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Merry Christmas, President Trump

President Donald Trump is currently comfortably ensconced at his ritzy Mar-a-Lago resort inn balmy southern Florida, where his Secret Service protectors and most essential administration aides are charging their high-priced room and board to the federal budget, but he doesn’t seem in a holiday spirit.
Even in sunny southern Florida the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing: keeps racking up indictments and convictions and guilty pleas, other federal jurisdictions are investigating other matters, and by the time the upcoming Democratic House majority is installed and begins its congressional investigations Trump’s businesses, presidential campaign, transition team, inaugural committee, and subsequent administration will all be under severe scrutiny, So far Trump’s hapless legal team has yet to come up with any explanation for any of it that doesn’t admit that Trump made arguably legal hush money payments to a porno performer and Playboy playmates and was doing some previously denied dealings with the Russian government during the past presidential campaign, but despite the best efforts of the right wing talk radio hosts and other Trump apologists it does not portend a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for Trump or America.

Meanwhile the Stock Markets are tanking, for a panoply of reasons that are reasons that aren’t entirely the fault of either Trump and his stupid trade wars or the Federal Reserve Board chairman he appointed and now blames, and although we’re not predicting a recession we don’t think Trump will be able to brag about creating the best American economy ever for the foreseeable future. A lot of Trump’s minority of fans have been willing to overlook whatever this various various investigations might plausibly come up with so long as the their stock portfolios swelled, but Trump’s Republican party lost the last House elections by an astounding nine million votes, with women voters in general and the suburban vote in general abandoning him in droves, and anything less than the great economy of the history of America is even more worrisome than all those criminal investigations that Trump’s legal team can’t currently answer.

— Bud Norman

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Joe Rio, RIP

Sunday was another one of those bittersweet winter days we sometimes get here on the harsh Kansas plains. Until the sun set in beautiful pink pastels the endless prairie sky was brilliantly blue, the temperatures were as moderate as one can hope for this time of year, and our day began with another invigorating worship service at the West Douglas Church of Christ over in the rough Delano neighborhood, where we joined the small low-church congregation in singing “Go Tell It on the Mountain” to celebrate the upcoming anniversary of the earthly birth of Jesus Christ.
A good friend of ours delivered the communion message, and he spoke eloquently of how a good friend of his had recently prevented another good friend of his from committing suicide, and the guest lay preacher’s sermon was about Christ coming to earth to redeem all of us sinners, so we went home with a hopeful feeling. During our usual post-church nap we had a very modern nightmare about losing our debit card, however, and then were obliged to head to one of the musical joints in the rough Old Town neighborhood to attend a memorial service for a weird but dear rock ‘n’ roll friend of ours who recently shot himself in the heart.
You’ve probably never of the guy who called himself Joe Rio, but judging by the standing-room-only crowd at Barleycorn’s on Sunday afternoon he had a lot of friends around here. One of them, a fellow we vaguely know but can’t quite name, asked us how well we knew Joe, and we had to admit we only knew him well enough to appreciate his unique creativity, and to consider him a friend, and to appreciate the friendship he generously extended to us, and to sympathize with the obviously troubled life he chose to end. That was more than enough, though, to make Sunday one of those bittersweet Kansas days.
Joe wasn’t a notably gifted musician if you’re judging by strictly technical standards, but he always added an irresistibly human thing to the old-timey country and post-punk bands he played with in Wichita’s roughest musical joints, and even his most talented former band mates were at Barleycorn’s on Sunday to attest to his expressive gifts. He had a knack for the visual arts, too, and we also enjoyed his similarly primitivist verbal skills, and we’re told that in his younger days he was one hell of a skateboarder. He more or less made a living for himself as a handy-man, plastering all the dives in town with stickers promising that “If I can’t fix, I know who can,” and although he never came through on that promise for us for us we know he was a an undeniably resourceful fellow. For all the undeniable flaws that everyone at Barleycorn’s could to attest on a bittersweet Kansas winter Sunday, Joe was an irresistibly likable fellow, even if he never much liked himself.
Joe had tattoos up to his neck, a scary surgical scar running down his body from the shoulder to the belly button, and deeper psychological scars from an unhappy childhood in small town Kansas. We were also “Facebook friends,” and every Father’s Day we’d read Joe’s posts about the drunken old man who would daily beat him. We’re even older and dearer friends with one of Joe’s ex-wives, who is also the mother of one of his children, and she’s a Wichita school teacher and we trust her confirmation of every tragic detail. Joe apparently ran away at a young age to the big bad city of Wichita, where he lived for a while under one of the bridges over the Arkansas River, and given everything we’d have to say he made the best of it for a while.
By weird coincidence today is the 85th birthday of our beloved Dad, who is about the best earthly father one can hope for, although he still he insists that his own beloved Dad was the better man. We can’t brag much about what we’ve made with that blessing, however, so we’ll leave it our merciful heavenly father to judge how Joe Rio played his hand. We wish the best to all those friends of Joe who showed up at Barleycorns in their biker gang jackets and neck tattoos, and those who brought food and donations and pamphlets with the 1-800-273-TALK suicide help line, and especially to all of the children he has left without any earthly  father. We also wish  a Merry Christmas to all of us sinners in need of Christ’s redemption.

