The L word

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On the Roster: The L word - Trump to GOP lawmakers: ‘this is our chance’ - Mexico president dumps Trump meeting over wall flap - I’ll tell you what: barbecued - They lost Pence and gained dollars

The New York Times and many others in the press are having something of an anguished discussion about what to call the things that the president and his administration say that are not true.

The Times is diving deep to the bottom of its cistern of self-regard to discuss the paper’s decision to label as a “lie” Donald Trump’s claim that his defeat in the popular vote was the result of election fraud.

A lie, as everyone older than a toddler knows, is a willful untruth. But there is no evidence that Trump knows what he’s claiming is not true. In fact, based on the enthusiasm and tortured logic he applies to the subject, he seems to very much believe that he really won.

He hardly seems like a man who would need much encouragement to believe a version of events more flattering to himself… And either way, we can’t pretend to know his actual thoughts on the matter, so assuming motive without evidence seems rather a stretch.

But the paper decided essentially that because Trump should have known that allegations of massive, system-wide vote fraud of the kind he claims have been substantially disproven since he first made the claim, repeating it is a “lie.”

Of course, that runs into the next problem, which is that just because there’s no evidence doesn’t mean that something isn’t true. Trump knows that there is proof of fraud on a far, far less grand scale and simply extrapolates to a point that produces the desired outcome: he didn’t really lose.

It was the same for his wild claims about his inauguration crowd. Without official, conclusive proof of his more meager multitude, Trump and his aides can simply state that his unsupported view that more than a million came to see him sworn-in could be true.

The tabloids that favor Trump, like the National Enquirer, know that game. Can you prove that sasquatches don’t roam the Pacific Northwest or that Elvis didn’t fake his own death or that Ted Cruz’s dad wasn’t in on the JFK assassination?

So we don’t know Trump’s motive for repeating improbable claims and apparent falsehoods and neither can we conclusively disprove them. It may be pure bunkum designed to con supporters and confound journalists. Or he may believe the other million inauguration attendees nobody else saw were bigfoots wandering from their normal habitat.

We certainly don’t recall such boldness at the Times about labeling lies as such in 1996, when William Safire was made into a national pariah for labeling the massively dissembling then-first lady Hillary Clinton as a “congenital liar.”

That was deemed uncool by many journalists, while labeling Trump’s balderdash as a “lie” in a front-page headline is the coolest.

And now, the pressure is on other outlets that refuse to make the leap to the “L word” to characterize Trumpian falsehoods.

Halftime Report, for its miniscule position on the journalistic parapet, doesn’t care what other outlets say about the president. That’s their business. For us, a lie demands intent and verifiability and are content to do with this president what we have done with others and make no assumptions about motive without proof.

But, we would observe this: It is most remarkable to watch Trump’s critics and foes continue to make the same mistakes in confronting him.

Many in the press and across the ideological spectrum have lost the ability to modulate. Witness the coverage of Team Trump squashing the PR efforts of federal agencies.

A change of party means a change of message and so you expect to see administrations tell agencies to put a sock in it, especially when there are massive policy changes. But shutting down the Park Service Twitter feed is still labeled Putinism.

But folks: If everything is Putinism, then nothing is Putinism. If everything is a lie, nothing is a lie.

In the same way that histrionic attacks on past Republican nominees as racist, misogynistic war mongers rendered the same attacks on Trump ineffective, freaking out about everything he does as president creates a bad case of linguistic inflation.

All of this foamy froth means that viewers and readers learn to ignore such characterizations. When Walter Cronkite dropped the hammer on Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam strategy it mattered because he was seen as fair and objective. Had he been screaming about the war every night for four years, he would have carried about the same moral authority as a peanut butter sandwich.

If Trump really is a budding authoritarian bent on creating a “tin pot dictatorship” as his harshest critics claim, it might be helpful to have some credibility left when the real stuff goes down rather than spending it all by having kittens about Trump’s measurement malarkey.

“It must indeed be clear to a demonstration that the joint possession of the power in question, by the President and Senate, would afford a greater prospect of security, than the separate possession of it by either of them. And whoever has maturely weighed the circumstances which must concur in the appointment of a President, will be satisfied that the office will always bid fair to be filled by men of such characters as to render their concurrence in the formation of treaties peculiarly desirable, as well on the score of wisdom, as on that of integrity.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 75

Grabbing that smartphone as a cure for boredom and a path to inspiration may be counterproductive. Wired: “That’s the conclusion of two fascinating recent studies. In one, researchers asked a group of subjects to do something boring, like copying out numbers from a phone book, and then take tests of creative thinking, such as devising uses for a pair of cups. The result? Bored subjects came up with more ideas than a nonbored control group, and their ideas were often more creative. In a second study, subjects who took an “associative thought” word test came up with more answers when they’d been forced to watch a dull screensaver... ‘We try to extinguish every moment of boredom in our lives with mobile devices,’ [psychologist Sandi Mann] says. This might relieve us temporarily, but it shuts down the deeper thinking that can come from staring down the doldrums. Noodling on your phone is ‘like eating junk food,’ she says.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

