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The Rhetoric of a Rigged System

President Donald Trump gave another one of his continuing campaign speeches on Friday in Pensacola, Florida, and it was a doozy even by his standards. In the hour-plus extemporaneous oration he warned that his critics are “very, very bad and evil people,” and that “We have a rigged system in this country,” which is pretty unprecedented rhetorical rhetoric, but there was so much to object even before he got to those slanders.
There were the usual exaggerated boasts about his electoral-vote victory and popular-vote loss more than a year ago, and he also boasted that he’s been the most de-regulating president since Abraham Lincoln. Trump always refers to his revered predecessor as the “late, great Abe Lincoln,” just in case you weren’t aware of his greatness and hadn’t yet heard the bad news about him, and early in his term he seemed pleasantly surprised that Lincoln was a Republican, insisting that most people were unaware of the fact, and he seems similarly unaware of the fact that there weren’t a whole lot of regulations to de-regulate back in the 1860s and that Lincoln had more urgent matters. He also took credit for people saying “Merry Christmas,”
Of course there were all the usual attacks on media who persist in reporting news he’d rather not have to hear. He urged any stockholders in his audience to hire a lawyer and sue the American Broadcast Network for a quickly corrected error that resulted in the reporter’s suspension and briefly sent the stock market indices down, and noting other corrections various media have made he said “They’re saying sorry — they’ve been doing that all year,” and in the very next sentence added “They never apologize.” Trump gets things wrong far more frequently, prides himself on never apologizing for anything, but the crowd seemed to love it.
Pensacola is home to the Navy’s “Top Gun” aviation training program and its elite Blue Angels flight team, so of course Trump also boasted about his devotion to America’s veterans, although in the middle of it he wound up riffing about the low ratings that Arnold Schwarzenegger had as Trump’s successor on “The Apprentice.”
The very lovely town of Pensacola is also a mere twenty miles or so away from Mobile, Alabama, and shares a media market with about 20 percent of the neighboring state, so of course Trump also put in a plug for the Republican candidate in that crazy special senatorial election. The Republican candidate is twice-removed Judge Roy Moore, who stands quite credibly accused by numerous women of sexual misbehavior, just as Trump does, but Trump made the argument that Moore is opposed by one of those very bad and evil who criticize his agenda. Of course the crowd cheered lustily, but it’s hard to say how it played elsewhere.
At the mention of vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the crowd went into its usual chant of “lock her up,” which is also pretty much unprecedented in the history of presidential politics, and that was prompted the remarks about how the rigged system that somehow prevails in America despite Trump’s landslide victory and his appointees at the agencies he warns are out to get him. That’s pretty much unprecedented, too, and despite the crowd’s raucous response it troubles our old-fashioned Republican souls.
The conservatism we so long ago signed up for sought to conserve the institutions and norms that have been so assiduously built up over the course of America’s imperfect but otherwise glorious history, despite the occasional demagogues on the right and left who have popped up now and then, and we won’t concede it has culminated in a rigged system. Freedom of the press and an independent judiciary are both pillars of what made America great long before Trump came along, as far as we’re concerned, and by now we trust them both far more than we do Trump or that Moore guy.
Trump also said “We need some love in the country. I would love to bring both sides together, if that’s possible. There’s a lot of hatred out,” but that came just seconds after the remark about the very, very bad and evil people who criticize him. All in all, we doubt any of it played well except to sorts of  people who show up at these ongoing campaign speeches. The latest polls suggest that’s a shrinking number, but Trump is insisting that’s “fake news.”

— Bud Norman

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A Tie Score in the Sexual Harassment Game

All the attention on the sexual harassment front Thursday was devoted to Minnesota’s Democratic Sen. Al Franken’s announcement of his upcoming ignominious resignation, which is indeed a riveting tale, but we were more intrigued by the sidebar story about the resignation of Arizona’s Republican Rep. Trent Franks. Like most of America we’d never heard of Franks until he bowed out, whereas we’d been aware of Franken since his days on “Saturday Night Live” way back in the ’70s, but Franks’ denouement had one of those diverting twists that can only occur in these modern times.
Franks was apparently as impeccably a Republican conservative as Franken was a Democratic liberal, and still stands unaccussed of the alleged forcible kisses and groping and otherwise ungentlemanly behavior that brought Franken down, but in his statement of resignation he did admit it had to do with an investigation regarding his “discussion of surrogacy with two female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable.” Some unnamed sources to The Washington Post fill out the story by explaining that Franks and his wife had been frustrated by their inability to conceive a child, and although Franks’ statement insists he never “physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my staff,” he also pretty much admitted that he did ask a couple of young female staffer if they’d bear his progeny.
“However,” Frank’s statement stated, “I do want to take full responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals feel uncomfortable. I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”
We can well understand how uncomfortable Frank’s young female staffers might have felt when he broached the topic, and the distress such a discussion might have caused them, but we’ll give this Franks fellow for taking taking full responsibility right up the point of offering his resignation, but we’ll offer him some sympathy. It’s not been at all unbeknownst to us until recently that female co-workers are uncomfortable and even distressed by broaching the topic of bearing our children, but impeccably Republican conservatives such are ourselves tend to be nerds un-hip to the ways of the modern world, and we readily believe his claims that he never intimidated or coerced or attempted to have any sexual contact with his female staffers along with the rest of his admission of guilt.
That’s a shrewd move, because Republican President Donald Trump and the Republican Senate candidate he’s backing down in Alabama stand credibly accused of similar or even worse misbehavior, and we can’t blame the 50 percent or so of the electorate that is female for being fed up about now. They’ll no doubt try to make some political hay of Franks’ resignation, and we can’t blame them for doing so, but he’s a lot less famous than Franken and in the end he’s just another conservative Republican nerd who doesn’t understand how to go about negotiating such modern world matters as surrogacy childbirth. Franken’s an old-fashioned creep posing as an impeccable Democratic liberal and unapologetic to the nd, and although the Democrats can still point to Trump and that Alabama senate candidate the day on the sexual harassment front wound up in a desultory tie.

