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There are Tougher Jobs Than Yours

As much as you might hate your job at the moment, please take some comfort in knowing that it could be worse. You could be Jussie Smollett’s agent, or the head of public relations for the Nike shoe company.
We must admit we’d never heard of Smollett until he recently alleged he was attacked in Chicago by two white men wearing Make America Great Again ball caps and shouting President Donald Trump’s campaign slogans and homophobic slurs, but apparently he’s a black and openly homosexual actor on a reportedly popular show called “Empire.” His story seemed suspicious from the start, even if several news outlets were quite eager for politically correct reasons to believe every word, and over the course of the ensuing investigation the story seems to have fallen apart. On Thursday Smollett was charged with filing a false report, his bond was set at $100,000, and Chicago’s Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson rather angrily laid out what looks to be a pretty damning case against the actor.
Johnson said the Chicago cops are in possession of a $3,500 check written by Smollett to a black “Empire” extra and his brother, who have reportedly confessed to helping stage the attack, and can be seen on the only videotape of anyone in the area of the alleged attack at the time it allegedly occurred, which does require a lot of explaining by Smollett’s lawyers. If we were invested in Smollett’s career, the best we could come up with is that no one with any Hollywood experience would so ineptly stage anything. There are surely plenty of white guys in Chicago that Smollett could have hired to play Trump-loving racist gay-bashers — late night television wag Stephen Colbert suggested finding them at a Blackhawks hockey game — and what kind of cockamamie criminal conspiracy pays by check?
Smollett is still considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but when that probably happens his agent will be getting 15 percent of no income. All the Trump-loving Americans will boycott the career they’d not previously been aware of, and all those less favorable to Trump will be angry that he handed a news cycle to the Trump-lovers. Superintendent Johnson, who also happens to be black, was understandably angry that Smollett has made it harder for his police force to successfully investigate and prosecute the very real hate crimes against minority Chicagoans that are bound to happen sooner or later. By now faked hate crimes are so common that we always wait a while for evidence before weighing in the matter, even though actual hate crimes seem somewhat more common, so we sympathize far more with Johnson than Smollett. Sometimes hate crimes are faked in a sincere if horribly misguided effort to draw attention the problem of actual crimes, but in this case Johnson argues that Smollett was attempting to exploit America’s racist history to get a bigger salary from his popular television show, and we can’t blame Johnson being especially irked about that.
Meanwhile, over in the sports pages, Nike was enduring some dreadful headlines as well. In the early minutes of a very big-time college basket game between the blue-blooded arch-rivals of Duke University’s Blue Devils and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, star Duke forward Zion Williams’ drive to the basket caused one of his high-priced Nike shoes to completely fall apart and sent him crashing to to the hardwood floor. Williams is expected to recover from the resulting “Grade One” knee sprain in time for the Blue Devils’ inevitable appearance in the national championship tournament, but several National Basketball Association players and other experts are advising him to not risk the big bucks contract that he’s expected to get after being a top pick in the upcoming professional draft, and our guess is that he’ll sign a big bucks endorsement deal with some other shoe company when he does.
Nike is a hugely profitable company, despite that it’s long been considered a pariah by the political types on both sides of the spectrum. Although the company headquarters are based in Oregon and it’s formidable advertising machine is located mostly in New York, Nike makes its shoes in low-wage Asian sweatshops and markets them to poor but status-conscious youths in the inner city, so the left regards Nike as a corporate villain on par with Wal-Mart and Koch Industries and the Monsanto Company. The sorts of conservatives who proudly sport Trump-branded and made-in-Asia apparel also resent the offshoring, and lately they’ve been further enraged that Nike gave a big endorsement deal to former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who seems to have been blackballed from the league after he started all that mishegas about players kneeling during the national anthem. The kids who overpay for Nikes don’t seem to care about any of that, but they’re more likely to notice that projected college basketball player of the year because one of his nikes completely fell apart on him.
We have to admit that our cutting moves to the basket don’t put the same stress on a pair of basketball that those of the six-foot-eight inch and conspicuously well-muscled 280 pound Williams do, but even when we younger and in somewhat better shape, and could actually hold our own in a Wichita or D.C. pickup game, we never blew out any of our ugly but affordable Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars. To this day we remain faithful to the made-in-America brand, which remains a traditional favorite of both wholesome farm boy hoopsters and ironic punk rock fashion hipsters, and we’d urge those status-conscious ghetto youths to give them a try.
In any case, we’ll get through whatever today brings with the comforting knowledge that at least we don’t have to make any explanations for either Smollett or Nike to make a living. We’ll also be pleased we’re not one of Trump’s lawyers, but that’s another story for another day.

