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Enquiring Minds Want to Know

The National Enquirer isn’t usually on our reading list, but on our last trip to the supermarket we couldn’t resist plunking down five bucks to see what was behind the tantalizing headline. “At last the truth about Russia,” that tabloid boasted over a picture some people familiar from the more respectable press, “What Trump Doesn’t Know!”
We were further struck that the front page also promised “Revealed: 10 spies murdered in 15 months to bury proof of Putin’s election hacking,” not to mention those pictures of Trump next to such infamous and now former associates as Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Carter Page. For more than a year now we’ve checked out the covers of the National Enquirer during our supermarket check-outs the same way Kremlinologists used to scrutinize the front page of Pravda, for the same reason that it provides the same official line, so the headline brought an intriguing plot twist.
Back in the ’80s The National Enquirer used to torment the young the celebrity billionaire Trump with salacious stories about the alleged infidelities of his wives and mistresses, but ever since he cultivated a a friendship with the tabloid’s editor in the early ’90s the coverage has been far friendlier. His presidential campaign received adulatory attention, while the rest of the Republican field was either ignored or scandalized. When retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was inching ahead in the polls the Enquirer ran a story alleging he’d left a sponge in a patient’s sewed-up skull, and when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was last the challenger it ran a picture purporting to show his father standing next Lee Harvey Oswald just before the assassination of President John Kennedy, and when it came down to Trump against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton there were all sorts of stories about her even worse than the ones the more respectable press were obliged to run.
Since his election Trump has been getting the same support from the Enquirer, with a recent front page proudly proclaiming the president’s war on dictators, with sinister photographs of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia Vladimir Putin, so it was quite a surprise to see them follow with another headline linking Putin to four people who have elsewhere been directly linked to Trump.
The article claims that Putin ordered meddling in the election that included the hacking and public release of embarrassing e-mails from the Democratic National Committee, an allegation which has of course been widely reported, but it leads with the “bombshell finding” that he also ordered the assassination of 27-year-old Clinton campaign aide Seth Rich and nine Russian operatives to cover it up, which of course has not been as widely reported. Although the article makes no mention of the aforementioned Stone, Flynn, Manafort and Page, who have been fired from their prior respective positions as longtime friend and National Security Advisor and Campaign Chairman and campaign foreign policy advisor over their Russian relations, which the more respectable press have reported are all under investigation, but it does run their pictures again on the inside, which is also darned curious.
Throughout the campaign Trump took an unusually friendly stand toward Putin, basking in the compliments Putin had reportedly paid him and talking about how great friendship with Russia would be and how obsolete the anti-Russian North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in one debate he said the hacking of the DNC e-mails was just as likely “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” and he dismissed a question about the occasional Putin assassination order by asking “Do you think we’re so innocent?” After the election he conceded the Russians had “probably” hacked the DNC, but continued to avoid saying that the Russians had done anything improper at all. The Enquirer story, therefore, seems to deviate from the party line.
This comes a week or so after Trump’s newly appointed Central Intelligence Agency gave a speech that reiterated the intelligence community’s consensus conclusion that the Russians did meddle in the election, days after the Republican head of the House committee that’s looking into the matter said that Flynn had likely committed a crime by not disclosing his contract work for the Russians and Turks, and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation still looking into Page, and God only knowing what such a “political dirty trickster” as the Enquirer euphemistically describes Stone is currently facing. By now there’s enough suspicion about it that all of the official investigations are likely to continue, and unlikely to lead to any conclusions that the Russians are blameless and even if they aren’t no one in the Trump campaign had anything to do with them, so our guess is that the National Enquirer is trying out a new party line that at least the president himself had nothing to do with it.
All of the reiterated charges and “bombshell findings” and guilt-by-association photographs are huddled under the headline “What Trump Didn’t Know,” after all, and his most vociferous critics will have to admit the possibility that he didn’t know anything about what was going on. If we were one of the infamously defenestrated four on the cover of this week’s National Enquirer we’d read between the lines to see that we count on any further favors from Trump, and would be lawyering up to tell whatever we have to tell, and hoping that people are more interested in Wynnona Judd’s daughter being jailed in a meth bust. The more respectable press is likely to keep looking into this Russian thing, though, and so will the FBI and the Republican-led House committee, without any interference from the Trump-appointed Attorney General who has recused himself from all that Russian stuff and the former Trump-friendly committee chairman who has done the same, so we expect more intriguing headlines.

