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A Hard-Earned Vacation

Today President Donald Trump starts a planned 17-day vacation at his swank private New Jersey golf club, and we can hardly blame him for wanting to get away from the swamps of Washington, D.C., for a while. Thursday brought fresh leaks of some embarrassing phone calls Trump had with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia, as well as the news that the special counsel investigating the matter of what Trump now calls “Russia” has convened a grand jury, and that’s despite the best efforts of tough new chief of staff who was installed after a major administration shake-up and another week of rebukes by everyone from the Boy Scouts to America’s police chiefs to the Republicans in Congress.
The ostensible reason for the time away is that the White House is replacing its 27-year-old air-conditioning and heating system, and after the couple of sultry summers we’ve spent in Washington that seems plausible enough, although we’re not sure if President Andrew Jackson would have though so, and the timing does seem suspiciously fortuitous. Trump had long criticized his predecessor for spending too much time on golf courses, just as his predecessor had even more hypocritically criticized his predecessor for the same thing, and with his own private golf course being reimbursed by the government Trump will probably take an even worse public relations hit than either of them, but by now it could be a lot worse. If Trump can keep his thumbs gripped to a golf club rather than tapping out a “tweet” on his telephone, and stay away from interviews and otherwise avoid compounding his problems while his lawyers and remaining staff do their best to sort things out, that would probably be 17 days well spent.
The leaks about those embarrassing phone calls with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia had already been partially leaked way back in Trump’s second week of the job, but despite the momentary embarrassment Trump was able to dismiss them as “fake news” with with the politely oblique help of the other countries involved, and it was quickly forgotten in all the other news that kept coming. This time around there are full transcripts of the conversations, which are even more embarrassing in full context, and the White House is neither confirming nor denying their veracity, and neither are the other two governments involved, and by now the guy embarrassing himself on those transcripts sure does sound an awful lot like Trump.
The phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull reveals Trump trying to weasel out of a deal the United States had during struck his predecessor’s administration to take in 1,250 refugees, getting the numbers involved and other basic facts of the deal wrong along the way, frankly worrying how it would “It would make me look terrible,” and abruptly ending the conversation after saying that he’d had a much more pleasant telephone call that day with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Worse yet, as far as Trump’s most loyal supporters might be concerned, in the phone call with Mexican President Pena Nieto he seemed to concede that he’d never really meant all that campaign rhetoric about making Mexico pay for a wall across the entire southern border, but expected the Mexican government to play along with it for the ruse for a while. Nieto bluntly said Spanish equivalent of “nyet,” so far the Republican majorities in Congress have been similarly reluctant to cough up the funding for a border wall, and this is not a good time for people to be reminded about it along with all the further “fake news” leaks that can neither be denied by confirmed by the White House.
The leaks about the special counsel convening a grand jury to issue all sorts of subpoenas in that “Russia” investigation have also been neither confirmed nor denied by the White House, so they’re also looking pretty credible, and although you can spin it so it’s not such a bad thing there’s no way of making it out to be a good thing. That special counsel has a formidable reputation as a dogged but by-the-book investigator, and according to the book the paneling of a grand jury implies some pretty darned prima facie evidence that something fishy’s going on, and for now all questions about it are being referred to the president’s and his family’s and staff’s outside legal counsel.
Given all the other leaks about “Russia” that have neither been confirmed nor denied over the past eight months or so, and instead been to referred to all the various outside counsels that are now involved, we can easily understand why Trump is wanting some rest and relaxation on a familiar golf course. Someone pretty high up in Trump’s administration  is leaking the latest leaks, too, so all the more reason to take some time off from whomever that might be. We’re sure he’ll still be in constant communication with the rest of the executive branch while he’s contemplating a chip shot, just as his predecessors claimed to do, and we hope he at least breaks par.
According to some rather embarrassing leaks to Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated, though, Trump is also  a notorious golf cheat who routinely claims to have broken par, and so far the White House neither confirms nor denies this.