— Bud Norman

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Waiting on the Robert S. Mueller

The last two years of America’s political news have sometimes seemed like an interminable performance of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play “Waiting for Godot,” with everyone either anxiously or eagerly awaiting the conclusion of special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing.” In the play the title character never arrives, but in real life Mueller’s investigation has always been bound to conclude eventually, and there’s plausible speculation in the news that it might be sooner rather later.
The press has been reporting uninformed opinions that the investigation was soon winding up for at least the 18 months, but this time around around there seems to be something to it. The investigative team has recently been downsized according to public documents, President Donald Trump has lately ramped up his attacks on the investigation, the indictments and convictions and guilty pleas have come uncomfortably close to Trump, and there are more than the usual number of unnamed sources saying that Mueller will issue a report in two week’s time or so. Already everyone on all sides seems to be preparing for what will be reported.
Trump and his apologists are still holding out hope that Mueller has concluded we should perish the thought Trump might have had anything to do with Russia’s meddling on his behalf in the last presidential election, and that it was all the result of the Democrats being sore losers, but just in case they’re continuing their insistence that it’s all a “deep state” “witch hut” and “coup d’tat.” Given all the indictments and convictions that the special counsel has already racked up in American courts of law against Trump’s lawyer and campaign manager and national security advisor, Trump and his apologists are right not to be too hopeful.
Trump’s more numerous critics have reason to hope that long-awaited report will prove damning, but we’d advise them to admit that one never knows. By now we do know that the report will conclude the Russians meddled on Trump’s behalf in the last presidential election, based on the indictments it has already won against 13 Russians, and that Trump’s lawyer and campaign manager and national security lied about their contacts with Russian, based on the convictions and guilty pleas the investigation has won in American courts of law, but as of yet there’s no proof that Trump himself had anything to do with it. Even if he did, Trump and his apologists will be inclined to blame the conspirators who found it him out, and they might just prevail.
In any case, we’re both as anxious and eager as ever to see it finally come to some end or another.

— Bud Norman

The News on a Cold and Snowy Kansas Night

Kansas was cold and snowy on Tuesday, not to mention the ongoing official national state of emergency, so we hunkered down at home and read up on the latest news. None of it, alas, was the least bit warming.
We read all the way to the end of a very lengthy New York Times account of President Donald Trump’s long efforts to thwart the various investigations in his businesses and campaign and transition team and inaugural committee and administration, and found it all too believable. There’s bound to be something in such a long story that will eventually will require a correction, but the general gist of it, that Trump doesn’t like anybody asking questions he’d rather not answer, and is willing to resort to ruthless and arguably constitutional methods to stop it, by now seems undeniably true.
Over at The Washington Post there was a story that speculated Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats will be the next defenestrated administration official, and we hated to hear that. Coats was a longtime Senator from Indiana who served on the Senate’s intelligence committee, a former ambassador to Germany, and is widely considered one of the last of the wise old foreign policy hands who tried to restrain the Trump’s worst gut instincts. He’s joined with the rest of the intelligence community in publicly disagreeing with Trump’s dubious claims about North Korea and Iran and the Islamic State and the threat at America’s southern border, and Trump clearly does not like his advisors disagreeing with him, so the Post’s speculation seemed plausible enough.
None of which was quite so depressing as the damned weather, or a certain sense that there’s nothing to be done about any of it.
What the Trump critics call “obstruction of justice” the Trump apologists call “fighting back,” and even if that Times story had run as long as the history books that will eventually be written it wouldn’t have changed anybody’s mind. Trump fans don’t want answers to those pesky questions anymore than Trump does, and they also share the president’s preference for his set of facts about North Korea and Iran and the Islamic State and the threat at America’s southern border. Trump’s critics and more noisome administration officials seem to have more factual facts on their side, but lately that doesn’t seem to make much difference.
On the other hand the stock markets were slightly up, and local forecasts call for above-freezing highs temperatures in the coming days, and the sports pages had reports from baseball’s spring training. Spring always eventually arrives, and although that usually brings tornados and other severe weather to this part of our great country we’re always happy to see it.
The truth always eventually arrives, too, and we expect that despite the best efforts of Trump and his apologists we will someday read the results of all those various pesky investigations in lengthy news stories and even longer history books. Our guess is it will be the equivalent of a Kansas tornado on the great plains of American history, but that’s what it takes to get the lazy hazy crazy days of summer around here, and there’s nothing we can do about that.

