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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

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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

Dueling Headlines

As usual in the age of President Donald Trump, there’s more in a day’s news than one can find time or space to comment on, and as always it’s hard to say what’s the biggest deal. On a typically busy Tuesday the two main contenders were the House of Representatives joining the Senate in passing a tough Russian sanctions bill that explicitly restricts Trump’s power to do anything about it, and the other was Trump’s rapidly escalating war of words with his own Attorney General, both of which are just subplots in the bigger ongoing story about what Trump now calls “Russia.”
The sanctions bill passed the House with a vote of 419 to three, which is a remarkably lopsided margin in these divisive and divided days, and a similar bill had already passed the Senate by a similar blow-out score of 98 to two, so whatever minor adjustments are made in the conference committee both the sanctions and the presidential restrictions will arrive on Trump’s desk with the same overwhelming bipartisan support. Trump can still veto it, but by now someone has probably explained to him that 419 to three and 98 to two are veto-proof margins would become law anyway, and he probably knows by instinct given all the other stories in the news lately it wouldn’t look good to be one of only six elected officials in Washington going soft on the Russkies.
On one of the Sunday morning shows newly-promoted White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was saying the president had decided to the sign the bill, while at the same the newly-appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was saying on another show that the president hadn’t yet decided, but we’ll wager a small amount that Sanders winds up being right. Signing the damned thing will probably infuriate Trump, as the bill represents an almost unanimous rebuke to the Russian-friendly foreign policy he campaigned on, and the restrictions on his presidential power will surely chafe at his neck, but not signing wouldn’t stop it from happening, and no matter how much the hard-core fans might love it the broader political consequences would be dire.
Those blow-out bi-partisan margins portend some perilous political consequences, as well. Trump’s ability to negotiate all those great deals with Russia he promised is for now and well into the foreseeable severely restricted, as all those campaign statements have not only left him isolated from our democratic western allies but also the domestic Democrats and Republicans who were elected with majorities by almost the entire country. Trump will probably “tweet” some insult at all of them, and his most hard-core fans will no doubt love it, but we doubt they’re tired of winning yet.
Which makes that escalating war of words between Trump and his Attorney General all the more portentous. Trump now regrets having hired Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he recused himself from anything having to do with that ongoing “Russia” storyline, and has not only “tweeted” about it and said so to The New York Times. He’s also “tweeted” his annoyance that Sessions hasn’t pursued criminal investigations against vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, which candidate Trump promised to do and president-elect Trump said he wouldn’t do and President Trump is once suddenly very enthusiastic about.
Sessions was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, and we well remember how that “Make-America-Great-Again”-ball-cap-donning endorsement at a well-attended Alabama rally was touted to prove Trump’s true-blue conservatism, but on Tuesday Trump told The Wall Street Journal that “But he was a senator, and he looks at probably 40,000 people and says, ‘What do I have to lose?‘ So it’s not like a great loyal thing by that endorsement.” That 40,000 total was of course overstated by 100 percent, and there’s no telling how many of them were there to see the Senator they’d long voted for, but a president is entitled to his own conclusions. He followed that insult up with a brief news conference next to the President of Lebanon, where he declined to say if he was going to fire Sessions but added “time will tell.”
Which will probably please many of Trump’s most hard-core fans, but leaves Trump further isolated from the rest of the country. Sessions not only risked his Republican respectability with that endorsement, but he also gave up a comfortable lifelong seat in the Senate to serve in Trump’s cabinet, so the many kinds of conservatives who warmed to Trump’s candidacy only because of Session’s endorsement are not cheering his impending defenestration. Sessions was a hard-liner on illegal immigration back when Trump was hiring illegals and calling Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s mild “self-deportation” policies “mean,” and he was an unabashed Republican and conservative way back when Trump was donating to Democrats and trying to be cool, so Trump can’t count on his right flank’s loyalty in this skirmish.
Sessions has annoyed much of the libertarian and state’s rights sorts of conservatives by giving the cops wider latitude to seize your assets for whatever reason and cracking down on the states that take a lenient attitude toward marijuana use, both of which are far more annoying to us than his admirably ethical decision to recuse himself from “Russia” after giving false statements about it to the Senate. The left always hated the poor guy from get-go, caricaturing the unabashedly anti-illegal-immigration and Alabama-accented Jefferson Beuaregard Sessions III as an unrepentant Confederate racist, but in the war of words with Trump even they have his back. All those folks in the middle are probably wondering why Trump is so angry that his Attorney General isn’t on the job of squashing all the ongoing investigations in to that “Russia” thing, which leaves Trump rather isolated.
Perhaps Trump can “tweet” his way out of this mess, too, but it looks tricky. Sessions might make a final act of a obeisance by resigning, but there’s hope everywhere on both the right and left he’ll hold out to force Trump to fire him, and in any case it will be very interesting to see who Trump nominates next for such a thankless job and how that will play in Congress. The Democrats who are suddenly on board with Romney’s anti-Russian stand in the ’12 election are of course craven partisan hypocrites, which will surely be the main argument against them, but all those Republicans who are still on board enough to give that sanctions bill their vote are being quite  consistent in their convictions, so winning the argument with all of them will require more than 140 characters.

