Trump in Defeat Will Get More Erratic, Not Less.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Among (quite a few) guilty pleasures is “Morning Joe”, MSNBC’s daily pundit Woodstock. Yeah, Joe Scarborough is a putz and a blowhard, and since it’s his name on the show, guests who are actually expert in serious things have to pretend to tolerate his stem-winding rants. But when Scarborough is modulated or (praise lord!) off on vacation, checking in with what “The Circus” boys, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, “legendary” ex-newspaperman Mike Barnicle, etc. is a far better use of my super valuable morning time than the brain gelatinizing insipidness of “The Today Show” or “Good Morning America.”

Lately, ex-CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden has been getting a lot of airtime. Tuesday morning, coming off FBI Director Jim Comey’s stunning yet-unsurprising revelation that Trump’s campaign has been under investigation since … late July, “Morning Joe’s” assembled deep thinkers were grasping for new and better ways to describe the unprecedentedness (an actual word, I looked it up) of a sitting president, two months in office!, being investigated for colluding (or “coordinating” if you’re Comey) with the friggin’ Russians to rig the election that got him where he is.

But it was Hayden, the old spy hand, who after handing it to the Russians for “the biggest W” in the history of espionage chicanery, posed the question of how this whole Trump-Russia thing began? As an old spy, he said, you always ask if what you’re seeing is the result of “malice or incompetence.”

Here the easy answer of course is, “a little of both.” But we can narrow that a bit. It was a marriage. The Russians brought the malice. Trump supplied the incompetence.

Incompetence, something a majority of voters recognized last November, is now a vivid, permanent reality that even The Wall Street Journal editorial page, akin to a Vatican declamatio to pious conservatives, has come to accept as a fact of life.

Say the cossetted white sages employed by Rupert Murdoch:

“If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. … Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.”

It’s that intro that bothers me, because obviously it’s on the minds of anyone seriously watching the astonishing farce being played out hour-to-hour in D.C.. If Trump loses his Obamacare repeal tomorrow it will be a gut punch defeat. He will of course blame Paul Ryan and everyone down to the West Wing cleaning crew for what has been an object lesson in his incompetence and laziness. Is there a single person anywhere who honestly believes he has read or thoroughly educated himself on what Ryan’s six years-long piece of legislation will do? Of course not. All Trump wants is a bill — a victory — he can sign and wave in front of his next Red Cap rally, never mind that his shrieking fans are exactly the people getting the forced colonoscopy.

But to the Journal’s opening line. With the FBI on him, the details of his long Russian canoodle becoming more apparent every day, “health care reform” (insert laugh track here) about to spiral into a fiery grave and his approval rating dropping to George W. Bush levels, it is (very) likely Trump will become more erratic, not less.

So what is a solution to getting the media, Congress and most importantly the Red Cap Brigade to ignore all that “fake” noise and see him as The Great Leader? Well, a war of some kind might do it. And since we’re talking about a guy who only wins, a winnable war. With lots of “shock and awe”, only biglier.

The North Korean scenario is foremost on a lot of peoples’ minds because Kim Jong-un is another guy trapped in a corner, desperate and reckless. It’s another marriage made in hell. But if you need an excuse for distracting fireworks — Re: the latest TSA Homeland Security alert — a bomb on an airplane will do just about as well.

I’ve mentioned this before, because knowing what the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon know about Trump, their response to his pushing the button for military action is by no means a certainty.  Does anyone believe the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the permanent bureaucracies of the CIA and NSA haven’t thoroughly assessed the psychological fitness of their Commander-in-Chief? Are you certain they would comply with an order from … Donald Trump, oft-bankrupt casino developer, reality TV show host and inveterate liar … ordering them to place American troops and possibly the American public in harm’s way?

I’m as cynical as it gets about “aye-aye sir” toadyism and group-think, but I have an extremely hard time imagining characters like Admiral Mike Rogers (NSA) following go-to-war orders on Donald Trump’s say-so.

Trump style incompetence (born out of psychological dysfunction and laziness) may be exactly the grenade the Red Hat Brigade and tribal Republicans who rationalized him as a better choice than “crooked Hillary”, wanted rolled into DC when they pulled the lever for him in November. But I seriously doubt that quality of cynicism applies to the people who have to commit people under their command to possible death.

More to the point. As crazy and ridiculous as Trump-involved political events have been these past two months, it has been notably quiet in terms of international crises. Experience tells you such lulls are always broken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There Are People Who Know What The Russians Have Been Up To With Trump

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3I’m not so sure “no one knows” what’s going on with Trump and the Russians.

You hear something like that four or five times an hour as pundit-reporters compete to be the most flabbergasted by the latest tweet and revelation from TrumpWorld. But, if there is any credibility to Steve Bannon’s “deep state” paranoia, it strikes me as very-to-highly likely that within the gargantuan US intelligence apparatus there are people, and my guess is they would be senior career professionals, who have a real good idea of the games Trump has been playing with Russians, or to be more precise, games Russians have been playing with Trump.

Over just the past two weeks three separate pieces of reporting have etched a portrait of the Trump reality in clearer detail. None of them can be described as “sound bites.” You’ll need an hour to digest them all. Two have appeared in consecutive issues of the New Yorker and one is a series of posts by Josh Marshall for his site, Talking Points Memo.

“Trump, Putin and the New Cold War” by New Yorker editor David Remnick and two colleagues is a fascinating overview of the populist forces that first Putin and now Trump have very cynically exploited (and in Putin’s case sustained) to grab power. “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal” by the same magazine’s Adam Davidson uses a bizarre development deal in Baku, Azberbaijan to lay out a money-laundering operation involving comically corrupt Azerbaijani officials, Trump and … Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Over at Talking Points Memo, Marshall’s series, zeroing in on Trump’s long-standing, very close association with a strange fringe mob/wannabe spy character named Felix Sater and Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen. Begin, if you’re interested, with, “The Innocent Explanation, Part 1.”

To compress a very broad narrative to its essence, you have this: In the late ’90s and early ’00s Trump was effectively bankrupt and no American bank would do business with him. What he found were Russian oligarchs, newly and fabulously wealthy from mob-style “privatization” in the post-Soviet economy. That crowd needed ways to launder money, and a lot of it. They bought into Trump projects, often at absurdly inflated prices, enriching Trump as their cash got legitimized. As the pattern repeated itself, Trump and family become ever more beholden to their “business partners.”

Now, it is interesting from a media critic perspective to note how little anyone else in the press is playing with this Felix Sater keyhole to Trump’s empire. Sater, as Marshall reveals, not only served prison time for stabbing a guy, Joe Pesci-style, with the broken stem of a wine glass, but has established connections to New York mob families.

It is a long-standing fascination of mind at how the once enormously influential crime families of “Godfather” legend have all but entirely disappeared from media attention, as though they were never anything but a fiction. (Remember, until 1957 J. Edgar Hoover insisted organized crime did not exist in the United States.) The general explanation being that they all went “legitimate” at some point 25-30 years ago and there’s nothing more to see here.

I don’t think so. More likely is that the families figured ways to better launder their criminal earnings and are probably as wealthy today as they’ve ever been.

Whatever, this Felix Sater story is the extraordinarily rare instance when American organized crime reemerges in mainstream reporting. (The New York Times has reported on Sater, but to date has not pressed the connections Marshall has.) On the other hand Russian mobsters are a common subject of conversation. (It’s another form American exceptionalism, you see. We are the only culture in world history exempt from the scourge of organized criminality, and the corruption and violence that comes from it.)

Marshall acknowledges the normal viability of Occam’s Razor — (Definition: “Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the simpler one is usually better. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is.“)

Says Marshall, “The simplest explanation isn’t necessarily the right one. But in the spirit of Occam’s Razor, we should prefer it because it usually will be. To state the key point for clarity and emphasis, it is not the simplest explanation. It it is the simplest explanation which accounts for all the known facts. That distinction makes all the difference in the world.”

I could go on, but the reading list above lays all this out in compelling fashion.

My point, regarding the likelihood of senior people in the permanent government, (the part of the government Steve Bannon wants to “deconstruct”), knowing what all this Russia business is about also has a bit of Occam’s Razor to it.

Specifically, fabulously wealthy Russian oligarchs, essentially organized international criminals, many (but not all) aligned with Vladimir Putin (who is reputed to be one of the wealthiest people in the world thanks to his looting of the Russian economy), would be precisely the people enriching and enabling all sorts of nefarious activity all over the world, including here in the United States. They would therefore be primary targets for US (and allied) intelligence operations, intercepting their communications and monitoring their contacts and money flows.

If they weren’t/aren’t being regularly surveilled it would be an astonishing dereliction of duty on the part of our $80-$100 billion annual intelligence apparatus.

So … here’s the assumption. Senior intelligence people, knowing with very high confidence what Trump has been involved with for years, begin a series of strategic leaks to the media to prod judicial action. After all, enabling by ignoring quasi-to-overtly criminal association with foreign adversaries is diametrically opposed to what they signed up for.

And this is very serious stuff for whoever is leaking. They themselves are risking criminal prosecution. Which is why I find it hard to believe it’s just a few Bartleby the scrivener types buried in the bureaucracy. People like that have essentially no political cover. But further up the chain, where senior officials have personal relations with influential political leaders — from the likes of Diane Feinstein and John McCain and Lindsay Graham, etc. — such a risk becomes more tenable.

In summary, while the pundit press saying “we don’t know” is credible.

But that is not at all the same thing as saying, “No one knows.”

 

 

 

 

Yeah, Kids. It’s “Binary”. Sessions Lied Under Oath

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2This one is really simple. The top law enforcement official of the United States lied under oath. As all the cool kids are saying these days, “It’s binary.” Yes … or … no. Simple as it gets. No nuance required. And here, as regards Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions the III of the great state of Alabama, the answer is unambiguously, “yes.”

So less than one day after the D.C. punditocracy was wetting itself over Donald Trump “pivoting” to Presidential, we’re whiplashed back into the real reality of, you know, what is really going on. And there’s no plausible equivocating that can be done here.

Sessions, one of the first-in-for-the-Donald members of Congress, and a constant presence throughout the sordid campaign, not only lied in his reply to a question from our own Al Franken, he “volunteered” the lie … abut something that he didn’t have to lie about. (Although the more his standing with the Senate Armed Services Committee is tossed up as an explanation for chatting up the Russian ambassador the more people are stopping to say, “Wait a minute. Chatting up foreign ambassadors is a function of the Foreign Relations Committee, not the one Sessions was on.”

The significance of last night’s news — from both The Washington Post (on Sessions and the Rooskies) and The New York Times (on several foreign governments offering confirmation of Trump associates meetings with Russians in Europe during the campaign) — is that Congressional Republicans are … this close … to the tipping point. The point at which the accumulation of suspicion and evidence is large they have no practical choice other than to agree to an “independent special prosecutor” to investigate — a la Ken Starr — anything and everything related to Trump and the Russians.

Who that special prosecutor would be, who appoints him/her and what level of subpoena power (i.e. into Trump’s taxes) they have remains to be … politicized to hell.

But for now, things are proceeding quite nicely, thank you.

Trump worshippers and toadies will kick up a lot of dust parsing the possible innocence of Sessions’ coziness with the Russian ambassador. But the, uh, unimpeachable fact is that he flat out lied … under oath … to Congress. Just as Bad Old Bill Clinton lied about “not having sex with that woman.” Only this time, we’re not talking about heavy-petting, sort-of-sex in the Oval Office. We’re talking about colluding with the United States’ primary foreign adversary to screw with a Presidential election. Republicans are going to have go deep doo-doo double secret probation tribal to make sex a bigger deal than this, and I have no doubt they will. But as they like to say down in ‘Bama, “That dog don’t hunt.”

