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An Uneasy Labor Day

Labor Day is supposed to provide a brief respite from the news, but lately there is no escape.
On Sunday the nutcase dictatorship running North Korea successfully tested a thermonuclear bomb five times more powerful than anything in its previous arsenal, which comes shortly after provocative tests of long-range missiles that could reach as far America’s west coast, and follows decades of verbal provocations that have lately been ramped up to an alarming level. This seems a particularly inopportune time to pick petty fights with our longstanding allies in the very sane democracy running South Korea, but that is exactly what President Donald Trump has chosen to do.
Trump “tweeted” shortly after North Korea’s nuclear test that South Korea’s ongoing efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis amounted to “appeasement,” adding that the North Koreans “only understand one thing,” with an exclamation mark added for emphasis, and he also reportedly instructed his aides to begin preparations for a unilateral withdrawal from a free trade agreement with South Korea. Neither stand seems to comport with the very complicated facts of the situation, and neither seem likely to do anyone any good.
South Korea’s efforts at diplomacy are easily understandable, given the devastation that the country would suffer even in a brief war involving only conventional weaponry, but Trump should be aware that they’ve also backed up their efforts with a strong military posture. The South Koreans are currently conducting bombing drills, practicing ballistic missile strikes on key North Korean targets, and defiantly continuing other large-scale military exercises with American forces. They’ve also reluctantly agreed to proceed with a American-made missile defense system that President Barack Obama negotiated, all the more reluctantly after Trump tried to make them pay billions of dollars for the equipment that is mostly intended to shoot down any missiles heading toward America’s west coast, and won’t offer any protection from the old-fashioned artillery barrages that could rain down on the more than 10 million people of Seoul who are just 30 miles away from the supposedly demilitarized border.
So far as we can tell South Korea hasn’t offered any concessions of land or other strategic advantages to maintain the tenuous peace, which is the definition of appeasement that has informed the past many centuries of diplomacy, and our guess is that after 54 years of coping more or less peacefully with their nutcase neighbors to the north they know them better than Trump ever could.
There are some strong arguments to be made against that free trade agreement with South Korea, which didn’t increase overall American exports to the country as promised and instead increased the trade deficit, and Americans can rightly complain that our very sane democratic allies have taken full advantage of some badly negotiated loopholes, but of course the facts are more complicated than that. There’s also a strong argument to be made that for all sorts of complicated reasons our exports to South Korea might have fallen even further without the agreement, that America’s trade deficits with other countries are no more troubling than your own swelling trade deficit with your local grocery store, and that in any case South Korea’s doubling of its financial investment in America’s economy since the agreement was made more than makes up for the difference.
All politics is local, too, and here in Kansas and other red states it’s widely noted that beef exports to South Korea have increased by an impressive 150 percent since the agreement. We suppose that the local aircraft plants have also been among the winners, and given how very good the world-class steaks are around here we’re sure that some epicurean South Koreans have also benefited.
Some future economic historian might definitively prove that both sides came out ahead, with South Korea relatively slightly better off from the deal, which is fine by us but is surely anathema to every fibre of Trump’s being. Trump might flip-flop on all sorts of other positions, but he has always maintained with a granite consistency that every negotiation comes down to a matter of winners and losers, and that no matter how far ahead you get if the other guy gets even further ahead you’re the loser. This view has always had a certain appeal to the “America First” types from pre-World War II up until now, and seems work well enough in the New York real estate biz, but it’s never been the way for the country’s preeminent economic, military, and cultural power to conduct business with the rest of the world.
Especially when you’re dealing with a complicated situation between a sane democratic ally and the nutcase dictatorship just to the north of them who might now be able to launch a missile with a thermonuclear bomb atop that could devastate one of the cities on America’s west coast. Trump is safely ensconced on the east coast, where he’s talking tough on both trade and thermonuclear war, and can be sure that no matter how devastating the war at least he and most of America came out the relative winner, but we’d prefer he take a broader view of the situation. That $20 billion or so trade deficit with the South Koreans is a mere rounding error in the context of a multi-trillion dollar economy, and nothing close to the hit that the stock markets the rest of the American economy would take if Seoul or Tokyo were flattened or an international trade war broke out, and there’s also a strong argument to be made for the lives of all those millions of people in Seoul and Tokyo and now America’s west coast, so now hardly seems the time for  petty spats with the South Koreans.
According to press reports all the military generals and Goldman-Sachs veterans that Trump has surrounded himself with have been urging that he speak more softly while still  wielding the big stick he inherited from all those previous hated presidents, as another populist Republican president with more bona fide tough guy credentials once advised, so we’ll hold out some hope they’ll prevail. During the campaign all of Trump’s reluctant supporters assured us that he’d hire such seasoned hands and heed their counsel, but he kept talking about how he knew more than the generals and that he was his own main security advisor and could make decisions without all the information that those squishy establishment types seemed to need, and we guess we’ll have to wait to see how that turns out.
In the meantime we plan to have some charbroiled Kansas beef and a couple of Colorado-brewed beers, watch some baseball, and otherwise celebrate America’s labor and take a day off from the rest of the news. We hope it turns out pleasantly for all you, as well.

