The Point of No Tax Return

President Donald Trump spent an early part of Sunday “tweeting,” as he does most mornings. He wished everyone a Happy Easter, which suited the occasion, and he boasted of a military build-up that is apparently somehow already underway, but mostly he seemed annoyed the previous day’s protests around the country demanding the release of his tax returns.
The first “tweet” once again recounted his “almost impossible” electoral college victory, then asked “Now Tax Returns are brought up again?” His second outburst suggested “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday, adding that “Election is over!” Both were composed before Trump got around to wishing the country a Happy Easter, so together they suggest the protestors at least succeeded in rankling the president.
Many of the protests were indeed small, and the election is indeed over, but Trump should nonetheless get used to it being brought up again and again. Although he did win electoral college victory Trump lost the popular, many of those who voted against him don’t have to be paid to show up somewhere and wave a sign and chant slogans about it, and Trump’s capitalized Tax Return is too tempting an issue for them to drop it. The protestors allies in Congress and many of the media don’t intend to, and Trump will need better “tweets” to counter their arguments.
Campaign issues don’t end with the campaigns, as Trump should know after the decades he continued to make the same criticisms and conspiracy theories about every president since Ronald Reagan throughout their terms, and there’s no apparent reason this one should. Although Trump is not required by law to disclose his tax returns, with or with capitalization, there are valid reasons that for the past forty years every presidential nominee has done so and solid majorities of the public have come to expect it. Those reasons are all the more valid when a president retains a global empire business that is bound to be affected by what the federal government does over the next four years, as this one does, another break from a longstanding informal agreement that there are also valid reasons for, and which is also something that Trump’s critics can be expected to keep bringing up.
Worse yet, it’s hard to concoct a convincing argument for why Trump doesn’t release his tax returns. The sorts of Trump supporters who don’t need convincing will accept the stated reason that he’s under audit, even though that doesn’t prevent him from making his returns public, and shouldn’t put him in any sort of legal jeopardy, but eventually Trump will need to persuade some more skeptical sorts. His more stubborn apologists point out the educational records and other documents that Obama declined to release, and note that Democrats didn’t seem to mind that lack of transparency, but of course those supporters very much minded, and kept bringing it up throughout and now even after his term, and so did Trump himself, who “tweeted” repeatedly about it, so they also have to explain why things are now so different. For those of us who wanted to see Obama’s grades and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and anything else we could get our hands on about any any office-holding Democrats, but also want to see Trump’s tax filings and anything else we can learn his or any other Republican politician’s potential conflicts of power, that argument is utterly unconvincing.
Although it will drift on and off the front pages, we expect the stories and and the protests will continue. All the stories about investigations underway into Russia’s role in the past campaign will make mention of it, and so will all the stories about Trump-owned businesses benefiting from some deregulation or tax shift or federal contracts that are bound to come up. There will be plenty of speculation, too, and Trump’s “tweets” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer don’t seem likely to allay the resulting suspicions. The only way to end it is to just go ahead and release the damned things, the way Obama did with the birth certificate he was pestered about by certain people even long after his victorious election was over.
That would not only put the issue to rest and allow Trump to “tweet” about more important issues, but also quell some of that speculation about what those unseen returns might reveal about Russia or any possible conflicts of interest from that global business empire. Surely there’s nothing the least bit compromising in those documents, after all.

