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Reflections on the President and the Porn Star Subplot in Our National Reality Show

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked upon as something shocking,” as the great Cole Porter once wrote, “but now, God knows, anything goes.” Porter penned that memorably musical lyric way back in the Great Depression ’30s, but it somehow seems more apt than ever in the Roaring Teens of President Donald Trump. Once upon a time in America, and as recently as the day before Trump took that famous escalator ride down Trump Tower to launch his improbable presidential campaign, it would have been a pretty big deal that a sitting president sure seems to have had a sexual encounter with a pornographic video performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child.
But now, God knows, it’s just another one of those Trump stories that most newspapers relegate to the inside pages and most cable news networks mention at the bottom of every other hour, and that Fox News happily ignores and the smutty late night television comics giddily lampoon. God also knows that according to all the public opinion polls approximately 80 percent of our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters still believe Trump is going to make America great again, and we wonder what He makes of that.
All of those back page and bottom-of-the-hour news stories and even the late night comics concede there’s no videotaped or otherwise definitive evidence and one party denies it and the other is being quite coy about it, which gives Fox News and our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters a plausible reason to ignore the matter, and we’ll also concede that one never really knows about these things. Even so, we’ll edge up against those loosened libel laws that Trump has threatened and reiterate that it sure does seem to us that a sitting president once had a sexual encounter with a pornographic video performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. The circumstantial evidence is so convincing that we doubt any of Trump’s apologists would ignore it if Trump was still a self-proclaimed pro-choice Democrat and check-writing supporter of President Bill Clinton and his presumptive first woman president wife “Crooked” Hillary.
The story had been rumored and reported and denied by Trump for nearly ten years, but surfaced again when The Wall Street Journal reported that during the presidential campaign Trump’s attorney had formed a shell company to make a $130 thousand payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels in exchange for an agreement she wouldn’t disclose anything she might know about Trump. The shell company was set up with phony names for both the payer and payee, but the attorney used his own name on all the papers and is not issuing any denials that might lead to disbarment, and the story has similarly liable-proof documented evidence for the real identities of the payer and payee. One of the callers to one of the right wing talk radio dismissed it as “fake news” from a “foreign-owned tabloid,” but even the left wing admits The Wall Street Journal is no tabloid and the wing should know that its Australian owner is the same Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News, so we’ll the paper’s word for it that for whatever reason Trump did write a $130 thousand check to a porn performer during his presidential election.
Perhaps we should be generous and assume Trump was just trying to help the wayward lass get back on the straight and narrow path, but by now even his most die-hard supporters aren’t buying that.
After the Journal’s big scoop a publication we’d not previously heard of called In Touch Magazine published an interview it had with Daniels back when Trump was just another reality television star and long before any non-diclosure payments had been made, and in it she gave a luridly detailed account of a sexual encounter with a future president. So far as we can tell In Touch is a sort of tabloid, but at least it seems to be American-owned, and they claim to have verifiable audiotapes of the interview, and we assume their lawyers verified that before they put their own names on any court filings Trump’s lawyers might have made. All the parts about Trump and Daniels both being in Las Vegas during a professional golf tournament have been confirmed, and there’s even a picture of a beaming Trump with his arm around the buxom Daniels at the event, which looks pretty bad.
After that one of Daniels’ fellow porn performers was telling both People and Newsweek magazines and the National Broadcasting Company that she had declined Trump’s invitation to make it a threesome, and both news organizations confirmed the parts about her also being in Las Vegas during that golf tournament. After that Daniels her buxom self did an interview on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show,” and that looked so bad it almost upstaged the president’s State of the Union address.
Kimmel is one of those uniformly liberal late night comedians who relentlessly bash Trump every night, but he’s not so smutty as most and has a reputation as a faithful family man that allowed him to have some emotional sway in the debate about repealing and replacing Obamacare, and he’s no dummy. He ran some footage of some conservative woman criticizing him for booking an interview with Daniels but never saying anything about President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal with much-younger intern Monica Lewinsky, he was able to follow it with videotape of him interviewing Lewinsky on three separate occasions in previous talk show incarnations. When Daniels opened the interview by saying that she could neither confirm nor deny that she had accepted money in a non-diclosure agreement, he noted that if she had not she would be free to deny that she had, and the pornographic video performer replied “You’re so smart, Jimmy.”
When Kimmel asked Daniels about her signature on the official statement she’d just issued denying any sexual encounter with Trump, which all the pro-Trump media had seized on, and why it didn’t remotely resemble her signature on an earlier statement or any of the autographed glossy photographs he’d somehow and encountered, she dodged it by talking about all the other crazy rumors about her on the internet. She didn’t quite deny that the In Touch interview was more or less accurate, and dodged some of the smuttier questions about the more lurid details just as carefully, but the pornographic video performer seemed instinctively self-revealing and left the viewer with the impression that, yeah, all that’s been alleged sure seems to have happened.
There’s a case to be made that Daniels and her fellow pornographic video performer friend are exploiting that fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol predicted everyone would eventually have, and there’s something to it. Until that Wall Street Journal broke we’d never heard of Stormy Daniels or her friend, but after a Bing search and a few not-safe-for-work mouse clicks on the internet we now feel we know them more intimately than any of our exes, and Daniels has been promoting her strip club tour with the slogan “Make America Horny Again.” Daniels can now add “As seen on TV” to her handbills, even if it is late night comedy, and we don’t doubt it’s good business for a pornographic video performer.
The question is whether she’s cashing in on “fake news” or something that sure seems to have actually happened, though, and that still looks bad. We’re disinclined to take the word of a pornographic video performer, but by now neither do we put much stock in what the President of the United States has to say. Trump has long bragged in undisputed interviews and his own ghost-written memoirs about his enormous sexual appetites and numerous exotic conquests, and his flagrant disregard for his own or anybody else’s marital vows, and that lurid In Touch detail about him wanting to be spanked with a rolled-up copy of Forbes Magazine with his picture on the cover also has a disturbing verisimilitude about it.
But now, God knows, Trump’s critics can only chuckle about it along with the late night comics, and Trump’s fans can either deny it altogether or make some sort of rationalizations. The afternoon talk radio hosts and other fans will note that the male Clinton had several just as tawdry encounters with far less buxom women, and that even the self-righteous sorts of feminists now admit that the awful female Clinton was complicit all along, and we was president at time, and they have a point. We shared their disappointment that Clinton’s peccadilloes had so degraded the Oval Office at the time, as did that smart-ass liberal late comic Kimmel, and at this point we’re on the side of anybody who’s been consistent on insisting some reasonably attainable standard of moral behavior in the White House.
Not that we’re blameless, as God knows and our recent internet browsing history will attest, but over our many years we have managed to hew to some old-fashioned moral rules about married people and hygienic concerns about porn stars, and as lowly as we are we feel entitled to expect a higher standard from those who occupy high office. It doesn’t say anything more to about that tax bill Trump signed than Clinton’s transgressions had to do with his budget-balancing deals, but then as now we can’t shake a certain depressing sense that it’s a pretty big deal.

