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The Lonesome Death of Jamal Khashoggi

The government of Saudi Arabia now acknowledges that dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey, but we’re assured by the government of Saudi Arabia that it had nothing to do with it. To hear the Saudi Arabian government tell it, the pudgy and 59-year-old Khashoggi started a fistfight with 15 Saudi Arabian government operatives who had been flown into Turkey for a polite conversation, and that it ended to everyone’s regret.
The story is so blatantly preposterous that even such loyal American friends of the Saudi Arabian government as President Donald Trump are expressing some skepticism, but it probably won’t much. matter. Khashoggi was a legal American resident and a writer for one of America’s most longstanding and prestigious newspapers, and the best evidence suggests that he was mutilated and then murdered and then dismembered on the orders of the Saudi Arabian government, but on the other hand Saudi Arabia has done tens of millions of dollars of business with Trump and hundreds of billions of dollars of business with other American businesses.
All the right-wing talk radio talkers are stressing that Khashoggi had a past relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and was a noisome critic of a Saudi Arabian government so enlightened that it has lately granted some women the right to drive an automobile, as well as a writer for those enemies of both the Saudi Arabian and American people at The Washington Post, and to hear them tell it you’d think the guy had some mutilation and murder and dismemberment coming. Besides, as the President of the United States has frequently noted, he was merely a legal resident rather than a fully-fledged citizens, and his murder wasn’t committed on American soil, and Saudi-American relations are  very tricky.
The hundreds of billions of dollars of business that America does with the Saudi Arabians can’t be dismissed lightly, and they do indeed play a very complicated role in the exponentially more complicated Middle East foreign policy mess, and we’re open to an argument for the cold-blooded calculation that even the mutilation and murder and dismemberment of a single human being must be weighted against that. Even so, we’d rather the argument was made honestly, and without the apparent disregard for the fate of a fellow human being. Surely America is still great enough relative to Saudi Arabia to insist on such niceties.
Last week Trump got a big response from a Republican rally crowd by recalling how the state’s Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte had committed criminal assault against a reporter shortly before his election to Congress. “Any guy who can do a body slam, that’s my kind of guy,” said Trump, a former professional wrestler himself, followed by uproarious laughter. Even in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s now-acknowledged demise Trump has praised the Saudi prime and dictator Mohammad bin Salman’s “strong control” of his country, and he seems to have a similar affinity for strong men rulers everywhere, including the nutcase North Korean dictator that he told a cheering rally crowd  he “fell in love with.”
All this international business and politics is indeed damned complicated, and we can’t pretend to know how it should proceed from here, but we’d like to think that the mutilation and murder and dismemberment of a legal American resident and fellow human being should carry some weight in our country’s considerations, even if he did write for The Washington Post.

— Bud Norman

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Hiding in the Bushes

Say what you want about the “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” and “lame-stream media,” but we’re regular readers and big fans of The Washington Post. Pretty much every day it provides us with interesting and all-too-believable accounts of what’s going on in the world, and we were heartened to read on the Post’s pages Thursday that former President George W. Bush is stealthily supporting a select slate of Republican candidates.
Say what you want about the war-mongering Bush and the severe economic recession that came at the end of his administration, and say what you want about his war-mongering “Poppy” President George H.W. Bush, whose administration ended after 12 mostly successful years of Republican rules because of a mild and short-lived recession, but these days dearly we miss both of those guys. The first Iraq war was a diplomatic and military masterstroke as far as we’re concerned, and we think the son’s well-intentioned sequel might well have worked out if not for a subsequent impatient Democratic administration, and we blame the first Bush recession on the usual business cycle and the son’s more severe recession on the the crazed subprime mortgage policies of Democratic President Bill Clinton’s administration, and in retrospect we give the younger Bush credit for negotiating and singing the blank bipartisan bail-out check that seems to have prevented the bottom from falling out.
For all their undeniable faults, neither of the Bushes ever engaged in “Twitter” feuds with pornographic video performers and strategic American geopolitical allies, made excuses for the abhorrent behavior of our geopolitical foes, or recklessly interfered with the way things work in this in our very complex world economy. By now even those damned bleeding-heart liberals at The Washington Post seem to long for that bygone Republican party.
By now, though, most Republicans have signed up with the newfangled Republican party of President Donald Trump. Trump won his party’s nomination and then the presidency by arguing that the elder Bush failed to conquer Iraq, his son lied America into a foolhardy attempt to conquer Iraq, and that he alone could prevail against the almighty business cycles, and that every other Republican president who preceded him was a sucker. Which is probably why President George W. Bush feels obliged to campaign so stealthily on behalf of a select slate of Republican candidates that only an intrepid Washington Post reporter would notice.
Some of the candidates that the younger Bush is quietly helping are also loudly endorsed by Trump, but we’ll wish them well. Most of these day’s damned Democrats are as bad as ever, as far we’re concerned, so we’ll hold out faint hope for what’s left of the Republican party that used to be.

