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The Two “Jokers” in the News

The two big stories in the news all weekend were about “Joker,” the comic book movie that’s been drawing a huge box office take and generating even more controversy, and of course the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump, whose seeming solicitations of foreign meddling in the next election are also quite controversial.
Which strikes us interesting coincidence, given that Trump’s defenders on the Sunday morning news shows were insisting that Trump was only joking when he stood before all the network cameras and microphones asked various foreign governments for dirt on a potential election rival.
As much as we’d like to weigh in on the “Joker” controversy, we haven’t seen the movie and probably won’t until it shows up on Netflix, as we have little interest in even the most controversial comic book movies, and we don’t pass judgment on any movies we haven’t seen. So far as we can tell it’s the same controversy we’ve gone through with “The Wild Bunch” and “Bonnie and Clyde” and “A Clockwork Orange” and “Kids” and “Fight Club” and other disturbing and hard-to-watch films about amoral protagonists that are nonetheless praiseworthy cinematic commentaries on their times and the human condition, but we don’t much like comic book movies and might well quit “Joker” halfway through a Netflix viewing, as we’ve done with other much-hyped comic book movies.
By now we’ve been through a lot of political imbroglios, too, but this whole “the President was only joking” defense is something that only came along with the Trump presidency. We remember President Ronald Reagan being caught on a “hot mic” saying he’d launched a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, but in that case he was clearly joking with what he thought was a few understanding friends, and no harm came from it. In this case it’s not nearly clear Trump was joking when he stood in front of the cameras and microphones and cameras and urged the Ukrainian and Chinese and Australian governments to investigate a potential rival, and it’s arguably harmful to America’s international relationships.
There’s now a second “whistle-blower” alleging that Trump asked the Ukrainian president during a discussion about America’s military aid to the beleaguered country to investigate a potential electoral rival, this one said to have even better credentials and first hand knowledge, which will likely further bolster the Democrats’ impeachment efforts. So far, the President seems to be saying so “what if I did solicit foreign interference in an American election?” while his Sunday morning news show apologists are insisting he’s only joking.
On the American Broadcasting System’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan responded to a question about Trump’s quotes by asking “George, do you really think he was serious about thinking that China’s going to investigate the Biden family?” Meanwhile, on the Columbia Broadcast System’s “Face the Nation,” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt was saying “I doubt the the China was meant seriously, to tell you the truth.” Earlier, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had explained to the media that “I think he did it to provoke you to ask me and others and get outraged by it.”
Our guess is that Trump will ultimately go with the “so what if I did?” strategy and leave his Sunday morning apologists under the proverbial bus. He famously asked the Russians on live television to hack his 2016 Democratic opponent’s e-mail, told Stephanopoulos that he didn’t see anything wrong with accepting campaign help from a foreign government, and has lately said on all the networks that the ChiComs and Aussies and the Ukrainian comedian all chip in. He didn’t seem to be joking in any case, and by now he really can’t make it any clearer that he seriously doesn’t see anything wrong about it, but the die-hard fans don’t seem to mind.
Although we can’t find the link, we saw recently saw some YouTube video of a Democratic congresswoman in a swing district defending her pro-impeachment inquiry vote in front of a hostile town hall, and when she made the by now hard-to-refute argument that Trump had solicited foreign help in an American election much of the crowd started chanting “fake news, fake news.” When she cited Trump’s own statements and other hard-to-refute evidence the same members of the crowd started shouting that Trump was merely seeking evidence of his opponent’s corruption from those foreign governments. They seemed to like that better than the “he was only joking” defense.
All of the damn Democrats and most of the inexplicable independents will take a dimmer view of an American president openly inviting foreign interference in an American election, however, and something in our old-fashioned Republican souls doesn’t like it any better. We’d like to think Trump is only joking, but we don’t think it’s something an American president should be joking about.

