Like a Roiling Stone

For a guy who’s currently on trial for crimes that could land him in federal prison for the rest of his life, Roger Stone is a remarkably lucky fellow. He’s lucky that his trial is being largely overlooked because of an impeachment inquiry about President Donald Trump, and you could make a strong case he’s lucky that it took so long for karma and the law to catch up with him.
Stone stands accused of lying to Congress about coordination between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Wikileaks, which Trump’s former Central Intelligence Agency director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a “hostile intelligence service” aligned with Russia, as well as other foreign agents. So far former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and former Trump campaign and administration advisor Steve Bannon have testified that Stone boasted of his connections to Wikileaks’ mastermind Julian Assange, and recall him bragging about upcoming Wikileaks disclosures to candidate Trump, and they’ve got text messages and e-mails to corroborate their testimony.
The foppish and ostentatious Stone’s defense is that he constantly spews boastful balderdash, and that it’s mere coincidences all of his predictions about the upcoming Wikileaks proved true. Given Stone’s track record of dirty tricks and clean escapes it just might work.
He’s been in the news since the days of President Richard Nixon, when he was one of the Committee to Reelect the President’s rat fuckers” — sorry for the language, but that’s why called themselves, and the political vocabulary is unavoidably more vulgar in the age o Trump — and has since remained a prominent practitioner of what he proudly calls the “dark arts” of political dirty tricks. For a long while he was a partner with Gates and former Trump campaign chairman and current federal inmate Paul Manafort in a D.C. lobbying firm notorious for representing the world’s most odious dictators, and he has a portrait of Nixon tattooed on his back, so it should surprise no one that he’s also a decades-long friend and informal advisor to Trump.
A special counsel investigation into Russia’s meddling the presidential election documented numerous contacts between the Trump administration and foreigners, and indicted Stone and convicted Manafort and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and others for lying about it under oath, but it didn’t find prove of a criminal conspiracy and declined to bring charges for ten instances of trying to obstruct the investigation, so Trump has claimed complete vindication and no longer worries about that. Instead he’s being being investigated by a House impeachment inquiry about his dealings with Ukraine, which is getting a lot of attention, and for now Stone seems to have nothing to do with that, having been defenestrated and disavowed by Trump long before all that mess started, so the trial is relegated to the inside pages and the bottom of the news hour.
Which is probably good news for both Stone and Trump, who have thus far been a lucky couple of guys. At this point Stone won’t sway a federal jury in Washington, D.C., with his loyalty to Trump, and the Republicans defending Trump on the impeachment inquiry committees won’t be calling Stone as a character witness. In any case we’ll be following both proceedings, as they’re both binge-worthy.

