Hollywood Hearts Hillary, Sort of

By now it’s a quadrennial rite of Hollywood for all the most fashionable show biz folks to film one of those commercials where they take turns standing in front of a blank background to finish one another’s sentences about the pressing need to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee. This year’s offering is disappointing even by Hollywood’s recent standards, and suggests that even celebrities are feeling disappointed in this crazy election year.
The standing-in-front-of-a blank-background-extolling-a-Democrat genre began back in the heady “Hope and Change” days of Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, and featured a hope-y and change-y hip-hop soundtrack complete with samples of Obama’s soaring oratory and rapturous chants of “Obama, Obama” from some seemingly heavenly choir, and was all about the utopia of economic prosperity and racial harmony and world peace that would surely be realized after a mere eight years of Obama administrations. Even after Obama’s victory, a bunch of celebrities felt compelled to take their turns in front of a blank screen pledging their allegiance to the new leader and promising to support local school banks and volunteer more time to charity and not give the finger to other drivers and buy a hybrid and oppose slavery laugh more and other causes that were fashionable back in those more hopeful days.
Both efforts struck us as downright hilarious at the time, and seem all the more ridiculous in hindsight, and the latest reboot of the series seems to acknowledge that things have not worked out as promised. This time around the message isn’t that another four or perhaps eights of a Democrat in the White House will deliver utopia slightly behind schedule, but that the alternative is simply too horrible to contemplate. The video doesn’t mention either of the major party nominees by name, but the celebrities refer to “a racist, abusive coward who could permanently damage the fabric of our society,” and worry about “giving nuclear weapons to a man whose signature move is firing things,” with the word “firing” repeated by several more celebrities, and at that point we assume even the average Hollywood celebrity would know they were talking about the Republican nominee. There weren’t even the vaguest allusions to the Democratic nominee, though, much less any promises of hope and change.
The latest effort is disappointing on purely cinematic levels, as well. It doesn’t have the arty black-and-white look and hip-hop hipness of that ’08 entry, or the star power of that “pledge allegiance to Barack” video in ’09, which at least included a few faces we recognized. Not to mention that annoying finishing-one-another’s-sentences thing, which the “Portlandia” show had already satirically suggested as a way to full employment. There is a slightly endearing self-effacing joke about how nobody’s really that famous anymore, except perhaps for those two unmentioned major party nominees, and whoever these people are we have to admit that some of them are rather good-looking, but we can’t imagine any discerning cinephile falling for it. Today’s young folks didn’t grow up on the afternoon and late-night old movies, though, can’t remember when movie stars where movies stars, and therefore aren’t very discerning, so perhaps they’re the intended audience for this dreck.
We’ve noticed a couple of polls that that show Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton barely topping 30 percent among the under-30 set, but have Republican nominee Donald Trump in third place behind Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and just slightly ahead of Green Party nominee Jill Stein. This demographic cohort might well be spooked by the possibility of a racist and abusive coward with a penchant for firing things getting the nuclear codes, and they probably even know who these celebrities are, so maybe Hollywood will have some effect. We share all their concerns about the nominee Republican, but also have equal concerns about that Democratic nominee that Hollywood doesn’t dare mention, and we guess we’ll have to await the video from Scott “Chachi” Baio and Ted “Motor City Madman” Nugent and all the “Celebrity Apprentice” celebrities pledging allegiance to the unmentionable Republican nominee to finally decide why we’re not voting for any of those four.