Six weeks into the Trump era we’ve already reached the point of needing an extra-Congressional investigation of possibly treasonous activity. (“Treason” being another word that has lost most of its meaning as a result of the constant braying of tri-corner hat-wearing imbeciles.)

Not that I’m surprised, you understand. In fact what surprises me most about the way Sessions, Gen. Flynn before him and the whole Trump team has responded to “the Russian thing” is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of these deep thinkers that it is the business of the NSA, the CIA, the DIA and on and on as well the MI5 in Britain and every other allied intelligence agency to monitor meetings and calls and communications with people close to Vladimir Putin. In fact … wait for it … it’s precisely what we pay billions of dollars a year for them to do.

So, I don’t know if, “Dem boys ain’t too bright” is another ol’ ‘Bama sayin’. But it sure fits this crowd.

Who Knew [Insert Issue] Was So Complicated?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Personally, I too was gobsmacked to learn that our World’s Greatest Health Care System is, “so complicated.” What’s next? Quantum physics can’t be explained on a 4×6 note card?

The revelation that washed over His Orangeness the other day, that he or Steve Bannon, can’t order “it” done, without explaining what “it” is, fits an already familiar pattern. Bold promises of bold action meets, damn it all anyway, the real world. The real world where people a lot smarter than either of them, with much more experience in specific disciplines, not too mention entire careers they want to protect, react to “boldness” with expressions of incredulity and, yeah, skilled resistance.

Then, aside from that already familiar pattern there’s the matter of … not wearing ourselves out while reality and resistance beats this new White House crowd like the proverbial herd of rented mules.

My growing concern, based on conversations with friends and family over the past couple months, is that our expressions of stunned dismay, outrage and vilification don’t take more of toll on us than Team Trump. We are the people who want to defeat and survive The Know Nothing Pitchfork Revolution.

What I’m hearing too much of are exercises in what you might call “competitive anxiety”. One person, rightfully horrified at the latest “who knew it’d be so complicated” tweet from Trump, or Goebbels-like assertion from Stephen Miller, (“the President’s authority will not be challenged”) goes off on a rant about the stupidity and horror of this stuff. In response the next person twists the dial from “7” to “8”, the next from “8” to “9” and pretty soon, you guessed it, the amps are blasting at full “11”.

On one level it’s cathartic and bonding. We’re all pissed and full of righteous, well-informed indignation. We didn’t pay attention in school, do our homework, pass tests, acquire adult skills and behave in a (mostly) conscientious manner all these years just to watch a collection of cynical hucksters take over the country by playing the chumps for chumps (with the enormous assistance of tribal Republicans — i.e. 53% of white women — for whom there is an even deeper level of hell.)

“Putting up with it” is not in our vocabulary, and why should it?

My point here is the need to individually monitor our acidic juices. There is a point beyond which all this indignation compounds the misery. Most of us, the majority of voters disgusted by what Trump represents, are encouraged by the level of resistance throwing flames on his recklessness and stupidity. This is something new and intensely gratifying. An insurgency of the informed! All hail!

But how about practice a form of therapeutic compartmentalization, if we can? If Trump-rage spills out over every other facet of our lives, kind of like the terrorists, he wins. More to the point, individual energies are limited. There’s only so much raging and grand displays of principled contempt any person can heave up before they’re too sapped to fight what is not going to be a quick war.

Even if a videotape of Trump and Putin and a dozen Russian hookers colluding to rig the election was televised tomorrow, it’d be well over a year or more before this debacle of American Berlusconi-ism reached a conclusion. (Do you think the hardened Trumpists clogging Florida airplane hangars care that much if the election was rigged? He has a base line of support that Nixon never had.)

There is a facet of our cultural psychology that rewards overt self-dramatization. (I blame the Kardashians). They who best and most frequently display emotional injury and stress receive a disproportionate share of available attention. Their particularly self-focused displays of concern have the effect of convincing others that they are the only ones taking this crisis seriously. There’s a unique status that comes with being the most stressed-out person in the room.

So to friends, family and allies: There’s plenty of fight to be had. It’s not going to be over anytime soon. If survival is part of the end game, let’s run regular checks on our personal levels of humor and sanity in response to the abundant stupidity and fraud.

 

The Big Difference Between Town Halls of 2009 and Today

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3One teeny, tiny thing missing from news coverage and punditry about Republicans and the their difficulties with the First Amendment at town halls is the matter of … actual, real facts.

Every news report about GOP representatives meeting constituents — in a public place, not check-writers at swank lawn parties — makes a point of comparing this eruption to what occurred over Obamacare in 2009. And yeah, it looks about the same. Pretty angry people, packed into an auditorium shrieking at some schlub who always looks like he/she’d rather be somewhere else. Like at a swank lawn party with polite people telling him/her how much they love them.

To date though I haven’t heard anyone dare say that while one group actually knows what they’re talking about the other was operating on ginned-up hysteria over set of unknowns and laughable misinformation. Specifically with regards to Obamacare, the program exists. That is what people in my country call a “fact.” People today know what it does and what it doesn’t. When they scream at some Congressman, most of who have been ranting and voting to repeal the law outright for seven years, they are operating on a foundation of factual reality.

Not so in 2009 when the other raging horde was bellowing about “death panels” and “socialism” and, my personal favorite, “the gubmint getting in between me and my doctor”, without ever acknowledging that some gargantuan, wealthier-than-God-himself insurance company was already in between them and their doctor sucking up so much space and air no piddly “gubmint” was ever going seriously compete for their health care dollar, (if they weren’t already on Medicaid). It was (yet another) fascinating explosion of viral, know-nothing conservatism. Not, you understand, that folks who know nothing and fear everything a smarty pants black liberal thinks is a good idea don’t have the right to rant and holler, too.

Today though, the people doing the yelling actually know quite a lot. They know how Obamacare works, at least for them. They also know for an absolute fact the people they’re yelling at did nothing to set it up or get it right and everything to sabotage it … without bothering even for minute to think hard enough to devise a replacement over the course of seven long years. They also know, off topic, that Donald Trump has not released his taxes, that he has a weird fondness for Vladimir Putin, that the Russians hacked into our election system and that our immigration system is still a mess, mainly because the same guys who they’re screaming at about Obamacare, have resisted every plan to improve immigration policy too, even the one George W. Bush tossed up.

There’s also the question of who whipped each group into its respective frenzy? True, 2009 liberals saw the Koch brothers behind every red-faced, “I don’t need no damned Obamacare, I got the emergency room” ranter. As though the Kochs themselves were robo-calling Red America warning them about some heinous gubmint plan to kill granny rather than treat her bunions.

The reality of that era was the match that lit the fuse to the crowds of 2009 came from their everyday, go-to source for entertainment and information — talk radio, FoxNews and fact-free websites, this being before we used phrases like “fake news.” As is their wont, the crowds of 2009 listened to and ingested hour after hour of fact-free, rabble-rousing bullshit and then went roaring off into the night to rant about “death panels” and “socialism” at the guy/gal standing on the stage, often in the precise words as their intellectual mentors on TV and radio.

There is no qualitative comparison to what the Jason Chaffetz (that oily little bleep), Mitch McConnell and Tom Emmer are hearing today. Town hall combatants today know that killing off Obamacare completely means no more coverage for pre-existing conditions. And, big issue here, that whacking the individual mandate means you, Mr./Ms. Republican representative of “the people” then have no way to pay for everything else. (Of course let’s remember that to 30% of America The Affordable Care Act is not so bad, but Obamacare, now that is the friggin’ devil’s work).

Point being, the difference between 2017 and 2009 is a yawning chasm between empirical reality and flat-out, fact-free partisan hysteria.

I repeat: There is little-to-no comparison of the level of factual literacy in the two eruptions.

Not that anyone in the press wants to say that too loudly.

 

 

President Nickelback

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3A couple years ago, horrified at the thought Nickelback, (aka “The Worst Rock Band in the World”*) would touch down in the United Kingdom, a guy started a petition to keep them out. Now it’s Donald Trump. Similarities abound.

Those of you who have either never heard of Nickelback or been exposed to one of their “songs” are the lucky ones. Kind of like what happens when you Google “Rick Santorum”, the “Nickelback” search field is populated with unflattering references. A review in The Guardian says, “Canadian rockers Nickelback aren’t universally popular. Some 55,000 American football fans once signed a petition to attempt to stop them playing at half time. A dating website has voted their music the No 1 “musical turn-off”. In a particularly low moment, Nickelback haters set up a Facebook page to demonstrate that a pickled cucumber could get more fans. … Their lyrics flirt with misogyny, and women are routinely depicted as ‘naughty’ or strippers. You become thankful for small mercies, like when Kroeger tells a ‘dirty little lady with the pretty pink thong’ that she ‘looks much cuter with something in your mouth”, it turns out he’s referring to her thumb’.”

Other classic Nickelback anthems: “Something In Your Mouth,” “I’d Come for You,” and “S.E.X.”

And now the Brits, the people who taught us our manners if you believe “Masterpiece Theater” are debating whether to ban … the President of the United States from soiling Jolly Olde with his Nickelbackian presence. Specifically, the House of Commons had a very long and loud set-to over the weekend about rescinding an invitation conservative, pro-Brexit Prime Minister Theresa May extended seven days after His Orangeness was in office.

Said The Guardian, “The debate, which took place in Westminster Hall, was prompted by the petition signed by 1.8m people saying Trump should be denied a state visit and it was opened by the Labour MP Paul Flynn who, in a wide-ranging attack, described Trump’s intellect as ‘protozoan’.” And, “… Flynn said that only two US presidents had been accorded a state visit to Britain in more than half a century and it was ‘completely unprecedented’ that Trump had been issued his within seven days of his presidency. Flynn – who started the debate because he is on the petitions committee – said Trump would hardly be silenced by the invitation being rescinded, accusing him of a ‘ceaseless incontinence of free speech’. Asked by Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, if Trump’s views on climate science should also be taken into account, Flynn responded that the president had shown ‘cavernous depths of scientific ignorance’ on the issue.”

Damn, but the Brits get off some good lines.

The expectation is that one way or another, with The Queen or without her, Trump will land in Britain sometime later this year, if only because pro-Brexit conservatives need to firm up their economic bona fides with someone, now that they’ve pissed off most of the rest of the European Union. (It has not escaped notice that The Queen has previously hosted the likes of Nicolae Ceausescu, a dictator of Stalinesque depravity),

But Trump will go to Britain because … also like Nickelback, which has sold over 50 million records and will be the opening night act at the Minnesota State Fair the summer … Trump is popular with “a small majority”, (key word: “majority”) of Brits, people, surveys show, convinced open border immigration is polluting the essence of Britain.

My point here is, I guess, limited and obvious. No matter how reviled by wordsmith music critics, an act like Nickelback is giving an enormous audience exactly what it wants, which is, as I always like to say, The First Rule Of Show Biz. The crassness of it, the swinish vulgarity of it, the shameless artlessness of it, the misogyny, the … well, you can fill in the rest … is not only not off-putting to the ears and minds of Nickelback’s fans … it is damn near exactly what they want, and have wanted now for 22 years.

People proud of their cultured tastes, people whose critical antennae are tuned to discern unimaginative pandering in guitar licks and drumming, and irony-free lechery in lyrics, could do worse than keep Nickelback’s enduring commercial success in mind as they calculate Trump’s “inevitable” implosion.

Now, to the best of my knowledge Nickelback has not been fed life-saving loans by Russian gangster/oligarchs or colluded with a murderous dictator to undermine the popularity of a better band, like say Pearl Jam. Nor are currently under investigation by the FBI. So the comparison falls apart on that score.

