Draining the Ukrainian Swamp

President Donald Trump’s strongest defense of his decision to withhold congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine, which is the basis of the impeachment inquiry against him that renews this week, is that he was trying to get the country to clean up its undeniable problem with political corruption. According to a report from The Washington Post the ploy seems to have worked, but not the way Trump probably intended.
What’s driving the impeachment inquiry is the suspicion that Trump was leaning on the Ukrainian government for dirt on potential Democratic opponent Joe Biden’s son and a confession that the previous Ukrainian government had meddled in the past election and then framed Russia for the crime. So far all the sworn testimony from respected military officers and foreign service officials and a million-dollar Trump donor, as well as some pretty damning texts and e-mails and other documentary evidence backs this up.
For now Trump is blocking any testimony from a former White House legal counsel and national security advisor and the current Secretary of State and and his-still-on-retainer personal lawyer, all of whom clearly know something about all this and there might be able to say something exculpatory, and declining to send a lawyer to the hearings, but he’s still got a plausible enough corruption argument for the talk radio hosts and Republican politicians and the die-hard fans to cling to.
Biden’s son admittedly made a lot of money in Ukraine while the former Vice President was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, some very funny dealings have undoubtedly occurred in the country during its long and fitful struggle toward democracy since America helped liberate it from Soviet domination, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has assured Trump that Russia sure didn’t meddle in the last election, and according to Trump some people are saying that Ukraine has the mysteriously missing Democratic National Committee computer server with all of the e-mails that should lock up Hillary Clinton. None of this comports with any established facts or the weight of evidence, and would be laughed out of any judicial proceeding, but impeachment is a political matter and the fans seems to love it.
No matter how that works out, Trump probably won’t get what he was hoping for from Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced a purge of more than 500 prosecutors suspected of corruption, but so for none are accused of anything having to do with Biden’s son or Clinton’s e-mails, and one of them is closely tied to Rudy Giuliani, the Trump personal lawyer who’s up to his neck in this Ukrainian impeachment mess and is refusing to testify about to Congress. Now that he’s got his military aid, which came shortly after Trump learned a “whistleblower” report about an alleged aid-for-dirt deal, Zelensky can make good on his campaign promise to root out corruption and stay on good terms with whoever the next president might be, and he’s wise to stay out of America’s affairs as much as possible.
Zelensky seems a savvy fellow, and just as interesting as Trump. He was a comedian who had no apparent qualifications except that he’d starred in a hit sit-com about a comedian who became president of Ukraine, just as Trump without any apparent qualifications except that he’d starred as a successful businessman on a hit reality show. Both men have outgoing personalities, a certain buffoonish self-consciousness, ridiculously bad hair cuts, and their own agendas.As Trump did, Zelensky ran as an outsider who would shake up the establishment, and like Trump he promised to be immune to corruption.
Unlike Trump, Zelensky inherited a country that had been largely annexed by a Russian government that was working to further exert its influence, and was eager to find whatever foreign assistance he could, whereas Trump spoke openly of his ambivalence about Russia claim on Ukrainian territory and cast doubt on any claims of undue Russian influence anywhere. Zelensky was thereby obliged to say during a White House visit that he’d felt no pressure to provide any dirt on the Bidens or Clinton’s in exchange for the aid, but at this point he’s got his military aid and is surely following American politics well enough to know that he doesn’t owe Trump any further favors. If he’s following all the trend-setting television comedians in America he’s probably betting on the Democrats, and if he’s serious about rooting out corruption in Ukraine he won’t give any cover to Giuliani.
We don’t nearly know nearly so much about Ukrainian politics as the former Trump campaign chairman who’s now in federal prison, or the Trump personal lawyer who’s now under federal investigation for his dealings in that country, or the various high government officials who are barred from testifying about any of it, but Zelensky seems to have a pretty good hand for the president of such a beleaguered country. Come reelection time he can tell the Ukrainian electorate that he stood up to the bullies of two nuclear superpowers, got millions of dollars from one to deter the other, and pulled it off with sit-comic flair.
Trump’s reality show presidency will be hard-pressed to compete with that. The big bucks Biden’s son made in Ukraine were already part of the the public record and would have been more useful without leaning on Ukraine for further dirt, and the stuff about Ukraine getting Clinton elected is a hard sell to all but the most die-hard fans.