— Bud Norman

Trump, Sessions, a Son-in-Law, the Boy Scouts, and the Rest of a Very Bad Day

Monday was just another day in the era of President Donald Trump, and whatever else you might say about it at least it’s not boring.
The day began with a “tweet” blasting his own “beleagured” Attorney General for not pursuing a criminal investigation against his vanquished Democratic rival, and was shortly followed by his son-in-law having to explain to a congressional committee why he’d attended a meeting that the president’s son had set up with the clear understanding that Russians they knew to be tied to the Russian government were offering campaign help as part of that foreign adversary efforts on the Trump campaign’s behalf. Trump then finally got around to delivering a public address on behalf of his party’s longstanding but recently ailing attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, and after that delivered a speech to the Boy Scouts’ annual Jamboree that has to be heard to be believed.
As usual one hardly knows where to begin, but we’ll follow Trump’s lead by starting with that “tweet” and saving that bizarre Boy Scout oration for last. Trump first “tweeted” that “Sleazy (Sen.) Adam Schiff, (D-Calif.), the totally biased congressman looking into ‘Russia,’ spends all his on television pushing the Dem loss excuse!” A short time later he wondered “So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleagureed A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” Putting aside the arbitrary capitalizations and missing apostrophes and deliberate rudeness, which are by now the modern presidential standard, it was a bad start to the day.
Sessions is mostly beleaguered these days by Trump, who recently fumed to The New York Times that he never would have made the pick if he’d known that Sessions would wind up recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of what he now calls “Russia” after some inaccurate testimony to the Senate,  so that embarrassing story got at least another day in the news. Why Sessions isn’t pursuing various criminal investigations against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is a valid question to ask, given her long and sordid history, and we can’t wait for some impertinent reporter to pose it to the President of the United States at some possible future news conference. Candidate Trump ran on a rallying cry of “lock her up,” president-elect Trump immediately reneged on the promise by saying that Clinton had suffered enough, but President Trump is clearly in high dudgeon about that outrage, so our only guess is that it will all turn out to be Sessions’ fault.
Sessions resigned his membership in the more respectable clubs of the Republican party when he was the first federal elected official to endorse Trump’s anti-establishment candidacy, relinquished a safe life-long sinecure in the Senate to serve as Trump’s Attorney General, and bravely defended all the indefensible things that Trump had said and done and “tweeted” along the way, but as a respectable Republican he also did his ethical duty by recusing himself from “Russia” after giving some inaccurate and under-oath testimony to the Senate during his confirmation hearings. That wound up with a special counsel who’s now looking into Trump’s previously opaque financial empire, however, so Trump and all the apologists who once cited Sessions’ endorsement as proof of Trump’s conservative bona fides seem eager to defenestrate the poor fellow.
The guy Trump nominated to be the Federal Bureau of Investigation director after the firing of the predecessor told his congressional confirmation hearing interrogators that he didn’t consider his predecessor’s investigation a “witch hunt,” as the president calls it in his “tweets,” and advised any future presidential campaigners to call the FBI if they got any e-mails from people they knew to be connected to a hostile foreign powers promising helpful information. Should Trump fire Sessions or “tweet” him into resignation we expect that any nominee for the job would also face the same questions, and at this point we don’t think anything but the same answers would win anyone confirmation even with a slight Republican majority in the Senate if they answered differently.
At this point we can’t imagine any remotely qualified candidates wanting to work for such an erratically disloyal boss, too, and we note that he’s also having trouble filling a lot of other high-level positions for similar reasons, so we think the “tweet” got Trump’s day got off a bad start.
