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The Special Olympics of Politics

President Donald Trump is famously loathe to concede defeat, no matter how apparent, but on Thursday he had to wave the white flag to the developmentally-challenged athletes of the Special Olympics. In the constitutionally-mandated presidential budget proposal that no one ever pays any attention to Trump proposed cutting federal funding for the games, and his Secretary of Education actually went and did it and made announcement, but after an afternoon of the resulting bipartisan outrage and scathing press coverage he was insisting he never suggested any such thing.
“The Special Olympics will be fully funded,” Trump told a cluster of reporters on Thursday. “I just told my people, I want to fund the Special Olympics … I’ve been to to the Special Olympics — I think it’s incredible, and I just authorized a funding.” If you ignore that Trump had submitted three budget proposals to Congress that would have defunded the Special Olympics if anyone was paying any attention, and that his appointed Secretary of Education had announced, he looks very big-hearted.
Trump is letting his appointed Secretary of Education take all the blame, and as we see it that’s also a shame. Betsy DeVos is the wife of wealthy executive in the controversial Amway company, who was a contributor to Trump’s campaign, and she came in to her post without any real prior experience for the job, and looked quite ridiculous in early interviews and confirmation hearings, and she’s always been one of Trump’s most controversial cabinet nominees, which is saying something. She’s a staunch advocate for school choice and voucher programs, and a staunch opponent of speech codes and expulsions on sexual conduct, which further enrages the left, but for pre-Trump conservative Republican reasons we rather like that about her. The arguments for these policies are more complicated than either DeVos or Trump can explain, and at first they do seem hard-hearted, but we’ll put that task off until another day. That Trump is throwing DeVos under the proverbial bus on this matter makes us like him even less, which is saying something.
The federal government’s current funding for the Special Olympics is reportedly $17.6 million so so, and we have to admit that we don’t really know much money that is, and wether it’s merely a sufficient or an extravagant amount to pay for a competition of developmentally-challenged athletes, given all the private donations this worthy charity surely brings in, but we do know it’s a mere rounding error in both the federal deficit that Trump has been ringing up and especially in the national debt we’ve been accruing for decades. There’s something undeniably heartwarming about those Special Olympians getting their moments of triumph, too, and we can see why even such an unapologetic fellow as Trump doesn’t want to be the heartless fellow who ended it.

