On an Ironic April Fools’ Day

President Donald Trump is no longer downplaying the severity of the coronavirus epidemic, and is now warning that as many as 240,000 Americans might die. As a Facebook friend of ours pointed out, that’s more than the American death toll from World War I and the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.
The president also now acknowledges that it won’t be over by Easter, that Americans will have to stay at home as much as possible at least through April and perhaps past May, and that the economic consequences will be grim. He also wants you to know that the lack of testing and shortages of essential medical supplies are the fault of President Barack Obama and various nasty Democratic governors and his good friend the Chinese dictator, and the media are only reporting all the horrific news to make him look bad, but at least he’s stopped peddling the pie-in-the-sky optimism which encouraged far too many of his most die-hard fans to go out and potentially expose themselves to the virus.
America has until November to assess the job Trump has done in responding to this crisis, and there’s no telling what things will look by then, but clearly mistakes have already been made. Despite the eight long years we spent criticizing Obama on an almost daily basis we don’t blame him for a disease that came along three years after he left office, we see no reason why any Republican or Democratic governor should have to flatter Trump to get needed federal help for they states, and now that Trump admits that all the “fake news” about a public health emergency wasn’t so fake after all we wish he’d stop castigating reporters for asking questions that he’d rather not have to answer.
Whatever the eventual coronavirus death toll might be, Trump will boast that it would have been far worse if not for the actions he took, and he’ll be right about that. The experts Trump is at long listening to say the death toll would be in the millions if no actions were taken at all, but surely Trump isn’t the only possible president who wouldn’t have simply ignored the problem, so far most of the action has been taking place at the state and county and local levels, and as much as we still despise the damn Democrats we can’t see how any of this mess is their fault.
We’re hoping and praying it all ends as well as possible, even if that redounds to Trump’s political benefit, and we’re doing our part by mostly staying at home and going slightly stir crazy and trying to hold public officials accountable. It’s not so much that we’re so very patriotic and selfless, but that there’s currently nowhere to go, even with gasoline prices at the lowest we’ve seen in many decades.
Stay well, dear readers, no matter what you might decide come next November.

— Bud Norman

The Big News That’s Not Entirely About Coronavirus

The coronavirus craziness continues, with the Kansas governor shutting down all the public schools for the rest of the year and President Donald Trump wanting to send everyone in the country a check for a thousand dollars, but Tuesday at least gave us something else to write about. There’s still plenty of politics to be played, although for now the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination looks to be over.
Despite everything there were three more state primaries on Tuesday — it was supposed to be four, but Ohio decided to put it off until summer — and front-running former Vice President Joe Biden won them all by landslide-to-comfortable margins, so after Biden’s big wins on “Super Tuesday” that pretty much knocks self-described socialist and last-man-standing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders out of the race. Biden won big in the populous and delegate-rich states of Illinois and Florida, where Sanders also fared badly last time around against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President “Crooked Hillary Clinton, and the upcoming states don’t look any more promising for Sanders, who didn’t offer any comment on the results.
Even in the age of the coronavirus, and perhaps especially so, that’s worth noting.
Which we figure is bad news for Trump, who so feared Biden’s nomination that he got himself impeached trying to extort dirt from a foreign ally about Biden’s son. Better by far to run against “Crazy” Bernie Sanders and his pie-in-the-sky utopian promises, which make Trump and his own oversold and thus-far underdelivered promises seem relatively sane.
Biden is a boring and often inarticulate fellow, and over a political career that stretches back to the administration of President Richard Nixon he’s not done much for either good or bad. Come November the electorate might well find that an attractive alternative to the undeniably entertaining yet even more inarticulate Trump, whose bull-in-a-China-shop approach to governance so far seems to have exacerbated this coronavirus craziness. Trump is now offering thousand-dollar checks to every American, and billion-dollar bailouts to various big-bucks industries to keep the economy afloat, which his Republican base probably won’t mind, but by November he’ll have a lot of explaining to do to the rest of the country, and Biden will have been out of power and utterly blameless for any of it. He’ll be able to point out that Obama created an agency within the National Security Council to deal with pandemics, and Trump sent it packing, and that none of the pandemics that occurred during the Obama administration led to schools and bars and other essential businesses shutting down.
At this point pretty much the whole country is in a panic about the coronavirus and no one seems more panicked the the President of the United States, and we expect that will last until at least next November’s Election Day, which we cautiously hold out hope will happen. We can’t see any happy ending, but we’ll also hold out hope for the least worst outcome, whatever that is.

