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Things Get Moore Strange in Alabama

There’s an awful lot going on in the world these days, with another round of hurricanes in the Caribbean and a second big earthquake in Mexico and the escalating war of schoolyard taunts on the now nucqearized Korean Peninsula and all those recent “Russia” revelations, but we can’t keep our eye off that special election t coming up next Tuesday in Alabama. President Donald Trump is scheduled to be in the state today to campaign for his preferred candidate, which suggests the matter also commands his attention despite everything else going on in the world these days, and of course his involvement makes the whole thing even harder to figure.
In case you don’t usually follow Alabama politics, as we usually don’t, the state is finally getting around to picking a successor to Sen. Jeff Sessions, who resigned his seat to become Trump’s Attorney General. Sessions seems to have been Attorney General forever by now, and we’re sure it seems even longer than that to him, but they take their time about doing things down south, and the Republicans are just now getting around to choosing their candidate for a general election that will occur somewhere down the road and  whichever Republican will surely win. One reason for the delay is that the Republicans had to hold an open-first primary to select the two run-off candidates, and given the nature of Alabama politics and the Republican party as a whole and the further complications of Trump’s intervention that was hard not to watch.
In the primary there were three credible and intriguing candidates. One was Rep. Mo Brooks, a one of those hard-line conservatives who voted against anything that wasn’t hard-line conservative enough no matter what the rest of the Republican caucus was going along with, and he was favored by all the talk radio hosts and the nationalist and populist Steve Bannon wing of the White House. Another was former state Supreme Court Judge Ray Moore, best known for twice being removed the bench for refusing to comply with Supreme Court rulings regarding public displays of the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage, who was enthusiastically supported by the same evangelical voters who supported Trump. There was also the former state Attorney General Luther Strange, who had been warming Session’s seat as a temporary replacement and was a chosen son of the much-reviled-by-talk-show-listeners and Trump and most other Republicans Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, but for reasons no one can explain Trump also endorsed Strange.
As confusing as it must have been to the average Republican Alabamian, where he’s statistically likely to be a big fan of Trump, the open primary somehow ended with with Moore and Strange in the run-off. As popular as Trump is in the state, though, the talk-show-backed Brooks immediately endorsed Moore right after his near defeat, the more defiant sorts of evangelical voters have stayed loyal, and the president flies into the state in support of a candidate who’s far behind in all the polls. That’s Trump’s base resisting Strange, too, which is a noteworthy development in the ongoing war within the Republican party.
At this point it’s hard to see it working out well for the Grand Old Party in any possible case.
If Moore wins the Republicans will at long last be saddled with a Senator who actually closely resembles the Democrats’ caricature of the party’s extremist religious zealotry. Moore has reassured Alabama’s voters that he’s not in favor of executing homosexuals, but other than that he hasn’t gone out of his way to allay any secular fears about his religious fervor.. We’d like to think we’re as evangelical and Republican as the next guy, and we share Moore’s concerns that God is being banished from the public square, and we try our best to adhere to those ten commandments that Moore defiantly erected on public grounds, but we also note the New Testament scripture about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and obeying civil authorities, and that part about “come let us reason together,” so the mixed martial arts afficionado Moore strikes us as suspiciously prideful for a prophet.
If Strange wins so does McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment, which is by now hated by the entirety of the Democratic party and most of the independents and pretty much all the Republicans except for a few old Never-Trumper types such as ourselves, even Trump is today campaigning on behalf of Strange. Strange would likely end up on the repeal and replacement of the debate about Obamacare Trump now favors, and might help out on other issues, but given his establishment credentials he’s bound to cross paths with Trump at some point, and we don’t see him as the unifying figure the party needs right now.
If Brooks had somehow survived the open primary that probably wouldn’t have helped, either. He might have wound up sinking the last ditch attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare because it didn’t repeal and replace it enough, and although he’d have had a good enough case that Strange or Moore couldn’t refute it would have still been scored another loss for both the party and its president. Brooks’ enthusiastic endorsement of Moore, along with all the polls, suggests that Alabama Republicans prefer the ten commandments to Trump, which seems about right to us, but it’s still hard to see this ending well for anybody. From our far away from Alabama perspective we’re hoping for Strange, as weird as it feels, and we’re still hoping that in any case Moore won’t be all that bad.

