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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

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The “Girther Theory” and Its Jokes

The “girther theory” is by no means the most important story in the news these days, but it is by far  the most hilarious. If you aren’t up to date on the latest internet “memes,” the “girther theory” is a play on the “birther theory” that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and therefore constitutionally ineligible for the presidency, and it alleges that President Donald Trump is lying about his girth.
It all started when Trump submitted to a physical examination, and the attending physician publicly reported that the president is six feet and three inches tall and weighs 239 pounds. We could never making a living at state fairs by guessing people’s height and weight, and the doctor is a naval officer who was also Obama’s physician and seems a lot more credible than that wild-eyed straight-from-a-Grateful-Dead-concert quack who wrote a note during the presidential campaign attesting that all of Trump’s tests were positive and he would be “the healthiest president ever,” so we were willing to take that as a fact. Some more body-conscious smarty-pants than ourselves found the weight slightly suspicious, though, partly because it’s just a few pounds short of what would be considered obese on the latest medical charts, and partly because of all those photographs of Trump in his golf pants and tennis shorts.
The crueler sorts on the internet started posting pictures of professional athletes reported to be six feet and three inches tall and approximately 239 pounds, and by comparison Trump undeniably has more girth. Trump has proved he can claim with a straight face that nobody has more respect for women and he’s the least racist person you’ve ever met, but even he won’t dare boast of the most perfect six-foot-three-inch-and-239-pound male physique anybody has ever seen, and say that everybody says so, that he can tell you, believe him.
Back in the days of the inarguably obese but vastly-underrated President William Howard Taft we would have never made fat jokes about the president on the internet, but that was a different time and this is a different president. Trump has a long history of making unfavorable comments about other people’s looks, from his days rating celebrity women on a one-to-ten scale on Howard Stern’s shock jock radio, noting that “It’s very hard for a small-breasted woman to be a ten,” to saying that far more qualified Republican primary opponent Carly Fiorina was unqualified because “look at the face.” He even disparaged the posterior of his general election opponent by saying that when she walked ahead of him into a debate “believe me, I wasn’t impressed.” It got a big laugh from a rally crowd, but hardly rises to the witty level of Groucho Marx telling Margaret Dumont that “Ah, I can see you bending over a hot stove, but I can’t see the stove,” and it’s an open invitation to all the fat ass jokes he’ll have to endure on the internet and the late night comedy shows for the next few days.
Which isn’t the most important thing going on in the news, of course, but it is kind of funny. Kind of sad, too, that both the president and his critics and the rest of our popular and political culture has arrived at this level of public discourss.

