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News and Fake News and What’s in Between

The long war between President Donald Trump and certain members of the news media has lately escalated, and from our perspective on the sidelines we can’t see anyone coming out a winner.
Trump’s tormentors at the Cable News Network took a hard hit this week when they were obliged to retract a story that tied longtime Trump business associate Anthony Scaramucci to a federal investigation of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The story had only a single anonymous and other journalistic flaws that should have been obvious to the most cub reporter, proved to be utterly wrong, and can reasonably be attributed to the network’s unabashed zeal to air stories damaging to the Trump administration, so score one for Trump. Of course the president “tweeted” some about gloating about it, but of course he overplayed his hand by “tweeting” the non sequitur that everything else CNN and all of his other media tormentors have ever reported is therefor also wrong.
To its credit CNN did frankly acknowledge the error and retract the story, apologize profusely, then accept the resignations of three journalists including a Pulitzer Prize winner recently hired away from The New York Times. That inspires more confidence than Trump’s longstanding and clearly stated never-apologize-and-never-retract policy regarding his far more frequent statements that are anonymously sourced and utterly wrong, which a chastened CNN is for now not mentioning but has been widely remarked on in all those other Trump-tormenting media, and despite all the internet glee that CNN has been “destroyed” we expect they’ll stick around at least as long as Trump does.
CNN also got “stung” by the “sting” journalism of an independent filmmaker named James O’Keefe and his Project Veritas outfit, which caught a CNN producer on hidden camera describing his network’s coverage of the Russia thing with Trump and Russia with a barnyard epithet, but we expect that won’t prove much more than mosquito bite. O’Keefe is a protege of the late conservative provocateur Stephen Breitbart, who gave birth to the eponymous Breitbart.com internet news site where future Trump consigliere Stephen Bannon later became editor-in-chief, and although he once did a true public service by bringing down the notorious community-organizing racket called ACORN with a hilarious hidden camera video of them offering financial advice for his scam pimping business, he hasn’t scored any wins in a while. He was convicted of a felony for using a false identity to the infiltrate the offices of a Democratic Senator for some story or another, it turned out those hilariously over-the-top ’70s-blaxploitation pimp costumes he’d worn to the ACORN offices were an editing trick, and he’s generally engaged in the sort of journalistic trickery that no true conservative would tolerate if any of those Trump-tormenting outlets dared such a thing.
Still, Trump’s spokespeople in his administration and certain parts of the media tried to make the best of it. Official White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that she couldn’t vouch for the video’s accuracy but nonetheless urged everyone in the country to watch it, which strikes us as a damned odd thing for an official White House spokeswoman to say, and all the right-wing radio we heard on our drive time was endlessly replaying the video. After 36 years or more in the biz we think ourselves more savvy than most, so we don’t doubt the the tape’s accuracy but have to roll our eyes at its significance. As O’Keefe is obliged to admit, all he has here is one of countless CNN editors griping that his bureau’s stories aren’t getting as much airtime as as the Washington bureau’s stories, and although he’s the editor of the health bureau he’s based in Atlanta some reason and all those juicy and time-consuming stories about the health care debate also seem to be coming out of the Washington bureau, so his gripes are hardly newsworthy.
After 36 years or so of experience with various news organizations we can tell you there’s always someone swimming against the collective consensus, usually us, and we’ll score a point to CNN that they didn’t fire the guy and instead endorsed his right to a dissenting opinion. Back in our newspaper days we often butted heads with our executive editor, who had all sorts of crazy liberal notions, but we admired the way he butted heads with his corporate bosses, and he gave us the same respect he expected from his much higher-up bosses, and for the most part it kept us all honest.
There seems to be a stronger consensus at all those right wing talk radio shows and the rest of the Trump-friendly media, and we can’t say it’s serving them well. The formerly formidable Rush Limbaugh gloated that one of the fired CNN reporters as Thomas Frank, who had some years ago written a controversial and best-selling jeremiad called wither “What’s The Matter With Kansas” or “What’s Wrong With Kansas,” with Limbaugh not being quite sure, and later in his jeremiad against “fake news” had to retract and apologize for the inaccurate claim that it was the same Thomas Frank. Sean Hannity predicted the “collapse” of CNN based on the O’Keefe tape and the retraction about his friend Scaramucci, but his cable network is currently in third place, and has recently retracted that weird conspiracy theory he’d been touting about how the Russians had nothing to with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails. He also wondered why a White House press pass had been issued to a reporter who challenged Sanders’ “inflammatory” attacks on the press, describing him as a “contributor to Playboy,” even though the fellow is also the executive editor of two newspapers, and William F. Buckley was also once a contributor to Playboy, and he never griped that the nutcase conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose reputation has Trump has praised along with The National Enquirer, was also granted credentials.. We think Hannity could also do with some dissenting opinions at the morning news budget meetings.
Trump’s tormentors could do with some more of that, too. All of the media organizations we’ve dealt with over the past 36 years have had their biases, and although they rarely just made stuff up out of whole cloth almost every time they got things utterly wrong it was because of a collective zeal for a certain outcome. That tough old executive editor of ours had a particular dislike for nuclear energy, one of his more ambitious underlings obliged him by altering some documents to implicate a local energy corporation running a nuke up in the Flint Hills, and all the lesser mistakes we noticed over the years followed the same pattern. Our executive editor and his paper ultimately acknowledged the mistake and retracted the story, and apologized profusely, and the reporter wound up at a better gig at a bigger paper where he did an even more scandalously wrong story, and we always read the paper with confidence that it was unabashedly biased but not entirely fake.
These days we’re skeptical of both the president’s “tweets” and his tormentors latest scoops, and we’re carefully considering all the claims. Some are obviously wrong, others are hilariously spun, and none are at all encouraging.
Trump has proclaimed his media tormentors “the enemy of the people,” and on the campaign trail he threatened to “open up the libels” so he could be enriched by any negative coverage, and he recently “tweeted” another threat to impose an internet tax on the billionaire Washington Post publisher’s Amazon business in retaliation for the paper’s unfavorable coverage, and lately the war isn’t so much against certain segments as the media as it against the very notion of freedom of press. He and his media allies are railing against the disrespect for the presidency, as if Trump hadn’t alleged with unnamed that his Republican predecessor had lied the country to into a war and his Democratic predecessor was born outside the country and was a “bad (or sick) guy,” and all the outside-the-mainstream media have been unerringly accurate.
We hope that all those media and the freedom of the press somehow survive this. The right wing media have noted that several of the lawyers that the special counsel investigating the Russia thing with Trump and Russia were contributors to the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, which is accurate even if the oft-stated claim that they’re all Clinton donors isn’t, and they don’t note that Trump was also a Clinton contributor, but that’s still information that should reported. Those lawyers were chosen by a special counsel who is a registered Republican and rose through three Republican administrations during his distinguished career, and were more likely chosen for their highly specialized expertise in eastern European organized rackets and money-laundering, so that’s also useful information those right wing radio talkers should be warning their audiences about. Any information from either side, so long as its true, is welcomed.
The glaring mistakes that have to be retracted and apologized for are almost always a result of zeal, which is why our lazy selves found few scoops for our tough old executive editor but had fewer retractions to apologize to him for, and what with all the zealousness going around these days we’re being very careful in our reading of the news.

