Health Care Remains, For Now, in the Waiting Room

President Donald Trump might yet grow bored with winning, but it probably won’t happen today. On Thursday the House of Representatives delayed a vote on the health care legislation Trump is backing, lest it go down to certain defeat, and even if they are swayed by his threat to drop the matter altogether if they don’t pass it by the end of this work day it won’t likely count as a win.
The vote was scheduled for Thursday because that was the seventh anniversary of the signing of the hated Obamacare law that the current legislation is intended to repeal and replace, as Republicans have been promising to do for the past seven years, and apparently the irony of the date was too much for the bill’s backers to resist. It came too soon for Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan to round up all the Republican votes needed to overcome the predictably unanimous Democratic opposition, though, and so far it is not apparent why Trump has decided that the matter must be resolved today or not at all. Nor is it apparent that Trump’s threats will sway any reluctant Republican votes, or that it would be a good thing if they did.
Although Trump is careful not to call the proposed plan “Trumpcare,” despite his usual penchant for putting his name on everything, he has fully invested his rapidly diminishing political capital into the project, and he’s threatened any dissenting Republicans with political consequences if they defy him. He’s a president who’s polling in the high 30s and low 40s, however, and the bill he’s pushing was at 17 percent approval in the latest poll, and the Republican dissenters have plenty of perfectly Republican reasons to offer their constituents, and the Democrats in their districts surely won’t mind the nay vote, so the threats rang rather hollow on Thursday and might again today. If even the reluctant House Republicans are cowed by the prospects of presidential “tweets” there’s still a big fight ahead in the Senate, and even if Trump can win over all the Republicans he has slandered in that body the bill he signs won’t necessarily be scored a victory.
As it stands now, the bill has something for everyone but a diehard 17 percent or so of the country to hate. The Democrats can’t stand any alteration to their beloved Obamacare, no matter how obvious its many shortcomings have become over the last seven years, and all us Republicans who were Republicans long before Trump joined the party are disappointed that the repeal isn’t root-and-branch and the replacement retains too many of its most infuriating assaults on individual liberty and economic logic. Obamacare’s promise of coverage for pre-existing conditions makes as much sense as letting people buy fire insurance after their house has burned down, but it polls through the roof and is therefore protected by the bill. The new bill would end subsidies to millions of Americans who rely on them for health care coverage, many of whom who will have undeniably tear-jerking stories to tell the newspapers and broadcast networks, and although most of them are now inadequately covered and driving up costs for others and would happily opt out of a system that’s hurtling toward insolvency Trump and Ryan and the rest of the Republicans have done a poor job of making that case.
There’s bound to something in even the worst legislation to like, and we find favor with the fact that the proposal would eliminate a number of Obamacare’s more ridiculous requirements. For the past seven years we’ve been arguing that the Little Sisters of the Poor shouldn’t be forced to pay for contraception coverage, monogamous married couples shouldn’t be forced to pay for potential sexually-transmitted diseases, and healthy young people earning starting salaries shouldn’t be stuck with anything more than catastrophic coverage, but somehow the Republicans are mangling even that argument for the bill. Our own snarly Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts tried to make the point by sarcastically telling a female reporter that “I’d hate to lose my mammogram coverage,” which was quickly construed to mean that Republicans were against mammograms and their bill would eliminate that coverage for those who might choose it, even though that wasn’t the case at all, and not being a reality star he wound up apologizing via “tweet,” which is pretty typical of how the Republicans’ public relations campaign has been going thus far.
Although Trump is the leader of the Republican that has majorities in both chambers of Congress, he’s not had much luck lining them up behind the bill he’s careful not to call “Trumpcare.” Any concessions he makes to the hard-liners only makes it harder to woo the squishy moderates in purple districts who dread all those inevitable tear-jerking stories about people who lost their healthcare, his threats of political retribution for anyone who defies his will grow more ridiculous with each passing ridiculous pronouncement and every public opinion poll, and Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment that Trump vowed to overthrow are looking equally inept. Now seems a good time for the party for stop and think through what it’s doing, but Trump has decided that it has to be done today, which is symbolic of nothing in particular, or that we’ll just have to put up with another four years of Obamacare.
Call us old-fashioned, but we don’t see why Trump and Congress and the rest of us can’t take a few more weeks or even a few more months to come up with something that both makes sense and scores more than 17 percent approval in the public opinion polls and might even get a Democratic vote or two from some purplish district. Back when Obamacare was passed we and everyone else who was a Republican at the time argued that the Democrats were hasty and reckless and obviously over-promising, and thanks to the anniversary-date vote that was planned for Thursday we’re reminded they took a full year to enact that stupid law, which passed without a single Republican vote and has haunted the Democratic Party ever since. We can’t help thinking that if the Republicans take just as much time, and come up with a sales pitch that avoids needless snark and doesn’t promise the coverage for everyone at much lower prices that Trump promised during their campaign, we might wind up with something that’s at least somewhat better. ┬áIf that’s not a next-news-cycle victory for Trump and his real estate negotiation style, so be it.