— Bud Norman

The Winds of Trade War and Impeachment

President Donald Trump will spend today at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, and it will likely be an comfortable affair for all involved.
The summit is in London, where Trump has not been a welcome guest during his past two visits, and he’s expected to further publicly and bluntly harangue the allies about how much they’re spending on defense, and many of the allies will more privately and politely but forcefully express their differences with his policies regarding Turkey and Syria and Russia and Ukraine and other matters. One of those matters will surely be Trump’s ongoing trade wars with pretty much everybody.
Before jetting off Trump announced punitive tariffs on industrial metals from Brazil and Argentina for their alleged currency manipulations, and issued a threat of up to 100 percent tariffs on NATO member France’s wine and cheese and cosmetics and other fancy French product, apparently in retaliation for passing an internet tax law Trump thinks unfair to American businesses. This comes as Trump continues his brinksmanship with the ruthless dictator running the very importantly enormous Chinese economy, and Trump will probably spend part of his trip publicly grousing about how the European automobile industries are cheating America’s workers.
Trump will continue to boast about how America is once again respected around the world, as the country at long last has a wised-up leader and we’re no longer anybody’s sucker, but it clearly hasn’t helped America’s reputation as a good global neighbor. The military and trade political alliances that have a fairly good job of sustaining peace and prosperity in the post-World War II epoch are strained, and Trump and everyone else seem to be planning for a post-Pax Americana world.
Nor does it seem to have yielded any tangible economic results. The brinksmanship with the ruthless dictator in control of China’s very consequentially huge economy hurtles toward an inevitable brink, none of those greatest trade deals ever have yet been sealed, and so far even the rather minor revisions to the re-branded North American Free Trade Agreement haven’t been ratified by any of the three governments involved. The economy continues to grow at the same 2 percent or so it did back in the bad old days of President Barack Obama, and the stock markets were hitting record highs not so very long ago, but that seems to be in spite of rather than because of Trump’s policies.
The smart money on the stock markets seems to agree, here and around the world, as all the indexes dipped precipitously after his latest trade war escalations, as they always do whenever he does that. This time around the dip was also driven by yet another report on Trump’s beloved manufacturing, which continues for yet another quarter at negative growth. The markets usually recover when Trump announces light at the end of the tunnel and peace with honor, and Trump’s fans stick with him through thick and thin, and even if the allies have no respect for Trump they’re fearful of and dependent on America and usually only object ever so politely, but we worry that it can’t go on forever.
The smart money on Wall Street and all those funny-sounding foreign exchanges is hedging its bets, all those Euro-weenie leaders will be ganging on up on Trump in London, where he’ll need extra security just to get back to the fancy hotel, and those wily Chinese seem unfazed by Trump’s mastery of the deal. They all follow American politics, and know that there’s an impeachment and it’s going badly enough that polls show half the country wants Trump out of office now, and that will likely complicate all his dealings with foreign leaders, no matter how that turns out.
Trump fans love it when he feuds with those Euro-weenies and wily Chinese and the smart money on Wall Street and the “fake news” media and the damned Democrats and all of the rest of the rascals in the globalist “deep state” conspiracy, but we doubt they’re tired of winning yet. The farmers are getting welfare checks that don’t quite make up for the honest money they used to make on the global market, the factory workers are losing jobs in a sinking sector hard-hit by Trump’s steel tariffs, and we worry some damned Democrat and self-proclaimed socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders might convince them they’ve played for the world’s biggest suckers.
Although it’s hard to imagine a happy outcome, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Nice Work If You Can Get It