— Bud Norman

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A Brief 100 Days Passes By

Tempus fugit, as the Romans used to say, and these days tempus seems to fugit faster than ever. All the papers are noting that this weekend will mark 100 days of the President Donald Trump, but to us it seems just yesterday that he was taking the oath of office and delivering his inauguration speech about how all the “American carnage” was ending “right here, right now.”
So far as we can tell there is still some American carnage going on out there, but it quite arguably would have been a whole lot worse after 100 days of President Hillary Clinton, and in all honesty we can’t boast that we’ve gotten much done in that suddenly very short time span. Ever since President Franklin Roosevelt’s momentous first 100 days that point in every presidency has been marked by retrospective columns, however, and although we’d rather be writing about this week’s centennial of the birth of the late, great songstress Ella Fitzgerald there’s no getting around the obligation.
Trump has already preemptively “tweeted” that “No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!,” and he certainly has a point somewhere in that hard-to-parse word salad of a sentence. The first 100 days is indeed a ridiculous standard to judge a presidency, as the first 100 days of the depth-of-the-Depression Roosevelt administration isn’t analogous to any point since, no matter how bleak you or Trump might think things are now, and if you judge it less by the number of bills passed and orders signed than by the damage that orgy of governmental expansion did over the long run and is still doing today even FDR’s first hundred days doesn’t look all that great. Trump was also correct, of course, in presuming that much of the mainstream media would be availing themselves of a news peg to hang another round of Trump-bashing on.
Trump did make a lot of campaign promises to be kept within that ridiculous 100 day standard, though, and there’s no denying that so few of them have kept he’d rather you didn’t notice. He made some last minute threats to build a border wall with Mexico and end the North American Free Trade Agreement, then flinched on both after a the Republican Congress objected and the stock markets started to tank, and retreated to establishment Republican positions on China’s currency manipulation and the relevance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the usefulness of the Export-Import Bank, all of which is encouraging to establishment Republicans such as ourselves but not in keeping with any of the 100-day promises to the more populist sorts of voters. We quite like the Supreme Court pick, which is what Trump meant by “S.C.,” in case you thought he’d done something great for South Carolina, but we mostly credit that to establishment Republicans who kept the seat open during the last of the President Barack Obama administration, and of course much of the mainstream press will criticize Trump and the Republican establishment and us for the pick.
Trump’s critics on both the left and right will have plenty more to criticize, too, and so will many of his disappointed supporters. They’ll all have plenty of arguments that can’t be reputed in the compressed characters of a “tweet,” and we expect that weekend’s news cycle will be brutal. After that it should be just the unusual unfavorable press, though, with people either believing it or disbelieving it according to their preferences, and Trump will have hundreds of hundreds day left to make America so great again that your head will spin.
He might even pull it off, or convince another electoral majority that he did, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed. These past 100 days quite arguably would have been worse with a President Clinton, after all. In the meantime, we’ll try to accomplish more with our own next 100 days.

