Stone Cold Justice

There’s a longstanding and time-honored tradition in America that the Department of Justice is independent and free from political influence, but President Donald Trump is the newfangled sort of conservative who cares little about longstanding and time-honored traditions. The latest example is Trump’s brazen efforts to secure a lighter sentence for Roger Stone, one of Trump’s several friends and associates who have been convicted in a court of law for serious felonies.
Stone has reveled in his infamy since the days of President Richard Nixon, when he was one of the Nixon reelection committee’s “rat fuckers” — their own chosen name, by the way, and not ours — and his entire career has been one of unabashed sleaziness. He was a partner with Trump campaign manager and convicted felon Paul Manafort in a lobbying firm that specialized in the lucrative business of representing the world’s most odious dictators, and he was found guilty of lying to Congress and intimidating a witness. The prosecutors recommended a sentence of seven to nine years in prison, which Trump has made clear in “tweets” and other public pronouncements he considers too harsh a sentence for his longtime friend and advisor.
Trump is entitled to his opinion, of course, but his opinion shouldn’t matter in the case any more than yours or ours, what with the justice system being a coequal branch of government according to the constitutional order that we more old-fashioned sorts of conservatives still revere. Attorney General William Barr has unsurprisingly ruled against the prosecutors’ recommendations, all four of the distinguished career prosecutors have resigned from the case in protest, with one resigning from the government altogether, and Trump’s opinion might well trump yours or mine or anyone else’s.
On the other hand, maybe it won’t. There’s still a constitutional order that makes the courts a coequal branch of government, and Stone’s fate is for now in the hands of Judge Amy Bergman Jackson, who has a reputation as a stubbornly independent jurist who has recently ruled in Trump’s favor on a lawsuit to compel the president to preserve records of his dealings with foreign governments but is unlikely to bow to presidential pressure for a lighter sentence. She might even choose to demonstrate her independence by throwing the book at Stone, and we wouldn’t blame her if she did.
There will be appeals, of course, as Stone is constitutionally entitled to, and he might well wind up before some Trump-appointed and more friendly judge, but he has been found guilty of serious felonies in a court of law and will likely face some prison time unless he gets a presidential pardon. That’s well within the realm of probability, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Manafort also gets a get-out-jail-free card, along with the other five people convicted of felonies in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
That investigation documented numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government that it showed was working on the Trump campaign’s behalf, but did not find proof of any conspiracy, and declined to bring charges of obstruction of justice because of a justice department policy against bringing any sorts of charges against any sitting president, so the Trump position is that the investigation was invalid and so are any of the seven guilty verdicts that resulted. It’s an argument the Trump fans will surely buy, but it’s a hard sell to the rest of us,
Stone’s a Nixon-era old man, and nine years might well prove a death sentence, and for all his freely admitted sleazebaggery he’s only even threatened violence on one provable occasion, so maybe the prosecutors’ recommendation is a bit harsh. That’s just our opinion, though, and we think the matter its probably  best left to the long-standing and time-honored traditions of America’s independent justice system. Here’s hoping that’s how it works out.

— Bud Norman

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

One of the most compelling subplots of President Donald Trump’s top-rated reality show is the melodramatic marriage of Kellyanne and George Conway. The distaff Conway is a senior White House advisor and ferociously loyal apologist for Trump, her husband is a respected lawyer with impeccable conservative credentials who is also an outspoken critic of Trump, and lately their wacky relationship has become a much-watched spin-off.
Trump “tweeted” on Tuesday that the husband of his most senior White House advisor is a “total loser,” George Conway “tweeted” back that Trump was stupid to draw such attention to their “Twitter” spat, and Kellyanne Conway told reporters she was too busy to taking care of four children to be able to comment. On the whole, we’d say that George Conway got the best of it.
George Conway and his wife’s boss have often clashed in the past, but this time around it started with Conway’s “tweets” citing the definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, suggesting that Trump seems to have all the symptoms. The “diagnostic criteria” for “NPD” include; “a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)”; “Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love”; “Requires excessive admiration”; “Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)”; and “Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends),” among other things.
Now that Trump has drawn our attention to the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, we have to agree with Mr. Conway that the President of the United States does indeed to seem check every box, and expect that many new readers of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental disorders will agree. Even Trump’s most loyal apologists concede his arrogance and braggadocio and authoritarian tendencies, and instead argue that’s what a leader needs to make America great again, and that at least he’s not Hillary Clinton. This time around they’ll echo Trump’s argument that the husband of his most senior White House advisor is a “total loser,” and probably won’t notice that it does little to bolster confidence in the President of the United States.
As Trump’s most loyal apologist, Kellyanne Conway won’t get away with no comment forever, and at some point she’ll have to somehow explain why her boss doesn’t suffer from a debilitating mental disorder and her husband isn’t a total loser. It’s a hard job, but we guess that’s why she makes the big bucks. In any case, we wish her well in the effort, if only for the sake of the four kids and her troublesome husband, whom we quite like and truly hope will leave the reputation of the Conway name intact at the end of this interminable reality show. We have our own family disputes about Trump and his personality disorders and whether they’re good or bad for the country, and we’re glad they’re not playing out televisions and all the papers, so wish the Conways the best.
As for Trump, he’s so awesome we assume he can take care of himself.