— Bud Norman

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A Big Blast in Afghanistan

America’s war in Afghanistan has dragging on for so long that by now most Americans have largely forgotten about it, but it was back in the news on Thursday with a literal bang. The Air Force dropped the Mother of All Bombs on an Islamic State encampment, and that’s not just Trumpian hyperbole but the actual nickname of the weapon.
The official moniker is Massive Ordinance Air Blast, but the initials naturally inspired the more apt term that all the military types apparently use. It weighs 22,000 pounds, packs a net explosive weight of 18,700 pounds, and is said to be the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever deployed in the long history of war. That’s still probably insufficient to bring a conclusion to what is already America’s longest-running military conflict, but surely enough to have a literal impact on the Islamic State.
Such serious ordinance suggests a renewed American seriousness about the Afghanistan war, and the broader war on terror, so even if it doesn’t serve any broader military strategy that’s good enough for us. There can be no pity for the Islamic State savages that the bomb fell on, who are just one of the problems we face in Afghanistan but a bigger threat in Iraq and Syria and all the places around the globe where they’ve pulled off terror attacks, and it’s hard to pass up such a golden opportunity to eliminate so many of them in one fell swoop. Although the Islamic State usually embeds itself in civilian areas the target was carelessly free of any non-combatants, and the Russians and Iranians and Sunni Arabs and other players that make fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria so complicated don’t care about godforsaken and mostly oil-free and perpetually troublesome Afghanistan, and that big bomb had been sitting around in a warehouse for years with no good reason not to use it. A 22,000 pound bomb can’t be launched from even an almighty B-52 or placed atop even the most powerful missiles and instead has to be pushed out of a cargo plane, meaning it’s only useful against enemies who lack even World War II-vintage anti-aircraft systems, so that’s another reason to grab the rare chance to try it out on the likes of the Islamic State.
Coming shortly after the 59 Tomahawk missiles that were launched at an airbase in the trickier Syrian terrain, it also sends a potentially useful signal of resolve. President Donald Trump’s administration has since sent mixed signals about that Syrian strike, with the Secretary of State warning that anybody who murders young children anywhere in the world can expect more of the same and the White House Press Secretary stressing that what the president had said just a days before about not being the policeman of the world still applied, and those more conventional bombs don’t seem to have stopped that airbase from launching it’s own conventional bombs in its long-running civil war, but the message with the Mother of All Bombs probably won’t be so muddied. Although the Syrian strike eked out a 51 percent approval ratings in the first poll, there was also heated criticism from both the peacenik left and the isolationist right, as well as principled constitutional conservatives who had insisted that President Barack Obama seek congressional approval for such an action and the sorts of intellectually honest liberals who had to admit they had defended Obama’s inaction. Trump himself had also urged inaction at the time, and “tweeted” the missiles strikes were only used to prop up sagging poll number, and plenty of others on both left and right proved just as flip-floppy, and there’s no telling where they might all flip and flop to next.
What just happened in Afghanistan is a whole lot simpler, though, in military as well as domestic and international politics terms. America went to war in Afghanistan because that is where the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were launched, and similar intolerable acts were still being planned, and not just President George W. Bush but also future Democratic presidential nominees John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the United Nations Security Council and the leaders of pretty much every decent democratic nation agreed that was sufficient reason to wage war there. Since then there’s been plenty of argument about how it should be fought, although the troop levels and casualty rates have lately been so low you wouldn’t have noticed it during the past campaign, but even after so many years there’s still a bipartisan consensus that America remains entitled to drop any old bomb on that troublesome land that it chooses.
Trump’s action was still empowered by the military authorization that bipartisan majorities granted way back when it all started, too, so there’s no trouble with the argument that critics on both the left and right are raising about the constitutionality of that Syrian strike, and it’s not the same betrayal of his isolationist campaign rhetoric, which also included explicit promises to bomb the barnyard epithet out of the Islamic State. The Russians still want nothing to do with Afghanistan ever again, the Syrians and Iranians and their Sunni antagonists have little reason to care, the United Nations and all the decent democratic nations have more pressing concerns, and the Democrats have better fights to pick, so we can hope that he’s taking advantage of a rare opportunity take care of some business in Afghanistan. Should Trump administration articulate how it’s serving some broader strategic purpose, which it very well might, that would also be nice.
There’s really no getting out of Afghanistan until we leave a country that’s unlikely to ever try anything like Sept. 11 again, and even that low bar seems awful high for a long time to come, and unlikely to be achieved even with the Mother of All Bombs, but with low troop levels and relative-to-the-history-of-war low casualties America has kept the country’s long history of hate from infecting the rest of the world for the past 16 years or so. Such small victories aren’t satisfying to any American, and especially to such accustomed-to-winning-big-league types as Trump, but that’s how the score is kept in a season that’s arguably been lasting the Seventh Century or so.
Dropping that Mother of All Bombs on a remote and conveniently civilian-free camp full of murderous Islamic State thugs during a unique opportunity to do so was a good idea, and kudos to the generals who came up with it and the president who listened to them, despite his campaign promise that he knew more about the Islamic State than the generals did. We’ll count it as one of those small victories in a long, long war, and faintly hope that Trump will settle for that claim.