— Bud Norman

Et Tu, Republicans?

President Donald Trump claims full credit for a slight Republican majority in the Senate, but he shouldn’t count on it to always do his bidding. On Thursday the Senate passed one resolution rebuking Trump’s support of Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen, and then another resolution contradicting Trump’s claim that Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman didn’t necessarily order the murder of a legal American resident and Washington Post columnist, The votes mostly came from the Democrats’ slight and unanimous minority, but enough Republicans defied the president to pass the resolutions and give Trump reason to worry.
Trump highly prizes his close relationship with the Saudi dictatorship, for reasons ranging from arguably pragmatic geopolitical considerations to corporate America’s and Trump’s personal business relationships to the way they’ve always flattered him, so he’s surely irked at the Republicans who aren’t on board with his agenda. Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen is a humanitarian disaster disrupting America’s long and carefully made alliances in that volatile region, and all of America’s intelligence agencies and everyone around the world who’s been paying attention know good and well that the Saudi dictatorship quite obviously ordered the gruesome murder of that American resident journalist, but Trump expects the sort of loyalty that overlooks such troublesome facts.
The constitution grants the executive branch broad authority to conduct foreign policy, for whatever its reasons, so a couple of Senate resolutions won’t change things much, but such feistiness from even a few Republicans is a worrisome development. The Senate will soon be dealing with issues involving various legal investigations into Trump’s businesses and presidential campaign and presidency, so will a soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and Trump is currently finding it difficult to replace even he erstwhile administration allies he’s recently defenestrated.
Trump still holds considerable sway over the Republican party, which still holds significant sway over America’s destiny, but Thursday’s Senate votes exposed his weakened position. Trump takes no blame for the Republicans’ loss of 40 House seats by nine million votes in the past midterm elections, but he’s stuck with that Democratic majority that will surely be joined by at least a few of those House Republicans from suburban districts in Democratic states who somehow survived the Republican carnage. The past election had several Democratic Senators facing reelection in states that went for Trump, but the next one has several Republicans facing reelection in states that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won, and some of those Democrats in Republican states won last time around, and some Republicans will be running in in traditionally Democratic states that Trump barely won, and we don’t think Trump should expect blind loyalty from any of them. Trump ran against the Republican establishment as hard as he did against the Democrats, and except for the Saudis he suddenly finds himself without many loyal friends.

