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Just Another Manic Tuesday

The most important story on a Tuesday full of big stories was President Donald Trump’s announcement that he’s pulling America out of the nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing the preexisting economic sanctions and threatening even more, but given all the juicier stuff it’s the one we least want to write about.
The Iran story is damned complicated, and we have decidedly mixed opinions about it. Trump’s critique of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that President Barack Obama and his equally inept Secretary of State John Kerry and our Pollyanna-ish European allies cooked up is quite valid, and includes all the gripes we more eloquently articulated at the time the deal went down. Under the deal Iran’s crazed theocratic dictatorship is free to continue developing long-range missiles, funding the mischief of various crazed theocratic terrorist group and helping out some secular but just as troublesome dictatorships in the Middle East, there’s an expiration date that allows them to get nuclear weapons,. The notoriously tough deal-maker Trump is also right to note that these galling concessions were made at a time when strict international sanctions had brought the Iran’s economy to its knees and its crazed theocratic dictatorship to the negotiating table.
At this strange point in time, though, it’s not at all clear that pulling out of the hated JCPOA is going to result in a better deal. It took strict international sanctions to get Iran’s crazed theocratic dictatorship to agree to abandon its nuclear bomb development program, and to allow international inspections to verify their compliance, and this time around our European allies made clear they’re in no mood to reimpose sanctions and limit their oil supplies just to appease an American president who is threatening to wage trade wars with them and is quite unpopular with their constituents. Already the crazed theocratic dictatorship in Iran is rightly noting that America’s withdrawal from the deal frees them to resume their nuclear bomb development, Trump is warning that if they do so they’ll have “problems like they’ve never had before,” and carrying out any of either side’s threats will be ugly even in the best of all possible outcomes. There’s also no telling how this might affect the nuclear deal that Trump is trying to negotiate with the crazed dictatorship in North Korea, which isn’t quite so crazed that it hasn’t noticed how America keeps to to its negotiated agreements.
No matter how that all works out, there were a couple of domestic stores that Trump might eventually wish he hadn’t pushed to below the newspaper fold.
New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a hero of the Democratic party’s recent crusade against sexual harassment and a legal nemesis of Trump since his successful lawsuit against Trump University, was forced to resign shortly after The New Yorker published a report about two named women and an unnamed third one who offered medical records and other convincing evidence to back up their eerily similar accounts of Schneiderman’s shocking-even-by-current-standards sexual abuse. As he resigned Schneiderman offered the explanation that it had all been “role play,” like in that “Fifty Shades of Grey” that was a best-selling novel and hit movie in these strange times, but at this moment in the Democratic party’s righteous crusade against sexual harassment that couldn’t keep him his job.
Donald Trump Jr. spent much of Tuesday “tweeting” his schadenfreude about Schneiderman, but to borrow an old metaphor he was hurling his stones from the very glass house of Trump. Trump Jr.’s pop still has a defamation lawsuit in the courts by one of the many women he’s accused of lying about his own ungentlemanly behavior, which he was caught bragging about on that “Hollywood Access” tape, not to mention all that mess about the porno star he’s now forced to admit he paid to shut up about an alleged trysts. We’ve also noticed that these constant sex monster scandals seem to involve both left and right types, so there’s no telling which Republican moralist will be next.
Trump and every other Republican can also be glad that Don Blankenship didn’t win the Republican party’s Senate nomination in West Virginia. Blankenship is the coal mining executive who spent in a year in federal prison for worker safety violations that resulted in the deaths of 29 coal miners, called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “Cocaine Mitch” and disparaged his “China person” wife and her “China family,” wound up talking about “West Virginia persons” and “negroes” in his convoluted explanations, and aptly described himself as “Trumpier than Trump.” Blankenship was too Trumpy even for Trump, who “tweeted” his advice that West Virginia candidates vote against him not because of his deadly felonies or unabashed racism but rather because he “can’t win.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wound up winning with a plurality, despite being the sort of boring establishment type of Republican we used to like voting for. He spared the party the sort of embarrassment it suffered when the unabashedly theocratic and credibly accused child molester and Trump-endorsed Roy Moore somehow lost a Senate seat in Alabama of all places, but it remains to bee seen if he can knock off Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, who’s as stalwart for coal mining as any Republican and pretty darned Trumpy himself.
There was another intriguing story that Trump is surely glad he knocked off the top of the front pages and the top of the hour on the cable news, where the hush money payment to the porno performer and that whole “Russia thing” have collided. It’s now reported that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who admittedly arranged the $130,000 hush money payment to the aforementioned porno performer, which yet another Trump attorney now admits the president eventually paid, and whose office and home and hotel room were recently searched the by the Department of Justice’s southern district of New York office, and shortly after the election was also paid a half-million bucks by a Russian firm run by a Russian with close ties to the Russian dictatorship. It’s also reported he had a similar payment from the American Telegraph and Telephone Company, which was hoping to get federal approval from a controversial deal that would result in its ownership of Trump’s nemeses at the Cable News Network.
There might yet be a perfectly reasonably and entirely exculpatory explanation for all this, but so far neither Trump nor any of his attorneys have provided one. We can only hope Trump’s instinct prove sounder in negotiating that North Korean nuclear deal and renegotiating the one with Iran.
And that was just Tuesday.

