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.

Why Do Big Newspapers Still Allow Ugly, Racist Comments?

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterOne of the things that comes with a writer’s territory is a story that never gets published, for reasons that are not entirely clear. This is one of those. The topic of public comments on newspaper web sites is interesting for a number of reasons, among them the way anonymity may (or may not) encourage truly ugly racial invective, something you’d think a large newspaper with a sense of civic responsibility would seek to avoid whenever possible and at the very least edit out prior to publication, particularly in times of racial tensions, such we’ve seen here in Minneapolis this fall.

Anyway, as I say, this media column didn’t pass muster, so I’m  posting it here. Because I believe it’s a discussion worth having.


Anyone even remotely familiar with the internet is aware of and frequently appalled by how quickly any “discussion” among website commenters, especially a big city newspaper’s site, degenerates into juvenile name-calling and worse. It was definitely worse recently when Star Tribune readers piled in on what was, ironically, an uplifting story by John Reinan about a Muslim family’s successful home-owning experience with the help of Habitat for Humanity.

Rather than embrace an opportunity for some holiday season good-will-among-men, the Strib’s commenters immediately, predictably, descended into all-too familiar hostility and racist epithets. (The Strib has removed that particular comment thread.) The waves of vitriol, mainly against the family featured in the story, led Abdi Mohamed, the homeowner to respond with a letter to the Strib several days later.

“I don’t think this awful name-calling would have happened had we had American-sounding names,” he wrote. “We have always considered ourselves American, by any measure, and have been good citizens, paying our fair share of taxes and volunteering in our community. But my faith as a Minnesotan is shaken. I have been calling Minnesota my home for the last 17 years, and my kids were born right here in Minneapolis. My take from the readers is that ‘you don’t belong here in America’.” Dozens wrote in in support. But very soon a minor flame war broke out even on that thread over one anonymous commenter’s admonition to Muslims like Mohammed’s wife, to “lose the costume.”

In other words, all-in-all, real edifying, high-caliber stuff.

Comment sections have an undeniable voyeuristic appeal. Commenters say things most of us would never imagine ourselves saying, much less in public. Our reaction varies between snorts of derision, guffaws and utter dismay.

The conventional argument in favor of comment sections is that they offer an unfiltered vox populi. Like it or not, delighted or horrified, this is what your neighbors are thinking. The question though is this: Is there a point where reader comments become too ugly and cruel that a large public entity like a daily newspaper has a civic obligation to turn them off? Does an important community asset like the Star Tribune have a responsibility to re-assess its attitude toward commenters and draw a line at the point where a vicious, repugnant and — key word here — anonymous few hijack the paper’s social media heft to incite others to spasms of racist verbal attack?

In a perfect world someone among the Strib’s top editorial echelon would offer an answer to this question, or more specifically, as I asked, “What is your best argument for keeping the Star Tribune’s comment policy as it is?” Unfortunately, calls and e-mails to editor Rene Sanchez, Sr. Managing editor Suki Dardarian were not returned. Only Asst. Managing Editor Eric Wieffering responded, and then only to confirm that Strib editorial management had no interest in discussing the topic. So much for an informed, civil dialogue.

If the topic ever does interest them we’ll revisit it. Until that time the conversation is this: The Strib might strongly consider adjusting its comment policy and following the lead of either us here at MinnPost or, failing that, Popular Science, (or USA Today, or The Wall Street Journal).

Recognizing the near inevitability that anonymous commenting will quickly degenerate into a battle of flaming trolls and grossly under-informed invective, MinnPost’s policy from the get go requires commenters to, A: Register and post using their full, real name and, B: Submit to moderation. No doubt the policy seriously diminishes the quantity of comments. But the upside is that commenters maintain a dramatically higher level of civility while arguing their ideological points. If they don’t they’re deleted before they are published.

A case may also be made that a full-disclosure, moderated comment forum provides a safer harbor for the articulate if fainter-hearted souls who recoil at the thought of being assaulted in public by some unidentified CAPS-LOCKING!!! troll.

Or, if moderation, which would require a pretty much full-time employee, is a step too far, the Strib may consider the path Popular Science took two years ago and disconnect the comment option entirely. At the time, the venerable tech and DIY magazine essentially threw up its hands at the way anonymous commenters regularly hijacked discussions of god-knows-what, — hyper-sonic jets graphene or climate change — with rants about Barack Obama … the Kenyan Muslim terrorist sympathizer.

