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The “Russia Thing” Comes to an End

The nearly two-year-long special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing with Trump and Russia” has come to an anticlimactic conclusion, with a four page summary of its findings issued by the Attorney General stating that it did not find President Donald Trump or his campaign guilty of conspiring with the Russian government to affect the last presidential election. That’s great news for Trump and his fans, who are claiming complete exoneration, even if the four page summary of the voluminous report issued by Trump’s own Attorney General says that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, “it also does not exonerate him.”
For now Trump and his fans can plausibly claim vindication, however, and we’re sure they will. The special counsel’s investigation concluded the Russian government did meddle in the past election on Trump’s behalf, and brought an indictment against 12 specific Russians, and it won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against Trump’s campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and campaign foreign policy advisor and other campaign operatives for lying about their numerous contacts with Russians during the campaign, among other things, but it’s still a big deal that no one named Trump was indicted at the end of the investigation. For now it’s a huge disappointment to the Trump foes who had so dearly hoped the special counsel investigation would end the Trump presidency, but we’re sure they’ll keep trying.
There’s bound to be something embarrassing to Trump in the voluminous full report that didn’t make the four-page summary issued by his Attorney General, and in the coming days the big story will be the congressional Democrats’ efforts to make it all public, and the Trump administration’s effort to keep it out of view. Some of the report will surely be redacted so that the investigation’s counter-intelligence sources and methods aren’t revealed, but we expect that eventually the president’s foes will feast on the rest of it. Press reports indicate that the special counsel handed off a number of suspected crimes outside its scope to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, mostly to the very aggressive Southern District of New York, and there will be no way of keeping that out of the news.
Trump and his supporters will continue to insist that it’s all a “witch hunt” and a “hoax” and “witch hoax,” but the fact that the “deep state conspiracy” declined to frame them for “collusion” somehow undermines their claims. Special counsel Robert Mueller remains a decorated Vietnam war hero and former Federal Bureau of Investigation director who earned bipartisan praise and appointments over his long and distinguished career of public service, and if Mueller’s conclusions disappoint his Democratic fans they also make his Republican critics’ slurs against his character look slanderous. The rest of Mueller’s work will play out in American courts of law, and we expect that in the end Mueller’s character will fare better than Trump’s.
Nothing in the Attorney General’s four-page summary of the special counsel investigation’s report exonerates him from the already proved charges that his campaign associates repeatedly lied under oath about contacts with Russian operatives, or that he himself lied to the public during the campaign about his business dealings with Russia, or that he broke federal campaign laws to cover up alleged affairs with a pornographic video performer and a Playboy playmate, or that his foreign policy has been unaccountably friendly to Russia and other authoritarian regimes. Nor does even the four-page summary of the report indicate that Trump isn’t a vulgar and dishonest and bullying and entirely self-interested fellow.
Nothing in even the four–page summary of the special counsel’s report indicates that Trump’s trade wars and budget deficits and feuds with longstanding allies are making America great again, and the latest economic data suggest they are not, and that’s what will probably decide the next election not matter what scandals beset Trump. For now the Democrats seem intent on nominating some some suicidally socialist candidate who could easily lose to Trump not matter what scandals might accrue, so for now we will glumly await that conclusion without any expectations.

— Bud Norman

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Waiting on the Robert S. Mueller

The last two years of America’s political news have sometimes seemed like an interminable performance of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play “Waiting for Godot,” with everyone either anxiously or eagerly awaiting the conclusion of special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing.” In the play the title character never arrives, but in real life Mueller’s investigation has always been bound to conclude eventually, and there’s plausible speculation in the news that it might be sooner rather later.
The press has been reporting uninformed opinions that the investigation was soon winding up for at least the 18 months, but this time around around there seems to be something to it. The investigative team has recently been downsized according to public documents, President Donald Trump has lately ramped up his attacks on the investigation, the indictments and convictions and guilty pleas have come uncomfortably close to Trump, and there are more than the usual number of unnamed sources saying that Mueller will issue a report in two week’s time or so. Already everyone on all sides seems to be preparing for what will be reported.
Trump and his apologists are still holding out hope that Mueller has concluded we should perish the thought Trump might have had anything to do with Russia’s meddling on his behalf in the last presidential election, and that it was all the result of the Democrats being sore losers, but just in case they’re continuing their insistence that it’s all a “deep state” “witch hut” and “coup d’tat.” Given all the indictments and convictions that the special counsel has already racked up in American courts of law against Trump’s lawyer and campaign manager and national security advisor, Trump and his apologists are right not to be too hopeful.
Trump’s more numerous critics have reason to hope that long-awaited report will prove damning, but we’d advise them to admit that one never knows. By now we do know that the report will conclude the Russians meddled on Trump’s behalf in the last presidential election, based on the indictments it has already won against 13 Russians, and that Trump’s lawyer and campaign manager and national security lied about their contacts with Russian, based on the convictions and guilty pleas the investigation has won in American courts of law, but as of yet there’s no proof that Trump himself had anything to do with it. Even if he did, Trump and his apologists will be inclined to blame the conspirators who found it him out, and they might just prevail.
In any case, we’re both as anxious and eager as ever to see it finally come to some end or another.

