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Trump Jumps the Shark

The folks who provide entertainment programming for television often use the expression “jump the shark,” which derives from the episode late in the last season of “Happy Days” when Fonzie ski-jumped over a tank of sharks, and it’s meant to convey when a show has run out of ideas and become completely ridiculous. On Thursday President Donald Trump’s long-running yet low-rated reality show arrived at its “jump the shark” moment.
On Tuesday Trump’s own heads of his own administration’s intelligence agencies testified under oath and camera before Congress about various national security issues, and differed with the president on matters ranging from Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs to China’s and Russia’s cyber-terrorism intentions to the remaining strength of the Islamic State to the need for a big beautiful wall along the entirety of the southern border. On Wednesday Trump “tweeted” that the men and women he had appointed to assure America’s safety were “passive and naive” and “wrong” and “should go back to school,” which was embarrassing enough. By Thursday Trump was telling an impromptu news conference that it was all “fake news,” as his chiefs had all assured him they were merely misquoted and were in fact entirely in agreement with him, and at that point President Fonzie looked likely to crash into the sharks.
Go right ahead and believe that the undeniably hostile-to-Trump news media overemphasized the intelligence agencies’ many disagreements with Trump, but if you think the Trump appointees were misquoted or taken out of context you can easily watch their full testimony from Congress’ own C-Span or any of the networks that covered it live, including Fox News. You can also read the intelligence agencies’ 42-page “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report at their own official “.gov” website, or request a copy from the Government Printing Office. It might all be a “deep state” conspiracy that created all the networks’ video footage with computer generated imagery, and then hacked into the government’s web domain and printing warehouses to plant that phony document, and is now coercing Trump’s appointees not to confirm his latest claims that their testimony was “fake news,” but if so the conspirators are so damned good that resistance is certainly futile.
Trump also told the “fake news” cameras that his border wall is currently being built, claimed credit for the portion build years before his administration near San Diego, and predicted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would soon be humbly begging him to build a wall, and boasted of such successes that no one will care if he doesn’t get a wall built. The die-hard fans will buy all of it, but most of the rest of the country seems to be growing weary of the storyline.
For now all the hostile-to-Trump news media and all the late night comedy shows are having great fun with it, and we’re eager to hear what all the right-wing talk radio talkers and the rest of the obsequious-to-Trump news media have to say. On several occasions over the past many years Trump has asked his die-hard supporters to believe him rather than their lying eyes, and they’ve always been willing to do so, but this time the more reluctant supporters aren’t playing along.
Not only are Trump’s own appointees to head the national intelligence agencies stubbornly insisting on their clear-eyed assessments of the actual facts rather than Trump’s “alternative facts,” but so are several other members of his foreign policy-making team, as well as a decisive number of congressional Republicans. Trump boasted that he had wiped out the Islamic State when he announced a controversial decision to withdraw all American forces from Syria, but his Secretary of State and national security advisor seem to have talked him into to only a partial withdrawal, his intelligence agencies continue to warn that the Islamic State still poses a threat to America and its allies, and on Thursday Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and a majority of his Republican caucus joined in a 68-to-23 vote for a resolution rebuking Trump’s claims and announced policy on Syria.
A similar number of Senate Republicans have voted to protect a special counsel investigation into Russia’s cyber-meddling in America’s elections, which the intelligence agencies all agree is ongoing, despite Trump’s assurances that he’s been assured by the Russian dictator that it’s all a “witch hunt.” There seems a be a similar skepticism in the Senate about Trump’s boasts that he’s eliminated the nuclear threat from North Korea, or soon will, which the intelligence agencies also dispute. Based on the latest reports about the congressional negotiations underway to pass some sort of funding agreement to keep the government open for a while longer, the Republicans seem to agree with the intelligence agencies that big beautiful border wall isn’t such an urgent need as Trump insists.
The president probably has a more loyal following among the Republicans in the House of Representatives, but they’re a minority in that chamber, and Trump’s version of the truth is currently running into a great deal of resistance from his own party and own administration and the rest of the government. Worse yet, his reality show is jumping into the shark tank of actual reality.

