Mad Dogs and Americans and the Noonday Sun

James “Mad Dog” Mattis is lately in the news again, and we welcome him back. The decorated war hero and four star Marine general and former Secretary of Defense has a book coming out soon, and judging by the pre-release excerpts it’s a rather scathing critique of the foreign policy of a conspicuously unnamed sitting President of the States, which strikes us as another brave and patriotic act in a long and distinguished career of public service.
Already both the left and the right are prepared to pounce on his previously impeccable reputation, of course. The left will never forgive him for volunteering to serve in the administration of the hated President Donald Trump and failing to call the president out by name, and the newly reconstituted right will never forgive him for trying to restrain the beloved president’s all-knowing gut instincts. So far as we can tell, though, he’s been a principled man to today.
Mattis came into the Trump administration with high praise from his new boss, who seemed to relish Mattis’ nickname of “Mad Dog,” although Mattis himself hated it, and Trump liked the straight-from-central-casting lean physique and wizened visage Mattis wore, but the two never got along. Mattis was accustomed to military order and a by-the-book way of doing things, while Trump clearly preferred a more chaotic management style. Mattis’ much-decorated combat experience in Vietnam and his advanced studies at the National Defense institute and his experience as commanding general of the Central Command of the North Atlantic Treaty organization had convinced him that strong alliances with the world’s leading democracies are vital to America’s national security, while Trump’s gut instincts told him that our NATO allies were a bunch of deadbeats free-riding on global trade arrangements, and he actually said out loud that he knew far more about NATO than the four-star general and former commander of the NATO alliance ever did.
Mattis eventually resigned with an exquisitely worded letter when Trump dismissed his advice against a precipitous withdrawal of American forces from Syria, which pretty much everyone was urging against, and from which Trump later backtracked. By that time the lieutenant general of the army H.R. McMaster had resigned as national security advisor, which came after he’d taken over from lieutenant general Michael Flynn’ after his resignation and conviction on felony charges, and there had also been the resignation of former Marine general John Kelly, who had clashed with Trump as White House Chief of Staff  because of his efforts to impose some sort of discipline on the White House. Trump once bragged about all of the generals who answered to him in the White House, but one by one he grew annoyed by their military tendency to tell him things he didn’t want to hear.
The left doesn’t much like military people in the first place, especially those who volunteer for service in the Trump administration, but the more sensible and centrist sort of leftists did develop a begrudging respect for the likes of Mattis and McMaster and Kelly, if not Flynn, who no longer has any friends on any side as he holds out hope for a presidential pardon. They were considered the adults in the room, the serious sort of educated and experienced men who had spent their careers contemplating the complex issues of national security, and even the most military-hating sorts of liberals hoped that they’d somehow rein in the gut instincts of Trump, which don’t seem to anyone at all well-informed.
The left still resents the exquisitely worded way all of them have gone about lambasting Trump’s policies and managerial style, without mentioning any names, but they don’t understand that the generals still feel constrained they rigid rules of military protocol they had lived their lives by. Nor does the left understand the time-tested wisdom of those rules. Trump is still the Commander in Chief, as much as that might drive the left and the generals and any seasonable person crazy, so we should all be grateful than even without mentioning any names and despite the exquisitely worded prose Mattis is plainly warning the country he long served about Trump’s gut craziness.
Based on Mattis’ carefully worded resignation letter and previous few public statements and the excerpts from his forthcoming book, he seems to believe that Trump’s penchant for fighting “twitter” feuds and trade wars and demands of protection money from such longtime and steadfast allies as Canada and the United Kingdom and Germany and Denmark and Japan and South Korea are not a good. Nor does Mattis seem to like the way Trump has “fallen in love” with the North Korean dictator and has nothing bad to say about the Russian dictator, and otherwise tends to prefer authoritarian regimes to democratic governments, and has little regard for the hard-earned international rules that have mostly brought us and the most of the rest of the rest of the world relative peace and prosperity..
This seems sound advice to us, although we lack Mattis’ educational credentials and hard-earned experience in war and peace, or Trump’s infallible gut instincts. None of the Democratic alternatives to Trump seem interested in repairing alliance or opposing adversaries, and none seem likely to solicit the carefully considered and exquisitely worded advice of the military’s best minds, but here’s hoping the center somehow holds.