— Bud Norman

La Commedia e Finita

The longstanding debate about President Barack Obama’s birthplace is now over, or at least so declares Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump. After more than five years of making public insinuations that Obama was born in Kenya and thus constitutionally ineligible to be president, Trump on Friday told his usual throng of adoring supporters and skeptical reporters that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
Trump’s 30-second-or-so comments came more than 20 minutes into a news conference that his campaign had promised would include a “major announcement” on the issue of Obama’s birthplace, during which time all the cable news networks had been snookered into airing a commercial for the fancy new Trump hotel down the street from the White House and some glowing testimonials from a group of decorated military veterans, and all his adoring supporters considered that a shrewd manipulation of the media. Many of the media even admitted as much, but we suspect those suckered and now all-the-more-skeptical reporters and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were willing trade that 20 minutes of little-watched infomercial for a chance to spend much of the weekend reminding the public that Trump had for years peddled a crackpot conspiracy theory he now admits was bunk all along.
The Washington Post even headlined one of its many stories “For Democrats, a fresh chance to remind voters of Trump’s role in ‘birtherism,‘” and all the big papers and all those snookered cable news networks clearly reveled in re-telling the embarrassing tale. Although the “birther” theory about Obama’s Kenyan birth had been rattling around the far reaches of the internet going back to his run for the Senate, and was occasionally mentioned in the more mainstream press during his primary race against Clinton during his first presidential campaign, it didn’t gain wide currency until Trump started taking time off from his “Apprentice” reality show to champion the cause. In “tweets” and appearances on talk shows cited he noted how “many people are saying” that Obama was foreign-born, and that “credible sources” were insisting, and even that he had dispatched a team of crack investigators to Hawaii and that “they can’t believe what they’re finding,” and he also expressed his own suspicions, although he was always careful never to come out and say he’d reached any conclusion. Now that he acknowledges Obama was born in America, period, Trump probably should be embarrassed.
Trump being Trump, though, he was instead quite proud of himself for putting that distracting and needlessly media-created controversy to rest by forcing the president to release his birth certificate. “Hillary Clinton started it,” Trump proclaimed, “and I finished it.” Both claims were widely ridiculed over the weekend, probably with various degrees of effectiveness.
All the so-called “fact-checkers” have rated the claim that “Clinton started it” a lie, and from our pox-on-both-their-houses objectivity we’ll more or less agree. When the “birther” claims were being occasionally mentioned during that long-ago primary a low-level and unpaid Clinton campaign staffer was fired for touting the story to reporters, but we’d hate to hold a traditional Republican presidential campaign to such a high standard of accountability. More recently the McClatchy chain of newspapers, which bought out the chain of newspapers we once worked for and is now responsible for our pension, is reporting that the longtime Clinton family consigliere Sid “Vicious” Blumenthal was touting the story so convincingly that the chain even sent a couple of reporters to Kenya to check it out, and no one familiar with Blumenthal would put it past him, but it’s also plausible he did it on his own. In any case, Clinton herself never talked or “tweeted” about it, and it all seemed to go away after that low-level and unpaid staffer was fired, and it was certainly never brought up by her during the years she served as Obama’s Secretary of State.
None of those gleeful mainstream press stories mention it, but we’ll also add that Obama also bears some responsibility for the conspiracy theory. The publishers of best-selling and vastly overrated “Dreams From My Father” memoir claimed he was born in Kenya in their promotional materials, which Obama didn’t correct until well into his presidency, and his campaign emphasized his Madrassa education in Indonesia and his fond memories of the Muslim call to prayers and his paternal Kenyan roots and otherwise cosmopolitan background, and he did take his sweet time releasing his birth certificate, all sorts of educational and passport records remain unreleased to this day. The ensuing seven and more-than-a-half years of Obama foreign policy have only exacerbated suspicions about his philosophical if not legal status Americanism, and his sympathies for Islam if not his fully-fledged allegiance to the religion.
Rather than make those make those reasonable arguments about Obama’s foreign policy, though, Trump naturally preferred to question Obama’s legal status as an American and leave his supporters claims that Obama is a Muslim unchallenged. There are plenty of reasonable arguments to be made against any of the Clinton family, too, but rather than limiting himself to that ample supply of ammo he’s talked about how some people are talking the quite unproved claim that they offed Vince Foster. We suppose there were also arguments to be made against the presidential candidacy of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, but Trump chose to draw attention to a preposterous National Enquirer story about how Cruz’s father was in on the John F. Kennedy assassination. In a bipartisan spirit he’s also embraced the Bush Lied, People Died theory of the Iraq War, made numerous appearances on the Alex Jones’ “InfoWars” show that long asserted the Sept. 11 terror attacks were an inside job, and suggested that everything from the recent Democratic primary to the upcoming general election is “rigged.”
Before Trump is allowed to get on with the business of making America great, the Democrats and their allies in the media are entitled note that he has a long history of peddling crackpot conspiracy theories, and that it is not a desirable trait in a president. Trump and his supporters are also entitled to note how very Clinton is, and from our pox-on-both-their-houses perch we won’t disagree with the most of it, but after this weekend they’ll likely be less credible in the effort. Even if Trump did finally put that crackpot conspiracy theory to rest, except for those corners of the internet that will continue to insist and insist that Trump is right about everything.

