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Arrivederci, Scaramucci

President Donald Trump started the work week on Monday with a “tweet” assuring the public “No WH chaos!,” but after that things got pretty chaotic around the White House. By lunch time the communications director was on his way out, after less than two weeks on the job and a full two weeks before he was to be officially installed, which was just the latest and surely not the last in a remarkable number of personnel changes for a still-young administration.
Anthony Scaramucci’s appointment had led to the resignations of the White House’s press secretary and chief of staff, both of whom preferred to quit rather than work with him, and his resignation set off lots of speculation about what comes next. His predecessor’s tenure had also been brief by historical standards, and his predecessor’s shorter yet, so at this point the office is starting to look like being a drummer for Spinal Tap, and so far we haven’t heard any names being floated for who’s next.
The chief of staff that Scaramucci scared away has already been replaced by former four-star Marine General John Kelly, who moves over from his post as Homeland Security secretary, so some people are speculating that the Attorney General that Trump has lately been trying to harangue into resignation will be moved over there, and that he will be replaced by someone free to fire the special counsel who was appointed to investigate Russia’s role in the past election after Trump fired the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
All of which sounds pretty chaotic to us, but still-new-on-the-job press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assures us that “If you want to see chaos, come to my house with three pre-schoolers.” That’s not a very reassuring comparison to a White House, though, and we hope that none of Sanders’ pre-schoolers are as troublesome as that Scaramucci fellow.
“The Mooch” made a fortune on Wall Street, and although he was an outspoken critic of Trump until the future president wrapped up the Republican nomination, he was complimentary to an almost homo-erotic degree afterwards. He had no experience in politics or media, but Trump admires people who have made a fortune and likes over-the-top flattery, so Scaramucci arrived in the White House with a pair of blue aviator shades and a Trump-like tough-guy persona and plenty of hair gel and swagger. He also arrived with a $200 million dollar sale to a Chinese conglomerate of the SkyBridge Capital  firm that he has a 44 percent stake in still pending before a regulatory review board, conveniently comprised of Trump appointees. That was reportedly one of the main reasons the previous chief of staff was so adamantly opposed to bringing him on board, and the official reason Scaramucci wasn’t officially on the job for another two weeks of consideration of the deal, but Trump doesn’t seem to have any problem with that sort of thing.
Scaramucci’s tough-guy shtick probably would have carried through him such picky-picky ethical controversies, but he somehow managed to take it too far even by Trump standards. When Politico broke the story about his holdings in SkyBridge, Scaramucci immediately “tweeted” what sure seemed to be a threat to have the FBI investigate the chief of staff for leaking the story, only to have the reporter “tweet” back that her source was the public disclosure form he’d filled out for a time-holding job at the Export-Import Bank. After that a New Yorker reporter “tweeted” that Trump and Scaramucci had dined with radio host and Fox News personality Sean Hannity, which is a rather embarrassing but hardly as earth-shaking scoop, Scaramucci responded with a profanity-laden and downright-crazy rant that wound up a few minutes later at the web site of one of America’s most venerable magazines.
The rant was probably the most widely-read piece in the history of the New Yorker, far surpassing anything Dorothy Parker or James Thurber or John Updike ever wrote for the rag, and we have to admit it does make for damned interesting reading. Scaramucci once again alleged that the White House chief of staff was a a possible felon and very certain sort of “paranoid schizophrenic,” described the White House chief strategist performing an extremely difficult sex act upon himself, and threatened to either fire or kill countless other administration officials. That might not have bothered such a tough guy as Trump much, either, but in one of those ironic twists from Greek drama and the Trump administration the chief of staff that Scaramucci forced out was replaced by a former four-star Marine general who is famous for not suffering fools and idiots lightly.
This scaramouche’s exit from this commedia dell’arte was foretold in our posting of yesterday, but even with our powers of prophecy we didn’t see it coming quite so fast. Nor could our literary imaginations have ever imagined such a colorful character or such a cruel fate for him. Shortly after he signed on with the Trump administration his wife filed for divorce during her ninth month of pregnancy, reportedly in part because she can’t stand Trump, and we doubt she felt any differently when he wound up missing the birth of their child because he preferred to accompany Trump to a Boy Scout jamboree, where the president gave a speech that the Boy Scouts later apologized for. The president he showed such loyalty to accepted his resignation a few days later, the press secretary and chief of staff he forced out and all the administration officials he’d threatened to fire or kill were no doubt having a hearty laugh about it, and that genuinely tough new chief of staff might yet have something to say about that $90 million payday he was counting on.
The quick exit and the genuinely tough guy who did the bouncing are hopeful signs for the administration, at least, and we’re wishing Kelly the best. There are a still an awful lot of fools and idiots left that he’ll have to suffer, though, and it’s beyond even his formidable powers to get rid of all of them.