— Bud Norman

Trump on a Fox Hunt

There were still a lot of cop cars down the street when we left the neighborhood, but they were mostly gone when we returned home and apparently the situation with the neighbor who had a handgun and “mental health issues” was at least temporarily resolved, so we tried to catch up on the rest of the world’s news. The story that caught our eye was President Donald Trump urging his followers via “tweet” and impromptu news conference to stop watching the Fox News network.
The early morning “Fox & Friends” show and the evening lineup of opinion shows with “Judge” Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham are much appreciated or much hated as sycophantic Trump apologists, depending on where you stand along the political divide, but Trump doesn’t seem to like what the network’s news side is reporting in between. They’ve published some polls by well-respected pollsters that show Trump in danger of losing reelection, the likes of Chris Wallace and Brett Baier and Shep Smith have been known to ask Trump administration officials some hard-to-answer questions, and worse yet, they’ve lately been covering the Democratic presidential primary campaign, even going so far as inviting the candidates to share their views and respond to some hard-to-answer questions.
Trump griped on “Twitter” that Fox is “heavily promoting the Democrats,” and that “The New @Foxnews is letting millions of GREAT people down. We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” All of which strikes us as a bit over-the-top, if not a full-blown mental health issue.
As longtime Fox analyst Britt Hume “tweeted,” Fox doesn’t work for the Trump administration, and except for the opinion hours is charged with reporting the truth as best as it can. Any responsible national news outlet — or “News Outlet,” if you prefer the random capitalization — is obliged to cover both party’s primary races and to ask hard-to-answer questions of all the candidates and give them respectful time to respond. Trump expects more loyalty than that, though, and it’s hard to say where he’ll find it. There’s something called the One America Network that Trump is lately touting, but for now it’s a mere blip on the media radar screen, and 24 hours a day of Trump apologetics and screeds against Fox News and other Trump enemies doesn’t seem a ratings-grabber.
Better Trump should stick by the Trump apologists who dominate most of the day’s ratings on Fox, and not ask them to choose which master they serve.

— Bud Norman

A Tense Scene in Riverside

The rest of the world’s news seemed fairly uneventful by recent standards, so the big news on Tuesday in our fashionable Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, was the massive law enforcement presence just a couple of blocks to the north and a block to the west.
There were five Wichita Police Department patrol cars already in the area as we headed out on an afternoon chore, once of which stopped just ahead of us and blocked our way, as the cops around here are particularly fussy about citizens driving around, but he waved us ahead and we waved our thanks as we passed. By the time we drove home there were several more WPD patrol cars, a similar number of patrol cars from the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department, at least one from the Kansas Highway Patrol, a few heavily armored vehicles, and numerous men in full combat gear wielding actual assault rifles, and not just the semi-automatic kind that the gun-grabbers like to call “assault rifles” but the real deal.
Which is not at all what we usually see on a drive home. Most Riverside homes aren’t all that fancy, but almost all of them have a certain unpretentious 20th century charm, and they’re all nestled between the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers — both pronounced “Are-Kansas,” by the way — with several public parks and the art museum and the botanical gardens and a disc golf course and a real golf course, so it’s a fashionable neighborhood with all sorts of arty types and more than the usual number of of delightfully neighborly homosexuals, and it’s usually quiet and quite placid. We had a bike swiped from a back porch once, and a long while ago the “Riverside rapist” was terrorizing the neighborhood, and there’s the usual graffiti and other low-level crime you’d expect in the heart of any large American city, but in more than 25 years here we’ve never seen anything that so closely resembled a battleground.
We didn’t see any cars marked with the logos of any of the local media, which wasn’t surprising, given the late hour and the budget-cutting state of the local media. Once upon a time we’d have run down the street and flashed our credentials at the big city newspaper and demanded to know what was going on, but these days we’re not considered considered credentialed by the local authorities and don’t run very well, and the cops around here can be impatient with citizens asking question.
By happenstance one of our Facebook friends and actual friends lives exactly a few blocks north one and one block west where it was happening, and he’s one of those video-phone-owning and Facebook-posting types, so he was providing live coverage of it all from his porch. He could provide no explanation for anyone of it in his audio commentary, but had plenty of expletives to describe what was going on, and it indeed did look at least that curse worthy crazy. He posted that the cops were asking if he could use his bathroom, and we posted a question about what he’d learned, but he didn’t answer, and for all we know he told them to go around back and thus blew a journalistic scoop. Our friend’s a good guy, but he’s the type who might do that.
The first reporting from a credentialed local news source came from radio station KNSS, which did not surprise us. For most of the day KNSS is right wing talk radio and late night shows about the supernatural and unidentified flying objects and weird conspiracy theories, along with a lot of ads for tax debt experts and hail damage repair and other businesses, but they always fit a few timely and reliable minutes of reporting into every hour. It ranges from everything about the traffic tie-up at Kellogg and the Canal Route to the latest shenanigans at City Hall, and they gainfully employ our pal Ted Woodward, whose honesty and good intentions we will vouch for, even if it’s our personal opinion they’re working him into an early grave. They still maintain 24-hour shifts, too, which comes in handy when there are routine severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings or a very unusual amassing of military fire power down one’s block.
According to KNSS it all has something to do with a man who has a handgun and is “having a mental health crisis,” and we’re inclined to believe it. The poor suckers pulling the late shift at KNSS are usually pretty reliable, the cops around here aren’t inclined to lie to them, and these days it’s not hard to believe that there’s someone with a handgun and a mental health crisis just a few blocks away, even here in the fashionable Riverside neighborhood of Wichita.
Sorry to leave our readers in suspense, but for now we’ve no idea how this turns out. At this late hour we haven’t heard any gunfire, which is heartening, but even in our modern media age, where we all think we instantaneously know everything that’s going on in the world, that’s all we know about what’s going on a few blocks away. According to the latest report from the usually reliable 24-hour news team at KNSS, “police will provide an update on the situation Wednesday morning.”

