The Point of No Tax Return

President Donald Trump spent an early part of Sunday “tweeting,” as he does most mornings. He wished everyone a Happy Easter, which suited the occasion, and he boasted of a military build-up that is apparently somehow already underway, but mostly he seemed annoyed the previous day’s protests around the country demanding the release of his tax returns.
The first “tweet” once again recounted his “almost impossible” electoral college victory, then asked “Now Tax Returns are brought up again?” His second outburst suggested “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday, adding that “Election is over!” Both were composed before Trump got around to wishing the country a Happy Easter, so together they suggest the protestors at least succeeded in rankling the president.
Many of the protests were indeed small, and the election is indeed over, but Trump should nonetheless get used to it being brought up again and again. Although he did win electoral college victory Trump lost the popular, many of those who voted against him don’t have to be paid to show up somewhere and wave a sign and chant slogans about it, and Trump’s capitalized Tax Return is too tempting an issue for them to drop it. The protestors allies in Congress and many of the media don’t intend to, and Trump will need better “tweets” to counter their arguments.
Campaign issues don’t end with the campaigns, as Trump should know after the decades he continued to make the same criticisms and conspiracy theories about every president since Ronald Reagan throughout their terms, and there’s no apparent reason this one should. Although Trump is not required by law to disclose his tax returns, with or with capitalization, there are valid reasons that for the past forty years every presidential nominee has done so and solid majorities of the public have come to expect it. Those reasons are all the more valid when a president retains a global empire business that is bound to be affected by what the federal government does over the next four years, as this one does, another break from a longstanding informal agreement that there are also valid reasons for, and which is also something that Trump’s critics can be expected to keep bringing up.
Worse yet, it’s hard to concoct a convincing argument for why Trump doesn’t release his tax returns. The sorts of Trump supporters who don’t need convincing will accept the stated reason that he’s under audit, even though that doesn’t prevent him from making his returns public, and shouldn’t put him in any sort of legal jeopardy, but eventually Trump will need to persuade some more skeptical sorts. His more stubborn apologists point out the educational records and other documents that Obama declined to release, and note that Democrats didn’t seem to mind that lack of transparency, but of course those supporters very much minded, and kept bringing it up throughout and now even after his term, and so did Trump himself, who “tweeted” repeatedly about it, so they also have to explain why things are now so different. For those of us who wanted to see Obama’s grades and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and anything else we could get our hands on about any any office-holding Democrats, but also want to see Trump’s tax filings and anything else we can learn his or any other Republican politician’s potential conflicts of power, that argument is utterly unconvincing.
Although it will drift on and off the front pages, we expect the stories and and the protests will continue. All the stories about investigations underway into Russia’s role in the past campaign will make mention of it, and so will all the stories about Trump-owned businesses benefiting from some deregulation or tax shift or federal contracts that are bound to come up. There will be plenty of speculation, too, and Trump’s “tweets” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer don’t seem likely to allay the resulting suspicions. The only way to end it is to just go ahead and release the damned things, the way Obama did with the birth certificate he was pestered about by certain people even long after his victorious election was over.
That would not only put the issue to rest and allow Trump to “tweet” about more important issues, but also quell some of that speculation about what those unseen returns might reveal about Russia or any possible conflicts of interest from that global business empire. Surely there’s nothing the least bit compromising in those documents, after all.

