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The Latest on the “Russia” Thing

The “Russia” thing was back in the news with a vengeance on Monday, with federal indictments of two officials from President Donald Trump’s campaign and the revelation that a lower-ranking third official had already pleaded guilty to charges and is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, and both sides of the matter had plenty to work with.
One of the indicted was Paul Manafort, who served for five months as Trump’s campaign manager and now stands accused of failing to disclose his lobbying efforts on behalf of the Russia-friendly parties in Ukraine, illegally laundering the huge amounts of money he made and otherwise failing to pay taxes on the lucrative business, and 11 other counts that include “conspiracy against the United States.” Most of the charges pre-date his involvement with the Trump campaign, so they don’t definitively provide proof of the collusion with Russia’s meddling in the past election that Trump’s critics have been so ardently hoping for, but he lasted long enough to get the Republican convention to remove language from its platform about arming the anti-Russian elements in Ukraine, and he was for five months the campaign’s manager, so it doesn’t look good for Trump.
Also indicted was Rick Gates, a former business partner in Manafort’s lucrative lobbying efforts on behalf of some of the world’s worst dictators and wannabe dictators. but as obsessively as we’ve been following the “Russia” thing we have to admit he never heard of him before. Another partner in the firm was longtime Trump friend and advisor Roger Stone, whose sleaziness goes back to the Nixon administration and has recently been kicked off “Twitter,” and who would be well-advised to hire some high-priced legal representation of his own, so Trump’s involvement with the whole sleazy operation does not look good.
We’d also previously never heard of George Papadapoulos, the relatively low-ranking national security advisor to the campaign who had already copped a no-jail-time plea by admitting to making false statements to investigators about his Russian contacts in an apparent exchange for dirt on the higher ups, but that also doesn’t look good for Trump. He probably wouldn’t have been able to swing such a sweet deal without some tales to tell on the higher-ups, and we expect he’ll do some damage to the Trump brand before this is all over.
None of it  yet  amounts to the smoking gun that Trump’s most strident critics have all been hoping for, as all of Trump’s most ardent defenders are rightly gloating, but they can’t deny that it all looks bad. All of the right wing talk radio hosts and the rest of the Trump-friendly made the case that there’s still no smoking gun, but spent most of their airtime minutes and column inches reviving years-old stories about Trump’s vanquished Democratic opponent “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, and although that awful woman is no doubt guilty of some of the charges none of it means that Trump’s high-ranking associates and perhaps Trump himself  isn’t guilty of something serious.
In any case, we expect the “Russia” thing will continue to be in the news for a while.

— Bud Norman

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Catalonia, Catalonia, What Makes Your Big Head So Hard?

The last time Spain had a civil war it was fought between supporters of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco and communists who wanted to establish a worker’s paradise similar to Stalin’s Soviet Union, which offered an even worse choice than the one America voters faced in the last presidential election. This time around it’s the seceding government of the largely autonomous Catalonia region against the federal government, and although it lacks the military might to wage an actual shooting civil war like America once endured with its secessionists the spat doesn’t look to end well for anyone.
Catalonia’s regional government has declared its independence from Spain, but the Spanish government has asserted constitutional authority to prevent that from happening. The Spaniards have kicked all the rebellious Catalan officials out of office, arrested several of them, sent in enough firepower to get it done, and the smart money is betting they’ll prevail. So far no nation has recognized Catalonia’s independence, and the polling there suggests most Catalans would prefer to remain Spaniards.
An independent Catalonia would be a tiny country with a tiny population and tiny economy, too, but it could be viable. It has the world-class city of Barcelona as its capital, lucrative borders with the Mediterranean Sea and France, and a long tradition of running its regional affairs to the satisfaction of its people. Catalonia also has its own way of talking, a rich distinctive culture that gave the world Antoni Gaudi’s mind-blowing architecture and some great cuisine, and no doubt some very valid complaints with the Spanish federal government. There’s a case to be made for Catalonia’s independence, but from our vantage point here in Kansas we’re not buying it, and we’re sure it worries people all over.
Even here in Kansas, where the leaves are beautifully turning and we’re temporarily back to sunny skies and temperatures as moderate as you can hope for in late October, there’s a certain uncomfortable sense that here and around the world too many people are itching to sever the bonds that have long bound them to their countrymen. It’s probably more pronounced in Spain, where the Catalans have officially declared their independence and the Basques have long waged an occasionally terrorist war for it, or in Canada where the Francophone Quebecois have long threatened to assert their independence, or in the United Kingdom, where the Scots recently agreed by a scarily slim majority to stay on board. There are countless independence movements in South America and Africa and the Middle East, as well, and given how none of those regions have managed their affairs to anyone’s satisfaction that’s all the more unsettling.
Even here in relatively hale America there’s the longstanding talk about Texas reasserting its independence and California splitting into three states, as well as all the ongoing talk on both sides about the reliably Republican-voting blue states and the the hard-core Democratic blue states parting ways, and although none of it seems likely to come pass any time soon it doesn’t look to end well. If the tiny country of Catalonia and its tiny population and tiny economy gain independence, it will only encourage the separatist movements in the Basque region of Spain and the Quebec province of Canada and the Scottish portion of the United Kingdom, not to mention all those destabilized elements in the more already unstable portions of the world, and it might even wind up enflaming the conflicts here in once-Bleeding Kansas.
From our perspective here in Kansas we’re sympathetic to local rule, and can’t blame Europe’s nationalist parties for their skepticism about European Union rule, and well understand that a lot of those South American and African and Middle Eastern boundaries were badly drawn by European powers, and that some adjustments in some places are required. Catalonia’s case, though, is less compelling. When America declared its independence from the United Kingdom its Continental Congress acknowledged that “When in in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth to which the Last of Nature and Nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect for the opinion of mankind requires that they should declare the the causes which impel them to the separation.” The rebellious congress of the United States America compellingly made that case in the Declaration of Independence, and so far the Catalans haven’t.
So far as we can tell the Catalans’ case isn’t based on any valid complaint that the federal government has prevented them from running their region to the people’s general satisfaction, but rather on a stubborn ethnic pride that wants to assert itself. This is understandable enough from our perspective here in Kansas, where we also have our own way of talking and doing things and resent any outside interference, but not convincing. So far at least Kansa continues to do things mostly it own way, begrudgingly allows those crazy Californians and New Yorkers and the rest of the blue states to do things their own way, and as bad as things are everywhere they could be a lot worse.
So far as we can tell Catalonia and Spain could continue the same slightly tolerable arrangement, and we hope they do. Some adjustments to the borders might be required elsewhere, but for the rest of us some stability and a lack of stubborn ethnic pride would be more comforting right now.