— Bud Norman

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Disasters and Normality

Nature has gone on a destructive rage lately in our hemisphere, and now the entirety of Puerto Rico is without power, the same hurricane caused it is headed toward the U.S. Virgin Islands that had already been largely wiped out by last week’s hurricane, and at least 250 people died in the second major earthquake in Mexico City in the past two weeks. After the devastation wrought on Texas and Florida from two other unusually large and intense hurricanes this month, catastrophe is starting seem commonplace.
The media are still all over it, complete with scary radar images, heartbreaking footage of downed buildings and bandaged people, and heroic stories of rescue and sacrifice, but by now they’re making more room for yet another Republican attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare, the numerous noteworthy developments in the “Russia” story, and whatever else President Donald Trump might be up to. All sorts of historic disasters, both natural and man-made, are quickly becoming normalized.
One reason the latest natural catastrophes have been somewhat downplayed is that they happened in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which are part of America but not among the 50 states, and in Mexico, which is not part of America at all. Americans have always tended to take scant interest in anything that happens beyond our borders, and in the age of “America First” and a clamor for building a giant wall along the southern border that tendency is stronger than ever. The country is still obliged to pay its share of the costly recovery efforts in its territories, though, and would do itself a much needed public relations favor by chipping in something to help out the Mexicans, so some attention should be paid.
Eventually nature will settle down for a while, although probably not for so long as those 12 blissful years North America enjoyed without any hurricanes at all until lately, and at that point all the man-made disasters will retake their rightful places on the front page and the top of the hour. We’ll hope that the recent disasters are not forgotten, that a few of the reporters will stay on the long enough to scrutinize both the recovery efforts and the preparations for the inevitable next time, and that no one regards it as normal for two of America’s most populous cities to be underwater and two its territories wiped out altogether. Here’s hoping, too, that people don’t start to regard all those man-made disasters as at all normal.

— Bud Norman

Two Tales of One Speech

President Donald Trump delivered a speech to the entire world from the podium at the United Nations on Tuesday, but as always he seemed to be speaking mostly to his fans. As always the fans loved it, even if the UN-bashing was watered down somewhat from the campaign speeches, and the rest of the world was less enthusiastic.
After opening the speech with some self-congratulatory talk about the American stock market and unemployment rates, both of which have indeed lately improved at a slightly better pace than before he took he office, Trump welcomed the UN’s general assembly to his home town of New York City as if they had recently arrived solely to hear him speak. After that he got to more substantive matters, including a threat to completely annihilate North Korea, a warning that America will no longer share its traditional burdens in enforcing world order elsewhere, a promise that America would no longer attempt to impose its values of freedom and democracy on an unwitting world, some harsh criticisms of certain countries that are unfree and undemocratic, some more subtle criticisms of certain other countries that are also unfree and undemocratic but more formidable foes, and a full-throated announcement of the “America First” policy he successfully ran on.
The fans surely loved almost all of it, and the rest of the world will have a hard time arguing with much of the speech.
A threat by an American president to utterly annihilate another nation is unusual in a UN speech, but that has long been the unavoidable American policy in response to a nuclear attack, which North Korea has lately been threatening in clear terms, so Trump might as well have said so. Using the taunting “Rocket Man” nickname for the nutcase North Korean dictator that Trump had previously “tweeted” was unnecessary and probably not helpful, and we along with most of the rest of the world would have preferred some added lines about our hopes for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but Trump is still on the same solid ground as any other American president would be in vowing a devastating response to a nuclear attack against America. He also seemed to leave room for a preemptive nuclear attack based on intelligence reports of an imminent threat, though, and given Trump’s past remarks to the world press about the unreliability of America’s intelligence community and his harsh criticisms of its previous preemptive military actions that’s a more complicated matter.
Trump is also on solid ground with his complaints that America has borne an unfair share of the burden of enforcing the world order, along with the implicit argument that the UN is charging us too much for its small role, but right now is probably not the best time to be making that argument. Trump’s savvy UN ambassador Nikki Haley has recently convinced both the Chinese and Russian members of the Security Council to sign on to harsh sanctions against North Korea, which might prove helpful if either country is as good as their word, and there’s still a chance that a peaceful resolution worked out in the UN will make our outsized bills to the usually worthless organization well worth the cost. Trump did tamp down his past criticisms of the UN and didn’t threaten a complete withdrawal, though, so the disappointment of his fans should be well compensated by the relief of the rest of the world.
By now both the American left and right and all those Trump fans who fit somewhere in that spectrum agree the country shouldn’t be imposing all of its values on the rest of the world, and the rest of the world surely won’t argue with that, but Trump’s oration leaves plenty of room for other arguments. He spoke of each nation’s sovereign right to settle its own domestic squabbles, but singled out North Korea and Iran and Venezuela for scorn about they’re handling it, and didn’t make clear what standards he expected from the rest of the world. North Korea and Iran and Venezuela well deserve America’s scorn, and whatever pressure America can apply, but so do China and Russia and other more formidable foes that Trump left largely unmentioned, and at this point a Trump Doctrine seems vague.
Trump made it clear that his guiding principle is “America First,” and he rightly noted that every American president has had the same priority and that every other world leader has also put his nation’s interest first, so the rest of the world has only self-interested arguments about that. Still, those Americans who aren’t fans of Trump, along with the rest of the world, can argue Trump doesn’t espouse an enlightened view of America’s self-interest. That “America First” slogan always bothered us, given its historic association with the pre-World War II isolationists who were sure America would fare just fine in a world dominated by the Axis powers, and it doesn’t sound any better coming from Trump.
It could have been a lot worse, though, and we’ll take some solace in our longtime and old-fashioned Republican conviction that the United Nations isn’t really that big a deal. Our reading of the English language  editions of the foreign press suggests that the rest of the world mostly regards Trump as a boastful and boisterous buffoon, so we’re left wondering how they’re taking the speech, and worrying if Trump cares about that so long as the fans are pleased.

