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Weathering the Weather and Other Storms

The weather here in Wichita and south central Kansas has been eerily perfect for our urban and convertible driving tastes the past few weeks, with gorgeously blue skies and the temperatures in our favorite warm but not too hot mid-80s range, but otherwise it’s been a tough year for the farmers here in the heartland. The winter was bitterly cold and dry around here and brought blizzards to the north, the spring was so extraordinarily wet that the rivers around our Riverside neighborhood threatened to spill over and many of the nearby fields were under several inches or several feet of water during planing season, and now those same fields are too dry to sustain what crops did get planted.
We’ll leave it to the scientists to figure out what role humankind plays in our lately unusual weather, and what can be done about it, but there’s no denying that humankind and its inevitable screwups have aggravated the farmers’ most recent problems. Because of global overproduction commodity prices had been in a years-long decline even before President Donald Trump’s trade war provoked retaliatory tariffs from key foreign markets for America’s soybeans and corn and wheat and cattle and pork and other agricultural products, and lately someone or another has let a crucial irrigation system that previously provided water for 100,000 acres of farmland from Nebraska to Wyoming to break down.
Things have become so bad just north of here that even the city slickers at The New York Times have taken notice, and on Monday they unleashed a tear-jerking account of hard times in the country. One farmer they interviewed outside Gering, Nebraska, even said he’d had to put off the purchase of a much-needed new Ford F-150 pickup truck, which is the stuff of a crying-in-your-beer country-and-western song. Others testified that their crops were dying from dryness even as their neighbors’ fields were still a lake. Farm bankruptcies are up 19 percent over the past year, the biggest increase in a decade, according to the reliable Farm Bureau.
Which is bad news for everybody, even if you’re an urbanite enjoying the dry and moderate weather with your top down and wondering what those farmers ever did for you. The state governments here in the heartland have been struggling to balance their budgets even in the best-ever economy that Trump brags about, and the less than bumper crop harvests in the a couple of months won’t help. People everywhere will notice their grocery bills going up, and the national debt slowly rising, even if the heartland’s share of the gross domestic product is relatively small.
Those farmers and ranchers from Nebraska to Wyoming deserve some sympathy, too. You’ve probably never driven from western Nebraska to Mount Rushmore and the Dakotas and over to Wyoming, as the official Nebraska tourism slogan actually is “Nebraska, It’s Not For Everyone,” and people are few and far between and the scenery is very subtly beautiful, but if so you’ve missed out. The few folks you’ll find along those blue highways are invariably hard-working and friendly and likable sorts, and in its own subtle way their land truly is beautiful, and when the idiocies of nature and humankind conspire against them they deserve the full attention of the nation they have been such an essential part of.
Nobody, including our own brilliant selves, knows what to suggest. The recent weird weather might well be caused by to a significant extent by anthropological activities, as an apparent majority of climate scientists insist, but none of them can explain how to reconfigure the world economy without mass starvation. A lot of those Nebraska and Kansas and Dakotas and Wyoming farmers probably believe Trump’s assurances that his temporarily painful negotiating tacts will eventually yield the best trade deal ever, and they’ll all be buying Ford F-150s for their grandkids, but for now we’d suggest they keep their most important foreign trading relationships tariff-free. We’ve absolutely no idea why that irrigation system has shut down, but we hope that despite Trump’s deregulatory zeal the regulatory agencies responsible for the situation will be able to figure that out.
Between nature’s nature and human nature life is always a challenge out here in the heartland, not to mention what some city slicker from New York might do to further muck it up, but so far we’ve always struggled through. Here’s hoping that trend continues.