— Bud Norman

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How to Fill a Fully-Funded Government News Cycle

Way back when last weekend’s latest partial government shutdown began, President Donald Trump said the Democrats had caused it just to change the discussion from that fabulous tax bill he had signed. By Monday morning the Democrats had admitted defeat and fully funded the government way up until Feb. 8, however, and by Tuesday morning the discussion had shifted to the “Russia thing” and other topics that Trump would rather not talk about.
All of the mainstream “fake news” media were reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” had conducted an interview with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which the Department of Justice officially confirmed was entirely true, and without all the file copy and stock footage about furloughed government workers and disgruntled national park visitors all the front pages and 24-hour news cycles had plenty of room for speculation about that.
If you haven’t been following the complicated and downright convoluted “Russia thing” subplot in Trump’s latest reality show, Sessions once felt obliged to recuse himself from any investigation of the whole affair after offering a Senate committee’s confirmation hearing inaccurate information about his own proved contacts with Russians, which so infuriated Trump that he both “tweeted” and gave taped press interviews to both press and television “fake news” media about how he wanted his Attorney General to be running interference on the whole “Russia thing,” like past attorneys general had done for presidents John Kennedy and Barack Obama during their more tawdry scandals. Of course all the “fake news” media and all the snarky ate night comedians had a gleeful time with that, and although it’s not yet known if he admitted anything harmful to the Trump administration during the interview it seems unlikely Sessions had anything very exculpatory to say on its behalf.
One of the many sidebar stories in the “fake news” about the “Russia thing” subplot was that the investigation had already secured guilty pleas from past Trump campaign and administration officials and won scary-sounding indictments against a former Trump campaign chairman and his longtime business associate, and was now reportedly negotiating some form testimony from the president himself. This administration didn’t clearly deny a word of it, and of course that led to much speculation. There was a lot of speculation about whether a sitting president could be compelled to give any written or oral testimony, several precedents from the Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton presidencies cited, and further speculation about the political ramifications of testifying or not testifying. On one or another of the “fake news” cable channels we heard a panel of purported experts speculating that such an instinctively narcissistic and dishonest with such a cocksure certainty he talk himself out of anything as Trump will imperil himself testifying to the seasoned likes of this particular special counsel, and that sounded real enough to us.
Meanwhile the idiot son-in-law Trump picked to solve everything from Middle East peace to the opioid crisis is also the crosshairs of the the special counsel for his role in the “Russia thing,” and such diverse “fake news” outlets as The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker are also reporting that Jared Kushner has his own “China thing” to go along with it. There’s also fresh news about the story The Wall Street journal broke about Trump’s tryst with a porn star and the six-figure hush-money she received, with all the “fake news” reporting on the very real court filing by some left-wing do-gooder group alleging it the pay-off amounted to a illegal campaign contribution, and of course all those snarky late comics were having great fun with that.
The more Trump-friendly voices in the media are trying to change the conversation to talk about the “deep state” conspiracy that’s trying to concoct all this “fake news,” but Russian “internet bots” are reportedly perpetuating the same talking points about some memo that a Republican congressman who had to recuse himself from his committee’s investigation has written about the “deep state” conspiracy, and at least we can be sure that Trump would rather everyone be talking about that fabulous tax bill.