— Bud Norman

The Competing Conspiracy Theories in the News

There are two very consequential conspiracy theories in the news these days, and being longtime conspiracy buffs we’ve been following both closely. One theory golds that the Russian hacked Democratic e-mails and spread disinformation through American social media and attempted to infiltrate America’s vote-counting computers in an effort to elect Donald Trump as president, and and that Trump’s campaign cooperated with the effort. The other theory, long popular on all sorts of conservative media and now fully embraced by the “tweets” of Trump himself, holds that the previous conspiracy theories is the product of a “deep state” coup d’tat against a duly elected president who’s just trying to make America great again.
Based on our everything we’ve read and our general understanding of how the world works, we’re inclined to believe the former theory than the latter.
The theory that the Russians meddled in the past election on Trump’s behalf has been endorsed by the heads of all of America’s intelligence agencies, including the ones appointed by Trump himself, and although Trump has publicly stated he’s more inclined to believe his good buddy andRussian dictator Vladimir Putin’s assurance that it never happened we better trust the American experts. All the e-mails that were somehow hacked during the election proved embarrassing to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, all of the big social media head honchos have testified to Congress that the Russkies did use their platforms to spread anti-Clinton disinformation, and Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security has advised many of the states that the Russians had attempted to breach their voting computers.
Meanwhile, a duly appointed special counsel investigation has racked up guilty pleas from Trump’s longtime lawyer and Trump’s former campaign foreign policy chief and Trump administration national security advisor, as well numerous convictions against a former campaign chairman, for lying about their contacts with Russian officials, and promising investigations are seemingly underway about Trump’s namesake son and son-in-law on the same suspected charges. There are damning e-mail chains that Trump Jr. has released, sworn congressional testimony by the heads of America’s intelligence agencies ad social media big-wigs, various guilty pleas accepted by duly constituted American courts of law, lots of intriguing search warrants and indictments also issued by duly constituted American courts of law. Throw in Trump’s continued friendliness toward the Russian dictator, and it looks bad to us.
On our daily drives around town, however, all the talk radio hosts assure us that it’s all “fake news.” The real story, we’re told, is that the damned Democrats and their feckless Republican allies in the hated establishment have concocted all these ostensible facts in prevent Trump from making America great again. The real collusion, they argue, was between Clinton and those nefarious yet somehow friendly Russians. While Clinton was Secretary of State the United States allowed a fifth of its uranium supplies to be sold to the Russians, and although nine separate agencies signed off on the deal Clinton is considered a Russian collaborator
Although it was a wealthy Republican who didn’t want Trump to be his party’s standard-bearer who first employed an ex-British intelligence officer named Christoper Steele to ask his former Russian contacts about Trump’s business dealings with Russia, the Clinton campaign later made payments to the effort, so Clinton is therefore guilty of colluding with Russians to get dirt on an opponent. The “Steele dossier” — or the “dirty dossier” or “dodgy dossier” or “discredited dossier,” as it’s known on conservative talk radio — reported the investigator’s “raw data” had informed him that the Russias were launching on a three-pronged cyber-attack on the American election through hacked e-mails and disinformation through social media and attempts to take over America’s vote-counting computers, all of which has since been confirmed to Trump’s own appointed intelligence chiefs, The dossier also had salacious details about Trump paying some Russian prostitutes to urinate on a bed once slept on by President Barack in a fancy Moscow hotel room, and although nobody has verified that neither has anybody definitively discredited anything about the Steele dossier.
