Draining the Ukrainian Swamp

President Donald Trump’s strongest defense of his decision to withhold congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine, which is the basis of the impeachment inquiry against him that renews this week, is that he was trying to get the country to clean up its undeniable problem with political corruption. According to a report from The Washington Post the ploy seems to have worked, but not the way Trump probably intended.
What’s driving the impeachment inquiry is the suspicion that Trump was leaning on the Ukrainian government for dirt on potential Democratic opponent Joe Biden’s son and a confession that the previous Ukrainian government had meddled in the past election and then framed Russia for the crime. So far all the sworn testimony from respected military officers and foreign service officials and a million-dollar Trump donor, as well as some pretty damning texts and e-mails and other documentary evidence backs this up.
For now Trump is blocking any testimony from a former White House legal counsel and national security advisor and the current Secretary of State and and his-still-on-retainer personal lawyer, all of whom clearly know something about all this and there might be able to say something exculpatory, and declining to send a lawyer to the hearings, but he’s still got a plausible enough corruption argument for the talk radio hosts and Republican politicians and the die-hard fans to cling to.
Biden’s son admittedly made a lot of money in Ukraine while the former Vice President was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, some very funny dealings have undoubtedly occurred in the country during its long and fitful struggle toward democracy since America helped liberate it from Soviet domination, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has assured Trump that Russia sure didn’t meddle in the last election, and according to Trump some people are saying that Ukraine has the mysteriously missing Democratic National Committee computer server with all of the e-mails that should lock up Hillary Clinton. None of this comports with any established facts or the weight of evidence, and would be laughed out of any judicial proceeding, but impeachment is a political matter and the fans seems to love it.
No matter how that works out, Trump probably won’t get what he was hoping for from Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced a purge of more than 500 prosecutors suspected of corruption, but so for none are accused of anything having to do with Biden’s son or Clinton’s e-mails, and one of them is closely tied to Rudy Giuliani, the Trump personal lawyer who’s up to his neck in this Ukrainian impeachment mess and is refusing to testify about to Congress. Now that he’s got his military aid, which came shortly after Trump learned a “whistleblower” report about an alleged aid-for-dirt deal, Zelensky can make good on his campaign promise to root out corruption and stay on good terms with whoever the next president might be, and he’s wise to stay out of America’s affairs as much as possible.
Zelensky seems a savvy fellow, and just as interesting as Trump. He was a comedian who had no apparent qualifications except that he’d starred in a hit sit-com about a comedian who became president of Ukraine, just as Trump without any apparent qualifications except that he’d starred as a successful businessman on a hit reality show. Both men have outgoing personalities, a certain buffoonish self-consciousness, ridiculously bad hair cuts, and their own agendas.As Trump did, Zelensky ran as an outsider who would shake up the establishment, and like Trump he promised to be immune to corruption.
Unlike Trump, Zelensky inherited a country that had been largely annexed by a Russian government that was working to further exert its influence, and was eager to find whatever foreign assistance he could, whereas Trump spoke openly of his ambivalence about Russia claim on Ukrainian territory and cast doubt on any claims of undue Russian influence anywhere. Zelensky was thereby obliged to say during a White House visit that he’d felt no pressure to provide any dirt on the Bidens or Clinton’s in exchange for the aid, but at this point he’s got his military aid and is surely following American politics well enough to know that he doesn’t owe Trump any further favors. If he’s following all the trend-setting television comedians in America he’s probably betting on the Democrats, and if he’s serious about rooting out corruption in Ukraine he won’t give any cover to Giuliani.
We don’t nearly know nearly so much about Ukrainian politics as the former Trump campaign chairman who’s now in federal prison, or the Trump personal lawyer who’s now under federal investigation for his dealings in that country, or the various high government officials who are barred from testifying about any of it, but Zelensky seems to have a pretty good hand for the president of such a beleaguered country. Come reelection time he can tell the Ukrainian electorate that he stood up to the bullies of two nuclear superpowers, got millions of dollars from one to deter the other, and pulled it off with sit-comic flair.
Trump’s reality show presidency will be hard-pressed to compete with that. The big bucks Biden’s son made in Ukraine were already part of the the public record and would have been more useful without leaning on Ukraine for further dirt, and the stuff about Ukraine getting Clinton elected is a hard sell to all but the most die-hard fans.

