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What Bonehead Appointed These Boneheads?

President Donald Trump continues to boast about creating the best American economy ever, but he also continues to urge the Federal Reserve Board to pursue the sort of monetary policy usually reserved for recessions and depressions. On Wednesday he “tweeted” that the Fed should be setting zero or even negative interests, and lamented about “A once in a lifetime opportunity that we are missing because of ‘Boneheads.‘”
We can’t claim to be Milton Friedman-level experts on monetary policy, but we think we understand the basics better than Trump seems to, and we’re cautiously hopeful that the “boneheads” at the Fed know best.
Trump’s “tweet” suggests he wants those unprecedented-in-American-history zero or negative interest rates so that he can rack up further trillion-dollar deficits at a lower cost, and perhaps allow him to refinance what America owes its international creditors. The self-proclaimed “King of Debt” believes he can negotiate the same kind of deal that left him rich even after six corporate bankruptcies cost his investors hundreds of million dollars, but we worry that the country would the have the same problem getting a line of credit that Trump has had ever since his casinos went under despite having house odds.
The “tweet” enviously notes that other countries have gone to zero or negative rates, but all of those countries are going into recession, partly because of the slowdown in the global economy that has followed Trump’s trade wars with just about everyone. Recessions require interest rate cuts and deficit spending, at least according to the consensus of economists on both the left and right, which has proved pretty reliable over the past many decades, but the best economy ever should be able to cruise along on the very low interest rates the Fed has lately set. Should the recent slowdown in the American economy slide toward recession, the Fed will need to be able to make cuts, and needs to keep that ammunition in reserve.
The “tweet” didn’t mention it, be we will note that four of the five Fed board governors and the Fed chairman — the aforementioned “boneheads” — were appointed by Trump. Trump also spent much of Wednesday denigrating newly defenestrated national security advisor John Bolton, the third man to hold the post in less than three years, calling him “not smart” and blaming him for starting the Iraq war, and Trump has had similarly unkind things to say about many of the people he appointed to powerful positions.
In his election campaign Trump promised he’d only hire “the very best people,” and he’ll probably repeat the claim during his reelection campaign, but that’s like saying the best economy ever needs negative interest rates.

— Bud Norman

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A Busy and Upset Thursday, for Better and Worse

Thursday was a busy day for us, what with rehearsals for our annual theatrical turn and Kansas State University’s Wildcats pulling off a big upset in the national college basketball tournament and the trash needing to be taken to the curb, which made it hard to keep up with a busier than even usual news day.
The stock markets swooned as a trade war with China broke out, a former Playboy “playmate of the year” gave a lengthy interview about her past adulterous affair with then private citizen Donald Trump, and a national security advisor regarded as one of the steady hands in the White House was replaced with a hothead from Fox News, along with other noteworthy developments.
Candidate Trump ran on a promise to protect certain American industries with punitive tariffs, and President Trump has “tweeted” that “Trade wars are good and easy to win,” and after he fired the steady hand who’d been his economic advisor who’d urged restraint it was no surprise that he announced stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum on $60 billion worth of tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods. Neither was it a surprise when the European Union threatened retaliatory tariffs, nor when China announced them on Thursday, nor when stock markets around the world swooned on the news.
Perhaps the trade war will prove as good and easily won as Trump predicts, but we share all of the stock markets’ doubts. There is no historical precedent for a good and easily won trade war, after all, and they’ve all gone so badly they wound up with everyone losing. For all its faults the free-trading post-World War II global economic brought great prosperity and relative peace to both America and the rest of the world, and despite his salesmanship we can’t see Trump persuading all those other countries to give up their share of the pie.
Although it’s less likely to immediately affect your next 401K statement, the former Playboy “playmate of the year’s” interview with the Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper was of more than prurient interest. Not that there wasn’t plenty of prurient interest to be had, of course, what with a billionaire playboy and future president doing the nasty with his nudie model girlfriend while his nudie model wife was at home nursing their recently born son, but at this point in the post-President Bill Clinton era even the evangelicals seem rather jaded about that sort of thing. The bigger problem is yet another blow to Trump’s believability, because he’s denying the affair and the former Playboy “playmate of the year” seems by far the more credible of the two.
She’s got notebooks and photographs and hotel receipts and other corroborating evidence of an affair, and her on-camera account of the affair has a verisimilitude no actress can achieve. She freely acknowledges that the adulterous affair was mutually consensual, didn’t describe any of the unwanted groping that Trump has bragged about and numerous women have alleged, said that he was handsome and charming, sadly recalled how he had offered to pay their sexual encounters, and even insisted that she voted from Trump and still supports his presidency. So far she doesn’t seem to have profited from the past affair, and when she credibly says she doesn’t want to hurt Trump we can’t imagine what her motive might be other than to come clean.
Which only adds to the credibility of the pornographic video performer who is also alleging an adulterous affair with Trump right around the same time, and whose interview with the same Anderson Cooper is scheduled to air on Sunday’s episode of the Columbia Broadcast System’s “60 Minutes.” Trump likes to brag about how he drives the news ratings, and our guess is that on Sunday night Cooper and CBS will benefit from that more than he does.
The porn performer’s story has an even more prurient appeal than that centerfold model’s, as it doesn’t have any of the weepy and cliched I-thought-he-loved-me parts and includes salacious details about rolled-up copies of Forbes Magazine with Trump’s picture on the cover. She describes a more transactional relationship where provided what she considered routine sex in exchange for a chance to be a contestant on Trump’s reality show, and although she’s brazenly capitalizing on her notoriety with a “Make America Horny Again” strip club tour her story also has a ring of truth to our ears.
The $130,000 that Trump’s lawyer admits he paid the porno performer just before the election might constitute a violation of campaign finance law, too, which adds to Trump’s already expensive legal bills from the ongoing “Russia thing” and various other matters. Trump has lately been shaking up his legal team, with Washington’s most high-powered attorney declining the offer but a conspiracy theorist from Fox News joining the team, but their task of defending his credibility will be even harder.
The recent shakeups in the administration are also unsettling. The outgoing national security adviser was three star Army general H.R. McMaster, one of the steady hands who offered such sage advice to Trump as “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” in a recent phone call with dubiously reelected Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which Trump of course rejected, and the incoming national security advisor is John Bolton, who does not strike us as an upgrade. He’s a past United Nations Ambassador and longtime figure in national security circles, but his brusque style seems to have found a better fit at Fox News, where he routinely has urged Trump to follow his natural and nationalist instincts. He’s no more likely to restrain Trump’s impulsive temperament that the Fox News guy who replaced the steady hand economic advisor that warned against a trade war.
On a busier than usual Thursday news cycle, it all adds up a certain unease. It’s a sad state of affairs when a Playboy model and porno performer are more believable than a president, but here we are. The same recklessly impulsive fellow who got himself into those tawdry messes is now waging a global trade war and in charge of preventing the military kind, and he’s firing steady hands and hiring cheerleaders.
On the other hand, rehearsals went well, K-State whipped that snooty Kentucky squad and moves on to its 13th “elite eight” game, and we got the trash out to the curb.