— Bud Norman

Blind Loyalty and Its Perils

New York City attorney Michael Cohen, who once handled such sensitive legals chores as making hush money payments to pornographic video performers and Playboy models while pursuing multi-million dollar Moscow real estate deals for longtime client and then-citizen Donald Trump, was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Wednesday on various confessed federal charges. As bad as that sounds for now-President Donald Trump, the rest of the sordid details are even worse.
Some of the charges sending Cohen to prison are about some relatively small time scams involving New York City taxi medallions and routine tax evasions that have nothing to do with Trump, but he’s also pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations committed in the course of making those hush money payments to silence Trump’s alleged mistresses, and to lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Russia in order to be consistent with the lies Trump was telling the public. Trump’s remaining loyalists on talk radio and one of the cable news channels are spinning it as best they can, and Trump himself is claiming complete vindication, but the president won’t come out of this spin cycle smelling clean.
Trump is now claiming that his six-figures payments to the porno performer and the nudie model were a “private transaction” involving private funds, and obviously had nothing at all to do with the presidential campaign he was waging at the time, and were therefor entirely legal, but a federal prosecutor considered it a crime and a federal judge accepted a guilty plea on the charge from the very same lawyer that Trump once entrusted with such sensitive legal chores, so we have our doubts about Trump’s legal theory. Even if it was quite legal and no big deal, as Trump claims, an objective observer is left wondering why Trump chose to lie to the American public about  it while aboard Air Force One that he had nothing to do with it and was indeed entirely unaware of the payments.
Which leaves us all the more doubtful about Trump’s claims he never cheated on his third wife with either that porno performer or that nudie model, especially after his past boasting about all the fabulous babes he’s bagged in his tabloid-fodder infidelities against his first two wives, and although such hound dog behavior is not illegal it is the sort of thing that Republicans used to find objectionable.
Nor is it illegal to pursue a multi-million dollar real estate deal with an adversarial dictatorship while also pursuing the presidency of the United States, and so far as we can tell it’s legal to tell the American electorate a brazen lie that no business deals of any kind are being pursued with adversarial governments during presidential campaign, but that’s also the sort of thing that Republicans used to find objectionable. Cohen’s confession that he was pursuing a Moscow Trump Tower deal at Trump’s request while Trump insisted he wasn’t should be considered skeptically given his confessions to various perjuries, but the very fastidious prosecutor investing the “Russia thing” and the sentencing judge wouldn’t have given it credence without corroborating evidence, which we assume was obtained during raids on Cohen’s home and office and favorite hotel room. Trump is already arguing that it’s another legal and no big deal thing that he nonetheless chose to lie about, which might eventually prevail in a court of law, but it doesn’t make him look very good in the court of public opinion.
Which makes all the rest of the developments in the “Russia thing” look a lot less like a “WITCH HUNT!” and a “HOAX!” than a serious legal matter deserving thorough investigation. One of Trump’s former campaign managers is already in jail while awaiting sentencing on various charges including his work as an unregistered foreign agent for a Russian-aligned government, with Trump “tweeting” about his courage for not cooperating with the feds, and the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” is recommending and Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and his first administration’s national security advisor get off with no jail for several serious admitted felony charges because of his fuller cooperation with the investigation. Trump and his loyalists are already arguing that it’s entirely legal to pursue business deals with an adversarial foreign dictatorship while running for president and brazenly president and brazenly lying about it, and that might yet prevail in a court of law, but we’d like to think that some rump faction of the Republican party will join the rest of the court of American public opinion in taking a dimmer view of such behavior.
Cohen showed up in court for his sentencing accompanied by a pretty and youngish wife limping in a crutch and a couple of cute kids, and although we consider ourselves rock-ribbed law-and-order Republicans our occasionally bleeding hearts had some sympathy for him. Trump has “tweeted” attacks on his longtime attorney for being “weak” and “stupid” in the half-hearted cooperation with the special counsel, and Cohen even had to plead to guilty those charges. “Recently the president has tweeted a statement calling me weak, and it was correct,” Cohen told the court. “But for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.” He went on to say that he had trusted Trump’s moral compass more than his own, and that the personal failing that led to to his upcoming three years of imprisonment was “blind loyalty to Donald Trump.
There are persuasive arguments to be made for many of Trump’s policies, given that the unemployment rate is unusually low and the stock markets are still ahead of when Trump won office, despite the past year’s gains being largely wiped out by his stupid trade wars and the swelling national debt and the inevitable slight rise in interest rates, and of course those damned Democrats are as bad as ever. By now only the weak and stupid will blindly trust Trump’s character, however, and although they won’t likely run afoul of the law for doing so we expect they’ll also be judged harshly by history.

