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Meanwhile, Far South of the Border

The weather around here has been awful lately, but we’ve taken some comfort in reading about how much worse it’s been to the north and east. Similarly, no matter how bad America’s politics get we can still be glad that we’re not living in Venezuela.
Not so long ago in our lifetimes the oil-rich nation of Venezuela was prosperous and peaceful by Latin American standards, but the socialist regimes of President Hugo Chavez and then President Nicolas Maduro have wrought an unmitigated economic disaster. Unemployment is sky-high, such basic necessities as toilet paper are desperately hard to find, and the inflation rate is a staggering one million percent. Mass protests are filling the streets of the capital and other cities, the guy who lost the last presidential election under highly suspect circumstances is plausibly claiming to be the legitimate head of state, and it makes America’s protracted and seemingly intractable partial government shutdown look like no big deal.
President Donald Trump’s administration has pleasantly surprised us by siding with opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency, which is backed by those hundreds of thousands of protestors packing the streets, as well as the governments of several of the country’s South American neighbors. It’s surprising in part because Russia and the Venezuelan military and the more autocratic government of America are still backing Maduro, as well as the fact that Trump typically admires his strong man style of governance, and that Trump doesn’t usually much care what goes on south of America’s border so long as it stays there. We’ll attribute it to a traditional Republican revulsion for Latin American socialism and the clout of the very traditional Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but give Trump some credit nonetheless.
Which is not to say that it will prove helpful to Venezuela, and it’s possible it could make things worse. There’s an understandable if not entirely unjustified resentment of Yankee imperialism throughout Latin America, which Latin American dictators have long used to rally public opinion against even the best-intended and well-considered efforts to intervene in their affairs, and Maduro should and Maduro should be able make even more hay of it when the Yankee imperialist is the hated-throughout-Latin-America Trump. Maduro retains the the support of the military, which we doubt Trump wants to tangle with, as well as Russia and Cuba and Bolivia and other countries Trump is eager to make deals with, while China and Mexico and other important trading partners are staying on the sidelines, and Trump is known for making his own sudden expedient policy shifts to the sidelines.
Even so, for now Trump finds himself on the side of Canada and most members of the Organization of American States and those hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets, and we’re hopeful he’ll stay there. Chavez and to a lesser extent Maduro were once the darlings of America’s radical left, and the American right’s favorite cautionary tale about the consequences of socialism, and for now the right is clearly winning that argument. Although Maduro is a classic populist strongman autocrat and that Guaido fellow is a thin and youthful and handsome and glib fellow who reminds of a Venezuelan version of America’s Democratic center-left darling Beto O’Rourke, Trump is probably politically astute enough to know his stand will play well with all sorts of freedom-loving Americans.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world also seems worse off than we are here in frigid Kansas. Crazy Venezuelan-style left wing populism has much of Central America heading to the United States border, and crazy Trump-style populism is currently making things worse in Brazil and Poland and Hungary and Italy and the Philippines. The sensibly centrist governments of France and the United Kingdom are currently in crisis, too, with the streets of Paris once again burning and the Parliament in London trying to find its way out of a slumping European Union.
Better by far to be here in frigid Kansas than in China or Russia, or anywhere in Africa and the Arab world, or even the most up-to-date and well-heated cities of Asia and Europe. We’re still eagerly awaiting spring and the reopening of the federal government, and in the meantime we’ll warm ourselves with the knowledge of how much worse most of the rest of world’s unlucky folks have it.

— Bud Norman

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Et Tu, Drudge?

