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

Advertisements

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

The Penultimate Day of a Dreary Eight Years

Today is President Barack Obama’s last full day in office, and it’s been a long wait. We were loudly grousing about the man back when he was first elected on a waft of hope that he was some sort of messiah, we groused again when he ran re-election on the argument that his opponent was some sort of devil, we’ve been grousing ever since, and we feel obliged to grouse once again as he leaves office with unaccountably high approval ratings.
Obama’s more die-hard admirers have already unleashed newspaper serials and hour-long video tributes and full-length hardcover books explaining how great he was, almost as great as promised back in the days when he was talking about how sea levels would fall and the national debt would decline and all that unpleasantness with Islam and the rest of the world would surely be worked out, but the case is hard to make at the moment when Donald Trump is about to be inaugurated as president.
All the testimonials point out how very bad the economy was when Obama took office, and how not -so-bad it is upon his departure, but we’ve paid enough attention that we’re not impressed. The economy was indeed in a deep recession starting some four or five months before Obama was inaugurated, but recessions always end and this was officially over before Obama could get his literally more-than-a-trillion-dollar “stimulus package” passed, and despite all the spending that had been added on top of the literally-more-than-a-trillion dollar Troubled Asset Relief Program that Obama and pretty much everyone else from both parties voted for the recovery has been the weakest on post-war record, and although the headline unemployment rate looks pretty good the broader measure that includes part-timers and the unemployed and those out of the workforce and is buried deep in story hasn’t fully yet fully recovered. Massive new regulations for the financial industry and a major government power grab of the health care sector almost certainly had something to do with the sluggishness, and what growth did occur can largely be attributed to an oil boom that Obama tried to thwart. There was also a stock market boom, but that was because the Federal Reserve kept pumping money that had nowhere to go but the stock market, where it naturally wound up exacerbating all that economic inequality that Obama had vowed to end with his tax hikes, and although he has Bill Clinton’s luck that the bubble won’t burst until the next administration we’re not counting it as a major accomplishment.
Accomplishments are even harder to find in Obama’s foreign policy, although that doesn’t stop his admirers from trying. No one dares say that Obama’s Libyan adventure or that “red line” he in drew in the Syrian sand have worked out at all, and his past “reset” appeasement of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is suddenly unfashionable in liberal circles, but they do try to cast the deal with Iran where we give them billions of dollars and they sort of pretend not to be building a nuclear bomb as a breakthrough victory. The decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq helped win Obama re-election, and after four years it gets occasional mention, although even his most ardent admirers must admit there have been unhappy consequences. Obama’s efforts on behalf of the European Union and Israel’s more liberal political parties and Latin America’s more Marxist types have not proved fruitful, China and Russia and Iran and all the usual troublemakers are more troublesome than they were eight years, and we can’t think of any of international relationships that have been improved. His most ardent admirers point to his good intentions, which we’ll conceded for the sake of argument, but the only thing that good intentions wins is a Nobel Peace Prize.
All the promises of a post-racial and post-partisan and altogether more tolerant society have also proved hollow. The past eight years of attempts to impose racial quotas on law enforcement and school discipline have made life more dangerous for many black Americans and understandably annoyed a lot of the white ones, Obama’s declared belief that politics is a knife fight and the Democrats should bring a gun and the Republicans can come along for the ride so long as they sit in the back of the bus because “I won” has heightened partisan acrimony, and although we’ve got the same sex marriages that Obama claimed to oppose in both of his runs he’s fueling the intolerance for anyone who doesn’t want to bake a cake for the ceremonies.
Although it’s good to at long last see it all come to an end after today, we expect the effects to linger for a while. The next president has already promised a more-than-a-trillion-dollars stimulus package, plenty more market interventions, health insurance for everybody that’s going to be cheaper and better than what was promised in Obamacare, and no messing around with those Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid entitlements that are the main drivers of the national debt. So far Trump’s Russian policies make Obama’s seem downright Truman-esque, and our erstwhile allies in Europe are as alarmed as ourselves, and although Trump also seems a friend of Israel we have no idea what he has in mind for the rest of the Middle East. As far as that hyper-partisan atmosphere of guns and knives and relegating enemies to the back of the bus and the might of an electoral victory making right, we see little improvement ahead.
We’ve already been grousing about Trump for more than a year now, and expect to do so for another four years or more, but we’ll always attribute some share of the blame to Obama. Those who cheered on Obama’s racialist and partisan and intolerant rhetoric should have known what they were bound to provoke, and those who cheered on the executive actions and bureaucratic harassment of political enemies are about to find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end, and despite all promises about making America great again none of us are likely to find out it works out any better than the Obama administration’s blather about hope and change.

