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Trump’s Triumphant Retreat

President Donald Trump prides himself on never admitting a mistake or backing off a stand, but on Wednesday he signed an executive order to end his own policy of separating children from parents detained as illegal immigrants. His Homeland Security secretary had previously said the policy didn’t exist, which was a lie, and Trump had also said it did exist but that he hated it and it was forced on him by a “Democrat law,” which was also a lie, and Trump and his die-hard defenders had also said the policy was unfortunately but necessarily strong, which might have been arguably true but is less persuasive in the wake of Trump’s executive order to end the policy.
We ran into one of Trump’s die-hard at the Vagabond dive bar over in Delano Wednesday night, and he was still defending the family-separation policy and was sorely disappointed that Trump had uncharacteristically caved to overwhelming public opinion, but we think our friend lost the ensuing conversation and his side was clearly losing the broader public debate. In every news medium but Fox News the coverage was full of cute and crying girls being ripped from their mothers’ arms, and and the administration’s media response was contradictory lies and endlessly-repeated footage Trump’s one-time campaign manager — not the one who’s currently in jail, but the one who manhandled a woman reporter at rally — responding to an account of a 10-year-girl with Down’s Syndrome being torn from her mother’s arms by sarcastically whining “Whaaah Whaah.” Needless to say, the administration was losing the news-cycle, bigly.
The opinion polls showed two-thirds of the country opposed to the policy, prominent and previously loyal congressional Republicans also disapproved, and Republican and Democratic governors withdrew their National Guard units from border enforcement, and a couple of major airlines apologized for flying some seized youngsters off to such far-flung locales as New York City and promised to never do so again. Every living First Lady went on record against the policy, including the one currently more or less married to Trump, along with First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and such a ratings-conscious president as Trump realized that no matter how contrary it was to his lifelong instincts he had to back off a stand.
Not that Trump admitted a mistake, of course. During a signing ceremony he still blamed the Democrats for a President George W. Bush-era law that he dishonestly says requires family separations as a matter of routine policy and couldn’t be undone by executive order, even as he boasted that he’s the first president since Dwight Eisenhower with the “political courage” to end the inhumane policy that he had been first to enact with an executive. He also reassured his die-hard defenders that he was still “very strong” on border enforcements, unlike the “open borders” Democrats who apparently enjoy Latino gang murders, even if he wasn’t willing to endure the sob-sister photographs and videotapes and audio tapes of cute brown-skinned toddlers crying for their mommas.
The news cycle probably doesn’t end here, though, despite Trump’s best efforts. The executive order Trump signed doesn’t address the two-thousand or so children who have already been separated from their parents and are currently alarmingly unaccounted for, and their fates will surely fuel some heartbreaking and all-too-real stories from the “fake news” for enough months to reach the mid-term elections next fall. Trump is still sticking the the administration’s announced “zero-tolerance policy” to prosecute every allegedly illegal border crossing, albeit with the parents and children confined in nearby cages, or “partitions with chain-mail walls” as a Fox News host put it, and there’s going to be newsworthy court cases going all the way to the Supreme Court about that. In the meantime federal law only allows the detention of foreign minors for 20 days, and although Trump recently lied to the National Federation of Independent Businesses that there are “thousands of immigration judges” there are in fact only 335, and due process requires complicated and time-consuming deliberations, so in 20 days or so the badly planned family separation policy will be dominating yet another a news cycle, barring any bigger developments in the trade wars or the “Russia thing.”
At this point, we’re mostly hoping those ninos will somehow be someday reunited somewhere with their madres and padres, and hold out fainter hope that America can still somehow enforce its borders in accordance with international law and basic human decency.

— Bud Norman

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The Complicated Situation and the Far Easier Lies at the Southern Border