Said Suzanne LaBarre for the magazine, “A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to ‘debate’ on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”

LaBarre referred to a University of Wisconsin study on the peculiar psychological effect anonymity has on people, on-line commenters in particular. Among the findings, which come as no surprise to anyone who follows this stuff, the loudest and most active of the anonymous commenters were also those in least possession of accurate information about a given topic and yet the most certain — defiantly certain — of their point of view. (Her central point was that the study also showed how ugly, defiantly ignorant comments had the effect of eroding casual readers’ trust in the accuracy of the story itself.)

Writing about Popular Science’s decision, Maria Konnikova in The New Yorker a month later added, “Multiple studies have also illustrated that when people don’t think they are going to be held immediately accountable for their words they are more likely to fall back on mental shortcuts in their thinking and writing, processing information less thoroughly. They become, as a result, more likely to resort to simplistic evaluations of complicated issues, as the psychologist Philip Tetlock has repeatedly found over several decades of research on accountability.”

Konnikova also cites a couple studies suggesting that the most vitriolic of the anonymous crowd are, thank god for small blessings, given less credence by the sum of all readers. But the response to that, from a large broadly-marketed community entity like the Star Tribune, should be a concern for the effect vitriol has the smaller, shall we say, “most impressionable” fraction of their audience.

Over at the Pioneer Press, editor Mike Burbach found time and sufficient interest to return the call and refer me to Jen Westphal, the paper’s Deputy Editor for Digital News and Social Media. She explained that the PiPress, while requiring registration with a valid IP and e-mail address making the commenter known to the paper, still permits anonymity as well post-publication moderation, which is to say someone at the PiPress steps in only when alerted to egregious behavior.

The Star Tribune policy appears to be much the same, although as I say, no one in the paper’s editorial management or its digital services department would discuss it. Clearly though, given the ugly flame wars that break out with depressing regularity, no one is moderating/approving comments prior to publication.

There are also filters a the PiPress, Westphal says, for certain key words — the usual cussing — and the obvious racial/ethnic invective. But otherwise vox populi rules.

“We used to use Facebook commenting,” she says, “which theoretically required them to use their real name, even though there are ways to get around that, too. We used it for about two years, I think. But we found it didn’t help with what you’re talking about. People said things just as bad as when they were anonymous.”

Coincidentally, Facebook was under criticism this past week for prohibiting anonymity. “Vulnerable communities” demanded a special exemption, to avoid being targeted by trolls.

Facebook consented, but reiterated it’s policy. “We require people to use the name their friends and family know them by. the company said. When people use the names they are known by, their actions and words carry more weight because they are more accountable for what they say. We’re firmly committed to this policy, and it is not changing. However, after hearing feedback from our community, we recognise that it’s also important that this policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalised or face discrimination.”

Sad Westphal at the PiPress, “We prefer to keep comments, at least for now, things can always change, and we have talked about it, because we still see them as a valuable forum for public discussion. It’s the best place a normal resident of St. Paul can go to discuss parking meters on Grand Avenue or whatever.

The flare-up over the Reinan story erupted simultaneous with racial tensions spiking in Minneapolis following the terror attacks in Paris and the police shooting of Jamar Clark. Far too much demagoguery was already in the air. Which is why it is fair to ask whether responsible establishments with broad and deep community roots, like a daily newspaper, are reexamining the role they play in churning the cesspool.

Essentially: Why offer a venue for adding fuel to these fires?

None of which is to say that if the Strib pulls the plug on comments, vitriolic anonymous trolls will slink away and observe some kind of monastic silence. There are literally millions of other websites where they can and do collect. Fringy places where they can huddle and out-vitriol each other and whoever stumbles in. But those sites aren’t hosted by an organization of professional journalists, a company speaking to and representing hundreds of thousands of reader/citizens more interested in information than hyperbolic attack.

Thank God for Rand Paul in Milwaukee

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterMy favorite moment in last night’s Republican debate/barnstorming reality TV show, was Rand Paul butting in after one of Donald Trump’s rants about how the Chinese are always winning … because Barack Obama has turned America into such a pathetic no-class loser. It was a question about the Trans Pacific Partnership that got him whipped up. Wiley damn Chinese vs. Loser Americans who can’t negotiate a good deal. A Trump staple.