— Bud Norman

The Ongoing Problem of Prominent Men

The list of prominent men who have lately been plausibly accused of various degrees of sexual harassment continues to grow, to the point that we’d now advise our women friends to avoid any encounter with a prominent man. By now here’s no keeping up with all the recent allegations, which have been hurled against such a remarkably diverse number of men that it’s impossible to pin the blame on any segment of society except prominent men.
This latest spate of stories started with heavyweight Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, and all the A-list actresses who joined a legion of women alleging he had harassed or outright assaulted them, and after all the years of Hollywood’s moralizing the right can hardly be blamed for relishing that. A screenwriter and film director of prominence named James Toback stands accused by some A-list actresses of similar behavior, the head of the newly fledged but already formidable Amazon Studios recently resigned after allegations of sexual harassment, not to mention all the Hollywood scandals going back to the silent days, and although they’re not as prominent as Weinstein or his A-list accusers it further suggests that Hollywood’s relentless critique of sexist America is ridiculous.
The rest of the left’s cultural redoubts now stand accused of similar hypocrisy. The frankly liberal MSNBC news network’s Mark Halperin is accused by five women of harassment and assault when he worked for the American Broadcasting Company, and he’s told the Cable News Network that “I know understand from these accounts that my behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain.” The newfangled Vox Media’s editorial director and a once iconic editor of the formerly venerable New Republic stand similarly accused, and the music biz has its usual scandals. These days academicians aren’t very prominent, but if they were we’re sure the academy would also provide a steady stream of scandals.
Which is not to deny the left it’s glee about all the scandals on the right. There was no more self-righteous a moralizer on the right than Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, so let them have their fun with the recent revelation that he paid $32 million to settle the latest in a series of lawsuits alleging sexual harassment. O’Reilly doesn’t dispute the settlement figure, but insists that he has “shocking proof” that the allegations were baseless. He claims that he chose to write a check for $32 million rather than present that shocking proof in a court of law only because he wanted to spare the embarrassment of a messy trial from his children, who would have surely endured it for the 32 mil and Pop’s vindication. He has lately admitted on his own website that he’s mad at God about it, and all his past moralizing looks ridiculous.
The Fox News network’s longtime head honcho died amidst similar scandals and expensively-settled lawsuits, it renewed O’Reilly’s contract knowing about the $32 million settlement and only fired him when the advertisers bailed, and it routinely fawns on a president who famously bragged about how could he could grab women by their wherevers, and still faces lawsuits by the some of the numerous women alleging he did just that. Creepy behavior by prominent men clearly is not limited to any particular ideology.
Even some of the prominent men who once enjoyed the respect of both the left and right now stand accused of creepy behavior. A respected journalist now claims that Elie Weisel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist, once put his uninvited hand on her buttocks. President George H.W. Bush, who was reviled for his policies by the left but never questioned for his gentlemanly behavior, just recently stands accused of the very same offense in past weeks, with each of the accusers telling the same story about how he made the same joke about his favorite magician being “David Cop-a-Feel,” which his spokespeople do not deny.
Bush’s recent alleged behavior is highly uncharacteristic of his long public life and probably best explained by the creeping dementia of the 93-year-old’s Lewy disease that has also consigned him to a wheelchair, and even if true Weisel’s offense should only slightly taint his otherwise distinguished life. Still, it’s inappropriate behavior, and should not be condoned no matter how prominent the man.
We’re by no means prominent men, and cannot fully appreciate the temptations that such status might entail, but we wish they would all stop with the boorish behavior. It’s giving the rest of us men a bad reputation.

