On the Climate, Both Figurative and Literal

All that heated argument about anthropogenic global warming notwithstanding, Thursday was colder than a well digger’s posterior or even a witch’s breast here in our portion of the prairie. The sky was a depressingly Ingmar Bergman-esque gray all the short day long, the winds that came sweeping down the plains from the North Pole were whipping around a desultory amount of snow the in otherwise dry atmosphere, and we had chores to do.
Our beloved Pa helped us deal with the dreary task of getting our newfangled cellular telephone to reveal those noisome voice mails it now features, and to replace it with the old Ma Bell land-line number that had been in the phone books for as long as we or any of our friends who might call can remember, which our Pa insisted on in case there was some family emergency that only we can deal with, and after making it all happen with the help of the earnest but rather dim-witted woman at the phone company’s east-side strip-mall shop he treated us to a couple of very nice slacks at a nearby clothing store that was already touting its Valentine’s Day specials. After that we helped we helped our beloved Ma and Pa take down all their fabulous Christmas decorations in their enviable retirement apartment and return them for another 11 months or so to their place in a nearby rental storage space, and although some of those boxes were heavy enough to cause a strain in our back it also somehow lifted our heart.
All that bother also kept us largely away from the rest of the news all day, and we happily listened to old rockabilly and garage band music and the crazed conversation of the regulars at a dive we sometimes frequent on the way home, which also did us much good. When we at long last got home to our adequately-heated old house and turned on the space heaters in our poorly ventilated airplane room of an office we logged on to the internet and found it as desultory as ever, but we decided to dismiss it all with the same hopeful attitude that our Pa and Ma lately seem to have. They’re both convinced that the age of Trump can’t be any worse than the age of Obama, which is all too convincingly plausible, and that the weather is bound to get better for at least a little while, which is inarguable.
The weather for today here on our portion of the plains is forecast to be just as awful as yesterday, and we’ll have more chores to do, but we nonetheless have our own high hopes. We’re slated to get up relatively early to take an old and dear friend of ours home from the hospital, where he’s undergoing some nether-region-invading procedures that he assures us are quite routine yet still require sedation that prevents him from driving himself home. He once woke up even earlier on an even colder morning to give us a ride home from the airport after we’d been visiting the folks when they were living back east during Christmastime, and we expect that the chance to partially repay the favor will boost our spirits past what the thermometer shows. That gray-ponytailed old hippie is also convinced that the age of Trump can’t be any worse than the age of Obama, and although he’s a couple of decades younger than our Ma and Pa we’ll consider his wisdom, and look forward to a brief nap today despite all its other chores.
By next Tuesday the temperatures are forecast to be near 60 degrees Fahrenheit around here, and although that’s nowhere near were we like it to be we’ll still be glad of it. There’s every reason to believe that our Pa and Ma will be starting their early Valentine’s Day celebrations during their 60th year of marriage, and that our gray-ponytailed friend will be relieved that those intrusive tests have proved happily negative, and that the age of Trump will prove at least no worse than the age of Obama, and that no matter what all our friends will still be able to reach us in case of emergency at that same old land-line number.

