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A Pre-Dawn Twist on the Russia Story

The latest intriguing twist in the ongoing story about “Russia” — if you know what we mean, and by now we assume you do — is the revelation of a pre-dawn raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the home of the one-time campaign chairman for now-President Donald Trump. It’s not clear what the G-men were looking for, and unlikely they’ll find that smoking gun Trump’s most bitter enemies are so ardently hoping for, but a pre-dawn raid is pretty darned intriguing nonetheless.
Paul Manafort was already providing plenty of intrigue in this whole “Russia” story. Long before he became the Trump campaign’s chairman Manafort was notorious for the millions he’d made lobbying on behalf of  despots such as the Philippine’s Fernando Marcos and Angola’s Jonas Savimbi, and The New York Times reported shortly before his resignation from the campaign that he’d also made an undisclosed $12.7 million secretly lobbying on behalf of the Russian-linked government in Ukraine. Since then it has also been reported that he’s somehow $17 million in debt to Russian interests, that his name kept coming up in conversations among Russian officials that various intelligence agencies here and abroad were monitoring, that he sat in on that meeting that Donald Trump Jr. arranged with a Russian lawyer on the clear understanding they would be getting help direct from the Russian government, and remained in frequent contact with the campaign even after his resignation.
Throw in a pre-dawn raid by the FBI, and it all looks pretty fishy. Some of the stories are anonymously sourced from outlets that Trump’s most faithful allies can dismiss as “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” but the dictator-friendly lobbying business was publicly boasted about, the source for the meeting with the Russian lawyer was Trump Jr. himself, all those anonymous sources have lately been mostly confirmed by White House responses, and there’s nothing in Manafort’s biography that makes any of it at all seem implausible. The story about the pre-dawn raid is also anonymously sourced, but so far there haven’t been on-the-record denials, and if true it means that some federal judge somewhere agreed with a special counsel’s argument that there was credible reason to believe that evidence of a crime would be found at the home where the search warrant was issued. Although Manafort has provided numerous documents and sworn testimony to closed Congressional committees and various law enforcement officers, it also means a judge agreed that he could not be trusted to voluntarily preserve or hand over everything he had.
There’s nothing in any of the reporting to link Trump to anything Manafort might have done, except to the slight but nonetheless embarrassing extent that Trump did once hire the guy to be his campaign chairman, but there’s nothing in any of this that can help the president. If there is even the slightest link between Trump and anything Manafort might have done, Manafort now seems to have a compelling motive to cut a deal in exchange for any testimony he might provide about anyone higher up in the campaign he once chaired. He might yet prove completely innocent of any wrongdoing, or steadfastly loyal to the president who kicked him off a campaign, but the way things have been going for Trump lately we don’t think he can count on that. Trump’s general “Russia-schmussia-what’re-you-talkin-’bout?” defense isn’t holding up lately in the Congressional committees of special counsel investigations or public opinion polls, and there’s no way a pre-dawn raid on his former campaign chairman’s home is going to help.
Except with the hard-core fans, who will see it as further evidence that the deep state conspiracy to oust Trump is up to ever more nefarious deeds. They’re already convinced that special counsel Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican who rose through the ranks of the Justice Department during two Republican presidents and was appointed director of the FBI by a third Republican president, is a tool of an establishment plot to destroy Trump before he can destroy it. They note the indisputable fact that Mueller’s team of highly-specialized investigators includes several who donated to campaigns of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but they ignore the indisputable fact that so did Trump’s own lawyer in this mess and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law and Trump himself, and they seem not to have noticed that Mueller’s hires are highly-specialized in money-laundering and Russian interests and other areas that seem ripe for investigation.
None of this yet amounts to that smoking gun that Trump’s most bitter enemies are so ardently hoping for, but all of it makes it harder for his most loyal allies to argue Russia-schmussia-what’re-you-talkin’-bout.”

