The Reporter covers Miller, Morgan and Camden County in Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks and is published once per week on Wednesdays.


(Updated May 22, 2024)

Guest Editorial - It's a roundup

(Published May 22, 2024)

There’s been too much going on to stay focused on one topic, so let’s divide our attention.

In the never-ending world of Trump lawfare, testimony by adult film actress Stormy Daniels had the left wing all a flutter about her revelations.

She was on the stand in the case against former president Donald Trump which we are assured is really about election interference, not sex, although you couldn’t prove it by this testimony. Actually, the most scandalous thing about this case is still the acrobatics required to make possible misdemeanors, all beyond their statutes of limitations, into felonies.

As far as witnesses go, Daniels wasn’t beyond question, given her professional background and ongoing efforts to make money off the allegations. Her testimony brought out both her absolute hatred for Mr. Trump and that her recollection of events continues to change. She was feisty disastrous and combative, which was cheered by the left-wing media, but how it played with the jury is still unknown.

The judge let her go into racy details which many argue should not have been allowed because it had no bearing on the charges. Team Trump asked for a mistrial which Judge Juan Merchan denied. Still, even he got a little squeamish about all the graphic details. “I agree that there are probably some things that would have been better unsaid.” Gee, if only there were someone at the trial in charge of preventing just that sort of thing.

As problematic as Daniels may be as a witness, the upcoming star has her beat by a mile.

Former Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen’s testimony could be a courtroom battle for the ages. Not only has he already been convicted of perjury, but in recent years has made bank by running down the former president in multiple media arenas.

Elsewhere in lawfare, upsetting all those pinning their election hopes on Trump convictions, the classified documents case has been postponed indefinitely by that judge.

That came on the heels of a Friday afternoon (the preferred time to dump info to the media so it gets the least possible attention) revelation that investigators misplaced some of the documents that Mr. Trump is charged with mishandling. Now that’s irony.

When the FBI made their unprecedented raid at Mar-a-Lago, to seize secret papers which the former president was said to illegally possess, agents took those documents out of boxes and left place holders. Except it seems sometimes they didn’t use place holders, or the place holders didn’t define what was taken out, so it was unclear what should be put back.

To make a long story short, they messed up the chain of evidence and then told the court that everything was exactly as found. However you look at it, that doesn’t scream competence.

This has long been seen as potentially the strongest case against Mr. Trump, in spite of the fact that the charges were contrary to normal practices. It appears, at best, that the Justice Department has egg on its face.

On the international scene, last week President Joe Biden promised on Holocaust Remembrance Day that we would never forget. Then, once the cameras were turned off, he announced military aid to Israel would be cut off over plans to finish their battle against Hamas by going into Rafah.

Mr. Biden, of course, is widely recognized as a genius for his strong record on international relations.

Oops, I mean NOT. Not recognized. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once wrote, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

You don’t have to go back 40 years to see that. As President Obama’s vice president, he advised against the raid which killed Osama bin Laden. (Although he later claimed he did just the opposite.)
Perhaps his most disasterous act as president, and the worst U.S. debacle in decades, was his withdrawal from Afghanistan. He predicted it would result in the Afghan government standing strong, and good future relations with the Taliban.

Mr. Biden’s crystal ball was pretty foggy, because, within hours everything fell apart, and we ended up abandoning both allies and U.S. citizens.

Now he wants the Israeli government to stop their efforts to finish Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization which has governed Gaza and slaughtered Israelis. As one commentator put it, Hamas doesn’t seek a two-state solution; they want a final one.

Mr. Biden seems to be most concerned about voters on the far left, many now seen wearing keffiyehs and chanting anti-Israel slogans.

It is likely that members of his staff are pressuring Mr. Biden to take this position. His administration is filled with holdovers from the Obama administration, who thought catering to Iran was a great idea. That included sending them pallets of cash which they used to fund proxies, including Hamas, to attack Israel.

This weapons embargo makes us question why Mr. Biden hasn’t brought more pressure on Hamas to surrender. Or, for that matter, why he hasn’t put the screws to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to find a negotiated end to the Russian invasion. Both would make just as much sense.

Back home again, has any politician ever shot themselves in the foot more dramatically than South Dakota governor Kristi Noem did with a story about killing a dog in her new book?
Rural life has a less cuddly relationship with livestock and animals than urban settings. That’s reality.

But a politician with desires to perhaps be the next V.P. should have known a tale about shooting a dog in a gravel pit wasn’t going to go over well, no matter what the reason.

Did she forget what a big deal was made out of Mitt Romney putting his dog’s carrier on top of the station wagon? No one even claimed his pup didn’t love the ride, and they still came unglued.- Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Loss of support

(Published April 17, 2024)

Recently the Israeli Defense Force accidentally targeted an aid convoy from World Central Kitchen, killing seven workers, which triggered major denunciations here and abroad.
That incident was horrible and tragic and quickly became fodder for the notion that Israel is conducting wholesale slaughter in the region.

Unlike their Hamas foes, the Israelis quickly accepted responsibility and promised a complete investigation. By week’s end, they had already fired two senior officers for the attack.
War is always ugly, no matter how righteous the cause. Even the most careful of combatants make mistakes. For example, at the end of the disastrous, pullout from Afghanistan the U.S. hit a group of ISIS fighters. It turned out the drone strike killed ten members of a family, including seven children.

The Gaza conflict has taken a prominent place in American political dialogue. Some say it could even be a deciding factor in the skepticism.presidential election.
Americans tend to like an underdog, and Israel has certainly been that since its founding in 1948.

But for many Americans, especially those of a leftist bent, that underdog is now the Palestinians. That was clear when large protests demanding a ceasefire started all across the U.S. within days of Israel launching its forces to oust Hamas from Gaza.

Usually forgotten in the protests and the news coverage is what started this battle in the first place. Back on Oct. 7 Hamas crossed the border and killed around 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, and took about 240 others hostage. The exact numbers are still unknown.

The attack was horrifying, and atrocities were committed, including rape and the barbaric murder of children. These claims were substantiated by Israel and by the attackers who were quickly posting on social media.

Still, in the U.S., there are those who believe that the outrages were fake, and also that Hamas’ actions were justified due to years of oppression.

Since day one, the Biden administration has tried to do a balancing act between supporting our key ally in the Middle East and satisfying the demands of the ever growing far-left in the Democratic Party.
Compounding their problem is the administration’s resurrected Obama- era effort to open up relations with Iran, which is the biggest supporter of Hamas.

The balancing may have worsened the situation by prolonging the conflict. Some say, had President Biden announced from the beginning that the U.S. was 100 percent behind Israel, they could have completed operations in Gaza much more quickly.

Instead, Mr. Biden tempered support, with strong warnings about using caution. That was the same as giving aid to Hamas, since their only hope for a win was always dependent on the world’s condemnation of their foe.

The longer this goes on, the worse it gets for Israel. Those supporting the Palestinians have taken to calling what is happening there a “genocide”.

To less biased observers, it would appear the IDF is taking extraordinary measures to protect civilians, including attempting to evacuate them before attacking.

For their part, it is well known that Hamas has positioned their forces and weapons in locations such as schools and hospitals where civilian casualties are guaranteed. The idea is to spark international outrage.

The IDF has accomplished a lot so far. They’ve wiped out 18 of Hamas’ 24 battalions and much of the top leadership. They’ve destroyed miles of tunnels and most of the rockets used to target Israeli civilians.

But it is Hamas which is winning the propaganda war with the aid of an ever credulous media. You can see it in U.S. opinion polls. Back in November, 50 percent of Americans approved of Israeli military actions in Gaza. By March, that number had plummeted to 36 percent.

Information by Hamas has been treated as gospel in the U.S. media, while every Israeli pronouncement is examined with skepticism.

For example, protesters cite the Hamas count of 30,000 dead, 70 percent of them women and children. That number has done a lot to drive down American opinion of the Israeli operation.

Yet the precision of the counts should have been enough to trigger doubts. Abraham Wyner, professor of statistics and data science at the Wharton School, reported in Tablet that increases in death counts were so consistent that “ is highly suggestive that a process unconnected or loosely connected to reality was used to report the numbers.”
Placed on a graph, the increase is a perfect incline with no spikes or dips to correlate to the intensity of battle.

In other words, the Hamas numbers are likely being fabricated for their effect on Western support.

Mr. Biden is caught between two contrary demands in an election year where he is caught in a close race.

One is a large faction of his own party which is demanding a ceasefire and withdrawal of all support for Israel. This faction is not only the far left, but is growing in the Democratic rank and file.
Reports say that some of Mr. Biden’s big-dollar financial backers are withdrawing support over the issue. At the same time, he risks driving away Jewish supporters, so he’s waking a razor’s edge.
The other issue is the requirement to do what is best for America’s interests, which is not always easy, or pretty.

That’s because our allies have their own self-interests. Notice how Egypt has not opened their borders wide to Palestinian refugees in the face of “genocide”. Yet we still back them. We also support Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, and a host of other countries which are ruled in ways we would find intolerable.

As much as Mr. Biden wants to bow to his base, it’s hard to imagine him throwing overboard the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Good, bad, some of each

(Published April 3, 2024)

Let’s take a break from politics this week and look at a few random events in the news.

Luckily, this one turned out okay. Alert folks at the UPS store in Great Bend, Kan., kept a woman from being scammed out of sixty grand.

She had gone into the UPS store to ship a package to a business in California. Something triggered the worker’s radar who brought in her boss, and they found $44,900 in cash in the box.

Since that is not something people frequently do, they called the police who contacted local banks to try to identify the woman who was described as in her 70s. It turns out the con was ongoing, and the lady was ready to send another $20k. Her son was able to stop that after being contacted by concerned employees of her bank.

It turned out she got snared by crooks claiming to be from the Department of Commerce accusing her of being part of a financial fraud. Talk about, “I’m rubber, you’re glue...”

We hear often that people don’t care about what happens to others, but this just proves some still do. Without the employees at the UPS store and at the bank, the unfortunate lady would have been bilked out of a fortune with no way to recover it.

The story also serves as a warning to be extra alert for scammers, who are indeed among the worst people on the planet. No legitimate government agency will ever contact you by phone or e-mail and demand payment in gift cards or cash, or right now. There is no such thing as cops on their way to your door to arrest you for not paying some bill you’ve never heard of, be it taxes, fines, or anything else.

All these scams only work if they can make you think it’s legit. Hang up the phone; and, if you’re still worried, take the time to check with the “agency” which is supposedly after you by contacting them directly.

Artificial intelligence is going to make all these scams ever harder to detect, so we’ve got to stay vigilant.

Also in the ranks of bottom feeders are the cases popping up recently about people being forced to deal with squatters taking over their property.

Some states have laws which give tennant rights to anybody who claims they’ve lived on the property or have a lease. Any dispute is a matter for civil courts, so police can’t intervene.

Not everybody with an empty house on their hands is Mega-rich billionaire or “evil” property management corporation, so this can be a major hardship. Often, these stories are about people who are trying to sell a late relative’s home, or folks who just purchased a new place who can’t do anything until the situation is resolved.

It’s hard to imagine going up to your property and not being allowed in because some character you’ve never met claims they have leased the place. It’s only the way that laws are written that makes this possible.

There is little doubt that, if someone started using your car without permission, you could get it resolved in shorts order.

The restraint shown by the homeowners in most of these cases is admirable, because, for Americans, property rights are a big deal. If it’s yours, nobody should be able to just step in and take it.
Apparently, gaming the laws in different states has become a big enough deal that online influencers are telling others how to do it.

Maybe the increased publicity will prompt the states with the most lax laws to address the problem.

As the late Paul Harvey used to say, “Here’s a strange.” A New York man is suing to get his pet of 30 years back after authorities confiscated it.

His “pet” is a 12 foot, 750 lbs. alligator named Albert. “He’s just a big baby,” Tony Cavallaro said after Department of Environmental Conservation officers taped Albert’s mouth and drove off with him in a van.

It wasn’t that Mr. Cavallaro was neglecting his giant bitey buddy. He’d built Albert a $120,000 custom abode attached to his own home, with heated floors, a filtering indoor pond, waterfall, spa jet, tropical plants, and a bar. No mention was made of what Albert stocks behind the bar.

Mr. Cavallaro’s license to keep Albert expired about three years ago after he wouldn’t bring the gator’s swinging bachelor pad up to meet new regulations to ensure the pet reptile wasn’t a danger to the public.

Mr. Cavallaro doesn’t see his pal as a threat to anybody, saying his own 84-year-old mother would, “...sit in his room with him and read with him laying his head on her foot.” So, obviously, he wasn’t worried about mamma becoming gator chow. We assume.

While you can sympathize with Albert and Mr. Cavallaro, it seems a firm line really should exist somewhere with rules for everyone.

Albert may be just a big snuggle buddy, but for every Cavallaro pampering his pet with a custom enclosure, you know there is someone out there who would think it’s a good idea to walk his “harmless” gator in the Easter parade. It’s all good, clean fun until somebody becomes a snack.

Finally, most Americans don’t give two darns about British royalty, having booted them out a couple of centuries ago. Recent developments there proved it’s not always tickety-boo to be one of them, though.
Brits, and others who are fascinated by such things, keep all the royals under a microscope which doesn’t allow for life outside the public eye.

Of late, it seems there is a big brouhaha over the whereabouts of Princess Catherine who had suddenly disappeared from view.

The speculation of what was going on was relentless. Nothing was apparently too ridiculous to bandy about.

Finally, the princess revealed she was undergoing preventative chemotherapy after discovering cancer. Oh, and that she had to make the announcement because serious efforts were being made to breach her medical records. That’s low.

The announcement surely made all but the most obsessive observers give the whole feeding frenzy a second thought.
Which will last about a day or so. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Crossing a line

(Published February 7, 2024)

There’s an old joke with the punch line, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

That seems to be the approach being taken by the Biden administration on the southern border.

They have insisted since day one that the border is “secure.” Now, they are adopting the narrative that maybe there are problems with illegal immigration, but the fault is Republicans. Hey, who are you going to believe, the administration, or your own lying eyes? Your eyes and every statistic being reported too. That some polls show immigration outranks inflation as the top concern with voters may hint at the answer to that question.

Multiple events recently brought the border situation into sharp focus once again. First, the Supreme Court sided 5-4 with the Biden administration, which sought to tear down fencing installed along the border by the state of Texas.

The fencing was installed as part of the state’s Operation Lone Star, an effort to cut down on the flood of illegal crossings. Texas had sued the Feds back in October for pulling down the barricades which were on private land along the border.

Why the Biden Administration thinks their agents destroying barriers along the Rio Grande looks like an act of border security remains unclear.

Later in the week, Governor Greg Abbott announced that Texas would continue efforts to slow what he termed an “invasion,” in spite of the Supreme Court ruling.

“The Executive Branch of the United States has a constitutional duty to enforce federal laws protecting States, including immigration laws on the books right now,” Abbott declared. “President Biden has refused to enforce those laws and has even violated them. The result is that he has smashed records for illegal immigration.”

Abbott claimed that the wide-open border has resulted in more than six million illegal immigrants in Texas alone.