— Bud Norman

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Friends and Enemies and Their Proper Treatment

There was little mention of it in the American press, which was understandably preoccupied with the the president’s executive orders regarding illegal immigration and the upcoming race riot in Missouri and other pressing domestic matters, but last week President Barack Obama thoroughly annoyed Australia.
En route back from China’s Asia-Pacific conference, where he’d grandly announced a deal with the host country that would reduce America’s carbon emissions in exchange for a guffawed promise that in 16 years the Chinese would consider doing the same pointless damage to their own economy, Obama stopped his jetliner in Australia to continue his efforts against anthropogenic global warming. During a speech in Brisbane that was added at the last minute to the president’s schedule he made repeated references to climate change, spoke in worried tones about the ecological health of the Great Barrier Reef, and.seemed to criticize Australia for inefficient use of energy. Australians, the vast majority of whom recently voted in a conservative government because of the depressing economic effects of the previous government’s cap-and-trade policies, and who have taken expensive steps to ensure the ecological health of the Great Barrier Reef, and whose fondness for their freedom of mobility around their vast empty country can only be explained by the “Mad Max” movies, understandably took it as an insult. One of the big Australian newspapers found that the American embassy staff had advised against the speech, reported that the Australian Prime Minister and other officials were not given the usual diplomatic courtesy of an advance copy, and noted that “Historians of the US-Australia relationship are unable to nominate a case of a visiting president making such a hostile speech for the host government.”
Such disrespect for America’s most stalwart allies has been a consistent trait of the Obama administration. It started with his decision to return a bust of Sir Winston Churchill to Great Britain and honor its queen with an I-pod full of his own speeches, then went on with the reneging on a missile defense deal with Poland and the Czech Republic, continued through the undiplomatic treatment and anonymously foul-mouthed descriptions of Israel’s Prime Minister, and is still playing out over the XL Keystone Pipeline and a conspicuously nit-picky enforcement of the norther border and other petty issues with Canada, among numerous other examples. The “open hands” and “reset buttons” have been reserved for such adversaries as the Iranians and Russians, who have benefitted greatly such friendliness while offering little in return but bomb-making and land-grabbing trouble, which seems a peculiar way to conduct a foreign policy.
At this late point in his presidency, however, Obama seems to care little about public opinion in any country except perhaps the ones where he hopes to redistribute the west’s wealth. The same cap-and-trade policies that the Australians rejected were also rejected by America’s Congress even when Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House and Harry Reid controlled a supermajority in the Senate, but Obama continues to impose as much of them as he can through executive action. The long delays in construction of the XL Keystone Pipeline that are infuriating the Canadian government are also infuriating the American public, but expect a veto that will bring at least another two year’s delay. An executive order to stop enforcing America’s immigration laws for an estimated five million illegal aliens is proving so widely unpopular that even such formerly steadfast supporters as the black American punditry and the “Saturday Night Live” writing staff are critical, but he seems ready to defend it to the point of a politically advantageous government shutdown. If the Australians feel insulted by the president’s blatant disregard for their opinions, at least they have some idea how Americans feel.