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

— Bud Norman

Pipe Bombs and Pipe Dreams

For now we suppose there’s an outside chance, as some of the right-wing talk radio hosts and their callers are already speculating, that whoever mailed five crude pipe bombs to prominent Democratic politicians and a rich donor to liberal causes and a major media company frequently critical of the current Republican government is some crazed leftist trying to make the right look bad. There’s a better chance it was some crazed person on the right, as we figure it, but in either case it’s a sad state of affairs.
The first of the pipe bombs arrived at the home of billionaire activist and generous bankroller of liberal causes George Soros. On Wednesday another arrived at the office of former President Barack Obama, and another at the residence of former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. A fourth was addressed to former Obama administration Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan at the Cable News Network, although Brennan is currently employed as an analyst by the National Broadcasting and MSNBC networks. The fifth was sent to an incorrect address for Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, but was sent to former Democratic national committee chairwoman and current Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose misspelled name was listed on each package’s return arrest. Another suspicious package was reportedly mailed to California Rep. Maxine Waters and intercepted in the congressional mail-room, but Federal Bureau of Investigation is not yet listing it among the incidents under investigation.
Perhaps it’s possible that some crazed leftist figured that any of these people would be acceptable collateral damage in a successful false flag operation to discredit the right, but we note there are also plenty of crazed people on the right who have an intense animus toward all of the intended victims.
President Donald Trump has recently accused Soros of financing an invasion of Latin-American and Middle Eastern terrorists currently walking their way across Mexico to America’s southern border. He spent years peddling the story that Obama was a Kenyan-born imposter who unconstitutionally became an America-hating president, and continues to lead chants at his rallies to have “Crooked Hillary” locked up for various thus-far unproved-in-court crimes. Trump revoked Brennan’s top-secret security clearance in retaliation for on air-criticism, and has criticized the career civil servant as a “political hack” and “very bad guy.” Trump has openly wished he had an Attorney General who would be as much a political hack on his behalf as he believes Holder was on Obama’s behalf, but that’s a rather back-handed compliment. As for Waters, a leading advocate of impeaching Trump, the president never fails to refer to her as “a very low-IQ individual.”
None of which is an incitement to murder, but Trump has urged rally crowds to rough up protestors, recently praised a Republican congressman for committing criminal assault against a reporter, continues to lead the “lock ’em up cheers” about a growing list of political adversaries, accuses such media as CNN and MSNBC of being “enemies of the people,” and often expresses a belief that his critics hate America, so it’s within the realm of possibility that some die-hard fan got a bit too riled up by the rhetoric.
The vast majority of law-abiding Trump supporters can rightly ask what about the harsh rhetoric heard on the left. Obama won the presidency telling his supporters to “bring a gun to a knife fight,” Clinton has recently told an adoring crowd of Democrats that civility toward Republicans is no longer possible, and Holder was widely quoted advising his party that “When they go low, we kick them.” Brennan did once say that Trump’s Russia policy was treasonous, Waters has urged on the harassment that Trump administration officials now routinely endure when they try to eat in a restaurant or shop in a store. and Soros has supported some unsavory causes. The left is just as paranoid about deep-pocketed conservatives activist Charles Koch as the right is about that Soros fellow, and now both men have survived assassination attempts. When a crazed leftist shot up a Republican congressional softball team’s practice back in ’17, seriously wounding Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and others, the right alleged that left’s rhetoric was a contributing cause, and they made a strong case.
But to venture an answer to the right’s favorite rhetorical question of what about the left’s language and behavior, we ask what about it? The left’s abominable language and behavior is no excuse for equally abominable language and behavior on the right, the current escalation of the war of words on both sides is likely to further escalate the alarming physical violence that gangs of young toughs on both sides have lately engaged in around the country. As lifelong Republicans who used to be considered conservative, we’d like to see our side once bring about a return to normalcy with malice toward none and charity to toward all, to borrow a couple of by now very outdated slogans of the Grand Old Party.
Trump has condemned the attempted bombings as “despicable acts” and said that “In these times we have to unify, we have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.” That uncharacteristically presidential statement got a big laugh later the same day when it was quoted at a symposium where Brennan was being interviewed, Brennan got another big laugh when he reacted by asking “That was said by Donald who?,” and for now we can’t begrudge the left’s giggles about it. The laughter might stop if Trump recants his praise of a criminal assault on a reporter, restrains himself from whipping up the rally crowds against the other “enemies of the people” in the press cages, withdraws his promise to pay the legal bills for anyone who punches a protestor, stops pressing for the imprisonment of his political opponents, and generally tones down the insult comic shtick, but until then his unifying message rings undeniably hollow.
Here’s holding out faint hope those damned Democrats dial it down a few notches as well, as there’s no denying they’ve also got some quite crazed and easily incited characters on their side, but these days they’re largely an undeniably nasty bunch who also seem eager to win by any means necessary and at any cost to the national comity.
Most of the Democrats and Republicans we know around here are reasonable sorts of people disinclined to mail pipe bombs, however, and seem willing to settle their differences at the ballot box. So for now we’ll hold out a slightly stronger hope that what’s left of the center will somehow hold.

