A Prisoner of Trade War

Both sides of the American-Chinese trade war are now declaring a temporary cease-fire and trying to calm the global stock markets, but the arrest of someone named Meng Wanzhou, who is the chief financial officer of some Chinese company called Huawai, seems likely to complicate the armistice negotiations.
We’re embarrassed to admit that we’d not previously heard of of Huawai, which has only a tiny share of America’s lucrative “smart phone” market, but it’s apparently such a major player in the even more lucrative global market that it’s often called “China’s Apple.” Of course we’d also not previously heard of Meng, but apparently she’s the daughter of the Huawai’s founder and its presumptive next chief executive officer, so her arrest on charges of violating export controls and sanctions on Iran and other countries is being likened to China locking up Steve Jobs’ daughter and the presumptive CEO of Apple, which we figure would be a pretty big deal here.
Meng was arrested by Canadian authorities while on business in that country, but it was at the request of American authorities, and her extradition to this jurisdiction will likely be quickly expedited, so the metaphorical ball is now literally in America’s courts. So far as we can tell the charges meet the prima facie standard for an indictment, but most of our allies and President Donald Trump himself also stand credibly accused of playing fast and loose with international sanctions, so we’ll hold to faint hope that America’s judicial branch properly sorts out all the legal issues.
As for the geopolitical and international economic implications, those seem too complex to calculate and too much to hope for. Meng might prove such a formidable bargaining chip that the Chinese fold, to borrow a poker metaphor, but it’s also possible those inscrutable Chinamen will gladly sacrifice a mere daughter to save face, to borrow a grotesquely racist stereotype yet undeniably plausible outcome. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping doesn’t have to worry much about a pesky free press and an independent judiciary and public opinion, and perhaps cares even less about some capitalist pig dog’s daughter, while Trump can only wish for such freedom from constitutional restraints. All of Trump’s casinos went bankrupt despite house odds, and this Xi fellow seems an inscrutably wily Chinaman, if you’ll forgive the poker and racist metaphors, and we don’t expect this Meng woman’s fate to figure too significantly in the outcome.
The American stock markets dropped alarmingly on Tuesday, then took a day off on Wednesday to honor the funeral of President George H.W. Bush and his bygone era of American greatness, and then dipped deeply again on Thursday after the news of Meng’s arrest. By the end of the day the stock markets were reassured by some carefully reassuring language about the generally healthy economy from both XI and Trump and the heads of the Federal Reserve Board and the International Monetary Fund and the rest of the globalist financial establishment, and two of the major indices were largely unchanged and the third was ever so slightly up, so for now the smart money is holding out hope.
We’re holding out hope that things will muddle along, too, but we don’t expect that anyone ever will claim a complete victory.

— Bud Norman

A Clear Win for Trump to Exaggerate

President Donald Trump scored a significant win on Monday with a newly-neogiated trade pact with both Canada and Mexico, thus giving him something to grossly exaggerate during the upcoming mid-term elections.
So far as we can tell from the mainstream media accounts, Trump now has a very plausible case to grossly exaggerate in his characteristic way. Although NAFTA remains mainly intact, Trump has won the concession that it’s now called the “United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” or the more cumbersome “USMCA,” and we’re relieved that he didn’t insist on “Trump” in the name,and we can’t deny the latest negotiations include some sweet deals for Wisconsin’s dairy framers and some likely raises in pay for Mexico’s automotive assembly line workers, and we can’t deny that on the whole it’s a pretty good deal.
Still, we’re suspicious that it’s really the greatest deal anybody’s ever seen, as Trump is already proclaiming, and we’ll watch how it plays out in those mid-term elections. We’re glad for those Wisconsin dairy farmers who were previously and unfairly denied market access to those damnably protectionist Canadians, and we’re glad for those Mexican assembly line workers who will probably be getting a raise soon, but we doubt the latest periodic re-ngotiations of the still largely extant NAFT treaty represent the difference between the worst deal America ever made and the greatest deal ever that even trump could Trump could only negotiate. Here in Kansas the grain farmers are still anxious about Trump’s ongoing trade war with Chinaand so are the local aviation workers. we’d advise Trump that he shouldn’t get tired of winning just yet.

