Advertisements

Yanny, Laurel, Blue Dress, Gold Dress, Green Needles, Brainstorms, the “Russia Thing” and the “Deep State” Conspiracy

First there was that dress that some people see as blue and others see as gold, and more lately there’s that recording that some people hear saying “laurel” and others hear saying “yanny,” but for weird experiments in differences of perception. Some people look at what’s been reported in the news and testified to before congressional committees and courts of law and revealed by e-mails and other documents and see a conspiracy by the Russians and the campaign of now-President Donald Trump to illegally affect the presidential election, while others see a vast “deep state” conspiracy attempting to unseat Trump in a “silent coup.”
So it is with the latest twists and turns in the exceedingly complicated “Russia thing” reality show. The New York Times and the Washington post both reported late last week that an undercover informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation had at least three contacts with Trump campaign officials prior to the election, and we assume that most of their readers took that as evidence the FBI already had good reason to believe that something fishy was afoot. Those who see things Trump’s way usually like to call the papers “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” and insist that their reports are usually “fake news,” but in this case they accepted the “lame-stream media’s” finding as unassailable fact and damning proof that the “deep state” conspirators were “spying” on Trump even before his righteous victory.
Over the weekend Trump himself “tweeted” about it at unusual length but with the usual Arbitrary Capitalizations and stream-of-consciousness syntax and sneering mentions of “Crooked Hillary,” and announced that he was “hereby” — which he correctly spelled, this time — demanding a criminal investigation of President Barack Obama’s possible espionage on his campaign. By Monday deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who finds himself in the difficult job of overseeing the “Russia thing” after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was obliged to recuse himself from the whole, and announced that he was having a Department of Justice investigator general look into this latest plot twist.
People had different perceptions of that, too, of course. Many of the ones convinced that Trump cooperated in Russia’s meddling in the election thought Rosenstein was abetting Trump’s ongoing obstruction of the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” while most of those who see things Trump’s way were disappointed that he didn’t go whole-hog and appoint a special counsel to investigate the special counsel who’s currently investing that “Russia thing.”
From our current perspective here on the sidelines, with no rooting interest in either the Democratic party or our erstwhile Republican party, we fine ourselves sympathizing with this Rosenstein fellow. When Trump promoted the life-long Republican and career civil servant to his current position Trump called him a “great guy” and his press secretary said he was the “gold standard” of governmental integrity, but after he appointed the lifelong Republican and former FBI head honcho Robert Mueller as the special counsel to continue the investigation that had begun under the lifelong Republican FBI director that Trump admittedly fired because of his interest in the “Russia thing” he became a darling of the Democrats. At the moment he’s being pilloried from both sides, but we can’t blame him for splitting the difference.
Despite their disappointment about the lack of a special counsel to to investigate the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing,” those who see things Trump’s way on talk radio and other “conservative” media are certain that an investigator general will surely expose the “deep state” conspiracy. Despite their disappointment that Rosenstein agreed to even a inspector general’s investigation into the investigation, they’re still holding out realistic hope that he’ll find that the FBI had good and by-the-book reasons to have a trusted undercover agent ask a few questions about some numerous damned suspicious and now admitted contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign.
Whatever that poor fellow who somehow wound up as the inspector general for the Justice Department about the “Russia thing” might conclude — for now we don’t know his name, although it will surely be widely known when he writes his report — different people will surely have different perspectives. If he concludes that the FBI had reasonable reasons to have a trust undercover informant ask a few questions the people who see things Trump’s way will say that the career civil servant who had risen to the level of inspector general is part of the “deep state” plot, and if he concludes that FBI was “spying” on the Trump campaign others will conclude he’s complicit in Trump’s ongoing obstruction of justice.
From our man-without-a-party perspective here on the sidelines we don’t see anyone coming out of this “Russia thing” untainted, but expect that Trump and his apologists will get the worst of it. The FBI’s fired-by-Trump director clearly did mishandle its investigation into Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and other suspicious matters, whether you’re a Republican still annoyed that they didn’t “lock her up” or a Democrat annoyed that he openly investigated Clinton and publicly chastised her for the “extreme carelessness” of her e-mail practices but didn’t publicize investigations into the “Russia thing,” but for the moment we feel sorry for that poor fellow and longtime civil servant as well.
The next experiment of differences of human perspective to go “viral” will probably be a video of a weird device that says either “green needle” or “brainstorm” depending on which word you were thinking of. Sure enough, we defied the mathematical odds by hearing whichever of the two words we were thinking of every time.
Still, we believe in an objective reality regarding more prosaic matters such as the “Russia thing” and the the “deep state” conspiracy, and at this point our only rooting interest is that the truth will somehow prevail. Way back when O.J. Simpson was being tried for murder we perceived a wholly different reality than even our most sober-minded black friends, but by now they’ll pretty much admit that yeah the guy was guilty even though they still have understandable suspicions about the criminal justice system, and we’ll bet real money that even our most Trump-addled white friends will eventually come to the same desultory ambivalent conclusions about Trump and the “deep state.”

