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On the Odd New Detente with the Damned Old Russkies

One of the foremost reasons we’ve long suspected that there’s something more to the “Russia thing” than a “WITCH HUNT!” is President Donald Trump’s undeniable Russophilia. It’s been apparent from the start and was once again on full display again Tuesday’s news.
Trump boastfully acknowledged to the press that during a president-to-dictator phone call the president congratulated the dictator on his landslide victory over the last unbanned-from-the-ballot opponent in an obviously phony-baloney race, and his press secretary acknowledged that he didn’t bring up any of that unpleasantness regarding the people that Russia quite clearly poisoned on the sovereign soil of our longtime ally Great Britain. Instead the president and the dictator focused on areas of possible agreement, according the press secretary, and the president himself called it a “very good call.” Certain Republicans and most Democrats were appalled, but no one should have been appalled.
During his unlikely presidential campaign Trump boasted of his close personal relationship with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and although he later denied any relationship with Putin at all he wound up predicting they’d eventually be good friends. He praised Putin’s “strong leadership” and reveled in similar compliments from the dictator, and scoffed at the emerging reports of Russian interference in the election, saying it was just as likely some obese fellow in his New Jersey bedroom. Trump denied that Russia had invaded Ukraine, then clarified that he meant Russia had indeed done so but only “in a sense.” Trump also touted the many advantages of a Russo-American alliance in dealing with such threats as the Syrian civil war and terrorism in general and Chinese trade or whatnot, and described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance as “obsolete.” Even the erstwhile Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was taken aback when Trump defended Putin’s indisputable assassinations of journalists and political rivals by saying “We do plenty of killing here.”
As president Trump has mostly hewed to the same Russo-friendly foreign policy. He’s eventually conceded to all of his intelligence agencies’ conclusion that the Russian did meddle in the last election, but still figures some fat guy in Jersey might have also been in on it and show far has shown any little interest in doing anything about it. His aides, by now mostly fired or on their way out, at long last persuaded Trump to affirm America’s commitment to the NATO agreement, although he continued to castigate them all as freeloaders. He claims credit for the sanctions that even most the Republicans in Congress insisted on, but he took his own sweet time about it, and although his United Nations ambassador and recently-fired Secretary of State took strong stands on the Russkies poisoning people on British soil Trump hasn’t “tweeted” a thing about it.
Trump’s defenders point to the “dozens” or “near 200” Russkies killed by American forces during a recent skirmish in the war going on in Syria and Iraq, depending on which media reports you read, but the lieutenant general that was on the ground and in charge says they were mercenary forces not aligned with the Russian government and the American forces got permission to wipe them out from the frustrated Russkie command. They also note that war is going so quite swimmingly in defeating the Islamic State, the vilest villain in the conflict, but at this point it’s hard predict how American and Russian and that very odious Syrian dictatorship come out of it. They also note that Trump has been trumpeting a surge in military spending, but what should Russia care if it’s not about them? In the aftermath of that president-to-dictator phone call both Trump and his press secretary said the two heads of state of would soon met to discuss way ways to avoid an arms race.
The most benign explanation seems to be that for entirely disinterested reasons Trump truly admires Putin’s authoritarian rule, thinks our long trading and military partners are a bunch of freeloaders, and that however things turn out in Syria or elsewhere at least you don’t worry about the Islamic State anymore. It’s an openly held opinion on some of the far right message boards, and has slightly more carefully-worded apologists on talk radio and certain other conservative media, but that’s a hard sale these days. A small but significant percentage of Republicans are still standing on the same Cold War-era and Russo-phobic foreign policy ground that President Barack Obama ridiculed just just six short years ago, and all the Democrats seems to have suddenly found the same anti-Russian religion.
Given all the rest that’s going on in the “Russia thing,” it still looks suspicious to us. As we wondered back during the primaries, what the heck kind of Republican talks like that?

