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A Long Weekend of Bipartisan Hate

Last Friday some dreary chores had us up and about earlier than usual, so we wound up listening to Rush Limbaugh’s program on our car’s AM radio, and were further dispirited to hear a once formidable voice of conservatism making an utter fool of himself. Through the rest of the day, we unhappily found, much of the rest of the conservative punditry was doing the same.
On Thursday Limbaugh had assured his audience that the person who had been sending mail bombs to prominent Democratic politicians and liberal activists was surely a “Democratic operative,” as “Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing,” so he struggled to explain the breaking news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had arrested with seemingly convincing fingerprint and DNA evidence a fellow who wasn’t at all a “Democratic” operative and sure looked an awful lot like a die-hard supporter of Republican President Donald Trump.
Limbaugh initially seized on a report from some internet publication he had to admit he’d never of that the suspect was registered to vote as a member of the Green Party, and was also a member of the Seminole Indian tribe, but within the hour he was obliged to tell his listeners to disregard that as every news medium you’ve ever heard of confirmed that in fact the suspect was a registered Republican ever since Trump won the party’s nomination and the Seminoles disavowed any kinship to the man. There was also some widely televised footage of the suspect’s van, which was covered with with pro-Trump and anti-Democrat and liberal-hating decals, but by the end of the broadcast Limbaugh was agreeing with his “ditto-head” callers that those decals looked suspiciously faded than they should be in the Florida sun, and that a “deep state” conspiracy was still plausible.
By the end of the day a lucky Washington Post photographer and several Facebook users were showing their year-old pictures of the decal-covered van, the suspect’s own voluminous social media postings showed him to be a die-hard Trump supporter, the Cable News Network came up with some footage of the suspect waving a sign at a Trump rally with the same “CNN Sucks” motto that was emblazoned on his van, a former employer and several friends of the suspect and even one of his lawyers told interviewers about his intense affection for Trump, and pretty much every news medium you’ve ever heard of had ample evidence that just maybe some Republicans do sometime do these things. Even then, though, some talk show hosts and their callers and internet posters and some more prominent conservative voices were grasping at the straws of those un-faded decals to keep their “deep state” conspiracy theories afloat.
All of which was quite embarrassing to such old-fashioned conservatives and pre-Trump Republicans as ourselves, who prefer to acknowledge how very complicated those stubborn facts can be. Limbaugh likes to call himself the “Mayor of Realville,” so he should be realistic enough to concede that even Republicans human beings occasionally do awful things, and that it sure does look as if this is one of those times. Conservative columnist Ann Coulter assured her readers that “From the Haymarket riot to the Unabomber, bombs are a liberal tactic,” but she seems to have forgotten the death-toll-record-setting domestic terrorist bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City and that bombing of an Atlanta gay bar and several bombings of black churches that can’t credibly be blamed on liberals. Fox News hosts Lou Dobbs and Geraldo Rivera were also peddling the “deep state” conspiracies, but at least Dobbs deleted his “Tweets” and Rivera frankly admitted that he had “outsmarted” himself.
They’re all quite right to argue that from the Haymarket riot to the Unabomber to the latest Antifa thuggery certain people on the left have been guilty of abominable behavior, and that all along prominent Democratic politicians and leading liberal voices have engaged in rhetoric that arguably incited such violence, but we wish they’d also acknowledge the craziness on the right and their rhetorical role in it, and start urging their revved-up faithful to calm the hell down and face up to the damnable fact that none of us are blameless.
On Saturday we awoke to the dispiriting news that some hateful man had slaughtered 11 American Jews and wounded several others as they worshipped God at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It will be hard for the left to pin the blame on Trump, who has an overly well-regarded Jewish son-in-law married to a favorite daughter who’s a Jewish convert and therefore a couple of Jewish grandchildren, as well a very Israel-friendly foreign policy, but neither can the right plausibly blame the massacre on the left. The ancient and still-inexplicable hatred of Jews can be found in both parties and on both sides of the political spectrum, but here’s hoping that the mainstream voices on both sides will condemn it without blaming the other.

