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After the Storms, the Gathering Drip, Drip, Drip

Hurricane winds and epic flooding on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean have blown most of the rest of the news off the cable news channels for the past couple of days, with President Donald Trump’s recent dalliance with the Democrats grabbing the rest of the attention, but the steady drip, drip, drip of leaks about “Russia” have continued.
It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as the saying goes, and the recent natural disasters and self-inflicted political disasters have at least served Trump well by largely blowing away some of the recent revelations. Right around the time Hurricane Harvey started battering Houston and environs it was revealed that Trump had signed a letter to build a Trump Tower in downtown Moscow in late 2015, which was right around the time he was starting to campaign for president and saying suspiciously nice things about the Russian government and indignantly denying that he had any business dealings with anyone in Russia. This doesn’t look good, even if the die-hard supporters can insist it’s not at all illegal, and it would have looked a worse if there had been room for it on the front page.
There’s also recent news that the son of retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former top campaign foreign policy advisor and a transition team member and briefly the national security advisor, has also come under the scrutiny of the special counsel investigation that seems to be coming along at a brisk pace. The elder Flynn is already in legal jeopardy for failing to disclose his lucrative earnings as an agent for foreign governments in Turkey and Russia, as well as conflicts of interest regarding the advice he gave Trump on issues involving Turkey and Russia, and at the very least his failure to disclose this on his ever-updated security clearance forms. It was bad enough to get Flynn kicked out of the Trump administration after less than a month on the job, although questions about why he was there in the first place will continue to linger, and it’s bad enough to drag his son into the mess.
The son has long been on the father’s payroll as a chief of staff, even though hi most impressive credential seems to be an associate’s degree in golf course management, and he was already a controversial figure in his own right. He got kicked off the Trump campaign after he “tweeted” about the nutcase “Pizzagate” conspiracy that had Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton running a satanic child sex-abuse ring in the basement of a Washington pizzeria, and has apparently been knee-deep in his father’s begrudgingly disclosed dealings with foreign governments. His dad’s lawyer has stated that his client has “a story to tell,” presumably about people even more high up than a national security advisor, and will be willing to tell in exchange for immunity, and we imagine the downright Trumpian go-after-the-families strategy that the special counsel is pursuing will probably make him all the more willing.
Trump’s own son got dragged before a congressional investigative committee to talk about that meeting in Trump Tower he agreed to with a Russian lawyer that he understood to be a representative of the Russian government and its ongoing efforts to assist the Trump campaign, which also included four other Russians with ties to alleged money laundering schemes and other Russian mischief, as well as Trump’s son-in-law and campaign chairman, but at least it was in a closed session. There were leaks of of the testimony, of course, which of course had Democrats grousing that it should have been televised, so Trump is also feeling the pressure of when they come after your family.
There’s also a noteworthy development that the powerful Facebook social media site has admitted it sold $100,000 of ad space to a Russian “troll farm” that targeted certain of its readers with dubious stories regarding Clinton’s fitness for the presidency and Trump’s unprecedented credentials for the job, which seems to corroborate the conclusions of all the intelligence agencies that the Russians tried to meddle in our election. A hundred grand of internet advertising buys a lot more than a similar amount spent on a broadcast network, given how the internet knows everything about everyone and can specifically target the most susceptible audience for any given messages, so it’s harder than ever for Trump and his most ardent supporters to deny that Russia played any role in the past election.
They used to grouse that the real scandal was that we only know about any of this if because President Barrack Obama tapped Trump’s phones at Trump Tower and led the “deep state” to stage a silent coup, but the past weeks have dealt a further blow to that silliness. Trump’s “tweeted” accusation about Obama ordering a tap on his phones was never backed up with any proof, but the past week brought quietly conceded admission that a White House ordered review found none of the top-secret warrants that would have been needed, but he’s long since shifted to the claim it was a broader pattern of surveillance that he was talking about. To his most ardent supporters that meant how Obama-era officials were eagerly leaking the intercepted conversations that Trump campaign officials were having with Russians tied directly to the Russian government, but that narrative also took a blow during the hurricane lull.
The chief villainess of the “deep state” conspiracy theory was Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice, who stood accused of “unmasking” the identities of Trump campaign officials whose conservations with foreign officials had been intercepted by the intelligence community. The intercepts occurred because the government was taking an interest in the communications of foreign officials, and they just happened to involve some that occurred with Trump campaign officials, but Rice stood accused of “unmasking” the redacted identities of the people they were talking about. We’re no fans of Rice, who blatantly lied to the American people about the causes of the tragedy at Benghazi and advised all sorts of policies we though ill-advised, but we could never see why it was wrong for her to to ask which Americans the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates were talking to about setting up a back-channel of communications with the Russians, who turned out to be the next president’s son-in-law and most trusted advisor.
Even such a conservative talk radio hero as South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy had to admit that “I thought she gave a very good accounting of herself, frankly, and I’d be the first to say otherwise.” Rice was entirely within her rights as a national security advisor to ask how the Americans were on those tapes she was listening to, and for matter obliged by the duties of her job as a national security advisor, and so far no one is alleging that she illegally leaked information about what she had learned. Even if she did, we’re still grateful for the heads up.
By now these bombshells seem mundane, and there are always so many other natural and man-made disastors that Trump’s most ardent supporters and most strident critics can seize on, but the drip, drip, drip seems heading to flood levels.

