The Death of a Dictator, and Perhaps His Dictatorship

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro at long last died on Friday, and this time it seems to be for good. His death had been rumored and even reported numerous times over the years, but the Cuban government has now acknowledged the fact, and it’s now safe to raise a toast with a Cuba Libre.
Castro seized power in Cuba on New Year’s Day in the year of our birth, then almost immediately started the mass executions and police state tactics that turned his lovely island nation into a hellish gulag, and has been a persistent problem to us and the rest of the world ever since. Our first inkling of how very scary the world can be came when he nearly provoked a cataclysmic global war by inviting the Soviet Union to plant nuclear missiles in his country, and he helped continue that constant threat through a long Cold War by sending soldiers and saboteurs to foment communist revolutions throughout South America and Africa. Even after the demise of the Soviet Union he continued to impose a dictatorship on his country, and to exert an insidious influence on politics everywhere.
Of course he had his apologists and admirers on the left here, who long agitated for normalizing diplomatic and economics relations with Cuba and eventually elected a president who would pursue that course. They touted the high literacy rates and universal access to excellent health care supposedly found in Cuba, cheered the same anti-democratic “peoples movements” that Castro supported around the world, and made the usual excuses for the murderous brutality and totalitarian suppression of fundamental human rights that came along with it. We’ve long been skeptical about those literacy rates and pristine hospitals, and been convinced by better proof about the nastiness of Castro’s regime. Over the years we kept reading about Cubans tying inner tubes together or turning bicycles and styrofoam boxes into paddle-driven boats to try to get the 90 miles or so from Cuba to the United States, although we can’t ever reading about anyone taking such extreme measures to get Cuba, and we’ve known enough of the fine people who somehow escaped to productive lives in America to believe their corroborating stories.
Over our years of newspaper reading presidents and prime ministers and popes and pop stars have come and gone, but the Castro name has kept popping up. Fidel’s brother Raul still clings to dictatorial power in Cuba, so we suppose we’ll keep seeing it for a while, but there’s always a chance that cult of personality that has largely propped up the dictatorship will pass along with the personality. There’s a new president in the United States, too, and he’s talking admirably tough about how very bad Castro had been, but he was also talking deals back in the campaign days, so perhaps that’s just a negotiating tactic to get himself and Michael Corleone and Hyman Roth a good casino deal.
We’ll hope for the best. Cuba has a glorious musical and culinary and literary and religious tradition that speaks to something profoundly joyful at the heart of its culture, but it also has an almost unbroken history of bad government. At the moment America hardly seems in any condition to instruct them on the matter of good government, and the Cuban people are going to have to assert the best of themselves if their condition is to improve, but at least the task should be easier without Fidel Castro around.

— Bud Norman

Pizzagate and the Rest of the Post-Reality Show

The real news always takes time off for the holidays, so after a hearty Thanksgiving feast we took the opportunity to catch up on the latest conspiracy theories. At the moment the hot topic is “Pizzagate,” which by now involves not only Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama and other political power brokers but also such entertainment celebrities as Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, and perhaps even president-elect Donald Trump.
For those of you new to the scandal, the plot thus far is hard to explain. It all began with those e-mails that were hacked from Clinton crony John Podesta’s computer and released to the public through Wikileaks during the late stages of the recent presidential election. The mainstream sorts of presses reported with various degrees of enthusiasm on the infighting and conniving and other campaign hijinks that were revealed by the purloined missives, all of which was quite bad enough to deal another blow to Clinton’s already scandal-ridden candidacy, but meanwhile the more suspicious denizens of the internet were noticing the mention of a fashionably weird modern artist, along with frequent references to pizza and hot dogs and ping pong, and thus concluded that all the top Democrats were ritualistically raping and murdering kidnapped young children in the back room of a trendy District of Columbia pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong.
This may seem something of a leap of bad faith, but there are dozens of YouTube videos and internet postings out there to connect these seemingly unconnected dots. The fashionably weird artist is Marina Abramovic, who is little known to the general public but has won such reportedly prestigious art prizes as the Golden Lion at Venice with a performance art piece where she stares at random passersby as well as some rather crudely rendered and unmistakably morbid paintings, and one of the hacked e-mail has Podesta writing about his plans to attend of one of her “Spirit Cookings,” which the artist insists are just arty dinner parties but have elsewhere been rumored to be Luciferian rituals, so of course some concluded that the entire Clinton campaign was involved in a satanic conspiracy. Both the Clinton campaign and Obama had also held events at that trendy Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, too, and the e-mails had those frequent references to pizza and ping pong, so of course one would conclude that’s where all those satanic Democrats are ritualistically raping and murdering those kidnapped children.
As it turns out, “pizza” is apparently a code word in pedophile circles for sex with young girls, while “hot dog,” which is also mentioned in those Wikileaked e-mails, is code for sex with young boys, and “ping pong” also has some nefarious sexual connotation or another. We’re told that pedophiles also use a symbol with two intertwined hearts that vaguely resembles the crossed-ping-pong-paddles symbol that appears on the Comet Ping Pong menu, which also features the slogan “Play, Eat, Drink,” the capital letters of which spells “Ped,” as in pedophile, and what more proof does one need that Clinton and Obama and the rest of the cabal are raping and murdering children in the joint’s back room? Throw in the fact that the pizzeria’s owner is a professed homosexual who once had a relationship with David Brock, who was once part of the “vast right wing” conspiracy that tried to bring the Clinton family down way back in the Whitewater days but has long since been running pro-Clinton organizations such as MediaMatters, and that GQ magazine once flattered the owner as an influential Washingtonian, and that his name sounds vaguely like the French for “I love children,” along with some admittedly strange photographs of children on his social media sites, as well as some others than are more easily explained, and it’s no wonder that he and his chefs and waiters and busboys and an allegedly Jewish punk rock band that once played there have lately been receiving death threats from all sorts of places.
Since this shocking story first broke some astute internet sleuths have also noticed that former wholesome Disney star and current tongue-wagging and breast-baring pop provocateur Miley Cyrus has frequently employed pizza imagery in her “tweets” and “instragrams” and other public pronouncements, so she’s obviously in on it as well. The immensely yet unaccountably popular rapper and announced 2020 presidential candidate Kanye West recently had a nervous breakdown in front of a huge audience, which included a widely replayed-on-video rant about why he would have voted for Trump if he had bothered to vote, and none of the video seems to include the part where some people on the internet swear he also talked about all that raping and murdering going on at Comet Ping Pong, so that missing footage and the fact that West is now under psychiatric care just goes to show how very far-reaching the conspiracy has become. By the time this plays out any number of celebrities are likely to be implicated, perhaps even that seemingly-nice Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, because after all he’s from Canada, where they make Canadian bacon, which is often used on pizza and surely has some sinister meaning known only to the innermost circles of the pedophile ring.
As crazy as it all sounds, it’s to be expected in such a crazy election year as this. By now we’ve reached such a point of political polarization that far too many Americans are not only willing but eager to believe the very worst you might allege about their political opponents, they not only disbelieve the more mainstream media but take the official disbelief about such matters as “pizzagate” as proof that they’re in on it as well, and both modern art and modern politics have reached such a sorry state that almost anything does seem plausible. The president-elect has peddled the conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Kenya, that President George W. Bush lied the country into a war with Iraq, intimated that a Republican primary rival’s father was involved in the assassination of President John Kennedy, heaped praise on the crazy-pants conspiracy-theorist InfoWars site, and predicted that a system “rigged” by unnamed bankers and globalists would deprive him of the presidency.
Such conspiracy-mongering helped Trump prevail in the election, but it’s not likely to help the former reality show star as he tries to cope with actual reality. Those unnamed bankers and globalists proved not quite powerful enough to deprive a boorish and oft-bankrupt casino-and-strip-club mogul of the presidency, he’s apparently mended fences with that Republican rival whose dad helped to kill Kennedy, is currently gushing over all the generals who helped Bush lie America into war in Iraq, he’s proudly put to rest all that nonsense he peddled about Obama being born in Kenya, and he’s now saying nice things about Clinton and promising to break his previous promise to have her locked up. He hasn’t yet been implicated in Pizzagate, although he probably has been photographed at some point eating pizza, but his recent reluctance to have Clinton locked up for all her satanic conspiracy shenanigans has already alarmed some of his erstwhile supporters, and his insistence that he can simultaneously run both a global business empire and the presidency seems likely to give rise to some relatively plausible conspiracy theories.
We once knew a fellow who was firmly convinced that George W. Bush had conspired to bring down the World Trade Center and blast a hole in the Pentagon and crash a jetliner into a Pennsylvania field in order to justify a war against an entirely peaceable Muslim world, along with any other satanic crime you might imagine, and seven years later he also believed that Obama was going to bring about hope and change and world peace and income equality and a constant climate on the earth, so when his ultimate hero failed to vanquish his ultimate villain it was quite confusing for him. When Trump fails to bring Obama and Clinton and all their modern art and modern politics friends to account for their satanic crimes it will be just as discombobulating to many of his fans, but the fact that the mainstream press is offering proof of his own conspiracies will probably convince them that he’s surely innocent.
The real news will probably be back by next Monday, and it should provide ample reason to hate all these people without resorting to satanic pedophile conspiracies. In the meantime, enjoy an extended weekend away from all of it.