— Bud Norman

Begging His or Her Pardon

One of President Barack Obama’s final official acts was commuting the sentence of the former Army Private Bradley Manning, who was convicted of providing classified information to Wikileaks and is now known as prisoner Chelsea Manning, and it seems an appropriately complicated story to end one presidency and begin another.
Having harbored a slight fear that Obama would let his freak flag fly and go full-blown leftist crazy with his final pardons and commutations to unleash an army of angry convicts into the coming street wars, we’ve been somewhat relieved by his relative restraint. Some rather unsavory offenders have somehow been granted his mercy, but not in any numbers that are remarkable even by the standards of past Republican administrations, and we can easily see why Manning would be irresistibly sympathetic to someone of Obama’s liberal instincts. Obama has been even more aggressive in plugging leaks than Nixon and his infamous “plumbers,” but what Manning leaked was considered embarrassing to the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush, and since then he’s become a she, which is quite the fashion these days, and there’s an opportunistically recurring enthusiasm among for liberals for bold truth tellers.
There’s always an opportunistically recurring enthusiasm among conservatives for guarding state secrets by force of law, too, and all the Republicans were in one of those moods back when Manning caught, convicted, and sent off to prison. We cheered on the process along with the rest, and wondered aloud why a mere private with such obvious mental health issues had access to such sensitive information in the first place, and nothing that has since transpired has changed our minds about it. Even Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan refers to Manning as Chelsea when denouncing the pardon, and although we have our quibbles about we are adamant that has nothing to do with Manning’s culpability, and we hope it has nothing to do with his commutation. We are still steadfastly against the illegal public dissemination of classified information, except perhaps in one of those far-fetched dystopian nightmare scenarios that have occasionally occurred in some places from time to time, and hopefully will be able to remain so during the next administration.
The next administration seems to have a more opportunistic opposition to such leaks, though, along with most of its many supporters. By now even president-elect Donald Trump admits that he thinks the Russians probably hacked all those WikiLeak-ed Democratic e-mails that he gleefully admitted gleefully pointed to during the past campaign, at one point telling one of his raucous rallies “Boy, do I love Wikileaks,” and we also his recall his jocular remarks about how great it would be if the Russians or the that possible 400 pound fat guy in New Jersey would also hack the e-mails his Democratic rival sent while Secretary of State, and there is by now a widespread agreement on the right and in the Republican party that some hacking and leaking and violation of the law is acceptable so long as it embarrasses the left and the Democratic party. This double standard always offended us when it came from the left, as it so often did and still does during the latest controversies, and we find it no less offensive when coming from the right.
All those leaks will no doubt go unplugged for at least another four years, and we’ll continue to call for locking the leakers up and eagerly poring through whatever they leaked, and keep an eye out, as always, for that dystopian nightmare scenario that might justify it all. At this point Bradley or Chelsea Manning or whatever you want to call him or her has done all the damage that he or she is likely do, so we’ll not make any big deal out of his her or commutation and wish him or her the very best for the rest of his or her life, but we’ll be holding the next administration to the same grumpy standards as the past one.