Immigration numbers are always fuzzy, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection says their “encounters” have totalled 8.5 million since the start of Mr. Biden’s term. They cite an additional 1.7 million “known got aways” in the same time frame. That’s over 10 million right there. Based on those numbers, Gov. Abbott’s contention that it’s an invasion doesn’t look overwrought.

He claims that, since the federal government is refusing to do its duty and enforce immigration law then Texas has a constitutional right to defend its borders.

“James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and the other visionaries who wrote the U.S. Constitution foresaw that States should not be left to the mercy of a lawless president who does nothing to stop external threats like cartels smuggling millions of illegal immigrants across the border,” Abbott wrote.

Having evoked Texas’ constitutional authority to “defend and protect itself,” he said, “The Texas National Guard, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and other Texas personnel are acting on that authority, as well as state law, to secure the Texas border.”

This prompted multiple Democratic congressmen, including Joaquin Castro, to call on the president to federalize the Texas National Guard.

This all gets into some really thorny constitutional questions.

The country is made up of individual States which have their own laws, but have ceded over certain duties to the federal government.

States rights have been at the heart of many contentious battles in the past. There have been times when the federal government acted to settle issues quite forcefully. We can all think of examples where the Feds acted against “states rights,” and rightly so. Slavery and civil rights come most easily to mind.

This situation doesn’t seem so clear cut. The adminstration’s policies are obviously designed to cause the vast increase of violations of the law. When the government refuses to enforce the law, it is hard to blame a state for trying to pick up the burden.

Texas trying to slow the flood is similar in much bigger terms to store owners in cities which refuse to prosecute shoplifters locking up expensive merchandise. When government refuses to protect you, most of us would agree we have a right to act to protect ourselves.

Even Democratic governors and mayors are speaking out about the problems caused by the current flood of illegal immigration. Of course, they do this while trying their best to hold the administration harmless.

Many cities say they are overrun and have had to cut services to their citizens in order to provide humanitarian aid to migrants pouring onto their streets. The costs are staggering.

Then, there was speculation that a deal which would have tied border enforcement to Ukraine aid was a goner. Many headlines cast blame on Donald Trump for spiking it to keep an election issue alive.

Since the guts of the package were still being negotiated and weren’t publicly available, it’s hard to say if the bill has a chance. However, whatever the Senate does must get past the GOP-controlled House, which has, so far, held firm on the idea firm measures at the border.

There are very serious differences in play here between the two parties when it comes to immigration. The large segment of the Democrat party which sees borders as inhumane appears to have the upper hand.

That makes it hard for bipartisan action to be taken, since the GOP still sees control as necessary.

And, it’s obvious something must be done. The U.S. is a country of immigrants, but things have changed since that historic first migration.

Back then, people came for freedom and opportunity. Then, freedom included the right to starve if you didn’t succeed.

Now, while we are still a land of opportunity, we have social services in place which guarantee a standard of living greater than what most migrants are fleeing. You can’t blame them for wanting to come here.

But, having empathy is one thing. Opening the doors to everyone with no control is another. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - So long 2023

(Published January 3, 2024)

The year 2023 has ended and there are multiple things which stood out.

This was the year that artifical intelligence finally advanced enough that it stirred warnings from people who know enough to be concerned.

Last April some of the biggest brains in the tech world, including Elon Musk, called for a six-month pause on AI. They cited “potential risk to society.”

"Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable," said the letter from the Future of Life Institute. Or as Mr. Musk put it, “AI stresses me out.”

The letter brought up key questions about AI: propaganda; lies, the development of “nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us?”
Some have said artifical Intelligence is the biggest scientific advancement since the dawn of the atomic age.

Except, the bomb was developed first by the U.S. Government, then other countries slowly followed. There has been at least a measure of control so that every nutjob can’t access a nuke in a briefcase.
AI is being developed by governments, many hostile to U.S. interests, but also by businesses serving it’s own best interest. The race is to see who can do the most the quickest. What consequences await doesn’t seem to be high on the priority list. Unfortunately, this is a genie which will be impossible to get back in the bottle.

We’ve already seen some of the darker side of AI in the hands of scammers and bad actors. Expect to see much worse in years to come.

For some of us, the most shocking eye opener of the year was how accepted racism is on college campuses. Not just random racism. Most types are still fiercely guarded against. The acceptable racism is antisemitism.

It gushed to the surface back in October when Hamas terrorists murdered hundreds in Israel in some of the most gruesome ways imaginable.

Students and staff at many of the most elite universities were quick to cheer the attack. The excuse for the slaughter was that the oppressed were justly throwing off their colonizers. The initial celebrations of the attack progressed with pro-Hamas rallies, often violent, which were said to support Palestinians, but generally featured the worst of antisemitic slogans.

This got bad enough that the presidents of three top universities were called before Congress to explain why hate speech was being allowed. They all answered in some variant of, “we strongly protect free speech,” and for it to be against the rules it would require, “speech turning into action.”

That’s right, freedom of speech in the land where outside thought (usually conservative) is often banned for fear of the damage words might cause.

This situation has been so outlandish, that just maybe it will cause a examination of what is goes on at universities which have long been seeded over to the most leftist of thought.

On a positive note, inflation started to back off this year. In November it was reported to be only 3.1%.

The problem is that’s still way over the 2% goal long seen as acceptable by the Federal Reserve, and darn few of the increases of the past three years show signs of coming down. It is reported that to buy what $100 purchased at the beginning of 2020, would require $122 today. Even that seems a bit low.

But at least we haven’t hit the severe recession which many of the experts have been predicting. They keep telling us it’s on the way though.

Let’s hope we avoid that, because the last thing Americans need with their buying power down is have the economy crash too.

It’s impossible to look back on 2023 and not give mention to the slew of criminal cases filed against former President Donald Trump.

The mainstream media is quick to say that there is nothing at all political about it, in spite of all the signs in plain view that say otherwise.

In most cases, charges could only be brought by the use of creative application of the law. Or they came even though other key political figures were not charged in similar circumstances.
They also claim there is nothing political about the cases being rushed into court to coincide with the height of the 2024 presidential campaign season where Mr. Trump is overwhelmingly out in front of the GOP field.

It’s a big 2023 story, but won’t play out until 2024.

On another positive note, if you enjoy watching politics, 2023 had the most entertaining and bizarre start to a presidential race in recent memory.

The two men, by all appearances, have had their party’s nomination sewn up all along. That would be Democratic incumbent president Joe Biden, and Mr. Trump for the Republicans.

Both men, to be blunt, are ancient in terms of presidential politics. While Mr. Trump continues to appear vigorous, Mr. Biden looks and acts like he feels every one of his 81 years.

Mr. Biden expected and is getting the respect sitting presidents traditionally receive, with no serious challengers. Robert Kennedy, Jr. filed and made some waves before changing to an independent run. Congressman Dean Phillips has thrown his hat into the Democratic ring to the sound of crickets. Not filing, but very visibly lurking is California Gavin Newsome who takes every opportunity to assure the party he isn’t running. Unless for some reason Mr. Biden doesn’t run.

The Republicans have had a raft of candidates who all vigorously debated and tore each other to shreds as if they had an attainable goal. Mr. Trump who took a look at his 30 to 40 point lead and decided to give it all a miss.

The media has made a big show of pretending that different challengers were really making a play, but it has been apparent since the start that the nomination is Mr. Trump’s to lose.
Which will lead to the 2024 race between the two least desired candidates in presidential polling history.

Now there’s something to look forward to...or not. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Birth of a narrative

(Published December 20, 2023)

Anyone who has been paying attention to the news recently has been able to watch, in real time, the birth of a narrative: If re-elected, Donald Trump will be a dictator. This one has been gestating for a while with some of the more radical people on the left side of the aisle.

Recently, you could really see the push was on to bring it to life with the notion appearing frequently in the mainstream media. The Atlantic delivered a series of stories under the heading, “If Trump Wins.” The dark headlines included “Four More Years of Unchecked Misogyny,” “The Proud Boys Love a Winner”, and “A Military Loyal to Trump.”

Scary stuff because fear sells.

It was everywhere, like the Washington Post opining, “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable.”

Then, Mr. Trump, with his unerring ability to step right into the middle of a trap, sealed the deal. When asked by Sean Hannity, “Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?”

“Except for day one,” Mr. Trump responded, “I want to close the border, and I want to drill, drill, drill.”

He then repeated the exchange in typical Trump rhetorical style. “We love this guy. (Hannity) He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said: ‘No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border, and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.’”

Annnd, we’re off.

Democrats, Never Trumpers, and the mainstream media lost their collective minds. The headlines were virtually identical, “Trump says he wouldn’t be a dictator, ‘except for Day One.’” A few omitted the “except for Day One” part, but they were simply narrowing down to the new talking point.

Mr. Trump is a showman, and he says lots and lots of stuff, but he should have known better.

After all, he’s still fighting the effects of a similar joke comment from the campaign in 2016. Back then, Hillary Clinton “lost” a massive number of emails under subpoena. Intelligence officials reported that it was likely the illegal server she stored them on had already been compromised by foreign actors. The media didn’t much care about any of it.

Mr. Trump snarkily said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

The objective observer saw that as a solid, sarcastic shot at multiple targets. Then, the next day, the entire media treated it as a serious request, with headlines like, “Trump urges Russia to hack Clinton’s email”.

The Clinton campaign acted to turn the moment to their advantage, and so was born the “Russiagate” hoax which plagued the final weeks of the Trump campaign and his entire presidency.

Setting up something similar with the “dictator” comment is like the guy who keeps stepping on rakes in his yard and getting whacked between the eyes.

In fairness to Mr. Trump, his every utterance is scrutinized for ways to turn it against him; so, if not this, something else. Still, it should have been obvious to him what would happen.

Looking at some of the warnings about what Mr. Trump would do in a “dictatorship” appear to reveal a mirror being held up to those making the chilling claims.

They say he would appoint conservative judges. You know, like Democrats appoint liberal ones.

They say he would fill the federal bureaucracy with employees favorable to his positions. Which would replace the “unbiased” ones who so proudly lead the “resistance” during his first term.

They claim in would weaponize the Justice Department against opponents. Presumably resembling the lawfare being waged right now against the former president and leading GOP candidates for that post.
Let’s be honest: the idea of an American dictatorship is ludicrous.

Since George Washington declined the offer to be king, Americans have been staunch in their opposition to anything except elected leadership.

The closest we’ve come to something which made people wary was the election of President Franklin Roosevelt to four terms in office.

By no stretch of the imagination was that even a “near dictatorship”. The man was just extremely popular, leading during the Great Depression and then World War II. Yet, to be on the safe side, the country passed the 22nd Amendment limiting presidents to two terms.

Those warning of a Trump dictatorship point to the Jan. 6, 2021 “insurrection” as proof it could happen.

However, adopting their own argument, wouldn’t it be easier to make the case those events prove an attempt at a dictatorship didn’t stand a chance?

A riot broke out at the Capitol and, to insure safety, the vote was delayed five hours. Then, succession proceeded as set up by the Constitution.

Many people involved that day have paid a heavy price with lengthy prison sentences. It would be hard to claim the system didn’t work as designed.

One of the biggest problems which the country faces right now is we are so divided we’re willing to believe nearly anything bad about the other side.

Once, not all that long ago, we thought our fellow citizens who held a different political opinion were wrong, but still good, honest Americans. Now, both sides paint the other as out to destroy the republic. Each election is portrayed as a make-or-break moment to forestall a dystopian future.

It’s not that there aren’t some really disconcerting things going on within our borders right now. But, come on, take a deep breath already.

Still, expect the “dictator” narrative to hang around. It’s a useful weapon.

Also, since when did things being said in a political campaign have to be true? Or believable. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Maybe not that nostalgic

(Published November 22, 2023)

Sometimes it’s easy to get nostalgic. Looking back, things often seem simpler, easier to understand: and, heck, even safer.

Of course, serious contemplation reveals that it was rarely any of those things. We tend to gloss over the rocky parts and remember the good.

Sometimes, the past seems entirely too close to repeating itself. You can draw a lot of parallels between right now and the late 1960s and early, 70s.

Great unrest among the younger generation is shared by both times. There may be no angrier places in a pretty angry country than on college campuses. There, you see a rebellion against the practices and beliefs of the generations which came before, and even a general dislike and distrust of the United States.
Does that sound familiar, Boomers?

There is even a weird similarity going on with the presidents. Richard Nixon was actually a good president, but a flawed man. His policies won him a landslide re-election victory, but he was also enormously hated by his opponents. The coverup of Watergate was Mr. Nixon’s downfall.

If any president has been more hated than “Tricky Dick”, it would have to be Donald Trump. He came into office with a much tighter election and with a concentrated and continual effort to destroy him. Yet, Mr. Trump’s policies were not hated in the same way he was personally.

Without COVID-19 and all that came with it who knows what would have happened.

An obvious difference between the two presidents is that Mr. Trump survived two impeachment attempts, while Mr. Nixon resigned when it became obvious he wouldn’t get through one.
In the, 70s, the answer to the national turmoil which was Watergate was electing a genuine nice-guy, Jimmy Carter.

To this day, Mr. Carter remains one of the most sincere, humble, and just generally good men ever to hold the office. On the other hand, his record as president was abysmal. Historians have revived his image somewhat, but Americans who were there for it remember his administration as terrible. The economy tanked; the U.S. was mocked by our adversaries; and inflation was devastating.

Likewise, Joe Biden campaigned as someone who would have empathy and be a safe choice. But, mostly, he was touted as not being Trump. So far his term has been anything but inspirational. The economy, in dubious shape, and threats around the globe get worse every day.

Even the most nostalgic weren’t hoping for a return of high inflation. That was one of those “once in a life-time is enough” problems.

There are other things which nobody is apt to be nostalgic for, like having to send a loved one off on a trip and knowing you’ll be completely out of touch.

Not all that long ago, your phone was literally attached by wires to your house, and long distance calling costs were so high most people just didn’t.

Sometimes, though, we older folks miss that. Being out of contact isn’t always a bad thing. With today’s ever- present cell phones, intrusion is a constant possibility.

In the days when land lines ruled the earth, you could switch on the answering machine or turn off the ringer for an uninterrupted evening. Just leaving the house meant you were out of reach. When people couldn’t immediately find you, it was normal. Now it’s a cause for alarm, or taken as an insult.

Who out there is nostalgic for flat tires? In the days before steel-belted radials, every driver knew how to change a flat, and often bragged about how quickly they could do it.
Still, if you were traveling any distance for something important, you added time for the chance of a flat.

Now, there are millions of drivers who have never changed a tire. In fact, most people probably couldn’t locate the spare, jack, and lug wrench without the owner’s manual or help from Google.
That is the kind of improvement in technology we can all get behind.

In terms of gas mileage and safety, cars today beat the heck out of their ancestors. Still, it’s easy to get nostalgic over the days when body styles were vastly different. You could tell a Ford from a Chevy from a Dodge at just a glance. When the new models came out in the fall, it was a big deal. The dealers would hold a big event to introduce them to the public.

