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Another Round of Dueling Scandals

One tale of Russian intrigue is tough enough to follow, but there are two of them running in the news lately, both quite convoluted, they intertwine in all sorts of hard-to-follow ways. There’s really no one to root for, too, and so far no one seems to know anything for sure. There have lately been plot twists in both tales, and they only make things more confusing.
The first story concerns the Russian government’s alleged attempts to interfere with the American presidential election, and alleged collusion with those efforts by the campaign of President Donald Trump, which if true is undeniably a big deal. All the intelligence agencies have concluded the Russians did meddle in the race, although they wisely decline to say if it any effect on the outcome, even if all the leaks and other efforts alleged did seem aimed against Trump’s challenger, because she was so awful a candidate that no one could say with any certainty, and even committees in the Republican-controlled Congress agree the matter deserves further investigation. There’s less consensus about the allegations of Trump or his associates colluding with the meddling, but there’s ample evidence of business ties between state-controlled Russian interests and several of Trump’s associates, as well as countless contacts with Russian officials that were suspicious enough they were lied about, and a past campaign manager and National Security Advisor have already been defenestrated as a result and the Attorney General has been gladly forced to recuse himself from the whole mess. The latest revelation from The Washington Post is that yet another meeting between Trump’s transition team and Russian officials was arranged by the United Arab Emirates, which might or might not be anything nefarious, but it’s surely further proof that the story isn’t going away any time soon no matter how much Trump and his more stubborn supporters might wish it so.
Meanwhile, though, there’s always the ongoing saga of how President Barack Obama’s administration alleged meddled in the election. That all began one early morning when Trump “tweeted” the allegation that Obama — a “Bad (or Sick)” person — had wire-tapped Trump Tower during the “very sacred election process,” and it’s been mutating into an exponentially endless number of stories ever since. So far there’s absolutely no evidence offered by anyone at all that Obama literally wire-tapped Trump Tower, and the White House spokespeople have gone to great lengths to emphasize that of course Trump did not mean that allegation literally, but there has been reason to believe the more carefully vague claim that there was some sort of shenanigans going on. All the post-election leaks have indeed been damaging to Trump, some have surely violated some classified information law or another, and all have come from the kinds of federal government employees who have access to such information and probably preferred to Obama to Trump. Long before anyone considered the possibility of a Trump administration there were stories about Obama’s administration tapping the phones of Fox News and Associated Press reporters, as well as collecting phone information on just about everybody, which came to light after another leak the Russkies were probably in on, and they were also caught in enough big and small lies that almost anything seems possible, even all those talk-radio and YouTube theories about a “deep state” plot to destroy a populist threat.
The latest twist in this plot is that former Obama administration National Security Advisor Susan Rice has been unmasked as the woman who “unmasked” defenestrated Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and other Trump associates in the widely leaked accounts of wire-tapped conservations with Russian officials. Those Trump associates weren’t being wire-tapped, by all accounts, but the Russians officials they were conserving with were under surveillance, so the wire-tapping was “incidental contact” and thus legal and justified by the most strict Republican standards, but “unmasking” the identity of American citizens overhead in such circumstances requires legal justifications that weren’t met to Republican standards, so it was all the talk on the right-wing redoubts of talk radio and YouTube. It didn’t help that it was Rice, well known for peddling such big Obama-era lies as the Benghazi fiasco being the result of an obscure YouTube video rather than the administration’s utterly incompetent handling of the entire Libyan fiasco, or Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being a sympathetic hero rather than a deserter the administration traded five high-level terror leaders for, and that she was careful to say that any unmasking was “absolutely not for any political purposes.” At this point we wouldn’t anything past the Obama administration, but by now we know better than to try to prove that any of it was for a political purpose.
We don’t mind the government listening in on Russian officials no matter which party controls the executive branch, and we understand the reasons for classified information and protections, but we also appreciate knowing if someone in the government is involved in any shenanigans no matter which party is currently in power, and at the moment we wouldn’t put anything past anybody, so we’re following both plots through all the obligatory investigations with a desultory interest. We’ll venture no guesses how either story might end, except that as always the Russians don’t turn out to be the good guys and nobody winds up a unblemished hero.