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Round of Terrorism and the Race

The past weekend was another bloody one in radical Islam’s ongoing war against America and the rest of the western world, with three more apparent terrorist attacks occurring in a St. Cloud, Minnesota, shopping mall, along a charity foot race route in New Jersey, and in the fashionable Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. No one was killed but dozens were seriously injured, and although one suspect has been arrested in both the New Jersey and New York incidents there’s not yet any link to the Minneapolis attacks and no definitive evidence that any of it is tied to international groups, but it’s all the scarier to contemplate that these sorts of things are just popping up spontaneously.
The Islamic State, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant or if you prefer to use the ISIS and ISIL initials that omit the word “Islamic,” has claimed credit for the guy dressed in a security guard’s garb who started attacking unsuspecting shoppers at the Minneapolis mall and stabbed nine people before being killed by an armed off-duty police officer who luckily happened to be shopping there. That guy was named Dahir Adan, a member of the greater Minneapolis area’s large Somali-American population that was relocated there from their war torn land, and while it’s not yet clear if the Islamic State or whatever initials you want to call it are merely trying to take credit it does seem clear that he was sympathetic to their Islamic supremacist views. Meanwhile the guy being accused of setting off those pressure-cooker bombs in New Jersey and New York is named Ahmad Khan Ramani, a naturalized American citizen born in Afghanistan, and although no one is currently claiming any credit for his atrocities his friends are telling the press that he’s been noticeably more religious since a trip to his ancestral homeland. Even the most polite of those press seemed to acknowledge that radical Islam and its ongoing war against America and the rest of the west might well have had something to do with it.
All of which, of course, leads us to the more pressing matter of presidential politics.
While the stereotypically Democratic governor of Minnesota went into the usual recitations about Islam being a religion of peace, and the Democratic governor of New York and the Republican governor of New Jersey were being just slightly more frank, and the administration of Democratic President Barack Barack Obama was emphasizing how there’s yet not definitive link to any broader plots, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was at least calling for “tough vetting” of immigrants from lands where the more radical sort of Islam prevails. Such cynical sorts as ourselves note traces of her former president husband’s successful “triangulation” strategy of taking a slightly less extreme version of the Republican nominee’s more popular stands, in this case Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s policy of “extreme vetting,” and of course she added the stereotypical Democratic asides about blaming Islam per se for the more radical interpretations of the faith, but we glumly suspect that some portion of the voting public will find it an acceptable balance.
Meanwhile the Republican nominee was taking a much tougher approach, telling his friends on the Fox News Network’s “Fox and Friends” that “We’re going to do something extremely tough over there, like knock the hell out of them. And we have to get everybody together and we have to lead them to a change because we’re not knocking them, we’re hitting them every once in a while, we’re hitting them in certain places, we’re being very gentle about it, we’re going to have to be very tough.” Which we suspect some portion of the voting public will find very reassuring, but such cynical sorts as ourselves wonder how knocking them over there will affect what’s happening so frequently here, and how it squares with the more placidly isolationist policies that he has advocated for elsewhere in all this mess, and whether either of them mean a word of it.
Before the wounds of the weekend’s victims were even treated, the Republican nominee was was once again congratulating himself for having “called it” and the Democratic nominee was alleging that the difference between “tough vetting” and “extreme vetting” was fueling Islamic radicalism, and both were making claims about the other that some portion of the public will likely find persuasive. Such cynical sorts as ourselves took a day to say a prayer for those victims, and offer a plea that America somehow and for some reason still enjoy God’s blessings.