— Bud Norman

Feuding with Allies and Adversaries

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

— Bud Norman

Trump vs. Everybody Else

President Donald Trump is in Canada today for a Group of Seven meeting, and it will surely be awkward. Not only is Trump is currently waging trade wars against the other six countries in attendance, he’s also feuding with them on issues ranging from the climate to Iran to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has irked all of them on such matters as terrorism and immigration, and in several cases has personally insulted the countries’ heads of state.
Recently Trump even blamed the host country for the War of 1812, even though Canada wasn’t yet a nation at that long ago point in history.
Trump won’t get the warm welcome from our democratic allies that he got from the authoritarian governments of China and Saudi Arabia, he’ll have to spend the night in a hotel he doesn’t own, the international press will be asking pesky questions, and to the extent he’ll be the center of attention it will be for all the wrong reasons. Economic advisor Larry Kudlow assures The Washington Post that “The president wants to go on the trip,” but we’re more inclined to believe the newspaper’s unnamed administration sources who say that he’s dreading it.
Canada and Great Britain and Germany and Italy and France and Japan have all made it clear that they’re allies in each of the feuds Trump is waging against them, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to charm or bully them into submission. What’s more likely is that Trump will double down on his defiance in some petulant way that provokes outraged headlines in each of the Group of Seven Countries. The hard-core fans will love it, as they share Trump’s belief that entire world is out to get them and must be confronted, but the more sensible members of his administration will probably be wincing.
Trump is reportedly annoyed that the G-7 summit is a distraction from his preparations from a planned upcoming summit with North Korea’s nutcase dictatorship, although he’s told reporters he doesn’t really need to prepare because it’s all about his “attitude,” as he expects it to be Nobel Peace Prize-winning and universally acclaimed hero there. We hope that turns out well, although our notion of “well” is anything short of a nuclear mushroom cloud, and we think that Trump would have better chances of that outcome if he arrived with at the summit with an American president’s usual standing as the acknowledged leader of the still-almighty diplomatic and economic and military and cultural power that is the Free World.
Instead Trump will be dealing with Kim Jong Un — formerly a fat and short “Little Rocket Man” according to Trump, but now an “honorable” and “excellent” leader — as just another world leader he’s trying to take advantage of. He’ll be asking Kim to agree to a nuclear disarmament deal even as his erstwhile allies are trying to salvage the disarmament deal they and America struck with Iran and Trump reneged on. He’ll have the advantage of imposing America’s economic power through sanctions, but he won’t have needed help from Japan and South Korea and China and the European powers and the rest of his trade war foes. Trump does have the bigger “nuclear button,” as he characteristically boasted about, but Kim has enough conventional military poised within artillery range from South Kore’s densely populated capital to largely negate that advantage. As for the Free World’s former cultural clout, Trump has already promised not to mention North Korea’s abysmal human rights and is promising the country prosperity instead.
We hold out hope it will turn out well, mostly because our former congressman and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be keeping a watchful and frequently wincing eye on the proceedings, but at this point we don’t have much faith in Trump’s much bragged-about negotiating skills.

