100 Days. How Much Stupidity Can We Survive?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3So let me get this straight. The “yuge”, “beautiful” wall keeping out all those Mexican drugs, bad hombres and strawberry pickers is not only not going to be paid for by the Mexicans, but probably isn’t going to be built at all. Likewise, China the worst currency manipulator in the world, the bastards destroying our economy … will not be branded a currency manipulator, partly because the Chinese guy spent 10 minutes explaining how complicated this North Korea thing is.

And ObamaCare repeal, that thing Republcans voted for 50, 60, 200 times, meaning actually tearing the whole damn thing up and returning us to the golden days of yore when health insurance was dirt cheap and “accessible” to everyone … eh, not so much, and sure as hell not in time for the big 100 Days check-off this Saturday.

Ditto tax “reform” (i.e. the usual Republican ritual performance of oral sex on its donor class without so much as a handshake for you and me). And … and … well the list of what His Orangeness promised, in the loudest and angriest terms to his hootin’ and hollerin’ rally-goers last fall is very, very long and all but entirely incomplete, except for Neil Gorsuch.

In other words it is exactly the farce of buffoonish incompetence most of us expected when we voted Nov. 8. The only thing that is “fer sure” is that the timer on the hand grenade both the “deplorables” and the tribal conservative clod-bro culture wanted rolled into D.C. is seconds away from detonation.

At last Saturday’s “March Against Stupidity” “March for Science”, I kept thinking, “How much stupidity can an enormous, intricately complicated society withstand before something blows … fatally?”

A lot of people are watching Trump poke at North Korea, like an impaired six year-old jabbing a stick at a rabid dog trapped against a fence. None of the outcomes to this drama are good, and some are border-line apocalyptic. More to the point, confidence that either of the main guys involved are rational and competent is, well, kinda like non-existent. (I still wonder what serious humans like “Mad Dog” Mattis would actually do if Trump decides he wants to lob some missiles into Pyongyang? There are — rarely used — military codes of ethics that prohibit an officer from following an order he deems illegal or wholly unjustified.)

Most likely, like everything else on his list of batshit campaign bluster, Trump will do nothing, other than play another round of golf at Mar-a-Lago and enjoy another five or six slices of “the most beautiful chocolate cake you’ve ever seen.” But the issue is what the North Korean nutjob does in response to what he thinks Trump might do.

While enjoying the sunshine, the crowds and a lot of very funny signs at the Science march I was reminded of another detail related to a book I read last month, “Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs.” Harvard astrophysicist Lisa Randall and her team have a theory about the “periodicity” of asteroid impacts on planet earth. Something big and nasty rolls in roughly every 35-40 million years. Their idea is that this coincides with our Solar System’s two million-year passage through the center plane of the Milky Way, a plane dense, she thinks, with dark matter and its mysterious gravitational effects.

She theorizes that these effects kick up a storm among the rocks and comets otherwise tumbling innocently through the Oort Belt far out beyond Pluto, sending a barrage of the stuff inward toward the Sun and colliding with earth.

And what’s this got to do with Donald Trump and the ascendance of crass stupidity to power in all facets of the government of the planet’s most technically advanced society?

Well, there this. In his fourth grade coloring book of a budget “presented” last month, the one red-lining Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts, Big Bird, and on and on, there was the part cancelling NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission.

The main part of that mission was an elaborate project to grab material off a passing asteroid and get it back to orbiting astronauts for examination. But a facet of it was money to pay smart people here on earth, (FoxNews/talk radio/clod-bro culture’s much derided “experts”), to think seriously and propose ideas about how me might deal with an apocalyptic meteor heading our way.

The cost of the entire Mission was pegged at $1.25 billion. The part where the gubmint pays smart people down here on terra firma to work out the details of how to protect civilization from toasted dinosaur-like destruction was probably a lot … a lot … less.

But if you’re too incompetent, lazy or sociopathic to care about stuff like that, well, screw it. We gotta pare this insane spending down to compensate for whacking the Alternative Minimum Tax, which would have saved Trump roughly $25 million off the only tax return we’ve ever seen.

Stupidity is darkly funny up to the point it makes survival an open question.

