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No Thanks for the Memo-ries

The potential public release of a four-page memo penned by California Rep. Devin Nunes about the possible abuse of American surveillance laws by the Federal Bureau of Investigation dominated the news on Thursday, and if it is released as expected this morning we’re sure it will dominate at least another 24 hour news cycle. The memo will have to be pretty darned good to justify all the fuss, however, and we don’t expect it will be.
It’s complicated enough to fill all those column inches and broadcast hours with explanations, and it’s merely a subplot in the “Russia thing” that still hasn’t been explained after nearly two years of the best media efforts, but a lot of things that are hard to explain aren’t worth the effort. This one’s worth following, though, as it is a telling subplot of that “Russia thing,” which does matter, and illustrates just how awful almost everyone involved can be.
In case you’ve lately been too happily busy to be following the subplot, Nunes is a proudly partisan Republican who wound up in charge of the House committee charged with investigating the “Russia thing.” He quickly established a reputation as a staunch defender of President Donald Trump against all the various “Russia thing” suspicions, and was so zealous about that he wound up resigning his chairmanship after an embarrassing impromptu news conference where he announced he was taking some unreleased exculpatory evidence to the White House and it turned out he’d obtained the evidence from the White House and it wasn’t very exculpatory. Despite his self-proclaimed recusal from the matter he penned a four-page memo which reportedly outlines the reasons he believed the whole “Russia thing” was cooked up by some FBI agents who used a phony-baloney Democrat-bought “dossier” to get a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts to spy on the Trump presidential campaign in the most scandalous case of political espionage since President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign had those inept burglars try to bug the Democratic National Party headquarters in the Watergate building.
Meanwhile all the Trump apologists on Fox News and talk radio and the comments sections of the far right internet sites and in Congress have been insisting the real “Russia thing” is actually a Russian-aided plot by the “deep state” and the “fake news” and assorted other “globalists” loathe to make America great again, so they’ve been clamoring for a while to have the memo publicly released. They’ve finally got an authentic government document to corroborate their conspiracy theories, and “release the memo” has become a popular “hashtag” with both Russian “‘bots” and actual people, and after his overshadowed State of the Union address Trump was caught on a “hot mic” telling a congressman that there was a “100 percent” chance the memo was about to be released.
Neither Trump nor his apologists seem to realize how complicated it all is, though, and we don’t expect the long-awaited four pages will be worth the risk they’re taking. It’s an authentic government document, to be sure, but so is the unreleased memo written by the Democrats on the House’s investigative that reportedly outlines all the more plausible reasons they think Trump’s campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to affect the American presidential election, and by now no one puts much stock in anything just because it’s an authentic government document. Nunes is entitled to his opinions, but the public is entitled to regard it as nothing more than the opinions of a proudly partisan politician.
To whatever extent Nunes’ opinions are informed by the classified information he’s seen as the deposed chairman of a House investigative committee, it gives credence to the objections of the FBI and other intelligence-gathering agencies that the release will reveal sources and methods that are better left classified. That includes the Trump-appointed leaders of those bureaus and agencies, so that abandonment of longstanding Republican principles further complicates the matter, even if the Democrats opposed to release of the memo stand credibly accused of the same hypocrisy.
The accusation that FISA laws have been is also tricky for the Republicans, whose resolute anti-terrorist stand got the laws passed over the objections of those bleeding-heart Democrats and addle-brained libertarian types of Republicans  who warned the law could be too easily abused by rogue government actors for all sorts of mischief. Nunes was one of the most outspoken Republicans who supported the laws, which now requires a lot of explaining.
The more reasonable sorts of Republicans assured the public that the FISA laws were carefully written enough to require a very high standard of proof to win a warrant to surveil an American citizen, and that a highly compelling case must be made that the national security was at stake, and so far as well can tell those assurances have proved true. Nunes’ four-page memo reportedly asserts that the FISA courts handed out wiretaps on all sorts of sinless Trump campaign officials on the basis of a phony-baloney Democratic-funded dossier by some shady foreigner, but the next 24 hours of news will explain how it’s more complicated than that.
By all accounts it takes more than a four-page memo of partisan opinions to obtain a FISA warrant, what’s already been reported in the “fake news” and subsequently acknowledged by Trump would probably suffice, the rest of what the feds had to get their disputed surveillance warrants would surely reveal all sorts of sources and methods better left classified. To whatever extent the FISA courts used that phony-baloney dossier from some foreigner only demonstrates the carefully vetted and Republican-confirmed jurists gave credence to the findings of a respected former British intelligence agent.
Maybe those four pages will be so jam-packed with juicy details that it convincingly explains the whole “Russia thing” as a plot by the Democrats and the “deep state,” and we’ll be obliged to give it a fair reading. If it turns out to be just another piece of an obstruction of justice case, though, we won’t be surprised.