— Bud Norman

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The Primary Concerns of a Convoluted Age

West Virginia’s Republican Party will choose its Senate nominee in a primary election today, and it makes for an interesting contest. The race features the state’s Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, and the state’s current Third Congressional District Rep. Evan Jenkins, both of whom are by all accounts the sort of solid but boring conservative Republicans the Grand Old Party once prided itself on, as well as Don Blankenship, a brash and blunt-spoken business mogul and political neophyte who is self-funding a quixotic campaign despite the sorts of scandals that used to derail a Republican primary campaign.
In the age of President Donald Trump it shouldn’t be surprising that Blankenship has a slight lead in the public opinion polls on Election Day, even though his scandals include the year he served in a federal prison for his coal mining company’s violations of worker safety laws that resulted in a mine explosion and the death of 29 coal miners.
Republican majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell has directed his party’s congressional campaign fund to sink some six-figure expenditures into advertisements opposing Blankenship’s campaign, but Blankenship has doled out even more money for ads deriding McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch” and disparaging his Chinese-American wife and her “China person” relatives, claiming the year he served in prison on worker safety charges was a “deep state” conspiracy,” and has relished the opprobrium of the party’s hated Republican establishment. Meanwhile the Democrats have been spending their money attacking both of Blankenship’s more solid but boring conservative Republican opponents, sensing an easier kill, and the opprobrium of the entire hated political establishment explains his slight lead in the polls.
By Monday even Trump had “tweeted” his advice that West Virginian Republicans vote for one of the other two solid but boring conservative Republicans. It wasn’t because of Blankenship’s business decisions that had resulted in the death of 29 coal miners, nor because of the blatantly racist slurs against McConnell’s Chinese-American wife, who Trump had appointed as his Transportation Secretary despite his own crusades against McConnell and the rest of the rest of the hated Republican establishment, but because he’d concluded that Blankenship “can’t win.” Blankenship responded that he was even “Trumpier than Trump,” and given the Republican party’s current disdain for the entirety of the political order that might win him a nomination.
After a Republican primary in Alabama resulted in the nomination of an unapologetic theocrat and and convicted felon and credibly accused child molester, Trump had offered a full-throated endorsement of said nominee and suffered the embarrassment of eking out a win in that once-reliably Republican state, and he seems to have learned his lesson. Whoever wins the nomination in West Virginia will be up against unopposed Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, who’s as hellbent on coal-mining at whatever the costs as Trump or Blankenship or any other Republican, and has been Trumpy enough on all the rest of the Trump agenda to offend all the Democrats in the other 49 states, At this point, even those solid but boring conservative West Virginia Republicans who still have a shot at winning their party;s nomination seem unlikely to add to the Republicans’ razor-thin majority in the upcoming mid-term elections.
Meanwhile, Indiana’s Republicans have an almost as complicated choice in today’s Senatorial primary, and the upcoming primary in Arizona to replace the admirably solid and boring conservative but not at all Trumpy and therefore retiring Sen. Jeff Flake features a former local Sheriff and current frontrunner who was pardoned by Trump for violating the Fourth and Ninth and 13th Amendment rights of that city’s longstanding and largely Republican Latino population, and has recently been praised as a champion of law and order by the previously boring but solidly solidly Republican Vice President of the United States. Around the rest of the rest of the country, even here in our usually reliable Republican Fourth District of Kansas the solidly conservative but boring sorts of Republicans or even the more Trumpy types seem in for a tough general election fight.
The Democrats are as bad as ever, as far as we’re still concerned, even that Manchin fellow in West Virginia. Despite and perhaps because of our longstanding Republicanism we’ll advise both our Democratic and Republican friends in any old state to vote for the most boring and establishment type they find on their party’s primary ballots, and hope the center holds despite all the craziness that has been unleashed in both parties in the age of Trump.