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No Returns from the Tax Returns

As a general rule tax returns are pretty dull reading, but President Donald Trump is an exception to an awful lot of rules, so of course there was was some interest in the two pages of his 2005 filing that was somehow intriguingly leaked. There wasn’t enough in those two pages to justify some of the resulting coverage, as it turns out, but the resulting hubbub is also newsworthy.
The two purloined pages were reportedly mailed to a journalist and published Trump biographer of little renown, then passed on to Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC cable news network, whose program relentlessly hyped the finding for hours and then spent a full 20 minutes of the long-awaited showtime in further build up before disclosing that there’s really nothing very embarrassing to Trump in the two pages. It was revealed that Trump paid $38 million in income taxes that year, which was more than most Americans did, and it represented a percentage of his income greater than what President Barack Obama or self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders forked over, and there was nothing about deductions claimed for contributions to the Russian mob or anything like that.
We’d call it the biggest journalistic anticlimax since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault, but by now every other media in the critic in the country has already beat us to the analogy. All the ancien regime media cringed in embarrassment, and even such a fellow Trump-bashing liberal as the late night comedian Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist some piercing ridicule. Maddow is the most impeccably liberal voice on television’s most impeccably liberal channel, which has lately been racking up record ratings as liberals seek a “safe place,” but her fellows liberals are understandably miffed about how she muffed the far bigger story they still have hopes for.
Those tax returns reveal Trump would have paid even more if not for something called the Alternative Minimum Tax, which his tax reform proposals would repeal, but that’s a rather arcane policy point, and even such Trump-bashing conservatives as ourselves don’t believe that just because something’s bad for Trump it’s good the country, and it’s certainly not the sort of complicated economic argument you hype all day long and then have two pages of anti-climax to show for it. The bigger story that liberals would prefer to hype is that all we of know of the vast financial empire that Trump has not divested himself from is two pages of a 12-year-old tax return somehow includes only exculpatory evidence. A Trump campaign manager and National Security have already been forced to resign because of contacts with the Russian government Trump has thus far flattered, and his Attorney General had recused himself from an ongoing investigation in broader contracts between the campaign and Russia, and all that’s been released of the tax returns that would surely prove Trump himself has no financial ties with the Russian government were those two not-entirely-exculpatory pages. There are already rumors afloat that Trump himself leaked his $38 million tax bill, then preemptively tweeted his indignant denial of whatever MSNBC might report to cover his tracks, and although even the ancien regime media won’t touch that conspiracy theory we will note it’s at least as plausible as Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad being in on the Kennedy hit, and people are saying, and we’ll leave it up to Congress to investigate if it’s true or not, and let similar Trumpian standards of truth prevail.
There’s something fishy about Trump’s Russophilia even from our rightward Trump-bashing perspective, perhaps all the more so after so many years of Cold War vigilance, so we’re also annoyed that handsome Rachel Maddow fellow has momentarily muddied the media waters. With enemies of the people like these, Trump might be wondering, who needs friends?