— Bud Norman

A Night When the Stars Didn’t Come Out

Try as we might to avoid the latest entertainment news, we couldn’t help reading about the trouble president-elect Donald Trump has been having booking slots for his inaugural festivities. So far the biggest names that have agreed to perform are the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and even those old-fashioned and all-American acts have had some dissension within their ranks.
The Marie Claire magazine reported that several of the Rockettes objected to the gig, and of course the rest of the media gleefully passed it along. The Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the Radio City Music Hall along with its high-kicking Rockettes, accused the magazine overstating the dissension and violating a confidentiality agreement in the process, and assured the rest of the press that no one would be forced to dance against her will. The company’s chief executive also defended the booking, telling The New York Times “I don’t believe it’s going to hurt the brand, and nobody is more concerned about that than the guy sitting in this chair. I’m about to spend $50 million remounting this summer show, and I’m going to spend a similar amount remounting next year’s Christmas show. I gotta sell tickets.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir doesn’t have the same overhead or commercial incentives as the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, but a few of its members have declined to perform at the inaugural because of religious or political objections to Trump. Mormons have been notably more resistant to Trump’s charms than other conservative religious groups, and many have objected to their tabernacle’s choir singing for a thrice-divorced and six-times-bankrupt casino and strip club mogul, and one woman resigned her spot in the choir for well-publicized reasons that seem to derive more from her liberal political views. Many of the media have been enjoying that flap, too, of course.
The other big name, which we had not previously heard of, is Jackie Evancho, a 16-year-old who seems to have recently become famous on the “America’s Got Talent” television show. She tells the press that she’ll be singing the National Anthem in honor of the presidency rather than the president, and always adds that she also performed for President Barack Obama.
Some bigger names were rumored in the press, but all eventually denied they would be performing. Aging rock star Elton John was willing to perform at right-wing radio talker Rush Limbaugh’s third or fourth wedding but drew the line at Trump’s first inauguration, issuing a profanity-laden statement that suggested Trump try booking “[expletive-deleted] Ted Nugent” or “one of those [expletive-deleted] country singers.” Country star Garth Brook also declined a rumored invitation, but more respectfully, while heavy metal guitarist and “Motor City Madman” Nugent was not even rumored to have been invited despite his outspoken support for Trump. Opera singer Andrea Bocelli offered his services, but was told it wouldn’t be necessary, which probably came as a relief to him after thousands of his Facebook followers threatened a boycott.
So it seems that this will be a celebrity-free inauguration, and given how awful all the celebrities are these days we would usually see that as another reason to be glad that a Republican is being inaugurated. Trump is not a usual Republican, though, and we can’t see him relegating the celebrity culture to its rightful place on the margins. He’s a reality television star himself, first gaining fame beyond the New York tabloids for firing other B-listers on his “Celebrity Apprentice” program, and since winning a presidential election he has taken time out for photo opportunities with the rapper and noted nutcase Kanye West as well as fight-promoter and convicted murderer Don King, and he’s nominated his former World Wrestling Entertainment co-star Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration, and we can’t shake a certain suspicion that he’d very much like to be as adored by the big-timers as Obama has been for the past eight years, and very much resents that he isn’t.
We expect a lot of “Tweet”-for-tat public feuding with the celebrity set for the next four years, and although it will no doubt be great for the ratings on “Access Hollywood,” where Trump once bragged to his locker room pal Billy Bush about how he could be grab women by their deleted expletives because he’s a star, we aren’t looking forward to it.

