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Through Hell and High Water, “Russia” Persists

Throughout all the hurricanes and mass murders and threats of war, the “Russia” story persists. On Wednesday the Senate’s intelligence committee made clear that it’s not going away soon.
The eminently Republican chairman Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina told an unusual press conference that “There is consensus among members of staff that we trust the conclusions of the (intelligence community assessment),” which concluded that the Russian government attempted to affect the past presidential election by hacking information from the Democratic party, promulgating false propaganda through the internet, and an apparently unsuccessful effort to manipulate vote-counting in several states. He also admitted that “the issue of collusion is still open.”
President Donald Trump has expressed doubt that the Russians did anything untoward at all, argued that even if they did other countries probably did as well, and repeatedly sworn that in any case he and his campaign didn’t have anything to with any Russians. Almost all of which, alas, has lately been so thoroughly disproved that even the Republicans on the Senate intelligence agency vow to continue the investigation.
You still have to rely on those intelligence officials to believe that Russia that hacked the Democratic party’s computers and leaked all those e-mails, but Trump’s own Central Intelligence Agency director agrees and by now only Trump and his most die-hard supporters doubt it. Facebook and Twitter now acknowledge that their popular social media services were extensively used by Russian interests to spread false stories clearly intended to harm the Democratic campaign. Also, Trump’s own Homeland Security Secretary has recently and belatedly advised 21 states of Russian attempts to infiltrate their computer system, then clarified that in two of them Russians had attempted to scan other state networks. At this point the intelligence community is look pretty intelligent, and so far they aren’t mentioning any other countries that might have similarly meddled or acting as if it’s no big deal if they did.
Hurricane winds and sniper fire swept away many of the headlines, but the past weeks have also brought documented news that Trump was pursuing a business deal in Moscow during his campaign, his campaign manager was offering briefings to Kremlin-connected Russians, and Trump’s son and son-in-law and former national security advisor and various other administration officials have been updating their security clearance forms with numerous meetings with Russians that they had previously forgotten to mention. Throw in the Trump campaign’s conspicuously Russia-friendly rhetoric, the way those Russian propagandists seem to know exactly which counties and precincts to target in the states Trump narrowly won to give him an electoral majority, along with all the other news that has been piling up over the past months, and even such an eminently Republican sort of fellow as Sen. Burr has to concede that the question of collusion is still very much open.
The Senate’s investigation will continue, and there’s a special counsel on the job who has a reputation for doggedness and has already executed a no-knock warrant on that former campaign manager and seems to have some serious goods on that former national security advisor, so we’ll venture to guess that the “Russia” story will persists through the coming storms and crimes and the rest of the governmental fiascos.

— Bud Norman

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The Not Ready for Prime Time News Conference