— Bud Norman

What Goes Down Must Come Up

After Wednesday’s brutal day on America’s major stock markets President Donald can no longer brag about their record highs, but if he wants to attempt a complicated and counter-intuitive argument he can claim some credit for the rosy economic conditions that have caused the recent swoon.
The markets tanked because the Federal Reserve Board now intends to slightly raise the artificially low interest rates that fueled the markets’ record run, which is because by now they’ve successfully brought the economy to below full employment and a potential 4 percent growth rate in the gross domestic product, and for now it’s more worried about an inflation rate that’s slightly outpacing the long-awaited wage increases that have lately occurred. According to the perverse logic of the stock markets, good news is bad news, just as back when high unemployment and low GDP growth were bringing interest rates down and raising the indices up bad news was good news.
All of this damnably good news started shortly after the big financial meltdown of ’08, which was caused by the subprime mortgage social engineering of President Bill Clinton’s administration but came to fruition in the final days of President George W. Bush’s administration. Bush and most of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress — including both both of the party’s presidential nominees — responded with a big bailout of some major banks that annoyed people on both the left and the right, and the Fed started printing money at a rate that alarmed any conservative old enough to remember the hyper-inflation of the ’70s. In retrospect, though, the center-left and center-right compromise seems to have more or less worked.
The economy was already officially out of recession by the time President Barack Obama was elected by a scared-to-death electorate and passed a pork-laden “stimulus package” through the overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress, and after that a historically slow recovery slogged along on the easy money the Fed was printing. We’re still convinced that Obama’s anti-business regulatory and tax policies slowed the recovery, and that only the Fed’s foolhardy money-printing sustained it, but after a scared-to-death electorate elected a Republican majority in the House of Representatives in the “tea party” wave of ’10 there were no more “stimulus packages” or other major interferences and thus things improved slightly. As much as we still disdain Obama-nomics and hate to give the guy credit for anything, we have to admit that during the last two years of Obama’s presidency the economy was on a clearly upward path.
By the time a scared-to-death-of-something-or-another electorate gave an electoral majority to Trump, the unemployment rate was a respectable 4.8 percent and the GDP was growing at a not-great-but-not-bad 3 percentage points or so. As much as we disdain Trump’s trade wars and attempts to restore the coal-driven and low-tech economy of the ’50s, and as much as we hate to give the guy credit for anything, we also have to admit that economy has been on pretty much the same upward trajectory ever since Trump’s inaugural speech promise that “The American carnage ends right here, right now.” Trump’s exceedingly business-friendly regulatory and tax policies have no doubt helped, and his stupid trade wars and economic nostalgia haven’t yet hurt much, and by now the economy is rolling along at a rate we can’t blame the Fed for applying some slight pressure to the brakes.
Trump is already grousing about it, though, as he’d much rather be bragging about record stock market highs and new land speed records in economic growth and how nobody has ever seen anything like it. As much as we hate to give the guy credit for anything, we have to admit it’s another brilliant political ploy. If your stocks are down it’s because of that damned fellow who’s Chairman of the almighty Fed, that quintessentially quasi-governmental institution that actually runs everything according to all the leading “deep state” conspiracies since the days of President Andrew Jackson, and has nothing to do with Trump, who is surely an innocent bystander and fellow victim.
Trump did in fact appoint Jerome Powell as the chairman of the Fed, and Powell was confirmed by a Republican Senate, but so was Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed by Trump and confirmed by a Republican Senate, and for now both are suspected conspirators in a “deep state” plots to overthrow Trump. Those smarty-pants know-it-alls at the Fed have a darned convincing case for raising the prime interest rate to a few notches lower than historical norms, tough, and if it keeps the economy chugging along at a optimal if not the-greatest-anyone’s -seen rate without inflation we’re sure Trump will be glad to claim the credit, and boast about how great it could have been if only he had been in charge. At this point the labor market is tight enough that further economic growth will require an increase in immigration, and Trump should also be grateful if the Fed spares him that dilemma.
These days our only interest in the stock market is in the long run, and over that dreary amount of time it’s survived the Great Depression and Stagflation and the Dot.com and subprime bubbles, and it’s even survived Obama and we figure it will probably survive Trump. We give some of the credit to those smarty-pants know-it-alls at the Fed, but most of it to all those anonymous schmucks who get up every morning and go to some office or factory or shopping mall and make the decisions and do the work that keeps our still mostly-free economy slogging along through good times as well as bad times.

