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Playing Tough in a Tough Game

The late and great comedian Rodney Dangerfield had a joke we liked about how tough his high school was. “I’m telling you, it was really tough,” he’d say, tugging nervously at his collar before adding, “after the football team sacked the quarterback, they would go after his family.”
That jibe somehow came to mind as we were reading about the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives’ wide and widening investigations into the businesses and campaign and transition team and inaugural committee and administration of President Donald Trump. Letters of inquiry and warnings of subpoenas have been sent not only to Trump’s longtime personal secretary and senior vice president of the Trump Organization and the longtime Trump Organization chief financial operator and keeper of secrets, as well as White House associates Hope Hicks, Sean Spicer, and Steve Bannon, but also Trump’s namesake son Donald Trump Jr. and other son Eric Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
We’re telling you, politics is really tough — tug nervously on your collar for full effect — and that newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives seems ready and eager to play it tough.
Which is not to say that they’re wrong to do so, and we guess that as Trump tugs nervously at his collar he gives them some begrudging respect for it. Trump has always prided himself on his toughness, and as recently as last Saturday was describing his critics as “very sick people” who “hate America” and are “like a crazy person.” He’s alleged all sorts of criminal and downright treasonous crimes against previous presidents and other political opponents, Republican and Democratic alike, and he’s not been shy about going against their families. Back when the Republican nomination was down to him or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump “re-tweeted” an internet “meme” with an unflattering shot of Cruz’ wife juxtaposed against a gauzy glamour photo of Trump’s third trophy wife, and threatened to “spill the beans” on the relatively homely housewife. When one of Trump’s longtime lawyers started spilling the beans on Trump’s hush money payments to porno performers and other business practices, Trump “tweeted” to the Justice Department and the rest of the country that it was more important to find out about the lawyer’s father-in-law’s dirty dealings. We almost forgot, but he also directed everyone’s attention to a National Enquirer scoop that Cruz’ father might have been in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, but by now even such a rock-ribbed Republican as Cruz seems have for forgiven and forgotten and bended to Trump’s will.
Politics is indeed a tough game, with some very tough players on both sides, but for now the rules of the game seem to favor that ruthlessly tough Democratic majority in the House, as well as some well-established matters of fact. Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is soon headed to a three-year stay in federal prison for various crimes, so he had nothing to lose when he stopped by a congressional hearing to testify that he committed his various crimes on behalf of and at the request of Trump, and he had various documents to back him up, and he credibly named the Trump Organization’s longtime secretary and vice president and its chief financial operator as corroborating witnesses, so letters of inquiry and threats of subpoena seem reasonable. We’re not at all Democrats, even if at this point we’re not blindly Republican, and we’d also like to hear what those potential White House witnesses have to say under oath and penalty of law.
At this peculiar point in history, we don’t even mind that those damned Democrats are going after the family. Donald Trump Jr. has already coughed up an e-mail chain admitting that some Russians he knew to be tied into the Russian dictatorship had told him they had some dirt on Trump Sr.’s opponent as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” to which he replied “I love it!” The younger Trump took that meeting, it’s now acknowledged, and after a number of now-acknowledged lies have been told about he seems fair game for another round of congressional testimony. Eric Trump is one of the executives in charge of President Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses and a trustee of the recently ended family charity, and given that the Justice Department’s southern district and the special counsel investigation and the many media inquiries into various matters about that he also seems a fair target.
As for that son-in-law, he frankly reminds us every son-in-law joke we ever heard. As it turns out the very best person that Trump could find to bring about peace in the Middle East and end America’s opioid crisis and reinvent the federal government was his son-in-law, who according to a credible and mostly undenied New York Times report got a top level security clearance from his father-in-law despite the objections of the intelligence and national security agents who had investigated him. What with politics being such a tough game we’ll add that Kushner’s dad is a felon who was on c0nvicted on tax evasion and witness intimidation charges by Trump’s short-lived transition chief and former federal prosecutor and New Jersey governor and vanquished campaign rival Chris Christie, and that the story is even tawdrier than that. If those damned Democrats haul him before Congress to testify why those intelligence and national security investigators didn’t want to give him a top secret security clearance, we won’t mind a bit, and will be eager to hear his live-on-television and under-oath and penalty of law answers.
Politics is indeed a tough game, but with no particular dog in the fight at the moment we’ll sit back and see how it plays out. We still retain a rooting interest in America and the truth, though, and will anxiously await the outcome.

