Those Darned Ukrainians

There was more bad news for President Donald Trump on Thursday’s episode of the impeachment inquiring show, which guest starred the formidable Fiona Hill. She’s the senior director for Europe and Russia on Trump’s National Security Council, is widely recognized as the government’s foremost expert on Russia, and during her hours of testimony was remarkably well-spoken in an intimidating British accent.
Basically she just backed up what all the previous formidable witnesses had testified, that Trump had sought political help from the Ukrainian in exchange for $400 million of aid that Congress had appropriated to that beleaguered ally, the easily rebuffed the Republican members’ efforts to undermine her. She further further endeared herself to us when she also took aim at one of the more preposterous theories that Trump’s apologists are trying to peddle.
“Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security forces did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill said in her opening statement. “This is a fictional narrative the has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Well said, but we thought it a shame it needed saying. All of Trump’s appointees to head America’s intelligence agency have confirmed that Russia hacked Democratic computers and launched an internet disinformation campaign and attempted to alter voting totals, both the Republicans and Democrats on the Senate’s intelligence committee reached the same conclusion, and Trump’s own Justice Department is currently charging 12 specific Russians for pulling it off. At this point the only people who doubt it are Trump, who has Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word that it didn’t happen, and the die-hard fans who somehow still believe anything Trump says.
The most die-hard of the fans, who seem willing to believe almost anything, are convinced it was Ukraine that meddled in the election in cahoots with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. It’s a neat theory with the virtue of explaining everything Trump has been accused of, but it has the unfortunate flaw of making no sense whatsoever.
There’s no denying that somebody hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s computer and selectively leaked the most embarrassing e-mails through Wikileaks at such convenient moments for Trump as when the “Hollywood Access” tape was released, and we notice that Trump advisor Roger Stone was recently found guilty for lying about his contacts with Wikileaks, and it’s hard to explain why Ukraine or anyone else would do that Clinton’s behalf. All of the foreign disinformation was to Trump’s advantage, too, and the executives at the internet platforms which disseminated the disinformation all testified to Congress that it was coming from Russia and was often paid for with rubles. The attempts to hack the voting machines apparently failed, but they did breach a couple of levels of security and were eventually traced to Russia.
If those nefarious Ukrainians were attempting to get Clinton elected they did a damned poor job of it, but they were astoundingly successful in framing those blameless Russians. According to the most die-hard die-hards those Ukrainians a wily bunch of schemers, though, and are in cahoots with Crooked Hillary and potential Democratic nominee Sleepy Joe Biden and his big-earner son, and is currently hiding that DNC computer server that surely holds all the the secrets of the satanic and child-molesting and globalist “deep state” conspiracy.
Biden’s son did a make a lot of money in Ukraine while his dad was Vice President and overseeing Ukrainian policy, and after many decades as a subservient vassal of the Soviet Union Ukraine’s path toward democracy has been fitful and often corrupt, but that’s hardly proof that Trump didn’t lean on an ally for dirt on a potential political opponent. Nor does it mean Trump was right to do so.
We’ve been Republicans  far longer than Trump, and can well remember the pride we felt in our party when President Ronald Reagan’s leadership helped liberate Ukraine from the Evil Empire and tried to welcome it into the western world of freedom and democracy. For all its faults we don’t think Ukraine is the bad guy in all this, and for all the good it has done in the past we’re not taking much pride in the Republican party these days.

