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George H.W. Bush, RIP

President George Herbert Walker Bush died on Friday, and given the rancorous political rhetoric of today we were pleased to see how very respectful all the obituaries and public comments have been. Even the news media that were most critical of Bush over his long career in public service duly acknowledged his many historic accomplishments, and all his past foes joined his many friends in praising the man’s patriotic character. This will probably be the last time we see any American sent off with such bipartisan praise, and we fear it marks the passing on era when that was not only possible but fairly commonplace.
Bush was born 94 years ago in a bygone era of genteel New England Republicanism, the son of a wealthy businessman and future Senator and a socialite mother, and was educated in the best schools that a wealthy New England family could buy. As a star student and promising athlete he was admitted to the elite Yale University, but against his parents’ wishes he volunteered for the Navy at the outset of World War II, became one of the military’s youngest aviators, and came back with medals never wore and heroic tales he rarely told about parachuting from a burning plane and being luckily rescued by a submarine that happened to be nearby. At long last enrolled at Yale, he was a Phi Beta Kappa student and the captain and star first baseman of the school’s championship-contending baseball team. He also wed the shy but attractive socialite Barbara Pierce, a descendant of President Franklin Pierce, and they stayed married and quite obviously in love for the rest of their lives.
Instead of taking his Yale education and distinguished war record to Wall Street or an academic sinecure or some other obvious choice for wealthy New Englander, Bush went west to a particularly barren portion of west Texas to make his fortune in the rough-and-tumble oil business, and wound doing quite well for himself and his growing family. By age 40 he figured he’d made enough money to let the investment income accrue, and with an old New England sense of noblesse oblige he commenced one of the most remarkable careers of public service in American history.
Bush started in the humble position of Harris County, Texas’ Republican party, and lost his first race for the House of Representatives shortly thereafter. He won the seat two years later, a rare feat for a Texas Republican way back in ’66, an in two terms earned reputation as a centrist who voted for civil rights legislation he’d earlier opposed and bucked the party’s position on birth control but backed President Richard Nixon’s controversial Vietnam policies. At Nixon’s urging Bush ran for the Senate in ’70, and lost to Democratic nominee Lloyd Bentsen — more about that later — but was rewarded with an appointment to be ambassador to the United Nations. He served as national chairman of the Republican party during the Watergate, somehow keeping his reputation intact, and was then head liaison to China just after Nixon famously normalized relations, and was then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
With such an impressive resume Bush was considered a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, but there was already an anti-establishment sentiment brewing in the party, and he lost to former California governor and far more forcefully conservative Ronald Reagan. Although it had been a hard-fought primary campaign by both sides, Reagan chose Bush as his running mate, partly to appease the still-potent establishment wing of the party, and partly because of Bush’s impressive resume. The choice worked out well for the Republican party, with Reagan winning two landslides and Bush earning a third term parties rarely win, beating the ticket of Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and the aforementioned Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. Even his harshest critics of the time now agree it worked out pretty well for the rest of the world, too, with Reagan’s aggressive policies winning the Cold War and Bush’s more cautious diplomacy successfully negotiating the peace.
