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The Washington Post vs. The National Enquirer

The publishers of The Washington Post and The National Enquirer are currently feuding, and it’s as tawdry a spectacle as you might expect.
Jeff Bezos owns the eminently respectable Washington Post, and he also owns the retailing giant Amazon.com, which makes him one of the richest men in the world, and thus it has been widely reported in the Post and elsewhere that his recent divorce was the most expensive in history. A fellow with the unfortunate name of David Pecker owns the notoriously yellow National Enquirer, and naturally the inquiring minds of its supermarket readership wanted to know all about that. In January the tabloid known for its short attention span-sized stories ran an 11-page story about Bezo’s affair with some other big bucks businessman’s wife, and it somehow included some daringly salacious text messages Bezos had sent to his apparent paramour. Bezos didn’t deny go iit, although he unleashed some high priced lawyers to find out how the tabloid had acquired his legally-protected private texts, and for the moment the advantage seemed to belong to Pecker.
On Wednesday, though, Bezos blasted back that Pecker had tried to blackmail him with “intimate photos,” and offered an e-mail “confidential & not for distribution” e-mail sent by Chief Content Officer of The National Enquirer’s parent company to Bezos’ lawyer. The e-mail discloses that “in addition to a below-the-belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pic’ — The Enquirer obtained nine further images.” The e-mail goes on to describe some more tame “selfies” of Bezos but also a photo of his alleged paramour “smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene,” as well as other salacious shots. Bezos isn’t denying any of it, but instead has stated that “Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.” Despite the admitted personal cost and embarrassment the photos do indeed seem to threaten, we think the advantage now clearly goes to Bezos.
The tawdry backstory to all this makes it all the more embarrassing for Pecker, and has some embarrassing political implications for President Donald Trump. Pecker and the president are good buddies, and The National Enquirer has a long history of running stories about Trump’s political opponents — including the fanciful claim that Republican primary opponent Sen. Ted Cruz’ father was in on the assassination of President John Kennedy– and it has since struck a cooperation deal with an investigation into the tabloid’s efforts to squelch stories about Trump’s alleged affairs with a pornographic video performer and a nude model, and whether or not that violated campaign finance laws. Bezos’ Post has been less friendly to Trump, who daily fulminates about their damnably factual accounts of his administration and frequently threatens new taxes and Post Office regulations against Amazon.com.
It darn sure looks as if Bezos was cheating on his wife with some other big bucks businessman’s wife, and that they took some embarrassing “selfies” along the way, but the other players in this tawdry tale don’t come off looking any better. Bezos is far richer than than both Trump and Pecker combined, even after hat that record multi-billion dollars divorce settlement, and despite the best efforts of Pecker it darn sure looks as if Trump has prolifically cheated on all three of his wives, and who knows what Pecker has been up to, and Bezos hasn’t been forced into any cooperating witness arrangements with the feds, so we figure Bezos is better able to absorb the personal costs and embarrassment of this tawdry affair.
In any case, we’ll rely more on The Washington Post than The National Enquirer for news about the Trump administration, and expect that  it will also be plenty tawdry.

