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Hoping the Third Time’s a Charm at the Department of Defense

Army secretary Mark Esper has been named acting defense secretary, making him the third person to head the Department of Defense of during Trump’s two-and-a-half years in office. Here’s hoping he has better luck at the job than his predecessors.
Esper got the nod after acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrew his nomination for the official post because of a domestic violence scandal. Unlike the three previous Trump administration appointees and the former Trump campaign official who resigned due to domestic violence scandals, in this case it was Shanahan’s now ex-wife who was arrested for battering him. That’s still something Shanahan didn’t want to have to explain at a confirmation hearing, and he was probably even less eager to answer questions about a son’s arrest for beating his mother with a baseball bat, and why Shanahan told the police and courts it was a case of self-defense.
Shanahan was preceded by Jim Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general with a spotless reputation who breezed through his confirmation hearings and won bipartisan respect for his performance in the job, but he wound up resigning in less than a year, making it clear in his resignation letter that he disagreed with President Donald Trump on several important issues of national security. “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malignant actors and strategic competitors are strongly held,” Mattis wrote. “Because you have to the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down.”
Esper’s confirmation hearing for his Army post didn’t turn up any scandals, so it’s unlikely the next round will dig up some dirt that the Trump administration’s notoriously lax vetting process overlooked. It’s also unlikely he’ll dare to differ with Trump with about anything, no matter how obviously wrong Trump might be.
The Democrats on the confirmation committee will probably have some questions to ask about Esper’s tenure as top lobbyist for Raytheon, the military’s second biggest contractor, but they would have had the same questions about Shanahan’s long career as high-ranking executive at Boeing, the military’s biggest contractor. The Democrats will probably have the same questions for any fourth nominee Trump might put forward, as he’s clearly comfortable with the military-industrial complex, and has jettisoned all the multi-starred generals and admirals he once bragged about for daring to disagree with him.
Esper’s outstanding resume includes the dean’s list as West Point, a master’s degree from Harvard’s school of government, and a doctorate in philosophy of all things from George Washington University. He served in the 101st Airborne Division during the first Gulf War, was chief of staff at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, and has held various government posts in the executive and legislative branches.
Despite such impeccable credentials, he was Trump’s third choice for Army secretary after the first two withdrew their nominations, in one case because the nominee didn’t want to divest his business holdings in defense-related business, in the other because of controversial comments about transgender bathrooms and Islam.
Esper will have to answer some tough questions from the Democrats about his handling of several sexual assault and harassment cases he handled as Army secretary, but the Republicans who hold a sight majority in the Senate probably won’t much care about that. We expect he’ll once again be easily confirmed, and will wind up doing as good a job as can be expected in an administration where the president and his national security advisor and Secretary of State are feuding about how to handle Iran’s recent aggression . He no doubt knows far more about defense issues than Trump does, as do Trump’s national security advisor and Secretary of State,  but Esper also seems shrewd enough to not let the boss know that.

— Bud Norman

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Another Round of Anxiety About Iran

