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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

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Our Plea for Antidisestablishmentarianism

The term “deep state,” like “establishment” or “globalist” or “elites,” is one of those vaguely defined but very sinister coinages that have lately infected the political discourse. We first became aware of the “deep state” when it started showing up at the conspiracy theory we visit for yucks, but then it was picked by the right ring radio talkers on the AM and some of the hosts on Fox News, and now it’s being “tweeted” by President Donald Trump.
“Crooked Hillary’s top aid Human Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols,” Trump wrote in his characteristic presidential prose. “She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must act? Also on Comey and others”
Which we found troubling for several reasons. Aside from the mangled syntax and arbitrary capitalizations and missing punctuation marks, and the usual difficulty in understanding just what the hell guy is trying to say, Trump seems to be calling the imprisonment of a vanquished political foe, and that strikes us as a bit banana republic-ish. He’s also calling for Abedin’s imprisonment based on a mere accusation, apparently from a very friendly conservative web site, and we’d like to think he has better sources of information at hand. Given all the accusations that have been leveled against Trump, from far more numerous and reliable sources, we also think he’d prefer that the due processes of the justice system be strictly adhered to before anyone gets locked up. What’s most worrisome, though, is that Trump regards all those other news sources as “fake news” and his own Justice Department as part of some nebulous but undoubtedly nefarious “deep state.”
The conspiracy theorists who first coined the term used it to describe a very specific plot by certain high-ranking members of the bureaucracy, the worst of them being those wily spooks in the intelligence community, and so far as we can tell it’s all part of some broader international conspiracy involving the Illuminati or the Masons or whoever else is actually running everything from the behind the scenes. By the time talk radio talkers and Fox hosts started using it “deep state” seemed to mean the entirety of the permanent civil bureaucracy, with the far ore plausible theory that they collectively had a vested interest in the continued growth of government and were thus resistant to conservative governance, but they sill made it sound more sinister than the usual boring matters of competing political interests. So far as we can tell, Trump defines the “deep state” as anyone in government — including the co-equal judicial and legislative branches — who would dare challenge his authority.
The conspiracy theorists and talk radio talkers and those Fox hosts and especially Trump himself seem to have a similar disdain for anyone who would challenge presidential authority, at least for so long as Trump is president, so the “deep state” is merely a small part of a broader “establishment” that seeks to prevent him from making America great. The “establishment” includes all the “fake news,” of course, but also all of those “globalist” multi-national corporations that have been exploiting American workers, and all the pointy-headed academicians and Hollywood hot shorts and so called policy experts with their supposedly fancy-schmantzy degrees who comprise the “elites.”
We’re no fans of Huma Abedin, and we loathed her longtime boss since way back when Trump was contributing to his campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the best Secretary of State ever, but we’d hate to see her “tweeted” off to prison just to see a blow struck against the “deep state.” When the Trump rally crowds chanted “lock her up” about Abedin’s boss during the campaign, which always struck us as chillingly banana republic-ish, they did so with a deep-seated that only some deep and well-established could have allowed such nasty women to achieve power, and that only such a gifted orator with such man-sized hands as Donald Trump could see that justice was done, but that all looks rather ridiculous right now.
Trump still believes a “rigged system” cost him three million votes and popular landslide, but the people who secretly run everything could spread less than a hundred thousand of them around Pennsylvania and Michigan and a couple of other very closely contested states, and he won an electoral victory wound up president. Clinton is now an unemployed grandmother wanting around the woods of upstate New York, widely reviled within her own party and forever to be known as the woman who lost to the likes of Donald Trump, and no longer poses a threat to anybody. The “deep state” couldn’t keep Abedin’s once politically-prominent husband from going to jail for texting dirty pictures of his private parts to underage girls, or provide her some sinecure to provide for their child, and she no longer seems at all frightening.
The combined forces of the “deep state” and the “establishment” and the “globalists” and “elites” don’t seem very scary, either, given that they couldn’t keep the likes of Trump from winning the White House. There’s still a permanent bureaucracy, but if you get a government check or might need a Federal Emergency Management Agency helicopter to rescue you from a foot you’ll be glad of that. There are still multinational corporations, but we note that the tax bill Trump recently signed gives them a huge break by adopting the “territorial” laws that bring America more into line with the global market. The “fake news” is still sticking around, but they’re far more reliably true than Trump’s “tweets,” and these days there are plenty talk radio shows and Fox News programs and conservative web sites around to grouse about what Clinton and Abedin once did. A lot of the pointy-headed policy experts with the fancy-schmantzy academic credentials are lately consigned to think tank work, or even worse, but the rank amateurs who’ve replaced them don’t seem be faring much better.
What used to be called “conservatism” held that certain institutions which had been painstakingly established over generations of trial-and-error were necessary to maintain a civilizations progress, and that these included an independent judiciary and a free press along with scholarly class and even a permanent bureaucracy. These days conservatism seems regard all that as the “establishment,” and the rallying cry of the Trumpian right is “burn it down.” We hate find ourselves sympathizing with the likes of Abedin and her boss, but that’s not what we signed up for.
Trump seems eager to burn it all down before before those “deep state” lawyers in the special counsel office bring any more indictments against his campaign and administration officials, or perhaps Trump himself, but he should hope it sticks around long enough to offer him some due process. He’s been accused of doing things even worse than Abedin has been accused of doing, or so we read somewhere, and he’s currently the president, which makes him somewhat scarier than a single mom seeking low-visibility employment, and the crowds can turn on a dime, and chants of “lock him up” are already roaring from all sorts of non-elite places.
— Bud Norman

