Friday morning, the Labor Department reported that a better-than-expected 223,000 jobs were created in May, and unemployment fell to 3.8%, tying the record low set in 1969, nearly half a century ago. Perhaps most significant for people already working was the news that wages grew 2.7% in May, compared to last year. Stagnant wages have held down lower and middle class workers for years. Combined with the recent tax cut (which helped contribute to raises for many workers), Americans are finally seeing some real growth in their paychecks.
This is a large part of the reason why that fabled “blue wave” is looking more like a ripple in a kiddie pool these days. The Democrats have built their hopes for regaining power on putting together a 50%-plus-sized collection of identity groups, but they may discover to their shock that people base their voting decisions on things other than their race or gender. Like, “How safe is my family” or “Am I having to work three jobs to make a living?” If even a small percentage of African-American or Latino voters stop responding to the “Don’t listen to those guys, they’re racists!” tactic, the left would be in big trouble. And there are growing signs of cracks in the solid wall of minority support for Democrats.
I know how hard it is to cut through the media-reinforced stereotypes because when I became Governor of Arkansas, I made it a point to reach out to the African-American community and was met with suspicion and resistance at first. But eventually, black community leaders realized I was sincere, and we worked together to make things better. I eventually received a record level of black support for a Republican, but I had to earn it. Trump and the Congressional Republicans may be starting to earn at least a look, as minority voters notice that jobs are more plentiful and their paychecks are bigger now.
Even Democratic pollster John Zogby is warning the party that despite Trump’s high disapproval rating (which is actually improving; pretty amazing considering the non-stop media bashing he gets for everything he does), he may be very hard to beat in 2020.
Zogby points out that a new Harvard University/Harris Poll found over two/thirds of Americans (68%) say the economy is strong, with only 32% saying it’s weak. Those who believe it’s strong include 76% of men, 61% of women, and (here’s the part that will make Nancy Pelosi reach for the Rolaids) 58% of Hispanics and African-Americans. She may be washing those Rolaids down with Pepto-Bismol when she hears that only 25% of Americans say they’re doing worse under Trump, while those who say they’re better off include 30% of Hispanics and 33% of African-Americans. Losing a third of those two voting blocs would not represent “crumbs” for the Democrats but the crumbling of their hopes of retaking Congress.
There seems to be a theme to this week’s news: controversial comediennes derailing their careers by making offensive attacks. First came Roseanne’s 2 a.m. Ambien tweet about Valerie Jarrett that got her entire career thrown down the PC memory hole. Then former “Daily Show” cast member Samantha Bee, who has a low-rated weekly "rant against Republicans" show on TBS (her ratings among Millennials are down 47% from last year), was forced to apologize to Ivanka Trump and lost two sponsors -- but not her show, naturally. It all started when Ivanka tweeted a sweet photo of her holding her two-year-old son, which for some unfathomable reason inspired Ms. Bee to call her an obscene sexist slur I won’t repeat and demand that she somehow make her dad stop enforcing federal deportation laws. (Just for the record: if you want someone with access to power to plead your case, calling them an obscene name on TV probably isn’t the best way to win them over.)
This story consumed the media on Thursday, with conservatives using it to point out the double standard and even liberals admitting Bee went too far.
Frankly, I’m a little burned out on talking about this subject (and I didn’t even get into former comedian Kathy Griffin’s sad attempt to remind us she’s still alive by tweeting an obscene attack on my daughter in defense of Bee). So I thought I’d turn this one over to an expert. I have someone who does freelance writing/research work for me and was also the longtime co-writer of a worldwide-syndicated daily topical humor service for radio. He writes jokes about the news for clients across the political spectrum. In today’s hyper-sensitive comedy world, he prefers to remain anonymous, but here’s his comedy writer’s take on the Samantha Bee brouhaha…
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“First of all, let me dispense with the predictable response that I must be one of those male comedy writers who think women aren’t funny. There are countless female writers and comics I admire, from Tina Fey all the way back to Fanny Brice. My writing partner, one of the best writers I’ve ever known, is my wife, and she can’t stand Samantha Bee’s show. So no, the problem isn’t that women aren’t funny. It’s that simply calling a woman the C-word isn’t funny.
I should also mention that I’ve spent my life studying such controversial comics as Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison and Robert Schimmel, so I’m immune to getting offended. But in my profession, I have to know what offends my client’s audiences. I’m pretty sure calling the President’s daughter the C-word not only runs way past the line, it walks back and urinates on it.