— Bud Norman

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Who’s Bugging Who?

There’s all sorts of consequential politics going on these days to keep a president busy, what with repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Trumpcare and passing a thus-far unpopular budget and whatnot, but that’s all pretty dry stuff and involves a lot of math. Which makes it all the harder to turn one’s gaze away from the far juicier ongoing allegations coming from all directions about all sorts of international espionage and high-tech skullduggery and assorted movie-worthy twists. Monday alone provided enough plot twists to fill up several sequels.
The already convoluted plot plot started way back during the past presidential election, when Republican nominee Donald Trump was praising the strength of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s leadership and shrugging off the occasional extra-judicial killing and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign was taking a hit from some embarrassing e-mails that had been suspiciously hacked, and suspicious sorts started wondering if that was entirely coincidental. The resignation of Trump’s campaign manager after business ties to a Russia-friendly Ukrainian were revealed and the resignation of a foreign policy advisor for similar reasons did nothing to quell the suspicions, and neither did Trump’s still-unreleased tax returns, and although he nonetheless became President Donald Trump the news hasn’t helped much. His already-controversial National Security Advisor had to resign after a few days on the job because he’d lied to the Vice President about having been in contact with Russian officials, his already-controversial Attorney General recused himself from any role of a potential investigation into the matter of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials after similar revelations, and the late night comics and other conspiracy theorists have been having a ball with it.
Trump, of course, has been doing the counter-punching he so boastfully prides himself on. On an early morning a couple of weeks ago he “tweeted” a series allegations that past President Barack Obama had tapped his phone lines at Trump Tower, which, if true, would truly be worse than the Watergate scandal that Trump mentioned. That was immediately followed by a “tweet” ridiculing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s paltry ratings on “The Apprentice,” the reality show Trump starred in prior to his presidency, but the president still stands by his allegations. His press secretary has since explained that Trump had taken care to put quotation remarks around “wire tapped” to emphasize that he didn’t literally mean that Obama had tapped his wires, and occasional spokeswoman and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway further explained that he could have meant that Obama was spying on Trump through the Trump Tower microwave oven, and of course the late night comics have been having even more of a ball with it. Subsequent “tweets” and presidential interviews have promised that would proof would be forthcoming, and that his Republican allies in Congress would provide it through hearings, but so far that has not happened.
Trump still has plenty of supporters in the comments sections of all the internet stories about all of this, and is still cheered on by some old-time Republicans who should know enough to at least hedge their bets with some skepticism, but Monday provided another public relations beating. Those Republican allies in Congress have thus far admitted they don’t have any proof to back up Trump’s allegations, and on Monday they invited Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey to testify that the allegations are untrue and that the Department of Justice has authorized him to say so, and that he was also authorized to says investigations of Russia’s meddling in the past election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign was ongoing, and in the absence of any classified documents that a president could unilaterally un-classify that was bound to be Tuesday’s big headline and the punchline of all the late night jokes.
The more determined Trump apologists will continue to explain how a “deep state” shadow government is still doing the bidding of Obama, and they’ll be quite right that Obama’s administration tapped so many phones and did so many shadowy things over eight years that you can’t put anything past them, and we’ve seen enough Hollywood movies to always be suspicious about those intelligence agencies, but such old-school Republicans are ourselves still expect some proof. All those intelligence agencies and their more boring bureaucratic colleagues are clearly opposed to Trump for reasons different than our own, all the leaks lately have clearly served their agenda, and there’s still some reason to keep most classified information classified, but for now we’re still waiting for proof of Obama’s worse-than-Watergate behavior and something in the way of usual financial disclosure to assure us that Trump’s seeming Russophilia is just bad ideology and not something to do with the global business empire that Trump still owns.
Which is a shame, as far as old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves are concerned, because Obamacare really does need to be repealed and there’s still some hope that the old-fashioned Republicans left in office will be able to come up with something too imperfect for any hyperbole but at least better than what we’ve got. We find a lot to like in that unpopular budget proposal, too, and would even be cheering if a Republican president had the extra amount of guts to take aim at the popular entitlement programs that are driving the national debt to eventual bankruptcy. Fiscal solvency and other matters requiring hard choices and hard math are always a hard sell, and all the harder when you squander your credibility with claims that are never proved and only cast further lingering suspicion on yourself.
Trump’s supporters can also rightly note that none of his critics’ have yet proved their most damning allegations, but at this moment in the news cycle the claims are at least as plausible as that story about Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the Kennedy hit and President George W. Bush lying the country into the Iraq War that Trump was never for, or that one about Obama being born in Kenya that Trump took credit for putting to rest, and these days it all a needless distraction. At this point we want Trump to put up or shut up, disprove his conspiracy-minded critics with full financial disclosure and an independent investigation, then lay off the “tweets” and get on with all the boring but consequential stuff.

