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Ryan and the Old School of Republicanism Bow Out

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced Wednesday that he won’t be running for re-election, so for now his vituperative critics on both the left and right won’t have him to kick around anymore. These days we’re not sure where we land on the political spectrum, but from our current position here on the sidelines we’re going to mostly miss the guy.
Not so long ago when we and our readers considered us rock-ribbed conservative Republicans, Ryan was our guy. He not only talked the necessary talk about averting America’s quickly accruing national debt and eventual bankruptcy, but walked the necessary walk along the perilous path of the painful entitlement reforms and budget cuts that are required to keep America solvent without even more painful tax increases. Such sensible if unappetizing prescriptions naturally outraged the left, which produced widely-seen advertisements depicting Ryan throwing your beloved grandma off a cliff, and he politely but quite resolutely endured the slanders to stand his ground.
Such civil defiance of the Democratic left naturally endeared Ryan to the tax-cutting and budget-balancing “tea party” Republican right of the time, and thus he wound up way back in 2012 as the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket with presidential nominee Mitt Romney to reassure the party’s conservative base that Romney was all right. Romney on his own seemed a sound enough Republican to us at the time, and we still think he’d have been a far better president than incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama, but he’d somehow once been governor of the loony left state of Massachusetts, and had wound up signing into law something that looked an awful lot like the hated-by-Republicans Obamacare act that Obama had signed, and his pick of the steadfastly anti-Obamacare Ryan as a running mate and potentially heartbeat-away-from-the-resident was reassuring to the those of us on the right as it was appalling to those of you on the left.
Both Romney and Ryan wound up enduring the slings and arrows of the left with the civility and calmly convincing arguments we’d come to expect from the best of the Republican party, but they also wound up losing to the hated Obama, and since then the Grand Old Party hasn’t been quite it as it once was. It turns out that a lot of those “tea party” types we once rallied with like their Medicare and Social Security more than they hate the welfare payments that account for a far smaller share of that once-scary national debt, and by 2016 a decisive plurality of the Republican party had concluded that civility and calmly convincing arguments were no longer a match for the slanderous slings and arrows of the left.
Which wound up with putatively Republican President Donald Trump. Trump ran on promises that he wouldn’t mess with any tea partier’s Medicaid or Social Security, somehow balance the budget without any tax increases, build a “big, beautiful” wall too keep Mexicans away and somehow force the Mexicans to pay for it, and he outdid even the right-wing talk radio hosts in talking tough about all those damned Democrats and left-wingers, and he didn’t bother with any of those dull but calmly convincing arguments. Trump wound up losing the popular election by a few million votes, so he eked out enough ballots in a few states Romney narrowly lost, including Ryan’s own Wisconsin, that the former casino mogul and reality show star wound up winning the electoral vote.
Since then it’s been a different American political landscape in general and a wholly different Republican party in particular, and at the moment neither Ryan nor ourselves seem to know where we fit in all of it. Like us Ryan took a principled Republican stand against Trump early in the Republican primary process, and even after Trump had secured his party’s nomination he gallantly declined to defend Trump’s outrageous statements on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women by their where-evers, but since Trump’s election he’s been more conciliatory.
Aside from the occasional criticisms of Trump’s crudity, he successfully guided a Republican tax-cut bill through the House which also passed the Senate and wound up with Trump claiming all the credit when signed it. He made good on a promise to get the House of Representatives to repeal the hated Obamacare law, although a slimmer Republican majority in the Senate couldn’t do the same and Trump never got to sign it, and he dutifully endured the opprobrium that the right heaped on the GOP ‘establishment” and never questioned the new party’s religious faith in Trump’s divine deal-making abilities. The one-time champion of fiscal sobriety also spared Trump the political problems of a government shutdown by helping passage of a deficit-funded and worse-than-Obama budget busting spending bill that didn’t address any of the nation’s looming fiscal woes or those ginned-up immigration problems Trump is always railing about, and willingly accepted the slanderous slings and arrows of the right.
None of this will placate the newly-fangled right that regards Trump as the epitome of au courant conservatism, and the stubbornly old-fashioned left will still revile him as the son of a bitch who threw your beloved grandmother off the cliff, but from our view on the sidelines we take a more sympathetic view of Ryan’s career.
Our lazy asses don’t have to worry about reelection, however, as we never stood a chance of getting elected to anything in the first place, so we’ll not sit in judgment of a poor politician such as Ryan. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee in the last presidential election, after all, and despite everything we’ll readily forgive any Republicans who went ahead and voted for Trump. It was Trump’s populist campaign that made meaningful entitlement reform impossible, so we’ll generously assume that Ryan intended to keep the government operating just long enough to confront fiscal reality, and he generously allowed Trump to take credit for the big defense spending increase, and despite the rants of the right wing talk radio hosts he did persuade a majority of the House to repeal that damned Obamacare.
None of which will squelch the left’s glee at Ryan’s departure. Even as the recent Republicans decry Ryan as a “Republican in Name only” and “establishment” “deep state” “globalist” sell-out, the current Democrats still regard him as the guy who who pushed your beloved grandmother over the cliff. The more high-brow leftists still give Ryan credit for his civility and calmly stated arguments, but that’s all the more reason that Trump-loving Republicans will regarding him as a squishy sort of beta-male.
That scant plurality of remaining Trump-loving Republicans should note, though, that Ryan is just the most prominent of an unprecedented number establishment Republicans who no longer know where they fit on the political landscape and have decided not to seek reelection. At this relatively early point in the Trump era of the Republican party several GOP House seats in suburban districts and even a Senate seat in usually reliable Alabama have flipped to the Democrats, even the Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero was in danger of losing his own race, and no matter what uncivil taunts Trump might “tweet” that political landscape seems fraught for both the best and worst sorts of Republican candidate.
Ryan insists that he’s stepping down to spend more time his children, who have thus far known him as a “weekend dad,” and his more generous critics on both the left and right agree that he’s the decent sort of family man fellow who would take that into account. We’re sure it’s at least partially true, and we’ll wish him and the rest of his family well. Still, his temporary departure from the pubic stage doesn’t augur well for either the Republican Party or the rest of the political landscape, and the national debt is bigger than ever, and we expect an acrimonious outcome.

