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The Latest Crop of the Best and Brightest

Sam Clovis won’t become the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, but if he avoids prison time we’re sure he’ll find work somewhere. Why he’s not taking that plum USDA gig and why he was offered it in the first place, though, makes for an interesting story.
Clovis had previously worked at a fairly high level on President Donald Trump’s campaign, and given that he’s not a scientist and in fact has no scientific training at all that’s most likely the reason he was nominated to be the USDA’s chief scientist. Other Trump appointees have been confirmed with a similar lack of relevant credentials for the important jobs they were appointed to, and Clovis might well have survived the Senate’s scrutiny at a hearing that was scheduled for next week, but once again the “Russia thing” has complicated matters.
Earlier this week it was announced that former campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous had pleaded guilty to lying to a special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” and has since been a “proactive cooperator” with the investigation. There’s some speculation that means he’s been wearing a microphone to record conversations with other targets of the investigation, but it’s known for sure that he’s also turned over some e-mails he sent to other campaign officials offering to use his contacts with the Russian government to acquire information to be used against Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. One of the campaign officials he e-mailed was Clovis, and Papadopolous has also coughed up Clovis’s e-mailed replies encouraging an “off the record” meeting with the Russians and even a trip to Moscow “if it is feasible.”
There might be some perfectly reasonable explanation, and Clovis’s high-powered attorney explains it as the cordial response of “a polite gentleman from Iowa,” but he chose not to make his case to the Democrats on the Agriculture Committee. In his letter of withdrawal to the president Clovis wrote that “The political climate inside Washington has made impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position. The relentless assault on you and your teams seems a blood sport that only increases with intensity each day.” Trump no doubt appreciated the sympathy, but his press secretary promptly announced that “We respect Mr. Clovis’s decision to withdraw his nomination.”
The “Russia thing” had already led to Trump’s Attorney General recusing himself from the matter, the resignation of a national security advisor, the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager and his another campaign and transition official on charges ranging from money-laundering to “conspiracy against the United States,” and now it forces the withdrawal of the nomination for a high-ranking post by yet another campaign official. Trump’s die-hard defenders can blame it all on the political climate in Washington and the left’s relentless assaults on Trump and his team, but to the rest of the country it doesn’t look good.
By now the most benign explanation for the “Russia thing,” and one that some die-hard defenders are already seizing on, is that from top to bottom the Trump campaign was entirely comprised of political neophytes who didn’t know any better than to have undisclosed contacts with Russians offering campaign dirt, so of course nothing came of it, but that also doesn’t look good. Back during the campaign Trump somehow made a selling point of his political inexperience, contrasting it with the hated “establishment” and its snooty know-it-alls, but he also promised he was going to hire the very best people to run the government, and its proving hard to keep that promise with a talent pool entirely comprised of political neophytes untainted by any previous government service.
Clovis holds a doctorate in public administration and once hosted a talk radio show and has a talk radio show’s host for making provocative statements, so we don’t doubt his intelligence nor his appeal to Trump, but the bill that created the position he was applying for states that appointees come “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” There’s nothing on Clovis’s resume that remotely fits that bill, which fits a disturbing pattern with Trump’s appointments.
After Trump was elected president a watchdog group called American Oversight started up to keep a keen eye on him, and they’ve been keeping an especially keen eye on his appointments. So far they’ve spotted an assistant secretary of energy whose last job before volunteering for the Trump campaign was managing a Meineke Car Care shop in New Jersey, a congressional relations employee for the Department of Housing and Urban Developments whose last job before the Trump campaign was “bartender/bar manager,” and confidential assistants — whatever that is — at the the USDA whose previous pre-Trump jobs were “cabana attendant” and trucker and scented-candle maker. Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican is Callista Gingrich, whose only apparent credentials are being Catholic and Newt Gingrich’s third wife, his ambassador to the Dominican Republics speaks little Spanish but does have a membership at Mar-a-Lago, and we’re sure American oversight will come up with more examples.
Many of Trump’s higher-profile picks have also had ill-fitting resumes for their jobs. He chose former Republican rival-turned-supporter and world-renowned brain surgeon Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which ain’t brain surgery, but neither is it rocket science, so brain surgeons and rocket scientists aren’t the most likely candidates for the job. Fellow billionaire and staunch supporter Betsy DeVos was chosen as Secretary of Education, and although we quite like her ideas about school choice and color-blind school discipline and such she doesn’t have seem to have any experience running a large bureaucracy or educating small children. Trump’s Secretary of State had spent his entire career rising to the top spot at the Exxon Corporation, where his biggest foreign policy achievement was winning Russia’s “Friendship Medal” after negotiating a multi-billion dollar deal for Russian oil if sanctions are ever level, and although some of us now see him as a moderating force in the administration both the most die-hard supporters and hard-core critics of Trump want him gone.
Meanwhile, all sorts of positions go unfilled, either because of congressional or the fact that Trump hasn’t nominated anyone. Trump has defiantly told interviewers that he doesn’t intend to ever fill some of the expensive positions, his Secretary of State has also promised downsizing, but half the department’s appointed positions are being ignored and some of them seem pretty darned important. There are still nominees for ambassadors to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, or assistant secretaries for Near East and South and Central Asian affairs, where some experienced hands are clearly needed.
That promise to burn down the establishment and bring in the very best people to replace it is going prove very difficult to keep. Some jobs require relevant experience, and in a political climate where that taints you as an establishment know-it-all things are bound to go wrong.