— Bud Norman

Another Twist in the “Russia” Story

President Donald Trump has had a couple of relatively good weeks of news coverage, to the point we were all set to write about his so far so good performance at the United Nations, but at the last moment we noticed The New York Times’ scoop about the office of the special counsel into “Russia” informing Paul Manafort that he’s about to be indicted. If true — and to those who have been following the “Russia” story closely it seems all too plausible — that means many bad weeks of news coverage for Trump no matter how well everything else might turn out.
Even if you haven’t been following the “Russia” story very closely you probably know that Manafort was once Trump’s presidential campaign chairman, and has long boasted of his lucrative lobbying efforts on behalf of some of the world’s worst foreign leaders, including the Ukrainians tied to their country occupying Russian government. You might also know that as campaign chairman he sat in with Trump’s son and son-in-law in a meeting with a Kremlin-tied Russian lawyer and another Russian long suspected of laundering Russian mob money through American real estate holdings and a couple of other shady Russians, a meeting Trump’s son has acknowledged he arranged with the clear understanding that it would involve the transfer of information from the Russian government’s ongoing efforts to assist the Trump campaign. It was also widely reported that the special counsel had enough dirt to convince a federal judge to issue a rare “no-knock” search warrant on Manfort’s home to seize evidence relevant to an ongoing counterintelligence investigation, so unless you haven’t been paying any attention at all an imminent indictment shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Still, it’s a significant development in the “Russia” story. Former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer once described Manafort as “someone who played a limited role in the campaign for a short time,” but Manafort’s title in that limited role was “campaign chairman” and he served in that capacity until the press revealed his undisclosed business dealings with the Russkies themselves, and Spicer was last seen at the Emmy Awards doing a comedy routine that basically admitted he outright lied about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration. Unless you’re the most strident sort of supporter of Trump, the imminent indictment of a former Trump campaign chairman on charges related to “Russia” isn’t the “nothing burger” that Trump’s most strident supporters always claim. At the very least, Trump will have to explain why he ever hired the guy as a campaign chairman in the first place, given all the bragged-about dirt already known about him.
At this point we guess Manfort’s high-priced lawyers are advising him to spill whatever beans he has on the Trump son and son-in-law who were also indisputably in on the meeting with the Kremlin-tied lawyer and suspected Russian-mob-money-laundering Russian and the other two shady Russians, and whatever he might have on the even higher-ups. Given the loyalty Trump has shown to him, we don’t expect that Manafort will go too far out of his way to be loyal Trump or any of his kinfolk.

