The Point of No Tax Return

President Donald Trump spent an early part of Sunday “tweeting,” as he does most mornings. He wished everyone a Happy Easter, which suited the occasion, and he boasted of a military build-up that is apparently somehow already underway, but mostly he seemed annoyed the previous day’s protests around the country demanding the release of his tax returns.
The first “tweet” once again recounted his “almost impossible” electoral college victory, then asked “Now Tax Returns are brought up again?” His second outburst suggested “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday, adding that “Election is over!” Both were composed before Trump got around to wishing the country a Happy Easter, so together they suggest the protestors at least succeeded in rankling the president.
Many of the protests were indeed small, and the election is indeed over, but Trump should nonetheless get used to it being brought up again and again. Although he did win electoral college victory Trump lost the popular, many of those who voted against him don’t have to be paid to show up somewhere and wave a sign and chant slogans about it, and Trump’s capitalized Tax Return is too tempting an issue for them to drop it. The protestors allies in Congress and many of the media don’t intend to, and Trump will need better “tweets” to counter their arguments.
Campaign issues don’t end with the campaigns, as Trump should know after the decades he continued to make the same criticisms and conspiracy theories about every president since Ronald Reagan throughout their terms, and there’s no apparent reason this one should. Although Trump is not required by law to disclose his tax returns, with or with capitalization, there are valid reasons that for the past forty years every presidential nominee has done so and solid majorities of the public have come to expect it. Those reasons are all the more valid when a president retains a global empire business that is bound to be affected by what the federal government does over the next four years, as this one does, another break from a longstanding informal agreement that there are also valid reasons for, and which is also something that Trump’s critics can be expected to keep bringing up.
Worse yet, it’s hard to concoct a convincing argument for why Trump doesn’t release his tax returns. The sorts of Trump supporters who don’t need convincing will accept the stated reason that he’s under audit, even though that doesn’t prevent him from making his returns public, and shouldn’t put him in any sort of legal jeopardy, but eventually Trump will need to persuade some more skeptical sorts. His more stubborn apologists point out the educational records and other documents that Obama declined to release, and note that Democrats didn’t seem to mind that lack of transparency, but of course those supporters very much minded, and kept bringing it up throughout and now even after his term, and so did Trump himself, who “tweeted” repeatedly about it, so they also have to explain why things are now so different. For those of us who wanted to see Obama’s grades and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and anything else we could get our hands on about any any office-holding Democrats, but also want to see Trump’s tax filings and anything else we can learn his or any other Republican politician’s potential conflicts of power, that argument is utterly unconvincing.
Although it will drift on and off the front pages, we expect the stories and and the protests will continue. All the stories about investigations underway into Russia’s role in the past campaign will make mention of it, and so will all the stories about Trump-owned businesses benefiting from some deregulation or tax shift or federal contracts that are bound to come up. There will be plenty of speculation, too, and Trump’s “tweets” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer don’t seem likely to allay the resulting suspicions. The only way to end it is to just go ahead and release the damned things, the way Obama did with the birth certificate he was pestered about by certain people even long after his victorious election was over.
That would not only put the issue to rest and allow Trump to “tweet” about more important issues, but also quell some of that speculation about what those unseen returns might reveal about Russia or any possible conflicts of interest from that global business empire. Surely there’s nothing the least bit compromising in those documents, after all.

— Bud Norman

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Rethinking that “Lock Her Up” Chant

One of the big selling points of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was that, if he elected, he would send Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to prison. He made the boast to her face during one of their nationally-televised debates, crowds at his subsequent rallies lustily chanted “lock her up,” and the more enthusiastic supporters were sporting t-shirts with the same exhortation. Now that Trump has been elected, though, he seems in a more forgiving mood.
In an interview with The New York Times on Monday, Trump reportedly “made clear that he would not pursue an investigation himself, nor make it a priority as he takes office.” After months of threats of special prosecutors and other investigations against the woman he dubbed “Crooked Hillary,” Trump was quoted as saying “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many ways, and I am not wanting to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious.”
Such magnanimity will no doubt be greatly disappointing to many of Trump’s more fervent supporters, who hate Clinton with a red-hot passion and were so looking forward to seeing the leaked photos of her behind bars in an orange jumpsuit show up in The National Enquirer. Trump has bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes, though, and letting Clinton skate probably isn’t quite so bad as that, depending on Trump might have shot, so we suppose those vengeful supporters will eventually get over it. The gesture won’t earn him any gratitude from those on the left who hate him with a red-hot passion and were hoping to see him making the art of the deal with his cellmates, though, and will have to settle for that $25 million he shelled out to settle the Trump University lawsuits and whatever fines he’ll pay for his family charity’s admitted violations of the tax laws, so as a political matter it’s probably a wash.
As a matter of good government and ethics and all that, on the hand, the whole situation seems ridiculous. We can well understand the animosity toward Clinton, whose unsecured e-mail certainly does seem to have violated several laws that would cause any less well-connected to be imprisoned, and whose own family charity seems to have bigger problems than an affordable tax fine, and we were publicly grousing about her nearly constant disregard for the rules way back when Trump was contributing to the Clintons’ campaigns and inviting them to his third wedding and lavishly praising them to every interviewer. There was something slightly Banana Republic about Trump leading his rallies in a chant of “lock her up,” and as seemingly politically motivated as her official exoneration was under the Obama administration was to her critics it would have seemed at least as politically motivated to Trump’s many critics if he had tried to keep his campaign promise, and we expect everyone involved in that hypothetical battle would come out looking bad.
Which is not to say that anybody is looking good after that Times interview, or that anyone will be pleased with outcome. The Clinton haters will have to console themselves that she’s out of power in the government, in disfavor with much of her party, and unlikely to yield any influence on politics for some to come, and that she might not have that much time left. The Trump haters will have to console themselves with the fact that he’s already broken one campaign promise, with many more sure to come, and that he’s already leaving himself open to the same sort of charges of influence-peddling that he used against Clinton. We don’t hate anybody, nor do we much care for Clinton or Trump, so none of this makes us feel any better about the country’s situation.

