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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

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Welcome to the Actual New Year

Today is the actual first day of the new year, no matter what the calendar says. Anyone who can takes the official if fake first of day January off from the time and space continuum, for darned good reason, and procrastinates at least until today what sooner or later needs to be done. Everyone’s back on the job of getting through another year starting today, unless you’re one of those federal employees temporarily furloughed by the latest partial government shutdown.
That’s just one of the dreary stories that civic-minded citizens will be obliged to read about in the coming days and weeks and months, although it will probably at least the next several 24-hour news cycles. President Donald Trump has vowed he won’t sign anything keeping the government fully funded that doesn’t pay billions for the big and beautiful wall running across the Mexican-American border that he promised his voters, the Democratic majority that’s to be installed in the House of Representatives tomorrow morning won’t be inclined to pass anything that includes any funding for even a small and ugly border barrier, and we expect a bad start to the new year for all those federal employees.
The stock markets reopen today, too, and we’ll not venture any guess about that how turns out. There are stock markets all over the crazy planet, each reacting to their own internal craziness as well as the craziness elsewhere, but on the other hand the American economy is still on a sluggish but upward trajectory and the unemployment rate is still low and the resulting interest rate increases are well within historic norms, but on yet another hand there are trade wars and all sorts of other populist uncertainties afoot. In any case, we’ll hope for the best and expect the worst.
Meanwhile, on the domestic political news front we civic-minded citizens are obliged to follow, there’s already enough pent-up news to fill a year. The special counsel’s investigation into the “Russia thing” surely will shortly start announcing more subpoenas and indictments and guilty pleas, the newly-installed Democratic majorities on all those House investigative committees will no doubt begin making their own trouble, and all the “fake news” will make hay of it. Along with the ongoing scandals about alleged trysts porn stars and Playboy playmates and all the resulting alleged campaign law violations, as well as the other scandals and hubbub-causing “tweets” that can be counted on, we expect this to be a busy year for for Trump’s apologists.
The rest of the world doesn’t offer much hope, either, with the Russian-Iranian-Syrian axis poised to take control of a big chunk of the Middle East, Trump-ian populist and protectionist and unabashedly nationalist movements gaining power around the globe, and the weenie sort of semi-socialistic parties resembling America’s current Democratic are faltering elsewhere. For now Trump is relying on an acting Secretary of Defense with no military experience, following the resignation of the four-star general who told the public that his four decades of immersion in foreign policy led him disagree with Trump’s gut instincts about America’s international alliances, and for now we’re inclined to worry that the four-general is right.
Even so, we’ll hope for the best and know for sure that things could be worse.
The temperatures didn’t top the low-30s today here in Kansas, by the time we dropped by Kirby’s Beer Store after sunset for a procrastinating swig before another damned year the wind chill was down in the teens, and oh how we hate this time of year. Except for a bearded and burly and very friendly bartender and a charmingly crabby old homosexual there was no one else to enjoy the cranked-up if ratchety old furnace, but we were soon joined by three rather short and squat and heavily-adorned but somehow attractive in a young hipster sort of way women and a young hipster man, who introduced themselves as the evening’s band, whose name we already forget. Hoping to show them the gracious hospitality one can expect at Kirby’s Beer Store and Wichita and Kanas in general, we asked where they were from, and they replied that they lived in North Dakota. In that case we didn’t feel obliged to apologize for the bad weather, as the wind chills are  in the minus-20s up there, and they all remarked about how balmy they found it down here.
Better to begin our new year here rather than in North Dakota, we suppose, and we certainly wouldn’t trade places with Trump.

