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No Hoorays for Hollywood

Way back in our younger days we used to take the same rooting interest in the Oscar contests as we did in the American League’s eastern division pennant races, but these days we don’t even know who or what the nominees are. There are still great movies being made from to time, we  assume, but it no longer seems worth the effort to sort through all the dreck to find them. One of Wichita’s premier musicians was giving a final jazz concert at Kirby’s Beer Store on Sunday night before heading off to Poland, of all places, so that’s what we did instead of watching the interminable Academy Awards ceremony on television.
Which is sad, as we always have and still truly do love the cinematic arts. We’re the perfect age for a movie buff, having grown up in the ’60s and ’70s when the still elegant movie houses were showing some very memorably innovative films, and all three channels on pre-cable television were broadcasting the best of the ’30s and ’40s Golden Age of Hollywood during the afternoon and late night hours that the networks didn’t fill, and as teenagers we frequented the art houses and university theaters where the arty and international and silent-era stuff was showing, so by now we’re admittedly hard to impress. Even so, and being as generous to the youngsters as we can muster, we have to say the movies these days seem to reflect the same civilizational decline as the rest of American culture.
So far as we can tell from our occasional perusals most of the movies these days are non-stop computer generated fight-scene action adventure flicks featuring mostly comic book super heroes, deliberately rude comedies starring former “Saturday Night Live” performers, and what have come to be called “chicks flicks.” Friends of ours have highly recommended much of it, with some of our geekier friends insisting that the comic superheroes have something serious to say about modern society, other low-brow types talking about how funny some of those supposedly anti-establishment comedies are, and some man-bashing women we know endorsing those “chick flicks.” As much as we like these friends, we think they’re too young and easily-impressed to know what they’re talking about. At this point in our grumpy middle age, we think the same about the Academy of Motion of Picture Arts and Sciences and its gaudy awards show.
One of the “best picture” nominees this year was a comic book superhero flick called “The Black Panther,” and it got such rave reviews from some of our friends and several of the supposedly more serious movie critics that that we gave it a try when it showed up on Netflix. It had some interesting ideas about a spiritual African culture possessed of highly advanced Western scientific knowledge, but it was mostly improbably buff actors and actresses staging prolonged fight scenes with help from computer generated images, and we quit watching about halfway through. We’ve nothing against action-adventure flicks, and can readily name “The Professionals” and “The Great Escape” and the silent-era “Thief of Baghdad”and the Sean Connery era of the James Bonds movies and countless other as masterpieces of the genre, but all those computer generated images can’t quite compensate for the characters and dialogue and plots and often valid points about the human condition that those movies had.
Some of those rude comedies with the “Saturday Night Live” performers do get a few much-appreciated laughs out of us, but we’ve seen “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World,” and enough of the Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder and W.C. Fields and Marx Brothers and Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton movies for that to satisfy our comedic tastes. We’ve also read Twain and Swift Perelman Jerome, and know all the most fatalistic jokes, and we’ve come to expect more than occasional laughs.
Back in the ’30s and ’40s Hollywood used to make what was called “women’s pictures,” and when we watched them with our Mom during the afternoon hours of our summer vacation we shared her love of the genre. Some of the of the “women’s pictures” were “screwball comedies,” about dynamic women wooing handsome yet innocent men, and they were the stuff of our earliest romantic fantasies. Other pictures of the genre featured aggressively heroic newspaperwomen and aviatrixes and businesswomen and nurses and nuns, which was also pretty fantastic to our formative selves. Most of the “women’s pictures” were melodramatic dramas about women making selfless sacrifices for themselves and the men and the children they loved, which now renders them politically incorrect, but we still find them more heroic than anything that today’s computer generated images can come up with. We’ll long remember Barbara Stanwyck as the working class single mother watching her daughter marry a nice rich guy from behind the window on a cold and snowy street in “Stella Dallas,” or that ending in “Imitation of Life” where Mahalia Jackson sings the funeral song for the selfless mother whose mixed-race daughter had abounded her selfish reasons, and we defy anyone to watch either flick without teary eyes.
Today’s “chick flicks” — and the term’s undeniably sexist devolution from “women’s picture” should offend our newfangled feminist friends as much as it does old-fashioned selves — seem mostly about women empowering themselves to abandon such inconvenient obligations of the human condition. We’re in no position to judge how any woman should handle the admittedly difficult situations we all find ourselves in our human condition, but we must admit a certain nostalgia for the days when “Casablanca” and other Hollywood movies celebrated both Bogie and Baccall’s selflessness in an even more troubled time in human history.
We stayed up late enough to read that “The Green Book” had won the “best picture” Oscar from the Academy, and as we have’t yet seen it we’ll offer no opinion about that. The entertainment press we still occasionally peruse tell us it’s about a working class white guy driving a talented black musician through the segregation-era south, sort of of the reverse of the the Academy-loved ’80s-era “Driving Miss Daisy,” about a working class black guy driving some rich old white woman around the same area of the human condition at the same time, and as far we can tell both are still controversial in these contentious times of political correctness. We’ll take a look when “The Green Book” eventually shows up on Netflix, but until then we’ll happily have nothing to with Hollywood’s race problems, and regret that Wichita’s most talented black musician is suddenly heading to Poland, and hope for the best for American popular culture.

