The Republican state Senator from California, Janet Nguyen, has gotten a tremendous amount of media coverage in the last few days, the result of being ordered to end her speech vilifying the late Tom Hayden on the floor of the California Senate.
Most of the coverage has been in her favor and against the Democrats, specifically the man who silenced her, the Democratic presiding Senator, Ricardo Lara. Rightwing publications, such as the San Diego Union-Tribune, blasted Lara. “This isn’t how democracy works. Shame on Lara…for suppressing Nguyen’s voice,” they editorialized. Even the New York Times said Lara’s move “backfired,” and became “a rallying cry” among the right.
I have read Sen. Nguyen’s remarks, and after doing so I agree with Sen. Lara’s decision to ask her to stop. She was totally out of line. Let’s consider a few things. First of all, Tom Hayden—himself a former California state Senator—is dead. He died last October. The state Senate earlier last week held a memorial service to honor his long career of political activism and electoral service (for eighteen years, in both the California Assembly and the Senate). The Senate chose to honor him on Feb. 21 with speakers and an Irish bagpiper, in a somber ceremony attended by his widow and one of his sons. That is certainly the Senate’s right and was a very proper thing to do.
Thus, it was rude and mean for Nguyen to pillory Hayden, live, on the floor of the Senate to which he devoted so many years of his life. She went into fevered rant: Hayden “sided with a Communist government,” his actions were “harmful to democratic values” and were “hateful,” he “supported a communist agenda” and was “profoundly wrong.”
You can look at the Vietnam War any way you want to. You can see Hayden as right or wrong. But what can’t be disputed, I believe, is how inappropriate it was for Nguyen to make her remarks on the morrow of Hayden’s memorial service. How would you like it if your church or synagogue had a memorial service for a beloved family member of yours, and then a few days later somebody else stood in the pulpit and attacked that person’s values and character? You’d be royally pissed, as well you should be.
Now Nguyen has become a hero of the right, which may well have been her purpose. Just days after her speech, she took “a star turn” at a Republican convention, where people wore “I stand with Janet” stickers and there was much speculation about her political future.
Had I been Sen. Lara, I would have been as upset as he was, and done the same thing. Maybe it was an unforced error. This is politics, after all; you never want to hand your opponents a cudgel. Still, Nguyen was incredibly and, I suspect, intentionally insensitive and insulting to Hayden’s memory and to his family. She could have made her remarks elsewhere, as an op-ed piece in a rightwing newspaper or as a press release, or in a town hall with her constituents (if she’s not afraid to meet with them, as so many Republicans are). Instead, she chose this provocation. To bring her vituperation to the Senate floor, so soon after a dead man had been eulogized, was shameful and wrong. Nguyen, who had been asked in advance not to do what she did and ignored that polite request, deserved to be shut up.
Darrell Issa is a really nasty Republican congressman from California’s 49th district, down in oh, so conservative Orange County, home to lots of retired military types. He’s a hatchet man who abuses his power to go after Democrats just for the hell of it. He bankrolled the recall of Gov. Gray Davis, and is also said to be the richest person in the Congress because he invented that noisy car alarm, the Viper–hey, has it ever awoken you at night? Later, as Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he was the inquisitor-in-chief of Hillary Clinton, a relentless Torquemada, who pursued, in the most vengeful way, her non-existent “crimes,” most notoriously Benghazi. In the most hyperbolic language imaginable, he called her “a criminal involved in a criminal enterprise.”
Never mind that Hillary was never found by a single investigative body to have done anything wrong—not Issa’s witch-hunting Oversight Committee, not the Federal Bureau of Investigation, not the State Department, and not the House Government Reform Committee, or the Judiciary Committee, or the Foreign Affairs Committee, or the Armed Services Committee, or the Intelligence Committee, or any of the Senate committees that investigated her—yes, they all had hearings. Not that it mattered to the “jail her” wackos.
Issa hated Hillary, he hated Obama, and he was ambitious as hell, making him the poster boy of the conspiratorialist, angry white male wing of the Republican Party.
(By the way, do you know whom Issa made that “Hillary is a criminal in a criminal enterprise” crack to? None other Stephen K. Bannon, when the latter was a right wing talk show ranter at Breitbart.)
