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That Damned Federal Deficit

The Washington Post and The New York Times and their rest of our daily mainstream media diet didn’t offer any appetizing headlines on Wednesday, so we resorted to the right-wing Drudge Report, which was blaring a headline that led to a link about how the federal budget deficit is up 15 percent over last year, which was already a record-setter. That was something we could sink our teeth into, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, we’re the sort of old-fashioned conservative and pre-President Donald Trump Republicans who still care about the multi-trillion-dollar national debt and how it swells with every quarterly multi-billion-dollar deficit. All that red ink eventually leads to economic catastrophe, and we fondly remember a time when the “Tea Party” faction of the Grand Old Party used to raise quite a fuss about it, but these days no seems to much care.
These days most of the crowded field of Democratic presidential contenders are advocating the near-bankrupt Medicare program for everyone, and promising reparations for the slaves that no one still alive ever owned, along with countless other crazy and very expensive ideas abut everything from economic justice to the climate. Meanwhile, despite Trump’s budget-cutting and budget-balancing campaign promises, the Republicans seem quite willing to go along with ever-swelling budgets. Trump justly likes to brag about the current swell state of the economy, but even according to left’s cherished Keynesian economic theories that’s when we should be paying down the national debt, and we don’t see any solution in sight.
The other thing we notice is that even the far-right Drudge Report, which we stopped linking to when it started linking to Infowars and Gateway Pundit and other right wing conspiracy web sites, is also raising the alarm about the creeping national debt. At this point there’s no telling how the right vs. left dispute will turn out on the nation’s financial ledgers, but given he left’s usual fiscal craziness and the right’s current Trump-ism, we don’t expect it to turn out well.

— Bud Norman

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Marilynn Smith, RIP

As avid fans of all the sports that men and women play, and regular readers of the obituary columns, we couldn’t help noticing the passing of Marilynn Smith at the age of 89. Although you might not have ever heard of her, she was a far better golfer than you’re likely to ever be, one of the barrier-crashing pioneers of women sports, and a fellow Wichitan as well, so we mourn her passing.
While growing up in Wichita, where local sports culture has long celebrated and cultivated the athletic talents of both of its boys and girls, Smith became known as the most fearsome pitcher in an otherwise all-boy Little League. By the time she was 12 she had an ambition to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, then the closest Major League franchise to Wichita, but after a bad game she was forced to switch sports.
“I had taken off my mitt, thrown it against the wall and said a four-letter word beginning with ‘S’,” she recalled to the hometown paper back in 2006. “My mother marched me right into the lavatory and washed my mouth out with Lifebuoy soap, and my dad said they had better take me to Wichita Country Club and teach me a more ladylike sport.”
Smith didn’t immediately take to the sport of golf, as she considered it too sissified, but she had a knack for it. After a short while her father gave her a bicycle as a reward for playing the front nine in less than 40 strokes, and she then pedaled her way to enough lessons to win three state titles before she went off to the University of Kansas. KU didn’t have a women’s golf team back then, and despite its lucrative basketball business the sports department declined to pay for her travel to the collegiate championships, but in ’49 her dad drove her to the tournament and she won first place, a national championship which KU still probably brags about.
After that Smith turned pro, which turned out surprisingly well for her. There was no organized professional women’s golf at the time, just the occasional prize money tournament and stakes matches, but by the summer of 1950 Smith and a dozen of the other top women golfers joined together for the inaugural tournament of the Ladies Professional Golf Association right here in Wichita.
The first several seasons of the LPGA tour were dominated by Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who had previously been the best woman basketball player and track-and-field competitor and baseball pitcher and all-around greatest female athlete on the planet, and is still the most barrier-breaking sportswoman of them all, but Smith got her licks in. She won 21 times on the tour, shot a then-record 66 on a tough course, and in 1973 she became the first woman to do televised commentary on a men’s professional golf tournament. Way back in ’50 she was making $5,000 a year from the Spalding sporting goods company, those 21 tournament wins and numerous top-five finishes also paid off pretty well by the standards of the day, and she had a founder’s stake in in theLPGA, and was the longtime commissioner of it during its formative years, and it’s still a  worth-watching and very prosperous sports league.
Smith somehow made a pretty good living for herself from the sissified game of golf for 89 years, most of it right here in surprisingly pleasant Wichita, and we’re glad she did. These days all sorts of interesting women are making a living and a cultural mark in American sports, and our homegirl Marilynn Smith surely had something to do with that.

