Editor's Notebook http://www.thesentinel.com Fri, 24 Mar 2017 04:09:21 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb The politics of a local tragedy http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/5004-the-politics-of-a-local-tragedy http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/5004-the-politics-of-a-local-tragedy

Sanchez mug shot

Somewhere in this county right now a 14-year-old girl is confused, angry and hurting. Dragged into a bathroom at her high school and repeatedly raped, she has been violated and her humanity torn from her in a way no child should ever face.
An 18-year-old illegal immigrant stands accused of the crime along with a 17-year-old juvenile illegal immigrant – one of whom was facing deportation hearings - and because of who they are the story has taken on national significance.

Tuesday in a press briefing White House spokesman Sean Spicer, while dodging every other issue, made sure he told us how horrifying the rape was and how disgusted the administration was because of the rape. It was a perfect platform for an administration fond of telling us how dangerous illegal immigrants are to the quality of life in the U.S.
Meanwhile, locally, every two-bit political hack has jumped in on this issue – either screaming about the need to deport everyone with a Hispanic accent or the need to “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together right now.” It’s a sentiment I personally am more closely aligned with– but I abhor those pitching it under the current circumstances.
And then there’s Robin Ficker. Enough said there.
Meanwhile there are local television stations, including Fox News, which have either deliberately misunderstood the issue to score ratings points, or have misunderstood the issue because those behind the assignment desk really have no idea what the issue is.
Much has been made of the 18- year-old being in school with a juvenile, but that isn’t an unusual situation, nor is the special program in which the young man was enrolled.
But for those who oppose Rockville and Montgomery County’s “Sanctuary” leanings this issue is ripe for exploitation and the facts are not necessarily important to them. They want to feel safe. They want guarantees. They want retribution and some want revenge.
County Executive Ike Leggett has promised to assist ICE agents. County councilman Roger Berliner understands the issue will be used to defend President Trump’s immigration stance.
Meanwhile, late Tuesday Spicer said even though there is a significant federal investment in Montgomery County – an understatement – the administration had no plans to single out the County for retribution for its stance against cooperating with immigration officials.
That, of course, could change if more pressure is brought on the county.
People from Help Save Maryland are intent on putting that pressure on the county and Berliner said he’s received emails from constituents angry with what occurred.
But this isn’t a political issue. It shouldn’t be – and everyone who is involved in politicizing it should be ashamed of themselves for doing so. Demonizing everyone who is Hispanic for the alleged acts of two young men is not only excessive but an act of racism and bigotry.
Going after the school system – while tempting – underscores the fact that you really don’t understand the issue at all. There is absolutely nothing the school system can do to guarantee this type of action will not take place. It has happened before and it will happen again. It doesn’t happen very often, thankfully, and the school system has grown better at reacting.
At The Sentinel we remember all too well a young woman who was sexually abused at Magruder High School. She was drugged and taken out into the bushes behind the football field and her abductors and abusers brought an endless stream of students from the school to witness their handiwork – for several hours. Real Lord of the Flies stuff.
It was a decade ago and where was the community outcry then? Could it be the perpetrators were white and therefore the screams were muted? You bet.
The fact is these things happen very infrequently. They’re catastrophic. They’re tragic. But when Governor Larry Hogan jumps in with inappropriate comments (which he most certainly did), Fox News corners the head of the school system asking inane questions and the White House tosses its opinion into the mix, all the fear mongering and fury tend to make us forget the most important part of this issue.
There is a 14-old-girl suffering. She may be angry and she may want justice, but I am willing to bet she doesn’t care for the political hurricane surrounding what happened to her.
Fear, anger and racism cure nothing. Prosecute those charged to the fullest extent of the law.
But if you want to make a difference keep your fear and hatred to yourself – and learn to respect all women a lot more.

@BrianKarem

 

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Editor's Notebook Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:26:59 +0000
Don't do that in my ear and tell me it's raining! http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4991-don-t-do-that-in-my-ear-and-tell-me-it-s-raining http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4991-don-t-do-that-in-my-ear-and-tell-me-it-s-raining

maxresdefaultWhen I was just a little boy – standing to my daddy’s knee - I learned the gentle art of appreciating artful dodging from my mother who was a successful local actress, my father who was a very successful car salesman, uncles who were attorneys and politicians, and grandparents who were lawyers and judges.
My grandmother once told me my dad was so good at spinning the truth she would know he was lying to her and she’d still believe him. Perhaps that is why I enjoy standup comedy and politics so much – both offer great yarns.
Imagine my hope when I first saw President Donald Trump arrive on the scene. He brought with him Steve Bannon, a man who is a legend in his own mind. He brought us Kellyanne Conway, a woman I debated a few times in Philadelphia some 15 years ago.
She was defending Dan Quayle and I was promoting a book called “Spin Control.” It was a debate made in heaven. We had fun.

President Trump also brought Sean Spicer, the Kevin James of press spokesmen – so aggressive and wound up on stage he sometimes resembles a ferret on Benzedrine. But he had a reputation for some good stand up comedy, so okay.
I was looking forward to some world class spin.

