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Greenland?

In the age of President Donald Trump we occasionally come across stories that cause us to do a double-take, and confirm that we’re not reading The Onion or some other satire site. So it was with a Washington Post report that Trump is seriously considering buying Greenland.
The usually reliable Wall Street Journal had previously reported the same claim, and The Washington Post is also more reliably truthful than the Trump administration, so we assume it’s true. Which once again in the age of Trump leaves one to wonder what the hell?
Greenland is a self-governing country but officially a part of the kingdom of Denmark, which we were surprised to learn still exists, but it seems that the property might be indeed up for sale. As a former real estate mogul Trump is interested in the possible acquisition, and has ordered his aides to look into it, but it’s hard to explain why. Greenland has only 58,000 citizens, which is slightly more than the eighth largest city in Kansas, and 1.7 million of of its 2.2 million square kilometers are covered in ice through the year, at least for now. It has considerable resources of coal and uranium, but only 0.6 percent of the landmass produces agriculture, and with all due respect to the good people of Greenland it doesn’t seem a very desirable property.
If America acquires Greenland as a territory we assume responsibility for any calamities that comes the way of its citizens, just as we’re responsible for taking care of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of of a devastating hurricane, which hasn’t turned out well. If Greenland is admitted to the Union as the 51st state its 58,000 citizens will be entitled to the same two Senators as any other state, and given their Danish habits they’ll probably elect a couple of Democrats. In either case, Trump will probably find that those coal and uranium resources aren’t worth the trouble.
Perhaps Trump is betting that climate change will continue to erode the ice coverage in Greenland, and open up land for golf courses. He might have some casinos in mind, but he’s often been bankrupt in the gambling business. and it doesn’t seem a sound business model, given that Greenland is a far distance to travel for gambling in modern America or Europe. Our best is guess is that he wants to brag about adding more land to America during his reelection campaign, even if it didn’t add any value to the country..
We’ve nothing against the people of Greenland nor Denmark, and still have a rooting interest in America, so we’d advise both Greenland and Denmark to stand pat for a while.

— Bud Norman

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Weathering the Weather and Other Storms

The weather here in Wichita and south central Kansas has been eerily perfect for our urban and convertible driving tastes the past few weeks, with gorgeously blue skies and the temperatures in our favorite warm but not too hot mid-80s range, but otherwise it’s been a tough year for the farmers here in the heartland. The winter was bitterly cold and dry around here and brought blizzards to the north, the spring was so extraordinarily wet that the rivers around our Riverside neighborhood threatened to spill over and many of the nearby fields were under several inches or several feet of water during planing season, and now those same fields are too dry to sustain what crops did get planted.
We’ll leave it to the scientists to figure out what role humankind plays in our lately unusual weather, and what can be done about it, but there’s no denying that humankind and its inevitable screwups have aggravated the farmers’ most recent problems. Because of global overproduction commodity prices had been in a years-long decline even before President Donald Trump’s trade war provoked retaliatory tariffs from key foreign markets for America’s soybeans and corn and wheat and cattle and pork and other agricultural products, and lately someone or another has let a crucial irrigation system that previously provided water for 100,000 acres of farmland from Nebraska to Wyoming to break down.
Things have become so bad just north of here that even the city slickers at The New York Times have taken notice, and on Monday they unleashed a tear-jerking account of hard times in the country. One farmer they interviewed outside Gering, Nebraska, even said he’d had to put off the purchase of a much-needed new Ford F-150 pickup truck, which is the stuff of a crying-in-your-beer country-and-western song. Others testified that their crops were dying from dryness even as their neighbors’ fields were still a lake. Farm bankruptcies are up 19 percent over the past year, the biggest increase in a decade, according to the reliable Farm Bureau.
Which is bad news for everybody, even if you’re an urbanite enjoying the dry and moderate weather with your top down and wondering what those farmers ever did for you. The state governments here in the heartland have been struggling to balance their budgets even in the best-ever economy that Trump brags about, and the less than bumper crop harvests in the a couple of months won’t help. People everywhere will notice their grocery bills going up, and the national debt slowly rising, even if the heartland’s share of the gross domestic product is relatively small.
Those farmers and ranchers from Nebraska to Wyoming deserve some sympathy, too. You’ve probably never driven from western Nebraska to Mount Rushmore and the Dakotas and over to Wyoming, as the official Nebraska tourism slogan actually is “Nebraska, It’s Not For Everyone,” and people are few and far between and the scenery is very subtly beautiful, but if so you’ve missed out. The few folks you’ll find along those blue highways are invariably hard-working and friendly and likable sorts, and in its own subtle way their land truly is beautiful, and when the idiocies of nature and humankind conspire against them they deserve the full attention of the nation they have been such an essential part of.
Nobody, including our own brilliant selves, knows what to suggest. The recent weird weather might well be caused by to a significant extent by anthropological activities, as an apparent majority of climate scientists insist, but none of them can explain how to reconfigure the world economy without mass starvation. A lot of those Nebraska and Kansas and Dakotas and Wyoming farmers probably believe Trump’s assurances that his temporarily painful negotiating tacts will eventually yield the best trade deal ever, and they’ll all be buying Ford F-150s for their grandkids, but for now we’d suggest they keep their most important foreign trading relationships tariff-free. We’ve absolutely no idea why that irrigation system has shut down, but we hope that despite Trump’s deregulatory zeal the regulatory agencies responsible for the situation will be able to figure that out.
Between nature’s nature and human nature life is always a challenge out here in the heartland, not to mention what some city slicker from New York might do to further muck it up, but so far we’ve always struggled through. Here’s hoping that trend continues.