— Bud Norman

The Never-Ending Cage Match Between Rep. Nadler and President Trump

We read that the World Wrestling Entertainment franchise just had another big-bucks pay-per-view “Wrestlemania,” with reigning women’s champion Becky Lynch besting both Rhonda Rousey and Charlotte Flair in a rare triple threat match and unprecedented all-woman headline bout. As usual we declined to pay to view it, but it will eventually be free on YouTube, and for trash-talking and body-slamming and eye-gouging entertainment we don’t think it can compete with the political battle between President Donald Trump and New York Rep. Jerry Nadler.
By now you surely know who Trump is. Aside from being President of the United, he’s the billionaire real estate mogul and failed casino-operator and reality show star who once body-slammed and shaved the head of WWE owner Vince McMahon in a “Battle of the Billionaires” on a past big-bucks pay-per-view “Wrestlemania,” which YouTube can verify we’re not making up. Die-hard Kansas devotees of political blood sport that we are we’ve only recently become aware of the existence of Nadler, but apparently the political junkies in New York already know that Nadler’s been successfully going toe-to-toe against Trump for the past several decades.
The feud started way back in ’85, when Trump was an ambitious 30-something real estate wheeler-dealer who wanted to transform a dilapidated section of New York City into a “Television City” with the world’s tallest skyscraper, and make it “the greatest piece of land in urban America.” Nadler was a mere New York assemblyman at the time, representing the district that Trump wanted to transform, and where most of the constituents absolutely hated the idea, but he waged a fairly effective fight. Trump did get to build some buildings, but none of them were the tallest skyscraper in the world, and that area isn’t the most valuable piece of land in urban America, but the mostly middle class people there seem to prefer Nadler to Trump. Since the ’80s Nadler has been elected to the House of Representatives, where he blocked Trump’s plans to relocate a federal highway to accommodate one of his development plans, and the latest election results show that at least in New York City Nadler is far more popular than Trump.
Trump has since been elected the President of the United States, but over the past 14 terms Nadler has risen to the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee, where he has the legal authority to subpoena all sorts of things and make all kind of trouble for Trump. These matters will eventually be resolved in court according to the constitution, rather than WWE rules, so we give the formidable Nadler at least a fighting chance.
Back in the ’80s Nadler was conspicuously overweight, and Trump was still relatively svelte, so Trump dubbed him “Fat Jerry” in their tabloid war of words. These days Nadler has slimmed down some and Trump is pretty fat, but Trump recently revived the “Fat Jerry” slur in front of a group of uncomfortable Republican senators, and we expect that Trump’s die-hard fans will love the way that at least he fights. The feud doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon, though, and in the meantime this Nadler fellow will probably get some licks in.
So far as we can tell this Nadler fellow is one of those damned Democrats, and from New York City to boot, but the courts don’t seem to put much weight on the weight of the litigants, and neither do we, and these days our old Kansas Republican souls don’t have a dog in these fights between two New York City boys, and we know it’s all rigged anyway.