— Bud Norman

The Ticking Clock and the Ensuing Blame Game

As we start to write this the clock on The Washington Post’s internet front page is showing 23 hours and 51 minutes and 21 seconds left to avert a government shutdown, although it’s already down a few seconds more by now and time will be even shorter when you read this. There’s still plenty of time left to avert the worst possible outcome, which probably wouldn’t even be all that bad, but at this point we can’t see things turning out very well.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives managed to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government through February 16, but the chances of the Republican-controlled Senate passing a similar continuing resolution look bleak. The Republicans control the House by a sizable enough margin that they could afford to lose a few votes from some hard-liners on spending on immigration and other matters, and they even picked up a few stray Democratic votes with peculiar local politics. In the Senate the Republicans now have a razor-thin 51-to-49 margin thanks to the recent electoral debacle in Alabama, and the absence of Arizona Sen. John McCain due to health problems has sharpened that edge, and except for one senator from President Donald Trump-loving West Virginia none of the Democrats have any political incentive to help the Republican-controlled congress and the Republican president from averting the embarrassment of a government shutdown.
Even if the Republicans are willing to offer the kinds of concessions that would outrage their core voters and somehow get something passed on the Senate side, it would all have to be worked out in a conference committee, which takes some doing, and as we write this The Washington Post’s doomsday clock has ticked down to 23 hours, 29 minutes and 10 seconds. Even if everyone talked as fast as those guys who read the side effects disclaimers on the pharmaceutical advertisements and something got passed by both chambers, it still has to be signed by Trump, who is the wild card in everything these days.
These all-too-frequent continuing resolution debates are threat of always complicated, but this time it involves complicated questions about immigration policy and health care, and of course Trump also complicates things further. The Democrats want the continuing resolution to continue protections for illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children and can now prove their good citizenship, and the that’s polling so well the Republicans are largely willing to go along if they also stricter border enforcement from now on, which also polls well. Meanwhile there’s another deadline looming to reauthorize the Child Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage to the children of families too wealthy to qualify for Medicaid yet too poor to pay for private sector health insurance, and although it polls so well it’s always had bipartisan support the Republicans failed to meet a previous deadline for its reauthorization and the Democrats thus have a huge bargaining chip.
In a televised and much-discussed meeting with a bipartisan gathering of senators earlier in the week Trump promised to sign whatever they came up with regarding immigration, but he quickly backtracked to insist that what every they came up with would have to include funding for a big, beautiful wall along the Mexican border and various other strict border enforcement efforts, and that he was still willing to hold those upstanding illegal immigrants brought here as children hostage to get it. Then he was angrily denying his Chief of Staff’s comments to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a cable news network that Trump’s views on the big, beautiful wall and other border issues had “evolved” since his campaign days. Then Trump “tweeted” that he didn’t like the reauthorization of the CHIP program in Republican bills, staking out ground to the left of both the Republicans and Democrats by insisting it should be permanently reauthorized rather temporarily reprieved by a continuing resolution on spending.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was preemptively blaming the Democrats for a government showdown on Thursday, as Republican senate majority leaders are obliged to do, but he also frankly acknowledged to the press that “We don’t have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with,” and with a politely bowdlerized nod to a recent presidential comment that has even further complicated the immigration debate he added, “This has turned into an s-show for no good reason.” McConnell is not only hated by all the Democrats, as all Republican senate majority leaders are, he’s also hated by that large swath of the Republican party that has the Grand Old Party’s establishment, but we think he has a valid point.
We’ll also give due credit to the equally-loathed-by-both-sides Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for corralling enough of his herd of mavericks and enough stray Democrats to get something to pass in the House, and although he’s carefully avoided any public criticisms he can’t give much credit to Trump. If the government does shut down and those upstanding illegal immigrants start getting deported and whole bunch of kids lose their health insurance in 22 hours and 37 minutes and 33 seconds, as The Washington Post times it, it’s likely that at least a majority of the hated Republican establishment will have voted to avert it.
Our guess is that won’t make much difference in the opinion polls, among Democrats or a large swath of the Republican party or any of those self-described independents. The Republicans control both chambers of Congress and in a certain sense the White House, and those arcane rules about a sixty-vote majority being needed in the Senate and all the nuances of immigration and health care are far too complicated for most folks to consider, so the Republicans will probably wind up shouldering their usual blame for all these all too frequent government shutdown. The Republicans will divide themselves between those who blame the mercurial Trump or that set-in-stone Republican establishment, and the Democrats will unite in their indignation with both.
The good news for everybody is that government shutdowns aren’t so awful as they sound, and that if this one happens it will likely be short-lived. Sooner or later both that hard-nosed if out-of-his-water negotiator Trump and those more hep-to-the-game but lily-livered Republican establishment types will once again government operations and give all sorts of concessions to the Democrats, including several that poll so well that a savvy party would have been on board all along, and if it doesn’t include a border wall that was a stupid and badly polling idea all along.
The bad news for everyone is that the best we can expect is yet another continuing resolution to keep the government somehow afloat through February 16, with the same motley assortment of Democrats and Republicans that Trump guy all reviving all the same noisome arguments. Once upon a time in America the two chambers of America’s congress used to pass annual budgets, presidents would sign, some longer term agreements were also agreed upon, and the nation’s businesses and taxpayers and our foreign allies and adversaries could plan accordingly, and for the most part it worked out well.
That all broke down long before Trump took office, so we can’t blame him for that, but with 22 hours and 10 minutes and nine seconds remaining on The Washington Post’s doomsday clocked neither he nor that hated Republican establishment nor any of those damned Democrats deserve any credit for fixing it.