The Steele dossier was part of the evidence submitted to the top-secret United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to start all the “Russia thing” investigations, and that’s proof enough for the talk radio hosts that that it was a “witch hunt” from the beginning. Since then, we’re told, the establishment has been out to get Trump and prevent him from fulfilling his destiny of making America.
Which sounds weird to our aging ears, as we’re old enough to remember when the it was the hippies and the Democrats and the rest of the left-wing nutcases were blaming every human failing on the establishment. These days it’s the right-wig nutcases who are donning the cloak and righteous victimhood at the rough hands of the hated establishment, ill-fitting as it always is, and we hate to see that the President of the United States is among them.
On Monday Trump “re-tweeted” one of the Fox and Friends hots that “This was a illegal coup attempt on the President of the United States,” and added “True!” After that he played his third round of golf in as many days, then “tweeted” that former high-ranking Federal Bureau of Investigation officials Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, “who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act and got caught. There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who ad just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!” Which strikes us an extraordinary broadside against the establishment by a duly elected President of the United States.
If Rosenstein truly is guilty of “illegal and treasonous acts,” as Trump has “tweeted,” we wonder why Trump still retains him as his duly appointed Deputy Attorney General. Rosenstein was recommended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and you can sarcastically consider him “another beauty” if you want, but we note that Sessions was also appointed to his post by Trump, who brags that he only hires the “best people.”
We’ll also note that the Steele dossier didn’t become public until after Trump’s election, which seems an odd tactic for such an undeniably diabolical woman as Clinton, and that we can’t see any reason she’d collude with what everyone other than Trump and his most die-hard defenders agree was a Russian plot to get Trump elected.
Perhaps Trump is the victim of a vast conspiracy, but at this point it’s so vast it includes not only the damned Democrats and the varied “fake news” media but also America’s duly constituted courts of law and a small but significant slice of the Republican party and its leadership, and all of Trump’s appointed intelligence chiefs and his Deputy Attorney General, as well as such disinterested sideline observers as ourselves. One can never tell how these conspiracy theories play out, and they don’t usually amount to much,  but for now one side seems to have a lot of evidence and the other side has a lot of explaining to do.

–Bud Norman

Satire Without Retribution, and Other National Emergencies

Nothing much happened over this past cold weekend, despite a State of National Emergency, but of course the long running Saturday Night Live program on the National Broadcasting Company once again made fun of President Donald Trump. Trump, of course, “tweeted” back his indignant response.
Trump “tweeted” that “Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on fake news NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real collusion.”
Although we wouldn’t go so far as to declare a State of National Emergency, we did find Trump’s reaction to a comedy skit rather alarming.
There’s no accounting for taste, but we found the bit quite funny, and all too accurate a parody of Trumps rambling and incoherent and dissembling press conference on Friday, and we note that NBC’s “fake new” division is independent of the entertainment division that used to air Trump’s fraudulent yet hit reality show “The Apprentice,” and once featured Trump as a guest host on “SNL” during unlikely primary campaign. As for how the networks get away with it without retribution, we’re pretty sure there’s a loophole in the constitution that allows satirists to to satirize even a president. You can look into it, but if you do you’ll find it right there in  the First Amendment to the Constitution. As for that part about Trump calling the skit “the real collusion,” we have absolutely no idea what the hell he’s talking about.
Those late night network comics are an insufferably smug bunch, we must admit, but they make undeniably funny jokes and good points, and as old-fashioned constitutional conservatives we hope they’ll continue to do so without fear of retribution. We also wish Trump well in his efforts to make America great again, but we don’t hold out much hope if he doesn’t learn to take a joke.