— Bud Norman

Goodbye, Kirstjen, Hello Whatever Comes Next

The big news over the weekend was Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen becoming the latest sudden departure from the administration of President Donald Trump, and what comes next should be a big story in the coming days. Nielsen’s reportedly forced resignation shortly followed Trump’s withdrawal of Ronald Vitellio’s nomination as director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with Trump saying he wanted to go “in a tougher direction,” and there’s no telling where that might lead.
Despite Trump’s very tough talk and very tough actions regarding illegal immigration, there’s lately been a significant uptick in asylum-seekers and other immigrants trying to cross America’s southern border, and Trump is clearly displeased. Both Nielsen and Vitellio were fully on board with family separations and a sea-to-shining-sea border wall and other controversial Trump policies, but Trump won office largely tough talk and promises of tough action along the border, so of course he wants to go in an even tougher direction. Short of shooting any asylum-seekers or other immigrants tying to cross the border on sight, however, even the cruelest toughness might not provide a solution.
In her reportedly forced yet very gracious resignation letter, Nielsen wrote that “I hope the next Secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s border and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse. Our country — and the men and women of DHS — deserve to have all the tools and resources they need to execute the mission entrusted to them.” Which strikes us as quite craftily worded, given the short notice.
Nielsen still endorses Trump’s legislative agenda even as she’s being defenestrated, but she slyly alludes to the fact that she’s on the way out because she felt constrained by the current laws of the land. Given that her up-to-the-legal-limits tough gal approach never fared well with either Congress or the courts or popular opinion, her hope that an even tougher successor is probably faint and at least partly facetious. Nielsen’s tough-yet-law-abiding tenure never got good press, and we noticed that the Cable New Network kept featuring the most unappealing photos of her on Sunday, even though she’s objectively rather attractive by cabinet secretary standards, and any successor Trump might choose won’t fare any better. Good luck getting the feisty Democratic majority in the House or the slight Republican Senate majority and its skittish border state members to go along in a tougher direction.
All of which is a shame, as far we’re concerned. There’s a strong case to be made for some of Trump’s immigration law reforms, although we’ll stop well short of that shooting-asylum-seekers-on-sight that he’s probably tempted to do and his die-hard fans would surely endorse, but they’re not likely to get done in the next two years. or probably a few more years after that. In the meantime the most sensible proposal seems to be the one by formerly-far-right-wing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to fund enough extra immigration judges to handle the current backlog on the border according to American law and international treaty obligations.
On the whole, we’re going to miss Secretary Nielsen. Not only was she objectively rather attractive by cabinet secretary standards, she also struck as one of the few remaining grown-ups in the administration. She’s was the protege and hand-picked successor of Four Star Marine General John F, Kelly, who had taken a hard line at the DHS, and who was briefly the White House chief of staff who was expected to impose some order on the White House, and we expect that also had something to do with Trump’s dissatisfaction. Trump seems intent on being even tougher than the law allows, as usual, but we’ll see how that works out.

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Raising Cain, Once Again

The most obsessive political trivia fans among you might recall a colorful fellow named Herman Cain. He was once the chief executive officer of the Godfather’s Pizza chain, and on that basis was briefly a serious contender for the Republican party’s presidential nomination way back in 2012, but his candidacy ended with credible allegations by four different women of sexual misbehavior and a general realization that on economic matters he didn’t really know what the hell he was talking about.
It’s worth remembering, because Cain is back in the news. Numerous press reports indicate he’s President’s Donald Trump next pick for the Federal Reserve Board, and there’s already some fuss about it.
The Federal Reserve Board is a big deal, as it decides how many dollars are needed to run the nation’s multi-gazillion dollar or so economy without causing either economic stagnation or inflation, or the stagflation we went through back in the ’70s. Maintaining that elusive optimum of money supply and interest rates to sustain a full-employment economy without raising prices is a tricky business, probably best left to people with doctoral degrees from such institutions as the University of Chicago’s Nobel-prize-laden School of Economics, and there is reason to doubt Cain is up to the task.
Cain did once run a once-successful pizza chain, which we have to admit made a pretty good pizza, and he also served as the Fed’s Kansas City district director during the booming ’90s. Even so, we have our doubts.
Way back in ’12 Cain was briefly a presidential contender with his “nine, nine, nine” economic plan, which would have imposed a nine percent corporate, income and sales tax on America. It was a catchy and easy-to-remember slogan, but most Republican voters decided it was unlikely that the optimum corporate income tax rates were both nine, and a nine percent federal sales tax was downright weird in a Republican presidential primary race. Throw in the serial allegations of sexual misbehavior, and that’s why you haven’t hear much about Cain in the past several years.
It’s not surprising, however, that Cain is once again back in the news. The Fed can fire up the stock markets with low interest rates, at least for awhile before the inflation kicks in, Cain is clearly willing to go along with that, and Trump probably isn’t at all concerned with sex scandals. The economy’s going along fairly smoothly these days, to a point that Trump’s appointed Fed chairman has said he won’t be raising interest rates, which has clearly infuriated the President. There are hard-to-explain reasons why the money supply and interest rates should be at a certain level to sustain the national economy over the coming the decades, but it’s far easier to explain why Trump would want to keep the money flowing through the 2020 election.