— Bud Norman

Hoping for the Best, Contemplating the Worst

President Donald Trump and top officials from his administration are warning that time is running out for a peaceful solution to North Korea’s recent provocations, which might very well be the best thing to be saying, but there’s no denying that every other sort of solution will be very bad. Accepting the fact of the nutcase North Korean dictatorship as a nuclear power with intercontinental ballistic capabilities is also an intolerable outcome, though, and there’s no denying that past efforts at a more conciliatory diplomacy have failed to prevent the North Koreans from recent tests of a nuclear bomb capable of destroying a major city and missiles lobbed over Japanese air space that could reach American territory.
Tough talk hasn’t proved any more effective over the past many decades of dealings with the nutcase North Korean dictatorships, and has failed spectacularly in recent weeks, with their latest and most worrisome round of tests coming after Trump threatened “fire and fury like no one has ever seen” in case of any further provocations, but it might best to keep it up. One fact that the nutcase North Korean dictatorship has to accept is the fact that if it does come down to a nuclear war there won’t be much of North Korea left, as a devastating response to a nuclear attack against the United States has been American policy through every president since Truman, and one this administration might actually relish implementing, and that’s a strong hand to play with even the most nutcase dictators.
As United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who has proved quite adept at the job, put it in an interview with the Cable News Networks’ “State of the Union” program on Sunday, “If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, if the United States has to defend itself or its allies, North Korea will be destroyed.” She was quick to add that “None of us want that. None of us want war. But we also have to look at the fact that we are dealing with someone who is being reckless, irresponsible and is continuing to give threats not only to the United States but to all of its allies.” Which strikes us as some very savvy diplomatic speech. It warns of the dire consequences of making America defend itself or its allies, leaves carefully unsaid what level of provocation would provoke that result, signals a willingness to continue negotiations on reasonable terms, and allows room for peaceful and tolerable solution.
National security advisor H.R. McMaster, a lieutenant Army general who served admirably in three wars and holds a doctorate in American history and is regarded by even the mainstream press as one of the wise hands of the Trump administration, took a similarly strong but precisely worded stand on the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” program, saying of the nutcase North Korean dictator that “He’s going to have to give up his nuclear weapons,” noting the president has been very clear about that, but quickly adding “all options are on the table.” Softly spoken but carrying the aforementioned big stick, with a metaphorical also dangled, and a resume to back up both the tough talk and the clear yearning for a peaceful solution, it also seemed as right a diplomatic statement as we could think of.
Trump himself spent the morning “tweeting,” including an apparently newsworthy video of of the president hitting a golf ball and former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton being knocked down by it, which Trump’s fans reportedly found hilarious, but he also “tweeted” a couple of taunts against the nutcase North Korean dictator. One boasted that the United Nations sanctions on North Korea had led to “gas lines,” and another nicknamed the nutcase dictator “Rocket Man.” We don’t doubt that the recent sanctions have hindered North Korea’s economy, but at this point it’s a rare North Korean who owns an automobile and the rest are pretty much accustomed to abject poverty, and it’s clear that nutcase dictator doesn’t care much about any of that. As for that “Rocket Man” zinger, we’re also doubtful that the nutcase dictator can be brought by down by a nickname the same way “Low Energy” Jeb Bush and “Little” Marco Rubio and “Crooked” Clinton were. It’s not at all the polished diplomatic speech we’re accustomed to, but we’ll hold out faint hope it’s so crazy it just might work.
If it doesn’t, and things comes to worst, we’ll trust that America still stands with or without Guam or San Diego and the nutcase North Korean dictatorship doesn’t exist at all, and hope that the damage to everyone is as limited as possible. The best case scenarios involve civilian casualties not seen since the darkest days of the World War II in Seoul, South Korea’s capital and most populous city, and the death toll in North Korea’s capital and most populous city of Pyongyan even worse, and maybe even the nutcase North Korean dictator getting a missile launched against Japan’s capital and most populous city, and perhaps China or the Russians or various other far more formidable nuclear powers getting involved.
Those worst-case scenarios seem unlikely, given that most of the parties involved aren’t nutcase dictatorships, and China has already stated that it won’t stop us from nuking North Korea if North Korea nukes us first, and Haley got both China and Russia on board with those UN sanctions, but there’s no denying it remains a worrisome situation. Should the United States’ intelligence community reach a consensus solution with high a degree of confidence that the nutcase North Korean dictator was about to launch a nuclear attack on America or one of it’s allies the right thing to do might very well be a pre-emptive attack, and there would be some very sound diplomatic explanations for that that, but we can’t shake a nervous feeling about Trump and his “tweets.” He’s told the world that the United States’ intelligence community is probably wrong about Russia’s meddling in the past election and was surely wrong about the imminent threat posed by the nutcase Iraqi dictator’s weapons of mass destruction, and that an American president had lied about it to justify a pre-emptive war, and there’s no telling what either China or Russia might make of that.
We hold out hope and fervent prayers that it all comes to some peaceful and tolerable solution, and aren’t worried by the more measured tough talk from those top administration officials, and feel reassured by those wise old hands who show up on the Sunday morning news talk shows. That dictator in North Korea strikes us as a real nutcase, though, and no matter what wise counsel America finds he’s going to have to some say in how it turns out.