— 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

Blind Loyalty and Its Perils

New York City attorney Michael Cohen, who once handled such sensitive legals chores as making hush money payments to pornographic video performers and Playboy models while pursuing multi-million dollar Moscow real estate deals for longtime client and then-citizen Donald Trump, was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Wednesday on various confessed federal charges. As bad as that sounds for now-President Donald Trump, the rest of the sordid details are even worse.
Some of the charges sending Cohen to prison are about some relatively small time scams involving New York City taxi medallions and routine tax evasions that have nothing to do with Trump, but he’s also pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations committed in the course of making those hush money payments to silence Trump’s alleged mistresses, and to lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Russia in order to be consistent with the lies Trump was telling the public. Trump’s remaining loyalists on talk radio and one of the cable news channels are spinning it as best they can, and Trump himself is claiming complete vindication, but the president won’t come out of this spin cycle smelling clean.
Trump is now claiming that his six-figures payments to the porno performer and the nudie model were a “private transaction” involving private funds, and obviously had nothing at all to do with the presidential campaign he was waging at the time, and were therefor entirely legal, but a federal prosecutor considered it a crime and a federal judge accepted a guilty plea on the charge from the very same lawyer that Trump once entrusted with such sensitive legal chores, so we have our doubts about Trump’s legal theory. Even if it was quite legal and no big deal, as Trump claims, an objective observer is left wondering why Trump chose to lie to the American public about  it while aboard Air Force One that he had nothing to do with it and was indeed entirely unaware of the payments.
Which leaves us all the more doubtful about Trump’s claims he never cheated on his third wife with either that porno performer or that nudie model, especially after his past boasting about all the fabulous babes he’s bagged in his tabloid-fodder infidelities against his first two wives, and although such hound dog behavior is not illegal it is the sort of thing that Republicans used to find objectionable.
Nor is it illegal to pursue a multi-million dollar real estate deal with an adversarial dictatorship while also pursuing the presidency of the United States, and so far as we can tell it’s legal to tell the American electorate a brazen lie that no business deals of any kind are being pursued with adversarial governments during presidential campaign, but that’s also the sort of thing that Republicans used to find objectionable. Cohen’s confession that he was pursuing a Moscow Trump Tower deal at Trump’s request while Trump insisted he wasn’t should be considered skeptically given his confessions to various perjuries, but the very fastidious prosecutor investing the “Russia thing” and the sentencing judge wouldn’t have given it credence without corroborating evidence, which we assume was obtained during raids on Cohen’s home and office and favorite hotel room. Trump is already arguing that it’s another legal and no big deal thing that he nonetheless chose to lie about, which might eventually prevail in a court of law, but it doesn’t make him look very good in the court of public opinion.
Which makes all the rest of the developments in the “Russia thing” look a lot less like a “WITCH HUNT!” and a “HOAX!” than a serious legal matter deserving thorough investigation. One of Trump’s former campaign managers is already in jail while awaiting sentencing on various charges including his work as an unregistered foreign agent for a Russian-aligned government, with Trump “tweeting” about his courage for not cooperating with the feds, and the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” is recommending and Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and his first administration’s national security advisor get off with no jail for several serious admitted felony charges because of his fuller cooperation with the investigation. Trump and his loyalists are already arguing that it’s entirely legal to pursue business deals with an adversarial foreign dictatorship while running for president and brazenly president and brazenly lying about it, and that might yet prevail in a court of law, but we’d like to think that some rump faction of the Republican party will join the rest of the court of American public opinion in taking a dimmer view of such behavior.
Cohen showed up in court for his sentencing accompanied by a pretty and youngish wife limping in a crutch and a couple of cute kids, and although we consider ourselves rock-ribbed law-and-order Republicans our occasionally bleeding hearts had some sympathy for him. Trump has “tweeted” attacks on his longtime attorney for being “weak” and “stupid” in the half-hearted cooperation with the special counsel, and Cohen even had to plead to guilty those charges. “Recently the president has tweeted a statement calling me weak, and it was correct,” Cohen told the court. “But for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.” He went on to say that he had trusted Trump’s moral compass more than his own, and that the personal failing that led to to his upcoming three years of imprisonment was “blind loyalty to Donald Trump.
There are persuasive arguments to be made for many of Trump’s policies, given that the unemployment rate is unusually low and the stock markets are still ahead of when Trump won office, despite the past year’s gains being largely wiped out by his stupid trade wars and the swelling national debt and the inevitable slight rise in interest rates, and of course those damned Democrats are as bad as ever. By now only the weak and stupid will blindly trust Trump’s character, however, and although they won’t likely run afoul of the law for doing so we expect they’ll also be judged harshly by history.