— Bud Norman

Your Candidates For Commander-in-Chief, Alas

While President Barack Obama was making another stop on his diplomatic trip to the Far East Wednesday, his would-be successors were appearing on the MSNBC cable network’s “Commander in Chief Forum,” with both spending a half-hour or so answering a series of questions about defense and foreign policy from the National Broadcasting Company’s Matt Lauer and selected members of a an audience comprised mostly of military veterans. None of it, needless to say, was at all reassuring.
A dear friend’s 70th birthday party and a principled lack of cable access kept us from watching the event live, but thanks to the modern miracle of YouTube we were able to watch all the grilling of both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and without commercial interruption at that. We can’t recommend you do, though, as the lack of direct confrontation between the candidates made for rather dreary viewing.
An unfavorable coin toss determined that Clinton would be given the first half-hour, ending that remarkable 6-for-6 coin-flipping streak that helped her win the Iowa caucus, and her bad luck didn’t end there. She had a well-crafted introductory statement about her long experience in foreign affairs as a First Lady and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Secretary of State, and how it has honed her judgment, but that just walked right into Lauer’s first question about that unindexed and yet ongoing e-mail scandal of hers. She had a well-rehearsed answer acknowledging that it had been a mistake to use a private server for many of e-mail communications, insisted she had used only the government server for anything with a “header” indicating it was classified. She clearly hoped that no one would know that much classifiable information was coming to her attention before it could be classified, and that someone with better judgment would have treated it as such, and that there are plenty of other holes in her story. Alas, the next audience member was an Air Force veteran whose work had required security clearances, and who was convinced that he would have been jailed for the actions Clinton has now admitted, so she had to run through yet another variation on the same unconvincing lines.
Lauer then asked about Clinton’s vote as a senator in favor of the Iraq War, which is by now such an unpopular affair that the Republican nominee is bragging that he had always opposed it and that George W. Bush had lied the country into the mess. Clinton once again apologized for the vote, and rightly noted that Trump’s claims to have been opposed all along are completely baseless, then made a plausible argument that her willingness to admit and learn from mistakes has improved her judgment. Although still on the defensive she seemed to be punching back at that point, but the next question was about that awful deal the Obama administration struck with the Iranians on their nuclear weapons programs.
Clinton first noted about how she had worked to impose harsh sanctions on the Iranian government, without acknowledging that the sanctions had begun under the previous administration, then boasted that had succeeded in forcing Iran to the negotiating table. Given the worse-than-Nevill-Chamberlain sort of appeasement that resulted from the negotiations this hardly seems a success, but at least the worst of the deal was finalized by her successor as Secretary of State. She’ll be very tough in enforcing that awful package of appeasement, Clinton assured the audience, and she also talked tough about Iran’s many other outrages, and we had a certain sense that she was trying to put at least some distance between herself and the Obama administration.
There was also talk about the sorry state of the Veterans Administration, which Clinton can’t be readily blamed for and which she seemed plenty outraged about, and when asked to explain her policy toward the Islamic State “as briefly as you can” she sounded very hawkish even as she promised there would be no ground troops in either Iraq or Syria. She also talked about going after Islamic State leader Bagu al-Baghdadi, “just like we did with Osama bin Laden,” reminding the audience of the Obama administration’s biggest hit of the past seven-and-a-half-years, and finished with a vow to be tough on terrorism but making no promises to prevent it altogether.
Even Trump’s most media-averse admirers would be hard pressed to find fault with Lauer’s performance, which kept Clinton on the defensive through most of the interview. A more thorough interrogation about the e-mails would have required the hours that Republican congressional investigations spent on the matter, so we’ll also give Lauer some reluctant credit for compressing it into a few challenges about her most outrageous claims. Even Clinton’s most die-hard detractors would have to admit that she seemed quite feisty in her defense, however, with none of the coughing fits or fatigue or seizures or other afflictions that have lately been talked about all over the internet, and unless you’re already well aware of what she was talking there were no takeaway gaffes. We imagine that her most avid fans were well pleased with the performance, that her most disdainful detractors were not at all swayed, and that anyone in the undecided ranks would be waiting to hear what the Republican might say.
What the Republican had to say was hard to parse, as usual, but so far as we can tell it boiled down to him saying that everything was going to be great with him in charge, believe him. Asked what experiences he had to demonstrate the judgment to run America’s foreign he mentioned his vast business empire, which includes deals in countries overseas, some of which of are really taking advantage of the rest of the United States, believe him, so surely he could tell when it was necessary to put American military lives in harm’s way. He reiterated his lie that he was speaking out against the Iraq War before it was launched, citing an interview in GQ magazine that appeared about a year into the war as proof, and added that the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq was also a “total disaster.” Trump was asked about his well-known propensity to say outrageous things, and his own recent admission that he has occasionally chosen wrong words, and how that might affect his performance as a head of state, and Trump went on about how certain wrong words were needed to defeat all those more qualified Republican candidates that stood in his way to the nomination. He then mentioned his recent trip to Mexico, where he was respectfully greeted with diplomatic protocol and didn’t say anything to get him kicked out, then bragged that the trip had been so successful that some Mexican official who arranged the trip was fired due to the Mexican public’s ensuing outrage over the invitation.
Lauer revived an old Trump quote claiming to know more about the Islamic State than the American military’s generals did, and Trump noted that the generals have no been successful thus far, although he blamed Obama and Secretaries of State Clinton and John Kerry for the failure, and that there might well be an entirely different group of generals he’ll be dealing with that, and that they’ll be the types who won’t have MacArthur and Patton spinning in their graves. He even suggested that his secret plan for defeating the Islamic State will await the 30 days he’s giving the generals to come up with their own plan, and that their might might even be incorporated into his secret plan, but in any case it’s going to be a great plan, believe him.
Whatever that plan might turn out to be, be assured that if it amounts to any military action at all it’s going to include plenty of old-fashioned plunder. Trump has embraced the far-left’s chants about “Bush lied, people died,” but he clearly has no use for that “No blood for oil” slogan, and explained that “I’ve always said we shouldn’t be in there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil.” At this point Lauer made a rare interruption to ask how that might be accomplished, and Trump acknowledged that some people would be “left behind” to get the job done, and Lauer didn’t ask how many of these people there would be, or how many soldiers and airmen would be needed to protect them, much less the many hundreds of miles of pipelines and supply lines need for the project, not to mention the fallout from the inevitable worldwide outrage over the planet’s mightiest military power claiming waging openly proclaimed wars of plunder.
A woman who was introduced as a Democrat and a graduate of the first West Point class to include women got to ask a question about illegal immigrants being allowed in the military, seeming to favor the idea herself, and she got a big hand for that first woman West Pointer distinction, and with his usual keen sense of the crowd Trump said he would work with that. The next questions were about Russia, though, and not so easily handled.
Whatever concerns the people of Mexico or those unfortunate oil-rich lands currently held by the Islamic State might have about a Trump administration, the future of Russo-American relations look rosy indeed, believe him. Trump once again confidently predicted he would have “a good relationship with Putin, and a very good relationship with Russia,” again promised that “as long as he says good things about me, I’ll say good things about him,” protested an interjection by Lauer about the likelihood that Putin’s government hacked the Democratic National Committee by saying “nobody knows that for a fact,” lamented that Obama and Putin were photographed exchanging icy stares during the Group of 20 summit, and seemed sure he’d get a more respectful Air Force One greeting from the Russians than Obama got from the Chinese. Trump suggested a possible alliance with the Russians against the Islamic State, made no mention of Russia’s aggression in Georgia and the Ukraine and threats against much of the rest of the former Soviet empire, and when asked about such issues he said “it’s possible” that Putin will abandon his revanchist ambitions in the event of a Trump administration.
Trump was also asked about the VA, a problem he also cannot be credibly blamed for and is plenty outraged about, and he offered what seemed a sensible idea of providing vouchers for veterans to seek care in the private sector when waiting lines at the government-run doctor’s office became dangerously long. Clinton had scored some points with the veterans by opposing “privatization,” which according to the polls even scares veterans in this day and age, and we note that Trump took pains to insist his plan wasn’t “privatization.” We’d prefer a capitalist-minded Republican who’d embrace the term and make the compelling case for it, and there’s no better case to be made for it than government-run health care, but these days that’s too much to ask for. One of the last questions was about the large number of sexual-harassment charges being alleged in the military, and Trump was reminded of a “tweet” that read “What did these geniuses think when they put men and women together?,” and he defended it by saying “Many people say that.” He added that it was necessary to keep the military court system, and then later that we need to establish a military court system, and he did come out forthrightly in favor of imposing consequences for sexual assaults.
Lauer’s now being pilloried by the left for failing to press Trump on many of these statements, but from our never-Trump perspective on the right we’ll grudgingly concede that it would have been awful hard to compress all the questions into a mere half-hour. With about two-thirds of Clinton’s interview spent on the defensive we’ll have to kick our feet against the sand and lower our heads and say it seemed fair enough, all in all, and that the candidates had only themselves to blame.
Trump probably came out of it slightly better than even, poll-wise. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters got the the “take their oil” rhetoric they’ve come to expect, while Trump’s most die-hard opponents will glumly concede that at least he didn’t repeat his talk about the indiscriminate torture of detainees and the killing of their civilian relatives and the neo-con overreach of the past 16 years of American foreign policy, and the sensitive souls of the Huffington Post were even worried that might have seem slightly presidential to those who can’t spare the time to think through the implications of that “take their oil” policy. Most of Trump’s most disdainful opponents won’t bother with that, either, but in any case they’ll not be swayed.
Clinton and Trump will face each other head-to-head later this month, unless Clinton succumbs to fatal illness or Trump finds some scheduling or moderator issue as an excuse to dodge it, depending on which internet rumors you prefer to believer, and that might be more fun. At this point, though, we don’t expect it will be any more reassuring.