— Bud Norman

Observations on a Penultimate Day of an Election Year

Tomorrow is at long last Election Day, yet we still haven’t cast our votes. Being old-fashioned sorts we’ll have none of this newfangled “early voting” nonsense, which seems all the rage with the youngsters these days, and will wait until a proper Tuesday afternoon to arrive at the polls. In such a crazy presidential election year as this such adherence to protocol is especially wise, as it allows one to take even the very last plot twists into account before throwing away one’s vote.
The earliest voting of this crazy election year began before any of the presidential debates were scheduled, and was well underway in several states before that “Access Hollywood” tape of the Republican nominee boasting grabbing women by the whatever became the most widely watched video since O.J. Simpson’s slo-mo car chase, at which point all the polls and pundits agreed that he’d lost the race. Some 30 million votes had already been cast when the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that his agency was again looking into the damning e-mail scandal that had longed plagued the Democratic nominee, this time because of some missives that had turned up on the lap-top of her top aide’s notorious sex fiend husband, and the polls started shifting and the pundits were for admitted that the race was once again on. Over the weekend the reiterated its previous position that it would not recommend any charges, and for the same questionable reasons it had previously announced, the Republican nominee’s nudie model of a third wife gave a widely ridiculed speech blasting the “cyberbullying” and crude political rhetoric that her husband has come to personify, a dramatic assassination attempt against the Republican nominee turned out to be just another case of a protestor being roughed up at one of his rallies, by the time the early voting resumes today an estimated 40 percent of all the votes will have already been cast.
There’s no telling how many of those early votes might have been changed by late-breaking news, but we don’t expect it would be many. At this point in such an acrimonious campaign most of the voters minds are unlikely to be changed by any old thing that might be revealed, as shown in an hilarious but not-safe-for-work sting video by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who has proved the only satirist outlandish¬†enough to keep up with this crazy election year, and by now even the most reluctant supporters of the candidates are already well of any flaws that might be revealed. Those of us who along ago decided not to vote for either of those two awful candidates have only seen that judgment confirmed by the most recent damning headlines.
Still, there are bound to have been a relative few voters whose minds might have changed, and in such a close election as this seems likely to be that could be just enough to have changed the results. Whether any would of those late-breaking stories would have changed the outcome for the worse or the worse yet will never be known, of course, but we still think best that except in the most extenuating circumstances people should vote on Election Day.

— Bud Norman

Waiting for Another Commensurate Scandal

Last Friday’s news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was once again looking into Democratic nominee’s e-mails was still the big story on Monday, and with the polls tightening and only eight days left in this crazy election year she could use something that will sustain a similarly bad news cycle for Republican nominee Donald Trump. Maybe the Clinton campaign has got something they’re waiting to reveal to an eager press at just the right too-late-to-respond moment, and perhaps Trump will once again them with something on his own, but for the moment the best The New York Times can come up with is a dubious tax dodge that Trump has used and The Washington Post’s front offering is about the Trump campaigning stiffing a fancy pollster it once employed.
Once upon a better time in America both stories would have outraged public sensibilities, and might even been one of those “October surprises” that swing a race, but in this crazy election they’re unlikely to have much effect. During the presidential debates Trump pretty much boasted that he’s gone years without paying any federal income taxes as he’s racked up his much boasted-about fortune, and his supporters seemed to agree that it was just further proof of his brilliance. Trump’s penchant for paying people less than promised for their labors is also well known at this point, and that pollster will have to take his place in line behind at least a couple thousand other suckers who have already brought lawsuits against him, but Trump supporters remain convinced that he’ll surely keep all his promises to them. Although both stories are yet another reminder of all the other awful and true stories, Trump’s supporters are also fine with all of those as well. Besides, the vast majority of that tiny minority of the people who still pay any heed to The New York Times or Washington Post these days are already riled up to cast a vote for Clinton.
Among those who are still trying to figure out which of these two awful people is the more awful, that e-mail thing is more likely to get attention. They’re unlikely to share the outraged sensibility of the editorialists at The New York Times and The Washington Post about the FBI divulging information about an ongoing investigation to the public, which is yet another indication of what a crazy election this year has been, and the stories that the even the most polite press are still obliged to report necessarily recall the unsecured private server that Clinton used as Secretary of State and the suspect family charity that it seemed designed to protect and that shady aide with the exotic good looks and Muslim name who’s married that that sexting pervert with the even funnier-sounding name, which is hard to ignore. Worse yet, it’s just a late-in-the-season reminder of the all those other scandals that Clinton and her own perverted former president husband have racked up over their lucrative 40 years or so in the public eye.
The Clintons’ supporters have stuck with them through it all, though, so the latest reminder of their long history might not knick much off from her stubborn plurality in the averages of the polls. All the right wing radio talkers will be able to rile up their listeners, but they’re all riled up enough after the last 40 years. As for those who are still undecided about which candidate is the more awful, we suspect they’re not paying much attention to anybody at this point.
This crazy election year feels like one of those inept and lately low-rated National Football League games between two mediocrities that comes down to which team makes the last misplay, but in this case it’s whichever candidate has the last news cycle that reminds everyone of their arguably worse awfulness. We’re still hoping that somehow neither team wins, but making no predictions.

