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A Pre-Dawn Twist on the Russia Story

The latest intriguing twist in the ongoing story about “Russia” — if you know what we mean, and by now we assume you do — is the revelation of a pre-dawn raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the home of the one-time campaign chairman for now-President Donald Trump. It’s not clear what the G-men were looking for, and unlikely they’ll find that smoking gun Trump’s most bitter enemies are so ardently hoping for, but a pre-dawn raid is pretty darned intriguing nonetheless.
Paul Manafort was already providing plenty of intrigue in this whole “Russia” story. Long before he became the Trump campaign’s chairman Manafort was notorious for the millions he’d made lobbying on behalf of  despots such as the Philippine’s Fernando Marcos and Angola’s Jonas Savimbi, and The New York Times reported shortly before his resignation from the campaign that he’d also made an undisclosed $12.7 million secretly lobbying on behalf of the Russian-linked government in Ukraine. Since then it has also been reported that he’s somehow $17 million in debt to Russian interests, that his name kept coming up in conversations among Russian officials that various intelligence agencies here and abroad were monitoring, that he sat in on that meeting that Donald Trump Jr. arranged with a Russian lawyer on the clear understanding they would be getting help direct from the Russian government, and remained in frequent contact with the campaign even after his resignation.
Throw in a pre-dawn raid by the FBI, and it all looks pretty fishy. Some of the stories are anonymously sourced from outlets that Trump’s most faithful allies can dismiss as “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” but the dictator-friendly lobbying business was publicly boasted about, the source for the meeting with the Russian lawyer was Trump Jr. himself, all those anonymous sources have lately been mostly confirmed by White House responses, and there’s nothing in Manafort’s biography that makes any of it at all seem implausible. The story about the pre-dawn raid is also anonymously sourced, but so far there haven’t been on-the-record denials, and if true it means that some federal judge somewhere agreed with a special counsel’s argument that there was credible reason to believe that evidence of a crime would be found at the home where the search warrant was issued. Although Manafort has provided numerous documents and sworn testimony to closed Congressional committees and various law enforcement officers, it also means a judge agreed that he could not be trusted to voluntarily preserve or hand over everything he had.
There’s nothing in any of the reporting to link Trump to anything Manafort might have done, except to the slight but nonetheless embarrassing extent that Trump did once hire the guy to be his campaign chairman, but there’s nothing in any of this that can help the president. If there is even the slightest link between Trump and anything Manafort might have done, Manafort now seems to have a compelling motive to cut a deal in exchange for any testimony he might provide about anyone higher up in the campaign he once chaired. He might yet prove completely innocent of any wrongdoing, or steadfastly loyal to the president who kicked him off a campaign, but the way things have been going for Trump lately we don’t think he can count on that. Trump’s general “Russia-schmussia-what’re-you-talkin-’bout?” defense isn’t holding up lately in the Congressional committees of special counsel investigations or public opinion polls, and there’s no way a pre-dawn raid on his former campaign chairman’s home is going to help.
Except with the hard-core fans, who will see it as further evidence that the deep state conspiracy to oust Trump is up to ever more nefarious deeds. They’re already convinced that special counsel Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican who rose through the ranks of the Justice Department during two Republican presidents and was appointed director of the FBI by a third Republican president, is a tool of an establishment plot to destroy Trump before he can destroy it. They note the indisputable fact that Mueller’s team of highly-specialized investigators includes several who donated to campaigns of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but they ignore the indisputable fact that so did Trump’s own lawyer in this mess and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law and Trump himself, and they seem not to have noticed that Mueller’s hires are highly-specialized in money-laundering and Russian interests and other areas that seem ripe for investigation.
None of this yet amounts to that smoking gun that Trump’s most bitter enemies are so ardently hoping for, but all of it makes it harder for his most loyal allies to argue Russia-schmussia-what’re-you-talkin’-bout.”