— Bud Norman

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Why Trump Fans Love Trump

The Democrats are increasingly eager to impeach President Donald for soliciting foreign assistance in his reelection campaign, as Trump’s own statements suggest he did with Ukraine, and on Thursday he stood before the national news cameras and asked China for the same favor. According to talk radio talker Rush Limbaugh, “This is why you love Donald Trump.”
If you don’t love Trump as much as Limbaugh and his listeners, though, you might question the wisdom of a president negotiating foreign policy on the basis of what allies and adversaries alike can do for him personally. You might even question the legality of doing so, and maybe even consider it a high crime or misdemeanor that warrants impeachment. The latest polls show a rapidly increasing number of Americans see it that way, with about half the country now supporting an impeachment inquiry, with a plurality eager to see Trump removed from office, and as the facts and confessions continue pile up Trump will probably become even more unpopular.
If you do love Trump as much as Limbaugh and his “ditto-head” listeners, on the other hand, this really is what you love about the president. Limbaugh’s argument is that by hurtling unsubstantiated allegations against former Vice President and potential election rival Joe Biden and his son, and openly asking foreign leaders to prove them, he is forcing the press to publicize the claims. That is indeed why some people love Trump, but Limbaugh’s argument is unlikely to persuade anyone not fully on board the Trump train already, and we’re not at all sure Trump is being shrewd.
There is indeed something highly suspicious about Biden’s son’s highly lucrative international business career despite an obvious lack of any requisite credentials, but even if you believe the worst about the Bidens it’s just a temporary distraction from Trump’s woes at best. In the unlikely event that Democratic primary voters pay enough attention to turn on Biden, the Democrats will come up some other nominee, and probably a more formidable one who doesn’t have a similar scandal. That nominee will also be able to talk at length about how Trump’s unimpressive children have profited from their father’s position, and Trump and the likes of Limbaugh will have to come up some reason why that’s no big deal.
Given that Biden was likely to self-destruct in any case, openly soliciting foreign influence in an American presidential election to bring him down strikes us as an unnecessarily risky tactic by Trump. Limbaugh and the “ditto-heads” and other die-hard fans will cheer on Trump’s efforts to lock up his political opponents, but sooner or later there’s going to be another Democratic president, and when that happens they’ll be taking an entirely different stand regarding foreign influence on American elections.

— Bud Norman

Another Foreign Adventure

President Donald Trump is back at the White House after a Group of Seven summit in France, and it was as interesting as the rest of his foreign adventures. As usual Trump didn’t return with any economic or diplomatic or military deals worth bragging about, and as usual he had a number of cringe-inducing moments.
Trump skipped a meeting with the other heads of state about climate change, explaining that he was tied up at more urgent bilateral negotiations with the German Chancellor and Indian Prime Minister, but both leaders were clearly at the climate change confab. He told a reporter that he had entertained second thoughts about waging a trade war with China and that “I have second thoughts about everything,” and his communications team spent the rest of the next day explaining the very uncharacteristic statement by saying that the president misheard the questions and meant to say he regretted not waging the trade war with even higher tariffs. Trump did brag about the big trade deal he’d negotiated with Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained that he’d only agreed to continue negotiations.
There was some further bragging that  two high-ranking Chinese officials had called Trump to indicate their willingness to negotiate a quick peace in the trade war, which heartened America’s stock markets, but by the closing bell the Chinese government denied that any such calls has been made. The president also continued to hector the other leaders about allowing Russian dictator Vladimir Putin back into the club, despite Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea, which Trump blamed on former President Barack Obama because “Obama was outsmarted” and “it could have been stopped with the right whatever.”
Trump also claimed credit that there was any trade talk at all, even though several meetings on the topic were on the schedules handed out the international press at the onset. On the way home Trump “tweeted” that what all other the leaders’ most asked question was why he gets such bad press at home when he’s clearly doing such a bang-up job, a question which none of the world leaders asked publicly.
The next annual G-7 summit is set to be in America, so Trump also made a sales pitch to hold it at his golf resort in Doral, Florida. He spoke of how close it is to the Miami airport, helpfully explained that Miami is a large American city, and went on a such length about the gorgeous rooms and golf course scenery and ample parking that he sounded like a timeshare salesman in Branson, Missouri. Back home the usual nitpickers were making their usual nitpicking gripes about the emoluments clause to the Constitution and how presidents aren’t supposed to be enriching themselves with their office, and the world leaders whose constituents aren’t much enamored of Trump were rolling their eyes the way you might during a sales pitch for a timeshare in Branson.
Trump might yet swing the deal, though, and he needs it. Business is reportedly down in Doral since Trump became president, and Trump is lately griping that he’s losing billions he could have been making on paid speeches and other business deals he could be making if only he hadn’t so selflessly offered himself as a candidate for President of the United States. The nitpickers will nitpick, but Trump will pay them no mind. There’s a good chance the Democrats won’t get the Senate supermajority needed to kick him out office even in the more likely case they can muster an impeachment vote, while the die-hard fans haven’t minded the hundreds of millions his very frequent golf outings to his own wholly courses are costing the taxpayer, they and won’t begrudge him a few hundred million more in payments from foreign governments. By the time all those state attorneys general wend their way through the Trump-packed courts with their emoluments clause lawsuits he will at least be out of office.
The rest of the G-7 might well meekly going along with it, too, but we don’t see America getting a similarly sweet deal.