What does offend me as a professional comedy writer is that Bee’s line wasn’t funny. It was angry, partisan, provocative, sexist, unfair – and I could still forgive all that if it were funny. But it wasn’t. It was just calling someone a nasty name. There was no wit, no clever twist, no joke structure, no creativity, no originality of language (I sometimes say my job is to rearrange the dictionary to tell the truth in funny ways that have never been said that way before). It’s the one thing I find truly offensive: bad, lazy comedy writing. It makes Ambien tweeting look like Mark Twain. It’s on the level of using the F-word to get a rise from a club full of drunken frat guys.
Celebrities like Michael Moore who declare such mindless junk “brilliant” just because it’s aimed at people they hate insult the art of comedy as much as they’re insulting our intelligence. Just as TBS does when it feigns shock over a line that obviously went through countless levels of writers, editors, producers and standards and practices people and that was even excerpted online to promote the show.
Granted, the cheap shot did get the expected response from the studio audience, which is known in the business as ‘clapter.’ It’s not laughter, which is hard to earn, but clapping at something you agree with. That doesn’t take wit, it just takes pandering. Again, pandering is easy, comedy is hard.
That’s why clapter has replaced laughter on most late night shows as the Comedy Central influence has infected everything from CBS’ ‘Late Show’ to ‘SNL.’ You know the style: a smug, usually Ivy League-looking guy in a suit (the formula sometimes varies to a black guy or a British guy or a woman in a blazer, but always with the same condescending elitist attitude) gives us the DNC spin on the day’s news, often more in lecture than joke form, tossing in the occasional hyperbolic metaphor or goofy graphic to remind us that it’s supposed to be humor. Real humor makes people look at things in fresh ways, and sometimes forces them to reassess their opinions and makes them uncomfortable. This stuff just preaches to the choir. I hope recent downtrends in ratings for these shows are a sign that the audience is finally getting tired of having anger over the 2016 election reinforced every night, and comedians will get back to trying to appeal to a broader audience and being funny again.
I usually avoid Samantha Bee’s show, but what I have seen was usually based on attacking whatever negative stereotype of the joke’s targets is most popular on the left. Little effort seems to go into understanding the point of view being ridiculed. This laziness also brought on her last forced apology, for ‘joking’ that a bald teenager at a conservative gathering was a racist skinhead when he was actually a cancer patient.
For what it’s worth, I’m a staunch defender of free speech. Comedy requires pushing the envelope, and sometimes, comics rip it. It’s an occupational hazard. It’s sometimes hard to tell where the line between “hilarious” and ‘too far’ is. I’d rather have comedians who accidentally go too far than who play everything too safe. But I grant that freedom to comics on both the left and right.
Comedy shows should be canceled only if nobody’s watching them. If people would just stop watching unfunny shows that traffic in partisan venom instead of wit, that would solve most of the problem. Or as the space aliens told Woody Allen in ‘Stardust Memories,’ ‘If you want to do mankind a favor, tell funnier jokes!’”
The story at the link says that President Trump has been issuing or considering a number of “controversial” pardons, but I’m not sure I’d use that term to describe some of them. He pardoned Scooter Libby, who never should have charged with a crime in the first place. He had his career and reputation destroyed over the alleged leaking of Valerie Plame’s CIA status, which we now know he wasn’t responsible for; he just got caught in the all-too-common DC game of “If we can’t find an actual crime, we'll accuse you of trying to obstruct the investigation.”
This week, Trump pardoned conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, who got eight months in a halfway house, five years’ probation, a felony record and a $30,000 fine for a campaign donation law violation that usually results in a fine. D’Souza, coincidentally, was best known for creating documentaries and books that were highly critical of the Obama Administration. His prosecutor, Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, pushed for him to get up to 16 months in a federal prison. I actually heard liberal pundits on cable news declare that they couldn’t think of anyone less deserving of a presidential pardon. Really? Google the names Marc Rich, Chelsea Manning and Oscar Lopez Rivera.
There’s also a rumor that Trump will pardon Martha Stewart to clear her record. Somehow, that’s also being spun as him helping out a celebrity pal, even though Stewart is a Democrat who backed Hillary Clinton and publicly disparaged Trump during the campaign.
