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Nice Work If You Can Get It

Far be it from us to accuse anyone of being lazy, as we do enjoy our ample amount of leisure time, but President Donald Trump’s workday strikes us as a bit short for the job he holds.
Someone in the White House leaked the president’s daily schedule for the past three months to the Axios.com web site, and it reveals that more than 60 percent of it was spent on what the White House likes to call “executive time.” This presumably means time for the president to read the voluminous reports that cross his desk, but all theleaks from past and present administration officials  suggest he’s not much of a reader, and to phone advisors about the pressing issues of the day, but the leaks indicate he’s mostly talking to his Mar-a-Lago pals, and his own quotes in  the rest of the news suggest he’s not paying much attention to the advice of his administration’s national security and economic experts. Educated speculation is that he’s mostly spending the time watching Fox News, and his numerous “tweets” responding to what was just said on the network seems to back this up. Some harsher critics are speculating that much of it is spent on Trump’s elaborate comb-over and acquiring his yearlong orange hue, and there seems to be evidence for that as well.
On several of the leaked daily schedules Trump didn’t take a meeting until 10 or 11 a.m., and was off the job by 5 p.m. or so, which is admittedly pretty ambitious by our standards but less than what one should expect of a president. President Bill Clinton would typically start his workday at 9 a.m., and was famous for working late into the night, although he was also infamous for spending some of his “executive time” with interns. President George W. Bush would routinely wake up at 5:15 a.m., about the same we time usually finish throwing up, and would be in the Oval Office by 6:15 a.m., poring through what he needed to know for his first meeting of the day at 8:15 a.m., and he wouldn’t call it quits until 5:30 or to 6 p.m. and be back in bed by 9 p.m., which is about when we get started on our big ideas. The record shows that President Barack Obama was a relative slacker, usually getting into the office around 9 a.m., but he usually logged about six meetings along with hour-long intelligence and economic briefings in a workday, and was known to say up late reading all those voluminous reports.
Back when he was getting elected Trump loved to ridicule Obama’s laziness and penchant for golf, and vowed that he would eschew golf and spend all of his time in the Oval Office making great deals for America, but Trump has logged more time on Trump-owned golf courses in his first two years than Obama spent on various links in eight years, and has spent far less time in the Oval Office.
Trump doesn’t deny the veracity of the leaked schedules, but instead his administration offers a novel spin. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders explained that “President Trump has a different style of leadership than his predecessors and the results speak for themselves. While he spends much of his day in scheduled meetings, events and calls, there is time to allow for a more creative environment that has made him the most productive president in modern history.” She went on to cite the booming economy and low taxes, America’s position as the biggest producer of oil and natural gas, the remaking of the American judiciary, renegotiated trade deals, and that “it’s indisputable that our country has never been stronger than it is today under the leadership of President Trump.”
The economy has indeed continued along the same trajectory that belatedly started in the last years of that lazy Obama’s presidency, although that tax bill has the budget deficit back to the worst of the Obama years. America was the world’s biggest oil and natural gas producer before Trump took office, despite Obama’s best efforts, and the remaking of the judiciary can mostly be credited to that hated establishment Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, who ruthlessly kept those seats open in the last years of Obama, and to the establishment Republican Federalist Society, which made all the picks. The recent revisions to the renamed North American Free Trade Americans yielded some gains for America’s dairy famers, but hardly amounts to the difference between the worst trade deal ever and the best one ever, and it’s yet to be ratified, and it remains to be seen if Trump can win his thus-far disastrous trade war with China. According to all the opinion polls, most Americans dispute that the country has never been stronger, and we’re inclined to agree.
We’ve always agreed with the old American maxim that the government which governs least governs the best, however, so we’ll not dare suggest that Trump become any more ambitious. We’d rather he didn’t spend so much time “tweeting” schoolyard taunts and obvious falsehoods against his critics, and suggest he’d do better to spend that time chilling out. Those energetic types always worry us, as they so often tend to do more harm than good, and we think that in the case of Trump less truly is more.