— Bud Norman

Hillary and Sanders and Sexism

Although we keep reading in the respectable press that Hillary Clinton’s Democratic presidential nomination is once again inevitable, and her ascension to the presidency more or less a fait accompli, we still harbor hopeful doubts about it. The pre-written and utterly ridiculous accounts of her routing of the Republicans during that Benghazi hearing can’t last forever, and we we can’t help noticing that she’s already resorting to some desperate pouting about her womanhood and victimhood.
That rout of the Republicans during the Benghazi hearings only makes sense, after all, if you’re relying on the respectable press. Those unfortunate souls with nothing better to do than slog through all the videos and transcripts learned that Clinton was proved to have ignored at least 600 requests for enhanced security at the Benghazi consulate prior to the forewarned terrorist attack, that she knowingly lied to the families of four dead Americans and the rest of the country that it was a spontaneous demonstration against a little-known YouTube video rather than a forewarned terror attack, and that an obscure filmmaker was imprisoned and profuse apologies were issues to the Muslim world for enforcing the First Amendment and allowing the slander of the prophet of Islam as result. The accounts of the respectable press will suffice for Clinton for now, but eventually all that indisputable footage will surely end up in an eventual Republican candidate’s well-funded and widely disseminated attack ad.
More worrisome to the Clinton campaign, and more hopeful to us, is the resort to womanhood and victimhood. It started in the first debate, when Clinton cited her sex as a her most important difference to President Barack Obama, who won the office as The First Black President just as Clinton intends to win it as the First Woman President of Any Racial Heritage, and she’s lately upped the ante during a tiff with pesky challenger and self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over gun control. One of Sanders’ rare crowd displeasing moments during the first debate was when he was forced for to defend his past opposition to gun, which has earned a D- minus grade from the National Rifle Association that is suddenly a disqualifying grade in a Democratic nomination race, and he clumsily defended it as a vote from a “rural state” that is mostly hippies running dairy farms to supply the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream empire with organic milk is just as insistent on its gun rights as Kansas, rather than admitting the more plausible-to-Democrats explanation that  it was because of his longstanding commitment to armed socialist revolution. Since then Clinton has been openly embracing an Australian-style gun-grabbing law that the Democrats used to insist they would never attempt, and Sanders has vociferously responded, which Clinton has described as a sexist “When women talk, some people think we’re shouting.”
This might well prove savvy in a Democratic primary, where there are a preponderance of women, and no doubt more than a few of them who believe they have at some time been wrongly accused by some man of shouting, but we expect it will prove less reliable in a general election. The general electorate, which is still approximately 50 percent male and still includes a fair number of married women who will understand the futility of this complaint, might not prove so forgiving. In any case, the First Woman President won’t get the same 95 percent of the woman vote that the First African-American President won from the African-American vote, and to whatever extent the general electorate remains stubbornly sexist it is looking for a woman who won’t blame her failures on sexism, and that whole Australian-style gun-grabbing thing seems unlikely to play well in a country where not only men but women who have been spooked by that whole culture-of-rape narrative the left is peddling are committed to their God-given and constitutionally-protected right to arm one’s in self defense.
The whole I-am-woman-hear-me-roar thing was bound to surface sooner or later, although we expected it when the Republicans settled on some white guy or another, and especially if it was the boorish Donald Trump, but that it’s already being deployed against the likes of a self-described socialist and Vermont Senator such as Bernie Sanders smacks of desperation. She seems to be benefiting from the double standards of current political discourse, and we’re quite sure that any male politician who had endured such serial humiliations from a spouse would be an object of ridicule rather than sympathy, and with all those men and all those respectably married and Republican women in the mix we think the pitch might yet fall short of an electoral majority.

