Dreary Times

There are places where nothing happens. Pittsburgh in the fifties and early sixties was like that. We heard tales of surfing in California, and tales of sophisticated people doing sophisticated things in Manhattan, and somewhere there was this place called Paris – or so they said. But this was Pittsburgh. But at least it wasn’t Erie, a few hours north. That would be “Dreary Erie, the Mistake by the Lake” – words that made all of us feel a bit better. There was some place far drearier than Pittsburgh. And we weren’t there. That was a comfort.

Erie was a dreary place, and it still is:

President Donald Trump directly accused Hillary Clinton of engaging in a conspiracy with Russia to affect the 2016 election during a campaign rally here Wednesday night.

“There was collusion between Hillary, the Democrats and Russia,” Trump said, just after his supporters had chanted “lock her up” about Clinton. “There was a lot of collusion with them and Russia and lots of other people.”

Wait. That election was two years ago. Hillary Clinton holds no office now. No one listens to her – the Democrats moved on long ago. No one wants to listen to her. She has disappeared from public life. She’s not a factor in anything at all. Trump won. Trump runs the country. She runs nothing, so this is odd, but Trump has a new theory that she “framed” him:

Special counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating whether Trump or his operation colluded with Russia or obstructed justice afterward. But Trump allies in Congress and on cable news programs have argued that Democrats, Justice Department and FBI officials and the Clinton campaign conspired to frame him.

Trump has discussed that theory publicly and on Twitter, but his remarks Wednesday night amounted to an unusually direct allegation that Clinton herself conspired with the Russian government to influence the election. He offered no evidence of his claim.

He didn’t need to offer evidence:

Erie County, situated on the Great Lake of the same name, has a special place in Trump lore because its voters flipped from supporting Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections to giving him a boost as he became the first Republican to win the state since 1988.

Trump won the county by two percentage points after Obama took it by 17 points in 2012.

“In some ways, Erie County is a bellwether for the nation. It’s a classic example of the type of districts that Trump managed to win in key areas around the Great Lakes: industrial past, struggling manufacture sector, fairly high degree of poverty and, more recently, there has been high unemployment,” said Joseph Morris, chair of the political science department at Mercyhurst University in Erie.

Those folks will believe anything, or maybe not:

Morris, who also conducts a poll of Erie County, found that in 2017, just a year after Trump’s election, the president’s popularity was already on the decline. Just 32 percent of voters approved of Trump, while 55 percent said they disapproved.

“What I found with our poll is that Trump’s approval rating, even just a few weeks after the election, was not good in Erie County. In subsequent months, his approval rating dropped even further. So what that tells me is I think it had everything to do with Hillary Clinton and that is the way I explained Donald Trump’s victory here,” Morris said.

In short, two years ago they didn’t exactly vote for Donald Trump, they voted against Hillary Clinton – not quite the same thing – and Trump knows this. He needs to get these people to vote against Hillary Clinton again, just one more time, in these midterms – or maybe two more times. In two more years he wants to be reelected. He needs to beat Hillary Clinton there again.

That’s a dreary argument. She could be dead by then – she’s not a young woman – but he could call for locking up her corpse. He might just do that – to get those votes in Dreary Erie.

This will be a slog, and Politico reports that Donald Trump may have become as dreary as Erie:

President Donald Trump loves to brag about ratings, but he’s not getting them anymore.

As he’s ramped up his rally schedule ahead of the midterms, viewership numbers for the raucous prime-time events have been roughly similar to – sometimes dipping below – Fox News’ regular programming, and the network has recently stopped airing most evening events in full.

During three Trump rallies last week, Fox News showed clips and highlights from his speeches but stuck largely with its normal weekday prime-time programming. On Saturday, when “Fox Report Weekend” and “Justice with Judge Jeanine” would ordinarily air, the network showed Trump’s speech from Topeka, Kan., in full. But on Tuesday, a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was particularly hard to find — it was not aired live on any major network, and even C-SPAN cut away for other news.

And on Wednesday night, as Trump took the stage in Erie, Pa., at 7 p.m., Fox News stuck with its coverage of Hurricane Michael.

Erie was just too dreary, or Trump was, and but expect a phone call:

One senior White House official was unsure why the network would decide to cut away from presidential rallies, saying officials planned “to look into that” and wouldn’t be surprised if White House communications director Bill Shine, a former Fox News executive, was in touch with former colleagues about the trend.