— Bud Norman

Happy New Year, All Things Considered

This is our last essay of 2017, and the way things have gone this year we’re glad of it. Journalistic tradition and the traditional slowness of the news cycle dictates that end-of-the-year essays be a look back at the past 12 months, a prognostication about the next 12, or a top ten list of the past 12 month’s something or another, but traditions don’t matter lately and we’re taking the news one day at a time.
The big story of the year’s last days, appropriately enough, is that it’s cold out there. Here in Kansas the daytime highs are lately struggling to get past freezing and rapidly dropping into single digit lows after the early sundowns, and when you add in the Kansas winds that are blowing down from the North Pole it feels far worse than that. To the northwest and the northeast it looks even worse on the weather maps, and it looks like a very long drive to the southwest or the southeast to get warm enough for our tastes.
Which kept us inside most of the day, and reading the rest of the desultory news. We noted that President Donald Trump “tweeted” about all the cold weather from the fabulous Florida resort where he was playing some holiday golf while a shifting truck block the news crews from filming, and he gloated about being vindicated for his controversial decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Being climate change skeptics ourselves we’ve also taken advantage of these annual cold snaps to kid our global warming alarmist friends, but we mean it as a joke rather than a serious scientific argument, and the “tweet” struck us as unpersuasive and un-presidential.
He also “tweeted” about a very minor flap between Vanity Fair magazine and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, with the former standing accused of making a slightly sexist joke about the latter in a little-seen video, and of course Trump ridiculed the magazine — “which looks like it’s on it’s last legs” — for “apologizing for the minor hit they took at Crooked H.” We’re skeptical about Vanity Fair and Clinton, as well, but that also struck us as something a president with some sense of dignity should be far too busy to do.
Meanwhile, down in Alabama, which still looks too cold for our tastes on those weather maps, the Republican Secretary of State of certified the upset election of Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, which was another big story of the day despite its inevitably since last month’s election night. Republican candidate Roy Moore was contesting the election results right up to the last minute, filing a court challenge alleging just enough voter fraud to reverse the outcome, but but after a Republican judge dismissed the suit the fait accompli was at long accomplished. It was a fitting end for one of the sorrier stories of the year.
Moore was arguably the worst nominee the Republican party ever nominated, the present competition notwithstanding. His inglorious career of public service and private enrichment and antebellum views about slavery and women’s rendered him upset prone even before several middle-aged women came forward to describe how he had pursued them when they were teenaged girls and he was a 30-something prosecutor. He was so awful he lost in Alabama, off all places, to a Democrat, of all people, and he never did concede that fact. His last-minute filing had a statistical analysis proving massive voter fraud in one particular mostly-black county, but one of the experts had also previously proved by statistical analysis that were was a massive conspiracy to kill President John Kennedy, and in the end the Republican Secretary of State and the Republican judge and the Republican sheriffs who had checked out some other claims included in the lawsuit all signed off on a Democratic senator.
Former Moore supporter Trump didn’t “tweet” anything about it, so far as we can tell, so Moore’s confederate cause seems at long last truly lost. What with that Vanity Fair versus Clinton flap and the ongoing “Russia thing” and another round of golf he had more important things to worry about, we suppose. The stock market was slightly up, the unemployment rate is still low, and the economy seems to be generally progressing along its pre-Trump trajectory, so Trump did find time to “tweet” about that.
All the meteorologists are telling us this dying year will come to a frigid end and the next year will start off just as bad, and all the political prognosticators are sounding just as dispiriting, but we’ll just take it day by day with a reasonable exception for better days. By late June the temperatures will be comfortably in the mid-90s around here, we’ll not gripe about the 100s of July and August, and the springs and autumns are always delightful except for the occasional severe storms. The economy has a good chance of surviving all the politics, and we hold out hope that rest of us will also survive the politics.
Our Wichita State University Wheatshockers head into their inaugural basketball season in the American Athletic Conference as the eight-ranked team in the country, by the time they finish what we hope will be a long run in the national championship tournament the pitchers and catchers will be reporting for spring training, with our New York Yankees looking very promising after some hot-stove season acquisitions for an already potent team, and that’s something far better to worry about that some flap involving Vanity Fair and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
All things considered, we can wish all our readers a very Happy New Year.

