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The Latest News from the Trade War

The big story on Tuesday was another round of Democratic presidential primary debates, where the center-left types reportedly clashed with the more leftward types, but our brother and his wife are in town and the weather’s been far too nice to bother with that at the moment. When we got home we were more stuck by the latest on news on the ongoing trade war with China.
President Donald Trump has “tweeted” his assurance that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” but his trade war with China has thus far proved neither good nor easy to win. Trump and his die-hard fans have been telling us for at least a year that China is down on its knees begging for any trade agreement Trump might grant them, but the latest presidential “tweets” signal that the Chinese are willing to hold out for better terms until at least the next presidential election, when they might get the chance to negotiate with another administration. Naturally Trump is blaming the Democrats for daring to choose someone who might challenge him, and promising that if he gets reelected he’ll deliver the greatest trade deal the world has ever seen, a trade deal so great your head will spin.
We don’t have much faith any of these Democratic contenders will do any better, but neither do we worry our heads will fatefully spin with what Trump brings about. The trade war is is definitely harming China’s economy, as Trump triumphantly “tweets,” but only the most slack-jawed yokel in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap believes that America is benefiting from all those billions of tariff dollars the Chinese are pouring into our best-ever economy. The tariffs are being paid by the MAGA-cap-wearing suckers lined up at Wal-Mart with a basketful of Chinese goods, the world’s two biggest economies are both taking a hit, the rest of the world’s economy are slowing as a result, and it all makes it somewhat more likely another administration will finish the negotiations. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, described by Trump as a “close friend,” doesn’t have to worry about any upcoming election campaigns, and survive an economic slowdown more easily than any head of state from a more or less democratic nation.
Once upon a time in the Grand Old Party we could have imagined well-credentialed Republican experts dealing with China, and such establishment presidents as Eisenhower and Nixon and Reagan and a couple of Bushes guiding them along. China is indeed an unfair trading partner, stealing intellectual property and occasionally manipulating its currency and charging unfair tariffs, but they’re doing that to the rest of the world, too, and we think a unified world could convince them to stop. Trump has instead chosen to start trade wars with the rest of the world, but most of these Democrats are even more isolationist and protectionist than Trump, and those well-credentialed Republican experts who use to handle these matters in a way that furthered global peace and prosperity are sitting next to us on the political sidelines.
On such a sunny summer day as this,  and with our brother and  sister-in-law in town, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

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Weathering the Weather and Other Storms

The weather here in Wichita and south central Kansas has been eerily perfect for our urban and convertible driving tastes the past few weeks, with gorgeously blue skies and the temperatures in our favorite warm but not too hot mid-80s range, but otherwise it’s been a tough year for the farmers here in the heartland. The winter was bitterly cold and dry around here and brought blizzards to the north, the spring was so extraordinarily wet that the rivers around our Riverside neighborhood threatened to spill over and many of the nearby fields were under several inches or several feet of water during planing season, and now those same fields are too dry to sustain what crops did get planted.
