On the Day After Acquittal, the Argument Continues

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump officially ended on Wednesday with his acquittal by all but one of the Republican majority members in the Senate, yet these sorts of matters never really end. Historians still argue about the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and the Sacco and Vanzetti case and the Scopes Monkey Trial and the O.J. Simpson verdict, with their political implications still clearly delineated and intensely felt, so the arguments about Trump’s impeachment trial will surely continue at least until Election Day.
All of the evidence and testimony that led to Trump’s impeachment by Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is still damning, and all of the evidence the Republican majority Senate refused to hear will eventually be heard. Former national security advisor John Bolton’s tell-all book will sooner or later be published in some form despite Trump’s best efforts at censorship, an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer named Lev Parnas will eventually give his side of a very interesting story in what’s likely to be a well-publicized trial, and the silence of such presumably exculpatory witnesses as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rick Perry and White House chief of staff and part-time director of Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney will be deafening.
The testimony and evidence the House of Representatives cited to impeach Trump on counts of abusing his office to withhold congressionally aid from America’s Ukrainian allies in exchange for help in reelection and then obstructed congressional efforts to find out about it went largely unchallenged during the Senate’s abbreviated trial, and was sufficient that a vast majority of Americans told all the pollsters they wanted to hear more. Even such stalwart Republicans as Tennessee’s Sen. Lamar Alexander and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the damned-if-she-does-and-damned-if-she-doesn’t Sen. Susan Collins of Maine acknowledged that Trump did indeed do what he was accused of, and that he shouldn’t have done it, even though they all voted to acquit because it’s not that big a deal, at least when a Republican does it.
Collins told a national television interview that she’s confident Trump won’t try it again after being chastened by impeachment. Murkowski admitted that Trump’s conduct was “shameful and wrong” but explained her partisan vote by saying that impeachment should be a bipartisan consensensus. Alexander said the American people should decide if Trump should run again in 2020. and Rubio explained his vote to acquit despite understanding of Trump’s guilt by saying “Can anyone doubt that at least half the country would view his removal as illegitimate — as nothing short of a coup d’tat?”
We don’t share Collins’ confidence that Trump has learned his lesson, but instead worry he’ll be emboldened by the once-again-confirmed lifelong lesson that he can get away with anything, and  he’ll try something even more brazen and crazier. Alexander surely realizes that only Republicans rather than the broader “American people” will decide if Trump runs again in 2020, and that they are not one and the same. Rubio has a good point about a large chunk of America viewing Trump’s removal as illegitimate, but we’re not sure it’s more than half, and can only guess how it’s spread around the electoral map, and as of now a whole lot of people regard Trump’s presidency as illegitimate, and he must have known his vote wouldn’t settle the matter.
Only Utah Sen. Mitt Romney broke from the Republican ranks to convict Trump on the first article of impeachment, which will surely be a matter of much discussion for some time to come. He made a far better explanation of his decision that we ever could, and we urge to you to listen to it here, and dare you  try to come up with a plausible rebuttal, but he’ll no doubt be pilloried in Trump’s “tweets” and the Trump-friendly media. They won’t be able to convincingly say he was selling out his principles for political advantage, though.
How it plays out in the coming months until Election Day is anybody’s guess, given how awful the damned Democratsundeniably  are, but over the long run we think that Romney will be on the few involved who comes out looking any good. We voted for him when he ran against President Barack Obama, who we must admit never questioned Romney’s character, and we’re proud of vote that today.

