A New Day, Old Principles, and What’s Ahead

Unless the Illuminati and its “deep state” allies in the New World Order have one hell of a last-minute surprise ending plotted for this crazy election year, Donald Trump will become President of the United States today. To borrow a line from a favorite old Johnny Cash song, we don’t like it but we guess things happen that way.
If we were the sunny sorts of conservatives who go looking for silver livings we could console ourselves that at least Barack Obama is no longer president and Hillary Clinton never will be, which is indeed good news and probably enough consolation to most of our conservatives friends to get through the next four years no matter what happens, but we’re the more traditionally dour types of conservatives who can’t help noticing the gathering dark clouds within any silver livings. A nation faced with such dismal choices for leadership is already in sorry shape, and although we might have dodged the worst it that doesn’t mean the future is at all bright.
Ours is the old-fashioned style of conservatism informed by the Judeo-Christian faith’s Old Testament postlapsarian worldview, which means we have no faith whatsoever in mere humans, and it’s left us particularly suspicious of this Trump fellow. From the moment he descended down that famous escalator from Trump tower to announce his candidacy, and throughout his improbable rise to the presidency, we have repetitively noted that he’s a six-times-bankrupt and thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie-model real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul who mocks the handicapped and brags about the married women he’s bagged and is notorious for not keeping his contractual promises and has introduced all sorts of language we don’t care to recount here into the political discourse, and despite all the winning he’s done along the way it’s all still true and troubling. Some of our conservative friends assure us that just such a follow is surely going to make America great again, as so many of our liberal friends assured us that his predecessor was surely going to bring hope and change to our land, but then as now we’ll stick with the old time religion and expect to not end up being suckers.
Our conservatism is also informed by the relatively newfangled notions of Edmund Burke, the great British statesman who supported the American revolution but as Prime Minister led his countrymen more or less peaceably through the French revolution and its inevitable reign of terror by making a persuasive case that it’s probably best not to start lopping off heads and burning down the institutions that years of fitful trial and error had so painstakingly if imperfectly erected. “Burn it down” was a constant refrain of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters during that improbable campaign, and his admirers frequently liken him to a bull in a China shop, and something in our conservative sorts of souls does not find this at all reassuring. “You have made a revolution but not a Reformation,” Burke once wrote to one of his French revolutionary friends, and he added advice to beware “the power of bad men,” words that somehow ring truer than anything in any of Trump’s recent “tweets.”
The most up-to-date conservatism we’re sticking with was best explained in ten parts back in the ’90s by the late and great Russell Kirk, who acknowledged the ambiguity of the term but said that “In essence, the conservative person is the one who simply finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night.” He also posited that “the conservative believes there exists an enduring moral order,” “the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity,” “conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of principle of prescription,” and “conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence,” none of which remotely describe Trump’s stated plans or characteristic bluster. Kirk also wrote that “conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety,” which Trump clearly doesn’t, and that “conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability,” which Trump clearly isn’t. He argued that “conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked,” and Trump’s enthusiasm for that awful Kelo decision suggests he disagrees, and that “conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose compulsory collectivism,” which Trump will probably agree or disagree with depending on what certain communities voluntarily agree to do. The last of Kirk’s descriptions of conservatism were that “the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and human passions,” which doesn’t describe a single a moment of Trump’s life, and “the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society,” with both the recognizing and reconciling seeming beyond Trump’s abilities.
Trump does seem likely to appoint far better Supreme Court justices than Obama did or Clinton would have, and we rather like that voucher-loving Education Secretary pick even if we’d rather leave education to the localities, and we’ve long been fans of our local congressman who’s been appointed as head of the now-hated-by-everyone Central Intelligence Agency, and given that Trump is neither Obama nor Clinton surely some good is to come of it. So far Trump seems even more accommodating to Russia, though, and nothing has Trump has said suggests the national debt won’t grow, and as much as we’re looking forward to the repeal of Obamacare we’re not holding out hope that Trump will provide lower premiums and deductibles along with “insurance for everybody,” and at this point it’s going to take more than a border wall to make America great again, even if Mexico does wind up paying for it. We go into today’s new era still wondering what the hell it is about the new president’s apparent affinity for the Russian dictatorship, and because he’s already burned down that relatively old rule about releasing tax records or divesting himself from his global empire there’s no tamping down the conspiracy theories about it, and along with the doubts about his health care ambitions and apparent disregard for the national debt and longstanding treaty obligations and other painstakingly if imperfectly built institutions, along with his apparent belief in the perfectibility of at least one man, we will head into his presidency with grave concerns. We assume the liberals will be even more distressed, but at this point we find little comfort in that.
Instead, we’ll stick with the old-time religion and our more newfangled conservative principles

