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Shut Up, He Argued

The world is full of people saying things one would rather not hear, and its only human to want to either make them shut up or regret not doing so. Most of us don’t have that power, but if you’re the president of the United States or the chief executive officer a big social media platform the temptation must be carefully resisted. Alas, such restraint is sorely lacking these days.
President Donald Trump has a well documented history of bullying or buying off his critics to silence them, and has long made clear that he’d like to “open up” America’s traditional permissive libel laws in order to do so more effectively, and on Wednesday he revoked the security clearance of former Central Intelligence Agency director and current outspoken critic of the administration John Brennan. The White House named nine other people that Trump whose security clearances Trump is thinking of revoking, all of outspoken critics of the administration and several of them former members of the investigation into the “Russia thing.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Brennan lost his clearance because of a “series of unfounded and outrageous allegations — wild outbursts on the internet and television — about this administration.” She didn’t cite any specific examples of Brennan’s unfounded and outrageous allegation that rise even to the level of a typical Trump “tweet,” and one can only wonder what the Trump administration of all people considers wild outbursts on the internet and television. The official administration line is that Brennan was not merely being punished for his free speech, but Sanders did not explain how Brennan had abused his security clearance or violated any policies.
Meanwhile, crazy-pants conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been barred from YouTube, Facebook, Apple, Spotify, and a couple of internet sites we’ve not heard of, and although “Twitter” hasn’t fully kicked him he’s currently serving a temporary ban. This is a very different case than Brennan’s loss of a security clearance for a number of reasons, but it still troubles us.
YouTube and Facebook and Apple and Spotify has the same right as any private sector publisher to publish what they want and reject what they don’t want, but at moment in the cultural revolution where they largely comprise contemporary public square we’d like to see them welcome as wide a diversity of viewpoints as possible. Jones is certainly out on the furthest fringes of the nation’s political conservation, and his embrace of such insane notions that the Sandy Hook school shooting was faked and that Hillary Clinton was running a satanic child sex abuse ring in the basement of a Washington pizzeria have led some crazy people to do some crazy things, but we think it best that be out in public view. Now we can’t demonstrate just how awful he is by linking to his most hilariously unhinged rants on YouTube, and For pure entertainment value alone we’ll especially miss the one where he pounds on the table and screams that the “deep state” globalist cabal is “turning the friggin’ frogs gay!”
Trump once appeared on Jones’ radio program and congratulated the host on his “excellent reputation,” and briefly granted White House press credentials to Jones'”Infowars” correspondents, so he doesn’t seem to mind that Jones’ unfounded and outrageous allegations and wild outbursts on the internet television are mostly about how the “deep state” globalist cabal is now out to get to Trump to thwart his heroic effort to round up “Crooked” Hillary and all the other elitist pedophiles who secretly run the country. Even so, the Federal Communications Commission is shutting down the off-shore pirate radio ship that blasts Jones’ rants over other broadcasters’ rightful band widths, which isn’t a free speech issue at all, so Jones’ fans will just have to look a little harder get real scoop on what’s happening in this crazy world.
All of the social media CEOs are understandably concerned about the rampant vile and hateful language that they spread around the world, and the sort of genuinely fake news stories that occasionally result in crazy people calling up the grieving parents of murdered schoolchildren and threatening their lives for participating in a gun-grabbing conspiracy, or showing up with a semi-automatic rifle at a Washington pizzeria that doesn’t even have a basement. Still, limiting what people have to say is a risky endeavor. Jones was temporarily banned by Twitter for his “hateful language,” and although that’s an apt description of what he peddles it also fits many others. Trump has recently “tweeted” that a particularly pesky critic is a “dog,” and made similarly rude comments about countless others, and we think he should be free do so, and that his vile and hateful speech should be out there in plain view for all to see.
The die-hard Trump fans will continue to love it, and the right-wing radio apologists spent Wednesday damning Brennan and the other nine targeted critics, and the comments sections were full of hope that they’d all be locked up in Guantanamo Bay along with the rest of Trump’s critics. We’ll let them vent, and rest assured that Brennan and other well-credential critics will continue to express their outraged opinions no matter what Trump might threaten. Censorship never seems to work, as “Banned in Boston” is still a sure-fire way to get on the best-seller lists, and there’s always a suspicion that the powers that are afraid of what’s been banned, so we hope that Trump and those squishy social media companies figure that out in time.