Hillary’s Back, and Nobody’s Got It

Hillary Clinton is back in the news these days, which we’d think that would be the last the place she’d want to be. She’s got a new book to plug, though, so we can well understand how she’d be glad of any publicity she can get. As a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive first woman President of the United States she’s understandably uncomfortable outside the spotlight, too, and after the past couple of years one can hardly blame her for wanting to get a few things off her chest.
We haven’t yet read Clinton’s book, and probably won’t get around to it for long while, but the publicity campaign’s shrewdly pre-released excerpts and the accompanying interviews with the author have been unavoidable, and they’ve all been undeniably newsworthy. The book is titled “What Happened” — we admire her restraint in not adding a certain common curse word, given the current degraded state of political discourse — and follows with a number of explanations that are likely to generate sales but won’t please any Republican and seems to have annoyed most of the Democrats.
These days most Democrats are understandably annoyed that Clinton is back in the news at all, given how she always reminds all those increasingly reluctant Trump voters why they voted for him in the first place. Nor does the growing base of her increasingly leftward party appreciate her criticisms of self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose criticisms of her lucrative relationship with Wall Street interests she blames for making Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” taunts seem plausible to the undecideds. She blames the Democratic establishment as well as its anti-establishment for her loss, admits to a couple of minor mistakes, and although she goes on with some very serious accusations against President Donald Trump she seems to be relenting her longstanding leadership in the Democratic party.
Although we’ve long loathed that horrible woman, from way back in the days when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever, we regard her as a formidable foe and take due heed of a couple of her parting warnings. She truly was compromised by all that money she’d been paid by Goldman-Sachs and the rest of those Wall Street guys, and Trump didn’t need Sanders to tell him that, but a more honest Clinton would admit it and then note that Trump’s administration was as fully-staffed as ever by Goldman-Sachs guys, which might have helped stave off the leftward lurch in the Democratic party that might conceivably ensure a second Trump administration. Her conspiracy theories about Russia’s internet disinformation efforts being coordinated with domestic partisan agents lately don’t seem at all far-fetched, and we advise our Republican readers to take them very seriously.
As loathsome as she was, Clinton was always a formidable foe, so by  the same Republican instincts with which we regard all those fallen Confederates we wish her well, and won’t begrudge any small monument the Democrats might raise some day. We hope she’ll use those swollen book royalties to lavish gifts on her grandchildren and contribute to other worthy charities, and use that influence-peddling foundation of hers to good means, enjoy her walks in the upper state New York woods, and find God’s grace in those Methodist services she’s long attended. Should her admittedly impressive intellect and many years as a First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive first woman President of the United States yield any other noteworthy warnings, we’ll try to take note.
— Bud Norman