— Bud Norman

On What Was Thankfully the Final Debate

We tuned into the final presidential debate of this crazy election year loathing both participants, and by the end of it we were loathing both even more, so we’re inclined to call it a draw. The target audience was whatever slight portion of the country is still holding out hope that one of these two awful people is at least somewhat less awful than the other, however, and with that in mind we’d have to say that awful Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton probably got the better of awful Republican nominee Donald Trump.
All the pundits in the traditional press seemed to agree that for the first 30 minutes or so Trump sounded like the sort of politely boring old-fashioned Republican who would probably be 20 points ahead of Clinton in all the polls, and that for the remainder of the debate he started acting like the proudly impolite and you-have-to-admit-at-least-he’s-not-boring candidate that overwhelmed all those politely boring but vastly more accomplished primary challengers and is currently six points or so behind in a general election race. Being politely boring old-fashioned Republicans ourselves we’d like to think we could have done better on the policy stuff, and would have come off far less awful during the rest of the debate, but we bitterly admit that this time the conventional wisdom is probably correct. Both candidates were at last forced to confront the fact of America’s crippling national debt, with the Democrat ludicrously asserting that the rich folks who currently pay an inordinate share of the nation’s taxes can pay off a mere $20 trillion or so of debt and the Republican ludicrously asserting that he’ll somehow create a 5 percent annual increase in the gross domestic product that will make it all go away, and both pretending that reforms to the entitlement programs that comprise some 60 percent of government spending aren’t needed, but we have to admit that the frank talk we believe in probably wouldn’t have done either any good. They were also asked about abortion, with the Democrat sticking to her long-held extremist abortion-rights-even-unto-the-ninth-month stand and the Republican sticking to his newly-found and also extremist punish-the-mother positions on the matter, but we doubt that anybody with strong opinions on the matter was dissuaded by either of their soundbites.
Clinton was the Secretary of State who presided over that awful deal that betrayed the Czechs and Poles on a deal to provide nuclear against the Russians, and who offered that ridiculously apologetic “reset” button that encouraged Russia to proceed with its revanchist policies in Georgia and the Ukraine and the rest of its former Soviet empire, but Trump once again bragged about how Russian dictator Vladimir Putin had said nice things about him and defended his admirer against the now undeniable charge that Putin has been hacking the Democratic party’s e-mails to help the Trump campaign. A boringly polite Republican candidate would have such taken to the opportunity to note that Clinton had also made her e-mails as Secretary of State vulnerable to foreign espionage by using an unsecured server that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has called “grossly careless,” but the you-have-to-admit-at-least-he’s-not-boring Trump took the opportunity to defend the Russian dictator against the charges leveled by every single civilian and military intelligence agency and declined a golden opportunity to say he didn’t approve of such foreign interference in an American election. This allowed Clinton to assert that Trump would be Putin’s “puppet,” causing to Trump to respond that “you’re the puppet,” and at that point we were only slightly reassured he didn’t mimic PeeWee Herman by saying “I know you are, but what am I?”
Clinton was stuck with the Democrats’ weak-kneed response to the Islamic State’s rise, Trump overstated its international influence and was reduced to arguing that a recent multi-national offensive against that terror gang was politically-timed and that Putin wasn’t propping up the Syrian and Iranian resistance. Some brief long awaited talk about the undeniable failure of the Obamacare health system would have helped a boringly traditional Republican candidate, but Trump’s past talk in support of an individual mandate and praise of single payer systems and blather about the government paying for universal coverage resulted in yet another desultory draw.
For those who stuck around for the good part where the candidates sparred over which one was more awful, it was probably another draw. Even the well-reviewed-by-the-mainstream-press Fox News moderator was obliged to ask Trump about his caught-on-tape and widely-publicized comments about grabbing women by the whatever, and an audience warned against any reactions had a good laugh when he claimed that nobody respects women more than he does, so although Trump was at least shrewd enough not to raise his usual accusations about Clinton’s husband that was probably a draw at the very best. By the end of the debate he was frequently interrupting Clinton, which probably doesn’t play well with the distaff 53 percent of the electorate that seems to loathe him even more than Clinton, and his interjection that she’s “such a nasty woman,” although accurate enough, probably didn’t win him any undecided votes.
Nor did Trump do himself any good, near the end, when he said that he’d keep the country “in suspense” about whether he’d accept the outcome of the election even if he lost. A boringly traditional Republican would have answered the question by saying that once the votes had all been counted, and absent any compelling evidence of fraud, that of course he would accede to the will of the people, but you have to admit that Trump at least isn’t so boring as that. The response will probably dominate the post-debate headlines, and the resulting debate probably won’t do him much good, but at least it will give his more die-hard supporters something to grouse about for another four years.
For those of us who can’t stand either of these two awful people or their awful for-the-moment policies, there will be plenty of grousing no matter how it turns out.

— Bud Norman

Fighting to a Tie a the Bottom of the Pit

As Sunday night’s presidential debate began we had a red-hot loathing for both candidates, and by end the end of it we were loathing both of them even a bit more, so we’ll call it a tie. In baseball a tie goes to the runner, and in politics it goes to the candidate whose campaign has been faring worse lately, so by the rules of American sports we’d have to say that Republican nominee Donald Trump got slightly the better of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
In the unlikely event you’ve been lucky enough to avoid any political news for the last couple of weeks, it’s pretty much all been bad for Trump. There was a general consensus that he was rude and obnoxious and obviously unprepared and strangely sniffling and thoroughly trounced in the first debate, then he followed it up with an early morning “Twitter” war against some beauty pageant winner that gained a few pounds some time ago, along with his admonition for everyone in America to watch a sex tape “check out” what proved to be either fuzzy footage of some blanketed figures in a South American reality show or some hard-core pornography featuring another Latina actress who bore a slight resemblance to the beauty queen, and the resulting three- or four-point surge in Clinton’s average of poll numbers seemed to confirm that general consensus. His boringly traditional Republican vice-presidential running mate got good reviews for his performance in a little-watched debate a week or so later, largely by indignantly denying that that he or Trump had ever said the ridiculous things that were being alleged, but the next couple of days of news were full of undeniable videotaped evidence that Trump had indeed said all of those ridiculous things. Since our last post on Friday there has surfaced an 11-year-old videotape of Trump bragging on a hot mic to his “Access Hollywood” interviewer about how his celebrity allows him to do deplorable things to both single and married women that our old-fashoined Republican editorial standards forbid us from explaining in such obscene terms as he used, which led to a rash of high-ranking Republican’s denouncing his candidacy, and all he could offer was a rather ambiguous apology and a plausible if contestable claim that Clinton’s ex-president husband was even worse.
Given all that, Clinton’s failure to make an incontestable metaphorical out against Trump on Sunday night means that he’s at least metaphorically safe on first base and still with a chance of metaphorically making it all the way home.
The first 15 minutes or so of the debate were devoted to that appalling “Access Hollywood” videotape, but that had been preceded earlier in the day by Trump’s news conference with a woman who alleges that Clinton’s husband had raped her, another woman who won a sizable settlement after alleging that Clinton’s husband had exposed himself to her, another who claims that Clinton’s husband groped her, and yet another who was a 12-year-old rape victim whose attacker had the charges reduced because of Clinton herself’s aggressive legal defense on his behalf. Trump alluded to all of it after after apologizing for his own boasts of similar behavior, which he also described as mere “locker room banter,” and Clinton conspicuously declined defend her husband’s past but instead said she would take the advice of inexplicably popular President Barack Obama’s inexplicably popular wife that “When they take the low road, we take the high road.” This will probably hearten her die-hard supporters, and even be sufficient for those more reluctant supporters who hate Trump more, but we doubt it was persuasive to even the most reluctant supporter.
Over the next few days we expect to hear a lot about that married woman who is alleging in court that Trump attacked her in pretty much the same way he was bragging about attacking women in that videotaped “locker room banter,” and one of Trump’s two ex-wife’s allegations sworn testimony that he raped her, which was sworn into court testimony but then recanted after she signed on to a generous alimony settlement that included a “no public disparagement” clause, along with numerous beauty queens and reality show starlets alleging the same sort of boorish behavior associated with Clinton’s husband. There likely won’t be as much attention paid to the recently cleared-for-trial claims of a woman that she was raped by Trump when she was 13 years old, given that his alleged co-defendant was the convicted billionaire sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein, who is also a friend and flying partner of Clinton’s husband, but in any case we’ll wind up loathing both Trump and Clinton, and expect that so will much of America. Clinton’s media allies can also call up Trump’s past claims that the impeachment of Clinton’s was a Republican mania and his disparagement of that woman who claims Clinton’s husband exposed himself to her and his past defense of both Clinton and creepy husband, and it will wind up as another disgusting tie.
The rest of it was devoted to what passes for “issues” these days, and anyone who slogged through all that boring stuff would probably call it a tie going to the runner. Secretary of State Clinton offered that ridiculously aplogetic “re-set” button with Russia that blamed any misunderstandings with the peace-loving dictator Vladimir Putin that encouraged his revanchist ambitions in Georgia and Ukraine and perhaps the rest of the former Soviet Empire, but she came off tougher on Russia than Trump, who still claims that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that dismantled the Soviet Empire is “obsolete” and clings to some hope that he and the “strong” Putin can join forces to defeat Islamic terrorism even as Russia is clearly aligned with the Iranian government that Trump rightly criticizes Clinton for helping, and he was forced to renounce his vice-presidential candidate’s more forceful stand in that supposedly winning vice-presidential debate, so we wound up loathing both all the more, and suspect that the rest of the country didn’t notice how awful both are. There was some talk about tax policy, with Clinton indignantly noting and Trump proudly admitting that he hasn’t paid much in the way of income tax since declaring a $916 million loss 20 years ago, but it was unclear if either was committed to changing that the laws that made possible.
Although the moderators did seem favor Clinton they allowed some questions about her recently-leaked big money speeches to Wall Street donors, which Clinton more or less admitted were true, and she embarrassed herself further trying to invoke “Honest” Abe Lincoln and George “I’ll Never Lie” Washington to justify it, but the coming news cycle will no doubt feature Trump’s boasts about the bribes he’s made and similar scandals he’s racked up in the private sector. In Clinton’s favor she didn’t need any laser pointers to guide her onto the stage or suffer a coughing fit or otherwise exhibit any symptoms of the imminently many fatal illnesses that have been ascribed to her, while that sniffling problem of Trump’s that was widely remarked on after the first debate seems to have gotten worse, and that “taking the high road” strategy might work out for her after the media takes the low road for her in the upcoming week.
Trump’s most ardent supporters and the more reluctant and his more reluctant Clinton-hating supporters will be delighted that he outright called her “the devil” and promised to have her imprisoned if he became president, his more die-hard supporter and the more reluctant ones who fear Trump will probably find it redolent of the South American banana republics that Trump warns we’re becoming. Clinton’s most ardent and most reluctant supporters will praise her for taking the high road, and cheer on the media as it takes the low road this week, and by the end of it we’ll be deep in the gutter. Which leaves us loathing both of these horrible people, and what we can guess are their horrible policies, which in both cases don’t even specifically address what to about the national debt and health care and a degenerate culture that has wound up offering two such spectacularly awful choices.
The good news, if you need some, is that there’s only one debate and less than four weeks left before this is all over, one way or the other.

— Bud Norman

A Good Year For Vladimir Putin

The Democrats were loudly cheering some woman’s abortion on Wednesday during their quadrennial party convention, but Donald J. Trump wasn’t about to let them get all the attention. As usual the Republican nominee provided plenty of headline fodder in a Miami press conference, where he addressed the recent hacking and release of Democratic National Party e-mails by telling the Russian government, “Russia — if you’re listening — I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing (from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s accounting during her tenure as Secretary of State). I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

His apologists insist it was just a joke, and we’ll concede that it might well have been, as it’s always hard to tell with Trump, although we notice that he didn’t have to pause for laughs. In any case he gave his critics something to write about than all the embarrassing things that were going on at the Democratic convention, and allowed them tsk and tut and otherwise wax indignant about Trump inviting the interference of a foreign thug in an American election, persuasively argue that if it was a joke it wasn’t a very funny one, and that there’s no assurance the Russians will take it was one, despite that country’s delightfully bleak sense of humor. It also bolstered a recent conspiracy theory that the Russians were behind the hacking and released the e-mails to help Trump, and revived longstanding worry felt on both the left and right about Trump’s apparent chumminess with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, both of which he addressed with his usual un-parseable eloquence.
“Why do I have to get involved with Putin? I have nothing to do with Putin. I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about the man other than that he would respect me. He doesn’t respect our president. And if it is Russia — it’s probably not, nobody knows who it is — but if it is Russia, it’s really bad for a different reason, because it shows how little respect they have for our country, when they would hack into a major party and get everything.”
Which will satisfy his apologists as a perfect reasonable response, but more skeptical sorts are likely to notice that it includes an admission that his past claim before an enrapt Republican audience to have spoken with Putin as “stable mates” on the “60 Minutes” program that broadcast one interview with Putin on the eastern half of the world another with Trump in the western half was of course a ridiculous lie, an even more embarrassing admission that the Republican presidential nominee doesn’t know anything about one of America’s most formidable foreign policy foes except that the fellow will surely respect him, and an absurd insinuation that no country would ever dare think of committing espionage against an America with Trump with in charge. Oh, and that it was all a lead-up to that putative punchline about how very amusing it would be the hackers kept up this disrespectful behavior. All in all, it’s not likely to dispel any conspiracy theories or allay any suspicions about Trump’s Russian policy.
Trump might or might not have anything to do with Putin, although he has long pursued business interests in a country where Putin’s approval is needed to do almost anything, and his campaign manager has long done business with the ex-Ukrainian strong-man who was Putin’s ally and his top foreign policy advisor has long done business with the Kremlin-run natural gas monopoly that Putin wields like a cudgel against the Europeans. Throw in all of Trump’s past praise for Putin’s “strength,” his brushing off of Putin’s assassinations of journalists and political foes by saying “our country does a lot of killing, too,” his short-lived plan to outsource the Syrian problem to Putin, last week’s removal from the Republican platform of a plank to supply weapons to the anti-Russian Ukrainian fighters and Trump’s reiteration that he wouldn’t necessarily fulfill America’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization obligations in case of a Russian attack on a member state and that he’d seriously consider recognizing Russia’s claims to Crimea, and it’s going to take some dispelling and allaying. All in all that conspiracy theory about Putin trying to influence the election in Trump’s favor seems at least as plausible as the one about Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the Kennedy assassination, even if Trump’s good friends at The National Enquirer haven’t yet provided any photographic evidence, and the rest of it suggests to our hardened Cold War sensibilities that Russo-American relations under a Trump administration won’t be at all to our liking.
On the other hand, the presumptive Democratic nominee is the same woman who offered that stupid “reset button” that emboldened Putin’s revanchist ambitions and led directly the the current mess in Ukraine and elsewhere, and the current Democratic president is the one who caught on a “hot” microphone telling a Russian diplomat that he would be even more “flexible” in a second term than he’d been in his feckless first one, and neither that Libertarian guy or that Green Party gal are at all Reagan-esque or even Romney-esque in their anti-Russkie spine, so we figure that no matter the outcome of this election Putin is going to enjoy the next four years more than will we or the rest of the non-Russian world.

— Bud Norman.

What to Talk About in a Crazy Election Year

This should have been the best week yet for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Every poll shows the presumptive Democratic nominee is already considered dishonest and corrupt by a majority of the country, so it couldn’t have helped that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday publicly excoriated the former Secretary of State and her colleagues for being “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” conceded that state secrets might well have fallen into enemy hands as a result, and definitively refuted many of the lies she’s long been telling about it. That he did so while exonerating her from any criminal charges hardly helped, as he struggled to explain why to the resulting Congressional hearing on Thursday and the polls were already showing that a majority of the public thought it smacked of unforgivable dishonesty and corruption and even some of her most reliable apologists in the press were admitting that it did indeed look pretty bad.
All that any old presumptive Republican nominee had to do get a much-needed bump in the polls out of it was to deliver a well-written speech that factually outlined all the perfectly valid reasons every objective American should be outraged about the whole sorry affair, then get the hell out of the way and make sure he didn’t provide anybody any reason to talk about anything else. In this crazy election year the formerly Grand Old Party doesn’t have any old presumptive nominee, however, but is instead saddled with Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul’s greatest talent is for always giving people something to talk about, and even in what should have been his best week yet he couldn’t resist providing some entirely unnecessary distractions.
The presumptive Democratic nominee’s horrible week began over the weekend when some lucky Phoenix television reporter was tipped off that her ex-president husband, widely considered a thoroughly dishonest and corrupt creature in his own right, had left his private plane at the city’s airport to meet on the private plane of the Attorney General overseeing the Justice Department’s investigation in his wife’s extremely careless handling of very sensitive and highly classified information, which even the most reliable apologists had to admit made the whole affair look even worse. Around the same time the presumptive Republican nominee was “re-‘Tweeting'” an internet “meme” that showed an unflattering portrait of the presumptive Democratic nominee imposed over a pile of cash and a red star where the text accused her of being “the most corrupt candidate in history,” and because the red star had six points just like the Jewish Star of David and originated on an unabashedly white supremacist site that also cheered the death of Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Weisel there was inevitably some talk about that.
Despite the presumptive Republican nominee’s annoying habit of occasionally “re-‘Tweeting'” bogus statistics and rude “memes” from white supremacists web sites, even such philo-Semitic goyem as ourselves aren’t so hypersensitive to anti-Semitism that we noticed the star had six points or thought to associate them with any Jewish stereotypes, so we were willing to give the benefit of the doubt to any amateur staffer who had “re-‘Tweeted'” the image. In any case it wasn’t such a big deal as the extremely careless handling of very sensitive and highly classified information by the presumptive Democratic nominee, and we expect that almost everyone was willing to let this minor screw-up pass from the news cycle except for the presumptive Republican nominee himself. He kept “Tweeting” and kvetching about it, and the man who promises to make America great again by hiring the best people publicly criticized the amateur staffer who had changed the six-pointed star to a less offensive circle, and he “Tweeted” a photo of some children’s toy that also featured in a six-pointed star on its packaging in a context that had nothing to do with greed or corruption and came from the Disney corporation rather than a white supremacist web site, and he thus happily obliged all those apologists for the apologists for the presumptive Democratic nominee who would have preferred to write about something other than her obvious dishonesty and corruption.
The presumptive Republican nominee did get around to that more important matter during a typically well-attended and enthusiastic rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Tuesday, and with what we have to admit was a fairly well-written speech that factually outlined all the perfectly valid reasons America should be outraged about it. Then he went into a seemingly impromptu and stream-of-consciousness rant about how the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, although a “very bad guy,” had nonetheless been a bulwark against terrorism. “But you know what he did well?,” Trump asked the crowd, answering his own question by saying “He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk. They were a terrorist — it was over.” The presumptive Democratic nominee’s press apologists were mostly willing to let this slide, given in its implicit criticism of the same George W. Bush that they and the presumptive Republican nominee accuse of lying to start the Iraq war, even if it was unclear whether Trump was blaming Bush’s entry into the war or President Barack Obama’s pull-out for turning Iraq into the “Harvard of terrorism,” but on both the left and right people were talking about Trump’s grossly ahistorical account of the facts. Although Hussein did indeed kill a lot of terrorists who had plotted against him, along with many thousands of people who had merely sought peacefully political resistance to his rule or otherwise expressed some dissatisfaction with, he was also a gracious host to a an all-star roster of Islamist terrorists who didn’t oppose rule, and a generous benefactor to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and hardly an exemplar of the supposedly stable Middle East that Trump now claims was de-stabilized by either the Iraq War or its early end, not to mention whether Trump seemed to be endorsing such stern tactics for American policy.
One could argue these points all day, but that would mean arguing about something other than the more pertinent and politically exploitable facts about the presumptive Democratic nominee’s extremely careless handling of highly sensitive material and inarguable long history dishonesty and corruption, which is surely what any old presumptive Republican nominee other than Donald J. Trump would prefer people be talking about. Trump always prefers that people are talking about him, however, so he offered yet a third distraction from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s travails by scheduling meetings with the formerly Grand Old Party’s members of Congress.
On the same day the congressional Republicans were holding the hearings that made the FBI chief look ridiculous and promising authorizations for fresh investigations and quite persuasively arguing that the presumptive Democratic nominee is indeed at least as dishonest and corrupt as a majority of the country already believes, the presumptive Republican nominee was in a closed meeting with many of his party’s members vanquished squished roll-over establishment types, and by all accounts it did not go well. Several of the Senators in attendance have been either ambivalent about or more openly hostile to their party’s presumptive nominee, and as is his wont Trump preferred the vinegar rather than the honey approach to persuading to be more supportive. Trump reportedly greeted Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake by saying “you’ve been very critical of me” and threatening verbal attacks against him that would make his re-election impossible, and Flake reportedly responded that he wasn’t up for re-election because “I’m the other Senator from Arizona — the one who didn’t get captured,” which defiantly recalled when the presumptive Republican presidential ridiculously called into question the prisoner of war heroism of past Republican nominee Sen. John McCain. Not in attendance was Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who withdrew his endorsement of Trump last month when the presumptive Republican nominee lambasted the Indiana-born judge in one of his scam university lawsuits as a “Mexican,” but Trump reportedly called the reluctant Republican a “loser” and vowed he was going to be out of office after Trump wins the electoral votes of Obama’s home state of Illinois. In attendance was Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, perhaps Trump’s most outspoken Republican opponent, and although he declined comment after the meeting his spokesman later allowed that “Mr. Sasse continues to believe that our country is in a bad place, and with these two candidates, this election remains a dumpster fire.” The presumptive Republican president also reportedly promised his fidelity to the First and 12th articles of the Constitution, although there is no 12th article, and in a meeting with the generally more receptive Republicans in the House of Representatives he urged they “say only great things” about him.
Such bully-boy tactics will surely play well with Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters, who seem to find it all very¬†alpha male, but we don’t expect it to play well with the majority of country that is telling pollsters they’re resolved to vote against him and even the majority of formerly Grand Old Party members who voted in the admirable likes of Flake and Kirk and Sasse and are saying they’d rather vote for someone else as their party’s presumptive nominee. It certainly doesn’t speak well to his common political sense that he wouldn’t prefer everyone was talking about how very awful that presumptive Democratic nominee is instead.

— Bud Norman

As the Sands of the Hourglass, So are the Days of the Democrats

The Republican Party’s reality show is getting the bigger ratings and all the critical attention, but the Democrats’ presidential nomination race is also well worth binge-watching. In case you’ve missed the more recent gripping episodes, there’s now a tantalizing possibility that the heroine of the tale will face federal indictment on criminal charges, her husband’s past and recent sex scandals are starting to affect the plot, the lovably eccentric kook who was once a minor comic-relief character is now within striking distance of her in all the polls, and there’s enough behind-the-scenes court intrigue to fuel another few seasons of “The Tudors” and “House of Cards.”
Although the lovably eccentric kook who was originally included for only comic relief has generously declared that he’s “damned sick and tired” of hearing about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, which viewers might recall from previous episodes were transmitted by an unsecured and seemingly illegal private server, the Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps anonymously leaking to the press and openly testifying to Congress that they remain very interested in the matter. The latest news has the FBI leaking that they’re also looking into the big-bucks donations from foreign countries that were flowing into the Bill and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation while the eponymous Hillary was dealing with those same foreign countries as Secretary of State, and a best-selling book and a large number of reports indicate there is also something of interest to be found there. No matter what is uncovered by the investigation an indictment will have to be brought by an Attorney General appointed by President Barack Obama, who still looms as large as the Darth Vader or Obi-Wan Kenobi characters from the all-important prequels, depending on your tastes, which makes for some darned intriguing court intrigue.
Almost all of our Republican friends glumly assume that no Obama appointee would ever allow even the most undeniably evidence-backed federal indictment on criminal charges against a prominent Democrat, especially the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, and even more especially one named Clinton, and the long-awaited First Woman President, at that, and most of our Democrat friends gleefully make the assumption. Their glum and gleeful cynicism might well prove justified, given the conspicuous lack of indictments in countless scandals that the press would have happily made a federal case of during Republican administrations, from Fast and Furious to Solyndra to that Obamacare web site to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservatives and right up to Clinton’s e-mailing and fund-raising methods, but by now we’re cynical enough to hold out hope for one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction plot twists.
Having followed the soon-to-close but still-awaiting-that-final-cliffhanger Obama reality show over the past eight years or so, we’ve long noticed that he doesn’t much like any of the Clintons and is quite petty enough to let such personal dislikes affect his judgments. Nor does he seem to have any loyalty to his political party, which has been reduced to 1920s-levels in Congress and state legislatures and governorships even as he has seized unprecedented presidential powers, and his press spokespeople and his equally dutiful press people have strangely silent about Clinton’s legal matters. An indictment could either usher in a Republican presidency, which could be easily blamed for everything that happens in the four-year aftermath of the Obama administration, or hands the Democratic nomination to that lovable kook or any of the other Obama-approved eccentrics who have been waiting in the wings, and they somehow prevail over some equally unpopular Republican villain to institute yet another four years of left-wing craziness, and in either case Obama’s purposes are served. We’re not making any predictions, but it’s tantalizingly possible enough to keep us tuned in.
In any case, it signals more perils for the Pauline heroine of the Democrats’ reality show. We no longer cling to any boyish fantasy that the FBI is staffed by the likes of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. or Jimmy Stewart, but given the agency’s recent leakiness there is reason to hope that they’ll at least let some enterprising reporter or another know about they case they’ve built, which is sure to be unhelpful to Clinton’s candidacy. The cynics in both parties will glumly and gleefully note that Clinton’s have always gotten away with everything, and all the shrewd gamblers have always advised to never bet against a streak, but our cynicism is such that we glumly note that time changes everything. The Bill Clinton sex scandals that were easily overlooked during the cultural right scare of the ’90s aren’t so easily forgiven in the ‘teens, when Democrats believe a “culture of rape” is permeating the undeniably leftist-dominated campuses but not the town squares of European cities suddenly overrun by immigration from less feminist cultures that best go unnamed, and the Republican front-runner is a thrice-married casino mogul who can’t quote a single Bible verse, and suddenly that whole “war on women” that the distaff Clinton was supposed to win seems laughable. Besides, the masculine Clinton is best remembered for the Welfare Reform Act he was forced to sign and President Obama unraveled with executive orders, and the decrease in crime that resulted “mass incarceration” laws that are now the bane of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and for Republican-imposed balanced budgets that Democrats no longer care about.
Throw in the fact that in the Democratic voters are now mostly concerned about income inequality and those evil bastards on Wall Street, and it’s no surprise that the lovable kook and self-described socialist and relatively penurious Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is now catching up in the national polls and within striking distance in the first two crucial rounds of the race of the suspiciously wealthy and Wall Street-supported “front-runner.” Once the supposed front-runner is either indicted on federal criminal charges or not indicted for the most obviously suspicious reasons, you’ve got a real race going on rather than the promised coronation. Even the most polite press can’t help noticing such things, and hopefully speculating about some eccentric waiting on the wings to inherit Obama’s still on-going campaign operation, and of course that will further twist the plot.
There’s plenty of drama left on the Republican side, where another character unpopular with the broader audience seems to be winning, but these Democrats are well worth watching.