— Bud Norman

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

An Era of Bad Feelings

President Barack Obama met with President-elect Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday, and by all accounts it was quite cordial. Trump, who spent much of the past eight years arguing that Obama was ineligible to hold the office by virtue of his foreign birth until conceding just a few weeks ago that he wasn’t born outside the country after all, emerged with kinds words for the president and a promise to frequently seek his counsel. Obama, who spent most of the past several months arguing that Trump should be ineligible for the presidency for reasons of intelligence, temperament and character, promised to provide whatever help he could to make his successor a success.
Not everyone, though, was so civil. Riots have broken out in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon, protests of various size and degrees of civility are happening all across the country, there’s been a nationwide outbreak of graffiti and vandalism, and activists are promising that it will increase in the coming days. The late night comics and the big time columnists are grousing about the election, “not my president” is the hot new “hashtag,” and all sorts of people are expressing their dissatisfaction in all sorts of ways. The front lawn of a house next door to our neighborhood coffee shop has sprouted a hand-lettered “not my president” sign, which we noticed as we sat outside and sipped some java on a warm fall afternoon with a couple of seemingly shell-shocked old friends and third old friend who was relieved that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had lost but not noticeably happy about Trump winning.
This sort of thing happens every four years, of course, but in this crazy election year the feelings are palpably more intense and seem likely to linger far longer than usual. Several cities around the country had already endured a year of riots in response to police shootings of civilians, even during a presidential administration reflexively biased against the officers involved, and the “Black Lives Matter” movement that has prompted the rioting surely won’t be any less belligerent with an administration that has promised to be reflexively biased in favor of law enforcement. Various sorts of left-wing thugs were assaulting Trump’s rally-goers and firebombing Republican Party headquarters and spray-painting everything in sight even before he won, and the results of an election are not likely to placate them. That segment of the self-described progressive movement prone to shutting down bridges and disrupting downtown traffic and scaring the tourists away from the shopping districts found plenty to do even during the progressive administration they had all campaigned for, and we expect that an administration they campaigned against will keep them even busier. Some people look for excuses to engage in their hobby of civil disobedience, and they’ll no doubt find a constant supply of them in the coming years.
Should the anti-Trump movement reach anywhere near the level of violence and mayhem of the anti-Vietnam War protests of the ’60s we expect that the president will be eager to deliver some of that ’60s style law and order he talked about during the campaign, and like all arson sprees it will eventually burn itself out, but a more peaceable anger will continue to smolder. Votes are still being counted somewhere, for some reason, but as of this writing Clinton still has a slight lead in the popular vote totals, with well more than half of the electorate voting for someone other than Trump, and if you add in the large number of people who didn’t vote at all it’s a landslide number of Americans who didn’t vote for him, and of those who did vote for him we estimate that about half are like our kaffeeklatsch pal who did so only because he thought Clinton would be even worse, so that’s a lot of dissatisfied people. Given Trump’s proudly pugnacious style of dealing with criticism, we don’t anticipate another Era of Good Feelings.
One must admit, though, that Trump has been on his best behavior since the election was called in his favor. His victory speech was conspicuously lacking in any of the chest-thumping that followed every primary win, and even included some kind words for the opponent he had repeatedly promised to put behind bars. The remarks after meeting the president he had so long claimed was illegitimately elected were uncharacteristically gracious, and apparently he was even civil during a meeting with Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who was also the subject of angry “tweets” and veiled threats during the campaign. He did send his first “Tweet” as President-elect to complain “professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very Unfair!,” but at least he didn’t promise some sort of nuclear retaliation against Oakland and Portland. One must also admit that both Clinton and Obama have been uncharacteristically classy about what must surely be a bitter loss, and some of the chattering classes are also chipping in some begrudging bi-partisan best wishes.
That sort of thing happens every four years, however, and it never lasts for very long. After this crazy election  year it should dissipate more quickly than usual. Trump can’t stay gracious any longer than Clinton or Obama can keep classy, and the most hard-core fans on both sides can be a most ungraciousness and classless bunch, and we’re certain it’s going to make for an ugly four years. Those of us who can’t stand any of them will continue to add our sneers and snark, too, but we’ll try our best to propose something as an alternative, and promise that at least we won’t be rioting or setting anything on fire or otherwise delaying your drive home from work.