Bush’s long experience of foreign policy brought other masterstrokes. Although it was controversial at the time, his decision to invade Panama and arrest its dictator after several provocations was carried out with stunning efficiency and looks good in retrospect, and no one in Panama is griping about it. When the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Kuwait in violation of international law and basic human decency, Bush drew a famous line in the sand, and enforced it with an undeniable brilliance. He won the approval of both Russia and China and the rest of the UN’s Security Council to fight the aggression, assembled an international coalition of nations that included all the keys players in the Middle East, then unleashed a near-perectly conceived military plan that drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait before the first anti-war protest could be organized. Casualties were miraculously low, international law had been enforced, America’s world leadership was unchallenged, and Bush briefly enjoyed a record-setting 90 percent approval rating.
The public is fickle, though, and when the Reagan economic boom eventually ran into an inevitable recession Bush got the blame for the business cycle. The recession was relatively brief and mild by historical standards, and was largely over by the time Bush’s re-election day arrived, but he’d be hammered by the press for the pardons he issued to everyone involved in the unfortunate but now largely forgotten Iran-Contra scandal, and it was easy to caricature him as a well-heeled New Englander who didn’t understand the common folk. He had the misfortunate to run not only against “Slick Willie” Clinton, a Yale-educated snake oil salesman from small town Arkansa who could bite his lip and convince the common folk he felt their pain, but also the independent candidate Ross Perot, a megalomaniacal billionaire who told the anti-establishment sorts of Republicans who’d long distrusted Bush’s kinder and gentler conservatism everything they wanted to hear. Thus Bush became the most consequential and respected-by-history one-term president since John Adams.
Bush wasn’t one to seek revenge, but he got a small measure of it when his eldest son, George W. Bush, won the presidency after Clinton’s two peaceful and prosperous but scandal-ridden terms, becoming the first son of a president to win the office since John Quincy Adams. That’s a whole ‘nother story, as they say down in Texas, and it will continue to be rewritten long after the younger Bush’s obituaries are published, but the elder Bush’s popularity grew through his retirement. In keeping with the longstanding traditions that Bush always kept, he kept his political opinions mostly to himself through the Clinton and Bush and Obama administrations, and instead devoted his considerable energy to bipartisan good deeds. With no political opinions in the way people came to further appreciate his sunny disposition and impeccable manners, his love of God and family and country, and everything he embodied about the bygone era of noblesse oblige and New England Republicanism.
One of the endearing little details in all the respectful obituaries is about Bush’s friendship with the comedian Dana Carvey, who used to do a hilariously satirical impersonation of Bush on the “Saturday Night Live” show. Most politicians would have found it offensive, but Bush found it hilarious, and he invited Carvey to the shtick at the White House correspondent’s dinner and other events. After he lost his reelection bid he asked his friend to do the routine at the White House, and Carvey tearfully recalls it was because Bush though his staff needed some cheering up. The famous catch phrase of Carvey’s impersonation was “Nah, nah, not gonna do it, wouldn’t be prudent,” but as even The Washington Post duly noted, Bush’s greatest gift to America was his prudence, a quality currently out of style.
Even President Donald Trump is respectfully noting Bush’s death, and we’re glad to see that. Bush was the quintessence of the Republican establishment and the “globalist” foreign policy that Trump ran against, and he’d criticized the elder Bush’s decision not to topple Hussein and then falsely accused the younger Bush of lying America into a war to topple Hussein, and he’d ridiculed the “low energy” of another prominent Bush family member who sought the presidency. Trump isn’t one to let a family feud rest, but at least he seems to know better than to invite any comparisons at this moment in time.