— Bud Norman

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Shaking Up the White House, Except at the Top

Last week was a rough one for the administration of President Donald Trump, and even his most stubborn apologists can’t deny it.
Trump’s campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare once again went unfulfilled, this time seemingly for good. He was publicly rebuked by the Boy Scouts as well as numerous police chiefs for a couple of widely-panned speeches he recently gave on their behalf. The House and Senate sent him a nearly unanimously-passed and thus entirely veto-proof bill that imposes sanctions on Russia and limits his ability to do anything about it, which was also unmistakably a rebuke of his Russia-friendly campaign promises. Trump continued a war of words against his own Attorney General, who had inconveniently recused himself from the various investigations about Russia’s apparent efforts on behalf of Trump during the campaign, but several important congressional Republicans sternly warned him not to the fire the guy or otherwise try to interfere with all the ongoing inquiries.
There was a Trump-“tweeted” order for the military to no longer allow transgendered troops, but it apparently was a surprise to the vacationing defense secretary, the generals in charge of such things admitted they weren’t sure if a “tweet” was an official order, several important congressional Republicans were also among the critics, and the newly installed press secretary couldn’t answer such obvious questions as how it would affect any transgendered troops currently serving in hazardous duty. The press secretary was newly-installed because Trump had also forced the resignation of his communications director, whose successor almost immediately went on a profanity-laden rant to The New Yorker that very saltily slurred the White House’s chief of staff and chief strategist and threatened to either fire or kill countless other administration officials.
By the end of the week Trump also forced the resignation of his chief of staff, but the apologists are hoping that’s going to turn things around. Newly-installed in the job is John Kelly, who comes in after rising to four-star general rank in the Marines, serving for four years as commander of the United States’ Southern Command despite his frequent clashes with the administration of President Barack Obama over Guantamo Bay and the Mexican border and other issues, and for the past six months has been doing a provably efficient job of fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises about illegal immigration as head of the Department of Homeland Security. A Washington Post headline describes Kelly as someone who “won’t suffer idiots and fools,” and he has a hard-earned reputation for imposing the military-style discipline that even the most ardent apologists will admit the Trump administration sorely needs.
Kelly certainly seems a very formidable force, and we wish him well, if only because we’re exhausted keeping up with all the news these days, but we’ll wait and see how it turns out. It’s hard to see how he would have made much of a difference last week, so we hold out only faint hope for this week.
There’s plenty of blame to be spread around the Republican party for its failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, but it’s going to take a pretty ardent apologist to argue that Trump doesn’t bear some of it, and there’s no reason to think Kelly could have changed that. Kelly’s predecessor was Reince Priebus, who had previously risen through the Republican ranks to be chairman of the Republican National Committee, and with considerable help from Obama he was instrumental in electing many members of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate as well as a Republican president. That wasn’t enough to fulfill the party’s seven-year-old promise of repeal and replacement of Obamacare, as it turns out, but there’s nothing on Kelly’s otherwise impressive resume to suggest he’s any more familiar with health care policy or has any more sway with the suddenly rebellious Republican caucus in Congress.
Neither is there any reason to believe that Kelly would have had any more luck than Priebus in dissuading Trump from making those apologized-for orations to the Boy Scouts and law enforcement. Nor do we think Kelly could have staved off that nearly unanimous sanctions bill, and given his hawkish nature we wonder if he would have wanted to. Given his reputation for rock-solid integrity, and given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was his best friend in congress during all the fights with the Obama administration over the southern border back in the Obama days, way back when Trump was firing people on “Celebrity Apprentice” and bad-mouthing the Republican nominee’s relatively mild “self-deportation” policy, it will be interesting to see how Kelly handles all that mess and how it affects all the rest of the mess with Russia.
There are plenty of persuasive if politically incorrect arguments to be made against transgendered people serving in the military, but they’re hard to fit into a “tweet,” those 140 characters of social media can’t adequately explain to a vast bureaucracy or a lean White House Communications office how it should be carried out, and we doubt Kelly could have been any more successful in steering a more measured course of bureaucratic review and legally-hashed documents followed by a coordinated communications effort. The whole mess reminds of us when Trump “tweeted” a ban on travel from certain Islamic countries, which also had plenty of persuasive if politically incorrect arguments but hadn’t been run through any bureaucratic or legal review and wasn’t explained to the White House communications team, and what a mess that turned out to be. The cabinet secretary that Trump hadn’t bothered to consult in that case was Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly, but maybe he’ll have better luck next time.
We can, at least, hold out more than faint hope Kelly will be able impose some severe military-style discipline on that newly-installed White House communications director with the foul mouth and tough-guy persona. Former Wall Street shark Anthony Scaramucci got the job and quickly forced the resignation of the previous chief of staff, whom he had so memorably described in that New Yorker rant, but that chief strategist he even more memorably described is still on the job, and the new chief of staff is said not to suffer fools and idiots, so we figure the four-star Marine general will prove the tougher in the inevitable fights.
There’s nothing Kelly can do to shake up the White House that will shake out Trump or his daughter and a son-in-law, however, or shake away all the investigations about Russia or the increasing rebelliousness of the Republicans in congress. Trump was resistant to military-style discipline back when  his father shipped him off to a military school, hasn’t much changed at age 71, and even such a formidable force as Kelly seems unlikely to restrain his “tweeting” thumbs and oratorical impetuousness, or forestall future rough weeks.

