Happy New Year, and What’s to Come

This will be our last essay of 2016, and a longstanding journalistic tradition dictates that we either write a fond remembrance of the past 12 months or a hopeful look ahead to next year. We can’t bring ourselves to look back at the past year for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, yet we’re the hidebound sort of traditionalists who live and die by such wise Old Testament allusions, so we suppose we’ll have to peek through the nearly crossed fingers over our eyes at what’s coming.
Our powers of prophecy are as limited as the next guy’s, so don’t go making any stock picks based on our conjecture, but by now we’ve been to enough figurative and literal rodeos to venture a cautious guess that no matter how bumpy the ride we’ll all get through it for at least another trip around the sun. That’s not for certain, as a few of our friends and loved ones and many more famous people and countless others found out during the latest journey, and the off chances of the whole she-bang going up in flames are as present as always, but past experience and the lack of other options make us wiling to make that cautious prediction. Should it prove wrong about either us or you, at least we won’t have to hear any taunts about it.
The big story of the past year was Donald Trump somehow being elected President of the United States, and it doesn’t take an Old Testament prophet to confidently predict that will also be the big story of the upcoming year. Despite all the figurative and literal rodeos we’ve attended, and the many other improbable things we’ve witnessed over the years, it’s still hard to believe, Nonetheless, on this year’s end we’ll offer up some publicly proclaimed hope that we all survive. The only other option offered by that year we won’t look back on was Hillary Clinton, and along with an Electoral College majority of the country we’ll even acknowledge that it could have been even worse.
Somehow, though, we and you and almost all the rest of us and everything else seem to yearly survive all that sort of thing, with the smartest and the luckiest among us even thriving as they live fulfilling human lives throughout the worst of it. That’s what we’re wishing and hoping for on this nearly New Year’s Eve, for us and you and all the rest.

— Bud Norman

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Taking In-Coming From the Out-Going

In the long stretch between Election Day and Inauguration Day the Obama years have overlapped with the Trump years, and of course that is not going well. Two such oversized egos as President Barack Obama and president-elect Donald Trump, both with such undersized regard for the longstanding norms of the American republic, were never going to amicably share such a drawn-out moment in our recently rancorous history.
The pair had a somewhat promising photo-opportunity together when they met in the White House just after the election, although most of the shots showed them both looking a clearly stunned and unsettled by the results, and they both described the long conversation as cordial and said all the reassuring things that outgoing and incoming presidents always say. Since then, however, things have predictably deteriorated. Obama gave a widely publicized interview with an old friend in which he speculated that he could have a won a third if only the Constitution had allowed, which is the kind of thing that two-term presidents have traditionally said only in chats with old friends that aren’t so widely publicized, and Trump responded with a petulant “tweet” saying “I SAY NO WAY!,” which is entirely unprecedented in presidential history.
Obama was then at Pearl Harbor for a somber World War II memorial ceremony with the Japanese Prime Minister, where his speech included that “It is here we remember that even when hatred burns the hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is the most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward; we must we much resist the urge to demonize others,” which can arguably be interpreted as a criticism of the incoming president, which is indeed a departure from tradition for out-going presidents. Trump certainly seemed to take those arguably anodyne phrases personally, as he quickly “tweeted” in response that “Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition — NOT!,” which is also well outside the usual norms of presidential rhetoric.
So far both sides are claiming all the re-hiring and re-painting and re-assignments of parking spaces that go with any old presidential transition are nonetheless proceeding smoothly, along with the gold-plating of the toilets and the skimpier uniforms for the household staff and whatever else is required for this particular presidential transition, but the rift has already had consequences more significant than hurt feelings. Obama has unleashed such a last-month torrent of regulations that Trump will be hard-pressed and much-hassled to un-do them all, and Trump is already talking deals with the long line of companies that have threatened to move jobs out of the United States. One can only imagine what sorts of presidential pardons will be issued between now and the still-distant Inauguration Day by the out-going president, and what the president-elect will have to “tweet” about it, but one of the in-coming president’s most trusted advisors is already advising an entirely unprecedented and vastly more pervasive use of the president’s pardon powers. Obama has ordered retaliation for Russia’s internet hackings and other meddling in the election, which the Central Intelligence Agency and other officials confirm, but Trump continues to deny it ever happens and told the press that “I think we should get on with our lives” in any case.
The two are also clashing over the very serious matters of Israel’s security and the rest of that thorny Middle Eastern situation. After nearly eight years of diplomatic and rhetorical slights against Israel, and a long effort to negotiate a very accommodating deal with with the Iranian apocalyptic suicide cult that has vowed to build nuclear missiles to wipe out the Jewish state, Obama has concluded his time in office by allowing the United Nations to pass a resolution condemning the building of housing for Jewish Israelis in some disputed territories. The disputes regarding those territories are complicated, and to be fair Obama has also added $34 billion worth of state-of-the-art American weaponry to Israel’s arsenal during his administration, but there’s a lengthy case to be made that Obama’s legacy is a disgraceful backstabbing of our only modern and democratic and mostly sane friend in one of the world’s worst but most unavoidable neighborhoods.
Trump tried to fit his argument against the move into a “tweet,” and came up with “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” Although poorly punctuated and otherwise quite unprecedented in the history of presidential rhetoric, we’ll concede it does contain a certain kernel of truth. There is a lengthy case to be against the United Nations in general and its treatment of Israel in particular, and we’ve made it at length here over the years, but when you try to boil it compress it into 140 characters concluding with “So sad!” you wind up calling into question every international agreement that the United States has ever negotiated through the United Nations, which is not something an in-coming president should be doing. The past many millennia of human history show that successful diplomacy requires a certain precision of language, and that punctuation is also important, and the sooner the president-elect realizes this the better.
Neither man has proved himself worthy of the high office they momentarily seem to share, and their clash of oversized egos has been a tawdry spectacle. We’re supposed to take sides, so we’ll stick with the old norms of the American republic.