— Bud Norman

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Charles Krauthammer, RIP

Charles Krauthammer died Thursday after a long struggle against cancer at the age of 68, and his death comes far too soon and at a very bad time for the conservative cause he long championed.
The longtime Washington Post columnist and widely published essayist was an honest-to-God conservative intellectual, as even his most ardent critics had to admit. He was first in his class at Montreal’s elite McGill University, spent a year studying political at Oxford University, earned a doctorate in psychiatry from Harvard Medical School, won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize in 1987, and wrote with such clarity and convincing logic and acerbic wit that even those intellectual who were outraged by his opinions respectfully responded with their best efforts at a rebuttal. He never had to resort to schoolyard taunts or ad hominem attacks, was rarely subjected to such juvenile tactics in return.
The son of German Jews who had escaped the Holocaust, Krauthammer was born in New York City but mostly grew up in Montreal with an innate intellectual curiosity and an inherited sense of the tragic nature of the human condition. At the age of 22 the strikingly handsome and well-built skier and sailor and swimmer was mostly paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a swimming pool accident, but he wasn’t one to let tragedy keep him from living his life to the fullest.
He pursued his psychiatry doctorate partly because he’d become disillusioned with the radical politics of the ’70s, and further explained that the discipline “promised not only moral certainty, but intellectual certainty, a hardness to truth, something not to be found in the political universe.” His longtime friend and fellow Washington Post columnist George Will, another Pulitzer Prize winner and honest-to-God conservative intellectual, recalls Krauthammer saying, “with characteristic felicity, it combined the practicality of medicine and the elegance of philosophy.”
He became a chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, an official at the Department of Health and Services, but somehow wound up diving headfirst into the murky and shallow pool of politics. He considered himself a liberal cold warrior, and wrote speeches for the campaign of Democratic presidential Walter Mondale in 1980 and then the joined the staff of the left-of-center New Republic, but found himself increasingly estranged from liberalism. He had a clear-eyed view of the tragic nature of communism, was appalled by the Democratic party’s growing squishiness about confronting it in the post-Vietnam and post-George McGovern era of the party, and began to question other fashionably left-of-center ideas.
Krauthammer was especially offended by the left’s naive insistence on de-institutionalizing the seriously mentally ill patients he had once treated, and he also noticed the left’s eagerness to institutionalize the behavior of almost everyone else. By the time he arrived at The Washington Post he was one of the paper’s two token conservative editorial writers, and quickly became controversial for his full-throated defense of President Ronald Reagan’s aggressive Cold War foreign policy. He was one of several former New Deal liberals who once believed in the Truman and Kennedy administrations’ anti-communism but had drifted from the Democratic party, a largely but not entirely Jewish group of intellectuals who came to be known as “neoconservatives,” and they were all vindicated by the demise of the undeniably horrific Soviet Union and the liberation of its former vassal states.
The neoconservatives continued to advocate an American foreign aggressively devoted to promoting liberty and democracy in totalitarian lands, and thus were steadfast advocates for Israel, and argued for a forceful response to Islamist totalitarianism after the historic terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the aftermath of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, neoconservative has become term of opprobrium on both the left and right, and Krauthammer’s unapologetic-to-his-dying-day defense of the war meant he died a respected but very controversial man.
The left always hated the war, and by now we have a Republican president who also thinks it was a bigly mistake and even goes so far as to parrot the far-left’s slur that Bush lied us into it, and by now the far fringes of both the Old Left and the newfangled Trumpian right use “neoconservaitve” as a term of opprobrium for a bunch of smarty-pants intellectual Jews. They all forget the neoconservatives won the Cold War without any mushroom clouds, and don’t seem to understand that history’s verdict on the Iraq War has yet to be written, and that Krauthammer might yet be posthumously vindicated.
There’s an argument to be made that the still-controversial and unarguably tragic Korean and Vietnam Wars demonstrated American and western resolve against communism, and thus helped America and the West eventually win the Cold War without any mushroom clouds, and that the hated-on-both-the-Old-Left-and-Trumpian-right Iraq War demonstrated a similar resolve against Islamist totalitarianism, and that it might be a reason it hasn’t pulled of any terror attacks anywhere in the West approaching the scale of Sept. 11, 2001. We wish that Krauthammer were still around to make that argument better than we can.
These days the arguments for conservatism are being made by proudly uneducated talk radio show hosts, and even “intellectual” seems a term of opprobrium in the newfangled Trumpian right. The well-educated and well-spoken and well-mannered and scientific and philosophical Krauthammer was of course appealed by almost everything about Trump, even though he would occasionally admit that Trump had gotten some old-fashioned and pro-Israel policy right, but his battle against cancer largely kept him off the op-ed pages and airwaves through most of Trump’s presidency, so his passing might get the begrudging respect from the right that he’ll get from the left.
We’re old enough to remember a time when the arguments for conservatism were being made by such honest-to-God intellectuals as Russell Kirk and William Buckley and Milton Friedman, whose intellectual lineage went back to Edmund Burke and John Locke and Adam Smith, but that era seems to be passing. This annus horibilis has already seen the passing of the Harvard Russian studies professor Richard Pipes, whose expertise and clear-eyed views helped win the Cold War, Princeton’s Middle East Studies professor Bernard Lewis, whose expertise and clear-eyed views are still needed to win the ongoing war against Islamist totalitarianism, and the great journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe, who was apparently a New Deal Democrat to his dying day but a formidable force on our side in the post-Vietnam and post-McGovern culture wars.
We and Krauthammer’s old pal Will are still arguing for pre-Trump conservatism, along with some other other formidable Never Trump conservative intellectuals, but we sure could use Krauthammer’s help, These days conservatism is defined by whatever Trump and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their callers are saying on any given news cycle, and the loss of such  a well-educated and well-spoken and well-mannered and honest-to-God conservative intellectual as Krauthammer seems all the more tragic.

