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And That Was Only Sunday

Our Sunday followed a frustratingly sleepless Saturday night, and entailed getting an old punk rock buddy down the street to help us jump-start our automobile, followed by a long drive into the countryside to visit an even older friend and re-charge the battery, so it was hard to keep up with a surprisingly busy news day.
When we got home and turned on the internet The Washington Post was reporting that President Donald Trump has “tweeted” an admission that yeah, that infamous meeting that this eldest son and son-in-law and currently-on-trial campaign manager had with a couple of Russians purporting to be representatives of the Russian government was, in fact, all about getting dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Of course, Trump’s “Tweet” found nothing wrong with that.
“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower This was a meeting to get information my opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere,” Trump “tweeted,” then adding that “I did not know about it.”
Which might or more probably might not prove a winning legal or political argument, but it’s yet another shift in Trump’s narrative about the “Russia thing,” and clearly indicates the direction that’s moving. The original Trump line was that no one in his campaign had any contacts with anyone from Russia, but after a couple of campaign officials pleaded guilty to lying about their contacts and the presidential son and son-in-law and campaign manager and various others started amending their security clearance forms to avoid similar charges the new story was they did have contacts with Russians but perish the thought they had anything to do with the campaign. When The New York Times forced Trump Jr. to disclose an e-mail chain about that Trump Tower meeting they insisted it was simply a courtesy meeting to talk about policies concerning American adoptions of Russian children, and even though the e-mail chain clearly showed the meeting had been proposed by Russians the Trump family new from past business associations were closely linked to the Russian government, and the meeting would be with Russian operatives who were working to help elect Trump, Trump has stuck to that adoption story up until now.
By now the story is that the Trump campaign did indeed have frequent contacts with Russians, and that some were with Russians they understood to be representatives of a Russian government effort to assist the campaign with opposition research, but that it’s no big deal, and in any case no one ever bothered to tell Trump about any of these perfectly legal and done-all-the-time meetings. Which is a tough place for Trump to be.
It is not legal for an American presidential campaign to accept a contribution of anything valuable from a foreign government, however, and in our long experience of presidential campaigns it is not done all the time. Even if the efforts came to naught, at this point a questionable assertion, Trump now acknowledges an earnest effort on his behalf to bring them to fruition, and sticklers for the law will note that a conspiracy to rob a bank is still illegal even if the vault proves empty. As for the questionable claim that Trump himself knew nothing of these legal and routing meetings, and that it’s all his son’s and son-in-law’s and former campaign manager’s fault ¬†for such shenanigans, his longtime lawyer is now in serious legal jeopardy and reportedly telling the special counsel that Trump knew about the meeting before it happened, and there might be some corroborating evidence among the millions of documents and tape recordings that were seized by the feds in a raid on his home, office, and hotel room.
Meanwhile, Trump was also “tweeting” his displeasure with LeBron James, the supremely talented professional basketball player, who had some critical things to say about Trump during an interview with the Cable News Network’s Don Lemon. As usual Trump called tLemon as “the dumbest man on television,” and said that “He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!” Which made Trump look further ridiculous. As if the President of the United States engaging in a “tweet” war with a professional hipster isn’t embarrassing enough, James seemed to win in a rout. The current Los Angeles Laker is as arrogant as any other elite athlete, but Trump isn’t exactly a model of modesty himself, and James is widely admired for comporting himself as a dignified role model for the American youth who idolize him, and when he abandoned the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise he gave several million dollars of his earnings to establish a state-of-the-art school for at-risk children in his nearby hometown of Akron, Ohio, and Trump can’t make the same sort of claims.
The “I like Mike” part was apparently a reference to an ongoing debate among many basketball fans about whether James or Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan is the best player in the game’s history, but Jordan quickly issued “tweet” made clear he took James’ side in the debate with Trump. James had complained to Lemon that Trump has used sports to divide Americans, and the black athlete implied to his black interviewer that it was usually directed to black critics, and pretty much every black athlete and a whole lot of white and hispanic and Asian ones quickly “tweeted” their agreement. Worse yet, the spokeswoman for Melania Trump issued a more formal statement that the First Lady much appreciated James’ philanthropic works and would be open to visiting his newly-opened school in Akron.
Which is one of several stories we’ve noticed that lead us to believe that the First Lady is not a happily married woman, but we’ll leave that theory to a less stressful and slower news day.
There were also further escalations in Trump’s war with the press, with his daughter and counselor both disagreeing that they’re the “the enemy of the people,” and a bunch of far-left and far-right idiots brawled it out on the famously mellow streets of Portland, Oregon, and that great deal Trump struck with the nuclear nutcase dictatorship in South Korea is looking less and less promising. Throw in the ongoing trade wars and a sleepless night and automotive trouble, and it left us with a worrisome feeling.
It was good to see our friends, though, and we hold out hope that the battery’s got enough charge to get us to a replacement, and if it doesn’t we have a retired hippie friend around the block who can give us a charge, and if he’s not there the neighbors are very nice people. Given all the enemies Trump is assiduously acquiring, we hope he has such loyal and un-indicted friends to help out when he needs a hand.