— Bud Norman

Our State of Emergency

Load your guns, hide the children, and stock up on cigarettes and beer and other essentials, as we expect America will be in a state of emergency today. So far as we can tell the only emergency is that a spending ball passed by Congress to keep the government open didn’t give President Donald the money he wanted to build a big beautiful wall along the entire southern, but one can never be too sure.
If Trump does make good on his threat to declare a national emergency and assume emergency powers to re-appropriate federal funds, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Trump promised him, that will be cause for alarm. Trump’s grab of newfound presidential powers will likely be quickly blocked by both the courts and Congress, as well a small amount of principled conservative opposition and overwhelming public onion, but the fact that it’s come to this is quite scary.
This whole big beautiful border wall deal has been a disaster from the outset, as far as we’re concerned. Trump’s fanciful promise that he not only build but have Mexico pay for it somehow helped him win the Republican nomination, and didn’t keep him from winning the Electoral College vote, but it’s been a burden to him ever since. Mexico declined to pay for the wall, unsurprisingly enough, and so did two years of Republican majorities in Congress, with the filibuster rules and only a slight Republican edge having something to do with it, and Trump should have known he wouldn’t fare any better with a huge Democratic majority installed in the house after the mid-term elections. Trump tried to force the Democrats to cough up the money with a partial government shutdown, but by the time that ended with Trump’s poll numbers plummeting he had capitulated on a short-term fix. The spending bill which passed both chambers on Thursday keeps the government open all the way to September and provides less funding for a border wall than the deal that Trump passed up prior to the shutdown, and now he’s left with declaring a national emergency.
The same National Emergency Act that Trump cites for his authority specifically allows Congress to block it, and given the bipartisan support for the spending bill Congress seems likely to do so. The Constitution still supersedes the National Emergency Act, as well, and given how clearly that document says spending power is the sole province of Congress the Courts are likely to take a dim view of it as well. Among the litigants will be several states and many private landowners and other parties that conservatives have previously championed, and they’ll be making constitutional arguments about unconstrained presidential power that conservatives fervently believed in as recently as the administration of President Barack Obama, and everyone from the moderate to loony left is united in its opposition. Trump’s wall continues to poll badly, although his still-underwater approval rating ticked up slightly after he capitulated to the Democrats to fully re-open the government, and we expect his opponents on all fronts will seize the public relations advantage.
Trump relies on that stubborn 30 percent or so the population the somehow believes in his infallibility, however, and is thus obliged to heed their raucous rally cries of “Build that wall!” He’d always follow that up asking who was go to pay for it, and the rally crowds would cry “Mexico,” which has been largely forgiven and forgotten, but he has a huckster’s sense can’t get away without building a big beautiful border wall and having somebody pay for it. Already such a staunch defender as nutcase provocateur Ann Coulter, author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” is “tweeting” that Trump’s emergency declaration is an inevitable loser and that his signing of the spending bill means that her erstwhile hero was a surrender to “open borders.” Sean Hannity and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro and other more loyal media apologists will come up with some reason that Trump is clearly winning, but lately talk radio show callers have been restless.
Another favorite line at the Trump rallies was “at least he fights,” and the loyalists can take some comfort in knowing that at least that’s true. Trump picks fights with congressional back-benchers and B-list celebrities, gives hell to those snowflake lefties, flouts the political establishment and intellectual traditions of the Republican party and traditional conservatism, daily denies objective facts he’d rather not hear, with a habit o skirting up against the most generous edges of the law, and no matter how pointless it all ultimately proves the fans seem to love the spectacle.