We’ll leave it to the scientists to figure out what role humankind plays in our lately unusual weather, and what can be done about it, but there’s no denying that humankind and its inevitable screwups have aggravated the farmers’ most recent problems. Because of global overproduction commodity prices had been in a years-long decline even before President Donald Trump’s trade war provoked retaliatory tariffs from key foreign markets for America’s soybeans and corn and wheat and cattle and pork and other agricultural products, and lately someone or another has let a crucial irrigation system that previously provided water for 100,000 acres of farmland from Nebraska to Wyoming to break down.
Things have become so bad just north of here that even the city slickers at The New York Times have taken notice, and on Monday they unleashed a tear-jerking account of hard times in the country. One farmer they interviewed outside Gering, Nebraska, even said he’d had to put off the purchase of a much-needed new Ford F-150 pickup truck, which is the stuff of a crying-in-your-beer country-and-western song. Others testified that their crops were dying from dryness even as their neighbors’ fields were still a lake. Farm bankruptcies are up 19 percent over the past year, the biggest increase in a decade, according to the reliable Farm Bureau.
Which is bad news for everybody, even if you’re an urbanite enjoying the dry and moderate weather with your top down and wondering what those farmers ever did for you. The state governments here in the heartland have been struggling to balance their budgets even in the best-ever economy that Trump brags about, and the less than bumper crop harvests in the a couple of months won’t help. People everywhere will notice their grocery bills going up, and the national debt slowly rising, even if the heartland’s share of the gross domestic product is relatively small.
Those farmers and ranchers from Nebraska to Wyoming deserve some sympathy, too. You’ve probably never driven from western Nebraska to Mount Rushmore and the Dakotas and over to Wyoming, as the official Nebraska tourism slogan actually is “Nebraska, It’s Not For Everyone,” and people are few and far between and the scenery is very subtly beautiful, but if so you’ve missed out. The few folks you’ll find along those blue highways are invariably hard-working and friendly and likable sorts, and in its own subtle way their land truly is beautiful, and when the idiocies of nature and humankind conspire against them they deserve the full attention of the nation they have been such an essential part of.
Nobody, including our own brilliant selves, knows what to suggest. The recent weird weather might well be caused by to a significant extent by anthropological activities, as an apparent majority of climate scientists insist, but none of them can explain how to reconfigure the world economy without mass starvation. A lot of those Nebraska and Kansas and Dakotas and Wyoming farmers probably believe Trump’s assurances that his temporarily painful negotiating tacts will eventually yield the best trade deal ever, and they’ll all be buying Ford F-150s for their grandkids, but for now we’d suggest they keep their most important foreign trading relationships tariff-free. We’ve absolutely no idea why that irrigation system has shut down, but we hope that despite Trump’s deregulatory zeal the regulatory agencies responsible for the situation will be able to figure that out.
Between nature’s nature and human nature life is always a challenge out here in the heartland, not to mention what some city slicker from New York might do to further muck it up, but so far we’ve always struggled through. Here’s hoping that trend continues.

