Dueling Conspiracy Theories

As any right wing talk radio listener well knows, there’s a “deep state” conspiracy of intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with the legacy media and the Ukrainians, that’s been out to President Donald Trump since the day he announced his campaign. So far the conspirators haven’t been successful in their efforts, but at least they haven’t been caught.
An inspector general for the Department of Justice named Michael Horowitz was dispatched to expose the conspiracy’s efforts to launch a phony investigation of Russia’s alleged election meddling and spy on his campaign with informants and phone taps, but on Monday he issued a report concluding the investigation was based on solid evidence of wrongdoing rather than political bias and that no spying occurred. That won’t satisfy the die-hard Trump fans, though, and the conspiracy theorizing will continue.
Attorney General William Barr focused on the serious mistakes investigators had made in seeking a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, and reached his own conclusion “that the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) laughed an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.” He’s already launched another investigation led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who took the unusual step of releasing a statement casting doubt on the inspector general’s report.
Perhaps Durham will be better luck exposing the conspiracy, but it won’t be easy. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, after all, and the “deep state” conspiracy theory makes some very extraordinary claims. All of America’s intelligence heads have confirmed that Russia ran a disinformation campaign hacked into Democratic party e-mail system and selectively leaked the most embarrassing missive, even the Trump appointees have confirmed the finding, as did a special counsel investigation that won an indictment of 13 Russians allegedly involved, and a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence agency also agreed. So far no one’s come up with any evidence that Russia was blameless and it was Ukraine that did the meddling, or a even a reasonable explanation for why Ukraine would be hacking and leaking Democratic e-mails and planting internet pro-Trump internet trolls to get Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton elected.
Also hard to explain is why a presumably left-wing “deep state” conspiracy is still conspiring to get Vice President Mike Pence promoted. Perhaps Pence is on it, as are a number of hand-picked Trump appointees, but that’s another extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary proof.
At this point we not sure why Trump remains concerned about Russia’s meddling in the election, as it fizzled as an impeachment case and the die-hard fans don’t care if he was in on it, and it makes the Ukraine business look all the fishier, Our best guess is that Trump believes the die-hard fans will cling to the dangling possibility of Russia’s vindication also vindicating him, and neatly explain why he was heroically withholding congressional appropriated military from those nefarious Ukrainians, and that even if the House impeaches him none of the Republicans in the Senate would dare vote to remove him from office. That’s not a bad bet, as the die-hard fans have thus far proved willing to believe even Trump’s most extraordinary claims without any proof at all.
The strategy might not be sufficient by election day, however, as you have to be a pretty die-hard fan to believe any of it. If they’ve been paying any attention, all of the damned Democrats and most of those squishy independents and at least a few of us fed-up pre-Trump Republicans will conclude that Russia meddled on Trump’s behalf in the last election and intends to do so with Trump’s blessing next time around, that Trump withheld military aid from a country that is largely occupied with Russian troops, and that a president shouldn’t be doing such things.
Between the die-hard fans and all the people who aren’t paying any attention, and given the very strong possibility that the Democrats will again nominate an extraordinarily awful candidate, Trump still has a fighting chance. The unemployment rate is undeniably low despite his trade wars, even if they have hit the farming and manufacturing sectors Trump relies on particularly hard. No new wars have broken out, even if Trump has made a mess of the old ones in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, and he’s lately having a scary lover’s spat with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. If his luck holds up, and his voters are optimally spread around the electoral map, it might not matter about what happened in such faraway places with such unfamiliar people as Ukraine and Russia.
There’s always an outside chance the Democrats won’t once again nominate someone too extraordinarily awful, however, and with the manufacturing sector in a technical recession and farm foreclosures on the rise and much of the relative economic boom going on in states and suburbs where Trump does not poll well there’s no telling how the economy will play come election day. The dictator Kim has lately threatened to once again call Trump a dotard if Trump ever calls him “Rocket Man,” and is further threatening a more belligerent stance during the upcoming election, and given the state of the world and America relationships with it there’s no telling what’s likely to come up by next November.
If Trump’s luck doesn’t hold up, as it didn’t during his career as a casino mogul, his impeachment by the House and acquittal despite clear evidence in the Senate will be a problem.

