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Swimming in a Flood of News

The news comes at a fast and furious rate in the age of President Donald Trump, but Wednesday’s pace was downright discombobulating. Some bigger than usual bombshells about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia came not from anonymous sources somewhere in the bureaucracy but rather from four under-oath high level figures, here in Kansas the more conservative sort of Republican economic philosophy took a hard hit, and just to the south the University of Oklahoma’s longtime football coach unexpectedly up and quit.
The most attention was paid to the written testimony of fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, which confirmed all those previously anonymously-sourced stories that Comey says Trump had expressed a hope that the FBI would relent in its investigation of Trump’s fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and had asked for a pledge of loyalty to the president. As far as Trump’s most strident critics are concerned that’s sufficient for an impeachable obstruction of justice charge, which seems a bit of an overreach, for now at least, and Trump’s staunchest supporters are claiming vindication by Comey’s admission that he had indeed assured Trump on three separate occasions that the president wasn’t being investigation as an individual, as Trump had noted in Comey’s termination letter, which is not likely to make anybody but other staunch Trump supporters feel good.
Comey will provide oral testimony and answer questions from Republicans and Democrats today, and Trump’s staunchest supporters should be ready with some better arguments. All of the broadcast networks will be televising the Senate hearings live, just like in the Watergate days, and the bars in Washington, D.C., are opening early and offering such specials as “covfefe cocktails” for the expected audience, and the story Comey will tell is far more fascinating than anything that’s going on in the pre-empted soap operas.
Comey’s seven pages of written testimony, apparently backed up by some very contemporaneous notes he’d written on the way home from his encounters with the president, include some novelistic but believable details.
He recalls a moment during a private presidential dinner when “the president said, ‘I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.” Comey later recalls that “Near the end of our dinner, the president returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want. Honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’ As I wrote in the memo that I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.”
Today’s rating-grabbing telecast will likely include further literary flourishes, along with Republicans and Democrats and Trump’s most strident critics and staunchest defenders understanding the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but our guess is that Trump should ready himself for another bad news cycle. Comey’s recollections are apparently backed up by provably contemporaneous notes, and all the dialogue does seem to have a certain verisimilitude about it, based on what we’ve seen of Comey and Trump. Although Comey has infuriated Democrats by announcing an investigation of the Democratic nominee during the late stages of the campaign and infuriated Republicans by failing to lock her up, at least his bipartisan honesty has never been questioned, while Trump has undeniably been caught in some whoppers. Even if the public does accept Comey’s version of events it’s still an overreach to make an obstruction of justice case, given the different interpretations of “honest loyalty” and almost anything else Trump says, but it’s going to be hard to make Trump look good.
You might not have seen it floating by in the flood of news, but The Washington Post had also reported in a mostly-anonymously-sourced story that Trump had also asked a couple of other top-notch national security types to push back against that whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia, and two of them gave under-oath testimony to that pesky Senate committee. National intelligence director Dan Coats and Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, both denied they had ever been asked by anyone to do anything untoward, but when the questions got more specific they declined to answer, and at one point Coats freely admitted he didn’t have any particular legal basis for not answering. Even the Republicans seemed peeved by the arguable contempt of Congress, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, taunted by Trump as “Little Marco” during their primary duel, made some good points.
All that is obviously getting in the way of Trump’s infrastructure and health care reform and tax reform agenda, and the tax reform part of the agenda took way out here in Kansas. Enough establishment-type Republicans joined with the Democrats to override the staunchly anti-establishment Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a tax increase, which pretty much brings to an end the tax-cutting program that Trump is proposing. Economics is a complicated science, and there’s an argument to be made that the Kansas economy wouldn’t have thrived any better under the tax-and-spend schemes that have harmed so many blue states, but the Brownback tax cuts inarguably haven’t produced the economic growth that was promised and we’ve even lagged behind the Obama-era overall economy, and the state’s school and social service funding were getting down to the bare bones that alarm even such old-fashioned Kansas Republicans as ourselves, so of course even the national press is gloating. The old-fashioned establishment sorts of Republicans around here arguably acquitted themselves in the matter, but Trump shouldn’t count on them having his back in the coming news cycles.
It was such a busy day we’re still not sure why Bob Stoops relinquished control of that OU Sooners football team, which looks to have another exciting and maybe even championship season coming up. Over the years he’s infuriated Sooners fans with some inexcusable bowl game losses and then delighted them with some chapionship-trophy-hoisting upsets, but he’s got Kansas State ties and seems a decent sort of fellow and after 18 years he’s leaving his successor a much better team than the one he inherited, so we wish him well in his future endeavors.
As for all the rest of these characters in the news these days, we’re wishing all them and all the rest of us our best.

