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Columnist
Hush little porn star

I gather I was supposed to gasp when Michael Cohen said during his testimony before Congress, "The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws."

If that's the best he's got, President Donald Trump should demand we hold the election now.

Cohen was referring to Trump's 2017 reimbursement of the $130,000 hush money he paid to porn star Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about her claim that she'd had sex with Trump, aka Cohen's client -- meaning much of Cohen's testimony is barred by attorney-client privilege. But who cares about this sacred legal privilege? We're trying to get Trump!

Neither the media nor Cohen seem to realize that Cohen wasn't doing anything illegal when he paid the "hush money." Words like "hush money" and "porn star" make the payments sound unsavory -- especially to The New York Times, known during the Clinton era as Defender of Inappropriate Presidential Sex -- but there's nothing criminal about paying money to suppress embarrassing information, even in the middle of a political campaign.

If it wasn't illegal for Cohen to pay the hush money, it's certainly not illegal for Trump to reimburse him for it. Cohen was, after all, Trump's lawyer. He got reimbursed for a lot of things.

But we have to have days of hearings in hopes of establishing that Trump violated the campaign finance reporting requirements with these payments, in which case, OH MY GOSH, HE'D HAVE TO PAY A FINE.

I'd be more impressed if they got Trump on a jaywalking charge.

President Barack Obama had to pay $375,000 in fines for actual campaign violations during his 2008 run, and I don't think we needed 16 prosecutors, half of Congress and the entire media on the case.

The theory of Trump's alleged campaign finance violation is that if you're running for office, all normal life expenses suddenly become campaign-related. According to these neurotics, ANY money Trump or his companies spent during the campaign is a potential campaign finance expenditure.

Paying your gardeners is a campaign expense -- because who would vote for a man who can't even keep the hedges tidy at Mar-a-Lago? If Trump had gone to the hospital for an appendectomy -- well, he got his appendix cut out because he feared that if he died of appendicitis, he wouldn't get the nomination.

Luckily our laws aren't as insane as our media. For the hush money payments to be campaign expenses, the government would have to prove:

1) Trump, with his fine legal mind, knew he was violating the law.

2) He authorized the payments only because he was running for office.

So prosecutors have a fantastic case, provided they can get Trump to admit on the stand, "Oh no, I wasn't worried that these allegations would hurt my brand at all. I didn't care about what my grandkids or Melania would think. I had Cohen pay off a porn star for the sole purpose of misleading the public into voting for me on the basis of my character."

Such an argument would be absurd with anyone, but we're talking about Donald Trump. He didn't exactly hold himself out to the voting public as a moral paragon.

As voters were well aware, Trump's been married three times, has appeared in Playboy videos, and was a fixture on the Howard Stern show for years, discussing breast sizes and ranking women's looks. In the very first GOP debate, Fox News reminded viewers that Trump had called women "fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals."

The reason the "Access Hollywood" tape failed so spectacularly was that Trump had never appealed to Americans based on his character.

To take a contrary example at random, off the top of my head: Sen. John Edwards' presidential campaign was entirely premised on his boasting about how much he loved the poor and loved his cancer-stricken wife -- and also loved his son, who died in a car accident and he's never told anyone this story before ...

About a year before Edwards was caught by a real newspaper, The National Enquirer, visiting his love child and mistress in the Beverly Hilton, Edwards droned on and on about the importance of marital fidelity to CBS's Katie Couric. It was, he said, "fundamental to how you judge people and human character -- whether you keep your word, whether you keep what is your ultimate word, which is that you love your spouse, and you'll stay with them."

In order to preserve this utterly false image, Edwards arranged for his campaign donors to fork over nearly a million dollars to keep his baby mama happy and quiet. These were donors -- not Edwards' personal lawyer -- who ponied up because they wanted him in the White House, and the money was being spent to protect the candidate's completely bogus public image.

But when federal prosecutors brought a case against Edwards for failing to report these rather more obvious campaign expenditures, the government was nearly laughed out of court. The media ridiculed the entire prosecution and the jury acquitted, presumably on the grounds that, however much Edwards didn't want voters to know about the affair, he also didn't want his wife to know.

Trump won the presidency not because he touted himself as a man of character, but because he said he was someone who could get things done. Like build the wall. If you're going to impeach him, impeach him for that.


Columnist
Irishing of the world

The Irish are an accommodating people. Well, not in everything but in some things. They share their culture with the world. Then they incorporate into Irish life modifications that other nations, especially the United States, have made.

Take St. Patrick’s Day. It was traditionally a dour day of religious observance in Ireland. Then Irish-Americans turned it into the festival that we celebrate here. And now St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland much the way it is here: joyously.

Likewise, corned beef and cabbage. That was a cheap dish that got its Irish identification among the poor immigrants in New York. It wasn’t a tradition in Ireland where thick bacon, lamb and salmon, served with an astonishing array of potato options, is standard fare along with battered cod — fish and chips to the rest of the world. But in an accommodation to visitors, corned beef and cabbage can now be had in the big hotels.

A word about those potatoes: If you can think of preparation for potatoes, you might find them offered. Never, in my experience, are less than three varieties available in a restaurant. At a banquet once, I was offered a choice of chips (french fries) duchess, sautéed, boiled, croquette, mashed and scalloped.

