Last Wednesday night NBC’s Matt Lauer hosted what was to be the first serious discussion of security issues by candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. By all counts the evening was a disaster for Lauer. With each candidate appearing – separately – for 25 minutes Lauer managed to spend almost half of Clinton’s time on repeated questions about her email server while Secretary of State. It was as if Reince Priebus had written the script. Lauer then got to some of the real issues but, having wasted half the allotted time on the email nonissue, was constantly interrupting Clinton and telling her to hurry it along while she attempted to provide rational, specific answers. It was embarrassingly unprofessional, useless to potential voters and an insult to the viewers.
Lauer followed with a series of questions to Trump that included no followup, no corrections of obvious lies, and no attempts to get him to actually address issues on which Clinton had provided detailed answers. Whether you agreed with Clinton you at least knew where she stood. Trump was even allowed to get away with the old “secret plan” trick that Nixon used to avoid saying what he intended in Vietnam (a plan that turned out to cost an additional 20,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Asian lives – in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia).
Lauer’s gift to America arrived the next day. It began with an editorial in the Washington Post that ridiculed Lauer’s performances and called out the Post’s rivals in the press for their weak, even cowardly, coverage of the Trump campaign as well as their mindless focus on the nonissue of Clinton’s email server. As Charles Pierce has pointed out on his Daily Politics Blog for Esquire, while the Post’s editorial did not mention names, certainly the New York Times comes to mind. The Times’ editorial stance against Trump has been solid while its reporting has harped on the same litany of non- and phony issues that has kept cable news and talk radio twisting reality to its listeners’ interests.
Others have followed. Andrew Bacevich in an op ed in the Boston Globe, late night TV hosts joking about it, social media full of viewers’ rants, NBC executives reported by CNN to have said his performance was “a disaster” and the Chairman of NBC News felt compelled to defend Lauer in an internal memo released to the LA times
The Washington Post was singled out by Trump during the primaries and its reporters were no longer allowed access to the campaign. In response, the Post did what it does best: continued to report the news as it sees it, much as it did during Watergate. The Managing Editor of the Post is Marty Baron who came to the Boston Globe and took on the Catholic Church over its record of child abuse, against the advice of some who feared reprisals by the Church. We know how that worked out
So, Lauer’s gift has been to force some part of the press to look at itself and consider its own performance. Whether it is a gift that keeps on giving remains to be seen, but the evidence will be there for all to see. Will the mainstream press give priority to major issues and stop harping on fundamentally meaningless issues like Clinton’s personal emails? Will it not be bullied by Trump’s arrogant behavior and demand actual answers to questions about meaningful policy issues? Will it push back on Trump’s comments about Vladimir Putin and report the reality of Putin’s behavior and its risk to the U.S. and its allies? And will the press stop catering to the American fringe by regurgitating right wing fantasies on Vince Foster’s death, Whitewater, Clinton’s personal emails and President Obama’s birthplace?
Hillary Clinton is by no means a perfect candidate. But the press owes us its best efforts to treat her fairly by seeking from both candidates answers to the serious questions we face. Anything short of that is a dereliction of duty,6 Comments
Gold Medal – for stupidity beyond the pale – Ryan Lochte, USA
Silver Medal – for unrelenting boorishness – Hope Salo, USA
Bronze Medal – for outstanding chutzpah – Justin Gaitlin, USA
Any pattern here?6 Comments
Remember the good old days when the very concept of British comedy was not an oxymoron? Shakespeare had several good shows, Alec Guiness and the lads were terrific as a bunch of bungling robbers or, on occasion, even ladykillers. The Carry on Boys carried on in their (to many folks) hilarious ways and Marty Feldman and the crew added a touch of lunacy to the overall mixture. And let’s not forget the young Peter Sellers as a union boss, an Indian second-string actor mistakenly invited to a Hollywood party, or the many-gendered leaders of a mock republic. And to top it all off, there were the incomparable Pythons, who dominated tv for nearly a decade, adding such signature lines to the general vocabulary as the brave Sir Robin’s admonition to the band of (un)happy warriors to “run away, run away” when under pressure, or Sir Gawain’s analysis of his physical condition – “it’s just a scratch” – as his limbs are lopped off by the giant guardian of the road.