— Bud Norman

A Good Day to Be in Switzerland

President Donald Trump spent the first day of his impeachment trial with all the global big wigs annually gathered in Davos, Switzerland, boasting about his unprecedented accomplishments and threatening trade wars against longtime allies and trading partners. Meanwhile, back in the states, the Republicans and the Democrats were bickering about how his impeachment trial should proceed.
The Republican position is that the whole deal is a witch hunt and a hoax and a farce and a mockery and a travesty a mockery of a travesty of justice, and that no evidence or testimony suggesting otherwise should even be considered, but that’s a hard sell to what remains of a center in a polarized electorate. The Democrats had some compelling evidence and testimony when they drew up their articles of impeachment in the House, more has been reported to the press and presented to the Congress since then, and there are a lot of people the viewing public would like to see and hear. The star-studded cast includes the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Energy and the White House chief of staff and a former national security advisor and Trump’s personal lawyer and a couple of his clients, so it’s hard to explain to a country where Trump has never won majority approval in any election or opinion poll why he doesn’t want an enrapt national television audience to hear their presumably exculpatory evidence and testimony.
This matters to a few Republican Senators running for reelection in iffy states, and a few others who are comfortably far enough away from reelection to vote on their old-fashioned Republican principles, which might yet outlast Trump, and thus the Republicans find themselves negotiating from a weakened position with the damned Democrats about what happens next. At one point, the Republicans reportedly floated the offer of allowing John Bolton to testify if they could also call Hunter Biden to the stand.
If you’re new to this riveting reality show, Bolton is one of Trump’s former national security advisors, and not the one awaiting sentence on felony convictions. He’s long been known as a Cold War hold-over and very hard-line security hawk, to the extent he was a controversial pick as President George W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador even among the old-school and internationalist Republican foreign policy establishment, and he was an even odder fit in the Trump administration. He was outspoken in his continued opposition to Russian aggression and support for the allies America had gained since its victory in the Cold War, and according to the sworn testimony of some of the witnesses called by the House he had described the administration’s dealings with Ukraine, which got Trump impeached, as a “drug deal” he wanted no part of.
Since then Bolton has been one of the many once-esteemed Republican foreign policy types defenestrated from the Trump administration, signed a lucrative deal for a presumably tell-all book, and gained a newfound respect from Democrats who once hated his Republican hawkishness but hope he’ll stay true to his stubborn Republican principle if he testifies. If so, he’ll be a more valuable witness to the Democrats than Hunter Biden will be to the Republicans.
To further catch up the new viewers in this this complicated plot, Hunter Biden is the son of former Vice President and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden, and he made a whole lot of money serving on the board of a Ukrainian company while his dad was in charge of America’s Ukrainian policy, and there’s no denying that looks bad. It looks so bad that one wonders why Trump be would be so stupid as to get himself impeached by withholding congressionally authorized to Ukraine in order to extort help in his reelection campaign, but Bolton’s testimony and the rest of the evidence might yet show that yeah, Trump is that stupid.
Neither Hunter Biden nor his dad have any relevant information to offer about whether Trump abused the powers of his office for personal gain and then obstructed congressional efforts to find out about it, which is the matter before the court, no matter what misdeeds they might have and probably did commit. The Republicans running this show are all old enough to remember “Perry Mason,” and might be hoping for that dramatic moment when one of the Bidens tearfully confesses that yes, they were guilty all along, and that it was the damned Democrats and Ukrainians who conspired to thwart Trump and American democracy.
We covered a lot of trials back in our newspaper days, though, and never witnessed such a “Perry Mason” moment. We’ve never seen a trial where the defense didn’t want to allow testimony and evidence from its presumably exculpatory witnesses, though, and over many years we’ve found that verdicts don’t always follow the facts. There’s no telling how this works out.