— Bud Norman

The Mueller Report and Its Thus Far Inconclusive Findings

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into the “Russia thing” has proved disappointing to President Donald Trump’s critics, as it didn’t recommend any criminal charges be filed against Trump. On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard supporters have some explaining to do.
The 448-page report confirms the findings of all of America’s intelligence agencies that the Russian government tried to tilt the last presidential election in Trump’s favor, which is no surprise given that it won an indictment of 13 specific Russian operatives. Trump continues to take Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word that it must have been some other country — or perhaps some 400-pound guy sitting in his bed — who hacked the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails and coordinated an internet disinformation campaign and attempted to sabotage state voting systems, and that requires some explanation. A nation also anxiously awaits Trump’s explanation for why his administration has taken no measures whatsoever to prevent foreign interference in an American presidential election from happening again.
Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge Trump or his campaign with conspiring with those Russian efforts, so Trump and his supporters are entitled to gloat about that, but the report also cites convincing evidence that the Trump and his top campaign officials knew about the Russian effort, welcomed the assistance, repeatedly lied about its contacts with Russian officials, which has already resulted in guilty pleas and guilty verdicts against Trump’s campaign chairman and national security advisor personal lawyer, and that Trump himself lied to the American public during the Republican primary race about his business dealings in Russia.
This might not amount to a federal conspiracy case, as the special counsel’s “witch hunt” seems to have reluctantly concluded, but it doesn’t look good.
The report also declined to charge Trump with obstructing justice during the special counsel investigation, but as Trump’s carefully chosen Attorney General William Bar admitted in his four-page version of the 448-page report “it also does not exonerate him.” Mueller was a well-regarded director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during both Republican and Democratic administrations, and he’s the sort of stickler for the rules who followed a Justice Department guideline against indicting sitting presidents, his report notes that the Congress is constitutionally allowed to decide what constitutes an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, and it also documents several instances when Trump wanted to obstruct justice but his administration underlings prevented him from doing so. Most of those administration underlings are now long gone, but there’s a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives these days, and they’ll surely be holding hearings and demanding explanations.
Much of the 448-pages of the report are blacked out, as they involve the 14 ongoing criminal cases that were referred to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, and when they eventually come to light they’ll surely requiring some explaining.
Mueller’s punctiliously by-the-book report notes that it’s up to Congress to decide what constitutes impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and seems to suggest that’s an open question requiring Congressional consideration. Our guess is that the feisty Democratic majority in the House will see it one way, but despite a few defections the slim Republican majority the Senate won’t agree by the needed super-majority to remove Trump from office.
By the time Trump runs for reelection in ’20 it probably won’t matter much. Trump’s foes already believe the worst  about him, and Trump’s fans don’t care about anything he might have done to defeat that awful “Crooked” Hillary Clinton last time around. There’s still something to be said for punctiliously sticking the rules, but these days it’s a matter of situational ethics.


— Bud Norman

Fasten Your Seatbelts, as Today’s News Will Be a Bumpy Ride

Wednesday was a pretty slow news day by recent standards, but today will almost certainly be different. Attorney General William Barr has announced a news conference to discuss the special counsel investigation’s report about the “Russia thing,” a few hours later a reportedly “lightly redacted” version of the 400-page-or-so is scheduled to be revealed, and the resulting arguments about it will surely dominate the conversations on television and newspapers and in bars and dinner tables across the country.
Barr has already released a four-page summary of the report — he doesn’t want anyone to call it a summary, but we can’t think of a suitable synonym — which revealed that the investigation found no proof a conspiracy between the Russian government and the campaign of President Donald Trump, and did not reach a conclusion about obstruction of justice. Ever since Trump has repeatedly claimed complete exoneration by the report, even though Barr’s brief account of the report explicitly said “it also does not exonerate him,” but he’s stepped up up his attacks on the investigators and clearly seems worried about the public getting to read a lightly redacted version of what they came up with.
Some of the investigators have anonymously told The New York Times that Barr’s condensed version painted a too rosy picture of their work, and we expect that despite the light redactions the full 400 pages will give Trump’s critics something to bite into. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has said he’s preparing a counter-report to the report that supposedly exonerates his client, Attorney General Barr is eager to tell the public what to think about the report before it gets a chance to read it, and Trump and his most strident media allies are openly talking about charging the investigators for treason for writing the report they claim completely vindicates them.
The investigation has already won indictments against 13 Russian nationals for for interfering with the past American presidential in various ways, and indictments and guilty verdicts guilty pleas against Trump’s campaign chairman and co-campaign chairman National Security Advisor and longtime personal lawyer, and various other administration officials have had to revise their security clearance forms to include numerous contacts with Russian officials, but we already know no charges are currently pending against Trump himself. That’s a huge disappointment to to large segment of the population that would prefer to see Trump out of office, but we expect that some congressional Democrats will find some of those vaguely-defined high crimes and misdemeanors that are impeccable.
Trump and his talk radio apologists and other die fans, as well as a few congressional Republicans, will likely find some reason to charge those dastardly investigators with treason, and have them hanged by the neck until they are dead, even if they did completely exonerate The president by declining  to charge Trump himself. The Trumpian right remains enraged by the investigation that they swear exonerates Trump, and it might yet get is revenge.
We’ll see how it  turns out, as Trump likes to say, and for now we haven’t the foggiest idea. The only prediction we can make with any certainty is that he matter won’t be settled  by the end of this day, and that today will nonetheless prove interesting.