— Bud Norman

The Competing Conspiracy Theories in the News

There are two very consequential conspiracy theories in the news these days, and being longtime conspiracy buffs we’ve been following both closely. One theory golds that the Russian hacked Democratic e-mails and spread disinformation through American social media and attempted to infiltrate America’s vote-counting computers in an effort to elect Donald Trump as president, and and that Trump’s campaign cooperated with the effort. The other theory, long popular on all sorts of conservative media and now fully embraced by the “tweets” of Trump himself, holds that the previous conspiracy theories is the product of a “deep state” coup d’tat against a duly elected president who’s just trying to make America great again.
Based on our everything we’ve read and our general understanding of how the world works, we’re inclined to believe the former theory than the latter.
The theory that the Russians meddled in the past election on Trump’s behalf has been endorsed by the heads of all of America’s intelligence agencies, including the ones appointed by Trump himself, and although Trump has publicly stated he’s more inclined to believe his good buddy andRussian dictator Vladimir Putin’s assurance that it never happened we better trust the American experts. All the e-mails that were somehow hacked during the election proved embarrassing to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, all of the big social media head honchos have testified to Congress that the Russkies did use their platforms to spread anti-Clinton disinformation, and Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security has advised many of the states that the Russians had attempted to breach their voting computers.
Meanwhile, a duly appointed special counsel investigation has racked up guilty pleas from Trump’s longtime lawyer and Trump’s former campaign foreign policy chief and Trump administration national security advisor, as well numerous convictions against a former campaign chairman, for lying about their contacts with Russian officials, and promising investigations are seemingly underway about Trump’s namesake son and son-in-law on the same suspected charges. There are damning e-mail chains that Trump Jr. has released, sworn congressional testimony by the heads of America’s intelligence agencies ad social media big-wigs, various guilty pleas accepted by duly constituted American courts of law, lots of intriguing search warrants and indictments also issued by duly constituted American courts of law. Throw in Trump’s continued friendliness toward the Russian dictator, and it looks bad to us.
On our daily drives around town, however, all the talk radio hosts assure us that it’s all “fake news.” The real story, we’re told, is that the damned Democrats and their feckless Republican allies in the hated establishment have concocted all these ostensible facts in prevent Trump from making America great again. The real collusion, they argue, was between Clinton and those nefarious yet somehow friendly Russians. While Clinton was Secretary of State the United States allowed a fifth of its uranium supplies to be sold to the Russians, and although nine separate agencies signed off on the deal Clinton is considered a Russian collaborator
Although it was a wealthy Republican who didn’t want Trump to be his party’s standard-bearer who first employed an ex-British intelligence officer named Christoper Steele to ask his former Russian contacts about Trump’s business dealings with Russia, the Clinton campaign later made payments to the effort, so Clinton is therefore guilty of colluding with Russians to get dirt on an opponent. The “Steele dossier” — or the “dirty dossier” or “dodgy dossier” or “discredited dossier,” as it’s known on conservative talk radio — reported the investigator’s “raw data” had informed him that the Russias were launching on a three-pronged cyber-attack on the American election through hacked e-mails and disinformation through social media and attempts to take over America’s vote-counting computers, all of which has since been confirmed to Trump’s own appointed intelligence chiefs, The dossier also had salacious details about Trump paying some Russian prostitutes to urinate on a bed once slept on by President Barack in a fancy Moscow hotel room, and although nobody has verified that neither has anybody definitively discredited anything about the Steele dossier.
The Steele dossier was part of the evidence submitted to the top-secret United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to start all the “Russia thing” investigations, and that’s proof enough for the talk radio hosts that that it was a “witch hunt” from the beginning. Since then, we’re told, the establishment has been out to get Trump and prevent him from fulfilling his destiny of making America.
Which sounds weird to our aging ears, as we’re old enough to remember when the it was the hippies and the Democrats and the rest of the left-wing nutcases were blaming every human failing on the establishment. These days it’s the right-wig nutcases who are donning the cloak and righteous victimhood at the rough hands of the hated establishment, ill-fitting as it always is, and we hate to see that the President of the United States is among them.
On Monday Trump “re-tweeted” one of the Fox and Friends hots that “This was a illegal coup attempt on the President of the United States,” and added “True!” After that he played his third round of golf in as many days, then “tweeted” that former high-ranking Federal Bureau of Investigation officials Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, “who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act and got caught. There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who ad just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!” Which strikes us an extraordinary broadside against the establishment by a duly elected President of the United States.
If Rosenstein truly is guilty of “illegal and treasonous acts,” as Trump has “tweeted,” we wonder why Trump still retains him as his duly appointed Deputy Attorney General. Rosenstein was recommended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and you can sarcastically consider him “another beauty” if you want, but we note that Sessions was also appointed to his post by Trump, who brags that he only hires the “best people.”
We’ll also note that the Steele dossier didn’t become public until after Trump’s election, which seems an odd tactic for such an undeniably diabolical woman as Clinton, and that we can’t see any reason she’d collude with what everyone other than Trump and his most die-hard defenders agree was a Russian plot to get Trump elected.
Perhaps Trump is the victim of a vast conspiracy, but at this point it’s so vast it includes not only the damned Democrats and the varied “fake news” media but also America’s duly constituted courts of law and a small but significant slice of the Republican party and its leadership, and all of Trump’s appointed intelligence chiefs and his Deputy Attorney General, as well as such disinterested sideline observers as ourselves. One can never tell how these conspiracy theories play out, and they don’t usually amount to much,  but for now one side seems to have a lot of evidence and the other side has a lot of explaining to do.