— Bud Norman

Barack Obama’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure

More than eight exceedingly long years have passed since those “Hope and Change” days when Sen. Barack Obama was running his first successful presidential campaign, but we still well remember the giddy optimism of his die-hard supporters. One of the promises they all seemed to believe was that after eight exceedingly long years of George W. Bush’s crazy cowboy foreign policy had tarnished America’s reputation, the rest of the world would once again admire and respect America under the apologetically cosmopolitan leadership of a former community organizer and not-yet-one-term Senator. Judging by President Obama’s recent foreign travels, in the lame duck days of his not at all optimistic second term, we’d say that hasn’t quite panned out.
Obama’s trip east turned into the latest installment of the old “National Lampoon’s Vacation” franchise, with the ironic twist of the President of the United States playing the Chevy Chase role, along with some of the late Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” shtick. It began with Air Force One touching ground at the Beijing airport before the Group of 20 summit, with no red carpet or high-ranking handshakes or reassuring photo opportunities to greet the president, and without even the courtesy of one of those high-rise airplane ladders he wound up exiting from the belly the beast as he would in such hostile territory as Afghanistan, and a Chinese official wound up in a shoving match with the American press and shouting “This is our country, this is our airport” at National Security Adviser Susan Rice. There were further diplomatic statements from both sides regarding the matter, and none of them left any doubt it was an intentional insult to a President of the United States.
The president was there mainly to finalize his insane “Paris climate accord,” which is not a treaty because it would never be ratified by even a Democratic senate but is nonetheless binding enough to impose all sorts of onerous regulations on the American economy to make a meaningless gesture about a problem that might or might not exist, and apparently that was enough reason to endure the snub. The Chinese government’s only obligation under the “Paris climate accord” is to maybe think about doing something so absolutely stupid in another 14 years or so, and apparently that was enough to inspire such an official show of contempt.
During the big economic summit Obama also managed to outrage the Fleet Street press and its avid British readership, which has been an annoying habit of his since he first took office in those “Hope and Change” days and sent back a bust of Winston Churchill, by once again threatening Great Britain with trade recriminations for its exit from the European Union, which is by now a fact despite his earlier toothless threats. Moving on to Laos, the tour featured the President of the Philippines vowing that if the President of the United States brought up the subject of the Filipino death squads currently battling the country’s suspected drug dealers in a planned meeting he would say “son of a bitch, I swear at you.” With the Philippines’ effect on the global climate being rather minimal this was enough for Obama to briefly cancel the meeting, but after the usual the exchange of diplomatic statements the meeting went on and apparently no curse words were exchanged and nothing much of any other interest happened. Obama also took the occasion of being in Laos to pledge help with all those unexploded bombs that America dropped there some decades back, and to lecture some young Laotian students about how lazy Americans aren’t doing enough to help with climate change as such industrious and pre-industrial peoples such as themselves.
Meanwhile, Russian planes were making “unsafe close intercepts” on American planes over the Black Sea, the Iranian navy was harassing American warships in the Persian Gulf, and no ally nor rival anywhere in the world seemed to admire or respect the apologetic cosmopolitan leadership of the apologetically cosmopolitan American president. This comes at the end of eight long years of riling the allies everywhere from Poland and the Czech Republican to the more capitalist portions of Honduras, and appeasing the rivals in the insane Shiite theocracy of Iran and the troublemaking Sunnis of the Muslim Brotherhood, and “resetting” relations with Russia back to Cold War lines on the map of Ukraine, and confront China’s brazen territorial expansion with such timidity that even China’s targets are threatening to curse Obama’s mother.
There’s not so much talk of “Hope and Change” in this election year, and we certainly can’t find any. The Democratic nominee was Obama’s Secretary of State during the first four of the past eight disastrous years, and offered that emboldening “reset button” to the Russians, and although she is credibly credited with advising sterner policies at times one of those times was the disastrous deposing of a defanged Libyan dictator and the ensuing chaos that spread from that country. The Republican nominee talks much sterner stuff, to the point of proposing random torture on prisoners of war and killing their relatives and turning all their oil rights over to the Exxon Corporation, but he seems even friendlier to the Russians and until he releases tax returns there will be reasonable suspicions about just how friendly, and he was also outspokenly in favor of deposing that defanged Libyan dictator, although he now routinely lies and says he wasn’t, and he’s also openly speculated about not honoring America’s treaty obligations if he didn’t like the deal and starting trade wars with China, and he blames that crazy cowboy Bush and his lies for all the dysfunctions of the Middle East, and he’s spouted much other similar nonsense that doesn’t inspire much hope for positive change.
We’ll just have to get used it, we guess, and the rest of the post-American world will have to as well. Still, we can’t help thinking that all of us will wind up fondly recalling those good old crazy cowboy days.

