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Arrivederci, Scaramucci

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The chief of staff that Scaramucci scared away has already been replaced by former four-star Marine General John Kelly, who moves over from his post as Homeland Security secretary, so some people are speculating that the Attorney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

— Bud Norman

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Out Like Flynn

The resignation of Gen. Michael Flynn as President Donald Trump’s National Security is not only the biggest story of the moment, it seems to have spun off into a dozen or so biggest stories of the moment.
At such a very early point in an administration such a high-ranking official’s resignation, or “ouster” if you prefer the more recent term that keeps popping up in the press, is going to be a story with legs and sidebars. This unusually quick departure seems to have more than the usual subplots, however, and at this point in this particular administration the press is especially eager to pursue them every one of them. The fact of Flynn’s resignation or ouster or whatever you call it seems to confirm press reports that he had questionable contacts with the Russian government during the transition period and lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence, which does not make Trump look good, so the established media are delighted to have that at the top of the front pages and hourly broadcasts. Some of the radio talkers and other anti-establishment media are continuing to insist that whatever contacts Flynn had with the Russians weren’t at all questionable, and that he never lied about it, but they glumly admit that also makes Trump look bad.
Trump is “tweeting” that big story is Flynn’s conversations with Russia being leaked to the press in the first place, and his more creative supporters in the anti-establishment media are elaborating that it’s another example of the intelligence community and the “deep state” trying to undermine Trump’s administration, and it’s plausible. Meanwhile the establishment press is putting the whole affair in the context of the intelligence agencies’ consensus conclusion that the Russians meddled in the past presidential election in an apparent attempt to help Trump, and Trump’s denunciation of the intelligence agencies and apologetics for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and the various contacts that several of Trump’s business and campaign and administration officials have with with the Russian oligarchy, and all the implications they can make out of that also seem well within the realm of plausibility.
There also stories about who knew what and when they knew it, and they all feature prominent administration spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway telling television audiences that Flynn had the president’s full confidence just hours before Trump accepted the resignation, and none of them are helpful to Trump or any of his more ardent defenders in the anti-establishment media. They all seem to confirm a popular press narrative about a dysfunctional White House riven by all the petty power-grabbing and back-stabbing machinations you’d want from a reality television show, which is altogether too plausible, and all of those leaks are coming straight from contestants. At the moment Trump’s anti-establishment media allies have been reduced to the Nietzschean argument that out of chaos comes order, and let’s us hope they’re right.
There’s also surely a sidebar somewhere out there about how all of this hubbub will affect national security, but so far we haven’t found it. We were never fond of Flynn, who seemed far too chummy with the Russkies and is prone to crackpot conspiracy theories and always reminded us of Sterling Hayden’s Gen. Jack D. Ripper character in “Dr. Strangelove,” and although he’s properly tough on Islamism we figure Trump is more in need of someone to advise occasional restraint and not encourage all the war crimes that were promised during the campaign. Press reports indicate that one of the possible replacements is Gen. David Petraeus, whose military brilliance turned the tide in the Iraq War before he competently assumed the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency, but who also pleaded guilty to providing his mistress with classified material and then lying about it, and it will be interesting to see if Trump sets all those storylines off. The other names seem reasonable career national security, and of course aren’t any of the Republican establishment professionals who took public stands against Trump during the campaign, and in the end we effect that the national security will be as insecure as always.