— Bud Norman

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At Least America Isn’t Yet Enured

There was another mass shooting in America on Tuesday, this time in the usually placid town of Thousand Oaks, California, and another out-in-the-open attempt by President Donald Trump to obstruct a duly authorized special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” this time by replacing the recused and thus recently defenestrated Attorney General with a man who has openly stated his desire to shut down the probe. Both of these unsettlingly routine stories somehow made the front pages of the newspapers and the top of the cable news hours, so we were at least heartened to note that America hasn’t yet come to regard them as the new normal.
All the familiar arguments about gun control and mental health care were once again repeated in the wake of the shooting at a popular bar where the many patrons were line-dancing country-and-western music, and as usual none of them changed anybody’s mind, yet it’s good news that the conversation continues.
Perhaps the Democratic majority that was elected to the House of Representatives will pass some crazy gun-grabbing bill, but the slightly padded Republican majority that was returned to the Senate will probably hew to its obstinate opposition even to such minor Second Amendment tweaks as banning the “bump stocks” were used in a even bloodier country-and-western massacre in Las Vegas about a year ago and the extended pistol magazines used at Thursday’s slaughter. It will probably take more American carnage and a couple of extra election cycles before anything  is done, and we have no confidence that either party has any effective solutions to offer, so we’ll take some solace that the country isn’t yet inured to these frequent mass murders.
We’re also pleased to note the mass outrage over Trump’s efforts to install the sort of Roy Cohn pit bull protector that he’s always openly pined for as acting Attorney General. The upcoming Democratic majority in the House and the sizable Democratic minority in the Senate are predictably outraged about itt, and tens of thousands of their voters took to the streets in mosts states to protest Trump’s move, and several prominent congressional Republicans are willing to risk the wrath of Trump’s “tweets” to state their objections, and judging by the many once-Republican House seats now held by Democrats there are a lot of well-educated and white collar suburbanite Republican women out there who are similarly disloyal to their party’s leader.
Trump has convinced most of his party and a big chunk of the country that the special counsel investigation is a “deep state conspiracy” and “witch hunt” led by “angry Democrats” and “globalists” who hate America and don’t want to see it made great again, but it’s a hard sell to the rest of the country. The guy heading the special counsel investigation is an actual Eagle Scout and decorated war hero with many decades of distinguished and scandal-free public service and a lifelong Republican, which is far more than Trump can say, and in his long and heroic career in law enforcement he’s earned bipartisan respect for his character that Trump will never achieve and doesn’t even aspire to have.
There’s also the matter of the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. admittedly arranged with Russian operatives promising dirt on the opposition, the guilty pleas of Trump’s Kremlin-connected former campaign manager and national security advisor on various charges brought by the special counsel, and the many other reasons an objective observer might not regard the investigation as a “witch hunt.” The guy who was promoted over some higher-ranked and Senate-confirmed officials to be acting director of the Justice Department has made quite clear on cable television that without any knowledge of what the special counsel might have learned he’s made up his mind and not at all an objective observer, which is obviously the reason he got the promotion, so that’s also a tough sell for even Trump to make.
A perfectly innocent president would want an Eagle Scout war hero with an unimpeachable bipartisan reputation to conduct an exhaustive investigation to vindicate him, but as always Trump is clearly intent on shutting it down. We have dear friends and family who are part of that most the Republican party and that big chunk of the country outraged that Trump is bedeviled by a witch hunt, but we’re trying our best to be objective observers and are currently sympathetic with all those well-educated suburbanite Republican women and even the angriest Democrats and most of those crucial independents. Our guess is that a slight majority of the country will be outraged if the special counsel’s pursuit of justice is unconstitutionally obstructed, and although we take faint hope in that outrage we figure that no matter how it turns out there will be further days of rage and carnage in our beloved America.
We also have dear friends and family who tell us that our posts lately are rather depressing, and this one’s admittedly glum, but that’s how we see it.