— Bud Norman

The Persons of the Year

Time’s “Person of the Year” isn’t President Donald Trump, which surely annoyed him, and he was surely further annoyed by the choice the magazine made. This year’s pick is the “Silence Breakers,” as Time calls all the women who have come forward with tales of inappropriate sexual behavior by prominent men.
That includes the dozen or so women who are still accusing Trump of the same behavior he boasted of in that “Access Hollywood” tape, as well as the eight women who are accusing Trump’s favored Alabama senate candidate of pursuing them when they were teenaged girls, but it also includes a countless number of women alleging bad behavior on the left. This year’s long, long list of men whose reputations and careers have been damaged by allegations of sexual misbehavior also includes several Hollywood heavyweights, some well-known figures in the liberal media, and a couple of once-revered Democratic politicians.
After 52 years Michigan Rep. John Conyers was congress’ most long-serving member, and the beatings he endured during the civil rights crusade and his founding role in the Black Congressional Caucus and a long record of legislative activism had made him a saint-like figure in the Democratic party, but even he stepped down this week after a spate of accusations of sexual harassment by former staffers. He was allowed to do so for plausible reasons of deteriorating health, and it looks as if either his son or nephew will inherit his seat, but his future biographers will have to acknowledge that his career came to a disappointing end. Former comedian and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was similarly lionized by the left because of his impeccably liberal voting record and harshly anti-Republican rhetoric, and was even considered a contender for the party’s presidential nomination, but a series of women claiming that he had forced kisses and gropes on them have left his career in doubt. By Wednesday most of the Senate’s Democrats and all of the Democratic women in the chamber were calling for his resignation, with Minnesota Public Radio reporting that he would resign today during a scheduled announcement, and although Franken’s staff has “tweeted” that he’s still undecided it’s clear that he won’t be the party’s presidential nominee.
Some prominent Democrats are even apologizing for their support of once-beloved President Bill Clinton despite all his indisputable hound dog ways, and with the support of such media as Time magazine and all those networks and publications that have recently defenestrated prominent men they seem set on a zero-tolerance policy for misbehaving men. It’s such a shrewd political move, especially given that anyone Clinton has outlived his or her usefulness to the party, and that Conyers had clearly grown too old and Franken was always one of those celebrity politicians whose shtick soon grows tiring, that we assume some cynical motive. We nonetheless give some begrudging credit to the party for taking this sensible stand, and wish the Republicans would do the same.
For now our once-beloved Republican party is stuck with Trump and his boastfully hound dog ways, though, as well as that Alabama Senate candidate who sure sounds a a lot like a child molester to us and a lot of other people around the country. Trump and the talk radio talkers and the rest of the modern day Republican apparatus will continue to feign great indignation at the allegations against any Democrat, believing every word the women coming forward might say, but they’ll continue to insist you just can’t believe any woman who might say the same thing about a Republican. That worked well enough back when the Democrats were defending their guys and believing any woman who made allegations against Republicans, but the Democrats’ shrewd move makes that harder to pull off.
There’s no telling for sure, of course, but our guess is that most of these “Silence Breakers” are telling the truth, whether they’re breaking the silence about either a Democrat or a Republican. Some of them are bound to be lying, sooner or later, but the truth has a way of eventually asserting itself. Our experience of working and living in America tells us that men do often misbehave badly, and it takes a cynical political calculation to make that less common we’ll take it.