Now, there are a very few distinct models (think Corvette); but, mostly, similarity rules. It’s often really tough to know what make or model it is without being close enough to read the nameplate. Will people 60 years from now marvel at a perfectly restored 2023 Corolla the way we do about a sharp, ‘57 Chevy? It’s possible, but hard to imagine.

Another thing sadly relegated to the past is the cartoon before the movie feature presentation. To all you young people: That really was a thing. Now get off my lawn.
Those cartoons were written to entertain audiences of all ages and were really pretty smart.

Show of hands from the Boomers: Who else learned about opera from Elmer and Bugs?

Not missed are the days of three television networks when there was often “nothing to watch.” Today, the variety is endless. However, it’s not uncommon to spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling through hundreds of choices while thinking there is, “nothing to watch.”

Having only a limited selection of shows meant we all mostly saw the same ones. In fact, television was something you could generally count on to have in common.
Finding something we have in common is often exasperatingly hard today. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - On the outside, thankfully

(Published November 8, 2023)

There are lots of times when it is wildly better to be on the outside looking in than right in the heat of the ongoing action.
Here are a few examples.

• Even though it seemed like nothing more than a hail Mary, it looks like the Georgia election interference case against former president Donald Trump could cause him big trouble.

Using the state’s RICO statutes and charging just about everyone who was ever in a room with Mr. Trump has resulted in several lesser players, all attorneys, copping pleas. They will now likely testify against him.

Rather than face expensive legal action and potential prison time, Kenneth Chesebro, who organized alternate electors; Sidney Powell, who claimed voting machines were changing votes; and Jenna Ellis, who wrote memos claiming Vice President Mike Pence could block Joe Biden’s win in the Senate, all entered guilty pleas in exchange for deals.

None pleaded guilty to the main charges brought by prosecutor Fani Willis, but instead to lesser crimes.

It is reported that six other persons charged are also seeking plea deals.

This fits with the speculation from legal experts that the purpose of the case is to keep Mr. Trump bogged down in legal woes instead of focusing on his campaign. With this leveraged testimony and the fact the Fulton County, Ga., jury pool is filled with Democratic voters, the potential for a guilty verdict against Mr. Trump rises. It is widely assumed any guilty verdict for Mr. Trump would eventually be reversed on appeal because the case won’t hold up without a stacked deck.

By that time, though, Democrats won’t care much because the election will be over.

• The Republicans in the House stopped fighting long enough to come to an agreement and elect a new speaker, Mike Johnson of Louisiana.
Americans rejoiced and took to the streets, chanting, “Who’s that guy!?!”

Mr. Johnson is basically unknown outside of political junkie circles. He’s been on the House Judiciary and Armed Services committees and vice chair of the Republican Conference.

As always, the new speaker enjoyed a lengthy honeymoon period with the press and colleagues across the aisle. It lasted all of a second before name calling and character assassination started. From the AP, “New US House speaker tried to help overturn the 2020 election, raising concerns about the next one.” “House Elects Mike Johnson as Speaker, Embracing a Hard-Right Conservative,” wrote the New York Times. That’s media speak for “He’s a dangerous Mega-MAGA.”

Democrat talking points were that the new speaker is, “ anti-abortion extremist who has pushed to gut Social Security and Medicare and who was one of the main architects of the illegal attempt to overturn the 2020 election...” Bet you didn’t see that coming.

One of the things that helped Mr. Johnson get elected is that he’s fairly obscure, having only been in office for four terms. Which means he really hasn’t had a chance to tick off his fellow GOP members. That was key when a handful of votes could sink a bid for the job. Just ask the three congressman who won the nomination but couldn’t garner enough support for election.

The new speaker has high ratings from conservative organizations, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to accomplish things very different than ousted speaker Kevin McCarthy. His inability to please the “rebel” faction and the necessity of working with Democrats to stave off a government shutdown led to him being booted and three embarrassing weeks of disorganization in the GOP.

Here’s wishing Speaker Johnson the best of luck. With a divided caucus, and a Democratic controlled Senate and White House, he’ll need it.

• Perhaps the ugliest and most unexpected story to watch of late has been the uproar on college campuses over the Israel and Hamas conflict.

The same student bodies which have erupted in outrage over “microagressions” and use of the wrong pronoun, are now savagely going after Jewish students in ways which most observers identify as anti-Semitic.

Campus after campus has seen protesters chant, “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free.” Few dispute that chant is a call for destroying the country of Israel and killing the Jews. Much of the action on social media isn’t even close to that subtle.

Before Oct. 7, you could find schools and the media losing their collective minds when some moron painted a swastika on campus. Then, it was said to be the work of white supremacists and a dire threat and a sign of the rise of an authoritarian right.

Now Jewish student centers are vandalized with the Nazi symbol and the response is much more muted. Something akin to a yawn.
Many of the same people who said words were violence and religious objection to an LGBTQ agenda was a physical threat, now excuse Hamas terrorists slaughtering Israeli civilians, including babies, as justified.

They demand an immediate ceasefire, and stopping U.S. support to Israel.

All of this is incredibly hard to wrap your brain around when so many actively backing Hamas would not fare well under their rule. At many of the protests, you see signs like “Queers for Palestine” or “Globalize the Intifada.”

Members of the Palestinian LGBTQ community routinely seek asylum in Israel to avoid gruesome death. As for global Intifada, the U.S. got a taste of it on Sept. 11, 2001, but, apparently, that is ancient, forgotten history to this bunch.

One reaction which the universities likely weren’t expecting was the number of big money donors who have turned off the cash spigot. Those donors are outraged over the failure to stop anti-Semitic behavior and support for a terrorist organization.

That may force a change, because, for most universities, the loss of big donors is way scarier than terrorists. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Surprises for everyone

(Published October 18, 2023)

Some of us don’t like surprises, not even good ones. Both political parties got a couple recently.

Democrats spent the first part of the week chortling as a Republican splinter group helped them oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
No matter how it has been reported, it was Democrats votes which took down the Speaker.

The final tally was 216-210 with the Democratic party voting 100 percent in favor of removal. Republicans supplied only eight yes votes. All eight of those votes came from a hardline group with the very clear agenda of, well, of something. Maybe.
Rep. Matt Gaetz lead the insurrection, saying he was angry about the deal McCarthy cut with the Dems to avert a government shutdown.

It seems a bit hypocritical to denigrate someone for working with Democrats and then move forward with ouster knowing full well it will require complete Democratic cooperation to succeed.

Rep. Gaetz was reportedly peeved that the compromise deal didn’t include enough spending cuts. This was after he helped sink a GOP measure days earlier which would have slashed discretionary spending.
Many experts were puzzled by what the group of eight nay-sayers hoped to accomplish by booting McCarthy. The sure bet seems to be on publicity. In Rep. Gaetz’s case, he appears to revel in the attention.

None of the posturing changes the fact that both the Senate and White House are under Democratic control. Republicans in the House can ram through whatever dream measures they want, but they’ll die in the Senate. Had McCarthy pushed a bill to appease his critics, you can bet the government would have shut down, and the GOP would have taken the blame.

This is where the GOP doesn’t play the game as well as Democrats. More often than not, Republicans insist on an all or nothing stand, and end up with nothing. The Democratic party recognizes that something is better than nothing and that they can always get more tomorrow.

McCarthy, the first speaker ever booted in this fashion, is hardly blameless for his ouster. He should never have submitted to a rule change which allowed a single member of Congress to file a motion to vacate. That was dumb, but he probably thought he could count on at least some help from the other side of the aisle. Nope.

That’s like cops making arrests when they know the liberal prosecutor is going to refuse to file charges. Or oil companies agreeing to increase investments in production when you know the administration will wreck them as soon as possible.

You can go forward, but it’s going to end badly.

Several prominent Republican lawmakers have announced they are seeking the job of speaker. They want the “one vote to vacate” rule amended, should be a no-brainer.

All in all, the only benefit from the pointless action seems to go to Democrats. There they were taking the heat for a bad economy and an unpopular agenda. Corruption charges and speculation about infirmity surround their president, and prospects for his reelection aren’t stellar. Then, out of nowhere, Republicans in the House decide to give them a boost.

It’s was like being behind in a football game, only to have the other side inexplicably start punching each other in the face.

What a gift. Yet, by the end of the week, their mood went from celebratory to confusion, when President Biden announced that his administration would waive regulations and restart construction on the southern wall.

For those of you who may have forgotten, Democrats hate the border wall with a passion. They said a wall wouldn’t work, and was a colossal waste of money. They said it was inhumane and racist. The used every means possible to stop the construction promoted by Donald Trump.

President Biden once swore as president, “not another foot of wall would be constructed.” The administration was caught auctioning off materials for construction just days before it was reported they would build 20 more miles worth. Confused yet?

Maybe this will help. When asked if the wall would help curb illegal immigration, Mr. Biden said, “No.”

Yet, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement, “there is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States.”

Then, just to clear things up, the president contradicted his DHS secretary. He said the wall was only going up because Congress approved the spending for it back in 2019, and he was helpless to stop it. “I tried to get them to reappropriate -- to redirect the money. They didn’t, they wouldn’t.”

That doesn’t explain why Biden’s administration waived 26 federal laws to allow the construction to start. (A move infuriating environmentalists.)
Or why Biden didn’t just ignore the law funding construction. It’s not like he won’t turn a blind eye when it fits his agenda. For example, his continuing efforts to wipe out student debt, or...well, ignoring millions of people illegally crossing the border.

As confusing as all that is, the truth behind the move is pretty simple. The hardships long endured by border states caused by a flood of illegal crossings, have finally migrated to blue states farther up the line.
All those sanctuary cities and states which smugly sneered “xenophobe” and “racist” when the places facing the crisis asked for solutions are now demanding action from the White House. They are actually admitting the situation is unsustainable.

You could say they’ve been overrun by reality. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Shutdowns

(Published October 4, 2023)

(Editor’s note: This column was written before the last minute vote to fund the government. If you notice there is a continuing pattern here every time this comes up, almost like it is scripted: Republicans and Democrats fight and argue. The press speaks about the dangers of a government shutdown [which is designed to panic the country]. The two sides fight it out until very late. The vote passes at the last minute “narrowly” avoiding a shutdown. Next time the issue comes up, and it will come up, look for the same pattern. It is not a coincidence. - Dale Johnson)

Show of hands: Who’s excited for another government shutdown?

Anyone? No one? Bueller?

Politics is often about gamesmanship, and like any game, you should know the rules and understand the likely outcome before suiting up.

Republicans, more often than not, get it wrong when it comes to shutting down the government.

Democrats have an easier path. Cast as being on the side of the little guy, they can sit back and bemoan the mean old Republicans who are going to stop the flow of government checks.
Public support rarely goes to the party taking a principled stance against wasteful spending and budgetary incompetence. It’s the federal worker worried about their paycheck who gets the sympathy. The GOP consistently underestimates the impact of that.

Still, Republicans, as a whole, understand that the government can’t just continue to spend astronomical amounts of money we don’t have.

This time, hard-liners in the party are demanding Congress ease off the gas and at least feather the brakes.

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz is the leader of the GOP’s internal opposition. He has a small, but firm group of backers who intend to block Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s plans until he meets their demands.
That’s the downside of having control of the House with such a slim margin. Having only a four-vote majority, the speaker needs every vote from his party to move things along. That gives a lot of power to any faction with an agenda of their own.

In the old days, before Congress was so firmly immovable along party lines, this was where bipartisanship would come into play. Once upon a time, there were conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, and large numbers of moderates in both camps. When leadership needed extra votes, they could negotiate to get them from the other party.

For example, when Democrats tried to advance the Civil Rights act of 1964 through Congress, it was dead in the water. The GOP, a nearly irrelevant minority, came out 80% in favor of the act. Without that support, it would never have passed.

That type of cooperation is unheard of today. If House or Senate leaders pushed a bill more popular with the opposition party than their own, they would find themselves out of a job.

The unanswered question in this dust-up is what Mr. Gaetz and company really hope to accomplish. Even if the House approves his every demand, the Senate and White House are controlled by the Democratic Party. They aren’t going to cave when they can throw up their hands and blame Republicans.

Generally, Democrats are able to play a better long game. They recognize what isn’t accomplished today, can be had tomorrow. You don’t have to have the home runs when consecutive singles result in the same score.

Republicans often stand on principle even when it means total defeat. When they feel certain they’re 100% right on a position, it’s tough to get them to accept compromise. Convincing a principled base to accept an incremental move is an incredibly tough sell.

Outside the House, President Joe Biden learned a lesson from the debt ceiling showdown. He started that one boldly announcing there would be no negotiations, and Republicans would just have to give him everything.

Since Mr. McCarthy had declared he was ready to negotiate anywhere, any time, it gave the GOP one of the rare occasions where they held the public high ground. The president hasn’t repeated that blunder.
It’s impossible to predict exactly how this all plays out. However, you can rest assured that there will be further dire warnings about disasters awaiting with a government shutdown. Then, we will or won’t have a shutdown. If so, how long it lasts will depend on how the political winds blow. We’ll see who blinks first and which team plays smartest.

Maybe next time our leaders will actually do their job and pass appropriation bills on time and stop using them for political capital.

And, immediately after, Speaker McCarthy and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries will lead a parade of leprechauns riding unicorns down the national Mall to the Washington Monument where they’ll be greeted by Bigfoot, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa.

Talk about a photo opportunity.

Already engaged in shutdown are the United Auto Workers. They’re on strike against all three U.S. car companies, something which has never happened before.

On the positive side for management, the UAW didn’t shut down everything at once. The union started with a strike at only one plant for each manufacturer. That was just a taste. The shutdowns have now expanded at GM and Stellantis (they own Jeep and Dodge), but not Ford where negotiations are said to be progressing.

Union demands are making this a tough battle for the management...a 40% pay hike, cost of living increases, pensions, and a 32-hour work week.

On top of that, automakers aren’t sure about the UAW’s sincerity after messages were leaked from one union director calling to keep the automakers, “wounded for months.” That is a far cry from UAW President Shawn Fain stating a willingness to meet “24/7 to bargain a deal.”

The union is feeling pretty secure at this point. They’re striking during the term of the self-described, most pro-union president in history. To back that up, Mr. Biden joined them on the picket line, something else unprecedented.

If that isn’t a clear message to management, what would be? In fairness, Mr. Biden owes unions payback. They donate millions to Democratic candidates and causes.

The average new car price is hovering near $50k, but its hard to say how much is attributed to those donations or how much concessions would add. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Triple bad

(Published August 30, 2023)  

Let’s take a look at three very bad, but different recent stories in the news.

• The wildfire which claimed over 100 lives in Maui, Hawaii, is a horrible disaster that shocked the nation.

The flames were fanned by winds of between 60 and 80 mph, leaving people with virtually no warning of what was coming and nowhere to go.
In terms of acreage, it wasn’t much. The 1938 Cloquet and Moose fire in Minnesota claimed 453 lives, but burned 250,000 acres.