— Bud Norman

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As the Son-in-Law Sets

Jared Kushner’s position as President Donald Trump’s son-in-law seems secure for the time being, so far as we can tell, but otherwise it’s hard to see how he continues doing the additional jobs of bringing about Middle East peace and reinventing the federal government and solving America’s opioid crisis and being the country’s go-to guy with China and getting Mexico to pay for a border wall.
A pesky bureaucracy has denied him top-level security clearance, what with all the meetings with foreign powers that he forgot to disclose on his forms and the recent reports by the even peskier news media that China and Mexico and a couple of other countries have tried to exploit the billion-dollar debts owed by the company he last ran and is still fully invested in. The White House press secretary assures us that Kushner can continue dealing with the Middle East and China without access to the most top-secret stuff, and has the full support of former the four-star Marine general and current White House chief of staff who doesn’t seem to like Kushner much and recently announced the street policy limiting access to the top-secret stuff to those with top-secret security clearances, but that seems suspicious.
We suppose that Kushner can reinvent America’s federal government and solve its opioid crisis and somehow convince Mexico to pay for a border wall with the same meager information available to the internet-browsing public at large, but our reading of the news suggests these are all tough tasks. All the tougher when you can’t get a security clearance and reports are swirling that foreign government have been trying to exploit the billion-dollar debt you incurred in your last job and still owe, and the father-in-law who handed you these tough jobs has his own problems dealing with eerily similar swirling reports about possible indebtedness to foreign powers.
There’s also the lingering question of why any 37-year-old without any previous public service or foreign relations experience, whose only credentials were taking over the family real estate business when his dad went to prison and driving it a billion dollars into debt and marrying a future president’s daughter, wound up in such demanding jobs. When Trump ran for president he promised that he would hire only the best people, and but it turns out he meant the best people he knew. His limited circle of acquaintances includes his son’s wedding planner who wound up in a sweet position at the Department of Urban Development, a former bit player from his “Apprentice” reality show who wound up as the only black woman in the white House but got fired and wound up on another reality and got fired again, as well too-many-to-link-to others who wound up in high-ranking jobs after serving low-level duty in Trump’s businesses or campaign.
Trump is reportedly going to appoint his former personal jet pilot to head the Federal Aviation Administration, and we marvel at how all the best people happened to be people he knew before he ran for office. Still, we hope he starts considering other job applications from outside his family and circle of friends, if any are forthcoming,

— Bud Norman

Stock Market Swoons, Government Shutdowns, and the Alleged Wives-Beater in the White House