But … writing about Nickelback’s success for The New Yorker, Ian Crouch concluded by saying, “… to be hated is to be something. And to be hated by an army of anxious, élitist, Pitchfork-reading coastal snobs may be enough of a foundation on which to build an enduring fan base in the shrunken marketplace of the digital age. I think that [lead singer Chad] Kroeger is probably right that the haters have made Nickelback stronger, in that they have given what had been a bland, soft-metal, post-grunge band the outsider, bad-ass edge that it had always projected but never earned. As an old saying goes, ‘To be loved is to be fortunate, but to be hated is to achieve distinction’.”

Make of that what you will.

*An “alternative fact”.

 

What’s Even Scarier Than That Press Conference.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3As completely whacked as His Orangeness’s press conference was yesterday, there are at least two things to keep in mind that are even scarier.

1: His nihilistic true believers, the crowd that has been “left behind”/”hasn’t kept up” with the 21st century and desperately needs someone else to blame for their misery, loved the whole thing. Love! Love! Love! Check any comment thread you choose. Spraying the room with a fire hose of shameless lies, accusing every reporter other than the beyond-parody mannequin hosts of “Fox & Friends” of being “fake” and “dishonest” is like glorious music, a goddam Lee Greenwood – Kid Rock duet, to the ears of the 27% who will submit to whatever Trump says, no matter what.

But, 2: There is no doubt — none — that career D.C., i.e. career “Big Gubmint”, is leading the resistance to the appalling level of incompetence (and worse) they see first hand, up close and behind the scenes. A key line from Talking Points Memo boss Josh Marshall’s spiel (posted on Facebook yesterday) was this, in the context of career intelligence people and their assessment of Trump’s credibility.

Said Marshall: “Almost half the sixteen agencies which make up the ‘Intelligence Community’ are various military intelligence agencies – Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, DIA, et al. All of this is to say that the idea that the people in this world are liberals or inclined to be anti-Trump for partisan reasons is laughable. What is especially worrisome is that the people in this world seem to have more specific concerns about Trump’s ties to foreign governments than observers on the outside. That’s worrisome because they have access to information we do not.”

Anytime a “disrupter” takes over management of a bureaucracy, government or corporate, there will be people resisting change. In the corporate world they can be bounced out of the way fairly easily. Not so much in “gubmint”. But the key thing here is that, as Marshall correctly argues, these are anything but disgruntled liberal partisans feeding the “fake media” “true leaks” about what is and isn’t going on in the Trump White House. With the intelligence community, people who we can assume truly do know (a lot) more than we do about things like Trump’s campaign contacts with the Russians and, I’m betting, his financial obligations to Putin-friendly oligarchs, the driving motivation is to destabilize this clown act before it gets them and all of us into something truly godawful.

Put more bluntly, it is reasonable to assume that the culturally conservative U.S. intelligence has already made a judgment about Trump’s credibility, and it ain’t good. It is reasonable to assume they have well-founded reasons — via routine wiretaps and spooky surveillance of banking transactions — that Trump not only can not, but must not, be trusted with potentially critical information. To the point that they are already — a month into this farce — risking felony prosecution for leaking damning information to the failing New York Times and other media outlets … you know, people they actually do trust. (It would not surprise me at all if somewhere, thanks the country’s $50 to $80 billion intelligence budget someone has already snagged Trump’s taxes and knows damn well who has what on him.)

Because Trump’s taxes/financial obligations/Russia is the key issue, the intelligence community’s clear decision to provide leaks to drive public investigations is the Gold Standard, DefCon 4, Ultimo Primo Bureaucratic Resistance. But on less critical levels, we should be prepared for intense bureaucratic resistance to the manifest incompetence of Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, Ben Carson and Scott Pruitt at their respective agencies. God only knows how the State Department — which was shut out of meetings with Bibi Netanyahu, (but Jared Kushner was there), and had over 100 people led out of the building yesterday — will respond if/when Rex Tillerson is also iced out of fresh intelligence because of his complicity with the Russians.

Trumpist chowderheads can cheer this on all they like. They are fools. But their boy’s chances of surviving what’s coming down on him were remote at best on Jan. 20 and are diminishing by the hour. A different kind of “disrupter” might have a better chance of succeeding, whatever that ever meant. But Trump, as everyone else knows, is two things for sure.

He is not smart about the reality of the Presidency.

And, he’s lazy.

He believes he can fake it.

He can’t.

 

Gen. Flynn and the Dam About to Burst

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3If you’ve been worrying about the big Oroville dam in California bursting open, this Gen. Flynn thing could bring a much bigger flood. After 24 days, three and half weeks, the regime of Our Orange Leader is already up to its spray tanned jowls in a scandal bigger than Watergate.

That’s hyperbole!, you say? Well, no one ever accused Richard Nixon of regularly communicating with the Russians while they were doing their nefarious best to screw with an American presidential election. And G. Gordon Liddy was not the President’s key and, according to reports, sole advisor on foreign affairs. Baby, oh baby.  Even I thought it’d be mid-summer before Trump got himself into something so outrageously, cartoonishly foul that the usual “Let’s move on, nothing to see here, folks” Republican “leaders” would be on TV demanding to know what exactly there is … to see here.

But that’s where we are … three and a half weeks into this fiasco. Clearly, some Republicans have already decided Trump is too ludicrous an embarrassment to protect with sealed-off, behind closed doors committee investigations. Moreover, if reports are true that U.S. intelligence agencies are withholding intelligence from Trump and his team of Russian-compromised know-nothings, the sooner the swap-out of Mike Pence for Trump happens, the better.

The schadenfreude-rich beauty of the Flynn debacle is how it whips the spotlight back around, away from the sideshow of fools and scoundrels joining Trump’s cabinet, and zeros it back in on what kind of business Trump has been doing with the Russians for the past 30 years. We have a pretty good idea, but to date none of the circumstantial (and better) assertions have grabbed the full attention, simultaneously, of our brave Congressional leaders and the national media herd.

The cynical assumption is that this Flynn business, which as we now know has been going on for months, not just between Flynn and various Russian officials, but other members of Trump’s campaign/administration, will be stifled and prevaricated over by Republican-led committees. They’ll muddle it and obscure it until the “failing” The New York Times and Jake Tapper lose interest or are distracted by the next farcical scandal or, god forbid, bona fide international crisis.

But I don’t see that happening, and I lived through Watergate. Why? Because this Flynn episode is hair’s breadth from the rich, juicy essence of Donald Trump — namely, the high likelihood he was bailed out of chronic bankruptcy by Russian money and has engaged in colossal tax fraud for decades. Being first to expose what so many, in and out government and media believe to be a monumental con game comes with guarantee of heroic historical standing of the eternal, name-in-schoolbooks variety.

My pal, Joe Loveland, correctly assessed the Republicans’ predicament over disposing Trump for Mike Pence. Basically, they’re prepared to do it, preferably before the 2018 mid-term elections, as long as they don’t have to take any responsibility for it. Most Republicans, batshit craven and otherwise, live in fear of Trump’s low-to-no information base. But if Trump brings the… house of cards … down on himself with a ceaseless bombardment of revelations about scheming with … the f****ing Russians for chrissakes (every old school Republican’s ultimate boogeyman) … they can stand back like mere horrified observers, while doing everything they can to polish up the medieval dunce Mike Pence as the only acceptable replacement.

The wild and terrifying card in this drama is of course the “Reichstag fire” scenario, where Team Trump plots to distract public/Congressional/media attention by either inventing, grossly exaggerating or ineptly bungling some serious international crisis. In normal times you, dear reader, would be excused for rolling your eyes at the wild-eyed lunacy of such a scenario. I mean, stuff like that doesn’t happen in The United States.

Unfortunately, like the dossier with stories of the Rooskies storing video of Donald and hookers, um, “micturating” on Obama’s hotel bed in Moscow, there’s a level of plausibility to almost every obscene, outrageous thing you can imagine about Trump that we’ve never dealt with before. Not even with Dick Nixon.

Man, am I tired of winning so much.

The Resistance Is Being Televised, And A Lot Of It Is Pretty Funny

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3So I’m down in Florida for my sister Lu’s birthday bash, strolling around the quaint/funky old neighborhood of Key West minding my own business, and I pass by a guy parked on his Vespa talking on the phone.

“Look,” he says to whoever, “we can’t do this every day. It was a half hour yesterday and”, looking at his watch, “it’s already 20 minutes this morning. We can’t spend all this time talking about that asshole. It’s draining.”

Now, he could have been talking his drunken brother-in-law’s latest faceplant. But I kinda doubt it. The conversation was way too familiar to stuff I’m hearing everywhere I go. Hell, my wife and I were recently at a wake … a wake, for chrissakes … and every conversation was about Trump, “that asshole”. To the point that it struck me the guy is such a menace to psychic health he’s a goddam buzzkill … at a wake.

Scrolling through social media and other blogs, every liberal I know is in a competition to outdo the last in the level of vilification, disgust and personal offense they’re taking to Trump (and all things Trump). I can hardly plead innocence. It’s like, “No, I’m more outraged and appalled than you are!”, and there’s going to be some kind of awards banquet for the most righteous, apoplectic takedown of our Our Mendacious, Incompetent Orange Comb Over-in-Chief. (See?)

So here’s a little sunlight and flower-sniffing to counter-balance all the stomach-churning rage. The resistance undermining Trump (and Steve Bannon, and Betsy DeVos and all the other cartoonish trolls who have moved into D.C.) is flourishing and, apologies to Gil Scott-Heron, is actually being televised.

There’s nothing monolithic about modern media. It’s a million different sources for 320 million different interest groups. But as badly as “the media” failed us during the campaign, it is now reacting predictably — and pretty well — to the clown car chaos and buffoonery of the Trump administration. (Thanks in large part to its own craven ratings-chasing) “the media” now has a singular target of unprecedented size and authority to dissect, delegitimize and de-pants … hourly … day after day, with no conceivable end in sight. I’m convinced this is true because Trump, a demonstrably ill-formed, unstable and isolated personality, is not capable of transforming himself, like Madonna or Lady Gaga, to meet changes in public tastes. As this resistance grows, as it has with each adolescent Tweet, white nationalist/mega banker appointment and bungled military operation, Trump can only double down … and down and down again … as the rage swells up.

So here are a few things I’ve recently taken encouragement from.

1: The Harley-Davidson people, fully understanding the certainty that a Presidential visit to their Milwaukee headquarters would fire up an enormous and angry demonstration outside their factory, kind of ruining their anniversary party, thought better of Trump in Wisconsin. So the motorcycle execs went to the White House instead. This is a fascinating precedent. How does Trump go … anywhere … without inciting angry, mocking protests? Presidential factory visits are about as routine as it gets. But not with Trump, and not ever is my bet. He may be able to pull off a completely cordoned-off, quarantined “victory lap rally” in, I don’t know, West Virginia opioid, I mean, coal country, but where else? And even then the perimeters of that scene would be pretty unruly. Put another way, can you imagine Trump wandering around Minneapolis for a couple days, having a come one-come all appearance at Minnehaha Falls and knocking back a Juicy Lucy at Matt’s a la Obama? The mind reels at the protest possibilities, not to mention Matt’s owners pleading with him to stay away. Hell, good luck to any member of Congress risking a town hall in their own district with this fool in office.

2: Earnest, hyper-cautious second-tier newspapers like the Star Tribune, which have long relied on The New York Times for their national and international news coverage, are routinely re-printing Times stories full of appalling-to-hilarious details of Trump’s corruption and incompetence. The Times recently added $5 million to its budget to excavate more of Trump’s astonishing malfeasance. I’m still waiting to hear how NPR and MPR adjust to this new reality, but every outlet relying on the Times is running (some of) its stuff and feeding the fires of the resistance, with real facts, not the alternative ones. There’s no reason to think that will stop or slow down since, as the song goes, we’ve only just begun.