— Bud Norman

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Media Critic in Chief

After a weekend largely spent “tweeting” his indignation about a curtain call oration at a Broadway play and a skit on a satirical comedy show, president-elect Donald Trump returned to work on Monday with an effort to bully the television news media into giving him more favorable coverage. That’s how we’ll describe his off-the-record-but-inevitably-leaked meeting with the heads of several networks, at any rate, at least while we still can still do so without fear of recriminations.
The meeting was first reported by the tabloid New York Post, which described it as a gerund-form-of-the-F-word “firing squad,” quoting an unnamed source, and the more polite broadsheets found more suitable language to say pretty much the same thing. The New York Post’s unnamed source recounts Trump telling Cable News Network’s head honcho Jeff Zucker that “I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar, you should be ashamed,” with a second unnamed source saying that Trump called the news outlet “a network of liars” and singled out the National Broadcasting Corporation for similar disparagement. The Washington Post’s article, headlined “A defiant Trump meets the TV news crowd in private — and let’s them have it,” corroborates that “The president-elect specifically called out reporting by CNN and NBC that he deemed unfair, according to four people who attended the meeting, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was off the record.” The scooped New York Times headlined its report with a familiar-sounding “Trump Summons TV Figures for Private Meeting, and Lets Them Have It,” citing unnamed sources with the same information. Each paper added some quotes by Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway about how very “cordial,” “productive,” and “congenial” the meeting was, but even she acknowledged it was also “very candid and very honest,” which we’ll interpret to mean a gerund-form-of-the-F-word firing squad.
All of which was lustily celebrated in the newer and more Trump-friendly media. The Drudge report linked to the New York Post story with the headline “BEAT THE PRESS: TRUMP TOWER SHOWDOWN WITH MEDIA ELITE,” and the Breitbart News site, until recently run by Trump’s newly appointed “Chief Strategist,” went with “Trump Eats the Press.” We spent our driving-around time on Monday listening to old rockabilly and garage band mix tapes rather than talk radio, but we’re quite sure all the hosts were happy to hear that all the media they constantly rail against got a presidential dressing-down. The more die-hard sorts of Trump supporters, who routinely harassed the same networks and newspapers at Trump’s urging during his rallies throughout the campaign, were no doubt similarly delighted.
Which is not hard to understand, given that much of the ancien regime media have indeed long been relentlessly hostile toward Republicans in general and the putatively Republican Trump in particular, and often unfairly, but we still find it somewhat unsettling. Although we are also frequent critics of the press, we think that Trump’s critique is conspicuously self-serving, and in many cases unfair. We wonder why Trump isn’t thanking CNN for all those endless hours of live coverage of his raucous rallies while almost completely ignoring his many vastly more qualified challengers during the Republican primaries, and although we have to admit that he’s got a point about NBC he should admit they also didn’t do those primary challengers any favors, nor did they do his Democratic rival much good. The Washington Post and The New York Times and other singled-out media gave thorough coverage of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s countless undeniable scandals, even if it was less prominent than on the front pages than their thorough coverage of Trump’s countless undeniable scandals, and by now their biases are as familiar to the public as those of The Drudge Report or Breitbart News or any of those talk radio show hosts.
Our view is that all of the media, both those hostile to Trump and those angrily supportive of him, should be able publish or broadcast whatever they want. They should all be subject to the same sort of scrutiny to they apply to public figures and one another as well, and a president or president-elect should have the same rights to express an opinion about it as anyone else, but no one should have the power of retribution or censorship. Trump’s past vows to “open up the libel laws” and to target certain press barons’ other business interests and cut off media access to his administration lent an air of menace to Monday’s meeting, and those cheering him on should take a moment of self-interested consideration about how it might affect them during an inevitable future Democratic administration.

— 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

The State of the Race, as We See It, At this Sad Moment

Almost anything seems possible in such a crazy election year as this, and by now we’ve learned to abandon all faith in any of the formerly reliable political and cultural assumptions that had previously guided us through our lives, but our guess, which we readily admit is no better than yours or anybody else’s, is that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is leading Republican nominee Donald Trump as we head into the final weeks of the presidential race.
Just for the heck of it we still check in every day on the Real Clear Politics average of polls, and as of now they have Clinton leading by an historically formidable 5.5 percentage points in both the two-way and four-way national surveys, with the state polls showing her in a comfortable lead and with a potential blow-out in the Electoral College competition, and given everything else that seems about right. Those polls are all over the place, with Fox News showing Clinton up by eight and The Washington Post having her up by only eight, while NBC News has her up by eight which is a drop from their and that defiantly outlier poll from The Los Angeles Times still has Trump in a one point is down from its last polling, but average it all out and it comes back to that historically formidable 5.5 percentage point lead. Meanwhile, everything else in the news seems to confirm that statistical suspicion.
The Washington Post gleefully reports that the Trump campaign is no longer bothering to spend any time or money in the former swing state of Virginia, where pretty much all the polling, apparently including Trump’s campaign’s, suggests that she’s out to a double-digit lead. In the states where he’s still campaigning hard, Trump’s proudly unscripted speeches, unshackled from the Republican Party he has now openly at war with and the tele-prompters that he’s literally tearing down and refusing to pay for, are already alleging that his still-theoretical loss is only because of a rigged election. Back when the polls accurately predicted is Republican primary wins Trump was constantly touting them, but nowadays he’s convinced that Fox News is part of the the liberal conspiracy and that The Los Angeles Times is the only beacon of truth on the media landscape, and that it’s all a part of even broader conspiracy to deny him his mandate, which is not how winning candidates have talked in the past. Meanwhile Clinton is laying low, happily staying out out of the news while she prepares for Wednesday’s final debate and hoping all those damning Wiki-leaked stories on the front page of even the Washington Post and New York Times and Fox News and all the rest of the conspiratorial cabal don’t get as much attention as the stories about about grabbing ’em by the p***y, which suggests that her internal polling is confident enough to pulling out Virginia and investing time and money in such formerly reliable Republican states as Arizona and Georgia, or even a couple of southwestern states where third party challengers are threatening to take them out of the reliably Republican column.
Even in this crazy election we can’t foresee any scenario where one or the other of those two awful major party candidates doesn’t win, but at least we can take heart in noting that nobody seems to have much of a chance of getting a majority of the popular vote. Those daunting poll numbers have Clinton at at a mere 47 percent, at best, and at this sad point in this sad race we can only hope that whoever wins will do so with most of the country hating him or her.