— Bud Norman

Down at the Mall in the Debit Card Age

Post-Christmas brawls have been breaking out at various shopping malls around the country, according to The Washington Post and the social media cell phone videos that sure seem to verify its account, but we’re pleased to report that the Towne East Mall here in Wichita was eerily placid on Tuesday afternoon. At this point in this modern age, we found it strangely comforting.
Some years have passed since the last time we found ourselves at the place, which is way the hell over on the east side and was the first big newfangled shopping mall that started the decline and fall of our nearby and old-fashioned and much-beloved downtown, which we’ve always resented, and it was one of those modern hassles that drew us back into its automatically opening doors.
An Automatic Telling Machine in the parking lot of the ghost mall that was once the fashionable Twin Lakes Mall had swiped our debit card, so we got on the internet and found a number at what used to be the local bank downtown but has long since been bought out and re-bought out by a huge national bank where at least we could gripe about it to someone even after the old-fashioned banking hours, and the nice enough guy who answered the phone was profusely apologetic about it, after a series of questions regarding Social Security numbers and other passwords and a couple of security questions we’d forgotten our flippant answers to, and we were assured that a replacement would arrive in our old-fashioned mail box within five to six business days. Although we expressed our gratitude for the profuse apology, we also pointed out that five to six business days is an awful long time to go without with a debit card in this modern age. Given the difficulty of writing a check these days we envisioned ourselves diving into the local dumpsters for food and other sustenance, which seemed all the more grim after hearing a radio report about some local dumpster-divers who reported a human corpse they’d found in the back of a south side drug store, which the local police have deemed suspicious, but the nice guy on the phone at that late hour told us we could obtain a temporary replacement at any local brick-and-mortar branch during the old-fashioned banking hours. By early the next afternoon we were diligently at the task, but the branch downtown — not in the fancy glass building with the Sandy Calder mobile that the local bank built in the heart of downtown, but in the ugly little just-brick-and-mortar one a few blocks south that the big national bank uses — had run out of the plastic pieces. The nice enough lady at the bullet-proof window we eventually reached was also profusely apologetic, and offered to set an appointment about an hour later at the branch way the hell over on the east side in the Towne East Mall’s parking lot.
So with time to kill and a sociological interest at heart, we killed 40 minutes of a reasonably warm post-Christmas afternoon walking around the mall. We walked through those automatic doors with a Zen-like freedom from any faint to desire to buy something, and we didn’t possess a debit card even if we were somehow tempted, but we thought it was worth a look. The place seemed in good shape, clean and bright and well heated and filled with a variety of clean and bright and well heated businesses, including a few that even we recognize as being at least slightly fashionable. Business appeared brisk, too, as the foot traffic was heavy.
Post-holiday bargains are still on and school is still out, so the moms on a budget and the kids who like to hang out at the mall were in full force. The kids seemed alright, as The Who might have put it, and at least none of them were brawling. Many were wearing t-shirts proclaiming some state championship or another that their schools had won, and almost all of them were wearing sneakers that we noticed in a shop window are far more expensive than the old-fashioned Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars that we were sporting. We couldn’t help noticing that almost all the girls were either worrisomely skinny or worrisomely fat, and that darn near every last one of them had jeans or black pants of some sort of fabric that tightly fit to their worrisomely skinny or worrisomely fat legs, and that most of them and their young male companions looked pretty dorky to our jaded eyes. A few of the bargain-hunting moms seemed to hit that sweet spot somewhere between fat and skinny, and let an appropriate but intriguing amount of fabric come between it and the passersby at the mall, and with all due apologies to modern sensibilities that’s just the kind of thing even our jaded eyes can’t help noticing when walking around to kill 40 minutes or so at the mall.
As always we took great care not to give any offense to any passersby, and everyone seemed to respond in kind. Business was clearly brisk, and at this point we’ll leave it to the partisans to decide if President Barack Obama or president-elect Donald Trump deserves credit for it, although we’ll note that those nice enough people behind the counters and in small stacks of goods in the middle of the hallway at the mall surely deserve some recognition. They conversed with one another in a conspicuously wide array of languages, and their skin tones ran the same dark-to-pale gamut as the customers, and there were a couple hijab-clad women and even a burqa-wearing woman pushing strollers up the escalators, and everybody seemed to be doing commerce and social intercourse about as well as can be expected by global and historical standards. It wasn’t like downtown back in the old days, but we suppose it could be far worse.
After waiting another interminable 15 minutes or so in the ugly little bank branch in the parking lot, behind a young Latina woman who was trying to open a joint checking account with her mother, who needed translation for all the difficulties involved, along with some more questions about Social Security number and addresses and security questions and all that, we did get that temporary debit card. We activated it in the ATM that you have to walk through a couple of doors to reach, and it purchased us some Kung Pao Chicken from the drive-thru at the Eggroll King over on the nearby westside and a six-pack of Coors from the Delano Liquor Store across the street, and for now our dumpster-diving days seem forestalled. We sure do hope that the police can figure out what happened to that dead body in the dumpster behind that drug store, though, and that the rest of us can continue to more or less get along.