— Bud Norman

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Gorsuch and Nonesuch

So far President Donald Trump’s travel ban is still being held up in court, his repeal-and-replace plan for health care seems lacking some crucial Republican votes, the budget proposals are widely opposed and the “tweeted” accusations of treason are getting much ridicule and little support, but at least the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is going well.
The Democrats and the rest of the left are doing their best to stop it, as tradition requires the opposition party to do, but they don’t seem to be having much luck. They’ve objected to the fact that Gorsuch is an admitted “originalist” in his judicial philosophy, but that basically means he believes the Constitution says whatever a plain reading of it written words say, and ever since Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the court the Democrats have had a hard time time selling the idea it should say whatever they want it to say at any given moment. There have been no revelations of financial entanglements or college dope-smoking incidents or any of the other assorted scandals that have sunk past nominees, his long history of voting with majority and unanimous decisions during a long tenure as a circuit court judge makes it hard to cast him as any sort of scary extremist, and his performance in the confirmation hearings has been as flawlessly careful and noncommittal and yet exceedingly charming as any we can remember. The Democrats have been frustrated that Gorsuch wouldn’t pre-judge any hypothetical cases for them, just as the Republicans were when they grilled past Democratic nominees, but we don’t expect that the general public will mind that Gorsuch has been answering all the questions exactly as Supreme Court nominees are supposed to do.
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank was reduced to complaining that Gorsuch seemed all too reasonable and downright personable during the hearings, and was sure that such “archaic phrases” as “goodness” and “since I was a tot” and “give a whit” would only be used an Eddie Haskell sort, who was a smarmy character on “Leave It to Beaver” that only the most archaic pop culture commentators remember. The late-night comedy program “The Daily Show” and its African host sneered that such expressions showed how very white Gorsuch is, but we doubt that most Americans would find that a disqualifying quality in a Supreme Court nominee and we’re quite sure that Trump’s most loyal supporters would find it endearing. Of the thousands of cases Gorsuch have heard the Democrats seized on one where he voted against a truck driver who had violated company policy and wound up frozen as a result and then sued over being fired, but of course the case was complicated and not the sort of thing that be easily conflated into a coming reign of judicial terror.
All the late night comics and the rest of the Democrats have had a far easier time scaring people about the rest of what Trump is to, but they inadvertently allowed Gorsuch to reassure the public about that. He’d already been quoted by anonymous sources as telling Senators that he was “disheartened” by Trump’s attacks on a “so-called judge” and the authority of the judiciary, but reiterated the sentiment under oath, carefully declined to answer any questions about how he might rule in a hypothetical case involving Trump and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution or any of the other many things that might very well come up in the next four years, and somehow left a clear impression that Trump won’t be able to count on him if the facts and the law of a case favor the other side.
That willingness to defy Trump, along with all the aw-shucks demeanor and apparent reasonableness, have convinced some of Trump’s supporters that he’s picked another one of those squishy Supreme Court Justices that more establishment sort of Republicans have been picking for decades, and they’re still holding out for someone more snarling, but we doubt they’ll derail the nomination. Meanwhile all the Democrats are still made that President Barack Obama’s pick for the post, whose name was Merrick Garland or Garland Merrick or something, didn’t get a confirmation hearing at all, because it was blocked the Republican congressional leadership that all of Trump’s most avid fans hated for caving into everything Obama wanted, so it would be fun for almost everyone if a Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch did wind up ruling against some Trump overreach.
All the big press outlets seem resigned to Gorsuch’s nomination, and mostly unwilling to expend any of their diminishing capital of credibility on trying to portray him as a scary sort of extremist who’s going to bring back Jim Crow and back-alley abortions and all the stuff they once threw at Judge Robert Bork, whose last name is now a verb for such character assassination, so we expect this will be a win for Trump. That’s fine by us, and if it leads a few losses for Trump down the road that will also be fine.

— Bud Norman

Turning Right on Sesame Street

There’s a lot in the news lately other than the latest federal budget proposals, and of course there’s plenty further news within that proposed $3.6 trillion of spending that’s currently up for debate, but somehow the relatively mere pittance of $454 million per annum for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is once again getting column inches and air time. President Donald Trump wants to end the spending altogether, the relatively small but inordinately influential fans of public broadcasting are screaming foul, and it all seems slightly familiar yet somehow different.
Suspicious sorts of conservatives such as ourselves have been leery of government-subsidized media from the get-go back in the Great Society days of the ’60s, we’ve always wondered why the equally paranoid liberals didn’t share our concerns about it, and nothing that has happened since had changed our views on the matter. The arguments against allowing the government to pay for air time are all the more compelling in the age of Trump, as far as our suspicious conservative souls are concerned, and for the life of us we can’t understand why any liberal isn’t at long last seeing the light.
We’re old enough that our first exposure to educational programming for the kiddies was back in the days of the ad-supported Captain Kangaroo, though, and we understand that the subsequent generations that grew up learning the alphabet and other lessons from the Public Broadcasting System’s “Sesame Street” clearly have a different perspective. Our liberal friends of all ages also prefer the classical music and pretentious jazz and those soothing voices and sensitively wrought opinions of National Public Radio to the shrilly shrieked vitriol on the right wing radio talk shows with all the ads for gold sellers and survival food and promised relief from the Internal Revenue Service, and lately we can’t argue much with the preference, even if we’re sticking to old garage rock cassette tapes and the old folks’ AM station with the Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee tunes during our drives around town. There’s also no denying that a mere $454 million is too small a fraction of a $36 trillion budget for us to bother try to calculate, and that somewhere along the line “Sesame Street” might have taught some poor kids the alphabet and that sometimes classical music is the perfect thing for a drive around town, and we don’t doubt that Trump might just be settling a longstanding score with “Sesame Street,” which has apparently been taunting him since he was a minor New York tabloid celebrity, but we’re still comfortable with the draconian budget cut.
All the old arguments still apply, though, especially around here. Public broadcasting was touted as a subsidy to those poor folks who couldn’t afford the high-priced high-brow fare on cable, but our rabbit ears don’t get the local PBS affiliate and nobody we know all over this town can get it, and although the NPR affiliate at the local college station comes through loud and clear it doesn’t seem to be seeking out a low-income audience. Even such low-lifes as ourselves occasionally enjoy the classical music offerings that admittedly can’t be found elsewhere, but we’d happily endure the infrequent ad for contingency fee lawyers to those interminable fund-raising drives and all that Peter, Paul and Mary music. Free market purists assume there will always be a commercial market for sensitively wrought opinions broadcast in soothing voices, especially in the age of Trump, and given that the “Sesame Street” brand and all its toys and bed sheets and coloring books probably out-earns the Trump brand our liberal friends have nothing to free from a true laissez-faire media.
Back in the pre-cable days the local PBS affiliate used to come through to our suburban house with episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” which we are still grateful for, and our friends affluent to still have cable talk of some good high-brow shows on PBS, but we’re not sure it warrants even a mere $454 million dollars. Getting the budget into a sustainable range will require some tinkering with the popular entitlement programs of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, which the liberals who love public broadcasting all consider sacrosanct and even Trump doesn’t dare to touch, so we’ll not worry much about this particular line item no matter how it turns out.

