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A Mish-Mash of a Monday News Cycle

Monday was chockfull of news, most of it involving President Donald Trump, and it was a decidedly mixed bag.
Trump traveled to Utah to announce that he’s reducing the size of two national monuments in the state by a combined 1.9 million acres, which is a very big number. Some of the local Indian tribes and all of the environmental groups and a few tourism and sporting goods businesses were aghast at the reduction, but there are such sound conservatives arguments for the move that most conservatives were pleased. That’s a big chunk of Utah that was being run by the federal bureaucracy rather than Utah or Utahans, and there’s still more than an ample 1.2 million combined acres of the Bears Ears and  Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments left for the Indians and nature lovers, so we’ll give Trump a rare thumbs up.
Court challenges have already been filed, of course, but Trump’s contested restrictions on travel from some Muslim-majority countries won a victory that should cheer him. The matter is still slogging its way through the lower courts, but the Supreme Court has decided that the restrictions can be fully enforced until it eventually arrives at a final decision. For sound conservative reasons too complicated to recount here, that’s also fine with us.
The rest of the legal news, though, was more troublesome. It wouldn’t be a news day these days with some “twitter” controversy, and the latest was about Trump’s statement that he fired former national security advisor Mike Flynn because “he lied to the vice president and the FBI” about contacts with Russian officials. Flynn has recently pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and apparently because isn’t facing prosecution on several other serious charges because he’s cooperating with the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the past election, but various journalists and legal analysts found the “tweet” self-incriminating for Trump. The problem is that it implies he knew Flynn had lied to the the FBI before he asked the bureau’s director to drop the investigation — according to the sworn of testimony of the director, who was fired after he declined the arrest — and therefore bolsters a case for obstruction of justice.
The arguments raged all day on all the political shows, with plausible points made on both sides, but even if Trump’s prevail it’s still another example of how “tweeting” causes unnecessary and unhelpful controversies. Any good lawyer would tell any client that it’s best to avoid “tweeting” anything about an ongoing criminal investigation, and any good client would heed that advice, but one of the lawyers Trump hired step forward to claim that he had written the “tweet” and used the president’s account to transmit it without the president’s knowledge. Either that’s a disbarment sort of lie, which is our best guess, or it’s a glaring example of the kind of legal representation you wind up with if you have a reputation for not paying your bills in full and being a bad client, and in any case it’s not helpful.
By the end of the day Trump’s legal team was arguing that “collusion” isn’t even a crime and that a president cannot obstruct justice or be indicted on any charge, which are arguments that most presidents would prefer not to have to make. It’s true enough that the word “collusion” isn’t found in any relevant statute, but the law is rife with its synonym “conspiracy,” and if it’s not illegal for a candidate to abet a hostile foreign efforts interference in an American election most Americans are likely to conclude it should be. As is so often the case with Trump’s unprecedented presidency, there are few precedents regarding a president’s obstruction of justice or indictment on some other crime, but those few precedents are not promising. Nixon wound up resigning after a bill of impeachment charged obstruction of justice, Clinton was disbarred and disgraced and barely survived an impeachment trial on the same charge, numerous high-ranking officials of other administrations wound up doing prison time, and Nixon’s famous argument to David Frost that “It’s not illegal when the President of the United States does it” has not fared well in the court of public opinion.
Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort was back in the news with accusations by federal prosecutors that he had violated the terms of his house arrest while awaiting trial a variety of money-laundering and tax evasion charges, which looks bad. The feds claim he was working with one of his contacts in the Russian intelligence community to pen an editorial Manafort hoped to sell defending his work on behalf of a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party, which looks worse. Trump’s original claims that none of his people ever had anything to do with the Russians isn’t looking good these days, what with all those disclosed e-mails and revised clearance forms and corrected testimonies, and it remains to be seen if there’s a a better argument than it’s no big deal even if the worst is true.
There’s also that Southern Gothic novel of Senatorial race down in Alabama, where Republican nominee and quite credibly accused child molester Ray Moore is running against some got-durned liberal, and of course Trump was part of that story. He’s now fully in support of the Republican nominee and credibly accused child molester, whereas previously he had only been fully against the got-durned liberal, and much of the Republican establishment has meekly backed away from its previous criticisms and will even be sending some campaign ad money through the party’s congressional committee. This comes on a day when one of Moore’s accusers offered proof that Moore did at least know her, despite his denial, and another woman came forward to accuse Trump of forcing unwanted kisses on her, just as he boasted about frequently doing on that “Access Hollywood” case. All charges are open to argument, as always, but it’s not helpful.
Oh, there’s also that tax bill Trump might yet get to sign soon. All the details still have to be worked out in a conference committee, but already it’s clearly another mixed bag of news and too complicated to explain here.