— Bud Norman

Stranger, and Worse, Than Fiction

Pity the poor fool who tries to write a legal potboiler or political satire novel these days. The most fervid imagination might devise a plot that combines Russian intrigue, Playboy centerfold models and a pornographic video actresses, ruthlessly efficient prosecutors and comically inept defense attorneys, a petulant and impulsive president with plenty of other subplots, and a slew of conspiracy theories to explain it all, but the publishers will find it hackneyed.
The combined talents of John Grisham and Jonathan Swift couldn’t top the last couple of days of headlines in your local newspaper.
Acting on a tip from the special counsel investigation looking into the “Russia thing,” federal agents have lately executed an extraordinary search warrant on the president’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” who has admitted paying $130,000 to a pornographic video actress in exchange for her silence about an affair the president denies ever happened. The payment can be construed as an illegal campaign contribution, as well as a reported similar payment of hush money to a Playmate centerfold model through the National Enquirer tabloid, which no fiction writer would have ever thought of, and there are reports the lawyer was also suspected of illegally dealing once-lucrative New York City taxi medallions, but what they find in the voluminous records that were seized from Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” might also shed some light on that “Russia thing.”
The petulant and impulsive president griped at length about it in front of all the network news cameras on Monday, prior to a cabinet meeting ostensibly about a response to Syria’s recent chemical attack on its own people in a Syrian civil war that Trump had earlier announced we’ll soon be pulling out off. He criticized his own Attorney General and deputy attorney general and pretty much the entirety of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the independent judiciary that had signed off even those extraordinary search warrants and indictments. He repeatedly used the words “disgrace” or “disgraceful,” hinted that people might be fired, and later “tweeted” that he was the victim of “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!”
You don’t have to delve into the depths of right-wing conspiracy theory sites to to hear sites to hear sympathetic arguments. Several of the hosts on influential Fox News network and several prominent talk radio hosts argue that a raid on a lawyer for information about one of his clients is an egregious violation of the sacred lawyer client-relationship, and is further proof that the “deep state” of professional employees in the DOJ and FBI and elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy are conspiring are conspiring to overthrow a duly elected American president. It is highly unusual for a search warrants to be executed any old defense attorney, there is indeed a more-or-less permanent federal bureaucracy which doesn’t much like the president, and all of them have their flaws, so there’s something to it.
Being the sorts of old-fashioned conservative Kansas Republicans that we are, though, we’re not at all convinced that our duly constituted system of government’s carefully considered laws and the independent judiciary that enforces them is more a “disgrace” than our petulant and impulsive president. So far as we can tell the legal concept of lawyer-client privilege is still well respected by the system, and that the duly-appointed prosecutors had to provide some pretty damned convincing evidence to the duty appointed judges to get such a warrant on the highly unusual exception where criminal activity by the lawyer is involved, and we note that almost everyone involved in the process is a Republican of longer standing than the president.
We’ll not dare venture a guess about what comes next, but the president is conspicuously hinting he’s going to fire people, has made quite clear that his longtime lawyer and “fixer” is on his own regarding that hush money to the porn actress, and he’s short another inept lawyer against those ruthless prosecutors who have thus far won warrants and indictments and guilty pleas from the independent judiciary, and has been having trouble finding suitable replacements. There’s no telling how this stranger-than-fiction tale might turn out, but our limited imaginations can’t see how it turns out well.