— Bud Norman

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The Summer of ’73, Redux

The midsummer sun has lately been exceedingly hot here on the southern plains, with the latest breaking national news even hotter yet, and it’s all somehow redolent of that long ago summer of ’73.
We were just young punks about to turn a typically surly 13 years old, but even then we were engrossed by politics, and by far the most engrossing story of the day was the unfolding Watergate scandal. The whole Watergate thing started slowly back in ’72 with a routine burglary bust, but by the summer of ’73 the only three channels on the television were all preempting the afternoon soap operas and game shows to broadcast the live congressional hearings about it, and we took time out from our long-distance bike rides and driveway basketball games and other summer vacation adventures to watch it all. We also read every word about in the morning and afternoon newspapers that our parents subscribed to, along with the newsmagazines that arrived in the mailbox, and then learned more when we’d biked all the way to downtown library’s impressive periodical shelf.
To this day we still recall E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy and the three Cubans who were busted in the burglary, and the turncoat White House advisor Howard Dean and his crazy wife Moe and the loyal Attorney John Mitchell and his crazy wife Martha and fellow loyalist who wound up making the news in the subsequent investigations, and presidential secretary Rosemary Woods who was blamed for a suspicious gap in the White House tapes that eventually surfaced We still know the names of Judge John Sirica who ordered those tapes and made some other crucial legal rulings, and the Attorney General Elliot Richardson who was fired by President Richard Nixon for refusing to fire the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and an obscure fellow named Robert Bork who eventually stepped up to do the firing.
We’d bet all our winnings that we can still run the Watergate category in a round of “Jeopardy!,” but even the surliest young punks of today know that it all somehow wound up with Nixon resigning in disgrace. That’s pretty much the long and short of the whole Watergate affair and all you’d need to know to pass a junior high history quiz about it, but of course there’s a lot worth noting in between.
The whole sordid saga began when a third-shift janitor at the swank Washington, D.C., hotel-and-office Watergate complex noticed some tape on the door lock to the Democratic National Committee. He was streetwise enough to know to call the local cops, who promptly showed up to arrest the aforementioned Hunt and Liddy and three Cubans who were attempting to install a wiretap in the office, and two relatively young and still on late-night duty reporters as the local Washington Post who were assigned the crime story story were astute enough to discover they were all official and fully paid employees of the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
That was a bad enough start to the story, if not so bad that a forthright acknowledgement but stern disavowal of the operation and its operatives would have ended all the hubbub, but the Nixon administration took a typically more dismissive response. They denied everything, attacked The Washington Post and The New York Times and the three television networks who were making such a big deal about one presidential campaign breaking and entering to bug the headquarters of another, and wound up on national television admitting to the hush money they paid to the burglars and all sorts of other sorts of other things that were considered scandalous at the time. An Admiral in the administration whose last name we still remember was Butterfield told a televised committee that the White House had taped everything, and Sirica got his hands on the tapes and except for that 18-and-a-half-minute gap blamed on the White House secretary it seemed all the prosecutor needed for an impeachment case. It was bad enough that Nixon fired the guy who wouldn’t fire the guy who was running the investigation, and shortly after that the impeccably conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater was leading a congressional delegation of Republicans to tell him that resignation in disgrace was the only honorable option.
Which was bad for the country in ways that the surly 13-year-old punks of today probably can’t understand. The first presidential election we’d followed was back in ’68, when Nixon edged out a plurality win over Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey and third-party candidate George Wallace, and we were for Nixon. Our grandparents were all New Deal Democrats, but our parents had rebelled against by voting for the impeccably conservative Goldwater in ’64, by ’68 all three generation were agreed that Democrats had gone crazy left. Humphrey was tied to President Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam, which was a bloody big deal that hurt him with all the hippies that were suddenly popping up everywhere, and although Nixon was also for the war he seemed to want to win it, which was the way Americans used to end wars back then. Wallace was still an outright racist at that point, and our cosmopolitan and Christian parents had taught us better than that, so Nixon and his surprisingly pristine civil rights voting record was the one.
By ’72 the hippies had taken over the Democratic party and nominated far-left South Dakota Sen. George McGovern for president, and it was fine with us that Nixon won re-election with a popular and electoral vote margin that not even President Franklin Roosevelt had ever achieved. As bloody as the Vietnam situation was Nixon’s peace with honor platform made more sense than McGovern’s plan of complete surrender, and as much as we liked the rock ‘n’ roll music and sexual frisson of the Democratic counter-culture we had an instinctive multi-generational affinity for the Silent Majority of hard-working and tax-paying and lawn-mowing and baby-having Americans who gave Nixon his landslide win.
We were surly soon-to-be-13-year-old punks, though, and the weird sorts who were already enamored of unfettered free-market capitalism and other sorts of rugged individualism that left all those hippies in the dust, so we also had our doubts about Nixon. When the unemployment and inflation rates divulged in ways that free market theory hadn’t anticipated he embraced wage-and-price controls that not even the hippies would have dared, and despite his pristine civil rights record and reasonably tough stance against all the inner-city rioting that was going on he was the first president to institute racial quotas, and the notorious cold warrior even normalized relations with the commie Chinese and pursued “detente” with the commie Russkies. We still liked that he stood steadfast against the hippies and The Washington Post and The New York Times and those three damned channels on the television, but by that point we were wondering he might think of us.