— Bud Norman

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A Big Blast in Afghanistan

America’s war in Afghanistan has dragging on for so long that by now most Americans have largely forgotten about it, but it was back in the news on Thursday with a literal bang. The Air Force dropped the Mother of All Bombs on an Islamic State encampment, and that’s not just Trumpian hyperbole but the actual nickname of the weapon.
The official moniker is Massive Ordinance Air Blast, but the initials naturally inspired the more apt term that all the military types apparently use. It weighs 22,000 pounds, packs a net explosive weight of 18,700 pounds, and is said to be the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever deployed in the long history of war. That’s still probably insufficient to bring a conclusion to what is already America’s longest-running military conflict, but surely enough to have a literal impact on the Islamic State.
Such serious ordinance suggests a renewed American seriousness about the Afghanistan war, and the broader war on terror, so even if it doesn’t serve any broader military strategy that’s good enough for us. There can be no pity for the Islamic State savages that the bomb fell on, who are just one of the problems we face in Afghanistan but a bigger threat in Iraq and Syria and all the places around the globe where they’ve pulled off terror attacks, and it’s hard to pass up such a golden opportunity to eliminate so many of them in one fell swoop. Although the Islamic State usually embeds itself in civilian areas the target was carelessly free of any non-combatants, and the Russians and Iranians and Sunni Arabs and other players that make fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria so complicated don’t care about godforsaken and mostly oil-free and perpetually troublesome Afghanistan, and that big bomb had been sitting around in a warehouse for years with no good reason not to use it. A 22,000 pound bomb can’t be launched from even an almighty B-52 or placed atop even the most powerful missiles and instead has to be pushed out of a cargo plane, meaning it’s only useful against enemies who lack even World War II-vintage anti-aircraft systems, so that’s another reason to grab the rare chance to try it out on the likes of the Islamic State.
Coming shortly after the 59 Tomahawk missiles that were launched at an airbase in the trickier Syrian terrain, it also sends a potentially useful signal of resolve. President Donald Trump’s administration has since sent mixed signals about that Syrian strike, with the Secretary of State warning that anybody who murders young children anywhere in the world can expect more of the same and the White House Press Secretary stressing that what the president had said just a days before about not being the policeman of the world still applied, and those more conventional bombs don’t seem to have stopped that airbase from launching it’s own conventional bombs in its long-running civil war, but the message with the Mother of All Bombs probably won’t be so muddied. Although the Syrian strike eked out a 51 percent approval ratings in the first poll, there was also heated criticism from both the peacenik left and the isolationist right, as well as principled constitutional conservatives who had insisted that President Barack Obama seek congressional approval for such an action and the sorts of intellectually honest liberals who had to admit they had defended Obama’s inaction. Trump himself had also urged inaction at the time, and “tweeted” the missiles strikes were only used to prop up sagging poll number, and plenty of others on both left and right proved just as flip-floppy, and there’s no telling where they might all flip and flop to next.
What just happened in Afghanistan is a whole lot simpler, though, in military as well as domestic and international politics terms. America went to war in Afghanistan because that is where the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were launched, and similar intolerable acts were still being planned, and not just President George W. Bush but also future Democratic presidential nominees John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the United Nations Security Council and the leaders of pretty much every decent democratic nation agreed that was sufficient reason to wage war there. Since then there’s been plenty of argument about how it should be fought, although the troop levels and casualty rates have lately been so low you wouldn’t have noticed it during the past campaign, but even after so many years there’s still a bipartisan consensus that America remains entitled to drop any old bomb on that troublesome land that it chooses.
Trump’s action was still empowered by the military authorization that bipartisan majorities granted way back when it all started, too, so there’s no trouble with the argument that critics on both the left and right are raising about the constitutionality of that Syrian strike, and it’s not the same betrayal of his isolationist campaign rhetoric, which also included explicit promises to bomb the barnyard epithet out of the Islamic State. The Russians still want nothing to do with Afghanistan ever again, the Syrians and Iranians and their Sunni antagonists have little reason to care, the United Nations and all the decent democratic nations have more pressing concerns, and the Democrats have better fights to pick, so we can hope that he’s taking advantage of a rare opportunity take care of some business in Afghanistan. Should Trump administration articulate how it’s serving some broader strategic purpose, which it very well might, that would also be nice.
There’s really no getting out of Afghanistan until we leave a country that’s unlikely to ever try anything like Sept. 11 again, and even that low bar seems awful high for a long time to come, and unlikely to be achieved even with the Mother of All Bombs, but with low troop levels and relative-to-the-history-of-war low casualties America has kept the country’s long history of hate from infecting the rest of the world for the past 16 years or so. Such small victories aren’t satisfying to any American, and especially to such accustomed-to-winning-big-league types as Trump, but that’s how the score is kept in a season that’s arguably been lasting the Seventh Century or so.
Dropping that Mother of All Bombs on a remote and conveniently civilian-free camp full of murderous Islamic State thugs during a unique opportunity to do so was a good idea, and kudos to the generals who came up with it and the president who listened to them, despite his campaign promise that he knew more about the Islamic State than the generals did. We’ll count it as one of those small victories in a long, long war, and faintly hope that Trump will settle for that claim.