— Bud Norman

A Bittersweet Departure

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced his resignation, yet we feel no glee. Holder was by far the worst Attorney General of our lifetime, which stretches back to the days of John Mitchell, but his departure provides no vindication and little hope.
The man’s execrable record began long before he assumed the office of Attorney General, from his days taking over campus buildings as a college radical to his role in the Clinton administration’s final days pardons of a Democrat-contributing expatriate scammer and some bomb-throwing Puerto Rican terrorists, and continued into his private sector work at a law firm that provided pro bono defense for Islamist terrorists. In the euphoria that followed the hope and change election of ’08 this record was insufficient to prevent the appointment of the first black Attorney General, however, and his outrages as Attorney General began immediately with his decision to drop charges against the paramilitary-garbed and club-weilding New Black Panther members who had already been convicted of intimidating voters outside a Philadelphia polling station and an address that branded America a “nation of cowards” for declining to talk about race on his resentful terms, then continued with a disinclination to pursue hate crime charges on behalf of white victims, his insistence that school discipline be administered by racial quotas, his apparent approval of the “Fast and Furious” program that allowed gun sales to Mexican gangsters who wound up committing hundreds of murders that included the death of American law enforcement agents, his subsequent stonewalling of congressional investigations that led to a contempt charge, his refusal to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of his party’s political opponents, his resistance to reasonable rules regarding eligibility for voting, his prejudicial statements concerning various racial contretemps playing out in the local justice systems, and other offenses so numerous that we can’t off the top of our head recall them all.
None of this was sufficient to remove the first black Attorney General from office, however, and so far as we can tell he is rather smugly leaving for a lucrative career in the private sector of his own accord. There is speculation in the conservative press that Holder is departing under duress of those still-lingering contempt of Congress charges stemming from the “Fast and Furious” scandal, but this seems wishful thinking. All those dead Mexicans and American law enforcement officers weren’t an issue in the re-election of Holder’s boss, and are now rarely mentioned in the public discourse, so we can’t imagine that Holder or his boss feel at all concerned by it now. Disturbingly enough the more plausible explanation is Holder’s statement that six years of bedeviling American justice is enough and that he’s ready to follow his wife’s advice and take on the less stressful and more remunerative life of a very well-connected private sector lawyer. He announced his resignation with a lachrymose farewell from the President of the United States and such polite press as the Politico web site admitting that his resignation is perfectly timed to allow a replacement to be confirmed by a lame duck Democratic Senate but still gushing that he is “leaving on arguably the highest point of his personal career, after a year of progress on his plan to reform sentencing laws and just after his well-received, calming-the-waters trip to Ferguson, Missouri, during the riots in August.”
That Holder is leaving as the least popular person in the Obama administration went unremarked, as was that his trip to Ferguson calmed the waters by promising the mob its preferred decision on the police shooting that prompted the riots and it wasn’t at all well-received by the vast majority of Americans who don’t write for Politico, but otherwise the article seems credible in its assertion that Holder is leaving on his own. The publication’s posterior-kissing approach to journalism has probably given it credible sources within the administration, too, so we take seriously their list of the equally-radical and racialist candidates being considered to replace Holder. One can hope that a more Republican Senate will refuse to confirm the first few put forth, but they’ll eventually have to agree to one of them and in the meantime Holder will stay on the job. We’ll be glad to be rid of Holder, but don’t expect that anything will soon get better.

— Bud Norman

So Long, Kathleen

We won’t have Kathleen Sebelius to kick around anymore, and we have to admit we’ll miss the pastime. We were heaping scorn on the woman long before the rest of the country got in on the fun, ever since she was elected Governor of Kansas 12 years ago, and her probably permanent departure from public life will make it hard to break the habit.
Sebelius resigned Thursday as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and although all the send-offs from the big papers and wire services were properly respectful they didn’t seem surprised. Given her undeniably botched roll-out of the administration’s all-important Obamacare boondoggle, as well as the extra-legal delays and waivers and other administrative sleight-of-hand, along with some dubious fund-raising schemes and some past tax questions and other problems the papers were obliged to mention, one might expect any responsible organization hold such a record to account. We were stunned to see it happen in the Obama administration, though, as it is habitually disinclined to admit failure.
Eric Holder has been at least as awful an Attorney General as Sebelius was a Health and Human Services Secretary, for instance, and he spent Thursday whining about how very unfair it is that he has to hear any criticism. No other Attorney General has ever been subjected to such harsh treatment, he griped, and one couldn’t help hearing a subtle suggestion that any white Attorney General could let loose armed thugs intimidating voters or declare that only victims of certain ethnic groups be championed by the Justice Department or be held in contempt of congress for stonewalling an investigation into his gun-running operation without anyone being so rude as to raise an objection. He did his whining to an organization founded by the notorious race-baiting, rabble-rousing buffoon Al Sharpton, which was predictably sympathetic, but we suspect an audience of Ed Meese and John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez and the rest of the past Republican Attorneys General would have been more skeptical.
At least Sebelius was willing to fall on her sword, and without resort to any insinuations that sexism had anything to do with it. Maybe she’s saving that for her inevitable memoirs, but for now it’s the sort of graceful departure the country once expected of its failed public servants. We can almost whip up a wee bit of sympathy for a one-time Kansas gal who was stuck with the unenviable job of implementing something so fundamentally flawed as Obamacare. She did shell out a gazillion dollars to some crony Canadian computer company for a widely-ridiculed web site, however, and just about everything else she did was capricious and corrupt, so it’s just a wee bit. Her reportedly voluntary but much-desired resignation was obviously intended to help in the administration’s effort to convince the public that the problem isn’t the law itself but just its previously inept implementation, so come to think of we can’t even give her much credit for that.
One of the shriller right-wing was angrily wondering the other day how this woman ever got elected as governor in such a conservative state as Kansas, and we declined his invitation to callers from the state to offer an explanation. The host is rather harsh, and we were concerned he might not want to hear that it happened because a recently triumphant and thoroughly revved-up religious wing of the Republican party won the nomination for a candidate so shrill and angry that Sebelius was able to pass herself off as pragmatic and reasonable and moderate sort of Democrat. She actually governed that way for her first time, or at least we don’t remember to being too riled about anything she did, and she stayed out of the news well enough to win re-election over another fire-breather. She then took a turn to the left, however, and was clearly looking to endear herself to the Democratic party’s liberal base rather than her own state’s more conservative voters. One low point came when the once-lovely little town of Greensburg was wiped out by a tornado, and Sebelius falsely claimed that recovery efforts had been hampered by a lack of National Guard equipment due to the Iraq War. The ploy worked well enough to gain Sebelius a prominent post in the Obama during its heady early days, and she no doubt thought that it would lead to even greater things, but her career now seems to have come to a more fitting conclusion.
Sebelius will likely find some sinecure on a corporate board or in academia or at some lucrative lobbying outfit, but the past talk of her presidential or vice-presidential possibilities won’t be repeated. The Democrats will be running another candidate for governor this year, and already have another pragmatic and reasonable and moderate sort of Democrat woman lined up for Lieutenant Governor, but we’re not expecting them to invite Sebelius to any of their campaign events.