The Maui fire destroyed only about 2,200 acres, but the density of buildings the large numbers of people made this one catastrophic. There are still people unaccounted for, and over 2,000 structures, mostly homes, were damaged or lost.
Survivors have harrowing stories, including going into the ocean for hours to escape the flames and many lost everything, including loved ones.

Americans want to help; but, when making a donation, be sure it is with a reliable organization like the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Catholic Charities, or United Way.

As always, there are attempts to score political points, in this case blasting President Biden for not rushing to the scene, which is ridiculous.

People living through a disaster don’t need resources reallocated from relief efforts so the president can be seen handing out water bottles.

There are, after all, still some things which should be above politics.

• Nearly entirely political was the (gasp) indictment of Donald Trump and 18 others in Georgia for “election meddling.” As with all the other indictments against Mr. Trump, this one has the slimy feel of a banana republic move. This action is broad to the point of silly, including 41 counts in a 100-page indictment.

Isn’t it funny that 2-1/2 years later, we’re getting a rash of indictments by Democratic prosecutors whose only goal is to seek “justice.” Oh, and that they’re all timed for trial in the middle of the campaign season. D.A. Fani Willis says she wants to try all 19 defendants together and go to trial within six months.

There are actual perils here for Mr. Trump. Being state charges, if he is convicted, a GOP president, (himself included) couldn’t issue a pardon. Plus, some claim a judge could send him to the hoosegow while awaiting appeal.

A distinguishing feature of this indictment is that it is not being pursued under Georgia’s election laws, but under their Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. You can say what you want about Mr. Trump and his organization’s efforts post-election, but the reach to categorize them as a criminal enterprise reveals more about the prosecution and its motives than the defendants.
Obviously, the goal with the RICO prosecution, is to peel the small-fry away so they turn on the big fish.

In this case, the small-fry include multiple lawyers who were giving legal advice and strategy to the president, something lawyers typically do. One of those charged, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, said, “I think the indictment’s drafter is used to putting a million things into a blender... and seeing if defendants beg for mercy.”

In the very first count, Mr. Trump is charged with falsely declaring victory in a televised speech. If that is illegal, why aren’t Georgia’s own Stacey Abrams and Hillary Clinton in jail?

Mark Meadows, who was chief of staff is charged in Act 6 with asking for the phone numbers of the speaker and leader of the Pennsylvania legislature. I bet he wishes he’d Googled it.

Laughable is Act 22 which charges that, on Dec. 3, Mr. Trump tweeted, “Georgia hearings now on @OANN. Amazing!” Is TV Guide still printed? Are the publishers also indicted?

Most of the counts are about the different “conspirators” talking to elected officials and asking them to act by calling hearings or special sessions and appointing alternate electors.

The defendants will claim that they believed the election was stolen, and they were acting in accordance with the law. At that time, and since, some experts on both sides of the aisle have said the claims Team Trump made were stretchy or even unconstitutional.

Now that the indictment is filed, there are legal experts on both sides of the aisle who say the charges are stretchy or even unconstitutional.
If the case falls apart, will D.A. Willis and her underlings be charged as a criminal conspiracy trying to undermine the 2024 election?
Hey, this could go on forever.

Obviously the real goal of the indictment, like the earlier ones, is to keep the election narrative focused on Mr. Trump and his legal woes. That allows President Biden and his failed policies to escape under the radar.

Making the election all about Donald Trump was a winning strategy in 2020 which Democrats would like to repeat.

• Another story about dubious use of the law took place in Kansas, but made national and international news.
Police raided the office of the Marion County Record and seized the computers and cell phones of the staff. They also went to the publisher’s home which he shared with his 98-year old mother who died the following day.

Freedom of the press is so valued in the U.S. that special protections stemming from the First Amendment protect it. That is why warrants aren’t issued to ransack newspaper offices, and instead subpoenas are issued.

Interestingly, the newspaper had not even run a story which put them in the crosshairs, but had checked up on a tip which they passed along to police.
None of the reason given for the raid come close to justifying it.

The search was Friday reasons and, by the following Wednesday, the county attorney had asked the court to return all the property seized.
This looks like it would be a surefire win for the newspaper if they file a lawsuit. We’ll have to wait on that. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Investigation, or maybe dodge

(Published August 23, 2023)  

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to dig into Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings.

The move garnered plenty of differing reactions. Most Democrats are not overly pleased. They say that the appointment was unnecessary, and was driven by wacked-out Republican conspiracy theories and a desire to cause problems the president.

Others expressed hope the probe would clear up the matter, proving Joe Biden’s innocence once and for all.

Republicans aren’t happy either, for different reasons. First is the choice of U.S. Attorney David Weiss.

Mr. Weiss is already deeply involved in investigating Hunter Biden, and not necessarily in a good way. Under his watchful eye, the sweetheart deal letting Hunter Biden off the hook with a stern “No, no, bad boy,” and not felony charges, was approved. That deal seems to have fallen apart shortly after the judge was able to stop laughing when she read it.

According to whistleblowers, Mr. Weiss’ investigation has been given an intentionally slow pace in order to let the statute of limitations run out on some very serious charges.

It’s also said that investigators where prohibited from asking any questions about possible involvement by Joe Biden. Don’t pester the Big Guy, who is also the big boss.

If that is true, whether Mr. Weiss instituted those moves or only bowed to pressure to enact them, it doesn’t bode well for an honest investigation.

Republicans also see the appointment as a way to derail the ongoing House of Representatives investigation.

That probe is detailing not just shady business dealings, but very serious accusations about Mr. Biden’s actions when he was vice president.

With the approval of a special counsel, you can bet the FBI, IRS, and Justice Department will fight every request for information by the House, citing the ongoing investigation.

From a political standpoint, this move isn’t particularly harmful to President Biden.

He’s been catching a bit of unfavorable press as of late, a very rare occurrence. If the special counsel investigation is shrouded in secrecy with no leaks, the topic will essentially disappear for however long the probe takes.

If that’s anything like the last two big special counsel investigations, don’t expect an outcome until well after the 2024 elections.

No matter what the House committee may turn up, the president’s defenders, which include 90 percent of the media, will marginalize it. “That’s just politics. Wait for the special counsel report. It will be fair.”

Whatever the outcome, there is less than a zero percent chance it will be accepted as fair, honest, or thorough.

Look at the last two big ones. Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats were excited and couldn’t wait for the results, praising Mr. Mueller to high heavens. Republicans called it a witch hunt and undercut the outcome before it was even released.

Then, when Mr. Mueller presented the results, it proved to be almost entirely devoid of Russians.

Republicans declared victory based on those conclusions. Democrats cited convictions which weren’t about collusion and also declared victory.
The same was true but with a 180- degree twist for the John Durham special counsel investigation into the Trump-Russia case.

Republicans couldn’t wait, expecting consequences for those who put their thumb on the scale. Democrats labeled Mr. Durham a dishonest Trumpist. Then the probe resulted in nothing more than a scolding for the FBI and positions flip-flopped.

In the current case, the media keeps pointing out that Mr. Weiss was appointed by Donald Trump and simply retained by the Biden Administration. The inference is that he can’t possibly be going easy on the investigation because he’s actually pro-Trump and therefore inclined to dig hard.

It should be noted Mr. Weiss had been serving as acting U.S. attorney for Delaware when nominated by Mr. Trump and was given the stamp of approval by both Democratic U.S. senators in the heavily blue state. It seems unlikely he was ever a MAGA hat- wearing Trumper.

The news Mr. Weiss would be special counsel caught most Americans by complete surprise. The level of surprise is relative to their interest.

First is that large number of people who pay little or no attention to news and politics. Even after the announcement, they don’t care much.

Among those who take a keen interest it’s still divided. If you only pay attention to the left-leaning media, you’ve been being told all of this is nothing, so yes, this was a shock. That denial dates all the way back to October 2020 when the New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop was quickly labeled a Russian hoax.

Ever since, the media has gone out of its way to underplay any news related to the story, while only very quietly and grudgingly confirming it.

When Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene presented salacious images from the laptop at a hearing, many were shocked because it violated standards. Others were caught off guard because they had no idea the pictures existed.

That isn’t the problem for anyone following media from the right. There, the contents of the laptop have been reported for literally years. Not just the personally embarrassing stuff, but items which seem to point to a massive influence peddling scheme.

The investigation may turn out to be nothing.

But it is hard to belive that a drug- addled son of the vice president was getting big payments from foreign interests for vague reasons if they didn’t think they were getting something in return. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Charge(s)!

(Published August 16, 2023)  

So, Donald Trump has been indicted for the 193rd time.

That number may be off a bit; it’s possible I’ve missed a few. Now that the barrier against criminalizing a political opponent has been broken, the sky is the limit.

Expect an additional 728 indictments by election day 2024...729 if prosecutors can figure how to charge him for taking all the loose french fries in the bottom of the McDonalds sack. Everyone knows those should have been split among everyone who ordered fries. Get the prison cell ready.

That’s being snarky, but this whole, “Let’s charge Trump with something, anything” moment is just too political to be seen as anything else.

Your feelings about Mr. Trump is a likely predictor of what you think about each indictment as it is handed down. Unless you’re a lawyer, in-depth understanding of the law likely has little to do with that position.

You could argue that the indictments are all for serious crimes. Except when you look at how hard the prosecutors have had to twist normal standards to bring charges. Or at the prominent Democrats who walked away after doing similar things. That screams politics.

The precedent-setting first indictments, over Mr. Trump’s payoff of Stormy Daniels, relied on such creative legal maneuvering even the most sympathetic legal expects doubt will hold up. That’s pure politics.

The charges which look the most dangerous for the former president are from the classified documents case. A by-the-book reading of the law seems pretty cut and dried.

Until you look at how the situation has always been handled. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden did the same or worse and got a pass. That’s politics.

That gets to the new indictments related to the January 6 riots. Which by coincidence were announced immediately following the testimony of a former Hunter Biden business partner which was damaging to President Biden. Again, the timing is purely coincidental, just like the other times.

One thing we should all agree on is that the Capitol riot was horrible and an embarrassment to the nation.

Bring forth the evidence that Mr. Trump was involved in the planning or implementation of the riot, and most of his strongest supporters will turn their backs on him. Instead, he is charged with basically “saying some stuff.”

Repeated in the indictment is that he and “co-conspirators” knowingly lied about having lost the election.

If lying were actually a crime, we’d have to empty the prisons to make room for politicians.

Still, the left is absolutely ecstatic. If you watched cable news, you saw a celebration, rather than news coverage. This is exactly what they’ve been demanding for years.

The top charge is conspiracy to defraud the United States. The problem with using that is that earlier this year, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed it means something else.

In that decision the court said the federal statutes are only about money and property. There was also a 7-2 decision in 1987 striking down a case trying to expand that restriction to include “lawful government functions.”

Filing in spite of those decisions shows just how badly Special Counsel Jack Smith wants to get Mr. Trump in court in Washington, D.C., where he can most easily find an unfriendly judge and jury. That screams politics.

The basis of all the new charges lean heavily on “Trump lied.” It will be difficult to prove in court that he was fibbing and not just believing one set of advisors over another. Even today, Mr. Trump maintains the election was stolen. What is now called “the big lie,” he calls the truth.

The former president is not alone pushing a “we was robbed” narrative.

Hillary Clinton still says that Donald Trump was an “illegitimate president” and that the 2016 election was stolen by Russia. Most of that claim is based on a dossier her campaign invented as a dirty trick.
The comments by her and her “co-conspirators” all over the airwaves resulted in Inauguration Day 2017 riots in D.C., which injured multiple police officers and resulted in 217 arrests. Other violent protests were reported around the country. No charges were even contemplated against Mrs. Clinton for her part in stirring up the masses, because it would have been stupid.

Donald J. Trump is by no means perfect. There are a large number of Americans who only supported his policies and cringed at his behavior. Still, he isn’t wrong when he says his opponents will do anything to get him, and they can see that.

Being the GOP front-runner has made the concentrated no-holds-barred effort to destroy him more urgent.
Two things about this pursuit of Mr. Trump can’t be ignored. One now, one which will take place in the future.

First, these indictments are really helping Mr. Trump with his base. He joked, “We need one more indictment to close out this election.” His lead in the polls looks unstoppable, which is exactly what some top Democrats want. They see him as the one candidate Joe Biden is sure to defeat.

It’s a dangerous strategy, one that failed in 2016 when they thought the same thing. It’s reported Barack Obama recently warned President Biden about the danger of underestimating Mr. Trump. He was right to see a potential for history to repeat.

The problem for the future is that there is no way this stops whenever Mr. Trump leaves the scene. Now that using the law as a political tool has happened, it will continue.
Anyone who imagines Joe Biden won’t be charged with influence peddling if he leaves office for a GOP administration is dreaming.

It’s a dangerous path we’re on, right up there with sowing doubt in our election system.
It’s likely too late to turn back. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Back to the middle…or not

(Published June 21, 2023)  

Chris Licht has left CNN “after a brief and tumultuous tenure.” That’s how the network underplayed it.

In actuality, the man appears to have been reviled within the organization for having the audacity to do the job for which he was hired. He never had a chance.

Mr. Licht was supposed to pull CNN away from the far left of politics and more toward the middle. Which made him as popular there as a serial arsonist at a firefighters convention.
He was brought onboard about a year ago and was doomed from the start because he was saddled with the Herculean project while retaining the current staff, not by cleaning house.

It worked about like you’d imagine. Think Donald Trump vs. the federal bureaucracy...serious resistance.

Mr. Licht, the chairman and CEO, was met with open hostility by the staff who continually leaked negative stories to other media. Revenue shrank, and viewers who tuned in for their needed leftist fix fled in droves.

Mr. Licht tried. He ousted Don Lemon and Brian Stelter.

Apparently, he also wrote endless memos to staff about aiming for the middle of the road. That didn’t work because the people who worked for him thought they were already there. And, also, that they were on a mission to protect democracy from a super dangerous right wing threat. Asking to back off of that was asking them to abandon a crusade.

Coverage of Mr. Licht’s departure cited a recent town hall with Donald Trump as the final straw that forced his ouster.

Good heavens! It was shocking a news network would cover the leading Republican presidential candidate. The “middle-of-the-road-protectors-of-democracy” on the staff weren’t having it.

A 15,000 word hit piece on the embattled CEO was published in the Atlantic just days before his ouster. Anonymous staff members were given a chance to vent about the boss; and, unsurprisingly, they let him have it.

Mr. Licht may have failed, but there is reason to hope that the bosses at CNN will keep trying to bring the network back to the center. There is a need for such a network.

It would be nice to see a television news organization at least try to be objective.

What passes for journalism today is closer to being the propaganda arm of one of the two parties, and the stories are designed to rile up the faithful.

As an old newspaper guy who came of age in the excitement about journalism following Watergate, it is sad to see how far the standards have slipped.

“Bombshells” with no confirmation except one confidential source. Complete acceptance and tunnel vision that favors one party over another. The notion that the times we live in are too perilous to give a fair hearing to another point of view. None of that looks like the journalism of just a few years ago. Then the motto essentially, “trust nobody in power.”