— Bud Norman

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Okay Then, Lock ‘Em All Up

President Donald Trump’s most staunch defenders are lately having a hard time defending some recently released e-mails, which show the president’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager readily agreeing to what they clearly understand to be a meeting with a Russian agent working on behalf of the Russian government’s efforts to sway the presidential election in their favor, so they’ve instead gone on offense. Trump himself hasn’t yet “tweeted” anything about it, but his official and unofficial surrogates are already trying to change the subject to all the awful things done by former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee and presumptive First Woman President Hillary Clinton.
They have a point, of course. Clinton was truly godawful in every capacity she ever held, and the cumulative weight of the outrageous baggage she and her hound dog of a husband President Bill Clinton acquired over the years was no doubt a significant reason she managed to lose the electoral vote to the likes of Trump. Both Clintons have committed outrageous ethical violations since so far back that the statutes of limitation have long since run out of many of them, they’ve probably dodged double jeopardy on countless others, and there’s still plenty of fresh material for Trump’s most staunch defenders to seize on.
With Trump’s now-undeniable business ties to Russia and its oligarchy in the news, his defenders are pointing to the sale of much of America’s uranium supplies to a Russian oligarch that Secretary of State  Clinton did indeed suspiciously sign off on. As Trump’s critics note the willingness of top Trump campaign aides to meet with what they clearly thought was a Russian effort to influence the election on their behalf, his most staunch supporters note a believable report that Clinton’s campaign willingly accepted the help of Ukrainians eager to expose Trump’s ties to Russia. The most daring of Trump’s staunchest are touting a story about a Democratic opposition research firm called Fusion GPS, which is tied to that  dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official that has all sorts of salacious but unverified information about Trump, and which also has some reported ties to that presumed Russian agent that Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager met with, which has of course led to all sorts of conspiracy theories.
For the most part, we’re inclined to believe every word of it. As we constantly remind our annoyed Republican friends, we were believing the worst about Clinton back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and telling all his interviewers she was the best Secretary of State ever, and even with Trump in office we’re no more favorably incline toward her now. There have been some fairly convincing articles written by her most staunch defenders about that uranium deal, but that big donation to the Clinton Foundation that followed still looks pretty suspicious to us, and after so many decades of the Clintons we’ll give some credence to almost anything nasty you might have to say about them.
From our current pox-on-both-their-houses perspective, though, the Trump offensive isn’t a convincing defense. That salacious dossier that Fusion GPS might have paid for still isn’t verified but isn’t yet “discredited,” as the Trump-friendly media always describe it, and the idea that Fusion GPS deviously lured Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager into a brilliantly-planned scam that would be exposed some eight months after Clinton lost the election isn’t convincing at all. If Clinton was indeed concluding with the Ukrainians to expose Trump’s ties to the Russians who were illegally occupying Ukrainian territory, it’s hard to say whether we hate Democrats and Russians more than we usually like Republicans and Ukrainians.
Back during the campaign, Trump used to lead his enthusiastic campaign rallies in chants of “lock her up” about Clinton. At the time he was urging she be locked for her careless e-mail practices, but after the discovered e-mails that his son has lately admitted to the chant seems more on general principles. It then struck us as slightly Banana Republic-like to have a major party nominee for president to be promising his adoring crowds that their hated villainess would be imprisoned, but by now we’re getting to used it.
We also note that The New York Times was the source for that Russian uranium story, Politico broke the news about the Clinton-Ukranian connection, understand well why  the mainstream press has understandably been more concerned lately about the winner’s scandals, and admit that Trump’s most staunch defenders are as always largely dependent on the “lame stream” media they otherwise decry as “fake news.”
So go ahead, President Trump, and instruct your Justice Department to pursue a vigorous investigation of everything your staunchest defenders are saying about that undeniably godawful Clinton woman. You promised to do so on national television during the presidential debate, even if you did immediately renege on the promise shortly after your election by saying she had suffered enough, and given our longer standing animosity toward her we  won’t mind a bit. Losing to the likes of you once seemed a hellish enough fate for Clinton, but some official punishment might do the country’s rule of law some good.
Those e-mails and all the rest of the Russia scandal also look pretty damned bad for the president, however, and we hope that the congressional investigations and the special counsel investigations and the press investigations and the rest of the country’s curiosity will continue to look skeptically at all that.. If it all winds up with both of the past presidential election’s major nominees locked up, we’ll hope there’s at least a chance the rule of law might have somehow prevailed.

— Bud Norman

From Russia, With Love

President-elect Donald Trump has peddled conspiracy theories about President George W. Bush lying America into a war, President Barack Obama being born in Kenya, and the father of would-be president and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz being in on the Kennedy assassination, and many of his more fervent supporters are currently convinced that despite her deathly illness former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and would-be first woman president Hillary Clinton somehow finds the energy to run a satanic child sex ring in the back room of a pizzeria, so we’ll come right out and admit to a sneaking suspicion that there’s something fishy going on between Trump and the Russkies.
Our first sniff of a certain malodor came way back when Trump was still considered a long shot in the Republican primary, and he exchanged such fulsome praise with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin that it bordered on the homo-erotic. He later fired his first campaign manager and replaced him with a fellow who had substantial business dealings with Russia, and added a foreign policy advisor with similar ties, and then there were the resurrected quotes from Trump’s son about how the family business was heavily invested in Russia, and Trump’s own claims on national television that Russia would never invade Ukraine, and that you could write it down, and that it wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal even if they did, which of course they already had done. He also publicly urged Russia to release whatever e-mails they had hacked from Clinton’s scandalously unsecured server, although he later claimed it was meant facetiously, and when the e-mails from her party’s and her campaign manager’s accounts surfaced and started a bad a news cycle that culminated in all those rumors of a satanic child sex ring in the back of a pizzeria he scoffed at the very idea that the Russians might have had anything to do with it, even though it did seem plausible.
Trump wound up firing that campaign manager with the Russian business ties after they were widely reported, but since his election he’s chosen a national security advisor who has travelled to Moscow to dine with Putin and appear on the regime’s propaganda television network and otherwise seems to have a certain affinity for Russia, and his reported but as-yet-unannounced choice for Secretary of State is a former Exxon chief executive officer who negotiated a $500 billion deal with Putin’s kleptocracy in 2011 and was awarded Russia’s “Order of Friendship” a year later. Now the Obama administration and The New York Times and The Washington Post are all reporting that Russians were indeed responsible for the hacked and leaked e-mails, and that Republican e-mails were also hacked but not leaked, and Trump is once again scoffing at the very idea the idea the Russians might have had anything to do with, even though it now seems all the more plausible.
There might be some innocent explanation for all of this, and the more pro-Trump sorts of publications have already concocted several.
One theory holds that the late-breaking bad news cycle engendered by those leaked e-mails didn’t sway any voters anyway, which is also plausible, but they surely didn’t do the Democratic ticket any good and given how very close the race was in three states that swung the electoral college victory it’s plausible as well that they did make a difference. There’s an adjunct theory that even if the Russians did hack the Republican party they didn’t find anything worth leaking, but that doesn’t seem at all plausible. In any case, it’s hard to build a convincing case that Americans and their president-elect shouldn’t be concerned about even ineffectual interference in an American election.
Another theory, offered by Trump himself, is that you just can’t believe anything you hear from America’s so-called “intelligence community.” In a characteristically defiant television interview, Trump noted these were “the same people” who told Bush that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction during the lead-up to the America’s invasion of that country, which Trump had previously insisted Bush somehow knew was not true, and that he regards it all as a Democrat-controlled attempt to undermine him. He’s already announced that he doesn’t want to be bothered with daily intelligence briefings, making us nostalgic for all the talk radio outrage about reports that Obama was skipping them way back when, and leading us to wonder where he does get his information about the world. Trump has praised “InfoWars” for its “awesome reputation,” and he recommended The National Enquirer for a Pulitzer Prize, and their track records are even worse than that of America’s “intelligence community.” Perhaps Trump has his own high-tech global counter-intelligence operation like all the jet-setting international playboy billionaire villains in the James Bonds movies, which we admit would be pretty cool, but we also can’t shake a certain suspicion that he’s just going with his gut and the latest “tweet” he saw and his own naked self-interest.
Sooner or later will come the theory, already percolating in the comments sections of countless news reports and bubbling just between the lines of the official statements, that an alliance with Russia is best for America and who better to negotiate it than the savvy businessmen who have already swung such profitable deals with our former adversary. All through the campaign Trump was talking about aligning with Russia to defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, even though Russia was already aligned with the odious dictatorship in Syria and mostly devoted to defeating the more secular rebels rather than the Islamic State. Syria is more or less a puppet state of Iran, whose nuclear ambitions Trump promised to thwart by scuttling Obama’s loophole-ridden deal that country’s terror-sponsoring theocracy, and Russia is currently aligned with Iran, but we’re sure the theorists will eventually explain how that works out.
From our admittedly old-fashioned Republican perspective, it doesn’t seem plausible. After a Cold War childhood we remain instinctively suspicious of the Russkies, and remain appalled by how they deny their citizens basic rights, and we stand steadfastly against their recent revanchism in Ukraine and the bullying of their bullying of other neighbors and their meddling in the Middle East on behalf of its most dangerous regimes, and we can’t see how the economic benefits of a partnership with a moribund economy and dwindling population and a strongman dictatorship will outweigh such considerations as the survival of free societies in Europe and the Middle East and elsewhere.
We’d like to think that Trump’s oft-stated affinity for strongman dictatorships explains his rapprochement with Russia, and not some economic benefit he might accrue from the partnership, and we surely look forward to his tax returns and other financial disclosures and plenty of congressional investigations that would clearly disprove any such notion, but in age when Ted Cruz’s dad was probably in on the Kennedy assassination and Hillary Clinton is still getting around well enough to run a satanic child sex ring in the back of a pizzeria there will always be a nagging suspicion. Enough of the old Cold War-era Republicans are still around still around in the Senate and even the House to perhaps allow for a congressional investigation, and we wish them well, even if it does wind up with only more conspiracy theories