— Bud Norman

Handicapping the Hypothetical

There’s always a lull in the news between Christmas and New Year’s Day, even in such a crazy election year as this, so the papers have fill to space with what might have been. President Barack Obama helped out on Monday by confidently speculating, in a widely quoted interview, that he would have won a third term if he’d run for re-re-election. The 22nd amendment to the Constitution prevented it, so he didn’t, but it nonetheless makes for interesting speculation on a slow news day. Donald Trump, who did wind up winning the race, of course helped out further by responding with one of his typically eloquent “Tweets”: “President Obama says that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! — jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”
Although we’re loathe to say any such thing about either of these loathsome men, we think that both can make a plausible case for their boasts.
Obama’s approval ratings are inexplicably high at the moment, despite his party’s loss, and far higher than Trump’s, despite the honeymoon bump a president-elect always gets in the fresh aftermath of a victory. Many of the economic numbers are also better than last time around when Obama beat a Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, and the awfulness of his foreign policy was just as apparent back then. Trump did wind up losing the popular vote by a whopping 2.8 million to a charmless old white woman with 30 years of scandals the press could not ignore, so it’s not hard to believe that Obama could have used his teflon-coated charm and undeniable political savvy to muster just enough young folks and black people in those three rust-belt states he won twice but where Trump’s razor-thin pluralities swung the electoral vote.
On the other hand, we suspect that Obama’s approval ratings can be explained by the fact that he’s mostly been out of the news lately, what with Trump’s illiterate “tweets” and other embarrassing antics taking up all the space. Given all the vastly more qualified candidates he thrashed on his way to that electoral victory, it seems quite plausible Trump could have dragged Obama down to the same unfavorable muck. Trump and all the rest of the Republican party ran on various platforms that were mostly defined by their opposition to the past eight years of Obama, and most of them did pretty well with it, so we can see how even Obama himself might have faced difficulties. At this point it’s hard to put much in the faith in the polls, too, and some of those seemingly rosy economic numbers are also fishy to a whole lot of people.
So there’s no telling how that hypothetical Obama versus Trump cage match might have turned out, and whose head would have been shaved at the end, but as long as we’re speculating about what might have been we will wistfully wonder how it might have been decided on the merits.
The headline employment rate is in undeniably better shape than when Obama took office just as one of the worst recessions ever was beginning a recovery, but the rebound has been historically weak and the less-mentioned U-6 rate of unemployment that includes the under-employed and part-timers and those who have given up on finding work still hasn’t fully recovered. Obama’s massive “stimulus package” of budget-busting infrastructure spending and other market interventions clearly didn’t do any good, but the combination of Trump’s promised tax cuts and even bigger infrastructure spending and meddlesome decisions about the hiring policies at Indiana furnace factories don’t appear any more promising over the long run. The stock market is still sky-high, but that has more to do with the Federal Reserve Board than either Obama or Trump, and we’ll have to wait to see how that might turn out. That Obamacare law is so horrible it should have run its eponym out office eight years when he was running against that Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, but Trump said too many things about universal coverage and pre-existing conditions and how great things are in Scotland to make us confident things will get better.
The Islamic State turned out to be far worse than the jayvee team that Obama thought it was, and his ridicule of his final Republican opponent’s warnings about Russia looks ridiculous to the Ukrainians and every other country threatened by the rapidly re-organizing Soviet Union, and his deal with Iran seems destined to provide that apocalyptic suicide cult with a nuclear bomb. On the other hand Trump is promising to join forces with Russia to defeat the Islamic State while re-negotiating with the Russian’s good friends in Iran, meanwhile “tweeting” up a renewed arms race with the Russians, and he’s also “tweeted” his disdain for whatever the Central Intelligence Agency or the United Nations or Boeing or Lockheed have to say about it, so there’s no telling how that will end up.
In any case the Obama years are about to come to a decisive end, which will surely bring some good, and the Trump years are about to commence, which might not be all bad, and the both of them are apparently the boastful and thin-skinned sorts we would never trust with such a high office. Once you start to speculating the possibilities are infinite, but in all of them we find ourselves for voting that same quixotic third-party write-in candidate who never had a chance.

— Bud Norman

Begging the President-Elect’s Pardon

At this point it is still unclear how president-elect Donald Trump will avoid the conflicts of interest his vast network of business holdings might bring when he takes office next month, but former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has proposed an ingenious solution for some of the equally well-healed cabinet picks and other high-level appointees. Speaking to the Diane Rhem Show on American University’s radio station, Gingrich suggested that Trump could simply pick anyone he wants and them do whatever they please and then issue a pardon if it turns out to be illegal.
“He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon,” Gingrich said. “I mean, it’s a totally open power, and he could simply say ‘look, I want them to be my advisors, I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules, period.’ And technically under the Constitution he has that level of authority.”
This newly discovered level of authority might serve a variety of other purposes, as well. Not only could Trump enrich himself by any means he choose, up to an including outright theft, and he could also refuse to pay any taxes. Should Rosie O’Donnell or some other celebrity nemesis prove too pesky to put up with, he could even put out a promise of a pardon to anyone who might provide a “Second Amendment solution.” Similar threats could be made against who ridicules Trump’s hair or smirky expressions, and there’s no telling what else a man of Trump’s apparent ingenuity might come up with.
Gingrich might regret that he blurted out his novel theory of presidential authority before President Barack Obama leaves office. Trump’s predecessor has greatly expanded the power of the office already, but once he finds just how very unrestrained he can be the next couple of weeks could keep him very busy.

— Bud Norman

Merry Christmas

There’s lots of scary stuff in today’s news, but as we head into the Christmas weekend we’ll pay more heed to a proclamation of God issued by one of his angels more than two millennia ago: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.”