— Bud Norman

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Why Not Call it Treason, and Other Negotiating Ploys

The cable news networks and the big newspapers’ internet sites will soon start running their countdown-to-a-government-shutdown clocks again, with the latest deadline looming tomorrow, and all the savvy negotiators in Congress are reportedly trying to work out some sort of cockamamie deal to keep the government running for at least another couple of weeks. At a meeting ostensibly about immigration reform, President Donald Trump did his part by telling the gathered television cameras and microphones that “I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of. If the Democrats don’t want safety, let’s shut it down.”
This might be one of those masterful three-dimensional chess moves that Trump’s fans always figure he’s making, but our guess is it’s just another one of those ill-advised things he all too frequently blurts out.
Trump is apparently hoping that the Democrats will be so frightened by the prospect of being blamed for a government shutdown that they’ll agree to whatever draconian measures he thinks necessary to get that immigration stuff taken care of, and after their quick capitulations during last month’s government shutdown he has reason for such hope. There was so much Republican gloating and Democratic gnashing of teeth about it that the Democrats are likely to be in a less accommodating mood this time around, though, and they’re probably less worried about being blamed for a government shutdown the Republican president has told the nation he’d love to see.
Trump is also apparently calculating that his draconian immigration measures are are so popular that the public will blame the Democrats for allowing a partial but painful government rather than enact them, and given how unpopularity permissive some of the Democrats’ demands are he has good reason to think so. That stupid idea of a big, beautiful wall across the entire southern polls poorly, though, and those illegal immigrants who were brought here as children and have since proved upright semi-citizens poll so well that Trump is dangling an amnesty offer even more generous than anything President Barack Obama ever dared.
The die-hard Trump defenders are furious about the generous amnesty offer he’s dangling for the so-called “dreamers” who are illegal immigrants through no fault of their own, with some now calling him “Amnesty Don,” and Trump tried to placate them with stalk in his now-forgotten State of the Union address about how native-born Americans are “dreamers” too, and his Chief of Staff blurted out an ill-advised about remark about how they amnesty was being offered even to those “dreamers” who were “too lazy to get off their asses” and apply for it. All of which is so infuriating to those die-hard Democrats that it makes them all the less likely to concede even to the many reasonable and popular immigration reform proposals Trump is holding out for, and it’s hard to see how it will all be worked out by tomorrow night.
We can’t resist a nostalgic hope that Democrats and Republicans alike are working into the night to find something between a too-soft and too-hard immigration policy that at least keeps the government up and running for another couple of weeks, but that’s hard to sustain when the president is accusing the opposition of treason for failing to applaud at his long-forgotten State of the Union address. He was just kidding, of course, saying “Hey why not call it (treason)” in much the same way some street corner bully might just be kidding about your sister being a whore, but it doesn’t bode well for that spirt of bipartisan cooperation that Trump called for in that long-forgotten State of the Union address.
Maybe it’s just another one of Trump’s moves in that masterful three-dimensional chess game that never seems to reveal itself, and he did have “The Art of the Deal” ghost-written for him, but unless this mess somehow makes America great again the more likely explanation is that it’s all just those ill-advised things that he all too frequently blurts out.

