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“Flipping” One’s Way to the Truth

Anyone who’s ever seen “The Godfather Part II” or countless other crime dramas well knows how federal investigations into criminal enterprises go. First they catch some low-level figure red-handed, then they offer a lighter sentence if he’ll “flip” with corroborated testimony about the next-higher player in the conspiracy, who in turn is caught dead-to-rights and offered a lighter sentence in exchange for corroborated testimony about the next guy, and the process continues until eventually the kingpin winds up on trial.
So it seems to be going with special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing,” which has already secured guilty pleas and corroborated testimony from three people associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign and his administration’s former national security advisor, as well as his longtime personal lawyer, and on Thursday The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s longtime personal friend who runs The National Enquirer has been granted full immunity from prosecution to join the witness list.
It’s an effective time honored investigative technique and cinematic plot line, long upheld by judicial precent and cheered by movie audiences, but Trump is now calling it a rigged system. Appearing on the Fox News Network’s “Fox and Friends” program, which should be the safest place for him in the  entire vast media spectrum, Trump wound up almost saying it almost should be illegal.
“I’ve seen it many times,” Trump said. “I’ve had many friends involved in this stuff. It’s called ‘flipping’ and ii almost  should be illegal. You get ten years in jail, but if you make up stuff about people, in other words make up stories, they just make up lies … They make up things and they go from ten years to a national hero. They have a statue erected in their honor.”
All of which strikes us as hogwash, and conspicuously desperate hogwash at that. We’re not sure which of of Trump’s friends in the notoriously corrupt New York real estate business he’s seen involved in this stuff, but we assume he’s talking about some of the mobsters who were also represented by past Trump lawyer Roy Cohn, and we note that a number of them were put rightly put in prison after several plea agreements by Trump’s current lawyer and formerly formidable federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani. We also note that although a number of lower-ranking figures got off with light sentences in those cases, they always had corroborating evidence to go along with their admittedly dubious testimony that they’re weren’t making things up, and that none of them ever had a statue erected in their honor, and you’d need a very cynical view of the longstanding traditions of the American system of justice and the American way of doing things more generally to argue about the outcomes.
Although it’s only tangentially related to the “Russia thing,” Trump is apparently worried about the “flipped” testimony of his longtime personal lawyer and his longtime friend at The National Enquirer regarding some six-figures payments that were made during the campaign to a pornographic video performer and a former Playboy centerfold model who alleged they’d had sexual encounters with Trump shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. Cheating on one’s wife isn’t a crime, and former President Bill Clinton and a few other predecessors have established a precedent that it’s not an impeachable offense, but in this case Trump’s former lawyer has pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws at the president’s request and with the president’s money, and in any case a pornographic video performer and a former Playboy playmate were indisputably givensix-figures hugh-money payments from Trump’s account it’s damned hard for a president to explain to a First Lady.
Longtime Trump lawyer and now=-confessed felon Michael Cohen also figures in the bigger “Russia thing,” as he was the admittedly and under-oath go-to guy for a Moscow skyscraper deal Trump was pursuing even as he promised the Republican primary voters he had no deals whatsoever going on with Russia. So far there’s no telling what he has to say about that, and he’s now a confessed felon, but after the special counsel investigation seized all the tape-recordings and documents and hand-written notes from his home and office and hotel room we expect they’ll have corroborating evidence. So far the public has already heard a leaked audio recording of Trump working out the details of the hush-money payments to the aforementioned porn star and Playboy model with his former lawyer, which Trump had repeatedly lied about having any knowledge of, and we expect that worse is yet to come.
There’s no denying that Trump’s former friends and lawyers and campaign officials and administration appointees are an unsavory bunch, and that their testimony shouldn’t be taken seriously without some convincingly corroborating documentary evidence, but we expect that evidence will be forthcoming, and even in the best-case scenario it looks pretty damned bad for Trump.