That would be this guy – “Shine was named in at least four lawsuits against Fox alleging sexual harassment or racial discrimination by the company. Shine left Fox News after being accused in multiple lawsuits of abetting sexual harassment. Donald Trump promptly hired him to be White House communications director.”

And his wife is a neo-Nazi who flies the Confederate flag and talks about niggers, but Shine did pretty much run day-to-day operations at Fox News for decades, so a phone call from him might fix this, and Politico notes this does need to be fixed:

The loss of national coverage is equally, if not more, concerning to the candidates on whose behalf Trump is traveling the country.

“It exposes us to a national audience that we normally don’t get to,” a Senate Republican campaign staffer said of the coverage of Trump rallies. “We tend to see lots of new sign-ups and small-dollar donations. There’s obviously folks streaming [rallies] online, but being able to be onstage with the president in front of a prime-time audience is huge for a campaign trying to reach conservatives across the country who will open up their wallets.”

We’re talking real money here, but Fox News worries about that too:

Trump’s campaign speeches tend to follow a similar pattern, and this person said network officials’ fear was that too much repetition would lead to lower ratings. That could particularly be a problem during a busy news period like the first week of October, when Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was still up in the air.

“They’re going with the route they think will give the best ratings performance,” the person said.

Compounding the issue, Fox News can’t take commercial breaks while Trump is speaking – he often goes on for more than an hour – costing the network some of its best advertising slots. With so many rallies and little promise of a ratings boost, there’s not much incentive for the network to clear air time.

And there’s this issue:

One GOP campaign operative said nightly rallies aired live and in full would probably subject Fox News to even greater scrutiny. The channel has often been described as “a propaganda machine” by Trump’s political opponents, many of whom claim its coverage of his administration has at times been sycophantic.

“If every night Trump does a rally, a station carries it, you just become the president’s station,” the GOP operative said.

Fox News has already become that, but it may be best not to make that too overt, which the Big Guy understands:

The president hasn’t faulted the network so far for recent changes to its programming. At his Tuesday-night rally in Iowa – which wasn’t aired – he heaped praise on his “great friends” at Fox News.

And if he finally does fire Jeff Sessions, which he surely will do, he can make Bill Shine’s wife the new Attorney General – but probably not. He’ll choose someone dreary.

And as for his claim that it was Hillary Clinton who was colluding with the Russians all along, and that the whole Mueller investigation is no more than an attempt, specifically by her, to frame him, his legal team is now arguing somewhat the opposite:

In a motion to dismiss a new lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump’s campaign team of illegally conspiring with Russian agents to disseminate stolen emails during the election, Trump campaign lawyers have tried out a new defense: free speech.

The lawsuit, filed last month by two donors and one former employee of the Democratic National Committee, alleges that the Trump campaign, along with former Trump adviser Roger Stone, worked with Russia and WikiLeaks to publish hacked DNC emails, thereby violating their privacy.

But the Trump campaign – represented by Jeffrey Baltruzak, Michael A. Carvin, Nikki L. McArthur, and Vivek Suri, all of the law firm Jones Day – responded in a brief filed Tuesday that the campaign can’t be held legally responsible for WikiLeaks’s publication of the DNC emails.

Furthermore, the Trump lawyers argued, the First Amendment protects the campaign’s “right to disclose information – even stolen information – so long as (1) the speaker did not participate in the theft and (2) the information deals with matters of public concern.”

So, Roger Stone and the Trump team may have worked with the Russians on this, but they had a right to do that:

The motion’s language seems to further an argument made by Trump and his allies as they await the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into a potential conspiracy between the campaign and Russia in 2016: namely, that collusion, even if it involved the coordinated release and exploitation of a candidate’s emails during the presidential election, is not a crime.

In short, they worked the Russians on which specific Clinton or Podesta emails to release when, and they knew they were stolen, but they didn’t steal them, and this was in the public interest, and free speech is free speech – but that may not fly:

While there is no evidence yet that the Trump campaign knew about or aided in the hacking itself, campaign-finance laws prohibit candidates from accepting “anything of value” from a foreign national. The Trump campaign could face legal exposure, then, if a prosecutor could prove that Trump or his campaign associates made an agreement with Russia to publish the stolen emails – which were clearly valuable to the campaign, given how often Trump quoted from them during rallies – via a third party such as WikiLeaks, as Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel to President Barack Obama, has written.