— Bud Norman

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Sayonara, Sweet Miata

Today is Opening Day for another season of major league baseball, the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team is heading to the Big Apple for the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament, except for the Kansas wind the weather’s lately been good, and there’s probably other news afoot we should paying attention to. Even so, the big story here at the home office on Wednesday was our bittersweet farewell to a beloved Mazda Miata.
We bought the thing brand new way back in ’96, shortly after a devastating divorce, and boy was it a sweet ride. It had the elegant lines and quick acceleration and easy-shifting and road-hugging handling of a classic British roadster, but it also started up every time we turned the key, which is more than we can say for that stunningly gorgeous ’64 Sunbeam Alpine that preceded it. For most of the year we could put the top down, which could be easily done during a stoplight, and even a daily drive to our nearby downtown office felt exactly like what we imagined driving would be like when we were pedaling around in a very cool toy car our Dad bought when we were in kindergarten.
The car took us on a memorable trip to Las Vegas with our pal Michael Carmody, brought our late pal Balleau home from Albuquerque after he’d recuperated from an injury there, and there was another memorable trip to Minnesota with our pal Lori Fletcher for the wedding of a couple of mutual friends. There were countless trips up I-35 to Kansas City and trips down I-35 to Oklahoma City and San Antonio to visit the folks, and on a hot sunny day it was the perfect car for the scenic and curvy drive up U.S. 77 through the gorgeous Flint Hills of Kansas, well as countless more drives around town for both business and pleasure, and for the first 20 years and 150,000 miles or so it was blissfully trouble-free.
Even the best of us eventually get old and dilapidated, though, and after 21 years and 160,000 miles or so our beloved Miata proved troublesome. The “check engine” light would occasionally remind us that the catalytic converter had died, even though that didn’t at all affect the car’s performance, and did very little to affect the climate, and apparently there’s some regulation that President Donald Trump hasn’t yet deregulated that prevents a mechanic from disconnecting that damned sensor. There was a slow oil leak, too, but after so many years and miles we figured it was more inexpensive to occasionally pour in some lubricant than to have that fixed. Some idiot put a gash in the front driver’s side and sped away while we were having a beer at The Vagabond over in Delano, and we idiotically put another smaller gash in the rear of the driver’s side and damaged a roller arm in the process, but by that point we’d downgraded our insurance policy and figured that the repairs would exceed the value of even the sweetest ride with 21 years and more than 160,000 miles on it.
Around that same time our beloved Dad serendipitously decided that he’d grown too old to drive, and he generously gave us his beloved Chrysler Sebring. It’s bigger and bulkier than what we’re used to, and it has four seats and one of those old folks’ automatic transmissions, but the top comes down at the push of a button on warm Kansas day, and it’s also a pretty sweet ride.
For the past two years the Miata had been sitting in our garage and gathering dust and dirt from the Kansas winds, but earlier this week our pal Phil Burress “messaged” us on the internet that he’d heard we had a Miata we wanted to get rid of. We duly warned him about him the years and miles and other problems with our once-sweet ride, but he wanted to take a look anyway, as his son is rapidly approaching driver’s age and shares our fetish for classic roadsters.
After a cursory look our old pal Phil agreed to take it off our hands, and we’re glad that he did, and we hope that even after so many years and miles it will work out for him. Phil’s a top-notch guy and a first-rate bass player for several folkie and bluegrass bands around town, and he’s happily married to our aforementioned pal Lori Fletcher, who’s a damned good country singer, and their son, hilariously named Fletcher, is a prodigiously talented bluegrass fiddler and a classic example of Kansas boyhood.
After re-charging the battery and airing up the tires and filing up the crankcase with oil Phil was able to take a drive to nearby Park City with the top down on a warm but windy Kansas day, and you should have seen the excited look on Fletcher’s face as they pulled out the driveway, so we hope they’ll be able to get that Miata back in fighting shape for a few more years and a few more miles. Fletcher is a handsome and charming young fellow, and when you combine that with his musical gifts and a classic and fully-restored roadster all the chicks will probably dig him in his high school years. If he derives even half the enjoyment we derived from that old Miata, and we get to park the Sebring in the garage during the coming hail storms, we’ll call it a darned good deal.

– Bud Norman

Another Dreary Round of Health Care

President Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican party are once again gearing up for another big fight over health care, and the Democrats are clearly relishing it. What the Republicans are proposing might well be good policy, as nobody seems to know what it is, but for now it looks like very bad politics.
From the day in 2010 that President Barack Obama and his temporary supermajorities in the House and Senate enacted the Affordable Care Act — better known as Obamacare to both fans and critics — the Republicans have been intent on repealing and replacing it, and with the same intensity that Captain Ahab tried to kill Moby Dick. Despite some legal arguments we found quite compelling the Republicans lost a court challenge when the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the law’s mandate every American must purchase health insurance was constitutional, and after that the Republican majorities would vote every few months to repeal all of it, but they never had the votes needed to override the inevitable presidential veto. When Trump took office the Republicans took another crack at it, but that fell a vote short in the Senate, and for a while that seemed to settle the matter.
Now Trump has the Justice Department again challenging in the law in the courts, however, and he’s also urging his party’s congressional to repeal it. Despite the two Supreme Court justices Trump has appointed the court challenge seems a long shot, especially after Trump has successfully ended the hated “individual mandate” that was at the heart of the previous decision, as Supreme Courts are traditionally loathe to overturn precedents, and the legislative action Trump is urging will be an even harder sell.
Obamacare is a governmental intrusion into a fine free market health care system that goes against every instinct in our traditional conservative Republican bones, but by now there’s no denying that much of it is very popular. The law allows people with pre-existing medical problems to purchase health insurance, which Republicans reasonably argued is akin to letting people purchase fire insurance after their house burned down, but the insurance industry has somehow survived, and no Republican including Trump wants to go on record denying coverage to someone who’s been diagnosed with diabetes. Insurance stocks remained stable largely because the law forced every American to buy an insurance plan, but they’re still up even after Trump ended that unpopular nonsense, which does undermine our free market arguments. Obamacare also subsidizes health insurance for an estimated 20 million Americans, too, and although that goes against every instinct in our traditional conservative Republican bones no one in the Grand Old Party wants to see the headlines about 20 million Americans being left without access to health care.
For the past nine years both the pre-Trump and Trump-era Republicans have sought to repeal and replace Obamacare, and they’ve done well with the repeal part but have struggled to come up with a popular replacement. Trump ran on vague promises of a wonderful health health care system that would cover every American no matter their pre-existing conditions at greatly reduced prices, but he’s yet to explain exactly what that looks like, and we doubt he ever will. None of the Republican proposals would insist on coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, all of them wold result in millions of Americans losing their health insurance, and at this point there’s no one left in the Republican party who’s rock-ribbed enough to make the argument that as harsh as it sounds it ends up to the greater good.
Which is a damned shame, as those damned Democrats seem currently hell-bent on some even more cockamamie schemes to repeal and replace Obamacare, which they never really liked because it wasn’t nearly intrusive enough. Many of the congressional Democrats and several of the contenders for the party’s nomination are advocating what they call “Medicare For All,” which is a catchy way of saying full-blown socialistic single-payer program, and we don’t see that ending well. The once-controversial and now widely-accepted Medicare program is doing a pretty good job of taking care our aging parents, who had paid plenty into its funds over the years, but it’s trustees are warning that it’s going belly-up in the few fleeting years until we’ll eligible and compelled to join, and despite their youthful idealism we don’t think any of these young whippersnapper Democrats can make it work for everyone.
Health care is a complicated issue, and neither of our major parties seem to have any good ideas about it, and we have to admit that neither do we. At least we’re not making grandiose promises, except for our glum assurance that we’ll all eventually die.