— Bud Norman

The News Makes News

Maybe it’s just a post-holiday lull in what surely be a more news-making year, but for now all the big papers are treating Megyn Kelly’s move from Fox News to the National Broadcasting Company as a big deal. They might be right, for all we know, but these days it seems that even the big papers aren’t such a big deal.
We cut off our cable many years ago, but you had to spend the past year hiding under a bigger rock than the one we were hiding under to not know who Megyn Kelly is. She was about as well-known as a cable news broadcaster can be even before the presidential election, and then her televised and endlessly re-televised confrontations with eventual Republican nominee and president-elect Donald Trump brought her the sort of fame usually reserved for androgynous pop music performers and transgendered reality show stars. It all started when she had the temerity to ask about his long history of making vulgar and sexist statements about women, and he somehow persuaded a Republican debate audience that such vulgarity and sexism was a much-needed blow against the stifling influence of something called “political correctness,” which we had thought meant an attempt to impose limits on Republicans in political debates about race and sex and such but apparently referred to an old-fashioned code of civil decorum that Republicans used to insist on. When Trump railed afterwards that it was an unfair question from the smug leftist news media that her permeated even Fox News, and said that Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” when asking it, he had pretty much sewn up the Republican nomination and she had become a household name.
The feud continued throughout the primary campaign, with occasional moments of making nice with one another, although at another point Trump declined to appear at a Fox-moderated event where Kelly would be threateningly on the panel, and it made for riveting and ratings-driving reality television. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters saw Kelly as a smug elitist and probably even globalist media villain, even though she worked for Fox News, and many of those who were inclined to think that a candidate’s long history of vulgar and sexist comments about women were a legitimate issue to raise in a debate and that “blood coming out of her wherever” was not proper presidential rhetoric were disinclined to come to Kelly’s defense, entirely because she worked for Fox News. Both came out of it pretty well, with Trump as president-elect and Kelly inking a gazillion dollar deal with one of those over-the-air networks that everyone on cable used to aspire to, but it remains to be seen how it works out for everyone else.
We expect that Kelly, at least, will fare well in her new job. So far as we can tell she’s a competent and fair journalist by television standards, and she’ll bring a reputation for standing up to Trump that should endear her to NBC’s dwindling audience. She’s quite the hottie, too, and we mention that objectively true fact not for the puerile reasons that Trump might bring it up during his next appearance on the Howard Stern show but rather because it seems to make a difference in television news. Trump is a trickier question, of course, but we can be sure he’ll be a boon to all the networks.
How the Fox News network will fare is less certain, so much of the rest of the media’s attention has focused on that. Fox News had already been shaken by the forced resignation of its longtime boss, who had been accused of a long history of all sorts of sexually harassing sleaziness by many of the women at the network, where we’ll also note as a relevant matter of objective that they’re almost all quite the hotties, so the loss of its most famous face surely poses some difficulties, even if she was reviled by all the so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone Trump supporters who make up such a large share of the audience. There are plenty of other competent and fair journalists at the network, such as Shep Smith and Chris Wallace and Brett Baier, so if the network decides to go in that direction they have plenty of options, even if their competence and fairness has also sometimes aroused the ire of those so-loyal-they-might-shoot-someone Trump supporters.