Imagine the reaction of the press 40 years ago if credible sources claimed the sitting president had been involved in shady financial practices while serving as vice President. There would have been a stampede to get the facts.

Today, that very claim gathers only very minor attention, more often than not, just to write it off as ridiculous.

Today, it is often nearly impossible to tell the difference between what is intended as a news story and what is an opinion piece. Labels to that effect are rare, and bias is front and center.

Right until the end, Mr. Lemon, who hosted a show as far to the left as Sean Hannity’s is to the right, contended he was actually a journalist.

“I’m not doing advocacy. I’m telling the truth,” he told the National Press Club last year. Lemon was either delusional or flat-out lying, but it fits the current operational mold.
The current playbook, find a topic which advances your side’s big-picture narrative; then, beat it into the ground. Don’t forget to bring on the screaming roundtable panelists and the “expert” guests.

Any moderately reasonable person who tunes into CNN’s prime time shows or watches their news coverage doesn’t have to look for bias; it slaps them in the face. The same is true everywhere else.
If you were to consume a bunch of left wing media, and an equal amount on the right, you could compare where they overlap. Those areas can reasonably be assumed to be accurate. But, that is a whole lot of work.

That’s why it seems like there would be a market for a middle-of-the- road news outlet, just covering the events of the day. Straight news with civil discussion on the panels. The first person who screams gets their mic cut off.

It’s unlikely, because partisanship is what sells; just don’t admit to it. The smart bet is to expect more of the same. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - It sure looks like politics

(Published June 14, 2023)  

I try to stay reasonably open minded, but not enough my brain can fall out.

That being said, it is going to require a lot of proof to convince me indictments against former President Donald Trump aren’t primarily the justice system being used as a political weapon.

Mr. Trump has now been indicted by a federal grand jury over mishandling of classified documents. That follows the earlier indictment in New York over hush money paid to a porn actress, a case so dubious that, for years, no prosecutor wanted to touch it.

When it comes to the documents indictment, there is little doubt a case could be filed. No one, not even the former president, is arguing there weren’t classified documents at Mar-A-Lago. It just isn’t ever done.

Side note, they were stored in a bathroom, even after all the fuss about Hillary Clinton keeping her unauthorized server in one. That is either Mr. Trump being clueless of the optics, or sticking his finger in the eye of his opponents. You be the judge.

Most people say they aren’t in favor of the mighty getting special privileges. They also don’t want to see someone unfairly singled out.
The appearance here: a case only being pursued mostly because it involves Mr. Trump.

Where are the charges being brought against others who have done the same, including the sitting president?
We all know that’s not about to happen.

Also, maybe it’s purely an amazing coincidence, but it sure is convenient the indictment came down on the same day Republicans in the House were finally able to pry damaging documents from the FBI. Those allege Joe Biden had accepted a five million dollar bribe while serving as vice president.

Who knows if there is any truth to it, but it was the number one story of the day and gaining steam. Suddenly the Trump indictment broke; and, whoosh, it disappeared.

It’s funny how that can happen.

Looking back, indeed, Mr. Trump had documents which the National Archives and Records Administration wanted back. Attorneys were grinding away at the details, and it would probably have been resolved eventually. Then, instead of working to move them to a location which both sides could agree on, the NARA sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department.

And, strangely, in the midst of all the other important things they have to focus on, the DOJ immediately started an investigation which ended with 30 agents on a raid of Mar-a-Lago.

For comparison, President Biden also had bunches of classified documents from when he was V.P. and even back to his Senate days.

They were stashed in multiple unsecured sites, including his garage next to his classic Corvette.

If you recall a raid where heavily armed Feds seized those documents, see a doctor, because it never happened. Instead, following the accepted practice: A return was negotiated while the matter was carefully kept under a veil of secrecy. It stayed out of the public eye for weeks, unlike the Mar-A-Lago situation which was, surprise, immediately leaked and made big headlines.

In the past, something like a prominent U.S. politician having documents they shouldn’t, has remained only juicy political fodder. It was fodder for endless debate about what the law actually means, and what punishment should be meted out.

It always stopped with talking, because nobody in law enforcement wanted to be seen as a political stooge, especially not if that could result in claims of election interference.

FBI Director James Comey famously twisted himself into a pretzel to prevent presidential candidate Hillary Clinton from being charged over illegal handling of classified documents. (Then he used the phony Steele dossier to spy on the Trump campaign, but that’s a different story of abuse.)

With the never ending desire to finally “get Trump” all of the long established standards have been dumped.

Anyone who thinks these tactics would stop if only Mr. Trump would go away is wacko. Once the playbook has been successful, you can count on it being followed over and over again.

Which is a trap that Democrats have set for themselves. When the agreed-upon standards are discarded, everybody will play by the new rules.

That lesson should have been drilled home when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used the “nuclear option” to shrink the number of “yes” votes required for approving judges from 60 to 51. New leader Mitch McConnell used that precedent in the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices, shocking and outraging his Democratic colleagues. They never saw it coming, but they should have.

The same goes here. If there aren’t Republican prosecutors looking for ways to bring President Biden up on charges in their jurisdictions the minute they can, it would be astonishing.

The escalation makes all of this dangerous. For the country to function, the American people have to consent to be governed. If the perception becomes widespread that those in power will twist the law to fit their political will, that consent will fade.

We’ve seen other apparently political actions, like when the FBI investigated parents at school board meeting as terrorists. Or, when an IRS agent shows up at the home of a journalist while he testified before Congress about the weaponization of government. It should be a matter of real concern.

It also should stop immediately. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Everything old is old again

(Published May 3, 2023)  

It’s official, President Joe Biden has officially announced he will be seeking a second term. That didn’t surprise anyone since everybody in the administration had been saying he would for months.

Good for him; it’s always nice to see a man of his advanced years still have ambition.

Let’s hope he’s actually capable of fulfilling the duties. That seems to be an open question today. Imagine what he’ll be like five years from now.

Honestly, every American should want their president, no matter which party they are from, to be physically and mentally vigorous enough to perform the duties well.

We may not always (often) agree on the policies, but you want to know the commander-in-chief is ready to act on a moment’s notice to defend the country, and that the chief executive is actually the one making the big decisions, and not some nameless, unelected staffers.

Mr. Biden doesn’t really project an aura of vitality. If your only source of news is the liberal media, you may not notice it. They do a good job of covering for him. If you frequent the right wing channels, its the polar opposite, and he is the senile-grumpy-get-off-my-lawn-old-man-in-chief.

The most likely answer is something in between. The president’s staff does their best to keep him out of situations with potential for embarrassment. They keep his hours to a minimum, presumably so that he is rested and ready to take action. To be fair, you make the best of what you’ve got to work with. If you’re a sprinter, avoid marathons.

If you don’t believe Mr. Biden is able to function at all, think back to every time it’s been predicted he would fall apart and reveal himself to be completely incapable. Somehow, he always pulls through. Having the bar set really low actually helps make that possible.

People who don’t think the president’s staff is working overtime to keep him from bumbling around, haven’t been paying attention.

Just last week there was a minor scandal when it was revealed Mr. Biden wasn’t just randomly calling on reporters at a press conference. Cameras caught the cheat sheet he was using which had the name and picture of the reporter he was to call on, and the question she would ask. That’s light years from Jim Acosta going bare knuckles with Donald Trump.

Aside from heavily managed moments, the president frequently exhibits blunders big and small. That includes wandering around lost on stage after speeches, forgetting he just spent a week in Ireland, and all the sentences that ramble and fade to nothingness.

The man has what is likely the toughest job in the world. It takes a lot out of anyone who holds the office. People make a huge deal about all the days presidents take off. That’s nonsense; there is no such thing as a day off with that job.

A president may be on the golf course, but he started the day with a classified briefing, and a few feet away is an aide with “the football” with everything needed to launch a nuclear attack. The job is 24/7.
Look at pictures of the prior presidents who served eight years. The difference between taking and leaving office is stark.

Which goes back to the harsh reality of the president’s age. We all know people in their 80s and 90s who look and act decades younger. Unfortunately Mr. Biden doesn’t project that. He looks every bit of his 80 years, the oldest president in history.

Mr. Trump, the Republican front runner, is only four years younger. On election day 2024, those two men would be a combined 158 years old. By comparison, Barack Obama is still only 61. Years after their terms, both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are 76.

Which begs the question of why old politicians want so badly to stay in power, and why do we vote to keep them there. For those of us who dream of retirement while we’re still young enough to enjoy it, that is baffling. The reason seems to be as much about holding onto power, personally and for the party, as anything else.

Plus, it’s easier for the golden oldies. Those old politicians have famous names, which go a long way toward reeling in the votes. Elections are a steep climb for challengers, and generally a more mild slope for incumbents. That helps allow Nancy Pelosi to hang onto her party’s leadership in the House until the age of 82, only giving it up when her party lost the majority. Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, is 81. Majority leader Chuck Schumer is a pup by comparison at 72.

There is also poor Dianne Feinstein, at 89, and rumored to be cognizantly unable to perform her duties.

(The opposite is true when selecting Supreme Court justices, who seem to get younger with every selection. If the trend there continues, expect to see justices chosen out of middle school.)

Not everyone on the scene is an octogenarian. Nikki Haley, a GOP presidential candidate, seems to actually be angling for Mr. Trump’s V.P. spot. She’s only 51, or as Don Lemon famously put it, “past her prime”.

And, of course, Vice President Kamala Harris is only 58 and a grand orator: “So I think it's very important, as you have heard from so many incredible leaders for us at every moment in time and certainly this one, to see the moment in time in which we exist and are present, and to be able to contextualize it, to understand where we exist in the history and in the moment as it relates not only to the past but the future.”

That word salad only sounds like someone with dementia. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Lots of money

(Published April 26, 2023)  

Fox News is shelling out major bucks to settle the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit.

The total, $787,500,000, is the largest settlement of that type ever. Doesn’t matter how rich your are, it’s a lot of money. Rupert Murdoch probably won’t be fishing around in the couch cushions to get it, but still.

However, it is significantly less than the $1.6 billion originally sought in the lawsuit.

Dominion had claimed that Fox, including its executives, journalists, on-air personalities, and guests, had aired false accusations about their voting machines which hurt the company’s business and reputation.

Immediately after the 2020 election when president Donald Trump started making claims that the election was stolen, Fox gave air time to claims that Dominion machines were used to change the intent of votes.

Some of those claims and the people making them came off as pretty far out there, yet a large number of people across the country still believe it to this day.

The lawsuit opened up a lot of Fox documents, including e-mails, which were never intended for public consumption. Some of them looked like they would be really damning when presented to a jury. Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, the network’s three prime-time hosts, all expressed opinions privately which differed from their on-air segments.

There was also evidence that the network presented the claims not because they thought they were true, but to keep from losing viewers.

If proven openly in court, that would damage Fox’s credibility much more than any settlement could.

The worry about ticking off viewers was legitimate after election night when their experts called Arizona for Joe Biden way early, sparking anger.

The rest of the media, which has hated Fox since they broke their liberal choke-hold on the news business, jumped on this case and couldn’t devote enough time or space to it.

According to them, the trial would be a slam dunk loss for Fox News, and it was purely a matter of how much money they would be forced to pay.

A series of rulings by the judge didn’t do anything to dissuade that argument. His every action seemed to be unfavorable to the defense.

After the settlement, reports said Fox’s lawyers didn’t share the pessimism. They were said to be confident of an aquittal, if not in the trial, then on appeal, even if it meant going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Looming over the Dominion suit was the pending $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit by Smartmatic, another voting machine company. It seems likely now that Fox will make every effort to reach an agreement there as well. Any bets on Smartmatic playing hardball for a larger payoff?

Like any lawsuit, this was never an absolute given, no matter what they were saying on MSNBC.

Dominion needed to not only prove Fox knew the information was false, but they acted with malice. That is a very high bar in the legal system.

The network claimed all along that they were simply airing allegations being made by the president’s team on a national issue. That actually could have been a successful defense.

Would it have been? We’ll never know. Fox executives apparently didn’t feel like rolling the dice on an $800 billion gamble.

Dominion obviously felt the same way. They said what they wanted was compensation and an apology. They got about half of the first, and none of the second.

Here is Fox’s official statement: “We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”
That isn’t exactly groveling.

One other result of the settlement is that it crushed the dreams of the liberal cable channels.

They had envisioned hours of coverage of every juicy detail, with accompanying boosts in ratings and more ad dollars. Pity all the poor contributing panelists missing out on those paychecks.

The decision to settle a big lawsuit isn’t exactly a first for Mr. Murdoch. Over the years, his companies have paid out more than $2 billion to make lawsuits go away. (Most famous was the e-mails and phone hacking scandal involving his UK tabloids.)

Fox is far from alone either. Big media companies often pay up to avoid the chance of a much bigger loss and an ugly trial.

Sometimes you know the number, like ABC shelling out $177 million over the “pink slime” beef additive suit a few years back. Sometimes you don’t, like NBC and CNN’s payouts to Covington kid Nick Sandman.

There is a real problem in today’s media landscape. It seems many of the decisions being reached in newsrooms have more to do with preaching to the choir than finding truth.
You could safely bet money that the decision to report every bat-excrement-crazy “scoop” about Mr. Trump has had more to do with a desire for it to be true than actual solid fact.
Maybe this case will shake up the big media companies to make them take a harder look at their reporting, instead of just presenting what they think their audience will like.
Don’t bet on that though. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - News vs. opinion

(Published April 12, 2023)  

The lines between news and opinion in American media get more blurred for consumers every day.

Not long ago, it wasn’t difficult to know what was presented was either opinion or straight reporting. That was a simple process, because it was clearly labeled. That still survives in places. When you started reading this column you knew it was opinion. In most publications, it appears on an Opinion or Editorial page. If not, there is a header which alerts the reader that it is some guy mouthing off. You may agree or disagree, but you’ll never confuse it for straight news reporting.

Knowing what you’ve encountered makes a great deal of difference. Suppose you come across a headline, “Governor discovered to be thief.” Your take on the article will vary enormously depending on if it the product of a team of unbiased investigative journalists or the conclusion of a writer armed mostly with a point of view. Because of the way media now works, that distinction has disappeared almost entirely. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to know if what is put in front of us is supposed to be news or opinion. You see it time after time in the “unbiased” corporate media. Sometimes it’s subtle like the choice of words.

For example Democratic action is generally described in positive terms. Dems advance ideas with unity; they stand up to the opposition. No matter how far to the left side of the political spectrum they may be, the words paint a picture of trustworthiness, compassion, and rationality.

Republicans get sterner coverage. They’re said to proceed blindly in lockstep, and they pounce on opponents to sow dissent. In fact, Republicans are said to pounce so often they should switch symbols from elephant to tiger. The GOP is usually portrayed as angry, perhaps dangerous, or even unhinged.

Unconscious bias plays some role. The vast majority of journalists are left of center, most quite a ways to the left. When 95% of the scribes are pulling for one team, there shouldn’t be a huge shock when a side is praised and one is savaged. That bias, not always unconscious, explains why right wing protests are all a threat to democracy, while left wing ones, even riots, are always “mostly peaceful.”
Today’s most honest media puts their bias out on a shingle. They are dedicated to one point of view and make no bones about it.