— Bud Norman

The War Between Trump and Congress, and the Ongoing Struggle for the Truth

The longstanding battle between President Donald Trump’s administration and the United States Congress has recently escalated, and by the time judicial branch sorts it all out we expect that no will be looking good.
When special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation without any charges brought against the president for conspiring with the Russians or obstructing justice, Trump claimed complete exoneration and seemed to expect that would end the annoying discussion. Alas, the report included evidence of numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian, most of which the campaign officials lied about, and it documented several occasions when Trump attempted to obstruct justice but was thwarted by his White House staff, so the Democrats were disinclined to let the matter drop.
The Democrats who hold the majority in the House of Representatives have continued to hold hearings and ask hard-to-answer questions, and want full 400-plus pages of Mueller’s released to the public without redactions that apparently concern 16 criminal investigations that the special counsel team turned over to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, and they’re requesting tax returns and other documents and calling witnesses about the various other Trump scandals that have been in the press. Even the Republican-run Senate intelligence committee is getting in on it, issuing a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr. to go over some earlier testimony about a meeting he had with some Russian operatives at Trump Tower in light of what Mueller’s report revealed.
Trump’s Attorney General is refusing to hand over the un-redacted report and defying a subpoena to testify to the House judiciary committee, Trump’s Treasury Secretary is refusing to hand over Trump’s tax returns or to testify to anyone about why, and Trump himself is vowing to resist everything. The president is claiming executive privilege to prevent the release of the full Mueller report that supposedly exonerates him and stop former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying about the times he told the special counsel investigation Trump ordered him to either fire the special counsel or otherwise interfere with the probe, he’s backing Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to testify despite a contempt of Congress vote, and we fully expect he’ll resort to any measure to keep his namesake son from testifying under oath.
For now Trump seems to be winning, at least to the extent that he’s not yet been indicted and the Democrats haven’t yet got their hands on the documents they want, but the game is still very much afoot. We’re old enough to remember how President Richard Nixon dragged out the Watergate scandal, and although we were young at the time watched the hearings and read the press reports with rapt attention, and as we recall all the judicial precedents that were set regarding executive privilege and congressional oversight powers are not in Trump’s favor. Sooner or later everything comes to light in American politics, and we assume that Trump has self-serving reasons to keep Barr and McGahn and Mueller and Trump Jr. from facing questions under oath, and even more reasons to keep anyone from looking at his tax returns or those redacted portions of the special counsel’s report.
More worrisome for now is that Republican Senator and intelligence committee chairman Richard Burr signed off on the subpoena for Trump’s namesake son, and at a time when the Republican caucus has become somewhat restive about the president’s trade wars and foreign policy and a few other things that offend traditional Republican sensibilities. Several Republican Senators and all of the Trump-friendly media are calling Burr a “Republican in name only,” which is the worst thing they can think of to call a Republican, but Burr was a Republican when Trump was a registered Democrat and a Reform Party member and an independent who mostly palled around with and made big donations to Democrats, and he’s the epitome of what used to be considered a conservative before Trump redefined the term. When everything eventually comes to light, he might be as well respected by the general public and positioned in the party as the many Republicans who who declined to sanction Nixon’s misdeeds back in the Watergate days.
On the other hand, Trump might well plow through on the unquestioning support of those rally crowds he still commands and the indifference of the broader American public. The last time an Attorney General was cited for contempt of Congress was way back in President Barack Obama’s administration, when Eric Holder refused to cooperate with a congressional investigation in the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal, and although all the Republicans were outraged about it the Democrats seemed to share his contempt for Congress and admire his fighting spirit. This time around the Democrats will be outraged and most of the Republicans will be chanting their annoying mantra that “at least he fights,” and the vast majority of Americans who don’t care about all this headache-inducing stuff will be checking the unemployment rate and their retirement accounts.
We’re sure Trump hopes that his two appointees to the Supreme Court will help him prevail when all these various cases wind up, and is especially hopeful about Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but that won’t do much to restore America’s faith in its constitutional order. Trump’s fans will be galvanized against the damned Democrats that attempted coup, his opponents will be all the more eager to support any crazy leftist that runs against Trump and his undeniable craziness, and we’ll see how that turns out.
At least Burr and ourselves and a very few other Republicans old enough to remember Watergate will once again be outraged by presidential power run amok, and some of the Democrats seem to be asking tough questions we consider quite reasonable. Although we no longer hold out hope for either party we retain an old-fashioned faith in God and the free press and the systems of governance and all that eventually brings everything to light.

— Bud Norman

What is Truth, After All?

Every other decade or so, some public official blurts out something that pithily and memorably sums the absurdity of our times. We’re old enough to recall President Richard Nixon telling a press conference that “I am not a crook,” and President Bill Clinton saying under oath and on videotape that “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is” is,” and his harridan of a wife and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling a congressional committee investigating her deadly Benghazi debacle “What, at this this point, does it matter?” President Donald Trump has already had several such outbursts, but his lead television lawyer Rudy Giuliani topped them all on Sunday when he appeared on the National Broadcasting Company’s decades-old “Meet the Press” program and declared that “Truth isn’t truth.”
Put in its proper context, it sounds even worse. Giuliani was of course being asked about the “Russia thing,” which is looking increasingly bad for his client these days, and the once formidable federal prosecutor and legendarily successful New York City mayor was making yet another recent mess of it. Asked to respond to the day’s New York Times report that White House Don McGhan counsel had provided some 30 hours of of testimony to the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” Giuliani unconvincingly argued that was a good thing. Asked about the meeting that the president’s namesake son and son-in-law and now-on-trial campaign manager had with some Russian operatives in Trump’s namesake Trump Tower, Giuliani insisted that none knew in advance they were meeting with Russians, even though the e-mail chain that Trump Jr. was forced to release made it plainly clear they not only knew they were meeting with Russians but Russians they had been credibly assured were agents of a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign, with Trump Jr. infamously proclaiming “I love it!”
Asked the by-now inevitable questions about whether Trump would testify to the special counsel, Giuliani replied that “I am not going to be rushed into having testify so that he gets trapped into perjury.” He further explained that “When you tell me (Trump) should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and that he shouldn’t worry, that’s so silly — because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth.”

div style=”text-indent:29px;”>At this point “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd — or that “sleepy-eyed son-of-a-bitch,” as Trump has called him — interjected the perfectly tautological comment that “Truth is truth.” At that point, Giuliani uttered his soon-to-be-in-“Bartlett’s-Famous-Quotations” response that “No, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t truth.”