— Bud Norman

Health Care Reform in Surgery Recovery

Arizona Sen. John McCain is currently recovering from surgery, and for as long as that takes so is his Republican party’s attempts to reform America’s health care system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has once again delayed a vote on a Senate health care proposal, not because McCain is a former party presidential nominee or exceedingly senior congressional member or otherwise an especially respected member of the party, but rather because at this point not a single a Republican vote can be spared. This point arrives after seven years of every establishment Republican and every anti-establishment Republican vowing repeal and replacement of the hated Obamacare law, with a solid Republican majority in the House and a sufficient one in the Senate and some sort of Republican in the White House, so the Republican effort to make good on that constantly made promise seems conspicuously sickly.
The prognosis for McCain’s recovery is reportedly good, and we certainly wish him our very best and offer our prayers, but the chances for that long-awaited Republican repeal and replace effort seem more iffy. Health care is complicated, as that putatively Republican president discovered shortly after he took office, and the politics of the issue are more complicated yet, so it’s foolish to make any bold promises such as the all of the Republicans have been making. The party’s congressional majorities might yet pass something, and that some sort of Republican president will surely sign it, but at this point there’s no guessing how that might turn out well.
That hated Obamacare law is indeed hateful, full of all the restrictions on individual liberty and increased costs for the middle class that the Republicans predicted, utterly lacking in the promises the Democrats made about keeping your doctor and your plan and pocketing a big chunk of change at the end of year, and the Republicans won three state congressional election and one-of-two presidential elections on the issue. The law never polled well, even when Obama was winning re-election, so replacing the damned thing should have been an easy enough task for a Republican congress and Republican president to do. Replacing it, though, has proved tricky even for the co-author of “The Art of the Deal.”
Some of Obamacare’s most unworkable provisions have always polled well, such as that guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions, and at least a few million photogenic and sympathetic folks have derived advantages from it, and it also expanded Medicaid coverage to a few more million folks in states that voted in Republican governors and senators and representatives. Obamacare still doesn’t poll particularly well, but both the House and Senate versions of repealing and replacing it are faring far worse, and at this point in this age of cynical pragmatism we can’t hardly blame any Republicans up for re-election in a year and a few month’s time.
Those poor politicians’ political calculations are further complicated by the complex nature of Republican politics at this point. One of the unsure Republican votes is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who voted against Obamacare when it happened and is about as right-wing a Republican as you could hope for in a such a liberal state as Maine but is nonetheless reviled by the all the right-wing radio talkers in the red states and is voting against the Senate bill because it’s too austere. Another wavering vote is Sen. Ran Paul from McConnell’s own state of Kentucky, whose standing with the right-wing radio talkers is hard to assess at the moment, because the thinks the bill too spend-thrifty. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is holding out for an amendment that would allow young and healthy consumers the choice of low-cost and low-coverage plans for catastrophic care, which warms our traditional Republican hearts, but the Republican president called him “Lyin’ Ted” all the right-wing talk radio hosts aren’t sure what to make of the Cruz amendment.
Almost everyone on talk radio and the rest of the party still seems on board with that putatively Republican president, who ran on promises of coverage for everybody and the government paying for it and no cuts to Medicaid and lower costs somehow resulting, and he now tells his televangelist interviewer that he’s waiting in the Oval Office with his pen to sign anything the Republicans might put on his desk. He’s not given any speeches or even any “tweets” about why the Republican plan is so great it’ll make your head spin, but if the Republicans in congress do give him something to sign he’ll gladly take credit for it. If they don’t, he’ll be able blame it on those gutless and devious moderate and conservative establishment types of Republicans that he that he vowed to destroy, and we’re sure all those talk show hosts will heartily agree.
There’s a Republican case to be made for those widely unpopular House and Senate bills the Republicans came up, and for the compromise that should have been reached with complete Republican control of the government, and they might yet make it. Such Republicans as that putatively Republican president keep talking about how shrewd McConnell is at getting things done, and we note that he held a Supreme Court seat open long enough for the putatively Republican president to take credit for getting a conservative confirmed, but the Republican president ran on the argument that he or any other professional politician couldn’t get anything done, and that only a real estate developer could do the job.
If the Republicans don’t get the job done there will be plenty of blame to spread around, and we’re sure they’ll all do their best to spread it elsewhere. If something does get passed and sign, they’ll probably all claim credit, then start deflecting the blame somewhere down the electoral road.