But then Paul, who was once the average adult’s idea of a delusional whack-job, piped up and suggested the Fox Business News panel, which included Gerard Baker, the editor of the Wall Street Journal, (you know, every shrewd businessman’s first source for the complete story on money and the bastards beating them to it), that it might be useful to pint out that the Chinese aren’t even a part of this deal.


But as much as I was hoping for an Emily Latella moment from Trump, it was not forthcoming. What we got was, be thankful for small favors, a little filler commentary from Paul on the fact that the Chinese actually aren’t all that wild about this TPP thing either, since it’s greasing the skids for more trading between us and other folks around the Pacific. (This would argue in favor of the TPP if you were a serious China hater.)

Now, not being an international trade expert, all I knew about the TPP was what I read in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. And frankly, as Trump was ranting the best I could come up with was a niggling ring tone that something wasn’t right with his argument. But come on! After three and a half of these trips to Toon Town, I have something like an air raid siren going off in my head every three or four seconds over “things that don’t sound right”. Giant damned air horns howling that what I just heard is utter bullshit of a nuclear order. After that, “niggling” kind of gets lost in the reverb.

Here’s a small sampling of fact-checking on last night’s BS.

So yes, I was grateful when Sen. Paul reminded his opponents, the Fox Business panel, and everyone scoring at home about this teeny, tiny little Chinese detail.

Being in the news biz what immediately went through my head was why none of the Fox money mavens had butted in and corrected Trump? He had been ranting for a while. I mean, if I was vaguely aware of this critical detail just from reading Mr. Baker’s paper you’d think he’d be a little faster on the draw having, you know, published it.

Baker did follow up with a classic Wall Street Journal explainer about how even though the Chinese aren’t involved there are fears they’ll still exploit the deal to their advantage. But that’s only if the Senate passes it, which everyone in Milwaukee agreed would be, you know, yet another episode of liberal-induced Armageddon. Right after … Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, “amnesty” of illegal immigrants, ISIS, the gutting of our military, Hillary Clinton’s pant suits and every regulation ever authored by anyone under Barack Obama. In other words, a kind of serial Armageddon, you understand. (When you’re talking to the Republican base you can’t invoke too many Armageddon scenarios.)

Fox Business is being credited for a more composed debate than CNBC two weeks ago in Denver. And, frankly, some of the questions were pretty good. Like Maria Bartiromo, (aka “The Money Honey”) putting this one to Carly Fiorina.

 …in seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you’ll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?


Naturally, Fiorina, who previously urged everyone to watch a sickening abortion video … that doesn’t exist, completely ignored the question and hammered home instead her pet Road to Armageddon messages, most of which can be avoided by a three page tax form and a green room chat with Vladimir Putin.

(BTW, didn’t you love it when Trump said, “I’m the biggest militarist on this stage”?)

Point being, somewhere along with asking these fearsome socialist slayers if they’re a “comic book version of a presidential candidate” (glib, but not all that far off the point) and hitting them with actual facts on job creation, (implicitly proving that the U.S economy invariably performs better under the active governance of Democrats), there’s a place for aggressive follow-ups.

Bartiromo et al injected quite a few, “Too be clear, sir/madams” last night trying to pull an actual answer out of the bombardment of stump speech messaging. But they never got so rude as to, you know, demand an answer and/or correct a flagrant blast of bullshit.

Which is why Rand Paul, who has clearly decided, “What the hell, I’m letting it fly” was so valuable last night. Like his old man, Paul is 85% crackers and 15% rational. That lesser percentage covered a lot of the timidity of the Fox Business moderators. Like that shot at slippery little Marco Rubio — such an adorable weasel, you just want to pinch his cheeks — about adding another $2 trillion in tax credits and military spending (for hard-working ISIS-fearing American families, you isolationist bastard!) … without even trying to pay for it.

Since Paul’s chances of winning a million bucks on FanDuel are better than out-Armageddoning the likes of Ted Cruz, Rubio or Fiorina, I propose dropping him out as a candidate and in as a moderator for the next debate, which, damn it anyway, is a whole month from now.

What am I’m going to have to do until then? Switch back to “Naked Dating” for my reality fix?