Needless to say I’m disappointed and my dad would be downright angry.
The spin o17425177 10212830468063256 5786563277788958155 nf this administration is so chaotic, rough and abrasive; it only provides laughter due to its often sophomoric sensibilities.
From “alternative facts,” to air quotes and from “wiretapping” to white supremacy and racism to neglect of the elderly, sick and the poor – it is chaos and bedlam.
One of the latest attempts at comedy and deflection involves Spicer complaining the press isn’t reporting on the Clinton campaign for – blah, blah, blah.
Well no kidding, the press isn’t reporting on the Clinton campaign. It’s over. They lost. I’ve heard of sore losers, but this is the first sore-winner administration I’ve ever seen. It is as if the Trump administration still can’t fathom the race is over and they are the victors. Trump’s in charge of the country; you can’t keep asking me why the campaign you vanquished doesn’t get as much attention as the President of the United States. It’s disingenuous, Spicer knows it and everyone in the press room knows it.
But we’re not Spicer’s intended audience. Neither are Trump supporters, though they enjoy it. The audience is the President. Everything said and everything done in the press room is for the President’s consumption.
“Mongo only a pawn in the game of life.”
So when Spicer scolded me on interrupting after the press room sat listening to the third round of how the press doesn’t pay any attention to Clinton – blah, blah, blah, I said “But you won.” I was loud.
Sometimes the blarney is just too thick.
That brings us to Mick Mulvaney. Here is someone brought on stage to explain to us the broad strokes of the administration’s first budget and what we got was nothing but the equivalent of an open mic night at the local Holiday Inn.
So repugnant was it that Mulvaney called a budget “compassionate” which cuts food programs to poor school children. He compounded his inexperience at telling an entertaining story by saying the after school meals program was cut because poor kids weren’t making better grades after being fed - so no food for them. Yep. He channeled the Soup Nazi.
Mulvaney was, however, breathtakingly honest in screwing the Third World. When an Al Jazeera reporter told him the UN claims we’re facing the greatest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II with some 20 million people in four countries facing famine and starvation, Mulvaney merely thumbed his nose or gave the finger to those suffering. He didn’t even care enough about them to lie about it. The U.S. just isn’t spending as much with the U.N. Sorry guys.
If it was World War II and these were white Europeans starving and dying instead of brown colored people of religions we don’t understand and can’t tolerate, then you can bet your sweet and fluffy posterior we’d support the refugees.
But today’s disaffected sufferers don’t look like us. They don’t talk like us. They don’t worship like us and they wear funny things on their heads and want to wage Jihad on us at the drop of an unclean pork chop.
One could argue that leaving 20 million people starving and suffering from famine could fan the flames of extremism and create the terrorists we all want to prevent – but the administration is having none of that logic.
I queried, or tried to query Spicer about this – but he allowed me no further egress than the doorway of his office while he was scurrying off to wherever perpetually busy spokes people need to go.
He asked me why he should call on me and I said something to the effect that it is all about me.
I don’t think he caught the sarcasm, or maybe he did. I’ll have to learn to do a better impression of the President if I wish to sell it in the future.
I caught a glimpse of Spicer earlier in his main office when the door opened on a meeting. Inside the room were Conway, Bannon, Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders all apparently engaged in shaping the message Spicer would deliver later. You’d think that group of spin doctors could do better.
Honestly, it isn’t that these people are unintelligent. They’re smart. And they’re not elitists. But they have a fatal flaw. Some in the current administration not only believe the press is the enemy of the people, but they also think we’re stupid and they are the smartest people in the room.
It’s a not-so-rare form of arrogance in government – or from poor stand up comedians.
It is the callousness and coarseness of this administration that is becoming a worry.
The FBI is investigating the election. The move to replace the affordable healthcare act is facing significant hurdles and the president’s proposed budget resembles something assembled by Ebenezer Scrooge. Meanwhile people are starving, America is retreating from its position as a world leader in humanitarian causes and we are fed a steady diet of baloney that wouldn’t pass muster at my family’s breakfast table.
Don’t pour water in my ear and tell me it’s raining.
My dad taught me better than that.

 

@BrianKarem

 

 

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editor-mc@thesentinel.com (Brian Karem) Editor's Notebook Tue, 21 Mar 2017 21:44:45 +0000
A colonoscopy and "compassionate" budget http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4977-a-colonoscopy-and-compassionate-budget http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4977-a-colonoscopy-and-compassionate-budget

 

 

654170338-office-of-management-and-budget-director-mick-mulvaney.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2First, let’s interrupt today’s compassionate offering on the proposed budget from President Trump via his puppet Mick Mulvaney (who apparently likes to stuff his suits with grass) for this important healthcare message.
While we argue and bicker about healthcare in this country, let me be the first to endorse a 30 minute invasive procedure to save you – it is called a colonoscopy and everyone over 50 should have one.

I have friends who shake their heads, but think of it this way: a mere 30 minute relatively safe and harmless procedure versus chemotherapy and radiation for weeks and months on end with no guarantee of good health at the end of the road. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Your choice.
As for me, I’ve had two since I turned 50. They make for great comedy material and peace of mind. Today’s comedy offering? I don’t mind the fasting and I don’t mind the brackish fluid they make you drink, but no man’s backside should produce a fluid that’s cleaner than the tap water in Flint Michigan.
Moving on.
Because of my latest attempt to remain healthy I missed the daily freak show in the White House press briefing room Thursday. I caught up with it via the Internet, and the day before St. Patrick’s day will go down as a day of infamy. For that is the day the Trump administration finally lost its tenuous hold on reality and the day I lost any respect for anyone working there.
It began when a reporter asked Mulvaney, that happy little leprechaun, if cutting the U.S. contribution to the United Nations was wise. According to the UN, we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II with 20 million people in just four countries facing starvation or famine. When the reporter asked if the president was worried that some of the most vulnerable people on earth will suffer, Mulvaney effectively offered the poor and the vulnerable a middle finger.
We are absolutely going to spend less overseas, he said with a quixotic grin. He said it was a simple message – the Trump administration is going to spend more money on people back home.
Before you cheer, wait for the other shoe to drop. Mulvaney also outlined cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the NEA, the EPA and everything else except defense spending.
Grants that end up funding “Meals on Wheels?” Gone. Funds for after school meals for the poor? Gone.
Mulvaney, who briefed the press on the Trump administration’s budget, energetically said he was putting himself in the shoes of the coal miners from West Virginia, the steel workers from Ohio and the single mother of two in Detroit. He could no longer justify going to those poor people and asking them to fund those programs – many of which don’t work – according to Mulvaney.
We can’t fund them because they sound good, he claimed with a straight face and what still looked like a patch of grass sticking out of his suit's breast pocket.
After school meals programs don’t work because those programs are supposed to make poor students better in school by feeding them. It doesn’t work, he said.
“When we took the money from you, the way we justified it was these programs are going to help children do better in school and get better jobs. We can’t prove that is happening,” he claimed.
They don’t do demonstrably better in school, so forget feeding the poor. Let them starve.
Meals on Wheels? Well the federal government isn’t cutting meals to seniors – it’s merely cutting the grants which fund the program. The program can still exist if local and state governments can find the funds for them. Higher taxes anyone?
So, I guess when Mulvaney said the budget was taking care of people in the U.S. versus people overseas, he wasn’t referring to the poor or the elderly. They can starve and he wouldn’t care because he finds it more compassionate to tell the coal worker he isn’t taking his money any more – which as it turns out is a lie.
President Trump’s proposed budget is still running at a deficit and he’s not cutting the amount he’s taking from coal miners, single parents and steel workers – he’s just redirecting it. Instead of feeding people he wants to build more weapons to kill people.
I’ve seen this before – even outside of the “Star Wars” universe.
Mulvaney showed his true colors in saying the steel worker, the coal miner and single parents don’t want their taxes spent on feeding the elderly and the poor. The most generous people I’ve ever met are those who are living on society’s edge. They know only too well how close they are every day to being in the same situation as those with little or nothing. It is only the incredibly rich among us who have no idea what it means to go without every day necessities. Those are the people as callous as Mulvaney. Those are the people who benefit by cutting aid to those in need.