— Bud Norman

The Noise in Israel and the Quiet Elsewhere

Every few years or so Israel has to wage war against the Islamist terror gangs that want to kill every Jew in the world, and the current unpleasantness is much the same as all the other occasions. What’s conspicuously different this time around, however, is that most of the world doesn’t seem to mind Israel defending its citizens.
The usual outraged demonstrations have been strikingly absent from the public squares of the Islamic world, leftist indignation in the west has been relatively muted, and many of the governments in the west have been surprisingly supportive of Israel. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and even the avowedly socialist French President Francois Hollande, whose country saw a few local Islamist terror gangs attack the local synagogues, have all called Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu with words of support. All of those calls came in before Netanyahu heard from the United States, which was formerly Israel’s best friend but has lately been more interested in dictating its housing policies and hectoring it to accept a so-called “peace treaty” with the same Islamist terror gang that is now indiscriminately lobbing rockets into their country, but even the current administration has accepted Israel’s right to self-defense in its public statements. Not so unequivocally supportive as Canada and its conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in this strange new world we find ourselves living in, but accepting nonetheless.
It would feel nice to attribute this strange new understanding to the world’s sudden ability to see the world with moral clarity, and to understand that Hamas’ rain of rockets on Israel hasn’t killed thousands only because of the Jewish state’s amazing “Iron Dome” missile defense system and that Israel’s retaliatory strikes against the launch sites have killed only hundreds because of their extraordinary efforts to prevent civilian casualties, but this is too hopeful. The public squares of the Islamic world are probably quiet only because the people gathered there are distracted by the many more thousands of co-religionists who are being slaughtered by the nominally Muslim government of Syria and the Islamist terror gang that has spilled over from that conflict into an all-out assault on Iraq. The Arab and Sunni governments of the region don’t have the usual motives to whip up anti-Israel sentiment among their restive populations, not when the rockets are being supplied by a Persian and Shiite Iranian theocracy that poses a far more frightening threat than Israel ever would. Those suddenly supportive western governments are probably making the same calculations, with a wary eye on the Islamist terror gangs living happily on welfare within their borders, and might well revert to their traditional moral relativism as soon as it is politically expedient.
Still, at this moment the tide of international opinion seems to have turned in Israel’s favor, and given that Hamas’ futile rocket-lobbing was never intended as a military victory but only a public relations coup, that bodes well for a total Israeli victory. In an ill-timed op-ed piece published in an Israeli magazine just days before Hamas started indiscriminately lobbing rockets into Israel, President Barack Obama was still urging the adoption of his proposed peace deal with the Hamas-affiliated government and claiming it would “help turn the tide of international opinion and sideline violent extremists,” but despite the Israeli’s wise decision to argue his advice the world seems willing to side with Israel’s right to sideline the violent extremists with some pin-point missile strikes at sites the civilians are long forewarned to stay away from. Perhaps this is another example of leading from behind, but it looks more like another botched attempt to keep up with rather than ahead of world opinion.

— Bud Norman

The Hillary Treatment

The big trend in movies these days is Hillary Clinton, of all things. Pre-production work is already underway on a much-ballyhooed big-budget feature titled “Rodham,” about our heroine’s historic yet previously unknown role in the Watergate scandal as a 26-year-old congressional staffer. CNN is currently at work on a documentary slated for theatrical release, with an Academy Award-winning lefty as director. Meanwhile, NBC is preparing a four-part biographical mini-series, which the network is hoping to air before the expected announcement of Clinton’s presidential candidacy so as to avoid messy equal-time rules and the necessity of producing a mini-series about Chris Christie or Rand Paul or some other icky Republican. Hollywood is hot for Hillary, as the alliteration-loving Variety headline writers might put it.
Ever eager to cash in on any Hollywood trend, and having had no luck pitching our Transformers-meet-zombie-Abe-Lincoln-meets-the-Hunger-Games concept, we’ve hastily penned a treatment for our own Clinton bio-pic. Our proposed movie is tentatively titled “Hillary!” — if the focus groups don’t like that we are willing to add another exclamation mark or two — and we think we can bring it in at well under a mere $250 million or so. An earlier movie about Clinton, boringly titled “Hillary: The Movie,” was critical of her career, but that wound up in litigation all the way to the Supreme Court as the Citizens United case, which annoyed the liberals to such an extent that ads are still popping up all over the internet with Sen. Al Franken’s smiling face demanding that the ruling somehow be overturned, and we don’t need that kind of trouble, so our effort will focus only on her accomplishments. Filling out a feature-length movie under these constraints will require some poetic license, of course, but ours is fully up to date and will surely be renewed by the feds when they see how sympathetically we have portrayed Clinton.
We’ve written the following treatment on “spec,” as they say around the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, so if you know any agents looking for a hot property feel free to pass it along. Agents with colorful nicknames such as “Swifty” are preferred, but at this point we are not picky.