— Bud Norman

The Strange Case of the Gay Wedding Cake

On Tuesday the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which makes for an interesting argument.
The Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver  has a reputation for baking and decorating excellent cakes for most occasions, but despite that and the business’s slightly gay-sounding name the sole proprietor and master baker Jack C. Phillips holds to some unfashionably old-fashioned Biblical opinions about homosexuality and other controversial matters. When a homosexual couple asked Phillips to bake and decorate a cake in celebration of their upcoming nuptials, which have been blessed by a decision of the United States Supreme Court, Phillips politely declined the request based on his religious convictions, and thus he wound up afoul of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and after years of expensive litigation stands before the Supreme Court.
We won’t pretend to understand all the legal concepts involved, especially in the wake of that confounding Obergfell v. Hodges decision giving the Supreme Court’s blessing on same sex-marriages for arguable social justice reasons but with no apparent basis in any plain reading of the Constitution or common law or the past millennia of western civilization, but we more viscerally understand the issue on a personal basis. It’s complicated, of course, but we’re hoping that Phillips and his slightly gay-sounding Masterpiece Cakeshop prevail in the case.
Which is not to say we don’t understand the complicated issues involved in this gay-sounding case. We’re not only old-fashioned Christians but old-fashioned Republicans and strict constitutionalists as well, yet we’re also big fans of poetry and Broadway musicals and genteel manners who have somehow wound up with a suspicious number of homosexual friends over the years, and we have a few lesbians on our block who have proved excellent neighbors, and so far we’ve managed very cvil relations. This gives us hope the Supreme Court will arrive at something as sensible.
A couple of the young women we took an avuncular interest in when they were born have turned out to be lesbians, and one of them has married another woman with the blessings of the United States Supreme Court and her President Donald Trump-loving father, and we have longstanding friendships with a couple of men who have long considered themselves married without the Supreme Court’s blessings, and we’ve also seen quite a few of our friends’ homosexual relationships that didn’t last any longer than any of our heterosexual relationships, and by now we lean on the scriptures about judge not lest ye be judged,  and we wish all our loved ones well. Nor do we judge that artistic baker in Denver who objects to homosexual marriage, though, and we hope the Supreme Court will take a similarly forgiving attitude.
By all accounts, which by now have been long attested to under oath, the baker doesn’t withhold his usual services from homosexual customers. If you’d walked into his shop and declared yourself a homosexual customer wanting to buy a birthday cake for a homosexual friend he would have happily taken the order, and regardless of whether you’re straight or gay he’d have declined a request to bake a Halloween cake on religious grounds. Nothing in our old-fashioned Christian and Republican souls objects to trick-or-treating on Halloween, but both our Christian and libertarian instincts tell us he should have the right.
Those got-durned liberal fashion designers who decline to design dresses for President Donald Trump’s third First Lady deserve the same right, and so does any black baker who declines to decorate a cake with a confederate flag, and so does any homosexual baker who declines the Westboro Baptist Church’s request for a “God hate fags” cake. Outside of the legal arguments and here on the personal level, there’s no way of restricting one person’s liberty without eventually restricting the liberty of someone on the other side of political or cultural divide.
Several of our homosexual friends are close enough that we’ve discussed these issues with them frankly, and they’ve all said that if they wanted to get married with the federal government’s blessing they’d just find another bakery rather than take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Wichita’s a big enough city they could surely find another baker, as is Denver, and like us they’re not the sorts to make an unnecessary fuss. They have a heightened awareness that a certain level of tolerance for a wide variety  of longstanding views about things is necessary to maintain a civil society, or even a personal relationship with old friends, s9 maybe the Supreme Court will prove just as wise.

— Bud Norman

A Mish-Mash of a Monday News Cycle

Monday was chockfull of news, most of it involving President Donald Trump, and it was a decidedly mixed bag.
Trump traveled to Utah to announce that he’s reducing the size of two national monuments in the state by a combined 1.9 million acres, which is a very big number. Some of the local Indian tribes and all of the environmental groups and a few tourism and sporting goods businesses were aghast at the reduction, but there are such sound conservatives arguments for the move that most conservatives were pleased. That’s a big chunk of Utah that was being run by the federal bureaucracy rather than Utah or Utahans, and there’s still more than an ample 1.2 million combined acres of the Bears Ears and  Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments left for the Indians and nature lovers, so we’ll give Trump a rare thumbs up.
Court challenges have already been filed, of course, but Trump’s contested restrictions on travel from some Muslim-majority countries won a victory that should cheer him. The matter is still slogging its way through the lower courts, but the Supreme Court has decided that the restrictions can be fully enforced until it eventually arrives at a final decision. For sound conservative reasons too complicated to recount here, that’s also fine with us.
The rest of the legal news, though, was more troublesome. It wouldn’t be a news day these days with some “twitter” controversy, and the latest was about Trump’s statement that he fired former national security advisor Mike Flynn because “he lied to the vice president and the FBI” about contacts with Russian officials. Flynn has recently pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and apparently because isn’t facing prosecution on several other serious charges because he’s cooperating with the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the past election, but various journalists and legal analysts found the “tweet” self-incriminating for Trump. The problem is that it implies he knew Flynn had lied to the the FBI before he asked the bureau’s director to drop the investigation — according to the sworn of testimony of the director, who was fired after he declined the arrest — and therefore bolsters a case for obstruction of justice.
The arguments raged all day on all the political shows, with plausible points made on both sides, but even if Trump’s prevail it’s still another example of how “tweeting” causes unnecessary and unhelpful controversies. Any good lawyer would tell any client that it’s best to avoid “tweeting” anything about an ongoing criminal investigation, and any good client would heed that advice, but one of the lawyers Trump hired step forward to claim that he had written the “tweet” and used the president’s account to transmit it without the president’s knowledge. Either that’s a disbarment sort of lie, which is our best guess, or it’s a glaring example of the kind of legal representation you wind up with if you have a reputation for not paying your bills in full and being a bad client, and in any case it’s not helpful.
By the end of the day Trump’s legal team was arguing that “collusion” isn’t even a crime and that a president cannot obstruct justice or be indicted on any charge, which are arguments that most presidents would prefer not to have to make. It’s true enough that the word “collusion” isn’t found in any relevant statute, but the law is rife with its synonym “conspiracy,” and if it’s not illegal for a candidate to abet a hostile foreign efforts interference in an American election most Americans are likely to conclude it should be. As is so often the case with Trump’s unprecedented presidency, there are few precedents regarding a president’s obstruction of justice or indictment on some other crime, but those few precedents are not promising. Nixon wound up resigning after a bill of impeachment charged obstruction of justice, Clinton was disbarred and disgraced and barely survived an impeachment trial on the same charge, numerous high-ranking officials of other administrations wound up doing prison time, and Nixon’s famous argument to David Frost that “It’s not illegal when the President of the United States does it” has not fared well in the court of public opinion.
Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort was back in the news with accusations by federal prosecutors that he had violated the terms of his house arrest while awaiting trial a variety of money-laundering and tax evasion charges, which looks bad. The feds claim he was working with one of his contacts in the Russian intelligence community to pen an editorial Manafort hoped to sell defending his work on behalf of a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party, which looks worse. Trump’s original claims that none of his people ever had anything to do with the Russians isn’t looking good these days, what with all those disclosed e-mails and revised clearance forms and corrected testimonies, and it remains to be seen if there’s a a better argument than it’s no big deal even if the worst is true.
There’s also that Southern Gothic novel of Senatorial race down in Alabama, where Republican nominee and quite credibly accused child molester Ray Moore is running against some got-durned liberal, and of course Trump was part of that story. He’s now fully in support of the Republican nominee and credibly accused child molester, whereas previously he had only been fully against the got-durned liberal, and much of the Republican establishment has meekly backed away from its previous criticisms and will even be sending some campaign ad money through the party’s congressional committee. This comes on a day when one of Moore’s accusers offered proof that Moore did at least know her, despite his denial, and another woman came forward to accuse Trump of forcing unwanted kisses on her, just as he boasted about frequently doing on that “Access Hollywood” case. All charges are open to argument, as always, but it’s not helpful.
Oh, there’s also that tax bill Trump might yet get to sign soon. All the details still have to be worked out in a conference committee, but already it’s clearly another mixed bag of news and too complicated to explain here.