— Bud Norman

A Quick Response to a Quick Response

Just as we were sitting down to write about the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, the news came across the internet that President Donald Trump had ordered a launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base. The wisdom of America fighting in World War I is still a matter of heated debate a century later, so of course it’s far too soon to say how that missile strike will play out.
The potential consequences of such military actions are as numerous as the trillions of possible moves in a chess game, and finding the most promising line among them requires far more serious contemplation, but the decision was apparently made with some haste. On Tuesday the brutal regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical weapons attack on a village caught up in the country’s seven-year-old civil war and killed scores of innocent men, women, and children, and the Trump administration immediately condemned the atrocity and blamed in the past inaction of the administration of President Barack Obama. On Wednesday Trump told the press that he was personally affected by the footage of the gassed children, and that “It is now my responsibility.” On Thursday afternoon, the 59 or so missiles were launched against the same air base where the chemical attack originated. There are time pressures in both chess and geopolitics that sometimes force players to act quickly and intuitively, but at this point there’s no apparent reason those missiles had to be launched on Thursday.
That horrific Syrian civil war has been dragging on for more than seven years, after all, and Tuesday’s atrocity was by no means the first time that Assad has used chemical weapons. The Syrian air base and all those Tomahawk missiles would have still been there on Monday morning after a weekend of careful thought, which the situation seems to require. Trump was quite right that Obama’s failure to enforce the “red line” he had carelessly drawn over a previous chemical attack on innocents had emboldened Assad to do it again, even if Trump was “tweeting” advice not to do anything at the time, but that’s as much an argument for not drawing red lines as it for enforcing them. Trump is also quite right to regard the chemical attack as a humanitarian outrage and clear violation of international law, but so were the previous chemical attacks that Trump didn’t want to respond to and a Republican Congress eventually declined to authorize the use of military force to punish. There’s also an argument to made, and naturally some people are making it, that Trump’s announcement that the United States no longer sought regime change in Syria also emboldened Assad to undertake his latest atrocity.
This time around the situation is even more complicated. The Syrian regime is hanging on because of support from Iran, who Obama was eager to reach a friendly deal with and Trump has promised to strike a far harsher deal with, as well as the dictatorship in Russia, which both Obama and Trump have seemed all too eager to get along with for probably very different reasons. One of the Syrian regime’s most formidable enemies is the equally abhorrent and potentially more troublesome Islamic State, which Obama infamously dismissed as the “jay-vee team” of terrorism and Trump has promised to destroy, so there’s a tricky problem of trying to harm one without helping the other. Much of Syria is now controlled by Kurdish forces, who about the closest thing to good guys that you’ll find in the Middle East, and have been of much help in America’s complicated dealings with Iraq, but the Kurds are a problem for Turkey, which is also a problem but nonetheless a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and an occasional ally, and Trump once infamously confused them with Iran’s Quds Forces. At this point any rebels remotely resembling modern and democratic types have been pretty much wiped out, thanks to years of inaction, but a few hundred American servicemen are currently in Syria and probably on heightened security at the moment.
There’s certainly a case to be made that Tuesday’s chemical attack was so horrific it demanded an immediate muscular response, and some people are naturally making that case, but events will surely muddy the argument. The initial reports say that the Russians were given a heads-up on the attack and that care was taken not to bomb the Russian parts of that air base, so some care has been taken not to widen the conflict, but given the extremely complicated state of Russo-American relations at the moment it’s hard to say how that will pan out. By now most Americans don’t care much what that awful government in Iran thinks of all this, but for the past 38 years they haven’t seemed to care what Americans think. Americans have never cared much what the rest of the world thinks, either, but that usually winds up making some difference.
Meanwhile, back in the States, there will be political consequences that no one can possibly predict. Trump ran on promises to beef up America’s military might and criticisms of Obama’s weak-kneed foreign policy, but he also explicitly promised an “America First” foreign policy that would avoid the interventionism of the war-mongering neocon establishment that had fallen out of favor with many Republican primary voters and the Rust Belt Democrats who didn’t like Hillary Clinton. He stressed his eagerness to get along with Russia, accused President George W. Bush of lying the country into a Middle East war, lied blatantly about his past support for intervention in Iraq and his more full-throated support for the ill-fated Libyan war, and promised to spend all that war money on re-building America. The comments section at all the Trump-friendly news sources are full of griping by Trump supporters who don’t much care about anyone in Syria and feel betrayed by the missile strike, and we expect that all those Trump-friendly talk radio show hosts wish he’d at least given them a weekend to come up with a justification. It’s hard to see any Democrats siding with Trump on the issue, although they’ll have to add the usual tsk-tsking about Assad gassing those innocents, and unless this missile strike yields unexpectedly quick positive results we don’t see the usual rally-round-the-president sentiment happening.
Fifty or so Tomahawk missiles will hinder Assad’s military capabilities for a while, and might just force him to use conventional bombs rather than chemical weapons in his ongoing war, but unless the missiles keep coming for a while that probably won’t last long. Perhaps Chinese President Xi Jiping will be a bit more wary of Trump during the negotiations at the Mar-a-Lago resort today, but we don’t expect he’s worried that Trump will be lobbing any missiles at his country in the near future, and the nutcase running his client state in North Korea might feel all the more threatened. The strike might also prove to a masterstroke of geo-political 3-D chess playing, as Trump’s more smitten supporters always claim, even when talking about such obvious failures as the recent demise of his health care reform bill, but we’d be mighty impressed if he calculated all those possible combinations in such a short time.
Even after a hundred years people are still sorting out that whole World War I thing. Although we’re no fans of President Woodrow Wilson, and hate the way he used the war to suppress free speech and expand the administrative state and threw away a victory for utopian dreams of a global government, we were planning to write to that he didn’t have much choice but to enter the horrible fray. The alternative was a Europe and world dominated by German militarism and Ottoman theocracy, and the Germans were sinking American ships and waging a war of sabotage and trying to lure Mexico in a revanchist war on our border, and our alliances with Great Britain and France and the emerging democracies were on the line, and our involvement did hasten the end of what was then history’s bloodiest conflict. It’s also true that the war didn’t all wars, as Wilson had promised, and the resulting peace carved the Middle East into all the currently warring states, and Ireland was emboldened to start a bloody war with England that would last for decades, and sub-Saharan Africa wound up with decades of wars, and a not-fully-conquered Germany and an emboldened Japan and a Italy suddenly on the other side would start a far bloodier conflict just two decades later.
These things always take time to sort out, so we’ll reserve a final judgment on Trump’s missile strike. We do hope, though, that some time will be taken before the next military action.