— Bud Norman

J’Accuse, Recuse, Repeat

Any old spy novel or ongoing news story that involves Russia inevitably becomes complicated, but the latest sequel in that long-running series became altogether labyrinthine after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself on Thursday from the rest of the inevitable unfolding plot.
As per usual in these sordid tales, pretty much even everyone is somewhat compromised. Session’s critics are making a flimsy case for perjury charges and calling for his resignation after he denied during his confirmation hearings that he’d had any contact with any Russian officials on behalf of the campaign of now-President Donald Trump and calling for his resignation, even though his only proved contacts with Russian officials during the time in question were arguably in his capacity at the time of a ranking member of Senate foreign relations committee and not on behalf of the Trump campaign. His defenders had a good old time laughing at Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill for “tweeting” that her fellow Senators on the committee never met with Russian fellows after making some dug-up “tweets” boasting of her own personal contacts with Russian officials, and of course recounting the countless episodes of equally questionable behavior during the past administration of President Barack Obama that some never raised any Democrat or many media eyebrows.
Despite all the gloating there was no denying by any of Session’s defenders that his answer to that under-oath question about his contacts with Russian officials, which had been poorly framed by a former Saturday Night Live comedian, did seem to imply he’d had no contacts at all with any Russian officials at all, and although the government’s top lawyer found plenty of wiggle room between himself and a perjury charge it looked bad enough even to some congressional Republicans that Sessions was forced to bow out of any ongoing investigations to the other alleged contacts between Trump’s campaign and various officials of the Russian government or its broader oligarchy. For an administration that prides itself on denying everything and apologizing for nothing that’s a rather loudly tacit admission that things do indeed look back, and after Trump’s firing of a campaign manager and campaign foreign policy adviser because of their financial ties to Russia, and his accepting the resignation of duly confirmed National Security Advisor because of similar contacts with Russian officials, and the ongoing leaks about Russian attempts to influence the past election, that looks even worse.
Trump’s and Sessions’ defenders have plenty to say, and much of it is well worth hearing. All those leaks are obviously coming from disgruntled Democrats left over from the gone but not forgotten Obama administration, there are legal and national security implications to that, and it’s quite fair to say to say there wasn’t such a fuss about it when Obama’s people were offering the Russians plastic reset buttons and promises of greater flexibility after the next election and having countless questionable foreign relationships, and by now no one bothers to deny that the Democrats are out to get Trump any way they can. The spectacle of Democrats regaining a Cold Warrior attitude they’d hadn’t used since the late and lamented Sen. “Scoop” Jackson and had ridiculed as recently as Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign in ’12 is pretty ridiculous, too, as is their suddenly re-found enthusiasm for that old “question authority” bumper sticker slogan.
Starting with the Bolshevik Revolution the Republican Party stood steadfast against Russian expansionism, and except for a brief lull after Pearl Harbor that ended at the Yalta Conference they kept it up right through the ’12 presidential campaign when nominee Mitt Romney was ridiculed by all the Democrats for his old fogey Cold War foreign policy, so it’s also odd to hear a Republican president talking about the Russkies with all the flattery and morally relativistic friendliness of some university-addled lefty. There’s something ridiculous, too, about the spectacle of Republicans pretending their heads wouldn’t have exploded if Obama had ever sloughed off a question about the ex-KGB dictator of Russia’s political crimes by saying “Do you think we’re so innocent?”
Trump’s defenders still have plenty to say, but at the moment they also have plenty to defend, and as of now his Attorney General has recused himself from the thankless role. It’s been leaked and not denied that the intelligence agencies are generally agreed that the Russkies meddled in the past election, there have already been two high-ranking campaign officials and a high-ranking administration official defenestrated over this Russia stuff, the tax returns and other financial disclosures that would surely prove Trump himself has no financial entanglements with any Russian oligarchs remain undisclosed, and just because the accusers are politically motivated doesn’t mean they’re wrong. We could go at length about the dubious dealings of the Obama administration, but we did so for eight long years, so we won’t be hypocrites and pretend that there’s nothing at all dubious going on here. Even the most crazed conspiracy theories people are concocting about it on the internet are at least as plausible as Trump’s claims about President George W. Bush lying the country into the Iraq War or Obama being born in Kenya or Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad being in on the Kennedy assassination, or the stories in The National Inquirer that Trump has nominated for a Pulitzer Prize or the InfoWars outfit whose respected reputation Trump has praised, and there’s enough that the more reasonable liberals can make a reasonable case for further investigation. It’s damned dubious enough to us a few other remaining old school and consistent-on-the-Russkies Republicans to warrant an independent investigation by the duly authorized authorities, but not an independent prosecutor, and the continued scrutiny of the press, but not the partisan and prosecutorial sort so many of them are inclined to in the case of Republicans.
Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the whole mess was principled, which should help him retain his widely respected reputation in conservative circles, even if doesn’t change the liberals’ opinion that he’s a unrepentant old racist reactionary with a souther accent, and we expect he’ll at keep his job and generally do well at it. Not having to answer all the questions that are about to be asked about the Russians should free up a lot of his valuable time.

— Bud Norman

The Not Ready for Prime Time News Conference

During his Thursday news conference President Donald Trump took a moment to brag about the huge ratings he draws on all the networks, so that was at least one thing he said that can’t be disputed. The press conference was more compelling viewing than any of the soap operas or brawling talk shows it was up against, and provided every viewer with somebody to boo and his, so we’ll assume the numbers were yuge by daytime standards. All the talk radio hosts and the rest of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters were delighted by his snarling contempt for the assembled press, a greater number of people who don’t support Trump were entertained by the many preposterous things they prodded him to say, and only those of us who were hoping for some reliable information on matters of greater importance were likely to be dissatisfied.
Having no affection for either Trump or his media interrogators we feel quite objective in saying that Trump somehow came off the worst of two. His opening remarks lasted for 24 minutes of typically un-parsable kvetching about what a mess he’s inherited from Obama and how bad it would have been if Hillary Clinton had won and how various media have failed to inform the public about it, all of which we could have a made a more intelligible case for if he’d only asked us, but except to the people who are used to hearing about it on three-hour blocks on talk radio it probably came off as whiny and self-serving. He also faulted for the media for reporting on the “fake news” that there are concerns about his foreign policy with Russia, although even he has recently accepted the resignation of a National Security Advisor for lying about contacts with the Russians and previously jettisoned a campaign manager who’d made a lot of bucks working with the Russian’s puppet government in Ukraine and a campaign foreign policy advisor with financial ties to the Russian oil oligarchy and he’s decrying but not denying the leaks that several other of his campaign members had frequent contacts with the Russian throughout the campaign, not to mention his own repeated apologetics for the Russian dictator’s habit of killing political opponents and pesky journalists. The rest of is largely forgettable, except for his memorably rambling and disjointed style.
He also bragged about his record-setting electoral college victory, as is his wont, and when he finally got around to taking to questions he had to admit to a National Broadcasting Company employee, of all people, that while the claim might not be objectively true “It was the information I was given,” which he seemed to think was as good a it being true. He got into a veritable shouting match with some fellow from the British Broadcasting Company, and although we can’t quite recall what it was about we’re sure the chap’s effeminate-sounding accent was enough to sway Trump’s hard-core supporters. He invited a black reporter to ask a question even though he predicted it would be dumb, and it turned out to be about whether Trump would seek the input of the Congressional Black Caucus in his promised efforts to bring peace to America’s cities, which Trump acknowledged was a “very professional question,” and then he asked if she was friends with the CBC and could set up a meeting, which might or might not be racist but sounded racist enough to cause some inevitable sidebars to the story. He defended his departed National Security Advisor as a “fine person” who had done nothing wrong, explained his decision to ask for a resignation by saying the NSA had lied to the vice-president about one of those things he hadn’t done wrong, and was shrewd enough not to allow any follow-up questions. He also claimed his administration was a “finely tuned machine,” and no one disputed that lest any of the anonymous administration officials who have been gushing leaks to the contrary dry up.
After rambling at some length in his opening remarks about the hateful tone of some of the media’s reporting, Trump made it clear throughout the proceedings that he hated those some media, and of course of his supporters in other media were cheering that on. He’s got plenty of erroneous stories to point to, just as the adversarial media can and continuously do recount the numerous false statements that Trump and his spokespeople daily trot out, so whichever side you’ve decided to boo and hiss the press conference featured plenty of ratings-boosting villainy. If you’re tuning in hopes of finding out believable information on which to make sound decisions about policy, however, you’d do just as well with The Jerry Springer Show or that one where you find which of the promiscuous woman’s potential pops is the real father.
— Bud Norman