–Bud Norman

Trump’s Lost Weekend

The past weekend probably wasn’t much fun for President Donald Trump or his most die-hard defenders. On Friday Trump signed a series of continuing resolutions to temporarily end the partial government shutdown, and none of them contained any money for the big beautiful border wall that he had insisted on when he was “proud to shut down the government for border security.” The same day saw the pre-dawn arrest of former advisor and longtime friend Roger Stone, the latest in a series of indictments brought by the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.”
Both stories struck most observers as bad for Trump, but he and several of his die-hard defenders did their best over the weekend to explain how Trump keeps winning.
Trump “tweeted” to the fans that although he conceded to the Democrats his one demand for border wall funding “This was in no way a concession,” and that if he doesn’t get his way when the deal ends in three weeks “it’s off to the races!” This was a hard sell even for such reliable media allies as The New York Post, where the front-page headline called Trump a “Cave Man,” and the Trump-loving conspiracy theory website thegatewaypundit ran the headline “Trump Caves.” Even Ann Coulter, the author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” declared that President George H.W. Bush was “no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as president.” We can’t imagine why Coulter chose to impugn the manliness of the last president Bush, who was a star athlete and bona fide war hero and the man who negotiated the west’s victory in the Cold War and drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but it goes to show how very disappointed some fans were on Friday.
Some Trump fans are made of sterner stuff, however. The always hilarious defenestrated administration official Sebastian Gorka is still loyal enough he insisted on Lou Dobbs’ Fox News show that Trump had pulled off a “master stroke,” even though the usually reliable host was saying that Trump had been “whipped by Pelosi.” The indefatigable Trump apologist Sean Hannity was telling his radio and television audiences that the president was sure to prevail within three weeks, as “he holds all the cards,” even though Hannity’s usually sycophantic radio show callers were disagreeing. As much as we admire quixotic effort, it’s a hard case to make. Trump was taking a beating in the opinion polls for his stubborn insistence on a border wall that has never polled well, the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is clearly emboldened, and it’s hard to see what changes in the next three weeks.
Trump didn’t even get his previously scheduled State of the Union address in the House chamber, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to change many minds if does the prime time gig. Seven Republican Senators had abandoned ship by the end of the partial government shutdown, which set new records for duration and bad press, and with several of them up for reelection next year in states that Trump didn’t win they’ll have little incentive to return to the fold of the true believers. The remaining faithful are confident that Trump will get his big beautiful border wall built by declaring a national emergency and unilaterally diverting funds that Congress had appropriated for other and more popular programs, but we expect that both the federal courts and the court of public opinion will have something to say about such a presidential power grab as that, and it will be a hard case for those self-proclaimed “constitutional conservatives” in the Trump-friendly media to make.
Beleaguered White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made a rare appearance on television to insist that the arrest of Stone had nothing to do with Trump, and most of the Trump-friendly media were indignant that such a fine fellow had been subjected to a pre-dawn arrest by combat-armed federal agents. It’s true that none of the seven counts in the indictment of Stone mention Trump, and that arrest did look pretty scary, but that apologists have another hard case to make.
Stone has had a decades-long relationship with Trump that included an advisor role in the earliest days of Trump’s presidential campaign, and he was still in regular contact with Trump while he was allegedly committing crimes on his behalf and allegedly lying to congress to jibe with Trump’s latest explanations, and we think it likely that the next round of indictments will mention Trump. He’s not at all a fine fellow, either, and in fact has long prided himself on his well-earned reputation as one of the biggest sleazes in politics since his days as a self-described “rat-****er”for President Richard Nixon, whose visage is literally tattooed on Stone’s back, and one can hardly blame the feds for fearing Stone might destroy evidence if tipped off in advance about his arrest.
Today starts another work week, though, with all those furloughed government workers back on the job, and there’s no telling what hay Trump and his die-hard defenders might make of it. Perhaps in three weeks time the Democrats will be doing the capitulating, and the “Russia thing” will be proved a WITCH HUNT!, and Trump will be rolling toward a landslide reelection and eventual inclusion on Mount Rushmore, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Just Another Manic Tuesday

