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The Borders Flare as the Center Collapses

The politics of illegal immigration has long been thorny, and a solution has eluded the past several presidents and congresses, but it suddenly seems even thornier in the age of President Donald and his Republican party’s slim and fissiparous majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.
All of the usual tricky questions about how to properly enforce current immigration laws in an effective yet humane and constitutional way, and what to do about the illegal immigrants who are already here, are still awaiting an definitive answer, and there’s still a wide chasm between the most welcoming Democrats and the most exclusionary Republicans. Trump’s longtime rhetoric and recent policies, of course, are making some sort of compromise solution all the more difficult.
Trump’s executive order to rescind President Barack Obama’s executive order for Delayed Action on Childhood Arrivals has made a pressing issue about the fate of the so-called “dreamers,” who were brought here as children and have since lived provably productive and tax-paying lives that have little troubled the American populace, which raises complicated political as well as policy and legal questions. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy has resulted in a couple thousand children separated from their parents and held in circumstances that administration can’t fully account for, and which the Trump administration has denied and blamed on Democrats and insisted is necessary to save the country from imminent invasion, and although he’s since signed an executive order to undo his policy that’s further complicated the debate. His rhetoric about “animals” “infesting” the country and warning of an “invasion” by “millions” of raping and drug-dealing types has brought a long-heated debate to a boiling point.
Trump and his spokespeople have lately taken a dizzying number of stands on these issues — we can’t resist re-telling our joke that he’s got more positions than Stormy Daniels — but he’s always consistently made it clear that he’s not at all fond of those brown-skinned people from “shit-hole countries” who keep showing up at the southern border seeking asylum. He’s spoken sympathetically of a “loving bill” for the “dreamers,” revved up his rallies with talk about the Democrats don’t think a Trump voter’s children are also dreamers, and he made a big show of reversing his family separation policy but not the the “zero tolerance” that he admits will continue to separate families. All those photos and video and audio of crying children and their unaccounted-for whereabouts might have cowed Trump into reversing the policy that 58 percent of Republicans supported, but now Trump is calling it all “phony stories” by the “open-borders” Democrats and their allies in the “fake news” media, who of course are enthralled by the murderous MS-13 street gang and want only the very worst for America.
To show that Trump is very, very strong on border enforcement, and perhaps to demonstrate that they’re not all racist about it, the Border Patrol recently caught a French woman who was visiting her mother in southern Canada and inadvertently jogged a bit out south of the American border, and was detained for two weeks.
There’s at least a kernel of truth to most of it, we must admit. A large influx of human beings from anywhere on the earth will inevitably include some highly undesirable people, and that MS-13 gang from El Salvador truly is a particularly gruesome example, and that suspiciously French 19-year-old did indeed jog into American territory. There are indeed some “open borders” Democrats out there, and we’ve read enough of Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” that we don’t need Trump to tell us how it would work out for America if they somehow got their way. A certain strictness of border enforcement will always be necessary for every country, but it remains if Trump’s will prevail as politics or policy or a legal matter.
Trump is clearly cocky that he will prevail on all three fronts, or at least the all-important political one. Even as he accused the Democrats of using the immigration issue for political advantage he told a group of Nevada Republicans that “Our issue is strong borders, no crime. Their issue is open borders, get MS-13 all over the country.” The Republicans in the House were scheduled to vote on a couple of hard-line and compromise bills, but Trump “tweeted” his advice they “stop wasting their time” and await his predicted “red wave” that would give the Republicans’ true one-party rule. He also “tweeted” that America was no longer obligated to fulfill its duly passed and signed treaty obligations regarding asylum-seekers or comply with the legal precedents that had followed, which is a bit more hard-line than even our rock-ribbed but tender-hearted and constitutionally conservative Republican selves can go along with.
The damned Democrats have all that undeniably heart-breaking photography and video and audio from the southern border, where the Trump administration is having a hard time getting its story straight on what’s happening there, although we’re assured it’s tougher but more tender than anybody has ever seen, so it might take more than a kernel of truth for Trump and his Republican loyalists to triumph. We begrudgingly acknowledge that most Democrats don’t believe in “open borders,” and that includes President Barack Obama, who made a priority of deporting MS-13 gang members and other felonious illegal immigrants rather than breaking up the families of possibly legal asylum-seekers, and even that horrible Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. They’re all far more lax about these matters than even our pre-Trump Republican selves, but for the moment they seem closer to the political center than all thousands at the on-going campaign rallies still chanting “Build that wall!”
By now even the faithful at the rallies don’t expect that Mexico will pay for the wall, and Trump is expecting the Democrats to pay it for as ransom for all the “dreamers” and the kids he got placed God knows where. Which further complicates matters. Pretty much no one but Trump and the faithful at the rallies believe the solution to the thorny illegal immigration problem is a “big, beautiful” and translucent and solar-generating wall across the entirety of the Mexican border, and all the Republican congressional districts along the proposed route think it’s a horrible idea and are threatening all sorts of eminent domain court challenges, and despite the chants at the rallies we don’t think Trump should be cocky about it.
Even at the Nevada rally Trump shared the stage with a far more moderate-on-immigration incumbent who’s facing a tough reelection race, and in Nevada as most of the country the Democrats are nominating candidates who aren’t “open borders” but advocate a more legal and humane means of border enforcement. Trump’s bet that he’ll get an end to some stupid immigration as well as his equally stupid border after a “red wave” might prove as disastrous as his bet on the Atlantic City Trump Taj Mahal.
Nor do we expect that good policy will somehow result. The border must be enforced, international treaty obligations and constitutional law and basic human decency must be respected, and at this point in this long and drawn-out game that seems a long shot.