Trump vs. the Media vs. the Truth and the Rest of Us

The battle between President Donald Trump and the ancien regime media continues to escalate, and just like his election campaign against Hillary Clinton we’re watching without a rooting interest. Once again both sides are embarrassing themselves with false claims and phony outrage and actual incompetence, and we’re just hoping that it somehow works out for the rest of us.
Most of the media have continued to do the same dreadful job they’ve been doing over the industry’s past several decades of declining circulation and ratings and ad revenues and public approval. Since Trump’s election the most established newspapers and news broadcasts and all sorts of more fashionable internet outlets have issued reports that required extensive corrections or outright retractions, there’s been an unabashed antagonism even in the supposedly straight news sections that can’t help but raise questions about objectivity, and by now even the most casual news readers have noticed that they’re getting all worked up over the same sorts of things they spent the Obama years writing about approvingly or ignoring altogether. They’re the same smug and self-serious bores they’ve always been, too, and still don’t seem to realize how badly it’s playing.
Yet Trump provides them plenty of fodder for a whole lot of gleefully negative but indisputably reporting, “tweeting” and extemporizing on-video claims that are easily disproved and endlessly corrected by the careful explanations of his underlings yet never fully retracted. They range from the petty, such as his continued insistence that the size of his inauguration crowd was bigger than all the evidence or any logic would support, to the potentially more consequential, such as his claims that a rigged election system cost him the popular vote and that Russia had certainly had nothing to do with him winning the electoral vote. Although the ancien regime media missed yet another bet by objecting to Trump’s Muslim-banning executive order by insinuating that it was motivated by “Islamophobia,” still not realizing how badly that old shtick is playing, they were able to generate plenty of pristine copy about how ineptly it was written by political hacks without the input of any of those top people that Trump promised to surround himself with, and how it wound up confusing all the bureaucrats downstream and causing all sorts of fuss for perfectly nice people and ending up with a lot of legal wrangling, and Trump referring to the “so-called judge” who issued an injunction and lots of people on the left and right noting that the judge is so called because he actually is a duly-appointed-by-a_Republican-and-confirmed-by-a-bipartisan-congressional-majority judge, and so far we’d score it all about even for both teams, with the rest of in the hole.
Trump’s next offensive was against the media’s alleged lack of “Islamophobia,” which he’s shrewd enough to know that most Americans and all of his supporters understand as a reasonable concern about Islamist terrorism, and he botched that persuasive argument by claiming that there’s a widespread media collusion that ignores acts of terror. Had he argued that many of the media are slow to acknowledge an Islamist motivation to an act or terror and when forced to try to underplay that fact of the story he would have had some basis for the claim, but instead he had his staff issue a hastily-assembled list of terror strikes that the media had “underreported.” The established papers and networks were happy to show the  list included several major terrorist attacks in Europe and Australia and the Middle East that you surely heard about if you’d turned on a television or radio or opened a newspaper or called up any sort of news web site in the days afterward, many more that were Muslim-on-Muslim killing in some geopolitically unimportant country by inconsequential gangs involving a small and numbingly routine number of victims. None of them were that white guy who shot all those black people in a South Carolina church or the white who shot up that mosque in Quebec, one of them was apparently some crazed homeless guy killing some tourists in an Australia hostel and the parents of the victims are “tweeting” their apparently real outrage that Trump has politicized the murders to gin up policies they don’t support, and it also didn’t include the “Bowling Green Massacre” that a spokeswoman claimed most Americans didn’t know because it was underreported, but which was in fact entirely unreported by it had not happened.
All in all we’d call that round another draw, and once again we can’t see that turning out well for the rest of us. By now most of the country seems to have chosen which side they’ll believe without bothering to carefully consider any of the facts or other alternatives on offer. By now we know way too many people who think that reptilian alien shape-shifters aligned with the Illuminati have something to do with it, way too many more who think the truth is whatever they find on their side of great cultural and economic and political divide and that everyone over on that side is lying, and that crazy liberal academic notion about objective reality being a mere social construct to maintain the establishment that can be deconstructed by the right mumbo-jumbo seems to have been adopted by our putatively conservative and proudly anti-intellectual president.
With no rooting interest to preoccupy we continue to grasp for objective reality, another one of those old-fashioned beliefs we bitterly cling to in these uncertain times. Our old college pal Pee Wee lives in the Washington, D.C. area and remains a Facebook friend, and he went down to look at the big protest on the Mall the day after inauguration and posted about a cop he talked with who said he’d also been on the job the day before and that the protest was far better attended, and even though Pee Wee’s a lifelong liberal we’ve never known him to lie about anything, and we’re pretty darned sure he’s not part of any Illuminati conspiracy, so we figure that Trump is overstating his crowd size and can’t help worrying about his apparent insecurity about matters of size. We also have to admit that even the most multiculturally sensitive media have all wound up acknowledging that sure enough yet another major terror occurred somewhere in the world, but we’re still hoping for a more reasoned and maybe even more intelligible argument from Trump that Islamist terrorism remains a reasonable concern.
In the meantime, we’ll be sticking to the facts as best we can find them and continue to criticize our media brethren and gleefully ignore that pudgy-faced provocateur and Chief White House Strategist Steven Bannon’s demand that we shut up. Go ahead and hate the press all you want, and much of the time you’ll be well justified in doing so, but at this point we’re mainly hoping that the freedom of the press survives this mess.