— Bud Norman

Rats, Rocky and Other Racial Matters

As usual, President Donald Trump finds himself in a few “twitter” feuds that are racially-charged. One is with black Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and the mostly black district of Maryland that he represents, and more surprisingly another is with the very white government of the very white country of Sweden.
Cummings is a frequent critic of Trump, so it wasn’t surprising at all when president “tweeted” that Cummings is a “brutal bully” and his part of Baltimore is a “disgusting and rat and rodent infested mess.” Naturally it’s caused an argument for the talk show talkers to talk about and the opinion writers to opine about, and both sides of the argument seem to relish it.
The “tweet” does contain at least a kernel of truth, as there are definitely parts of Baltimore you’ll want to drive through quickly and with the windows up and doors locked on your way to that world-class seafood restaurant we know in one of the better parts of town, and there’s something to be said for frankly acknowledging that unhappy fact. Trump is always brutally frank about his opponents, even if he’s far less forthcoming about his own shortcomings, and his fans love him for it.
The other side has its own arguments, and as always is not intimidated to make them. The part where Trump calls Cummings a “brutal bully” is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black — if you’ll forgive the possible racial implications of that cliche — and there’s plenty to argue about with the rest of it. Trump’s “tweets” were provoked by Cummings’ criticisms of the conditions at the detention camps where the Trump is keeping illegal immigrants and legal asylum-seekers, but his argument that the detainees are better off than Cummings’ free-to-leave-with-their-families-intact is arguable at best. Trump also “tweeted” that Cummings’ long tenure in the House hasn’t solved all of Baltimore’s problems, which is inarguably true, but his suggestion that Cummings should spend less time in Washington futilely arguing for federal help doesn’t make much sense.
It’s one thing to argue that much of Baltimore and many other cities run by black urban machines are a mess that deserves federal attention and a different kind of local leadership, but it’s another thing to suggest, as Trump seems to do, that those jurisdictions deserve what they get and don’t deserve the rest of the country’s consideration. Trump’s fans will love it, but the rest of the country might see it differently. There’s also a Washington Post story some of the rodent-infested apartment buildings in nearby Baltimore are owned by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Meanwhile, Trump seems to be currying favor witha black Americans by funding with Sweden’s prime minister on behalf of someone who calls himself A$AP Rocky. Being of a certain age and just as white as the Swedish prime minister we had not previously heard of this Rocky fellow, but apparently he’s a popular “rapper” with the “hip hop” crowd, and for some reason was recently in Sweden, where he was arrested for assault and battery in a street brawl for some reason or another. He’s also apparently a friend of bona fide nutcase and popular rapper Kanye West, who is for some reason a good friend of Trump, as well as the husband of Trump’s friend and fellow reality star Kim Kardashian, and Trump has taken a peculiar presidential interest in the case.
Trump apparently requested the Swedish prime minister to release Rocky forthwith, and “tweeted” that he was “disappointed” the prime minister replied that his nation’s constitution wouldn’t allow him to interfere with an independent judiciary. Trump further “tweeted” that the prime minister had betrayed America’s black community by upholding the Swedish constitutional order, and he seemed to care less about Swedish public opinion than how it might curry favor with black voters in America’s most rat and rodent infested neighborhoods.
The fans won’t mind, and might even appreciate how the right-wing talk radio hosts argue it proves that they and Trump aren’t the least bit racist toward well-to-do and well-connected black people. The rest of the country probably won’t be much impressed, on the other, and we think that Trump might be overestimating black America’s emotional investment in someone called A$AP Rocky’s fate at the hands of the previously uncontroversial Swedish justice system.
From our old Republican white guy perspective here on the political sidelines in a fashionable and left-leaning yet well-run Riverside neighborhood here in other conservative Wichita, Trump looks ridiculous on all fronts. Although we don’t want to prejudge Rocky’s case we wouldn’t be at all surprised if the report videotape evidence proves that a prominent American “rapper” committed assault and battery while on vacation in Sweden, and we’ll leave it to the Swedes to sort it out. Trump expects any old Swede or any other foreigner who comes to America to obey our laws and submit to our justice system if accused of a violation, and he should expect the same of Americans who travel abroad no matter who he might know, and he shouldn’t expect any other head of state to act differently than he would if some tourist from Sweden or anywhere else wound up in an American jail.
We’d happily defend any Republican who made a compassionate rather than racist case against the racial resentments and identity group politics and social pathologies and socialist economics that have done so much to make Cummings’ portion of Baltimore and so much of the rest of urban America undesirable places to live, and offered old school culture ideals and free-market ideas and nose-to-the-grindstone educational solutions, but Trump doesn’t seem to have any ideas about how to help and is clearly more concerned with shoring up support from his white base in rat infested neighborhoods with racial resentments of their own.
When we leave our fashionable and left-leaning and inordinately homosexual and almost entirely white yet will-run neighborhood here in Wichita we travel through all sorts of neighborhoods, each with their own political leanings and racial resentments and social tensions, but every journey proves uneventful and friendly. We have no problem with the black and brown and yellow and red folks we encounter daily, and are always happy to open the door for them at the convenience store, and they’re always happy to do the same for us if they arrive at the door first, and we’re sure we’d all do the same for any Swedish tourist who somehow happened to be in Wichita.
That’s how we mostly deal with all these very complicated race and class and sex issues here on the ground level in Wichita, and we’d very much like for Trump and those damned Democrats to do the same.

