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A Mere 18 Years Later

Way back when we were 18 years old that seemed a very long time, but at our current age it seems just a blink of the eye since Islamist terrorists toppled the World Trade Center and crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Enough time has passed, however, to change everything.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks America had a rare moment of national unity, unseen since the similarly deadly Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and there was bipartisan support for President George W. Bush waging war against the Taliban government of Afghanistan that had hosted the training camps of the Al-Qaeda terror gang responsible for the atrocity. When Bush later sought to wage war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi dictatorship it was more controversial, but two subsequent Democratic presidential nominees voted to authorize the use of military force, and there was a strong consensus that America had to take the fight to Islamist terrorism.
Public opinion started to shift when both wars proved harder than expected, and without any spectacular attacks on the west the threat of Islamist terrorism seemed to wane over time, and the Democrats were the first to abandon the cause. By 2011 President Barack Obama, who had won the Democratic nomination over former Sen. Hillary Clinton in large part because of her vote for the Iraq War, announced a complete withdrawal of American forces from the country, although he reluctantly remained in Afghanistan. By 2016 the Republicans nominated a candidate who claimed to have been opposed to the Iraq war from the beginning, and echoed the radical left’s false claim that Bush had lied to the country into the conflict, and the consensus of opinion had clearly turned against taking the fight to Islamist terrorism. President Donald Trump has “tweeted” a confession that he even invited the Taliban leadership to Camp David just before the anniversary of the terror attacks they had sponsored, and although the war against radical Islamist terror continues for now it is no longer anyone’s campaign issue.
Our opinion is quite clearly in the minority, but we hate to see America backing off. The war in Afghanistan has been going for nearly 18 years, making it by far America’s longest war, and despite Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq we still have troops there fighting the Islamist State terror gang and the rest of the chaos that predictably resulted, and there is no complete victory in sight, so we can well-understand the war weariness. There haven’t been any “9/11” sized terrorist attacks for so long that many 18-year-olds figure it’s like Fort Sumter or Pearl Harbor or another of those boring chapters in the history books, and there are plenty of problems here at home, so we can’t hardly blame the country for its complacent non-interventionism.
Even so, we think it shortsighted. The long, long wars in the Middle East over the past 18 years have resulted in the deaths of 7,000 or so military personnel, and a similar number of American contractors, and we don’t want to diminish any of these deaths, but by the ruthless mathematics of war that’s just a couple of bad afternoons at Antietam or on Normandy beach, on a monthly basis more people are killed by nut cases with AR-15s at a Wax-Mart or music festival, and it’s a fatality rate that would have convinced previous generations that God had blessed their fight. By now both parties figure that the Islamist terrorism threat is a mere nuisance, as it hasn’t pulled off anything on a 9/11 scale for eighteen years, but both fail to honor those 7,000 or so fallen heroes for making that possible.
America’s Korean War was considered a stalemate, and its Vietnam War an ignominious loss, but despite the horrific fatalities both can now be see as lost battles in a broader Cold War that America and the West won by demonstrating resolve. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars are also seen at last, at least for now, but in the long run history might well note that Islamist radicalism did not prevail in its jihad against the resolve of the infidels.
We’ll not be so absurd as to propose a complete ban on any Muslims entering the country, as Trump once did, but there is a small but troublesome part of the Islamic world intent on making war against us, and for the foreseeable future we figure we’ll have to be at war against them. At least Trump didn’t go ahead and surrender to the radical Islamists from the Taliban he had invited to Camp David on the 18th anniversary of their terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., but he did fire the national security advisor who had advised against it, and he seems eager to end the centuries old war between radical Islam and the West on any terms that will get him reelected next year.
None of those damned Democrats running for president seem any more willing to continue the painful prosecution of a war that the radical Islamists declared against us, but we expect they’ll be as constrained by reality expert opinion as Trump has been and Obama and Bush were. America and what’s left of its diplomatic and military alliances are far stronger than their radical Islamist enemies, but our adversaries won’t soon stop blowing things up and killing innocents in their quixotic war for global domination, and we might yet get used to it. On the 18th anniversary of the deadliest attacked ever launched against American soil, though, we’ll hope that both parties will remember why we fight.

