Acosta vs Trump is a fight that has no winners

It is finally here, that moment in history when journalism became entertainment—reality TV at its worst (as if there is such a thing as reality TV at its best).

So as not to paint all journalism with the broad brush of blame, only broadcast and online journalism falls fully into the entertainment category. Print journalists, those who ply their trade for traditional newspapers and magazines that do not rely on ratings and click bait for revenue, get a pass.

All others, listen up: You are making fools of yourselves and of the profession. And by extension, making fools of some of us who do a pretty good job of making fools of ourselves without your help.

One could almost smell the acrid aroma from all of those heads on fire when CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta lost his hard press pass after he and President Trump engaged in the time-honored tradition of trying to prove who gets to be the toughest kid on the playground. Back in the day, the two bullies got in trouble along with those who egged them on.

There are so many points to include here, but self-discipline demands that online columns adhere to the old print constraints and not go on and on and on until the reader’s lips fall off out of boredom.

Acosta is a good place to start. There was a time when first-year journalism students learned never to be the story. I know this because I taught it. It is one of journalisms oldest rules, and yet our online and broadcast brothers and sisters seem to ignore it. Acosta has been needling Trump since the campaign. With all eyes on him during Trump’s ill-advised post-election news conference, Acosta could not resist the opportunity to engage in a battle of half-wits with POTUS.

“I wanted to challenge you on one of the statements that you made in the tail end of the campaign in the midterms,” he said, because that is always going to go well. One almost expected Trump to respond with, “Hey, Acosta, I got yer challenge right here!”

But he did not, and the Q&A turned into a juvenile display of bad boys trying to prove who has the bigger balls, with Acosta apparently tussling with a White House intern trying to take back the microphone.

Not only did Acosta refuse to be civil, he refused to remember he was a guest, with no more rights to be in the White House than any tourist with a kid and a camera. His access to the president is a privilege granted by the White House, which, as past presidents demonstrated, is revocable at any time for any reason. Obama kicked Fox News reporters from his campaign plane and replaced them with reporters from minority magazines. Obama also violated the constitutional rights of reporters by seizing the personal and business phone records without court orders, but that is a topic for another discussion, and a reminder that this bad blood did not start with this administration.

Trump also ignored an important rule: Never get into an argument with someone who buys paper by the ton. There was a time when newspapers distributed their news on paper, and could generate as much bad or good press about someone as the publication could afford. That is not the case today. Most newspapers have an online site. And broadcast journalists, like Acosta, have multiple social media accounts along with their organization’s Web pages. Who needs paper when you can blanket the earth electronically?

No one really wins in this obscene and ridiculous war of words or battle of the bozos. Any “victory” is short-lived and shortsighted.

CNN’s ratings will increase among those more interested in rumor, gossip, and innuendo than facts, figures, and intelligent discussion of the important issues facing our country and the world. And Acosta gets to talk about how Trump did a bad thing to him. But, today, the families and victims of the California bar murders are not feeling sorry for him. Ditto for the girls and boys who will suffer real abuse in many forms before the end of the day.

Trump may have increased his standing among those who do not like the media, but he did nothing to repair the country’s widening political and social divisions. He strengthened part of his base, but he weakened a great many others who keep telling their friends to give the guy a chance. He is becoming a caricature of a caricature during a dangerous time, quickly eroding what remains of any confidence in his leadership.

Acosta needs to put on his big-boy pants and be something other than an attention grabber working to strengthen his position for the next round of contract negotiations. Trump needs to realize he is the president of everyone and is above the pettiness of petulant journalists. And both of them need to realize rolling in the mud with the pigs may be fun, but in the end, you all become sausage.

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Democrats bent on spoiling victories

Agency theory is a way to explain the relationship between a principal and an agent. In a perfect world, the agent works in the principal’s best interest. In the real world, the agent works on behalf of the agent. Understanding agency theory in personal relationships, in the workplace, and in politics may help resolve issues created by unaligned goals or different levels of risk aversion. Finance students learn agency theory to help them understand the conflicts between the expectations of principals (stockholders) and the desires of agents (company executives).  

Politics, if nothing else, is agency theory on steroids.  

Pre- and post-election polls show the majority of US voters are tired of the divisiveness of politics, but Democrats seemed to use their campaigns to widen the divide. Democrat House and Senate candidates pushed investigations, impeachment, immigration, and sometimes health care. US voters, however, are more interested in health care (41 percent) than immigration (23 percent).  