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Attempt at an “Infrastructure Week” and All Its Distractions

Monday kicked off President Donald Trump’s second attempt at an “Infrastructure Week.” The first attempt was barely noticed because of all the coverage devoted to the congressional testimony of fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and the usual “tweets,” and also because it featured grandiose promises but no plan. This time around is largely drowned out by the lingering fuming about the White House’s astoundingly tone-deaf and ham-fisted handling of a couple of alleged wife-beaters who were high-ranking staffers, but at least there’s a sort of specific plan to make America’s infrastructure great again.
The plan makes the grandiose promise to spend $1.5 trillion on a wide range of projects, but with the federal government throwing only $200 billion into the pot. The rest would supposedly come from municipalities, counties, states, and the private sector, but that’s a big supposition. Trump unveiled the proposal with a rambling impromptu rift that blamed President Barack Obama for his neglect of America’s infrastructure, of course, but also dishonestly derided President George W. Bush for lying America into the expensive Iraq War, and chided the “laziness” of every administration going back to President Harry Truman, who stupidly spent all of our war spoils on the Marshall Plan, which more sane students of world history now regard as the best investment America ever made.
Most municipalities, counties and states will surely plead poverty, and because they can’t just print money they’ll mostly have a valid point. As of now the interstate highway system and other major federal infrastructure are funded with 80 percent of the money coming from Washington and the rest paid for by the states, the Trump plan proposes that the states start picking up 80 percent of the tab, so it’s hard to imagine many Republican governors going along with that, and of course all the Democrats are also going to hate it. Trump fancies himself a master salesman, and his shtick works well enough with a plurality of voters, but persuading legislators and county commissioners and city councilmen to take the heat for tax hikes and cuts to other programs so he can take all the credit for a patched pothole is a very tough pitch.
As for the private sector, they’re long accustomed to getting paid for doing all the actual work on an infrastructure project rather paying for it. Perhaps they can be induced to pay in if in the payout is substantially greater, perhaps in the proposed form of toll roads or for-profit airports and parks, perhaps in the sorts of kickbacks that the Trump real estate empire boastfully used to pay off government officials, but although we’re by no means socialists we can’t see how the general public comes out ahead in that arrangement. Here in very busy-friendly Wichita the local government is quite fond of these sorts of public-private partnerships, and while they often work out well enough both the governmental left and the free-market far right agree they often favor the interests of certain public officials and their private sector partners more than the general public, and the centrists will likely agree that the Trump administration is more likely than most to seek self-interested deals.
The plan seems likely to face bipartisan opposition, especially at the statehouse and county courthouse and city hall level, and despite the ardent support of some government-savvy and well-connected contractors it will also face opposition from big time businesses, the last of the Tea Party will Republicans will balk at adding even another $200 billion to the $2 trillion dollar deficit that’s being projected for next for year. and all the Democrats will hate it on general anti-Trump principle. As for now it’s all being widely ignored by the rest of the country.
There’s still more talk afoot  about how the president expressed his heartfelt sympathy for a poor fellow whose two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend have accused him of domestic abuse and how he couldn’t get an FBI security clearance on account of the police reports and photographs that corroborated their allegation and thus had to be let go from his high-ranking position at the White House. The critics note that Trump has a longstanding habit of siding with political allies who are credibly accused of sexual misconduct, such as Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly and Steve Wynn and Mike Tyson and himself. His supporters note his stubborn insistence on due process for the accused, which is a a plausible enough argument. His critics note that he didn’t care much about due process when he was condemning political foes accused of sexual misconduct or charging Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad with complicity in the Kennedy assassination or leading “lock her up” chants against Hillary Clinton or calling for the execution of the “Central Park Five” even after due process had cleared them of all charges.
So far Trump’s critics have the better of the more attention-grabbing argument, and we think the damage done to the nation’s moral infrastructure will take more than a mere $1.5 trillion to fix.