— Bud Norman

The Day After the Funeral

The stock markets and the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” and the rest of the news took a day off on Wednesday for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, but the pause offered little respite for current President Donald Trump.
In keeping with its classy ways the Bush family invited Trump to attend the state funeral at the National Cathedral, although they didn’t grant him the traditional eulogy that sitting presidents give for past presidents, and to his credit Trump was on his best behavior. He was clearly uncomfortable, though, sitting next to the former president he had falsely accused of being unqualified by virtue of a foreign birth, and the former president he had falsely accused of lying America into a war, and the former First Lady he has long vowed to lock up, as well another former president he has called the second-worst ever. Worse yet, Trump had to sit through several speakers praising Bush’s war heroism and expert statesmanship and gentlemanly demeanor and and genuine compassion for others and self-effacing sense of humor, and perhaps contemplate how even his most die-hard fans won’t be able to say the same at his own inevitable funeral.
Worst of all, Trump surely knew that the stock markets and the special counsel investigation and the rest of the news all resume today, and that it’s not likely to make him look good.
The rest of the world’s stock markets were open for business on Wednesday, and were just as panicked about Trump’s trade war with China as the American markets were on Tuesday, and today probably won’t bring that greatest-ever deal that Trump has promised with China. Trump might yet bully the all-powerful Chinese government and its formidable economy into submission, but for now the stock markets aren’t betting on it.
The mainstream media that used torment Bush for his mostly forgotten missteps spent most of Wednesday heaping praise on his war heroism and expert statesmanship and gentlemanly demeanor and everything else they suddenly miss about a bygone era of compassionate Republican conservatism, but they also found some time to speculate about some scary developments in the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing.” Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and short-lived administration national security advisor, the former three-starArmy Gen. Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty to some serious felonies and stands credibly accused of several more, and on Tuesday it was revealed in open court that the special counsel is recommending no jail time partly because of the defendant’s long and distinguished military record but mostly because he’d been a genuinely repentant and very helpful witness in three ongoing criminal investigations. Special counsel Robert Mueller is a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War himself and is no doubt taking Flynn’s undeniably distinguished pre-Trump career into account, but we doubt that Flynn would have gotten such a sweet deal without providing some pretty damning testimony along with documentation to back it up, so it will be interesting to see what Trump “tweets” about it today.
Trump is already “tweeting” some controversial “tweets” about his longtime lawyer and former campaign manager and a longtime pal with a very unsavory reputation dating back to the Nixon days, and his namesake son and favorite daughter and son-in-law are also caught up in “Russia thing” stories, and it’s getting harder for all but the most die-hard Trump fans to dismiss it all as “fake news.” The rest of the news, from the Korean peninsula to the soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, is similarly foreboding. Trump might yet strike that artful deal that makes America great again, but for now both ourselves and the smart money aren’t betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Lock ‘Em All Up, If That’s What It Takes

President Donald Trump on Wednesday “re-tweeted” a “photo-shopped” internet “meme” that depicts 11 of his political adversaries locked behind iron bars, beneath the heading “Now that Russia collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?” The hard-core fans probably found it hilarious, and further that proof that at least their champion fights, but we we found it further frightening evidence of a slow slide toward banana republic authoritarianism.
The “re-tweet” came just eight days after The New York Times reported that Trump had once directed the Justice Department to commence criminal investigations of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and his Democratic presidential opponent Hillary Clinton, both of whom are featured in the “meme.” Trump’s apologists insisted he never did any such thing, and that even if he did it never came to pass, but the “re-tweeted” “meme” suggests he probably did give the order, and that it didn’t actually happen only because wiser heads somehow prevailed.
We have no affection for Comey, although we can muster some sympathy for an FBI director who had the bad luck to be in office during a presidential campaign with both major party candidates being the subjects of criminal investigations, and we have as much antipathy to that awful Clinton woman as the next guy, even if we think the everlasting ignominy of having lost to the likes of Trump should be sufficient punishment for anyone. Even so, all those campaign rally chants of “lock ’em up,” and Trump’s campaign promises to do just that, strike us a damned un-American way to make America great again. Locking up vanquished political opponents hasn’t made any of the South American or Eastern European or Middle Eastern or sub-Saharan African nations that do that sort of thing remotely great, and we can’t imagine it working any better here.
Meanwhile a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” has indeed locked up one of Trump’s former campaign managers and a former campaign national security advisor, and Trump’s former administrational national security advisor has pleaded guilty to felonies and awaits sentencing, with more campaign and administration officials and perhaps some Trump family members seemingly awaiting indictment, and that surely has something to with Trump’s angry “re-tweets.” Trump has frequently called the investigation a “witch hunt” and part of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow him, and often complained that it’s not investigating itself and his other enemies instead. The hard-core fans find this quite compelling, and more reason to resume their “lock ’em up” chants at the ongoing rallies, but it’s proving a hard sell to the rest of the country.
All the intelligence agencies agree that the Russians meddled in America’s past campaign to get Trump elected, so the talk radio theory that it was Clinton and the Democrats who colluded with the effort seems downright counter-intuitive, and so far there’s none of extraordinary proof few require or such an extraordinary claim. So far as we can tell both Comey and Clinton are by now every bit as politically powerless as ourselves, so we don’t think all the indictments and guilty pleas the special counsel has racked up are their ingenious revenge. Nor can we see how the allegations of Russian collusion on the part of the Trump campaign have been disproved, as the “meme” claims, and we eagerly await what the special counsel has to report.
In the meantime, and as always, we don’t find any satisfaction in watching anybody get locked up. With no rooting interest in either party at this point, as always we’ll be hoping that eventually the truth will prevail. That will probably involve locking somebody up, as it usually does, but for most of this sorry cast of characters we’ll gladly settle for them suffering ignominy throughout history for their deeds, and hope  the next government starts over with a clean slate.