Over the past few days we’ve heard President Donald Trump and several of his administration officials tell us that they are not separating children from parents detained as illegal immigrants, that they are but Trump hates it and does so only because the Democrats’ weak-on-illegal-immigration laws are forcing him to impose such draconian measures, and that actually it is a necessary and brilliant policy. According to all the available evidence, the only thing these contradictory claims have in common is that they’re all blatant lies.
We’re hard-liners on border enforcement, at least by pre-Trump standards, and would be open to a honest argument that the very complicated problem at the border temporarily requires such severe measures, but Trump and his administration characteristically found it easier to tell such contradictory and blatant lies. Trump and his administration assure us that the children separated from their parents are being treated humanely, and that the heartbreaking pictures and audio-tapes and first-hand accounts of traumatized toddlers are “fake news,” but after so many blatant lies about all sorts of things from crowd sizes to hush money payments to porn stars and meetings with shady Russia and now the president’s policy on border enforcement we are not reassured.
Which further complicates the already damned complicated broader debate about illegal immigration. According to the Cable News Network’s public opinion polling about the issue, about two-thirds of the country find those “fake news” heartbreaking pictures and audio tapes and first-hand accounts coming out of the border more convincing that what Trump and his administration are saying at the moment, and the right-wing talk radio hosts and other die-hard Trump defenders find themselves in the uncomfortable position of defending a policy that even Trump claims to hate and blames on those soft-hearted yet somehow cruel Democrats. By now a notable number of congressional Republicans are criticizing Trump and his administration about the family separations, including several who have previously been cowed by Trump’s popularity with the Republican party.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was quite blunt about Trump’s low character back when they were the finalists in the Republican presidential primary race and Trump was calling him “Lyin’ Ted” and “re-tweeting” memes about how unattractive Cruz’ wife is and touting a National Enquirer bombshell that Cruz’ father was in on the Kennedy assassination, and even withheld his endorsement at the Republican nominating convention, but by the time he started campaigning for a primary re-election race in a state that Trump easily won he was saying the most complimentary things about Trump.
Even in Texas those photographs and audio-tapes and first accounts are a political problem, though, and Cruz introduced a bill that would double the number of immigration judges and fund a quicker due process and stop separating families without felony records for an all-too-routine misdemeanor offense. By the way, Trump lied to a friendly audience of small business that there are “thousands” of immigration countries, and Cruz’ bill aims to more correctly doubles the current number from 350.
After he singularly forced a government shutdown about some continuing resolution or another we’ve long since forgotten Cruz was considered the most audaciously rock-ribbed conservative anti-establishment son-of-a-bitch in the GOP caucus by the liberal press, and was commensurately a hero to all the right-wing talk radio hosts, and he was a runaway winner in the Kansas Republican party’s caucus over distant third-place finisher Trump with help from our single ballot. As we drove home after a beer and some political talk at Kirby’s Beer Store one of the louder talk hosts was telling us that Cruz had at long shown revealed his deep-seated liberalism, though. According to that CNN poll some 58 percent of the Republican party around the country believes that Trump is entirely right to pursue the policy that the Trump administration has insisted doesn’t exist and that Trump himself says he hates and blames on the Democrats.
Cruz has proved a less principled politician than we once thought, but he’s lately gotten a lot politically shrewder than we once hoped for, and he clearly knows his home state better than we do, so he’s probably right that to bet that that those heartbreaking photographs and audio-tapes and first hand accounts from the border aren’t playing well even in Texas. By now Cruz has kissed enough Trump posterior and still retains enough anti-establishment son-of-a-bitch credentials to cruise through the Republican primary, despite his heresy of the latest of the news cycle, but by Texas standards he has now a tenuously close lead over his presumptive Democratic rival.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Rep. “Beto” O’Rourke is a white guy with an Irish last name who grew up in the border town of Laredo with a jocular and affection nickname, sort of the Spanish equivalent of “Bud,” bestowed by his childhood Spanish-speaking friends, and he’s better-looking and more personable and just as well-spoken as Cruz and has always taken carefully centrist positions on everything. and he’s astutely condemned family separations over a misdemeanor offense that could be quickly adjudicated if only if there enough judges. Cruz is pretty astute, as far as we’re concerned, to try to beat him to the benefits of the latest news cycle.
Even here in reliably Republican Kansas our elected Republican officials are publicly complaining about Trump’s border enforcement policies, although they’re more outraged about Trump’s trade wars that threaten the local agricultural and aviation sectors of the economy and run up the bill at the local Wal-Mart. Kansas’ continuous Republicanism goes back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days, and right through the Alf Landon and Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole days, and there’s still a Lincoln-ian sense of “malice toward none and charity towards” about it, and we share our elected officials’ sense that those heartbreaking photographs and audio-tapes and first accounts aren’t playing well here.
It boggles our mind to consider how this might be playing in the rest of the country, but no matter how figure it we can’t see it working out well for Trump and his administration. To complicate matters further, it comes during a week when the Congress might or might not pass legislation to resolve all the rest of the broader and damned complicated matter of illegal immigration, including the fate of the brought-here-as-children “dreamers” who were the the subjects of all those heartbreaking stories from the news cycles of a few months ago, and who are still polling well in all the surveys.
We will see, as the president likes to say. Trump is hoping those bleeding-heart Democrats who forced his seemingly inhumane policies will fund a big beautiful wall see-through and solar-energy-generating law across the entirety of the American border with Mexico to stop him from separating families, and that Mexico will eventually be happy to pay for the wall, and that all those hard-line defenders who want the “dreamers” kicked out and the bleeding-heart liberals who want to subsidize their MS-13 gang memberships will be happy with the results, but we wouldn’t bet on it.
Which seems a shame, as we’re still hard-liners on border enforcement by pre-Trump standards, and we’d hate to see those bleeding-heart Democrats get their long-hoped-for open borders. At the same time, but we don’t believe for a moment that those bleeding heart Democrats are responsible for the cruel measures that the Trump’s even more right-wing talk radio defenders are defending even as he blames it on the Democrats.
There’s no shaking a nagging feeling that a more perfect solution might have been found if both sides had engaged in a honest debate, rather than blatantly lying.