During his Thursday news conference President Donald Trump took a moment to brag about the huge ratings he draws on all the networks, so that was at least one thing he said that can’t be disputed. The press conference was more compelling viewing than any of the soap operas or brawling talk shows it was up against, and provided every viewer with somebody to boo and his, so we’ll assume the numbers were yuge by daytime standards. All the talk radio hosts and the rest of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters were delighted by his snarling contempt for the assembled press, a greater number of people who don’t support Trump were entertained by the many preposterous things they prodded him to say, and only those of us who were hoping for some reliable information on matters of greater importance were likely to be dissatisfied.
Having no affection for either Trump or his media interrogators we feel quite objective in saying that Trump somehow came off the worst of two. His opening remarks lasted for 24 minutes of typically un-parsable kvetching about what a mess he’s inherited from Obama and how bad it would have been if Hillary Clinton had won and how various media have failed to inform the public about it, all of which we could have a made a more intelligible case for if he’d only asked us, but except to the people who are used to hearing about it on three-hour blocks on talk radio it probably came off as whiny and self-serving. He also faulted for the media for reporting on the “fake news” that there are concerns about his foreign policy with Russia, although even he has recently accepted the resignation of a National Security Advisor for lying about contacts with the Russians and previously jettisoned a campaign manager who’d made a lot of bucks working with the Russian’s puppet government in Ukraine and a campaign foreign policy advisor with financial ties to the Russian oil oligarchy and he’s decrying but not denying the leaks that several other of his campaign members had frequent contacts with the Russian throughout the campaign, not to mention his own repeated apologetics for the Russian dictator’s habit of killing political opponents and pesky journalists. The rest of is largely forgettable, except for his memorably rambling and disjointed style.
He also bragged about his record-setting electoral college victory, as is his wont, and when he finally got around to taking to questions he had to admit to a National Broadcasting Company employee, of all people, that while the claim might not be objectively true “It was the information I was given,” which he seemed to think was as good a it being true. He got into a veritable shouting match with some fellow from the British Broadcasting Company, and although we can’t quite recall what it was about we’re sure the chap’s effeminate-sounding accent was enough to sway Trump’s hard-core supporters. He invited a black reporter to ask a question even though he predicted it would be dumb, and it turned out to be about whether Trump would seek the input of the Congressional Black Caucus in his promised efforts to bring peace to America’s cities, which Trump acknowledged was a “very professional question,” and then he asked if she was friends with the CBC and could set up a meeting, which might or might not be racist but sounded racist enough to cause some inevitable sidebars to the story. He defended his departed National Security Advisor as a “fine person” who had done nothing wrong, explained his decision to ask for a resignation by saying the NSA had lied to the vice-president about one of those things he hadn’t done wrong, and was shrewd enough not to allow any follow-up questions. He also claimed his administration was a “finely tuned machine,” and no one disputed that lest any of the anonymous administration officials who have been gushing leaks to the contrary dry up.
After rambling at some length in his opening remarks about the hateful tone of some of the media’s reporting, Trump made it clear throughout the proceedings that he hated those some media, and of course of his supporters in other media were cheering that on. He’s got plenty of erroneous stories to point to, just as the adversarial media can and continuously do recount the numerous false statements that Trump and his spokespeople daily trot out, so whichever side you’ve decided to boo and hiss the press conference featured plenty of ratings-boosting villainy. If you’re tuning in hopes of finding out believable information on which to make sound decisions about policy, however, you’d do just as well with The Jerry Springer Show or that one where you find which of the promiscuous woman’s potential pops is the real father.
— Bud Norman

The Fast Food Nominees Goes Fast

Although we can’t for the life of us think of the name of the last Secretary of Labor, we’re momentarily aware of the fellow who won’t be the next one. President Donald Trump’s choice for the post, business executive Andrew Puzder, has withdrawn his briefly famous name from consideration, and for several reasons his departure is more newsworthy than the the position usually merits.
Puzder was a controversial nominee from the outset, even by the extreme standards of the Trump era. He’s an executive in the fast-food restaurant business, heading up the corporation that that owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.’s chains that proliferate throughout the land, so he’s an outspoken advocate against raising the minimum wage, which has long been a favored cause of the Democratic Party, and the company’s television advertisements have used attractive women in ways that aroused the ire of the Democrats’ feminist wing, and of course the vegan wing was also offended. He’d also faced credible and nationally-televised-by-Oprah but later recounted accusations of spousal abuse, which offended both the feminist wing of the Democratic Party and what’s left of the chivalrous wing of the Republican Party, and he was also an advocate for mass legal immigration and a lax response to the illegal sort, which amused the Democrats but troubled all sorts of pre- and post-Trump Republicans, and he’d also had one of those illegal alien domestic servants that have derailed both Democratic and Republican cabinet nominees over the past few decades.
Add it all up, and it was enough to unify all the Democrats and sway a decisive number of Republicans and force Puzder to withdraw. Other controversial Trump nominees have managed to squeak through, including the recently resigned National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn, whose departure is an ongoing scandal, and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who needed Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote, so Puzder’s scalp is being widely celebrated by the Democrats and their media allies. There are always a few nominees who don’t get confirmed, and so far Trump is batting better than the league average, but add Puzder’s embarrassment to Flynn’s departure and that scandals that entails, along with all the other leaked-from-the-White-House tales of White House dysfunction and the Democrats and their media allies are entitled to a certain amount of gloating.
Much like that decisive number of Republican congressmen who said they’d vote against the nomination, though, we’re not disappointed by the withdrawal. We’re also opposed to a raise in the minimum wage on the grounds that it will only hasten the automation that’s taking more American jobs than Mexico and China ever will, but such a self-interested advocate as Puzder seem a poor choice to make that argument. We don’t mind the sex appeal in the fast food commercials, and of course the strip club and beauty pageant mogul who nominated him didn’t either, but the domestic abuse charges offended our old-fashioned chivalrous Republican sensibilities, even if they didn’t bother a president who has faced similarly credible but ultimately withdrawn accusations, and the illegal alien housekeeper also seemed a disqualifying incident in the life of a potential Labor Secretary, even if the illegal-alien-hiring but tough-on-illegal-immigration president who appointed him didn’t have a problem with it. Even the conservative media more inclined to defend Trump seem to be having trouble working up much indignation about Puzder’s withdrawal.
Every administration has its confirmation failures, and as previously noted Trump is doing better than usual so far, but Puzder’s ignominious withdrawal and Flynn’s more noteworthy resignation and all the resulting stories from that, along with all the White House-leaked tales of White House dysfunction, all add up to a bigger story that the Democrats and their media allies are eager to tell. How big remains to be seen, but we suspect that in the end it won’t be just the Democrats telling it.