— Bud Norman

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Racism, Abortion, the Super Bowl and Other Current American Topics

Despite the distractions of a Super Bowl and all its attendant hype and controversies, the plight of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was stil prominent in the news all weekend.
The Democrat has championed a Democratic abortion bill being considered in the Virginia legislature that comes too close for most Americans’ tastes to allowing infanticide, and made remarks that suggest he’s quite comfortable with abortions being performed right up to the point of dilation, but the hubbub was instead about a 35-year-old picture in his medical school yearbook. The photo depicts a white man in blackface and minstrel show costume standing next to someone wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe and pointed hood, and although it’s not clear which is Northam, and although he denies he’s either one of them, the picture was undeniably chosen by Northam to adorn his personal yearbook page and there’s no denying that it’s pretty damned offensive.
The photo was unearthed by a previously little-known right-wing web site called Big League Politics, which clearly hoped to embarrass the radically pro-choice governor, but the Democratic Party in Virginia and the rest of the country quickly piled on. In some of these racially-charged imbroglios a public figure can credibly claim that it’s a much ado about nothing, as it was in a different time when he was a mere callow youth, but blackface and KKK robes are hard to slough off as just joking, and even in 1984 it was already considered very uncool, and Northam was a 25-year-old medical student at the time. To its credit today’s Democratic party takes a dim view of this sort of thing, and with an African-American Lieutenant Governor waiting in the wings to take up the party’s radical pro-choice torch it has no reason not to abandon its Virginia standard-bearer, and with the Republicans similarly aghast at such outrageous racism we hope for and expect Northam’s resignation early this week.
Which is not to say the Republicans will get much good out of it, however, as the story is full of ironic twists. Northam won the governorship in ’18 over Republican Ed Gillespie, who had a solid record of sensible Republican centrism over a long and distinguished career of public service but chose instead to run in the antiestablishment mold of President Donald Trump and make a big issue of keeping all the Confederate monuments in a place of honor in Virginia’s public squares, Given all the black votes in the inner-cities and rural districts of Virginia and all the guilt-ridden white votes in the well-educated suburbs of Richmond and Washington, D.C., Northam easily won the swing state’s governorship. Northam barely won the Democratic nomination over another more liberal Democrat, who surely wishes his inept opposition research team hadn’t unearthed that damning yearbook photo during the primary, and Virginia’s quadrennially crucial electoral college votes once again seem likely to go to the Democrats no matter how this embarrassing mater turns out.
Here’s hoping, though, that some good comes out of it. Perhaps the more promising young Democrats and Republicans alike will learn that blackface and KKK robes are not cool, and haven’t been for far more than 35 years, and we can get past all that nonsense and start carefully considering both parties’ most radical positions on abortion and taxes and America’s place in the world and other important matters. Here’s hoping . too, that we find some sane place in the sensible middle, and do so without the likes of Northam and Gillespie and that awful choice America had in its last presidential election.
We notice the New England Patriots won yet another Super Bowl victory over the Los Angeles Rams, which makes little difference to us, but we wish you all congratulations or condolences depending on which side you took.