— Bud Norman

The Results are In

Some high-profile elections were held Tuesday, and the results provide political junkies with something to talk but nothing for either party to celebrate.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe eked out a win in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, but the margin of victory does not bode well for his party. The former Democratic National Committee chairman and longtime Clinton family bagman had a lavishly-funded and professionally-run campaign machine, his Republican opponent was an unabashed Tea Party type who was thus easily caricatured as a right-wing nutcase by the state’s helpful press, there was also a Libertarian candidate generously funded by an Obama operative to lure some votes from the right, and with the northern half of the state rapidly swelling with grateful employees of the ever-growing federal government the race was supposed to be a rout. All the polls showed that it was going to be lopsided until Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli started reminding people that he had been the first state Attorney General to oppose Obamacare, at which point the polls tightened to a point McAuliffe wound up winning by far less than the share of the vote snookered by the faux-Libertarian. Had the Libertarian’s source of money been known earlier the race would likely have gone to Cuccinelli, and the dirty trick will be difficult to pull off against all the other Republicans lined up to bash Obamacare in next year’s mid-term elections.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie rolled to landslide reelection victory in New Jersey, which is not intended as a fat joke, but even such an impressive margin of victory in such a Democratic state does not justify all the resultant wild talk about his presidential prospects. After an upset victory over the incredibly sleazy incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine and the Democratic machine that had the state on the verge of bankruptcy Christie quickly gained national prominence by taking on the public sector unions to slash an unsustainable budget, and with a colorfully pugnacious style that played well beyond the tough-guy precincts of New Jersey, but conservative enthusiasm waned as it gradually became apparent that on issues ranging from guns to illegal immigration to Islamism he was more a northeasterner than a real Republican, and the straw that broke the conservative camel’s back was Christie’s literal embrace of Obama during the much-hyped phony-baloney Hurricane Sandy recovery effort that reversed the president’s slide in the polls.
Although Christie can claim to have won over blue state voters, much as Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts, and is now every Republican-hating reporter’s favorite Republican, much as John McCain was, these qualifications are unlikely to convince Republican primary voters that he’s a sure-fire winner. He can still boast of having confronted the public sector union beast and set his state’s finances more or less in order, but so can Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker, who survived a bruising recall effort and greater liberal vitriol to do so, and Walker isn’t burdened by Christie’s polite northeastern opinions on other important matters. There’s talk of Christie switching parties to get around these difficult political realities, but it’s hard to imagine anyone whose great claim to fame is an in-your-face hostility toward public sector unions ever winning a Democratic primary anywhere. Christie might take a hard turn to the right now that he’s term-limited from another state race, much as Kathleen Sebelius went crazy left after winning her second term as Kansas’ governor in order to win her currently uncomfortable position in the Obama administration, but it will take some doing to make for him to make sufficient amends with the conservatives here in the gun-loving heartland.
Another Democrat won by a landslide in the New York City mayoral election, and a more-or-less outright commie Democrat at that, but that will ultimately be to the party’s detriment. The victory is a bigger deal than the an inland American’s stereotype of New York would suggest, as it has been a hard-to-believe 20 years since a Democrat won in that overwhelmingly Democratic metropolis, but a mayor bent on waging war against the rich folk who pay for the city’s lavish government will soon remind the city why it went so long without Democrats. In the ‘70s and ‘80s New York City descended into a graffiti-covered and trash-strewn state of lawlessness and insolvency, to the point that such an out-and-out Republican as Rudy Giuliani was given two terms to turn things around with aggressive law enforcement and free-market economics. He was succeeded by Michael Bloomberg, a media magnate and Republican who quickly reverted to an independent status lest he be embarrassed at the town’s tonier cocktail parties, and although he became a national laughingstock with his eat-your-broccoli paternalism he retained enough of the pro-business and anti-crime policies of his predecessor to keep the city successful. The new guy won on promises to stop the police department’s controversial “stop and frisk” rules and to somehow make everyone in the city equally impoverished, and apparently there are enough New Yorkers who can’t recall the ‘70s and ‘80s to make this a winning argument. The results should provide Republicans with plenty of object lessons in coming campaigns.
Things have gotten so bad in Detroit that the city elected a white mayor, its first in 40 years. He’s a Democrat, of course, but it’s still a sign that when things get bad enough people will try anything.

— Bud Norman