— Bud Norman

An Awkward Situation at a Global Summit

There’s another Group of Seven summit this weekend, and it will likely be interesting. The other six world leaders in attendance disagree with President Donald Trump about trade policy, climate change, the Iranian nuclear deal, China’s crackdown on Hong Kong protestors, Russia’s ongoing annexation of Crimea, the necessity of western military alliances, and pretty much everything else that’s likely to come up in the discussions.
They won’t come right out and say so, being appropriately reserved and dignified heads of state, but the rest of the six world leaders also regard Trump as a bullying and buffoonish caricature of an ugly American. Trump seems to relish the opprobrium of the elitist and globalist Cannucks and Eurotrash and inscrutable Orientals, and the die-hard fans seems to love him for it, but he’s unlikely to return from the summit with any of those great deals he’s promised his die-hard fas.
This time around the summit is being hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, and he’s reportedly doing his best to prevent Trump from blowing it up. The summits have traditionally ended with a joint communique assuring the world that its seven largest economies are pretty much in agreement about most things, but Trump blew that tradition up during the last summit in Canada, so Macron has decided to skip the part about telling the world how its largest free economies are generally in agreement about most things.
Which comes at a perilous time, as several of the G-7 countries are sliding into recession and the American economy is slowing, and Trump’s trade wars with China and the European Union and our southeast Asian allies are likely the reason, as far as the rest of the G-7 are concerned. Meanwhile, the dictator-for-life overseeing a slowing Chinese economy sees no reason to negotiate with a mere president who’s likely to be out of office in less than two years. None of those six other reserved and dignified world leaders have any incentive to offend America and its still formidable economy and military might, but they all now that Trump is highly unpopular with their constituents and any kowtowing won’t serve them well.. Here’s hoping it won’t blow up, but we can’t see this G-7 summit being a smashing success for anyone.