3: Pop culture, which I’ve mentioned before, is rapidly and with near unanimity coalescing around the concept of Trump as Toxic, Racist Buffoon. From Melissa McCarthy’s spit-take inducing takedown of the hapless Sean Spicer, to Alec Baldwin (and Bannon the Grim Reaper), to a refocused and re-energized Stephen Colbert, to an explosion of wall art around the world ridiculing Trump, to a ceaseless flow of GIFs and social media memes Trump is gold, or is it orange? manna dropping from the skies like a bombardment of frozen turkeys. (Note multiple metaphors.)  And if you argue that all those “smug, urban elites” are just flogging the choir, check out the sports stars, most of them black at the moment, declining the “honor” of shaking Trump’s hand. Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors today, and I have a real hard time seeing LeBron James grippin’ and grinnin’ with a shameless liar and unrepentant race-baiter if the Cavaliers repeat this spring. Not good optics, man. Much like the boycott of his red neck inaugural gala, being publicly-and-loudly opposed to Trump is a badge of honor for an overwhelming percentage of America’s cultural heroes.

So yeah, Bannon and DeVos and Jeff Sessions and KellyAnne and the rest of the preposterous mob are in office, screwing things up and doing what they can to recreate some kind of white, patriarchal fiefdom here in the US of A. But, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, there is a broad, clever, swelling, well-informed and deeply invigorated resistance undermining, mocking and vilifying them for being the walking frauds and catastrophes they are.

And it’s all on TV. It’s the American way.

It’s Not looking Like Public Radio Will Be Part of the Solution

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3MinnPost has discontinued media coverage, so I’m no longer covering stories like this. But if I were, this one would be a fat target.

Here’s the link to a Daily Beast story. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/02/01/lewis-wallace-stood-up-for-journalism-it-cost-him-his-job.html?via=newsletter&source=DDAfternoon

Essentially an employee of the radio show Marketplace, which is a production of St. Paul-based American Public Media (APM), a sister network of Minnesota Public Radio, Wallace wrote on his private blog about coping professionally — as a journalist — with the new realities of our current Trump era. This did not sit well with American Public Media, and he (a transgender guy, no less) was eventually fired.

Says the Daily Beast story: “According to Wallace’s account, he was told that his blog post violated Marketplace’s code of ethics because he questioned the way that journalistic ideals like ‘objectivity’ and ‘neutrality’ can be abused by people and organizations who don’t believe in facts or who hold ‘morally reprehensible’ positions like white supremacy. Wallace also wrote that journalists shouldn’t care if they are labelled ‘politically correct’ or ‘liberal’ for simply ‘reporting the facts’.”

APM seemed particularly upset with Wallace’s assertion that “neutrality” is itself an act of strategic political positioning, usually to avoid the appearance of (liberal) bias and avoid conflict with audiences and advertisers/underwriters. Journalistic “neutrality” is the semi-mythical realm where journalists do not make judgments on what they are reporting, which is to say specifically pointing out “errors of fact”, “falsehoods” and “lies”,

Said Wallace, ” … can people of color be expected to give credence to ‘both sides’ of a dispute with a white supremacist, a person who holds unscientific and morally reprehensible views on the very nature of being human? Should any of us do that? Final note here, the ‘center’ that is viewed as neutral can and does shift; studying the history of journalism is a great help in understanding how centrism is more a marketing tactic to reach broad audiences than actual neutrality. Many of the journalists who’ve told the truth in key historical moments have been outliers and members of an opposition, here and in other countries. And right now, as norms of government shift toward a ‘post-fact’ framework, I’d argue that any journalist invested in factual reporting can no longer remain neutral.”

The response from APM was entirely predictable. “American Public Media communications director Angie Andresen told The Daily Beast in a statement: ‘Like most employers, we don’t discuss personnel matters about current or former employees. We value our strong ethics and political activity guidelines. They are designed to allow us to fulfill our commitment to independent and objective reporting. Diversity is a hallmark and strength of Marketplace. We do not discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression’.”

It’s safe to say “diversity” is not the central issue here. Rather it is … a low-level employee, on his private blog, saying something — well worth a broad public discussion — that might possibly, in some way shape or form create an issue for APM.

As the Daily Beast story notes, this comes on the heels of another telling example of public radio’s squishiness. On the topic of full and fearless reporting of what is arguably the biggest story any journalist has covered in their lifetime, namely the installation of a White House administration that has no qualms about lying as matter of routine, not to mention simultaneously vilifying the press for its “fakery”, National Public Radio reasserted its determination to proceed as if nothing has been disrupted.

In a New York Times piece Jan. 25 on the ethical bona fides of Michael Oreskes, NPR’s Senior President for News was quoted (from an internal statement) saying of the use of the word “lie” to describe Trump’s behavior, “the minute you start branding things with a word like ‘lie,’ you push people away from you.”

Which is another way of saying, “There is a risk there.”

Yeah, the world is full of risk.

It may be true that calling out Trump will push some people away. But I doubt Oreskes or anyone else at APM has any metrics to prove it, much less research to show that the kind of aggressive reporting on Trump shown on a near daily basis now by The New York Times (which just reported a surge in on-line subscriptions) may be precisely what a literate, involved and duly outraged audience expects of it at this very minute.

Oeskes is no doubt worried. All public radio has to feel imperiled by Trump’s threats to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, something that could very well happen given the lack of counter-punch from Congressional liberals. The less aggressive NPR is with Trump the less likely they’ll feel the budget axe. Or so they may think.

The APM sacking of heretofore anonymous Mr. Wallace is part and parcel of the point I was making in my previous post, built around the commentary the Strib wouldn’t run on precisely this kind of hidebound timidity and misreading of consumer sentiment. Mainstream news organizations, fond of an “above the fray”, “this too shall pass” attitude toward outbursts of cultural extremism, are risking alienating a key audience/customer base by not adjusting and stepping up to this very large and unprecedented fight.

And they don’t want to talk about it.

Rejected by the Strib. (Not That I’m Taking it Personally.)

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Here’s a commentary piece I wrote for the Strib which didn’t make their cut. Word is they’re a bit overwhelmed with Trump stuff. But I don’t call reading anything there from this perspective. Nor did any of the Strib managers I contacted acknowledge e-mails seeking a conversation about adjusting to Trump-style rhetoric and media manipulation.

Whether mainstream professional journalists want to admit it or talk about it publicly or not, the work they do is at another moment of revolution, if not crisis. How to conduct business in the Age of Donald Trump compounds pressures already placed on traditional journalism organizations by the explosion of free internet alternatives to Reporting as Your Parents Remember It and the squeeze from rapacious investors.

Whatever your feelings about Trump, his attitude toward so many long-standing protocols including those guiding White House-press relations makes him a disrupter of unprecedented magnitude. Judging by how he’s conducted himself through his business career, the presidential campaign and the transition to taking over as POTUS 45, Trump operates — and thus far has succeeded beyond all conventional expectations — by asserting a combative, constantly shifting alternate reality to the world the press has comfortably reported on for generations. That was a world where the press played objective arbiter between two thoroughly familiar political forces, Republicans and Democrats, each largely accepting the basic rules of conduct between them and the media that covered them.

There is no good reason to think that arrangement will ever exist with Trump. More to the point, there is peril, even a threat to established journalism’s basic business model, in wishfully thinking that traditional protocol will suddenly emerge with Trump in the Oval Office. Put bluntly, the question traditional journalism managers should be asking themselves is this: “What do the readers (or listeners or viewers) who trust us expect from us now, in this new environment?”

The news environment of 2017 is as intensely bifurcated as I can ever recall. Where one large mass of news consumers still puts faith in fact-based reporting by daily newspapers, network news and the like, another remarkably large mass, a group instilled with a deep distrust and contempt for mainstream journalism by 25 years of talk radio and hyper-partisan websites, eagerly consumes and trades in preposterous fakery. What’s real and true matters less to them than what tilts the battle in favor of their tribe.

The dilemma for established news organizations is in providing too little of what their most supportive customers want most. Specifically, that would be very aggressive truth-telling on a transparency-averse figure, Trump, who has also demonstrated a startling disinterest in what’s empirical and true.

Trump is pushing the traditional press into uncomfortable territory, requiring a rapid evolution in both style and operational ethics. Over the past year, leading news organizations like the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times famously broke with the long-standing taboo against use of the words “lie” and “liar”, in describing various Trump assertions. Having surveyed (or attempted to survey) a dozen or so news executives and media analysts, I can report that the few who cared/dared engage in a conversation on the topic of new strategies for covering Trump were palpably uncomfortable with the Times’ and Post’s break with tradition and offered no new rules for the road as Trump takes office.

There are plenty of journalism outlets, from BuzzFeed, to Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept, to Mother Jones, to Talking Points Memo to Vox and so on prepared to cover Trump unfettered by polite traditions and protocols left over from the Eisenhower administration. The peril for the more established press is in failing to evolve and compete with those insurgents for the attention and trust of the audience that has supported Old School journalism up to this moment.

American journalism needs its version of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, a tactical guide for waging battle against a committed foe. At minimum it should include resisting the reflexive over-reaction, like a flock of starlings, to Trump’s tweet-of-the-hour and instead concentrate on burrowing obsessively into essential disclosures. Like the new President’s opaque financial associations and obligations, with the Russians the Chinese, or whoever.

The public has a profound right to know. And the people who continue to trust Mom and Dad’s Media expect big legacy journalism shops to adjust to our stark new reality and not just “report” the latest bizarre tweet, but deliver the critical information they want, protocols be damned.

“Pussy Hat Nation” is Bigly-er than Trump.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2The one certain thing we can take away from the enormous turn-out for Saturday’s Women’s Marches — all around the world, including Antarctica — is that for as big a story as the Trump administration is, the resistance to it is every bit as large. It is just as unprecedented.

In normal times there’d be a big show of protest like last weekend. Everyone would bus and fly into D.C. or hump it across town to gather with kindred souls and make a lot of noise for an afternoon. And then the crowd would go back to their regular gigs, getting the kids through school, putting on a new deck, planning for spring break. But “normal” is so 2015.

Millions of pretty neighborly, everyday people recognize that we’ve seriously parted ways with “normal.” What we can bank on now is that Donald Trump, the man with perhaps the lowest emotional IQ of anyone ever to set foot in the White House, much less preside over it, will be a constant, daily-to-hourly source of infuriation for everyone who turned out this past weekend … all around the world.  Make that “infuriation” and “embarrassment”.

Look for example at what one day of marches wrought.

The guy makes a courtesy call on the CIA and lies to their faces about ever dissing them or suggesting they were undermining him “like Nazi Germany” and then spirals off that into a hissy id-fit about the media lying about the size of the crowd for his inauguration. He follows that by sending his hapless spox, Sean Spicer, (soon to be a regular “Saturday Night Live” bit), to add a half dozen more instantly disprovable lies on top of everything he himself said. This then leads to the Strangelovian notion of “alternative facts”, from Trump’s grossly over-exposed White House “counselor” Kellyanne Conway, already an “SNL” meme.