— Bud Norman

Who’s Bugging Who?

There’s all sorts of consequential politics going on these days to keep a president busy, what with repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Trumpcare and passing a thus-far unpopular budget and whatnot, but that’s all pretty dry stuff and involves a lot of math. Which makes it all the harder to turn one’s gaze away from the far juicier ongoing allegations coming from all directions about all sorts of international espionage and high-tech skullduggery and assorted movie-worthy twists. Monday alone provided enough plot twists to fill up several sequels.
The already convoluted plot plot started way back during the past presidential election, when Republican nominee Donald Trump was praising the strength of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s leadership and shrugging off the occasional extra-judicial killing and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign was taking a hit from some embarrassing e-mails that had been suspiciously hacked, and suspicious sorts started wondering if that was entirely coincidental. The resignation of Trump’s campaign manager after business ties to a Russia-friendly Ukrainian were revealed and the resignation of a foreign policy advisor for similar reasons did nothing to quell the suspicions, and neither did Trump’s still-unreleased tax returns, and although he nonetheless became President Donald Trump the news hasn’t helped much. His already-controversial National Security Advisor had to resign after a few days on the job because he’d lied to the Vice President about having been in contact with Russian officials, his already-controversial Attorney General recused himself from any role of a potential investigation into the matter of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials after similar revelations, and the late night comics and other conspiracy theorists have been having a ball with it.
Trump, of course, has been doing the counter-punching he so boastfully prides himself on. On an early morning a couple of weeks ago he “tweeted” a series allegations that past President Barack Obama had tapped his phone lines at Trump Tower, which, if true, would truly be worse than the Watergate scandal that Trump mentioned. That was immediately followed by a “tweet” ridiculing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s paltry ratings on “The Apprentice,” the reality show Trump starred in prior to his presidency, but the president still stands by his allegations. His press secretary has since explained that Trump had taken care to put quotation remarks around “wire tapped” to emphasize that he didn’t literally mean that Obama had tapped his wires, and occasional spokeswoman and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway further explained that he could have meant that Obama was spying on Trump through the Trump Tower microwave oven, and of course the late night comics have been having even more of a ball with it. Subsequent “tweets” and presidential interviews have promised that would proof would be forthcoming, and that his Republican allies in Congress would provide it through hearings, but so far that has not happened.
Trump still has plenty of supporters in the comments sections of all the internet stories about all of this, and is still cheered on by some old-time Republicans who should know enough to at least hedge their bets with some skepticism, but Monday provided another public relations beating. Those Republican allies in Congress have thus far admitted they don’t have any proof to back up Trump’s allegations, and on Monday they invited Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey to testify that the allegations are untrue and that the Department of Justice has authorized him to say so, and that he was also authorized to says investigations of Russia’s meddling in the past election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign was ongoing, and in the absence of any classified documents that a president could unilaterally un-classify that was bound to be Tuesday’s big headline and the punchline of all the late night jokes.
The more determined Trump apologists will continue to explain how a “deep state” shadow government is still doing the bidding of Obama, and they’ll be quite right that Obama’s administration tapped so many phones and did so many shadowy things over eight years that you can’t put anything past them, and we’ve seen enough Hollywood movies to always be suspicious about those intelligence agencies, but such old-school Republicans are ourselves still expect some proof. All those intelligence agencies and their more boring bureaucratic colleagues are clearly opposed to Trump for reasons different than our own, all the leaks lately have clearly served their agenda, and there’s still some reason to keep most classified information classified, but for now we’re still waiting for proof of Obama’s worse-than-Watergate behavior and something in the way of usual financial disclosure to assure us that Trump’s seeming Russophilia is just bad ideology and not something to do with the global business empire that Trump still owns.
Which is a shame, as far as old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves are concerned, because Obamacare really does need to be repealed and there’s still some hope that the old-fashioned Republicans left in office will be able to come up with something too imperfect for any hyperbole but at least better than what we’ve got. We find a lot to like in that unpopular budget proposal, too, and would even be cheering if a Republican president had the extra amount of guts to take aim at the popular entitlement programs that are driving the national debt to eventual bankruptcy. Fiscal solvency and other matters requiring hard choices and hard math are always a hard sell, and all the harder when you squander your credibility with claims that are never proved and only cast further lingering suspicion on yourself.
Trump’s supporters can also rightly note that none of his critics’ have yet proved their most damning allegations, but at this moment in the news cycle the claims are at least as plausible as that story about Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the Kennedy hit and President George W. Bush lying the country into the Iraq War that Trump was never for, or that one about Obama being born in Kenya that Trump took credit for putting to rest, and these days it all a needless distraction. At this point we want Trump to put up or shut up, disprove his conspiracy-minded critics with full financial disclosure and an independent investigation, then lay off the “tweets” and get on with all the boring but consequential stuff.