— Bud Norman

After the Storms, the Gathering Drip, Drip, Drip

Hurricane winds and epic flooding on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean have blown most of the rest of the news off the cable news channels for the past couple of days, with President Donald Trump’s recent dalliance with the Democrats grabbing the rest of the attention, but the steady drip, drip, drip of leaks about “Russia” have continued.
It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as the saying goes, and the recent natural disasters and self-inflicted political disasters have at least served Trump well by largely blowing away some of the recent revelations. Right around the time Hurricane Harvey started battering Houston and environs it was revealed that Trump had signed a letter to build a Trump Tower in downtown Moscow in late 2015, which was right around the time he was starting to campaign for president and saying suspiciously nice things about the Russian government and indignantly denying that he had any business dealings with anyone in Russia. This doesn’t look good, even if the die-hard supporters can insist it’s not at all illegal, and it would have looked a worse if there had been room for it on the front page.
There’s also recent news that the son of retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former top campaign foreign policy advisor and a transition team member and briefly the national security advisor, has also come under the scrutiny of the special counsel investigation that seems to be coming along at a brisk pace. The elder Flynn is already in legal jeopardy for failing to disclose his lucrative earnings as an agent for foreign governments in Turkey and Russia, as well as conflicts of interest regarding the advice he gave Trump on issues involving Turkey and Russia, and at the very least his failure to disclose this on his ever-updated security clearance forms. It was bad enough to get Flynn kicked out of the Trump administration after less than a month on the job, although questions about why he was there in the first place will continue to linger, and it’s bad enough to drag his son into the mess.
The son has long been on the father’s payroll as a chief of staff, even though hi most impressive credential seems to be an associate’s degree in golf course management, and he was already a controversial figure in his own right. He got kicked off the Trump campaign after he “tweeted” about the nutcase “Pizzagate” conspiracy that had Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton running a satanic child sex-abuse ring in the basement of a Washington pizzeria, and has apparently been knee-deep in his father’s begrudgingly disclosed dealings with foreign governments. His dad’s lawyer has stated that his client has “a story to tell,” presumably about people even more high up than a national security advisor, and will be willing to tell in exchange for immunity, and we imagine the downright Trumpian go-after-the-families strategy that the special counsel is pursuing will probably make him all the more willing.
Trump’s own son got dragged before a congressional investigative committee to talk about that meeting in Trump Tower he agreed to with a Russian lawyer that he understood to be a representative of the Russian government and its ongoing efforts to assist the Trump campaign, which also included four other Russians with ties to alleged money laundering schemes and other Russian mischief, as well as Trump’s son-in-law and campaign chairman, but at least it was in a closed session. There were leaks of of the testimony, of course, which of course had Democrats grousing that it should have been televised, so Trump is also feeling the pressure of when they come after your family.
There’s also a noteworthy development that the powerful Facebook social media site has admitted it sold $100,000 of ad space to a Russian “troll farm” that targeted certain of its readers with dubious stories regarding Clinton’s fitness for the presidency and Trump’s unprecedented credentials for the job, which seems to corroborate the conclusions of all the intelligence agencies that the Russians tried to meddle in our election. A hundred grand of internet advertising buys a lot more than a similar amount spent on a broadcast network, given how the internet knows everything about everyone and can specifically target the most susceptible audience for any given messages, so it’s harder than ever for Trump and his most ardent supporters to deny that Russia played any role in the past election.
They used to grouse that the real scandal was that we only know about any of this if because President Barrack Obama tapped Trump’s phones at Trump Tower and led the “deep state” to stage a silent coup, but the past weeks have dealt a further blow to that silliness. Trump’s “tweeted” accusation about Obama ordering a tap on his phones was never backed up with any proof, but the past week brought quietly conceded admission that a White House ordered review found none of the top-secret warrants that would have been needed, but he’s long since shifted to the claim it was a broader pattern of surveillance that he was talking about. To his most ardent supporters that meant how Obama-era officials were eagerly leaking the intercepted conversations that Trump campaign officials were having with Russians tied directly to the Russian government, but that narrative also took a blow during the hurricane lull.
The chief villainess of the “deep state” conspiracy theory was Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice, who stood accused of “unmasking” the identities of Trump campaign officials whose conservations with foreign officials had been intercepted by the intelligence community. The intercepts occurred because the government was taking an interest in the communications of foreign officials, and they just happened to involve some that occurred with Trump campaign officials, but Rice stood accused of “unmasking” the redacted identities of the people they were talking about. We’re no fans of Rice, who blatantly lied to the American people about the causes of the tragedy at Benghazi and advised all sorts of policies we though ill-advised, but we could never see why it was wrong for her to to ask which Americans the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates were talking to about setting up a back-channel of communications with the Russians, who turned out to be the next president’s son-in-law and most trusted advisor.
Even such a conservative talk radio hero as South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy had to admit that “I thought she gave a very good accounting of herself, frankly, and I’d be the first to say otherwise.” Rice was entirely within her rights as a national security advisor to ask how the Americans were on those tapes she was listening to, and for matter obliged by the duties of her job as a national security advisor, and so far no one is alleging that she illegally leaked information about what she had learned. Even if she did, we’re still grateful for the heads up.
By now these bombshells seem mundane, and there are always so many other natural and man-made disastors that Trump’s most ardent supporters and most strident critics can seize on, but the drip, drip, drip seems heading to flood levels.