Well, the other day, Issa’s Republican constituents invited him to a town hall which, predictably, he was afraid to attend. So they held one anyway. Earlier that same day, however, Issa could not avoid encountering a smaller crowd, described in a local newspaper, the OC Weekly, as “about 75 Trump enthusiasts.” Do you suppose these pro-Trumpers were shouting their approval of the new President? Hardly. “A huge crowd reaction burst out in response to this question: ‘When are you going to investigate Trump and Russia? Trump and taxes?’” That was what was reported in the paper. In addition, I heard on T.V. a man ask Issa a very telling question. “You spent millions on Benghazi,” the angry man yelled. “How about spending something on investigating Trump’s ties to Russia?”
Rep. Issa did not deign to reply to the Republicans who voted for him. But, within 48 hours, a most interesting thing occurred: Issa called for the appointment of a special Federal prosecutor to investigate Trump’s ties to Putin and Russia.
Not only did Issa make that demand, he went a step further and directly implied that Trump’s Attorney-General is unfit to lead such a probe. “You cannot have somebody, a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and is an appointee” lead it.
What are we to make of this sudden turnaround? After all, Issa goes after Democrats, not his fellow Republicans. Well, to answer that, you need look no further than the 2016 election results, in which Issa was re-elected by the narrowest of margins, squeaking out a 50.3% to 49.7% victory. In this volatile political atmosphere, Democrats earlier this month announced a concerted effort to retire Issa next year, using an “unprecedented DCCC investment” in his district that will be used to hire “full-time, local organizers…to work with constituents.”
Issa is feeling the heat. Although he’s no longer chair of the House Oversight Committee, he’s still a member of the Judiciary Committee, which perhaps not so coincidentally is in charge of the impeachment of Federal officials, including the President. We don’t know what, if anything, went on between Trump, his people and Putin and his people. But until and unless there’s a fair and unfettered investigation into the matter, we’ll have to assume the worst. It’s why more and more people are thinking that the reason Trump is waging war on the press is because he’s trying to inoculate himself when the New York Times and CNN report the truth. Meanwhile, Trump, through Sean Spicer, is pushing back against the idea of a special prosecutor. “For what?” Spicer asked yesterday. “For what?” Because this President may have committed impeachable offenses.
The white supremacist Bannon threw down the gantlet the other day to the “opposition party,” which—if he recalls correctly—won the popular vote by a whopping 3 million, making Trump in many respects an illegitimate President.
Bannon, who just last Fall declared his publication, Breitbart, “the platform for the alt.right” with its anti-Semites, homophobes, racists and conspiracy theorists, had trouble separating “the media”—by which he means media critical of his leader, not toadies like Fox “News”—from those of us who are opposed to the current regime. “It’s going to be a fight,” he promised, with regard to his regime’s relations with us. “It’s going to get worse,” as if it could, after this shockingly incompetent rollout. Then he declared, with Hitlerian fury, “If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.”
I could almost picture him spewing saliva and slamming his fist into the table.
Speaking for The Resistance, I’m honored to accept Bannon’s challenge. We did not ask for this war, but we gladly, proudly accept it. We fight for our country: its traditional values of openness, honesty, fairness, decency, truth. We fight for the slogan on the Statue of Liberty, we fight for the oppressed and downtrodden who often cannot fight for themselves. We fight for women and their right to control their own bodies. We fight for the LGBT community and the right of transgendered youth to use whatever public bathroom they want. We fight for Mexican immigrants and the humane treatment of their families, even if they’re undocumented. We fight for the environment: our air, our waters, our forests and prairies, and for the critters who lived on this land before we did. We fight for truth—that species that has been put on the endangered list by this pathologically mendacious President. We fight for the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
We fight against the racism Trump revealed during his years of lying about President Obama’s birthplace. We fight against his smearing of Muslims, in a thinly-disguised attempt to rally the most xenophobic white elements of our society. We fight against his embrace of a theocratic, anti-democratic religious sect, militant Christianity, and all the dangers it poses. We fight for scientific inquiry, and against ignorance and superstition. We fight against this regime cutting taxes on the richest among us, including the billionaires he promised to “drain the swamp” of, but who now run his Cabinet. We fight against the “deconstruction” of our foreign policy and the needless antagonism Trump has engendered among friends like Mexico, Canada, Sweden, Great Britain, France and Australia–who’s next? We fight against the secret ties, bordering on treason, between Trump and Putin. We fight against this President’s evident tendency—so common among chicken hawk Republican white men—to instigate overseas wars that will butcher more American kids. We fight against his absurd wall, which will further drain the Treasury of tens of billions of dollars and will accomplish precisely nothing, except to insult Mexicans.