AP: “President Donald Trump on Thursday rallied fellow Republicans who control the White House and Congress for the first time in more than a decade, telling lawmakers they will be busier than they have been in decades helping him implement a broad agenda. ‘Think of everything we can achieve and who we can achieve it for,’ Trump told GOP House and Senate lawmakers at their annual retreat. ‘This is our chance to achieve great and lasting change for our beloved nation.’… Trump’s midday remarks Thursday in Philadelphia came a day after he began overhauling the nation’s immigration rules and moved to jumpstart construction of his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall. He also ordered cuts Wednesday in federal grants for ‘sanctuary cities,’ which shield some immigrants from federal law enforcement, and authorized increases in the number of border patrol agents and immigration officers.”

Ryan lays out aggressive 200-day game plan - Roll Call: “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan is laying out an aggressive 200-day agenda that will have Congress rolling back regulations, repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law, funding a border wall, rewriting the tax code, expanding the veterans’ choice program, advancing an infrastructure package and avoiding a debt default — all before the August recess.”

British PM to tell Republicans: US, UK can lead world - CNN: “British Prime Minister Theresa May will tell Republicans that the US and UK can lead the world, as she seeks to rekindle the partnership between the two countries in the face of a more isolationist stance taken by President Donald Trump… May will travel to Philadelphia Thursday to become the first serving foreign leader from outside the US to speak at the annual congressional Republican retreat. She will meet Trump at the retreat, and he will then host her at the White House on Friday… According to remarks released by UK officials in advance, May will say that as Britain exits the EU it will have ‘the opportunity to reassert our belief in a confident, sovereign and global Britain, ready to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike.’”

The Hill: “Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Thursday he will not attend a planned meeting next week with President Trump. The Mexican leader was irked by Trump's announcement that he plans to move forward with his plan to erect a wall along the U.S. southern border -- and eventually force Mexico to foot the bill. ‘The U.S. has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico,’ Trump wrote in a series of tweets Thursday morning. ‘It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers of jobs and companies lost. If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.’ Peña Nieto was scheduled to visit the White House on Jan. 31.”

White House keeps dialogue open - WashEx: “Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One just minutes after Peña Nieto canceled his upcoming visit to the U.S., White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the administration fully intends to ‘look for a date to schedule something in the future.’”

Ryan says Congress will pay for wall - AP: “House Speaker Paul Ryan says President Donald Trump's border wall will cost $12 billion to $15 billion - and Ryan says Congress will pay for it by this fall. The Wisconsin Republican made his comments to reporters in Philadelphia, where GOP lawmakers are holding their annual strategy retreat. Ryan was pressed on whether the wall's price tag would be added to the deficit - or whether Congress would find some ways to offset the cost. But he wouldn't commit. The point, Ryan says, is that Congress will pay for ‘the construction of a physical barrier on the border.’ Trump is set to speak to the lawmakers later Thursday - a day after signing an executive order calling for the wall.”

AP: “President Donald Trump’s renewed embrace of torture in the fight against Islamic extremism sets up a heated dispute with a long line of opponents both at home and abroad…‘We have to fight fire with fire,’ Trump told ABC in an interview aired Wednesday after The Associated Press and other news organizations obtained a copy of a draft executive order that signals sweeping changes to U.S. interrogation and detention policy. … It orders up recommendations on whether the U.S. should reopen CIA detention facilities outside the United States. … The draft directive also orders a review of interrogation methods used on terror suspects and calls for suggested modifications that would not violate the U.S. legal ban on torture. Trump … said he would consult with new Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo before authorizing any new policy. But he said he had asked top intelligence officials: "Does torture work? And the answer was ‘Yes, absolutely.’”

Draft orders target U.N. and new treaties - NYT: “The first of the two draft orders, titled “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” and obtained by The New York Times, calls for terminating funding for any United Nations agency or other international body that meets any one of several criteria…[including] organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organization, or support programs that fund abortion or any activity that circumvents sanctions against Iran or North Korea. … The second executive order, “Moratorium on New Multilateral Treaties,” calls for a review of all current and pending treaties with more than one other nation. It asks for recommendations on which negotiations or treaties the United States should leave.”

Calling President Donald Trump’s executive order to immediately limit the effects of ObamaCare “radical coming from any president in the modern era of government-can do-no-wrong,” Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano says “Trump’s revolutionary act is a breeze of freedom on a sea of regulation. It recognizes something modern governments never admit -- that they can be and have been wrong. It is exactly as Trump promised.” More here.

“In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl and they said it was equal.” – President Trump to ABC News on the response from agents to his Saturday speech at CIA Headquarters.