— Bud Norman

Hope, Change, Making America Great Again, and Deja Vu All Over Again

A certain sense of deja vu pervaded our Wednesday, which recalled a similarly sunny but cool fall day just eight short years ago. We vividly remember how a charismatic but otherwise unqualified candidate had won the presidency with a vague set of proposals and a cult of personality, replacing a president of the opposition and joined by majorities of his own party in both chambers of Congress, and how there was much optimism among so many of our friends that a new era of hope and change had commenced.
Eight years later all the hope has changed to bitter disappointment, which has given way to a charismatic but unqualified candidate of the opposition with a very different set of vague proposals and an even more markedly different cult of personality, but he’s also got majorities in both chambers of Congress, and some of our very different sorts of friends are optimistically talking about making American great again. Maybe this time they’ll be right, but we sense the same sort of pride that always goeth before a fall.
When Barack Obama became president with Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House and Harry Reid as the Senate majority leader, and a squishy Supreme Court as the only remaining impediment to their power, the Democrats were unbearably cocky about it. Their more effusive cheerleaders were predicting 40 years of unbridled power, with the Republicans going the way of the Whigs, and utopia surely awaiting at the end of it. The president who had questioned his predecessor’s patriotism for running up half-trillion dollar deficits immediately started running full-trillion-plus dollar deficits with much of it wasted on a “stimulus package” of infrastructure spending that didn’t stimulate anything except the housing prices in the swelling D.C. suburbs. They also passed a radical re-making of the entire health care sector of the economy without a single Republican vote, promising that people who liked their doctor could keep their doctor and that the average family would save $2,500 a year and not a single dime would be added to those swelling deficits, all of which the Republicans refuted and would later prove to be utter balderdash. On the foreign policy front they immediately reneged on a missile defense promise to the Poles and Czechs, a token of their sincere desire to “reset” relations with the Russians, sold out the anti-communists of Latin America by backing a Marxist coup in Honduras, and traveled the Islamic world apologizing for anything that the United States might have said or done to provoke its 1,600-year-old jihad against the west, none of which has made the world any more peaceful.
After just two years of such nonsense the Republicans arose like a phoenix from the ash bin of history to re-take the House, added to their filibustering minority in the Senate, and had a grassroots “Tea Party” movement urging an ever more confrontational stand. They overplayed their hand enough to help Obama win reelection against a vastly more qualified but easily caricatured Republican nominee in ’12, but the Republicans held their House majority and by ’14 once again controlled the Senate, along with the biggest number of governorships and state legislatures since the days of Harding and Coolidge, which slowed if not stopped the Democratic agenda. That health care makeover was still veto-proof but at least didn’t expand, the debt continued to grow but the deficits were reduced back to those half-trillion figures of the preceding administration, the administration proceeded with an utterly ridiculous deal with the Iranians regarding their nuclear weapons ambitions but didn’t dare call it a treaty and thus settled for an executive action that could be more easily by repealed by a future Republican administration, and Democratic attempts at gun control and illegal immigration reform were also thwarted and the Democrats once again had to settle for more easily-revoked executive actions.
This wasn’t nearly confrontational enough for the more fervid “Tea Party” types, who were constantly telling one another via talk radio that the damned Republicans had just rolled over and given Obama everything he wanted, which came as quite as surprise to Obama and all the other National Public Radio listeners who were always hearing about the Republican’s stubborn obstructionism, so in ’16 they went with a candidate so impeccably anti-establishment candidate he promised to destroy both the Democrats and any Republicans who had ever had anything to with them. Donald Trump was a longtime Democrat and generous contributor to Democratic causes until recently, and had often spoken in favor of a Canadian-style “single payer” health insurance system or even an entirely socialized British-style of medicine, and his signature protectionist trade policies were pretty much the same as the Democratic party’s self-described socialist challenger and portended a similar desire to meddle even further in the rest of the economy, and he was promising to double his Democratic rival’s supposedly stimulative spending on infrastructure, and he was far friendlier to the Russkies and even more hostile to America’s allies than Obama, and just four years ago was criticizing the Republican nominee’s sensible enforcement policy on illegal immigration “cruel,” and he didn’t seem to know much about a whole lot of things, but that just proved he wasn’t one of those know-it-all establishment types who had supposedly proved so spineless. He was rude and crude and quick to pick pointless fights, but that only endeared to him Republicans who had endured eight years of Obama and were eager for confrontation for its own sake.
The anger Trump eagerly embraced made for a very different sort of cult of personality than the hippy-dippy peace-and-love and hope-and-change mantra of the Obama acolytes just eight years earlier, but it has the same indifference to careful consideration of objective facts or the possibility of political compromise, and looks just as likely to overreach. It comes into power along with majorities in both chambers of Congress, and hopefully with a less squishy Supreme Court as well, and we’re sure that the Democrats will soon regret that it’s also empowered by the last eight years of precedents on executive action.
Those supposedly insufficiently confrontational congressional Republicans did force Obama to resort to those executive actions, and we look forward to seeing their unappreciated work rewarded when a putatively Republican president easily undoes them, but we wonder if they’ll bother to resist any extra-constitutional executive actions a president putatively of their own party makes, and we dread seeing what they’ll be. Trump’s plan to cut taxes and increase spending on infrastructure and the military not touch any of the entitlements that take up the lion’s share of federal spending, not to mention his past statements about government-paid health care for everyone, aren’t likely to help with that debt problem that gave rise to the “Tea Party” movement that fueled the rise of Trump, and we’ll be interested to see how many of those Republican congressman who ran on that very issue will mount a dissent.
Throw in the very real possibility that Trump actually meant a lot of that crazy talk he spewed during the campaign about renegotiating the national debt and slapping 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods and not honoring our military treaty obligations, as well as the very real possibility that the Republican congressmen that the more fervent “Tea Party” types have long derided as spineless will accede to it, along with the certainty that the majority of the country that didn’t vote for Trump will be nurturing their own grievances and honing their own readiness for confrontation, and we can well imagine that the next mid-term elections with also have a certain sense of deja vu about it.