But is has been several decades since the Pythons ruled the comedy world, and it is with a sigh of relief that the world (or at least the European part of it) was treated to a new English comedy team arguably outperforming even John Cleese, Michael Palin, Erik Idle and the lads in their cleverness and creativity on the comedy front. Now the cast of characters in this fiasco is supposed to include a prime minister, who demanded a plebiscite on leaving Europe, on the assumption that it would lose and his female replacement, when it didn’t, the leader of the opposition (or one of the oppositions) and a windbag of a mayor with a Trump-copied hairdo, who has learned only one thing – to turn with the wind. And amazingly these were all real people, and they got the chance to act out their roles in real history, if their is such a thing, (can the US election really be real?) and they succeeded in acting with a comic touch that impressed even veteran theatre people, though some thought that their frequent attempts at farce were a bit much. And then, to top it off, each of the leaders of the Brexit, boys, taking the brave Sir Robyn’s advice to heart, jumped ship after they had won, which they could hardly believe and had no idea of what to do afterwards. (They are not the only ones) The cartoonists of the German papers could hardly believe their luck as they sketched out the clownish crew racing for the row boats to escape in. Now some critics have pointed out that this is a plot too heavily drawn from French bedroom farces (and this at a time when the French Prime Minister is most memorable as the guy who hopped on his vespa wearing a moonman helmet in order to scoot off to his mistress one evening while his bodyguard followed in a car, or was it a bike?). In summary, the prime minister, assuming that his plan would fail, actually had misread the tea leaves and was forced to resign when the votes were counted, the loud-mouthed supporters of leaving Europe actually had no intention (and no plan) of actually doing so and disappeared as fast as they could, and the new female prime minister immediately named the most outlandish of the Brexiters to be the new foreign minister. He was met with derision of course by his European counterparts, some of which are real heavyweights unused to clowns and said so.
My brother and I had the great pleasure of being part of an overflow crowd on the day after Brexit in front of the large public-viewing screens in the Löwenbräu Biergarten in Munich, watching the European soccer championship quarter-final match between the Icelandic team, drawn from a country with 330,000 citizens, and England, drawn from a country with about 20o times as many people. There was a table of Englishman near us, and a table of Icelanders not far away, and they of course each cheered for their home teams, though the English table became silent as the game progressed. The rest of the crowd was made up mainly of other Europeans , who cheered loudly every time Iceland had the ball and marched triumphantly out onto the streets after Iceland won. It was of course to some extent just a show of overwhelming support for a complete underdog but it was also certainly also a sign of the dark future for Great Britain’s future relationship with Europe. And maybe that’s not so funny after all.1 Comment
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity……….WB Yeats
It is simple to blame Donald Trump for the ugliness, banality and venality of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. But he can also be viewed as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. There is clearly a large amount of fear, frustration and anger in America and Trump may merely be its visible representation. While there is considerable angst over the possibility of Trump becoming president, it is worthwhile to look beyond him to the people that have enabled him to occupy such a prominent position. These include those who voted for him in primaries, but also the press for not treating his candidacy seriously, and for a political party that has in general lost its bearings.
The Republican Party has, since the Bill Clinton years, become an obstructionist institution dedicated to pandering to the basest instincts of it’s least rational members. The election and reelection of President Obama has intensified their commitment to avoid all attempts at actually governing, including the simple activity of holding hearings on a Supreme Court nominee. They managed to produce a primary election season of unrelenting nonsense and stupidity. The list of candidates is mind numbing in its lack of talent, intellectual capacity and fundamental honesty. They fooled no one and are now left holding the bag called Trump.
But Trump, as ugly and mean-spirited a candidate as we have seen since George Wallace, can be seen as a warning to the country and its putative leaders that much of the country’s rot has settled into that portion of a population that has identified with Trump’s nativist view of America’s place in the world. A world in which foreigners are threats, Muslims are all potential terrorists, women are only sometimes useful tools, and what is needed are simple-minded solutions, implemented by a proto-fascist leader.