— Bud Norman

The Penultimate Day of a Dreary Eight Years

Today is President Barack Obama’s last full day in office, and it’s been a long wait. We were loudly grousing about the man back when he was first elected on a waft of hope that he was some sort of messiah, we groused again when he ran re-election on the argument that his opponent was some sort of devil, we’ve been grousing ever since, and we feel obliged to grouse once again as he leaves office with unaccountably high approval ratings.
Obama’s more die-hard admirers have already unleashed newspaper serials and hour-long video tributes and full-length hardcover books explaining how great he was, almost as great as promised back in the days when he was talking about how sea levels would fall and the national debt would decline and all that unpleasantness with Islam and the rest of the world would surely be worked out, but the case is hard to make at the moment when Donald Trump is about to be inaugurated as president.
All the testimonials point out how very bad the economy was when Obama took office, and how not -so-bad it is upon his departure, but we’ve paid enough attention that we’re not impressed. The economy was indeed in a deep recession starting some four or five months before Obama was inaugurated, but recessions always end and this was officially over before Obama could get his literally more-than-a-trillion-dollar “stimulus package” passed, and despite all the spending that had been added on top of the literally-more-than-a-trillion dollar Troubled Asset Relief Program that Obama and pretty much everyone else from both parties voted for the recovery has been the weakest on post-war record, and although the headline unemployment rate looks pretty good the broader measure that includes part-timers and the unemployed and those out of the workforce and is buried deep in story hasn’t fully yet fully recovered. Massive new regulations for the financial industry and a major government power grab of the health care sector almost certainly had something to do with the sluggishness, and what growth did occur can largely be attributed to an oil boom that Obama tried to thwart. There was also a stock market boom, but that was because the Federal Reserve kept pumping money that had nowhere to go but the stock market, where it naturally wound up exacerbating all that economic inequality that Obama had vowed to end with his tax hikes, and although he has Bill Clinton’s luck that the bubble won’t burst until the next administration we’re not counting it as a major accomplishment.
Accomplishments are even harder to find in Obama’s foreign policy, although that doesn’t stop his admirers from trying. No one dares say that Obama’s Libyan adventure or that “red line” he in drew in the Syrian sand have worked out at all, and his past “reset” appeasement of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is suddenly unfashionable in liberal circles, but they do try to cast the deal with Iran where we give them billions of dollars and they sort of pretend not to be building a nuclear bomb as a breakthrough victory. The decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq helped win Obama re-election, and after four years it gets occasional mention, although even his most ardent admirers must admit there have been unhappy consequences. Obama’s efforts on behalf of the European Union and Israel’s more liberal political parties and Latin America’s more Marxist types have not proved fruitful, China and Russia and Iran and all the usual troublemakers are more troublesome than they were eight years, and we can’t think of any of international relationships that have been improved. His most ardent admirers point to his good intentions, which we’ll conceded for the sake of argument, but the only thing that good intentions wins is a Nobel Peace Prize.
All the promises of a post-racial and post-partisan and altogether more tolerant society have also proved hollow. The past eight years of attempts to impose racial quotas on law enforcement and school discipline have made life more dangerous for many black Americans and understandably annoyed a lot of the white ones, Obama’s declared belief that politics is a knife fight and the Democrats should bring a gun and the Republicans can come along for the ride so long as they sit in the back of the bus because “I won” has heightened partisan acrimony, and although we’ve got the same sex marriages that Obama claimed to oppose in both of his runs he’s fueling the intolerance for anyone who doesn’t want to bake a cake for the ceremonies.
Although it’s good to at long last see it all come to an end after today, we expect the effects to linger for a while. The next president has already promised a more-than-a-trillion-dollars stimulus package, plenty more market interventions, health insurance for everybody that’s going to be cheaper and better than what was promised in Obamacare, and no messing around with those Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid entitlements that are the main drivers of the national debt. So far Trump’s Russian policies make Obama’s seem downright Truman-esque, and our erstwhile allies in Europe are as alarmed as ourselves, and although Trump also seems a friend of Israel we have no idea what he has in mind for the rest of the Middle East. As far as that hyper-partisan atmosphere of guns and knives and relegating enemies to the back of the bus and the might of an electoral victory making right, we see little improvement ahead.
We’ve already been grousing about Trump for more than a year now, and expect to do so for another four years or more, but we’ll always attribute some share of the blame to Obama. Those who cheered on Obama’s racialist and partisan and intolerant rhetoric should have known what they were bound to provoke, and those who cheered on the executive actions and bureaucratic harassment of political enemies are about to find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end, and despite all promises about making America great again none of us are likely to find out it works out any better than the Obama administration’s blather about hope and change.