“HILLARY!”

The movie opens in suburban Chicago with HILLARY as a first-grader, resembling a young Shirley Temple in her girlish sailor outfit, leading a general strike of her classmates to protest segregation at the school. When she defiantly presents her demands to the principal he patiently explains there are no black children within her suburban community to be segregated, but she snarls her insistence that some be provided at taxpayer expense. Cowed by her obvious moral authority, as well as the dog-eared copy of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules For Radicals” she is wielding as a cudgel, the principal relents. As Hllary triumphantly marches off to the cheers of an adoring throng of first-graders, the principal watches wistfully and mutters to himself “By gum, that girl is going places.”
After the credits roll over a slow-motion montage of academic award ceremonies, sporting triumphs, live-saving heroics, and other highlights of Hillary’s girlhood, accompanied by a swelling symphonic soundtrack from John Williams, if we can get him, we move ahead to the green lawns of Yale Law School in 1972. Hillary, now dressed in the fashion of Xena Warrior Princess, is seen leaving a building with a group of awestruck professors following behind to pepper her with arcane questions about the law. Looking across the lawn she sees BILL, a handsome young fellow in a patched hat, overalls, and bare feet, with a piece of straw dangling from his sultry lips and a stack of law books tucked under his muscular arm, watching her with a smitten look. As their eyes meet and the music swells, a group of young men dressed in prep school fashions, one of them resembling a young Mitt Romney, come along and begin to push and poke at Bill, telling him that they are Republicans and don’t like having his kind around. Hillary drops her books and rushes to intervene, felling each of the bullies with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. Bill, still trembling with fear, professes his undying love for Hillary and swears that he will never, ever cheat on her.
Cut to a year later, with Hillary and Bill sitting forlornly in the McGovern campaign headquarters as they watch the electoral map light up for Richard Nixon on a fuzzy black-and-white television. Rising slowly from her chair, her face contorted with rage but still somehow alluringly feminine, Hillary raises a defiant fist and vows that she will avenge this injustice. Moving ahead two years to the Watergate hearings we see Hillary whispering folksy witticisms into SEN. SAM ERVIN’s ear, which he repeats verbatim in his endearingly cornball southern accent, then slipping away to a dark parking garage somewhere in Washington. Under atmospheric dark lighting she confronts G. GORDON LIDDY, E. HOWARD HUNT, BOB HALDEMAN, and JOHN ERLICHMAN, each slapping baseball bats against their palms as they chuckle deviously, then fells the bullies with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. After some Tarantino-esque slapping around of the suspects by Hillary, each of the men offers a whimpering confession that leads to the resignation of President Nixon, thus ushering in the golden age of Jimmy Carter. A slow-motion montage of gas lines, unemployment lines, price increases, hostage-takings, killer rabbits, and leisure suits illustrates the era.
After a slow dissolve we find Hillary in Arkansas, where she is living with Bill in the gubernatorial trailer. While Bill busies himself with such mundane state business as caving into the teachers’ union and hiring interns, Hillary dabbles in the cattle futures market and establishes herself as the greatest lawyer in the history of jurisprudence. She takes the case of a young black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman, defying the condemnation of the racist townsfolk and the effect it has on her daughter, SCOUT, who has a subplot of her own involving the creepy and reclusive neighbor BOO RADLEY, who bears a slight resemblance to Dick Cheney. Despite her moving closing argument, delivered in a faux-black accent reminiscent of Butterfly McQueen in “Gone With the Wind,” the man is unjustly convicted, but unlike the wimp in “To Kill a Mockingbird” Hillary responds by felling the jury with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops.
Although the entire country is clamoring for Hillary to become president, as demonstrated by a slow-motion montage of “Draft Hillary” headlines, she decides to let Bill take the office in hopes that it will bolster his perpetually low self-esteem, which she suspects is the reason for his recently flagging libido. Moving ahead to the White House, we find Hillary bravely riffling through Federal Bureau of Investigation files and uncovering a criminal organization operating out of the White House travel office. She hires Bill’s cousin to set things righ at the office, then infiltrates and sabotages a plot to reform the health care system and thus makes possible the miracles of Obamacare.