— Bud Norman

The Post-Gutenberg, Post-Truth Era

The Pew Research Center has released its annual assessment of the state of the news media, and it should come as a surprise to no one that it finds the news business in sorry shape.
Newspaper circulation is down to the lowest level since 1940, which was when they started keeping track and there were 200 million fewer people in America, and naturally revenues are also falling. Viewership of local television newscasts and the over-the-air network broadcasts are also down, although revenues have somehow improved. Cable news viewership and revenue rose, but only slightly.
There’s no reason to expect any improvement in the near future, as by now the decline seems self-perpetuating and accelerating. Lower revenues lead to smaller newsrooms putting together less news, usually at a steeper subscription price, which in turn leads to further declines in readership and more layoffs and even less news. There are already large American cities such as Pittsburgh and Birmingham that have no major newspapers at all, and we expect there will be more of them in the next few years.
Those who regard the media as enemies of the people might be pleased to hear it, but they should be careful what they wish for. With no one keeping a close eye on your city hall and county building and state capitol the people inside will probably be more tempted by whatever corrupt bargains come their way, and you won’t be able to object to their dumbest decisions until after they’re a done deal. You’ll cast your votes to replace the bums without knowing much about who you’re putting in. Like it or not, you need the news, and you’ll miss it when it’s not around.
Go ahead and say the news media is in decline because of its dishonest “fake news” ways, and figure you can get your information straight from President Donald Trump’s “twitter” feed, but that’s bunk. Most people who go into journalism are left-leaning, to be sure, and that sometimes affects their reporting in infuriating ways, but they very rarely just make things up, are usually quickly caught by their colleagues when they do, and an astute reader can discern the double-sourced facts according to their own bias. In most cases, it’s more reliable than Trump’s “tweets.” The rapid decline in journalism’s fortunes, we believe, mostly isn’t the journalists’ fault.
Way back in the Gutenberg era when we broke into the newspaper racket as college dropout copy boys, newspapers were thick and cost a mere 25 cents, and it was a grand and essential bargain at that price. Your daily newspaper was the only way to know where your favorite baseball team was in the standings, how that hot stock pick you bought into fared on the markets, what the weekly weather forecast was forecasting, and there was “Peanuts” and “Blondie” and crossword puzzles and coupons worth well more than 25 cents. Newspapers were black and white and read all over, even by those apolitical types who don’t much care what’s going on at City Hall or in Washington, D.C., although they’d occasional read the stories as well.
This infernal internet machine changed all that, for both better and worse. It provides access to The Wall Street Journal and New York Times and Washington Post and a wide variety of publications closest to whatever local story has become national news, and you can read well considered opinions worth considering from across the political spectrum, along with all sorts of far-right and far-left conspiracy theorizing that might just turn about to be true, but the marketplace is so widely dispersed that profits are hard to come by for even the best of the news providers. There will always be a certain demand to know what’s going on, but it’s hard to build a business model on it.
We’ve also noticed there’s less demand to know what’s going on in the big, wide world. People seem more interested in what’s on their text messages and the Facebook pages they’re constantly looking at on their hand-held mesmerizers, and care less than ever about what’s going at city hall or the county building or in Washington, D.C.  Even talk radio is seeing a decline in ratings, and Trump is fuming that that his “Twitter” following has been cut down by the period attempts to eliminate “bots.” Perhaps that has something to do with the rather dull prose and apparent biases of so many journalists, but it’s also a failure of America’s educational system and our self-absorbed culture, and the politicians who encourage cynicism about the very possibility of objective truth aren’t helping.
Keep your eye on the news, we urge, and don’t be such a cheapskate that you won’t pay an inflation-adjusted price to keep it going. Be skeptical about whatever you read, whether it’s in a newspaper or internet publication or a presidential “tweet.”