What isn’t seen in Irish restaurants are baked potatoes — although, to please visitors, they may be sneaking into the hotels. In my nearly four decades of annual travels in Ireland, I learned that baked potatoes, known as jacket potatoes, are street food — to be bought with all sorts of great fillings from stalls, food trucks and the like, not in restaurants and pubs.

Irish stew is also less common than you would expect.

The Irish do drink, but in their own way. As Ireland has become a modern, competitive country, people are drinking less. But drinking is part of the fabric of daily life, just as drinking coffee, tea (hot or iced) and soft drinks might be elsewhere. You do business in Ireland over a drink, celebrate with a drink, mourn with a drink and, well, just have a drink because that’s what you do between what you just did and what you’re going to do. A breather, you might say.

For 20 years I was the American organizer for an Irish summer school. Summer schools — there are more than two dozen — are more like themed think tanks that meet only in the summer, often just for a long weekend. They cover literature, music, politics and are named accordingly, like the Yeats International Summer School and the Parnell Summer School.

The one my wife and I were affiliated with was the Humbert International Summer School, named for the French general sent to Ireland in 1798 to help with the uprising against the British, which was put down brutally by Gen. Lord Cornwallis, fresh from his American defeat. Humbert was sent back to France — the English not having a beef with the French at that moment. He had an affair with Napoleon’s sister and was ordered to New Orleans, where he passed his days drinking with Lafitte, the French pirate and privateer, teaching French and living his exiled life in style. He did fight bravely in the Battle of New Orleans and helped the American forces with his military skill. He died in New Orleans and is buried there.

Back to the welcoming of American embellishments to Irish traditions. These are not resented in Ireland because of the great affinity of the Irish have with their 35 million or so kinsmen in the United States. The Irish enjoy the American stage and screen songs of Ireland, like “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” The Little People of Ireland’s folklore are beginning to look like Disney’s Seven Dwarfs.

That doesn’t mean that the Little People are not alive and well, it’s just that their presence has been enhanced by legends that came from Hollywood as much as from the Auld Sod. A friend of mine built a wall around his mother’s retirement house in Cork. But her neighbors insisted that it have a gap for the Little People to go through — so it has a gap.

As for the fairies, my wife and I were riding in northwest Ireland and our guide told us it was all right to ride through a copse, but we shouldn’t let the horses disturb the fairy circle there. He rode around the copse to be sure he didn’t upset the fairies.

Despite the drink, the Little People and the fairies, Ireland is the computing capital of Europe and hopes to take over as a financial center after England loses many banking houses due to Brexit.

Sláinte! That’s the equivalent of cheers as you raise a glass. Do that Sunday or the Little People, or the fairies, or your Irish friends may be upset. You’ve been warned.


Llewellyn King


Editorial
Gas prices affect even your mood

Gas prices have increased in the Carolinas for the fifth straight week.

To blame, monitoring groups say, is a gradual decrease in gasoline stocks while demand has started to increase and crude oil prices have been fluctuating. Combined, these factors are driving up gas prices across the country.

According to AAA Carolinas, South Carolina’s $2.24 average is up 8 cents from a week ago – and 25 cents on the month.

“Motorists across the Carolinas are paying the highest prices so far in 2019,” said Tiffany Wright, AAA Carolinas spokesperson. “These averages are just pennies less than this time last year. We expect pump prices to continue to increase in the coming weeks, but we do not expect to see 2019’s high reach the highs of 2018.”

Still, people are feeling negative effects. They always do when gas prices go up. You might not have known just how much until GasBuddy.com’s 2019 Consumer Sentiment on Gasoline Study provided some statistical insight.

The study found the necessity, perception and price of gasoline adversely impacts Americans across all age groups and income brackets, with 86 percent of Americans depending on gasoline for their everyday lives.

Respondents categorized gasoline as a household expenditure that is more important than other major expenses, including health care and savings/emergency funds. Gas was behind only groceries, housing/rent and utilities.

When given the choice, respondents would rather receive a free fill-up than find $20 cash on the street or get their dinner bill paid for.

“Gas prices are extremely volatile and hard to predict, making it difficult to budget for. Yet it is a major necessity for millions of Americans,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “In 2018 we collectively spent $49 billion more on gasoline than 2017. People, no matter their age, gender or socioeconomic background, are not only frustrated by how much they pay but the options they have in how to pay.”

According to the study, 25 percent of respondents purchase gasoline four times per month, with an additional 20 percent purchasing gasoline more than five times a month. The leading payment method is a debit card (44 percent). Even with the rise of cash-back credit cards, only 38 percent of consumers pay for gasoline with credit, while 14 percent of Americans pay with cash.

“Not everyone qualifies for the types of credit cards that provide rewards on gas,” DeHaan said. “The fact that a majority (58 percent) of people are still paying with debit cards and cash is a sign there is a need for a payment option that addresses savings and convenience for the greater public.”

Other study findings:

• More than half of respondents (57 percent) believe gas is frustrating to budget for.

• Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) say gas prices impact their ability to spend money on other items and services. This impact is especially felt by young people ages 18-24 (70 percent).

• Half of respondents say gas prices help them assess the health of the economy.

• 63 percent of respondents believe gas prices are too high, even though prices are some of the lowest since July 2017.

And what does all this mean to everyday quality of life? Well if you are looking for something to blame for a bad mood, look no more. According to the study, 40 percent of people say gas prices affect their mood.