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Stock Market Swoons, Government Shutdowns, and the Alleged Wives-Beater in the White House

Thursday saw another four-digit drop in the Dow Jones average, another government shutdown after negotiations broke down on a budget-busting compromise bill no one liked, and the news still had to find room for another scandalous exit from President Donald Trump’s administration.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned his post after Britain’s Daily Mail reported that his two ex-wives allege he physically abused them, various media found corroborating police reports and court orders as well as an ex-girfriend with similar tales, and the first ex-wife released a picture of herself with the black eye she alleges he gave her, which ought to be scandalous enough. Worse yet, the media also reported that White House officials had long been aware that the allegations were the reason the Federal Bureau of Investigation never gave Porter the security clearance required to deal with all the classified materials that a White House staff secretary routinely handles.
Even if you’re the sort of die-hard Trump supporter who figures that the women probably had it coming, and give credit to any administration officials who were so bravely politically incorrect as to agree, you have to be unsettled by the national security implications. Apparently there are several high-ranking White House officials who also can’t pass security clearance muster, including top presidential advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s still the point man for China despite FBI warnings about his personal and business ties to a Chinese operative and still in charge of negotiating Middle East despite no apparent qualifications for that tough job, so it seems to be an ongoing problem. You can still rightly point to Hillary Clinton’s undeniably sloppy mishandling of classified material when she was Secretary of State, which is one of the many valid reasons she’s not the President of the United States, but that won’t solve the more pressing national security problems.
Most people will have a problem with the White House’s apparent tolerance of wife-beating, too, and Porter’s departure won’t help with a widespread public perception that Trump is a sexist pig. There’s also talk about how it reflects on White House chief of staff John Kelly, who a couple of days ago was vouching for Porter’s “high moral character” despite being aware of the FBI warnings about why they’d denied a security clearance, and whose spokesman later explained he wasn’t fully aware of the situation until the black eye picture was published. Kelly came into the White with a pristine reputation as a four-star Marine General, but he’s been criticized on the left for comments deemed racist and sexist, and by Trump for his assurances to the congressional hispanic caucus that Trump had “evolved” in his thinking about various immigration issues, and there’s speculation he’ll be one of the next to leave the Trump administration with a more sullied reputation.
The government shutdown might yet prove as short-lived as last month’s, and the market swoon might yet prove a much-needed correction on the way back to prosperity, but another scandalous example of the Trump administration’s crudity and incompetence won’t help with either situation.