— Bud Norman

Gary Shreck, RIP

The news today is full of consequential stories, as always, but for now none of it seems nearly so important to us as the death of a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Gary Shreck. He was a scholar with a first-rate intellect and an excellent sense of humor, much beloved by his family and the people of Edmond, Oklahoma, but we’re sure he’d want us to emphasize that he was first and foremost an adherent of the Christian faith.
Gary Shreck was one of those straitlaced and monogamous and teetotaling sorts of Christians, but in case you’re put off by that sort of thing you should know that he had an excellent sense of humor about it. He liked to tell the story about the time one of his young children was having teething pains, and a doctor prescribed rubbing whisky on the gums, so he drove to the next town and awkwardly and embarrassingly made his first and only visit to to a liquor store to purchase the elixir. He shared other stories about his piety, including his awkward and embarrassing honeymoon with the only woman he ever loved, but they were always more self-effacing than self-aggrandizing.
Such stories were always humbling for us, as we have to admit that we’ve too often entered a local liquor store to purchase a six-pack of Coors, and have been known to lean on the bar of a disreputable dive or two. As aspiring Christians we console ourselves with the knowledge that Jesus would also hang out with the tax collectors and Roman soldiers and outright whores and other characters considered disreputable by the pious Jews, and that He once changed water into wine to accommodate a proper wedding party. Even in the lowest joints people tend to aspire to higher ground, however, and whenever the subject of religion comes up we always try to put in a pitch for the Christian faith.
In most cases our secular friends are put off by that sort of thing, as they associate Christianity with the stern and anti-intellectual and humorless and judgmental sorts of Christians they’ve endured, It’s hard to argue with that, as we know exactly what they’re talking about, and can well understand why they wouldn’t want to be like those people. We could never offer ourselves as a compelling counter-example, but we could always cite our Mom and Dad and our cousin Claudette Dills and her husband “Cotton’-Pickin'” Dills, and the sweet and always smiling constantly reveling in God’s blessings and never casting-the-first-stone Gary Shreck as better exemplars of the Christian faith.
God blessed Gary Shreck to marry our excellent cousin Paulette Patten and start a family of wonderful children and grandchildren, and we were blessed to serve as the nine-years-old ring-bearers at their wedding. He became a professor at the under-rated Oklahoma Christian University, where one of his students at our under-rated West Douglas Church of Christ still well remembers him as an excellent man, and we’ll always remember him as one of the very best people that God ever blessed us to know, and he always reveled in God’s ¬†blessings and dutifully endured whatever tribulations He chose to ¬†bring to even His most faithful servants . In his final years on earth Gary Shreck suffered severely from Alzheimer’s disease, but he had his good days and bad days, and we happily recall that on his golden wedding anniversary God granted him one of those good days, when he laughed at our joke that we’d done such a good job as his ring-bearers that his marriage had lasted a full fifty years.
We wish you all best the best in coping with the rest of the day’s news, and hope that God has blessed you with someone like Gary Shreck to help lead you through it.