— Bud Norman

Keeping the President Alive

Back when President Barack Obama was first elected, during that delusional era of hope and change and boundless “Yes we can” optimism, it was a widely held belief among our liberal friends that he would soon be assassinated.
The notion that the James Earl Rays of America would never tolerate a black president had been a staple of black stand-up comedy for years, and the more progressive white folks seemed to assume that conservatives harbored the same murderous fantasies that they’d indulged in all through the George W. Bush era. Our nation’s unhappy history compelled us to concede that there was a risk, but we tried to reassure our friends that it didn’t seem any more dire than usual. There are no doubt a few would-be James Earl Rays left out there, but by now even the dimmest of them are well aware that modern society won’t confer them the heroic status that their hero mistakenly thought he would acquire, and every conservative of our acquaintance was especially anxious to see the president serve out his term. Not just for the usual patriotic and moral reasons, or the prospect of a Joe Biden presidency, but also from a nagging fear that a martyred Obama would usher in an era of unrestrained liberalism more effectively than even a live one.
If an assassination attempt were made, we figured, it would most likely be by another of the deranged anarchists or disgruntled office-seekers or Fair Play for Cuba activists or Manson family members or man-hating feminists or love-struck movie fans or assorted other nut cases who have taken shots at presidents in the past. The thought has reoccured to us with the news that one such nut case was recently able to climb over the White House fence, walk through the unlocked front door, manhandle his way past an undersized woman security guard, and then penetrate deep into the president’s residence. Throw in the the past several years’ worth of stories about Secret Service agents boozing it up and consorting with prostitutes, party-crashers making their way to within hand-shaking distance of the president, known criminals  pretending to provide deaf language interpretation right next to the president, along with some of the other Secret Service scandals so numerous we can’t quite recall them all of the top of our head, and there is reason to believe that a president whose survival is of paramount importance to both liberals and conservatives is not being adequately protected.
Congressional hearings regarding the matter are scheduled for today, with the woman in charge of presidential security summoned to provide testimony, and we expect the Republicans will pose the more aggressive questions and insist on the more robust solutions. The president is ultimately responsible for own security, as we all are, and as usual it would be embarrassing for the Democrats to too closely scrutinize his job performance. The Republicans, remembering how much more saintly and perfectly liberal President John F. Kennedy was in death than he ever was  in life, and knowing full well that they will be blamed for any misfortune, just as Dallas’ “riight-wing  climate of hate” was blamed for that Fair Play for Cuba activist’s lucky shots, will have a greater stake in keeping the president alive.

— Bud Norman

An Oratorical Drone Strike

As we write this Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is still talking on the Senate floor, waging a filibuster against the confirmation of Paul Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
All the press reports have dubbed Paul’s effort an “old-fashioned” filibuster to distinguish it from the modern easy-to-use variety, which is any procedural maneuver to block a simple majority, and some could not resist a reference to the climactic scene of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” The marathon speech-making was intended as a protest against the Obama administration’s drone policies, which claim broad powers to strike against Americans without due process, but the tactic might have garnered more attention than the point it was making.

