Un-Blowing the Whistle

Donald Trump Jr. has “tweeted” the name of a man alleged to be the “whistleblower” who set off the current impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is demanding that the national media also publish the name. The alleged “whistleblower” is allegedly a Democrat fond of former Vice President and current presidential contender Joe Biden, and for now that’s best defense Trump’s Republicans can muster.
Alas, it’s a weak defense. Never mind that the erstwhile party of law and order is flouting a federal law intended to protect the anonymity of “whistleblowers,” which the Republicans will surely revere if there’s another Democratic president, the inquiry has moved well beyond him.
Regardless of his or her political biases, the “whistleblower’s” claim that Trump sought political help from Ukraine in exchange for military was deemed credible and concerning by two Trump-appointed intelligence officials, has since been corroborated by sworn testimony from the highest-ranking career foreign service and military officials serving in Ukraine, along with text messages and other documentary evidence. Perhaps they’re all “deep state” conspirators out to frame the president, despite their previously unsullied reputations, but the political appointee who got his job as Ambassador to the European Union after donating $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee has now amended his testimony to corroborate the other witnesses, and former Trump-appointed national security advisor and impeccably credentialed right-wing Republican John Bolton is expected to say the same thing live on television next week, and there’s no telling what will happen if Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani winds up under oath and on the air..
An incomplete and presumably carefully edited transcript of the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president also backs up the story, Trump has made clear on several occasions that he’s open to political help from foreign governments, and his chief of staff told the national media that “we do it all the time,” adding “get over it.” Why Trump and his apologists continue to deny it is unclear to us, especially when they have that “so what?” defense at their disposal.
Trump claims that he was only interested in ending Ukraine’s entrenched political corruption, but he’s rarely shown any concern about other country’s corruption problems, and as a businessman he publicly complained that under American law he couldn’t hand out bribes in other countries like his foreign competitors, and as president he has cut funding for anti-corruption assistance to reformist movements. Perhaps it’s mere coincidence that his sudden anti-corruption fervor is mostly focused on something that might provide dirt on a potential election rival, and even disprove the consensus opinion of the national intelligence community that Russia helped Trump get elected last time around, but maybe not.
Better to go with the “so what?” defense. The die-hard fans will love such defiance of the hated establishment, with all its fussy notions of political propriety, another sizable portion of the country isn’t paying any attention, and last time around Trump somehow won an electoral majority on basically the same argument. Most of the the country isn’t buying it, but for now they don’t have enough Senators to remove Trump from office, and it’s unclear if the majority is spread around the electoral map well enough to deny Trump reelection.
One can only bang his head against the stone wall of facts for so long, even one so hard-headed as Trump, and sooner or later he’ll take to the presidential podium and admit that he did indeed solicit political help from a foreign government in exchange for military aid, he won’t appear the least bit embarrassed, and he’ll be hurling accusations that it his was enemies who were doing improper things. He might as well cut to the chase now, to borrow an old Hollywood cliche, before all that boring but damning testimony is aired live on national television.

— Bud Norman

From Trump to the Finnish

The only Finn we’ve ever known was a very likable fellow who used to frequent Kirby’s Beer Store during his days as a student at Wichita State University, and based on everything else we know about Finland we have a favorable opinion of the country, so we were saddened to watch Finnish President Sauli Niinisto’s obvious discomfort during two joint news conferences on Wednesday with President Donald Trump.
The American reporters in attendance cared little about Finnish-American relations, which you have to admit is not something their viewers and readers much care about, and were far more concerned with all the fast-breaking news about impeachment inquiries and other domestic matters. Niinisto therefore spent most of his time at the dais on and a White House chair watching Trump fulminate and flail against the media, trying his best to say expressionless.
Even by Trump standards it was a remarkable performance. The president said the “whistleblower” who exposed a troublesome conversation Trump had with the president of Ukraine was a spy, and declared that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff — or “shifty Schiff,” as Trump has nicknamed him — was guilty of treason. Trump also called Schiff a “lowlife” who “isn’t fit to carry (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s) ‘blank strap.’ You understand that?”
The Finnish press corp didn’t understand the very American colloquialism that Trump was alluding to, so Trump explained that if he was more frank the “corrupt” and “fake” and “phony” media would accuse him of using a vulgarity. Earlier in the day Trump had “tweeted” that the impeachment inquiry the House of Representatives has launched is “BULLSHIT,” with all capital letters, but apparently that barnyard expletive isn’t as offensive as “jock strap.” We can only wonder what the Finnish media made of it, as we’re quite familiar with the American style of the English language and can’t quite figure out Trump’s idiolect.
Trump was especially brusque with a Reuters reporter who had the effrontery to ask about that troublesome phone call with the Ukrainian president, and Trump called him “rude” for not asking the Finnish president a question. Trump filled most of the news conferences with similar vituperation, and had little to say about the state of Finnish-American relations.
Despite his best efforts to remain diplomatically unexpressive, Niinisto can clearly be seen on videotape occasionally rolling his eyes and slightly grimacing. At one point Niinisto said “Mr. President, you have here a great democracy. Keep it going,” and he seemed quite sincere. We appreciate his best wishes. as we’ll be needing them. Here’s hoping that our former Finnish drinking buddy and all his countrymen keep it going as well.
— Bud Norman