— Bud Norman

When Two Co-Stars Collide

Being the hard-core political news junkies that we are, we even tuned in for Tuesday night’s vice-presidential debate. For what it’s worth, which isn’t much, we thought that Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence got the better of Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, but that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton nonetheless came out ahead of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
At this point most Americans have no idea who either Pence or Kaine are, and even the more star-studded vice-presidential debates of the recent past had any discernible effect on the top-of-the-ticket outcomes, but those who did bother tune in were treated to an interesting show. They also got a glimpse at what this election year might have looked like in a more sane America.
Former Senator and current Indiana Governor Mike Pence came across as soft-spoken yet serious, humble yet forceful, broadly well-informed yet sharply focused on the most important issues, and he made a persuasive case against Clinton and her checkered career. All that soft-spoken and humble and well-informed shtick made for a jarring contrast with Trump’s bombastic and boastful and winging-it persona, though, and Pence’s defense of his running mate’s also checkered career wasn’t nearly so effective. Former Virginia Governor and current Sen. Tim Kaine came across as smug and rude and merely well-read on his talking points, but not quite so much as Trump, and even if he had a hard time defending his running mate he had much better luck casting aspersions on the opposition.
Kaine was able to repeatedly raise Trump’s apparent and pretty much-admitted tax-dodging and his refusal to release the tax returns that might prove how ingeniously he got away with it, riposte Pence’s quite believable allegations about Clinton’s family charity with the recent believable revelations about Trump’s charity foundation, and make mention of several of Trump’s most offensive quotes. Pence had a good argument about how the apologetic “reset” policy with Russia that Clinton had pursued as Secretary of State had encouraged dictator Vladimir Putin to pursue a revanchist policy that has already invaded Georgia and Ukraine, but there wasn’t much to be said when Kaine cited Trump’s frequent praise of Putin and his insistence to an interviewer that Russia would never invade Ukraine. In that case, as in so many others when Pence was called to defend the indefensible, he wound up insisting that Trump hadn’t said what he provably did say, and we expect that the video proof will soon be starring in an attack ad by the Clinton campaign. Towards the end there was a long discussion about abortion, an issue that hasn’t been prominent in this campaign, and although Pence made a strong and obviously sincere case for the anti-abortion side of the issue he struggled to explain his running mate’s soon-withdrawn statement that women who seek abortions should suffer some legal penalty.
Still, Pence did well enough that we’re sure we’re not the only Republicans who found themselves wishing he were at the top of the ticket. Pence or any other equally boring establishment Republican could have effectively made the damning case against Clinton’s checkered career with bombast or boasting or the wild rhetoric that comes with winging it, and none would have been obliged to defend an also checkered or the kind of outrageous statements that Pence was obliged to pretend didn’t exist. There are no doubt many Democrats wishing that someone so run-of-the-mill as Kaine was heading the ticket, with the scant name recognition that comes with being unencumbered by so many scandals and outrageous statements that Clinton has accumulated over the years, but we think the more honest of them would admit that Pence got the better of it on Tuesday night.
In any case, it will likely be long forgotten by the time those two awful people at the top of the tickets meet up again on Sunday.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Installment in As Trump Turns