— Bud Norman

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Reality Winner and the Winners of Reality

The great British novelist Evelyn Waugh used to come up with some of fictions’ most fascinating characters and give them the most delightfully ironic names, but we doubt even he could have invented a sweet-faced multi-lingual 25-year-old Air Force veteran and outspoken liberal and alleged national security secrets leaker called Reality Winner. In the age of a reality show president and his reality show presidency, though, such an unlikely character with such an improbable name is an actual person in the news.
Winner has been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with handing a purloined National Security Agency document about Russia’s meddling in the past American presidential election, and the rest of the story is believable only because no one could have made it up. It’s a mere subplot in a broader storyline about what President Donald Trump calls “the Russia thing with Trump and Russia,” which was already darned complicated, and Winner’s tale complicates it further.
So far all we know about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia comes courtesy of people with access to information to information they have leaked to the press, and what has then been confirmed the administration’s legally plausible but not altogether reassuring claim that the information was illegally obtained. Some of the damaging and inadvertently verified information has apparently come from the feuding innermost circles of the top-most Trump administration, most of it seems to have come from the permanent government bureaucracy and the holdovers from the President Barack Obama administration that are hanging around while the Trump administration gets around to filling that remaining 78 percent of appointed positions they’ve yet to name a nominee for, and for now there’s no telling where the rest of it has come from. Except for the administrations claims that the sources are all fake and must be immediately be locked up, we’d be inclined to dismiss it all as fake news.
The Trump administration has vowed to plug all those leaks, for principled reasons of law enforcement as well as naked self-interest, but so far the only alleged leaker they’ve nabbed is the aforementioned and improbably named Winner.
In the inevitable Facebook photos of a 25-year-old she looks like one of those beguiling young hipster women who hang around The Vagabond hipster bar where we argue with a gray-ponytailed but right-wing hipster friend of ours, and from the inevitable Facebook postings she seems to share the same fashionably left-wing political opinions. Unlike most young woman of our acquaintance, though, she’s fluent in the languages of Farsi, Pashto, and Dari, only two of which we were even previously aware of, and instead of going to college she volunteered her linguistic skills to the Air Force. After an honorable discharge Winner and her hard-to-find skill set found work with a private data-analysis company that contracted with the National Security Agency, where her impeccable Air Force record earned her a high security clearance, and at that point she allegedly came across an NSA document about how the Russian meddling had extended to the point that they tried to influence some local-level vote-counting.
She’s alleged to have copied the document and passed it on to an internet news site called The Intercept, which we had also previously never heard of, and so far as we can tell that’s why she’s the first alleged leaker to be nabbed. So far even the most sympathetic press accounts don’t do her legal case much good, noting that the neophyte leaker seems to have used office copy machines with their hidden code words and made other rookie mistakes, and they unhelpfully note all those Facebook posting about her disdain for Trump, and without drawing any conclusions we’d advise she hire a better attorney than the Trump administration is able to retain these days.
Trump’s stalwart defenders will be pleased that at least one of those leakers has been allegedly nabbed, and hope that others will be deterred from releasing any further discomfiting information, but no matter Winner’s fate they might still come out losers. The charges against Winner were discovered when the Intercept news site submitted its documents for government verification, which were duly confirmed in order to bring the charges, and so far a lot of leaks from more-savvy sources have been similarly confirmed. It doesn’t amount to anything undeniable, not yet, but there’s still a torrent of leaks from the feuding innermost circles of the White House and the vast bureaucracy that’s still unmanned and all the rest of it.
Should Winner be proved guilty of the charges alleged against her she’ll deserve the prison time that entails, as far as we’re concerned, yet we’ll hope her youthful idealism will carry through the consequences. As always we’ll be hoping that reality ultimately wins, which it always does, eventually, but in these days of reality shows days there’s no telling.