— Bud Norman

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The State of the Race, as We See It, At this Sad Moment

Almost anything seems possible in such a crazy election year as this, and by now we’ve learned to abandon all faith in any of the formerly reliable political and cultural assumptions that had previously guided us through our lives, but our guess, which we readily admit is no better than yours or anybody else’s, is that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is leading Republican nominee Donald Trump as we head into the final weeks of the presidential race.
Just for the heck of it we still check in every day on the Real Clear Politics average of polls, and as of now they have Clinton leading by an historically formidable 5.5 percentage points in both the two-way and four-way national surveys, with the state polls showing her in a comfortable lead and with a potential blow-out in the Electoral College competition, and given everything else that seems about right. Those polls are all over the place, with Fox News showing Clinton up by eight and The Washington Post having her up by only eight, while NBC News has her up by eight which is a drop from their and that defiantly outlier poll from The Los Angeles Times still has Trump in a one point is down from its last polling, but average it all out and it comes back to that historically formidable 5.5 percentage point lead. Meanwhile, everything else in the news seems to confirm that statistical suspicion.
The Washington Post gleefully reports that the Trump campaign is no longer bothering to spend any time or money in the former swing state of Virginia, where pretty much all the polling, apparently including Trump’s campaign’s, suggests that she’s out to a double-digit lead. In the states where he’s still campaigning hard, Trump’s proudly unscripted speeches, unshackled from the Republican Party he has now openly at war with and the tele-prompters that he’s literally tearing down and refusing to pay for, are already alleging that his still-theoretical loss is only because of a rigged election. Back when the polls accurately predicted is Republican primary wins Trump was constantly touting them, but nowadays he’s convinced that Fox News is part of the the liberal conspiracy and that The Los Angeles Times is the only beacon of truth on the media landscape, and that it’s all a part of even broader conspiracy to deny him his mandate, which is not how winning candidates have talked in the past. Meanwhile Clinton is laying low, happily staying out out of the news while she prepares for Wednesday’s final debate and hoping all those damning Wiki-leaked stories on the front page of even the Washington Post and New York Times and Fox News and all the rest of the conspiratorial cabal don’t get as much attention as the stories about about grabbing ’em by the p***y, which suggests that her internal polling is confident enough to pulling out Virginia and investing time and money in such formerly reliable Republican states as Arizona and Georgia, or even a couple of southwestern states where third party challengers are threatening to take them out of the reliably Republican column.
Even in this crazy election we can’t foresee any scenario where one or the other of those two awful major party candidates doesn’t win, but at least we can take heart in noting that nobody seems to have much of a chance of getting a majority of the popular vote. Those daunting poll numbers have Clinton at at a mere 47 percent, at best, and at this sad point in this sad race we can only hope that whoever wins will do so with most of the country hating him or her.

