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Donald Trump’s visits to Florida costing sheriff $1.5 million in OT

Donald Trump‘s visits to his South Florida estate since he was elected president have cost the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department $1.5 million in overtime costs.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is confident the money his department has spent while assisting the Secret Service will be reimbursed by the federal government.

“I do hope he is correct,” said Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker.

The county sent letters to federal officials in December seeking reimbursement for the overtime security costs from Trump’s five-day visit to the estate called Mar-a-lago in November, the Palm Beach Post reported Tuesday.

Those costs were originally estimated at $250,000, but Bradshaw said the total will be closer to $300,000. Based on the revised number, the sheriff said told the newspaper the security costs are amounting to about $60,000 a day during Trump’s visits to the county.

Aside from the five days in November, Trump stayed at Mar-a-lago 16 days in December. He has returned for two weekends so far in February.

The sheriff’s presidential detail is covered by overtime and doesn’t compromise law enforcement for the rest of the county.

“We don’t take anybody off the road that handles normal calls for service,” Bradshaw said. “I’m very confident that we’re going to get reimbursed. There’ll be a point in time where I’ll have a conversation, I hope, with the president personally or with someone high up in his administration.”

Baker said the sheriff works closely with the Secret Service and would have a better feel about any reimbursement. “I have not received that type of information from anyone in writing,” Baker said.

Presidential visits aren’t unusual in Palm Beach County as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all made multiple visits for fundraisers, golf outings and campaign appearances. But they didn’t involve extended stays.

“Obviously we take it very seriously and we’re fortunate we have the experience and the manpower to be able to handle it,” Bradshaw said. “We work seamlessly with the Secret Service because we’ve done it so much.”

In addition to the sheriff’s costs, West Palm Beach Chief Financial Officer Mark Parks estimated city police and fire rescue crews have incurred about $26,000 in overtime costs during Trump’s February visits. The Post reports the town of Palm Beach did not provide estimates for its costs.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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The new civics course in schools: How to avoid fake news

Teachers from elementary school through college are telling students how to distinguish between factual and fictional news — and why they should care that there’s a difference.

As Facebook works with The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and other organizations to curb the spread of fake and misleading news on its influential network, teachers say classroom instruction can play a role in deflating the kind of “Pope endorses Trump” headlines that muddied the waters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think only education can solve this problem,” said Pat Winters Lauro, a professor at Kean University in New Jersey who began teaching a course on news literacy this semester.

Like others, Lauro has found discussions of fake news can lead to politically sensitive territory. Some critics believe fake stories targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton helped Donald Trump overcome a large deficit in public opinion polls, and President Trump himself has attached the label to various media outlets and unfavorable reports and polls in the first weeks of his presidency.

“It hasn’t been a difficult topic to teach in terms of material because there’s so much going on out there,” Lauro said, “but it’s difficult in terms of politics because we have such a divided country and the students are divided, too, on their beliefs. I’m afraid sometimes that they think I’m being political when really I’m just talking about journalistic standards for facts and verification, and they look at it like ‘Oh, you’re anti-this or -that.'”

Judging what to trust was easier when the sources were clearer — magazines, newspapers or something else, said Kean senior Mike Roche, who is taking Lauro’s class. Now “it all comes through the same medium of your cellphone or your computer, so it’s very easy to blur the lines and not have a clear distinction of what’s real and what’s fake,” he said.

A California lawmaker last month introduced a bill to require the state to add lessons on how to distinguish between real and fake news to the grade 7-12 curriculum.

High school government and politics teacher Lesley Battaglia added fake news to the usual election-season lessons on primaries and presidential debates, discussing credible sites and sources and running stories through fact-checking sites like Snopes. There were also lessons about anonymous sources and satire. (They got a kick out of China’s dissemination of a 2012 satirical story from The Onion naming Kim Jong Un as the sexiest man alive.)

“I’m making you guys do the hard stuff that not everybody always does. They see it in a tweet and that’s enough for them,” Battaglia told her students at Williamsville South High School in suburban Buffalo.

“It’s kind of crazy,” 17-year-old student Hannah Mercer said, “to think about how much it’s affecting people and swaying their opinions.”

Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy pioneered the idea of educating future news consumers, and not just journalists, a decade ago with the rise of online news. About four in 10 Americans often get news online, a 2016 Pew Research Center report found. Stony Brook last month partnered with the University of Hong Kong to launch a free online course.