— Bud Norman

An Election Year Impervious to Bad Press

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has been getting a lot of bad press lately, even by Republican president nominee standards, and by now it’s almost to a point where even such avid news readers as ourselves can hardly keep up. The bad press doesn’t seem to be having the the same effect it had on Republican presidential nominees in past election years, however, so it remains to be seen if the latest spate of stories will do any lasting damage.
The most recent round of stories have concerned many of the cast and crew and production staff of Trump’s long-running and highly-rated reality show “The Apprentice” testifying to his vulgar and sexist behavior, but at this late date in the race his vulgarity and sexism are already old news.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has by now spent millions airing aids that include the audio and video and print interviews where the thrice-married and boastfully adulterous former strip club owner has disparaged women’s appearances, joked about how you have to “treat ’em like “s**t,” and laughingly admitted he had no respect for women, among numerous other objectionable statements. With sources ranging from his appearances on Howard Stern’s shock jock to his time on Republican presidential debate stages, the record of vulgarity and sexism is hard for even his most fervent supporters to deny. Just four years ago the press was able to use an inadvertent and inoffensive allusion to “binders full of women” to convince much of the public that such a gentlemanly sort as Mitt Romney was an incorrigible sexist, even though he was perusing those binders to find qualified women for state government positions while he was governor of Massachusetts, but this time around they’re somehow finding it harder to stoke the same outrage.
Many of Trump’s most fervent supporters seem to relish the vulgarity and sexism, his more reluctant supporters can rightly note that Clinton’s husband is similarly vulgar and sexist and has always enjoyed her ruthless support, and even the most vaguely informed and still undecided are well aware that the Democrats and their press allies always say the Republican presidential nominee is vulgar and sexist. Trump was already polling poorly among women in general and most worrisomely song college-educated Republican women in particular, so his on-the-record rants have had some effect, but the added testimonials of some reality show co-stars seem unlikely to exacerbate the damage.
Just four years ago Democratic minority leader Sen. Harry Reid was able to harm the electoral chances of the scrupulously honest Romney’s reputation by flat-out lying that the Republican nominee had paid no income taxes for a couple of years, but this time around Trump will likely be unscathed by his apparent boasts that he’s been dodging a tax bill for a couple of decades. The flap started in the first presidential debate when Clinton was making the predictable arguments Trump being the first nominee from either party in the past 40 years who hasn’t divulged his tax records, and speculating that one reason might be that it would reveal he’s paid no taxes despite his much boasted-about wealth, to which Trump responded “that makes me smart.” Since then The New York Times has been reporting that leaked income tax information reveals Trump reported a $915 million loss back in ’95, which entitled him to 18 tax free years according to the convoluted tax code, and happily implied that Trump had taken full advantage of the opportunity. Trump hasn’t denied either the factual truth or implied speculations of the story, and instead has bragged further about his savvy understanding of the convoluted tax code, so we’ll leave the reader to draw his own conclusions about the veracity of The Times’ reporting and implications.
This time around, though, we don’t expect the truth will do so manage as the lies did the last time around. No one in America pays a penny more in taxes than that convoluted tax code requires, not Hillary Clinton or The New York Times or any of its reporters or even such self-righteously disgruntled Republicans as ourselves, so we can’t imagine any vaguely informed and still undecided voters holding it against him if he kept all his ill-begotten earnings to himself.
Trump is even claiming he had a fiduciary duty to his stock holders and employees and creditors to do so, and although we can’t think of any reason they should care what he paid on his personal taxes, and can more easily imagined why they’re probably more peeved about all the bills he’s shorted them on, so we don’t expect any vaguely informed and still undecideds will stop to think about that at all. He’s also claiming that such a shrewd fellow as himself understands that convoluted tax code better than anyone else, and how it’s used by greedy billionaires such as himself to dodge their fair share of the burden and shift it onto such suckers as yourself, which does have a certain populist appeal, even if his current tax plan does nothing to stop it and none of his ever-shifting opinions on the topic have once proposed a fairer solution. Still, we doubt the vaguely informed and still undecided will notice any of that, while Trump’s more reluctant supporters will glumly and rightly protest that Clinton and her perv husband once took a write-off on the underwear they donated to charity and are just as bad, as they are in all things, and we can’t see the poll number nudging in either direction as a result of this big story. There remains the presently undisputed fact that Trump somehow managed to lose $916 million in a single year, which in past years would have called into question his constant boasts about bringing his remarkable business acumen to at long last saving our deep-in-debt federal government, but this time around The New York Times has buried that tidbit six column inches under the lead paragraph, and Trump’s more reluctant supporters can rightly note how very suspiciously rich Clinton has become in the public service sector.
The Washington Post is gleefully reporting that the New York Attorney General has now shut down Trump’s charitable foundation, which has been the subject of at least three scandals they’ve already reported involving tax-dodging and and personal profit and no contributions for many years from the eponymous philanthropist, but the vaguely informed and still undecided probably won’t read about it, and if they do their reluctant Trump supporter friends can glumly and quite rightly recite all the scandals about Clinton’s phony-baloney pay-to-play “family foundation,” which they’ll have to glumly admit Trump once financially supported. It’s tawdry stuff, all around, but once again unlikely to nudge the polls in either direction.
There’s so much more going on that even such avid news readers as ourselves are hard-pressed to keep up with it, but the benefit of the more vaguely informed and still undecided among you the gist of it seems to be that both Trump and Clinton are every bit as awful as you already knew from the past few decades of occasionally paying attention. It’s enough to make us nostalgic for the last time around, when the press had to work hard to suggest that the Republican nominee was a vulgar sexist and the Democrats had to flat-out lie that he was a tax-dodger and neither candidate was making an issue of the other’s blissfully boring sex life.