Just Another Manic Tuesday

The weather’s lately been great around here, the stock markets are up, the unemployment rate is down, and the casualties in America’s ongoing shooting wars are so low that most Americans have forgotten they’re still being waged, but pretty much everything else in the news these days is not helpful to President Donald Trump. Although leaked drip-by-drip there’s been an extraordinary amount news flooding forth lately, too, and much of it raises concerns even in the best of times.
On a by-now typical Tuesday the headlines included the revelation that Trump wrote the misleading statement his son released about the son’s and son-in-law’s and campaign manager’s already embarrassing meeting with Russian operatives during the campaign, and another one about a lawsuit alleging Trump’s involvement in a Trump-friendly media outlet’s propagation of a discredited story about how a murdered Democratic staffer rather than the Russians had hacked the Democratic party’s e-mails. There was some further fallout from a couple of speeches Trump gave way back last week, speculation about why Trump hasn’t yet signed the Russian sanctions bill that both chambers of Congress passed with veto-proof majorities, and stories about other acts of congressional Republican rebellion on issues from health care to tax reform, as well as all the latest followups about all the recent shake-up in the White House staff.
None of it will suffice to shake the faith of Trump’s most loyal supporters, but all of it requires some pretty creative explaining.
The previously-offered creative explanations for that already embarrassing meeting between Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign and some Russian operatives already  required some especially creative re-explanation. When the broader story that the Russians were meddling in America’s election first surfaced the Trump campaign explained that it was just as likely to be some fat guy on his bed and that in any case it didn’t have anything to do with the campaign, and president-elect Trump’s transition team explained that none of them had ever had any meetings with any Russians. After that the administration’s national security advisor resigned after some Russian meetings were undeniably uncovered, the Attorney General recused himself from all Russia matters after some of his meetings were similarly disclosed, and then The New York Times reported about that confab between the president’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager, so further explanation was required.  A second consecutive daily New York Times scoop that the meeting was really about Russian government-provided dirt on the opposition wasn’t denied but was rather originally explained as a harmless few minutes in Trump Tower with some Russian lawyer or other the son didn’t know that turned out to be a boring conversation about Americans adopting Russian babies.
The offficial White House explanation to the second scoop was that it turned out to be a boring conversation about Russian adoptions anyway. Before The New York Times got a chance to unleash a third consecutive scoop with its leaked -emails, in the interests of “full disclosure” Trump’s son preemptively “tweeted” the entire e-mail chain that showed the meeting was set up by a music publicist Trump’s son knew to be a reliable lackey of a Russian oligarch he knew to be a reliable lackey of the Russian dictatorship, who was explicitly promising information that came directly from the Russian government’s efforts to support the Trump campaign.
None of that shook the faith of Trump’s most loyal supporters, who were satisfied that at least according the reporting Trump himself wasn’t tied to any of this nonsense. The Washington Postthen  won a victory in its newspaper war with the Times on Tuesday when it reported that Trump himself had drafted the son’s misleading original statement about the embarrassing meeting, though, and it was pretty much confirmed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and sometime spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway saying that Trump had only done “what any father would do.” We’ve been blessed with a far better father than was Donald Trump Jr., and we’re sure he would have sagely advised us admit all our embarrassing secrets before the New York Times got the chance to spill them, no matter what consequences he might endure as result, but we expect that Trump’s most loyal supporters will accept the administration’s latest explanation.
Right after The Wall Street Journal our father’s favorite source for news is Fox News, which is a defendant in that lawsuit about a story that blamed the hacking of the Democratic Party on a murdered staffer rather than the Russians. The plaintiff in the suit was one of the main sources for the story, which was quickly retracted by the network but continued to gain traction on one of its “opinion shows” and the host’s widely-heard radio show, and it also requires a lot explaining. There’s a lot of litigation to be done before it’s proved to any Trump supporter’s satisfaction that the president had anything to do with it, but we’ve heard enough of the apologetics on “Fox & Friends” and Sean Hannity to give the conspiracy theory at least  some credence. The rest of the network has pretty much piled on with the rest media atop the dung heap of recent Trump news, but all the intelligence agencies agree that it was Russia and not some 400-pound fat guy or whoever else was behind the undeniable election meddling, and The Washington Post’s latest scoop about that Fox News scandal seems to require some pretty darned creative explaining.
All the lesser blather about those weeks-old presidential speeches now pits the Boys Scouts of America and America’s police chiefs against the president, and Trump’s various feuds with the Republican congress are also out in the open, and all the Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare seem deader than ever, so there’s more explaining to do than even the combined efforts of Sanders and Conway are up to. Even Trump’s most loyal supporters can’t credit him with the great weather we’ve been having around here lately, and the gains in the stock market and unemployment pale in comparison to what was achieved despite the dreadful Obama years after the Great Recession, and despite the low casualties and gains against the Islamic State there’s reason to believe we’re losing ground to the Russians and their Iranian allies in our ongoing shooting wars, so it’s hard to shake a uncertain feeling about all the news.
Trump’s climate change skepticism seems at least momentarily vindicated, his free market inclinations are working out well enough though they aren’t yet  passed into law, and for now there aren’t any brand new shooting wars with more mass casualties. Everything else in the latest flood of news, though, despite the leak-proof nature of the latest White House shake-up, seems foreboding.