Meanwhile, Trump spent much of the Lord’s Day “tweeting” about the “Russia thing,” blasting the hated New York Times for failing to emphasize that Trump had allowed Mcgann’s testimony, and comparing the special counsel’s investigation into the whole “Russia thing” to McCarthyism. Trump couldn’t have prevented the testimony of McGhan in any case, as he represents the office of the presidency rather than the president of the moment and currently has more incentive to protect it rather than it’s current occupant, and the ridiculous comparison to commie-baiting Sen. Joseph just invited all the Trum-bashing media to note that both McCarthy and Trump had the same lawyer, and that the silently rigorous special counsel investigation isn’t really analogous to McCarthyism at all.”.
At this point the two extant theories are that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian government efforts to influence the past presidential election, or that a seemingly failed “deep state” conspiracy with Russia and that awful Clinton woman and all those damned Democrats to prevent Trump’s presidency is now coming to its perfectly diabolical conclusion. Both scenarios are admittedly far-fetched, so we’ll leave it to the reader to choose between them. It’s perfectly tautological that only one of them can be true, but these days truth isn’t truth, and at risk to your security clearance status you can take your pick.

— Bud Norman

Conspiracy Theories, Old and New

With nothing else on the local AM radio except National Football League games and financial advice and The Oak Ridge Boy’s all-time lamest hit on the usually reliable country oldies station, we wound up spending some drive time on Sunday evening listening to Alex Jones’ “Infowars” program. We enjoy a good conspiracy theory the way some people enjoy a good murder mystery, which is to say the more far-fetched the better, and Jones rarely disappoints.
If you’re not familiar with Jones, he’s the lunatic who likes to scream that the Sandy Hook mass shooting was a made-for-TV movie and certain politicians are literal demons from hell who literally smell of smell of brimstone and are putting chemicals in the water that are “turning the friggin’ frogs gay,” in between commercials peddling snake oil cures for the diseases that all those refugees are spreading, but as we tuned he was talking about the assassination of President John Kennedy. That’s rather old news by now, but Jones had we journalism types call a “news hook” because President Donald Trump has announced that he’s going to de-classify a great deal of information about the assassination, and we can hardly blame Jones for his glee. As a candidate for president Trump appeared on Jones show to attest to the hosts “great reputation” and promise that “I won’t let you down,” Jones has since boasted about how the things he says on show have been repeated by the president he helped elect, and even after so many years the Kennedy hit is still grist for the conspiracy theory mill.
Jones was joined during the segment by Roger Stone, a veteran of Richard Nixon’s self-named “Rat Fuckers” dirty tricks unit, a partner of Trump’s former campaign Richard Manafort in a lucrative lobbying business that mostly catered to the world’s worst dictatorships, and a longtime friend and advisor of Trump himself. Both men were quite convinced that President Lyndon Johnson was the mastermind of an elaborate plot to kill Kennedy, citing the supposed deathbed confession of former Central Intelligence Agency operative E. Howard Hunt, who’s better known as one of the burglars who tried to wiretap the Watergate offices of the Democratic party on Nixon’s behalf, and both were giddy at the possibility that Trump had acted to vindicate their theories.
After so many years we can’t imagine any living person’s reason not to declassify almost everything regarding the Kennedy assassination, so we can’t fault Trump for doing so, but we also don’t don’t doubt that Trump was making a dirt cheap payoff to his conspiracy-theorizing fans. Any moment now we also expect the declassification of everything about the alien space craft that landed even many more years ago in Roswell, New Mexico, and although there’s no reason not to do that as well it will probably be for the sake of those Trump fans who still worry about that.
Nothing that can be declassified will at long last vindicate any of the conspiracy theories, all of which have gone stubbornly unproved over so many years, and we’ll bet whatever we’ve got left that they won’t implicate Sen. Ted Cruz’s father in the Kennedy assassination, as Trump’s good friends at The National Enquirer alleged during a heated presidential primary campaign. Still, none of it will implicate Trump, as it all happened so many so years ago, and whatever doubts it sows that there’s something sinister behind all the otherwise inexplicable news you see these days can only hearten Trump’s conspiracy-theorizing friends.
Jones first came to fame alleging that Republican President George W. Bush had conspired to kill more than 3,000 Americans in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and unknown capital locations, then spent eight long years alleging that Democratic President Barack Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim and godless communist who attained office through some nefarious plot or another, but he know holds forth that Trump is bravely battling the ongoing plot that has been afoot at least since Kennedy was killed. According to some accounts the plot has been ongoing since the illuminati formed at the end of the Holy Roman empire, or as far back as when those demons from hell first rebelled, but by all accounts Trump is the foretold hero who will deliver us from evil.
Meanwhile there’s not yet unclassified yet thoroughly leaked information that suggests that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton arranged a fishy deal with the Russians to sell a fifth of America’s uranium, and that Republican nominee Donald Trump had his own fishy business arrangements with him and that key staff and family enthusiastically members met with Russian officials who were illegally acting to help his campaign. Both sides will assert that no matter what’s proved the other side was worse, neither side will likely prove blameless, and almost everybody will be glad to pin it all on the long dead Lyndon Johnson.
We have our own gripes with LBJ, as does everyone else on both the left and right, but we’ll require some pretty convincing proof to convince us that he masterminded the association of Kennedy. Even if he did that doesn’t mean that Clinton didn’t sell all that uranium in exchange for the donations to her family’s foundation, or that the Trump campaign didn’t love it when the Russians offered their assistance, and the uncertainty about it doesn’t make us feel favorably to anybody or anything. There’s a lot of “fake news” out there, too, but we suspect that The National Enquirer and Alex Jones and the latest presidential “tweets” are any more reliable.

