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The Passing Storm and the Gathering Storm

A windy and gully-washing thunderstorm rolled through our portion of south central Kansas on Thursday evening, and we wound up watching some ominously dark clouds continue to gather over Washington, D.C.
The storm hit as we were driving through downtown, and because it seemed to imminently threaten the tennis ball-sized hail that had been reported nearby on the radio we took refuge in one of the parking garages. With the car safely tucked under several feet of concrete we decided to wait out the storm with a beer at the nearest tavern, which happened to be a friendly little gay bar ironically called Rain, so we weren’t the least bit surprised to find Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC blaring from one of the several televisions. She was gleefully to the point of gigglingly reporting on the latest developments about the Russia thing with President Donald Trump and Russia, and we had to admit she had some juicy stuff.
The special counsel who was appointed after Trump fired the Federal Bureau of Investigation is actively pursuing an obstruction of justice case according to The Washington Post, which also reports that the business dealings of the president’s son-in-law and all-purpose advisor Jared Kushner is also getting the fine-tooth-comb treatment, and the Vice President has lawyered up with a high-powered attorney whose previous cases have included the Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandals. None of this is conclusively damning, of course, but neither does any of it look at all good. Trump retaliated with some “tweets” about the investigators being “very bad people” and how his vanquished Democratic opponent “Crooked” Hillary Clinton did all sorts of very bad things that didn’t result in any charges, but Maddow and the rest of the mainstream media seemed just as gleeful about reporting that.
Trump is right that Clinton was crooked and did so some very bad things, and her husband did meet the Attorney General while she was being investigated by the Justice Department, and the fired FBI director did follow an order to refer to that investigation as a “matter,” and he’s also quite right that many of his tormenters were hypocritically fine with that. As we always remind our remaining Republican friends, we were tormenting Clinton back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to weddings and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever, and we strongly suspect that a more apolitical justice system would have found her guilty of something. One can hardly begrudge Trump and his allies the satisfaction of making the points.
You won’t find us joining in on any “lock her up” chants, though, and Trump seems quite hypocritical for his sudden insistence that an investigation is not a proof of guilt, and we don’t expect that Trump’s “tweet” will persuade anyone who’s not already a die-hard supporter. No matter what Clinton might have done in her long and tawdry career, up to and including that satanic child sex abuse ring she was allegedly running in the back of a pizza joint, that does not have any bearing whatsoever on the question of whether Trump or any of his close associates have done very bad things. Our most determinedly pro-Trump friend argued the other night that Trump should be legally entitled to do everything illegal thing that the past two Democratic administrations have gotten away with, and at that point the country can get back to everyone doing things on the up-and-up, but we don’t think that will prove any more persuasive.
The argument that Trump’s investigators are very bad people will also be a tough sell. The special counsel is Robert Mueller, who was chosen as FBI director by President George W. Bush and after ten scandal-free years was asked to stick around for an extra two years by President Barack Obama, so he enjoys a bi-partisan reputation as a non-partisan player. He’s also known as tough and ruthless, but those are qualities Trump usually finds endearing, and he’s very much a member of the establishment that Trump has vowed to burn down and so many of his supporters loathe, but surely the broader public will expect more credentials from a special counsel than from a president.
Another interesting development gleefully noted by the mainstream media were some prominent Republicans who were making that point that if Trump has nothing to fear from an investigation he should welcome it, as only a thorough vindication by a widely respected investigator will lift the cloud of suspicion, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see more Republicans taking this sensible stand. If you dig deeper into the news you might have noticed that some Republican members of the House of Representatives are steaming to the point of leaking that Trump has lately chastised them for drafting a “mean” bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, including moderates who were muscled by Trump into voting for what they thought was a too-austere bill and conservatives who were muscled by Trump into voting for what they thought wasn’t austere enough. If you don’t believe leaks, Trump also “tweeted” that the country needed to spend far more money on health care, rather than the less that he’d muscled those members into voting for, and one can hardly blame them if they’re not entirely loyal on that Russia thing with Trump and Russia.
Trump had a pretty good story about an unfortunate man released from North Korean captivity in horrible medical condition after two years, and the man’s father making a strong statement about how Trump had succeeded where Obama had failed, which fits into a usual narrative that the Obama foreign policy was weak and feckless, with Trump’s arguably more reckless approach being arguably more effective. There was also that story about the Australian Prime Minister cracking up a crowd with his mocking of Trump, however, and the sense that there’s a lot of that going on around the world.

A rather attractive woman who was also waiting out the storm struck up a conversation with us as we were watching the news according to Rachel Maddow and MSNBC, and she remarked that Trump doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, and we couldn’t disagree. She’d complimented our straw fedora and and seemed a bit flirty, but we figured she was probably just mistakingly trying make another fashionably homosexual friend, so we wound up having a nice chat about how very strange the world seems these days. Eventually the storm passed, as storms always do, but on the way home we had to avoid all the streets prone to flooding and dodged plenty of down tree limbs on the way home. The power and internet where still working when we arrived, but no matter the forecasts we checked the storm brewing in Washington looks far more damaging.

