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“Tweeting” Our Way Into Autumn

There’s long been a venerable tradition in America that no politician dares make news over the Labor Day weekend, but President Donald Trump has little regard for even the most venerable traditions, so of course he interrupted Monday’s picnics and ball games and blissfully slow news cycle with perhaps his most outrageous “tweet” thus far.
“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well-publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time,” Trump “tweeted,” adding with apparent sarcasm “Good job Jeff…” After an elongated and exhausting Labor Day Weekend of bratwurst and beer and baseball and helping to mow and edge the oversized lawn of our very small church over in Delano we hardly know where to begin explaining how extraordinarily outrageous this strikes us, but we’ll try to start at the beginning.
The “tweet” apparently refers to the recent indictments the Justice Department has has won in two separate but duly constituted federal courts of New York’s Republican Rep. Chris Collins on insider trading charges, and then California’s Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter for using more than $250,000 of campaign funds for such non-campaign related expenses as family vacations and theater tickets. Trump is quite right that the indictments probably leave a couple of otherwise safe Republican House of Representatives seats in doubt, but it’s yet another provable lie that the investigations were launched by President Barack Obama’s administration, even if that did make a difference, which it doesn’t, and although both defendants are entitled to a presumption of innocence our old-fashioned Republican law-and-order sensibilities feel the people are also entitled to make their case without a President of the United States tainting the jury pool by “tweet.”
Never mind that annoyingly random capitalization and incorrect hyphenation of “midterms” — what’s with that all balderdash about the “Jeff Sessions Justice Department” that’s apparently thwarting justice? Attorney General Jeff Sessions is indeed in charge of the Justice Department, but only because Trump appointed him to the post and a majority-Republican Senate confirmed him, and he serves at the pleasure of an obviously displeased president, and Trump could fire him at any time he summons the reckless political courage to do so, and until then it’s actually the Trump Justice Department that Trump and his rally-goers are railing against.
Given the current extenuating circumstances our old-fashioned law-and-order sensibilities are inclined to offer a not all sarcastic “Good job Jeff” to the Attorney General, although we’d respectfully add the proper comma. Two duly consisted federal courts have found prima facie evidence that both congressmen had committed felonies, and although it remains to be seen if the Justice Department can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt we’ll trust more in the American justice system and the verdicts of two groups of twelve tried and true fellow citizens than “tweeted” prejudgments of President Trump.
The first-indicted Collins was the first congressional Republican to endorse Trump’s Republican candidacy, and the second-indicted Hunter was the second in line, which will surely strike to right-wing talk radio and Fox News opinions show audiences as damned suspicious, but we well recall that the first Republican Senator and entrenched establishment figure to sign on with Trump was Sessions. Trump rewarded Sessions with the plum Attorney General position, and Sessions returned the favor by aggressively pursuing Trump’s agenda on illegal immigration and environmental deregulation and various quarrelsome racial issues on the streets and in the schools and elsewhere in the public square. Sessions also recused himself from that whole “Russia thing,” though, and has pursued prima facie cases against even Republicans in an election year, and no matter how tough one is on the the border such transgressions cannot be forgiven.
By now we’re pretty sure that Sessions regrets his early endorsement of Trump’s candidacy and resignation from a safe Senate seat, and that Trump is mainly peeved at Sessions for hewing so closely to old-fashioned Republican law-and-order sensibilities. At this point in post-Labor Day America the President of the United seems to have made clear that he thinks the true purpose of the American justice system is to lock up his political enemies and vindicate his still-in-favor political allies, and we expect a cold and dreary autumn.

— Bud Norman

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Yanny, Laurel, Blue Dress, Gold Dress, Green Needles, Brainstorms, the “Russia Thing” and the “Deep State” Conspiracy