Ever since it started linking to Infowars and Gateway Pundit and other crackpot conspiracy theory sites we’ve gotten out of the habit of reading The Drudge Report, but we’ll still occasionally take a look to see the latest spin on behalf of President Donald Trump. Imagine our surprise, then, when the high-traffic internet site’s top headlines were  Trump’s lowest-ever public approval rating in the Rasmussen poll and then “Shutdown Turns Nightmare Govt Paralyzed.”
Trump’s approval rating in the latest Rasmussen poll is 43 percent, which is still higher than in any other poll, but given the source it’s a worrisome number. Rasmussen has long had a reputation as a Republican-leaning firm, and consistently been an outlier among the polling on Trump, and has recently reported his approval rating over 50 percent. In in the past its polling has been vindicated by election results, but it’s policy of only calling land line phones seems outdated, as the only remaining people with landslides are either very wealthy or very old and are thus more inclined than the rest of to appreciate Trump’s tax bill and nostalgic appeals to a bygone era of manly coal miners and steel workers and not so many Mexicans. That Trump can’t garner majority approval from such a favorably skewed sample should cause him to reconsider several things he’s doing.
It’s bad news that the likes of The Drudge Report was trumpeting the numbers, too, and worse yet when the Trump-friendly site is guiding its millions of viewers to a story about how the recording-setting partial government shutdown is causing long delays at America’s airports as unpaid federal security officials start calling in sick.
The more reliably pro-Trump media are arguing that the shutdown is no big deal, as all those lazy federal workers are going to get paid eventually, and that there’s something to be said for a small government in the meantime, but the “fake news” keeps countering with all-too-real stories about how those government workers won’t be compensated for the interest they pay borrowing money to pay their bills, the hundreds of thousands of government contract workers who won’t be compensated, farmers having trouble getting the subsidies they were promised when Trump’s trade wars drove commodity prices down, and all sorts of regular people having problems that will go uncompensated. According to all the opinion polls, including Rasmussen, most people seem to agree the partial government shutdown is bad for America.
Trump is blaming it on the Democrats’ obstinate refusal to appropriate a measly few billion dollars to build a big and beautiful wall along the entirety of America’s border with Mexico, but after Trump told the Democratic congressional leaders a national television that he would be proud to shutdown the governor for his wall and would blame them the opinion polls show most Americans disagreeing. Trump and his defenders argue that without a big and beautiful wall America’s southern border will soon be overrun by caravans of terrorists and gang members and fecund families itching to cast illegal votes for Democrats, but the opinion polls suggest he’s losing that argument in the court of public opinion as well.
Trump ran for president on the boast that he’s the greatest negotiator in history, and despite his several bankruptcies and more numerous failed businesses a sufficient plurality of the electorate provided him with an electoral victory, but for now he seems in a bad negotiating position. His most hard-core fans will be dispirited by any concessions to the Democrats on funding a big and beautiful wall along the entire southern border, but the Democrats have their own hard-core supporters to worry about and no apparent reason to make any concessions to Trump. The longer this already-longest partial government shutdown continues the worse it will get for Trump in the polls, eventually even more Republicans will succumb to political reality, and it will be interesting to see what the greatest negotiator in history will come up with.
For now the stock markets are slugging along and no new wars have broken out, but that means except for a record-setting increase in America’s trade deficit with China the only other news in the papers is about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s suspicions that Trump is a Russian operative and Trump’s former campaign manager admitting he shared polling data with the Russkies and Trump keeping his discussions with the Russian dictator a secret from his own administration. None of that seems likely to help Trump’s poll numbers, either, and we’ll be checking in occasionally to see what The Drudge Report has to say about that.