— Bud Norman

On the Strange Confluence of the Philippines and the American Presidential Race

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is making an issue of America’s rapidly deteriorating relationship with the Philippines, as any old Republican nominee would, but at this point in such a crazy election year as this it is unlikely to do him any good.
At first glance the issue seems tailor-made for any old Republican’s faltering campaign. The president of a longtime and still-essential Asian ally travels to China to renounce all military and economic ties with the United States, declares an ominous alliance with China and Russia “against the world,” while an incumbent Democratic administration that has spent nearly eight years alienating allies and appeasing enemies is once again clearly caught off-guard, so the Republican rhetoric should pretty much write itself. That defecting president’s pull-out quote about how “America has lost” plays right in with the Republican nominee’s campaign theme that America never wins anymore, too, so it should have been at least enough to push those pesky groping allegations off the front page for a day or two. In such a crazy election year as this, though, it’s a more complicated matter.
For one thing, it’s not quite clear that the Philippines has actually renounced its relationship with the United States or embarked on a new one with China and Russia. President Rodrigo Duterte apparently has, despite some recent backtracking, but he’s only the president of the Philippines and has constitutionally limited authority, and the rest of the government and most of the country have a markedly different opinion that might yet prevail. There’s been an anti-American strain in Filipino politics ever since the United States reluctantly found itself an occupying power in the aftermath of the Spanish-American war, which of course involved some unpleasantness, but that ended centuries of Spanish colonial rule that were far more heavy-handed, and America was eager to quickly hand over power to a sovereign democracy, which was soon conquered by Japanese invaders who were the worst yet, with the Americans coming to the rescue, albeit for somewhat self-interested reasons, and since then the big threat has been the Chinese who had also ruthlessly ruled the country before the Spanish kicked them out, so for the most part Filipinos are kindly inclined toward Americans and the $24 billion dollars of business they with them each year. Indeed, even after nearly eight years of the Obama administration America’s approval rating in the Philippines is higher than anywhere in Europe, Asia, South America, or even the United States itself.
As much as we’d love to blame the estrangement on the Obama administration and both of its godawful Secretaries of State, whose brusque treatment of such longtime allies as the Czechs and Poles and British and Canadians and Australians and Israelis and anti-communist Hondurans and obsequious gestures toward Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood has given the whole world reason to question whether American friendship is worth much or American animosity risks anything, we have to admit that this Duterte character is more at fault. He was elected by the Filipino people in a fit of anti-establishment pique last May, after a populist “Philippines First” campaign that featured him bragging about his penis size, and has since been making all sorts of inexplicable trouble for the country. He instituted “law and order” policy that has killed hundreds of suspected but unproved dealers, called the American president a “son of a whore” for threatening to ask about it at an Asian summit, used the same term to describe Pope Francis over some dispute or another, repeatedly praised the strong leadership of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, threatened his many media critics with official retribution, and publicly regretted that he wasn’t “first in line” for the 1989 gang rape of an Australian missionary.
If this reminds you of anybody be assured that even such anti-Trump publications as Time Magazine and The Guardian have told their readers that the Republican nominee is no Duterte, both noting that the Filipino actually has a long record of political service, and even such anti-Trump sorts as ourselves will admit that Trump hasn’t proposed death squads to deal with the drug problem and that even his most outrageous shtick on the Howard Stern show doesn’t rise to the level of that gang-rape gag. Still, there are sufficient similarities, right down to the boasts about penis size and the feuds with the Pope and the bromance with Putin, to give any voters in a fit of anti-establishment pique some pause. Duterte and his renunciation of longstanding treaty obligations would provide a good talking to almost any old Republican presidential nominee, but in this crazy election year Trump also has other problems exploiting the issue.
Almost any old Republican nominee could hammer the Obama administration and that godawful first Secretary of State who is somehow the Democratic nominee over their reckless policy of alienating allies and appeasing foes, which surely has something to do with Duterte’s latest craziness, but Trump is in poor position to do so. He has declared the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “obsolete” and threatened to leave it for a younger, hotter alliance unless they agree to his financial conditions, suggested that Japan and North Korea might need to acquire nuclear weapons rather than rely on the under-paid American umbrella, given the same suggestion to Saudi Arabia, and generally made clear that the entire Pax Americana is going to be re-negotiated or altogether abandoned no matter the outcome of the upcoming election, so at this point we can hardly blame any ally or foe who plans accordingly.
Besides, most Americans have only the vaguest idea that there is a Philippines, and no idea who Rodrigo Duterte is, and they’re rightfully suspicious about why the Philippines is spelled with a “Ph” but Filipinos use an “F,” and there are more pressing concerns about the populist Republican nominee’s hand size and you-know-what-means and his own foul language and verbal feud with the Pope and how very awful that Democratic nominee is. This latest news from the Philippines is bad for everyone, both major party nominees for the presidency included, and we’ll just have to see how badly it plays out.