First there was that dress that some people see as blue and others see as gold, and more lately there’s that recording that some people hear saying “laurel” and others hear saying “yanny,” but for weird experiments in differences of perception. Some people look at what’s been reported in the news and testified to before congressional committees and courts of law and revealed by e-mails and other documents and see a conspiracy by the Russians and the campaign of now-President Donald Trump to illegally affect the presidential election, while others see a vast “deep state” conspiracy attempting to unseat Trump in a “silent coup.”
So it is with the latest twists and turns in the exceedingly complicated “Russia thing” reality show. The New York Times and the Washington post both reported late last week that an undercover informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation had at least three contacts with Trump campaign officials prior to the election, and we assume that most of their readers took that as evidence the FBI already had good reason to believe that something fishy was afoot. Those who see things Trump’s way usually like to call the papers “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” and insist that their reports are usually “fake news,” but in this case they accepted the “lame-stream media’s” finding as unassailable fact and damning proof that the “deep state” conspirators were “spying” on Trump even before his righteous victory.
Over the weekend Trump himself “tweeted” about it at unusual length but with the usual Arbitrary Capitalizations and stream-of-consciousness syntax and sneering mentions of “Crooked Hillary,” and announced that he was “hereby” — which he correctly spelled, this time — demanding a criminal investigation of President Barack Obama’s possible espionage on his campaign. By Monday deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who finds himself in the difficult job of overseeing the “Russia thing” after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was obliged to recuse himself from the whole, and announced that he was having a Department of Justice investigator general look into this latest plot twist.
People had different perceptions of that, too, of course. Many of the ones convinced that Trump cooperated in Russia’s meddling in the election thought Rosenstein was abetting Trump’s ongoing obstruction of the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” while most of those who see things Trump’s way were disappointed that he didn’t go whole-hog and appoint a special counsel to investigate the special counsel who’s currently investing that “Russia thing.”
From our current perspective here on the sidelines, with no rooting interest in either the Democratic party or our erstwhile Republican party, we fine ourselves sympathizing with this Rosenstein fellow. When Trump promoted the life-long Republican and career civil servant to his current position Trump called him a “great guy” and his press secretary said he was the “gold standard” of governmental integrity, but after he appointed the lifelong Republican and former FBI head honcho Robert Mueller as the special counsel to continue the investigation that had begun under the lifelong Republican FBI director that Trump admittedly fired because of his interest in the “Russia thing” he became a darling of the Democrats. At the moment he’s being pilloried from both sides, but we can’t blame him for splitting the difference.
Despite their disappointment about the lack of a special counsel to to investigate the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing,” those who see things Trump’s way on talk radio and other “conservative” media are certain that an investigator general will surely expose the “deep state” conspiracy. Despite their disappointment that Rosenstein agreed to even a inspector general’s investigation into the investigation, they’re still holding out realistic hope that he’ll find that the FBI had good and by-the-book reasons to have a trusted undercover agent ask a few questions about some numerous damned suspicious and now admitted contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign.
Whatever that poor fellow who somehow wound up as the inspector general for the Justice Department about the “Russia thing” might conclude — for now we don’t know his name, although it will surely be widely known when he writes his report — different people will surely have different perspectives. If he concludes that the FBI had reasonable reasons to have a trust undercover informant ask a few questions the people who see things Trump’s way will say that the career civil servant who had risen to the level of inspector general is part of the “deep state” plot, and if he concludes that FBI was “spying” on the Trump campaign others will conclude he’s complicit in Trump’s ongoing obstruction of justice.
From our man-without-a-party perspective here on the sidelines we don’t see anyone coming out of this “Russia thing” untainted, but expect that Trump and his apologists will get the worst of it. The FBI’s fired-by-Trump director clearly did mishandle its investigation into Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and other suspicious matters, whether you’re a Republican still annoyed that they didn’t “lock her up” or a Democrat annoyed that he openly investigated Clinton and publicly chastised her for the “extreme carelessness” of her e-mail practices but didn’t publicize investigations into the “Russia thing,” but for the moment we feel sorry for that poor fellow and longtime civil servant as well.
The next experiment of differences of human perspective to go “viral” will probably be a video of a weird device that says either “green needle” or “brainstorm” depending on which word you were thinking of. Sure enough, we defied the mathematical odds by hearing whichever of the two words we were thinking of every time.
Still, we believe in an objective reality regarding more prosaic matters such as the “Russia thing” and the the “deep state” conspiracy, and at this point our only rooting interest is that the truth will somehow prevail. Way back when O.J. Simpson was being tried for murder we perceived a wholly different reality than even our most sober-minded black friends, but by now they’ll pretty much admit that yeah the guy was guilty even though they still have understandable suspicions about the criminal justice system, and we’ll bet real money that even our most Trump-addled white friends will eventually come to the same desultory ambivalent conclusions about Trump and the “deep state.”