Personally, I don’t know that Martha deserves a pardon or if it really matters to her, since she seems to have done pretty well rebuilding her life after her stint in the Big House. But this is the best argument for it I can think of:
I bet that if you surveyed Americans to ask why Martha Stewart went to prison, the #1 answer would be “insider trading,” probably followed by “making people feel guilty about their own tacky Christmas decorations.” But no, Stewart was actually prosecuted by then-US Attorney James Comey (déjà vu!) not for insider trading, which is what he was supposed to be investigating, but for “conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal investigators” (déjà vu all over again!) To put it more clearly, she was charged with lying to investigators because she claimed she was innocent of a crime she was never convicted of committing. I’m sorry, that might be even less clear.
When you add all that up, pardoning her might be hard for President Trump to resist.
The Democrats have picked up the endorsement of another world leader in their push for gun control in the US. But I doubt they’ll use it in campaign ads. Between this and their embrace of those lovable immigrants, the MS-13 gang members, I doubt most Americans believe now is a smart time to disarm.
Must-See Video of the Day: 99-year-old World War II veteran Raymond T. Mohr sings “God Bless America” at a minor league baseball game in Pennsylvania. Is that a little dust in your eye?...
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein needs to be recused in the “Russia/Trump” investigation because he’s a potential witness in the case.
Hey, we already knew that. In fact, he should have recused himself at the very start. He was already a potential witness, and he had even signed one of the FISA warrant renewals. But “it’s deja vu all over again,” thanks to the leak of confidential memos (no longer confidential, obviously) from ex-FBI official Andrew McCabe that documented Rosenstein’s claim that Trump asked him to mention in his memo recommending James Comey’s firing that he, Trump, wasn’t a target of the Russia investigation. (Which is true, and it’s nothing new that Trump wanted that fact made public.) McCabe had passed this memo along to the Mueller team, and it magically made its way to the New York Times.
Rosenstein, according to McCabe’s memo, refused to grant Trump’s request. But all this is hearsay when coming from McCabe, so Rosenstein, who is currently overseeing Mueller’s now-$16 million investigation, will likely have to testify about it at some point. This presents a conflict so big it can be seen from space.
McCabe’s memo suggests that firing the FBI director was obstruction of justice, even though Trump insists to this day that the firing was not over the Russia probe. We all know there were many reasons for those on both sides of the aisle to want Comey to make like a tree and leave. (He does do a great impression of a tree, but he was not intending to leave.) It’s ridiculous to try to say this was obstruction; Trump was well within his constitutional authority to fire Comey.
And consider the source: Inspector General Horowitz found that McCabe misled investigators repeatedly, under oath, about allowing his staff to leak information to the media to help save his personal reputation. Both the leaking and the lying led to his firing from the FBI. (In related news from the Washington Post, Comey has been interviewed by prosecutors looking at whether McCabe should be charged with criminal misconduct.) And remember, it was “Andy’s office” that Peter Strzok and Lisa Page reference in their texts about a meeting to talk about an “insurance policy” to keep Trump out of the White House.
So. now we have the leak of this McCabe memo, and at a critical time: just as the potentially humiliating IG report on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton “investigation” is about to be made public and, according to reporter Sara A. Carter, numerous current and former FBI agents are ready to step up and corroborate the outrageous misconduct we’ve long suspected. Also, more Strzok-Page text messages will refer to the involvement of the White House.
Finally, if Rosenstein does end up recusing himself –- as he should –- the person next in line to step in and supervise the Mueller probe presents a fascinating turn of events. (The next person in line would have been the DOJ’s third-ranking official, Rachel Brand, but she left her job in February and has not been replaced.) It’s U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco. According to an article in POLITICO, he’s a former George W. Bush White House and Justice Department lawyer whom Trump appointed last year to represent the U.S. government before the Supreme Court.
A month before the 2016 election, Francisco co-wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that accused the FBI (particularly James Comey) of heavy-handed tactics but of using “kid gloves” when looking into possible criminal violations by Hillary Clinton. It is great! If supervision of the Mueller probe falls to him, this could really get interesting. Of course, Democrats would howl that he was serving Trump’s political interests if he limited the scope of Mueller The Great And Powerful in any way.
Till now, out of everything we knew about the special counsel investigation into “collusion” with Russia, the biggest head-scratcher has been why Attorney General Jeff Sessions was still at his job and what he might be doing to justify a paycheck. But now, we may have an even bigger one: South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy’s odd responses to questions about the appropriateness of spying on the Trump campaign.