— Bud Norman

Now Is the Winter of Trump’s Discontent

You might have already noticed, along with most of the country, that President Donald Trump has been in a foul mood lately. He’s never been a sunny sort of fellow, which seems to endear him to his most die-hard fans, but he’s somehow ratcheted up the surliness since the mid-term elections. One unnamed administration official reportedly the Cable News Network that “he’s pissed at damned near everyone,” and judging by Trump’s “tweets” and interactions with reporters and behind-the-scenes diplomacy with the French and English heads of state and general public demeanor that doesn’t sound like fake news.
Those midterm elections surely have something to do with it. In a day-after news conference Trump claimed “almost a total victory” even though the Democrats had won control of the House of Representatives and only slightly padded a thin majority in the Senate, but he was already lashing out at the reporters with more than his usual vituperation, and since the late votes have padded that Democratic House majority and whittled away at the slight Republican Senate majority. It was surely a blow to Trump’s ego, as a Kansas gubernatorial candidate and Montana Senate and an Arizona Senate candidate and several other Republican contenders that Trump had worked hard for went down to defeat in states Trump won, but henceforth it’s an even bigger problem for him than that. A Democratic majority in the House will not only deny him a border wall or mass deportations or armed school teachers or any other big legislative wins to brag about to his die-hard fans, and except for a big tax cut bill that’s not polling well with everyone else he didn’t rack up many wins even with two years of Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Worse yet, the Democratic majorities in all those pesky oversight committees can now commence hearings on all sorts of Trump matters, from potentially illegal payoffs to porn stars and Playboy models to the profits Trump’s businesses are making from his presidency to quite a few apparent ethics violations by several of his cabinet members, among other things, and we expect they’ll come up with something that sticks. Trump still has that slim majority in the Senate, but some of those Republican Senators will be running for reelection in two years in states that Trump lost in ’16 and looks likely to lose again in ’12, and party loyalty is a rare commodity in the Republican party at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue these days.
There’s already a bipartisan consensus to protect a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” too, and that can’t help lighten Trump’s mood. The investigation took a couple of months off from issuing subpoenas and indictments and forcing guilty pleas for a couple of months leading up to the midterms, but now that most of the races have been settled the investigators will soon be back to making infuriating headlines. Trump is already back to furiously “tweeting” about it, and at length.
“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,” one “tweet” said. “They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t … care how many lives the ruin” That capital N on nation and “the ruin” rather than “they ruin” are his mistakes and not ours, by the way. Trump continued that “These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts on crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!”
Which suggests to us that the president is in an especially ill temper, and thus might not be thinking quite so calmly and clearly as a President of the United States probably should.
By all appearances the inner workings of the special counsel investigation are far more effluence than those of the Trump White House, and although Trump has direct knowledge of what the investigation has learned about collusion he sure seems worried about it. He seems to offer no evidence that the investigation is extorting false testimony from its witnesses, nor any evidence that the duly appointed Justice Department officials overseeing the investigation and the duly appointed federal judges signing off on the subpoenas and accepting the guilty pleas are in on what would surely be the most extraordinary conspiracy ever. Special Counsel Robert Mueller did indeed serve as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under Democratic President Barack Obama, but he was first appointed to the job by Republican President George W. Bush, and the fact that he had bipartisan support to extend his tenure into a Democratic administration used to be considered a testament to his character and ability.
As for all that about the special counsel investigators being “Angry People” and “going absolutely nuts” and “screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening people until they get the answer they want,” this strikes us as a classic example of what the pop psychologists call “projection.” You might have noticed that Mueller and his crew are a very calm low-key bunch, not at all prone to CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS, who let their guilty verdicts and guilty pleas speak for themselves, and we suspect that probably just further infuriates Trump.
Perhaps the whole “Russia thing” will ultimately prove a witch hunt, but that seems all the more reason for Trump to be calm about it, rather than appoint a political hack to run the Justice Department and give the Democrats something else to investigate. Perhaps Trump and the congressional Democrats will come up with some criminal justice reform and campaign-promised infrastructure spending that at long last proves Trump’s claim to be a master deal-maker, but that’s all the more reason for Trump to stop insulting their intelligence. He’ll need a unified Republican party along the way, too, which is all the more reason to stop feuding with those poor congressional Republicans who will be running next time around in states and districts that Trump lost last time and probably lose next time around.
Not to mention the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula that Trump prematurely claimed to have solved, the ongoing Russian meddling in American politics that Trump still downplays, those trade wars that haven’t yet proved good and easily won as promised, a swelling national debt, and various other national problems. All of these issues require a presidential level of calm and clear deliberation, and none can be solved without an angry outburst no matter how many capital letters and exclamation marks one might use.