— Bud Norman

The “Russia Thing” Comes to an End

The nearly two-year-long special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing with Trump and Russia” has come to an anticlimactic conclusion, with a four page summary of its findings issued by the Attorney General stating that it did not find President Donald Trump or his campaign guilty of conspiring with the Russian government to affect the last presidential election. That’s great news for Trump and his fans, who are claiming complete exoneration, even if the four page summary of the voluminous report issued by Trump’s own Attorney General says that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, “it also does not exonerate him.”
For now Trump and his fans can plausibly claim vindication, however, and we’re sure they will. The special counsel’s investigation concluded the Russian government did meddle in the past election on Trump’s behalf, and brought an indictment against 12 specific Russians, and it won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against Trump’s campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and campaign foreign policy advisor and other campaign operatives for lying about their numerous contacts with Russians during the campaign, among other things, but it’s still a big deal that no one named Trump was indicted at the end of the investigation. For now it’s a huge disappointment to the Trump foes who had so dearly hoped the special counsel investigation would end the Trump presidency, but we’re sure they’ll keep trying.
There’s bound to be something embarrassing to Trump in the voluminous full report that didn’t make the four-page summary issued by his Attorney General, and in the coming days the big story will be the congressional Democrats’ efforts to make it all public, and the Trump administration’s effort to keep it out of view. Some of the report will surely be redacted so that the investigation’s counter-intelligence sources and methods aren’t revealed, but we expect that eventually the president’s foes will feast on the rest of it. Press reports indicate that the special counsel handed off a number of suspected crimes outside its scope to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, mostly to the very aggressive Southern District of New York, and there will be no way of keeping that out of the news.
Trump and his supporters will continue to insist that it’s all a “witch hunt” and a “hoax” and “witch hoax,” but the fact that the “deep state conspiracy” declined to frame them for “collusion” somehow undermines their claims. Special counsel Robert Mueller remains a decorated Vietnam war hero and former Federal Bureau of Investigation director who earned bipartisan praise and appointments over his long and distinguished career of public service, and if Mueller’s conclusions disappoint his Democratic fans they also make his Republican critics’ slurs against his character look slanderous. The rest of Mueller’s work will play out in American courts of law, and we expect that in the end Mueller’s character will fare better than Trump’s.
Nothing in the Attorney General’s four-page summary of the special counsel investigation’s report exonerates him from the already proved charges that his campaign associates repeatedly lied under oath about contacts with Russian operatives, or that he himself lied to the public during the campaign about his business dealings with Russia, or that he broke federal campaign laws to cover up alleged affairs with a pornographic video performer and a Playboy playmate, or that his foreign policy has been unaccountably friendly to Russia and other authoritarian regimes. Nor does even the four-page summary of the report indicate that Trump isn’t a vulgar and dishonest and bullying and entirely self-interested fellow.
Nothing in even the four–page summary of the special counsel’s report indicates that Trump’s trade wars and budget deficits and feuds with longstanding allies are making America great again, and the latest economic data suggest they are not, and that’s what will probably decide the next election not matter what scandals beset Trump. For now the Democrats seem intent on nominating some some suicidally socialist candidate who could easily lose to Trump not matter what scandals might accrue, so for now we will glumly await that conclusion without any expectations.