Those companies harken back to the early days when media was newspapers, and they were basically the public relations arm for a prefered political party. You couldn’t miss who they were cheering for; it was often right in the name of the publication.

A reader could almost always get a good idea what was really going on by reading two opposing publications. Whatever was common ground was likely accurate.
You can experience that today by going to Axios, or Slate and their brethren, and then Breitbart News or The Federalist and the like. Their takes on any topic of the day will be wildly different. Even if you don’t achieve factual clarity, you’ll at least know what each side is thinking. And, if you visit one of those sites and don’t figure out in just a few seconds which team they are rooting for, the fault lies with you.

However, that isn’t how most people consume news. Usually, it is pushed forward by an algorithm which does its best to give you more of the same. That way, the consumer stays engaged and in contact with the advertisers. Through that process, without any conscious effort, a person can end up in a bubble which reflects their preferred viewpoint with no glimpse that any other even exists. You never realize you’re being fed a diet of left or right.

If you want to test how that works, try clicking on a couple of stories about a topic you care nothing about. Soon, you’ll have an endless supply of the same headed your way.
All of the fog about opinion and news is compounded by a recent move by journalists to switch from at least attempting to be unbiased, to activism.

It had been a gradual change, but took off like a rocket because of Donald Trump. Before he was elected, a New York Times columnist claimed that the candidate was so dangerous, reporters should throw off the standards of objectivity. Vast numbers adopted that approach, and the willingness to accept any negative claim about him was soon prevalent in reporting.

The “unbiased” approach was always flawed, but tossing it out while attempting to camouflage its demise is worse. This move is most apparent in left wing journalism’s war on “both-side-ism”.
It has been standard procedure for a long time for journalists covering a story to get both sides of an issue.

With the growing certainty that there really is really only one side to an issue, presenting both is seen as not only unnecessary, but a disservice or even dangerous.
This change is most prominent in politics and, the ongoing culture war, but it isn’t limited to just there.

The COVID-19 pandemic proved just how far the practice has advanced. For example, while the truth about the origins has always been in question, the media was rock solid behind the sanctioned line that it occurred naturally.

Wondering if the virus could have possibly been created in a Wuhan coronavirus lab was immediately shut down as “a debunked conspiracy theory.”
That closed minded approach and willingness to stump blindly for one side has caused even more damage to the reputation of journalism, something the entire profession can ill afford. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Now that’s interesting

(Published March 22, 2023)  

There’s an ironic old line, “May you live in interesting times.” Some say it’s a blessing, others a curse.

Your interpretation may depend on just how interesting the times are.

There is a lot of worry about the banking sector after the failure of two high-profile institutions. That’s interesting, sure, and also terrifying.

The FDIC was created to keep depositors from losing everything the way they once did when a bank failed. Deposits are insured up to $250,000. That’s good enough for most folks. Not so in this situation.
When Silicon Valley Bank collapsed, followed two days later by Signature Bank, it was revealed that 90% of deposits in both were above that threshold. Obviously, they weren’t focused on working class stiffs with a few thousand in a savings account.

Some of their practices had more to do with catering to the sensibilities of their wealthy depositors than sound business practices.

The failures had the big brains debating the right and wrong moves while anxiously awaiting whatever was next. President Joe Biden quickly stepped in and announced the government would guarantee all deposits in the two banks.

That move wasn’t met with universal praise. The FDIC limit is there for multiple reasons. One is to keep banks (at the behest of their investors) from getting involved in stupid practices.

Even though your local bank is solid, safe, and well run, they’ll end up getting punished anyway, because the guaranteed result of a scare like this is politicians enacting more regulations.

It’s easy to say that the Biden Administration should have stayed out and let the customers take their lumps. Maybe that’s true, but without a crystal ball it’s impossible to know what would have happened to the economy.

However informed and enlightened we may be, people are still susceptible to herd mentality. One or two failures can lead to a domino effect and what used to be called a “panic”.

You only need to look as far back as the 2008 financial crisis to see that a disaster for the big boys ends up being bad times for the little guy.

One story over the weekend reported that as many as 200 banks are at risk because the assets they hold have dropped in value due to high interest rates. If large numbers of depositors decide to suddenly withdraw their money, that could be a problem. Let’s hope cool heads prevail.

If all of that doesn’t make for interesting enough times, Donald Trump announced that he expects to be arrested some time this week. Interesting, baffling, annoying, you pick.

First, as always, it’s impossible to know if Mr. Trump has actual information for this, or he’s just irritated at what’s happening with the drawn-out investigation. Ether is plausible.

There is no doubt that Mr. Trump has been targeted for prosecution since he emerged as a serious threat to the old-school way of politics.

As far back as 2016, there has been serious discussion about charging him with something...anything. Each new outrage was the one which was going to land Mr. Trump in jail. It’s been something of a cottage industry.

This case, paying a porn actress to sign a non-disclosure agreement about an affair, was headline news long ago.

But the investigation, in what the Washington Post called a “zombie case,” never stopped. The determination to keep digging, no matter how long it took, in order to find anything to bring charges for, gives credence to those who say it’s a political attack of the banana republic variety.

There may be questions about motivation, but one thing is certain. Two groups really, really want to see Donald Trump as the GOP presidential nominee in 2024. The Republicans who still love him, as well as Democrats and the liberal media.

Even if Mr. Trump is charged as he expects, and if conviction could prevent him from serving, there is zero chance this gets through the courts before the presidential campaign is over.

While charges might dissuade some Republican voters from supporting him in the primary, most of those people got off the band wagon long ago. Other GOP voters would be strengthened in their resolve due to what will be seen as using the justice system for overtly political purposes.

The other side desperately hopes he is the GOP candidate. Mr. Biden himself makes no bones about wanting Mr. Trump to be the one he faces for reelection.

Confronted with pushback on inflation and overall leftist policies, the Democratic Party leadership thinks Donald Trump is the one candidate who surely lets them hold the White House.

Hey, when your candidate has terrible approval ratings, you want to run him against somebody whose numbers are even worse.

The left wing media also, not so secretly, hopes for the return of Mr. Trump. Their ratings and revenue plummeted after he left office. As rabidly negative as they are about him, hating him lined their pockets. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Yet another interesting event was Wellesley College students passing a resolution to admit transgender men.

The school currently admits only “cis, trans, and nonbinary” women. So, under the resolution, only “cis men” would be excluded. Huh?

But, if, as the activists say, trans women are women and trans men are men, how then could the school justify excluding anyone?

Since you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and I don’t have one, let’s leave it at that for now.

It’s too darned interesting. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Conspiracy no more?

(Published March 8, 2023)  

It’s become more and more clear that a great deal of the reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic was purely tribal.

The idea that the virus could have escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, was once branded as a racist conspiracy theory. Now, we are finding out that reasonable people, including (gasp) scientists, thought it was a possibility all along.

The U.S. Energy Department now says the pandemic likely started with a laboratory leak, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

That department is the agency which oversees the national laboratories doing serious research on things you really don’t want getting loose in the world. Which makes them experts on the topic.

The story says they have “low confidence” on the lab origin theory. NPR is quick to point out that four other intelligence agencies still think the virus evolved naturally. Those agencies have “low confidence” in that theory; So, nobody is 100% convinced.

The FBI, with their microbiologists and immunologists supported by the National Bioforensic Analysis Center, has “moderate confidence” in the lab theory and said so a while back. That apparently makes them the most sure.

All this follows years of the very idea of a lab leak being strictly forbidden under threat of labeling as a racist, mouth-breathing dirtbag.

Early in the pandemic, the question arose that, since the outbreak originated in Wuhan and there is a facility in that city to study such viruses, couldn’t a lab leak be a possibility.

That type of speculation is logical.

If you find a puddle of water in front of the kitchen sink, you investigate. It could be a broken pipe. But, maybe the drain is leaking, or someone splashed it there. You don’t just decide it’s the pipe, shut off the water to the house, and call a plumber.

Yet, the very idea that COVID-19 could have come from the Wuhan Institute of Virology wasn’t just dismissed, it was attacked as evil. Those who even pondered the idea were labeled racist crackpots hooked on a “discredited conspiracy theory.”

The only origin acceptable was the one where bats gave it to some exotic critter which ended up in a “wet market,” only to be consumed, but not before spreading the virus to humans.

That was the path they traced backward to discover the outbreak of the SARS epidemic in 2002 so it’s hardly dumb to give it credence.

Yet, no conclusive origin has been found, leaving the door wide open. And, some people haven’t wanted to hear a lab in China could be involved.

Let’s be clear; there are folks on opposite ends of the coronavirus pandemic debate who are complete whack jobs. They firmly believe only what they believe and no amount of facts or argument will move them one iota.

The majority of the U.S. people fall well in between the polar opposites. Back when it started, the average person wanted to do the right thing, and had faith in what experts said.

A funny thing happened along the way. It became obvious that there was a lot of absolute certainty about what must and shouldn’t be done pertaining to a virus with a lot of unknowns.

People could see with their own eyes that the experts were often wrong. You remember the highlights. Two weeks to slow the spread...disinfect every will be years before there is a vaccine...the vaccine will make you immune. And on and on.

Now, there is nothing shameful about not knowing how to handle a virus the world has never seen before. But they didn’t say “We don’t know, but we think this is the safest approach.”
It quickly became, “We absolutely have the answers; and, if you don’t obey, you will kill people.”

Quickly, the divisions split along Red and Blue lines, with the media calling the balls and strikes.

It didn’t end with the idea that a lab leak was ridiculous; it grew from there. For example, New York with stringent lockdown was said to be doing it right, while Florida which quickly reopened was literally killing people.

The number of pro-lockdown leaders caught vacationing in sunny Florida proved what they actually thought.

Now, even some of those who most loudly blasted the idea of a lab leak are admitting they may have refused to consider the possibility because Donald Trump suggested it.

That was the pattern all through his presidency, but it was never more obvious than during the pandemic months of his term.

When he mentioned a common anti-malarial drug being tested by some doctors, the overwrought response was that people were dying by ingesting, fish tank cleaner with a similar name.

When he talked about ivermectin as having possibilities, the talking point was that it’s a horse dewormer.

Neither drug turned out to be the cure-all for COVID-19.

At the time, nobody knew that, and reasonable people were giving them a look. Trump’s encouragement became the kiss of death to rational discussion.
Take a look at the people who said they wouldn’t trust a vaccine approved by the Trump administration.

Then, follow how that entire debate took a 180 if you want to see tribal behavior.

So, now it’s safe to admit sloppy lab procedures could have had a hand in unleashing COVID-19 and have a reasonable discussion of the idea.

Maybe we’ll eventually be able to take a serious look at which moves to combat the virus were effective, which were a waste of time, and which were purely political.
Just don’t expect to see that anytime soon, though. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - It’s alien to me

(Published February 22, 2023)  

China floated an absolutely enormous balloon over the United States earlier this month and now we’re seen under reaction, over reaction and exciting conspiracy theories.
It was admittedly shocking that a balloon with a payload about the size of your average fast-food hangout dangling beneath could take a leisurely tour across Alaska, Canada, and then diagonally across the U.S.

Most shocking: In the age of satellites which are reported to be able to read a license plate from space, balloons are still a thing for spying. Who’d a thunk it? Next we’ll find out that all the really super secret spies actually do play baccarat and demand their martinis shaken, not stirred.

Balloons were once more front of mind. They were the main way to conduct high-altitude scientific research or study weather. If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember seeing a weather balloon floating across the sky. My folks once found a downed one, with the instructions for sending the instrument package back.

More secret, were the projects run for military purposes, like Operation Mogul which was developed to help keep an eye on nuclear advancements in the Soviet Union. A crashed balloon from that top secret project in 1947 is said to have been the debris found at Roswell, N.M.

A report went out that it was a crashed flying saucer. Then, it was amended to be a downed weather ballon, not a top secret one, just the regular kind.

That announcement and denial really lit a fire under UFO conspiracy theorists.

Rampant through the 1960s UFO craze was the go-to explantation: the sightings were weather balloons. This became shorthand for ridiculus government cover up and an insult to the intelligence of the American populace.

A similar situation seems to be playing out now.

Hot on the heels of shooting down China’s big balloon, the Air Force blasted three more objects from the sky.

Then they said they didn’t really know what they were. Followed immediately by speculation about UFOs.
President Joe Biden has taken a lot of heat for under-reacting and not downing the big China balloon much earlier than was done.

Depending of who is making the claim, this slow reaction was due to:
1. Prudence.
2. Cowardice/incompetence.
3. Being a puppet of the Chinese regime.
4. Thinking that the risk of what the PRC might learn did not outweigh the risk of squishing someone with essentially the world’s largest cartoon anvil.
I’d like to think it was the fourth option. Plus, it was made by China, so it’s hard to say what was in the thing.
It could have been powered by a nuclear reactor...while incubating the next bat virus. Hey, nobody wants that dumped in their backyard.

Since the uproar got so huge, everybody involved became embarrassed and decided they needed to take it up a notch to show they’re now really alert.

We’re all familiar with how this works. Like the wonderful safe feeling of walking barefoot through an airport detector while watching grandmas and toddlers being patted down.
This time around, to prove we’d never be caught off guard again, they cranked up the sensitivity on the radar all the way to an 11.

And, holy turns out there are all kinds of stuff out there which wasn’t being detected on the old radar settings.

Since nobody wanted to be accused of failing to take action the fighters were scrambled, and three additional objects shot down. With $400,000 Sidewinder missiles. Except for the one that missed the first time so it took two. This is the budget equivalent of killing a spider on your wall by hitting it with your new Ford F450 dually.
At that point, the general in charge of U.S. airspace lit up all the UFO conspiracy folks in a big way.

When asked if the objects might be of extraterrestrial origin, he didn’t snicker and say, “Maybe they’re from Uranus.”

Instead he answered, “I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven’t ruled out anything.”
Also, the new name for UFOs, unidentified anomalous phenomena or UAP is terrible. Come on man!

While not as much fun as thinking we just blasted E.T. and maybe started an interstellar war, there is a much more likely explanation for the stuff turning up with the new radar settings. There’s just a lot of stuff floating around out there that has been (snicker) flying under the radar.

According to experts there are nearly 1,000 balloons released daily worldwide for meteorological study alone.

Additionally, the shapes, altitudes and payloads of the three bogeys shot down match those of common pico balloons, which are mylar balloons with trackers and a small scientific instrument cluster. In fact, a group with the sinister sounding name, the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade, reports theirs went dark just after circling the globe seven times.

It seems it was last reported to be near where one of the unidentified objects was shot down.

The founder of a company that makes these balloons for hobbyists said he tried to contact the military to fill them in, but got “the runaround.”
He added, “And they’re going to look not too intelligent to be shooting them down.”

At least he claimed to be a California man.

Could his origins be a little farther than light years? - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Admitting it

(Published February 8, 2023)  

It’s likely you’ve been in the situation of witnessing somebody finally admitting a truth that has long been obvious to everyone else.

