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The Avoidable and Inevitable Stock Market Swoon

Monday was another down day on Wall Street, and so far as we can tell there are several reasons for the recent stock market swoons. Part of it just the usual economics, but so far as we can tell the worst of it is some unusually stupid politics.
The seemingly biggest reason is that the Chinese have predictably imposed steep tariffs on many American products in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s unilaterally imposed tariffs on many Chinese products, and it seems a trade war has begun. At the same time, though, Trump is also waging war on some major American businesses, another heavy hitter has come under congressional scrutiny, and the usual economic disruptions are at play.
Trump has “tweeted” that “trade wars are good and easily won,” but the smart money on Wall Street and most sane observers elsewhere strenuously disagree. Trump has also retreated from some of his “tweeted” threats, which has always prompted stock markets rallies, but then he “tweets” another threat, such global economic powers as the European and Union and our neighbors to the north and sound issue retaliatory threats and the stock markets once again swoon. If the cycle continues until the rest of the world meekly accedes to Trump’s demand for American dominance of the global marketplace, we expect it will take a while.
In the meantime, one of the most dynamic sectors of the American economy is facing political problems, which are the worst kind of problems these days. Some of the biggest players in the high-tech industry that keeps coming up with all sorts of world-changing gizmos and gadgets and thingamajigs are now being “tweeted” about and summoned to congressional committees, which is not good for business, and the tech-heavy NASDAQ stock exchange has taken the worst hit lately in the recent downturn.
The on-line retailer Amazon.com has recently surpassed Wal-Mart as the world’s biggest store, and Trump has recently been “tweeting” that it’s a tax cheat which drives Main Street stores out of business and is bankrupting the United States Postal System. Much of that is entirely untrue and the rest quite debatable, but it’s been an undeniable drag on the drag on the company’s stock price, and given its enormous size there’s a big drag on the overall averages. For now there’s not much Trump can do about Amazon or its owner’s other notable property, The Washington Post, other “tweet” about it, what with those pesky constitutional prohibitions against bills of attainder and infringements of freedom of the press, but at least Trump is inflicting quantifiable financial pain on his even-richer nemesis.
The on-line social media giant Facebook has its own similar political problems, but for very different reasons. A web site that became extraordinarily profitable and powerful by allowing people to share videos of their cats and cell phone pictures of the taco they were about to eat and whatever else they had on their minds also wound up disseminating political propaganda from Russian-based “troll farms” through a firm tied to the Trump campaign during the last presidential election, and the resulting headlines have not been good for the company’s once red-hot stock price. All the propaganda was apparently pro-Trump, so Trump hasn’t “tweeted” anything about it, but the Democrats on those pesky congressional investigative committees have at least managed to inflict some quantifiable financial pain of their own. Facebook ended Monday down 16 percent from its recent high, and given its outsized influence that also accounted for much of that broader decline.
The computer chip-making giant Intel also took a huge on news that Apple Computers, another outsized company tech-sector and one of Intel’s biggest customers, is considering making its own computer chips. That’s the sort of business page news you’d expect on any day in the fast-moving and nerve-wrackingly dynamic high tech sector, though, and we’re the sort of red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists and old-fashioned Republicans who are content to let the marketplace sort that out. As much as we love that old corner store that Mom and Pop once built out of brick and mortar, we equally hate bills of attainder and infringements on a free press, and we’ll let Amazon do whatever the state legislatures and the marketplace allows it do, and we’ll stay on Facebook just to keep apprised about which of our friends have recently divorced, so as to avoid any awkward comments.
Although we’re rapidly growing too old for such economic disruptions, we’ve long since learned to accept them as part of the ebb and flow toward something like progress. As rock-ribbed Republicans and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists we’ve long believed that all those sorry-assed consumers at the pay line could choose more wisely than the politicians, and we still resent those darned Democrats for presuming to make better picks of the winners and losers.
Nowadays, though, that seems to make us “Republicans in Name Only” or “cuckservatives” or “globalists,” as both parties have chosen their winners and losers. Steel and aluminum companies seem a good stock bet at the moment, but car makers and beer brewers and any other industries that use steel or aluminum look risky. If you have a stake in any of the several industries China is now slapping tariffs on, you might want to talk to your financial advisor about that. The Democrats can try to deprive all the social media-addled youth of Facebook, but we’d advise them that most of the political content from our friends is annoyingly liberal.
Oddly enough, yet another reason for the current nervousness on Wall Street is that the unemployment rate is currently low by historical standards and the overall economy seems to be doing well, so there’s the ever-present danger that the Federal Reserve Board will raise interest on loans past the virtually free-money rates that have sustained the whole enterprise since that last big crash. Such adjustments are another one of those disquieting disruptions we’ve learned to accept, but otherwise we’d prefer politics just stay out of it.