We can work with this President in certain areas, particularly the infrastructure. Repairing our roads, bridges, tunnels, sewer systems, subways and dams is a very Democratic thing to do, which is why we are skeptical at this point that the tea party Congress will vote to fund such a big program. Should such a bill be proposed, Trump can count on the support of Democrats. But I’m not holding my breath that Trump will follow through.
Meanwhile, Steve Bannon, challenge accepted! Bring it on! You rally your folks and we’ll rally ours. We’re ready to roll. Your Congressmen are encountering us wherever they go, in town halls, in the streets, in the hallways of the Capitol, through email. You, Bannon, and your basket of deplorables, and above all your President—not mine—have done something Democrats were unable to do this last cycle: Unite us. And, as the old civil rights saying goes, The People United Will Never Be Defeated!
Another week, another batch. Enjoy my wine reviews!
Stags’ Leap 2013 The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap District); $90. It’s fascinating to taste this alongside the winery’s regular ’13 Cabernet, which I scored at 90 points. It’s considerably richer and denser. Made from 100% Cabernet grown in the estate vineyards, it displays that famous Stags Leap “iron fist in a velvet glove.” Velvet is indeed the texture: so smooth, so plush, so sexy. The color—midnight black, flecked with glints of ruby—hints at the concentration as well as the youth. Aromatically and flavor-wise, it’s massive. Intense tiers of blackcurrants and cassis liqueur, blueberry jam, candied violets, mocha and umami plum sauce, with an earthy hint of green olives. It’s all accented by the smoky sweetness of 50% new French oak barrel aging for 20 months. As sweetly fruited as it is, the finish is entirely, and satisfyingly, dry. The mouthfeel is full-bodied and elegant, with great weight and depth, and an alcohol level of only 14.1%. Delicious! A great accomplishment! Super-impressive! But oh, so young. I can’t stop anyone from drinking and enjoying it now, but if you do, decant! Otherwise, stash it in a good cellar. It will reward another twenty years, at least. Score: 97 points.
Stags’ Leap 2012 Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah (Stags Leap District): $115. I’ve been reviewing this wine (the name means “Don’t give in to misfortune”) since the mid-1990s and since ’99 never gave it less than 90 points. The wine was grown on the estate vineyard, west of the Silverado Trail, in the lee of the Stags Leap palisades, within the famous natural amphitheater that captures afternoon sunlight yet benefits from the appellation’s southerly location to capture cooling breezes up from San Pablo Bay. The winery says the vineyard’s oldest blocks were planted in 1929. The blend includes at least eight other varieties, including some white ones. And the wine? It reminds me of the 2010, which I described as “dry and tannic, with wild berry, currant, licorice, tobacco and oak flavors.” This ’12 is all that, and more: there’s a charcuterie umami-ness that, to me, suggests salami and crisped prosciutto, and a spiciness I don’t recall from previous vintages. With the lush mouthfeel, it absolutely caresses the mouth, growing more complex and fascinating with each moment it breathes. It’s so robust and powerful, I almost can’t believe the alcohol is only 14.1%, but that’s what they say. I do find the price concerning. But in an era when the merest Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon can top $100, perhaps it’s time for us to reconsider whether Petite Sirah of this quality may not be worth a triple-digit price. I would drink this right out of the bottle on release, or stash it away for, who knows how long? Thirty years is not out of the question. Score: 97 points
Aberrant Cellars 2014 Chehalem Mountain Vineyard Block B3 Old Vines Pinot Noir (Chehalem Mountains): $50. There’s much to like about this new Pinot Noir, but it really is young at this point, and wants some time to come around. It’s starting life off as tight and rather closed, with intense aromatics of raspberry compote, orange pekoe tea, chocolate brownie, espresso and cheese rind. In the mouth, the acid-tannin balance is just fine, and the wine has a nice delicacy, courtesy of 13.8% alcohol. The winery is owned by Eric Eide, who seems to have been an American in the wine biz who frequently visited Burgundy and fell in love with the wines. The vineyard was planted back in 1968 by Richard Erath, of Knudsen-Erath; the wine comes from an ungrafted 2.34-acre patch, hence the “Old Vines” designation. The intensity is explained by the low vine yield, only 1.4 tons per acre, while the sweet oak hails from aging for 15 months in 36% new French oak. The winemaker used 5% whole clusters in the fermentation, a wise choice that seems to add body, wood spice and texture to the delicacy. Only 210 cases were produced. Most people will probably consume this wine too early, but it will certainly be more satisfying after 2020. Score: 93 points.