In any case the liberals will continue to call it “Faux News,” and the newly ascendent sorts of conservatives will continue to call the last of the big papers “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” Trump will have more followers on “Twitter” than the other media have readers or viewers, and most ┬ápeople simply won’t listen to anything they don’t want to hear. How that works out also remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

Diplomacy in the Post E-Mail Age

Although we pride ourselves on a stubborn resistance to the latest technology and the rest of the modern world, and endure merciless kidding about it even from our octogenarian folks, the next President of the United States seems somehow even more Luddite than ourselves. You’ll find no high-definition televisions or global positioning systems in our possession, nor any smart phones or sultry-voiced Siri or any other gizmo smarter than ourselves, but at least we’ve learned enough computer code to indent these paragraphs the way God intended and post on them on the internet, and for crying out loud we’ve been sending and receiving e-mails since the paleolithic dial-up days.
President-elect Donald Trump testified in one of his 2007 lawsuits that “I don’t do the e-mail thing,” and he seems to not have budged from that stand. At a February rally he assured the raucous crowd “I go to court and they say, ‘Produce your e-mails,’ I say ‘I don’t have any,'” which his supporters seemed to find reassuring. When the Democratic Party’s hacked e-mails were leaked across the internet in July, and Trump publicly invited the Russians or whoever else might have done it to hack and leak Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mails as Secretary of State as well, he once again assured his supporters that “I’m not an e-mail person myself. I don’t believe in it because I think it can be hacked, for one thing.” Now there’s a controversy regarding the intelligence community’s seeming conclusion that the Russians did the hacking and leaking to influence the election that Trump won, and Trump remains stubbornly insistent that some hypothetical 400-pound fellow in a New Jersey basement is as likely a suspect, and through it all he’s still assuring his supporters that whatever shenanigans he might be up to at least they won’t be revealed in an electronically purloined e-mail.
Which might work well enough for Trump, as every other of his crazy ideas seemingly has, but we can’t help wondering how well it will work for the rest of the federal government. Trump has now suggested that “If you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old-fashioned way, because I’ll tell you what, no computer is safe.” He cited the authority of his 10-year-old son, who reportedly “can do anything with a computer,” but if the kid can tell us how to get our bills paid by government-paid postal couriers just ahead of the utility cut-offs and pass along diplomatic communiques by such old-fashioned means just ahead of a nuclear conflagration we are eager to hear it. At our age we’ve read enough romantic novels and watched enough black-and-white movies about the French and American revolution days to know that those old-fashioned couriers encountered plenty of intrigue, too, and we’re eagerly awaiting what Trump’s 10-year-old kid has to say about that.
A federal government-wide return to ink and paper and actual file cabinets and dashing couriers on horseback will no doubt help bring the country to full employment, and might even undo some of the damage that Trump’s illiterate “tweets” have done to the English language, but even to our Luddite eyes it seems inefficient. Perhaps Trump and his 10-year-old computer wiz of a son have it all figured, though, and we’ll hear about over social media.

