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With Apologies to Harold Arlen

Our annual theatrical turn in the Gridiron Show went well, as did the cast party, but it left us exhausted. So we’ll offer up one of the skits, which got some laughs.
(Scene opens at closing time in the Mar-a-Lago nightclub where PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP is slouched against the bar, the BARTENDER is wiping the counter, and a PIANIST tinkles closing time tunes nearby.)
TRUMP: Set me up again, damn it.
BARTENDER: Are you sure, Mr. President? You’ve been going at it pretty hard. By my count, this’ll be your fourteenth Diet Coke of the night.
TRUMP: I know my limits. Everyone says so. Everyone says no one knows his limits better than Trump, believe.
BARTENDER: Well, OK, sir. (Pours a Diet Coke.)
TRUMP: Besides, I’ve got troubles to drown.
BARTENDER: I’m sorry to hear that. Is it the national debt? The nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula? Trade wars? The Russia thing?
TRUMP: No, worse than that. The ol’ ball and chain is raggin’ on me lately. My wife, Melanoma, is icier than the Rock of Gibraltar.
BARTENDER: Well, I think your wife’s name is Melania, and I’m not sure the Rock of Gibraltar is all that icy, but hey, I hear you. What’s she raggin’ about?
TRUMP: Oh, she’s all pissed off just because she found out was a banging a porn star not long after she gave birth to our son, Bernard. Can you believe that?
BARTENDER: I think the kid’s name is Barron, sir, but I know what you’re talking about. I mean, women, right?
TRUMP: That’s right. I mean, c’mon, Malaria still had the baby weight, and this porn chick was at her peak. You should see what she looks like in action.
BARTENDER: I still think your wife’s name in Melania, and I actually have see that porn star in action. It’s just a couple of clicks away on the internet, after all, and I figure that by now pretty much everyone has seen it.
TRUMP: Uh, you didn’t see me in any of those videos, did you.
BARTENDER: No. Not that I recall.
TRUMP: Of course not, because it never happened. Fake news. (Leaning in.) Yeah, I totally nailed that babe. It was awesome. She loved it, believe me. I had to pay her a hundred and thirty grand not tell everyone how great I was.
BARTENDER: Whatever you say, sir.
TRUMP: Then you know what I’m talking about, am I right?
BARTENDER: Hey, who among us has not cheated on their mother of our newborn child with a porn star?
TRUMP: You’re all right, Joe. I might just have a cabinet position for you. Still, I can’t help singing the blues. (He saunters over to lean on the piano.) Play it, Sam.
PIANIST: Are you sure, Mr. Trump? It’s an awfully sad song.
TRUMP: You played it for her, you an play it for me. If she can stand it, I can stand it. Play it, Sam.
(PIANIST shrugs and starts playing “Stormy Weather.”)
TRUMP (Singing):”Don’t know why there is lipstick on my fly.
“Stormy Daniels.
“Now my gal and I are having trials.
“Keeps raining all the time.
“Ta-tas out to here, and she took it in the ear.
“Stormy Daniels.
“Just can’t get my poor self together.
“I’m weary all the time.
“So weary all the time.”

— Bud Norman

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Overtimes and Sex Scandals in Prime Time