— Bud Norman

On Presidential Profanity

President Barack Obama reportedly spewed a “profanity-laced tirade” against the press recently, and we would have loved to have heard it. Partly because we always enjoy hearing the news media getting a good cussing, and partly because it would have been interesting to hear what complaints he might have against such a compliant lot of scribes, but mostly because we’d like know how adept he is with salty language.
One might easily surmise that the president is nostalgic for the more hagiographic sort of coverage he got back in the halcyon days of ’08, when his every utterance was treated as prophetic and the photographers always took care to add that eerie halo effect, so it’s not surprising that he would resent the relatively frank accounts of how things are going that he now occasionally endures. One still wonders what specific gripes he might have offered among the obscenities, however, and whether any recent Republican presidents would sympathize.
Of far greater interest would be the president’s proficiency with profanity. Although liberals are fond of foul language, an affinity they have indulged gratuitously at least since the days of Lenny Bruce’s martyrdom, we have noticed they are rarely any good at it. Most liberals simply pepper their speech with the gerund form of a familiar term for sexual intercourse, a habit which by now is far more monotonous than transgressive, with an occasional accusation of Oedipal tendencies leveled against conservatives. They infrequently employ the harsher terms deriving from female genitalia, perhaps for fear of offending the feminists they hope to bed, and they rarely invoke a common expression for those engage in fellatio, lest they be considered homophobic, which would also diminish their chances with the feminists they hope to bed, and their vocabulary of vulgarisms is conspicuously limited. Almost never do they achieve the staccato rhythms and poetic alliteration that make swearing truly swing. This is most likely because so few of them have served in the military or worked at blue collar trades, the professions that have elevated obscenity to an art form, but it might also be the same lack of imagination that characterizes the rest of liberal rhetoric.
Having watched the embarrassing spectacle of Obama attempting to throw a ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game, and having seen the sissy helmet he wears when pedaling his sissy bike around Martha’s Vineyard, we suspect he is especially ill-suited to such a masculine pursuit as profanity. The hesitant and halting speeches he sputters when speaking impromptu further indicate he has no talent for the free-flowing torrents of verbal vile necessary to make cussing successful. Even if the writers of that famously foul-mouthed “Deadwood” series that ran on HBO were to provide the script for his teleprompter, we doubt that his usual haughty chin-up delivery would be equal to the task.
Which is not to say that a president can’t cuss, of course. Lyndon Johnson was famously vulgar when coercing congressmen into supporting his disastrous agenda, which we are thankful is another talent that Obama has not yet demonstrated, and the transcripts of Richard Nixon’s tape-recorded White House conversations once made “expletive deleted” a household phrase. Johnson was from Texas, though, and Nixon was a Navy man, so both had some education in the art. That fancy Hawaiian prep school and Columbia University and Harvard’s law school probably did not provide Obama a similar tutelage. Should the president’s poll numbers continue their recent slide, however, he might get the knack of it yet.