I predict three ghosts will visit Mulvaney this Christmas Eve as he encourages the poor to die quickly, thus killing off our surplus population.
It is incredibly elitist and inhuman of the man to play the working poor against the truly poor.
In the end when Mulvaney said to a foreign reporter the administration was going to support and propose an “America First Budget,” what he really meant was the president is backing a defense spending budget at the cost of the poor. In the argument of "Guns or Butter" as my old economics professor said, this administration wants more guns and less butter.
You don’t fund grants which support Meals on Wheels and you don’t fund after school meals for school children because you expect anything from those programs. You fund them because we can and should. Feed the poor. Care for the sick and the elderly.
How often have I heard people moralize about their Christian ethics and how often I’ve wondered as I sat in church how many of those people ever act as the Christians they claim to be.
I have many friends who’ve supported the current president and I respect and love all of them. I have never ended a friendship over politics and I won’t. Many of these people had salient points for supporting President Trump and still do. I agree with them on some of those points, and some of the moves the current administration has made I support.
But the callous and cavalier attitude displayed by Mulvaney Thursday was stunning on a level I’ve never seen before. To call cuts in funding to the poor “compassionate” is so distasteful as to cause me to vomit a little in the back of my throat.
Mulvaney told us the federal government has spent $150 billion since the 1970s on some of the grant programs which fund meals on wheels – and we have to cut the bleeding. Really? Since the 1970s? You could save that much and a lot more by not building a few planes and tanks. Imagine what you could’ve saved by not building one or two fighter planes a year since the 1970s.
It isn’t that we haven’t seen military build ups before in this country. This isn’t even the largest of my lifetime.
But no one has been more callous and more dehumanizing in defending social cuts than Mulvaney was as he sat center stage in the greatest theater in the country.
Thursday I missed the theater and had to watch it on television because I had a colonoscopy. But that pales in comparison to the reaming the American public got from Mulvaney and the Trump budget.
If you’re a Christian, give up the title if you won’t support the poor, the infirmed and the elderly. And while you can, get a colonoscopy – it might just save your life. It saved mine. Now how do we save ourselves?

 

 

 

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editor-mc@thesentinel.com (Brian Karem) Editor's Notebook Fri, 17 Mar 2017 15:05:34 +0000
Puppies, rainbows and wet sponges http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4967-puppies-rainbows-and-wet-sponges http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4967-puppies-rainbows-and-wet-sponges

Mencken5

If you thought the blue lines in hockey were confusing (apologies to MAD Magazine), try spending time in the White House briefing room.
While most of the nation wants a health care plan much like the plan congressmen can enjoy, and while hate crimes and anti-Semitism are on the rise, reporters in the White House press briefing room are enduring a never ending epidemic of language H.L. Mencken would describe as “wet sponges,” though earlier this week we heard it in the guise of “rainbows and puppies.”
What was said? Well it turns out it wasn’t said. Maybe we didn’t understand and it doesn’t matter because there’s something new to say to us any way. Bad hombres are all about.

The numbers are good. The numbers are bad. President Obama “wiretapped” the Trump campaign. No. Wait. The former president didn’t wiretap the Trump campaign. “Wiretap” was in quotation marks, and it just means surveillance. Mencken 6

