Dueling Conspiracy Theories

As any right wing talk radio listener well knows, there’s a “deep state” conspiracy of intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with the legacy media and the Ukrainians, that’s been out to President Donald Trump since the day he announced his campaign. So far the conspirators haven’t been successful in their efforts, but at least they haven’t been caught.
An inspector general for the Department of Justice named Michael Horowitz was dispatched to expose the conspiracy’s efforts to launch a phony investigation of Russia’s alleged election meddling and spy on his campaign with informants and phone taps, but on Monday he issued a report concluding the investigation was based on solid evidence of wrongdoing rather than political bias and that no spying occurred. That won’t satisfy the die-hard Trump fans, though, and the conspiracy theorizing will continue.
Attorney General William Barr focused on the serious mistakes investigators had made in seeking a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, and reached his own conclusion “that the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) laughed an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.” He’s already launched another investigation led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who took the unusual step of releasing a statement casting doubt on the inspector general’s report.
Perhaps Durham will be better luck exposing the conspiracy, but it won’t be easy. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, after all, and the “deep state” conspiracy theory makes some very extraordinary claims. All of America’s intelligence heads have confirmed that Russia ran a disinformation campaign hacked into Democratic party e-mail system and selectively leaked the most embarrassing missive, even the Trump appointees have confirmed the finding, as did a special counsel investigation that won an indictment of 13 Russians allegedly involved, and a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence agency also agreed. So far no one’s come up with any evidence that Russia was blameless and it was Ukraine that did the meddling, or a even a reasonable explanation for why Ukraine would be hacking and leaking Democratic e-mails and planting internet pro-Trump internet trolls to get Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton elected.
Also hard to explain is why a presumably left-wing “deep state” conspiracy is still conspiring to get Vice President Mike Pence promoted. Perhaps Pence is on it, as are a number of hand-picked Trump appointees, but that’s another extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary proof.
At this point we not sure why Trump remains concerned about Russia’s meddling in the election, as it fizzled as an impeachment case and the die-hard fans don’t care if he was in on it, and it makes the Ukraine business look all the fishier, Our best guess is that Trump believes the die-hard fans will cling to the dangling possibility of Russia’s vindication also vindicating him, and neatly explain why he was heroically withholding congressional appropriated military from those nefarious Ukrainians, and that even if the House impeaches him none of the Republicans in the Senate would dare vote to remove him from office. That’s not a bad bet, as the die-hard fans have thus far proved willing to believe even Trump’s most extraordinary claims without any proof at all.
The strategy might not be sufficient by election day, however, as you have to be a pretty die-hard fan to believe any of it. If they’ve been paying any attention, all of the damned Democrats and most of those squishy independents and at least a few of us fed-up pre-Trump Republicans will conclude that Russia meddled on Trump’s behalf in the last election and intends to do so with Trump’s blessing next time around, that Trump withheld military aid from a country that is largely occupied with Russian troops, and that a president shouldn’t be doing such things.
Between the die-hard fans and all the people who aren’t paying any attention, and given the very strong possibility that the Democrats will again nominate an extraordinarily awful candidate, Trump still has a fighting chance. The unemployment rate is undeniably low despite his trade wars, even if they have hit the farming and manufacturing sectors Trump relies on particularly hard. No new wars have broken out, even if Trump has made a mess of the old ones in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, and he’s lately having a scary lover’s spat with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. If his luck holds up, and his voters are optimally spread around the electoral map, it might not matter about what happened in such faraway places with such unfamiliar people as Ukraine and Russia.
There’s always an outside chance the Democrats won’t once again nominate someone too extraordinarily awful, however, and with the manufacturing sector in a technical recession and farm foreclosures on the rise and much of the relative economic boom going on in states and suburbs where Trump does not poll well there’s no telling how the economy will play come election day. The dictator Kim has lately threatened to once again call Trump a dotard if Trump ever calls him “Rocket Man,” and is further threatening a more belligerent stance during the upcoming election, and given the state of the world and America relationships with it there’s no telling what’s likely to come up by next November.
If Trump’s luck doesn’t hold up, as it didn’t during his career as a casino mogul, his impeachment by the House and acquittal despite clear evidence in the Senate will be a problem.