— Bud Norman

The Good Neighbor Policy

The United States has long benefited from its location, with vast oceans between us and all the troubles that are always brewing in Asia and Europe, and only two abutting countries to deal with. Except for that unpleasantness back in 1812 and some fuss over “fifty-four forty or fight” a few years later we’ve generally gotten along well enough with Canada, and although our relationship with Mexico has occasionally been more contentious we haven’t fought a full-fledged with war with it for 170 years.
Maintaining such friendly relationships with the neighbors has been a longstanding tradition of America’s foreign policy, but President Donald Trump is that newfangled sort of conservative who doesn’t care much about longstanding traditions. He’s threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement if it’s not re-negotiated to his satisfaction, pressed various trade disputes with Canada, and his dealings with Mexico started with a campaign announcement that accused the country of sending rapists and drug dealers into America as a national policy, and things have not since become any friendlier.
Trump’s most recent diplomatic outreach toward our neighbors to the south, a telephone conversation with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, reportedly ended with a “testy” Trump still demanding that Mexico pay for the massive wall he wants along the entirety of the border and Nieto canceling a tentatively planned state visit to the White House rather than talk about it further. This is at least the second time Nieto has declined a visit rather consider Trump’s demands, and given how absurd the demands seem to pretty much every single Mexican voter and how important making Mexico pay for a wall is to Trump and a significant chunk of his supporters it probably won’t be the last time.
Which further complicates an already complicated relationship with the folks next door, which in turn further complicates all sorts of other problems that could easily be amicably settled by more cautious stewards of America’s longstanding foreign policy traditions. Trump is opening his planned renegotiation of the NAFTA treaty with a promise to his most loyal supporters that it will ultimately put America first, which puts the governments both of our neighbors in the awkward position of explaining to their voters why they agreed to second or third place, and we don’t see the as-nationalist-as-the-next-guy people in either country to the north or south being cowed by Trump’s bullying tactics. Neither is Trump’s international reputation as a blustering bully boy likely to yield any successful negotiations with the dangerous and lucrative Asian and European nations that lie just a few days shipping or a few hours of intercontinental ballistic missile travel across those once-vast oceans.
Meanwhile, here at home, Trump’s demand that Mexico pay for his big, beautiful wall is also complicated several domestic disputes. There’s an increasingly pressing question, for instance, of what to do with all those illegal immigrants — mostly from Mexico — who were brought here through no fault of their own as children and are provably not rapists or drug dealers. Their presence was tolerated under an executive order of questionable constitutional provence by President Barack Obama, and although that order was rescinded by Trump even he has since expressed sympathy for their plight and doesn’t seem to have the heart to kick them out, which has disappointed many of his loyal supporters. Trump is currently taking the position that the so-called “dreamers” can stay so long as the Democrats cough up $25 billion in funding for his promised big and beautiful border wall, but he’s also still promising that the Mexicans are going to pay for it, so that’s pretty darned complicated.
Our own long personal history with neighbors to the south and north and east and west has from time to time been complicated, but we’re pleased to say it’s mostly been amicable, and very rarely come to blows. The longstanding traditions that have guided us through it all are never being bullied but never being a bully, striving for solutions where everyone wins, and working the messier matters through the existing legal institutions, and don’t insist that the neighbor to south pay for the big and expensive wall you want block his view. We recommend this approach to the country at large.