— Bud Norman

Our Erstwhile Republican Heroes

These are the times that try our old-fashioned and conservative Kansas Republican souls. Many of the men and women we once admired for their rock-ribbed Republicanism and brave willingness to stand on principle and defy the ever changing forces of popular opinion are going squishy, too many of the last few who more or less stood steadfast to our old-fashioned and conservative Kansas Republican beliefs are either bowing out of public life or dying, and what’s left finds itself under assault from the newfangled Grand Old Party of President Donald Trump.
Once upon a time in America there was nobody we admired more in public life than Rudy Giuliani. He was a formidable lead U.S. Attorney in the southern district of New York, where he quite ruthlessly convicted a lot of mobster types, and although many Republicans of the time in New York and elsewhere thought he was rather over-zealous in his prosecution of some Wall Street types he wound up as the Republican party’s nominee for mayor of New York City. He lost his first bid to one of the long, long string of Democrats that had brought the notoriously crime-ridden and graffiti-covered city to the brink of bankruptcy, by the the time he made his second run things had gotten so bad that even the voters of New York City chose a Republican to turn around the fortunes of America’s most essential city.
Giuliani’s tough-talking style and even tougher policies angered the the leftward media in New York City and thus elsewhere, but he hung tough and the results were hard to argue with. His tough-on-crime attitudes toward law enforcement eventually reduced the city’s internationally scandalous murder rate by 66 percent, even as police shootings and complains of excessive force similarly declined. Following the model of President Ronald Reagan he drastically cut rates across the board and especially at the highest brackets, but it once again counter-intuitively resulted in such a economic boom that the revenues actually increased. By the end of the his controversial reign as mayor, Giuliani had restored New York City to its rightful status as America’s most essential city, and even the billionaire newfangled Republican and self-described socialist Democrat who’ve followed have been careful not to stray too far from the formula.
Since then, though, Giuliani has been on a conspicuous losing streak. He seems to have made some money in his private ventures of security consulting and whatnot, but in the public sphere he’s been a disaster. His bid for the Republican presidential nomination in ’08 didn’t last enough for the big states his “big state” strategy was counting, given the suspicion that heartland Republicans used to have about twice-divorced New Yorkers who’d once gone on record supporting gun restrictions and abortion bans and acceptance of homosexuals’ civil rights, and after that he largely dropped out of sight. Lately he’s been back in the news as Trump’s attorney, and has done such a disastrous job of defending his client’s now admitted payment of $130,000 to a pornographic video star and suspected role in a widely-acknowledged plot by the Russian dictatorship to affect that he’s also likely to find himself under assault from the newfangled Republican party of Trump.
Once upon a time in America we also admired then-Alabama Senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in part because of how much he was hated by the Democrats and the rest of the left for his reasonable ideas about border enforcement and the more general rules of law, but these days he’s under assault from those Trumpian sorts of Republicans. He greatly disappointed us during the presidential campaign by being the first Republican senator to endorse Trump more unreasonable ideas about sea-to-sea border walls and cops bumping suspect’s heads on the paddy wagons, but he rescued some of respect our respect by recusing himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign he’d been a part of and it’s contacts with Russian agents that he freely admitted he had not disclosed. Of course, that has brought him under constant “twitter” assault from Trump himself. California congressman quintessentially Trumpian Republican is now pushing to have Sessions held in contempt of congress for failing to provide documents he’s requested in his investigation of Session’s alleged involvement in violations of law as a result of a special counsel’s ongoing investigation into Trump and the “Russia thing.
Until recently we’d never heard of anybody called Ron Rosenstein, but these days he’s one of our favorite Republicans and of course is under even greater assault from the Trumpians, with several newfangled Republican congressman agitating for his impeachment. He’s the deputy Attorney General Attorney general that Trump appointed, and because the Attorney General Trump appointed had to recuse himself for principled reasons from that whole “Russia thing” Rosenstein is in charge of that mess, and Trump and the Trumpians don’t like the way he’s signed off on some rather ruthlessly Giuliani-esque prosecution methods. The life-long Republican is a key conspirator in the “deep state” conspiracy against former Democrat and Reform Party member and relatively newfangled Republican Trump, according to the talk on right-wing talk radio, and his newfound and feckless friends on the left aren’t likely save him.
Trump is doing some significant things right, as our old-fashioed conservative Kansas souls have to admit and the economic date indicate, but we’d still like to see a Republican party that can stand steadfast against the constant barrage of lies and porno performers and lies about porno performers and the juvenile “tweeted” taunts and the daily assaults on the successful post-war international order and our even more constitutional norm and the all-essential concept of an objective reality. Once upon a time in America House Speaker Paul Ryan was that kind of Republican, and his steadfast stand on balancing America’s budget once had the Democrat’s depicting him throwing your grandmother off a cliff, but he played that deficit-exploding spending bill that Trump signed and Ryan got all the blame for, and he’s bowing out of a tough re-election race because his rather half-assed criticisms of Trump leave him vulnerable to a primary challenge. So is the Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, whose voting record on rock-ribbed Republican issues is unassailable but has had the temerity to criticize Trump’s vulgarity and meanness and blatant dishonesty and even more blatant corruption, along with some overly zealous policies on immigration. Meanwhile senior Sen. John McCain is dealing with advanced cancer, and making funeral preparations that do not include an invitation to Trump, the draft dodger who infamously scoffed that although McCain voluntarily endured years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison rather than desert his comrades was a hero “only because got caught.”
Several lesser-known but equally admirable Republicans are also bowing out in the next mid-term election, and it’s not clear who will take their place. One of the Republican candidates in the Arizona primary to replace Flake is former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who accepted Trump’s presidential pardon and therefore admitted his guilt in violating the 13th and Fourth Amendment rights of Phoenix’s sizable Hispanic yet undeniably naturally-born American citizens, and was recently warmly greeted by Vice President Mike Pence, another Republican we once expected. The Republicans might pick up a seat in West Virginia by nominating a former coal mine owner who was convicted and served prison time for worker safety law violations that killed more than two dozen of the coal miners that Trump claims to love, and if he gets the nomination we’re sure he’ll get the same presidential endorsement as that credibly-accused child molester who nonetheless lost a safe seat to a Democrat down in Alabama.
Such is the state of our erstwhile law-and-order and family values party, and we still don’t like those damned Democrats any better.

— Bud Norman

The White House Loses Hope, but Endures More Sessions

Keeping up with all the complicated subplots in President Donald Trump’s latest reality show is exhausting work, and hardly leaves any time to binge-watch anything else. The show features a wider and even wackier cast of characters than “The Simpsons,” writes them off faster than “The Sopranos,” and Wednesday’s episode featured the departure of one of the hotter co-stars and left another less comely but more consequential co-star hanging from a metaphorical cliff.
White House communications director Hope Hicks announced that she would be leaving her post soon, and although the departure of a White House communications director would usually be buried on the back pages and at the bottom of the hour this got better play. This isn’t your usual White House, and the 29-year-old Hicks isn’t your usual White House communications director.
A former teen fashion model from an upper-crust Connecticut family, Hicks was graduated from Southern Methodist University and then briefly worked for a well-regarded public relations firm before taking a PR job at the Trump Organization in Trump Tower with Ivanka Trump’s fashion company. While on the job she demonstrated a somewhat icy sort of feminine beauty and a slavish loyalty to all things Trump, the two qualities Trump most admires in a woman, so despite her lack of any previous political experience he hired the then 26-year-old to help out with his campaign. Following Trump’s improbable election, she wound up in a challenging job at the White House.
All the more challenging at this particular White House, where a communications director is quite frequently required to communicate things that are obviously untrue. Hicks rarely spoke in public, even though she came off endearingly humble whenever she did, which further endeared her to a boss who doesn’t like the supporting cast hogging the spotlight, but she still wound up in the news from time to time. She was involved in the drafting of the president’s son statement regarding his meeting with Russian agents that he understood to be involved in Russian effort to swing the presidential election, which was quickly walked-back. She was also involved in crafting the statement about the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter, who left because two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend, and was reportedly dating Porter at the time, which led to a crackdown on security clearances that has lately left the president’s son-in-law in hanging from a metaphorical cliff, so that also made the news.
Over the past year or so Hicks has been involved in so many laughably untrue White House communications that she’s wound up giving testimony to both a special counsel investigation and an investigative Congressional committee, and her resignation comes the same day it was reported she admitted to Congress that she had told “white lies” on Trump’s behalf. This might be mere coincidence, as both Hicks and Trump have stated that they still love one another and hope to work again, and there’s talk of unspecified “other opportunities,” which could conceivably range from a PR job with one of the last Trump-friendly corporations to a gig on a less convoluted reality show. We can readily believe that Hicks has long considered resigning, considering the stresses of her job, and doubt that Trump would fire someone for telling “white lies” on his behalf. In any case, we’ll wish her well.
Despite all our complaints with the guy we’re also wishing well for Sessions, who’s currently hanging from that metaphorical cliff after the latest episode. Sessions was once a well-respected conservative hard-liner and the first of his to kind to his endorsement of Trump’s questionable contrastive bona fides, and was duly rewarded for his slavish loyalty with the long-coveted position of Attorney General, but since then it’s been one of those convoluted subplots. He had to recuse himself from that overarching “Russia thing” story arc after admitting that he’d mislead Congress about his contacts with Russia as a campaign official, as his legal profession’s code of ethics clearly required him to do, and Trump has never forgiven him for such disloyalty.
Trump has since frequently “tweeted” his annoyance that Sessions isn’t more robustly interfering with the special counsel’s investigation into the “Russia thing,” and on Wednesday he “tweeted” that it’s “disgraceful” Sessions isn’t more vigorously pursuing the talk radio counter-connspiracy theory that it was actually the Democrats who conspired with the Russians to swing the election in Trump’s favor. Sessions released his own defiant statement that he has been  following established ethical protocols, .and would continue to do so long as he remains Attorney General, so future episodes should be suspenseful.
Trump isn’t the least bit bothered by the rest of Session’s right wing agenda, which includes a full-throated defense of his immigration policies that are bound to alarm all the bleeding hearts and a crackdown on state-sanctioned marijuana that’s bound to annoy a couple of our otherwise Trump-supporting friends in Colorado and California. We have our own gripes about the guy, mainly his early endorsement of the president who now torments him, but his obstinate and ethical refusal to obstruct the pursuit of justice in the “Russia thing” is not among them.
This cliff hanger might well end up with Sessions hanging on the cliff, at least for another couple of episodes, given that there’s no obvious replacement who could win Congressional approval and the early departure of an Attorney General is harder to spin than even the most comely 20-something White House communications director. However it turns out, we expect the next White House communications director is going to have a hell of a time with it.