— Bud Norman

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The Curious Case of the “QAnons”

A while back we were sharing a beer at our favorite dive with a friend of ours who’s a well-regarded local heavy metal and punk music drummer, and during a discussion of the day’s news she told us that we needed to get on the internet and find out what “Q” was saying about it. Only then, she assured us, would we truly understand what was really going on.
Our friend is a sweet enough gal, but she drinks her beer through a straw, and believes that Hillary Clinton died on Sept. 11 in 2016 and has been replaced by a body double, and that the Illuminati have shape-shifting reptilian aliens who secretly cause everything from the stock market indices to the baseball scores to your own personal and financial problems, so we were skeptical of the claim. We love a good conspiracy the way other fiction lovers enjoy a good murder mystery or cloak-and-dagger novel, though, so we looked up the “QAnon” theory, found it’s plot entertainingly complex but a bit fanciful, and then gave it little thought.
We were reminded of the of the amusing anecdote, however, by President Donald Trump’s latest campaign rally in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday. There was the usual schtick about all the enemies of the people that Trump has lately been vanquishing, and more than the usual booing of the “fake news” media, but we couldn’t help noticing all the white t-shirts with emblazoned with a “Q” rather than “Make America Great Again,” and all the waved signs proclaiming that “We Are Q”.
Which obliges a weary news watcher to familiarize himself with this whole “Q” and “QAnon” craziness, and what it means amidst of the rest of the craziness you find daily even in the most respectable news outlets.
To put it as succinctly as possible, “Q” is the “internet handle” of someone one or another out there who often posts on a couple of internet message boards largely devoted to conspiracy theories, and purports to be a high-level federal official with the ultra-top “Q level” security clearance, and “QAnon” is “Q” and all the anonymous internet “Anons” who are believe his claims and are thus deciphering his cryptic messages to discern what’s really going on. What’s really going on turns out to be pretty much every crazy-ass conspiracy you’ve ever heard, from the Masons to the Rothschilds and certain other Jews and some shape-shifting reptilians and annoyingly liberal Hollywood hot shots and other child-molesting Satanic sorts. According to this unified field conspiracy theory, these evil forces have been running America and the world for decades. The good news in the theory, and what accounts for all those “Q’ t-shirts and signs at the Trump rally, is that the military recruited Trump to run for president, and they are now setting things right.
According to the theory even that special counsel probe into the “Russia thing” is a ruse, and that the special counsel is using the cover to investigate the child-molesting Satanic cults that have wrought such hell on America for so many decades, will ultimately lock up such enemies of the people as President Barack Obama and vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, with Trump’s grateful voters chanting gleefully as the cell doors clank. A long ago “Q” posting was interpreted by the “QAnons” to mean that Clinton and several of her subordinates would be locked up a short time later, and that a general crackdown on Satanic pedophilia would shortly follow, but the faithful still believe in final delightfully vengeful denouement when that smug movie star Tom Hanks and everyone they dislike is rightfully behind bars.
Trump’s more mainstream defenders will rightly note that he can’t be held accountable for the t-shirts some people wear and the signs they wave at his rallies, but they can’t say he’s done anything to discourage such crazy-ass conspiracy-theorizing. Trump has congratulated radio host Alex “THEY’RE TURNING THE FRIGGIN’ FROGS GAY!” Jones on his “excellent reputation,” recommended The National Enquirer’s dubious scoop that Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad was in on the Kennedy assassination for a Pulitzer Prize, use the same language of “globalists” and “elites” and daily insists that everything you’re seeing and hearing about that “Russia thing” is “fake news” about a nefarious conspiracy against him. For now, at least, the “Q” t-shirts and signs will be more welcome at the Trump rallies than the crew from the Cable News Network or the New York Times.
We have our own conspiracy theory that Trump’s campaign coordinated with the Russian government’s now undeniable attempts to influence the election on his behalf, and has since obstructed the Department of Justice’s efforts to investigate the matter, but we base that on Donald Trump Jr.’s own “tweeted” e-mail chains and sworn Congressional testimony by various campaign officials and the indictments and guilty pleas that have already resulted from “Russia thing” investigation and everything else that’s been verified. Even with all that to back us up, we’ll still only say that it looks pretty darned suspicious, and we’ll hope that the Trump’s more mainstream and fringier fans will be just as agnostic, and that the special counsel is allowed to conclude his investigation no matter what it concludes.
It would be fun to eventually find out who “Q” really is, especially if he turned out to be some 400-pound guy sitting on his bed, which is a sly allusion to another one of Trump’s conspiracy theories.