While this environment was largely created by the Republican Party some responsibility can be shared by Democrats who participated in relaxing the rules regulating banking and financial institutions, in waging useless and stupid wars from Vietnam to Iraq, and institutionalizing unfairness in the economy. But regardless of how we parcel out the blame it is clear that the United States is facing a serious, long-term threat that is largely self-generated by rancid politics, a weak media, and an uninformed populace.
Many Americans were seriously injured by the 2007-2009 recession brought on by rapacious financial institutions and inadequately addressed by the government. Many Americans have had to learn – or relearn – that American military power can be misused, costly and with long term negative consequences. Many Americans have become scared of terrorism that since 9-11 2001, has cost fewer deaths in America than guns fired by toddlers. Many Americans have seen their jobs move to foreign countries with cheap labor while international companies pay little or no taxes in the U.S..
Given the failure of government to address America’s problems in a meaningful way it is less of a surprise that a campaign based on bigotry, ignorance, bombast and bullying could be successful. And given the nastiness of the Republican attacks on President Obama’s legitimacy it becomes understandable that a naive populace would gravitate to the man with the easy answers and the loud voice. Whether there are enough such voters in America is a question to be answered in November but regardless, the country has some very tough issues that will require more than a presidential election to begin to address.
The job of the canary in the coal mine is to die in order to alert miners of the existence of poisonous gases. Donald Trump’s job as a canary does not require his death. In fact he has done his job well enough already to alert much of the world of the existence of some poisonous gases in the United States. Now it’s time for the miners to begin the long task of digging themselves out. Denying Trump his ultimate prize would be a good first step.1 Comment
So what happens next? Even CNN, the great publicizer of the complete outsider Donald Trump, will discover that this story has run out of steam and they will have great difficulty pushing that revved-up political locomotive onto the summer timetable. The problem is that the main event has already been completed and there is really little excitement to rev up on how Indiana, or any other last-minute primary state, might vote in the primaries from now on. Bernie Sanders put in a splendid race for a very long time, but in the end he has no chance of winning this marathon against the too-well connected and experienced front runner, Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump was a newspaper person’s delight in the beginning for putting together an amazingly unpredictable sprint that put him way ahead of his rivals, and left him on track to continue to pull ahead after the sprinting should have been history. He will certainly cross the finish line well ahead of a catastrophically weak field of supposed favourites, who had no staying power for the long haul, and in fact dropped out like flies as the checkpoints passed behind them.
So the US is still a democracy and the voters have spoken. It will be Donald against Hillary for the winner-take all runoff, and already the pundits who were wrong from the start about the Trump candidacy, are confidently predicting it will be a rout for Hillary. Here’s my advice. Look out for the underdog once again. Big Donald did not get into this runoff by being a man without a lot of public support, Au contraire. He is turning out to have plenty of friends in a population tired of an overstuffed establishment, and willing to ignore the fact that Billionaire Don is an obvious high flyer in that group. His great advantage is, however, that he has never been a politician, like all the other candidates, and made his fortune by other means. Donald could be gathering his second wind, and some pundits are already suggesting it – that there may still be a long-distance runner out on the streets and the outcome might be much closer than seems to be the conclusion that the experts, who were wrong in the beginning, might be predicting once again.
So – just about everybody you think of as overpaid – from soccer players to petty politicians to tough-guy dictators – have something in common. They invest in Panama Virgin Islands Co-operation companies. And it’s all legal – sort of – and moral – less sort of, but hey what do you expect in the modern world. Non-diving soccer players, truth-telling politicians, people-oriented dictators? Okay okay, Bernie Sanders is from Brooklyn, where you’ve got to tell the truth or you know what! So he’s an exception. Maybe. And let’s hope he wins, so there is an exception that counts!