— Bud Norman

Watching the Sausage Get Made

There’s a wise old saying, apocryphally attributed to Otto Von Bismarck, that “Laws are like sausages, it is better not see them being made.” In this reality show age of politics and food shows the gruesome spectacles are always on display, however, so Tuesday brought the live-on-television opening round of negotiations between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer over an upcoming spending bill. Suffice to say it provided more melodrama than anything the competing soap operas had to offer.
To sum up the episode up in a TV Guide-sized synopsis, Trump insists any spending bill include at least $5 billion for a big and beautiful wall across America’s entire southern border, Pelosi and Schumer don’t want want to give it to him, and Trump is threatening a partial government shutdown if they don’t. Most followers of the ongoing political saga already have a rooting interest in either Trump or Pelosi and Schumer, and will cheer their heroes and boo their villains accordingly, but for those of us worriedly watching from the sidelines it just seems a damned mess. At this point in the plot our best is guess is that there won’t be any significant funding for a wall, there will be a partial government shutdown of unknown duration, and no one comes out of it looking good.
Nobody looked at all good on Tuesday. Trump and Pelosi and Schumer each played their reality show parts to their usual hilts, and their discussion of the nation’s pressing issues was as full of sound and fury signifying nothing as a typical cable news show’s panel debates or one of those pro wrestling skits Trump used to participate in, with both sides asserting their dominance rather than making rational arguments based on agreed facts.
As far as that went, we’d have to say that awful Pelosi woman and that awful Schumer guy got the better of the power play than that awful Trump fellow. Trump boasted live-on-air that for the next few days he can muster the votes in House of Representatives to give funding for his border wall, but he also admitted that because of the 60-vote rule for spending bills he didn’t have the needed votes in the Senate, and Pelosi could rightly note that when a sizable Democratic majority is installed in the House early next month he won’t get any border wall funding there. The Democrats clearly have the stronger hand, to borrow a poker metaphor, and even after seeing all his casinos go bankrupt Trump still doesn’t seem to know when to cash in.
Trump can rightfully boast he somehow how has the powers of the presidency, including the veto power that would lead to a partial government showdown, but we can’t see how that does him much good. Even partial government shutdowns are always unpopular, and Trump once “tweeted” back during the Obama that they were proof of a failure of presidential leadership, now he’s boastfully threatening one, and although that big beautiful border wall is always an applause line at Trump’s rallies it also doesn’t poll well. Pelosi and Schumer are more veteran players of politics, which is still mostly played by the constitutional and legal and traditional rules Trump is still learning, so we don’t see them folding to a president who has preemptively claimed credit for an unpopular government shutdown over an unpopular wall.
A more objective and deliberative consideration of government and border security would be welcome, but both sides would be still look bad. Those damned Democrats are far too weak on border enforcement for our tastes, and some of them are downright crazy about despite Pelosi’s and Schumer’s assurances, but Trump’s longstanding pledge of a big and beautiful border wall has always struck as one of the most cockamamie campaign promises ever made. Even if Trump could keep somehow keep his even more cockamamie campaign promise to have Mexico happily pay for it, which he no longer mentions, the wall is opposed by most Americans residing near the southern border and all of their Republican and Democratic representatives, its cost would surely exceed Trump’s pie-in-the-sky budget estimates just in court expenses for eminent domain seizures that offend our old-fashioned conservative sensibilities, and the money could surely be better spent on high-tech surveillance, border walls at a few essential points, and cracking down on the vast majority of illegal immigrants who arrived via airplane and outstayed their visas.
A smart and fair and vigorous enforcement of America’s border laws would surely round up several employees of Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, and probably cause some Democrats much embarrassment along the way, so we don’t see that happening. Instead we expect a prolonged partial government shutdown and legislative gridlock, plenty of booing and hissing according to partisan preferences, and that separate subplot about the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” proceeding apace to its cataclysmic conclusion.
Oh well, at least it could be worse if either side were to win.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, on the Mean Sports Pages