— Bud Norman

On What Many People Are Saying

Although we’ve done a lot of damned dumb things in life, we can at least boast that we’ve rarely fallen for even the slickest con man’s patter. Hypersensitive as we are to the English language, and being avid students of the art of rhetoric and the comedy of W.C. Fields, we can always spot the tricks a used car or time-share or snake oil salesman or other huckster uses to reel in the suckers.
Whenever making an obviously suspicious assertion they like to add “OK?” or “right?” and await the suckers’ hypnotically nodding acknowledgement of what they’ve been told. Their claims are always absurdly hyperbolic and couched in the most superlative adjectives, but most often too promising for anyone but such fatalistic sorts as ourselves to resist. They also like to throw in that some people are saying the same thing, and imply that you also want to be in the know, and that there’s something very wrong with anyone who says anything different..
By now you’ve probably figured out this is all leading up to yet another of our rants about President Donald Trump, who daily employs these tricks to peddle his suspicious claims and hyperbolic promises. We were set off by a Trump “tweet” arguing that many people believe the Senate should just summarily dismiss the impeachment charges against him without at any testimony or evidence or any sort of trial at all.
Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial based on the no evidence, no crime, read the transcripts, ‘no pressure’ Impeachment Hoax, rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat Witch Hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have,” he “tweeted,” adding “I agree!”
The argument at least has some truth going for it, as there are indeed “many people” who think this way, but there are also “many people” who think the Earth is flat and that shape-shifting Illuminati reptilians secretly run the world. They’re all entitled to their crackpot opinions, but so are we and the rest of a more skeptical world. We’ve read the “transcripts,” as well the sworn testimony and documentary evidence that got Trump impeached by the House of Representatives, and find it quite persuasive, so we’d like to hear a more vigorous defense from the president than what “many people” are saying.
Perhaps Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the moonlighting White House Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney, and Trump’s personal lawyer and shadow Secretary of State Rudy Giuliani could exonerate Trump, but for some reason Trump is blocking their sworn testimony, presumably because it would give credence to the “Democrat Witch Hunt.” Former national security advisor John Bolton has said he’ll testify in an impeachment trial if subpoenaed, and we’re among the many, many people who would love to hear what he has to say under oath about all this.
Despite a slim Republican majority in the Senate there’s a good chance there will be an impeachment trial, with witnesses and evidence and withheld testimony and evidence, and it will surely be embarrassing to Trump. The good news for Trump is that there almost certainly won’t be the needed supra-majority need to remove him from office, and he will thus be able to claim he was innocent of any wrongdoing all along, and that after he says “OK?” and “Right?” many heads will nod in agreement.
Many people will disagree, though, and we’ll find out on Election Day how many there are on each side.

— Bud Norman

What Bonehead Appointed These Boneheads?

President Donald Trump continues to boast about creating the best American economy ever, but he also continues to urge the Federal Reserve Board to pursue the sort of monetary policy usually reserved for recessions and depressions. On Wednesday he “tweeted” that the Fed should be setting zero or even negative interests, and lamented about “A once in a lifetime opportunity that we are missing because of ‘Boneheads.‘”
We can’t claim to be Milton Friedman-level experts on monetary policy, but we think we understand the basics better than Trump seems to, and we’re cautiously hopeful that the “boneheads” at the Fed know best.
Trump’s “tweet” suggests he wants those unprecedented-in-American-history zero or negative interest rates so that he can rack up further trillion-dollar deficits at a lower cost, and perhaps allow him to refinance what America owes its international creditors. The self-proclaimed “King of Debt” believes he can negotiate the same kind of deal that left him rich even after six corporate bankruptcies cost his investors hundreds of million dollars, but we worry that the country would the have the same problem getting a line of credit that Trump has had ever since his casinos went under despite having house odds.
The “tweet” enviously notes that other countries have gone to zero or negative rates, but all of those countries are going into recession, partly because of the slowdown in the global economy that has followed Trump’s trade wars with just about everyone. Recessions require interest rate cuts and deficit spending, at least according to the consensus of economists on both the left and right, which has proved pretty reliable over the past many decades, but the best economy ever should be able to cruise along on the very low interest rates the Fed has lately set. Should the recent slowdown in the American economy slide toward recession, the Fed will need to be able to make cuts, and needs to keep that ammunition in reserve.
The “tweet” didn’t mention it, be we will note that four of the five Fed board governors and the Fed chairman — the aforementioned “boneheads” — were appointed by Trump. Trump also spent much of Wednesday denigrating newly defenestrated national security advisor John Bolton, the third man to hold the post in less than three years, calling him “not smart” and blaming him for starting the Iraq war, and Trump has had similarly unkind things to say about many of the people he appointed to powerful positions.
In his election campaign Trump promised he’d only hire “the very best people,” and he’ll probably repeat the claim during his reelection campaign, but that’s like saying the best economy ever needs negative interest rates.