— Bud Norman

Popular Culture Versus Politics

Although we know longer take any interest in the Oscars or Emmys or Grammys or anything else having to do with the popular culture of the moment, we do take note of the annual Kennedy Center honors. They have a fancy medal that confer an official imprimatur on the careers of aging creative individuals whose works have so far stood the test of their time, they usually do a pretty good job of picking the winners, and the President of the United States usually awards the medals.
President Donald Trump has declined to be involved in every year of his presidency, though, and it’s easy to understand why. Most of the creative individuals that the cultural establishment considers worthy of Kennedy Center honors don’t like Trump, Trump doesn’t like them, and it would make for an awkward situation. The Kennedy Center could try to pick more accommodating choices, but putting those fancy medals on Kid Rock and Kanye West and Ted Nugent and Scott Baio would embarrass all the swells, so the cultural establishment goes its way and Trump goes his way.
For most of our lives the American popular culture has been quite vibrant, churning out movies and television shows and books and songs well worthy of our consideration, and the high culture establishment has done pretty well at maintaining the best of the western civilization. Lately we’re not all pleased with most of the latest output from either end of the cultural spectrum, but neither do we think much of Trump, so at this point we have no rooting interest in their squabbles.
One of this year’s honorees was Linda Ronstadt, and we can’t deny her the honor. From the ’60s into the ’10s she was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest vocalists, and a damned good country and standards and Mexican folk music singer to boot, as well as quite a babe, and if we were president we’d proudly drape a medal on her. She’s still quite a babe, although age and disease have taken her voice and consigned her to a wheelchair, but her political opinions cloud Trump’s judgment of her talent. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo couldn’t avoid his official duty to recognize the Kennedy Center honorees, and when he tried to make a joke out of Ronstadt’s hit song “When Will I Be Loved,” she replied “When you stop enabling Trump.”
These rock ‘n’ rollers are often wrong in their political pronouncements, in our experience, but in this case we think Rondstadt got the better of it, and we’re sure Trump is glad he wasn’t around it for it. He could have mocked her lack of singing voice and wheelchair-bound status, but that probably wouldn’t have played well, given their relative popularity.
We remember a time when President Barack Obama draped a Kennedy Center medal on the great country singer Merle Haggard, and President Richard Nixon honored the jazz greats Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and the best of America’s popular culture and its politics didn’t seem at such odds. These days the political right and the cultural left are at war, and both our politics and our movies and television and books and songs seem the worst for it.

— Bud Norman</p

An Impeachment Spoiler Alert

The main problem with this impeachment inquiry storyline in President Donald Trump’s hit reality show is its predictability. On Thursday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that her overwhelming Democratic House majority will soon vote to impeach the president, just as everyone expected from the outset, and although there are bound to be further plot twists that make Trump look bad it seems inevitable the slight Republican majority in the Senate will prevent Trump being removed from office.
Even so, we find it all quite riveting. If not for a vested interest in the future of the American republic, we might find downright hilarious.
For those of you who haven’t been following the complicated plot from its improbable beginnings, the gist of it is that Trump stands accused of abusing the powers of his office to coerce domestic political help from beleaguered ally Ukraine and then to cover it up by by defying congressional subpoenas and other illegal means, and all the sworn testimony and documentary evidence and the White House’s open defiance of congressional subpoenas indicate that he’s guilty as charged. The Republicans are trying to counter-program with a story about how the Ukrainians are the bad the guys, not the Russians who have invaded their country, and how all the damned Democrats and their witnesses and documents are in on it, but the problem with that storyline is its improbability.
At the risk of spoiling the plot, we expect Trump and his apologists will eventually confess to everything and shrug their shoulders in a “So what?” motion and that the argument will win enough support in a Republican Senate to keep him in office. The testimony that Trump is blocking from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security advisor John Bolton and former White Counsel Don McGahn and especially current Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and one of his recently indicted associates might move public opinion, and their lack of testimony won’t look at all good who’s paying careful attention, but the Democrats are in such a holiday rush to get this over before the early presidential primaries that they won’t have time to sway a distracted public’s attention.
At the moment there’s a significant portion of the country, even a majority according to many polls, that favor Trump’s removal from office and have from pretty much since the day he was sworn in. There’s also a sizable percentage that consider Trump even greater than President Abraham Lincoln, and will say “So what?” about anything Trump does. Most of the country doesn’t seem to be paying much attention, as with the holidays coming up they’ve got other things to do than watch the news, and Trump is hoping that come next November his support is sufficiently spread out around the electoral map to keep him in office and immune from prosecution for another four years.
That’s the obvious post-Christmas next chapter of this desultory tale, and as improbable as it is at least it’s unpredictable. We don’t much like Trump or any of these damned Democratic candidates, and are trying to retain our faith in objective reality and Constitutional principles, so we don’t expect any Christmas miracles.