The political and economic and cultural news is full of scary developments lately, and the weather around here is damned cold, but on Monday we took a day off from all that to find some warmth in a good news story from the sports pages. The University of Oklahoma Sooners’ quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy for college football’s most outstanding player on Saturday, which we are obliged by family tradition to be happy about, and we were further gladdened to see that the young man is hanging up his football helmet and will instead pursue a career in professional baseball.
This was the second consecutive year that a Sooner won college football’s most prestigious individual honor, the first such back-to-back for any school since the 1945 and ’46 seasons, if you don’t count the Heisman that was taken back for reasons of corrupt rule-breaking from the first of two consecutive University of Southern California players in the 2005 and ’06 seasons, and it’s OU’s sixth Heisman overall, which is second only to those damned Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame. The Sooners have also won seven national championships, 41 championships in the high-level Big Six and Big Eight and Big XII conferences, and Murray’s Heisman further burnishes the Sooners’ reputation as one of America’s greatest sporting enterprises. God help us, we can’t help but be glad about that.
We grew up in Kansas and like to think ourselves true-blue Bleeding Kansas sorts of Kansans, but all our forbears were Okies from the territorial days and thus we grew up on Sooner football. Our beloved Pop attended OU back during the Bud Wilkinson days, when they set a still-standing win streak record on their way to three national championships during his four years of matriculation, and although he’s a very reserved and cerebral sort of fellow who takes only the usual red-blooded American male’s interest in most of the sporting scene he’s always been somewhat fanatical about Sooner football. In our youth the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State University Wildcats and Wichita State University Wheatshockers were all infamously bad at football, and although each had some serious bragging rights about basketball we always went with the extended family’s winner through the pigskin season. Along the way we witnessed some memorably extraordinary athletic feats and rousing victories and heart-breaking losses by the Sooners, and we’re grateful for such family traditions.
Even so, we’re glad to see this young Murray fellow is hanging up his football helmet and pursuing a career in baseball. For the past few football seasons we’ve followed the fortunes of the Sooners and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, both of which are championship contenders this seasons, but we haven’t been able watch a single down of it. Football’s such a violent game that it leaves an alarming number of its players with debilitating and life-shortening injuries, too many of its players are violent sorts of people such as the fellow that the Chiefs recently kicked off the team for pushing down and kicking a woman, and that takes a lot of fun out of the game for us.
This young Murray fellow is apparently one of those rarely gifted athletes with both the God-given athletic ability and hard-earned-on-his-own talents to play at least two games at the highest level of competition, and although our slow and awkward and wheezy selves can only imagine what that’s like we’re pretty sure he’s right to choose baseball. To its most gifted players baseball offers a longer and more lucrative career than football, and although it entails certain persistent aches and pains they’re far less likely to be debilitating or life-shortening than those from several other sports. Baseball’s a more cerebral and beautiful sport than football, too, and offers such a talented athlete as this Murray fellow at least as much glory on the baseball diamond as he might find on any football gridiron.
The previous Sooner Heisman trophy winner was Baker Mayfield, an arguably even better quarterback who is currently a contender for the National Football League’s rookie of the year award. As the top pick to the last place team in the NFL draft, Baker and his Cleveland Browns have a mediocre record of five wins and seven losses and a tie, but that’s four more wins than the franchise had in the previous three years, and with the NFL’s weird play-off system they’re still in the hunt for a very long-shot championship, so that’s more bragging rights for the Sooners. We wish this Mayfield fellow the best, by which mean we mean hope he has a long career and somehow enjoys his millions without a brain injury.
The season of Kansas’ beautiful game of basketball is well under way, with the Wildcats looking mediocre and the ‘Shockers looking worse and those snooty Jayhawks looking like championship contenders, although we happily note our beloved Wichita Heights High School Falcons are currently leading the City League. Come spring we won’t have any baseball pro baseball around here, as those stupid city father have torn down the venerable old Lawrence-Dumont stadium and won’t have a new up the net summer when they promise a shiny new affiliated Triple-A club to replace lovable Wichita Wingnuts, and until then we won’t mach to cheer about.. Meanwhile the political and economic and cultural news seems unpleasant, and we’ll take our vicarious victories wherever we can, so godspeed to this young Kyler Murray fellow.