— Bud Norman

Trump, the DREAMers, and the Resulting Mess

Way, way back during the 2016 presidential campaign, the matter of illegal immigration was a very big deal. The real-estate-and-casino-and-reality show magnate Donald Trump became President Donald Trump largely because of the very hard stand he took against it. He promised to make Mexico pay for gargantuan border wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean to keep out all the drugs and rapists they’d been exporting, ban all Muslims from entering the country until the country could “figure out what the hell is going on,” and prided himself on a politically incorrect position regarding any illegal immigrants who had been brought here as children.
Given the arguably as extreme open-borders position that could plausibly be attributed to the Democratic Party in general and its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in particular, and their inability to deny it without offending a significant portion of its base, and much of the more centrist portion of the Republicans assuming that surely Trump wasn’t entirely serious about about the crazier parts of his rhetoric, it proved a shrewd move for the Republican ticket. Since then, though, the politics have become more complicated.
Trump almost immediately retreated from that pie-in-the-sky promise about Mexico happily paying for a sea-to-shining sea wall along its north border, the courts have fitfully interfered with Trump’s travel restrictions that his lawyers insist were never intended as a ban on Muslims entering the country, and those illegal immigrants who had been brought to the country as children have a far higher approval rating in all the opinion polls than Trump. He’s still insisting that the Mexicans will eventually pay for a border wall “some way or another,” but he’s no longer insisting they need a wall everywhere along the border and he’s not talking about making it translucent so that pedestrians on the northern side won’t be hit by the drugs the Mexicans are tossing over the wall. He’s also contesting all the court challenges to his travel restrictions, and seems on a winning streak, but it’s been pared down somewhat and by now even he’s stopped talking about a clearly unconstitutional Muslim ban. He can rightly brag to his most die-hard supporters that he’s had the general effect of drastically deterring illegal immigration, which we begrudgingly admit is well worth bragging about, but on that matter of all those illegal immigrants who were brought here as children he’s in full retreat.
There’s an indeterminate but undeniably large population of illegal immigrants who were brought here as children, who have mostly turned out the way the people tend to do, and what to do about them has long been a matter of public debate. Most Republicans have long maintained that illegal laws should be enforced dispassionately lest the laws become meaningless and all sorts of open-borders craziness continue, most Democrats have taken a more predictably sentimental point of view about some of the photogenic and undeniably sympathetic kids who had grown up here and become model semi-citizens through no fault of their own, and for a while it was pretty much a public relations draw. The Democrats couldn’t muster the votes the to pass the “DREAM Act” that would have protected the unwitting illegal immigrant “dreamers,” but neither could the Republicans muster the votes to prevent President Barack Obama from imposing the policy by executive action.
During the presidential campaign Trump wavered on whether he’d undo that execution action by his own executive action if he were election, and he continued to waver after he was elected. He eventually wound up rescinding the policy at some far off future date, but did so with the statement that he hoped Congress would make the policy law in the meantime.
Since then all the rest of the nation’s politics have become all the more complicated, what with all the chatter about whether Trump is sufficiently intelligent and emotionally stable for the job or the “very stable genius” he claims to be, which clearly came into play when Trump met on Tuesday with a bipartisan group of legislators to discuss the “dreamers” and the rest of the illegal immigration matter. Trump surprised everyone by letting the hated fake news videotape a full 53 minutes of the meeting, and he was clearly playing to the reality show to cameras to demonstrate that he’s like, really smart and bipartisan and politically correct, not dumb and hyper-partisan and racist like people say. He nodded respectfully at the Democratic and Republican opinions that were offered, didn’t repeat himself, and the performance had Rush Limbaugh gushing that Trump had refuted all that chatter from all that tell-all book and even the Cable News Networks’ Dana Bash was remarking that he seemed very presidential.
The kooks at the extremes weren’t fooled, though, and neither were we. When Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Trump if he’d accept a “clean” “DREAM bill” such right-of-Limbaugh commentators as Ann Coulter, author of the past best-seller and now bargain-bin book “In Trump We Trust,” were rightly appalled when he said he’d be open to that. The next guy to talk was Republican House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who reminded Trump that of course of a “clean” “DREAM bill” would include funding his border wall and other border enforcement, and when Trump readily agreed that was what he meant by a “clean bill” the left knew that the previous statement was no longer valid. Before he ran the cameras out of the room Trump was on tape saying he’d be happy to sign anything that the people eventually came up, even if he wasn’t “in love with it,” and that he hoped whatever they came up with would “loving.”
Which leaves us with no idea how it will all turn out for those unwitting illegal immigrants or any of the rest of us, except for a certain surety that it won’t live up to Trump’s “only I can solve” campaign rhetoric. It also seems likely that Trump will wind up signing a more-or-less-clean “DREAM Act” even Obama couldn’t get passed, which would be a nice thing for those sympathetic and unwitting illegal immigrants but a blow to other unsentimental but necessary border law enforcement efforts, and at this point we don’t much care who scores the political points.
In any case the stock markets are up and the unemployment rate is down, that “Russia thing” is still looming, with  “sneaky” Feinstein also involved in that, and the question of whether Trump is intellectually and temperamentally unfit for his office or a very stable genius will continue to be a matter of public debate.