The “60 Minutes” program’s much-hyped and long-delayed interview with a pornographic video performer named Stormy Daniels was delayed another half-hour or so on Palm Sunday by the University of Kansas Jayhawks’ overtime victory in a barnburner of a game with Duke University’s Blue Demons in the college basketball tournament, but the compelling lead-in probably boosted the ratings.
Although the interview proved somewhat less salacious than some reality show fans might have hoped for, and got bogged down in a bunch of blah-blah-blah about apparent campaign finance violations and other legal matters and less prurient issues, it still made for must-see-TV. The pornographic video performer was dishing the dirt about her alleged decade-old sexual relationship with then fading reality-show star and now President Donald Trump, which allegedly happened not long after Trump’s third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and it takes a pretty stiff Republican neck to turn away from that.
Daniels said that she spanked the future president with a rolled up a copy of a Forbes magazine that had his picture on the cover, as she had done in a long-suppressed but recently published interview with the “In Touch” tabloid, but insisted that it was more jokey than kinky. She explained that on their intimate evening together in a bungalow at the Hollywood Hills Hotel he had tried to impress her with the magazine cover, she responded that she wasn’t impressed and was tempted to spank him with it, that he obliged by pulling down his pants but not his briefs, and after a couple of smacks they both had a good laugh about it. She says he treated her differently afterwards, though, and then goes on to tell a prime-time-in-these-tawdry–times tale of a pornographic video performer’s unprotected sexual encounter with a future president.
All that blah-blah-blah about campaign finance laws and other less prurient matters seems to back it up. Trump’s longtime “fixer” of a lawyer has publicly admitted that just after the “Access Hollywood” tape and just before the election he paid Daniels $130,000 not to talk about such things, and insists he did so out of the kindness of the heart and without the knowledge of his client. So far as we can tell that’s either a laughable lie and dis-barrable offense or an apparent violation of campaign law and probably something to do with the tax code, or Trump was paying a porn performer not to talk about something he insists never happened, which is perfectly legal so far as we can tell but doesn’t look at all good.
Daniels recalls times she took Trump’s phone calls on her speaker phone in front of her incredulous porn industry friends, who could presumably recall that to some to noisome deposition-taking attorneys, intimates that she has corroborating e-mails and text messages, and her own rather ferocious and seemingly far more competent attorney has recently “tweeted” a picture of a digital video disc in a safe deposit box as a warning not to doubt her account. There’s also the interview that “60 Minutes” correspondent Anderson Cooper had conducted for his more full-time gig with the Cable News Network with a former Playboy “playmate of the year” who alleged a similarly convincing but more saccharine account of her affair with the future president around the same time, and both the porn star and the playmate come across not only better-spoken than the president but also more believable.
In both cases we thought Cooper did a well enough job at the old journalistic fair-and-balanced shtick. He confronted both women with their past statements and all the legal blah-blah-blah, rightly noting that the porn performer had made previous denials of any affair, but he also let the fully clothed and seemingly wised-up women provide their plausible answers, and we don’t blame Cooper if they came off more convincing than the president. By now such tawdry details as that jokey and only-slightly-kinky spanking with a rolled up copy of Forbes with Trump on the cover rings all too true, as much as we hate to admit it or even contemplate it, we can’t imagine how it might help Trump.
On the other hand, it might not hurt Trump much. Back in the days of President Bill Clinton the left used to make excuses for such tawdry behavior, by the time Trump was running against his harridan of of wife the right was just as lenient about its guy, and by now almost anyone who is appalled by the present prime-time network fare stands credibly accused of hypocrisy.