— Bud Norman</p

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Trump’s Inevitable Descent into Helsinki

There are still a a few of President Donald Trump’s die-hard supporters and a couple more reluctant fans among our readership, mostly family members and old friends, and they occasionally let us know how weary they are of our constant criticisms. Like all Trump fans they seem to relish blunt talk, though, so we’ll just come right and out say that Trump has just concluded the most disastrous and disgraceful presidential trip in the modern history of diplomacy.
We’ve already written out our aghast objections to Trump’s behavior at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Belgium, where his bully boy diplomacy clearly weakened the alliance despite his parting boasts it was stronger than ever. Between slaps to the forehead we also expressed our disfavor with his behavior in Britain, where he insulted the Prime Minister and lied that he didn’t and acted like a stereotypically boorish American tourist around the Queen and annoyed the general population of both the United Kingdom as well as Ireland, and didn’t get any lucrative deals except for some much-need publicity for a struggling golf course he owns in Scotland.
Somehow, however, Trump saved the worst for the last with his much-ballyhooed meeting with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland. One hardly knows where to begin the describing the awfulness of the debacle, but we might as well start with Trump meeting Putin in the first place.
The appearance of the American president and the Russian dictator standing as equals on a stage with festooned with equal numbers of American and Russian flags was a needless concession to a tin-pot dictatorship that has lately been invading its neighbors, propping up brutal Middle Eastern regimes, shooting down civilian aircraft, assassinating domestic enemies on our allies’ soil, as well as launching a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s last presidential election. To compound this offense to America’s dignity, Trump also told a whole world’s media that he blamed “both sides” for the recent unpleasantness in Russo-American relations.
Trump had little to say about Putin’s invasion of his neighbors in Georgia and Ukraine except to nod as Putin said they’d agreed to disagree. Trump also had little to say about Putin’s support for those brutal Middle Eastern regimes, except to say he hoped to work out a deal that would also make Israel happy, which is a plausible but imperfect argument and one too damned complicated for Trump to make. Trump had nothing to say about Russia shooting down civilian aircraft or killing state enemies and the occasional unintended British life on British soil, and what he said about Russia’s three-pronged cyber attack on the past American presidential election was most disgusting of all.
The day Trump left on his disastrous diplomatic tour the special counsel investigation into the “Russian thing” announced a detailed and well-sourced indictment of 12 Russian officials for meddling, and laid out a convincing explanation of how they did it, and by now the only people who harbor any doubts about Russia’s role are Sean Hannity and this guy we know from Kirby’s Beer Store and Putin and Trump himself.
Trump acknowledged that all of his advisors had “said they think it’s Russia,” but added “I have President Putin — he’s just said it’s not Russia.” Trump said he couldn’t imagine any reason why Putin would have favored him in the election, although Putin later told that international press that he did indeed favor Trump, and Trump added that “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Unless you’re Sean Hannity or that guy at Kirby’s or another unusually die-hard and fact-resistant Trump fan, it was an humiliating performance, and raises all sorts of suspicions about that “Russia thing.”
Trump was conspicuously polite to the Russian dictator, especially in contrast to his characteristically rude treatment of the leaders of our democratically-elected allies, and was most harsh about his past two presidential predecessors and that “witch hunt” of a special counsel investigation that just handed down those detailed and well-sourced indictments of 12 Russian officials, and went on a rant about why the DNC’s computer server wasn’t seized and how frustrated he was that even a President of the United States couldn’t any answers. It’s hard to concoct any explanation that’s not fishy, but the die-hard fans are giving it their best.
The general gist of it seems to be that the “Russia thing” really is a “witch hunt” no matter what all those Trump appointees might say, and that the real scandal that will get the real villains shot for treason is on that DNC computer server, and that a friendship with such a puny economy and tin-pot dictatorship as Russia will do more to make America great than those freeloading Euro-trash in the European Union and United Kingdom or Great Britain or England or whatever you call it ever could. They’re also citing America’s past sins and making the “blame America first” arguments that the Democratic left once used to justify Democratic weakness in the Cold War and President Obama’s awful apology tours, and they’ve forgetten how outraged they used to be.
So far, though, neither Trump nor any of his apologists have yet been able to convincingly point to anything tangible that the great dealmaker Trump got out of this trip.