— Bud Norman

Things Go Further South Down South

That awful Senate race down in Alabama somehow got more awful yet on Wednesday, and by now it’s hard to see how it ends well for the Republican party. Two more women came forward to the Washington Post alleging Republican candidate Roy Moore acted quite creepily toward them when they were teenagers working at the mall Moore was said to hang out at, yet another woman told a similar but even creepier story to the Alabama-based and widely read AL.com site, which brings the running total to eight accusers.
None of the women have any apparent reason to risk their reputations among their mostly Republican Alabama neighbors by telling a lie, all have named and unnamed women who recall them telling the very same stories from time the incidents allegedly happened, and the national and state media have found co-workers of Moore who recall his well known predilection for teenaged girls, along with workers at the mall who recall that Moore was not welcome there because of frequent complaints about his behavior there. Already it adds up a compelling case, with more sure to come, and so far the rebuttal hasn’t been at all convincing.
Moore himself went on Sean Hannity’s exceedingly friendly radio show  before the latest accusations, and wound up answering questions about whether he’d ever dated teenage girls while a 30-something assistant district attorney by saying “not generally, no,” and “it would be out of my customary behavior,” and regarding one of his specific accusers he replied that “If we did go out on dates, then we did, but I don’t recall that,” and offered assurances that “I don’t remember dating any girl without permission from her mother.” The former state Supreme Court justice’s lawyer has proved just as inept, trying to ingratiate himself to the dark-skinned and funny-sounding-named host on a liberal network by noting that different cultures have rules regarding courtship, which prompted his co-host to note that “He’s from Canada,” and he kept referring to an even-darker skinned host on another liberal network by constantly calling him by a chummy nickname, which prompted his host to say “That’s what not what my mother named me, and I’d never call you by anything other than your given name,” and the rest of it went as badly.
Moore still has his defenders in the most die-hard redoubts of the conservative media, but they’re also having a hard time of it. Even Hannity expressed doubts after some advertisers threatened to pull out, although he’s gone back to his presumption of innocence after winning one back. On Wednesday he led his Fox News show with decades-old news about Presidents Bill Clinton’s hound dog ways, rightly recalling how many Democrats who are now offended by Moore’s behavior were willing to give their a man pass for purely partisan reasons, and so far as we can discern the argument is that Hannity and other Moore apologists are therefore entitled to do the same for their man. Right-wing talk radio king Rush Limbaugh reminded his audience that Moore was a registered Democrat at the time he was alleged to have been the creepy 30-something guy hanging out at the mall, and as far we can discern the argument is that whatever Moore might have done it should be held against his Democratic opponent, then went on a longer rant about how it’s all being cooked up by Republican majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and the rest of the rascally Republican establishment, which fears the populist insurgency that President Donald Trump has unleashed.
That’s a popular theory among all the talk radio show callers and the commenters on every conservative web site, too, but it’s a hard sell to the rest of the country. McConnell has indeed clearly stated that he believes the women who have accused Moore, the official national Republican party has withdrawn its financial and logistical support for Moore’s campaign, and several other prominent officials have taken the same stand, but so have such grass roots old-fashioned heartland Republican conservatives such as ourselves. Those establishment Republicans have also let us down more than a few times over the past years, but they’ve a won a few battles along the way, and we have to figure that if they were smart to enough to come up with eight ordinary Alabama women and former district attorney office employees and mall workers with corroborating witnesses and documentary evidence in their devious plots they probably would have been able to repeal and replace Obamacare and pass a massive tax cut by now.