Stags’ Leap 2013 Petite Sirah (Napa Valley): $39. I looked up all my scores over the years for this wine, and every one of them was at least 90 points, except for the 2009. This ’13 is consistent with that history. It’s a good Petite Sirah, darkly hued, dry and tannic, with deep, rich blackberry jam, espresso, black currant, licorice, beef teriaki and black pepper flavors. The grapes come from all over the valley, north and south. The wine was aged for a year in partially new American oak, which brings notes of smoke and dill. It will probably live for decades without gaining in complexity, so drink it whenever you want. The alcohol is 14.1%, and interestingly, the blend includes Syrah, Grenache, Carignane and Mourvedre, which makes it a California Rhône. Score: 90 points.
Stags’ Leap 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): $58. The wine is a blend of all five classic Bordeaux varieties, grown partly on the Stags Leap estate but also sourced from other vineyards in the valley. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, with its dark color, hard tannins, and intensely concentrated black currant and cassis flavors, but Malbec—currently out of fashion in Napa—as the second grape adds darkness and tannins and plummy violets. Approximately one-third new French oak brings the usual toasty, smoky notes. At the age of three-plus years, it’s aloof. Everything is muted, seen through a glass darkly. But there are tantalizing hints of its future. I don’t mean to suggest you cellar this wine for a long time. But it will reward patience over the next six years. Score: 90 points.
Hindsight 2014 20/20 Red Wine (Napa Valley): $35. Convincing enough, a hearty, slightly rustic blend with enough sophistication to satisfy. Bone dry, with thick, scoury tannins and flavors of black tea, cassis, leather, coffee, cocoa nib, white pepper and smoky cedar wood. The blend is all five classic Bordeaux varieties, with Cabernet Sauvignon dominating both in percentage and taste. Drink now. Score: 89 points.
Trotter 1/16 2013 Oak Canyon Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $75. The name refers to the owner’s position in a family of 16 children. The label doesn’t say “Coombsville,” which legally it could, because that AVA was approved in early 2012. Nonetheless, the wine, which is 100% Cab, is from a tiny, biodynamically-farmed vineyard in that southeastern Napa appellation. The region is cool, by Napa standards, in fact cooler than Carneros. Perhaps that accounts for the hard tannins here, or perhaps it’s a deficiency of tannin management. There is a solid core of black currants, and the long, spicy finish typical of Napa Cabernets. The alcohol is only 14.3%, and a mere 75 cases were produced. It’s an impressive wine from a young winery, but the tannins are uncomfortably astringent, and make me wonder if they’ll ever drop out before the fruit disappears. Score: 88 points.
Michael David 2014 Earthquake Petite Sirah (Lodi); $26. One of these days I’m going to have to come up with a more creative way of describing a wine like this than “Will be good with short ribs.” Having said, that, this wine will be good with—short ribs! Or barbecue and such. To call it rustic and brawny is an understatement. The official alcohol is 15%, and there’s a chocolate-covered raisin superripeness, with a grapy, sappy blackberry liqueur sweetness and plenty of smoke from 1-1/2 years in French oak. It’s a solid Petite Sirah from this warm, inland Delta region. Score: 88 points.