(BTW: If you were wondering about the cheering at that CIA event. There’s this today from CBS News: “U.S. government sources tell CBS News that there is a sense of unease in the intelligence community after President Trump’s visit to CIA headquarters on Saturday.  An official said the visit ‘made relations with the intelligence community worse’ and described the visit as ‘uncomfortable’. Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign.  An official with knowledge of the make-up of the crowd says that there were about 40 people who’d been invited by the Trump, Mike Pence and Rep. Mike Pompeo teams. The Trump team expected Rep. Pompeo, R-Kansas, to be sworn in during the event as the next CIA director, but the vote to confirm him was delayed on Friday by Senate  Democrats. Also sitting in the first several rows in front of the president was the CIA’s senior leadership, which was not cheering the remarks.’)

Follow what will be a routine cycle of cause-and-effect.

Universally observable event occurs. (Trump inauguration draws 1/6th of Obama’s and 1/3rd of the Women’s March). Trump declares it all a lie cooked up by “most dishonest people in the world.” Which reminds and reaffirms in the minds of the significant majority of the public who voted against him that his dishonesty is dwarfed by his astonishing insecurity. Which sets off a fresh frenzy of social media mockery. Which infuriates him further. Which keeps his limited attention span focused on affronts to his ego. Which generates more counter-attacks riddled with absurd lies. Which … well you get it.

Point being, this is not going to stop, until something breaks, and the chances are better that Trump breaks down than 60, 80,100 million … around the planet, who have the benefit of reality on their side. Character is destiny, and Trump, who no one can imagine preparing himself for the intellectual rigors of the Oval Office much less the constant assault on personal inadequacies that comes with the territory, is a character suited only for tabloid-style combat. Paper-thin ego gratification is the essence of his game.

Personally, I continue to have a “House of Cards” view of what’s coming over the horizon. It is all too plausible that the Russians (via loans to Trump by Putin-friendly oligarchs if not incontinent hookers) have blackmail leverage on him, leverage that guys like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are only too happy to apply to keep Trump their bitch. But if he is as wholly delusional as we are certain he is, the fun starts when he decides they are his bitches.

Bigly wrong-o, O Orange One.

Without getting their hands too dirty, entrenched institutional power-play Republicans like Ryan and McConnell can release no end of pressure to drive Trump into a virtual death-spiral of insane threats and name-calling. Having neither affinity or respect for Trump, it’s a scenario you know they’ve already entertained, since their preferred stooge, Mike Pence, is ready and willing to serve without histrionic turmoil should Trump suffer a debilitating medical incident, resign in frustration or be politically neutered by Anonymous or WikiLeaks or some hacker spitting up his tax returns.

Meanwhile, every step of the way to that point is a vast middle-class insurgency not just opposed to Trump but viscerally disgusted by him, to a level they never despised George W. Bush. Every day Trump will say or do something to stoke that insurgency of nice, well-educated women in pink pussy hats like a coal feeder into a blast furnace. He’s incapable of doing anything else.

But the story of that insurgency is bigger than Trump.

The Roiling Freak Show of Trump v. Media

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Considering our woeful record in assessing the likely outcome of the November election, no one in American media should make predictions. But … I strongly suspect the tenor of President-elect Trump’s first press conference Wednesday will be amplified and aggravated … constantly … throughout his term in office. It’s the way he does business, and to date the way the press has done business.

Digesting the spectacle Thursday New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg wrote, “There were two big lessons in the Wednesday morning melee.

  1. Mr. Trump remains a master media manipulator who used his first news briefing since July to expertly delegitimize the news media and make it the story rather than the chaotic swirl of ethical questions that engulf his transition.
  2. The news media remains an unwitting accomplice in its own diminishment as it fails to get a handle on how to cover this new and wholly unprecedented president.”

These are not novel insights. But it remains interesting how regularly we’re hearing this kind of thing from the country’s acknowledged journalistic leaders. Trump the manipulator, delegitimizing the press and the press failing to adjust to a new reality. Or, as one observer put it, the press continuing to “apply balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon” to the extent that it “distorts reality.”

Missing from Rutenberg’s column and so many like it was a specific prescription of what to do. While he goes on to trill with the traditional news chorus indicting BuzzFeed for publishing the “extended version” of the U.S. intelligence briefing on Mr. Trump and his Russian activities, what he does in sum, is argue for yet more of the “balanced treatment” approach.

Whether you believe BuzzFeed, once a silly listicle-spewing engine, now given grudging credibility among traditional reporters, was right or wrong in publishing the unverified report in its full salaciousness no doubt depends on what you think of Trump. (Rutenberg lauds BuzzFeed’s work on the genesis of some of the past year’s “fake news” epidemic.) But it’s hard to see how the press adjusts itself and re-gathers its bearings over the near term future if it chooses to deny the right of an informed citizenry to know what the chattering classes of D.C. and New York have known and been talking about for months.

For the record, BuzzFeed presented the 35-page document with the clear disclaimer that information within was unverified. But the more important fact is that it published the thing. (Here’s a fiery takedown of the decision from Quillete.com.) Such a thing simply isn’t done! Or at least hasn’t been until now, in this starkly unbalanced, distorting moment. Comparisons of BuzzFeed to the now-defunct Gawker are being tossed around in the context of unjournalistic recklessness and shameless “clickbaiting.”

Such horror!

While the bonafides of the so-called dossier got something of a boost yesterday from a BBC story suggesting there at least four sources describing blackmail-quality material in Russian hands for possible use against Trump, for journalists of the traditional mindset, the line in the sand is “unverified”. Beyond that nothing matters.

The counter argument, which deserves more serious consideration than it is getting, is that having plainly asserted the material’s unverified nature, the credibility placed in it by U.S. intelligence agencies who briefed both the President, the President-elect and Senate leaders means the general public has a right to know what “the elites” are talking about.

As I say, the DC/media figures had been aware of this for eight months. (Here’s a timeline from businessinsider.com). If, as you can see in that timeline, influential people were making making strategic calculations based on its existence, who is the press protecting from what and why?

Former acting CIA Director Mike Morrell had a set of interesting comments on the matter to Christiane Amanpour.

If the crossing of the line, where news publications print unverified opposition research on powerful public figures is discomfiting to you, well, it should be. This is new ethical territory. Territory most polite people would prefer not to go into. But territory everyone in the press is reacting to whether they like it or not. Moreover, it is territory the press is being forced into, given the distortion of reality resulting from the head-on collision of “balanced” journalism and the “unbalanced phenomenon”, which in this case is an incoming President of the United States. Mr. Trump is after all someone who has steadfastly refused to disclose anything remotely like the normal financial information that could offer reassurance he is immune to foreign blackmail.

We may all wish we still lived in an era of two more-or-less respectful warring parties, where the press could play the comfortable, familiar role of bemused arbiter. But those days are gone, or certainly aren’t the ones we’re living today.

Another storyline in the roiling freak show that is the press in the Age of Trump is the offer by Penthouse magazine of a $1 million reward/bounty for anyone who delivers video of the dossier’s shall we say, “golden moment”. What does “the press” do if such a video ever appears? Beyond that, and something I think far more plausible, what happens if some wealthy liberal tycoon, a George Soros or Tom Steyer lets word get out that there’s a $5 million (or $10 or $20 million) bounty on Trump’s taxes? Drop them in a stall in an airport bathroom, no questions asked. What are ethics of running with that?

Our incoming President is a kind of ultimate disrupter. The press can accept that and adapt in order to assert the kind of oversight the public appears to want, or it can continue to wring hands over its relevance.

No “La La” in TrumpLand.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3With three weeks to go before the post-election lull ends and we enter … what comes next, I continue to be fascinated by our President-elect’s struggle to get anyone remotely “A-list” to perform for his inaugural.

It isn’t just schadenfreude-rich pleasure of the embarrassment to Trump of not being able to coerce stars like Celine Dion (via his casino buddy Steve Wynn) or bribe (with offers of seven-figure pay-outs for what is traditionally a volunteer gig and ambassadorships for talent agents who can land someone who isn’t Ted Nugent). It really isn’t, I swear.

Because what’s more interesting than cheap embarrassment is what this nearly universal rejection of Trump by America/the world’s pop culture heroes and role models means for youth coming of age in the era that begins on January 20.

Based on what we’re seeing from very mainstream pop heroes like Elton John, Lady Gaga and even (for chrissakes!) Garth Brooks we are entering an era during which the single most prominent authority figure on the planet will be consistently treated as an object of shame, contempt and derision by the people — singers, comedians, film and TV actors — who have far more influence over the imaginations of young people than any talk radio or cable TV host, newspaper columnist or droning pundit.

This wholesale abhorrence/rejection/contempt is (yet more) uncharted territory. Every president is routinely lampooned. It comes with the turf. But Trump, as a result of the cartoonishly sleazy way he’s conducted himself throughout his adult life, how he campaigned by inflaming ignorance and racism and how he’s surrounding himself with a freak show of know-nothings and profiteering billionaires, is already burying the needle in terms of contempt from our pop culture icons of fairness and decency.

Trumpists will sneer at the hypocrisy of “sleazy Hollywood” reviling Trump, their swamp-draining change agent and darling of evangelical puritans. But who really cares? What they’re ignoring (this time) is the far larger imprint of pop culture on qualities of imagination, generosity, courage, acceptance and common grace. Qualities at the core of the vast majority of “Hollywood’s” greatest successes, from “Star Wars” to “La La Land” to Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen.

By the starkest of contrasts, there is no “La La” to Donald Trump.

Based on everything we know from his decades in the pop culture spotlight, he is a man uniquely lacking in grace. There is no dignity to him. Nor even a hint of literate sophistication. What’s more, his well-earned reputation for double-dealing, crass manipulation and shameless dishonesty fully defines him as the classic villain of pop culture story-telling, the character to always be resisted and defeated.

It’s hard to imagine any scenario that doesn’t further aggravate this level of contempt.

And that’s if he just confines himself to dismantling popular liberal programs. Imagine if you will what goes down, in terms of response from popular culture, (when) he or his cabinet of trolls attempts to exert military force on someone (they say) poses a threat to us?

With gross dishonesty being the most distinctive facet of his reputation, Trump simply has no standing, no credibility at all in terms of committing the military to war. Oh, American generals will follow orders. It’s what they do. And the troops will do as they’re told. It’s their job. But on the streets of the USA? The reaction will be immediate and intense.

Overall, the world’s artistic community has a remarkable opportunity/obligation with Trump. It’s easy to foresee an explosive reaction from serious artists to a Trump era filled with deception, profiteering and comic book-style mendacity. But “serious artists”, painters, dancers, novelists, “art” filmmakers and cable comedians like John Oliver and Samantha Bee preach to the choir of Trump’s adversaries. (How many Trumpists do you think have ever been to a performance art show, or read Ian McEwan)?

The far more substantial undermining of Trump’s legitimacy will come, I believe, come from artists with vast crossover appeal. People like, for example, Beyonce, principled country western stars (oxymoron alert on that one) and mass appeal filmmakers of the Spielberg school deft enough to weave anti-Trump themes into large-scale box office attractions.

By the time this is over your average 12 year-old is going to have a radically different attitude toward America’s ultimate authority figure.

 

Read & Weep: The Best (But Mostly) Worst of the Media 2016

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Whatever the beat, a relevant year’s end list must offer, or at least attempt to offer balance between examples of glory and the inglorious. In the sprawling world of media, which could run the gamut from apps to locate the hottie of your dreams to, well, electing the next President of the United States, the tendency is to overweight examples in favor of moments that carry more existential weight.

That said, the list of media failures over the long, tragic-comic run of 2016 could (and will) fill a book(s). It was ugly. Real ugly. Tripping over your own feet and planting yourself face-first in the hog pen ugly. So to begin with the bad news first and condense the blotter of offenses to a representative few, here are …

THE WORST OF THE MEDIA 2016

Donald Trump receives (at least) $5 billion in free advertising from American cable networks. Entire campaign rallies were broadcast coast-to-coast at no charge to the candidate who ended up spending only $74 million on advertising, a third of what Hillary Clinton spent.  In a related and unprecedented move, the cable world was so insatiably hungry for anything he might say Trump was permitted to phone in to “the shows” as he referred to them rather than endure the inconvenience of presenting himself in person. Ratings and profits spiked for all who obliged.