— Bud Norman

A Red Herring Twist in the Russia Story

One of the recent revelations about the “Russia” thing is that the Democratic National Committee helped pay for the now famous dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent that alleged President Donald Trump had fishy financial dealings with the Russian government and even fishier dealings with certain other Russians. All the top-rated conservative talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media were giddy about the story, first reported by the oh-so liberal establishment Washington Post, and Trump also claimed vindication, but it doesn’t strike us as much of big deal.
Any thoughtful observer assumed there was some Democratic involvement in the dossier when it first became known, the hippy-dippy but reliably factual Mother Jones magazine first confirmed it a full year ago, and all those top-rated conservative talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media have been telling their audience about it all along. The knowledge hasn’t yet made the “Russia” thing go away, nor the dossier’s numerous allegations about it, and probably won’t now. Recent attempts to turn “Russia” into a Democratic scandal also seem destined for failure.
The highly ethical sensibilities of all those talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media are deeply offended that the Democrats would stoop so low as to pay for opposition research on a Republican opponent, but this is hypocrisy too obvious for the public at large not to notice. Way back when Donald Trump Jr. was was forced by The New York Times to release an e-mail chain that showed a Russian lawyer explicitly offering the Trump campaign dirt on the Democratic nominee straight from the Russian government, and Trump Jr. agreeing to a meeting with an exclamatory “I love it,” the party line was that politics ain’t bean bag and of course everyone does opposition research.
The president’s defense of his son was that “most people would have taken that meeting,” even if it was a representative of a hostile foreign power offering something of value that campaign laws clearly prohibit campaigns from accepting, so its hard to share his current indignation that the Democrats paid for a British private investigator to snoop around his Russian connections. None of the Trump-hating liberal media seem have to mentioned it yet, but even such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves recall when Trump claimed he had hired a team of private investigators to look into President Barack Obama’s birthplace, and “tweeted” that “they can’t believe what they’re finding.” Trump later declared that “Obama was born in Hawaii, period,” and took credit for at long last putting any scurrilous rumors otherwise to rest, and in his defense we have to admit he probably never did hire any private investigators, but his suddenly puritan views about opposition research still look ridiculous.
The dossier is still largely unsubstantiated, as all the establishment media routinely admit, but by no means discredited, as the Trump-friendly media always describe it, and the fact that the Democrats helped pay for doesn’t change that. Every sort of conservative  has always insisted that just because a study skeptical of climate change was paid for by an energy company or some analysis of tax policy was paid for by rich people doesn’t mean the findings are necessarily valid, and that the data and methodology should be judged on their merits, so we’ll judge the dossier accordingly. So far a few niggling errors have been found, other parts have been corroborated by the media and the intelligence, the more salacious details have largely been ignored except by the gleeful Trump-hating late night comics, who have a collectively far larger audience than all those top-rated conservative talk radio shows, and for now we’re keeping an open mind about all of it.
The year-old Mother Jones scoop and the more ballyhooed report of the past week by The Washington Post both say that the dossier first started with funding from a Republican donor backing one of the many non-Trump candidates in the party primaries, who cut off the money after Trump won the nomination, and the Democrats then pitched in for a while, and after that the British private investigator continued the work on his own because he thought the entire world needed to know what he was finding out. No one on the left or right is disputing any of this, and on the right they’re speculating about which Republican from the hated Republican establishment would do such a thing, with Trump telling reporters that he has his own guesses he might reveal later, and it any case it doesn’t really matter.
Meanwhile the congressional and special counsel investigations into “Russia” continue, the unfriendly-to-Trump media keep coming up with incriminating and convincing stories about something fishy with the “Russia” thing, and we’ll try to continue looking with a open mind at the data and methodology as it all unfolds.