— Bud Norman

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Swimming Against the Mighty Amazon

The anti-capitalists on the left have always railed against the biggest retail sales giant of the moment. Back in the prairie populist days they warned that the Sears & Roebuck catalogue would destroy all local commerce, and by the early 20th Century it was the A&P grocery store chain that threatened to rule us all with a monopolistic fist. Until recently the scary corporate villain was the Wal-Mart discount store chain, but they’ve lately been usurped in both sales totals and political notoriety by the on-line retail giant called Amazon.
This time around, though, it’s putatively Republican and unabashedly capitalist President Donald Trump who’s leading the boos and hisses. Trump has frequently criticized Amazon, and he did so again on Thursday with yet another “tweet.”
“I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election,” Trump wrote. “Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state or local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous cost to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!”
Putting aside our usual complaints with the usual arbitrary capitalizations and use of parenthesis and that always annoying exclamation point, pretty much every word of it is embarrassing economic illiteracy and pure balderdash. Even worse, we’d say than what the left has always peddled.
In actual fact, rather than alternative fact, Amazon does indeed collect and then pass along sales taxes on items sent to the 45 states and many localities that have decided to require it by law. The other five states apparently have their own reasons for not requiring it, probably either purely ideological or brazenly corrupt, but we figure that’s their business, and Trump is in no moral position to criticize Amazon for not paying a penny more in taxes than is most strictly required.
Amazon does indeed use America’s postal system as one of its “Delivery Boys,” but so do all the rest of us who have sent a letter or utility bill payment or greeting card or Christmas package through the postal system. This is what the postal system does, after all, and it will take one hell of a “tweet” to explain how having the country’s biggest retailer as a client is bad for business. We can well believe that Amazon has negotiated a favorable deal with its delivery boy’s biggest client, but every analysis we’ve read suggests the delivery boy should be glad for the business in these days of on-line communications, and once again Trump is in no moral position to criticize their artful dealings.
There’s no doubt that Amazon will drive at least a few thousand Main Street brick-and-mortar retailers out of business, just as Sears & Roebuck and the A&P and Wal-Mart undoubtedly did, but the Republicans and the right in general used to chalk that up to the “creative destruction” of capitalism. The much-railed-against railroads delivered delivered Sears & Roebuck catalog’s low-priced items to people across the rural areas, including all the guitars used on all the great country and blues recordings of the time, and it worked out pretty well. The A&P chain did well because it used its market share to negotiate good deals with the wholesalers and then passed the discount along to its consumers, and more recently Wal-Mart has found itself in a position to negotiate profitable deals the likes of China and pass along the everyday savings to their grateful and often obese customers.
In every case, it all proved relatively momentary and nobody wound up ruling the world. These days nobody’s afraid of the big, bad Sears & Roebuck catalogue, the last of the far-flung rural A&P grocery stores went under three years ago, and Amazon has now passed Wal-Mart both in sales and as the leading target of the traditional left and the newfangled right.
Amazon is already using drones as an occasional delivery boy, which can’t be good for the postal system’s negotiating position, and there’s no telling what they’ll come up with next. Whatever Buck Rogers gizmo they come up with, though, we’re sure that some kid in some garage somewhere on the fruited plains is on the verge of something that will overtake Amazon in sales and villainy and low, low prices to the consumer. Perhaps it’ll be one of those “Star Trek” gizmos that immediately transmits whatever your desire and whatever your credit card will allow.
It’s not that we’ll regard it as a grand and glorious day. We’re the old-fashioned sort of Main Street Republicans who still nostalgically long for that ol’ corner store — if you’ve got a few moments to spare, our friend Jonathan Richman put it especially well — and we still resent almost everything from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue to the A&P to Wal-Mart to that newfangled Amazon thingamajig. There’s something tactile and human about brick-and-mortar and face-to-face commercial interactions, and we’d hate to see it go, but we don’t worry that any kid in any garage will soon match that.
Still, we’ll be rooting for Amazon over Trump in their momentary battle for rule over the world. Amazon has ever done us any wrong, as we’ve had nothing to do with them except for their publication of our e-novel “This Town Is Nowhere,” and at this point we have more complaints with Trump. We can’t help suspecting that part of Trump’s crusade against Amazon is because it’s owner, Jeff Bezos, is provably far richer than Trump claims to be, because Trump really is that petty. Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post, a nationaly-read newspaper that daily publishes news stories Trump would rather not hear, and that seems to have something more to do with this feud.
We don’t care much about Sears & Roebuck or the late A&P or Wal-Mart or the currently almighty Amazon, or whatever comes next, as we do little business with any of them, but the freedom of the press is dear to our heart. So is the constitutional prohibition of bills of attainder, which has long prevented the government from acting against any specific person or specific group of persons, and we don’t worry that Trump will wind up ruling the world.