— Bud Norman

Placing Preemptive Blame

President Donald Trump is assuring the American public that the economy won’t go into recession for so long as he’s in office, and that if it does he’s certainly not to blame. Somehow that does not inspire confidence.
The stock markets have been up the last couple of days and the unemployment rate is still unusually low, while the gross domestic product has lately crawled forward at an Obama-era pace, but there are reasons for Trump and the rest of us to be nervous. The treasury markets recently went into an “inverted yield curve,” an obscure statistic that has presaged every recession of the last 50 years, business investment has lately been down, the federal deficit is up beyond Obama-era levels, such major economies as Great Britain’s and Germany’s are sliding into recession, China’s behemoth economy is rapidly slowing, and since July there has been a 6.4 percent decline in consumer confidence. The global smart money doesn’t seem to have much faith in Trump’s leadership, and increasingly sees it as yet another reason to be nervous.
All of which amounts to another conspiracy against Trump, of course. Trump explains that the “fake news” media — which now includes Fox News — is drumming up potentially self-fulfilling recession prophecies in order to deny him a landslide reelection. The media are merely reporting the official government statistics, but Trump is also skeptical of official government statistics. Back when President Barack Obama was in office and the stats showed slow but steady economic improvement Trump opined that the bureaucrats were cooking the books to make the boss look good. When Trump became president and the bureaucrats continued to report the same slow but steady trajectory he happily embraced it as official government statistics, but apparently anything that doesn’t look good is coming from the “deep state” cabal trying to make the new boss look bad.
Trump is also preemptively blaming Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has not done the severe interest rate-cutting Trump thinks is needed to prevent the upcoming recession that Trump assures us is not going to happen. Powell’s policies are quite prudent if the economy is the well-tuned ad humming machine Trump claims it is, and will come handy if that’s not the case and there are still interest rates to be cut, but if worse comes to worst Trump will have a handy scapegoat in the man he appointed to head the Fed.
No matter what, Trump will insist his global trade wars had anything to do with any global economic difficulties that might occur. He still insists that China is paying those billions of dollars of tariffs rather than the Wax-Mart shoppers, even as he backs off from his latest tariff threat for fear that Christmas shopping might not be as brisk, and there’s not reason a global trade war has anything to do with a downturn in the global economy.
Trump ran for president on the argument that all the military alliances and trading partnerships America had negotiated since the end of World War II were a raw deal, despite the relative global peace and prosperity that followed here and mostly abroad, and a promise that he’d knock it all down and negotiate a far better deal for the United States. So far he’s been fairly successful at the knocking it down part, but he’s not yet negotiated that sweetest deal ever.
None of the world’s dictators nor any of its democratically elected leaders have any reason to bail Trump out by agreeing to his demands for American hegemony, so that sweetest deal ever seems even more elusive. If they face any popular backlash to an economic downturn, both the dictators and the democratically elected leaders will happily and plausibly blame Trump.
On the other hand, the next recession might not happen before the next presidential election. There’s always a next recession, no matter who is president, what with the business cycle being an un-repealable law of economics, but they’re hard to predict. We’ve noticed they usually come at an inconvenient time for Republican incumbents, but despite his six casino bankruptcies Trump has often been lucky in his life.
An alarming 74 percent of the economists polled by the National Association for Business Economics expect a recession by 2021, but they probably have it in for Trump, and we remember the old joke about how economists have predicted the last 30 of the past ten recessions, and we hope they’re wrong. Not for Trump’s sake, of course, as we can’t stand the guy and will gladly blame his wrecking-ball economics if the global economy crashes to the ground, but because we don’t like recessions.