The big news from the presidential race on Wednesday was Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s latest shake-up of his campaign staff, and if you’re a binge-watching fan of Trump’s ongoing reality show it makes for some interesting plot twists.
A formerly peripheral character named Stephen Bannon has stepped into a starring role, an entirely unexpected yet predictably blond and comely character named Kellyanne Conway has been introduced, the ambiguously villainous Paul Manafort role has been reduced to cameo appearances, and the obvious implication is that the more or less traditional Republican nominee Trump we’ve seen lately will go back to being the boorish and braggadocios and insulting self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-casino-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who won the Republican nomination.
That Bannon fellow is the new “chief executive” of the campaign, and he once worked for the Goldman Sachs investment outfit that both parties are running against and then went on to produce a documentary about former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee and reality show star Sarah Palin among other ventures, has most recently been in charge of the Breitbart.com news site that has cheered on all of Trump’s most outrageous utterances since way back when there was still a chance the GOP might not nominate someone more traditionally Republican. The Conway woman is apparently a pollster who has long provided Trump with what he wants to hear over his varied private sector careers, and the assumes the more recognizable title of “campaign manager.” That Manafort fellow replaced the combative Corey “Let Trump Be Trump” Lewandowski as “campaign chairman” shortly after a controversy regarding Lewandowski’s allegedly rough treatment of a female reporter, ironically enough from Breitbart.com, ostensibly with the mission of molding Trump into a more traditional Republican nominee, and despite the recent press revelations about his shady dealings in the very same Ukraine that Trump insists the Russians haven’t invaded and might be entitled to in any case he’ll keep the now meaningless title during his cameo appearances.
The timing seems odd, because over the last several days that more-or-less traditional Republican nominee shtick seems to have been working for Trump. He read an obviously pre-written-by-someone-else speech from a tele-prompter about immigration and Islamic terrorism, and made the common sense case that America should be exceedingly cautious about accepting large numbers of immigrants from lands where Islamic terrorism is popular. This contrasted effectively with the Democratic nominee’s crazy talk that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism and her crazy message of y’all come in, and it left out all his own crazy talk about using bullets dipped in pig’s blood and chopping the heads off of terrorists and killing their families and routinely torturing detainees and trying even American citizens in military tribunals, so even the most traditionally Republican press organs were giving him some begrudging respect. We’re so hide-bound we couldn’t help noticing that he once again repeated his easily disproved lies that he’d been opposed to the Iraq and Libyan interventions from the outset, which reiterated his utterly ridiculous and not all Republican belief that the Middle East would have been happily stable and peaceable if not for America’s meddling influence, and that underneath all the tough talk was an “American First” isolationism, but at this point we’re among a small minority up against a bi-partisan consensus.
Trump followed that up with another pre-written-by-someone-else and tele-promptered speech in Wisconsin, not far from where nihilistic race riots were still raging in Milwaukee in the aftermath of a seemingly justified fatal shooting of an armed and dangerous black man by the police, and it also contrasted effectively with the response of a Democratic nominee who is obligated to both the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the reflexively anti-police administration that are making excuses for and subtly egging on the riots. We wouldn’t go so far as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did and call it “the best Republican speech ever,” as Abraham Lincoln’s addresses at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural still really swing for us, but we had to give it some begrudging respect. He even made a plausible appeal to the black Americans who are disproportionately the victims of crime, but we think a more or less traditional Republican nominee who doesn’t have a settlement with the Justice Department over his discriminatory renting practices or an expensive full-page ad calling for the execution of some black rape suspects who were later cleared by physical evidence in his background would be a better messenger.
In any case, the more tele-promptered and traditionally Republican shtick seems to have shaved a few percentage points off the comfortable poll-averaged lead that crazy Democratic nominee had built up while Trump was accusing a vanquished Republican rival’s father of being in on the Kennedy assassination and grousing that an Indiana-born yet “Mexican” judge shouldn’t have been presiding over one of the three trials regarding the scam Trump University and musing in the most indecipherable way about how “Second Amendment people” might forestall future Supreme Court picks and that the president being the literal rather than figurative “founder” of the Islamic State and any number of other unnecessary distractions he’d written into his ongoing reality show. Given that the Democratic nominee talks plenty crazy herself, we’re not at all surprised. The changes in the Trump plot line therefore make no sense to us, but in this crazy election year we’ll concede that’s probably because we’re more accustomed to politics than the reality show genre.

— Bud Norman

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Sports, Politics, and the Global Chessboard