— Bud Norman

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On the Ongoing Border War

There’s little in the news these days except the debate over a border wall and its resulting partial government shutdown, which might or might not be good for President Donald Trump. The upside for Trump is that no one’s paying much attention to the latest developments in the “Russia thing,” or talking about what Trump’s longtime lawyer will soon tell an open congressional hearing on his way to federal prison, and Trump’s die-hard fans can console themselves that at least he fights, which they seem to find quite consoling. The downside is pretty much everything else.
Despite the best efforts of Trump and his talk radio apologists, the president is taking a beating on the public relations front.
Past partial government shutdowns have been short-lived and gone largely unnoticed, but this time around is far longer and harsher than usual. The “fake news” media have come up with some all-too-real sob stories about the 800,000 or so federal workers who won’t be getting paid today, scary tales about air traffic controllers and airport security officers calling in sick to protest their lack of pay, and trash and human feces piling up at America’s national parks. There are few more hundred thousand employees of government contractors who also aren’t getting paid, too, and plenty of footage of farmers who are having trouble getting the subsidy checks they were promised when commodity prices dropped in the wake of Trump’s trade wars.
Both sides always play the blame game during these partial government shutdowns, but Trump pretty much gave that away when he invited all the cameras from the “fake news” to record him telling Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “I will be proud to shutdown the government for border security.” By “border security” Trump clearly meant the big and beautiful border wall he promised he would build along the entire southern border, but the public seems to have figured out that America can have border security without a wall, and that even the biggest and most beautiful wall won’t secure the country’s borders.
Trump has resorted to some easily disproved falsehoods about how all the past American presidents supported a sea-to-shining-sea border wall, and even Fox News has challenged his administration’s claims about the number Islamist terrorists crossing the southern border. He’s bragged about his magnanimity as he’s back downed from previous promises of a concrete to a mere American-made steel fence, and he’s been forced to say that he never really it meant it when he said that Mexico would gladly pay for it. Trump still insists that Mexico is indirectly paying for it by the great yet unratified trade deal that he has so brilliantly negotiated, but even it does raise enough federal revenue to pay for a wall it’s still money that could have been spent elsewhere if Mexico had actually paid for Trump’s big and beautiful border wall.
The objections aren’t just coming from those damned open borders Democrats, who we have to admit have offered billions for all sorts of border security efforts that don’t involve a big and beautiful wall along the entire border, but also some Republicans with old-fashioned pre-Trump conservative notions. The remaining Republicans in the House representing districts along the border are opposed to the idea, as many of their constituents own border land and don’t want a wall on it. Along most of the border Americans have happy and profitable relations with their neighbors to the south, and Trump should note that at one point a golf course would be cut in half, and that pre-Trump conservatism takes a dim view of eminent domain seizures of private property.
Trump is now threatening to use his presidential powers to declare a national emergency and divert funds from the defense budget or money appropriated for disaster relief and efforts to prevent further hurricane damage in Puerto Rico and Texas, but the few remaining pre-Trump conservatives will object on on old-fashioned constitutional grounds, and everyone in the country but the die-hard fans probably won’t buy into that. On Thursday’s photo-op at the southern border Trump riffed about how the wheel proceeded the wall back in the Medieval Age, and he looked even more ridiculous in his white “Make America Great Again” baseball cap and national emergency windbreaker and white slacks, and he seemed to realize the photo-op was a waste of time, as he’d already predicted to some reporters who leaked the off-the-record comment.
Trump is losing the argument in all the opinion polls, that awful but undeniably shrewd Pelosi woman clearly understands her advantage, but Trump can’t back down for fear of what the talk radio hosts might say, so those hundreds of thousands of government employees and government contract employees going without paychecks and the local business that depend on their patronage should probably hunker down for the long haul. Despite Trump’s claim that he’s backed by the entirety of the Republican there are already some dissenting votes, and of course all of those damned Democrats are against anything he wants, and although we have to admit that at least Trump fights he seems to be losing another round, and he won’t keep that “Russia thing” out of the news forever.