— Bud Norman

The Strange Case of Jamal Khashoggi

Over the years we’ve read a lot of improbable cloak-and-dagger novels and watched many fanciful films about international intrigue, but we’ve never come across a story quite so fascinating as the real-life disappearance and almost certain murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Even with unfettered access to the very best findings of America’s crack intelligence agencies President Donald Trump will not say with any certainty what has become of Kashoggi, and we can’t claim to have any better information. but we are far more objective and fairly certain of a few established facts. Khashoggi provably entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2 to deal with paperwork for an upcoming wedding, and so far neither the fiancee who was waiting outside nor the consulate’s constant security cameras nor anyone else can testify that he ever came out. It’s also a verifiable fact that Khashoggi was considered an enemy of the people by the Saudi Arabian government, with no other obvious enemies who might have access to a Saudi Arabian consulate, and although that’s not conclusive proof of anything it’s worth keeping in mind.
So far the government of Turkey is officially coy about its conclusions, but unofficially it’s been leaking a flood of information to various world media that they have audiotape from Khashoggi’s cell phone of his brutal torture and murder and dismemberment, that on the day after Khashoggi’s disappearance their investigators found the consulate both thoroughly scrubbed and freshly painted, and they’ve got the flight records of 15 suspicious Saudis with provably close ties to their government and an autopsy specialist with a bone saw who flew into Istanbul just shortly before Khashoggi’s arrival at the consulate. Turkey’s government is lately almost as Islamist and authoritarian and untrustworthy as Saudi Arabia’s, and has its own complicated geo-political reasons to embarrass Saudi Arabia, but they’ve also got the sort of highly effective domestic security apparatus that could prove such claims, and would be just as happy to embarrass Saudi Arabia with the truth.
By now even such steadfast Trump loyalists as South Carolina’s Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham say that the Saudis look pretty damned guilty, and it would take a pretty imaginative novelist or screenwriter to come up with some other plausible plot twist, but Trump holds out for the possibility that some group of “rogue killers” might have killed Khashoggin in defiance of the Saudi government’s wishes.
;Some of those cloak-and-dagger novels we’ve read and foreign intrigue films we’ve watched had some pretty glaring plot holes, but even dime novels and $10 Hollywood movies could never come up with such a convoluted plot twist as that. Getting a group of “rogue killers” into a Saudi consulate in Istanbul just as an expatriate Saudi journalist and enemy of the Saudi people showed up would be tough enough for the “Mission: Impossible” screenwriters, much less why fellow enemies of the Saudi people would want to kill him, and never the mind the crews of rogue cleaners and painters who showed up in the immediate aftermath to scrub the alleged crime scene clean.
One never really knows, though, so perhaps Trump is right to hold out hope that neither Saudi King Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud nor current dictator Prince Mohammad bin Salman had anything do with whatever unpleasantness that might have transpired at a Saudi consulate. Back during the campaign Trump publicly boasted that he got along great with the Saudis because they did tens of millions of dollars of business with him, and they rolled out quite the red carpet for him on his first state visit abroad, and these days Trump can rightly argue that they do billions in business with far bigger American companies and as always play a crucial strategic role in America’s tricky middle-eastern foreign policy. Surely they deserve some benefit of the doubt.
Besides, as Trump as always reminds his interviewers, this Khashoggi guy wasn’t an American citizen, and even if he did get tortured and murdered and dismembered it didn’t happen here, so it arguably isn’t any of America’s business. Khashoggi was a legal American resident, which by law means he’s entitled to same protections of the state as anyone else living here, but what’s that against the millions and billions of dollars in trade that Trump and America get from the Saudis. That Khahshoggi guy also wrote for The Washington Post, long considered a leading light of America’s free press, but these days they’re also deemed enemies of the people.
The biggest mystery at this point is why Trump doesn’t just come right out and say, “Yeah, so what if the Saudis tortured and killed and dismembered this guy?” Khashoggi wasn’t even an American citizen, after all, and he wrote regularly for those enemies of the American people at The Washington Post, so we doubt that many of Trump’s die-hard defenders give much of a damn about what happened to that guy. What happened to that Khashoggi guy might slightly heighten the fervor of Trump’s opponents, but it probably won’t much swell their number.
In any case, this poor Khashoggi guy’s tale seems headed to a more desultory conclusion than any cloak-and-dagger novel we’ve ever read or any foreign intrigue film we’ve ever seen, and we worry that America won’t come out any greater.

