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Go Ahead and Hate the Press, but Keep Loving the Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the press has taken a beating over the past seven years and couple of months or so, and at the moment it doesn’t seem likely to fare any better over the next four years.
The Democratic Party has long shown a censorious streak, with both self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreeing that the country must overturn the hated Citizens United decision that ruled the government can’t stop the airing of an anti-Clinton documentary, and academia writing Orwellian speech codes and carving out “safe spaces” from the free exchange of ideas, and the more robust activists calling for “some muscle” to expel the press the public square, and a news and media culture that shames anyone who expresses certain proscribed opinions. By now we’re used to it, and know from history that it comes as a necessary component of any admittedly socialist movement that would quash a number of other human rights, but until this year we’ve never heard a Republican candidate and self-described conservative openly boasting that if elected president he would use the powers of the presidency to punish his press critics.
That has happened, though, thanks to the always boastful self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul Donald J. Trump, who is somehow at the moment the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Speaking to a typically large and adoring crowd in Texas, Trump denounced entire media as the “most dishonest people I ever met,” sneered at The New York Times as a “failing newspaper” and “most dishonest media outlets I’ve ever seen in my life,” and despite expressing his respect for Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos he said that “he wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it,” which is all standard Republican stump fare, and all fair enough, but of course he went further. Expounding on his seemingly impromptu rant, Trump said, “Believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.” After the crowd lustily cheered on this promise of retribution against press outlets for exercising their First Amendment right to publish something that did not serve the interests of Trump, he added that “One of the things I’m going to do, and this is only going to make it tougher for me, and I’ve never said this before, but one of things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope I do and we’re certainly leading, is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws.”
All the Trump apologists who magically appear in the comments section below any article critical of their knight-in-white-armor-and-thin-and-orange-skin will note that the Times and Post are indeed awful publications, which we’ve already acknowledge is standard Republican stump fare and fair enough, and they’ll note how censorious the Democrats are, which is true but irrelevant, and some will even venture some criticisms of the Sullivan v. New York Times decision that has since 1964 defined the wide-open standards of public discourse, although any attempt to explain how a press is still free so long as it meets Trump’s notions of fairness and accuracy and positivity are obviously wrong. What matters, though, and what no Trump apologist can deny, is that their tough-talking truth-telling hero is loudly and unabashedly threatening that if elected his press critics are going to have problems, such problems. Their heroic Trump may have already freed the land from those social constraints of “political correctness” that said you couldn’t discuss illegal immigration or Islam or mock the handicapped or disparage American servicemen who endured wartime captivity or brag about all the married babes you’ve bagged,
With a darker shade of spray-tan and a pair of mirrored aviator glasses on him we could easily see Trump issuing the same sort of threat in that fictional banana republic that Woody Allen created for “Bananas,” but it’s harder to imagine this sort of thing happening in America. Previous presidents have had their legal confrontations with the press, but in the end they always accepted the rulings made by the Supreme Court according to plain understanding of the First Amendment, and all the Democrats are striving to overrule a Supreme Court ruling similarly rendered so that they can exercise prior restraint on any documentaries or articles or artworks critical of Hillary Clinton, but at least they have the decency to pretend that it’s because of those awful Koch brothers and some vast right-wing conspiracy that’s supposedly intent on curtailing free speech. Trump comes right out and says he wants to use the government to silence his critics, eliciting great cheers from his adoring crowds, and after his poll numbers improve we expect Clinton will figure that she will soon make the same appalling promise to her adoring crowds.
Although we’re not fans of The New York Times, despite having several good friends there long argued with, nor The Washington Post, where we don’t know anybody, we do remain great fans of the idea that people should be able to publish whatever they have to say regardless of whether the current occupant of the White House likes it or not. We’ve long availed ourselves of this right, especially through the past seven years and a couple of months or so, and we intend to continue doing so for as long as almighty God, and not the almighty government, grants us. It won’t just be The New York Times and The Washington Post that have problems, such problems in the coming years, regardless of how this implausible election turns out, but one way or another we’ll persist in speaking our minds. If Trump wants to sue us, as is his wont, well, go right ahead, but he and all his high-priced lawyers should know that we possess nothing he can take from us that is so precious as our God-given right to say that he’s a bullying blowhard con artist who will do this country do no good.

— Bud Norman

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Let’s Make a Deal to be the Last on Gilligan’s Island