— Bud Norman

Chuck Berry, RIP

Chuck Berry died over the weekend at the ripe old age of 90, and the rock ‘n’ roll music he championed isn’t faring so well lately, but the aftershocks will still be felt for a while.
It would be going too far to say that Berry invented rock ‘n’ roll, which seemed to spontaneously rise from the American soil and burst forth from the rural honky-tonks and ghetto dives and on to the Ed Sullivan Show back in the mid-50s, but otherwise it’s hard to overstate how much he had to do with it. He was the first honest-to-God rock ‘n’ roller to wind up with Patti Page and Mitch Miller and all the other big-name pop stars on Hit Parade, and he was the very quintessence of the deep-rooted yet newfangled genre. Three simple chords borrowed from the blues, a certain twang taken from country, a couple of those can’t-get-out-of-your-head hooks redolent of the popular standards, all delivered with a hot-rod drive and certain goofy swagger in the sly clever lyrics. The formula yielded a remarkable string of classic American songs, plenty of tabloid scandals, and a broader cultural revolution that is still with us for better or worse.
Chuck Berry was one of those only-in-America stories, which he always gratefully acknowledged, even when he was in jail. He was a more-or-less-happily married 30-year-old aspiring hairdresser when he became the prototypical rock ‘n’ roll star, and was not only black but quite defiantly so at a time when only such refined negro gentlemen as Nat “King” Cole and The Ink Spots got to share space with Patti Page and Mitch Miller on the Hit Parade, but Berry was simply too cool to be denied his place in the spotlight. The extra years in his conveniently located hometown of St. Louis had allowed him to soak up all the blues licks of such southern greats as Muddy Waters, the rollicking style of country that was being played out west by the likes of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, as well the gritty gospel of Chicago’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the emerging rhythm and blues sound of Louis Jordan and the other jump bands that were on the air from the coast to coast, and he still had some sex appeal to the mix.
Berry started playing around with his odd melange of music, and on a trip to Chicago he was recommended to Chess Records, a label run by a couple of Polish Jews who had an uncanny knack for finding and recording the blues. They’d scored plenty of hits on the southern and urban R’n’B charts with such all-timers as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, and had one of the best and scariest of the early rock ‘n’ rollers with Bo Diddley, but Berry had something that allowed the label to start selling to white and black and hispanic and any other kind of restless teenager you might find anywhere in the country. His first hit was “Maybellene,” derived from the old country standard “Ida Red,” which opened with a raucous guitar solo and revved through an all-too-familiar tale of a faithless love. The string of hits that followed included “School Days,” a witty lament about being stuck in class, “Thirty Days,” another chase after a wandering woman, “Reelin’ and Rockin’,” which featured a far raunchier take on romance that somehow made it past the era’s censors, and “Rock and Roll Music” and “Roll Over, Beethoven,” both of which celebrated a brand new music that suddenly seemed to be everywhere.
There were also such classics as “Johnny B. Goode” and “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Sweet Little Sixteen,” not to mention such gems as “You Never Can Tell” and “Come On” and “Little Queenie” that should have been bigger hits, and pretty much every single track on every LP in our prized box set of Berry’s complete Chess recordings is grade-A badass rock ‘n’ roll music. The old bluesman Willie Dixon put together a crack band that included the great Johnnie Johnson on piano, the Chess brothers wisely recorded them in the same rough spare style of their blues acts, and the material came through as something altogether new. Aside from the quirky hillbilly influence that Berry had learned to survive his white honky-tonk gigs, there was also an ingeniously corny quality to the lyrics, which had people keeping their ginger ale in “coolerators” and motorists “motorvatin'” and somehow rhymed “tearing up the road” with “V-8 Foad.” The short stories with the steady beat told all the old stories about cheating women and somehow recalled schoolboy angsts and in sum celebrated a tail-finned and jet-engined and racially mixed and rapidly evolving America of limitless opportunity.
Berry grabbed the opportunity to become a household name and an eventual face on the Mount Rushmore of American music, but the rest of his complicated story was part of the same only-in-America narrative. Despite Berry’s widespread appeal and appearances in Hollywood movies it was the equally talented and slightly better-lookiing and far whiter Elvis Presley who popularized the miscegenation of country and western and rhythm and blues known as rock ‘n’ roll, and he once again found himself afoul of the law. He’d served some time for armed robbery before his show biz breakthrough, and at the height of the rock ‘n’ roll craze he was sentenced to further time for a violation of the Mann Act, which at the time everyone understood to mean something sleazy and interstate involving one of those teenage girls that Berry was always singing about. That was in 1959, the same year Buddy Holly died and Presley got drafted and Jerry Lee Lewis was kicked off the radio for a sex scandal of his own involving a teenaged girl who also happened to be a second cousin.
Rock ‘n’ roll survived the ensuing few years of clean cut white boys and girl groups with white dresses and bouffant hair, then The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys and all kinds of rock ‘n’ roll craziness came along, and somehow Chuck Berry remained just as cool as ever. Because of a pretentious aversion to the notion of “cover songs,” meaning the age old practice of great singers and great musicians playing from the repertoire of great songs, rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t really have standards such as the blues and jazz and pop and country singers can draw from, but there’s never been a time when it wasn’t acceptable to play a Chuck Berry song. Back in the earliest days Jerry Lee was a cutting a salacious “Little Queenie” and Buddy Holly was making rock ‘n’ roll safe for bespectacled nerds with a very cool “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and even Elvis was offering up a still cool “Too Much Monkey Business.” All the hippie bands covered Berry tunes, and we especially like The Chocolate Watch Band’s “Come On,” and “Johnny B. Goode” was an almost obligatory part of any rock performance no matter how pretentious the performer. When the punks came along The Sex Pistols were reviving “Johnny B. Goode,” the oldie but goody about a country boy who could play a guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell, and all of those bands seemed to striving to reclaim that ineffable primitivism of the Berry records.
Berry did pretty well for himself on the oldies circuit, playing with pickup bands in any town that would book him, and in the early ’70s he was back on the charts with a ridiculous little smutty novelty tune called “My Ding-a-Ling,” which put him on an arena tour that included a gig at Wichita’s Henry Levitt Arena where he absolutely wowed our junior high-aged selves. He played a gig at the White House a few years later, went to prison again for tax evasion a couple of weeks after that, was frequently honored with such gigs as an adulatory documentary of a thank-you concert with The Rolling Stones, and kept rock and rolling and paying the rent with it until his ’80s. We heard some good reviews from those shows, and the advance buzz on his last album is hopeful that he had yet another great record in him, and we note it has been dedicated to the woman he was still somehow more or less happily married to.
There were some other unseemly tabloid scandals, and legends about backstage spats with his equally tempestuous rock ‘n’ rollers from the stone age, but what else would you expect from someone so exquisitely attuned to the very heart and soul of America? Should the country ever grow tired of “The Star-Spangled Banner” we’d recommend “Back in the U.S.A.” as a new national anthem, with its revved-up guitar licks and tinkling piano and heartfelt paean to a land where “hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day.” Tail-fins are out of style and jet engines have lost their novelty but America is still a racially diverse and rapidly evolving land of unlimited opportunity, and for better and worse both Chuck Berry and the rock ‘n’ roll music he championed have something to do with that.