— Bud Norman

An Election Year Impervious to Bad Press

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has been getting a lot of bad press lately, even by Republican president nominee standards, and by now it’s almost to a point where even such avid news readers as ourselves can hardly keep up. The bad press doesn’t seem to be having the the same effect it had on Republican presidential nominees in past election years, however, so it remains to be seen if the latest spate of stories will do any lasting damage.
The most recent round of stories have concerned many of the cast and crew and production staff of Trump’s long-running and highly-rated reality show “The Apprentice” testifying to his vulgar and sexist behavior, but at this late date in the race his vulgarity and sexism are already old news.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has by now spent millions airing aids that include the audio and video and print interviews where the thrice-married and boastfully adulterous former strip club owner has disparaged women’s appearances, joked about how you have to “treat ’em like “s**t,” and laughingly admitted he had no respect for women, among numerous other objectionable statements. With sources ranging from his appearances on Howard Stern’s shock jock to his time on Republican presidential debate stages, the record of vulgarity and sexism is hard for even his most fervent supporters to deny. Just four years ago the press was able to use an inadvertent and inoffensive allusion to “binders full of women” to convince much of the public that such a gentlemanly sort as Mitt Romney was an incorrigible sexist, even though he was perusing those binders to find qualified women for state government positions while he was governor of Massachusetts, but this time around they’re somehow finding it harder to stoke the same outrage.
Many of Trump’s most fervent supporters seem to relish the vulgarity and sexism, his more reluctant supporters can rightly note that Clinton’s husband is similarly vulgar and sexist and has always enjoyed her ruthless support, and even the most vaguely informed and still undecided are well aware that the Democrats and their press allies always say the Republican presidential nominee is vulgar and sexist. Trump was already polling poorly among women in general and most worrisomely song college-educated Republican women in particular, so his on-the-record rants have had some effect, but the added testimonials of some reality show co-stars seem unlikely to exacerbate the damage.
Just four years ago Democratic minority leader Sen. Harry Reid was able to harm the electoral chances of the scrupulously honest Romney’s reputation by flat-out lying that the Republican nominee had paid no income taxes for a couple of years, but this time around Trump will likely be unscathed by his apparent boasts that he’s been dodging a tax bill for a couple of decades. The flap started in the first presidential debate when Clinton was making the predictable arguments Trump being the first nominee from either party in the past 40 years who hasn’t divulged his tax records, and speculating that one reason might be that it would reveal he’s paid no taxes despite his much boasted-about wealth, to which Trump responded “that makes me smart.” Since then The New York Times has been reporting that leaked income tax information reveals Trump reported a $915 million loss back in ’95, which entitled him to 18 tax free years according to the convoluted tax code, and happily implied that Trump had taken full advantage of the opportunity. Trump hasn’t denied either the factual truth or implied speculations of the story, and instead has bragged further about his savvy understanding of the convoluted tax code, so we’ll leave the reader to draw his own conclusions about the veracity of The Times’ reporting and implications.
This time around, though, we don’t expect the truth will do so manage as the lies did the last time around. No one in America pays a penny more in taxes than that convoluted tax code requires, not Hillary Clinton or The New York Times or any of its reporters or even such self-righteously disgruntled Republicans as ourselves, so we can’t imagine any vaguely informed and still undecided voters holding it against him if he kept all his ill-begotten earnings to himself.
Trump is even claiming he had a fiduciary duty to his stock holders and employees and creditors to do so, and although we can’t think of any reason they should care what he paid on his personal taxes, and can more easily imagined why they’re probably more peeved about all the bills he’s shorted them on, so we don’t expect any vaguely informed and still undecideds will stop to think about that at all. He’s also claiming that such a shrewd fellow as himself understands that convoluted tax code better than anyone else, and how it’s used by greedy billionaires such as himself to dodge their fair share of the burden and shift it onto such suckers as yourself, which does have a certain populist appeal, even if his current tax plan does nothing to stop it and none of his ever-shifting opinions on the topic have once proposed a fairer solution. Still, we doubt the vaguely informed and still undecided will notice any of that, while Trump’s more reluctant supporters will glumly and rightly protest that Clinton and her perv husband once took a write-off on the underwear they donated to charity and are just as bad, as they are in all things, and we can’t see the poll number nudging in either direction as a result of this big story. There remains the presently undisputed fact that Trump somehow managed to lose $916 million in a single year, which in past years would have called into question his constant boasts about bringing his remarkable business acumen to at long last saving our deep-in-debt federal government, but this time around The New York Times has buried that tidbit six column inches under the lead paragraph, and Trump’s more reluctant supporters can rightly note how very suspiciously rich Clinton has become in the public service sector.
The Washington Post is gleefully reporting that the New York Attorney General has now shut down Trump’s charitable foundation, which has been the subject of at least three scandals they’ve already reported involving tax-dodging and and personal profit and no contributions for many years from the eponymous philanthropist, but the vaguely informed and still undecided probably won’t read about it, and if they do their reluctant Trump supporter friends can glumly and quite rightly recite all the scandals about Clinton’s phony-baloney pay-to-play “family foundation,” which they’ll have to glumly admit Trump once financially supported. It’s tawdry stuff, all around, but once again unlikely to nudge the polls in either direction.
There’s so much more going on that even such avid news readers as ourselves are hard-pressed to keep up with it, but the benefit of the more vaguely informed and still undecided among you the gist of it seems to be that both Trump and Clinton are every bit as awful as you already knew from the past few decades of occasionally paying attention. It’s enough to make us nostalgic for the last time around, when the press had to work hard to suggest that the Republican nominee was a vulgar sexist and the Democrats had to flat-out lie that he was a tax-dodger and neither candidate was making an issue of the other’s blissfully boring sex life.