— Bud Norman

Another Round of Dueling Scandals

One tale of Russian intrigue is tough enough to follow, but there are two of them running in the news lately, both quite convoluted, they intertwine in all sorts of hard-to-follow ways. There’s really no one to root for, too, and so far no one seems to know anything for sure. There have lately been plot twists in both tales, and they only make things more confusing.
The first story concerns the Russian government’s alleged attempts to interfere with the American presidential election, and alleged collusion with those efforts by the campaign of President Donald Trump, which if true is undeniably a big deal. All the intelligence agencies have concluded the Russians did meddle in the race, although they wisely decline to say if it any effect on the outcome, even if all the leaks and other efforts alleged did seem aimed against Trump’s challenger, because she was so awful a candidate that no one could say with any certainty, and even committees in the Republican-controlled Congress agree the matter deserves further investigation. There’s less consensus about the allegations of Trump or his associates colluding with the meddling, but there’s ample evidence of business ties between state-controlled Russian interests and several of Trump’s associates, as well as countless contacts with Russian officials that were suspicious enough they were lied about, and a past campaign manager and National Security Advisor have already been defenestrated as a result and the Attorney General has been gladly forced to recuse himself from the whole mess. The latest revelation from The Washington Post is that yet another meeting between Trump’s transition team and Russian officials was arranged by the United Arab Emirates, which might or might not be anything nefarious, but it’s surely further proof that the story isn’t going away any time soon no matter how much Trump and his more stubborn supporters might wish it so.
Meanwhile, though, there’s always the ongoing saga of how President Barack Obama’s administration alleged meddled in the election. That all began one early morning when Trump “tweeted” the allegation that Obama — a “Bad (or Sick)” person — had wire-tapped Trump Tower during the “very sacred election process,” and it’s been mutating into an exponentially endless number of stories ever since. So far there’s absolutely no evidence offered by anyone at all that Obama literally wire-tapped Trump Tower, and the White House spokespeople have gone to great lengths to emphasize that of course Trump did not mean that allegation literally, but there has been reason to believe the more carefully vague claim that there was some sort of shenanigans going on. All the post-election leaks have indeed been damaging to Trump, some have surely violated some classified information law or another, and all have come from the kinds of federal government employees who have access to such information and probably preferred to Obama to Trump. Long before anyone considered the possibility of a Trump administration there were stories about Obama’s administration tapping the phones of Fox News and Associated Press reporters, as well as collecting phone information on just about everybody, which came to light after another leak the Russkies were probably in on, and they were also caught in enough big and small lies that almost anything seems possible, even all those talk-radio and YouTube theories about a “deep state” plot to destroy a populist threat.
The latest twist in this plot is that former Obama administration National Security Advisor Susan Rice has been unmasked as the woman who “unmasked” defenestrated Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and other Trump associates in the widely leaked accounts of wire-tapped conservations with Russian officials. Those Trump associates weren’t being wire-tapped, by all accounts, but the Russians officials they were conserving with were under surveillance, so the wire-tapping was “incidental contact” and thus legal and justified by the most strict Republican standards, but “unmasking” the identity of American citizens overhead in such circumstances requires legal justifications that weren’t met to Republican standards, so it was all the talk on the right-wing redoubts of talk radio and YouTube. It didn’t help that it was Rice, well known for peddling such big Obama-era lies as the Benghazi fiasco being the result of an obscure YouTube video rather than the administration’s utterly incompetent handling of the entire Libyan fiasco, or Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being a sympathetic hero rather than a deserter the administration traded five high-level terror leaders for, and that she was careful to say that any unmasking was “absolutely not for any political purposes.” At this point we wouldn’t anything past the Obama administration, but by now we know better than to try to prove that any of it was for a political purpose.
We don’t mind the government listening in on Russian officials no matter which party controls the executive branch, and we understand the reasons for classified information and protections, but we also appreciate knowing if someone in the government is involved in any shenanigans no matter which party is currently in power, and at the moment we wouldn’t put anything past anybody, so we’re following both plots through all the obligatory investigations with a desultory interest. We’ll venture no guesses how either story might end, except that as always the Russians don’t turn out to be the good guys and nobody winds up a unblemished hero.

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Who’s Bugging Who?

There’s all sorts of consequential politics going on these days to keep a president busy, what with repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Trumpcare and passing a thus-far unpopular budget and whatnot, but that’s all pretty dry stuff and involves a lot of math. Which makes it all the harder to turn one’s gaze away from the far juicier ongoing allegations coming from all directions about all sorts of international espionage and high-tech skullduggery and assorted movie-worthy twists. Monday alone provided enough plot twists to fill up several sequels.
The already convoluted plot plot started way back during the past presidential election, when Republican nominee Donald Trump was praising the strength of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s leadership and shrugging off the occasional extra-judicial killing and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign was taking a hit from some embarrassing e-mails that had been suspiciously hacked, and suspicious sorts started wondering if that was entirely coincidental. The resignation of Trump’s campaign manager after business ties to a Russia-friendly Ukrainian were revealed and the resignation of a foreign policy advisor for similar reasons did nothing to quell the suspicions, and neither did Trump’s still-unreleased tax returns, and although he nonetheless became President Donald Trump the news hasn’t helped much. His already-controversial National Security Advisor had to resign after a few days on the job because he’d lied to the Vice President about having been in contact with Russian officials, his already-controversial Attorney General recused himself from any role of a potential investigation into the matter of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials after similar revelations, and the late night comics and other conspiracy theorists have been having a ball with it.
Trump, of course, has been doing the counter-punching he so boastfully prides himself on. On an early morning a couple of weeks ago he “tweeted” a series allegations that past President Barack Obama had tapped his phone lines at Trump Tower, which, if true, would truly be worse than the Watergate scandal that Trump mentioned. That was immediately followed by a “tweet” ridiculing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s paltry ratings on “The Apprentice,” the reality show Trump starred in prior to his presidency, but the president still stands by his allegations. His press secretary has since explained that Trump had taken care to put quotation remarks around “wire tapped” to emphasize that he didn’t literally mean that Obama had tapped his wires, and occasional spokeswoman and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway further explained that he could have meant that Obama was spying on Trump through the Trump Tower microwave oven, and of course the late night comics have been having even more of a ball with it. Subsequent “tweets” and presidential interviews have promised that would proof would be forthcoming, and that his Republican allies in Congress would provide it through hearings, but so far that has not happened.
Trump still has plenty of supporters in the comments sections of all the internet stories about all of this, and is still cheered on by some old-time Republicans who should know enough to at least hedge their bets with some skepticism, but Monday provided another public relations beating. Those Republican allies in Congress have thus far admitted they don’t have any proof to back up Trump’s allegations, and on Monday they invited Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey to testify that the allegations are untrue and that the Department of Justice has authorized him to say so, and that he was also authorized to says investigations of Russia’s meddling in the past election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign was ongoing, and in the absence of any classified documents that a president could unilaterally un-classify that was bound to be Tuesday’s big headline and the punchline of all the late night jokes.
The more determined Trump apologists will continue to explain how a “deep state” shadow government is still doing the bidding of Obama, and they’ll be quite right that Obama’s administration tapped so many phones and did so many shadowy things over eight years that you can’t put anything past them, and we’ve seen enough Hollywood movies to always be suspicious about those intelligence agencies, but such old-school Republicans are ourselves still expect some proof. All those intelligence agencies and their more boring bureaucratic colleagues are clearly opposed to Trump for reasons different than our own, all the leaks lately have clearly served their agenda, and there’s still some reason to keep most classified information classified, but for now we’re still waiting for proof of Obama’s worse-than-Watergate behavior and something in the way of usual financial disclosure to assure us that Trump’s seeming Russophilia is just bad ideology and not something to do with the global business empire that Trump still owns.
Which is a shame, as far as old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves are concerned, because Obamacare really does need to be repealed and there’s still some hope that the old-fashioned Republicans left in office will be able to come up with something too imperfect for any hyperbole but at least better than what we’ve got. We find a lot to like in that unpopular budget proposal, too, and would even be cheering if a Republican president had the extra amount of guts to take aim at the popular entitlement programs that are driving the national debt to eventual bankruptcy. Fiscal solvency and other matters requiring hard choices and hard math are always a hard sell, and all the harder when you squander your credibility with claims that are never proved and only cast further lingering suspicion on yourself.
Trump’s supporters can also rightly note that none of his critics’ have yet proved their most damning allegations, but at this moment in the news cycle the claims are at least as plausible as that story about Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the Kennedy hit and President George W. Bush lying the country into the Iraq War that Trump was never for, or that one about Obama being born in Kenya that Trump took credit for putting to rest, and these days it all a needless distraction. At this point we want Trump to put up or shut up, disprove his conspiracy-minded critics with full financial disclosure and an independent investigation, then lay off the “tweets” and get on with all the boring but consequential stuff.