ABC News exit polling showed 75 percent of Democratic voters were interested in health care, but just 23 percent were concerned about immigration despite the hoopla surrounding opposition to a border wall and support for the migrant caravans. The economy was on the minds of Republican voters by a 2-1 margin, which was about the same spread as gun policy for Democratic voters. Regarding Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, 54 percent of Americans believe it is politically motivated. To no surprise, that breaks down to 82 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of Democrats.

And yet, the individuals the voters chose to be their agents in Washington seem hell-bent on proving the worst aspects of agency theory as Democratic candidates and party leaders, traumatized by the 2016 election, make plans to overturn the results by any means possible. 

We are seeing a shift from the old idea that all politics is local to one where the only politics is impeachment of the president and the removal of Cabinet secretaries and Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. What they could not accomplish two years ago—keeping Trump out of the White House—they want to do now by removing him from office before the end of his term.  

Party leaders avoided the word impeachment in public before the elections. In May, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi danced the political two-step when she discouraged the use of the word while giving members her approval to discuss it in their districts. Pelosi says impeachment is not a priority, but she has not taken it off the table, because her members like Al Green of Texas and Maxine Waters of California are singing and dancing on the table.  

Green forced an impeachment floor vote last December that 58 Democrats supported. A second vote in January garnered 66 votes. Waters claims the impeachment movement is not a witch hunt or fake news, but one based on real charges of criminal behavior that will lead to articles of impeachment. 

Democrats won enough seats to regain control of the House where articles of impeachment originate. They lost seats in the Senate where they need 67 votes to remove a president from office. 

So, what is the big deal with this investigation and impeachment rhetoric? The big deal is the real probability of two years of political division and hate to make the last two years look like a love fest. And it will begin in January with a flurry of subpoenas and public hearings Democrats have promised to unleash in their efforts to hamstring the Trump administration. The Kavanaugh confirmation was an example of what awaits senior administration officials and future nominees who will face allegations and pillories disguised as hearings designed to erode public confidence in their government.  

Younger voters may not have taken civics classes in high school, but if they had, they would know that “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” are the criteria for a presidential impeachment. Ken Starr is not a popular guy among Democrats after heading the investigation that led to Clinton’s impeachment. Starr knows a thing or two about this topic because he has seen a thing or two, and he says allegations against Trump are not even close to impeachment material.  

Logical thinking and the rule of law have taken the last train for the coast. It is looking more and more like the American people will be the ones railroaded by agency theory at its worst, because powerful people do not have the patience to work harder during the next two years to accomplish their goal the way the nation’s founders intended.

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Democrat victories portend impeachment coup

A disturbing movement to change the country’s government is afoot across the nation. This is not the usual midterm gains by the party out of power. No, this movement is a sinister and fairly open attempt to remove a duly elected president and other members of the government by individuals and a political party traumatized by the 2016 election and determined to overturn the results by any means possible. 

We are seeing a shift from the old idea that all politics is local to one where the only politics is the overthrow of the government. Recent stories and comments suggest a large number of voters are not discussing property taxes, jobs, infrastructure improvements, and other issues of local interest. Instead, they increasingly promote the need to elect Democrats so that a Democrat-controlled Congress can impeach the president and then move to remove Cabinet secretaries and Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. What they could not accomplish two years ago, keeping Trump out of the White House, they want to do now by removing him from office before the end of his term.  

Party leaders do not like to use the word impeachment in public right now. In May, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi danced the political two-step when she discouraged the use of the word while giving members her approval to discuss it in their districts. Pelosi says impeachment is not a priority, but she has never said it is off the table, because representatives Al Green of Texas and Maxine Waters of California are singing and dancing on the table.  

Green forced an impeachment floor vote last December that 58 Democrats supported. A second vote in January garnered 66 votes. Waters claims the impeachment movement is not a witch hunt or fake news, but one based on real charges of criminal behavior that will lead to articles of impeachment. 

Big-money donors keep pumping lots of cash to fund the impeachment movement and party leaders are either incapable or unwilling to stop it. Last week, Pelosi told MSNBC that an impeachment commercial underwritten by billionaire Tom Steyer was a great ad.  

Democrats must flip 23 seats to regain control of the House where articles of impeachment originate. They could take control of the Senate, but they are nowhere near the 67 votes needed to remove a president from office. 

So, what is the big deal with this impeachment rhetoric? The big deal is the real probability of two years of political division and hate to make the last two years look like a love fest. And it will begin in January with a flurry of subpoenas and public hearings Democrats have promised to unleash in their efforts to hamstring the Trump administration. The Kavanaugh confirmation was an example of what awaits senior administration officials and future nominees who will face allegations and pillories disguised as hearings designed to erode public confidence in their government.  