— Bud Norman

A Busy and Upset Thursday, for Better and Worse

Thursday was a busy day for us, what with rehearsals for our annual theatrical turn and Kansas State University’s Wildcats pulling off a big upset in the national college basketball tournament and the trash needing to be taken to the curb, which made it hard to keep up with a busier than even usual news day.
The stock markets swooned as a trade war with China broke out, a former Playboy “playmate of the year” gave a lengthy interview about her past adulterous affair with then private citizen Donald Trump, and a national security advisor regarded as one of the steady hands in the White House was replaced with a hothead from Fox News, along with other noteworthy developments.
Candidate Trump ran on a promise to protect certain American industries with punitive tariffs, and President Trump has “tweeted” that “Trade wars are good and easy to win,” and after he fired the steady hand who’d been his economic advisor who’d urged restraint it was no surprise that he announced stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum on $60 billion worth of tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods. Neither was it a surprise when the European Union threatened retaliatory tariffs, nor when China announced them on Thursday, nor when stock markets around the world swooned on the news.
Perhaps the trade war will prove as good and easily won as Trump predicts, but we share all of the stock markets’ doubts. There is no historical precedent for a good and easily won trade war, after all, and they’ve all gone so badly they wound up with everyone losing. For all its faults the free-trading post-World War II global economic brought great prosperity and relative peace to both America and the rest of the world, and despite his salesmanship we can’t see Trump persuading all those other countries to give up their share of the pie.
Although it’s less likely to immediately affect your next 401K statement, the former Playboy “playmate of the year’s” interview with the Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper was of more than prurient interest. Not that there wasn’t plenty of prurient interest to be had, of course, what with a billionaire playboy and future president doing the nasty with his nudie model girlfriend while his nudie model wife was at home nursing their recently born son, but at this point in the post-President Bill Clinton era even the evangelicals seem rather jaded about that sort of thing. The bigger problem is yet another blow to Trump’s believability, because he’s denying the affair and the former Playboy “playmate of the year” seems by far the more credible of the two.
She’s got notebooks and photographs and hotel receipts and other corroborating evidence of an affair, and her on-camera account of the affair has a verisimilitude no actress can achieve. She freely acknowledges that the adulterous affair was mutually consensual, didn’t describe any of the unwanted groping that Trump has bragged about and numerous women have alleged, said that he was handsome and charming, sadly recalled how he had offered to pay their sexual encounters, and even insisted that she voted from Trump and still supports his presidency. So far she doesn’t seem to have profited from the past affair, and when she credibly says she doesn’t want to hurt Trump we can’t imagine what her motive might be other than to come clean.
Which only adds to the credibility of the pornographic video performer who is also alleging an adulterous affair with Trump right around the same time, and whose interview with the same Anderson Cooper is scheduled to air on Sunday’s episode of the Columbia Broadcast System’s “60 Minutes.” Trump likes to brag about how he drives the news ratings, and our guess is that on Sunday night Cooper and CBS will benefit from that more than he does.
The porn performer’s story has an even more prurient appeal than that centerfold model’s, as it doesn’t have any of the weepy and cliched I-thought-he-loved-me parts and includes salacious details about rolled-up copies of Forbes Magazine with Trump’s picture on the cover. She describes a more transactional relationship where provided what she considered routine sex in exchange for a chance to be a contestant on Trump’s reality show, and although she’s brazenly capitalizing on her notoriety with a “Make America Horny Again” strip club tour her story also has a ring of truth to our ears.
The $130,000 that Trump’s lawyer admits he paid the porno performer just before the election might constitute a violation of campaign finance law, too, which adds to Trump’s already expensive legal bills from the ongoing “Russia thing” and various other matters. Trump has lately been shaking up his legal team, with Washington’s most high-powered attorney declining the offer but a conspiracy theorist from Fox News joining the team, but their task of defending his credibility will be even harder.
The recent shakeups in the administration are also unsettling. The outgoing national security adviser was three star Army general H.R. McMaster, one of the steady hands who offered such sage advice to Trump as “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” in a recent phone call with dubiously reelected Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which Trump of course rejected, and the incoming national security advisor is John Bolton, who does not strike us as an upgrade. He’s a past United Nations Ambassador and longtime figure in national security circles, but his brusque style seems to have found a better fit at Fox News, where he routinely has urged Trump to follow his natural and nationalist instincts. He’s no more likely to restrain Trump’s impulsive temperament that the Fox News guy who replaced the steady hand economic advisor that warned against a trade war.
On a busier than usual Thursday news cycle, it all adds up a certain unease. It’s a sad state of affairs when a Playboy model and porno performer are more believable than a president, but here we are. The same recklessly impulsive fellow who got himself into those tawdry messes is now waging a global trade war and in charge of preventing the military kind, and he’s firing steady hands and hiring cheerleaders.
On the other hand, rehearsals went well, K-State whipped that snooty Kentucky squad and moves on to its 13th “elite eight” game, and we got the trash out to the curb.