— Bud Norman

Infrastructure Trumped By the Latest News

This is “infrastructure week” at the White House, with the public relations emphasis on President Donald Trump’s trillion dollar plans to make America’s roads and bridges and airports and all that great again, but you might have not have noticed. We’re only aware of it because a few of the pesky journalists who remain fixated on Trump’s latest “tweets” and the Russia thing with Trump and Russia mentioned “infrastructure week” in passing as an example of how Trump’s policy initiatives are being lost in the news.
Some attention was paid on Monday to Trump’s proposal to privatize air traffic control, the first of a series of plans that are expected to include a lot of privatizing, but another blast of presidential “tweets” got far more ink and air time. Trump continued to pursue his longstanding “twitter” feud with the mayor of the besieged city of London, sneering at his “pathetic excuse” of correctly noting that Trump had quoted him out of context, so that took up some space. The president’s lawyers have for the past few months been defending his travel ban in various courts by insisting that it isn’t a travel ban, the same line taken by the White House press secretary and other spokespeople, but Trump also defiantly “tweeted” that it is indeed a travel ban, and blasted that darned Justice Department he runs for saying otherwise, so that was another reason to not talk about privatizing air traffic control.
The week has thus far been eerily free of any bombshell stories about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia, but fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate on Thursday, and the story about Trump’s decision to not block the testimony by claiming executive privilege was another distraction. The networks will be preempting their afternoon soap operas and game shows to televise the Comey hearing, just like they used to do back in the Watergate days, and it’s going to take one heck of an infrastructure proposal to push that off the front pages.
That’s no reason not to talk about privatizing air traffic control, but none of the few stories we found about it included enough information for anyone to draw any conclusions about whether it’s a good idea or not. So far as we can tell they won’t be selling the control towers at your local airport to the highest bidder, but rather shift the power from the Federal Aviation Administration to a private but non-profit group run by a board comprised of airline and aviation and airport executives and the representatives of their employees’ unions, and shift the costs from taxpayers to airline passengers.
We rather like that last part, as we fly as infrequently as possible, but none of the stories make clear how those corporate folks will do a better job of keeping airplanes from flying into one another than the government folks have been doing. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association endorsed a nearly identical bill introduced last year by a Republican congressman, but seven other unions have protested that it won’t keep any more airplanes from running into one another, and of course what little press there’s been about it has been predictably skeptical. In any case, it’s far too dry and complicated to keep anyone from talking about the “tweets.”
It’s impossible to tell from Trump’s vaguely grandiloquent campaign rhetoric what the rest of the promised one trillion dollars or more infrastructures proposals will include, and except for the air traffic idea nothing has been spelled out during “infrastructure week,” but we expect it will include selling some government sectors to the highest bidder and handing out a whole lot of money to other private businesses. That’s not entirely a bad idea, by our old-fashioned Republican reckoning, as competitive enterprises are usually more effective than government bureaucrats that are going to get paid no matter what, but even such an old-fashioned Republican as Abraham Lincoln conceded there are certain chores that only government can do. Each of the trillion or more dollars that Trump has promised to spend will have to be separately considered accordingly, but it’s awfully dry and complicated, and what with all “tweeting” and Russia thing with Trump and Russia that’s going to be tough to cram into a 24-hour news cycle.
By our old-fashioned Republican reckoning infrastructure is best tended to at the state and county and city and neighborhood level, and federal money should be spent to infrastructure needs rather than as a part of some cockamamie planned-economy scheme, and we instinctively worry that a trillion dollars or more of anything is an invitation to graft. Something in our old-fashioned Republican souls doesn’t completely trust this Trump guy, either, and if Yellowstone National Park winds up under the Trump or Kushner brands we’ll be as angry about it as any of our newfangled Democratic friends.
There’s definitely some infrastructure that needs spending on, and at some point the private sector will wind up pouring the cement and laying the pipe and doing all the real work, and we’ll hold out hope that Trump will devise an effective deal that works down to the local level and is also graft-proof and labor-friendly enough to peel away a few Democratic votes, and won’t wind up adding another trillion or more of debt.
Even if he does, though, everyone will probably talking about his latest “tweet.”

— Bud Norman

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On “Tweeting” and Terrorism

The good people of Great Britain suffered another horrific terror attack by radical Muslims over the weekend, the third in as many months, and the best thing America could do about it was to offer our sympathy and full support and try to discern whatever lessons might be learned. For at least a respectful moment or two, it was probably best advised to avoid any disrespectful “tweets” about it.
President Donald Trump did “tweet” to the British people his sympathy and promise of our country’s full support, with his apparent sincerity emphasized by many capital letters, but that came in the midst of a “Twitter” storm that wound up needlessly antagonizing many of them. He made some good points, too, but he didn’t make the complicated arguments very well in his allotted 140 characters. All in all, it was another argument for someone in the “deep state” to revoke the presidential “Twitter” account.
Which is a shame, because for all his faults Trump does seem to be one of the rare world leaders who somehow grasps some of the more obvious lessons to be learned from Britain’s heartbreaking situation. All of the recent attacks were clearly motivated by an Islamic ideology that has been a persistent if not always dominant force in the Muslim world for the past 1500 years so, and would not have occurred if Britain hadn’t unwisely decided to start allowing mass immigration from the Muslim world some 60 years ago, and there’s no compelling reason that America should repeat the mistake. Britain has also clearly erred by not insisting that its Muslim citizens and residents adhere to established western values and find some peaceable and productive role among it, and say what you will about Trump at least he also doesn’t fall for that multi-cultural and morally-relativist blather. Had Trump merely “tweeted” his sympathy and support, and otherwise stayed out of the way while the rest of the world absorbed the obvious lessons, he might have won a rare news cycle.
Instead, Trump “tweeted” some invitations to losing arguments. He renewed a long-standing “Twitter” feud with the Mayor of London, a fellow with the telling name of Sadiq Kahn, charging that “At 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!” London’s Mayor is usually one of those multi-cultural and morally-relativist blatherers, as far as we’re concerned, but in this case he’d called all the local constabulary’s literal big guns in response to the situation, and that was what he was actually telling his fellow Londoners to not be alarmed about. Most Londoners, if not most Americans, scored that a win for the multi-cultural and morally-relativist weenie. Trump hasn’t yet gotten around to getting an ambassador to the United Kingdom confirmed in the Republican-controlled congress, so even the Obama-holdover acting ambassador wound up siding with the Mayor, which is probably just as well for Anglo-American relations.
Trump’s reasonable resistance to mass Muslim immigration included an arguably unreasonable campaign promise to ban any Muslim whatsoever from entering the country, which for the coming months has his arguably reasonable restriction on travel from six certain countries all tied up in court, so of course he “tweeted” about that. None of the perpetrators of any of the recent British terror attacks would have been affected by Trump’s proposed travel restrictions, of course, and have no no bearing on the legal merits of the case, and Trump probably should have let his lawyers make the arguments.
Trump also injected the domestic gun rights debate into the issue, noting that the attacks were carried out with cars and knives, but we wish he hadn’t. We’re staunch advocates of gun rights, and in the context of our domestic politics we well understand the argument that killers won’t be deterred by the lack of handgun, and that their potential victims should be free to defend themselves by any means, but Trump simply handed the gun-grabbers the argument that the terrorists wouldn’t have been more lethal if they had access to the weapons that Britain’s extraordinarily restrictive laws seem to effectively ban. A well-armed citizenry might have limited the carnage of firearm-bearing terrorists, but an efficient police and a stiff-upper-lip citizenry that retaliated against the knife-weilding terrorists with nearby beer bottles also limited the carnage, so it’s an inopportune time to bring all that up.
There’s a British parliamentary election coming up that will also choose a new Prime Minister and cabinet, but we’re pleased Trump seems to have somehow not weighed directly in that. From our prospective from across the pond and another half-continent away, we’re rooting for the Tory incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May, who seems to have absorbed all the obvious lessons, and we expect that despite their awkward relationship Trump has the same preference. Trump is not very popular in Great Britain, though, and probably less so after his latest “tweet” storm, so we expect she appreciates the silence.
Trump’s supporters should hope for some more of it, too.