— Bud Norman

Fusion GPS Goes Public at Last

One of the main subplots of the “Russia thing” soap opera, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is a dossier of information compiled by a former British intelligence agent alleging that President Donald Trump had a long history of shady business dealings with various Russian organizations and that the Russian government worked diligently to get him elected. It also had some very salacious stories about Russian prostitutes, which delighted all the late night comics, and it’s gotten a lot of attention.
To Trump’s die-hard defenders, what was scandalous about the dossier was its very existence. Although it was first commissioned by the right-of-center Washington Free Beacon, which was hoping to stave off Trump’s insurgent campaign for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, and then funded by some unknown Republican donor who still held out faint hope in latter stages of the primary race, it was eventually funded by the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton, and that’s enough to taint it on talk radio. The former British intelligence agent relied on the sources he’d developed as the MI6 agency’s top Moscow spy, and apparently that’s what Trump means when claims that Clinton and the Democrats colluded with the Russians. There were a couple of quickly proved errors, too, and much was hard to verify.
What Trump’s defenders called the “dodgy dossier” or the “debunked dossier” and even the mainstream news is now calling the “infamous dossier” quickly became it’s own scandal. It was alleged that the dossier was the evidence presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to open the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counter-intelligence probe into Russian meddling in the American presidential election, and therefore all of its findings should are the fruit of a poisoned tree. Last summer that Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee hauled in the top two people at Fusion GPS, the private investigating firm started by former Wall Street Journal investigative reporters that had hired the former British intelligent agent, and grilled them for ten straight hours of a closed hearing. Information about the testimony was leaked that allowed the talk radio hosts to paint the pair as a couple of conspirators out to smear Trump’s stellar reputation, and their dossier as “dodgy” and “debunked” and at the very least “infamous.”
On Monday the top two Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee, chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, even referred that British intelligence agent to federal law enforcement for criminal investigation. That was apparently a step two far one of the committee’s top Democrats, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who audaciously defied her Republican colleagues and longstanding tradition by releasing all 300 pages of that long ago testimony by the two guys at Fusion GPS.
The two guys at Fusion GPS had always insisted their testimony be made public, and so had a lot of other people who suspected that they’d made a better case for themselves than the talk radio talkers suggested with the selectively leaked information. As it turns out, it’s clear why they wanted the testimony made public and the Republicans didn’t.
They credibly deny any political motivations, rightly noting they offer their opposition research services to both Republicans and Democrats, testified they found reasons to believe federal law enforcement also had sources warning of Russian meddling in the election, and noted that Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent they’d hired, had an excellent reputation with America’s intelligence agencies. Recent reports suggest that one of those sources was the Australian ambassador to the United States, who reported to the American former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Popadopoulos had been drinking with him one evening and bragged that his candidate had dirt on his Democratic rival straight from the Russian government, reports indicate that others who listen in on Russian calls had passed along similar warnings, and that happened before Steele started snooping around.
We’re not clear what criminal acts Grassley and Graham think that Steele might have committed, but he doesn’t seem convincing as the bad guy in the whole “Russia thing.” Despite the aforementioned quickly proved errors in what he frankly acknowledged was raw and unfinished intelligence gathering, and even though a lot of it has not yet been verified by a subpoena-wielding special counsel probe, much of it holds up well. Steele’s early allegation that the Russians were making a concerted effort to help Trump in the election is now the consensus opinion of America’s intelligence community, Trump’s Central Intelligence director has blamed the Russians for the hacking of the DNC, his Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged Russian hacking attempts on 20 state election offices, all the social media sites have testified to Congress that the Russians used them to spread propaganda, and Trump himself begrudgingly mumbles his slightly equivocating agreement. Steele called the FBI to warn them of Russian meddling, which is more than Donald Trump Jr. did when some Russians he knew to be connected to the Kremlin offered dirt on Clinton, and even the talk radio conspiracy theories are based on the assumption that his word was good enough for the FBI and the FISA court.
There’s also been a lot of solid reporting by respected publications and broadcast programs around the world that backs up Steele’s accounts of Trump’s shady dealings with Russians, the aforementioned idiot Trump Jr. has bragged to the press about all the Russian money flowing into the family’s still wholly-owned businesses, and the special counsel team of investigators includes some lawyers famed for their past money-laundering and Russian mob prosecutions. The special counsel already has a couple of guilty pleas, including the aforementioned idiot Papadopoulos, as well Trump’s short-lived and very Russia-connected national security advisor Mike Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is currently contesting a variety of Russia-related charges, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is clearly in the investigative cross-hairs, and the special counsel has reportedly requested an interview with Trump himself.
Trump’s lawyers will probably protect him from anything short of some written answers to written questions, and his defenders on “Fox & Friends” and talk radio and the Senate intelligence committee will surely come up with some spin, but from our seat on the sidelines the “Russia thing” doesn’t seem likely to end soon. We’ll not venture any predictions how it all turns out, and it may all turn out to be a grand conspiracy between the “deep state” and the “globalists” to prevent Trump from making American great again, but we don’t expect that those Fusion GPS guys and that former British intelligence agent turn out to be the bad guys.