— Bud Norman

Droning On

A reliably right-wing friend was sharing a beer with us recently, and the talk naturally turned to the topic of drone strikes. Our pal confessed that he was initially opposed to the president’s claim to a legal right to order the death of any American living abroad who is suspected of terrorist activities, mainly because of an instinct honed over the past four years to oppose any Obama policy, but that he had since reconsidered his position. He had always supported even the most vigorous protocols in the war against Islamist terrorism in the past, our friend said, and “You don’t want to stop thinking.”
The ensuing conversation didn’t allay all of our concerns about the policy, and we wound up agreeing only that it made Obama’s endless moral preening about the dark days of the lawless and bloodthirsty Bush administration all the more insufferable, but our friend’s determination to think through an issue with intellectual consistency and disregard for partisan politics impressed us nonetheless. That’s a rare trait these days, on both the left and the right, and the lack of it is largely responsible for the currently sorry state of the country and the world. Perhaps it is our own partisan prejudice at play, but the left seems especially prone to knee-jerk reactions against anything their enemies are doing at a given moment, no matter what contortions of logic are required.
Obama and his entire administration have this very tendency, and it has left them with a foreign policy that is both morally incoherent and strategically ineffective. Eight long years of self-righteous denunciations of Bush’s anti-terrorism protocols compelled Obama to promise an end to indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay and harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, but doing has forced him to embrace Bush’s formerly controversial drone policies with a gusto his cowboy predecessor would have never dared. Although Obama has quietly abandoned his efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp he can’t afford the political embarrassment of adding to its population, nor can he extract any information from the prisoners that they aren’t willing to divulge when asked nicely, and by being so meticulously moral he is left with no option but to incinerate any suspected bad guys along with whomever happens to be standing nearby when the Hellfire missile arrives. We’ll leave it to the leftists to lament the fate of these poor terrorists, who would probably have preferred the sunny climes of Cuba and a brisk round or two of waterboarding, but our objection is that the policy doesn’t work as well as the old method of going in with special forces unit and nabbing the terrorists.
In one case, according to a story in The New York Times, it was a brave anti-al Qaeda cleric in Yemen who happened to be standing nearby when the Hellfire missile arrived. The blast took out several terrorists, along with whatever information they might have possessed, but it seems unlikely to advance the large project of turning the Muslim world against terrorism. There were no doubt many cases where drone strikes achieved a more unmitigated good, during both the Bush and Obama administrations, but it would be better to limit their use to those occasions.
Similar inconsistencies bedevil other aspects of the Obama foreign policy, such as its sanctimonious demands for congressional and approval when a Republican is in office and its utter disregard for both once a Democrat is installed. Sen. John Kerry’s confirmation hearings for the Secretary of State post didn’t get the same amount of publicity as former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s disastrous performance when applying for Secretary of Defense, but we were amused by an exchange between Kerry and Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul, who demanded to know why the famous former anti-war activist had so loudly denounced Nixon’s decision to bomb Cambodia without explicit congressional approval yet applauded Obama’s decision to bomb Libya with the same lack of legal authorization. Kerry mumbled some ahistorical nonsense about how presidents now have to respond to situations quickly, as Nixon were delivering his bombs by horse and buggy, but one gets the sense that he yearned to come right out and say that in one case it was a Republican president, and not just any Republican, but Nixon, and in the other it was a Democrat, and not just any Democrat, but Obama.
Paul is impressively conservative on domestic issues and a welcome member of the Republican party, but he has many of the isolationist views of his father, the peacenik libertarian Ron Paul, and he’s therefore free to critique the administration without party loyalty or intellectual inconsistency. Such neo-conservative standard-bearers as John Bolton are rising to the defense of Obama’s drone policy, even as they remain staunch critics of almost everything else he’s doing, and a few intellectually honest lefties have dared to defy their beloved president by sticking to their bleeding-heart guns. Most of the country seems willing to support or oppose anything Obama does, however, and it seems likely that the drone policy will continue without much controversy until another Republican happens to get into the White House.

— Bud Norman