— Bud Norman

The Curious Case of the Candidate’s Body Double

Lately we’ve been spending some time at Netflix binge-watching episodes of a British documentary series about conspiracy theories, partly because we need some diversion from that awful presidential race but mostly because we enjoy a good conspiracy theory the way some readers revel in a good mystery novel. It’s just our luck in this crazy election year, though, that the most diverting conspiracy theory we’ve lately encountered comes from that awful presidential race.
Unless you’re much better than us at avoiding the news, you already know that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was videotaped collapsing into the arms of her aides as she took an early exit from a memorial service for the victims of the 2001 terror attacks in New York on Sunday, and that it has brought all the lingering questions about her health from the comments sections of the more conspiratorial-minded web sites to the front pages of the even the most polite press. By you also know that she was whisked to her daughter’s nearby apartment rather than to a hospital, and that she emerged from the apartment just a few hours later looking quite hale and happy as she waved to photographers and greeted a cute young girl who who happened to be on the sidewalk. If you’re attuned to the proper “Twitter” feeds and internet sites, or the more mainstream portions of the press that report their speculations, you might even be aware of the theory that the Clinton who emerged from that apartment building looking suspiciously healthy with a suspicious lack of secret services agents around a suspiciously cute young girl to greet her was actually a body double.
More careful observers than ourselves noticed a slight difference in the nose and a change of earrings, as well as more general youthful appearance, and along with those other suspicious circumstances that was enough to lead some to a conclusion that a body double had been substituted. The theory doesn’t explain how the body double happened to be on hand in Clinton’s daughter’s apartment, or what became of the actual Clinton, or why a campaign so diabolically brilliant as to have such a convincing doppelgänger around in case of a collapse has lately been slipping in the polls against the likes of Republican nominee Donald Trump, but in this crazy year we suppose that anything is possible.
As far-fetched as it might seem, the theory gained enough currency that it was briefly the second-most “trending” topic on “Twitter,” which also spurred conspiracies theories. A Reditt site devoted to Trump supporters alleged “#HillarysBodyDouble is NOT truly trending on Twitter, But They Stuck It on the Trends to Make Us Look Nuts,” which might also strike some non-Trump supporters as randomly capitalized and completely nuts. A writer for the InfoWars site, which has alleged that the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were an inside job and that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and countless other conspiracy theories, and has lately been insisting that Clinton has Parkinson’s Disease or syphilis or a brain tumor, “tweeted” that “The #Hillary’sBodyDouble narrative was probably started by the Clinton campaign to discredit genuine questions about her health.”
Some of the rumors specified that the body double is a woman named Teresa Bonwell, who resembles Clinton closely enough that she’s made living as a look-alike for the past several years, and she seems to have fueled that speculation by sending out an old photograph of herself outside the same building with the taunting message “Maybe I was in New York.” She now insists it was a joke, and has the ironclad alibi of being at a video shoot with a Bill Clinton look-alike and, just to make things perfect, the guy who played President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in “Idiocracy.”
Despite the Hollywood-like ingenuity of the body double switch, that crafty Clinton campaign hasn’t seemed to discredit any truly genuine questions about her health, which are being raised in even the most polite press, and by now even her supporters are conceding that she should have been more forthcoming about condition. Some supporters are even admitting that Clinton’s longstanding tendency toward secrecy has made even the most outlandish speculations seem plausible, and if that body double finishes out the campaign for Clinton she’s bound to endure some interrogations about it. That guy who’s been filling in for the late Paul McCartney the past 50 years has done pretty well, though, so maybe she’ll pull it off.
Thus far Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet about Clinton’s condition, but he’s also the guy who championed that Obama-was-born-in-Kenya theory and parrots the Code Pink line about George W. Bush lying America into the Iraq War and urged everyone to read The National Inquirer’s big story about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the John F. Kennedy assassination, and he frequently finds that things are rigged, so he probably won’t have anything bad to say about what his friends at InfoWars are saying. He should urge his supporters to stick to the facts, though, because those are bad enough.

— Bud Norman

E-Mails, “Emails,” and Alternate Realities

According to no less an authoritative source than The New York Times, “Obama’s Comments About Clinton’s Emails Rankle Some in the F.B.I.” We don’t hear that from any more authoritative source, however, so we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that’s there’s a lot more to it than what the once-venerable paper would now consider “All the news that’s fit to print.”
There’s no doubt that President Barack Obama did indeed go on television’s “60 Minutes” program and say that former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private and unsecured e-mail server didn’t pose a threat to national security, even as he acknowledged that it was a mistake, and we won’t quibble with the article’s characterization that he “played down the matter.” Nor do we doubt that The New York Times’ multiple reporters accurately quoted or paraphrased the unnamed current Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and one named former law enforcement agent who claim to be infuriated by the president’s prejudgment of a matter they are still diligently investigating. We don’t doubt that all the names and titles and other facts that are explicitly stated have been assiduously checked by what’s left of the Gray Lady’s copy desk, even if they are now so trendy they’re no longer hyphenating “e-mails,” but what’s not stated yet clearly implied still smells fishy.
The article includes some unexpectedly interesting background material, including past administration crackdowns on federal officials’ handling of sensitive material, and past instances of the administration resisting prosecutions of other more politically necessary officials, to the extent that a typical New York Times reader might find it shockingly critical of the administration. Even under the cloak of anonymity those unnamed FBI and other law enforcement officials will likely seem convincingly outraged to the average Times reader, and the average New York Times reader might even conclude that the president is protecting a fellow Democrat from due treatment under the law. The average New York Times reader would be delighted to hear that, though, so we can’t credit the paper with any institutional courage, and we find it interesting that they’re still running articles with Clinton and “emails” in the same headline.
We don’t have even any unnamed sources in the FBI, but we do have a theory based on the reports of The New York Times and the rest of the old-fashioned that this is all bunk. Based on pretty much everything we’ve seen, heard, and read during the past seven years we have concluded that Obama is convinced he really is the messiah he proclaimed himself to be during the ’08 election, that he wants his transformative reign continued through the ’16 and ’20 elections, and that Hillary Clinton is not his chosen successor. A similar empiricism has convinced us that the F.B.I. is no longer the doggedly independent institution of Jimmy Stewart and Efram Zimbalist Jr., and that it now contains more than a few agents willing to anonymously feign outrage at administration criticism of an investigation that has long been given administration blessing. Even The New York times concedes that the administration “walked back” its criticism in short order, and that the downplaying included an admission Clinton had made a mistake, and future Times stories will no doubt include further unnamed high administration officials leaking further disclosures about those “emails,” but that the administration can point to an unexpectedly critical New York Times story that seems to have its hands of any blame.
Given the lack of attention paid by the F.B.I. to other administration scandals, its sudden doggedness about Clinton’s “emails,” and all the resulting drip, drip, drip of stories quoting an ongoing investigations and plenty of highly placed yet unnamed administration officials, we can see why Obama might want to portray him as downplaying the matter. Given our experience of The New York Times, we can believe it would happily cooperate. We recently ran into a friend of ours who is a political Democrat tonight and he thought our theory that ridiculous, but he was also convinced that Clinton is the inevitable nominee and that only the inevitable Jeb Bush nomination could stop her.