— Bud Norman

Happy Valentine’s Day, If Possible

Today is Valentine’s Day, although you probably wouldn’t notice it here at the home office. Ours is a contentedly solitary home life, shared only with a crabby cat named Miss Ollie, as we’ve had our fill of romance and true love and all that at this late point in life, but we nonetheless wish an especially good day to anyone out there who is still so foolhardy as to fall in love.
Based on our observations of our vast and very diverse friendships and friendly acquaintanceships, which includes a lot of young folk,  falling in love is less common than it used to be, and according to an astute columnist at The Washington Post there’s more scientific proof of that. He cites a professor’s study that 85 percent of “baby boomer” and “Gen. X” high school seniors went on dates, but that had fallen to 56 by 2015. Between 1989 and 2016 the percentage of twenty-somethings who were married had fallen from an already low 32 percent to unprecedented 19 percent, and we can count many many solitary individuals among our friends and friendly acquaintances of all ages.
Having come of age during the height of the Sexual Revolution, when everybody seemed to be heeding The Beatles’ advice to “Do It in the Road,” we’re quite surprised and entirely unsure what to make of the evidence that there’s also less sex going on, as the percentage of twenty-somethings who admit they haven’t been getting any lately has reportedly risen by half over the same ’89 to ’26 period. It’s fine by us if more young people have forgone the ephemeral pleasures and lasting pains of doing it in the road, but the same conservative instincts have us rooting despite all evidence for the propagation of the species, and when we note the falling birth rates, except in the poorest and most primitive parts of the world, it seems a mixed blessing.
All of these desultory statistics are backed up by our anecdotal evidence from the nightspots we visit,. We’ll often see attractive young couples in the next booth, but they’re invariably looking at those confounded machines in their palms rather into one another’s eyes. Our younger friends and friendly acquaintances frequently tell us about their sexual attraction to some other young friend or friendly acquaintance, but they don’t seem very hopeful, and they very rarely confess the sort of romantic yearnings we used to share with anyone who would listen. Try as we might to avoid the contemporary popular culture, it’s so unavoidable that we’ve noticed it doesn’t encourage romantic love the way it did back in the days of MGM musicals and clean-cut pop song crooners. Our politics are full of porn stars and Playboy playmates and serial marriages, and that’s just the Republicans, not to mention all the scandalous behavior those damned Democrats have long been up to..
Which is a shame, on the whole, as we figure it. True love entails risks, as we can readily attest, but so does life itself, and there’s no way life can go on without it. Among our many friends and friendly acquaintances we count many who have been happily coupled for many years, and like Walt Whitman we revel in “the chaste blessings of the well-married couple, and the fruits of orchards and flowers of gardens.”
We’ve been happily spared the perfunctory chores of buying chocolates and cards and flowers and expensive dinners at any restaurants the past several Valentine’s Days, but if you’re currently obliged to do so we urge you to do it hopefully. It might just work out happily ever after, and even if it doesn’t we can assure you there might be some memories you can warmly recall in some cold winter of your old age.

— Bud Norman

Holidays for a Slow News Day

President Donald Trump has a novel idea for a big event in Washington, D.C., called “Salute to America.” It would feature a parade and lots of fireworks, and Trump would like to hold it annually on or about July 4.
>Parades and fireworks have been a tradition in Washington for the past couple of centuries, and it’s not at all clear how Trump’s “Salute to America” would be different, but at least Trump would be able to take credit for it. There’s also a good chance some Democrat will raise an objection, allowing Trump to “tweet” about his critics’ lack of patriotism. All things considered, it’s not the worst idea Trump has come up with
There’s no reason Trump should stop there. He could also propose a holiday dedicated to giving thanks in late November, celebrated with a parade and lots of turkey, and call it “Gratitude Day.” Trump’s clearly a romantic type, so he could further suggest a holiday sometime in mid-February dedicated to love, perhaps called “Grab ‘Em By the Pussy Day.” There must be a date open in to celebrate Irish-Americans with copious beer drinking, too, and that could win him a few jokes. Some time around the fifth of May would be good to celebrate Mexican-Americans with copious beer drinking, but that might lose Trump some of his base support.
Another idea is to start calling every Wednesday from “Trump day” rather than “hump day,” and let people observe it however they wish. Some would no doubt whack at Trump-shaped, but others would surely don their MAGA caps and take a whack at a journalist.
These are just suggestions, though, and we’re sure that Trump has plenty of other ideas to draw attention to himself.