 

Bye, Bye Bill-O. Schadenfreude So Sweet.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3The deceptively lovely German word “schadenfreude” feels like it was made for Bill O’Reilly. If ever a guy deserved an ignominious demise, a real “Game of Thrones” shot-on-the-toilet departure, it is Bill-O, the biggest of cable TV’s braying, anti-PC “straight shooters”. A self-inflating TV “entertainer” whose Orwellian all spin-and-fantasy “No Spin Zone” was designed to inflame the self-pity, bogus victimhood and grievances of (mainly) aging white men, while piling up tens of millions of profits for his employers. So yeah, a lot of people are enjoying watching Bill-O take one to the chest and topple over, off the pooper (i.e. FoxNews), albeit clutching $25 million in bye-bye cash.

(Trevor Noah gets the overnight prize for the best of many gleeful takedowns.)

No offense to all the women he intimidated, pawed and leered at, but getting Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment is a little like jailing Al Capone for tax evasion. I mean, great. The deal got done. Whatever it takes. But O’Reilly’s barely disguised racism and siren call to his audience of confused and embittered whites, stoking their antipathies toward the truly less fortunate was a far worse pollutant in our cultural waters than hitting on every woman who found herself marooned in his domain, wittingly or otherwise.

It’s a wholly good thing that O’Reilly’s downfall generates another round of talk about sexual harassment. The piggish behavior of entitled bullies like Bill-O is a universal disease, even as the FoxNews “empire” raised it to the level of a brand ethos. But the greater cancer that O’Reilly and so many others of the Fox “team” normalize(d) was the extraordinarily cynical concept of white Christian male privilege, of a moral standing based entirely on gender, race and religious orientation. It’s always been repugnant, but it is so deeply baked into our popular culture today it’s almost like we don’t see it anymore.

I had two conversations with O’Reilly over my years covering the media. Once in Minneapolis when he was on tour hyping “Inside Edition” and then years later in Hollywood at some press dog and pony show. (The other notable at that event was singer Jon Bon Jovi. Proving what a nerd I am I — tried — to chat up O’Reilly.)

The impression the first time was, “One of those guys.” A Sammy Glick character hyping a cheesy tabloid show as the next coming of Edward R. Murrow. The second time the impression was simply, “a jerk.” A guy who, now feeling the cushion of real money, couldn’t bother to engage in a conversation about cable news … at a cocktail party organized for the sole purpose of schmoozing the press. Bill-O had clearly decided he was beyond that stage of life. Or maybe he was looking for someone with more cleavage.

At the Washington Post Ruth Marcus unloads on the Fox culture for creating and enabling the O’Reilly/Roger Ailes frat house within and projecting its corresponding message to its audience. But watching O’Reilly over the years and the events of the past week I was reminded again of author Susan Cain’s research for “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The experts she interviewed formed a consensus that big, narcissistic, possible sociopathic characters capable of dominating rooms and conversations hold sway over the more introverted among us purely because they talk the most and the loudest. Human nature lends undue credibility to such people, possibly because they are doing something most of us can’t, or won’t. Whether they possess better judgment or more valuable insights is secondary to the influence of their presence.

Hence a toxic flow of Bill O’Reillys, Rush Limbaughs, Donald Trumps and on and on … and on and on. (Many of the worst, the most toxic, appeal to the authoritarian personality, common people inordinately submissive to the rule of force, or personality in these cases.)

So as I say, “whatever it takes.” There’s delicious justice in women driving O’Reilly off the air, (until he reappears on Breitbart TV). But his piggishness toward women was only one facet of his and Fox’s sociopathic personality.

 

 

With Trump, What’s Plausible Isn’t Normal.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3My blogging buddy and “Wry Wing” creator/officer of protocol Joe Loveland read my feeble mind with his latest post, “Mainstream My Ass.” Word for word, I couldn’t agree more. The fact that a couple military professionals like (the latest) National Security Advisor, Gen. H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis were the last people in the room to “advise” Donald Trump’s response to the Syrian sarin gas attack does not mean Trump overnight has become FDR or Dwight Eisenhower.

Joe’s excerpt from David Frum is spot on. Punditry, whether from Joe Scarborough or David Ignatius of The Washington Post abhors monotony. Show biz requires regular shifts of tone and mood. All commercial artists understand the necessity of inserting a moment of drama into a comedy, or breaking tension with a joke.