— Bud Norman

Trump Jumps the Shark

The folks who provide entertainment programming for television often use the expression “jump the shark,” which derives from the episode late in the last season of “Happy Days” when Fonzie ski-jumped over a tank of sharks, and it’s meant to convey when a show has run out of ideas and become completely ridiculous. On Thursday President Donald Trump’s long-running yet low-rated reality show arrived at its “jump the shark” moment.
On Tuesday Trump’s own heads of his own administration’s intelligence agencies testified under oath and camera before Congress about various national security issues, and differed with the president on matters ranging from Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs to China’s and Russia’s cyber-terrorism intentions to the remaining strength of the Islamic State to the need for a big beautiful wall along the entirety of the southern border. On Wednesday Trump “tweeted” that the men and women he had appointed to assure America’s safety were “passive and naive” and “wrong” and “should go back to school,” which was embarrassing enough. By Thursday Trump was telling an impromptu news conference that it was all “fake news,” as his chiefs had all assured him they were merely misquoted and were in fact entirely in agreement with him, and at that point President Fonzie looked likely to crash into the sharks.
Go right ahead and believe that the undeniably hostile-to-Trump news media overemphasized the intelligence agencies’ many disagreements with Trump, but if you think the Trump appointees were misquoted or taken out of context you can easily watch their full testimony from Congress’ own C-Span or any of the networks that covered it live, including Fox News. You can also read the intelligence agencies’ 42-page “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report at their own official “.gov” website, or request a copy from the Government Printing Office. It might all be a “deep state” conspiracy that created all the networks’ video footage with computer generated imagery, and then hacked into the government’s web domain and printing warehouses to plant that phony document, and is now coercing Trump’s appointees not to confirm his latest claims that their testimony was “fake news,” but if so the conspirators are so damned good that resistance is certainly futile.
Trump also told the “fake news” cameras that his border wall is currently being built, claimed credit for the portion build years before his administration near San Diego, and predicted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would soon be humbly begging him to build a wall, and boasted of such successes that no one will care if he doesn’t get a wall built. The die-hard fans will buy all of it, but most of the rest of the country seems to be growing weary of the storyline.
For now all the hostile-to-Trump news media and all the late night comedy shows are having great fun with it, and we’re eager to hear what all the right-wing talk radio talkers and the rest of the obsequious-to-Trump news media have to say. On several occasions over the past many years Trump has asked his die-hard supporters to believe him rather than their lying eyes, and they’ve always been willing to do so, but this time the more reluctant supporters aren’t playing along.
Not only are Trump’s own appointees to head the national intelligence agencies stubbornly insisting on their clear-eyed assessments of the actual facts rather than Trump’s “alternative facts,” but so are several other members of his foreign policy-making team, as well as a decisive number of congressional Republicans. Trump boasted that he had wiped out the Islamic State when he announced a controversial decision to withdraw all American forces from Syria, but his Secretary of State and national security advisor seem to have talked him into to only a partial withdrawal, his intelligence agencies continue to warn that the Islamic State still poses a threat to America and its allies, and on Thursday Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and a majority of his Republican caucus joined in a 68-to-23 vote for a resolution rebuking Trump’s claims and announced policy on Syria.
A similar number of Senate Republicans have voted to protect a special counsel investigation into Russia’s cyber-meddling in America’s elections, which the intelligence agencies all agree is ongoing, despite Trump’s assurances that he’s been assured by the Russian dictator that it’s all a “witch hunt.” There seems a be a similar skepticism in the Senate about Trump’s boasts that he’s eliminated the nuclear threat from North Korea, or soon will, which the intelligence agencies also dispute. Based on the latest reports about the congressional negotiations underway to pass some sort of funding agreement to keep the government open for a while longer, the Republicans seem to agree with the intelligence agencies that big beautiful border wall isn’t such an urgent need as Trump insists.
The president probably has a more loyal following among the Republicans in the House of Representatives, but they’re a minority in that chamber, and Trump’s version of the truth is currently running into a great deal of resistance from his own party and own administration and the rest of the government. Worse yet, his reality show is jumping into the shark tank of actual reality.

— Bud Norman

Baby It’s Very, Very Cold Outside

The big story of the day is obviously the record-setting cold in the upper midwest and northeast, with six states suffering lower temperatures on Wednesday than the South Pole, but theres’s not much to be said about it and nothing to be done.
As always the skeptics of “global warming” will gloat how about how cold it is, as President Donald Trump has already done, but even such a cold snap as this one doesn’t disprove the man-caused climate change theory any more than the heat waves that will inevitably come next summer will prove anything. The temperatures hit a toasty 116 degrees in Australia while North Dakota was at minus-49 degrees, and although it’s still darned cold the South Pole is also warmer than usual. Such extremes are worrisome, to be sure, but don’t necessarily mean that we need to ban big cars.
Temporary power outages and strained natural gas pipelines in Minneapolis and a few other frozen cities should spur some conversation and perhaps even action on the country’s aging infrastructure, but if that happens it will probably be inn the states rather than at the gridlocked federal level. On Tuesday the heads of America’s intelligence agencies were warning Congress that the Chinese and Russians could pick a moment such as this shutdown major portions of the national power grid but on Wednesday Trump was “tweeting” that they “need to back to school.” The current death toll from the cold is seven, which strikes us as miraculously low given the number of homeless in America, but that persistent issue will also go unaddressed.
We can say that we wish our best to our neighbors to the north, even though they’re crazy to be there and better them than us.</div?