— Bud Norman

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Of Teapot Dome, Watergate, and Uranium

Another day, another Clinton scandal, and one has to wonder how many it will take before Hillary Clinton’s presidency stops being inevitable.
The latest blow comes from The New York Times, which is nobody’s idea of a vast right-wing conspirator, and it’s a doozy. This one is about the Clinton family’s already scandal-plagued foundation raking in tens of millions of dollars on a deal with a Canadian company that acquired large holdings of American uranium and wound up selling them to the Russians and allowing Pravda to boast of their corner on the market for  a scarce resource crucial to America’s economic and national security interests, including $500,000 paid by a shady Russian bank for a speech that former President Bill Clinton gave praising the human rights record of Kazakhstan, another unsavory human rights-crushing dictatorship figuring in the sordid story, and the worrisome possibility that Russia might toss in some uranium along with the sophisticated anti-aircraft systems that it’s currently providing Iran, with whom the administration is currently negotiating a deal to accommodate and legitimize its nuclear power ambitions, or that the Russians might deny the uranium to the American nuclear energy industry that provides a fifth of our electricity, and the rather unsettling detail that it was all given official approval by a State Department run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The New York Times is required by journalistic convention to give the Clintons and their foundation a chance to downplay the matter, most of which has already been disproved, and none of which is the least bit convincing, but at this point even the most polite press no longer feel obliged to pretend that it isn’t a big deal. Any readers old enough to have been sentient during the good old days before Watergate will recall that headline writers used to affix the suffice “Dome” rather than “Gate” to any scandal du jour, which every schoolboy understood was a reference to the shocking “Teapot Dome Scandal” in which some undeniably Republican Warren G. Harding administration officials back in the celluloid collar days enriched themselves by accepting money from an American company that wanted its hands on some American oil resources, but even that gold-standard scandal didn’t entail hostile foreign powers or the possibility of the lights going out in a fifth of the country or Tel Aviv being blown to bit with American resources. There are now 25 years worth of Clinton scandals, which has had a cumulative effect on the family’s reputation no matter how strenuously the press has previously tried to downplay each of them, and all of which is dismissed by the Clinton apologists as “old news,” but even the most polite press now seem to have reached the limits of their patience.
The Clintons are no doubt surprised that anyone should be troubled their multi-million dollar deal-making, given the previous politeness of the press, and they had every reason to expect that the likes of The New York Times would chastise any Hoover Institution-affiliated right-wing nutcase who uncovered such embarrassing facts as a sexist reactionary. We admit to some surprise our right-wing nutcase selves, even if we did always hold out hope that even Democrats would realize sooner rather than later that Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy is a very, very bad idea. Our optimism always winds up dampened, though, and this time it’s that the Democrats seem less upset by Clinton’s outright corruption and incompetence and complete lack of any accomplishments than by her occasional heresies from left-wing lunacy. We can’t think of any Clinton heresies from left-wing lunacy, and we note that the multi-millionaire deal-maker is running as a Chipotle-patronizing regular American populist and that after 25 years of trashing the women her cad husband has victimized is billing herself as the standard-bearer of the feminist movement, but if Democrats are holding out for a faux-Indian millionaire-consultant purist such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or an unabashed socialist such as Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders or some guitar-playing unknown such who turned his reliably blue Democratic state over to the Republicans such as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley we won’t mind if they use the corruption and incompetence and lack of accomplishment as an excuse.