— Bud Norman

Begging His or Her Pardon

One of President Barack Obama’s final official acts was commuting the sentence of the former Army Private Bradley Manning, who was convicted of providing classified information to Wikileaks and is now known as prisoner Chelsea Manning, and it seems an appropriately complicated story to end one presidency and begin another.
Having harbored a slight fear that Obama would let his freak flag fly and go full-blown leftist crazy with his final pardons and commutations to unleash an army of angry convicts into the coming street wars, we’ve been somewhat relieved by his relative restraint. Some rather unsavory offenders have somehow been granted his mercy, but not in any numbers that are remarkable even by the standards of past Republican administrations, and we can easily see why Manning would be irresistibly sympathetic to someone of Obama’s liberal instincts. Obama has been even more aggressive in plugging leaks than Nixon and his infamous “plumbers,” but what Manning leaked was considered embarrassing to the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush, and since then he’s become a she, which is quite the fashion these days, and there’s an opportunistically recurring enthusiasm among for liberals for bold truth tellers.
There’s always an opportunistically recurring enthusiasm among conservatives for guarding state secrets by force of law, too, and all the Republicans were in one of those moods back when Manning caught, convicted, and sent off to prison. We cheered on the process along with the rest, and wondered aloud why a mere private with such obvious mental health issues had access to such sensitive information in the first place, and nothing that has since transpired has changed our minds about it. Even Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan refers to Manning as Chelsea when denouncing the pardon, and although we have our quibbles about we are adamant that has nothing to do with Manning’s culpability, and we hope it has nothing to do with his commutation. We are still steadfastly against the illegal public dissemination of classified information, except perhaps in one of those far-fetched dystopian nightmare scenarios that have occasionally occurred in some places from time to time, and hopefully will be able to remain so during the next administration.
The next administration seems to have a more opportunistic opposition to such leaks, though, along with most of its many supporters. By now even president-elect Donald Trump admits that he thinks the Russians probably hacked all those WikiLeak-ed Democratic e-mails that he gleefully admitted gleefully pointed to during the past campaign, at one point telling one of his raucous rallies “Boy, do I love Wikileaks,” and we also his recall his jocular remarks about how great it would be if the Russians or the that possible 400 pound fat guy in New Jersey would also hack the e-mails his Democratic rival sent while Secretary of State, and there is by now a widespread agreement on the right and in the Republican party that some hacking and leaking and violation of the law is acceptable so long as it embarrasses the left and the Democratic party. This double standard always offended us when it came from the left, as it so often did and still does during the latest controversies, and we find it no less offensive when coming from the right.
All those leaks will no doubt go unplugged for at least another four years, and we’ll continue to call for locking the leakers up and eagerly poring through whatever they leaked, and keep an eye out, as always, for that dystopian nightmare scenario that might justify it all. At this point Bradley or Chelsea Manning or whatever you want to call him or her has done all the damage that he or she is likely do, so we’ll not make any big deal out of his her or commutation and wish him or her the very best for the rest of his or her life, but we’ll be holding the next administration to the same grumpy standards as the past one.

— Bud Norman

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Overselling Obamacare and Trumpcare

From our birth up until the Indiana primary of last year or so we were as steadfastly Republican a soul as you’re likely to find even here in deep-red Kansas, so of course we’ve been anxiously awaiting the repeal of Obamacare for coming up on eight long years now, but president-elect Donald Trump’s latest statements to The Washington Post on the subject are not reassuring. He’s long promised repeal, and by now we don’t doubt him a bit about that, but he’s also promising a replacement that would provide “lower numbers, much lower deductibles” and “insurance for everybody.” Which sounds great, especially when he insists we believe him, because that he can tell us, OK?, but we can’t help suspecting it sounds a bit too great.
Being street-savvy and wised-up sorts of erstwhile Republicans we were never fooled by President Barack Obama’s assurances that his eponymous Obamacare would save the average American family $2,500 a year and insure everybody and not add a single dime to the national debt, or any of that blather about how if you like your plan you can keep your plan and if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, and along with every last Republican Senator and Representative in Congress, even the ones from those wimpy northeastern states and districts, we were against it all along. It sounded so convincing, what with those well-crafted phrases delivered in that smooth baritone voice, but the numbers never did add up. Given all the same ongoing laws of probability and supply and demand and the rest of darned reality, we’re doubtful that Trump will be any more able to deliver on a promise of both lower deductibles and universal coverage. Liberals more honest than Obama have always acknowledged that universal coverage will entail greater universal costs, more honest conservatives than Trump have always countered that leaving free people to pursue their self-interests will results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people even if there are some costs entailed, but the more demagogic types on both ends of the spectrum will always promise that no such hard choices need be made.
Feel free to disagree, as there are arguments aplenty to be made, but our prairie Republican instincts incline us to side with free people pursuing their own self-interests and the government having as little to do with it as possible. We don’t want people dying in the street, and are quite willing to limp along with a health care system that pays for indigent emergency care through whatever convoluted and no doubt costly means the pre- and post-Obamacare systems provided, bit if you’re claiming to have come up with something so ingenious that it can simultaneously cover everyone and lower everyone’s costs we’re going to be skeptical no matter what party you’re claiming to represent.
As usual with Trump’s triumphant claims, there was a follow-up interview with a more well-spoken spokesman who reassured all us conservatives, as the term was formerly defined, that Trump was actually talking about such free-market reforms as eliminating interstate competition in the insurance market. That does seem a good idea to us, as do some other of those free-market reforms he mentioned, but even that more well-spoken spokesman didn’t attempt to explain how they’d wind up with both lower deductibles and universal coverage. Presumably he meant to imply that such free-market reforms would lower health insurance premiums and other costs to point there was “universal access,” which is what the the Republicans have always called their best effort at the greatest good for the greatest number of people, but we wish he’d just gone with that persuasively honest term, which at least won’t wind up seeming so ridiculous as all that nonsense about Obamacare’s big savings and debt-neutrality and keeping your plan and doctor.
Hating Obamacare is such a longstanding habit by now that almost any other national health care policy will seem a welcome relief, however, and we’ll hold out hope that the mostly pre-Trumpian Republicans in Congress will continue hating it for the some doctrinaire reasons and be suspicious of any newly peddled snake oil claims about everything working out well for everyone.