— Bud Norman

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Some Feuds Never Die

There’s a lot going on in the world that requires presidential attention these days, but President Donald Trump somehow still finds time to engage in petty wars of words with his critics. On Wednesday, he resumed his scathing rhetoric about Republican Sen. John McCain.
Trump’s die-hard fans love that “at least he fights” and “punches back ten times harder,” and cheer his every schoolyard taunt, but it doesn’t look at all courageous when he strikes at McCain, who died last August and was mourned as a bona fide war hero and principled public servant by Americans of all political persuasions.
The feud with McCain goes back to the early days of the ’16 election, when McCain expressed doubts about Trump’s fitness for high office, and at no point has it made Trump look good. On his 23rd combat mission in Vietnam then-naval aviator McCain was shot down and severely wounded and then endured two years of severe torture, then and endured another three years when he refused an early release offered because of family connections rather than abandon the men under his command and hand the enemy a propaganda, and Trump, who avoided service in Vietnam because of bone spurs that didn’t seem to interfere with his golf game or nightclub womanizing, famously told a stunned audience that “McCain’s only a war hero because he got captured — I have to tell you, but I like a guy who didn’t get captured, OK?” Trump still somehow wound up following McCain as the Republican party’s presidential nominee, while also insulting four of the party’s previous five nominees, and he’s felt free to insult McCain ever since, and the die-hard fans have always loved it.
To the rest of the country it’s been a tawdry spectacle all along, though, and Trump’s most recent complaint that he never got a “thank you” from McCain for the funeral that Trump generously “approved” doesn’t look any better. Trump made the remark at a photo opportunity in General Dynamics tank factory in Ohio, where the assembled workers, including many veterans, didn’t respond with the sorts of gleeful cheers that McCain-bashing gets at a typical Trump campaign rally. All of the Republicans and Democrats who served with McCain in the Senate made statements attesting to his character and service, although several of the Republicans were careful not to mention Trump, and except for the die-hard fans the gripe about McCain’s ingratitude was not well received.
Trump also found time continue a spat with George Conway, the husband of White House senior advisor and die-hard loyalist Kellyanne Conway, calling the respected conservative lawyer a “whack job” and “stone cold loser.” The thrice-married Trump, who had boasted to the New York tabloids about his infidelities during his first two marriages, and seems have conspired with a supermarket tabloid to cover up his infidelities during his third marriage, also called Conway a “husband from hell.” The distaff Conway took Trump’s side, of course, explaining her boss had to fight back.
The president is also threatening tariffs that would make Americans pay thousands of dollars more for European automobiles, his idiot namesake son is annoying the United Kingdom by saying it’s Tory Prime Minister should have heeded his dad’s advice on how to handle its complicated “Brexit” from the European Union, and Trump’s close friendships with the dictators of China and North Korea aren’t yet yielding the great deals he promised the campaign rallies. At least Trump is no longer feuding with the Federal Reserve Board chairman he appointed, as the Fed has announce it won’t be raising interest rates after lowering their forecast for gross domestic product growth between now and the next election, but he probably laments the loss of a scapegoat for any economic bad news that might come along.
Trump also continues his ongoing feuds with the congressional and special council and southern district of New York of the Department of Justice investigations into all sorts of suspicious things, but all of those will play out in courts of law and according to constitutional rules that aren’t swayed by the even the pithiest insults. Given everything that’s going on, and what a small and petty man the president is, we can see why Trump might prefer to fight with the dead and honorably buried.

— Bud Norman

Sometimes No Deal is the Best Deal

President Donald Trump came home from his big summit in Vietnam with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un without a great deal to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, much less a Nobel Peace Prize, but it could have been much worse.
In the days leading up to the summit Trump had touted his close personal relationship with Kim, saying he “fell in love” with the “honorable man” who is notorious for his brutal repression of the North Korean people and is clearly intent on building a nuclear stockpile to protect his family’s dictatorship, and there were worries that he’d wind up singing on any old deal that Kim proposed. Kim wanted either a complete or partial lifting of economic sanctions in exchange for a cross-his-heart-and-hope-to-die promise to end his nuclear weapons program, and to Trump’s credit he walked away from the negotiating table. Trump could probably have spun that deal as a great win to his die-hard defenders, even if more objective observers would have realized its worthlessness, but his more seasoned remaining foreign policy advisors apparently talked him out of it, and we’re glad they did. The die-hard Trump defenders were able to compare him to President Ronald Reagan and his famous walk-away from a summit with the Soviet Union in Iceland, and although we don’t think either president or the situations were very similar Trump does deserve our begrudging respect for leaving the summit empty-handed, and we hold it hope it ends as well as it did Reagan and western civilization.
Trump’s sales pitch that he could negotiate America out of any crisis with his irresistible charm and “Art of the Deal” negotiation skills never much impressed us, although it did take in a lot of suckers over his long career as a real estate and casino and pro football and airline and scam university operator, and we never expected it to end the decades old stalemate on the Korean peninsula. The past three generations of the Kim Jong dictatorships have left North Korea an impoverished a miserable nation, but the’ve been pretty good to the Jim Jong dynasty, and they’ve await been backed up the Chinese nuclear arsenal and lately have nukes of their own, as well as plenty of of conventional artillery within range of the populous South Korean and and Japanese capitals, and that leaves them with a pretty strong negotiating position with even the most charming and skillful negotiator.
Trump and his apologists can rightly claim at that least North Korea isn’t lobbing any more missile tests over south Korea or Japan or toward Guam and other American lands, and that high-level negotiations are underway, and that all the rhetoric about “fire and fury like no one’s ever seen” and who’s nuclear button is bigger has been tamped down, and although tat’s clearly a good thing we’re not much impressed. So far as we can tell the North Koreans have temporarily suspended their missile tests because they’re satisfied with the results so far, the high-level talks have been no more successful than the traditional low-level talks would have been over the past decades, and the various Kim Jong dictators were always eager for high-level negotiations even before Trump started “tweeting” all his trash talk. None of Trump’s predecessors dating back to President Harry Truman were able to solve the tricky situation on the Korean peninsula, and all of them saw North Korea’s military steady position improve, but they can all make the boast as much as Trump that at least South Korea was thriving and mushroom clouds appeared on their watch.
We’ve been living with that uneasy situation all our lives, though, and by now we’re so inured to it we assume it will outlast even Trump’s presidency. If it comes down to a nuclear exchange America and it allies have always been the presumptive “winner,” and despite Trump’s trade wars and other tough negotiating tactics with America’s allies we expect that scary balance of power will prove more persuasive to the North Korean dictatorship than Trump’s personal charm and artful negotiating skills.

So far there are no mushroom clouds, which means the news will continue to focus on Trump’s longtime lawyer’s testimony to Congress and other embarrassing domestic matters, and although we hold out the best for the future for now we’ll happily settle for that.