All is then well in the land, but shortly after Bill wins re-election by a landslide plurality a vast right-wing conspiracy is launched to frame him for adultery. When the conspirators produce a stained dress as proof of Bill’s misdeeds, Hillary stands over it shouting “Out, damned spot” — a Shakespearean reference that will wow the high-brow critics — but the conspiracy proves so successful Bill is forced to confess. Afterwards Hillary devotes herself to world peace, and during a trip to Bosnia she finds herself under sniper fire and zigzags through an open field to fell the would-be assassin with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops.
Hillary then wins election to the Senate on a campaign promise to continue Bill’s highly successful policy of forcing banks to make subprime loans, and quickly earns a reputation as the greatest Senator in the history of representative democracy. She bravely wages a marathon filibuster against a bill that would build a dam where she had hoped to create a national boy’s camp, and the public is so moved by her conviction that evil Republican SEN. CLAUDE RAINS is forced to withdraw the bill. Unlike that wimp in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” however, Hillary then fells the corrupt politician with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. The incident leads to another slow-motion montage of “Draft Hillary” headlines, but she selflessly contrives to hand the presidency to young BARACK OBAMA in hopes that it will bolster the lad’s perpetually low self-esteem.
Eager to keep an eye on her young protégé, Hillary becomes Secretary of State and quickly earns a reputation as the greatest diplomat in the history of international relations. She is joined by constant companion HUMA ABEDIN, who dresses in the fashion of Xena Warrior Princess’ sidekick, Gabrielle, and provides the same subtle lesbian undertone. The two quickly act to prevent the villainous Czechs and Poles from obtaining missile-defense technology that they are plotting to use to deviously defend themselves from Russian missiles, intervene on behalf of a Marxist coup in Honduras, and prevent the construction of an apartment building in Jerusalem that might have been used to house Jews. In a musical number, done in the flamboyant style of Busby Berkeley, Hillary sings a rousing rendition of Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry” to VLADIMIR PUTIN, who then takes her in his muscular arms and says “You have reset my heart, you hot, tempestuous American girl.” Hillary pushes him away and says that her heart will always belong to Bill, prompting Huma to stifle an annoyed laugh, and Putin promises his full cooperation with America despite his heartbreak.
Another series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops to dictator HOSNI MUBARAK brings lasting peace and prosperity to Egypt, and with all well in the world Hillary begins to plan a return to a quiet private life of baking cookies and standing by her man. A group of crazed Tea Party members launch a deadly assault on an American consulate in Libya, however, and another vast right-wing conspiracy attempts to hold her responsible for failing to provide adequate security. Hillary boldly responds by finding the obscure filmmaker whose YouTube video hailing Obama as the messiah had so enraged the Tea Party members, then felling him with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. In the climactic scene she confronts a congressional investigative committee that hopes to question her about the matter, and with the same hazy cinematography that accompanied Scarlett O’Hara swearing that with God as her witness she would never go hungry again we reach Hillary’s memorable closing line: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

—-

That’s all we’ve got, so far, but by the time “Hillary!” ends its run on the premium cable networks there should be plenty of material for a sequel. Hillary will at last become president, quickly earn a reputation as the greatest president in the history of presidents, lead the country to new heights of greatness, and administer many series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. Bill’s hijinks will provide plenty of comic relief as well as some much-needed nudity, and we can envision a sort of “A Star is Born” story arc for their relationship. The one with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, we mean, and not those boring old Judy Garland or Janet Gaynor vehicles. Also, the Huma character has spin-off potential, and a pre-quel about Hillary’s high school days might do well with the pre-teen market.
Bidding for the screen rights will begin soon, so all you Hollywood big-shots out there should be ready with seven-figure checks. If your own Clinton bio-pic projects somehow prove less worshipful, there could be trouble.