— Bud Norman

Some Inadvertently Un-Redacted Facts

That pesky partial government shutdown seems almost certain to soon set a new record for duration, and thus continues to dominate the news, but we still try to follow the “Russia thing.” Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter has been admirably if infuriatingly leak-proof, but fortunately almost everybody else involved continue to keep the story in the bottom-of-the-fold headlines.
Thanks to some sloppy computer work on a court filing by the lawyers for Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump and confessed felon who currently resides in a federal prison, we now know that Manafort stands accused of sharing polling data with a Russian named Konstantin Kilimnik who has ties to the Russian intelligence agencies. We also know, from Manafort’s lawyers accidentally un-redacted filings on his behalf, that “After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort ‘conceded’ that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan on more than one occasion” during the campaign.
This isn’t a “smocking gun,” as Trump spells it, but it does look pretty darned bad.
Trump’s defenders are already that there’s nothing illegal about sharing poll data with even a Russian operative, as poll data is readily available from the news media, but the more specific internal polling of a major party presidential campaign is usually a carefully protected secret, and in this case raises suspicions. All of America’s intelligence agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, backed up by all of the Trump appointees to head them, agree that the Russian government attempted to interfere in America’s last presidential election on behalf of Trump. One of the alleged efforts was an internet disinformation campaign, which all of the major social media platforms have told Congress did happen, and it seems to have been effectively targeted to the states and counties where Trump wound up winning his electoral majority, so one wonders how the Russian could have known to choose this spots on the map.
One needn’t wonder why the Russians were meddling on Trump’s behalf, as Trump was one of the very few American politicians talking about lifting the sanctions the had been imposed on Russia after its invasions of Ukraine and Georgia. Trump had even spoken about the legitimacy of Russia’s claims to the territory, and we expect that any discussions Manafort might or might not have had about a Ukraine “peace plan” were to Russia’s liking, and that Russia would surely appreciate the precinct-by-precinct sort of polling that a major American political party does during a presidential campaign. Maybe it’s not a “smocking gun” of a criminal quid pro quo, but it’s hard for Trump’s die-hard defenders to explain.
Eventually they’ll probably wind up blaming everything on Manafort, who seems likely to wind up dying in federal prison anyway, and insist that the brilliant and always in charge Trump had no idea of what his campaign manager was up to, but there’s still a lot of explaining to do. Lately Trump has been excusing Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan with some revisionist history, might or might not be pursuing a retreat from Syria that would would greatly strengthen Russia’s power in the Middle East, and is still open to lifting the sanctions on Russia for it’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Perhaps there’s some perfectly innocent explanation for all this, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Joe Rio, RIP

Sunday was another one of those bittersweet winter days we sometimes get here on the harsh Kansas plains. Until the sun set in beautiful pink pastels the endless prairie sky was brilliantly blue, the temperatures were as moderate as one can hope for this time of year, and our day began with another invigorating worship service at the West Douglas Church of Christ over in the rough Delano neighborhood, where we joined the small low-church congregation in singing “Go Tell It on the Mountain” to celebrate the upcoming anniversary of the earthly birth of Jesus Christ.
A good friend of ours delivered the communion message, and he spoke eloquently of how a good friend of his had recently prevented another good friend of his from committing suicide, and the guest lay preacher’s sermon was about Christ coming to earth to redeem all of us sinners, so we went home with a hopeful feeling. During our usual post-church nap we had a very modern nightmare about losing our debit card, however, and then were obliged to head to one of the musical joints in the rough Old Town neighborhood to attend a memorial service for a weird but dear rock ‘n’ roll friend of ours who recently shot himself in the heart.
You’ve probably never heard of the guy who called himself Joe Rio, but judging by the standing-room-only crowd at Barleycorn’s on Sunday afternoon he had a lot of friends around here. One of them, a fellow we vaguely know but can’t quite name, asked us how well we knew Joe, and we had to admit we only knew him well enough to appreciate his unique creativity, and to consider him a friend, and to appreciate the friendship he generously extended to us, and to sympathize with the obviously troubled life he chose to end. That was more than enough, though, to make Sunday one of those bittersweet Kansas days.
Joe wasn’t a notably gifted musician if you’re judging by strictly technical standards, but he always added an irresistibly human thing to the old-timey country and post-punk bands he played with in Wichita’s roughest musical joints, and even his most talented former band mates were at Barleycorn’s on Sunday to attest to his expressive gifts. He had a knack for the visual arts, too, and we also enjoyed his similarly primitivist verbal skills, and we’re told that in his younger days he was one hell of a skateboarder. He more or less made a living for himself as a handy-man, plastering all the dives in town with stickers promising that “If I can’t fix, I know who can,” and although he never came through on that promise for us for us we know he was a an undeniably resourceful fellow. For all the undeniable flaws that everyone at Barleycorn’s could to attest on a bittersweet Kansas winter Sunday, Joe was an irresistibly likable fellow, even if he never much liked himself.
Joe had tattoos up to his neck, a scary surgical scar running down his body from the shoulder to the belly button, and deeper psychological scars from an unhappy childhood in small town Kansas. We were also “Facebook friends,” and every Father’s Day we’d read Joe’s posts about the drunken old man who would daily beat him. We’re even older and dearer friends with one of Joe’s ex-wives, who is also the mother of one of his children, and she’s a Wichita school teacher and we trust her confirmation of every tragic detail. Joe apparently ran away at a young age to the big bad city of Wichita, where he lived for a while under one of the bridges over the Arkansas River, and given everything we’d have to say he made the best of it for a while.
By weird coincidence today is the 85th birthday of our beloved Dad, who is about the best earthly father one can hope for, although he still he insists that his own beloved Dad was the better man. We can’t brag much about what we’ve made with that blessing, however, so we’ll leave it our merciful heavenly father to judge how Joe Rio played his hand. We wish the best to all those friends of Joe who showed up at Barleycorns in their biker gang jackets and neck tattoos, and those who brought food and donations and pamphlets with the 1-800-273-TALK suicide help line, and especially to all of the children he has left without any earthly  father. We also wish  a Merry Christmas to all of us sinners in need of Christ’s redemption.