— Bud Norman

We Won’t Always Have Paris

Although we’ve always been skeptical about the more alarmist claims of the anthropogenic global warming theory, and were opposed to President Barack Obama’s signing of the Paris Climate Accords, we’re nonetheless also skeptical about President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.
There are strong arguments to be made on both sides of the matter, and we expect they’ll take up much of the next several days of news. That will push aside all the talk about Kathy Griffin and covfefe, at least, and barring any bigger-than-usual bombshell about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia it might even overshadow that. The arguments will be about science and economics and diplomacy and domestic politics, too, with plenty of good points being made on both sides of each of them, and for now we’ll not bother to listen to anyone who claims to have all the answers.
Those opposed to Trump’s decision will reflexively insist that the science is settled, but that’s not quite persuasive to us. They’re right that most scientists accept the anthropogenic global warming theory, and although it’s almost certainly not the 96 percent they always claim it might well be enough to comprise the consensus of scientific opinion they always claim, but science is not settled by majority rule and the consensus of scientific opinion has often proved objectively wrong over the past many millennia.
There does seem to be a relatively recent-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things warming trend on the planet, and there’s also evidence that it seems to have stalled for the last few relatively-blink-of-an-eye decades, and it’s awful tricky figuring out how the latest trends compare to all those millennia before Daniel Fahrenheit started measuring temperatures not so long ago so in the 1700s, and nobody denies that temperatures have gone up and down over the long history of the universe. We’ll not deny that all the carbons humankind has undeniably been emitting into the atmosphere over the past couple of brief centuries are bound to have some effect, but anyone arguing in good faith will admit that the almighty sun and it’s changing cycles are also influential, and all the computer models that underly the theory that it’s all man’s fault did fail to predict the recent pause, so at this point we’re skeptical of anybody’s projections for the next few hundred years or so.
There’s also a dauntingly complex argument about what humankind should do about it. All those carbon emissions come courtesy of an expanding post-Industrial Revolution global economy that has not only averted a Malthusian catastrophe for the planet’s seven billion or so inhabits but has also dramatically raised their collective quality of life, so those quantifiable advantages have to be weighed against the still-theoretical disadvantages of all that carbon-emitting. At this moment almost all the people in the world who are aghast by Trump’s decision are still going to drive in automobiles and fly in jets and log in to electric-powered entertainments and otherwise enjoy the extravagant-by-historical standards luxuries of the modern carbon-emitting age, and for now they don’t have a persuasive argument that they can have their environmental cake and eat it’s industrialist deliciousness too. They’d be hard-pressed to make the case that cockamamie Paris agreement somehow squares that circle, but that doesn’t mean the world wouldn’t be better off with a little less carbon-emitting.
Except for Syria and Nicaragua and now the United States everyone is in agreement with that Paris accord, and although the consensus of global political opinion has also often proved objectively wrong over the many millennia that also seems well worth taking into account. Whatever the hard-to-calculate environmental and economic effects of Trump’s decision, the immediate diplomatic consequences are not likely to be helpful. We’d probably be more supportive of any other Republican president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris boondoggle, but any other other Republican president probably wouldn’t have spent the preceding weeks antagonizing the rest of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the seven most industrialized and post-industrial nations of the west, and made the credible case to the international community that the Paris accords were flawed for all of the world’s seven billion or so inhabitants.
Trump only made his campaign-style “America First” case for the decision, and it remains to be seen how that plays out in our domestic politics. He made a convincing case that any restriction on carbon-emitting would hamper an economy that thrives on them, even if he characteristically overstated it and invited all the plausible arguments about how an alliterative energy economy might thrive, and we don’t doubt that it will be welcomed by those folks who already support him. Annoying all those euro-trash and other global elites is another added benefit, as far as Trump’s most ardent supporters are concerned, but the president will probably have to make case to the rest of the country to nudge his poll numbers past their 40 percent or so, and so far he hasn’t shown much of a knack for that.
Any other Republican president and most of the plausible Democratic possibilities probably would have stayed signed on and did what the rest of the countries do, which is mouth the required platitudes and then let their economies expand to whatever carbon-emitting levels it might reach, and although that’s pretty damned cynical it seems a smart move. America is asserting its sovereignty by withdrawing from the accord, as Trump rightly notes, but sovereign nations often enter into international agreements, as Obama and every other president did, including all the presidents who were on board with that NATO deal and all the other agreements Trump has lately been undermining, and how that plays out in domestic politics is anybody’s guess.
In any case we expect both the planet and our domestic politics will somehow survive Trump’s decision, and that the Russia thing with Trump and Russia will soon be back in the news again, and that some D-list celebrity or incomprehensible presidential “tweet” will once again intrude on  the conversation.