— Bud Norman

The Trumpinization of a Grand Old Party

The big story on Tuesday was President Donald Trump’s anticlimactic photo-op with North Korea’s nutcase dictator, but but Wednesday people were taking notice that he’d somehow strengthened his control of the Republican party.
Tuesday was also primary day in South Carolina and Virginia, and by Wednesday morning the Trumpier candidates had prevailed.
In South Carolina incumbent Rep. Mark Sanford, who had voted with Trump 87 percent of the time but occasionally criticized him on television, lost to a more full-throated Trump loyalist after a presidential “tweet” that Sanford wasn’t “helping MAGA.” In a Virginia senate primary, the Republicans picked Corey Stewart, another Trump loyalist who ran on his Trumpian affection for Confederate monuments and antipathy to illegal immigration and abiding belief that were good people on both sides of that deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Sanford had won his seat despite an unusually tawdry sex scandal while he was governor of South Carolina, as unusually tawdry sex scandals are of little concern to the erstwhile “family values” party in the age of Trump, but a bare majority of the state’s Republicans apparently found that 13 percent of the he voted against and the few times he went on television to criticize something Trump had said or done unforgivable. His opponent, state lawmaker Katie Harrington, had run a television advertisement promising that she wouldn’t appear on any cable news programs criticizing the president no matter what he might say or do or “tweets.”
Such North Korean fealty to the party’s dear leader will probably play well in South Carolina, where Trump is unaccountably popular, but Stewart will probably have a harder time with in Virginia. In the last presidential election Trump lost the state by five points to the awful Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee easily won last year’s gubernatorial despite Trump’s efforts, and the Democrats have been winning formerly Republican seats in most of the congressional and state and local races since Trump’s election. The damage has been especially acute in the mostly white and well-educated upper-class suburbs of the state, and although those are mostly federal government workers in Virginia the same problem has occurred in special elections almost everywhere since Trump was inaugurated.
Even here in reliably Republican Kansas there’s reasonable talk that the second congressional district, which is mostly the white and well-educated upper-class suburbs of Kansas City, is ripe for a Democratic upset. The mediocrity who replaced Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will probably prevail down here in the more blue-collar fourth district, but he won by an embarrassingly 7-point margin in the special election and actually lost the Wichita vote.
Tuesday also saw Tennessee’s Republican Sen. Bob Corker take to the Senate floor to fulminate about Trump’s crazy trade wars with our most longstanding allies, and grouse that so few Republicans supported his efforts to restrain such craziness, but he’s already announced he won’t run for reelection because his party won’t allow such heresy. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona has been similarly courageous in confronting Trump, but he’s also announced he’s not bothering with another Republican primary. Arizona’s senior Sen. John McCain has been especially outspoken in his critique of the draft dodger who scoffed at his heroic war record, but he’s battling a likely fatal disease. The few other Republicans who dare to disagree with whatever Trump says or does or “tweets” are damned careful and deferential about how they say so.
We haven’t had the chance to visit the rest of the country recently, but our guess as rock-ribbed pre-Trump Kansas Republicans our guess is that fealty to Trump no matter what he says or does or “tweets” is not a longterm winning strategy for the the Republican party. Which is a damned shame, because we still don’t like those Democrats.

— Bud Norman

About That Very Big Deal in Singapore

For now America is not exchanging nuclear missiles with North Korea, and there might now be slight more reason to hope that never comes to pass, but that’s about the best we can say for for that very big deal summit President Donald Trump had with nutcase North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in Singapore on Tuesday.
Kim signed a statement that his country “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and agreed to turn over remains of American soldiers killed in the long-ago Korean War, which is not bad but nearly not so good as the complete and verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs that Trump and had hopefully said he would insist on. North Korea has given similar assurances before, and this time around it got some very worrisome concessions for it.
The nutcase dictator of the world’s most backwards third-world hellhole not only got on the front pages and top-of-the-hour broadcasts of an entire globe’s media by shaking hands with the President of the United States on a stage festooned with an equal number of both country’s flags, but the whole wide world also heard Trump lavish embarrassingly fulsome praise on him. Trump had gone into the meeting after a disastrous meeting with our most important allies by opining that the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “weak” and “dishonest,” and one of his spokesmen saying there would be a “special place in hell” for Trudeau, but the president described the nutcase dictator of the world’s most backwards third-world hell as a “very talented” man who “wants to do the right thing” and a “very funny guy” who “wants to do the right thing for his people,” and mentioned what a “great honor” it was to have “a very special bond” with Kim and that “I trust him.”
It wasn’t in the jointly-signed statement, but Trump stated to all the world’s television cameras and newspaper tape recorders that he’s also agreed to cancel all the joint military exercises that America conducts annually with our South Korean allies to prepare for the still-lingering possibility that North Korea isn’t truly committed to peace. Trump even used North Korea’s language to say the “war games” were not only expensive but “provocative,” and although that surely pleased the adversarial dictatorship in China it was an unpleasant surprise to our allies in South Korea and Japan and elsewhere in southeast Asia.
America might yet get the remains of those fallen heroes from that long-ago Korean War, which would surely offer some comfort to their still-living wives and daughters and sons, but Trump didn’t insist that North Korea send back to their wives and sons and daughters the still-living human beings they’ve kidnapped from South Korea and Japan and our allies in southeast Asia. As Trudeau and the rest of the Group of Seven leaders have lately learned, even the most longstanding and reliable alliances America once had with the rest of the world don’t mean much to Trump.
Still, Trump has ratcheted down the “fire and fury like the world has never seen” rhetoric about “Little Rocket Man,”, and Kim is no longer calling his suddenly equal-on-the-world-stage counterpart a “dotard,” and for a now an exchange of nuclear missiles seems less likely. The world has a statement signed by the world’s two least credible leaders that they won’t be lobbing nuclear missiles at one another any time soon, and for now we’ll settle for that.