Iran’s Islamist dictatorship has been a thorny problem for America and the rest of the world ever since it took power way back in the days of President Jimmy Carter, and it seems thornier than ever at the moment. A thousand or so American troops are headed to the Middle East to back up the thousands already there and the Naval fleet that was recently dispatched to the region, Iran is threatening to reactivate its nuclear weapons program and deploys its terrorism capabilities, and the rest of the world is arguing what to do about it.
President Donald Trump is a self-proclaimed “very stable genius,” and his fans insist he’s playing three-dimensional chess while all his domestic and foreign adversaries are playing checkers, but we are not reassured.
We don’t blame Trump for the current tensions, as our disdain for the Iranian regime is more longstanding and exceeds even our disdain for Trump. If Iran’s nutcase theocracy treated its people humanely and dealt fairly in its business with the rest of the world and wasn’t steadily pursuing its stated goal of Armageddon there wouldn’t be any problem at all. They were a pain in the world’s butt before anyone ever heard of Trump, and probably will be after he exits the the world stage, and we hopefully expect the rest of the world agrees.
The rest of the world seems to have noticed that Trump’s inchoate foreign policies haven’t helped, on the other hand, and we agree reluctantly agree with the global consensus that he’s probably made it worse.
There were compelling arguments that the deal President Barack Obama and the leaders of six of our most essential and most longtime European allies could have been better, and at the time we made those arguments here, but Trump’s decision to unilaterally pull out of the deal clearly hasn’t yielded the more perfect deal Trump promised. By pulling out of the deal Trump restored the crippling economic sanctions that had forced the Iranians’ earlier concessions, although six major European allies continued to do business with the regime, which further complicated Trump’s already complex trans-Atlantic trade and military and diplomatic relationships, and the Iranian regime so far hasn’t backed down. The intelligence communities of every western country, including the American intelligence agency heads appointed by Trump, had agreed that Iran was in compliance with the weak and temporary deal that at least prohibited them from acquiring the necessary materials for nuclear bombs, so Iran’s regime is making the argument that if Trump has pulled out of the deal and resumed sanctions they’re entitled to resume their nuclear program. Our erstwhile western trading and military and diplomatic allies, who tried mightily to persuade Trump to maintain the status quo, seem to find the regime’s argument plausible.
Two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz have recently been attacked, threatening a supply line of oil essential to the western worlds’ economies, and former Central Intelligence Agency director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he has proof the attacks were carried out by Iran. The Islamist terror group Taliban has claimed credit for the attacks, and although they’re closely tied to the Iranian regime they aren’t necessarily under its control, so for now our erstwhile allies taking a more skeptical view of the evidence. We’ve long taken the American intelligence community’s word, and we voted three times for Pompeo as our fourth district Congressman here in Kansas, but Trump has repeatedly said that they were all wrong about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, and Russia’s meddling in the past presidential election, and most recently about a program to have the capability for cyber-attacks against the Russian infrastructure in response to their cyber-attack threats against us.
Based on the past 40 years of watching the Iranian regime we can easily believe they’re responsible for the attacks on those oil tankers, but there’s always a chance they weren’t, and in either case Trump will have a hard time convincing the world that he went to war with Iran based on the American intelligence community’s conclusions.
Trump won the presidency on the argument that the rashly hawkish President George W. Bush had lied the country into an all-advised war with Iraq, and the wimpishly dovish President Barack Obama had prematurely withdrawn from that war and offered Iran too many concessions for a verifiable agreement to halt its nuclear weapons program, and that his own  long career making business deals would allow him to hit that sweet spot between tough guy and peacenik. So far it hasn’t worked out any better than Trump’s bankrupt casinos, with our allies no longer trusting us and our adversaries no longer fearing us, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that Trump’s “very stable genius” will avert the worst of all the possible outcomes.

–Bud Norman

The Very Early Presidential Polling

The world hasn’t yet revolved halfway through 2019, and the next presidential election isn’t until the 11th month of 2020, but all the political prognosticators are already busily prognosticating. We’ve seen far too many presidential elections to take any of it seriously, as pretty much every one of them turned out differently than what anybody expected at this early point in an election cycle, with the last time around being a perfect example.
Still, we can’t help noticing that despite his characteristic cocksureness President Donald Trump already seems nervous about his reelection chances.
Politico.com and then The New York Times reported that Trump’s own campaign polling shows him faring poorly against the leading Democratic candidates in several of the battleground states that narrowly handed him an electoral college victory, with the Times reporting that Trump had ordered his staff to lie about it, and Trump naturally responded that it was “fake news” fabricated by the “enemies of the people.” The American Broadcasting Company then reported it had copies of the internal polling which verified what the other media had released, and Trump’s campaign manager eventually admitted the numbers were real but insisted saying that it was data from three months ago and they they’d seen a dramatic shift in Trump’s favor since then, although he wouldn’t divulge the newer numbers. Over the weekend Trump fired his campaign pollsters, apparently for leaking the real unhappy numbers that Trump insisted the “fake news” had made up.
Throw in the facts that Trump won in 2016 with a mere 70,000 votes in four crucial states, all of which were within the pollsters’ margins or error, despite the losing the national popular vote by the three million million or so ballots that the pollsters predicted, and that no poll since has shown him within shouting distance of majority approval, except for the Rasmussen company that only surveys the oldsters who still have land line phones, which has never shown him over 50 percent, and we’re more inclined to believe the mostly reliable “fake news” rather than the constantly lying president. As of last March, at least, the president who promised his supporters they’d grow tired of winning seemed clearly to be losing.
Perhaps things have since turned around, as the president now claims, but he’s not releasing the updated numbers from the recently fired polling firm to back it up, and we can’t see what would have caused the claimed uptick in the polls. With the unemployment rate under 4 percent and the gross domestic product growing at an acceptably modest 3 percent rate or so Trump has rarely fallen under 40 percent in his approval ratings, but lately the economic data have been less rosy, and even a few congressional Republicans have timidly suggested that Trump’s trade wars with pretty much the entire world might have something to do with it. We haven’t yet entered any new wars, but his sworn enemies in Iran and the brutal North Korean dictator that Trump said he “fell in love” with are threatening them, and even a few congressional Republicans are expressing misgivings about how he’s handling that.
Last time around Trump had the good fortune to run against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and presumptive first woman president Hillary Clinton, who was arguably the worst major party presidential candidate ever, but even then he lost the popular vote and barely squeaked out an electoral victory in a few states she foolishly neglected. Much of the public had doubts about the thrice-married and six-times bankrupt and constantly sued and tax cheating real-estate casino-and-real-estate mogul’s character and honesty, and Trump has done nothing since then to reassure them that he’s the Christian leader God has chosen him to make America great thing. Nor has Trump come through with any of those great deals with the Democrats and the rest of the world that he promised to Rust Belt centrists would revive their outdated economic models.
Trump has taken extraordinary and extra-legal measures to build a few more miles of the wall along the southern border that he promised, although he no longer claims that Mexico will happily pay for it, and he’s enforced our immigration policies as cruelly as possible, and he has taunting nicknames for all of his critics, so that will probably placate most of the die-hard fans. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have won many converts.
Next time around Trump might get lucky yet once again, on the other hand. The leaked polls show him losing by wide margins in those key states to former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, who is a relatively mainstream politician compared to most of his 21 or so primary challengers, and currently enjoys a sizable lead in the primary race, but these damned Democrats are every bit as crazy as the damned Republicans, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the Donkey party chooses someone so far left they’re arguably worse than Trump. At our advanced age we can remember the election of ’72, when President Richard Nixon of all people won a huge popular and electoral landslide victory over the principled war hero but too-far-left Sen. George McGovern, which was shortly followed by Nixon resigning in disgrace as a result of the Watergate scandal. Although a lot has changed since then human nature has remained pretty much the same, and we can easily imagine something like that happening again.
We don’t much care for Biden, who is gaffe-prone and rightly called “Creepy Joe” by Trump for his behavior around women, even if he’s never grabbed any of them by the genitals, as Trump has bragged about doing. Nor do we much like any of the other Democrats, although that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar seem somewhat acceptable to us, which probably dooms them in the Democratic primaries. Neither do we have any respect for President Donald Trump’s character or policies, and we can at least be sure that he’ll once again be our Republican party’s nominee for president.
We’d like to think that November of next year is a long time away, and that anything could happen in the meantime, but at our advanced age we know that it’s just a blink of the eye and human nature doesn’t much change.