— Bud Norman

The Rage on the Left and the Rage on the Right on Our Doubts Here in the Middle

Thursday was so full of infuriatingly unresolved news that we couldn’t decide what to write about, so we went to the reliably idiosyncratic Drudgereport.com to see what it considered the top story of the day. The very top of the home page featured a picture of comedian Amy Schumer raising a defiant feminist fist above the headline “Rage of the Left.”
Schumer has frequently cracked us up, even if that Netflix special of hers struck as both unfunny and downright distasteful, and we’re always fascinated by how annoyingly raging the left can be, so we “clicked” onto the “link.” It turned out to be an Associated Press story about the many women publicly objecting to the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, which we’re quite sure isn’t “fake news,” and although Schumer is mentioned in passing after several paragraphs it seemed a bit of “click bait.”.
Our long and desultory experience of both male and female human beings tells us that what she said is usually if not always more reliable than what he said, and with no particular political affiliation these days that’s how we’re assessing the news these days.
Presidential namesake Donald Trump Jr. has both sons and daughters, which we admit is more than we brag about, and he’s worried that his sons face a greater chance of being falsely accused of being charged by a woman with sexual misbehavior than his daughters do of suffering the sexual misbehavior of men. Given the numerous accusations against his boastfully pussy-grabbing father we can well understand the worry, but given his family history we’d also advise him to keep a watchful eye on his daughters. There are no doubt some false accusations against men that the right has every reason reason to be furious about, even if the right isn’t all furious about the frequent occasions when men on the left are accused, and we can well understand the rage. On the other hand, too many males do undeniably sexual misbehave on frequent occasions, and we can’t blame the suddenly fuddy-duddy left for being outraged about that.
We’ll leave it to the Senate and the movie studios and the rest of the broader popular culture to sort it all out, and in the meantime we’ll continue to try our best to comport ourselves as gentlemen.

— Bud Norman

What is Truth, After All?

Every other decade or so, some public official blurts out something that pithily and memorably sums the absurdity of our times. We’re old enough to recall President Richard Nixon telling a press conference that “I am not a crook,” and President Bill Clinton saying under oath and on videotape that “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is” is,” and his harridan of a wife and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling a congressional committee investigating her deadly Benghazi debacle “What, at this this point, does it matter?” President Donald Trump has already had several such outbursts, but his lead television lawyer Rudy Giuliani topped them all on Sunday when he appeared on the National Broadcasting Company’s decades-old “Meet the Press” program and declared that “Truth isn’t truth.”
Put in its proper context, it sounds even worse. Giuliani was of course being asked about the “Russia thing,” which is looking increasingly bad for his client these days, and the once formidable federal prosecutor and legendarily successful New York City mayor was making yet another recent mess of it. Asked to respond to the day’s New York Times report that White House Don McGhan counsel had provided some 30 hours of of testimony to the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” Giuliani unconvincingly argued that was a good thing. Asked about the meeting that the president’s namesake son and son-in-law and now-on-trial campaign manager had with some Russian operatives in Trump’s namesake Trump Tower, Giuliani insisted that none knew in advance they were meeting with Russians, even though the e-mail chain that Trump Jr. was forced to release made it plainly clear they not only knew they were meeting with Russians but Russians they had been credibly assured were agents of a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign, with Trump Jr. infamously proclaiming “I love it!”
Asked the by-now inevitable questions about whether Trump would testify to the special counsel, Giuliani replied that “I am not going to be rushed into having testify so that he gets trapped into perjury.” He further explained that “When you tell me (Trump) should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and that he shouldn’t worry, that’s so silly — because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth.”

div style=”text-indent:29px;”>At this point “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd — or that “sleepy-eyed son-of-a-bitch,” as Trump has called him — interjected the perfectly tautological comment that “Truth is truth.” At that point, Giuliani uttered his soon-to-be-in-“Bartlett’s-Famous-Quotations” response that “No, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t truth.”

Meanwhile, Trump spent much of the Lord’s Day “tweeting” about the “Russia thing,” blasting the hated New York Times for failing to emphasize that Trump had allowed Mcgann’s testimony, and comparing the special counsel’s investigation into the whole “Russia thing” to McCarthyism. Trump couldn’t have prevented the testimony of McGhan in any case, as he represents the office of the presidency rather than the president of the moment and currently has more incentive to protect it rather than it’s current occupant, and the ridiculous comparison to commie-baiting Sen. Joseph just invited all the Trum-bashing media to note that both McCarthy and Trump had the same lawyer, and that the silently rigorous special counsel investigation isn’t really analogous to McCarthyism at all.”.
At this point the two extant theories are that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian government efforts to influence the past presidential election, or that a seemingly failed “deep state” conspiracy with Russia and that awful Clinton woman and all those damned Democrats to prevent Trump’s presidency is now coming to its perfectly diabolical conclusion. Both scenarios are admittedly far-fetched, so we’ll leave it to the reader to choose between them. It’s perfectly tautological that only one of them can be true, but these days truth isn’t truth, and at risk to your security clearance status you can take your pick.