There was no big story of the day on Tuesday, but there were more than enough small ones to fill the remaining newspapers and the cable network’s 24-hours. The partial government shutdown continues, so does the “Russia thing,” and Republican congressman has been rebuked for his long history of racist sentiments. On the pop culture front President Donald Trump served the reigning national collegiate football champs a feast of fast food, and a legend of a better era of show biz showed up in the obituary pages.
The Democrats who now comprise a majority of the House of Representatives declined Trump’s invitation to a negotiating session to end the partial government shutdown, and we can’t blame them, as Trump would have insisted on funding for his long-promised wall along the entire southern and every public opinion poll shows that majority of the public doesn’t want it. Public disapproval of the both the wall and the partial government shutdown are such that a few Republican senators up for a ’20 reelection in purplish states will vote for a spending bill to fully reopen the government with no wall funding, a few more are willing to vote for a bill with less wall funding than Trump insists on, while a few more are willing to vote for a deal that gives Trump his border wall funding but also the Democrats’ position on amnesty for the “dreamers” who were illegally brought into the country as children. At this point the Democrats can plausibly win a veto-proof number of votes in both chambers of Congress to end the shutdown on their terms, and have no reason to let Trump act tough in front of the cameras for his die-hard base of support.
Meanwhile, the “Russia thing” keeps getting worse for Trump. The special counsel investigation have made new court filings about former Trump campaign manager and already-convicted felon Paul Manafort, and although they’re heavily redacted for national security reasons they all indicate  his contacts and  financial dealings with the Russians were even more extensive than theist year’s alarming reports had already indicated. In other interesting “Russia thing” news, Trump’s Treasury Department’s attempts to lift sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whose name keeps popping up in this “Russia thing,” met with congressional opposition, and eleven — count ’em, eleven — Republican Senators joined every last one of the Democrats in voting for the resolution to stop the deal. So far as we can tell this Deripaska fellow is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg, as W.C. Fields would have put it, and we can’t blame any Republican who doesn’t want to explain why he’s siding with Trump’s Treasury Department about it. What with the recent reports about Trump’s disdain for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and keeping his talks with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin secret, this “Russia thing” keeps looking worse.
Elsewhere in the news the House of Representatives voted to rebuke Rep. Steve King of Iowa and take away his committee assignments for his long history of outrageously racist statements, with the resolution passing by a margin of 424-to-1, which of course of included all but one of the remaining Republicans. Although King has long been over-the-top in his defense of what he calls “western civilization,” but his recent lament to The New York Times about how “white supremacy” and “white nationalism” somehow have a negative connotation these days was too much for even the most wall-building sorts of Republicans.
Trump did well with the fast food feast in the White House dining room, on the other hand. There was the predictable snooty sniping about the portrait of Abraham Lincoln looking down a White House dining table stacked with McDonald’s Quarter Pounders and Big Macs and Wendy’s double-cheeseburgers and Burger King’s Whoppers, along with some Domino’s pizza, but Trump reportedly paid the few thousand-dollar tab himself in honor of the partial government shutdown and the visiting Clemson University Tigers seemed to appreciate it, including that very promising quarterback with the hippy-dippy haircut.
Once upon a more genteel time in America President Franklin Roosevelt treated the King and Queen of England to a meal of hot dogs in the White House dining to room, an apparent attempt to reassure Great Depression America he had the common touch, but First Lady Eleanor spoiled the effort by passing the accent on the second part and asking the Queen if she’d like another “hot dog.” Trump’s affinity for fast food is obviously more authentic, the reigning champions of college football seems to share his tastes, and for whatever that says about America’s diet Trump got a rare photo opportunity with some winners.
Also on Tuesday we were saddened to note the passing of Carol Channing at the ripe old age of 97. It’s such a ripe old age that most Americans won’t remember her long career as a Broadway show-stopper, but we’re old enough to know from her occasional show-stopping and Oscar-winning movie roles and frequent variety show appearances and several hit records, and can testify that she was really something. She was a gangly six feet tall with weirdly wide eyes, yet inexplicably attractive enough to star in Broadway and Hollywood movies, and she had a raspy voice that all the nightclub comics did impressions of, yet she’s still one of our favorite singers, and Republicans and Democrats alike agreed she had one of those irresistible personalities that projected all the way to the back of any theater.
We expect that today will bring lots more news, too, and hope that some of it will be good.