— Bud Norman

The Fall-out from Flynn’s Flip

The guy who was filling in for Sean Hannity on the radio Friday assured his audience that former national security advisor Mike Flynn’s guilty plea to a charge of lying the Federal Bureau of Investigation just goes to show how very weak is special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing,” and Harvard law school professor Alan Dershowitz was saying the same thing. Pretty much everyone else thought it spelled big trouble for President Donald Trump, though, and despite our aversion to the conventional wisdom we’re inclined to agree.
The Sean Hannity show’s full time job these days is finding that elusive silver lining in whatever dark cloud hovers over the Trump administration, Dershowitz is by now more an instinctive contrarian than a serious scholar, and at this point the conventional wisdom is far more compelling. At the very least, Trump’s apologists have to admit that the man he chose as his most trusted foreign policy advisor has now confessed to lying to the FBI, and after all his other picks that have also been defenestrated and subsequently indicted it is increasingly hard to believe is campaign boasts that he only hires the very best people. There’s also ample reason to believe that Flynn is about to dish some serious dirt about that “Russia thing.”
Flynn’s frequently revised security clearance forms and belated admissions of well-compensated dealings on behalf of Turkey and Russia while working for the Trump campaign and then the administration, along with his recent admission of lying about it to the FBI, surely could have resulted in more serious charges, not to mention some scary and all-too-credible counts against his idiot son, who was kicked off the Trump transition team for some “tweets” about the far-fetched “Pizza-gate” conspiracy theory that Democratic presidential nominee was running a satanic child sex-abuse ring in the basement of a Washington pizzeria. To the Hannity guest host and the Harvard professor the fact that the Flynns are getting off light is proof that Mueller hasn’t got anything better, but the counter-argument that they wouldn’t have got such a sweet deal from such a shrewd dealer as Mueller without offering some useful testimony on the higher-ups is far more convincing.
A three-star Army general and one-time director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the administration of President Barack Obama, Flynn was Trump’s top foreign policy advisor during the campaign, held the same role during the transition, and was chosen as Trump’s national security advisor after the inauguration, so there aren’t a lot of higher-ups he implicate in exchange for such a seemingly sweet deal. The very short list would include Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was somehow the most senior and trusted of all those best people Trump promised to hire, and Vice President Mike Pence, who can rightly claim that he insisted on Flynn’s resignation after Flynn had lied to him, and of course Trump himself.
By now Trump’s team is describing Flynn as a former Obama appointee, which is undeniably true, but there’s also no denying that Obama later fired the guy, and personally warned Trump not to re-hire him in any capacity, and that shortly before she was fired by Trump a holdover Obama appointee in the Justice Department warned the White House that Flynn was under investigation and susceptible to Russian blackmail, and that Trump stayed loyal to his man fore more than two weeks after that until the free press made it impossible. Trump stayed somewhat loyal to Flynn even after that, and according to the sworn testimony of fired FBI director James Comey the president even urged that the FBI give his beloved general a pass, and it wasn’t until Flynn had clearly started to cooperate with the special counsel that the Trump team started damning him as an Obama appointee. Whatever dirt Mueller might dish on Trump or his son-in-law or vice president, Trump will have have to walk back a lot of previous praise for his most trusted foreign policy advisor.
Harvard’s Dershowitz makes a plausible argument that by confessing lies to the FBI he casts any evidence he gives from now on as suspect, and when Hannity gets back on the air he’ll no doubt take up the same argument, but we and by now pretty much everyone else will be more inclined to believe whatever testimony he gives to avoid all the more serious charges against him and his idiot son. The guy Trump chose as his national security adviser once worked for the Russian propaganda network Russia Today, led a standing ovation for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin at a Moscow dinner where he gave a speech, and explained to a congressional committee that he’d been paid by his speaker’s bureau rather than the Russian government, claiming not to know if the speaker’s bureau had been recompensed by the Russian government, but he was once a three-star Army general and a high-ranking Obama appointee, so there’s no telling how his testimony will play. Trump has consistently been as complimentary as Flynn to Putin’s dictatorship, with the same affinity to the increasingly totalitarian Islamic government in Turkey that Flynn worked for during for his tenure as national security advisor, and no matter how anti-climatic Flynn’s testimony might prove it doesn’t look good.
Meanwhile, the guy Trump once chose as campaign manager and his business partner are expensively contesting the special counsel’s charges regarding their own Russian business ties, Trump’s trusted senior advisor son-in-law has legal and financial and potentially Russian-related problems that are reportedly complicated by Flynn’s testimony in exchange for that sweetheart deal, and Trump’s own idiot namesake son is also reportedly in the special counsel’s crosshairs. Trump’s team is insisting this “Russia thing” will be finished year’s end with a complete exoneration, but at this point we doubt it.