“To me, it’s the new civics course,” said Tom Boll, after wrapping up his own course on real and fake news at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. With everyone now able to post and share, gone are the days of the network news and newspaper editors serving as the primary gatekeepers of information, Boll, an adjunct professor, said.

“The gates are wide open,” he said, “and it’s up to us to figure out what to believe.”

That’s not easy, said Raleigh, North Carolina-area teacher Bill Ferriter, who encourages students to first use common sense to question whether a story could be true, to look at web addresses and authors for hints, and to be skeptical of articles that seem aimed at riling them up.

He pointed to an authentic-looking site reporting that President Barack Obama signed an order in December banning the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. A “.co” at the end of an impostor news site web address should have been a red flag, he said.

“The biggest challenge that I have whenever I try to teach kids about questionable content on the web,” said Ferriter, who teaches sixth grade, “is convincing them that there is such a thing as questionable content on the web.”

Some of Battaglia’s students fear fake news will chip away at the trust of even credible news sources and give public figures license to dismiss as fake news anything unfavorable.

“When people start to distrust all news sources is when people in power are just allowed to do whatever they want, said Katie Peter, “and that’s very scary.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Pasco GOP official in trouble after social media posts go national

Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Secretary Bill Akins is under fire  after a story about his history of pushing out racist jokes and conspiracy theories on social media was published Sunday by the Washington Post.

The reason that the previously little-known local Republican even earned the interest of the Post was because of what happened on Saturday at Congressman Gus Bilirakis raucous town hall meeting in New Port Richey. That’s where Akins told a crowd of mostly supporters of the Affordable Care Act that it was a fact that they would face “death panels” at the age of 74 under the legislation.

“Death Panels” were often mentioned by Tea Party activists at town hall meetings back in 2009 when the ACA was initially being discussed. PolitFact called the term the “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

As soon as Akins finished pronouncing “panel,” the crowd erupted into arguably the loudest amount of jeering from the two hour meeting.

“OK, children. Alright, children,” Akins stated, mocking the crowd in an exchange that was repeatedly by CNN and MSNBC on Saturday.

Akins apparently deleted all of his posts on his Facebook page on Saturday night, after the story by the Post’s Dave Weigel went live. The earliest posts now available to see on his page go back to 2011.

Among the controversial statements that Akins made included comparing black protesters to monkeys, accusing former President Barack Obama of being a foreign-born Muslim, and that Bill and Hillary Clinton had potential trial witnesses against them murdered.

He claimed that former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might have been murdered, that “Climate Change” is a globalist hoax, and that Nancy Pelosi is mentally handicapped.

The Pasco County GOP Facebook page was filled with angry responses on Sunday.

“Rep Bilirakis SR was a truthful and honorable man,” wrote Chris Perfusion Clay. “The present Representative (who used to be my Representative until they gerrymandered again) makes a fool of himself by agreeing with a delusional Bill Akins. Mr Akins Facebook page is an example of why Republicans are seen as seriously problematic.”

Pasco County State Committeeman Bill Bunting said the revelation about Akins social media history was a definite “black eye for us, no question about it.”

At the town hall, Akins identified himself as being the Secretary of the Pasco REC. He was only recently elected to that post.

Akins did not return our request for comment on Sunday afternoon. Nor did Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia.

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No matter the issue, Donald Trump knows a guy

President Donald Trump knows a guy.

No matter what issue Trump is addressing, he seems either to know somebody with a relevant personal experience or he’s got a firsthand tale to recount.

When he met airline CEOs on Thursday, Trump said his own pilot — “who’s a real expert” — had told him about problems with obsolete equipment.

When he met business and economic experts a week earlier, Trump cited the difficulties his friends in business were having borrowing money from banks as he spoke about the need to reduce financial regulations.

When he approvingly sized up Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Trump said last month that he’d had a “very bad experience” in his own businesses when dealing with the EU bureaucracy.

“Getting the approvals from Europe,” he said, “was very, very tough.”

Call him the anecdotal president: For good or ill, Trump processes policy proposals through his own personal frame of reference.

“It’s all about him,” says Jeff Shesol, who wrote speeches for President Bill Clinton. “His frame for Europe, his frame for the airlines, his frame for the banking system … is himself.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to draw on real-world experiences in developing or justifying policy.

Plenty of presidents and politicians have recognized the value of anecdotal storytelling in advancing their agendas.