— Bud Norman

All the President’s Women

Some people accuse President Donald Trump of sexism, based on his boasts about grabbing women’s genitals and tendency to assess women solely on their looks, but he has a long history of hiring distaff staffers. At the moment, though, several of them are looking bad at their jobs.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is resigning, the Office of Special Counsel has requested that White House advisor Kellyanne Conway be fired, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is caught up in a conflict of interest scandal, and former White House communications director Hope Hicks has reluctantly agreed to a grilling by the House judiciary committee.
Sanders’ absence won’t be noticed. It’s been a record-setting 95 days since Sanders held her daily last press briefing, which had traditionally been the main job of a White House press secretary, and she always tended to go months without one. When she did appear at the podium she often declined to answer questions, explaining that she hadn’t discussed the issue oof the day with president, and when she did have something to say it often turned out to be a brazen lie. Sanders shared Trump’s belief that any reporter posing hard questions is an enemy of the people, and her occasional “press gaggles” with the White House press corps on the White House driveway were always more combative than informative.
Trump loved her, of course, despite her plain appearance, and had nothing but kind things to say in his “tweets” about her resignation. He urged her to run for governor in her home state of Arkansas, but it has an incumbent governor until 2022, and so far there’s no explanation for her departure. She says she wants to spend more time with her children, and we hope that’s truthful, although she’ll have a hard time teaching them to tell the truth.
Trump’s own appointee to the Office of Special Counsel is advising that Conway be fired for serial violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from using their office to engage in partisan politics, but Trump won’t mind. Conway has a talent for taunts and nicknames that almost matches Trump’s, and Trump has made clear he won’t let the law get in the way of attacking an opponent. For some unknown reason or another Conway hasn’t been as ubiquitous on the cable news shows as she used to be, so her eventual departure from the administration won’t be noticed.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao has a low-profile office, so you might not have heard that she held several hundreds of thousands of dollars of stock in a highway supply company that was bidding for the government’s business. After that news broke Chao announced that she’d sold the stock, and a few days later actually did so, claiming it was a clerical error all along, but those pesky reporters and damned Democrats are making a big deal of it.
Hicks is a former beauty pageant winner and the most comely of Trump’s controversial content, but she’s been gone from the White House for a while now and is largely forgotten. She’s back in the news only because the House judiciary committee wants to ask her some questions that arise from a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.” The investigation conclude that she played some role in crafting some phony-baloney stories about meetings between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, and although no charges were brought those picky-picky Democrats still want answers.
It will be interesting to see what sort of men and women step up to fill the constantly opening holes in Trump’s White House.