— Bud Norman

A Russia to Judgment

Ever since the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” ended without any indictments of President Donald Trump, with  just his campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and and personal lawyer and national security advisor facing prison time,  Trump and his allies have been gloating about complete exoneration regarding everything they’ve ever been accused of. Alas, it’s starting to look like yet another case of Trump starting his end zone celebration a few yards short of the goal line.
Even the four-page summary of the nearly 400-page report on the investigation by Trump’s own Attorney General explicitly states that “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Now several of the investigators are telling The New York Times that the summary excluded evidence of actions by Trump and his associates that might not rise to the level of a indictable crime but are pretty embarrassing nonetheless, which seems not only plausible but downright probable to us.
The Democrats in Congress are naturally calling for the public to see the report in its entirety, and even as the Republicans claim the report utterly vindicates Trump they’re trying to keep the report under wraps. Our guess is that the Democrats will eventually prevail, either through court decisions or press leaks, and even if they don’t the Republicans will look bad for withholding information from the public. Perhaps the best argument for keeping the report secret is that it includes grand jury findings regarding investigations that are now ongoing in various state and federal jurisdictions, but that’s bound to come out eventually in some court or another, so the Republicans might as well start spinning it as no big deal right now.
Meanwhile, the Democratic majority on the House Ways and Means Committee is requesting six years of Trump’s tax returns, which he kept under wraps and will surely prove interesting, the Democratic majority on the House Oversight Committee is looking into why presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner was granted a top secret security clearance despite the concerns of the national intelligence agencies about his business interests and personal conduct, and they’re both likely to get that information. Even if they don’t, Trump and the Republicans will once again be in the awkward position position of arguing that the public doesn’t have a right to know about a report they assure us exonerates them of everything..
There’s also an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York about Trump’s hush-money payments to a pornographic video performer and and a Playboy Playmate, which is already sending Trump’s longtime lawyer to prison and clearly identifies Trump as the un-indicted co-conspirator “Individual One.” It’s also a sure bet the pesky press will continue to come up with something or another about Trump’s private businesses and presidential administration that’s hard to explain. That four-page summary of a nearly four-hundred page report clearly excludes something that Trump doesn’t want the public to know about, so a certain suspicion should linger past the 2020 elections.
At this point we don’t have any rooting interest in either the Democrats or the Republicans, but we’d advise our once-Grand Old Party to go right ahead and let it all hang out. The damned Democrats are going to believe the worst about Trump in any case, and the damned Republicans don’t much care what laws Trump might have broken so long as he cuts taxes and appoints conservative Supreme Court Justices and otherwise upholds law and order. The Democrats will probably come up with someone who’s y crazy left yet squeaky-clean on taxes and foreign-business dealings and porn star dalliances and the campaign finance laws concerning such affairs.
How that turns out is anyone’s guess, but we don’t see it working out well for anyone in any case.