— Bud Norman

Big Brother is Watching, and Bored

The latest flood of Wikileaks is from the Central Intelligence Agency, and it’s scary stuff. Aside from the scariness of the apparent fact that even the CIA isn’t safe from hacking, the leaks describe some very high-tech snooping techniques right out of one those dystopian sic-fi movies where Big Brother is always watching.
Back when President Donald Trump was running for the office he often told his enthusiastic campaign rallies how much he loved Wikileaks, which was exclusively Wikileaking embarrassing information about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at the time, but now he’s steadfastly opposed to leaks in general. Any old president would rightly object to having America’s intelligence-gathering capabilities exposed to the nation’s enemies, and we’re sure that’s Trump’s foremost concern, but he also has his own peculiar reasons for not wanting yet another story about electronic eavesdropping espionage intrigue and high-level leaks crowding his big and assuredly wonderful health care plan out of the news.
Trump is still sticking to his “tweeted” accusation that his campaign was wire-tapped by President Barack Obama, and still offering no proof and demanding that a congressional investigation come up with some, and that’s still taking up a lot of air time and column inches. That’s also part of an ongoing story about the Russian government’s meddling in the election and how everything that was coming out by Wikileaks seemed to be about Clinton and the contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russkies that have already caused the resignations of a campaign manager and National Security Advisor and the recusal of an Attorney General, along with all the popular conspiracy theories about how the intelligence community and the rest of the “deep state” are out to get Trump. The roll-out of that big and assuredly wonderful health care plan didn’t go at smoothly, with all the Democrats from left to far-left and many of the most right-ward Republicans finding plenty to criticize, and we expect quite a fuss about in the coming weeks, but we’re sure Trump still would have preferred the topic got more prominent headlines.
Better for any old president, too, if the public weren’t fully aware of the resources his government seems to have at its disposal. Pretty much every American home is now equipped with computers and smart phones and internet-connected televisions sets and other devices that can be used to monitor almost every movement a person takes, and according to Wikileaks the government has figured out how to do that. One can hope that the Constitution restrains the government from doing so, at least without damned good cause, but the past decades of scandals from the Watergate wire-tapping of the Nixon administration to the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of President Barack Obama’s political opponents suggests that the plan isn’t foolproof. Like most Americans we can take more comfort in the knowledge that their lives are too boring for Big Brother to bother with, and that there’s bound to be a sorority shower room somewhere of more compelling interest, but this Trump fellow doesn’t seem to take criticism any more lightly than that Obama fellow did, and the possibilities are slightly spooky.
We’d hate to wind up like the Gene Hackman character in that last scene of “The Conversation,” the you’ve-gotta-see classic Francis Ford Coppola flick from the ’70s, where the world’s top electronic surveillance expert has become so paranoid about who’s eavesdropping on him that he’s completely destroyed his apartment in search of the elusive bug that he just knows is there is somewhere, and sits in the rubble playing his saxophone, but it does give us pause. The technology has greatly improved since then, and even after we’d torn up the house we’d still have this computer running and connected to the internet, and suddenly all the technology in those dystopian sci-fi movies seems as dated as the two-way wristwatch radio and other gadgetry in the Dick Tracy cartoons. George Orwell’s you-gotta-read it classic novel “1984” is lately back on the best-seller lists, and between the people who didn’t trust Obama and don’t trust Trump, who together comprise about 95 percent of the country, there’s a good deal of healthy suspicion out there.
For now, though, we’ll continue to trust in the generally reliable Constitution and the unerring fallibility of all humankind and how very mundane our own lives are to ward off the watchful eye of Big Brother. We wouldn’t put it past Obama to want to tap Trump’s phone, but we don’t think he would have dared done so without a warrant, which requires a judge and a paper trail and a damned good reason, and we’d like to think the system will impose similar restraints on Trump. Both men had a strange knack for having all their misdeeds exposed, too, even if they did go largely unpunished, and it’s hard to imagine either man having the genius to manipulate all those levers needed to create the all-powerful system depicted in any of those dystopian sci-fi movies. All those high-tech gizmos that were created to dominate the masses are incomprehensible to ourselves, but among our fellow populace are some pretty smart people who seem to know that stuff just as well as the government experts, and apparently well enough to hack the CIA, and those ubiquitous cell phone cameras keep catching cops and professors and other public officials abusing their power, and for the moment technology seems as like to thwart a tyranny as to empower one.
All these fancy gizmos also allow the dissemination of a wide range of opinions, such as this estimable publication provides, and once people become more discerning that’s bound to help. For eight long years we had little good to say about Obama, so far we’ve offered little praise Trump and are prepared for at least another four years of it, but that’s all been made as public as possible and we’ll face whatever consequences our reading of the Constitution will allow. The rest of our lives, we’re quite confident, are too boring to merit Big Brother’s attention.