— Bud Norman

Our 10 Percent Solution to the Latest Partial Government Shutdown

In the satirical spirit of the great Jonathan Swift, we propose a “Modest Proposal” to end the latest partial government shutdown. The idea first came to us when we heard President Donald Trump bragging on Wednesday to the troops at an airbase in Iraq about the 10 percent raise he’d given them after the past many years of no military pay raises at all.
As a matter of objectively provable fact, all of it was typically Trumpian balderdash. For the past many years of Republican and Democratic administrations everyone in the military has annually received a slight but slightly-ahead-of-the-inflation-rate pay hike, and although the latest 2.9 percent bump was a bit more than usual it’s still a full 7.1 percent less than what Trump bragged about. Even so, many of the troops and most of the fans back home were applauding Trump’s principled generosity to our brave men and women in the field. The die-hard Trump fans have always been willing to believe what balderdash Trump tells them, and dismiss the objectively provable facts as “fake news.” In the run-up to the mid-term elections Trump also promised a 10 percent tax cut to the middle class, which came as quite a surprise to the Congressional Republicans who were then in recess, and although it never came to pass it was widely applauded by the true believer.
Which leads us to our modest proposal to end the third partial government shutdown of Trump’s administration. If you’ve been following both the “fake news” and Trump’s “Twitter” feed you know that Trump won’t sign any spending bill or resolution to keep the government open that doesn’t include billions of dollars of funding for a big and beautiful sea-to-shining-sea wall along the Mexican border, the damned Democrats don’t want to pass any spending bill or resolution that funds any significant border wall, and with the Democrats poised to seat a House majority in a week or so the impasse is likely to linger for a while.
The most obvious solution, then, is to claim that the big beautiful border has already been built and victory has been won. For more than a year Trump has falsely been claiming that the wall is being built, and although that’s typically Trumpian balderdash the die-hard fans have been believing it, so they’ll also probably buy that the project has been completed.
Back during the campaign, when Trump was promising that no Democratic votes were needed because Mexico would happily pay for his promised border wall, he also said the wall should be transparent enough that we could see what those wily Mexicans were up to on the side and that any Americans walking around the border wouldn’t be hit on the head by any of the bundles of drugs they were tossing over the wall. So why not claim that the wall has been completed with Mexico’s happily provided funding, and that you just can’t see it because it’s so splendidly transparent? The die-hard fans will probably buy it, even if the majority of the country buys into the “fake news” reports that as a matter of objectively provable fact a wall doesn’t exist, and at least it would temporarily end the latest hubbub about the latest temporary government shutdown.

— Bud Norman

A Clear Win for Trump to Exaggerate

President Donald Trump scored a significant win on Monday with a newly-neogiated trade pact with both Canada and Mexico, thus giving him something to grossly exaggerate during the upcoming mid-term elections.
So far as we can tell from the mainstream media accounts, Trump now has a very plausible case to grossly exaggerate in his characteristic way. Although NAFTA remains mainly intact, Trump has won the concession that it’s now called the “United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” or the more cumbersome “USMCA,” and we’re relieved that he didn’t insist on “Trump” in the name,and we can’t deny the latest negotiations include some sweet deals for Wisconsin’s dairy framers and some likely raises in pay for Mexico’s automotive assembly line workers, and we can’t deny that on the whole it’s a pretty good deal.
Still, we’re suspicious that it’s really the greatest deal anybody’s ever seen, as Trump is already proclaiming, and we’ll watch how it plays out in those mid-term elections. We’re glad for those Wisconsin dairy farmers who were previously and unfairly denied market access to those damnably protectionist Canadians, and we’re glad for those Mexican assembly line workers who will probably be getting a raise soon, but we doubt the latest periodic re-ngotiations of the still largely extant NAFT treaty represent the difference between the worst deal America ever made and the greatest deal ever that even trump could Trump could only negotiate. Here in Kansas the grain farmers are still anxious about Trump’s ongoing trade war with Chinaand so are the local aviation workers. we’d advise Trump that he shouldn’t get tired of winning just yet.