— Bud Norman

That Darned Inverted Yield Curve

The bond market has an inverted yield curve, a fancy term which means that the returns on two-year bonds exceed the returns on ten-year bonds, which means that the smart money is seeking safe haven from a coming storm. In plainer terms, an inverted yield curve has always been a reliable predictor of a looming recession.
Combined with some other distressing data about business investment and manufacturing hiring and economic downturns in such important countries as Great Britain and Germany and China, the news spooked Wall Street so bad that all the stock markets dropped by more than 3 precent with Dow Jones Industrial average having it’s worst day in decade. The three major American stock indexes have dropped a full 7 percent over the past three weeks, the Asian and European and South American markets are similarly panicked, and you can only imagine the anxiety its causing President Donald Trump.
Trump can and surely will still brag about the unusually low unemployment rate and how economic growth has been chugging along at a slightly better rate than the previous six years of the Obama administration, but for now he can’t brag that despite all his faults he’s delivered the greatest economy ever. For now he’s on “twitter” blaming Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell for not more aggressively cutting interest rates, but Trump appointed Powell, whose policies have been in the long term interest of the country rather than the short-term political advantage of Trump, and the smart money isn’t buying it even the rubes in the red MAGA ball caps do.
The smart money seems to think that Trump’s trade wars and deficit spending and petty feuds with longtime allies and trading partners is largely responsible for the mess. When Trump retreated from his threatened increase on tariffs with China on Tuesday the stock market had a good day, which was quickly erased by Wednesday’s carnage, and it’s increasingly clear that the trade wars have taken a toll on the global economy. The Chinese economy has slowed, but given that it’s either the biggest or second biggest in the world that hasn’t helped global economic growth, and given that Trump’s good buddy and Chinese dictator Xi Jinping doesn’t have to worry about a recession during a reelection, So Trump’s not likely to win the greatest deal in the history of the world by election day. The British economy seems in recession due to its “Brexit” from the European Union, which Trump heartily and needlessly endorsed, the German government is blaming a recent economic downturn on Britain’s “Brexit” and a global economic downturn due to frayed trade relations, so the silver lining in the looming storm clouds is hard to find.
We’re not panicked, at least not yet, as the unemployment rate is still low,  but there are reasons to worry. During the last recession, the worst since the Great Depression, a Republican president and a Democratic Congress agreed on a controversial bail-out bill that was hated by both the far left and the far right, but won the endorsement of both major party presidential nominees. In retrospect we begrudgingly admit it might have averted a catastrophic economic meltdown, and note a couple of years later a Democratic president and Republican Congress didn’t get in the way in the longest economic expansion in America’s history, but we worry that such bipartisan solutions aren’t at all possible in the current political climate.
America carefully coordinated its monetary and other economic policies with our allies and trading partners during the last global recession, which might well have averted the worst of it, but that’s harder to envision happening these days. Trump has been antagonistic toward allies, obsequious toward enemies, and is not going to save the day with the greatest deal ever made.
Trump is not entirely to blame, of course. Adding to the world’s economic anxiety is an eye-popping 50 percent drop in the Argentine stock market after one of those Latin American socialist crazies got elected president, and Trump is right to argue that several of the Democratic contenders for his job are just as bad. If the economic excrement hits the fan between now and election day, the Democrats will happily place blame where blame is due but won’t do anything to bale out the country to the political benefit of Trump. None of our longtime allies seem interested in helping Trump, either, except for a few fellow populist and authoritarian nationalists.
Still, we’ll hold out hope for the best and leave it to Trump to worry about the worst. If he can’t run for reelection on the argument that for all his faults he’s wrought the greatest economy ever he’s in bad shape, as he he’s not very popular and has a lot of faults to overlook. We’ll also hold out hope that the damned Democrats don’t nominate some Latin American socialist crazy who would make things even worse, and for all our short-term worries we’ll place our long-term faith in the resiliency of the America’s still more or less free market economy and the eventual genius of the American people.

— Bud Norman

A Trump Retreat in the Trade War

The stock markets were all up on Tuesday, mostly due to President Donald Trump backing off his threats to impose the further tariffs on Chinese imports that have lately been dragging the stock markets down. Trump is loathe to admit a mistake, but he hates a slumping stock market even more.
By backing off his threat of another 10 percent tariff on $300 billion of such popular Chinese imports as cellphones and laptop computers, at least until the Christmas buying season is well underway, lest retail sales suffer, Trump has tacitly admitted that all his talk about how the Chinese are paying the billions of dollars in tariffs rather than the American consumer was pure balderdash. He won’t openly admit it, of course, and his die-hard fans will indulge him the fiction, but the smart money in stock markets and the rest of the world know the score.
Trump somehow became President of the United States on the argument that he wrote “The Art of Deal,” and that as the world’s greatest negotiator he would deliver the greatest trade deals in the history of the world, but for now he’s more intent on maintaining a slow but steady economic status quo. This makes it harder for him to deliver on his promise of that greatest trade deal ever with China in time for his reelection day, as he has clearly blinked in these high-stakes negations and the Chinese are stereotypically wily enough to notice, but if the stock markets are up and the unemployment rate is down ob election day the die-hard fans won’t mind.
This all comes as the brutal Chinese dictatorship is brutally cracking down on pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, which Trump cares little about and rightly assumes that most of the voters in America care even less about. and he is not going to express any indignation about that. Trump claims that his very close friendship with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping is the reason that Sino-American relations are going so swimmingly, and he’s not one to let a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors get in the way of a such a beautiful friendship.
November is a long ways off, and the next November even longer off, and there’s no telling how things might be by then. We’ll hold out hope that economy will be chugging along at a slow but steady rate, prepare as best as we can for the worst, and not expect that Trump or any damned Democrat will strike the greatest deal ever made.