— Bud Norman

The Ongoing Problem of Prominent Men

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

— Bud Norman

Spinning Out of the No-Spin Zone

Fox News has fired Bill O’Reilly, and that’s fine by us, as we never did like the guy. The firing is yet another undeniable embarrassment to conservatism, but probably the best way to handle it.
O’Reilly didn’t get cancelled for the usual reason of low ratings, as he remained the most-viewed commentator on cable news, but because 20 of his most well-heeled advertisers had cancelled their buys in the wake of a sex scandal. The New York Times reported that Fox News has spent some $13 million settling numerous sexual harassment suits filed over the years, companies ranging from Mercedes-Benz to the Society for Human Resource Management decided they didn’t want to be associated with such salacious settlements, and with Fox News already reeling from the recent firing of its longtime head honcho Roger Ailes over similar high-dollar shenanigans they reached the same reluctant conclusion.
All the late night comics and mainstream news reporters and the rest of the left are having great fun with it, and there’s really no denying them their unabashed schadenfreude. Fox News is the bogeyman of the left, O’Reilly was its most demonized figure, and both do look pretty damned ridiculous at the moment. Just before the firing President Donald Trump had defended O’Reilly during a New York Times interview as a good guy who never did anything wrong, and of course he’s got his own scandals about grabbing women by the wherever to deal with, so naturally the left is also having fun with that.
All of it supports a leftist narrative that conservatism is nostalgia for the good old days when business moguls used to chase secretaries around the desk with impunity, and we have admit we find ourselves hard pressed to make the case that conservatism still stands for Judeo-Christian tradition and family values isn’t really waging that “war on women” that the left used to run on. There’s a case to be made that settling suits isn’t an admission of guilt, but no one on the right was having any of that back when President Bill Clinton was settling his lawsuits with Paula Jones and the numerous other women who quite plausibly accused him of sexual harassment, and by now anyone on either side who isn’t disgusted by all of it is a rank hypocrite.
Kudos to Fox for not being such rank hypocrites, and we hope that its many fine journalists continue to expose shenanigans on both the left and right with a renewed credibility. The network retains some hypocritical partisan hacks, such as its now most-viewed host Sean Hannity, as well as those apple-polishing sycophants on Trump’s favorite “Fox and Friends” morning show, but it also does a lot of reporting that liberals can’t righty dismiss as “Faux News” the way conservatives tend to dismiss anything unsettling to their worldview as “fake news” from “The New York Slimes” or “the Washington Compost.” On the both the left and the right, and among those news outlets that still claim to be fair and balanced, it’s important than everyone maintain a certain respect for what pretty much everyone regards as proper.
O’Reilly always struck us as a bombastic, loose with facts, self-righteous prig was so easily caricatured that the late night comic Stephen Colbert became a number-one-in-his-time-slot talk-show star by caricaturing him. He’s having great fun with the denouement of O’Reilly’s career, and it’s hard to deny him the pleasure, and by all accounts he’s a happily married and devoutly Catholic and thus-far scandal-free man, so we’ll not deny him his dance on the grave of O’Reilly’s career. We still believe in a conservatism based on Judeo-Christian tradition and family values and not chasing the secretaries around the desk, though, and hope that Fox will help us to keep from anybody dancing on its grave.

Fight Fiercely, Harvard

Of all the nasty names that one might hurl at a political opponent, none is quite so annoying as “anti-intellectual.” The term implies hostility to the intellectual process itself, evoking an image of rubes in John Deere ball caps pulling suspenders away from their beer bellies as they spit tobacco and rail against those pointy-headed perfessers back east, but it usually means nothing more than dissent from the consensus of elite academic opinion. Any true intellectual would concede that over the centuries the consensus of elite academic opinion has often proved catastrophically wrong, while history has just as fr equently vindicated the views of the beer-bellied and tobacco-spitting rubes, but for some reason “anti-intellectual” remains a term of opprobrium.
The point was brought to mind by a recent editorial in Harvard University’s student newspaper, The Crimson, in which the authors take two Harvard-educated Republican politicians and a social conservative news commentator to task for daring to criticize their alma mater. Attributed to “the staff,” the editorial damns the trio as apostates, class traitors, and of course “anti-intellectual.” Anyone unwilling to toe the Harvard Line for the rest of their days, the editorialists say, should matriculate elsewhere.
Although we are not regular readers of The Crimson, the editorial was so widely ridiculed in the conservative media that we could not resist taking a look at it for ourselves. Sure enough, it’s quite ridiculous. The authors ooze self-righteous condescension, lamenting that they could not have met a “young, wide-eyed Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, or Bill O’Reilly” and shown them the error of their error of their narrow-minded ways, and they adhere to the stereotype of Ivy League snootiness so faithfully that their work reads more like a parody from the Harvard Lampoon than an earnest editorial. Despite their archly ironic tone, the writers charge that conservatives are intolerant and thus not be tolerated on the Harvard campus, and they argue that anyone who independently reaches conclusions that differ from what he has been taught by his supposed betters is anti-intellectual, and they don’t seem to notice any irony there.
The editorialists are presumably undergraduates at Harvard, and perhaps should therefore be forgiven the characteristic arrogance of youth, but too many of the people who are graduated from the elite colleges and universities carry the same presumption of intellectual superiority through public life. Such hubris always brings about a downfall, just as the Greek philosophers warned, but apparently today’s Harvard students are spending their time on more modern texts such as the Marxist clap-trap that the editorialists seem to seem to cherish. There’s no reason that more sensible sorts should be cowed by the ivy-covered credentials of such snot-nosed brats, though, and if these are the intellectuals there is no shame in being against them.

— Bud Norman