The president believes the press is the enemy of the people. No. The president only thinks “Fake News” is the enemy of the people.
President Trump will release his taxes. President Trump won’t release his taxes. Someone else will. Was it the President? Two pages from 2005? Well that means everything. It means nothing. Russia is bad. Russia is good.
The president can use “alternative facts.” The president isn’t arguing the facts. The president means everything he says. Sometimes the president is making a joke and we don’t get it.
President Obama used microwave ovens in surveillance of the Trump campaign. Never mind - that was just a joke.
There are two things glaringly apparent in this president’s administration. First, some of us don’t get his tweets. Since we don’t seem to understand President Trump’s humor or what he’s really trying to say in a tweet, perhaps The President of the United States could help us all to help him (with apologies to Scrubs and Dr. Cox). Could he just promise that at least when it comes to matters of national policy, the president will refrain from tweeting complex ideas and policies in 140 characters or less? Maybe a few more words would help us all understand.
Could you help a brother out? Help me to help you Barbie.
Secondly, when it comes to humor in the White House – and let me say this comes from doing standup comedy and it goes out to everyone in the current administration – all the surrogates and appointed and elected officials. Stop trying to be funny. It isn’t working. It’s painful to watch.
The one exception to this – the jury is still out on him – may be Sean Spicer. He can crack a joke. His “Don’t make me move this podium on you” quip last Friday was indicative of a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously. But Kellyanne has to stop. She couldn’t find “funny” if Kevin Hart, Billy Crystal, John DeBellis, Jackie the Jokeman, Steve Mittleman, The Fat Doctor and Bill Maher dragged her there in chains.
But beyond the bad jokes, blue smoke and mirrors is the reality Trump supporters don’t acknowledge and his detractors don’t understand. The former is lost in admiration and the latter is lost in a cult-like condemnation. Neither side is looking at issues – other than those that surround the president’s continuing personality cult.
This nation is not healing as the president promised. There is no bipartisan cooperation in Congress and our government is more fractured than ever. The president, Congress and the voters in this country can share in the blame for that debacle.
The communication coming from the White House the first two days of this week has been chained to the replacement of the Affordable Health Care Act. The president finds himself in full deal mode right now trying to get the new legislation passed. Only thing is the Congress ain’t buying what he’s selling.
He may yet convince Congress to pass his replacement health plan, but it is so convoluted that even Spicer referred to it as a “puzzle” during a press briefing Tuesday.
On Monday, Spicer talked about everything not being “rainbows and puppies,” in regard to a question about health care. Tuesday, he told us there was some “inside baseball senate talk” going on but confessed, “If we can’t get this through,” then things will be “unbelievably difficult.”
What?
Meanwhile, the administration is adamant about us ignoring the CBO numbers that question the healthcare plan while the president tries to convince Congress to shut up and drink the Kool Aid. For those who don’t drink freely, Trump has apparently already promised to back GOP challengers against incumbents if the incumbents don’t vote for the health plan.
If that isn’t confusing and annoying, then the tweet about former President Obama “wiretapping” Trump Tower most certainly is. Just witness what Congress said Wednesday regarding the tweet!
The president initially tweeted he just found out Obama wiretapped him. That indicates he had information in his possession. And while he refused to disclose what that information is, last weekend Spicer sent out a notice the president had forwarded everything to the Department of Justice and would have nothing more to say about the matter.
The DOJ then was supposed to send information to Congress, but no one in Congress has seen anything concrete and they’ve given the DOJ and the president another week to come up with something concrete.
Why would Congress have to investigate anything? If the President has information, couldn’t he just share it with the DOJ? In fact, wouldn’t it have come from the DOJ? Never mind Presidents can't arbitrarily wiretap anyone and the members of congress who reported to the media on Wednesday simply stated Spicer hasn't been accurate in providing information to us regarding the tweets. Okay - now we're seeing some bipartisan cooperation. No one knows what's going on in the White House!
Kellyanne Conway is talking about microwaves. Tin foil hats are up next and after that maybe we can watch Dr. Bombay cast a spell (with apologies to Bewitched) to cure the sick. Dr. Bombay would at least be more entertaining than Paul Ryan.
The president’s supporters aren’t swayed. The Democrats aren’t convinced and there remains few signs of bi-partisanship anywhere. The President who promised to Make America Great Again and bring us all together still is struggling to bring both sides of the aisle together on health care and other issues.
While I see some evidence the American people want to come together, I see none of it in the executive branch. Most of the language from that robust institution continues to be divisive.
In the press room, every time we begin to dwell on issues something new pops up – like two pages of a tax form from 12 years ago – to distract us. I get the distinct impression I’m being played. And as much fun as it is to pick apart the questionable policies and bad jokes, the real joke will be on us – if we don’t start seeing progress soon.
United We Stand. Divided We Fall.
Or, you can remember what Mencken said. “Here the buffoonery never stops."
We have a complete "Libido for The Ugly."

 

hl-mencken-on-government

@BrianKarem

 

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editor-mc@thesentinel.com (Brian Karem) Editor's Notebook Wed, 15 Mar 2017 14:57:37 +0000
The 50th Day of the Trump Administration http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4958-the-50th-day-of-the-trump-administration http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4958-the-50th-day-of-the-trump-administration

Sean Spicer with upside down flag  pinUPDATED 3/11/17

Friday I walked up to the White House and saw a couple of hundred pipeline protesters singing outside the West Wing. Meanwhile, as I got closer to the entrance, I saw a homeless man on the ground. Not sure why. The police were cuffing him, but it didn’t look like either side was struggling or too committed to the process. The takedown appeared to be in slow motion and I could’ve sworn I heard the guy on the ground saying “I’m not weird.”

Weird.

The Captain of the police waved as I went in. Someone offered me a cinnamon roll as it was my birthday and many of the junior staffers gave me good wishes for my birthday. 

When I met up with Sean Spicer he told me he paid my wife to take me out – way out so I could walk home. He also wished me a happy birthday as the briefing began which was very nice of him.

For the first time in a long this week there wasn’t any new drama from the executive branch during the briefing. The administration is working furiously to get itself into something resembling routine. Spicer spent a lot of time telling us about economic upswings, new jobs and General Flynn. There was the usual bluster, but on "One Question" Friday most of us were limiting ourselves to a question and multiple follow-ups and Spicer was laying it on us about the great job report news. Only loud trumpets were missing. Actually that would be kind of funny.

Of course there were humorous moments. Spicer had the flag pin on his suit upside down and John Roberts from FOX, the minister of protocol, called Spicer on that and asked him if he was in distress. Later on Spicer – channeling his inner Melissa McCarthy – threatened to move the podium. The move was met with raucous laughter from the press.

The biggest drama came from – well the press. John Decker from FOX radio had apparently, according to a couple of reporters in the room, previously filed a grievance with the correspondents association regarding someone from an extremely right-wing organization who planted a representative in the press room. The guy was supposedly not quite a reporter, not quite an activist, but he was at the very least - according to Decker - a black-hating, Jew-hating racist.

The young reporter/activist said he was gay and Jewish. I just said under my breath, well maybe you’re a gay, Jewish hate monger - I mean who knows? Okay I'm paraphrasing what I said out loud. It was much funnier when I said it. The young man in question laughed - so I hit my target audience. But, as I never heard of his organization and could care little about it, I merely tried to mind my own business - which sometimes is the best thing to do when people become interesting.

