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When the News Requires Asterisks

In yet another of those almost daily signs of our very weird times, one of the people who figured prominently in Wednesday’s news chooses to call himself HanA**holeSolo. The asterisks were inserted by the more polite people at the Cable News Network, who gave him his 15 minutes of fame when they discovered he was one of the people who created that viral video of President Donald Trump body-slamming a former professional wrestling foe with the CNN logo superimposed on the villain’s head.
Trump proudly “tweeted” the video, which was the previous day’s reminder of how very weird are our times, and it got plenty of attention even on a Fourth of July when the nutcase regime running North Korea launched a successful test of a missile that could have reached Alaska. The old-fashioned sorts of Republican commentators in the establishment conservative press tsk-tsked that it was not befitting the dignity of the presidency, while the more newfangled sorts on the right lustily cheered it as a masterpiece of modern political rhetoric. On the left the reaction ranged from the more sober sorts who found it undignified and downright embarrassing to the shriller sorts who insisted it was another Trumpian provocation to violence against journalists. The story also raised question about journalistic practices and privacy protections in the internet age, too, along with usual bi-partisant tsk-tsking about how very weird the times are lately, as well as further reason for partisan bickering, so of course it got a lot of play.
We chose to write about that North Korean missile test instead, which CNN also devoted much time to, but the network has a larger staff and a more personal stake and thus sent out a couple of enterprising reporters to find out who had created the video. All of the stories had already noted that Trump or one of his associates had found it on some sort of social medium called “Reddit,” in a particular “thread” where Trump’s most fervent supporters meet on-line to cheer their hero and boo his media opponents, which sated our curiosity about the question, but CNN dug deeper to discover the identity of the specific poster who had helped create the video. They also found out, unsurprisingly enough, that the aforementioned and self-described HanA**holeSolo had a long history of posting outrageously racist and religiously intolerant and openly violence-provoking comments on the site.
That did provide CNN and the rest of the left with a fairly effective rhetorical counter-punch to all the metaphorical body-slamming they’ve lately been taking from Trump’s “tweets.” During the campaign Trump had been caught “re-tweeting” some wildly and obviously overstated statistics about black murder rates from a fake source cited at an unabashedly racist web site, and it doesn’t look good that the president or any of his associates are still reading and “re-tweeting” from such sites. We’ll assume that Trump was only advocating a figurative body-slam of the media, but those shriller voices on the left could rightly note that a recent Republican congressional candidate was cheered on the by more new-flanged right when he did it literally. Not to mention that the president “tweeting” old video of himself participating in professional wrestling is pretty darned undignified, with or without a CNN logo superimposed.
Still, CNN also left itself open to some valid criticisms from all corners. The network learned HanA**holeSolo’s true identity and called him up for an interview, but when he apologized profusely for his past rants and promised to be more politically correct in the future they agreed not to reveal his real name but reserved the right to do so in the future. On both the left and the right there are people who stand for the right to be an anonymous a**hole on the internet, and they make a good case, so that took up a lot of the talk. Others on both the left and the right have no problem with people being held accountable in the court of public opinion for the opinions they state there, and they also make some good points, but pretty much everyone on both the left and the right agreed that CNN was coming close to blackmailing HanA**holeSolo from expressing his a**hole opinions.
That’s something to worry about, given all the efforts on both sides to suppress more reasonable views, but for now we’re more worried about that North Korean missile test and Trump’s upcoming European trip and face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s “tweeting” about that stuff, too, with the same undignified bluster of a professional wrestler, and the brief fame of HanA**holeSolo informs those stories in a worrisome way, so for all the network’s many faults we appreciate CNN’s daily reminder of how very weird are our times.