— Bud Norman

Kim, Cohen, Trump, and the Other Questionable Characters Currently on the World Stage

The three most prominent names in the news Wednesday were North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, American President Donald Trump, and Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen.
Cohen took time before starting a three year federal prison to testify to a congressional committee that Trump is “a racist, he is a con man, and he is a cheat,” along with more specific claims about Trump’s hush money payments to a pornographic video performer and various other unseemly businesses and potentially illegal business practices, including some suspicious thing that have occurred during Trump’s presidency. Trump took time out from a high-stakes summit with Kim in Vietnam to “tweet” that Cohen is a lying liar who is represented by “Crooked” Hillary Clinton’s lawyer, while his allies back in Washington cast similar aspersions on Cohen’s character. Kim is a brutal dictator who has murdered close family members and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of his people and subjected most of the rest to severe poverty and starvation, but Trump has declared him an “honorable man” and gushed that “We fell in love,” so Kim somehow got the best press of the day.
The public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans had already concluded that Trump is a racist and a con man and a cheat, and there was already ample evidence for the conclusion. Trump found “very fine people” on both sides of a deadly neo-Nazi hate rally, has paid millions of dollars in settlements to victims of Trump University and various other scams, and boasted to tabloids and radio shock jocks about his extra-marital affairs, and once told a presidential debate audience that even if he doesn’t pay any income taxes “that makes me smart.” By now there’s really no reason for denying any of it, as the die-hard fans don’t seem to mind a bit, but Trump can credibly point to the human failings of his many critics, and he always enjoys doing so.
This Cohen fellow that Trump long hired to do his legal work certainly seems as flawed a human being as the next guy in the news. He’s pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations and filing false financial statements, as well as lying to Congress about it all, not to mention that he was long hired by Trump for legal services. The Republicans at the committee hearings made much of that, with one having a large sign saying “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” behind his seat, and another parking a black woman who works for Trump behind his seat to rebut the charges of racism, and while the die-hard fans probably loved it we don’t expect that anyone else was convinced. The lawyer that Trump long hired to handle his hush money payments to porno performers and possible campaign finance violations and alleged false financial statements does seem to have been rather sleazy in going about it, but that doesn’t logically refute his charges that longtime client Trump is a racist and a con man and a cheat.
As unsavory as both Cohen and Trump seem to us, we still think that Kim, the “honorable man” that Trump “fell in love with,” is probably the worst of the three men who dominated Wednesday’s news. The heads of all of America’s intelligence agencies have testified to Congress on live television and provided a written report that Kim continues to pursue a nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile program, but Trump then denied that they said any such thing, and in any case is always more inclined to believe the assurances of Kim. Trump clearly doesn’t mind a bit about the imprisonment and poverty and starvation and suffering that Kim inflicts on his people, as he doesn’t consider it any skin of his or America’s ass, and when asked once about Kim’s murder of relatives with anti-aircraft guns and other tactics Trump expressed admiration that “If you can do that at 27-years-old, I mean, that’s one in 10,000 who can do that. So he’s a very smart guy. He’s a great negotiator. But I think we understand each other.”
Trump has called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “weak and dishonest,” accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of being a deadbeat debtor, engaged in “twitter feuds” with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and hung up on the Prime Minister of Australia, and imposed punitive tariffs on pretty much every other democratic ally, and is generally more inclined to take the word of more authoritarian and dictatorial advertises over his putative allies and duly appointed intelligence chiefs. He’s praised Filipino dictator Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese dictator Xi Jiping for their extrajudicial executions of suspected drug dealers, refused to believe the intelligence agency’s conclusions about Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammed Bin Salman’s dismemberment of a American resident and Washington Post journalist, assured his rally crowds that Russia dictator Vladimir Putin is “terrific,” and has had only good things to say about the rise of authoritarian populism in Poland and Hungary and Italy and Brazil and other formerly liberal-in-the-best-sense-of-the-term allies.
Trump’s apparent antipathy for ethical and legal norms and affinity for ruthless types such as himself haven’t always worked out for him, as his longtime lawyer’s convincingly damning testimony to Congress on Wednesday demonstrates, but we worry it might work out even worse for the rest of the world. There’s always a chance that Trump will persuade Kim to give up his nuclear ambitions in exchange for a business deal to build Trump-branded resorts and golf courses on its beautiful beaches conveniently located between the prosperous economies of communist China and capitalist South Korea and and Japan, which indeed would be a good deal for North Korea and the world, but the intelligence agencies aren’t betting on it, and neither are we.
We’ll hold out hope that Trump comes up with something in Vietnam to knock his domestic problems out of the headlines, but it will have to be pretty darned good. Our Republican conservatism goes back even farther than the great President Ronald Reagan, whose ultimately successful negotiations with the even scarier Soviet Russkies were informed by a philosophy of “trust, but verify,” and we’ll hold out hope that any agreement that Trump and Kim reach will meet that same standard. Reagan negotiated a peaceful end to the Cold War with the support of the international military and economic alliances that America had long carefully cultivated, which still seems best, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed that Trump’s more counterintuitive approach is just as successful.
Back on the domestic front, though, Trump’s affinity for similarly sleazy characters doesn’t seem to be working out.