The young man, who had been previously introduced to me and appeared polite enough to be in civil society, claimed Decker physically assaulted him – which didn’t happen. Decker was upset, but not physical. At least not in front of me. I guess he could've pummeled the guy into unconsciousness and then revived him only to beat him again, but I saw no blood trails nor evidence of bruising to back up such a tale. I'm sure that won't stop a few people, but seriously. Me at White

Meanwhile, as if this couldn’t get more bizarre, a reporter from a Russian news service came to the aid of the right-wing activist. “Calm down. Calm down. Everybody relax,” he shouted. I told him that was a good idea and he could start with himself.

Finally Spicer came in to conduct the briefing and all the children settled down and things became more or less rational.

Afterward, photographers began taking pictures of the young activist/reporter who held his own gaggle outside the White House press briefing room doors. Sigh. He was eating up the attention and drawing a fair amount of it to a website of which I'd never previously bothered to become acquainted. If Decker sinned, then it was in giving the guy attention - because no one really knew or cared who he was until Decker pointed him out. I say that with some degree of certainty because no one took a picture of him or really noticed the guy until Decker pointed him out.

Meanwhile a guy identifying himself as Breitbart’s lead investigative reporter – there’s a thought – approached me and asked me what I saw. I told him my name was Sam. Last name Donaldson. I spelled it out for him. He laughed. But before that I asked if he was just talking or wanted a comment – and he said on background he was just wondering if the kid from the far-right website had been assaulted by Decker and if Decker “went after him.”

Healthcare, General Flynn registering as an agent for a foreign government, the problems in the Middle East, the Far East and heaven knows what else and on my birthday I watched a FOX News reporter, a Russian news service reporter, a far-right website representative and the “lead investigative reporter” for Breitbart  in a dust up and its aftermath in the White House. Was it an intramural rugby scrum? 

I obviously was having that LSD flashback my dealer promised me back in 1982 and none too soon.

I told Decker I had his back regarding the assault that didn't occur. I told the Russian wire service reporter he should’ve minded his own business because he exacerbated the problem - actually I told him he didn't have a dog in that fight -  and I told the Breitbart guy I was Sam Donaldson. Hey it was my birthday - I was due a few laughs.

A photographer from NBC was very cautious in speaking around the Breitbart reporter, but said, “This is what is going to happen. They’re going to send these people in to provoke us. We can’t take the bait.”

On this he may be right, but it isn’t for me to say who gets credentials and I confess I don't really care – as long as everyone acts professionally.

I will clarify and defend what I told a young reporter who asked me this question last week – is it proper to say you’re a supporter in that room or should you take sides? This came after a reporter declared himself a big supporter of the President.

My response? Never. I will not make the mistake of taking myself seriously, but the job is serious. When you walk into the White House as a reporter you abandon your own bias as much as is humanly possible. You are there to ask questions, bring up issues and search for facts. And truth be told I’ll be harder on those who think the same as I do because if my bias can’t stand vetting, it isn’t worth having.

In that regard, I try to remain a "disinterested, third party," participant in events as much as possible. For the love of all that is holy quit telling me what you think - unless you're writing a column. Notice how I did that, right?

You may mingle in the club. You may be welcomed to the club. You aren't in the club. Be kind. Be professional and be stubborn.

Okay - anyone else want the soapbox? 

In the first 50 days of this administration I’ve seen everything but someone pulling multi-colored scarves out of their mouth. On my 56th birthday I’m pretty sure I finally saw members of the media do just that.

Bourbon anyone? And popcorn. I could definitely use some popcorn.

@BrianKarem

 

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Editor's Notebook Sat, 11 Mar 2017 04:01:15 +0000
I have a great idea for a Tweet http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4940-i-have-a-great-idea-for-a-tweet http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4940-i-have-a-great-idea-for-a-tweet

 

 

White House Front Twilight

Brevity can be the soul of wit. However, brevity often proves to be witless and soulless. Hence I’ve never been a fan of Twitter.
Last weekend President Donald Trump, riding high after a speech before a joint session of Congress –a speech when at times he waxed philosophical by implying it isn’t too much to dream of our footsteps on alien worlds – shot himself in his foot with a tweet.

It isn’t the first time. It won’t be the last. But the President’s tweet, in which he said he just found out former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, was alarming and succeeded in ratcheting up media scrutiny this week despite spokesman Sean Spicer publishing a news release saying the president was asking Congress to investigate – and would have no further comment.
And while the president did better in polls due to his speech before Congress, that speech was nearly forgotten Monday.
The amount of energy and money, not to mention time, spent on a 140 character tweet would be beyond the comprehension of anyone in the Republic prior to Twitter.
The president told us he had information the previous administration bugged Trump Tower. This means either someone in the FBI presented enough evidence to a federal judge to get a warrant to wiretap Trump Tower (which doesn’t bode well for President Trump), or President Obama paid an independent contractor to wiretap Trump Tower to embarrass then candidate Donald Trump and then did nothing or could do nothing with the information.
Of course, had former President Obama wanted to embarrass Trump he probably could’ve arranged for a leak of Trump’s tax returns far easier than wiretapping Trump Tower – but the facts don’t matter.
The other option is Trump lied about the whole thing after seeing or hearing a Breitbart news article.
Monday in a press gaggle – a briefing without cameras – Spicer said “something” obviously went on and told us it could be FISA related (meaning evidence was presented before a federal judge) or some kind of surveillance took place.
When I asked him if he was conceding that, if it were “FISA related”, someone presented evidence before a judge regarding Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russian government, Spicer demurred. But wait! The President said he already had the information. Why did it even need to go to Congress?
The implications are fairly ugly, but that issue isn’t the only thing ugly at the White House. Watching inept reporters trying to operate the Tom Hanks espresso machine is ugly and comical.
The introduction of the latest version of the travel ban was ugly too.
Here the President had a great opportunity to appear to compromise since the latest travel ban is a far cry from the original ban. Instead of coming out saying he heard the opposition to the first proposed ban and was now leading the charge for compromise – which is very statesman like, when FOX reporter John Roberts asked the question, the administration continued to stubbornly defend the travel ban it was replacing!
If that wasn’t enough, Tuesday in the press briefing – now back on camera after dodging camera bullets on Monday – Spicer unveiled the administration’s replacement plan for the Affordable Healthcare Act. The cameras were turned back on – in no small part – because of the visuals: The size of the replacement legislation versus the size of the original.
Some of us are curious about the relevance of size – I suppose in some cases size does matter. By Tuesday evening the GOP replacement healthcare plan was being criticized for hurting the poor and the elderly while apparently helping rich CEOs.
This administration continues to move at warp speed – trying to plow through and roll over the negative hits in an attempt to dominate a news cycle.
We were told the replacement to the Affordable Health Care Act would take time. We were told it would be great. Now it appears to have been pushed through in a hurried attempt to overcome a series of Tweets sent by the President aimed at the former President.
The travel ban still remains what it was before – a destabilizing move meant to make us feel good while not making us any safer – and it will have the added effect of making travel more difficult for Americans abroad.
Could we revisit that speech where the president said something about traveling to distant planets? Doesn’t it at least deserve a soulless, witless Tweet?