— Bud Norman

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Another Round of Dueling Scandals

One tale of Russian intrigue is tough enough to follow, but there are two of them running in the news lately, both quite convoluted, they intertwine in all sorts of hard-to-follow ways. There’s really no one to root for, too, and so far no one seems to know anything for sure. There have lately been plot twists in both tales, and they only make things more confusing.
The first story concerns the Russian government’s alleged attempts to interfere with the American presidential election, and alleged collusion with those efforts by the campaign of President Donald Trump, which if true is undeniably a big deal. All the intelligence agencies have concluded the Russians did meddle in the race, although they wisely decline to say if it any effect on the outcome, even if all the leaks and other efforts alleged did seem aimed against Trump’s challenger, because she was so awful a candidate that no one could say with any certainty, and even committees in the Republican-controlled Congress agree the matter deserves further investigation. There’s less consensus about the allegations of Trump or his associates colluding with the meddling, but there’s ample evidence of business ties between state-controlled Russian interests and several of Trump’s associates, as well as countless contacts with Russian officials that were suspicious enough they were lied about, and a past campaign manager and National Security Advisor have already been defenestrated as a result and the Attorney General has been gladly forced to recuse himself from the whole mess. The latest revelation from The Washington Post is that yet another meeting between Trump’s transition team and Russian officials was arranged by the United Arab Emirates, which might or might not be anything nefarious, but it’s surely further proof that the story isn’t going away any time soon no matter how much Trump and his more stubborn supporters might wish it so.
Meanwhile, though, there’s always the ongoing saga of how President Barack Obama’s administration alleged meddled in the election. That all began one early morning when Trump “tweeted” the allegation that Obama — a “Bad (or Sick)” person — had wire-tapped Trump Tower during the “very sacred election process,” and it’s been mutating into an exponentially endless number of stories ever since. So far there’s absolutely no evidence offered by anyone at all that Obama literally wire-tapped Trump Tower, and the White House spokespeople have gone to great lengths to emphasize that of course Trump did not mean that allegation literally, but there has been reason to believe the more carefully vague claim that there was some sort of shenanigans going on. All the post-election leaks have indeed been damaging to Trump, some have surely violated some classified information law or another, and all have come from the kinds of federal government employees who have access to such information and probably preferred to Obama to Trump. Long before anyone considered the possibility of a Trump administration there were stories about Obama’s administration tapping the phones of Fox News and Associated Press reporters, as well as collecting phone information on just about everybody, which came to light after another leak the Russkies were probably in on, and they were also caught in enough big and small lies that almost anything seems possible, even all those talk-radio and YouTube theories about a “deep state” plot to destroy a populist threat.
The latest twist in this plot is that former Obama administration National Security Advisor Susan Rice has been unmasked as the woman who “unmasked” defenestrated Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and other Trump associates in the widely leaked accounts of wire-tapped conservations with Russian officials. Those Trump associates weren’t being wire-tapped, by all accounts, but the Russians officials they were conserving with were under surveillance, so the wire-tapping was “incidental contact” and thus legal and justified by the most strict Republican standards, but “unmasking” the identity of American citizens overhead in such circumstances requires legal justifications that weren’t met to Republican standards, so it was all the talk on the right-wing redoubts of talk radio and YouTube. It didn’t help that it was Rice, well known for peddling such big Obama-era lies as the Benghazi fiasco being the result of an obscure YouTube video rather than the administration’s utterly incompetent handling of the entire Libyan fiasco, or Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being a sympathetic hero rather than a deserter the administration traded five high-level terror leaders for, and that she was careful to say that any unmasking was “absolutely not for any political purposes.” At this point we wouldn’t anything past the Obama administration, but by now we know better than to try to prove that any of it was for a political purpose.
We don’t mind the government listening in on Russian officials no matter which party controls the executive branch, and we understand the reasons for classified information and protections, but we also appreciate knowing if someone in the government is involved in any shenanigans no matter which party is currently in power, and at the moment we wouldn’t put anything past anybody, so we’re following both plots through all the obligatory investigations with a desultory interest. We’ll venture no guesses how either story might end, except that as always the Russians don’t turn out to be the good guys and nobody winds up a unblemished hero.