— Bud Norman

A Great Leap Backwards

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, as George Santayana once famously remarked, and President Donald Trump does not strike us an astute student of history. This doesn’t necessarily doom us to repeat history’s worst mistakes, but it has often proved embarrassing for Trump, at least for those of who do study history.
Trump has made public comments that suggest he believed Frederick Douglass was still alive and is recently getting the credit he’s long deserved, was surprised to learn that President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and that the slave-whipping President Jackson of Trail of Tears infamy had a “big heart” and would have averted a Civil War if only he’d been president a couple of decades longer, retold some disproved tales about General “Black Jack” Sherman executing Islamist prisoners with pig’s-blood-soaked bullets, and he continues to believe that he’s a historically popular and successful president despite all evidence. He also seems either unaware or unconcerned that his “America First” slogan was coined by the pre-World War II isolationist movement that thought America could peacefully coexist with an Axis-dominated world, and that the term “nationalist” is by now associated with other unsavory movements, and that a “leap forward” has certain unhappy connotations when used in the context of Chinese-American relations.
Trump has recently negotiated a cease-fire in the trade war he launched against China, which for now has a salutatory effect on the international stock markets, but it remains to be seen what the eventual armistice will look like. Trump is already touting major concessions, the Chinese are saying otherwise, and Trump’s underlings are putting the best face on it, and Trump is “tweeting” that it’s a “big leap forward.” Both Chinese and English-speaking people of a certain historical bent could help be reminded of China’s previous “Great Leap Forward,” Chairman Mao Tse Dong’s forced-collectivization policy that resulted in mass starvation and cannibalism and a human-made humanitarian disaster that rivals anything in history, Stalin and Hitler notwithstanding. Perhaps it’s just an unfortunate turn of phrase, as when the flawed but undeniably humane President Jimmy Carter said he thought a second term would have brought a “final solution” for Israel, but it’s still the kind of a thing that a well-educated president should know to avoid.
Meanwhile, back on the home front, the “Russia thing” seems to be heating up, and Trump seems to have forgotten all the lessons he might have learned from the “Watergate thing,” if he’d been paying any attention. That commie bastard Karl Marx famously remarked that history always repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, and we’ll be angrily annoyed if he’s proved correct once again.