— Bud Norman

The Endless Campaign

President Donald Trump held another of his large and raucous campaign rallies in Florida on Saturday, which seems odd given that the last presidential election occurred nearly four months ago and the next one won’t take place for another three years and eight month or so. At this point in a presidency most presidents are busy filling the last of their administration posts, sending out the smart people they’ve already brought on to make a reasoned case to both the congress and broader public for the policies being proposed, digging into all the rest of the dreary work of a thankless office, and breathing a sigh of relief that the past campaign is four months over and the next won’t begin until a few days after the mid-term elections that are still nearly two months away.
Pretty much everything about the presidency of President Donald Trump seems odd, though, as his most strident critics will bitterly complain and his most ardent supports will proudly boast. Trump is behind schedule in filling such administration posts as Deputy Secretary to several of the more consequential Secretaries he’s been having trouble getting approved, largely because so many of the potential pool of conservative and Republican establishment figures had critical things to say about him during the campaign, but his most strident critics never liked any of those guys and his most ardent supporters are even more disdainful of the Republican establishment. So far the only detailed policy that has been trotted out is a temporary ban on travel into the United States from a limited number of Muslim-majority countries, which made some sense and had some obvious flaws and has since been so endlessly revised and re-intepreted and beset by such legal challenges both reasonable and absurd that both the smart people sent out to explain and the strident critics opposing it wound up looking ridiculous. So far, both sides seem delighted about everything.
Digging into the dreary work of a thankless office doesn’t seem Trump’s style, based on what we’ve observed of the man over his long career as a celebrity real estate and casino and strip club and minor league football and pro-wrestling and scam university mogul and constant tabloid sex scandal subject and better-ratings-than-Arnold-Schwarzenegger-and-should-have-won-an-Emmy reality television star, and he also doesn’t seem the type to breath a sigh of relief at being momentarily out of the spotlight of a campaign. “Life is a campaign,” Trump told a bevy of reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to the rally. “Making America great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign.” By now it should be clear that the campaign will last for the rest of all our natural lives, and will forever need fresh foes to vanquish more than it needs objective improvements in American life.
Even before the big Florida rally Trump had returned to bashing the throughly vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a widely watched news conference, and reviving unproved claims that she didn’t really win the popular vote by an embarrassing three million or so votes due to massive voter fraud, and making a provably false claim that his electoral victory was the biggest since Reagan’s and then embarrassingly attributing it to “the information I heard,” and it seems clear he’ll still be running against Clinton for the next three years and eight months or so. We take a back seat to no one in our disdain for Clinton, and were criticizing her way back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and praising her to the hilt in his non-stop interviews, but by now we’re happy to let the subject drop.
Clinton not only lost her second and final attempt at the presidency but lost it to Trump, which is surely an innermost circle of hell that the combined imaginations of Dante Alighieri and Hieronymus Bosch and ourselves could not have conceived for her, and she will likely spend the rest of her addled days wandering the woods of upstate New York with no contributions flowing into her defunct charity and her speaking fees and book royalties at a bargain-basement price, and at at this point even Trump isn’t leading the rallies in chants of “lock her up.” At any rate she no longer seems an impediment to making America great again, so we’re eager to hear more about how Trump intends to achieve that with her well out of the way.
Apparently, though, there are other foes to be vanquished before the gain get around to explaining how he’s going to make everything better. There’s that pesky free press, of course, with all its fake news about how the administration isn’t humming like a finely-tuned machine and Trump isn’t already making America great again. During the rally he quoted Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln criticizing the press, which goes to show how long those nasty newspapers have been trying to undermine a free republic, and his most ardent supporters agreed not read anything negative they read about Trump, which caused his most strident critics to pull their hair and gnash their teeth, which gave great glee to all of Trump’s most ardent supporters, but such old conservative and Republicans hands as ourselves wondered how that was making America great again.
There is the very real and ever-present threat of Islamist terrorism, and Trump rightly mentioned that, but during that portion of the rally he also alluded to “what happened last night in Sweden.” So far as anyone can tell the biggest story in Sweden the night before was a microphone failure on a popular amateur singing contest called “Melfest,” which all those snooty reporters from the hated press and all the rest of Trump’s most strident critics had great fun reporting, and which all of Trump’s most ardent supporters were explaining to a general crime problem among Sweden’s Muslim immigrant population which had been reported on the night before on the Fox News network. Trump’s most ardent supporters love him because he means what he says, even though they often have to explain that what he said wasn’t really what he meant to say, but for all our longstanding concern about Islamist terrorism we’re not inclined to make such excuses for such sloppy language. Oh, and there are gangsters galore out there terrorizing America’s streets, but so far as we can tell the recent uptick in crime — which objectively are still nowhere near the 45-year highs Trump constantly claims, even when addressing law enforcement officers who damn well know better — is driven mostly by Chicago and a couple of other big Democratic controlled cities, and Trump wasn’t altogether clear about he was going to do about that.
Trump has described certain of his critics as “the enemy of the American people,” which also seems odd, given the terms association with the Roman Senate’s accusation against the Emperor Nero and the Henrik Ibsen play that Hitler somehow misread and the Bolsheviks’ slaughter of the kulaks, but we don’t suppose that Trump or any of his most ardent supporters are aware of any of that. In any case we hope we won’t be so accused, not because we’re afraid the thin-and-orange-skinned demagogue bothers himself with such small fry as ourselves, but because we’re all in favor of the people and wouldn’t want anyone to think otherwise. We’d love to see a sensible skepticism about travel from Muslim-majority countries, and a more honest and accountable press, and a finely-tuned administration repealing bothersome regulations and freeing the private sector from bossy interventions, and safe streets even in Chicago, and all the things that have so long been yearned for the boring old Republican establishment that Trump has vowed to vanquish.
So far it seems an odd beginning, though, and something in our boring old Republican establishment souls would much prefer a president digging into the dreary work of a thankless office and sharing our sigh of relief that the campaign is at least momentarily over.

— Bud Norman

Happy New Year, and What’s to Come

This will be our last essay of 2016, and a longstanding journalistic tradition dictates that we either write a fond remembrance of the past 12 months or a hopeful look ahead to next year. We can’t bring ourselves to look back at the past year for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, yet we’re the hidebound sort of traditionalists who live and die by such wise Old Testament allusions, so we suppose we’ll have to peek through the nearly crossed fingers over our eyes at what’s coming.
Our powers of prophecy are as limited as the next guy’s, so don’t go making any stock picks based on our conjecture, but by now we’ve been to enough figurative and literal rodeos to venture a cautious guess that no matter how bumpy the ride we’ll all get through it for at least another trip around the sun. That’s not for certain, as a few of our friends and loved ones and many more famous people and countless others found out during the latest journey, and the off chances of the whole she-bang going up in flames are as present as always, but past experience and the lack of other options make us wiling to make that cautious prediction. Should it prove wrong about either us or you, at least we won’t have to hear any taunts about it.
The big story of the past year was Donald Trump somehow being elected President of the United States, and it doesn’t take an Old Testament prophet to confidently predict that will also be the big story of the upcoming year. Despite all the figurative and literal rodeos we’ve attended, and the many other improbable things we’ve witnessed over the years, it’s still hard to believe, Nonetheless, on this year’s end we’ll offer up some publicly proclaimed hope that we all survive. The only other option offered by that year we won’t look back on was Hillary Clinton, and along with an Electoral College majority of the country we’ll even acknowledge that it could have been even worse.
Somehow, though, we and you and almost all the rest of us and everything else seem to yearly survive all that sort of thing, with the smartest and the luckiest among us even thriving as they live fulfilling human lives throughout the worst of it. That’s what we’re wishing and hoping for on this nearly New Year’s Eve, for us and you and all the rest.

