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What All the Fuss Is About

One of the problems with these quadrennial presidential election years, among many, is that one can so easily get caught up in all the political plot twists and lose sight of what all the fuss is about. While most of the media attention was devoted to fall-out from last Monday’s Iowa caucuses and all the subsequent bickering leading up to next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, for instance, someone in the know was giving sworn testimony to Congress that our current immigration law enforcement policies are such that “We might as abolish our immigration laws altogether.”
That was the sworn testimony of Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Control Council, the union that represents agents and support staff of the United States Border Patrol, and he laid out a convincing case for his hyperbolic claim. He further testified that his members have been ordered to release illegal immigrants and to no longer order them to appear at deportation hearings, and he attributed the policy to the embarrassing fact that fewer than half of those ordered to appear such hearings have ever bothered show up, and that by the way many of those who have been caught and released are almost certainly members of notoriously murderous criminal organizations. Despite our innate suspicion of public sector unions we’re more inclined to believe Agent Judd than the far-away-from-the-border spokesmen at the Department of Homeland Security, who continue insist the border is hermetically sealed, despite all those press photographs from the pre-race days of trains crossing the border with roofs full of unaccompanied minors flipping off the photographers, and we’d like to think there’s still some seething anger about it.
The anger was once so seething that Donald J. Trump, a real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show-and-professional-wrestling mogul who boasts that his only previous involvement in politics was buying off politicians, was able to vault to the top of the Republican primary polls by unleashing his suspiciously newfound seething anger and promising to build a great big wall that Mexico would pay for to end the problem. He later promised to build a great big door in that wall to welcome the good ones back in, with promises of a top-notch staff to determine which ones are the good ones, but then he got beat in the crazy Iowa caucus by Texas Sen. Cruz, a loose cannon conservative who might or might not have betrayed the secure border cause in some procedural vote or another, and suddenly there’s a lot of talk about Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a former firebrand and current “establishment lane candidate” who clearly betrayed the cause once but sure sounds as if he’s gotten the true religion since then, and would arguably be held to it especially if he is the pragmatic opportunist he’s accused of being, and suddenly all of them would rather talk about the “tweets” and sound-bites of the post-Iowa news cycle.
Over on the Democratic side, they’re talking about an odds-defying series of coin tosses and who hates the financial sector of the American economy more and whether a commie or a potential convict should lead the country, and there’s conspicuously no mention of all in their debates about all those people in the know who are testifying before Congress that America might as well not have any immigration laws. The commie has expressed some relatively sane ideas left over from the days of Hugo Chavez and the New Left’s anti-“wetback” days, while the potential convict is probably more malleable to public opinion, but they’d rather not talk about it.
A friend of ours mentioned that he’d heard on one of the more serious talk radio programs reporting that illegal immigration isn’t a pressing issue in the next big deal New Hampshire primary, far away from the southern border and yet where Trump was last reported to be be leading despite a recent drop in his poll numbers and post-Iowa surges by both Cruz and the third-place-with-alleged-momentum Rubio, and we admit we find it all most fascinating. Still, we can’t shake a nervous feeling about someone in the know confirming our suspicion that we might as well abolish our immigration laws.