— Bud Norman

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Merry Christmas, and All the Rest

If anyone is still waging a war against Christmas, they seem to be losing. Pretty much everywhere we go these days we find some sort of Christmas or another, and at this point we expect that children will awaken Sunday morning to gifts under a Christmas tree and that Christians will give thanks for Christ’s birth in their churches and that the celebration will of that wonderful day forever persist.
President Barack Obama once again marked with the occasion with an all-inclusive “season’s greetings” announcement, which annoyed all the traditionalists, and president-elect Donald Trump defiantly “tweeted” a “Merry Christmas” that made no mention of the holidays that other faiths celebrate during the season, which annoyed all the more up-to-date multi-cultularists, but we’ll pay no mind to any of it. We’ll simply offer our most heartfelt Hanukah wishes to all of our Jewish friends, our hope for a peaceful Ramadan to every Muslim with peace in his heart, share with our pagan friends a gladness that the winter solstice has passed and the days will now start getting longer, try to be understanding of anyone who still mark Kwanzaa, although none of our black friends ever have, and as always we will continue to wish a merry Christmas to all of our fellow Christians.
What with all the gift-buying and bill-paying and bone-chilling temperatures that attend this time year, it seems foolish to complicate it any further with politics or up-to-date theories of social justice. Let Starbucks sell its overpriced coffee in any sort of cup it wants and the local Christian shop decorate as it wishes, let Obama be all-inclusive and Trump be specific, and let the overpaid guys on Madison Avenue and the overworked clerk at the local convenience store offer whatever positive sentiments they might be comfortable with. We’re happy with any kind thoughts these days, even if we are mostly glad it’s almost Christmas.

— Bud Norman

A New Year’s Resolution: No MTV

Way back when the Music Television network first started coming through the cables we watched 24 straight hours of its fare, drinking coffee and keeping notes along the way for a rather snarky feature story in the local newspaper, and since then we’ve rarely tuned in. MTV does occasionally come up in our daily news reading, though, mostly recently when it offered its New Years “resolutions for white guys.”
Being white guys ourselves, we couldn’t help wondering what the network was suggesting. We hoped MTV was urging its youthful white male audience to shave those ugly beards and stop getting tattoos and start taking an occasional glance up from those newfangled telephones they’re always looking at, but of course it was just the usual white guilt-mongering and man-shaming.
The video begins with a head-and-shoulders shot of a clean-cut and pasty young white guy addressing his “fellow white guys,” with the usual quick cut to the same shot of a chubby Latino-looking fellow noting that it’s about to be a new year, with another quick cut to the head and shoulders of a non-threatening young black man who explains that “here’s a few things we think you can do a little better in 2017.”
Another quick cut the to head-and-shoulders of an attractive young woman of fashionably indeterminate ethnicity, who advises that first of we should “try to recognize that America was never ‘great'” — with the disdainful internal quotation marks emphasized by that two-fingered gesture the kids use — “for anyone who wasn’t a white guy.” After another quick cut to a bookish-looking young black woman saying “Can’t we just all agree that Black Lives Matter isn’t the opposite of all lives matter?” That clean-cut and pasty young white is quick cut to again to say that “Blue Lives Matter isn’t a thing,” and there’s an even quicker cut to that non-threatening young black again who laughs at the very idea, noting that “cops aren’t born with blue skin, right?”