— Bud Norman

America First, Morality After That

President Donald Trump sat down for an interview with Lesley Stahl of the “60 Minutes” program that aired on Sunday, far away from the friendly confines of “Fox and Friends,” and of course it was full of news.
He suggested that Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, widely considered a restraining influence on Trump’s more rash foreign policy impulses, is “sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” and might soon be leaving the White House. He wouldn’t comment on how long Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be around, except to say “We’ll see what happens come midterms,” which suggests that something will happen after the looming midterm elections. He denied mocking the woman who alleged that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault while they were both high schools, although Trump sure did seem to revel in all the laughs he got talking about her at a recenta campaign rally. He effused about the trustworthiness of murderous North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but added “That doesn’t mean I can’t be proven wrong,” which is newsworthy for its uncharacteristic modesty.
More striking to us, though, was Trump’s continued affinity for murderous Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and murderous Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammad bin Salam, and his apparent insouciance about murderous dictatorships in general.
Although Trump  now grudgingly acknowledges that yeah, Putin probably did meddle in America’s past presidential election, which all of America’s intelligence agencies insist with complete certainty,  he added that China’s murderous dictatorship probably did the same, which no intelligence agency has suggested, and he seemed to shrug it all off as business as usual. Way back in the campaign Trump told friendly Fox News interviewer Bill O’Reilly that yeah, Putin occasionally a journalist or dissident or political opponent or two, but “There a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, do you think our country’s so innocent?,” and he told the far feistier Stahl the relies on Russia, and he noted with apparent satisfaction that Putin none of Putin’s recent assassination attempts have happened in America or to Americans abroad.
Trump has talked tough about “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if it’s proved the government brutally murdered and dismembered self-exiled Saudi dissident and Washington Post writer and legal American resident Jamal Kashoggi, as all of the world’s intelligence agencies and every sane observer has concluded, but we expect it will require some rather extraordinary proof before he’s nudged to say that yeah, they probably did it. Even if he is somehow convinced that the Saudi friends who treated to him to such a flattering state visit and do billions of dollars of business with American corporations of millions of dollars of business with his own still wholly-owned companies, he’s already pointed out that the alleged killing happened in Turkey, “and to the best of our knowledge, Kashoggi is not a United States citizen.” An American president should speak with more certainty about such easily learnable facts, and should also be aware the a legal residency in the United States also entitles one to the protection of the state, but Trump clearly thinks America lacks the moral standing to fuss about such things.
Trump bluntly told the country as much before he was elected. He said so not only to O’Reilly and his Fox viewers but to all the revved-up rally crowds that chanted along with his “America First” slogan, not knowing or caring it faithfully echoed the pre-World War II isolationist movement that thought Fortress America could get along just fine in a world otherwise ruled by the Axis powers. Long before he started his unlikely political career Trump had hired a ghostwriter to pen “The Art of Deal,” which explicitly described his Machiavellian worldview of everything in life from love to business to foreign relations as a zero-sum game that comes down to winners and losers, with the rules being strictly for suckers. Even as he successfully courted the evangelical Christian vote, he made it quite clear he didn’t believe in all that nonsense loving one’s neighbor and turning the other cheek and the meek being blessed.
On one warm and sunny Hawaiian December day in ’41 America realized that despite two oceans and a couple of placid neighbors to the north and south America could not get along just fine with the Axis powers, and with the help of some carefully cultivated democratic allies the country waged a costly but ultimately victorious war against those murder dictatorships. The allies also  much needed the help of a murderous communist dictatorship in Russia, which waged a fare more costly war but a sizable victory of it, as well as an unpleasantly authoritarian regime in China that soon fell to an even more murderous communist dictatorship, but somehow the free and democratic nations of the world cobbled together trade agreements and diplomatic arrangements and military alliances that have worked the necessary moral compromise out pretty well for most part over the past 70-plus, at least relative to most of humankind’s bloody and impoverished history.
There have been plenty of wars and moral compromises along the way, of course. Fighting Chinese and Soviet communism involved a couple of horrific wars that resulted in a still-troublesome tie on the Korean peninsula and a arguable loss to a unified and more-or-less capitalist Vietnam that now offers potential strategic advantages to the United States, and America has overlooked some unsavory behavior from anti-communist regimes and any country that can help keep the international economy well lubricated with oil. There were greater moral exigencies to be arguably considered at the time, though, and at no point did any Republican or Democratic president ever signaled that he didn’t much about such behavior. Those bipartisan fancy-pants “experts” got a lot of things wrong, but they also rebuilt former vanquished adversaries into formidable friends, nurtured the free and democratic nations they had rescued from murderous dictatorships, and we think they know better than Trump, and we’ll hate to see the last few of them leave his administration.
Trump is quite right that America has done a lot of killing, and that like any country populated by mere human beings we’re not so innocent, but we think he’s quite wrong to suggest America should begin to atone for its sins by giving the green-light to any of his favored murderous dictators to keep killing off any pesky journalists or political opponents or assorted dissidents. We don’t think it will help make America great again.