— Bud Norman

Viva Mexico, and Us, and Both of Us

Unsurprisingly enough, America’s diplomatic relationship with Mexico is currently rather contentious. A planned meeting between American President Donald Trump and Mexican President Pena Nieto has been called off, angry “tweets” have been exchanged, populist pressures are being brought to bear on both leaders, and it’s the sort of thing you hate to have going with a neighbor.
Relationships with neighbors can go sour from time to time no matter how hard one tries, and we have a few stories of our own you could empathize with, but for the most part we and the rest of America have been rather lucky. The United States of America only has two abutting neighbors, which is a good start, and compared to what Israel or Finland or Jerry Seinfeld had to put up with they’ve not been very troublesome. Except for the War of 1812 and all that fuss about “fifty-four forty or fight” back in 1818 Canada has been a good neighbor, even if they are rather snooty about their single payer health care system and have a strange tendency to punt on third downs, and even if we did delay that XL Pipeline all through the Obama years and our relatively low income tax system allows us to consistently beat up on their sports teams.
The relationship with Mexico has been more complicated, what with that Mexican-American War and the Marines marching into the Halls of Montezuma back in the 1840s, and the resulting re-drawing of the maps of both countries, and that other time in the early 20th century that the American military went into Mexican territory in hot pursuit of Pancho Villa’s marauding bands, not to mention their disputes with American oil companies and the many decades or argument about the large numbers of Mexicans seeking and finding employment in America and countless other quarrels. Despite it all there have been diplomatic protocols and trade agreements peso bailouts and other arrangements, and no outright wars between the two countries for the past 169 years, which is not bad by historical international standards.
In the current dispute we think that America can make a convincing case for itself. Whatever the still-disputed causes of that long-ago Mexican-American War we think the the re-drawing of the map it wrought turned out best for the people who found themselves on the north side of it, and we doubt that many of them of any ethnicity would want to revisit the matter, and in any case we think that America should resist such revanchism there just as it should in the Ukraine and the islands of the South China Seas. In the unlikely event that rebels intent on overthrowing the American are wreaking havoc in northern Mexico we wouldn’t mind the Mexicans the chasing them into American territory, and the nationalization of American-financed and American-made and duly negotiated oil industries still strikes us as outright theft, and the very significant influx of legal and illegal Mexican immigrants that has occurred since does include a certain number of rapists and other criminals and seems a decidedly mixed blessing for both countries, and the idea of enforcing borders seems altogether reasonable, and some of those trade deals probably could have turned out better for America.
We’re still hoping for an amicable resolution to the latest quarrels, but only with faint hope. Trump’s constantly repeated campaign promise to build a literal wall between the countries is now an executive action, threats of making Mexico pay for it through a 20 percent import tax and other measures have been expounded by his press secretary and “tweeted” on his almighty account and will soon be taken up by Congress, and after that imbroglio with the American judge of Mexican ancestry who was presiding over the Trump University lawsuit that Trump wound up settling for $25 million and the rest of the campaign rhetoric it’s hard to argue that Trump has a certain animosity toward Mexicans. Mexicans are no more amicable to Trump, judging by the red hot market for Trump pinatas and mass protests on both sides of the border, and although Nieto offered an ill-advised helping hand by inviting candidate to a presidential-looking Trump to a state visit back when things were still up for grabs he’s now forced by overwhelming public to take a more adversarial stance against his self-proclaimed adversary.
Our experience of dealing with neighbors has taught us to well consider their positions, and in the current matter we can well understand why they’re miffed about being asked to pay for a wall to separate them from us and all the implicit and explicit anti-Mexican rhetoric that has gone along with it. Perhaps it’s another of Trump’s brilliant negotiation ploys to start from such an antagonistic position, but all of Trump’s past negotiations were with other businessmen who weren’t accountable to millions of Mexicans who felt their pride had been impugned by such tactics, and even then he still occasionally wound up in bankruptcy. If the currently unpopular yet relatively sane Nieto does succumb to Trump’s art of the deal he’ll likely be replaced in an upcoming election by one of those Latin American socialist demagogues who wins election by fanning the flames of resentment against the damned Yanquis, just as Trump won in part by fanning the flames of resentment against Latin Americans, and the next round of negotiations will be even more contentious.
Even in the worst case scenario it probably won’t come to another outright war, given that Mexican national pride lags far further behind its military prowess than it did even back in the 1840s, and despite the havoc it would wreak on America the Mexicans would would be advised to avoid a trade war, given that the past century and a half of Mexican socialism hasn’t improved its economic standing relative to the Americans, even if Trump and his more nationalistic supporters think that a huge portion of the American middle class wealth has been redistributed down there, but by now it should obvious even in America what people will endure as a matter of national pride. A mutually beneficial situation with Mexico could be worked out, just as we’ve managed mostly successful relationships with the many Mexican and Mexican-Americans we daily encounter here in the heartland, such as that comely Mexican-American woman who sells the best-deal-in-town donuts at the nearby Juarez Bakery with a mellifluous “buenos dias” and the guys who make the Carne Asada at the Lopex drive-thru late at night and the Esteban Jordan y Rio Jordan conjunto that we sometimes play on the cassette player, ┬ábut we can’t see it ending well if either side insists on winning.