On the other hand:

The campaign’s lawyers argued that the plaintiffs hadn’t made a “plausible” case that the campaign and the Russians engaged in a “collaborative” effort to release the plaintiffs’ emails to influence the election. But they seemed to acknowledge the emails’ value: “The DNC emails clearly deal with matters of significant public concern.”

In short, the Russians were useless. They didn’t know how to use what they had stolen. Team Trump did – but that’s free speech – and there’s this:

In 2017, shortly after being named CIA director, Mike Pompeo – now the secretary of state – deemed WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service” because it provided Russia with a platform to interfere in the election. The Trump campaign’s lawyers, however, went so far as to defend the so-called radical transparency organization in their brief. “WikiLeaks cannot be held liable for the publication” of the hacked DNC emails because it was merely an intermediary, and not liable for the Russians’ hack-and-dump scheme, they wrote. “A conspiracy is an agreement to commit ‘an unlawful act.’ Since WikiLeaks’ posting of emails was not an unlawful act, an alleged agreement that it should publish those emails could not have been a conspiracy.”

And on and on it goes – dreary stuff – intentionally so. The way to make this go away is to bore the public to tears. And some things aren’t worth talking about:

Republican lawmakers are largely shrugging off dire climate change warnings spelled out in a major new United Nations report.

Few GOP lawmakers on Wednesday said they had read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report, which warned that the planet would be unlivable if leaders failed to cut carbon emissions.

“I just got that, and I hadn’t gotten a chance to do a deep dive on it so I’m going to have to wait to comment,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told The Hill three days after the report was released.

Even fewer said they were heeding the warnings that action needed to be taken to cut emissions by 2030.

“That’s the UN. That’s the group that was formed to sell this in the first place,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the former chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and one of the best-known skeptics of climate change in the Senate.

“They come from that prejudiced perspective,” Inhofe said of the report’s authors.

And so on and so forth:

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said he had also not read the report or the 34-page summary for policymakers, adding that it was important to do whatever necessary to maintain a strong economy.

“We ought to be talking about the things that we can do and still maintain a strong economy, because we’re not going to be able to address it unless we keep a strong economy,” he said.

That may not matter:

The countries that negotiated the landmark Paris climate agreement called for the report, asking the IPCC to study how to limit the globe’s average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial readings.

The report found that the emissions reductions pledged as part of the 2015 Paris report, from which the Trump administration is withdrawing the United States, would not be enough to protect the planet from the worst effects of global warming.

Without dramatic emissions cuts, the world faces significant sea-level rise, water shortages, coral reef die-offs and loss of habitat range for species by 2030, the report forecast.

It seems we have twelve years to fix this. After that it will be too late – then nothing anyone does, however heroic or radical, can stop the environment from eventual certain collapse – but there was the shrug:

President Trump offered a skeptical response to the report on Tuesday.

“It was given to me, and I want to look at who drew it,” he told reporters.

And then it won’t be worth talking about. President Trump finds the topic dreary. It doesn’t involve him.

These are dreary times, but politics is about making the dreary somehow seem exciting, and the idea of the now forgotten Hillary Clinton secretly plotting to frame Donald Trump for something that she actually did in the summer of 2016 or so, just doesn’t cut it. It’s easy enough to imagine these words whispered on the floor at one of Trump’s many rallies – “So, tell me again, why are we shouting about Hillary Clinton, again?”

There are other things to shout about. The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan and John Wagner report on what is being used to goose-up the game now:

Republicans and Democrats are delivering their closing arguments to midterm voters, aggressively stoking fears about the opposing party on health care and the rule of law with less than four weeks until the election.

Reeling from their failure to stop Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, Democrats sought to regain their balance in the battle for the Senate on Wednesday by emphatically presenting themselves as guardians of the Affordable Care Act and its protection for Americans with preexisting medical conditions while casting Republicans as threats to that basic principle.

President Trump, in an op-ed riddled with falsehoods or misleading statements, painted a dire portrait of what would happen under a “Medicare-for-all” plan favored by many Democrats, and he portrayed the party’s efforts as part of a wider “radical” push toward socialism.