— Bud Norman

Another Foreign Adventure

President Donald Trump is back at the White House after a Group of Seven summit in France, and it was as interesting as the rest of his foreign adventures. As usual Trump didn’t return with any economic or diplomatic or military deals worth bragging about, and as usual he had a number of cringe-inducing moments.
Trump skipped a meeting with the other heads of state about climate change, explaining that he was tied up at more urgent bilateral negotiations with the German Chancellor and Indian Prime Minister, but both leaders were clearly at the climate change confab. He told a reporter that he had entertained second thoughts about waging a trade war with China and that “I have second thoughts about everything,” and his communications team spent the rest of the next day explaining the very uncharacteristic statement by saying that the president misheard the questions and meant to say he regretted not waging the trade war with even higher tariffs. Trump did brag about the big trade deal he’d negotiated with Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained that he’d only agreed to continue negotiations.
There was some further bragging that  two high-ranking Chinese officials had called Trump to indicate their willingness to negotiate a quick peace in the trade war, which heartened America’s stock markets, but by the closing bell the Chinese government denied that any such calls has been made. The president also continued to hector the other leaders about allowing Russian dictator Vladimir Putin back into the club, despite Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea, which Trump blamed on former President Barack Obama because “Obama was outsmarted” and “it could have been stopped with the right whatever.”
Trump also claimed credit that there was any trade talk at all, even though several meetings on the topic were on the schedules handed out the international press at the onset. On the way home Trump “tweeted” that what all other the leaders’ most asked question was why he gets such bad press at home when he’s clearly doing such a bang-up job, a question which none of the world leaders asked publicly.
The next annual G-7 summit is set to be in America, so Trump also made a sales pitch to hold it at his golf resort in Doral, Florida. He spoke of how close it is to the Miami airport, helpfully explained that Miami is a large American city, and went on a such length about the gorgeous rooms and golf course scenery and ample parking that he sounded like a timeshare salesman in Branson, Missouri. Back home the usual nitpickers were making their usual nitpicking gripes about the emoluments clause to the Constitution and how presidents aren’t supposed to be enriching themselves with their office, and the world leaders whose constituents aren’t much enamored of Trump were rolling their eyes the way you might during a sales pitch for a timeshare in Branson.
Trump might yet swing the deal, though, and he needs it. Business is reportedly down in Doral since Trump became president, and Trump is lately griping that he’s losing billions he could have been making on paid speeches and other business deals he could be making if only he hadn’t so selflessly offered himself as a candidate for President of the United States. The nitpickers will nitpick, but Trump will pay them no mind. There’s a good chance the Democrats won’t get the Senate supermajority needed to kick him out office even in the more likely case they can muster an impeachment vote, while the die-hard fans haven’t minded the hundreds of millions his very frequent golf outings to his own wholly courses are costing the taxpayer, they and won’t begrudge him a few hundred million more in payments from foreign governments. By the time all those state attorneys general wend their way through the Trump-packed courts with their emoluments clause lawsuits he will at least be out of office.
The rest of the G-7 might well meekly going along with it, too, but we don’t see America getting a similarly sweet deal.