— Bud Norman

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Cell Phone Libertarianism

Our faith in the American public has been slightly bolstered by the eight-point drop President Barack Obama has suffered in the latest monthly Gallup poll, although his approval rating remains an unaccountably high 45 percent, and we are particularly heartened to note that the decline is driven largely by a precipitous 17-point drop in the approval of the young folks.
The under-30 cohort’s enthusiasm for Obama has been remarkably stubborn, especially by the dizzying standards of contemporary pop culture crazes, but it is not hard to see why the young generation’s forbearance has at last waned in the past month. All of the most damning facts about the deadly Benghazi fiasco were well known by the time of the election, and the incompetence and dishonesty and disdain for free speech rights apparently made no impression. The revelation of the Internal Revenue Services’ campaign of harassment to stomp out the Tea Party’s dissent was similarly unmoving, as the Tea Party was just a bunch of middle class white people who didn’t want to pay for the young generation’s health care and Obamaphones. News that the Justice Department had treated a Fox News investigation as a criminal conspiracy also failed to trouble the young generation’s conscience, and for some it was a welcome development to have those buzz-kills get pushed around, and the fact that it was also happening to the Associated Press made little impression on people who get their news through Facebook and rarely read newspapers. Even the persistently high youth unemployment rate didn’t seem to faze the young. When word got out that the National Security Agency was snooping through Facebook and cell phone records, though, that was crossing a generational Rubicon.
If you are ever so unfortunate as to find yourself in one of the nightspots favored by the young folks, you’ll immediately note the strange regard they have for their cell phones and tablets and other electronic gizmos. They’ll contantly caress these damnable devices in the palms of their hands, enrapt by the faint light of the high-resolution screens, texting shorthand witticisms to their most beloved hundred or so friends, “googling” the answer to some trivia question about a Saturday morning cartoon from their childhoods, buying over-priced tickets to some second-rate rock ‘n’ roll band’s concert, or God and the National Security Agency only knows what else. Whatever it is that they’re doing on those things seems to be more important than flirting with the nubile and needy-looking young hipster chicks sitting across the booth, and the latest Gallup poll suggests that young folks don’t seem to believe it’s any of the government’s business.
Some conservatives are hoping that this understandable outrage suggests a libertarian streak that the Republican party might appeal to in future elections, but our experience of young people suggests this is wishful thinking. The young people of our acquaintance are mostly inclined to hold very permissive social views on issues ranging from abortion to same-sex marriage to the right to post photos of their cats on Facebook or “tweet” a misspelling of an obscenity, but they do not embrace the red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism and rugged individualism that define libertarianism. They certainly don’t subscribe to the notions of individual responsibility that are just as essential to the libertarian ethic, and they’ve never stopped to consider how economic freedom is essential to social freedom, so they much prefer the goodies provided by an ever-bigger government.
So long as the government can keep the goodies coming, especially during a period of persistently high youth unemployment, the young folks will likely be satisfied with some assurance that the government isn’t keeping a record of their most embarrassing internet searches or awkward post-hook up phone chats. Obama has taken to the airwaves to offer his word that he isn’t Dick Cheney, even as Dick Cheney is taking to the airwaves to defend Obama’s policies, and that might placate the youngsters for a while. Using Dick Cheney as a slur is so five years ago, though, and perhaps the young have grown tired of it. Many of them, we suspect, won’t recognize the reference at all. If the sweet talk to the youngsters doesn’t work, they might even start to notice the persistently high unemployment rates for the young, but unless the Republicans are offering more generous unemployment benefits it probably won’t make difference.

— Bud Norman

Big Brother on the Verizon

As much as we love to see the Obama administration bogged down in yet another scandal, we’re not yet sure what to make of the recent disclosures about the National Security Agency’s internet and phone monitoring program. On the one hand it all seems to be legal, with congressional and judicial oversight, and there is thus far no evidence that any of the information gathered has been used for any nefarious purpose. On the other hand the program does seem unsettlingly Orwellian in its newly broad reach, and Congress and the courts have not been the most reliable guardians of liberty lately, and it does seem to hand a lot of information over to a government that has been rather ruthless in its dealings with political opponents.
The president took time out during a trip to California to tell reporters that he’s “happy” to have a debate about the program, and it should prove interesting. On one side you will find Sen. Barack Obama, the presidential candidate of ’07 who decried the Bush administration’s fledgling program as a dire threat to the freedom of ordinary Americans, frowning with his trademark indignation as he scolded “That’s not who we are.” On the other side is President Barack Obama, who has expanded the Bush policy “exponentially” according to the Washington Post, scoffing at the notion there’s any reason for concern about a government snooping through the phone and internet records of ordinary citizens and assuring the public that “Nobody is listening to your phone calls.”
When asked about it by a suddenly feisty press corps, the president modestly conceded some inconsistency in his positions and explained that his past “healthy skepticism” about the program had given way to a realization that its benefits outweighed the “modest encroachment on privacy.” Waxing pragmatic, he further explained that “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.” Candidate Obama was once again indignant in his rebuttal, holding his chin high as he intoned that “This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the securities we provide.”
Whatever the merits of the debate, it’s nice to see that Obama’s change of mind is being widely noted and frequently ridiculed by the media. A reporter at ABC News, of all places, even penned an apology letter that Obama might send to his much-maligned predecessor. If the president bothers to have another press conference soon he might also be asked how the program squares with his recent announcement that the government’s efforts against terrorism are winding down, because “That’s what democracy demands,” and the response should provide further fodder for satire. A bold reporter might even ask why they’re poring through the records of people there is no reason to suspect while ignoring a foreign government’s warning about the Boston Marathon bombers, but that would be too much to ask for.
Much of the left, including the fellow who revealed the program’s broad reach, seems to have decided they liked Candidate Obama a lot more than President Obama, and much of the right has decided they don’t care for either incarnation. Well respected national security hawks such as John Yoo have spoken out in Obama’s defense, or at least defense of his current position, which has further enraged the left, but the libertarian wing of the conservative movement seems fully outraged. This convergence made for a fascinating spectacle on Obama’s negotiations-with-China-and-golf trip, where he was protested by both Tea Partiers and Code Pinkos, and it should make for intriguing politics.
The vast middle of the political spectrum seems a bit disconcerted by the news, as well, or at least uneasy enough to laugh at the jokes suddenly being peddled by the late night comics. Yet another revelation about some top-secret security program might have gone unnoticed in the recent past, but coming on the heels of stories about the Internal Revenue Service bullying dissident groups and the Justice Department snooping through the phone records of major news organization, and after more than five years of an administration that makes no secret of its disdain for anyone who opposes its agenda, it’s a nervous laugh that the audiences offer. This administration is determined to expand the government’s power into every realm of American, from the health care system to the energy industries to charities of the Catholic Church, and that makes it a little more worrisome that they’re also peering into the phone records and internet searches of ordinary Americans. Hearing a president of the United States assure his people that he’s not listening in on their phone conversations has the same unpleasant effect as hearing one offer an assurance that he’s not a crook.

— Bud Norman