Trump disputes book’s portrayal of White House dysfunction
By CATHERINE LUCEY and ZEKE MILLER
Wednesday, September 5
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump unloaded Wednesday against an explosive new book from journalist Bob Woodward, labeling the tell-all memoir “a work of fiction” as West Wing staff scrambled to rebut its vivid depictions of White House dysfunction.
“The book means nothing,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. He said the early release of information from the book this week was designed to interfere with confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, “which I don’t think it’s done.”
Venting for a second day, Trump tweeted that “Fear: Trump in the White House” was the “exact opposite of the fact.” He also revisited a call to change libel laws, though he has no authority to do so.
The book features current and former aides calling the president an “idiot” and a “liar” and depicting him as prone to rash policy decisions that aides worked furiously to derail or stall.
Within the West Wing, aides increasingly numb to drama still were shaken by the in-depth reporting, which included interviews with numerous aides and copies of internal memos. The White House press office appeared caught off guard when The Washington Post published a story about the book on Tuesday, a week before its Sept. 11 release date. The office was unable to quickly procure an advance copy of the book.
Key allies have pushed back against the book, which quotes Trump aides disparaging the president’s judgment and claiming they plucked papers off his desk to prevent him from withdrawing from a pair of trade agreements. Those issuing denials, at least in part, included Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly.
Underscoring the aggressive response, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted Wednesday that Woodward “got played,” adding that “most of these stories are made up from low confidence under performing people that have fallen flat on their faces because they didn’t have the talent or intelligence to be successful.”
In a statement to the Post, Woodward said, “I stand by my reporting.” He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders evaded questions Wednesday on Fox News about whether it was a mistake for the communications department not to have Trump sit for an interview with Woodward.
Trump and Woodward spoke after the book was sent to the publisher. In a transcript and audio of the call released by the Post, Woodward tells Trump he made repeated efforts to get an interview, while a clearly irritated Trump says he would have participated if he had known.
Allies said some of the ire in Trump’s orbit was focused on former staffers such as ex-staff secretary Rob Porter and onetime economic adviser Gary Cohn, who are sympathetically portrayed.
“I don’t think Woodward made anything up. It’s who he talked to,” said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg, adding that Cohn and Porter “look like unsung heroes.”
Trump and aides pushed back on a series of incendiary scenes in the book, including Kelly calling the White House “crazytown,” Mattis telling associates Trump had the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader” and Cohn plucking key documents off Trump’s desk so he could not sign them.
Trump took to Twitter to deny the book’s claim that he had called Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded” and “a dumb Southerner.”
Trump insisted he “never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff,” adding that “being a southerner is a GREAT thing.” Sessions has been a target of the president’s wrath since recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
While Trump mentioned libel laws, Sanders said on Fox News that she hadn’t spoken with Trump about filing a libel lawsuit. Brian Hauss, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that a threat against libel laws was not “credible.”
“There is no federal libel law for President Trump to bully Congress to change, and the president does not have the authority to change state libel laws,” Hauss said.
The book follows the January release of author Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” which led to a rift between Trump and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist. Bannon spoke with Wolff in terms that were highly critical of the president and his family. Wolff’s book attracted attention with its lively anecdotes but suffered from numerous factual inaccuracies.
Woodward’s work also comes weeks after former White House aide and “Apprentice” contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman published an expose on her time in the West Wing, including audio recordings of her firing by Kelly and a follow-up conversation with the president in which he claimed to have been unaware of Kelly’s decision.
Woodward has been among the best-selling political writers for more than 40 years, going back to his Watergate classic “All the President’s Men,” co-written by fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein. “Fear” renews a Woodward tradition of releasing a news-making account of a sitting president in the fall of an election season, with previous works including “The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House” and “Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq,” about President George W. Bush.
On Amazon, Woodward’s new book was ranked as the top-selling book on Wednesday.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Ken Thomas and Eric Tucker in Washington and Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this report.
You Can Teach Kids Hard Work, But Feed Them First
My brothers and I can support ourselves and our families today because of the food aid we got when we were kids.
By Sherry Brennan | September 5, 2018
Growing up, I hated being on “food stamps.”
I hated being walked into a welfare office and inspected, queried to make sure we were really our mother’s children. I hated standing in line at the grocery store, knowing we weren’t going to be paying with cash, but rather with coupons that would brand us as “poor” to anybody who noticed.
And yet I loved the fact that we had food!
As a growing kid, I knew what it was like to come home to a bare kitchen. Those dreaded coupons and vouchers meant we got cheese and milk, fruit, eggs, cereal, beans, tortillas, and yes, sometimes even ice cream.
Thanks to all that free food and the stability that came with it, I was able to pay attention in school — and I excelled.
I was blessed with intelligence and people who loved me — and food.
My parents taught me the value of hard work. And just as importantly, the social safety net taught me that my development was important. I was determined to join the ranks of professional adults, and encouraged by the very fact of receiving assistance to continue striving.