— Bud Norman

Reality v. the Reality Show

There are all sorts of serious issues afoot these days, such as immigration policy and yet another continuing spending resolution that’s soon required to keep the government funded, not to mention that whole messy “Russia thing,” and ideally they would all be resolved by the merits of angrily shouted arguments. These days, though, one must also take into account all the soap operatic subplots of the nation’s ongoing reality show in the age of President Donald Trump.
The United States Senate, once known as “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body,” took up the immigration issue on Tuesday with testimony from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and for the most part it was the serious sort of discussion of a serious issue one might wish from one’s government. Nielsen struck us as well-informed and well-spoken, made a better case for Trump’s policy of strict enforcement of current immigration laws and a more merit-based system than he ever could, and handled the Democrats’ mostly reasonable questions without resort to any of the taunting nicknames Trump routinely relies on.
She also struck us as a strikingly comely DHS secretary, which of course has nothing to do with the merits of her well-stated arguments, but it’s nonetheless worth mentioning in the context of this ongoing reality show in the age of Trump. We noticed that the Washington Post and the Associated Press ran the most unflattering pictures they could take along with otherwise fair coverage of the hearing, and if you’ll forgive some frivolous fan talk about the reality show we think we missed a bet. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is also quite attractive, as is that communications director Hick Hopes, who’s lately been subpoenaed by another Senate committee looking into that “Russia thing,” prime time spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway has her own Cruella Deville sort of appeal, and the left should be making the very convincing case that Trump prefers women’s beauty over brains.
Nielsen would have overwhelmed that argument with her well-spoken and well-reasoned testimony, though, if only a couple of Democratic senators hadn’t asked her about Trump’s widely-reported comment to a bipartisan gathering of senators about immigrants from what he called “shit-hole countries,” which has lately been the biggest subplot in our nation’s ongoing reality show. A credible Democratic senator is staking his political reputation by insisting the president did use that vulgarity, a credible Republican senator has more or less verified the account and even claimed some discreet credit for raising his objections to such language, which the Democratic senator has praised him for doing, and the president’s more sycophantic senators are only saying they can’t recall what the president said.
By now even Fox News is reporting that yeah, the president actually said that, and anyone who’s been following this reality show since Trump descended down that Trump Tower escalator to launch his campaign with a speech about Mexican rapists knows it sure sounds like something he’d say. When Nielsen said that she couldn’t recall Trump saying that at the meeting she’d attended, only that she’d heard foul language from everyone but herself and the senator who as asking the question, she lost not only lost all the credibility she’d earned with her well-informed and well-spoken arguments for Trump’s immigrations but also killed our emerging crush.
All of which complicates the far more serious matter of a looming deadline for dealing with all those telegenically sympathetic “dreamers” who will be kicked out of the country if action isn’t taken by Congress and signed by the president. Trump himself claims to be the sympathetic to the “dreamers,” but he’s also wed to the more rock-ribbed and hard-sorted sorts of Republicans who have some very serious arguments about why America should strictly enforce its immigration laws and enact others that are even more merit-based, and his by-now undeniable comments about “shit-hole countries,” and his DHS secretary’s futile attempts to deny it, have made those arguments harder to make.
Which in turn makes it all the harder to get yet another continuing spending resolution to keep the government running. These every-few-months-or-so annoyances are always complicated enough, but this time around the Democrats have that “dreamers” issue as a negotiating position, probably even Trump and surely the rest of the Republicans majorities in the House and Senate know they’ll take the inevitable  public relations hit for a government shutdown, and the argument is unlikely to be decided on the merits. If these sorts of things were decided on the merits, though, we’d have annual budgets passed budgets passed by bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress and signed by a president of one party or another, and honest people of both parties should admit that stopped happening long before the Trump reality show debuted
There’s also that ongoing “Russia thing,” too, and even Trump’s most die-hard apologists have to adit that’s pretty much unprecedented. Another Senate committee is calling for under-oath testimony not only from the aforementioned comely Hicks but also Trump’s former campaign and administration “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, now entirely disowned and dubbed “Sloppy Steve” by Trump, and that involves more reality show subplots than we can explain here. Bannon was quoted in the best-selling but widely disputed book “fire and Fury” that was was last week’s big story alleging that Trump’s son and son-in-law were “treasonous” by taking an admitted meeting with a Russian lawyer they knew to be connected to the Russian government during all that “Russia thing,” and his under-oath testimony about that will likely be the next big subplot in the nation’s ongoing reality show.
Elsewhere in the real world the stock markets are up, the unemployment rate is down, and despite the recent spate of cold weather around here most of the people we run into are pleasant enough. We’ll hold out some faint hope that our reality somehow prevails over all that nastiness in the reality show of the news.