— Bud Norman

A Slow News Day Spent Mostly Waiting for the Coming Faster News

There was the usual amount of news afoot on Monday, but most of it was about the Academy Awards and a vote in the House of Representatives about the little noticed National State of Emergency and other matters of fleeting interest. Most of the media seemed bracing for the big summit in Vietnam between American President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and what might follow that.
The conventional wisdom at the moment is that “Russia thing” special counsel Robert Mueller is politely withholding his report as a by-the-book courtesy to a president abroad conducting foreign affairs, and that when Trump arrives home something more important than North Korea’s ongoing nuclear program will happen. Try as we might to always be contrarians, this time the conventional wisdom seems wise to us.
Except for a whole lot of pomp and circumstance — or pomp and circumcision, as the great malaprop comic Norm Crosby might have more aptly put it — we don’t expect much earth-shaking news to come out of Trump’s summit with Kim. We mean that in the most optimistic and best way, as we don’t much worry about any mushroom clouds arising as a result, but we also don’t expect it will result in the elimination of the nuclear threat that Trump has already bragged about eliminating. Each of Trump’s national security agency chiefs have given sworn and live-on-television testimony to Congress that they believe Kim is not likely to give up his nuclear program, and submitted a 40-page written report stating the same thing, and although Trump has claimed that they were misquoted and misconstrued by the “fake news” we think they’re likely right. We hold out some hope that our former fourth district Kansas congressman and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on the job, as he’s always seem grounded-in-reality fellow, but our faith was somewhat shaken when he denied to a cable news interviewer that Trump had ever said anything like what he undeniably “tweeted” about the North Korean nuclear threat already being eliminated, and assured us he was still hopeful.
We’re hopeful there at least won’t be any mushroom clouds, but Trump seems rightly worried that whenever the Mueller report lands it will be a significant bombshell. The Democrats now running the House Oversight Committee have impolitely summoned Trump’s soon-to-imprisoned longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to testify while the president is abroad and attending to important foreign policy matters, and that will likely steal some attention. Cohen can’t talk about the “Russia thing” due to the ongoing investigation, but he’s expected to talk about his role in arranging hush money payments to pornographic video performers and nude models so as to get around campaign finance laws, along with other ethically and legally problematic business practices he has witnessed over his many years as counsel to Trump.</div>
It will take quite a breakthrough in Vietnam to keep that out of the news,

— Bud Norman

Youthful Idealism and Its Inevitable Woes

At the risk of sounding even older and more cynical than we are, which is admittedly rather old and cynical, we must say we don’t care much for youthful idealism. In fact, we’ve long regarded youthful idealism as one of history’s most destructive forces.
This has been our firmly held opinion since back in our high school days, when we couldn’t help but notice what a poorly educated lot our classmates were, and we continued to think so as we watched high school students here in Wichita and around the country staging walk-out protests on Wednesday against the country’s ongoing epidemic of mass shootings.
Not that we’re at all in favor of mass shootings, of course, and we can well understand why high school students would be especially anxious and opinionated about this peculiarly American problem. Nor do we disagree with more thorough background checks for gun purchases and a ban on “bump stocks” and certain other proposals the protest movement seems to be advocating. In any case, we steadfastly uphold the right of even the most ill-educated youngsters to express their opinions in a public forum.
America’s mass shooting problem is damned complicated, however, and won’t likely be solved by a high school level of analysis. Many of the students involved in the protests seem to favor a complete ban on private gun ownership, which is at least as futile as a ban on abortion or marijuana or illegal immigration or any other number pf bans they would instinctively reject. Others are merely advocating a ban on the semi-automatic rifles they imprecisely call “assault weapons,” which is somewhat less futile but still a pretty damned complicated matter with some valid if subtle arguments on the other side. Even the most reasonable demands about background checks and bump stocks and such are couched in youthfully idealist language that tends to demonize law-abiding gun owners and their constitutional rights.
Constitutional rights have survived countless challenges from youthful idealism, though, and we expect that trend to continue. The current children’s crusade is getting a lot of supportive press, and some of the high schoolers from the latest shot-up high school are so very well-spoken and telegenically sympathetic that the right-wing conspiracy theorists are plausibly theorizing they’re from central casting, and some big corporations have already stopping selling so-called “assault weapons” and offering discounts to members of the demonized National Rifle Association, but it will be hard to sustain.
The kids are competing for column inches and air time with the even more telegenic movie star babes protesting sexual harassment, that “Black Lives Matter” thing still lingers, all of the letters in the “LGBTQ” coalition continue to press their respective grievances, not to mention all the rest of the left’s constant carping about President Donald Trump. They all have their very valid arguments, of course, but they tend to get lost in the noise, and as always they also generate an equal and opposite amount of noise from the right, some of which also has some valid arguments.
Youth movements are hard to sustain, too, and often go awry. Our high school days came a few years after those halcyon days when high schoolers were walking out of class to protest the Vietnam War, which had come to a desultory end partly as a result, and many of our classmates were envious of the frisson of moral superiority they’d experienced, but they were relegated to staging walk-outs over such mundane matters as school dress codes. The opportunity to skip an algebra class always fueled the walkouts, but at our high school the dress codes were so permissive and the truancy rules so laxly enforced that it never came up.
Our guess is that a lot of high schoolers in America have parents who own firearms, including semi-automatic rifles, and well understand the valid reasons, and we note that the vast majority of high schoolers here in Wichita and around the country didn’t walk out. We’ll also guess that some of those walked out did so because it sounded like more fun than chemistry class.
Still, we wish the young punks luck in solving that damned complicated and peculiarly American problem of mass shootings. and hope they’ll nudge their presumably more wised-up elders to some sort of reasonable solution.