— Bud Norman

On the Folly of Either Opening or Closing America’s Southern Border

There’s no good argument for the “open borders” policy that some Democrats advocate, but President Donald Trump is having a hard time making the case for his recent threat to close the southern border completely. By Tuesday Trump seemed to be backing away from the threat, with numerous White House advisors and congressional Republicans and important industries urging him to do so, and we hope he’ll once again abandon a bad idea without admitting it.
By now no one denies that there’s a problem on the southern border, where there’s lately been a surge in refugees from several impoverished and violent Central American countries seeking asylum. but no one other than Trump thinks a complete closure of all traffic from the border wouldn’t create bigger problems. Mexico is America’s third-largest trading partner, and we do an estimated $1.5 billion dollars of business with it every day, and a lot of the traffic going in and out of the Mexico on a daily basis eventually results in hundreds of billions of dollars for the automotive and agricultural and other industries, and there are a lot of Americans accustomed to crossing the nearby border to purchase lower-cost goods, and a lot of Mexicans accustomed to crossing the nearby border to earn a living cleaning houses and mowing lawns and purchase goods not available in Mexico.
You can hate those Spanish-speaking and drug-smuggling and raping people from those south-of-the-border “shit-hole countries” all you want, but even Trump’s White House advisors and congressional Republican allies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agree that the economy would take a hit if we stopped doing any business with them. The Mexican economy would also take hit, so the Mexican government might oblige Trump by shooting any Central American migrants on sight, which would likely ease America’s current bureaucratic burdens at the southern border, but given the economic impact that’s unlikely to make America great again.
We’ve even seen reports that America would run out of avocados three weeks after a border shutdown, meaning we wouldn’t be able to order the delicious carne asada chips from the drive-thru at Tacos Lopez over on West Street, and that’s not the America we’ve long loved.
Despite the institutional power of all those White House advisors and congressional Republican allies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and basic common sense, Trump might yet carry out his threat to shut down the border. He was still saying on Tuesday that he really wanted to, and he prides himself on never backing away from even his dumbest ideas, and his aversion to those Spanish-speaking and drug-smuggling rapists from “shit-hole countries” seems to supersede even his business instincts. On Tuesday Trump seemed to struggle making any sort of argument for anything, grousing about the “oranges” or the Special Counsel investigation rather than its “origins,” and misremembered that his New York City-born father was born in a “very beautiful” part of Germany, and announced that he wouldn’t present his perfect health care policy until after he and the congressional Republicans win the 2020 election.
Between Trump and those crazy “open borders” Democrats there’s no telling what might happen, but we hold out hope we’ll still be able to get those delicious and guacamole-laden carne asada chips from Tacos Lopez three weeks from now.