— Bud Norman

The Tillerson Exit

There’s no way of predicting what President Donald Trump will do next, except that he’ll “tweet” something controversial, but we’ll go along with all the reports in all the big papers and networks in assuming that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is soon headed to administration’s exits. There’s also no way of predicting if this will eventually prove a good thing or a bad thing, but there’s no denying that it doesn’t speak well of the way things are going right now.
According to the consensus of respectable opinion Tillerson’s failure to fully staff the State Department and his efforts to make deep cuts to its budget have seriously undermined foreign policy aground the globe, but on the other hand he’s been one of the much-needed moderating influences in Trump’s administration. The consensus of conservative opinion holds that Tillerson has been insufficiently loyal to Trump with his efforts to seek a diplomatic resolution to North Korea’s nuclear provocations, his failure to endorse some of Trump’s more controversial “tweets,” and his overheard gripe that Trump is a gerund-form-of-a-certaincurse-word “moron,” and they give him no credit for his willingness to drain the Foggy Bottom swamp of all those “deep state” “globalist” “establishment” types. At this point we’re feeling a certain a sympathy for the poor fellow, but he doesn’t seem to have much support from anybody who matters.
By now we’re well outside both the consensus of either respectable or conservative opinion, but we will have our own gripes about Tillerson, so we don’t what to make of it.
When Trump announced his appointment of Tillerson, lathering on the usual Trumpian superlatives about his successful career as the chief executive officer of ExxonMobil, we were impressed by his corporate expertise but leery of someone who’s only foreign policy experience was negotiating a multi-billion dollar oil deal with the dictatorial Russian government and winning it’s official friendship medal, but in an administration full of surprises he surprised us by proving one of the hard-liners against Russia. Trump seemed surprised by it, too, and was clearly displeased, and after the “moron” commented was in the papers he challenged his Secretary of State to an “IQ test,” so that made us rather like Tillerson.
On the other hand, we have to agree with all those “deep state” “globalist” “establishment” types that the State Department seems rather skinny after almost a year of Tillerson’s stewardship. Trump has told interviewers that most of the unfilled positions are irrelevant and the only person that matters is himself, but one of those positions is an ambassador to South Korea, which sits on the same tense Korean peninsula as North Korea, and expect that many others could offer some expertise that might be useful to the business executives who are now running America’s running foreign policy.
All the reports in all the papers and all the networks suggest that Tillerson will soon be replaced by current Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo, and that also seems a relatively safe bet. Pompeo used to be our congressman here in the good old Fourth District of Kansas, and he’s a formidable fellow we enthusiastically voted for him in each of his congressional campaigns. He was top of his class at West Point, editor of the Harvard Law Review, founder of a successful high-aviation business, quite charming in our couple of encounters with him, and somehow managed to ride the Tea Party wave of anti-establishment fervor without splashing any water on the establishment. As CIA director he defied Trump by affirming the intelligence community’s consensus of opinion that the Russians had entered with the the past presidential election, then said it didn’t affect the outcome and later walked that back to the consensus of opinion that there’s no telling, and we’re not at all surprised he’s reportedly won the trust and affection of Trump.
There’s no telling how it will work out, though. As impressive as Pompeo’s resume is it doesn’t have anything on it regarding foreign policy experience, except for his brief tenure as CIA director, which had its highs and lows, and although we wish our fellow Wichitan well we expect he’ll be more interested in pleasing Trump. Pompeo has nothing to do with that “Russia thing,” at least, and we can hold out hope he’ll be a moderating influence. even if his business instincts continue the downsizing at the State Department.