— Bud Norman

Another Jacksonian Age, For Better or Worse

President Andrew Jackson is back in the news again, despite being dead the past 172 years, this time around because of President Donald Trump. Jackson’s portrait has been given a prominent place in Trump’s Oval Office, Trump took the opportunity of a trip to Nashville this week to lay a wreath at Jackson’s home, and the current president frequently makes a point of comparing himself to his rough-hewn and populist predecessor.
The last time Jackson was in the news was when he was demoted from his place on the $20 bill in favor of the anti-slavery and civil rights heroine Harriet Tubman. Originally the idea was to demote former Revolutionary War hero and first Treasury Secretary and all around Founding Father Alexander Hamilton from his spot on the ten-spot, probably because Jackson was the founding father of the Democratic Party and Hamilton had views that sounded suspiciously like what the later Republican Party would espouse, but Hamilton’s reputation was somehow rescued by a big hip-hop Broadway musical that noted his illegitimate birth and immigrant status and his life-long impeccable anti-slavery credentials and a vision of an urbanized America where a meritocratic elite was allowed to flourish, and all that budget-balancing small government stuff and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that Hamilton espoused was forgotten. Around the same time even the Democrats were admitting that Jackson was an enthusiastic slave-holder who had waged avowedly genocidal wars against various Indian tribes and forced a mass relocation of other tribes that left at least 4,000 Cherokees dead along the infamous Trail of Tears, and that his crackpot economic theories which so closely resemble the most Democratic Party’s didn’t exactly work out for him, and thus Jackson wound up with the currency demotion.
All of which makes Jackson an odd choice for a modern Republican president to tout as his favorite, but then again Trump is an odd sort of modern Republican president. and one can easily see the reasons for his Jacksonian affinity. Jackson was an undeniably colorful character, and even Trump’s most strident critics will acknowledge that he is as well, and he ran as a pugnacious and proudly crude outsider who would defend his fellow common men from the nefarious machinations of a nebulous elite, which is pretty much the same storyline that Trump is peddling, and he was so beloved by the poorly educated of his time that his picture wound up on money, which is probably what Trump is aiming for.
There was other comparisons, too. Jackson was the first president who had not been born to the colonial aristocracy that had fomented the War of Independence and crafted the Constitution and tended the already-globalized economy, just as the self-proclaimed billionaire Trump proudly wears a chip on his shoulder that he had to make big campaign contributions to get the Clintons to come to his third wedding and is still hated by the older-money smart set. Jackson followed the mixed-results administration of John Quincy Adams, the son of a previous president who had been educated at the best schools and spoke several languages been involved in high-level diplomacy from a young and whose intellectual credentials were impressive by any standards, and had won the presidency with what Jackson called a “corrupt bargain,” just as Trump defeated a previous president’s son in the primaries and then succeeded President Barack Obama, who pretended to have Adams’ intellectual credentials and whose legitimacy Trump had challenged with a similarly fact-free conspiracy theory. Both men were mean old score-settling scorched-earth types, too, which in both cases endeared them to their many ardent admirers.
Such eerie similarities do little to comfort our old-fashioned Republican souls, though, and we can’t imagine they will make any self-respecting Democrat any more favorably inclined to either Trump or their own party’s founder. It might not matter much to Trump’s most ardent fans, but Jackson’s unapologetic-to-the-end pro-slavery stand and all that entirely unnecessary slaughter of peaceable and culturally integrated American Indians still rankles our Lincolnian sensibilities, and we’re sure that by now most Democrats would even agree, and anyone who bothers to read up on it will find that Jackson’s populist economics didn’t work out. The friend of the common man’s distrust of financial elites was such that he provoked the Panic of 1837, the nation’s worst financial crisis until the Great Depression, and Jackson’s dealings with the central banks of his time is eerily similar to the confrontation that’s brewing between Trump and the Federal Reserve Board, and although Trump is closer to self-described socialist and thorough Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders on the issue we suppose that this time around the Republicans will take all the blame.
At least Jackson fought, as his admirers said, just as Trump’s admirers say, but the comparison isn’t friendly to Trump. Jackson literally fought, first as a pre-teen soldier in the Continental Army, when he was captured by British troops and took a permanent facial scar by defying his captors’ orders, later in numerous battles with his state militia in the Creek campaign, most famously as the commander of the pirates and escaped slaves and swamp Indian and backwoods brawlers who won the Battle of New Orleans, followed by numerous pistol duels and sword fights and slaps across the cheek over matters of honor, and in his lattermost years he was known to strike out at any insult with the cane he was forced to use. Say what you want about his outdated racial sensibilities or cockamamie economic ideas, “Old Hickory” was undeniably a badass even by the most up-to-date hip-hop standards.
Trump, on the other hand, insists on being taken seriously but not literally, and that’s how he fights. He dismissed such heroic American prisoners of war as Jackson and Sen. John McCain by saying “I prefer a guy who didn’t get caught,” but a series of educational deferments and some bone spurs a family doctor attested to kept Trump out of the Vietnam War, and except for that time he body-slammed Vince Mcmahon and shaved his head in one of World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Wrestlemania” extravaganzas his fighting has been limited to lawsuits and press conference taunts and insulting “tweets.” Despite those momentarily pesky bone spurs Trump was apparently an above-average high school athlete, and apparently remains a competitive golfer with the help of a notoriously enterprising caddy, but we doubt he’d be dissing the looks of a political opponent’s wife so freely if that sort of thing were still being settled by pistol or sword duel.
Our man Hamilton died in such a duel, at the hand of the famously self-interested demagogue Aaron Burr, and we guess that makes him a loser in Trump’s book. In the history books and the latest Broadway shows Hamilton still looms large, though, and we’d like to think that his sound notions about small government and balanced budgets and letting the meritocracy rise and not unnecessarily slaughtering the darker folks will persist. We’re glad Hamilton will at least continue to smile at from our ten dollar bills, and wryly enjoy his current status as a hip-hop star, and although we don’t like this Taliban-like tendency of the modern left to blast away at the relics of history at least it’s a gun-toting and Bible-believing Republican and badass-in-her-own-right black woman such as Harriet Tubman who’s forcing Jackson into the corner of twenty. For now Jackson’s ghost can enjoy his moment back in the presidential sun, but the comparisons won’t do his reputation any good over the long run.