— Bud Norman

On the “I Hope You Get Cancer and Die” Style of Political Discourse

Our best advice and usual practice is to never wade into any political controversy on Facebook, and instead just offer happy birthday wishes and condolences for the loss of a loved one and compliments on the cuteness of your friends’ children and pets. Even so, we waded into more controversy and vituperation than we expected on Friday when we frankly told a couple of our friends we didn’t share their frankly expressed glee about the death of David Koch at age 79 after a decades-long battle with cancer.
If you’re not from Wichita or New York City and don’t follow the left-wing demonology closely, you should know that Koch and his brother Charles built their father’s multi-million dollar oil company into a multi-billion dollar oil and paper towel and plastic cup and cookie and various other things conglomerate, and they’ve spent much of their money on various causes. Charles stayed here in Wichita, where you can’t go to the local art museum or symphony or musical theater or zoo or a Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball game without noticing his generous contributions. David Koch cashed in after a cancer diagnosis and moved to New York City, where he seems to have enjoyed everything a rich guy can find in New York City, which we can hardly begrudge him as he spends two decades dying of cancer, and he was a generous donor to New York City’s arts institutions and gave billions more to build a cancer hospital and fund cancer research.
Both brothers donated billions more to political advocacy, though, and lots of reasonable people have reasonable arguments with the policies they advocated. By now the notorious “Koch Brothers” have a starring role in some less reasonable left-wing conspiracy theories the same  way multi-billionaire George Soros does in right-wing conspiracy theories. Their father was a pioneering petroleum engineer who got rich on a contract with Joseph Stalin to extract oil the Soviet Union’s best engineers couldn’t get to, he later became a founding member of the extreme anti-communist John Birch Society, and both brothers inherited his entrepreneurial genius and antipathy to bossy governments and preference for unbounded liberty and very low taxes.
Oftentimes they’d take it too far even for our libertarian instincts, just as the John Birch Society’s anti-communist zealotry often exceeded what our strongly anti-communist principles would prefer, and there’s no denying the very low taxes enacted by the Kansas Governor they funded didn’t pay for themselves as promised. There are all sorts of reasonable arguments reasonable people might make against many Koch-favored policies, but we figure that there are also still reasonable arguments reasonable people might make against bossy governments and for as much individual liberty as a free-market economist figures  a society can get away with. It’s all very complicated when you get down to the details, where the devil is said to be, but we hope we don’t go so deep into it that we start wishing a fellow human being gets cancer and dies.
Yet we have friends on the left that we know to be decent and loving people who exulted in the death of someone because of his different opinions on environmental and tax policy. Both Koch brothers advocated for same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana and abortion rights and as much left-approved individual liberty as a society can get away with, and neither were gun nuts nor supporters of President Donald Trump, and they held a variety of views on the Iraq war and various other issues our friends on the left would begrudgingly agree with, but apparently 100 percent fealty to the one true leftist faith is required to qualify as a human being. We’re told that Koch knew damned well he was poisoning the Earth, and that capitalism was a globalist conspiracy conceived to impoverish the fattened working class, and that he twirled his mustache and demonically laughed about it as he lit up cigars with hundred dollar bills stolen from the proletariat, so he therefore had it coming, and some of our friends seem to truly believe that their seething hatred of the man somehow demonstrates their moral and intellectual superiority.
There’s plenty of the same poisonous “I hope you get cancer and die” rhetoric on the right, of course, including from our internet troll of a President of the United States. We have friends on the right we know to be decent and loving people but are suddenly willing to enforce border laws with maximum cruelty and forgive anything President Donald Trump says or does so long as it gives “butt hurt” to the “libtards.” The right also demands  100 percent fealty to its one true faith, which used to prominently include Christianity, with its suddenly outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo about loving one’s enemies and judging not lest  ye be judged and come let us reason together, but  lately seems whatever hateful thing Trump is saying. Our leftward friends should give a listen to talk radio talker Mark Levin, who every weekday shrieks that they’re a bunch of dirty hippies who hate God and America and the Constitution and everything good, and that they should all get cancer and die, and will defiantly spit out that “Yeah, I said it.” He seems to make a good living riling up the faithful that way, but his business model clearly doesn’t include persuading any reasonable person who might tune in but is not already fully on board.
Neither side is at all persuasive to anyone not fully on board with their “I hope you get cancer and die” stuff, but both sides think the other side is winning with it, and are convinced that  even more hateful rhetoric is therefore required, so the hateful rhetoric will probably continue to escalate. Neither side will ever persuade  the other to commit the mass suicide that is  so hoped for, neither side will be shamed into silence by fear of a “tweet” or Facebook post, and at this point we can only hope they don’t start brawling it out and killing each other the way the Nazis and Commies used to do on the streets of the late Weimar German Republic. Our friends on the right will think us squishy globalist RINOs, and our friends on the left will call us corporatist sell-outs and capitalist running pig-dogs, and some on both sides might agree that both we and David Koch fall too short of the one true faith to be fully human, but we’ll be hoping that friendships persist, the center somehow holds, a less hateful conversation arrives us at some sufficient compromise solution to at least a few of our problems, and that no one gets cancer and dies.
In the end we’ll all be dead, and we’ll all have it coming, and none of us will have been either right about everything or wrong about everything all along,  so we’ll also hold out continued hope in that outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo about a merciful  God ultimately judging all our souls. Sorry to interrupt anyone’s gleeful orgy of hate,  but we implore our high-minded and self-righteous friends on both the left and the right to stick to the best policy arguments they can make, stop reveling in anyone’s cancer death, and leave the ad hominem attacks and outright hate speech to the more intellectually lazy and unabashedly hateful types.
There are already plenty of those on both sides, and for now they both seem to be winning.