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Away a Tax Bill

President Donald Trump took to the road Wednesday to rally popular support for the congressional Republicans’ attempts to pass a tax bill, which so far are widely unpopular, but as is his wont he first undermined the effort with a street of outrageous “tweets.” His even busier-than-usual thumbs “re-tweeted” some links to anti-Muslim videos, expressed the usual complaints about the “fake news,” gloated about the firing of a network news anchor for alleged sexual improprieties, and seemed to suggest that another of one of media critics might be guilty of murder.
The outbursts not only gave all the media plenty to talk about other Trump’s sales pitch for whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up, they also made those arguments harder to believe.
Those anti-Muslim videos that Trump “re-tweeted” came from a fringe group calling itself Britain First, which the British government blames for a recent spate of hate crimes against its Muslim citizens, so some controversy ensued. The leader of the the fringe group and former Ku Klux Klan leeader David Duke both “tweeted” their appreciation for the “re-tweet” to to Trump’s millions of “Twitter followers,” but British Prime Minister Theresa May “tweeted” her own opinion that “It is wrong for the president to have done this,” and that seemed more in line with the mainstream media’s reaction.
Then the government of the Netherlands “tweeted” its objection that the video purporting to show a handicapped Dutch youth being savagely beaten by a Muslim immigrant was misleading, because although the depicted attack did occur the crime was not committed by a Muslim immigrant, and that assaulters has since been severely punished by Dutch law. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders would not vouch for the authenticity of any of the videos, and was reduced to defending their “re-tweeting” by insisting the president was making a valid point by arguing that mass Muslim immigration has resulted in problems for Europe.
That is indeed a valid point, and there is plenty of valid evidence for it, and it doesn’t need to be couched in hateful terms, so we would have to hear Huckabee-Sanders why Trump chose to cite some phony-baloney videos from a far-away fringe hate group that’s lately become a problem for a key American ally, and wind up annoying another American ally in the process.
Another big story of the day was the National Broadcasting Company firing longtime “Today Show” host Matt Lauer after a co-worker accused him of sexual harassment and assault, so of course Trump couldn’t resist the chance to insert himself in the middle of that. Even though Trump also stands credibly accused of similar charges, and is championing a Republican Senate candidate down in Alabama who stands credibly accused of even worse, and had just been called out by the Dutch for disseminating inaccurate informations, Trump gloated about Lauer’s firing and wondered “when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much fake news” and urged his followers to “check out” the past of the news division’s chief for some unspecified dirt.
Then he took aim at the NBC-affiliated MSNBC network’s Joe Scarborough, host of the “Morning Joe” program and a frequent target of of Trump’s ad hominem criticism, writing “And will they terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the ‘unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago. Investigate!” So far as any one can tell, Trump was referring to the 2001 death of a 28-year-old employee who died in Scarborough home district office when he was Florida congressman.
Of course the incident was thoroughly investigated by both the local authorities and the local press, with the local medical examiner concluding the the poor woman had died when an abnormal heart rhythm caused to her to lose consciousness and strike her head on a desk, and the local reporter who’s know a journalism professor at Duke University recalls he could find no evidence of foul play, and for the past 16 years only the kookiest conspiracy theory web sites have suggested that Scarborough had anything to with it.
Trump’s “tweets” don’t offer any reason to suspect Scarborough, either, so it looks an awful like Trump’s suggestion that one time political rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father had something to do with the Kennedy assassination. Which is hardly how to begin a speech making all sorts of dubious claims whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up.
Trump’s oration before a mid-sized crowd of adoring fans in St. Charles, Missouri, was largely devoted to bragging about his overwhelming electoral victory and how he’s since been making America great again even more rapidly than even he expected, but for the most part he focused on how America would be even greater after he signs whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with. He touched on all the venerable Republican arguments about tax cuts freeing up money for investments that spur economic growth and thus winds up helping everybody, rightly noted that America’s corporate tax rate is the highest in the industrialized word and thus hinders American competitiveness and create perverse incentives for doing business elsewhere, and all things considered we expected worse.
We’re old enough to remember when President Ronald Reagan was making those arguments, though, so we hoped for better. Back when good ol’ Ronnie Ray-Gun was making the pitch for a Republican tax bill the economic circumstances were starkly different, he thoroughly understood the complicated theories underlying the legislation that had been carefully crafted through hotly-debated hearings and thorough analysis by various nonpartisan agencies, and he had the sunny disposition and a sufficient command of the English language to persuade quite a few Democratic congressmen and a sufficient majority of the American to go along without resorting to any bald-faced lies. This is a different time, though, and Trump is a different president.
One of the obvious reasons that whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with is so polling so horribly is because it is perceived as giving a massive tax cut to the richest Americans, which is inconveniently but undeniably true according to every analysis we’ve seen by any credible nonpartisan agency or think-tank or business publication on either the left or the right margins of the reasonable middle. Rather than winsomely explaining the complicated theories about why that’s actually a good idea for everyone, as Reagan did back when it was undeniably true of his plan, which worked out well enough for everyone, Trump prefers to deny it.
Trump assures the public that such a famously and fabulously wealthy person as himself is going to take a real hit with whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with, and he mimics the slightly Jewish-sounding exasperation of his accountant at what he’s doing, and he brags about all the rich friends he has who are angry at him. He then adds his catchphrase “Believe me.” He tells the fans in St. Charles and elsewhere that he doesn’t mind losing all that money or any of those phony rich friends because he’s got the love of all the pipe fitters and coal miners and construction workers out there in the real America, and says “believe me” twice.
We’ll have to take his word for it, of course, because Trump hasn’t released his tax returns or given a full public accounting of the complex world-wide business he continues to hold, and there’s no telling what all those rich friends of his might be up to. All of the credible nonpartisan agencies and think-tanks and business publications are saying that Trump and his dues-paying pals at Mar-a-Lago will come fine, though, and at this point they seem more credible than the guys who’s often “re-tweeting” fake news from all sorts of kooky conspiracy theory internet sites. Most of the analysis from the serious sources we’ve seen suggest that the sorts of lower-income workers who voted in large numbers for Trump are going to take a hit, but we can’t say for sure if that’s fake news, so we’ll leave it to lower-income Trump voters to decide.
Back when Reagan was around the top tax rates were truly exorbitant and the economy was deep into an era of stagflation, while today the top rates are still halved and Trump can’t stop talking about how great the stock market and everything else is going just because he’s there, but there’s still an honest argument to be made for Republican economics. Perhaps Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or House Speaker Paul Ryan will stun us by persuasively making that case, but Trump’s obviously dishonest arguments are unlikely to nudge those awful poll numbers upwards, and his “tweets” about “Chuck and Nancy” and the rest of the congressional Democrats are even more unlikely to win any of their much-needed votes.