— Bud Norman

A Rip-Roarin’ Fight, and No Result

Thursday night’s episode in the Republican presidential mini-series was the most entertaining yet, and for those interested in issues it was also the most informative, but it did little to advance the plot. Everyone did well, everyone took a few blows, and no one scored a clear victory.
Even the bit players did well, although not well enough to matter. Former computer executive Carly Fiorina managed get some attention on the undercard debate with jabs at Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s marital problems and rival Republican Donald Trump’s crony style of capitalism, but at this point it seems unlikely to get her back on the main stage. Ohio Gov. John Kasich wasn’t an annoying scold, representing a vast improvement over past debate performances, but that won’t make any difference for a candidate who is far too centrist for the party’s pugnacious mood. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who was briefly a front-runner in the race, was as always affable and admirable but couldn’t quite overcome the concerns about his policy chops that have caused his drop in the polls. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose calm and presidential demeanor only emphasizes that he is also too centrist for the moment, did well enough to hurt some of the other candidates but not enough to help himself.
There’s still an outside chance of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie contending for the nomination, what with the first primary being held in friendly New Hampshire, and that chance was probably improved by another strong performance. Being governor of a northeastern blue state has left Christie with some dangerously centrist positions of his own, but he defended his record on guns with vigor and even had a few achievements to cite, and at least his famously pugnacious style suits the fighting mood. Christie also tried to make up for his past literal embrace of President Barack Obama by calling him a “petulant child” for trying to impose gun regulations by executive action, and for the most part he was spared attacks by the others.
That’s probably because at this point the main players are Trump, a real estate mogul and reality television star, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who were mostly saving their jabs for one another.
The first clash came when Trump was asked about his recent insinuations that Cruz’ birth in Canada makes him constitutionally ineligible to become president, a lame reprisal of Trump’s unsuccessful “birther” arguments about Obama, and in his half-hearted stab at the issue Trump carelessly quoted the notoriously left-wing Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe. Cruz, who had already done a fine job of jabbing back at a New York Times hit piece over a long-ago loan that he reported on one form but not another, seemed to relish the fight. He shrewdly quoted Trump’s September assurances about his lawyers being satisfied that Cruz is indeed eligible, getting a good laugh by noting that the constitution hadn’t changed since then but the poll numbers have — a point Trump later laughingly conceded — and of course by noting that his former professor Tribe is a notorious leftist. When the former United States Attorney and Texas State Solicitor with a solid winning record in court cases waved off Trump’s suggestion that he take the matter to court, saying “That I won’t be taking legal advice from Donald Trump,” which got another big laugh, only the most died-hard Trump supporter or eastern bloc Olympic judge wouldn’t have scored the round for Cruz.
Trump got some points back when Cruz was asked about his statement that Trump represents “New York values.” Cruz initially got the applause by telling the noisily Republican South Carolina audience that people understand the term, which got a knowing a laugh, and he recalled a past interview when Trump admitted that his positions on a host of social issues are in line with the New York City rather than the Republican consensus, but he didn’t make much the needed clarification that he wasn’t talking about the hard hat worker riding the subway home to the Bronx, but rather the hipsters and university faculties and media grandees and ward-heeling socialists and blow-dried crony capitalists and creepy celebrities and everything else about the city that even those hard hat workers riding the subway home to the Bronx hate. This allowed Trump to speak with an uncharacteristic quietness about the city’s many undeniable virtues, and warm even our hearts by noting that the great William F. Buckley was a New Yorker, and eloquently recall its resilient response to the country’s most deadly terror attack, so even the eastern bloc Olympic judges will give him that round. He also effectively blunted what could have been a pretty good line, because people really do know what Cruz was talking about, so we give him a few extra points as well.
Cruz and Rubio also clashed, with both taking a few blows. At one point Rubio packed an 11-or-12-point litany of attacks at Cruz in a few brief bursts of sound, and even a former national collegiate debate champion such as Cruz couldn’t speed-talk fast enough to answer them all. Cruz later responded with Rubio’s past defection on the all-important issue of illegal immigration, which is pretty much the sole reason Rubio is stuck in third place rather than running away with this race, and once again Rubio had no defense other than mostly ineffective counter-attacks. On the whole, we’d say that Cruz got the better of it but that Rubio showed the aggressive style that Republicans seem to favor.
We note that Rubio used everything from Planned Parenthood to Common Core against Christie, who is widely perceived as his remaining competition as “the establishment candidate,” as if any sane candidate in either party would want that title in this particular election year, and also against Cruz, whose Senate insurgencies have made him as unpopular with the hated establishment as any of the candidates and thus endeared him to the party’s base, but he didn’t seem to have anything to say about Trump. That’s likely because Trump has lately been more concerned with Cruz and thus has had little to say about Rubio, so we credit both with tactical shrewdness, but we would have like to have seen two figuratively if not literally mess one another’s hair a bit.
Trump mostly did well, too. Aside from from the nice rendition of “New York, New York” he scored well with a question about South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s response to the president’s State of the Union address, in which her comments about not heeding the siren call of the angriest voices was widely understood as a criticism of Trump. Haley had already gotten a huge round of applause from her home state audience at the beginning of the debate, and he deftly praised her but admitted that he is indeed angry. An angry nation will surely understand, even if it can’t quite understand what Trump plans to do about it other than hire the best people and make America great again, and by the end of the evening Trump didn’t even seem the angriest man on stage. We think Trump got roughed up pretty well by all the candidates and even the otherwise disinterested and generally very good Fox Business News moderators on his proposal for punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, and trade matters in general, which is supposed to be the master negotiator’s strong point, but we suspect that went unnoticed by the large portion of the audience that was more interested in who got off the best insult.
Happily, though, we notice these debate audiences, if not the audiences at Trump’s rallies, seem to be tiring of his shock jock shtick, and that even he seems to be noticing. We counted three occasions when Trump was roundly booed for either boasting about his popularity or insulting the character of another candidate. After he called Bush a “weak man,” the boos were louder than Bush’s dwindling number of supporters could have possibly generated. On each occasion Trump appeared genuinely chastened, and we think he much preferred the warm applause from his more generous remarks about his hometown and South Carolina’s governor.
All in all, we still have no idea who’s going to win this thing.