— Bud Norman

When There’s No Getting Over It

Ambassador William Taylor spent 10 hours testifying to a House oversight committee on Tuesday about the Ukraine brouhaha, and by the time it was over President Donald Trump and his apologists needed yet another new defense.
Ever since a “whistleblower” report alleged that Trump had sought election help from the Ukrainian president during negotiations over aid and arms sales Trump and his defenders have insisted it was “fake news” and even if it did happen there was no quid pro quo, which does not let them off the hook for illegally soliciting foreign influence in American election, but doesn’t sound as bad, so it’s no big deal. In fact, the president insists, the phone call was “perfect.”
Since then both friendly and hostile witnesses have testified, texts have been released, and all of it made it sure like that there had indeed been a quid pro quo, even if no one was careless enough to use the term. It didn’t help when White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told a news conference that Trump did indeed withhold help to Ukraine unless it agreed to investigate a possible Democratic presidential nominee, adding that “we do it all the time — get over it,” or when Gordon Sondland, the big bucks Trump donor was tabbed as Ambassador to the European Union without any diplomatic experience, testified about his involvement in what sure sounded like a quid pro quo.
Taylor’s testimony the defense even harder to sell. A West Point graduate and a veteran of the Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq wars with an unblemished record of service to both Democratic and Republican administration over the past 50 years, he’ll be hard to smear as an America-hating “deep state” operative, but Trump tried that with war hero and respected public servant Robert Mueller, so maybe they’ll try it again.
Along with his stellar reputation Taylor brought documents and notes and other evidence to back up his account, which pretty damning to Trump. He was acting ambassador to Ukraine during that disputed phone call, and he describes how Sondland and soon-departing Energy Secretary Rick Perry and envoy and longtime Trump loyalist Kurt Volcker were running an “irregular” foreign policy with Ukraine that worked against longstanding principles of the United States government. He also testified that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and two of his recently indicted-and-jailed associates were also involved in gaining political help from the Ukrainians, and had undermined well-regarded and soon removed Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch because they saw her as an impediment to a possible deal.
Trump will continue to chant his “no quid pro quo” mantra, if only to calm himself, but at this point his best defense is probably “So what?” He might as well come right out and reiterate that “We do it all the time — get over it,” as his die-hard fans don’t seem to mind. He’s already selling “Get over it” t-shirts at his campaign’s web site, and we expect to see a lot of them at the next Make America Great Again rally.

