Trump Takes on California

More information leaked out about that mysterious whistle-blower scandal, which was the Drudge Report’s top story and making its way to the hourly reports on the local talk radio station by Thursday, but as we await more details the story that caught out eye was President Donald Trump’s threat to sic the Environmental Protection Agency on the city of San Francisco.
Trump has lately been on a lucrative fund-raising tour in California, and while there he’s waged several rhetorical and political battles against the state. He seems to understand that he’s not going to win California’s rich trove of electoral votes in any case, but that its dwindling number of over-regulated and over-taxed and under-appreciated Republicans will appreciate his attacks, not to mention all the red state voters who resent California’s outsized political and economic and cultural influence. He drew attention to the growing and increasingly troublesome problem of homelessness in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which is at least in part a result of those famously liberal enclaves’ bleeding heart indulgence, and said he’d have the EPA slap on a violation notice on the City by the Bay  for all the environmental problems its home population is causing.
Many years have passed since our last visit to ‘Cisco, which was back in days of the dirty hippies of Haight-Ashbury, but by all accounts the homeless are by now an even more significant annoyance  there. Trump mostly complained that they’re bad for his rich donors’ businesses, but he also argued that their drug needles and excrement and flowing through the storm drains into the ocean. San Francisco’s mayor, fittingly named London Breed, insists the city is investing in shelters and mental health programs to combat the problem, and the EPA declined to comment on Trump’s threat, but the president probably has a point.
Even so, Mayor Breed can also make a strong argument that Trump’s threat to withdraw California’s waver to set its own clean air standards poses a greater threat to the state’s environment than all those drug-abusing and defecating homeless people. California has long had the nation’s strictest standards for how much pollution cars can emit, which have become the entire world’s de facto standards as the world’s carmakers have sought access to the world’s biggest car-buying market, and it seems to have made Los Angeles’ air less smoggy brown that it used to look at the opening of every episode of Jack Webb’s ultra-conservative cop show “Dragnet ’68.” The carmakers have become accustomed to the higher standards, car-buyers no longer notice the extra cost, and as much as our conservative Kansas Republican souls resent bossy governmental regulation our old-fashioned federalist principles don’t want to force Californians to put up with dirtier air.
Like all good heartlanders we’re inclined to regard California as the land of fruits of nuts, but we must admit that even here in business-oriented and Republican-voting and tough-love Wichita there’s also a severe problem with the homeless. On a drive past downtown’s once-elegant Shirkmere Apartments you’ll find a Hooverville-sized encampment of desperate souls outside the social service agency across the street, and you can’t go from the fuel pumps to the front door of the QuikTrips on Douglas and Seneca or Broadway and Murdock without getting panhandled. The local library’s main branch had to move from the heart of downtown to just across the Arkansas River in Delano, where the homeless have already found shelter from the heat and cold.
It’s an environmental mess here, too, and the good people of the Presbyterian church across the street from the soup kitchen that feeds the homeless has reluctantly built a fence to prevent the defecations on their steps that routinely occurred, but for now at least we probably won’t be bothered by the EPA’s intervention. The sooner-or-later next Democratic administration might change that, and we’ll be quite peeved about it if they do, but at least we won’t be hypocrites when we object to outsiders telling us how to go about our business. We have no better idea about how to deal with the homeless problem than those snooty know-it-alls in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and we think it best that all 50 states and their biggest cities  figure it out for themselves. One of them is bound to come up with something better than what California or Trump can think of.