— Bud Norman

And That Was Only Sunday

Our Sunday followed a frustratingly sleepless Saturday night, and entailed getting an old punk rock buddy down the street to help us jump-start our automobile, followed by a long drive into the countryside to visit an even older friend and re-charge the battery, so it was hard to keep up with a surprisingly busy news day.
When we got home and turned on the internet The Washington Post was reporting that President Donald Trump has “tweeted” an admission that yeah, that infamous meeting that this eldest son and son-in-law and currently-on-trial campaign manager had with a couple of Russians purporting to be representatives of the Russian government was, in fact, all about getting dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Of course, Trump’s “Tweet” found nothing wrong with that.
“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower This was a meeting to get information my opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere,” Trump “tweeted,” then adding that “I did not know about it.”
Which might or more probably might not prove a winning legal or political argument, but it’s yet another shift in Trump’s narrative about the “Russia thing,” and clearly indicates the direction that’s moving. The original Trump line was that no one in his campaign had any contacts with anyone from Russia, but after a couple of campaign officials pleaded guilty to lying about their contacts and the presidential son and son-in-law and campaign manager and various others started amending their security clearance forms to avoid similar charges the new story was they did have contacts with Russians but perish the thought they had anything to do with the campaign. When The New York Times forced Trump Jr. to disclose an e-mail chain about that Trump Tower meeting they insisted it was simply a courtesy meeting to talk about policies concerning American adoptions of Russian children, and even though the e-mail chain clearly showed the meeting had been proposed by Russians the Trump family new from past business associations were closely linked to the Russian government, and the meeting would be with Russian operatives who were working to help elect Trump, Trump has stuck to that adoption story up until now.
By now the story is that the Trump campaign did indeed have frequent contacts with Russians, and that some were with Russians they understood to be representatives of a Russian government effort to assist the campaign with opposition research, but that it’s no big deal, and in any case no one ever bothered to tell Trump about any of these perfectly legal and done-all-the-time meetings. Which is a tough place for Trump to be.
It is not legal for an American presidential campaign to accept a contribution of anything valuable from a foreign government, however, and in our long experience of presidential campaigns it is not done all the time. Even if the efforts came to naught, at this point a questionable assertion, Trump now acknowledges an earnest effort on his behalf to bring them to fruition, and sticklers for the law will note that a conspiracy to rob a bank is still illegal even if the vault proves empty. As for the questionable claim that Trump himself knew nothing of these legal and routing meetings, and that it’s all his son’s and son-in-law’s and former campaign manager’s fault  for such shenanigans, his longtime lawyer is now in serious legal jeopardy and reportedly telling the special counsel that Trump knew about the meeting before it happened, and there might be some corroborating evidence among the millions of documents and tape recordings that were seized by the feds in a raid on his home, office, and hotel room.
Meanwhile, Trump was also “tweeting” his displeasure with LeBron James, the supremely talented professional basketball player, who had some critical things to say about Trump during an interview with the Cable News Network’s Don Lemon. As usual Trump called tLemon as “the dumbest man on television,” and said that “He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!” Which made Trump look further ridiculous. As if the President of the United States engaging in a “tweet” war with a professional hipster isn’t embarrassing enough, James seemed to win in a rout. The current Los Angeles Laker is as arrogant as any other elite athlete, but Trump isn’t exactly a model of modesty himself, and James is widely admired for comporting himself as a dignified role model for the American youth who idolize him, and when he abandoned the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise he gave several million dollars of his earnings to establish a state-of-the-art school for at-risk children in his nearby hometown of Akron, Ohio, and Trump can’t make the same sort of claims.
The “I like Mike” part was apparently a reference to an ongoing debate among many basketball fans about whether James or Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan is the best player in the game’s history, but Jordan quickly issued “tweet” made clear he took James’ side in the debate with Trump. James had complained to Lemon that Trump has used sports to divide Americans, and the black athlete implied to his black interviewer that it was usually directed to black critics, and pretty much every black athlete and a whole lot of white and hispanic and Asian ones quickly “tweeted” their agreement. Worse yet, the spokeswoman for Melania Trump issued a more formal statement that the First Lady much appreciated James’ philanthropic works and would be open to visiting his newly-opened school in Akron.
Which is one of several stories we’ve noticed that lead us to believe that the First Lady is not a happily married woman, but we’ll leave that theory to a less stressful and slower news day.
There were also further escalations in Trump’s war with the press, with his daughter and counselor both disagreeing that they’re the “the enemy of the people,” and a bunch of far-left and far-right idiots brawled it out on the famously mellow streets of Portland, Oregon, and that great deal Trump struck with the nuclear nutcase dictatorship in South Korea is looking less and less promising. Throw in the ongoing trade wars and a sleepless night and automotive trouble, and it left us with a worrisome feeling.
It was good to see our friends, though, and we hold out hope that the battery’s got enough charge to get us to a replacement, and if it doesn’t we have a retired hippie friend around the block who can give us a charge, and if he’s not there the neighbors are very nice people. Given all the enemies Trump is assiduously acquiring, we hope he has such loyal and un-indicted friends to help out when he needs a hand.