— Bud Norman

Our Plea for Antidisestablishmentarianism

The term “deep state,” like “establishment” or “globalist” or “elites,” is one of those vaguely defined but very sinister coinages that have lately infected the political discourse. We first became aware of the “deep state” when it started showing up at the conspiracy theory we visit for yucks, but then it was picked by the right ring radio talkers on the AM and some of the hosts on Fox News, and now it’s being “tweeted” by President Donald Trump.
“Crooked Hillary’s top aid Human Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols,” Trump wrote in his characteristic presidential prose. “She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must act? Also on Comey and others”
Which we found troubling for several reasons. Aside from the mangled syntax and arbitrary capitalizations and missing punctuation marks, and the usual difficulty in understanding just what the hell guy is trying to say, Trump seems to be calling the imprisonment of a vanquished political foe, and that strikes us as a bit banana republic-ish. He’s also calling for Abedin’s imprisonment based on a mere accusation, apparently from a very friendly conservative web site, and we’d like to think he has better sources of information at hand. Given all the accusations that have been leveled against Trump, from far more numerous and reliable sources, we also think he’d prefer that the due processes of the justice system be strictly adhered to before anyone gets locked up. What’s most worrisome, though, is that Trump regards all those other news sources as “fake news” and his own Justice Department as part of some nebulous but undoubtedly nefarious “deep state.”
The conspiracy theorists who first coined the term used it to describe a very specific plot by certain high-ranking members of the bureaucracy, the worst of them being those wily spooks in the intelligence community, and so far as we can tell it’s all part of some broader international conspiracy involving the Illuminati or the Masons or whoever else is actually running everything from the behind the scenes. By the time talk radio talkers and Fox hosts started using it “deep state” seemed to mean the entirety of the permanent civil bureaucracy, with the far ore plausible theory that they collectively had a vested interest in the continued growth of government and were thus resistant to conservative governance, but they sill made it sound more sinister than the usual boring matters of competing political interests. So far as we can tell, Trump defines the “deep state” as anyone in government — including the co-equal judicial and legislative branches — who would dare challenge his authority.
The conspiracy theorists and talk radio talkers and those Fox hosts and especially Trump himself seem to have a similar disdain for anyone who would challenge presidential authority, at least for so long as Trump is president, so the “deep state” is merely a small part of a broader “establishment” that seeks to prevent him from making America great. The “establishment” includes all the “fake news,” of course, but also all of those “globalist” multi-national corporations that have been exploiting American workers, and all the pointy-headed academicians and Hollywood hot shorts and so called policy experts with their supposedly fancy-schmantzy degrees who comprise the “elites.”
We’re no fans of Huma Abedin, and we loathed her longtime boss since way back when Trump was contributing to his campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the best Secretary of State ever, but we’d hate to see her “tweeted” off to prison just to see a blow struck against the “deep state.” When the Trump rally crowds chanted “lock her up” about Abedin’s boss during the campaign, which always struck us as chillingly banana republic-ish, they did so with a deep-seated that only some deep and well-established could have allowed such nasty women to achieve power, and that only such a gifted orator with such man-sized hands as Donald Trump could see that justice was done, but that all looks rather ridiculous right now.
Trump still believes a “rigged system” cost him three million votes and popular landslide, but the people who secretly run everything could spread less than a hundred thousand of them around Pennsylvania and Michigan and a couple of other very closely contested states, and he won an electoral victory wound up president. Clinton is now an unemployed grandmother wanting around the woods of upstate New York, widely reviled within her own party and forever to be known as the woman who lost to the likes of Donald Trump, and no longer poses a threat to anybody. The “deep state” couldn’t keep Abedin’s once politically-prominent husband from going to jail for texting dirty pictures of his private parts to underage girls, or provide her some sinecure to provide for their child, and she no longer seems at all frightening.
The combined forces of the “deep state” and the “establishment” and the “globalists” and “elites” don’t seem very scary, either, given that they couldn’t keep the likes of Trump from winning the White House. There’s still a permanent bureaucracy, but if you get a government check or might need a Federal Emergency Management Agency helicopter to rescue you from a foot you’ll be glad of that. There are still multinational corporations, but we note that the tax bill Trump recently signed gives them a huge break by adopting the “territorial” laws that bring America more into line with the global market. The “fake news” is still sticking around, but they’re far more reliably true than Trump’s “tweets,” and these days there are plenty talk radio shows and Fox News programs and conservative web sites around to grouse about what Clinton and Abedin once did. A lot of the pointy-headed policy experts with the fancy-schmantzy academic credentials are lately consigned to think tank work, or even worse, but the rank amateurs who’ve replaced them don’t seem be faring much better.
What used to be called “conservatism” held that certain institutions which had been painstakingly established over generations of trial-and-error were necessary to maintain a civilizations progress, and that these included an independent judiciary and a free press along with scholarly class and even a permanent bureaucracy. These days conservatism seems regard all that as the “establishment,” and the rallying cry of the Trumpian right is “burn it down.” We hate find ourselves sympathizing with the likes of Abedin and her boss, but that’s not what we signed up for.
Trump seems eager to burn it all down before before those “deep state” lawyers in the special counsel office bring any more indictments against his campaign and administration officials, or perhaps Trump himself, but he should hope it sticks around long enough to offer him some due process. He’s been accused of doing things even worse than Abedin has been accused of doing, or so we read somewhere, and he’s currently the president, which makes him somewhat scarier than a single mom seeking low-visibility employment, and the crowds can turn on a dime, and chants of “lock him up” are already roaring from all sorts of non-elite places.
— Bud Norman