Trump’s qualifications for office v. Clinton’s e-mails. Same difference. Exercising classical balance, the hours of airtime and volumes of print devoted to Trump’s continuous stream of fallacies, out-right lies and disgraceful personal behavior were countered with a nearly equal volume of reporting on every glint of news related to Clinton’s e-mails, where no significant breach of security was ever found. Or at least so said the FBI Director.

The FoxNews Republican candidates debate in Detroit spends more time discussing the size of Donald Trump’s hands than the water crisis in Flint, 70 miles away. The 21 Republican debates and forums were notable for a consistent focus on how the candidates would respond to terrorism. Responses were predictable. But at the gathering in Detroit only one question was asked about Flint’s water crisis (a rich example of government ineptitude and indifference on several levels). After one response from one candidate the moderators moved on.

Matt Lauer interviews Trump and Clinton at the “Commander-in-Chief Forum”.  Lauer, NBC’s highest paid on-air personality, and host of “The Today Show” which regularly featured updates on developments on “The Apprentice” Trump’s show, also on NBC, avoids challenging the candidate on a half dozen fact-challenged assertions, but grills Clinton again on her e-mails then admonishes her to be brief in response to an audience question on national security.

CNN hires Trump’s disgraced campaign manager as an on-air contributor. Corey Lewandowski, relieved of his duties after an incident where he yanked at a female Breitbart reporter’s arm, is brought on by CNN to offer — insights, apparently — that may better inform the viewing public about his former boss. Never mind that he has a non-disclosure agreement with Trump. Sample insight, on a Trump trade speech: “This is Mr. Trump’s best speech of the presidential cycle. This is right on message, his core message of putting Americans first. This is about bringing jobs back to America.”

The Associated Press tweets that, “More than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation.” The story goes viral. Missing from this Twitter alert is the not-insignificant detail that those who contributed were more than half of a very small number of private individuals, less than 20 in most accounts, listed in incomplete State Department records. But the story provides a negative counterweight to Trump’s missteps.

Roger Ailes, architect of FoxNews, is sued for sexual harrassment. Minnesota native Gretchen Carlson instigates a flood of disclosures about the cloddish behavior of Ailes and the network’s internal culture. Ailes “steps down”, is rewarded with a $40 million golden parachute and shifts over to advising Trump.

Nate Silver and pretty much every other science-driven prognosticator blow it. The guru of 538, regarded as an infallible seer after his performance in 2012 is still predicting, on Nov. 8, that Hillary Clinton as a 71% chance of victory. He is not alone. Of analysts/polls of note only the heretofore obscure USC/Los Angeles Times poll got the call right.

With the financial assistance of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel Hulk Hogan wins a defamation lawsuit against Gawker Media which forces the site to sell off and shut down. Gawker’s primary site wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea and walked a fine edge between relevant snark and ad hominem attack. But the spectacle of Thiel, with his own personal grudge against Gawker big-footing the case and buying a conviction in a squalid matter involving a collection of hucksters in, um, disquieting.

“Fake news” floods Facebook and other social media. Unchecked by the world’s largest social media platform — with north of 1.8 billion users — a steady stream of completely made-up news stories are posted on sites with legitimate sounding names like ABCNews.com.co and Conservativefrontline.com. The vast majority are targeted at Trump supporters who share them in volumes several times larger than actual news stories. Facebook initially calls the idea it played any role in the election outcome as “crazy”, but then institutes new protocols to flag such content.

THE BEST IN MEDIA 2016

“O.J.: Made in America”. The word “epic” is constantly overused. But here it truly applies. No documentary I can remember ever collated so broad a landscape of cultural phobia, misplaced adulation and rage. Within the nearly eight hours viewers feel not just the weight of the so-called “Trial of the Century” but essential qualities of American class discontent. The connection to the events of November 8 is powerful and vivid.

David Fahrenthold Washington Post. While television reporters were embarrassing themselves for the most part attempting to cover the Trump phenomenon, Fahrenthold ignored the shiny object/story of the hour misdirection and concentrated on the candidate’s suspiciously murky financial history, his charitable dealings in particular. He’ll be first in line for Pulitzers next year.

Drew Magary’s GQ rant. The Minnesota native and Deadspin blogger got off one of the most cathartic and profane rants of the political season. The few Trump supporters who read it were no doubt certain the guy was off his meds. Others laughed until there were tears in their eyes and exhaled deeply. If the established press is going to [bleep] up as badly as it did, let’s have more of this in primetime. Honorable mention: Charlie Pierce at Esquire.

Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek. In much the same vein as Fahrenthold, with a touch of Magary for good measure, Eichenwald, author of the classic on Enron, “The Smartest Guys in the Room”, pounded on Trump’s various financial conflicts of interest. An intense and volatile character in the best of times, you do not want to get into a Twitter brawl with the guy.

“Making of a Murderer”. A end of the year 2015 event that folded over into 2016. The tale of two low-income socially-snubbed men, one a mentally challenged teenager, convicted of a motivation-free, largely evidence-free murder by Wisconsin authorities who appeared more intent on closing a case, or settling long running grudges than discerning the truth, was riveting from start to finish. By late 2016 the teenager in question had been granted his release, though he remained in custody.

“I Spent 5 Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You. A Mother Jones feature by Arlie Russell Hochschild”. A deeply reported piece on a subset of people, living in rural Louisiana in this instance, constantly described as “Trump’s base.” Why that might not be entirely true, Hochschild’s ability to ingratiate herself with these people, mostly white and out on the desperate fringes, induced feelings of both pity and high alarm.

“Westworld”. Dogged by controversy while in production, for both its enormous cost to HBO and subject matter — A robot amusement park? Who cares? Jonathan Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy, produced not just a huge hit for their investors but a surprisingly intelligent commentary on consciousness, self-awareness and the criteria for being alive.

“The Night Of”. Another HBO series, this one scripted by the gifted novelist Richard Price, a man with an acute ear for the vernacular and cadence of cops and the subterranean characters they hunt and whose manner they so often assimilate. A fine mystery with excellent performances by John Turturro, as the unlikely defense attorney, Jeannie Berlin as the prosecutor and Michael K. Williams (“Omar” from the Wire).

“The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story”

While not in the same league in terms of conscience-rattling relevance as “OJ: Made in America”. This FX mini-series, driven by a superb, multi-levelled performance by Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, struck most of the same notes and proved again that television is an arguably better venue for adult storytelling than feature films.

Charlie Sykes’ conscience. A certain body of thought sees in Trump’s victory the ultimate flowering of a generation of conservative talk radio. But over in Milwaukee, radio talker Charlie Sykes signed off the air after 25 lucrative, influential years lamenting the fact that too many his listeners no longer cared what was verifiably true, and accepting some of the blame for his audience’s preferred ignorance of fact.

Other than all that it was just your average year. 2017 has to be uphill, right? Right?

Predictions for the Age of The Donald

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Now that my blood pressure has settled back into the “Only Occasionally Fatal” zone I’m prepared to make several predictions about the coming Age of Donald.

To begin with matters of least concern to you and me and build up to the really scary stuff … .

The Inauguration Have you stopped to imagine what a cheesy freak show this is going to be? A highlight from last week was a Trump-o-naut breaking the news to the world and Elton John that Sir Elton would be performing at the Donald’s coronation ceremonies. It took Mr. John about three nano-seconds to fire back something to the effect of, “Like [bleep] I am!” Point being, who will lend their name, reputation and career for the “honor” of celebrating the election of a cartoonish sleazeball like Trump? Complain all you want about smug, intolerant Hollywood/show biz liberals, taking a gig crooning and high-kicking for Trump will be, during the inauguration and throughout the Trump regency, the equivalent of the French collaborators in occupied Paris. Go ahead if you must, but expect to be shunned and stigmatized wherever you go thereafter. Look instead for a patriotic medley from Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd MC’d by Pat Sajak and Scott Baio. Totally super classy. If he wants to feel the adoration of the (minority of the) people who elected him he’d be better-advised to stage his swearing in at an airplane hangar in Hays, Kansas.

Protests  I don’t know about that Million Woman March the day after, but the Day Of will be … unprecedented. Serious, traditional news organizations observed the usual niceties during George W*’s installation in 2001, cutting away from and not endlessly replaying tape loops of protestors hurling garbage at Bush’s limo as it rolled up to the Capitol. But having dragged standards for common decency and campaigning down the toilet and clogged the sewer, Trump will not be extended similar courtesies. Why? Because he doesn’t deserve it. Security will be drum tight, but with opposition to Trump already red-lining the meters there will be no end of displays of disgust, some funnier and more shaming than others.

Forget New York … and Los Angeles … and San Francisco … and London … .  Ever since he got that no interest loan from daddy and bootstrapped his way into New York society Trump has sought the approval and adulation of culture leaders — celebrities, philanthropists, big thinkers and doers, anyone with the kind of cred that gets them on the A-list for the annual Met Gala. He never has. He’s always been too transparently cheap, too much of an obvious grifter with too little contribution to culture to be accepted by “that crowd.” And now it’ll get worse. It will a matter of pride and integrity for “finer society” everywhere to shun everything Trump, a position made easier to do by Trump’s overt appeal to racism and what will certainly be weekly outrages against accepted decency. Think no further than Anna Wintour, fashion empress and editor of Vogue. How much do you think she and the culture she presides over will have to do with either Trump or Melania? I say little to nothing. The Trump “brand” where once cheesy is now toxic, as huckerstering little Ivanka will soon find out.

Bigger than LBJ and Nixon.  The existence of the draft largely explained the millions who poured out on to the streets during the hottest pitch of the Vietnam War, vilifying Lyndon Johnson and Tricky Dick. In reaction, America’s warrior class smartened up and switched to an all-volunteer Army, which led to W* and Cheney sending National Guard recruits through multiple deployments to Iraq. But Johnson and even Nixon arrived in office with at least a semblance of experience thinking about and seriously judging world issues. Trump arrives with nothing of the sort, other than slapping his name on hotels someone else is building. Has the guy even read a history of WWII or Vietnam? Moreover again, based entirely on how he has conducted his adult life and how he campaigned he arrives in office one “Day One” as every bit the shameless ogre and far more the self-serving fraud Lyndon and Dick ever were.

Gutless liberals.  It is accepted wisdom among the crowd that inhales Breitbart and fake Facebook news like meth fumes that liberals have no fight in them. I generally like to avoid making monolithic references to any sub-group, but the people revolted by Trump were a majority of voters in the recent election and remain well-armed with facts, organization and the platforms to stage constant resistance to every calamitous, authoritarian move he tries to make, which as I say, will continue with appalling regularity. Congress may (or may not) have Trump’s back, depending on how well he toes the GOP party line. But off Capitol Hill a lot of very smart, very well-funded people will see blunting Trump as a patriotic duty. The sort of thing that gilds their legacy. If the Left Behind/Didn’t Keep Up rubes or the Clod Culture crowd who see this stuff as lunkheaded team sport think their boy is safe from paralyzing criticism and skullduggery, they should prepare themselves for (another) slap of reality. You want a culture war? You’re going to get it.