— Bud Norman

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Luck Be a Lady

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, according to one of our favorite sports cliches, and nothing proves this better than the improbably lucky and not at all good career of former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her unlikely but widely presumed status as the presumptive First Woman President of the States was challenged during Monday’s Democratic caucus in Iowa by such a long-shot underdog as self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but she somehow prevailed thanks to six favorable coin tosses in a row.
What are the odds of winning six coin tosses in a row? Although we have only a public school education in mathematics, our finger calculations indicate that it’s approximately a one-in-64 shot, which sounds worse yet after we cheat and use an internet percentage calculator to find that’s also just a 1.562 percent chance, which is even more remote than what the suckers at one of Donald J. Trump’s house-odds casinos could expect. And what are the chances that six county races would end in a tie, and that one of America’s major political parties would choose to settle such weighty matters as its presidential nomination according to a coin flip? Such questions are beyond our public schooled powers of computation, but we’d bet it’s like a gazillion or something to one.
Even the self-described socialist’s necessarily fanatical followers, who are apparently too innumerate to comprehend the mere trillions of deficit spending on economy-crushing and liberty-squashing government programs that he’s proposing, are wised-up enough to be suspicious about it. There’s some talk among the supporters of a recount and other protests, even if the long-shot self-described socialist himself seems willing to call it a tie and move on to the New Hampshire primary where he’s currently a prohibitive favorite, and we wish them well. The Iowa Democratic Party’s ways of doing things are awfully vexing though, and we spent most of Monday night trying to find actual votes cast rather than precinct and county and state delegates won, and then we found out on Tuesday that even the self-described socialist’s campaign operation was having a hard time getting its hand on hard numbers, so it should take a while to sort it all out. Last time around it took the Iowa Republicans more than a week of “Romney Wins” headlines to figure out that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had actually won, and by then Romney was well on his way to the nomination, which proves that these sorts of screw-ups are not so unlikely in either party, and it’s a safe bet that a week’s worth of stories about Clinton’s asterik-affixed victory will carry her through the expected New Hampshire primary on to the supposed “firewall” state of South Carolina and all it’s supposedly faithful black voters.
Last time around all those black voters derailed the First Woman President’s supposedly inevitable inauguration by voting for the First Black President, and this time around Santorum didn’t even get to one percent in the Republican Iowa caucus, and each successive coin toss has the same 50-50 odds, and we honestly don’t know how you’d rig that game in front of all those cel phone cameras, but something about the Democrat’s Iowa caucus still seems awfully unlikely. Then again, Clinton has a longstanding habit of beating the odds.
Old-timers with an interest in old news will recall the time when a relatively youthful Clinton parlayed a $1,000 bet on the cattle futures market into a $100,000 cash-out just ten months later, and although we won’t even pretend to be able to guess the odds of that happening without some funny business we did find some better educated fellows writing for the Journal of Economics and Finance who figured it to be about one-in-35-trillion, We also note that the chances of the First Woman President being the wife of a former Living White Male President is just four-in-150-million or so, and that the chances of a brother and son of a former Living White Male President are by now¬†pretty much nil, and when you add in all the other coincidences and that fact that she’s never accomplished anything to the good in any of her prestigious jobs it’s bound to add up to some more-than-astronomical odds, given the finite number of stars and planets and moons in the universe.
As we’re not at all the suspicious sorts, we’ll just assume that Clinton is one lucky lady. The Republican front-runner is running on the argument that he’s so good he and his house odds always win, even though he lost the Iowa caucus by frankly reported numbers, and that if elected he’ll win for the country. It’s a compelling argument, we suppose, but by the same logic it might be better to bet on someone so impossibly lucky as Clinton to win those coin-tosses that so often determine a Republic’s fate.