— Bud Norman

The Gathering Storm, or Not

The devastating ice storm that was forecast for the weekend around here never materialized, just some much needed rain and slightly-above-freezing temperatures in a dreary gray mix, so maybe Inauguration Day won’t go so badly as predicted.
President-elect Donald Trump’s most fervent fans are fretting about everything from widespread rioting to an outright coup, and his most caustic critics are egging it on. Worried talk of a coup has accompanied every transfer of presidential power we can remember regardless of which party was departing the office, and seems as far-fetched as ever, but this time around the part about widespread rioting seems well within the realm of possibility. At the very least we anticipate a whole lot of mostly peaceable protestors and plenty acts of civil disobedience and much unpleasantness, and by now neither Trump’s most fervent fans nor his most caustic critics have much faith in the ability of the federal authorities to keep things under control.
The whole shindig will presumably be under the watchful eyes of all those intelligence agencies that the Trump critics used to hate but have lately started to adore since Trump and his fans started bad-mouthing them for leaking unverified by attention-grabbing allegations and such, but those intelligence agencies don’t seem to like Trump any more than he likes them, and there are conspiracy theories galore to be made of it by Trump’s fans and critics alike. Surely the District of Columbia’s police force will also be out in force, but neither Trump’s anti-cop critics nor his anti-D.C. fans will be reassured by that. Some 2,700 members of the District of Columbia’s National Guard and another 5,000 unarmed guardsman brought in from the around the country will also be on the job through the day and night, but their commanding general, who also oversees the military’s air support, will be off the job the moment Trump completes his oath of office.
There are conspiracy theories galore just in that detail, as out-going President Barack Obama had refused to accept the resignation of the general, who had originally been appointed to the post by previous President George W. Bush and by all accounts done a fine job through by administrations, but the in-coming president had decided to accept the resignation as his first official act, which was either a petty gesture by Obama or a rash decision by Trump depending on who you’re rooting for. From our perspective on the sidelines both seem well within the realm of possibility, but in any case it’s at least momentarily unclear on who will be commanding those troops when Trump lifts his hand of the Bible and whether that person is fully apprised of the situation.
Trump reportedly retains a sizable personal security detail, which his critics in the Secret Service are reportedly criticizing, but they won’t be of much use to anyone in a “Make America Great Again” ball cap who wanders into a crowd of especially agitated protesters, and of no use at all to anyone wearing the wrong t-shirt who wanders into some of the more revved-up revelers. The Bikers For Trump will be there, too, and we trust that they’re better behaved than the bikers The Rolling Stones hired for as event security for that ill-fated Altamont show. Plenty of good people on both sides will also presumably be present, and we hope that they’ll do what they can and we wish them all well.
We’ve been through enough storms and inaugurations to have noticed that the Republic has weathered them all, and expect that it will again. This past election year has been particularly crazy, and some storms are worse than others, but one can always hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

The Plot Thickens

Pity the poor fellows who have to come up with the next best-selling cloak-and-dagger novel or big-budget spy movie screenplay. Such a staid source as The New York Times is reporting that the former British intelligence agent who compiled the dossier with the salacious allegations about the president-elect that was included in the classified yet widely read reports of Russia’s meddling in the recent election has now gone missing, and even the likes of Ian Fleming or John Le Carre would be hard pressed to top that plot twist in the latest reality show thriller.
The plot was already plenty complicated, even if you’re sticking with the most staid sources and not looking into the conspiracy theory sites, where the even the most fevered imaginings no longer seem so far-fetched. By now even even president-elect Donald Trump admits that he thinks it was probably the Russians who hacked and leaked some Democratic operatives’ e-mails and otherwise meddled in the past presidential election, but he’s still holding out hope that it wasn’t and in any case he scoffs at the idea it had anything to do with his victory and urges the American people to get on with their lives, and he seems mostly angry with the American intelligence agencies who have been leaking their conclusions about Russia’s meddling to the press, and of course with the press that has been reporting the leaks. Then came that dossier compiled by the former British intelligence agent full of salacious allegations that no one can very and no one can stop talking about, and after sitting on the news of its existence for months the press had to acknowledge it after it was included in the high-level briefings about the whole Russia thing, and Trump’s further outrage with both the intelligence agencies and the press has only made it harder not to talk about.
Now the former MI6 operative who compiled the dossier, reportedly at first with funding from some of Trump’s Republican primary opponents and their backers and then from the Democrats and ultimately for his own reasons, has gone missing, so the conspiracy theorists should have fun with that. There was already a wide range of theories, ranging from far-left to far-right, with some theorizing that Trump is indeed a puppet of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin because of debts to the Russian mob or the blackmail scenario alleged in the dossier, others arguing that Trump is being undermined by his own country’s intelligence agencies in order to prevent him from dismantling some corrupt and hidden power structure, and other contending that Russia is playing its best prank yet. At a time when the president-elect has alleged his predecessor was foreign-born and the previous president and the nation’s intelligence agencies lied America into a war for some unknown reason and that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was in on the Kennedy assassination, all seem at least somewhat plausible.
All that talk about Trump owing debts to Russia and his son’s past statement that a lot of the family financing was coming from there will surely be put to rest when he releases his tax records, and all those salacious allegations in the dossier are dubious enough that even the late night comics are acknowledging that they are unverified even as they endlessly riff on the golden opportunities it presents, but there has to be some explanation for Trump’s out-in-the-open mutual admiration with Putin. Trump argues that it’s because friendly relations with Russia will help America defeat the Islamic State restrain Chinese ambitions, which is arguable, but there’s also an argument to be made that Russia has been less interested in defeating than Islamic State than in propping up the mass-murdering Syrian dictatorship that is aligned with the same Iranian apocalyptic suicide cult that Trump has vowed to get tough with, and that his threatened tariff on Chinese goods is going to cost his working class supporters another 45 percent on every trip to Wal-Mart, and that friendship with the nascent democracies of the former Soviet Union is more honorable and desirable than friendship with the oppressive kleptocracy that now threatens to re-conquer them.
By now we’ve all seen enough Hollywood movies to know that the intelligence agencies might just be out to get Trump, though, and there’s no denying that they have from time to time been up to some pretty nasty business. They have an obvious motivation to dislike Trump, who had made his contempt for them quite clear throughout the campaign. and we can easily imagine that they leaked their conclusions about Russia’s meddling with a certain glee. There’s still the matter of whether their conclusions were correct or not, although even Trump now says he probably thinks so, and the related question of whether the public has a right to know about, which Trump had no problem with when Democrats’ alleged scandals were being leaked, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any spook agency malice involved. Trump has likened the leaks to something from Nazi Germany, which seems a been overblown, given that none of Nazi Germany’s intelligence were leaking anything about the great leader who was going to make Germany great again, but as the old joke goes just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
Our favorite of the conspiracy theories is the one about the Russians playing a prank. The once-highly respected former British intelligence agent who compiled the dossier was once the Russian expert for the MI6, a name familiar to any James Bond fan, and after leaving Her Majesty’s Secret Service he made a good living selling advice to western corporations and businessmen about how to deal with Russia’s highly complicated graft system, and there’s much speculation that his previously reliable sources fed him a lot of nonsense about Trump that would seem so highly dubious that all the talk about Trump being a Putin puppet would be ridiculed, and people would stop wondering why Trump’s foreign policy was so suspiciously friendly to Russia. If that was the plan, at least they’ve stopped any substantive debate regarding the merits of Trump’s stated intentions, and all the late night comics are telling kinky sex jokes instead.
Various other conspiracists are theorizing that the spy agencies and their brief cases full of high-tech gadgets will somehow prevent will Trump from being sworn into office, but at least we’ll know within a week if that proves true. It should be a while longer before we know what’s become of that former British intelligence agent, but our guess is that he’s holed up somewhere avoiding interviews and waiting for the highest bid from the publishing houses and movie studios.