— Bud Norman

How to Fill a Fully-Funded Government News Cycle

Way back when last weekend’s latest partial government shutdown began, President Donald Trump said the Democrats had caused it just to change the discussion from that fabulous tax bill he had signed. By Monday morning the Democrats had admitted defeat and fully funded the government way up until Feb. 8, however, and by Tuesday morning the discussion had shifted to the “Russia thing” and other topics that Trump would rather not talk about.
All of the mainstream “fake news” media were reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” had conducted an interview with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which the Department of Justice officially confirmed was entirely true, and without all the file copy and stock footage about furloughed government workers and disgruntled national park visitors all the front pages and 24-hour news cycles had plenty of room for speculation about that.
If you haven’t been following the complicated and downright convoluted “Russia thing” subplot in Trump’s latest reality show, Sessions once felt obliged to recuse himself from any investigation of the whole affair after offering a Senate committee’s confirmation hearing inaccurate information about his own proved contacts with Russians, which so infuriated Trump that he both “tweeted” and gave taped press interviews to both press and television “fake news” media about how he wanted his Attorney General to be running interference on the whole “Russia thing,” like past attorneys general had done for presidents John Kennedy and Barack Obama during their more tawdry scandals. Of course all the “fake news” media and all the snarky ate night comedians had a gleeful time with that, and although it’s not yet known if he admitted anything harmful to the Trump administration during the interview it seems unlikely Sessions had anything very exculpatory to say on its behalf.
One of the many sidebar stories in the “fake news” about the “Russia thing” subplot was that the investigation had already secured guilty pleas from past Trump campaign and administration officials and won scary-sounding indictments against a former Trump campaign chairman and his longtime business associate, and was now reportedly negotiating some form testimony from the president himself. This administration didn’t clearly deny a word of it, and of course that led to much speculation. There was a lot of speculation about whether a sitting president could be compelled to give any written or oral testimony, several precedents from the Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton presidencies cited, and further speculation about the political ramifications of testifying or not testifying. On one or another of the “fake news” cable channels we heard a panel of purported experts speculating that such an instinctively narcissistic and dishonest with such a cocksure certainty he talk himself out of anything as Trump will imperil himself testifying to the seasoned likes of this particular special counsel, and that sounded real enough to us.
Meanwhile the idiot son-in-law Trump picked to solve everything from Middle East peace to the opioid crisis is also the crosshairs of the the special counsel for his role in the “Russia thing,” and such diverse “fake news” outlets as The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker are also reporting that Jared Kushner has his own “China thing” to go along with it. There’s also fresh news about the story The Wall Street journal broke about Trump’s tryst with a porn star and the six-figure hush-money she received, with all the “fake news” reporting on the very real court filing by some left-wing do-gooder group alleging it the pay-off amounted to a illegal campaign contribution, and of course all those snarky late comics were having great fun with that.
The more Trump-friendly voices in the media are trying to change the conversation to talk about the “deep state” conspiracy that’s trying to concoct all this “fake news,” but Russian “internet bots” are reportedly perpetuating the same talking points about some memo that a Republican congressman who had to recuse himself from his committee’s investigation has written about the “deep state” conspiracy, and at least we can be sure that Trump would rather everyone be talking about that fabulous tax bill.

