declared his time as president the honor of his life, Obama gently prodded the public to embrace his vision of progress while repudiating some of the policies that Trump promoted during his campaign for the White House.

“So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are,” Obama told a crowd of 18,000 in his hometown of Chicago, where he celebrated his election in 2008 as the first black president of the United States.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, proposed temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country, building a wall on the border with Mexico, upending a global deal to fight climate change and dismantling Obama’s healthcare reform law.

Obama made clear his opposition to those positions during fiery campaign speeches for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, but has struck a more conciliatory tone with Trump since the election.

In his farewell speech, he made clear his positions had not changed and he said his efforts to end the use of torture and close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were part of a broader move to uphold U.S. values.

“That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” he said in a clear reference to Trump that drew applause.

He said bold action was needed to fight global warming and said “science and reason” mattered.

“If anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our healthcare system, that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it,” he said in another prodding challenge to his successor.

Trump has urged the Republican-controlled Congress to repeal the law right away.

RACE AND NOSTALGIA

Obama, who came to office amid high expectations that his election would heal historic racial divides, acknowledged that was an impossible goal.

“After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America,” he said. “Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”

However, Obama said he remained hopeful about the work that a younger generation would do. “Yes we can,” he said. “Yes we did.”

In an indirect reference to the political work the Democratic Party will have to do to recover after Clinton’s loss, Obama urged racial minorities to seek justice not only for themselves but also for “the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.”

Trump won his election in part by appealing to working-class white men.

First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, his wife Jill Biden, and many current and former White House staff members and campaign workers attended the speech. Obama wiped his eyes as he addressed his wife and thanked his running mate. They all appeared together on stage after the address.

The Chicago visit is Obama’s last scheduled trip as president, and even the final flight on the presidential aircraft was tinged with wistfulness.

It was the president’s 445th “mission” on Air Force One, a perk he has said he will miss when he leaves office, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

All told, Obama will have spent more than 2,800 hours or 116 days on the plane during his presidency.

Obama plans to remain in Washington for the next two years while his younger daughter, Sasha, finishes high school. Sasha, who has an exam on Wednesday, did not attend the speech but her older sister Malia was there.

The president has indicated he wants to give Trump the same space that his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, gave Obama after leaving office by not maintaining a high public profile.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney, Richard Borsuk and Paul Tait)

IMAGE: President Barack Obama (R) is joined onstage by first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia, after his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst