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A Pre-Dawn Twist on the Russia Story

The latest intriguing twist in the ongoing story about “Russia” — if you know what we mean, and by now we assume you do — is the revelation of a pre-dawn raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the home of the one-time campaign chairman for now-President Donald Trump. It’s not clear what the G-men were looking for, and unlikely they’ll find that smoking gun Trump’s most bitter enemies are so ardently hoping for, but a pre-dawn raid is pretty darned intriguing nonetheless.
Paul Manafort was already providing plenty of intrigue in this whole “Russia” story. Long before he became the Trump campaign’s chairman Manafort was notorious for the millions he’d made lobbying on behalf of  despots such as the Philippine’s Fernando Marcos and Angola’s Jonas Savimbi, and The New York Times reported shortly before his resignation from the campaign that he’d also made an undisclosed $12.7 million secretly lobbying on behalf of the Russian-linked government in Ukraine. Since then it has also been reported that he’s somehow $17 million in debt to Russian interests, that his name kept coming up in conversations among Russian officials that various intelligence agencies here and abroad were monitoring, that he sat in on that meeting that Donald Trump Jr. arranged with a Russian lawyer on the clear understanding they would be getting help direct from the Russian government, and remained in frequent contact with the campaign even after his resignation.
Throw in a pre-dawn raid by the FBI, and it all looks pretty fishy. Some of the stories are anonymously sourced from outlets that Trump’s most faithful allies can dismiss as “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” but the dictator-friendly lobbying business was publicly boasted about, the source for the meeting with the Russian lawyer was Trump Jr. himself, all those anonymous sources have lately been mostly confirmed by White House responses, and there’s nothing in Manafort’s biography that makes any of it at all seem implausible. The story about the pre-dawn raid is also anonymously sourced, but so far there haven’t been on-the-record denials, and if true it means that some federal judge somewhere agreed with a special counsel’s argument that there was credible reason to believe that evidence of a crime would be found at the home where the search warrant was issued. Although Manafort has provided numerous documents and sworn testimony to closed Congressional committees and various law enforcement officers, it also means a judge agreed that he could not be trusted to voluntarily preserve or hand over everything he had.
There’s nothing in any of the reporting to link Trump to anything Manafort might have done, except to the slight but nonetheless embarrassing extent that Trump did once hire the guy to be his campaign chairman, but there’s nothing in any of this that can help the president. If there is even the slightest link between Trump and anything Manafort might have done, Manafort now seems to have a compelling motive to cut a deal in exchange for any testimony he might provide about anyone higher up in the campaign he once chaired. He might yet prove completely innocent of any wrongdoing, or steadfastly loyal to the president who kicked him off a campaign, but the way things have been going for Trump lately we don’t think he can count on that. Trump’s general “Russia-schmussia-what’re-you-talkin-’bout?” defense isn’t holding up lately in the Congressional committees of special counsel investigations or public opinion polls, and there’s no way a pre-dawn raid on his former campaign chairman’s home is going to help.
Except with the hard-core fans, who will see it as further evidence that the deep state conspiracy to oust Trump is up to ever more nefarious deeds. They’re already convinced that special counsel Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican who rose through the ranks of the Justice Department during two Republican presidents and was appointed director of the FBI by a third Republican president, is a tool of an establishment plot to destroy Trump before he can destroy it. They note the indisputable fact that Mueller’s team of highly-specialized investigators includes several who donated to campaigns of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but they ignore the indisputable fact that so did Trump’s own lawyer in this mess and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law and Trump himself, and they seem not to have noticed that Mueller’s hires are highly-specialized in money-laundering and Russian interests and other areas that seem ripe for investigation.
None of this yet amounts to that smoking gun that Trump’s most bitter enemies are so ardently hoping for, but all of it makes it harder for his most loyal allies to argue Russia-schmussia-what’re-you-talkin’-bout.”

— Bud Norman

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The Passing Storm and the Gathering Storm

A windy and gully-washing thunderstorm rolled through our portion of south central Kansas on Thursday evening, and we wound up watching some ominously dark clouds continue to gather over Washington, D.C.
The storm hit as we were driving through downtown, and because it seemed to imminently threaten the tennis ball-sized hail that had been reported nearby on the radio we took refuge in one of the parking garages. With the car safely tucked under several feet of concrete we decided to wait out the storm with a beer at the nearest tavern, which happened to be a friendly little gay bar ironically called Rain, so we weren’t the least bit surprised to find Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC blaring from one of the several televisions. She was gleefully to the point of gigglingly reporting on the latest developments about the Russia thing with President Donald Trump and Russia, and we had to admit she had some juicy stuff.
The special counsel who was appointed after Trump fired the Federal Bureau of Investigation is actively pursuing an obstruction of justice case according to The Washington Post, which also reports that the business dealings of the president’s son-in-law and all-purpose advisor Jared Kushner is also getting the fine-tooth-comb treatment, and the Vice President has lawyered up with a high-powered attorney whose previous cases have included the Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandals. None of this is conclusively damning, of course, but neither does any of it look at all good. Trump retaliated with some “tweets” about the investigators being “very bad people” and how his vanquished Democratic opponent “Crooked” Hillary Clinton did all sorts of very bad things that didn’t result in any charges, but Maddow and the rest of the mainstream media seemed just as gleeful about reporting that.
Trump is right that Clinton was crooked and did so some very bad things, and her husband did meet the Attorney General while she was being investigated by the Justice Department, and the fired FBI director did follow an order to refer to that investigation as a “matter,” and he’s also quite right that many of his tormenters were hypocritically fine with that. As we always remind our remaining Republican friends, we were tormenting Clinton back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to weddings and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever, and we strongly suspect that a more apolitical justice system would have found her guilty of something. One can hardly begrudge Trump and his allies the satisfaction of making the points.
You won’t find us joining in on any “lock her up” chants, though, and Trump seems quite hypocritical for his sudden insistence that an investigation is not a proof of guilt, and we don’t expect that Trump’s “tweet” will persuade anyone who’s not already a die-hard supporter. No matter what Clinton might have done in her long and tawdry career, up to and including that satanic child sex abuse ring she was allegedly running in the back of a pizza joint, that does not have any bearing whatsoever on the question of whether Trump or any of his close associates have done very bad things. Our most determinedly pro-Trump friend argued the other night that Trump should be legally entitled to do everything illegal thing that the past two Democratic administrations have gotten away with, and at that point the country can get back to everyone doing things on the up-and-up, but we don’t think that will prove any more persuasive.
The argument that Trump’s investigators are very bad people will also be a tough sell. The special counsel is Robert Mueller, who was chosen as FBI director by President George W. Bush and after ten scandal-free years was asked to stick around for an extra two years by President Barack Obama, so he enjoys a bi-partisan reputation as a non-partisan player. He’s also known as tough and ruthless, but those are qualities Trump usually finds endearing, and he’s very much a member of the establishment that Trump has vowed to burn down and so many of his supporters loathe, but surely the broader public will expect more credentials from a special counsel than from a president.
Another interesting development gleefully noted by the mainstream media were some prominent Republicans who were making that point that if Trump has nothing to fear from an investigation he should welcome it, as only a thorough vindication by a widely respected investigator will lift the cloud of suspicion, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see more Republicans taking this sensible stand. If you dig deeper into the news you might have noticed that some Republican members of the House of Representatives are steaming to the point of leaking that Trump has lately chastised them for drafting a “mean” bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, including moderates who were muscled by Trump into voting for what they thought was a too-austere bill and conservatives who were muscled by Trump into voting for what they thought wasn’t austere enough. If you don’t believe leaks, Trump also “tweeted” that the country needed to spend far more money on health care, rather than the less that he’d muscled those members into voting for, and one can hardly blame them if they’re not entirely loyal on that Russia thing with Trump and Russia.
Trump had a pretty good story about an unfortunate man released from North Korean captivity in horrible medical condition after two years, and the man’s father making a strong statement about how Trump had succeeded where Obama had failed, which fits into a usual narrative that the Obama foreign policy was weak and feckless, with Trump’s arguably more reckless approach being arguably more effective. There was also that story about the Australian Prime Minister cracking up a crowd with his mocking of Trump, however, and the sense that there’s a lot of that going on around the world.

A rather attractive woman who was also waiting out the storm struck up a conversation with us as we were watching the news according to Rachel Maddow and MSNBC, and she remarked that Trump doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, and we couldn’t disagree. She’d complimented our straw fedora and and seemed a bit flirty, but we figured she was probably just mistakingly trying make another fashionably homosexual friend, so we wound up having a nice chat about how very strange the world seems these days. Eventually the storm passed, as storms always do, but on the way home we had to avoid all the streets prone to flooding and dodged plenty of down tree limbs on the way home. The power and internet where still working when we arrived, but no matter the forecasts we checked the storm brewing in Washington looks far more damaging.

— Bud Norman

The Sessions Sessions and All That

The administration of President Donald Trump is like that weird drawing in which some people see a beautiful young lass and others a wrinkled old hag, or that great Japanese movie “Rashomon” where the sordid tale is told and re-told by varying accounts to no definitive conclusion.
Shown the same endlessly replayed footage of Trump pushing his way past the Prime Minister of Montenegro to the front of a diplomatic photo-op, some cringe in embarrassment at a stereotypically ugly American behaving boorishly in front of the the other countries while others perceive an alpha male at long last asserting America’ss dominance on the world stage. The endlessly replayed footage of Trump’s cabinet members taking turns offering fulsome praise for the boss struck many as slightly North Korean in creepiness and was greeted as a great gift by all the late night comics, but a lot of the commenters at the bottom of the Trump-friendly news sites found it touching. People read the same words and abbreviated semi-words in every presidential “tweet,” but some readers discern only self-destructive blather while others discover a subtle literary and political genius.
So it is with the whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia, which some see as fake news made up by sore losers who hate America, and others regard as the most diabolically treasonous plot by a self-interested scoundrel since Aaron Burr, but in any case is undeniably the big story of the day. The latest installment in that Rorshach Test of a story was Tuesday’s testimony before a Senate committee by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and how that went depends on who you listen to. The right-wing talk radio hosts and all the commenters at the bottom of the Trump-friendly news sites thought that Sessions emerged as triumphant from the grilling as Shadrack, Meschach, and Abendego coming out of the fiery furnace, but the fake news had enough real footage and backstory to make it look bad to everybody else.
The last time Sessions testified before a Senate committee was during his confirmation hearing, and he wound up volunteering some arguably inadvertent but inarguably innate statements about his recent contacts with Russian officials, which led to him recusing himself from anything having to do with that Russia thing with Trump and Russia, so his second time around was being widely watched. There were more questions about the previous testimony, along with some questions about other contacts with the Russians that have since been alleged, and some brand new questions about why Sessions signed off on the firing the Federal Bureau of Investigation who was investing the whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia, despite his avowed recusal from anything having to do with all that.
Sessions handled it pretty well for most of the seven or hours of hot light interrogation, but even such a seasoned lawyer and politician had some awkward sound bites. He confirmed the fired FBI guy’s story about Trump ordering everyone else out of the room before a private meeting in which the fired FBI guy says the president asked for his personal loyalty, dodged a question about the fired FBI guy’s request that the Attorney General prevent any further private meetings with the president, and further declined to talk about all the recent leaks and “tweets” that suggest Trump isn’t pleased with Sessions’ performance as Attorney General. All in all, it was enough to fill a news cycle for people who see things that way.
Sessions also steadfastly declared in his defiantly Confederate accent that neither he nor Trump had anything to with that Russia thing with Trump and Russia, which was endlessly replayed by the right-wing talk radio shows oft-quoted by the commenters at the Trump-friendly news sites, and despite all the suspicions that were raised nobody had that much-anticipated sound bite to prove that he was lying about that central fact of the story. Sessions was long a member of the same World’s Greatest Deliberative Body as his Democratic interrogators on that Senate committee, and for whatever it’s worth he’s proved as honorable over his long career as any of them, so we can see how some people see it a certain way. Some of the Republican Senators helped out, too, while others seemed to be hedging their bets, and we really can’t blame any of them of for any of it.
These days we’re watching it all from the sidelines, where we’re pretty much contemptuous of all the players and have no dog in the fight except for truth, justice, and the American way, and from our perspective they didn’t really nail Sessions or Trump on anything but significant but it does look pretty darned bad. The likelihood is that the Senate and House and FBI and special counsel investigations will continue, along with all the knowledgeable named and unnamed sources in the mainstream press and the speculative deconstruction of it all on right-wing talk radio and the comments sections of Trump-friendly news sites, and that a certain portion of the country will see a pretty young lass while the other sees an ugly old hag.
So far the sees-it-san- ugly-old-hag contingent seems in the majority of American public opinion, and most of the rest of the world sees a stereotypically ugly American rather than a dominant alpha male, and in the end that might matter more than truth, justice, and the American way. Elite opinion on both the right and left and around the the globe especially is critical of Trump, which only hardens the certainty of the talk radio hosts and those Trump-friendly commenters, who do have a good case to make about how the elites have screwed things up, but we’re not at all convinced that anybody’s going to do a much better job of stewarding a multi-trillion economy and a darned complicated geo-politcal situation than the people with the credentials.
There’s plenty of story left to be told, from all the varying accounts, so we’ll await the inevitably indefinite resolution.

— Bud Norman

How a Bill Doesn’t Become Law

The news was mostly relegated to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the cable news screens, what with the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director’s testimony and all the resulting presidential “tweets” taking up all the good space, but the House of Representatives last week passed a bill that would largely repeal and replace the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
The Dodd-Frank financial reform law is the dry and complicated and downright boring sort of thing that would get more attention during a typical presidential administration, which makes us all the more nostalgic for those good old days before President Donald Trump. We never liked the Dodd-Frank bill, so far as we can tell the repeal-and-replace law would be a significant improvement, and in a more normal news cycle a well-spoken Republican president would be able to enjoy a winning political argument. Instead, the matter is relegated to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the string, and the bill will probably be stalled in the Senate.
The few stories on bill note that Dodd-Frank was passed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown with the aim of preventing it from happening again, and for the sake of argument we’ll stipulate the Democrats’ good intentions, but the few allotted inches can’t make a case that the legislation did any good. Ostensibly in order to prevent the big banks from making reckless bets on subprime mortgages Dodd-Frank imposed thousands of pages on new regulations to prohibit commercial banks from certain kinds of “proprietary trading” and investments in hedge funds and private equity transactions, but none of that had anything to do with the financial meltdown. All the restrictions are imposed on commercial banks rather than the investments banks that were most involved in the crisis, and all of them had been compelled by the Carter-era Community Reinvestment Act that the Clinton administration started enforcing with crazed vigor, and most of those risky subprime mortgages were held by the quasi-governmental Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac outfits, and the Democrats should be glad they don’t have to talk much about that.
Nor did the bill do anything at all about those “too big to fail” banks that the Democrats were so worked up about when Dodd-Frank was passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and signed by a Democratic president, and it wound up hampering the small banks and credits unions that Democrats have been romanticizing since before Frank Capra filmed “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The damned thing even forced us to spend an hour filling out forms to excise a nickname from a 47-year-old checking account a while back, and one can only guess at the extraordinary amount of time and money that the overall economy has spent on complying with all those thousands of pages of regulations. Banks will be able to accumulate more reserves to deal with shocks under the House Republicans’ alternative, which also wisely lets the bankruptcy courts sort out the inevitable failures, and the freedom and competition it allows would likely have a stabilizing effect on the financial system.
That’s hard to explain in the 140-character “tweets” and fourth-grade level orations that Trump favors, though, and these days he has other things to “tweet” and talk about. The press has plausible reasons for relegating it to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the screen, and it’s hard to imagine the general public taking a sudden interest in financial regulatory reform. The House bill now goes to the same Senate where the House’s Obamacare repeal-and-replacement bill currently languishes with 12 percent approval ratings, and the rules are different there and the Republican majority is slimmer and the Republican incumbents up for re-election in 2018 have their own reasons for striking a bipartisan pose, so this might be the last your hear of it.

— Bud Norman

Comey Still Won’t Go Away

Try as you might, there’s nothing to find in the news these days except President Donald Trump’s firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey. A Cable News Network reporter tried to do a story on the Republicans’ proposed health care legislation, which was a big deal not long ago and is apparently still something that might happen, but the first question to a couple of politicians was about how Comey’s firing might affect the bill’s chances in the Senate, so of course the conversation never got around to anything else.
There are other things going on with the federal government, too, but for the moment the first thing to ask about almost any of them is how they’re affected by all this Comey business. The Democrats sense an opportunity to use the issue to thwart almost any Trump proposal, and Trump has been seemingly  intent on gold-plating it for them. All the endless stories mention in passing that Trump is entirely within his legal rights to fire an FBI director for any old reason, and briefly acknowledge that both Democrats and Republicans have had their own reasons for wanting to do so over the past election year, but thus far the White House has struggled to make a convincing case of its own.
The official “you’re fired” letter from Trump himself said it was because of the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a newly-hired deputy attorney, who found Comey’s public comments regarding an investigation into the e-mail practices of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton late in the campaign had undermined the public’s faith in his ability, and the was the line that all the obviously unprepared spokespeople parroted the next two days. Those poor spokespeople had to respond to video montages of candidate Trump praising Comey’s “guts” for those same statements, though, and explain why Trump was suddenly so offended on Clinton’s behalf after leading so many rallies in chants of “lock her up,” so the first couple of news cycles went badly. They steadfastly insisted that the president had no choice but to accept the conclusion of that newly-hired deputy attorney general, and of course insisted that it had nothing to with the fact that Comey was heading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government’s meddling in the election.
Trump doesn’t seem the type to follow a newly-hired subordinate’s lead, though, and the Attorney General had promised to recuse himself from anything having to do with the Russian investigation that Comey was heading, and the idea that Russia had nothing to do with it was always going to be a hard sell. Thus Trump found himself sitting down with the National Broadcasting Corporation’s Lester Holt on Thursday and saying, in between frequent interruptions, that “Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” and that “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Russia and Trump is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won.'” He also described Comey as a “grandstander” and “showboat,” and the late night comedy show jokes about Trump describing anyone by those terms pretty much wrote themselves.
He also stated his ardent desire for a thorough and independent investigation of the Russia thing with Russia and Trump, but people will draw their own conclusions about that based on who he picks as Comey’s replacement. One hopes the Trump team will have a exceptionally strong pick and a better-planned public relations roll-out for that story, which is likely to be all that’s in the news for a while, if we’re lucky.

— 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

As Time Slowly Stretches Into Election Day

The craziest election year of our long recollection got even crazier over the weekend, as Friday’s announcement by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that their interest in Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s scandal-plagued e-mail is once again piqued by some newly-discovered evidence spilled over into the ensuing two days of otherwise slow news cycle.
All the polls were already showing that Clinton’s once formidable lead had tightened enough to clearly worry the more partisan Democratic press, so the FBI’s announcement set off something of a panic among the more polite publications. The news was impossible to ignore, or even keep off the very front page, and quite difficult to spin. There was no avoiding the words “e-mail” or “FBI investigation” in the early paragraphs, and of course the words “Anthony Weiner” were also bound to come up at some point in the story, and by now anyone who’s been following the improbable plot twists of this crazy election years knows that all of that amounts to bad news for the Democrats that can only remind voters of all the rest of the past 30 years of bad news. The Democratic nominee and her more stalwart defenders in the press could raise legitimate questions about the vagueness of that FBI director’s announcement, and why it comes at such a crucial point in such a crazy election year, but none of those questions would have ever come up if Clinton had only followed the sensible laws regarding a Secretary of State’s e-mail communications, and there’s no getting around the questions of judgment that raises, nor avoiding the questions of character that might explain her motives, so even those stalwart defenders of the Democratic nominee among the more polite press sounded slightly panicked.
As recently as the day before last Friday in this crazy election year they all seemed pretty cocky, with the previous news cycles being mostly about Republican nominee Donald Trump and all his accumulated scandals and hard-to-spin awfulness, and all the polls showing that aforementioned comfortable lead for Clinton. The words “grab ’em by the p***y” are also hard to keep out out of the news when uttered by a major party nominee, and the more impolite pro-Trump sort of press had their work cut out for them in trying to defend his attacks on the inevitable numerous women who came forward to say that he’d done pretty much what he bragged about, and when you throw in the rest of his attacks on prisoners of war and Gold Star families and his evictions of widows and three marriages and the four casino-and-strip-club bankruptcies and frequent heresies from both Christianity and Republicanism and geo-political and economic common sense along with the hard-to-miss buffoonery and boorishness and ignorance and almost daily weirdness that had made him the most unfavorably-regarded major nominee ever, so it was hard to dispute the left’s cockiness of just the day before last Friday.
But that was a long time ago, as we measure time in such a crazy election year as this, before the latest reminder that Democrat is arguably criminal and undeniably corrupt, and with eight seemingly eternal days left before the last votes are counted we remain as uncertain as ever as to how this will all turn out. Clinton still looks fairly safe on that stubbornly resistant-to-the-latest-nws electoral map, Trump clearly has the come-from-behind national momentum to provoke all that panic in the press, both candidates still have the most unfavorable ratings in the history of American political polling, and with eight excruciatingly long days left in this crazy election year there’s something bound to come out that would make such average voters as ourselves loathe them both even more. Clinton and her defenders might yet spin this into a favorable story, the same FBI director who until last Friday had been regaled by Trump’s defenders as a conspirator in a rigged system might prove it with yet another improbable plot twist, and the possibility of Trump providing yet another unfavorable news cycle does not seem at all remote.
At this point we’ll just wait and see which of these two awful people the rest of the country considers the less awful, and in any case we’ll wonder what the hell about this crazy election year in rueful retrospect.

— Bud Norman

The Damning Non-Indictment

The big news on the Fifth of July was that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had concluded after a prolonged investigation that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee should not be indicted on federal charges for endangering national security and attempting to avoid domestic scrutiny of her awful record as Secretary of State by conducting her official business on an unauthorized and insecure e-mail account. The presumptive Democratic nominee and the serving two-term Democratic president who was campaigning with her on the Fifth of July were well pleased by the results, but we can’t imagine why anyone else would be pleased.
The current head of J. Edgar Hoover’s and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s formerly well-regarded FBI had famously defied on principled terms both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, so there was some hope among thus of us on the right that at least he would force the Democratic president’s appointed Attorney General to let the presumptive Democratic nominee off the hook, but at least he didn’t let them off the hook entirely. The brief and no-questions-taken-from-the-press announcement of her clean bill of health acknowledged that her e-mail practices as Secretary of Sate were indeed unauthorized by law and might well have have led to national-security-endangering breaches by hostile foreign governments, which should be enough to disqualify any old major party’s candidate from consideration for the president of the United States, but it also slightly plausibly cited a lack of proof of criminal intent. That law the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States was being investigated for breaking specifically mentions “gross negligence,” however, and if questions had been allowed and we’d somehow been in on the announcement we would have loved to ask why “criminal intent” is required to prove “gross negligence.” The announcement also refuted many  of the lies that Clinton has been telling about the matter all along, including her insistence that there was only a “security review” and not a criminal investigation, and none of it reflects well on her, but the all important headline is that once again Clinton won’t be facing charges.
Even if they did bring charges we doubt it would have much difference. A recent poll showed that half of the country’s Democrats would have wanted her to fight on in the presidential race despite an indictment, and we’re sure would all of them would reply that the only another choice in a binary election is to elect the presumptive Republican nominee. There’s still a chance that one of those hostile governments that hacked the presumptive Democratic nominee’s e-mails is Russia, whose strongman leader currently has a mutual admiration society going with the presumptive Republican nomination and will happily transmit some of those top-secret e-mais to embarrass her, and there’s still the matter of the FBI investigation regarding her family’s phony-baloney “family foundation” and the donations it received from foreign countries during her tenure as Secretary of State, but for now it seems likely that the presumptive Democratic nominee will eventually be the actual Democratic nominee. This is bad news for the presumptive Republican nominee, who has such ethical and gross negligence issues of his own that Clinton is probably the only Democrat he has an outside chance of beating, and it’s bad news for the rule of law and the country at large.

— Bud Norman

A Soggy Independence Day

The long holiday weekend has mostly been rained out around here, and even after a mostly dry but constantly cloudy Sunday the two rivers bounding our neighborhood are still swelling over the adjacent bike paths and the Big Ditch that the city fathers carved out on the west side to keep us above water at times like these is also full, but at least the forecasters are forecasting a clear and sunny Independence Day suitable for baseball and charcoaling burgers and drinking beer al fresco and shooting off fireworks without fear of setting off a grassfire in the still soggy fields. Most folks around here and around the rest of the country will happily take the day off from paying any attention to the stormy and soggy political news of this unprecedentedly crazy quadrennial presidential year, which is good news for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and formerly presumed First Woman President had another one of those disastrous news cycles that have so frequently interrupted the usual ongoing narrative about her historic and inevitable presidency, and she can only hope that most people weren’t paying any attention. First there was a well-documented and very damning report on her conduct as Secretary of State during the undeniably disastrous Benghazi incident, co-authored by our own well-liked Kansas Fourth District’s Rep. Mike Pompeo, and because it was already well-established that her conduct at every point was utterly appalling her more daring apologists were able to dismiss it was “nothing new.” Then came the news that her husband, a former two-term president and scandal-plagued disgrace in his own right, had happened to have a conversation about his grandchildren with the Attorney General who will ultimately decide if his wife is to be indicted on the very serious charges that her underlings at the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating, and that it happened in her private plane at a Phoenix Airport where he had been waiting around for 30 minutes before a supposed golf game that he intended to play in the 110-degree heat. Even the media that much prefer that storyline about Hillary Clinton’s historic and inevitable presidency had to admit that it looked bad and smelled fishy, and the resulting conspiracy ranged from the reliably left-wing Kathleen Parker’s worry that Bill Clinton was sabotaging his wife’s historic and otherwise inevitable presidency due to some subconscious impulse to the reliably right-wing Rush Limbaugh’s worry that Slick Willie is once again outwitting the hapless Republicans, but in any case the presumptive Democratic nominee can only hope that few people were paying attention.
While we were attempting to navigate our way through the least water-logged streets of downtown Wichita towards home on Saturday the presumptive Democratic nominee and formerly presumed First Woman President was enduring a three-and-a-half-hour interrogation by eight agents of the FBI regarding a drearily long and still on-going criminal investigation into her e-mail and “family foundation” fund-raising practices while Secretary of State, and it all looks so hopeful she can only hope that much of the country was too preoccupied to notice. Those who have been paying attention but are somehow not committed to her historic have already concluded that she’s guilty, guilty, guilty, so she’ll either be somehow indicted or suffer yet another awful news cycle of scandal when she isn’t and that private plane meeting will suddenly look all the fishier, and in this crazy quadrennial election year she might wind as the First Woman President in any case.
She’s running against the presumptive Republican nominee, after all, and the scandal-plagued Donald J. Trump managed to create a relatively insignificant “Twitter” imbroglio that allowed the media to offer another shiny distraction from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s ongoing scandals. That will be largely overlooked, too, though, and we urge that everyone take the day off from all of it and watch some baseball and charcoal some burgers and drink a beer al fresco and shoot off fireworks and enjoy what’s left of America’s stormy and soggy independence. At least it will make it all the harder to burn it to the ground, as almost every seems intent on doing.