— Bud Norman

How to Be All Diplomatic and Stuff

The main problem with with President Donald Trump’s diplomacy, according to our analysis, is that he’s the most temperamentally undiplomatic person in the entire world. His latest trip abroad has provided supporting evidence for our theory at a rate of every 15 minutes or so.
Even before Trump embarked on a visit to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Belgium and then a less-than-state-visit to Great Britain and today’s summit with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland he couldn’t resist “tweeting” insults about America’s allies and telling the television cameras as he embarked Air Force One that he expected the meeting with Putin would be the easiest part. He started off the NATO meeting by complaining over breakfast a televised breakfast about a natural gas pipeline deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made with Russia, and spent the rest of the time publicly and privately chiding the heads of the other member nations about their deadbeat ways.
Our president left Belgium bragging that NATO was stronger than ever thanks to the defense spending commitments he’d strong-armed the deadbeats into, but French President Emmanuel Macron other NATO leaders told the world press that they’d only reaffirmed a pervious agreement about 2 percent of gross domestic product spending on defense by the next decade, and nobody believed that Europe had acceded to Trump’s extortionist demand for 4 percent spending starting right now. Trump left talking tough about his commitment to NATO, but he’d been conspicuously late to a meeting with the Eastern European nations most nervous about Russian revanchist ambitions, and the rest of the allied leaders and the international press that informs their voters left less sure of America’s commitment to its longstanding treaty obligations.
Trump didn’t demolish Stonehenge, ala Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” but his visit to Britain was similarly undiplomatic. On the way to the United Kingdom he granted a interview a London tabloid called The Sun and took the opportunity to harshly criticize his hostess Prime Minister Theresa May for ignoring his advice about leaving the European Union and saying it had torpedoed the free trade agreement that May had hoped to negotiate when she offered Trump the visit. The itinerary May had generously scheduled kept Trump away from London, whose Mayor Trump has been feuding with over “Twitter” and where tens of thousands of angry protestors and a giant blimp of a diaper-clad Trump clutching a cell phone were packing Trafalgar Square, and instead included a stroll with the Queen at the secluded and well-secured castle where Winston Churchill was born in front the military pageantry that Trump so enjoys, but even there he breached royal protocol ways that were bound to offend the refined sensibilities of the Fleet Street press.
There was no avoiding a joint press conference with May, so when faced with the inevitable questions about the interview with The Sun he dismissed it as “fake news” and talked instead about all the fulsome praise for May that they’d left out. Our guess is that he’d granted the interview to a tabloid with only a slightly better reputation that Trump’s favorite American tabloid The National Enquirer, rather than the Daily Scotsman or The Times of London or another of Britain’s eminently respectable broadsheets of record is that The Sun is owned by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Trump’s beloved Fox News Network in the United States, but he still threatened to unleash his own audio recording of the interview to expose them as “fake news.” He’s yet to make good on the threat, but even The Sun also makes audio recordings of the interview and what they’ve released verifies every word of what they printed, and although the fans back home might love it even the Murdoch-owned Sun readers in Great Britain were left the clear impression that the President of the United States is not only one of those very rude Americans who impose their presence on them but also a liar.
We don’t see any great trade deals coming out of the visit, even though Trump insisted that the “Special Relationship” is more special than ever, but at least Trump got some American and British taxpayer-paid recreation time and much-needed publicity for at one of his still-wholly owned golf resorts in Scotland. A few protestors and that diaper-clad Trump blimp got close enough to Trump’s round that he might have heard the roar or made out blip the blimp, and a paraglider from the far-left Green Peace party penetrated the airspace with a critical slogan waving behind, but we expect Trump still enjoyed the round. It’s the same course where the great Tom Watson beat the even great Jack Nicklaus by on stroke in the legendary “Duel in the Sun” at the 1977 British Open — or more simply “The Open” as the British insist — and we’re sure that with help from his caddie and the mulligans and gimmes generously allowed by his playing from his laying partners Trump surely set the course record.
Trump gets especially loquacious during these international trips, and his many interviews yielded enough diplomatic faux pas and outright falsehoods to provide an entire world of late night television comics with a week’s worth of material. He congratulated the England team in the World Cup soccer tournament on what turned out to a fourth-place finish, and wondered why people say “Britain” instead of “England” even as he was heading to Scotland, which is also a part of Britain, and at another point he seemed to believe that Ireland is still a part of the United Kingdom. During a rare interview with the Columbia Broadcast System’s “Face the Nation” described the European Union as a “foe” before mention China’s economic challenges and Russian revanchism, which he described as merely “competitors,” which is fine by the fans back home but raised plenty of eyebrows overseas.
Trump also boasted that he had better approval ratings among Republicans at this point in her first administration than President Abraham Lincoln, even though public opinion polling wasn’t invented until the 1930s, and surely ranks higher at the moment than Trump. Trump even claimed that he had “doubled and tripled” America’s gross domestic product in a mere 17 months, an obvious absurdity which is only off by $40 trillion dollars or so. If Trump truly had tripled the GDP in his short term, even such skeptics as ourselves would forgive everything else and put him a notch above that gangly guy who saved the Union.
Today Trump will have a very private meeting that Russian dictator, which he’d predicted would be the easiest of them all, and he might yet pull off a diplomatic masterstroke that will wow us and the the rest of the press. He’s assured a rally crowd where he led a chorus of boos against dying Republican Senator and bona fide war hero John McCain that “Putin’s fine, he’s people,” and after “tweeting” that a special counsel’s indictments of yet another 12 Russian officials for meddling in America’s past presidential campaign is still a “witch hunt,” and we don’t see him getting any great deals from Putin.
Stonehenge still stands, though, and we hold out some hope for the rest of our longstanding civilization.