— Bud Norman

The Ongoing Campaign’s National Insecurity Statement

Ever since the Reagan administration — and oh how we miss those days, by the way — the congress has required that presidents provide a general statement of their foreign policy objectives and plans to achieve them. Every president has complied, always with a low-key and little-noticed publication carefully written to avoid antagonizing any adversaries or alarming any allies, but of course President Donald Trump seized the opportunity to deliver yet another campaign speech on Monday.
There was some good stuff in the official written statement, we must admit it, despite that “America First” slogan that always reminds us of the pre-World War II era.. Trump vowed that America’s foreign policy would be back up by an ever-more muscular military, and warmed our old-fashioned Republican hearts by quoting President Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of “peace through strength,” although without attribution. He spoke of “rallying the world” to confront North Korea’s nuclear provocations, which holds out some hope of a diplomatic solution, and of reaching a better deal than the current deal to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, although he didn’t get very specific about what it would be or how he might get it. One sentence promised “gradual reform, not radical change, should be our guiding objective” in the Middle East, and there were other allusions to international alliances and American leadership that had a similarly reassuring steady-at-the-helm sound about them. He mentioned Russia as one of America’s more troublesome countries, but was vague about their interference in the past presidential election.
There was also a lot of nonsense from past national security statements that was left out, we must admit. Climate change wasn’t among the national security threats mentioned, no apologies were offered for pursing American interests, and didn’t describe the obvious threat of radical Islamist terrorism as “religious extremism.” On the whole, the brief written statement wasn’t half-bad by Trump standards.
The much longer campaign speech Trump delivered was far worse, though, for all the usual reasons. It began with his characteristic boasts about the tens of thousands of miles he’s travelled and the hundreds of world leaders he’s met as president, which reminded of us vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s similar campaign boasts about her tenure as Secretary of State, and it was quickly followed by some flattery about how the American people have been “among the greatest forces for peace and justice in the world.” That was followed by the characteristic boast that “just one year ago, you spoke out loud and clear. On Nov. 8, 2016, you voted to make America great again.”
Notwithstanding his three-million-or-so-vote loss in the popular vote, Trump then took the opportunity to criticize at least five of his most recent predecessors, although without mentioning any names. He criticized pretty much all of America’s current trade deals, which date as far back as Reagan, and he blasted “nation-building abroad while they failed to replenish our nation at home,” which clearly means President George W. Bush and the rest of the Bushes and the rest of the Republican establishment. He also spoke of how “they put American energy under lock and key” and “imposed punishing regulations and crippling taxes,” which can only mean Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and lamented how “they” had neglected to solve the North Korea problem, with the “them” presumably stretching back to the administration of President Harry Truman.
All of those darned “them” also negotiated all of the worst-ever trade deals that have done so much damage to the American economy, which Trump frequently brags is humming along better than ever, but Trump made his usual vague promises to set that right. Trump also blamed them for letting a lot of illegal aliens into the country, which is a fair enough point, but followed it up with the usual crazy talk about building a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border, even if he didn’t add the long lost crazy talk about making the Mexicans pay for it. Much of the speech was devoted to boasting about America is stronger than ever and standing up for itself like never before, but overall it struck as strikingly whiny.
Trump is quite right that pretty much of the entirety of American history, the past several presidential administrations included, have left him in a rather tough spot. Every president could say the same, though, as could any other world leader about his country and its past several governments. The best of them have never disparaged the past leadership of their countries or the people who put them in power and instead moved forward with steady-at-the-helm leadership, and the worst them have always made vague promises to set things right.
Back in the campaign Trump promised he would never apologize for America, despite a few missteps it has undeniably made, and he would do well to acknowledge that the entirety of its history has also left him a position most of history’s world leaders would have envied. America’s military does need a boost, but it had been the world’s mightiest for more than 75 years before Trump office, despite all those Democrats. The past decades of free trade have driven innovations and increased prosperity not only in America but around a relatively placid globe, and the past 11 months of Trump haven’t much changed that trajectory.
Trump’s campaign speech probably got about as much attention as those low-key and little-read previous national security statements did, but it probably got the usual scrutiny from our anxious allies and recently emboldened adversaries. If they glean the same impression we gleaned of a megalomaniacal yet desperate politician pandering to his base rather than conducting a steady at the helm of American foreign policy in the country’s interests, all the good stuff will be for naught.