— Bud Norman

The Trump Slump Continues

You might not have noticed, what with all the attention being paid to the still ongoing partial government shutdown and all the undeniable problems it’s causing for a whole lot of Americans, but the “Russia thing” is looking even worse than ever for President Donald Trump.
The past few days have brought a New York Times report that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the possibility that Trump was acting on behalf of Russian rather than American interests shortly after he took office, reports from pretty much every news outlet that read the ineptly redacted court filings by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort revealing Manafort had admitted to sharing polling data with the Russian operatives that all the intelligence agencies agree was engaged in a disinformation effort on behalf of Trump’s campaign, and a subsequent Washington Post report that as president Trump had sought to keep his conversations with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin a secret from not only the general public but also his diplomatic and national security staff. Trump and his dwindling number of die-hard defenders have plenty to say about it, but to the rest of the country it looks pretty damned bad
If you’re fully on board with Trump’s efforts to make America great again, you’re probably already convinced that FBI’s undenied investigation into Trump’s Russia ties is just further “smocking gun” of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow a duly elected American president, but if you’re not that’s a hard case to make. Unlike Trump, the FBI and its overseeing Department and Justice and the independent federal judiciary that have to sign off on everything it all operate according to longstanding rules and laws and traditions, and if this entire staid constitutional order is somehow more lawless than Trump then God help us all. Trump had already fulsomely flattered the Russian dictator and said America had no moral standing to condemn his extra-judicial killings of journalists and other dissidents, altered the Republican platform to a more Russia-friendly position regarding its annexation of Ukraine, spoke hopefully of lifting sanctions on Russia for its violation of a neighboring country’s sovereignty, disparaged the North Atlantic Treaty organization as bad as the North American Free Trade Agreement, and at that point our President Ronald Reagan-era selves can hardly blame the FBI and its overseeing Justice Department and overseeing federal courts for wondering why.
Trump now boasts that he’s been harder on Russia than any previous president, but we’re old enough to remember Reagan’s victory over the Soviet Union way back in the Cold War, and have read enough history to know that President Theodore Roosevelt won the first Nobel Peace Prize by negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War that acknowledged Russian had gotten its ass kicked, and we conclude that Trump’s claims for superior toughness do not much impress. Extra sanctions have indeed been imposed on Russia since Trump’s inauguration, but that’s only because bipartisan and veto-proof majorities in both chamber of Congress have insisted on, and the Trump administration has been slow to execute them, and recently the administration’s Secretary of the Treasury has has struggled to explain why a Russian oligarch who figures in the “Russia thing” has been given an exemption from the sanctions.
That was only Trump’s campaign manager whose lawyers have inadvertently admitted he handed over polling data to the Russkie’s disinformation efforts, and not Trump himself, and with the guy already in prison for probably the rest of life that will probably we expect he’ll take all the blame for that on all the talk radio shows. Even so, it looks bad.
The part about Trump keeping his conversations with the Russian dictator private even from his top advisors is his even harder to explain. There’s always the possibility that Trump’s Russophile foreign policy was an ingeniously conceived plan to make America great again, and thus he had to keep it secret from the “deep state” conspirators arrayed against him, as his exquisitely educated gut tells him more than any of the brains of the very best people he’d appointed to advise him, but we’d still like to have some public record of what Trump said to that Russian dictator. As for now, we and the foreign policy establishment and a majority of the public will assume the worst.
Meanwhile, that record-setting partial government shutdown doesn’t seem to be polling well for Trump, and a troublesome number of congressional Republicans are abandoning ship, and his last ditch option of declaring a national emergency to usurp the constitutional order of the newly-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to appropriate funds for his campaign promise of a border wall probably won’t poll well. More sensible Republicans such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have argued that the next inevitable Democratic president could just as easily declare a national emergency about climate change to get all sorts of crazy liberal environmental regulations imposed, or after the next inevitable mass shooting at a school or shopping mall impose all sorts of crazy liberal gun rights restrictions.
The last time a president’s national emergency powers were challenged in the Supreme Court was when President Harry Truman tried to end a steelworkers’ strike during the Korean War, and even though all of the Supreme Court justices had been appointed by either President Franklin Roosevelt or Truman he lost that case by a 9-to-zero decision. Trump doesn’t have a war or any other extenuating circumstances to bolster his case, as Truman did, and he’s got both liberals and Federalist Society types of conservatives to persuade, so we don’t expect he’ll fare any better. Trump promised his die-hard fans they would grow weary on winning so much, but for now he seems to be losing on every front.

