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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

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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

Another Round of Trumpian Distractions

American-backed forces have recently won a significant and potentially decisive victory against the Islamic State terror gang, the stock market is up and the rest of the numbers suggest the American economy has largely weathered all those hurricanes, and generally things could be worse. The smart move for an American president would be to act humble, let others to give him credit, then use the good will that’s been engendered to enlist allies in making things better yet, and not create any distractions, but that’s not President Donald Trump’s style.
Instead Trump has characteristically chosen to claim undue credit for the recent successes, further engendered ill will with his opponents by blaming them for recent failures, and provided his antagonists in the press with with plenty of distractions. He got off to a promising start Monday by appearing in a joint news conference with the Republican Senate majority, whom Trump has very publicly blamed for his the Republican party’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, among other legislative failures, and assuring the country their relationship has never been stronger. One of the questions inevitable questions from the reporters was about why Trump had gone 12 days without any public mention of four American servicemen who had died in combat in Niger, a little-known African country where few Americans were even aware that any American soldiers were in harm’s way there, and rather than frankly answering the question Trump chose to criticize all the previous presidents for failing to even write a letter or make a phone call to the families of fallen soldiers.
The Trump administration had to admit it hadn’t yet sent any of the letters they’ve written to the families of those fallen soldiers, nor made any consoling phone calls, while the past two administrations had officials testifying to the respect their presidents had paid, and so it proved another distraction. Trump specifically criticized President Barack Obama for failing to make a phone call to assuage the grief of Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s current chief of staff whose son had died in Afghanistan, but that didn’t help. Obama did give the Kelly family a seat of honor at a banquet honoring Gold Star families, Kelly has assiduously and admirably resisted anyone from letting his son’s death be used for anyone political purposes, and Trump still hasn’t answered why he let 12 days lapse before making any mention of the deaths of four American servicemen in a country most Americans didn’t even know we were at war.
Then you had Arizona’s Republican Sen. John McCain using the occasion of being awarded a National Constitutional Liberty Medal award to warn that “To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, and to abandon the ideas we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the ‘last, best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is an unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to to the ash heap of history.” McCain carefully never mentioned Trump by name, but it was quite clear who he was talking about, and even Trump clearly understood.
Trump told some talk radio host that “People have to be careful, because at some point I fight back. I’m being very, very nice, but at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.” Even Trump cannot deny that McCain heroically endured extra years of torture in a hellish North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp rather than abandon his men and hand the enemy a public relations victory, even if the draft-dodging president got away with saying “I like a guy who wasn’t caught, OK?,” so we doubt that McCain is much worried about what Trump might “tweet” about him as he struggles with terminal cancer. This looks to be another losing fight for Trump, except with his those staunch loyalists who still hate McCain for losing to Obama.
That big win against the Islamic State and the fairly healthy economy can plausibly be attributed to Trump, and there’s no denying he hasn’t yet hindered either effort, so we suggest he settle for that for now. Both represent mere incremental gains on on what has been happening for a while now, even during the hated Obama administration, and it seems best to engender that good will to make a lot of other things better.