Of course, the Republicans could still lose to either Clinton or some slightly-less corrupt yet more purely left-wing lunatic. Eventually the press will discover an unpaid parking ticket or a family vacation with the dog on the car roof in the Republican candidate’s past, or the time he winced at a same-sex kiss scene during an episode of “Glee,” and making tens of millions on a deal that comprised America’s economy and national security will pale in comparison. Still, we’re glad that almost no one outside the Clinton family and their circle of business associates seems very enthused about her inevitability.

— Bud Norman

The Hillary Treatment

The big trend in movies these days is Hillary Clinton, of all things. Pre-production work is already underway on a much-ballyhooed big-budget feature titled “Rodham,” about our heroine’s historic yet previously unknown role in the Watergate scandal as a 26-year-old congressional staffer. CNN is currently at work on a documentary slated for theatrical release, with an Academy Award-winning lefty as director. Meanwhile, NBC is preparing a four-part biographical mini-series, which the network is hoping to air before the expected announcement of Clinton’s presidential candidacy so as to avoid messy equal-time rules and the necessity of producing a mini-series about Chris Christie or Rand Paul or some other icky Republican. Hollywood is hot for Hillary, as the alliteration-loving Variety headline writers might put it.
Ever eager to cash in on any Hollywood trend, and having had no luck pitching our Transformers-meet-zombie-Abe-Lincoln-meets-the-Hunger-Games concept, we’ve hastily penned a treatment for our own Clinton bio-pic. Our proposed movie is tentatively titled “Hillary!” — if the focus groups don’t like that we are willing to add another exclamation mark or two — and we think we can bring it in at well under a mere $250 million or so. An earlier movie about Clinton, boringly titled “Hillary: The Movie,” was critical of her career, but that wound up in litigation all the way to the Supreme Court as the Citizens United case, which annoyed the liberals to such an extent that ads are still popping up all over the internet with Sen. Al Franken’s smiling face demanding that the ruling somehow be overturned, and we don’t need that kind of trouble, so our effort will focus only on her accomplishments. Filling out a feature-length movie under these constraints will require some poetic license, of course, but ours is fully up to date and will surely be renewed by the feds when they see how sympathetically we have portrayed Clinton.
We’ve written the following treatment on “spec,” as they say around the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, so if you know any agents looking for a hot property feel free to pass it along. Agents with colorful nicknames such as “Swifty” are preferred, but at this point we are not picky.

“HILLARY!”