Trump Takes on California

More information leaked out about that mysterious whistle-blower scandal, which was the Drudge Report’s top story and making its way to the hourly reports on the local talk radio station by Thursday, but as we await more details the story that caught out eye was President Donald Trump’s threat to sic the Environmental Protection Agency on the city of San Francisco.
Trump has lately been on a lucrative fund-raising tour in California, and while there he’s waged several rhetorical and political battles against the state. He seems to understand that he’s not going to win California’s rich trove of electoral votes in any case, but that its dwindling number of over-regulated and over-taxed and under-appreciated Republicans will appreciate his attacks, not to mention all the red state voters who resent California’s outsized political and economic and cultural influence. He drew attention to the growing and increasingly troublesome problem of homelessness in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which is at least in part a result of those famously liberal enclaves’ bleeding heart indulgence, and said he’d have the EPA slap on a violation notice on the City by the Bay  for all the environmental problems its home population is causing.
Many years have passed since our last visit to ‘Cisco, which was back in days of the dirty hippies of Haight-Ashbury, but by all accounts the homeless are by now an even more significant annoyance  there. Trump mostly complained that they’re bad for his rich donors’ businesses, but he also argued that their drug needles and excrement and flowing through the storm drains into the ocean. San Francisco’s mayor, fittingly named London Breed, insists the city is investing in shelters and mental health programs to combat the problem, and the EPA declined to comment on Trump’s threat, but the president probably has a point.
Even so, Mayor Breed can also make a strong argument that Trump’s threat to withdraw California’s waver to set its own clean air standards poses a greater threat to the state’s environment than all those drug-abusing and defecating homeless people. California has long had the nation’s strictest standards for how much pollution cars can emit, which have become the entire world’s de facto standards as the world’s carmakers have sought access to the world’s biggest car-buying market, and it seems to have made Los Angeles’ air less smoggy brown that it used to look at the opening of every episode of Jack Webb’s ultra-conservative cop show “Dragnet ’68.” The carmakers have become accustomed to the higher standards, car-buyers no longer notice the extra cost, and as much as our conservative Kansas Republican souls resent bossy governmental regulation our old-fashioned federalist principles don’t want to force Californians to put up with dirtier air.
Like all good heartlanders we’re inclined to regard California as the land of fruits of nuts, but we must admit that even here in business-oriented and Republican-voting and tough-love Wichita there’s also a severe problem with the homeless. On a drive past downtown’s once-elegant Shirkmere Apartments you’ll find a Hooverville-sized encampment of desperate souls outside the social service agency across the street, and you can’t go from the fuel pumps to the front door of the QuikTrips on Douglas and Seneca or Broadway and Murdock without getting panhandled. The local library’s main branch had to move from the heart of downtown to just across the Arkansas River in Delano, where the homeless have already found shelter from the heat and cold.
It’s an environmental mess here, too, and the good people of the Presbyterian church across the street from the soup kitchen that feeds the homeless has reluctantly built a fence to prevent the defecations on their steps that routinely occurred, but for now at least we probably won’t be bothered by the EPA’s intervention. The sooner-or-later next Democratic administration might change that, and we’ll be quite peeved about it if they do, but at least we won’t be hypocrites when we object to outsiders telling us how to go about our business. We have no better idea about how to deal with the homeless problem than those snooty know-it-alls in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and we think it best that all 50 states and their biggest cities  figure it out for themselves. One of them is bound to come up with something better than what California or Trump can think of.

— Bud Norman

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

President Donald Trump seems to be implicated in yet another scandal, this time with with possible national security consequences, but for now only a few highly placed sources know what it is. For now, that’s the scandal.
What is known is that on Aug. 12 an unnamed intelligence official filed a “whistleblower” report, which inspector general Michael Atkinson found credible and a matter of “urgent concern,” which requires informing the congressional oversight committees. Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to share the report, however, citing “privileged communications,” setting off a legal and political spat that should be a bigger story when Atkinson is called to testify before the House intelligence committee in a closed session.
For now the rest of the story is coming from anonymous sources and mere speculation. The Washington Post has an intriguing story citing two unnamed “former U.S. officials” that the whistleblowers complaint has something to do with “Trump’s communications with a foreign leader,” and involved a “promise” that the whistleblower and the inspector general found quite troubling. Further anonymous leaks will likely follow today’s closed session with Atkinson, but the White House is declining to comment and so far that’s all the public has to go on.
One needn’t be as suspicious and obstinately Never Trump as ourselves to speculate that there’s something in the complaint which looks very bad for the president. The appearance of a coverup is so strong, and so damning, an objective observer can only wonder what more damning evidence the administration is trying to cover up. Trump has frequently been loose-lipped about national security secrets, and it’s not at all implausible that he was trying to strike some corrupt deal with a foreign leader.
Maybe not, as fairness dictates we must add, so we’ll eagerly await whatever comment the White House eventually offers.