–Bud Norman

As the Primaries Turn

The latest episodes in the competing mini-series about the election of the next president have lately taken some interesting twists. Over in the Democrats’ show there is suddenly speculation whether the front-runner will soon be indicted on federal charges of endangering the national security, while on the Republican channel the front-runner is openly speculating if his most troublesome rival is legally eligible to be in the running. Both plot twists might yet prove red herrings, but at least they provide an amusing distraction from all that boring talk of stock market meltdowns and North Korean bomb tests and the usual unpleasantness in the Middle East.
There has long been a tantalizing possibility that former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might be in legal jeopardy for using a personal and unsecured e-mail account to conduct her official State Department business, and to many it seemed all the more tantalizingly possible after former United States Attorney and current cable news pundit Joseph DiGenova went on a popular conservative talk radio show and confidently predicted that the combined outrage of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the government’s broader intelligence community would force Attorney General Loretta Lynch to bring charges. DiGenova’s predictions have often proved prescient, he’s known for having reliable sources in the FBI and the intelligence community, and Clinton’s e-mails sure do look like a clear violation of the law, and her claims that there were no classified documents on the “home-brew” server she kept in a shady company’s bathroom have already been revealed as blatant lies, so it’s at least plausible. The counter arguments from the more skeptical pundits that President Barack Obama’s Attorney General is going to bring charges against the Democratic party’s presumptive presidential nominee no matter what evidence some disgruntled executive branch employees might muster are also plausible, though, so at this point we offer no predictions.
Some slight surviving shred of faith in the American government allows us to hold out hope that FBI Director James Comey will live up to his ruggedly independent reputation and his boast to Congress that he “doesn’t give a rip about politics” in the investigation, and we’re by now cynical enough to wish that Obama’s pettiness and self-centeredness will allow him to allow his Attorney General to play some Chicago style politics with his erstwhile rival, but neither lead to any conclusions. We will venture that anything short of an indictment won’t alter the Democratic presidential nomination race, where Clinton’s most troublesome rival has already declared that he’s “sick and tired of hearing about her damned e-mails,” but we would like to think that a full revolt by the FBI and the intelligence making clear how very political a non-indictment is would have some effect on a general election.
The general election will co-star a Republican, though, and at this point it seems likely that he or she will have her or his own problems to deal with. Still ahead in all the national polls is billionaire real estate mogul and reality show star Donald Trump, but he’s lately feeling enough heat from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that he’s unleashing his famously scathing criticisms on the rival. He’s even suggested that Cruz, born to an American-born mother and Cuban-born but naturalized-American father, might not be eligible for the presidency because Cruz was born in Canada during his parent’s brief career-related stay there. Such birthplace chatter is as old as the presidency of perhaps-Canadian-born Chester A. Arthur, and has persisted through the presidential campaigns of Mexican-born George Romney and Arizona Territory-born Barry Goldwater and Panama Canal Zone-born John McCain right up to the current president, who Trump had previously and unconvincingly claimed was born in Kenya, but it hasn’t yet kept anyone from winning the presidency. Cruz cheekily responded to the speculation, which didn’t quite rise to the level of an outright accusation, with a “tweeted” clip of that infamous “Happy Days” episode where Fonzie jumped over a shark, a sly pop cultural reference that should suffice to put the matter to rest.
We note that Trump has also questioned Cruz on theological grounds, telling an audience of Iowa Republicans in advance of that state’s Christian-dominated primary that “you’ve got to remember, in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay?” Whether a thrice-married casino magnate can successfully persuade evangelical Iowans that he’s more their type than a once-married Baptist with a perfect pro-life voting record and no ties to the gambling industry and the same anti-communist heritage as beloved sit-com character Ricky Ricardo remains to be seen, but we do have our suspicions how that might turn out. Trump has also proposed a 45 percent tariff on all Chinese goods, which would raise the price of an average shopping trip to Wal-Mart by approximately 45 percent and start a global trade war with little prospects of victory, but that also seems a desperate gambit.