– Bud Norman

The Prisoner and the President

Readers of a certain age will remember that President Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for re-election in 1968 after losing the Democrats’ New Hampshire primary to Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Those readers will be mis-remembering, as people of a certain age are wont to do, because Johnson actually scored a 49-42 win over McCarthy in that race, but the margin was sufficiently close for a sitting president in his own party’s primary to embarrass Johnson out of the race.

We don’t expect an announcement that Barack Obama will not seek and will not accept the nomination of his party for another term as our president, but the result of Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary in West Virginia was pretty darned embarrassing. Obama lost 41 percent of the vote in the closed primary to a challenger by the name of Keith Judd, a more comfortable victory than Johnson eked out back in ’68 but a far less impressive showing given the caliber of the competition.

Eugene McCarthy was a United States Senator, after all, as well a respected leader of the Democratic party’s liberal wing and a principled opponent of the increasingly unpopular war that Johnson had entered in Vietnam. Keith Judd, on the other hand, is an inmate at a federal corrections institution serving a long sentence for extortion. Not extortion in the sense that he told a group of bankers that he was the only thing standing between them and the pitchforks, as Obama had done, but rather in the legal sense that lands you in a federal corrections institution.

Press reports say little about Judd’s platform, which apparently included opposition to Obamacare on constitutional grounds and a call to repeal the law depriving felons of voting rights, but it seems likely that his strong showing reflected discontent with Obama more than a widespread enthusiasm for Judd’s confined campaign. West Virginians are an ornery lot, in our experience, but they’re not usually inclined to vote in such large numbers for someone currently in prison. They’ve been known to elect people who had been in prison, or soon would be, but they rarely turn out for someone who is behind bars on election day.

Obama’s apologists in the press have downplayed the large protest vote in West Virginia, saying it’s peculiar to a small state that Obama hadn’t planned to contest in any case, and they have a point, at least to the extent that Judd-mania probably won’t be sweeping the nation in the coming months. Still, the Obama campaign should take note. The administration’s rhetorical and regulatory on coal is the most commonly cited reason for West Virginia’s disgruntlement, a logical conclusion given the state’s reliance on that industry, but West Virginia isn’t the only state that mines coal, and cheap energy is popular everywhere. Nor is coal the only industry on Obama’s enemies list, and many other states also have some large employer of their own that’s been in the administration’s sights. Other press reports are blaming West Virginian racism for the result, and there are indeed some racists in that state, as in every other state, but we don’t expect that the current economy would be any more amenable to them if a white president were in office.

There’s a reasonable argument that the West Virginia vote was only so bad, but there’s no attempt to argue that it was good. It’s common to hear someone say that they’d vote for Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck over some incumbent or another, but neither Mouse nor Duck have ever been convicted of extortion.

— Bud Norman