— Bud Norman

Covfefe and Kerfuffles

The news slowed enough on Wednesday that the talking heads were reduced to talking about a minor celebrity’s bad taste in propaganda and the latest bizarre presidential “tweet.” Neither story was very consequential, especially compared to what else has been going lately, but they provided something to talk about.
The minor celebrity is Kathy Griffin, an unfunny comedian we’re usually happy to ignore, but there was no ignoring the outrage that resulted when she published a picture of herself holding an effigy of President Donald Trump’s bloody severed head. As a joke it was unfunny even by Griffin’s usual standards, as a political statement it was completely pointless, and as an effort to undermine Trump it proved counterproductive. Trump and his supporters could rightly point to it as an example of how mean spirited and meaningless so much of the criticism of his administration has been, while Trump’s more respectable and reasonable critics also condemned it lest their more substantive arguments be tarred by association. Eventually the Cable News Network wound up canceling Griffin’s annual gig co-hosting a New Year’s Eve show, the usually unapologetic comic was profusely apologizing across the internet, and as we scanned the news nobody seemed to be coming to her defense.
That lack of solidarity on the left took a lot of the fun out of it for those on the right who wanted to talk about how appalled all the liberals would have been if anyone had said or done anything similarly disrespectful about President Barack Obama. Some of them talked about it anyway, so some people on the left talked about all the times the numerous times people on the right did do and say similarly disrespectful about Obama, including that time when heavy metal guitarist and recent White House guest Ted Nugent regaled a concert crowd with some between-song patter about beheading Obama and various other Democrats, and as all usual the various charges of hypocrisy from both sides carried some truth. Such pop cultural outrages are by now so common they’ve become banal, to the point they don’t warrant mention except on slow news days or higher-profile celebrities, and the angle almost everyone seemed to miss is that both sides of the political divide our degraded our civil discourse to such a sordid state.
The other big topic of water cooler conversation was Trump’s early-morning “Tweet” declaring “Despite the constant negative press convfefe.” That cryptic sentence and its baffling neologism lingered on the internet for six hours or so before being deleted, but by then a lot of Trump critics far wittier than Griffin were having great fun poking at Trump’s characteristic unintelligibility without resorting to gruesome decapitation gags. There were plenty of “memes” and “gifs” and other internet hilarity, too, and even the right wing talk radio hosts were trying to get in on the joke. One wag “tweeted” that Covfefe is New York’s hottest nightclub, adding that “It has everything: Russian entanglements, spray tans, creepy handshakes, surprise trade wars.” Another predicted that White House Sean Spicer would once again say “The ‘tweet’ speaks for itself.”
Spicer seemed unamused during a press conference where new rules were introduced to limit the press corps’ recording rights, which might have been a story on an even slower news day, growling that “I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.” This cryptic statement led one of the callers on a right wing talk radio show we heard while driving around town to speculate that “covfefe” was a code signal to a cadre of Trump co-conspirators, much as “Jean has a long mustache” tipped off the French Resistance that the invasion was starting in “The Longest Day,” but even the host wasn’t buying that.
Most people on both sides of the debate figured that Trump had started to write something about negative press coverage before either falling asleep or being distracted by some pressing crisis or nearby shiny object, or otherwise losing his bullet train of thought, and it was just one of those things that happens to people in the internet age. This “tweet” didn’t accuse a former president of wire-tapping and being either sick or bad, and it didn’t threat any trade relations with longstanding allies, and Trump himself  with a more-lighthearted-than-Spicer and more-clever-than-Griffin “tweet” that “”Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe??? Enjoy!” That’s not at all reassuring, though, and despite the undeniable humor it was still yet another daily grim reminder of how very degraded our civil discourse has become.
It was nonetheless a welcome relief from the daily screaming matches about all the latest scandals and attempts at censorship by sides and the hypocrisy about it that so rife there’s plenty spread around. On the next slow news day it would be nice if the president didn’t “tweet” and his fellow celebrities somehow refrained from attention-grabbing outrage, and the talking heads are forced to calmly talk about whatever became of that health care bill and the similarly forgotten tax reform bill and America’s role in a global economy and the rest of the boring stuff that people used to talk about before the discourse became so degraded.