— Bud Norman

Just Because You’re Paranoid …

All the conspiracy theorists are busy trying to figure out what the heck happened to that missing Malaysian airliner, but there are some less mysterious plots afoot that also deserve attention.
The crazed suspicions of paranoid right-wing nutcases everywhere that highly-placed officials at the Internal Revenue Service were out to get them, for instance, have now been convincingly confirmed. A 141-page report from the House Committee on Oversight and Government contains ample evidence that Lois Lerner, formerly the woman in charge of the IRS division concerned with non-profit organizations, wanted special scrutiny given to any non-profit organizations espousing a conservative point of view. In e-mails obtained by the committee Lerner criticized the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and the need to “fix the problem,” personally directed that groups thought to be affiliated with the “tea party” movement be subjected to “multi-tier view,” discussed the “need to be cautious so it isn’t a per se political project,” and later signed a statement blaming the extra scrutiny on the organizations applying for tax-exempt status. The report further notes “public pressure from President Obama and other Democrats,” cites credible testimony that the White House’s explanation that any problems were caused by a few low-level employees in Cincinnati was a lie, and provides plenty of other evidence to vindicate the right wing’s paranoia.
“The majority has no interest in the facts,” responded Lerner’s attorney, adding that “the facts interfere with keeping the conspiracy theory alive through the election cycle.” Because he has advised his client to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination we won’t hear her version of the facts, alas, so the words quoted from her e-mails should indeed keep the conspiracy alive through the next election cycle and one can only hope the one beyond that. President Obama and other Democrats continue to dismiss it all as a “phony scandal,” though, and judging by the scant attention being given the report by the media obsessed with that missing Malaysian airliner it is possible that the Republicans will have to rely on continued public dissatisfaction with Obamacare and the lousy economy as a campaign strategy.
The Democrats are hoping that the numerous conspiracies of the nefarious Koch brothers and their annoying habit of promoting capitalism will provide a distraction from such problems, but it remains to be seen if anyone outside the already hepped-up progressive circles will care more about how a couple of billionaire siblings spend their money than about being forced into more expensive health care plans while struggling to get by in eternally sluggish times. Should the public get into a sufficient huff about billionaires the Democrats will have to hope that no one notices the ones funding more politically causes such as Democratic candidates, but this is not a far-fetched hope. Those who do care about the Kochs are quite passionate, at least, to the point that some high-minded progressives even protested by the opening of a new hospital wing in New York City that was paid for by David Koch. Such philanthropy seems neither nefarious nor conspiratorial to us, and even strikes us as laudable, but we are neither high-minded nor progressive. According to the oversight committee’s purloined e-mails Lerner was also concerned about the influence of the Koch brothers, and her willingness to use her position to deny their First Amendment rights does strike us as nefarious and conspiratorial, but we are paranoid right-wing nutcases.
Paranoia is so prevalent these days that even such a high-minded progressive as Sen. Dianne Feinstein is charging that the Central Intelligence Agency has been spying on her computers and intimidating witnesses from testifying about enhanced interrogation techniques. The agency has denied the allegations, which would suffice for the media if a Republican made the charges, but the indignation of such a powerful Democrat as Feinstein will likely prompt more thorough coverage. Should the facts prove embarrassing to the administration the coverage will likely diminish, and if another story supplants it on the front page the conspiracy theorists will certainly wonder why.
Perhaps another airliner will mysteriously go missing, and it will turn out that the Koch brothers had it diverted to the company headquarters here in Wichita to be fitted with improperly tax-exempt eaves-dropping technologies to find out why the CIA would want to eavesdrop on someone so boring as Sen. Feinstein. Absent that, we’ll be made as hell about Obamacare and the sluggish economy and that supposedly phony scandal at the IRS.

— Bud Norman