The bomb-throwing and government-shutdown-threatening Cruz is every bit as infuriating to the Republican establishment as Trump, whose rise to the top of the polls has largely been fueled by an understandable anti-establishment sentiment among Republicans, and Cruz is perhaps even more beloved by those bellicose talk radio talkers who have further fueled Trump’s rise, so Trump’s sudden turn against him is not unexpected. We don’t expect it will hurt Cruz in the Republican primaries, but it provides some fodder for a whispering campaign by the Democrats in the general election, even if they aren’t afraid to say it more loudly for fear of reviving the old rumors about Obama’s Kenyan birth or a sense that Democrats just don’t like “the other,” and we’ll nervously watch how it plays out.
If the presidential race turns out to be a match between a convicted felon and a constitutionally-ineligible foreigner, we’ll be rooting for the constitutionally-ineligible foreigner.

— Bud Norman

Have It Your Way, or the Federal Government’s

On those rare occasions when we resort to fast food we’ll sometimes drop by a Burger King. There’s one nearby, and although it’s on a shady strip of North Broadway the drive-through service is usually prompt and the food is a more or less fair trade for the meager amount of money being charged, especially by the standards of two o’clock in the morning in our early-to-bed town, and we don’t always insist on gourmet fare. Now that Burger King is becoming Canadian we’ll probably be expected to boycott the chain, but we won’t willingly forgo those greasy burgers and salty fries for any political reasons.
According to news reports the Burger King company is purchasing a controlling share of the Tim Horton’s chain of coffee and donut stores in Canada in order to reincorporate itself as a Canadian entity, which means it will be paying a cumulative corporate income tax rate of slightly more than 26 percent rather than the world-decor 40 percent that the federal and state and local governments take here in the United States. This strikes us as a sound business move, and a good way to keep those Whoppers and fries affordable and the pimply-faced fellows at the drive-through windows employed, but the left is already denouncing the chain for its lack of “economic patriotism.” So far as we understand the concept, it means that when companies respond to the economic incentives that the federal government has created according to a rational self-interest rather than the way the government would prefer it is somehow the company’s fault rather than the government’s. This hardly seems a good reason not to have our burgers our way, which involves lots of mustard and no ketchup or mayonnaise and little regard for the tax liabilities of the burger chain.
America’s high corporate tax rates have been driving an increasing number of American corporations to friendlier shores in recent years, including most of the country’s former pharmaceutical giants, and the administration’s response has been to ratchet up the attacks on those companies’ reputations. This does nothing to increase the revenues to the federal government, of course, but it seems to make the administration happy. A better idea would be to make America’s tax code competitive with such countries as a Canada, which would almost certain provide the feds more money to spend on punitive corporation regulations and any other nonsense they might come up with, but that would be good for corporations and thus anathema to the modern left.
If you’ve seen any movies from the big-time and tax-coddled Hollywood movie studios lately you already know how much the left hates those dastardly corporations, which are supposedly so evil that they substituted for the International Communist Conspiracy in a remake of “The Manchurian Candidate” a few years ago. The left’s more idealistic sorts are constantly sending out anti-corporate messages on Facebook over their Apple computers while driving their General Motors hybrid cars to the local Starbucks, usually with money they’ve been paid by some profit-driven corporation, and they always seem surprised that while their war on corporations is going so well the economy doesn’t seem to be gaining any steam. They’ll definitely be boycotting Burger King, which will probably provide the next villain for the next bit action-adventure epic starring some muscle-bound Hollywood leftist, but at least we won’t have to sit behind them in line at the franchise at North Broadway.