— Bud Norman

How “The Mooch” Screwed the Pooch, If You’ll Kindly Pardon the Expression

The administration of President Donald Trump was already the most compelling show on television, with enough back-stabbing palace intrigue and occasional nudity to make “Game of Thrones” look like a “Romper Room” re-run, but the addition of new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci will surely drive the ratings through the roof. Although he’s not yet been on the job for even a full week, on Thursday Scaramucci managed to grab all the headlines and the top of the news hour.
How he got the job in the job in the first place was already an interesting enough story, but on Thursday Scaramucci made it all the more intriguing with his “tweeted” threats of criminal action against a Politico reporter and his profanity-laden and tape-recorded tirade to a reporter from The New Yorker, along with all the disparagements of the rest of the Trump administration he made along the away. All in all, it was a pretty weird end to a first week of the job.
Scaramucci had gained a famously fabulous fortune on Wall Street, and been an outspoken critic of Trump right up until the point when Trump clinched the Republican nomination, but after that Scaramucci became an unabashed apologist for the eventual president. He even divested himself of a lucrative investment fund in apparent hopes of winning an administration post, but he found himself frozen out. Trump had campaigned in the Republican primaries on promise to destroy the Republican party’s establishment, but after he won the nomination he accepted the embrace of Republican National Committee chairman Rience Priebus, and after Trump’s unexpected electoral victory former Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer was installed as White House communications director and press secretary, and Scaramucci was left on the outside looking in.
Spicer did his best to bully the press into favorable coverage and defend Trump’s most indefensible claims, but his feeble efforts were effectively ridiculed on all the late night comedy shows, and Trump cut the cameras off his press conferences a few weeks ago and gave the audio-only spotlight to deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, so it was no surprise when he was eventually forced to resign. Despite having no relevant experience in politics or media relations other than his own life-long self-promotion Scaramucci thus wound up with the gig, which brings us to that manic-even-by-Trump-standards Thursday about the presumed leaker.
He responded to Politico’s scoop with a “tweet” that threatened to sic the Justice Department on whatever cad had leaked the now-confirmed information, and the reporter “tweeted” back that her only source was Scaramucci’s own public disclosure forms. Being new to the strange ways of the Washington cesspool, the Wall Street shark Scaramucci apparently didn’t understand that what he’d disclosed on his public disclosure forms would eventually be publicly disclosed, so we’d have to say he wound up losing round one in his war against “fake news.”
Scaramucci responded to The New Yorker “tweet” by calling up its intrepid reporter Ryan Lizza to demand the anonymous source, and at that point it really gets good. Perhaps it’s because he’s new to the strange ways of the Washington cesspool and didn’t realize that intrepid reporters don’t divulge their anonymous administrations sources and tape all their uninvited calls from identifiable administration officials, and that a president’s lunch with a media sycophant isn’t a state secret or really any big deal, but he wound up on a epic rant that has to be read to believed. As Eagle Scouts and evangelical Christians and old-fashioned establishment Kansas Republicans we have long maintained an editorial policy against profanity, and always added asterisks when the news of the day required it, but by now even such a genteel publication as The New Yorker can’t avoid it, and the age of “grab ’em by the pussy” Trump has already “schlonged” the standards of public discourse, so we’ll go right ahead and let Scaramucci speak for himself.
“Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoic,” Scaramucci said, mocking Priebus’ voice as he added “Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the same way I cock-blocked Scaramucci.” At that point The New Yorker politely and parenthetically noted that Priebus had declined to comment on the comment. If you’re following all the subplots closely you’ll have noted Scaramucci doesn’t have to report to the White House chief staff, as White House communications directors usually do, so he also promised that “I’m going to start ‘tweeting’ some shit to make this this guy crazy,” which was shortly followed by a “tweet” threatening to sic the Justice Department on the White House chief of staff.
“The Mooch” also opined on tape that “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the strength of the fucking president. I’m here to serve the country.” Which is weird enough even before you realize that Bannon represents the anti-Republican-establishment half of Trump’s team of rivals, and that Scaramucci had laid down a profanity-laden assault  to every part of the Trump administration except himself and Trump.
That’s your new White House communications director, however, and we’ll leave it to Sean Hannity and the Boy Scouts and evangelical Christians and establishment Republican types who are still on board the Trump train to defend it. He’s already got a lot communicating about “Russia” and the the the apparent failure of Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare to do, as well as all those administration jobs Trump hasn’t yet found anyone to fill, and from our Eagle Scout and evangelical Christian and old-fashioned Kansas Republican perspective he’s off to a bad start.