— Bud Norman

Robert Mueller’s Graceful Bow from the Public Stage, and Its Aftermath

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before two congressional committees on Wednesday was one of the most highly anticipated episodes in President Donald Trump’s long-running reality show, but it proved anticlimactic. No matter which side you’re rooting for in this tawdry spectacle, you probably didn’t get what you were hoping for.
Trump’s tormenters in the Democratic party were mostly disappointed that Mueller stubbornly refused to add anything juicy to what’s in the 480-page report his exhaustive investigation into the “Russia thing” provided. There’s plenty in the report that looks very, very bad for Trump, but it’s a long and tough read that most Americans haven’t perused, and much of the country is willing to go with Attorney General Robert Barr’s four-page summary that there’s nothing in it that looks at all bad for Trump, so the Democrats were hoping that Mueller would make it more vivid, which his very carefully chosen words didn’t do.
On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard supporters in the Republican party didn’t get what they wanted. They’ve been claiming that the report completely exonerates Trump of any wrongdoing, and Mueller reiterated the report’s carefully chosen and clearly stated words that it “does not exonerate the president.” Even as Trump and his die-hard supporters claim that Mueller did exonerate the president, they’re also claiming that Mueller is a “deep state” conspirator who launched a treasonous “witch hunt” into a “total hoax” about Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in the last presidential election, and they didn’t make much headway with that alternative argument.
On the whole, we’d say that Trump and his die-hard supporters got slightly the worst of it.
In his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Mueller reiterated his investigation’s finding that Russia did indeed interfere on Trump’s behalf in various ways during the last election, a claim that all of America’s intelligence agencies confirm is not a hoax, with Trump’s Secretary of State and Central Intelligence Agency director and National Security and Director of National Security Director in agreement. Trump is still inclined to take Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word for it that Russia would never think of doing any such thing, and has taken no action to prevent from doing so in the future, and any fair-minded American who’s still paying attention to Mueller’s carefully chosen words about this stuff should be concerned about that.
Mueller also reiterated his investigation’s conclusion that it could not charge Trump or his campaign with criminally conspiring with the Russians, which seems to be the “total exoneration” that Trump crows about, but of course it’s more complicated that. The investigation found Trump campaign officials were fully aware of Russia’s efforts and had numerous and Russian officials, proved that Trump was lying when he assured the Republican primary electorate he wasn’t pursuing any business deals in Russia, and has won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against such high-ranking Trump associates as longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen and campaign manager Paul Manafort and national security advisor Mike Flynn. Another case against longtime Trump friend and advisor Roger Stone is currently being adjudicated, but Mueller carefully avoided commenting on that, or any of the other many criminal cases his investigation referred to other jurisdictions.
The House Judiciary Committee was naturally more interested in the part of Mueller’s report that outlined ten instances where Trump sought to thwart the investigation, but Mueller disappointed the Democrats by artfully dodging questions about whether he would have charged Trump with obstruction of justice if Trump weren’t the president of the United States. There’s a Watergate-era opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that says you can’t charge a sitting president for a felony, which the report seems to imply is the sole reason no charges were brought, and the seasoned Mueller was craftily coy in dodging questions about whether he’d meant to imply that, but we figure any fair-minded observer still paying attention to this arcane stuff could probably read between the lines.
The Republican attacks on the character and credibility of the man they simultaneously claim has completely exonerated Trump looked ridiculous, of course. If you’ve been following this soap opera on right wing talk radio and through Trump’s “tweets” you know that Mueller and the Hillary Clinton-loving and Trump-hating “13 Angry Democrats” he assembled for his investigation were intent on a coup d’tat against a duly elected American president, but despite their best efforts the Republican interrogators failed to make a convincing case. Trump has “tweeted” that Mueller only investigated him because Mueller was “best friends” with fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, Trump didn’t appoint Mueller to a a third term as FBI director, and because of some long-ago dispute about greens fees at a Trump-owned golf course, but that was all the more ridiculous.
Mueller is a bona fide Eagle Scout, a veteran of the Vietnam War decorated with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, a star student at three of America’s most elite universities, a longtime prosecutor against America’s most dangerous criminals whose reputation for by-the-book integrity earned him a nomination to head the FBI by a Republican president and a nomination to serve a rare second term by a Democratic president, with both appointments confirmed by landslide and bipartisan votes in the Senate. His reputation for honesty and integrity and patriotism is far better than Trump’s, by any fair-minded assessment, and it’s hard to believe he’d toss away his hard-earned fawning footnote in America’s history because of a collegial professional relationship with Comey or a third term at the FBI he swore under oath he did not apply for, much less some petty dispute over greens fees that only the likes of Trump would make a big deal about.
That Mueller disappointed by the Democrats by declining to sensationalize the more damning parts of his report makes the Republican arguments that he’s a treasonous “deep state” conspirator all the more unconvincing. So far as we can tell from our reading of Mueller’s report the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia’s interference in the election, and the Trump administration sought to prevent efforts to find out about it, and while it’s outside Mueller’s jurisdiction he stuck to rules as he reads them and he figures it’s up to Congress to decide if that amounts to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are impeachable offenses. We’re sure Mueller has some private opinion about how Congress should proceed, but he’s a stickler for the rules ,and one of those rare Washington figures who doesn’t think everything’s all about him, and is still willing to let his private opinions remain private, so as disappointed as we are our old-school Republican souls admire his old-school reticence.
Which is more than we can say for Trump. At what he surely hopes is the end of a long and distinguished career of public service Mueller has once again provided the American public with the facts of the matter at hand, as best as he could, and according to the rules he has once again humbly and wisely decided to let the rest of us sort it all out. We’ll hold out hope, as we’re sure Mueller will do, that whatever the hell the truth is it will ultimately prevail.