— Bud Norman

O Canada

We’re old enough to have been around when Pierre Trudeau was transforming Canada into the one of the world’s wussiest nations, and well remember how very envious was the American left. Trudeau was unabashedly socialist, considered an intellectual, and had a tabloid-worthy sex life, so he embodied everything Americans liberals would be looking for in a national leader over the subsequent decades. Even after Trudeau’s disastrous reign came to an end Canada retained a reputation for enlightened liberalism, with its health care system and gun-shyness and apologetic foreign policy and exquisitely sensitive multi-culturalism constantly cited by the likes of Michael Moore to shame the relatively conservative rubes south of its border.
We’re also old enough, alas, to have arrived at a point in our lives when we’re pining for the sort of national leadership that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is now providing Canada. The sobering thought occurred to us again when Harper released a statement of unequivocal support for Israel’s right to respond however it wishes to the murderous rocket attacks on its people by the despicable terror gang Hamas, with none of the absurd moral relativism or bossy insistence on a suicidal two-state solution with a Hamas-affiliated government that our own abashedly socialist and considered-an-intellectual national leader was propounding in an op-ed piece in an Israeli magazine just before the latest attacks by that very same despicable terror gang starting lobbing rockets at civilian targets across Israel. Admitting the wisdom of the Canadian way is still uncomfortable for us, but it’s becoming all too familiar.
Harper is also quite right about the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would benefit both Canada and America and keep inexpensive oil out of the hands of Chinese industries that will use it in more environmentally unfriendly ways, but our political leadership is too beholden to environmental fantasists to allow it. Canada’s economy was largely unscathed by the financial meltdown that occurred in America and elsewhere because it had wisely declined to require its banks to loan gazillions of dollars to un-creditworthy home buyers, has further enriched itself under Harper’s leadership by encouraging rather than discouraging the exploitation of its vast natural resources through new technologies, and is now several spots ahead of the United States on the Heritage Foundation’s reliable rankings of each country’s economic freedom. Harper has even begun an anti-carbon tax coalition with the conservative government of Australia, which came to power after the liberals’ insane cap-and-trade scheme proved calamitous for that island continent’s economy, and it’s almost enough to make us think that punting on third down isn’t such a bad idea.
One of those famously smart French intellectuals is warning Britons that the European Union is demographically dying and they’d be better off casting their lot with the Anglosphere, which strikes us as good advice, but for the first time in our long lives we don’t expect for the Americans to take their usual lead in that coalition. Perhaps in another two-and-a-half years the United States can assume its rightful position among that handful of nations that the only ones to be on the right side of every battle against tyranny during the 20th Century, but until then we can only envy the leadership to the north. There’s some consolation is knowing that the once-envious liberals are just as discombobulated by it all, but it is faint.

— Bud Norman