— Bud Norman

The Competing Conspiracy Theories in the News

There are two very consequential conspiracy theories in the news these days, and being longtime conspiracy buffs we’ve been following both closely. One theory golds that the Russian hacked Democratic e-mails and spread disinformation through American social media and attempted to infiltrate America’s vote-counting computers in an effort to elect Donald Trump as president, and and that Trump’s campaign cooperated with the effort. The other theory, long popular on all sorts of conservative media and now fully embraced by the “tweets” of Trump himself, holds that the previous conspiracy theories is the product of a “deep state” coup d’tat against a duly elected president who’s just trying to make America great again.
Based on our everything we’ve read and our general understanding of how the world works, we’re inclined to believe the former theory than the latter.
The theory that the Russians meddled in the past election on Trump’s behalf has been endorsed by the heads of all of America’s intelligence agencies, including the ones appointed by Trump himself, and although Trump has publicly stated he’s more inclined to believe his good buddy andRussian dictator Vladimir Putin’s assurance that it never happened we better trust the American experts. All the e-mails that were somehow hacked during the election proved embarrassing to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, all of the big social media head honchos have testified to Congress that the Russkies did use their platforms to spread anti-Clinton disinformation, and Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security has advised many of the states that the Russians had attempted to breach their voting computers.
Meanwhile, a duly appointed special counsel investigation has racked up guilty pleas from Trump’s longtime lawyer and Trump’s former campaign foreign policy chief and Trump administration national security advisor, as well numerous convictions against a former campaign chairman, for lying about their contacts with Russian officials, and promising investigations are seemingly underway about Trump’s namesake son and son-in-law on the same suspected charges. There are damning e-mail chains that Trump Jr. has released, sworn congressional testimony by the heads of America’s intelligence agencies ad social media big-wigs, various guilty pleas accepted by duly constituted American courts of law, lots of intriguing search warrants and indictments also issued by duly constituted American courts of law. Throw in Trump’s continued friendliness toward the Russian dictator, and it looks bad to us.
On our daily drives around town, however, all the talk radio hosts assure us that it’s all “fake news.” The real story, we’re told, is that the damned Democrats and their feckless Republican allies in the hated establishment have concocted all these ostensible facts in prevent Trump from making America great again. The real collusion, they argue, was between Clinton and those nefarious yet somehow friendly Russians. While Clinton was Secretary of State the United States allowed a fifth of its uranium supplies to be sold to the Russians, and although nine separate agencies signed off on the deal Clinton is considered a Russian collaborator
Although it was a wealthy Republican who didn’t want Trump to be his party’s standard-bearer who first employed an ex-British intelligence officer named Christoper Steele to ask his former Russian contacts about Trump’s business dealings with Russia, the Clinton campaign later made payments to the effort, so Clinton is therefore guilty of colluding with Russians to get dirt on an opponent. The “Steele dossier” — or the “dirty dossier” or “dodgy dossier” or “discredited dossier,” as it’s known on conservative talk radio — reported the investigator’s “raw data” had informed him that the Russias were launching on a three-pronged cyber-attack on the American election through hacked e-mails and disinformation through social media and attempts to take over America’s vote-counting computers, all of which has since been confirmed to Trump’s own appointed intelligence chiefs, The dossier also had salacious details about Trump paying some Russian prostitutes to urinate on a bed once slept on by President Barack in a fancy Moscow hotel room, and although nobody has verified that neither has anybody definitively discredited anything about the Steele dossier.
The Steele dossier was part of the evidence submitted to the top-secret United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to start all the “Russia thing” investigations, and that’s proof enough for the talk radio hosts that that it was a “witch hunt” from the beginning. Since then, we’re told, the establishment has been out to get Trump and prevent him from fulfilling his destiny of making America.
Which sounds weird to our aging ears, as we’re old enough to remember when the it was the hippies and the Democrats and the rest of the left-wing nutcases were blaming every human failing on the establishment. These days it’s the right-wig nutcases who are donning the cloak and righteous victimhood at the rough hands of the hated establishment, ill-fitting as it always is, and we hate to see that the President of the United States is among them.
On Monday Trump “re-tweeted” one of the Fox and Friends hots that “This was a illegal coup attempt on the President of the United States,” and added “True!” After that he played his third round of golf in as many days, then “tweeted” that former high-ranking Federal Bureau of Investigation officials Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, “who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act and got caught. There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who ad just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!” Which strikes us an extraordinary broadside against the establishment by a duly elected President of the United States.
If Rosenstein truly is guilty of “illegal and treasonous acts,” as Trump has “tweeted,” we wonder why Trump still retains him as his duly appointed Deputy Attorney General. Rosenstein was recommended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and you can sarcastically consider him “another beauty” if you want, but we note that Sessions was also appointed to his post by Trump, who brags that he only hires the “best people.”
We’ll also note that the Steele dossier didn’t become public until after Trump’s election, which seems an odd tactic for such an undeniably diabolical woman as Clinton, and that we can’t see any reason she’d collude with what everyone other than Trump and his most die-hard defenders agree was a Russian plot to get Trump elected.
Perhaps Trump is the victim of a vast conspiracy, but at this point it’s so vast it includes not only the damned Democrats and the varied “fake news” media but also America’s duly constituted courts of law and a small but significant slice of the Republican party and its leadership, and all of Trump’s appointed intelligence chiefs and his Deputy Attorney General, as well as such disinterested sideline observers as ourselves. One can never tell how these conspiracy theories play out, and they don’t usually amount to much,  but for now one side seems to have a lot of evidence and the other side has a lot of explaining to do.