— Bud Norman

The Pros and Cohns of Protectionism

Even on a Tuesday day when a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, the departure of National Economic Council director Gary Cohn was the biggest news out of the White House. The frequent comings and goings of Trump administration officials are usually newsworthy only because of the colorful characters involved and the chaotic situation they represent, but in Cohn’s case it could have serious consequences.
Cohn was one of economic advisers who tried to talk Trump out of imposing the steep steel and aluminum tariffs that were announced last week, as well as the rest of the protectionist agenda Trump has proposed, and his resignation suggests that talking Trump out of such cockamamie ideas is beyond his ability. The congressional Republican leadership also tried persuade Trump to reconsider, and although Trump is invoking national security reasons for imposing the tariffs so did his Defense Secretary and Secretary of State, as well as some of most stalwart defenders in the conservative media, so it appears that no one’s up to the task.
Cohn’s continued role in the White House gave faint hope to the free-traders, though, and his exit suggests the fight is over. His resignation wasn’t announced until the stock markets had closed for the day, but we expect the news will be met glumly when they open again today. Except for the aluminum and steel makers and a few other unionized industries hoping for similar protection from foreign competition, pretty much everyone is planning to pay more for aluminum and steel and try to pass the hit along the supply chain and down to the end consumer, steeling themselves for the inevitable retaliatory tariffs on American exports by friends and foes alike, and worrying what comes after that.
Cohn and the other sensible administration officials and the congressional Republican leadership and the conservative media defenders should have seen it coming all along, though, as well as all those steel-and-aluminum buying companies and export industries and other critics. Trump made quite clear during his seemingly quixotic campaign that he intended on waging a global trade war, and although he spouted off a lot of crazy talk that no one took seriously he was quite clearly sincere in about this particular threat. He’d been publicly critical of America’s trade with the rest of the world since President Ronald Reagan’s administration, claimed that America had been taken advantage of in every foreign relation since the Marshall Plan of President Harry Truman, and offered himself as the artful dealmaker who alone could set things right. Over the years Trump has been all over the place on abortion and immigration and “transgender rights” and almost anything else in the news — we like to joke that he’s taken more positions than Stormy Daniels — but he has never once wavered from a core conviction that he alone could renegotiate the entire world economy to America’s rightful advantage.
Although an estimable fellow, Cohn was never going to talk Trump out of this delusion. Cohn was always a controversial pick, with critics to both the left and right, and ill-suited to any role in Trump’s reality show. His only previous employer was at the too-big-to-fail Goldman-Sachs investment bank, where he rose through the ranks to a top spot, and the conspiracy theorizing sorts of liberals and conservatives have long noticed that Goldman Sachs has landed a noticeable number of former executives in both Democratic and Republican administrations for an noticeably long time, so that left him vulnerable. The stock markets and other centrist types were slightly reassured that at least Trump honored some of the time-honored presidential traditions, and held out hope Con would restrain Trump’s populist impulses, but a buttoned-down riser-through-the-corporate ranks has never prevailed in any reality show ever aired.
Cohn lasted on the reality show island longer than most of us expected, given all the anti-globalist conspiracy theorists who got a vote in each week’s cliff-hanging exile. He outlasted the defiantly nationalist chief strategist Steve Bannon, oh-so loyal and kinda cute communications director Hope Hicks, onetime establishment whipping boy and later chief of staff Reince Priebus, currently under-indictment former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, that Omarosa woman who held some job or another before returning to a lesser-rated reality, along with countless others can’t quite recall. We think he did some good along the way, too.
As an observant Jew with universal human values, Cohn reportedly considered resigning after Trump insisted there were some “very fine people” marching alongside the neo-Nazis at a deadly rally in Virginia, and although he stayed on he helped fuel the public’s indignation. By sticking around he helped he shape and shepherd trough the Congress a tax bill that so far seems one the best things the Trump administration has done, and he’s also played a role in all the deregulation that has so far worked out well enough. He couldn’t talk Trump out of his crazy trade war, but at least his resignation might spook the stock markets and fuel the public’s indignation and give those congressional Republican leaders and other critics some chance of restraining the president’s populist impulses.
We’ll hope for the best for Cohn and all the rest of us, including that unfortunate visiting Swedish Prime Minister who wound up standing next to Trump during a joint news conference where both the American and Swedish press were asking all sorts of pointed questions about potential trade wars and the ongoing “Russia thing.” The video would have fed all the snarky late comics’ monologues if not for the lawsuit by the porn star, but even those easy and smutty jokes were among the first casualties of the trade war.

— Bud Norman

Reflections on the President and the Porn Star Subplot in Our National Reality Show