— Bud Norman

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Trump’s Triumphant Retreat

President Donald Trump prides himself on never admitting a mistake or backing off a stand, but on Wednesday he signed an executive order to end his own policy of separating children from parents detained as illegal immigrants. His Homeland Security secretary had previously said the policy didn’t exist, which was a lie, and Trump had also said it did exist but that he hated it and it was forced on him by a “Democrat law,” which was also a lie, and Trump and his die-hard defenders had also said the policy was unfortunately but necessarily strong, which might have been arguably true but is less persuasive in the wake of Trump’s executive order to end the policy.
We ran into one of Trump’s die-hard at the Vagabond dive bar over in Delano Wednesday night, and he was still defending the family-separation policy and was sorely disappointed that Trump had uncharacteristically caved to overwhelming public opinion, but we think our friend lost the ensuing conversation and his side was clearly losing the broader public debate. In every news medium but Fox News the coverage was full of cute and crying girls being ripped from their mothers’ arms, and and the administration’s media response was contradictory lies and endlessly-repeated footage Trump’s one-time campaign manager — not the one who’s currently in jail, but the one who manhandled a woman reporter at rally — responding to an account of a 10-year-girl with Down’s Syndrome being torn from her mother’s arms by sarcastically whining “Whaaah Whaah.” Needless to say, the administration was losing the news-cycle, bigly.
The opinion polls showed two-thirds of the country opposed to the policy, prominent and previously loyal congressional Republicans also disapproved, and Republican and Democratic governors withdrew their National Guard units from border enforcement, and a couple of major airlines apologized for flying some seized youngsters off to such far-flung locales as New York City and promised to never do so again. Every living First Lady went on record against the policy, including the one currently more or less married to Trump, along with First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and such a ratings-conscious president as Trump realized that no matter how contrary it was to his lifelong instincts he had to back off a stand.
Not that Trump admitted a mistake, of course. During a signing ceremony he still blamed the Democrats for a President George W. Bush-era law that he dishonestly says requires family separations as a matter of routine policy and couldn’t be undone by executive order, even as he boasted that he’s the first president since Dwight Eisenhower with the “political courage” to end the inhumane policy that he had been first to enact with an executive. He also reassured his die-hard defenders that he was still “very strong” on border enforcements, unlike the “open borders” Democrats who apparently enjoy Latino gang murders, even if he wasn’t willing to endure the sob-sister photographs and videotapes and audio tapes of cute brown-skinned toddlers crying for their mommas.
The news cycle probably doesn’t end here, though, despite Trump’s best efforts. The executive order Trump signed doesn’t address the two-thousand or so children who have already been separated from their parents and are currently alarmingly unaccounted for, and their fates will surely fuel some heartbreaking and all-too-real stories from the “fake news” for enough months to reach the mid-term elections next fall. Trump is still sticking the the administration’s announced “zero-tolerance policy” to prosecute every allegedly illegal border crossing, albeit with the parents and children confined in nearby cages, or “partitions with chain-mail walls” as a Fox News host put it, and there’s going to be newsworthy court cases going all the way to the Supreme Court about that. In the meantime federal law only allows the detention of foreign minors for 20 days, and although Trump recently lied to the National Federation of Independent Businesses that there are “thousands of immigration judges” there are in fact only 335, and due process requires complicated and time-consuming deliberations, so in 20 days or so the badly planned family separation policy will be dominating yet another a news cycle, barring any bigger developments in the trade wars or the “Russia thing.”
At this point, we’re mostly hoping those ninos will somehow be someday reunited somewhere with their madres and padres, and hold out fainter hope that America can still somehow enforce its borders in accordance with international law and basic human decency.

