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Pipe Bombs and Pipe Dreams

For now we suppose there’s an outside chance, as some of the right-wing talk radio hosts and their callers are already speculating, that whoever mailed five crude pipe bombs to prominent Democratic politicians and a rich donor to liberal causes and a major media company frequently critical of the current Republican government is some crazed leftist trying to make the right look bad. There’s a better chance it was some crazed person on the right, as we figure it, but in either case it’s a sad state of affairs.
The first of the pipe bombs arrived at the home of billionaire activist and generous bankroller of liberal causes George Soros. On Wednesday another arrived at the office of former President Barack Obama, and another at the residence of former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. A fourth was addressed to former Obama administration Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan at the Cable News Network, although Brennan is currently employed as an analyst by the National Broadcasting and MSNBC networks. The fifth was sent to an incorrect address for Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, but was sent to former Democratic national committee chairwoman and current Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose misspelled name was listed on each package’s return arrest. Another suspicious package was reportedly mailed to California Rep. Maxine Waters and intercepted in the congressional mail-room, but Federal Bureau of Investigation is not yet listing it among the incidents under investigation.
Perhaps it’s possible that some crazed leftist figured that any of these people would be acceptable collateral damage in a successful false flag operation to discredit the right, but we note there are also plenty of crazed people on the right who have an intense animus toward all of the intended victims.
President Donald Trump has recently accused Soros of financing an invasion of Latin-American and Middle Eastern terrorists currently walking their way across Mexico to America’s southern border. He spent years peddling the story that Obama was a Kenyan-born imposter who unconstitutionally became an America-hating president, and continues to lead chants at his rallies to have “Crooked Hillary” locked up for various thus-far unproved-in-court crimes. Trump revoked Brennan’s top-secret security clearance in retaliation for on air-criticism, and has criticized the career civil servant as a “political hack” and “very bad guy.” Trump has openly wished he had an Attorney General who would be as much a political hack on his behalf as he believes Holder was on Obama’s behalf, but that’s a rather back-handed compliment. As for Waters, a leading advocate of impeaching Trump, the president never fails to refer to her as “a very low-IQ individual.”
None of which is an incitement to murder, but Trump has urged rally crowds to rough up protestors, recently praised a Republican congressman for committing criminal assault against a reporter, continues to lead the “lock ’em up cheers” about a growing list of political adversaries, accuses such media as CNN and MSNBC of being “enemies of the people,” and often expresses a belief that his critics hate America, so it’s within the realm of possibility that some die-hard fan got a bit too riled up by the rhetoric.
The vast majority of law-abiding Trump supporters can rightly ask what about the harsh rhetoric heard on the left. Obama won the presidency telling his supporters to “bring a gun to a knife fight,” Clinton has recently told an adoring crowd of Democrats that civility toward Republicans is no longer possible, and Holder was widely quoted advising his party that “When they go low, we kick them.” Brennan did once say that Trump’s Russia policy was treasonous, Waters has urged on the harassment that Trump administration officials now routinely endure when they try to eat in a restaurant or shop in a store. and Soros has supported some unsavory causes. The left is just as paranoid about deep-pocketed conservatives activist Charles Koch as the right is about that Soros fellow, and now both men have survived assassination attempts. When a crazed leftist shot up a Republican congressional softball team’s practice back in ’17, seriously wounding Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and others, the right alleged that left’s rhetoric was a contributing cause, and they made a strong case.
But to venture an answer to the right’s favorite rhetorical question of what about the left’s language and behavior, we ask what about it? The left’s abominable language and behavior is no excuse for equally abominable language and behavior on the right, the current escalation of the war of words on both sides is likely to further escalate the alarming physical violence that gangs of young toughs on both sides have lately engaged in around the country. As lifelong Republicans who used to be considered conservative, we’d like to see our side once bring about a return to normalcy with malice toward none and charity to toward all, to borrow a couple of by now very outdated slogans of the Grand Old Party.
Trump has condemned the attempted bombings as “despicable acts” and said that “In these times we have to unify, we have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.” That uncharacteristically presidential statement got a big laugh later the same day when it was quoted at a symposium where Brennan was being interviewed, Brennan got another big laugh when he reacted by asking “That was said by Donald who?,” and for now we can’t begrudge the left’s giggles about it. The laughter might stop if Trump recants his praise of a criminal assault on a reporter, restrains himself from whipping up the rally crowds against the other “enemies of the people” in the press cages, withdraws his promise to pay the legal bills for anyone who punches a protestor, stops pressing for the imprisonment of his political opponents, and generally tones down the insult comic shtick, but until then his unifying message rings undeniably hollow.
Here’s holding out faint hope those damned Democrats dial it down a few notches as well, as there’s no denying they’ve also got some quite crazed and easily incited characters on their side, but these days they’re largely an undeniably nasty bunch who also seem eager to win by any means necessary and at any cost to the national comity.
Most of the Democrats and Republicans we know around here are reasonable sorts of people disinclined to mail pipe bombs, however, and seem willing to settle their differences at the ballot box. So for now we’ll hold out a slightly stronger hope that what’s left of the center will somehow hold.