Those establishment Democrats are by now admitting that Clinton was an indefensible hound dog, as Hannity and Limbaugh and the rest of die-hard insurgents gleefully note, but the only ones who have consistently maintained an anti-hound dog stand up to now are those establishment Republicans and such grass roots types as ourselves. Way back before the biggest Clinton scandals McConnell led the effort to expel Republican Sen. Robert Packwood from Congress for sexual harassment, he voted to impeach Clinton for lying under oath about his well-documented hound behavior, he’s applying the same standards of proof during the current imbroglio, so we’re pleased to see he’s earning some begrudging respect from his die-hard Democratic critics.
There’s a big chunk of the party that hates him and the rest of the Republican establishment all the more for it, though, and it’s not clear where the party is heading. Putatively Republican President Donald Trump has only warily waded into the controversy so far, citing his preoccupation with a trip to Asia, and upon his return he pretended not to hear any of the reporters’ shouted questions about Moore, so it’s not at all clear what he’ll do. Trump supported McConnell’s choice in the Republican primary, which mightily annoyed his supporters in the die-hard redoubts of the right wing, and although he did so half-heartedly and with open reservations he’s not tied to Moore, but he did endorse Moore after the primary, and fully cutting ties will be troublesome.
Trump is politically savvy enough to know that he doesn’t want to associated with a candidate who is credibly accused by numerous women of creepy behavior, but he can’t join with his party’s Senate majority leader or his own Attorney General in saying “I believe the women” without the next question asked by those pesky reporters being why the public shouldn’t also believe the larger number of credible women who accuse him of creepy behavior. After an audiotape of Trump boasting to an “Access Hollywood” host that he grabbed women by their wherevers several witnesses went on the record about how he had done just that. A short time later the media dug up an old tape of Trump yukking it up with shock jock Howard Stern about how he liked to invade the dressing rooms at the teenaged beauty pageants he produced, which was followed by by interviews with several former pageant contestants who recalled Trump doing exactly about what he’d bragged about.
Trump won anyway with the Hannity defense that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s hound dog husband had gotten away with worse, because of course none of those women were lying, and therefore Republicans are entitled to a pass, but these days even the Democrats aren’t defending the formerly lovable rascal and most of the American seems fed up with such behavior no matter the hound dog’s party affiliation. The official statement from Moore’s campaign about the latest accusations says that “If you are a liberal and hate Judge Moore, apparently he groped you. If you are a conservative and love Judge Moore, you know these allegations are a political farce.” It’s true enough that if you’re the sort of conservative who loves Moore you probably somehow know these allegations are untrue, and might eke out a win in Alabama, but around the rest of the country and even in the establishment sort of Republican households that’s not a winning electoral majority.
Which seems to leave Trump and the rest of party he putatively leads in a no-win situation. They can enrage a vocal and energetic and significantly sized part of the conservative coalition by jettisoning Moore, or embrace a candidate who was the Democrats’ dream caricature of a Bible-thumping and gay-bashing and law-defying theocrat even before he started looking a lot like the creepy 30-something guy who used to hang out at the mall. The Republicans were already stereotyped as the party of old white men, and as much as it would pain us all to lose a Senate seat in Alabama of all places it might be worth it to avoid the reputation as the party of dirty old white men.