— Bud Norman

The Press Strikes Back

Say what you want about The Washington Post, that hated embodiment of the establishment press, but they won their latest battle with their anti-establishment critics in a rout. Despite our frequent criticisms of the newspaper, something in our Republican souls relished the victory.
One of the unfortunate features of this moment in American history is the average person’s tendency to dismiss any story he doesn’t want to hear as “fake news.” It’s an old and bipartisan problem, but lately it seems more problematic among too many of our fellow Republicans. President Donald Trump didn’t create the problem, nor did he coin the phase “fake news,” as he improbably claims to have done, but he and his most die-hard apologists have been eager to exploit it.
To hear Trump and his die-hard apologists tell it, anything you might read in The New York Times or The Washington Post or almost any newspaper or magazine, or anything you might hear on any broadcast network other than Fox News or the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh radio shows, can be dismissed as purely fabricated propaganda. To hear the more die-hard apologists tell it, they’re doing it at the behest of a cabal of “deep state” “globalist” “elites” and other “establishment” types who seek to oppress all the real Americans, and the president himself has repeatedly refuted any stories he doesn’t want to hear calling them “fake news.”
There are valid criticisms of the press coverage Trump has received, and God and the internet archives know we’ve also done our own share of media criticism over the past years, but far too many of those “fake news” stories have lately been corroborated by sworn testimony before congressional committees and a special counsel investigation, or been backed up by court documents or other official records, or acknowledged after the release of audiotape and videotape evidence, to dismiss them all as purely fabricated propaganda. The right-wing radio hosts like to sneer about the “The Washington Compost,” but it has lately had a far better record for accuracy than Trump’s “tweets” or his AM band apologists.
Which brings us back to the Post’s latest win by a rout. The story starts with that special senatorial election down in Alabama, where Republican candidate and self-proclaimed champion of Christian values Roy Moore was heavily favored until the Post ran a story about three women who claimed Moore had pursued them when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney and they were teenagers, with of them claiming he molested her when she was 14 years old. All three women gave their names, the paper had dozens of unnamed women who recalled the women giving the same accounts contemporaneously, another six women came forward to various media on the record with a slew of unnamed women recalling the same contemporaneous accounts, and other media found mall employees and district attorney’s office workers who recalled Moore’s reputation for liking them young.
Following Trump’s successful playbook Moore as his dismissed it all as “fake news” and assailing the liberal reputation of The Washington Post, and although the race has clearly tightened the wildly disparate polls suggest it just might work down in Alabama. Elsewhere it doesn’t seem to be playing as well, so an anti-establishment media outfit calling itself Project Veritas set out to discredit the post with one of its sting operations.
If you’ve not been following the anti-establishment media over the past many years, Project Veritas is a small but well-funded group that prides itself on such guerrilla tactics as ambush interviews and undercover hidden camera investigations of left-wing foes. They made quite a splash with their widely-disseminated video of a white actor posing hilariously as an inner-city pimp to seek help starting his prostitution at a notoriously left-wing community organizing scam, which led to the scam losing its congressional funding and at long last going away, so although Project Veritas wound up paying a six-figure settlement due to some admitted selective editing they were widely hailed as conservative champions.
Since then Project Veritas has pretty much proved a bust. The guy who runs the outfit wound up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for his attempt to bug a congressman’s office, over some controversy of the moment we can’t recall, and since then his biggest hit was a non-viral video of himself crossing the Rio Grande dressed as Osama bin Laden, and after that his latest failure was some video of some Cable News Network workers saying they don’t agree with everything their employers do. Hoping to regain his anti-establishment mojo, he apparently hired a woman to tell The Washington Post that Moore had an affair with her when she was 15 years and persuaded her to abort the ensuing love child. Had the Post fallen for the scam it would have been humiliating, and a grand route for Project Veritas, but it didn’t work out that way.
We can vouch that the reporters at any old mainstream paper, such as the double-A and triple-A ones we long toiled for, are mostly damned liberals, but there and especially at such major league papers as The Washington Post they’re not damned fools and they know it’s not good business in the long run to purely fabricate propaganda, so of course they checked out their sources. In this case the amateurish if well-funded scam quickly fell apart, with the undercover operative caught on embarrassing videotape and the guy who runs Project Veritas being surprised by a videotaped interview and winding up telling his donors that he got caught and therefore needs their money all the more. All those stories in the Post and elsewhere about Moore’s proclivities for teenaged girls as a 30-something prosecutor seemed all the more believable, too.
There are reports that Trump is lately telling friends that the embarrassing “Access Hollywood” tape he once acknowledged and even apologized for is fake, and that even after saying that “Barack Obama was born in the States, period” he still has doubts about it, and he’s still insisting he was robbed of the popular vote by millions of illegally-cast ballots even as the commission he assigned to prove it is falling apart, and he’s “tweeting” links to to the magapill.com website that provides the real news about all his accomplishments and all the nefarious and far-fetched conspiracies trying to thwart them.
We still have no affinity for the Post’s undeniable liberalism, but at this point we’re no fonder of Trump or Moore or a a disturbing portion of our Republican party, and by now our only rooting interest is in the truth. On matters ranging from the growing nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula to the whole “Russia thing” to the ongoing problem of how some men treat women, we expect the truth will be a story that none of us will want to hear, but we’ll gird ourselves and hope the truth somehow wins out at the end of this dreary story.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Back in Ol’ Alabam