— Bud Norman

Sen. John McCain, RIP

Over the past many decades we had several serious disagreements with Arizona Sen. John McCain, as did just about anyone of any political viewpoint who was paying attention to the news, but we always disagreed with all due respect to the man, as did any fair-minded and well-mannered person of any political viewpoint. McCain died on Saturday at the age of 81 after a courageous fight against brain cancer, and we worry that an age of rough and tumble yet duly respectful American politics might pass with him.
McCain always laughingly admitted that he didn’t earn much respect at the United States Naval Academy, where he was a legendarily mischievous midshipman and finished sixth-from-last in his class, but after that his military career was distinguished by strength and skill and physical courage and patriotic selflessness as extraordinary as anything in America’s horrible and glorious history of war. He’d only gone to Annapolis because his dad and granddad were both four-star Navy admirals with impressive war records, and several other ancestors had served with similar distinction, and the rebellious youth didn’t plan to make a career of the Navy, but he’d been inculcated with a sense of duty to God and family and country that required him to play some small part during his deployment. Although a deadly and unpopular was being in waged in Vietnam, McCain signed up for and then easily passed the Navy’s rigorous fighter pilot training program, and thus volunteered for combat duty in the worst of it.
He was top gun enough to return from 22 risky combat missions, including one very-near miss, but on the 23rd try he was shot down in enemy territory, where his gruesomely broken body was quickly captured by enemy troops, who immediately added several more serious injuries at they dragged him away. For the next five-and-a-half years he survived routine torture at the “Hanoi Hilton” — the most notorious prisoner-of-war camp since the Confederacy’s Andersonville prison — and made only the most meaningless concessions. At first the torture was worse than usual because the captors were aware that McCain’s father was commanding America’s Pacific Fleet, but the North Vietnamese then thought they might gain some political advantage and demoralize his fellows by offering him early release because of his family ties, and no fair-minded American of any political viewpoint can deny that McCain earned everlasting respect by signing up for a few more years of torture rather than hand the enemy a propaganda victory and his leave his men behind and betray everything he ever believed about God and family and country.
The undeniably tough old cuss somehow survived it all, and wound up limping out of a post-war Air Force plane to a brass-band-and-red-carpet hero’s welcome on a landing strip in his home state of Arizona in the good old United States of America. He finished out his Naval obligations in a series of desk jobs as he more or less recuperated from his injuries, and then he naturally went into politics. McCain’s gruesome yet undeniably all-American heroism made him a natural candidate for a House of Representative seat, but after all those years in a bamboo cage he could also articulate a persuasive case for the vigorous foreign policy and limited domestic government that was the Republican fashion of the time, and he soon demonstrated an unsurprising knack for getting by and getting things done with unpleasant but necessary compromises.
After a couple of easy House elections in oh-so-Republican Arizona, McCain succeeded the then-quintessentially conservative Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater in the Senate, and after that he both earned respect and caused serious disagreements with just about anyone of any political viewpoint. He voted with the ever-evolving Republican caucus on most fiscal matters, and was as hawkish as any of them on matters of national defense, but he also seemed to take a mischievous delight in bucking his party on certain of his party’s ever-evolving stands. Sometimes it was some long forgotten continuing budget resolution or another, on other occasions the border-state Senator with lots of Latino Republican voters was bucking the base on on the simmering matter of immigration, and our free speech sensibilities strongly disagreed with his awful McCain-Fiengold Act.
Way back in the long-forgotten headlines of the late-’80s McCain was one of the “Keating Five” Democratic and Republican Senators who were caught up in a corruption scandal involving donations from a shady savings-and-loans finagler right before the savings-and-loan meltdowns of ’89, and although he was largely exonerated by the subsequent investigations McCain repented by joining left-wing Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold in coming up with some campaign finance rules that we considered an affront to free speech. That was one reason we opted for Texas Gov. George W. Bush over McCain in the ’00 Republican primary, along with the fact that Bush had been a pretty good chief executive of a large and largely Latino state, and seemed less leery of dangerous and unpopular wars. Thus Bush made his case and we cast our vote with all due respect to McCain.
As things turned out President George W. Bush wound up signing that awful McCain-Feingold Act, and the Supreme Court eventually wound up overturning the worst of it in that Citizens United decisions the left is is still squealing about, and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, left the Republicans embroiled in a couple of unpopular wars. Bush nevertheless narrowly re-election against decorated combat veteran but defeatist Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and McCain vigorously campaigned for the Republican. After that the Iraq War become an even less popular slog, and McCain once again bucked the party by advocating a more vigorous effort rather than a retreat. When Bush followed the advice with a so-called “surge” the American casualties fell by more than 90 percent, McCain was vindicated and wound up winning the Republican nomination for the presidency.
McCain might have had a chance if the economy had kept going as well the war, but about a month before the election the stock markets melted down as a result of some long-forgotten subprime mortgage regulations from the long-forgotten administration of President Bill Clinton, and America was plunged into a deep recession. After eight years of constant media griping about Bush any Republican faced a hard race against a such charming and charismatic Democratic nominee as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, whose African heritage promised an improbable chance at national racial redemption that even McCain’s heroic war record could not trump. By the end McCain knew he was fighting another losing war, and he accepted his faith with a sense of honor to God and family and country.
Even by 2008 the the ever-evolving base of the Republican party wasn’t fully on board with McCain’s old-fashioned Republicanism, and he steadfastly refused to go along with their partisan fever for rather than his principles. When his Republican rally-goers denounced Obama as an “Arab” and anti-American scoundrel, McCain insisted that Obama was merely a decent American family guy with some crazy liberal ideas, and we think it was at that very point when the ever-evolving base of the Republican party abandoned him. McCain was frequently critical of Obama, and as far as we’re concerned he was completely vindicated in his criticism of Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq, but at that point the base of the Republican party regarded anything less than complete vilification of Obama as insufficient.
Way back in ’12 the Republicans wound up nominating the even more old-fashioned Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whose dad had been a centrist Republican governor and one-time presidential contender, but the ever-evolving Republican base was even less enthused and Obama cruised to reelection. After another four years of Obama’s odious administration the ever-evolving base of the Republican party had decided that such fair-minded and well-mannered candidates as McCain and Romney weren’t up to the fight against those damned Democrats, no matter how heroic their war records, and they wound up choosing President Donald Trump.
Say what you want about both Bush and Obama, and their bitter political fights with McCain, the candidates of all parties paid due respect to the man they opposed. By the late summer and early fall of ’16, Trump won the Republican nomination and then the presidency despite sneering on videotape that MccCain was “only a hero because he was captured. I hate to tell ya’, but I like a guy who didn’t get captured,” and another audio recording about grabbing women by their private parts,” and mockeries of people’s looks and physical disabilities, and boldly proclaiming a new style of presidential politics. So far it’s working better politically than the more polite practices of McCain and Romney, at least for now, although we still wish either of them had beaten Obama, and we still expect it to work out badly in the end.
In all of his obituaries McCain is getting far more praise than he did back when he challenged the media darling Obama, and almost as much as he did when challenged the media pariah Bush, but the right media have been less muted, and so far Trump has only briefly “tweeted” his prayers and respect for McCain’s family, and although the flags have been lowered to half-mast there’s no official presidential statement about it. Trump had family-doctor-attested bone spurs that prevented him from serving in Vietnam, even if they didn’t prevent him from playing golf and tennis and chasing casual sexual encounters in New York City’s swankier nightclubs while McCain was being tortured inside a bamboo cage, and being such a self-proclaimed tough guy Trump can’t recant his infamous slur that McCain was “only a hero because he got caught.”
At such a sad time and such a low moment in political disourse we hate to take a swipe at Trump, but McCain made clear that he would be honored to have both Bush and Obama speak at his funeral and would not appreciate Trump’s presence at all, and we can’t say we disagree with this final request. At the end of a horrific and heroic and admittedly imperfect life, the best of which he attributed to his years of getting by and getting things done in the public service, we pay due respect to McCain and his dying nostalgia for a more rough and tumble yet duly respectful era of American politics.