— Bud Norman

Trump Meets the Press

Watching Donald Trump’s first press conference as president-elect, we were reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s apocryphal theater review that advised “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” Those who voted for Trump because they like his abrasive and combative style were no doubt pleased by the performance, but those who voted for him in spite of it because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton, and the plurality of voters who went ahead and voted for Clinton, and the majority of the country that voted for someone other than Trump or didn’t vote at all were probably less entertained.
Back during the interminable and still seemingly ongoing presidential campaign Trump always revved up the crowds by taunting the penned-in print and radio and television and internet contingent, whom the Trump rally crowds were already predisposed to hate with a red-hot passion, and he brought the same confrontational attitude to his first full-blown post-election press conference. He opened by boasting that “I think we probably maybe won the nomination because of news conferences and it’s good to be with you,” but in the next sentence explained “We stopped giving them because we were getting quite a bit of inaccurate news.”
Just in case you hadn’t heard the gossip about Trump and Russian prostitutes and kinky sex acts and unfulfilled real estate deals, which Trump alleged was “nonsense that was released maybe by the intelligence agencies? Who knows,” he then took the opportunity to thank all the news outlets that hadn’t reported on what he had already “tweeted” were Nazi-like efforts by America’s intelligence agencies to undermine his legitimacy. That was followed by some boasting about all the American companies that are staying put for fear of Trump’s border tax-imposing wrath, how he’s also cowed the entire military-industrial complex out of cost overruns, a threat to do the same thing to “pharma,” yet another promise to be “the greatest jobs producer that God ever created,” a boast about how the great the inauguration will be and how he’s booked all the best bands that the military has to offer, and announcement that some guy would be in charge of the Veterans administration, all of which probably bored even his most ardent fans. Then he opened himself to questions, and that’s when the latest installment of this reality show finally got to the good part.
The first questions naturally pertained what the questioner carefully and obliquely referred to as “these unsubstantiated allegations” about Russian prostitutes and kinky sex acts and unfulfilled real estate deals, and whether the intelligence agencies had given him a heads-up on the reports eventually splashed all over the internet, and also whether Trump still doubted the intelligence agency’s unanimous conclusion that Russia had meddled for some reason or another in the election. Trump claimed he couldn’t answer because of highly classified confidentiality stuff, then said he read all of whatever it was, presumably about Russian prostitutes and kinky sex and all the rest of it nobody explicitly mention, and went on to say that “It’s phony stuff. It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours, as you know, because you reported it and so many of the other people. It was a group of opponents that got that together — sick people — and they put that crap together.”
That now-famous dossier of putative crap apparently was put together by a former British intelligence official and a former muckraking journalist who now sell their services on the open market, and it was originally Republican but then Democratic buyers who paid to begin their “opposition research” on Trump, and although its too-good-not-to-talk-about allegations are very much unverified and seems to have some flaws it was nonetheless splashed across the internet by a previously little-known site called Buzzfeed.com, which carefully acknowledged that the information it was disseminating was “unverified.” Mentioning the site by name, Trump said “It’s frankly outrageous and highly irresponsible for a left-wing blog that was openly hostile to the president-elect’s campaign to drop a highly salacious and flat-out false information on the internet just before he takes office.” Most of last of the big city newspapers and television networks, who were well of the story that they knew was being circulated in congress and included intelligence networks but decided to sit on it more or less agreed, and given all the seeming flaws in some of the allegations it seems likely Trump also be able to boast of victory over some site called Buzzfeed.com.
The slightly more formidable CNN aired and posted on the internet a report about the undeniable fact that some site called Buzzfeed.com had splashed all that salacious talk over the intent, just as we’re now doing, and they stressed that the information they were reporting on was unverified and that it contained some seeming flaws, just as we do, but they also noted that the British intelligence agent and the muckraking journalist for-hire had pretty good reputations, and that the three biggies of America’s intelligence agency had included their findings in reports to by the out-going and in-coming presidents, which also strikes us as newsworthy, and they tried to put it in the broader context of the longstanding and still ongoing story about Trump’s seeming “bromance” with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which we’ve also been wondering about.
Obviously we find no particular with fault with CNN in this case, despite all our other numerous complaints with the network over the years, but Trump singled them out for the same “garbage” criticism as Buzzfeed.com. He even got into one of those reality show-worthy shouting matches with the poor schmuck from CNN, snarling “Your organization is terrible,” “quiet,” “don’t be rude,” and “I’m not going to give you a question.” He didn’t have the fellow roughly evicted from the hall, although there was a tantalizing hint of that possibility that will surely keep viewers tuned in, and he had a sort of mini-rally of supporters cheering on the exchange, no doubt along with all those people who voted for Trump because he’s willing it to stick to punch back against all those smart aleck reporters, but it left us with a queasy feeling.
We only watch CNN when we’re stuck in an airport terminal and only read it on the internet when it breaks a story, and we didn’t vote for either Trump or Clinton, but we’re still rooting for the free press and skeptical public that was badly need over the past eight years and will surely be needed over the next four. A shouting match with a member of that hated mainstream media will endear Trump to his already enamored supporters, but conservatives and liberals and the more sensible types who didn’t vote for him or did so only for fear of Hillary Clinton will still want to know how Trump will be separating himself from the vast and as-yet unlocked business holdings he has around the world, and how Obamacare will differ from Trumpcare, and if it’s not Russian prostitutes and kinky sex acts and unfulfilled real estates or something else hidden in Trump’s still-undisclosed tax returns then what is the deal with his weird “bromance” with Putin? Trump finally admitted that he thinks probably maybe Russia did do all the hacking that wound up in those intelligence reports no one should know about, except for the parts about Hillary Clinton that got all the attention, but he didn’t seem nearly so angry about it as he was about CNN.
None of Trump’s answers on those questions were at all reassuring to us, and although we hold out hope that something better than Obamacare will come of all this we’re thinking that Trump’s plan to let his kids run the shop for the time being is bound to raise some constitutional issues, and even without any salacious talk about prostitutes and kinky sex we’re still worried about Trump’s obvious affinity for Putin, so even though we hate the media as much as the next guy we’re hoping that someone will keep asking.