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

“Tweeting” Against the Tide

President Donald Trump’s “tweets” are clearly intended to convey cocksureness and toughness, and that’s how the die-hard fans see them. To our eyes they always look differently, and this past weekend’s voluminous output struck us as downright anxious and weak.
The most frequent of the topics Trump “tweeted” about was the Russia thing, of course. He gloated about the firing of a career Federal Bureau of Investigation official just 48 hours away from becoming eligible for a full pension, further impugned the character of the former FBI director he previously fired, and accused the bureau itself of widespread corruption in the process. Trump repeatedly “tweeted” about the special counsel’s investigation being a witch hunt — or “WITCH HUNT!” as he prefers to call it — and for the first time mentioned the name of Robert Mueller, the formidable former FBI director in charge.
The die-hard Trump fans will be pleased that “at least he fights,” as they always say, but we doubt that Mueller, a much-decorated combat veteran who once left a cushy California law practice to take on the crack cocaine dealers of Washington, D.C., is much intimidated by “tweets.” Mueller’s hunt has already yielded numerous indictments against 13 Russians and several figures close to Trump’s campaign and transition team and administration, along with a couple of guilty pleas, including one from Trump’s former national security advisor, and by now many Americans are waking up hopeful that more indictments and guilty will show up in the news.
Mueller has reportedly subpoenaed the financial records of the Trump Organization, the oxymoronic name of the president’s still wholly-owned international business empire, and God and Mueller only know what that’s likely to turn up. Our guess, based on what we’ve learned about Trump over the past several decades, is that it’s likely — oh, what the heck, standards of discourse being what they are these days, damned near certain — that there’s something pretty damned damning in those ledgers.
There are still laws on the books and an independent judiciary to enforce them, a Congress that plays some role, as well as a free press to let the public know how that turns out, and for now all of that is on Mueller’s side, so all a president can do is “tweet” about it. At least he fights, we’ll concede, but he so often leads with his chin.
There’s a convincing case to be made that the recently fired FBI official had it coming, as an independent inspector general appointed by President Barack Obama had concluded he’d been less than forthcoming on his dealings with the media during the bureau’s investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump would have done well to let the “fake news” glumly report that exculpatory fact. Instead he issued that gloating “tweet” and extrapolated that it shows widespread corruption in the FBI and a rigged system that’s out to get him and that “Crooked Hillary!” is the one who should be locked up, not him. Which only fuels the “fake news” narrative that the firing was a brazenly vindictive political ploy to discredit a career civil servant and potential witness in the “Russia thing,” and intimidate any other possible witnesses, and unless you’re a die-hard fan it makes Trump look petty and mean rather than cocksure and tough.
We don’t expect any other potential witnesses will be much intimated. A couple of congressman have already offered the fired FBI official another 48 hours of gainful government employment so that he can qualify for his full pension, and he’s bound to find other opportunities. James Comey, that fired FBI director that Trump routinely impugns “tweeted” back that “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.” This is an apparent reference to a book by Comey to be released in mid-April, which is already an Amazon best-seller and moving up the charts since Trump’s “tweets,” and we expect he’ll make a convincing case for himself. Say what you want about that botched investigation of “Crooked Hillary’s” e-mails, which was as badly run as Trump Airline or the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club, Trump is at a disadvantage in a contest of character.
The “fake news” have plenty of actual facts to rebut the rest of the president’s conspiracy theorizing, too. He “tweeted” that the House investigative committee on the “Russia thing” had exonerated him, but that was just most of the for-now Republican majority, with the Democrats objecting, and the Senate and special counsel and free press investigations are still underway. Trump once again “tweeted” about the undeniable fact that most of Mueller’s team are Democrats and have donated to Clinton’s past campaigns, but federal law prohibits hiring based on party affiliation or past campaign donations, everyone on the team has stellar credentials regarding such worrisome matters as money-laundering and several are fluent in Russian, and Trump’s own lawyer and Trump himself have contributed “Crooked Hillary’s” past campaigns.
Trump could impulsively “tweet” that he’s decided to fire Mueller, which you know he really really wants to do, but by law he’d have to get the deputy attorney general to do it, as the Attorney General has had to recuse himself from the whole “Russia thing,” and he’d probably have to fire the Republican guy he appointed to be deputy general and find somebody willing to go down in infamy to do the deed. Anyone old enough to remember the “Saturday Night Massacre” episode of the Watergate scandal knows how messy that can be, however, and although it’s frighteningly plausible we don’t see it ending any better this time around.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Attempt at an “Infrastructure Week” and All Its Distractions

Monday kicked off President Donald Trump’s second attempt at an “Infrastructure Week.” The first attempt was barely noticed because of all the coverage devoted to the congressional testimony of fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and the usual “tweets,” and also because it featured grandiose promises but no plan. This time around is largely drowned out by the lingering fuming about the White House’s astoundingly tone-deaf and ham-fisted handling of a couple of alleged wife-beaters who were high-ranking staffers, but at least there’s a sort of specific plan to make America’s infrastructure great again.
The plan makes the grandiose promise to spend $1.5 trillion on a wide range of projects, but with the federal government throwing only $200 billion into the pot. The rest would supposedly come from municipalities, counties, states, and the private sector, but that’s a big supposition. Trump unveiled the proposal with a rambling impromptu rift that blamed President Barack Obama for his neglect of America’s infrastructure, of course, but also dishonestly derided President George W. Bush for lying America into the expensive Iraq War, and chided the “laziness” of every administration going back to President Harry Truman, who stupidly spent all of our war spoils on the Marshall Plan, which more sane students of world history now regard as the best investment America ever made.
Most municipalities, counties and states will surely plead poverty, and because they can’t just print money they’ll mostly have a valid point. As of now the interstate highway system and other major federal infrastructure are funded with 80 percent of the money coming from Washington and the rest paid for by the states, the Trump plan proposes that the states start picking up 80 percent of the tab, so it’s hard to imagine many Republican governors going along with that, and of course all the Democrats are also going to hate it. Trump fancies himself a master salesman, and his shtick works well enough with a plurality of voters, but persuading legislators and county commissioners and city councilmen to take the heat for tax hikes and cuts to other programs so he can take all the credit for a patched pothole is a very tough pitch.
As for the private sector, they’re long accustomed to getting paid for doing all the actual work on an infrastructure project rather paying for it. Perhaps they can be induced to pay in if in the payout is substantially greater, perhaps in the proposed form of toll roads or for-profit airports and parks, perhaps in the sorts of kickbacks that the Trump real estate empire boastfully used to pay off government officials, but although we’re by no means socialists we can’t see how the general public comes out ahead in that arrangement. Here in very busy-friendly Wichita the local government is quite fond of these sorts of public-private partnerships, and while they often work out well enough both the governmental left and the free-market far right agree they often favor the interests of certain public officials and their private sector partners more than the general public, and the centrists will likely agree that the Trump administration is more likely than most to seek self-interested deals.
The plan seems likely to face bipartisan opposition, especially at the statehouse and county courthouse and city hall level, and despite the ardent support of some government-savvy and well-connected contractors it will also face opposition from big time businesses, the last of the Tea Party will Republicans will balk at adding even another $200 billion to the $2 trillion dollar deficit that’s being projected for next for year. and all the Democrats will hate it on general anti-Trump principle. As for now it’s all being widely ignored by the rest of the country.
There’s still more talk afoot  about how the president expressed his heartfelt sympathy for a poor fellow whose two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend have accused him of domestic abuse and how he couldn’t get an FBI security clearance on account of the police reports and photographs that corroborated their allegation and thus had to be let go from his high-ranking position at the White House. The critics note that Trump has a longstanding habit of siding with political allies who are credibly accused of sexual misconduct, such as Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly and Steve Wynn and Mike Tyson and himself. His supporters note his stubborn insistence on due process for the accused, which is a a plausible enough argument. His critics note that he didn’t care much about due process when he was condemning political foes accused of sexual misconduct or charging Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad with complicity in the Kennedy assassination or leading “lock her up” chants against Hillary Clinton or calling for the execution of the “Central Park Five” even after due process had cleared them of all charges.
So far Trump’s critics have the better of the more attention-grabbing argument, and we think the damage done to the nation’s moral infrastructure will take more than a mere $1.5 trillion to fix.