History is on the side of the Democrats this election. In 1994, Bill Clinton’s approval rate was 46 percent, and the Republicans gained 54 seats in the House. In 2010, Barack Obama’s approval rate was 45 percent, and Republicans gained 63 House seats. Four years later, the GOP picked up another dozen House seats as Obama’s approval rating dropped to 40 percent. Trump’s approval rating is somewhere in the mid-40s. 

Younger voters may not have taken civics classes in high school, but if they had, they would know that “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” are the criteria for a presidential impeachment. These are not times for logical thinking and the rule of law, apparently. New York Democratic congressman Adriano Espaillat, a supporter of impeachment, told The Hill last week that he sees a Watergate moment when he walks through his district and talks with his constituents. And Kevin Mack, lead strategist for Tom Steyer’s Need to Impeach campaign also told The Hill impeachment is an unavoidable topic people everywhere are discussing. Self-serving, yes, but true, nonetheless. 

Ken Starr is not a popular guy among Democrats after heading the investigation that led to Clinton’s impeachment. Starr knows a thing or two about this topic because he has seen a thing or two, and he says allegations against Trump are not even close to impeachment material. 

But logic and common sense have taken the last train for the coast, and it is looking more and more like the American people will be the ones railroaded because powerful people do not have the patience to work harder during the next two years to accomplish their goal the way the nation’s founders intended.

 

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PC Police making Halloween really scary

The End of Summer is upon us. No, not Labor Day, the official end of summer, but Halloween, the day kids of all ages instinctively know to be the date that signals the arrival of autumn with winter fast upon its heels. Kids know that summer should go out with a bang, with a day filled with big laughs, lots of yelling, and maybe even a fright or two to carry them through those long, dreary winter nights. 

At the risk of sounding like an old codger sitting on the porch shouting, “Hey you kids, get off my lawn,” today’s Halloween vibe just ain’t like it used to be. Halloweens of more than half a century ago in my little town in Illinois were not confused with politics and political correctness. It was a night when tiny ghosts and goblins, spooks and spirits, fairies and firemen ran up to doors and waited for tricks or treats to land in their paper grocery sacks. Kids stayed close to home, except for short drives across town to scare relatives or friends.  

Times have changed, things are different, and Halloween’s focus for many has shifted from the innocence of childhood fantasies to the evils of adult vexations. 

A Facebook picture the other day showed a toddler, dressed like a mouse, sitting in a wagon decorated to look like a mousetrap with cheese as bait. The PC police pointed out that the getup promotes cruelty to animals and that the cheese came from white milk, which is a symbol of white supremacy. We can thank the PETA people for that. Who knew white racists and white supremacists got their strength from white milk? Chocolate milk, of course, is white milk in brown face. 

Snow White and Sleeping Beauty used to be favorites of young girls. Today, some parents try to dissuade their little girls (or boys) from dressing like sleeping girls because of the #MeToo times in which we live. For those who missed it, a prince kisses the sleeping girl without her permission. Witches who seduce young girls with apples or put them to sleep with a prick are OK, apparently.  

The witch, by the way, is number 5 on Google’s national list of most-searched Halloween costumes. President Trump, seen as the boogieman by more than half of adults in this country, dropped from 71 last year to 125 this year. Without Trump, how can we make America ghoulish again? 

For some reason, the PC police are not interested in the online video game Fortnite characters, this year’s top Halloween characters. They use automatic assault rifles, shotguns, and missile launchers to rid the world of zombies. The game concerns some parents and teachers because they fear kids spend too much time using weapons of mass murder to kill people they don’t like, because apparently there is a definite line between the right amount of time and too much time. Yes, Halloween is full of irony, if nothing else.

The PC SWAT team visited The Houston Museum of Natural Science after someone put out an email invitation with Party with Spooks as the subject line. The email called “all ghosts and ghouls, monsters and mummies, witches and werewolves” to the museum’s annual fright fest. The museum’s administration sent out an email within a few hours to apologize for the word “spooks” by ghosting the word. The museum, the email said, is committed to diversity and inclusion, and regrets the use of a word “with an offensive connotation.” 

So, there you have it. No spooks allowed on Halloween. 

Aladdin also is no longer acceptable because the Disney films are racist toward Arabs.

No hooligans on Halloween because hooligan is a slur against drunken Irishmen.