 

@BrianKarem

 

 

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Editor's Notebook Thu, 09 Mar 2017 18:35:27 +0000
Not with a bang but with a whimper http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4898-not-with-a-bang-but-with-a-whimper http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4898-not-with-a-bang-but-with-a-whimper

 

president sealThe single most impressive moment in President Trump’s first speech before a joint session of Congress came nowhere during the speech.
A half-hour before he took the stage the president could be seen sitting in the limousine with his wife practicing his speech. It was a humanizing moment and brilliant in its subtlety. Whoever planned it pulled the curtain back to show a man many believe to be an autocratic demagogue in a very vulnerable and human position – practicing for his coming presentation – and anyone who’s ever had to practice a speech for a high school class could easily identify with that moment.
The speech itself was typical of a presidential speech before Congress and as the bar was very low, and since the president didn’t go off on a tirade against domestic enemies real and imagined – well save for apparently trying to convince us every immigrant to the country is guilty of a violent crime – he got a positive public relations bounce.
The far right cheered, the far left jeered and some of us were left wondering if Congress and the president understand that between the idea and the reality falls the shadow – at least according to T.S. Eliot in “The Hollow Men.”
So, here we go around the prickly pear.


President Trump wishes to enter the “lawless chaos” and build a “Great, Great Wall,” and wipe our “vile enemies from the planet,” while telling us everything broken can be fixed and we should all join forces and get the job done and done right.
As far as words go, those are – in a few cases – very fine words.
I don’t want a “Great, Great Wall,” and I’m not so sure about the lawless chaos. I don’t see that. And while I agree there are petty fights among us, the president certainly has to shoulder at least some of the blame for those petty fights because of some of his petty actions on the campaign trail and in the first month he’s held office.
If the president’s first speech before Congress is a signal he is truly interested in and devoted to governing rather than inflaming the populous, then we should all welcome the switch with open arms.
But the needed bipartisanship of which the president speaks does not appear to be on the horizon and the GOP and the Democrats have no one but themselves to blame.
Monday at the White House Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters the “dam is about to break” and bipartisanship will soon unfold in all its flowery beauty. Paul Ryan said “Don’t yell dude,” when asked the question – apparently still sore since I asked him during the SCOTUS nomination if he was really Aaron Rodgers – but that’s another story.
There is little indication true bipartisanship is on the horizon and that will be the largest challenge President Trump will face now and until the midterm elections.
The GOP majority has never shown any propensity for compromise – the true sign of statesmanship. Democratic governors weren’t even around Monday at the White House to speak with reporters. The GOP, while condemning the Affordable Healthcare Act, hasn’t shown any ability to come up with a legitimate alternative in some seven years during which the Republicans could’ve done much more than complain.
McConnell stonewalled everything proposed by the previous administration and delighted in doing so. Now the Democrats, having suffered a dull aching pain are happy to show the GOP the same. This will be President Trump's greatest challenge - getting people to work together.
And there is the question of how the president plans to pay for infrastructure, defense build ups and other programs he wants - while cutting taxes.
It is also hard to reconcile the softer tone of the President’s speech and his hope for inclusion when during the same speech he talked about forming a new national agency called the “Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement,” or VOICE.
It’s a silly acronym, and there’s the sillier implication of marauding bands of immigrants “gaining a beach head,” in the country ready to do harm to the citizens of this God-fearing land.
In other words, the tone was softer, but the President’s ideas haven’t changed all that much.
Volumes could be written on why his isolationism is wildly dangerous, but I’ll save the space. In so much as the president tried to stake a claim for optimism, I will join him in that and hold him accountable for keeping hope alive.
I will pray we are not whispering together, quiet and meaningless while in this hollow valley - or we are not looking at the broken jaw of our lost kingdom.
And as we grope together, I continue to hope we don’t end in a whimper.

 

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editor-mc@thesentinel.com (Brian Karem) Editor's Notebook Wed, 01 Mar 2017 22:57:34 +0000
The White House incident - again http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4885-the-white-house-incident-again http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4885-the-white-house-incident-again

 

White House Front TwilightI left for one hour.
The early Friday morning White House show had been inconsequential and uncharacteristically dull. The highlights? Kellyanne walked by outside after giving a speech at CPAC. President Trump flew back from his visit to CPAC on Marine One. A television technician yelled “Get to the chopper” in his best Arnold impersonation.