President Barack Obama offered his own improbable life story as a metaphor for the wide-open possibilities available to all Americans. And he frequently drew on the concerns that came up in the 10 letters a day that he read from people who wrote to the White House.

Clinton was famous for sketching his encounters with ordinary Americans.

President Lyndon Johnson drew on his early experiences teaching disadvantaged Mexican-Americans in stressing the importance of education and economic opportunity for all Americans.

“I think it was then that I made up my mind that this nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American,” Johnson said after signing the Higher Education Act of 1965.

“Great Communicator” Ronald Reagan related the story of a woman who falsely collected welfare payments — then parlayed it into a stereotype of “welfare queens” cheating the system.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor specializing in political communication, says that in his first three weeks in office, Trump has surpassed even Reagan in his reliance on the use of “argument by anecdote.”

“Given the extemporaneous nature of Trump’s presidency,” she says, “we can reasonably assume that these individual moments are playing a more important role for him” in developing policy than they did for presidents past.

The risk, she adds, is that an overreliance on personal experiences “can lead to the assumption that something is typical when it’s atypical.”

With Trump, it’s hard to tell exactly what goes into his policymaking. But the billionaire businessman-turned-politician cites experiences from his own, very rarefied world that wouldn’t necessarily track those of ordinary Americans.

When he complained about onerous EU regulations, Trump appeared to be alluding to his failure to get approval for a sea wall at the Trump Organization’s golf resort in Ireland.

When he talked during the campaign about crumbling airport infrastructure, he mentioned the potholes at New York’s LaGuardia Airport — where Trump would have landed in his gilded private jet.

When he talked about the dangers of nuclear weaponry during the campaign, he would often invoke the expertise of his “brilliant” late Uncle John, a scientist at MIT.

In some cases, Trump may be drawing lessons from somewhat scrambled tales.

In calling for an investigation into alleged wide-scale voter fraud, for example, Trump has privately related a story about a pro golfer who either told Trump he had trouble voting himself or who had a friend who wasn’t allowed to vote even as others who somehow looked like they should be eligible to vote cast ballots, according to The New York Times.

Golfer Bernard Langer, a German citizen who is not eligible to vote in the U.S., later issued a statement to Golf Digest saying that elements of the story had gotten lost in translation. Langer said he’d told a friend the story of someone who couldn’t vote, and that tale had made its way to someone with ties to the White House and “from there, this was misconstrued.”

As for Trump’s difficulties with the EU, he did run into regulatory problems with the proposed sea wall at his Irish golf course, but he also encountered local opposition to that project.

In an interview in December, Trump said he’d also sought approval for a “massive, beautiful expansion” of the course but had dropped the idea after getting the OK from Ireland because it would have taken years to get EU clearance. However, there’s no record of him seeking approval for such an expansion.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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At heated town hall, Gus Bilirakis once again hears overwhelming sentiment to improve — not repeal — the Affordable Care Act

For the second consecutive Saturday, Tampa Bay U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis waded into a lion’s den of sorts, hosting a town-hall meeting that was dominated by those pleading with him to vote to improve — but not replace — the Affordable Care Act.

As hundreds crammed into the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey (with at least another hundred listening to the meeting via an audio transmission outside the chambers), the atmosphere was at times raucous and rude, although the audience was overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats and supporters of the health care law.

It’s a scene that’s playing out throughout the country, as Republicans are being met with fervent Democratic activism, a level at which has not been seen in decades. The energy has been compared to the Tea Party rebellion that flared up during the town hall meetings that Democrats held eight years ago when rolling out the ACA, with one of the most infamous being a Kathy Castor town hall in Ybor City that made national headlines.

Bilirakis is on record as voting to repeal the Affordable Act Act, but he expressed sympathy with those who are worried about the uncertainty of what comes next, now that the Republicans control all branches of the federal government and are charging full ahead of doing something different with the health care system.

“We do have some bills that are filed. However, the replacement bill has not been filed,” the Tarpon Springs Republican admitted in his opening remarks to the crowd. “There is a blueprint. But that’s why were here to add to that blueprint, and that’s why I want to hear your personal stories — how Obamacare has affected you.”

But using the “O” word was a mistake to many of the Democrats in the room, who began shouting at him.

“Okay, excuse me, the ACA,” he corrected himself, while noting that Nancy Pelosi (and Barack Obama himself) has referred to the 2010 law as Obamacare.