— Bud Norman

On the President’s Weekly Winter Vacation

Except for howling winds and an extended dry spell the weather’s been nice and warm around here lately, the Wichita State University Wheatshockers are heading into collegiate basketball’s championship tournament on a 15-game blow-out streak, and so far it’s been a pretty good March in our patch of the prairie. Still, we can’t help noticing with a certain wistfulness all the references to Mar-a-Lago in the latest news.
Usually around this time of year in Kansas we’re chattering our teeth and wishing for a south Florida vacation, and fondly recalling that one especially bitter winter when we did escape to a week of driving around Miami in a rented convertible V-8 Mustang, which yielded lots of funny stories we still like to tell, but even our most fanciful late winter fantasies never included anything quite so fancy as Mar-a-Lago. A very Republican friend of ours said the other day that he’d never heard of Mar-a-Lago, so perhaps we should explain to a general readership that it’s a Great Gatsby-esque mansion and sprawling estate complete with golf courses and tennis courts and all sorts of amenities located on a prime stretch of Palm Beach real estate that Trump had turned into a $100,000-a-year resort before he became president, and now uses as the “Winter White House” while charging a recently raised $200,000-a-year fee for the rest of the guests, and by all accounts it’s very swank.
Trump has spent five weekends there since being sworn in as president just last January, and the taxpayers have spent an estimated $3.5 million per visit, which is also pretty damned swank, even by government standards, and we can’t help thinking that it would be a bigger story if he weren’t there “tweeting” unsubstantiated charges about his wires being tapped and thus dominating the next days’ news cycles.
We spent much of the past eight years grousing about how many vacations President Barack Obama took and how many rounds of golf he played, and sneering about how his Martha’s Vineyard getaways belied his man-of-the-people image, and how damned expensive it was for the actual people, and feeling sorry for partisan Democrats who had to make excuses for it after eight years of grousing about George W. Bush’s far cheaper recreation expenses and rounds of golf. So far Trump has gone out of town for non-business-related reasons and played and golf far more often than Obama did, and racked up monthly travel bills equal to what to Obama rang up in a year, and seems to think he proved his Jacksonian populism by pouring ketchup over the well done steaks he ordered at the Great Gatsby-esque resort where the government pays the tab even as he collects it, and because we were Republicans long before Trump ever was we’re not about to make any excuses for five straight weekends at Mar-a-Lago.
Should Trump ever bless the nation with a slow news day we’re sure his antagonists in the media will be able to fill it with some standby stories about Trump’s unusual buyer and seller arrangement with Mar-a-Lago, and the potential that a mere $200,000 a year membership could buy access to the president, and how top-secret negotiations were conducted there within earshot of waiters and busboys and other diners in the restaurant, and how it really doesn’t fit with the image of a champion of the black-lunged West Virginia coal miner and opioid-addicted former factory worker from the Rust Belt. Nor does it comport to our old-fashioned Republican fantasy of a Republican president working overtime at the actual White House on the weekend to get all those policies just right so that the damned Democrats couldn’t make such easy hash of them, and we can only imagine what the the Democratic media will make of it.
The press is already taking note of who isn’t going to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend with Trump, the latest reports have some of the famously feuding top White House staff left behind, and even over the work week it’s hard to find any evidence even in the friendliest meeting that the administration is humming along like the finely-tuned machine that Trump swears it is. Perhaps Trump will find some insight at Mar-a-Lago that repays the taxpayers’ expense, but until he does the resentment is likely to rise, even if Trump’s much boasted-about extravagance was one of his selling points. Trump used to grouse about Obama’s vacationing and golfing extravagance, too, and so long as we’re stuck here on the prairie we’ll fell free to grouse about them both. From what we hear, the weather’s been pretty mild in Washington, D.C., too.