— Bud Norman

Our Most Honest and Dishonest President Ever

President Donald Trump is by far the most dishonest president we’ve ever witnessed, but from time to time he’s also the most honest in American history. When he’s not telling whoppers, Trump has an uncanny knack for blurting out the most embarrassing truths.
After he and his administration told a series of obvious lies about firing former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey because he’d been so unfair to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump came right out and told the National Broadcasting Company’s Lester Holt that he did it because of “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia.” Trump also claimed that neither he nor anyone on his campaign had any contact with any Russians during his presidential campaign, but that’s been exposed as a lie by his namesake son’s sworn testimony to Congress and the guilty pleas of his former campaign manager and national security advisor, and on Wednesday he blurted out to the American Broadcasting Company’s George Stephanopoulos he’d happily accept a foreign government’s assistance in his next campaign.
“If somebody called from a foreign government, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it,” Trump said. Norway is highly unlikely to meddle in an American presidential election, especially on Trump’s behalf, as Trump surely knows, but the president made clear that he’d have no problem accepting an assist from a more adversarial power that had illegally obtained information about a rival. “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.” Trump defended Donald Trump Jr.’s decision to take a meeting with Russian operatives promising purloined dirt on Clinton, which his admitted and self-published e-mail chains show him saying “I love it,” and gave no indiction about what level of foreign meddling by Norway or Russia would rise to the level that he’d let the Federal Bureau of Investigation know about it.
Our guess is that Trump would draw the line at any foreign meddling on behalf of his domestic political opponents.
Trump and his talk radio apologists are accusing Clinton of treason for partially funding the investigation of former British intelligence agency operative Christopher Steele that alleged Russian interference in the last election and the Russians having some salacious video of Trump during a stay in a Moscow hotel during a Miss Universe pageant, but we’re not buying any of it. As horrid a harridan as Clinton undeniably is, she never used any of Steele’s allegations during the campaign, and although the more salacious parts of his report are still yet unverified the main gist that Russia was working to elect Trump has been corroborated by all of the Trump appointees to America’s intelligence agencies. Given Trump’s much bragged about sexual history, we can’t even dismiss the more salacious claims in the Steele dossier.
The Trump fans who wouldn’t abandon him even he if shot a man on New York City’s Fifth Avenue won’t mind, of course. If it took the cooperation of the anti-American Russian dictatorship for Trump to beat that horrid harridan Clinton then so be it, they’ll figure, and they  won’t mind if he or any other Republican nominee needed their help to beat whatever fruitcake the Democrats might nominate next they also won’t mind that. Norway or some other western civilization ally might interfere on some Democrat’s behalf in the next presidential election, but that’s highly unlikely, and will be another matter.
For now we have Trump’s lies about how the Russians meddled on his behalf in the last presidential election, and his stubborn refusal to do anything about it, and his somewhat admirably upfront admission on national television that he’d welcome their help the next time around. None of the two dozen or so damned Democrats running for president in the upcoming election are at all appealing to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities, but neither is Trump, so we’ll see how it all turns out.