Halloween used to be our last chance to bring back the ghosts of summer as we ran around and tried to scare each other. Today, though, the PC police and their neighborhood watch patrols will be the scariest creatures roaming the streets. 

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

(Originally published by American Thinker, Oct. 30, 2018)

 

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Hate and the religion of politics

A woman I know frequently tells me that many of the posts she sees on her Facebook page come from people who do not have a religious foundation or simply do not believe in God. Politics is their religion, she says, and like all religious zealots, they will seek out and attack everyone who does not share their political beliefs.

It is hard to argue against that, especially when one considers the many outlets for these outbursts, from in-your-face media bias to vocal and angry crowds. This does not paint with the broad brush of blame only individuals or groups with liberal leanings; there are plenty of right-wing nuts to go around who share a trait with their left-wing counterparts: hate.

The Democratic Party knew in 2004 that it had become the party of hate, which is why those who pulled the political strings within the party put out the word in the days leading up to their national convention that they would not welcome Bush bashing, divisive rhetoric, and other forms of hate-filled language. The memo read something like: “Anyone caught violating the tenets of our newly found political compassion toward those we hate will be thrashed wickedly like a colorfully headed child from another marriage (because ‘beating you like a rented mule’ doesn’t sound good given that our party’s symbol is a donkey).”

There was wisdom to that kinder, gentler form of politics. I witnessed that deep hatred earlier that year at a gala held by a local university attended by corporate swells and elected officials from the Houston area. Then-House majority leader Tom DeLay from nearby Sugar Land was the draw for the ugly crowd that gathered outside the doors to wave signs, chant, and block the sidewalk. Among the aggressive assemblage stood a young boy, not yet in his teens, shoving at passing vehicles a hand-drawn sign that read: “Honk if you HATE Republicans.”

This made me curious, so I looked at various search engines for phrases that contained the word “hate”. Even though Google had been around about five years, it returned 1.6 million hits for “hate” and Bush. “Hate” and Clinton returned about 757,000 pages.

Keep in mind that not all of these sites were real-for-sure political hate sites. They just happen to have somewhere on their sites the words “hate” and either Bush or Clinton.

The editors of an Illinois newspaper saw the hate trend blossoming on their opinion page. “Just a casual view… is convincing evidence that the Bush-hating Democrats are hard at work vilifying President Bush! Most of the ‘hate’ letters are not on the issues but merely ugly ‘I hate Bush.’ Many don’t even make any sense, like comparing our president to Hitler…”

Is this back to the future?

A Google search today is considerably more disturbing, probably because of the expansion of online sites. My search for online hate returned 729 million results.

President Trump easily outdistanced the last guy by more than 2-to-1 with 195 million returns. Interestingly, both Clintons combined had 28 million more hate-related pages than Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Journalists appear to be more hated than priests, communism, and spammers combined. And used-car sales people are surprisingly more hated than Congress. Who knew?

We should not take political rhetoric seriously, just as one should not take seriously the rants of professional wrestlers. But pro wrestling is very popular and lots of folks believe in their hearts that it is real.

The reality of all of this hate rhetoric is that some folks have embraced it by abandoning civil discourse, critical thinking, and common decency. Hate has become the new normal in our society, the inevitable result of exchanging religion for ideology, of exalting the created over the Creator.

(Originally published on American Thinker, October 17, 2018)

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The Holy See’s Blindness

Politics and sex.  There was a time when some of us “seasoned” individuals believed that you could not get enough of either.  Sadly, that is not the case lately.  Politics and sex; sex and politics.  I do not know about you, but it has not been good for some folks in a long time. 

Sex in some form is all part of a day’s work for a political figure.  It can range from criminal behavior (alleged or actual) to extramarital (real or imagined) to issues of gender (same or trans or whatever is in vogue at the moment).  Former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards combined all of them when he famously said the only way he could lose the 1983 election was “if I’m caught in bed with either a live boy or a dead girl.”

Even our sanctuaries are not free from sex scandals.  If we are not reading about pedophile priests, we are reading about pedophile preachers.  If we are not hearing about a preacher in a car with a hooker, we are reading about Jesus in bed with a prostitute.

Most of the time, the scandals fade into the mist and the dark nightmare that spawned them.  Other times, they breed and grow because smart people make stupid statements that keep the controversy on the front pages. 

The Vatican’s latest attempt to explain the growing scandal of pedophilia among priests is such a case.  The Holy See still does not see that there is no easy way out of this mess. 