— Bud Norman

Tweeting Up Another Controvery

President Donald Trump “tweeted” up another political storm over the weekend, this time with a series of messages that alleged President Barack Obama had tapped his telephone and asked if that was legal and bet that a lawyer could make a good case that it was illegal and compared it to the Watergate scandal and described the previous president as a “Bad (or sick) guy.” According to the president’s more ardent defenders in the comments section of all the resulting new stories it was another brilliant move, and given all the other outrageous “tweets” that somehow landed Trump in the White House that might yet prove true, but for now it strikes us as damned odd behavior by a President of the United States.
All though there were four “tweets” that started at 5:49 a.m. on Saturday the medium only allows for 140 characters including spaces in each thought, so all of the media reports gleefully and quite undeniably reported that Trump offered no evidence whatsoever for the explosive charges and damning characterizations. All the media also noted that a short time later Trump also “tweeted” a taunt about Arnold Schwarzenegger leaving “Celebrity Apprentice,” but the allegations about Obama were even bigger news. The story spilled into the little-watched but widely-quoted Sunday morning news shows, where not only every Republican congressperson but all the Trump spokespeople stammered as they took a stab at some explanation. Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Republican Arkansas Governor and Trump ally Mike Huckabee, was reduced to telling the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” that “I will let the president speak for himself.”
Trump might well have something to say for himself, but so far his source for the allegations seems to be a story that ran shortly before the “tweets” began at Brietbartnews.com, the news site that was formerly run by Trump consigliere Steve Bannon, who once described it as a “platform for the alt-right,” which summarized a rant shrieked by conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, who had shrieked it on the radio the day before. Levin is not at all a Trump sycophant and very often right despite his tendency to shriek, and he cited reporting by the very reliable Andrew McCarthy of the National Review, an impeccable conservative publication also stubbornly resistant to Trump’s charms, that the Department of Justice did indeed seek a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wire tap on certain Trump-related phones and did keep tabs on a computer served linked between Trump’s business headquarters and a suspicious Russian bank. There have also been a number of leaks from the intelligence communities and other federal agencies clearly motivated by political animus, and all that right-wing radio talk about a “deep state” rebellion isn’t entirely far-fetched.
After eight long years of Obama and all his scandals even such anti-Trump conservatives as ourselves wouldn’t put it past that damned old Democrat and his thoroughly politicized Justice Department to be up to some Nixonian dirty tricks, and if Trump has anything to back it up we’ll be rubbing our hands with anticipation to hear it. There’s nothing in any of those 140-character-including-spaces “tweets” that comes remotely close to backing it up, though, and all those spokespeople’s more expansive sound bites on the Sunday shows were no more convincing. For now the Democrats are gloating that Trump either fabricated the story out of whole cloth and no wire tapes were ever sought, and that if any were indeed granted that meant a federal judge had decided there was sufficient suspicion about Trump’s dealings with Russian interests to warrant it, which is another favorite Democratic talking point of the moment, and that in any case Trump will be hard-pressed to prove Obama’s direct involvement, which eight long years have taught us is undeniably true. The rest of it should be convincing to that portion of the public that isn’t hopelessly partisan, too, and Trump will need better answers that what his people came up with on Sunday morning to counter that.
Maybe Trump is just baiting the trap so he can spring it on Obama at just the opportune time, as he did with that brilliant tactical admission that Obama was born in the United States, period, or offering just another distraction from the ongoing Russia stories that have already led to the resignations of a campaign chairman and National Security Advisor and the recusal of an Attorney General, and it really is a brilliant masterstroke. Then again, maybe Trump just can’t helping “tweeting” stupid things based on what he’s just read at some offbeat internet site at an ungodly early hour on a Sunday morning. We’re no fans of Obama, but Trump does strike us as that kind of guy, and it’s easy to imagine both of them looking very bad when all this sorts out.