— Bud Norman

From the Sideline View

The state of America and the rest of the world remains a preoccupying fascination for us, but these days we watch the news unfold with from a somewhat disinterred perspective. The team of old-fashioned Republican cold warriors and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists and stodgy traditionalists on the social issues we’ve always rooted for didn’t even the make the political playoffs in this crazy election year, so there’s the desultory feel of a World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers about all of it, and our newfound objectivity makes the worst of both remaining teams so much more glaring.
All through the long years of President Barack Obama we groused about his groveling appeasement of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and all through a crazy election year we indignantly noted that his would-be successor and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State started it off with that stupid “reset” button, and like all good Republicans we excoriated them durned Democrats for their Russkie-friendly ways. Now the putatively Republican president-elect has a mutual admiration society going with Putin and is appointing all sorts of Russophile wheelers and dealers who have also already wheeled and dealt some some officially friendly arrangements with the Russkies, suddenly those formerly apologetic Democrats who once laughed at Obama’s line about how “the ’80s are calling and they want their foreign policy” back are now demanding a more Reaganesque response towards that bear in the woods, and we note that pretty much everyone is accusing pretty much everyone else of being a partisan hypocrite who suddenly switched sides. Pretty much of all of them are right about all of that, of course, even if we do stand unsullied on stands, but from this viewpoint they all seem wrong about the rest of it.
There does look to be a whole lot of de-regulatin’ coming, perhaps even on a bigger-than-Reagan scale, and our old-fashioned Republican souls will begrudgingly enjoy that, along with the inevitable squealing from those durned Democrats, but we also anticipate a lot more of the kooky economic interventions that president-elect Donald Trump has already imposed on free markets. Trump’s admittedly different version of command controlled and outright protectionist economic policies have already aroused the indignation of the very same Democrats who spent the Obama years praising the same industrial policies we were continually grousing about, and we suppose we should welcome their company, but we don’t quite trust them. Much of the putatively Republican press we used to have some trust in are now suddenly enthused about about the government picking winners and losers and marketplace of ideas and products, such stalwart holdouts of of Burkean skepticism as The National Review and The Weekly Standard and The Central Standard Times are awaiting vindication before getting back in the game, and for now everyone looks faintly ridiculous.
We’ll continue to place our faith in God, but for now even His role in all this might be seem marginalized. The Republican party of family values finally vanquished that awful wife of that libertine ex-president, but it did so with a thrice-married-to-a-nudie-model casino-and-strip-club mogul who has bragged in print about all the married babes he’s bagged, and many of the Democrats who once defended Clinton’s behavior are now aghast Trump’s, and many of the Republicans who were once aghast by Clinton’s behavior are reaching into the Old Testament to exalt Trump. We count it a loss for the religious right, even though many of its putative leaders enthusiastically backed Trump, and despite their sudden prudishness we can’t see the secular left restoring any righteousness to the world.
All that bother about sex and abortion and the guy wanting to get into the women’s locker room and safe spaces from offending opinions and all the rest of those modern world things that keep popping up will surely continue for the next four years, no matter what the Illuminati have cooked up, and we expect that all sorts of people will wind up on all different sides of it, but for now we’ll try to keep warm and maintain a fair perspective from the sidelines.

— Bud Norman

Recounting the Inevitable

Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s quixotic effort to recount the presidential election results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, where her quixotic campaign won enough votes to account for the slight Trump victories that won him a majority of the Electoral College’s votes, have apparently come to naught. The Wisconsin recount wound up yielding only another three hundred ballots to Trump’s previously announced win, and the courts in the other two states have concluded that a recount isn’t worth the bother. There’s still a slight chance that 37 electors in states Trump apparently won will not vote for him, and one has vowed in a New York Times op-ed that he won’t and several others are requesting intelligence briefings about Russia’s alleged involvement in the election, which suddenly seem plausible given the apparent president-elect’s announced appointments, but even in such a crazy election year as this that seems unlikely to change the already crazy enough outcome.
There’s a long and colorful history of “faithless electors” casting their votes against the will of the majority or plurality of their states, and depending on what state you’re in or what judge you wind up in front of it might be quite legal, and there are sound historical and constitutional arguments to be made on their behalf, especially in such a crazy election year as this, but they’ve never once changed the outcome of an election. Even in such a crazy election year as this it seems unlikely to occur, and even if it did it wouldn’t provide a happy outcome.
One highly unlikely scenario has those 37 electors switching their votes to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and making her the president, which would arguably be even worse than Trump taking the office, and we note that the country has wasted much of the past year and a half arguing about that very question and come to mixed results about it, so we can’t see that happening. The electors could also decline to vote for either of the major party nominees, as we did, in which case the matter would be left to the House of Representatives, where the Republicans hold a majority and would most likely wind up holding their noses as so many of our Republican friends did and vote for Trump. At this point in this crazy election year there’s still a one-in-a-gazillion chance that neither Clinton nor Trump will become president, and we will bitterly cling to that faint hope until it is inevitably dashed, but we’re already girding ourselves for what’s to come.