Which is a shame, because the drone policy deserves careful public scrutiny. In testimony before a Senate committee on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder offered an assurance that “the government has no intention” of carrying out drone strikes in America but nonetheless insisted it has a right to do so in an “extraordinary circumstance.” Holder cited the attack on Pearl Harbor and the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, as examples, but questioning by Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz revealed that more ordinary circumstances also suffice. Cruz asked “If an individual sitting quietly at a café in the United States, in your legal judgment, does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil to be killed by a drone?” A discomfiting amount of hemming and hawing followed before Holder replied that he did “not think that that would be an appropriate use of lethal force.” Only when pressed further by Cruz, who noted that he had asked about the legality rather than the propriety of such an attack, did Holder concede that there might be constitutional issues involved.

Such an expansive view of government power seems odd coming from Holder, who had been an outspoken critic of the previous administration’s harsh interrogation techniques, formerly insisted on civilian trials for such terrorists at Halide Sheik Mohammad, and whose law firm had noisily represented several of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but none of the senators bothered to question him about the consistency of his views. Many critics of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism protocols have undergone similar conversions since Obama took office, so perhaps the senators felt it wasn’t remarkable enough to warrant comment.

Some will contend that Obama’s critics are guilty of the same hypocrisy, and there probably are a few conservatives out there who would have felt quite comfortable with the new drone policies under the old administration, but Paul comes from strictly libertarian wing of the Republican and has been opposed to the war on terror’s expansion of government powers since the beginning. Although we have our doubts about Paul’s isolationist tendencies, they serve him well in this instance.

— Bud Norman

The Hagel Show

Confirmation hearings may be dull fare for the average American, but to the dedicated current events enthusiast they often provide some of the best theater that politics has to offer. Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel’s appearance on Thursday before a Senate committee, for instance, was classic farce.
The former Senator from Nebraska gave such an inept performance that even the most sympathetic media panned it. Politico reluctantly conceded that he “stumbled,” The Hill described him as “shaky,” and The Washington Post went so far as to concede that he “faced withering criticism.” All of the sound bites that found their way into the radio reports gave the same impression, with Hagel stammering lame responses to the most predictable questions.
Because Hagel is a Republican, and with a fairly conservative record on domestic issues, the administration might have hoped that he would be spared a thorough interrogation by the members of his party. If so, the administration has overestimated the opposition’s party loyalty. Hagel is a throwback to the long-ago isolationist era of the Republican party, with a strange affinity for Iran’s brutal theocracy, a suspicious antipathy for Israel’s embattled democracy, a record of wobbliness on the Iraq war, and the “R” behind his name was not enough to shield him from questions about all of it.
Sen. Jim Inhofe asked about the fact that Iran’s government has explicitly endorsed Hagel nomination, and Hagel replied that “I have a difficult enough time with American politics, Senator. I have no idea, but thank you. I’ll be glad to respond further to the record.” In response to a question by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Hagel described Iran’s government as “elected and legitimate” before walking it back during friendlier questioning from a Democratic Senator. Sen. Ted Cruz quoted comments Hagel had made to the terror-friendly Al Jazeera network about America as “the world’s bully,” forcing Hagel to insist that his words did not mean what they clearly did mean, and Sen. Lindsey Graham asked about Hagel’s stated view that the “Israel lobby” “intimidates” the Senate, forcing Hagel to admit that he could not name one Senator who was intimidated by Israel nor one “dumb thing” the American government has done as a result of Israeli influence. Hagel’s distinguished record of service in the Vietnam War might have been expected to earn him some gentle treatment, but no one out-Vietnam vets Sen. John McCain, who grilled Hagel on his opposition to the surge strategy that allowed an American withdrawal from a relatively peaceful Iraq, and after saying that he would “defer to the judgment of history” Hagel seemed to sputter his insistence that he was still right about the surge being “the worst foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.”
It was so embarrassing that the press had no choice but to admit it, but the reluctant criticism was all about how Hagel was simply unprepared, or out of practice after a few years of retirement from politics, and that he’s a Republican after all. This focus on Hagel spared the press from pondering the possibility that the real problem is his world view, clearly shared by the administration that seeks his appointment, which simply can bear such scrutiny no matter the apologist.

— Bud Norman