— Bud Norman

The Fourth of the July on the Korean Peninsula

While America was firing off fireworks to celebrate its independence, the nutcase regime running North Korea was testing yet another intercontinental ballistic missile. According to the United States Pacific Command this one went 1,700 miles into space and landed 580 miles away from its launch off the South Korean coast line, so if you flatten that trajectory it could have landed in Alaska, which complicates what had already been a darned complicated situation for more than 50 years.
President Donald Trump defiantly responded with a “tweet” taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un by asking “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” It’s a valid question, of course, but we doubt Trump’s “tweets” will deter Kim from his nuclear ambitions any more effectively than they’ve deterred Mika Brzezenski from criticizing Trump on her early morning cable news show, and Trump’s “tweeted” promise as president-elect that the North Koreans wouldn’t dare an ICBM test when he got into office obviously hasn’t come to pass. Trump hasn’t yet declared any red lines or stated any demands or ruled out any possible options, which suggests that the more seasoned heads and steadier hands of his well-regarded defense secretary and and his widely-respected national security advisor are exercising some control over the presidential “twitter” feed, and for now we hold out hope for an old friend of ours who lives in Anchorage.
America’s options were always limited to a narrow range of bad to worse, though, and Tuesday’s test seems to have narrowed them further. A pre-emptive first strike on the nutcase North Korean regime’s missile launching sites always carried the risk of devastating retaliatory strikes on nearby American allies South Korea and Japan, the South Korean capital of Seoul could be easily shelled from the the demilitarized zone with World War I-era artillery, and geography has given always the North Koreans an unearned that advantage that made any miscalculation catastrophic. Even if you’re so ruthlessly American First that you’d ignore the humanitarian consequences of bombs landing on such densely populated places as Seoul and Tokyo, you’d have to admit the economic consequences would eventually be felt deep in the heartland. With the North Koreans seemingly in missile range of Alaska and maybe even such densely populated places as Los Angeles and San Francisco, even such a seasoned head and steady hand and instinctive first-strike hawk as well-respected former defense secretary William Perry is saying “it changes every calculation.”
There are still plenty of potential diplomatic solutions, of course, but all of those have always been darned complicated and are lately more complicated yet. China’s President Xi Jiping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement proposing that North Korea refrain from further missile tests in exchange for the United States canceling a planned joint military exercise, which sounds reasonable but is pretty darned complicated. Trump ran on a China-bashing platform but has been remarkably friendly to China ever since Xi visited Mar-a-Lago and granted some long-sought patents to Trump’s daughter’s business, and by now everyone knows that his relationship with Putin is endlessly complicated, and even his relationship with South Korea has been complicated by his protectionist rhetoric and insistence that the country pay more for a missile defense system that might shoot down something pointed at Alaska. That joint Sino-Russian proposal was a hard enough call in any case, aside from the embarrassing fact it had two leaders Trump has sucked up to colluding against him. Accepting would be a sign of weakness, and undermine a longstanding American-South Korean alliance, and refusing might now prove that that catastrophic miscalculation that the the past 50 years of American presidents have sought to avoid.
Given the situation we’re now in there’s argument to be made that all of those presidents of the past 50 years made some miscalculations. President Harry Truman was the first president who waded into the Korean Peninsula, although that was largely a result of his predecessor’s actions and those of presidents going back to Theodore Roosevelts first adventures in Asia, and for all the historical debate at least it ended up with a capitalist and mostly democratic South Korea and all those great K-Pop videos.
Those communist and totalitarian China and North Korea regimes lingered through the Eisenhower and Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and then the cold warrior Republican President Richard Nixon famously went to China. After Vietnam and Watergate the Republican Ford and Democratic Carter administrations maintained the stalemate on the troublesome peninsula, and although the Republican administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush brought down the Soviet Union they didn’t much change the situation with the commies on the Korean peninsula. The Democratic President Bill Clinton struck a bargain with the North Koreans that looks dreadful and will perhaps look worse in the history books, Republican President George W. Bush didn’t rectify that, and the latest headlines in even Te New York Times and The Washington Post admit that Democratic President Barack Obama also failed to definitively solve the problem.
Now we find ourselves with President Donald Trump facing these complications, and hoping those more seasoned heads and steadier hands of his will somehow prevail at least enough to kick this can further down the road.

— Bud Norman

That Unsettling End of the Weimar Republic Feeling

For some time now we’ve been fretting that there’s a certain unsettling end-of-the-Weimar-Republic feel to America’s politics, and watching the gruesome video accounts of a recent bloody brawl between the far-right and the far-left on an ordinarily pastoral portion of Los Angeles’ public parks only heightens our anxiety.
So far as we can tell the far-left is more culpable for this most recent incident, as even such a genteel institution as The Los Angeles Times is obliged to report that even such a genteel institution as the Los Angeles Police Department admits that the far-right had gone through all the onerous chores of getting a permit and was peaceably assembling when the far-left showed up with large sticks of wood and sharp knives to commence the melee. Many of those originally peaceable far-right protestors were self-described Nazis, though, while many of the stick-and-knife-weilding far-left counter-protestors were self-described communists, so just like all those end-of-the-Weimar Republic brawls we would have preferred that some providential asteroid had brought some just retribution to the whole sorry lot of them. Providence always takes it own sweet time about these things, however, so this seems likely play out for at least another election cycle.

The cycle of violence has been going on for a while now, and although the left has always seemed more culpable there’s plenty of blame to go around. We recall the ’60s when the Weather Underground was a terrorist threat, and the ’70s when Woody Allen in “Annie Hall” was joking about how brickbats were a more effective response than op-eds to Nazi rallies, and of course how the current President of the United States was an unapologetic friend of the Weather Underground’s apologetic terrorist leaders, not to mention all those brutal assaults on everyday Americans who who showed up at the presumptive Republican presidential nominees rallies, and although that violence largely negated the story we’re obliged to admit that the presumptive Republican nominee truly did promise to pay the legal fees for anyone who roughed up the peaceful protestors at his rallies.

So far the presumptive Democratic nominee’s rallies have been free of violence, and there’s no evidence that she’s at all responsible for the violence that has plagued her presumptive Republican opponent’s rallies, and we hope this situation will somehow persist until Election Day. Still, there’s a certain end-of-the-Weimar-Republic feel to the whole thing, and we’re hoping that providence will prevent it.