— Bud Norman

At Least America Isn’t Yet Enured

There was another mass shooting in America on Tuesday, this time in the usually placid town of Thousand Oaks, California, and another out-in-the-open attempt by President Donald Trump to obstruct a duly authorized special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” this time by replacing the recused and thus recently defenestrated Attorney General with a man who has openly stated his desire to shut down the probe. Both of these unsettlingly routine stories somehow made the front pages of the newspapers and the top of the cable news hours, so we were at least heartened to note that America hasn’t yet come to regard them as the new normal.
All the familiar arguments about gun control and mental health care were once again repeated in the wake of the shooting at a popular bar where the many patrons were line-dancing country-and-western music, and as usual none of them changed anybody’s mind, yet it’s good news that the conversation continues.
Perhaps the Democratic majority that was elected to the House of Representatives will pass some crazy gun-grabbing bill, but the slightly padded Republican majority that was returned to the Senate will probably hew to its obstinate opposition even to such minor Second Amendment tweaks as banning the “bump stocks” were used in a even bloodier country-and-western massacre in Las Vegas about a year ago and the extended pistol magazines used at Thursday’s slaughter. It will probably take more American carnage and a couple of extra election cycles before anything  is done, and we have no confidence that either party has any effective solutions to offer, so we’ll take some solace that the country isn’t yet inured to these frequent mass murders.
We’re also pleased to note the mass outrage over Trump’s efforts to install the sort of Roy Cohn pit bull protector that he’s always openly pined for as acting Attorney General. The upcoming Democratic majority in the House and the sizable Democratic minority in the Senate are predictably outraged about itt, and tens of thousands of their voters took to the streets in mosts states to protest Trump’s move, and several prominent congressional Republicans are willing to risk the wrath of Trump’s “tweets” to state their objections, and judging by the many once-Republican House seats now held by Democrats there are a lot of well-educated and white collar suburbanite Republican women out there who are similarly disloyal to their party’s leader.
Trump has convinced most of his party and a big chunk of the country that the special counsel investigation is a “deep state conspiracy” and “witch hunt” led by “angry Democrats” and “globalists” who hate America and don’t want to see it made great again, but it’s a hard sell to the rest of the country. The guy heading the special counsel investigation is an actual Eagle Scout and decorated war hero with many decades of distinguished and scandal-free public service and a lifelong Republican, which is far more than Trump can say, and in his long and heroic career in law enforcement he’s earned bipartisan respect for his character that Trump will never achieve and doesn’t even aspire to have.
There’s also the matter of the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. admittedly arranged with Russian operatives promising dirt on the opposition, the guilty pleas of Trump’s Kremlin-connected former campaign manager and national security advisor on various charges brought by the special counsel, and the many other reasons an objective observer might not regard the investigation as a “witch hunt.” The guy who was promoted over some higher-ranked and Senate-confirmed officials to be acting director of the Justice Department has made quite clear on cable television that without any knowledge of what the special counsel might have learned he’s made up his mind and not at all an objective observer, which is obviously the reason he got the promotion, so that’s also a tough sell for even Trump to make.
A perfectly innocent president would want an Eagle Scout war hero with an unimpeachable bipartisan reputation to conduct an exhaustive investigation to vindicate him, but as always Trump is clearly intent on shutting it down. We have dear friends and family who are part of that most the Republican party and that big chunk of the country outraged that Trump is bedeviled by a witch hunt, but we’re trying our best to be objective observers and are currently sympathetic with all those well-educated suburbanite Republican women and even the angriest Democrats and most of those crucial independents. Our guess is that a slight majority of the country will be outraged if the special counsel’s pursuit of justice is unconstitutionally obstructed, and although we take faint hope in that outrage we figure that no matter how it turns out there will be further days of rage and carnage in our beloved America.
We also have dear friends and family who tell us that our posts lately are rather depressing, and this one’s admittedly glum, but that’s how we see it.