— Bud Norman

Aziz Ansari and the Counter Sexual Revolution

Sooner or later some prominent celebrity was going to be accused of sexually inappropriate behavior and the charges would be a bit too ambiguous to stick. For now it seems that prominent celebrity is Aziz Ansari.
If you’re not fully au courant about all the current celebrities, Ansari is a popular standup comedian who had a notable supporting role on the long running “Parks and Recreation” television series and now writes and stars in a popular and well-reviewed Netflix series called “Master of None.” He’s also an impeccably and slightly preachy liberal who wrote a very feminist book about dating, but nonetheless comes across as a likable fellow and is often quite funny. All the more surprising, then, that he’s the latest in the long list of accused celebrities.
The accusations, though, don’t rise to the level of misconduct recently alleged. Ansari’s anonymous accuser recalls meeting him at the Emmy awards, where he was wearing a pin to signal his support for the anti-sexual harassment “me too” movement, and admits being charmed by his celebrity and well compensated wit, having an enjoyable conversation about their mutual interest in photography and shared fondness for a certain ’80s-era camera, and exchanging several mutually flirtatious texts before excitedly accepting his invitation for a date. The date began at his swank apartment in a swank part of Manhattan, where she was slightly annoyed he served a glass of white wine rather than her preferred red, and then proceeded to a swank oyster bar on an historic boat just a few blocks away, where she snapped a cell phone picture of the lobster rolls that is included in the babe.net news site’s tell-all account of the evening. She alleges that what happened when they walked the few blocks back to Ansari’s swank apartment resulted in “the worst night of my life,” but even if you believe the worst of it we’d guess that most women have had many worse nights,
As she tells it he quickly had her sitting on the marble countertops she had complimented, and then began kissing her and fondling her breast, and although she recalls feeling uncomfortable she does not report that she protested or otherwise resisted the advances. When he shortly announced he was going to get a condom she said “Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill,” then allowed him to continue kissing her and briefly perform oral sex, then voluntarily if unenthusiastically briefly returned the favor, and within ten minutes it ended without what the accuser calls “actual sex,” but was followed by some prolonged finger-in-mouth business and some clumsy attempts to guide her hand toward his crotch, repeated requests for “actual sex” that she put off by saying “next time,” some more brief oral sex, another “aggressive kiss,” and then a tearful Uber ride home.
Which is all quite tawdry, to be sure, but even the most stridently puritanical or feminist district attorney would be unlikely to regard it as sexual assault by any jurisdiction’s legal definition, and by the standards of recent celebrity scandals it’s merely tawdry. The anonymous accuser acknowledges that when Ansari texted her about the date, and she texted back that “You ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept advancing,” and “I want to make sure you’re aware so maybe the next girl doesn’t have to cry on the ride home,” Ansari texted back that “I’m so sorry to hear this. Clearly I misread things in the moment, and I am truly sorry.” Ansari repeated the apology in his statement about the babe.net story, which didn’t deny any detail of the accuser’s account, and we think that speaks well of his character.
The whole account is undeniably tawdry, though, and we can’t help finding Ansari a little less likable and his comedy a little less funny after reading it. As much as we’d hate to be accused of “slut-shaming” we think his accuser could have handled things a bit better, and expect that most stridently puritanical feminists would have preferred a more forceful response on her part, but we do sympathize with what she and few other women have had to put up with over the years. By now we’ve heard pretty much the same tale countless times, albeit without the fancy lobster rolls and swank apartments, from both tearful women friends and genuinely regretful men friends, and it’s always sounded just as tawdry.
We try not to judge, lest we be judged, but the same Sunday-school-inculcated Christian instincts leave us nostalgically yearning for those long-fogotten cultural norms that used to preclude such unpleasantness. Not for everybody, of course, as men’s obviously instinctive aggressiveness and women’s seemingly instinctive passivity have resulted in rape and sexual assault since long before the Bible was written, but at least for those well-trained men and women who conformed to those old-fashioned cultural norms.
Those old-fashioned notions were long ago laughed away by Hollywood and academia and the rest of the popular culture, with the feminists now leading the “me too” movement piling on, and the puritans of the religious right are momentarily busy defending a Republican president who had bragged on tape of doing far worse things than Ansari stands accused of, but right now the entire sexual revolution seems at a moment of reckoning, along with the fact of obnoxious male sexual aggressiveness and female vulnerability that it previously overlooked.
There were always moral and legal reasons for men and women to proceed slowly and deliberately with sexual relationships, and to put off any sort of sexual contact until a romantic relationship was more firmly established, and if the current trends offer more pragmatic reasons that’s fine by us. Given the rules people have been playing since the ’60s we’ll not pass judgment on Ansari or his accuser, or any of our male and female friends who have the same story to tell, but we hope that all of them will agree the rules need to be changed.

King for a Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America, and we’re tempted to take it easy for the full 24 hours like all the federal workers. It’s a good day for pundits to take stock of racial relations in the country, though, and we can’t quite resist it.
On the whole we assess the state of the union’s racial relations as strong, at least based on our daily experience of the country. Here in Wichita, Kansas, in the very heart of the contiguous United States, our more or less white middle-aged Republican selves are constantly encountering all sorts of people, and for the most part it goes well. Some very dear black people worship with us every Sunday morning, some Laotian and East Indian immigrants supply us with all our legal vices through the week, we weekly enjoy the carne asada chips from the Taco Lopez drive-through window manned by some lovely senoritas whose immigration status we’ve never bothered to question, and the very, very spicy chicken fried rice rice from a family of Thai immigrants that is also favored by the movie star Harrison Ford when he’s in town to get maintenance on his Wichita-built jet. Whenever we arrive at the door of a convenience store or mall or a public office there is almost always somehow who comes from God knows what sort of background, and we happily note almost of these encounters go swimmingly well.
As we look at the news, though, things seem somehow more complicated. When President Donald Trump ritually proclaimed the extended Martin Luther King Jr. weekend Day on Friday, clearly uncomfortable around all the black people surrounding him, he had to duck out of the room to dodge the questions about his reported comments than Latin American and African countries are by comparison to Nowrway “shit-holes” — by now presidential language, despite our old-fashioned objections to such profanity — and refuse to answer a shouted question if the president of the United States is a racist.
The question has frequently been raised in the past, and Trump’s indignant answer was always the characteristically superlative claim that “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever met.” He didn’t bother to reclaim the boast while proclaiming the extended Martin Luther King Day Jr. weekend, though, and instead ducked out on some questions our old-fashoned party-of-Lincoln Republican would have liked to have answered. Given trump’s proudly stated stands against Mexican-deervived judges and unjustly accused-of-capital-crimes African-Americans and critical Gold Star families of the Islamic faith, and we can’t blame any of our diverse friends for being displeased.
If Trump and all those anti-Trump social justice warriors would just butt out of it, we think the rest of us could work it out well enough.