— Bud Norman

Kavanaugh’s Confirmation is Further Complicated

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was already in jeopardy after a woman came forward by name to accuse him of a sexual assault when he was a high schooler, and might be in further jeopardy yet now that another woman has come forward by name to accuse of him of indecent exposure while he was a college student. It’s all very complicated, though, and Kavanaugh might well be confirmed despite it all, but doubts will likely linger now matter how it all turns out.
After 37 years there’s no definitive corroborating evidence for California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh held a hand over her mouth and nose as he pinned her against a bed and attempted to forcibly undress her during an drunken teenaged party near his elite prep school, but neither can he cite any definitive exculpatory evidence. He’s got plenty of credible character witnesses that vouch for his excellent character, but she’s got a similar number of friends who can’t believe that she’d sacrifice a quiet life in a picturesque college town and her own fine reputation and start getting death threats and talk radio vilification just to tell such a lie. After much news and difficult negotiations she’s scheduled to tell her story under oath to the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday, which will probably get bigger television ratings than the last episode of “M*A*S*H,” and he’ll give his account afterwards, and we expect most viewers will judge whom to believe to based entirely on their prejudgements.
The newer allegation by a Colorado resident named Deborah Ramirez that Kavanaugh exposed his penis and forced her to touch it during a drunken college party near Yale University will likely be similarly prejudged by the general public. Ramirez makes the allegation in an article in The New Yorker penned by Ronan Farrow, whose meticulous reporting on sexual misconduct stories has lately earned him a national reputation and brought down several famous entertainment and political figures, but she’s already being doubted by such equally respectable publications as The Washington Post. She freely admits she was quite drunk when the incident allegedly occurred, and that she only came forward at the urging of various reporters, and the Post’s sex-crime prosecutor sources cite other problems. On the other hand, that Farrow fellow claims to have supporting sources and has been libel-proof so far, and it is yet another woman coming forward by name to allege that Kavanaugh was less than a perfect gentleman in his youth and is lying about it in his maturity.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation was plenty complicated even before any of this popped up, given that he was nominated by the very divisive President Donald Trump, and has a record of law review articles stating that a sitting president cannot be indicted or subpoenaed or even investigated, and is reasonably suspected of being the potential decisive vote to overturn Roe v Wade and other Supreme Court precedents dear to liberal hearts.
We don’t care much about Roe v Wade, as we figure most of the state legislatures will eventually wind up retaining the status quo after yet another prolonged and acrimonious debate about abortion, and we generally agree with Kavanaugh’s originalist philosophy of interpreting the constitution, but we do worry about his views regarding what presidents should be able to get away with, and we haven’t yet reached any judgment about his behavior as a high school and college student and what he’s saying about it today. We’ll give him a fair hearing, as we know that women do sometimes make false accusations against men, but we’ll give his accusers the same fair hearing, as we know that it’s far more common for men to misbehave than it is for women to lie about it.
The decision about whether to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination will probably come down to a couple of women Republican Senators who are pro-choice, along with a couple of male Republican Senators who have been known to buck the Trumpian line, and maybe a couple of red state Democratic Senators who are probably thinking they can now get away with a “no” vote on Kavanaugh. At this point we’ll let them decide the matter, and figure that no matter how it turns out doubts will linger.

— Bud Norman

On the Latest Questions About Trump

Every American president since George Washington has been accused by his critics of all sorts of unsavory things, but only rarely has it been widely suggested that the guy has gone completely bonkers. A striking number of people are now saying that about President Donald Trump, however, and reliable sources suggest those people include several high-ranking members of Trump’s administration.
On Tuesday The Washington Post released segments of “Fear,” a soon-to-be-released and already best-selling book by its veteran reporter Bob Woodard which quotes numerous anonymous but high-ranking administrations talking about how they strive everyday to protect the American public from the most dire consequences of their boss’s uninformed and impulsive and downright petty instincts. On Wednesday The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed piece by a high-ranking administration official headlined “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” which seeks to reassure the public that “many of the senior of the senior officials inside (Trump’s) administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
By both accounts many of the people closest to the President understand and act accordingly that in terms of intellectual and temperamental and moral and basic mental health fitness Trump is likely to do something consequentially crazy, and although Trump and his still-loyal spokespeople call it all “fake news” we’re reluctantly inclined to hopefully believe all of it.
Woodward and his fellow youthful late-night crime beat colleague Carl Bernstein broke the story of the Watergate break-in way back in the ’70s, and according to the old-fashioned newspaper rules of the time they got to follow the story it’s conclusion, which resulted in President Richard Nixon’s resignation and a Pulitzer Prize for the now-legendary journalism team of Woodward and Bernstein, and since then the now-wizened Woodward’s work has withstood the withering criticism of the next eight presidents he has investigated. Most of Woodward’s journalistic first drafts of history have been painstakingly even-handed, acknowledging each administrations’ failures while eviscerating its failures and admitting how very complicated these things are, and even if this book is more weighted to criticism we’ll count on Woodward’s 40-plus-years record of impeccable sourcing and meticulous tape-recording of double sources more than we do Trump’s dubious record of public statements.
Trump is already saying that the high-ranking anonymous administration official who penned that alarming op-ed in today’s edition is just a “fake news” figment of the “failing” New York Times’ imagination, but he’s also “tweeting” that whoever it is be immediately be turned over to be tried on a charge of treason, and we don’t doubt that the author of their anonymous op-ed piece is an actual high-ranking administration official. The New York Times is indeed as liberally slanted as those right-wing talk radio show hosts will warn you, and over the past century-and-half or so they’ve clearly gotten some things consequential things clearly wrong, but we’ll reluctantly admit that in all that time they’ve generated less outright “fake news” than Trump has “tweeted” in just the past three years or so.
Trump and his apologists can rightly boast that the unemployment rate is down and the stock markets are still up since his election, and that no new shooting wars have lately broken out, but it’s harder to argue that it couldn’t have been achieved by any other Republican president without all the Trump-ian craziness, and that it might not have happened at all without the restraining influences of the very best people he somehow wound up appointing to his administration. Pretty much every day Trump tells a press gaggle or “tweets” something that is jarringly discordant with longstanding norms or present reality, and pretty much everyday the “fake news” broadcasts it, and although every single day we try to keep our eye on the unemployment rates and the stock markets it’s hard to shake a bad feeling about all of this.