The latest episode of the Republican party’s ongoing presidential nomination reality show was the best one yet, but it might yet be too little and too late to save this series from an unsatisfying conclusion.
Telecast by the Cable News Network in Mercury Radio Theatre’s “War of the Worlds” fashion as an actual presidential debate, the episode featured two of the last survivors on the Republican party island, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, ganging up against the thus-far series favorite, self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate and gambling mogul Donald J. Trump in an entertaining showdown. Ohio Gov. Rick Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson were also featured, and were quite boringly reasonable and level-headed in their brief moments, but they were just “and the rest,” as the first seasons of Gilligan’s Island’s theme song would have put it.
Regular fans of the show already know that Trump’s long experience in professional wrestling and reality shows have given him a decided advantage over the neophyte politicians who are now dancing with the stars, along with his unprecedentedly strong stand against illegal immigration and the fact that he’s not one of those neophyte politicians who are part of the “establishment,” which has long been established as the unseen villain of the series, and thus far his would-be rivals have mostly been preoccupied with sniping at one another. On Thursday night’s episode, though, all of these plot lines saw intriguing twists.
Both Rubio and Cruz demonstrated some professional wrestling moves and reality show savvy of their own, with Rubio noting that despite an unprecedentedly hard line against illegal immigration Trump has a longstanding practice of hiring illegal immigrants, and Cruz happily accepting Trump’s inadvertent compliment that nobody in the hated “establishment” likes him, and both provoking Trump into the face-making and rudely interrupting with shouts of “liar” histrionics that always get the show’s sizable anti-Trump audience booing and hissing.
Rubio got the better of the attack on Trump’s previous preferences for foreign workers, and when Trump objected to Rubio’s revelations that Trump had not only hired Polish workers for the dangerous asbestos removal to build the towering achievement of the Trump tower and had also stiffed them on their wages Rubio seemed to win the exchange by asking viewers to look it up. When Rubio noted that Trump had also preferred to hire Ukrainian maids for his Florida resort rather than American applicants willing to do the job, he was able to add the biographical detail that his own mother was a legal immigrant who had become an American citizen and supported him on his rise to a presidential contender by working as a hotel maid in Florida, and Trump was reduced to the open-borders argument that he merely hiring people to do work that Americans wouldn’t do. When he tried to strike back by noting Rubio’s involvement with the “Gang of Eight” that had sought to do the work of the open-borders crowd, much hated by all the show’s fans, Cruz was able to effectively jump in and note that Trump had been a big contributor to all of the Democratic members of the gang, and that only he of the three had been consistently righteous in his opposition.
Rubio at long last brought up that phony-baloney Trump University scam that’s winding its way through the courts, and the four bankruptcies and and made-in-China Trump ties and alluded to all the other failed Trump ventures of the invincible deal-maker, and Cruz noted that Trump’s claims that it’s all a lie is in itself a lie. Trump claimed to be a strong defender of Israel even as he defended a recent claim that he’d be neutral in a dispute between democratic and capitalist and humane Israel and the theocratic and no-economy-at-all-because-it’s-too-busy-hating-Israel Palestine, and Cruz noting Trump’s history of donating to anti-Israel politicians all the way back to Jimmy Carter. Trump tried to revise a minor plot line from a few weeks ago when Rubio started repeating himself, and wound up repeating himself to a point that the audience laughed along with Rubio. Between the two, Rubio and Cruz also brought up that Trump has been all over all the place on his health care plans, is losing in his beloved polls to the very vincible villain Hillary Clinton, won’t release the tax returns that might reveals he’s not such a successful businessman or generous philanthropist, has clearly lied about his views on the Libyan war, and donated $100,000 to the Bill and Hillary Clinton foundation that is one of the Republican’s juiciest issues.
In response Trump tried to revise another even more minor plot line about how Cruz had sullied Trump’s good friend Carson with a “tweet” of a CNN report about Carson’s withdrawal he was saved from Cruz noting how Trump had ridiculed Carson’s as “pathological” and akin to a child molester only by the intervention of CNN’s generally inept moderator. Another panelist from an affiliated Spanish-speaking network kept asking all the candidates if they “get it’ that the Republicans have to endorse an open-borders platform, which worked to Trump’s advantage, but overall it was a rough night for Trump.
Which won’t matter to Trump’s fans, of course. If their hero anti-immigration hero has a long history of hiring immigrant workers, well, that’s just because he’s a shrewd businessman, which is what’s need to make this country great again. If he’s not such a shrewd businessman as he’d have you believe, well, any source that would report such a thing is obviously not in favor of Trump and is therefore biassed against him, and you gotta hate any media that hate such a media star who’s going to make America great again. If Trump’s anti-Israel that just proves he’s not a stooge of Zionist conspiracy that’s bringing in foreign workers to drive wages down, and if Trump did that he’s just a good businessman. Who cares if he’s for socialized medicine or not, just so long as he builds that damned wall, and if he uses foreign workers to do that it’s just because he’s a good businessman. If he wrote a $100,00 check to his most recent wedding guest Clintons’ money-for-favors foundation, well, that’s just because he got snookered into thinking it was for some good work in Haiti or one of those places where no one ever does a publicized audit.
The far louder than Rubio-and-Cruz-combined media will be saturating the public with even more lurid tales of Trump’s business dealings and personal foibles just after he clinches the nomination, and will starting noticing that his refreshing political incorrectness is actually just downright rude, but until then his fans can revel in how he’s playing the media. With a potentially decisive number of delegates up for grabs in the impending “Super Tuesday” primaries are the next big episode in this series, that might be sooner rather than later. The good news for Trump is that Rubio and Cruz did about equally well, meaning they’ll continue to split that vast majority of the anti-Trump vote between themselves, and Trump’s 35 to 40 percent will prevail.
If the rest of the participants in this bizarre reality show had played their parts differently we might have would up with a sequel that featured a more-or-less conservative against one shade of socialist or another, which would have made an interesting show, but instead we might wind up with a corrupt semi-socalist and the semi-capitalist who paid her to attend his latest wedding in the worst episode of “Let’s Make a Deal” ever.