— Bud Norman

Pooping the Grand Old Party

President Donald Trump had a working lunch with al; the Republican members of the Senate on Tuesday, and oh how we would have loved to have been there. Trump always goes over well with adoring audiences of the true-blue fans clad in red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, but tends to lash out at critics, so all the Republican members of the Senate made for an intriguingly mixed crowd.
Most of the Senators were willing to laugh at Trump’s jokes and indulge his boasts, even if they wouldn’t go so far as to join in the usual rally cries of “build that wall” and “lock her up,” and all were probably eager to hear his support for their mostly agreed-upon tax-cutting plans, which was the stated reason for the lunch. The president had just renewed his recent war of words with Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker, though, and Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake was about to take the Senate floor with a blistering denunciation of Trump’s rhetoric, which shortly followed Arizona Sen. John McCain’s scathing remarks to a documentarian about the bone spurs that had spared Trump service in the Vietnam War, along with other intra-party acrimony. Trump’s audience also included Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Sasse, and majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, all of whom the president has also been publicly insulting lately, which is a big chunk of the Republican party’s oh-so-slight 52 members in the 100-seat Senate.
The lunch was off limits to the press, but the reporters gathered outside did get a few quotes from departing members about what Trump said. Second-ranking Republican Sen. John Cornyn said “It wasn’t a whole lot about taxes. It was about the late nine months and the success in terms of the regulatory environment, consumer confidence, the stock market, and also the need to get work done.” Given Trump’s aversion penchant for taking credit for anything people might like and his aversion to specific policy details, along with Cronyn’s generally reliable reputation for honesty, we don’t doubt a single word of it. Nobody mentioned any insults, though, and we assume the food was delicious, so the lunch seems to have gone well enough for the Trump.
It was nonetheless a tough day for Trump, though, as his Republican critics got in some pretty good shots, and the Democratic media passed them all along to their audiences with a strange new respect. Corker had once been a reluctant Trump supporter but criticized the president for praising the “good people on both sides” of a white supremacist rally in Virginia that killed a counter-protestor, questioning Trump’s temperament and stability, Trump responded with “tweets” calling him “Liddle” Bob Corker and quite falsely accusing the Senator of being for the Iranian nuclear deal he had in fact aggressively opposed, a claim the president was still “tweeting” on Tuesday, when Corker was telling the press that “I’ve seen no evolution in an upward way. In fact, it seems to be devolving.”
Flake never endorsed Trump’s candidacy nor his presidency, and wrote a book titled “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle” that was clearly a anti-Trump statement, so of course he was dubbed “Flake Jeff Flake” by Trump in the ensuing “tweeted” counter-punches. When he took to the Senate floor on Tuesday Flake never mentioned Trump by name, but his warning that “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions; the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons,” was understood even by Trump to be talking about Trump. The president can “tweet” any insults back at “Flake” that he wants, but they only bolster Flake’s case.
Flake might have been emboldened by his state’s senior Republican senator and failed Republican presidential nominee’s longstanding feud with the Trump, who infamously scoffed at McCain’s heroic decision to endure extra years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison rather than desert the prisoners he commanded by saying “he’s only a hero because he got caught. I like a guy who didn’t get, Okay?” McCain’s comment about how Trump had avoided the war altogether because of business school deferments and a bone spur injury that somehow has never hindered his golf career also scored points, also scored some points. Arizona was once the home of failed Republican presidential nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater, who wrote the original “Conscience of a Conservative” and was among the Republicans who counseled President Richard Nixon to resign, and we guess that bolstered Flake as well.
Previous Republican President George W. Bush has also recently weighed in with a denunciation of Trump that never mentioned him by name, and along with senators Murkowski and Collins and Sasse and the majority leader we’re sure there are other Republicans in the Senate and House and down here at our grassroots level who share the same exasperation. Many of those Senators who actually would be willing to don the “MAGA” ball caps and chant the “lock her up” and “build that wall” slogans would probably be willing to shift to whatever side where the favorable winds are blowing, too, and for now the Republican party is a tough crowd.
Bush is term-limited out of public office, Corker had already announced he wouldn’t seek re-election and Flake made the same announcement to his state’s biggest newspaper just 15 minutes before that blistering speech, McCain is too old to seek re-election even if he wasn’t battling brain cancer, and the rest of those Republicans have their own reasons of principle of local politics for taking their stands against Trump’s bullying behavior. Trump has plenty of anti-establishment supporters and some well-heeled donors to drive their likes from the party, meanwhile, and although some of the candidates they’re coming up with are kooky enough lose elections even in reliably Republican states there’s a chance he’ll at least wind up with control of the once Grand Old Party.
Which will at least satisfy Trump and his supporters to the extent that it annoys both the Democrats and the equally-hated Republicans establishment, but it doesn’t seem likely to result in any legislative victories. Flake and Corker have both been reliable votes for the most cherished objectives of the Republican party, even if they’re seemingly wimpish in insulting the opposition, and for most part so have the rest of the dissidents, and the anti-establishment alternatives seem more interested in feuding with whatever establishment survives rather than finding long sought solutions, even if they do somehow get elected. The Republican party might just be passing its most cherished bills with the majorities they have in the Senate and House, and in most cases we think the president would be signing it, if not for the take-no-prisoners brand of politics that fuddy-duddy establishments have bravely decried.