— Bud Norman

“BoJo,” “Brexit,” and Trump

Over the past many decades there have often been intriguing similarities between America’s presidents and the United Kingdom’s prime ministers.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a conservative Tory and President Franklin Roosevelt a liberal Democrat, but both men came from aristocratic backgrounds and excellent educations and they shared an instinctive abhorrence of Nazism, and Churchill came to share the Cold War stage with President Dwight Eisenhower. Prime Minister Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher was an iconoclastic conservative Tory whose election paved the way for President Ronald Reagan’s equally iron-willed and controversial conservative Republicanism. Reagan was succeeded by the more cautiously conservative President George H.W. Bush at about the same time that was followed by Prime Minister John Major, a cautiously conservative tory with the same sort of establishment pedigree as his American counterpart. President Bill Clinton ended 12 years of Republican presidencies by promising a centrist “third way,” and he was soon joined by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ended a long run of Tory residence at Number 10 Downing Street on a similar centrist platform.
Since then Republican presidents have sometimes had to get along with Labour Prime Ministers and Democrats have overlapped with Tories, but for the most part the Special Relationship persisted. Putatively Republican President Donald Trump often clashed with Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, who had a more refined style and didn’t share his nationalist instincts, but she’s lately been forced to resign, and will now be replaced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is about as close a copy of Trump as the United Kingdom can find.
Johnson has a longstanding reputation for making up facts that suit him and bluntly insulting anyone who disputes his version of the truth, he’s a Britain-first nationalist who shares Trump’s distrust of international alliances and institutions, he was born in New York City to a wealthy family, and he arguably has an even more ridiculous hair style than the American president. Trump had signaled he would have preferred the even more anti-European Union politician Nigel Farage, who campaigned for Trump during his presidential race, but we expect that he and Johnson will get along quite well at the upcoming economic summits.
Johnson first gained notice in Britain as a journalist, which is a marked contrast from Trump, but we think Trump would have liked his style. He was an anti-European Union crusader at a time when Britain’s entry into the economic alliance was a hotly debated issue. There were plenty of good reasons for Britain to retain its independence, including nosy regulations and open border policies and one-size-fits-all currency, but Johnson wasn’t satisfied with that and invented all sorts of fanciful tales about condom size regulations and other outrages, getting fired from the Times of London for falsifying a quote but later finding a home at the Tory-leaning Telegraph. He parlayed his popularity into eight controversial but not at all catastrophic years as Mayor of London, and then somehow wound in May’s cabinet as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Britain’s limited involvement in the European Union remained a controversial issue, with the country eventually voting by a slim margin in a referendum to “Brexit” from the agreement. Negotiating the terms of the divorce proved difficult, however, and eventually brought an end to May’s prime ministership. The United Kingdom had wisely followed Thatcher’s advice to retain its Pound Sterling currency rather than accept the Euro that the poorer country’s were using to rack up ruinous debt and require huge bailouts, but it had agreed to accept some very stupid immigration rules and other annoying violations of its sovereignty, so there was ample reason to cut ties with the continent, but on the other hand EU membership also offered very lucrative free trade with the world’s third biggest economy. The EU naturally used that leverage to demand concessions that Johnson and Farage and Trump and other “hard Brexit” advocates resented, and May wound up resigning in frustration with her failure to please anyone.
Perhaps Johnson will have better luck with the negotiations, but the conventional wisdom of American and Fleet Street media is that he’ll have the same problems as May. His Conservative Party and the “Brexit” are both unpopular, Britain’s economy needs the EU more than the EU needs Britain, the country has lately been having its oil tankers seized and harassed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a problem that will require North Atlantic Treaty Organization assistance, and much like Trump he’s widely regarded by the establishment types as a rank amateur who’s in over his ill-coiffed head. The anti-EU Trump has said he’ll reward Britain with a sweetheart trade deal if it makes a “Brexit,” but no matter how sweet it probably won’t be worth as much as free access to the far closer and nearly as large EU economy, and Johnson and Trump have some disagreements on matters ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the importance of the NATO alliance.
Still, we wish “BoJo” and Trump the best of luck working it all out, as America and the United Kingdom have helped one another do ever since that unpleasantness back in 1812. In a couple of years there might a crazy left Democratic president and a crazy left Labourite prime minister who find themselves simpatico, and if so we’ll hold out work that doesn’t end badly.