Meanwhile, I had a scheduled meeting with Congressman Jamie Raskin regarding a National Shield Law for reporters. This meant missing the daily press briefing, but in so much as the day before Sean Spicer told me it was probably going to be a small gaggle in his office since nothing much was expected, I figured it was one briefing I could miss.
I guess I should’ve stayed for the fireworks. Steve Bannon and President Trump’s outcries against the media at CPAC came home to roost as Spicer’s gaggle got out of control, feathers got ruffled and the White House denied access to several media outlets.
According to the New York Times, “Reporters from The Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times and Politico were not allowed to enter the West Wing office of the press secretary, Sean M. Spicer, for the scheduled briefing. Aides to Mr. Spicer only allowed in reporters from a handpicked group of news organizations that, the White House said, had been previously confirmed.
Those organizations included Breitbart News, the One America News Network and The Washington Times, all with conservative leanings. Journalists from ABC, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Fox News also attended.
Reporters from Time magazine and The Associated Press, who were set to be allowed in, chose not to attend the briefing in protest of the White House’s actions.”
By the time I returned from Congressman Raskin’s office, the junior White House staffers, all very affable and friendly were left dealing with the media while Spicer and other senior staffers remained hunkered down in Spicer’s office for several hours.
Meanwhile, on a desk outside of Spicer’s office a large hand-made valentine apparently made by school children stood proclaiming “You’re awesome Sean!” and “No longer do we trust the TV news people . . . can the president have his own station 24/7? We love him and his whole team.”
According to members of the pool who made it into the gaggle, it wasn’t much better on the inside during Spicer’s Friday briefing. The meeting took about 40 minutes and Spicer began to yell at some of the reporters there – according to one of the reporters who attended.
That reporter blamed a junior staffer for the SNAFU that led to CNN and others from entering Spicer’s office for the briefing.
But a look at who was let into the meeting and who was kept outside speaks directly to an agenda many feel the president has regarding the media – divide and conquer.
The media, which often in the past has eaten its own, seems ripe for division.
When Glenn Thrush of the New York Times got shut down in a press briefing earlier this week he had to rely on someone else to ask and follow up on a line of questioning he started.
Someone did pick up the gauntlet. And when media outlets found themselves on the outside looking in on Friday Time magazine and the AP refused to go in protest.
Perhaps the press is learning.
Mark Smith, a veteran AP reporter retired later Friday afternoon and after 20 years at the White House and many more working for the AP, he found himself being toasted by his fellow reporters and a bit worried about the future.
“I think we still have adequate institutional memory,” he said in reflection. “But I do feel a bit like I’m leaving the ramparts in the battle.”
Covering this White House one quickly understands Smith’s concerns. Each day is a study in swimming through quicksand. What was good on Monday, may not play on Tuesday and if you leave the White House for even an hour, anything and everything can hit the fan.
With a good segment of the population still convinced President Donald Trump walks on water, at least according to that one big valentine in the upper press office, there continues to be a problem of perception and reality for the President and the press.

Was Friday's press gaggle merely a mistake exacerbated by an overzealous staffer who overreacted and kept out reporters deemed the enemy? Or did the press office make an initial misstep compounded by the lateness of the day on an uncharacteristically warm February afternoon? Was it vindictive or unintended? Did the press overplay the situation since there are often pool situations for reporters in the White House for many other events? Is the President out to get us all?

While we all ponder the presidential torture apparently coming our way, cooperative reporters gladly shared the information from the gaggle with their brethren.
So, whatever occurred, keeping certain outlets out only served to drive the most disparate competitors closer together. That is important because there are signs this administration is every bit as strident as candidate Trump was during the campaign. And that does, on first glance prove itself to be a cause for concern of those who value the First Amendment. Imagine the jaded and cynical reporters who are now watching the media working together. Those who would preach a total boycott of future press briefings should take note - that's probably what some inside the administration want. Far from boycotting, working together would seem to be the more prudent move.
One young reporter outside of the afternoon gaggle said he has his future to think of and did not want to lose the respect of his peers – hence he shared everything he had regarding the press briefing.
Smith can therefore retire with a certain amount of comfort for the fate of the rest of us holed-up in the old swimming pool in the White House west wing. We won’t end up like the defenders of the Alamo.
The press will not go gentle into that good night – despite of whatever threats made by the President, Bannon or the actions or misdeeds of staffers.
That much is becoming very clear. It may be a bumpy four years ahead – but the press isn’t going anywhere.
Even if somebody leaves for just one hour.

 

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editor-mc@thesentinel.com (Brian Karem) Editor's Notebook Sat, 25 Feb 2017 04:08:13 +0000
The case of the growling dog http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4869-the-case-of-the-growling-dog http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4869-the-case-of-the-growling-dog

Sean SpicerWhen approaching a growling dog wagging its tail, which end do you believe?
That’s the conundrum facing reporters in the White House press corps as the new administration works its way into a second month in office.
On the one hand we have a president calling the media the enemy while Tuesday press secretary Sean Spicer told assembled reporters the president has a “Deep respect for the First Amendment and the press.”

I’m still watching the end of the dog with the teeth – for the record. The first question during Tuesday’s press briefing addressed this issue, but wasn’t followed up on – partly because Spicer didn’t point his finger in my direction. He did say "certain outlets," bother the president, but went into little detail otherwise.
I want to know exactly who the president views as his enemy. Is it all of the press corps across the country? Those who voted against him? What if you are a member of the press but voted for him? Are you an enemy then? Is it that he views anyone who doesn’t print or broadcast information with which he agrees is an enemy? Maybe he just means CNN or The New York Times.

How we perceive President Trump is partially due to our inability to get adequate answers and partially because we are not always asking the right questions.

But at the end of the day the administration has a perception problem left over from a brash and bombastic campaign. It’s interesting to witness as the administration lurches forward.
We no longer see large notes on legal pads and in bright red markers being passed into the press room during briefings. We haven’t seen Kellyanne in nearly a week either. Spicer is more controlled, and getting better communicating, but this administration still has problems reconciling facts with certain rhetoric and behavior.
How can you on one hand tell us General H.R. McMaster is the “finest” choice for National Security advisor without acknowledging he wasn’t your first choice? This is no criticism of the general – but is a question anyone would ask. Just clarify. You can’t get mad at that.
Personally I have no doubt the President of The United States isn’t an anti-Semite. But he has inadvertently or purposely thrust those on the far right who hold such views into the national spotlight with some of his actions on the campaign trail and in office. So when he denounces anti-Semitism he needs to address it on more than one occasion and also explain the incongruity between his current actions and previous actions.
Spicer cannot merely tell us the president has addressed this once and therefore put it to bed. This is disconcerting because it speaks to either an arrogance or naivety or a combination of both when it comes to the stage upon which the president finds himself. His pronouncements are not those of Papal or Kingly edict. He is an elected public servant who will have to repeat things more than once for them to sink in adequately - if indeed they ever do. Thus is the life of a public official. It also takes much more than words to put this to bed. In so much that anti-Semitism and prejudice have existed for far longer than our lifetime – how can anyone think merely speaking against something once will end it?
The problem of perception versus reality is a common problem of any administration, but seemingly more so from top to bottom in the first month of this administration - though the President and his staff show signs of getting better.

