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The Two “Jokers” in the News

The two big stories in the news all weekend were about “Joker,” the comic book movie that’s been drawing a huge box office take and generating even more controversy, and of course the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump, whose seeming solicitations of foreign meddling in the next election are also quite controversial.
Which strikes us interesting coincidence, given that Trump’s defenders on the Sunday morning news shows were insisting that Trump was only joking when he stood before all the network cameras and microphones asked various foreign governments for dirt on a potential election rival.
As much as we’d like to weigh in on the “Joker” controversy, we haven’t seen the movie and probably won’t until it shows up on Netflix, as we have little interest in even the most controversial comic book movies, and we don’t pass judgment on any movies we haven’t seen. So far as we can tell it’s the same controversy we’ve gone through with “The Wild Bunch” and “Bonnie and Clyde” and “A Clockwork Orange” and “Kids” and “Fight Club” and other disturbing and hard-to-watch films about amoral protagonists that are nonetheless praiseworthy cinematic commentaries on their times and the human condition, but we don’t much like comic book movies and might well quit “Joker” halfway through a Netflix viewing, as we’ve done with other much-hyped comic book movies.
By now we’ve been through a lot of political imbroglios, too, but this whole “the President was only joking” defense is something that only came along with the Trump presidency. We remember President Ronald Reagan being caught on a “hot mic” saying he’d launched a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, but in that case he was clearly joking with what he thought was a few understanding friends, and no harm came from it. In this case it’s not nearly clear Trump was joking when he stood in front of the cameras and microphones and cameras and urged the Ukrainian and Chinese and Australian governments to investigate a potential rival, and it’s arguably harmful to America’s international relationships.
There’s now a second “whistle-blower” alleging that Trump asked the Ukrainian president during a discussion about America’s military aid to the beleaguered country to investigate a potential electoral rival, this one said to have even better credentials and first hand knowledge, which will likely further bolster the Democrats’ impeachment efforts. So far, the President seems to be saying so “what if I did solicit foreign interference in an American election?” while his Sunday morning news show apologists are insisting he’s only joking.
On the American Broadcasting System’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan responded to a question about Trump’s quotes by asking “George, do you really think he was serious about thinking that China’s going to investigate the Biden family?” Meanwhile, on the Columbia Broadcast System’s “Face the Nation,” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt was saying “I doubt the the China was meant seriously, to tell you the truth.” Earlier, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had explained to the media that “I think he did it to provoke you to ask me and others and get outraged by it.”
Our guess is that Trump will ultimately go with the “so what if I did?” strategy and leave his Sunday morning apologists under the proverbial bus. He famously asked the Russians on live television to hack his 2016 Democratic opponent’s e-mail, told Stephanopoulos that he didn’t see anything wrong with accepting campaign help from a foreign government, and has lately said on all the networks that the ChiComs and Aussies and the Ukrainian comedian all chip in. He didn’t seem to be joking in any case, and by now he really can’t make it any clearer that he seriously doesn’t see anything wrong about it, but the die-hard fans don’t seem to mind.
Although we can’t find the link, we saw recently saw some YouTube video of a Democratic congresswoman in a swing district defending her pro-impeachment inquiry vote in front of a hostile town hall, and when she made the by now hard-to-refute argument that Trump had solicited foreign help in an American election much of the crowd started chanting “fake news, fake news.” When she cited Trump’s own statements and other hard-to-refute evidence the same members of the crowd started shouting that Trump was merely seeking evidence of his opponent’s corruption from those foreign governments. They seemed to like that better than the “he was only joking” defense.
All of the damn Democrats and most of the inexplicable independents will take a dimmer view of an American president openly inviting foreign interference in an American election, however, and something in our old-fashioned Republican souls doesn’t like it any better. We’d like to think Trump is only joking, but we don’t think it’s something an American president should be joking about.