— Bud Norman

Bannon Bows Out

That awful Steve Bannon fellow was back at the top of the news on Wednesday, but at least we can at long last hope it will be for the last time.
In case you haven’t been following President Donald Trump’s tawdry reality show, Bannon is the former Naval officer and Goldman Sachs executive and Hollywood investor who went from the “alt-right platform” of Breitbart.com news site to become Trump’s campaign “chief executive officer” and then the “chief political strategist” and National Security Council member for the Trump administration. He was largely credited for crafting the nationalist and populist platform that won Trump the presidency, or largely blamed for it depending on your political perspective, and he was also largely credited and blamed for holding Trump to his nationalist and populist promises after the election. This made him an enemy of the more traditional Republicans who somehow wound up in the administration, as well as the Democratic daughter and son-in-law of the president, and Bannon’s prominence clearly an annoyed a president who prefers all the attention be focused on himself, so a while back he was predictably defenestrated.
He continued to converse frequently with the president, who still said nice things about him, and in his reassumed editorship of Brietbart.com he continued to propagate the more nationalist and populist elements of Trump’s presidency. With financial backing from a billionaire family he threatened to run primary challengers against any Republican congress member who wasn’t sufficiently loyal to Trump, and thus establish a brand new Grand Old Party along nationalist and populist lines. One of his early efforts included his full throated support of Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, who had twice been kicked off the state’s Supreme Court for defying federal court authority and professed antebellum opinions about slavery and women’s suffrage and homosexuality and was clearly an unusually lousy candidate even before credible accusations arouse that he’d sexually preyed on underaged girls surfaced, and when Moore somehow lost a senate seat in Alabama of all places that should have been the last we ever heard of Bannon.
It probably would have been, but a reporter named Michael Wolff has a soon-to-be-published booked called “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” and the excerpts that have been run in New York Magazine are already dominating a still-slow post-holiday news cycle. The excerpts paint a picture of a dysfunctional and infighting administration presided over by an inept and immature president, and for the moment the media mostly seem interested in the quotes attributed to Bannon. Among other things, Bannon called Donald Trump Jr.’s by-now admitted meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirty of Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton not only stupid but “treasonous,” added some similarly and by now familiar disparagements of Trump son-in-law Jarden Kushner, and seems to suggest that the investigations into Trump’s relationship with Russia isn’t a witch hunt. There was no way to keep that off the top of the news.
Trump promptly responded with a statement that “Steve Bannon has nothing to with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” The statement went on to blame Bannon for Moore’s loss in the Alabama senate race, allege that Bannon had long leaked damaging information to the hated mainstream media, and dismissed Wolff’s book as fake news.
All of which is at least partly true, but none of which is at all helpful. Bannon has indeed clearly lost his mind, but that happened long before Trump made him his campaign’s “chief executive officer” and his administration’s “chief political strategist,” so it’s far too late to lie he had nothing to do with Trump or his presidency. Trump did give a half-hearted endorsement of Moore’s establishment primary opponent, telling a rally crowd that “I might be wrong,” but he did wind up more fully endorsing Bannon’s crackpot anti-establishment candidate even after the credible allegations of creepy behavior toward underage girls, and they both share in the blame for that debacle. Bannon almost certainly was one of the frequent unnamed sources that the hated mainstream media cited, but by alleging that Trump concedes it wasn’t all “fake news.” Wolff’s book is bound to include some errors, too, but it’s bound to include some verifiable bombshells and with Trump’s unwitting help looks to be a huge best-seller.
At least Trump seems to be finally rid of Bannon, and perhaps so are the rest of us. All those nationalists and populists who rooted for Trump will continue to do so, all those newfangled liberals and the more old-fashioned sorts of conservatives who loathed Bannon will continue to loathe Trump, and Bannon seems left without any support except maybe that billionaire family of right-wing kooks. He never was an appealing character in the Trump reality show, even in the public-loves-to-hate-’em sort of way as Omarosa Manigault or Anthony Scaramucci or various other grotesque cast members, and we’re hopeful he’ll soon be consigned to the dreary sort of anonymous life one can buy with Goldman Sachs and Hollywood and Trump money.
Trump is still stuck with the worst of the populist and nationalist platform he ran on, however, and it’s not yet known if Bannon’s promise to burn down the Republican establishment will eventually be kept.