— Bud Norman

Reality v. the Reality Show

There are all sorts of serious issues afoot these days, such as immigration policy and yet another continuing spending resolution that’s soon required to keep the government funded, not to mention that whole messy “Russia thing,” and ideally they would all be resolved by the merits of angrily shouted arguments. These days, though, one must also take into account all the soap operatic subplots of the nation’s ongoing reality show in the age of President Donald Trump.
The United States Senate, once known as “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body,” took up the immigration issue on Tuesday with testimony from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and for the most part it was the serious sort of discussion of a serious issue one might wish from one’s government. Nielsen struck us as well-informed and well-spoken, made a better case for Trump’s policy of strict enforcement of current immigration laws and a more merit-based system than he ever could, and handled the Democrats’ mostly reasonable questions without resort to any of the taunting nicknames Trump routinely relies on.
She also struck us as a strikingly comely DHS secretary, which of course has nothing to do with the merits of her well-stated arguments, but it’s nonetheless worth mentioning in the context of this ongoing reality show in the age of Trump. We noticed that the Washington Post and the Associated Press ran the most unflattering pictures they could take along with otherwise fair coverage of the hearing, and if you’ll forgive some frivolous fan talk about the reality show we think we missed a bet. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is also quite attractive, as is that communications director Hick Hopes, who’s lately been subpoenaed by another Senate committee looking into that “Russia thing,” prime time spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway has her own Cruella Deville sort of appeal, and the left should be making the very convincing case that Trump prefers women’s beauty over brains.
Nielsen would have overwhelmed that argument with her well-spoken and well-reasoned testimony, though, if only a couple of Democratic senators hadn’t asked her about Trump’s widely-reported comment to a bipartisan gathering of senators about immigrants from what he called “shit-hole countries,” which has lately been the biggest subplot in our nation’s ongoing reality show. A credible Democratic senator is staking his political reputation by insisting the president did use that vulgarity, a credible Republican senator has more or less verified the account and even claimed some discreet credit for raising his objections to such language, which the Democratic senator has praised him for doing, and the president’s more sycophantic senators are only saying they can’t recall what the president said.
By now even Fox News is reporting that yeah, the president actually said that, and anyone who’s been following this reality show since Trump descended down that Trump Tower escalator to launch his campaign with a speech about Mexican rapists knows it sure sounds like something he’d say. When Nielsen said that she couldn’t recall Trump saying that at the meeting she’d attended, only that she’d heard foul language from everyone but herself and the senator who as asking the question, she lost not only lost all the credibility she’d earned with her well-informed and well-spoken arguments for Trump’s immigrations but also killed our emerging crush.
All of which complicates the far more serious matter of a looming deadline for dealing with all those telegenically sympathetic “dreamers” who will be kicked out of the country if action isn’t taken by Congress and signed by the president. Trump himself claims to be the sympathetic to the “dreamers,” but he’s also wed to the more rock-ribbed and hard-sorted sorts of Republicans who have some very serious arguments about why America should strictly enforce its immigration laws and enact others that are even more merit-based, and his by-now undeniable comments about “shit-hole countries,” and his DHS secretary’s futile attempts to deny it, have made those arguments harder to make.
Which in turn makes it all the harder to get yet another continuing spending resolution to keep the government running. These every-few-months-or-so annoyances are always complicated enough, but this time around the Democrats have that “dreamers” issue as a negotiating position, probably even Trump and surely the rest of the Republicans majorities in the House and Senate know they’ll take the inevitable  public relations hit for a government shutdown, and the argument is unlikely to be decided on the merits. If these sorts of things were decided on the merits, though, we’d have annual budgets passed budgets passed by bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress and signed by a president of one party or another, and honest people of both parties should admit that stopped happening long before the Trump reality show debuted
There’s also that ongoing “Russia thing,” too, and even Trump’s most die-hard apologists have to adit that’s pretty much unprecedented. Another Senate committee is calling for under-oath testimony not only from the aforementioned comely Hicks but also Trump’s former campaign and administration “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, now entirely disowned and dubbed “Sloppy Steve” by Trump, and that involves more reality show subplots than we can explain here. Bannon was quoted in the best-selling but widely disputed book “fire and Fury” that was was last week’s big story alleging that Trump’s son and son-in-law were “treasonous” by taking an admitted meeting with a Russian lawyer they knew to be connected to the Russian government during all that “Russia thing,” and his under-oath testimony about that will likely be the next big subplot in the nation’s ongoing reality show.
Elsewhere in the real world the stock markets are up, the unemployment rate is down, and despite the recent spate of cold weather around here most of the people we run into are pleasant enough. We’ll hold out some faint hope that our reality somehow prevails over all that nastiness in the reality show of the news.

— Bud Norman

The Battle of the Celebrities, the Fate of a Nation

That Oprah Winfrey woman gave an uplifting and cliche-filled acceptance speech at the Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday night, which is the sort of pop cultural pap news we used to happily ignore, but by Monday afternoon there was simply no escaping all the buzz about her possible presidential campaign. Such is politics in the age of President Donald Trump.
Back in the good old days, which we now date to around the time Trump took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his seemingly improbable presidential campaign, the possibility of a Winfrey presidency would have been the stuff of satire. She’s never held a political position or worked in public service, has no political philosophy save for what one might discern from her occasional incoherent public pronouncements, and lacks any apparent qualifications for high public office save the billions of dollars she’s made from her status as a reality-show celebrity. That would have ended the discussion back in the good old days, but in the age of Trump the Republican party is hard-pressed to make those once obvious arguments against such obviously unqualified candidates.
Those darned Democrats made all the same obvious arguments against Trump, but they were less convincing after eight years of celebrating the rock star presidency of President Barack Obama, and it couldn’t carry such an unappealing figure as former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and presumptive first-woman president Hillary Clinton across the finish line, so we understand their excitement for Winfrey. Her afternoon talk show ran twice as long as Trump’s “Apprentice” reality show and made her a far bigger TV star, she’s arguably even richer than Trump and her up-from-the-ghetto biography is far more Horatio Alger-esque than the son of a millionaire New York real estate mogul, and her touchy-feely public persona contrasts comfortably with the snarling “you’re fired” image that Trump has long cultivated. Say what you want about Winfrey, and our old-fashioned Republicans selves have plenty to say about her, we have to admit that at least she wouldn’t be “tweeting” about the size of her nuclear button.
With a certain snobbish pride we admit we never watched so much as a second of Winfrey’s not talk show, nor Trump’s insipid prime time reality game show, but she kept popping up in the political news in all sorts of troubling ways. She promoted some theories about “mad cow” disease that put her in disfavor with all our favorite Kansas cattle ranchers and our own carnivorous selves, promulgated some questionable advice about childhood vaccines and other pressing public health issues, and seemed all too prone to magical thinking and other disastrous pop cultural fads. Her admirable efforts to encourage reading put several fine old and authors on the national bestsellers lists, but she also fell for a couple of literary hoaxes some of the more noteworthy authors were embarrassed by her endorsements. One can also clearly glean from her many publicized public pronouncements and fawning television interviews that she’s more or less an Obama sort of mainstream Democrat, which is disqualifying for such old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves and a lot of our radicalized and more traditional Democratic friends, but if the fate of the nation comes down to Nielsen ratings we suspect she might well win.
There’s also talk that former World Wrestling Entertainment champion and current action-adventure movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will jump into the race. We’ll snobbishly admit that never seen a single second of his wrestling or action-adventure moving acting, and we have no idea if he’s a Republican or Democrat or what his political philosophy might be, but from the look of him we can’t imagine the aging and obese and combed-over Trump “tweeting” anything about his manliness.
We’d rather it didn’t come down to that, and that instead our nation’s fate came down to a carefully deliberated consideration of the very complicated issues we face as a nation, we’re no longer hopeful. The extraordinarily rich American popular culture that bequeathed to the world jazz and country music and rock and soul and and the rest of the incredible Ameircan songbook, along with Hollywood movies and prairie deco architecture and those Oprah-endorsed works of William Faulkner and the rest of our national grassroots greatness, is at an undeniably awkward moment, and our politics is in an arguably even worse state.