— Bud Norman

Worldwide Threats and Other Worries

For those of us clear-eyed realists who are gloom and doom worrywarts, the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” by America’s collective intelligence agencies is always a must-read. This year’s edition is especially worrisome, especially when you notice how starkly different it is from President Donald Trump’s foreign policy priorities.
The 42-page document continues to stress the danger of the Islamic State, although Trump has declared complete victory over the terror gang and announced a withdrawal of all troops from the fight against it in Syria. Trump has proudly “tweeted” that he eliminated any threat from North Korea, but the intelligence agencies agree that the nutcase dictatorship is continuing to pursue a nuclear arsenal. The intelligence agencies also concluded that Iran is keeping to a deal to cease its nuclear weapons development, although the country continues to support all sorts of non-nuclear terrorism, while Trump continues to withdraw America from the deal and hasn’t yet negotiated a better one. Trump has yet to address the problem of Russian’s cyber-meddling in American democracy, and continues to countenance Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s instance he’d never do that, but the intelligence agencies are still alarmed.
The “Worldwide Threat Assessment” also concludes that the past two years of American trade policy and diplomacy have weakened ties with longstanding allies and prompted traditional friends to seek new relationships, and makes only brief mention of the southern border where Trump wants to build a big beautiful wall. As frightening as the 42 pages are, it’s more worrisome yet that Trump seems to disregard them.
Trump and his die-hard fans can assure themselves that these are the same intelligence agencies that have blundered America into endless wars useless alliances, and that they’re a bunch of fancy-pants Ivy League elitists who think they know everything, and that the “Worldwide Threat Assessment” is another example of the nefarious “deep state” conspiring to thwart Trump at every turn. We’ve been assured by Trump that he knows more about the Islamic State than the generals, and more about America’s military alliances than the four-star general who was forced to resign as Secretary of Defense, and that Putin sure seemed sincere when he said that the Russians weren’t meddling in our democracy, and that “my gut sometimes tells me more than anybody else’s brain can tell me.
Go ahead and call us gloom and doom worrywarts, but we are not reassured. Trump’s own appointees have signed off on the “World Threat Assessment” and testified to Congress about it, and they seem far more knowledgeable about world affairs than Trump’s unaccountably educated gut, and we think they’re more interested in a clear-eyed assessment of reality than advancing Trump’s populist political rhetoric. Even Trump’s own appointees agree with the carefully considered bipartisan consensus of expert opinion that has guided American foreign policy since the end of World War II, and although the results have admittedly been imperfect America and the rest of world have generally become more prosperous and free, and there hasn’t yet been a World War III, so we trust the brains of those fancy pants know-it-alls more than we do Trump’s gut.
There’s a lot to worry about in the world these days, but we feel slightly better knowing that at least some of Trump’s appointees and few brave congressional Republicans are worrying about it.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Line of Koch