— Bud Norman

Invasion of the Celebrities

Oprah Winfrey is reportedly considering running for president in 2020, which is the sort of celebrity gossip we used to happily ignore but now have to take seriously in the age of President Donald Trump. She’s a more popular television personality than Trump was before launching his political career, has just as much government experience, and would no doubt get the same lavish media attention Trump received in a presidential race. Her penchant for leaving gifts under the seats would play well with many voters, too, and her warmer and fuzzier public persona might prove all the more appealing after four years of Trump.
There’s also talk of running the musicians Kid Rock or Ted “Motor City Madman” Nugent as Republican candidates for a Michigan Senate seat, billionaire sports owner and reality television star Mark Cuban is apparently starting to wonder why he couldn’t be president, rapper and Trump pal Kanye West has been making threats of a run for years, and former sitcom star Roseanne Barr already has a sixth-place finish in a presidential race and next time around all her crackpot conspiracy theories might not sound so crazy. Celebrities have leaped into high office before, including Sonny Bono and that guy who played the doctor on “Love Boat” to the House of Representatives, a former Saturday Night Live wag to the Senate, and professional wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura and professional body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger to the governorships of populous states.
The country had also elected a former Hollywood actor to the presidency, but only after he’d been president of a national labor union and served two terms as governor of the most populous state and many more years as an elder statesman of conservatism, and none of the current crop of celebrity contenders can boast such credentials. Kid Rock’s heavy-metal-rap-country stage show used to include a sidekick midget, so he can credibly claim to stand by the little man, and Nugent’s guitar solo on The Amboy Duke’s “Baby Please Don’t Go” still sounds better than that Elton John and Rolling Stones stuff Trump always plays at his rallies for some reason or another, but that’s not what we’re looking for in a candidate to what’s supposed to be the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. Cuban strikes us as hipster version of Trump, and he traded Steve Nash from the Dallas Mavericks just before his Most Valuable Player Seasons, and unless he’s darned good on that reality show we’re not that impressed. Kanye West is kookier than Rosanne Barr, too, and the past track record of celebrity apprentices is not promising. Sonny Bono and the Love Boat guy were mediocrities in the House, that Saturday Night Live guy is as much an embarrassment to Minnesota as the pro wrestler was, and Schwarzenegger was far better in “Conan the Barbarian” than he was in the role of Governor of California.
Still, celebrities start with certain advantages if they decide to make a career change to politics. They start with bigger fan bases than mere politicians, for one, because everyone hates politicians. That popularity also derives from a certain image that can be easily carried into the ring, too, such as Trump’s blunt-spoken take-charge businessman shtick, or the sensitive and caring sincerity that Winfrey so effortlessly fakes, and we assume that even the likes of Rock and Nugent and West and Barr have some qualities people find so admirable that they’ve become rich and famous. There’s all that lavish attention the media pay to them, too, while the only time a mere public servant ever gets in the papers is when he’s raising taxes or cutting spending or letting budgets go in the red, because the reality of the real world is that those are really the only things anybody in office can do.
Even the most blunt-talking celebrities aren’t quite so frank as those limited choices and make a case for what they consider the least worst of them, so they peddle the notion that they overcome such dreary realities such as they’ve seemingly done in their own real lives. Celebrity is a lucrative industry into itself because it sells something people will always want, a vicarious experience of a life unconstrained by carpooling the kids to school and hearing rumors of lay-offs around the water cooler and coming home to a spouse who’s not aging as well as hoped and sitting on the couch to watch whatever’s on the tube, and the profit margins are high because you don’t have to produce anything real. Politics is a pretty lucrative business, too, especially if you have the same ethics as the average celebrity, but its results are always all too tangible.
People used to be fond of saying that “politics is the art of the possible,” but at this point in our popular culture, when one can be any race or sex or species of their choosing, and the conspiracies about a cabal of shape-shifting reptilian Jesuits and Jews and Masons and future presidential nominee Lady Gaga are part of an Illumnati that’s running everything are gaining wide currency, the idea that some things just aren’t possible is hopelessly out of fashion. Celebrity reality will likely prevail for a while, be it the tough Trump style or the softer Winfrey variety, or heaven help us even the West and Rock kind, but real reality always wins n the end.
They’d also say “politics is show biz for ugly people,” back in the day. We used to think that amusing and apt, but it’s no longer so funny and is also hopelessly out of date. These days politics is becoming show biz for people who haven’t aged so well despite their magical shape-shifting powers and are now too ugly or old-fashioned for show biz.