In the meantime, as expected from all serious history buffs, only one society has demanded the consequences. Just as they did in Egil’s or Hrafnkls Saga or the Saga of Grettir the Strong, (until he was exiled to an isolated uninhabited Arctic island), the Vikings of Iceland know how to handle tax avoiders. Sigmundur David Gunlaugsson (can’t match those Icelandic names), the PM, was caught with his fingers in the Panama pot, presented himself with the *eatingest grin in photographic history as he entered parliament (the kid was caught with his fingers in the cookie jar as well) and only left it after he had been kicked out of his office, which had been pelted with eggs and bananas by an angry mob, and joined the ranks of the unemployed – a contemporary mild version of medieval punishments. No if only the US presidential candidates (pace Sanders)could be convinced after being pelted by eggs and bananas to get the hell out before it’s too late, we would all breathe easier.No Comments
“What it hasn’t inspired is much in the way of self-examination, or a recognition of the way that Obama-era trends in liberal politics have helped feed the Trump phenomenon.” Ross Douthat in the NY Times, 2/29/2016
N. Y. Times columnist Ross Douthat has joined a slowly growing chorus among pundits that suggests that Trump is the result of the quality of politics as practiced by both of America’s political parties. Douthat’s column is actually fairly hilarious as it suggests that Obama’s behavior both in his campaigns and his presidency have made a major contribution to the rise of a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic loudmouth, bullying conman who happens to be about to become the standard bearer of Douthat’s political party. It would be like blaming Churchill for producing Hitler.
But this theme is not going to go away and will most likely be pursued in more subtle ways by the likes of David Brooks, whose column – also in the NY Times (Feb. 26) – makes it clear that he believes the blame for Trump is shared among Trump’s mother and father, the Tea Party and the Tea party’s opposite side (whatever that actually is).
“…we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience” D. Brooks
Brooks is a well known academic wannabe who tends to cite strange right wing theorists like Charles Murray while presenting a fatuous line of thinking frequently aimed at blaming everyone except the Republican Party for the country’s political woes. In his column he devises a theory that Democrats and the Tea Party are to blame for what he calls “anti politics” that have poisoned the American political well. This allows Democrats to share the blame for the likes of Trump and lets the Republican establishment pretty much off the hook. So the Mitch McConnells and Paul Ryans, and John Boehners are not really responsible for tying government into knots, for refusing to participate in governing, for poisoning political discussion.
As the Trump nomination becomes a reality we can expect a lot of this nonsense. Faced with the Republican Party’s capitulation to the monster they created they must find the words to place their monster into a context of political normalcy. And Douthat and Brooks will be there in our most important newspaper to help grease the skids. Buyer Beware!2 Comments
Well, let’s see now. First there were several Republican candidates in the United States of America’s primary drama, led by the indomitable Donald Trump, who suggested that it would be a bright idea to build a Berlin-type wall along the US border. It seemed likely at the time that they had meant the border to Mexico, and perhaps forgotten or did not know that there was also a border in the north with Canada. When it was pointed out that that wall would present mighty challenges in the Rocky Mountains, British Columbia and Yukon, not to mention Newfoundland, ST. Pierre and Miquelon, some reconsidered after looking at a map. But some candidates stuck to their guns.
As more information about these candidates dribbles out, Canadians became more and more interested in the proposal for a wall, not because it would keep terrorists from travelling south, but rather because it might hinder unwanted aliens from travelling north. As it turned out, one of the leading lights, Ted Cruz, was actually born and bred in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with a Cuban father and an Amurcan mother, and was a Canadian citizen when he announced his candidacy for President of the United States. . Hmm. Now, the third in the trio of favourites, Marco Rubio, has begun showing an ad for his candidacy on tv in his new series “Morning in America” that makes you wonder just what he means when he uses the word “America”. Does he mean the United States or does he mean all of North America, perhaps excluding Mexico? Who knows?
What most who see this ad will know is that the scene he opens with is not in the United States. It shows a tugboat sailing out of a very dynamic-looking harbour, obviously recognizable as Vancouver harbour to lots of folks, but for anyone who isn’t familiar with the scene, there is a Canadian flag flying on the tug just to make it clear. Doesn’t Rubio or his advisors know that on the other side of that northern wall there is an independent country with a different flag than his, which does not call itself America, and that what his ad shows is “Morning in Canada” as the most spectacular and busy harbour city on the west coast of North America comes to life? Anyhow Ted Cruz is probably thanking the unpredictable primary gods for this intervention in the Canadian irritation in the Republican primary. But Canadians are just wondering what the hell is going on.3 Comments
Today is the official start of the long slog toward the election of a new leader of the Free World in – of all places, Iowa. Now I like corn as much as the next guy, and while I know it is absurd to be forcing ethanol into our gas tanks II am finding it difficult to get too worked up about a political process that rewards candidates’ ability to drive elderly Evangelicals to precinct meetings where they can discuss the second coming of the Lord with fellow believers. One measure of the relevance of the process is to look back 8 years when the Iowa Republicans put forth the Reverend Huckabee, following that four years later by putting forth Rick Santorum, a guy who lost his last election by 16 percentage points – perhaps a modern record.