— Bud Norman

Scott Pruitt has Been Drained From the Swamp

Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday, so apparently there are still some limits left on outrageous behavior even in the era of President Donald Trump.
Pruitt was a controversial appointee even by the standards of the Trump administration, for reasons that were both arguable and ultimately inarguable. His de-regulatory zeal infuriated the left and endeared him to the right, but his peculiar and expensive and blatantly corrupt way of going about it had led to a full 14 ethics investigations and ultimately left with few allies even on the right. Eventually even fellow Oklahoman and salwart Republican Rep. Jim Inhofe was telling Oklahoma City’s Daily Oklahoman that “I was getting kind of weak on him myself” even as he was assured the state’s biggest paper’s readers that in a recent phone conversation with Pruitt “We went over these accusations one by one, and it turns out they’re totally wrong.” Trump “tweeted” his fulsome praise for all the regulations that Pruitt had de-regulated, but he also mentioned in the same “tweet” that he had accepted Pruitt’s sudden resignation.
Way back in the good old days when we used to fulminate daily about the regulatory zeal of President Barack Obama and the broader left we consistently argued that some of the many thousands of regulations they were annually imposing were bound by statistical probability to be good policy, and that a larger percentage of them were likely to be an unnecessary burden on a free market economy that doesn’t really want to kill anybody, and we freely admitted we didn’t have the time or expertise to determine which of those thousands of annual regulations were which. In these desultory days of Trump and the right’s seemingly willy-nilly zeal of de-regulations we’ve figured that Pruitt was probably undoing a lot of bureaucratic nonsense, and making the occasional deadly mistake, but we still lack the time and expertise to say which is which, and for the most part we’ve gone along with Trump and Pruitt the rest of the current Republican party about it.
Still, we don’t see why Pruitt couldn’t have achieve dsuch arguably advantageous policies without charging the taxpayers for first class flights to far-flung vacation destinations, or sending taxpayer-paid staffers on such bizarre personal errands as securing a certain sort of hand lotion from a particular luxury hotel or acquiring a used mattress from a Trump-owned hotel, or trying to acquire a Chik-Fil-A franchise or some other lucrative occupation for his wife, or charge taxpayers for the “cone of silence” thingamajig from “Get Smart” or accept a sweetheart rental deal from lobbyists with business before the EPA, or have his underlings pay his hotel bills with their personal credit cards and never re-pay them,  or any of the numerous other ethics investigations he instigated. ByThursday afternoon, even Pruitt and Trump agreed that Pruitt ha to go.
For now the EPA will be run by the agency’s already Senate-confirmed deputy director, who seems to have the same de-regulatory zeal as Pruitt but none of his outrageous and capsizing  baggage, which will surely drive the left wing crazy and give a smug satisfaction to the newly-constituted right wing. Our guess is that Trump is by now wised-up enough to stick with that politically fortuitous status quo, that a lot of needlessly burdensome regulations will repealed along with a few that result in the loss of some farmer’s life, that most voters lack the time and expertise to say which regulations are need and which are unnecessarily burden some, and that by the time the mid-term elections come around next fall Pruitt will be happily forgotten.