— Bud Norman

An Early Christmas and a Break From the News

It was still November and warmer than usual on the central plains Wednesday evening, but we nonetheless found ourselves ironing a button-down shirt and some pleated pants and donning a coat and tie to commence the Christmas season, which seems to come earlier every year. The occasion was a Christmas party the beloved folks were hosting at their swanky retirement home over on the newfangled and schmanty-fancy east side, and we must say it mostly provided a pleasant distraction from all the news and the rest of the modern world.
The other guests at the elegantly adorned table were a charming couple who have been married for nearly 70 years, and had been courting since he was in the second grade and she in the first, another delightful pair who had also been childhood sweethearts but only got together in her widowhood after many happy days, another dear woman recently widowed after as 66 years of fruitful marriage, as well as the beloved folks, whose sixtieth year of marriage seems their best yet, even closer and more heartfelt than in those carefree early days in exotic places that they still love to talk about. Our own romantic history isn’t so much worth talking about, especially with all the heartwarming conversation that was going on, so we happily sipped the wine that was served with each delicious course and vicariously soaked in the memories. Everyone at the table also told tales of the rigorous educations and successful careers that had brought them to that swanky retirement home, and the friends and children and hard times and belly laughs they had encountered along the way, as well as some fascinating talk about a couple of golf outings where one had a buddy who died on the green and another hit a hole-in-one. Our own educational and professional careers aren’t so much worth talking about, especially in such company, and we never did get the hang of golf, but it did our heart well to listen in.
Eventually the talk got around to politics, and we weren’t the least bit surprised that everyone else said they voted for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, the thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie model and six-times bankrupt casino-and-strip-club-mogul and former reality star and professional wrestling performer. None of them seemed at all happy about it, but they all noted that their only alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose romantic and professional history also isn’t worth talking about, so we couldn’t argue with their reasons nor their hard-earned presence. Our mom revealed that we hadn’t voted for Trump, so we quickly explained that we sure enough also hadn’t voted for Clinton, along with our rote statement that we were against her back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and saying she was the best Secretary of State ever, and in their wizened wisdom they seemed respectful of our choice.
In the America that our fellow Christmas revelers grew up in neither Clinton nor Trump would have ever been even momentarily considered for the presidency, but they’ve all seen some less-than-stellar presidents in their times, and on our way back from the men’s room we overheard another one of the residents talking about her grandson with the weird hair, and even on such a warmer-than-usual evening and such a convivial Christmastime celebration there’s no escaping the conclusion that times have changed. Our fellow revelers had been through many changes, some for the better and some for the worse, and they all seemed hopeful, so we took that with us on the way home.
You can quickly get from our folk’s swanky retirement home on the fancy-schmantzy east side to our old but fashionable neighborhood by taking the bypass and the canal route to 13th Street, but we decided to take the city streets that wind past Kirby’s Beer Store, the notorious bohemian dive bar where we stopped to take in a beer and some convivial conversation with the lovable losers we always find there. A couple of our younger yet seasoned musician friends gave us a complimentary copy of a seven-inch vinyl surf music revival record they’ve recently cut here in the central plains, we had a nice chat with a delightful and still idealistic young fellow we’ve recently met who is studying journalism at the university across the street and is seriously considering a newspaper career, which we can’t recommend but can’t quite bring ourselves to discourage, given our own well-remembered but currently unsatisfactory history in the profession, and all in all it was a nice stop in a day away from the news. Nobody seemed particularly pleased with that moment in history, but they had same fatalistic hope as at the earlier party, so we decided to carry that home as well.
There will be another round of news today, probably, but for now we’ll just try to pass along that same hope of wizened old age and idealistic youth as well as  our early wishes for a Merry Christmas.