— Bud Norman

The Latest from a Desultory Campaign Trail

Has there even been a more awful presidential race in the history of the American republic? Every day seems to bring a fresh batch of headlines reminding us why we don’t want either of the likely winners anywhere near the White House.
Thanks to the efforts of the last honorable men and women left at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the dogged right-wing watchdogs at Judicial Watch, the public now has access to some 15,000 e-mails that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tried to keep from outside scrutiny, which is a scandal in itself, and they reveal that big-money contributors to her family foundation had a better than 50 percent chance of getting some sit-down time with her while she was Secretary of State. Even such polite media as the Associated Press and The New York Times and The Washington Post felt obliged to give it front page prominence, and to concede that it looks very, very bad for the Democratic nominee. To our more historically informed eyes, it looks even worse than that.
We’re old enough to vaguely recall a time before all the political scandals had the word “Gate” affixed to them, in honor of the gold standard “Watergate Scandal” of the Nixon-era 70’s, and instead they’d include the word “Dome,” a reference to the previous champion “Teapot Dome Scandal” of the Harding-era ’20s. Our long-ago public schooling taught us that “Teapot Dome” resulted in a Secretary of the Interior going to prison for peddling some influence on the sale of a Navy petroleum reserve at someplace in Wyoming improbably called Teapot Dome, and the philandering and gambling and foul-mouth Harding forever being consigned to the bottom ranks of presidents in all those historian polls, and yet that suddenly seems small beer compared to a Secretary of State doing the same sort of wheeling and dealing on a geo-political level. By one of those odd historical coincidences a young Clinton was a newly-fledged lawyer on the staff of the Democratic committee investigating Watergate, before she got she fired for overzealous incompetence, but after nearly 30 years of Cattle Futures-gate and Whitewater-gate and Travel-gate and File-gate and Monica-gate and the many other -Gates we can’t quite recall at the moment, along with all of this more recent and even damning e-mail-gate and family foundation-gate stuff, she by now surely deserves her own suffix.
Still, she’s leading in the average of national polls, things look even better for her in the average of the polls in the swing states and the rest of the suddenly convoluted electoral map, and the only explanation for such a strange phenomenon is that she’s running against Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul is entirely blameless of peddling favors for contributions as a public official, never having held any public office in his 70-year-long life, but he openly bragged on Republican debate stages about buying influence from both Republican and Democratic officials during his varied careers. He even contributed to Clinton’s family foundation, and all the great deal-maker seems to have gotten out of it was her attendance at his third marriage to that foreign-born naked woman in the sapphic poses on the front page of the Trump-endorsing New York Post, so he’s got his own problems winning the public’s trust.
Trump won the Republican nomination largely because he was more full-throated in his opposition to illegal immigration than the rest of the vasty more qualified 16 challengers, but he went column-inch-to-column-inch on the front pages of the polite press by seem to stake a noticeably more squishy position on his signature issue. After rising to the Republican nomination with vows and assurances of “believe me” that he was going to build a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border that Mexico would pay for and that all 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country would be rounded up and deported, and that any of those RINO Republican squishes who thought this fanciful were all for amnesty and “open borders” just like Obama and Clinton and the rest of the “establishment,” Trump has lately been taking a more establishmentarian tack. After hiring a pollster as his new campaign manager he had a meeting with some of the Hispanics he’s been horribly polling with, and he announced a major speech on immigration that was later postponed, and in an interview on Monday with the Fox News Network’s Bill O’Reilly he wound up saying that he’d keep doing what President Barack Obama has been doing “perhaps with a lot more energy.” Trump’s scant ad buys have both time for a spot alleging that Obama has opened the borders, but in the interview he noted that both Obama and President George W. Bush had enforced many deportations, basically agreed with their “felons not families” priorities, dismissed any notion of mass deportations, and couldn’t quite explain how his current stand on amnesty differed from all those squishy Republicans he’d vanquished in the primaries.
This might well moderate Trump’s image to that pesky majority of the country that regards him as an extremist xenophobe, especially those who have noticed what an historically corrupt harridan the Democratic nominee is, but it might also dim the enthusiasm of the extremist xenophobes who have comprised a certain essential percentage of his support. In any case we can’t see it helping his reputation for intellectual or moral integrity, nor find any reason to believe this isn’t the most awful presidential election in the history of the American Republic.