— Bud Norman

Smart and Stable Is as Smart and Stable Does

There’s something slightly unsettling about hearing an American president reassure the public that he’s intelligent and emotionally stable, as President Donald Trump felt obliged to do over the weekend. It reminds us of President Richard Nixon’s assurance that “I am not a crook.” or President Bill Clinton’s vow that “I did not have sex with that woman,” or Fredo Corleone’s cry in “The Godfather Part II” that “I’m smart, not like everybody says, like dumb, and I want respect,” and we remember how all those turned out. Trump’s boasts that “I’m, like, really smart” and “a very stable genius” have a similarly ominous ring.
Trump has been conspicuously defensive about his smarts and sanity ever since he took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his improbable campaign for the presidency, but his sensitivity has been heightened by the publication of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which has lately been flying off the shelfs with a considerable publicity boost from Trump’s futile efforts to prevent to its publication and his ongoing insistence that it’s all fake news. The book depicts a dysfunctional White House trying to cope with a not-very-bright and downright childish president, with some pretty unpleasant quotes coming from people once very close to the president, which prompted Trump’s “Tweets” and public remarks about being “like, very smart” and a “stable genius.”
As he did throughout his improbably successful campaign for the presidency, Trump answered his critics with characteristic braggadocio. He boasted of his academic excellence at a top-notch college, the billions of dollars he’d made in private business, his status as the star of highly-rated reality television show, and the fact that he’d won the presidency on his very first try. Such cocksureness played a large part in his improbable electoral college victory, along with an admittedly uncanny knack for convincing West Virginia coal miners that a billionaire New York City real-estate and reality-show mogul was their messiah, and it might work now. All of it was questionable all along, though, and we still suspect it worked mainly because the alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump did indeed graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, which indeed plays its football and basketball games in the prestigious Ivy League, but he spent his first two years at second-tier Fordham University before his father’s money got him into Penn and nobody there recalls him as an exceptional scholar and his academic records are as tightly as restricted as President Barack Obama’s. He has made billions in business, but nobody who follows the big money believes he’s made even half what he claims, and most contend he would have done better by investing his inheritance in a solid mutual fund and spending his time reading up on history and public policy, and there were many embarrassing bankruptcies and business failures along the way. He did indeed improbably wind up as President of the United States, but there hasn’t yet been a public opinion poll showing most Americans glad of that.
As much as we’d like to we can’t deny Trump has a rare genius for making his character bugs seem a a feature to enough of the voting public to pull off an improbable electoral college victory, even it was against the likes of that horrible Clinton woman. Trump’s otherwise alarming tendency to say any crazy thing that popped up into his head was lauded as refreshing honesty, his glaring racism and sexism were celebrated as a blow against “political correctness,” the illiterate crudity of his ad hominem responses to any valid criticisms was cheered the “authenticity” of his “punching back twice as hard,” and a lot of West Virginia coal miners and other disaffected white folk in flyover cover wanted to vicariously live the gaudy decadence of his boastfully adulterous and self-indulgent lifestyle in a way they never did with Bill Clinton’s zaftig affairs.
As appalled as we were by that horrible Clinton woman and her hound dog husband and had been since way back when Clinton was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the greatest Secretary of State ever, we never believed a word of it, no matter how many times Trump said “believe me.” The guy who draws the “Dilbert” cartoon and other thinkers would try to explain how Trump was a “master of persuasion” whose seemingly un-parsable pronouncements were the cutting edge of political rhetoric, and we had to admit that he was far better than we or Socrates or Daniel Webster could ever be a persuading broke suckers to sign up for Trump University or the rich fools who owned United States Football League franchises to go head-to-head with the National Football League and somehow win in the civil courts, but we doubted it could have the same effect on the presumably more sensible you hope to find in the Congress and federal judiciary and the free press and other institutions promised to vanquish. We also doubted that all those taunts and nicknames and National Enquirer stories would culminate in any positive policy results.
Trump and his apologists will point to the recent stock market records and holding-steady jobless rates and the absence of any nuclear mushroom clouds on the Korean peninsula, and they have a point that of course they’ll vastly overstate. Trump’s de-regulating executive orders and the tax bill the Republican establishment delivered to his desk have no doubt nudged the stock markets on an even higher trajectory that they’d been since before he took office, but at least one or two of those de-regulated regulations are likely to fuel some future scandal with multipole fatalities, that tax bill is polling horribly, and job creation has actually slowed compared to the last two years of Obama’s administration. The North Korean dictator that Trump has taunted as the “short and fat” “little rocket man” with a nuclear button that’s not nearly so manly as Trump hasn’t yet exploded any nuclear missiles, and he’s suddenly opening talks with South Korea that Trump claims credit for but isn’t involved in, and the rest of the world seems just as pleased to leave Trump out of it.
Meanwhile there’s the whole “Russia thing” and that messy business of what to do with all the “dreamers” who were unwittingly became illegal immigrants as children and yet another continuing resolutions that’s needed to keep the federal government running, along with numerous other matters that Trump hasn’t yet comprehensibly commented on. as well as a lingering concern that there’s something no quite right about the president. The worry is widespread enough that Trump spent a weekend “tweeting” and telling reporters that he’s very smart and sane, and reports suggest that its shared in hall of power of both allies and adversaries, and that’s bound to have eventual consequences.
Trump might have been an excellent student at that top notch college, but the seventh-grade English teacher at our otherwise second-rate junior high school would have riddled his “tweets” with red marks for spelling and punctation and syntax and general comprehensibility. He’s no doubt richer than we are, but even our limited entrepreneurial abilities could have at least broke even with a casino and we know enough about football not to go head-to-head with the NFL and we’re too kind-hearted to sucker anyone into investing in a phony baloney real estate course, and until he offers up his tax returns and the rest of the full disclosure that presidents are supposed to offer up we’re skeptical of any claims he makes. If we make it through the year without any mushroom clouds over the Korean peninsula we’ll give him some credit for that, but we’ll never agree that the nuclear button size comparisons had anything to do with it.
We’ve had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the years, and we’ve long noticed that not a single one of them ever bragged to us that they’re, like, really smart, and all of them would have scoffed at being called a genius. Nor have any of the very stable people we’ve happily know ever felt the need to reassure us that they’re, like, very stable. We’ve also had the good fortune to know some highly ethical people, too, and none ever had to contrast their ethics with those of that awful Clinton woman.