— Bud Norman

<

Overselling Obamacare and Trumpcare

From our birth up until the Indiana primary of last year or so we were as steadfastly Republican a soul as you’re likely to find even here in deep-red Kansas, so of course we’ve been anxiously awaiting the repeal of Obamacare for coming up on eight long years now, but president-elect Donald Trump’s latest statements to The Washington Post on the subject are not reassuring. He’s long promised repeal, and by now we don’t doubt him a bit about that, but he’s also promising a replacement that would provide “lower numbers, much lower deductibles” and “insurance for everybody.” Which sounds great, especially when he insists we believe him, because that he can tell us, OK?, but we can’t help suspecting it sounds a bit too great.
Being street-savvy and wised-up sorts of erstwhile Republicans we were never fooled by President Barack Obama’s assurances that his eponymous Obamacare would save the average American family $2,500 a year and insure everybody and not add a single dime to the national debt, or any of that blather about how if you like your plan you can keep your plan and if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, and along with every last Republican Senator and Representative in Congress, even the ones from those wimpy northeastern states and districts, we were against it all along. It sounded so convincing, what with those well-crafted phrases delivered in that smooth baritone voice, but the numbers never did add up. Given all the same ongoing laws of probability and supply and demand and the rest of darned reality, we’re doubtful that Trump will be any more able to deliver on a promise of both lower deductibles and universal coverage. Liberals more honest than Obama have always acknowledged that universal coverage will entail greater universal costs, more honest conservatives than Trump have always countered that leaving free people to pursue their self-interests will results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people even if there are some costs entailed, but the more demagogic types on both ends of the spectrum will always promise that no such hard choices need be made.
Feel free to disagree, as there are arguments aplenty to be made, but our prairie Republican instincts incline us to side with free people pursuing their own self-interests and the government having as little to do with it as possible. We don’t want people dying in the street, and are quite willing to limp along with a health care system that pays for indigent emergency care through whatever convoluted and no doubt costly means the pre- and post-Obamacare systems provided, bit if you’re claiming to have come up with something so ingenious that it can simultaneously cover everyone and lower everyone’s costs we’re going to be skeptical no matter what party you’re claiming to represent.
As usual with Trump’s triumphant claims, there was a follow-up interview with a more well-spoken spokesman who reassured all us conservatives, as the term was formerly defined, that Trump was actually talking about such free-market reforms as eliminating interstate competition in the insurance market. That does seem a good idea to us, as do some other of those free-market reforms he mentioned, but even that more well-spoken spokesman didn’t attempt to explain how they’d wind up with both lower deductibles and universal coverage. Presumably he meant to imply that such free-market reforms would lower health insurance premiums and other costs to point there was “universal access,” which is what the the Republicans have always called their best effort at the greatest good for the greatest number of people, but we wish he’d just gone with that persuasively honest term, which at least won’t wind up seeming so ridiculous as all that nonsense about Obamacare’s big savings and debt-neutrality and keeping your plan and doctor.
Hating Obamacare is such a longstanding habit by now that almost any other national health care policy will seem a welcome relief, however, and we’ll hold out hope that the mostly pre-Trumpian Republicans in Congress will continue hating it for the some doctrinaire reasons and be suspicious of any newly peddled snake oil claims about everything working out well for everyone.

— Bud Norman

The Gathering Storm, or Not

The devastating ice storm that was forecast for the weekend around here never materialized, just some much needed rain and slightly-above-freezing temperatures in a dreary gray mix, so maybe Inauguration Day won’t go so badly as predicted.
President-elect Donald Trump’s most fervent fans are fretting about everything from widespread rioting to an outright coup, and his most caustic critics are egging it on. Worried talk of a coup has accompanied every transfer of presidential power we can remember regardless of which party was departing the office, and seems as far-fetched as ever, but this time around the part about widespread rioting seems well within the realm of possibility. At the very least we anticipate a whole lot of mostly peaceable protestors and plenty acts of civil disobedience and much unpleasantness, and by now neither Trump’s most fervent fans nor his most caustic critics have much faith in the ability of the federal authorities to keep things under control.
The whole shindig will presumably be under the watchful eyes of all those intelligence agencies that the Trump critics used to hate but have lately started to adore since Trump and his fans started bad-mouthing them for leaking unverified by attention-grabbing allegations and such, but those intelligence agencies don’t seem to like Trump any more than he likes them, and there are conspiracy theories galore to be made of it by Trump’s fans and critics alike. Surely the District of Columbia’s police force will also be out in force, but neither Trump’s anti-cop critics nor his anti-D.C. fans will be reassured by that. Some 2,700 members of the District of Columbia’s National Guard and another 5,000 unarmed guardsman brought in from the around the country will also be on the job through the day and night, but their commanding general, who also oversees the military’s air support, will be off the job the moment Trump completes his oath of office.
There are conspiracy theories galore just in that detail, as out-going President Barack Obama had refused to accept the resignation of the general, who had originally been appointed to the post by previous President George W. Bush and by all accounts done a fine job through by administrations, but the in-coming president had decided to accept the resignation as his first official act, which was either a petty gesture by Obama or a rash decision by Trump depending on who you’re rooting for. From our perspective on the sidelines both seem well within the realm of possibility, but in any case it’s at least momentarily unclear on who will be commanding those troops when Trump lifts his hand of the Bible and whether that person is fully apprised of the situation.
Trump reportedly retains a sizable personal security detail, which his critics in the Secret Service are reportedly criticizing, but they won’t be of much use to anyone in a “Make America Great Again” ball cap who wanders into a crowd of especially agitated protesters, and of no use at all to anyone wearing the wrong t-shirt who wanders into some of the more revved-up revelers. The Bikers For Trump will be there, too, and we trust that they’re better behaved than the bikers The Rolling Stones hired for as event security for that ill-fated Altamont show. Plenty of good people on both sides will also presumably be present, and we hope that they’ll do what they can and we wish them all well.
We’ve been through enough storms and inaugurations to have noticed that the Republic has weathered them all, and expect that it will again. This past election year has been particularly crazy, and some storms are worse than others, but one can always hope for the best.

— Bud Norman