Which is what the new “normal” Donald Trump is. A laughable assertion.

What’s more, and here’s where the left-wing nuttery kicks in, Trump’s fundamental abnormality is what makes the most “outlandish” theories about him and what’s really going on seem so plausible.

The plausibility issue was/is a topic when the famous Christopher Steele dossier was released. Traditionalists huffed and puffed about the “unconfirmed” nature of the thing, which of course included the notorious spectacle of Donald and x-number of Russian hookers “micturating” on the bed Barack Obama had slept in when he visited Moscow. (That bed really tied the room together.)

The well-groomed and well-mannered of our media aristocracy were titillated but disdainful. Such unseemly things are simply beneath the dignity of Americans of high standing. (You never hear much detail about Jack Kennedy’s carnal escapades.) There’s a resistance to openly considering the notion with Trump even if at the time of the alleged micturation he was nothing but a misogynistic, pussy-chasing casino operator/reality TV star.

But here’s the thing. It’s plausible. Trump, without the Mrs. in Moscow not long after Obama humiliated him at that White House Correspondents’ dinner paying a bunch of up-for-anything Russian girls to trash a luxury hotel suite? I don’t have a hard time believing that. (Mike Pence? No. But Donald Trump? Easy. My image of Pence would be in a tub with an underage boy reading him the Bible.)

So then, as we consider what is and isn’t plausible … let’s look through a different lens at the fearsome, oceanliner-turning Syrian “strike.”

As I understand it, the base in question, while obviously on Syrian territory is functionally operated by the Russians. A lot of Russians. All over the place. Which means if the Syrians loaded up a jet with sarin gas — which would require an elaborate process of guys in HazMat suits gingerly trucking and loading hyper-lethal gas cannisters back and forth across the base — the Russians had to have known, if they weren’t the ones who bought in the gas in the first place and ran the operation the whole operation.

So yeah, that Russia didn’t know is …  not plausible. But that’s Putin. The guy Trump still won’t criticize directly.

Putin wants to see what he can get away with. Also, he’d like to create some kind of new narrative that would shift the thinking that Trump is his puppet. Because if everyone thinks Trump is his puppet Trump the blackmailed puppet is of no use to him at all.

So Trump watches “Fox & friends” and sees babies gassed to death, and boy is he pissed! We all are! By god, we’re going to do … something! Like … like … like … well, like blow some shit up, man!

McMaster and Mattis suggest a “limited strike” on the offending airfield. And Trump … notifies “Russian authorities” that retaliation is coming. (Remember when Trump the debater was appalled by the idea we’d tip our hand militarily? That too has changed. Sad! USA!)

The Russians, knowing the quality of US satellite surveillance, didn’t have to ask what the most likely targets would be. So they clear their personnel away from the strike zone, (have you seen a number of Russian personnel killed in the strike?) and Trump shoots off 59 Tomahawks. (Snopes.com confirms Trump has a modest stock holding in Raytheon, manufacturer of the Tomahawk). The game-changing strike destroys 20 jets, some which were out of commission.

Thus begins the kabuki performance.

The Russians are indignant! Trump frowns and says harsh things about the Russians, (although not Putin.) Tillerson goes to Moscow and has a “tense meeting.” Relations are at “an all-time low.” Clearly, if you’re half awake or a mainstream political pundit desperately seeking normalcy, everything has changed. Trump is no friend of Russia! He wouldn’t “strike” a friend! We’re back in a normal world!

Except that in reality almost nothing has changed. The airfield wasn’t hit hard enough to slow down takeoffs for even a day. Assad isn’t deterred in any way. The slaughter continues by conventional means.

What has modulated is the perception that Trump and Putin have canoodled at some point in the semi-recent past. Both now appear to be back in their historically acceptable roles of fierce, steely adversaries. Pundits breath a sigh of relief. Normalcy! It’s a return to the traditional game board of Xs and Os. No crazy Y-factors, like a U. S. President in office after colluding with Russians who have the sword of blackmail dangling over him.

Putin, we are to believe, is now genuinely worried about Trump. The orange comb over reality TV star has suddenly become a canny geo-political foe, a genuine threat to the strategies of a career spy/mafia don.

Sorry, the micturating hooker story is more plausible than that.