— Bud Norman

On the Difficulty of Replacing an Establishment

There’s an effort afoot to replace pretty much every last Republican in Congress with other Republicans more loyal to President Donald Trump. So far, it does not bode well for the party.
Anti-establishment fervor has already cost the Republicans a much-needed Senate seat in Alabama, of all places. Republicans in the state could have picked the guy who had been a reliable vote for whatever the party wants for the year he as an appointed replace for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but he’d been appointed by an unpopular governor and was backed by an unpopular senate majority leader, and Alabamians are in the same anti-establishment they’ve been in well before the Civil War. They could have also chosen an outspoken “tea party” congressman, who’s also an outspoken critic of the party’s establishment, but apparently his incumbency tainted him as just a bit too establishment.
Instead they chose Roy Moore, an unabashed theocrat who had twice been kicked off Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying the rule of law, had all sorts of crazypants opinions about matters ranging from slavery to women’s suffrage, railed at length about illegal immigrations but was unaware in a radio interview about the “dreamers” debate, and was quite credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and hitting on numerous other underage girls when he was in his early 30s. At least he wasn’t some milquetoast Republican establishment type, which is what a plurality of Republican Alabamians apparently care about most. A big chunk of the party wasn’t quite anti-establishment enough to vote for the likes of Moore, though, and black turnout was bigger that it was for either of President Donald Trump’s campaign, the youth vote went largely for the Democrat, the white women’s vote was well below what Republicans usually draw, and the Republicans wound up losing in Alabama of all places.
The Grand Old Party can hope that by the time the mid-term votes are being cast a short-attention-span public will have long forgotten Moore, as well as Trump’s enthusiastic support of his candidacy, along with the hated Republican establishment’s eventual begrudging and more muted support. They’ll have to avoid nominating similarly flawed candidates, however, and the anti-establishment wing of the party seems chockfull of them.
Out in Arizona there’s some enthusiasm for the Senate candidacy of one Kelli Ward, who has endeared herself to the state’s anti-establishment Republicans with her frequent criticisms of the state’s two Republican senators. They were hoping he would defeat Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been a reliable vote for the party’s agenda but also a harsh critic of Trump’s rhetoric and ethics, so he’s already announced he won’t seek re-election. He freely admits he would have likely lost a primary challenge, given the current anti-establishment mood of his party, but we think he might have fared better in a general election than Ward will should she wind up the party’s nominee.
She’s an osteopath and a State Senator and unabashedly conservative, which somehow doesn’t diminish her burn-it-down anti-establishment reputation, and all the right talk radio hosts like her. She doesn’t seem so awful as Moore and isn’t likely to have any sex scandals uncovered, so she’d be a favorite in a general election, but we suspect a more boring Republican would be a more prohibitive favorite.
Ward once went on Alex Jones’ conspiracy-theory-peddling “Infowars” program, and when he warned her to “watch your back” after criticizing Republican Sen. John McCain because “that guy is just such a gangster” she admitted she had considered her friends advice to get a remote starter for her car in case of a bomb and added that “We are always very cautious and I always have people around me who are providing security, which is great.” She ran a primary campaign against McCain in 2016, railing against all the heretical votes McCain has cast over a long career, and hoped to capitalize on McCain’s lack of enthusiasm for Trump, but she lost by a 51 to 39 percent margin, and of course McCain won easily in the general election.
She’s also such a build-that-wall hard-liner on illegal immigration that she sneers at the departing Flake as an “open borders guy,” despite his impeccably Republican voting record, and she lavished Trump with praising for pardoning Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for cracking down on native born American citizens who looked a little too much like illegal immigrants. That will play well with the Trumpian plurality of Republican voters, but Arizona has a long history of voting for the sorts of establishment Republicans Ward is slightly worried are wanting to kill her, and to the extent the party is associated with her it won’t help in more closely contested states any more than Moore did.
Trump has “tweeted” favorably about Ward in the past, especially back when he she was contesting McCain, that loser who is only considered a war hero because he got captured, but after she lost the praise was less frequent, but it picked up a bit when she was a potential challenger to Flake, or “Flake Jeff Flake” as Trump always calls him in his “tweets.” Flake’s not running, though, and some more boring Republican might be more likely to keep the seat, so we weren’t surprised by The Washington Post’s report that Trump merely “exchanged pleasantries” with her she showed up at Mar-a-Lago during his Christmas vacation. If she winds up with the nomination we’re sure he’ll be right back to “tweeting” her praises, but until then even Trump seems leery of these very anti-establishment types.
The effort afoot to burn down the establishment and replace it with more Trump-like politicians largely driven by former Trump political strategist and current Breitbart.com editor Steve Bannon, who backed Moore to the bloody end is still on board with Ward, but even he’s backing off from his previous pick to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan in his Wisconsin district. Ryan was once a Tea Party darling but is now another one of those hated establishment types, in large part because he’s occasionally admitted his embarrassment about something Trump had done or said or “tweeted,” but by now Trump has to admit the House has been far more effective than the Senate in passing his bills and doing his bidding on those pesky investigations of the “Russia thing,” and we figure that an effort by businessman Paul Nehlen to unseat him in the primary would be as futile as his last attempt.
Bannon was still backing Nehlen, though, until Nehlen “tweeted” about Jewish supremacy and his own pro-white views. He’d been on “alt-right” sites long before, accusing Ryan of spending taxpayer dollars to cover up sexual deviancy and “replace American whites with Anti-white substandard foreign H1B and H2B key pushers,” and expressed various other crazypants opinions on white nationalist programs, but by now even Bannon’s had enough.
The Republicans can surely find better candidates, but they’re going to have recruit more than the usual number. Ryan is reportedly among the many incumbents who won’t be seeking re-election next year, most of whom were reliable votes for the Republican agenda but never very enthusiastic about Trump’s rhetoric and ethics, and winning an open seat is always harder than winning re-election. Harder yet if fealty to an unpopular president is a requisite for a Republican nomination, and anyone with relevant experience on a resume is regarded with suspicion.