— Bud Norman

Only the Very Best People, Trump Style

President Donald Trump frequently vowed during his improbably successful campaign that he would hire only the very best people, rather than the “political hacks” that he accused the past several administrations of picking, but so far it’s a promise he’s had much trouble keeping. On Wednesday alone there were four more problematic front page stories about Trump’s old and recent hires.
The most prominent story featured Admiral Ronny Jackson, Trump’s pick to replace his previous pick to head the vast and troubled Veterans Affairs Administration. Jackson has been the non-controversial White House physician since President George W. Bush’s administration, and won Trump’s admiration with a suspiciously effusive report about the current president’s health, which anew seems to have added an inch to Trump’s height and taken off a few pounds of his weight, but critics in both parties immediately argued that’s hardly a qualification to run a complex and long screwed-up bureaucracy with 370,000 employees spread out over all 50 states.
That was before more than 20 active and retired military personnel started telling Congress that Jackson’s management style in his much, much smaller office is abusive and demoralizing, that he tends to get inebriated at inopportune times, and hands out sleeping pills and wake-up potions so freely that he’s known around the White House as “The Candy Man.” After that Trump told the press he’d told Jackson that he’d fully understand why Jackson might decide to withdraw his nomination rather than face such scurrilous accusations and “be abused by a bunch of politicians who aren’t thinking nicely about our country,” and after the press seized on that Trump insisted he was sticking his by man. After that Jackson told the inquisitive press corps he would answer all the allegations at the confirmation hearings, but the latest report from The Washington Post has him telling his friends that he might withdraw from the nomination before those postponed hearings get underway.
If he’s not at all the mean and drunk Dr. Feelgood that more than 20 current and retired military personnel describe, we’d advise the telegenic Jackson to forthrightly answer their allegations at the confirmation hearings, and then admit that there’s bound to be somebody in a nation of more than 330 million people who’s better suited to cleaning up the Augean stables sort of mess that has been piling up at the VA over the past several administrations.
Just below that headline is the ongoing tale of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, and after the Jackson story inevitably fades into the distance that will regain prominence. Cohen has publicly admitted that one of the “fixes” he did for Trump was making a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop talking about a sexual encounter she claims she had with Trump not long after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and it looks as if he made a similar arrangement with a Playboy centerfold model through Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer, which has recently settled it’s own case. Because that all happened while Trump was running for president and involved some suspicious bank transfers he recently had his office and home and hotel room raided by agents from the Justice Department’s southern New York district, which was the big story a while back. The latest update is that Cohen intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the ensuing investigation.
Cohen has every right to do so, and Trump and his apologists will argue he has good reason given the vast Deep State conspiracy out to get him, but back when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices during the campaign they had a different view of the long forgotten Clinton campaign’s information technology guys who pled the Fifth. Even erstwhile “chief strategist” for the Trump campaign and administration Steve “tweeted” Trump’s past statements about how only mobsters take the Fifth, and there’s no shortage of audiotape of Trump’s talk radio defenders saying the same thing. Invoking Fifth Amendment rights seems a sound legal move for Cohen, which we’ll ascribe to the presumably more capable lawyers he’s hired, but it doesn’t do much to help with Trump’s political problems.
Cohen was also involved with Trump’s efforts to build one of his branded Trump Towers in the Russian capital of Moscow, negotiations for which were ongoing during a campaign when Trump was promising the American electorate he had no deals in Russia, and was on board during all sorts of suspicious meetings between the Trump campaign and various Russians, so of course all the information seized from his office and home and hotel room are bound to be of interest to the special counsel investigation into that even more problematic “Russia thing.”
Meanwhile, although it’s less titillating, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt is headed to Congressional hearings amid criticism from both parties. The left hates Pruitt for reigning in the agency’s zealous overregulation, but although even such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves appreciate there’s a bipartisan concern about the way Pruitt lives high on the taxpayer dollar with first class tickets and traffic-stopping motorcades and $43,000 soundproof booths straight out of “Get Smart,” and a sweetheart apartment deal he got from some lobbyists. Stalwart Republican and fellow Oklahoman Sen. James Inhofe said he has been pleased by Pruitt “rolling back regulations and restoring EPA to its proper size and scope, but these latest reports are new to me. While I have no reason to believe them, they are concerning and I think we should hear directly from Administrator Pruitt about them.”
Deeper in the news, interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney boastfully told a meeting of bank executives that as a South Carolina congressman he had a strict policy of never meeting with an out-of-state lobbyist until a significant campaign contribution had been paid. The CFPB was created during President Barack Obama’s administration by Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and bunch of other far-left types to protect consumers from predatory banks, and there are sound Republican reasons for reducing its size and scope, but a guy who openly brags to bankers about he’s open for business probably isn’t the best choice for the job.
And that’s just Wednesday’s headlines. Already long forgotten are the reality star who ran the communications department, the guy who didn’t get to replace her because of a profanity-laden rant to a New Yorker writer, the national security advisor who’s since pleaded guilty to perjury charges, the former campaign chairman under indictment for a whole lot of “Russia thing” stuff, the recently little-seen son-in-law in charge of everything from the opioid crisis to Middle East peace and reinventing government, and so many others that Rachel Maddow giggles uncontrollably whenever the list of small type departures fills the screen on her MSNBC show. Not to mention all the past employees of the New Jersey General and Trump Airlines and Trump Casinos and Trump University and numerous other failed Trump enterprises who didn’t prove the very best people.
Which is not to say that Crooked Hillary would have done any better at draining the swamp, which Trump and all of his apologists will surely note, but still.

— Bud Norman

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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A Climate of Conspiracies, With Sauce