Another Old Soldier Fades Away

President Donald Trump has announced that his chief of staff, the former four-star Marine General John F. Kelly, will soon make the latest inglorious exit from the administration. Kelly’s getting out while the getting’s still relatively good, as we see it, but not without his once sterling reputation tarnished.
Prior to signing on with Trump, Kelly commanded bipartisan respect. He not only had four stars on his shoulders but three bronze stars and numerous ribbons for valor in three wars and the 1982 Los Angeles riots on his chest, and he endeared himself to establishment Republicans without much annoying the Democrats as he led the Western European and then America’s Southern Command. When he replaced Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the former Republican party chairman who once epitomized the effete Republican establishment that Trump gleefully trampled, both Democrats and all sorts of Republicans expressed hope that the tough-as-nails Marine could somehow impose some sort of discipline on a seemingly chaotic White House.
By the time Kelly arrived several of those “very best people” that Trump promised to appoint had already been defenestrated, including the national security advisor who has since pleaded guilty on several felony charges and been recommended by the prosecution for a minimal sentence given his cooperation with numerous other criminal investigations involving Trump’s campaign and administration, and Kelly quickly ousted several more, including that Omarosa woman from “The Apprentice” and various other Trump-related reality shows who held some high-level administration post or another, which was at least high-level enough she was the most high-level black woman in the White House. For a while the remarkable man who had served so successfully in three wars and the 1982 Los Angeles riots seemed up to the task, but over the long run the Democrats were disappointed, and so were such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves, and even Trump himself had reportedly stopped speaking to him as he wished him well on his way out of the door.
One of those “very best people” that Trump had appointed and Kelly had to fire was White House staff secretary Rob Porter, whose resume included excellent educational and career credentials but also credible and legally-filed charges by two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend of domestic violence, and when Kelly did fire him after several disastrous news cycles he did so reluctantly and dishonestly and with kind words for the defenestrated employee and nothing to say about spousal abuse that tough old Marine general looked bad all the but the die-hard Trump fans. He grimaced when Trump spoke about the good people on both sides of a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but when all the military brass reassured their diverse personnel that they did not agree Kelly remained silent. When Trump wound up offending the family of a black soldier who had been killed in an unknown war in Niger he had ineptly tried to comfort, Kelly wound up insulting the family’s Congresswoman and personal friend, who is a ridiculous Democrat as we’re concerned, but the insult he made proved based on a lie and somehow wound up looking even more ridiculous. Along the way he also willing to make various other ridiculous defenses for indefensible White House missteps.
Kelly was also an outspoken proponent of Trump’s policy of enforcing America’s border laws as severely as possible, as was his hand-picked successor at the the Department of Homeland Security, but both fell into disfavor with Trump as border crossings into America’s still booming economy continued apace. The old school Kelly also seemed at odds with Trump on other issues, ranging from Trump’s penchant for nepotism and general lack of old school discipline, and particularly his disruptive policies toward the post-World War II era world order he’d fought so valiantly to defend. A while back Trump boasted that he knew far more about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization than the four-star Marine general who had once successfully led the West European Command, and that was when we knew that Kelly’s days as chief of staff were shortly numbered. As far as we can tell, Kelly wasn’t undone because of what he’d done wrong but rather because of what he’d done right.
At least it seems to have come a more or less fortuitous time. The special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” has lately come up with some hard-to-explain court filings involving Trump’s former campaign chairman and lawyer and national security advisor, the latest economic news isn’t much to brag about, a Democratic majority in the House is about to be installed, while much of the slim Republican majority in the Seate is revolting against Trump’s friendliness with Saudi Arabia, and for now it’s not clear who might replace Kelly. The presumptive replacement was Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, but it’s lately been reported that Trump is also consider ing dumping the obsequious Pence and Ayers has confirmed via “Twitter” that he doesn’t want the job and is also getting out of the administration while the getting’s still good.
Way back in the dark days of the Obama administration citizen Trump “tweeted” his dismay that the president had a third chief of staff in less than three years, but now Trump is searching around for the sucker to become his third chief of staff in less than two years, and we don’t expect any further “tweets” from him about it. As for Kelly, we wish him a happy retirement, despite it all.
We’ve known too many of those tough-as-nails men who fight our country’s battles to expect them to be politically correct about domestic abuse and racial issues and such, so we’ll chalk all of Kelly’s missteps up to being promoted by the wrong guy to the wrong job. He seems to have done his best to impose some discipline on Trump’s White House, and we admire any man who willingly walks into the quagmire.