— Bud Norman

Mulling the Matter of Mueller and Trump

President Donald Trump and his lawyers and all his unpaid supporters in congress and the Trump-friendly media seem quite cocky that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the past presidential election will completely vindicate Trump of any wrongdoing, but just in case they also want you to know that Mueller fellow can’t be trusted.
There’s an obviously coordinated effort by Trump administration and family members and the more loyal congressional Republicans and Fox News and several prominent talk radio hosts afoot to discredit Mueller and his staff, and it’s lately intensified. Donald Trump Jr. recently warned the “USA Student Action Summit” of college-aged Republicans that “there are people at the highest levels of America who don’t want America to be America.” Some Republican congressmen are calling for a special counsel to investigate Mueller’s special counsel investigation, citing some leaked e-mails and other evidence they believe prove it’s all what Trump himself often calls a “witch hunt.” The Fox Network’s “Judge” Jeanine Pirro wants unnamed-but-Mueller-affiliated peopled hauled off “in cuffs,” and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Mark Levin have lately spent most of their combined nine hours of broadcasts on a local talk radio station casting further aspersions on Mueller and his fellow investigators.
They always note that several members of Mueller’s team have given generous campaign donations to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, which is undeniably true and worth noting, but they never note that so did Trump’s top lawyer Ty Cobb and favorite daughter Ivanka Trump and that idiot husband of her’s who’s somehow a top senior advisor to the White House in charge of solving everything from America’s opioid crisis to Middle East peace, and that Trump himself was once a generous funder of Clinton’s senatorial campaigns and the Clinton family foundation that his supporters now want to investigate. They relish in the suspiciously leaked e-mails between a couple of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who were having an adulterous sexual relationship and sharing sharply anti-Trump sentiments, but they rarely acknowledge they also shared anti-Clinton and anti-Bernie Sanders and anti-pretty-much-everyone-else sentiments, and that Mueller reassigned both of those bitter agents as soon as he got wind of their outspoken political opinions.
The Trump apologists have some outraged and undeniably true allegations about the past administration’s tapped phones calls of Trump campaign and administration officials, but they don’t mention that the phones being tapped belonged to Russian officials, which Republicans and other conservatives have always wanted tapped. They might have some plausible legal arguments that the Americans on other side of those conversations shouldn’t have been “unmasked,” in the legal jargon, but they’d just wind up making the argument that it’s a bigger scandal that attempts to track a political nominee’s possible collusion with a Russian plot to affect an American presidential election is more abhorrent than the plot itself.
We’ve been Republicans long enough that we still feel the pain of President Richard Nixon going down for his ultimately undeniable misdeeds, and we assess the current situation accordingly. Given how complicated this is, our instinct is to take measure of both Trump and Mueller by some blind test of the two Republicans.
One of the two is a life-long Republican. He was born into a fairly well-to-do family as the son of a high-ranking DuPont executive, and excelled as a student and athlete at the rigorous prep school he was able to attend, and his high marks earned hi admission to Princeton, where he graduated with honors and bachelor’s degree in political science while starring on the lacrosse team. After earning a master’s degree in international relations from New York University he volunteered for service in the Marine Corps and won numerous combats medals including the Purple Heart for his service in the Vietnam War.
After Vietnam subject A earned a law degree from the University of Virginia, and after three years of distinguished service to a prestigious law firm in San Francisco commend a distinguished career of public service as a U.S. attorney in northern California. In the Reagan year of 1982 he was moved over to the Massachusetts district, where he enhanced his reputation by uncovering all sorts of Democratic misbehavior there. After another brief but noteworthy stint in Boston’s private sector he was nominated by Republican President George W. Bush as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was unanimously confirmed the senate, and served another two years in the post at the request of Democratic President Barack Obama.
He’s also been a lifelong Republican all along, and been married to the same woman, and is not only an Eagle Scout but generously endows a college scholarship for other Eagle Scouts, and as lifelong Republicans and improbable Eagle Scouts we can’t help but like the guy.
Subject B was a Democrat and an independent and Reform Party candidate before becoming the winning nominee and putative leader of the Republican party. He’s the son of a multi-millionaire real estate mogul who was once arrested in a Ku Klux Klan riot, and he was such a proudly defiant punk his father sent off to a military school, where he did well enough in sports but was such a middling student that he wound up at Fordham University for two years. His rich dad made enough contributions to the low-level Ivy League University of Pennsylvania that he was admitted there, and would always lie that he graduated from it’s more prestigious master’-level Wharton School of Business. After that a doctor found some bone spurs that prevented him serving in the Vietnam War but didn’t seem interfere with his much bragged-about-golf game, and he went on to a much-bragged about fortune in real estate and reality television that he freely brags was facilitated by political bribes, and survived several bankruptcies and lawsuits about his penchant for not paying bills and currently has an undeniably odd relationship with his third wife and a penchant for gratuitous insults to fellow Republicans.
Even the blind know by now that Subject B is the President of the United States and the putative leader of our Republican party, but if it comes down to who you’re gonna believe we can’t help a certain affinity for Subject A in our blind test. We’ll let them sort out their arguments in the court of public opinion and the inevitable courts of law and hope that some semblance of our old-fashioned Republicanism survives this awful mess.