— Bud Norman

And So It Begins

The presidency of Donald Trump got off to a predictably contentious start on Friday, and we expect that will continue for a while.
Trump commenced his administration with a characteristically pugnacious inauguration speech, and pretty much everything in it promised a lot of fussing and fighting and back-and-forth-“tweeting” over the next few years. He did give the obligatory shout out to the past presidents in attendance, and thanked President Barack Obama and his wife for their “gracious” and “magnificent” help during the transition, but he seemed to have all of them in mind when he immediately launched into the part about “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the costs,” and “The establishment protected itself, but not the people.” He assured the country “That all changes — starting right here, and right now,” and although he explained that is because “this moment is your moment, it belongs to you” he seemed as always to regard the moment as being all about him. He described his election as “part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before,” and painted a very dark picture of what America was like before it came to the rescue.
America’s infrastructure “has fallen into disrepair and decay,” “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the world,” “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” and an education system “which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” He summed it all with the phrase “American Carnage,” which sounds like the title of a graphic novel soon to be made into a major motion picture, but again promised that it “stops right here and right now.”
We’ve been peddling our gloomy accounts of American decline since Trump was busy firing people on “The Apprentice,” and we’re not about to stop now, but even we thought Trump’s diagnosis a bit overwrought, and to the extent we glean them his prescriptions seemed likely to do more harm than good.
America’s infrastructure is always in need of repair, but that usually happens at the state and local level, and judging by all the orange cones and ditches being dug around here the country seems as busy with the task as always, and our old-fashioned Republican principles as just opposed to a pork-laden trillion dollar spending program as we were Obama was proposing one. The part about the prosperity of the American middle class being redistributed to the rest of the world suggests that Trump regards the global economy as a zero-sum game, with any gain in another country’s standard of living somehow being directly billed to the home of some Rust Belt opioid addict in a “Make America Great Again” ball cap, and Trump’s promise to “protect” us from such looting smacks of the protectionism that has always left all the world poorer. Some of those tombstone factories used to manufacture Kodak film and Betamax videocassette recorders and celluloid collars and other products that are no longer in demand, others were simply no longer any more viable than Trump Steaks or Trump University or Trump Mortgage or the Trump Taj Mahal casino and strip club or any of the other countless businesses that come and go in a competitive and creatively destructive economy, and we fear that any attempts to revive them will not prove fruitful. We’re more convinced than ever than America’s educational system is awful, but have an American president who writes a sentence about “our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge” does not make us any less pessimistic about it.
The foreign policy portion was all about “America First,” another pithy and movie-title phrase that sounds good, unless you were educated early enough to know about the last “America First” movement, which argued in the years leading up to World War II that an isolationist America would do just fine in world otherwise dominated by the worst sorts of totalitarianism. Ever since that proved tragically untenable there’s a bi-partisan consensus that international military alliances and economic cooperation between the more democratic and humane countries is needed to sustain peace and prosperity and ward off the ever present bad guys, but apparently that also ends right here and right now.
To our old-fashioned Republican and conservative ears it was probably the worst inaugural address ever, and we can only imagine how harsh it must have sounded to a Democrat and any other sort liberal. Some of them were literally rioting in the streets even as Trump delivered it, with the Starbucks shops seeming to get the usual worst of it, and many thousands more were already in the streets protesting more peacefully. By the next day the Washington Mall and its surrounding streets were filled with anti-Trump protestors, hundreds of thousands more took to the streets of many other American cities, and when you throw in a fair guesstimate of the turn-out in cities from Europe to South America to Australia there were more than a million of them. That’s a lot of angry opposition, far more than the usual newly-inaugurated president provokes, and it’s hard to imagine Trump either overwhelming them with his popularity or charming them into submission, so we expect that should last a while.
Trump had a pretty good turnout of his own, by the standards of the usual newly-inaugurated president, but of course he felt obliged to overstate that. His press secretary had a press conference that allowed no questions but instead merely castigated the assembled media for broadcasting their footing and publishing their photographs that sure did seem to suggest a smaller crowd than the one that assembled for Obama’s ’09 inauguration, and he huffily noted that there were no official numbers, as the Interior Department wisely bowed out out of the crowd-estimating business decades ago, and he went on to boast that Trump of course had the biggest numbers ever, and he flat-out lied about the ridership numbers on the District of Columbia’s subway and the security precautions that might have kept out some the people he insisted were there. When Trump spoke before a group of Central Intelligence Agency employees on Saturday he also groused about the media, and insisted that he could clearly see up to a million and a half people hanging on his every word, and we doubt that a group of CIA analysts bought a single word of it. Inauguration audiences are mostly drawn from D.C. and its surrounding counties, where Trump got tiny percentages of the vote and Obama was a landslide winner, and Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters surely had more pressing chores than traveling a long distance and coughing up the $800 a night for a stay at Trump’s hotel, and despite Trump’s apparent insecurities about such things size doesn’t really mean all that much in any case, so with all the fights yet to come it seemed hardly worth fighting.
Trump also took the occasion of his visit to the CIA to reiterate his belief in wars of pillage, wistfully remark that we might yet get another chance to appropriate Iraq’s oil reserves, and promised the spooks that “you’re gonna get so much backing, maybe you’re gonna say, ‘Please, don’t give us so much backing, Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing.” After “tweeting” that the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s meddling in the past election made him feel that he was living in Nazi Germany, Trump assured the audience that any impression he was not a big fan of the intelligence community was entirely due to that lying media, which allowed him to segue into the longer rant about the huge turnout for his inauguration.
All in all, we did not find it an encouraging start.