— Bud Norman

The Maternal Mystery in a Crazy Election Year

You might not have noticed, but Republican nominee Donald J. Trump delivered a major policy address on Tuesday outlining his proposal for a federal paid maternity leave policy. It was given perfunctory coverage by all the respectable press, just in case you still visit there, but was easily overlooked in a news cycle still dominated by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comments and health problems and slipping poll numbers. As loathe as we are to admit it, we can hardly blame neither the respectable press nor its readership for their priorities.
Trump’s speech was pre-written in more-or-less parseable English, and read from a teleprompter in a relatively relaxed tone, so it had none of the ad-libbed ad hominens that generated all those “oh no he didn’t” headlines which propelled his run to the Republican nomination. All that policy stuff is also rather boring, apparently even to Trump judging his by relatively relaxed tone, and by now a vast majority of the country has figured out that neither Trump nor Clinton really mean any of it anyway. Certainly no one believes that Trump had given much serious thought to a federal paid maternity leave policy until recently, and we note that he delivered his major policy address in a suburb of Philadelphia in the important swing state of Pennsylvania where all the polls still show him behind largely because college-educated white people in general and suburban white women in particular can’t stand him, so although we’re loathe to admit it we can’t blame The New York Times for headlining its perfunctory coverage with “Donald Trump Unveils Plan for Families in Bid for Women’s Votes.”
Our guess is that the ploy won’t do Trump much good, and that he should be grateful Clinton’s recent headline-grabbing travails have mitigated the harm it might have done.
The Trump plan calls for six weeks of paid mandatory leave and expanded tax credits for child care, which even The New York Times is obliged to concede “represents a different approach from the one taken by previous Republican nominees,” but of course that’s not nearly enough to satisfy the more unabashedly leftist outfits. The Huffington Post called the proposal Trump’s “Biggest Insult To Women Yet,” which is really saying something after all those hours he spent yukking it up on Howard Stern’s shock jock radio show, and gleefully reported that Trump’s private businesses haven’t always been so generous as he now insists the American public must be.
Even the more bottom-line minded business press acknowledged that Trump’s plan for the rest of us is parsimonious by international standards. Fortune Magazine’s headline admitted that “Donald Trump’s Maternity Leave Plan Keeps US in Last Place Among Peers,” while Business Insider could only muster the enthusiasm for “No cheers for Trump’s child care plan — one cheer for maternity leave,” and every objective source seemed to agree that there wasn’t enough of Trump’s targeted “waste and fraud” in the current programs to pay for even such a parsimonious entitlement expansion. Every objective source also acknowledged that Trump was once again lying when said that Clinton hadn’t offered maternity leave policy “and never will,” as Clinton had offered her policy more than year ago, but they further admitted that her proposals weren’t a whole lot closer to those international standards.
Over on the right, the reaction was mixed at best, with few Republican office-holders and no past Republican nominees hopping on board. Conservatism has long been against any big government entitlement policies but also very much pro-procreation, so even such a NeverTrump redoubt of the true faith as National Review was making a case that “Paid Maternity Leave Should Not be Ignored by the Right,” complete with data about female workforce participation and the fact that America is the only industrialized country in the world without a generous paid maternity leave policy, but such rock-ribbed sorts as ourselves found it unconvincing. We’re pro-procreation but in an old-fashioned family sense, and we’re not sure what incentives these maternity leave policies might provide given the current cultural trends, and we don’t buy into that all-the-other-industrialized-countries-are-doing-it nonsense. Such formerly rock-ribbed types as Rush Limbaugh are reluctantly concluding it’s good politics, but there’s still a few of us who aren’t willing to concede that big government entitlement ground.
Luckily for Trump, he and Clinton and her slightly-less-big-government proposals will likely be overshadowed by her “deplorables” comment and her health problems and her slipping poll numbers.