— Bud Norman

Our Plea for Antidisestablishmentarianism

The term “deep state,” like “establishment” or “globalist” or “elites,” is one of those vaguely defined but very sinister coinages that have lately infected the political discourse. We first became aware of the “deep state” when it started showing up at the conspiracy theory we visit for yucks, but then it was picked by the right ring radio talkers on the AM and some of the hosts on Fox News, and now it’s being “tweeted” by President Donald Trump.
“Crooked Hillary’s top aid Human Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols,” Trump wrote in his characteristic presidential prose. “She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must act? Also on Comey and others”
Which we found troubling for several reasons. Aside from the mangled syntax and arbitrary capitalizations and missing punctuation marks, and the usual difficulty in understanding just what the hell guy is trying to say, Trump seems to be calling the imprisonment of a vanquished political foe, and that strikes us as a bit banana republic-ish. He’s also calling for Abedin’s imprisonment based on a mere accusation, apparently from a very friendly conservative web site, and we’d like to think he has better sources of information at hand. Given all the accusations that have been leveled against Trump, from far more numerous and reliable sources, we also think he’d prefer that the due processes of the justice system be strictly adhered to before anyone gets locked up. What’s most worrisome, though, is that Trump regards all those other news sources as “fake news” and his own Justice Department as part of some nebulous but undoubtedly nefarious “deep state.”
The conspiracy theorists who first coined the term used it to describe a very specific plot by certain high-ranking members of the bureaucracy, the worst of them being those wily spooks in the intelligence community, and so far as we can tell it’s all part of some broader international conspiracy involving the Illuminati or the Masons or whoever else is actually running everything from the behind the scenes. By the time talk radio talkers and Fox hosts started using it “deep state” seemed to mean the entirety of the permanent civil bureaucracy, with the far ore plausible theory that they collectively had a vested interest in the continued growth of government and were thus resistant to conservative governance, but they sill made it sound more sinister than the usual boring matters of competing political interests. So far as we can tell, Trump defines the “deep state” as anyone in government — including the co-equal judicial and legislative branches — who would dare challenge his authority.
The conspiracy theorists and talk radio talkers and those Fox hosts and especially Trump himself seem to have a similar disdain for anyone who would challenge presidential authority, at least for so long as Trump is president, so the “deep state” is merely a small part of a broader “establishment” that seeks to prevent him from making America great. The “establishment” includes all the “fake news,” of course, but also all of those “globalist” multi-national corporations that have been exploiting American workers, and all the pointy-headed academicians and Hollywood hot shorts and so called policy experts with their supposedly fancy-schmantzy degrees who comprise the “elites.”
We’re no fans of Huma Abedin, and we loathed her longtime boss since way back when Trump was contributing to his campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the best Secretary of State ever, but we’d hate to see her “tweeted” off to prison just to see a blow struck against the “deep state.” When the Trump rally crowds chanted “lock her up” about Abedin’s boss during the campaign, which always struck us as chillingly banana republic-ish, they did so with a deep-seated that only some deep and well-established could have allowed such nasty women to achieve power, and that only such a gifted orator with such man-sized hands as Donald Trump could see that justice was done, but that all looks rather ridiculous right now.
Trump still believes a “rigged system” cost him three million votes and popular landslide, but the people who secretly run everything could spread less than a hundred thousand of them around Pennsylvania and Michigan and a couple of other very closely contested states, and he won an electoral victory wound up president. Clinton is now an unemployed grandmother wanting around the woods of upstate New York, widely reviled within her own party and forever to be known as the woman who lost to the likes of Donald Trump, and no longer poses a threat to anybody. The “deep state” couldn’t keep Abedin’s once politically-prominent husband from going to jail for texting dirty pictures of his private parts to underage girls, or provide her some sinecure to provide for their child, and she no longer seems at all frightening.
The combined forces of the “deep state” and the “establishment” and the “globalists” and “elites” don’t seem very scary, either, given that they couldn’t keep the likes of Trump from winning the White House. There’s still a permanent bureaucracy, but if you get a government check or might need a Federal Emergency Management Agency helicopter to rescue you from a foot you’ll be glad of that. There are still multinational corporations, but we note that the tax bill Trump recently signed gives them a huge break by adopting the “territorial” laws that bring America more into line with the global market. The “fake news” is still sticking around, but they’re far more reliably true than Trump’s “tweets,” and these days there are plenty talk radio shows and Fox News programs and conservative web sites around to grouse about what Clinton and Abedin once did. A lot of the pointy-headed policy experts with the fancy-schmantzy academic credentials are lately consigned to think tank work, or even worse, but the rank amateurs who’ve replaced them don’t seem be faring much better.
What used to be called “conservatism” held that certain institutions which had been painstakingly established over generations of trial-and-error were necessary to maintain a civilizations progress, and that these included an independent judiciary and a free press along with scholarly class and even a permanent bureaucracy. These days conservatism seems regard all that as the “establishment,” and the rallying cry of the Trumpian right is “burn it down.” We hate find ourselves sympathizing with the likes of Abedin and her boss, but that’s not what we signed up for.
Trump seems eager to burn it all down before before those “deep state” lawyers in the special counsel office bring any more indictments against his campaign and administration officials, or perhaps Trump himself, but he should hope it sticks around long enough to offer him some due process. He’s been accused of doing things even worse than Abedin has been accused of doing, or so we read somewhere, and he’s currently the president, which makes him somewhat scarier than a single mom seeking low-visibility employment, and the crowds can turn on a dime, and chants of “lock him up” are already roaring from all sorts of non-elite places.
— Bud Norman