— Bud Norman

A President Popular by Default

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

— Bud Norman

This Time in Milwaukee

The latest round of rioting and looting and mayhem happened Saturday in Milwaukee, where constant gunfire kept firefighters away from several blazes and any person of the wrong hue who had the misfortune to be walking down a certain stretch of Sherman Boulevard was subject to brutal mob violence. Yet another instance of a black man being shot by police officer had preceded it all, of course, and so the usual excuses of the “Black Lives Matter” movement will be made.
Those excuses are never sufficient for the victims of this ongoing violence, however, and in this case they’re all the more insufficient. In this case the man shot by a police officer was armed with a stolen semi-automatic pistol, one of those uniform “body-cams” that the activists have insisted on show he brandished the weapon as he fled from police during a routine traffic stop, he had a long record of arrests and a conviction for possession of a concealed weapon, and although there are still questions about the incident that will surely be thoroughly investigated under intense public scrutiny all of that should at least give some pausing to the rioting. In any case the businesses that were destroyed and those unfortunate folks of the wrong hue who happened to be in the vicinity had nothing to do with the shooting, and the violence and destruction that were inflicted will have no positive effects on anyone.
In this case the officer whose life was on the line was also black, and therefore presumably not motivated by any racial animus, but that won’t matter to a “Black Lives Matter” movement so strangely selective about which black lives matter. They seem to care little for the lives of the brave black men and women who don a police uniform and a gun to try to impose some semblance of law and order on the most lawless and disorderly streets of America, nor for the untold number of murdered black lives that will surely be added to an already inordinate black death toll once those efforts at law enforcement are in retreat from the mob.
As the crime rates rise in those cities afflicted by the anti-police protest movement the chances of a police officer still more or less on the job having to make a split-second decision about how to respond to known felon brandishing a loaded gun will increase, the ensuing riots will fuel a further retreat by law enforcement and another uptick in the crime, and at some point frank talk and real leadership will be required to halt the cycle. All of this comes near the end of what was promised would eight years of a post-racial America, and although it wouldn’t be fair to blame all of this on President Barack Obama it does seem fair to say that he hasn’t made good on those grandiose promises. He’s consistently taken sides against the police in every controversial case, often before the facts emerged to prove his prejudgments incorrect, and his Justice Department has taken similarly premature stands, with the same embarrassing results. His Education Department has also insisted that schools mete out suspensions and expulsions according to a strict racial quota system, which ignores and exacerbates the reality that in many schools some racial groups are committing infractions that call for suspensions and expulsions at a greater rate than others, and his Department of Housing and Urban Development has been imposing similarly cockamamie notions of racial justice on otherwise contented communities around the country.
Despite such efforts, black unemployment remains far higher the national average, with the youth unemployment rising still further over Depression-era rates with every hike in the minimum wage, overall black wages and household wealth are on the decline, and in the cities where the police departments have fallen under federal scrutiny the black murder rates are on the rise. The president’s approval ratings among black Americans remain high, though, and his endorsed would-be Democratic successor is eager to reap their votes and unwilling to challenge his policies. The would-be Republican successor is echoing Nixon’s “law and order” theme from the riot-torn days of ’68, but at the moment the country doesn’t seem to regard him as as the sort racial healer who might stave off a race war. So far the only leadership that has dealt with the complex situation frankly has been at the local level, such as that black police chief in Dallas who largely restored order at the murder of five of his officers, but we’ll need more.

— Bud Norman

An Olympian Disappointment

The Olympic games get underway today, and in a more perfect world they would provide some much needed distraction from the awful presidential race that’s lately been getting all our attention. Alas, in this imperfect world the Olympics are just as much a gruesome spectacle of incompetence and corruption.
Before the opening ceremonies have even begun in all their quadrennial gaudy splendor the Olympics have already been tarnished by the International Olympic Committee’s usual greasy-palmed awarding of the games to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, where much of the local population is infuriated by the government’s spending of much-needed public funds to to the benefit of a few wealthy and well-connected parties, and is beset by rampant crime and one of those apocalyptic tropical diseases and all the inefficiencies of what is still a second-world country at best. The mess has caused many of the world’s top basketball players and golfers and other elite athletes to stay home, and we confidently expect that incompetence and corruption will also play a part in deciding the winners of several of the subjectively scored sports, and that better living through chemistry will once again play a role in the more rigorously timed and measured events.
Which is a shame, really, because the Olympics used to be the most riveting and inspiring thing on the fuzzy black-and-white three-channel televisions of our youth.
Our earliest memories of the Olympics date back to the ’68 games in Mexico City, when Bob Beamon jumped a full foot and a few inches farther than any human had ever jumped before, the future heavyweight champion of the world and grill-machine magnate George Foreman celebrated his gold-medal boxing performance by waving a couple of small American flags, the great Dick Fosbury forever changed the sport of high-jumping with his gold medal-winning “Fosbury flop,” and Kansas’ own Al Oerter became the first track and field athlete to win a fourth consecutive gold medal with another extraordinary throw of the discus. Even then we were aware of the student protests that disrupted the games, and how gold medal-winning Tommie Smith and bronze medal-winning John Carlos flashed the “black power” salute of an upturned and black-gloved fist while standing on the winner’s platform as the “Star Spangled Banner” played, and that Lew Alcindor had declined to the join the basketball team even before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other exceptional black athletes had boycotted the games, but America handily wound up winning the medal count and it bolstered our vague notions of American exceptionalism.
The ’72 Olympics in Munich were in living color, and featured the handsomely mustachioed Mark Spitz winning a record seven gold medals in swimming against a clearly cheating commie squad, the scariest-white-boy-you-ever-saw Dan Gable annihilating one steroid-pump commie after another on his way to a wrestling gold medal, skinny Dave Wottle and his backwards baseball cap coming from way way way behind to beat some fast muscle-bound commie in the 800 meter race, and as well as the hated Soviet Union beating an American basketball team that didn’t have the hippy-dippy Bill Walton or paying for play Julius Ervin on the most outrageously corrupt play-calling in Olympic history. Then there was the massacre of the Israeli team by a radical Islamist Palestinian terror group, and the quick exit of the Jewish Olympic hero Spitz, and Gable’s ill-advised grousing that his win had been overshadowed, and the questionable decision by American Olympic boss Avery Brundage to continue playing the games.
Since then the Olympics have proved less riveting. In ’76 the games went to nearby Montreal, Canada, and America came in an unaccustomed third place in the medal during its Bicentennial Year. The highlight from a patriotic perspective was a handsome young fellow named Bruce Jenner winning the decathlon and the unofficial “world’s greatest athlete title,” and of course he’s now better known as Caitlyn Jenner and was last seen as a honored guest at the Republican National Convention proving how very tolerant even the Republican are about men who think they’re women. America didn’t compete in the ’80 elections in Moscow after President Carter decided to boycott the games as retaliation for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Africa, which kept our junior high and high school classmate Darnell Valentine from a good chance at a basketball gold medal, and when the Soviet bloc boycotted the ’84 games in Los Angeles the Americans won so much they got bored with winning. The ’88 Olympics were in Seoul, we vaguely recall, and America was back in third place behind the Soviet Union and its East German puppets. The ’92 Olympics were in Barcelona, Spain, where professionals were at long last allowed to participate without any pretense of amateurism and the most memorable result was a basketball team featuring Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and nine other all-timers that seemed to prove once and for all how well capitalism works. Some homosexual-hating nutcase set off a bomb at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, and except for America’s return to the top of the medal count we can’t recall much else.
By the ’00 Olympics in Sydney there was no Soviet Union and the American victory in the medal count didn’t seem so exceptional, and Marion Jones had two return two of those golds when she was found to be a chemical cheat, and the ’04 Olympics in Athens are best remembered for all abandoned venues that now broke country built for the games. The ’08 games in Beijing were basically a propaganda campaign for China’s totalitarian government, just like the ’36 games in Munich where that same old Avery Brundage wouldn’t let Jewish-American athletes compete for fear of offend his fellow Jew-hating hosts and thus allowed the black Jesse Owens to wind up spoiling the show, and except for Michael Phelps breaking Spitz’ record with eight gold swimming medals we can’t recall a thing about the ’12 games in London.
This year’s Olympics would have been in Chicago if President Barack Obama had his way, and there were reports when he flew off to Switzerland with Oprah Winfrey to make the pitch for his hometown that he envisioned it as a worldwide celebration of the fundamental transformation of America he had wrought by his second term and is pitch to the IOC was mostly predicated on how it would give the Olympics meaning to have them held in his own sanctified hometown. Of course he also hoped it would benefit his longtime consigliere Valerie Jarrett and all the other well-connected slum lords in his Chicago circles, but we suspect the city at large is happy to let the even more crime-ridden city of Rio De Janeiro pick up the tab.
Still, we’ll hope for some uplifting diversion during the games. Surely someone will run faster or jump higher or lift a greater weight than any other human ever has, and there’s a Wichita kid competing with the boxing team, and he might have better luck than the great Wichita miler Jim Ryun or our old basketball-playing classmate or any other local boy has done in the Olympics since James Bausch won the decathlon and the “world’s greatest athlete” title way back in ’32, and there might even be a moment where a good guy or a good gal from any old country wins a moment of well-deserved glory. That would make for a nice diversion right about now, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