— Bud Norman

An Inevitable Landslide or a Fixed Election

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s die-hard supporters are still taking to the internet comment sections and message boards as well as the call-in lines of right-wing talk radio programs to insist that he’s cruising to a landslide victory, but the nominee himself has lately been complaining that the election has already been rigged against him. What this portends for the actual outcome of the race is hard to tell, and in such a crazy election as this year anything seems possible, but all the oddsmakers are lately liking Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s chances.
The confidence of Trump’s supporters seems based largely on the undeniably sizable yet oft-overstated attendance at his rallies and the impossible-to-overstate enthusiasm of those crowds, the equally impossible-to-overstate awfulness of Clinton, a certain gnostic faith that their oh-so-secular messiah is destined to make America great again, and the fact that everyone they hang out agrees with them. Trump’s claims of a rigged election are harder to explain, as his numerous conspiracy theories tend to be, but it seems to have something to do with media collusion and voter fraud at certain precincts of some major metropolitans and some unspecified globalist cabal of big banks and other well-heeled specialist interests. Of the two, we’d say that Trump’s supporters are making the more convincing case.
Many of the media are indeed out to get Trump, of course, and especially those big-name ancien regime ink-on-paper and over-the-air organs that still wield enough influence that many people think they are “the media.” Those same institutions have been out to get every Republican candidate of our lifetime, we never expected they would make an exception even for such a recent Democrat as Trump, and one must admit that Trump presents an especially tempting and accommodating target, but the undeniable bias of much of the media doesn’t mean that an election has been rigged. Over our lifetime the Republicans have won eight presidential elections, and enough Senate and Houe and gubernatorial and statehouse and county commission and city council races that the Republican party was in its best shape since the ’20s going into this crazy election year, and much of that happened back when when the only conservative media were William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” show on public television and his National Review magazine and a few big city papers with conservative readerships. There are plenty of other media these days, including internet message boards and radio talk shows full of people predicting a Trump landslide, and they all agree that nobody they hang out with believes to the “lamestream media.”
Even to the extent that those “lamestream” media are ganging up on Trump, there’s nothing really conspiratorial about it. After a quarter century of working for one of those big newspaper chains we’re sure that our erstwhile editors and publishers and corporate masters weren’t coordinating their coverage with the competition, but rather wound up with the same front pages because they’d all gone to the same schools and aspired to the same prizes and went to the same cocktail parties and eventually succumbed to the conclusion that everyone they hung out with though the same way, and it’s not so much a conspiracy that Trump needs to thwart as it is a market failure that the destructive powers of capitalism are already rapidly correcting. We’d also note that Buckley’s “National Review” and the staunchly conservative Weekly Standard and every last one of those big city papers with a conservative readership that have never of very rarely failed to endorse a Republican nominee are withholding their praise for Trump, and perhaps you can blame that one some big money cabal, but we can assure you that no checks have arrived for such staunchly conservative yet neutral publications as this. Should Trump win, and begin his promised purge of the conspirators, we’ll do our best to sneak out our grumblings through some sort of samizdat.
There’s also something to the charge that certain Democrats in certain precincts of certain big Democrat-controlled cities have been known to violating laws, and that the party at large has fiercely resisted such reasonable measures as voter roll examinations and photo identification requirements to thwart such efforts, but at this point any claims of a “rigged election” seem typical Trumpian overstatement. Each of the 50 states’ election process have federal, state, county, city, precinct, and neighborhood oversight, along with a bunch of local newspaper and television and radio and internet reporters hanging around next to paranoid members of both parties, and unless the results are so unusually close as they turned out to be in the ’00 race in Florida there’s rarely any argument about it. In such a crazy election year as this we can’t rule anything out, including Russian hackers intervening on Trump’s behalf, but we’ll wait until after election day to start spinning our conspiracy theories.
In the meantime the polls don’t look good for Trump, but his supporters insist all those polls are also rigged. That would mean that Fox News is in on the anti-Trump conspiracy, The Los Angeles Times isn’t, The Washington Post is only half-heartedly cooperating, and that pretty much every other polling firm is willing to sell its reputation for whatever handsome price that globalist cabal is paying, but in this crazy election year anything seems possible. Trump has his own polling, and in fact his pollster is his campaign manager, and we note that their recent cancellation of ad buys and campaign appearances in Virginia and a couple of other formerly contested states suggest that her numbers are pretty much in line with what all those biased media are reporting, and we can’t help thinking that might have something to do with his preemptive complaints about a rigged election.
Anything is possible in such a crazy election year as this, and that Clinton truly is awful, but that’s how it looks at this glum moment.