— Bud Norman

Smart and Stable Is as Smart and Stable Does

There’s something slightly unsettling about hearing an American president reassure the public that he’s intelligent and emotionally stable, as President Donald Trump felt obliged to do over the weekend. It reminds us of President Richard Nixon’s assurance that “I am not a crook.” or President Bill Clinton’s vow that “I did not have sex with that woman,” or Fredo Corleone’s cry in “The Godfather Part II” that “I’m smart, not like everybody says, like dumb, and I want respect,” and we remember how all those turned out. Trump’s boasts that “I’m, like, really smart” and “a very stable genius” have a similarly ominous ring.
Trump has been conspicuously defensive about his smarts and sanity ever since he took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his improbable campaign for the presidency, but his sensitivity has been heightened by the publication of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which has lately been flying off the shelfs with a considerable publicity boost from Trump’s futile efforts to prevent to its publication and his ongoing insistence that it’s all fake news. The book depicts a dysfunctional White House trying to cope with a not-very-bright and downright childish president, with some pretty unpleasant quotes coming from people once very close to the president, which prompted Trump’s “Tweets” and public remarks about being “like, very smart” and a “stable genius.”
As he did throughout his improbably successful campaign for the presidency, Trump answered his critics with characteristic braggadocio. He boasted of his academic excellence at a top-notch college, the billions of dollars he’d made in private business, his status as the star of highly-rated reality television show, and the fact that he’d won the presidency on his very first try. Such cocksureness played a large part in his improbable electoral college victory, along with an admittedly uncanny knack for convincing West Virginia coal miners that a billionaire New York City real-estate and reality-show mogul was their messiah, and it might work now. All of it was questionable all along, though, and we still suspect it worked mainly because the alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump did indeed graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, which indeed plays its football and basketball games in the prestigious Ivy League, but he spent his first two years at second-tier Fordham University before his father’s money got him into Penn and nobody there recalls him as an exceptional scholar and his academic records are as tightly as restricted as President Barack Obama’s. He has made billions in business, but nobody who follows the big money believes he’s made even half what he claims, and most contend he would have done better by investing his inheritance in a solid mutual fund and spending his time reading up on history and public policy, and there were many embarrassing bankruptcies and business failures along the way. He did indeed improbably wind up as President of the United States, but there hasn’t yet been a public opinion poll showing most Americans glad of that.
As much as we’d like to we can’t deny Trump has a rare genius for making his character bugs seem a a feature to enough of the voting public to pull off an improbable electoral college victory, even it was against the likes of that horrible Clinton woman. Trump’s otherwise alarming tendency to say any crazy thing that popped up into his head was lauded as refreshing honesty, his glaring racism and sexism were celebrated as a blow against “political correctness,” the illiterate crudity of his ad hominem responses to any valid criticisms was cheered the “authenticity” of his “punching back twice as hard,” and a lot of West Virginia coal miners and other disaffected white folk in flyover cover wanted to vicariously live the gaudy decadence of his boastfully adulterous and self-indulgent lifestyle in a way they never did with Bill Clinton’s zaftig affairs.