— Bud Norman

A Terrorist’s Reading List

We’re the snoopy sorts who will always seize the opportunity of a party to look over the nearest bookshelf, assuming there is one, and glean whatever insights it offers into the host’s mind. The fine folks at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence apparently share the same fascination with other people’s reading habits, and have helpfully compiled a list of the books that our brave fighting men seized during their raid on the home of the late Osama bin-Laden.
It’s a fascinating collection, although much of it is surprisingly familiar to anyone who has lately been invited to the home of an up-to-date American liberal. The list includes “Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies” and “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance” by Noam Chomsky, the esteemed linguist and far-left political analyst, “The Best Democracy that Money Can Buy” by far-left journalist Greg Palast, “Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower” and “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II” by far-left historian William Blum, as well as several other similarly fashionable far-left titles. We couldn’t find Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth” or anything by Maya Angelou or the “magical realists” of South America on the list, but otherwise bin-Laden seemed to share the same literary tastes as President Barack Obama or any other impeccable liberal. We’ve long marveled at the way pro-homosexual, pro-abortion, anti-God leftists have found so much common ground with Islamists who execute homosexuals and subjugate women in an attempt to impose totalitarian theocratic control, but their overlapping reading lists suggest they at least share the same dissatisfaction with western civilization.
When asked about his terrorist reader, Palast told Politico that he was embarrassed only because “It’s clear that Osama was more well-read than our president (though, in George W. Bush’s defense, there’s much to be learned from ‘My Pet Goat.’)” Never mind that Bush’s staff and the press corps that covered his presidency were astounded by his voracious reading habits, or that he routinely read more substantial fare than Palast will ever produce, the liberal urge to feel intellectually superior to that much-ridiculed president is apparently all the more urgent when the topic at hand is a mass-murdering terrorist such as bin-Laden. Palast also complained that investigative reporting is “a profession banned in the U.S.A. after September 11, 2001 — when journalists were replaced by Brian Williams and others wearing his hairdo,” but we recall plenty of journalistic investigations into Bush’s alleged perfidy that lasted a full seven years after that date, and it wasn’t until the Obama administration that the Department of Justice pressed criminal conspiracy charges against a reporter and the likes of Sharyl Atkisson found themselves stymied in their investigations at such media outlets as CBS News and the Brian Williamses and similarly coiffed anchors everywhere stopped questioning authority. We can sympathize with Palast’s disappointment that Bush never bought his books, since as far as we know Bush never bought one of ours, but it hardly seems a sufficient reason to prefer bin-Laden, even if the hit squad had found an old copy of “The Things That Are Caesar’s” in his house.
Evil mass-murdering terrorist that he was, we have to give bin-Laden credit for delving into a wider range of books than most of our left-wing friends. He also had such weightier fare as “The Oxford History of Modern War” by Charles Townsend, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Paul Kennedy, and “The U.S. and Vietnam 1787-1941” by Robert Hopkins Miller, which goes back at least 175 years further than seems necessary. A practical man, bin-Laden also had such drier tomes as “Guerrilla Air Defense: Antiaircraft Weapons and Techniques for Guerrilla Forces” by James Crabtree, “Handbook of International Law” by Anthony Aust, and “Checking Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions” by Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson. We’ve not read any of these books, and therefor cannot comment on their merits, but we are eagerly awaiting the movies. “A Brief Guide to Understanding Islam” by I.A. Ibrahim was also found on bin-Laden’s bookshelf, so we also have to credit him with more interest than the usual left-winger in that subject.
Like so many of the left-wingers we know, bin-Laden also had an avid interest in conspiracy theories, as shown by his ownership of such books as “Black Box Voting, Ballot Tampering in the 20th Century” by Bev Harris, “Bloodlines of the Illuminati” by Fritz Springmeier, and “Conspirators’ Hierarchy: The Committee of 300” by John Coleman, and “Secrets of the Federal Reserve” by Eustace Mullins. We’re awaiting the movies on these books, too, but on the basis of the titles alone we will assume they’re the sort of thing that only a left-winger or someone off the Arab Street would take seriously. More intriguing is bin-Laden’s interest in the various “truther” conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack, as evidenced by such books as “New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11” by David Griffin, and we’d like think it irked hit that some people were trying to deny him credit.
Most striking, though, is the lack of anything entertaining on bin-Laden’s shelf. When we’re inevitably forced to go into hiding from the American government we intend to stockpile plenty of P.G. Wodehouse’s elegant comedies and Scott Phillips’ lurid thrillers and something of a more titillating nature as well, along with the usual how-to books and canned food and ammunition, and it makes us think all the less of bin-Laden that he couldn’t appreciate such fine writing. It’s nice to think that his final days were spent holed up in some desolate hiding place in a third-world hellhole without anything to fun to read, though, and we hope that if he had the internet he never stopped by here.

— Bud Norman