I made good use of that free food. I learned to bake bread and make apple pie, whip up lasagna, roast a chicken, stew black beans and rice, and chop a homemade salsa. My mom and I turned it all into delicious meals for our family, and started me on a lifelong mission to help other people appreciate simple, healthy meals.
It was fun, it was tasty, and it was a godsend.
It sent me on my way. I scored in the top few percentiles on every standardized test I ever took. Once I got into college, I scraped by the next six years with $100 a month from my dad, scholarships, grants, and government-subsidized low-interest loans (all paid off years ago now).
I worked hard, and not just in class. I was a waitress, mostly, and later a research assistant in my grad school program. I got a Master’s degree in 1987, went to work at the Federal Reserve Bank, and later moved into the cable TV industry where I made a career.
Today my brothers and I are all fully employed taxpayers who support ourselves and our families. In fact, I’ve paid more in taxes over the last 25 years than my entire family ever got in government assistance.
But I haven’t forgotten our past, and that’s why I strongly support making SNAP available to all families who need it. They deserve the same leg up we got.
Yes, we occasionally bought some chips or ice cream. But no, we never traded it for cash. We swallowed our pride and we ate that food, working towards a better day. I would do it again tomorrow if I had to. I thank God that I don’t — but I also thank God that when I did, the possibility was there.
I’m concerned that if some in Congress have their way, this possibility won’t be there for as many as 2 million current nutrition assistance recipients. That’s the number of people experts say will lose coverage under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program if the House-passed version of the Farm Bill becomes law.
As my mother-in-law used to say, “First feed the face, then teach right from wrong.” How can we expect kids who are hungry, ignored, or penalized for being poor to see any value in becoming “productive members of society?”
My plea to anyone reading this is to lend your support to continued funding of anti-hunger programs. My brothers and I were worth that small investment 40 years ago. Don’t we owe the same to the kids who are worth it today?
Sherry Brennan lives in Los Angeles with her teenage son, where she works in the TV business and devotes time to social safety net causes. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws Encourage Dangerous Vigilantism
Some Americans call the cops on black people for frivolous reasons. Others appoint themselves judge, jury, and — sometimes — executioner.
By Ebony Slaughter-Johnson | September 5, 2018
This summer featured at least a dozen stories of black Americans across the country having the police called on them for little or no reason at all.
Famously, two black men in Philadelphia were arrested while simply waiting for a friend at a Starbucks.
Then the police were called on a black family grilling at a park in California. They were called again on a black child mowing a lawn in Ohio. And again on a black Yale University student napping in a common room. And again on a black Wisconsin man unlocking his own car.
It’s bad enough that a few white Americans are bringing in the law over mundane and ordinary behavior. But more dangerously, others are appointing themselves officers of the law.
In Clearwater, Florida, a man named Michael Drejka deputized himself to handle a traffic infraction he believed to have been committed by Markeis McGlockton, a black man.
For the alleged crime of parking in a handicapped spot, Drejka fatally shot McGlockton in the chest in front of his young children and girlfriend. Pinellas County law enforcement argued that Florida’s “stand your ground” law rendered his actions self-defense and, therefore, legally permissible.
Drejka, it turned out, had a history of punishing perceived traffic violations with threats of violence — and, at least on one occasion, of hurling racial insults. Only after weeks of outrage did prosecutors charge him with manslaughter.
There’s a direct line between what happened to those people who had the police called on them and Markeis McGlockton. Beyond the obvious racist underpinnings of these incidents lurks something far more sinister: the rise of racially motivated vigilantism.
Instead of allowing the police to perform their jobs, some white Americans have taken the responsibility of investigating crimes and pursuing criminals upon themselves.
Take the example of the white man in North Carolina, who demanded to see the pool passes of a black mother and her son in a video that went viral. It was as if he’d been personally charged with safeguarding the private pool there.
“Concerned citizens” like these aren’t even stopping actual crimes. Instead, they’re attempting to prosecute completely imagined crimes — acts made criminal merely by the presence of a black person.
Consider the now-infamous Alison Ettel, dubbed “Permit Patty,” who called the police on Jordan Rogers, an eight-year-old black girl, for selling water without a permit. Did Ettel even know if a permit was necessary?
It’s one thing to point out that these incidents show bias. But the more pressing question is this: What keeps empowering white Americans to act on these biases?
There’s a hint in the Drejka case.
Whereas Alison Ettel acted as judge and jury, Michael Drejka acted as judge, jury, and executioner — taking a man’s life for what Drejka, not the criminal justice system, determined to be a crime. The promise of impunity offered by “stand your ground” laws ensures that others will feel similarly empowered.
There’s good reason to feel empowered: Under many state statutes, police officers only need to claim that they feared for their lives to justify shooting unarmed suspects. So it stands to reason that ordinary citizens can invoke “stand your ground” laws to do the same.
“Stand your ground” laws create a slippery slope in at least 25 states across the country. At their worst, they allow racial bias to manifest as legally permissible murder.
