Threats to America’s Free Press

Posted May 24, 2017 on 9:52 am | In the category Politics, Press, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Democracy Dies in Darkness –Washington Post Motto

Throughout his Presidential campaign Trump attacked the American press with the notable exception of the unofficial Trump Fan Club: Fox News. But from the start it has been clear that Trump wants to keep the American people ignorant of much of what he actually does or has already done. So for example, early in his campaign he refused to provide press credentials to the Washington Post, apparently believing that would stop it from reporting on the shabbiness of his campaign rallies and the incendiary nonsense he used to fire up his dyspeptic voters. In hindsight a big mistake, given Post editor Martin Baron’s history with the Boston Globe, where he took down the Catholic Church in Boston for its history of sex abuse. Baron led that effort in the face of massive resistance by the institutional Church, a powerful player in Massachusetts politics. So, in the face of Trump’s attempt to muffle the Post, it has turned out to be a leader in investigating and reporting on the chaos and corruption that is the Trump White House.

But the battle to maintain respect for a free press in America continues in the face of ongoing charges of “fake news” from Trump, “alternative facts” from his staff, and total fabrications from Fox News and alt-right make-believe news organizations like Breitbart News. There are numerous examples of government attempts – many successful – to move government operations into the dark and those who treasure an open, accountable democracy clearly have enemies in high places. The shameless twisting of truth by Sean Spicer and Kelly Anne Conway have been on view for over four months with Spicer becoming a pathetic joke for Saturday Night Live and Conway quoted as saying she needs to take a shower after dealing with Trump. But while lying for the boss has historically been considered part of the game, other tactics aimed at hiding the truth are more insidious.

 You Want it Dark? I’ll Kill the Flame.— Leonard Cohen

While Cohen was speaking of darker things than managing the news, the quote is an appropriate metaphor for Trump’s approach to the news: keep it in the dark, which they are trying to do in a variety of ways:

  • When Trump met with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the U.S. the American press was left outside while TASS, the official Russian News Agency was welcomed inside. On his current trip to the Middle East Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a press conference for foreign press but forget to invite the American press.
  • Recently, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price appeared at an event in West Virginia and a reporter questioned him on details of the proposed Trumpcare bill. The reporter was blocked by police and then arrested.
  • Also, within the last week a reporter from C Q Roll Call was manhandled by FCC security guards when attempting to direct a question to an FCC Commissioner in a public hearing. The reporter was then thrown out of the room.
  • Trump’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, admitted in an interview that Trump is actively considering attempting to change U.S. libel laws, hoping to make it easier to silence the press.
  • Finally, in what is apparently representative of the President’s view of a free press, Trump has suggested that the FBI “should consider putting reporters in prison”, placing himself in the same camp as his new friend Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan. Over the past year+ Erdogan has jailed hundreds of journalists for reporting on Turkey’s human rights abuses as he moves Turkey from a secular democracy toward an Islamic near-theocracy. Not so strange bedfellows after all.

In this environment, it is imperative that the press refuse to back down and that the public support their efforts. There are plenty of examples of solid journalism that do not rely on daily attendance at the White House press briefings, where reporters are frequently treated as possible tools of the administration. In fact, the best journalism rarely comes out of the White House press briefings but rather from sources developed through hard work and asking the right questions to the right people. Democracy needs a hard working press that seeks the truth, verifies information from sources, builds a case and then informs the public of what the administration does – not what it says. And this is true for all administrations, not just the current one.

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The Slow Death of Obamacare

Posted May 5, 2017 on 2:36 pm | In the category Healthcare, Politics, Press, Taxes, TRUMP, U.S. Domestic Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“Trumpcare isn’t a replacement of the Affordable Care Act. It’s a transfer from the sick and poor to the rich and healthy.” – Robert Reich

The near death of Obamacare, long prayed for by Tea Partiers and Republicans arrived yesterday in the House of Representatives, but once again a stupid, useless bill from the Paul Ryan Chamber of Horrors will most likely suffer a slow, painful, disappearance in the Senate. As for Potentate Trump – this victory will not satisfy him, because nothing really satisfies him other than a standing ovation, which he will not get for this atrocity.

The Republican members of the House of Representatives voted yesterday for a bill that will make health insurance too expensive for those with pre-existing conditions and others including those older Americans not yet on Medicare, while lying about the actualities of the bill. This is obviously a time for the American press to do its job. Report the facts and tell the truth.