— Bud Norman

Droning On

A reliably right-wing friend was sharing a beer with us recently, and the talk naturally turned to the topic of drone strikes. Our pal confessed that he was initially opposed to the president’s claim to a legal right to order the death of any American living abroad who is suspected of terrorist activities, mainly because of an instinct honed over the past four years to oppose any Obama policy, but that he had since reconsidered his position. He had always supported even the most vigorous protocols in the war against Islamist terrorism in the past, our friend said, and “You don’t want to stop thinking.”
The ensuing conversation didn’t allay all of our concerns about the policy, and we wound up agreeing only that it made Obama’s endless moral preening about the dark days of the lawless and bloodthirsty Bush administration all the more insufferable, but our friend’s determination to think through an issue with intellectual consistency and disregard for partisan politics impressed us nonetheless. That’s a rare trait these days, on both the left and the right, and the lack of it is largely responsible for the currently sorry state of the country and the world. Perhaps it is our own partisan prejudice at play, but the left seems especially prone to knee-jerk reactions against anything their enemies are doing at a given moment, no matter what contortions of logic are required.
Obama and his entire administration have this very tendency, and it has left them with a foreign policy that is both morally incoherent and strategically ineffective. Eight long years of self-righteous denunciations of Bush’s anti-terrorism protocols compelled Obama to promise an end to indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay and harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, but doing has forced him to embrace Bush’s formerly controversial drone policies with a gusto his cowboy predecessor would have never dared. Although Obama has quietly abandoned his efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp he can’t afford the political embarrassment of adding to its population, nor can he extract any information from the prisoners that they aren’t willing to divulge when asked nicely, and by being so meticulously moral he is left with no option but to incinerate any suspected bad guys along with whomever happens to be standing nearby when the Hellfire missile arrives. We’ll leave it to the leftists to lament the fate of these poor terrorists, who would probably have preferred the sunny climes of Cuba and a brisk round or two of waterboarding, but our objection is that the policy doesn’t work as well as the old method of going in with special forces unit and nabbing the terrorists.
In one case, according to a story in The New York Times, it was a brave anti-al Qaeda cleric in Yemen who happened to be standing nearby when the Hellfire missile arrived. The blast took out several terrorists, along with whatever information they might have possessed, but it seems unlikely to advance the large project of turning the Muslim world against terrorism. There were no doubt many cases where drone strikes achieved a more unmitigated good, during both the Bush and Obama administrations, but it would be better to limit their use to those occasions.
Similar inconsistencies bedevil other aspects of the Obama foreign policy, such as its sanctimonious demands for congressional and approval when a Republican is in office and its utter disregard for both once a Democrat is installed. Sen. John Kerry’s confirmation hearings for the Secretary of State post didn’t get the same amount of publicity as former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s disastrous performance when applying for Secretary of Defense, but we were amused by an exchange between Kerry and Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul, who demanded to know why the famous former anti-war activist had so loudly denounced Nixon’s decision to bomb Cambodia without explicit congressional approval yet applauded Obama’s decision to bomb Libya with the same lack of legal authorization. Kerry mumbled some ahistorical nonsense about how presidents now have to respond to situations quickly, as Nixon were delivering his bombs by horse and buggy, but one gets the sense that he yearned to come right out and say that in one case it was a Republican president, and not just any Republican, but Nixon, and in the other it was a Democrat, and not just any Democrat, but Obama.
Paul is impressively conservative on domestic issues and a welcome member of the Republican party, but he has many of the isolationist views of his father, the peacenik libertarian Ron Paul, and he’s therefore free to critique the administration without party loyalty or intellectual inconsistency. Such neo-conservative standard-bearers as John Bolton are rising to the defense of Obama’s drone policy, even as they remain staunch critics of almost everything else he’s doing, and a few intellectually honest lefties have dared to defy their beloved president by sticking to their bleeding-heart guns. Most of the country seems willing to support or oppose anything Obama does, however, and it seems likely that the drone policy will continue without much controversy until another Republican happens to get into the White House.

— Bud Norman