And so we watched with a certain disinterested horror as it all slowly wound up a year or so later with Nixon flashing his “V for victory” sign as he boarded an ex-presidential helicopter to exit the White House after resigning in disgrace. He was replaced by the impeccably honorable but utterly ineffectual President Gerald Ford, who didn’t have the political clout to order the air strikes that might have maintained the peace with honor that Nixon and all those soldiers and sailors and airmen had won in Vietnam, and the best he could do about all the inflation and unemployment that defied free market theory was to print up some buttons. Despite all that he was only narrowly defeated by the Democrats’ putatively centrist Jimmy Carter, who four years later lost in a landslide to the Goldwaterite Republican nominee Ronald Reagan. That led to an inflation-choking but otherwise severe recession that shortly thereafter led to an unprecedented economic boom, which led to an even bigger re-election landslide than Nixon or Roosevelt or anyone else ever achieved, and despite that admittedly embarrassing Iran-Contra scandal and other things we mostly enjoyed those Reagan years.
The commies were pretty much gone by the end of Vice President George H.W. Bush’s third term of the Reagan age, but during a time of relatively mild economic recession that only made a plurality of the public more willing to elect the southern and putatively centrist Democrat Bill Clinton and his equally hideous wife. Despite Clinton’s efforts the economic boom continued well enough that he survived the impeachment trials of his various sex scandals and won another plurality re-election, but that wound up with eight years of Republican George W. Bush. That was mostly OK by us, but what with all the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that he’d been obliged by circumstances to do, and another ill-timed and far more severe recession, it led to eight straight years of President Barack Obama
We spent the entire eight Obama years griping about that unrelenting catastrophe, but at the end of it we wound up with the choice of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or the Republican nominee Donald Trump. For the first time in our lives we wound up voting for none of the above, and resigned ourselves to watching the inevitable scandals that would play out not matter who won. Clinton had been in the public eye for all the 30 or more years that her cheating husband had been in office, and had plenty of undeniably disqualifying scandals of her own, but Trump was a political neophyte whose long and legendary career in the private sector was no more reassuring.
When we subjected Trump’s campaign to the due diligence that you’d apply to anyone else you might invest in, we found that he’d had three wives and countless bragged-about married mistresses and four bankruptcies at his casinos and strip clubs, which are hard businesses to screw up, as well as a long history of failure in steaks and vodka and football leagues and airlines and scam universities and various other enterprises, so we didn’t much cotton to him no matter how much we hated that Clinton woman. His sons had boasted to the press about how much funding their business empire had coming from the Russkies despite all the bankruptcies, and Trump himself was so pro-Russkie that he told a fan hosting a Fox News show that the the Russkies’ killings of journalists and other dissidents was no worse than what routinely happens in America, so all of that gave us pause about the guy.
We weren’t about to vote for that awful Clinton woman, but from the outset all the preliminary stories about Russia and Trump looked pretty bad. By election day it was reliably reported from all the intelligence agencies that the Russkies had launched a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s election, Trump was clearly running on the most Russia-friendly platform in the history of the United States much less its Republican Party, even more friendly than that awful Clinton woman and her ridiculous leftist “reset” button, and there was already something ominously redolent of that summer of ’73.
Since then the president’s national security advisor has resigned and his attorney general has recused himself from Russia-related matters because of Russian ties, and his son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman have been invited to testify before congressional committees about their current Russkie relations, which will likely be broadcast live on national television, and there’s something all too familiar about it. There’s another special prosecutor who’s currently looking into the president’s world-wide financial holdings, which he’s held on to in a way that no previous president ever dared to do, and we can’t shake the same old sense from ’73 that sooner or later he’s bound to come up with something pretty damning.
Which is also a damned shame, because Trump was elected by the same plurality of tax-paying and law-abiding and baby-having and lawn-mowing Americans who beat back all those dirty hippies in ’72, and we’re still rooting for them. It would be another outrage to see The Washington Post and The New York Times and those congressional committees and special prosecutors and the rest of those dirty hippies score another win, but we’ve been through this before, and on another decade’s hot midsummer’s night we’ll only hope that the truth will prevail and things work out best in the long run.
The news these days seems somehow disturbingly familiar to way back then, but also disturbingly different. As crazy a leftist loon as that McGovern guy was he’d flown more than the requisite number of bombing missions over Germany during World War II, and even then nobody questioned his patriotism. As relatively right-wing as Nixon was in the early ’70s none of his critics ever mocked the decorated military officer and historically vindicated congressional cold warrior and former Vice President as an historically illiterate and poorly-spoken buffoon, and his outreaches to communist China and Russia arguably kept the peace long enough for Reagan’s more confrontational stance to win the Cold War. In retrospect, that awful election of ’72 seems like the good old days.
The testimony of the president’s son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman will probably preempt the soap operas and games before the summer is over, and although we’re still somehow part of that still-extant silent majority we don’t expect it will go well. Already the president’s son has admitted he responded to a newfangled e-mail promising the Russkie’ commitment to til an American election by saying “I love it,’ which is a hell of a place to start, and the president is stating that anyone would have taken that meeting, so that’s also a bad starting point.
A couple of years before Nixon headed off in ignominy on that helicopter, which was was just a couple of years before the helicopters launched off the South Vietnamese embassy with a bunch of our last-ditch allies making a futile effort to cling the skids, it was already clear to us that the Watergate scandal wouldn’t end well for anybody. As much as it pains us to alarm those good tax-paying and law-abiding and lawn-mowing members of the silent majority that we still love, this time around doesn’t look to turn out any better.