— Bud Norman

A Quick Start to a New Year

The annual holiday lull in the news cycle is officially over, and we head into the first weekend of the second year of President Donald Trump with more stories than we can keep up with.
There’s that soon-to-be-bestselling book that paints of a picture of a dysfunctional White House led by an attention-deficit-disordered and dangerously impetuous president, for one thing, and the mere excerpts have already generated several headline-grabbing subplots. Several of the damning excerpted quotes come from Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign “chief executive” and administration “chief strategist, who is now officially banished from Trump World and cut off from the kooky billionaire family that had been funding his efforts to primary challenge pretty much every Republican incumbent in congress who has been insufficiently loyal to Trump, so that’s a noteworthy development. One of Trump’s many lawyers has issued a “cease and desist” letter to the soon-to-be-bestselling book’s publisher, along with Trump’s characteristic threat of a lawsuit, and despite its obvious futility that assault on the First Amendment was also newsworthy enough to bolster the book’s inevitable sales.
Whatever the errors that are bound to be found in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” its picture of a dysfunctional administration led by an attention-deficit-disorcered is made all the more convincing by other stories currently in the news. Buried deep in the papers was the news that the White House has pulled the plug on its once-ballyhooed commission to investigation of voter fraud, which Trump has long claimed explained his three-million-votes-or-so loss in the popular election but somehow didn’t prevent his victory in the electoral college. The commission’s fact-finding requests had been rebuffed not only by Democratic states who resented the implied allegation that they had cheated Trump of millions of votes, but also by several Republican states who resented the assault on their longstanding Republican principle of states’ rights to conduct their own elections, and no one ever really believed that it was going to explain away that embarrassing popular vote loss to the likes of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The story is of particular interest here in Kansas, because Secretary of State Kris Kobach was in charge of the commission, and its abysmal failure is thus likely to hinder his gubernatorial campaign. He’s instituted some common sense rules about voting and generally did well in the ob, as far as we’re concerned, but the Republican party infighting between the extremist and establishment wings is particularly intense right about now, and we won’t mind at all if his efforts to aid Trump only aid the establishment candidate.
We have two brothers who live in California and Colorado, so we also noticed the news that Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has issued a directive to more strictly enforce federal marijuanas in the many states that have legalized the medicinal and recreational use of the devil’s weed. There’s an obvious legal case to made, and Sessions will likely convince many of his fellow senior citizens on policy grounds that it’s much needed to make America great again, but it strikes us as a political disaster. By now clear majorities of the public have a live-and-let-live attitude about pot-smoking, which includes fastidiously abstinent Republicans who just as rigorously adhere to a state’s rights principle, along with a whole lot of Trump-voting Republicans we know who avail themselves of an occasional toke on the devil’s weed, and although the youth cohort doesn’t partake at the same rate of their elders they seem far more permissive about the practice.
Even the most abstemious among us is tempted to take a long and deep bong hit when confronted with the latest dispatches about the ongoing nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula. In case you haven’t been following this all-too-real reality show, the nutcase dictator of North Korea recently boasted that he had a button on his desk that he could push to launch a nuclear attack on the United States, and the President of the United States responded by “Tweet” that, yeah, well, his button was bigger. The obvious Freudian implications of the riposte fueled late night comedy show monologues, while the South Korean government commenced very talks with their North Korean antagonists and the rest of our allies seemed similarly unimpressed by Trump’s boasts.
Elsewhere in the news there are stories about those “dreamers” who were illegally smuggled into the country as children and now find themselves hoping to maintain their quasi-legal status as mostly law-abiding and tax-paying and college-going and military-serving almost-citizens, and Trump’s attempts to use them as negotiating chips to build his long promised wall of a border wall. There’s also the matter of the recently defunded program that provides health insurance to children whose parents are too rich to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to pay for private insurance, and that has to be worked out in the context of yet another continuing resolution to keep the entirety of the federal government limping along on deficit spending that’s not likely to be alleviated by the Republican’s recent big victory of a tax bill. That’s likely to make for a bad news cycle.
On the other hand, the stock markets are up and the unemployment rate is down, Trump’s deregulations and that budget-busing tax bill clearly have something to do with it, and so far there are no mushrooms clouds over the Korean peninsula and no smoking gun in that Russia thing. Trump’s approval ratings climbed into the low-40s over the holidays, but the new year seems off to a bad start.

— Bud Norman

Another Grueling Session For Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions found himself testifying to yet another a congressional committee on Tuesday, and once again he had a hard time of it. The Democrats had plenty of pointed questions about his past inaccurate and begrudgingly corrected statements to congress about that pesky “Russia thing,” but he also faced some hostility from Republicans for his failure to lock up certain Democrats. President Donald Trump has described Sessions as “beleaguered” in one of his many critical “tweets,” and the description seems more apt than ever.
There were a few moments in Session’s testimony that rather endeared him to us, but we doubt that he placated many of the rest of his critics. He further amended his past testimony about the “Russia” thing and couldn’t recall anything about at least 40 other questions that were posed, but could recall the one time he shut down any talk about cooperating with Russian efforts to meddle in the campaign, which he’d previously denied had ever come up, and he didn’t look good. His Democratic inquisitors overplayed their righteous indignation schtick to our tastes, but the Republicans will have a hard time explaining how it shows that “Russia thing” is fake news.
Some of Session’s Republican interrogators seemed just as eager as Trump has seemed to jettison the guy altogether. Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan was especially playing up the righteously indignation about Session’s failure to to appoint a special counsel to investigate the crimes that all the talk radio show hosts are alleging against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as Trump’s “tweets” have also urged, and Sessions replied that “It would take a factual basis that meets the standard of a special counsel.” This strikes our old-fashioned conservative temperaments as wise, but it’s not likely to placate any of the newfangled conservatives who were chanting “lock her up” at Trump’s raucous rallies, and we doubt there are many fair-minded Democrats left who will give him due credit for such a principled stand.
Sessions was also inevitably asked about that weird race down in Alabama to fill the Senate seat he regrettably gave up to become Attorney General, and his answers there cheered us but probably didn’t do him any good with anybody else. The Republican in that race is Roy Moore, a self-proclaimed champion of Christian values who stands quite credibly accused of very creepy conducts with at least five teenaged girls who have come forward by name as middle-aged women while a 30-something assistant district attorney, and the pull-out quote from his testimony was that “I have no reason to doubt these young women.”
We have no reason to doubt them, either, nor the on-the-record woman who worked with Moore in that prosecutor’s office who recalls that it was common knowledge Moore took a peculiar interest in teenaged girls, or that seemingly good-ol’-boy Alabaman who worked at the local mall and recalls on videotape how he was told to keep Moore out of the place, but the die-hard Moore supporters in Alabama and elsewhere in the Republican will feel betrayed. There’s a long-shot scenario where Sessions resigns his position to become a write-in candidate for his old seat, which allows Trump to appoint an Attorney General who hasn’t been forced to recuse himself from the “Russia thing” and can more freely fulfill his campaign promise to lock his vanquished Democratic challenger, and if he wins we suppose all be forgiven.
That’s a very long shot, though, and even if it did somehow come to pass we can’t see it ending well for anyone. That “Russia thing” will be still be asking reasonable questions that demand convincing answers that so far aren’t forthcoming, locking up a woman who isn’t and will never be the president isn’t going to do much for the rule of law no matter guilty she might or might no be, and although we hope that history will note his principled stands Sessions probably won’t placate any of his critics on the right during for the present.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Back in Ol’ Alabam