— Bud Norman

Go Ahead and Hate the Press, but Keep Loving the Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the press has taken a beating over the past seven years and couple of months or so, and at the moment it doesn’t seem likely to fare any better over the next four years.
The Democratic Party has long shown a censorious streak, with both self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreeing that the country must overturn the hated Citizens United decision that ruled the government can’t stop the airing of an anti-Clinton documentary, and academia writing Orwellian speech codes and carving out “safe spaces” from the free exchange of ideas, and the more robust activists calling for “some muscle” to expel the press the public square, and a news and media culture that shames anyone who expresses certain proscribed opinions. By now we’re used to it, and know from history that it comes as a necessary component of any admittedly socialist movement that would quash a number of other human rights, but until this year we’ve never heard a Republican candidate and self-described conservative openly boasting that if elected president he would use the powers of the presidency to punish his press critics.
That has happened, though, thanks to the always boastful self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul Donald J. Trump, who is somehow at the moment the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Speaking to a typically large and adoring crowd in Texas, Trump denounced entire media as the “most dishonest people I ever met,” sneered at The New York Times as a “failing newspaper” and “most dishonest media outlets I’ve ever seen in my life,” and despite expressing his respect for Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos he said that “he wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it,” which is all standard Republican stump fare, and all fair enough, but of course he went further. Expounding on his seemingly impromptu rant, Trump said, “Believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.” After the crowd lustily cheered on this promise of retribution against press outlets for exercising their First Amendment right to publish something that did not serve the interests of Trump, he added that “One of the things I’m going to do, and this is only going to make it tougher for me, and I’ve never said this before, but one of things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope I do and we’re certainly leading, is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws.”
All the Trump apologists who magically appear in the comments section below any article critical of their knight-in-white-armor-and-thin-and-orange-skin will note that the Times and Post are indeed awful publications, which we’ve already acknowledge is standard Republican stump fare and fair enough, and they’ll note how censorious the Democrats are, which is true but irrelevant, and some will even venture some criticisms of the Sullivan v. New York Times decision that has since 1964 defined the wide-open standards of public discourse, although any attempt to explain how a press is still free so long as it meets Trump’s notions of fairness and accuracy and positivity are obviously wrong. What matters, though, and what no Trump apologist can deny, is that their tough-talking truth-telling hero is loudly and unabashedly threatening that if elected his press critics are going to have problems, such problems. Their heroic Trump may have already freed the land from those social constraints of “political correctness” that said you couldn’t discuss illegal immigration or Islam or mock the handicapped or disparage American servicemen who endured wartime captivity or brag about all the married babes you’ve bagged,
With a darker shade of spray-tan and a pair of mirrored aviator glasses on him we could easily see Trump issuing the same sort of threat in that fictional banana republic that Woody Allen created for “Bananas,” but it’s harder to imagine this sort of thing happening in America. Previous presidents have had their legal confrontations with the press, but in the end they always accepted the rulings made by the Supreme Court according to plain understanding of the First Amendment, and all the Democrats are striving to overrule a Supreme Court ruling similarly rendered so that they can exercise prior restraint on any documentaries or articles or artworks critical of Hillary Clinton, but at least they have the decency to pretend that it’s because of those awful Koch brothers and some vast right-wing conspiracy that’s supposedly intent on curtailing free speech. Trump comes right out and says he wants to use the government to silence his critics, eliciting great cheers from his adoring crowds, and after his poll numbers improve we expect Clinton will figure that she will soon make the same appalling promise to her adoring crowds.
Although we’re not fans of The New York Times, despite having several good friends there long argued with, nor The Washington Post, where we don’t know anybody, we do remain great fans of the idea that people should be able to publish whatever they have to say regardless of whether the current occupant of the White House likes it or not. We’ve long availed ourselves of this right, especially through the past seven years and a couple of months or so, and we intend to continue doing so for as long as almighty God, and not the almighty government, grants us. It won’t just be The New York Times and The Washington Post that have problems, such problems in the coming years, regardless of how this implausible election turns out, but one way or another we’ll persist in speaking our minds. If Trump wants to sue us, as is his wont, well, go right ahead, but he and all his high-priced lawyers should know that we possess nothing he can take from us that is so precious as our God-given right to say that he’s a bullying blowhard con artist who will do this country do no good.