According to a largely overlooked report in The Washington Post, the “Koch network” is “turning away from partisan politics,” which strikes us as an intriguing development. The story has significant implications for President Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican party, and will surely be of hopeful interest to the Democratic party and the rest of the left, and it has a special local interest for us.
The multi-billionaire and big-bucks political donor to conservative causes Charles Koch has long been a leading villain of the conspiracy theories spun on the left, much as multi-billionaire and big bucks donor to liberal causes George Soros is the bogeyman of all the right’s conspiracy theories, which we’ve always found amusing.
It’s hard for us to believe that the headquarters of the diabolically ingenious organization secretly controlling everything is Koch Industries, which is located right next door to where we attended elementary school on the outskirts boring old Wichita, Kansas, and the company has always been a good neighbor. The local zoo’s award-winning ape exhibit was paid for by the Koch family, you can’t go to the city’s surprisingly excellent art museum or symphony orchestra or musical theater troupe without seeing Koch’s generosity prominently thanked in the program, the Friends University dance department that provides some of the the best of the city’s ballet offerings was started by the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation of his parents, and if you’re lucky to attend a Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball game they play in the very swank Charles Koch Arena, and the family has funded some charities for the poor as well. Wichita’s still a small enough enough town that we’ve had a couple of personal encounters with the internationally notorious Charles Koch, who lives not far from our parents’ swank retirement home over on the east side, and we’ve found him an affable fellow.
Koch has also spent a considerable chunk of his vast fortune funding anti-tax and pro-free market causes here and around the country and the world, which is why the left hates him so, but for the most part that’s been fine with us. The “tea party” movement that briefly fought for fiscal sanity was a genuine grassroots movements, but there’s no denying it was fertilized a bit by Koch’s money, and although the left recoiled in horror we wish it were still around. We’ve voted for most of the politicians that Koch has funded around here, and rooted for most the of ones he funded in other states and districts, and generally agree with his red-in-tooth-and-claw sort of capitalism. He’s carefully stayed out of the abortion politics and other social issues that are so contentious around here, and we think he’s been wise to do so.
There have been the occasional differences of opinion. Koch was a big backer of Gov.. Sam Brownback’s admittedly radical tax-and-budget-slashing agenda, which we eagerly voted for, but he continued to back it even after we had to begrudgingly admit it hadn’t worked out quite as promised. We’re also the sort of traditional Pax Americana Republicans who can’t agree with Koch’s characteristically Libertarian isolationist foreign policy, although we have to admit that’s one reason the conspiracy theories sound crazy. The one thing that Koch and Soros have agreed on over the years was their opposition to the Iraq War, and we note that despite their combined billions and alleged world-shaking influence they couldn’t stop that from happening.
Which makes it interesting to read in The Washington Post that Koch and his network of well-heeled and like-minded big bucks donors have “emphasized new investments in anti-poverty initiatives and reentry programs for former convicts.” At their annual meeting in a luxury resort the group “also announced a new education initiative.” Unstated but more important, they once again won’t be giving any money to the Trump campaign, much less the big bucks that Republican nominees used to get. Trump’s populist base will no doubt boast that it goes to show he can’t be bought, even by the most ideologically pure capitalist billionaires, but they’ll likely need both the money and the free market sort of voters it brings in.
Koch and his well-heeled buddies presumably like the tax bill Trump signed and the deregulations he’s ordered by executive action, as do we, for the most part, although they probably share our preference they’d been more carefully done. Trump’s military retreats from former spheres of American probably don’t bother them, either, although we think they should. On several other matters, though, Trump is estranged from both Koch’s libertarianism and our old-fashioned conservatism, which leaves the Republican party is in poor shape.
Trump’s trade wars are an affront to Koch’s free-market sensibilities, and although we’re not taking the same financial hit as our multi-national neighbor we share hit outrage. Koch is far more cool with mass immigrants than Trump seems to be, too, and although we don’t enjoy the same benefits of cheap labor neither do we support Trump’s panicked call for big and beautiful border wall. Over the two years Trump worked with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress the country racked up trillion dollar deficits, despite a booming economy that Trump frequently bragged about, and now that the Democrats have a majority in the House and growth is slowing that doesn’t look to get better, and we can hardly blame Koch and his well-heeled buddies for not wanting to fund more of that.
On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard defenders can rightly note that only likely alternative is the damned Democrats and George Soros and all the socialist conspiracies he’s funding, and we guess that Koch and most of his well-heeled buddies will agree with us that’s also pretty damned frightening. Even so, we’re pleased to see that our far richer and more influential neighbor has joined us here on the political sidelines, and we’ll be grateful if Koch can do for poor people and convicted felons as well as they’ve done for our local arts and sporting and economic  communities, and we’ll try out best to chip in..