— Bud Norman

The Art of the Budget Deal

The good news is that President Donald and the Republican and Democratic leaders have reached a deal, expected to be voted on and signed by the end of the week, which will avert a governmental default and the economic cataclysm that would surely follow. The bad news is that deal adds another couple trillion dollars to a national debt that sooner or later will be just as catastrophic.
For now, though, no one seems to care. The Democrats remain the party of big government, and realize that for the two years of the budget deal they are unlikely to get the big tax increases they want to address the deficit, and the agreement gives them a few hundred billion dollars more to spread around to their voters. The Republicans are no longer the party of fiscal responsibility but rather the party of Trump, the self-proclaimed “king of debt,” who told reporters on Monday that “We are, I think, doing very well on debt, if you look at debt limit, however you want to define that, but we’re doing very well on that and I think we’re doing well on a budget.”
We’ll leave it to Trump’s die-hard supporters to explain exactly what the heck that means, as they seem to speak his language better than we do, but the gist of it seems to be that he’s quite comfortable about another couple of years of trillion dollar deficits, and maybe four more after that if he gets reelected. He and his die-hard supporters will probably revert to the old-fashioned Republican outrage about fiscal irresponsibility as soon as another Democrat occupies the White House, but for now they’ll talk about the great deal he got.
The Democrats agreed to another big hike in defense spending, and Trump told reporters “Very important we take care of our military, our military was depleted and in the past two-and-a-half years we’ve undepleted it, okay, to put it mildly,” adding another Trump neologism to the language at no cost to the taxpayer. There’s no money for the big beautiful border wall that Trump the Mexicans pay for, but neither is there anything to prevent Trump from diverting funds from the military budget to build a mile or two. The Democratic leaders also gave oral assurances they wouldn’t complicate future budget negotiations with with any “riders” regarding abortion or other controversial issues, although it’s not clear how Trump will hold them to that.
The deal does allow a few hundred billion dollars more of discretionary spending, but for at least two years and maybe six that Democrats won’t have much say in how it’s spent, so a lot of Democratic congress members are publicly fuming, especially those newcomers that Trump has lately been urging to back where they came from.
The last of the old-school Republicans who really believed all that talk about limited government and fiscal responsibility and the looming were also disgruntled, with the president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget saying “It may end up being the worst budget agreement in our nation’s history.”
Despite all the grumbling on both sides of the aisle we expect the deal will be sealed by week’s end, when Congress takes it annual summer vacation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer retain a fairly tight rein on their caucus, hardly anyone in the Republican party dales challenge Trump on anything, the entire political class seems to realize that few of us still care about about the looming debt catastrophe, and absolutely no believes that anyone in Washington, D.C., can come up with solution before vacation time.
The deal at least kicks the can of crisis a bit further down the road, and no one’s likely to have to run for reelection a year from next November explaining what they did the the global economic Armageddon happened, and they can all hope they’ll be dead or retired with a sufficient stash of gold and guns and canned food when the reckoning does come.
Addressing America’s debt will require tough talk and harsh medicine for the American people. The Democrats will have to acknowledge that their utopian dreams are for now too expensive, the Republicans will probably have to forgo another round of their beloved tax cuts, and both parties will have make unpopular changes in such popular programs as Social Security and Medicare and even our recently undepleted military. That kind of political courage is scarce these days in either party, though, and far scarcer than the deficit dollars the Fed will keep printing.

— Bud Norman

Build that Wall!

Say what you want about The Washington Examiner, but it’s not one of those far-left liberal “fake news” rags. It’s not quite up to the standards of the late and much lamented Washington Star, but it’s the factual and conservative alternative to the factual and left-leaning Washington Post. We therefore tend to believe its front page report that President Donald Trump hasn’t yet built a single mile of the big and beautiful and sea-to-shining-sea border wall on the southern border that he promised his supporters.
By all accounts there have been repairs and upgrades to the fences that previous Democratic and Republican congresses and presidents agreed to, but by no account has Mexico gladly paid for any of it, as Trump promised his supporters. At this point, though, no one much cares.
The Trump skeptics never believed for a moment that he was going to build a big beautiful wall along the southern border, much less that Mexico would gladly pay for it, but the true believers were well satisfied that he’d at least make such preposterous promises. Take Trump seriously but not literally, they’d say, and for the most part they’ve been right about that. Trump hasn’t built a single mile of border wall, but he’s enforcing border laws as cruelly as he can get can get away with, and his supporters rightly figure that’s a figurative if not literal sort of wall. The courts haven’t allowed the complete ban on Muslims entering the country that Trump promised, but he’s done his best to make the mostly law-abiding Muslims who are currently here feel uncomfortable, which should placate the fans.
There’s no telling how the next presidential election might turn out, but we will predict that it won’t result in a big and beautiful sea-to-shining-sea southern border wall that Mexico happily pays for.