— Bud Norman

Motive, Results, and All the Hubbub

There’s still a lot of talk about President Barack Obama’s patriotism and religiosity, or lack thereof, so we figure we might as well weigh in.
The questions have persisted for the past seven years or so, ever since Obama was first campaigning for the presidency, but the latest round in the ongoing debate was prompted by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s remark during a recent speech that “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.” This commonplace opinion of course provoked outrage from the press, which immediately demanded that every prominent Republican repudiate the idea or be tarred as the sort of America-hating traitors who would question a political opponent’s patriotism. The first to be grilled was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was present at the speech and is a frontrunner for the next Republican presidential nomination, but just about anyone else whose name might come up in a conversation about the race was eventually obliged to opine on the matter. Most took the position that they’d rather criticize the results Obama’s policies are having on America than speculate about his motives, which strikes us as a reasonable and respectful stance for an opposition party to take, but apparently even Republicans are expected to profess their faith in Barack Obama’s undying love for his country. Anything less, according to The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, is symptomatic of some dread psychological impairment called “Obama Derangement Syndrome.”
Any skepticism regarding the president’s Christianity is “insidious agnosticism,” according to The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, which is what happens when the press inevitably starts pressing Republicans about the president’s true religious beliefs. Walker was naturally the first to be asked about what lurks deep in the president’s heart and mind, and scandalized the press by saying that he did not presume to know, and soon the rest of the rest of the potential Republican field had spoken more or less the same outrageous slander at the president, with even Giuliani falling back on the same sensible position. Polls were trotted out showing that a sizable minority of the American public suspects the president is secretly Muslim, much tsk-taking was done about how right-wing media had so slyly perpetuated such a slanderous slur, although there’s certainly nothing wrong with the president being Muslim, which is after all a Religion of Peace and part of the fabric of American history, as the president has often pointed out, and the clear implication was made that those Republicans have gone mad with their disrespect of both the presidency and the United States of America for which it stands.
We can’t recall the press insisting on such institutional respect back when President Chimpy McBushitler occupied the Oval Office and the “Bush Derangement Syndrome” was coined, and former Vice President Al Gore was shrieking that “He betrayed our country” and Keith Olbermann was doing his “you, sir, are a Nazi” diatribes to applause from all the right people, and when candidate Barack Obama was blasting the “unpatriotic” half-trillion dollar deficits that he would soon double, and on the innumerable other occasions when prominent Democrats impugned the opposition’s motives, but the rule against questioning an opponent’s patriotism is flexible that way. The press no doubt hopes they can portray the Republicans as crazed conspiracy theorists with an irrational hated of the First Black President, but they should be worried that the questions persist after so many years.
One didn’t have to be tuned into Fox News to hear the president say he believed in American exceptionalism only to the extent that British or Greek believed in British or Greek exceptionalism, or when his wife said that first time she’d felt proud to be an American was when the country seem poised to her elect her husband president, or when he apologized for America’s “arrogance” and “dismissiveness” toward Europe or its past aggressions against the underdeveloped nations, and it’s hard to see where the policies resulting from these inclinations has furthered America’s interests abroad. The “fundamental transformation” of America that candidate Obama promised has delivered similarly desultory results at home, and although recent economic growth can be damned with the faint praise of outperforming Europe the administration seems as intent as ever on emulating the European model. The president has written about his conversion to Christianity through a preacher who once thundered “God damn America” from the pulpit, he told The New York Times about how the Muslim call to prayer was one of the “most beautiful sounds” he has heard, he frequently extols the greatness of Islam and his most notable recent reference to Christianity was a warning that it should not “get on a high horse” because of long-ago episodes as the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, and he told the United Nations that “the future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” none of which are the kinds of things that Christians usually say. The policies that have followed from such inclinations have resulted in the spread of radical Islam throughout much of the Middle East, leaving all sorts of nastiness in its wake and encouraging the continued terroristic attacks on the west, and the best efforts of the press can not erase all possible doubt about the reasons.
Which is not to say that we question the president’s love of country or abiding Christian faith. He might well love America so much that he wants to turn it into Europe, and have arrived at some revolutionary understanding of Christianity that acknowledges Mohammad as the true prophet who must not be slandered with any doubts about his prophecy, and in any case he seems alarmingly confident that he’s doing what’s best for the country and the entire world. Most liberals we know pride themselves on their less-than-fulsome assessment of America, an anecdotal observation borne out by polling data, but they consider this a patriotic chore they must perform lest America become too proud of itself. At this late date in a lame duck presidency we’re more concerned about the results, which we and a number of soon-to-be-beheaded Christians find displeasing, and we’re willing to forgive any Republican contenders who are insufficiently effusive about the president’s pureness of heart.