— Bud Norman

What Goes Unbuilt to Build a Wall

As every civic-minded American newsreader already knows by now, President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to re-appropriate a few billion dollars from the defense budget to build a big beautiful wall along America’s southern border. By now you should also know that majorities in both chambers of Congress voted to block the action, but Trump vetoed it, and it seems unlikely that a super-majority in the Senate will be able to override it, and despite some court challenges Trump seems likely to eventually get some wall money.
We commend you for having followed it that closely, but if you’re as obsessively civic-minded a newsreader as we are you might want to know from where those few billions of dollars will likely be re-appropriated.
A couple of intrepid reporters at The Washington Post were curious enough to look into it, and although we’re supposed dismiss their findings as “fake news” from “enemies of the people” their conclusions sound plausible enough to us, and better sourced than what Trump usually has to say about what some people are saying. Much of the report is based on a list that the Defense Department reluctantly released under pressure from Congress that identifies $12.9 billion of military construction projects that been funded but not yet contracted, which according to the convoluted theories of the vaguely written law that Trump is invoking are fair game for presidential re-appropriation. The Pentagon has ruled out defunding the projects they expect to finalize contracts for within the year, which leaves only $4.35 billion available, and Trump has announced he expects to spend $3.6 billion of it on his wall, an a civic-minded newsreader can make an educated guess about which projects are most vulnerable.
There are 10 projects with a combined cost of $403 million slated for Puerto Rico, which has no electoral votes and has long seemed of little concern to Trump, so they seem likely to be slashed. The projects include a school for military children on former Air Force base and improved training for the Puerto Rican National Guard, which previous Defense Departments and congresses had considered important to the national security, but Trump will easily able to explain to the die-hard fans that $403 million worth of wall along a few miles of the southern border is more important than anything that might happen in Puerto Rico.
There’s another $745 million to be had from the European Deterrence Initiative, which includes 23 projects spread throughout Europe and was launched by President Barack Obama back in 2014 after Russia’s assaults on the sovereignty of Ukraine and Crimea, that’s surely a tempting slice of the budget to Trump. He can still tell the die-hard fans that no president has ever been tougher on Russia, and that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is a nice guy who’d never do anything to hinder American democracy, anything Obama did had to be wrong, and all those supposedly allied countries where the money was being spent are all taking advantage of us and laughing behind our backs. What’s more, none of those countries have any electoral college votes.
Another $258 is slated to be spent in Guam, which is mostly a strategically crucial military base but has no electoral votes, and the rest is spread out over eight states. The Washington Post generously provides a graph showing how much spending had been slated for each state, and without bothering to dig into what the projects are we assume the cuts will be made according to how many votes each state is expected to deliver in the next electoral college. That’s bad news for Washington and Maryland, good news for Texas, and probably the best news of all for states the Republicans hope they can possibly flip and suddenly have to worry they might lose. The math might require that some Republican district or another will take a hit, but Trump can still count on its Representative’s support.
Which is no way to appropriate money for the national defense, of course, but we suppose it’s always been so. The smart defense contractors always spread their work around the country just enough to sway congressional and electoral college majorities, the smart politicians always defend their home turf’s share, and we notice that a significant portion of Obama’s spending went to such reliably Democratic states as Washington and Maryland, even if we also notice that Boeing is still big in Washington and has always gotten its share based on merit. Even so, the politics of this particular moment seem especially peculiar.
For one thing, we’re not at all persuaded that a big beautiful wall along the entire southern border is a pressing national security need, much less the stuff of a state of national emergency. Our assessment of the worldwide threats to national security finds far more pressing needs, and the very official-souning “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the National Intelligence Community” seems to agree with us. According to all the polls everybody but the die-hard Trump fans are similarly unimpressed, and so are majorities of the people’s representatives in both chambers of Congress also disagree, even if they can’t muster a super-majority in the Senate to override a veto.
For another thing, the few measly billions of dollars that Trump intends re-appropriate will only pay for a relatively few miles of it, and much of that will be tied in legal fees fighting the landowners who have been happily living along an unwalled border objecting to the government’s eminent domain seizure of their private property. An affinity for private property and an aversion to government seizures used to be a defining characteristic of American conversation, which is yet another thing we don’t like about the politics of the moment.
Conservatives also used to believe in the Constitution, which gives the legislative branch the power to appropriate funds and doesn’t mention the executive branch doing any re-appropriating, and that’s even one more thing we don’t like about the politics of moment.