— Bud Norman

An Oratorical Drone Strike

As we write this Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is still talking on the Senate floor, waging a filibuster against the confirmation of Paul Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
All the press reports have dubbed Paul’s effort an “old-fashioned” filibuster to distinguish it from the modern easy-to-use variety, which is any procedural maneuver to block a simple majority, and some could not resist a reference to the climactic scene of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” The marathon speech-making was intended as a protest against the Obama administration’s drone policies, which claim broad powers to strike against Americans without due process, but the tactic might have garnered more attention than the point it was making.

Which is a shame, because the drone policy deserves careful public scrutiny. In testimony before a Senate committee on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder offered an assurance that “the government has no intention” of carrying out drone strikes in America but nonetheless insisted it has a right to do so in an “extraordinary circumstance.” Holder cited the attack on Pearl Harbor and the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, as examples, but questioning by Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz revealed that more ordinary circumstances also suffice. Cruz asked “If an individual sitting quietly at a café in the United States, in your legal judgment, does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil to be killed by a drone?” A discomfiting amount of hemming and hawing followed before Holder replied that he did “not think that that would be an appropriate use of lethal force.” Only when pressed further by Cruz, who noted that he had asked about the legality rather than the propriety of such an attack, did Holder concede that there might be constitutional issues involved.

Such an expansive view of government power seems odd coming from Holder, who had been an outspoken critic of the previous administration’s harsh interrogation techniques, formerly insisted on civilian trials for such terrorists at Halide Sheik Mohammad, and whose law firm had noisily represented several of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but none of the senators bothered to question him about the consistency of his views. Many critics of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism protocols have undergone similar conversions since Obama took office, so perhaps the senators felt it wasn’t remarkable enough to warrant comment.

Some will contend that Obama’s critics are guilty of the same hypocrisy, and there probably are a few conservatives out there who would have felt quite comfortable with the new drone policies under the old administration, but Paul comes from strictly libertarian wing of the Republican and has been opposed to the war on terror’s expansion of government powers since the beginning. Although we have our doubts about Paul’s isolationist tendencies, they serve him well in this instance.

— Bud Norman

The Sex Scandal Sideshow

Although it’s a most embarrassing confession to make, we must admit that we were initially just a bit pleased to learn that Gen. David Petraeus had resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency because of an extramarital affair. Not because we wished to see the previously impeccable reputation of someone who has done great service for his country destroyed, and certainly not because we relished the grief that the revelation has no doubt caused his wife of many years and the rest of their family, but only because we hoped that the addition of a titillating subplot would bring much-needed public attention to an outrageous White House scandal that the national media had been determined to ignore in the last weeks of the presidential election.
Now, however, the titillating subplot threatens to overshadow the bigger, more important story.
The press has been investigating the Petraeus affair with the same gleeful fervor it always brings to the task of piling on fallen heroes, or at least those fallen heroes suspected of certain political party affiliations, and they’ve already uncovered a slew of salacious details. There’s not just a revered married military man having illicit sex with a comely young woman, and under a desk in a war zone, no less, but also the soap operatic spectacle of an accomplished professional woman hacking into her lover’s supposedly highly secured e-mail account to send threatening letters to yet another woman, this woman even younger and comelier, and to add a twist of the sort usually only found in movies by the Coen brothers, there’s an FBI agent investigating it all who develops his own crazed crush on the other other woman and sends her a series of salacious e-communications that include shirtless pictures of himself. We have no idea what story lines are being played out on the reality shows these days, but for pure salacious tawdriness they surely can’t match the Petraeus saga.
There’s more than just a prurient interest here, of course, even if that does seem to be driving the news coverage. All of the reporters can reassure themselves that they’re exposing an appalling lapse of judgment by a man at the very top of the intelligence community, raising legitimate questions about the competence of the investigative agencies that are supposed to be safeguarding against shenanigans, and although it will go largely unmarked the journalistic and publishing establishments that once lauded a woman with such unethical research techniques and poor mental health as Petraeus’ lover has also been called into question. The public has a right to know about all of it, and a certain degree of public scrutiny and opprobrium is appropriate.
Let us hope, though, that these enticing details don’t obscure the more sobering fact of four Americans dying in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. They were sent by their government into a land that had been bombed by American air power into a state of near-anarchy, denied sufficient security after repeated pleas, denied help even as government officials watched their futile struggle for survival on live video, and then the reason for their deaths was lied about for days by numerous government, with the lie making a scapegoat of an obscure filmmaker who had exercised his constitutional right to make a low-budget video. New reports raise fresh suspicions about possible “enhanced interrogations” that the government was conducting in Libya in violation of an executive order that the president has long preened, and there’s still more investigating to be done.
Much of the country would be quite relieved if the buck were to stop with Petraeus. When the general was bringing enough to stability to Iraq to allow for a peaceful and honorable withdrawal of American troops he was pilloried by the left, with the MoveOn.org group calling him “General Betray-Us,” the New York Times giving them a discounted ad rate to do it, and the woman who is now the Secretary-of-State-in-hiding saying that his claims of success required a “suspension of disbelief.” The heroic stature that Petraeus gained when his claims were proved true only further enflamed the left’s resentment, and although the criticism somehow disappeared once he was brought onto the Obama administration it was inevitable they would turn on him again once his usefulness had ended.
The ultimate responsibility for the fiasco, however, lies with the man who appointed Petraeus. Whatever his faults, and there are apparently more of them than had previously been supposed, Petraeus was not the man who failed to provide the necessary security, he was not the man who repeatedly lied about the incident, and he was not the one man who punished an American citizen for criticizing Islam. The man responsible for these outrages was recently re-elected as the President of the United States, and although his role in this mess isn’t very sexy it deserves the greatest degree of scrutiny nonetheless.