— Bud Norman

Tweeting Up Another Controvery

President Donald Trump “tweeted” up another political storm over the weekend, this time with a series of messages that alleged President Barack Obama had tapped his telephone and asked if that was legal and bet that a lawyer could make a good case that it was illegal and compared it to the Watergate scandal and described the previous president as a “Bad (or sick) guy.” According to the president’s more ardent defenders in the comments section of all the resulting new stories it was another brilliant move, and given all the other outrageous “tweets” that somehow landed Trump in the White House that might yet prove true, but for now it strikes us as damned odd behavior by a President of the United States.
All though there were four “tweets” that started at 5:49 a.m. on Saturday the medium only allows for 140 characters including spaces in each thought, so all of the media reports gleefully and quite undeniably reported that Trump offered no evidence whatsoever for the explosive charges and damning characterizations. All the media also noted that a short time later Trump also “tweeted” a taunt about Arnold Schwarzenegger leaving “Celebrity Apprentice,” but the allegations about Obama were even bigger news. The story spilled into the little-watched but widely-quoted Sunday morning news shows, where not only every Republican congressperson but all the Trump spokespeople stammered as they took a stab at some explanation. Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Republican Arkansas Governor and Trump ally Mike Huckabee, was reduced to telling the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” that “I will let the president speak for himself.”
Trump might well have something to say for himself, but so far his source for the allegations seems to be a story that ran shortly before the “tweets” began at Brietbartnews.com, the news site that was formerly run by Trump consigliere Steve Bannon, who once described it as a “platform for the alt-right,” which summarized a rant shrieked by conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, who had shrieked it on the radio the day before. Levin is not at all a Trump sycophant and very often right despite his tendency to shriek, and he cited reporting by the very reliable Andrew McCarthy of the National Review, an impeccable conservative publication also stubbornly resistant to Trump’s charms, that the Department of Justice did indeed seek a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wire tap on certain Trump-related phones and did keep tabs on a computer served linked between Trump’s business headquarters and a suspicious Russian bank. There have also been a number of leaks from the intelligence communities and other federal agencies clearly motivated by political animus, and all that right-wing radio talk about a “deep state” rebellion isn’t entirely far-fetched.
After eight long years of Obama and all his scandals even such anti-Trump conservatives as ourselves wouldn’t put it past that damned old Democrat and his thoroughly politicized Justice Department to be up to some Nixonian dirty tricks, and if Trump has anything to back it up we’ll be rubbing our hands with anticipation to hear it. There’s nothing in any of those 140-character-including-spaces “tweets” that comes remotely close to backing it up, though, and all those spokespeople’s more expansive sound bites on the Sunday shows were no more convincing. For now the Democrats are gloating that Trump either fabricated the story out of whole cloth and no wire tapes were ever sought, and that if any were indeed granted that meant a federal judge had decided there was sufficient suspicion about Trump’s dealings with Russian interests to warrant it, which is another favorite Democratic talking point of the moment, and that in any case Trump will be hard-pressed to prove Obama’s direct involvement, which eight long years have taught us is undeniably true. The rest of it should be convincing to that portion of the public that isn’t hopelessly partisan, too, and Trump will need better answers that what his people came up with on Sunday morning to counter that.
Maybe Trump is just baiting the trap so he can spring it on Obama at just the opportune time, as he did with that brilliant tactical admission that Obama was born in the United States, period, or offering just another distraction from the ongoing Russia stories that have already led to the resignations of a campaign chairman and National Security Advisor and the recusal of an Attorney General, and it really is a brilliant masterstroke. Then again, maybe Trump just can’t helping “tweeting” stupid things based on what he’s just read at some offbeat internet site at an ungodly early hour on a Sunday morning. We’re no fans of Obama, but Trump does strike us as that kind of guy, and it’s easy to imagine both of them looking very bad when all this sorts out.