— Bud Norman

Laugh and the World Laughs With You

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and British royal family member Princess Anne were all caught on video having a hearty laugh at President Donald Trump during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in London, and Trump’s feelings were apparently hurt. After the video was released he cancelled the traditional post-summit news conference and returned to Washington earlier than planned, telling the international media that Trudeau was “two-faced” on his way out.
Nobody likes being laughed at, but Trump is even touchier about it than most. He likes to dish out ridicule of his political opponents and critics, and he always kills with his insult comic material at the campaign rallies and the fans always relish his schoolyard taunts on “Twitter,” but he can’t abide any kidding in return. By now he should be used to it, as all the late night comics and barroom wags and highfalutin intellectuals at the faculty parties having been making great fun of him since long before he ran for president, yet he continues to find time in a president’s busy schedule to lash back via “Twitter” at any B-list celebrity who jibes about his haircut or girth or unresolved trade wars.
By Now Trump should also know that pretty much all of those Euro-weenie heads of state and their fancy-pants diplomatic corps also find him ridiculous, as do all the late night comics and barroom wags and highfalutin intellectuals in their countries. They find him vulgar and bullying and poorly-spoken and generally ill-bred and ill-equipped for the office of Leader of the Free World, just as those snobs on Manhattan’s elite social scene did when Trump moved there from his father’s working class empire in Queens.
For now Trump can claim some measure of revenge, as he won the support of the great unwashed and aggrieved white working class beyond the Hudson and is currently president of the world’s most powerful nation, and all those East Side snobs and Euro-weenies are not, but he is by objective measurement the most laughed-at man on the planet. They all laughed at Christopher Columbus, Edison, the Wright brothers and Marconi, as the old Gershwin song notes, but it’s unclear at the moment if Trump will join their historically vindicated company. They also laughed at Bozo the Clown, as we remember some wit saying, and history might do the same to Trump.
Trudeau and Macron are both having their own political problems, but no one outside their countries cares much about that, and their domestic audiences were probably not at all offended they shared a laugh or two about Trump. Johnson is an unabashed nationalist with a bad haircut and bombastically populist political style, and has been considered a natural ally of Trump, but the American president is so unpopular the United Kingdom that Johnson pleaded the American president not to endorse him, and he probably won’t suffer any political consequences for being caught laughing at his erstwhile good American friend. As for the Queen’s eldest daughter, we’re told it’s the only time she’s ever been caught laughing on videotape.
Trump will rouse his raucous rally crowds by shouting that those worthless European so-called allies are laughing at them, not him, and nourish their suspicion that all the swells in Manhattan and around the world are out to get them. He’ll probably get some laughs from it, too, but if he needs to survive the coming days Trump must become more inured to the laughter from the rest of the world.

— Bud Norman

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be London

Every time President Donald Trump leaves the country he makes some big and unnecessary news, and the first day of his visit to London for a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was no exception. Geo-politics is quite complex and unpredictable these days, but Trump has predictably further complicated it.
Since long before he improbably took office Trump has been an outspoken critic of the NATO alliance, at times calling it “obsolete” and at all times haranguing the other members for their meager defense spending, and promising only in the most ambiguous terms to uphold America’s commitment to defend any fellow member from attack. He’s sticking to the same rhetoric on this visit, but he’s also objecting to the French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent statements in an interview with The Economist that NATO is currently “brain dead” under its current American leadership, and Trump somehow finds himself in alliance with former favorite punching bag and outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in defending the importance of the institution.
Trump is also feuding with Macron over trade matters, with the former threatening huge tariffs in retaliation for the latter’s recent internet tax law that will charge American tech companies. Trump continues to threateningly grumble about the rest of Europe’s automobile industries, and although that didn’t make the news we expect it came in the off-camera conversations. At one point in his lengthy conversations with the international media Trump admitted that there probably won’t be an armistice in the trade war with China until after he wins reelection, at which point he will deliver the greatest deal ever, and after that all the stock markets tanked for a second consecutive day.
Trump also struggled with the difficult chore of not meddling in the United Kingdom’s upcoming election. He’d clearly prefer that incumbent Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson somehow be reelected, as he’s a fellow nationalist and populist with an even worse haircut, and presumptive Labour nominee Jeremy Corbyn is the British equivalent of Vermont Senator and potential Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders, only more dangerous in a country that has fallen in an out of socialism, but Trump has mostly avoided saying so. He did briefly brag about he swung the vote in recent gubernatorial elections in Kentucky and Louisiana, although the Republicans lost in both states, but declined to weigh in on British matters. He’s so very unpopular among America’s most important allies that Johnson has pleaded for no endorsement, according to both the Brith and American press, and Trump has for once adhered to a time-honored presidential tradition by declining to comment on an ally’s elections.
Trump also told the international media that he did not support the uprising of protestors against Iran’s government, although within a half hour he was correcting that on “twitter” and before the cameras. The British press dragged Trump into the middle of a big British brouhaha about Prince Andrew, who has recently withdrawn from public life because of recent interviews about his past relationship with the late billionaire and internationally notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Trump said he didn’t know Prince Andrew, a claim quickly disproved by photo and video evidence from the archives of both the Brith and American media, just as he claimed to have barely known Epstein, despite photo and video evidence and glowing compliments in published journals, but that barely registered as news back home.