— Bud Norman

Two Tales of One Speech

President Donald Trump delivered a speech to the entire world from the podium at the United Nations on Tuesday, but as always he seemed to be speaking mostly to his fans. As always the fans loved it, even if the UN-bashing was watered down somewhat from the campaign speeches, and the rest of the world was less enthusiastic.
After opening the speech with some self-congratulatory talk about the American stock market and unemployment rates, both of which have indeed lately improved at a slightly better pace than before he took he office, Trump welcomed the UN’s general assembly to his home town of New York City as if they had recently arrived solely to hear him speak. After that he got to more substantive matters, including a threat to completely annihilate North Korea, a warning that America will no longer share its traditional burdens in enforcing world order elsewhere, a promise that America would no longer attempt to impose its values of freedom and democracy on an unwitting world, some harsh criticisms of certain countries that are unfree and undemocratic, some more subtle criticisms of certain other countries that are also unfree and undemocratic but more formidable foes, and a full-throated announcement of the “America First” policy he successfully ran on.
The fans surely loved almost all of it, and the rest of the world will have a hard time arguing with much of the speech.
A threat by an American president to utterly annihilate another nation is unusual in a UN speech, but that has long been the unavoidable American policy in response to a nuclear attack, which North Korea has lately been threatening in clear terms, so Trump might as well have said so. Using the taunting “Rocket Man” nickname for the nutcase North Korean dictator that Trump had previously “tweeted” was unnecessary and probably not helpful, and we along with most of the rest of the world would have preferred some added lines about our hopes for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but Trump is still on the same solid ground as any other American president would be in vowing a devastating response to a nuclear attack against America. He also seemed to leave room for a preemptive nuclear attack based on intelligence reports of an imminent threat, though, and given Trump’s past remarks to the world press about the unreliability of America’s intelligence community and his harsh criticisms of its previous preemptive military actions that’s a more complicated matter.
Trump is also on solid ground with his complaints that America has borne an unfair share of the burden of enforcing the world order, along with the implicit argument that the UN is charging us too much for its small role, but right now is probably not the best time to be making that argument. Trump’s savvy UN ambassador Nikki Haley has recently convinced both the Chinese and Russian members of the Security Council to sign on to harsh sanctions against North Korea, which might prove helpful if either country is as good as their word, and there’s still a chance that a peaceful resolution worked out in the UN will make our outsized bills to the usually worthless organization well worth the cost. Trump did tamp down his past criticisms of the UN and didn’t threaten a complete withdrawal, though, so the disappointment of his fans should be well compensated by the relief of the rest of the world.
By now both the American left and right and all those Trump fans who fit somewhere in that spectrum agree the country shouldn’t be imposing all of its values on the rest of the world, and the rest of the world surely won’t argue with that, but Trump’s oration leaves plenty of room for other arguments. He spoke of each nation’s sovereign right to settle its own domestic squabbles, but singled out North Korea and Iran and Venezuela for scorn about they’re handling it, and didn’t make clear what standards he expected from the rest of the world. North Korea and Iran and Venezuela well deserve America’s scorn, and whatever pressure America can apply, but so do China and Russia and other more formidable foes that Trump left largely unmentioned, and at this point a Trump Doctrine seems vague.
Trump made it clear that his guiding principle is “America First,” and he rightly noted that every American president has had the same priority and that every other world leader has also put his nation’s interest first, so the rest of the world has only self-interested arguments about that. Still, those Americans who aren’t fans of Trump, along with the rest of the world, can argue Trump doesn’t espouse an enlightened view of America’s self-interest. That “America First” slogan always bothered us, given its historic association with the pre-World War II isolationists who were sure America would fare just fine in a world dominated by the Axis powers, and it doesn’t sound any better coming from Trump.
It could have been a lot worse, though, and we’ll take some solace in our longtime and old-fashioned Republican conviction that the United Nations isn’t really that big a deal. Our reading of the English language  editions of the foreign press suggests that the rest of the world mostly regards Trump as a boastful and boisterous buffoon, so we’re left wondering how they’re taking the speech, and worrying if Trump cares about that so long as the fans are pleased.