— Bud Norman

A Red Herring Twist in the Russia Story

One of the recent revelations about the “Russia” thing is that the Democratic National Committee helped pay for the now famous dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent that alleged President Donald Trump had fishy financial dealings with the Russian government and even fishier dealings with certain other Russians. All the top-rated conservative talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media were giddy about the story, first reported by the oh-so liberal establishment Washington Post, and Trump also claimed vindication, but it doesn’t strike us as much of big deal.
Any thoughtful observer assumed there was some Democratic involvement in the dossier when it first became known, the hippy-dippy but reliably factual Mother Jones magazine first confirmed it a full year ago, and all those top-rated conservative talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media have been telling their audience about it all along. The knowledge hasn’t yet made the “Russia” thing go away, nor the dossier’s numerous allegations about it, and probably won’t now. Recent attempts to turn “Russia” into a Democratic scandal also seem destined for failure.
The highly ethical sensibilities of all those talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media are deeply offended that the Democrats would stoop so low as to pay for opposition research on a Republican opponent, but this is hypocrisy too obvious for the public at large not to notice. Way back when Donald Trump Jr. was was forced by The New York Times to release an e-mail chain that showed a Russian lawyer explicitly offering the Trump campaign dirt on the Democratic nominee straight from the Russian government, and Trump Jr. agreeing to a meeting with an exclamatory “I love it,” the party line was that politics ain’t bean bag and of course everyone does opposition research.
The president’s defense of his son was that “most people would have taken that meeting,” even if it was a representative of a hostile foreign power offering something of value that campaign laws clearly prohibit campaigns from accepting, so its hard to share his current indignation that the Democrats paid for a British private investigator to snoop around his Russian connections. None of the Trump-hating liberal media seem have to mentioned it yet, but even such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves recall when Trump claimed he had hired a team of private investigators to look into President Barack Obama’s birthplace, and “tweeted” that “they can’t believe what they’re finding.” Trump later declared that “Obama was born in Hawaii, period,” and took credit for at long last putting any scurrilous rumors otherwise to rest, and in his defense we have to admit he probably never did hire any private investigators, but his suddenly puritan views about opposition research still look ridiculous.
The dossier is still largely unsubstantiated, as all the establishment media routinely admit, but by no means discredited, as the Trump-friendly media always describe it, and the fact that the Democrats helped pay for doesn’t change that. Every sort of conservative  has always insisted that just because a study skeptical of climate change was paid for by an energy company or some analysis of tax policy was paid for by rich people doesn’t mean the findings are necessarily valid, and that the data and methodology should be judged on their merits, so we’ll judge the dossier accordingly. So far a few niggling errors have been found, other parts have been corroborated by the media and the intelligence, the more salacious details have largely been ignored except by the gleeful Trump-hating late night comics, who have a collectively far larger audience than all those top-rated conservative talk radio shows, and for now we’re keeping an open mind about all of it.
The year-old Mother Jones scoop and the more ballyhooed report of the past week by The Washington Post both say that the dossier first started with funding from a Republican donor backing one of the many non-Trump candidates in the party primaries, who cut off the money after Trump won the nomination, and the Democrats then pitched in for a while, and after that the British private investigator continued the work on his own because he thought the entire world needed to know what he was finding out. No one on the left or right is disputing any of this, and on the right they’re speculating about which Republican from the hated Republican establishment would do such a thing, with Trump telling reporters that he has his own guesses he might reveal later, and it any case it doesn’t really matter.
Meanwhile the congressional and special counsel investigations into “Russia” continue, the unfriendly-to-Trump media keep coming up with incriminating and convincing stories about something fishy with the “Russia” thing, and we’ll try to continue looking with a open mind at the data and methodology as it all unfolds.