— Bud Norman

The Art of the Unfinished Deal

Monday’s news was  full of the usual ominous legal developments regarding the “Russia thing,” as well the continuing fallout from President Donald Trump’s petty ongoing feud with the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, but there was also a rare story about actual policy matters. Trump has made some progress in his trade negotiations with Mexico, and naturally he was eager to overstate the accomplishment.
The White House press corps was invited to listen in on a congratulatory phone call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, and although there were a few embarrassing moments of silence while the staff scrambled to get the line working, both presidents praised what they’ve agreed to thus far and lavishly praised one another. Nieto also said three times in the brief call that he was hopeful Canada will also join in the agreement, which seemed to annoy Trump, and by the end it was clear that a deal had yet to be sealed.
The good news that a more cautious president would have modestly touted is that Mexico has agreed to new trade rules for automobiles, intellectual property rights and labor regulations. Such tweaks to current North American Free Trade Agreement are likely to keep some car-making jobs in the United States and Mexico rather than Asia, make it harder for foreign competitors to steal corporate America’s innovations, although Trump didn’t make a big deal of it many Mexican workers will get a big raise and safer working conditions.
The bad news that a more honest president would have admitted is that the new rules will likely make your next new car more expensive, China and the rest of the worst thieves of America’s inventions aren’t involved in the deal at all, and that the vast non-automotive sectors of the Mexican economy might take a hard hit that sends more Mexicans heading to the cross the border in search of work. Trump didn’t get the concessions he wanted on various tariffs, and he made concessions to Mexico about the length of time before he could renege on the whole deal and start all over again, but he could have made a case that incremental progress had nonetheless been made.
Trump has an unfortunate tendency to spike the football and do his end zone dance just short of the goal line, however, and on Monday he was boasting a great that’s far from done. As much as Trump hates it, NAFTA is still a ratified-by-the-Senate and backed by the full faith of the American government treaty, and Canada is a signatory to that treaty, and given the current state of relations with both trading partners since Trump’s election working out all the details is bound to be tricky. On December 1 Nieto will turn power over to President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and although Obrador was consulted in the negotiations he won office on a promise to take a harder stand against Trump, so things need to be wrapped up quickly. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will also have something to say about it, and so far he’s taken a hard stand in the trade war Trump initiated.
Whatever deal Trump eventually gets will also have to be ratified by the Senate, and the mid-term elections in November could well further complicate that always complicated process.
Still, incremental progress in a long, hard process is an achievement worth noting, and we note that the stock markets were pleased to see a slight lessening of the trade war tensions. It’s not enough to crowed out all the rest of the news, though, and Trump isn’t the sort to make such modest boasts.

— Bud Norman

Something There is That Doesn’t Love a Wall, as Robert Frost Might Say

The two improbable promises President Donald Trump most frequently made during his improbable presidential campaign were a “big, beautiful” wall along the entirety of the Mexican-American border, and that Mexico would somehow gladly pay for it. More than a year into his presidency, Trump is still trying to to keep the former promise but has long since abandoned any pretense of the even more preposterous latter one.
The latest reports are that Trump hopes to fund his big and beautiful and at times see-through and perhaps even solar-energy-producing wall with money from the defense budget. He was recently forced to reluctantly sign a widely reviled $1.3 trillion spending bill that allotted a mere $1.6 billion to the wall, and all of the Democrats and a big chunk of the Republicans in Congress are averse to allotting a penny more, so Trump is reportedly telling friends he’ll just take the other $30 billion or so that the the most hopeful estimates suggest is needed out of the $716 billion or so that the spending bill added to the defense budget. It’s a matter of national security, as Trump sees it, and as Commander in Chief he figures he he can say how the military’s money is spent.
This is preposterous for several reasons, too, for several legal and political and practical reasons.
According to that pesky Constitution all federal appropriations, including those for the common defense, still have to be approved by Congress, where all of the Democrats and a big chunk of the Republicans think the wall is a stupid idea to begin with. Trump could try to shift the money from one defense department ledger to another by executive order, but so far those pesky courts have proved more loyal to that pesky Constitution on several of Trump’s improbable campaign promises.
Trump’s ongoing efforts to bully those damned Democrats and rebellious Republicans into paying for his big, beautiful also seem doomed to failure. The idea played well with the crowds who chanted “Build that wall!” at his campaign rallies, but whenever Trump would follow that up by asking “And who’s going to pay for it?” they’d also gullibly chant “Mexico!” At this point, no damned Democrat or rebellious Republican in Congress worries that their reluctance to build a big, beautiful border wall will have much affect on their reelection campaigns.
The left isn’t going to like it in any event, and there are still enough sane Republicans, especially in the border districts, who can make a strong conservative case against this nonsense. The massive amounts of money needed for a wall could be better spent on requiring and facilitating workplaces to confirm the immigration status of employees, checking up on the visa overstays who account for the vast majority of America’s illegal immigrants, as well as drones and other high-tech techniques that would better protect that still-pesky but lately placid border, not to the mention all the eminent domain seizures involved that used to offend conservative sensibilities. The money spent on a border wall would also build some battleships and warplanes and pay for some veterans’ surgeries that sane Republicans would still consider a more urgent priority, too, and even the crowds that are still chanting “build that wall!” at the ongoing campaign rallies probably don’t see it as our more most urgent national defense problem.
Then there’s the matter that Mexico was never going to pay for it in the first place, certainly not gladly, and how Trump will explain to his fans that the military giving up ships and airplanes and veterans’ surgeries is going to wind up paying for it. Trump can still has enough presidential power that the courts might let him get away with imposing some taxes on the money transferred by Mexican nationals or tariffs on goods and services brought in Mexico, but that will probably prove a bad idea in the long run and in the meantime the money could have just as easily been spent on much better ideas than a big, beautiful border wall.
By the mid-term elections the whole mess will probably be long forgotten, if Trump is smart enough. Every presidential election is notable for the preposterous promises made, with both Democratic icon Franklin Roosevelt and Republican icon Ronald Reagan blasting the budget deficits of their predecessors and something about a “missile gap” figuring in the 1960 race, and all the winners were smart enough to let the matter drop after their election.
Trump never quits fighting, which his pro-wrestling sort of fans seem to love. We can’t see him winning this battle, though, and with the mid-term Congressional elections so near at hand we’d advise him to let the matter drop.