— Bud Norman

The Sex Scandal Sideshow

Although it’s a most embarrassing confession to make, we must admit that we were initially just a bit pleased to learn that Gen. David Petraeus had resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency because of an extramarital affair. Not because we wished to see the previously impeccable reputation of someone who has done great service for his country destroyed, and certainly not because we relished the grief that the revelation has no doubt caused his wife of many years and the rest of their family, but only because we hoped that the addition of a titillating subplot would bring much-needed public attention to an outrageous White House scandal that the national media had been determined to ignore in the last weeks of the presidential election.
Now, however, the titillating subplot threatens to overshadow the bigger, more important story.
The press has been investigating the Petraeus affair with the same gleeful fervor it always brings to the task of piling on fallen heroes, or at least those fallen heroes suspected of certain political party affiliations, and they’ve already uncovered a slew of salacious details. There’s not just a revered married military man having illicit sex with a comely young woman, and under a desk in a war zone, no less, but also the soap operatic spectacle of an accomplished professional woman hacking into her lover’s supposedly highly secured e-mail account to send threatening letters to yet another woman, this woman even younger and comelier, and to add a twist of the sort usually only found in movies by the Coen brothers, there’s an FBI agent investigating it all who develops his own crazed crush on the other other woman and sends her a series of salacious e-communications that include shirtless pictures of himself. We have no idea what story lines are being played out on the reality shows these days, but for pure salacious tawdriness they surely can’t match the Petraeus saga.
There’s more than just a prurient interest here, of course, even if that does seem to be driving the news coverage. All of the reporters can reassure themselves that they’re exposing an appalling lapse of judgment by a man at the very top of the intelligence community, raising legitimate questions about the competence of the investigative agencies that are supposed to be safeguarding against shenanigans, and although it will go largely unmarked the journalistic and publishing establishments that once lauded a woman with such unethical research techniques and poor mental health as Petraeus’ lover has also been called into question. The public has a right to know about all of it, and a certain degree of public scrutiny and opprobrium is appropriate.
Let us hope, though, that these enticing details don’t obscure the more sobering fact of four Americans dying in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. They were sent by their government into a land that had been bombed by American air power into a state of near-anarchy, denied sufficient security after repeated pleas, denied help even as government officials watched their futile struggle for survival on live video, and then the reason for their deaths was lied about for days by numerous government, with the lie making a scapegoat of an obscure filmmaker who had exercised his constitutional right to make a low-budget video. New reports raise fresh suspicions about possible “enhanced interrogations” that the government was conducting in Libya in violation of an executive order that the president has long preened, and there’s still more investigating to be done.
Much of the country would be quite relieved if the buck were to stop with Petraeus. When the general was bringing enough to stability to Iraq to allow for a peaceful and honorable withdrawal of American troops he was pilloried by the left, with the MoveOn.org group calling him “General Betray-Us,” the New York Times giving them a discounted ad rate to do it, and the woman who is now the Secretary-of-State-in-hiding saying that his claims of success required a “suspension of disbelief.” The heroic stature that Petraeus gained when his claims were proved true only further enflamed the left’s resentment, and although the criticism somehow disappeared once he was brought onto the Obama administration it was inevitable they would turn on him again once his usefulness had ended.
The ultimate responsibility for the fiasco, however, lies with the man who appointed Petraeus. Whatever his faults, and there are apparently more of them than had previously been supposed, Petraeus was not the man who failed to provide the necessary security, he was not the man who repeatedly lied about the incident, and he was not the one man who punished an American citizen for criticizing Islam. The man responsible for these outrages was recently re-elected as the President of the United States, and although his role in this mess isn’t very sexy it deserves the greatest degree of scrutiny nonetheless.