— Bud Norman

Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Our old fashioned parents always taught that whenever we make a mistake in life the right thing to do, and the smart play to make, is to fully confess and offer a sincere apology to anyone who was harmed. The lesson has served us well in life, even if it didn’t bring us to the White House, so we recommend it to President Donald Trump.
Trump brags that his parents taught him to never admit fault and under no circumstances offer an apology, and although the lesson does somehow seem to have brought him to the White House it hasn’t served him well there. Lately it has embroiled in him in spats with a bona fide war hero and the grieving family of a fallen soldier, and although he somehow survived similar spats on his way to the presidency we can’t see how he ultimately comes out a winner. Trump’s fans always note that at least he fights, but so far all his ill-chosen fights haven’t brought about any noticeable victories, and these latest spats don’t seem likely to help.
The spat with the grieving family started last week when a pesky reporter asked why Trump had gone 13 days without mentioning the four soldiers who had died in an ambush attack in Niger, and instead of offering any of the plausible explanations for the oversight he falsely boasted about he always personally consoled the families and suggested that his two predecessors had been too callous to do so. He hadn’t yet sent any letters or made any phone calls to the four grieving families, as it turned out, but he made a hurried effort to do so, and wound up giving offense to one of the families he called. By happenstance a partisan Democratic congresswoman is a close and long-time friend of the family who was with them when the call came through on speakerphone, and she revealed to the press that Trump had upset the family by saying that deceased soldier “knew what he was signing up for” and didn’t mention him by name, instead referring to him as “your guy.”
Trump denied every word of it, and claimed to have proof, but his spokespeople wound up verifying every word of it. His four-star general chief of staff took a rare turn at the podium to recall how similar words had comforted him when his own son had died in service to the country, and admitted that he had advised the president to use similar language. Then Trump’s press secretary insisted that just because Trump had indeed referred to the fallen soldier as “your guy” didn’t mean the president knew his name.
It turns out on the video record that the partisan Democrat only briefly mentioned her role in the naming of the building in honor of two fallen FBI agents, gave most of the credit to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, and spent the rest of the speech honoring the honoring the two fallen agents and everyone else who had served in the agency. Trump “tweeted” about the “wacky” congresswoman, who plausibly could be blamed for politicizing the tragedy, but he suffered a full week of bad news cycles when it became apparent she was telling the truth. When the fallen soldier’s grieving widow went on national television Monday morning to tearfully verify the partisan congresswoman’s account of the phone call, it set up another bad week.
Even such Trump critics as ourselves don’t doubt that the president was trying his very best to be empathetic and consoling in in that phone call, and going on the advice of a four-star general who faced the bad news he was addressing, but even his most ardent defenders have to admit that empathy and consolation are not his strengths, and by now there’s no denying that he did wind up giving offense to that grieving family. These things happen even to such empathetic and consoling and well-raised sorts such as ourselves, but we were raised to offer full confessions and full and profuse apologies in such situations, which might have soothed the family’s feelings and avoided another week of bad news. Trump, of course, “tweeted” that the grieving widow was lying about the conversation and doubled down on his taunts of the “wacky” but apparently truthful congresswoman, and provoked another bad week of news cycles for everyone.
Meanwhile, former Republican presidential nominee and Arizona Sen. John McCain was giving an interview to a documentary about the long-ago Vietnam War. McCain was was a prisoner of that war after one of his many Naval flights was shot down, and he endured extra years of tortuous imprisonment after he selflessly declined an early release due to his father’s and grandfather’s gold-star admiral status, rather than betray his comrades and hand the enemy a propaganda victory, and during his successful campaign for the Republican nomination Trump said with characteristic empathy that McCain was “only a hero because he got caught. I like a guy who didn’t get caught, OK?” During his interview with the documentarians, McCain didn’t mention Trump by name, but he lamented that too many lower-class men had been conscripted to service while too many upper-class men were spared the sacrifice of combat because they “found a doctor to say they had bone spur.”

Trump got four educational deferments from the draft while studying business at the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, and a fifth one when a well-paid doctor diagnosed a bone spur in the boastful athlete, and he later told fellow shock jock Howard Stern that he endured his own “personal Vietnam” by avoiding sexually transmitted diseases on the New York City dating scene while McCain suffered torture, so there’s little doubt who McCain was talking about. Trump hasn’t yet apologized for any of it, and it somehow propelled him to the White House, but so far as we can tell Trump has yet “tweeted” anything to continue this ultimately losing feud. Trump has his fans booing McCain’s name at his rallies, and McCain’s decisive vote against repeal and replacement of Obamacare and other Republican heresies make for reasonable debate about which is the more heretical Republican, but Trump is probably wise not to raise the question about who was more heroic during the Vietnam war.

Trump would also be wise to avoid any questions about who was more heroic in the recent tragic battle in someplace called Niger, where even the Republicans on the congressional committees admit they didn’t know we had any servicemen in harm’s way, but he wasn’t raised to avoid that fight. He might survive the ensuing bad news cycles, but he’s still hoping to repeal and replace Obamacare and get the biggest tax cut in history passed, and we better trust our parents’ advice that a full confession and fulsome apology is the best way to go about it.