Bill Akins, the secretary of the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee further inflamed the crowd when he brought up one of the issues that ignited Tea Party activists at town hall meetings back in 2009 — the famed “death panels.”

“There is a provision in there, that anyone over the age of 74, has to go before, what is effectively, a death panel-“

As soon as Akins finished pronouncing “panel,” the crowd erupted into arguably the loudest amount of jeering from the two-hour meeting.

“OK, children. Alright, children,” Akins stated, mocking the crowd (The segment was shown throughout the day on CNN).

A few moments later, 77-year-old Pat Seeley told Akins he was full of it.

“I think it is unconscionable for this politician to tell me at 74, I will be facing death panels.”

It should be noted that PolitiFact judged the death panels argument as the “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

Immediately following Akins to the mic was Beverly Ledbetter, the secretary for the Pasco County Democratic Executive Committee. She thanked Bilirakis for “having the courage” to host a town hall, which “so many of your compatriots are cancelling.” But she said it wasn’t enough for the six-term congressman to listen to his constituents. No, she said, it was incumbent on him to act on what the voters were saying.

“I’m asking that you make a commitment to us and you act the way that we, the people who elected you and sent you to Washington D.C. to be our voice, and to vote according to the directions that we have, and not the line of the Republican Party,” Ledbetter said.

Although there were plenty of speakers who sang the praises of Obama’s signature domestic achievement, there were several others who acknowledged that improvements were essential to improving the ACA, though the underlying message to Bilirakis was not to dismantle it without something similar in scope.

Like President Trump and many other Republicans, Bilirakis said he wants to retain the bill’s most popular provisions: no more discriminating against pre-existing conditions; no more lifetime caps; and keeping people under 26 years of age on their parent’s policy.

The chief nemesis called out by the ACA supporters at the meeting wasn’t Republicans, but the health care industry, followed by the pharmaceutical industry.

Sitting in a wheelchair, Ellen Floriani said that she was hit with a hospital bill of $98,000, but because of Medicare, it was negotiated down to $6,000, with her copay only $1,000. “Those of you under 65, don’t you wish you had that kind of coverage?” she asked, adding that everybody could get that type of coverage if a Medicare-for-all (i.e., single payer) system was implemented, a sentiment several other people suggested as well.

It wasn’t all nastiness. One speaker said Congress should look at adding an excise tax on marijuana purchases. “There’s a lot of states now selling marijuana for recreational use, and this is an excise tax to plug the hole and subsidize the deductibles that people have.”

The crowd wasn’t devoid of Republicans who proudly said they supported Donald Trump for president.

“My request to you is to rip the Obamacare bill, the way it is now, to shreds,” asked Pete Franco to Bilirakis. “There’s plenty of people obviously who like Obamacare, but there’s a massive amount who don’t.”

“Alternative news,” yelled an ACA fan from the back.

And so it went. Bilirakis promised to hold a third town hall meeting soon, at a place to be determined.

While he was earning plaudits from even his sternest critics for facing the heat on the issue, countless Democrats managed to sneak in a diss to another prominent Florida Republican not in attendance.

“Where’s Marco?” was a refrain heard throughout the morning. Democrats contend Senator Marco Rubio has been AWOL in even having staffers answer calls in his Washington or local district offices over the past couple of weeks.

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Being a White House kid comes with pluses and minuses

If it’s tough being a kid, try being a “first kid” — the child of an American president.

Just ask President Bill Clinton‘s daughter, Chelsea. Or President George W. Bush‘s twins, Jenna and Barbara. And now, President Donald Trump‘s youngest child, Barron, is finding out.

Ten-year-old Barron was the target of a poorly received joke tweeted by a “Saturday Night Live” writer on Jan. 20 as the new first family reveled in Inauguration Day events. Separately in Chicago, comedian Shannon Noll played the title character in “Barron Trump: Up Past Bedtime,” which had a recent run at a theater in Hyde Park.

Both instances have revived age-old questions about the sometimes less-than-kid-glove treatment of presidential kids.

“I think the children are off-limits,” said Lisa Caputo, who was White House press secretary when “Saturday Night Live” made fun of then-13-year-old Chelsea Clinton. “They didn’t run for public office, they don’t hold an official role.”

“SNL” cast member Mike Meyers sent the Clintons a letter of apology after the incident.

The teenage Chelsea Clinton also was mocked by talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who called her a dog.