— Bud Norman

The “Tweets” of Crazed Celebrities

If America had a more cerebral and less celebrity-addled popular culture few people would much care what the likes of Roseanne Barr “tweets,” and that guy from “The Apprentice” wouldn’t be President of the United States. As things stand now, though, attention must be paid to both.
For those of you spent Tuesday in a coma, the American Broadcasting Company abruptly cancelled the highly-rated “Roseanne” sitcom after its eponymous star unleashed a series of stunningly stupid “tweets.” One claimed that former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton had married into the family of controversial left-wing billionaire George Soros. Another alleged Soros had collaborated with the Nazis when they occupied his native Hungary. In the one that got her fired just a few hours later, she joked that Valerie Jarrett, a black woman and former top advisor to President Barack Obama, was the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.”
We’ve never cared much for Clinton or either of her parents, but she clearly got the better of the exchange when she classily and correctly “tweeted” back that in fact her husband has no relation to Soros. Although we don’t think much of Soros, either, we’ve seen no proof that as a 14-year-old Jew in an occupied country he was ever friendly to the Nazis. Over the Obama years we had our complaints about Jarrett, too, but we always took care to state them without resort to such flat-out and stone-cold racist tropes as comparing her to a monkey. As far as we’re concerned, ABC made the right call.
The “tweets” were somehow shocking to bien pensant sensibilities even though they were not at all surprising. Barr has always been an obnoxious crazy-pants conspiracy theorist, going back to the days when the original “Roseanne” was a critically-acclaimed hit in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when only the people on the right seemed to notice.
The first run of her sitcom depicted a white working class family struggling to make ends meet during the supposedly horrible Reagan-Bush era, ostentatiously featured several homosexual characters, and delivered even the funny lines with an unmistakably feminist smugness, so the left largely adored her. When she delivered a deliberately screeching rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at a major league baseball game and followed it with a crotch-grab and a spit it was lauded as daring satire. When she embraced the “truther” conspiracy theory that President George W. Bush was responsible for the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon she was defended on free speech principles. When she posed for a magazine as Hitler making “Jew cookies” some tried to explain it as satire.
By the time Barr tried to win the far-left Green Party’s presidential nomination and wound up running as the nominee of something called the Peace and Freedom Party we largely ignored by almost everyone. Her sitcom had concluded with a low-rated final season that was widely panned by the critics and hated by the fans, her limited acting range had yielded only a couple of roles in flop movies, a reality show on an obscure cable network yielded minuscule ratings, and at first no one seemed to notice what a strange turn her craziness had taken. She embraced the “birther” theory that Obama had been born in Kenya and was constitutionally ineligible to be president, insisted that all the hotter stars in Hollywood were manipulated agents of the Central Intelligence Agency through its “MK-Ultra Mind Control” projects, appeared frequently on the Russian dictatorship’s “Russia Today” propaganda network on your cable dial, and wound up as one of the few Hollywood celebrities who endorsed the presidential campaign of that guy from “The Apprentice.”
After the inauguration of President Donald Trump, however, the programming executives at ABC were suddenly receptive to the pitch that a re-boot of “Roseanne” catching up with that same wisecracking struggling-to-make-ends-meet white working class family in this glorious Trumpian new day might have some appeal to the popular minority but electoral majority of Americans who ushered it in. The re-boot featured the entire original cast, including including the critically-acclaimed and generically Hollywood thespians who played the husband and daughter and sister of the title character, as well as the former child actor who had to take time off from an even bigger hit sit-com, but the advance publicity made clear that Barr’s titular and obviously autobiographical character was decidedly pro-Trump, and the premiere episode drew 18 million viewers and even some grudgingly positive reviews by critics who noted that the husband and daughter and sister got in a few jabs of their own. Shortly after that, he show was renewed for a second season.
Back in the three-network days of “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Fugitive” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” a mere 18 million viewers would have cancelled a show before its second episode, much less the 10 million viewers that the season finale drew, but in these days of a billion or so cable channels and the gazillion or so options on the internet those are both pretty impressive numbers for any old American broadcasting company. Trump gloated about it at one of his still ongoing campaign rallies, telling his die-hard fans that “the show is about us” and predicting that Hollywood’s greed would force it to adhere once again to their all-American values. After that, it was the post-Trump right that overlooked Barr’s craziness.
Trump was an even more prominent “birther,” so that craziness was easily forgivable. Although Trump never was a “truther,” be did win the Republican party’s presidential nomination parroting the left’s “Bush lied, people died” lie about the intelligence reports of intelligence about the Iraq War. Even Trump has never mentioned the “MK-Ultra Mind Control Project” during his conspiracy theorizing, but he and his die-hard fans and even ourselves have to admit there’s something pretty darned suspicious about who’s hot in Hollywood these days. As for the appearances on “Russia Today,” the Trump campaign’s foreign policy and the Trump administration’s first National Security Advisor was paid to sit next next to the Russian dictator at a dinner in honor of the propaganda network, so that’s no big deal. At this point, all the die-hard fans who hate those pro football players for kneeling during the national anthem have long-forgotten bar’s screeching and crotch-grabbing and spitting rendition of their beloved song. Trump didn’t mention Barr at his latest campaign rally, but he did recall some rapper at a Hillary Clinton campaign two years ago using the same foul language he had used at his events, and his apologists on talk radio and other conservative media rightly recalled all the leftist entertainers’ outrageous statements and outright craziness.
At this point pretty much everyone’s a hypocrite, except for those of us on the left and right who always spotted Barr as the pure product of a stupid and celebrity-addled popular culture. From our current vantage point on the sidelines of America’s cultural and political wars we feel free to make the calls against either side, and we say good riddance to both Barr and all the fashionable causes and crazy-pants conspiracy theories and reality show candidates se ever championed.