— Bud Norman

Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Our old fashioned parents always taught that whenever we make a mistake in life the right thing to do, and the smart play to make, is to fully confess and offer a sincere apology to anyone who was harmed. The lesson has served us well in life, even if it didn’t bring us to the White House, so we recommend it to President Donald Trump.
Trump brags that his parents taught him to never admit fault and under no circumstances offer an apology, and although the lesson does somehow seem to have brought him to the White House it hasn’t served him well there. Lately it has embroiled in him in spats with a bona fide war hero and the grieving family of a fallen soldier, and although he somehow survived similar spats on his way to the presidency we can’t see how he ultimately comes out a winner. Trump’s fans always note that at least he fights, but so far all his ill-chosen fights haven’t brought about any noticeable victories, and these latest spats don’t seem likely to help.
The spat with the grieving family started last week when a pesky reporter asked why Trump had gone 13 days without mentioning the four soldiers who had died in an ambush attack in Niger, and instead of offering any of the plausible explanations for the oversight he falsely boasted about he always personally consoled the families and suggested that his two predecessors had been too callous to do so. He hadn’t yet sent any letters or made any phone calls to the four grieving families, as it turned out, but he made a hurried effort to do so, and wound up giving offense to one of the families he called. By happenstance a partisan Democratic congresswoman is a close and long-time friend of the family who was with them when the call came through on speakerphone, and she revealed to the press that Trump had upset the family by saying that deceased soldier “knew what he was signing up for” and didn’t mention him by name, instead referring to him as “your guy.”
Trump denied every word of it, and claimed to have proof, but his spokespeople wound up verifying every word of it. His four-star general chief of staff took a rare turn at the podium to recall how similar words had comforted him when his own son had died in service to the country, and admitted that he had advised the president to use similar language. Then Trump’s press secretary insisted that just because Trump had indeed referred to the fallen soldier as “your guy” didn’t mean the president knew his name.
It turns out on the video record that the partisan Democrat only briefly mentioned her role in the naming of the building in honor of two fallen FBI agents, gave most of the credit to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, and spent the rest of the speech honoring the honoring the two fallen agents and everyone else who had served in the agency. Trump “tweeted” about the “wacky” congresswoman, who plausibly could be blamed for politicizing the tragedy, but he suffered a full week of bad news cycles when it became apparent she was telling the truth. When the fallen soldier’s grieving widow went on national television Monday morning to tearfully verify the partisan congresswoman’s account of the phone call, it set up another bad week.
Even such Trump critics as ourselves don’t doubt that the president was trying his very best to be empathetic and consoling in in that phone call, and going on the advice of a four-star general who faced the bad news he was addressing, but even his most ardent defenders have to admit that empathy and consolation are not his strengths, and by now there’s no denying that he did wind up giving offense to that grieving family. These things happen even to such empathetic and consoling and well-raised sorts such as ourselves, but we were raised to offer full confessions and full and profuse apologies in such situations, which might have soothed the family’s feelings and avoided another week of bad news. Trump, of course, “tweeted” that the grieving widow was lying about the conversation and doubled down on his taunts of the “wacky” but apparently truthful congresswoman, and provoked another bad week of news cycles for everyone.
Meanwhile, former Republican presidential nominee and Arizona Sen. John McCain was giving an interview to a documentary about the long-ago Vietnam War. McCain was was a prisoner of that war after one of his many Naval flights was shot down, and he endured extra years of tortuous imprisonment after he selflessly declined an early release due to his father’s and grandfather’s gold-star admiral status, rather than betray his comrades and hand the enemy a propaganda victory, and during his successful campaign for the Republican nomination Trump said with characteristic empathy that McCain was “only a hero because he got caught. I like a guy who didn’t get caught, OK?” During his interview with the documentarians, McCain didn’t mention Trump by name, but he lamented that too many lower-class men had been conscripted to service while too many upper-class men were spared the sacrifice of combat because they “found a doctor to say they had bone spur.”

Trump got four educational deferments from the draft while studying business at the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, and a fifth one when a well-paid doctor diagnosed a bone spur in the boastful athlete, and he later told fellow shock jock Howard Stern that he endured his own “personal Vietnam” by avoiding sexually transmitted diseases on the New York City dating scene while McCain suffered torture, so there’s little doubt who McCain was talking about. Trump hasn’t yet apologized for any of it, and it somehow propelled him to the White House, but so far as we can tell Trump has yet “tweeted” anything to continue this ultimately losing feud. Trump has his fans booing McCain’s name at his rallies, and McCain’s decisive vote against repeal and replacement of Obamacare and other Republican heresies make for reasonable debate about which is the more heretical Republican, but Trump is probably wise not to raise the question about who was more heroic during the Vietnam war.

Trump would also be wise to avoid any questions about who was more heroic in the recent tragic battle in someplace called Niger, where even the Republicans on the congressional committees admit they didn’t know we had any servicemen in harm’s way, but he wasn’t raised to avoid that fight. He might survive the ensuing bad news cycles, but he’s still hoping to repeal and replace Obamacare and get the biggest tax cut in history passed, and we better trust our parents’ advice that a full confession and fulsome apology is the best way to go about it.