— Bud Norman

Casualties of the Trade War

Trade wars are harder to assess than military wars, where you can tell who’s winning and losing by such metrics as ground gained or lost and casualties inflicted or suffered. The stock markets are probably the best indicator of how a trade war is going, and lately they indicate that President Donald Trump’s trade war with China is not going well.
When the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record high on July 15 Trump took full credit, but we don’t expect he’ll assume any responsibility for the 2.9 percent drop on Monday nor the 6 percent drop since the record high. The huge sell-offs in nearly every sector of the economy have clearly been a response to the tariffs Trump had imposed on Chinese imports and the retaliatory tariffs China imposed on the considerable exports America’s agricultural and aviation and other high-tech industries relied on selling to the first or second largest economy in the world. China has also signaled it will resume manipulating its currency to gain a foreign trade advantage, Trump has urged via “tweet” that the Federal Reserve Board retaliate by artificially weakening the dollar, and so far the smart money isn’t buying Trump’s assurances that America is going wind up with the greatest deal in the history of the world.
We can’t claim to be smart money, but we’re longtime observers of geopolitics and global trade and domestic political pressures, and we figure the smart money is right to be worried. Trump claims to have a Nietzschean will to power and personal rapport with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping that will soon result in that greatest deal in the history of the world, but he went bankrupt several times in the casino business despite house odds and he’s clearly in the inferior position in these asymmetrical negotiation.
Trump’s trade policies are inflicting severe damage on China’s economy, but his good buddy and brutal dictator Xi needn’t worry about that. He doesn’t have to face reelection, the repressed Chinese press isn’t going to make a fuss about an economic downturn, protesters will be cowed from gathering on the streets, the country’s privately held businesses will try to stay privately held, and in keeping with China’s ancient traditions Xi’s looking well past the current spat and a hundred or so years down the road.
Trump, on the other hand, has to deal with the daily headlines from that pesky free press and independent Fed and powerful companies and restive farm state Republicans and the rest of our democratic process, and he never thinks beyond the next news cycle. As much as he clearly envies his dear friend Xi’s dictatorial powers, Trump is obliged to appease the gods of the stock market and public opinion. There are just 15 months until the next presidential election, which is a blink in the eye of a Chinese dictator and an eternity to an American president, so between now and election day we don’t expect Trump to deliver to America the greatest trade deal in the history of the world.
The best case scenario is that Trump agrees to a desultory return to the status quo, with China making some slight concessions in their undeniably unfair trading practices, and Trump’s die-hard fans calling it the best trade deal in the history of the world. The smart money won’t be impressed, but given how crazy the Democrats are these days Trump might yet win reelection if the stock markets are slightly up and the unemployment rate remains low.

— Bud Norman

The Latest News from the Trade War

The big story on Tuesday was another round of Democratic presidential primary debates, where the center-left types reportedly clashed with the more leftward types, but our brother and his wife are in town and the weather’s been far too nice to bother with that at the moment. When we got home we were more stuck by the latest on news on the ongoing trade war with China.
President Donald Trump has “tweeted” his assurance that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” but his trade war with China has thus far proved neither good nor easy to win. Trump and his die-hard fans have been telling us for at least a year that China is down on its knees begging for any trade agreement Trump might grant them, but the latest presidential “tweets” signal that the Chinese are willing to hold out for better terms until at least the next presidential election, when they might get the chance to negotiate with another administration. Naturally Trump is blaming the Democrats for daring to choose someone who might challenge him, and promising that if he gets reelected he’ll deliver the greatest trade deal the world has ever seen, a trade deal so great your head will spin.
We don’t have much faith any of these Democratic contenders will do any better, but neither do we worry our heads will fatefully spin with what Trump brings about. The trade war is is definitely harming China’s economy, as Trump triumphantly “tweets,” but only the most slack-jawed yokel in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap believes that America is benefiting from all those billions of tariff dollars the Chinese are pouring into our best-ever economy. The tariffs are being paid by the MAGA-cap-wearing suckers lined up at Wal-Mart with a basketful of Chinese goods, the world’s two biggest economies are both taking a hit, the rest of the world’s economy are slowing as a result, and it all makes it somewhat more likely another administration will finish the negotiations. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, described by Trump as a “close friend,” doesn’t have to worry about any upcoming election campaigns, and survive an economic slowdown more easily than any head of state from a more or less democratic nation.
Once upon a time in the Grand Old Party we could have imagined well-credentialed Republican experts dealing with China, and such establishment presidents as Eisenhower and Nixon and Reagan and a couple of Bushes guiding them along. China is indeed an unfair trading partner, stealing intellectual property and occasionally manipulating its currency and charging unfair tariffs, but they’re doing that to the rest of the world, too, and we think a unified world could convince them to stop. Trump has instead chosen to start trade wars with the rest of the world, but most of these Democrats are even more isolationist and protectionist than Trump, and those well-credentialed Republican experts who use to handle these matters in a way that furthered global peace and prosperity are sitting next to us on the political sidelines.
On such a sunny summer day as this,  and with our brother and  sister-in-law in town, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Far South of the Border