— Bud Norman

The Democratic Convention and Its Spoiler Alerts

The Democrats wrapped up their four-day and overlong mini-series of a National Convention on Thursday, and more out of a sense of civic duty than with any hopes of entertainment we did our best to follow it at last half-assedly. These quadrennial tawdry teleplays often have an effect on real life, at least to whatever extent there is any of that left these days, so we try to use our many years of experience on the political and theatrical beats to anticipate what harm might be done this time around.
From our theatrical critic perspective we have to give it an overall pan. The show started intriguingly enough, with the plucky heroine of the tale, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President of the United States Hillary Clinton, was embarrassed by the release of a trove of hacked e-mails spilling all over the internet to show that her long-awaited triumph had long-ago been pre-written by the producers of this obvious work of fiction, and the die-hard fans of that wacky self-described socialist character, who had been rooting for him under the delusion that it was actually real life, were in such full revolt they were wearing the same “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts and chanting the same “Lock her up chant” that all the highbrow critics were tsk-tsking about the right crazies wearing and chanting during last week’s Republican mini-series. This seemed a delightful plot twist, but by the next night the script had reverted to predictable formula with that wacky self-described socialist swearing fidelity to heroine he had so persuasively described as a villainess from the evil empire of Wall Street and “the establishment” that those e-mails had proved were running the show all along, and after that one speaker after another seemed the same guy from those “sham-wow” informercials.
The production values were pretty good, though, and we have to admit there was more star power than during last week’s Republican mini-series. One of the few pop cultural names we recognized from the GOP snooze-fest was Scott Baio, who starred as “Chachi” on the long-ago “Happy Days” television show and had a recurring cameo role in a friend of ours’ hilarious tale of a long-ago LSD trip, and one night featured a not-ready-for-prime-time lineup of a Florida State Attorney General who dropped a suit against Trump University shortly after Republican nominee Donald J. Trump made a generous contribution to her campaign, a woman who runs a dubious multi-level vitamin-marketing scheme similar to Trump’s eponymous Trump Network, and Phil Ruffin, who ran a failed dog track and some dingy convenience stores and various real estate schemes here in Wichita before making it into the self-described billionaire ranks in the Las Vegas casino business and is pretty much our local version of Trump, who was best man at Ruffin’s most recent wedding. The Democrats had comedienne and actress Sarah Silverman, who is a typical Hollywood airhead when it comes to politics but nonetheless occasionally makes us laugh and has a certain sultry semitic appeal we cannot deny, and Eva Longoria, who is apparently quite famous for something or another and is so objectively beautiful that even the discerning beauty-pagent-running eye of Trump would have to acknowledge she is more of a “ten” than even the comely yet crazy radio hostess Laura Ingraham, and various other names that the young folks would be likely to recognize.
Political celebrity seems to count for less these days, and once upon a not-so-long-ago time such former Republicans as ourselves would have have been entitled to tsk-tsk about that, but the Democratic convention featured a president and a vice president and a past president and every current office-holder they thought might do any good, whereas two former presidents and two past nominees and several other names that were conspicuous by their absence declined roles in the GOP show, so the Democrats once again had the advantage in “star power.” Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing in a year when anti-establishmentarianism seems a popular theme remains to be seen, but if you’re going by that formerly comforting formulaic script about party unity and all that the Democrats seem to have had the upper hand. Even the best and best-looking and most famous actors are only as good as their script, however, and this year’s show offered the little to work with.
They were clearly at their best when mocking the Republican nominee, a thrice-married and four-times-bankrupt self-described billionaire real-estate-and-failed-casino-and-gambling-joint-and-scam-university-and-multi-level-vitamin-marketing-scheme-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul with a ridiculous haircut whom even such retrograde right-wingers as ourselves and The National Review and The Weekly Standard and those conspicuously absent Republicans and the rest of the old-fashioned “integrity” types can’t help mocking. The current Democratic vice presidential nominee noticed the same annoying tendency by the current Republican presidential nominee to follow every unbelievable claim by stating “Believe me,” but he’s no Rich Little and his awkward impersonation got Trump’s fingernails-on-a-chalkboard cadence of the phrase all wrong. After more than eight years of railing against that awful current President of the United States we’ll at long last gratefully acknowledge that his screed against Trump was prefaced by the generous admission that “What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t Republican and it sure wasn’t conservative.”
The attempts to speak on behalf of the Democratic nominee all fell flat, however, as there’s really nothing to be said for her by either right wingers such as ourselves or even the most earnest and honest sorts of Democrats who spent the week trying to let to go of that crazy self-described socialist. After all, the heroine of the storyline spent her First Ladyship fending off the victims of that past president’s sexual depredations, has nothing to show for her brief tenure as a Senator other than a losing presidential race against an even more briefly-tenured and less-distinguished Senator, and her runner-up prize of being Secretary of State yielded one disaster after another. She’s as mean and vindictive and dishonest and corrupt and morally contemptible as that other guy, and not nearly as entertaining, and by the time she took the stage for the anti-climatic grand finale even most diligent critic would be tempted to walk out on this in-flight movie.
As we don our political reporter’s felt fedora to behold this tale, the perspective doesn’t improve much. Last week’s dreadful GOP convention nudged Trump into a slight lead in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, this week’s Democratic convention has thus far nudged it down slightly, and our guess is that next week’s averages will probably reflect that both these shows are much hated by a majority of the country and that it’s a virtual tie as to which is hated more.