— Bud Norman

The Latest from a Desultory Campaign Trail

Has there even been a more awful presidential race in the history of the American republic? Every day seems to bring a fresh batch of headlines reminding us why we don’t want either of the likely winners anywhere near the White House.
Thanks to the efforts of the last honorable men and women left at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the dogged right-wing watchdogs at Judicial Watch, the public now has access to some 15,000 e-mails that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tried to keep from outside scrutiny, which is a scandal in itself, and they reveal that big-money contributors to her family foundation had a better than 50 percent chance of getting some sit-down time with her while she was Secretary of State. Even such polite media as the Associated Press and The New York Times and The Washington Post felt obliged to give it front page prominence, and to concede that it looks very, very bad for the Democratic nominee. To our more historically informed eyes, it looks even worse than that.
We’re old enough to vaguely recall a time before all the political scandals had the word “Gate” affixed to them, in honor of the gold standard “Watergate Scandal” of the Nixon-era 70’s, and instead they’d include the word “Dome,” a reference to the previous champion “Teapot Dome Scandal” of the Harding-era ’20s. Our long-ago public schooling taught us that “Teapot Dome” resulted in a Secretary of the Interior going to prison for peddling some influence on the sale of a Navy petroleum reserve at someplace in Wyoming improbably called Teapot Dome, and the philandering and gambling and foul-mouth Harding forever being consigned to the bottom ranks of presidents in all those historian polls, and yet that suddenly seems small beer compared to a Secretary of State doing the same sort of wheeling and dealing on a geo-political level. By one of those odd historical coincidences a young Clinton was a newly-fledged lawyer on the staff of the Democratic committee investigating Watergate, before she got she fired for overzealous incompetence, but after nearly 30 years of Cattle Futures-gate and Whitewater-gate and Travel-gate and File-gate and Monica-gate and the many other -Gates we can’t quite recall at the moment, along with all of this more recent and even damning e-mail-gate and family foundation-gate stuff, she by now surely deserves her own suffix.
Still, she’s leading in the average of national polls, things look even better for her in the average of the polls in the swing states and the rest of the suddenly convoluted electoral map, and the only explanation for such a strange phenomenon is that she’s running against Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul is entirely blameless of peddling favors for contributions as a public official, never having held any public office in his 70-year-long life, but he openly bragged on Republican debate stages about buying influence from both Republican and Democratic officials during his varied careers. He even contributed to Clinton’s family foundation, and all the great deal-maker seems to have gotten out of it was her attendance at his third marriage to that foreign-born naked woman in the sapphic poses on the front page of the Trump-endorsing New York Post, so he’s got his own problems winning the public’s trust.
Trump won the Republican nomination largely because he was more full-throated in his opposition to illegal immigration than the rest of the vasty more qualified 16 challengers, but he went column-inch-to-column-inch on the front pages of the polite press by seem to stake a noticeably more squishy position on his signature issue. After rising to the Republican nomination with vows and assurances of “believe me” that he was going to build a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border that Mexico would pay for and that all 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country would be rounded up and deported, and that any of those RINO Republican squishes who thought this fanciful were all for amnesty and “open borders” just like Obama and Clinton and the rest of the “establishment,” Trump has lately been taking a more establishmentarian tack. After hiring a pollster as his new campaign manager he had a meeting with some of the Hispanics he’s been horribly polling with, and he announced a major speech on immigration that was later postponed, and in an interview on Monday with the Fox News Network’s Bill O’Reilly he wound up saying that he’d keep doing what President Barack Obama has been doing “perhaps with a lot more energy.” Trump’s scant ad buys have both time for a spot alleging that Obama has opened the borders, but in the interview he noted that both Obama and President George W. Bush had enforced many deportations, basically agreed with their “felons not families” priorities, dismissed any notion of mass deportations, and couldn’t quite explain how his current stand on amnesty differed from all those squishy Republicans he’d vanquished in the primaries.
This might well moderate Trump’s image to that pesky majority of the country that regards him as an extremist xenophobe, especially those who have noticed what an historically corrupt harridan the Democratic nominee is, but it might also dim the enthusiasm of the extremist xenophobes who have comprised a certain essential percentage of his support. In any case we can’t see it helping his reputation for intellectual or moral integrity, nor find any reason to believe this isn’t the most awful presidential election in the history of the American Republic.

— Bud Norman

Of Teapot Dome, Watergate, and Uranium

Another day, another Clinton scandal, and one has to wonder how many it will take before Hillary Clinton’s presidency stops being inevitable.
The latest blow comes from The New York Times, which is nobody’s idea of a vast right-wing conspirator, and it’s a doozy. This one is about the Clinton family’s already scandal-plagued foundation raking in tens of millions of dollars on a deal with a Canadian company that acquired large holdings of American uranium and wound up selling them to the Russians and allowing Pravda to boast of their corner on the market for  a scarce resource crucial to America’s economic and national security interests, including $500,000 paid by a shady Russian bank for a speech that former President Bill Clinton gave praising the human rights record of Kazakhstan, another unsavory human rights-crushing dictatorship figuring in the sordid story, and the worrisome possibility that Russia might toss in some uranium along with the sophisticated anti-aircraft systems that it’s currently providing Iran, with whom the administration is currently negotiating a deal to accommodate and legitimize its nuclear power ambitions, or that the Russians might deny the uranium to the American nuclear energy industry that provides a fifth of our electricity, and the rather unsettling detail that it was all given official approval by a State Department run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The New York Times is required by journalistic convention to give the Clintons and their foundation a chance to downplay the matter, most of which has already been disproved, and none of which is the least bit convincing, but at this point even the most polite press no longer feel obliged to pretend that it isn’t a big deal. Any readers old enough to have been sentient during the good old days before Watergate will recall that headline writers used to affix the suffice “Dome” rather than “Gate” to any scandal du jour, which every schoolboy understood was a reference to the shocking “Teapot Dome Scandal” in which some undeniably Republican Warren G. Harding administration officials back in the celluloid collar days enriched themselves by accepting money from an American company that wanted its hands on some American oil resources, but even that gold-standard scandal didn’t entail hostile foreign powers or the possibility of the lights going out in a fifth of the country or Tel Aviv being blown to bit with American resources. There are now 25 years worth of Clinton scandals, which has had a cumulative effect on the family’s reputation no matter how strenuously the press has previously tried to downplay each of them, and all of which is dismissed by the Clinton apologists as “old news,” but even the most polite press now seem to have reached the limits of their patience.
The Clintons are no doubt surprised that anyone should be troubled their multi-million dollar deal-making, given the previous politeness of the press, and they had every reason to expect that the likes of The New York Times would chastise any Hoover Institution-affiliated right-wing nutcase who uncovered such embarrassing facts as a sexist reactionary. We admit to some surprise our right-wing nutcase selves, even if we did always hold out hope that even Democrats would realize sooner rather than later that Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy is a very, very bad idea. Our optimism always winds up dampened, though, and this time it’s that the Democrats seem less upset by Clinton’s outright corruption and incompetence and complete lack of any accomplishments than by her occasional heresies from left-wing lunacy. We can’t think of any Clinton heresies from left-wing lunacy, and we note that the multi-millionaire deal-maker is running as a Chipotle-patronizing regular American populist and that after 25 years of trashing the women her cad husband has victimized is billing herself as the standard-bearer of the feminist movement, but if Democrats are holding out for a faux-Indian millionaire-consultant purist such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or an unabashed socialist such as Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders or some guitar-playing unknown such who turned his reliably blue Democratic state over to the Republicans such as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley we won’t mind if they use the corruption and incompetence and lack of accomplishment as an excuse.