The Gutless Press. Having taken the tradition-breaking step of calling Trump a liar throughout the last phases of the campaign, media standard-setters like The New York Times and The Washington Post have been given no good reason to step back and call him anything different as President-elect. Trump’s honeymoon with the serious end of media/journalism will never happen. Judging from New Yorker editor David Remnick’s reporting on the TV celebs who scuttled over to Trump Tower to be dressed down for dishonesty and lying … by Donald [bleepin’] Trump! … fingers are already twitching at the trigger for anything. The commercialized crowd, the Gayle Kings, Matt Lauers, Joe Scarboroughs and most of the lower tiers of the country’s newspapers will begin with a facade of dutiful respect. But that facade is about as thick and durable as the gold spray paint on a Trump penthouse. When … not if … he finds himself mired in an epic scandal he better have Sean Hannity under lifetime contract. Moreover, it’s not hard to foresee a co-mingling of interests and resources between the aforementioned well-heeled liberals and press franchises eager to make history by forcing Trump’s finances and conflicts of interest into the light of day. Can you say “bounty” for whatever hacker, whistleblower or disgruntled former employee hands over Trump’s taxes? As for all the other inevitable scandals, it’s a target rich environment kids. Kind of like Jed Clampett out huntin’. The stuff is so close to the surface all you have to do is take a shot at a squirrel and something will bubble up.

Finally, The Terrorists.  Death and horror are only two facets of every global-thinking terrorist’s strategy. As Osama bin Laden said, the primary goal is to get western powers, the U.S. in particular, to overreact and inflame the situation beyond all control, which is precisely the bait W* and Dick Cheney took by blundering into Iraq. But with Trump’s name on buildings all over the world, imagine, if you dare, his response to simultaneous attacks on Trump hotels in separate Arab countries? Even one attack would negate the power and profitability of his brand. Two would be … what? And who will stop him from doing what in response, to prove to the Left Behinds/Didn’t Keep Ups and the Clod Culture sportsmen that he is a whole lot tougher cat than your average over-thinking liberal?

Enjoy your day.

My “Deplorable” Buddies

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3With Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote pushing on towards two million I had to get away to northern Wisconsin over the weekend, the land of the Deplorables.

Post-election sniping at who to blame for Trump has left a field of corpses from Portland (ME) to Portland (OR). Let’s see if I can list them all:

Women: 54% of voting white women went with the thrice-married, gleeful pussy-grabber who has bragged in public about strolling, “Benny Hill”-style, into the dressing rooms of naked women and adolescent girls. I get that gals like the bad boys … they’re rarely dull … but really ladies, can we talk?

Bernie zealots: In several key swing states that Clinton lost, votes for Gary Johnson and/or Jill Stein more than covered the margin to flip the electoral college. In Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Stein’s percentage alone blended with less than 20% of Johnson’s would have done the trick. So enjoy your righteousness, folks. History (Nader) has repeated itself.

Latinos: Clinton pulled in 6% less of the Latino vote than Obama did in 2012, never mind The Donald threatening to send all or most of them back to Mexico, even if they were born here. But that’s no reason why the rest of us can’t enjoy our next chimichanga and Modelo.

Hillary the Terrible Candidate:  No, she can’t speechify like Bubba and Barack, and she is so … so … compulsively wonky. All those statistics! All those programs! All that snoozy detail … that was completely ignored by TV’s liberal media during the campaign. Yeah, maybe the newspapers were a little better, but every one of them endorsed her, so how credible are they?

Facebook: Since reading newspapers, or anything longer than 150 words without a picture cat picture is no fun, all those “breaking news” posts from whacked-out Uncle Gene down in his Sun City trailer court made a bigger impression on busy voters than the New York Times. Mark Zuckerberg says that’s ridiculous. But even this morning Uncle Gene is saying Zuckerberg and Hillary are members of the same “Eyes Wide Shut” sex and satan-worshipping cabal, so who are you going to believe?

Liberal “bubble-dwellers” with no pity for the “left behinds”.  Now we’re getting to the meat of it.

By every demographic measurement, other than vast wealth, I’m your classic liberal elitist. I’m here to confess. I read novels that don’t have serial killers … and The New York Times (on-line). Ditto: The Atlantic (subscription), Esquire (love me that Charlie Pierce!), Kevin Drum, Wired, Talking Points Memo, Slate, Vox, yadda yadda. I live in an inner-ring suburb in a large metropolitan area. We own two (foreign) cars. (I like the new Mustang. But I don’t see that thing lasting the six-seven years I keep these things.) I watch a lot of “weird” foreign movies. Did you see “Embrace of the Serpent”? Or that Russian thing, “Leviathan”? Fabulous! I also think Rachel Maddow is … a lot … smarter than anyone on FoxNews. So, yeah… guilty as charged.

But … what I plead innocent to is avoiding any exposure to or contact with the pissed-off white males who came out in very big numbers for The Donald. A lot of non-college educated whites actually fired up their Dodge Rams, went out and voted this year, 67% for the (alleged) billionaire pussy-grabber who wasn’t named Hillary and they think is a lot like them.

Next confession: I like to hang with these people, most of them guys. It’s not like I’m there for every meat raffle. But I’m kind of a regular at the Wisconsin bar a mile from our cabin. I sure as hell know the regulars. Moreover, one of my personal pleasures is road-tripping. Jump in the vehicle and hit the backroads of the good old USA. (If you’re reading this on my whacked-out Facebook page you can dial up photo shows of “Bad Bars of the Mojave”, “Bad Bars of the Great Basin” and soon, “Bad Bars of Montana”.)

Part of it’s anthropological, but part of it is like comfort food. I grew up with people like you meet in road house bars. Their language and humor is entirely familiar. Plopping down on a stool in some joint 200 miles out on U.S. 50 in Nevada and chatting up a bunch of guys in from a morning of elk hunting is a lot like back home in Montevideo, (aka The Garden Paradise of Western Minnesota.)

Contrary to what some might think, my first impulse isn’t to hit these guys with, “Why are you people such a bunch of stupid, racist [bleeps]?”

The better approach, in my experience, is always old-fashion curiosity. Everyone comes with a story. What’s theirs? As a wise man (i.e. me) likes to say, “I never learned anything listening to myself talk.” So, you ask a couple semi-flattering questions then shut up and listen. “You got 10-ply tires on your truck?” “Is the road over the pass open?”

Generally speaking, they size you up pretty fast. “Not from here.” “But not an a-hole … as far as we can tell, so far.” Soon thereafter, as they talk, you get the feel of The Other Bubble.

My years-long, anecdotal but first-person survey says a couple things for sure. These aren’t the drooling, opioid-addicted KKK-loving crackers too many liberals imagine. They may drink too much, but for the most part they are holding down jobs. But the work they do is rarely anything all that skilled. They drive things. Trucks. Construction equipment. Delivery vans. Not a lot of math and computer stuff. And they have a tribal discomfort with everyone different, not just blacks and Muslims, people who they almost never have anything to do with one-on-one. Blacks come in three varieties: Sidekicks on TV shows, athletes and criminals on the evening news. Muslims? Forget it.

The tone of the conversations shift with any topic that suggests comparison or competition. They are guys after all. Which means “Who’s dominant here” is a meter constantly scanning in the background. But hell, if “the dominance game” is your thing, get ten journalists or corporate middle-managers together and watch the overt weinie-measuring that goes on.

Human nature: We’re this much above a pack of gorillas.

The idea being sold this past week is that Hillary lost because liberals failed to understand AND fully, totally commiserate with guys like my road house bar compadres, the so-called “left behind”, the victims of globalization and technology. As though if only liberals would react sympathetically to self-pity everything would be great again.

What’s ironic is what’s missing from this theory. Namely, the old-style Republican tough love of “personal responsibility”. That was a big deal in Montevideo.

Yeah, “my guys” have been left behind … mainly because “they didn’t keep up”. For whatever the reasons, because this is where they were born, because dad drove a fork lift, because they can’t stand city traffic, because they never got a tutor for algebra, because they’d rather spend their free time hunting and snow-mobiling with their pals than getting more job training, because the only news they regularly see is the local affiliate’s headlines, weather and sports, with a few minutes of Bill O’Reilly for a nightcap, they are falling further behind the elite of the pack. And they know it.

When their tribal thing starts in on the bill of resentments, as it very often does — every politician is a crook and liar and the Clintons and that crowd are the worst of the bunch — I constantly wonder how much happier these guys would be if they turned off the damned TV and radio and just enjoyed their life on their terms? Most made a choice not to become white collar drones. They like ranching, farming, construction, living away from the city and feeling like … men. But who told them they were going to get rich doing that? And who’s telling them now they’re being cheated out of something they’re entitled to, even though they never wanted it badly enough to radically change the way they live their lives?

These guys aren’t drooling racists. But they are creatures of their own self-restricting bubble, and the predicament they find themselves in, which has an upside if they’d stop comparing themselves to “elites”, is mainly because of choices they themselves did or didn’t make. But they are not comfortable with people different from themselves, so in effect their racial fears work out the same. Most also have thing about male dominance. Not a lot of gal bosses on the job site. Home is one of the few places where they still give the orders. But by all indications the ladies around them put up with it, because the guy pool is a little thin. And they don’t work real hard at figuring out what’s real and what isn’t.

Point being, I never doubted there were enough of these people to swing an election. The question always was whether they were motivated enough to drive over and vote? Turns out they were.

Last year a remarkably far-sighted gentleman, a seer really, forseeing a possible Trump victory wrote this:

” … to prissy, wine-sipping elites like me his standard comeback of, “Who cares what you say? You’re a loser” seems beneath the dignity of a President of the United States. But I’m not the crowd that could put Trump up on the south steps of the Capitol Jan. 20, 2017.

“Trump’s game, and so far he’s succeeding at it, is to rally millions of your and my fellow ‘Muricans who haven’t voted in probably 25 years, and even then Ross Perot didn’t have anything like Trump’s pop personality appeal. The psycho/sociological specs on this large herd of regularly untapped voters are pretty well known. They’re not ideological. They’re not particularly religious. They’re certainly not evangelical unicorn people. But they are pissed off. Chronically, and pretty much about everything, certainly everything that reminds them that for one reason or another they’ll never be “great again”, never mind that they never were.

“These people, fueled by a vast methane-like sea of resentments, are indisputably ill-informed. But so what? Their vote counts as much as yours and mine. … the great revolutionary dynamic becomes this: Does that same crowd — chronically angry and ill-informed — feel a mojo they’ve never before felt in their lifetimes, a pleasurable tingling sensation that says, ‘My time has finally come’?

A time to pull the damn rug out from all the self-serving, prevaricating, ‘smartest kids in the class’ who have deprived them of their, well, self-respect to put a fancy phrase on it, and install someone totally different? Someone who sees, or at least describes a world exactly as they see it, full of thieves and killers, and with whom they feel entirely comfortable, in part because he’s already so familiar to them by virtue of having been on TV most of their adult lives?

The choice then is Trump, as the official Doomsayer Party nominee, still taunting, confident and funny or Hillary Clinton, yet another one of ‘them’ … .”

Oh wait, that prophet was me.

So, you’re welcome.

I’ll have another Keystone Light, and with luck I’ll make Tonopah by sunset.

And Now the Knife Fight to Take Out Trump

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3The harsh fact that Donald Trump will take over the White House presents liberals with an interesting ethical dilemma. Remembering how most of us reacted to Mitch McConnell committing Republicans to one goal in 2008, limiting Barack Obama to a single term, and how we recoiled at Rush Limbaugh crowing to his radio listeners, “I hope he fails”, how do we respond to this … unmitigated disaster?

One facet we should agree to wipe off the table here at the get go is the notion that Trump is illegitimate. Republicans overused that line on Bill Clinton and Trump himself built his campaign on the insinuation that Obama wasn’t even a legitimate citizen. We don’t need to go that far. He won. There were ten million more white males over the age of 45 available to Trump than experts thought after the 2012 election, and 91% of white Republicans stuck with their tribe. He exploited to his advantage every impulse inflamed by Republicans for the last 25 years. He’s their new leader.