Another Day in a Long, Hot Summer

Another day, another two police officers killed in the line of duty, and it suddenly seems a very hot summer. The latest deaths were inflicted inside the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan, where a detainee at the nearby county jail was apparently being led to a hearing and somehow managed to wrestle away an officer’s gun. So far as we can glean from the numerous yet sketchy press accounts this might or might not have something to do with the recent spate of police killings that have recently been inspired by a broad anti-police protest movement, but in either case it’s another sign of a something ongoing and troublesome.
The shooting followed ambush assaults on officers in Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri over the weekend, which happened around the same time as the riots in Illinois and Minnesota and Louisiana that seriously wounded dozens of others, which followed the sniper fire at a “Black Lives Matter” rally in Texas where five officers were killed and several others wounded, and already the law enforcement death toll is up 44 percent over last’s year grim total. The most recent spate of deaths have also followed the widespread attention paid to internet videos that showed two young black men being killed by police officers, the sort of thing that has spawned the “Black Lives Matter” movement and its ensuing anti-police sentiment, and it seems all too likely in the nervous wake of so many cop-killings there might be more such videos hitting the internet soon, and that end is not yet in sight.
All of it is set in the broader context of the rapidly deteriorating state of race relations that has occurred since the inauguration of the First Black President, which was supposed to usher in a post-racial era of America. Shortly after that inauguration the newly fledged president’s Justice Department decided to let some New Black Panthers who had clearly been menacing white voters at a Philadelphia polling place off the hook, and not long afterwards he wound up in an embarrassing “beer summit” with a white cop because he had prematurely judged a situation involving a black Harvard professor, and when a volunteer community watchman with Hispanic heritage but a Jewish-sounding name wound up shooting a young black man who was sitting atop him and banging his head against the concrete sidewalk the president remarked that decedent looked just like the son he’d never had, and in each of the racially-tinged law enforcement incidents that keep popping up in America the president has reliably reached the same premature conclusions. He had an official representative at the funeral of young black man killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, some weeks before his own highly politicized Justice Department was forced by the irrefutable facts of the case to concede that it was entirely the fault of the thuggish young black man for assaulting an officer and grabbing at his gun and that all the accounts of a “gentle giant” on his knees pleading “Hands up, don’t” shoot before his execution that spawned the whole “Black Lives Matter” movement was all lies.
The underlying claim that police sometimes act badly and that black Americans are statistically more likely to be on the hurting end of it is not a lie, of course, but as always the truth is quite complicated. There are no doubt some unjustified killings of young black men and women by non-black police officers, and although we won’t jump to any conclusions we admit that video from Minneapolis looks very bad for the non-black officer involved, and even the one in Louisiana where there are some potentially exculpatory reports about what happened before the cameras were rolling surely deserves the thorough investigation that it seems to be getting, and even as we await further evidence before reaching any conclusions we