The quadrennial Olympic competitions always arrive on the same leap years as the American presidential elections, and usually provide some pleasant if nonetheless metaphorical distraction from politics, but in this crazy election year it hasn’t proved sufficient. Even after more than seven years of those awful Obama administrations America is still great enough to be well ahead in the medal count, and there have been the usual plentitude of inspiring tales of individual American effort along the way, but as usual it’s all being re-told according to the same dreary collectivist storylines of race and class and gender and of course how that Muslim-American woman will be competing in the fencing competition in a hijab. By this point, we’re more interested in the upcoming world chess championship.
Most of the rest of the world will pay no attention to the event, and we really can’t blame it, but we have our own idiosyncratic reasons for being enrapt. We first took up chess way back when we were so young we required baby-sitting and our amorous parents hired the local high school champ to watch over us during their occasional and much-needed nights on the town, and he taught us not only the moves but also the tactical and strategic fundamentals of the game in the hope that it would keep us more or less quiet and still until our parents arrived home with an evening’s wages. The ploy had little effect on our more athletic and fidgety older brother, but it led to a years-long and mostly successful rivalry with a more mathematically-talented younger brother and our own life-long fascination with the game. A few years later the ruggedly individualist and undeniably brilliant American champion Bobby Fischer faced off against the collectivist and daunting Soviet Union’s reigning World Champion Boris Spassky in a compelling single combat contest of the ongoing Cold War, and it got more press attention than any of those heroes of a terrorism-stained Olympics or even that classic National Basketball Association finals between The New York Knicks and The Los Angeles Lakers, and when Fischer easily prevailed against Spassky’s brilliance and the commie’s conspiratorial advantages despite his temper-tantrum-induced disqualification in an early game we became lifelong followers of the World Chess Championship.
That Fischer guy could play a game of chess as beautifully as Mozart could write a symphony or Michelangelo could paint a ceiling, but the son of a Jewish mother’s virulent anti-semitism and the American hero’s outspoken anti-Americanism and the champ’s all-around nuttiness eventually undermined his heroic status. The only other American considered a world champion was Paul Morphy of New Orleans, who earned the unofficial title by convincingly beating the world’s best back in the antebellum and pre-official-championship days, and he also wound up going crazy, but in his days at least it had more to do with his unfashionably pro-Union views. Spassky was eventually recognized as a half-hearted dissenter against Soviet communism and an all-around-sportsman and undeniably brilliant chess-player in his own right, but the brilliant but more doctrinaire Soviet Anatoly Karpov wound up winning the next title by default when Fischer insisted on the most insane terms for a title defense.
Karpov successfully defended the title against two Soviet commie challengers, then retained his championship in a phony-baloney draw against the proudly half-Jewish and defiantly anti-Soviet challenger Garry Kasparov in ’84. Kasparov won fair and square against Karpov in ’86, then dominated the chess world into the 1990s.
Some of the corrupt organizational squabbling you find going on all the time in boxing then followed, with a charming enough English fellow named Nigel Short holding one of the disputed more-or-less world titles for a while, but Kasparov generally remained on top before retiring to take up a full-time career in politics, which he admirably continues here and abroad to this day, and a most worthy but altogether boring and draw-prone champion from India named Viswanathan Andad wound up as the little-recognized champion. He nobly defended the title the against yet another Russkie, then wound up losing his title in ’13 to a handsome and buff and combative 20-something Norwegian named Magnus Carlsen, who everyone in the chess world considered a more telegenic and exploitable champion.
This time around the big chess event will take place in November and December in the South Street Seaport district of lower Manhattan in New York City, and although the brilliant if oddly-named yet all-American grandmasters Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana were upset in the preliminary matches by one of those inevitable Russkie challengers there’s still an intriguing Cold War feel to the championship. Carlsen’s challenger is the outspokenly pro-Putin and pro-Crimean invasion Russkie Sergey Karajkin, and given the champ’s unabashed identification with the free west and under-the-gun Scandinavia the battle lines are quite clearly drawn. Unlike the Cold War days of ’72 we’re in an American election year when the Democrat nominee offered a “reset button” to the Russkies and pulled back on a nuclear-defense deal with the Czechs and Poles and seemed to invite the recent Russian revanchism, and the Republican nominee and his in-bed-with-Russia campaign team were apparently unaware of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and seem quite content with Russia’s revanchism in any case, so our pro-western and pro-western-Ukrainian-type sympathies will be with some pretty-boy Norwegian rather than some nutcase half-Jewish and anti-semitic if undeniably brilliant and ruggedly individualist American this around.
Sports and politics are full of such ambivalent rooting, and even such an elegant game as chess isn’t immune to these complications.