You know what I’m talking about. The person denies the obvious facts for a long time, maybe years. Then, when they finally own up, you’re left wondering what took so darn long.

We’ve just seen two recent examples of that situation play out in the national forum; the ownership of Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the end of the COVID-19 emergency.

First, a bit of history on Mr. Biden’s computer. Just weeks before the 2020 presidential election, the New York Post published a story which detailed possible corrupt dealings overseas gleaned from its hard drive.

The information came from a laptop brought in for repair to a Delaware computer shop and abandoned. The shop owner contacted the FBI when he noticed files he thought were national security concerns and even money laundering evidence.

Nearly a year after the FBI took the laptop, Rudi Giuliani was given a copy and shared the contents with the Post. What followed was a story about Mr. Biden using his father’s name to swing shady business deals. The story also tied candidate Joe Biden to the deals. Ten percent for the Big Guy.

In short, the perfect October surprise. Except, instead of covering it, nearly the entire media went on defense for the Biden campaign. Instead of investigating the story, they simply disputed it.

The tech giants went even farther, burying or blocking access to the article. Twitter went so far as to lock the Post’s account.

Just five days after the story broke, 51 former intelligence officials issued an open later stating the laptop “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
That was spun to be outright proof the laptop was fake and the story essentially vanished from everything except conservative media.

After the election was safely over and won by Joe Biden, the media began to wade ever so slowly into the facts of the case. A slow drip of confirmations started to emerge.

It was grudgingly done, in the manner of covering one’s behind against the day indictments made it undeniable. Anyone paying attention, even the most ardent Biden defenders, gradually came to recognize the Post had been accurate, and there was no doubt who owned the computer.

Then, Feb. 1, Hunter Biden’s legal team went on the attack against a host of people.

According to CBS, the Biden lawyers were, “demanding state and federal investigations into the dissemination of his personal material - purported to be from his laptop.”

Which essentially confirmed the device and its contents were his. This essentially made team Biden the last to admit what everyone else knew.

But not so fast, one of his legal bunch told CBS that the flurry of threats wasn’t really a confirmation at all. Thus, they still reserve the right to call it fake when expedient.

The entire situation continues to be a huge embarrassment for a supposedly hard-nosed-fact-seeking press. Time and again, they’ve proven a willingness to accept claims, no matter how outlandish, against Republicans while ignoring plausible claims against Democrats. Until they absolutely can’t. Steele Dossier anyone?

The second case of belatedly admitting truth comes from President Joe Biden, who announced last week that the COVID emergency is over. At least it will be May 11. That is when the national emergency and public health emergency declarations expire.

May 2023 will be ages after the vast majority of the country went back to normal.

It will be more than a year after the federal requirement for masks on planes was struck down. That was the final situation where most Americans found themselves obeying COVID rules.

The timeline for extreme concern about the virus seemed to vary depending on what party controlled the state legislature. Everybody shut down in the face of the unknown. Some opened back up as quickly as possible, while other resisted and resisted.

Most people now spend little time thinking or worrying about COVID. There are still occasional dire warnings of the newest strain being much more transmissible than the last one; they just lack a fearful impact.

Americans are assessing their risks and acting accordingly. There are people with good reason still masking up and getting vaccine boosters.

The vast majority of people are just taking the precautions to avoid COVID which they do for flu and every other known communicable disease...little or none.

Not everyone agrees with the president’s decision to wait to shut down the state of emergency.

The Republican-controlled House passed a bill to end the emergency rules now. It was passed on party lines, and has no chance of reaching the president’s desk for a veto.

Democrats called the bill reckless and irresponsible. They cited nearly 500 daily COVID deaths in the U.S. Recent reports cast doubt on the counting process, citing the difference between dying from, and dying with COVID.

Irregardless, the main reasons the emergency wasn’t repealed long ago are money and power. Every major spending bill and the president’s proposed student debt write-off gave a nod to COVID as a reason for existence.

As Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Or, in this case, go away. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Candy surprise

(Published February 1, 2023)  

Different ages throughout time are known by names representing the major events which shaped them.

The Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Age, and the Atomic Age, for example.

May I respectfully suggest that our current times should end up categorized as the Age of Stupid.

Let’s face it, it gets really dumb out there.

Just how stupid is it? Its gotten to a point that a multi-national candy giant says they’ve dropped a long-running campaign because the social criticism got too hot. It has generated massive coverage. (Yes, even here.) On top of that, a lot of people really care.

That’s right, M&Ms have put their “spokescandies” in the bag of shame for being too controversial.

Mars, the parent company, isn’t completely an innocent victim. They followed in the footsteps of a long line of corporations which caved to social media and political pressures to try to stave off controversy.
A move which always invites much greater controversy.

The examples are legion. Most prominent would be Major League Baseball which pulled the All-Star game out of Atlanta over outrage about a new “Jim Crow” voting law. Georgia ended up with record turnout last year under those laws that were said to be designed to suppress votes.

Disney shook its three-fingered white-gloved fist at Florida over the “Don’t Say Gay” law (which prohibits teaching about sexuality to the youngest of elementary children). The mouse house found out taking sides in politics can be costly when the state yanked a bunch of tax breaks.

Most corporations have traditionally tried to stay out of the culture fray, rightly recognizing that consumers on both sides have buying power. Michael Jordan once succinctly summed up the attitude, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

Which brings us back to the downhill slide to the dusty stockroom shelf for the loveable Mars mascots.

For the uninformed, M&M has used anthropomorphic candy pitchmen for decades without much controversy.

The mascots resemble large pieces of the candy with arms, legs, eyes, and mouths. They are shaped exclusively like M&Ms. After all, they’re supposed to represent the candy, not the human race.

The ads prominently featured a red M&M who was sharp-tongued (dare we say “hard-shelled”) and his larger, loveable but stupid, yellow-coated friend of the peanut variety. Think Abbott and Costello. Red was originally voiced by Jon Lovitz and Yellow by John Goodman.

They met celebrities and Santa, and found themselves in countless humorous situations all with the goal of selling more product for Mars.

The gang expanded over the years, most notably with the inclusion of a “girl” M&M. This green dynamo ran roughshod over the boys, but the only way to see her “femininity” was the long eyelashes and go-go boots. Again, we’re talking about candy here.

Then, a year ago, the company announced a “global commitment to creating a world where everyone feels they belong, and society is inclusive.”

Could this be because so many people looked at the mascots and thought, “I just don’t see me”? And, if this is the case, are those people getting much-needed help?

The company promised “A fresh, modern take on the looks of our beloved characters and more nuanced personalities to underscore the importance of self-expression and power of community through storytelling.”

If that sounds like woke-speak to you, you’re nowhere near alone.

Following the announcement, two of the “female” spokescandies changed footwear. Green shed the boots for sneakers, and Brown ditched her stilettos for low heels.

The dialog about that got heated. Hot enough to melt an M&M in your hand. But, like all such controversies, it died out over time.

Then, Mars announced bags filled with only the colors corresponding to the “female” characters for International Women’s Day. The bag featured the green, brown, and purple mascots flipped upside down so the emblems appeared as Ws. W for women, get it?

Again, outraged pundits demanded to know why Mars was politicizing chocolate. That uproar was still making news when Mars announced they were sacking the characters indefinitely.

In part, the release said, “America, let’s talk. In the last year, we’ve made some changes to our beloved spokescandies. We weren’t sure if anyone would even notice. And we definitely didn’t think it would break the internet. But now we get it — even a candy’s shoes can be polarizing.”

The company would “take an indefinite pause from the spokescandies.” They announced the new spokes-human for the brand would be Maya Rudolph. Oh, and be sure to watch her Superbowl commercial.
Which brings us to more evidence of the Age of Stupid. Many are speculating that the entire shelving of the mascots was purely a publicity stunt to get people talking about the candy.

That is not without precedent. Planters went so far as to kill off Mr. Peanut three years ago. They quickly revived him in the form of Baby Nut during their Superbowl spot that year.

So don’t be surprised if walking, talking, colorful chocolates turn back up as early as two weeks from now.

Corporate America might play on our stupidity, but it doesn’t mean they are stupid. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Sorry, that’s classified

(Published January 18, 2023)  

It’s a bad idea to brand something as egregiously criminal if there is even the slightest chance you will one day be caught doing the same.

Say you’ve gone to the city demanding fines and other punishment, because your neighbor’s dog got out of a fenced yard. Then, you used social media to label the escape unforgivable and your neighbor stupid and irresponsible and expressed incredulity how any person could ever allow such an horrendous thing.

Then, your dog gets out and scatters trash over three blocks.

That’s the regular-person version of the situation President Joe Biden found himself in this week. After excoriating Donald Trump for keeping classified documents resulting in an FBI raid on his residence, it was revealed that V.P. Biden had taken home a few top secret missives of his own.

They turned up just days before the midterms, where mishandled classified papers were a huge election issue.

Attorneys found the stash in a closet at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in D.C.

In the interest of complete transparency they immediately called the FBI to report a crime.

Ha! Not really. Instead, they called the National Archives and had them come get the documents. Then, miracle of miracles, there were no leaks for two months, until an “it’s all under control” public statement was made.

The day after that announcement, more documents were found in a second location.

They were in a guarded bank vault.

Ha! Again, just kidding. These were in a box in Mr. Biden’s garage next to his vintage Corvette. Then, more turned up in the house. And, then, even more in the house.

Democrats and the mainstream media first attempted the “But Trump was much worse” defense.

Unfortunately, they’d made such a ginormous deal over Mr. Trump’s situation the media was confronted with a bar so low they couldn’t slide under.

With an effort to save face, the coverage switched from downplaying and forgiving to something which could be described as “modestly chastising.”
Missing from the Biden round of document discovery is all the speculation about nefarious purposes.

When Mr. Trump was in the crosshairs, the speculation leaned toward treasonous motives, including selling the nuclear codes to China or Russia.
Hey, everybody knows those codes are never changed and the U.S. arsenal could be launched from a pay phone in Moscow.

This time, the speculation about cause leans toward sloppiness; and, at worst, embarrassing oversight.

Two big differences are apparent. Mr. Trump knew he had documents and was lawyered up against the National Archives to keep them.
Mr. Biden appears to have had no idea his were in an office closet, the garage, and elsewhere in his house.

Unauthorized possession of classified documents is against the law, yet only one of the two cases is unambiguously a crime. Mr. Trump, as president, had the ability to declassify his and floated that as a defense.

Mr. Biden’s backers can only speak about lack of intent to break the law. That was the standard out of thin air Hillary Clinton was held to in 2016.

What isn’t getting much play is why most Americans can’t get terribly worked up over either circumstance.

We all know that there are different levels of classified work, and literally tons of secret documents are generated every year.

If either man had a list of deep cover operatives in foreign lands floating loose, that’s a big deal. On the other hand, if it was a report that Benjamin Netanyahu might have been coming down with a cold in March of 2014, not so much.

In the middle of all this hubbub, we should take a moment to pity poor John Lausch.

You may be asking who the heck is John Lausch and why he is worthy of pity.

He’s the U.S. attorney who was minding his own business in his Chicago office when he got a real stinker of an assignment dumped in his lap. His immediate boss, Attorney General Merrick Garland, gave him the type of task which chills the blood of the most stalwart political appointee. I’d like to think there was a conversation along the following lines.

Garland: Remember how President Joe Biden gave you this job?

Lausch: Yes, sir.

Garland: And remember how the president has been vilifying Donald Trump as irresponsible for having taken home classified documents? And how our entire party wants Trump jailed, prosecuted, then barred from ever seeking office again since this is the worst offense ever, ever, ever?

Lausch: I’m very aware of it, sir.

Garland: Well, the president did the same thing when he was V.P. I’d like you to investigate to see if a special prosecutor is needed.
Lausch: (Long pause) Umm, thank you, sir?

Luckily, Mr. Lausch was able to labor in secrecy, with, amazingly, no leaks, then pass the hot potato.

He recommended a special prosecutor and A.G. Garland assigned one just three days after the first disclosure.
Now the whole situation can quickly fade into the background until enough time has safely passed to announce no prosecution. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Not that easy

(Published January 11, 2023)  

Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker of the House early Saturday morning after 15 grueling ballots.
He quipped, “That was easy, huh?”

The election was the longest process needed to elect a speaker since the Civil War.  So at least he didn’t exceed that. Much of the struggle can be boiled down political maneuvering...but a big portion points to a serious split in the GOP.

Many of the holdouts had specific items they wanted addressed before giving their support.  Others were not going to vote for McCarthy no matter what and even though there was no viable alternative.
Six holdouts, including Matt Gaetz, Fla., and Lauren Boebert, Colo., ended up voting present instead of no.  That made the total needed to elect only 216 which finally secured the post for the California Republican.

The Democrats had no trouble keeping unified, which isn’t that hard when there was no serious chance they were going to accomplish anything. Well, maybe they did a little.  House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies outpolled Mr. McCarthy for the first 11 ballots, which was humiliating.

The newly sworn-in speaker cautioned Mr. Jefferies about how that could change, “I’ve got to warn you — two years ago, I got 100% of the vote from my conference.”  

At the very least, the Democrats were enjoying witnessing the pandemonium.  GOP Rep. Kat Cammack,  perhaps in jest, accused them of bringing, “popcorn and blankets and alcohol” to the spectacle.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter, “If Dems took a shot every time McCarthy lost a Republican, we’d all be unconscious by now.”

It wasn’t all fun and games on the Republican side of the aisle.  Rep. Mike Rogers, Ala., had to be held back from attacking Mr. Goetz after the 14th vote.  The sight of Rep. Richard Hudson with his arm across the shoulders and hand over the mouth of Mr. Rogers quickly made the rounds.

To get the cooperation of the reluctant GOP members, Mr. McCarthy had to make one large concession.  After fiercely opposing changing the requirements for triggering a vote for a new speaker, he caved.  That would mean a return to only one vote needed on a “motion to vacate” instead of the current five.

The media painted the other demands holding up the works as unrealistic and extreme right positions.  Some don’t seem that unrealistic or extreme.

They wanted a seat for the Freedom Caucus on the House Rules Committee. That is where the decisions are made when, or even if, a bill gets to the floor and if it can be changed.
That doesn’t guarantee the conservative group will get their way, but gives them a seat at the table.

Also not unreasonable is the idea of cutting back on spending.  The holdouts demanded discretionary spending be held to 2022 levels and that debt ceiling increases be tied to budget cuts.
If you’re at all concerned about the U.S. debt being  $31 trillion and growing, that doesn’t seem exactly nuts.

Also not crazy was the demand to give 72 hours for legislators to review bills before they vote. That would end the “We have to pass it before we know what’s in it” norm of recent years.

The conservative holdouts wanted to do away with the giant “omnibus” bills which get steamrolled through every year under the threat of government shutdown.  Not that there’s anything hidden in those omnibus bills.

Less practical were the demands for  votes on issues which seem purely symbolic.  That includes a balanced budget amendment, congressional term limits, and (sadly) border security.  
Most political of all, and probably most necessarily after the humiliation dished out, the holdouts extracted a pledge from Mr. McCarthy to keep a super PAC he’s tied to from operating in Republican primaries.