— Bud Norman

Happy New Year, and the Extra Day

So far, at least, 2017 is off to a promising start. The very last of the past annus horribilis was mostly spent in the company of some dear old friends at a fabulous Tahitian-style bar improbably located in our dearest and oldest friend’s old barn well south of town, but we were home well enough in advance of the drunk drivers and police patrols and in time to hoist a still-sober and solitary beer for the New Year.
Although somewhat groggy we were among the relatively few in the pews at Sunday morning’s worship at our humble church on the near west side, and after that we somehow made our way across Kellogg and up the Canal Route and over the northeast-side by-pass and on to our beloved folks’ swank old folks home, where we had a nice meal and some good conversation. A nice nap soon followed, followed by tape-delayed but convincing Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ win over the Bradley University Braves on the internet, and nothing on the internet seemed all the disturbing, and because the first day of the New Year falls on the first day of the week the federal government and America’s business arrangements seem to have allowed us another days’s procrastination from some bothersome chores of another year.
That faulty kitchen sink won’t wait another day, nor the long-delayed kitchen clean-up we’ve been procrastinating until that chore has been completed, or any of the other household repairs that need tending, and there’s no putting off all the rest of what surely comes Tuesday. All the rest of the world’s news will surely come back through the internet then, too, and we’re no more hopeful about any of that. One of the dear old friends we spent much of New Year’s Eve with is a fellow Republican and quite hopeful about the coming year, as he’s convinced president-elect Donald Trump will soon make America great again, and our beloved parents who have been through a Depression and a World War and a Cold War and more recessions and relocations than they can count are somewhat more cautiously hopeful, but we all happily agreed not to talk about any of that.
Until all that comes to some sort of conclusion we will wish each and everyone of you, and all your dear friends and beloved family, a very happy and extended-by-one day New Year.

— Bud Norman

Happy New Year, and What’s to Come

This will be our last essay of 2016, and a longstanding journalistic tradition dictates that we either write a fond remembrance of the past 12 months or a hopeful look ahead to next year. We can’t bring ourselves to look back at the past year for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, yet we’re the hidebound sort of traditionalists who live and die by such wise Old Testament allusions, so we suppose we’ll have to peek through the nearly crossed fingers over our eyes at what’s coming.
Our powers of prophecy are as limited as the next guy’s, so don’t go making any stock picks based on our conjecture, but by now we’ve been to enough figurative and literal rodeos to venture a cautious guess that no matter how bumpy the ride we’ll all get through it for at least another trip around the sun. That’s not for certain, as a few of our friends and loved ones and many more famous people and countless others found out during the latest journey, and the off chances of the whole she-bang going up in flames are as present as always, but past experience and the lack of other options make us wiling to make that cautious prediction. Should it prove wrong about either us or you, at least we won’t have to hear any taunts about it.
The big story of the past year was Donald Trump somehow being elected President of the United States, and it doesn’t take an Old Testament prophet to confidently predict that will also be the big story of the upcoming year. Despite all the figurative and literal rodeos we’ve attended, and the many other improbable things we’ve witnessed over the years, it’s still hard to believe, Nonetheless, on this year’s end we’ll offer up some publicly proclaimed hope that we all survive. The only other option offered by that year we won’t look back on was Hillary Clinton, and along with an Electoral College majority of the country we’ll even acknowledge that it could have been even worse.
Somehow, though, we and you and almost all the rest of us and everything else seem to yearly survive all that sort of thing, with the smartest and the luckiest among us even thriving as they live fulfilling human lives throughout the worst of it. That’s what we’re wishing and hoping for on this nearly New Year’s Eve, for us and you and all the rest.