— Bud Norman

No Returns from the Tax Returns

As a general rule tax returns are pretty dull reading, but President Donald Trump is an exception to an awful lot of rules, so of course there was was some interest in the two pages of his 2005 filing that was somehow intriguingly leaked. There wasn’t enough in those two pages to justify some of the resulting coverage, as it turns out, but the resulting hubbub is also newsworthy.
The two purloined pages were reportedly mailed to a journalist and published Trump biographer of little renown, then passed on to Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC cable news network, whose program relentlessly hyped the finding for hours and then spent a full 20 minutes of the long-awaited showtime in further build up before disclosing that there’s really nothing very embarrassing to Trump in the two pages. It was revealed that Trump paid $38 million in income taxes that year, which was more than most Americans did, and it represented a percentage of his income greater than what President Barack Obama or self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders forked over, and there was nothing about deductions claimed for contributions to the Russian mob or anything like that.
We’d call it the biggest journalistic anticlimax since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault, but by now every other media in the critic in the country has already beat us to the analogy. All the ancien regime media cringed in embarrassment, and even such a fellow Trump-bashing liberal as the late night comedian Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist some piercing ridicule. Maddow is the most impeccably liberal voice on television’s most impeccably liberal channel, which has lately been racking up record ratings as liberals seek a “safe place,” but her fellows liberals are understandably miffed about how she muffed the far bigger story they still have hopes for.
Those tax returns reveal Trump would have paid even more if not for something called the Alternative Minimum Tax, which his tax reform proposals would repeal, but that’s a rather arcane policy point, and even such Trump-bashing conservatives as ourselves don’t believe that just because something’s bad for Trump it’s good the country, and it’s certainly not the sort of complicated economic argument you hype all day long and then have two pages of anti-climax to show for it. The bigger story that liberals would prefer to hype is that all we of know of the vast financial empire that Trump has not divested himself from is two pages of a 12-year-old tax return somehow includes only exculpatory evidence. A Trump campaign manager and National Security have already been forced to resign because of contacts with the Russian government Trump has thus far flattered, and his Attorney General had recused himself from an ongoing investigation in broader contracts between the campaign and Russia, and all that’s been released of the tax returns that would surely prove Trump himself has no financial ties with the Russian government were those two not-entirely-exculpatory pages. There are already rumors afloat that Trump himself leaked his $38 million tax bill, then preemptively tweeted his indignant denial of whatever MSNBC might report to cover his tracks, and although even the ancien regime media won’t touch that conspiracy theory we will note it’s at least as plausible as Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad being in on the Kennedy hit, and people are saying, and we’ll leave it up to Congress to investigate if it’s true or not, and let similar Trumpian standards of truth prevail.
There’s something fishy about Trump’s Russophilia even from our rightward Trump-bashing perspective, perhaps all the more so after so many years of Cold War vigilance, so we’re also annoyed that handsome Rachel Maddow fellow has momentarily muddied the media waters. With enemies of the people like these, Trump might be wondering, who needs friends?