— Bud Norman

Perfect Weather in a Time of Storms

We had to return a borrowed chainsaw to an old friend and nearby neighbor on Sunday afternoon, and because we were delinquent in doing so we also brought along an apologetic six pack of Coors’ “Banquet Beer.” The weather was as close to perfect as Kansas ever gets, some very pretty women were walking their dogs along the sidewalks of the picturesque Riverside neighborhood, and an excellent front porch conversation naturally ensued.
Our friend is even older than ourselves, so of course there was some mutual old man grousing about the current sporting scene, mostly about how all those three-pointers the pro basketball players launch these days have taken the game out of the paint where giants of our childhood imaginations used to roam, but also about whatever the hell became of boxing. We reminisced about several mutual friends who are now dead, and shared a couple of dirty jokes. Eventually the talk got around to the news of the day, and there was some delightfully cathartic grousing about that.
Our friend is a lifelong liberal and Democrat, and for much of his interesting life he was even a bartender living a rent-controlled apartment in New York City, but he admitted to us that he didn’t vote for President Barack Obama in the the second go-round and only voted for the admittedly horrible Hillary Clinton because she was running against now-Presisdent Donald Trump, and that he no longer has a rooting interest in politics. He’s never minded that we’re old-fashioned Kansas Republicans from the William Allen White and Dwight D. Eisenhower mold, and he respects that we didn’t vote for Trump and quite understands why we didn’t vote for Clinton, and well understands why we feel similarly disaffected from any party or movement at the moment.
A few blocks away our internet thingamajig was filled with bad news about America’s brewing trade war with our closest allies and our tenuous negotiations with a nutcase nuclear-armed dictator and the president’s lawyer going on the Sunday show to say the president can legally end the “Russia thing” any time he wants but probably won’t do so because it would be political suicide. Our friend and we agreed that it’s a sorry state of affairs, no matter which way you look at it, but we also agreed that it was a lovely day, and a very lovely woman who was walking her dog on the sidewalk across the street from hi front porch, and we admitted that it is amazing how the kids these days can hit those three pointers like even Larry Bird never could.
The forecast for today predicts more nearly perfect weather around here, and most of Wichita will be on its way to work by early morning, and the River Festival has started with a parade and fireworks and traffic jams, and although our New York Yankees might lose and the afternoon’s political news will surely be infuriating we’ll try to keep a proper perspective here in the picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas.

— Bud Norman

From Hero to Traitor, Overnight

Not so long ago, South Carolina’s Rep. Trey Gowdy was a hero to all the right-wing talk radio hosts and their listeners. He had an impeccably conservative voting record, a blunt way of speaking, and best of all he was the guy who spent years leading congressional investigations of President Barack Obama’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the deadly fiasco at an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Despite his long service to conservatism, however, Gowdy is now being pilloried by his erstwhile fans as a traitor to the cause. His traitorous crime is publicly stating that the Federal Bureau of Investigation wasn’t “spying” on President Donald Trump’s campaign, as Trump likes to put it, but rather investigating something about a hostile foreign government’s attempts to influence the election that they had good reason to believe merited investigating. Many of Gowdy’s former admirers regard the special counsel’s ongoing investigation as “witch hunt” being carried out by “deep state” conspirators intent on a silent coup of a duly elected president, as Trump almost daily “tweets,” so Gowdy’s refusal to endorse Trump’s copyrighted “Spy-Gate” conspiracy theory is clear proof that he’s in on the plot.
Some of the right-wing internet wags and maybe even some of the talk radio talkers are literate enough to say “Et Tu, Brute?,” but all the commenters and callers have expressied a more vulgar vitriol. They forget that Gowdy has at times come to Trump’s defense in the story of the day of the ongoing “Russian thing” realit showy, usually when they had a point, and remember all the times when he didn’t, usually when there was no credible defense to be made. They’re even damning Gowdy for the long and tireless investigations he led of the Benghazi affair, spitefully noting that they didn’t result in locking that hated Clinton woman up.
Meanwhile the left-wing types in the respectable media are relishing that even such a right-wacko as Gowdy agrees with their instinctive and seemingly well-founded belief that this “Spy-Gate” theory is a soon-to-be abandoned sub-plot in a “Russia thing” reality show that is heading to its inevitable conclusion. They’re giving Gowdy some “Profile in Courage” kudos for saying so, but they clearly haven’t forgiven him for that impeccably conservative voting record and blunt-spoken rhetoric all those years of hounding Obama and Clinton about that Benghazi thing.
Gowdy’s long career in public service has left him with few friends at the moment, but from the sideline seats our pre-Trumpian Republican and conservatives selves have been relegated to in the Trump era, we’re rooting for the guy. We still appreciate the impeccably conservative voting record on matters that predated Trump, and even his most blunt spoken rhetoric never cross any of th lines that are stepped over nowadays. His dogged investigation of Benghazi at long last proved conclusively to any objective observer that both Obama and Clinton had been lethally incompetent in their handling of the whole affair, from the ill-fated toppling of the Libyan dictatorship to the failure to prevent Islamist anarchy in its aftermath and the decision to send American diplomats and other citizens into the ensuing chaos and their failure to respond to numerous requests for better security, not to mention the lies they provably told in the following days.
There’s nothing criminal about public officials being incompetent, though, so we can hardly fault Gowdy for failing to lock ’em up. If incompetence we’re a criminal offense the prison population would surely swell and the wheels of government would come to a grinding halt. As old-fashioned and pre-Trump Republicans and conservatives we were never fond of that banana republic “lock ’em up” rhetoric in the first place.
Fortunately for Gowdy, he doesn’t seem to care much about what any of us might think of him. He’s one of several Republicans with impeccably conservative voting records who won’t be seeking re-election this year, and the former tough-but-fair prosecutor has told interviews that he misses a job where facts mattered, and like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and a few others with impeccably conservative voting records he admits that his failure to sign up with whatever conspiracy theory Trump comes up with makes him unelectable in a Republican primary for the moment.
Reality always prevails, though, and in the inevitable conclusion we expect that Gowdy and Flake and maybe Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and a few other factually stalwart pre-Trump Republicans will be vindicated. The Democrats won’t forgive their impeccably conservative voting records and the efew ¬†occasions when they had to admit Trump had a point, but they’ll have to admit they’re the last Republicans standing, even if not in office, and we hold out hope they can rebuild.