That Southern Gothic novel of an Alabama special election race was weird enough from the outset, then got weirder yet with the The Washington Post’s bombshell account of four women credibly alleging that the Republican nominee had creepy to downright criminal relationships with teenaged girls while he was a 30-something district attorney, and got still weirder on Monday with another middle-aged woman coming forward to allege that the then district attorney and now Republican Senatorial nominee had attempted to rape her when she was a 16-year-old high school and part-time waitress at a local diner.
Given that Republican nominee Roy Moore is running on his long cultivated reputation as a staunch defender of the Christian faith, bolstered by the two times he was removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying federal decisions he regarded as a violation of God’s law, that’s a problem for both Moore and the Republican Party writ large. Given the general craziness of the entirety of the country’s politics there’s still a chance the Republicans might come out more or less unscathed, but at this point it’s hard to see how the state of Alabama and the rest of the country aren’t diminished by the whole affair.
Moore’s strident views on defying federal court orders o Old Testament grounds and criminalizing homosexuality and how the terror attacks on on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the perhaps even the Capitol were God’s just retributions for America’s sins were already hard hard to defend on New Testament and old-fashioned Republican grounds. That bombshell Washington Post report seemed well nailed-down with four named Alabama who did not know one another and had no apparent political axe to grind, with documentary evidence backing up what can be backed up about all four women’s claims, and the fifth woman who’s come out on her own has a signed high school year book to dispute Moore’s claim he never met and also seems quite credible. Moore and his die-hard supporters can blame the first four accusations on The Washington Post and it’s establishment allies, but the paper had nothing to do with the fifth accuser coming forward on her own, and Moore’s interviews with far more friendly media have basically admitted that he did take an interest in teenaged girls as a 30-something prosector.
The suspiciously left-of-center Cable News Network has video testimony of a woman who also worked in the district attorney’s office around the same time saying it was well-known Moore’s was hanging out at shopping malls and high school football games n search of teenaged girls, while Moore has plenty of supporters saying so what if he did. By now most of the Republican establishment are bailing on Moore, with the Senate’s Republican majority leader going from saying that Moore should drop out if the allegations are true to saying he should simply drop out, and the past two Republican nominees for president saying the same thing even earlier on, the putatiive Republican president with his own lecherous reputation to deal with is so for staying out of it during his convenient Asian tour, and it looks like Moore will have to hold off a sudden and unexpected Democrat challenge without without any of the national Republican party’s much-needed money or expertise.
None of which will make much difference down in Alabama, where the Republicans hate that damned Republican establishment almost as much as they hate the damned Democrats, and would sooner vote for a damned child molester, and although it’s not likely to play well elsewhere we have to admit that’s the state of our formerly beloved Republican party writ large. If Moore loses it’s a gloating headline for all the the Democrats about a win in staunchly Republican state, but if he wins it wins it will surely generate three years of embarrassing headlines for his term. There will be plenty of embarrassing sex scandals for the Democrats over that time, to be sure, but having Moore among the Republican senators won’t make that any easier to exploit.
At this point the Republicans’ best bet seems to be having former Alabama senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions retire from his post and announce himself as a write-in candidate for his old seat, which just might hold the seat and have the added benefit of allowing Trump to appoint an Attorney General who hasn’t recused himself from interfering with that pesky investigation of the whole “Russia thing,” but by that seems a long shot. A Republican write-in candidacy would only prevail if Moore bowed out gracefully, which doesn’t seem likely, given the cantankerous nature his admirers so much admire, and even if it did happen any further attempts to impede that rapidly developing case about the “Russia thing” would only bolster the growing case about obstruction of justice.
As always there are plenty of Democratic scandals that still deserve public opprobrium, and we wish the conservative media still defending Moore plenty of luck in pointing that out, but by now we count ourselves among the rest of us and none of it seems to do us any good. We’ll stick with those citizens still defending some standard of decent behavior, and wish them the very best of luck.