— Bud Norman

Burt Reynolds, RIP

Burt Reynolds died on Thursday at the age of 82, and we were sad to hear about it. He was in a few movies we quite liked, a few more that were forgettable but well worth a couple of hours and the ’70s and ’80s prices for a movie ticket, and even in the lousy movies that made up the most of his filmography he was always an appealing figure on the screen. Also, his passing makes us feel old.
At our age we can remember way back when the handsome and hunky and hirsute Reynolds was the biggest box office star and premier male sex symbol of the day, and suddenly it seems a long time ago. Reynolds was good-looking in a hyper-masculine way that is out of fashion with women in these oh-so-sensitive times, and he offset it with a self-aware sense of humor that today’s tough guys eschew, and his biggest hits had a low-tech earnestness about them that will probably strike the current crop of movie-goers as downright corny. There’s something to be said for such modern sensibilities, perhaps, but we hopefully expect that the best of Reynolds’ work will endure in our popular culture.
After an injury ended his promising career as a football player at Florida State University, Reynolds joined the theater department at the school in hopes of meeting hot co-eds, and thus began an acting career that started with co-starring roles in “Gunsmoke” and other television shows, followed by co-starring roles in some forgettable low-budget movies. He got his big break when he was cast in “Deliverance,” a hard-to-watch but must-see classic, and gave a clean-shaven and critically acclaimed performance as a hyper-masculine city slicker on an ill-fated canoe trip in hillbilly country, and after that he was for several years a very big movie star.
The eventual hero of “Deliverance” was the oh-so-sensitive character played by Jon Voight, and despite Reynolds’ nuanced performance it was his undeniable on-screen machismo and charmingly self-deprecating wit on all the talk shows that made him a much bigger movie star. Reynolds had a long run at the the top of the box office with the likes of “Smokey and the Bandit,” an extended car chase involving Reynolds’ macho-but-self-deprecating “Bandit” character trying to win a bet involving a six pack of Coors while a stereotypical southern sheriff played by Jackie Gleason pursues, and it’s not nearly so bad as it sounds. Another big hit was “Cannonball Run,” which has a cast of B-list all-stars on a coast-to-coast interstate highway race, and you could do worse on a rainy day of movie watching, although we can’t say the same for “Cannonball Run II.” He also made movies such as “Gator” and “The Longest Yard” for the southern white boy exploitation drive-in market, which were also huge hits, and despite our art house tastes we can heartily recommend “The Longest Yard.” Reynolds quite convincingly portrays a wisecracking football star who winds up in prison, where he leads an excellent cast of tough-guy character actors to victory over the guards’ semipro team, and it’s a faded color testosterone-laden little flick that is far better than it sounds.
While he was hot Reynolds also directed and starred in “The End,” a very dark comedy about a businessman with a terminal illness, and although it bombed at the box office we and the rest of the critics agreed that it was well worth watching, and that Reynolds really could act when given the chance. After years of relative anonymity his last round of critical acclaim and Oscars came with “Boogie Nights,” a very fine film about the pornography industry of the late ’70s and early ’80s, with the the graying but still-handsome Reynolds playing a pornographer with with artistic ambitions he could never achieve.
Although he always seemed a likable enough enough fellow to us, he was such a fixture of the news for so many years that we also read about what a jerk he could be, and we don’t doubt that at least some of it is true. He was married to Judy Carne, the British actress who went on to be the bikini-clad “Sock it to me” girl on “Laugh In,” and after the divorce and at the height of his male symbol status he dated the 20-years-older diva Dinah Shore, followed by a well publicized romance with “Smokey and the Bandit” co-star and America’s Sweetheart Sally Fields, and then a very public and acrimonious divorce from the blond and buxom sit-com star Loni Anderson. He always admitted everything in his self-deprecating way, however, and we’ll miss having him around in America’s increasingly crazy popular culture.