The plan is a classic trump “deal”, promise and renege. Trump’s history of not paying for services is well known and well reported. Bankruptcies and simply refusing to pay for services rendered is the playbook of a petty crook and thug – well documented – joined in this instance by Paul Ryan in applying this tried and true Trumpian approach to scamming people – this time out of their health care. In joining forces with Trump, Ryan is learning from the master scammer. A recent obvious example is Trump University which had to pay out $25 Million to scammed students.  There is a useful and entertaining catalog of his scandals and scams in a recent issue of the  Atlantic, which can be found here.

Here is how this scam works – for those with pre-existing conditions – like cancer, diabetes, birth defects, (even pregnancy!) etc. , insurance companies no longer would have to accept them at normal insurance costs, but the federal government would provide some financial assistance to those states that develop high risk pools to help cover the costs associated with insuring these people. There is absolutely no question that the amount of money in the bill is inadequate to cover such costs but those mythical “moderate” Republicans felt they had sufficient cover to vote for it.

In Republican America that is all that is required – sufficient cover to allow a vote that is inexcusably dishonest and venal. And what are the chances of states like Kansas and Wisconsin providing that kind of support? How about zero.

It is no longer a reasonable expectation that Republican Representatives will vote on reason, facts or the good of the country. But as long as the Senate avoids drinking the Kool Aid it remains a meaningless vote. Ryan’s crew may think they have fulfilled their wildest dreams, might need to change their pajamas, and can go home to their districts and boast that they voted to screw several million people out of health insurance. Witness the bizarre, obscene celebration at the White House yesterday afternoon.

This really is a time for the press to step up and explain to their readers/listeners just what it all means: That the losers are: the poor, the middle class, the old, Planned Parenthood, state governments, hospitals, medical professionals, people with pre-existing conditions, and veterans.

The winners include: the rich, who get a nearly $600 billion tax break by reducing healthcare taxes that primarily affect the wealthiest 10%, insurance companies who can now charge 5X for premiums for older people, and of course, Congressmen/women, who are exempt from the rules of the bill. A good analysis of the financial aspects of the bill is provided by Robert Reich.

Pressure now lies on the Senate to prove that America has not gone totally insane. I’m not recommending anyone bet on that; save your money for your increased healthcare costs.

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A Warning From France

Posted April 26, 2017 on 9:50 am | In the category Election, Europe, Germany, Politics, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

The news from France this week was marginally positive with the caveat that a crypto-fascist did come in second and will be in the run-off for President. But for now it seems that the run of Crazy might be winding down after its success in the UK Brexit vote and the election of America’s Chief Clown. Since then the Netherlands has avoided electing neofascists and now France – in the first round of what is one of the West’s most significant electoral tests since the rise of Hitler – has apparently taken a first step towards political sanity. Recognizing that if Macron wins the presidency he will most likely not have a Parliament of his own party, which will likely return France to its tried and true politics of avoidance of real issues and solutions. So the relief may be temporary.

But perhaps the most interesting lesson of this election is that France’s traditional political parties failed to place a candidate in the runoff. And that was the preferred result with the other two major candidates representing, in one instance, the historic corruption of French politicians, and in the other, the amazing capacity for craziness of the French Left. Now it is up to Macron to maintain his lead over Le Pen in the runoff and bring some reassurance not only to France but to the entire EU by waging a serious, competent campaign.

For the U.S. the warning from France was another shot across the bow of our major political parties. It is a reiteration of the warning provided by Trump and another reminder of the failure of both parties to connect to the people with policies and programs that people could understand and respect. The fact that the Republican Party now controls the Congress AND the presidency is less a positive review of their policies than a bizarre accident of fate: long-time self-identified Democrat Donald Trump ran in the Republican primaries because he understood that the competition was composed of losers like Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, etc. It is instructive that the only traditional, mainstream Republican candidate was John Kasich and he never gained any traction.

The Democrats had Hillary Clinton whose campaign never articulated a serious and convincing reason for her candidacy. “It’s her turn” was simply not enough for the millions of people who have seen their quality of life dissipate, the unfairness of the American economy, and the quality of political discourse turn into people simply yelling at each other. It did not help that Clinton had enriched herself with Wall Street speeches and then run a campaign that cheated Bernie Sanders’ followers out of a fair shake. But her failure was a lack of recognition of the depth of anger and despair among a swath of non urban voters in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. While Clinton won the popular vote she lost where it mattered among voters who are simply pissed off. And the blame is not hers so much as the Party’s, which left a large part of its membership behind and never articulated a measure of progressive hope.

The lesson from France – and from the UK and the U.S. – is that there are a lot of people who are angry, who have been left behind, who believe they don’t matter, and who have understandably lost faith in their politicians and their political parties. And then there are the 50% who don’t even bother to vote. Easy to blame them but maybe they need to believe in something for which to vote.