— Bud Norman

As the Primaries Turn

The latest episodes in the competing mini-series about the election of the next president have lately taken some interesting twists. Over in the Democrats’ show there is suddenly speculation whether the front-runner will soon be indicted on federal charges of endangering the national security, while on the Republican channel the front-runner is openly speculating if his most troublesome rival is legally eligible to be in the running. Both plot twists might yet prove red herrings, but at least they provide an amusing distraction from all that boring talk of stock market meltdowns and North Korean bomb tests and the usual unpleasantness in the Middle East.
There has long been a tantalizing possibility that former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might be in legal jeopardy for using a personal and unsecured e-mail account to conduct her official State Department business, and to many it seemed all the more tantalizingly possible after former United States Attorney and current cable news pundit Joseph DiGenova went on a popular conservative talk radio show and confidently predicted that the combined outrage of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the government’s broader intelligence community would force Attorney General Loretta Lynch to bring charges. DiGenova’s predictions have often proved prescient, he’s known for having reliable sources in the FBI and the intelligence community, and Clinton’s e-mails sure do look like a clear violation of the law, and her claims that there were no classified documents on the “home-brew” server she kept in a shady company’s bathroom have already been revealed as blatant lies, so it’s at least plausible. The counter arguments from the more skeptical pundits that President Barack Obama’s Attorney General is going to bring charges against the Democratic party’s presumptive presidential nominee no matter what evidence some disgruntled executive branch employees might muster are also plausible, though, so at this point we offer no predictions.
Some slight surviving shred of faith in the American government allows us to hold out hope that FBI Director James Comey will live up to his ruggedly independent reputation and his boast to Congress that he “doesn’t give a rip about politics” in the investigation, and we’re by now cynical enough to wish that Obama’s pettiness and self-centeredness will allow him to allow his Attorney General to play some Chicago style politics with his erstwhile rival, but neither lead to any conclusions. We will venture that anything short of an indictment won’t alter the Democratic presidential nomination race, where Clinton’s most troublesome rival has already declared that he’s “sick and tired of hearing about her damned e-mails,” but we would like to think that a full revolt by the FBI and the intelligence making clear how very political a non-indictment is would have some effect on a general election.
The general election will co-star a Republican, though, and at this point it seems likely that he or she will have her or his own problems to deal with. Still ahead in all the national polls is billionaire real estate mogul and reality show star Donald Trump, but he’s lately feeling enough heat from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that he’s unleashing his famously scathing criticisms on the rival. He’s even suggested that Cruz, born to an American-born mother and Cuban-born but naturalized-American father, might not be eligible for the presidency because Cruz was born in Canada during his parent’s brief career-related stay there. Such birthplace chatter is as old as the presidency of perhaps-Canadian-born Chester A. Arthur, and has persisted through the presidential campaigns of Mexican-born George Romney and Arizona Territory-born Barry Goldwater and Panama Canal Zone-born John McCain right up to the current president, who Trump had previously and unconvincingly claimed was born in Kenya, but it hasn’t yet kept anyone from winning the presidency. Cruz cheekily responded to the speculation, which didn’t quite rise to the level of an outright accusation, with a “tweeted” clip of that infamous “Happy Days” episode where Fonzie jumped over a shark, a sly pop cultural reference that should suffice to put the matter to rest.
We note that Trump has also questioned Cruz on theological grounds, telling an audience of Iowa Republicans in advance of that state’s Christian-dominated primary that “you’ve got to remember, in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay?” Whether a thrice-married casino magnate can successfully persuade evangelical Iowans that he’s more their type than a once-married Baptist with a perfect pro-life voting record and no ties to the gambling industry and the same anti-communist heritage as beloved sit-com character Ricky Ricardo remains to be seen, but we do have our suspicions how that might turn out. Trump has also proposed a 45 percent tariff on all Chinese goods, which would raise the price of an average shopping trip to Wal-Mart by approximately 45 percent and start a global trade war with little prospects of victory, but that also seems a desperate gambit.
The bomb-throwing and government-shutdown-threatening Cruz is every bit as infuriating to the Republican establishment as Trump, whose rise to the top of the polls has largely been fueled by an understandable anti-establishment sentiment among Republicans, and Cruz is perhaps even more beloved by those bellicose talk radio talkers who have further fueled Trump’s rise, so Trump’s sudden turn against him is not unexpected. We don’t expect it will hurt Cruz in the Republican primaries, but it provides some fodder for a whispering campaign by the Democrats in the general election, even if they aren’t afraid to say it more loudly for fear of reviving the old rumors about Obama’s Kenyan birth or a sense that Democrats just don’t like “the other,” and we’ll nervously watch how it plays out.
If the presidential race turns out to be a match between a convicted felon and a constitutionally-ineligible foreigner, we’ll be rooting for the constitutionally-ineligible foreigner.

— Bud Norman