— Bud Norman

In Praise of America’s Least-Popular Man

The news has slowed down in the frigid holiday air, as it always does and always should, so we’ll seize the opportunity to say a few kind words about Kentucky’s Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. He’s probably the most hated politician in America, which makes our contrarian selves all the more warm to him, and we’re sure he could use some holiday cheer.
All the Democrats hate him, of course, because he’s not only a Republican but also the party’s Senate majority leader and thus bears the most blame for everything the Republicans did to thwart President Barack Obama during the eight years he was in office. Most Republicans also hate him, though, because all the talk radio hosts and the opinion journalists on Fox News have convinced them that McConnell and the rest of the dat-gummed Republican establishment didn’t do nearly enough thwarting. All the independents have a healthy suspicion of anyone from either party, so they also don’t bolster his horrid poll numbers.
We take a more pragmatic measure of man’s public service, on the other hand, and by our accounting McConnell’s done about as well as can be expected.
All those Democrats should be grateful for McConnell’s restraints on the Obama administration. For the first two Obama years there were big Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and there wasn’t much McConnell could do about it when they went for such big moves as Obamacare and that trillion-dollar “stimulus package” and various other budget-buusting do-goodery, which of course led to the not only a Republican majority in the House but a “tea party” majority at that. With the Democrats’ whittled-down Senate majority vulnerable to shrewd filibustering that soon led to half-trillion budget deficits of the George W. Bush administration, and although the Democrats lost the Senate and a lot of governorships and statehouse and county commission seats we suspect it would have been worst if the Democrats had been able to finish their to-do list.
All those Republicans, especially the Trump-loving ones who get their news exclusively from Fox and talk radio, should also give McConnell his due. There wasn’t much McConnell could do to stave off Obamacare and the “stimulus package” in those darks days of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi regime, but he somehow managed to convince the notoriously individualistic Republicans to stand together to deny those abominations a single Senate vote of bipartisan support. Even when the Republicans won a Senate majority to go along with a House majority there wasn’t much McConnell could do about Obama signing executive orders, but McConnell did play a key role in preventing hard-to-undo legislation and forcing Obama to sign executive orders that could just as easily be undone by any old future Republican president, and he did take a lot of heat for cooling a seat on the Supreme Court until any old future Republican president could make the appointment.
Those Trump-loving sorts of Republicans like to boast about all the Obama-era executive orders Trump has undone and that great Supreme Court pick he made, but they’re also the first to spit and cuss at the mention of McConnell’s name. They seem convinced that only Trump would have done what any old Republican president would have done, and that up until Trump the Grand Old Party was q quisling.
All those independents with their healthy of suspicion of anyone from either party should also acknowledge some gratitude to McConnell. He was a restraint on the excesses of the Democratic party during the Obama years, and in subtle but significant ways he’s also been a restraint on the worst excesses of the Trump years. He somehow managed to to herd all the Republican cats in the Senate to get on the big tax cut bill Trump wanted, which is probably going to bust the budget but maybe not to Obama-Reid-Pelosi levels, and he’s put all but Trump’s most egregious judicial nominees on a quick approval process, but he’s also had a more centrist influence. So far the Senate hasn’t authorized anything more than symbolic sums for Trump’s fantasy of a great translucent wall across the the Mexican border, the body remains committed to finding the truth about the “Russia thing,” and whatever quibbles you might have about his policies McConnell you will have to admit McConnell has carried them out in a quite gentlemanly way without any unnecessarily insulting “tweets.”
These days our healthy suspicion of anyone from either party is such that we find ourselves rooting for the effete establishments of both. We’re rooting for those Democrats who won’t go whole hog for Bernie Sanders-style socialism, rooting against the Trumpist Republicans, and hoping that the likes of Mitch McConnell and the rest of the gat-dummed establishment will stick around a while.