— Bud Norman

Fake News and Real Consequences

There’s still a chance that Hurricane Irma will veer harmlessly to the sea rather than ramming into populous south Florida, and we’ll be praying that it does, but the way America’s luck has been running lately we wouldn’t place a bet on it. If we lived in the south Florida areas where the storm is expected to hit on Sunday we certainly wouldn’t bet our lives on it, and we urge our friends down there to prepare their properties as best they can and get the hell out of there. That’s what all the meteorologists and government officials are advising, too, but talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has other ideas.
“Just as I’m the go-to tech guy in my family and here on the staff, when it comes to a hurricane bearing down on bearing down on south Florida, I’m the go-to guy,” Limbaugh assured his audience on Wednesday, adding as a further credential that “I’m not biased and have no agenda in my analysis of the data.” He then went for another 20 minutes or so about how the “drive-by media” were simply up to their usual trick of scaring the public to increase ratings, propagandize their bogus climate change theories, and try to gin up business for the hardware stores and grocery chains and “Big Water” that advertise on their networks.
Oftentimes in the past we have argued in defense of Limbaugh, and even enjoyed his comically overstated critiques of leftist media bias and outspoken skepticism about the more alarmist claims of the climate change crowd, but we’ve been more inclined to roll our eyes during his broadcasts ever since President Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, and this is just Alex Jones-level crazy talk. There’s still that aforementioned chance that Limbaugh’s sanguine weather predictions will prove correct, but without any biases and agenda and all due respect to Limbaugh’s status as the “go-to guy on a hurricane bearing down on south Florida” we figure there’s an even better chance that all those meteorologists and government officials are right that it’s probably better for our friends in south Florida to be safe than sorry.
Most of Limbaugh’s estimated 20 million or so listeners aren’t in any projected path of Hurricane Irma, and we trust that most of those who are won’t be such “ditto heads” that they take his dubious advice to chill out about the category five hurricane and its 185-mile-an-hour winds that might well be headed their way, but it’s still a worrisome development. Talk radio hosts in general and Limbaugh in particular have by now supplanted such scholarly academicians as Milton Friedman and James Q. Wilson and such erudite print journalists as William Buckley and and George Will as the voice of the conservative movement, and given how awful the left still is we hate to see the right descend to such crazy talk.
Limbaugh is quite right that the overall media generally skews left, but it’s bonkers to contend that their wholly honest reports on what all the meteorologists and federal and state and local government officials are advising about a horrific storm that might very well bear down on south Florida are “fake news.” He’s also right to be skeptical about government officials, but arguing they’re part of a “deep state” conspiracy to promote draconian climate change policies and sell bottled water is basically crazy talk, especially when those same government officials might well be the ones that have to deal with another one of those occasional historic natural disasters that have always occurred even before the industrial revolution.
We suspect Limbaugh’s most cocksure listener in the potential path of Hurricane Irma is Limbaugh himself, who likes to boast about the high-dollar property he occupies in Palm Beach, Florida. He brags about it as unabashedly as his new-found pal President Donald Trump does about his fancy-schmantzy nearby Mar-a-Lago resort, and unlike the safely ensconced president Limbaugh is now obliged to ride out the storm. A columnist for the PalmBeach paper is even hoping that Limbaugh will be ¬†exempt from the evacuation order that’s been issued for the town. As fitting as it would be for both of them to suffer some storm damage, we know some very fine folk in south Florida and will pray that they all the avoid the worst of it.

— Bud Norman

Didn’t It Rain

While driving around with the top down on a perfectly sunny late summer afternoon in Kansas we were hearing on the radio about the historically bad weather down in Texas, and we couldn’t fend off a troubling twinge of survivor’s guilt. The fine folks in the fourth most populous city of our beloved country are under several feet of water, their inland neighbors have been battered by the tornadoes that were spun from the hurricane winds, and in more than 50 counties that have been declared disaster areas at least nine people have died with the count expect to rise, untold thousands have seen their lives’ work washed away, and it’s going to be a few years before anyone in the storm’s broad and densely populated path fully recovers.
The storm continues down there, too, recently adding those very fine folks in southwest Louisiana to its toll and maybe bringing enough rain to flood our even more very fine kinfolk who live on a usually lovely but occasionally flood-prone lake outside San Antonio. There’s nothing that any of us can do about it at this point but to pray, and we’ve crossed paths with enough tornadoes during our life on the plains to fully appreciate what a terrifying realization that can be, but we’re heartened to see that as usual everyone seems to be dealing with it as best as possible. So far, at least, no seems eager to muck things up further with politics.
For now the disaster is being attributed to what some theologians and all the insurance companies’ actuaries call an act of God, and for the most part our secular society is rightly more interested in dealing with the current crisis rather than trying to cast blame. No matter how much you might dislike President Donald J. Trump, which is probably not any more than we’ve come to dislike the guy, it’s not as if any President of the United States can halt the rise of the oceans. These days it’s hard to credibly blame anything on the embarrassingly impotent Democrats, and so far at least even Trump’s most staunch supporters are trying to blame them for all the rain that’s blow in from the Gulf of Mexico. No one we’ve noticed on either side of the political divide, we’re happy to see, is exploiting the inevitable human tragedy.
That probably won’t last long enough for the people in the storm’s path to fully recover, though. A few faint voices on the left are already talking about how the first hurricane landfall on America soil in long 12 years is proof of the catastrophic consequences of Trump’s climate change policies, while Trump’s staunchest supporters are already giving him full credit for the so-far relatively low death tolls that local and state and pre-existing federal agencies and the predictable heroic individual citizens have achieved, and we expect to hear more of these tedious arguments when the waters inevitably recede. After the land dries out there will still be contentious arguments about continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases, which now include a very pricy tab for storm recovery in the fourth most populous city in the country and 50 other counties and a recent presidential insistence that it also pay for a border wall that few people want and wouldn’t have kept a hurricane out, and that also looks pretty darned stormy.
In the meantime we’ll take heart from the video footage of Americans of all ethnicities and classes and sexes and all the rest of those categories rescuing one another from the almost biblical rains that had fallen on the just and unjust alike, and all those local and state and federal employees doing their part to make the best of it, and a certain sense that even in this secular age there are still a lot of Americans who are praying for the best.