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Line of Koch

According to a largely overlooked report in The Washington Post, the “Koch network” is “turning away from partisan politics,” which strikes us as an intriguing development. The story has significant implications for President Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican party, and will surely be of hopeful interest to the Democratic party and the rest of the left, and it has a special local interest for us.
The multi-billionaire and big-bucks political donor to conservative causes Charles Koch has long been a leading villain of the conspiracy theories spun on the left, much as multi-billionaire and big bucks donor to liberal causes George Soros is the bogeyman of all the right’s conspiracy theories, which we’ve always found amusing.
It’s hard for us to believe that the headquarters of the diabolically ingenious organization secretly controlling everything is Koch Industries, which is located right next door to where we attended elementary school on the outskirts boring old Wichita, Kansas, and the company has always been a good neighbor. The local zoo’s award-winning ape exhibit was paid for by the Koch family, you can’t go to the city’s surprisingly excellent art museum or symphony orchestra or musical theater troupe without seeing Koch’s generosity prominently thanked in the program, the Friends University dance department that provides some of the the best of the city’s ballet offerings was started by the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation of his parents, and if you’re lucky to attend a Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball game they play in the very swank Charles Koch Arena, and the family has funded some charities for the poor as well. Wichita’s still a small enough enough town that we’ve had a couple of personal encounters with the internationally notorious Charles Koch, who lives not far from our parents’ swank retirement home over on the east side, and we’ve found him an affable fellow.
Koch has also spent a considerable chunk of his vast fortune funding anti-tax and pro-free market causes here and around the country and the world, which is why the left hates him so, but for the most part that’s been fine with us. The “tea party” movement that briefly fought for fiscal sanity was a genuine grassroots movements, but there’s no denying it was fertilized a bit by Koch’s money, and although the left recoiled in horror we wish it were still around. We’ve voted for most of the politicians that Koch has funded around here, and rooted for most the of ones he funded in other states and districts, and generally agree with his red-in-tooth-and-claw sort of capitalism. He’s carefully stayed out of the abortion politics and other social issues that are so contentious around here, and we think he’s been wise to do so.
There have been the occasional differences of opinion. Koch was a big backer of Gov.. Sam Brownback’s admittedly radical tax-and-budget-slashing agenda, which we eagerly voted for, but he continued to back it even after we had to begrudgingly admit it hadn’t worked out quite as promised. We’re also the sort of traditional Pax Americana Republicans who can’t agree with Koch’s characteristically Libertarian isolationist foreign policy, although we have to admit that’s one reason the conspiracy theories sound crazy. The one thing that Koch and Soros have agreed on over the years was their opposition to the Iraq War, and we note that despite their combined billions and alleged world-shaking influence they couldn’t stop that from happening.
Which makes it interesting to read in The Washington Post that Koch and his network of well-heeled and like-minded big bucks donors have “emphasized new investments in anti-poverty initiatives and reentry programs for former convicts.” At their annual meeting in a luxury resort the group “also announced a new education initiative.” Unstated but more important, they once again won’t be giving any money to the Trump campaign, much less the big bucks that Republican nominees used to get. Trump’s populist base will no doubt boast that it goes to show he can’t be bought, even by the most ideologically pure capitalist billionaires, but they’ll likely need both the money and the free market sort of voters it brings in.
Koch and his well-heeled buddies presumably like the tax bill Trump signed and the deregulations he’s ordered by executive action, as do we, for the most part, although they probably share our preference they’d been more carefully done. Trump’s military retreats from former spheres of American probably don’t bother them, either, although we think they should. On several other matters, though, Trump is estranged from both Koch’s libertarianism and our old-fashioned conservatism, which leaves the Republican party is in poor shape.
Trump’s trade wars are an affront to Koch’s free-market sensibilities, and although we’re not taking the same financial hit as our multi-national neighbor we share hit outrage. Koch is far more cool with mass immigrants than Trump seems to be, too, and although we don’t enjoy the same benefits of cheap labor neither do we support Trump’s panicked call for big and beautiful border wall. Over the two years Trump worked with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress the country racked up trillion dollar deficits, despite a booming economy that Trump frequently bragged about, and now that the Democrats have a majority in the House and growth is slowing that doesn’t look to get better, and we can hardly blame Koch and his well-heeled buddies for not wanting to fund more of that.
On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard defenders can rightly note that only likely alternative is the damned Democrats and George Soros and all the socialist conspiracies he’s funding, and we guess that Koch and most of his well-heeled buddies will agree with us that’s also pretty damned frightening. Even so, we’re pleased to see that our far richer and more influential neighbor has joined us here on the political sidelines, and we’ll be grateful if Koch can do for poor people and convicted felons as well as they’ve done for our local arts and sporting and economic  communities, and we’ll try out best to chip in..