— Bud Norman

So Crazy, It Might Just Work

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has a penchant for promulgating far-fetched conspiracy theories, from President Barack Obama’s foreign birth to a Republican rival’s father being in on the John F. Kennedy assassination to his likely Democratic rival ordering the assassination of Vince Foster, but he’s lately stumbled on to one that seems at least plausible. Speaking to one of his typical adoring crowds in Anaheim, California, while the typical rioting went on outside, Trump told his audience an intriguing tale about how he might not wind up running against his presumptive Democratic rival and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after all.
With his usual stream-of-consciousness eloquence, Trump told his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters that “It could be we’re going run against ‘Crazy Bernie,'” a reference to the somehow-still-in-the-race self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who we must agree is actually crazy, and “That could be,” which we also glumly acknowledge. “He’s a crazy man, and that’s okay,” Trump went on to say, adding “we like crazy people,” an admission that is also actually true. He went further on to say that “I hear they want to put (Vice President Joe) Biden in. I hear they’re going to slip Joe Biden in, and he’s going in Bernie’s place,” adding that “the system is rigged against Bernie — 100 percent.” We have also heard “they” want to put Biden in, and from more reliable sources than the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and at this point even the late night comedians can’t deny that the Democratic party’s system has indeed been rigged 100 percent against Sanders, even if something in our old-fashioned Republicans has to give some begrudging respect to a Democratic Party establishment that at least still resists Sanders’ outright socialism, so it all seems quite plausible even if still seems somewhat improbable.
Trump had already pounced on all the news that even the most polite news media could not ignore regarding the latest developments in Clinton’s ongoing e-mail scandal, which the presumptive Republican nominee quite succinctly described as “very bad.” An Inspector General’s report on her obviously insecure and seemingly insecure e-mail practices as Secretary of State was scathing, a Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into that matter and the likely related questions about her family’s phony-baloney “family foundation” and the donations that look to have resulted in favors to foreign governments during her government service is still ongoing, a thoroughly and disgustingly politicized Justice Department seems likely determine if an indictment will be made solely on political grounds, and even the most polite media were acknowledging that it was indeed very bad, and suddenly it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to speculate that some other fix might yet be in.
We’re not so bold as to venture a guess whether the hypothetical late entry will be Biden or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or some other won’t-come-right-out-and-admit-they’re-a-socialist savior the party comes up with, or even if any of these alternatives will come to pass, and in this crazy election year we won’t venture any guesses how any of these possibilities might pan out. Any non-Clinton candidate the Democrats might come up with would be unburned by the longstanding and still recent scandals so sordid they make even the presumptive Republican nominee’s checkered career as a real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul seem pristine, and he or she would start out the race with such scant name recognition that it would take any of them, even the Vice President of the past seven-and-a-half years, months to reach the negative approval ratings of the presumptive Republican nominee, and it would be a plot twist that even the acknowledged master of the post-reality show such as Trump would be hard-pressed to deal with.
We’ll stay tuned, but with no hopes this will turn out well. As much as we’d like to believe that Obama isn’t at legally an American that birth announcement in the Honolulu Observer has always settled the matter, and the Americanism of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is even less in doubt, and as much as an honest critic might say about how Clinton and her husband handled the provable suicide of their former law partner and administration official only the most crazy sort of conspiracy theorist still believes they ordered his assassination, but at this point there are few other certitudes in this crazy election year.

— Bud Norman