— Bud Norman

Hollywood Hearts Hillary, Sort of

By now it’s a quadrennial rite of Hollywood for all the most fashionable show biz folks to film one of those commercials where they take turns standing in front of a blank background to finish one another’s sentences about the pressing need to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee. This year’s offering is disappointing even by Hollywood’s recent standards, and suggests that even celebrities are feeling disappointed in this crazy election year.
The standing-in-front-of-a blank-background-extolling-a-Democrat genre began back in the heady “Hope and Change” days of Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, and featured a hope-y and change-y hip-hop soundtrack complete with samples of Obama’s soaring oratory and rapturous chants of “Obama, Obama” from some seemingly heavenly choir, and was all about the utopia of economic prosperity and racial harmony and world peace that would surely be realized after a mere eight years of Obama administrations. Even after Obama’s victory, a bunch of celebrities felt compelled to take their turns in front of a blank screen pledging their allegiance to the new leader and promising to support local school banks and volunteer more time to charity and not give the finger to other drivers and buy a hybrid and oppose slavery laugh more and other causes that were fashionable back in those more hopeful days.
Both efforts struck us as downright hilarious at the time, and seem all the more ridiculous in hindsight, and the latest reboot of the series seems to acknowledge that things have not worked out as promised. This time around the message isn’t that another four or perhaps eights of a Democrat in the White House will deliver utopia slightly behind schedule, but that the alternative is simply too horrible to contemplate. The video doesn’t mention either of the major party nominees by name, but the celebrities refer to “a racist, abusive coward who could permanently damage the fabric of our society,” and worry about “giving nuclear weapons to a man whose signature move is firing things,” with the word “firing” repeated by several more celebrities, and at that point we assume even the average Hollywood celebrity would know they were talking about the Republican nominee. There weren’t even the vaguest allusions to the Democratic nominee, though, much less any promises of hope and change.
The latest effort is disappointing on purely cinematic levels, as well. It doesn’t have the arty black-and-white look and hip-hop hipness of that ’08 entry, or the star power of that “pledge allegiance to Barack” video in ’09, which at least included a few faces we recognized. Not to mention that annoying finishing-one-another’s-sentences thing, which the “Portlandia” show had already satirically suggested as a way to full employment. There is a slightly endearing self-effacing joke about how nobody’s really that famous anymore, except perhaps for those two unmentioned major party nominees, and whoever these people are we have to admit that some of them are rather good-looking, but we can’t imagine any discerning cinephile falling for it. Today’s young folks didn’t grow up on the afternoon and late-night old movies, though, can’t remember when movie stars where movies stars, and therefore aren’t very discerning, so perhaps they’re the intended audience for this dreck.
We’ve noticed a couple of polls that that show Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton barely topping 30 percent among the under-30 set, but have Republican nominee Donald Trump in third place behind Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and just slightly ahead of Green Party nominee Jill Stein. This demographic cohort might well be spooked by the possibility of a racist and abusive coward with a penchant for firing things getting the nuclear codes, and they probably even know who these celebrities are, so maybe Hollywood will have some effect. We share all their concerns about the nominee Republican, but also have equal concerns about that Democratic nominee that Hollywood doesn’t dare mention, and we guess we’ll have to await the video from Scott “Chachi” Baio and Ted “Motor City Madman” Nugent and all the “Celebrity Apprentice” celebrities pledging allegiance to the unmentionable Republican nominee to finally decide why we’re not voting for any of those four.

— Bud Norman

La Commedia e Finita

The longstanding debate about President Barack Obama’s birthplace is now over, or at least so declares Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump. After more than five years of making public insinuations that Obama was born in Kenya and thus constitutionally ineligible to be president, Trump on Friday told his usual throng of adoring supporters and skeptical reporters that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
Trump’s 30-second-or-so comments came more than 20 minutes into a news conference that his campaign had promised would include a “major announcement” on the issue of Obama’s birthplace, during which time all the cable news networks had been snookered into airing a commercial for the fancy new Trump hotel down the street from the White House and some glowing testimonials from a group of decorated military veterans, and all his adoring supporters considered that a shrewd manipulation of the media. Many of the media even admitted as much, but we suspect those suckered and now all-the-more-skeptical reporters and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were willing trade that 20 minutes of little-watched infomercial for a chance to spend much of the weekend reminding the public that Trump had for years peddled a crackpot conspiracy theory he now admits was bunk all along.
The Washington Post even headlined one of its many stories “For Democrats, a fresh chance to remind voters of Trump’s role in ‘birtherism,‘” and all the big papers and all those snookered cable news networks clearly reveled in re-telling the embarrassing tale. Although the “birther” theory about Obama’s Kenyan birth had been rattling around the far reaches of the internet going back to his run for the Senate, and was occasionally mentioned in the more mainstream press during his primary race against Clinton during his first presidential campaign, it didn’t gain wide currency until Trump started taking time off from his “Apprentice” reality show to champion the cause. In “tweets” and appearances on talk shows cited he noted how “many people are saying” that Obama was foreign-born, and that “credible sources” were insisting, and even that he had dispatched a team of crack investigators to Hawaii and that “they can’t believe what they’re finding,” and he also expressed his own suspicions, although he was always careful never to come out and say he’d reached any conclusion. Now that he acknowledges Obama was born in America, period, Trump probably should be embarrassed.
Trump being Trump, though, he was instead quite proud of himself for putting that distracting and needlessly media-created controversy to rest by forcing the president to release his birth certificate. “Hillary Clinton started it,” Trump proclaimed, “and I finished it.” Both claims were widely ridiculed over the weekend, probably with various degrees of effectiveness.
All the so-called “fact-checkers” have rated the claim that “Clinton started it” a lie, and from our pox-on-both-their-houses objectivity we’ll more or less agree. When the “birther” claims were being occasionally mentioned during that long-ago primary a low-level and unpaid Clinton campaign staffer was fired for touting the story to reporters, but we’d hate to hold a traditional Republican presidential campaign to such a high standard of accountability. More recently the McClatchy chain of newspapers, which bought out the chain of newspapers we once worked for and is now responsible for our pension, is reporting that the longtime Clinton family consigliere Sid “Vicious” Blumenthal was touting the story so convincingly that the chain even sent a couple of reporters to Kenya to check it out, and no one familiar with Blumenthal would put it past him, but it’s also plausible he did it on his own. In any case, Clinton herself never talked or “tweeted” about it, and it all seemed to go away after that low-level and unpaid staffer was fired, and it was certainly never brought up by her during the years she served as Obama’s Secretary of State.
None of those gleeful mainstream press stories mention it, but we’ll also add that Obama also bears some responsibility for the conspiracy theory. The publishers of best-selling and vastly overrated “Dreams From My Father” memoir claimed he was born in Kenya in their promotional materials, which Obama didn’t correct until well into his presidency, and his campaign emphasized his Madrassa education in Indonesia and his fond memories of the Muslim call to prayers and his paternal Kenyan roots and otherwise cosmopolitan background, and he did take his sweet time releasing his birth certificate, all sorts of educational and passport records remain unreleased to this day. The ensuing seven and more-than-a-half years of Obama foreign policy have only exacerbated suspicions about his philosophical if not legal status Americanism, and his sympathies for Islam if not his fully-fledged allegiance to the religion.
Rather than make those make those reasonable arguments about Obama’s foreign policy, though, Trump naturally preferred to question Obama’s legal status as an American and leave his supporters claims that Obama is a Muslim unchallenged. There are plenty of reasonable arguments to be made against any of the Clinton family, too, but rather than limiting himself to that ample supply of ammo he’s talked about how some people are talking the quite unproved claim that they offed Vince Foster. We suppose there were also arguments to be made against the presidential candidacy of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, but Trump chose to draw attention to a preposterous National Enquirer story about how Cruz’s father was in on the John F. Kennedy assassination. In a bipartisan spirit he’s also embraced the Bush Lied, People Died theory of the Iraq War, made numerous appearances on the Alex Jones’ “InfoWars” show that long asserted the Sept. 11 terror attacks were an inside job, and suggested that everything from the recent Democratic primary to the upcoming general election is “rigged.”
Before Trump is allowed to get on with the business of making America great, the Democrats and their allies in the media are entitled note that he has a long history of peddling crackpot conspiracy theories, and that it is not a desirable trait in a president. Trump and his supporters are also entitled to note how very Clinton is, and from our pox-on-both-their-houses perch we won’t disagree with the most of it, but after this weekend they’ll likely be less credible in the effort. Even if Trump did finally put that crackpot conspiracy theory to rest, except for those corners of the internet that will continue to insist and insist that Trump is right about everything.