— 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

Winners and Losers and Dreamers

The Republicans are claiming victory and the Democrats admitting defeat after a deal that ended the latest partial government shutdown in record time, but it’s not apparent to us that anybody won or lost anything that won’t be quickly forgotten.
The deal that minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer and a sufficient number of his caucus agreed to fully funds the the government in exchange for a promise by majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to have a vote of some sort at some undetermined date about the so-called “dreamers” who were illegally smuggled into the country as children, which is pretty much the same deal that was on offer prior to the vote that shut down parts of the government over the weekend. That was bad enough from a Democratic perspective that all the left-wing pundits were wailing about it, and their anger alone was sufficient reward for all the right-wing pundits to gloat about it.
The deal only fully funds the federal government for the next 17 days, though, and by then no one will remember who voted for what, and in the meantime everyone involved looks petty and stupid. McConnell’s promise to put the “dreamer” problem up for a vote was made on the Senate floor and recorded in the congressional record, too, and when he’s eventually forced to keep that promise the Republicans will likely find themselves in a losing position.
The “dreamers” are so-called because the Democrats wrote a bill to grant them permanent status that was cleverly called Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, and its acronym makes gives those alien minors that very sympathetic nickname. They’re a sympathetic lot, anyway, as they can hardly be blamed for being brought here as children, the vast majority haven’t caused any noticeable problems for anyone, and a significant and photogenic number of them are attending college or serving in the military or performing some other sort of useful labor for the country. That wasn’t enough to get the DREAM act enacted in Congress, but it kept the Republicans from preventing President Barack Obama from temporarily more or less enacting by an executive order for a Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals, which had a rather cacophonous acronym but kept all the “dreamers” who could prove they aren’t gang-bangers or welfare mooches to hang around indefinitely.
What can be done by executive order can just as easily be undone executive order, though, and President Donald Trump decided to sign one that would leave all those “dreamers” susceptible to deportation back to countries they only vaguely remember by March. His hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters loved it, but all the polls showed that a much larger number of Americans hated it, so Trump quickly explained that it was one of his three-dimensional chess moves to force congress to pass that DREAM act he excoriated on the campaign trail. He even wound up telling a televised bipartisan gathering of senators that he would happily sign any “bill of love” for the “dreamers,” whom he claimed to love, along with all kids.
That didn’t play well with Trump’s hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, with his usual talk radio defenders crying betrayal, so he quickly clarified that he’d sign any “bill of love” so long as it included funding for his big, beautiful sea-to-shining-sea border wall and other draconian border enforcement measures. After that his chief of staff was assuring the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that Trump’s previously “uninformed” promises of a border wall had “evolved,” which was followed by an indignant presidential “tweet” that he has never evolved, and by the time the negotiations to prevent a partial government shutdown went south both the majority leader and the minority of the Senate were complaining they had no idea what the president wanted.
At this point Trump has taken more positions than his pal Stormy Daniels — insert risqué rim shot here — and there’s no telling where he’ll wind up. If he caves to some soft-hearted protections for the “dreamers” without sufficient concessions from the Democrats he’ll annoy his hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, which he hates to do. If he winds up deporting a bunch of photogenically sympathetic soldiers and college students and otherwise upstanding semi-citizens back to countries they only vaguely recall his ratings will take a bigger hit, and he might hate that even worse.
Perhaps it’s all some three-dimensional chess-playing that will arrive at such an artful deal that even the most outright xenophobic portion of his hard-line anti-illegal immigration supporters will join hands with all those “open borders” left-wing crazies to sing his praises, but we doubt it. Trump’s much boasted-about deal-making genius didn’t prevent the last partial government shutdown, by all accounts those hated Republican establishment guys in congress had much more to do with it ending over a mere weekend, and Trump looks unable to long delay the inevitable next partial government shutdown.

— Bud Norman

The Strange End of the Omarosa Subplot

Omarosa Manigault Newman is another one of those reality show celebrities we’re usually happy to ignore, but it was hard to turn away from the strange story of her sudden departure from President Donald Trump’s administration.
Accounts of Newman’s departure differ, with some saying she was escorted out of the White House by Secret Service agents and others denying that, and it’s not clear exactly what led to her firing, although by all accounts it was insisted on by chief of staff John Kelly, but in any case she’s no longer on the job. Also unclear is why she was ever on the job in the first place.
Newman was once a contestant on “The Apprentice,” Trump’s popular game show, and apparently she helped boost the ratings as a confrontational and caustic character viewers loved to hate. That so endeared her to Trump that he invited her to join his presidential campaign, and she further endeared herself with her controversial and caustic interviews in his defense on television, which included one memorable exchange with Fox News contributor Tamara Holder that culminated with Newman causticly commenting on the questioner’s “big boobs.” After Trump’s unlikely victory Newman was his unlikely pick for the position of communications director for the Office of Public Liaison.
While on the job Newman made headlines with a public screaming jag with former friend and journalist April Ryan, took time out appear on a reality show called “Say Yes to the Dress,” wound up getting roundly booed after a threatening speech to the National Association of Black Journalists, and was roundly booed again by the crowd at the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual gala. Although Newman is black, and liked to brag about all the black votes she helped Trump win, her public liaisons with the black community were always especially confrontational and caustic.
Trump loves confrontational and caustic, of course, but the style does not play as well with Kelly. The four-star Marine general was hired as chief of staff to impose some semblance of discipline on White House, and by all accounts Newman resented his efforts, although the accounts of her her screaming profane threats at the decorated combat veteran are also disputed. In any case, Kelly predictably won the battle, and Newman wound up getting fired from another Trump reality show.
Perhaps Trump will replace Newman with Meat Loaf or Dennis “The Worm” Rodman or one of the other “Apprentice” contestants who aren’t currently accusing him of sexual harassment, but otherwise we expect he’ll wind up with someone better suited to the job communications director for the Public Liaison office, whatever that is. Back during the campaign Trump promised voters he’d pick all the best people, but he’s already had to fire quite a few of them, with his Secretary of State and several others clearly headed for the exits, and on Wednesday even the Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee passed on a couple of Trump’s obviously unqualified nominees for the federal bench.
Back during the campaign Trump also promised to do battle with those smartypants elite establishment types, a promised he has better kept, but he might want to consider hiring a few.