The Washington Post has been a veritable feast of fascinating news stories lately, but on Monday two in particular caught our eye. One was about former Vice President Al Gore’s long chat with president-elect Donald Trump about anthropogenic global warming, the other concerned some heavily armed guy who walked into the trendy Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor  in a fashionable neighborhood of the District of Columbia in search of the satanic pedophilia ring that recent Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is said to be running in the back room.
Gore described his conversation with Trump as “extremely interesting” in a brief statement to the press as he exited Trump Tower in New York City, and we don’t doubt that he overstated it one little bit, but somehow that pizza parlor story seemed even more intriguing. We’ve been following the “Pizzagate” saga as it has unfolded in the far lunatic fringes of the internet the past few weeks, and the apparent unsuccessful rescue attempt was too tasty a plot twist to pass by.
For those of you who have been relying on the more reliable news sources and are therefore unaware of “Pizzagate,” it’s hard to sum the story thus far. Suffice to say that it began when someone Wikileaked a bunch of Clinton consigliere John Podesta’s e-mails, and they revealed his friendship with a fashionably weird performance artist whose work is said to include occult illusions, and is in turn a friend of that Lady Gaga woman you can’t help but have heard of, who is a well-known shape-shifting Illuminati reptilian, and there were also frequent references to “hot dogs” and “pizza,” which are apparently pedophile slang for sex with young boys and young girls, and Comet Ping Pong’s owner and staff do seem to have odd taste in art and music, and it has hosted Clinton fundraising events, so what more proof do you need that she’s running a satanic pedophilia ring in the back room?
That and a few more coincidences have persuaded numerous concerned citizens around the country to issue death threats against Comet Ping Pong’s owner and staff, as well the neighboring businesses, which have some suspicious signage that suggest they’re also connected by a system of underground tunnels, and on Sunday it apparently prompted that well-armed fellow to enter the pizza parlor and fire a couple of shots from a rifle in the course of what he reportedly told police was a “self-investigation.” The suspect is a North Carolina man whose friends and describe him as devoted father and tenderhearted idealist, and one speculated that “He most likely really believes this conspiracy theory. He’s a good guy with the best of intentions. He probably saw himself as more on a hero mission to save children than anything else.” All of which seems plausible, given how very stupid tenderhearted idealists can be, and should provide a warning to any others to await more conclusive proof of a satanic pedophilia ring before rushing into a pizzeria armed with a rifle, shotgun, handgun, and folding knife.
To the more conspiratorial way of thinking, though, it just goes to show how shrewd these satanic pedophiles can be. Within hours of the suspect’s arrest there were several YouTube videos explaining how the entire incident was staged to discredit the people who are exposing “Pizzagate,” with one of the theorists boasting that he had predicted just such a “false flag” operation some days ago, and the true believers were more convinced than ever that somebody needs to storm that pizzeria with plenty of guns to save those poor children who are surely suffering in some subterranean hellhole. They all note that there’s no definitive proof that they’re wrong about any of it, except perhaps for the testimony of that heavily armed guy who reportedly spent 45 minutes looking around the place, including the rooms where he had to shoot off the locks, but of course he’s just an actor hired to play the part, and in one of those weird coincidences he apparently has acted in a couple of low-budget flicks filmed near his hometown, so we expect the conspiracy theorizing will continue for a while.