— Bud Norman

Your Candidates For Commander-in-Chief, Alas

While President Barack Obama was making another stop on his diplomatic trip to the Far East Wednesday, his would-be successors were appearing on the MSNBC cable network’s “Commander in Chief Forum,” with both spending a half-hour or so answering a series of questions about defense and foreign policy from the National Broadcasting Company’s Matt Lauer and selected members of a an audience comprised mostly of military veterans. None of it, needless to say, was at all reassuring.
A dear friend’s 70th birthday party and a principled lack of cable access kept us from watching the event live, but thanks to the modern miracle of YouTube we were able to watch all the grilling of both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and without commercial interruption at that. We can’t recommend you do, though, as the lack of direct confrontation between the candidates made for rather dreary viewing.
An unfavorable coin toss determined that Clinton would be given the first half-hour, ending that remarkable 6-for-6 coin-flipping streak that helped her win the Iowa caucus, and her bad luck didn’t end there. She had a well-crafted introductory statement about her long experience in foreign affairs as a First Lady and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Secretary of State, and how it has honed her judgment, but that just walked right into Lauer’s first question about that unindexed and yet ongoing e-mail scandal of hers. She had a well-rehearsed answer acknowledging that it had been a mistake to use a private server for many of e-mail communications, insisted she had used only the government server for anything with a “header” indicating it was classified. She clearly hoped that no one would know that much classifiable information was coming to her attention before it could be classified, and that someone with better judgment would have treated it as such, and that there are plenty of other holes in her story. Alas, the next audience member was an Air Force veteran whose work had required security clearances, and who was convinced that he would have been jailed for the actions Clinton has now admitted, so she had to run through yet another variation on the same unconvincing lines.
Lauer then asked about Clinton’s vote as a senator in favor of the Iraq War, which is by now such an unpopular affair that the Republican nominee is bragging that he had always opposed it and that George W. Bush had lied the country into the mess. Clinton once again apologized for the vote, and rightly noted that Trump’s claims to have been opposed all along are completely baseless, then made a plausible argument that her willingness to admit and learn from mistakes has improved her judgment. Although still on the defensive she seemed to be punching back at that point, but the next question was about that awful deal the Obama administration struck with the Iranians on their nuclear weapons programs.
Clinton first noted about how she had worked to impose harsh sanctions on the Iranian government, without acknowledging that the sanctions had begun under the previous administration, then boasted that had succeeded in forcing Iran to the negotiating table. Given the worse-than-Nevill-Chamberlain sort of appeasement that resulted from the negotiations this hardly seems a success, but at least the worst of the deal was finalized by her successor as Secretary of State. She’ll be very tough in enforcing that awful package of appeasement, Clinton assured the audience, and she also talked tough about Iran’s many other outrages, and we had a certain sense that she was trying to put at least some distance between herself and the Obama administration.
There was also talk about the sorry state of the Veterans Administration, which Clinton can’t be readily blamed for and which she seemed plenty outraged about, and when asked to explain her policy toward the Islamic State “as briefly as you can” she sounded very hawkish even as she promised there would be no ground troops in either Iraq or Syria. She also talked about going after Islamic State leader Bagu al-Baghdadi, “just like we did with Osama bin Laden,” reminding the audience of the Obama administration’s biggest hit of the past seven-and-a-half-years, and finished with a vow to be tough on terrorism but making no promises to prevent it altogether.
Even Trump’s most media-averse admirers would be hard pressed to find fault with Lauer’s performance, which kept Clinton on the defensive through most of the interview. A more thorough interrogation about the e-mails would have required the hours that Republican congressional investigations spent on the matter, so we’ll also give Lauer some reluctant credit for compressing it into a few challenges about her most outrageous claims. Even Clinton’s most die-hard detractors would have to admit that she seemed quite feisty in her defense, however, with none of the coughing fits or fatigue or seizures or other afflictions that have lately been talked about all over the internet, and unless you’re already well aware of what she was talking there were no takeaway gaffes. We imagine that her most avid fans were well pleased with the performance, that her most disdainful detractors were not at all swayed, and that anyone in the undecided ranks would be waiting to hear what the Republican might say.
What the Republican had to say was hard to parse, as usual, but so far as we can tell it boiled down to him saying that everything was going to be great with him in charge, believe him. Asked what experiences he had to demonstrate the judgment to run America’s foreign he mentioned his vast business empire, which includes deals in countries overseas, some of which of are really taking advantage of the rest of the United States, believe him, so surely he could tell when it was necessary to put American military lives in harm’s way. He reiterated his lie that he was speaking out against the Iraq War before it was launched, citing an interview in GQ magazine that appeared about a year into the war as proof, and added that the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq was also a “total disaster.” Trump was asked about his well-known propensity to say outrageous things, and his own recent admission that he has occasionally chosen wrong words, and how that might affect his performance as a head of state, and Trump went on about how certain wrong words were needed to defeat all those more qualified Republican candidates that stood in his way to the nomination. He then mentioned his recent trip to Mexico, where he was respectfully greeted with diplomatic protocol and didn’t say anything to get him kicked out, then bragged that the trip had been so successful that some Mexican official who arranged the trip was fired due to the Mexican public’s ensuing outrage over the invitation.