— Bud Norman

A Not So Fond Farewell

President Barack Obama gave his farewell address on Tuesday night, so at least we’ve got that going for us.
President-elect Donald Trump once again grabbed all the attention, of course, with his indignantly “tweeted” denial of some juicy new allegations that were reportedly included in the intelligence community’s much-debated reports to Congress and other officials concerning Russia’s alleged meddling in the past election. A maybe true and maybe not true dossier of allegations was compiled by a reportedly respected ex-British intelligence official, and is now splashed all over the internet, and it mentions Russian prostitutes and some very kinky sex acts, as well as several presumably more hygienic but no less newsworthy contacts that Trump’s business and campaign officials had with Russian officials, and it’s undeniably more irresistible conversation fodder than another one of Obama’s orations.
All that cloak and dagger and kinky sex stuff will play out over the next several days or weeks or months, though, if not much longer than that, and in the meantime we feel obliged to take note of Obama’s speech.
For the past nine years or so we’ve been hearing about what a wonderfully eloquent orator Obama is, but we were once again unimpressed. The language is well-crafted enough by comparison to his successor’s schoolyard taunts and constant interjections of “believe me” and “OK?” and “that I can tell you,” but that’s damning by faint praise, and up against an Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King or any other first rate rhetorician it’s not at all memorable. Even his most awe-struck admirers are hard-pressed to remember any line he ever uttered quite so iconic as Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address coinage of “military-industrial complex” or John Kennedy’s “bear any burden” shtick or even George W. Bush’s pithy “soft bigotry of low expectations,” and what they do come up with about “no red states or blues states” and “hope and change” and “yes we can” and that one about the sea levels falling now sounds faintly ridiculous after eight long years of his tiresome speeches.
Which left poor Obama, just 10 short days away from the seemingly inevitable inauguration of Trump, with the difficult job of making the case that all that hope had not been misplaced. He had a friendly audience in his adopted hometown of Chicago, all revved up by a soulful rendition of the the National Anthem, and he bounded on the stage with a rock star’s roar and a rock star’s rote greeting to a certain local neighborhood and a whole of thank you thank you very much, followed by some lame self-deprecating humor about being a lame duck, then he started waxing eloquent. He did so well enough that his still-ardent admirers who still feel that hope were probably tugging at their eyes, but any eyes that have been keeping a more unblinking watch on the past eight years were rolling.
There was some nostalgic talk about his young and idealistic days as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, and how he learned that “Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.” That same south side of Chicago is presently so disorganized that it has a murder rate that would shock the denizens of your average third world hellhole, but so far the survivors haven’t gotten involved and engaged and demand change from Obama’s associates at City Hall, and somehow we got the sense that he wasn’t urging them to start now.
He followed that up with some rousing stuff about the wisdom of the founding fathers and their belief that we are “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” At any rate it would have been rousing if he hadn’t spent the past eight years giving speeches about the country’s racist and sexist and classist origins, and steadfastly defending abortion rights, and restricting the citizens’ liberty in numerous ways, and generally making life miserable for anyone who was just trying to live it. There was some more rousing-for-the-faithful stuff about onward and upward to the more perfect union, along with a list of liberal goals that have been achieved over the years.
Even Obama had to admit that “Yes, our progress has been uneven,” and sometimes even “contentious,” and there was no talk about ocean levels falling or a new era of hope and change or any of the other stuff so many people were swooning for starting back about nine years ago. Instead, Obama tried to argue that things had worked out even better than promised. He touted the end of a Great Recession and “reboot” of America’s automotive industry and eight straight years of job growth, the shutdown of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and new relations with Cuba and of course the oft-cited death of Osama Bin Laden, along with a health care plan that insured another 20 million Americans, and boasted that “If I had told you that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.
Even if that were all true it’s still setting the sights a little bit lower than during the messianic ’08 campaign, as far as we’re concerned, but without looking anything up and despite the florid language we were ready to dispute almost all of it. The Great Recession of ’08 did indeed come to an end, but recessions have always come to an end and usually with more robust employment gains than during the past below post-World War II averages, and who’s to say that whoever bought out General Motors would haven’t hired more workers? Iran’s nuclear weapons program is still on schedule and has a few billion dollar extra in its coffers thanks to Obama’s largesse, our new relations with Cuba are far too chummy with a communist regime for our tastes, and Obama saying he succeeded in killing Bin Laden where Bush had failed is like Nixon claiming credit for getting to the moon where Johnson and Kennedy had failed. That 20 million insured figure is by almost all other accounts vastly overstated, and includes a lot of people stuck on Medicaid and forced by buy overpriced insurance they don’t need, and it’s clearly one reason job growth has been so sluggish, and so many more people are stuck paying exorbitant rate increases and swelling budget deficits to pay for it that the guy who promised to repeal Obama’s signature piece of legislation wound up winning.