Thursday saw another four-digit drop in the Dow Jones average, another government shutdown after negotiations broke down on a budget-busting compromise bill no one liked, and the news still had to find room for another scandalous exit from President Donald Trump’s administration.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned his post after Britain’s Daily Mail reported that his two ex-wives allege he physically abused them, various media found corroborating police reports and court orders as well as an ex-girfriend with similar tales, and the first ex-wife released a picture of herself with the black eye she alleges he gave her, which ought to be scandalous enough. Worse yet, the media also reported that White House officials had long been aware that the allegations were the reason the Federal Bureau of Investigation never gave Porter the security clearance required to deal with all the classified materials that a White House staff secretary routinely handles.
Even if you’re the sort of die-hard Trump supporter who figures that the women probably had it coming, and give credit to any administration officials who were so bravely politically incorrect as to agree, you have to be unsettled by the national security implications. Apparently there are several high-ranking White House officials who also can’t pass security clearance muster, including top presidential advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s still the point man for China despite FBI warnings about his personal and business ties to a Chinese operative and still in charge of negotiating Middle East despite no apparent qualifications for that tough job, so it seems to be an ongoing problem. You can still rightly point to Hillary Clinton’s undeniably sloppy mishandling of classified material when she was Secretary of State, which is one of the many valid reasons she’s not the President of the United States, but that won’t solve the more pressing national security problems.
Most people will have a problem with the White House’s apparent tolerance of wife-beating, too, and Porter’s departure won’t help with a widespread public perception that Trump is a sexist pig. There’s also talk about how it reflects on White House chief of staff John Kelly, who a couple of days ago was vouching for Porter’s “high moral character” despite being aware of the FBI warnings about why they’d denied a security clearance, and whose spokesman later explained he wasn’t fully aware of the situation until the black eye picture was published. Kelly came into the White with a pristine reputation as a four-star Marine General, but he’s been criticized on the left for comments deemed racist and sexist, and by Trump for his assurances to the congressional hispanic caucus that Trump had “evolved” in his thinking about various immigration issues, and there’s speculation he’ll be one of the next to leave the Trump administration with a more sullied reputation.
The government shutdown might yet prove as short-lived as last month’s, and the market swoon might yet prove a much-needed correction on the way back to prosperity, but another scandalous example of the Trump administration’s crudity and incompetence won’t help with either situation.

— Bud Norman

Through Hell and High Water, “Russia” Persists

Throughout all the hurricanes and mass murders and threats of war, the “Russia” story persists. On Wednesday the Senate’s intelligence committee made clear that it’s not going away soon.
The eminently Republican chairman Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina told an unusual press conference that “There is consensus among members of staff that we trust the conclusions of the (intelligence community assessment),” which concluded that the Russian government attempted to affect the past presidential election by hacking information from the Democratic party, promulgating false propaganda through the internet, and an apparently unsuccessful effort to manipulate vote-counting in several states. He also admitted that “the issue of collusion is still open.”
President Donald Trump has expressed doubt that the Russians did anything untoward at all, argued that even if they did other countries probably did as well, and repeatedly sworn that in any case he and his campaign didn’t have anything to with any Russians. Almost all of which, alas, has lately been so thoroughly disproved that even the Republicans on the Senate intelligence agency vow to continue the investigation.
You still have to rely on those intelligence officials to believe that Russia that hacked the Democratic party’s computers and leaked all those e-mails, but Trump’s own Central Intelligence Agency director agrees and by now only Trump and his most die-hard supporters doubt it. Facebook and Twitter now acknowledge that their popular social media services were extensively used by Russian interests to spread false stories clearly intended to harm the Democratic campaign. Also, Trump’s own Homeland Security Secretary has recently and belatedly advised 21 states of Russian attempts to infiltrate their computer system, then clarified that in two of them Russians had attempted to scan other state networks. At this point the intelligence community is look pretty intelligent, and so far they aren’t mentioning any other countries that might have similarly meddled or acting as if it’s no big deal if they did.
Hurricane winds and sniper fire swept away many of the headlines, but the past weeks have also brought documented news that Trump was pursuing a business deal in Moscow during his campaign, his campaign manager was offering briefings to Kremlin-connected Russians, and Trump’s son and son-in-law and former national security advisor and various other administration officials have been updating their security clearance forms with numerous meetings with Russians that they had previously forgotten to mention. Throw in the Trump campaign’s conspicuously Russia-friendly rhetoric, the way those Russian propagandists seem to know exactly which counties and precincts to target in the states Trump narrowly won to give him an electoral majority, along with all the other news that has been piling up over the past months, and even such an eminently Republican sort of fellow as Sen. Burr has to concede that the question of collusion is still very much open.
The Senate’s investigation will continue, and there’s a special counsel on the job who has a reputation for doggedness and has already executed a no-knock warrant on that former campaign manager and seems to have some serious goods on that former national security advisor, so we’ll venture to guess that the “Russia” story will persists through the coming storms and crimes and the rest of the governmental fiascos.

— Bud Norman