The scariest news story of them all


Swamp Rabbit was trying to choose the Halloween week’s scariest story. It was Donald Trump threatening to rescind the 14th Amendment, he said. Or it was Trump’s statements blaming the media for the pipe bomb mailings and the slaughter of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh.

I shook my head and showed him a news story that was even more fear-inducing than the pre-election behavior of Agent Orange and his followers:

Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.

The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by [the World Wildlife Federation] and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.

“That ain’t news,” the rabbit said. “Everybody knows about over-fishing, and that most land animals are gonna get wiped out to make room for soybean fields to feed all them chickens and cattle that humans eat.”

But that’s crazy, I told him. Too many extinctions would upset the balance of nature forever. We’d be looking at a drastic decrease in the number of people in the world, especially after you figure in global warming.

He sipped  from a pint bottle of bourbon. “The world can afford to lose a few billion peeps. Ain’t no other way to sustain all them ecosystems and get the climate under control.”

I glared at him. “You’ve got some hard bark on you, rabbit. You’re talking about human beings, not termites.”

“Do the math,” he said, shrugging. “Think about all them pandemics waiting to happen. And the lack of fresh water.”

I showed him a story about how the Trump gang wants to freeze fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks because it’s already too late to keep the world from warming by seven degrees by century’s end.

“You’re a nihilist, just like Trump,” I said.

Au contraire,” he replied. “I’m just a jaded old swamp rabbit. He’s president of the United States.”

Footnote: The book to read is The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. Be careful, it might drive you to drink.

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If you’re going to lie, lie bigly


I showed Trump’s tweet to Swamp Rabbit. “Do you believe this guy?  Have you ever encountered such a low-down, mangy liar?”

“Sure,” he said. “I worked for some sidewinder who sold junk furniture to poor peeps.  He could lie about anything. He showed some old lady a broken old rocking chair and said this here’s an antique, Abe Lincoln rocked in it. She said don’t tell me that, I ain’t no fool. But she was laughing. He kept at it and she bought the chair.”

I shook my head. “Trump is the president of the United States, not some junk dealer. He’s been trying to kill Obamacare since he got elected. He wants to protect insurance companies, not people with pre-existing conditions.”

The rabbit waved me off. “What he wants is to not get impeached, which might happen if the Dems do good in them midterms.  He’ll say anything to avoid that.”

I objected. Surely there’s a limit to the amount of lying Trump can get away with. There’s a point where even his most ardent fans will realize they’re being played.

“Ain’t gonna happen,” the rabbit said. “Most peeps like to be lied to, so long as you look them in the eye and sound like you mean it.”

The rabbit elaborated: Trump long ago mastered the art of the con. He knows that the best way to defend his lies is to tell more lies, because the media unfailingly report his lies as if they might be truths. And he knows his fans will believe his lies, or pretend to believe, because his lies are tailored to fit their fears and prejudices.

After ruminating, I had to agree. The bigger Trump’s lies, the more his fans believe him. Reporters are “enemies of the people.” Democrats aren’t the other party, they’re an “angry, ruthless, unhinged mob.” That “caravan” of migrants is a cover for “unknown Middle Easterners” heading toward the U.S. border with bad intent.

Trump’s fans thrill to this sort of talk, the way kids (and adults with short attention spans) thrill to superhero movies. They want Trump to be like the savior in that David Bowie song:

Someone to claim us, someone to follow
Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo
Someone to fool us, someone like you
We want you Big Brother

If you think I’m exaggerating, you haven’t seen videos of Trump exhorting enthusiastic rednecks at his get-out-the-vote rallies. You haven’t seen them laugh when he pretends to body-slam a reporter.

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Autumn in Pennsyltucky


Swamp Rabbit and I had just finished another dreary sales trip and were driving home from Pennsyltucky, that vast stretch of Trump country that lies between Philly and Pittsburgh. Billie Holiday was on the radio, singing “Autumn in New York,” an elusively moody song, warm and fuzzy on the surface but elevated by Holiday’s irony to a bittersweet meditation on memory and loss.

At one point she drops the irony and sings Autumn in New York/Is often mingled with pain. It’s like a stab in the heart. I had to make an abrupt stop on the shoulder of the road to recover. This rattled the rabbit, who’d been dozing next to me.

“Why you stopping?” he shouted. “You having one of them mood swings? One of them dark age spells?”