— Bud Norman

Pizzagate and the Rest of the Post-Reality Show

The real news always takes time off for the holidays, so after a hearty Thanksgiving feast we took the opportunity to catch up on the latest conspiracy theories. At the moment the hot topic is “Pizzagate,” which by now involves not only Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama and other political power brokers but also such entertainment celebrities as Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, and perhaps even president-elect Donald Trump.
For those of you new to the scandal, the plot thus far is hard to explain. It all began with those e-mails that were hacked from Clinton crony John Podesta’s computer and released to the public through Wikileaks during the late stages of the recent presidential election. The mainstream sorts of presses reported with various degrees of enthusiasm on the infighting and conniving and other campaign hijinks that were revealed by the purloined missives, all of which was quite bad enough to deal another blow to Clinton’s already scandal-ridden candidacy, but meanwhile the more suspicious denizens of the internet were noticing the mention of a fashionably weird modern artist, along with frequent references to pizza and hot dogs and ping pong, and thus concluded that all the top Democrats were ritualistically raping and murdering kidnapped young children in the back room of a trendy District of Columbia pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong.
This may seem something of a leap of bad faith, but there are dozens of YouTube videos and internet postings out there to connect these seemingly unconnected dots. The fashionably weird artist is Marina Abramovic, who is little known to the general public but has won such reportedly prestigious art prizes as the Golden Lion at Venice with a performance art piece where she stares at random passersby as well as some rather crudely rendered and unmistakably morbid paintings, and one of the hacked e-mail has Podesta writing about his plans to attend of one of her “Spirit Cookings,” which the artist insists are just arty dinner parties but have elsewhere been rumored to be Luciferian rituals, so of course some concluded that the entire Clinton campaign was involved in a satanic conspiracy. Both the Clinton campaign and Obama had also held events at that trendy Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, too, and the e-mails had those frequent references to pizza and ping pong, so of course one would conclude that’s where all those satanic Democrats are ritualistically raping and murdering those kidnapped children.
As it turns out, “pizza” is apparently a code word in pedophile circles for sex with young girls, while “hot dog,” which is also mentioned in those Wikileaked e-mails, is code for sex with young boys, and “ping pong” also has some nefarious sexual connotation or another. We’re told that pedophiles also use a symbol with two intertwined hearts that vaguely resembles the crossed-ping-pong-paddles symbol that appears on the Comet Ping Pong menu, which also features the slogan “Play, Eat, Drink,” the capital letters of which spells “Ped,” as in pedophile, and what more proof does one need that Clinton and Obama and the rest of the cabal are raping and murdering children in the joint’s back room? Throw in the fact that the pizzeria’s owner is a professed homosexual who once had a relationship with David Brock, who was once part of the “vast right wing” conspiracy that tried to bring the Clinton family down way back in the Whitewater days but has long since been running pro-Clinton organizations such as MediaMatters, and that GQ magazine once flattered the owner as an influential Washingtonian, and that his name sounds vaguely like the French for “I love children,” along with some admittedly strange photographs of children on his social media sites, as well as some others than are more easily explained, and it’s no wonder that he and his chefs and waiters and busboys and an allegedly Jewish punk rock band that once played there have lately been receiving death threats from all sorts of places.
Since this shocking story first broke some astute internet sleuths have also noticed that former wholesome Disney star and current tongue-wagging and breast-baring pop provocateur Miley Cyrus has frequently employed pizza imagery in her “tweets” and “instragrams” and other public pronouncements, so she’s obviously in on it as well. The immensely yet unaccountably popular rapper and announced 2020 presidential candidate Kanye West recently had a nervous breakdown in front of a huge audience, which included a widely replayed-on-video rant about why he would have voted for Trump if he had bothered to vote, and none of the video seems to include the part where some people on the internet swear he also talked about all that raping and murdering going on at Comet Ping Pong, so that missing footage and the fact that West is now under psychiatric care just goes to show how very far-reaching the conspiracy has become. By the time this plays out any number of celebrities are likely to be implicated, perhaps even that seemingly-nice Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, because after all he’s from Canada, where they make Canadian bacon, which is often used on pizza and surely has some sinister meaning known only to the innermost circles of the pedophile ring.
As crazy as it all sounds, it’s to be expected in such a crazy election year as this. By now we’ve reached such a point of political polarization that far too many Americans are not only willing but eager to believe the very worst you might allege about their political opponents, they not only disbelieve the more mainstream media but take the official disbelief about such matters as “pizzagate” as proof that they’re in on it as well, and both modern art and modern politics have reached such a sorry state that almost anything does seem plausible. The president-elect has peddled the conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Kenya, that President George W. Bush lied the country into a war with Iraq, intimated that a Republican primary rival’s father was involved in the assassination of President John Kennedy, heaped praise on the crazy-pants conspiracy-theorist InfoWars site, and predicted that a system “rigged” by unnamed bankers and globalists would deprive him of the presidency.
Such conspiracy-mongering helped Trump prevail in the election, but it’s not likely to help the former reality show star as he tries to cope with actual reality. Those unnamed bankers and globalists proved not quite powerful enough to deprive a boorish and oft-bankrupt casino-and-strip-club mogul of the presidency, he’s apparently mended fences with that Republican rival whose dad helped to kill Kennedy, is currently gushing over all the generals who helped Bush lie America into war in Iraq, he’s proudly put to rest all that nonsense he peddled about Obama being born in Kenya, and he’s now saying nice things about Clinton and promising to break his previous promise to have her locked up. He hasn’t yet been implicated in Pizzagate, although he probably has been photographed at some point eating pizza, but his recent reluctance to have Clinton locked up for all her satanic conspiracy shenanigans has already alarmed some of his erstwhile supporters, and his insistence that he can simultaneously run both a global business empire and the presidency seems likely to give rise to some relatively plausible conspiracy theories.
We once knew a fellow who was firmly convinced that George W. Bush had conspired to bring down the World Trade Center and blast a hole in the Pentagon and crash a jetliner into a Pennsylvania field in order to justify a war against an entirely peaceable Muslim world, along with any other satanic crime you might imagine, and seven years later he also believed that Obama was going to bring about hope and change and world peace and income equality and a constant climate on the earth, so when his ultimate hero failed to vanquish his ultimate villain it was quite confusing for him. When Trump fails to bring Obama and Clinton and all their modern art and modern politics friends to account for their satanic crimes it will be just as discombobulating to many of his fans, but the fact that the mainstream press is offering proof of his own conspiracies will probably convince them that he’s surely innocent.
The real news will probably be back by next Monday, and it should provide ample reason to hate all these people without resorting to satanic pedophile conspiracies. In the meantime, enjoy an extended weekend away from all of it.