— Bud Norman

Hillary’s Back, and Nobody’s Got It

Hillary Clinton is back in the news these days, which we’d think that would be the last the place she’d want to be. She’s got a new book to plug, though, so we can well understand how she’d be glad of any publicity she can get. As a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive first woman President of the United States she’s understandably uncomfortable outside the spotlight, too, and after the past couple of years one can hardly blame her for wanting to get a few things off her chest.
We haven’t yet read Clinton’s book, and probably won’t get around to it for long while, but the publicity campaign’s shrewdly pre-released excerpts and the accompanying interviews with the author have been unavoidable, and they’ve all been undeniably newsworthy. The book is titled “What Happened” — we admire her restraint in not adding a certain common curse word, given the current degraded state of political discourse — and follows with a number of explanations that are likely to generate sales but won’t please any Republican and seems to have annoyed most of the Democrats.
These days most Democrats are understandably annoyed that Clinton is back in the news at all, given how she always reminds all those increasingly reluctant Trump voters why they voted for him in the first place. Nor does the growing base of her increasingly leftward party appreciate her criticisms of self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose criticisms of her lucrative relationship with Wall Street interests she blames for making Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” taunts seem plausible to the undecideds. She blames the Democratic establishment as well as its anti-establishment for her loss, admits to a couple of minor mistakes, and although she goes on with some very serious accusations against President Donald Trump she seems to be relenting her longstanding leadership in the Democratic party.
Although we’ve long loathed that horrible woman, from way back in the days when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever, we regard her as a formidable foe and take due heed of a couple of her parting warnings. She truly was compromised by all that money she’d been paid by Goldman-Sachs and the rest of those Wall Street guys, and Trump didn’t need Sanders to tell him that, but a more honest Clinton would admit it and then note that Trump’s administration was as fully-staffed as ever by Goldman-Sachs guys, which might have helped stave off the leftward lurch in the Democratic party that might conceivably ensure a second Trump administration. Her conspiracy theories about Russia’s internet disinformation efforts being coordinated with domestic partisan agents lately don’t seem at all far-fetched, and we advise our Republican readers to take them very seriously.
As loathsome as she was, Clinton was always a formidable foe, so by  the same Republican instincts with which we regard all those fallen Confederates we wish her well, and won’t begrudge any small monument the Democrats might raise some day. We hope she’ll use those swollen book royalties to lavish gifts on her grandchildren and contribute to other worthy charities, and use that influence-peddling foundation of hers to good means, enjoy her walks in the upper state New York woods, and find God’s grace in those Methodist services she’s long attended. Should her admittedly impressive intellect and many years as a First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive first woman President of the United States yield any other noteworthy warnings, we’ll try to take note.
— Bud Norman