— Bud Norman

The Press Strikes Back

Say what you want about The Washington Post, that hated embodiment of the establishment press, but they won their latest battle with their anti-establishment critics in a rout. Despite our frequent criticisms of the newspaper, something in our Republican souls relished the victory.
One of the unfortunate features of this moment in American history is the average person’s tendency to dismiss any story he doesn’t want to hear as “fake news.” It’s an old and bipartisan problem, but lately it seems more problematic among too many of our fellow Republicans. President Donald Trump didn’t create the problem, nor did he coin the phase “fake news,” as he improbably claims to have done, but he and his most die-hard apologists have been eager to exploit it.
To hear Trump and his die-hard apologists tell it, anything you might read in The New York Times or The Washington Post or almost any newspaper or magazine, or anything you might hear on any broadcast network other than Fox News or the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh radio shows, can be dismissed as purely fabricated propaganda. To hear the more die-hard apologists tell it, they’re doing it at the behest of a cabal of “deep state” “globalist” “elites” and other “establishment” types who seek to oppress all the real Americans, and the president himself has repeatedly refuted any stories he doesn’t want to hear calling them “fake news.”
There are valid criticisms of the press coverage Trump has received, and God and the internet archives know we’ve also done our own share of media criticism over the past years, but far too many of those “fake news” stories have lately been corroborated by sworn testimony before congressional committees and a special counsel investigation, or been backed up by court documents or other official records, or acknowledged after the release of audiotape and videotape evidence, to dismiss them all as purely fabricated propaganda. The right-wing radio hosts like to sneer about the “The Washington Compost,” but it has lately had a far better record for accuracy than Trump’s “tweets” or his AM band apologists.
Which brings us back to the Post’s latest win by a rout. The story starts with that special senatorial election down in Alabama, where Republican candidate and self-proclaimed champion of Christian values Roy Moore was heavily favored until the Post ran a story about three women who claimed Moore had pursued them when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney and they were teenagers, with of them claiming he molested her when she was 14 years old. All three women gave their names, the paper had dozens of unnamed women who recalled the women giving the same accounts contemporaneously, another six women came forward to various media on the record with a slew of unnamed women recalling the same contemporaneous accounts, and other media found mall employees and district attorney’s office workers who recalled Moore’s reputation for liking them young.
Following Trump’s successful playbook Moore as his dismissed it all as “fake news” and assailing the liberal reputation of The Washington Post, and although the race has clearly tightened the wildly disparate polls suggest it just might work down in Alabama. Elsewhere it doesn’t seem to be playing as well, so an anti-establishment media outfit calling itself Project Veritas set out to discredit the post with one of its sting operations.
If you’ve not been following the anti-establishment media over the past many years, Project Veritas is a small but well-funded group that prides itself on such guerrilla tactics as ambush interviews and undercover hidden camera investigations of left-wing foes. They made quite a splash with their widely-disseminated video of a white actor posing hilariously as an inner-city pimp to seek help starting his prostitution at a notoriously left-wing community organizing scam, which led to the scam losing its congressional funding and at long last going away, so although Project Veritas wound up paying a six-figure settlement due to some admitted selective editing they were widely hailed as conservative champions.
Since then Project Veritas has pretty much proved a bust. The guy who runs the outfit wound up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for his attempt to bug a congressman’s office, over some controversy of the moment we can’t recall, and since then his biggest hit was a non-viral video of himself crossing the Rio Grande dressed as Osama bin Laden, and after that his latest failure was some video of some Cable News Network workers saying they don’t agree with everything their employers do. Hoping to regain his anti-establishment mojo, he apparently hired a woman to tell The Washington Post that Moore had an affair with her when she was 15 years and persuaded her to abort the ensuing love child. Had the Post fallen for the scam it would have been humiliating, and a grand route for Project Veritas, but it didn’t work out that way.
We can vouch that the reporters at any old mainstream paper, such as the double-A and triple-A ones we long toiled for, are mostly damned liberals, but there and especially at such major league papers as The Washington Post they’re not damned fools and they know it’s not good business in the long run to purely fabricate propaganda, so of course they checked out their sources. In this case the amateurish if well-funded scam quickly fell apart, with the undercover operative caught on embarrassing videotape and the guy who runs Project Veritas being surprised by a videotaped interview and winding up telling his donors that he got caught and therefore needs their money all the more. All those stories in the Post and elsewhere about Moore’s proclivities for teenaged girls as a 30-something prosecutor seemed all the more believable, too.
There are reports that Trump is lately telling friends that the embarrassing “Access Hollywood” tape he once acknowledged and even apologized for is fake, and that even after saying that “Barack Obama was born in the States, period” he still has doubts about it, and he’s still insisting he was robbed of the popular vote by millions of illegally-cast ballots even as the commission he assigned to prove it is falling apart, and he’s “tweeting” links to to the magapill.com website that provides the real news about all his accomplishments and all the nefarious and far-fetched conspiracies trying to thwart them.
We still have no affinity for the Post’s undeniable liberalism, but at this point we’re no fonder of Trump or Moore or a a disturbing portion of our Republican party, and by now our only rooting interest is in the truth. On matters ranging from the growing nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula to the whole “Russia thing” to the ongoing problem of how some men treat women, we expect the truth will be a story that none of us will want to hear, but we’ll gird ourselves and hope the truth somehow wins out at the end of this dreary story.