Katie Rich, the “SNL” writer who tweeted about Barron, was suspended indefinitely. After deleting the tweet and deactivating her Twitter account, she reactivated the account, saying she wanted to “sincerely apologize” for the “insensitive” tweet and that she deeply regretted her actions.

“It was inexcusable & I’m so sorry,” Rich said. Fellow comedians have risen to her defense, but Noll told the Chicago Reader that she has been the subject of a social media backlash, including death threats, as well as homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic and racist comments directed at her. The theater also has been harassed.

All presidents and first ladies seek a life outside the spotlight for minor children who live in the 132-room mansion, except when they themselves put their kids in the spotlight.

Days after the incident involving Rich, the White House appealed for respect for Barron’s privacy.

“It is a longstanding tradition that the children of presidents are afforded the opportunity to grow up outside of the political spotlight,” the White House press office said in a brief statement. “The White House fully expects this tradition to continue.”

That same week, Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News that it was “a disgrace” for NBC “to attack my 10-year-old son.” Trump also suggested the dustup may have bothered Barron, who has only been seen publicly during big moments of the past year, such as the night Trump addressed the Republican National Convention and election night. He continues to live full-time in New York City with his mother, first lady Melania Trump.

“It’s not an easy thing for him. Believe me,” Trump said of his son.

In contrast, Trump’s adult children, Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka and Tiffany, are sharing the limelight with their famous father. Don Jr. and Eric are running the family business, and Ivanka could end up joining the administration. All three Trump children sat in on meetings their father conducted before and after he took office.

Doug Wead, who wrote a book about the children of presidents, said it’s the “ultimate hurt” when the offspring become the vehicle for the ire that some grown-ups wish they could direct toward the president. He said kids become targets because they’re seen as weak.

“Barron can’t fight back,” Wead said.

Anita McBride, who worked for three Republican presidents and was first lady Laura Bush‘s chief of staff, said President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, did a good job shielding their daughters from most public scrutiny. Bush’s daughters were college-bound when he was elected in 2000, so they didn’t live in the White House. But their underage drinking made headlines.

“Why in a matter of 24 hours should it be different for this child?” McBride said of Barron.

And Chelsea Clinton said on Twitter that “Barron Trump deserves the chance every child does — to be a kid.” But she also added that standing up for kids means opposing Trump policies that hurt them.

The supportive tweet from the former first daughter — who is good friends with Barron’s sister Ivanka — shed light on the exclusive club of “first children,” who seem to be looking out for one another.

Jenna and Barbara Bush recently applauded Malia and Sasha Obama for surviving the “unbelievable pressure of the White House” and enduring “harsh criticism of your parents by people” who don’t know them.

“Take all that you have seen, the people you have met, the lessons you have learned, and let that help guide you in making positive change. We have no doubt you will,” they encouraged the Obama girls in a letter. The Bush sisters also wrote a letter to the Obama girls when they moved into the White House in 2009 at ages 10 and 7.

Wead said few tears should be shed over the fact that these children sometimes get rough treatment from the public.

As children of privilege, they are steps ahead of so many of their peers.

“Two of them became presidents themselves,” Wead said, referring to George W. Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush, and John Quincy Adams, son of President John Adams.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump’s assertions echo site filled with tales of dark plots

President Donald Trump‘s assertion that the media often fails to cover terrorist attacks is false, but he’s hardly alone in making the claim. The statement is just the latest by Trump to echo a website known for trafficking in dubious allegations of plots and cover-ups.

“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that,” Trump said in a speech to military commanders at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base Monday.

That allegation was quickly disproven by numerous articles and broadcast clips detailing many of the very attacks the White House said had been overlooked or underreported. But versions of the same accusation have long gone unquestioned on Infowars, a website run by former public access cable host Alex Jones.

“Scandal: Mass media covers up terrorism to protect Islam,” a headline on Jones’ site alleged last July. “Fake news: Mainstream media whitewashes Islamic terror in Berlin,” proclaimed another, last December.

There’s no evidence that Trump gets his information from the site. But Trump voiced his admiration for Jones when the Infowars host interviewed him in December 2015.

“Your reputation is amazing,” then-candidate Trump told Jones. “I will not let you down. You will be very impressed, I hope, and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.”

Jones responded: “I hope you can uncripple America…”

Days after the election, Jones said that Trump had called him to “thank your viewers, thank your listeners for standing up for this republic.”