— Bud Norman

Haley’s Comet Changes Course

There’s a lot to be said about United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement that she’ll soon leave the post, but the first thing we have to say is that we’re sorry to see her go. We thought she did a fine job under difficult circumstances, and we worry that her replacement won’t provide the same restraining adult influence on President Donald Trump’s worst foreign policy instincts.
Of course most of the political chatter on Thursday was speculation about why she’s leaving, and why now, and what she might do next, and of course there were plenty of theories to go around about each question.
Haley’s explanation that after four years in the South Carolina legislature and eight years as governor of the state and two years at the UN she’s in need of a break seems plausible enough, but she also appears fit enough that people couldn’t help speculating about other reasons.
One popular theory is that she’s getting out of the Trump administration while the getting’s good, which also seems plausible enough, given what’s likely to come along after the mid-terms, when the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” resumes indicting people, and a plausible Democratic majority in the House of Representatives might start its own troublesome investigations. She’s the first person to leave the Trump administration with reputation largely intact, and she might well be the last.
Another plausible theory is that Haley has a choice of many better-paying jobs in the private sector, and that after 14 years public service she could use the money. State legislators and governors make a good salary in South Carolina, as do ambassadors to the UN, but without graft you’ll never get so rich as we expect our celebrities to be. One of her home state’s oldest newspapers has reported she’s deeply in debt, according to a Washington Post columnist her parents’ home is reportedly in foreclosure, and there’s little doubt that Haley’s proved smarts and toughness and personal appeal, not to mention the connections she’s made in the course of a meteoric career, could well fetch a price on the open market to rectify all that quite quickly.
Why now is another interesting question, which has spawned many interesting theories about the rising influence of national security advisor John Bolton and the controversy regarding Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but our best answer is why not now? There are the usual suspicions about why she’s announced her resignation before the mid-terms, but there would have been the usual suspicions about why she did so after the mid-terms, and there’s never a time that isn’t preoccupied with some Trump controversy or another. Trump doesn’t have to name a replacement until late November, and would be well advised to wait until the voting’s done, so now struck us as good a time as any.
What she does next is by far the most intriguing question, and has already spawned much speculation that will eventually be tested by time. We’ll go out on a limb and predict that you haven’t heard the last of her. For now she’d be well advised to cash in on her opportunities at some more-or-less respectable multinational corporation and get on a sound financial footing, lay low while the Trump administration plays out, then remerge from the inevitable wreckage to rescue the once Grand Old Party. She seems uniquely well positioned to do so.
Haley is such a talented politician that even as the daughter of Sikh Indian immigrants she won two terms in the legislature of arch-conservative South Carolina, and then two terms as its Republican governor. Her governorship was notable for its traditional business-friendly and budget-balancing Republican principles, as well as the economic good times that resulted, but she also permanently lowered the Confederate battle flag from state buildings, more generally urged her fellow South Carolinians toward racial and sexual equality, always conducted herself with a ladylike respect for others, and otherwise violated what she surely knew were rapidly becoming the principles of the Republican party.
Haley was an outspoken opponent of Trump’s candidacy, but he wound up winning the South Carolina primary and eventually the Republican nomination anyway, and after that she was more muted in her criticisms. After Trump wound up winning the presidency she wound up as his UN ambassador, despite all the bad things they’d said about one another. In her new job she was tougher on Russia than Trump seemed to prefer, and frequently differed with the president on those race and sex controversies he’s always caught up in, but she was a loyal enough soldier that she left with Trump’s effusive praise. She’s vowed not to run against Trump in ’20, but at the young age of 46 she’ll still be in good shape for the ’24 race, and we wouldn’t rule out the possibility that she won’t have to run against Trump in ’20.
Somehow or another the Republicans have gained a reputation as a party of ugly old white men during Trump’s presidency, and an attractive young dark-skinned woman would be the perfect antidote. Her traditional business-friendly and budget-balancing Republican principles would also play well with the general public against the crazy tax-and-spend socialist those damned Democrats are likely to nominate, her elegantly ladylike demeanor and unifying rhetoric would play well with the independents turned off by Trump’s boorish demagoguery, and even the most fervid Trump fans would have to admit that she left to Trump’s effusive praise.
On the other hand, she might well find that she prefers a quietly anonymous and highly lucrative life in the private sector, and we wouldn’t blame her if she did. Even so, we’ll go out on a limb and predict you haven’t heard the last of her, and in any case we’ll wish her the best.