— Bud Norman

The ’70s and Now, and the Big Difference Between the Two

Former White House counsel John Dean testified before the House judiciary committee on Monday, and it gave us a nostalgic feeling. The last time Dean was before the committee was way back in the early ’70s days of the Watergate scandal, and we well remember what a very big deal it was.
Although we were mere junior high school students at the time we already had a precocious interest in politics, and closely followed the Watergate story from the first day a couple of Washington Post reporters relegated to the late night crime beat reported that some burglars had broken into the Democratic party’s national headquarters in the fancy Watergate complex and attempted to place a wire-tape on the phones. That initial short story buried in the inside pages of the paper included the intriguing detail that all of the burglars and would-be wiretappers were closely associated with the Committee to Reelect President Richard Nixon, already better known as CREEP, and eventually led to Nixon’s resignation after impeachment charges had been brought by the House of Representatives.
There was an interminable two years or so before it all played out, which included Nixon winning reelection with a popular and electoral landslide, but it was a fascinating and unforgettable spectacle for an impressionable young political geek to watch. We read everything about it that ran in the local morning and afternoon newspapers — Wichita had both back then, and both were well worth the dime-a-day subscription rates our parents happily paid — and during summer vacation we’d take time out from bicycle-riding and basketball-playing and other normal boyhood pastimes to watch the congressional hearings that preempted the soap operas and game shows and old movies on the city’s three television stations.
One of the most compelling episodes of that reality show was Dean’s televised testimony to the House judiciary committee. The youthful lawyer who had already risen to the job of White House counsel freely confessed to various crimes he had committed at the behest of President Nixon to cover up the campaign’s clear connection to the break-in, spoke of various other requested crimes he had declined to carry out in service of the cover-up, and had a quotable line about a “cancer at the heart of the presidency.” After that the Watergate scandal inevitably hurtled toward Nixon’s resignation, with significant help from some conversations that Nixon had ill-advisedly recorded on audio tape, which the courts ordered released to the public and corroborated pretty much everything Dean said, including the self-incriminating parts of his testimony/
Dean wound up being disbarred and serving a short time behind bars for his confessed crimes, along with Nixon’s Attorney General and a few other high-ranking administration officials, but so far history has treated Dean more kindly. He did admit to the crimes he committed at Nixon’s behest, was provably innocent of other crimes he’d been requested by Nixon to commit, and ultimately told the verifiable truth and accept its consequences, which is more than you can say for any of the people who have been caught up in any subsequent political scandals.
Dean’s latest testimony to the House judiciary committee is far less consequential. At this point he’s an 80-year-old and graying and balding ex-lawyer and ex-felon, appearing on some very low-rated hearings televised on a few of the thousands or so television channels, and he has no more personal knowledge of President Donald Trump’s alleged scandals than we do. The Democratic majority running the committee inquiry called him to testify again for the clear purpose of getting some stories in the newspapers that mention both Watergate and Trump, which obviously have nothing to do with one another, but there are enough similarities that we can’t blame the Democrats for asking Dean’s opinions.
One of the many currently litigated spats in the current presidential scandals is whether former White House counsel Dan McGahn will testify to the various congressional committees looking into the matter. A 400-plus-page report by the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” included several pages about McGahn testifying to the investigation about diligently declining presidential orders to obstruct the investigation, so the Democratic majorities in Congress have ordered him to testify about that, while McGahn’s ex-boss is ordering him not to testify, and we’ll have to await the courts’ rulings about that. Our guess is that McGahn eventually testifies, and will reiterate the exculpatory-to-himself but damning-to-Trump testimony he gave to the special counsel investigation, but it probably won’t have the same effect as when Dean spoke out way back in the ’70s.
For one thing there are now a few hundred other reality shows to watch on television during summer vacation, and far fewer junior high political geeks tuning into the congressional hearings. For another thing, many of the new media that Nixon didn’t enjoy back in the day will be providing coverage that portrays McGahn or anyone else casting aspersions against Trump as an enemy of the people, and these days the people seem to believe whoever’s telling them what they want to hear. Back in the Watergate days the Republicans had relatively liberal members in the northeast, and the Democrats had some very conservative members in the the south and west, and politics was more a matter of facts than party affiliation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case these days.
Trump would have been well advised to ignore Dean’s inconsequential testimony on Monday, but he couldn’t help “tweeting” that Dean is a disbarred lawyer and ex-felon and yet another loser who dares criticize our dear leader, and once betrayed the Republican party’s deal leader Nixon. That’s all true enough, we suppose, but Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen is also disbarred and in prison, and his former campaign manager is also in prison on charges that involve his dealings with hostile foreign governments, and his past national security advisor is awaiting sentencing on charges that arguably rise to the level of betraying his country, and his former White House counsel is clearly ready to testify to Congress about all the obstruction of justice order he disregarded. By comparison, Dean doesn’t look so bad.
Nixon still has his die-hard defenders, but Trump doesn’t seem to be one of them. Trump couldn’t help “tweeting” that the cowardly Nixon had resigned, something Trump boasted he would never do in the currently more favorable media and partisan political landscape, even as he blamed Dean’s betrayal for the resignation. At this point your average die-hard Trump supporter is too young to know or care about any of it, and the oldsters hanging on for the next election won’t mind that Trump’s discreetly dissing Nixon, while the young Democrats who know nothing of history seem intent on nominating the same sort of too-far-left candidate who lost by a popular and electoral landslide to the already obviously corrupt Nixon back in ’72.
Politics remains a compelling show, even to our jaded eyes, and despite our advanced age and all the tempting diversions of those hundreds of other channels we’ll remain tuned in.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Round in Trump’s Bout Against Mexico