— Bud Norman

What Seven Years of Hope and Change Have Wrought

After seven years and a month or so of Hope and Change the country is in such a foul mood that it’s threatening to elect either a bumbling socialist revolutionary or a bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star, but President Barack Obama is still keeping his chin up. Returning Wednesday to the city where he launched his first presidential campaign, back in those halcyon days when a hopeful nation first cast its eyes on his heroically-upturned chin and all the young hipsters were chanting his name, Obama spoke with his usual telepromptered eloquence about the current state of politics as if he were once again levitating above that messy fray.
Although he claimed with a straight face that “I still believe in a politics of hope,” Obama nonetheless rued the nastiness of the contests between his would-be successors. With a bipartisan ambiguity, and no names mentioned, he intoned that “We’ve got to build a better politics. One that’s less of a spectacle and more of a business.” Then he launched into some talk about campaign financing and voting restrictions and gerrymandering, meaning that he wants government-regulated speech and rampant voter fraud and differently gerrymandered districts, and of course some laments about petty bickering. He added that “In America, politicians should not pick their voters, voters should pick their politicians,” which might have been an allusion to those fishy Iowa Democratic caucus results and all those “super delegates” that have padded Hillary Clinton’s advantage despite her lack of popularity so far with Democratic voters, but probably not. His talk of “spectacle” might have been an oblique reference to Donald J. Trump, the aforementioned bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star and current Republican-frontrunner, and probably was.
Still, Obama was ambiguous enough to levitate above that messy fray, and the fawning account of the speech in Time Magazine was happy to sustain the illusion. The reporters wrote of the fresh-faced young candidate of that long-ago campaign and contrasted it with his “graying hair and a face wrinkled by the stress of the job,” as if they can be sure it isn’t a result of too many after-dark parties and sun-drenched golf rounds, and how he is “again hoping to rally Americans around in believing that the country’s politics can must be better.” The New York Times’ putative token conservative columnist had already beaten them to that telegraphed punch with a fawning love song about Obama’s scandal-free dignity, and we expect to hear a lot more of that from all sorts of media and historians and documentarians over the coming months and years, but of course it’s all bosh.
All that talk of Hope-and-Change was always interspersed with talk of if-they-bring-a-knife-we-bring-a-gun and get-in-their-faces and punish-your-enemies and and speaks rudely of corporate jet-flying billions and typical white people their gun-and-Bible-clinging ways and everything else in Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” playbook, not to mention passing the likes of Obamacare without a single Republican vote, and all that punishment the Internal Revenue Service inflicted on the president’s enemies, and the subsidies lavished on his campaign bundlers’ phony-baloney and soon-to-be-bankrupt “green energy” scams, and all those executive actions he took to get around the Congress that the voters voted for, so the inevitable results are the garish spectacles now on display in both parties.
We can well understand why the president might resent hearing all the hipsters chant the name of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a bumbling old socialist who’s somehow so hip and up to date he doesn’t feel the need to pretend he’s not a socialist, as the suddenly stodgy and wrinkled Obama still does, especially when it’s a cranky old geezer with no hip-hop cred who freely admits the economy that Obama brags about is actually awful, but we wonder what he might have expected. His own election was celebrated by the doomed Newsweek with a headline bragging “We’re all socialists now,” his best explanation for why he wasn’t a socialist was that even such a right-wing conservative as that all-purpose scapegoat President George W. Bush had brought about that Medicare prescription drug plan and all sorts of other socialistic sorts of things, no one in his party can any longer explain the difference between a Democrat and a socialist, he’s a proud product of an academic establishment that’s been carefully laying the ground work for a socialist revolution the past 50 years or so, and the economy is indeed lousy enough for a more frank socialist to call it the long-awaited Crisis of Capitalism.
The only candidate that’s proudly promising another four years of Obama is his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also a former First Lady and Senator and a longtime fixture of the Democratic party’s lucrative crony capitalist yet vaguely socialistic establishment, and the fact that she’s been bloodied by a bumbling and even older old socialist such as Sanders doesn’t say much for him. There’s that ongoing scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation over a unsecured e-mail system that he sent correspondence through, all the Wall Street money that both of them took, and the Dodd-Frank regulations that enriched their contributors even as they’re both trying to claim it as a great victory for the anti-Wall Street crowd, and the lies they both told about the deadly attacks on an American consulate in Libya, which Democrats don’t care much about but still feed into a general cynicism about the establishment, so another four years of Obama is now a hard sell even to Democrats. Obama could still let that FBI investigation run its rightful course and then install some candidate more to his liking with the help of all those “super-delegates” that are currently padding Clinton’s numbers, but he’s now assured he thinks the voters should choose their politicians.
There’s plenty of “spectacle” on the Republican side, too, and we also blame Obama for that. After seven years and a month or so of Hope of Change and a socialism that dare not speak its name, an effective plurality of Republican voters have settled on a bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star who always brings a gun to a knife fight, gets in people’s faces, punishes his enemies, tells his vanquished opponents to sit in the back, is a billionaire with the biggest corporate jet this side of Air Force One with his name emblazoned in capital letters, and is a gambling mogul and proud adulterer who boasts of the politicians he’s bought off and claims to speak for typical gun-and-Bible-clinging white folk. He’s switched parties more often than he’s traded in his wives, and would apparently prefer something more socialistic than the Obamacare law that was passed without any Republican votes, but by gum, at least he fights, and after seven years of Hope and Change that’s good enough for a plurality of Republican voters. Trump is a reality TV star, too, and after seven years of Hope and Change and presidential appearances on the late night comedy shows there’s something comfortingly familiar about that.
Still, Obama and his scribes at Time and The New York Times and all those historians and documentarians will probably be able to cast a flattering light on his wizened visage and fondly recall all the telepromptered eloquence about bipartisan compromise and political civility and moderation, and with any luck the next big terrorist attack and the inevitable economic catastrophe won’t happen until the bumbling old socialist or her corrupt and incompetent rival or that bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star or some more right-wing cowboy are installed in office. From this point on, he levitates above the messy fray he’s created.