With the cuts coming in dizzying quickness, a white guy with one of those ugly beards urges white men to stop bragging about being “Wook,” or at least we think that’s how it’s spelled, and the aforementioned chubby Latino says to stop saying “Wook” altogether. A bookish-looking young white woman says to “learn what ‘mansplaining’ is,” or at least we think that’s how it’s spelled, and to stop doing it. Then there’s that clean-cut and pasty white guy telling us to believe any woman who alleges she has been assaulted by an Ivy League athlete. There’s something about someone named Beyonce and a dig at Fox News, some inside joke about Kanye West that we take to be a dig against his friendship with president-elect Donald Trump, the bearded white guy’s advice to not mention one’s black friends, and the non-threatening young black man’s brief rant that having black friends doesn’t mean you’re not racist.
They throw in a brief admission toward the end that not all white guys are bad, we think it was the bookish looking young white woman who said so, but it’s all in the same cheerfully hectoring tone. Pretty much every word of it is astonishingly stupid, too.
Countless non-white-guys have found America great enough to sacrifice their lives for it, and at the moment it’s probably better for that attractive young woman of fashionably indeterminate ethnicity than it is for those coal-mining white guys who voted for Trump. We agree that Black Lives Matter isn’t the opposite of all lives matter, and don’t know anyone who doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t going to wind up costing a whole lot of young black lives. No, cops aren’t born blue, but that doesn’t mean their lives don’t also matter, even if that isn’t “a thing.”
We’ll go along with the ban on saying “Wook,” whatever that is, but so far as we can tell “mansplaining” is when a man explains something to a woman, and we often find ourselves in dealings with women when we have to explain things to them. Usually we’re explaining our tardiness and temporary penury, but at other times such things as quantitative easing or the infield fly rule, and try as we might we can’t avoid it. That bookish-looking young white woman should also know that we more often find ourselves having women explain things to us, oftentimes with a certain vehemence that we rarely muster, but we suppose she would consider that properly assertive feminine behavior. We’d ask one of our black friends how they deal with the inevitable need for the occasional explanation of something or another to a woman, as “mansplaining” is apparently a behavior unique to white guys, but we’re also told it would be racist of us to acknowledge that we have black friends.
We’re not sure why that clean-cut and pasty white guy singled out Ivy League athletes as sexual predators, rather than the Southeastern Conference or the Big XII or some and blacker and more big-time association, but we suspect it’s because he thought it would sound less racist, which strikes us as a rather racist assumption. There are black athletes in the Ivy League, of course, and even those white guys on the non-Ivy but still pretty highfalutin Duke University lacrosse team turned out to be innocent. We’ll consider these occasional college rape allegations on a case by case basis, thank you, and be glad that it’s ultimately left to the judicial system.
We’ll also happily refrain from any mention of Beyonce or Kanye West, unless it allows us to take a dig at Trump from an old-fashioned Republican perspective, and try to be at least less obnoxious a white guy than the old white guys running MTV and the young white guys they keep sending out through the cables. Although we can’t stop being white guys altogether, not without expensive surgery and a whole lot of explaning to some of the women we know, it’s the best we can do.