Then there is this:

Tuesday Glenn Thrush from the New York Times along with myself and a few other reporters stuck around after the daily press briefing to ask whether or not the administration would forward complaints of anti-Semitism attacks to the Department of Justice. We staked out Spicer’s office and were chased away by a young staffer who told us the Secret Service didn’t like us in the hall outside of Spicer’s office. I don’t doubt her, but I once watched Sam Donaldson and probably six or seven reporters stake out that office for hours until a bedraggled spokesman emerged to face the stern countenance of a frothing press – so her admonitions fell on deaf ears.
Thrush mentioned something about us being in the “people’s house” and not the private residence of the current occupant – more to me than anyone else – and then we moved to another door where we caught Spicer leaving and he didn’t answer the question.
Spicer referred us to someone in the “lower press office” who could tell us whether or not the administration intended on forwarding the complaints to the D.O.J.
Then he scooted off to wherever busy press secretaries scuttle themselves when being pursued by stubborn reporters.
A few minutes later the young staffer complained to another staffer and Thrush was apparently accused of cursing at the first staffer – which he never did - though there were ruffled feathers all around.
The staffer felt slighted - but wasn’t. It wasn't personal. This is how the free press works. We ask. We keep asking and we ask some more. Facts are facts. We are messy and we get in the way. When we can't get answers then we get frustrated.
Thrush was frustrated – as I was. I still haven’t had my question answered.
And I notice the dog is still showing its teeth even though it wags its tail vigorously.

@BrianKarem 

 

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Editor's Notebook Wed, 22 Feb 2017 23:45:07 +0000
Spicer's suit isn't the problem http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4797-spicer-s-suit-isn-t-the-problem http://www.thesentinel.com/mont/columns/editor-s-notebook/item/4797-spicer-s-suit-isn-t-the-problem

 

Sean SpicerSo much has gone on in the first three weeks of President Trump’s first term it makes one wonder whether or not he will need to run for a second term.
He apparently intends to implement all of his campaign promises as quickly as possible. He’s told us there’s a new sheriff in town. He’s told us he intends to keep his word. He’s told other members of government to get on his side – because it’s his way or the highway.

If he intends to continue governing in such a manner, it will be interesting to see if he can keep the voting base that elected him – much less expand it for a run at re-election.
Which brings us back to the original question: Is it possible President Donald Trump doesn’t plan to run for a second term? Logically his brashness, unwillingness to compromise, confrontational style and lack of humility steers the casual observer into considering it.
You can bet the GOP is considering it. Here is a political party as Hell bent as the president on getting what it can as quickly as it can. The GOP is excellent at putting party ahead of country and is doing it again with aplomb – you know, kind of like the Democrats.
There is opportunity in chaos and there is plenty of chaos in D.C. at the moment both on the Hill and in the White House.
The stories of the President calling his advisers at the wee hours of the morning to ask economic questions, the insensitive and frequent tweets, the use of “alternative facts,” the spoofs on Saturday Night Live and the incessant demagoguery have all contributed to this early criticism as the administration continues its struggle transitioning from a campaign to a government.
Kellyanne Conway’s non-stop shilling for a cause she berated when she worked for one of Trump’s opponents does him no favors.
Interestingly the criticism against her pales in comparison to the rancor afforded Sean Spicer, who defends the president every day in the White House Press Room.
It is a pressure cooker to be sure. Spicer must go forth and defend the president – often while someone keeps passing him notes written in red marker on legal pads. He has been combative and he’s taken grief on his attire, use of gum, dipping dots and his attitude – which culminated this week in a SNL spoof.
According to White House staffers this is one of his dream jobs, so no one is cutting him any slack in the press and apparently he’s not getting any from above.
Press briefings have grown notoriously shorter. The first I attended lasted more than an hour. Tuesday’s briefing was limited to about 30 minutes.
Still, I personally like the guy more than his predecessor and he reminds me more of Kevin James than Melissa McCarthy.
But his brevity contributes to the problems he encounters. The press rarely gets to follow up on real issues as Spicer hand picks reporters to ask questions and if something is said which annoys the administration, I find it hard to believe Spicer is also getting adequate time to explain the President’s position.
A noticeable exception occurred Tuesday when Spicer finally said the president respected the judicial branch of government and would abide by a court decision on his temporary travel ban – though he’d take every legal means at his disposal to fight the temporary restraining order.
If he addressed other serious issues head-on as he did that one – we’d all be better served.
When Spicer says there’s a new sheriff in town and he doesn’t want to telegraph or take anything off the table in response to aggression from Iran or other countries – what does Spicer and the President mean?
We don’t want to know his moves, but is there still a moral line this country subscribes to that we won’t cross?
Further, when he chides the Democrats for obstructing his cabinet appointees how can he view it as “unprecedented obstruction,” considering the GOP’s actions during the Obama administration?
Spicer finally admitted Tuesday the president really has no plan to replace the affordable health care act, but will take time to develop a better plan.
At the end of the day dealing with real issues instead of ill-fitting suits, Nordstrom and SNL spoofs would do this president a world of good as he continues forward.
But questions remain about his decision making and it really doesn’t matter who fields the questions in the White House press room as long as those questions remain.
President Trump said only he could bring this country together.
It remains to be seen how he can keep that particular promise as the daily press briefings devolve into a sideshow of strange amusements.
Maybe he only wants one term.

@BrianKarem

 

 

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Editor's Notebook Wed, 08 Feb 2017 23:19:06 +0000