At that point Obama had to chide the crowd for booing the guy who did wind up winning, and we’ll give him credit for doing that, and he pledged a peaceful transfer of power and gave some props to George W. Bush for doing him the same solid. That was followed by a lot of talk exhorting Democrats to continuing be Democrats, and racism and climate change being very bad, and peace being better than war, along with some bragging about the oil boom he did everything he could to thwart, and a whole lot of blather that will be little noted and soon forgotten, to borrow a phrase from a more memorable orator. It didn’t convince us that we’d been wrong all along, and that Obama really was the Messiah we’d been told, but we suppose the true believers liked it, even if they can’t remember a single line of it today.
At this point we’re quite agnostic on the question of whether Trump really did pay those Russian prostitutes to perform those kinky sex acts while on a Moscow business trip, or whether any of those other dealings actually occurred, but we’re quite convinced he’s also no Messiah. All we can say at this point is that we can’t say we’re looking forward to four or eight more years of schoolyard taunts and constant interjections of “believe me” and “OK?” and “that I can tell you,” but at least the rest of Obama’s ponderous speeches will be more easily ignored as the forgettable asides of an ex-president.

— Bud Norman

The Son-in-Law Also Rises

Most of the chatter on Monday seemed to be about president-elect Donald Trump’s latest “twitter” tantrum, this one provoked by actress Meryl Streep’s obligatory liberal rant at yet another one of those show biz awards shows, but it was the stories about Trump’s appointment of Jared Kushner as a “senior advisor” that caught our eye.
If you’re still unfamiliar with his far less famous name, Kushner is a 35-year-old real estate mogul, having run his family’s sizable business ever since his father went to jail about decade ago for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness intimidation, and he’s also Trump’s son-in-law. Unless the mainstream media and Trump’s “Tweets” have left anything out, that’s about the extent of his resume for a senior advisory position with a presidential administration. We don’t find any aspect of it reassuring, and are troubled for reasons.
Kushner reportedly played a senior role in his father-in-law’s presidential campaign, which thus far seems to have worked out well for the entire family, so we’ll give him that. He’s also played a reportedly big role in the post-election transition, and so far that seems a mixed bag for all involved. Kushner was quite plausibly reported to have been behind the ouster from the transition team of the oh-so-obsequious New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had put Kushner’s dad in jail back in his heroic days as a tough and incorruptible prosecutor, and although that firing might have been a good call by this point in Christie’s decline it does continue a pattern of petty score-settling that doesn’t befit a presidential administration.
Our eyes were also caught by the stories just a couple of column inches below about Kushner’s family business’ ongoing negotiations with one of the biggest banks in China, a country that Kushner’s father-in-law has famously threatened 45 percent tariffs against, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out. A couple of column inches the mainstream press acknowledges that Kushner has offered to relinquish his executive role in his family’s business, but so far we as we can tell and without any reassuring information via Trump’s “tweets” it will still be his family’s business, so that doesn’t allay any concerns. The president-elect has enough ongoing international deals raising conflict-of-interest questions without adding all the scandals of another family of real estate moguls to the daily budget of the last of the newspapers. Trump has been delighted to “tweet” the pretty much inarguable fact that he’s exempt from the conflict of interest laws that apply to almost all federal employees, except for that pesky “emoluments clause” in the Constitution, which we’ll deal with later, and his son-in-law’s “senior advisor” post won’t be subject to congressional approval and will apparently go unpaid and thus also fall into some legal category that Trump’s suddenly huge payroll of lawyers will find, so we expect that for at least a while it go as well as everything else that has been lately happening for the family.
That whole in-law nepotism thing bothers us, too. We’re from old-fashioned Republican stock that once groused about President John Kennedy appointing his brother Bobby to be Attorney General, and in all fairness we have to admit that at least the young punk had once served on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s commie-hunting crusade, and that this Kushner fellow seems to have no record of public service at all on his resume except for chasing Christie away, and even that seems to motivated by petty score-settling. Our experience of fathers-in-law is that sons-in-law are reluctant to offer them any criticism, and ours was a much nicer and less thin-skinned guy than Kushner’s, so we’d much prefer a “senior advisor” to Trump who would likely be more willing to advise some restraint. Something on the resume that indicates Kushner has any familiarity with geo-politics and macro-economics and all those crazy social issues would be reassuring, but these days that’s too much to expect.