A Two-Front War of Words, For Now

President Donald Trump was waging a two-front war of words on Thursday, against both the nutcase dictatorship of North Korea and his own party’s Senate majority leader. Trump has bragged that he has all the best words, but we worry if they’re right ammunition for either conflict.
The feud with Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell is somewhat the less worrisome, as all the talk about the “nuclear option” in the Senate is merely figurative, but it’s also consequential and we don’t see it ending well for either side or the country at large.
McConnell stands accused by the president of failing to round up the necessary 51 votes out of a 52-vote Republican majority to to make good on the on the party’s longstanding and the president’s more recently embraced promise to repeal and replace the hated Obamacare law, and he’s indisputably guilty as charged. There’s a strong argument to be made that Trump also bears at least some of the responsibility as the titular leader of the party, given that he never set foot outside the White House to rally public support for any of the various bills he never seemed to fully understand, but Trump “tweeted” all the blame to McConnell. McConnell had the temerity during a Rotary Club meeting in his home state to offer the mitigating circumstances that “Now our new president has, of course, not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” so of course that escalated the war words.
Trump quickly and correctly “tweeted” back that his expectations of a quick repeal-and-replace had been fueled by the Republicans’ promises of the last seven years, then later told the press that he’ll await whether McConnell has to step down because of it, wisely not noting that was a lot longer than he’d been on the bandwagon, so he seems to have the upper hand. McConnell has long been the “establishment” bogeyman of the Grand Old Party on all the talk radio shows where most of Trump’s most loyal supporters get their news, Trump is their hero of the burn-the-establishment-down style of conservatism, and the hated liberal media aren’t likely to come to McConnell’s rescue, so Trump seems to have at least bolstered his base in their intr-party dispute.
The three lost votes were a Senator from deep blue Maine who’s about as red as you could hope for, another equally contrarian woman from contrarian Alaska who didn’t take kindly to Trump’s threats to punish her entire state for her lack of loyalty, and a dying old prisoner of war hero that the president once insulted as a guy who “got caught.” That bill they were expected to pass was polling in the mid-teens, the president who was strong-arming them was polling in the 30s, and even here in deep-red Kansas we had a Senator who cast a killing vote against one of the the various versions, and an awful lot of Republican senators seemed eager to move on, despite Trump’s “twitter” tantrums, so at this point we don’t expect Trump’s words to bully McConnell or anybody else into trying again.
Best to move on to such sensible Republican promises as corporate tax cuts and and fiscal solvency and an upright military posture, but that will likely require both Trump and McConnell working together with other poll-watching Republican votes, and we can’t see how a war of words between the two about the lost battle of Obamacare is going tho help any of that along. The rest of the Republican domestic agenda is pretty dry stuff, requiring all sorts of nuanced explanations about why it really is all pretty sensible, and Trump seems far too colorful and McConnell for too drab for either of them to do the job. What with the all the intra-party feuding, such sensible reforms seem all the less likely.
At this point we expect it will come down to another Republican argument about whom to blame. Trump’s base will hear on talk radio that it’s all the establishment’s fault, the high-brow but low-circulation establishment press will reluctantly make the case for McConnell’s mitigating circumstances, and of course the rest of the media that the rest of the country hears will delight in the in-fighting. For now the rest of the country seems predominate, and although Trump seems to be winning the intra-party battle he seems to be losing the broader.
Our patriotic instinct is to rally around any old Republican or Democrat president during a time of potential literal nuclear war, but we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that Trump isn’t trying to similarly shore up his political base. The nutcase dictatorship of North Korea has lately acquired the ability to place a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental missile that can reach strategic American soil, Trump has defiantly responded that any further further threats would be met with “fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which the world has never seen,” and that was met with the nutcase North Korean dictatorship’s explicitly-stated threat to land a missile just off Guam and some taunts from North Korean generals that Trump was “old” and “deranged” and “senile,” but for now it’s just a verbal conflagration.
Trump’s tough talk and caustic put-downs of the past four presidential administrations and the many failures of America’s intelligence as he addressed the current crisis probably shored up that that burn-down-the-establishment base, but we suspect it  played less well in Seoul and Tokyo and Beijing and the rest of the world. As much as we’re rooting for the president in a time of potential nuclear war, we’ve seen enough of the guy that we’re worried how he’ll personally he might respond to such taunts as “old” and “senile” and “golfs too much,” which might enough to provoke a literally nuclear response.,”
Back when it was just intra-party Republican politics, Trump could “tweet” with impunity about “Lyin'” Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. Rubio “Little” Marco or a “look-at-that-face” female opponent and be assured they’d be too gentlemanly to respond by calling him “Fat” Donald or “Sleazy” Trump, but that nutcase dictatorship in North Korea seems to be playing by different rules. There’s an argument to be made for Trump’s apocalyptic hyperbole, given the undeniable failure of the last 50-plus years of establishment policies to forestall this awful moment, but we’d like to think it all run past the more seasoned foreign-policy heads and coordinated with a well-oiled machine of diplomats and public relations who were part of a coordinated strategy.
That’s what even such a stodgy and failed old Republican establishment fellow as a President McConnell would do, and that’s what we’d do our amateurish best to do, with even a damned old Democrat likely to do the same, so,we hope these competing instincts of the Republican party will somehow prevail on both fronts of this so-far-merely-war-of-words.