— Bud Norman

The Complicated Situation and the Far Easier Lies at the Southern Border

Over the past few days we’ve heard President Donald Trump and several of his administration officials tell us that they are not separating children from parents detained as illegal immigrants, that they are but Trump hates it and does so only because the Democrats’ weak-on-illegal-immigration laws are forcing him to impose such draconian measures, and that actually it is a necessary and brilliant policy. According to all the available evidence, the only thing these contradictory claims have in common is that they’re all blatant lies.
We’re hard-liners on border enforcement, at least by pre-Trump standards, and would be open to a honest argument that the very complicated problem at the border temporarily requires such severe measures, but Trump and his administration characteristically found it easier to tell such contradictory and blatant lies. Trump and his administration assure us that the children separated from their parents are being treated humanely, and that the heartbreaking pictures and audio-tapes and first-hand accounts of traumatized toddlers are “fake news,” but after so many blatant lies about all sorts of things from crowd sizes to hush money payments to porn stars and meetings with shady Russia and now the president’s policy on border enforcement we are not reassured.
Which further complicates the already damned complicated broader debate about illegal immigration. According to the Cable News Network’s public opinion polling about the issue, about two-thirds of the country find those “fake news” heartbreaking pictures and audio tapes and first-hand accounts coming out of the border more convincing that what Trump and his administration are saying at the moment, and the right-wing talk radio hosts and other die-hard Trump defenders find themselves in the uncomfortable position of defending a policy that even Trump claims to hate and blames on those soft-hearted yet somehow cruel Democrats. By now a notable number of congressional Republicans are criticizing Trump and his administration about the family separations, including several who have previously been cowed by Trump’s popularity with the Republican party.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was quite blunt about Trump’s low character back when they were the finalists in the Republican presidential primary race and Trump was calling him “Lyin’ Ted” and “re-tweeting” memes about how unattractive Cruz’ wife is and touting a National Enquirer bombshell that Cruz’ father was in on the Kennedy assassination, and even withheld his endorsement at the Republican nominating convention, but by the time he started campaigning for a primary re-election race in a state that Trump easily won he was saying the most complimentary things about Trump.
Even in Texas those photographs and audio-tapes and first accounts are a political problem, though, and Cruz introduced a bill that would double the number of immigration judges and fund a quicker due process and stop separating families without felony records for an all-too-routine misdemeanor offense. By the way, Trump lied to a friendly audience of small business that there are “thousands” of immigration countries, and Cruz’ bill aims to more correctly doubles the current number from 350.
After he singularly forced a government shutdown about some continuing resolution or another we’ve long since forgotten Cruz was considered the most audaciously rock-ribbed conservative anti-establishment son-of-a-bitch in the GOP caucus by the liberal press, and was commensurately a hero to all the right-wing talk radio hosts, and he was a runaway winner in the Kansas Republican party’s caucus over distant third-place finisher Trump with help from our single ballot. As we drove home after a beer and some political talk at Kirby’s Beer Store one of the louder talk hosts was telling us that Cruz had at long shown revealed his deep-seated liberalism, though. According to that CNN poll some 58 percent of the Republican party around the country believes that Trump is entirely right to pursue the policy that the Trump administration has insisted doesn’t exist and that Trump himself says he hates and blames on the Democrats.
Cruz has proved a less principled politician than we once thought, but he’s lately gotten a lot politically shrewder than we once hoped for, and he clearly knows his home state better than we do, so he’s probably right that to bet that that those heartbreaking photographs and audio-tapes and first hand accounts from the border aren’t playing well even in Texas. By now Cruz has kissed enough Trump posterior and still retains enough anti-establishment son-of-a-bitch credentials to cruise through the Republican primary, despite his heresy of the latest of the news cycle, but by Texas standards he has now a tenuously close lead over his presumptive Democratic rival.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Rep. “Beto” O’Rourke is a white guy with an Irish last name who grew up in the border town of Laredo with a jocular and affection nickname, sort of the Spanish equivalent of “Bud,” bestowed by his childhood Spanish-speaking friends, and he’s better-looking and more personable and just as well-spoken as Cruz and has always taken carefully centrist positions on everything. and he’s astutely condemned family separations over a misdemeanor offense that could be quickly adjudicated if only if there enough judges. Cruz is pretty astute, as far as we’re concerned, to try to beat him to the benefits of the latest news cycle.
Even here in reliably Republican Kansas our elected Republican officials are publicly complaining about Trump’s border enforcement policies, although they’re more outraged about Trump’s trade wars that threaten the local agricultural and aviation sectors of the economy and run up the bill at the local Wal-Mart. Kansas’ continuous Republicanism goes back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days, and right through the Alf Landon and Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole days, and there’s still a Lincoln-ian sense of “malice toward none and charity towards” about it, and we share our elected officials’ sense that those heartbreaking photographs and audio-tapes and first accounts aren’t playing well here.
It boggles our mind to consider how this might be playing in the rest of the country, but no matter how figure it we can’t see it working out well for Trump and his administration. To complicate matters further, it comes during a week when the Congress might or might not pass legislation to resolve all the rest of the broader and damned complicated matter of illegal immigration, including the fate of the brought-here-as-children “dreamers” who were the the subjects of all those heartbreaking stories from the news cycles of a few months ago, and who are still polling well in all the surveys.
We will see, as the president likes to say. Trump is hoping those bleeding-heart Democrats who forced his seemingly inhumane policies will fund a big beautiful wall see-through and solar-energy-generating law across the entirety of the American border with Mexico to stop him from separating families, and that Mexico will eventually be happy to pay for the wall, and that all those hard-line defenders who want the “dreamers” kicked out and the bleeding-heart liberals who want to subsidize their MS-13 gang memberships will be happy with the results, but we wouldn’t bet on it.
Which seems a shame, as we’re still hard-liners on border enforcement by pre-Trump standards, and we’d hate to see those bleeding-heart Democrats get their long-hoped-for open borders. At the same time, but we don’t believe for a moment that those bleeding heart Democrats are responsible for the cruel measures that the Trump’s even more right-wing talk radio defenders are defending even as he blames it on the Democrats.
There’s no shaking a nagging feeling that a more perfect solution might have been found if both sides had engaged in a honest debate, rather than blatantly lying.