— Bud Norman

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Shut Up, He Argued

The world is full of people saying things one would rather not hear, and its only human to want to either make them shut up or regret not doing so. Most of us don’t have that power, but if you’re the president of the United States or the chief executive officer a big social media platform the temptation must be carefully resisted. Alas, such restraint is sorely lacking these days.
President Donald Trump has a well documented history of bullying or buying off his critics to silence them, and has long made clear that he’d like to “open up” America’s traditional permissive libel laws in order to do so more effectively, and on Wednesday he revoked the security clearance of former Central Intelligence Agency director and current outspoken critic of the administration John Brennan. The White House named nine other people that Trump whose security clearances Trump is thinking of revoking, all of outspoken critics of the administration and several of them former members of the investigation into the “Russia thing.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Brennan lost his clearance because of a “series of unfounded and outrageous allegations — wild outbursts on the internet and television — about this administration.” She didn’t cite any specific examples of Brennan’s unfounded and outrageous allegation that rise even to the level of a typical Trump “tweet,” and one can only wonder what the Trump administration of all people considers wild outbursts on the internet and television. The official administration line is that Brennan was not merely being punished for his free speech, but Sanders did not explain how Brennan had abused his security clearance or violated any policies.
Meanwhile, crazy-pants conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been barred from YouTube, Facebook, Apple, Spotify, and a couple of internet sites we’ve not heard of, and although “Twitter” hasn’t fully kicked him he’s currently serving a temporary ban. This is a very different case than Brennan’s loss of a security clearance for a number of reasons, but it still troubles us.
YouTube and Facebook and Apple and Spotify has the same right as any private sector publisher to publish what they want and reject what they don’t want, but at moment in the cultural revolution where they largely comprise contemporary public square we’d like to see them welcome as wide a diversity of viewpoints as possible. Jones is certainly out on the furthest fringes of the nation’s political conservation, and his embrace of such insane notions that the Sandy Hook school shooting was faked and that Hillary Clinton was running a satanic child sex abuse ring in the basement of a Washington pizzeria have led some crazy people to do some crazy things, but we think it best that be out in public view. Now we can’t demonstrate just how awful he is by linking to his most hilariously unhinged rants on YouTube, and For pure entertainment value alone we’ll especially miss the one where he pounds on the table and screams that the “deep state” globalist cabal is “turning the friggin’ frogs gay!”
Trump once appeared on Jones’ radio program and congratulated the host on his “excellent reputation,” and briefly granted White House press credentials to Jones'”Infowars” correspondents, so he doesn’t seem to mind that Jones’ unfounded and outrageous allegations and wild outbursts on the internet television are mostly about how the “deep state” globalist cabal is now out to get to Trump to thwart his heroic effort to round up “Crooked” Hillary and all the other elitist pedophiles who secretly run the country. Even so, the Federal Communications Commission is shutting down the off-shore pirate radio ship that blasts Jones’ rants over other broadcasters’ rightful band widths, which isn’t a free speech issue at all, so Jones’ fans will just have to look a little harder get real scoop on what’s happening in this crazy world.
All of the social media CEOs are understandably concerned about the rampant vile and hateful language that they spread around the world, and the sort of genuinely fake news stories that occasionally result in crazy people calling up the grieving parents of murdered schoolchildren and threatening their lives for participating in a gun-grabbing conspiracy, or showing up with a semi-automatic rifle at a Washington pizzeria that doesn’t even have a basement. Still, limiting what people have to say is a risky endeavor. Jones was temporarily banned by Twitter for his “hateful language,” and although that’s an apt description of what he peddles it also fits many others. Trump has recently “tweeted” that a particularly pesky critic is a “dog,” and made similarly rude comments about countless others, and we think he should be free do so, and that his vile and hateful speech should be out there in plain view for all to see.
The die-hard Trump fans will continue to love it, and the right-wing radio apologists spent Wednesday damning Brennan and the other nine targeted critics, and the comments sections were full of hope that they’d all be locked up in Guantanamo Bay along with the rest of Trump’s critics. We’ll let them vent, and rest assured that Brennan and other well-credential critics will continue to express their outraged opinions no matter what Trump might threaten. Censorship never seems to work, as “Banned in Boston” is still a sure-fire way to get on the best-seller lists, and there’s always a suspicion that the powers that are afraid of what’s been banned, so we hope that Trump and those squishy social media companies figure that out in time.

— Bud Norman

An Oratorical Drone Strike

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

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

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

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

— Bud Norman