— Bud Norman

Fake News and Real Consequences

There’s still a chance that Hurricane Irma will veer harmlessly to the sea rather than ramming into populous south Florida, and we’ll be praying that it does, but the way America’s luck has been running lately we wouldn’t place a bet on it. If we lived in the south Florida areas where the storm is expected to hit on Sunday we certainly wouldn’t bet our lives on it, and we urge our friends down there to prepare their properties as best they can and get the hell out of there. That’s what all the meteorologists and government officials are advising, too, but talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has other ideas.
“Just as I’m the go-to tech guy in my family and here on the staff, when it comes to a hurricane bearing down on bearing down on south Florida, I’m the go-to guy,” Limbaugh assured his audience on Wednesday, adding as a further credential that “I’m not biased and have no agenda in my analysis of the data.” He then went for another 20 minutes or so about how the “drive-by media” were simply up to their usual trick of scaring the public to increase ratings, propagandize their bogus climate change theories, and try to gin up business for the hardware stores and grocery chains and “Big Water” that advertise on their networks.
Oftentimes in the past we have argued in defense of Limbaugh, and even enjoyed his comically overstated critiques of leftist media bias and outspoken skepticism about the more alarmist claims of the climate change crowd, but we’ve been more inclined to roll our eyes during his broadcasts ever since President Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, and this is just Alex Jones-level crazy talk. There’s still that aforementioned chance that Limbaugh’s sanguine weather predictions will prove correct, but without any biases and agenda and all due respect to Limbaugh’s status as the “go-to guy on a hurricane bearing down on south Florida” we figure there’s an even better chance that all those meteorologists and government officials are right that it’s probably better for our friends in south Florida to be safe than sorry.
Most of Limbaugh’s estimated 20 million or so listeners aren’t in any projected path of Hurricane Irma, and we trust that most of those who are won’t be such “ditto heads” that they take his dubious advice to chill out about the category five hurricane and its 185-mile-an-hour winds that might well be headed their way, but it’s still a worrisome development. Talk radio hosts in general and Limbaugh in particular have by now supplanted such scholarly academicians as Milton Friedman and James Q. Wilson and such erudite print journalists as William Buckley and and George Will as the voice of the conservative movement, and given how awful the left still is we hate to see the right descend to such crazy talk.
Limbaugh is quite right that the overall media generally skews left, but it’s bonkers to contend that their wholly honest reports on what all the meteorologists and federal and state and local government officials are advising about a horrific storm that might very well bear down on south Florida are “fake news.” He’s also right to be skeptical about government officials, but arguing they’re part of a “deep state” conspiracy to promote draconian climate change policies and sell bottled water is basically crazy talk, especially when those same government officials might well be the ones that have to deal with another one of those occasional historic natural disasters that have always occurred even before the industrial revolution.
We suspect Limbaugh’s most cocksure listener in the potential path of Hurricane Irma is Limbaugh himself, who likes to boast about the high-dollar property he occupies in Palm Beach, Florida. He brags about it as unabashedly as his new-found pal President Donald Trump does about his fancy-schmantzy nearby Mar-a-Lago resort, and unlike the safely ensconced president Limbaugh is now obliged to ride out the storm. A columnist for the PalmBeach paper is even hoping that Limbaugh will be  exempt from the evacuation order that’s been issued for the town. As fitting as it would be for both of them to suffer some storm damage, we know some very fine folk in south Florida and will pray that they all the avoid the worst of it.