— Bud Norman

Out Like Flynn

The resignation of Gen. Michael Flynn as President Donald Trump’s National Security is not only the biggest story of the moment, it seems to have spun off into a dozen or so biggest stories of the moment.
At such a very early point in an administration such a high-ranking official’s resignation, or “ouster” if you prefer the more recent term that keeps popping up in the press, is going to be a story with legs and sidebars. This unusually quick departure seems to have more than the usual subplots, however, and at this point in this particular administration the press is especially eager to pursue them every one of them. The fact of Flynn’s resignation or ouster or whatever you call it seems to confirm press reports that he had questionable contacts with the Russian government during the transition period and lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence, which does not make Trump look good, so the established media are delighted to have that at the top of the front pages and hourly broadcasts. Some of the radio talkers and other anti-establishment media are continuing to insist that whatever contacts Flynn had with the Russians weren’t at all questionable, and that he never lied about it, but they glumly admit that also makes Trump look bad.
Trump is “tweeting” that big story is Flynn’s conversations with Russia being leaked to the press in the first place, and his more creative supporters in the anti-establishment media are elaborating that it’s another example of the intelligence community and the “deep state” trying to undermine Trump’s administration, and it’s plausible. Meanwhile the establishment press is putting the whole affair in the context of the intelligence agencies’ consensus conclusion that the Russians meddled in the past presidential election in an apparent attempt to help Trump, and Trump’s denunciation of the intelligence agencies and apologetics for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and the various contacts that several of Trump’s business and campaign and administration officials have with with the Russian oligarchy, and all the implications they can make out of that also seem well within the realm of plausibility.
There also stories about who knew what and when they knew it, and they all feature prominent administration spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway telling television audiences that Flynn had the president’s full confidence just hours before Trump accepted the resignation, and none of them are helpful to Trump or any of his more ardent defenders in the anti-establishment media. They all seem to confirm a popular press narrative about a dysfunctional White House riven by all the petty power-grabbing and back-stabbing machinations you’d want from a reality television show, which is altogether too plausible, and all of those leaks are coming straight from contestants. At the moment Trump’s anti-establishment media allies have been reduced to the Nietzschean argument that out of chaos comes order, and let’s us hope they’re right.
There’s also surely a sidebar somewhere out there about how all of this hubbub will affect national security, but so far we haven’t found it. We were never fond of Flynn, who seemed far too chummy with the Russkies and is prone to crackpot conspiracy theories and always reminded us of Sterling Hayden’s Gen. Jack D. Ripper character in “Dr. Strangelove,” and although he’s properly tough on Islamism we figure Trump is more in need of someone to advise occasional restraint and not encourage all the war crimes that were promised during the campaign. Press reports indicate that one of the possible replacements is Gen. David Petraeus, whose military brilliance turned the tide in the Iraq War before he competently assumed the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency, but who also pleaded guilty to providing his mistress with classified material and then lying about it, and it will be interesting to see if Trump sets all those storylines off. The other names seem reasonable career national security, and of course aren’t any of the Republican establishment professionals who took public stands against Trump during the campaign, and in the end we effect that the national security will be as insecure as always.

— Bud Norman