That Southern Gothic novel of an Alabama special election race was weird enough from the outset, then got weirder yet with the The Washington Post’s bombshell account of four women credibly alleging that the Republican nominee had creepy to downright criminal relationships with teenaged girls while he was a 30-something district attorney, and got still weirder on Monday with another middle-aged woman coming forward to allege that the then district attorney and now Republican Senatorial nominee had attempted to rape her when she was a 16-year-old high school and part-time waitress at a local diner.
Given that Republican nominee Roy Moore is running on his long cultivated reputation as a staunch defender of the Christian faith, bolstered by the two times he was removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying federal decisions he regarded as a violation of God’s law, that’s a problem for both Moore and the Republican Party writ large. Given the general craziness of the entirety of the country’s politics there’s still a chance the Republicans might come out more or less unscathed, but at this point it’s hard to see how the state of Alabama and the rest of the country aren’t diminished by the whole affair.
Moore’s strident views on defying federal court orders o Old Testament grounds and criminalizing homosexuality and how the terror attacks on on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the perhaps even the Capitol were God’s just retributions for America’s sins were already hard hard to defend on New Testament and old-fashioned Republican grounds. That bombshell Washington Post report seemed well nailed-down with four named Alabama who did not know one another and had no apparent political axe to grind, with documentary evidence backing up what can be backed up about all four women’s claims, and the fifth woman who’s come out on her own has a signed high school year book to dispute Moore’s claim he never met and also seems quite credible. Moore and his die-hard supporters can blame the first four accusations on The Washington Post and it’s establishment allies, but the paper had nothing to do with the fifth accuser coming forward on her own, and Moore’s interviews with far more friendly media have basically admitted that he did take an interest in teenaged girls as a 30-something prosector.
The suspiciously left-of-center Cable News Network has video testimony of a woman who also worked in the district attorney’s office around the same time saying it was well-known Moore’s was hanging out at shopping malls and high school football games n search of teenaged girls, while Moore has plenty of supporters saying so what if he did. By now most of the Republican establishment are bailing on Moore, with the Senate’s Republican majority leader going from saying that Moore should drop out if the allegations are true to saying he should simply drop out, and the past two Republican nominees for president saying the same thing even earlier on, the putatiive Republican president with his own lecherous reputation to deal with is so for staying out of it during his convenient Asian tour, and it looks like Moore will have to hold off a sudden and unexpected Democrat challenge without without any of the national Republican party’s much-needed money or expertise.
None of which will make much difference down in Alabama, where the Republicans hate that damned Republican establishment almost as much as they hate the damned Democrats, and would sooner vote for a damned child molester, and although it’s not likely to play well elsewhere we have to admit that’s the state of our formerly beloved Republican party writ large. If Moore loses it’s a gloating headline for all the the Democrats about a win in staunchly Republican state, but if he wins it wins it will surely generate three years of embarrassing headlines for his term. There will be plenty of embarrassing sex scandals for the Democrats over that time, to be sure, but having Moore among the Republican senators won’t make that any easier to exploit.
At this point the Republicans’ best bet seems to be having former Alabama senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions retire from his post and announce himself as a write-in candidate for his old seat, which just might hold the seat and have the added benefit of allowing Trump to appoint an Attorney General who hasn’t recused himself from interfering with that pesky investigation of the whole “Russia thing,” but by that seems a long shot. A Republican write-in candidacy would only prevail if Moore bowed out gracefully, which doesn’t seem likely, given the cantankerous nature his admirers so much admire, and even if it did happen any further attempts to impede that rapidly developing case about the “Russia thing” would only bolster the growing case about obstruction of justice.
As always there are plenty of Democratic scandals that still deserve public opprobrium, and we wish the conservative media still defending Moore plenty of luck in pointing that out, but by now we count ourselves among the rest of us and none of it seems to do us any good. We’ll stick with those citizens still defending some standard of decent behavior, and wish them the very best of luck.