— Bud Norman

Kansas in the News

Kansas rarely makes the national news, which is fine by us, but on Wednesday the state landed two stories in all the big papers. One concerned a guilty verdict in a terrorism case, the other was about involved Kansas’ Secretary of State getting hit with a fine in much-watched court challenge to his his voter registration rules, and neither is the sort of publicity that our state needs.
The three men found guilty on terrorism charges weren’t radical Islamists, but rather self-described Christian “crusaders” in a self-appointed militia who were plotting to build car bombs and massacre the Somali refugees living in their hometown of Garden City. A formerly homogenous small town out in the sparsely populated western part of the state, Garden City become more ethnically diverse when a big meatpacking plant rescued the local economy back in the ’70s, refugees from Somalia were settled there shortly after the turn of the millennia, and by the beginning of this decade whites were no longer a majority in Finney County, a fact which apparently did not set well with the plotters.
During the four week trial at the federal courthouse here in Wichita, the defense argued that they were just engaging in “locker room talk” about killing Muslims with bullets soaked in pig blood, and were entrapped by a Federal Bureau of Investigation conspiracy, and perhaps it should worry President Donald Trump that a Kansas jury didn’t buy these familiar arguments. The average Kansan is just as uncomfortable with diversity and suspicious of the government as the next guy, but he won’t countenance blowing up the local mosque and massacring the local Muslims, and in the end he tends to settle on the facts rather than his suspicions.
Still, it doesn’t look good that such a trial occurred her in the first place. The deadliest domestic terror attack in American history, the 1995 bombing of a federal building just down I-35 in downtown Oklahoma City, was plotted in rural Kansas, the last murder of an abortion doctor occurred in a lovely Lutheran Church over on East 13th here in Wichita, and although the Kansas officials and witness were highly cooperative in bring justice to the bombers and a Kansas jury quickly convicted the abortion doctor’s killer, a certain craziness does seem to require our constant vigilance. We suppose that’s true everywhere, but it’s been a constant feature of the state it’s “Bleeding Kansas” days, and looks so much worse in contrast to the wholesome image we aspire to.
That story about Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach getting hit with the fine in that ongoing court isn’t great publicity for our beloved, either, and it should also worry Trump.
By now Kobach is well known far beyond Kansas for his crusade against illegal immigration and voter fraud and especially illegal immigrants voting fraudulently, and he’s successfully persuaded the past several very conservative Republican legislatures to pass new laws and grant him broader executive authority to execute them. This included requirements that voters produce certain sorts photographic identification cards to cast a ballot, provide a birth certificate or passport of certain other sorts of proof citizenship to register for the first time, and a few other measures. This outraged the left, made Kobach a hero to the right, and he wound up heading the commission Trump had created to prove his claim that votes fraudulently cast by illegal immigrants had denied him his rightful victory in the popular vote.
The federal voter fraud commission that Trump set up and Kobach headed came to a slapstick conclusion some months ago. Voting is mostly a matter left to the states and counties and localities, as it should be, and too many of them refused to cooperate, with all of the Democratic states objecting for self-interested Democratic reasons and a lot of Republican states refusing to cooperate for principled Republican reasons. One of the states that refused to hand over everything Kobach requested was Kansas, where the ever-suspicious-of-the-feds conservative Republican legislatures had passed laws against divulging such information. Trump still insists that he won the popular vote, but he gave up on Kobach’s attempts to prove it.
Since then illegal immigration and voter fraud have most given way to porn stars and the latest policy reversals in the news, but to the extent they linger they’re no longer doing either Trump or Kobach much good. The big, beautiful border went unfunded in that hated-by-everyone spending Trump signed a while back, the “dreamers” Trump promised to deport during his triumphant campaign are still here, and they’re polling better than the president, and there’s no telling where he stands on the matter at that moment, except for his continued insistence that the Democrats are to blame the executive order he signed that put their legal status in jeopardy. At the moment illegal immigration rarely appears on the front pages or at the top of the hour, and although the issue helped Trump when the presidency he should be glad of it.
Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Kobach seems to be having a hard time of it as well. We take a harder stand on immigration and voting issues than do the state’s Democrats, so didn’t mind casting our votes for Kobach in both of his races for Secretary. We found the photo ID requirement reasonable enough, as the average citizen is used to showing such papers to cash a check or buy a six-pack or board an airplane or transact many other legal activities, and although the passport and birth certificate requirements for registering seemed a bit officious we weren’t much bothered. The American Civil Liberties Union took a harsher view, however, and their lawsuit challenging the registration requirements seems to be going swimmingly.
The court has already issued an injunction against enforcement of the law, and the judge’s ruling that by “clear and convincing evidence” Kobach was in contempt of court for acting “disingenuously” to disobey that injunction, and the resulting $1000 fine, is just the latest indication that the defense is not going so well. A licensed attorney, Kobach is representing himself in the matter, and our pal Bucky Walters had an amusing satirical slapstick sketch about it in the recent Gridiron Show, with the judge reminding Kobach of the old maxim that “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client,” and Kobach replying that “In this case it will be just the other way around,” and so far that’s how it’s played out in the news.
Kobach is also running for governor, and it’s hard to explain to an outsider what a mess that is. He’d been hoping to ride his national status as anti-illegal immigrant hard-liner and voter integrity champion to the Republican nomination, but he’s up against his incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who assumed the office after Gov. Sam Brownback was tapped by Trump to be something called the ambassador at large for religious freedom, and both are vying for the Brownback vote. Brownback was wildly unpopular in the state when he left, though, as his tax-cutting agenda didn’t work out as promised, and the old-fashioned sorts of budget-balancing establishment Republicans who were overthrown by “tea party” have since been winning the primaries, and if one of them doesn’t win the Republican gubernatorial nomination we expect some centrist sort of Democrat could wind up winning the general election.
At this point, we expect that Kansas will happily settle on the least crazy candidates they can find on the ballot. The politics around here have been exhausting for a while a now, and we don’t notice any enthusiasm around here for building walls or deporting dreamers or blowing up mosques, and we’ll assure the other 49 states that for the most part we’re no crazier than the rest of you.