— Bud Norman

Of Polls, Presbyterians, and Seventh-Day Adventists

At this point in an election cycle the presidential opinion polls are about as meaningful as a first quarter score in a National Basketball Association game, and we really ought to be paying more attention to that awful budget deal President Barack Obama is cooking up with whatever Republicans are still purportedly in charge of Congress, but for the first time in too long we recently saw a couple of polls that didn’t have Donald Trump in the lead, so we can’t help reveling in the numbers.
The latest frontrunner, according to no less but no more an authority than the combined efforts of The New York Times and The Columbia Broadcasting System, is Dr. Ben Carson. If true, this is fine by us, as the Republicans seem intent on nominating someone who has never held any elective office, and of the three candidates who meet that criterion Carson strikes us as much preferable to Trump. It’s not just the stylistic differences between the blustery and bragging billionaire real estate mogul Trump and the soft-spoken and humble physician, although that does matter and obviously favors Carson, but also that Carson has been more consistently conservative in his policy views and seems to have a superior character, which of course matters even more. We’re still inclined to look at the broad field for someone has held elective office, and leaning toward Texas Sen. Ted Cruz because of his steadfast conservatism and otherwise impeccable anti-establishment credentials, but we can see the party doing a lot worse than Carson.
Trump has also lately found himself trailing Carson in the crucial early state of Iowa, where the conventional wisdom has long that evangelical Christian voters are the most important Republican constituency, and he seemed annoyed by the turn of events. In one speech he repeatedly mentioned that he was a Presbyterian, adding that people don’t believe it, and bragging that “boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness.” In an apparent reference to Carson’s denominational affiliation, Trump added, “I mean, Seventh Day-Adventist, I just don’t know about. I just don’t know about.” Being heartland evangelical Christian Republicans ourselves, and thus more familiar with the type than Trump, we can’t see it as an effective strategy.
We also know little about Seventh-Day Adventism, except that its day of worship and rest is on Saturday, which we have to admit makes a certain amount of Old Testament sense, we also have to admit that none of our many Sunday morning sermons have ever explained any New Testament reason they’re wrong, and we figure that we don’t know much more probably speaks well of the church. By now we know all about Sunnis and Shiites and the Koran and the Hadith and taqqiya and hudna and dhimmitude and jizya and all sorts of other Islamic concepts, but that’s only because it’s been more necessary than reading up on relatively placid Seventh-Day Adventism. We also understand that the denomination sprang from the fervent Millerite movement that predicted the end of Earth on a certain date in 1843, which is still known as “The Great Disappointment,” and that it retains a certain fascination with the eschatological scriptures, but this does not seem so incompatible with a constitutional republic as jizya or dhimmitude or Twelfth Imams or certain other religious concepts, and we note that most enlightened of the secularist humanists have their own fervently-blieved end-of-times theories that involve all sorts of onerous carbon taxes and pie-in-the-sky light-rail systems.
We’re more familiar with Presbyterians, and count several of them among our good friends, and the general impression we’ve gleaned from their infrequent talk about their faith is that it is indeed down the middle of the road. John the Revelator might have even called it diocletian, which is an obscure word and even more obscure Biblical reference, but a lot of heartland evangelical Christian Republicans will and they’ll probably be less impressed by Trump’s Presbyterianism than Carson’s Seventh-Day Adventism. We can’t look into a man’s heart and have no right to render a final judgment on his everlasting soul, but we can look at Trump’s three marriages and his public boasts of buying off politicians and using the bankruptcy laws to skirt his debts, and one can’t help noticing the haughty spirit and pride, as well as the unmistakable love of filthy lucre, so for the earthly purposes of casting our vote we will adjudge that he’s even less Presbyterian than the most fallen of our Presbyterian friends. Carson certainly seems more steadfastly Seventh-Day Adventist, and for those who are still clinging to their suddenly idiosyncratic religious beliefs, which are suddenly more perilously right-of-the-middle as the culture has lurched so far the irreligious left, that will likely trump Trump’s Presbyterianism. The peculiarities of the Seventh-Day Adventists has earned them a reputation for being litigiously devoted to religious liberty, and at this moment when Catholic nuns are being forced to purchase contraceptive coverage and Baptist bakers are being forced to provide same-sex wedding cakes, and when any fervently held religious beliefs other than jizya and dhimmitude are considered slightly crazy, and astrology and anthropogenic global warming are not, so at this point we’re impressed that the Seventh-Day Adventists have produced such a soft-spoken and humble physician and relatively sane person as Carson.
There’s still plenty of politics left, and that awful budget deal that’s being cooked up will surely figure in it, and somebody who has actually won an election before might wind up winning this election after all, but if it comes down to Trump’s Presbyterian and Carson’s Seventh-Day Adventism we expect the heartland evangelical Christian Republican vote will start trending away from Trump.