— Bud Norman

Socialized Medicine and the State of the Union

Self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has officially proposed a Medicare For All Act, which is basically a socialized single-payer insurance scheme, and although it’s not likely to become law in the near future it’s nonetheless an ominous development.
The bill already has 15 Democratic Senators signed on, including several who are considered contenders for the party’s next presidential nomination, and all the polls confirm our anecdotal evidence from conversations at the local hipster bars that the party’s increasingly leftward base is enthusiastic for the idea. For now they don’t comprise a majority of popular opinion, much less the needed congressional majorities, and there’s also a putatively Republican president to veto anything they might get passed, but the idea no longer seems so far-fetched.
Democrats have been chasing the white whale of socialized medicine for a century or so, and Republicans have been successfully fending off the bogeyman of their efforts for just as long, The left has long noted that America is alone among the industrialized nations in not offering some sort of universal health insurance, and the right has long been able to reply by noting how much longer people in those countries have to wait for a medical procedure, and how much they pay in taxes, how puny their militaries become to pay for it, how free markets are as always more efficient than the government-run variety, and all those arguments still stand.
Even the editorial board at The Washington Post acknowledges the budget-busting implications of Sander’s proposal, and such relatively centrist Democrats as recent Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are warning against Sanders’ influence on the party. The Democrats had a hard enough time getting the semi-socialized Obamacare passed with bigger majorities in congress and a more true-blue Democrat in the White House, they suffered huge electoral losses on the lower ticket right down to the city council levels as a result, and for now there are only 15 Democratic senators and the usual number of House members signed on.
That’s for now, though, and these days there’s no telling how long that will last. For four consecutive electoral cycles the Republicans gained everything but the presidency on a promise to repeal Obamacare, and on the fourth try a putatively Republican won the White House on the same promise, but so far it’s proved as impossible as ever to undo any entitlement program that has a couple of million telegenic beneficiaries. The Republicans are betting that when Obamacare inevitably fails with vast human consequences both public opinion and the Democrats will come crawling for some free market solution, and not notice they didn’t try to at least stave it off, but we wouldn’t make that bet.
Some Trump-wary Republican pundits we respect think the Democrats are lurching so far leftward with a socialized single-payer system that they’ll wind up with a ’72-style loss, but these days seem even weirder than that weird year. Once upon our young lifetimes the words “socialized medicine” were a career-ending slut, but that was before a self-described socialist won 45 percent or so of the Democratic votes. It’s not good to root for other party going to the extremes, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, because there’s always a good chance that your party will as well.
Those sound arguments about the inefficiencies and far-reaching costs of socialized medicine still persuade most Republicans and the more sane sorts of Democrats, but the vast majority of the country is as always susceptible to promises of coverage for everyone at a vastly lower price. We can easily believe that next time around those silly Democratic primary voters will buy it, as the last time around the Republican party nominated a candidate peddling the same snake oil. All indications are that after an illegal-immigrant-bashing campaign Trump is eager to sign the illegal-immigrant-friendly “DREAM Act” that Obama and those bigger Democratic majorities couldn’t get passed, and he’s also capitulated to the Democrats’ budget and debt ceiling proposals, so there’s no telling how he might come out on a deal to immortalize him as the man who brought universal health coverage to America.
For now, at least, there are clean-ups from the floods and “Russia” leaks and plenty of other things to worry about.

— Bud Norman

Hillary’s Back, and Nobody’s Got It

Hillary Clinton is back in the news these days, which we’d think that would be the last the place she’d want to be. She’s got a new book to plug, though, so we can well understand how she’d be glad of any publicity she can get. As a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive first woman President of the United States she’s understandably uncomfortable outside the spotlight, too, and after the past couple of years one can hardly blame her for wanting to get a few things off her chest.
We haven’t yet read Clinton’s book, and probably won’t get around to it for long while, but the publicity campaign’s shrewdly pre-released excerpts and the accompanying interviews with the author have been unavoidable, and they’ve all been undeniably newsworthy. The book is titled “What Happened” — we admire her restraint in not adding a certain common curse word, given the current degraded state of political discourse — and follows with a number of explanations that are likely to generate sales but won’t please any Republican and seems to have annoyed most of the Democrats.
These days most Democrats are understandably annoyed that Clinton is back in the news at all, given how she always reminds all those increasingly reluctant Trump voters why they voted for him in the first place. Nor does the growing base of her increasingly leftward party appreciate her criticisms of self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose criticisms of her lucrative relationship with Wall Street interests she blames for making Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” taunts seem plausible to the undecideds. She blames the Democratic establishment as well as its anti-establishment for her loss, admits to a couple of minor mistakes, and although she goes on with some very serious accusations against President Donald Trump she seems to be relenting her longstanding leadership in the Democratic party.
Although we’ve long loathed that horrible woman, from way back in the days when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever, we regard her as a formidable foe and take due heed of a couple of her parting warnings. She truly was compromised by all that money she’d been paid by Goldman-Sachs and the rest of those Wall Street guys, and Trump didn’t need Sanders to tell him that, but a more honest Clinton would admit it and then note that Trump’s administration was as fully-staffed as ever by Goldman-Sachs guys, which might have helped stave off the leftward lurch in the Democratic party that might conceivably ensure a second Trump administration. Her conspiracy theories about Russia’s internet disinformation efforts being coordinated with domestic partisan agents lately don’t seem at all far-fetched, and we advise our Republican readers to take them very seriously.
As loathsome as she was, Clinton was always a formidable foe, so by  the same Republican instincts with which we regard all those fallen Confederates we wish her well, and won’t begrudge any small monument the Democrats might raise some day. We hope she’ll use those swollen book royalties to lavish gifts on her grandchildren and contribute to other worthy charities, and use that influence-peddling foundation of hers to good means, enjoy her walks in the upper state New York woods, and find God’s grace in those Methodist services she’s long attended. Should her admittedly impressive intellect and many years as a First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive first woman President of the United States yield any other noteworthy warnings, we’ll try to take note.
— Bud Norman