— Bud Norman

The Trump Slump Continues

You might not have noticed, what with all the attention being paid to the still ongoing partial government shutdown and all the undeniable problems it’s causing for a whole lot of Americans, but the “Russia thing” is looking even worse than ever for President Donald Trump.
The past few days have brought a New York Times report that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the possibility that Trump was acting on behalf of Russian rather than American interests shortly after he took office, reports from pretty much every news outlet that read the ineptly redacted court filings by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort revealing Manafort had admitted to sharing polling data with the Russian operatives that all the intelligence agencies agree was engaged in a disinformation effort on behalf of Trump’s campaign, and a subsequent Washington Post report that as president Trump had sought to keep his conversations with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin a secret from not only the general public but also his diplomatic and national security staff. Trump and his dwindling number of die-hard defenders have plenty to say about it, but to the rest of the country it looks pretty damned bad
If you’re fully on board with Trump’s efforts to make America great again, you’re probably already convinced that FBI’s undenied investigation into Trump’s Russia ties is just further “smocking gun” of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow a duly elected American president, but if you’re not that’s a hard case to make. Unlike Trump, the FBI and its overseeing Department and Justice and the independent federal judiciary that have to sign off on everything it all operate according to longstanding rules and laws and traditions, and if this entire staid constitutional order is somehow more lawless than Trump then God help us all. Trump had already fulsomely flattered the Russian dictator and said America had no moral standing to condemn his extra-judicial killings of journalists and other dissidents, altered the Republican platform to a more Russia-friendly position regarding its annexation of Ukraine, spoke hopefully of lifting sanctions on Russia for its violation of a neighboring country’s sovereignty, disparaged the North Atlantic Treaty organization as bad as the North American Free Trade Agreement, and at that point our President Ronald Reagan-era selves can hardly blame the FBI and its overseeing Justice Department and overseeing federal courts for wondering why.
Trump now boasts that he’s been harder on Russia than any previous president, but we’re old enough to remember Reagan’s victory over the Soviet Union way back in the Cold War, and have read enough history to know that President Theodore Roosevelt won the first Nobel Peace Prize by negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War that acknowledged Russian had gotten its ass kicked, and we conclude that Trump’s claims for superior toughness do not much impress. Extra sanctions have indeed been imposed on Russia since Trump’s inauguration, but that’s only because bipartisan and veto-proof majorities in both chamber of Congress have insisted on, and the Trump administration has been slow to execute them, and recently the administration’s Secretary of the Treasury has has struggled to explain why a Russian oligarch who figures in the “Russia thing” has been given an exemption from the sanctions.
That was only Trump’s campaign manager whose lawyers have inadvertently admitted he handed over polling data to the Russkie’s disinformation efforts, and not Trump himself, and with the guy already in prison for probably the rest of life that will probably we expect he’ll take all the blame for that on all the talk radio shows. Even so, it looks bad.
The part about Trump keeping his conversations with the Russian dictator private even from his top advisors is his even harder to explain. There’s always the possibility that Trump’s Russophile foreign policy was an ingeniously conceived plan to make America great again, and thus he had to keep it secret from the “deep state” conspirators arrayed against him, as his exquisitely educated gut tells him more than any of the brains of the very best people he’d appointed to advise him, but we’d still like to have some public record of what Trump said to that Russian dictator. As for now, we and the foreign policy establishment and a majority of the public will assume the worst.
Meanwhile, that record-setting partial government shutdown doesn’t seem to be polling well for Trump, and a troublesome number of congressional Republicans are abandoning ship, and his last ditch option of declaring a national emergency to usurp the constitutional order of the newly-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to appropriate funds for his campaign promise of a border wall probably won’t poll well. More sensible Republicans such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have argued that the next inevitable Democratic president could just as easily declare a national emergency about climate change to get all sorts of crazy liberal environmental regulations imposed, or after the next inevitable mass shooting at a school or shopping mall impose all sorts of crazy liberal gun rights restrictions.
The last time a president’s national emergency powers were challenged in the Supreme Court was when President Harry Truman tried to end a steelworkers’ strike during the Korean War, and even though all of the Supreme Court justices had been appointed by either President Franklin Roosevelt or Truman he lost that case by a 9-to-zero decision. Trump doesn’t have a war or any other extenuating circumstances to bolster his case, as Truman did, and he’s got both liberals and Federalist Society types of conservatives to persuade, so we don’t expect he’ll fare any better. Trump promised his die-hard fans they would grow weary on winning so much, but for now he seems to be losing on every front.