“My hope tank is on empty,” I replied. “We didn’t make any sales today. I was a fool to think I could save enough money to quit this job and be my own boss again and succeed at something worthy enough to cancel out all the disasters I brought on myself over the years.”

“Quit listening to that depressing shit,” the rabbit said. “Put on some happy music.”

He reached out and pushed a button on the dash to change the radio station. Billie Holiday went away. Some moron was singing I’m in love with your body, over and over.

I got the car back on the road and said, “Turn off that garbage, rodent, or you’re walking home.”

He pushed buttons until an NPR news report came on. A scientist said it was too late to save the planet from global warming. Donald Trump praised a congressman who body-slammed a reporter last year. Then he brushed aside evidence that a bunch of Saudis killed and dismembered a Washington Post reporter.

“There you go,” the rabbit said as the newsreader droned on. “Non-stop bad news. That should make you feel better.”

I resisted an urge to kick him out of the car. He was half-right. The news doesn’t make me feel better; it makes me feel vindicated. See, I told you the new dark age was coming.

 

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Trump’s accomplices in the media


I will not be held like a drunkard/ under the cold tap of facts… — Leonard Cohen

The news today is Donald Trump. The news every day is Trump. One day he’s  lying about Dianne Feinstein as his fans chant “Lock her up!”  Then he’s smiling for the cameras as borderline psycho Kanye West raves his praises in the Oval Office. Never has the news cycle been so dominated, day in and day out, by the whims and follies of such a relentless phony.

Part of the blame for Trump’s ascendancy has to go to the news media. He’s made more than 5,000 false of misleading statements thus far in his presidency,  but the media continue to pretend his pronouncements might be fact-based. By the time they refute his recent lies, he’s already telling new ones.

“Think of the irony,” I said to Swamp Rabbit. “Trump claims the media reports fake news. He’s right, but it’s his fake news. By treating him as credible — by reporting his lies as facts and his trashy behavior as normal — the media become his accomplices.”

“I don’t follow,” the rabbit replied while staggering onto the porch of my shack in the Tinicum swamp.

“That’s because you’ve had too many whiskeys,” I said. “That story in USA Today is a good example of what I’m talking about.”

In an op-ed last week, Trump or his ghostwriter attacked Obamacare and the concept of Medicare-for-All. Every sentence in the piece contained false or misleading information, but there it was in print, presumably because USA Today didn’t have the guts to make corrections before publishing it.

All around us, the swamp frogs croaked. I reminded the rabbit that we’re bludgeoned 24/7 with unfiltered information — infotainment, most of it — to the point where the  media, hiding behind false notions of objectivity, have stopped trying to separate the real news from the fake. To the point where many readers and viewers throw up their hands and accept reality TV as reality, and reality TV stars as real-life leaders.

The rabbit told me to hush up, I was shouting. “Get down off your soapbox,” he said. “Ain’t nobody can hear you  ‘cept me and them frogs, and frogs don’t vote. ”

Footnote: This is a sort of addendum to  “The Times’s Trump story is a few years too late.” I’m sure whole volumes will be written about why Trump was never held accountable, by the media or anyone else, for a lifetime of lies. Unless Robert Mueller catches up with him.

 

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‘Moderate Republican’ is an oxymoron


I was reading aloud to Swamp Rabbit about how Donald Trump helped get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed for a lifetime gig with the Supremes:

‘As long as [Trump] was willing to go to the mat for [Kavanaugh], it fortified probably people up here, too,’ said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the chamber’s third-ranking Republican leader.

A clumsy sentence, but Thune’s meaning was clear: elected Republicans always play follow-the-leader if they think it’s in their best interest, even when the leader is an ignorant racist bully who would love to be our first dictator.

“It ain’t just elected Republicans,” Swamp Rabbit said. “It’s Trump’s base. It’s all them pissed-off guys who hate labor unions and immigrants and science and black people and uppity women. It’s them dummies who think coal is coming back.”

I wanted to argue, but he was right — Republicans follow Trump because of, not in spite of, what he is.

I thought of Trump mocking Christine Blasey Ford, one of the women who accused Kavanaugh of sex assault. Rank-and-file Republicans laughed at Ford and cheered Trump. Liberal talking heads on cable news said Trump’s remarks might trigger a backlash among moderate Republican senators — Flake, Collins, Murkowsky. But several days later, two of the three moderates voted with the other Republicans to confirm.