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Lost Weekend

The past weekend probably wasn’t much fun for President Donald Trump or his most die-hard defenders. On Friday Trump signed a series of continuing resolutions to temporarily end the partial government shutdown, and none of them contained any money for the big beautiful border wall that he had insisted on when he was “proud to shut down the government for border security.” The same day saw the pre-dawn arrest of former advisor and longtime friend Roger Stone, the latest in a series of indictments brought by the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.”
Both stories struck most observers as bad for Trump, but he and several of his die-hard defenders did their best over the weekend to explain how Trump keeps winning.
Trump “tweeted” to the fans that although he conceded to the Democrats his one demand for border wall funding “This was in no way a concession,” and that if he doesn’t get his way when the deal ends in three weeks “it’s off to the races!” This was a hard sell even for such reliable media allies as The New York Post, where the front-page headline called Trump a “Cave Man,” and the Trump-loving conspiracy theory website thegatewaypundit ran the headline “Trump Caves.” Even Ann Coulter, the author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” declared that President George H.W. Bush was “no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as president.” We can’t imagine why Coulter chose to impugn the manliness of the last president Bush, who was a star athlete and bona fide war hero and the man who negotiated the west’s victory in the Cold War and drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but it goes to show how very disappointed some fans were on Friday.
Some Trump fans are made of sterner stuff, however. The always hilarious defenestrated administration official Sebastian Gorka is still loyal enough he insisted on Lou Dobbs’ Fox News show that Trump had pulled off a “master stroke,” even though the usually reliable host was saying that Trump had been “whipped by Pelosi.” The indefatigable Trump apologist Sean Hannity was telling his radio and television audiences that the president was sure to prevail within three weeks, as “he holds all the cards,” even though Hannity’s usually sycophantic radio show callers were disagreeing. As much as we admire quixotic effort, it’s a hard case to make. Trump was taking a beating in the opinion polls for his stubborn insistence on a border wall that has never polled well, the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is clearly emboldened, and it’s hard to see what changes in the next three weeks.
Trump didn’t even get his previously scheduled State of the Union address in the House chamber, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to change many minds if does the prime time gig. Seven Republican Senators had abandoned ship by the end of the partial government shutdown, which set new records for duration and bad press, and with several of them up for reelection next year in states that Trump didn’t win they’ll have little incentive to return to the fold of the true believers. The remaining faithful are confident that Trump will get his big beautiful border wall built by declaring a national emergency and unilaterally diverting funds that Congress had appropriated for other and more popular programs, but we expect that both the federal courts and the court of public opinion will have something to say about such a presidential power grab as that, and it will be a hard case for those self-proclaimed “constitutional conservatives” in the Trump-friendly media to make.
Beleaguered White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made a rare appearance on television to insist that the arrest of Stone had nothing to do with Trump, and most of the Trump-friendly media were indignant that such a fine fellow had been subjected to a pre-dawn arrest by combat-armed federal agents. It’s true that none of the seven counts in the indictment of Stone mention Trump, and that arrest did look pretty scary, but that apologists have another hard case to make.
Stone has had a decades-long relationship with Trump that included an advisor role in the earliest days of Trump’s presidential campaign, and he was still in regular contact with Trump while he was allegedly committing crimes on his behalf and allegedly lying to congress to jibe with Trump’s latest explanations, and we think it likely that the next round of indictments will mention Trump. He’s not at all a fine fellow, either, and in fact has long prided himself on his well-earned reputation as one of the biggest sleazes in politics since his days as a self-described “rat-****er”for President Richard Nixon, whose visage is literally tattooed on Stone’s back, and one can hardly blame the feds for fearing Stone might destroy evidence if tipped off in advance about his arrest.
Today starts another work week, though, with all those furloughed government workers back on the job, and there’s no telling what hay Trump and his die-hard defenders might make of it. Perhaps in three weeks time the Democrats will be doing the capitulating, and the “Russia thing” will be proved a WITCH HUNT!, and Trump will be rolling toward a landslide reelection and eventual inclusion on Mount Rushmore, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Far South of the Border

The weather around here has been awful lately, but we’ve taken some comfort in reading about how much worse it’s been to the north and east. Similarly, no matter how bad America’s politics get we can still be glad that we’re not living in Venezuela.
Not so long ago in our lifetimes the oil-rich nation of Venezuela was prosperous and peaceful by Latin American standards, but the socialist regimes of President Hugo Chavez and then President Nicolas Maduro have wrought an unmitigated economic disaster. Unemployment is sky-high, such basic necessities as toilet paper are desperately hard to find, and the inflation rate is a staggering one million percent. Mass protests are filling the streets of the capital and other cities, the guy who lost the last presidential election under highly suspect circumstances is plausibly claiming to be the legitimate head of state, and it makes America’s protracted and seemingly intractable partial government shutdown look like no big deal.
President Donald Trump’s administration has pleasantly surprised us by siding with opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency, which is backed by those hundreds of thousands of protestors packing the streets, as well as the governments of several of the country’s South American neighbors. It’s surprising in part because Russia and the Venezuelan military and the more autocratic government of America are still backing Maduro, as well as the fact that Trump typically admires his strong man style of governance, and that Trump doesn’t usually much care what goes on south of America’s border so long as it stays there. We’ll attribute it to a traditional Republican revulsion for Latin American socialism and the clout of the very traditional Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but give Trump some credit nonetheless.
Which is not to say that it will prove helpful to Venezuela, and it’s possible it could make things worse. There’s an understandable if not entirely unjustified resentment of Yankee imperialism throughout Latin America, which Latin American dictators have long used to rally public opinion against even the best-intended and well-considered efforts to intervene in their affairs, and Maduro should and Maduro should be able make even more hay of it when the Yankee imperialist is the hated-throughout-Latin-America Trump. Maduro retains the the support of the military, which we doubt Trump wants to tangle with, as well as Russia and Cuba and Bolivia and other countries Trump is eager to make deals with, while China and Mexico and other important trading partners are staying on the sidelines, and Trump is known for making his own sudden expedient policy shifts to the sidelines.
Even so, for now Trump finds himself on the side of Canada and most members of the Organization of American States and those hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets, and we’re hopeful he’ll stay there. Chavez and to a lesser extent Maduro were once the darlings of America’s radical left, and the American right’s favorite cautionary tale about the consequences of socialism, and for now the right is clearly winning that argument. Although Maduro is a classic populist strongman autocrat and that Guaido fellow is a thin and youthful and handsome and glib fellow who reminds of a Venezuelan version of America’s Democratic center-left darling Beto O’Rourke, Trump is probably politically astute enough to know his stand will play well with all sorts of freedom-loving Americans.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world also seems worse off than we are here in frigid Kansas. Crazy Venezuelan-style left wing populism has much of Central America heading to the United States border, and crazy Trump-style populism is currently making things worse in Brazil and Poland and Hungary and Italy and the Philippines. The sensibly centrist governments of France and the United Kingdom are currently in crisis, too, with the streets of Paris once again burning and the Parliament in London trying to find its way out of a slumping European Union.
Better by far to be here in frigid Kansas than in China or Russia, or anywhere in Africa and the Arab world, or even the most up-to-date and well-heated cities of Asia and Europe. We’re still eagerly awaiting spring and the reopening of the federal government, and in the meantime we’ll warm ourselves with the knowledge of how much worse most of the rest of world’s unlucky folks have it.