 

 

Is It Too Much to Ask for Real Competition for United and Every Other Airline?

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2If United Airlines doesn’t pay out a fat chunk of change to the guy dragged off that plane in Chicago and roughed up by O’Hare airport cops we’ll know America has reached a point of apocalyptic decline. I mean, in the country I grew up in anyone could sue anyone for anything and often collect. And that was before everyone around  them had a movie camera in their pocket recording their senseless beat down.

I wish I were surprised to hear legal opinions that United’s victim — whether he’s actually a doctor who needed to get to Louisville ASAP or not, I still do not know* — has no legal recourse because of all the fine print buried in … the ticket he paid for. But I’m not. American corporate/lobbying legal muscle may be the most goddam powerful force on the planet today. And that includes a volley of Tomahawk missiles.

(* This just in via the New York Post … consider the source.)

If it weren’t for speed and the view (assuming you’re mashed against the window and haven’t been told to pull down your shade as “a courtesy” to the passengers watching “Transformers 10” on their in-flight entertainment) I’d never get on another plane. From the moment of drop off to bag collection (maybe) on the other end the experience is not just uncomfortable but [bleeping] annoying, what with being herded through security penstocks, stripping down for X-rays so TSA “agents” can inspect you for instruments of terror, like folded paper money (it happened to me), to having the guy with lethal halitosis fall asleep on your shoulder for most of a flight from Hawaii to Dallas (ditto), the commercial airline experience is an exercise in constant grinding irritation, made more irritating if like me you’re just generally irritable to begin with.

Give me a comfortable car, that I can get out of whenever I like, and I’ll get myself wherever (in the mainland) I want, according to my own door-stopper of a book of fine print regulations.  (Rule #41 for riding with The King: No auto-tuned diva music.)

Or, give me a train. And not that 14-hour St. Paul-to-Chicago express. An actual train, that runs (much) faster than a car and unlike planes, allows me to get up and walk around and even stroll to a … bar car … for a beverage, whenever I damn well please.

But of course we don’t have such trains because The Usual Fools (TUF), your “principled conservatives” like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker aren’t about to agree to anything that their campaign benefactors haven’t signed off on. And the oil-refining Koch brothers don’t get anything like the cut from selling Jet A fuel from electric trains. (Here’s TUF Texas politicians obstructing the idea down there.)

Japan, home to the famous 200-mph plus bullet trains, is already planning for full-on MagLev trains capable of 300-mph plus. (A recent test run hit 374 mph. Translation: The Twin Cities to Chicago in about 85 minutes, without stopping in Wisconsin.) Naturally, the Chinese, less fettered by American-style free enterprise, are actively selling their schemes for bona fide game-changing airline competition all over the planet.

There is a better than half-baked plan to build a Baltimore to D.C. link (woo-hoo!), with a big maybe for a D.C. – New York track in … 15 years. But like everything from health care, to incarceration rates, to infant mortality the good old US of A is lagging back with the Turkeys and Bulgaria of the planet on this topic, while The Usual Fools continue to remind us of how super-exceptional we are.

But as I say, we can mourn the death of justice American-style if United escapes this latest incident without a serious dent to its bottom line. The lobbied-in fine print may keep the company out of an actual court room, but if public opinion matters, the natives are already throwing a rope over the sturdiest branch they can find.

At minimum, the “doctor” dragged off and bloodied by O’Hare’s finest should get a lifetime first-class pass for himself and everyone he calls family, an in-person, televised apology from United’s tone-deaf CEO and, oh hell, $10 or $15 million for walking around money.

 

 

 

Good God! This Country Needs a Better Class of Fools.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2Lord, what a farce! The collapse of “repeal and replace”, the GOP’s single biggest campaign/fund raising promise was even more chaotic and Looney Tune-ish than anyone could have ever imagined. After the “Freedom” Caucuses’ debt ceiling government shut down a couple years ago I didn’t think it possible for the inmates to have more control over the asylum.

But as usual, I was wrong. There is no depth of absurdity this crowd can’t sink to.

But yeah, I grossly underestimated the ability of 2017’s “Party of Lincoln” to be even more detached from reality, even more indifferent to the day-to-day miseries of their irredeemably ill-informed base and even less embarrassed to be caught out in public fully de-pantsed, ethically and intellectually. Good god! Whatever happened to a concern for personal dignity?