— Bud Norman

March Madness on the Prairie, Minus the Politics

An unaccountably warm February got all the trees and flowers budding around here, but March has thus far been back to its usual cold and windy way on the Kansas plains. The Kansas State University Wildcats played themselves into the round of 64 in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual men’s basketball championship tournament on Tuesday, though, and thus pretty much all Kansans are once again warmed by the fever of March madness.
Every state has its own distinct sports culture, but especially here in the hinterlands where there’s not much else to do. Down south in Oklahoma they’re mainly concerned with football, although they can boast about Oklahoma A&M’s basketball championships back in the ’40s with original big man Bob Kurland and many other big-time players since, and our kin in Oklahoma City do love that Thunder team in the National Basketball Association, and they can also boast about that injun Jim Thorpe as an all around-athlete and such stalwart baseball white boys as Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench. The sparsely populated eastern part of Colorado that looks just like the sparsely western Kansas plays eight-man and six-man football and mostly concerns itself with five-man basketball just like western Kansas, but in the western half of the state they seem to ski and root for the Denver Broncos in the National Football League. Up north in Nebraska they only care about football, and although the baseball’s not bad they don’t seem at all embarrassed that except for Omaha’s Catholic Creighton University their basketball is abysmal. Back east in Missouri baseball’s the big thing, especially the Kansas City Royals and more especially the St. Louis Cardinals, and although they used to wreak occasional havoc in the old Big Eight’s basketball competitions they’re seemingly content as an also-ran in the Southeastern Conference.
Here in Kansas we take football and baseball seriously enough to have produced our per-capita share of top-notch players, and we’ve got high schools girls winning Olympic gold in skeet shooting and can boast of some legends in track and field and the skateboarders aren’t bad, but the big game by far around here is hoops. There’s no professional franchise in a state where the biggest city has only a half-million or so in its metro area, but we’ve got three state universities competing in the collegiate championship, several more playing in their lower divisions’ tournaments, the state’s highly competitive community college teams are always contenders, and even at the small school tourneys the state high school championships always feature enough talent to draw the recruiters for the next level.
Even the kids who didn’t make the high school teams are playing in the driveways and playgrounds all over Kansas, and we’d put them up against the kids playing in the driveways and playgrounds anywhere else. Folks have been playing the game around here ever since it was invented by James Naismith for the Young Men’s Christians Associations that were here from the start, and ever since they’ve been pretty good at it. Naismith coached at the University of Kansas, where he’s the only coach with a losing record, and its program has won multiple national championships and is one of the most blue-programs in the country, with another number one seed in this year’s tournaments and a decent shot at winning it all. The land grant cow college Kansas State University has some big time wins to brag about, including several notable ones over the the snooty KU, many provided by those tough-nosed kids from the hard-luck small towns that those small school championships always seem to turn up.
As good as those small town Kansas kids are, we’re from the big bad city of Wichita and take a particular pride in our local brand of ball. The City League has sent several players to the pro ranks, including a couple of nice guys we went to school with, and many more to Division I collegiate glory, and we recommend that you get in shape for a pickup game around here. Although we spent a couple of all-too-carefree years at K-State and only a couple of hours at Wichita State University we root for the WSU Wheatshockers, because Wichita is our city and the ‘Shocks are its team. Back in the ’30s and ’40s they used to play their homes games at the old Forum building downtown rather on the campus, and tended to draw more from the local factory workers and businessmen and hoops aficionados rather than students, and although a local haberdasher built a roundhouse on campus in the ’50s and a local oil-refining billionaire rebuilt to state of the art more recently the Shocks still belong more to the factory workers and businessmen and hoops aficionados than the students. Over the years, Wichita State fans have had some lulls but also some things to cheer about.
Back in the ’60s WSU had some championship years in the then-feared Missouri Valley Conference, went to a Final Four in ’64, had another run in the ’80s that would have resulted in a Final Four if not for some recruiting violations and probations, made a few tournaments and won a few games in the ’90s, and for the past decade have been on another tear. Coach Greg Marshall inherited the team at a very down point, immediately started bringing it up, and has since notched a National Invitational Tournament victory and a Final Four and a 35-0 streak and a run of tournament appearances with at least one victory that bests some of the blue-blood programs, and we hopeful that will continue. As always the ‘Shockers are under-ranked as a 10 seed, but most of the sportswriters regard them as a favorite in their first-round matchup against Dayton University, and the Vegas line has the ‘Shockers as a 6.5 point favorite, and with all due respect to the hard-working factory of Dayton we like our chances. In the second round they’d most likely meet the University of Kentucky, which is about as blue-blooded a program as there is and the same ones who ended that 35-and-0 run in a down-to-the-final-second thriller, but who knows? The Washington Post’s supposed expert ranks the ‘Shocks as the sixth most likely winner overall, just behind KU and just ahead of Kentucky, and a Facebook friend altered us to some site that predicts WSU beating not only Kentucky but also the blue-blooded University of California-Los Angeles and University of North Carolina to get to another Final Four. Those scribes rightly note that “Wichita thrives on beating up snobs from the rich side of town and will relish giving UK a bloody nose,” and predicts “Wichita is going to the rich side of town with a pack of matches and a five gallon tank of gasoline and try to burn everything to the ground.
As nice as it sounds that’s a bit optimistic for our dour prairie souls to believe, but one can always hope. Next year the ‘Shocks are bringing everybody back from an already 30-win team, and they’ll all be one year better if Marshall’s methods once again prove true, and they’re also bringing in a juco player of the year and this 7’2″ Danish guy that looks pretty good from the YouTube videos, and the thought of how good that team will be should get us though one more change of the damnable seasons we experience around here.
In the meantime Kansas has three teams still playing, and even the hoops-crazed and more densely populated states of North Carolina and Indiana and Kentucky and New York and California can’t match that, and we’re even rooting for that snooty KU and hoping for a rematch next year, which would allow the ‘Shocks to go 3-and-0 against the rich kids in tournament competitions, and we’ll still put our Kansas kids in the driveways and playgrounds up against anyone. Back in the day we had a pretty mean hook shot ourselves, even if we never came close to playing on the high school team with those future pros, and on these cold and windy days that’s a warm memory of a cold wintertime’s most beautiful game.

— Bud Norman

The Boring Bureaucrats of the CBO Score

The Congressional Budget Office is back in the news, what with all this fuss about repealing Obamacare and replacing it something or another that in any case isn’t to be called Trumpcare, and we’re heartened to see their reassuring initials again. Back when political news was mostly a boring affair about arcane accounting questions the boring bureaucrats of the CBO were always in the lead or at least third paragraph of every story, but that was before the political news became more entertainingly about the latest “tweets” and the accusations of treason being flung from both sides, so lately we find ourselves missing the old days.
That good ol’ CBO finds itself back in the news because of its long-awaited “scoring” of the first of three promised phases of repeal of Obamacare and replacement with something that nobody is calling Trumpcare. The report contains plenty of argumentative ammunition for the Democrats who are unanimously opposed to the plan, possibly enough to scare some of the Republicans with whetted thumbs against the political winds, and a few big numbers that speak well for the first phase of the scheme but might embolden its conservative critics. All in all it was the desultory conclusion that you’d expect from a numbers-crunching bunch of boring bureaucrats, which is what the CBO is paid to be, and within a certain margin of error involved in all human undertakings we’re inclined to accept their findings.
One finding is that 24 million fewer Americans will have health insurance over the next decade if the current proposals of repeal and replace are enacted, which is a number hard for the most pro-reform media to spin, and which the anti-reform media gleefully headlined. The pro-reform forces therefore questioned the supposedly boring objectivity of the bureaucrats at the CBO, rightly noting its past errors in overstating the benefits and understating the costs of Obamacare, but they’ve conveniently forgotten how that happened. We were among the anti-Obamacare voices who noted that the CBO was diligently “scoring” those costs and benefits according to the pie-in-the-sky assumptions and spreadsheet legerdemain that the Democratic administration and Democratic majorities in Congress had described, and that the CBO had made that disclaimer quite clear, and when you take into account that the CBO’s forecasts couldn’t have taken into account subsequent Supreme Court decisions and other events they did about as well as anybody. If the current Republican administration and Republican administrations in Congress didn’t offer such helpful guidelines we can hardly blame those boring bureaucrats as the CBO.
Even without any helpful guidance from the Republicans the CBO has concluded that the first part of more or less Grand Old Party’s three-phase plan would lower federal deficits by a not insignificant $337 billion, given the nation’s poor fiscal health, and would eventually reduce the average American’s health insurance premiums by 10 percent, which by the now the average American would not consider an insignificant sum. The Republicans should be able make some political hay out of those numbers, but at the moment they’re busy discrediting everything the CBO says, and the eventual part will only play out long after the next election cycle and just before the president’s reelection race. The CBO’s past miscalculations were based on the garbage-in-garbage-out assumption of the Democrats who front-loaded their carefully planned Obamacare with early benefits and defrayed costs, while the CBO’s current calculations reflect the Republicans’ longstanding preference for paying up front, and although that makes for good policy we can’t fault the CBO if it makes for lousy politics. If the American public isn’t taking a longer range view of the situation, neither can we fault the CBO for that.
So far as we can tell from the CBO reports and everything else we read and hear and see this Obamacare thing has made things better for some people and worse for others and on the whole worse all around, and we’re quite sure this three-phased real and replacement with something that won’t be called Trumpcare might prove better but surely won’t be perfect. We’re holding out hope that nuns won’t be forced to pay for contraceptive coverage and monogamous married couples won’t have to fork out for sexually transmitted disease plans and teetotaling types aren’t hit up for alcoholism treatment, and that the the youngsters who only need catastrophic care can pay on the cheap, and that the daredevils can continue to defy the actuarial tables, but by now we have to admit that the benefits won’t come without costs, that those costs are actually figured in the long term that people rarely consider, and even those boring bureaucrats at the CBO can’t make any reliable predictions.
We always liked those old-fashined Republicans who used to acknowledge such uncertainties, but these days the party is represented by President Donald Trump and his campaign promises that everyone was going to be covered and the government would pay for it and premiums would go down and care would go up and everything would be great. He was never clear about the details, and being a big picture guy he seems to have left those details up to those Republican establishment guys he ran against, and they seem to have some old-fashioned ideas about paying up front and letting some number of Americans that might approach 24 million go without health insurance, and although there are philosophical arguments to made for that which the CBO can’t score he doesn’t seem able to make it, and this repeal and replace thing seems to be the very first time in his life that he doesn’t want his name on something.
As bad as Obamacare was we’ll still expect something better, but not matter what happens we won’t blame those boring boring bureaucrats at the CBO.