— Bud Norman

From Hero to Traitor, Overnight

Not so long ago, South Carolina’s Rep. Trey Gowdy was a hero to all the right-wing talk radio hosts and their listeners. He had an impeccably conservative voting record, a blunt way of speaking, and best of all he was the guy who spent years leading congressional investigations of President Barack Obama’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the deadly fiasco at an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Despite his long service to conservatism, however, Gowdy is now being pilloried by his erstwhile fans as a traitor to the cause. His traitorous crime is publicly stating that the Federal Bureau of Investigation wasn’t “spying” on President Donald Trump’s campaign, as Trump likes to put it, but rather investigating something about a hostile foreign government’s attempts to influence the election that they had good reason to believe merited investigating. Many of Gowdy’s former admirers regard the special counsel’s ongoing investigation as “witch hunt” being carried out by “deep state” conspirators intent on a silent coup of a duly elected president, as Trump almost daily “tweets,” so Gowdy’s refusal to endorse Trump’s copyrighted “Spy-Gate” conspiracy theory is clear proof that he’s in on the plot.
Some of the right-wing internet wags and maybe even some of the talk radio talkers are literate enough to say “Et Tu, Brute?,” but all the commenters and callers have expressied a more vulgar vitriol. They forget that Gowdy has at times come to Trump’s defense in the story of the day of the ongoing “Russian thing” realit showy, usually when they had a point, and remember all the times when he didn’t, usually when there was no credible defense to be made. They’re even damning Gowdy for the long and tireless investigations he led of the Benghazi affair, spitefully noting that they didn’t result in locking that hated Clinton woman up.
Meanwhile the left-wing types in the respectable media are relishing that even such a right-wacko as Gowdy agrees with their instinctive and seemingly well-founded belief that this “Spy-Gate” theory is a soon-to-be abandoned sub-plot in a “Russia thing” reality show that is heading to its inevitable conclusion. They’re giving Gowdy some “Profile in Courage” kudos for saying so, but they clearly haven’t forgiven him for that impeccably conservative voting record and blunt-spoken rhetoric all those years of hounding Obama and Clinton about that Benghazi thing.
Gowdy’s long career in public service has left him with few friends at the moment, but from the sideline seats our pre-Trumpian Republican and conservatives selves have been relegated to in the Trump era, we’re rooting for the guy. We still appreciate the impeccably conservative voting record on matters that predated Trump, and even his most blunt spoken rhetoric never cross any of th lines that are stepped over nowadays. His dogged investigation of Benghazi at long last proved conclusively to any objective observer that both Obama and Clinton had been lethally incompetent in their handling of the whole affair, from the ill-fated toppling of the Libyan dictatorship to the failure to prevent Islamist anarchy in its aftermath and the decision to send American diplomats and other citizens into the ensuing chaos and their failure to respond to numerous requests for better security, not to mention the lies they provably told in the following days.
There’s nothing criminal about public officials being incompetent, though, so we can hardly fault Gowdy for failing to lock ’em up. If incompetence we’re a criminal offense the prison population would surely swell and the wheels of government would come to a grinding halt. As old-fashioned and pre-Trump Republicans and conservatives we were never fond of that banana republic “lock ’em up” rhetoric in the first place.
Fortunately for Gowdy, he doesn’t seem to care much about what any of us might think of him. He’s one of several Republicans with impeccably conservative voting records who won’t be seeking re-election this year, and the former tough-but-fair prosecutor has told interviews that he misses a job where facts mattered, and like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and a few others with impeccably conservative voting records he admits that his failure to sign up with whatever conspiracy theory Trump comes up with makes him unelectable in a Republican primary for the moment.
Reality always prevails, though, and in the inevitable conclusion we expect that Gowdy and Flake and maybe Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and a few other factually stalwart pre-Trump Republicans will be vindicated. The Democrats won’t forgive their impeccably conservative voting records and the efew  occasions when they had to admit Trump had a point, but they’ll have to admit they’re the last Republicans standing, even if not in office, and we hold out hope they can rebuild.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Premature End Zone Celebration on the Korean Peninsula