— Bud Norman

The Past Bad Week, and the Next One

The past week saw 84 deaths from deadly terrorist attack in France and failed coup attempts in Cleveland and Turkey, three more police officers were killed and another three seriously worried in Baton Rouge, another young black man was shot and killed by police officers in Baltimore after he fired four rounds at them with a rifle, and this week doesn’t look any better. The President of the United States was only slightly less worse in his responses to these events than usual, the President of Turkey is so awful we weren’t sure who to root for during that short-lived coup attempt, and the failure of that coup attempt we were fervently rooting on in Cleveland means that the Republican National Convention will almost certainly nominate Donald J. Trump as that awful president’s successor, and we’d hate to be a police officer in the vicinity of Cleveland when that happens.
President Barack Obama’s response to the carnage in France was frank enough to acknowledge that it was “horrible,” and he even went so far as to call it an act of “terrorism,” but as usual he wouldn’t go so far as to characterize the clearly Islamist nature of it. He was clearly once again caught off-guard about the failed coup in Turkey, and was content to leave it to his hapless Secretary of State to explain why they were rooting all along for the Turkish president they once claimed a “special relationship” with and are now at odds with. Earlier Obama attended the funeral of five police officers gunned down in Dallas during a “Black Lives Matter” protest, and seized the occasion to make a case for the protest movement that has whipped up the anti-police hysteria that clearly has something to do with their deaths, but after three more officers were gunned down in Baton Rouge he more clearly took a stand against the murder of random policemen and urged that “We don’t need inflammatory rhetoric. We don’t need careless accusations thrown around to score political points of advance an agenda. We need to temper our words and open our hearts.” Which is all well and good, we suppose, expect that it was probably a rebuke as much to such anti-Islamist-terrorism and anti-killing-of-random-policemen such as ourselves as to those erstwhile allies of his who have been egging on the recent violence.
The Democratic Party’s all-but-certain nominee was no better. She took the opportunity of the carnage in France to reiterate her previously stated absurd claim that Islam has nothing to with these all to frequent tragedies, also seemed surprised by the coup attempt in the Turkey she had so assiduously courted as Secretary of State, and after the carnage in Louisiana she took her sweet time before coming out foursquare against the murder of random police officers and adding the usual caveats to indicate her sympathy to the movement that is clearly fueling the recent spate of it. Should there be further troubles in Cleveland this week we’ll eagerly await her nuanced response.
Following the failure of that coup attempt in Cleveland the all but certain Republican nominee will be Trump, who cannot be accused of being at all nuanced about his opposition to Islamist terrorism or the random murders of police officers, but can be credibly accused of “inflammatory rhetoric” and “careless accusations” and attempts to “score political points or advance an agenda,” and would probably be leading by double digits in all the polls if he could temper his words or had a heart to open. The “Bikers for Trump” who have served as semi-official security guards for his rallies, which have long been beset by the violent thugs who oppose him are predicting the scene outside the Republican Convention will resemble the “OK Corral,” which reminds our baby boomers selves more of the Altamont concert by the same Rolling Stones’ whose “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” introduced Trump’s vice-presidential pick at a weird press conference this past week,  and the all but certain Republican nominee clearly relishes a good fight, and taking all of the bi-partisan nuttiness in account we’re feeling lucky to not be a police officer in Cleveland this week.

— Bud Norman