Yes, fear isn’t dreary:

Republicans are determined to brand Democrats as extremists who they argue should alarm most voters. Democrats are characterizing Republicans as destructive crusaders against landmark laws protecting everyday people.

“When you see an angry mob beating on the doors of the Supreme Court, scratching at the doors, when you see Democrats like Hillary Clinton saying you cannot be civil to someone who disagrees with you and promising civility will return once the Democrats take over Congress, that’s just radical, that’s extreme,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who is in a competitive race that could decide control of the Senate.

Yeah, well, Ted can be nasty too, and may lose to a young pleasant fellow, but now it’s back to basics:

The raw emotion on both sides of the Kavanaugh fight was still palpable Wednesday. Sensing little to be gained by re-litigating it, Democrats resolved to turn the page to a subject they have made a cornerstone of their campaign to retake Congress: health care.

Led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who faces reelection in a state that Trump won in 2016, Senate Democrats fell one vote short in a bid to overturn the administration’s expansion of short-term health insurance plans that do not have to cover people with preexisting medical conditions or provide the kind of care that the ACA requires, such as coverage for births and substance abuse.

But by forcing a roll call on what they term “junk” plans, Democrats managed to put a spotlight on a key issue they argue will cut their way in the election by appealing to voters in both parties. Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted with them.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Baldwin pointed to a plan sold in her state that she said does not cover hospital care on a Friday or Saturday. “So, it will just be your bad luck if you happen to get sick and need health care on the weekend,” she said.

Republicans argued back. Maybe some folks don’t want all the fancy stuff. What about consumer choice? But that wasn’t the main event:

Trump, in an op-ed published by USA Today, sought to cast himself as the protector of the government-run Medicare program that benefits seniors and claimed that by trying to expand it, Democrats are seeking to “eviscerate” it. He also accused Democrats of being “radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela.”

The op-ed contained several misrepresentations of Democratic positions, including stating that a “Medicare-for-all” plan means “that after a life of hard work and sacrifice, seniors would no longer be able to depend on the benefits they were promised.” But the plan, at least in theory, seeks to expand benefits rather than curb them. “Bottom line, he’s trying to frighten seniors,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Trump also writes that Democrats “will seek to slash budgets for seniors’ Medicare, Social Security and defense.” While some Democrats have pushed for cuts in defense spending, they generally have pushed to expand Social Security benefits, not cut them.

Of course the Washington Post fact-checked Trump’s USA Today column and struggled to find a single honest sentence – but at least he wasn’t dreary. He never is:

At a signing ceremony for a bipartisan bill to help Americans find out whether they can save money on prescriptions by paying cash rather than using insurance, Trump said, “In less than two years, we have taken unprecedented action to make health care more affordable and to give patients more choice and more control.”

Democrats on the ballot across the country took a very different view. “There’s almost not a week that goes by that Republicans don’t make it clear that their number one priority in Congress is to try to weaken protections for people with preexisting conditions,” said Sen. Chris Murphy ­(D-Conn.), who is running for reelection.

There’s no running from that, so run on something else:

President Trump on Wednesday night mocked the “Me Too” movement during a campaign rally in Erie, Pennsylvania.

The president quipped that he needed to censor himself due to the “rules of Me Too,” which he blamed the press for enforcing.

“I used an expression – you know, there’s an expression but under the rules of ‘Me Too, I’m not allowed to use that expression anymore,” he said. “I can’t do it.”

Trump then pointed to the phrase “the girl that got away.”

He instead opted for “the person that got away,” referring to Republicans’ failure to win the state of Pennsylvania in presidential elections for years.

“It’s the ‘person’ that got away,” he continued, apparently implying he was being censored. The comments drew shouts from the crowd before Trump chuckled, saying that a man was telling him to “do it anyway.”

“I would do it except for these people up there,” he said, gesturing toward the press pen.\

He was being censored, but he was being slyly and heroically defiant. He has a vivid imagination, but he was saying what he has been saying for weeks. The press is still the enemy of the people, and now women are ruining things for men.

That’s something to run on, but perhaps only in Erie, where nothing much ever happens anyway. The absurd is welcome there. That is a dreary place. Don’t go there.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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