— Bud Norman

The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers

President Donald Trump and his son-law and other key members of his administration have lately been hiring personal legal counsel, which is well-advised and by no means implies anything nefarious, but we find their choices of attorneys rather eyebrow-raising. The lawyers often turn out to be some of the most intriguing characters in these long-running television dramas, and in this case no mere screenwriter could have come up with anything quite so colorful.
What Trump calls “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia,” thus far one of the main plot lines of the show, has reached the point that a House committee and Senate committee and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a Special Counsel are looking into it, and although Trump plausibly dismisses it all as “fake news” he’s nonetheless wisely lawyered up. Throughout his long and now-legendary career in the private sector Trump has frequently been required to hire legal representation, and in his current predicament he’s once again turned to the same lawyers and the same bare-knuckle legal tactics he’s relied on in the past.
In his early days as a proudly bare-knuckle real estate developer Trump relied on the legal talents of Roy Cohn, one of the more colorful characters in countless American lawyer shows. Cohn first gained fame way back in the ’50s as the take-no-prisoners adviser to Sen. Joe McCarthy, urging on an often reckless anti-Communist crusade that ended with that widely-watched “Have you no shame?” moment on national television after a baseless claim of treason against some sympathetic low-level government employee, and he stayed in the papers by representing New York mafioso and the owners of the cocaine-and-sex-orgy Studio 54 nightclub and any other high-profile clients who needed his famously aggressive legal tactics. He also represented Trump and his real-estate mogul father in their fight against a Justice Department allegation that they’d discriminated against their black and Latino tenants, along with some other more middling matters about their businesses, and Trump has often spoken kindly of his tough guy style. That same approach eventually got Cohn disbarred when he started harassing some obnoxiously rich but otherwise innocent pillar of New York City society with his usual blizzard of threatening letters, and  not long after the outspokenly anti-homosexual lawyer who’d had numerous suspected homosexuals kicked out of the military back in the McCarthy days died  in 1988 at the age of 59 from complications of AIDS, most likely a result of one of his frequent sexual encounters with men, but in his most recent comments about the man Trump still praised his style.
Since Cohn’s disbarment and ultimate demise Trump has mostly relied on the advice of Michael Cohen and Marc Kasowitz, both of whom are known in New York legal circles for their similarly tough guy approach to the law.
Kasowitz was graduated from Yale but had to settle for a law degree from Cornell University, then made his fame and started his fortune by defending the major tobacco companies from all the lawsuits that business entailed, and he wound up with Trump as a very lucrative client. He represented Trump in one of his two divorces and all the complicated bankruptcy proceedings regarding his failed casinos and a fraud suit against Trump University, along with hundreds of claims of unpaid bills, and he sent some harassing letters to the women who publicly claimed  during the past presidential campaign that Trump had sexually harassed them, and we’d guess he’s billed his usual $1,500-an-hour-advice on countless other matters. Trump came out of the divorce with a still-sizable fortune and a glamorous nudie model third wife, and while his investors lost collective billions in those casinos he came out millions ahead, and they settled that Trump University lawsuit for a mere $25 million to plaintiffs and surprisingly few headlines, and despite all those other matters he’s the president, so despite Kasowitz’ lack of Washington experience we can see why Trump trusts his attorney’s advice.
Still, he seems an odd choice to deal with this Russia thing with Trump and Russia. It’s not just that Kasowitz provides an excuse for every snarky journalist to once again mention Trump’s two divorces and more numerous bankruptcies and scam university schemes and all those unpaid bills and countless other matters in his now-legendary private sector career, but that he’s also got his own Russian ties. His law firm of Kasowitz, Benson and Torres — which was Kasowitz, Benson, Torres and Friedman until until the bankruptcy-specialist Friedman left to become Trump’s ambassador to Israel  — also represents a Russian bank, OJSC Sberbank, and a Russian billionaire with the same predictable ties to the Kremlin.
Cohen, a former executive vice president of the Trump Organization and famously combative spokesman for the Trump campaign and administration, is also on the job of defending Trump in this Russia thing with Trump and Russia, but he’s also got his own legal problems about that. The House and Senate committees have both asked him about his contacts with the Kremlin , and so far he’s  refusing to provide the requested information. None of this proves anything, we’ll readily agree, but Trump and his most hopeful supporters should admit that it doesn’t look good.
Meanwhile, the president’s son-in-law has lawyered up with Jamie Gorelick, which is possibly the weirdest plot twist yet. Jared Kushner, the bare-knuckle real estate mogul husband of Trump’s most beloved daughter and his pick to negotiate Middle East peace and reinvent the federal government and deal with China and end the opioid crisis in America is also reported to have been in meetings with Russian banks and is reportedly a “person of interest” in that Russia thing with Trump and Russia, so one can hardly blame him for picking a well-connected Washington insider such as Gorelick to guide him through it. The eminently well-connected-to-the-Democrats Gorelick, though, seems an odd choice.
She really should be at least as infamous as Roy Cohn, as far we’re concerned. Her first mention in the papers came as a deputy attorney general appointed by President Bill Clinton when she was “field commander” in the botched raid on some religious nuts in Waco, Texas, which left 20 children and 60 adults dead, and which earned her a promotion to a higher post where she implemented the “wall” between domestic and foreign intelligence agencies. We’ll assume she had the best intention of protecting citizens from intrusive surveillance, but as predicted the policy also kept the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency from sharing the information that could have prevented the terror attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2001. For that she was rewarded with control of the Federal National Mortgage Association, where she stubbornly and successfully resisted President George W. Bush’s proposed reforms to a crazy Clinton-era sub-prime mortgage scheme that led to the financial meltdown of 2008.
After playing a starring role in the most deadly attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression she was briefly floated as President Barack Obama’s pick for Attorney General, and although that somehow didn’t happen Gorelick continued to serve the Democratic Party by helping a George Soros-funded non-profit get a say who in gets a non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service ,and helping Duke University deal with the lacrosse team they’d falsely accused of gang rape in a racially-charged case , and vouching for Obama’s ultimately unconfirmed last Supreme Court nominee, among other high-dollar matters for the left.
There’s no denying she’s a well-connected D.C. lawyer and a ruthlessly tough survivor of some vicious fights, and she came out a reported $25 million ahead after that still-ongoing 2008 recession, so we can well understand why Trump’s son-in-law, whose own bare-knuckle real estate mogul father did some federal time on illegal campaign contribution and witness-tampering charges, might turn to her. She’ll no doubt be a fierce defender in whatever court of law Kushner might find himself in, where those Democratic connections might well prove useful, but we don’t expect she’ll be a very popular character in either the cheering or jeering sections of the court of public opinion.
Once again we’ll stipulate that none of this proves anything, and that we have no idea what the next plot twist will bring, but we can’t shake an unpleasant feeling about where this heading.