— Bud Norman

A Prisoner of Trade War

Both sides of the American-Chinese trade war are now declaring a temporary cease-fire and trying to calm the global stock markets, but the arrest of someone named Meng Wanzhou, who is the chief financial officer of some Chinese company called Huawai, seems likely to complicate the armistice negotiations.
We’re embarrassed to admit that we’d not previously heard of of Huawai, which has only a tiny share of America’s lucrative “smart phone” market, but it’s apparently such a major player in the even more lucrative global market that it’s often called “China’s Apple.” Of course we’d also not previously heard of Meng, but apparently she’s the daughter of the Huawai’s founder and its presumptive next chief executive officer, so her arrest on charges of violating export controls and sanctions on Iran and other countries is being likened to China locking up Steve Jobs’ daughter and the presumptive CEO of Apple, which we figure would be a pretty big deal here.
Meng was arrested by Canadian authorities while on business in that country, but it was at the request of American authorities, and her extradition to this jurisdiction will likely be quickly expedited, so the metaphorical ball is now literally in America’s courts. So far as we can tell the charges meet the prima facie standard for an indictment, but most of our allies and President Donald Trump himself also stand credibly accused of playing fast and loose with international sanctions, so we’ll hold to faint hope that America’s judicial branch properly sorts out all the legal issues.
As for the geopolitical and international economic implications, those seem too complex to calculate and too much to hope for. Meng might prove such a formidable bargaining chip that the Chinese fold, to borrow a poker metaphor, but it’s also possible those inscrutable Chinamen will gladly sacrifice a mere daughter to save face, to borrow a grotesquely racist stereotype yet undeniably plausible outcome. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping doesn’t have to worry much about a pesky free press and an independent judiciary and public opinion, and perhaps cares even less about some capitalist pig dog’s daughter, while Trump can only wish for such freedom from constitutional restraints. All of Trump’s casinos went bankrupt despite house odds, and this Xi fellow seems an inscrutably wily Chinaman, if you’ll forgive the poker and racist metaphors, and we don’t expect this Meng woman’s fate to figure too significantly in the outcome.
The American stock markets dropped alarmingly on Tuesday, then took a day off on Wednesday to honor the funeral of President George H.W. Bush and his bygone era of American greatness, and then dipped deeply again on Thursday after the news of Meng’s arrest. By the end of the day the stock markets were reassured by some carefully reassuring language about the generally healthy economy from both XI and Trump and the heads of the Federal Reserve Board and the International Monetary Fund and the rest of the globalist financial establishment, and two of the major indices were largely unchanged and the third was ever so slightly up, so for now the smart money is holding out hope.
We’re holding out hope that things will muddle along, too, but we don’t expect that anyone ever will claim a complete victory.

— Bud Norman

The Day After the Funeral

The stock markets and the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” and the rest of the news took a day off on Wednesday for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, but the pause offered little respite for current President Donald Trump.
In keeping with its classy ways the Bush family invited Trump to attend the state funeral at the National Cathedral, although they didn’t grant him the traditional eulogy that sitting presidents give for past presidents, and to his credit Trump was on his best behavior. He was clearly uncomfortable, though, sitting next to the former president he had falsely accused of being unqualified by virtue of a foreign birth, and the former president he had falsely accused of lying America into a war, and the former First Lady he has long vowed to lock up, as well another former president he has called the second-worst ever. Worse yet, Trump had to sit through several speakers praising Bush’s war heroism and expert statesmanship and gentlemanly demeanor and and genuine compassion for others and self-effacing sense of humor, and perhaps contemplate how even his most die-hard fans won’t be able to say the same at his own inevitable funeral.
Worst of all, Trump surely knew that the stock markets and the special counsel investigation and the rest of the news all resume today, and that it’s not likely to make him look good.
The rest of the world’s stock markets were open for business on Wednesday, and were just as panicked about Trump’s trade war with China as the American markets were on Tuesday, and today probably won’t bring that greatest-ever deal that Trump has promised with China. Trump might yet bully the all-powerful Chinese government and its formidable economy into submission, but for now the stock markets aren’t betting on it.
The mainstream media that used torment Bush for his mostly forgotten missteps spent most of Wednesday heaping praise on his war heroism and expert statesmanship and gentlemanly demeanor and everything else they suddenly miss about a bygone era of compassionate Republican conservatism, but they also found some time to speculate about some scary developments in the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing.” Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and short-lived administration national security advisor, the former three-starArmy Gen. Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty to some serious felonies and stands credibly accused of several more, and on Tuesday it was revealed in open court that the special counsel is recommending no jail time partly because of the defendant’s long and distinguished military record but mostly because he’d been a genuinely repentant and very helpful witness in three ongoing criminal investigations. Special counsel Robert Mueller is a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War himself and is no doubt taking Flynn’s undeniably distinguished pre-Trump career into account, but we doubt that Flynn would have gotten such a sweet deal without providing some pretty damning testimony along with documentation to back it up, so it will be interesting to see what Trump “tweets” about it today.
Trump is already “tweeting” some controversial “tweets” about his longtime lawyer and former campaign manager and a longtime pal with a very unsavory reputation dating back to the Nixon days, and his namesake son and favorite daughter and son-in-law are also caught up in “Russia thing” stories, and it’s getting harder for all but the most die-hard Trump fans to dismiss it all as “fake news.” The rest of the news, from the Korean peninsula to the soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, is similarly foreboding. Trump might yet strike that artful deal that makes America great again, but for now both ourselves and the smart money aren’t betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Casualties of the Trade War