Happy New Year, All Things Considered

This is our last essay of 2017, and the way things have gone this year we’re glad of it. Journalistic tradition and the traditional slowness of the news cycle dictates that end-of-the-year essays be a look back at the past 12 months, a prognostication about the next 12, or a top ten list of the past 12 month’s something or another, but traditions don’t matter lately and we’re taking the news one day at a time.
The big story of the year’s last days, appropriately enough, is that it’s cold out there. Here in Kansas the daytime highs are lately struggling to get past freezing and rapidly dropping into single digit lows after the early sundowns, and when you add in the Kansas winds that are blowing down from the North Pole it feels far worse than that. To the northwest and the northeast it looks even worse on the weather maps, and it looks like a very long drive to the southwest or the southeast to get warm enough for our tastes.
Which kept us inside most of the day, and reading the rest of the desultory news. We noted that President Donald Trump “tweeted” about all the cold weather from the fabulous Florida resort where he was playing some holiday golf while a shifting truck block the news crews from filming, and he gloated about being vindicated for his controversial decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Being climate change skeptics ourselves we’ve also taken advantage of these annual cold snaps to kid our global warming alarmist friends, but we mean it as a joke rather than a serious scientific argument, and the “tweet” struck us as unpersuasive and un-presidential.
He also “tweeted” about a very minor flap between Vanity Fair magazine and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, with the former standing accused of making a slightly sexist joke about the latter in a little-seen video, and of course Trump ridiculed the magazine — “which looks like it’s on it’s last legs” — for “apologizing for the minor hit they took at Crooked H.” We’re skeptical about Vanity Fair and Clinton, as well, but that also struck us as something a president with some sense of dignity should be far too busy to do.
Meanwhile, down in Alabama, which still looks too cold for our tastes on those weather maps, the Republican Secretary of State of certified the upset election of Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, which was another big story of the day despite its inevitably since last month’s election night. Republican candidate Roy Moore was contesting the election results right up to the last minute, filing a court challenge alleging just enough voter fraud to reverse the outcome, but but after a Republican judge dismissed the suit the fait accompli was at long accomplished. It was a fitting end for one of the sorrier stories of the year.
Moore was arguably the worst nominee the Republican party ever nominated, the present competition notwithstanding. His inglorious career of public service and private enrichment and antebellum views about slavery and women’s rendered him upset prone even before several middle-aged women came forward to describe how he had pursued them when they were teenaged girls and he was a 30-something prosecutor. He was so awful he lost in Alabama, off all places, to a Democrat, of all people, and he never did concede that fact. His last-minute filing had a statistical analysis proving massive voter fraud in one particular mostly-black county, but one of the experts had also previously proved by statistical analysis that were was a massive conspiracy to kill President John Kennedy, and in the end the Republican Secretary of State and the Republican judge and the Republican sheriffs who had checked out some other claims included in the lawsuit all signed off on a Democratic senator.
Former Moore supporter Trump didn’t “tweet” anything about it, so far as we can tell, so Moore’s confederate cause seems at long last truly lost. What with that Vanity Fair versus Clinton flap and the ongoing “Russia thing” and another round of golf he had more important things to worry about, we suppose. The stock market was slightly up, the unemployment rate is still low, and the economy seems to be generally progressing along its pre-Trump trajectory, so Trump did find time to “tweet” about that.
All the meteorologists are telling us this dying year will come to a frigid end and the next year will start off just as bad, and all the political prognosticators are sounding just as dispiriting, but we’ll just take it day by day with a reasonable exception for better days. By late June the temperatures will be comfortably in the mid-90s around here, we’ll not gripe about the 100s of July and August, and the springs and autumns are always delightful except for the occasional severe storms. The economy has a good chance of surviving all the politics, and we hold out hope that rest of us will also survive the politics.
Our Wichita State University Wheatshockers head into their inaugural basketball season in the American Athletic Conference as the eight-ranked team in the country, by the time they finish what we hope will be a long run in the national championship tournament the pitchers and catchers will be reporting for spring training, with our New York Yankees looking very promising after some hot-stove season acquisitions for an already potent team, and that’s something far better to worry about that some flap involving Vanity Fair and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
All things considered, we can wish all our readers a very Happy New Year.