— Bud Norman

Gov. Rick Perry’s More or Less Happy Ending

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry won’t be doing any prison time for vetoing a bill while in office, and we’re glad of that, but the political ruthlessness that created any doubt about it is likely to continue.
Perry’s case took so long winding through the justice before Texas’ top criminal appeals court dismissed all charges that you might have forgotten what it was all about. The story began when Travis County district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving, and and was so belligerent and issued so many threats of her official power while being processed that she wound up in the same sort of restraints used on cinematic cannibal Hannibal Lecter. A video of the fuss was widely replayed on Texas news stations, became a runaway hit on YouTube, and Perry was among the many Texans calling for Lehmberg’s resignation. When the Democrat Lehmberg defiantly refused to leave, the Republican Perry threatened to veto the funding for a commission she headed that was charged with rooting out official corruption, which seemed reasonable use of the governor’s constitutional veto power to most Texans but aroused the ire of a leftist group and a special prosecutor and some Democratic judges who alleged it was an abuse of power that deserved a 109-year sentence.
The dismissal of such absurd charges was inevitable, but not before Perry was perp-walked and finger-printed and had his mug shot printed in all the papers, and perhaps not coincidentally after his presidential campaign came to a quick end. The vindication didn’t get the attention that the perp-walk and finger-prints and mug shots did, of course, and the legal fees were no doubt high, so it’s hard to consider Perry a winner.
Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and former Texas Rep. Tom DeLay were also vindicated of the charges that ended their political careers after prolonged and costly legal battles, with the acquittals getting far less attention than the allegations, and there are local examples of the same thing happening in all sorts of jurisdictions. It happens often enough to arouse suspicions even when the charges seem to have weight, such as the corruption charges against New Jersey Sen. Bob Mendendez, a rare Democrat to find himself on the docket but only after he became an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s awful Iran deal. There are also suspicions when charges aren’t filed despite a considerable weight of evidence, such as in the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of “tea party” groups, and perhaps former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s highly suspicious private e-mail account.
Such efforts to criminalize one’s political opposition and shield one’s allies are not helpful to maintaining a republic of free men and women under the rule of law, nor are the suspicions they arouse and the cynicism they create. The tactic has usually been employed by the left, which in its heart does believe that any political opposition is criminal and that any allies deserve shielding, but these days we’re hearing a lot of folks on the right insisting that a similar ruthlessness is called for. Much ugliness is likely to ensue, and to whatever extent the right is less interested in maintaining a republic of free men and women under the rule than it is in punishing its enemies the ugliness will be greater. We’d like to think that an appeal to constitutional principles, and the sound arguments for limited government and free markets and a general policy of being nice to one another leaving people be would have some appeal in these times, but at the moment that seems a pipe dream.
In any case, we’re pleased for Perry, who was an excellent governor and might have made a good president. We wish him well in his days free of prison, and hope he’ll also enjoy his freedom from politics.

— Bud Norman

Democracy in the Desert

The state of Nevada has many fine people and is a lovely place to visit, especially those vast portions of it where you won’t find any people at all, but we don’t see why it should play such an outsized role in picking the country’s president. Only two other states had already knocked all the relatively sane Democrats out of that party’s race, a mere three had eliminated some worthy contenders from the Republican race, and now Nevada has apparently decided that it will all come down to the two candidates most disliked and distrusted by the American public.
That’s how the sporting press will perceive it, at least, and their perceptions might once again become reality. Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regained her front-runner status over self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders last week with a race-baiting win in Nevada after a shellacking in New Hampshire followed a highly suspicious win Iowa, and after another race-baiting win expected in South Carolina she’ll be back to being inevitable. The boastful real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul Donald J. Trump just picked up another double-digit when in Nevada, too, following similarly strong showings in New Hampshire and South Carolina after a narrow loss in Iowa, which he attributed on rather flimsy grounds to fraud, so the storyline is that the next 56 states will be a cinch.
This analysis will suffice for a lead paragraph, but down toward the bottom of the inverted pyramid are a few facts worth noting. There have only been four states and a relative handful of delegates allocated, although Clinton seems to be picking up these “super-delegates” at a rapid pace, the dynamics of both races could still change in the upcoming states, especially as the Republican field narrows, and Nevada is a weird place. The vast empty stretches of the state are populated by the few people needed to staff the convenience stores required to get one from Reno to Las Vegas to the state capital of Carson City, and in each of those population centers the politics are conducted in a way that would have made state founder Bugsy Siegel proud. It’s a state where the Democrats are mostly black and hispanic and equally put-upon white casino and hotel workers, who are ripe for a race-baiting campaign, and where the Republicans are the ones who hire the Democrats and are not off-put by Trump’s past as a semi-successful gambling mogul, and both party’s caucuses were beset by the quadrennial complaints about incompetence and corruption.
This time around the Republican complaints were mostly against the Trump campaign, which of course will deny it and won’t worry at all that it’s supporters would be the least bit upset if even he had cheated, because at least he fights and the Democrats do it all the time, so that should at least deny the chance to call anyone else a cheater. There will be some sober reflection on whether runner-up Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or third-place finisher Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will be the best one to run in a two-way race against Trump, but Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson will likely be sticking around to siphon a few essential-digits from the anti-Trump vote, and although the Trump victory can’t be written yet all the scribes will be working on it for the tickler file.
Nevada’s a fine place to visit, but it shouldn’t have that power.