— Bud Norman

The Week that Wasn’t

This should have been a great week for the Republican presidential nominee.
The Democratic presidential nominee gave an interview with one of those Democratic-biased networks which was so awful that all the other biased Democratic networks had to concede that she lied about what the Federal Bureau of Investigation said she lied about in that lingering e-mail matter that most Americans agree should have led to her indictment on national security charges. Those same biased networks were also forced to report on the latest economic news from the current Democratic administration, and to acknowledge that it was also very bad. They were also forced to acknowledge some hard-to-sort-out controversy about a $400 million ransom allegedly paid to the Iranian government by that same current Democratic administration. Each of which reinforced a widely and reasonably held opinion that the Democratic presidential nominee is disqualifying-ly dishonest and devious, as well as the objectively provable conclusion that her party’s economic policies have produced the worst recovery from an economic recession since World War II, and a general sense that neither she nor her party should be allowed anywhere near America’s foreign policy.
These are the Republican’s quadrennial campaign themes, after all, which have proved persuasive even in less fortuitous election years over the relatively recent past, so all that was needed was for nice little Republican poll bump was for the nominee to do some serious tsk-taking about how awful the Democrats are and otherwise stay the hell out of the news. It would take quite a feat of self-sabotage to turn that into a worrisome little dip in the polls, for that matter, but this time around the Republican nominee is Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul has long had a knack for generating headlines, and he obligingly provided those biased Democratic networks plenty of reason to write and broadcast about something other than the Democratic nominee’s awful week.
There were the ongoing aspersions against a Muslim couple whose son had died fighting for America in the Iraq War, a hearty defense of the Fox News head honcho who was shown the door after decades of sexual harassment charges along with some off-the-cuff remarks about how strong women don’t get sexually harassed and that if they do they should up and leave like his nepotistic and well-funded daughter and of course very strong daughter would, as well as a rather bizarre by five-times draft deferred civilian that he’d always wanted to get a Purple Heart. That’s on top of an undeniably disastrous-even-by-the-conservative-media interview where he promised — believe him, write it down — that Russia wouldn’t invade Ukraine even though it did so two years ago and is still there, then admitting he wouldn’t mind if it stayed that way because he’d “heard people say” that those conquered Ukrainians like it that way. Throw in a speech to the richest county in America about how hard they’ve got it, his failure to endorse his party’s Speaker of the House in a primary against a long-shot challenger as well as a former Republican presidential nominee, and his blatant attempt to out-bid the Democrats on a stimulus-sort of “infrastructure spending” and other insults to the old-fashioned conservatives in his party, along with that hard-to-sort-out incident with a crying baby that all the Democratic-biased media happily ran with, and it was plenty for those biased media to talk about other than the Democrat’s awful week.
All of which reinforced the widespread and reasonably held opinion that the Republican nominee is a religiously intolerant and cluelessly sexist chickenhawk who really doesn’t understand foreign policy at all and doesn’t represent a coherent and united political philosophy and will make whatever promises he thinks a gullible public will buy and is pretty much a nutcase as well. These are the Democrats’ quadrennial political themes, and they’ve proved all too persuasive even against less fortuitous candidates over the recent past, and so far it’s good for an outside-the-margin-of-error lead of 5.1 percent in the Real Clear Politics average instead of the slight bump that a more savvy Republican could have effortlessly achieved.
Trump is already blaming it all on Democratic media bias, and most of his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters are already parroting the claim, and there’s no denying they’ve got a strong case. Last time around the same biased Democratic media were making a big deal of the more polished and polite Republican nominee saying “binders full of women” rather than “binders full of women’s resumes” and talking about the time he put his dog in a cage atop his car and otherwise finding trivial reasons to ignore the ongoing catastrophes of the incumbent Democratic administration, and there’s no reason to think that even the most blameless Republican nominee wouldn’t have the same problem this time around. Even so, Trump is making it so very easy them that even such staunch defenders as former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Trump’s very own vice presidential nominee are finding it hard to make the quadrennial arguments.
Whatever reasonable complaints one might have with Islam in general and those Muslim parents of a fallen American soldier in general it is never a good idea to disparage a Gold Star family of any faith, and the censure of usually Republican biased veterans’ groups proves the point. Any candidate that already has absolutely abysmal approval ratings among women shouldn’t be defending rich pals who have accepted big buy-outs in exchange for resignations in the wake of sexual harassment charges nor disparaging the alleged victims as weaklings. Those remarks about Russia would never go into Ukraine and so what if it did are even more appalling from a Republican point view of than a Democratic one, and all that talk of “infrastructure spending” and that ungallant support for a Republican House Speaker who has swallowed hard to support the nominee are unlikely to unify the party behind a coherent political philosophy. Throw in that weird encounter with the crying baby, and that talk about how he always wanted to get a Purple Heart, and it takes a true believer to believe that the current Republican nominee isn’t at least a little bit of a nutcase.
We’re still somewhat sympathetic to the argument that the awful Democratic nominee’s awful week was even worse, and that everyone should thus get on board with the idea that the awful Republican nominee is going to make America great again, but we can’t help pining for what might have been. One of the more intriguing scenes from the past week came when Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, a former Congressman and Governor and one of those polite and polished “establishment” types that Trump ran against, encountered criticism from a military family. At a rally in Lima, Ohio, a woman came forward during the question-and-answer period an identified herself as the mother of a Air Force airman, which earned polite applause from the crowd, but when it became apparent that she was criticizing Trump for his feud with the Muslim soldier’s parents the crowd started booing her, which of course gave the Democratic biased media the opportunity to write headlines about a military mom being booed at a Trump rally. The more objective media showed how Pence quelled the booing by honoring her sacrifice, however, and telling the crowd that “This is what freedom looks like,” and then reasonably responding to the broader issues at hand. It’s something for the conservative media to work with, and something that the liberal media will further compromise their credibility by ignoring, and it makes one wonder what a more politically experienced and slightly less nutcase Republican nominee could have done with the past week.

— Bud Norman

This is the “This Week” That Was

Last week’s Democratic National Convention seems to have “bounced” nominee Hillary Clinton back into a slight lead in Real Clear Politics’ average of all the polls, and over the weekend Republican nominee Donald J. Trump got off to an awful start on “This Week.”
For those of you who are either in bed or heading to church during the program, which are the only two places any self-respecting person would be at such an ungodly time, “This Week” is the American Broadcasting Company’s version of those oh-so-serious Sunday morning political shows. It’s hosted by George Stephanopolous, a former Clinton family consigliere who never quite got over the habit, and Republicans have long groused with considerable justification that he strives to make them look stupid. Trump, alas, made the job all too easy.
The interview starts promisingly enough, with Trump boasting that his acceptance speech drew more viewers than Clinton’s, and gloating that “I have one of the great temperaments” and that it is such a “winning temperament” that it beat 16 Republican challengers while Clinton has a “bad temperament” that is such a “weak temperament” that it could barely beat a self-described socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Things started going downhill, though, when Stephanopolous asked “What exactly is your relationship with Vladimir Putin?”
Rather than accusing Stephanopolous of asking a loaded and entirely unfair irrelevant question that is so typical of the biased “lame stream” media, which would have been hard for even Trump to do with a straight face, Trump answered that “I have no relationship with him.” Which of course allowed Stephanoplous to mention the three separate occasions when Trump had boasted that he did have a relationship with Putin, to which Trump offered the explanation that “Because he has said some nice things about me over the years. I remember years ago, he said something — many years ago, he said something very nice about me. I said something good about him when Larry King was on. This was a long time ago, and I said he is a tough cookie or something to that effect.” When Stephanopolous was once again so rude as to mention those three more recent public occasions when Trump did boast of speaking with Putin during their appearance on the same “60 Minutes” episode, Trump acknowledged that their separate interviews on the program were conducted on different sides of the world and demanded to know “What do you call a relationship?”
Asked about the Democrats’ criticism of Trump’s recent statements that he would not necessarily honor America’s North American Treaty Organization obligations, and might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Trump explained that “They only fear one thing, losing the election.” He explained his remarks on Crimea by saying “I’m not going to be mean to anybody. George, you know me pretty well. I don’t bow,” and clarified his position on NATO by saying “I’m all in favor of NATO. I said NATO is obsolete,” and then claimed credit for the organization’s anti-terrorism stance. Asked why a call for arming Ukrainian rebels to resist Russian occupation was dropped from the Republican platform, Trump insisted he was not involved but admitted that his people were.
At which point the interview went even further awry.
“Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas,” Trump said. “(Putin’s) not going into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand, he’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.” To which Stephanopolous reasonably asked, with a rather stunned look on his face, “Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Trump had a rather stunned look on his own face when confronted with this well-known and indisputable fact, but recovered well enough to say “OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet.”
This was followed by a critique of the Obama administration’s Russian policy, which is indeed a ripe target for a counter-attack, but it’s hard to imagine any other Republican in the history of the party making a bigger mess of it. Pretty much any other Republican in the history of the party would have noted that Obama and the Secretary of State who is now the Democratic nominee had betrayed our Polish and Czech allies by reneging on a missile-defense treaty and then offered that ridiculous “reset” button and promised on a hot mic to offer even greater “flexibility” in a second term, which clearly encouraged Russia’s recent revanchism, and even wound up selling Russia a big chunk of America’s uranium reserves shortly after a couple of generous contributions to the past Secretary of State and current Democratic nominee’s phony-baloney “family foundation,” all of which Trump neglected to mention. Pretty much any other Republican wouldn’t be bogged down by Trump’s even friendlier policy pronouncements, though, or his own sizable contributions to that phony-baloney “family foundation,” or his instinct to link the failures of the Obama administration to that free-loading bunch of bums in a NATO pact that Trump is all in favor of and has said is obsolete.
As bad as it was, the Russo-American issue wasn’t even the part of the interview that generated the worst press of the weekend. Trump was also asked to respond to a speech given at the Democratic convention by Kzir Khan, the father of a Muslim Army Captain who died fighting for America in the Iraq War, who had criticized Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants. Pretty much any other Republican would have gratefully acknowledged the family’s sacrifice, and respectfully made the case that American policy must nevertheless realistically assess the costs and benefits of admitting large numbers of Muslim immigrants that will surely include less patriotic sorts. Pretty much none of them would speculate that the father’s speech had been written for him, or gratuitously note how the fallen soldier’s mother had stood silently by her husband during his speech, or add that “She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say,” and certainly none would have compared their efforts to get rich to the sacrifice of a Gold Star family.
There was also a claim that the National Football League had written a letter to Trump expressing their concerns about the presidential debate schedule, which the NFL promptly denied, and which will probably be more widely noted than any of the rest of it because the NFL is such a big deal. All in all, this week got off to a bad start for Trump on “This Week.”