— Bud Norman

Reality Intrudes on a Otherwise Nice Weekend

The weather around here was atypically perfect over the Memorial Day weekend, with none of the vicious thunderstorms and potential tornadoes that usually drive all the campers away from the nearby lakes at some point in the holiday, and the news cycle was as slow as one can hope for these days. Still, there was no shaking a certain sense that real life and all its discontents would start up again today.
We did our best to put it aside for a weekend of gratitude to fallen heroes and other uplifting thoughts, attending church and doing some pressing chores and pursuing plenty of procrastinating, while sticking mostly to the sports news. On Monday we slept late and eventually got together with some gray-haired hippie friends who meet every year on the date at a charmingly dilapidated house in a charmingly dilapidated neighborhood, and we had some barbecue and drank some beer and talked mostly about music.
They were playing the Allman Brothers Band on an old stereo sound system, apparently in memoriam of Gregg Allman, one of the eponymous co-founders of the band and its longtime vocalist and organist and songwriter, whose obituary we had noticed in the news over the weekend, and we have to say it sounded great. As natural born rockabillies our tastes in rock ‘n’ roll tend to the pre-hippie generation, and in our relative youth we embraced the punk sensibility that rebelled against those aged hippies, but we could never resist that Allman outfit doing “Crossroads” or “Whipping Post” or especially that enticingly melodic “Jessica,” which we played over and over on our old stereo until it drove our mom crazy, so we shared with our hippie friends a sincere toast to an undeniably crazy old hippie who was also an undeniably great and quintessentially American musician.
There was plenty of grousing about President Donald Trump, too, of course, but our natural born rockabilly punk and old school Republican sensibilities weren’t much stirred to offer any defense. We left early and dropped in an another old friend, a woman who is a bit younger and far punkier than ourselves, and still quite attractive in an exotic and ripened sort of way, and after she she showed us some cell phone video of her cute grandsons she also started grousing about Trump. After such a long friendship she usually avoids political topics with us, but we invited her to vent her spleen without any fear of recriminations. This lead to an eerily civil discussion about our bedrock conservative principles, however weird they might seem at the moment, and even some lengthy discourse some about the authoritarianism on her side of the political divide, and it ended in a hug.
After that we still managed to make the last inning of the Wichita Wingnuts’ home-opening victory over the Salina Stockade at the old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on a glorious early summer night next to the Arkansas River, and although our New York Yankees lost to the Baltimore Orioles the Boston Red Sox also so lost so the Yankees were still comfortably in first place in the American League East. In our perusal of the sports pages we also noticed that Frank DeFord had died and Tiger Woods had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, so it wasn’t a great day in sports. DeFord was until his final day the best sportswriter of his generation, and at one point around 2008 Woods seemed poised to claim the title of greatest golfer and most heroic sports hero ever, and both of those stories came to a sad end over the weekend.
We dropped in on the last Wingnuts inning with a couple of our cigar-chomping friends in the smoking section of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, one of whom is a graying hippie professor at the local university and the other a gray-pony-tailed hippie who still musters a full-throated defense of Trump, and they briefly filled us in on what they’d been arguing about during the home team’s victory. At that point we tried to talk about the home team’s victory, and if we’d arrived early enough to purchase a beer we’d have raised a conversation-changing toast.
We can’t help a late night glance at the news, though, so naturally Trump came up in that. They don’t observe Memorial Day in Germany, so Chancellor Angela Merkel went ahead with a speech that didn’t mention Trump by name but made clear that in “my experience of the last few days” she spent with Trump she had concluded that Europe could no longer count on the support of “outside sources,” and her opponent in the upcoming election more explicitly agreed with her more subtle denunciation of Trump. Our liberal Facebook friends were meanwhile exulting in Trump’s admittedly unusual demeanor during the national anthem at Arlington Memorial Cemetery, and although we don’t think it necessarily damning we have to admit it is unusual. There’s the carry-over from the previous work week’s stories about Trump’s son-in-law and all-purpose appointee, too, and we had to warn our Trump-apologist friend that the upcoming testimony of the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director will likely require some difficult apologetics.
He seemed to take our warning to heed, and inquired about the well-being of our folks, whom he has also lately befriended. We appreciated the sincere inquiry, and assured him they seemed to be doing fine, and felt a hopeful thought that all this politics and sports and whatnot doesn’t really matter.
We also took a moment or two to remember Jerry Clark, who grew up in the Depression at an Atchison orphanage and got his toes blown off at the Battle of Manila in World War II and somehow wound up in the darkroom of the newspaper where we worked as young punks,  where he became one of our very best friends ever. For all the difficulties of his life he was one of the funniest fellows we’ve ever known, and as we face the coming week we’d love to hear what he would say about this particular moment in time.