— Bud Norman

On the Ongoing Border War

There’s little in the news these days except the debate over a border wall and its resulting partial government shutdown, which might or might not be good for President Donald Trump. The upside for Trump is that no one’s paying much attention to the latest developments in the “Russia thing,” or talking about what Trump’s longtime lawyer will soon tell an open congressional hearing on his way to federal prison, and Trump’s die-hard fans can console themselves that at least he fights, which they seem to find quite consoling. The downside is pretty much everything else.
Despite the best efforts of Trump and his talk radio apologists, the president is taking a beating on the public relations front.
Past partial government shutdowns have been short-lived and gone largely unnoticed, but this time around is far longer and harsher than usual. The “fake news” media have come up with some all-too-real sob stories about the 800,000 or so federal workers who won’t be getting paid today, scary tales about air traffic controllers and airport security officers calling in sick to protest their lack of pay, and trash and human feces piling up at America’s national parks. There are few more hundred thousand employees of government contractors who also aren’t getting paid, too, and plenty of footage of farmers who are having trouble getting the subsidy checks they were promised when commodity prices dropped in the wake of Trump’s trade wars.
Both sides always play the blame game during these partial government shutdowns, but Trump pretty much gave that away when he invited all the cameras from the “fake news” to record him telling Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “I will be proud to shutdown the government for border security.” By “border security” Trump clearly meant the big and beautiful border wall he promised he would build along the entire southern border, but the public seems to have figured out that America can have border security without a wall, and that even the biggest and most beautiful wall won’t secure the country’s borders.
Trump has resorted to some easily disproved falsehoods about how all the past American presidents supported a sea-to-shining-sea border wall, and even Fox News has challenged his administration’s claims about the number Islamist terrorists crossing the southern border. He’s bragged about his magnanimity as he’s back downed from previous promises of a concrete to a mere American-made steel fence, and he’s been forced to say that he never really it meant it when he said that Mexico would gladly pay for it. Trump still insists that Mexico is indirectly paying for it by the great yet unratified trade deal that he has so brilliantly negotiated, but even it does raise enough federal revenue to pay for a wall it’s still money that could have been spent elsewhere if Mexico had actually paid for Trump’s big and beautiful border wall.
The objections aren’t just coming from those damned open borders Democrats, who we have to admit have offered billions for all sorts of border security efforts that don’t involve a big and beautiful wall along the entire border, but also some Republicans with old-fashioned pre-Trump conservative notions. The remaining Republicans in the House representing districts along the border are opposed to the idea, as many of their constituents own border land and don’t want a wall on it. Along most of the border Americans have happy and profitable relations with their neighbors to the south, and Trump should note that at one point a golf course would be cut in half, and that pre-Trump conservatism takes a dim view of eminent domain seizures of private property.
Trump is now threatening to use his presidential powers to declare a national emergency and divert funds from the defense budget or money appropriated for disaster relief and efforts to prevent further hurricane damage in Puerto Rico and Texas, but the few remaining pre-Trump conservatives will object on on old-fashioned constitutional grounds, and everyone in the country but the die-hard fans probably won’t buy into that. On Thursday’s photo-op at the southern border Trump riffed about how the wheel proceeded the wall back in the Medieval Age, and he looked even more ridiculous in his white “Make America Great Again” baseball cap and national emergency windbreaker and white slacks, and he seemed to realize the photo-op was a waste of time, as he’d already predicted to some reporters who leaked the off-the-record comment.
Trump is losing the argument in all the opinion polls, that awful but undeniably shrewd Pelosi woman clearly understands her advantage, but Trump can’t back down for fear of what the talk radio hosts might say, so those hundreds of thousands of government employees and government contract employees going without paychecks and the local business that depend on their patronage should probably hunker down for the long haul. Despite Trump’s claim that he’s backed by the entirety of the Republican there are already some dissenting votes, and of course all of those damned Democrats are against anything he wants, and although we have to admit that at least Trump fights he seems to be losing another round, and he won’t keep that “Russia thing” out of the news forever.