— Bud Norman

A Good Year For Vladimir Putin

The Democrats were loudly cheering some woman’s abortion on Wednesday during their quadrennial party convention, but Donald J. Trump wasn’t about to let them get all the attention. As usual the Republican nominee provided plenty of headline fodder in a Miami press conference, where he addressed the recent hacking and release of Democratic National Party e-mails by telling the Russian government, “Russia — if you’re listening — I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing (from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s accounting during her tenure as Secretary of State). I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

His apologists insist it was just a joke, and we’ll concede that it might well have been, as it’s always hard to tell with Trump, although we notice that he didn’t have to pause for laughs. In any case he gave his critics something to write about than all the embarrassing things that were going on at the Democratic convention, and allowed them tsk and tut and otherwise wax indignant about Trump inviting the interference of a foreign thug in an American election, persuasively argue that if it was a joke it wasn’t a very funny one, and that there’s no assurance the Russians will take it was one, despite that country’s delightfully bleak sense of humor. It also bolstered a recent conspiracy theory that the Russians were behind the hacking and released the e-mails to help Trump, and revived longstanding worry felt on both the left and right about Trump’s apparent chumminess with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, both of which he addressed with his usual un-parseable eloquence.
“Why do I have to get involved with Putin? I have nothing to do with Putin. I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about the man other than that he would respect me. He doesn’t respect our president. And if it is Russia — it’s probably not, nobody knows who it is — but if it is Russia, it’s really bad for a different reason, because it shows how little respect they have for our country, when they would hack into a major party and get everything.”
Which will satisfy his apologists as a perfect reasonable response, but more skeptical sorts are likely to notice that it includes an admission that his past claim before an enrapt Republican audience to have spoken with Putin as “stable mates” on the “60 Minutes” program that broadcast one interview with Putin on the eastern half of the world another with Trump in the western half was of course a ridiculous lie, an even more embarrassing admission that the Republican presidential nominee doesn’t know anything about one of America’s most formidable foreign policy foes except that the fellow will surely respect him, and an absurd insinuation that no country would ever dare think of committing espionage against an America with Trump with in charge. Oh, and that it was all a lead-up to that putative punchline about how very amusing it would be the hackers kept up this disrespectful behavior. All in all, it’s not likely to dispel any conspiracy theories or allay any suspicions about Trump’s Russian policy.
Trump might or might not have anything to do with Putin, although he has long pursued business interests in a country where Putin’s approval is needed to do almost anything, and his campaign manager has long done business with the ex-Ukrainian strong-man who was Putin’s ally and his top foreign policy advisor has long done business with the Kremlin-run natural gas monopoly that Putin wields like a cudgel against the Europeans. Throw in all of Trump’s past praise for Putin’s “strength,” his brushing off of Putin’s assassinations of journalists and political foes by saying “our country does a lot of killing, too,” his short-lived plan to outsource the Syrian problem to Putin, last week’s removal from the Republican platform of a plank to supply weapons to the anti-Russian Ukrainian fighters and Trump’s reiteration that he wouldn’t necessarily fulfill America’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization obligations in case of a Russian attack on a member state and that he’d seriously consider recognizing Russia’s claims to Crimea, and it’s going to take some dispelling and allaying. All in all that conspiracy theory about Putin trying to influence the election in Trump’s favor seems at least as plausible as the one about Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the Kennedy assassination, even if Trump’s good friends at The National Enquirer haven’t yet provided any photographic evidence, and the rest of it suggests to our hardened Cold War sensibilities that Russo-American relations under a Trump administration won’t be at all to our liking.
On the other hand, the presumptive Democratic nominee is the same woman who offered that stupid “reset button” that emboldened Putin’s revanchist ambitions and led directly the the current mess in Ukraine and elsewhere, and the current Democratic president is the one who caught on a “hot” microphone telling a Russian diplomat that he would be even more “flexible” in a second term than he’d been in his feckless first one, and neither that Libertarian guy or that Green Party gal are at all Reagan-esque or even Romney-esque in their anti-Russkie spine, so we figure that no matter the outcome of this election Putin is going to enjoy the next four years more than will we or the rest of the non-Russian world.