— Bud Norman

The Other Steadily Dripping Flood

The historic and ongoing natural disaster in Texas and Louisiana has flooded almost everything else out of the news, except for a few stray reports about the nutcase regime in North Korea escalating nuclear tensions, so you might not have noticed that the steady drip, drip, drip of leaks about “Russia” is also approaching flood levels.
The past week has provided at least three new plot twists in the ongoing unnatural disaster, none of which are helpful to President Donald Trump. None are the evidence of impeachable offenses that his most strident critics have been hoping, but they all require some creative explaining from his staunchest admirers.
The Washington Post reported that the congressional investigating committees will soon have documentary evidence that in October of 2015 Trump signed a letter of intent for an ambitious skyscraper project in Moscow, which isn’t necessarily illegal but doesn’t look good. Trump was four months into his presidential campaign at the time, running on a strikingly Russia-friendly foreign policy platform and offering unusual praise for the country’s dictator and predicting on “Face the Nation” that “I think I would probably get along with him very well,” while indignantly denying any suspicion that it might be for self-interested reasons. At the time he categorically denied any business dealings with any sorts of Russians, seemed quite offended that anyone would suspect otherwise, so the skyscraper project he was pursuing with the apparent help of a Russian-mob connected associate who kept dropping the Russian dictator’s name in the ensuing e-mail chain might not be illegal but doesn’t look good.
If we know about that letter of intent it’s a safe bet that so does famously dogged special-counsel-into-the-matter Robert Mueller, who apparently already had enough reason to suspect other fishy deals between Russians and people near to Trump to obtain all sorts of extraordinary subpoenas and search warrants, and it’s another interesting plot twist that Politico reports Mueller has lately been working on the case with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The more attentive fans of the long-running Trump reality show might recall Schneiderman as one of the attorneys general who brought a civil case against Trump University, which ended with Trump paying a $25 million settlement but not having to acknowledge the undeniable fact it was pretty much a scam all along, and how Trump had frequently “tweeted” about what a “lightweight” Schneiderman is, so his reintroduction into the plot does not bode well.
There’s widespread press speculation that Mueller brought Schneiderman aboard because a few people who held high levels in the Trump campaign that he clearly regards as criminal suspects can’t get a presidential pardon on state charges, a concern heightened by Trump’s controversial pardon of an Arizona sheriff for seemingly political reasons last week, and that seems reasonable to us. Anyone Trump did preemptively pardon would forfeit a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, though, and Mueller seems to think he has even higher-level fish to fry this in this investigation, so it also seems reasonable that Schneiderman’s longstanding scrutiny of Trump’s New York-based and still wholly-owned business empire has come up with some hard-to-explain evidence of its own.
One of the people near to Trump that Manafort clearly considers a potential criminal suspect is the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has plenty of Russian connections from his lobbying-for-dictators business that he doesn’t even deny, and Mueller has enough reason to suspect Manafort of something or another that he persuaded a federal judge to grant an extraordinary pre-dawn search warrant on Manafort’s home, so of course Manafort was also back in the news. The National Broadcasting Company reported that the notes he took on his smart phone during a meeting he took with the president’s son and son-in-law and a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer and a couple of other fishy Russians, which are now in the hands of those pesky congressional investigations and presumably Mueller, and that they mention the word “donor.” Trump’s most staunch defenders described the meeting as meaningless, and pointed to everyone’s account that Manafort was staring at his smart phone the whole time as proof, but they’d also previously insisted that no one near Trump ever had any sort of meeting with anyone remotely Russian.
It might nor might not have anything to do with all this, but Bloomberg News also reported that Trump’s son-in-law and highest-level advisor Jared Kushner and his family’s still wholly-owned New York-based real estate empire is desperately seeking foreign financial aid to stave off bankruptcy. That happens to the best of families and isn’t illegal, we suppose, but neither does it look good.
Sooner or later the sun will shine down on the good people of Texas and Louisiana, and the hard work of recovery will commence, and we’re hopeful that politics won’t prevent the federal government from doing its part. All the drip, drip, drip from the Korean peninsula to the ongoing investigations in Washington and New York will sooner or later bob up above all the water on the front page, though, and don’t say you weren’t warned.