Trump’s son-in-law didn’t have to testify in an open session about that meeting that Trump’s son set up with those Russkies they knew to be tied closely to the Kremlin and were were told was part of the Russian government’s efforts to help the campaign, so at least is was relegated lower than most people read in the day’s news. Son-in-law Jared Kushner issued an 11-page explanation of the matter to the broader public, explaining that he’d attended the meeting because his brother-in-law had asked him to and he hadn’t read the e-mails subject heading about “Confidential –Russia,” and that he’s recently revised his security clearance forms to include all the numerous Russian meetings and the hundreds of millions of dollars of business transactions that he’d previously forgotten.
Even if you believe every word of it, it doesn’t inspire much confidence that the 36-year-old wunderkind son-in-law is up to the challenges of ending America’s opioid crisis and re-inventing American government and negotiating Middle East and everything else his father-in-law president has asked him to do. Despite the closed hearings and all the rest of the distracting news, we think Kushner also had a bad day.
Trump’s long-awaited address about repealing and replacing Obamacare wasn’t bad, we have to admit, but we’ll have to see how effective it was. Trump stuck mostly to a teleprompter-ed script about how Obamacare had not fulfilled all the promises it was made, and he was surrounded by some telegenic real Americans who have been paying much higher premiums rather than the $2,500 annual savings and had lost the plans they been told they keep and been denied all the rest of that President Barack Obama had promised them, and with characteristic bluntness he called Obama a “big, fat, ugly lie.”
At this point there’s no denying any of that, but we think the same point could have been made without language that precludes any red-state Democrat from agreeing, and we can well understand why all the polls show landslide majorities of Americans are doubting all the claims being made for any of the various Republicans’ proposals, with no one  quite sure which one Trump was touting during that big speech. Candidate Trump ran on promises of coverage for everyone with the government and paying for it, at far less a cost to the average American, President Trump has previously “tweeted” that the proposals he’s now currently touting are “mean,” and we can well understand why all the polls show a public leery of the latest promises of fewer people being covered but lower costs for the rest.
Trump had the golden opportunity to end such a day with a rousing patriotic address to the 30,000 Boy Scouts and troop leaders assembled at an annual Jamboree in rural West Virginia, but in typical Trumpian fashion even that went very, very weird.
At one point in his speech to the too-young-to-vote Boy Scouts, Trump noted that “Tonight we put aside all the policy fights in Washington, D.C., you’ve been hearing about from the fake news. Who the hell wants to talk about politics when I’m front of the Boy Scouts?” He then proceeded to ramble on for 35 minutes about fake news and politics, blasting former president Barack Obama and Clinton, attributed the turn-out an the annual Jamboree to his popularity, and vowed that more people would be saying “Merry Christmas” as a result of his presidency.
Much of the speech was a guy-at-the-bar-style rambling reminiscence about real estate developer William Levitt, whose Levittown development outside New York City started the suburban development craze that transformed America in the long-ago ’50s, and although he didn’t mention that Levitt insisted on white and gentile-only sales he did reveal that Levitt came to a sad and lonely end at least he stopped short of the more sordid details about Levitt’s late night parties, but somehow it wound up as some sort of cautionary tale about grandiose ambitions of a real estate mogul who wound up friendless despite “all the hottest people” at his old age parties. We can only guess what all those Boy Scouts made of it, and we note that the Boy Scout leaders had already issued a plea for an apolitical address,and urged that the audience be respectful but not partisan,  but the kids seemed to love it.
Trump was never a Boy Scout during his childhood as the son of a big-time New York real estate developer who never quite matched Levitt’s historic significance, but he was joined by a couple of cabinet members who’d attained Eagle Scout rank, one of whom was dressed in full Boy Scout uniform, even if fellow Eagle Scout Sessions was conspicuously absent. He also he gave passing mention to the Boy Scout creed of being “Helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, brave, clean, and reverent,” none of which seem to describe Trump. He also noted that the Boy Scouts value loyalty, but it probably went over the heads of most of the Boy Scouts when he added that “We really could use some loyalty, I’ll tell you that.”
We’re not only lifelong Republicans, we’re also silver-medal-holding Eagle Scouts due to our parents’ insistence, and even from our unhappy middle-aged perspective we’d have to say that all in all it was another dreary day in the age of Trump.