— Bud Norman

The Duel in El Paso

The typically placid border town of El Paso, Texas, was a political hotspot on Monday night, as both President Donald Trump and former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke held competing rallies about a mile away from one another. The main topic of conversation, of course, was the big beautiful border wall that Trump has vowed to build.
Both rallies were reportedly well-attended, and of course widely reported on, so it’s hard to say who got the better of it. Back in Washington a congressional conference committee announced it had reached a tentative agreement on some sort of spending bill or continuing resolution or other legislative legerdemain to keep the government open past Friday, which seems to include some funding for a wall but far less than what Trump has demanded, and we doubt anyone involved in the negotiations was paying much attention what was said in El Paso.
As at every Trump rally in every city the crowd was chanting “build that wall,” but Trump asked that they change it to “finish that wall,” as he assured them that construction is already well underway. There’s not a bit of evidence to back up the claim, which seems to contradict his claim that the darned Democrats are preventing him from building the wall, but no one in the crowd seemed to mind. Trump also claimed that El Paso’s enviable status as one of America’s most crime-free cities was due entirely to some 40 miles of tall fencing along the Rio Grande, although city officials noted that the city had a low crime rate for a full decade before the fence was built, and attributed El Paso peaceableness to carefully cultivated friendly relations between its white and Latino populations, which they suggested Trump has threatened with his rhetoric, but nobody seemed to mind Trump’s hyperbole.
Even Trump can’t talk about big beautiful walls and the imminent threat at border all night, however, so he spent most the rest of his 70 minutes of impromptu stream-of-consciousness speech ridiculing his potential Democratic rivals, including the aforementioned O’Rourke, who last November lost a senate race to Sen. Ted Cruz by a slimmer-than-usual margin in the reliably red state, and became a left-wing darling in the process.
Trump lost El Paso County by a 40-point blowout, however, and O’Rourke won the county as easily as he’d won in three successful House races, so he was also able to attract a sizable and enthusiastic crowd for his anti-border wall rally. He probably helped himself in a potential Democratic primary race by decrying the implicit racism and xenophobia of Trump’s big beautiful wall, but probably hurt his chances in a general election by edging a bit too close to the “open borders” stance that Trump attributes to all Democrats. Still, the crowd didn’t seem to mind a bit, and cheered on all the leftist policies that the Trump rally was booing. El Paso is a pleasant city where the people seem to generally along with one another, but apparently it’s not immune to the political spats that divide the nation at large.
Our guess is that the large and emboldened Democratic majority in the House of Representatives isn’t going to pay for Trump’s big beautiful wall, that the slender and skittish Republican majority in the Senate doesn’t want another partial government shutdown over the issue, and that Mexico most definitely won’t be paying for it. Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency to divert funds for the wall, but all the Democrat Trump any support, and we also guess that the courts will eventually put an end to such unconstitutional power-grabbing nonsense.
Even so, both Trump and O’Rourke got some publicity that their favorite media could exploit, and we’re sure they’re both satisfied with that. Our hope is that the good people of El Paso continue to get along peaceably, and that the rest of the nation muddles through as well.