— Bud Norman

Biden Time in a #MeToo Moment

A second woman has come forward to accuse former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden of inappropriate behavior, and we’re sure she won’t be the last. Type “Creepy Uncle Joe” into any internet search engine and you’ll come up with more than a million results that include countless videos of Biden acting undeniably creepy around women.
Which is interesting to us, because all the way-too-early polls show Biden currently leading the Democratic party’s crowded field of presidential candidates, and the Democratic party has also lately declared a zero tolerance policy regarding anything that might offend any woman for any reason. The Democrats kicked Minnesota Sen. Al Franken out of Congress for a single accusation of an unwanted kiss and a photograph of him pretending to grope a woman’s breasts and some rape jokes he proposed telling back during his days as a Saturday Night Live comedian, even though he was a big fundraiser for the party, and they’ve also cut off from some big-bucks Hollywood donors caught up in the anti-sexual harassment “#MeToo” movement. In Biden’s case, despite his undeniably creepy behavior, it might prove a tough call.
The Democrats’ current obsession with male misbehavior is quite fine by us, as we were raised by fearsome Church of Christ women to treat the fairer sex with exceedingly old-fashioned respect, and it’s about time the Democratic party came around. For decades the Democrats had been the party of hound dog Presidents John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, and the Hollywood-New York City entertainment industry complex that undressed its actresses and unleashed a Sexual Revolution that hasn’t always worked out well for women. Today the Democrats and cultural left decry a “culture of rape” in American universities, and although they don’t acknowledge their role in destroying the fuddy-duddy cultural traditions that once governed male behavior, and have overreacted with kangaroo courts in academia for any romantically inept college kid accused of making an unwanted pass, we’re glad the party’s women are asserting themselves against all the boorish male behavior that truly is out there.
Biden’s well-documented uninvited shoulder rubs and prolonged hugs and close facial contacts with women of all ages certainly strikes us as boorish male behavior, and judging by the uncomfortable looks on their faces they seem to agree. At the very least we don’t consider it at all presidential, and hope that the party’s primary voters will take that into consideration as they weigh their choices in the crowded and sorry list of candidates.
On the other hand, the Democrats could do worse than Biden. He’s too far left for our centrist and old-fashioned Kansas Republican tastes, but he’s much closer to the center than several of the other leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, and although we’re not in the habit of giving advice to our Democrat friends we think he’d be a formidable opponent against President Donald Trump, presuming Trump will be the Republicans’ 2020 nominee.
Over his long career as a Senator from Delaware and vice president to an unaccountably popular President Barack Obama, Biden has employed the same populist and crudely “authentic” rhetoric as Trump, and enjoyed the support of the same aggrieved Rust Belt blue collar workers that helped elect Obama and somehow provided Trump with the few thousand votes that won him an electoral majority in the last election. He’s been caught plagiarizing speeches, but Trump has claimed credit for coining the phrase “priming the pump.” All the right wing talk radio hosts have long ridiculed Biden’s admittedly ridiculous hair plugs, but when running against Trump’s “We shall overcome” hairdo that shouldn’t be a problem. Biden once shocked the racial sensibilities of Democratic party by describing presidential primary opponent Obama as “clean” and “articulate,” but all was forgiven when Obama tabbed him as a running mate, and Trump has a far more troublesome record of racialist remarks, including his long and now recanted insistence that Obama was an illegitimate president. Biden is on videotape touching women’s shoulders and necks and waists and smelling their hair inappropriately, but former strip club mogul Trump is on audio tape bragging about grabbing women by their pussies, and the political discourse has been degraded to a point that we’d feel silly bowdlerizing that.
Once upon a well-remembered time the Republicans were always vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy, as they espoused an old-fashioned standard of decorum that mere humans have a hard time living up to, but in the age of Trump they no longer make any pretense of providing moral leadership. These days the Democrats are espousing a very newfangled puritanism that horny college kids and other mere humans have a hard time meeting, and no matter who the Democrats come up with, he — or even she — will probably have some explaining to do about something or another, even if he or she is running against Trump.
We don’t expect either party to nominate anyone other than a mere human, and maybe the Democrats were right all those years they insisted that moral leadership was expected from our government, but we hope that the next presidential election will make all the women out there less uncomfortable with all the boorish male behavior that’s out there. If the political process can also yield someone who can lower the budget deficits and restore relationships with longtime allies, and keep things going at least slightly better than before,  so much the better.

— Bud Norman

Someone Called Lil Nas X, Some Familiar but Dangerous Old Town Roads, and the Crossroads of America on a Sleepless Weekend