— Bud Norman

A President Popular by Default

President Barack Obama is unaccountably popular at the moment, with a bare majority of Americans expressing approval of him. That’s hardly Mount Rushmore stuff, and far short of the falling oceans and fundamental transformations he promised during the peak of his popularity during that first crazy presidential campaign of his, but for now it’s enough to make him the most popular politician in America. The only way we can account for it is the year’s even crazier election.
It’s not just that both of his major party would-be successors are wildly unpopular, with landslide majorities of Americans quite reasonably finding both dishonest and altogether unfit for the office, but also the way that their daily groan-inducing scandals keep the president contentedly out of the news altogether. Those obsessive sorts of news readers who dive beyond the front page headlines and delve deep into the rest of it are vaguely aware that the president recently paid a huge ransom to the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy for some hostages and then offered a preposterous explanation about why he didn’t, that Milwaukee has lately been burning from flames fanned by the “Black Lives Moment” the president has encouraged, that much of south Louisiana is underwater and the main form of federal assistance has been a memo sternly warning that rescue efforts not be racially discriminatory, and that the president has been playing golf and living it up with a bunch of rich white people on a lavishly-funded vacation to Martha’s Vineyard the whole time, but the rest of the country has been pleasantly preoccupied with America’s rout at the the Olympics and the latest gaffes from the president’s would-be successors.
We can recall past times when shady hostage deals went down with the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy and American inner cities burned and south Louisiana was underwater, and how it used to be a much bigger deal, but then again all that happened during slower news cycles and Republican administrations. During a slow news cycle in a Republican administration a president golfing and living it up with a bunch of rich white people while the rest of the nation churns along uneasily would be a major scandal, but with a Democratic administration and the happy distraction of a can’t-look-away-train-wreck of a presidential election such scandals suddenly become quibbles. The desultory state of the economy and that awful labor force participation rate that obscures the more happy-face unemployment numbers, the mounting debt that sustains the slow pace, the politicization of the Justice Department that allows the Democratic nominee to be running in the first place, the generally unsettled state of world, as well as the general cultural decline made apparent by the current sorry choices of presidential nominees, are all as easily relegated to the inner pages of your increasingly scant newspaper.
Any old well-funded Republican should be able to make something of it, but this year the nominee isn’t any old well-funded Republican but rather the not-quite-self-funding-self-described billionaire Donald J. Trump, and he hasn’t seized the opportunities. The self-described deal-making-artisan made a strong case against the ransom for hostages arrangement, but the press was able to focus on what he had later had to admit was a bogus claim that he’d seen secret video footage of the payment. He made a persuasive argument that the past many decades of Democratic machine politics have caused the plight of the recently burning inner cities, but his attempts to bolster his current 1 or 2 percent favorables among black Americans were rather clumsily phrased in the pitch that they’re all poor and uneducated and therefore have nothing to lose by voting for him, along with the rather fanciful even-by-Trump-standards boast that after four years in office he’d win 95 percent black vote. Trump showed up in Louisiana for a meaningless photo-op several days before the vacationing Obama plans to do the same, but unless starts spending some serious ad buy money we doubt it will do him the same good that it once did Obama when a Republican administration was in charge while south Louisiana was underwater.
Thus far the supposedly boundlessly wealthy Trump has been quite parsimonious about ad buys, and instead continues to rely on all the “free media” that has suddenly turned so hostile ever since he wrapped up the Republican nomination, not to mention all those gaffes, and yet he’s still within shouting distance in the national polls if not so much the states that add up to an electoral majority. That’s because a clear majority of Americans understand that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is dishonest and unfit for office, and we also take heart that a near-majority of them also think little of the current president. That so few of us have any regard for our next president, no matter how it turns out, is also heartening in an unaccountable way.