— Bud Norman

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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

Benghazi and the Difference It Makes

Former Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton spent most of Thursday testifying to a House committee investigating the the tragic deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at a far-flung consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and by the end of it her handling of the matter was revealed as even more incompetent, dishonest, and thoroughly despicable than was previously known. Still, one can’t help forlornly accepting Clinton’s infamous argument that “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
What was previously known was damning enough, after all. Even by Election Day way back in ’12 it had been established that at Clinton’s urging the administration of President Barack Obama had bombed an odious but defanged dictator out of power in Libya and thus ushered in an power vacuum where various Islamist terror groups thrived, then ignored repeated pleas for more security by the unfortunate men and women who were sent into the resulting anarchy to serve the government, that when the long foreseen terrorist attack at last occurred they lied to the American public that it was the entirely unpredictable result of a spontaneous demonstration sparked by the local populace’s understandable outrage over an obscure YouTube video critical of Islam rather than a well-planned attack by the terrorist gangs that were assuredly being routed, then had the filmmaker imprisoned on a parole violation for exercising his First Amendment rights and assured the United Nations that “the future must not belong to those slander the prophet of Islam,” and withheld information from government and press investigators to cover it all up. None of this prevented Obama’s re-election, and even the resulting scandal about Clinton’s use of a private and unsecured and most likely illegal e-mail server in apparent attempt to keep further embarrassing facts away from public scrutiny hasn’t changed the media perception that she’s still the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
For reasons they cannot adequately explain to us, all of our Democratic friends are quite insouciant about the whole affair. Had it happened during a Republican administration we expect they’d share some at least some of our outrage about it, but in this case they find all sorts of excuses. None seem at all upset that we bombed some Middle Eastern dictator out of power, even though he’d verifiably surrendered all his weapons of mass destruction after the invasion of Iraq and posed no immediate threat to America’s national security, and even though they take a much dimmer view of such actions during Republican administrations. A columnist for a recently-defunct local “alternative paper” blamed the deaths on the daredevil recklessness of the ambassador, despite the repeated pleas for more security, and his readers seemed to accept that a Secretary of State should be doing whatever Clinton doing at the time to deal with such minor matters as the security arrangements for some remote consulate. That she blamed it on a spontaneous demonstration against some obscure and easily targeted filmmaker in order to help her administration’s re-election doesn’t seem to trouble a Democrats’ conscience, either, as they can ascribe any Republican criticism to rank political partisanship and their otherwise steadfast commitment to the most irreligious sorts of free speech ends short of any slander against the prophet of Islam. As for the highly irregular e-mail arrangement that now figures it in the scandal, even the only credible challenger to Clinton’s presumptive Democratic nomination says to great applause that he’s sick of hearing about it.
Pretty much everyone that’s not a true believer in the Democratic faith has already concluded that Clinton is incompetent, dishonest, and thoroughly despicable, too, so there seems little to be gained from another day’s further confirmation of what has so long been obvious. At this point, though, we appreciate even the most futile gesture.
The day’s testimony might not hurt Clinton’s electoral chances, but it can’t possibly help. Committee chairman and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy was able to get in some digs about how longtime Clinton family consigliere Sid Blumenthal, better known as “Sid Vicious,” who had some economic interest in toppling Libya’s odious but defanged dictatorship, was among the few people who had knowledge of Clinton’s irregular e-mail account while the ambassador in Libya did not. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan was able to cite some hard-attained e-mails from staff who were appalled that Clinton and other administration officials were peddling a false tale about spontaneous demonstrations against obscure YouTube videos, as well as an e-mail to her daughter admitting that it was well-planned terror attack, and to establish that the lie started with her. Our very own Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was able to establish that there were at least 600 requests from Benghazi for enhanced security, which forced the embarrassing response that “One of the great attributes that Chris Stevens had was a really good sense of humor. And I just see him smiling as he types this.”
That eerie moment will go mostly unnoticed by the public, and no hardened opinions will be altered by it, but we’re nonetheless glad it happened. There’s something to be said for establishing a factual historical record, no matter how inconsequential it might prove in the short term, and certainly that ambassador and those three other dead Americans deserve that. The unfolding facts can’t help Clinton, either, and there’s something to be said for that as well.

— Bud Norman