concede that nothing’s been reported yet that doesn’t make the one in Minneapolis look very bad for the officer, and we readily agree that these black lives do indeed matter. The far greater number of black lives taken by black murderers also matter, though, and they’re on the rise in Baltimore and St. Louis and Chicago and New York and other cities where the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the First Black President’s highly politicized Justice Department have discouraged the proactive policing that had previously led to a significant decline in the number of black lives lost. Even the most pure-hearted followers of the the “Black Lives Matter” movement are badly misguided, from our admittedly pale perspective, and the rest of their progressive agenda seems just as counter-productive.
The First Black President has also ordered his Department of Education to bully local school districts into punishing miscreant students according to strict racial quota systems, which means that the worst black students will be around to interfere with the educations of the best of the black students in America’s most dangerous school systems, and he’s ordered his Department of Housing and Urban Development to bully certain jurisdictions into accepting a certain amount of potentially criminal diversity, which doesn’t seem to have done much good for anybody. Although the black unemployment rate has lowered during the post-racial era that’s marred by the same worrisome labor force participation rate that calls that statistic into question across the racial spectrum, and the unemployment rate for black teenagers is still at Depression levels and not likely to get any better if the First Black President gets the minimum wage hike he wants, and household incomes and business start-ups and every other economic indicator is just as bleak. In all the cities where the “Black Lives Matter” movement has gained ground the local governments have long been ruled progressive Democrats, and that fact seems to have gone largely unnoticed.
Nor does there seem to be honest discussion about it. None of those numerous but sketchy reports about the deaths of law enforcement officers in St. Joseph mention the race of shooter, which is standard journalistic practice even though every black and white and any hue-in-between reader is eager to learn that fact no matter how pure-hearted they might be, and the entire discussion about this undeniably racially-tinged issue seems somehow intent on denying its racial implications.
The First Black President of the United States has cut short a pointless visit to Europe to travel to Dallas to speak about the recent deaths of five white police officers there, and although we expect another exercise in moral relativism we cling to faint hope that hell say something eloquent and unifying and post-racial. The presumptive Democratic nominee to succeed him took the opportunity of five white cops killed by sniper fire from a clearly white-hating black man to lecture white people about how they must “listen to the fears of African-Americans.” The presumptive Republican nominee was uncharacteristically more circumspect, “tweeting” about both the tragedy of the slain officers in Dallas and the black men who had been videotaped dying at the hands of police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, which annoyed some of his more fervent white supporters, but we hold out no hope that he’ll be the unifying figure who brings this awful mess to a happy conclusion.
The Republican National Convention will convene in less than a week in Cleveland, and it promises to be contentious inside and just as downright riotous outside, and the convention of those godawful Democrats a couple of weeks later might prove just as 1968 godawful, and there’s something ongoing and troublesome about our politics that a more honest country would acknowledge.