Jones, whose site has alleged that the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting was a hoax and that the September 11, 2001, terror attacks involved the federal government, is “America’s leading conspiracy theorist,” said Mark Fenster, author of “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in America.”

Such allegations have always had their believers, but those who traded in the tales mostly existed on the fringes, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor specializing in political communication.

“You weren’t watching it. I wasn’t watching it. Certainly our political leaders weren’t watching it,” she said. But the internet has given organs devoted to such claims more visibility and acceptability. Jones’ YouTube channel has nearly 2 million subscribers.

With Trump, the country has a leader who repeats such allegations as if they are plausible, said Fenster, a professor of law at the University of Florida. Political campaigns sometimes see candidates make vague references to dark forces, but for a sitting president to regularly engage in an “unfiltered set of allegations” is well beyond the norm, Fenster said.

Trump’s allegations about the media and those made on Infowars are just the latest to echo one another. Their shared assertions include:

— President Barack Obama may not have been born in the United States.

It’s hard to know where these allegations originated, but Infowars has been making the “birther” argument for years, alleging that documents showing Obama was born in Hawaii were fake.

“Shocking new birth certificate proof Obama born in Kenya?” asked an Infowars headline in August 2009. “New Obama birth certificate is a forgery,” said another, in April 2011.

The latter was shortly after Trump appeared on the television show “The View,” in March 2011, during which he falsely said that nobody from Obama’s childhood remembered him, and that he was obligated to prove his birth in Hawaii. “Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate?” Trump said. Last September, Trump said he accepted that Obama was born in the U.S.

— Thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11.

Trump was criticized after a November 2015 political rally in which he said that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in New Jersey when the World Trade Center came down. Questioned afterward, Trump insisted that he had seen the celebrations on television that day.

There’s no evidence such celebrations took place. But accounts of Muslims cheering terrorist attacks have been a repeated theme on Infowars.

“I live in Jersey and Trump is right: Muslims did celebrate on 9/11 in NJ… We saw it!” headlined an article in November 2015. Soon afterward, the site ran another story, “Exclusive: Radical U.S. Muslims celebrate, shoot fireworks after terrorist attack,” featuring an anonymous man who said that on the night of the Paris attacks he heard people celebrating four or five blocks away from his home outside Detroit.

— Millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.

Trump won the presidency with an Electoral College victory despite losing to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. He has said he was cheated out of a rightful win in the popular vote.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” the president said on Twitter on November 27. Numerous state elections officials, many of them Republicans, said there is no evidence of widespread voting fraud. But Trump ordered an investigation.

His allegations have been echoed, if not preceded, on Infowars, which alleged widespread voter fraud well before Election Day.

“Dead people and illegal immigrants are being registered to vote all over America,” the site headlined in early October.

In mid-November, Infowars posted a story headlined: “Report: Three million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens.” The story cited a Texas businessman, Greg Phillips, who claimed to have compiled a list of 3 million illegal votes by non-citizens. On January 27, Trump Tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing Phillips’ evidence. “We must do better!” Trump wrote.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Stephen Colbert reaches a ratings milestone at start of Donald Trump era

He may cringe at the thought, but is Stephen Colbert the late-night man for the Trump administration?

Colbert’s “Late Show” won the late-night ratings competition last week over NBC’s Jimmy Fallon for the first time since Colbert replaced David Letterman in September 2015, the Nielsen company said.

The margin was so small — 2.77 million average for CBS, 2.76 million for NBC — that CBS didn’t want to jinx its good fortune by making an executive available to talk about it on Tuesday. But it reflects a turnaround for the troubled show since former “CBS This Morning” executive Chris Licht was put in charge backstage and steered the show toward more topical content to match the times.

The “Late Show” won two of the five nights on which Colbert and Fallon went head-to-head last week, but it was enough to win the week. One night was Tuesday, when Colbert’s former Comedy Central pal Jon Stewart came by to offer an impersonation of President Trump.

The other win was Monday, Colbert’s first night back from a week’s vacation and his first show, he noted, in the Trump era. His monologue that night recorded 4 million views on YouTube, CBS said.

“You’ve got to give the guy credit,” Colbert said of the new president. “He gets a lot of stuff undone.”

It may be Colbert’s first weekly win in over a year, but he’s been creeping closer in the ratings since the election. Fallon still wins among youthful demographics, Nielsen said.