— Bud Norman

An Awkward Situation at a Global Summit

There’s another Group of Seven summit this weekend, and it will likely be interesting. The other six world leaders in attendance disagree with President Donald Trump about trade policy, climate change, the Iranian nuclear deal, China’s crackdown on Hong Kong protestors, Russia’s ongoing annexation of Crimea, the necessity of western military alliances, and pretty much everything else that’s likely to come up in the discussions.
They won’t come right out and say so, being appropriately reserved and dignified heads of state, but the rest of the six world leaders also regard Trump as a bullying and buffoonish caricature of an ugly American. Trump seems to relish the opprobrium of the elitist and globalist Cannucks and Eurotrash and inscrutable Orientals, and the die-hard fans seems to love him for it, but he’s unlikely to return from the summit with any of those great deals he’s promised his die-hard fas.
This time around the summit is being hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, and he’s reportedly doing his best to prevent Trump from blowing it up. The summits have traditionally ended with a joint communique assuring the world that its seven largest economies are pretty much in agreement about most things, but Trump blew that tradition up during the last summit in Canada, so Macron has decided to skip the part about telling the world how its largest free economies are generally in agreement about most things.
Which comes at a perilous time, as several of the G-7 countries are sliding into recession and the American economy is slowing, and Trump’s trade wars with China and the European Union and our southeast Asian allies are likely the reason, as far as the rest of the G-7 are concerned. Meanwhile, the dictator-for-life overseeing a slowing Chinese economy sees no reason to negotiate with a mere president who’s likely to be out of office in less than two years. None of those six other reserved and dignified world leaders have any incentive to offend America and its still formidable economy and military might, but they all now that Trump is highly unpopular with their constituents and any kowtowing won’t serve them well.. Here’s hoping it won’t blow up, but we can’t see this G-7 summit being a smashing success for anyone.