— Bud Norman

We Won’t Always Have Paris

Although we’ve always been skeptical about the more alarmist claims of the anthropogenic global warming theory, and were opposed to President Barack Obama’s signing of the Paris Climate Accords, we’re nonetheless also skeptical about President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.
There are strong arguments to be made on both sides of the matter, and we expect they’ll take up much of the next several days of news. That will push aside all the talk about Kathy Griffin and covfefe, at least, and barring any bigger-than-usual bombshell about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia it might even overshadow that. The arguments will be about science and economics and diplomacy and domestic politics, too, with plenty of good points being made on both sides of each of them, and for now we’ll not bother to listen to anyone who claims to have all the answers.
Those opposed to Trump’s decision will reflexively insist that the science is settled, but that’s not quite persuasive to us. They’re right that most scientists accept the anthropogenic global warming theory, and although it’s almost certainly not the 96 percent they always claim it might well be enough to comprise the consensus of scientific opinion they always claim, but science is not settled by majority rule and the consensus of scientific opinion has often proved objectively wrong over the past many millennia.
There does seem to be a relatively recent-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things warming trend on the planet, and there’s also evidence that it seems to have stalled for the last few relatively-blink-of-an-eye decades, and it’s awful tricky figuring out how the latest trends compare to all those millennia before Daniel Fahrenheit started measuring temperatures not so long ago so in the 1700s, and nobody denies that temperatures have gone up and down over the long history of the universe. We’ll not deny that all the carbons humankind has undeniably been emitting into the atmosphere over the past couple of brief centuries are bound to have some effect, but anyone arguing in good faith will admit that the almighty sun and it’s changing cycles are also influential, and all the computer models that underly the theory that it’s all man’s fault did fail to predict the recent pause, so at this point we’re skeptical of anybody’s projections for the next few hundred years or so.
There’s also a dauntingly complex argument about what humankind should do about it. All those carbon emissions come courtesy of an expanding post-Industrial Revolution global economy that has not only averted a Malthusian catastrophe for the planet’s seven billion or so inhabits but has also dramatically raised their collective quality of life, so those quantifiable advantages have to be weighed against the still-theoretical disadvantages of all that carbon-emitting. At this moment almost all the people in the world who are aghast by Trump’s decision are still going to drive in automobiles and fly in jets and log in to electric-powered entertainments and otherwise enjoy the extravagant-by-historical standards luxuries of the modern carbon-emitting age, and for now they don’t have a persuasive argument that they can have their environmental cake and eat it’s industrialist deliciousness too. They’d be hard-pressed to make the case that cockamamie Paris agreement somehow squares that circle, but that doesn’t mean the world wouldn’t be better off with a little less carbon-emitting.
Except for Syria and Nicaragua and now the United States everyone is in agreement with that Paris accord, and although the consensus of global political opinion has also often proved objectively wrong over the many millennia that also seems well worth taking into account. Whatever the hard-to-calculate environmental and economic effects of Trump’s decision, the immediate diplomatic consequences are not likely to be helpful. We’d probably be more supportive of any other Republican president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris boondoggle, but any other other Republican president probably wouldn’t have spent the preceding weeks antagonizing the rest of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the seven most industrialized and post-industrial nations of the west, and made the credible case to the international community that the Paris accords were flawed for all of the world’s seven billion or so inhabitants.
Trump only made his campaign-style “America First” case for the decision, and it remains to be seen how that plays out in our domestic politics. He made a convincing case that any restriction on carbon-emitting would hamper an economy that thrives on them, even if he characteristically overstated it and invited all the plausible arguments about how an alliterative energy economy might thrive, and we don’t doubt that it will be welcomed by those folks who already support him. Annoying all those euro-trash and other global elites is another added benefit, as far as Trump’s most ardent supporters are concerned, but the president will probably have to make case to the rest of the country to nudge his poll numbers past their 40 percent or so, and so far he hasn’t shown much of a knack for that.
Any other Republican president and most of the plausible Democratic possibilities probably would have stayed signed on and did what the rest of the countries do, which is mouth the required platitudes and then let their economies expand to whatever carbon-emitting levels it might reach, and although that’s pretty damned cynical it seems a smart move. America is asserting its sovereignty by withdrawing from the accord, as Trump rightly notes, but sovereign nations often enter into international agreements, as Obama and every other president did, including all the presidents who were on board with that NATO deal and all the other agreements Trump has lately been undermining, and how that plays out in domestic politics is anybody’s guess.
In any case we expect both the planet and our domestic politics will somehow survive Trump’s decision, and that the Russia thing with Trump and Russia will soon be back in the news again, and that some D-list celebrity or incomprehensible presidential “tweet” will once again intrude on ¬†the conversation.