Every football season some cocky running back or wide receiver starts his end zone celebration just short of the goal line, and winds up in a “viral” sports blooper video. Something similar seems to have happened to President Donald Trump with his much-ballyhooed but now-cancelled summit with North Korea’s tyrannical dictatorship regarding its increasingly threatening nuclear program, but that might yet prove a good thing.
When Trump accepted an oral offer for a face-to-face meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un he immediately started making his usual grandiose promises about how it would turn out. He publicly anticipated he would talk Kim into abandoning the nuclear ambitions his family had pursued for decades, that Kim would be “very happy about it,” and he would achieve an historic breakthrough that every previous president for more than the past half-century had failed to pull off, and the White House gift shop even started selling a commemorative coin. When the crowds at his never-ending campaign rallies stated chanting “Nobel” he clearly basked in the praise, and when a reporter asked if he deserved a Nobel Peace Prize he modestly declined to say so but with more characteristic immodesty added that “everybody else says so.”
Not everybody was saying so, of course, as the more seasoned and sober-minded foreign policy thinkers on both the left and right thought the promises were unrealistic and the ad hoc process of keeping them fraught with danger. They had to admit that Trump won a small but significant victory when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo negotiated the release of three Americans that North Korea had been holding hostage, but that was quickly diminished by Trump praising the “honorable” Kim for being so “nice,” and since then all the critics’ doubts have seemingly been vindicated.
Pretty much everybody had to admit that Trump’s attempts at diplomacy were an improvement on his rhetoric when North Korea started some unsettlingly successful tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the west coast of the United States. Trump’s immediate reaction to that was threatening to “annihilate” every inch of North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” and to taunt Kim on “twitter” as “Little Rocket Man,” along with some sightly veiled but very obvious jabs about Kim being short and fat. Kim responded with threats and “tweets” of his own that called Trump a “dotard,” proving that his translators have a far better English vocabulary and more sophisticated wit than the American president, and only the die-hard fans at the campaign rallies expected that to work out well.
The die-hard fans credited such untraditional diplomatic rhetoric when Kim moderated his own rhetoric, invited the international press to witness the demolition of a nuclear testing plant, released those three American hostages, and agreed to a time and place for a face-to-face meeting to discuss further steps, but since then things haven’t gone smoothly.
The unraveling is mostly a result of the irreconcilable differences that the friendlier diplomatic language could not mask, but the North Koreans are blaming it on some undeniably clumsy administration rhetoric on the cable news. National security advisor John Bolton told an interviewer that he was hoping for a agreement based on the “Libyan model,” an apparent reference to the 2003 agreement by Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi to verifiably relinquish his weapons of mass destruction programs to President George W. Bush, who had recently toppled the dictatorship of the eventually-hanged dictator of Saddam Hussein. The North Koreans took it as a reference to the 2011 toppling of Qaddafi and his brutal death at the rough hands his own people in the wake of a multinational air strike led by President Barack Obama, and the next day Trump seemed to make the same mistake.
Trump said that he didn’t have the “Libyan model” in mind because “we totally decimated that country,” and misused various variations of the word “decimate” several more times before insisting he wouldn’t do that to North Korea “unless we don’t get a deal.”
By now even Obama admits that the 2011 toppling of Qaddafi was a bad idea, as it left the country in a state of anarchy that led to the tragic deaths of an American ambassador and three unusually brave Americans at a far-flung consulate in the now infamous but formerly obscure outpost of Benghazi, which in turn led to the toppling of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s inevitable first woman presidency. It also sent a message to every tinpot dictator on the globe that America can’t be trusted to honor any agreements it might make to relinquish their weapons of mass destruction, which even such seasoned foreign policy hands as ourselves noted at the time. Trump likes to brag that he was against the Libyan coup from the outset, but there’s still a Youtube video from the time where he’s decrying Obama’s weakness for not yet toppling Qaddafi and even now he’s threatening to out-tough Obama if he doesn’t get a deal.
The next day Vice President Mike Pence gave a similarly confusing statement about the “Libyan model” on cable news, and the North Korean dictator then issued a statement calling Pence a “political dummy” and insisting America now faced a choice between a face-to-face summit or “a nuclear confrontation.” Shortly after that, Trump sent a letter to Kim which announced that “based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in” North Korea’s “most recent statement,” and that he now felt it “inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.”
The letter was addressed to “His Excellency Kim Jong Un, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the People’s Republic of Korea Pyongyang,” rather than “Little Rocket Man,” and gushed about Kim’s “time, patience, and effort with respect to recent negotiations and discussions relative to a summit long sought by both parties,” mentioned Trump “felt a wonderful dialogue was building up” between him and Kim, and seemed to hold out hope a future a summit might yet wind up winning them both a Nobel Peace Prize It also included some tough talk about America’s superior military arsenal, though, and that was what he emphasized on cable news to his domestic audience.
For now, though, despite his prodigious powers of bluster and fawning and artful real estate deal-making, Trump is still facing the same irreconcilable differences that every previous American president of more than half-a-century has faced. Trump has the same advantage in nuclear weaponry, but the same disadvantage of North Korea’s formidable conventional military forces proximity to the populous capital of our key allies in South Korea, and despite his bluster and flattery Trump doesn’t seem to be having any more luck than usual with North Korea’s more muscular and nuclear big brother in China, which also seems to be winning Trump’s promised trade war.
Trump is more unhindered than the past more-than-half-a-century of Republican and Democratic presidents by any bleeding-heart concerns about the human rights of the tyrannized people of North Korea, and more willing to taunt the dictator as short and fat and more willing to praise him as honorable and nice and a “smart cookie” who’s tough enough to kill his own kinfolk to stay in power, but that doesn’t seem the stuff of Nobel Peace Prizes. There’s still hope this will all work out well enough, though, at least as well as it has for more than a half-century of previous presidents.
For more than half-a-century of the atomic age the Korean peninsula has somehow been free of mushroom clouds, and for now that seems the best we can hope for and what both Trump and Kim seem stuck with. The truly historic treaties always happened after plenty of painstaking diplomatic preparations done the old fashioned way, and there’s no telling what might have happened if “Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard” had sat down to an ad hoc face-to-face summit between two of the world’s most dangerously shallow and self-interested and nuclear-armed heads of state, so the current resumption of familiar hostilities is somehow reassuring. There’s still a a chance, too, that the more seasoned and sober-minded foreign policy types in both countries might work something out that truly is historic..

— Bud Norman