— Bud Norman

Tough Talk and Hard Realities on Illegal Immigration

President Donald Trump became president largely by talking far tougher on illegal immigration than any American politician had ever done. Much of his rhetoric was an obvious overreaction to an admittedly serious problem, and included promises that went beyond what a president can constitutionally keep, but it worked for him as a presidential candidate.
As president he’s lately run up against some of the legal and political realities that were always going to keep him from keeping the crazier promises, he’s gradually taken a more bleeding heart attitude toward the so-called “dreamers” that he’d once threatened to deport, and reluctantly signed a budget-busting spending bill that provides only chump changed for the “big, beautiful wall” he’d promise would stretch across the entire U.S.-Mexican border and doesn’t deport any so-called “dreamers.” Some of the hard-core campaign fans are disgruntled, including some that write syndicated columns and host syndicated talk radio shows and appear on the network news, and without much else to do about it Trump is once again talking far tougher on illegal immigration than any American politician has ever done.
Still flush from his electoral victory and its hard-line rhetoric, Trump undid by executive action the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals executive action that President Obama had instituted to defer deportations of certain longtime yet illegal residents who had been brought here as children, called “dreamers” because the law Obama couldn’t get passed had the acronym DREAM Act, but that got tangled up in legal challenges and caused a predictable political backlash. A lot of the so-called “dreamers” are undeniably solid and upstanding semi-citizens, many serving in the military or acquiring educations that will presumably benefit the country, much of the media find them very telegenic, and Trump wound up promising he would find some compassionate and “loving” solution to their legal status.
Now he’s back to “tweeting” to the fans that “DACA IS DEAD!” while trying to reassure all the so-called “dreamers” and their many sympathizers that it’s all the Democrats’ fault because they didn’t fully fund his “big, beautiful” border wall when they had the chance. This strikes us as a hard sell, and we doubt that many media will help much in the effort.
He also once again announced his attention to deploy America’s military might to secure the southern border, and this time around the Fox News network is emphasizing stories of “caravans” of a thousand or so potential asylum seekers trekking by from Central America through Mexico to the Texas border, and he once again demanding the Mexican government take immediate action. There are long upheld constitutional provisions against using the military to enforce domestic laws, and damned good reasons it that his four-star general of a chief of staff and all the black helicopter crowd and most sane Republicans have accepted, no matter how hard-line they might be on illegal immigration, and Trump admitted he hadn’t yet spoke with his Secretary of Defense or any congressional Republicans about it, so that will also be hard to pull off.
There’s precedent for calling in the National Guard, but you have to go through governors to get that done, and they’ve got political and legal problems of their own, so it remains to be seen how that will work out. As for the part about forcing to Mexico to act, Trump seems to have completely given up on his popular campaign promise about getting them to fund his “big, beautiful” border wall, and that don’t seem to be flinching on Trump’s talk about a trade war or any more than Chinese have been, and it also remains to be seen how all of that works out.
Trump has some sensible but typically overstated complaints about past immigration policies, and the tough talk might placate some of the fans, and we have to admit it’s had a salutary affect on the number of people trying to illegal cross our southern border. That’s been a diminishing problem for a while now, though, starting back in those dread Obama days shortly after actual trainloads of illegals started showing up on the border, and if the currently fully-funded Border Patrol can’t deal with that “caravan” of asylum seekers according to current laws we’ll be inclined to think it’s just another one of those lazy public sector unions.
The fans might love the tough talk, and the rest might not mind the usual results, but we’ll wait to see how it all works out in the courts and in politics and in the long run.