— Bud Norman

Barack Obama’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure

More than eight exceedingly long years have passed since those “Hope and Change” days when Sen. Barack Obama was running his first successful presidential campaign, but we still well remember the giddy optimism of his die-hard supporters. One of the promises they all seemed to believe was that after eight exceedingly long years of George W. Bush’s crazy cowboy foreign policy had tarnished America’s reputation, the rest of the world would once again admire and respect America under the apologetically cosmopolitan leadership of a former community organizer and not-yet-one-term Senator. Judging by President Obama’s recent foreign travels, in the lame duck days of his not at all optimistic second term, we’d say that hasn’t quite panned out.
Obama’s trip east turned into the latest installment of the old “National Lampoon’s Vacation” franchise, with the ironic twist of the President of the United States playing the Chevy Chase role, along with some of the late Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” shtick. It began with Air Force One touching ground at the Beijing airport before the Group of 20 summit, with no red carpet or high-ranking handshakes or reassuring photo opportunities to greet the president, and without even the courtesy of one of those high-rise airplane ladders he wound up exiting from the belly the beast as he would in such hostile territory as Afghanistan, and a Chinese official wound up in a shoving match with the American press and shouting “This is our country, this is our airport” at National Security Adviser Susan Rice. There were further diplomatic statements from both sides regarding the matter, and none of them left any doubt it was an intentional insult to a President of the United States.
The president was there mainly to finalize his insane “Paris climate accord,” which is not a treaty because it would never be ratified by even a Democratic senate but is nonetheless binding enough to impose all sorts of onerous regulations on the American economy to make a meaningless gesture about a problem that might or might not exist, and apparently that was enough reason to endure the snub. The Chinese government’s only obligation under the “Paris climate accord” is to maybe think about doing something so absolutely stupid in another 14 years or so, and apparently that was enough to inspire such an official show of contempt.
During the big economic summit Obama also managed to outrage the Fleet Street press and its avid British readership, which has been an annoying habit of his since he first took office in those “Hope and Change” days and sent back a bust of Winston Churchill, by once again threatening Great Britain with trade recriminations for its exit from the European Union, which is by now a fact despite his earlier toothless threats. Moving on to Laos, the tour featured the President of the Philippines vowing that if the President of the United States brought up the subject of the Filipino death squads currently battling the country’s suspected drug dealers in a planned meeting he would say “son of a bitch, I swear at you.” With the Philippines’ effect on the global climate being rather minimal this was enough for Obama to briefly cancel the meeting, but after the usual the exchange of diplomatic statements the meeting went on and apparently no curse words were exchanged and nothing much of any other interest happened. Obama also took the occasion of being in Laos to pledge help with all those unexploded bombs that America dropped there some decades back, and to lecture some young Laotian students about how lazy Americans aren’t doing enough to help with climate change as such industrious and pre-industrial peoples such as themselves.
Meanwhile, Russian planes were making “unsafe close intercepts” on American planes over the Black Sea, the Iranian navy was harassing American warships in the Persian Gulf, and no ally nor rival anywhere in the world seemed to admire or respect the apologetic cosmopolitan leadership of the apologetically cosmopolitan American president. This comes at the end of eight long years of riling the allies everywhere from Poland and the Czech Republican to the more capitalist portions of Honduras, and appeasing the rivals in the insane Shiite theocracy of Iran and the troublemaking Sunnis of the Muslim Brotherhood, and “resetting” relations with Russia back to Cold War lines on the map of Ukraine, and confront China’s brazen territorial expansion with such timidity that even China’s targets are threatening to curse Obama’s mother.
There’s not so much talk of “Hope and Change” in this election year, and we certainly can’t find any. The Democratic nominee was Obama’s Secretary of State during the first four of the past eight disastrous years, and offered that emboldening “reset button” to the Russians, and although she is credibly credited with advising sterner policies at times one of those times was the disastrous deposing of a defanged Libyan dictator and the ensuing chaos that spread from that country. The Republican nominee talks much sterner stuff, to the point of proposing random torture on prisoners of war and killing their relatives and turning all their oil rights over to the Exxon Corporation, but he seems even friendlier to the Russians and until he releases tax returns there will be reasonable suspicions about just how friendly, and he was also outspokenly in favor of deposing that defanged Libyan dictator, although he now routinely lies and says he wasn’t, and he’s also openly speculated about not honoring America’s treaty obligations if he didn’t like the deal and starting trade wars with China, and he blames that crazy cowboy Bush and his lies for all the dysfunctions of the Middle East, and he’s spouted much other similar nonsense that doesn’t inspire much hope for positive change.
We’ll just have to get used it, we guess, and the rest of the post-American world will have to as well. Still, we can’t help thinking that all of us will wind up fondly recalling those good old crazy cowboy days.