— Bud Norman

The Peculiar Petraeus Affair

Everything about the resignation of Gen. David Petraeus as director of the Central Intelligence Agency seems darned peculiar.
It’s doubly peculiar, to begin with, that Petraeus resigned because of an extramarital affair. Odd because of Petraeus’ previously unblemished reputation for honesty, integrity, and an old-fashioned sense of morality, and odd because the rest of America collectively decreed way back in the Clinton era that sexual infidelity is just one of those things that the better sorts of people do.
The relationship was reportedly conducted with a “military affairs expert” who was “embedded” as a reporter in Afghanistan while Petraeus conducted a successful “counter-insurgency” there, so it’s also odd that we haven’t yet heard anyone make the obvious jokes about it.
That the affair apparently began so long ago makes the timing of its public disclosure rather peculiar, too. Perhaps it is a mere coincidence that the resignation came the week after the election rather than before, when it would have taken up some of the news hole that was occupied by stories about Barack Obama’s brilliant and heroic response to Hurricane Sandy, but it is strange how these coincidences always seem to redound to the president’s political benefit.
The resignation also came the week before Petraeus was scheduled to testify before Congress about the fiasco that occurred in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, when four Americans including an ambassador were killed by Islamist terrorists, and at this point the peculiarity becomes particularly suspicious. Reports indicate that Petraeus’ resignation has either postponed his testimony or prevented it altogether, and that’s exceedingly strange as there is no apparent reason why his current employment status should obviate the investigators’ need for the information that he only he can provide.
Because Petraeus would almost certainly further confirm that the administration had been fully and definitively apprised that the deaths in Libya were the result of a carefully planned terror attack even as it repeatedly told the public it was caused by a spontaneous protest against an obscure video, and might well provide even more embarrassing tales, more suspicious minds have already begun devising conspiracy theories. One holds that someone with an interest in protecting the administration had been sitting on proof of the affair until it was needed to oust Petraeus from his powerful position, another that the information was being used to keep Petraeus quietly on the job until he confessed and resigned in order to free himself to tell the truth. The most benign explanation is the one being offered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which says it only became aware of the affair recently when the other woman hacked into Petraeus’ e-mail account to send threatening letters to another other woman, but it still adds another peculiarity to pile that the sort of intensive vetting that one would expect for a CIA director-level security clearance wouldn’t have discovered an affair with such an indiscreet mistress.
Perhaps the sudden addition of a sexual subplot with a comely young homewrecker will pique the public’s interest in the sordid Benghazi scandal, but it’s more likely that national media which still determine the national conversation will remain as indifferent to story as they have been to thousands of victims of Hurricane Sandy who continue to huddle hungrily in the cold and dark as they arm themselves against looters despite the brave and heroic efforts of Obama. What was known of the Benghazi debacle even before the election was damning enough — the repeated requests by the ambassador for more security which were denied, the lies about a a low-budget video and the designated scapegoat being sent to prison for the exercise of his constitutional rights, the president’s abject surrender to a longstanding Islamist demand when he declared before the United Nations that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam” — but a slight majority of the voting public has determined that so long as the government keeps borrowing and printing the money to keep the checks coming they just don’t care.
That’s the most peculiar aspect of the whole affair, and the most depressing.

— Bud Norman