Of course, the Republicans could still lose to either Clinton or some slightly-less corrupt yet more purely left-wing lunatic. Eventually the press will discover an unpaid parking ticket or a family vacation with the dog on the car roof in the Republican candidate’s past, or the time he winced at a same-sex kiss scene during an episode of “Glee,” and making tens of millions on a deal that comprised America’s economy and national security will pale in comparison. Still, we’re glad that almost no one outside the Clinton family and their circle of business associates seems very enthused about her inevitability.

— Bud Norman

Back to the Scandalous Future

There’s a certain unsettling feeling of the 1970s to this moment. Leisure suits and platform shoes aren’t back in vogue and the current pop hits aren’t quite disco, but the fashions and the music are otherwise just as horrible. Officially there is no “stagflation,” because except at the grocery store and the gas pump the inflation rate is low, but the stagnation part of that long-forgotten portmanteau is evident in even the most gussied-up government statistics. There’s the same foreboding sense of international turmoil and domestic scandal, too, and the same nagging suspicion that no in charge has a clue. The impending fall of Baghdad is evoking unpleasant memories of the fall of Saigon, Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine bring the chill of a new Cold War, and now there’s a two-year gap in the Internal Revenue Service’s e-mails that eerily recall the 18-and-a-half minute gap in the Watergate tapes.
Those too young to have been transfixed by the Watergate scandal won’t appreciate the ominous meaning of an 18-and-a-half-minute gap, but suffice to say it was a big deal back in the day. A third-rate burglary to wire-tap the Democratic National Headquarters in the fancy-schmantzy Watergate building in Washington, D.C., had been linked to operatives of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign, high-ranking administration officials were implicated in a cover-up that seemed to go to the very top, and when the stone age reel-to-reel tape recordings that chronicled the White House conversations were subpoenaed by a Congressional investigation they included a suspicious gap of that famous duration just when they were getting to the good parts. The White House’s explanation that the missing portions had accidentally been erased by the president’s ever-loyal personal security was widely ridiculed, especially after photographs of her desk and the tape recorder demonstrated the strange contortions that would have been required to accomplish such an accident, and public opinion reasonably concluded that the erasure was an intelligence-insulting ploy in a broader conspiracy. Nixon eventually resigned rather than be convicted in his upcoming impeachment trial, and Pulitzer Prizes and Academy Awards and a lifelong gig on the talk shows was awarded those who had uncovered the crime.
Only the most obsessive Watergate buffs will recall that the articles of impeachment also included that Nixon had “endeavored” to use the Internal Revenue Service against his political foes. There was some evidence of this on the unexpurgated portions of those tape recordings, but they also reveal that the administration’s effort came to naught because the IRS was too thoroughly dominated by Democrats and other political foes of the president. That a president would even contemplate such a thing was then considered an impeachable offense, however, and it outraged the citizenry as much as the break-ins and huggings and the subsequent attempts to obstruct justice. Say what you will about the ’70s, and all its myriad sartorial and musical and political failings, but at least people could still rouse themselves to an appropriate degree of outrage over such things.
Nowadays there’s a story buried deep inside the local newspapers that the IRS has been caught red-handed harassing a president’s political foes, and the public seems willing to accept the president’s word that it’s just another “phony scandal” like the four dead Americans at an unprotected consulate in a Middle Eastern hell-hole, or the 200-plus Mexicans killed by guns provided to south-of-the-border drug gangs by our federal government’s gun-running operation, or the gang members being allowed entry north-of-the-border by a non-enforcement policy, or the many brave American veterans dead due to the neglector a government-run health care system, or any of countless other recent incidents that once would have had the country riled up. Now the key high-ranking figure in the IRS’ harassment of conservative groups is invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a Congressional investigation of this “phony scandal,” there are two years of her e-mails that have been suspiciously erased by a claimed computer crash that is every bit as dubious as that accidental-erasure-during-a-yoga-routine that was offered during the Watergate days, and would be laughed at by IRS agents if a private business came up with such a flimsy excuse for failing to provide information during an audit, and yet the story is treated only briefly by the most of the media and doesn’t even rate so much as mention in “All the News That’s Fit to Print” on the pages of the New York Times. The average citizen is blissfully unaware of the story, and certainly not clamoring for impeachment.
The average citizen of the ’70s was probably no more civic-minded and beholden to higher standards that the average citizen of the day, but back in the day the media landscape was more conducive to public outrage. That old joke that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you was never more true than in the case of Nixon, who had been hated by the sophisticated since ever since he’d defeated their progressive dream girl in his first Congressional run and rightly exposed their pal Alger Hiss as a communist spy, no matter how many Environmental Protection Agencies and affirmative action programs and wage-and-price controls and other liberal projects he gave them, and when he at long last provided them necessary rope to hang him with they pre-empted all the soap operas on the only three channels a television set could get and made sure that everyone in the country knew about it. Equally outrageous scandals by the current president are more easily hidden amongst all the the other scandals and the news about bigoted basketball team owners and homosexual football players and the latest exploits of some drug-addled celebrity other another, especially when most of the media have been eager to promote the president ever since he first emerged as an agent of hope and change and healing the planet and all the rest of nonsense.
We have no desire to return to the days of three channels and a handful of big-time newspapers rubbing the public’s nose in the scandals of their choice, nor do we care to re-live any other aspects of the ’70s except perhaps the best of Merle Haggard’s work from the era, but it would be nice to get a big of that moral outrage back. Another impeachment trial would have a nice nostalgic feel, too, but that seems as likely as a comeback of the leisure suit.