As appalled as we were by that horrible Clinton woman and her hound dog husband and had been since way back when Clinton was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the greatest Secretary of State ever, we never believed a word of it, no matter how many times Trump said “believe me.” The guy who draws the “Dilbert” cartoon and other thinkers would try to explain how Trump was a “master of persuasion” whose seemingly un-parsable pronouncements were the cutting edge of political rhetoric, and we had to admit that he was far better than we or Socrates or Daniel Webster could ever be a persuading broke suckers to sign up for Trump University or the rich fools who owned United States Football League franchises to go head-to-head with the National Football League and somehow win in the civil courts, but we doubted it could have the same effect on the presumably more sensible you hope to find in the Congress and federal judiciary and the free press and other institutions promised to vanquish. We also doubted that all those taunts and nicknames and National Enquirer stories would culminate in any positive policy results.
Trump and his apologists will point to the recent stock market records and holding-steady jobless rates and the absence of any nuclear mushroom clouds on the Korean peninsula, and they have a point that of course they’ll vastly overstate. Trump’s de-regulating executive orders and the tax bill the Republican establishment delivered to his desk have no doubt nudged the stock markets on an even higher trajectory that they’d been since before he took office, but at least one or two of those de-regulated regulations are likely to fuel some future scandal with multipole fatalities, that tax bill is polling horribly, and job creation has actually slowed compared to the last two years of Obama’s administration. The North Korean dictator that Trump has taunted as the “short and fat” “little rocket man” with a nuclear button that’s not nearly so manly as Trump hasn’t yet exploded any nuclear missiles, and he’s suddenly opening talks with South Korea that Trump claims credit for but isn’t involved in, and the rest of the world seems just as pleased to leave Trump out of it.
Meanwhile there’s the whole “Russia thing” and that messy business of what to do with all the “dreamers” who were unwittingly became illegal immigrants as children and yet another continuing resolutions that’s needed to keep the federal government running, along with numerous other matters that Trump hasn’t yet comprehensibly commented on. as well as a lingering concern that there’s something no quite right about the president. The worry is widespread enough that Trump spent a weekend “tweeting” and telling reporters that he’s very smart and sane, and reports suggest that its shared in hall of power of both allies and adversaries, and that’s bound to have eventual consequences.
Trump might have been an excellent student at that top notch college, but the seventh-grade English teacher at our otherwise second-rate junior high school would have riddled his “tweets” with red marks for spelling and punctation and syntax and general comprehensibility. He’s no doubt richer than we are, but even our limited entrepreneurial abilities could have at least broke even with a casino and we know enough about football not to go head-to-head with the NFL and we’re too kind-hearted to sucker anyone into investing in a phony baloney real estate course, and until he offers up his tax returns and the rest of the full disclosure that presidents are supposed to offer up we’re skeptical of any claims he makes. If we make it through the year without any mushroom clouds over the Korean peninsula we’ll give him some credit for that, but we’ll never agree that the nuclear button size comparisons had anything to do with it.
We’ve had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the years, and we’ve long noticed that not a single one of them ever bragged to us that they’re, like, really smart, and all of them would have scoffed at being called a genius. Nor have any of the very stable people we’ve happily know ever felt the need to reassure us that they’re, like, very stable. We’ve also had the good fortune to know some highly ethical people, too, and none ever had to contrast their ethics with those of that awful Clinton woman.