The warnings have been made and it is time for political parties to move beyond serving the needs of their primary funders and candidates and on to the needs of the people they claim to represent.
France’s runoff election is on May 7, and will be followed later in the year by elections in Germany. We shall see what lessons come from those events.

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LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS JOURNALISTS

Posted March 29, 2017 on 11:26 pm | In the category Politics, Press, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

L

We are living at a time that might very well be when the American press discovers the way to overcome the nonsense and craziness that floods the internet and forces America to recognize that good journalism costs real money and requires real independence. The 2016 election illustrated what has happened with the turn away from paid news to free internet news – much of the latter turning out to have come to us via Russian and East European internet hacks aimed at the too susceptible Americans seeking easy negative answers and drinking the Kool Aid.

In 1973 I lived outside of Washington DC and worked in the city. It was a tedious bus ride made easier by the Washington Post and its daily dose of Watergate news. There is something about getting up in the morning to the news of the next step in the demise of a cheap, petty politician whose psychology placed him on the path to political demise that makes it easer to roll out of bed at 6 AM.

It was easy to despise Nixon for his shameless duplicity on Vietnam which had led to an additional 25000 American deaths along with literally countless deaths of Cambodians and Vietnamese in the name of my country. To see him go down was the pleasing result of the courage and commitment to truth of the mainstream American press. The fact that they let Henry Kissinger get away remains an unpleasant footnote but we took what we could get.

Now we have a similarly damaged president – psychologically unfit, intellectually deficient, and thoroughly dishonest – and the mainstream press is on the case. It is early to count on a particular ending but the signs are there. A Republican Congressman heading the Intelligence Committee and being slowly sucked into the morass of dishonesty that distinguishes a cover up of massive proportions. But there is a hope that we will see Trump get what he deserves – perhaps an early retirement, maybe even an impeachment, but minimally a recognition of what a waste he is as President. We shall see…

What many Americans have discovered is that there are serious journalists who work hard – with integrity – to bring to them the facts that add up to truth over time. So let’s recognize the work of the Washington Post, the New York Times, CBS News, even lately CNN, and those others who are out there giving us the raw data that wise people can use to understand what is being done to them under the guise of a phony American populism. These media outlets have each been criticized in tweets (tweets? Good God). Big American media does not typically pose a threat to power – but they did it in 1973 against a dishonest and mentally ill president and they are doing it again.

Trump has been critical of that part of the press that is doing its job and he has done everything he can to cow them. It is not working – he is being called on every falsehood, lie, fantasy that he calls up and it is the main stream, serious media that is doing it. As a newspaper junkie it is fun to watch it unfold and to put my money on the press to win this one as they did in 1973. It was essential for the truth to be told in 1973; it is as essential now when there are fantasists, crazy conspiracists and just plain liars out there trying to persuade us that facts don’t matter, that science is irrelevant, that kleptocracy is the way to go, that oligarchy is a good thing, that fascism is acceptable. Yes, a free press is our vaccination and our protection from the worst instincts of ourselves. Buy a newspaper.

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TRUMP IN CONTEXT

Posted March 10, 2017 on 5:24 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Politics, Press, TRUMP, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“Liberalism itself has failed, and for a pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represented it.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

So, is Donald Trump just the tip of the iceberg? Elections coming up in Europe might help tell us whether the age of Western liberal democracy is heading towards the exit.

While we rightly pay a lot of attention to the national disaster known as Trump it may be that he is only the first among many. The first clue that the West was heading into stormy weather was the UK’s Brexit vote – a vote that forced the Prime Minister out of office, replaced him with a pale imitation of Margaret Thatcher and has proven to be a first crack in the European Union. Then came Trump’s surprise win which has produced the beginnings of a major make-over of America’s economic and social reality, and not for the best.

But obsessing on Trump allows us to ignore a trend that has been developing for some time. Recent or upcoming elections in France, Hungary, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Poland have all indicated that Western liberalism is in decline. Poland now has a nationalist government with a shaky relationship to the EU; NATO member Turkey has effectively eliminated a free press while it heads toward a major policy conflict with the U.S. over Turkey’s unwillingness to accept American collaboration with Kurdish fighters in Syria; France is looking at a national election in which the National Front’s right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen is almost surely going to be one of the two finalists for President with a serious opportunity to win; The Netherlands’ parliamentary election this month is very possibly going to hand a victory to Geert Wilders’ extreme right-wing Freedom Party; and Hungary has already elected a Prime Minister who has turned the country against much of what have been Western values. Add to these, the strong arm tactics of Netanyahu in Israel, the rise of Russian influence in Serbia, and the rising risk to Merkel’s reign in Germany and we have the approach of a new world order.