After a long and mostly sleepless and stomach flu-afflicted weekend, which entailed an early-morning trip down to Oklahoma for the funeral of a beloved family member and a caffeine-fueled late afternoon drive back up I-35, and a near-wreck with some idiot who blew past a stop sign at ten miles an hour over the speed limit on the way home from the worship service we’d somehow made it to at the West Douglas Church of Christ, and then a much-needed nap and a couple of much-needed beers at Kirby’s Beer Store, we tried to catch up with the rest of the news. There was some cold comfort, at least, in finding that the rest of the world seems to have its own troubles.
One story that caught our eye was about some some rapper called Lil Nas X being removed from Billboard Magazine’s list of top-100 country-and-western top-sellers, where it had debuted in the 19th spot a few weeks ago and begun climbing up the chart. We’d previously never heard of Lil Nas X nor his his country-and-western song “Old Town Road,” but for various reasons we found it interesting nonetheless.
For the past half-century or so Billboard Magazine has been the definitive source of the weekly top 100 charts for American music and all its various branches, with all the authority of the Dow Industrial Average or the Bureau of Economic Analysis on the state of the broader economy, and for many years of our life we paid even more rapt attention to Billboard’s findings. The magazine has apparently dropped “Old Town Road” from its country-and-western charts because it’s insufficiently country-and-western, too, and as lifelong fans of country-and-western and all the other branches of the glorious tree of America’s music that all grabbed our attention. These days the debate about the culture is as dreary as the one about the economy, with the left talking all sorts of “cultural appropriation” nonsense about the interracial and cross-cultural pollinations that have made American culture in general and American music in particular so rich, and the right seemingly suddenly intent on making American great again with its own racialist agenda, and somehow some rapper called Lil Nas X and his “Old Town Road” is caught up in that.
We’re old and grew up in Kansas with all the kinfolk down in Oklahoma, so we also grew up with Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and Buck Owens’ Buckaroos and Merle Haggard and his Strangers playing on the 8-track or AM radio, and thus have some pretty fixed ideas about what constitutes country-and-western music. We followed the internet links to hear (and watch) Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” and although it doesn’t meet our strict standards we wouldn’t kick it off the country-and-western charts. The recording has some bucolic lyrics and some banjo licks “sampled” from previous recording, the video features some old west imagery from some violent cowboy shoot-’em-up video game, and it’s as least as country-and-western as anything we find on the radio on two drives between Wichita and Oklahoma City on Saturday, or any of the godawful bumper music that New York City-born-and-bred Sean Hannity uses on the right-wing talk radio show where he’s constantly apologizing to his heartland audience for the New York-City-born and bred President Donald Trump.
“Country-and-western” is a vague enough term to encompass everything from Jimmie Rodgers’ primitivism to the string-laden elegance of Patsy Cline, “rock ‘n’ roll” ranges from the soft rock of Simon and Garfunkel to the hard rock of The Ramones, “jazz” stretches from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane and beyond, and even the best of “it’s a black thing” “rhythm and blues” and “soul” and “hip hop” involve some talented white boys and European instruments and musical techniques who complicate the leftist racial narratives about that great stuff. Country-and-western is considered a white boy thing, but Rodgers and Williams and Wills and Monroe and Owens and Haggard always freely acknowledged everything they learned from their black friends, and we’ve found that if you want to fully enjoy the best of America’s great music you should set all of the left’s and right’s racial politics aside.
The definitions of “country-and-western” and “rock ‘n’ roll” and “jazz” and “hip hop” and the rest of American music gloriously diverse genres have mostly been defined by whatever the self-identified fans of those of genres have liked, and until recently they’ve done a pretty good job of it. Lil Nas X “Old Town” isn’t a great a recording by any of American music’s historic standards, but we’ve heard worse, and we hate to see it kicked off this week’s Billboard “country-and-western” charts, even if it’s still faring well on the “rhythm and blues” chart, which these days is the magazines old-fashioned way of saying “hip hop.” Billboard has always judged sales of “country-and-western” and “rhythm and blues” based on what the self-indentified “country and western” and “rhythm and blues” stores were selling, and although that’s harder to gauge in a time when all the kids are downloading their music off the internet it does seem that Lil Nas X was fairly popular with the country-and-western audience.
We rather like it that these young whippersnapper country-and-western fans are willing to embrace someone so obviously black he’s called Lil Nas X, and that black urban culture is culturally appropriating banjo licks and cowboy imagery, but we hope they all learn there’s better cross-cultural stuff on both sides of that divide, and start learning from that.
Meanwhile we notice that former Vice President and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden once again stands credibly accused of touchy creepiness toward women, and given the Democratic party’s currently strict standards that should be a problem for the him and the Democrats. We also notice that the leader of the erstwhile family values Republican party is President Donald “Grab ’em by the pussy” Trump, and that it doesn’t seem to be a problem for him or the Republicans. There’s also talk of Trump shutting down the border with Mexico, his ongoing trade wars and growing trade deficits with almost everyone else, most of the rest of the Democratic presidential field is so far to the crazy left that Biden’s creepiness toward women doesn’t seem so bad, and the economic and political news is almost as bad as what else is on the radio.
Even so, we’ll try to get a good night’s sleep and face another April Fools’ Day with help from the music and history of better times.

— Bud Norman

The Special Olympics of Politics

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

— Bud Norman