— Bud Norman

Some Feuds Never Die

There’s a lot going on in the world that requires presidential attention these days, but President Donald Trump somehow still finds time to engage in petty wars of words with his critics. On Wednesday, he resumed his scathing rhetoric about Republican Sen. John McCain.
Trump’s die-hard fans love that “at least he fights” and “punches back ten times harder,” and cheer his every schoolyard taunt, but it doesn’t look at all courageous when he strikes at McCain, who died last August and was mourned as a bona fide war hero and principled public servant by Americans of all political persuasions.
The feud with McCain goes back to the early days of the ’16 election, when McCain expressed doubts about Trump’s fitness for high office, and at no point has it made Trump look good. On his 23rd combat mission in Vietnam then-naval aviator McCain was shot down and severely wounded and then endured two years of severe torture, then and endured another three years when he refused an early release offered because of family connections rather than abandon the men under his command and hand the enemy a propaganda, and Trump, who avoided service in Vietnam because of bone spurs that didn’t seem to interfere with his golf game or nightclub womanizing, famously told a stunned audience that “McCain’s only a war hero because he got captured — I have to tell you, but I like a guy who didn’t get captured, OK?” Trump still somehow wound up following McCain as the Republican party’s presidential nominee, while also insulting four of the party’s previous five nominees, and he’s felt free to insult McCain ever since, and the die-hard fans have always loved it.
To the rest of the country it’s been a tawdry spectacle all along, though, and Trump’s most recent complaint that he never got a “thank you” from McCain for the funeral that Trump generously “approved” doesn’t look any better. Trump made the remark at a photo opportunity in General Dynamics tank factory in Ohio, where the assembled workers, including many veterans, didn’t respond with the sorts of gleeful cheers that McCain-bashing gets at a typical Trump campaign rally. All of the Republicans and Democrats who served with McCain in the Senate made statements attesting to his character and service, although several of the Republicans were careful not to mention Trump, and except for the die-hard fans the gripe about McCain’s ingratitude was not well received.
Trump also found time continue a spat with George Conway, the husband of White House senior advisor and die-hard loyalist Kellyanne Conway, calling the respected conservative lawyer a “whack job” and “stone cold loser.” The thrice-married Trump, who had boasted to the New York tabloids about his infidelities during his first two marriages, and seems have conspired with a supermarket tabloid to cover up his infidelities during his third marriage, also called Conway a “husband from hell.” The distaff Conway took Trump’s side, of course, explaining her boss had to fight back.
The president is also threatening tariffs that would make Americans pay thousands of dollars more for European automobiles, his idiot namesake son is annoying the United Kingdom by saying it’s Tory Prime Minister should have heeded his dad’s advice on how to handle its complicated “Brexit” from the European Union, and Trump’s close friendships with the dictators of China and North Korea aren’t yet yielding the great deals he promised the campaign rallies. At least Trump is no longer feuding with the Federal Reserve Board chairman he appointed, as the Fed has announce it won’t be raising interest rates after lowering their forecast for gross domestic product growth between now and the next election, but he probably laments the loss of a scapegoat for any economic bad news that might come along.
Trump also continues his ongoing feuds with the congressional and special council and southern district of New York of the Department of Justice investigations into all sorts of suspicious things, but all of those will play out in courts of law and according to constitutional rules that aren’t swayed by the even the pithiest insults. Given everything that’s going on, and what a small and petty man the president is, we can see why Trump might prefer to fight with the dead and honorably buried.

— Bud Norman

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

One of the most compelling subplots of President Donald Trump’s top-rated reality show is the melodramatic marriage of Kellyanne and George Conway. The distaff Conway is a senior White House advisor and ferociously loyal apologist for Trump, her husband is a respected lawyer with impeccable conservative credentials who is also an outspoken critic of Trump, and lately their wacky relationship has become a much-watched spin-off.
Trump “tweeted” on Tuesday that the husband of his most senior White House advisor is a “total loser,” George Conway “tweeted” back that Trump was stupid to draw such attention to their “Twitter” spat, and Kellyanne Conway told reporters she was too busy to taking care of four children to be able to comment. On the whole, we’d say that George Conway got the best of it.
George Conway and his wife’s boss have often clashed in the past, but this time around it started with Conway’s “tweets” citing the definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, suggesting that Trump seems to have all the symptoms. The “diagnostic criteria” for “NPD” include; “a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)”; “Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love”; “Requires excessive admiration”; “Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)”; and “Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends),” among other things.
Now that Trump has drawn our attention to the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, we have to agree with Mr. Conway that the President of the United States does indeed to seem check every box, and expect that many new readers of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental disorders will agree. Even Trump’s most loyal apologists concede his arrogance and braggadocio and authoritarian tendencies, and instead argue that’s what a leader needs to make America great again, and that at least he’s not Hillary Clinton. This time around they’ll echo Trump’s argument that the husband of his most senior White House advisor is a “total loser,” and probably won’t notice that it does little to bolster confidence in the President of the United States.
As Trump’s most loyal apologist, Kellyanne Conway won’t get away with no comment forever, and at some point she’ll have to somehow explain why her boss doesn’t suffer from a debilitating mental disorder and her husband isn’t a total loser. It’s a hard job, but we guess that’s why she makes the big bucks. In any case, we wish her well in the effort, if only for the sake of the four kids and her troublesome husband, whom we quite like and truly hope will leave the reputation of the Conway name intact at the end of this interminable reality show. We have our own family disputes about Trump and his personality disorders and whether they’re good or bad for the country, and we’re glad they’re not playing out televisions and all the papers, so wish the Conways the best.
As for Trump, he’s so awesome we assume he can take care of himself.