— Bud Norman

Two Obituaries for the ’60s

There were more than the usual number of famous names in Monday’s obituaries, including a comedian who used to crack us up and the lead singer for a band that some of our friends can’t believe we don’t remember, but the ones that grabbed our attention were for Bobby Vee and Tom Hayden. The juxtaposition of the clean-cut teen idol with the smooth pop sound and the unkempt activist with the radical agenda was jarring, as they represent the cultural extremes of the 1960’s, and their almost simultaneous passings are a reminder that the influence of that turbulent decade still hasn’t quite come to an end.
Born as Robert Thomas Velline in Fargo, North Dakota, Bobby Vee came right out of the rock ‘n’ roll craze of the ’50s, with his big break coming when he and his garage band The Shadows filled in for Buddy Holly and the Crickets at the nearby Moorhead, Minnesota, stop on the Winter Dance Party tour after Holly’s death in a plane crash. That crash not only ended Holly’s legendary career but also the promising 16-year-old Richie Valens’, in the same year when Elvis Presley was drafted and Chuck Berry was sent to prison on a Mann Act violation and Jerry Lee Lewis’s career was derailed by the outrage over him marrying an underage cousin while he was married to someone else, a sex scandal trifecta that even The Rolling Stones haven’t achieved, and after that the greasier and scarier sorts of rock ‘n’ roll stars were briefly supplanted by such wholesomely handsome and well-groomed and suit-and-tie wearing singers such as Bobby Vee.
Vee’s first big hit was a strikingly Holly-esque tune called “Suzie Baby,” with the first recording retaining some of the inspiration’s jangly guitar and rock ‘n’ roll authenticity, but by the time he re-recorded what proved to be a smash hit it had been ironed out to fit an early ’60s sense of decorum. He followed that up with a luscious “Take Good Care of My Baby,” written with old-fashioned Tin Pan Alley craftsmanship by Barry Geffen and Carol King, and such professionally rendered pop songs as “Devil or Angel,” “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” and “Run to Him,” which still stand out among the best of that brief interregnum in rock ‘n’ roll’s reign. Each had a bouncy enough beat and uptempo youth appeal to fit on American Bandstand’s roundup of the latest youth culture, but it was fare more redolent of those ’40s and ’50s crooners and their carefully polished-tunes and earnest politeness that were nearly wiped out by rock ‘n’ roll, and that’s how the ’60s began.
The decade ended with musicians smashing their guitars and setting them afire and playing psychedelic electric guitar versions of The National Anthem, and rock ‘n’ rollers were suddenly even hairier and scarier than those backwoods rednecks and urban ghetto-dwellers of the ’50s had been, and that was the era when Tom Hayden became a sort of celebrity. Born in 1939 to more or less middle class comfort in the placid town of Royal Oak, Mich., Hayden attended a Catholic school where the pastor was the infamously right-wing radio pundit Father Charles Coughlin, then wound up at the infamously left-wing University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he immediately began to acquire a left-wing infamy of his own. He was editor of the school’s suddenly radicalized student newspaper, jailed and beaten for his civil rights activism in the South, a founding member of the anti-Vietnam War and anti-capitalist Students for a Democratic Society, an author of the Port Huron Statement that became a manifesto for the New Left, and was one of the “Chicago Seven” brought to a widely publicized trial for allegedly fomenting riots at the 1968 Democratic Party’s national convention. This was lead-story-on-the-nightly-news and cover-of-The-Rolling-Stone stuff back then, so by the time the ’70s rolled around Hayden was a much bigger star than Bobby Vee.
Hayden wound up divorcing his first wife and a few years later getting married to Oscar-winning and impeccably left-wing actress Jane Fonda, with both soon heading off to Vietnam for a highly controversial photo-op with the North Vietnamese, and although they later divorced they were even more newsworthy than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie while it lasted. After the divorce he settled in the woman he would be married to until his death, and a rather routine career as a politician. He lost a California Democratic primary race to Sen. John Tunney in ’76, but won a State Assemblyman seat in 82, moved up to the state Senate in 93 and hung around Sacramento until 2000, and compiled a record that was undeniably left-wing but not conspicuously radical by California standards. He lost races for governor in ’94 and the Los Angeles mayoralty in ’97 and a seat on the L.A. City Council in 2001.
By the time the 21st Century rolled around Hayden was still reviled by the city’s growing Vietnamese refugee population and aging white Republicans, but newly regarded as something of a sell-out by the newer New Left. Hayden had written memoirs and articles confessing his regret that his anti-Vietnam war stance had spilled over into anti-Americanism, ruefully acknowledging that his Students for a Democratic Society had spawned the terrorist Weather Underground, and lamenting that the free speech and individual rights ideas of that crazy Port Huron statement had somehow led to a newer New Left that clamored for speech codes and group identity politics, and seemed to have forgotten the realism of the Old Left that Father Coughlin had railed against and Hayden’s generation had nearly wiped out, and even his impeccably left-wing voting record could not absolve his heresies or make him hip again. At one point in the early ’80s we caught Hayden’s act live, as we were on a hitchhiking trip up the East Coast and crashed at a friends dorm at Harvard University and went along to lecture Hayden was giving, and we still chuckle at how the crowd rolled its eyes at his saccharine shtick about his daughter’s fear of nuclear weapons and how a professorial looking fellow with a gray beard and patched elbows on his jacket shouted “Send in the Marines!”
Bobby Vee stayed married to the same woman for 50 years, despite the temptations that a good-looking pop star probably encountered, spent most of the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s making a good living on the oldies circuit, then settled into a quiet small town life in St. Joseph, Minnesota, then slowly succumbed to an early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Beatles covered “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Run to Him,” so the hottest band of the ’60s vouched for his coolness, and the same Carol King who wrote the former song had the biggest selling album of the ’70s with that great Tin Pan Alley hippie manifesto of an album “Tapestry,” and another big fan is the newly proclaimed Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan. Back when Dylan was a small town Minnesota boy named Robert Zimmerman he had a short stint as the keyboards player with Bobby Vee and the Shadows, and we highly recommend his affectionate cover of “Suzie Baby.”
It remains how to be seen how the ’60s will ultimately play out, but we’re glad to note that this crazy election will almost certainly be the last to feature any of those damned baby-boomers, and we hope that the very best of both Bobby Vee and Tom Hayden will somehow persist, and that the worst of it will somehow fade away.