— Bud Norman

The Character Question, Asked Again

Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will be sworn in as Utah’s junior Senator today, but he made a conspicuous early start to his tenure yesterday with an op-ed piece in The Washington Post criticizing the honesty and moral character of President Donald Trump. Needless to say, much was said about it.
We couldn’t find a single word to disagree with, and we note that nobody was vouching for Trump’s honesty and moral character, but a lot of Republicans were nonetheless offended by Romney’s op-ed. By now there’s no point denying that Trump has boastfully cheated on has firsts two wives and paid off a porn star and a Playboy playmate to cover up his infidelities against the third, cheated on his taxes and bragged to a national television audience “that makes me smart,” and cheated his investors and contractors and employees and boasted it was “the art of deal,” and it is well documented that he says several things every single day that are obviously untrue, so Trump’s defenders instead offered the familiar arguments why it doesn’t matter.
All politicians lie, so why should Trump be held to the stringent standards of veracity that Republicans insist on during Democratic administrations? Several past Democratic presidents have had their sexual peccadillos, played fast and loose with the tax code and campaign finance laws, been involved in various shady dealings, and got away with it, so it’s only fair Trump be similarly indulged. Trump might be a pussy-grabbing vulgarian with a bully boy style of taunting “tweets” and schoolyard nicknames rather than making reasoned arguments with his political opponents, but that’s how he kept “Crooked” Hillary Clinton from becoming president, and that’s what matters. Romney is remarkably honest by politician standards, by all accounts a perfect gentleman in any estimation, and even his opponents on both the left and right acknowledge that whatever their disagreements he has well-researched and well-reasoned and well-spoken opinions on the issues of the day, and what good did that do the Republican Party when he ran against Obama?
Romney acknowledged that several policies Trump has pursued are soundly conservative and so far successful, as we have begrudgingly done, and there’s no denying that awful Clinton woman would have picked worse Supreme Court nominees, so for most Republicans these days that’s ample reason we should just shut up and let Trump be Trump. We have no intention of doing so, however, and are heartened to see that Romney is similarly stubborn.
Even in the age of Trump facts are still facts, character still counts, and both still determine the outcome of events in a constitutional republic. Trump’s preference for “alternative facts” and bully boy style and simultaneous insecurity and megalomania and myriad other character flaws are also driving some very un-conservative and unsound policies in foreign relations, make it difficult for him to negotiate any artful deals on the domestic front, or even to fill a cabinet with well-credentialed appointees, and we won’t be surprised if they also result in some criminal indictments in the coming months.
Trump naturally derided Romney as a goody two shoes sort of loser, and suggested he become more a “team player,” and his talk radio defenders were accusing any remaining Republicans who still think character counts of “virtue-signaling.” We don’t see the virtue in tolerating vice, however, and we’ve long noticed that sometimes a team needs to question its leadership if it wants to have a winning season. There’s a Democratic majority to be sworn into House of Representatives today, the razor-slim Republican majority sworn into the Senate will includes one more Senator willing to defy the president on matters of policy and principle, and the stock markets and geopolitical situation and the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” will go on. Trump’s character will eventually matter, even to him.

— Bud Norman

A Very Happy New Year’s Eve, to Whatever Extent Possible

The calendar on our computer screen says that today is the last year of 2018, and as hard as it is to believe we assume that’s true. Although it’s been a long and and hard slog through the past 12 months, the years still somehow seem to pass more quickly the older we get.
Longstanding journalistic traditions dictate that our New Year’s Eve essay be either a look back and the year that’s ending, or a look ahead to the year to come, but on this frigid Kansas night we can’t quite muster the energy for either desultory chore.
In keeping with our own recent tradition we’ll once again joke that we’re hesitant to look back on the past year for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, an Old Testament allusion our more modern readers might not get, and this year the joke seems more apt than ever. We’re talking about 12 long months of President Donald Trump and the damned Democrats, after all, and all those screwy other countries and the business world and the broader popular culture and our own personal lives added little to savor. The obituaries were more brutal than usual, too.
The annus horribilis of 2018 saw the the passing of First Lady Barbara Bush and President George H.W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain, and we also sensed the passing of a more family values and war heroic and fact-based era of the Republican party. When the novelist and journalist and essayist Tom Wolfe died we failed to think of a new favorite living writer, and when the Middle Eastern expert Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton and triumphant-in-the-Cold-War Russian expert Richard Pipes of Harvard we knew there was no replacement, and the death of the imminent columnist Charles Krauthammer left the intellectual ranks of an increasingly anti-intellectual conservative movement seemed at least as severely depleted.
The ranks of the American popular culture that used to provide succor from politics were similarly depleted. The fleet-fingered guitar-and-banjo-picker and all-around country-and-western music entertainer Roy Clark died, so did the elegantly incisive and hilariously New York City Jewish novelist Philip Roth, as well as the long under appreciated television sit-com actress and big-time movie director and idiosyncratic sexpot Penny Marshall, and William Goldman, the guy who wrote the screenplay for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” as well as Stan Lee, the guy who invented “Spiderman” and a bunch of other still-hot comic book super heroes we remember from our comic book-reading youths. Judging by what we occasionally hear on the radio or see on television or watch on the internet or read from the last offerings from the bestseller lists, we don’t find any sufficient replacements standing at the ready.
Those far more hip and up-to-date folks at The Washington Post filled some space on a slow news day with a traditional list of what’s “in” and what’s “out” in the coming year, and we must admit we can’t make neither hide nor hair of it, as we still sometimes say here in Kansas. Out here in Kansas we hadn’t noticed most of what was apparently “in” in 2018, much less noticed that it’s soon to be “out,” and as of now we’re only vaguely familiar with what’s about to the “in.” It seems that the Marvel comic books’ superhero Captain Marvel is due to supplant D.C. Comics’ Captain America as the “in” superhero at your local cinema, and certain celebrities we’ve never hard are will surpass some other celebrities we’e never heard of, and so far none of them seem half so entertaining as the recently deceased Ken Berry, the minor sit-com star who memorably pratfall-ed his way through the short-lived but still-hilarious “F Troop” way back in the ’60s.
On the political front, we don’t need the more hip and up-to-date fellows at The Washington Post to tell us it’s going to a long slog through 2019. Trump won’t budge on his campaign promise from way back in 2016 to build a big beautiful border wall, the upcoming Democratic majority soon to be installed after a landslide mid-term election won’t give him a penny for it, and a partial government shutdown will probably dominate at least the first few days or weeks or months of the new year. Political gridlock will probably prevent anything else from getting done legislatively, that pesky special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” will persist, so we’ll hold out hope that the free market economy and longstanding governmental institutions that have somehow so far survived both Presidents Barack Obama and Trump will continue to prevail.
In the meantime we’ll focus on making our personal lives go somewhat better in the coming year, and urge you to do the same, as we can’t do much about the rest of it.  No matter how it works out over the next 12 months, have a most merry New Year’s Eve.