— Bud Norman

E-Mails, “Emails,” and Alternate Realities

According to no less an authoritative source than The New York Times, “Obama’s Comments About Clinton’s Emails Rankle Some in the F.B.I.” We don’t hear that from any more authoritative source, however, so we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that’s there’s a lot more to it than what the once-venerable paper would now consider “All the news that’s fit to print.”
There’s no doubt that President Barack Obama did indeed go on television’s “60 Minutes” program and say that former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private and unsecured e-mail server didn’t pose a threat to national security, even as he acknowledged that it was a mistake, and we won’t quibble with the article’s characterization that he “played down the matter.” Nor do we doubt that The New York Times’ multiple reporters accurately quoted or paraphrased the unnamed current Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and one named former law enforcement agent who claim to be infuriated by the president’s prejudgment of a matter they are still diligently investigating. We don’t doubt that all the names and titles and other facts that are explicitly stated have been assiduously checked by what’s left of the Gray Lady’s copy desk, even if they are now so trendy they’re no longer hyphenating “e-mails,” but what’s not stated yet clearly implied still smells fishy.
The article includes some unexpectedly interesting background material, including past administration crackdowns on federal officials’ handling of sensitive material, and past instances of the administration resisting prosecutions of other more politically necessary officials, to the extent that a typical New York Times reader might find it shockingly critical of the administration. Even under the cloak of anonymity those unnamed FBI and other law enforcement officials will likely seem convincingly outraged to the average Times reader, and the average New York Times reader might even conclude that the president is protecting a fellow Democrat from due treatment under the law. The average New York Times reader would be delighted to hear that, though, so we can’t credit the paper with any institutional courage, and we find it interesting that they’re still running articles with Clinton and “emails” in the same headline.
We don’t have even any unnamed sources in the FBI, but we do have a theory based on the reports of The New York Times and the rest of the old-fashioned that this is all bunk. Based on pretty much everything we’ve seen, heard, and read during the past seven years we have concluded that Obama is convinced he really is the messiah he proclaimed himself to be during the ’08 election, that he wants his transformative reign continued through the ’16 and ’20 elections, and that Hillary Clinton is not his chosen successor. A similar empiricism has convinced us that the F.B.I. is no longer the doggedly independent institution of Jimmy Stewart and Efram Zimbalist Jr., and that it now contains more than a few agents willing to anonymously feign outrage at administration criticism of an investigation that has long been given administration blessing. Even The New York times concedes that the administration “walked back” its criticism in short order, and that the downplaying included an admission Clinton had made a mistake, and future Times stories will no doubt include further unnamed high administration officials leaking further disclosures about those “emails,” but that the administration can point to an unexpectedly critical New York Times story that seems to have its hands of any blame.
Given the lack of attention paid by the F.B.I. to other administration scandals, its sudden doggedness about Clinton’s “emails,” and all the resulting drip, drip, drip of stories quoting an ongoing investigations and plenty of highly placed yet unnamed administration officials, we can see why Obama might want to portray him as downplaying the matter. Given our experience of The New York Times, we can believe it would happily cooperate. We recently ran into a friend of ours who is a political Democrat tonight and he thought our theory that ridiculous, but he was also convinced that Clinton is the inevitable nominee and that only the inevitable Jeb Bush nomination could stop her.

— Bud Norman