— Bud Norman

Feuding with Allies and Adversaries

President Donald Trump is in Singapore today, finishing his final preparations for tomorrow’s high-stakes summit with North Korea’s anti-American and nuclear-armed nutcase dictator. We’re holding out hope that it goes well, but the debacle Trump made of a routine meeting in Canada with six of our most stalwart allies over the weekend is not heartening.
Trump arrived late for the Group of Seven’s annual gathering, was tardy to or skipped altogether several of its planned meetings, and left early with trade wars and “Twitter” spats brewing against the other six nations and complaints that Russia’s anti-American and nuclear-armed nutcase dictator wasn’t invited. He was especially harsh about the host country’s pro-American and democratically elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling him “weak” and “dishonest” in in a series of “tweets,” and one of his advisors telling the Sunday morning shows that “there’s a special place in hell” for world leaders who dare invoke the wrath of Trump. He even rescinded America’s routine endorsement of the ritual “final communique “these things usually end with, and although Trump boasted that on a scale of zero to ten America’s relationships with it’s most stalwart allies was a solid ten, and blasted the “fake news” for saying otherwise, the world’s stock markets and most other objective observers around the globe will likely agree things did not go well.
America suddenly finds itself in a war of words and tariffs with Canada, of all places. Canada has an annoying tendency to punt on third downs during their football games and hold its news conferences in both English and French, and they can be awfully smug about their single-payer health insurance program, which we don’t want here, but that hardly seems reason to be feuding with its pro-American and democratically-elected Prime Minister at a time when Trump is lavishing praise on the anti-American dictators in North Korea and Russia. Except for that brief “fifty-four-forty or fight” contretemps way back in 1846 the Canadians have been polite and reasonable neighbors, and given that the size of the population and economy of the country is much smaller than America’s we don’t see them as an economic threat to the United States. Trump might well have some legitimate gripes about existing trade policies over soft lumber or dairy products, but those have always been worked out through existing world trade courts and other institutions without any personally insulting “tweets,” and given that Canada has been stalwart ally in nearly every actual war America has ever fought we can well understand why they resent Trump starting a trade war on the grounds of national security concerns.
Trudeau bluntly told the international press, in both English and that annoyingly redundant French, that although the Canadians pride themselves on being polite and reasonable they won’t be “pushed around,” and that he would go to to the trenches in any old trade war that Trump might want to start. The newly-and-dubiously elected populist leader of Italy agreed with Trump about letting Russia back in the former Group of Eight gathering, but he and the other five heads of states all agreed to retaliate against any tariffs Trump might impose. If this is a ten on a zero-to-ten scale of relations with our most stalwart allies, we shudder to think what a zero might look like.
Trump’s die-hard supporters will love it, of course. Over the weekend we talked with one who regards Germany’s previously pro-American and still democratically-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel as America’s most formidable adversary, and is glad that at long last we have a president who stands up to those snooty Europeans. On all the Sunday morning news shows Trump’s spokespeople were talking about Canada “knifing us in the back,” and explaining that it was a brilliant three-dimensional chess move meant to warn that nutcase North Korean dictator that if Trump is so hard on his most stalwart allies they should surely fear what awaits his adversaries. We can’t shake a lingering worry, though, that Trump is instead playing 52-card pick-up with the post-World-War-II order.
We also can’t shake an even scarier worry that this is all somehow personal for Trump, and has little to do with the more important geo-political and economic realities. Until he rode down that escalator in Trump Tower to launch his presidential campaign we never paid much attention to the failed casino-and-strip-club mogul and reality star, but since then we’ve watched him carefully enough to note that he takes things personally, and that he cares little for geo-political and economic reality. All of the other six heads of state in the Group of Seven, including that populist and dubiously-elected Italian, clearly regard Trump as a boorish and uneducated vulgarian intent on disrupting the post-World-War-II international order, and Trump surely knows that they make fun of of him when he’s not around, just like those swells on Manhattan’s social used to do when the vulgar usurper from Queens once showed up at their gatherings,
There’s also no shaking a worry that Trump’s peculiar antipathy to Trudeau is because the Canadian Prime Minister is objectively a more physically-fit and full-haired and handsome fellow than Trump, with bi-lingual skills and far better poll numbers in his homeland since his feud with Trump started, and that Trump can’t stand that. It’s especially worrisome when Trump segues from his Canadian debacle to that hight-stakes summit in Singapore about the Korean peninsula.
Kim Jong Un is several inches shorter than Trump, and even fatter, with just as ridiculous a hair-do, but we don’t expect he’ll be intimidated. He’s got nuclear weapons and inter-contintental ballistic missiles on his side, as well as an imbalance of power of conventional weaponry poised within range of South Korea’s essential-to-the-world-oder capital, and Trump’s trade wars with the more intimidating nuclear power of China haven’t yet yielded the expected negotiating advantage, even if they have enriched the Trump family’s various businesses. The fact that Trump is feuding with America’s most stalwart allies probably doesn’t worry him at all.
Still, we hold out hope.

— Bud Norman

On the Importance of the Right Lawyer

The late and great jazz singer Blossom Dearie used to sing a song by the great and still-going songwriter Dave Frishberg called “My Attorney Bernie,” which cleverly describes the sort of almost perfect legal eagle you’d want on your side in pinch. We’d recommend that Trump call up Frishberg and get that Bernie guy’s number, because one of the lawyers he long relied on is currently needing a damned good lawyer of his own, and the President of the United States’ current legal team has lately been getting its butt kicked across all the newspapers and cable channels by the attorney for a porno performer called Stormy Daniels.
Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s many erstwhile attorneys, recently had a federal search warrant executed at his home and office and hotel room, issued by a federal court persuaded there was reason to believe it might yield evidence that Cohen had committed wire fraud and bank fraud and other possible violations of the law when paying the aforementioned porno performer to stop talking about the desultory sexual encounter she claims to have had with the future President of the United States. That was bad enough, but now the news is full of reports that Cohen also took in a very large amount of money from the Korean Aerospace Corporation and the American Telephone & Telegraph corporation and some nebulous business tied to a Russian billionaire tied to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, all through the same shell corporation he’d chartered in infamously nonchalant Delaware to pay off the poor performer.
The news comes courtesy of documents discovered by some means or another ad disseminated to the media by Michael Avanatti, the porno performer’s lawyer and at this point the second biggest reality star on television after the president. Cohen’s less-visible lawyer is for now claiming the documents are phony, but several mainstream media outlets have corroborated their authenticity, and the Korean Aerospace Corporation and AT&T and the Russkie-linked business of nebulous purpose have already sent out press releases unconvincingly explaining why they did indeed make such large payments to a shell corporation that had originally been chartered to pay off a porno performer.
In response Trump has deployed the legal and public relations services of the former legendary federal prosecutor and undeniably successful New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, but by now Giuliani seems well past his prime. He visibly upset even such a Trump sycophant as Sean Hannity by admitting that Trump’s lawyer had paid $130,000 to a porno performer and that the current President of the United States had reimbursed him for the favor, and although he was hired as a lawyer on separate “Russia thing” we notice he’s not as notable as Avanatti on the cable news to explain why a Russian-linked business might have been adding a half-million bucks to the shell corporation the former president’s lawyer had created to pay off the a porno performer who turns out to have a far better lawyer than the president.
There might well be a perfectly innocent explanation for everything Trump’s erstwhile lawyer has done, and even if there isn’t Trump’s more recent lawyers might well have a perfectly innocent explanation about how he had nothing to do with it, but we’d advise they all lawyer up with the closest they can find to Blossom Dearie’s attorney, Bernie.