— Bud Norman

Taking In-Coming From the Out-Going

In the long stretch between Election Day and Inauguration Day the Obama years have overlapped with the Trump years, and of course that is not going well. Two such oversized egos as President Barack Obama and president-elect Donald Trump, both with such undersized regard for the longstanding norms of the American republic, were never going to amicably share such a drawn-out moment in our recently rancorous history.
The pair had a somewhat promising photo-opportunity together when they met in the White House just after the election, although most of the shots showed them both looking a clearly stunned and unsettled by the results, and they both described the long conversation as cordial and said all the reassuring things that outgoing and incoming presidents always say. Since then, however, things have predictably deteriorated. Obama gave a widely publicized interview with an old friend in which he speculated that he could have a won a third if only the Constitution had allowed, which is the kind of thing that two-term presidents have traditionally said only in chats with old friends that aren’t so widely publicized, and Trump responded with a petulant “tweet” saying “I SAY NO WAY!,” which is entirely unprecedented in presidential history.
Obama was then at Pearl Harbor for a somber World War II memorial ceremony with the Japanese Prime Minister, where his speech included that “It is here we remember that even when hatred burns the hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is the most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward; we must we much resist the urge to demonize others,” which can arguably be interpreted as a criticism of the incoming president, which is indeed a departure from tradition for out-going presidents. Trump certainly seemed to take those arguably anodyne phrases personally, as he quickly “tweeted” in response that “Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition — NOT!,” which is also well outside the usual norms of presidential rhetoric.
So far both sides are claiming all the re-hiring and re-painting and re-assignments of parking spaces that go with any old presidential transition are nonetheless proceeding smoothly, along with the gold-plating of the toilets and the skimpier uniforms for the household staff and whatever else is required for this particular presidential transition, but the rift has already had consequences more significant than hurt feelings. Obama has unleashed such a last-month torrent of regulations that Trump will be hard-pressed and much-hassled to un-do them all, and Trump is already talking deals with the long line of companies that have threatened to move jobs out of the United States. One can only imagine what sorts of presidential pardons will be issued between now and the still-distant Inauguration Day by the out-going president, and what the president-elect will have to “tweet” about it, but one of the in-coming president’s most trusted advisors is already advising an entirely unprecedented and vastly more pervasive use of the president’s pardon powers. Obama has ordered retaliation for Russia’s internet hackings and other meddling in the election, which the Central Intelligence Agency and other officials confirm, but Trump continues to deny it ever happens and told the press that “I think we should get on with our lives” in any case.
The two are also clashing over the very serious matters of Israel’s security and the rest of that thorny Middle Eastern situation. After nearly eight years of diplomatic and rhetorical slights against Israel, and a long effort to negotiate a very accommodating deal with with the Iranian apocalyptic suicide cult that has vowed to build nuclear missiles to wipe out the Jewish state, Obama has concluded his time in office by allowing the United Nations to pass a resolution condemning the building of housing for Jewish Israelis in some disputed territories. The disputes regarding those territories are complicated, and to be fair Obama has also added $34 billion worth of state-of-the-art American weaponry to Israel’s arsenal during his administration, but there’s a lengthy case to be made that Obama’s legacy is a disgraceful backstabbing of our only modern and democratic and mostly sane friend in one of the world’s worst but most unavoidable neighborhoods.
Trump tried to fit his argument against the move into a “tweet,” and came up with “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” Although poorly punctuated and otherwise quite unprecedented in the history of presidential rhetoric, we’ll concede it does contain a certain kernel of truth. There is a lengthy case to be against the United Nations in general and its treatment of Israel in particular, and we’ve made it at length here over the years, but when you try to boil it compress it into 140 characters concluding with “So sad!” you wind up calling into question every international agreement that the United States has ever negotiated through the United Nations, which is not something an in-coming president should be doing. The past many millennia of human history show that successful diplomacy requires a certain precision of language, and that punctuation is also important, and the sooner the president-elect realizes this the better.
Neither man has proved himself worthy of the high office they momentarily seem to share, and their clash of oversized egos has been a tawdry spectacle. We’re supposed to take sides, so we’ll stick with the old norms of the American republic.