— 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

Happy Bastille Day

Today is Bastille Day in France, and it’s a big deal over there. The holiday celebrates the date in 1789 when French revolutionaries stormed the notorious Bastille prison where political dissidents were being held, which proved a turning point in the civil war that toppled the despotic monarchy of Louis XVI, and July 14 still stirs a feeling of liberte, egalite and fraternite in French hearts in much the same way the Fourth of July makes Americans feel proud of their revolution.
The French Revolution didn’t work out quite so well as the American one, however, what with the Reign of Terror that shortly followed and the dictatorial rule of Napoleon Bonaparte that quickly ensued and all the wars that inevitably resulted. We can well understand why the French are still relieved to be rid that Louis XVI fellow, who really was a particularly despotic monarch, but we’re harder pressed to see how they think it all worked out well enough to celebrate. The French eventually settled into a reasonably peaceable and productive democracy, with scientists who pasteurized milk and painters who created that awesome Impressionist stuff and a military that maintained a profitable empire in Africa and Asia, but they had a bad 20th century. At this point in the 21st century they’ve arrived at a Bastille Day with French President Emmanuel Macron sharing the stage with American President Donald Trump.
Trump was ostensibly given the seat of honor because this Bastille Day coincides with the centennial of America’s entry into World War I, one of the two times in the 20th century when America’s military might came to France’s rescue, but we assume there were other reasons as well. Franco-American relations have been complicated as far back as the XYZ Affair, and in the age of Macron and Trump it’s all the more complicated. At first glance the two leaders seem polar opposites of one another, but on closer inspection bear some unsettling similarities.
Trump ran on a nationalist and isolationist and protectionist platform, Macron on a platform of cosmopolitanism and international cooperation and free trade. On the campaign trail Trump frequently cited France as an example of what America shouldn’t be doing with its immigration policy, usually citing a friend “Jim” who had ceased his annual vacations to the country because “Paris isn’t Paris anymore,” and Macron has been one of the European leaders frankly talking about the need for a post-American world order. During Macron’s race Trump “tweeted” some friendly words about Macron’s opponent, who was from a Vichy-derived nationalist and isolationist and protectionist party that was also backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and we’re sure Macron would have preferred Trump’s opponent, whose myriad flaws are surely well known to our American readership. They’ve also clashed over the Paris Climate Accord, with Trump ending America’s support because “I was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” and Macron quickly exploiting the European backlash by promising to “Make the planet great again.”
Trump’s a 71-year-old political neophyte with a 47-year-old photography model wife, Macron’s a 39-year-old career civil service technocrat with a 64-year-old school teacher wife, the former is more quintessentially American than we’d like to admit, and the latter is Frenchier than any self-respecting Frenchman would want to admit, so it does seem an unlikely pairing on a Bastille Day stage. Still, as the dined together with their spouses at a reputedly swank restaurant beneath the Eiffel Tower the two leaders probably found they had much in common.
Macron won election as the leader of his own newly-created and defiantly disruptive party, much as Trump did, and he prides himself on a pragmatism unmoored from any coherent political ideology, much as Trump does. Both are friendly to business interests and averse to needless government regulations, except for some disagreements on immigration policy they both take the same tough-on-terrorism stands, and we guess they’re both equally eager to make sort of deal about something or another. Macron shares Trump’s tastes for fancy dinners and big military parades, too, as well as the same distaste for all the constitutional restraints and constant press criticisms that stand in their way of getting things done. Macron has recently proposed doing away with a third of the French Parliament’s deputies, which is bold even by Trump’s standards, and the French press has likened him to “Sun King” Louis XVI by calling him the “Sun President,” which is about as harsh as anything the American press has yet come up with against Trump.
The two leaders agreed to disagree about the Paris Climate Accord, which will probably help both with their domestic political audiences, but didn’t announce any noteworthy agreements. Nothing was expected for the old Franco-American relationship celebrating Bastille Day and the centennial of America’s entry into World War I and world leadership, though, and the two leaders got along well enough that something good might come of it. Our guess is that Macron is pragmatic and unprincipled enough that he’s trying to find a sweet spot between an increasingly isolated but still significant America and the post-American European alliance he’ll be talking up again tomorrow, and our faint hope is that the savvy real estate developer Trump will hold his own in the negotiations.
The trip obliged Trump to take a couple of questions from the American press, and naturally one of them was about those e-mails his son released about a meeting he and Trump’s son-in-law and campaign manager had with someone they understood to be a Russian lawyer offering help in the election from the Russian government. Trump’s rambling reply described his son as a “good boy” and “young man” who didn’t do anything that wasn’t usual in American politics, but Trump’s son is the same age as the French President, whose leadership Trump had just effusively praised, so it was a bad setting for the argument. Macron declined the opportunity to gripe Russia’s meddling in his country’s past election, and although that was a characteristically shrewd French diplomatic move we’ll leave it to our Francophile friends to guess how that plays with his domestic political audience.
Both Trump and Macron will be back at the mercy of their domestic political audiences by Monday, if not sooner, and we expect the mobs of both countries will eventually grab the metaphorical pitchforks and storm the metaphorical Bastille against the both of them. Although we admit that both of them were arguably preferable to the people they ran against, we still don’t have much regard for either of them, and at this point we’re only rooting for France and America.

— Bud Norman