— Bud Norman

Our Neutral Position on “Net Neutrality”

As embarrassing as it is to admit, we have only the vaguest idea about how this newfangled “internet” thingamajig you’re reading us on actually works. Which makes it hard for us to make sense of the big “net neutrality” controversy of the day.
The fuss all started when President Donald Trump’s choice of chairman of the Federal Communications convinced the other Republicans on its board to repeal a regulation imposed by President Barack Obama’s choice of FCC chairman and the rest of the board’s Democrats, and for most Americans these days that’s all they need to know to choose sides. We have no affection for Obama or Trump, though, and were thus obliged to consider all the arguments on their merit.
So far as we can glean from all the shouting about it, the “net neutrality” regulation required internet service providers to allow their customers access to all sites that post on the internet and at the same download speeds. Our understanding is that internet service providers are those people you pay every month for your internet, and are the “ISP” that you’re supposed to type into those pesky “pop-up” boxes that pop up whenever your internet thingamajig goes off-kilter. There are only so many of these very profitable companies, so far as we can tell, and according to all our friends who live out in the Kansas boondocks they’re lucky if the current regulations compel any of them to offer their services in such unprofitable areas, so it’s hard even for such instinctively de-regulating Republicans such as our ourselves to take a rooting interest in them.
Any liberal Democrats who accordingly choose sides must acknowledge, though, that all the “content providers” who are opposed to the de-regulation include some very profitable business interests as well. “Content providers” are apparently all the people who post on the internet, even such sympathetic pajama-clad mom and pop operations such as ourselves, but they’re also that Netflix outfit that’s suddenly as big a player in Hollywood as any studio or network, those Google guys who have a picture of your house with the garbage can still on the curb and are threatening to start driving your car for you, along with such nefarious characters as Microsoft and all those quickly conglomerating media giants.
Liberals love to decry the corrupting influence of big business on American politics, but they never seem to understand that the various big businesses have very varying interests. Federal regulators have their own interests in resolving the conflicts, which mostly derive from the interests of the political parties that appointed them, and with no one to root for but the lowly consumer it’s best to resolve these matters on the merits of the arguments. In this case the liberal argument is that unrestrained service providers will have an economic incentive to steer their customers to their preferred content providers, which seems reasonable enough, but the conservative counter-argument is that if they did so in a free market their customers would go elsewhere, and even in such a limited marketplace as the IPS biz is these days that also seems reasonable enough.
The Republican rule that regulations have a constraining effect on economic activity is self-obvious and usually reliable, but even such conservative souls as ourselves have to admit it’s not infallible.
We once co-authored a history of a local country and western radio station, which was for a long while the best got-danged country and western radio station in the whole wild world, and in the course of our exhaustive research we learned how the FCC first came into being back during the impeccably pro-business and Republican but un-fondly remembered administration of President Herbert Hoover. Radio was the newfangled mass communications thingamajig of the time, with all the savvy business interests of the time eagerly buying in, but a free market free-for-all proved unprofitably chaotic.
Without any regulation the radio stations such as the one we wrote about had an economic incentive to ramp up their wattage to a point it drowned out their competitors, who then had an economic incentive to ramp up their wattage, and even such a ruthless businessman as Hoover realized the government had to assure each content provider enough space on the AM dial to provide the lowly consumer with choices. A profitable industry resulted, Americans were suddenly communicating with one another from coast-to-coast, a lot of great American music and comedy and drama were aired along with a lot of crackpot commentary from right-wing and left-wing kooks, and even liberals will admit it was one of Hoover’s good ideas.
Since then the FCC has had a more decidedly mixed record, with both liberals and conservatives objecting at any given time, depending on which party is in power, and by now we won’t offer any guess about “net neutrality.” We still haven’t figured out how our car’s radio actually works, much less this even more newfangled “internet” thingamajig, yet our bewilderment only bolsters our faith that in the long run it really doesn’t matter.
By now we’ve seen enough to know that lawsuits are already being filed, the opposing profitable business interests are already laying out big money for lobbying, political parties come in and out of power, and that these slow-moving dinosaurs are always a step or two behind the faster pace of technological evolution. Right now someone far smarter than ourselves, and even smarter than those big business interests and federal regulators, is coming up with some newfangled thing that causes an even bigger fuss.
In the meantime we won’t worry that any of the internet service providers will discriminate against our content, which is very wordy and video-free and causes little strain on the bandwidth, and is too little-read to cause much controversy, and so long as we can watch YouTube and Netflix at a reasonable speed we have no dog in this fight.