— Bud Norman

Moore Is Less in Alabama

Alabama’s special Senatorial election was already crazy enough, but it got even crazier on Thursday with a Washington Post report that Republican nominee Roy Moore is accused of molesting  a 14-year-old girl when he was a 32-year-old prosecutor and pursuing relationships with three other girls aged 15 and 16 around the same time. Given that Moore is running on his long-cultivated reputation as a champion of Christian values, it’s especially incendiary stuff.
Moore unequivocally denies the allegations, and is as entitled to a presumption of innocence as any citizen, but the four now middle-aged women who are publicly making the charges are just as entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and the rules that prevail in the court of public are very different from the ones imposed in a court of law. Most of the callers to the talk radio shows and the commenters on the conservative web sites seem to have instinctively reached their verdicts immediately upon hearing the widely-disseminated news, the late night comics and all but one of the cable news channels and everyone of the leftward side of media did the same, and as if it weren’t crazy enough America’s politics went crazier yet.
If you haven’t been following this classic Southern Gothic novel from the beginning, the Alabama special Senatorial election has been weird from the get-go. In the first place they’re holding an election in December on an odd-numbered year because longtime Sen. Jeff Sessions had vacated his seat to become President Donald Trump’s Attorney General, which has since spun into too many fascinating sub-plots in the broader political reality show to recount here. Sessions was temporarily replaced by a fellow named Luther Strange, who as appointed to the position by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who a short time later was forced to resign after pleading guilty to lying about an extramarital affair.
Alabama Republicans were appalled by Bentley’s betrayal of his wife and the Christian values he had campaigned on, so of course they held it against Strange. Strange voted consistently with the Republican caucus, just as Sessions had done, but he won the endorsement of the Senate majority, so Alabama Republicans further resented him for being an establishment sell-out. A crowded field of primary challengers included an unabashed low-tax and lean-government conservative named Mo Brooks that all the talk radio show hosts and what’s left of the “tea party” loved, but Trump disappointed them all by endorsing Strange, and then Trump disappointed Strange when his big rally speech turned out to be all about Trump with a few tepid mentions thrown in, and a solid plurality of Alabama Republicans wound choosing Moore and his full-throated and defiant campaign for Christian values.
Moore was once removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying a federal court order to move a Ten Commandments monument he’d installed on public grounds, and a second time for defying the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriages, and the Republicans in the state largely loved him for that. Moore is also on the record that homosexuality should be illegal, and he’s never ruled out the possibility of the death penalty, and he’s by far the most out-the-closet theocrat we can ever recall being a likely Senator of the United States, but most Alabama Republicans seem comfortable with that as well. He was also found to have been taking a sizable salary and other filthily lucrative benefits from the Foundation for Moral Law that he’d claimed to have been selflessly serving without compensation, but his poll numbers survived that.
Allegations of 32-year-old prosecutor molesting a 14-year-old girl are surely another matter for any God-fearing Alabama Republican, but so far most of them seem to be sticking to their man. They don’t believe anything they might from hear from what all the talk radio shows call “The Washington Compost,” even if the socialist rag does have four named women on the record and another named woman and some 20 other unnamed women who will verify that their accounts match what they were told by the accusers at the time, because they do believe that all sorts of nefarious folks are out to get such God-fearing Republicans as Moore and themselves,
That’s not entirely untrue, of course and alas, but from our seat on the bench in the pox-on-both-their-houses sidelines of today’s politics there’s something about the Washington Post’s accounts that rings true. Far too many of the paper’s “fake news” stories have been later verified by sworn testimony and other incontrovertible evidence to summarily dismiss its reports, and the one about Moore strikes our veteran eyes as especially well-sourced. The story about Moore later luring the 14-year-old to his rural home and removing her outer clothing begins with him approaching the girl and her mother outside a domestic court room where the mother was about to testify in a divorce hearing, then offering to keep watch out for the girl rather than have her hear the likely hurtful testimony, and the paper has the documentation of the event and the fact that Moore was a 32-year-old prosecutor working in the building at the time.
Pretty much everything that can be corroborated about the other three women’s accounts of Moore’s advances also checks out, including the more than two dozen women who vividly recall hearing same story all those years ago, but there’s no way to corroborate what can’t be checked and Moore is denying it all and is entitled as any other citizen to a presumption of innocence in a court of law. In the court of public opinion we’re all entitled to reach our own conclusions about anyone’s character, and so far a lot of Republicans are sticking with their man and sticking it to any Republicans who might have doubts about it.
So far we’re hearing from the talk radio callers and the internet commentators that The Washington Compost probably made these women up, and that if even if they do exist they’re probably some hairy-legged feminists out to get Trump and Moore and other God-fearing Republicans such as themselves, but by now countless media have confirmed these women’s existence and at least three of these seemingly very typical Alabama girls are telling them they’re still supporters of Trump. Some God-fearing Alabama Republicans and self-described conservatives elsewhere are already taking the fallback position that it was a long time ago and nobody’s alleging that anybody went all the way and that the 16-year-old was at least at the age of consent in Alabama, and some have even reached for absurd Biblical excuses. Unless you fully believe Moore’s categorical denial the alleged behavior, and are willing to categorically dismiss the claims four of middle-aged Alabama women who are staking their reputation among the Alabama Republicans they live with and love, and have no apparent reason to risk those reputations on a lie, any other excuse will will be hard to square with Moore’s image as a champion of Christian values.
As much as we believe in the Ten Commandments on a spiritual level, and as much as we despise that Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage on strict constitutionalist grounds, we always found Moore’s defiant stand on both issues more self-aggrandizing than self-sacrificng. We have Old Testament beliefs about sexual morality but New Testament notions about hating the sing but loving the sinner and it’s brought an abundance of homosexual friends, so we also never went along with that “lock ’em up” stuff can’t imagine anyone throwing the first stone. Something about the guy reminded of of the scripture’s warnings about “the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others,” and the other parts about rendering unto Caesar and obeying civil authorities, and given that Jesus Himself assured Pilate that He had not come to establish His kingdom on Earth we found Moore’s claims that he could pull it off to be a bit both blow-hardy and blasphemous.
What’s left of Alabama’s Democratic Party went and nominated itself a white guy who’s got the career resume you’d expect of Senate candidate and is clean-cut and never claimed to a champion of Christian values even if you did come up with some long-ago dirt on him, but he’s also an abortion rights absolutist right up to the minutes before birth. This is yet another matter for a God-fearing Alabama Republican, and since none of the sex acts that Moore stands accused of were potentially procreative that might carry him to the Senate. At this point there’s little chance of replacing Moore as the Republican nominee on the ballot, and even if he bowed out of the chances of winning a write-in campaign for the hated Strange or the third-place challenger Brooks or any Republican alternative would be iffy even in Alabama.
If the Republicans do win in Alabama it could it hurt it chances elsewhere. Ever since the Reagan days Democrats have run scare ads about the Christian right imposing a theocracy that stones homosexuals and denies abortion even in life-of-the-mother situations, and for the first time they’ll have an elected Republican Senator to make it sound undeniably plausible. Several high-ranking congressional suggested that Moore should pull out of the race if the allegations were true, and within minutes the talk show lines and internet message boards were lit up about the damned establishment bailing betraying the one true faith once again, which seems to suggest that much of the Republican party doesn’t much care even if the allegations are true.
We’re giving those four former Alabama girls who are now middle-aged Alabama women the benefit of the doubt, even as we presume Moore’s innocence, and will leave the rest of to all those Alabama Republicans and Democrats to sort it all out. We don’t see it ending well, though, for Alabamans or any of the rest of us.
— Bud Norman