— Bud Norman

Charles Krauthammer, RIP

Charles Krauthammer died Thursday after a long struggle against cancer at the age of 68, and his death comes far too soon and at a very bad time for the conservative cause he long championed.
The longtime Washington Post columnist and widely published essayist was an honest-to-God conservative intellectual, as even his most ardent critics had to admit. He was first in his class at Montreal’s elite McGill University, spent a year studying political at Oxford University, earned a doctorate in psychiatry from Harvard Medical School, won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize in 1987, and wrote with such clarity and convincing logic and acerbic wit that even those intellectual who were outraged by his opinions respectfully responded with their best efforts at a rebuttal. He never had to resort to schoolyard taunts or ad hominem attacks, was rarely subjected to such juvenile tactics in return.
The son of German Jews who had escaped the Holocaust, Krauthammer was born in New York City but mostly grew up in Montreal with an innate intellectual curiosity and an inherited sense of the tragic nature of the human condition. At the age of 22 the strikingly handsome and well-built skier and sailor and swimmer was mostly paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a swimming pool accident, but he wasn’t one to let tragedy keep him from living his life to the fullest.
He pursued his psychiatry doctorate partly because he’d become disillusioned with the radical politics of the ’70s, and further explained that the discipline “promised not only moral certainty, but intellectual certainty, a hardness to truth, something not to be found in the political universe.” His longtime friend and fellow Washington Post columnist George Will, another Pulitzer Prize winner and honest-to-God conservative intellectual, recalls Krauthammer saying, “with characteristic felicity, it combined the practicality of medicine and the elegance of philosophy.”
He became a chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, an official at the Department of Health and Services, but somehow wound up diving headfirst into the murky and shallow pool of politics. He considered himself a liberal cold warrior, and wrote speeches for the campaign of Democratic presidential Walter Mondale in 1980 and then the joined the staff of the left-of-center New Republic, but found himself increasingly estranged from liberalism. He had a clear-eyed view of the tragic nature of communism, was appalled by the Democratic party’s growing squishiness about confronting it in the post-Vietnam and post-George McGovern era of the party, and began to question other fashionably left-of-center ideas.
Krauthammer was especially offended by the left’s naive insistence on de-institutionalizing the seriously mentally ill patients he had once treated, and he also noticed the left’s eagerness to institutionalize the behavior of almost everyone else. By the time he arrived at The Washington Post he was one of the paper’s two token conservative editorial writers, and quickly became controversial for his full-throated defense of President Ronald Reagan’s aggressive Cold War foreign policy. He was one of several former New Deal liberals who once believed in the Truman and Kennedy administrations’ anti-communism but had drifted from the Democratic party, a largely but not entirely Jewish group of intellectuals who came to be known as “neoconservatives,” and they were all vindicated by the demise of the undeniably horrific Soviet Union and the liberation of its former vassal states.
The neoconservatives continued to advocate an American foreign aggressively devoted to promoting liberty and democracy in totalitarian lands, and thus were steadfast advocates for Israel, and argued for a forceful response to Islamist totalitarianism after the historic terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the aftermath of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, neoconservative has become term of opprobrium on both the left and right, and Krauthammer’s unapologetic-to-his-dying-day defense of the war meant he died a respected but very controversial man.
The left always hated the war, and by now we have a Republican president who also thinks it was a bigly mistake and even goes so far as to parrot the far-left’s slur that Bush lied us into it, and by now the far fringes of both the Old Left and the newfangled Trumpian right use “neoconservaitve” as a term of opprobrium for a bunch of smarty-pants intellectual Jews. They all forget the neoconservatives won the Cold War without any mushroom clouds, and don’t seem to understand that history’s verdict on the Iraq War has yet to be written, and that Krauthammer might yet be posthumously vindicated.
There’s an argument to be made that the still-controversial and unarguably tragic Korean and Vietnam Wars demonstrated American and western resolve against communism, and thus helped America and the West eventually win the Cold War without any mushroom clouds, and that the hated-on-both-the-Old-Left-and-Trumpian-right Iraq War demonstrated a similar resolve against Islamist totalitarianism, and that it might be a reason it hasn’t pulled of any terror attacks anywhere in the West approaching the scale of Sept. 11, 2001. We wish that Krauthammer were still around to make that argument better than we can.
These days the arguments for conservatism are being made by proudly uneducated talk radio show hosts, and even “intellectual” seems a term of opprobrium in the newfangled Trumpian right. The well-educated and well-spoken and well-mannered and scientific and philosophical Krauthammer was of course appealed by almost everything about Trump, even though he would occasionally admit that Trump had gotten some old-fashioned and pro-Israel policy right, but his battle against cancer largely kept him off the op-ed pages and airwaves through most of Trump’s presidency, so his passing might get the begrudging respect from the right that he’ll get from the left.
We’re old enough to remember a time when the arguments for conservatism were being made by such honest-to-God intellectuals as Russell Kirk and William Buckley and Milton Friedman, whose intellectual lineage went back to Edmund Burke and John Locke and Adam Smith, but that era seems to be passing. This annus horibilis has already seen the passing of the Harvard Russian studies professor Richard Pipes, whose expertise and clear-eyed views helped win the Cold War, Princeton’s Middle East Studies professor Bernard Lewis, whose expertise and clear-eyed views are still needed to win the ongoing war against Islamist totalitarianism, and the great journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe, who was apparently a New Deal Democrat to his dying day but a formidable force on our side in the post-Vietnam and post-McGovern culture wars.
We and Krauthammer’s old pal Will are still arguing for pre-Trump conservatism, along with some other other formidable Never Trump conservative intellectuals, but we sure could use Krauthammer’s help, These days conservatism is defined by whatever Trump and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their callers are saying on any given news cycle, and the loss of such  a well-educated and well-spoken and well-mannered and honest-to-God conservative intellectual as Krauthammer seems all the more tragic.