— Bud Norman

The Afghanistan War Goes On

America has been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years long years, and after President Donald Trump’s nationally televised address on Monday it’s clear the fighting will continue for a while. That’s not good news, of course, but it could have been a lot worse.
It would have been worse news if Trump had announced he was keeping his oft-repeated campaign promise to concede defeat and allow the Taliban to reassume control of the country where their al-Qaeda allies planned and trained for the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Trump admitted in a fairly well-written speech that doing so remains his instinct, so it’s very good news that he allowed the more carefully reasoned and far-sighted analysis of his far more experienced advisors to dissuade his instincts for a change.
It’s also as good a bit of news as one can hope for at this point that Trump didn’t make any characteristically grandiose promises about how America’s going to be winning so much you’ll get bored with winning and that it’s going to be so quick and easy your head will spin. Winning in Afghanistan won’t require leaving a fully westernized and modern country, a far-fetched fantasy that Trump effectively ridiculed on the campaign trail, but any semblance of victory does require a reasonably sane Afghan government that can defend itself against the inevitable attempts to once again turn the country into a training ground for future Islamist terror attacks on America, and we are reassured that Trump has been made to realize even that more modest goal is still necessary and that even after 16 long years it still can’t be done quickly or easily. Trump didn’t give a Churchillian sort of speech to prepare the people for the long struggle ahead, but at least he overcame his instinct to make promises that can’t be kept.
There was the usual lack of any specificity in Trump’s address, but that’s probably good news as well. He hinted that more troops would be deployed, although probably not as many as his generals had requested and surely not enough to turn Afghanistan into a thoroughly modernized and westernized country, but at this point there’s no reason for us or the enemy to know with any more specificity that at least the fight will continue. He hinted that America would prosecute the war with more ruthlessly self-defensive rules of engagement, which we think wise, but the fairly well-written script didn’t include any historically unfounded talk about summarily executing prisoners of war with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, as Trump recently advised the Spaniards to do after a recent Islamist terror attack, and these days we also have to count that as good news.
Aside from the life-and-death consequences of war there are also political implications to be considered, and we expect Trump handled those well enough for a change.
If you’ve been following the Trump presidency reality show so far you know that he recently accepted the resignation of “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, a longtime champion of the inaptly named “America First” non-interventionist school of foreign policy that so aligned with Trump’s instincts, who had famously been feuding with the more experienced and knowledgeable and far-sighted and hawkish generals who were serving as Trump’s Defense Secretary and national security advisor and chief of staff, so that’s a big sidebar story that won’t amount to much. Bannon has returned to the editorship of the Brietbart.com news site, which did much to promote Trump’s candidacy and presidency among a certain readership, and is already running articles of the newly stated Trump policy, but at this point we don’t expect that Trump will lose the support of many of its readers.
The rest of the media probably won’t manage to do much harm, either. When America went to war in Afghanistan those 16 long years ago it was in response to that country providing haven for the planning and training of an attack on American soil even worse than the attack on Pearl Harbor that had forced America into World War II, and Republican President George W. Bush was authorized the use of military force with bi-partisan support. Although Democratic President Barack Obama had been a strident critic of America’s war in Iraq he also deployed more troops to Afghanistan, even if he did so at lower levels than the generals recommended and with ludicrous timelines and rules of engagement, and his congressional authorization also won bipartisan support. Even Trump can expect to get the same benefit of the doubt, and he won’t suffer any significant loss of support from the far-left and despite Bannon’s best efforts only a slight loss on the far-fight.
Besides, there’s bound to be a solar event or sports competition or debt ceiling debate or Russia revelation to divert the public’s attention coming soon. After 16 long years the public has become accustomed to waging war in Afghanistan, and has largely come to realize there are no quick paths to anything resembling a victory but no available way out of getting out that wouldn’t be disastrous, so its hard to fault Trump for overcoming his simultaneously noninterventionist and militaristic instincts and being led to the same conclusion.
Over the past long 16 years the war in Afghanistan has claimed more than 2,400 American lives, with far more life-altering casualties, and although each of them is a tragedy that should be honored and mourned and carefully considered there’s a ruthless mathematics to war that publics have always also acknowledged. At this rate the war will have to carry one for another century or so before it reaches the death toll that caused America to exit the shorter Vietnam War, and hardier previous generations sacrificed as many of their children on a bad afternoon at Gettysburg or a rough morning on the beaches of Normandy, so except for the occasional desultory address on national television by Republican and Democratic presidents alike the Afghanistan war will probably go on unnoticed by all but those few unlucky patriots who have to fight it.
We’ll hope for the best, though, and begrudgingly admit that at least Trump didn’t it make any worse.