A Red Herring Twist in the Russia Story

One of the recent revelations about the “Russia” thing is that the Democratic National Committee helped pay for the now famous dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent that alleged President Donald Trump had fishy financial dealings with the Russian government and even fishier dealings with certain other Russians. All the top-rated conservative talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media were giddy about the story, first reported by the oh-so liberal establishment Washington Post, and Trump also claimed vindication, but it doesn’t strike us as much of big deal.
Any thoughtful observer assumed there was some Democratic involvement in the dossier when it first became known, the hippy-dippy but reliably factual Mother Jones magazine first confirmed it a full year ago, and all those top-rated conservative talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media have been telling their audience about it all along. The knowledge hasn’t yet made the “Russia” thing go away, nor the dossier’s numerous allegations about it, and probably won’t now. Recent attempts to turn “Russia” into a Democratic scandal also seem destined for failure.
The highly ethical sensibilities of all those talk radio shows and other Trump-friendly media are deeply offended that the Democrats would stoop so low as to pay for opposition research on a Republican opponent, but this is hypocrisy too obvious for the public at large not to notice. Way back when Donald Trump Jr. was was forced by The New York Times to release an e-mail chain that showed a Russian lawyer explicitly offering the Trump campaign dirt on the Democratic nominee straight from the Russian government, and Trump Jr. agreeing to a meeting with an exclamatory “I love it,” the party line was that politics ain’t bean bag and of course everyone does opposition research.
The president’s defense of his son was that “most people would have taken that meeting,” even if it was a representative of a hostile foreign power offering something of value that campaign laws clearly prohibit campaigns from accepting, so its hard to share his current indignation that the Democrats paid for a British private investigator to snoop around his Russian connections. None of the Trump-hating liberal media seem have to mentioned it yet, but even such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves recall when Trump claimed he had hired a team of private investigators to look into President Barack Obama’s birthplace, and “tweeted” that “they can’t believe what they’re finding.” Trump later declared that “Obama was born in Hawaii, period,” and took credit for at long last putting any scurrilous rumors otherwise to rest, and in his defense we have to admit he probably never did hire any private investigators, but his suddenly puritan views about opposition research still look ridiculous.
The dossier is still largely unsubstantiated, as all the establishment media routinely admit, but by no means discredited, as the Trump-friendly media always describe it, and the fact that the Democrats helped pay for doesn’t change that. Every sort of conservative  has always insisted that just because a study skeptical of climate change was paid for by an energy company or some analysis of tax policy was paid for by rich people doesn’t mean the findings are necessarily valid, and that the data and methodology should be judged on their merits, so we’ll judge the dossier accordingly. So far a few niggling errors have been found, other parts have been corroborated by the media and the intelligence, the more salacious details have largely been ignored except by the gleeful Trump-hating late night comics, who have a collectively far larger audience than all those top-rated conservative talk radio shows, and for now we’re keeping an open mind about all of it.
The year-old Mother Jones scoop and the more ballyhooed report of the past week by The Washington Post both say that the dossier first started with funding from a Republican donor backing one of the many non-Trump candidates in the party primaries, who cut off the money after Trump won the nomination, and the Democrats then pitched in for a while, and after that the British private investigator continued the work on his own because he thought the entire world needed to know what he was finding out. No one on the left or right is disputing any of this, and on the right they’re speculating about which Republican from the hated Republican establishment would do such a thing, with Trump telling reporters that he has his own guesses he might reveal later, and it any case it doesn’t really matter.
Meanwhile the congressional and special counsel investigations into “Russia” continue, the unfriendly-to-Trump media keep coming up with incriminating and convincing stories about something fishy with the “Russia” thing, and we’ll try to continue looking with a open mind at the data and methodology as it all unfolds.