The movie opens in suburban Chicago with HILLARY as a first-grader, resembling a young Shirley Temple in her girlish sailor outfit, leading a general strike of her classmates to protest segregation at the school. When she defiantly presents her demands to the principal he patiently explains there are no black children within her suburban community to be segregated, but she snarls her insistence that some be provided at taxpayer expense. Cowed by her obvious moral authority, as well as the dog-eared copy of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules For Radicals” she is wielding as a cudgel, the principal relents. As Hllary triumphantly marches off to the cheers of an adoring throng of first-graders, the principal watches wistfully and mutters to himself “By gum, that girl is going places.”
After the credits roll over a slow-motion montage of academic award ceremonies, sporting triumphs, live-saving heroics, and other highlights of Hillary’s girlhood, accompanied by a swelling symphonic soundtrack from John Williams, if we can get him, we move ahead to the green lawns of Yale Law School in 1972. Hillary, now dressed in the fashion of Xena Warrior Princess, is seen leaving a building with a group of awestruck professors following behind to pepper her with arcane questions about the law. Looking across the lawn she sees BILL, a handsome young fellow in a patched hat, overalls, and bare feet, with a piece of straw dangling from his sultry lips and a stack of law books tucked under his muscular arm, watching her with a smitten look. As their eyes meet and the music swells, a group of young men dressed in prep school fashions, one of them resembling a young Mitt Romney, come along and begin to push and poke at Bill, telling him that they are Republicans and don’t like having his kind around. Hillary drops her books and rushes to intervene, felling each of the bullies with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. Bill, still trembling with fear, professes his undying love for Hillary and swears that he will never, ever cheat on her.
Cut to a year later, with Hillary and Bill sitting forlornly in the McGovern campaign headquarters as they watch the electoral map light up for Richard Nixon on a fuzzy black-and-white television. Rising slowly from her chair, her face contorted with rage but still somehow alluringly feminine, Hillary raises a defiant fist and vows that she will avenge this injustice. Moving ahead two years to the Watergate hearings we see Hillary whispering folksy witticisms into SEN. SAM ERVIN’s ear, which he repeats verbatim in his endearingly cornball southern accent, then slipping away to a dark parking garage somewhere in Washington. Under atmospheric dark lighting she confronts G. GORDON LIDDY, E. HOWARD HUNT, BOB HALDEMAN, and JOHN ERLICHMAN, each slapping baseball bats against their palms as they chuckle deviously, then fells the bullies with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. After some Tarantino-esque slapping around of the suspects by Hillary, each of the men offers a whimpering confession that leads to the resignation of President Nixon, thus ushering in the golden age of Jimmy Carter. A slow-motion montage of gas lines, unemployment lines, price increases, hostage-takings, killer rabbits, and leisure suits illustrates the era.
After a slow dissolve we find Hillary in Arkansas, where she is living with Bill in the gubernatorial trailer. While Bill busies himself with such mundane state business as caving into the teachers’ union and hiring interns, Hillary dabbles in the cattle futures market and establishes herself as the greatest lawyer in the history of jurisprudence. She takes the case of a young black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman, defying the condemnation of the racist townsfolk and the effect it has on her daughter, SCOUT, who has a subplot of her own involving the creepy and reclusive neighbor BOO RADLEY, who bears a slight resemblance to Dick Cheney. Despite her moving closing argument, delivered in a faux-black accent reminiscent of Butterfly McQueen in “Gone With the Wind,” the man is unjustly convicted, but unlike the wimp in “To Kill a Mockingbird” Hillary responds by felling the jury with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops.