— Bud Norman

Moore Is Less in Alabama

Alabama’s special Senatorial election was already crazy enough, but it got even crazier on Thursday with a Washington Post report that Republican nominee Roy Moore is accused of molesting  a 14-year-old girl when he was a 32-year-old prosecutor and pursuing relationships with three other girls aged 15 and 16 around the same time. Given that Moore is running on his long-cultivated reputation as a champion of Christian values, it’s especially incendiary stuff.
Moore unequivocally denies the allegations, and is as entitled to a presumption of innocence as any citizen, but the four now middle-aged women who are publicly making the charges are just as entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and the rules that prevail in the court of public are very different from the ones imposed in a court of law. Most of the callers to the talk radio shows and the commenters on the conservative web sites seem to have instinctively reached their verdicts immediately upon hearing the widely-disseminated news, the late night comics and all but one of the cable news channels and everyone of the leftward side of media did the same, and as if it weren’t crazy enough America’s politics went crazier yet.
If you haven’t been following this classic Southern Gothic novel from the beginning, the Alabama special Senatorial election has been weird from the get-go. In the first place they’re holding an election in December on an odd-numbered year because longtime Sen. Jeff Sessions had vacated his seat to become President Donald Trump’s Attorney General, which has since spun into too many fascinating sub-plots in the broader political reality show to recount here. Sessions was temporarily replaced by a fellow named Luther Strange, who as appointed to the position by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who a short time later was forced to resign after pleading guilty to lying about an extramarital affair.
Alabama Republicans were appalled by Bentley’s betrayal of his wife and the Christian values he had campaigned on, so of course they held it against Strange. Strange voted consistently with the Republican caucus, just as Sessions had done, but he won the endorsement of the Senate majority, so Alabama Republicans further resented him for being an establishment sell-out. A crowded field of primary challengers included an unabashed low-tax and lean-government conservative named Mo Brooks that all the talk radio show hosts and what’s left of the “tea party” loved, but Trump disappointed them all by endorsing Strange, and then Trump disappointed Strange when his big rally speech turned out to be all about Trump with a few tepid mentions thrown in, and a solid plurality of Alabama Republicans wound choosing Moore and his full-throated and defiant campaign for Christian values.
Moore was once removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying a federal court order to move a Ten Commandments monument he’d installed on public grounds, and a second time for defying the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriages, and the Republicans in the state largely loved him for that. Moore is also on the record that homosexuality should be illegal, and he’s never ruled out the possibility of the death penalty, and he’s by far the most out-the-closet theocrat we can ever recall being a likely Senator of the United States, but most Alabama Republicans seem comfortable with that as well. He was also found to have been taking a sizable salary and other filthily lucrative benefits from the Foundation for Moral Law that he’d claimed to have been selflessly serving without compensation, but his poll numbers survived that.
Allegations of 32-year-old prosecutor molesting a 14-year-old girl are surely another matter for any God-fearing Alabama Republican, but so far most of them seem to be sticking to their man. They don’t believe anything they might from hear from what all the talk radio shows call “The Washington Compost,” even if the socialist rag does have four named women on the record and another named woman and some 20 other unnamed women who will verify that their accounts match what they were told by the accusers at the time, because they do believe that all sorts of nefarious folks are out to get such God-fearing Republicans as Moore and themselves,
That’s not entirely untrue, of course and alas, but from our seat on the bench in the pox-on-both-their-houses sidelines of today’s politics there’s something about the Washington Post’s accounts that rings true. Far too many of the paper’s “fake news” stories have been later verified by sworn testimony and other incontrovertible evidence to summarily dismiss its reports, and the one about Moore strikes our veteran eyes as especially well-sourced. The story about Moore later luring the 14-year-old to his rural home and removing her outer clothing begins with him approaching the girl and her mother outside a domestic court room where the mother was about to testify in a divorce hearing, then offering to keep watch out for the girl rather than have her hear the likely hurtful testimony, and the paper has the documentation of the event and the fact that Moore was a 32-year-old prosecutor working in the building at the time.
Pretty much everything that can be corroborated about the other three women’s accounts of Moore’s advances also checks out, including the more than two dozen women who vividly recall hearing same story all those years ago, but there’s no way to corroborate what can’t be checked and Moore is denying it all and is entitled as any other citizen to a presumption of innocence in a court of law. In the court of public opinion we’re all entitled to reach our own conclusions about anyone’s character, and so far a lot of Republicans are sticking with their man and sticking it to any Republicans who might have doubts about it.
So far we’re hearing from the talk radio callers and the internet commentators that The Washington Compost probably made these women up, and that if even if they do exist they’re probably some hairy-legged feminists out to get Trump and Moore and other God-fearing Republicans such as themselves, but by now countless media have confirmed these women’s existence and at least three of these seemingly very typical Alabama girls are telling them they’re still supporters of Trump. Some God-fearing Alabama Republicans and self-described conservatives elsewhere are already taking the fallback position that it was a long time ago and nobody’s alleging that anybody went all the way and that the 16-year-old was at least at the age of consent in Alabama, and some have even reached for absurd Biblical excuses. Unless you fully believe Moore’s categorical denial the alleged behavior, and are willing to categorically dismiss the claims four of middle-aged Alabama women who are staking their reputation among the Alabama Republicans they live with and love, and have no apparent reason to risk those reputations on a lie, any other excuse will will be hard to square with Moore’s image as a champion of Christian values.
As much as we believe in the Ten Commandments on a spiritual level, and as much as we despise that Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage on strict constitutionalist grounds, we always found Moore’s defiant stand on both issues more self-aggrandizing than self-sacrificng. We have Old Testament beliefs about sexual morality but New Testament notions about hating the sing but loving the sinner and it’s brought an abundance of homosexual friends, so we also never went along with that “lock ’em up” stuff can’t imagine anyone throwing the first stone. Something about the guy reminded of of the scripture’s warnings about “the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others,” and the other parts about rendering unto Caesar and obeying civil authorities, and given that Jesus Himself assured Pilate that He had not come to establish His kingdom on Earth we found Moore’s claims that he could pull it off to be a bit both blow-hardy and blasphemous.
What’s left of Alabama’s Democratic Party went and nominated itself a white guy who’s got the career resume you’d expect of Senate candidate and is clean-cut and never claimed to a champion of Christian values even if you did come up with some long-ago dirt on him, but he’s also an abortion rights absolutist right up to the minutes before birth. This is yet another matter for a God-fearing Alabama Republican, and since none of the sex acts that Moore stands accused of were potentially procreative that might carry him to the Senate. At this point there’s little chance of replacing Moore as the Republican nominee on the ballot, and even if he bowed out of the chances of winning a write-in campaign for the hated Strange or the third-place challenger Brooks or any Republican alternative would be iffy even in Alabama.
If the Republicans do win in Alabama it could it hurt it chances elsewhere. Ever since the Reagan days Democrats have run scare ads about the Christian right imposing a theocracy that stones homosexuals and denies abortion even in life-of-the-mother situations, and for the first time they’ll have an elected Republican Senator to make it sound undeniably plausible. Several high-ranking congressional suggested that Moore should pull out of the race if the allegations were true, and within minutes the talk show lines and internet message boards were lit up about the damned establishment bailing betraying the one true faith once again, which seems to suggest that much of the Republican party doesn’t much care even if the allegations are true.
We’re giving those four former Alabama girls who are now middle-aged Alabama women the benefit of the doubt, even as we presume Moore’s innocence, and will leave the rest of to all those Alabama Republicans and Democrats to sort it all out. We don’t see it ending well, though, for Alabamans or any of the rest of us.
— Bud Norman