— Bud Norman

The Hillary Show

Popularity has always been a most perplexing phenomenon. As far back as our school days we noticed that the most popular boys were often arrogant jerks, the most popular girls often vain flibbertigibbets. Since then we have frequently been confounded by the box office success of silly sci-fi shoot-‘em-ups, the vast viewerships of inane sit-coms, the rock star status of talentless caterwaulers, and of course the presidential preferences of the past two electoral majorities.
Even after so many years of proud membership in the minority of opinion, however, we were downright flummoxed upon reading a Quinnipiac poll showing that Hillary Clinton is “easily the most popular actor on the American political stage.” We could understand on an intellectual level that our well-liked classmates were at least good-looking and possessed of a certain manipulative charm, those insipid sci-fi flicks and television shows had an understandable appeal to people who prefer to stop thinking during their leisure, the hot bands provided a seductively simple beat, and the president had the good fortune to be running against Republicans, but there seems to be no accounting at all for the popularity of Hillary Clinton.
Certainly nothing in Clinton’s recently-completed term as Secretary of State justifies her good standing with the public. A partial list of her acts includes backing a Marxist coup in Honduras, the betrayal of our Czech and Polish allies on a missile defense agreement, an obsequious and inept courtship of our Russian adversary, a similarly supine relationship with our Chinese creditors, praising Syria’s brutal dictator as a “reformer,” hastening the ouster of a generally reliable friend and the installation of a radical Islamist government in Egypt, ineffectual entreaties to Iran about its on-going nuclear weapons program, as well as an ill-conceived war against Libya. There was also the incompetence that led to the deaths of four brave Americans in Libya in the aftermath of that unauthorized Libyan war, as well as the dishonest scapegoating of an obscure American filmmaker that followed. If there is any portion of the world where America’s prestige and strategic position has improved over the past four years, except perhaps the salons of the European intelligentsia, we can not readily identify it.
Nor can we find anything in Clinton’s long career as a public figure that explains her apparent appeal to the public. Her brief time as a Senator was marked by her outspoken support for the subprime lending policies that led to the crash of ’08, some partisan bomb-throwing, and no legislative accomplishments of note. Her earlier role as First Lady is remembered for her mysteriously lost records in the Whitewater scandal, a failed attempt to socialize the American health care system, and her ridiculous claims of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to explain her husband’s philandering.
As a feminist icon she has been an embarrassment to the sisterhood. Going all the way back to hear earliest days as a lawyer Clinton’s career has been due to her willingness to silently endure the humiliation of her husband’s serial infidelities, and her complete lack of accomplishments in her many posts is the proof of nepotism. The only sexual double-standard that has come into play has been in her favor, as any man whose spouse had so publicly betrayed him would mocked as a cuckold and laughed off the public stage.
One might chalk up Clinton’s enviable poll numbers to an ineffable likeability, but she seems to have none. A dour, self-righteous woman whose only sense of humor is expressed by an occasional sneering cackle, Clinton is clearly a ruthless sort lacking in any warmth. Such a bare knuckle persona might endear her to the hard left, but one shudders to think there might be enough of them to explain her high favorability ratings.
Our best guess is that the Hillary Clinton reality show has had such a long run on television that the public has grown accustomed to her increasingly haggard face, and embraces her for the same strange reason they seem to enjoy the antics of all the other unremarkable people who have attained unearned celebrity. This is only a guess, though, and if we had any real ability to explain such odd popularity we would likely be given a more remunerative job as a network programmer.

— Bud Norman