— Bud Norman

O Canada

We’re old enough to have been around when Pierre Trudeau was transforming Canada into the one of the world’s wussiest nations, and well remember how very envious was the American left. Trudeau was unabashedly socialist, considered an intellectual, and had a tabloid-worthy sex life, so he embodied everything Americans liberals would be looking for in a national leader over the subsequent decades. Even after Trudeau’s disastrous reign came to an end Canada retained a reputation for enlightened liberalism, with its health care system and gun-shyness and apologetic foreign policy and exquisitely sensitive multi-culturalism constantly cited by the likes of Michael Moore to shame the relatively conservative rubes south of its border.
We’re also old enough, alas, to have arrived at a point in our lives when we’re pining for the sort of national leadership that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is now providing Canada. The sobering thought occurred to us again when Harper released a statement of unequivocal support for Israel’s right to respond however it wishes to the murderous rocket attacks on its people by the despicable terror gang Hamas, with none of the absurd moral relativism or bossy insistence on a suicidal two-state solution with a Hamas-affiliated government that our own abashedly socialist and considered-an-intellectual national leader was propounding in an op-ed piece in an Israeli magazine just before the latest attacks by that very same despicable terror gang starting lobbing rockets at civilian targets across Israel. Admitting the wisdom of the Canadian way is still uncomfortable for us, but it’s becoming all too familiar.
Harper is also quite right about the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would benefit both Canada and America and keep inexpensive oil out of the hands of Chinese industries that will use it in more environmentally unfriendly ways, but our political leadership is too beholden to environmental fantasists to allow it. Canada’s economy was largely unscathed by the financial meltdown that occurred in America and elsewhere because it had wisely declined to require its banks to loan gazillions of dollars to un-creditworthy home buyers, has further enriched itself under Harper’s leadership by encouraging rather than discouraging the exploitation of its vast natural resources through new technologies, and is now several spots ahead of the United States on the Heritage Foundation’s reliable rankings of each country’s economic freedom. Harper has even begun an anti-carbon tax coalition with the conservative government of Australia, which came to power after the liberals’ insane cap-and-trade scheme proved calamitous for that island continent’s economy, and it’s almost enough to make us think that punting on third down isn’t such a bad idea.
One of those famously smart French intellectuals is warning Britons that the European Union is demographically dying and they’d be better off casting their lot with the Anglosphere, which strikes us as good advice, but for the first time in our long lives we don’t expect for the Americans to take their usual lead in that coalition. Perhaps in another two-and-a-half years the United States can assume its rightful position among that handful of nations that the only ones to be on the right side of every battle against tyranny during the 20th Century, but until then we can only envy the leadership to the north. There’s some consolation is knowing that the once-envious liberals are just as discombobulated by it all, but it is faint.

— Bud Norman

Left Goes Right, Right Goes Left

At some point in the last fifty years or so everyone in America seems to have switched sides.

The notion occurred to us during a recent conversation with an old friend about fluoridating the local water supply. Fluoridation of the water supply has lately been a hot topic here in Wichita because this is one of the biggest cities in America that doesn’t do it, and a couple of public advocacy groups have recently launched a well-financed public relations campaign to rectify that oversight. So far as we can tell the pro-fluoridation forces are the usual gang of high-minded public health do-gooders, but we’ve been surprised to notice that most of the opposition to fluoridation, once a cause associated exclusively with far right wackos, seems to be coming from far left wackos such as our friend. We have no strong opinions regarding the issue, and will continue to drink from the taps regardless of the outcome of the debate, but we couldn’t restrain ourselves from teasing our friend about how she’s gone all John Birch Society on us and then taunting her with our best imitation of Sterling Hayden’s “precious bodily fluids” monologue from “Dr. Strangelove.”