— Bud Norman

That Big Event in Singapore, According to Various Media

“Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard,” also known as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and American President Donald Trump, shook hands Monday on a Singapore stage festooned with American and North Korean flags, then sat down and smiled together for the cameras of the world’s media, and everybody agreed it was a very big deal. Of course there was also much disagreement about how to cover it.
The more cautious and respectable American press outlets, even those considered left-of-center and overly eager to report news casting a negative light on Trump, stuck mostly to the objective who, what, where and when it, and were especially cautious about the unavoidably subjective why of it, but they also frankly acknowledged what a very big deal it was. The Washington Post’s top-of-the-front-page headline was “Trump, Kim shake hands, begin historic summit,” and the “lede” paragraph — as we spell in the newspaper biz — quoted Trump’s prediction that “We will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.” The New York Times’ top-of-the-front-page headline was “Handshakes, and Hope for an Agreement,,” which was just as careful and also adhered to our preferred style of capitalizing headlines, and the “bullet items” — as we call them in newspaper biz — stressed that it was indeed a very big deal but also very complicated as to how it might turn out.
The Cable News Network, or the “fake news CNN” as Trump calls it,  was similarly cautious in its coverage., with the anchors talking about how historic it was and the guest commentators expressing both hope and worries.  Over at the MSNBC cable news network, where they frankly acknowledge a left-of-center perspective and unabashedly delight in anything factual they can come up with that sheds a negative light on Trump, even Rachel Maddow was acknowledging it was a big deal. She had several guests fluent in the Korean language with impressive credentials for commenting on the military and political and economic and diplomatic situation who had some pretty convincing reasons to be worried it will all go awry, but they all had to admit a possibility they still hoped for that things would turn out well.
Meanwhile, over at Fox News, Sean Hannity was already spiking the ball in the end zone in on Trump’s behalf. He parroted Trump’s attempts to downplay expectations, and that “it’s a process, a long a process,” and helpfully recalled all the times North Korea had duped past Democratic and pre-Trump Republicans and hopefully assured his viewers Trump wouldn’t make that same mistake, and ran some old footage of President Ronald Reagan confronting Russia. As far as Hannity is concerned, if Trump wins an unexpected-by-almost-everyone complete capitulation from Kim he’s a sure bet Nobel Peace Prize winner, and if he walks away without any agreement at all he’s the second coming of St. Reagan walking away from the Soviets at Reykjavik, so it’s a win-win for Trump either way. Due to the time zones the historic handshake occurred after the morning and afternoon right-wing talk radio talkers went off the air, and they’ll be on before today’s-in-Singapore’s actual summit begins, but we’re sure that Hannity and the rest of them will see it pretty much the same way.
The National Review and The Weekly Standard and the rest of the cautious and respectable pre-Trump right-of-center publications are weeklies, and go home to their wives and children at a decent hour, so they haven’t yet weighed in, but we expect they’ll have some of the same worries that were voiced on Rachel Maddow’s show. The Weekly Standard did get in a short story about the involvement of Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, the former National Basketball Association rebounding champion and “Apprentice” contestant who is somehow on the scene and somehow  figures in all of this, but that’s not hopeful, although Trump did rightly note he was once a hell of a rebounder despite being short by NBA power-forward standards. Even if Trump does walk away from today’s summit he’ll have granted an odious third world dictator a long-desired starring role on the sage he walks away from, and with an endorsement of his abysmal human rights record in dealing with his own people, and for many other reasons it’s not at all analogous to Reagan walking out of Reykjavik. Trump’s many domestic scandals and recent squabbles with our traditional allies do seem to make him more desperate for any old deal that odious third world dictator might be willing to cut, too. We like to think we’re a cautious and respectable pre-Trump right-of-center publication, and without any wife or kids to worry about we’re up late and watching the latest developments, so we’ll hedge our bets just like those other cautious and respectable right-of-center and left-of-center institutions we’ll go no further than saying that we’re hoping for the best but still have our worries.
At least Trump and Kim are smiling for the photo-ops, rather than calling one another “Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard.” As Trump is so fond of saying, “we shall see.”