— Bud Norman

What We Did With a Lost Hour

Yesterday was a slow news day, which was a good a thing because most people were wandering around more slowly than usual after losing an hour of sleep to to the switch from Daylight Savings Time to the most usual Standard Time. That early morning moment when the clock sprang forward an hour on Sunday turned out be one of the most reported-on events of the day, and The Washington Post even had an opinion piece about about how “Daylight saving time is just one way standardized times zones oppress you.”
Although we were a bit groggier than usual when reading the headline, we really didn’t find the time change or our time zone all that oppressive. Being the nocturnal sorts we had been up to watch the clock jump from 1:59 to 3:00 on our computer screen, but we were nonetheless in our usual spot in the pews at the always-too-early services at the nearby church where we worship, and when we congratulated the deacon on getting there early enough to set that lone clock at the back of the pews ahead he explained that it was programed to spring forward by itself, and after a scholarly sermon from the Gospel According to John we both agreed that this was indeed still an age of miracles. We quickly got back that hour of lost sleep and then some with an afternoon nap, and with half the usual caffeine we were relatively alert during the early evening rehearsals for our annual amateur theatrics, and at no point on a cold and rain day did we feel any more oppressed than usual by standardized time zones.
The author of The Washington Post’s opinion piece is described as a “doctoral candidate in sociology at Columbia University,” which is more than we can say, but he also “studies organizations and the sociology of science, knowledge and technology,” which we have occasionally and deeply dabbled in, and at this point we are no longer intimidated by academic credentials. His essay was nicely illustrated with a well-shot silhouette photograph of the clock tower in Clay Center, Kansas, a town we quite like, which warmed our Kansan hearts, and he starts with a perfectly reasonable rant about all the Daylight Savings rigmarole, which is arguably unreasonable in this day and age when most folks don’t work on a farm, but from there it devolves into utter nonsense about the oppression of time zones and and time measurement and time in general.
Time zones make sense to us, given the fact that the sun rises in the east and then rises somewhat later in the west, and that it would it be damned discombobulating on an everyday basis for all of us out west to have to get up at the same time as the folks back east, especially here on the western edge of the improbably vast Central Time zone where the days can last through the evening on a summer day. As imperfectly as those time zones may have been drawn, they’ve allowed people to start their day at the respectable hours and tend the fields and man the factory floors and come up with all sorts of caffeinated schemes in the office suites, and despite the banking time differences between the east and west coasts the coast-to-coast commerce has benefitted. That’s not a feature but rather a bug to our Washington Post opinion piece author, though, as he bitterly notes that “Standardized time is immensely useful. It is no exaggeration to say that the modern world depends on it.” We have our own complaints with the modern world, as regular readers of this publication well know, but we can’t see why a doctoral candidate in sociology at Columbia University is so dissatisfied with it that he would want to plunge any part of the world into the inevitable darkness that his apparent preference for a singular clock would inevitably cause.
The author seems to have a certain dislike of any measurement of time, especially those he deems artificial. Earth’s every trip around the Sun takes a year, every day represents another rotation of the Earth along that journey, and the months have something to do with the waxing and waning of the moon, so the author doesn’t object to that, but those seven days of the week and those 24 hours of the days and the sixty minutes within each hour and the sixty seconds of each hour strike him as suspiciously conducive to commerce. So far as we can tell the seven days of the week have something to do with the seven days God when created everything and then took a rest, even though they’re named for Roman gods and emperors and other pagan faiths, and the sixty minutes in an hour and the sixty seconds in a minute apparently derive from some ancient mathematical theorem that no one has ever disproved, and so far they’ve worked well enough for us to show up where we’re supposed to be at the right time, except for all the times when it usually our fault.
The author of the The Washington Post opinion piece seems to find the whole concept of time oppressive, and to that we can only say amen. A late and lamented friend of ours once wrote that “Frighteningly, at any given moment another hour has passed,” and we growing increasingly aware of his point with each passing day. Elect any old visionary you want, but the Earth will take another spin and edge another 365th on its passage around the Sun, you’ll also be another day older, and it really doesn’t matter if you break it down to longstanding mathematical theorems or some convoluted political philosophy.
On America’s command the sun will set another hour later tonight, and we’ll be glad of it, because we like the daylight, and we’ll enjoy watching it stretch into the summer solstice. We can remember some times right before Daylight Savings Time kicked in when we were waiting for a school bus in the dark, and even our nocturnal selves appreciate that some people like the early hours of day, so we don’t even argue much with that admittedly artificial Daylight Savings Time stuff. Tempus Fugit, as they used say a long time ago, so we’ll try to be more alert today.

— Bud Norman