— Bud Norman

Down at the Mall in the Debit Card Age

Post-Christmas brawls have been breaking out at various shopping malls around the country, according to The Washington Post and the social media cell phone videos that sure seem to verify its account, but we’re pleased to report that the Towne East Mall here in Wichita was eerily placid on Tuesday afternoon. At this point in this modern age, we found it strangely comforting.
Some years have passed since the last time we found ourselves at the place, which is way the hell over on the east side and was the first big newfangled shopping mall that started the decline and fall of our nearby and old-fashioned and much-beloved downtown, which we’ve always resented, and it was one of those modern hassles that drew us back into its automatically opening doors.
An Automatic Telling Machine in the parking lot of the ghost mall that was once the fashionable Twin Lakes Mall had swiped our debit card, so we got on the internet and found a number at what used to be the local bank downtown but has long since been bought out and re-bought out by a huge national bank where at least we could gripe about it to someone even after the old-fashioned banking hours, and the nice enough guy who answered the phone was profusely apologetic about it, after a series of questions regarding Social Security numbers and other passwords and a couple of security questions we’d forgotten our flippant answers to, and we were assured that a replacement would arrive in our old-fashioned mail box within five to six business days. Although we expressed our gratitude for the profuse apology, we also pointed out that five to six business days is an awful long time to go without with a debit card in this modern age. Given the difficulty of writing a check these days we envisioned ourselves diving into the local dumpsters for food and other sustenance, which seemed all the more grim after hearing a radio report about some local dumpster-divers who reported a human corpse they’d found in the back of a south side drug store, which the local police have deemed suspicious, but the nice guy on the phone at that late hour told us we could obtain a temporary replacement at any local brick-and-mortar branch during the old-fashioned banking hours. By early the next afternoon we were diligently at the task, but the branch downtown — not in the fancy glass building with the Sandy Calder mobile that the local bank built in the heart of downtown, but in the ugly little just-brick-and-mortar one a few blocks south that the big national bank uses — had run out of the plastic pieces. The nice enough lady at the bullet-proof window we eventually reached was also profusely apologetic, and offered to set an appointment about an hour later at the branch way the hell over on the east side in the Towne East Mall’s parking lot.
So with time to kill and a sociological interest at heart, we killed 40 minutes of a reasonably warm post-Christmas afternoon walking around the mall. We walked through those automatic doors with a Zen-like freedom from any faint to desire to buy something, and we didn’t possess a debit card even if we were somehow tempted, but we thought it was worth a look. The place seemed in good shape, clean and bright and well heated and filled with a variety of clean and bright and well heated businesses, including a few that even we recognize as being at least slightly fashionable. Business appeared brisk, too, as the foot traffic was heavy.
Post-holiday bargains are still on and school is still out, so the moms on a budget and the kids who like to hang out at the mall were in full force. The kids seemed alright, as The Who might have put it, and at least none of them were brawling. Many were wearing t-shirts proclaiming some state championship or another that their schools had won, and almost all of them were wearing sneakers that we noticed in a shop window are far more expensive than the old-fashioned Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars that we were sporting. We couldn’t help noticing that almost all the girls were either worrisomely skinny or worrisomely fat, and that darn near every last one of them had jeans or black pants of some sort of fabric that tightly fit to their worrisomely skinny or worrisomely fat legs, and that most of them and their young male companions looked pretty dorky to our jaded eyes. A few of the bargain-hunting moms seemed to hit that sweet spot somewhere between fat and skinny, and let an appropriate but intriguing amount of fabric come between it and the passersby at the mall, and with all due apologies to modern sensibilities that’s just the kind of thing even our jaded eyes can’t help noticing when walking around to kill 40 minutes or so at the mall.
As always we took great care not to give any offense to any passersby, and everyone seemed to respond in kind. Business was clearly brisk, and at this point we’ll leave it to the partisans to decide if President Barack Obama or president-elect Donald Trump deserves credit for it, although we’ll note that those nice enough people behind the counters and in small stacks of goods in the middle of the hallway at the mall surely deserve some recognition. They conversed with one another in a conspicuously wide array of languages, and their skin tones ran the same dark-to-pale gamut as the customers, and there were a couple hijab-clad women and even a burqa-wearing woman pushing strollers up the escalators, and everybody seemed to be doing commerce and social intercourse about as well as can be expected by global and historical standards. It wasn’t like downtown back in the old days, but we suppose it could be far worse.
After waiting another interminable 15 minutes or so in the ugly little bank branch in the parking lot, behind a young Latina woman who was trying to open a joint checking account with her mother, who needed translation for all the difficulties involved, along with some more questions about Social Security number and addresses and security questions and all that, we did get that temporary debit card. We activated it in the ATM that you have to walk through a couple of doors to reach, and it purchased us some Kung Pao Chicken from the drive-thru at the Eggroll King over on the nearby westside and a six-pack of Coors from the Delano Liquor Store across the street, and for now our dumpster-diving days seem forestalled. We sure do hope that the police can figure out what happened to that dead body in the dumpster behind that drug store, though, and that the rest of us can continue to more or less get along.