— Bud Norman

Nat Hentoff, RIP

The first notable death of the year is that of journalist and author and critic Nat Hentoff, who died Saturday at the age of 91, and although that’s a ripe old age we wish he could have stuck around a bit longer. For the most of his seven-decades-long career and even right up to the end he was one of those durned back east big city liberals we’re always railing against, but he was one of the rare principled sorts who really did believe in life and liberty and individualism and everything else that liberalism claims to champion, so such principled conservatives as ourselves will need such stubbornly independent allies in the coming years.
Hentoff was born to Russian and Jewish immigrant parents in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, which way back then was a hotbed of both orthodox Judaism and radical politics, and by the age of 12 he was spending Yom Kippur conspicuously eating a salami sandwich on his tenement’s porch steps to signal his affiliation with the latter influence. A star student at America’s oldest public high school, Hentoff went off to Northeastern University, where he ran in to trouble as the student newspaper’s editor by publishing accounts of anti-Semitism at the the school, but still graduated with honors and started a career in journalism.
The jazz-crazed Hentoff’s first gig was as a music columnist with Downbeat, at that time the very Bible of jazz criticism, but despite an avid readership he was forced out after a few years because of his outspoken insistence the magazine hire more black writers. He then started a short-lived but briefly influential jazz journal of his own, and would later write several important books about the subject, and although he liked all that noisome be-bop and modernism more than we did his writings celebrated the glorious freedom of both the old and new jazz with a passion that’s still worth reading.
After that Hentoff wound up at the Village Voice, which was then as now the very Bible of radical chic liberalism, and at that point he was so eager to get out of the contentious field of jazz criticism that he started covering politics. He mostly concerned himself with any governmental attempts to restrict freedom of expression or pretty much any other freedom, and way back in the ’50s and into the ’60s he could find plenty of material about censorious right-winters and foul-mouth comedians and gay bars and Watergate to satisfy his avid liberal readership. He was still at it when we first started reading him in our junior high’s library in the ’70s, and although we picked up the Village Voice mostly because it gave our teenaged punk sensibilities a certain satisfaction to refute its radical chic liberalism we usually had to admit that the Hentoff guy had a point. Something in our own much-later prairie protestant upbringing in a hot bed of conservative orthodoxy had imbued a similar philosophy of First Amendment absolutism, and we vowed not to abandon that even for the sake of our side.
By the time we started our own journalism career in the early ’80s the liberals had been in charge for a while, at least in part because of Hentoff’s compelling arguments, and we already were noticing that they were suddenly the censorious and bossy ones. Conservative speakers were being literally shouted down at campus appearances and orthodox religious viewpoints were being excluded from public discussion, and all sorts of folks were suddenly confronted with new rules and regulations they never voted on. Hentoff couldn’t help noticing, either, and we have to admire that he wouldn’t abandon his First Amendment absolutism even for the sake of his side. He wrote column after column excoriating the rescinded commencement address invitations to conservative speakers, the silliness of a campus culture that insisted on ideological purity, the charges of racism leveled against any who dared speak out against the ostensible consensus on race, or the charges of homophobia against anyone who hewed to traditional religion, or any of the familiar rest of it. Of course it didn’t play well with his erstwhile avid readership on the left, and neither did it gain him much from respect from his erstwhile enemies on the right, but that’s all the more reason we’re going to miss the guy.
In his final years Hentoff was still as outspokenly atheistic as ever, but he was every bit as anti-abortion as any Orthodox rabbi, making a case for life from the very moment of conception to the end that was probably all the more convincing to many readers because it was grounded in the scientific and secular principles he’d always championed, and he even wound up writing admiringly of the radically anti-government Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul during that past crazy election year. Although we’re not so crazy about Paul ourselves neither are we crazy about the Republican president-elect with the censorious streak and the crazy idea that his government can make America great again, and although Hentoff was still a back east big city atheist liberal to the end we think we could have used his help in a time when principled conservatives few few and far between. In any case we wish Hentoff well, and hope that the God he never believed in will nonetheless welcome his soul to the perfect freedom he always wanted for the rest of us.

— Bud Norman