— Bud Norman

“Operation Cross-Fire Hurricane” and Its Controversies and Spin-Offs

The whole “Russia thing with Trump and Russia” that has tormented President Donald Trump since even before he took office has lately become all the more complicated lately, what with the latest revelations about “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”
Thanks to to the diligent journalism of The New York Times, we now know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a few agents looking into suspicions about the Russian government’s meddling in the last presidential election and the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with that effort in a highly secretive investigation code-named “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” a full 100 days before any votes were cast in Trump’s unlikely electoral college upset. As one might expect, The New York Times’ bombshell scoop has set off a lot of spinning on both sides of the political spectrum.
in his “tweets” Trump always calls the paper the “failing New York Times,” and his die-hard defenders always sneeringly call it the “The New York Slimes,” but in this case they’re not complaining that “The Old Gray Lady” is “fake news.” In this case they think it vindicates their longstanding theory that the FBI and the broader Justice Department and thus the administration of President Barack Obama and the rest of the “deep state” were engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow Trump’s presidency with a “silent coup” even before he was so improbably elected. Meanwhile, on the left, they’re highlighting the fact that a few savvy feds were suspicious about Trump’s Russian-friendly stances and Russia Trump-friendly stances all along.
In any case both sides seem to agree that The New York Times is entirely accurate in its account of the origins of the still-ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing,” and from our recent perspective on the sidelines the left seems to be getting the best of it.
Trump and his die-hard defenders had previously theorized that the whole “Russia thing” conspiracy began with a former British intelligence officer’s shocking report about Trump and Russia that was originally commissioned by some anti-Trump Republicans but later subsidized by the Democratic Party and the campaign of its nominee Hillary Clinton, but that’s no longer operative on talk radio. For now they accept the Times’ account that it all began when a Trump campaign staffer got drunk in a London pub and bragged to an Australian diplomat about the Trump campaign’s cozy relationship, which quickly led to an FBI watch of that staffer and then a campaign foreigb policy advisor and much-higher-raking foreign policy and then the campaign manager. This is all the proof you need, to hear the talk radio talkers tell it, that your federal government’s law enforcement agencies and judiciary were in on a “deep state” “witch hunt” to unseat Trump even before he was seated.
Which seems plausible enough in these crazy times, but there are some troubling and no longer denied facts that give one pause.
The drunkenly talkative staffer who bragged to the Australian diplomat that Trump was getting dirt on Clinton is Carter Page, who was previously on the FBI’s radar as a suspected agent and has since been seriously indicted on various charges. The campaign foreign policy adviser was George Popadopolous, who has already pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI and is cooperating with a special counsel’s ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing.” The higher-ranking campaign foreign policy is retired four-star Marine general Michael Flynn, who briefly served as the Trump administration’s national security advisor, but he’s already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his lucrative contacts with the Russians and is said to be cooperating with the “witch hunt” rather than face various other charges that have been brought. One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort hasn’t pleaded guilty to anything yet, despite the numerous indictments he’s facing and all his previous federal filings as an agent for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian dictatorship, but his former lobbying partner Rick Gates has already entered a guilty plea for his perjury about past Russian contacts and is now cooperating the “Russia thing” investigations.
Senior member of the the Manafort, Black, Stone & Kelly lobbying-for-dictators firm Roger Stone, a scandalous figure since his days as one of President Richard Nixon’s self-proclaimed “rat fuckers,” hasn’t yet been indicted or even interviewed by the special counsel investigation, but that suggests the special counsel’s slow but steady investigation is saving him for next-to-laston its interrogation list..
At this point the left is gloating that they’ve nearly got the goods on on Trump, and what’s left of the right since Trump was elected is indignant that we only know about it because of some “deep state” conspiracy, and although for the moment they both agree on The New York Times’ version of the facts we don’t see it ending well in any case. The left is prematurely closing its case, the right is prematurely invoking Nixon’s defense that “if a president of the United States does it it isn’t illegal,” and in these times the rest of country probably won’t much give a damn in any case.
We didn’t much care for that awful Clinton woman, and were disappointed when the FBI investigations into her scandalous e-mail practices and other shady dealings didn’t yield any indictments or guilty pleas, but at least that FBI director Trump wound up firing publicly admitted to an investigation of the the matter and publicly excoriated her for her “extreme carelessness” in matters of national security, and announced a re-investigation after he longtime aide’s husband’s laptop full of selfie-sex pics was discovered. That cost that awful Clinton woman the election, as far as she’s still concerned, and as far as we’re concerned she deserved it.
Trump and his die-hard defenders are now grousing that the ¬†Obama-era FBI was spying on the Trump campaign, but we don’t much care for them, either, and despite our longstanding doubts about the FBI and the “deep state” everyone now seems to admit they didn’t let word of their early and now well-documented suspicious become public until long after Trump had been inaugurated. If “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” was an illegal conspiracy to prevent Trump from becoming president it was an objectively spectacular failure, and it remains to be seen how the conspiracy theories on the right will save Trump’s presidency.
That awful Clinton woman is still as awful as ever, as far as we’re concerned, but she’s by now undeniably and thankfully irrelevant, while that awful Trump fellow is also currently under investigation for hush money payments to porno performers and payments from the Chinese government after concessions to a dubious Chinese telephone company and a $500 million payment by the Chinese government to a Trump-branded development in Indonesia and a whole lot else. At this point, we’re only hoping the truth will out.