Although the entire country is clamoring for Hillary to become president, as demonstrated by a slow-motion montage of “Draft Hillary” headlines, she decides to let Bill take the office in hopes that it will bolster his perpetually low self-esteem, which she suspects is the reason for his recently flagging libido. Moving ahead to the White House, we find Hillary bravely riffling through Federal Bureau of Investigation files and uncovering a criminal organization operating out of the White House travel office. She hires Bill’s cousin to set things righ at the office, then infiltrates and sabotages a plot to reform the health care system and thus makes possible the miracles of Obamacare.
All is then well in the land, but shortly after Bill wins re-election by a landslide plurality a vast right-wing conspiracy is launched to frame him for adultery. When the conspirators produce a stained dress as proof of Bill’s misdeeds, Hillary stands over it shouting “Out, damned spot” — a Shakespearean reference that will wow the high-brow critics — but the conspiracy proves so successful Bill is forced to confess. Afterwards Hillary devotes herself to world peace, and during a trip to Bosnia she finds herself under sniper fire and zigzags through an open field to fell the would-be assassin with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops.
Hillary then wins election to the Senate on a campaign promise to continue Bill’s highly successful policy of forcing banks to make subprime loans, and quickly earns a reputation as the greatest Senator in the history of representative democracy. She bravely wages a marathon filibuster against a bill that would build a dam where she had hoped to create a national boy’s camp, and the public is so moved by her conviction that evil Republican SEN. CLAUDE RAINS is forced to withdraw the bill. Unlike that wimp in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” however, Hillary then fells the corrupt politician with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. The incident leads to another slow-motion montage of “Draft Hillary” headlines, but she selflessly contrives to hand the presidency to young BARACK OBAMA in hopes that it will bolster the lad’s perpetually low self-esteem.
Eager to keep an eye on her young protégé, Hillary becomes Secretary of State and quickly earns a reputation as the greatest diplomat in the history of international relations. She is joined by constant companion HUMA ABEDIN, who dresses in the fashion of Xena Warrior Princess’ sidekick, Gabrielle, and provides the same subtle lesbian undertone. The two quickly act to prevent the villainous Czechs and Poles from obtaining missile-defense technology that they are plotting to use to deviously defend themselves from Russian missiles, intervene on behalf of a Marxist coup in Honduras, and prevent the construction of an apartment building in Jerusalem that might have been used to house Jews. In a musical number, done in the flamboyant style of Busby Berkeley, Hillary sings a rousing rendition of Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry” to VLADIMIR PUTIN, who then takes her in his muscular arms and says “You have reset my heart, you hot, tempestuous American girl.” Hillary pushes him away and says that her heart will always belong to Bill, prompting Huma to stifle an annoyed laugh, and Putin promises his full cooperation with America despite his heartbreak.
Another series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops to dictator HOSNI MUBARAK brings lasting peace and prosperity to Egypt, and with all well in the world Hillary begins to plan a return to a quiet private life of baking cookies and standing by her man. A group of crazed Tea Party members launch a deadly assault on an American consulate in Libya, however, and another vast right-wing conspiracy attempts to hold her responsible for failing to provide adequate security. Hillary boldly responds by finding the obscure filmmaker whose YouTube video hailing Obama as the messiah had so enraged the Tea Party members, then felling him with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. In the climactic scene she confronts a congressional investigative committee that hopes to question her about the matter, and with the same hazy cinematography that accompanied Scarlett O’Hara swearing that with God as her witness she would never go hungry again we reach Hillary’s memorable closing line: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