— Bud Norman

Just Another Manic Monday

President Donald Trump was largely out of the news over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but he made up for with it a manic Monday of mostly embarrassing headlines.
The day began with Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director showing up at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take control as acting director, which was already being contested in federal court by the woman who was tapped for the job by the outgoing director. Although Trump has every legal right to appoint a permanent director to the bureau, the specific law that created the bureau spells out that until the appointment is confirmed by Congress the the outgoing director’s choice is in charge, so there’s a good chance that the courts will quickly bring more embarrassing headlines about the matter over the next few news cycles.
Which is a shame, because there’s a strong case for the changes Trump is clearly eager to bring about at the CFPB. The bureau’s defenders can rightly point to cases where it’s helped out average folks, even if the big one is the Wells Fargo fake-account scandal that the bureaucrats first found out about by the reading the free press, but all those too-big-to-fail banks it was meant to combat keep getting bigger, and so do the fees they charge their customers, and the acting director Trump appointed rightly pointed out that the agency’s quasi-governmental status and non-congressional funding give it power that anyRepublican should fear a Democrat wielding, and any Democrat should fear a Trump appointee weilding
The smart move would have been to quickly appoint a permanent director to make the necessary changes and have all his good friends in the Republican majorities in Congress quickly confirm, and quietly suffer whatever indignities some President Barack Obama administration holdover might cause in the brief interim, but that’s not Trump’s style.
Later in the day Trump had a photo opportunity with three aging Navajo “code talkers,” who were one of the great stories of World II, and the smart move would have been to act solemn and grateful and not cause any racial controversy, but that’s also not Trump’s style.
The youngest of the nonagenarian Marine veterans was only 15 years old when he signed up for a bloody war in Guadalcanal and Iowa Jima and the worst of the Pacific theater, and was able to give an eloquent account of how he and his Navajo colleagues helped win that war by sending in-the-middle-of-it radio reports in their indecipherable-to-the-Japanese native language, and how it proved that America is invincible when all sorts of Americans are truly united. Trump was so moved that he said wasn’t going to use the speech that had been written for him, which he handed to one of the veterans as a gift, which would have been a moving gesture if he’d left it at that, but in his extemporaneous remarks he wound up slipping into his campaign rally insult comic mode with an oft-used joke about “Pocahontas.”
“Pocahontas” is of course  Trump’s nickname for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth, who was largely responsible for the creation of the CFPB but has nothing whatsoever to do with Navajo code talkers’ heroism, and he couldn’t resist the opportunity of having Indians on hand to bring up his favorite Indian joke. During her first Senate campaign it was revealed she had long claimed some small amount of American Indian blood and counted herself among some group of Native American scholars or another, which was widely ridiculed at the time by such conservative outlets as this, so Trump has always responded to her frequent criticisms by taunting her as “Pocahontas.” The wittier wags used to call her “Faux-cahontas,” but that’s either too subtle for Trump’s tastes or he figures that hard-core fans wouldn’t get it.
By the now the joke is pretty much played out, and at a ceremony that was supposed to be about Navajo code talkers and a united America’s invincibility it didn’t play nearly so well as it used to at the campaign rallies. The honored guests couldn’t have looked more unamused if they were made of wood and standing outside a cigar shop, the National Congress of American Indians the president of the Navajo Nation was offended by the remark, so was Oklahoma’s Chickasaw and Republican Rep. Tom Cole. White House press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assured her interrogators that the president didn’t indent any offense to American Indians, and that everyone should be more offended by Warren’s unsubstantiated claims “which should be constantly covered,” but no one in that audience found it convincing.
Trump had already “tweeted” routine gripes about the “fake news” media, this time singling out the Cable News Network, writing with his characteristically random capitalizations that “@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN is still a source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!” The fans still love this familiar routine at the campaign rallies, but elsewhere the timing was once again a bit off.
Trump’s tweets came just after Russian dictator Vladimir Putin announced his intention to start restricting such foreign media organizations as CNN, and while the governments in Poland and Turkey and the Philippines and other countries that Trump has a similar affinity for are increasingly threatening their own independent journalists, so Trump’s media critiques have an ominously authoritarian tone. They also come at a time Trump’s Department of Justice is challenging a complicated merger of a couple of big-time media giants that involves CNN, and although it’s too complicated for us to say who’s right we can’t blame any court that suspects the administration is pursuing a political vendetta against a perceived enemy among the free press.
There were also stories about Trump telling friends that the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape with him talking about grabbing women by the wherevers and all the rest of it  is also fake news, even though he not only owned up to but actually apologized for it way back when it came out, with all the links to the related story about the credibly accused child molester he’s backing in an Alabama senatorial race. Not to mention the ongoing speculation about why his former national security advisor’s legal team has stopped sharing information with Trump’s legal team regarding a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” which seems likely to generate a lot of future embarrassing headlines.
Today is Tuesday, though, and the rest of the week should be clear sailing.

— Bud Norman