— Bud Norman

The Good Ol’ Days of Media

The old media are dying, and Tina Brown mourns their passing. That she is one of the causes of the death of old media, and another reason to celebrate it, seems not to have occurred to her.
For those of you who are enviably unaware of Tina Brown, she used to be a big deal in the old media. After making a name for herself in the rough-and-tumble Fleet Street journalism of her native England, she emigrated to the United States in the ’80s to edit Vanity Fair and became as notable a celebrity as any of the rich and famous subjects of that plutographic magazine’s posterior-kissing stories. In the early ’90s she took control of The New Yorker, where she cured that one-venerable publication’s stodgy reputation for literary excellence with an infusion of Vanity Fair-style frivolousness. The resulting revival of The New Yorker’s fortunes made her such a sensation that she signed a lucrative deal with Miramax Films to become a multi-media mogul, which resulted in the short-lived and utterly forgettable Talk Magazine and a boutique publishing house that released titles by the likes of Queen Noor of Jordan and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright of Clintonland. Since then she’s started The Daily Beast, which is one of the internet’s more widely read sites but a mere internet site nonetheless, and when the site bought comatose Newsweek for the bargain basement price of $1 she wound up as editor of that. Now she’s written a whopper of an editorial for The Daily Beast about the media in wake of the sex scandal involving President Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky, and the unsurprising gist of it is that she’s nostalgic for the good old days when she was a big deal.
The editorial is well worth reading, as it is a masterpiece of self-serving snarkiness and a perfectly illustrative example of what is really killing off the old media. She opens with worries that Lewinsky’s recent reappearance in the news “plunges us straight back into the frothing world of ’90s gossip,” as if she had not become rich and famous in that same frothing world, but bravely marches into her subject because “It may be painful but it answers so many questions about today’s media.” The pain apparently derives from having to recall l’affaire Lewinsky, with its “appalling cast of tabloid gargoyles who drove the scandal.” She doesn’t mean the serial sexual predator who used his position as President of the United States to exploit a starry-eyed and dim-witted twenty-something in his employ, but rather those nasty people who told the truth about it. Even after all these years Brown feels obliged to heap scorn on Linda Tripp, who was dragged into the scandal because she had the misfortune to befriend Lewinsky, and is described by Brown as a “treacherous thatched-roof-haired drag-queen” with “dress-for-success shoulder pads. Conservative commentator and activist Lucianne Goldberg gets similarly snooty treatment, being described as a “cackling, fact-lacking hack.” Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who did the job he was given by Congress all too diligently, is explained as a “mealy-mouthed Pharisee.” The greatest object of Brown’s scorn, however, is the pioneering internet journalist who broke the Lewinsky scandal with a post about how Newsweek had nailed down the story but declined to run it. “Hitting ‘send’ on each new revelation that no one else would publish, the solitary, perfectly named Matt Drudge,” is how Brown introduces the real villain of her piece, “operating in pallid obsession out of his sock-like apartment in Miami.”
None of Brown’s “tabloid gargoyles” were using the Oval Office of the White House to do cigar tricks with a young woman who would soon be subjected to their politics of personal destruction, nor were they guilty of the tawdry and boorish behavior by the president that soon were revealed in the light of the Lewinsky investigation, but Brown somehow faults them for “driving” the scandal. There would have been no scandal to drive if Clinton had acted as a responsible married president rather than a lecherous reprobate, but Brown apparently finds that more forgivable than telling the truth about a politician with the correct opinions and right party affiliation. What’s most unforgivable, in Brown’s telling of the saga, is that “The press was at the height of its power when the Monica story began, and Drudge was its underbelly. The ascendant media that looked down on him has been pretty much destroyed.”