— Bud Norman

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No Returns from the Tax Returns

As a general rule tax returns are pretty dull reading, but President Donald Trump is an exception to an awful lot of rules, so of course there was was some interest in the two pages of his 2005 filing that was somehow intriguingly leaked. There wasn’t enough in those two pages to justify some of the resulting coverage, as it turns out, but the resulting hubbub is also newsworthy.
The two purloined pages were reportedly mailed to a journalist and published Trump biographer of little renown, then passed on to Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC cable news network, whose program relentlessly hyped the finding for hours and then spent a full 20 minutes of the long-awaited showtime in further build up before disclosing that there’s really nothing very embarrassing to Trump in the two pages. It was revealed that Trump paid $38 million in income taxes that year, which was more than most Americans did, and it represented a percentage of his income greater than what President Barack Obama or self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders forked over, and there was nothing about deductions claimed for contributions to the Russian mob or anything like that.
We’d call it the biggest journalistic anticlimax since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault, but by now every other media in the critic in the country has already beat us to the analogy. All the ancien regime media cringed in embarrassment, and even such a fellow Trump-bashing liberal as the late night comedian Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist some piercing ridicule. Maddow is the most impeccably liberal voice on television’s most impeccably liberal channel, which has lately been racking up record ratings as liberals seek a “safe place,” but her fellows liberals are understandably miffed about how she muffed the far bigger story they still have hopes for.
Those tax returns reveal Trump would have paid even more if not for something called the Alternative Minimum Tax, which his tax reform proposals would repeal, but that’s a rather arcane policy point, and even such Trump-bashing conservatives as ourselves don’t believe that just because something’s bad for Trump it’s good the country, and it’s certainly not the sort of complicated economic argument you hype all day long and then have two pages of anti-climax to show for it. The bigger story that liberals would prefer to hype is that all we of know of the vast financial empire that Trump has not divested himself from is two pages of a 12-year-old tax return somehow includes only exculpatory evidence. A Trump campaign manager and National Security have already been forced to resign because of contacts with the Russian government Trump has thus far flattered, and his Attorney General had recused himself from an ongoing investigation in broader contracts between the campaign and Russia, and all that’s been released of the tax returns that would surely prove Trump himself has no financial ties with the Russian government were those two not-entirely-exculpatory pages. There are already rumors afloat that Trump himself leaked his $38 million tax bill, then preemptively tweeted his indignant denial of whatever MSNBC might report to cover his tracks, and although even the ancien regime media won’t touch that conspiracy theory we will note it’s at least as plausible as Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad being in on the Kennedy hit, and people are saying, and we’ll leave it up to Congress to investigate if it’s true or not, and let similar Trumpian standards of truth prevail.
There’s something fishy about Trump’s Russophilia even from our rightward Trump-bashing perspective, perhaps all the more so after so many years of Cold War vigilance, so we’re also annoyed that handsome Rachel Maddow fellow has momentarily muddied the media waters. With enemies of the people like these, Trump might be wondering, who needs friends?

— Bud Norman

Pomp and Circumstance and Political Correctness

The last time we were invited to address a commencement ceremony was way back in ’77, when we were the only members of the graduating class of Wichita Heights High School who could confidently deliver a speech. A dearth of invitations since then was starting to make us feel snubbed, but we feel better to know that we are in good company among those who won’t be imparting any advice to this year’s graduates.
According to an intriguing article in The Wall Street Journal, the roster of those not invited to speak at any upcoming graduations includes International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, among other luminaries. Over the past five years there have been 39 similarly esteemed speakers who were disinvited from commencement ceremonies because of protests by offended students and faculty, so it makes us feel better that we weren’t even invited in the first place.
Considering some of the people who will be at the podium in front of all those caps and gowns, it’s an even greater honor not to be asked. Past speakers at Smith commencements included famously smug cable television commentator Rachel Maddow, aging feminist icon and Bill Clinton apologist Gloria Steinem, and irritating internet publisher Arianna Huffington, so Lagarde can take some comfort in knowing that she’s not up to Smith snuff. The elegant French economist was disinvited to speak at Smith College for reasons that are not quite clear to us, although we’re sure it had nothing to do with conservatives’ objections to the sovereignty-sapping ineptitude of international governmental agencies and something to do with the left’s complaint that the IMF isn’t appropriating enough of the west’s wealth and redistributing it to the wretched the earth, so Smith’s opprobrium is actually quite a compliment.
Rice was disinvited by Rutgers University because a noisy enough portion of the graduates and their faculty were offended by her support of the Iraq War while serving as a National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Subsequent Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry will probably not face such protests in coming years, despite the votes both cast as Senators in favor of the war, because academia is far more forgiving of those who initially support a war effort but are quick to undermine it. She, too, should be honored by the dis-invitation.
Ali lost both an invitation and an honorary degree at Brandeis University, which doubly bolsters her already impressive resume. The Somalian refugee and Dutch politician has bravely spoken out against the crimes against women that are perpetrated daily in the Muslim world, and such honesty is too unsettling to leftist sensibilities even at a traditionally Jewish institution such as Brandeis. That such cowardice and anti-intellectualism is characteristic of modern academia should cause everyone who did get an invitation to do some soul-searching.
The Wall Street Journal came up with a few instances of speakers on the left being dis-invited to commencements. One of them was the University of Nebraska reconsidering a speech by unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers back in ’08, so one can only wonder how he got the nod at what was then a Big 12 school in the first place, and another was First Lady Michelle Obama recently being asked to cancel a planned graduation at a high school up the road in Topeka, but that was because of concerns that it would overshadow the youngster’s day and she’ll be giving the same speech at a related “Seniors’ Day” event. Speakers from the right are far more commonly disinvited, however, and for far more frivolous reasons. It’s enough to make a conservative feel unwanted at graduation time.
Which is just as well, we suppose. The best advice we’d have to offer those eager young men and women as they head off into the real would be to forget everything they’ve learned over the past four years that can’t be objectively proved in a laboratory experiment or mathematical equation. We’d also advise them not to get suckered into any more debt than they’ve already racked up on their useless inter-cultural communications studies degrees and to get used to jobs where no one cares about their self-esteem. Even with a few snappy one-liners interspersed it probably wouldn’t go over well, so we’ll leave to the more academically respectable speakers to try and imbue some hope and change.