The weather around here has been awful lately, but we’ve taken some comfort in reading about how much worse it’s been to the north and east. Similarly, no matter how bad America’s politics get we can still be glad that we’re not living in Venezuela.
Not so long ago in our lifetimes the oil-rich nation of Venezuela was prosperous and peaceful by Latin American standards, but the socialist regimes of President Hugo Chavez and then President Nicolas Maduro have wrought an unmitigated economic disaster. Unemployment is sky-high, such basic necessities as toilet paper are desperately hard to find, and the inflation rate is a staggering one million percent. Mass protests are filling the streets of the capital and other cities, the guy who lost the last presidential election under highly suspect circumstances is plausibly claiming to be the legitimate head of state, and it makes America’s protracted and seemingly intractable partial government shutdown look like no big deal.
President Donald Trump’s administration has pleasantly surprised us by siding with opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency, which is backed by those hundreds of thousands of protestors packing the streets, as well as the governments of several of the country’s South American neighbors. It’s surprising in part because Russia and the Venezuelan military and the more autocratic government of America are still backing Maduro, as well as the fact that Trump typically admires his strong man style of governance, and that Trump doesn’t usually much care what goes on south of America’s border so long as it stays there. We’ll attribute it to a traditional Republican revulsion for Latin American socialism and the clout of the very traditional Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but give Trump some credit nonetheless.
Which is not to say that it will prove helpful to Venezuela, and it’s possible it could make things worse. There’s an understandable if not entirely unjustified resentment of Yankee imperialism throughout Latin America, which Latin American dictators have long used to rally public opinion against even the best-intended and well-considered efforts to intervene in their affairs, and Maduro should and Maduro should be able make even more hay of it when the Yankee imperialist is the hated-throughout-Latin-America Trump. Maduro retains the the support of the military, which we doubt Trump wants to tangle with, as well as Russia and Cuba and Bolivia and other countries Trump is eager to make deals with, while China and Mexico and other important trading partners are staying on the sidelines, and Trump is known for making his own sudden expedient policy shifts to the sidelines.
Even so, for now Trump finds himself on the side of Canada and most members of the Organization of American States and those hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets, and we’re hopeful he’ll stay there. Chavez and to a lesser extent Maduro were once the darlings of America’s radical left, and the American right’s favorite cautionary tale about the consequences of socialism, and for now the right is clearly winning that argument. Although Maduro is a classic populist strongman autocrat and that Guaido fellow is a thin and youthful and handsome and glib fellow who reminds of a Venezuelan version of America’s Democratic center-left darling Beto O’Rourke, Trump is probably politically astute enough to know his stand will play well with all sorts of freedom-loving Americans.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world also seems worse off than we are here in frigid Kansas. Crazy Venezuelan-style left wing populism has much of Central America heading to the United States border, and crazy Trump-style populism is currently making things worse in Brazil and Poland and Hungary and Italy and the Philippines. The sensibly centrist governments of France and the United Kingdom are currently in crisis, too, with the streets of Paris once again burning and the Parliament in London trying to find its way out of a slumping European Union.
Better by far to be here in frigid Kansas than in China or Russia, or anywhere in Africa and the Arab world, or even the most up-to-date and well-heated cities of Asia and Europe. We’re still eagerly awaiting spring and the reopening of the federal government, and in the meantime we’ll warm ourselves with the knowledge of how much worse most of the rest of world’s unlucky folks have it.

— Bud Norman