For purposes of the coming non-stop battle, the basic reality of who Trump is will serve our needs well enough.

(I am as gobsmacked by what went down last night as everyone else, from Nate Silver to the Clinton campaign. My only defense is this blog post from last year, titled, Why Trump Can Win It All, And I Mean “All”).

But today, post-election, after the crudest, ugliest, most boorish and low-brow campaign of my lifetime, the traditional high-minded, generous impulse to accept defeat with humility and graciousness is wildly inappropriate. Trump is who he is. There’s no point kidding ourselves. At best he’s a self-serving buffoon. At worst he’s a threat to … well, you name it.

While the people who voted for him preferred him, maybe in spite of his misogyny, racism, tax avoidance, man crush on Putin, indifference to facts yadda yadda, you and I were/are disgusted by it. And for very legitimate reasons. But that’s the reality of Trump. He may be hiding a lot of information about how he has done business. But he isn’t hiding the quality of his thought-processes or character. All of which is another way of saying we’re not talking a normal, polite transfer of power to someone like Mitt Romney or John McCain. Traditional courtesies are misplaced.

This is a looming nightmare of dysfunction and, I strongly suspect, non-stop scandal so fraught with social and economic danger there’s simply no way any responsible citizen can doing anything less than object to it constantly and obstruct it at every moment and every turn. That may be hypocritical given the rages we’ve been in over the the Republican/Tea Party gridlocking of government function since 2009, but if turn about is fair play that crowd hardly has any grounds for complaint do they?

One great irony that it is easy to forsee that for all of Trump’s talk about jailing the criminal Hillary Clinton, the leaking, the trading of secrets and the investigative machinery that is about to go to work overtime exposing every detail of his finances, every accusation of sexual misconduct, every conflict of interest with adversarial foreign governments and on and on will be like gargantuan strip mining operation.

The average liberal may be a passive and polite soul, but out on the margins are very well financed individuals and organizations appalled and soon to be fanatically obsessed with not just neutralizing Trump’s authority, (the Republican Congress will obviously block all official investigations), but destroying him as quickly and definitively as possible. Nothing about that is pretty. It’s hardly the sort of behavior we were taught in high school civics classes or admonished to avoid by beard-stroking moralists. But it’s well within the rules of the game as the Republicans have been playing it.

It slid off Obama because there was no criminal or sexually predatory there there. But I doubt there’s an investigative reporter, whistleblower or hacker anywhere on the planet who doubts Trump is every bit the fraud we’ve seen on the campaign trail. Legendary Woodward and Bernstein-like reputations stand to be made based on who comes up with the smoking gun that takes him down.

Trump may have read the mood of “the deplorables” well enough to get elected, but my guess is he has no idea or any defense against the kind of knife fight the elite kids are about to bring down on him.

From “Clinton Cash” to The Comey Letter

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3Whatever happens Tuesday — and I’m confident Donald Trump will lose (the election, but not his perch as guru of modern Republicans) — The Comey Letter has entered permanent historical legend. The FBI Director’s decision to drop a hand grenade into presidential politics will be studied and argued over for decades. Did it swing the final vote? Did it drive down turn out? Was it a vital element in swaying down ballot votes to Republicans?

Don’t expect any definitive answers on any of those, ever.

What will be easier to assess is the internal culture of the FBI. Since Comey’s letter was leaked eight days ago we have learned, through actual reporting, not cheap punditry, that the FBI, particularly retired agents associated with the New York field office, have been in rebellion mode for quite some time and that Comey had “concerns” (i.e. we was afraid) they would further undermine his authority by leaking their “evidence” of serious corruption on the part of the Clintons to Republicans. Hence, his decision to alert Congress that the FBI had something more on the great Clinton email scandal … without actually yet having anything or even knowing if there was ever going to be anything.

But here’s my favorite part. That FBI culture. As the story has accumulated detail over the past week (with more certain to come) we see the FBI having essentially the same internal dynamics as the average police force, most of the military and the bedrock of Trump’s support. Namely, it’s an overwhelmingly male universe with a militaristic attitude toward perceived enemies, which is to say, “If they’re not on our side, they’re against us and need to be neutralized.”

From the Politico story linked above: “According to numbers from August, 67 percent of FBI agents are white men. Fewer than 20 percent are women. The number of African-American agents hovers around 4.5 percent, with Asian-Americans about the same and Latinos at about 6.5 percent. If Trump were running for president with an electorate that looked like that, he’d win in a landslide. ‘The bureau does tend to be more conservative than people you see in the general populace. It’s a natural outgrowth of the demographics. … That’s just math,’, said retired agent Emmanuel Johnson, one of several African-American agents who sued the FBI for racial discrimination in the 1990s. ‘What’s troubling is you look at the same population groups they were having trouble [recruiting] 20, 30, 40 years ago and they’re having the same trouble today’.”

Despite being better educated and better trained than your average say Chicago or St. Anthony, Minnesota cop, the picture of the FBI revealed as a result of Comey’s letter is that of yet another group of public employees roiling with the same antipathies and hostilities of a lot of middle-age and older mostly white American males. A subset of the population eager to embrace as fact anything that confirms their righteous, embattled protectors-of-God’s-one-truth view that the only explanation for the expansion of liberal ideas, from Black Lives Matter, to ethnic tolerance to genuine equality for women is … corruption … on the part of the most prominent and successful liberals on the landscape, the Clintons*.

The head-slapper in reporting on the FBI New York field office was the basis of their outrage over the (liberal Obama) Justice Department’s refusal to launch a DefCon Four attack the Clinton Foundation. Multiple sources says it was a book, “Clinton Cash” written by Republican think-tanker/consultant Peter Schweizer. The book comes with a gloss the usual anti-Clinton screeds lack. Schweizer is associated with the Stanford-based Hoover Institute. But he is also associated/funded by the Koch brothers and Steve Bannon, CEO of the truly unhinged Breitbart website and Trump’s current campaign supervisor. The Bannon-produced campanion movie was widely mocked as a howler of overwrought distortion.

Said TIME magazine: “The film carefully curates reality in way to boost anti-Clinton voices. For instance, discussion of Bill Clinton’s role in post-2010 Haiti earthquake completely ignores that George W. Bush also helped raise cash in the wake of the disaster, nor does it acknowledge that one character, the founder of Canadian TD Bank’s sister corporation, TD Ameritrade, also funded Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s super PAC. The film doesn’t mention other reasons why Hillary Clinton may have made particular decisions, leaving the viewer with a narrow understanding. And it blurs the line between Bill and Hillary Clinton’s actions, treating them as essentially the same person.

“Visually and sonorously, the film more closely resembles a Bond film, with pictures of the Clintons and their associates stained with blood-like red ink. At other times, the film suggests that checkbooks are filled with blood money. And the music that plays over grainy images of the Clintons—and mushroom clouds—matches. It won’t win an Oscar for subtlety, but it makes a point.”

This sort of thing is standard politics, something the Clintons are well accustomed to. What’s different is when the FBI starts treating flagrantly partisan hysteria-mongering as though it were actual evidence. (As usual, the “full story” can’t be told until the Clintons are “properly investigated”, never mind the 25 years the same crowd has been investigating — with persistent futility — everything from Arkansas land deals to cattle-futures trading.)

Schweizer’s book got more than average play in the mainstream press, likely due to the enormous lift it was given by right-wing radio, which treated it and hyped it to its audience (of primarily middle-aged-to-elderly white males) as a cross between the Codex Seraphinianus and the Bible.

Again, that’s democracy and free speech. Hysterical insinuation comes with the territory. What’s bad news — really bad news for the credibility of the FBI and the trust the public puts in it — is when people hired and trained to deal with hard evidence, demonstrable, provable facts, shuck all that, revolt against the system they’ve sworn to uphold and force a nervous, insecure boss into breaking standards observed even by a cross-dressing whack job like J. Edgar Hoover.

*Only in 2016’s Breitbart/TReaParty hysteria would the Clintons be considered “liberals”.

 

Hey, Mr. FBI Director. You Damn Well Better Have Something Big.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2For the sake of FBI Director Comey’s reputation and career, as well as that of the agency he leads, he better have two things nailed down ASAP.

1: A press conference explaining why, contrary to advice from his superiors he involved the FBI in an election, and 2: He damned well have something indisputably, unequivocally criminal that can be laid on Hillary Clinton. Lacking either, the guy is in for some serious blowback, a taste of which he is already getting.

Here’s the nut of it as far as I’m concerned. We may live in a time when “non-partisan bureaucrat” has no meaning. It may be that everyone in D.C. is playing a game on behalf of one team or the other. But the FBI of all people has to at least pretend it has no dog in the hunt. And the way it pretends it has no dog is by following long-established Bureau policies … policies and standards Comey decided to free-lance away with his letter to congressional committee heads last Friday.

Now, if Comey intends to assert his and the FBI’s non-partisan, neutral standing in election matters he has to explain how he, as a supposedly intelligent, above-the-fray veteran bureaucrat, thoroughly familiar with the folkways and partisan battles of DC could have blundered into one of the hoariest and most partisan memes of the last 25 years. Namely, “The Clintons are hiding something big.” (And let’s not overlook the fact that he pressed the siren of scandal without so much as a warrant — yet — to read this latest e-mail trove, which could be copies of stuff the FBI has already scanned.)

After watching nothingburger after nothingburger consume the Capitol and the country for the last quarter century, while producing, at worst, a case built on lying about sex as the most serious charge any committee or special prosecutor could come up with, only a fool would hang his reputation and that of the FBI out there on the basis of … nothing, yet again. (Oh, and here’s another.) But that appears to be what Comey has done.

If Comey has something this time, OK. I’m all ears. Let’s hear it, and let’s hear it now, dude.

And no, you can’t possibly claim you’re unable to comment because it’s an on-going investigation. YOU brought it up.

And no, other than desperate Trumpists, no serious person, no prosecutor and no judicious jurist is interested in a revisit of the “extremely careless” e-mail protocol. That boat has sailed. Thousands of e-mails and god knows how much taxpayer money later and the worst of E-mailgate Version #1 were passing references to the drone program? The drone program any idiot could read about in USA Today? That’s the national security breach the Rooskies may have exploited for their evil machinations? Good effing christ.

I don’t like, but I have no choice but to accept chuckleheaded Tea Party whack jobs sitting on actual congressional committees. But do we now have tolerate incompetence in the FBI?

Comey has dropped a bombshell of suspicion 11 days before a presidential election. A stink bomb of suspicion exactly like fevered partisans have been throwing at the Clintons since Whitewater, (with age-old nemesis Judicial Watch in on this one again). None of them, not Whitewater, not TravelGate, not TrooperGate and not Benghazi (where all this began) have turned up anything substantive, much less anything of a remotely criminal nature.

What they have generated, precisely as anti-Clinton crackpots and enemies have long strategized, is a constant, regular restoking of the smoky-but-never-burning fire of suspicion, or appearance of serious scandal … the “sense” that something is out there somewhere, somehow … if only the dastardly Clintons would let us keep investigating it, whatever “it” is.

Unless Comey wants his reputation — and that of the FBI — rolled into the same swamp as that of Judicial Watch, Breitbart and that whole frenzied, manifestly undisciplined crowd, he better have something bona fide. Something serious. Something big. Something indictable. And he better have it teed up for TV cameras in the next 48 hours. Otherwise he has demonstrated either stunning naivete, incompetence or the kind of reckless, disqualifying partisanship that should cost him his job.