— Bud Norman

The Other Steadily Dripping Flood

The historic and ongoing natural disaster in Texas and Louisiana has flooded almost everything else out of the news, except for a few stray reports about the nutcase regime in North Korea escalating nuclear tensions, so you might not have noticed that the steady drip, drip, drip of leaks about “Russia” is also approaching flood levels.
The past week has provided at least three new plot twists in the ongoing unnatural disaster, none of which are helpful to President Donald Trump. None are the evidence of impeachable offenses that his most strident critics have been hoping, but they all require some creative explaining from his staunchest admirers.
The Washington Post reported that the congressional investigating committees will soon have documentary evidence that in October of 2015 Trump signed a letter of intent for an ambitious skyscraper project in Moscow, which isn’t necessarily illegal but doesn’t look good. Trump was four months into his presidential campaign at the time, running on a strikingly Russia-friendly foreign policy platform and offering unusual praise for the country’s dictator and predicting on “Face the Nation” that “I think I would probably get along with him very well,” while indignantly denying any suspicion that it might be for self-interested reasons. At the time he categorically denied any business dealings with any sorts of Russians, seemed quite offended that anyone would suspect otherwise, so the skyscraper project he was pursuing with the apparent help of a Russian-mob connected associate who kept dropping the Russian dictator’s name in the ensuing e-mail chain might not be illegal but doesn’t look good.
If we know about that letter of intent it’s a safe bet that so does famously dogged special-counsel-into-the-matter Robert Mueller, who apparently already had enough reason to suspect other fishy deals between Russians and people near to Trump to obtain all sorts of extraordinary subpoenas and search warrants, and it’s another interesting plot twist that Politico reports Mueller has lately been working on the case with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The more attentive fans of the long-running Trump reality show might recall Schneiderman as one of the attorneys general who brought a civil case against Trump University, which ended with Trump paying a $25 million settlement but not having to acknowledge the undeniable fact it was pretty much a scam all along, and how Trump had frequently “tweeted” about what a “lightweight” Schneiderman is, so his reintroduction into the plot does not bode well.
There’s widespread press speculation that Mueller brought Schneiderman aboard because a few people who held high levels in the Trump campaign that he clearly regards as criminal suspects can’t get a presidential pardon on state charges, a concern heightened by Trump’s controversial pardon of an Arizona sheriff for seemingly political reasons last week, and that seems reasonable to us. Anyone Trump did preemptively pardon would forfeit a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, though, and Mueller seems to think he has even higher-level fish to fry this in this investigation, so it also seems reasonable that Schneiderman’s longstanding scrutiny of Trump’s New York-based and still wholly-owned business empire has come up with some hard-to-explain evidence of its own.
One of the people near to Trump that Manafort clearly considers a potential criminal suspect is the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has plenty of Russian connections from his lobbying-for-dictators business that he doesn’t even deny, and Mueller has enough reason to suspect Manafort of something or another that he persuaded a federal judge to grant an extraordinary pre-dawn search warrant on Manafort’s home, so of course Manafort was also back in the news. The National Broadcasting Company reported that the notes he took on his smart phone during a meeting he took with the president’s son and son-in-law and a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer and a couple of other fishy Russians, which are now in the hands of those pesky congressional investigations and presumably Mueller, and that they mention the word “donor.” Trump’s most staunch defenders described the meeting as meaningless, and pointed to everyone’s account that Manafort was staring at his smart phone the whole time as proof, but they’d also previously insisted that no one near Trump ever had any sort of meeting with anyone remotely Russian.
It might nor might not have anything to do with all this, but Bloomberg News also reported that Trump’s son-in-law and highest-level advisor Jared Kushner and his family’s still wholly-owned New York-based real estate empire is desperately seeking foreign financial aid to stave off bankruptcy. That happens to the best of families and isn’t illegal, we suppose, but neither does it look good.
Sooner or later the sun will shine down on the good people of Texas and Louisiana, and the hard work of recovery will commence, and we’re hopeful that politics won’t prevent the federal government from doing its part. All the drip, drip, drip from the Korean peninsula to the ongoing investigations in Washington and New York will sooner or later bob up above all the water on the front page, though, and don’t say you weren’t warned.

— Bud Norman

A Pre-Dawn Twist on the Russia Story

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

— Bud Norman

Another Scare from the Korean Peninsula

The nutcase dictatorship of North Korea has been a problem for America since before we were born, but lately it has become scarier than ever. Fox News had a story about the North Koreans recently loading cruise missiles aboard a patrol ship, the Washington Post reported they now have a nuclear missile small and light enough to fit atop the intercontinental ballistics missiles they’ve recently successfully tested, and on Tuesday President Donald Trump responded that “North Korea best not make any more threats” lest it be “met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
That successful ICBM test brought down severe economic sanctions on North Korea from the entirety of the United Nations, and Trump’s rhetoric drew the predictable bipartisan criticisms, but as usual neither seems to care much what the rest of the world thinks. As has been the case since before we were born there are no easy solutions to the problem, but this time around are openly threatening the hard ones. By now we’ve lived through more North Korea scares than we can recall, but this time around seems different.
As discomfiting as Trump’s remarks were, we won’t pile on the bipartisan heap with our usual criticisms. The critics rightly noted that Trump’s characteristically un-parsable language was eerily similar to the apocalyptic hyperbole the North Koreans have long spewed, but the past 50 years of more diplomatic language haven’t prevented this scary moment, so there might be something to to be said for saying things in a way the nutcase North Koreans understand. All through the past 50-plus scary years of both Democratic and Republican administrations America’s clearly understated policy has been that any nuclear attack on our soil will be met with a devastating response, which has thus far worked well enough with far more formidable enemies than the North Koreans, so we won’t object if Trump is merely overstating the same old policy in typically Trumpian fashion.
That ominously-named policy of mutually assured destruction maintained a relative peace in the post-nuclear age because America has has been demonstrably able to make good on the threat, so neither do we mind that Trump is proceeding apace with the previously scheduled war-game exercises with the South Korean democracy and other relatively sane Asian allies and other displays of America’s military might. We’re not sure if the more war-wary and wised-up generals and admirals who surround Trump signed off on that “fire and fury and frankly power” statement, but we’re sure the rest of it wouldn’t be happening without their assent, and we trust that like any soldiers they’re more interested in deterring a war than provoking one.
Which is not to say that Trump’s role in all of this isn’t also a bit discomfiting. His characteristically mangled English leaves some room for doubt about whether that “fire and fury and frankly power” would follow mere threats, and what levels of threat would trigger it, and sometimes there’s something to be said for more diplomatic language. On Tuesday he was “tweeting” that Fox News report full of the anonymously-leaked intelligence sources he usually rails against, seemed to be taking some heed of the Washington Post story with same intelligence agencies whose conclusions about Russian meddling in the past election he has scoffed at, and he wasn’t ready to meet the press and formulate anything at all reassuring. Should the hard solutions become necessary Trump will need bipartisan and widespread public support to pursue them, and so far he’s failed to achieve that. Most of the rest of the world tries to translate his un-parsable English and finds him a bit nutty, too, and that also doesn’t help.
Which is not to say that Trump is nearly as nutty at that nutcase North Korean dictatorship, though, and we hope that both the domestic and international audience will keep in mind that they’re bad guys of this scary moment. Trump’s intrepid if occasionally independent United Nations ambassador did a great job of bringing even the Russians and Chinese on board with the sanctions, and those planned war games exercises might prove an effective bargaining chip in yet another round of negotiations, and for now we can still hope that with the help of all those war-way and wised-up generals his famed real-estate-deal negotiating abilities will suffice to at least kick this radioactive can a bit further down the road toward some sensible solution. We’ll also hope that the nutcase North Korean dictatorship has a few war-wary and wised-up generals of its own, too.