Trump warns Rahm: Clean up your city, or else – WaPo

Conservative group launches $1 million ad campaign to boost Trump health secretary pickPolitico

Trump’s sister weighs in on Supreme Court pick Politico

Trump taps Philip Miscimarra to head labor board WashEx

Trump Hotels plan major US expansion Bloomberg

Chaffetz says he wants to see Trump’s D.C. hotel lease Buzzfeed

Sanctuary cities vow to fight Trump executive order  – Fox News

President Trump
has had a busy first few days of his administration with executive orders, tweeting and repeating claims that he actually won the popular vote. Dana Perino asks Chris Stirewalt what he thinks of the administration addressing these claims yet again, and looks ahead to what these first 100 days can tell us about the next four years. Plus, Dana offers what is either a recipe for brisket or a medieval torture methodology. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE.

“Why is it that we can give billions away to other countries, that don’t like us, and then tell the American people they want to cut Social Security? We worked for and paid into the Social Security program and it should not be taken away. The other countries did not contribute to our welfare in anyway. They only want our money and the seniors have to pay for them to have it. So unfair!” – Peggy McCormack, Doswell, Va.

[Ed. note: Rest easy, Ms. McCormack. There isn’t enough political will to enact even changes to Social Security that would be delayed a generation before going into effect, let alone monkey with existing payments. Seniors remain the single most powerful voting bloc, and for all the talk about reforming entitlement programs before they bankrupt, there is no viable path. The larger fear is that as Social Security and Medicare – already more than $30 trillion in the hole – fiscally founder it will be younger workers who get stuck with enormous tax hikes to make up the difference. Those taxes, in turn, would be a massive drag on the economy. Remember, the tax that funds those programs is a payroll tax on both workers and employers. And you know what happens when you make something more expensive? You usually get less of it. And as for foreign aid being the culprit, the federal government spends less than 1 percent of its more than $4 trillion budget on assistance to other countries.]

“Chris, I do very much enjoy your commentary. I lived in the democrat rich area that is Palm Beach, Broward and Dade county for many years. I can tell you for a fact that a substantial number of those democrats from the North East pride themselves on voting at least twice. Hell even some Canadians vote in our elections. I think Trump is foolish to pursue this but there is some basis for the investigation. Not like North Carolina where I was born where a free plug of chewing tobacco and a swig or two of the local elixir won many an election. Keep up the good work. I also lived in West Virginia for a few years and you are representing your state extremely well.” - Martin Smith, Largo, Florida

[Ed. note: In the West Virginia coalfields, it was $50 and a whole pint of Old Crow. I guess the miners figured their votes were worth a little extra. It was such a folkway that when John Kennedy was talking to reporters in Charleston on the day of the 1960 Democratic primary and joked that he had just received a telegram from his father instructing him, “Don’t buy another vote. I won’t pay for a landslide!”]

“I like your succinct comments Chris and am new to getting any newsletter, but I am pickled by the fact that most people reporting about Trump have never read ‘Art of the Deal’…which would let them in on the man’s psyche.  He is a winner, an indomitable force of believing in himself…that is how he succeeded over the years.  He rewrites facts to keep his engine moving in the win category.  People may not like it, but it works for his goals…and now that he is our president…it will work for our goals. If that isn’t factored into press reporting they will have missed him completely.  His look into the voter fraud thing is, I believe, the law and order agenda he signed up for.  It’s time.” - Sherri Cecile, Kihei, Maui, Hawaii

[Ed. note: I certainly take your point, Ms. Cecile, but with the awesome powers of the presidency come awesome responsibilities. Among those are to always be truthful unless so doing would put lives directly at risk. If a president “rewrites facts to keep his engine moving” we could find ourselves unable to distinguish between fact and propaganda in short order. A people who cannot mostly believe what their government says will eventually fall into subjugation or rebellion. Dishonesty is the most powerful weapon of a tyrant. Trump is obviously wrestling with these new responsibilities as he transitions from being a pitchman whose favorite product is himself to being the custodian of the most fearsome power in the world. Giving vent to uncorroborated conspiracy theories and undermining public confidence in institutions may help Trump sell himself as a more popular politician than he really is, but it doesn’t serve his more important duty: to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Spin and salesmanship are grand, but every president has to be aware that they are only temporary custodians of the office and must seek to leave things in as good repair as when they found it. Also: I love your use of the word “pickled.” I’m assuming the meaning here is “confounded” or “frustrated.” That’s so good, I may have to steal it!’ ]

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WXIN: “Several pedestrians in downtown Indianapolis had their mornings brightened Tuesday when money seemingly began falling from the sky…“It just landed in the middle of the street,” said Michael Addock. “I looked up around the buildings to see if anybody had dropped it off as a joke.” “I looked up in the sky and there was nobody standing around on top of the building so, it’s just a blessing from above,” he said. A witness who called police pointed the officer toward the rooftop of the 10-story building located at One North Meridian Street, just off Monument Circle. The money could be seen blowing off the rooftop. When the officer got up to the roof, he found a couple hundred $1 bills scattered across the roof. The officer found five partial money wrappers that read “Federal Reserve Bank.” Four of the money wrappers were dated Dec. 29. The fifth wrapper was dated Jan. 20.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Mike Maltas contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.