— Bud Norman

The White House Loses Hope, but Endures More Sessions

Keeping up with all the complicated subplots in President Donald Trump’s latest reality show is exhausting work, and hardly leaves any time to binge-watch anything else. The show features a wider and even wackier cast of characters than “The Simpsons,” writes them off faster than “The Sopranos,” and Wednesday’s episode featured the departure of one of the hotter co-stars and left another less comely but more consequential co-star hanging from a metaphorical cliff.
White House communications director Hope Hicks announced that she would be leaving her post soon, and although the departure of a White House communications director would usually be buried on the back pages and at the bottom of the hour this got better play. This isn’t your usual White House, and the 29-year-old Hicks isn’t your usual White House communications director.
A former teen fashion model from an upper-crust Connecticut family, Hicks was graduated from Southern Methodist University and then briefly worked for a well-regarded public relations firm before taking a PR job at the Trump Organization in Trump Tower with Ivanka Trump’s fashion company. While on the job she demonstrated a somewhat icy sort of feminine beauty and a slavish loyalty to all things Trump, the two qualities Trump most admires in a woman, so despite her lack of any previous political experience he hired the then 26-year-old to help out with his campaign. Following Trump’s improbable election, she wound up in a challenging job at the White House.
All the more challenging at this particular White House, where a communications director is quite frequently required to communicate things that are obviously untrue. Hicks rarely spoke in public, even though she came off endearingly humble whenever she did, which further endeared her to a boss who doesn’t like the supporting cast hogging the spotlight, but she still wound up in the news from time to time. She was involved in the drafting of the president’s son statement regarding his meeting with Russian agents that he understood to be involved in Russian effort to swing the presidential election, which was quickly walked-back. She was also involved in crafting the statement about the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter, who left because two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend, and was reportedly dating Porter at the time, which led to a crackdown on security clearances that has lately left the president’s son-in-law in hanging from a metaphorical cliff, so that also made the news.
Over the past year or so Hicks has been involved in so many laughably untrue White House communications that she’s wound up giving testimony to both a special counsel investigation and an investigative Congressional committee, and her resignation comes the same day it was reported she admitted to Congress that she had told “white lies” on Trump’s behalf. This might be mere coincidence, as both Hicks and Trump have stated that they still love one another and hope to work again, and there’s talk of unspecified “other opportunities,” which could conceivably range from a PR job with one of the last Trump-friendly corporations to a gig on a less convoluted reality show. We can readily believe that Hicks has long considered resigning, considering the stresses of her job, and doubt that Trump would fire someone for telling “white lies” on his behalf. In any case, we’ll wish her well.
Despite all our complaints with the guy we’re also wishing well for Sessions, who’s currently hanging from that metaphorical cliff after the latest episode. Sessions was once a well-respected conservative hard-liner and the first of his to kind to his endorsement of Trump’s questionable contrastive bona fides, and was duly rewarded for his slavish loyalty with the long-coveted position of Attorney General, but since then it’s been one of those convoluted subplots. He had to recuse himself from that overarching “Russia thing” story arc after admitting that he’d mislead Congress about his contacts with Russia as a campaign official, as his legal profession’s code of ethics clearly required him to do, and Trump has never forgiven him for such disloyalty.
Trump has since frequently “tweeted” his annoyance that Sessions isn’t more robustly interfering with the special counsel’s investigation into the “Russia thing,” and on Wednesday he “tweeted” that it’s “disgraceful” Sessions isn’t more vigorously pursuing the talk radio counter-connspiracy theory that it was actually the Democrats who conspired with the Russians to swing the election in Trump’s favor. Sessions released his own defiant statement that he has been  following established ethical protocols, .and would continue to do so long as he remains Attorney General, so future episodes should be suspenseful.
Trump isn’t the least bit bothered by the rest of Session’s right wing agenda, which includes a full-throated defense of his immigration policies that are bound to alarm all the bleeding hearts and a crackdown on state-sanctioned marijuana that’s bound to annoy a couple of our otherwise Trump-supporting friends in Colorado and California. We have our own gripes about the guy, mainly his early endorsement of the president who now torments him, but his obstinate and ethical refusal to obstruct the pursuit of justice in the “Russia thing” is not among them.
This cliff hanger might well end up with Sessions hanging on the cliff, at least for another couple of episodes, given that there’s no obvious replacement who could win Congressional approval and the early departure of an Attorney General is harder to spin than even the most comely 20-something White House communications director. However it turns out, we expect the next White House communications director is going to have a hell of a time with it.