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Falling Up the Stairs

One should always be careful about what one wishes for, because one might just wind up with John Kerry as Secretary of State.
We ruefully admit that we hard ardently wished to see Hillary Clinton extricated from that post, even long before her inept involvement in the fiasco that led to the death of an ambassador and three other Americans in Libya on Sept. 11 or her scandalous behavior in the aftermath, and our wish was granted when she announced her long anticipated resignation. Then we wished that United Nations ambassador Susan Rice wouldn’t get the job, partly because of her own dissembling regarding the Libya deaths and partly because of everything else about her personality and foreign policy philosophy, and our luck continued when she withdrew her name from consideration rather than subject her president to weeks of damning headlines about Libya. We would have much preferred that she be denied the promotion after the weeks of damning headlines, all in a futile hope that the public could be convinced to care about the incompetence, dishonesty, and disregard for American principles that characterized the sordid affair, but by then our luck had run out.
Which leads us to the likely nomination of John Kerry, and his likely confirmation by his collegial colleagues in the Senate, and then on to the inevitable catastrophes that will result from his stewardship of the State Department.. Few things in life are reliable, but John Kerry has been wrong about every single foreign policy decision of his career.
The youngsters who only recall Kerry as the noble war hero who was “reporting for duty” as the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2004 might not be aware that he first intruded into public life as the shaggy-haired leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Reasonable people will disagree about the wisdom of that group’s position, if not the haircut, but it is worth noting that Kerry was opposed not only to the Vietnam War but America’s resistance to communism. In Kerry’s now infamous testimony to the Senate in 1971, when he argued the people of South Vietnam had no opinion regarding what political and economic system they should live under, he scoffed at “the mystical war against communism” and added that “we cannot fight communism all over the world, and I think we should have learned that lesson by now.” With the sarcastic certainty of the young, which was so especially pronounced during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Kerry went onto dismiss the entire Cold War by sneering that “I think it is bogus, totally artificial. There is no threat. The communists are not about to take over our McDonald hamburger stands.”
Such insouciance about a totalitarian system that had hundreds of nuclear missiles pointed at the United States naturally earned Kerry one of Massachusetts’ seats in the Senate, where he continued to get the Cold War entirely wrong. He was not the least concerned about the Soviet Union establishing a puppet state in Nicaragua, and was one of the most outspoken critics of the Reagan administration’s covert effort to supply guns to a resistance movement there. Kerry has been less vocal about the current administration’s covert effort to supply guns to Mexican drug gangs, but that is another matter. The Senator also led the opposition to the war against another Soviet puppet state in Grenada, but because the war latest only a few moments the movement never gained much steam. A cheerleader for the European “nuclear freeze” movement that opposed Reagan’s introduction of short-range nuclear missiles to the continent, Kerry introduced a Comprehensive Nuclear Freeze Bill in 1985 and constantly fought against the Strategic Defense Initiative, notions he still clings to with a quaint nostalgia.
After the short-range missiles and so-called “star wars” program played a crucial role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and America’s complete triumph in the Cold War, Kerry turned his uncannily unreliable foreign policy knack to the new challenge of radical Islamism. He voted to authorize an invasion and occupation of Iraq, as did the person that Obama had previously chosen to be Secretary of State, but Kerry quickly resorted to his old ways and became an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war right through the implementation of the ultimately successful “surge” strategy. Although reasonable people can disagree with Kerry’s vote for the war, as he does, there is little doubt that if America had pulled out at the time Kerry demanded it the results for both America and Iraq would not have been as satisfactory.
More recently, Kerry has been meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood and offering reassurances that they’re really a very peaceable and democratic lot. Subsequent events in Egypt have proved otherwise, of course, but given Kerry’s history the outcome was drearily predictable. We suppose it should have been predictable, too, that such an unblemished record of wrongness would culminate in Kerry becoming the Secretary of State.