We’d love to slough it all off as one of those crazy crazes that always happen, and no more harmful to the public good than mood rings or pet rocks or that Lady Gaga woman’s admittedly inexplicable popularity, but lately such conspiracy theories have been threatening policy. The whole “Pizzagate” story seems to have started with Alex Jones’ crazypants “InfoWars” program, probably the country’s leading purveyor of crackpot conspiracy theories, where president-elect Trump has appeared as a guest and praised the host’s “awesome reputation,” and Trump has also insinuated that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, a theory he has since claimed credit for debunking, alleged that President George W. Bush lied about the intelligence regarding Iraq’s weapons programs in order to start a war for nefarious purposes, and urged everyone to read The National Enquirer’s claim that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was in on the Kennedy assassination.
Although Trump has backed off his campaign promise to have former Secretary of State Clinton jailed for her use of a private e-mail server, which Trump had urged the Russian government to hack, and now says that she and her husband are good people he wouldn’t want to hurt, which is also fueling some intriguing conspiracy theories over on the leftward lunatic fringes of the internet, he hasn’t yet used the “Pizzagate” hashtag in any of his recent “Tweets.” He’s only a couple of degrees of separation away from it, though, as his controversial choice for national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, has “tweeted” about Clinton that “U decide — NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary E-mails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc … MUST READ!” Putting aside the depressing fact that presidential advisors write such prose, even The Washington Post conceded that it wasn’t necessarily a reference to “Pizzagate,” and that Flynn might have been referring to other news about both Clinton’s relationship with the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, whom they rightly note also has a documented relationship with Trump. Yet Flynn’s son, who is also a paid advisor to the presidential advisor, has more blatantly “tweeted” that “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story. The left seems to forget #PodestaEmails and the many ‘coincidences’ tied to it.” Given all the proof he might need in in those scarily quotation-marked coincidences, and his military upbringing, perhaps he’ll be the next to storm that trendy pizzeria.
Our president-elect has also peddled the conspiracy theory that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax concocted by the Chinese government to cripple American industry, so it would have been indeed been extremely interesting to hear him talk about it with past presidential popular vote winner and electoral college loser Gore, whose post-political career has mostly been devoted to peddling the scientific theory that man-made air pollutants should have drowned Trump’s fancy Mar-a-Lago resort on the Florida coast by now. We’re skeptical of Gore’s theory, for reasons that are even more complicated to explain than “Pizzagate,” but we find Trump’s idea that the Chinese came up with it just as laughable, so the conversation would have made for an interesting “thread” in some internet chat room or another. Alas, all we know of it is Gore’s unsatisfactorily brief statement that “I had a lengthy and productive session with the president-elect. It was a sincere search for areas of common ground. I had a meeting before hand with Ivanka Trump. The bulk of the time was with the president-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued. I’m going to leave it at that.”
Gore can leave it at that, but the conspiracy theorists should be able to come up with a few plots to be continued. Ivanka Trump is said to be the typically fashionable high society New York City sort of Democrat that her father was until a few short years ago, and he admit she’s the one behind his liberal maternity leave policy proposal, and she’s in the business of selling very expensive clothing and jewelry to rich jet-setters who tend to believe in anthropogenic global warming, and she’s apparently inviting Gore into the sphere of presidential influence, so perhaps another one of Trump’s campaign promises will shape-shift. The true believers in Trump won’t mind if he continues Obama’s carbon regulations, probably not even those West Virginia coal miners, not when there’s satanic pedophilia rings going in the back rooms of trendy pizzerias.