— Bud Norman

Conspiracy Theories, Old and New

With nothing else on the local AM radio except National Football League games and financial advice and The Oak Ridge Boy’s all-time lamest hit on the usually reliable country oldies station, we wound up spending some drive time on Sunday evening listening to Alex Jones’ “Infowars” program. We enjoy a good conspiracy theory the way some people enjoy a good murder mystery, which is to say the more far-fetched the better, and Jones rarely disappoints.
If you’re not familiar with Jones, he’s the lunatic who likes to scream that the Sandy Hook mass shooting was a made-for-TV movie and certain politicians are literal demons from hell who literally smell of smell of brimstone and are putting chemicals in the water that are “turning the friggin’ frogs gay,” in between commercials peddling snake oil cures for the diseases that all those refugees are spreading, but as we tuned he was talking about the assassination of President John Kennedy. That’s rather old news by now, but Jones had we journalism types call a “news hook” because President Donald Trump has announced that he’s going to de-classify a great deal of information about the assassination, and we can hardly blame Jones for his glee. As a candidate for president Trump appeared on Jones show to attest to the hosts “great reputation” and promise that “I won’t let you down,” Jones has since boasted about how the things he says on show have been repeated by the president he helped elect, and even after so many years the Kennedy hit is still grist for the conspiracy theory mill.
Jones was joined during the segment by Roger Stone, a veteran of Richard Nixon’s self-named “Rat Fuckers” dirty tricks unit, a partner of Trump’s former campaign Richard Manafort in a lucrative lobbying business that mostly catered to the world’s worst dictatorships, and a longtime friend and advisor of Trump himself. Both men were quite convinced that President Lyndon Johnson was the mastermind of an elaborate plot to kill Kennedy, citing the supposed deathbed confession of former Central Intelligence Agency operative E. Howard Hunt, who’s better known as one of the burglars who tried to wiretap the Watergate offices of the Democratic party on Nixon’s behalf, and both were giddy at the possibility that Trump had acted to vindicate their theories.
After so many years we can’t imagine any living person’s reason not to declassify almost everything regarding the Kennedy assassination, so we can’t fault Trump for doing so, but we also don’t don’t doubt that Trump was making a dirt cheap payoff to his conspiracy-theorizing fans. Any moment now we also expect the declassification of everything about the alien space craft that landed even many more years ago in Roswell, New Mexico, and although there’s no reason not to do that as well it will probably be for the sake of those Trump fans who still worry about that.
Nothing that can be declassified will at long last vindicate any of the conspiracy theories, all of which have gone stubbornly unproved over so many years, and we’ll bet whatever we’ve got left that they won’t implicate Sen. Ted Cruz’s father in the Kennedy assassination, as Trump’s good friends at The National Enquirer alleged during a heated presidential primary campaign. Still, none of it will implicate Trump, as it all happened so many so years ago, and whatever doubts it sows that there’s something sinister behind all the otherwise inexplicable news you see these days can only hearten Trump’s conspiracy-theorizing friends.
Jones first came to fame alleging that Republican President George W. Bush had conspired to kill more than 3,000 Americans in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and unknown capital locations, then spent eight long years alleging that Democratic President Barack Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim and godless communist who attained office through some nefarious plot or another, but he know holds forth that Trump is bravely battling the ongoing plot that has been afoot at least since Kennedy was killed. According to some accounts the plot has been ongoing since the illuminati formed at the end of the Holy Roman empire, or as far back as when those demons from hell first rebelled, but by all accounts Trump is the foretold hero who will deliver us from evil.
Meanwhile there’s not yet unclassified yet thoroughly leaked information that suggests that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton arranged a fishy deal with the Russians to sell a fifth of America’s uranium, and that Republican nominee Donald Trump had his own fishy business arrangements with him and that key staff and family enthusiastically members met with Russian officials who were illegally acting to help his campaign. Both sides will assert that no matter what’s proved the other side was worse, neither side will likely prove blameless, and almost everybody will be glad to pin it all on the long dead Lyndon Johnson.
We have our own gripes with LBJ, as does everyone else on both the left and right, but we’ll require some pretty convincing proof to convince us that he masterminded the association of Kennedy. Even if he did that doesn’t mean that Clinton didn’t sell all that uranium in exchange for the donations to her family’s foundation, or that the Trump campaign didn’t love it when the Russians offered their assistance, and the uncertainty about it doesn’t make us feel favorably to anybody or anything. There’s a lot of “fake news” out there, too, but we suspect that The National Enquirer and Alex Jones and the latest presidential “tweets” are any more reliable.