— Bud Norman

Tough Talk and Hard Realities on Illegal Immigration

President Donald Trump became president largely by talking far tougher on illegal immigration than any American politician had ever done. Much of his rhetoric was an obvious overreaction to an admittedly serious problem, and included promises that went beyond what a president can constitutionally keep, but it worked for him as a presidential candidate.
As president he’s lately run up against some of the legal and political realities that were always going to keep him from keeping the crazier promises, he’s gradually taken a more bleeding heart attitude toward the so-called “dreamers” that he’d once threatened to deport, and reluctantly signed a budget-busting spending bill that provides only chump changed for the “big, beautiful wall” he’d promise would stretch across the entire U.S.-Mexican border and doesn’t deport any so-called “dreamers.” Some of the hard-core campaign fans are disgruntled, including some that write syndicated columns and host syndicated talk radio shows and appear on the network news, and without much else to do about it Trump is once again talking far tougher on illegal immigration than any American politician has ever done.
Still flush from his electoral victory and its hard-line rhetoric, Trump undid by executive action the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals executive action that President Obama had instituted to defer deportations of certain longtime yet illegal residents who had been brought here as children, called “dreamers” because the law Obama couldn’t get passed had the acronym DREAM Act, but that got tangled up in legal challenges and caused a predictable political backlash. A lot of the so-called “dreamers” are undeniably solid and upstanding semi-citizens, many serving in the military or acquiring educations that will presumably benefit the country, much of the media find them very telegenic, and Trump wound up promising he would find some compassionate and “loving” solution to their legal status.
Now he’s back to “tweeting” to the fans that “DACA IS DEAD!” while trying to reassure all the so-called “dreamers” and their many sympathizers that it’s all the Democrats’ fault because they didn’t fully fund his “big, beautiful” border wall when they had the chance. This strikes us as a hard sell, and we doubt that many media will help much in the effort.
He also once again announced his attention to deploy America’s military might to secure the southern border, and this time around the Fox News network is emphasizing stories of “caravans” of a thousand or so potential asylum seekers trekking by from Central America through Mexico to the Texas border, and he once again demanding the Mexican government take immediate action. There are long upheld constitutional provisions against using the military to enforce domestic laws, and damned good reasons it that his four-star general of a chief of staff and all the black helicopter crowd and most sane Republicans have accepted, no matter how hard-line they might be on illegal immigration, and Trump admitted he hadn’t yet spoke with his Secretary of Defense or any congressional Republicans about it, so that will also be hard to pull off.
There’s precedent for calling in the National Guard, but you have to go through governors to get that done, and they’ve got political and legal problems of their own, so it remains to be seen how that will work out. As for the part about forcing to Mexico to act, Trump seems to have completely given up on his popular campaign promise about getting them to fund his “big, beautiful” border wall, and that don’t seem to be flinching on Trump’s talk about a trade war or any more than Chinese have been, and it also remains to be seen how all of that works out.
Trump has some sensible but typically overstated complaints about past immigration policies, and the tough talk might placate some of the fans, and we have to admit it’s had a salutary affect on the number of people trying to illegal cross our southern border. That’s been a diminishing problem for a while now, though, starting back in those dread Obama days shortly after actual trainloads of illegals started showing up on the border, and if the currently fully-funded Border Patrol can’t deal with that “caravan” of asylum seekers according to current laws we’ll be inclined to think it’s just another one of those lazy public sector unions.
The fans might love the tough talk, and the rest might not mind the usual results, but we’ll wait to see how it all works out in the courts and in politics and in the long run.