— Bud Norman

After the Storms, the Gathering Drip, Drip, Drip

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

— Bud Norman

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

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

A Dark and Stormy Night

As we glumly contemplate the increasing likelihood that the next President of the United States will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, arguably the two most awful people in the country, some of our more upbeat friends try to console us that at least it couldn’t be possibly be worse than the past seven-and-a-half years or so have been. President Barack Obama’s recent tour of Europe lends some credence to the theory, but it doesn’t hold out any hope that things will get better.
In case you were too riveted by the two party’s competing reality shows, Obama did pretty much everything wrong on his trip. In England he offered an obviously inadequate excuse for sending a bust of Winston Churchill back home and threatened┬áthat if the country chose to opt out of the European Union in a referendum scheduled for June that he would put the country at “the end of queue” in trade negotiations, and in Germany he endorsed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s catastrophic immigration policies and touted their work together on the trade deal that Germany is first in queue for and most of the German public also understandably opposes.
Back in the “Hope and Change” days of Obama’s ’08 campaign a majority of the American electorate had some crazy hope hope that he would change the rest of the world’s mind about America after eight years of George W. Bush’s cowboy foreign policy, and the rest of the world fell for it, too. Most of England had high hopes for change that were dashed when Obama not only snubbed Winston Churchill but the current prime minister and the two countries longstanding special relationship at large. By the time he showed up seven-and-a-half-years later to try and bully the English into the sticking with the EU even the polite chap from the British Broadcasting System was emboldened to ask him what business of it was his.
There was a huge crowd of Germans at the Brandenburg Gate when Obama gave that wildly-reviewed speech about how communism and the Berlin Wall had fallen because the whole world stood together, even though he and all the people he’s appointed stood against the controversial Reagan policies that brought it about, but by now even the Germans are wised up. They hate the Islamization of their country that Merkel’s insane policies are bound to cause, they’re in a protectionist mood that is understandable if not quite logical, and they’re very much over that “hope and change” thing from ’08 and nearly nostalgic for that crazy cowboy George W. Bush.
As bad as it was, we can’t see it getting any better any time soon. Clinton’s victories on Tuesday made her nomination once again inevitable, and she was the Secretary of State during the first disastrous first years of Obama’s presidency. She was the one who sold out the Czechs and Poles and Hondurans and Israelis and countless other allies and offered that laughably mistranslated “re-set” button to the Russians, who are now as problematic for Englishmen and Germans and other European folk as the Islamists that Clinton insists have nothing to do with terrorism, and she doesn’t seem much of an improvement. There’s still faint hope she’ll be indicted or otherwise somehow be overcome by popular Democratic Party opinion and the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but we can’t see that working out any better.
Trump’s victories on Tuesday made him slightly less but still worrisomely inevitable as the Republican nominee, but we have no hope that change would be for the better. He wouldn’t be endorsing Merkel’s culturally suicidal immigration policies, at least, although there’s no telling how what he’ll say about Britain and the European Union, but he’d probably be ridiculing the looks of both country’s leaders and making unmeetable demands, and his past praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top-notch foreign policy expert’s long record of business dealings with and profuse apologies for Putin suggest he’d re-set relations with that country to something along the lines of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. We’re not entirely sure that long-shot Republican challenger Sen. Ted Cruz would be much better, given that even he uses “neocon” as a pejorative, but at this point he’s our best hope for a positive change.
Sorry to be so glum, but it was a dark and stormy day here on the prairie, and the evening’s news was even worse.