— Bud Norman

Those Darned Danes

The kingdom of Denmark was planning to roll out the red carpet for President Donald Trump in a couple of weeks and give him one of those fancy state dinners with the queen that he so dearly loves, but Trump has abruptly cancelled the visit. He thought the Danish prime minister was “nasty” in her remarks about Trump’s plan to buy Greenland, which she called “absurd,” which he took as a slur against the United States of America.
Although we dearly love the United States of America, we have no gripes at all with Denmark, and see no reason to be feuding with it. The Danes have mostly minded their own business and not been a troublesome people over the past few centuries, and they’ve been loyal allies to America during its recent military interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere, we can hardly blame them for declining to sell their territory of Greenland, and their prime minister’s use of the word “absurd” for the idea seems apt enough.
Trump is easily offended and always relishes a feud, though, so Danish-American relations are at a historic level of frostiness. Greenland has long hosted a key United States Air Force base halfway between America and Europe and near an Arctic Circle that’s of surprising strategic important, and has vast resources of coal and uranium that have lately been uncovered by alarming amounts of ice, so the idea of buying it was first floated by President Harry Truman. The Danes have never entertained the idea of selling such a valuable property, nor its 58,000 or so inhabitants, and we can’t blame them for that, so with all due respect to Truman it’s always been an absurd idea.
Trump could have avoided all this mess if he’d discreetly inquired through diplomatic channels if Denmark was interested in selling Greenland, and taken “no for an answer, but he’s a speak first and dodge questions later kind of president.
For now Danish-American relations give us an Air Force base at a strategically crucial location in Greenland, Denmark remains a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally and fair-trading economic partner, and we’ll hold out hope Trump doesn’t toss that away over a personal slight. In the grand scheme of things Danish-American relations are only so important, but Trump is also “tweeting” taunts against the British and Germans and Canadians and Japanese and South Koreans and other longtime and strategically crucial allies, with nothing but kind words for our Russian and North Korean nemeses. This entirely unnecessary rift with the Danes seems the latest part of an alarming pattern.

— Bud Norman

Tempus Sure Does Fugit

Yesterday was the 60th birthday of our star writer and editor-in-chief and very unsatisfactory janitor, so we spent less than our usual amount of time poring over the news of the day. Sixty is one of those significantly round numbers one passes through on the surprisingly short journey from cradle to grave, and it brings to mind the admonition in Isaiah 22:13 to “eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
With such Biblical authority we guiltlessly slept well into the afternoon, then headed over to the ghetto toward Kirby’s Beer Store, where our pal Liz was unexpectedly tending bar. Liz is a very gorgeous and charming and intelligent and exceedingly eccentric young woman of about 30 years year of age, and if we were 30 years younger or she were 30 years older or we somehow met somewhere in between we’d be quite smitten, but the way things have turned out we’re well satisfied to have such a fine and uncomplicated friendship with her. She bought us a second can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in honor of our birthday, and we watched a corny old Hollywood flick on Turner Classic Movies together and had a good old time in an otherwise empty ghetto dive.
Our good pal Tom showed up after his day job as a workers’ compensation judge, just in time to wish us a happy birthday. Tom’s a lawyer who got that cushy judgeship as a former Democratic state legislature representative and loyal Democratic functionary, but he’s one of those sane centrist sorts of Democrats and he recognizes us as the sort of sane centrist Republicans he could do business with, and over our long friendship he’s gone out of his way to help at least three people we have cared about who screwed up and needed a lawyer at pro bono or cut-rate prices. We couldn’t accept his generous offer of a third Pabst Blue Ribbon, but his fulsome best birthday wishes were much appreciated.
The friends we usually find after work at Harry’s Uptown Bar and Grill weren’t there, so we headed home and logged onto the internet, where dozens of “Facebook friends” were wishing us a happy birthday. Despite our luddite grumblings we have to admit that’s pretty nice, and after that we had a lovely dinner at a fancy downtown restaurant with our our oldest and dearest friends, our beloved Mom and Dad. The conversation included two merlots and was delightful even when it veered into politics, as Dad agreed that Trump’s monetary policy is wrong, and we mostly talked about well things have relatively gone over the last 60 years.
After another Pabst Blue Ribbon paid for at Kirby’s Beer Store by an aging homosexual friend of ours we headed home to confront to the day’s news, but at that point it didn’t seem so formidable. There was talk of war and recession, but after 60 years we’ve been through a few recessions and deadly wars as well as the economic recoveries and desultory peace that has always followed. After 60 years and a few beers and a couple of glasses of merlot and a full meal of fancy-schmantzy mahi-mahi and mushroom buttons we’ll hope for the best, but admit that the worst is well within in the range of the possible. So long as friends and family somehow thrive, as they have for far longer than our 60 years, we’ll hold out hope they’ll survive the next inevitable economic downturn and war.
Maybe it’s the wisdom of 60 years, or just the beer and merlot, but we suggest you eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. This daily news is likely to drag on forever.