— Bud Norman

The Celebrities are Revolting

As a general rule we pay no attention to the political pronouncements of celebrities. Film and television actors, pop music performers, comedians, models, and the various other sorts of beautiful people who comprise the celebrity class have no apparent expertise outside their fields of endeavor, after all, and these days they don’t seem to have much talent for anything at all.
Nonetheless, we were intrigued to read that Bill Maher, host of a cable television talk show of some notoriety, was recently heard on the program grousing about his high taxes. The comments came after his guest Rachel Maddow, the boyishly handsome left-wing news commentator, delivered a long rant about the Republican budget proposal complete with the obligatory sarcastic claim that “it says the big problem in America right now is that rich people do not have enough money, they need relief from confiscatory tax rates.” This prompted Maher to respond “You know what? Rich people — I’m sure you’d agree with this — actually do pay the freight in this country … I just saw the statistics, I mean, something like 70 percent. And here in California, I just want to say to liberals, you could actually lose me. It’s outrageous what we’re paying — over 50 percent. I’m willing to pay my share, but yeah, it’s ridiculous.”
The observation is hardly original, and indeed the statistics that Maher “just saw” are well known to anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to conservative arguments during the past many years of tax debates, but it is a hopeful sign when the likes of Maher are offering it. A formerly funny comedian known for his foul-mouthed blaspheming and smug self-certainty, Maher has evolved over the years from an idiosyncratic iconoclast to a drearily doctrinaire liberal who contributed $1 million to Barack Obama’s soak-the-rich presidential campaign and consistently toed the same redistributionist line that Maddow was predictably peddling.
This probably doesn’t signal that the celebrity class will soon turn to the Republican side, but it is yet another indication that the taxes on the highest income earners — especially in such celebrity-infested states as New York and California — have reached a point that more outspokenly liberal rich folks are finding objectionable. Maher joins fellow unfunny comedians Whoopi Goldberg and Jon Lovitz in stating so, along with professional golf star Phil Mickelson and a few other athletes, and if more celebrities feel emboldened to join them it could have pleasant political ramifications.
The recent hatred for the rich has been peculiarly inconsistent, with business executives, entrepreneurs, professionals, and other productive citizens bearing the worst of it while athletes, entertainers, and people who are celebrities for no particular reason continue to bask in the warmth of the public’s affection. One likely explanation for this inconsistency is the tendency of celebrities to embrace liberal causes and thus display their compassion for the little people, unlike those ruthless capitalists who merely provide socially beneficial products and services and seem to be intent on profiting from it, but another possible reason is that they celebrities are better-looking, provide mindless diversion from mundane day-to-day existence, and have publicists who allow the fans to vicariously live the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Should the celebrities rise up en masse to protest on behalf of their fellow one-percenters, the public’s fervor for class warfare might abate.
Or perhaps not. Even Maher’s adoring audiences might decide that they no longer care for someone so greedy as to expect a full half of his paycheck, and even those celebrities who keep their resentments to themselves might sooner or later decide that all the rich must pay for their success. Robespierre and other well-heeled radicals of the French Revolution stoked the fires of class resentment until they found themselves under the guillotine’s blade, and the French aristocracy was far more entertaining and not nearly so annoying as today’s celebrities. We note that even Barack Obama’s press secretary was recently reduced to snarkily responding to a rare question about the president’s regal lifestyle, insisting that multi-million dollar vacations are only fair compensation for someone who cares so deeply about the poor, and Obama is the celebrity-in-chief.
If the beautiful people do find themselves being rounded up in the coming Reign of Terror, at least the public will be showing an admirable consistency.

— Bud Norman