Fluoridation is by no means the only issue where the right and left seem to have simultaneously crossed over to a new position. We’re also old enough to remember a time when the defense of Israel was a cause dear only to the hearts of liberals, with Hollywood’s lefties churning out such pro-Israel fare as “Exodus” and “Cast a Giant Shadow,” while conservatives were skeptical of the chances that a Jewish state could ever flourish in the Middle East. The young lefties of our acquaintance are largely unaware that this was ever the case, and indeed most have been surprised to learn that a liberal icon such as Robert Kennedy was killed by a Palestinian assassin because of his staunch support of Israel, while even the rare young conservative typically assumes that his side has been supporting Israel all along.

The liberal enthusiasm for Israel seems to have begun to wane around the same time that nation realized its survival depended on the sort of high-tech military that only a modern and capitalist economy can sustain, and gave up its fantasy of an agrarian socialist kibbutz society. We also suspect that one casualty of the war of ’67 was Israel’s status as an underdog, and that ever since the bomb-throwing Palestinians have had a more compelling claim to the all-important status of victim. The growing conservative support for Israel is likely a consequence of the Catholic Church’s sincere efforts to atone for its past anti-Semitism and the evangelicals’ increasing philo-Semitism, both positive developments as far as we’re concerned, as well as the common sense observation that Judaism is by no means the most troublesome of the religions that have come out of the Middle East.

Anyone old enough to have witnessed the hippie era will recall the left’s former aversion to law enforcement, better known by such slang as “pigs” and “the fuzz,” and will therefore be surprised to note that it is now conservative organizations that most outspokenly oppose “no knock raids” and efforts to outlaw self-defense against rogue police officers. Free speech was once a rallying cry of the left, which now spends its energy crafting campus speech codes and efforts to outlaw anything that might be construed as hateful, but the now the First Amendment absolutists are found almost exclusively on the right. The “individual mandate” requirement that Americans purchase health insurance originated in such conservative think tanks as The Heritage Foundation but become a conviction of the left, which has lately stopped trying to argue that the uninsured are hapless victims and has reverted to the conservative’s more persuasive argument that the uninsured are lazy freeloaders, while conservatives have now adopted the view that they simply want to be left alone to deal with the consequences of their own decisions.

Even such fundamental concepts as individualism and the common good seem to have found new homes along the ideological spectrum. The counter-cultural left once preached the gospel of doing one’s own thing and rebelling against the stifling conformity of conventional wisdom, but now it cheers on a president who explicitly argues that the credit for an individual’s success belong entirely to the collective and that the fruits of that success belong mostly to his government, while the right is waving Gadsden flags and arguing for the primacy of the individual no matter how crude he might seem to respectable opinion.

Such shifts can be expected every time there is a change of party in the White House and Congress, of course. The liberals who were once so ashamed by a war in Afghanistan, a detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, and drone strikes in Pakistan are now predictably silent about the same moral offenses, while conservatives remain ideologically consistent but not nearly so proud and enthusiastic as they were during a previous administration. The legal validity of executive privilege has similarly changed with a change of party in the White House. Since Obama’s inauguration we have noticed that the “Question Authority” bumper stickers have disappeared from the Volvos and VWs and started to appear on pickups.

Such inconsistencies are a normal and thus far tolerable feature of democracy, but the recent realignments seem to represent a more permanent tectonic shift in the cultural and political landscape of the country. The “long march through the institutions” that ‘60s radical Antonio Gramsci envisioned to take control of academia, the entertainment media, seminaries, and other key opinion-making institutions has largely succeeded, and the liberals are obliged to defend it no matter the consequences. Liberals are also in the position of defending the political structures that have been erected since the New Deal, no matter the unsustainable costs of their entitlements, and the unionized police forces seem willing to help in the cause.

So liberalism is now the ideology of the status quo, the conservatives are the anti-establishment iconoclasts, and the lefty peaceniks are the ones worried about their precious bodily fluids. It’s all quite discombobulating, but that’s what we get for living so long.

— Bud Norman