— Bud Norman

The Passing Storm and the Gathering Storm

A windy and gully-washing thunderstorm rolled through our portion of south central Kansas on Thursday evening, and we wound up watching some ominously dark clouds continue to gather over Washington, D.C.
The storm hit as we were driving through downtown, and because it seemed to imminently threaten the tennis ball-sized hail that had been reported nearby on the radio we took refuge in one of the parking garages. With the car safely tucked under several feet of concrete we decided to wait out the storm with a beer at the nearest tavern, which happened to be a friendly little gay bar ironically called Rain, so we weren’t the least bit surprised to find Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC blaring from one of the several televisions. She was gleefully to the point of gigglingly reporting on the latest developments about the Russia thing with President Donald Trump and Russia, and we had to admit she had some juicy stuff.
The special counsel who was appointed after Trump fired the Federal Bureau of Investigation is actively pursuing an obstruction of justice case according to The Washington Post, which also reports that the business dealings of the president’s son-in-law and all-purpose advisor Jared Kushner is also getting the fine-tooth-comb treatment, and the Vice President has lawyered up with a high-powered attorney whose previous cases have included the Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandals. None of this is conclusively damning, of course, but neither does any of it look at all good. Trump retaliated with some “tweets” about the investigators being “very bad people” and how his vanquished Democratic opponent “Crooked” Hillary Clinton did all sorts of very bad things that didn’t result in any charges, but Maddow and the rest of the mainstream media seemed just as gleeful about reporting that.
Trump is right that Clinton was crooked and did so some very bad things, and her husband did meet the Attorney General while she was being investigated by the Justice Department, and the fired FBI director did follow an order to refer to that investigation as a “matter,” and he’s also quite right that many of his tormenters were hypocritically fine with that. As we always remind our remaining Republican friends, we were tormenting Clinton back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to weddings and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever, and we strongly suspect that a more apolitical justice system would have found her guilty of something. One can hardly begrudge Trump and his allies the satisfaction of making the points.
You won’t find us joining in on any “lock her up” chants, though, and Trump seems quite hypocritical for his sudden insistence that an investigation is not a proof of guilt, and we don’t expect that Trump’s “tweet” will persuade anyone who’s not already a die-hard supporter. No matter what Clinton might have done in her long and tawdry career, up to and including that satanic child sex abuse ring she was allegedly running in the back of a pizza joint, that does not have any bearing whatsoever on the question of whether Trump or any of his close associates have done very bad things. Our most determinedly pro-Trump friend argued the other night that Trump should be legally entitled to do everything illegal thing that the past two Democratic administrations have gotten away with, and at that point the country can get back to everyone doing things on the up-and-up, but we don’t think that will prove any more persuasive.
The argument that Trump’s investigators are very bad people will also be a tough sell. The special counsel is Robert Mueller, who was chosen as FBI director by President George W. Bush and after ten scandal-free years was asked to stick around for an extra two years by President Barack Obama, so he enjoys a bi-partisan reputation as a non-partisan player. He’s also known as tough and ruthless, but those are qualities Trump usually finds endearing, and he’s very much a member of the establishment that Trump has vowed to burn down and so many of his supporters loathe, but surely the broader public will expect more credentials from a special counsel than from a president.
Another interesting development gleefully noted by the mainstream media were some prominent Republicans who were making that point that if Trump has nothing to fear from an investigation he should welcome it, as only a thorough vindication by a widely respected investigator will lift the cloud of suspicion, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see more Republicans taking this sensible stand. If you dig deeper into the news you might have noticed that some Republican members of the House of Representatives are steaming to the point of leaking that Trump has lately chastised them for drafting a “mean” bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, including moderates who were muscled by Trump into voting for what they thought was a too-austere bill and conservatives who were muscled by Trump into voting for what they thought wasn’t austere enough. If you don’t believe leaks, Trump also “tweeted” that the country needed to spend far more money on health care, rather than the less that he’d muscled those members into voting for, and one can hardly blame them if they’re not entirely loyal on that Russia thing with Trump and Russia.
Trump had a pretty good story about an unfortunate man released from North Korean captivity in horrible medical condition after two years, and the man’s father making a strong statement about how Trump had succeeded where Obama had failed, which fits into a usual narrative that the Obama foreign policy was weak and feckless, with Trump’s arguably more reckless approach being arguably more effective. There was also that story about the Australian Prime Minister cracking up a crowd with his mocking of Trump, however, and the sense that there’s a lot of that going on around the world.

A rather attractive woman who was also waiting out the storm struck up a conversation with us as we were watching the news according to Rachel Maddow and MSNBC, and she remarked that Trump doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, and we couldn’t disagree. She’d complimented our straw fedora and and seemed a bit flirty, but we figured she was probably just mistakingly trying make another fashionably homosexual friend, so we wound up having a nice chat about how very strange the world seems these days. Eventually the storm passed, as storms always do, but on the way home we had to avoid all the streets prone to flooding and dodged plenty of down tree limbs on the way home. The power and internet where still working when we arrived, but no matter the forecasts we checked the storm brewing in Washington looks far more damaging.

— Bud Norman