— Bud Norman

Ten Years Later and the Truth of the Matter

One of the more unfortunate facts of journalism is that no one remembers the retractions, only the retracted errors. This has never been more apparent than in all the stories marking the tenth anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina.
Press coverage of the tragedy was voluminous, the broadcast networks filled nearly entire days with reports, and it was riddled with well-remembered and still-believed balderdash. There were tales of mass rapes and other outrages inside the New Orleans Superdome, where federal officials had established a rescue center, and reports street gangs shooting at rescue helicopters and committing other atrocities on the crime-ridden streets, and even talk about survivors resorting to cannibalism after a few days of federal inaction. It was all eventually but inconspicuously corrected, yet the even bigger errors remain unacknowledged. The extraordinary number of people rescued by the heroic efforts of the National Guard and the Coast Guard and other military is still less known than than the providentially low number of people who perished in the historical storm, the undeniable failure of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was less publicized than the even the more inept response of the more responsible and Democrat-controlled state and local governments, and that the dire consequences of the storm falling upon a dysfunctional city of New Orleans that had long been dominated by liberal rule, are even after ten years still mostly unmentioned in all of those tenth anniversary stories.
Ten years ago the press and the broadcast networks were mostly concerned with undermining support for President George W. Bush, who had been the target of media wrath even before the Supreme Court decision that handed him the presidency despite the popular support for the favored Democratic nominee Al Gore, with the animus exponentially increased by his decision to invade and occupy, the momentarily unfortunate consequences of which were also an unavoidable topic of the time, and the temptation to pile on during a natural catastrophe was too much for most reporters to resist. Such was the temptation that even the most politically correct reporters were willing to embrace to the most vile stereotypes of black Americans as rapists and gangsters whenever the federal government failed to take the necessary steps. The outrageous claim that black people in New Orleans were resorting to cannibalism after just a couple of days of federal inaction was promulgated by the the impeccably liberal Huffington Post’s Randall Robinson, a black “intellectual” known for his for advocacy of “black reparations,” who meekly admitted a few days later that his hateful assumptions were nothing but bunk but still huffily insisted that the rest of his rants against the hated Bush were all justified.
The impression left by such irresponsible journalism is still strong enough that the current President of the United States can go to New Orleans and give a speech assuming that his audience will still believe all the old beliefs, and that the press and broadcasters will report accordingly, but there have been corrections that should set the public straight. Hurricane Katrina was a tragedy, more so in those parts of the storm’s affected area that were Democrat-controlled and thus dependent on a federal response, but its lessons for ten years later are not what the anniversary coverage would have you believe.