— Bud Norman

A Mixed Bag of Policy, Politics, and that Tax Bill

President Donald Trump at long last got a major piece of legislation to sign into law Wednesday, after the Republicans in congress rammed through a massive tax cut bill, but it remains to be seen if it will eventually count as a win. Trump and all those congressional Republicans are expecting the public will come to love the law, but for now it’s polling horribly and the Democrats are scoring the political points.
The bill runs more than 500 pages, and from our on-the-side-lines perspective it’s a rather mixed bag. Our guess is that the overall effect on the economy will be salutary, although not to the extent that the Republicans are hoping for, and that as usual the benefits won’t be equably distributed across the country, although not so inequitably as the Democrats are urging people to fear. Both parties should probably be hoping that it’s all largely forgotten by the time the next votes are cast in the mid-term elections.
The main feature of the bill is a slashing of the corporate tax rate from a world’s highest 35 percent to a more-typical-by-world-standards 21 percent, as  frankly and ill-advisedly admitted during a celebratory meeting with the congressional Republicans at the White House. Until then Trump had peddled the obvious fiction that the bill’s main feature is a big beautiful Christmas gift to America’s middle class, and he might come to wish he’d told the truth from the outset.
Although the Democrats were quite right to argue that few corporations pay that highest-in-the-world rate, it’s still true that all those deductions merely whittled that rate down and still left American corporations at a disadvantage in the competitive world market, and although it’s not likely to benefit the overall economy to the extent Republicans are hoping it won’t hurt and bit and will surely do some good. The stock markets had a slight downturn on Wednesday, but that’s because investors had already added in the anticipated passage of the bill during its recent record-setting runs, and we’ve no doubt there would have been a bloodbath of red if the bill hadn’t passed.
There’s a certain segment of the Democratic party and the more general left that resent anything that benefits corporations, but even such Democrats as President Barack Obama recognized that the economy can’t do without them for now and were also on board with a corporate tax cut. If that had been touted as the main feature of the bill, the Republicans might have coaxed a few votes from Democratic representatives and senators in districts and states where corporations are major employers and majors donors, which would have given some bipartisan cover in case things go wrong.
The bill also delivers some tax cuts to the middle class, although not all of it, and even many of the beneficiaries might conclude that it’s not as big and beautiful a Christmas gift as was promised. Despite all the populist rhetoric on both the left and the right the hate top 1 percent pay bear about half the country’s tax burden, the top 20 percent pick up 85 percent of the tab, and a full 60 percent pay either no federal income taxes or so little that any further cuts would only amount to little. If you’re in that 50-to-80 percent segment of the population that is paying you might get a notable if not princely amount each year until the cuts expire, but if you live in a nice house in a high-tax state or haven’t gotten around to having children or are paying rather receiving alimony or have other certain circumstances it might just turn out to be a tax hike.
How that turns out in the overall mid-term voting remains to be seen, but we will hazard a guess that those Republicans holding crucial House seats in such states as California and New York and Illinois are going to regret getting  rid of the state and local property tax deductions. The sorts of Republicans you find in those well-heeled districts with high-priced houses are already inclined to abhor the boorishness of Trump and his burn-it-down populism, and without a stake in a party-line Republican tax bill they won’t have any reason to support the party.
In those less well-heeled and more reliably Democratic districts the law is likely to further enflame the ever-raging fires of class resentment, no matter how salutary the overall economic consequences. All of those congressional Republicans have always denied that the law delivers a far bigger tax cut to the rich than it does the middle class, and Trump has assured his true believers that he’s going to take a huge hit because of it, but these arguments not only verifiably but also obviously untrue. The expert analyses of the bill vary wildly, and you can believe whichever you want based on how they share your ideological leanings until you complete your tax forms, but all of them agree that someone richer than you is going to reap bigger benefits than you.
That doesn’t bother us, as we’re the penurious but Republican sorts who harbor no class resentments, and we still hold out hope of snatching some small benefit from any overall salutary effect on the economy, but we do wish that Trump and all those congressional Republicans hadn’t so brazenly lied about it. The arguments for income inequality are complex and hard to make, but President Ronald Reagan persuasively made it during a longer and more thorough debate for his even bigger tax cut bill, and they always work better than a bald-faced lie. Trump’s lie that all the businesses he scandalously hasn’t divested himself of won’t benefit is particularly galling, and we can’t begrudge the Democrats the political points they’ll score because of that.
The law also repeals the provision of the “Obamacare” law that requires citizens to purchase not only health coverage but health care coverage of a certain type that may or may not be needed, which was the part we most hated about that hated law, but that’s also a mixed bag. Trump brags that he’s kept a campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, which is true enough because eliminating it’s individual mandate will ultimately sink the whole project, but because he hasn’t kept his campaign promise to replace Obamacare with something big and beautiful that will cover everyone at at a far lower cost it’s likely to end up with a lot of people losing coverage and many people more for what they’ve still got.
We do expect the effect on gross domestic product and unemployment numbers will be salutary, though, and hold out hope that some better health care policy will ensue from the coming calamity, so the Grand Old Party might yet survive all the public disapproval of the moment. During their big celebration party at the White House the congressional Republicans took turns lavishing praise on Trump in terms so obsequious they would have embarrassed a North Korean general, on the other, and in the long run the party will suffer consequences for such brazen lies as that.

— Bud Norman

Our Neutral Position on “Net Neutrality”