— Bud Norman

Enter Salacious Headline Here

Just when we were starting to hold out hope that this unprecedentedly crazy presidential election race couldn’t possibly get any crazier, we came across the only slightly surprising news that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton “is a secret sex freak who paid fixers to set up illicit romps with both men AND women.” That juicy tidbit and its atrocious capitalization comes from the supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer, which last figured in the presidential race with the revelation that former Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, and is thus far the only national publication to endorse the publisher’s good friend and Republican nominee Donald Trump, so you can take it for whatever you figure it be worth, but there’s no denying it adds yet another level of craziness to the election.
Trump’s more die-hard supporters will rightly note that The National Enquirer’s past scoops about former Democratic contender and liberal darling Sen. Gary Hart’s fling on a yacht inconveniently christened “Monkey Business” and vice-presidential nominee and liberal darling Sen. John Edward’s love child that he tried to pin on a paid fall guy both proved entirely correct, and apparently it also saw Brad Pitt’s divorce from Angelina Jolie coming months before the fact, and at this point we wouldn’t put anything past anyone named Clinton, so in such a crazy election years as this maybe there’s something to it. The National Enquirer has also been known to get things wrong, though, including that costly libel about America’s beloved Carol Burnett being an obnoxious drunk and that more recent ridiculousness about Cruz’s dad and the Kennedy assassination, so the paper provides more through documentation our high standards of non-partisan journalism force us admit that at least one member of the Clinton family might not be a secret sex freak.
Normally we wouldn’t know what’s on the front page of The National Enquirer until we found ourselves in the check-out line at the local supermarket, but in this case we got the scoop on The National Enquirer’s scoop by checking in on the formerly reliable Drudge Report. The Drudge Report is a widely-read internet site that mostly features the latest headlines from other media, and its most die-hard supporters still fondly recall that it broke the story of former President Bill Clinton’s tawdry affair with a much-younger intern, and how it astutely linked to mainstream news stories with the leads that were buried deep within those mainstream news stories, and once upon a time it was the home page that popped up when we logged on to the internet. At some point in this crazy election it kept linking us to the loudly pro-Trump “Infowars” web site and its crazy conspiracy theories about the terror attacks of 2001 being an inside job and the school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, being a staged event, and what with our computer rushing to “Infowars” rather than the increasingly unreliable “Instapundit” site every time we typed “in” into our search engine we decided to make the endearingly old-fashioned conservative NeverTrump National Review site our home page.
In such a crazy election year as this one has to make such reassessments of previously reliable sources. If the stodgily principled National Review or the equally stalwart old-fashioned and conservative Weekly Standards asserts that Hillary Clinton is indeed a secret sex fiend who paid fixers to set up illicit sex romps we’ll gleefully believe it, and if the most mainstream liberal press is reluctantly forced to admit it as it did in the case of Hart and Edwards we’ll more or less gratefully take it as an undeniable fact, we promise that this publication will be heartened to pile on as well, because we truly do loathe those darned Clintons, and we did so even way back when the Drudge Report was debunking its more current claims that the male Clinton fathered a mulatto love-child and Trump was singing their praises and contributing to the campaigns and inviting them to his third wedding.
By this point in this crazy election year we don’t have any faith in anyone who has any good thing to say about either of these awful presidential nominees, even though all of them will eventually be proved right to whatever extent they spoke the worse of the other.