— Bud Norman

A Pause for Memorial Day

The news should start up again with its recent ferocity tomorrow, but until then the country deserves a brief respite. Today is Memorial Day, a chance to relax, light up the barbecue, knock back a beer, and reflect for a moment or two on the heroes who made it possible. We’ll not intrude on any of that with news, which is mostly pretty bleak these days.
Thanks for dropping by, though, and allowing us to wish you a great day in in the great land of America.

— Bud Norman

If This is Thursday, This Must Be Belgium

President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip went well enough through its first six days, with some potentially significant successes offsetting a few relatively minor if undeniably embarrassing missteps, but all along even his most ardent well-wishers had to admit to a certain nervousness about how long that would last. On Thursday Trump was in Belgium for a summit of North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, and our worst fears were largely realized.
The date always struck us as fraught with peril, as Trump had won the presidency while railing that NATO was an “obsolete” federation of deadbeat nations free-riding on America’s on America’s gullible generosity, but upon taking office he made a few steps back from that position. He declared that NATO was “no longer obsolete,” seemed unembarrassed to admit that he’d said some things before he knew much about NATO but that he knew better now, and the high-ranking foreign policy officials he’d appointed went to further lengths to reassure our alliance partners, but he’d occasionally lapse back to campaign rhetoric. During a rather awkward meeting in Washington with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel he handed her a multi-billion dollar invoice for what he thought was owed for American defense spending on behalf of Germany over the past decades, which was more widely reported in the German press than in America’s, and by the time he landed in Belgium there was no guessing what he might have to say.
What he had to say when he took his turn at the podium started well enough, with kinds words for Merkel and a nod to British Prime Minister Theresa May before asking for a moment of silence of the victims of a recent terrorist attack in Britain, and he recalled how NATO had invoked it’s Article Five that an attack on one was attack on all after the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York in 2001. After that he mostly went on about how most of the NATO nations are free-riding on the gullible shoulders of American taxpayers and he was there to demand back payments. He noted the opulence of the newly-built NATO headquarters where he was speaking, boasted that he’d promised himself not to ask how much it cost, and seemed to imply it was a nice little building they had there and it would be a shame if anything happened to it.
Trump was undeniably correct in noting that the vast majority of NATO’s members hadn’t spent their promised 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense spending, and his most ardent admirers thus have a plausible argument that he’s staking out an ingeniously outrageous opening bargaining according to the art of the deal. This should prove convincing to that 25 percent or so floor of public support that Trump enjoys no matter what, but it’s a harder sell to the rest of both the left and the right. The same left that wanted  to surrender in the Cold War is suddenly talking tough about Russia, while the establishment right that navigated the conflict to a favorable conclusion is fuming that the NATO alliance needs to be dealt with behind the scenes rather than in pubic speeches. That 2 percent of GDP rule was gently pressed behind the scenes even by the administration of President Barack Obama, our NATO partners have been upping the ante ever since, and although thy were coming around at this point it’s hard to see how Trump’s public scolding will urge them along.
Trump’s most ardent admirers will admire his forthright America First stand, but all the international footage shows the heads of state of our NATO allies looking decidedly less enthusiastic about it, and they’re all accountable to British and French and Belgian and other local opinions that have not yet succumbed to Trumpism. The art of the real estate deal and the art of diplomacy are decidedly different, and although we wish him well we can’t help thinking that Trump doesn’t know the difference.The video footage of our NATO allies was far less ebullient than Trump with his Sunni Arab friends from a few days before, and Trump had a few more of the embarrassing missteps on Thursday, including some footage of him seeming to shove his way past the head of state from newly-joined NATO partner Montenegro to get his way to the front of a a photo op, and a couple of awkward handshakes with the French President whose Vichy-derived opponent Trump had more or less endorsed, and all in it all it added up to another bad news cycle.
Meanwhile, back in the states, the news cycle was no kinder. The lead story on most of the network news was that Trump’s son-in-law, the 36-year-old Jared Kushner who has been charged with negotiating Middle East peace being the go-between in our dealings with China and ending America’s opioid crisis and reinvent its federal government, was also the focus of a federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia. Russia was no doubt pleased by Trump putting the squeeze on America’s NATO allies, and those looks on our NATO allies’leaders faces, and how those NATO negotiations are likely to go from here. The Republican congressional candidate who was arrested for assaulting a reporter on election eve wound up winning a special election in Montana, possibly because most of the votes were cast before it happened, but that probably won’t help much in the rest of the world and its opinion polls.
As much as we’re rooting for America and its established principles of foreign policy, we can’t shake a certain nervousness about how Trump is negotiating this darned convoluted art of diplomacy. We’ll continue to regard all those sudden Cold Warriors on the left with suspicion, but neither do we trust that the president or his son-in-law is truly putting America or anybody else first.

— Bud Norman