— Bud Norman

Our Ambivalent Endorsement of Gina Haspel

In the extremely unlikely case we found ourselves a United States Senator we’d be inclined to vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence, Gina Haspel, but we’d do so with some ambivalence. Some of the arguments made for and against Haspel seem reasonable enough, but the rest of the arguments we’re hearing, both pro and con, strike us as downright dumb.
The fact that Haspel would be the agency’s first female director is entirely irrelevant, as far as our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities are concerned, so we were disappointed but not at all surprised that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “tweeted” that any opposition to a nominee with such career credentials as Haspel must be motivated by sexism. Way back in the ’16 presidential former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had the far more relevant career credentials for the job of president, despite the many reasons that awful woman was clearly unfit for the job, and even such Trump-averse Republicans as ourselves scoffed at the notion that anyone should ever vote for a candidate based on his or her sex. We still reject that silly claim, and Trump’s White House press secretary — of all people — playing the gender card strikes us as sillier yet.
The Democrats’ opposition to Haspel’s nomination has been led by up-and-coming and potential presidential contender California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose feminist credentials are by far more unassailable than Sanders’, and are based on on an arguable complaint that Haspel’s otherwise exemplary career in the CIA included a stint at overseeing an overseas outpost where where she oversaw an operation that included harsh interrogations of captured suspected terrorists. Haspel admits giving the green to light to “waterboarding” and other undeniably harsh interrogation techniques that Democrats then and now regard as torture. Although she testified has testified before congress that we will eschew such methods in the future, Haspel has also has refused to condemn their use in the past, so the Democrats’ opposition to her nomination doesn’t seem at all hypocritical even if she is a woman potentially empowered to be the first woman director of the CIA.
On the the other hand, we’re not at all convinced that Haspel was overly harsh in the interrogations she oversaw. They happened shortly after Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks killed more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, after all, and didn’t involve anything that American troops weren’t trained to endure as they went off to fight various wars in response to that aggression. We’re the queasy sorts who are unable to watch a Quentin Tarantino movie, but even after all these years we’d still countenance getting medieval on some suspected terrorists in those extraordinarily rare “ticking time bomb” situations that only seem to occur in the movies, and we acknowledge it’s a complicated question Haspel faced during an otherwise exemplary career.
On yet another hand, neither are we comfortable with Trump’s and his reconfigured Republican party’s newfound enthusiasm for torture.
During the campaign Trump slanderously excoriated Republican President George W. Bush for lying his way into mercenary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also blamed his processors for being weak-kneed against Islamist terrorism. He vowed that he would he would go way beyond mere “waterboarding” with suspected terrorists, not just in a rare “ticking time bomb” situation but on a regular basis, kill all the families of any suspected terrorists, summarily shoot any suspected terrorists with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, and fire anyone who defied to his orders to commit such internationally-regognnized war crimes. He also derided all his Republican primary opponents who disagreed as “pussies,” and somehow that vulgar argument wound up winning the Republican nomination and eventually the presidency.
Among the few Republicans opposing Haspel’s nomination in Arizona Sen. John McCain, who suffered five years of undeniable torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp during the Vietnam war, three of them voluntarily after he selflessly refused an early release because of his family’s clout rather than desert his comrades and hand the enemy a propaganda victory, which gives us respectful pause about Haspel’s nomination. During the last campaign the draft-dodging Trump said that McCain was only a hero “because he got caught, and I hate to tell you but I like a guy who didn’t get caught,” and although we’re still proud to vote cast our vote despite our many complaints about ¬†Republican nominee McCain way back in ’12 we are also proud that we didn’t vote for either Trump or that awful Clinton woman back in ’16.
All the Trump apologists on the talk radio shows are damning McCain as as traitor to the country, and administration officials are joking about how the brain cancer-striken Senator and war Hero and former Republican presidential standard-bearer will soon be dead anyway. At that this point in ’18 we’d probably vote for Haspel’s confirmations if we were somehow Senators, but we’d feel ambivalent about her ambivalence in answer those questions the damned Democrats are asking about what she’d do if Trump kept his campaign promises and ordered her to commit a war crime without a “ticking time bomb” rationale.