— Bud Norman

Christmas Eve at Mar-a-Lago

There’s a longstanding tradition that forbids American politicians from making news on Christmas, but President Donald Trump pays no heed to to even the most admirable longstanding traditions. He mostly kept to the golf course and family gatherings over the long weekend at his profitable Mar-a-Lago resort, and reportedly got a national security briefing and tended to some other presidential business, but of course he couldn’t resist a few controversial “tweets.”
Trump “tweeted” some effusive praise for the military, which does indeed deserve it, but he couldn’t help taking some undue credit for their recent successes. He also “tweeted” a “Merry Christmas” message, which American presidents have conveyed to the people long before the advent of “Twitter,” but as usual he took undue and downright blasphemous-to-our-ears credit for Christmas. For Christ’s sake — and in this case we mean that both literally and reverently — we’re quite sure the holiday would have survived without Trump.
Even on a busy Christmas Eve filled with golf and family gatherings and national security briefings, Trump still found time to criticize a high-ranking and soon-to-retire Federal Bureau of Investigation official for having a wife a who once ran for office as a Democrat, with the usual implied aspersions on the FBI in general, and that ex-FBI head honcho currently running a special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing” in particular. Perhaps it’s because he was haunted by an especially scary ghost of Christmas future, but Trump had to bring up the “Russia thing” even on Christmas Eve.
There’s never a day of the year when Trump isn’t talking about “fake news,” and even the Christmas spirit one feels on Christmas couldn’t keep him from “re-tweeting:a picture of him with a squashed bug labeled “CNN” on his show and  “tweeting” a gripe about the “fake polls” that show both him and his recently-signed tax cuts as widely unpopular. That apparently includes all the polls, as even the outlier Rasmussen Reports has his approval ratings well in the very low 40s and well under water, but we doubt Trump will convince a majority of Americans that a majority of their fellow Americans actually quite like him.
Trump didn’t take advantage of a congressional Christmas recess to fire that ex-FBI guy heading the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing,” and the economy is humming along nicely, and so far there are no mushrooms clouds on the Korean Peninsula, and we suspect Trump would be polling better if he’d lay off the “tweets,” at least on Christmas Eve.

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Away a Tax Bill

President Donald Trump took to the road Wednesday to rally popular support for the congressional Republicans’ attempts to pass a tax bill, which so far are widely unpopular, but as is his wont he first undermined the effort with a street of outrageous “tweets.” His even busier-than-usual thumbs “re-tweeted” some links to anti-Muslim videos, expressed the usual complaints about the “fake news,” gloated about the firing of a network news anchor for alleged sexual improprieties, and seemed to suggest that another of one of media critics might be guilty of murder.
The outbursts not only gave all the media plenty to talk about other Trump’s sales pitch for whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up, they also made those arguments harder to believe.
Those anti-Muslim videos that Trump “re-tweeted” came from a fringe group calling itself Britain First, which the British government blames for a recent spate of hate crimes against its Muslim citizens, so some controversy ensued. The leader of the the fringe group and former Ku Klux Klan leeader David Duke both “tweeted” their appreciation for the “re-tweet” to to Trump’s millions of “Twitter followers,” but British Prime Minister Theresa May “tweeted” her own opinion that “It is wrong for the president to have done this,” and that seemed more in line with the mainstream media’s reaction.
Then the government of the Netherlands “tweeted” its objection that the video purporting to show a handicapped Dutch youth being savagely beaten by a Muslim immigrant was misleading, because although the depicted attack did occur the crime was not committed by a Muslim immigrant, and that assaulters has since been severely punished by Dutch law. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders would not vouch for the authenticity of any of the videos, and was reduced to defending their “re-tweeting” by insisting the president was making a valid point by arguing that mass Muslim immigration has resulted in problems for Europe.
That is indeed a valid point, and there is plenty of valid evidence for it, and it doesn’t need to be couched in hateful terms, so we would have to hear Huckabee-Sanders why Trump chose to cite some phony-baloney videos from a far-away fringe hate group that’s lately become a problem for a key American ally, and wind up annoying another American ally in the process.
Another big story of the day was the National Broadcasting Company firing longtime “Today Show” host Matt Lauer after a co-worker accused him of sexual harassment and assault, so of course Trump couldn’t resist the chance to insert himself in the middle of that. Even though Trump also stands credibly accused of similar charges, and is championing a Republican Senate candidate down in Alabama who stands credibly accused of even worse, and had just been called out by the Dutch for disseminating inaccurate informations, Trump gloated about Lauer’s firing and wondered “when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much fake news” and urged his followers to “check out” the past of the news division’s chief for some unspecified dirt.
Then he took aim at the NBC-affiliated MSNBC network’s Joe Scarborough, host of the “Morning Joe” program and a frequent target of of Trump’s ad hominem criticism, writing “And will they terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the ‘unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago. Investigate!” So far as any one can tell, Trump was referring to the 2001 death of a 28-year-old employee who died in Scarborough home district office when he was Florida congressman.
Of course the incident was thoroughly investigated by both the local authorities and the local press, with the local medical examiner concluding the the poor woman had died when an abnormal heart rhythm caused to her to lose consciousness and strike her head on a desk, and the local reporter who’s know a journalism professor at Duke University recalls he could find no evidence of foul play, and for the past 16 years only the kookiest conspiracy theory web sites have suggested that Scarborough had anything to with it.
Trump’s “tweets” don’t offer any reason to suspect Scarborough, either, so it looks an awful like Trump’s suggestion that one time political rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father had something to do with the Kennedy assassination. Which is hardly how to begin a speech making all sorts of dubious claims whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up.
Trump’s oration before a mid-sized crowd of adoring fans in St. Charles, Missouri, was largely devoted to bragging about his overwhelming electoral victory and how he’s since been making America great again even more rapidly than even he expected, but for the most part he focused on how America would be even greater after he signs whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with. He touched on all the venerable Republican arguments about tax cuts freeing up money for investments that spur economic growth and thus winds up helping everybody, rightly noted that America’s corporate tax rate is the highest in the industrialized word and thus hinders American competitiveness and create perverse incentives for doing business elsewhere, and all things considered we expected worse.
We’re old enough to remember when President Ronald Reagan was making those arguments, though, so we hoped for better. Back when good ol’ Ronnie Ray-Gun was making the pitch for a Republican tax bill the economic circumstances were starkly different, he thoroughly understood the complicated theories underlying the legislation that had been carefully crafted through hotly-debated hearings and thorough analysis by various nonpartisan agencies, and he had the sunny disposition and a sufficient command of the English language to persuade quite a few Democratic congressmen and a sufficient majority of the American to go along without resorting to any bald-faced lies. This is a different time, though, and Trump is a different president.
One of the obvious reasons that whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with is so polling so horribly is because it is perceived as giving a massive tax cut to the richest Americans, which is inconveniently but undeniably true according to every analysis we’ve seen by any credible nonpartisan agency or think-tank or business publication on either the left or the right margins of the reasonable middle. Rather than winsomely explaining the complicated theories about why that’s actually a good idea for everyone, as Reagan did back when it was undeniably true of his plan, which worked out well enough for everyone, Trump prefers to deny it.
Trump assures the public that such a famously and fabulously wealthy person as himself is going to take a real hit with whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with, and he mimics the slightly Jewish-sounding exasperation of his accountant at what he’s doing, and he brags about all the rich friends he has who are angry at him. He then adds his catchphrase “Believe me.” He tells the fans in St. Charles and elsewhere that he doesn’t mind losing all that money or any of those phony rich friends because he’s got the love of all the pipe fitters and coal miners and construction workers out there in the real America, and says “believe me” twice.
We’ll have to take his word for it, of course, because Trump hasn’t released his tax returns or given a full public accounting of the complex world-wide business he continues to hold, and there’s no telling what all those rich friends of his might be up to. All of the credible nonpartisan agencies and think-tanks and business publications are saying that Trump and his dues-paying pals at Mar-a-Lago will come fine, though, and at this point they seem more credible than the guys who’s often “re-tweeting” fake news from all sorts of kooky conspiracy theory internet sites. Most of the analysis from the serious sources we’ve seen suggest that the sorts of lower-income workers who voted in large numbers for Trump are going to take a hit, but we can’t say for sure if that’s fake news, so we’ll leave it to lower-income Trump voters to decide.
Back when Reagan was around the top tax rates were truly exorbitant and the economy was deep into an era of stagflation, while today the top rates are still halved and Trump can’t stop talking about how great the stock market and everything else is going just because he’s there, but there’s still an honest argument to be made for Republican economics. Perhaps Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or House Speaker Paul Ryan will stun us by persuasively making that case, but Trump’s obviously dishonest arguments are unlikely to nudge those awful poll numbers upwards, and his “tweets” about “Chuck and Nancy” and the rest of the congressional Democrats are even more unlikely to win any of their much-needed votes.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Far Away in the Far East