— Bud Norman

Complications at Christmastime

On Monday an asylum seeker from the Islamic world who had been welcomed into Germany drove a large truck into a crowded Christmas celebration in Berlin, killing at least 12 and injuring dozens more, and a suit-and-tie-wearing Turkish police officer shot a Russian diplomat at an art opening in Ankara, leaving the envoy dead on the floor as he shouted as he shouted about the bloody war being waged in the town of Aleppo and the rest of Syria. Donald Trump was chosen by the Electoral College to be the next President of the United States, too, and the pre-Christmas news is as complicated as ever.
All the details are still unclear from latest the news reports, but the broader facts that have already been established of the matter in Berlin seem clear enough. An all-too-familiar case of a radicalized Islamist waging war against a country that had offered him refuge from war, which no matter how the news puts it in German or English will only harden Germany’s growing opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming policies and bolster American support for president-elect Trump’s campaign promises of “extreme vetting.” Every country’s politics and press will somehow complicate it, but it really is as simple as that.
All the gory details of the videotaped murder in Ankara are by now well established, but the broader implications of the act are still muddled. A North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally failed to provide adequate security for a diplomat from Russia, which has lately been very pesky for the alliance, and it was a radicalized member of the country’s police forces that did the deed, so it makes for a thorny situation even without all those videotaped shouts about Aleppo and Syria before the assassin was gunned down. The bloody war in Syria involves the mass-murderous Assad regime striving to retain power against a diverse array of rebel forces, the terror-sponsoring and soon to-be-nuclear-armed apocalyptic suicide cult in Iran, the Iranians’ good friends the Russians, who have supplied much of the firepower that has been brought down on Aleppo and the rest of Syria, of course neighboring Turkey, which has seen a destabilizing swarm of refugees pouring across its border and has shot down a Russian plan as part of its extremely complicated-by-the-Kurds-and-all-that response, along with some American efforts on behalf of some rebels we are assured are not radicalized.
All of which makes it unclear to us just what that suit-and-tie-wearing assassin was shouting about as he gunned down that Russian diplomat. He clearly didn’t like how Russia has been meddling in the Syrian conflict, as we don’t, although not so ardently, but with so many sides to choose from there’s no telling which he picked, and we’re having some difficulty with that choice ourselves, and we note that even our NATO ally and former “special friend” Turkey has lately been flirting with the Russians. That suit-and-tie-wearing assassin probably won’t wind up like that scraggly anarchist who shot Archduke Ferdinand down and wound up starting World War I, but it certainly is a mess that Trump finds himself with.
Trump is undeniably unsullied by any of this, as he was busy firing some b-lister or another on “Celebrity Apprentice” while President Barack Obama was drawing obviously bluffed red lines in the sands of Syria, and offering misspelled “reset buttons” to the Russians, and dismissing the Islamic State that figures so prominently not only in that Syrian conflict but many of those attacks in western countries, and “leading from behind” a pointless war against a pacified Libyan dictator that wound up with an American diplomat and three other brave American souls dead and his party out of White House, but Trump still complicates things still further. He’s the impulsive sort who urged on that Libyan war, and then lied that he was against it all along, and he seems to prefer InfoWars and The National Enquirer as a source of information about what’s going on in the world, and until we see his tax returns we’ll be somewhat suspicious about his own flirtation with the Russians.