— Bud Norman

Bluntness is Not the Best Policy

President Donald Trump has a penchant for frankly blurting out whatever is on his mind at the moment, and he became president largely by persuading a plurality of the electorate  that’s somehow a good thing. What served him well enough as a presidential candidate has often proved a problem during his presidency,however,  as happened several times on Thursday.
The biggest headlines were about Trump telling a bipartisan gathering of congress members that he objected to allowing immigration from such “shit-holes” as Haiti and El Salvador various African countries, and then opining we should be bringing in more immigrants from countries such as Norway. Relatively little attention was paid to the barnyard epithet, and at this point Trump has so degraded the level of political discourse with his cussing that we no longer bother to bowdlerize it with those pointless asterisks that much of the mainstream media still quaintly use, and by now we even relish rubbing the wayward Trump apologists among our evangelical brothers’ and sisters’ noses in it, but the apparent prejudice of the remark was more widely noticed.
There are perfectly valid and not at all racist arguments to be made for favoring immigration from some countries rather than others, and for perfectly valid and not at all racist reasons Haiti and El Salvador and several African countries are among the less desirable and Norway is among the more desirable, and we would have preferred that Trump make that case. He’s not much good at that kind of rhetoric, though, and what we he wound up blurting out instead was not only vulgar but clearly suggested a prejudiced state of mind. All the Democrats from districts with large hispanic and Caribbean and African-American populations were entitled to their outraged comments, the Republicans from Florida and the impeccably conservative yet ethnically Haitian Utah Rep. Mia Love joined in the denunciations, and no one in the remaining respectable precincts of Republican opinion defended the remark.
The talk radio talkers and the rest of the Trump apologists in the less respectable precincts Republican opinion will try to wed the remark to those perfectly valid and not at all racist arguments for immigration reform, and they’ll rightly note that none of those offended Democrats plan to spend any vacation time in Haiti or El Salvador or several African countries, and the true die-hards will continue to love Trump for saying out loud what they’re thinking. Their chances of persuading the rest of the country have been severely diminished, though, and the arguments that Trump isn’t a racist are even harder to make. We’d also note that there are bound to be a few impeccably conservative Republicans such as Love coming from even the most shit-hole countries, that few Norwegians and people from other first world countries are yearning immigrate anywhere, for obvious reasons, and that Trump isn’t lately doing much to make America a more attractive alternative.
Trump also “tweeted” his objections to the routine re-authorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, apparently in response to an earlier “Fox & Friends” report about how the act had authorized part of the ongoing probe into the “Russia thing,” which was followed by a phone call from House Speaker Paul Ryan explaining the respectable Republican opinion on the matter, and 101 minutes after the initial “tweet” Trump followed by another blurting of whatever was then on his mind by saying that “Today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get Smart!” By all accounts, things grew testy when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to explain that to the smarty-ass press corps.
There was also the expected late-night comedy show guffawing about Trump’s boasts that his earlier profanity-free and not at all racist 53 minutes of televised meeting about immigration had gone so well that the network anchors had sent him letters calling it the best meeting ever, which was obviously and laughably untrue, especially after he wound up promising to sign whatever those congressional swamp creatures passed, and some other ridiculous blurting out of whatever of was on his mind at the time which we can’t quite recall now.
There’s a reasonable and not at all racist argument to be made that Trump is doing some things right, and that insisting on a more restrictive immigration policy is among them, and at the very least he hasn’t kept the stock market from soaring the unemployment rate from dropping at the same steady rate of the past few years. The election year argument that Trump should keep blurting out whatever’s on his mind without a moment’s consideration of  the consequence of a president’s word, though, is looking more stupid than ever.