— Bud Norman

The Calm Before the “Tweetstorm”

The news has been eerily slow that past few days, except for that horrific slaughter of 50 people in two New Zealand mosques over the weekend, and the continuing fallout from President Donald Trump’s response to the tragedy. Things have been so quiet that Trump found time to type out more than 50 “tweets” over the weekend, and of course that provided plenty for the pundits to pontificate about.
It was, we have to admit, a prolific and noteworthy outpouring. Trump “tweeted” a happy St. Patrick’s Day message to the country, but other than that it was mostly a barrage of potshots against enemies living and dead, some full-throated defenses of two besieged allies at Fox News, and several “re-Tweets” by some little-known supporters, including someone who identifies himself as “@LonewolfnDuke.”
The die-hard fans no no doubt loved every word, and could once again reassure themselves that “at least he fights,” but we’d like to think that a President of the United could find something better to do with his time on a slow news weekend.
Trump once again criticized the “Saturday Night Live” television program, even though it ran a re-run over the weekend, and once again threatened to have the Federal Communications Commission “look into” the televised satire of him. Once upon a time a sitting president threatening to use his office to punish his critics for the exercise of their First Amendment rights would have been a big deal, but these days it barely makes the middle paragraphs of a story about Trump’s latest “tweets.” There were also insulting “tweets” about special counsel investigator Robert Mueller, a union official working at General Motors, Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and even the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
The figurative dancing on the literal grave of McCain got a lot of attention, and rightly so as far we’re concerned. Trump ridiculed McCain for being last in his class at the Naval Academy, even though McCain was fifth-from-last and always man enough to joke about it, and Trump has threatened to sue any school he attended for revealing his class ranking. Trump also falsely accused McCain of leaking the damaging “Steele dossier” to the press, when McCain merely passed the information on to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a responsible citizen should, and once again castigated McCain for voting against the repeal and replacement of “Obamacare,” even though Trump and the congressional Republicans hadn’t come up with any replacement. McCain died last August and thus can’t fight back, but McCain’s daughter is still around to fire back on network television that her father suffered five years of torture in a Vietnamese prison camp for his country while Trump was hitting all the New York City nightspots on his bone spurs, and speculate that Trump continues his bloodless war with the late McCain because he somehow knows he’ll never be such a great man, which sounds about right to us.
Trump also rallied to the defense of Fox News opinion hosts Tucker Carlson and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, who have lately been under fire elsewhere in the media for some of their more daring opinions. In Carlson’s case it’s some decade-old off-the-cuff remarks to a shock radio jock called “Bubba the Love Sponge,” where Carlson defended a cult leader who was arranging very underage marriages between his followers, described Iraqis as “primitive monkeys” and all womankind as “very primitive,” which Carlson has refused to apologize for and sloughs off as being “naughty” on the radio a decade ago. In the case of Pirro she went on the air and said that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar wearing the Muslim hijab suggested she she more loyal to Islam than the American constitution, which followed a big controversy about Omar saying American jews who supported Israel were disloyal the United States, and although it’s all very complicated even Fox News issued a statement disavowing her statement and pulling her from the schedule for at least one week.
Both shows have lately lost some big-name advertisers, but they retain an outspoken supporter in the White House. Trump “tweeted” his advice to Fox News to immediately restore Pirro to her Saturday time slot, and urged Carlson to “keep fighting.” We’d hate to see either show banished from the cables and airwaves for exercising their First Amendment rights, but we’d also hate to see the same thing happen to “Saturday Night Live,” which by the way has a talented woman who does an absolutely dead-on and devastating impression of “Judge Jeanine.”
Our guess is the country will somehow survive the satiric sketches of “Saturday Night” and the legacy of the late Sen. McCain, as well as the ill-tempered and authoritarian-sounding presidential “tweets” about them, but we can’t help worrying about what comes next from Mueller and O’Rourke and the sorts who gun down houses of worship in New Zealand and elsewhere, and we worry that the President of the United States seems worried about it as well.