— Bud Norman

The Son-in-Law Rises Again

The partial government shutdown is now in its 33rd day, and hundreds of thousands of government workers are going a third week without pay, with many of them calling in sick as a result, but the good news is that presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is bravely taking charge of the situation.
In case you’re unaware of the wunderkind’s remarkable resume, the heavily indebted real estate mogul has also been given responsibility for ending America’s opioid crisis and bringing peace to the Middle East and re-inventing the federal government, among other things. Although he doesn’t seem to have quite yet accomplished any of these Herculean tasks, he’s reportedly asserted himself into the shutdown negotiations, which look to be as intractable as any of his many other jobs. There’s much skepticism about his ability to pull any of it off, but the young fellow is apparently as self-confident as ever.
According to The Washington Post’s reporting Kushner is sure that the Democrats in congress will soon capitulate to President Donald Trump’s demand for five billion dollars or so of funding for the big and beautiful border wall that he promised his supporters, and that Trump’s smartest move is to remain obstinate in the demand. Kushner has a more impressive job description than we do, including the difficult task of being Trump’s son-in-law, but we nonetheless wonder where he gets such cockamamie ideas.
All of the public opinion polls show that a plurality of Americans don’t want a border wall, and a clear majority don’t think it justifies a partial government shutdown, and such veteran politicians and wily wheeler-dealers as Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seem to be enjoying the hit Trump has taken in polls. Trump is no longer making more than a token effort to argue that the Mexicans are eventually going to repay whatever money the Democrats might fork over, he’s now willing to let the Democrats call it something other than a big beautiful wall, and until the right wing provocateurs Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham spoke he was willing to capitulate on the whole idea, and for now he seems to have the far worse negotiating position. Several congressional Republicans are already planning to vote for a budget bill or continuing resolution to fully re-open the government that doesn’t include funding for the border wall, including all the congressmen who represent districts along the border.
There’s always a chance Trump’s rhetorical eloquence will persuade a majority of Americans that a big beautiful border wall is the most important issue facing the nation, perhaps when he delivers his State of the Union address in front of some raucous rally crowd in some deep-red state in the coming days, but so far that hasn’t happened. The president’s son-in-law reportedly played a role in getting the criminal justice reform bill passed, but that was a weak-on-crime bill that all the Democrats wanted and the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter and Ingraham didn’t talk about, and it doesn’t suggest he’s much a negotiator. Kushner is famous for rarely speaking in public, so it’s harder to assess his oratorical abilities, but based on what we have heard we don’t give him a better chance of swaying public opinion that his father-in-law. Our guess is he’ll be most useful to the president as an eventual scapegoat.
Meanwhile, Trump’s daughter-in-law is getting involved, and so far that’s not been helpful. Lara Trump, wife of the still-married Eric Trump, told a news outlet that those unpaid federal workers should “stay strong” and insist on a border wall before they get paid. The billionaire heiress said acknowledge that going weeks without a paycheck “is a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of country, and their children and grandchildren and generations after will thank them for their sacrifice right now.” She’s more well spoken that her father-in-law and brother-in law, but we expect that even more unpaid government workers will be calling in sick today.