— 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

Disasters and Normality

Nature has gone on a destructive rage lately in our hemisphere, and now the entirety of Puerto Rico is without power, the same hurricane caused it is headed toward the U.S. Virgin Islands that had already been largely wiped out by last week’s hurricane, and at least 250 people died in the second major earthquake in Mexico City in the past two weeks. After the devastation wrought on Texas and Florida from two other unusually large and intense hurricanes this month, catastrophe is starting seem commonplace.
The media are still all over it, complete with scary radar images, heartbreaking footage of downed buildings and bandaged people, and heroic stories of rescue and sacrifice, but by now they’re making more room for yet another Republican attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare, the numerous noteworthy developments in the “Russia” story, and whatever else President Donald Trump might be up to. All sorts of historic disasters, both natural and man-made, are quickly becoming normalized.
One reason the latest natural catastrophes have been somewhat downplayed is that they happened in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which are part of America but not among the 50 states, and in Mexico, which is not part of America at all. Americans have always tended to take scant interest in anything that happens beyond our borders, and in the age of “America First” and a clamor for building a giant wall along the southern border that tendency is stronger than ever. The country is still obliged to pay its share of the costly recovery efforts in its territories, though, and would do itself a much needed public relations favor by chipping in something to help out the Mexicans, so some attention should be paid.
Eventually nature will settle down for a while, although probably not for so long as those 12 blissful years North America enjoyed without any hurricanes at all until lately, and at that point all the man-made disasters will retake their rightful places on the front page and the top of the hour. We’ll hope that the recent disasters are not forgotten, that a few of the reporters will stay on the long enough to scrutinize both the recovery efforts and the preparations for the inevitable next time, and that no one regards it as normal for two of America’s most populous cities to be underwater and two its territories wiped out altogether. Here’s hoping, too, that people don’t start to regard all those man-made disasters as at all normal.