— Bud Norman

The Good Neighbor Policy

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

— Bud Norman

A Not Bad, Not Great State of the Union

All in all, President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night was not bad. Not nearly the oratorical masterpiece that Sean Hannity and the hosts of “Fox and Friends” will surely make it out to be, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
There were no taunting nicknames or needless provocations. It was refreshingly free of “believe me” or “that I can tell you” or any of his other endlessly repeated catchphrases. He didn’t cuss. There was plenty of boasting, of course, but he also lavished praise on a few other people as well. Several of the boasts were wildly overstated or entirely inaccurate, of course, but by comparison to a typical impromptu Trump oration he was relatively restrained and truthful. Except for that annoying sniffle and strange tendency to emphasis seemingly random words, along with an amusingly botched attempt to cover up getting one of his heroes’ nickname wrong, he read the teleprompter well enough.
That’s a rather low standard to set for presidential rhetoric, but here we are. In the interests of fairness we have to note that the Democrats’ response by Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy was at least as lackluster, and that nobody on the current political scene is going to make anyone forget the greatest speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.
As for the policy part of the speech, there were some good ideas about reforming the legal immigration system and the same old bad idea of a southern border wall to stop illegal immigration. Something about spending $1.5 trillion on infrastructure, too, but that didn’t explain where the money would come from and was otherwise too vague to tell if it was a good or idea or a bad one. In any case, none of the arguments were so well or so badly or so memorably made that they’re likely to influence the upcoming contentious debates about all these issues. Some future “tweet” or impromptu remark will have more effect on how it all turns out.

— Bud Norman

A Good Time to be in Switzerland

President Donald Trump is in Davos, Switzerland to hobnob with all the globalist elites who gather there every year, while back in the states all his nationalist and more working-class fans are fuming about his latest position on illegal immigration. This isn’t likely to last long, but it is a moment worth noting.
On Wednesday night Trump told an impromptu news conference that the “dreamers” who had been illegally brought here as children “had nothing to worry about,” as he jetted off for Switzerland on Thursday morning his staff was announcing a proposal to not only keep some 1.8 million of them here but also offer a path to citizenship, and by Thursday afternoon his usual apologists on right wing talk radio were quite literally screaming their objections. The proposal also included a demand for a $25 billion “trust fund” to to build a big, beautiful wall along the southern border, along with several far more reasonable proposals to curtail illegal immigration, but talk radio talkers and their callers were clearly unimpressed. A mere 25 billion won’t build the kind of sea-to-shining-sea 50-foot-tall and translucent and solar-power-generating wall that Trump vividly described during the campaign, and even the die-hard supporters who never took all that wall stuff literally did believe Trump’s oft-stated campaign assurances that he was going to kick out even the most unwitting and sympathetic illegal immigrants.
That $25 billion for a border if for now  too much ask of the Democrats, who even objected some of the far more reasonable border enforcement measures Trump was demanding, and the negotiations will be tricky. The Democrats are obliged by political reality to protect all those “dreamers” from deportation, and will eventually be obliged to give up something in return to the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and the Republican president, but they still hold a strong hand. All the opinion polls show that a vast majority of the country has no stomach for kicking law-abiding and military-serving and college-going semi-citizens out of the country they grew up in, several Republican congresspeople from the soft-hearted Chamber of Commerce wing of the party, and by now even Trump is in full retreat from his hard-hearted campaign trail talk and even talking about his love for the “dreamers.”
Some of those more reasonable border enforcement proposals Trump is proposing also poll well with a populace that is rightly alarmed by the country’s still-high levels of illegal immigration, and we expect the Democrats will eventually relent to most of them, but we doubt they’re quite dumb enough to up cough $25 billion for a border wall. Most of the non-talk-radio media are going to explain the negotiations as the cruel Republicans threatening to kick out a bunch of telegenically sympathetic “dreamers” to build some small portion of a wall that even the president’s chief of staff now admits was oversold on the campaign trail, Trump will be hard-pressed to argue that’s all “fake news,” there are a lot of soft-hearted Chamber of Commerce types of Republicans and all those congressional Republicans whose states and districts abut the southern border who also realize how silly the border wall ideal was all along, and as dumb as those Democrats undeniably are they’re not quite stupid enough to lose this fight.
Meanwhile, Trump was faring better at that fancy-schmantzy gathering of globalist elites in Switzerland. He had an awkward moment sharing a stage with British Prime Minister Theresa, gushing about all the rumors of tension in Anglo-American relations were “fake news” and insisting he and his British counterpart had a mutual admiration society, while she responded with classically British quietude and an apparent relief that Trump has backed out of a visit of her to country, but otherwise it went well. You don’t get to be a globalist elite without being shrewd enough to notice that Trump is highly susceptible to flattery, so most of his fellow hoity-toity hob-nobbers lavished it on, and Trump didn’t shove any prime ministers out of the way or otherwise embarrass himself as he’s done on past on international occasions.
The globalist elitists seem to genuinely like Trump’s tax-cutting and de-regulating agenda, as we generally do, yet they object to all that anti-free trade campaign trail talk he still claims to believe, as we more enthusiastically do, and we expect they’ll gain more concessions from Trump with their flattery than we have with our snarky criticisms. Trump has recently imposed tariffs on washing machines that have had the effect of making American-made washing machines more expensive, but he’s largely abandoned all that campaign trail talk about 45 percent tariffs on anything Chinese, and unless the talk radio-talkers get annoyed about that we’re hopeful that all of Trump’s promised trade wars can be averted.
When he gets back to states Trump will have to answer to all those talk-radio talkers and all those hard-line anti-illegal immigration and nationalist and protectionist Trump voters they speak for, though, and we’ll be interested to see where he winds up. If Trump’s not going to build that wall just to let a bunch of “dreamers” avoid the deportations he promised he’ll lose that 25 percent of the the country that comprises about 50 percent of his support, if he holds firm he’ll further annoy the other 75 percent, and on the whole we guess he’d rather be hobnobbing with all those billionaires in Switzerland.