— Bud Norman

Reality v. the Reality Show

There are all sorts of serious issues afoot these days, such as immigration policy and yet another continuing spending resolution that’s soon required to keep the government funded, not to mention that whole messy “Russia thing,” and ideally they would all be resolved by the merits of angrily shouted arguments. These days, though, one must also take into account all the soap operatic subplots of the nation’s ongoing reality show in the age of President Donald Trump.
The United States Senate, once known as “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body,” took up the immigration issue on Tuesday with testimony from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and for the most part it was the serious sort of discussion of a serious issue one might wish from one’s government. Nielsen struck us as well-informed and well-spoken, made a better case for Trump’s policy of strict enforcement of current immigration laws and a more merit-based system than he ever could, and handled the Democrats’ mostly reasonable questions without resort to any of the taunting nicknames Trump routinely relies on.
She also struck us as a strikingly comely DHS secretary, which of course has nothing to do with the merits of her well-stated arguments, but it’s nonetheless worth mentioning in the context of this ongoing reality show in the age of Trump. We noticed that the Washington Post and the Associated Press ran the most unflattering pictures they could take along with otherwise fair coverage of the hearing, and if you’ll forgive some frivolous fan talk about the reality show we think we missed a bet. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is also quite attractive, as is that communications director Hick Hopes, who’s lately been subpoenaed by another Senate committee looking into that “Russia thing,” prime time spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway has her own Cruella Deville sort of appeal, and the left should be making the very convincing case that Trump prefers women’s beauty over brains.
Nielsen would have overwhelmed that argument with her well-spoken and well-reasoned testimony, though, if only a couple of Democratic senators hadn’t asked her about Trump’s widely-reported comment to a bipartisan gathering of senators about immigrants from what he called “shit-hole countries,” which has lately been the biggest subplot in our nation’s ongoing reality show. A credible Democratic senator is staking his political reputation by insisting the president did use that vulgarity, a credible Republican senator has more or less verified the account and even claimed some discreet credit for raising his objections to such language, which the Democratic senator has praised him for doing, and the president’s more sycophantic senators are only saying they can’t recall what the president said.
By now even Fox News is reporting that yeah, the president actually said that, and anyone who’s been following this reality show since Trump descended down that Trump Tower escalator to launch his campaign with a speech about Mexican rapists knows it sure sounds like something he’d say. When Nielsen said that she couldn’t recall Trump saying that at the meeting she’d attended, only that she’d heard foul language from everyone but herself and the senator who as asking the question, she lost not only lost all the credibility she’d earned with her well-informed and well-spoken arguments for Trump’s immigrations but also killed our emerging crush.
All of which complicates the far more serious matter of a looming deadline for dealing with all those telegenically sympathetic “dreamers” who will be kicked out of the country if action isn’t taken by Congress and signed by the president. Trump himself claims to be the sympathetic to the “dreamers,” but he’s also wed to the more rock-ribbed and hard-sorted sorts of Republicans who have some very serious arguments about why America should strictly enforce its immigration laws and enact others that are even more merit-based, and his by-now undeniable comments about “shit-hole countries,” and his DHS secretary’s futile attempts to deny it, have made those arguments harder to make.
Which in turn makes it all the harder to get yet another continuing spending resolution to keep the government running. These every-few-months-or-so annoyances are always complicated enough, but this time around the Democrats have that “dreamers” issue as a negotiating position, probably even Trump and surely the rest of the Republicans majorities in the House and Senate know they’ll take the inevitable  public relations hit for a government shutdown, and the argument is unlikely to be decided on the merits. If these sorts of things were decided on the merits, though, we’d have annual budgets passed budgets passed by bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress and signed by a president of one party or another, and honest people of both parties should admit that stopped happening long before the Trump reality show debuted
There’s also that ongoing “Russia thing,” too, and even Trump’s most die-hard apologists have to adit that’s pretty much unprecedented. Another Senate committee is calling for under-oath testimony not only from the aforementioned comely Hicks but also Trump’s former campaign and administration “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, now entirely disowned and dubbed “Sloppy Steve” by Trump, and that involves more reality show subplots than we can explain here. Bannon was quoted in the best-selling but widely disputed book “fire and Fury” that was was last week’s big story alleging that Trump’s son and son-in-law were “treasonous” by taking an admitted meeting with a Russian lawyer they knew to be connected to the Russian government during all that “Russia thing,” and his under-oath testimony about that will likely be the next big subplot in the nation’s ongoing reality show.
Elsewhere in the real world the stock markets are up, the unemployment rate is down, and despite the recent spate of cold weather around here most of the people we run into are pleasant enough. We’ll hold out some faint hope that our reality somehow prevails over all that nastiness in the reality show of the news.

— Bud Norman