— Bud Norman

Our Favorite Street Artist of the Moment

We’ve been avid art lovers ever since that long ago day when our mother first dragged us along to the Wichita Art Museum to see the Mary Cassatt and the John Steuart Curry and the Albert Pinkham Ryder and the Thomas Eakins and the Winslow Homer and the three — count ’em, three — Edward Hoppers, two of which are very major works, along with the rest of the city’s surprisingly strong collection, but for the past many years we’ve found precious little to like among the new stuff. It’s not just the pointless and overdone abstraction, or the obviously intentional ugliness of it, or that ever-present preachy and polemic quality that Tom Wolfe so brutally described in “The Painted Word,” or even the rigid conformity of the ugly and polemical point that almost all of it seems to be making, but mostly the annoying air of self-righteousness by all those college-educated artists who think themselves “brave” and “transgressive” and “outsider” for scribbling works that are clearly meant to convey the consensus of bien pensant arty world opinion and be safely ignored by the rest of society.
Imagine our delight, then, to hear about the fellow who calls himself Sabo and has lately been creating a bona fide artistic controversy by plastering the streets of Los Angeles with his works. So far as we can tell from the internet images his work is at least somewhat abstractly modern, with the requisite intentional ugliness, and it’s polemic as all get-out, but we have to credit his bravery and transgression and outsider status, because he clearly intends to mock the consensus of bien pensant arty world opinion and let the rest of the society in on his very amusing jokes. One doesn’t need a post-graduate degree in deconstruction theory to see that Sabo is an unrepentant right-wing bastard like ourselves, which is about as brave and transgressive and outsider-y as someone hoping to make an artistic reputation for himself can get, and even the credentialed deconstruction theorists will have to admit that there’s a certain jiu-jitsu genius about using all the stale conventions of “street art” and “guerrilla art” and all the rest of those brave and transgressive and outsider cliches to fight the powers that actually prevail.
Sabo’s latest news-making work is of the conceptual variety, and involves those flashing traffic-signaling signs that the more high-brow critics will note are a poignant symbol of our carbon-emitting automotive society and societal retreat into the stifling hell of suburbia, but he and his co-conspirators have been placing them along the home-to-the-suburb routes inconvenienced by the royal motorcades attendant to the fund-raising of President Barack Obama and presumptive president Hillary Clinton, with such messages as “Democrats Begging 4 Money” and “Hillary Back Begging.” He’d previously attracted Los Angeles’ attention with the more visually polemic works he had ironically and post-modernly mass-produced and then transgressively stuck on bus benches and other public spaces around the city, such as his depiction of one of those scary flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” carrying a Hillary 2016 sign, and failed Texas gubernatorial candidate and left-wing darling Wendy Davis depicted as a pro-abortion Barbie doll, and his pictures of beloved liberals rendered in an obvious allusion to the style of that Shepard Fairey poster of Barack Obama that was so ubiquitous back in ’08, only with the painted word “Drone” rather than “Hope” at the bottom.
So far our favorite Sabo is a portrait of his apparent choice for president, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is depicted with a cigarette dangling from his sneering lips and a riot of gangsta tattoos on his bare-chested and muscle-bound physique. Cruz apparently likes it, too, as he jocularly “tweeted” that the only inaccuracy he noticed was that he doesn’t smoke cigarettes, and in an ironic and post-modern way it reminds us of what we like about the very suit-and-tied and very Republican Cruz’ very brave and transgressive and bareknuckled style of politics, and we suspect that many of the young and hip former Obama voters who fell for that stupid Shepard Fairey poster back in ’08 might at long last have their conformist assumptions challenged in the way that modern art has always claimed to do while they await a bus or straggle down a Los Angeles street. We’re hoping so, at least, because it’s about time the squares started shocking the avante garde.
Back in ’08 pretty much the entirety of the art world was lined up behind Obama, along with academia and Hollywood and journalism and the rest of the opinion-making establishment, and none of them raised any fuss when one of his lackeys in the federal arts-funding establishment made clear that commissions and subsidies and other official considerations were entirely dependent on their continued support of his agenda, and they all adopted the same noticeably worshipful and therefore un-hip attitude toward their Messiah, which seemed so conformist and unthinking and unsophisticated to us retrograde Christians who already had a Messiah, so Sabo is at least something of a breath of fresh air. Over at the longstanding conservative publication The National Review they’re talking about how the Republicans might regain some “cool” in the next election, what with our own early-choice-for-president Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker looking so very bad-ass on that Wisconsin-built Harley-Davidson motorcycle he likes to ride, and the Democrat’s presumptive nominee looking so very grandmotherly with her pant-suits and back-to-the-’90s rhetoric, and although that seems hopeful, what with transgenderism and a wholly fictional Republican war against contraception and the rest of it being the big stories of the day, this Sabo fellow makes us cautiously optimistic they might be right. Perhaps some other aspiringly brave and transgressive artists will also notice how very cowardly and conforming the art world has become, and add some mockery of their own, and the arty world will at long last help us fight the powers actually be.
Sabo has already attracted the attention of The Huffington Post and The Hollywood Reporter and the bus-riding hipsters of Los Angeles, as well as The Central Standard Times way out here in Wichita, and that’s heartening. We don’t expect that his works will outlast Cassatt or Curry or Ryder or Eakins or Homer or Hopper, or any of those other great artists in the Wichita Art Museum’s surprisingly strong collection just around the corner from our Riverside home, all of whom captured those timeless moments of the human condition that anyone on the left or right could recognize and relish, but for right now and right here at this damned moment in time we think he’s doing a hell of a job.

— Bud Norman