Trade wars are good and easy to win, according to one of President Donald Trump’s most famous “tweets,” but the smart money on Wall Street seems to disagree. The Dow Jones Industrial average plummeted a scary 799 points on Tuesday, the other major stock market indices dropped a similar 3-plus percent, and the clear cause was Trump’s apparently ongoing trade war with China.
After a dinner meeting with Chinese President Xi Jiping at the G-20 gathering Argentina on Saturday Trump announced that he’d won such majors concessions from China as huge agricultural buys from American farmers and eliminating any tariffs on American-made automobiles, and was therefore prepared to pause a trade war that has thus far proved disastrous for both countries, which led to big stock market gains on Monday. By Tuesday the Chinese were denying they’d made anything like the extraordinary concessions that Trump had bragged about, Trump’s economic policy advisors were walking most of it back, and Trump himself was “tweeting” that “President Xi and I both want this deal to happen, and it probably will. But if not remember, I am a Tariff Man.” A later “tweet” shouted that “We are either going to have a REAL DEAL with China, or no deal at all – at which point we will be charging major tariffs against Chinese product being shipped into the United States.” Despite the poor grammar, the “tweets” clearly communicated that the trade war continues, and won’t be easily won, so the smart money on Wall Street responded accordingly.
On our way home from an evening chore we heard one of the right-wing talk radio talkers say that Trump had nothing to do with the stock market drop, and he somehow blamed it on the Apple and Boeing companies instead, but Trump and his apologists always find someone else to blame. We’re more inclined to believe the smart money opinion of the JPMorgan financial juggernaut, which told its investors in a trading note that “It doesn’t seem that anything was actually agreed to at the dinner and White House officials are contorting themselves into pretzels to reconcile Trump’s tweets (which seem if not completely fabricated then grossly exaggerated) with reality.” We’re not impressed much by JPMorgan’s prose style, either, but it does clearly communicate the truth of the matter.
Trump’s apologists would do better to argue that China’s trade policies well deserve an aggressive response, as they do indeed charge unfair tariffs and make the theft of American intellectual property a condition of doing business with American companies and benefit from the slave wages paid to many of China’s workers, but it’s harder to argue that Trump is winning. As bad as China’s trading policies might be, Trump was claiming full credit for a booming stock market and rising commodity prices when he declared the trade wars with China and most of the rest of the industrialized world, so he can’t dodge blame for things going downhill ever since. Trump’s bad habit of doing his end zone dance before he reaches the goal line make him look the more ridiculous to the American public and on the world stage every time, and harder for him to make that great deal he’s always promising. China’s dictator Xi doesn’t doesn’t have to worry about public opinion, and although world opinion doesn’t favor him it does take him seriously, and China’s economy is either the biggest or second-biggest in the world, depending on how you figure it, and prematurely boasting about the concessions you won from him probably isn’t the best negotiating strategy with a wily Chinese leader and his traditional Chinese obsession with saving face.
The sort of low-key and culturally-sensitive and behind-the-scenes negotiations that might have yielded improved trade relations between China and a formidable American economy and steadfastly principled  and experienced American president aren’t Trump’s style, however, and for now we expect more tariffs and “tweets” and stock market downturns. In the long run Trump might yet get the greatest deal ever with his bull-in-a-china-shop approach, if you’ll forgive the culturally insensitive cliche, but on Tuesday the smart money wasn’t betting on it.

— Bud Norman