— Bud Norman.

The Only One Who Can Solve, God Help Us

Once upon a happier time in America, not even a full year ago, we would have paid no more attention to Donald J. Trump’s pronouncements on American foreign policy than we would to those of that Snooki woman from that “Jersey Shore” program or one of the “Real Housewives of Wherever” or any of those other obnoxious reality television show stars. Somehow he’s now the clear front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, however, so we felt a civic duty to duly consider his big address on Wednesday. It was not at all reassuring.
The oration before the fancy-schmantzy Center for the National Interest was noteworthy merely by the fact that Trump was reading from a prepared text, complete with some entire parseable sentences and paragraphs, and was meant to convey a more presidential demeanor than his usual fourth-grade-level and off-the-cuff Don Rickles riffs. There was still some of the usual Trump rhetorical style in the speech, with such two-word sentences as “No vision,” and “Not good,” as well as the usual Trump bravado with such claims as “I am the only person running for the presidency who understands this and this is a serious problem.” To emphasize the point he once again insisted the listener believe him, one of those “tells” that better gamblers than the former owner of a bankrupt casino know to look for, adding “I’m the only one, believe me, I know them all, I’m the only one who knows how to fix it.” All in all it was slightly more stylish than his previous “tweet” about the Islamic State that “Only I can solve,” but not quite Reagan-esque.
Nor did it help that his scathing critique of the entirety of the post-Reagan era of American foreign policy also had him saying that “Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one disaster after another.” If you find yourself on “Family Feud” and the category is “Things People Associate With Donald Trump,” we can confidently advise you that the survey will surely say “foolish” and “arrogant” and “one disaster after another” came well ahead of “logical.” He was also arrogant enough to explain how none of those disasters would have occurred if only “I Can Who Solve” were in charge at that moment of history, which is quite provably foolish.
The very reliable Andrew McCarthy of the determinedly anti-Trump National Review, who was prosecuting the original World Trade Center bombers on terrorism charges back when Trump was firing Dennis Rodman on “The Apprentice” and has been a consistently correct commentator on radical Islamic terrorism issues ever since, has the unassailable citations to prove that the disasters Trump now laments in Libya, Iraq, and Syria were met with his on-the-record approval at the time. No one was paying any attention to the foreign policy pronouncements of a reality show star back in those good old days, so Trump can be assured that his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters won’t bother to follow the the links, but he did seem put off his usual Vegas lounge game by the perfunctory applause he was getting from the fancy-schmaltzy establishment types of the Center for the National Interest who might have played some role in the one disaster after another but who have been paying keen attention to these matters since before Trump was firing Meatloaf on “The Apprentice” and aren’t so arrogant that they won’t admit their mistakes in an attempt to get it right next time. Although we claim no particularly foreign policy expertise, we share their skepticism.
There was some perfunctory applause for Trump’s now familiar promise of “America First,” although such fancy-schmantzy types probably know enough American history to associate the phrase with the isolationists of the late ’30s and early ’40s who would have allowed an Axis-dominated rest-of-the-world if served American interests. Ever since Pearl Harbor there’s been a bi-partisan consensus that an Axis-dominated rest-of-the-wirkd would not have been the long-term best interests of the country, and so far as we can tell only Trump cheerleader and past populist-nationalist “insurgent Republican” Patrick Buchanan is still in dissent, but we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that the current Republican front-runner has similarly wrong notions of what’s in America’s interests. The continued talk about making our North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies pay up for what he seems to regard as a protection racket might make some sense if it somehow worked out in “The Art of the Deal,” but the whole “you’ve got a nice a country here, shame if anything happened to it” approach seems reckless on the part of a diplomatic amateur, and his expressed eager to make a deal with Russia, “a deal that’s great — not good, but great — for America, but also for Russia,” should make it all the worrisome for those erstwhile NATO allies who have long banded together against the ongoing Russian threat.
Such eggheads are also like aware that Trump’s new campaign manager has longstanding ties with former Russian ally and deposed Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych, as well as former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos and a former Bahamian Prime Minister ousted from power because of his drug gang ties, and that one of the “best people” Trump always claims to hire is a notorious apologist for Russia’s more-or-less dictator who also has business ties to the country. According to The Huffington Post some of the very best people, such as former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes and the surge-winning General David Petraeus have declined his offers to serve his campaign or administration, and pretty much everyone who takes these matters seriously are expressing doubts, so we suppose we’ll just have to believe Trump that only he can solve.
Trump got the more usual enthusiasm at a rally in Indiana with the state university’s former “Hoosier” basketball coach Bob Knight, who told an enthusiastic crowd of so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters that “There has never been a presidential candidate prepared to go to the length that this man is.” Knight once had a decided knack for whipping undersized white boys and athletically-challenged black boys into an occasional national championship, and is still much revered in the state for it, but he was also a notoriously rude and inconsiderate sort who waved soiled toilet paper in his players’ face and threw vases at secretaries and threw chairs at referees and punched cops and bad-mouthed his university’s administration and always claimed he was only trying to teach his players proper respect for authority, and he inevitably wound up on the tail end of Trump’s catch-phrase of “You’re fired.” We don’t take his pronouncements on who should be running America’s foreign policy any more than we would that Snooki woman from that “Jersey Shore” reality show or “The Real Housewives of Wherever” or any other obnoxious reality show star.

— Bud Norman