— Bud Norman

Too Much News on an Otherwise Nice Summer Day

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are supposed to be a slow news cycle, but in the age of President Donald Trump the stories keep coming fast and furiously. Wednesday had more big headlines than could fit on the front page of a full-sized newspaper, and none of them were helpful to Trump.
On the day after the Republicans’ seven-year effort to repeal and replace Obamacare had widely been declared dead, Trump was still applying electroshocks to the patient’s chest. After two Republican senators had joined two others in opposing the repeal-and-replacement bill, leaving it two votes short of passage, and three senators killed a backup plan to simply repeal, Trump had “tweeted” that he’d just let Obamacare fail and leave so many Americans in dire straits that the Democrats would coming begging for a fix. He seemed sure the public wouldn’t blame him for the consequences of letting the health care system fail, but just to be sure by Wednesday he was back to urging some immediate repeal and replacement.
The urging was rather heavy-handed, too. Trump didn’t mention the names of Kansas’ Sen. Jerry Moran and Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee, who had simultaneously announced their bill-killing opposition, but he did say “The other night, when I heard a couple of my friends — my friends — they really were and are. They might not be very much longer, but that’s okay.” He was seated next to Nevada’s Sen. Sean Heller, who has not announced his opposition to the bill but has expressed criticisms of it, and said in a sort-of-but-not-really joking way that  Heller would eventually come on board because “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” The performance demonstrated Trump’s continued commitment to repeal and replace, which will probably satisfy his base of support, but it might not accomplish anything else.
A president with a 38 percent approval rating warning that a vote against a bill with a 12 percent approval rating will have dire political consequences isn’t likely to scare any politicians who won their jobs with solid majorities. Moran isn’t up for reelection until two years after Trump is, he’s savvy enough to know that there are going to be a lot of headlines between now and then, and Heller is probably more worried about what Nevadans think than he is about Trump. Trump’s got enough of a following in the Republican party to create primary problems for any Republicans who don’t fall in line, but even if that succeeded those challengers would be less likely to prevail in a general election than the more-popular-than-Trump incumbents.
Meanwhile, all the stories about Trump and Russia kept coming on Wednesday. The president’s son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman are all being asked to testify in congressional hearings, where there will be a lot to talk about, and some of the Republicans running the committees won’t be cowed from asking some very tough questions that need answering. Trump has assured us via “twitter” that the previously undisclosed second meeting he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit was nothing to worry about, and we’ll have to take his word for as only he and Putin and a Kremlin translator were present, but he’s nonetheless dogged by questions about why it undisclosed and why there were no other Americans present to vouch for the assurances.
Wednesday also brought the news that the Trump administration has ended a covert program to arm and train Syrian rebels opposed to the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, a staunch Putin ally, but that might be a coincidence and barely fit on the front page.
In the midst of all this, Trump sat down for an interview with The New York Times, of all people, and of course wound up generating another page of headlines. The biggest one was his angry rant about Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from anything to do with the justice departments investigations regarding Trump and Russia, saying “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.'”
By now Sessions is also probably regretting he didn’t forewarn Trump during the job interview that in a few months he was going to give inaccurate testimony to a congressional committee about his own meetings with the Russian government, and would feel ethically obliged to recuse himself from any Russia-related investigations as a result, but it still doesn’t make Trump look good. If Sessions does another honorable thing and resigns, and Trump replaces him with someone free and willing to end any nosiness about Russia, that probably won’t put an end to the headlines.
It was also reported on Wednesday that Arizona’s Sen. John McCain has been diagnosed with advanced brain cancer, and that the prognosis is not good. McCain is a significant historical figure, the news is a human tragedy, and he and all the rest of you will be in our prayers.

— Bud Norman