— Bud Norman

Tweeting Up Another Controvery

President Donald Trump “tweeted” up another political storm over the weekend, this time with a series of messages that alleged President Barack Obama had tapped his telephone and asked if that was legal and bet that a lawyer could make a good case that it was illegal and compared it to the Watergate scandal and described the previous president as a “Bad (or sick) guy.” According to the president’s more ardent defenders in the comments section of all the resulting new stories it was another brilliant move, and given all the other outrageous “tweets” that somehow landed Trump in the White House that might yet prove true, but for now it strikes us as damned odd behavior by a President of the United States.
All though there were four “tweets” that started at 5:49 a.m. on Saturday the medium only allows for 140 characters including spaces in each thought, so all of the media reports gleefully and quite undeniably reported that Trump offered no evidence whatsoever for the explosive charges and damning characterizations. All the media also noted that a short time later Trump also “tweeted” a taunt about Arnold Schwarzenegger leaving “Celebrity Apprentice,” but the allegations about Obama were even bigger news. The story spilled into the little-watched but widely-quoted Sunday morning news shows, where not only every Republican congressperson but all the Trump spokespeople stammered as they took a stab at some explanation. Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Republican Arkansas Governor and Trump ally Mike Huckabee, was reduced to telling the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” that “I will let the president speak for himself.”
Trump might well have something to say for himself, but so far his source for the allegations seems to be a story that ran shortly before the “tweets” began at Brietbartnews.com, the news site that was formerly run by Trump consigliere Steve Bannon, who once described it as a “platform for the alt-right,” which summarized a rant shrieked by conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, who had shrieked it on the radio the day before. Levin is not at all a Trump sycophant and very often right despite his tendency to shriek, and he cited reporting by the very reliable Andrew McCarthy of the National Review, an impeccable conservative publication also stubbornly resistant to Trump’s charms, that the Department of Justice did indeed seek a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wire tap on certain Trump-related phones and did keep tabs on a computer served linked between Trump’s business headquarters and a suspicious Russian bank. There have also been a number of leaks from the intelligence communities and other federal agencies clearly motivated by political animus, and all that right-wing radio talk about a “deep state” rebellion isn’t entirely far-fetched.
After eight long years of Obama and all his scandals even such anti-Trump conservatives as ourselves wouldn’t put it past that damned old Democrat and his thoroughly politicized Justice Department to be up to some Nixonian dirty tricks, and if Trump has anything to back it up we’ll be rubbing our hands with anticipation to hear it. There’s nothing in any of those 140-character-including-spaces “tweets” that comes remotely close to backing it up, though, and all those spokespeople’s more expansive sound bites on the Sunday shows were no more convincing. For now the Democrats are gloating that Trump either fabricated the story out of whole cloth and no wire tapes were ever sought, and that if any were indeed granted that meant a federal judge had decided there was sufficient suspicion about Trump’s dealings with Russian interests to warrant it, which is another favorite Democratic talking point of the moment, and that in any case Trump will be hard-pressed to prove Obama’s direct involvement, which eight long years have taught us is undeniably true. The rest of it should be convincing to that portion of the public that isn’t hopelessly partisan, too, and Trump will need better answers that what his people came up with on Sunday morning to counter that.
Maybe Trump is just baiting the trap so he can spring it on Obama at just the opportune time, as he did with that brilliant tactical admission that Obama was born in the United States, period, or offering just another distraction from the ongoing Russia stories that have already led to the resignations of a campaign chairman and National Security Advisor and the recusal of an Attorney General, and it really is a brilliant masterstroke. Then again, maybe Trump just can’t helping “tweeting” stupid things based on what he’s just read at some offbeat internet site at an ungodly early hour on a Sunday morning. We’re no fans of Obama, but Trump does strike us as that kind of guy, and it’s easy to imagine both of them looking very bad when all this sorts out.

— Bud Norman

A Controversy Made to Executive Order

President Donald Trump’s executive order imposing temporary restrictions on admitting visitors and immigrants from certain certain Middle Eastern countries has kicked up quite a fuss, of course, and so far both he and his most fervent critics are looking rather foolish.
Most of the loud and anguished outrage of the left is against the very idea of imposing even temporary restrictions on admitting visitors and immigrants from any country, which is exactly the sort of leftist nonsense that got Trump elected. The arguments for unfettered immigration from countries where the more troublesome interpretations of Islam prevail are increasingly hard to make with each passing terror attack here and in Europe, and were soundly rejected in favor of Trump’s slightly less crazy rhetoric about “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what’s going on,” yet the respectable press and the rest of the loony left continues to embarrass itself in the effort. The executive order is far less sweeping than the campaign promise, and Trump seems to expect that we’ll figure out what’s going on well enough to let it lapse in a mere 120 days, and although the countries on Trump’s list conspicuously don’t include some terror-prone countries where he still has business holdings it’s also the same list the Obama administration used for its “no fly” restrictions that also restricted some innocent American citizens, and Trump is still allowing 50,000 refugees, which is less than what Obama had ordered for this year but about as much as he welcomed in while still in office, yet the left is once again invoking the Statue of Liberty and seemingly sympathetic asylum-seekers and still thinking it has a winning political issue.
Trump is unlikely to make the argument that his grand gesture isn’t really such a big deal, or that Obama wasn’t the open borders fanatic that everyone on both sides thought, but so far he’s done a surprisingly good job of not making it all about Islam. He rightly notes that past policies had admitted relatively few Christian refugees from Syria, where they were targeted for genocide, and with a similar concern for Bahais and Sikhs and other persecuted minorities the policy adheres to the unassailable and quite religiously-neutral logic of aiding those most in need, and we expect his clipped “tweets” will be more persuasive than our paraphrasing. We hope he’ll also reverse that Obama executive order that reversed the longstanding policy regarding Cuban refugees, which has resulted in several brave asylum-seekers that the left doesn’t care about being sent back to the cruelty of their homeland’s communist government, and that the left embarrasses itself trying to argue that at the same time they’re telling all those sob stories about brave asylum-seekers from the Middle East.
Even with such a half-assed measure and overwrought response and all the compelling arguments on his side, Trump has somehow managed to misplay such a winning hand. The executive order was apparently written by some high-ranking political staffers without any help from the high-ranking appointees who actually knew how to go about doing such sensible things, which is already a popular administration storyline in the press, and the result was predictably messy. Some specific language about immediate implementation meant that some green-card-holding people who had done nothing wrong wound up in airport hell as they made long-planned trips that concluded just after the order was signed, which led to some great sob stories for the press, some Middle Easterners who had bravely volunteered their help to to the American military during its recent activities in the Middle East were also affected, which also makes for a hell of a story, and all sorts of embarrassing clarifications and other retreats ensued. The exclusion from the list of all those Islamist countries where Trump still has business holdings will also be an ongoing controversy, even if it is the same list the reputedly open borders fanatic Obama used for his “no fly” list, and for the next 120 days or until our representatives figure out what’s going on there should be plenty of arguments that spring from this sort of fuss. Already Trump has fired an acting Attorney General left over from the Obama administration who objected, and it looks like he’ll have to fire a lot of other State Department employees who also object to his half-assed and almost Obama-esque measures, and the press will treat it like Nixon firing Archibald Cox, if Trump remembers that, and although his fans will love the familiar “you’re fired” shtick we’ll only be on his side until that inevitable “Saturday Night Massacre” when he fires the people insisting on the law.
We hope it all works out, but we expect that Trump and his most fervent critics and all the rest of us will wind up looking rather foolish.