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No Returns from the Tax Returns

As a general rule tax returns are pretty dull reading, but President Donald Trump is an exception to an awful lot of rules, so of course there was was some interest in the two pages of his 2005 filing that was somehow intriguingly leaked. There wasn’t enough in those two pages to justify some of the resulting coverage, as it turns out, but the resulting hubbub is also newsworthy.
The two purloined pages were reportedly mailed to a journalist and published Trump biographer of little renown, then passed on to Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC cable news network, whose program relentlessly hyped the finding for hours and then spent a full 20 minutes of the long-awaited showtime in further build up before disclosing that there’s really nothing very embarrassing to Trump in the two pages. It was revealed that Trump paid $38 million in income taxes that year, which was more than most Americans did, and it represented a percentage of his income greater than what President Barack Obama or self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders forked over, and there was nothing about deductions claimed for contributions to the Russian mob or anything like that.
We’d call it the biggest journalistic anticlimax since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault, but by now every other media in the critic in the country has already beat us to the analogy. All the ancien regime media cringed in embarrassment, and even such a fellow Trump-bashing liberal as the late night comedian Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist some piercing ridicule. Maddow is the most impeccably liberal voice on television’s most impeccably liberal channel, which has lately been racking up record ratings as liberals seek a “safe place,” but her fellows liberals are understandably miffed about how she muffed the far bigger story they still have hopes for.
Those tax returns reveal Trump would have paid even more if not for something called the Alternative Minimum Tax, which his tax reform proposals would repeal, but that’s a rather arcane policy point, and even such Trump-bashing conservatives as ourselves don’t believe that just because something’s bad for Trump it’s good the country, and it’s certainly not the sort of complicated economic argument you hype all day long and then have two pages of anti-climax to show for it. The bigger story that liberals would prefer to hype is that all we of know of the vast financial empire that Trump has not divested himself from is two pages of a 12-year-old tax return somehow includes only exculpatory evidence. A Trump campaign manager and National Security have already been forced to resign because of contacts with the Russian government Trump has thus far flattered, and his Attorney General had recused himself from an ongoing investigation in broader contracts between the campaign and Russia, and all that’s been released of the tax returns that would surely prove Trump himself has no financial ties with the Russian government were those two not-entirely-exculpatory pages. There are already rumors afloat that Trump himself leaked his $38 million tax bill, then preemptively tweeted his indignant denial of whatever MSNBC might report to cover his tracks, and although even the ancien regime media won’t touch that conspiracy theory we will note it’s at least as plausible as Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad being in on the Kennedy hit, and people are saying, and we’ll leave it up to Congress to investigate if it’s true or not, and let similar Trumpian standards of truth prevail.
There’s something fishy about Trump’s Russophilia even from our rightward Trump-bashing perspective, perhaps all the more so after so many years of Cold War vigilance, so we’re also annoyed that handsome Rachel Maddow fellow has momentarily muddied the media waters. With enemies of the people like these, Trump might be wondering, who needs friends?

— Bud Norman

The Curious Case of the Candidate’s Body Double

Lately we’ve been spending some time at Netflix binge-watching episodes of a British documentary series about conspiracy theories, partly because we need some diversion from that awful presidential race but mostly because we enjoy a good conspiracy theory the way some readers revel in a good mystery novel. It’s just our luck in this crazy election year, though, that the most diverting conspiracy theory we’ve lately encountered comes from that awful presidential race.
Unless you’re much better than us at avoiding the news, you already know that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was videotaped collapsing into the arms of her aides as she took an early exit from a memorial service for the victims of the 2001 terror attacks in New York on Sunday, and that it has brought all the lingering questions about her health from the comments sections of the more conspiratorial-minded web sites to the front pages of the even the most polite press. By you also know that she was whisked to her daughter’s nearby apartment rather than to a hospital, and that she emerged from the apartment just a few hours later looking quite hale and happy as she waved to photographers and greeted a cute young girl who who happened to be on the sidewalk. If you’re attuned to the proper “Twitter” feeds and internet sites, or the more mainstream portions of the press that report their speculations, you might even be aware of the theory that the Clinton who emerged from that apartment building looking suspiciously healthy with a suspicious lack of secret services agents around a suspiciously cute young girl to greet her was actually a body double.
More careful observers than ourselves noticed a slight difference in the nose and a change of earrings, as well as more general youthful appearance, and along with those other suspicious circumstances that was enough to lead some to a conclusion that a body double had been substituted. The theory doesn’t explain how the body double happened to be on hand in Clinton’s daughter’s apartment, or what became of the actual Clinton, or why a campaign so diabolically brilliant as to have such a convincing doppelgänger around in case of a collapse has lately been slipping in the polls against the likes of Republican nominee Donald Trump, but in this crazy year we suppose that anything is possible.
As far-fetched as it might seem, the theory gained enough currency that it was briefly the second-most “trending” topic on “Twitter,” which also spurred conspiracies theories. A Reditt site devoted to Trump supporters alleged “#HillarysBodyDouble is NOT truly trending on Twitter, But They Stuck It on the Trends to Make Us Look Nuts,” which might also strike some non-Trump supporters as randomly capitalized and completely nuts. A writer for the InfoWars site, which has alleged that the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were an inside job and that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and countless other conspiracy theories, and has lately been insisting that Clinton has Parkinson’s Disease or syphilis or a brain tumor, “tweeted” that “The #Hillary’sBodyDouble narrative was probably started by the Clinton campaign to discredit genuine questions about her health.”
Some of the rumors specified that the body double is a woman named Teresa Bonwell, who resembles Clinton closely enough that she’s made living as a look-alike for the past several years, and she seems to have fueled that speculation by sending out an old photograph of herself outside the same building with the taunting message “Maybe I was in New York.” She now insists it was a joke, and has the ironclad alibi of being at a video shoot with a Bill Clinton look-alike and, just to make things perfect, the guy who played President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in “Idiocracy.”
Despite the Hollywood-like ingenuity of the body double switch, that crafty Clinton campaign hasn’t seemed to discredit any truly genuine questions about her health, which are being raised in even the most polite press, and by now even her supporters are conceding that she should have been more forthcoming about condition. Some supporters are even admitting that Clinton’s longstanding tendency toward secrecy has made even the most outlandish speculations seem plausible, and if that body double finishes out the campaign for Clinton she’s bound to endure some interrogations about it. That guy who’s been filling in for the late Paul McCartney the past 50 years has done pretty well, though, so maybe she’ll pull it off.
Thus far Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet about Clinton’s condition, but he’s also the guy who championed that Obama-was-born-in-Kenya theory and parrots the Code Pink line about George W. Bush lying America into the Iraq War and urged everyone to read The National Inquirer’s big story about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the John F. Kennedy assassination, and he frequently finds that things are rigged, so he probably won’t have anything bad to say about what his friends at InfoWars are saying. He should urge his supporters to stick to the facts, though, because those are bad enough.