— Bud Norman

Just Another Manic Tuesday

The most important story on a Tuesday full of big stories was President Donald Trump’s announcement that he’s pulling America out of the nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing the preexisting economic sanctions and threatening even more, but given all the juicier stuff it’s the one we least want to write about.
The Iran story is damned complicated, and we have decidedly mixed opinions about it. Trump’s critique of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that President Barack Obama and his equally inept Secretary of State John Kerry and our Pollyanna-ish European allies cooked up is quite valid, and includes all the gripes we more eloquently articulated at the time the deal went down. Under the deal Iran’s crazed theocratic dictatorship is free to continue developing long-range missiles, funding the mischief of various crazed theocratic terrorist group and helping out some secular but just as troublesome dictatorships in the Middle East, there’s an expiration date that allows them to get nuclear weapons,. The notoriously tough deal-maker Trump is also right to note that these galling concessions were made at a time when strict international sanctions had brought the Iran’s economy to its knees and its crazed theocratic dictatorship to the negotiating table.
At this strange point in time, though, it’s not at all clear that pulling out of the hated JCPOA is going to result in a better deal. It took strict international sanctions to get Iran’s crazed theocratic dictatorship to agree to abandon its nuclear bomb development program, and to allow international inspections to verify their compliance, and this time around our European allies made clear they’re in no mood to reimpose sanctions and limit their oil supplies just to appease an American president who is threatening to wage trade wars with them and is quite unpopular with their constituents. Already the crazed theocratic dictatorship in Iran is rightly noting that America’s withdrawal from the deal frees them to resume their nuclear bomb development, Trump is warning that if they do so they’ll have “problems like they’ve never had before,” and carrying out any of either side’s threats will be ugly even in the best of all possible outcomes. There’s also no telling how this might affect the nuclear deal that Trump is trying to negotiate with the crazed dictatorship in North Korea, which isn’t quite so crazed that it hasn’t noticed how America keeps to to its negotiated agreements.
No matter how that all works out, there were a couple of domestic stores that Trump might eventually wish he hadn’t pushed to below the newspaper fold.
New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a hero of the Democratic party’s recent crusade against sexual harassment and a legal nemesis of Trump since his successful lawsuit against Trump University, was forced to resign shortly after The New Yorker published a report about two named women and an unnamed third one who offered medical records and other convincing evidence to back up their eerily similar accounts of Schneiderman’s shocking-even-by-current-standards sexual abuse. As he resigned Schneiderman offered the explanation that it had all been “role play,” like in that “Fifty Shades of Grey” that was a best-selling novel and hit movie in these strange times, but at this moment in the Democratic party’s righteous crusade against sexual harassment that couldn’t keep him his job.
Donald Trump Jr. spent much of Tuesday “tweeting” his schadenfreude about Schneiderman, but to borrow an old metaphor he was hurling his stones from the very glass house of Trump. Trump Jr.’s pop still has a defamation lawsuit in the courts by one of the many women he’s accused of lying about his own ungentlemanly behavior, which he was caught bragging about on that “Hollywood Access” tape, not to mention all that mess about the porno star he’s now forced to admit he paid to shut up about an alleged trysts. We’ve also noticed that these constant sex monster scandals seem to involve both left and right types, so there’s no telling which Republican moralist will be next.
Trump and every other Republican can also be glad that Don Blankenship didn’t win the Republican party’s Senate nomination in West Virginia. Blankenship is the coal mining executive who spent in a year in federal prison for worker safety violations that resulted in the deaths of 29 coal miners, called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “Cocaine Mitch” and disparaged his “China person” wife and her “China family,” wound up talking about “West Virginia persons” and “negroes” in his convoluted explanations, and aptly described himself as “Trumpier than Trump.” Blankenship was too Trumpy even for Trump, who “tweeted” his advice that West Virginia candidates vote against him not because of his deadly felonies or unabashed racism but rather because he “can’t win.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wound up winning with a plurality, despite being the sort of boring establishment type of Republican we used to like voting for. He spared the party the sort of embarrassment it suffered when the unabashedly theocratic and credibly accused child molester and Trump-endorsed Roy Moore somehow lost a Senate seat in Alabama of all places, but it remains to bee seen if he can knock off Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, who’s as stalwart for coal mining as any Republican and pretty darned Trumpy himself.
There was another intriguing story that Trump is surely glad he knocked off the top of the front pages and the top of the hour on the cable news, where the hush money payment to the porno performer and that whole “Russia thing” have collided. It’s now reported that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who admittedly arranged the $130,000 hush money payment to the aforementioned porno performer, which yet another Trump attorney now admits the president eventually paid, and whose office and home and hotel room were recently searched the by the Department of Justice’s southern district of New York office, and shortly after the election was also paid a half-million bucks by a Russian firm run by a Russian with close ties to the Russian dictatorship. It’s also reported he had a similar payment from the American Telegraph and Telephone Company, which was hoping to get federal approval from a controversial deal that would result in its ownership of Trump’s nemeses at the Cable News Network.
There might yet be a perfectly reasonably and entirely exculpatory explanation for all this, but so far neither Trump nor any of his attorneys have provided one. We can only hope Trump’s instinct prove sounder in negotiating that North Korean nuclear deal and renegotiating the one with Iran.
And that was just Tuesday.