— Bud Norman

Handicapping the Hypothetical

There’s always a lull in the news between Christmas and New Year’s Day, even in such a crazy election year as this, so the papers have fill to space with what might have been. President Barack Obama helped out on Monday by confidently speculating, in a widely quoted interview, that he would have won a third term if he’d run for re-re-election. The 22nd amendment to the Constitution prevented it, so he didn’t, but it nonetheless makes for interesting speculation on a slow news day. Donald Trump, who did wind up winning the race, of course helped out further by responding with one of his typically eloquent “Tweets”: “President Obama says that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! — jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”
Although we’re loathe to say any such thing about either of these loathsome men, we think that both can make a plausible case for their boasts.
Obama’s approval ratings are inexplicably high at the moment, despite his party’s loss, and far higher than Trump’s, despite the honeymoon bump a president-elect always gets in the fresh aftermath of a victory. Many of the economic numbers are also better than last time around when Obama beat a Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, and the awfulness of his foreign policy was just as apparent back then. Trump did wind up losing the popular vote by a whopping 2.8 million to a charmless old white woman with 30 years of scandals the press could not ignore, so it’s not hard to believe that Obama could have used his teflon-coated charm and undeniable political savvy to muster just enough young folks and black people in those three rust-belt states he won twice but where Trump’s razor-thin pluralities swung the electoral vote.
On the other hand, we suspect that Obama’s approval ratings can be explained by the fact that he’s mostly been out of the news lately, what with Trump’s illiterate “tweets” and other embarrassing antics taking up all the space. Given all the vastly more qualified candidates he thrashed on his way to that electoral victory, it seems quite plausible Trump could have dragged Obama down to the same unfavorable muck. Trump and all the rest of the Republican party ran on various platforms that were mostly defined by their opposition to the past eight years of Obama, and most of them did pretty well with it, so we can see how even Obama himself might have faced difficulties. At this point it’s hard to put much in the faith in the polls, too, and some of those seemingly rosy economic numbers are also fishy to a whole lot of people.
So there’s no telling how that hypothetical Obama versus Trump cage match might have turned out, and whose head would have been shaved at the end, but as long as we’re speculating about what might have been we will wistfully wonder how it might have been decided on the merits.
The headline employment rate is in undeniably better shape than when Obama took office just as one of the worst recessions ever was beginning a recovery, but the rebound has been historically weak and the less-mentioned U-6 rate of unemployment that includes the under-employed and part-timers and those who have given up on finding work still hasn’t fully recovered. Obama’s massive “stimulus package” of budget-busting infrastructure spending and other market interventions clearly didn’t do any good, but the combination of Trump’s promised tax cuts and even bigger infrastructure spending and meddlesome decisions about the hiring policies at Indiana furnace factories don’t appear any more promising over the long run. The stock market is still sky-high, but that has more to do with the Federal Reserve Board than either Obama or Trump, and we’ll have to wait to see how that might turn out. That Obamacare law is so horrible it should have run its eponym out office eight years when he was running against that Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, but Trump said too many things about universal coverage and pre-existing conditions and how great things are in Scotland to make us confident things will get better.
The Islamic State turned out to be far worse than the jayvee team that Obama thought it was, and his ridicule of his final Republican opponent’s warnings about Russia looks ridiculous to the Ukrainians and every other country threatened by the rapidly re-organizing Soviet Union, and his deal with Iran seems destined to provide that apocalyptic suicide cult with a nuclear bomb. On the other hand Trump is promising to join forces with Russia to defeat the Islamic State while re-negotiating with the Russian’s good friends in Iran, meanwhile “tweeting” up a renewed arms race with the Russians, and he’s also “tweeted” his disdain for whatever the Central Intelligence Agency or the United Nations or Boeing or Lockheed have to say about it, so there’s no telling how that will end up.
In any case the Obama years are about to come to a decisive end, which will surely bring some good, and the Trump years are about to commence, which might not be all bad, and the both of them are apparently the boastful and thin-skinned sorts we would never trust with such a high office. Once you start to speculating the possibilities are infinite, but in all of them we find ourselves for voting that same quixotic third-party write-in candidate who never had a chance.

— Bud Norman

Begging the President-Elect’s Pardon

At this point it is still unclear how president-elect Donald Trump will avoid the conflicts of interest his vast network of business holdings might bring when he takes office next month, but former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has proposed an ingenious solution for some of the equally well-healed cabinet picks and other high-level appointees. Speaking to the Diane Rhem Show on American University’s radio station, Gingrich suggested that Trump could simply pick anyone he wants and them do whatever they please and then issue a pardon if it turns out to be illegal.
“He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon,” Gingrich said. “I mean, it’s a totally open power, and he could simply say ‘look, I want them to be my advisors, I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules, period.’ And technically under the Constitution he has that level of authority.”
This newly discovered level of authority might serve a variety of other purposes, as well. Not only could Trump enrich himself by any means he choose, up to an including outright theft, and he could also refuse to pay any taxes. Should Rosie O’Donnell or some other celebrity nemesis prove too pesky to put up with, he could even put out a promise of a pardon to anyone who might provide a “Second Amendment solution.” Similar threats could be made against who ridicules Trump’s hair or smirky expressions, and there’s no telling what else a man of Trump’s apparent ingenuity might come up with.
Gingrich might regret that he blurted out his novel theory of presidential authority before President Barack Obama leaves office. Trump’s predecessor has greatly expanded the power of the office already, but once he finds just how very unrestrained he can be the next couple of weeks could keep him very busy.

— Bud Norman