Moniker 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendocino County): $25. The Thornhill family established their vineyard, on the east side of the Russian River in the Ukiah Valley, in 2002, and started the winery two years later. This Cab, which contains 1% Petit Verdot, has plenty of varietal character. It’s dark, dry, full-bodied and tannic, with a wealth of black currant, cassis and tea flavors, and a smoky edge from 22 months of aging in 36% new American oak. This muscular wine is fine for drinking now. The alcohol is 14.5%. Score: 88 points.
Merisi 2014 Diener Vineyard Petite Sirah (Lake County): $35. If you can get the cork out through the hard plastic capsule without slicing off a finger, you’ll find a pretty good wine. It’s big and bold, in the Petite Sirah fashion, with sturdy tannins and dense blackberry and mulberry, beef jerky, sugared expresso, clove, anise, pepper and toast flavors. The alcohol is high, at 15.3%, which gives it prickly heat, as well as a glyceriney sweetness. Score: 87 points.
Pamela’s 2013 Un-Oaked Chardonnay (Sonoma County); $16. Unoaked Chardonnay depends for richness on the grapes. They need concentration of flavor to succeed without oak, because Chardonnay itself is a fairly featureless variety. This wine succeeds in that respect. It’s easy to drink, offering plenty of Chardonnay personality, with tropical fruit, peach, honeydew melon, lime, vanilla and honeysuckle flavors. From Ron Rubin Vineyards and Winery. Score: 87 points.
Aberrant Cellars 2015 “Philtrum” Pinot Noir Blanc (Willamette Valley): $29. I never thought Pinot Noir was a good variety to make a dry white table wine from (despite its efficacy in sparkling wine), and this wine doesn’t change my view. This is a strong wine, with intense orange, strawberry, tropical fruit, hazelnut, roasted coconut and vanilla flavors that remind me of a dessert macaroon, although it is dry. It was fermented and aged, in roughly equal proportions, in stainless steel and oak. I admire the low alcohol, only 13%, and the brisk acidity, but for me the wine lacks delicacy and subtlety. You can call it a white wine for red wine drinkers. Score: 86 points.
Locations Non-Vintage F5 Rosé (France); $??. This is a dry rosé made entirely from Grenache. The winery says the vines are 50 years old and dry farmed. The wine is unoaked. There’s no vintage date on the label or the paperwork. It has some nice raspberry and watermelon flavors, and a spicy pepperiness. Acidity is quite high, bordering on sour, and there’s a disturbing smell and taste of unripe greenness, which for me really lowers the score. 82 points.
Locations Non-Vintage F4 Red Wine (Portugal); $??. Smells disagreeable, with green, mushroom and cough drop flavors, and the taste is similar, although there’s a little raspberry-cherry fruit. The alcohol, at 15%, gives the thin flavor heat. The blend is Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira and Turiga Franca. Score: 82 points.
Michael David 2014 Petite Petit (Lodi); $18. This is, I suppose, a junior version of the winery’s Earthquake Petite Sirah. It’s two-thirds the price, anyway. The name comes from the 15% of Petit Verdot in the blend, which seems more like a marketing decision than a winemaking one, so they could call it Petite Petit. The wine is overpriced. It’s rustic and brawny, with blackberry and oak flavors and sturdy tannins. Some mustiness seriously mars it. Score: 82 points.
Oak Grove 2014 Family Reserve Petite Sirah (California); $9. Petite Sirah in name only. Smells like old cola that was left out on the counter overnight, stale and harsh. Feels brutish in the mouth, with no structure and some sugary sweetness. Barely drinkable. Score: 80 points.
I’ve known many multi-millionaires and quite a few billionaires due to my former position in the wine industry. I’ve liked them all—but I have to say it’s unconscionable how frivolously so many of them spend their money, while 99% of ordinary Americans struggle just to get by.
This isn’t meant to criticize the billionaires. They’re doing what the law allows. And many are philanthropic. It’s just that, ever since the days of Reagan, we’ve seen these tax rates on the ultra-wealthy plummet, leaving them to spend their fortunes on another mansion or five, or another Degas, or another pair of Manola Blahniks they’ll wear once. Meanwhile, Joe Sixpack scrounges to put bread on the table.