— Bud Norman

Those Crazy Christians

Christians still comprise a significant percentage of the American population, at least according to the polls we see from time to time, but so many people seem to have no familiarity with them. We notice this from time to time in our social encounters with people who assume we share their agnostic or atheistic or otherwise enlightened notions of the universe and proceed to speak of Christians as some sort of remote and primitive tribe, and in widely disseminated news outlets that attribute that all sorts of strange opinions to Christians that we’ve never heard one utter, and in even a symposium at last week’s Catholic-Evagenlical Leadership Summit at Georgetown University featuring a best-selling author and the President of the United States.
Harvard professor Robert Putnam, best known for the book “Bowling Alone,” got the ball rolling with an interview with The Washington Post, in which he said “The obvious fact is that over the last 30 years, most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for. That is the most obvious point in the world. It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.” When Putnam repeated the claim at the Georgetown, President Barack Obama chimed in that “Despite great caring and concern, when it comes to what you’re really going to the mat for, the defining issue, when you’re talking in your congregations, what’s the thing that is really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians, or as Catholics, what have you, that (fighting poverty) is oftentimes viewed as ‘nice to have’ relative to an issue like abortion.”
This might seem “the most obvious point in the world” to a Harvard professor or a President of the United States, but it will surely come as a surprise to anyone who actually lives among the Christians of America. Even the editors at The Washington Post know a couple of Christians from the Religion News Service who had the numbers at hand to refute such nonsense. They note that in 2009 America’s churches donated more than $13 billion to overseas relief and development, which is more than the secular charities could muster, and even looks pretty good compared to the $29 billion the federal government spent, largely with the taxes paid by Christians. In 2012 the evangelical group World Vision spent about $2.8 billion caring for the poor, which would put them 12th among the world’s nations. The Catholics, whom we also consider Christians, our president’s clumsy locutions notwithstanding, spend about $97 billion on health care networks, many billions more on colleges and schools, and another $4.6 billion to various national charities.
Even the most diligent research will fail to account for all good works done to alleviate domestic by done by America’s churches. Our own small congregation at the rough edges of a working class neighborhood chips in for a local orphanage and offers whatever help it can to anyone who walks in, our parents’ congregation in the Philadelphia suburbs runs a food distribution center with its time and money, and every Christian we share church chat with tells of a similar endeavor. Diligent research shouldn’t even be required to notice this phenomenon, as a daily drive through almost any city or town in America will take one past the various shelters and soup kitchens and hospitals and assorted charities created and run and supported by Christians, and in to contact with someone who has benefited from these efforts, and perhaps even one of those Christians who made who put a buck in the collection plate and did some volunteer work to make it possible. Those professors and presidents who dare to take the daring anthropological plunge in to the most remote portions of Christian America might even find that the natives aren’t quite so sexually obsessed as they’ve imagined.
At our small congregation on the rough edges of a working-class neighborhood that stuff rarely comes up, and in a lifetime of worshipping with this very conservative church we can’t recall many times when it ever did. We listen to the talk radio and read the web sites and newspapers and magazines that conservative Christians follow, and notice that the social issues aren’t such a hot topic there as they seem to be in the more ostentatiously secular media. The combined budgets of the best-funded organizations devoted to the social issues are supposedly American Christianity’s main concern spend in the mere millions, and are vastly outspent by Planned Parenthood alone, and of course the occasional protests heard on those conservative Christian media are vastly out-shouted by the more ostentatiously secular media. To complain that American Christianity is obsessed with the social issues to the extent that it ignores other pressing problems is not only divorced from reality, it seems rather unsporting.
Nor do we concede that those social issues are unrelated to those other pressing problems, or that American Christianity’s last resistance is unjustified. Issues of sexual morality have much to poverty and the general social well-being. A society of people raised by baby mamas and baby daddies will be poorer and more generally unpleasant than one raised by husbands and wives, no amount of federal spending will change that time-honored fact, those crazy Christians out there in the hinterlands and the socio-economic elites of our time seem to be the only ones who understand this, and those crazy Christians out there in the hinterlands and the only ones who will come right out and say it, so we hope they don’t go away or agree to shut up.
Much of American Christianity has already agreed to shut up, and its focus on the social issues has been devoted to accommodating the latest trends, and its churches seem to be losing congregants to whatever’s on television at those hours of a Sunday morning. Many continue to insist on traditional notions of sexual morality, even as they divvy up the church funds to the orphanage or the food distribution center or whatever its charity might be, and at this point they’re just hoping that they’ll be able to be live by these beliefs after the latest trends take root. Those churches are struggling, too, but we expect they’ll persist, as they have the past two tough millennia, and we believe the world will be better for it.
Yet apparently it looks different to a Harvard professor and a President of the United States. Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” was about the decline of bowling leagues and increase of individual bowling and the decline of fraternal orders and social organizations generally, and was well reviewed by both liberal commentators who decried the retreat into private live and conservatives who found proof of a government’s encroachment on the free association of individuals into effective groups, and we’d have expected him to notice that the churches are among the last effective non-governmental groups. We’d also have expected more from any President of the United States, especially one who has proclaimed his Christianity almost as much as he has criticized the faith.

— Bud Norman