— Bud Norman

What’s Old in New York City

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, according to one of those indisputable old maxims, and after Tuesday’s mayoral election it is likely that the people of New York City are doomed to repeat the bad old days of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Any New Yorker of a certain age should surely well remember that dark era, when taxes skyrocketed and city services went into the clogged and alligator-infested sewers, welfare flourished and crime was rampant, unemployment was high and spirits were low. Although we spent those days in the safe embrace of the peaceable prairie, so far away from New York City that if we were any farther we’d just be that much closer to Los Angeles, we still recall a chilling phone conversation with an old college chum who had moved to the Big Apple and described a daily hell of muggers, panhandlers, passed-out junkies that had to be stepped over on the way through trash-strewn streets to a rare job that didn’t come close to covering the exorbitant cost of living, and tales of political corruption and incompetence awaiting him on the evening news when he finally made his way back to a tiny and astoundingly over-priced apartment. Other friends made the big move to the big city, too, and most soon came back with similar horror stories.
Even the younger New Yorkers should have been reminded by any of the era’s cinematic depictions of the city that still show up on the late show, from “Taxi Driver” to “Death Wish” to “The French Connection,” or even the “Odd Couple” episodes still in re-runs that make light of the ubiquitous street crime and general shabbiness of the city, all of which confirmed an impression of a thoroughly unlivable city. Between all those movies and the vacations that people still spent in New York, as well as the official statistics on crime and tax rates and economic performance, the city had a horrible reputation with that great unwashed swath of the country beyond the Hudson River that was frequently expected to pick up the tab for its profligacy.
It all started in the ‘60s, naturally enough, when the handsome and charismatic Mayor John Lindsey began to fundamentally transform the city with hope and change and every cockamamie scheme that liberalism had ever concocted. It took nearly a decade for the city sink fully into the abyss, but by then the bureaucracy and the dependent vote and the prevailing political climate were so firmly entrenched that it was taken for granted by voters who continued to re-elect the people ruining their city. The reign of Mayor Ed Koch restored some semblance of fiscal sanity to the city’s finances, at least to the point that his famously arrogant city didn’t have to go begging those hicks out in flyover country for bail-outs, but the subsequent brief administration of David Dinkins at long last forced New Yorkers to consider the unthinkable. Dinkins had combined the worst of New York’s utopian liberalism with the mau-mau racialist sensibilities of other city’s black political machines, and the results were so horrible that New Yorkers actually elected a Republican.
The city had been known to elect “progressive” Republicans such as the legendary Fiorello LaGuardia, and even the wildly liberal Lindsey won on a GOP ticket before bolting to his natural home in the Democratic party for a failed presidential bid, but Rudy Giuliani’s win was notable because an actual Republican. The party’s primary voters in flyover country would later reject Giuliani’s presidential ambitions because of his rather northeastern views on guns and abortions and such, but when it came to taxes and regulations and welfare and the coddling of criminals and other governmental impediments to a successful society he was downright Reaganesque.
Our aforementioned college chum who moved to New York City was a die-hard Democrat, despite being a pleasant enough fellow from a small Kansas town, and we still recall the disappointment in his voice as he conceded that the city’s problems were too severe for his brand of liberalism to solve. He noted that the city’s generous welfare state had done nothing to diminish the city’s crime, and that further generosity would require raising taxes to a point that would surely drive away all the taxpayers, so he couldn’t imagine what possible solution there might be. When Giuliani raised taxes and increased revenue with his slightly smaller share of a much larger economy, then spent the money on aggressively policing the streets and drastically reducing the crime rate, even such die-hard Democrats as our friend felt compelled to vote for the Republican’s re-election. New Yorkers continued to elected Senators and Presidents who would happily inflict liberalism on the rest of the country, but in their own backyard they picked a mayor successor was also a Republican, even he quickly switched to independent rather than be embarrassed by the association with those flyover country types, and although his totalitarian instincts led him to such laughed-at initiatives as banning oversized soda cups and salt shakers they also compelled him to continue the successful policies that Giuliani had wrought. Things went well enough that New Yorkers apparently forgot the lessons they had been taught.
The newly-elected mayor, Bill DeBlasio, seems to have never learned those lessons in the first place. Famous for his past support of Nicaragua’s communist Sandinistas and other far-left causes, DeBlasio became New York City’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years by railing against the fact that some New Yorkers are richer than others and by promising to end the “stop and frisk” policy of the police department. He’s not so handsome or charismatic as John Lindsey, but he does have all the hope and change and cockamamie schemes. His jeremiad against the top one percent, currently picking up 43 percent of the city’s tab, is certain to leave the city’s economy and finances in shambles. The “stop and frisk” policy does indeed bump against the Fourth Amendment and is no doubt a burden to many of the law-abiding dark-skinned New Yorkers who are disproportionately stopped and frisked, but it has also played a crucial role in reducing the city’s murder date from six a day to less than one and it will not be the only effective police tactic that DeBlasio halts.
Our guess is that it will be less than a decade before New Yorkers are willing to try another Republican mayor, but more than a decade before they stop trying to impose liberalism on the rest of us.

— Bud Norman