“There ain’t no moderate Republicans,” the rabbit said. “You’re either for Trump or you’re against him. Being against him is like being against tax breaks for the rich. It’s like being for a higher minimum wage, for cleaning up the environment, for affordable health care, for abortion rights. The same goes for Kavanaugh. Voting against him would have been like voting against being a Republican.”

Bottom line? Republican senators know Trump is a pig, but he’s their pig. They got on the bandwagon after his victories in the primaries, and they embraced him with real fervor when it became clear he was a faux-populist who had suckered the base into supporting pro-rich policy goals. They confirmed Kavanaugh for him, even after the judge was caught in numerous lies. They would salute Trump if the law allowed him to become dictator.

Footnote: In a previous post I referred to the more polite Republican legislators — Lindsey Graham and so on — as vile but discrete, to distinguish them from the overtly vile Trump. It’s a distinction no longer worth making, judging by the conduct of Graham and his gang during the Kavanaugh hearings.

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The Times’s Trump story is a few years too late


I built what I built myself,” Mr. Trump has said, a narrative that was long amplified by often-credulous coverage from news organizations, including The Times.

Certainly a handful of journalists and biographers, notably Wayne Barrett, Gwenda Blair, David Cay Johnston and Timothy L. O’Brien, have challenged this story, especially the claim of being worth $10 billion…

But The Times’s investigation of the Trump family’s finances is unprecedented in scope and precision, offering the first comprehensive look at the inherited fortune and tax dodges that guaranteed Donald J. Trump a gilded life. The reporting makes clear that in every era of Mr. Trump’s life, his finances were deeply intertwined with, and dependent on, his father’s wealth…

It’s good that The New York Times has owned up to being “often credulous” in it’s decades-long coverage of Trump, and that it gave credit to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Johnston, former reporter for The Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer, who was on to Trump’s humongous lies way back when he was a failing casino owner in Atlantic City.

But still … Why was the newspaper of record’s masterful, 14,000-word investigative piece not written a few years ago, when it might have helped deny the presidency to a lifelong fraud who has destroyed the last shred of confidence people had in the federal government?

I asked my sagely friend Swamp Rabbit as we chatted on the porch of my shack in the Tinicum swamp. “That’s easy,” he said. “The Times and the rest of the media had been propping up Trump’s public image since the 1970s, on account of they know people like reading about a cocky guy on the make, a bragger who makes big promises.”

“But his promises were empty,” I replied, “He cheated the people he did business with. A lot of them went broke waiting to get paid by him. He was never anything but a con man.”

The rabbit rolled his eyes and spit in the swamp. “His fans liked that he was a con man. They liked the idea that he charmed all them bankers and was a self-made man. They didn’t want to know he started on third base and got dragged across home plate by his father Fred.”

“Trump’s not charming,” I countered. “He’s vulgar, ignorant and delusional.”

The rabbit laughed. “To a lot of people, them things are the same as charming. This is America, Odd Man. Give the people what they want.”

Footnote: Trump is an ogre and U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kanavaugh is a weasel, but they have two things in common: Both are liars and both think their inherited wealth entitles them to behave badly.

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Judicial temper tantrum


Everybody got a good look at Brett Kavanaugh’s judicial temperament the other day, and at his fear that he might get caught lying if the FBI investigates Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that he tried to rape her.

Under questioning, Kavanaugh sniped and ranted. He said he was the victim of a left-wing conspiracy to keep him off the Supreme Court. “My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed,” he wailed, as if the Republican majority in the Senate had somehow turned against him. As if the sky was falling.

“I ain’t never seen the like,” Swamp Rabbit said, watching Kavanaugh on TV as he threw an afternoon-long hissy fit instead of trying to refute the rape allegations. “He thinks he should be in the Supremes, but he keeps losing his shit. You sure he went to law school?”

Kavanaugh was a ball of weepy, petulant anger — the sort of anger a preppy might show when his dad says he can’t borrow the Lexus to party with his preppy friends.

With one big difference: There was panic in his anger, especially when questioners on the Senate Judiciary Committee mentioned the FBI. He looked like the thought of FBI agents interviewing his old sidekick Mark Judge was his worst nightmare. “I’m innocent of this charge!” he whined.

He was cruising toward confirmation despite his pathetic tantrum until yesterday, when Republican Sen. Jeff Flake called for a floor-vote delay.

Now the Yale Law School grad who can’t seem to make a coherent argument will have a whole week to think about what Judge and other ghosts from his school days might say to the feds. And about the world of trouble he’ll be in if they say too much.

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