— Bud Norman

Prophetic Words From a Burning Bush

Something deep in our old-fashioned Republican souls feels a certain nostalgia for the administration of President George W. Bush, and lately even our most newfangled Democrat friends will admit to some degree of the same feeling. Bush was an imperfect president, as we freely admit and our Democrat friends and our Democrat friends often remind us, but on Thursday he gave a rare and remarkable speech that reminded us all he could have been a whole lot worse.
With characteristic classiness Bush has mostly retreated from the public stage since leaving office, preferring to spend his time with family and paint some surprisingly fine portraits of the servicemen and servicewomen who carried out his controversial foreign policy, and otherwise devote himself to the happily apolitical good works of his family’s foundations, which has eventually endeared him to most of the American public at large. He re-entered the political fray on Thursday with that remarkable speech, though, and it heartened us as well as our Democrat friends.
Bush’s oration at the George W. Bush Institute welcomed a Latino amigo who had served in his administration’s military, as well as several foreign visitors in the audience, along with Secretaries of State from both his and President Bill Clinton’s administrations, then launched into a an eloquent defense of such cherished American values of liberty and democracy. He lauded the post-World War II order of free markets and free trade, decried the current Chinese and Russian threats to that order, and lamented that too many Americans now fail to appreciate its benefits. Bush further denounced the recent degradation of America’s political discourse, warned against rising nativist sentiments, unequivocally denounced white supremacy, and called for a new civility in America’s public square.
Such anodyne sentiments wouldn’t be at all remarkable in ordinary times, but these days it’s the stuff of controversy. With characteristic classiness Bush didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, but no matter how old-fashioned a Republican or newfangled a Democrat you might be there’s no denying it implied a severe criticism of the current and putatively Republican president, so there was an unavoidable flap.
Bush’s assertion — completely correct as far our old-fashioned Republican souls are concerned — that “free trade helped make America into a global power” is an obvious response to Trump’s claims that the rest of the world has been stealing America’s wealth. When Bush griped that now “bigotry seems emboldened” and “Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” the metaphorical shoe fit Trump well enough that he has to wear it. “we have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said, and although he might have been talking about all the talk radio hosts that used to defend him, but everyone knows he was talking about a president who has mocked a reporter’s physical handicap and his political opponents’s heights and the plainness of their wives. His warnings about the cyber-attacks on American democracy by foreign adversaries were just as clearly aimed at Trump, who continues to deny against mounting evidence that it’s a problem.
All of the casually cruel talk radio hosts who used to defend Bush were properly appalled, of course. By now they’re all obliged to rally ’round the current putatively Republican president, so they all denounced Bush as an “elitist” and “globalist” and worse yet “establishment” voice. None of them could articulate a persuasive point-by-point refutation of what Bush said, but these days such meaningless calumnies as “elitist” and “globalist” and “establishment” will suffice for their audience. Although we’re not at all elite nor globalist, and in fact are barely getting by these days, we’re still nostalgic for the good old days when they were defending to the death even Bush’s worst moves.
These days even our most newfangled Democrat friends are giving Bush some long overdue respect, and we’ll hold out hope it provides some common ground on which to find a way out of our current difficulties. Some of our most newfangled Democrat friends share Trump’s aversion to free trade and traditional role in sustaining world order, and are every bit as un-civil as Trump in their discourse, but we appreciate Bush’s help in any case.

— Bud Norman

The Lonesome Death of La David Johnson

The death of Army Sgt. La David Johnson was an American tragedy, and now it’s the latest political brouhaha.
Johnson and Staff Sergeants Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, and Dustin Wright were killed on Oct. 4 by an ambush attack in Niger, where they were apparently on an intelligence-gathering mission against the Boko Haram terror gang. The deaths were given scant attention by the national media, and didn’t warrant a single presidential mention until Monday. At a brief press conference President Donald Trump was asked about the 12 days of silence, and of course his response put the story on all the front pages and the top of everybody’s news hour.
Rather than directly answer the question Trump said that his predecessors had routinely failed to offer any condolences to the families of fallen soldiers, which was promptly refuted and quickly backtracked to some extent, but Trump also demanded the press ask his Chief of Staff about how his son’s death in combat was handled by President Barack Obama, who turns out to have invited the family to a seat of honor a memorial dinner, so that was enough for another day of outraged stories. Trump then did get around to calling the Johnson family, but wound up accused of being disrespectful.
Among the people listening in on the call was Democratic Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who coincidentally has had a long and close relationship with the Johnsons, and the told reporters that Trump had callously told Johnson’s widow and the aunt who had raised him as a son that “he knew what he was signing up for,” and that his references to “your guy” rather than Sgt. Jonson or La David had the led the widow to believe that Trump didn’t know her husband’s name. Trump responded with a “tweet” that Wilson was lying, and alleging he had proof, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later acknowledge Trump did not have a recording of the call and assured the media that just because Trump kept referring to Johnson as “your guy” did not mean he didn’t know the name. The aunt soon corroborated Wilson’s account of the call, and that was enough for another day of outraged stories.
Wilson is a partisan Democrat  who strikes us as slightly kooky, and for all we know the grieving aunt is as well, but what they allege Trump said does sound an awful lot like something he might say. Offering empathy and carefully-worded condolences in times of tragedy is not one of Trump’s strong suits.
He infamously dismissed the heroic sacrifice of Sen. John McCain’s extra years in a hellish North Vietnamese prison camp by saying “I like guys who’d didn’t get captured, OK?” He publicly ridiculed the parents of a Muslim American soldier who died fighting in Iraq after they dared speak against him at the Democratic National Convention. When a hurricane left Puerto Rico underwater and without electrical power he “tweeted” about the island’s debt and laziness, lambasted the mayor of the capital city, tossed papers towel into a crowd of suddenly homeless refugees, told individual survivors to “have a good time,” then “tweeted” that the federal relief won’t last forever. He also waited 12 long days of golf and “twitter” feuds with with National Football League players and fellow Republicans before mentioning the four deaths in Niger, and then only because a reporter had asked about it, and there’s still no explanation for that.
The press has other stories, too. Trump promised a personal $25,000 check to the grieving father of a fallen soldier who had been excluded from the Army’s family benefits because of a divorce, but that was last June and the check didn’t get sent until The Washington Post reported the unkept promise on Wednesday, which recalls another and much bigger check that Trump promised to veterans organizations but went unsent until The Washington Post weighed in. The president’s chief of staff has long been careful to keep his son’s tragic death out of the news, too, and his continued silence on the subject has also been noteworthy.
As much as we hate to see the tragic deaths of those four brave Americans become a political brouhaha, we’re glad to see that at least they’re being prominently mentioned in the news. There are valid questions about the nature of the mission they’d been sent on, what sort of intelligence failures led to their demise, what America is doing in a place called Niger in the first place, and why the administration was not more forthcoming with answers. We don’t doubt that there are valid answers, and that some of them can’t be offered without revealing classified information that might put other brave American soldiers at risk, but the grieving families and the public at large deserve that cautious explanation and some carefully-worded empathy. So long as the Trump administration can’t muster that, we expect it will suffer at least a few more days of outraged stories.