Bannon with Abandon

If you weren’t watching the continuous Florida storm coverage on all the cable news channels on Sunday evening, you might have caught former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s interview with the Columbia Broadcast System’s “60 Minutes” program. We didn’t, as we were out enjoying the perfect weather we’ve been having around here lately, but of course we couldn’t avoid reading and hearing all of it on Monday.
Even after being fired or having resigned in order to better serve President Donald Trump from the outside, depending on which version of events you prefer, Bannon still has a knack for making news. He was a controversial figure as the “chief executive officer” of Trump’s campaign, even more so in his administration post, and got enough media attention that Trump was reportedly miffed about. To Trump’s most ardent supporters Bannon was considered the keeper of the nationalist and isolationist and populist and protectionist faith that was going to make America great again, and to Trump’s most strident critics on both the left and right he was the authoritarian and alt-right quintessence of everything they hated about Trump.
His exit from the White House and his return to his previous gig of running the Breitbart.com internet news site was a big story before all the storms started, and even with the floods still rising in Florida his first on-air interview took up a full half of “60 Minutes.” He took full advantage of the opportunity to generate another days of news, of course, offering several opinions that will surely outrage Trump’s most strident critics on both the left and the right, which will surely gratify Trump’s most ardent supporters, but Trump himself also came in for some notable criticism.
Bannon said that Trump’s decision to fire Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey was “the biggest mistake in modern political history,” so of course that got the most media attention. This does not strike us as much of an overstatement, especially by Bannon standards, and we note that he also said “worst political mistake ever” was too bombastic even for him, but it was still some criticism from Trump’s most ardent supporter that Trump’s most strident critics relished. Bannon explained that Comey’s firing was a mistake because it inevitably led to the appointment of special counsel James Mueller, who’s now conducting far more thorough investigation of “Russia” than the one Trump effectively stopped Comey from pursuing, so he’s implicitly conceding he expects that to turn out even worse than Watergate or the Monica Lewinsky business or the many other worst modern political mistakes.
Bannon also pledged to be Trump’s “wing-man,” though, so maybe he’s just trying to give some good advice about exposing oneself to enemy fire. In the rest of the interview he remained fiercely loyal to Trump’s agenda, at least the nationalist and isolationist and populist and protectionist parts of it, and he vowed the mighty wrath of Breitbart.com and Bannon’s own media clout, and potentially the backing of his billionaire backers, against any Trump administration officials or any sorts of Republicans who won’t pledge their loyalty to whatever Trump might want to do at any given moment.
Even such a veteran interviewer as Charlie Rose seemed quite taken aback by it, which allowed Bannon to make specific threats and name specific names, and clearly explain his master plan to burn down the Republican party and raise a new nationalist and populist and all that party from the ashes. He dismissed the entirety of Republican party’s pre-Trump foreign policy and defense experts as “idiots” he “holds in contempt, total and complete contempt,” threatened primary challenges to any congressmen deemed unloyalw to Trump, cited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan as people he’d like to get rid of, and accused the broader Republican “establishment” of “trying to nullify the election.” He also defined loyalty to Trump by “the Billy Bush day” standard, which means who was still loyally defending Trump when the entire nation heard the soon-to-be-president bragging on audiotape about how he could grab women by the wherever because he’s a star, and that’s a pretty high standard.
He also said he hoped all those “dreamers” who are suddenly the national sob story will be forced to “self-deport,” and we’re sure that Trump’s most ardent admirers loved every part of it, but we’re not sure what Trump made of it. Bannon also took aim at several Trump administration officials for publicly criticizing the president’s response to the violence that occurred during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying they should quit if they’re not entirely on board with whatever the president says at any given moment, but good look finding replacements who can meet that very high standard. He further took aim at senior White House advisor and jack-of-all-trades Jared Kushner, a Manhattanite and longtime Democratic donor and suspected globalist who frequently clashed with Bannon on such matters as nationalism and populism and the wisdom of firing Comey, but Kushner is also Trump’s son-in-law and we notice that he’s still working at the White House while Bannon isn’t, so that will likely play better with Trump’s most ardent supporters than Trump himself.
Bannon and his Breitbart.com and their billionaire backers have a limited influence in the grand scheme of things, but it’s enough to further fracture an already fractuous Republican party. There are a lot of Republican districts where Bannon’s efforts would only bolster a Republican incumbent’s chances in a primary, but there are others where the combined efforts of Bannon and Trump could find some true believer to knock off an office-holder who might otherwise have impeccable conservative credentials but doesn’t meet that “Billy Bush day” standard. In some cases this would lead to the election of some sane-by-Democratic-standards challenger, and maybe in enough cases to affect Democratic majorities in Congress that wouldn’t go along with any part of the Trump agenda now matter how far left might veer, but Bannon and other ardent Trump supporters can be consoled that at least we’d be done with that darned Republican establishment.
Both Trump and the “establishment” along with the rest of the country have recently survived two horrific hurricanes, though, and we expect most of us will survive the likes of Bannon as well.