— Bud Norman

A Strange Case of Selective Outrage

Do you remember when Karl Rove deliberately endangered the life of Valerie Plame by exposing her identity as a top-secret undercover spy in order to punish her husband for his brave dissent against the war in Iraq? It was in all the papers and on all the news shows, and even gave rise to feverish fantasies on the left about George W. Bush’s top advisor being frog-marched off to prison where he would finally get his just deserts.

You might well have forgotten, and quite understandably so, because it all turned to be bunk. A multi-million dollar investigation led by a special prosecutor eventually discovered that it was not Karl Rove but rather Richard Armitage, a close ally of media darling Colin Powell, who had leaked Plame’s affiliation with the Central Intelligence Agency. The revelation wasn’t illegal, since Plame was actually a desk-bound analyst for the CIA, and it didn’t pose such a danger to her life that it prevented her from posing for glamour photos to accompany a fawning article in Vanity Fair. Nor was the leak made in retaliation for her husband’s brave but inconsequential dissent, which was a public pose at odds with the testimony he had secretly given to the government.

We were reminded of the long-ago incident by a comment posted at the essential Instapundit site, which contrasted the outraged media reaction to that phony controversy with the conspicuously scant coverage of case of the al-Qaeda infiltrator who helped thwart an underwear bombing attempt. This involves an actual double-agent, who was actually exposed, and is now in actual danger of his life, seemingly because someone in the administration was seeking political gain.

The initial news reports emphasized that a plan to explode airplanes full of Americans had been averted, and quoted administration officials who clearly hoped it would impress voters with the James Bond-like efficiency of the Obama counter-terrorism effort, but subsequent and less widely-played have stories proved more embarrassing to the administration. First it was revealed that the would-be bomber was in fact a British national of Saudi Arabian heritage who had been planted in al-Qaeda by British intelligence agencies, and the next wave of stories in the British press revealed that the previous revelations had endangered the agent’s life, possibly allowed the escape of al-Qaeda’s most accomplished bomb-builder, and infuriated the British government.

Congressional Republicans have vowed to look into the matter, but soo far there seems to be no cry from the national media for special prosecutors or frog-marched suspects. Perhaps it’s because Plame was a rather comely blonde woman, and the unnamed but unmasked infiltrator presumably is not, but it does seem darned peculiar.

— Bud Norman