— Bud Norman

An Ordinary Flap in an Extraordinary Year

The Republican presidential campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz committed one of those unforced errors the other day, and it’s a doozy. A high-ranking staffer “tweeted” his outraged reaction to an erroneous report in a college newspaper that rival Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had casually disparaged the Holy Bible, the story was quickly retracted, the high-ranking staffer was quickly fired, and there was much indignation from Rubio and some inevitable snarky “tweeting” from the front-running Donald J. Trump, and at the very least it’s a whole news cycle that Cruz did not need at this moment in his beleaguered campaign.
In an ordinary election an apology and a sacrificial firing would probably suffice, and after a day or two of press flagellation that matter would be long forgotten, but this is no ordinary election for Cruz. His hard-earned tough-guy anti-establishmentarian image has made him a target of the “establishment,” or whatever remains of it, but so far he’s gone only one-for-three against the tough-guy anti-establishmentarianism of a boastful billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who also boasts he can make the right deals with whatever’s left of the “establishment.” Despite his Baptist preacher’s son credentials he’s even losing a lot of the evangelical Christian to a thrice-married gambling mogul who mocks the handicapped and boasts about all the married women he’s bedded and really did try to have an old widow thrown out of her home, and now he’s forced to publicly apologize to Rubio, who was virtually tied with him for second place in South Carolina and is suddenly the darling of the not inconsiderable number of Republicans who are starting to think that maybe an “establishment” isn’t the worst thing that can happen to their party.
So both of Cruz’s rivals in what is shaping up as a three-way race stand to benefit, and perhaps even beyond the news cycle. Both Trump and Rubio have been relentlessly questioning Cruz’s honesty, and although their accusations have often been lies some of it is bound to stick after a while, so admitting that a campaign has even inadvertently spread a falsehood does not help. It’s not the first time, either, after another staffer passed along an erroneous report from the Cable News Network that fading rival Dr. Ben Carson was dropping out of the race just before Cruz won a crucial victory in the Iowa caucus, which the second-place Trump was happy to claim was a theft of his rightful victory, and they also sent out those awful letters telling people they’ve checked on their voting records, and there’s been enough of it unsettle some potential supporters. The incident also raises the question of why Cruz would have hired a high-ranking staffer who wasn’t suspicious of a college newspaper report claiming that such a savvy politician as Rubio, of all people, had disparaged the Holy Bible, of all things, and in front of Cruz’s Baptist preacher father and his own young son and one of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras at that.
We don’t doubt the sincerity of Cruz’s apology, and we’re sure that he had no intention of questioning another candidate’s faith, and we wish this were an ordinary election where that would suffice, but this crazy time around the apology is probably the worst of the damage done. Trump has openly questioned Cruz’s faith, and he once regaled an Iowa crowd by ridiculing Carson’s biographical story of overcoming a childhood temper through prayer and Christian faith, saying he was still “pathological” and akin to a pedophile, even though he did later wax indignant about what Cruz did to his good friend in passing along that erroneous CNN report, and he never apologizes, just as he never apologizes for disparaging women’s looks or mocking handicapped people or belittling American servicemen who suffered wartime captivity for their country or using the most vulgar language in front of the old women and young children, and this time around about one-third of the Republican electorate seems to love him for it. Not acknowledging or apologizing for an obvious mistake, apparently, is what it takes to make America great again.
Which leaves the aggrieved Rubio as perhaps the biggest beneficiary from this campaign brouhaha. He still has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do — as fellow Cuban-American Desi Arnaz used to say — about that crazy immigration deal he cooked up with those dastardly Democrats, which raises questions about his own honesty and competence, but there are honesty and competence questions about everyone. We could go on all day posing questions about it to Trump, and perhaps even longer about either of the potential Democratic nominees, but for at least a news cycle Rubio has an edge over the other guy that will meet Trump in a two-way race. We’d like to see whichever victor emerges go into that matchup without being too bloodied by the preliminaries, and hope that Trump suffers a few more slips he’s forced to not apologize for, but everybody needs to improve their game.