— Bud Norman

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Freedom and Its Dwindling Supply of Champions

This year’s winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom have been announced, and once again we have been overlooked. At this point in such a crazy election year we’re starting to suspect the system is rigged, but perhaps it’s just another sign of these desultory times.
The latest batch of honorees is the last to be chosen by the administration of Barack Obama, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from that bunch. An award created by President John Kennedy to recognize “especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors” is this year being conferred on a couple of basketball players, a quartet of movie stars, a rock star and a soul singer, one of those modern architects and one of those modern artists, a sportscaster and a comedy show producer, an educator and a bureaucrat and a political activist, two wealthy and generous people, along with some scientists you’ve probably never heard of who have both significant achievements and politically correct personal histories. Given the current state of the culture, though, we suppose that’s about as good as it gets.
We have to admit that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan were two of the very best to ever play the great American game of basketball, but we an’t think of any other especially meritorious contributions they’ve made to the national security or world peace or American culture. Abdul-Jabbar has long been an outspoken activist, going from angry black nationalist to soft-spoken garden variety white-guilt-mongering liberal, and Jordan is now most visible as a pitchman for the Hanes undergarment company and Nike’s over-priced sneakers. Ellen Degeneres is a witty and likable woman by afternoon talk show hostess standards, we’re told, but we suspect she’s being honored mainly because she’s openly lesbian, which we have nothing against but don’t see as especially meritorious.
Of that quartet of movie stars, Robert Redford is overrated as an actor and an utter bore as an activist, Tom Hanks is also overrated but a better actor and less obnoxiously political, Robert DeNiro has had brilliant performances in great movies in the past but probably won for his recent videos threatening to punch Republican president-elect Donald Trump in the nose, and the last memorable role of Cicely Tyson’s slight career was as a civil rights martyr in the melodramatic mini-series “Miss Jane Pittman,” which apparently is enough for a Presidential Medal of Freedom. The rock star is Bruce Springsteen, an overrated self-styled workingman’s hero known as “The Boss,” and the soul singer is Diana Ross, who cut some nice records with the Supremes back in the Motown days but doesn’t quite crack our list of the 50 best women singers of recent decades.
The sportscaster is the venerable Vin Scully of longtime Los Angeles Dodgers fame, who was as good a sportscaster as you’re likely to ever hear but was otherwise not notable. Lorne Michaels is being honored as the longtime producer of “Saturday Night Live,” which provided a considerable in-kind contribution to Trump’s Republican primary campaign by inviting to be a guest host but has otherwise been impeccably liberal in its long and mostly undistinguished run. Frank Gehry, creator of curvy buildings that skateboarders will someday slide over in the post-apocalyptic world, is the modern architect, and Maya Lin, best know for that long slab of a Vietnam memorial on the Washington Mall, is the modern artist. The educator is Eduardo Peron, president of Miami Dade College, who is both widely respected by the other liberals in in his field and a Latino to boot. The bureaucrat is former Federal Communications Commission chairman Newt Minow, best remembered for declaring ’50s and ’60s television “a vast wasteland” and as the eponym for the S.S. Minnow that stranded those wacky castaways on “Gilligan’s Island.” A posthumous award is bestowed on Elouise Cobell, whose activism on behalf of traditional Native American tribes also imposed feminism on them, which earns double credits.
Bill Gates and his wife Melinda are also being honored, not for the pioneering role he played in the computer revolution that has transformed American culture but rather for their generosity in sharing the many billions of dollars he acquired along the way, which we think is well worth honoring. The mathematician and computer scientist is being honored for her work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper gets the nod for her role in bringing computer technology to the Navy, and although both were leaders in their fields we suspect the fact they were far away and the most of the prominent of the relatively few number of women involved also had something to do with it. Richard Garwin is being honored for such a wide body of work in physics that his whiteness and maleness and politically-incorrect role in developing America’s nuclear weaponry were apparently overlooked.
We’ll be expecting something completely different in the first batch of honorees chosen by a Trump administration, but not anything better. There’s a limited supply of Americans making especially meritorious contributions to the national security and world peace and American culture these days, and Trump seems as unlikely to discern them as Obama. Both the outgoing and incoming presidents are pure products of a popular culture that esteems celebrity over achievement, group identity over individual excellence, and the latest fads over the lasting truths. A former pro-wrestling performer and reality show star who seems unembarrassed to admit that he’s never been much of a reader is unlikely to recognize artistic greatness, and Trump’s long career as a real estate mogul has repeatedly proved his poor taste in architecture, while his campaign rhetoric suggests a convoluted notion about what’s good for America’s national security and world peace, and despite his reputation for political incorrectness we wouldn’t be surprised to see the same sort of demographic quotas being used.
In any case it should be at least another four years before we find ourselves on the roster of honorees, and in the meantime we’ll be reading old books and watching old movies and listening to old records to console ourselves.

— Bud Norman