— Bud Norman

A Hard-Earned Vacation

Today President Donald Trump starts a planned 17-day vacation at his swank private New Jersey golf club, and we can hardly blame him for wanting to get away from the swamps of Washington, D.C., for a while. Thursday brought fresh leaks of some embarrassing phone calls Trump had with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia, as well as the news that the special counsel investigating the matter of what Trump now calls “Russia” has convened a grand jury, and that’s despite the best efforts of tough new chief of staff who was installed after a major administration shake-up and another week of rebukes by everyone from the Boy Scouts to America’s police chiefs to the Republicans in Congress.
The ostensible reason for the time away is that the White House is replacing its 27-year-old air-conditioning and heating system, and after the couple of sultry summers we’ve spent in Washington that seems plausible enough, although we’re not sure if President Andrew Jackson would have though so, and the timing does seem suspiciously fortuitous. Trump had long criticized his predecessor for spending too much time on golf courses, just as his predecessor had even more hypocritically criticized his predecessor for the same thing, and with his own private golf course being reimbursed by the government Trump will probably take an even worse public relations hit than either of them, but by now it could be a lot worse. If Trump can keep his thumbs gripped to a golf club rather than tapping out a “tweet” on his telephone, and stay away from interviews and otherwise avoid compounding his problems while his lawyers and remaining staff do their best to sort things out, that would probably be 17 days well spent.
The leaks about those embarrassing phone calls with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia had already been partially leaked way back in Trump’s second week of the job, but despite the momentary embarrassment Trump was able to dismiss them as “fake news” with with the politely oblique help of the other countries involved, and it was quickly forgotten in all the other news that kept coming. This time around there are full transcripts of the conversations, which are even more embarrassing in full context, and the White House is neither confirming nor denying their veracity, and neither are the other two governments involved, and by now the guy embarrassing himself on those transcripts sure does sound an awful lot like Trump.
The phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull reveals Trump trying to weasel out of a deal the United States had during struck his predecessor’s administration to take in 1,250 refugees, getting the numbers involved and other basic facts of the deal wrong along the way, frankly worrying how it would “It would make me look terrible,” and abruptly ending the conversation after saying that he’d had a much more pleasant telephone call that day with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Worse yet, as far as Trump’s most loyal supporters might be concerned, in the phone call with Mexican President Pena Nieto he seemed to concede that he’d never really meant all that campaign rhetoric about making Mexico pay for a wall across the entire southern border, but expected the Mexican government to play along with it for the ruse for a while. Nieto bluntly said Spanish equivalent of “nyet,” so far the Republican majorities in Congress have been similarly reluctant to cough up the funding for a border wall, and this is not a good time for people to be reminded about it along with all the further “fake news” leaks that can neither be denied by confirmed by the White House.
The leaks about the special counsel convening a grand jury to issue all sorts of subpoenas in that “Russia” investigation have also been neither confirmed nor denied by the White House, so they’re also looking pretty credible, and although you can spin it so it’s not such a bad thing there’s no way of making it out to be a good thing. That special counsel has a formidable reputation as a dogged but by-the-book investigator, and according to the book the paneling of a grand jury implies some pretty darned prima facie evidence that something fishy’s going on, and for now all questions about it are being referred to the president’s and his family’s and staff’s outside legal counsel.
Given all the other leaks about “Russia” that have neither been confirmed nor denied over the past eight months or so, and instead been to referred to all the various outside counsels that are now involved, we can easily understand why Trump is wanting some rest and relaxation on a familiar golf course. Someone pretty high up in Trump’s administration  is leaking the latest leaks, too, so all the more reason to take some time off from whomever that might be. We’re sure he’ll still be in constant communication with the rest of the executive branch while he’s contemplating a chip shot, just as his predecessors claimed to do, and we hope he at least breaks par.
According to some rather embarrassing leaks to Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated, though, Trump is also  a notorious golf cheat who routinely claims to have broken par, and so far the White House neither confirms nor denies this.