— Bud Norman

Trump, the DREAMers, and the Resulting Mess

Way, way back during the 2016 presidential campaign, the matter of illegal immigration was a very big deal. The real-estate-and-casino-and-reality show magnate Donald Trump became President Donald Trump largely because of the very hard stand he took against it. He promised to make Mexico pay for gargantuan border wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean to keep out all the drugs and rapists they’d been exporting, ban all Muslims from entering the country until the country could “figure out what the hell is going on,” and prided himself on a politically incorrect position regarding any illegal immigrants who had been brought here as children.
Given the arguably as extreme open-borders position that could plausibly be attributed to the Democratic Party in general and its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in particular, and their inability to deny it without offending a significant portion of its base, and much of the more centrist portion of the Republicans assuming that surely Trump wasn’t entirely serious about about the crazier parts of his rhetoric, it proved a shrewd move for the Republican ticket. Since then, though, the politics have become more complicated.
Trump almost immediately retreated from that pie-in-the-sky promise about Mexico happily paying for a sea-to-shining sea wall along its north border, the courts have fitfully interfered with Trump’s travel restrictions that his lawyers insist were never intended as a ban on Muslims entering the country, and those illegal immigrants who had been brought to the country as children have a far higher approval rating in all the opinion polls than Trump. He’s still insisting that the Mexicans will eventually pay for a border wall “some way or another,” but he’s no longer insisting they need a wall everywhere along the border and he’s not talking about making it translucent so that pedestrians on the northern side won’t be hit by the drugs the Mexicans are tossing over the wall. He’s also contesting all the court challenges to his travel restrictions, and seems on a winning streak, but it’s been pared down somewhat and by now even he’s stopped talking about a clearly unconstitutional Muslim ban. He can rightly brag to his most die-hard supporters that he’s had the general effect of drastically deterring illegal immigration, which we begrudgingly admit is well worth bragging about, but on that matter of all those illegal immigrants who were brought here as children he’s in full retreat.
There’s an indeterminate but undeniably large population of illegal immigrants who were brought here as children, who have mostly turned out the way the people tend to do, and what to do about them has long been a matter of public debate. Most Republicans have long maintained that illegal laws should be enforced dispassionately lest the laws become meaningless and all sorts of open-borders craziness continue, most Democrats have taken a more predictably sentimental point of view about some of the photogenic and undeniably sympathetic kids who had grown up here and become model semi-citizens through no fault of their own, and for a while it was pretty much a public relations draw. The Democrats couldn’t muster the votes the to pass the “DREAM Act” that would have protected the unwitting illegal immigrant “dreamers,” but neither could the Republicans muster the votes to prevent President Barack Obama from imposing the policy by executive action.
During the presidential campaign Trump wavered on whether he’d undo that execution action by his own executive action if he were election, and he continued to waver after he was elected. He eventually wound up rescinding the policy at some far off future date, but did so with the statement that he hoped Congress would make the policy law in the meantime.
Since then all the rest of the nation’s politics have become all the more complicated, what with all the chatter about whether Trump is sufficiently intelligent and emotionally stable for the job or the “very stable genius” he claims to be, which clearly came into play when Trump met on Tuesday with a bipartisan group of legislators to discuss the “dreamers” and the rest of the illegal immigration matter. Trump surprised everyone by letting the hated fake news videotape a full 53 minutes of the meeting, and he was clearly playing to the reality show to cameras to demonstrate that he’s like, really smart and bipartisan and politically correct, not dumb and hyper-partisan and racist like people say. He nodded respectfully at the Democratic and Republican opinions that were offered, didn’t repeat himself, and the performance had Rush Limbaugh gushing that Trump had refuted all that chatter from all that tell-all book and even the Cable News Networks’ Dana Bash was remarking that he seemed very presidential.
The kooks at the extremes weren’t fooled, though, and neither were we. When Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Trump if he’d accept a “clean” “DREAM bill” such right-of-Limbaugh commentators as Ann Coulter, author of the past best-seller and now bargain-bin book “In Trump We Trust,” were rightly appalled when he said he’d be open to that. The next guy to talk was Republican House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who reminded Trump that of course of a “clean” “DREAM bill” would include funding his border wall and other border enforcement, and when Trump readily agreed that was what he meant by a “clean bill” the left knew that the previous statement was no longer valid. Before he ran the cameras out of the room Trump was on tape saying he’d be happy to sign anything that the people eventually came up, even if he wasn’t “in love with it,” and that he hoped whatever they came up with would “loving.”
Which leaves us with no idea how it will all turn out for those unwitting illegal immigrants or any of the rest of us, except for a certain surety that it won’t live up to Trump’s “only I can solve” campaign rhetoric. It also seems likely that Trump will wind up signing a more-or-less-clean “DREAM Act” even Obama couldn’t get passed, which would be a nice thing for those sympathetic and unwitting illegal immigrants but a blow to other unsentimental but necessary border law enforcement efforts, and at this point we don’t much care who scores the political points.
In any case the stock markets are up and the unemployment rate is down, that “Russia thing” is still looming, with  “sneaky” Feinstein also involved in that, and the question of whether Trump is intellectually and temperamentally unfit for his office or a very stable genius will continue to be a matter of public debate.