— Bud Norman

And So It Begins

The arduous process of picking a new President of the United States begins today in Iowa, as it quadrennially does for some reason or another, so there’s nothing we can do about it now. While at church on Sunday morning we offered up a humble prayer of gratitude that America still has some say in the matter and a plea that it choose wisely, and we suppose that’s the best we can do at this point.
Watching the returns will likely test our faith, however, as any sort of providential outcome seems unlikely. The Iowa Democrats are choosing between former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most thoroughly corrupt and incompetent crony capitalist of our time, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose most admirable quality is his willingness to admit that he’s an outright socialist bent on eradicating capitalism altogether, and that at least he’s not charging big speaking fees to those evil Wall Street types and isn’t under the scrutiny of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Meanwhile the Iowans of our Republican party are reportedly choosing between front-running Donald J. Trump, a real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul who prides himself on his unabashedly corrupt and inarguably competent crony capitalism, and underdog Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose more red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism and strict constitutionalism and unabashed evangelical Christianity have suddenly made him the target of both the “establishment” and “anti-establishment” wings of the party, although there’s still a chance that a conservative-but-more-pragmatic sort such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio might at least do well enough to alter the storyline somewhat through the next less-noticed 49 rounds of the party primary process.
The Democrats’ descent into this madness has been going on at least since George McGovern’s nomination back in ’72, and except for a few brief moments of political sensibility during times of war as far back as Woodrow Wilson’s administration, but the Republicans’ situation seems rather all of a sudden.
Until last summer, Republican presidential nomination races always had a comfortingly familiar feel to them, with us more rock-ribbed and ideologically-grounded conservatives out here in the hinterlands squabbling with those pointy-headed and lily-livered country club types back east over matters of tactics, but eventually uniting for a shared disdain for those outright and all-but-in-name socialists and multi-cultural bullies over on the Democrat side, and if we lost we squabbled over the blame and if we won squabbled over both the credit for what went right and the blame the for what went wrong despite the victory. In any case we all at least paid lip service to the non-crony sort of capitalism, we all grumbled about the breakdown of the constitutional order, and even the most secular country club types acknowledged a certain necessary Judeo-Christian underpinning to the whole western civilization project that we also all agreed upon. Then all of a sudden a real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show star shows up boasting of all the politicians he’s bought off and all the married babes he’s bagged and the billions he’s made along the way, and the four bankruptcies and the failed airline and the defunct football league and the highly dubious if not downright fraudulent eponymous “university” and all the other debacles of his career go unmentioned, and he fires up the population by addressing the unaddressed immigration problem with righteously indignant but outrageously unworkable ideas, and his past employment of illegal workers and his politically criticism of the hated “establishment” Republican Mitt Romney for suggesting a more sensible “self-deportation” policy just one presidential election ago are similarly forgotten, and with a few late night insult comic jabs against prisoners of war and the handicapped and an admirable woman rival’s face he became the politically-incorrect hero of the “anti-establishment” wing. Then he began boasting of how the “establishment” loved him, and its most formerly hated exemplars began to sing his praise, and both talked of how they could cut some good crony capitalist deals together, and suddenly it is hard to see how any red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist and strict constitutionalist and unabashed evangelical Christian can compete against both wings.
One hopeful theory holds that many the fans of the real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul and political newcomers unlikely to brave a cold and long Iowa night of caucusing, or be able to find their way there, but some of the pollsters are calling for what Trump would call a “yuge” turn-out, and they might prove right. There’s not the enthusiasm for red-in-tooth-in-claw capitalism that one might hope for in a state that’s swung a sweet crony-capitalist deal on the engine-corroding and consumer-gouging and doing-little-for-the-ecology ethanol subsidies, which the deal-making real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul has promised to sweeten beyond what even any Democrat has proposed, and strict constitutionalism and evangelical Christianity might not prove as significant a negotiating point. We have no disputes with the Democrats or Republicans of Iowa, and although we’ve found it a hard state to hitch-hike through in the winter we are great fans of Grant Wood and that deep-brown dirt they’ve got, but so long as they’re first in line to pick the next president we don’t see how we’ll ever get rid of that ridiculous ethanol subsidy.
Iowans are disproportionately white and rural and union-enrolled and otherwise atypical of the broader American population, too, but so long as the state’s Democrats keep picking either an establishment or more frankly socialist candidate they’ll been immune from any criticism about, Whatever candidate the Iowa Republicans choose will be subject to all sorts of quota-driven scrutiny. Both candidates will reap much publicity and considerable momentum going into the next round of voting in New Hampshire next week, and after that second round of 50 all the press will be writing their premature obituaries the same way they do after the second of of a best-of-seven professional basketball series. Sometimes those premature obituaries proved prescient, so we will wait and see.
The red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist and strict constitutionalist and unabashed evangelical Christian is at long last blasting away at the real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul’s crony capitalism with an ad we think states the case rather succinctly, and what’s left of conservatism’s intelligentsia is arousing itself on behalf of the cause, and even some of those right-wing radio talkers are suddenly asking questions, but it’s probably too late for today’s voting, and today’s voting will be big story until next week’s voting, so we’ll wait and see. In the meantime, we’ll take whatever deal we can get.