— Bud Norman

Requiem for a Heavyweight

In most cases, usually anything short of mass-murdering dictators or other unambiguously evil people, we try to hew to the rule about not speaking ill of the recently dead. The death on Saturday of former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali deserves some mention, however, and by now so much fulsome praise has already been heaped on the man that some more critical remarks about his life seem a necessary corrective to the record.
Ali was brutal in the ring and bumptious in his press conferences during his boxing prime, but he was no mass-murdering dictator, and anyone who also saw the poor fellow toward the end of his life when he’d been hampered and even endearingly humbled by the effects of Parkinson’s Disease and all the blows he’d absurd over his career will humbly admit that every life is to be judged by ambiguous standards, and that it’s best to leave the judging of any man’s soul to a higher power. Yet all that fulsome praise mentions his cultural influence, which cannot be denied, and any fellow citizen has not only a right but an obligation to consider whether that was more for the good or the bad. In Ali’s case, we think the self-proclaimed “Greatest of all Time” left the world a little worse off.
These days even the most ardent American sports fans would be hard-pressed to name the reigning heavyweight boxing champion of the world, so it’s now hard to imagine how a mere boxer could leave an entire world even a little bit worse off, but you should have been there back in Ali’s prime. Back then the reigning heavyweight champion of the world was still the most famous person on earth, and Ali was more famous than that. The Vietnam War was still being fought both there and here, and Ali’s refusal to be drafted had made him an important combatant on the domestic front, and he was also a key figure in the ongoing domestic battle over civil rights for black America, and was right up there with The Beatles and the Black Panthers and bra-burners a symbol of the emerging counter-culture that was overturning every aspect of “the establishment.” Even more than his undeniably impressive victories in the ring against the best of a golden era of heavyweight fighters, that is why such fulsome praise is being heaped on the man, but in every regard we take a dissenting view.
All the fulsome praise for Ali mentions that he gave up three prime years of his boxing career while his draft-resisting case winnowed its way up to the Supreme Court, where he ultimately prevailed by unanimous decision, and it is rightly noted that he did so on principle. Less noted, but well worth mentioning, is the fact that his principles were those of the Nation of Islam, a black supremacist cult that peddled the most fantastical notions about white people being a demonic race created by a mad Jewish scientist, and that the man who made his living and world-wide fame by beating people up had testified he was all on board for a race war and was not not your usual pacifist conscientious objector. By then the Vietnam War was so unpopular that any basis for opposition was applauded, and by now all the fulsome praise presupposes that only a few of us disagree fealty to the Nation of Islam and its crazed kill-whitey theories was more admirable than fealty to the supposedly racist America that somehow adored him and now sings his praises.
His unabashedly racist anti-war stance enhanced his reputation as an anti-racist icon, of course, in that age of “Radical Chic,” and his braggadocios and belittling taunts before every fight made him a much-touted role model for black men of his era. His golden era of heavyweight fighters was dominated by other black men, whom Ali routinely ridiculed as “gorillas” and “thugs” and every other racist stereotype one might imagine, but even then and even now the media loved his bravado. Then as now the media liked the idea that such brave champions as Floyd Patterson and Joe Frazier and Ken Norton and George Foreman were somehow sell-outs because they didn’t hate the entire white race, and that Ali’s taunts and occasionally unproved boasts and unabashed racism were the more authentic expression of black masculinity. We were in a racially diverse and very uneasy junior high school at the time, and we well recall that this crazed notion didn’t do either the white or black students any good.
All the the “establishment” notions were under assault at the time, though, including the idea that any competition between groups or individuals should involve some notions of fair play and mutual respect. Since then braggadocio and trash-talking has become the norm on the sporting scene, as well as the de facto notion of black masculinity, and by now it permeates a black American culture that once enriched the broader culture with jazz and the blues and countless other cultural treasures, and at this late date it has even turned up a presumptive Republican nominee who can out-brag Ali and spins even more fanciful conspiracy theories about his opponents and promises to destroy whatever’s left of “the establishment.” All in all, we wonder how even the hampered and endearingly humbled Ali would assess his legacy.
If you’re wondering who the current reigning heavyweight boxing champion of the world is, it’s an Irish-Romany guy named Tyson Fury who’s arguably a bigger jerk than Muhammad Ali or the presumptive Republican nominee. Since an aging Ali lost a clear-cut decision to Larry Holmes, a boring fellow who dominated the heavyweight division before losing to “Iron” Mike Tyson, a wife-beating convicted rapist who bit a challenger’s ear off, and was also celebrated by our debased culture, the title went to the good guy Evander Holyfield and a couple of forgettable champions and some black British guy, and then a series of humongous white guys from behind the Iron Curtain and apartheid South Africa that no one in in supposedly racist America paid attention to. The big thing in violent sport these days is the “mixed martial arts” or “ultimate fighting” or whatever else you call those pay-per-view bar brawls, and the “sweet science” only gets mentioned on the sportscasts when there’s a big bout between two over-the-hill fighters who finally got around to a big-money fight, so at least we don’t worry that any of them will leave the world noticeably worse off.

— Bud Norman