— Bud Norman

Fusion GPS Goes Public at Last

One of the main subplots of the “Russia thing” soap opera, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is a dossier of information compiled by a former British intelligence agent alleging that President Donald Trump had a long history of shady business dealings with various Russian organizations and that the Russian government worked diligently to get him elected. It also had some very salacious stories about Russian prostitutes, which delighted all the late night comics, and it’s gotten a lot of attention.
To Trump’s die-hard defenders, what was scandalous about the dossier was its very existence. Although it was first commissioned by the right-of-center Washington Free Beacon, which was hoping to stave off Trump’s insurgent campaign for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, and then funded by some unknown Republican donor who still held out faint hope in latter stages of the primary race, it was eventually funded by the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton, and that’s enough to taint it on talk radio. The former British intelligence agent relied on the sources he’d developed as the MI6 agency’s top Moscow spy, and apparently that’s what Trump means when claims that Clinton and the Democrats colluded with the Russians. There were a couple of quickly proved errors, too, and much was hard to verify.
What Trump’s defenders called the “dodgy dossier” or the “debunked dossier” and even the mainstream news is now calling the “infamous dossier” quickly became it’s own scandal. It was alleged that the dossier was the evidence presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to open the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counter-intelligence probe into Russian meddling in the American presidential election, and therefore all of its findings should are the fruit of a poisoned tree. Last summer that Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee hauled in the top two people at Fusion GPS, the private investigating firm started by former Wall Street Journal investigative reporters that had hired the former British intelligent agent, and grilled them for ten straight hours of a closed hearing. Information about the testimony was leaked that allowed the talk radio hosts to paint the pair as a couple of conspirators out to smear Trump’s stellar reputation, and their dossier as “dodgy” and “debunked” and at the very least “infamous.”
On Monday the top two Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee, chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, even referred that British intelligence agent to federal law enforcement for criminal investigation. That was apparently a step two far one of the committee’s top Democrats, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who audaciously defied her Republican colleagues and longstanding tradition by releasing all 300 pages of that long ago testimony by the two guys at Fusion GPS.
The two guys at Fusion GPS had always insisted their testimony be made public, and so had a lot of other people who suspected that they’d made a better case for themselves than the talk radio talkers suggested with the selectively leaked information. As it turns out, it’s clear why they wanted the testimony made public and the Republicans didn’t.
They credibly deny any political motivations, rightly noting they offer their opposition research services to both Republicans and Democrats, testified they found reasons to believe federal law enforcement also had sources warning of Russian meddling in the election, and noted that Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent they’d hired, had an excellent reputation with America’s intelligence agencies. Recent reports suggest that one of those sources was the Australian ambassador to the United States, who reported to the American former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Popadopoulos had been drinking with him one evening and bragged that his candidate had dirt on his Democratic rival straight from the Russian government, reports indicate that others who listen in on Russian calls had passed along similar warnings, and that happened before Steele started snooping around.
We’re not clear what criminal acts Grassley and Graham think that Steele might have committed, but he doesn’t seem convincing as the bad guy in the whole “Russia thing.” Despite the aforementioned quickly proved errors in what he frankly acknowledged was raw and unfinished intelligence gathering, and even though a lot of it has not yet been verified by a subpoena-wielding special counsel probe, much of it holds up well. Steele’s early allegation that the Russians were making a concerted effort to help Trump in the election is now the consensus opinion of America’s intelligence community, Trump’s Central Intelligence director has blamed the Russians for the hacking of the DNC, his Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged Russian hacking attempts on 20 state election offices, all the social media sites have testified to Congress that the Russians used them to spread propaganda, and Trump himself begrudgingly mumbles his slightly equivocating agreement. Steele called the FBI to warn them of Russian meddling, which is more than Donald Trump Jr. did when some Russians he knew to be connected to the Kremlin offered dirt on Clinton, and even the talk radio conspiracy theories are based on the assumption that his word was good enough for the FBI and the FISA court.
There’s also been a lot of solid reporting by respected publications and broadcast programs around the world that backs up Steele’s accounts of Trump’s shady dealings with Russians, the aforementioned idiot Trump Jr. has bragged to the press about all the Russian money flowing into the family’s still wholly-owned businesses, and the special counsel team of investigators includes some lawyers famed for their past money-laundering and Russian mob prosecutions. The special counsel already has a couple of guilty pleas, including the aforementioned idiot Papadopoulos, as well Trump’s short-lived and very Russia-connected national security advisor Mike Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is currently contesting a variety of Russia-related charges, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is clearly in the investigative cross-hairs, and the special counsel has reportedly requested an interview with Trump himself.
Trump’s lawyers will probably protect him from anything short of some written answers to written questions, and his defenders on “Fox & Friends” and talk radio and the Senate intelligence committee will surely come up with some spin, but from our seat on the sidelines the “Russia thing” doesn’t seem likely to end soon. We’ll not venture any predictions how it all turns out, and it may all turn out to be a grand conspiracy between the “deep state” and the “globalists” to prevent Trump from making American great again, but we don’t expect that those Fusion GPS guys and that former British intelligence agent turn out to be the bad guys.