Gowdy, Devin Nunes and seven other House members received an hour-long briefing on May 24 after the Justice Department had refused to comply with a Congressional subpoena to provide documents relating to what reporter Mollie Hemingway describes as “an individual who was secretly gathering information on the Trump campaign on behalf of the federal government.” (Translation: SPY.) They received a classified briefing that, importantly, still did not provide the documents that would have satisfied the subpoena. In fact, Mark Meadows said afterwards that no documents –- zero –- were shown. According to Hemingway, a spokesperson for Gowdy repeatedly refused to answer questions about what, if any, documents were presented.
This is the meeting that was prefaced by a brief appearance by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Trump attorney Emmet Flood to call for transparency. It appears they wasted their breath.
But Gowdy apparently didn’t need to see any documents to be convinced of what DOJ officials were telling them at the meeting. Such credulity seems strangely out of character for someone like Gowdy, a seasoned prosecutor who knows better than to believe people who continue to hide mountains of evidence. Yet for some reason, he took the DOJ’s “briefing” at face value. After the meeting, he said the FBI had done nothing inappropriate in their investigation of Russian interference. Never mind that we know for a fact spying was done; we have it from such disparate sources as The New York Times, The Washington Post, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and three people who have gone on record as being approached by the confidential informant (spy). We even know who the spy is, and his background as a spy. And Gowdy himself has suggested that an informant was used to collect information (to spy); the weird thing is that he’s now saying it was okay.
Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) jumped on his words as a “debunking” of the alleged spying. Not to say that spying wasn’t done, because we know it was, but Gowdy seemed to be saying that such activity is routine and should be accepted without question, even under these circumstances. He said the FBI was doing what his “fellow citizens” would have wanted them to do. (Mr. Gowdy, you can count this fellow citizen out.)
Yet, as Hemingway points out, he seemed unclear on a few aspects of the investigation, such as whether the FBI had been conducting a counterintelligence or criminal probe. He said he hadn't encountered the word “spy” in his work as a prosecutor, but his work has been only on the criminal side. He wants Mueller to be able to complete his investigation while admitting he doesn’t know the scope of it. In one interview, he mentioned Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton as others who share his perspective, including them with “those who have seen the information.” But there is no evidence that they have seen the information, either.
Gowdy, Rubio, Cotton and anybody else who is ready to cave to bureaucratic power should read the latest column by go-to legal mind Andrew C. McCarthy, on just how hard it’s supposed to be to get a FISA warrant. To get a warrant to surveil Carter Page, the FBI would have had to give the court evidence that he was a clandestine agent of Russia, but the only evidence suggestive of that was in the unverified Steele “dossier.” And it remains unverified; if the FBI had ever verified that claim, Page would have been charged. He wasn’t.
McCarthy makes the case for the avoidance of political spying in America except in cases of serious wrongdoing. “We have an important norm in this country against political spying,” he says, “(as) a matter of tradition, of democratic institutions, of constitutional principles, and of modern history’s Watergate chapter. The incumbent administration must not use its awesome counterintelligence, counterespionage and law enforcement powers against its political opposition absent compelling evidence of egregious misconduct.”
When McCarthy goes on to put Trump’s perceived softness towards Russia into historical perspective, Mitt Romney, in citing Russia as our most serious threat, is about the only one who comes out unscathed. Appropriately (because no one was sent in to spy on HER campaign), Hillary’s ties with Russia are cited: the $145 million given to the Clinton Foundation, the $500,000 to Bill for a brief speech, and the fact that she was “neck-deep in the Uranium One scandal.”
His point is “that after 30 years of embracing and empowering Moscow, it is not credible --- particularly for an administration that was among the worst offenders --- to say ‘We had to use spies and FISA surveillance against the Trump campaign due to suspicion that Trump might embrace and empower Moscow.’” As we’ve said, if the administration had been acting in good faith, it could have done things it did not do: interview Page and Manafort, for example, and certainly inform Trump of its concerns. But this was not good faith –- it was very obviously a massive case of political opportunism.
But one thing remains unclear: the reason for Trey Gowdy’s odd failure to grasp that. Now, what do we say, class? If something doesn’t make sense, there’s a key piece of the puzzle still missing.