All through his remarkably successful campaign Trump had very nice things to say about Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and boasted about the very nice things Putin had said about him, and he promised that Putin would never invade Ukraine and later said it was not necessarily a big deal that he actually had, and talked openly about how NATO wasn’t such a great deal, which always concerned former Russian puppet states and not the increasingly radicalized Turkish state. Since he won on this Russophile platform he has scoffed at the CIA’s conclusion that the Russians interfered in the election, made several high-level appointments with economic ties to Russia, and still hasn’t released those tax returns or any other financial disclosures that would surely prove he doesn’t already have some ongoing deal with the Russians.
Perhaps Trump’s friendly relationship with Putin will fulfill his promise to eliminate the Islamic State, but so far Putin seems more interested in bombing whichever less assuredly less-radicalized American-backed faction poses the greatest threat to the Assad regime, which is so closely aligned with the same Iranians that Trump has promised to negotiate a better nuclear deal with, and there’s always a chance that even an apocalyptic suicide cult will bend to the well to two of world’s three great nuclear powers, but so far Putin seems confident that any Iranian nuclear missiles won’t be landing in Moscow and indifferent to any that might fall on New York, so it’s going to take a difficult negotiation to work all that out. Tough talk of mutually assured destruction worked well during the Cold War, or at least it has so far, but back then there always tax returns and blind trusts involved. In the Christmas season of this crazy election year, after eight years of Obama, it all seems very complicated.
This is the Christmas season, though, and this will be the eighth of the Obama years, and we’ll trust that despite the best efforts of that refugee in Germany the holiday will still be celebrated and that despite that assassin in Turkey another world war won’t interrupt it.

— Bud Norman

The Likely Denouement of a Crazy Election Year

At some point today the Electoral College will convene, and at this point in this crazy election year we’d be willing to a bet a beer that that they’ll they pick Republican nominee Donald J. Trump.
Usually there wouldn’t be any uncertainty about it, but in this crazy year there is still that one-in-a-gazillion chance it might be someone else. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton did win the poplar vote by 2.8 millions votes or so, and there are Central Intelligence Agency reports suggesting the Russkies might have had something to do with the more important Electoral College outcome, and there’s suddenly unprecedented pressure on the duly-elected electors to choose somebody other than Trump. Even in such a crazy election year as this it seems highly unlikely to pick someone as awful as Clinton, though, so even if the Electoral College somehow denied a majority of its votes to such an awful candidate as Trump the crazy election year would wind up in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where they they would almost pick Trump over such an awful candidate as Clinton, so the chances of any other conclusion seem unhappily remote.
We’d be willing to bet that at least one or two Trump’s pledged electors will defy their pledge, but that will only knock one or two votes off that electoral landslide he’s been falsely boasting about, and won’t keep him from taking the oath of office on Jan. 20. He’ll no doubt be boasting at that time, too, and at least it will mean that awful Clinton woman isn’t being inaugurated.
Other than that we can’t say we’re looking forward to the inauguration, but we’ll try to have a merry Christmas nonetheless.

— Bud Norman