After six and a half years of shrieking and howling and vowing and promising, after 60+ time-sucking votes and an election that handed the red-faced, spittle-flecked repeal-istas control of both houses of Congress and the White House, they still screwed this up.

This country needs a better class of fools.

Trump, the master deal maker, put less effort into this than his weekend golf trips to Mar-a-Lago. A couple rallies in Hillybilly Elegy Holler, a few phone calls and … wow! … a trip all the up to Capitol Hill to make a few veiled threats to the Tri-Corner Hat Caucus. The boy’ll need a long rest after all that exertion. But we’ve already established that Trump is too easily distracted and lazy to do even minimal homework on policy details … even on a plan to flip 20% of the American economy on its head. So his lack of preparation and effort is not too surprising.

But, come on! Paul Ryan!? WTF?

Because he’s the latest Republican example of … what dumb people think a smart guy sounds like … I assumed that he at least, after seven goddam years, had come up with a plan that papered over the hostilities (and stupidity) within his own party. I mean, what kind of an imbecile slaps his face and reputation on something as colossally under-negotiated as the thing he whipped out 36 days ago? (BTW. Obamacare: 383 days of negotiating/legislating after literally decades of smart people fussing over minute details. TrumpRyanCare: 36 days and quite obviously little-to-no-effort wrestling the Rubik’s Cube of conflicting issues into stasis.)

This would be a joke if it weren’t so sick. After all, this crowd is now “running” everything. And now comes “tax reform.”

Trump’s Red Hat Brigade, hootin’ and hollerin’ at basketball arenas in coal country will continue to believe anything he tells them, as long as he says he’s sticking it to the terrorists and everybody who is getting gubmint services … other than them. But Ryan, a guy who has spent his entire adult life on gubmint payrolls (sweet pension, dude) and arrived in Congress thanks largely to cash from insurance companies, (Northwestern Mutual being Exhibit A) and the financial “services” industry, (and oh yeah, and this trucking dude) has some serious ‘splainin’ to do.

Everyone who can accurately spell “Make America Great Again” knows this Trump/RyanCare health care shtick had almost nothing to do with improving the quality of care Americans get and lowering prices, and everything to do with clawing back the $100 billion a year in taxes Obamacare was sucking out of our valiant job creators/major campaign donors.

Pundits are squalling about how “stupid” it was to “go after health care first”, instead of “tax reform” and “regulatory reform”. (Those last two are hoary code-language for more unfettered profit-taking with much less “redistribution” of wealth.)

But as Ryan very well knows, getting “tax reform”, by which we mean a new round of epic, deficit-blowing George W. Bush-style tax cuts for the plutocrats who keep Ryan in office, is a hell of a lot harder to do without being able to balance things out — marketing-wise — with the $1 trillion (over ten years) in Obamacare “savings.” The numbers just get too ugly too fast.

No doubt Ryan will try, because … well, because he has no other choice. “Tax reform” is, and always is, Issue #1, for “principled conservatives.” The Kochs and the Mercers and everyone else buffing their yachts for cruising season have paid good money to keep Ryan in office and he had damned well better deliver, no matter how ridiculous he sounds explaining the exploding deficit.

He of course has the benefit of  the rubes writing rubber checks for breakfast at Denny’s, because that crowd always thinks Republicans are talking about them when they hear “tax cuts”. But Ryan has to be calculating the fired-up Trump resistance, which is far more energized then it was back in George W.’s day and is smelling blood with this farcically garish “repeal and replace” defeat. Expect a lot of loud, ugly noise about deficits and who gets how much when the “reform” act starts to play.

Also, Trump’s Russia problems are going to get worse, not better, making him of almost no use to Ryan on “tax reform.” Likewise, the big money kids have to be assessing the reality that Trump is proving to be such a lazy and incompetent fool, so compromised by whatever the hell he was doing with the Russians and in so far over his head dealing with professional politicians and bureaucrats, that he can’t be factored as an asset to this coming tax scam.

If I were Ryan I’d be hitting the P90X workout several times a day. He’s going to need every endorphin he can squeeze up to survive the next farce.

Hell, if I were him I’d just hide in the gym.

 

 

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?