— Bud Norman

The Democrats’ Shrewdly Boring Show

The Democrats might well be pursuing a sensible political strategy, but from a television programmer’s point of view they simply have no idea how to put on a reality show. Saturday night’s debate, carefully scheduled against football games and other more compelling fare to make sure no one was watching, is a perfect example.
We had high hopes for the episode, given the intriguing plot twists that had somehow seeped into the news prior to the broadcast, but they were quickly dashed by a group hug reminiscent of the final “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Those who are still following this yawn-fest already know that someone on the campaign staff of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the plucky David character in the tale, had been caught reading confidential material on the computer system of former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plays the role of Goliath in this all-too-familiar storyline. There was briefly some uncharacteristic acrimony, with Clinton likening the incident to the Watergate break-in, and Sanders grousing that the Democratic National Committee’s threat to deny him access to the party’s voter records was just its latest attempt to sabotage his upstart campaign, but it all ended with Sanders’ groveling apology for the fired employee’s actions and Clinton’s magnanimous forgiveness. If the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of Wherever or the Republican Party behaved so wussily their reality shows would have been cancelled several seasons ago, but somehow the Democrats always get renewed.
To those who have been following the more action-packed cage match that is the Republican primary, it all seems unaccountable. There are plausible reports that the Sanders staffer inadvertently wound up with access to the DNC computer, which is apparently about as fool-proof as that Obamacare web site or the unsecured and illegal e-mail server that Clinton used for all her diplomatic electronic correspondence as Secretary of State, so Sanders had some pretty good spin if it he’d been willing to use it. He’d already declared that he was “sick and tired of hearing about her damn e-mails,” and of course he’s not going to make any more general complaints about the Democratic party’s apparent high-tech incompetence, but still, it’s hard to imagine even the most genteel of the Republicans passing up such a golden opportunity.
Even the viewers who are still rooting for Clinton will admit that she’s thoroughly dishonest, corrupt, ruthlessly amoral and entirely self-interested, just like all the most popular characters on all the reality shows, and just like all the ones who are the last to be kicked off the island or wind up with the hunky bachelor, and Sanders strategy of ignoring those unpleasant facts are hard to explain. Sanders is an unmitigated kook whose only domestic policy is to rip that goose wide open and grab all the golden eggs and whose foreign policy is to pretend that people aren’t trying to kill us, but at least he’s honest enough to concede that he’s a socialist and there’s little doubt he actually believes all that nonsense he spouts, which is pretty refreshing these days and is no doubt the source of Sanders’ limited appeal. He should pressing that advantage rather than retreating with an apology, and exploiting the plain fact that the Democratic Party is indeed thwarting the democratic process on Clinton’s behalf.
Sanders probably spends more time with Democrats than we do, so perhaps he’s correct in assuming they’re not quite so fed up with their party’s leadership as the Republicans clearly are with their own, but he’d surely benefit from stirring that pot at least a little bit. He’s probably also right that his supporters don’t regard Clinton with the same seething hatred that Republicans have for her, or for their own inter-party opponents, but given that Clinton is nearly as far left as he is his only advantage is on the character issue. A Democratic Party that demonizes wealth in general and Wall Street in particular and is suddenly more concerned with climate change and student debt and a “culture of rape” and “Black Lives Matter” than terrorism is expected to nominate a woman richer than Romney with a war chest of Goldman Sachs donations who flies around in private jets and charges universities $300,000 for a half-hour speech and enabled her husband serial sexual assaults and supported his mass incarceration and other tough-on-crime stances. That’s all Sanders has, given that Clinton is pretending to be as far left as he is, and it’s the reason he’s ahead in New Hampshire and within shouting distance elsewhere, and if he’s too high-minded to address this crucial point, just as he’s too high-minded address himself to that radical Islamic terrorism thing, there’s really no reason for him to stay in the race.
The obvious conspiracy theory for the right, which at least imbues some interest in the Democrats’ boring race, is that Sanders is only following the pre-written script needed to fill the obligatory time in a contracted-with-the-networks show about a supposed democratic process. By now it’s starting to seem plausible, but we do find him quite convincing in the role, and we know from countless conversations that his supporters are entirely on board. They’ll all glumly switch to Clinton if she wins, but only for fear of whatever crazed right-wing monster those hated Republicans come up with, so we think there’s still a chance of an embarrassingly real race, and that in any case Clinton will not emerged unscathed.
No matter how gentlemanly the Vermont socialist treats the former First Lady, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is continuing to look into that unsecured and illegal e-mail server of hers, and her assurances that none of her classified communications were breached by China or Russia or the surprisingly savvy IT guys in ISIS are surely undermined by the revelation that some stoned hippy-dippy staffer on the Bernie Sanders campaign was reading her campaign’s most cherished voter information, and sooner or later even the most compliant press will be forced to write something about. Whatever crazed right-wing monster the Republicans come up with will say that’s no lady, that’s Bill Clinton’s wife, and make sure to spend enough money that the matter will be brought to the public’s attention. Throw in all the subpoenaed e-mails that demonstrate how Clinton didn’t know how to use e-mail, and her public excuses about not wanting to use multiple devices and not knowing what “wiping a server” means or any of that other newfangled gadgetry, and of course that famously failed Obamacare web site, and at the very least she’ll look rather out-of-date.
Dishonest, corrupt, ruthlessly amoral and self-interested are one thing, but out-of-date is also the death knell for reality show star. If the Republicans can come up with a crazed right-wing monster who somehow managed to stay on the island didn’t get fired by the the star of “The Apprentice,” the Democrats would probably do well to go with that apologetic Bernie guy.