Lauer revived an old Trump quote claiming to know more about the Islamic State than the American military’s generals did, and Trump noted that the generals have no been successful thus far, although he blamed Obama and Secretaries of State Clinton and John Kerry for the failure, and that there might well be an entirely different group of generals he’ll be dealing with that, and that they’ll be the types who won’t have MacArthur and Patton spinning in their graves. He even suggested that his secret plan for defeating the Islamic State will await the 30 days he’s giving the generals to come up with their own plan, and that their might might even be incorporated into his secret plan, but in any case it’s going to be a great plan, believe him.
Whatever that plan might turn out to be, be assured that if it amounts to any military action at all it’s going to include plenty of old-fashioned plunder. Trump has embraced the far-left’s chants about “Bush lied, people died,” but he clearly has no use for that “No blood for oil” slogan, and explained that “I’ve always said we shouldn’t be in there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil.” At this point Lauer made a rare interruption to ask how that might be accomplished, and Trump acknowledged that some people would be “left behind” to get the job done, and Lauer didn’t ask how many of these people there would be, or how many soldiers and airmen would be needed to protect them, much less the many hundreds of miles of pipelines and supply lines need for the project, not to mention the fallout from the inevitable worldwide outrage over the planet’s mightiest military power claiming waging openly proclaimed wars of plunder.
A woman who was introduced as a Democrat and a graduate of the first West Point class to include women got to ask a question about illegal immigrants being allowed in the military, seeming to favor the idea herself, and she got a big hand for that first woman West Pointer distinction, and with his usual keen sense of the crowd Trump said he would work with that. The next questions were about Russia, though, and not so easily handled.
Whatever concerns the people of Mexico or those unfortunate oil-rich lands currently held by the Islamic State might have about a Trump administration, the future of Russo-American relations look rosy indeed, believe him. Trump once again confidently predicted he would have “a good relationship with Putin, and a very good relationship with Russia,” again promised that “as long as he says good things about me, I’ll say good things about him,” protested an interjection by Lauer about the likelihood that Putin’s government hacked the Democratic National Committee by saying “nobody knows that for a fact,” lamented that Obama and Putin were photographed exchanging icy stares during the Group of 20 summit, and seemed sure he’d get a more respectful Air Force One greeting from the Russians than Obama got from the Chinese. Trump suggested a possible alliance with the Russians against the Islamic State, made no mention of Russia’s aggression in Georgia and the Ukraine and threats against much of the rest of the former Soviet empire, and when asked about such issues he said “it’s possible” that Putin will abandon his revanchist ambitions in the event of a Trump administration.
Trump was also asked about the VA, a problem he also cannot be credibly blamed for and is plenty outraged about, and he offered what seemed a sensible idea of providing vouchers for veterans to seek care in the private sector when waiting lines at the government-run doctor’s office became dangerously long. Clinton had scored some points with the veterans by opposing “privatization,” which according to the polls even scares veterans in this day and age, and we note that Trump took pains to insist his plan wasn’t “privatization.” We’d prefer a capitalist-minded Republican who’d embrace the term and make the compelling case for it, and there’s no better case to be made for it than government-run health care, but these days that’s too much to ask for. One of the last questions was about the large number of sexual-harassment charges being alleged in the military, and Trump was reminded of a “tweet” that read “What did these geniuses think when they put men and women together?,” and he defended it by saying “Many people say that.” He added that it was necessary to keep the military court system, and then later that we need to establish a military court system, and he did come out forthrightly in favor of imposing consequences for sexual assaults.
Lauer’s now being pilloried by the left for failing to press Trump on many of these statements, but from our never-Trump perspective on the right we’ll grudgingly concede that it would have been awful hard to compress all the questions into a mere half-hour. With about two-thirds of Clinton’s interview spent on the defensive we’ll have to kick our feet against the sand and lower our heads and say it seemed fair enough, all in all, and that the candidates had only themselves to blame.
Trump probably came out of it slightly better than even, poll-wise. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters got the the “take their oil” rhetoric they’ve come to expect, while Trump’s most die-hard opponents will glumly concede that at least he didn’t repeat his talk about the indiscriminate torture of detainees and the killing of their civilian relatives and the neo-con overreach of the past 16 years of American foreign policy, and the sensitive souls of the Huffington Post were even worried that might have seem slightly presidential to those who can’t spare the time to think through the implications of that “take their oil” policy. Most of Trump’s most disdainful opponents won’t bother with that, either, but in any case they’ll not be swayed.
Clinton and Trump will face each other head-to-head later this month, unless Clinton succumbs to fatal illness or Trump finds some scheduling or moderator issue as an excuse to dodge it, depending on which internet rumors you prefer to believer, and that might be more fun. At this point, though, we don’t expect it will be any more reassuring.

— Bud Norman