— Bud Norman

Rethinking that “Lock Her Up” Chant

One of the big selling points of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was that, if he elected, he would send Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to prison. He made the boast to her face during one of their nationally-televised debates, crowds at his subsequent rallies lustily chanted “lock her up,” and the more enthusiastic supporters were sporting t-shirts with the same exhortation. Now that Trump has been elected, though, he seems in a more forgiving mood.
In an interview with The New York Times on Monday, Trump reportedly “made clear that he would not pursue an investigation himself, nor make it a priority as he takes office.” After months of threats of special prosecutors and other investigations against the woman he dubbed “Crooked Hillary,” Trump was quoted as saying “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many ways, and I am not wanting to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious.”
Such magnanimity will no doubt be greatly disappointing to many of Trump’s more fervent supporters, who hate Clinton with a red-hot passion and were so looking forward to seeing the leaked photos of her behind bars in an orange jumpsuit show up in The National Enquirer. Trump has bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes, though, and letting Clinton skate probably isn’t quite so bad as that, depending on Trump might have shot, so we suppose those vengeful supporters will eventually get over it. The gesture won’t earn him any gratitude from those on the left who hate him with a red-hot passion and were hoping to see him making the art of the deal with his cellmates, though, and will have to settle for that $25 million he shelled out to settle the Trump University lawsuits and whatever fines he’ll pay for his family charity’s admitted violations of the tax laws, so as a political matter it’s probably a wash.
As a matter of good government and ethics and all that, on the hand, the whole situation seems ridiculous. We can well understand the animosity toward Clinton, whose unsecured e-mail certainly does seem to have violated several laws that would cause any less well-connected to be imprisoned, and whose own family charity seems to have bigger problems than an affordable tax fine, and we were publicly grousing about her nearly constant disregard for the rules way back when Trump was contributing to the Clintons’ campaigns and inviting them to his third wedding and lavishly praising them to every interviewer. There was something slightly Banana Republic about Trump leading his rallies in a chant of “lock her up,” and as seemingly politically motivated as her official exoneration was under the Obama administration was to her critics it would have seemed at least as politically motivated to Trump’s many critics if he had tried to keep his campaign promise, and we expect everyone involved in that hypothetical battle would come out looking bad.
Which is not to say that anybody is looking good after that Times interview, or that anyone will be pleased with outcome. The Clinton haters will have to console themselves that she’s out of power in the government, in disfavor with much of her party, and unlikely to yield any influence on politics for some to come, and that she might not have that much time left. The Trump haters will have to console themselves with the fact that he’s already broken one campaign promise, with many more sure to come, and that he’s already leaving himself open to the same sort of charges of influence-peddling that he used against Clinton. We don’t hate anybody, nor do we much care for Clinton or Trump, so none of this makes us feel any better about the country’s situation.