— Bud Norman

Winners and Losers and Dreamers

The Republicans are claiming victory and the Democrats admitting defeat after a deal that ended the latest partial government shutdown in record time, but it’s not apparent to us that anybody won or lost anything that won’t be quickly forgotten.
The deal that minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer and a sufficient number of his caucus agreed to fully funds the the government in exchange for a promise by majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to have a vote of some sort at some undetermined date about the so-called “dreamers” who were illegally smuggled into the country as children, which is pretty much the same deal that was on offer prior to the vote that shut down parts of the government over the weekend. That was bad enough from a Democratic perspective that all the left-wing pundits were wailing about it, and their anger alone was sufficient reward for all the right-wing pundits to gloat about it.
The deal only fully funds the federal government for the next 17 days, though, and by then no one will remember who voted for what, and in the meantime everyone involved looks petty and stupid. McConnell’s promise to put the “dreamer” problem up for a vote was made on the Senate floor and recorded in the congressional record, too, and when he’s eventually forced to keep that promise the Republicans will likely find themselves in a losing position.
The “dreamers” are so-called because the Democrats wrote a bill to grant them permanent status that was cleverly called Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, and its acronym makes gives those alien minors that very sympathetic nickname. They’re a sympathetic lot, anyway, as they can hardly be blamed for being brought here as children, the vast majority haven’t caused any noticeable problems for anyone, and a significant and photogenic number of them are attending college or serving in the military or performing some other sort of useful labor for the country. That wasn’t enough to get the DREAM act enacted in Congress, but it kept the Republicans from preventing President Barack Obama from temporarily more or less enacting by an executive order for a Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals, which had a rather cacophonous acronym but kept all the “dreamers” who could prove they aren’t gang-bangers or welfare mooches to hang around indefinitely.
What can be done by executive order can just as easily be undone executive order, though, and President Donald Trump decided to sign one that would leave all those “dreamers” susceptible to deportation back to countries they only vaguely remember by March. His hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters loved it, but all the polls showed that a much larger number of Americans hated it, so Trump quickly explained that it was one of his three-dimensional chess moves to force congress to pass that DREAM act he excoriated on the campaign trail. He even wound up telling a televised bipartisan gathering of senators that he would happily sign any “bill of love” for the “dreamers,” whom he claimed to love, along with all kids.
That didn’t play well with Trump’s hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, with his usual talk radio defenders crying betrayal, so he quickly clarified that he’d sign any “bill of love” so long as it included funding for his big, beautiful sea-to-shining-sea border wall and other draconian border enforcement measures. After that his chief of staff was assuring the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that Trump’s previously “uninformed” promises of a border wall had “evolved,” which was followed by an indignant presidential “tweet” that he has never evolved, and by the time the negotiations to prevent a partial government shutdown went south both the majority leader and the minority of the Senate were complaining they had no idea what the president wanted.
At this point Trump has taken more positions than his pal Stormy Daniels — insert risqué rim shot here — and there’s no telling where he’ll wind up. If he caves to some soft-hearted protections for the “dreamers” without sufficient concessions from the Democrats he’ll annoy his hard-line anti-illegal immigrant supporters, which he hates to do. If he winds up deporting a bunch of photogenically sympathetic soldiers and college students and otherwise upstanding semi-citizens back to countries they only vaguely recall his ratings will take a bigger hit, and he might hate that even worse.
Perhaps it’s all some three-dimensional chess-playing that will arrive at such an artful deal that even the most outright xenophobic portion of his hard-line anti-illegal immigration supporters will join hands with all those “open borders” left-wing crazies to sing his praises, but we doubt it. Trump’s much boasted-about deal-making genius didn’t prevent the last partial government shutdown, by all accounts those hated Republican establishment guys in congress had much more to do with it ending over a mere weekend, and Trump looks unable to long delay the inevitable next partial government shutdown.

— Bud Norman