Another late-night story may temper NBC’s disappointment. “Saturday Night Live” is booming, with its most-watched season in 22 years, and Melissa McCarthy‘s impersonation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer last weekend became an instant classic. Only three prime-time shows last week got better ratings among the 18-to-49-year-old age group than “Saturday Night Live.”

Meanwhile, President Trump lost a ratings competition to his predecessor. Trump’s interview with Bill O’Reilly on the Super Bowl preview show was seen by 12.2 million people on Sunday, compared to the 14.9 million who watched CBS’ Gayle King interview former President Obama on last year’s show. In fairness to Trump, Fox aired the interview 25 minutes earlier in the pregame show than CBS, which showed it closer to kickoff.

The Super Bowl gave Fox the easy win in prime time. The network averaged 29.7 million viewers in prime time, followed by CBS with 6 million, ABC with 4 million, NBC with 3.7 million, Univision with 1.8 million, the CW with 1.6 million, Telemundo with 1.4 million and ION Television with 1.2 million.

Fox News Channel dominated the cable networks, averaging 3.15 million viewers in prime time. HGTV had 1.58 million, USA had 1.55 million, MSNBC had 1.42 million and TBS had 1.34 million.

NBC’s “Nightly News” topped the evening newscasts with an average of 9.1 million viewers. ABC’s “World News Tonight” was second with 9 million and the “CBS Evening News” had 7.3 million viewers.

For the week of Jan. 30-Feb. 5, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: Super Bowl: New England vs. Atlanta, Fox, 111.32 million viewers; “Super Bowl Post-Game,” Fox, 61.08 million; “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS, 14.66 million; “Superior Donuts,” CBS, 10.54 million; “Blue Bloods,” CBS, 10.13 million; “Hawaii Five-O,” CBS, 9.81 million; “Mom,” CBS, 8.71 million; “Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC, 8.5 million; “The Big Bang Theory” (Monday, 8 p.m.), CBS, 8.44 million; “Criminal Minds,” CBS, 7.46 million.

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ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Darryl Paulson: We are not the same; the immoral equivalency of President Donald Trump

Voters who supported Donald Trump for president did so because they liked his free-speaking ideas, his attacks on the political establishment and his promise to “make America great again.”

President Trump has repeatedly stated that he would have won the popular vote for president if not for massive vote fraud. Does Trump believe that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin won his office in free and fair elections?  I hope Trump cannot be that deluded.

Republicans raised strong criticisms when President Barack Obama conducted what many Americans viewed as an “apology tour,” criticizing America for all its failures. Americans prefer their presidents defend the nation and its values, and not constantly criticize the nation for its shortcomings.

Obama told a European audience in 2009 that “there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.” He also criticized the notion of American exceptionalism that all presidents have defended.

When Jihadists burned a Jordanian pilot alive, then showing the video online as a recruiting tool, President Obama cautioned a national prayer breakfast audience not to “get on our high horse” and “remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

Many Americans were sickened and highly critical of Obama’s efforts to apologize for America’s shortcomings. Instead of defending American exceptionalism, the president seemed to delight in pointing out our deficiencies.

If President Obama’s “apology tour” disgusted many Americans and most Republicans, President Trump’s defense of Putin and the Soviets should strike a similar response from the electorate. To cast America and the Soviets as “one and the same” should thoroughly repulse Republicans, in particular. Republican Ronald Reagan must be retching.

President Trump turned in one of the most disgusting performances of any American president when he placed America and the Soviets on the same moral plateau. In a Fox News interview with Bill O’Reilly before the Super Bowl, Trump defended Putin against O’Reilly’s charge that “Putin’s a killer.”

Trump responded that “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” If Obama had made that statement, Republicans would be calling for his impeachment.

But, weak-kneed Republicans, who have no problem praising Trump, have a far more difficult time criticizing him when he becomes ill with “foot and mouth” disease. In their silence, supporters of Trump are neither doing him, or the nation, favors anyway.

Do you remember when one of our political leaders ordered the assassination of a political opponent?  Neither do I. But, Putin did that to Boris Nemtsov in 2015.

Anti-corruption reporter Sergei Magnitsky was killed in prison in 2009. Respected journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed the same year, and fellow reporter Yuri Schekechikhin was poisoned in 2013. The list of reporter and political opponent deaths is a long one.

The United States does not purposely bomb civilian neighborhoods as did the Soviets in Syria. The United States does not shoot down unarmed civilian aircraft as the Soviets did in the Ukraine. The United States does not invade independent neighboring countries as the Soviets did to the Ukraine.