— Bud Norman

A Friendly Evening With the Last of the Media

Several of the last remaining members of the local news media got together Monday night at a friend’s nearby house, and as you might expect it was a rather glum affair. The ostensible purpose of the gathering was to plan for the local Society of Professional Journalists chapter’s annual fund-raising satirical revue, so there was plenty of wine and beer and wise-cracking to go with the chicken tacos, and everyone seemed glad see one another, but the free-flowing jokes kept taking a dark turn. No one was happy about the winner of the presidential race, not even the one or two of them we suspect share our equal or greater disdain for the losing candidate, and everyone had to admit that business hasn’t been great lately.
There were a couple of relative youngsters in attendance who still work at the local newspaper, and another five of us relative oldsters once who toiled there, and we all tried to laugh about what has become of it. These days it’s an undersized and over-priced publication, full of wire stories and copy from the chain’s other papers and plenty of locally-produced fluff pieces. The paper devotes much of its remaining resources to covering local high sports, which is among the only news you can’t get quicker and for free on the internet, and seems less interested in what’s going on with the city and county and state governments, news which is also hard to come by on the internet and arguably more important. Those relative youngsters seemed an earnest pair, to the point they struck us as lacking in the requisite cynicism for the job, but they got all the morbid jokes the relative oldsters were telling.
We signed on to the paper as a copy boy with the glorified title of “editorial assistant” a few months before President Ronald Reagan won election, and although we were the only ones in the newsroom who were happy about that at least business was going great. This was shortly after pretty much every city in the country had become a one-newspaper town, just before Reagan repealed the “Fairness Doctrine” and unleashed talk radio on the nation, well before Al Gore invented the internet, and for a while there our monopoly newspaper was not only printing copies that were shipped from one end of the state to another but also seemed to be printing money. Some J-school-educated rabble rousers kept threatening to unionize and management quelled every rebellion with a generous raise, new hires were being added to crowded and still smoke-filled newsroom and given generous expense accounts to spread out across the state and muck rake or fly to New York to cover the Broadway openings or fashion shows, by the time we worked our way up to a byline in every public office lived in fear of a reporter knocking on the door or ringing their phone, and we were a pretty cocky bunch.
By the time we left after a quarter of a century in a fit of depression it was hard to get gas money to travel into the three other counties where the paper was still distributed, bureaucrats and politicians would scoff at any pesky questions they were asked if they even bothered to return a call, and the charts at the every month-or-so staff meetings kept showing a downward trend in readership and ad revenues. A big part of the problem was technological progress, which had suddenly allowed stock investors access to up-to-minute quotes and rendered our day day-after information obsolete, and provided crossword puzzles and comic strips and major league baseball standings and five-day weather forecasts at a moment’s notice and a 100 percent discount, and worse yet created Craigslist and other more desirable alternatives to the classified ads that were once the bread-and-butter of ink-on-print media, but we must admit the desultory quality of the product was also largely to blame. Despite our up-from-copy efforts the paper reflected the condescending attitudes of the corporate headquarters and the J-schools from which it sprung far more than the diners and factory break rooms where the paper was read, its crusades against nuclear energy and in favor of subprime loans are ridiculous in retrospect, it’s easily detectable bias against Republicans was not a sensible business policy in a red state such as Kansas, and we’re not surprised by what’s happening to it now.
The presses stopped rolling at the local newspaper building some time ago, with the few copies required to sate local demand being printed at the former bitter rival and now corporate sister newspaper in Kansas City, and soon the paper will be leaving it altogether. One of the big agribusiness conglomerates has bought the building for some purpose or another, we can’t really say since we’re reliant on the local media for such information, and the paper has announced will be moving elsewhere, possibly somewhere in the Old Town portion of downtown but by all accounts in someplace much smaller. Within a few years our local newspaper will likely be peddling its undersized fare at overpriced fees via only the internet, so there’s no need for the extra room those delightful deaf printers with their hand signals that could be heard over the din and those scraggly inserters recruited from the nearby skid row used to take up. There’s talk that the big agribusiness conglomerate will tear the building down, and we can’t say we’d miss it much, as it’s a garishly ugly old concrete example of modernism.
Monday’s party also allowed us to catch up with some local radio and television journalists, all of whom are fine people who come up with some important stories now and then, especially when there’s a tornado or some other local event that the internet hasn’t caught up to, but as much as enjoyed seeing them they didn’t have much good news to tell. Ratings are down everywhere, also a clear result of technological progress and professional ineptitude, and as night follows day so are the ad revenues, so all the talk was of budget cuts and skeletal crews and the inevitable resulting screw-ups. A few of us in attendance at the gathering are practitioners of the “alternative media” that have also done so much to undermine the ancien regime of media, but we certainly weren’t any more bullish about the business. The funds that our annual amateur theatrics raise are for journalism scholarships, and after a couple of beers or glasses of wine everyone in the show laughingly agreed that it was a hopelessly lost cause.
We can attest that everyone at the gathering had pursued a journalism career with good intentions, and assume the same thing about most people who pursue such a low-paying and thankless occupation, although in some in cases we’re reminded of that old adage about the road to hell, and we sensed a certain sadness about how it seems to have all come to naught. The blame for this desultory election can be widely spread, across both parties and the entirety of a declining American culture, from the hedonistic groves of Hollywood that promoted one tawdry candidate to the hypocritical evangelicals who made excuses for the tawdry other, but surely some of it goes to the remnants of the news media. Trump voters must admit that the mainstream media ran plenty of stories about Clinton’s probably felonious e-mails and other assorted scandals, even if they didn’t get as prominent a placement on the front page as Trump’s latest idiotic “tweet,” and Clinton voters are all the more obliged to admit that Trump’s countless appalling scandals were more breathlessly covered, even if the networks did devote a lot more time to him than all of his more respectable Republican primary challengers combined, but such even-handedness couldn’t avert this awful election.
By now no individual medium has any noticeable effect on events. Technological progress has brought us to a time when people can choose only new sources that confirm what they already believe, and most choose to do so. Our liberal friends challenge any uncomfortable fact by saying “Where did you hear that, on Faux News,” our conservative friends dismiss anything that’s been reported in “The New York Slimes” or “The Washington Compost,” with the damning italics sneeringly implied, and almost everyone gets their news from Facebook or some slightly dubious-sounding e-mail from a friend of family member. We regard it all with a hard-earned suspicion, and an equally hard-earned understanding that it might just be true, and do our best to make discerning judgments after further digging into more definitive sources, but these days that’s no way to make a living.
Our show will go on, we suppose, and so will the ancien regime media and its many alternatives, and we hope that the First Amendment and the rest of our republic will as well. Still, it seems a rather glum affair at this point.

— Bud Norman