— Bud Norman

On the Importance of Protecting the Free Press Environment

Back in our newspaper days we were often forcibly kicked out of various places for being a reporter. Sometimes it was at fringe group rallies, other times it was at ghetto crime scenes we’d arrived at after the cops had split, and on one memorable occasion it was at a “gay rodeo” that apparently had gotten some previous bad press from more homophobic reporters than ourselves. Until the age of President Donald Trump, though, we’d never heard of a reporter being evicted from a governmental agency’s public meetings.
That actually happened to three reporters on Tuesday, as they attempted to cover the Environmental Protection Agency’s meeting with industry and regulatory officials on the rather dry subject of water contamination. A reporter for the Cable News Network was barred from the event, as was a reporter for an environmental internet publication called E&E News, and a reporter from the Associated Press was literally shoved out of the building.
The administration’s official explanation for the expulsions is that there just wasn’t enough room to accommodate everybody who wanted in, now matter how impeccable their press credentials, but all the reporters who did somehow get through the door attest that there were far more than three empty seats. The only plausible explanation is that the Trump administration is growing even bolder in its bullying of the free press.
Which is worrisome to our free speech sensibilities, as Trump has been a bully boy toward the press all along. During his surprisingly successful campaign for the presidency Trump promised that he would “open up the libel laws” so that he could sue any reporter reporting embarrassing news and “make lots of money.” During every campaign rally he led his followers in menacing chants against the nervously penned-up reporters in their midst, and forbade certain news outlets from access to to his campaign. As president he’s described the adversarial press not only as “fake news” but also by the Stalin-esque phrase “enemies of the people,” leaned on the Postmaster General to charge a few extra billion dollars to the Amazon e-commerce giant that happens to be run by the guy who also also owns troublesome Washington Post. He’s also “tweeted” about revoking the White House credentials of America’s most venerable news media, prosecuting reporters who report on leaked information, and groused that it’s a “disgrace” that the First Amendment allows a free press to “write whatever they want.”
Perhaps the only American who more resents a free press than Trump is EPA director Scott Pruitt, who has taken some Trump-level pillorying. Part of it is his because of his vigorous-even-by-Trump-standards deregulating, which our old-fashioned Republican souls are mostly but not altogether approving of, but it’s also because of “fake news” but all-too-verifiable reports about the sweetheart condo deal he got from some companies he was supposed to be regulating and his exorbitant spending of taxpayer dollars on air travel and such weird things as the “cone of silence” from the old “Get Smart” comedy, which our old-fashioned Republican souls cannot abide.
Pruitt has also reportedly used the cops’ flashing lights and sirens to get him to unofficial dinner reservations on time, and he strikes us as exactly the sort of guy who would use figuratively and literally rough even-by-Trump-standards tactics to get even for all those verifiable stories. This troubles our old-fashioned Republican souls, and after too many years of daily reporting it outrages our journalistic sensibilities.