— Bud Norman

The Series Finale of That ’70s Show

Rep. Henry Waxman of California has announced he is at long last leaving Congress, and one can only hope that America will at long last begin to leave behind the 1970s.
In recent years Waxman has been best known as one of Washington’s wackier liberals and perhaps the least handsome man ever to make a living in politics, both of which are notable distinctions, but it is also worth noting that he first arrived on the political scene as a member of the class of ’74. The estimable psephologist Michael Barone has reminded us that with Waxman and fellow Rep. George Miller of California both declining to seek re-election, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa making the same decision, and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana opting for an even cushier job as ambassador to China, the infamous freshman class will finally have almost fully graduated to private life after decades of legislative mischief. Two lone hold-outs will remain in the Senate after this fall’s mid-term elections, but it is almost the end of an error.
Readers of a certain age will readily remember the fall of ’74 with a shudder and a grimace, but for the youngsters among you it is hard to describe the horrors of that leisure-suited era. The Watergate scandal, the desultory end of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and the coinage of the word “stagflation” had brought the Republican party to unprecedented disrepute, a newly triumphant baby boomer counter-culture and the corporate clout of the only three channels on television had given the Democrats a overpowering fashionableness, and the country consequently elected one of the most liberal groups of lawmakers in the history of the republic. Things got so bad that even in here in reliably Republican Kansas the party stalwart Bob Dole had to resort to some prototypical abortion politics to survive a challenge from an allegedly moderate Democrat, and in less sensible sections of the country the likes of Henry Waxman won office.
There had been liberal eras before, from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson and their congressional enablers, but the class of ’74 marked the most liberal yet. Despite brief pauses during the Harding-Coolidge and Eisenhower years the country had already gone so far left by the early ‘70s that such a putative Republican as President Richard Nixon had created the Environmental Protection Agency, instituted the federal government’s first quota programs, proclaimed that “We are all Keynesians now,” normalized relations with Red China, sought an accommodationist détente with the Russians, and generally racked up the sort of record that would latter allow President Barack Obama to claim with a straight face that “In a lot of ways Richard Nixon was more liberal than I was,” and yet the freshmen of ’74 regarded both Nixon and his even more moderate successor Gerald Ford as knuckle-dragging paleo-conservatives. That Congress blocked military aid funding that might have saved Vietnam from communism, started spending like money as if it could simply be printed up, went on a binge of regulation and social engineering, and then went even further after Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected president.
The damage done was so severe that the country reacted in 1980 by sending the impeccably conservative Republican Ronald Reagan to the White House, even if the Democrats retained the decades-long hold on the Congress, and the result was victory in the Cold War, the longest and strongest economic expansion in the country’s history, and a renewal of America’s cultural confidence. Reaganism proved only another brief interregnum, however, and the seeds planted in ’74 would bear their most bitter fruit decades later. Among the other accomplishments of the mid- to late-‘70s government were the Community Reinvestment Act that provided the legal authority for the disastrous subprime lending policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations and the subsequent economic crash of ’08 that has still defied full recovery, as well as the Church Committee reforms that so constrained America’s intelligence gathering capabilities that the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks were made possible. The two greatest tragedies thus far in America’s 21st Century began in the late ‘70s of the 20th Century, and were voted for by Democrats who stuck around long enough to see President Barack Obama capitulate to the Russians and Chinese on everything, spend money as if it could simply be printed up, write up regulations and social engineering projects on a scale that make the ‘70s seem sober, and pass an Obamacare law that will ultimately do more economic damage than even the subprime schemes he is hoping to revive.
Conventional wisdom holds that Waxman and his fellow surviving members of the class of ’74 are declining another term because they expect the Democrats to take another drubbing in the upcoming mid-term elections, and it can be hoped that their well-honed instincts are correct. The next elections should not only be a repudiation of the past six years but also most of the past of the 40, and with luck we can finally put and end to the dismal ‘70s and maybe even embark on another roaring ‘80s.

— Bud Norman