Everybody knows that taxes should be a matter of fairness. The more you earn, the more you should pay. If there was enough money in America for everything we want, it would be okay to tax everyone at the same rate—the famous “flat tax” so beloved by Republicans. But there’s nowhere near enough money for everything. The solution, I believe, is a graduated or “progressive” income tax—which is what Democrats have favored since the days of Woodrow Wilson and FDR.
But Repubs hate the progressive income tax. And they’re running the show.
If you think there’s not enough money now for America’s needs, wait until Trump’s budget-smashing bills come due. There’s the “Wall”: $25 billion at a minimum. There’s the vastly expanded payroll for immigration and enforcement bureaucrats, and the vastly increased legal costs to deport millions of people. We don’t even know yet how much he wants to lavish on an already bloated Pentagon, but you know it will be many hundreds of billions of dollars more than now. There’s the $1 triilion (with a “t”) he supposedly wants for infrastructure. On top of all this wasteful spending, he wants to cut taxes yet again, starting with the wealthiest Americans.
Honestly, I will never figure out why these angry white people in the Rust Belt who voted for him aren’t complaining. I think they’re as upset about it as I am—they have to be!–but they’re afraid to criticize their guy.
You know who’s really feeling the heat? Governors. With the refusal of this regime to even consider marginal tax rates or an increase in the estate tax, Governors are hitting the panic button. Their states are falling apart. They have worker pensions they are obligated to fulfill. And when and if Trump succeeds in throwing millions of Americans off healthcare, they’re going to be stuck with that problem too. So what are these Governors doing about it?
First, consider the concept of a regressive tax. It is “a tax that takes a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than from high-income earners.”
Examples of regressive taxes are the “parcel taxes” that most communities, including mine in Oakland, levy on homeowners (aside and apart from the property tax itself). Let’s say the county places a parcel tax on each homeowner, to pay for mosquito abatement or libraries. Every homeowner pays the same, whether his parcel is a 350-square foot condo or a 5,000 square-foot mansion or a million square-foot office building. That’s insane. It’s unfair. It’s a regressive tax.
One of the most regressive taxes in America is the gasoline tax. We all pay exactly the same amount per gallon, a combination of the Federal gas tax and whatever the state gas tax is. We pay it at the pump when we fill up. But who does the gas tax hurt the most? Low-income and middle-income people, who are the ones who drive the most to get to their jobs. In an area like the Bay Area, where housing is so expensive, middle-class folks are actually having to move 50, 100, 200 miles away from their workplaces, just to afford a home in a town with good schools. Every time you raise the gas tax, you’re literally stealing money from them.
Back to those Governors. “States, in Search of Funds, Turn to Gas Tax,” is the headline in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that describes how “nearly 20 states, with both Republican and Democratic governors, have raised gas taxes…in recent years to generate funds…”. Moreover, “at least a dozen more are considering such measures.” These Governors range from deep-red Alaska’s Bill Walker to deep-red Tennessee’s Bill Haslam and deep-red Indiana’s Eric Holcomb. Now, we all know that Republicans always campaign on promises to “Read my lips, no new taxes.” But not even the most conservative Governor wants to run a state so bankrupt that bridges are falling down, dams collapsing, roads turning into mine fields, school districts going broke, and other examples of societal breakdown. As Haslam told the Journal, he really doesn’t want to raise the gas tax, but “I decided it was important to do the right thing.”
Well, good for Gov. Haslam! We want our governors to do the right thing. Taxes do have to go up. But why in such a regressive way as an increase in the gas tax? Why not a progressive income tax, in which the more you make, the greater a percentage of your income you pay? Does San Francisco’s multi-billionaire Getty family—which really produces nothing for anyone, since their wealth is passed along from generation to generation to the lucky sperm kids—really need to have their taxes cut, yet again?
Clearly not. But here’s Trump coming out with his tax plan, which “would cut taxes at all income levels, although the largest benefits, in dollar and percentage terms, would go to the highest-income households,” according to the Brookings Institution, hardly a bastion of liberalism.
Tea Party people: Really? You’re down with that? Is more tax breaks for billionaires (including the Goldman Sachs crowd you hate, but that Trump stuffed his Cabinet with) the tradeoff you’re willing to pay for the Wall and the Muslim ban?