As embarrassing as it is to admit, we have only the vaguest idea about how this newfangled “internet” thingamajig you’re reading us on actually works. Which makes it hard for us to make sense of the big “net neutrality” controversy of the day.
The fuss all started when President Donald Trump’s choice of chairman of the Federal Communications convinced the other Republicans on its board to repeal a regulation imposed by President Barack Obama’s choice of FCC chairman and the rest of the board’s Democrats, and for most Americans these days that’s all they need to know to choose sides. We have no affection for Obama or Trump, though, and were thus obliged to consider all the arguments on their merit.
So far as we can glean from all the shouting about it, the “net neutrality” regulation required internet service providers to allow their customers access to all sites that post on the internet and at the same download speeds. Our understanding is that internet service providers are those people you pay every month for your internet, and are the “ISP” that you’re supposed to type into those pesky “pop-up” boxes that pop up whenever your internet thingamajig goes off-kilter. There are only so many of these very profitable companies, so far as we can tell, and according to all our friends who live out in the Kansas boondocks they’re lucky if the current regulations compel any of them to offer their services in such unprofitable areas, so it’s hard even for such instinctively de-regulating Republicans such as our ourselves to take a rooting interest in them.
Any liberal Democrats who accordingly choose sides must acknowledge, though, that all the “content providers” who are opposed to the de-regulation include some very profitable business interests as well. “Content providers” are apparently all the people who post on the internet, even such sympathetic pajama-clad mom and pop operations such as ourselves, but they’re also that Netflix outfit that’s suddenly as big a player in Hollywood as any studio or network, those Google guys who have a picture of your house with the garbage can still on the curb and are threatening to start driving your car for you, along with such nefarious characters as Microsoft and all those quickly conglomerating media giants.
Liberals love to decry the corrupting influence of big business on American politics, but they never seem to understand that the various big businesses have very varying interests. Federal regulators have their own interests in resolving the conflicts, which mostly derive from the interests of the political parties that appointed them, and with no one to root for but the lowly consumer it’s best to resolve these matters on the merits of the arguments. In this case the liberal argument is that unrestrained service providers will have an economic incentive to steer their customers to their preferred content providers, which seems reasonable enough, but the conservative counter-argument is that if they did so in a free market their customers would go elsewhere, and even in such a limited marketplace as the IPS biz is these days that also seems reasonable enough.
The Republican rule that regulations have a constraining effect on economic activity is self-obvious and usually reliable, but even such conservative souls as ourselves have to admit it’s not infallible.
We once co-authored a history of a local country and western radio station, which was for a long while the best got-danged country and western radio station in the whole wild world, and in the course of our exhaustive research we learned how the FCC first came into being back during the impeccably pro-business and Republican but un-fondly remembered administration of President Herbert Hoover. Radio was the newfangled mass communications thingamajig of the time, with all the savvy business interests of the time eagerly buying in, but a free market free-for-all proved unprofitably chaotic.
Without any regulation the radio stations such as the one we wrote about had an economic incentive to ramp up their wattage to a point it drowned out their competitors, who then had an economic incentive to ramp up their wattage, and even such a ruthless businessman as Hoover realized the government had to assure each content provider enough space on the AM dial to provide the lowly consumer with choices. A profitable industry resulted, Americans were suddenly communicating with one another from coast-to-coast, a lot of great American music and comedy and drama were aired along with a lot of crackpot commentary from right-wing and left-wing kooks, and even liberals will admit it was one of Hoover’s good ideas.
Since then the FCC has had a more decidedly mixed record, with both liberals and conservatives objecting at any given time, depending on which party is in power, and by now we won’t offer any guess about “net neutrality.” We still haven’t figured out how our car’s radio actually works, much less this even more newfangled “internet” thingamajig, yet our bewilderment only bolsters our faith that in the long run it really doesn’t matter.
By now we’ve seen enough to know that lawsuits are already being filed, the opposing profitable business interests are already laying out big money for lobbying, political parties come in and out of power, and that these slow-moving dinosaurs are always a step or two behind the faster pace of technological evolution. Right now someone far smarter than ourselves, and even smarter than those big business interests and federal regulators, is coming up with some newfangled thing that causes an even bigger fuss.
In the meantime we won’t worry that any of the internet service providers will discriminate against our content, which is very wordy and video-free and causes little strain on the bandwidth, and is too little-read to cause much controversy, and so long as we can watch YouTube and Netflix at a reasonable speed we have no dog in this fight.