— Bud Norman

Another What-If Episode

Many of the old television shows that used to take up far too much of our childhood would occasionally encounter a creative lull about mid-season and resort to the old gimmick of having the characters transported by harp music and a wavy dissolve into some alternate reality. What if the guys at WJM had met the irresistible Mary Richards when they were single, or Felix and Oscar had never met? What if Gilligan or the Skipper had bothered to check the damned weather forecast before that three-hour cruise?
The Republican Party’s reality show of a presidential nomination race was reduced to the same hackneyed formula Thursday night, inviting viewers to imagine the storyline without the love-him-or-hate-him star-of-the-show-as-always Donald J. Trump. Being on the booing-and-hissing side of the divide of the show’s fans, we happily accepted the invitation.
If you’ve been binge-watching the series thus far with the same rapt attention as ourselves, you already know that Trump wrote himself out of the script because the episode was being broadcast by the Fox News Network, which always elicits booing and hissing from the left and is now the hated by the supposed savior of the right because it employs Megyn Kelly, a most comely and seemingly competent broadcast journalist who had the lese majeste in an earlier to episode to ask Trump about his longtime habit of calling her less comely sisters by such names as “‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.'” When Trump responded afterwards that the seemingly calm and undeniably comely Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever” it seemed to us to prove her implied point yet nonetheless improved his poll numbers, and viewers will recall it it was one of the highest-rated episodes ever. Trump declined the long-anticipated sequel, with all his fanzines proclaiming it a stroke of tactical genius, and next Monday night’s much-anticipated “Iowa Caucus and Actual Voting” episode might yet prove it so, but we’re hopeful the next episode will reawaken to a different storyline.
Trump might have reasonably calculated that he would be all the more conspicuous by his absence from Thursday night’s episode, but he was only mentioned in passing. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the main rival for the love-him-or-hate-him starring role, got some laughs by doing some Don Rickles shtick and saying “that concludes the Trump portion,” and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is the embodiment of the hated “establishment” hovering over the whole series even in the harp-music-and-wavy-dissolve transition to an alternate reality, sounding quite reasonable and even statesmanlike as he noted the higher tone of the proceedings. For the most part, it was pleasantly easy to close one’s eyes and imagine what it would have been like in an “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Donald J. Trump had never been born. All the candidates would still be talking about the unavoidable costs of both illegal and legal immigration to be weighed against their widely doubted benefits, there would still be same unavoidable discussion about Islamic terrorism and all the other international problems the Democrats don’t seem to want to talk about, there would d be the same talk about free markets and individual liberty, only without all the bragging by the front-runner about the politicians he’s bought off and the powers he would seize, the hated “establishment” would still be hated no matter how reasonable and statesmanlike it sounded, and the storyline would still be lively enough to generate some ratings.
Even in the would-be world of Thursday night’s debate there was a love-him-or-hate-him character in Cruz, and although we’re inclined to love him we think he got the worst of his first night in the crossfire. His opening bit about Trump’s tiring insult comic act played well enough, but a later attempt at ironic humor seemed to backfire when the audience didn’t seem to get his joking threat to leave the stage if he got any more tough questions. His reasonable arguments for his consistent resolve on illegal immigration inevitably got bogged down in talk of amendments and parliamentary procedure and all that stuff that even federal neophytes are bogged down with, and his blunt talk about those ridiculous ethanol subsidies that are so beloved in first-in-line Iowa and hated everywhere else probably did him little good in Iowa but boosted him past the absent Trump everywhere else, so some blows were clearly landed. He came off with the requisite ratings-grabbing feistiness, and landed a few blows of his own here and there, but he probably should have more relished the villain’s role.
There were some good lines by the unimportant New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the bumptious but establishment guy, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the establishment but bumptious guy, and even the loony libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and as always we thought retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was quite good with his brief few lines, and Bush somehow didn’t come across the least bit villainous, but the surprising co-star of the night was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Longtime fans of the show know Rubio was the handsome and youthful character who was once the true-blue conservative hero of an earlier season but then fell in with the Gang of Eight who conspired to unleash the immigrant hordes upon America, and has since been on a mission of penance, but he made a good accounting of himself. He swore his newfound toughness and noted the similarly evolving position of the anti-immigrant horde Trump, who bravely chose to not be around to defend himself from the undeniable charge, and he rightly noted that he was at least more anti-immigrant horde than Bush or any of those other guys, and he bogged Cruz down in all that talk of amendments and parliamentary procedure, and he wound up sounding more electable in a general election than the rest of them.
After the next round of harp music and slow dissolves we’ll be back to real world where there really is a Donald J. Trump, and all that entails, and by late Monday night or early Tuesday morning we’ll find out how the story resumes. We’ve also been watching the Democrats’ mini-series, which is weirder yet, and we’re starting to worry that might be the weirdest of these reality shows.

— Bud Norman