— Bud Norman

The 45 Percent Solution

We’ve been poring over all the recent numbers from the Republican presidential race, trying to decide if the party’s metaphorical glass is one third-empty or two-thirds full. In either case, it’s not at all where we’d hoped it would be.
There’s no longer any way of denying that the front-runner is Donald J. Trump, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul, which most certainly is not what we’d hoped for. After a double-digit win in the supposed anti-insurgent “firewall” state of South Carolina he’s two-for-three in actual voting, and following an even bigger win in New Hampshire and a respectable second-place in Iowa, and with similar leads in national and upcoming state polls, he’s looking formidable.
Still, we are not yet ready to abandon all hope. As formidable as Trump might seem, he’s only got 61 of the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, there are still 47 states and some territories yet to vote, and thus far Trump seems stuck at the two-thirds plurality that has provided him two seeming landslides in a seven-way race. Given that the Republican front-runner is regarded unfavorably by most Republicans, and fares even worse than Hillary Clinton among the general public, which is saying something, he’ll have to find something pretty outrageous to bolster that total in a two-or-three-way race.
Trump has already bounced former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush out of the race, which deprives him of a favorite scapegoat for that darned establishment that folks are so riled up about these days, and which deprives him of the tens of millions of dollars that Bush and his supporters were for some reason spending on attack ads against Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who wound up in a virtual tie with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in South Carolina. It’s hard to imagine anyone who preferred Bush switching his support to Trump, and if Rubio had added most of Bush’s numbers to his own, which he would have, since he’s stuck with that darned “establishment” label at this point, and if he could have picked up the votes of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who took second in New Hampshire and is still hanging in after a shellacking in South Carolina, with more to come, it would have been a win for Rubio in South Carolina. If Dr. Ben Carson had gracefully bowed out most of his votes would have likely gone to Cruz, who relishes the same iconoclastic trouble-maker reputation as Trump and makes the same pitch to evangelical Christians, many of whom for some reason or another prefer the thrice-married and proudly adulterous gambling mogul, so Cruz might have also contended in a three-way race.
The race might not winnow down to two or three by the time the delegates start piling up, which is soon, but if it does come down to Trump and Rubio and Cruz almost anything could happen. There will be some very close races in several states, with Trump’s accusations of cheating and threats of lawsuits following any narrow loss, either Rubio or Cruz could commit some disaster blunder that will derail his candidacy, although at this point we do discount the possibility that even a threatened shooting on Fifth Avenue will knock Trump below that two-third margin, and so anyone who gets very far past that two-thirds mark could win a clear plurality of the primary and caucus votes.
Anything less than 45 percent, an elusive Nielsen rating that has thus far proved beyond the grasp of even Trump, might not be enough to get to the still far-away number of 1,237 delegates. If you don’t have that you don’t win on the first ballot, and on the second ballot all the delegates are free to do whatever they want, and it’s and old-fashioned convention from way back even before our time. Trump’s mastery of “The Art of the Deal” will be sorely put to test as he deals with at least a majority of Republican delegates who are pretty much the same “establishment” that Trump has promised to tar and feather, even if they do want Cruz, who has been denounced as a “liar” and “nasty guy” by Trump, and if it comes to that it will be the first reality television show in ages that she’s been glued to.
It could wind up with Trump versus Clinton, the former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President of the United States whose reputation for honesty and integrity is as abysmal as Trump’s and who seems to have vaunted herself back into the Democratic party’s front-runner status with an inexplicable win in a convoluted and small turn-out Nevada caucus. Both the left and the right and especially that mushy middle are all so riled up about big donor fat cats and corruptible politicians and those know-it-alls who think they know how to run an entire are about to have a choice between one of those big donor fat cats and one of the corruptible politicians that he’s paid off with big bucks and public praise and an invitation to his latest wedding, both of them have plenty of red-flag career catastrophes in their past, both offer themselves as models of competence and high moral standards, and that might be the choice.
In which case, we are reminded of an old Woody Allen commencement speech bit, where he told the students: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