— Bud Norman

Waiting for the Waters to Recide

America went twelve blissful years without a hurricane landing on its shores, but nature seems intent on making up for lost time lately, and the winds of two successive hurricanes have blown everything else out of the news. Last week Hurricane Harvey brought epic flooding to Houston, America’s fourth most populous city, this week Hurricane Irma seems likely to bring high winds and high water to almost everywhere in the state of Florida, where one of out 20 Americans live, and although so far it’s not as bad as feared it’s still very, very bad.
This is enough wind and water to fill the entirety of a 24-hour news cycle on its own merits, but it also brings compelling video footage of brave reporters being filmed by brave but nameless cameramen standing in the whipping winds and driving rains talking about how very, very bad the weather is, and no matter its political leanings no cable news network can resist that ripe opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Those ambitious reporters also find plenty of real heroism in those flood zones, too, featuring muscled first-responders and even more inspiring regular folk, and it always makes for great television. They’ve made a star of that daredevil pilot with the Gary Cooper-esque looks and taciturn speech who keeps flying toward the storm, hunted down a couple named Harvey and Irma Schulte in New Jersey who have been married for 75 years and have taken care of more than 100 foster children and were sad to hear about the storms, come up with some cute footage of the flamingoes at Busch Gardens walking in a straight line to a shelter, and covered pretty much every other angle we can think of.
Such rain and water and the rest of nature’s fury always brings plenty of tragedy, too, and no matter their political leanings all of the news media have also respectfully reported that. There are always human failings that worsen matters, too, and as always the media are on that story, but this time around they don’t seem as gleeful about.
So far the death tolls from these storms have been tragic for all included and anyone who knew and loved them, but they’re also so very much lower than the human cost of past lesser storms that there’s no denying the progress America has made in its ongoing struggle with nature. This should unite the country in a celebration of itself, along with all that footage of first responders and regular folk acting heroically in the worst of circumstances, but it doesn’t give any advantage to either side of the ongoing political divide.
We’ll leave it to President Donald Trump’s most staunch defenders to explain why he deserves any particular critic for things going so relatively well, but his most strident critics seem to find themselves unable to point to anything he’s done to make things worse. They can rightly ridicule his ham-fisted photo-op in dry and inland Texas, where he boasted about the big turnout of storm refugees, and his similarly ham-fisted follow-ups, but we doubt that anyone underwater cared much about that. The federal and state and local officials responsible for dealing with the storms have done their jobs in any case, along with all those remarkably heroic regular folks, despite what you might say about Trump or any other putative Republican.
All of those federal and state and local officials who have performed their duties imperfectly yet relatively well are the hated “establishment,” though, and those regular folk heroically pulling one another from the high waters are conspicuously multi-ethnic, so Trump’s most strident critics on both the most crazed fringes of the left and the more respectable right will have something to work with. Both Texas and Florida are Republican states, the former more so than the matter, but the cities that have been hit hardest skew Democrat, the federal officials involved are the “deep state” that Trump’s staunchest admirers blame for his poll numbers, and after the waters subside it’s going to be a matter of all sides dodging blame, claiming credit, and coming to some solution about how to pay for the rest of the country’s share for the unavoidable cost occasional nature’s fury.
We stubborn climate change skeptics enjoyed those 12 blissful years of no hurricanes landing in America, but all the climate change alarmists seem intent on making up for lost time during the recent disasters, and we have to admit a momentary disadvantage. That argument will continue into the sure-to-come calm days, and we doubt that anyone currently underwater will care much at the moment about that no matter his political leanings.
There was also a devastating earthquake in Mexico the past week, and wildfires in the drough-stricked America out west, Irma wiping out a couple of our impoverished and less-fortified Caribbean neighbors, a densely populous chunk of south Texas will drying out, and God only knowing what sort of natural disasters were occurring elsewhere. With only so much time in a 24-hour news cycle, however, those are relegated to the back pages and the scrollers beneath the radar images of that huge scary storm, and so is the rest of it.
The rest of it includes some intriguing developments in that “Russia” story we’re sure Trump was happy to see downplayed, as well some recently complicated politics deriving from Trump siding with the Democrats over the whole mess about how to keep the government open and with an ongoing line of credit to pay for these storm disasters along with all the rest of keeping the “deep state” and military readying for deployment to the Korean peninsula and the churches and the rest of the pulling one-another-out-of-the-water civil society going. We’re actually hopeful that Trump and those hated Republicans and hated Democrats in Congress will work it out, and that those hated Courts won’t foul it all it up, given how dire the stakes and how completely self-interested are all the parties involved.
After that we’re not as hopeful, but by now we’ve weathered enough storms to know that the waters always eventually recede, and that they reveal whatever they reveal. We have friends in east Florida who have evacuated or riding it out without power and waters lapping at the door, and one who retired a newspaper pension was is safely but discontentedly in an Atlanta hotel room, and the town of St. Petersburg where we happily lived during Kindergarten is next in the storms path, and for the moment that’s the big news.

— Bud Norman