— Bud Norman

Manafort’s Deal and the Rest of It

The news is quite jam-packed these days, what with the catastrophic flooding in the Carolinas and that unexpected plot twist temporarily tying up a Supreme Court nomination, but the latest development in the ongoing “Russia thing” is still worth noting. A former campaign chairman for President Donald Trump’s improbable yet winning candidacy has lately pleaded guilty to some serious charges involving his shady dealings with Russians, and in exchange for a lighter sentence on those charges and some other serious financial crimes he was recently convicted of in another trial he’s now offering cooperation with a special counsel investigation into the ongoing “Russia thing.”
This might or might not yet prove the development that brings down Trump’s presidency, but it in almost any case we can’t imagine it’s good news for Trump. Even in his pre-felon days former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was boastfully a lobbyist for the Russia-friendly Ukrainian government that was overthrown in a pro-freedom coup, the stereotypically cruel and corrupt African warlord Jonas Savimbi, and various other authoritarian strongmen around the world. One of his partners in the lobbying firm was Roger Stone, one of the self-described “Rat Fucker” dirty tricksters in President Richard Nixon’s Watergate-era campaign, who has freely admitted to several newspapers and various cable news networks that he’s clearly “Person A” in previous indictments and the next one to be charged with various crimes. Another named partner in that notorious lobbying firm was Rick Gates, who long ago pleaded guilty to various serious charges and has since provided evidence against Manafort in that recent trial which ended so unfortunately for Manafort.
It remains to be seen what the former campaign chairman might testify about the next-higher-up in the campaign hierarchy, but at this point it’s unlikely to redound to the benefit of Trump. Manafort guided the campaign through a slightly reluctant Republican party nominating convention, which suspiciously changed its platform about arming the Ukrainian nationalists resisting Russian occupation, and he was in on the Trump Tower meeting with some shady Russians who had clearly indicated in an undisputed e-mail chain released by Donald Trump Jr. that they were offering campaign assistance on behalf of the Russian government, and we guess he potentially has all sorts of other tales to tell.
Trump had “tweeted” his profound respect for Manafort’s character back when his friend was still holding out against extreme prosecutorial pressure to “flip,” but we notice that since Manafort’s apparent “flipping” Trump’s “twitter” feed has been conspicuously silent on the subject. Trump has plenty else to “tweet” about these days, given the catastrophic flooding in the Carolinas and the unnecessarily renewed controversy about the horrific death toll in last year’s hurricane in Puerto Rico, not to mention that complicated situation with the Supreme Court nominee, and we can well understand why he’d rather not we were thinking about that ongoing “Russia thing.”
Meanwhile the unemployment rate is down and the stock markets are still up, and despite Trump’s stupid trade wars and the swelling national deficit the economy seems swell enough, but it’s hard for even all that to crowd out the rest of a jam-packed news cycle. The past and present hurricanes and a Supreme Court nominee credibly accused of sexual assault and everything we already now about the “Russia thing” make for a perform storm, even without all the hush-money payments to porn stars and Playboy playmates and all the rest of it, so we predict a few more unfavorable news cycles leading up to the mid-term elections. After that, we’ll not be at all surprised by anything that might happen.

— Bud Norman