— Bud Norman

News and Fake News and What’s in Between

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

— Bud Norman

‘Round the Clock Baseball

With a little bit of luck and a fortuitous lack of those annoying robo-sales calls we’ll be sleeping late today, because they’ll be playing games down at the local baseball park until the wee hours of the next morning and we’d hate to a missing an inning of it. One of the cultural advantages of living here in Wichita, Kansas, along with the Cassatt and the three Hoppers and the Eakins and the other masterpieces over at the Wichita Art Museum, and the odd strain of punk and country that infuses the music in the local dives, and the surprising amount of talent in the various local theatrical groups, and the relatively cheap rents that foster a fertile bohemian subculture that defies the town’s rather staid and conservative reputation, and Koch Industries and ‘Shocker basketball and the the rest of the right-wing conspiracies that bolster our crazy reputation, is the “around the clock baseball” tradition at the annual National Baseball Congress.
The National Baseball Congress is more or less the world championship of semi-professional baseball, and has been ever since the darkest days of the Great Depression when a wily sporting goods salesman named Ray “Hap” Dumont started it up in the old Island Stadium that once flourished in the middle of the Arkansas River. To help draw the business of the impoverished locals he offered the grand sum of one thousand dollars to to the great Negro Leagues pitcher Satchel Paige, who was at the time the best hurler of any color in the business, and who gratefully accept the offer and temporarily abandoned his Negro League team and mowed down the semi-professional competition with such ease that his pitching records still stand in the NBC books to this day, and the gimmick worked well enough to lead to another tournament and now an 84th one. Since then the old Island Stadium, which was somehow exempt from the local blue laws and able to sell beer even on the Sunday games, has burned down, according to local legend because of some smoker’s carelessly tossed cigarette, but to this very day the games still go on at the elegant and now aged Lawrence-Dumont Stadium just across the river from downtown, named in honor of some bearded Civil War-era town founder and “Hap” Dumont, and one of its enduring gimmicks is to play baseball once a year until the sun rises.
Whatever benighted city you happen to live in probably doesn’t afford the privilege of watching red-blooded young American men from unknown small towns playing the great game of baseball long after the bars have closed, but be assured that you’re missing out on quite a spectacle. This year’s NBC has already provided some Hollywood-scripted baseball, with the Wellington, Kansas, Heat notching a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Cyclones with a walk-off single in the bottom in the bottom of the ninth inning after a ferocious pitchers’ duel, and Kansas’ Liberal Beejays, which despite your unseeingly assumptions was not named in honor of the of the Clinton administration, scoring a “run rule” win over Rush Limbaugh’s hometown Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Capahas by a “run rule” 23-2 after five innings. The now-familiar “run rule” was invented by the National Baseball Congress, by the way, and is sometimes known as the “Wichita rule,” so the entertaining but anti-climactic result had a certain appeal to baseball traditionalists. We expect more great baseball early tomorrow morning, along with all the usual color.
Some years ago we we were witness to a game involving one of the usual Alaska entries, whose bullpen admitted to us during a casual conversation along the first base line that they were disturbed by the 4 a.m. heat, and when a foul ball popped out of the glove of a 12-year-old fan there were hearty boos by the remaining and pajama-clad fans. There’s nothing in baseball quite so gratifying as hearing a couple hundred die-hard fans booing a 12-year-old at four in the morning, and our occasional treks to the major league parks have never topped that. One of the local convenience store chains is offering one-dollar tickets to it all, too, and despite the inflated beer prices it’s even a better entertainment bargain than Netflix. That will be hard to top, but we’ll seated in the smoking section with a couple of wizened cigar-chomping buddies of ours, and we’ll be wearing our trademark straw fedora, and every picture we’ve ever seen of “Hap” Dumont shows him with a hat atop his head and cigar in his mouth, and despite the recent prominence of Ultimate Fighting and NASCAR and the National Football League this is still the national pastime, and we expect something great will happen here in Wichita in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