Placing Preemptive Blame

President Donald Trump is assuring the American public that the economy won’t go into recession for so long as he’s in office, and that if it does he’s certainly not to blame. Somehow that does not inspire confidence.
The stock markets have been up the last couple of days and the unemployment rate is still unusually low, while the gross domestic product has lately crawled forward at an Obama-era pace, but there are reasons for Trump and the rest of us to be nervous. The treasury markets recently went into an “inverted yield curve,” an obscure statistic that has presaged every recession of the last 50 years, business investment has lately been down, the federal deficit is up beyond Obama-era levels, such major economies as Great Britain’s and Germany’s are sliding into recession, China’s behemoth economy is rapidly slowing, and since July there has been a 6.4 percent decline in consumer confidence. The global smart money doesn’t seem to have much faith in Trump’s leadership, and increasingly sees it as yet another reason to be nervous.
All of which amounts to another conspiracy against Trump, of course. Trump explains that the “fake news” media — which now includes Fox News — is drumming up potentially self-fulfilling recession prophecies in order to deny him a landslide reelection. The media are merely reporting the official government statistics, but Trump is also skeptical of official government statistics. Back when President Barack Obama was in office and the stats showed slow but steady economic improvement Trump opined that the bureaucrats were cooking the books to make the boss look good. When Trump became president and the bureaucrats continued to report the same slow but steady trajectory he happily embraced it as official government statistics, but apparently anything that doesn’t look good is coming from the “deep state” cabal trying to make the new boss look bad.
Trump is also preemptively blaming Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has not done the severe interest rate-cutting Trump thinks is needed to prevent the upcoming recession that Trump assures us is not going to happen. Powell’s policies are quite prudent if the economy is the well-tuned ad humming machine Trump claims it is, and will come handy if that’s not the case and there are still interest rates to be cut, but if worse comes to worst Trump will have a handy scapegoat in the man he appointed to head the Fed.
No matter what, Trump will insist his global trade wars had anything to do with any global economic difficulties that might occur. He still insists that China is paying those billions of dollars of tariffs rather than the Wax-Mart shoppers, even as he backs off from his latest tariff threat for fear that Christmas shopping might not be as brisk, and there’s not reason a global trade war has anything to do with a downturn in the global economy.
Trump ran for president on the argument that all the military alliances and trading partnerships America had negotiated since the end of World War II were a raw deal, despite the relative global peace and prosperity that followed here and mostly abroad, and a promise that he’d knock it all down and negotiate a far better deal for the United States. So far he’s been fairly successful at the knocking it down part, but he’s not yet negotiated that sweetest deal ever.
None of the world’s dictators nor any of its democratically elected leaders have any reason to bail Trump out by agreeing to his demands for American hegemony, so that sweetest deal ever seems even more elusive. If they face any popular backlash to an economic downturn, both the dictators and the democratically elected leaders will happily and plausibly blame Trump.
On the other hand, the next recession might not happen before the next presidential election. There’s always a next recession, no matter who is president, what with the business cycle being an un-repealable law of economics, but they’re hard to predict. We’ve noticed they usually come at an inconvenient time for Republican incumbents, but despite his six casino bankruptcies Trump has often been lucky in his life.
An alarming 74 percent of the economists polled by the National Association for Business Economics expect a recession by 2021, but they probably have it in for Trump, and we remember the old joke about how economists have predicted the last 30 of the past ten recessions, and we hope they’re wrong. Not for Trump’s sake, of course, as we can’t stand the guy and will gladly blame his wrecking-ball economics if the global economy crashes to the ground, but because we don’t like recessions.