— Bud Norman

Bitcoins vs. Bud-Coins on a Slow News Day

Today’s big story is that Southern Gothic novel of a Senate race taking place down in Alabama, but there’s no telling how that will turn out, and yesterday was a slow news cycle by recent standards. The biggest name to be added to the growing list of sex monsters was some celebrity chef we’ve never heard of, although a few more women came forward to credibly accuse President Donald Trump of sexual misbehavior, while his United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley said they should be heard, and as interesting as that is we didn’t feel like revisiting the topic just yet.
Our favorite story of the day was our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers climbing to third in the men’s college basketball rankings, but we won’t bore you out-of-towners with that, and a close second was that tear-jerking story about the bullied boy whose video went viral and prompted an outpouring of support from all sorts of sports and entertainment celebrities, but we don’t have anything to add to that. The other story that caught our eye was on the business pages, where they report that “bitcoins” are currently the hottest stock market offering, which reminded us of a favorite essay we penned about that scam way back when it launched, and it seemed a good opportunity to take a day off by reprising that scathing satire.
“Hello, I’m Bud Norman. You might remember me from such Gridiron skits as ‘God Testifies at the David Brace Trial,’ ‘North High Honky Mo-Fos,’ and ‘Chip Wilson and the Museum of Random Crap.’ Or maybe you vaguely recall me as that kid you used to beat up in the boys’ room at Brooks Junior High.
“In any case, you know me to be a honest man. Back in my hometown of Wichita they call me ‘Honest Bud,’ a nickname I have proudly carried ever since the day I found that glass eye on the bar at Kirby’s Beer Store and returned it to its rightful owner. With that kind of reputation for rock-solid integrity on the line, I’m proud to offer you fine folks the investment opportunity of a lifetime.
“Now, to the untrained eye this might look like an ordinary piece of stamped metal (holding up an ordinary piece of stamped metal), but in fact is is a revolutionary new financial instrumentt that will transform the world economy. This, ladies and gentleman, is a ‘Bud-coin.’
“Every Bud-coin is made from the finest tin, supplied by local gypsy scrap metal merchants, and is emblazoned on one side with a rendering of my own smiling face. On the other side are the words ‘caveat emptor.’ This is Latin, and I’m told that  roughly translated it means ‘You can trust this guy, he’s all right.’
“That doesn’t really matter, though, because we aren’t actually going to stamp many of them. Instead, every purchase of a Bud-coin will be duly recorded on the Bud-Co Industries super-computer. When you purchase a Bud-coin the price will be subtracted from your account and transferred to whatever company your purchase from, along with our cut. This is what’s known as a ‘virtual currency,’ and you have to admit that sounds pretty darned high-tech and up-to-date.
“Still, you might be wondering why you shouldn’t keep making your financial transactions with those dirty and wrinkled dollar bills you’re used to. They were good enough for grandpa, you might be thinking, so why quit now? Well, for one thing, how much do you really know about your grandfather? God only knows what that old coot was up to when you weren’t around, and if you think back you’ll remember that your grandmother was always giving him that suspicious look. Perhaps more importantly, Bud-coins offer a number of advantages over those low-tech, old-fashioned dollars that are currently cluttering your wallet.
“For one thing, transactions made with Bud-coins are not taxable. Ordinarily you would have to move to Montana and arm yourself to the gills to achieve zero tax liability, but thanks to the miracle of Bud-coins you can now achieve that blissful state right in your own hometown. We still recommend a concealed carry permit, just to be safe, but for now the feds aren’t on to us.
Also, Bud-coins have no serial numbers or other identifying marks that allow the authorities to follow your transactions. This makes Bud-coins ideal for purchasing a gift for that special someone in your life that your spouse doesn’t know about, or even something so simple and mundane as buying a bag of weed. Even when weed is legal you’re still going to want to buy the tax-free good stuff from that hippie with the grow light in his closet, and Bud-coins are the prefect way to make that all-important score.
“What’s more, your holdings in Bud-coins could significantly increase in value. Some financial experts are calling Bud-coins the 21st Century version of Dutch Tulip Mania or the Beanie Baby craze, and others are saying it could be the next dot-com or housing bubble. For those who got out in time, as I plan to do, all of those worked out pretty well.
“As an added bonus, every purchase of a Bud-Coin also gives you a copy of my latest album, ‘The Many Moods of Bud.’ The crooning on this collection expresses the full range of my emotions, from ennui to despair.
“I know, I know, despite all these advantages you still have questions. You’re probably wondering what happens to all your money if the Bud-Co Industries super computer crashes while I’m watching one of those kinky Japanese porn videos with the pixilated private parts. Not to worry, as every entry is backed up on what the IT guys call ‘hard copy’ on abofficial Big Chief tablet. To ensure your security, every entry is indecipherably encrypted in my illegible handwriting.
“You might even be thinking this is a convoluted scam. You might be thinking, ‘Hey, I’m paying a guy to add a few digits to a computer program? What’s backing this up? Where’s the real value in this currency?’ Well, Mr. Picky-picky-picky, I would point out that Bud-coins operate on the same basic economic theory as the Federal Reserve Board, and if that doesn’t make you feel confident about your financial future, well, it’s not my fault.
So, if you’re bold enough and imaginative enough to trade some of those low-tech and old-fashioned dollars for something more high-tech and up-to-date, just drop us a line. Don’t be a luddy-duddy. Don’t be a moon calf. Don’t be a jabbernowl. You’re not those, are you? Step right up, and we’ll be glad to let you in on this exciting new venture.
“By the way, bitcoins and other virtual currencies are not accepted, as we deal strictly in cash.”

— Bud Norman

A Tie Score in the Sexual Harassment Game

All the attention on the sexual harassment front Thursday was devoted to Minnesota’s Democratic Sen. Al Franken’s announcement of his upcoming ignominious resignation, which is indeed a riveting tale, but we were more intrigued by the sidebar story about the resignation of Arizona’s Republican Rep. Trent Franks. Like most of America we’d never heard of Franks until he bowed out, whereas we’d been aware of Franken since his days on “Saturday Night Live” way back in the ’70s, but Franks’ denouement had one of those diverting twists that can only occur in these modern times.
Franks was apparently as impeccably a Republican conservative as Franken was a Democratic liberal, and still stands unaccussed of the alleged forcible kisses and groping and otherwise ungentlemanly behavior that brought Franken down, but in his statement of resignation he did admit it had to do with an investigation regarding his “discussion of surrogacy with two female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable.” Some unnamed sources to The Washington Post fill out the story by explaining that Franks and his wife had been frustrated by their inability to conceive a child, and although Franks’ statement insists he never “physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my staff,” he also pretty much admitted that he did ask a couple of young female staffer if they’d bear his progeny.
“However,” Frank’s statement stated, “I do want to take full responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals feel uncomfortable. I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”
We can well understand how uncomfortable Frank’s young female staffers might have felt when he broached the topic, and the distress such a discussion might have caused them, but we’ll give this Franks fellow for taking taking full responsibility right up the point of offering his resignation, but we’ll offer him some sympathy. It’s not been at all unbeknownst to us until recently that female co-workers are uncomfortable and even distressed by broaching the topic of bearing our children, but impeccably Republican conservatives such are ourselves tend to be nerds un-hip to the ways of the modern world, and we readily believe his claims that he never intimidated or coerced or attempted to have any sexual contact with his female staffers along with the rest of his admission of guilt.
That’s a shrewd move, because Republican President Donald Trump and the Republican Senate candidate he’s backing down in Alabama stand credibly accused of similar or even worse misbehavior, and we can’t blame the 50 percent or so of the electorate that is female for being fed up about now. They’ll no doubt try to make some political hay of Franks’ resignation, and we can’t blame them for doing so, but he’s a lot less famous than Franken and in the end he’s just another conservative Republican nerd who doesn’t understand how to go about negotiating such modern world matters as surrogacy childbirth. Franken’s an old-fashioned creep posing as an impeccable Democratic liberal and unapologetic to the nd, and although the Democrats can still point to Trump and that Alabama senate candidate the day on the sexual harassment front wound up in a desultory tie.

— Bud Norman