— Bud Norman

A Civic Chore

Life is full of rude awakenings, but few are so cruelly impolite as being forced out of a perfectly comfortable bed at 7:30 a.m. in order to report for jury duty. Being so very civic-minded we nonetheless roused ourselves at that unfamiliar moment of the morning on Monday and presented ourselves for service at the Sedgwick County Courthouse by the mandated time of 8:30 a.m., bleary-eyed and brain-cloudy despite two cups of coffee, and proceeded to do our patriotic duty by somehow staying awake through a cheesy informational video and an interminable wait to be tossed into a jury pool along with 47 of our randomly-selected fellow citizens. Justice surely cannot be properly administered at such an ungodly hour of the morning, we mused as the hours ticked slowly by, but ours is not to question the peculiar workings of the American court system.
The judge admonished all the potential jurors not to discuss the case, and we will heed his order even though we are unlikely to wind up on a jury, as we are the obviously opinionated sorts that the attorneys with the weaker case are always quick to discard, but in any event at this point we know nothing of the case worth discussing. We mention the early morning ordeal only by way of explaining the scantiness of today’s report. Jury duty has not only jarred us from the nocturnal writing rhythm that typically propels our pen to the high standards of this publication, it also deprived of the usual afternoon’s slog through the news in order to find something to rant about. On our drive home for a brief lunchtime nap we heard a few minutes of Rush Limbaugh, who seemed quite agitated about something or another, but otherwise we spent the day frustratingly out of touch with the world’s events.
Nine hours of waiting around the courthouse reading an old P.G. Wodehouse novel in between listening to our pool mates answer questions about their marital status and the ages of their children left us exhausted, but upon returning home we somehow summoned the energy for a quick glance at the always-intriguing headlines on The Drudge Report. There were more outrageous details about the Internal Revenue Service’s systematic harassment of conservative activist groups, a story that had already outraged us, and a new tale that the government has also been snooping through the phone records of the Associated Press. The government’s animus toward the tea party is easily explained, as these groups as so extremist they would severely limit the government to a size that taxpayers are willing to fund, but we could not readily discern why the government would take such an untoward interest in the phone conversations of such reliable defenders as the Associated Press. It’s like the occasional stories of Great Britain or Israel spying on the United States, or at least like it used to be back when we had strong alliances with those countries, and it will be interesting to see how the story plays out. The Associated Press dispatch about the scandal seem understandably miffed, and if this signals the end of a beautiful relationship we suspect the government agents responsible will eventually regret their actions.
Depending on events we might be back to our usual routine by Wednesday, and we hope you will bear with us in the meantime. The news doesn’t always imbue a sense of civic responsibility, but we will press on.

— Bud Norman

No Way to Treat a Lady

One should never call a woman a slut, unless she’s into that, and it would have been better if Rush Limbaugh had not done so. Still, the indignation of his critics is hard to bear.

If you’ve limited your news reading to the important things, you might have missed the story. In the wake of the Obama administration’s decision that the Catholic church should provide contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization for the employees of its hospitals, schools and other large institutions, a Georgetown University law student with the intriguing name of Sandra Fluke spoke before an unofficial congressional hearing about the burdensome injustice of not being provided contraceptive coverage by the Catholic school. Radio commentator Limbaugh disapprovingly commented on her comments during his popular program, and in the course of his commentary he likened her to a prostitute and referred to her as a “slut.” Much tsk-tsking ensued from the rest of the commenting industry, several politicians expressed grave offense, outraged activist groups scared away some advertisers, and Limbaugh wound up apologizing at length on consecutive broadcasts.

Such broadcasting brouhahas pop up from time to time, heaping massive amounts of publicity on the offending speaker before fading from the public’s memory, and this is just another one of them. Limbaugh’s many enemies are hoping to make the most of it, however, and it should be noted that their protests are censorious, opportunistic, and hypocritical.

The president apparently called Fluke “to express his disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks,” but he won’t be returning the million bucks that was raised for his campaign by foul-mouthed comedian Bill Maher, who has refused to apologize for calling former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin an ever harsher epithet that does not bear repeating here. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Republicans to disavow “the vicious and appropriate attacks,” but had no public opinion when television wag David Letterman insinuated that Palin’s apolitical daughter was promiscuous. Rep. Steny Hoyer is apparently advising Fluke to sue, but offered no such advice to conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham after MSNBC’s Ed Schultz called her a “right-wing slut.”

Examples of such liberal vitriol abound, as any prominent conservative woman will attest, and are in keeping with the generally degraded nature of contemporary popular culture. Since the days of Lenny Bruce and The Berkeley Barb the cultural left has championed vulgarity, profanity, and the personal attack as authentic and liberating, and at this late date it’s galling to hear them complain that some of it has seeped in to Limbaugh’s shtick.

Still, it would have been better if Limbaugh hadn’t said that. It’s not only unseemly, so very like the sort of people he usually rails against, but it also distracted from a fair critique of a ridiculous young woman who chose to thrust herself into the national political discourse. Fluke’s notion that her rights are being violated if the government doesn’t pay for it will prove extremely expensive if put into practice, given that we’ve all got a right to guns and many other costly things, and she deserves ridicule. It’s bad enough when people think the world owes them a living, but Fluke seems to think it owes her some loving as well.

Which is not meant to imply any promiscuity on her part, of course. She’s no doubt a fine young woman, just slightly mistaken.

— Bud Norman