— Bud Norman

Funerals, Fences, Popes and Presidents

The President of the United States cannot be bothered to attend the funeral of the most distinguished Supreme Court Justice of the past half-century, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul who is currently leading the Republicans’ race to become the next president is having a “twitter” fight with the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church over who’s the better Christian, and we are reminded yet again that we live in strange and contentious times.
President Barack Obama reportedly paid his respects to Justice Antonin Scalia while the late jurist lie in state, and that will have to do while Obama plots to seat a replacement who will undo all of Scalia’s good works. He’s insisting that the inevitable knock-down-dragpout barroom brawl to follow will be conducted in the most civil and mutually respectful way possible, and his spokesman has expressed his regret about his past attempt as a Senator to thwart another president’s Supreme Court appointment, which he now realizes is an awful thing for any senator to ever do to a president, and his friends in the media are earnestly hoping that the crazy right-wingers in the Republican party will be reasonable about a loony left-wing appointment despite their deep-seated racism, but it doesn’t seem off to a good start.
We expect the Republican response won’t include any of those racist slurs or subtle insinuations that the Democratic press is always so eagerly awaiting, but neither do we expect that it be at all polite, and certainly not so capitulatory as what the Democrats would consider reasonable. A few Republicans up for re-election in the most uncertain election year in anybody’s living memory might go wobbly, but those with safe red state seats, which aren’t even safe in these days of widespread burn-it-all-down sentiment, will feel the same pressure of public opinion not to budge an inch. They have the long history of resistance to lame duck appointments and the Democrats’ role in it on their side, as well, if anybody cares about that sort of thing anymore, so Obama can’t reasonably hope for any more respect than he’s shown.
As the late and great Yogi Berra famously noted, “You should always go to other people’s funerals or they won’t go to yours,” and once upon a more civil and mutually respectful era of political knock-down-drag-out barroom brawls a president would have least put on a necktie to announce the death of even an ideologically opposed Supreme Court justice.
Once up on that more civil and mutually respectful era, however, you didn’t get “twitter” fights between Republicans and Pontiffs. The whole mess started when Pope Francis paid an extended visit to Mexico that included a brief prayer near the host country’s border with the United States. The Pope is an Argentinian and adherent of the socialistic “social gospel” and pretty much typical of international liberalism on all matters except sex and certain age-old doctrines that only Catholic need concern themselves with, so the prayer was widely interpreted as a political message, so one might conclude he started it all. Still, it would have gone largely ignored by the press north of the border, however, and would have been entirely ignored by the staid old Republican candidates of the good old funeral-going and necktie-wearing days, but these days the party’s front-runner is a billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who couldn’t resist “tweeting” that the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics is “a pawn of the Mexican government.” Such is the diplomatic savvy of the man who promises to make America great again, and these days we shouldn’t be surprised that it prompted such a clumsy response from the socialist Pope that a boastful, foul-mouthed, handicapped-mocking, proudly cuckolding, thrice-married, four-times-bankrupt gambling mogul, who has explained he is a forgiveness-seeking Christian only to the extent that “I eat my little cracker, drink my little wine,” somehow comes off looking better.
Pope Francis, who surely deserves some respect as the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics, and can surely be forgiven for not fully understanding the complexities of the most uncertain American election year of anybody’s memory, was of course asked about Trump’s “tweets,” which he might have understood of are the utmost importance in these strange and contentious times, and through interpreters that we can’t vouch for he wound up saying that there was something un-Christian about Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Although we really do have great respect for the Catholic faith, and are rooting hard for the Little Sisters of the Poor to prevail in their court case and not have to pay that damnable Obamacare contraception mandate, something in our Protest and Republican souls must politely disagree. Our objections to unfettered illegal immigration are based the severe economic and cultural and political damage it has done in this country, but is also based on a belief that siphoning off the most industrious and resourceful citizens of the Third World who can thrive in America does no favor to their countries of origin, and that allowing those poorer countries to use the west as a dumping ground for their more unskilled and even criminal element allow them forestall the necessary reforms to make their own countries livable, and that the “social gospel” does provide the blueprint. Calling one’s faith into question over such matters is wrong, even by the degraded standards of American politics, and it puts us in the uncomfortable position of defending Donald J. Trump.
Which is not to say that we believe the Pope is a “pawn of the Mexican government,” any more than we believe that “Bush lied, people died” or all the “birther” claims or any of Trump’s crazed conspiracy theories, or that Donald J. Trump is a more exemplary Christian that the Pope or even the lowliest sinner who will confess that he falls short of the glory of God, but rather to say that we’re living in such strange and contentious times that Trump gets the best of it. He “tweets” his indignation that anyone would question anyone’s Christianity, even though Trump has lately been saying that pesky rival-for-frontrunner-status Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is not a Christian because he lies by showing old videos of Trump saying things he says he doesn’t believe anymore, and has mocked onetime-rival Dr. Ben Carson’s claims of finding a spiritual path from his childhood rage, which Trump said was “pathological” and therefore incurable and that Carson was akin to a child molester, and he’ll likely prevail. The socialist Pope isn’t popular, not even with us, no matter how respectful we strive to be, and Trump’s a hot item in the press, despite his negatives in all the polls, at least until he wins the nomination, when all the horror stories start to show up in the media he’s supposedly been so skillfully playing.
These are strange and contentious times, and we doubt any of these guys from the Vatican to the White House to top of Trump Tower to the cheap-rent headquarters of those pesky rivals have any idea how it will play out. The Democratic race offers no hope, and is in fact at least as big a mess even without any papal intervention, so we’ll wait and see. All we know with any certainty is that it won’t be civil, and neckties won’t be required.