— Bud Norman

What’s Bugging the Republicans

The young folks might not believe it, but way back in the ‘70s illegal electronic eavesdropping on a political office was considered a very big deal. When some men were caught doing it on behalf of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign it was all anybody could talk about. The television networks ran the congressional hearings on the matter instead of soap operas and game shows, and in the dark days before cable that meant everyone had to watch, minor players became major celebrities, books were published, a Hollywood movie with big-name stars was made, and Nixon wound up resigning in disgrace with his party was so tarnished that Jimmy Carter wound up as president.
This largely forgotten episode was brought to mind Tuesday by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s allegation that his political office has been “bugged,” as the ‘70s-era lingo would have it. A Federal Bureau of Investigation probe has reportedly just been launched and as of yet there is no officially sanctioned truth to the allegation, but neither is there any other apparent explanation for how an audio tape of a campaign strategy session conducted in McConnell’s office wound up in the hands of the far-left Mother Jones magazine. Even if the worst-case scenario is proved true it is unlikely to become such an all-consuming story as the Watergate scandal once was, but given the past standards that inspired so many of today’s press one would expect some attention to be paid to even the most innocuous possibilities.
Mother Jones and much of the rest of the press seem more scandalized by what’s on the tape, however, instead of how it was acquired. The tape captures McConnell and his staff discussing how they might respond to a potential challenge by the motion picture actress Ashley Judd, which is apparently shocking conduct at a campaign strategy session, and they even compound the horror by considering pointing out flaws in her character and political positions. One aide goes so far as to suggest they make an issue of her past mental breakdowns and other psychiatric problems, information he acquired by reading her autobiography. Judd eventually decided to not run for Senate in her long-abandoned home state, presumably on the advice of more seasoned Democrats who advised her that a far-left Hollywood with outspoken views against guns and coal and other beloved Kentucky values who brings a “psychological support dog” to interviews was unlikely to win in a staunchly conservative state that had recently elected the likes of McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, no matter how memorable her many nude scenes, but it was still outrageous to the refined sensibilities of Mother Jones that McConnell would ever even contemplate saying anything unfavorable about her.
Certainly the people at that “bugged” Democratic National Committee headquarters back in the ‘70s would have never been caught uttering an unkind word about Nixon, or at least that was the impression one got from all that wall-to-wall Watergate coverage back in the day. The only story then was that political operatives had illegally eavesdropped on an opponent’s conversations, and it was considered so abhorrent that even such stalwart Republicans as McConnell now use the term “Nixonian” to disparage the practice. This time around the outrage will probably be relatively muted, and McConnell’s stalwart Republicanism is likely the reason why.