As it turns out President Donald Trump won’t be imposing drastic new tariffs on Mexican imports, an idea he proposed that alarmed every serious economist and all the stock markets and big businesses and small farmers and even more than a few congressional Republicans, and he’s proclaiming a great victory about the concessions Mexico has yielded in response to the threat. At the very real risk of being called enemies of the people, we think Trump merely averted disaster.
Trump threatened the tariffs to get Mexico to do more to stop the flow of migrants from Central America, and Mexico has apparently agreed to deploy some military units to its southern border and detain on its own soil the asylum-seekers who have recently reached its northern border while the American justice system sorts out all the tricky legal details of their numerous cases. That’s enough that Hugh Hewitt, the conservative commentator and radio talk show host who was a fellow steadfast Never Trump type until Trump won the Republican nomination, proclaimed in the headline of an op-ed piece in The Washington Post — of all places — that “Trump’s big win leaves critics sputtering.”
With all due respect to the once-respectable Hewitt, the critics don’t seem to be sputtering. In its usual careful and confident cadence The New York Times reported that the Mexican government had already agreed to both demands months before Trump issued the threat, other conservative and liberal media have noted without any discernible stuttering that the Mexican government has been either unwilling or unable to make good on promises made in the face of Trump’s even crazier threat to shut down the entire border between Mexico and the United State. For now it’s probably best to wait and see if Trump’s big win resolves or even slightly eases the admittedly serious situation on our southern border, and to hold out only faint hope.
Trump responded to The New York Times with an extended “twitter” tirade, concluding that “the failing @nytimes, & ratings-challenged @CNN, will do anything to see our Country fail! They are truly The Enemy of the People!” He returned to “twitter” to gripe that if President Barack Obama had struck such sweet deals “the Corrupt Media would be hailing them as Incredible, & a National Holiday would be declared.” We’re supposed to pity Trump even in his moment of triumph, as there are clearly seditious sorts out there who dare question what he says, but it looks like sputtering to us, and poorly punctuated sputtering at that.
The disaster that surely would have followed those threatened tariffs or a complete border shutdown has for now been averted, though, and for now Trump is entitled to crow about that. Sooner or later Mexico’s nationalist instincts will be roused to resist Trump’s nationalism, on the other hand, and there’s no telling what Trump do then, except to say it will work out badly for all involved. Mexico will probably get the worst of it, which will allow Trump to claim another big win, but that doesn’t mean that America will be any better off.

— Bud Norman

Technical Difficulties and the The Rest of the Damned Modern World

No new essay was published at the Central Standard Times yesterday, the first time we’ve ever failed to provide readers with our freshest working week day outrage in the past seven-and-a-half years we’ve been doing this, and we apologize for that. It’s not that the spirit was unwilling nor that the flesh was any weaker than usual, but rather a problem with this damned computer gizmo we write and publish on.
The intermittent problems with these damned computer gizmos are just one of the many things we find infuriating about this modern age of technological miracles. We also hate the way those “smart phone” thingamajigs seem to so mesmerize people that even the young lovers sitting across from one another in the booths of the dives we frequent are staring at their machines rather than one another, and we even resent our suddenly old-fashioned flip phone and miss the good old days when our bulky and murder-weapon solid phone was tethered to the wall instead of us being tethered to the gadget in our pocket. Don’t get us started about those computerized drum machines the modern music recordings use instead of Gene Krupa or Baby Dodds or some other more brilliant and real live drummers, or all the computer generated images that modern movie makers use instead of plot and characters and dialogue and making some point.
Worse yet is the way you can’t live without it. Due to our stubborn and cheapskate resistance to “smart phones” we can’t summon an Uber or Lyft driver in case of some emergency, and would be hard-pressed to find the phone number for a taxi, and we can’t rent one of those bicycles that are suddenly all over our the prettier parts of our town, nor participate in any of the local radio stations’ promotional contests. We’d get along just fine without those drum machines and computer generated images in the comic book movies that dominate our currently sorry popular culture, and still enjoy our freedom from those “smart phones,” and otherwise enjoy our proudly Luddite existence, but we have to admit that the 24 hours we endured without internet access left us feeling like our heroin junkie friends who were occasionally forced to go cold turkey.
It’s bad enough that we couldn’t vent our spleens to the world wide web about the latest outrageous thing that President Donald Trump said or did or “tweeted,” but without access to the internet we didn’t even know what it was. Our television hasn’t worked in years, and we’d lost interest in the once-amazing gizmo long before that, and the local AM radio stations are disinclined to say anything negative about Trump. There was yet another threatening storm cloud to the west, and we were unable to track it on the radar at the essential wunderground.com website. These days the local newspaper is printed up in Kansas City and trucked down the interstate, and is therefore always a day late with the baseball scores, so we had no idea where the New York Yankees stood in the American League’s eastern division, which is also a matter of personal importance.
For the first third or so of our surprisingly long lives there was no such thing as an internet, and we can’t recall ever missing it in those halcyon days. The then locally written and printed morning afternoon papers kept us updated on President Richard Nixon’s latest craziness and the Yankees scores, the local television and radio meteorologists told us when to take to the basement during a storm, the radio stations were pumping out groovy soul music and rock ‘n’ roll with real live drummers, the local bijoux had movies full of plot and characters and dialogue with some pretty good points to make, and we rather liked it, even if the Yankees didn’t always win.
As you can see we worked out our internet problems, for now at least, and that’s mostly attributable to our aging Dad. He grew up in an Oklahoma oil patch during the Great Depression and World War II in the early years of rural electrification, but he got an electrical engineering degree from the University of Oklahoma and started working on computers when they were room-sized Rube Goldberg machines back at the beginning of his illustrious avionics career, and to this day he’s more up-to-date on the modern world of miracles than we’ll ever be. He had no more idea how to solve our problem than we did, but he did know the right phone number to call, which was hand-written in his old-fashioned notebook, and with help from a very friendly and knowledgable and young-sounding woman in some far-away location and a few mouse clicks we were once again back in the blessed bosom of the internet.
The moral of the story, we suppose, is that the modern world provides pretty much the same frustrations and satisfactions of our much-missed old world, when those then-newfangled automobiles used to die on the side of the road the way the horse-and-buggies usually didn’t. We surely hope so, as come Monday we’ll probably have something nasty to say about whatever our president said or did or “tweeted” over the weekend, and will be eager to publish it to a world wide web.