— Bud Norman

Taking a Kick at Soccer

We know little about soccer, having grown up on wholesome American games that allow the use of hands, as God and Abner Doubleday intended, but even we knew that the sport’s international governing body is corrupt. It was therefor no surprise to hear that legal action is being taken against them, but we were a bit startled that it was America’s Department of Justice that is doing it.
The Federation Internationale de Football is not based in America, as the foreign name and its galling misuse of “football” would suggest, and so far as we can gather from numerous press reports none of its alleged crimes took place here. Authorities in Switzerland, where the organization is based, and where the alleged crimes seem to have allegedly occurred, and where the populace presumably cares more about soccer than do Americans, are also taking action, so it’s hard to see why America’s legal system should be bothered. All of the 14 FIFA official indicted on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy are from other other countries, there’s going to be a lot of fuss over extradition, it complicates foreign relations with the numerous countries involved to the point that we have to admit Vladimir Putin has a point when he calls it “another case of illegal extra-territorial implementation of American law,” and none of the bribes they’re said to have accepted for awarding international tournaments seem to have been paid by Americans, who won’t be hosting any FIFA tournaments in the near future in any case, so the only point seems to be cleaning up a sport that few Americans bother to watch.
The smart fellows over at the Powerline web site are avid soccer fans, which strikes us as odd given their usually sound political opinions and excellent taste in music, and they contend that the Department of Justice is still sore that FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar despite the long trip to Zurich and personal lobbying of former Attorney General Eric Holder. It won’t be the least bit surprising if it is eventually proved in court that the Qataris prevailed by means of millions of dollars of illegal bribes, as such things are a feature of Arab culture and there is no other plausible explanation for awarding the world’s most-watched sporting event to such a remote and backwards desert hellhole as Qatar. The country’s pledge to air-conditioned stadia large enough to accommodate a soccer field and many thousands of spectators in the 100-plus degree summers has already been reneged on, the tournament has thus been moved to winter during the middle of the seasons of the professional leagues that supply the players, and the Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi laborers who have been imported to build the vast infrastructure that FIFA absurdly requires have died at the rate of one per day. Nor would we be surprised if this is all about Holder holding a grudge, as he always struck as that sort of guy.
Besides, the Obama administration was still smarting from its snub by the International Olympic Committee way back in ’09 when it award its games to Rio de Janeiro over of Chicago. Obama personally flew to Denmark to make the pitch, bringing along Oprah Winfrey, who might or might not be a big deal in Denmark, and giving a speech about how Chicago was his kind of town and recalling how “Nearly one year ago, on a clear November night, people from every corner of the world gathered in the city of Chicago or in front of their televisions to watch the results of the presidential election,” and basically suggested that having the Olympics culminate his eight years in office and welcome the world to his transformed America would give the games new meaning. All the press speculated that of course the deal was already done or no president would put his prestige on the line by making the trip, so when the Olympics went to an even more crime-ridden kleptocracy than Chicago it was the first bad press that the administration got after all the messianic treatment in ’08, and although the loss of the 2022 World Cup went entirely unnoticed we’re sure it still stung.
The blow to Obama’s and Holder’s egos notwithstanding, and despite the lucrative deals that Valerie Jarret’s Chicago buddies would have made preparing for the Olympics, and whatever deals might have been made for a World Cup, these are two games we’re glad America lost. These big international sporting events are lucrative to whatever network makes the sufficient bribes, and they transfix much of the world for a brief time, but they’re usually a severe burden on the communities that get stuck with them and the useless stadia they paid for. Even in soccer-mad Brazil there were riots in response to lavish sums that poverty-stricken country doled out to host the most recent World Cup, and the police are gearing up for more of the same during those ’16 Olympics that Chicago wanted. The only Olympics that we can recall proving profitable for a host was the ’02 winter games in Salt Lake City, and that was due to the organizational skills of Mitt Romney, which the public apparently found less impressive than that soaring “on a clear November night” rhetoric of Obama. The Olympics have lost much of their appeal since the end of the Cold War, not to mention all believable rumors about the IOC’s shenanigans, but they’re still a bigger deal to the real American sports fan than some FIFA contest with a bunch of foreigners kicking a ball around a “pitch” — we know that, too, along with with the corruption of the governing body — to a 1-0 score after some incalculable amount of time.
A country such as Qatar might decide that the millions in bribes and billions in soon-to-be-useless stadia and the daily deaths of Indians, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshi is well worth the prestige of hosting a highly-rated sports event, along with all the hooligans that soccer somehow always attracts, no matter how remote the backwards hellhole, but we’d like to think the United States of America can still earn its international prestige elsewhere.