— Bud Norman

An Early Start on Thanksgiving

A dear old friend treated us to a Coors and some chicken tenders at one of the rough and tumble Delano district’s swankest joints on Tuesday, which led to a chance encounter with an entire family of old and dear friends, which led to one of the family’s talented musicians participating in a fine jazz concert at a cigar bar over in the Old Town district, where we had another Coors, and with Thanksgiving coming up we arrived home in too good a mood to give the day’s news more than a cursory glance at the news.
There was plenty of it, of course, and as usual much of the news provided plenty of opportunity for grumpy old Never-Trumpers such as ourselves to bash President Donald Trump. The stock markets had another dreadful day, and although that’s not necessarily Trump’s fault it leaves him with nothing to brag about. There was yet another embarrassing story about the apparent con man Trump has at least temporarily appointed to run the Justice Department, apparently to stymy the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.” According to a report in The Washington Post senior White House advisor and First Daughter Ivanka Trump has reportedly used a private e-mail server to conduct government business, which is at least somewhat similar to what led to all those “lock her up” chants about Democratic presidential nominee at Trump’s still-ongoing campaign rallies. According to another report in The New York Times, Trump did try his best to have Clinton locked up, which strikes us as a pretty damned banana republic kind of thing to do. He also once again dismissed the conclusions of the nation’s intelligence communities and accepted the assurances of a friendly dictator, n this case making it clear that America would let the Saudi Arabian dictator get away with the murder of a legal American resident.
As tempting as it was to pile on, we decided to give it all just that brief sneering mention. Better for now to warm ourselves in the soothing flames of family and friends, and embrace the holiday spirit of thanksgiving and glad tidings to all men and the dawn a brand new and unsullied year that make the cold and darkness grayness almost tolerable. Besides, those damned Democrats will have a majority in the House of Representatives installed in early January, and we expect that all of their nosy investigative committees will eventually make sufficient hay out of all the scandals.
We’ll even go so far as to acknowledge that Trump handled the nation’s endearingly weird longstanding tradition of the annual “turkey pardon” ceremony quite well, and note that even The Washington Post agreed, despite the snarky headline. This year’s updated “turkey pardon” decided which of two turkeys would be spared the Thanksgiving dinner ax by an internet vote on the White House web site, and Trump couldn’t resist a couple of jokes about the loser demanding endless recounts, and obvious allusion to the Florida and Georgia midterms, but everyone agreed it was it uncharacteristically good natured. Should Trump decide to go with the folksy nice-guy shtick instead of his usual “lock her up” tough-guy persona we expect his poll numbers would improve, no matter what direction the stock market indices might go, but no amount of holiday cheer can make us hopeful about that.
Even so, we’ll try to pay less attention to the news today and tomorrow, and be thankful to God for family and friends and an abiding faith in the endearingly weird traditions and institutions that have made and thus far kept America great. Friday’s forecast calls for another cold and dark and possibly snowy day in this atypically cold and snowy autumn we’re having around here, and by then we’ll be recovering from a Thanksgiving Day’s L-triptothan hangover and get back to brooding about the latest news, but until then we’ll wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving for all the good stuff.

— Bud Norman

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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

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