Things Get Moore Strange in Alabama

There’s an awful lot going on in the world these days, with another round of hurricanes in the Caribbean and a second big earthquake in Mexico and the escalating war of schoolyard taunts on the now nucqearized Korean Peninsula and all those recent “Russia” revelations, but we can’t keep our eye off that special election t coming up next Tuesday in Alabama. President Donald Trump is scheduled to be in the state today to campaign for his preferred candidate, which suggests the matter also commands his attention despite everything else going on in the world these days, and of course his involvement makes the whole thing even harder to figure.
In case you don’t usually follow Alabama politics, as we usually don’t, the state is finally getting around to picking a successor to Sen. Jeff Sessions, who resigned his seat to become Trump’s Attorney General. Sessions seems to have been Attorney General forever by now, and we’re sure it seems even longer than that to him, but they take their time about doing things down south, and the Republicans are just now getting around to choosing their candidate for a general election that will occur somewhere down the road and  whichever Republican will surely win. One reason for the delay is that the Republicans had to hold an open-first primary to select the two run-off candidates, and given the nature of Alabama politics and the Republican party as a whole and the further complications of Trump’s intervention that was hard not to watch.
In the primary there were three credible and intriguing candidates. One was Rep. Mo Brooks, a one of those hard-line conservatives who voted against anything that wasn’t hard-line conservative enough no matter what the rest of the Republican caucus was going along with, and he was favored by all the talk radio hosts and the nationalist and populist Steve Bannon wing of the White House. Another was former state Supreme Court Judge Ray Moore, best known for twice being removed the bench for refusing to comply with Supreme Court rulings regarding public displays of the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage, who was enthusiastically supported by the same evangelical voters who supported Trump. There was also the former state Attorney General Luther Strange, who had been warming Session’s seat as a temporary replacement and was a chosen son of the much-reviled-by-talk-show-listeners and Trump and most other Republicans Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, but for reasons no one can explain Trump also endorsed Strange.
As confusing as it must have been to the average Republican Alabamian, where he’s statistically likely to be a big fan of Trump, the open primary somehow ended with with Moore and Strange in the run-off. As popular as Trump is in the state, though, the talk-show-backed Brooks immediately endorsed Moore right after his near defeat, the more defiant sorts of evangelical voters have stayed loyal, and the president flies into the state in support of a candidate who’s far behind in all the polls. That’s Trump’s base resisting Strange, too, which is a noteworthy development in the ongoing war within the Republican party.
At this point it’s hard to see it working out well for the Grand Old Party in any possible case.
If Moore wins the Republicans will at long last be saddled with a Senator who actually closely resembles the Democrats’ caricature of the party’s extremist religious zealotry. Moore has reassured Alabama’s voters that he’s not in favor of executing homosexuals, but other than that he hasn’t gone out of his way to allay any secular fears about his religious fervor.. We’d like to think we’re as evangelical and Republican as the next guy, and we share Moore’s concerns that God is being banished from the public square, and we try our best to adhere to those ten commandments that Moore defiantly erected on public grounds, but we also note the New Testament scripture about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and obeying civil authorities, and that part about “come let us reason together,” so the mixed martial arts afficionado Moore strikes us as suspiciously prideful for a prophet.
If Strange wins so does McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment, which is by now hated by the entirety of the Democratic party and most of the independents and pretty much all the Republicans except for a few old Never-Trumper types such as ourselves, even Trump is today campaigning on behalf of Strange. Strange would likely end up on the repeal and replacement of the debate about Obamacare Trump now favors, and might help out on other issues, but given his establishment credentials he’s bound to cross paths with Trump at some point, and we don’t see him as the unifying figure the party needs right now.
If Brooks had somehow survived the open primary that probably wouldn’t have helped, either. He might have wound up sinking the last ditch attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare because it didn’t repeal and replace it enough, and although he’d have had a good enough case that Strange or Moore couldn’t refute it would have still been scored another loss for both the party and its president. Brooks’ enthusiastic endorsement of Moore, along with all the polls, suggests that Alabama Republicans prefer the ten commandments to Trump, which seems about right to us, but it’s still hard to see this ending well for anybody. From our far away from Alabama perspective we’re hoping for Strange, as weird as it feels, and we’re still hoping that in any case Moore won’t be all that bad.

— Bud Norman