Does President Trump really believe that murders of political opponents could happen in America?  I hope that Trump sees America in a different light than Putin and the Soviets.

Some Republicans have objected to President Trump’s abhorrent remarks about the moral equivalency between the Soviets and the United States. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who called Putin a “thug,” and rejected any attempt at moral equivalency.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted:  “When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP or vice versa?  We are not the same as #Putin.”

Republicans, in particular, and all Americans must support the president when he is right and must criticize him just as vigorously when he is wrong. To not do so will embolden both Trump and dictator Putin to continue a reckless path.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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GOP pushes 2 top Cabinet picks through to full Senate

Republicans jammed two of President Donald Trump‘s top Cabinet picks through the Senate Finance Committee with no Democrats in the room Wednesday after suspending a rule that would have otherwise barred them from taking the vote. The tactic seemed a warning shot that they might deploy brute political muscle in the upcoming fight over the Supreme Court vacancy.

With a near-toxic vapor of divisiveness between the two parties across Capitol Hill, nasty showdowns broke out elsewhere as well. One Senate panel signed off on Trump’s choice for attorney general only after senators exchanged heated words, and another committee postponed a vote on the would-be chief of the Environmental Protection Agency after Democrats refused to show up.

Busting through a Democratic boycott of the Finance panel, all 14 Republicans took advantage of Democrats’ absence to temporarily disable a committee rule requiring at least one Democrat to be present for votes.

They then used two 14-0 roll calls to approve financier Steve Mnuchin for Treasury secretary and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to be health secretary, ignoring Democrats’ demands that the two nominees provide more information about their financial backgrounds.

All the nominations will need full Senate approval.

Underscoring Congress’ foul mood, Finance panel Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Democrats should be “ashamed” for staying away from his committee’s meeting.

“I don’t feel a bit sorry for them,” he told reporters, adding later, “I don’t care what they want at this point.”

Trump won one major victory, as the Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. The mostly party-line 56-43 vote came with Democrats critical of Tillerson’s close ties to Russia as former Exxon Mobil CEO.

But the prospects that GOP donor Betsy DeVos would win approval as education secretary were jarred when two GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, said they opposed her. Both challenged her support for public education, and their defections meant Vice President Mike Pence might need to break a tie in a Senate that Republicans control 52-48.

Congress’ day was dominated by confrontation, even as lawmakers braced for an even more ferocious battle over Trump’s nomination of conservative federal judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

Democrats were already furious over Republicans’ refusal to even consider last year President Barack Obama‘s pick for the slot, Judge Merrick Garland. Trump fueled the fire by urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to “go nuclear” — shorthand for a unilateral change in the chamber’s rules so Democrats can’t block Gorsuch with a filibuster.

Without a rules change, Republicans will need at least eight Democrats to reach the 60-votes necessary to halt filibusters, or endless procedural delays.

Democrats boycotted Wednesday’s abruptly called Finance Committee meeting, as they’d done for a session a day earlier. They say Price and Mnuchin have lied about their financial backgrounds and must answer more questions.

“It’s deeply troubling to me that Republicans on the Finance Committee chose to break the rules in the face of strong evidence of two nominees’ serious ethical problems,” said the panel’s top Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Democrats say Price had special access to low-priced shares in an Australian biomed firm, even though he testified the offer was available to all investors. They say Mnuchin ran a bank that processed home foreclosures with a process critics say invites fraud.

The two men have denied wrongdoing and have solid Republican backing.

The Senate Judiciary Committee used a party-line 11-9 vote to sign off on Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., for attorney general. That came after Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had misrepresented remarks he’d made about Sessions weeks ago.

Cruz wasn’t present as Franken spoke. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, interrupted Franken twice, calling it “untoward and inappropriate” to disparage the absent Cruz.

Franken said Cruz “personally went after me, he personally impugned my integrity.” Angrily pointing at Cornyn, he asked, “You didn’t object then, did you?”

Cornyn said he wasn’t sure he was there when Cruz spoke.

At the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Democrats boycotted a planned vote on Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s state attorney general in line to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. The vote was postponed.

Pruitt has questioned the scientific consensus that human activities are contributing to global warming and joined lawsuits against the agency’s emission curbs.

Another panel postponed a vote on Trump’s pick to head the White House Budget Office, tea party Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., as Democrats asked for more time to read the nominee’s FBI file.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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