— Bud Norman

Hong Kong and the Rest of Us

The images from Hong Kong over the weekend were heart-warming and awe-inspiring, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to streets and demanding freedom and democracy in defiance of the Chinese government’s brutal authoritarian crackdown. There’s hope that it’s reaching a critical mass that even the worst of the Chinese dictatorship can dish can’t resist, and that the people of the remarkable island city of Hong Kong will get the freedom they and democracy that all people of the earth deserve.
There’s also some faint hope that the movement will spread through the rest of authoritarian China, and perhaps even around the globe, but for the moment free and democratic America doesn’t seem to be playing its usual role in nudging it along.
President Donald Trump is waging a mutually destructive trade war with China over its undeniably unfair trading practices, but he still boasts of his close friendship with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and doesn’t seem to care much about how his good buddy handles his pesky domestic protesters. In a series of “tweets” the president “tweeted” about how he was wreaking great damage on the Chinese economy, but late “tweeted’ that “I know President Xi of China very well. He is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people. He is also a good man in a ‘tough business.” I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?”
Trump later clarified by “tweet” that he didn’t mean a personal meeting between himself and Xi, but rather a personal meeting between Xi and the hundreds of thousands of protestors flooding the streets of Hong Kong. We can’t imagine how those negotiations would turn out, nor can we imagine what Trump would consider a humane solution. In 1989 there was a mass demonstration on Tiananmen Square that threatened to bring freedom and democracy to China and the Chinese dictatorship squashed it with brutal force, and in a 1990 interview with Playboy Magazine Trump said “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, then they were vicious, then they were horrible, but then they put it down with the power of strength. That shows you the power of strength.” When asked about it in a 2016 Republican primary debate, Trump insisted he wasn’t endorsing China’s response but clumsily explained, “I said that it was a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. And then they kept down the riot.
Trump used to wax nostalgic at his campaign rallies about how protestors would have been taken out stretchers, and he’s winked at or urged on on similarly rough responses to protests in Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and of course Russia. Those brave souls taking to the streets of Hong Kong clearly cannot count on Trump’s support, and at this point we’d advise anyone thinking of taking to the streets against to be brave but cautious.
Meanwhile, we also notice that none of those damned Democrats running for president seem to care much about those brave souls on the streets of Hong Kong, or any of the rest of the yearning-to-be-free world. Thus far the Democratic primary debates have been mostly about free this and free that for everyone in America, along with the usual promises made to various classes and races and sexual orientations within our borders, and somehow foreign policy never seems to come up. It might seem a missed opportunity for the Democrats, given what a mess Trump has made of foreign policy, but all of them seem to have the same Democratic instincts for protectionist trade policies and the same aversion to meddling in the world’s affairs on behalf of freedom and democracy.
Which seems to be where the rest of America’s at these days, in its time of relative economic prosperity and severe self-doubt. The once-iconic Democratic President John Kennedy vowed at his inauguration that America “shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any fried, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty,” but the Democrats jumped ship on that when the Vietnam War went sour and haven’t gotten back on since. The once-iconic President Ronald Reagan ultimately won the Cold War with similarly tough anti-Soviet rhetoric and no bullets fired, despite cutting off authoritarian allies in the Philippines and elsewhere, but these days most of the Republicans remember him as the guy who have gave amnesty to a bunch of Mexicans, and Republicans seem to have little regard for the people bravely pouring into the dangerous streets of Hong Kong.
By the vagaries of history China gave Great Britain a 99-year lease on Hong Kong after Britain got the best of a war over tea and opium, and despite Britain’s reputation for harsh colonial rule it granted the island city an unprecedented freedom and democracy, and the enterprising people of Hong Kong made it a very profitable enterprise even at Britain’s reasonable tax rates. When the lease ran out in 1997 Britain honored its deal, and the Chinese were at first willing to take its fair share of the profits from the roaring Hong Kong enterprise, but since then they’ve been cracking down on all that freedom and democracy the Hong Kong protestors had become accosted to over 99 years.
For obvious reasons we’re not running for president on either party’s ticket, but if we were there seems to be an opening here. America’s engagement in the rest of the world has always a messy business, to be sure, but under Republican and Democratic administrations America’s disengagement has always proved worse. In the short term standing up for Hong Kong’s freedom-loving and democratic protestors might not help Trump negotiate a trade war peace with his buddy Xi, but in the long run a free and democratic Chinese government is more likely to arrive at a mutually beneficial trade deal. Some Democrat might yet make a bold stand on behalf of the Hong Kong protestors, but he or she won’t want to negotiate with a more capitalist and formidable China anymore than Trump does.
Still, we hold out hope for the best. Freedom and democracy are resilient ideas, both here and abroad.