President Donald Trump picked as good a time as any to embark on an extended multi-nation tour of Asia, given all the bad political news for the Republicans over the past week, but as usual he managed to grab his share of the attention.
During the campaign Trump frequently claimed that America had been “raped” by China in their trade relationship, but while in China he basically said that America was asking for it. “Who can blame a country for being able taking advantage of another country for their benefit of their own citizens?,” he said to an audience of Chinese political and business and leaders quite a few American businessmen, who responded with a slight and nervous-sounding laughter. He placed the blame for America’s trade deficit with China squarely on “past administrations,” apparently beginning with the Nixon administration, a charge he later reiterated via “tweet,” and the die hard-supporters back home were all more robustly cheering the implication that things are going to be different from now own.
Trump wasn’t talking the campaign talk labelling China a currency manipulator or slapping 45 percent tariffs on Chinese imports or holding the negotiations over a Big Mac and fries rather than a state dinner, though, and he didn’t give any details about what he wanted to change. We don’t claim to be the masterful negotiator that Trump claims to be, but we note he also didn’t give any details about how he’s going to persuade the Chinese to go along with his announced plan to take advantage of them for the benefit of his citizens, and most of the business leaders in the audience seemed to be hoping for a different tactic.
China is going to have to reconfigure its entire economy to get its citizens buying enough Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Gibson electric guitars to make much of a dent in the trade imbalance, and although it probably would make the country a whole lot cooler they’re unlikely to do so for Trump’s sake. America’s economy will also require a lot of reconfiguring before Americans stop snatching up low-priced Chinese-made products at Wal-Mart, although doing without some of that junk might also make America cooler, and there’s also the matter of the high-end airplanes and delicious wheat that folks here in Kansas make and the Chinese spend a lot of money on, so the Chinese will have some some threats of their own to make when any treaty is being debated in the Senate. Something better than the status quo is possible, and we wish Trump well in achieving that, but for the foreseeable future a balance of trade isn’t possible, and neither is it necessary desirable, so we hope Trump will be more understated and realistic in the future.
The trip also took Trump to Vietnam, which gave his critics an opportunity to chortle about the bone spurs that prevented him from serving in a war there, and brought him into direct contact with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which also gave his critics plenty to work with. Trump told reporters that Putin had assured him that Russia didn’t do the tiniest bit of meddling in the past American presidential, and Trump said that he believed him, although after the predictable outrage he quickly revised that to mean that he believed that Putin actually believed that, and that in fact he believes the contrary conclusion of America’s intelligence agencies, at least now that they’re headed by his appointees and saying the same things they said under Obama’s appointees.
Continuing his penchant for disparaging past American governments in front of foreign audiences, Trump dismissed Obama’s past intelligence chiefs as “political hacks,” although both began their careers in Republican administrations and were decorated combat veterans of the war in Vietnam, and said the same things about Russian meddling that the Trump appointees are saying. In any case, Trump made clear that he didn’t see any reason why Russian attempts to sabotage an American should stand in the way of friendly relations.
There was also a stop in the Philippines, where the current President is Rodrigo Dueterte, who has cursed the Pope as the “son of a whore” and called an American president a “black bastard” and routinely forces kisses on women at his campaign rallies and unleashed gangs of vigilantes who have killed thousands of suspected drug users. Trump has previously praised Dueterte’s approach to the country’s problem, and always seemed quite comfortable with the rest of it, and Dueterte seems to like Trump’s style, too, so their meeting was fairly cordial. There’s a huge “Trump Tower” being built in downtown Manila, too, and Trump hasn’t divested himself of the branding agreement that’s expected to earn him millions of dollars, and the real owner of the property also happens to be Dueterte’s trade minister, so we expect it to remain cordial no matter how many suspected drug users are shot down without so much as a warrant.
The Philippines has lately benefited from America’s military support in quashing one of its occasional outbreaks of terrorism from it’s long-troublesome Muslim minority in the southern islands, too, and Dueterte has tamped down his anti-American rhetoric. He remains resistant to restoring America’s past military presence in the country and continues to make concessions to the Chinese in an apparent belief that they’re a more reliable diplomatic and economic partner.
During a stop in South Korea Trump managed to avoid making many big headlines, at least not to big enough to nudge the electoral losses or a Southern Gothic sex scandal out of the way, as he carefully avoided to referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jon-Ung as “Little Rocket Man.” The talk was tough, but within the usual diplomatic bounds, so the critics couldn’t muster of a case that he was taunting the North Korean nutcase into a nuclear confrontation by lowering himself to the dictator’s level of personal insult. After Kim once again called Trump a dotard, meaning an old and demented person, though, Trump “tweeted” back that “Why should Kim Jong-Un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat.’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend — and maybe that will someday happen!” Around the same time he offered to arbitrate some of China’s disputes with its neighbors over islands in the South China Sea, citing his great negotiation skills, but was politely declined by all parties.
At every stop along the way the leaders went out of their way to provide the most lavish welcomes and flattering praise, however, and Trump seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Our guess is he and his fans will take it was proof that they’re making America great again, but that’s about all they’ll get out of it.