— Bud Norman

Another Round of Trumpian Distractions

American-backed forces have recently won a significant and potentially decisive victory against the Islamic State terror gang, the stock market is up and the rest of the numbers suggest the American economy has largely weathered all those hurricanes, and generally things could be worse. The smart move for an American president would be to act humble, let others to give him credit, then use the good will that’s been engendered to enlist allies in making things better yet, and not create any distractions, but that’s not President Donald Trump’s style.
Instead Trump has characteristically chosen to claim undue credit for the recent successes, further engendered ill will with his opponents by blaming them for recent failures, and provided his antagonists in the press with with plenty of distractions. He got off to a promising start Monday by appearing in a joint news conference with the Republican Senate majority, whom Trump has very publicly blamed for his the Republican party’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, among other legislative failures, and assuring the country their relationship has never been stronger. One of the questions inevitable questions from the reporters was about why Trump had gone 12 days without any public mention of four American servicemen who had died in combat in Niger, a little-known African country where few Americans were even aware that any American soldiers were in harm’s way there, and rather than frankly answering the question Trump chose to criticize all the previous presidents for failing to even write a letter or make a phone call to the families of fallen soldiers.
The Trump administration had to admit it hadn’t yet sent any of the letters they’ve written to the families of those fallen soldiers, nor made any consoling phone calls, while the past two administrations had officials testifying to the respect their presidents had paid, and so it proved another distraction. Trump specifically criticized President Barack Obama for failing to make a phone call to assuage the grief of Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s current chief of staff whose son had died in Afghanistan, but that didn’t help. Obama did give the Kelly family a seat of honor at a banquet honoring Gold Star families, Kelly has assiduously and admirably resisted anyone from letting his son’s death be used for anyone political purposes, and Trump still hasn’t answered why he let 12 days lapse before making any mention of the deaths of four American servicemen in a country most Americans didn’t even know we were at war.
Then you had Arizona’s Republican Sen. John McCain using the occasion of being awarded a National Constitutional Liberty Medal award to warn that “To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, and to abandon the ideas we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the ‘last, best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is an unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to to the ash heap of history.” McCain carefully never mentioned Trump by name, but it was quite clear who he was talking about, and even Trump clearly understood.
Trump told some talk radio host that “People have to be careful, because at some point I fight back. I’m being very, very nice, but at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.” Even Trump cannot deny that McCain heroically endured extra years of torture in a hellish North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp rather than abandon his men and hand the enemy a public relations victory, even if the draft-dodging president got away with saying “I like a guy who wasn’t caught, OK?,” so we doubt that McCain is much worried about what Trump might “tweet” about him as he struggles with terminal cancer. This looks to be another losing fight for Trump, except with his those staunch loyalists who still hate McCain for losing to Obama.
That big win against the Islamic State and the fairly healthy economy can plausibly be attributed to Trump, and there’s no denying he hasn’t yet hindered either effort, so we suggest he settle for that for now. Both represent mere incremental gains on on what has been happening for a while now, even during the hated Obama administration, and it seems best to engender that good will to make a lot of other things better.

— Bud Norman