— Bud Norman

Steamed Over Rice

Chivalry is not dead, at least when certain women are concerned.
Consider the case of Susan Rice, whose honor has lately been defended with a zeal not seen since the age of heraldry. Rice is America’s ambassador to the United Nations, a longtime member of the president’s innermost circle, and a famously tough cookie, hardly the damsel in distress type, yet seemingly everyone in the Democratic partly now feels obliged to rush to her rescue.
It all began, oddly enough, when rumors were circulated in the press that Rice was to be the president’s choice for his next Secretary of State. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were among those who objected to the idea, citing Rice’s very prominent role in peddling the administration’s infuriating lies about the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed an ambassador and three other American, and judging by the reaction on the left one might have assumed they had impugned the chastity of a vestal virgin.
The president was the first to express his indignation. Asked about the objections during a rare news conference, Obama summoned all the macho surliness of an Italian whose sister has been insulted as he warned that “If Senator McCain and Senator Graham others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.” Obama also praised Rice for her “professionalism and toughness,” but we thought the part about the besmirching betrayed a more protective attitude.
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina was just as vigorous, deploying the incendiary charges of sexism and racism on Rice’s behalf. Speaking on CNN’s “Starting Point” program, Clyburn charged that Rice’s critics were using “code words” such as “incompetent” and “lazy” to describe her, and added that “those of us were grown and raised in the South, we would hear these little words and phrases, and we’d get insulted by them.” Clyburn is apparently unaware that English-speaking people of all colors and from all regions find “incompetent” and “lazy” insulting, sufficiently so that they need not serve as code for something even more pejorative, but it is rather touching how very offended he that anyone would use such language against the fair maiden Rice.
It wasn’t just the men folk who were rushing to defend Rice’s besmirched reputation, however. Representatives Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Gwen Moore mounted a defense that was quite sisterly, in both the feminist and racial vernacular senses of the term, with both repeating the accusation that any criticism of Rice could only be accounted for by sexism and racism. Fudge complained that “any time anything goes wrong they pick on women and minorities,” while Moore groused that “they never have called a male unqualified, not bright, not trustworthy.” Both women seem to have forgotten the Bush years, when numerous white men were routinely pilloried with far harsher terms, and a black woman who served as Secretary of State was subjected to far more vulgar and explicitly racist criticism without any objection from black congresswomen, but such memory lapses are quite common these days.
Rice’s defenders also seem to forget that she did, in fact, go on several television news programs to promulgate an outright lie about an important matter of national security. What’s worse, the lie made a scapegoat of an American citizen for exercising his constitutional right to make a bad low-budget movie critical of Islam. The administration’s evolving explanation is currently that Rice was dutifully repeating the information that had been provided to her the intelligence community, which might even be true, but if so it calls her judgment into question. By the time Rice was repeating the fanciful tale that the deaths in Benghazi had resulted from a spontaneous riot provoked by an obscure video posted on YouTube, countless observers were already wondering why such a mob would gather months after the video’s posting and on Sept. 11, of all dates, and why the aroused mob would happen to have mortar launchers and rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weaponry, and about several other fishy details. We were too skeptical of the story to repeat it as fact, as well, and we’re not applying for the job of Secretary of State.
There are other reasons to dislike Rice, as well, and none of them have to do with her sex or race. She has a long history of animosity toward Israel. She’s a protégé of Madeleine Albright. She reportedly raised her middle finger to a superior during a senior staff meeting at the State Department, which is hardly the sort of behavior one looks for when choosing a nation’s top diplomat, and so long as the country is being so very old-fashioned in its treatment of the fairer sex we’d note that it’s also not very lady-like. Indeed, Rice’s abrasiveness is such that even the famously rugged Russians have leaked word that they find it too hard to take.
Now we can also add the fact that she’s willing to countenance the cheap race-baiting that her defenders have mustered, and accept the patronizing protection of blustering men. Attempts to portray every position taken by a Republican as racist and sexist worked well enough to eke out a national election, and they might yet work again for Rice, but it does black people and women no favor to insist that they be held to a lower standard.

— Bud Norman