God help you.
This post is about journalistic process—how the work of reporting actually happens. For illustrative purposes, I will focus on the appointment of Gen. McMaster as National Security Advisor.
Now, very few of us had ever heard of him before this weekend, when he appeared at Trump’s side. Naturally, we were curious about him. Who is he? What has he done? What sort of General? Most of all, we wanted to know about his character—for “character is destiny,” as Heraclitus noted 2,500 years ago.
We didn’t have to wait very long to learn about the General’s character. Within moments, literally, of the official announcement, we heard the most glowing encomiums about him.
“A smart strategic thinker,” Forbes told us.
“The smartest and most capable military officer of his generation,” CNN proclaimed.
“Widely respected,” said the New York Times.
“Fiercely outspoken,” said the Washington Post.
“The Army’s smartest officer,” said Slate.
“A long and distinguished career,” said NBC.
“A cutting-edge strategist,” said the Washington Times.
Now, McMaster may well be all these things. I don’t know. But, as a journalist myself, who understands how reporting works, here’s my question: How did these media come up so quickly with all this flattery? How do they know these things before they’ve even had time to do basic research? I mean, within minutes of the appointment, every media outlet—right and left, print, broadcast and digital—had McMaster walking on water.
I’m not talking about fast info on things like what books he’s written, what commands he’s held, and other aspects of his curriculum vitae. I mean the stuff about his character. How do reporters come to these lofty conclusions almost immediately?
Think about it: If you’re a reporter, you should have at least 3 sources for most stories–more, even, for something this big. You have to call them or text or email them, or even meet with them. It takes time; they don’t always get back to you instantly when you leave a message. Or someone will say, “You know, I’m not the best person for what you’re looking for. Try ____.” You can check out Google and Wikipedia, but those, too, take time, and are not always reliable. Journalism doesn’t happen fast; it’s not microwaved food, it’s a slow-cooked stew. And yet, we saw absolute unanimity about McMaster, in little more than the time it takes to blink.
One explanation I’ve heard for this phenomenon is that McMaster is well-known among journalistic circles, so that the Big Reporters at Big Media have been acquainted with him for years. I “get” that. When I was a wine journalist, there were certain people in the industry I called all the time—and so did the other writers—because they were credentialed, and would take the time to answer questions, both on and off the record. Such individuals are worth their weight in gold to reporters, who are always on deadline and need reputable people to quote.
Still, I always was aware of the downside: you have to be very careful about your sources. You may like them, you may respect them, you may trust them—but never forget that they, too, have agendas.
I don’t know what McMaster’s agenda is, if he has one. He may be just the right guy to control Trump’s impulses (although, to be honest, I doubt it). But we should wonder about the swiftness with which these glowing accolades were showered upon McMaster. In this era of fake news, and especially with an administration addicted to it, we need to demand the most rigorous standards of reporting.
Yesterday, we saw how Hitler demolished Germany’s free press, resulting in dictatorship, world war, the destruction of Germany, and Hitler’s demise by his own hand, as his empire collapsed around him–as evil empires are wont to do. Today, here’s an example of how one media organization–Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal–is conspiring with Donald J. Trump to destroy the truthful reporting upon which American journalism always has rested.
Having the rightwing Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel get the first interview with Scott Pruitt, Trump’s new Environmental Protection Agency czar, is like having Der Stürmer, one of the official Nazi propaganda magazines, do a profile of Heinrich Himmler on what a good guy he was. In other words, don’t expect any hard-hitting questions, or challenges to demonstrably false assertions.
Strassel issues her first lie right away, when she claims that Pruitt is not a “fierce conservative…who views the agency in a hostile light.” Really? Who was it who sued the EPA at least 13 times? Pruitt. Who says that climate change isn’t anything to worry about? Pruitt. Who has been a shill for the oil and gas industry? Pruitt.
True, in the interview, Pruitt tosses out a few smokescreens to make himself sound less extreme than his record proves he is. For example, he vows—or maybe that’s not the right word, he mentions 1,300 Superfund sites that need to be cleaned up—an EPA responsibility. But whose administration has pledged to slash EPA’s funding? Yes, it’s his boss, Trump, who during the campaign called the EPA “a disgrace” and will likely fire 50% of its employees, according to the person who led his transition team on EPA matters. That would be in keeping with Pruitt’s environmental philosophy; when he was Oklahoma’s Attorney General, he “eliminated the environmental law unit of his office.”