— Bud Norman

Out Like Flynn

The resignation of Gen. Michael Flynn as President Donald Trump’s National Security is not only the biggest story of the moment, it seems to have spun off into a dozen or so biggest stories of the moment.
At such a very early point in an administration such a high-ranking official’s resignation, or “ouster” if you prefer the more recent term that keeps popping up in the press, is going to be a story with legs and sidebars. This unusually quick departure seems to have more than the usual subplots, however, and at this point in this particular administration the press is especially eager to pursue them every one of them. The fact of Flynn’s resignation or ouster or whatever you call it seems to confirm press reports that he had questionable contacts with the Russian government during the transition period and lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence, which does not make Trump look good, so the established media are delighted to have that at the top of the front pages and hourly broadcasts. Some of the radio talkers and other anti-establishment media are continuing to insist that whatever contacts Flynn had with the Russians weren’t at all questionable, and that he never lied about it, but they glumly admit that also makes Trump look bad.
Trump is “tweeting” that big story is Flynn’s conversations with Russia being leaked to the press in the first place, and his more creative supporters in the anti-establishment media are elaborating that it’s another example of the intelligence community and the “deep state” trying to undermine Trump’s administration, and it’s plausible. Meanwhile the establishment press is putting the whole affair in the context of the intelligence agencies’ consensus conclusion that the Russians meddled in the past presidential election in an apparent attempt to help Trump, and Trump’s denunciation of the intelligence agencies and apologetics for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and the various contacts that several of Trump’s business and campaign and administration officials have with with the Russian oligarchy, and all the implications they can make out of that also seem well within the realm of plausibility.
There also stories about who knew what and when they knew it, and they all feature prominent administration spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway telling television audiences that Flynn had the president’s full confidence just hours before Trump accepted the resignation, and none of them are helpful to Trump or any of his more ardent defenders in the anti-establishment media. They all seem to confirm a popular press narrative about a dysfunctional White House riven by all the petty power-grabbing and back-stabbing machinations you’d want from a reality television show, which is altogether too plausible, and all of those leaks are coming straight from contestants. At the moment Trump’s anti-establishment media allies have been reduced to the Nietzschean argument that out of chaos comes order, and let’s us hope they’re right.
There’s also surely a sidebar somewhere out there about how all of this hubbub will affect national security, but so far we haven’t found it. We were never fond of Flynn, who seemed far too chummy with the Russkies and is prone to crackpot conspiracy theories and always reminded us of Sterling Hayden’s Gen. Jack D. Ripper character in “Dr. Strangelove,” and although he’s properly tough on Islamism we figure Trump is more in need of someone to advise occasional restraint and not encourage all the war crimes that were promised during the campaign. Press reports indicate that one of the possible replacements is Gen. David Petraeus, whose military brilliance turned the tide in the Iraq War before he competently assumed the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency, but who also pleaded guilty to providing his mistress with classified material and then lying about it, and it will be interesting to see if Trump sets all those storylines off. The other names seem reasonable career national security, and of course aren’t any of the Republican establishment professionals who took public stands against Trump during the campaign, and in the end we effect that the national security will be as insecure as always.

— Bud Norman

An Almost Trump-Free Weekend

Saturday somehow had top-down driving weather here in our portion of the plains, and although Sunday was more typically February it featured a fine sermon at our low church and some high culture at the civic center where the Wichita Symphony and the Wichita Musical Theater teamed up on a terrific performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel, which was followed by a taped-delayed watching of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers reeling off another impressive victory on the road against a surprisingly tough Loyola-Chicago Ramblers squad. All in all it was a pleasantly apolitical weekend, but of course there’s no avoiding the news altogether.
We logged on to our Facebook page to keep up with a dear friend’s ongoing cancer treatments, and although that news was guardedly good we also came across countless screeds about the Trump administration. Among our Facebook friends are an unaccountable number of irritable lefties, who are predictably irritated by anything Trump, and the more astute of conservative friends are more carefully expressing their own reservations, and nobody was arguing that America is being made great again. Our cursory glance at our usual news sources from the left to the right were no more encouraging, with plenty of stories giving Trump’s critics on either side something to be understandably annoyed about.
The Cable News Network and The Washington Post both claimed confirmation that Trump’s national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, was in contact with the Russian government during the campaign that all the intelligence agencies allege the Russians were trying to influence, just like that dossier full of salacious but unconfirmed sex allegations alleged, and so far the Trump spokespeople haven’t categorically denied it. Flynn already had controversial ties to the Russian government that included his appearances on the dictatorship’s propaganda network and featured seating at Russian state dinners, and his son was kicked off the Trump transition team for “tweeting” about that crazy “pizza gate” scandal, and his presence on the National Security Council along with former alt-right internet publisher Steve Bannon while the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs was unprecedentedly kicked off had already made for much comment on both the left and the formerly supportive right.
Trump’s more reliable mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway was meanwhile using her airtime on those Sunday shows where Trump says he gets his news to pitch First Daughter Ivanka Trump’s overpriced line of shoes and jewelry, which has lately been discontinued by the Nordstrom’s chain of department stores, which Trump has angrily “tweeted” about. Sears and K-Mart have also discontinued the line, but so far haven’t suffered the wrath of a presidential “tweet.” A few hearty souls endeavored a defense of Trump, most of them nostalgically recalling the time President Harry Truman publicly berated a music critic who panned the presidential daughter’s vocal recital, which was by all accounts awful, but it’s hard to see how that’s making America great again and those questions about the president’s on-going business deals and how they might intersect with his foreign policy remain, and we’re still wondering why Trump seems so darned smitten with Russia’s dictator.
Over at the admirably conservative and still mostly NeverTrump National Review they’re noting that the left’s reaction has gone beyond understandable irritation and well into full-blown tin-foil-hate conspiracy-theorizing paranoia, which is a point well taken, but they’re obliged to admit that Trump’s own rhetoric of Bush-lied-people-died and Obama-was-born-in-Kenya and his electoral victory was rigged haven’t elevated the level of political discourse. One of Trump’s rich buddies went on videotaped record to blame it all on Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Preibus, who used to be the Republican Party’s national chairman and was reviled by Turmp’s most fervent supporters as one of them damned establishment Republican-in-name-only types, and we expect that storyline to spread out over the next few days. The popular storyline that the no-record-in-public-serve-at-all Trump is the one who “in over his head,” as that rich Trump buddy described Preibus, will also probably persist.
We’ll hope there will be warm days and gospel sermons and fine concerts and Shocker victories and healthy Facebook friends to get us through it all, and try not to succumb to either paranoia or false hope.