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked upon as something shocking,” as the great Cole Porter once wrote, “but now, God knows, anything goes.” Porter penned that memorably musical lyric way back in the Great Depression ’30s, but it somehow seems more apt than ever in the Roaring Teens of President Donald Trump. Once upon a time in America, and as recently as the day before Trump took that famous escalator ride down Trump Tower to launch his improbable presidential campaign, it would have been a pretty big deal that a sitting president sure seems to have had a sexual encounter with a pornographic video performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child.
But now, God knows, it’s just another one of those Trump stories that most newspapers relegate to the inside pages and most cable news networks mention at the bottom of every other hour, and that Fox News happily ignores and the smutty late night television comics giddily lampoon. God also knows that according to all the public opinion polls approximately 80 percent of our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters still believe Trump is going to make America great again, and we wonder what He makes of that.
All of those back page and bottom-of-the-hour news stories and even the late night comics concede there’s no videotaped or otherwise definitive evidence and one party denies it and the other is being quite coy about it, which gives Fox News and our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters a plausible reason to ignore the matter, and we’ll also concede that one never really knows about these things. Even so, we’ll edge up against those loosened libel laws that Trump has threatened and reiterate that it sure does seem to us that a sitting president once had a sexual encounter with a pornographic video performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. The circumstantial evidence is so convincing that we doubt any of Trump’s apologists would ignore it if Trump was still a self-proclaimed pro-choice Democrat and check-writing supporter of President Bill Clinton and his presumptive first woman president wife “Crooked” Hillary.
The story had been rumored and reported and denied by Trump for nearly ten years, but surfaced again when The Wall Street Journal reported that during the presidential campaign Trump’s attorney had formed a shell company to make a $130 thousand payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels in exchange for an agreement she wouldn’t disclose anything she might know about Trump. The shell company was set up with phony names for both the payer and payee, but the attorney used his own name on all the papers and is not issuing any denials that might lead to disbarment, and the story has similarly liable-proof documented evidence for the real identities of the payer and payee. One of the callers to one of the right wing talk radio dismissed it as “fake news” from a “foreign-owned tabloid,” but even the left wing admits The Wall Street Journal is no tabloid and the wing should know that its Australian owner is the same Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News, so we’ll the paper’s word for it that for whatever reason Trump did write a $130 thousand check to a porn performer during his presidential election.
Perhaps we should be generous and assume Trump was just trying to help the wayward lass get back on the straight and narrow path, but by now even his most die-hard supporters aren’t buying that.
After the Journal’s big scoop a publication we’d not previously heard of called In Touch Magazine published an interview it had with Daniels back when Trump was just another reality television star and long before any non-diclosure payments had been made, and in it she gave a luridly detailed account of a sexual encounter with a future president. So far as we can tell In Touch is a sort of tabloid, but at least it seems to be American-owned, and they claim to have verifiable audiotapes of the interview, and we assume their lawyers verified that before they put their own names on any court filings Trump’s lawyers might have made. All the parts about Trump and Daniels both being in Las Vegas during a professional golf tournament have been confirmed, and there’s even a picture of a beaming Trump with his arm around the buxom Daniels at the event, which looks pretty bad.
After that one of Daniels’ fellow porn performers was telling both People and Newsweek magazines and the National Broadcasting Company that she had declined Trump’s invitation to make it a threesome, and both news organizations confirmed the parts about her also being in Las Vegas during that golf tournament. After that Daniels her buxom self did an interview on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show,” and that looked so bad it almost upstaged the president’s State of the Union address.
Kimmel is one of those uniformly liberal late night comedians who relentlessly bash Trump every night, but he’s not so smutty as most and has a reputation as a faithful family man that allowed him to have some emotional sway in the debate about repealing and replacing Obamacare, and he’s no dummy. He ran some footage of some conservative woman criticizing him for booking an interview with Daniels but never saying anything about President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal with much-younger intern Monica Lewinsky, he was able to follow it with videotape of him interviewing Lewinsky on three separate occasions in previous talk show incarnations. When Daniels opened the interview by saying that she could neither confirm nor deny that she had accepted money in a non-diclosure agreement, he noted that if she had not she would be free to deny that she had, and the pornographic video performer replied “You’re so smart, Jimmy.”
When Kimmel asked Daniels about her signature on the official statement she’d just issued denying any sexual encounter with Trump, which all the pro-Trump media had seized on, and why it didn’t remotely resemble her signature on an earlier statement or any of the autographed glossy photographs he’d somehow and encountered, she dodged it by talking about all the other crazy rumors about her on the internet. She didn’t quite deny that the In Touch interview was more or less accurate, and dodged some of the smuttier questions about the more lurid details just as carefully, but the pornographic video performer seemed instinctively self-revealing and left the viewer with the impression that, yeah, all that’s been alleged sure seems to have happened.
There’s a case to be made that Daniels and her fellow pornographic video performer friend are exploiting that fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol predicted everyone would eventually have, and there’s something to it. Until that Wall Street Journal broke we’d never heard of Stormy Daniels or her friend, but after a Bing search and a few not-safe-for-work mouse clicks on the internet we now feel we know them more intimately than any of our exes, and Daniels has been promoting her strip club tour with the slogan “Make America Horny Again.” Daniels can now add “As seen on TV” to her handbills, even if it is late night comedy, and we don’t doubt it’s good business for a pornographic video performer.
The question is whether she’s cashing in on “fake news” or something that sure seems to have actually happened, though, and that still looks bad. We’re disinclined to take the word of a pornographic video performer, but by now neither do we put much stock in what the President of the United States has to say. Trump has long bragged in undisputed interviews and his own ghost-written memoirs about his enormous sexual appetites and numerous exotic conquests, and his flagrant disregard for his own or anybody else’s marital vows, and that lurid In Touch detail about him wanting to be spanked with a rolled-up copy of Forbes Magazine with his picture on the cover also has a disturbing verisimilitude about it.
But now, God knows, Trump’s critics can only chuckle about it along with the late night comics, and Trump’s fans can either deny it altogether or make some sort of rationalizations. The afternoon talk radio hosts and other fans will note that the male Clinton had several just as tawdry encounters with far less buxom women, and that even the self-righteous sorts of feminists now admit that the awful female Clinton was complicit all along, and we was president at time, and they have a point. We shared their disappointment that Clinton’s peccadilloes had so degraded the Oval Office at the time, as did that smart-ass liberal late comic Kimmel, and at this point we’re on the side of anybody who’s been consistent on insisting some reasonably attainable standard of moral behavior in the White House.
Not that we’re blameless, as God knows and our recent internet browsing history will attest, but over our many years we have managed to hew to some old-fashioned moral rules about married people and hygienic concerns about porn stars, and as lowly as we are we feel entitled to expect a higher standard from those who occupy high office. It doesn’t say anything more to about that tax bill Trump signed than Clinton’s transgressions had to do with his budget-balancing deals, but then as now we can’t shake a certain depressing sense that it’s a pretty big deal.