By following this policy that benefits shareholders rather than protecting (as in Environmental Protection Agency) Americans from dirty air and polluted water, Pruitt will do a lot of harm. He is going to “withdraw the Clean Power Plan,” Obama’s premier climate law designed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. He will kill the 2015 Waters of the United States rule, part of the Clean Water Act, which lets the EPA protect “wetlands, territorial seas, rivers and tributaries, ponds, lakes and bays,” as if clean water were repugnant to Republicans. Pruitt called the legality of both the CPP and the WUS into question; he sued the EPA over them.
How about carbon dioxide, the leading gas associated with the greenhouse effect and global warming? Says Strassel, “Mr. Pruitt says he won’t prejudge the question,” as if there’s not already more than enough evidence for any reasonable person to arrive at a conclusion. That makes Pruitt sound fair-minded; nobody wants an administrator who will “prejudge” issues. But: Will Mr. Pruitt prejudge the question of whether Adam and Eve and little Cain and Abel played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden? He may well believe it. Pruitt, a Baptist deacon whose first job, out of law school, was founding something called Christian Legal Services, apparently believes that even if there is climate change, God’s creation, Earth, will “self-correct” in time to save us—hence, man need do nothing. Pressed by Democrats during his confirmation hearings to state whether he believes in the reality of climate change, Pruitt, no doubt due to his religious beliefs, refused to answer. More study is needed, he told Bernie Sanders—to Sanders’ evident astonishment. In Washington, “more study” means “kick the can down the road until everybody forgets about it.”
To Strassel, Pruitt “defies the stereotype of the fierce conservative who wants to destroy the agency he runs.” (“Defies”? Tell that to the EPA employees who are “coming to work in tears” before the massacre begins.) Defensively, Strassel predicts that Pruitt will encounter “considerable hostility” in implementing his plans. From whom? The union that represents EPA’s “bureaucracy.”
Now, “bureaucracy” is one of those dog whistles conservatives love when they’re talking about civil servants who actually believe in the mission of the agencies that employ them. Strassel’s funniest line—although I don’t think she meant it to be—is “these bureaucrats have the ability to sabotage his leadership.” Another dog-whistle, that word “sabotage.” Makes EPA’s employees sound like terrorists. How would Strassel describe what the Republican Congress and attack machine did to Obama? “Sabotage” would be accurate (and Strassel was one of the most vicious writers in her hating on Obama and Hillary). Even more ironic is Pruitt’s accusation that President Obama’s EPA believed that that “the States are a vessel of Federal will. They were aggressive about dictating to the States and displacing their authority.”
Yes, we all know that Republicans love state’s rights! Question time: Will President Trump allow states to determine which undocumented immigrants stay? Will President Trump allow states to bring in Muslims from the seven countries, if his ban passes? Will President Trump leave it to states to allow women to have abortions? Will President Obama allow the states and cities to have sanctuary policies? Is President Trump going to leave it to the states to determine if a florist or baker can discriminate against gay people? Will Trump allow states to retain Obamacare if they want to?
So much for state’s rights.
So, more than a little Orwellian doublespeak. This “opinion” piece is really extraordinary for Strassel’s hagiographic fawning on her subject–an embarrassment for someone purporting to be a journalist. But Strassel is hardly the only one at the Journal who has tossed aside real reporting in favor of propaganda, which is why it’s the Der Stürmer of American newspapers.
For a good part of 2016, the Wall Street Journal reflected Rupert Murdoch’s discomfort with Trump’s candidacy. His election took them by surprise, as it did with Democrats. Evidently, a memo drifted down from Murdoch HQ after the election: change course. It’s amusing, now, to see writers like Strassel contorting themselves to make nice to the new POTUS. A deal of some kind has gone down: Trump, notably, hasn’t included the Wall Street Journal in his scathing criticism of other newspapers, like the New York Times and the Washington Post. He doesn’t have to: they’re doing his dirty work for him.