— Bud Norman

Order in ‘da Court ‘Cause Here Come ‘da Judge

After a long and contentious history with the American judicial system as an independent businessman, President Donald Trump is now dealing with the courts in a similarly confrontational style. So far it seems to be yielding the same mixed results as back in his private sector days, when he won an anti-trust lawsuit against the National Football League but was awarded only one dollar in damages and paid $25 millions to the students of his scam Trump University but admitted no fault and seemed to suffer no significant publication relations problem, or the thousands of suits by contractors claiming they’d stiff or two wives who said they’d been done wrong or the six corporate bankruptcies where Trump always seemed to come out ahead. Less than a month into Trump’s administration his executive order temporarily banning travel into the United States from seven designated Muslim-majority has been stayed by a federal court, Trump has “tweeted” in response that he preemptively blames the “disgraceful” decision of the “so-called judge” for a future terror attack, the next appellate level has upheld the decision by a 3-0 vote, Trump in turn “tweeted” “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT RISK!,” and at this point it remains to be seen if the angry capital letters and angrier exclamation mark will sway the Supreme Court once the decision inevitably ends up there.
Trump might well wind up prevailing by that point, for so far as we can tell the law does allow the president wide authority to ban just about anyone he wants for whatever reason he might come up with from entering the country, and there are arguably good reasons for banning people from the named countries, and the general gist of the order seems well within those established legal parameters, and we’d hate to think that a Supreme Court would be either intimidated or spitefully defiant of some petulant presidential “tweets.” There’s enough arguable stuff about banning already-vetted green-card holders and heroic military assets and all the other dubious aspects of the devilishly detailed and beyond-the-gist implementation, though, and some sort of split decision strikes us as most likely. Whatever the merits of his case, though, there’s something disheartening and demoralizing to a conservative sensibility about the head of the executive branch using such language as “disgraceful” and “so-called” about a member of the judicial branch.
Even Trump’s much-lauded choice for the Supreme Court was quoted as saying it was “disheartening” and “demoralizing,” which set off yet another of those seemingly endless subplots in the Trump reality show. By all the glowingly positive and scathingly negative accounts Judge Neil Gorsuch seems very much the sort of Constitutional originalist jurist that Trump promised to such skeptical Republicans as ourselves during his campaign, and even The Washington Post has recalled a reassuringly reasonable dissenting opinion he wrote about a middle-schooler who was handcuffed and jailed for making flatulent noises during a gym class, but of course there’s enough opposition to make 60 votes difficult and getting him confirmed with just 51 would be something nobody real wants, so of course there’s much spinning involved. The first storyline trotted out was that Gorsuch hadn’t really said that, and that quoted source Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal had only said that Gorsuch said that because he’s a Democrat. Trump “tweeted” that Blumenthal had also lied about his heroic service in Vietnam, which is true, even if that does not prove that Blumenthal was lying in this case and leaves unmentioned the equally irrelevant that Trump has also told a few lies in his time, but when named Republican sources in both Congress and the administration confirmed the statements the White House Press Secretary insisted Gorsuch was speaking in general terms about disparagement of the judicial branch and certainly not about anything Trump had said.