— Bud Norman

A Blast From the Past

The youngsters among you might not appreciate the irony of Bob Woodward’s recent feud with the Obama administration. You really had to be there back in the early ‘70s, those halcyon days of the Watergate scandal when the Woodward legend was born, to fully savor its deliciousness.
Woodward was a superstar back then, famed as the late night cop reporter for the Washington Post who covered a third-rate burglary at the Democratic National Headquarters and teamed with Carl Bernstein to doggedly pursue it all the way to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The left reviled Nixon with a red-hot hatred that is difficult to describe today, although it might be likened to Bush-hatred exacerbated by an all-out culture war between the hippies and squares, and thus Woodward was revered with an equal passion by the left for his heroic role in bringing in at long last bringing down their favorite villain. “All the President’s Men,” Woodward’s and Bernstein’s account of the Watergate scandal, became a runaway best-seller. The hit movie starred the famously handsome Robert Redford as Woodward. A Pulitzer Prize and other plaudits were lavished on the duo, and Woodward and Bernstein both enjoyed a celebrity that had never before been attained by mere newspaper scribes. Journalism schools saw a sudden surge in enrollments, and a generation of reporters set out to win the same kind of scandal-driven fame.
Like all legends it was rather overblown, ignoring the role that other reporters and especially the congressional investigating committees played in forcing Nixon’s resignation, and subsequent revelations about the identity of the anonymous sourced dubbed “Deep Throat” have given rise to a revisionist account about his motives. Still, it was true to the extent that Woodward had done an impressive job of reporting, and Woodward would henceforth be referred to as a “journalistic icon.” He continued to do solid work over the decades, focusing on his daily duties as a Post editor and his meticulously researched books about the passing administrations while the rest of the press tried to duplicate his past glories by digging up the hot scandal, and although he would sometimes uncover something embarrassing to a Democrat or flattering to a Republican he retained his reputation as a reliably liberal reporter.
Until now, at least. While meticulously researching “The Price of Politics,” a book about the Obama administration’s dealings with the congressional Republicans over budget matters, Woodward learned from his sources that the idea for a “sequester” had originated at the White House. The revelation attracted little notice at the time of the book’s publication, but now that President Barack Obama is jetting around the country to blame the Republicans for the impending budget cuts that have resulted the claim is suddenly the source of much controversy. Woodward stood by his story even after an indignant White House denial, then further offended the administration by insisting that the earlier deal struck by the administration did not include the tax hikes the president now insists on. White House press secretary Jay Carney went so far as to call Woodward’s allegation “willfully wrong,” the most serious allegation that can be made against a journalist. Not backing down, Woodward has become increasingly critical of the president’s handling of the sequester issue, even going on the left-wing MSNBC network’s “Morning Joe” program to describe Obama’s budgetary threats to withdraw an aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf as “a kind of madness I haven’t seen in a long time.”
This presents a dilemma for the press, which much choose between two heroes, but we suspect that most reporters will opt for Obama’s version. That story features villainous Republicans, and besides, Watergate was a long time ago and Obama has done more for their side lately.
Woodward’s latest scoop probably won’t bring down another presidency, we’re sad to say, and certainly won’t make its way to the silver screen, where Woodward would undoubtedly be portrayed by a more homely actor, but it does seem to have complicated Obama’s efforts to blame the latest mess on his opponents. For that Woodward deserves another round of applause, this time from the right, and perhaps some grudging acknowledgment that his earlier work was more about a pursuit of the truth rather than just partisan politics.

— Bud Norman

Borked but Unbowed

The eminent jurist and legal scholar Robert Bork died Wednesday at the age of 85, and we hope that he rests in peace. His provocative opinions allowed him precious little peace on this earthly plane, and he deserves better in whatever lies next.
Although his long and varied career in public life included several notable contributions to his country, he might be most remembered for giving the English language the verb “Bork.” To “Bork” someone is to destroy his reputation with a sustained campaign of vituperative and dishonest propaganda, and the oft-used term derives from the fact that few people have ever been so successfully “Borked” as Bork was during his ill-fated 1987 Supreme Court nomination.
The left had loathed Bork long before then, going all the way back to his days as one of the exceedingly rare conservatives on the faculty of the Yale Law School. Bork’s book “The Antitrust Paradox” had made him famous within legal circles as a leading proponent of the law-and-economics movement, which argued that the law should take economic realities into account, and such heresy was predictably controversial. Despite the outrage that Bork provoked, or perhaps because of it, Bork was then appointed a solicitor general for the hated Richard Nixon.
Bork’s tenure in the Justice Department would have been only a minor annoyance to liberals if not for the Watergate scandal, which earned him a minor footnote in history and the undying enmity of the left. When Attorney General Elliott Richard resigned rather obey Nixon’s order to fire special investigator Archibald Cox, and then Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus did the same, third-in-command Bork stepped in to do the deed and fire several more Justice Department lawyers in what the press called “The Saturday Night Massacre.” We offer no definitive judgment regarding the debate that still rages about Bork’s role in the scandal, although we found the Wall Street Journal’s defense of his actions very convincing, but we will note that press coverage of subsequent scandals has not included the word “massacre” even though it could have been used literally during the Fast and Furious program and the Benghazi embassy attacks.
As a circuit court judge Bork continued to rankle the liberals, who immediately launch an all-out attack when he was nominated for a seat on the highest court. The smear campaign culminated in Sen. Ted Kennedy’s infamous oration on the Senate floor, where he charged that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are at the heart of our democracy.” Not a word of it was true, and it was especially galling coming from a longtime advocate of unrestricted government power such as Kennedy, but it worked well enough that Bork was denied the Senate’s confirmation.
It worked well enough, in fact, that it became a favored tactic of the left for the next 25 years. The idea had long preceded Bork, dating at least as far back as Saul Alinsky’s “Rules in Radicals,” in which the guru of community of organizers urged the left to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” but the original “Borking” proved such a successful model that it became a neologism. Sometimes the ploy is to portray an ideological opponent as laughably stupid, as in the cases of Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin or even the Ivy League-educated George W. Bush, but when a person with Bork’s impeccable educational credentials comes along it does just as well to characterize them as evil geniuses. In the past election the tactic was refined to turn an honest businessman’s hard-earned success into proof of rapacious greed, but it’s all the same old-fashioned “Borking.”
Bork continued to anger the liberals right up to the end, when he served as a judicial advisor to Mitt Romney’s well-Borked presidential campaign, and one admiring obituarist concluded than “he won.” It’s hard to agree with such an upbeat assessment, given that Bork’s originalist notions of constitutional law are set to lose more seats on the Supreme Court to men and women willing to grant government more invasive powers than Ted Kennedy ever yearned for, and that the smear tactic that carries is name has proved triumphant once more, but at least Bork got his licks in. May he rest in peace.

— Bud Norman