— Bud Norman

The Show Goes On and On

We’ve been following this “sequester” business with rapt attention, but we’re of the sort that enjoys a good farce. More normal people are apparently rather bored with the whole affair.
Or so it would seem from the latest batch of opinion surveys, which indicate a widespread weariness with the topic. A high 38 percent of respondents to the Gallup poll admitted that they are not following the story closely or at all, an even higher 48 percent made the same confession to the Pew Center, and it is likely that many of the people who claimed to be following the story closely or at least somewhat were fibbing for fear of looking foolish. To the extent that people have been paying attention, they don’t seem to be very worried, with about 40 percent telling Pew that they won’t mind seeing the budget cuts go into effect and about one-fifth being shrewd enough to offer no opinion at all.
One can hardly blame these folks for the lack of interest. After a seemingly endless series of debt ceiling debates and “fiscal cliff” controversies it is asking a bit much of the public to bone up on yet another budgetary brouhaha, especially with yet another round on the debt ceiling fight scheduled for next month, and there really isn’t anything special about this spat. Even a cursory glance at the news reveals that it’s only a matter of $44 billion, a mere nick in a $3.8 trillion budget, and no one seems to believe that even the most successful resolution of the matter would have much effect on the broader economy.
Still, those switching to another channel to avoid the “sequester” show will be unlikely to find a more hilarious comedy. Thursday’s episode alone featured enough wacky subplots to fuel the typical sit-com for a season. California’s Rep. Maxine Waters, who is always good for comic relief, warned that the budget cuts will cause 170 million Americans to lose their jobs. Homeland security honcho Janet Napolitano, another side-splitter, went on television to say that she “regretted” the “poorly timed” release of detained illegal immigrants even before the budget cuts went into effect. There was also the spectacle of the Washington press elite savaging the reputation of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who had been the most elite pressman in the city until he challenged the Obama administration’s self-serving version of how the whole “sequester” business got started in the first place. Adding yet another humorous twist, the President took time out from flying around the country in his $180,000-an-hour jet to warn that there is no fat to be trimmed from the budget and scheduled his first face-to-face meeting with the congressional leadership on the months-old matter just a few hours ahead of the deadline for the budget cuts to take effect. In a move that would be considered “jumping the shark” on any other sit-com, the president even set aside a full seven minutes for the meeting.
There’s no predicting where such a wacky plot will go next, but our best guess is that it’s heading toward another one of those anti-climactic finales common to budget debates and other long-running television shows. What everyone’s waiting to find out is who will get the blame, of course, and that’s more easily predicted. Over at the Washington Post some of the writers seem concerned that the aforementioned poll results show that Obama has failed to whip up the intended frenzy of fear about the budget cuts, but those same polls indicate that a slight majority of Americans are willing to place the blame on the Republicans even if nothing noticeably bad happens. That’s become a natural instinct for a slight majority of Americans, and it doesn’t require that any attention be paid.

— Bud Norman