— Bud Norman

Doctor, Lawyer, Chief Executive

President Donald Trump likes to boast that he hires the very best people, but recent news about some of his choices of doctors and lawyers cast doubt on the claim.
For 39 years Trump’s personal physician was a gastroenterologist named Harold Bornstein, who became briefly famous during the presidential campaign after releasing a letter attesting to Trump’s good health. The letter referred to a “complete medical examination that showed only positive results,” an odd thing for a doctor to say, and contrarily insisted that “laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent,” and “if elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Between the doctor’s hippie-dippy appearance and the distinctly Trumpian hyperbole of the letter he provided fodder for a week’s worth of late night comedy monologues, but the die-hard fans took the doctor at his word and Trump wound up winning the electoral vote.
We’re sure Trump appreciated the overly kind of words, but eventually Bernstein fell out of the president’s favor, as so many Trump associates eventually do. He revealed to The New York Times that Trump takes finasteride, a drug that stimulates hair growth and slows balding, and complained about the way he was treated at the inauguration, and now he’s telling everybody that shortly afterwards Trump had his bodyguard and another rough-looking fellow show up at his office to seize all of the president’s medical records and warn him to take down a picture of Trump smiling next to Bornstein. The doctor also now freely admits that Trump wrote that famous letter about his excellent health, just as all those late night comedians and any sentient citizen suspected, and he doesn’t seem inclined to do the president any further favors.
Trump is entitled to be annoyed that Bornstein violated his privacy revealing the finasteride prescription, even if Bornstein  did so to explain a low presidential PSA level the Times had somehow found about, and when Trump became president he started seeing the White House doctor and it was necessary to have his medical records sent along. Still, the seizure sounds more like a “raid” as Bernstein calls it and less like the “standard operating procedure” that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee described. In any case, Trump is going to need another doctor to attest to his astonishingly excellent health, and it’s not clear who it will be.
Trump’s last doctor was White House medical unit director Admiral Ronny Jackson, who had also served Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and was well-regarded by both, and he so endeared himself to Trump by offering an effusive and suspicious assessment of Trump’s astonishingly excellent health that was also much ridiculed on the late night comedy shows. Trump was so impressed by the performance that he nominated Jackson to lead the 370,000 employees of the nationwide and byzantine Veterans Administration, despite what Trump admitted was a lack of any relevant experience for the job. Jackson soon withdrew his name from consideration for the post, rather than face congressional confirmation and answer the charges that he was a mean and incompetent manager of his small office and frequently drunk on the job, and shortly afterward it was announced that for undisclosed reasons he would no longer be the president’s physician.
Meanwhile, several of Trump’s past and present attorneys have their own problems. For many years Trump relied on Michael Cohen as a lawyer and “fixer,” but in those capacities Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment in the late stages of the election to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop talking about a sexual encounter she claimed to have had with the president shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, which wound up having the Department of Justice’s southern district of New York executing a very thorough search warrant on his home, office, and hotel room, and now he looks in need of a darned good lawyer of his own. Cohen was also involved in a deal Trump was pursuing during the presidential campaign to build a skyscraper in Moscow. Trump is suddenly telling his friends at “Fox and Friends” that he actually had little to do with Cohen, although he did let slip that Cohen did represent him in that “crazy Stormy Daniels deal,” and his friends at The National Enquirer are running a front page headline about “Trump’s Fixer’s Lies & Secrets,” and it seems the White House is readying for anything Cohen might have to say about either the porn actress or that pesky “Russia thing” a special counsel is aggressively investigating.
Trump has already defenestrated a few of his “Russia thing” lawyers, the most recent being the famously mustachioed Ty Cobb, who claims to be a distant descendant of the baseball great of the same name, and he’s had trouble finding replacements up to the challenge that special counsel’s formidable team. The president has a reputation for not paying his legal bills and ignoring sound legal advice, and even the Fox News regular he claimed to have hired wound up turning down the gig. He did get Rudy Giuliani, formerly a formidable federal prosecutor and remarkably successful New York City mayor, and on Wednesday he hired Emmett Flood, described by The Washington Post as a”low-key, serious” sort who served as President Bill Clinton’s lawyer during the impeachment trial that resulted from an affair with a White House intern. Still, they have their own problems to deal with.
Giuliani sat down for an extended interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday, which is seemingly the safest place for a Trump representative to be, but he wound up saying that Trump actually paid that $130,000 to the porno performer to stop talking about that alleged sexual encounter Trump has never explicitly denied. Giuliani did so to make the debatable argument that no campaign disclosure laws had been broken, just as Bornstein had disclosed the embarrassing anti-balding drug to dismiss a more serious matter, but it contradicted the president’s previous claims that it was Cohen’s crazy deal and you’d have to ask him about that, and even Hannity seemed discomfited by the disclosure, so of course the late night comics had a great time of it, and there’s no telling what Giuliani’s boss will make of it.
We’ll take the Post’s word for it that this Flood fellow is a  serious and low-key “steady hand,”and we note that Clinton’s presidency somehow survived his tawdry sex scandals and subsequent impeachment trial, even if his reputation took a hard enough hit that his harridan of a wife wound up osing a presidential election to the likes of Trump, and maybe he’ll have just as much success with his newest client. He seems to have a tough row to hoe, though, as we say here in Kansas.

— Bud Norman