–Bud Norman

From Hero to Traitor, Overnight

Not so long ago, South Carolina’s Rep. Trey Gowdy was a hero to all the right-wing talk radio hosts and their listeners. He had an impeccably conservative voting record, a blunt way of speaking, and best of all he was the guy who spent years leading congressional investigations of President Barack Obama’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the deadly fiasco at an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Despite his long service to conservatism, however, Gowdy is now being pilloried by his erstwhile fans as a traitor to the cause. His traitorous crime is publicly stating that the Federal Bureau of Investigation wasn’t “spying” on President Donald Trump’s campaign, as Trump likes to put it, but rather investigating something about a hostile foreign government’s attempts to influence the election that they had good reason to believe merited investigating. Many of Gowdy’s former admirers regard the special counsel’s ongoing investigation as “witch hunt” being carried out by “deep state” conspirators intent on a silent coup of a duly elected president, as Trump almost daily “tweets,” so Gowdy’s refusal to endorse Trump’s copyrighted “Spy-Gate” conspiracy theory is clear proof that he’s in on the plot.
Some of the right-wing internet wags and maybe even some of the talk radio talkers are literate enough to say “Et Tu, Brute?,” but all the commenters and callers have expressied a more vulgar vitriol. They forget that Gowdy has at times come to Trump’s defense in the story of the day of the ongoing “Russian thing” realit showy, usually when they had a point, and remember all the times when he didn’t, usually when there was no credible defense to be made. They’re even damning Gowdy for the long and tireless investigations he led of the Benghazi affair, spitefully noting that they didn’t result in locking that hated Clinton woman up.
Meanwhile the left-wing types in the respectable media are relishing that even such a right-wacko as Gowdy agrees with their instinctive and seemingly well-founded belief that this “Spy-Gate” theory is a soon-to-be abandoned sub-plot in a “Russia thing” reality show that is heading to its inevitable conclusion. They’re giving Gowdy some “Profile in Courage” kudos for saying so, but they clearly haven’t forgiven him for that impeccably conservative voting record and blunt-spoken rhetoric all those years of hounding Obama and Clinton about that Benghazi thing.
Gowdy’s long career in public service has left him with few friends at the moment, but from the sideline seats our pre-Trumpian Republican and conservatives selves have been relegated to in the Trump era, we’re rooting for the guy. We still appreciate the impeccably conservative voting record on matters that predated Trump, and even his most blunt spoken rhetoric never cross any of th lines that are stepped over nowadays. His dogged investigation of Benghazi at long last proved conclusively to any objective observer that both Obama and Clinton had been lethally incompetent in their handling of the whole affair, from the ill-fated toppling of the Libyan dictatorship to the failure to prevent Islamist anarchy in its aftermath and the decision to send American diplomats and other citizens into the ensuing chaos and their failure to respond to numerous requests for better security, not to mention the lies they provably told in the following days.
There’s nothing criminal about public officials being incompetent, though, so we can hardly fault Gowdy for failing to lock ’em up. If incompetence we’re a criminal offense the prison population would surely swell and the wheels of government would come to a grinding halt. As old-fashioned and pre-Trump Republicans and conservatives we were never fond of that banana republic “lock ’em up” rhetoric in the first place.
Fortunately for Gowdy, he doesn’t seem to care much about what any of us might think of him. He’s one of several Republicans with impeccably conservative voting records who won’t be seeking re-election this year, and the former tough-but-fair prosecutor has told interviews that he misses a job where facts mattered, and like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and a few others with impeccably conservative voting records he admits that his failure to sign up with whatever conspiracy theory Trump comes up with makes him unelectable in a Republican primary for the moment.
Reality always prevails, though, and in the inevitable conclusion we expect that Gowdy and Flake and maybe Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and a few other factually stalwart pre-Trump Republicans will be vindicated. The Democrats won’t forgive their impeccably conservative voting records and the efew  occasions when they had to admit Trump had a point, but they’ll have to admit they’re the last Republicans standing, even if not in office, and we hold out hope they can rebuild.

— Bud Norman

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

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