— Bud Norman

Some Inadvertently Un-Redacted Facts

That pesky partial government shutdown seems almost certain to soon set a new record for duration, and thus continues to dominate the news, but we still try to follow the “Russia thing.” Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter has been admirably if infuriatingly leak-proof, but fortunately almost everybody else involved continue to keep the story in the bottom-of-the-fold headlines.
Thanks to some sloppy computer work on a court filing by the lawyers for Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump and confessed felon who currently resides in a federal prison, we now know that Manafort stands accused of sharing polling data with a Russian named Konstantin Kilimnik who has ties to the Russian intelligence agencies. We also know, from Manafort’s lawyers accidentally un-redacted filings on his behalf, that “After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort ‘conceded’ that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan on more than one occasion” during the campaign.
This isn’t a “smocking gun,” as Trump spells it, but it does look pretty darned bad.
Trump’s defenders are already that there’s nothing illegal about sharing poll data with even a Russian operative, as poll data is readily available from the news media, but the more specific internal polling of a major party presidential campaign is usually a carefully protected secret, and in this case raises suspicions. All of America’s intelligence agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, backed up by all of the Trump appointees to head them, agree that the Russian government attempted to interfere in America’s last presidential election on behalf of Trump. One of the alleged efforts was an internet disinformation campaign, which all of the major social media platforms have told Congress did happen, and it seems to have been effectively targeted to the states and counties where Trump wound up winning his electoral majority, so one wonders how the Russian could have known to choose this spots on the map.
One needn’t wonder why the Russians were meddling on Trump’s behalf, as Trump was one of the very few American politicians talking about lifting the sanctions the had been imposed on Russia after its invasions of Ukraine and Georgia. Trump had even spoken about the legitimacy of Russia’s claims to the territory, and we expect that any discussions Manafort might or might not have had about a Ukraine “peace plan” were to Russia’s liking, and that Russia would surely appreciate the precinct-by-precinct sort of polling that a major American political party does during a presidential campaign. Maybe it’s not a “smocking gun” of a criminal quid pro quo, but it’s hard for Trump’s die-hard defenders to explain.
Eventually they’ll probably wind up blaming everything on Manafort, who seems likely to wind up dying in federal prison anyway, and insist that the brilliant and always in charge Trump had no idea of what his campaign manager was up to, but there’s still a lot of explaining to do. Lately Trump has been excusing Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan with some revisionist history, might or might not be pursuing a retreat from Syria that would would greatly strengthen Russia’s power in the Middle East, and is still open to lifting the sanctions on Russia for it’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Perhaps there’s some perfectly innocent explanation for all this, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

A Good Day For Trump, For Now

A steady rain was falling on the just and unjust alike all across the prairie states throughout Wednesday, and it was a cold rain from a gloomy dark gray sky that to seemed to emphasize how all the Christmas cheer was over for another long year, but elsewhere President Donald Trump wound up having one of his better days.
The recently swooning stock markets had an unprecedented rally, and all the cable news networks were obliged to air some flattering footage of Trump being welcomed by the troops at an air base in Iraq, and pretty much everyone in Congress was back home with family and constituent and not making any news trouble for him. Although Trump might have preferred to be golfing at his ritzy Mar-a-Lago resort in sunny south Florida, as previously planned, he surely enjoyed a 24-hour news cycle for the first time in quite a while.
Today brings yet another 24-hour news cycle, however, so we’d advise Trump not to get too cocky.
Our best explanation for that inexplicable surge in the stock markets is that after the past few months of steep declines the investors woke up on the day after Christmas went bargain hunting and wound up in a bidding war, so there’s no telling how long that might last. The unemployment rate is still low by historical norms and the global and domestic economies are clearly slowing they’re also still expanding at their typically slow paces, but that’s all the more reason for the Federal Reserve Board to nudge interest rates slightly closer to historical norms, and a global trade war is still being waged, and there’s more than the usual amount of certainty in the politics almost everywhere, so we’ll wait and how the smart money sorts all of that out. If you’re at all familiar with the most fundamental laws of high finance you by now know that when the stock market goes up it is because of Trump, and when it goes down it’s somebody else’s fault, so no matter how it turns out at least we’d be willing to wager some serious dough on how Trump will spin the next few news cycles.
Even the “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” media had to acknowledge that Trump had paid a potentially risky visit to the brave and selfless men and women who had been working through Christmas in a war zone, so such old-fashioned Never-Trump Republican types as ourselves are also obliged to give credit where credit is due. The traditional presidential visit that all of the past several Democratic and Republicans presidents made came after nearly two years of criticism from most quarters for failing to do so, which was heightened last November when Trump skipped a visit to an American World War I cemetery in France during a commemoration of the centennial of Armistice Day, which was attended by all of the heads of states of the winning allies but skipped by Trump due to a light rain, and then again when played golf rather than the lay the traditional presidential wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veteran’s Day, but there’s still no denying Trump did eventually make the trip.
The trip also raised questions about Trump’s overall foreign policy performance, though, which have been raised on both sides of the political aisle, and they’re likely to linger through the coming year of 24-hour news cycles and probably won’t provide such favorable photo opportunities. Trump felt obliged to explain his recent decision to withdraw troops from Syria and draw down troops in Afghanistan, which led to the resignation of the wise and wizened and widely respected four-star general who had been his Secretary of Defense, and although he’d earlier said that it because the mission of defeating the Islamic State had been won he wound up telling the troops that he expected our newfound friends in the Russian and Iranian dictatorships to help the Syrian dictatorship finish the job. Most of those brave men and women wearing boots on the ground have the poetic idea that theirs is not to make reply, their is not to question why, but theirs is but to do and die, and they seemed genuinely grateful for a visit from their commander in chief. Much of the higher brass watching over them seems to have its doubts, as do many of America’s erstwhile allies in Europe and the Middle East and elsewhere, and under a gloomy and rainy Kansas sky far away from the front lines we indulge in the luxury of our own worries.
All of those Senators and Representatives will be soon back in Washington and supplying critical sound bits to the cable news networks and damning quotes to the mainstream press, and early next year a sizable majority of the Representatives will be damned Democrats and lately even some of the slight majority of Republicans in the Senate have been restive on a number of issues. The special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” will be back from its Christmas holiday, too, and it seems a sure bet that Trump will have some less happy 24-hour news cycles in the coming year.
He should get in a few more golf rounds, though, and we’ll generously wish him and the rest of the world nothing but fairways and greens.