— Bud Norman

The Lonesome Death of La David Johnson

The death of Army Sgt. La David Johnson was an American tragedy, and now it’s the latest political brouhaha.
Johnson and Staff Sergeants Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, and Dustin Wright were killed on Oct. 4 by an ambush attack in Niger, where they were apparently on an intelligence-gathering mission against the Boko Haram terror gang. The deaths were given scant attention by the national media, and didn’t warrant a single presidential mention until Monday. At a brief press conference President Donald Trump was asked about the 12 days of silence, and of course his response put the story on all the front pages and the top of everybody’s news hour.
Rather than directly answer the question Trump said that his predecessors had routinely failed to offer any condolences to the families of fallen soldiers, which was promptly refuted and quickly backtracked to some extent, but Trump also demanded the press ask his Chief of Staff about how his son’s death in combat was handled by President Barack Obama, who turns out to have invited the family to a seat of honor a memorial dinner, so that was enough for another day of outraged stories. Trump then did get around to calling the Johnson family, but wound up accused of being disrespectful.
Among the people listening in on the call was Democratic Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who coincidentally has had a long and close relationship with the Johnsons, and the told reporters that Trump had callously told Johnson’s widow and the aunt who had raised him as a son that “he knew what he was signing up for,” and that his references to “your guy” rather than Sgt. Jonson or La David had the led the widow to believe that Trump didn’t know her husband’s name. Trump responded with a “tweet” that Wilson was lying, and alleging he had proof, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later acknowledge Trump did not have a recording of the call and assured the media that just because Trump kept referring to Johnson as “your guy” did not mean he didn’t know the name. The aunt soon corroborated Wilson’s account of the call, and that was enough for another day of outraged stories.
Wilson is a partisan Democrat  who strikes us as slightly kooky, and for all we know the grieving aunt is as well, but what they allege Trump said does sound an awful lot like something he might say. Offering empathy and carefully-worded condolences in times of tragedy is not one of Trump’s strong suits.
He infamously dismissed the heroic sacrifice of Sen. John McCain’s extra years in a hellish North Vietnamese prison camp by saying “I like guys who’d didn’t get captured, OK?” He publicly ridiculed the parents of a Muslim American soldier who died fighting in Iraq after they dared speak against him at the Democratic National Convention. When a hurricane left Puerto Rico underwater and without electrical power he “tweeted” about the island’s debt and laziness, lambasted the mayor of the capital city, tossed papers towel into a crowd of suddenly homeless refugees, told individual survivors to “have a good time,” then “tweeted” that the federal relief won’t last forever. He also waited 12 long days of golf and “twitter” feuds with with National Football League players and fellow Republicans before mentioning the four deaths in Niger, and then only because a reporter had asked about it, and there’s still no explanation for that.
The press has other stories, too. Trump promised a personal $25,000 check to the grieving father of a fallen soldier who had been excluded from the Army’s family benefits because of a divorce, but that was last June and the check didn’t get sent until The Washington Post reported the unkept promise on Wednesday, which recalls another and much bigger check that Trump promised to veterans organizations but went unsent until The Washington Post weighed in. The president’s chief of staff has long been careful to keep his son’s tragic death out of the news, too, and his continued silence on the subject has also been noteworthy.
As much as we hate to see the tragic deaths of those four brave Americans become a political brouhaha, we’re glad to see that at least they’re being prominently mentioned in the news. There are valid questions about the nature of the mission they’d been sent on, what sort of intelligence failures led to their demise, what America is doing in a place called Niger in the first place, and why the administration was not more forthcoming with answers. We don’t doubt that there are valid answers, and that some of them can’t be offered without revealing classified information that might put other brave American soldiers at risk, but the grieving families and the public at large deserve that cautious explanation and some carefully-worded empathy. So long as the Trump administration can’t muster that, we expect it will suffer at least a few more days of outraged stories.

— Bud Norman