— Bud Norman

The Battle of the Celebrities, the Fate of a Nation

That Oprah Winfrey woman gave an uplifting and cliche-filled acceptance speech at the Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday night, which is the sort of pop cultural pap news we used to happily ignore, but by Monday afternoon there was simply no escaping all the buzz about her possible presidential campaign. Such is politics in the age of President Donald Trump.
Back in the good old days, which we now date to around the time Trump took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his seemingly improbable presidential campaign, the possibility of a Winfrey presidency would have been the stuff of satire. She’s never held a political position or worked in public service, has no political philosophy save for what one might discern from her occasional incoherent public pronouncements, and lacks any apparent qualifications for high public office save the billions of dollars she’s made from her status as a reality-show celebrity. That would have ended the discussion back in the good old days, but in the age of Trump the Republican party is hard-pressed to make those once obvious arguments against such obviously unqualified candidates.
Those darned Democrats made all the same obvious arguments against Trump, but they were less convincing after eight years of celebrating the rock star presidency of President Barack Obama, and it couldn’t carry such an unappealing figure as former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and presumptive first-woman president Hillary Clinton across the finish line, so we understand their excitement for Winfrey. Her afternoon talk show ran twice as long as Trump’s “Apprentice” reality show and made her a far bigger TV star, she’s arguably even richer than Trump and her up-from-the-ghetto biography is far more Horatio Alger-esque than the son of a millionaire New York real estate mogul, and her touchy-feely public persona contrasts comfortably with the snarling “you’re fired” image that Trump has long cultivated. Say what you want about Winfrey, and our old-fashioned Republicans selves have plenty to say about her, we have to admit that at least she wouldn’t be “tweeting” about the size of her nuclear button.
With a certain snobbish pride we admit we never watched so much as a second of Winfrey’s not talk show, nor Trump’s insipid prime time reality game show, but she kept popping up in the political news in all sorts of troubling ways. She promoted some theories about “mad cow” disease that put her in disfavor with all our favorite Kansas cattle ranchers and our own carnivorous selves, promulgated some questionable advice about childhood vaccines and other pressing public health issues, and seemed all too prone to magical thinking and other disastrous pop cultural fads. Her admirable efforts to encourage reading put several fine old and authors on the national bestsellers lists, but she also fell for a couple of literary hoaxes some of the more noteworthy authors were embarrassed by her endorsements. One can also clearly glean from her many publicized public pronouncements and fawning television interviews that she’s more or less an Obama sort of mainstream Democrat, which is disqualifying for such old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves and a lot of our radicalized and more traditional Democratic friends, but if the fate of the nation comes down to Nielsen ratings we suspect she might well win.
There’s also talk that former World Wrestling Entertainment champion and current action-adventure movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will jump into the race. We’ll snobbishly admit that never seen a single second of his wrestling or action-adventure moving acting, and we have no idea if he’s a Republican or Democrat or what his political philosophy might be, but from the look of him we can’t imagine the aging and obese and combed-over Trump “tweeting” anything about his manliness.
We’d rather it didn’t come down to that, and that instead our nation’s fate came down to a carefully deliberated consideration of the very complicated issues we face as a nation, we’re no longer hopeful. The extraordinarily rich American popular culture that bequeathed to the world jazz and country music and rock and soul and and the rest of the incredible Ameircan songbook, along with Hollywood movies and prairie deco architecture and those Oprah-endorsed works of William Faulkner and the rest of our national grassroots greatness, is at an undeniably awkward moment, and our politics is in an arguably even worse state.