— Bud Norman

A DREAM Deferred, and Other Raisins in the Sun of a Political Stalemate

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would offer a path to citizenship for an estimated two million people who were illegally brought to the United States as children, which for better or worse would resolve a pressing problem that has been hotly debated for more than a decade, but unless you were paying attention to the back pages of the papers or the bottom of the hourly news broadcasts you might not have heard about it. That’s because it really doesn’t matter.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has already made clear the bill won’t be brought up for a vote in the upper chamber of Congress, and even if it does the narrow Republican majority in the Senate probably wouldn’t pass it, and even if a few Republican members did buck the party line there wouldn’t be enough of them to override the inevitable veto of President Donald Trump. Such is the state of play, as well, with all the other pressing problems that have been been hotly debated for more than a decade.
Which might be for the best, as both parties have some damned dumb ideas and for more than a decade have used a two-year window of opportunity of one-party control of both the Congress and the White House to enact some of them into law. There are some especially damned dumb ideas afoot in the Democratic House we’ll be mercifully spared — for the time being — because of that slight Republican majority in the Senate and the Republican president’s veto power, and some similarly damned dumb ideas proposed by the President and the Senate that won’t happen because of the overwhelming Democratic majority in the House. Our old-fashioned conservative souls give thanks to God for our founding fathers’ wisdom in devising such a convoluted system.
Even so, sooner or later we mere mortals and our elected officials will have to come to some agreement on issues that are hotly debated for good reason, and the current state of play suggests it will be for the worse rather than the better. Some members of both parties also have a few pretty darned good ideas, and in some cases they aren’t so very far apart, but too many members of both parties are unwilling to sit down and hammer out the details with the hated other side.
This inconsequential yet grandiosely named American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 that the House passed on Tuesday strikes us as something that could be negotiated into a good deal for everyone all around in a better state of American politics. We considered ourselves rock ribbed Republican hard-liners up until Trump won the nomination and the new standard was family separations and wholesale treaty violations and maximum cruelty and unabashed xenophobia, and we retain our disdain for many of the Democrats’ enthusiasm for wide open borders and all the rape and rapine and heroin-pushing and Democratic voting that would surely follow, but the bill that passed the House Tuesday with a few Republican votes strikes us a rather modest proposal.
The proposed law would grant the so-called “dreamers” who have been living here most of their lives through no fault of their own 10 years of legal residence so long as they could demonstrate they hadn’t been raping or robbing or pushing heroin or otherwise being a bother to the public, then “green cards” that allow them to work for a living in this country if they could show they were in the military or pursuing a higher education or had already been gainfully employed for at least three years, and after that a chance to apply for American citizenship. As rock ribbedly Republican and hard-line anti-immigration as we remain, we’re not so hardhearted that we want to throw soldiers and college kids and working stiffs out of the only country they’ve ever known. If we could gain a few concessions from the Democrats on a few miles of border wall where it’s actually needed and other immigration debates, as any skilled negotiator probably could, we’d take the deal.
Both Trump and pretty much all of the damned Democrats are itching to spend buttloads of money on America’s roads and bridges and levees and electrical grids and all the rest of our expensive infrastructure, which do indeed need tending, but at this point that also seems unlikely to happen. The Democrats want to shovel all those buttloads of money to their bureaucratic and labor union buddies, Trump envisions something that would benefit his corporate buddies and and campaign contributors, and there’s still an old-fashioned rump faction of the Republican party that objects to spending buttloads of federal money on projects and would prefer to pass the problem along to local local governments closer to the problem.
For now, in our sorry state of politics, neither party has any incentive to reach any agreements that might work out for everyone all around and thus redound to the benefit of the hated other side. That House bill that passed Tuesday strikes us a chance for the Republicans to prove that they’re not hardhearted sorts who hate hate even the most law-abiding brown-skinned people, and for the Democrats to show that they’re not committed to opening the borders to raping and robbing and heroin-pushing miscreants, but neither side can abide that the other might benefit. The Republicans spent six bipartisan years of President Barack Obama’s administration futilely trying to repeal Obamacare, which heartened the party base even if they couldn’t take advantage of of the two years of one-party rule that followed, and the Democrats will resist Trump with similarly futile attempts to Trump even if they won’t be able to do much with the two years of Democratic rule that might well follow. The crazier elements of both parties are awaiting the next inevitable two-year window of one-party rule opportunity when they can impose their craziest ideals, and for now the saner members of both parties who’d like to hammer out the details of those things they’re not that far apart on seem outvoted. Until the next election, and probably beyond, we expect most of the news will be about investigations into the other side’s perfidy, of which both sides have plenty.