— Bud Norman

Watching Liberty Booed Off the Stage at Two Conventions

Despite our particular aversion to the whole “reality show” genre of television, and our general disdain of the entire medium altogether, we did make a point to log onto the internet Wednesday evening to watch and listen to C-Span’s coverage of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ address to the Republican National Convention. Our oddball tastes in entertainment include an affinity for political rhetoric, and Cruz is as good at it as anybody these days, and his address did prove a most fascinating episode. The Senator seemed to deliver a robustly persuasive argument against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but he he only once mentioned the official Republican nominee by name, and at no point was there an unambiguous endorsement, so those who have been closely following the plot of this dreary tale are sure to have noticed some fascinating further ambiguities.
If you’ve been happily distracted from this dreary tale you need to understand that Sen. Cruz is better known to fans of the habitually lying official Republican nominee as “Lyin'” Ted Cruz, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, and that back when they were the last two contenders still vying for the nomination the now-official Republican nominee threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’ wife and “tweeted” out his gloat that she was uglier than the now-official Republican nominee’s plagiarizing-from-Michelle-Obama third super-model trophy wife, and claimed that Cruz was actually an oh-my-God punting-on-third-down Canadian and that his Cuban-born father had been in on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, based solely on the reporting of the official Republican nominee’s good friends at The National Enquirer, so the address was full of intriguing plot lines. There was a gracious and specific congratulation to the now-official Republican nominee who had shamelessly and ridiculously slandered Cruz’ wife and father and personal history, and a rousing denunciation of the undeniably awful presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but in terms that don’t reflect well on the now-official Republican nominee.
His strikingly brief address quite persuasively made the case that the traditional Republican value of freedom of speech is at odds with a presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee who would overturn the Citizens United ruling that people are free to criticize her, and generously neglected to mention that the official Republican nominee has promised that anyone who criticizes him will have “problems, such problems” should he win. He affirmed the right of homosexuals to pursue their preferences but stood up for the right of others not to be involved, without mentioning that both of America’s major parties now seem on board with more authoritarian post-sexual-revolution measures, and he spoke against open borders while also speaking well of the father who legally came to this country from communist Cuba and all the other legal immigrants who had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy. He spoke about giving parents a choice in educating their children, which neither party’s official or all-but-certain nominees ever mention, and the state’s rights on everything from marijuana to California-style taxation that also largely go unmentioned. All in all it was a stem-winding speech against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but hardly a ringing endorsement of the now-official Republican nominee.

Which of course wound up with him being booed off the stage by the Republican National Convention. He ended by saying that “We will unite the country by standing together for shared values by standing for liberty,” and in this sorry virtual reality show that seems to define our actual reality that will get you booed off any of the available stages. We’d have preferred that he defended the honor of the one wife of his youth and the pro-American immigrant father who surely had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy, no matter what craziness the official Republican nominee’s friends at The National Enquirer concocted, and been more frank about the lies being told by both of the major party candidates, but at this point we’ll argue that “Lyin’ Ted” was at least more truthful than either of the official and all-but-certain major party nominees and made a stronger case against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee than the now-official Republican nominee ever could, and we’ll hold out faint hope that next time around will be better.

— Bud Norman