— Bud Norman

Smart and Stable Is as Smart and Stable Does

There’s something slightly unsettling about hearing an American president reassure the public that he’s intelligent and emotionally stable, as President Donald Trump felt obliged to do over the weekend. It reminds us of President Richard Nixon’s assurance that “I am not a crook.” or President Bill Clinton’s vow that “I did not have sex with that woman,” or Fredo Corleone’s cry in “The Godfather Part II” that “I’m smart, not like everybody says, like dumb, and I want respect,” and we remember how all those turned out. Trump’s boasts that “I’m, like, really smart” and “a very stable genius” have a similarly ominous ring.
Trump has been conspicuously defensive about his smarts and sanity ever since he took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his improbable campaign for the presidency, but his sensitivity has been heightened by the publication of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which has lately been flying off the shelfs with a considerable publicity boost from Trump’s futile efforts to prevent to its publication and his ongoing insistence that it’s all fake news. The book depicts a dysfunctional White House trying to cope with a not-very-bright and downright childish president, with some pretty unpleasant quotes coming from people once very close to the president, which prompted Trump’s “Tweets” and public remarks about being “like, very smart” and a “stable genius.”
As he did throughout his improbably successful campaign for the presidency, Trump answered his critics with characteristic braggadocio. He boasted of his academic excellence at a top-notch college, the billions of dollars he’d made in private business, his status as the star of highly-rated reality television show, and the fact that he’d won the presidency on his very first try. Such cocksureness played a large part in his improbable electoral college victory, along with an admittedly uncanny knack for convincing West Virginia coal miners that a billionaire New York City real-estate and reality-show mogul was their messiah, and it might work now. All of it was questionable all along, though, and we still suspect it worked mainly because the alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump did indeed graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, which indeed plays its football and basketball games in the prestigious Ivy League, but he spent his first two years at second-tier Fordham University before his father’s money got him into Penn and nobody there recalls him as an exceptional scholar and his academic records are as tightly as restricted as President Barack Obama’s. He has made billions in business, but nobody who follows the big money believes he’s made even half what he claims, and most contend he would have done better by investing his inheritance in a solid mutual fund and spending his time reading up on history and public policy, and there were many embarrassing bankruptcies and business failures along the way. He did indeed improbably wind up as President of the United States, but there hasn’t yet been a public opinion poll showing most Americans glad of that.
As much as we’d like to we can’t deny Trump has a rare genius for making his character bugs seem a a feature to enough of the voting public to pull off an improbable electoral college victory, even it was against the likes of that horrible Clinton woman. Trump’s otherwise alarming tendency to say any crazy thing that popped up into his head was lauded as refreshing honesty, his glaring racism and sexism were celebrated as a blow against “political correctness,” the illiterate crudity of his ad hominem responses to any valid criticisms was cheered the “authenticity” of his “punching back twice as hard,” and a lot of West Virginia coal miners and other disaffected white folk in flyover cover wanted to vicariously live the gaudy decadence of his boastfully adulterous and self-indulgent lifestyle in a way they never did with Bill Clinton’s zaftig affairs.
As appalled as we were by that horrible Clinton woman and her hound dog husband and had been since way back when Clinton was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the greatest Secretary of State ever, we never believed a word of it, no matter how many times Trump said “believe me.” The guy who draws the “Dilbert” cartoon and other thinkers would try to explain how Trump was a “master of persuasion” whose seemingly un-parsable pronouncements were the cutting edge of political rhetoric, and we had to admit that he was far better than we or Socrates or Daniel Webster could ever be a persuading broke suckers to sign up for Trump University or the rich fools who owned United States Football League franchises to go head-to-head with the National Football League and somehow win in the civil courts, but we doubted it could have the same effect on the presumably more sensible you hope to find in the Congress and federal judiciary and the free press and other institutions promised to vanquish. We also doubted that all those taunts and nicknames and National Enquirer stories would culminate in any positive policy results.
Trump and his apologists will point to the recent stock market records and holding-steady jobless rates and the absence of any nuclear mushroom clouds on the Korean peninsula, and they have a point that of course they’ll vastly overstate. Trump’s de-regulating executive orders and the tax bill the Republican establishment delivered to his desk have no doubt nudged the stock markets on an even higher trajectory that they’d been since before he took office, but at least one or two of those de-regulated regulations are likely to fuel some future scandal with multipole fatalities, that tax bill is polling horribly, and job creation has actually slowed compared to the last two years of Obama’s administration. The North Korean dictator that Trump has taunted as the “short and fat” “little rocket man” with a nuclear button that’s not nearly so manly as Trump hasn’t yet exploded any nuclear missiles, and he’s suddenly opening talks with South Korea that Trump claims credit for but isn’t involved in, and the rest of the world seems just as pleased to leave Trump out of it.
Meanwhile there’s the whole “Russia thing” and that messy business of what to do with all the “dreamers” who were unwittingly became illegal immigrants as children and yet another continuing resolutions that’s needed to keep the federal government running, along with numerous other matters that Trump hasn’t yet comprehensibly commented on. as well as a lingering concern that there’s something no quite right about the president. The worry is widespread enough that Trump spent a weekend “tweeting” and telling reporters that he’s very smart and sane, and reports suggest that its shared in hall of power of both allies and adversaries, and that’s bound to have eventual consequences.
Trump might have been an excellent student at that top notch college, but the seventh-grade English teacher at our otherwise second-rate junior high school would have riddled his “tweets” with red marks for spelling and punctation and syntax and general comprehensibility. He’s no doubt richer than we are, but even our limited entrepreneurial abilities could have at least broke even with a casino and we know enough about football not to go head-to-head with the NFL and we’re too kind-hearted to sucker anyone into investing in a phony baloney real estate course, and until he offers up his tax returns and the rest of the full disclosure that presidents are supposed to offer up we’re skeptical of any claims he makes. If we make it through the year without any mushroom clouds over the Korean peninsula we’ll give him some credit for that, but we’ll never agree that the nuclear button size comparisons had anything to do with it.
We’ve had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the years, and we’ve long noticed that not a single one of them ever bragged to us that they’re, like, really smart, and all of them would have scoffed at being called a genius. Nor have any of the very stable people we’ve happily know ever felt the need to reassure us that they’re, like, very stable. We’ve also had the good fortune to know some highly ethical people, too, and none ever had to contrast their ethics with those of that awful Clinton woman.

— Bud Norman