— Bud Norman

Calling a Bluff on a Trump Card

Donald J. Trump, the bullying billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul who is somehow the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has long had a habit of frequently threatening and oftentimes even filing frivolous lawsuits against anyone who gets in his way. This time he’s making the threats against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is suddenly challenging Trump’s front-runner status, but Cruz seems an unpromising target for such slip-and-fall-lawyer legal tactics.
There’s a reason, after all, that Cruz’s many Democratic detractors prefer to portray him as evil rather than stupid. Cruz is a graduate of almighty Harvard’s oh-so prestigious law school, where even such leftist professors as Alan Dershowitz and Laurence Tribe acknowledged his brilliance. Only the most brilliant law students find work as Supreme Court clerks, and Cruz stood out among them as a trusted clerk of the great Chief Justice William Rehnquist. During a brief exile from politics Cruz earned millions as an associate at one of the country’s most prestigious firms, which by Trump’s bottom-line standards suggest some legal acumen. Upon his voluntary pay-cut return to public service as the state of Texas’ Solicitor General, he was mostly victorious in his nine arguments before the Supreme Court, and even in defeat earned a reputation as a formidable lawyer that is now begrudgingly acknowledged by the likes of Politico and The New York Times.
Cruz also relishes the same politically-incorrect and anti-establishment tough guy reputation that has somehow propelled a bullying billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul such as Trump to front-runner status, so he would seem especially unlikely to cower in the face of some frivolous threat. Sure enough, Cruz’s Wednesday press conference could be aptly summed up by Clint Eastwood’s pithier “Go ahead, punk, make my day.
In response to one of those cease-and-desist letters that well-lawyered people are always sending out to easily-bullied types these days, Cruz defiantly insisted he would not cease nor desist from airing a campaign commercial that showed some old footage of Trump telling one of his constant interviewers that he had “New York values” about a wide range of social issues, up to and including late-term and even partial-birth abortion, which is to say values that are in many cases in conflict values of the electorate in the upcoming South Carolina primary. Trump’s claim is that the commercial is slanderous, and try as we might we can’t quite surmise his argument why. The closest we ever got to an argument before the highest court in the land was running briefs between offices during a delightful teenaged summer as Supreme Court messengers, but even we know that the truth is always an absolute defense against a slander charge, and we spent enough time in the newspaper business to know that the thank-God-for-it Sullivan decision sets an extraordinarily high standard of proof for slander against any public figure, which allows us even from our humble internet porch to poke unremitting fun at the likes of the thin-and-orange-skinned and ridiculously coiffed Donald J. Trump, so we expect that the more knowledgeable-about-these-things Cruz will quickly prevail in the courts.
Cruz also seem undaunted by Trump’s threat to challenge his eligibility to serve as President of the United States unless some groveling apology for all disagreements was forthcoming. Although Cruz was admittedly born in Canada, as well as he can recall, and although his father was a naturalized citizen who had fled a dictatorship in Cuba, his mother was a natural born citizen who had lived the requisite number of years in the country, and that’s good enough for the Illinois election board, and we expect that most Americans will also be satisfied. We note that Trump hasn’t yet filed suit, whatever standing he might have, or whatever lawyers he might hire to find some, and further note that he’s willing to let this matter of constitutional law drop if he gets an honor-satisfying apology.
There’s also the problem that Trump would be deposed on video after filing suit, and that Cruz has indicated interest in doing the honors himself, and that it wouldn’t go according to World Wrestling Entertainment rules.
Perhaps this will be prove another one of those brilliant maneuvers that Trump has made on his way to front-runner status. Trump does have considerable legal experience of his own, after all, after two divorces and one post-divorce lawsuit regarding a decree that the party of the second part never say anything bad about him, as well as at least 169 federal lawsuits that he brought against others or were brought against him, including one suit against two fellows named Trump for doing business in their family name, which alleged that Trump’s Trump trumped all other Trumps’ Trump, even though the defendants’ family had been using the name longer than Trump’s family, and there was the successful lawsuit brought by the Justice Department for anti-trust violations, and the ongoing lawsuits by the New York State Attorney General and a lot of disgruntled students over the scam Trump University, as well as all the nuisance suits that billionaires attract, so maybe he knows what he’s doing. If  so, we’ll be intrigued how it plays out. Trump can make good on his threat to have an opponent’s political advertisement banned by the government, and it will cost Cruz some campaign funds to deal with it and fringe media that openly support Trump will be gleeful about, but the case will be quickly laughed out of court and pilloried in the press and laughed at on all the late night comedy shows, and for one brief news-and-joke cycle Cruz won’t be the butt of the jokes. Trump’s “birther” bit has about as much chance of knocking Cruz out of the race as it did of knocking Barack Obama out of the presidency, and we notice that he hasn’t filed that suit yet.
Trump could back off his threats, with some blustery explanation about how he won again, because he always wins, and so he couldn’t have lost, and perhaps that will satisfy his fans. We’ve witnessed these sorts of confrontations between tough guys before, though, and we’ve never seen anyone pick a fight and back off a winner.

— Bud Norman

Hillary and the Dog That Didn’t Bark

Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President Hillary Clinton was barking like a dog on the campaign trail the other day, and lest you think that’s some sexist slur please understand that she was quite literally barking like a dog. The bit got a good laugh from her fans, who are so humorless they’ve kept a straight face through all her explanations about her e-mails and Benghazi and the numerous other Clinton family scandals, and it was approvingly noted by the liberal press, which is eager to show her lighter side, while the more conservative media made sport of it. Donald J. Trump, the foul-mouthed real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show carnival barker who is currently leading the Republican field, seemed to find it undignified.
We found the impression a failed but harmless attempt at humor, and hardly worth mentioning, but we wish more attention was paid to what she was barking about.
After recalling an ad that once ran on rural Arkansas radio featuring a dog that would bark whenever a candidate said something untrue, sounding very folksy as she related the story, Clinton said “I want to figure out how we can do that with Republicans. We need to get that dog to follow them around and every time they say things like ‘Oh, the great recession was caused by too much regulation, then ‘bark, bark, bark.'” The crowd roared its approval, of course, but they failed to realize the joke is on them.
Any competent lie-detecting dog would not be only barking furiously at the implied argument that the great recession was caused by too little regulation, it would be straining at its leash and salivating for blood, and Clinton surely knows this better than most. The last round of significant financial de-regulation was signed into law during the administration of her hound dog husband, former President Bill Clinton, and the subsequent Republican administration added the countless regulations of Sarbanes-Oxley and countless regulators to enforce them, and the banks didn’t make hundreds of billions of dollars of loans to people with little chance of paying them off because the Republicans had deviously repealed some rule against it but rather because Clinton’s husband’s administration coerced and cajoled and incentivized them to do so in the name of fairness. At first the policy fed a housing bubble that seemed to make the entire country richer, and those suckers with the subprime mortgages were able to stay afloat on the rising real estate tide, and Clinton successfully ran for the Senate bragging about it, but eventually it all came crashing down into a very well regulated pile.
The notion that greedy Wall Street bankers eager to get rich by making hundreds of billions of dollars of loans that were unlikely to ever be paid back were to blame, and that even more government coercion and cajoling and incentivizing were therefore required, quickly became the widely accepted story. Even Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain went along with it, and the dissenting voices with their facts and arguments and lack of any recognizable villains other than well-intentioned government servants were quickly drowned out in the boos. Now it’s just one of those things that every knows even though it’s not at all true, much like that “Bush lied, people died” theory of the Iraq War that even the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination is peddling, and at this point Clinton’s barking dog shtick will be very difficult to refute.
Still, we’d like to see someone in the Republican field make a stab at it, and not just by mocking the barking dog impersonation. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is still defending the free market system, and he does some pretty convincing impersonations of characters from “The Princess Bride” and “The Simpsons,” so perhaps he’s up to the task. The boastful billionaire front-runner is more inclined to criticize Wall Street’s greed than the regulators’ good intentions, the rest of the field seems reluctant to champion that good old red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that doesn’t make bad loans even for fairness’ sake, and we certainly can’t expect the unfashionable truth from the self-described socialist who is currently the front-runner in the Democratic race.
All in all, it’s enough to make us barking mad.