— Bud Norman

Manipulating Democracy

America seems to have become inured to scandal, judging by the apparent lack of attention being paid to an allegation that the unemployment statistics released just before the past presidential election were manipulated to benefit the incumbent.
The claim was made in Monday’s New York Post, but except for the perfunctory scoffing by the White House spokesman, a promised probe by the implicated Commerce Department, and yet another investigation by the Republicans in the House of Representatives, it seems to have drawn little attention outside the constantly indignant conservative talk radio shows. Such insouciance is hard to account for, given the potentially history-changing implications of the charge.
The New York Post is a conservative publication by the lax standards of the New York press, and therefore lacks requisite cachet to fuel a media frenzy, but its record of accuracy compares well to its more fashionable competitors. Although the story cites an unnamed source, which is usually sufficient to ignore any scandal involving Democrats, it also documents that name a specific employee involved in the deception who is quoted as saying he acted under orders from higher-ranking bureaucrats. Given that many knowledgeable observers were skeptical of the suddenly and serendipitously rosy unemployment numbers at the time, including the former chief executive officer of General Electric, the story also has a sobering plausibility.
If true, the story warrants far more attention that it has received. Manipulating such crucial data as the unemployment rate calls into question the accuracy of all government reports, with dire consequences for the markets that rely on the information to make that the decisions that drive the economy. Doing so for partisan political reasons also calls into question the results of the election, with dire consequences for democracy and a free society. As the latest in a series of scandals involving a politicized bureaucracy acting on behalf of the one party committed to its continual growth, it could even call into question whether we still have a democracy.
The story seems all the more plausible following revelations of the Internal Revenue Service harassing conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, the Department of Justice’s apparent lack of interest in the matter or anything else that might prove embarrassing to the administration, the National Security Agency’s inordinate interest in the phone records of average Americans, the National Park Service’s heavy-handed efforts to exacerbate the inconvenience of a partial government shutdown, and numerous other cases of government gone wild. The notion that only one or two low-level employees are responsible for a deceptive jobs report is not plausible, and even if it were the notion that they expected to get away it is still scandalous.

— Bud Norman

Meeting the Press

By happenstance we spent much of Wednesday evening in the company of some veterans of the local news media, and not once did anyone mention the government’s latest assaults on their profession. It was a friendly social gathering, with the conversation mostly devoted to the pleasant weather we’ve been having lately and a good bit of personal gossip about colleagues and local notables who were not present, but the absence of any alarmed shop talk was conspicuous nonetheless.
More than 30 years in the news business have taught us that journalists are typically as self-interested as they are self-righteous, and they instinctively regard any perceived infringement of their occupational rights as a threat to democracy and civilization. There are valid reasons for this attitude, aside from how neatly it serves a journalist’s heroic self-image, and it has usually been a popular topic of conversation in journalistic circles. In past years news of the Department of Justice snooping through the Associated Press’ phone records, treating a cable news reporter’s efforts to question sources as a criminal conspiracy, and allegedly poking around in a network reporter’s computer, along with an administration’s longstanding disdain for an adversarial press, would have been topics of inexhaustible interest at a party such we as attended on Wednesday.
The obvious explanation for the noticeable disinterest in these outrages is that they have all occurred during the Obama administration, a cause much of the press has been passionately devoted to since it was first proposed, and we cannot think of anything more convincing. Other than ourselves, one radio guy, and one outsider who has never worked for any media, everyone present at the gathering had voted for Obama or would be embarrassed to admit they had not, and had we been rude enough to broach the subject of the recent bullying of the press we suspect they would have felt obliged to defend their man against any allegations of wrong-doing. The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups for audits and harassment did come up briefly, with one reporter making a brief attempt to defend the practice before backing out of that quicksand, but the conversation quickly moved on the subject of a local celebrity’s wife’s recent weight gain.
This was in Wichita, where the conservative-to-liberal ratio was probably skewed rightward by several degrees relative to the nation at large, and most of the almighty Washington-New York-Los Angeles news media seem even more uncomfortable with the conversation. The editorialists at The New York Times have done some obligatory harrumphing about the administration’s treatment of the press, The Associated Press has been predictably peeved, there has been some rallying around at the usually hated Fox Network, and the administration’s spokespeople have lately been amusingly flustered by unaccustomed hard questions, but it has all been lacking in the outraged vigor of the recent past. Compared to the clamor that would have surely occurred if a Republican administration was responsible it has been rather quiet.
Conservatives have long pipe-dreamed about the possibility of the press turning on Obama, which would surely be a catastrophe for his presidency and an end to his legislative agenda, and the stark evidence of his hostility to a free press has fueled these hopes. A few hours and a couple of glasses of wine with a circle of reporters can dash these hopes, however, and the best that can be hoped for is that the press will be a little bit less adoring of the powers that be.

— Bud Norman