There has been considerable press discussion of the role of Russia in all of this but the press might better put its efforts into exploring the failures of the West to develop and maintain working economies that provide jobs and benefits to restless, discouraged populations. There are exceptions – notably Germany and Canada – but by and large the West has produced an environment in which the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing, the opportunities for high quality lives have diminished for most people and economic growth is almost non-existent.

While Trump’s electoral victory no doubt hinged on many issues, in the states where it was decided, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin – the economy rose to the top. Whether Trump has the solution is highly questionable but a moot point. Probably he does not, but the Clinton campaign managed to largely ignore the issue and the people who felt it the most. This issue may also be playing out in France, the Netherlands, the UK and the rest of Western Europe. “It’s the economy, stupid” was the mantra that Bill Clinton ran on successfully in the 90’s; it may still reflect the dominant issue that affects the most people throughout the world and that determines the winners and losers of elections. So investment in defense grows while investment in production declines and the quality of the lives of the people our defenses protect remain in the background. Go figure.

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IS THE AMERICAN PRESS UP TO THE CHALLENGE?

Posted January 28, 2017 on 7:11 pm | In the category Politics, Press, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

I take a grave view of the plight of the press. It is the weak slat under the bed of democracy.
A.J. Liebling

With the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President, the United States is now faced with the rather considerable task of making him appear to be the new normal. The press, in particular, will struggle with the task of being fair to him while not ignoring his past behaviors and the ongoing and emerging truths about his personal ethical background, business behaviors, and tendencies toward self-serving grandiose rhetoric in support of his own ego. And then, there are the lies. The traditional press tends to avoid calling politicians – especially presidents – liars but we seem to have entered a non traditional situation in which the President is not shading the facts but is rather ignoring them in order to manufacture new, “alternative facts”. This has led our two major newspapers – The NY Times and the Washington Post – to begin ongoing logs of Trump’s lies. There is no need to regurgitate the list of lies to date here – any sentient human can follow those in the daily press and even on major TV network news programs.

Of course there will always be outliers – Fox News, which is to be expected, and the NY Post which seems to be Trump’s personal choice as newspaper of record. And it has been disturbing to note the overly cautious approach of the PBS Newshour which so far has avoided calling out the Fabricator in Chief. But CNN has made an obvious commitment to fight back from Trump’s lies about its coverage of the U.S. intelligence agencies’ investigation of reports of Trump-Putin conspiracies. As for the Alt Right news outlets like Breitbart News, there is no reason to expect them to become honest now that their use of fake news has helped elect their man. And the White House news operation is for now led by Sean Spicer who almost immediately made a fool of himself while embarrassing an office that, under past Presidents has at least made a pretense of honesty and commitment to facts.

So, with a daily dose of bizarre tweets from Trump, a threat to close the White House to working press, a press spokesman committed to ignoring facts and manufacturing fantasies designed to protect his boss, a freeze on information flow from government agencies, a cast of lieutenants organized purposely to mislead and a public not always inclined to do the work of separating fact from fiction, the press has a major challenge.

If the past can be trusted as a clue to the future we can expect the Washington Post to continue to provide leadership in providing tough, fact-based journalism that has been their hallmark during the campaign. The NY Times can be predicted to be tough but possibly somewhat less inclined to do the kind of hard reporting that has characterized the Post under Managing Editor Marty Baron. Several other papers can be counted on for solid work, among them the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and the McCatchy papers.

Editorials and op ed pieces will continue to cover a range of opinion which is appropriate. But it is up to the reader(s) to assess these pieces with an eye to the background of the authors. For an obvious example, if Newt Gingrich offers his wisdom it is safe to assume that it will be self-serving, pompous blather. We are all left with the need to remember, “reader beware” and to actually think about what it is we are reading, from whence it comes and whether it has a basis in fact. This is not always easy, but newspapers have a record and while all have made mistakes in the past (see Judith Miller on Iraq War in the Times) all have an historic record that provides a basis on which to form a judgment. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for one scary ride.

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Matt Lauer’s Gift to America’s Press and Electorate

Posted September 11, 2016 on 11:16 am | In the category Election, Politics, Press, Uncategorized | by Jeff

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,

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TRUMP: THE CANARY IN THE COAL MINE

Posted May 10, 2016 on 10:25 pm | In the category Politics, Press, Republican Party | by Jeff

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.

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BLAMING OBAMA FOR TRUMP

Posted February 28, 2016 on 5:38 pm | In the category Politics, Press, Tea Party | by Jeff

“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!

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IOWA:: ETHANOL, JESUS AND THE PRESS

Posted February 1, 2016 on 7:49 pm | In the category Election, PBS NEWSHOUR, Politics, Press | by Jeff

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?

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