— Bud Norman

On the Night After Christmas

Here’s hoping you all had a merry Christmas, or at least a merrier one that President Donald Trump seems to have had. For Trump, who was forced by public relations reasons to forestall a planned golfing vacation at his ritzy Mar-a-Lago resort in sunny south Florida, it wasn’t so much a Christmas as it was a “Festivus.”
Fans of the classic “Seinfeld” sit-com will recall that “Festivus” was a holiday the George Costanza character’s cranky father invented as an alternative to Christmas, and was devoted to the “airing of grievances” and “feats of strength.” Our cranky president spent most of Christmas Eve and Christmas airing a wide variety grievances via “Twitter” and a rare Christmas news conference, about everything from the damned Democrats to the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” to the alleged idiot that Trump appointed to chair the Federal Reserve, and trying his best to convince the public the he’s far stronger than any of them.
Although we try our best to ignore the news on Christmas Eve and Christmas, we read and watched enough that we were not convinced.
The third partial government shutdown of Trump’s first two years in office looks bad enough that Trump felt compelled to remain in frigid Washington rather than enjoy the sunny climes and opulent golf course at Mar-a-Lago, and the Democratic majority that’s soon to be installed in the House of Representatives has no apparent incentive to cave to the unpopular president’s demand for five billion dollars of funding for his unpopular campaign promise of a big and beautiful wall along the entirety of America’s border with Mexico. Partial government shutdowns are also unpopular, and although Trump is now blaming this one on the Democrats the “fake news” networks can gleefully replay the very real video of Trump recently bragging to the Democratic leaders in Congress that he’ll take all the credit for this one. Trump is already saying that he doesn’t need a wall across the entire Mexican border, and is talking about “steel slats” rather than the 30-foot-tall concrete and rebar structure he once envisions, and concedes that the Democrats can call it a mere fence if they want, and he’s pretty much given up on the campaign promise that Mexico will happily pay for it,
The former Federal Bureau of Investigation director and decorated Marine combat veteran in charge of the “Russia thing” probably isn’t much intimidated by Trump’s “tweets,” either, so we expect that will continue to vex Trump well into the next year. Trump’s remaining Republican allies in Congress are increasingly disinclined to protect Trump from that, too, and have increasingly little incentive to do so.
Our best guess is that the stock markets will continue their recent swoon when the reopen today, and that the Fed chairman Trump appointed and can’t fire without causing a political and economic crisis probably won’t be budged by any presidential “tweets.” The Fed has recently nudged the prime interest rate toward historical norms, but the markets are also spooked by the Trump trade wars that have raised the cost of a steel-slat border barrier by 25 percent, and the inevitable cyclical slowing of the global economy that won’t be helped if the central bank of the all-important American economy is perceived as acting in the short term political interests of an unpopular president, so once again Trump doesn’t seem to be negotiating or “tweeting” from a position of strength.
Starting today Trump will be dealing with all this with an acting Attorney General, an acting defense secretary, an acting secretary of the interior, an acting chief of staff who’s moonlighting on the job while running the Office of Management and Budget that’s overseeing the partial shutdown of the government, no ambassador to the the United Nations or South Korea at all, and an understaffed White House legal team responding to all the subpoenas that the “Russia thing” investigation and the incoming Democratic House majority will surely be serving in the coming weeks.. This isn’t likely to reassure the markets or Trump’s already skeptical international and domestic allies, but Trump’s die-hard fans can still reassure themselves that at least he fights.

— Bud Norman