Reuters reported this week that Pope Francis continued his campaign to make the theology of Evil the main issue instead of the child-molesters and those who gave them cover.  “[The Church must be] saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past,” Francis said in a message Sept. 29. 

A friend, a member of the Eastern Orthodox clergy, called BS on an Oct. 6 statement from the Vatican press office asserting that the massive and pervasive (my words, not theirs) cover-up “would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues” and that child abuse and cover-ups “represent a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.”

My friend rightly pointed out that the Vatican wants us to believe that the problem is not that somebody did something wrong, but that our standards have changed when it uses phrases like “contemporary approach” and “no longer acceptable,” as if this sort of thing were acceptable at any time.

I am always amazed at the Vatican’s deafness on this subject and its inability to take a rock-solid position.  It reminds me of a politician or celebrity who does or says something outrageous and then says, “I’m sorry if I offended someone.” 

No one, particularly victims, wants to hear the Vatican’s version of that old joke “the Devil made me do it.”  People want to hear the vicar of Christ say, “The abuse was wrong, the cover-up was wrong, everything associated with these horrible acts was wrong.  For all of that, we can only ask for forgiveness and prayers.  But these will not change the past.  So I ask for your prayers and help to change the future, knowing that the Devil himself is working overtime to destroy the Faith and the faithful and that we, as shepherds, cannot now and will not again allow the Wolf of Souls to destroy our flock.”

Words alone mean nothing.  Public relations professionals churn out millions of words a day that mean nothing until someone takes action.  No one expects the Spanish Inquisition (with no apologies to Monty Python), but all victims of child sexual abuse and all people, regardless of religious belief, expect and demand accountability, a path to justice, and a promise to stamp out the evil wherever it lurks. 

(Originally published October 9, 2018, on American Thinker)

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MSM shock bombshell: Trump is rich

The New York Times deserves a Laurel and Hardy handshake for its 18-month investigation that led to a “bombshell” story (in the words of many breathless broadcast reporters) about the finances of President Donald Trump and his family.  The people who took the time to read the story and associated material came away two important points: 1) the Trump family had and continues to have lots of money, and 2) the president engages in bombastic and shameless self-promotion.  If you found either of these revelations startling and new, then rest assured that someone on a back street in New York can arrange for you to purchase the Brooklyn Bridge at a reasonable price.

Media organizations across the land were not happy when Trump refused to turn over all of his tax records, The New York Times included.  The Gray Lady, as with many a scorned woman, set out to extract her revenge, obtaining by hook or by crook tens of thousands of Trump family documents and tax records going back to when the president was a toddler. 

People who report about people with money know they are like the rest of us in some ways and not like the rest of us in other ways.  People with money like their money, just like the rest of us.  People with money want to keep all of their money, just like the rest of us.  Unlike many of the rest of us, people with money have people who will help them meet their financial goals to make more money and keep it.

The question then becomes: so where’s the story?

The paper also wants us to gasp in horror at Trump’s outlandish claims that sometimes sound like Dr. Evil in group therapy (“My childhood was typical. Summers in Rangoon. Luge lessons. In the spring we’d make meat helmets.”). Again, people who report about New York real estate developers know that inflated claims of greatness and wealth are part of the game, the shtick, where only the most pompous and pretentious survive. Trump, as we know, did quite well on the mean and gilded streets of the Big Apple.

So where’s the story?

The real story is about the complete failure on the part of state and federal tax auditors, the folks whose only job is to sift through tax records in search of funny business.  People with “huge” financial assets sometimes wonder why tax auditors come knocking every few years.  It’s because something raised a red flag, like, say, a three-year-old earning a yearly salary of $200,000.

I know a man who was not vastly wealthy, but he was doing all right.  A new IRS auditor showed up every year to examine his books.  The auditor was not looking for errors or fraud.  The IRS sent new auditors to this man for training, because his books were examples of how to keep good records and what to look for from people who didn’t keep good records.

In the end, The New York Times wanted the public to see how rich people get rich; how rich people hang on to their riches; and that Trump is a grandiose, overblown, egotistical (and successful) rich man.  At the same time, the paper prefers that the public does not look behind the curtain and ask why auditors failed to question what the paper says are incidents of long-term financial and tax fraud committed by the president and his family going back a generation.

The paper also prefers that no one ask how its reporters could turn up tens of thousands of pages of financial and tax documents going back decades related to the current president but have yet to find a single page from a college transcript belonging to the former president.

Mundus vult decipi – the world wants to be deceived.

(Originally published on American Thinker on October 4, 2018)

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