— Bud Norman

Trying to Read Between the Lines and Behind the Headlines

The political news requires an extremely careful reading in the age of President Donald Trump. One must not only read between the lines, but also try to get a peek behind the story by speculating on the identity of all those unnamed sources and what their motives might be for providing the information.
Whenever the stories reflect poorly on Trump he insists that the sources simply don’t exist, which his rally crowds always cheer lustily, but after four decades in and around the news business we don’t believe the claim. Journalists do occasionally make things up, but they tend to get caught, especially when they’re on a story that other journalists are also covering, and the consequences always prove a deterrent to the rest of the profession. We’ve also noticed that an awful lot of those stories Trump dismisses as “fake news” wind up being corroborated by congressional hearing testimony and court documents and are eventually explained rather than denied by the White House press secretary.
Which makes the identity of a few of Monday’s unnamed sources a most intriguing mystery.
The National Broadcasting Company’s “Nightly News” aired a widely noted story that White House chief of staff John Kelly had a tenuous relationship with both Trump and pretty much the rest of his administration. The network reported that Kelly has called Trump “an idiot,” complained about the president’s shallow understanding of complicated policy matters, and told staffers that he was heroically preventing an impulsive president from disastrous actions. It also said that Kelly has annoyed women staffers with sexist remarks and his defense of a former top White House official who had been accused by two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend.
Less than 45 minutes after the story aired Kelly issued a statement through the White House press office calling it “total BS,” affirming his undying loyalty to the president and his agenda, and decrying “another pathetic attempt to smear people and distract from the administration’s many successes.” Which might be true, as Kelly came into the White House as a four-star Marine general with a rock-solid reputation for integrity, but at this point he’s been there’s long enough we’re more inclined to believe the unnamed sources.
It’s not at all hard to believe that Kelly is of the many millions of Americans frequently frustrated by Trump’s study habits and impetuous temperament, after all, and pretty much everyone has at some point called his boss an “idiot.” Recently fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson never did forthrightly deny that he’d called Trump a “moron” — which he’d reportedly emphasized with a certain gerund form curse word we’ll not repeat here — and although Trump claimed not to believe it he did feel compelled to “tweet” a challenge to Tillerson in an intelligence quotient test contest, and more unnamed White House officials than any fiction writer could create have anonymously shared similar gripes. Kelly did have some strangely nice things to say about credibly accused wife-beater, his reputation for rock-solid integrity took when his statement issued through the White House press office about the firing largely untrue, and he strikes as the sort of four-star Marine general who probably has some ideas about the differences between the sexes that are too old-fashioned even for the sort of women who work in the Trump White House.
Most of those women seem to remain loyal to Trump, though, and the unnamed sources are clearly more interested in taking down Kelly. Which has led to widespread speculation that the sources are closely associated with presidential daughter Ivanka Trump and presidential-son-in-law Jared Kushner, who were prominent figures in the administration figures when Kelly was installed as chief of staff but have since disappeared almost entirely from the news. Trump’s former campaign “chief executive officer” and White House “chief strategist,” who was ousted after Kelly became chief of staff and has since lost his media gig and billionaire backers and is now known to Trump as “Sloppy Steve,” is always considered a suspect, and there’s a chance he still has a few allies in the White House. On the other hand it could be almost any of those seemingly loyal women hanging around, as Kelly has reportedly described the fairer sex as overly emotional.
All of the unnamed sources are described as administration officials, and we doubt that NBC would run the risk of one of its many competitors more convincingly reporting otherwise, so at least we can be sure they’re not Democrats. In the mysterious case of it was who handed over to The New York Times the list of subjects that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation would like to ask Trump about in an interviews, which the investigators had turned over to Trump’s legal defense team just a short time earlier, it’s momentarily impossible to rule out anybody.
According to the document provided by the Times’ unnamed source, the special counsel intends to ask some pretty tricky questions about the Trump campaign’s previously denied or undisclosed but now thoroughly documented contacts with Russian government operatives, and the Trump administration’s actions that might be construed as obstructing the subsequent investigations into that. The Times might have made it up, unconcerned that its reputation would be unsullied by convincing denials of both the special counsel and the Trump defense team, but so far that hasn’t happened, and if the interview ever does come to pass it sounds exactly like the sort of things we’d be asking.
Maybe the special counsel dropped it off at the Times’ Washington bureau shortly visiting Trump’s legal defense team’s offices, but they’ve been a remarkably un-leaky so far, to the extent that all the search warrants and indictments and guilty pleas they’ve racked up have all taken everybody by surprise. There’s rampant speculation it was leaked by members of the Trump legal defense team who are hoping in God and pubic opinion to persuade Trump not to sit down with that ruthlessly efficient special counsel team and answer their very tricky questions in his usual impulsive style, but the Times itself has tamped that down. Someone in the White House but not on the defense team, maybe, or perhaps some “deep state” operative that probably does exist among all thousands of workaday feds.
In the checkout line at the neighborhood grocery store we noticed the headline about “Trump’s Fixer” and his sordid dealings, and although we were too stingy to pay for a copy we had no trouble discerning where that story came, and what it means. The “fixer” in the headline is Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen, who has admitted making a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer to prevent from talking about an alleged affair with Trump, which led to the Justice Department’s southern district of New York office executing a very thorough search warrant on his home and office and hotel room, based on a tip from the special counsel. That led to widespread speculation that Cohen was going to provide some answers to those pesky special counsel questions that would reflect poorly on Trump.
Porn stars and presidents are perfect fodder for The National Enquirer, but in this case the president is a good friend and loyal supporter of the president, so to the casual supporter it might seem odd they’re screaming headlines about “Trump’s Fixer.” If you’ve been following the complicated story so far, though, you’re well aware that Trump’s even more longtime lawyer, the one who negotiated his great divorce settlements, has assured him that Cohen is going to sing like the cliched canary, so the all-out assault on the integrity of somehow Trump was recently calling a “great guy” has begun. It also undercuts any Democratic efforts to exploit the shady dealings of Trump’s longtime attorney and “fixer.”
In any case, the truth will out, somewhere down the line, maybe in some little read history book published far in the future. In any case, Kelly probably does think Trump is an idiot, and he does strike as the sort of old-fashioned sexist pig you’d want in a four-star Marine General, we sort hope he’s obsequious enough to hang around and tackle the president before he gets to the nuclear football, Trump’s eventually going to have answer those pesky questions, if not to the special counsel then surely to subsequent historians, and we can well understand why any lawyer would advise him to put the final verdict as far into the future as possible.
At this point all we know for certain is that poor Cohen fellow is in quite a fix. We know that for a fact, oddly enough, because we saw in the headline of The National Enquirer at the local grocery checkout line.

— Bud Norman