— Bud Norman

Winners and Losers and Dreamers

The Republicans are claiming victory and the Democrats admitting defeat after a deal that ended the latest partial government shutdown in record time, but it’s not apparent to us that anybody won or lost anything that won’t be quickly forgotten.
The deal that minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer and a sufficient number of his caucus agreed to fully funds the the government in exchange for a promise by majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to have a vote of some sort at some undetermined date about the so-called “dreamers” who were illegally smuggled into the country as children, which is pretty much the same deal that was on offer prior to the vote that shut down parts of the government over the weekend. That was bad enough from a Democratic perspective that all the left-wing pundits were wailing about it, and their anger alone was sufficient reward for all the right-wing pundits to gloat about it.
The deal only fully funds the federal government for the next 17 days, though, and by then no one will remember who voted for what, and in the meantime everyone involved looks petty and stupid. McConnell’s promise to put the “dreamer” problem up for a vote was made on the Senate floor and recorded in the congressional record, too, and when he’s eventually forced to keep that promise the Republicans will likely find themselves in a losing position.
The “dreamers” are so-called because the Democrats wrote a bill to grant them permanent status that was cleverly called Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, and its acronym makes gives those alien minors that very sympathetic nickname. They’re a sympathetic lot, anyway, as they can hardly be blamed for being brought here as children, the vast majority haven’t caused any noticeable problems for anyone, and a significant and photogenic number of them are attending college or serving in the military or performing some other sort of useful labor for the country. That wasn’t enough to get the DREAM act enacted in Congress, but it kept the Republicans from preventing President Barack Obama from temporarily more or less enacting by an executive order for a Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals, which had a rather cacophonous acronym but kept all the “dreamers” who could prove they aren’t gang-bangers or welfare mooches to hang around indefinitely.
What can be done by executive order can just as easily be undone executive order, though, and President Donald Trump decided to sign one that would leave all those “dreamers” susceptible to deportation back to countries they only vaguely remember by March. His hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters loved it, but all the polls showed that a much larger number of Americans hated it, so Trump quickly explained that it was one of his three-dimensional chess moves to force congress to pass that DREAM act he excoriated on the campaign trail. He even wound up telling a televised bipartisan gathering of senators that he would happily sign any “bill of love” for the “dreamers,” whom he claimed to love, along with all kids.
That didn’t play well with Trump’s hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, with his usual talk radio defenders crying betrayal, so he quickly clarified that he’d sign any “bill of love” so long as it included funding for his big, beautiful sea-to-shining-sea border wall and other draconian border enforcement measures. After that his chief of staff was assuring the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that Trump’s previously “uninformed” promises of a border wall had “evolved,” which was followed by an indignant presidential “tweet” that he has never evolved, and by the time the negotiations to prevent a partial government shutdown went south both the majority leader and the minority of the Senate were complaining they had no idea what the president wanted.
At this point Trump has taken more positions than his pal Stormy Daniels — insert risqué rim shot here — and there’s no telling where he’ll wind up. If he caves to some soft-hearted protections for the “dreamers” without sufficient concessions from the Democrats he’ll annoy his hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, which he hates to do. If he winds up deporting a bunch of photogenically sympathetic soldiers and college students and otherwise upstanding semi-citizens back to countries they only vaguely recall his ratings will take a bigger hit, and he might hate that even worse.
Perhaps it’s all some three-dimensional chess-playing that will arrive at such an artful deal that even the most outright xenophobic portion of his hard-line anti-illegal immigration supporters will join hands with all those “open borders” left-wing crazies to sing his praises, but we doubt it. Trump’s much boasted-about deal-making genius didn’t prevent the last partial government shutdown, by all accounts those hated Republican establishment guys in congress had much more to do with it ending over a mere weekend, and Trump looks unable to long delay the inevitable next partial government shutdown.

— Bud Norman