Despite such assurances, many of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters were expressing their indignation about Gorsuch’s alleged disloyalty in talk radio shows and countless comments across the internet. What with The Washington Post admitting a begrudging respect his for reasonability there’s some suspicion that Gorsuch will be another one of the milquetoast Republican appointees who wind up giving a pass to Obamacare and otherwise disappointing the base, perhaps setting off a right flank in the fight against Gorsuch’s nomination. We’re still as irked as the next Republican about Chief Justice Roberts and that damnable Obamacare decision, and our general disappointments with milquetoast Republican nominees goes way back even before our birth to Ike’s choice of Earl Warren as a Chief Justice, but we don’t expect this Gorsuch guy will withstand a challenge from the right. He owes his loyalty to the Constitution rather than to Trump, his apparent preference for the respectful language that has long characterized even the most hard-fought legal questions seems impeccably conservative by the pre-“burn-it-down” definition of the term, and for Trump to withdraw the nomination he would have to admit a mistake.
Another popular theory is that Gorsuch’s disputed comments were purposefully leaked to reassure not only the opposition over at The Washington Post but also such skeptical Republican hold-outs as ourselves and the public at large that Gorsuch deserves the eight Democratic votes that would get him confirmed without resorting to the mere 51 votes that would cause such problems down the road. This seems plausible enough in our day and age, when a Republican Senator’s dad was in on the Kennedy assassination and the latest two presidencies should have been terminated according to the latest president, who won despite the election being rigged, and if so we’ll give credit Trump credit for being shrewd. Based on everything we’ve learned about their lives we like this Gorsuch fellow a lot better than we do Trump, and our weary eye on the news had concluded the leaked remarks were Gorsuch showing the frankness that Trump is celebrated for and the reasonable Trump rarely summons, and that he winds up confirmed by 60 votes and provides a necessary check and balance on both legislative and executive craziness for decades to come.

— Bud Norman

The World’s Foremost Authority, RIP

It was quite a surprise to see Professor Irwin Corey’s obituary in Wednesday’s news, because we thought he was dead. That’s an old and rather rude show business joke, but we mean it respectfully and hope he would have appreciated the absurdist humor. By the time Corey died on Monday at the last laugh old age of 102 most of the youngsters out there didn’t know the name, but back in the days of variety shows and PG-rated celebrity roasts and smoke-filled late night talk shows he used to crack us up, and his passing marks an end to a subtler and slyer and slightly less angry era of American comedy.
Corey was a left-winger even by show business standards, but that wasn’t readily apparent from most of his comedy. He grew up in the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum, worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, got his start in show business with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union’s annual musical revue, and carried the resulting political perspective through the rest of his days, but his humor was mostly apolitical and altogether too convoluted to figure out what it might imply. By the time we started catching his act on television in the late ’60s and early ’70s the high school drop-out had reinvented himself as an eminent professor of some unnamed discipline, always introduced as “The World’s Foremost Authority,” and he would present himself in a black swallow-tailed coat and string tie and high-topped Chuck Converse All-Stars, his gray hair running wilder than Albert Einstein’s ever did, then starting spewing the most inspired academic-sounding gibberish. He’d throw in jokes about how heat expands and cold contracts and that’s why the days are longer in the summer, and how if we don’t change direction we’ll wind up where we’re going, and he had a great bit of physical humor where he’d forget what he was going to say and eventually reach for his notes and then crack up at whatever he’d written, which he’d never get around to reading, and he’d usually begin these monologues by saying “However.”
Any youngster who comes across these routines on YouTube might take them as brilliant satire of the meaningless mumbo-jumbo that today’s liberal academia spews out, but at the time he started to develop the act way back in the ’40s it probably worked just as well as spoof of the meaningless mumbo-jumbo of the more conservative academia of his youth. There was a distinctly vaudevillian flavor to it, like the even older comics who were still killing on TV, but also something very modern, like the sophisticated younger comics in the suits and ties who were starting to take over, and something as anarchic as both the Marx Brothers that had come before and the National Lampoon punks who would come later. Put in any context it was pretty funny stuff, and a sly warning about the world’s foremost authorities that has always been and ever will be worth heeding.
The variety shows disappeared and the celebrity roasts went on cable and started featuring raunchy women talking about their privates and the late night talk shows weren’t booking acts with roots in the ’40s, but Corey would still occasionally show up over the decades. He did get more explicitly political, and his lifelong leftism descended into conspiracy theorizing that was hard to distinguish from his more deliberate attempts at absurdism, but he’d still crack us up during our occasional encounters on the internet. He kept performing into his 80s and 90s and even his early 100s, but apparently his last performances were on behalf of the New York City sidewalk passersby that he would panhandle. He didn’t need the money, as the inveterate anti-capitliast had invested his earnings well enough to enjoy a comfortable retirement in a fashionable Manhattan neighborhood, so he’d donate all the proceeds to a favorite charity, but he and the better senses of humor among his unwitting sidewalk audiences reportedly got some final much-needed laughs from it.
It also occurs to us that with Corey’s passing we now inherit the title of “World’s Foremost Authority,” having previously been “World’s Second Foremost Authority,” and we will do our best to carry it with an honor worthy of the man.

— Bud Norman