— Bud Norman

The Post and a “Tweet” and a Twist in the Russia Story

Over the weekend there was another big Washington Post scoop, another blast of “tweets” from President Donald Trump, and yet another intriguing twist in the ongoing story about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia.
The Post’s big story was about how President Barack Obama reacted to the intelligence community’s alarmed reports that Russia was meddling in various ways with the American presidential race, all in favor of Trump and by the direct order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and it seems to support an unnamed administration official’s conclusion that “We choked.” Although Obama ordered that “cyber bombs” be planted in Russian computer systems to be set off if needed, and confronted Putin about the matter at an international summit, the article notes that Russia suffered only “largely symbolic” economic sanctions for its attempt to sabotage an American election
Trump has previously expressed doubt about whether Russia did anything at all in the election, saying that the e-mails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and disseminated by Wikileaks could have been the work of anyone from the Chinese to “some guy sitting on his bed who weighs 400 pounds,” but he couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a swipe at Obama. “Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of Nov. 8 about election meddling by Russia,” Trump “tweeted,” adding “Did nothing about it. Why?” Continuing the theme, he later “tweeted” that “Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them, not T!”
Which makes for an interesting twist in the longer-running story, or at least in the way Trump tells it. Instead of continuing to cast doubt on the conclusions of 15 separate intelligence agencies, and the findings of his own Central Intelligence Director, and scoffing at anything at all that runs in The Washington Post or contains anonymous sources, Trump is now outraged that Russia did indeed try to help him get elected and wants the public to direct its outrage at Obama for allowing it to happen. One of the shriller right-wing talk radio hosts we scan across while driving was making essentially the argument a week earlier, and the fans calling in all found it very convincing, but we wonder how it will play with anyone other than Trump’s most loyal supporters or Obama’s most determined critics. It also invites arguments that Trump will have trouble “tweeting” his way through.
The Post’s story was a novella-length opus, so we’re guessing that Trump’s notoriously short attention span didn’t get him to the part where it did a pretty good job of answering the question about why the Obama administration didn’t respond more forcefully. As the reporters document, the intelligence was incomplete about the Russians’ capabilities and what might be provoked, the sanctions imposed after Russia’s violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine and Georgia didn’t leave many more options, and like most Americans Obama incorrectly assumed that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was going to win anyway. We’ve spent the last 10 years criticizing Obama and are as eager to take another swipe at his sorry presidency as anyone, but in this case we can’t think of anything he might have done that would anyone.
As if to further confuse the issue, Trump also “tweeted” that “Obama Administration official said they ‘choked’ when it came to acting on Russian meddling of election. They didn’t want to hurt Hillary?” We’re not at all clear how quashing any effort Russian effort to get Trump elected would have helped Clinton, and we can’t imagine anything that Obama might have done that would have pleased Trump. A White House address warning that the Russians were actively working to elect Trump would surely have been scoffed at by Trump, even with the 15 intelligence agencies all backing it up, and given the suspicious mood of the electorate we doubt that any of Trump’s supporters would have believed a word of it or cared much even if they did. Even now, we suspect most Trump supporters are outraged that Obama let Putin do all those nasty things that Trump previously said he might not have done.
Today’s a new day, and we expect that the White House communications team will be explaining how the “tweets” speak for themselves but don’t necessarily mean what they say. An earlier Trump “tweet” following a Washington Post story about Trump being investigated by a special counsel on possible obstruction of justice charges griped that he was being investigated because he’d fired the Federal Bureau of Investigation director because of a recommendation by the man who was investigating him, which was wildly wrong on several levels, and by the weekend one of his lawyers was on all the shows insisting that Trump was not under investigation by anyone. This is a common post-“tweet” occurrence, and you can between that Mike Huckabee’s daughter or some other spokesperson will be explaining how Trump still doesn’t necessarily believe in that Russian meddling that he was blaming Obama for.
They’ll pretty much have to, because all the questions that reporters might not be allowed to recorded are going to about what the Trump administration is doing about Russia’s meddling in the election. Until The Washington Post provided an opportunity to attack Obama with it Trump had never definitively acknowledged that Russia had done anything untoward during the election, his transition team made an aborted effort to lift all those largely symbolic sanctions, even the Senate’s Republicans felt obliged to vote for legislation that would not allow Trump to ease the rest of the sanctions, and there are all those other Russian ties and undisclosed meetings between Trump’s close associates and everything else about that Russian meddling that Trump seems have at long last acknowledged.
These days Obama seems to be enjoying his post-presidency a lot more than Trump seems to be enjoying his presidency, and we think he’ll happily accept history’s verdict that he did choke in one of his final crises so long as Trump is lured into admitting that the Russians connived to help his campaign. How Trump responds to that fact is likely to be far more important to how history eventually regards him.

— Bud Norman