Politics ain’t for the faint of heart, and actions like those taken by the six holdouts can have consequences.  Take, for example, former Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp who was stripped of his Ag and Budget committee assignments for “inability to work with other members.” After that, he lost his next primary by 16 points. 

While all the bickering makes the House Republicans look weak and unorganized, which they likely are, it doesn’t change the fact that they can still accomplish one important job. With only minimal unity, they can come together to block the type of ultra, progressive legislation Democrats were able to pass in the last Congress.

As someone who believes a deadlocked Congress is generally preferable to one blithely passing every lame-brained bill which comes before them, that’ll do.

Guest Editorial - It’s how you say it

(Published January 4, 2023)  

The country got an early Christmas present in mid December in the form of a brilliant satirical piece by humorists at Stanford University.

The article titled, Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, slyly blasts woke language police. It is laugh-out-loud funny, start to finish.

Sorry: I’ve just been informed that the writing in question is in fact completely serious and an effort to, “eliminate many forms of harmful language, including racist, violent, and biased (e.g., disability bias, ethnic bias, ethnic slurs, gender bias, implicit bias, sexual bias) language....
Which makes it even funnier! Let’s dig in and see what they have to say.

There are categories. After each bullet point is the targeted word, then the replacement in parenthesis, followed by the reason for offense.
• basket case (nervous) Originally referred to one who has lost all four limbs and therefore needed to be carried around in a basket.
• blind study (masked study) Unintentionally perpetuates that disability is somehow abnormal or negative, furthering an ableist culture.
• crazy (surprising/wild) Ableist language that trivializes the experiences of people living with mental health conditions.
• handicap parking (accessible parking) Ableist language that trivializes the experiences of people living with disabilities.
Culturally Appropriative
• chief (the person’s name) Calling a non-Indigenous person “chief” trivializes both the hereditary and elected chiefs in Indigenous communities. Calling an Indigenous person “chief” is a slur.
• too many chiefs, not enough indians (a lack of clear direction, too many competing ideas) Trivializes the structure of Indigenous communities.
Gender Based
• “preferred” pronouns (pronouns) The word “preferred” suggests that non-binary gender identity is a choice and a preference.
• freshman (frosh, first-year student) Lumps a group of students using masculine language and/or into gender binary groups that don't include everyone.
• man hours (person hours, effort hours, labor time) This term reinforces male-dominated language.
Imprecise Language
• American (US Citizen) This term often refers to people from the United States only, thereby insinuating that the US is the most important country in the Americas (which is actually made up of 42 countries).
• intellectual (person given to learning and thinking ) Disparages different cognitive levels and abilities.
• straight (heterosexual) This term implies that anyone who is not heterosexual is bent or not “normal.”
• user (client) While often associated with one who uses (software, systems, services), it can also negatively be associated with those who suffer from substance abuse issues or those who exploit others for their own gain.
Institutionalized Racism
• blackballed (banned, denied) Assigns negative connotations to the color black, racializing the term.
• gangbusters (very successful) Unnecessarily invokes the notion of police action against “gangs” in a positive light, which may have racial undertones.
• convict (person who is/was incarcerated) Using person-first language helps to not define people by just one of their characteristics.
• beat(ing) a dead horse (refus(e/ing) to let something go) This expression normalizes violence against animals.
• rule of thumb (standard rule, general rule) Although no written record exists today, this phrase is attributed to an old British law that allowed men to beat their wives with sticks no wider than their thumb.
• trigger warning (content note) The phrase can cause stress about what's to follow. Additionally, one can never know what may or may not trigger a particular person.
Additional Considerations
• hip-hip hurray, hip hip hooray (hooray) This term was used by German citizens during the Holocaust as a rallying cry when they would hunt down Jewish citizens living in segregated neighborhoods.
So, there is just a sample. May I suggest one more they should include:
• Spew nonsense (produce insightful societal-healing academic work) Implies that oversensitivity to words and phrases, including those whose origins are obscure, is a silly waste of time and makes language less precise and understandable.

Also, full disclosure, I made up one inclusion on the list. Did you catch it?

Intellectual does not appear in their ban, but shows how easy it is to believe the authors could be offended by almost any word. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Looking back at ‘22

(Published December 28, 2022)  

The year 2022 is rapidly coming to a close. Here’s a look back at some big events.

At the top of the list is horrible inflation. It has been so bad, you could be forgiven for thinking the 70s are back and donning platform shoes and a leisure suit.

Inflation isn’t something politicians can deflect away by pretending what you’re experiencing at the cash register isn’t really happening. You feel it in your wallet when a tank of gas costs over $100, or a head of lettuce is creeping up on $5.

President Joe Biden is now taking a bow because the inflation rate has decreased. But he shouldn’t bow too deeply. While 7.1% in November is better than the 7.7% from October, it’s still a long way from getting back to the about 2% rate we had all come to expect until recently.

Speaking of Mr. Biden, he thinks he’s doing a darn good job in the office. “No one’s ever done as much as president as this administration’s doing. Period.” And, from the Democratic perspective, it’s hard to deny.

All the political big-brain types expected a big Red Wave election. Instead Republicans had a pretty darn poor showing at the polls. Mr. Biden can point to the fact that his party lost the House by the narrowest of margins, while gaining governorships and other state offices.

All of this in spite of the fact that the president’s approval numbers are in the low forties.

Before Mr. Biden grabs all the credit, it would only be fair to admit that he had a lot of help from Republican primary voters, Donald Trump, and the mainstream media.
Republicans voters have a distressing tendency to vote for candidates they really like but are hard to push over the finish line in November. That was made worse by Mr. Trump doing his best to keep the narrative focused on him and the 2020 election. The media, of course, remains nearly indistinguishable from the Democratic party P.R. machine with their threat-to-democracy storyline.
Another big story of the year also helped the Dems in the midterms. That was when the Supreme Court ended the “federal right to abortion.”

Roe v. Wade became the battle cry of the left’s get-out-the-vote effort as the idea was pushed forward that the single most important right for all Americans had just been taken away.
This ignored the fact that the ruling really only put the issue back into the states. Which means some states have very rigid restrictions on abortions while others, like glow-in-the-dark-blue New York, allow the practice up until about age seven or so.

In reality, the ruling did nothing to calm activists on either side of the issue. Those who believe a fetus is a baby want abortion stopped, period; and, those who consider it a “women’s health issue” demand it be legal everywhere. So, battle lines remain drawn.

A battle darn few thought would last anywhere near this long is the one between Russia and Ukraine. Back in January and February when it was becoming obvious Vladimir Putin would invade, experts thought the conflict would be over in a matter of days.

Darn few expected the Ukrainians to stand their ground and even retake seized territory. That doesn’t mean the outcome is decided. Much of what the Ukrainians have been able to accomplish has been made possible with billions of dollars in aid from the west. There is no way of knowing how long that cash pipeline stays wide open.

The other absolute wild card is Mr. Putin. He retains the historical predisposition of his country’s leaders to accept massive casualty counts in service of his goals. Plus, having and threatening to use nuclear weapons keeps the entire world on edge.

For most of us, one of the world’s greatest mysteries is, “what the heck is crypto currency, and how exactly does if differ from Monopoly money?”
The correct answer may be that no one, not even the supposed experts, know for sure. That doesn’t mean that common people and big-time investors alike can’t get hurt trying to find out.

Take, for example, the collapse of crypto exchange FTX. The venture collapsed spectacularly over the course of 10 days, going from a worth of about $32 billion to nothing.

The founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, who didn’t dress like someone you entrust with the cash for a coffee run, was considered a financial genius. Now, he is accused of running one of the biggest frauds in history, and his cohorts are entering guilt pleas.

Part of what kept him under the radar was political donations of about $40 million which went almost entirely to Democrats.
A cynic would note that he wasn’t arrested until after the midterms. Instead, it was busted just before he was to testify to Congress. But none of us are that cynical. Right? - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Not really that paranoid

(Published December 14, 2022)  

To borrow a line: It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you.

For years, conservatives and Republicans on Twitter have complained that the platform suppressed their tweets and limited their ability to be seen by others on the platform.

That contention was dismissed as paranoid delusion. Twitter claimed the entire process was controlled by an apolitical algorithm and there was no way the overwhelmingly left wing people at Twitter were doing anything unfair. Like the Head of Trust and Safety (Censorship Czar) who once tweeted about actual Nazis being in the Trump White House.

Since Elon Musk bought out the service triggering the end of civilization, according to the hyperventilating left, it’s become obvious that it wasn’t delusion at all.

Over the last several days journalists have produced “the Twitter Files” using internal e-mails to show that it was human bias, not faulty machine logic, that was driving the process.

There was a bit of a hiccough when it was discovered that Twitter deputy general counsel James Baker was vetting which e-mails to turn over to the journalists. This is the same James Baker, who was FBI general counsel and played a key role in Russia-gate. Mr. Musk promptly bid him adieu.

In spite of that setback, the reports touched on big controversies, like the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop article being suppressed until after the 2020 election, and the steps taken to permanently suspend Donald Trump .

The e-mails show is that those in charge at Twitter twisted their rules into knots in order to justify taking the steps they wanted to take anyway.

When the Twitter Files broke, it ignited a media frenzy, as journalists denounced the apparent suppression of free speech organized by the company.

­­Oh wait, sorry, that’s what should have happened. What they actually denounced was the journalists involved in the expose. The main talking point was “selling out to do PR for the world’s richest man.”
As to the reveals from the Twitter e-mails, the media mostly yawned and pounced on the first opportunity to go after Mr. Trump, the standard move.

Not that Mr. Trump didn’t display his all too common ability to say exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. Instead of announcing something along the lines of, “I’m vindicated by this reporting,” he wrote on Truth Social, “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”

That allowed the entire media to swivel to “Trump calls for termination of Constitution,” and bludgeon Republicans on the Sunday shows. The problem with big, shocking reveals, like the Twitter Files, which put the left in a bad light, is that they are only big and shocking to the right.

What these e-mails revealed to the left is the powers at Twitter bending rules to service their agenda. Far from being seen as nefarious, the actions were seen as praiseworthy. It is exactly the type of action which was being demanded of Twitter at the time.

The Biden campaign had a fast track to get tweets they didn’t like taken down? Good, it was misinformation or lacked context anyway.

The Babylon Bee and Libs of TikTok were suspended without actual violations of policy. Not to worry, it was hate speech and dangerous.

Rules were twisted to permanently ban the sitting president of the United States? Excellent, but shame on Twitter for not doing it years earlier.

Witness the example of NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air interviewing tech journalist Casey Newton about Mr. Musk and Twitter. They discussed the Twitter Files for just a few seconds, included a warning that Republicans would use them to start hearings in the House next year. “So all these things are just sort of, you know, Elon being a good conservative and riling up that base. And he has spent a lot of time since he took over Twitter doing just that,” Newton said.

Gross pointed out that 64,000 banned accounts had been reinstated, “...why would he want to bring back people who were responsible for hate speech?,” she asked. “Hate speech is dangerous. It can really physically harm people.” The rest of the interview focused on how badly Mr. Musk was messing up Twitter.

Here’s a position not widely shared: what Mr. Musk is doing, and what the former Twitter execs wouldn’t have been, if they were up front about it and playing by the same rules.
Both are examples of acting as a publisher, and as such they should be held accountable under libel laws for content. Thousands of publishers operate under those laws every day.
Accept that restriction, or open the platform back up as an actual place for free speech for all political stripes. - Frank Mercer

Guest Editorial - Problem Children

(Published October 12, 2022)  

There is no more time honored tradition than that of thinking the following generations really have it too darned easy.

You can bet old fogies thought the invention of the wheel meant kids were going straight to heck. “It used to take 20 trips to haul that firewood. Now they pile it up on those new-fangled carts. No wonder they have so much time to get into trouble.”

Most of human history has been a struggle to make sure there was enough food for the family. “Life is short and then you die” had a much harsher tone when you could reasonably only expect to make it to 40 or so.

It is true that the last couple of generations have seen times which have been significantly easier in many ways. Still, I for one, can think of large numbers of those “improvements” I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with when growing up. Not every change in society or improvement in technology is 100 percent rosy.

Right now, we are seeing the first generation of Americans who are being told by popular culture that they can’t do better than their parents.

The idea that the American Dream is dead is accepted by growing numbers of young people. That’s a darn shame because it ignores an important portion of the ideal. The dream was never that you would be handed everything you wanted, but that through hard work you could earn it.

Rags to riches used to be a pretty common theme. Now it’s preached that there’s no reason to try, because you can’t make it. Listen to that and you certainly won’t.
Along those lines, it’s sad to see the notion that victimhood is the ultimate virtue gain so much traction. We end up with a weird intersectionality competition to see who can wear the crown for the title of “most oppressed”. And so many want to at least be a competitor.

Unfortunately, when people believe the deck is stacked against them, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Every setback is an immovable barricade, not just an obstacle to be overcome.
Today’s technology would have been nearly unimaginable back in the 50s and 60s. It’s absolutely fabulous, and, boy, aren’t all we old codgers glad we didn’t have it growing up. The reality is that, for all the great things the supercomputer carried around in our pockets provides, it also presents traps for young people.

First and foremost, is when the device stops being a tool and starts being an overlord.

Few young people today can escape the tyranny of their phone. They need it to stay connected to their friends, for information, and for entertainment.

There’s a dark side to that. One, you’re never really disconnected. You can’t go five minutes without looking at it. It’s an insult to not respond to friends immediately.

Meanwhile, with so much available on your screen, the need for getting out and interacting with other people just isn’t as great. Even when they do, it’s not unusual to see groups all sitting together, yet completely engrossed in their phones.

Studies have shown that loneliness is listed as a top challenge for those in their 20s. Online interactions are vast; real life experiences are lacking; so, more connected, but more isolated.
Some old folks can be just as dependent on the phone, but since we grew up without that’s less likely.

Social media is another thing to be glad you didn’t have growing up. Never have bullies had so many opportunities to find such abundant prey. Where once you could take a break from the bad parts of life by going home for the day, now young people take their bully home in their pocket.

Constantly being immersed in how great other people’s lives appear has also been shown to lead to depression.

And, talk about peer pressure. Your buddies may once have influenced you to get into some wickedness. Now, entire platforms are pressuring young people to do the current big thing. Multiple participants in TikTok challenges have found themselves facing criminal charges.

Heaven help the unwary poster who puts up something pounced on by cancel culture. For those of us who grew up in a time in which the height of liberal thinking included protecting speech we disagreed with, today is stark.

Now, young people are taught that speech is violence, that inaction is bigotry, and facts are phobic. It makes the Red Scare of the 50s look like a picnic in the park. Now, young people are getting to share things Boomers didn’t want to see recreated from the past...high inflation and the threat of nuclear war.

A real truth about life that most old people have discovered and that most young people will, is that every generation has its blessings and challenges. It’s what you do with them that makes the difference in your life. - Frank Mercer

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