— Bud Norman

A Hard-Earned Vacation

Today President Donald Trump starts a planned 17-day vacation at his swank private New Jersey golf club, and we can hardly blame him for wanting to get away from the swamps of Washington, D.C., for a while. Thursday brought fresh leaks of some embarrassing phone calls Trump had with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia, as well as the news that the special counsel investigating the matter of what Trump now calls “Russia” has convened a grand jury, and that’s despite the best efforts of tough new chief of staff who was installed after a major administration shake-up and another week of rebukes by everyone from the Boy Scouts to America’s police chiefs to the Republicans in Congress.
The ostensible reason for the time away is that the White House is replacing its 27-year-old air-conditioning and heating system, and after the couple of sultry summers we’ve spent in Washington that seems plausible enough, although we’re not sure if President Andrew Jackson would have though so, and the timing does seem suspiciously fortuitous. Trump had long criticized his predecessor for spending too much time on golf courses, just as his predecessor had even more hypocritically criticized his predecessor for the same thing, and with his own private golf course being reimbursed by the government Trump will probably take an even worse public relations hit than either of them, but by now it could be a lot worse. If Trump can keep his thumbs gripped to a golf club rather than tapping out a “tweet” on his telephone, and stay away from interviews and otherwise avoid compounding his problems while his lawyers and remaining staff do their best to sort things out, that would probably be 17 days well spent.
The leaks about those embarrassing phone calls with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia had already been partially leaked way back in Trump’s second week of the job, but despite the momentary embarrassment Trump was able to dismiss them as “fake news” with with the politely oblique help of the other countries involved, and it was quickly forgotten in all the other news that kept coming. This time around there are full transcripts of the conversations, which are even more embarrassing in full context, and the White House is neither confirming nor denying their veracity, and neither are the other two governments involved, and by now the guy embarrassing himself on those transcripts sure does sound an awful lot like Trump.
The phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull reveals Trump trying to weasel out of a deal the United States had during struck his predecessor’s administration to take in 1,250 refugees, getting the numbers involved and other basic facts of the deal wrong along the way, frankly worrying how it would “It would make me look terrible,” and abruptly ending the conversation after saying that he’d had a much more pleasant telephone call that day with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Worse yet, as far as Trump’s most loyal supporters might be concerned, in the phone call with Mexican President Pena Nieto he seemed to concede that he’d never really meant all that campaign rhetoric about making Mexico pay for a wall across the entire southern border, but expected the Mexican government to play along with it for the ruse for a while. Nieto bluntly said Spanish equivalent of “nyet,” so far the Republican majorities in Congress have been similarly reluctant to cough up the funding for a border wall, and this is not a good time for people to be reminded about it along with all the further “fake news” leaks that can neither be denied by confirmed by the White House.
The leaks about the special counsel convening a grand jury to issue all sorts of subpoenas in that “Russia” investigation have also been neither confirmed nor denied by the White House, so they’re also looking pretty credible, and although you can spin it so it’s not such a bad thing there’s no way of making it out to be a good thing. That special counsel has a formidable reputation as a dogged but by-the-book investigator, and according to the book the paneling of a grand jury implies some pretty darned prima facie evidence that something fishy’s going on, and for now all questions about it are being referred to the president’s and his family’s and staff’s outside legal counsel.
Given all the other leaks about “Russia” that have neither been confirmed nor denied over the past eight months or so, and instead been to referred to all the various outside counsels that are now involved, we can easily understand why Trump is wanting some rest and relaxation on a familiar golf course. Someone pretty high up in Trump’s administration  is leaking the latest leaks, too, so all the more reason to take some time off from whomever that might be. We’re sure he’ll still be in constant communication with the rest of the executive branch while he’s contemplating a chip shot, just as his predecessors claimed to do, and we hope he at least breaks par.
According to some rather embarrassing leaks to Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated, though, Trump is also  a notorious golf cheat who routinely claims to have broken par, and so far the White House neither confirms nor denies this.

— Bud Norman