— Bud Norman

Viva Mexico, and Us, and Both of Us

Unsurprisingly enough, America’s diplomatic relationship with Mexico is currently rather contentious. A planned meeting between American President Donald Trump and Mexican President Pena Nieto has been called off, angry “tweets” have been exchanged, populist pressures are being brought to bear on both leaders, and it’s the sort of thing you hate to have going with a neighbor.
Relationships with neighbors can go sour from time to time no matter how hard one tries, and we have a few stories of our own you could empathize with, but for the most part we and the rest of America have been rather lucky. The United States of America only has two abutting neighbors, which is a good start, and compared to what Israel or Finland or Jerry Seinfeld had to put up with they’ve not been very troublesome. Except for the War of 1812 and all that fuss about “fifty-four forty or fight” back in 1818 Canada has been a good neighbor, even if they are rather snooty about their single payer health care system and have a strange tendency to punt on third downs, and even if we did delay that XL Pipeline all through the Obama years and our relatively low income tax system allows us to consistently beat up on their sports teams.
The relationship with Mexico has been more complicated, what with that Mexican-American War and the Marines marching into the Halls of Montezuma back in the 1840s, and the resulting re-drawing of the maps of both countries, and that other time in the early 20th century that the American military went into Mexican territory in hot pursuit of Pancho Villa’s marauding bands, not to mention their disputes with American oil companies and the many decades or argument about the large numbers of Mexicans seeking and finding employment in America and countless other quarrels. Despite it all there have been diplomatic protocols and trade agreements peso bailouts and other arrangements, and no outright wars between the two countries for the past 169 years, which is not bad by historical international standards.
In the current dispute we think that America can make a convincing case for itself. Whatever the still-disputed causes of that long-ago Mexican-American War we think the the re-drawing of the map it wrought turned out best for the people who found themselves on the north side of it, and we doubt that many of them of any ethnicity would want to revisit the matter, and in any case we think that America should resist such revanchism there just as it should in the Ukraine and the islands of the South China Seas. In the unlikely event that rebels intent on overthrowing the American are wreaking havoc in northern Mexico we wouldn’t mind the Mexicans the chasing them into American territory, and the nationalization of American-financed and American-made and duly negotiated oil industries still strikes us as outright theft, and the very significant influx of legal and illegal Mexican immigrants that has occurred since does include a certain number of rapists and other criminals and seems a decidedly mixed blessing for both countries, and the idea of enforcing borders seems altogether reasonable, and some of those trade deals probably could have turned out better for America.
We’re still hoping for an amicable resolution to the latest quarrels, but only with faint hope. Trump’s constantly repeated campaign promise to build a literal wall between the countries is now an executive action, threats of making Mexico pay for it through a 20 percent import tax and other measures have been expounded by his press secretary and “tweeted” on his almighty account and will soon be taken up by Congress, and after that imbroglio with the American judge of Mexican ancestry who was presiding over the Trump University lawsuit that Trump wound up settling for $25 million and the rest of the campaign rhetoric it’s hard to argue that Trump has a certain animosity toward Mexicans. Mexicans are no more amicable to Trump, judging by the red hot market for Trump pinatas and mass protests on both sides of the border, and although Nieto offered an ill-advised helping hand by inviting candidate to a presidential-looking Trump to a state visit back when things were still up for grabs he’s now forced by overwhelming public to take a more adversarial stance against his self-proclaimed adversary.
Our experience of dealing with neighbors has taught us to well consider their positions, and in the current matter we can well understand why they’re miffed about being asked to pay for a wall to separate them from us and all the implicit and explicit anti-Mexican rhetoric that has gone along with it. Perhaps it’s another of Trump’s brilliant negotiation ploys to start from such an antagonistic position, but all of Trump’s past negotiations were with other businessmen who weren’t accountable to millions of Mexicans who felt their pride had been impugned by such tactics, and even then he still occasionally wound up in bankruptcy. If the currently unpopular yet relatively sane Nieto does succumb to Trump’s art of the deal he’ll likely be replaced in an upcoming election by one of those Latin American socialist demagogues who wins election by fanning the flames of resentment against the damned Yanquis, just as Trump won in part by fanning the flames of resentment against Latin Americans, and the next round of negotiations will be even more contentious.
Even in the worst case scenario it probably won’t come to another outright war, given that Mexican national pride lags far further behind its military prowess than it did even back in the 1840s, and despite the havoc it would wreak on America the Mexicans would would be advised to avoid a trade war, given that the past century and a half of Mexican socialism hasn’t improved its economic standing relative to the Americans, even if Trump and his more nationalistic supporters think that a huge portion of the American middle class wealth has been redistributed down there, but by now it should obvious even in America what people will endure as a matter of national pride. A mutually beneficial situation with Mexico could be worked out, just as we’ve managed mostly successful relationships with the many Mexican and Mexican-Americans we daily encounter here in the heartland, such as that comely Mexican-American woman who sells the best-deal-in-town donuts at the nearby Juarez Bakery with a mellifluous “buenos dias” and the guys who make the Carne Asada at the Lopex drive-thru late at night and the Esteban Jordan y Rio Jordan conjunto that we sometimes play on the cassette player,  but we can’t see it ending well if either side insists on winning.

— Bud Norman