— Bud Norman

The Covington Kids, the Native American Drummer, and the “Hebrew Israelites”

Until recently we’d never heard of Covington Catholic High School, nor the town of Park Hills, Kentucky, but at the moment they are both unavoidably famous.
One of those “viral videos” that frequently infect the internet showed some Covington students wearing “Make America Great Again” ball caps in a tense encounter with a Native American drummer on Saturday at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the aftermath of an anti-abortion rally, which by Sunday led to all sorts of outraged coverage from left-leaning media about arrogant white youth menacing a an aged minority group member in the age of the President Trump. On Monday another longer video of the same incident from a literally different perspective was released which showed the Covington students had been harassed by some nearby members of a black religious cult known for its hatred of white people, which led to all the right-leaning media grousing about the “fake news” vilifying Trump-supporting white folk. On Tuesday both sides and the Native American drummer in the literal middle of it were all still arguing about what happened.
On the one hand it was no big deal, as no one was injured and such racially and politically charged unpleasantness goes on everyday outside of cell phone camera range, but on the inevitable other hand we can’t blame either side for trying to make a big deal of it.
The original video showed a young MAGA-cap-wearing fellow staring at the Native American drummer with what can reasonably be described as a sneering smirk, and some of his classmates are doing the “tomahawk chop” gesture and shouting something or other that didn’t sound at all friendly, and given that it came at the end of anti-abortion rally it did seem a nicely succinct summation of the liberal narrative about the age of Trump. The Native American drummer they were clearly mocking is elderly and a respected tribal leader and decorated war veteran, too, and the short video looked undeniably bad from its certain perspective.
The libertarian-leaning Reason magazine then came up that longer video from a different perspective, however, and it clearly showed that while awaiting a school bus to bring them home the students had peacefully endured the profane and racially charged insults of a nearby group of “Hebrew Israelites,” a weird cult that preaches black people are the true Jews of the Old Testament and everyone else is damned to hell, and that the Native American drummer, who happened to be there because he’d been involved in an indigenous people’s rally had placed himself between the two groups in an apparent attempt to calm the situation. He chose to direct his drumming at the white students, who might or might have understood his intentions, and although they were arguably disrespectful they were non-violent and didn’t do anything that can be construed as threatening. The “Hebrew Israelites” had been taunting the white students with anti-homosexual slurs, too, and are well-known for their anti-Jewish sentiments and general hatefulness, and it was so hard for the left-leaning meaning media to explain that many were in retreat on Tuesday.
The right-leaning media went on the offensive, plausibly arguing it was an example of the “fake news” rushing to judgment about Trump supporters. Trump himself weighed in via “Twitter,” and is reportedly planning a meeting with his disparaged fans. We can hardly blame them for making the best of the opportunity.
Some of the the left-leaning media are admitting the situation was more complicated than they’d supposed, but still think that a smirking bunch of MAGA cap-wearing and “tomahawk-chopping” white boys at a rally against reproductive rights deserve whatever opprobrium they get, so the debate will probably last through today. No one’s likely to get the best of it, however, and we expect the incident will be long forgotten by all but those were personally involved.
All sides are looking for heroes, but they’re not likely to find any that will last past the next news cycle. Those obnoxious “Hebrew Israelites” are clearly villains from any side’s perspective, but they’re such an ineffectual fringe cult that the right can’t make them much of a bogeyman and the left needn’t muster any defense for them. That Native American drummer might have had the best intentions in inserting himself into the confrontation, and despite his war heroes we can hardly blame him at his advanced age for addressing his drumming to to the skinny white Catholic school kids rather than the burly black power street activists who’d been taunting them, and he strikes us as neither heroic nor villainous. The Covington kids were clearly nonviolent and blameless of any misdemeanor, and it’s worth noting they are after high school-aged boys, so worse could have been excepted, but that one did have what can reasonably be interpreted as a self-entitled smirk and one of his classmates was pulling his shirt off in the cold in a provocative way and they were doing that “tomahawk chop” thing that Native Americans reasonably find offensive, and even as dumb high school kids they could have acted better.
Looking at it from all the cell phone camera-recorded perspectives, it strikes us as just another example of the unpleasantness that all too frequently occurs in our politically polarized society, which we frequently witness even here in Wichita but never bother to record on our old-fashioned flip phone. We blame human nature and Trump and his equally crazed enemies, and the more impulsive right-leaning and left-leaning media, and the occasional Native American drummer who ill-advisedly walks into the middle of it, and all of us on the sidelines who wonder what to do about it and the worse that’s sure to come.

— Bud Norman

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