— Bud Norman

The Week that Wasn’t

This should have been a great week for the Republican presidential nominee.
The Democratic presidential nominee gave an interview with one of those Democratic-biased networks which was so awful that all the other biased Democratic networks had to concede that she lied about what the Federal Bureau of Investigation said she lied about in that lingering e-mail matter that most Americans agree should have led to her indictment on national security charges. Those same biased networks were also forced to report on the latest economic news from the current Democratic administration, and to acknowledge that it was also very bad. They were also forced to acknowledge some hard-to-sort-out controversy about a $400 million ransom allegedly paid to the Iranian government by that same current Democratic administration. Each of which reinforced a widely and reasonably held opinion that the Democratic presidential nominee is disqualifying-ly dishonest and devious, as well as the objectively provable conclusion that her party’s economic policies have produced the worst recovery from an economic recession since World War II, and a general sense that neither she nor her party should be allowed anywhere near America’s foreign policy.
These are the Republican’s quadrennial campaign themes, after all, which have proved persuasive even in less fortuitous election years over the relatively recent past, so all that was needed was for nice little Republican poll bump was for the nominee to do some serious tsk-taking about how awful the Democrats are and otherwise stay the hell out of the news. It would take quite a feat of self-sabotage to turn that into a worrisome little dip in the polls, for that matter, but this time around the Republican nominee is Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul has long had a knack for generating headlines, and he obligingly provided those biased Democratic networks plenty of reason to write and broadcast about something other than the Democratic nominee’s awful week.
There were the ongoing aspersions against a Muslim couple whose son had died fighting for America in the Iraq War, a hearty defense of the Fox News head honcho who was shown the door after decades of sexual harassment charges along with some off-the-cuff remarks about how strong women don’t get sexually harassed and that if they do they should up and leave like his nepotistic and well-funded daughter and of course very strong daughter would, as well as a rather bizarre by five-times draft deferred civilian that he’d always wanted to get a Purple Heart. That’s on top of an undeniably disastrous-even-by-the-conservative-media interview where he promised — believe him, write it down — that Russia wouldn’t invade Ukraine even though it did so two years ago and is still there, then admitting he wouldn’t mind if it stayed that way because he’d “heard people say” that those conquered Ukrainians like it that way. Throw in a speech to the richest county in America about how hard they’ve got it, his failure to endorse his party’s Speaker of the House in a primary against a long-shot challenger as well as a former Republican presidential nominee, and his blatant attempt to out-bid the Democrats on a stimulus-sort of “infrastructure spending” and other insults to the old-fashioned conservatives in his party, along with that hard-to-sort-out incident with a crying baby that all the Democratic-biased media happily ran with, and it was plenty for those biased media to talk about other than the Democrat’s awful week.
All of which reinforced the widespread and reasonably held opinion that the Republican nominee is a religiously intolerant and cluelessly sexist chickenhawk who really doesn’t understand foreign policy at all and doesn’t represent a coherent and united political philosophy and will make whatever promises he thinks a gullible public will buy and is pretty much a nutcase as well. These are the Democrats’ quadrennial political themes, and they’ve proved all too persuasive even against less fortuitous candidates over the recent past, and so far it’s good for an outside-the-margin-of-error lead of 5.1 percent in the Real Clear Politics average instead of the slight bump that a more savvy Republican could have effortlessly achieved.
Trump is already blaming it all on Democratic media bias, and most of his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters are already parroting the claim, and there’s no denying they’ve got a strong case. Last time around the same biased Democratic media were making a big deal of the more polished and polite Republican nominee saying “binders full of women” rather than “binders full of women’s resumes” and talking about the time he put his dog in a cage atop his car and otherwise finding trivial reasons to ignore the ongoing catastrophes of the incumbent Democratic administration, and there’s no reason to think that even the most blameless Republican nominee wouldn’t have the same problem this time around. Even so, Trump is making it so very easy them that even such staunch defenders as former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Trump’s very own vice presidential nominee are finding it hard to make the quadrennial arguments.
Whatever reasonable complaints one might have with Islam in general and those Muslim parents of a fallen American soldier in general it is never a good idea to disparage a Gold Star family of any faith, and the censure of usually Republican biased veterans’ groups proves the point. Any candidate that already has absolutely abysmal approval ratings among women shouldn’t be defending rich pals who have accepted big buy-outs in exchange for resignations in the wake of sexual harassment charges nor disparaging the alleged victims as weaklings. Those remarks about Russia would never go into Ukraine and so what if it did are even more appalling from a Republican point view of than a Democratic one, and all that talk of “infrastructure spending” and that ungallant support for a Republican House Speaker who has swallowed hard to support the nominee are unlikely to unify the party behind a coherent political philosophy. Throw in that weird encounter with the crying baby, and that talk about how he always wanted to get a Purple Heart, and it takes a true believer to believe that the current Republican nominee isn’t at least a little bit of a nutcase.
We’re still somewhat sympathetic to the argument that the awful Democratic nominee’s awful week was even worse, and that everyone should thus get on board with the idea that the awful Republican nominee is going to make America great again, but we can’t help pining for what might have been. One of the more intriguing scenes from the past week came when Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, a former Congressman and Governor and one of those polite and polished “establishment” types that Trump ran against, encountered criticism from a military family. At a rally in Lima, Ohio, a woman came forward during the question-and-answer period an identified herself as the mother of a Air Force airman, which earned polite applause from the crowd, but when it became apparent that she was criticizing Trump for his feud with the Muslim soldier’s parents the crowd started booing her, which of course gave the Democratic biased media the opportunity to write headlines about a military mom being booed at a Trump rally. The more objective media showed how Pence quelled the booing by honoring her sacrifice, however, and telling the crowd that “This is what freedom looks like,” and then reasonably responding to the broader issues at hand. It’s something for the conservative media to work with, and something that the liberal media will further compromise their credibility by ignoring, and it makes one wonder what a more politically experienced and slightly less nutcase Republican nominee could have done with the past week.

— Bud Norman

Politics as Practiced on the AM Dial

Monday’s chores entailed much driving around our sprawling town, and as we’re not the sorts to sit in silence at the interminable traffic lights we spent much of the afternoon scanning the AM radio between the old folks’ station where they play Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra and the country oldies station that occasionally plays some pre-80s tears-in-my-bear honky tonk worth listening to and the local right-wing talk station that broadcasts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Mark Levin and assorted other right-wing ranters. Despite the unpleasant distractions of the day, we couldn’t help noticing a slightly heartening diversity of media views.
So far as we can tell from our occasional stoplight encounters with right-wing talk radio, Limbaugh still hates the presumptive Democratic nominee and is resigned to offering helpful rationalizations for the Republican nominee’s latest “tweets,” Hannity hates the presumptive Democratic at least as much and is at least is fully on board with the presumptive Republican nominee and ever eager to explain — “literally,’ he always annoyingly adds — how the presumptive Republican nominee’s latest “Tweets” don’t contradict every position he’s ever taken on anything from adultery to public health care, and Levin is just as loudly and cacophonously as ever opposed to both the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees, which would probably strike us as the most the most reasonable position if he weren’t shrieking it with all all those capital letters. In between all the ads are for gold bug businesses and doomsday food suppliers and people eager to help out with your problems with the Internal Revenue Service and your credit card debt, and except for an old friend or ours who runs an excellent local hat shop and a couple of other daring local business and some company that makes what it bills as the world’s greatest pillow that’s about all you’d hear on our local right-wing radio station, except for those American Broadcasting Company news updates that come at that the end of every hour and always sound exactly like what those deranged right-wingers predicted they would say.
On Monday afternoon the mainstream media feed into our otherwise reliably right-wing media was reporting that some Democratic Senators had bravely advocated some surely well-intentioned legislative proposal to restrict people’s rights to defend themselves with firearms, and it came right out and said the congressional Republicans were “un-moved” by the past weekend’s tragedy in Florida and therefore callously moved to vote against a bill to to deny gun sales to anyone on the federal government’s “no-fly” list.
Those nasty establishment Republicans did indeed vote against the proposed legislation, but just as the right-wing talkers predicted the ABC news feed at the top of the hour made no mention of the unavoidable matter that almost anyone, including the late “liberal lion” Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, could win up being denied his Second Amendment rights as a result of a more cockamamie bill if it were ever passed and signed. Nor was there any mention anywhere on the radio dial that the presumptive and proudly anti-establishment Republican presidential nominee is entirely on board with this nonsense, and promises to talk with his new-found friends at the National Rifle Association about it, and seems quite eager to have his very own federal government deciding who and who does not have Second Amendment rights. All in all, we’d have to call it perfectly imbalanced coverage of the day’s events during an afternoon’s chores, if not at all satisfactory.

— Bud Norman