— 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

The Finals Begin

Well, it looks as if former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton truly is the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee after all, even it wasn’t nearly so easy as promised and even if her long presumed status as the First Woman President remains somewhat in doubt. After nearly eight long years of waiting she was officially pronounced her party’s presumptive nominee by The Associated Press even before the voting in California, and her landslide win in that populous and crucial state makes it all but a fait accompli.
There’s still an outside chance this thoroughly awful woman will be indicted on felony charges for influence-peddling and for endangering national security by communicating through an insecure private e-mail server to avoid public scrutiny of her disastrous tenure as Secretary of State, but at this point the Democrats are so horrified by the prospect of the presumptive Republican nominee that the vast majority of them just don’t care. She also lost by blow-out margins to much peskier-than-expected rival and self-described socialist and full-blown nutcase Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the far less populous and even less crucial states of North Dakota, adding to a long streak of embarrassing defeats, and her presumptive status is still contingent on all those party establishment “super-delegates” who have been promising her the nomination for the past nearly eight years, but she also won in the more populous and crucial states of New Jersey and New Mexico, as well as South Dakota, and even Sanders’ most embittered supporters will eventually be forced to admit that over the long run she got by far more primary and caucus voters from the national party’s rank-and-file.

The presumptive Republican nominee, whose much easier win of the nomination was unexpected by almost everyone, is already making overtures to those disgruntled Sanders voters and promising a big speech about the presumptive Democratic nominee’s old and ongoing thoroughly awful scandals, but it remains to be seen how any of that will work out. The presumptive Republican nominee is Donald J. Trump, a self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul, and we expect that most of Sanders’ scruffy and resentful supporters will eventually glumly fall in line with their party’s chosen one the same way, and for the same reason of revulsion to the alternative, that most Republicans are now glumly siding with Trump. Although it’s hard to overstate the case against the Democrats’ thoroughly awful nominee the Republican will probably manage to do so, perhaps by doubling down on his insinuation that Clinton had a former associate assassinated, just as he once insinuated the father of one of his vanquished Republican rivals might have been in on the Kennedy assassination, or whatever else his friends at The National Enquirer might come up with, and the news cycle might yet wind up dominated by continued coverage of the thoroughly awful Republican nominee’s criticism of one of the “Mexican” of the three judges in the civil suit and ongoing scandal about that “Trump University” he ran that sure likes to be a case out of outright fraud against our most vulnerable fellow suckers.

By now everyone who keeps abreast of Republican politics knows that the judge in question is indeed of Mexican heritage, and belongs to a lawyer’s club that goes by the admittedly problematic name of “La Raza,” and that Trump has vowed to build a wall to keep their kind out, and that one top of that the guy’s an Obama appointee, but we doubt that any of those disgruntled Sanders supporters care much about any of that. So far as they and even some more sensible people are concerned, the judge was born in Indiana to naturalized citizens and is therefore not a Mexican, the complaint that any judge not tainted by any touch of Mexican heritage would have surely summarily dismissed the same case that is still going on in two other courts run by more Anglo-Saxon judges is patently ridiculous, that his original appointment to the bench was by a Republican governor and his subsequent career has included notable fights against Mexican criminal organizations, and they might even note that the case was indeed dropped in two other states after the Attorneys General received generous contributions from a presumptive Republican nominee who has openly bragged on Republican debate stages that he made contributions to gain posterior-kissing favor from politicians. We do hope that the presumptive Republican nominee’s big speech will make mention about the presumptive Democratic nominees phony-baloney influence-peddling “family foundation, but we don’t expect he’ll mention he was among the six-figure contributors, and we can’t say how this mud-slinging contest will come out, except to say that they’ll both be covered with plenty of mud.

— Bud Norman