— Bud Norman

Daddy Pa, the Moon, and the Brave New World

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of an American spacecraft landing on the moon, and Neil Armstrong becoming the first man step foot on its surface, which thankfully gives us something to write about other than President Donald Trump.
We retain a vivid memory of watching it on a grainy black-and-white television at our grandparents’ home in Oklahoma City, and realizing what an extraordinary achievement it was. What a brave new world we would grow up in, we clearly remember thinking, and our nine-year-old imaginations envisioned that by now we’d be flying around in one of those space cars that George Jetson drove to work at Spacely Sprockets.
As it turns out we’re getting around town in an aging Chrysler Sebring, but the top comes down at the push of a button, and when we get home there’s a computer and internet and microwave oven and all manner of technological marvels, while our aging parents are getting health care their parents never did and have machines that will answer any question they ask and change the channel on their high-definition television and play any song they want to hear at spoken request. It’s a brave new world after all, the current lack of flying cars notwithstanding, and the still-remarkable feat of landing a man on the moon was one of the milestones that made it seem possible.
Our beloved maternal grandfather, known as “Bud” to his friends and “Daddy Pa” to his nine grandchildren, didn’t know what to make of it. He was born in the Oklahoma Territory, and in a covered wagon according to family legend, and he couldn’t be fully convinced that he’d lived long enough to watch a man walk on the moon. In any case he didn’t believe that people had any business walking around on the moon. He thought it was the same sort of hubris that brought down the Tower of Babel and sank The Titanic, and he firmly believed in a more down-to-Earth way of living. Still, he let us stay up long past our bedtimes to watch the moon landing live on the newfangled television machine.
We’ve largely inherited Daddy Pa’s luddite instincts, and eschew those smart phones and smart-alecky machines that answer all your questions and turn all your appliances on and off, and still have a nagging worry that eventually technology will turn on us like that HAL computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and when we try to step outside into the open air of actual rather than virtual reality it will say “Sorry, Bud, but I can’t let you do that.” With all the considerable respect due to Daddy Pa, however, we think he failed to fully appreciate one of the most remarkable moments of his extraordinary life.
America landed on the Moon on because it had run out of the North American space that was its Manifest Density, with even the Oklahoma Territory admitted to the union as a fully-fledged state, and there’s something in the American nature that constantly wants to peacefully expand its boundaries. The moon mission was driven by a desire to go farther than man had gone before, prove that even the most implausible tasks are possible, and to learn more than was previously known, which ranks right up there with humility and compassion among the very best traits of our flawed human species.
Daddy Pa would be pleased that modern medical technology has kept his third daughter alive for more years than he enjoyed down here on Earth, and impressed that she can hear his beloved Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys’ western swing music any time she asks her know-it-all machine for it, and he’d probably admit that it wasn’t the end of the world when a man walked on the Moon. We’ll try to keep our place in the old world he so dearly loved, but we’ll do our best to help along this brave new world.

— Bud Norman

Partying with Cheerleaders

These are the lazy, hazy days of summertime, when the cotton is high and the living is easy and the news cycle usually slows down. In the age of President Donald Trump there’s always something to talk about, however, and on Wednesday it was some old footage from the National Broadcasting Company of the future president indulging in what looked to be a pretty wild party at his Mar-a-Lago estate with a bevy of National Football League cheerleaders.
There’s nothing on the tape that would justify Trump’s impeachment, and his apologists can rightly argue that cameras might have caught such Presidents Clinton and Kennedy and Harding behaving just as badly if the media had been as nosy, but it doesn’t look good. Trump is once on again on tape assessing women’s worth by his scale-of-one-to-ten ratings of their physical attractiveness, and pulling women by the waist and patting their derrieres and forcing kisses and stopping just short of grabbing them by the pussy. He’s also seen yukking it up and comparing notes on the assembled pulchritude with fellow Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who is now a convicted sex offender and currently resides in a federal jail awaiting trial on more charges of exploiting underage women, and is someone Trump now claims he never liked.
The footage is from a 1992 segment on NBC’s talk show “A Closer Look,” hosted by Faith Daniels, who recalls that Trump forced a kiss on her while her husband’s head was turned, which the videotape confirms. At the time Trump was newly-divorced from his first wife and not yet married to the mistress who would become his second wife, and a recently bankrupt real estate and casino mogul who was known for calling all the New York City tabloids to boast of his sexual exploits. He clearly relished his reputation as the playboy of the western world, and was eager to play the part before NBC’s cameras.
These days Trump has a third wife and is the darling of the “family values” religious right wing of the Republican party, and swears he doesn’t have a sexist bone in his body, but he’s probably unconcerned about the footage. On our drive home from a northeast side dive we heard one of the right-wing talk radio talkers talking about how everyone already knew that Trump was a hound dog and he became president anyway, and the die-hard fans seem to take his pussy-grabbing tendencies as further proof that he’s the sort of dominating alpha male we need to make America great again.
Trump credibly claims to have had no contact with Epstein since the sex crime conviction, and has defenestrated the Secretary of Labor who gave Epstein a sweetheart deal back when he was a U.S. Attorney, and former President Bill Clinton was also a pal of Epstein, so Trump should also survive his past friendship with the world’s most notorious sex offender.
In the long run it’s just one of those aged filler stories that the media need to fill a slow summer news day, but we still say it doesn’t look good. That America has elected two different presidents who were once pals of Epstein troubles us, and there’s no telling what Epstein’s upcoming will reveal. We never did like any of those guys we grew up with who rated women by their looks and pulled waists and forced kisses and grabbed pussies, and we still believe that more thoughtful and respectful types are needed to sustain American greatness.

— Bud Norman