— Bud Norman

Summing Up a Life in a Two-Column Headline

A friend of ours is a formidable theater and movie critic, and over the weekend he fulminated on Facebook that the Scripps National news service ran an obituary with the headline “Albert Finney, who played Daddy Warbucks in ‘Annie,’ has died at age 82.” We don’t quite share our friend’s affinity for Finney, but we well understand the annoyance.
Finney was indeed an outstanding actor, and he earned five Academy Award nominations over a five-decades-long career and starred in such memorable movies as “Tom Jones” and “Two for the Road” and “Miller’s Crossing,” and although “Annie” was a nice enough flick and featured a typically fine Finney performance we’re sure he’d have preferred some other headline. It’s as if Dwight Eisenhower were remembered as a “well known amateur golfer,” or Tom Hanks is sent off as the “star of TV’s ‘Bosom Buddies,'” or Harrison Ford’s eventual obit identifies him as “One of the Soldiers in ‘Force 10 from Navarone.'”
Alas, the headlines on obituaries rarely put their subjects in proper perspective. The late and great country crooner Charlie Rich cut such little-known classics as “Lonely Weekends” and “Who Will the Next Fool Be?” for the legendary Sun Records label, but when he died all the “lede” paragraphs mention the schlocky major label hits “When We Get Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” The late and great musician Doug Sahm got short but respectful mentions in the country music press and the rock ‘n’ roll magazines and the jazz and blues publications as well as the pages devoted to Mexican-American music, but no one put them all together to explain his extraordinary and eclectic career. Most musicians and actors and writers and athletes and politicians and businesspeople, as it turns out, tend to be remembered for work they’d rather forget.
Poor Monica Lewinksy could discover a cure for cancer, but the obits will still someday remember her as the femme fatale fellatrix of Bill Clinton’s infamous sex scandal, which will also surely be mentioned in the “ledes” and headlines when Trump passes on. Such notable statesmen as Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Sen. John McCain had historic careers that culminated in their parties presidential nominations, but the headline was that they lost the general election. Such athletes as Yogi Berra and the recently deceased Frank Robinson were noted for the record-setting achievements on the playing field, but you had to read several paragraphs into the obituaries to hear about their excellent character and lifelong devotion to family and friends. These days we expect a number of very creative people will be recalled for the time they made an unwelcome pass or told an ethnic joke that would have passed muster just a decade or so earlier. Writers’ obits, we shudder to notice, almost always omit their best stuff.
So it will probably be for the rest of us, too.
We started our journalistic career on the “dead beat,” as newspaper folk waggishly call the obituary desk, so we know all too well that it’s an impossible task. Even the most mundane lives can’t be encapsulated in column inches, even on the rare occasions when they jump to a later page, and the parents and spouses and children and longtime friends of the subjects never find them satisfying. The “last writes” — as newspaper folk waggishly call them — never fully convey the human faults nor the exceptional qualities of the dearly departed, and only God can weigh them in the balance. Still, we’d wish the “dethwriters” — are we’re known in newspaper lingo — will take more care.
One day on the “dead beat” at a Kansas City newspaper we had to write up the death of a Kansas City area man who’d been hit by a semi truck and dragged for several miles underneath on a highway outside Needles, California. After getting the accident report from the California Highway Patrol we were obliged to speak with the poor fellow’s widow, who told us that her husband was a talented welder who couldn’t find work in the recessionary Kansas City economy, which was why he was hitchhiking in central California and came to be hit by that truck. After conforming the spelling of all the survivors’ names and the details of the funeral service, we ended the interview according to journalistic best practice by asking if there was anything that people should know but we’d neglected to ask about. A pregnant pause followed, then she told us that “Well, he never was a lucky man.”
In some cases, we suppose, a life can be summed up in single sentence.
The great novelist Jospeh Conrad wrote such masterpieces as “The Heart of Darkness” and “Lord Jim” and “Nostromo” and “The Secret Agent,” but we have a particular fondness for a little known work of his called “Chance.” The novel defied the literary rule that everything in the plot should derive from the characters’ actions, as Conrad believed that pure random chance plays a bigger role in real life, and by chance we came across a second edition in a used book store. Conrad had an introduction to the second edition which responded to his editors and critics, who had complained that the story was overlong, which is a common complaint of both editors and critics, and we cherish his advice. Conrad rightly noted that with sufficiently rigorous editing the story of all humankind “can be written on a cigarette paper — he was born, he lived, he died.”

— Bud Norman