Back in the states the big story was that the House Intelligence had issued a 300-page report concluding Trump had abused his presidential powers for personal gain and further abused his powers to obstruct a lawful investigation, and the House Judiciary Committee is now considering articles of impeachment. Trump has publicly complained this makes it hard for him to swing deals with all the other world leaders at these big summits, which is undeniably true, but so far at least a slim majority of the country blames Trump for the situation. We’re sure all those world leaders Trump is dealing with are well apprised./div>

All the rest of those NATO countries have their own embarrassing problems, and so do the Chinese and the Iranians and pretty much every country on the planet, and we wish them all the best. Even so, no one should count on any happy outcomes by the end of this NATO summit.

— Bud Norman

The Winds of Trade War and Impeachment

President Donald Trump will spend today at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, and it will likely be an comfortable affair for all involved.
The summit is in London, where Trump has not been a welcome guest during his past two visits, and he’s expected to further publicly and bluntly harangue the allies about how much they’re spending on defense, and many of the allies will more privately and politely but forcefully express their differences with his policies regarding Turkey and Syria and Russia and Ukraine and other matters. One of those matters will surely be Trump’s ongoing trade wars with pretty much everybody.
Before jetting off Trump announced punitive tariffs on industrial metals from Brazil and Argentina for their alleged currency manipulations, and issued a threat of up to 100 percent tariffs on NATO member France’s wine and cheese and cosmetics and other fancy French product, apparently in retaliation for passing an internet tax law Trump thinks unfair to American businesses. This comes as Trump continues his brinksmanship with the ruthless dictator running the very importantly enormous Chinese economy, and Trump will probably spend part of his trip publicly grousing about how the European automobile industries are cheating America’s workers.
Trump will continue to boast about how America is once again respected around the world, as the country at long last has a wised-up leader and we’re no longer anybody’s sucker, but it clearly hasn’t helped America’s reputation as a good global neighbor. The military and trade political alliances that have a fairly good job of sustaining peace and prosperity in the post-World War II epoch are strained, and Trump and everyone else seem to be planning for a post-Pax Americana world.
Nor does it seem to have yielded any tangible economic results. The brinksmanship with the ruthless dictator in control of China’s very consequentially huge economy hurtles toward an inevitable brink, none of those greatest trade deals ever have yet been sealed, and so far even the rather minor revisions to the re-branded North American Free Trade Agreement haven’t been ratified by any of the three governments involved. The economy continues to grow at the same 2 percent or so it did back in the bad old days of President Barack Obama, and the stock markets were hitting record highs not so very long ago, but that seems to be in spite of rather than because of Trump’s policies.
The smart money on the stock markets seems to agree, here and around the world, as all the indexes dipped precipitously after his latest trade war escalations, as they always do whenever he does that. This time around the dip was also driven by yet another report on Trump’s beloved manufacturing, which continues for yet another quarter at negative growth. The markets usually recover when Trump announces light at the end of the tunnel and peace with honor, and Trump’s fans stick with him through thick and thin, and even if the allies have no respect for Trump they’re fearful of and dependent on America and usually only object ever so politely, but we worry that it can’t go on forever.
The smart money on Wall Street and all those funny-sounding foreign exchanges is hedging its bets, all those Euro-weenie leaders will be ganging on up on Trump in London, where he’ll need extra security just to get back to the fancy hotel, and those wily Chinese seem unfazed by Trump’s mastery of the deal. They all follow American politics, and know that there’s an impeachment and it’s going badly enough that polls show half the country wants Trump out of office now, and that will likely complicate all his dealings with foreign leaders, no matter how that turns out.
Trump fans love it when he feuds with those Euro-weenies and wily Chinese and the smart money on Wall Street and the “fake news” media and the damned Democrats and all of the rest of the rascals in the globalist “deep state” conspiracy, but we doubt they’re tired of winning yet. The farmers are getting welfare checks that don’t quite make up for the honest money they used to make on the global market, the factory workers are losing jobs in a sinking sector hard-hit by Trump’s steel tariffs, and we worry some damned Democrat and self-proclaimed socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders might convince them they’ve played for the world’s biggest suckers.
Although it’s hard to imagine a happy outcome, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Draining the Ukrainian Swamp