— Bud Norman

The Climate for Satire

Pity the poor satirists, who are finding it ever harder to come up with a burlesque broad enough to exaggerate the latest news reports.
Readers of a certain age and certain subtle sense of humor will fondly recall the straight-faced surrealism of the great Bob and Ray, who used to pepper their satiric radio show with fanciful advertisements for such fictional companies as the Monongahela Metal Foundry, “casting steel ingots with the housewife in mind,” Einbinder Flypaper, “the brand you’ve gradually grown to trust over three generations,” and The Croftweiler Industrial Cartel, “makers of all sorts of stuff, made out of everything.” Our favorite was a spot for Cool Canadian Air, “packed fresh every day in the Hudson Bay and shipped to your door,” but apparently even that delightful absurdity has recently been overtaken by reality. According to a report in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail, one of the hottest selling items in China right now is a bottle of Canada’s Vitality Air, billed as “100 percent Rocky Mountain air.” Apparently the air pollution in Beijing has become so bad that consumers there are willing to shell out 400 yuan, which is about 46 bucks or 42 pounds according to The Daily Mail, just to suck in the promised 150 or so breaths of pure “Lake Louise air” found in each soda-sized container.
Even such Gaia-hating and pro-industrialists sorts as ourselves have to admit that’s a sorry state of affairs, although we will gloat a bit that capitalism can hardly be blamed for it, and that so far only the most Bob and Ray sort of absurdist entrepreneurship seems to be offering any solution, so we can only hope that the big global warming alarmism confab in Paris will set things right. They’ve reportedly come up with something, although the Obama administration is calling it an “agreement” rather than a “treaty,” which would require the approval of two-thirds of the Senate, where it would probably fare even worse than that 95-0 rejection of the Kyoto “Accord” that happened back when Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and Paul Wellstone and most of the current liberal Democrats were in office, and so far as we can tell China has only agreed to start to clamping down on air pollution when the price of Cool Canadian Air becomes prohibitive, and India still seems intent on the same sort of coal-fired electrification of its rural villages that the Franklin Roosevelt administration once embarked on, so we’re not hopeful. Neither are we worried that both nature and human nature won’t revert to historic norms soon, which will admittedly lead to some inevitable cataclysm or another, although we hope it will occur sometime after our own expiration date, but we have to admit we can’t come up with a better joke than this unintentional comedy of climate change hysteria.
There’s nothing in this “agreement” or “plan” or “framework” or “accord” or anything else you might want to call it other than a “treaty” that forces China stop polluting its air before 150 or so breaths of Cool Canadian Air is worth 400 yuan, there’s nothing that will persuade India to leave its rural villages in the off-line dark, and since you dare not call it a “treaty” there’s nothing that will oblige a more sensible President of the United States to screw up the American economy to atone for communist China’s sins. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that “public shaming” will be the enforcement mechanism, but he’s not at all ashamed to have five lavish and energy-consuming houses and a motorcade of limousines and a private jet and a fancy yacht that doesn’t run all the time on wind power, and we don’t expect that China and India and all those other countries aspiring to American levels of extravagance will be any more shamed.
Then there’s the rest of the news, where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the front-runners for the next presidency and all sorts of similarly unsavory characters are waiting in the wings in the rest of the world and some sort of religious terrorism that cannot be named keeps popping up everywhere. It’s all far beyond our limited powers of satire, but we thank you nonetheless for dropping by The Central Standard Times, “a view from the middle of America.”

— Bud Norman