As Americans debate how to combat racially motivated 911 calls — including imposing a criminal penalty for them, as one New York bill would do — it’s worth considering the deadly consequences of what happens when citizens act on vigilante impulses.
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies who covers history, race, and the criminalization of poverty. Distributed by OtherWords.org
‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Is a Triumph of Representation — Almost
The all-Asian cast is amazing and important, but the token gay character left me a little cold.
By Jill Richardson | September 5, 2018
The new film Crazy Rich Asians is a triumph of representation in Hollywood. It’s the first film in a quarter century to have an all-Asian cast.
Crazy Rich Asians is wonderful, on so many levels. It’s a charming and fun movie with a great cast. For the characters, Chinese culture is not foreign, as Chinese culture is often portrayed in movies aimed at white audiences.
The value of having an all-Asian cast shouldn’t be understated.
The film shows diversity in personalities, showing that there’s not just one way to be Asian, just as there’s not only one way to be any ethnicity. The characters are all Asian, but they’re going through universal human problems that everyone can relate to.
Often Hollywood chooses a white person as the hero or protagonist in the story, and then casts a token person of color or two in a supporting role. For example, the main characters of Harry Potter are all white, but he has a black classmate, crushes on a Chinese girl, and asks an Indian girl to the Yule Ball.
For white audiences, this feels normal and right. If you’re white, you feel like the protagonist in your own life. The people around you may include people of color, but like everyone else who’s not you, they’re supporting characters.
It seems like Hollywood only casts more than a token number of people of color if there’s a plot-driven reason. Hidden Figures, Selma, and other films about anti-black racism need black actors to play black characters fighting racism.
The same is be true of sexual minorities. And here’s where I think that Crazy Rich Asians makes a misstep.
If you’re writing a film about a gay character coming out, then you need a gay character. If it’s simply a story about an action hero, well…. Why would an action hero need to be gay? So they aren’t. The action hero is straight.
Otherwise, minority characters play stereotypes: the Latina maid, the Chinese kung fu master, or the nerdy smart Asian kid.
And, coming to my point… the flamboyant, hilarious gay best friend.
In Crazy Rich Asians, a character named Oliver plays this role. He’s funny, he’s flaming, and he provides the main character with fashion help when she needs it.
Just like there’s more than one way to be Asian, there’s more than one way to be gay. Not all gay men lisp, obsess over fashion, and overuse the word “fabulous.” Not all gay women wear flannel and drive Subarus.
When we’re protagonists in films, it’s because the plot centers on something straight people recognize as gay: coming out, conversion therapy, or same-sex romance.
But just like Chinese people don’t exist for white people’s entertainment, gay and bisexual people don’t exist for straight people’s entertainment.
The character of Oliver is hilarious and entertaining. But it feels to me like a gay version of minstrelsy. Our identities shouldn’t be someone else’s comic relief.
Lack of representation in Hollywood drives home the point that straight, white people are truly human, undergoing the whole range of human experiences and emotions, and the rest of us are two-dimensional stereotypes.
We play supporting parts in a straight, white world. We’re tokens. We’re not fully human.
Movies and TV reflect our world, but they also shape how we see it. For people of color and LGBT people, the world of Hollywood doesn’t reflect our real world experiences — but it does shape how others in the real world perceive us.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in San Diego. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
The Economy Is Supposed to be Great. So Why Are Workers Miserable?
Quantity is on one thing, but quality is what really matters when it comes to jobs.J
By Jim Hightower | September 5, 2018
It’s practically unanimous: Nine out of 10 establishment economists agree that America’s solid job growth and the low unemployment rate truly make ours “The Land of Opportunity.”
So why, they wonder aloud, is the State of Labor today so morose?
Well, start with all those jobs. Quantity is on one thing, but quality is what really matters.
As Jesse Jackson has pointed out, even slaves had jobs. While not in slavery, millions of Americans today — from Walmart employees to school teachers — are paid so little that they have to patch together two or three jobs each to eke out a bare-bones living.
In fact, major corporations have made poverty pay central to their profit strategy, with giants like Amazon, McDonald’s, and Walmart issuing such puny paychecks that their workers have to rely on food stamps and other public programs to make ends meet. That’s a corporate subsidy of roughly $150 billion a year taken from us taxpayers.
Miserly pay, however, is only one cause of the stunning fact that more than half of American workers now say they’re looking to leave their current jobs. The deeper issue is the overall lack of respect for workaday people.
After all, workers can see in their daily job experiences that the Powers That Be — from corporate chieftains to political leaders — consider employees a cost to be cut, not an asset to advance.
Working stiffs see the continued offshoring of their jobs and deliberate decimation of their rights and union bargaining power. They see leaders of both political parties with their hats in hand for corporate dollars, while rigging the rules to gut everything from overtime pay to health care. And they see the power elite rushing to a robot economy that will leave them and their children out in the cold.
Labor Day is over. Now America needs an all-out labor rebellion.
Jim Hightower, an OtherWords columnist, is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. Distributed by OtherWords.org.