—-

That’s all we’ve got, so far, but by the time “Hillary!” ends its run on the premium cable networks there should be plenty of material for a sequel. Hillary will at last become president, quickly earn a reputation as the greatest president in the history of presidents, lead the country to new heights of greatness, and administer many series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. Bill’s hijinks will provide plenty of comic relief as well as some much-needed nudity, and we can envision a sort of “A Star is Born” story arc for their relationship. The one with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, we mean, and not those boring old Judy Garland or Janet Gaynor vehicles. Also, the Huma character has spin-off potential, and a pre-quel about Hillary’s high school days might do well with the pre-teen market.
Bidding for the screen rights will begin soon, so all you Hollywood big-shots out there should be ready with seven-figure checks. If your own Clinton bio-pic projects somehow prove less worshipful, there could be trouble.

— Bud Norman

Affairs of State

Sooner or later the political conversation will have to get back around to the lousy economy, or that awful immigration bill, or any of the many other stories of more lasting importance, but for now it’s hard to avert one’s eyes from all the scandals. The latest one involves hookers, underage girls, drugs, and the State Department, so it’s especially distracting.
According to a soon-to-be-released, already-leaked report from a yet another Inspector General — and where would our country get its news if not from those ubiquitous Inspectors General? — the U.S. ambassador to Belgium stands accused of soliciting sexual favors from prostitutes and minor children, a security official in Beirut allegedly engaged in sexual assaults on foreign nationals working at the embassy, members of the Secretary of State’s security detail routinely employed prostitutes, and a criminal organization is said to have supplied drugs to security contractors at the United States embassy in Baghdad. As with all the other scandals, there are also allegations that high ranking officials attempted to cover it all up.
Aside from the undeniable salaciousness of it all, the allegations have serious political implications that even the most administration-friendly media will be hard pressed to ignore. The misbehavior was widespread enough that the Inspector General’s report describes it as “endemic,” and among those who stand accused of interfering with the investigations into these matters is under secretary of state Patrick Kennedy, who has recently been served with a subpoena by the House investigators looking into the lies that the administration told about the four deaths in a terror attack on the Benghazi, Libya, consulate. Thus the latest scandal merges into past ones, and recalls other past scandals involving Secret Service agents and prostitutes, adds yet another reason for people to suspect that their government is not up to the ever-expanding job it has set for itself.
Heading up the State Department during all these shenanigans was Hillary Clinton, usually described in the press was the greatest Secretary of State ever, the most popular person in American politics, and the presumptive next President of the United States, and it will be interesting to see how her adoring fan club of reporters manage to insulate her from the scandal. Clinton’s tolerance for boorish sexual behavior by the men in her life is legendary, but this time around it might not seem such a saintly virtue. She could reprise her famous line that “What difference, at this point does it make,” which won rave reviews from the left when she used it slough off the four deaths that occurred as a result of her failure to provide adequate security to a consulate that had been pleading for protection, but even the most faddish catch-phrases eventually become tiresome.
The ambassador accused of sexual misbehavior adamantly denies the allegations, and thus far the Inspector General’s report is the only evidence of any improprieties, and a press that is currently overworked by scandals that it has been forced to reluctantly cover might not find time to uncover any further dirt. Still, it’s yet another slew of unsavory news for the administration to deal with and more reason to hope that the president’s transformative agenda will be at least temporarily stalled.

— Bud Norman

The most underplayed story of the week, at least thus far, is that the war on terror is over.

One might expect the administration to be loudly proclaiming such a major development, but instead the only announcement seems to be buried in a story by Michael Hirsh in the National Journal that asks “Can Obama Safely Embrace Islamists?” Therein an unnamed senior State Department official matter-of-factly declares that “The war on terror is over.”

Apparently it’s not over in the sense that all our troops are safely back from Afghanistan and various other hot spots, living the easy-going life of a peacetime military while their erstwhile enemies beat their suicide belts into plowshares, but the unnamed senior State Department official suggests that it is over in the sense that the terrorists won’t be bothering us anymore. He helpfully explains that “Now that we have killed most of al Qaida, now that people have come to see legitimate means of expression, people who once might have gone into al Qaida see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism.”

Which might explain why the war’s end has been so quietly declared. Although the National Journal’s Hirsh and his unnamed senior State Department official seem unaccountably upbeat about things, they describe what appears to us a rather desultory ending to the war on terror. The part about killing most of al Qaida seems like something to crow about, even if it might strike some in the White House as embarrassingly Bushian to do so, especially after driving around for eight years with “We’re Creating Terrorists Faster Than We Can Kill Them” bumper stickers on their environmentally-friendly cars, but the part about the would-have-been-terrorists finding legitimate means to promote a legitimate Islamism doesn’t sound promising at all.

The National Journal’s answer to its article’s titular question seems to be that Obama can indeed safely embrace Islamism, and that he really doesn’t have much choice in the matter in any case. Hirsh believes that there will be a period of chaos in the Middle East, and seems to lament that “it won’t play well in the seven months between now and election day,” but he also apparently shares the unnamed senior State Department official’s view that the Islamists will eventually be so busy running the many countries they’re rapidly going power over that they won’t have time for terrorism.

We certainly hope this proves correct, but we wouldn’t wager on it. It’s been 33 years since the Islamists in Iran gained power and began to promote what they considered a legitimate Islamism, and yet they still find time to sponsor terrorism and pursue weapons for their genocidal ambitions. If there’s any reason to believe that the like-minded Islamists currently taking control of Egypt will be any more content to restrict themselves to destroying life in their own country, neither Hirsh nor his sources can convincingly argue what it is. As the Islamists themselves are constantly trying to explain to their Western enablers, any Islamism that isn’t at war with the infidels isn’t a legitimate Islamism.

The war on terror might be over, at least as far as some of the people on our side are concerned, but we’re not looking forward to might come next.

— Bud Norman