— Bud Norman

From the Tea Party to Anti-Trump

The presidency of Donald Trump is already well underway, and so is a spirited opposition to it. So far, neither seems at all likely to make great America again.
Trump took the oath of office in front a sizable and enthusiastic crowd at the Washington Mall on Friday, but there was no disputing that the turnout for the next day’s protests was much larger. The Trump administration went right ahead and disputed it any way with some widely and justly ridiculed “alternate facts,” but it could have more reasonably argued the numbers of people on the streets waving signs for one side or another another don’t really matter. There’s also no disputing that Trump is the duly elected President and the leader of a party that controls both chambers of Congress and will almost certainly soon have the judiciary as well and occupy state and local offices in numbers not seen since the Coolidge days, even if he did lose the popular vote by nearly three million votes, and all the polls that correctly predicted it but got the Electoral vote just wrong enough now show him unfavorably regarded by a majority of the public, but none of that tells you anything about who’s right and who’s wrong in any of the inevitable upcoming arguments.
The anti-Trump turnout over the weekend, in cities all around the country and all around the world, was indeed formidable by any modern mass protest standards. It was far bigger than the Tea Party protests that started percolating during back when President Barack Obama was in the White House and his party controlled both chambers of Congress and seemed poised to control the judiciary, and those didn’t start happening the very day after the Obama administration began with an electoral majority of support and honeymoon-high approval ratings and the overwhelming support of the media. Although the Tea Party movement’s protests were at first ignored and then ridiculed it managed to re-take the House of Representatives for the Republicans in the ’10 mid-terms, and despite Obama’s re-election with a smaller majority in ’12 it continued to make congressional gains, and by ’14 it had delivered a Republican majorities in both the House and Senate that managed to stave off the Democrats’ control of the judiciary, so there’s no telling what those anti-Trump protestors might accomplish with their obvious head start.
After a short bust of angry public outbursts the Tea Party stopped waving signs and chanting slogans on cold street corners and started recruiting candidates and compiling e-mail lists and making donations doing all the rest of the dreary and dirty chore of bringing out political change, and it remains to be how many of those women who took the streets in pink wool “pussy caps” and the men who showed up with the seductively sympathetic slogans on their signs will do the same. We attended enough of those Tea Party protests to run into several fine friends of ours that we knew to be serious people of a well-considered conservative mindset, so despite the ridicule of the Obama administration and its liberal media allies we were not surprised that it proved so successful. Because we rarely check in on Facebook we weren’t aware of the local well-attended anti-Trump protest until it had already occurred, and they started too early on a too cold Saturday morning anyway, and even in the best of the weather we couldn’t be sure that our anti-Trump sentiments were at all aligned with the rest of the crowd, so we skipped the festivities, but we do know several of the people who were they and we know them to be to serious people whose liberalism has been carefully if incorrectly considered, and we don’t doubt it might also come to something.
What it might come to also remains to be seen, but we’re not hopeful. We had high hopes that the Tea Party was the vanguard of a movement toward limited government and personal and fiscal restraint and a foreign policy in defense of the same underlying value of liberty, and sure enough it did put a stop to Obamacare-sized entitlements and pare the the deficits down to the half-trillion size of the George W. Bush years, but at this point it seems to have had the usual mixed results. In retrospect there were a lot of people at those rallies who were convinced that Obama was born in Kenya and that he was just a continuation of the Bush family’s New World Order regime and that the whole Constitutional system seemed rigged, and when the Republicans didn’t undo the Obamacare that had happened before they got back regained the Congress and Hillary Clinton didn’t go to jail they decided that everyone from both parties and all previous political positions had to be purged, and they wound up electing an advocate of seemingly unlimited government with no sense of fiscal or personal restraint who has a dangerous affinity for Russia’s authoritarian leader. We share the anti-Trump movement’s disdain for his unabashedly sexist and arguably racist and altogether unsavory character, but we can’t go along with the Obama-era liberal craziness that comprises the most of it, we’re quite certain that the sudden shared suspicion of the Russkies is opportunistic and temporal, and we suspect that those serious friends of ours with the well-considered liberalism will also be dismayed by how far it might go.

— Bud Norman