Americans do many things well but running a national election in an intellectually stimulating and cost effective manner is not one of them. Thanks to the Supreme Court we now have campaigns awash in money – frequently from billionaires and huge corporations with very personal axes to grind. This year is no different except for Bernie sanders who seems to be scraping by on some $20Million raised from some 3 million individuals. And of course He! Trump is for now mostly spending only his own money, but being a billionaire makes that seem a bit unsightly.
With some ten months remaining in the process it is amusing, in a cynical kind of way to watch the press exude excitement over a primary process in Iowa that is rarely definitive and based largely on how many people each candidate can get rides to 1681 distinct locations in the state. Typically Republican turnout has run around 20% of registered voters; Democrats have had a slightly larger turnout. Soon the focus will turn from Iowa to New Hampshire where the process will be a more traditional primary election. Tonight the national media will be flooding us with results from a state that represents very little of the country’s diversity. diversity. Indeed tonight Judy Woodruff on the PBS Newshour gave us several minutes of political analysis from Evangelical Ministers who all seem to agree that Jesus should be picking the winners. I leave it to others to determine whether the tax-supported Public Broadcasting System should be going out of its way to seek religious analysis of political events. But for me, Judy Woodruff is, in this instance, a disgrace to journalism who might seemingly consider a life in a convent. It is simply irresponsible to provide a national audience to a bunch of religious charlatans and present them as serious political analysts. It is about the level we can expect from Woodruff who, on a good day, can find her way to ask the same question in three ways in the hope she gets – finally – the answer she wants.
Soon we will be on to New Hampshire. Fewer cows and Evangelicals, and not much of a corn field. But the horse race is on, the touts will be crying their picks and then we can sit back and wait nine months for the real thing. Too long, too tedious, too absurd.
And I resisted till now the reminder that the Junior Senator from Iowa made her bones by telling Iowa’s voters that she had an excellent record in the castration of hogs. I kid you not. Why didn’t Woodruff interview her?3 Comments
This is obviously a rhetorical question. In many ways pro sports has never thrived more. The big events, especially among elite participants in team sports – the World Cup of Soccer, Super Bowl of US football, NBA basketball, NHL hockey, even cricket and rugby world cups are more popular and profitable than they ever have been and betting on them is very big business. Although there have been some recent exceptions, most games at the highest level are beyond the reach of the plague that is now tearing apart all individual sports and second and third rung team sports – results fixed through gambling. It is hard to see how a successful offer can be made to convince the extremely high paid stars of the elite tournaments to purposely lose a game. They are paid too much to be interested in such deals, and in any case, just who could guarantee a loss for such highly talented teams, unless the whole team signs on, and that is not going to happen.
But this is not true of the players and the teams that lurk below the elites, and plenty of bets are made on their games, nor does this theory work as convincingly when it comes to individual sports. Tennis is only the latest sport to come under serious suspicion, especially with regard to matches played just below the elite level, for which much betting takes place in any case. Needless to say it is much easier to unexpectedly lose a match in tennis – a bunch of bad returns, double faults, or sudden injuries will do the trick – than it is for a high-level football, rugby, hockey or basketball team to suddenly collapse.
And soon we will have the Olympics, making its every fourth year stop, this time in Rio. Poor track and field, the heart of the Olympics and once the mark of the pinnacle of individual performance, has been really seriously, if not fatally damaged by the other kind of cheating – the use of illegal substances to help you win, not lose as is the case in being paid to throw the result. And the elite athletes in this are no longer anything like the amateurs who once performed. Great amounts of money are at stake and the Olympic governors have been unable or unwilling to get unlimited doping under control. This time it seems like the entire Russian track and field team may be banned for drug abuse, and just about everyone in the know thinks that is just the tip of the iceberg. The real victims here are the honest athletes who are playing by the rules. Some of them may even be Russian. Good luck to them!No Comments