This is a bad thing, Brown explains because it is “how the death of privacy started.” She’s not referring to the National Security Agency’s snooping into every American’s phone records, or the mysteriously unsealed divorce records of candidates who challenge Barack Obama or formerly anonymous plumbers who ask him questions that provoke controversial answers, or the Internal Revenue Service’s illegal interest in the donors who contribute to causes the president dislikes, or any of the other troubling concerns about privacy that have nothing whatsoever to do with conservative journalism, but rather the outrageous idea that a president can’t exploit an intern without having to read about it on some arriviste web site. Perhaps Brown would hold steadfast to the same conviction that what happens inside the Oval Office isn’t a legitimate matter of public interest even when a Republican occupies it, but there is reason for doubt. We can’t recall Brown complaining about the Special Prosecutor who spent millions hunting for imaginary witches in the phony-baloney Valerie Plame investigation that dogged the Bush administration and found nothing but a small fish named “Scooter” telling an inconsequential lie about a scandal that didn’t happen in the first place, and we can’t imagine her ever employing such mean-girl insults against any women on her side of the political divide no matter how thatched-roof-haired or cackling they might be.
So long as it’s acceptable to speculate in print about others’ motives, we’ll venture that Brown is mostly miffed that the once-ascendant media that are still looking down their patrician noses at the upstarts have indeed pretty much been destroyed. For Brown, who enjoyed considerable prestige, power, and an unequal income in the ancien regime, it must be a bitter disappointment to see the likes of Matt Drudge with millions more readers and vastly greater power to make the public aware of a story. That these uncouth sorts who would have never besmirched the pages of Vanity Fair or The New Yorker during Brown’s reign are using that usurped power to expose facts that don’t serve Brown’s preferred politics is surely all the more galling. Lewinsky made her comeback in Vanity Fair, the folks who bought Newsweek for a dollar are now looking to sell it at all, the only television news organization that concerns itself with Democratic scandals is trouncing the competition in the ratings war, and obscure internet sites from obscure places such as Wichita, Kansas, are snearing back at Brown, and that has to hurt as well. Ah, for the good old days of monopoly media and unchallenged opinion-making power when a president could exploit an intern in the Oval Office or lie about a terrorist attack without any pesky questions being asked.
We can well understand such nostalgia, as we were working for a mid-sized newspaper back in the days after every town had been reduced to one daily and before talk radio and the internet and new means of classified advertising changed everything. The money was good, better than in most of the industries that the editorialists railed against for their corporate greed, and there was a satisfying sense of power in hearing the fear in a politician’s voice when you called up with a good question, and there was an even more seductive sense of power in knowing that anyone who wanted to know where the Kansas City Royals stood in the American League Western Division standings or the latest quote on that hot stock they bought or which of their neighbors had recently been arrested had to pony 50 cents for the latest copy of whatever we decided to print. For all their cocksure predictions about the dire future that others were inflicting on the world the titans of journalism never saw the cataclysm that was coming in their own industry, and most still refuse to acknowledge it even as they preside over the death throes of the once-grand institutions they somehow inherited. Technological change was a contributing factor, but just as important was a failure by those titans of journalism to recognize that they could no longer suppress any facts that were not to their liking.
That was another change in journalism, and one that the new technology was required to fix. In an era prior to Tina Brown the solitary fellow in the sock-like apartment putting out each new revelation that no one else would publish was a heroic figure than an object of ridicule, and Drudge would have been considered fitting because of the drudgery that is always involved in getting at the truth. That was an era when journalism was expected to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” an old cliché that journalists still spout when they’ve had a few too many to realize how very ridiculous it now sounds, and we doubt that Tina Brown would have found it any more comfortable than these changing times.

— Bud Norman