— Bud Norman

The Pinkest Republican

Yes, that actually was the front-runner for the Republican party’s presidential nomination shouting about how “Bush lied, people died” and praising the good works of Planned Parenthood and sneering at unnamed big fat cat donors during last Saturday’s debate. The same day’s death of Justice Antonin Scalia and all the resulting politics got most of the conservative media attention, which is appropriate, but it surely is also worth noting that the once-Grand Old Party is threatening to go Code Pink.
Not even self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the abortion-loving foe of big fat cat donors and all-around far-left-wing kook who is currently the front-runner for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, bothers with that “Bush lied, people died” nonsense anymore. Perhaps that’s because he’d rather not let his opponent, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and long-presumed First Woman President of the United States Hillary Clinton, off the hook for voting in favor of the war as Senator, even if he’s willing to let her off the hook for facilitating a premature withdrawal from a pacified Iraq as Secretary of State, which is the smart way to play a Democratic primary, but we’ll give him some begrudging credit for avoiding that losing argument. To hear it shouted so loudly at a Republican debate, though, and by the front-runner, at that, is something hard to explain.
Even if you’re not satisfied by the sarin-tipped rockets and other chemical weapons that were found in Iraq, or discount the many plausible accounts of more weapons being shipped to Syria, and conveniently forget the many other persuasive casus belli offered for the Iraq war, and assume that an absence of more widely publicized evidence is evidence of absence, an allegation that any president knowingly lied to the American people about non-existent weapons of mass destruction to launch a war for still unstated reasons carries a burden a proof. One would have to explain why such a diabolical president would launch a war on a pretext he knew would be exposed, or why such a diabolical president wouldn’t plant some evidence to cover his crime, which shouldn’t have been too hard after recruiting the intelligence agencies of every American ally in Europe and the Middle East to bolster his made-up claims, not to mention getting all those inspectors from the United Nations to say they had their own suspicions about what was going on in Iraq, and we’d like to think it’s still hard to make that case to a majority of Republican primary voters.
Especially in South Carolina, a state where the Republican primary includes many proud veterans of the Iraq War and a lot of people who still prefer the president that is being accused of treason to the one that is being left off the hook for squandering the victory those proud veterans won. Especially when you’re Donald J. Trump, a foul-mouthed real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-television mogul and proud adulterer and good friend of the Clintons and you’re shouting about all the good works that Planned Parenthood does, and a lot of stout South Carolina Christians are voting in the state’s primary and they’re not likely to be reassured his boast that “I drink my little win, have my little cracker” and is therefore good with God. They might like the part about fat cat donors, which as always plays well everywhere, the implied free speech concerns notwithstanding, but the fact that Trump also routinely boasts about being a fat cat donor himself might undercut that message once he goes up against Sanders.
Which makes us doubt the explanation that Trump is once again making a brilliant maneuver. Even one of the putatively conservative right-wing talk radio hosts was speculating that Trump figures he’s already got the Republican nomination wrapped up and is already positioning himself to appeal to the general electorate, which is apparently so boiling angry that it’s hell-bent on one conspiracy-theorizing kook or another, and our once-reliable host didn’t seem to mind the possibility that our kook might even be kooky enough to put California and New York into play. Even if Bush is still more unpopular than even Obama we’re not sure that the Republicans could ever win a most kookiest candidate contest against the Democrats, and try as we might we can’t see Trump winning over any of those basement-dwelling Sanders kids or Hillary’s abortion-loving old ladies or those Code Pink commies, but in any case we’d rather play another game with a conservative candidate against whatever left-wing or far-left-wing candidates the Democrats wind up with. Trump might find a few disaffected Democrats in the open-primary state of South Carolina who are only Democrats because their Confederate great-great-grandpappies were, and with the anti-Trump field still split too many ways they might be enough to give him another victory to boast about, but starting the play-offs before the regular season is over is always a risky strategy.
Our best guess is that Trump really believes that “Bush lied, people died” nonsense, and he really believes that if he’d been president the terror attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon never would have happened and that nothing bad will ever happen if he is the president, and he even believes all that “birther” stuff about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and President Barack Obama and all the other weird conspiracies he talks about with the lunatic Alex Jones’ on the “Infowars” show that he visits, and that he’s the kind of guy who responds to the kind of criticism that he got in that debate by spouting off baseless allegations of treason at a more honorable man than himself and yelling “liar” at people more honest than himself. At least he fights, his enchanted supporters will always insist.
It seems to be working, we glumly admit, but we even more glumly wonder what he’s fighting for. If beating a self-described socialist and full blown kook or a thoroughly corrupt and incompetent felon requires shouting “Bush lied, people died” and ignoring the lessons of Obama’s withdrawal and indirectly funding all the not-so-wonderful stuff Planned Parenthood does and jettisoning the First Amendment to deal with all those fat cat donors not named Donald J. Trump, then we’re not all sure it’s worth doing.

— Bud Norman