President Donald Trump’s strongest defense of his decision to withhold congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine, which is the basis of the impeachment inquiry against him that renews this week, is that he was trying to get the country to clean up its undeniable problem with political corruption. According to a report from The Washington Post the ploy seems to have worked, but not the way Trump probably intended.
What’s driving the impeachment inquiry is the suspicion that Trump was leaning on the Ukrainian government for dirt on potential Democratic opponent Joe Biden’s son and a confession that the previous Ukrainian government had meddled in the past election and then framed Russia for the crime. So far all the sworn testimony from respected military officers and foreign service officials and a million-dollar Trump donor, as well as some pretty damning texts and e-mails and other documentary evidence backs this up.
For now Trump is blocking any testimony from a former White House legal counsel and national security advisor and the current Secretary of State and and his-still-on-retainer personal lawyer, all of whom clearly know something about all this and there might be able to say something exculpatory, and declining to send a lawyer to the hearings, but he’s still got a plausible enough corruption argument for the talk radio hosts and Republican politicians and the die-hard fans to cling to.
Biden’s son admittedly made a lot of money in Ukraine while the former Vice President was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, some very funny dealings have undoubtedly occurred in the country during its long and fitful struggle toward democracy since America helped liberate it from Soviet domination, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has assured Trump that Russia sure didn’t meddle in the last election, and according to Trump some people are saying that Ukraine has the mysteriously missing Democratic National Committee computer server with all of the e-mails that should lock up Hillary Clinton. None of this comports with any established facts or the weight of evidence, and would be laughed out of any judicial proceeding, but impeachment is a political matter and the fans seems to love it.
No matter how that works out, Trump probably won’t get what he was hoping for from Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced a purge of more than 500 prosecutors suspected of corruption, but so for none are accused of anything having to do with Biden’s son or Clinton’s e-mails, and one of them is closely tied to Rudy Giuliani, the Trump personal lawyer who’s up to his neck in this Ukrainian impeachment mess and is refusing to testify about to Congress. Now that he’s got his military aid, which came shortly after Trump learned a “whistleblower” report about an alleged aid-for-dirt deal, Zelensky can make good on his campaign promise to root out corruption and stay on good terms with whoever the next president might be, and he’s wise to stay out of America’s affairs as much as possible.
Zelensky seems a savvy fellow, and just as interesting as Trump. He was a comedian who had no apparent qualifications except that he’d starred in a hit sit-com about a comedian who became president of Ukraine, just as Trump without any apparent qualifications except that he’d starred as a successful businessman on a hit reality show. Both men have outgoing personalities, a certain buffoonish self-consciousness, ridiculously bad hair cuts, and their own agendas.As Trump did, Zelensky ran as an outsider who would shake up the establishment, and like Trump he promised to be immune to corruption.
Unlike Trump, Zelensky inherited a country that had been largely annexed by a Russian government that was working to further exert its influence, and was eager to find whatever foreign assistance he could, whereas Trump spoke openly of his ambivalence about Russia claim on Ukrainian territory and cast doubt on any claims of undue Russian influence anywhere. Zelensky was thereby obliged to say during a White House visit that he’d felt no pressure to provide any dirt on the Bidens or Clinton’s in exchange for the aid, but at this point he’s got his military aid and is surely following American politics well enough to know that he doesn’t owe Trump any further favors. If he’s following all the trend-setting television comedians in America he’s probably betting on the Democrats, and if he’s serious about rooting out corruption in Ukraine he won’t give any cover to Giuliani.
We don’t nearly know nearly so much about Ukrainian politics as the former Trump campaign chairman who’s now in federal prison, or the Trump personal lawyer who’s now under federal investigation for his dealings in that country, or the various high government officials who are barred from testifying about any of it, but Zelensky seems to have a pretty good hand for the president of such a beleaguered country. Come reelection time he can tell the Ukrainian electorate that he stood up to the bullies of two nuclear superpowers, got millions of dollars from one to deter the other, and pulled it off with sit-comic flair.
Trump’s reality show presidency will be hard-pressed to compete with that. The big bucks Biden’s son made in Ukraine were already part of the the public record and would have been more useful without leaning on Ukraine for further dirt, and the stuff about Ukraine getting Clinton elected is a hard sell to all but the most die-hard fans.

— Bud Norman