— Bud Norman

An Ill-Fitted President in an Ill-Fitting Suit

On his first day of a state visit to the United Kingdom President Donald Trump committed his usual number of offenses against longstanding diplomatic protocol, continuing his “twitter” war against the mayor of the host city, offering opinions on British political affairs that are none of America’s business and he doesn’t seem to know much about, and taking the occasion to hurl insults and threats from abroad at perceived enemies back home. The worst of it, as far as we’re concerned, was the outfit he wore to a fancy dinner with the Queen of England.
He was wearing a white tie and tales, which is appropriate dress for state dinners with royalty and those other very rare occasions in life when a black tie and tuxedo is insufficiently highfalutin, but surely such a rich man as Trump claims to be could have found a more adept tailor. The suit made him look far fatter than he and his doctor swear he is, even more so than his golf gear, with the coat cut higher and showing conspicuously more white cummerbund than any of the more elegant-looking other male guests, and along with Trump’s behavior on the trip it put us in mind of Burgess Meredith’s portrayal of the “Penguin” on the old “Batman” television series.
To be fair we must admit that only Fred Astaire ever looked great in such a get-up, and that we are by no means fashion icons ourselves, but we couldn’t resist joining all the jibes that many of the commenters at various internet news sites were making. Our observation might seem one of those ad hominem attacks we routinely accuse Trump of making, but on his first day in London he making fun of the mayor’s diminutive height, and his fans seem to that sort of plain-spoken bluntness and cheap shots.
Also, it seemed yet another dispiriting example of how Trump just isn’t very good at this state visit and international diplomacy stuff.
All the past presidents of our by now very long recollection were obviously striving for a certain dignity and decorum and paying exquisitely careful attention to all the infinitesimal details of international diplomacy while abroad, but Trump seems to pride himself on demolishing even the most time-tested traditions. He shoved the prime minister of Montenegro aside to get to the front of a photo at a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, sided with brutal Russian dictator Vladimir Putin over the consensus of his intelligence agencies at a meeting in Helsinki, lavished unnecessary praise on the even more brutal North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un during negotiations in Singapore, and went out of his way to insult the democratically-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a G-7 summit north of the border.
Trump was on his best behavior during the dinner with the Queen and the rest of the royal family. He wisely refrained from reiterating his opinion that the recent biracial American member of the clan is “nasty,” which he now denies saying even there’s audio evidence that he did, and he seemed quite sincere in such over-the-top flattery of the Queen that she was probably embarrassed about it. Trump clearly loves pomp and circumstance, a tendency he has said he learned from his Scottish-born mother, who seems to have had a greater affection for the royals than your average Scot, and although he’s willing to wage petty and pointless feuds with all of the democratically-officials in the UK and the rest of the western world he clearly appreciates the red carpet treatment he routinely gets from the world’s hereditary monarchies and dictatorships.
The rest of Trump’s brief stay in England will include mass protests by a public that has about an 18 percent approval of him, including a blimp that portrays Trump as an obese and diapered baby holding a “twitter” machine, as well as outgoing and up-and-coming politicians who won’t be so polite as the royal family, and we expect that as usual he’ll want to punch back ten times harder. He’s got stops in France and other European locations where he’s also widely unpopular with both the public and their democratically-elected leaders, and we expect it will all play better with the fans back home than with our erstwhile crucial trading and military partners.
Trump fans love his bold willingness to disdain the longstanding traditions they believe has constrained America’s power, even though the past decades of business as usual have actually made America the economic and military and cultural leader of the free world in the post-World War II era, but we think there’s still something to be said for dignity and decorum and friendly relationships with the democratically-elected world leaders rather than its most brutal dictators. There’s also something to be said for hiring a tailor who won’t make you look so fat.

— Bud Norman