— Bud Norman

Dick Dale, “King of the Surf Guitar,” RIP

Dick Dale has reportedly died at the age of 81, and unless you’re a true aficionado of rock ‘n’ roll music you might not realize what a big deal that is. The undisputed “King of the Surf Guitar” only had a few hits and a couple of brief moments of mass popularity during his long career, but between his innate talent and very weird personality he had a far more significant influence on the evolution of American music.
For one thing, Dale was the creator and master of rock ‘n’ roll’s ultra-cool surf genre, which yielded some of the 20th century’s best music. Surf music was also the link between the twangy and bucolic and ultra-cool rockabilly style and the distorted and urban and acid-soaked ultra-cool psychedelic rock that followed shortly afterwards, and Dale’s aggressively percussive and extremely loud guitar playing showed the way. Dale also played an important part in the technological development of the electric guitar and amplifier, which of course played an important part in the musical development of rock ‘n’ roll, and he exemplified the weird sort of rugged individualism that makes rock ‘n’ roll so ultra-cool.
Although he was born as Richard Monsour in frigid Boston in the depths of the Great Depression, Dales family moved to southern California in the booming ’50s, where he became an avid surfer and rockabilly guitar player. All that surfing resulted in a buff surfer’s physique, and he started playing those fleet-fingered rockabilly riffs with a noticeable muscularity, trying to express the exhilaration of riding the waves and shooting the pipes toward a sunny California beach. He played it VERY LOUd, too, courtesy of his friendships with legendary electric guitar luthier Leo Fender, who had previously used western swing legend Eldon Shamblin of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys fame as a guinea pig for his latest musical inventions.
By the late ’50s southern California’s avid surfers were packing the Rendezvous Ballroom in Newport Beach to hear Dale musically recreating their best rides on the waves at deafening volume on the very first Fender Stratocaster. By the early early ’60s pretty much every band in culturally influential southern California was playing surf music, producing such classics as The Chantay’s “Pipeline” and The Surfari’s “Wipeout” and The Markett’s “Surfer Stomp,” not to mention all those Beach Boys records the baby boomer’s still so dearly love, and Dale’s classic “Miserlou” and “Let’s Go Trippin'” and “Swinging’ and Surfin'” were among the genre’s nationwide hits. Dale even got to appear in some of the then-popular “beach movies” with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello and shapely bikini-clad girls and shirtless boys with surfer physiques. Then The Beatles came along and the popularity of surf rock and beach movies waned, but the influence of Dale and the style he’d created lingered.
To our ears The Chantay’s “Pipeline” is the precursor of all that great electric piano playing Ray Manzarek did for The Doors, the preeminent Los Angeles rock band of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The Beach Boy’s experimental “Pet Sounds” album pushed even The Beatles in a new direction. As the “King the Surf Guitar,” Dale had an even more outsized influence. One of the many weird things about Dale was that he was left-handed and thus learned to play the guitar upside down, which was one reason he became a mentor to the equally left-handed and upside down guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who is widely if incorrectly considered the most badass rock ‘n’ roll guitarist of them all, and such formidable players as Stevie Ray Vaughan also acknowledged his influence. Dale was the first guitarist known for literally shredding his extra-gauge guitar strings, and every rock ‘n’ roller who considers himself a “shredder” is an acolyte whether they know it or not.
Dale kept playing and wowing audiences through the lean years, including a memorable concert at Wichita’s Cotillion Ballroom in the ’80s. We were the music critics for the local newspaper at the time, and had the good fortune to interview him, although it wasn’t so much an interview as just letting him talk. He said he’d quit surfing as a result of a foot infection caused by the pollution on California’s beaches, but that he was snowboarding in Colorado instead, and he raved about the latest guitar technology, and had good and bad things to say about the latest music, and overall he struck us as quite a character.
He put on a memorable show at the Cotillion, and we remember walking out in the soaked and limb-strewn parking lot to see that there’d been a severe thunderstorm we’d not noticed because of how VERY LOUD and ultra-cool the performance had been. A while after that Dale had another fifteen minutes of fame when Quentin Tarantino used “Miserlou” to start off his big movie hit “Pulp Fiction,” and after that Dale kept playing VERY LOUD in ballrooms across the country to pay his mounting medical bills. He no longer had the buff surfer’s physique at that point, but by all accounts was still shredding the extra-gauge strings on his state-of-the-art Fender guitar. We’re not likely to hear the likes of Dick Dale again, but we look forward to hearing faint echos from the music of generations yet to come.

— Bud Norman