— Bud Norman

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The New Trump Media vs. the Old Media

President Donald Trump continued his feud with the “fake news” media on Thursday, as he hosted many of the “bloggers” and “tweeters” and YouTube celebrities and talk radio talkers who are more inclined to praise him, and even the usually friendly Fox News called his “tweets” on the matter a “bizarre tirade.”
“Bizarre” seems an apt if slightly understated adjectives to describe Trump’s remarks to the nutcase conspiracy theorists and far-right race-baiters and unapologetic Trump apologists the president had assembled at the White House. Among the crowd were the editor of the conspiracy-theorizing Gateway Pundit web site, a fascist organization-affiliated defenestrated White House official and current talk radio show host, a guerrilla videographer whose “Project Veritas” has been caught several times editing its footage in dishonest ways, another talk radio talker who has recently accused Democratic presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala of not being an “American black” because her naturalized citizen father is from Jamaica and her naturalized citizen mother is from India. Even Trump seemed to acknowledge it was a motley crew.
“Some of you are extraordinary. Can’t say everybody. The crap you come up with is unbelievable,” Trump said. Later he added that “Some of you guys are out there. I mean it’s genius, but it’s bad.”
Even so, Trump clearly preferred the crap some of his apologists come up with to the more critical coverage he gets from The New York Times and The Washington Post and the Cable New Network and the National Broadcasting Company and the rest of what used to be called mainstream media. He also asserted that the new social media had usurped the ancien regime in importance and influence, and boasted that his “tweets” alone have bested all the outdated print and broadcast and even cable news sources. He acknowledged that his “tweets” were often pockmarked with misspellings, but he explained that by saying “Really I’m actually a good speller, but everyone said the fingers aren’t as good as the brain.”
Trump didn’t acknowledge that his “tweets” also routinely have enough punctuation errors and random capitalizations and other offenses against the English language that any competent fourth-grade teacher would red-mark it to death, nor did he admit that many of them are downright untruthful, and he even bragged that his as-yet unverified claims that President Barack Obama put a “tapp” on his phones had “taken off like a rocket.” He even related a longtime boast in a “tweet” that all the big newspapers would wind up endorsing him and all the over-the-air and cable networks will lavish him with favorable coverage for fear they’d go out out of business without him. Trump truly seems to believe that the public will lose all interest in the news if his hit reality show is cancelled.
“That’s why they’ll all be Endorsing me at some point, one way or another,” Trump “tweeted.” “Could you imagine having Sleepy Joe Biden, or Alfred E. Newman …” We couldn’t find the rest of the “tweet,” but we assume he meant former Delaware Senator and Vice President and front-running Democratic presidential candidate Biden, and that the Alfred E. Newman was a reference to South Bend, Indiana, mayor and second-tier presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who bears what Trump thinks is slight a resemblance to the mascot of the recently deceased Mad Magazine. Biden is currently leading Trump in head-to-head polls against Trump, and in the unlikely event that Buttigieg winds up as president he’d be the first openly homosexual person to occupy the White House, and in any case we can’t imagine the public will lose its longstanding preoccupation with the news if Trump’s reality show is cancelled.
Having grown up on Mad Magazine, we also note with great annoyance that Trump misspelled the hallowed name of Alfred E. Neuman.
Those ancien regime media are frequently wrong, to be sure, but they usually acknowledge their mistakes with embarrassing corrections and the occasional retractions, which Trump and his apologists never do, and for the most part they’re far more pristine in their use of the English language. Their batting average for the truth is better than Trump’s, too, even when you take into account their undeniable left-of-center bias, Trump has an undeniable ratings appeal, and lately the late night night television comics have feasted on his videotaped comments about the Moon being an important part of of Mars and the Continental Army seizing the airports during the Revolutionary War and the kidney being an important part of the heart. Even so, we’re sure people will stay tuned in for any dumb thing some damned Democrat might say if her or she is elected.
Trump parenthetically “tweeted” that he was “(just joking)” about winning a third or fourth term, but our guess is that for all its faults a free press and broadcast and cable media will outlast Trump, for better or worse. We also hold out hope that the truth, whatever it might be, will ultimately prevail.

— Bud Norman

The Very Early Presidential Polling

The world hasn’t yet revolved halfway through 2019, and the next presidential election isn’t until the 11th month of 2020, but all the political prognosticators are already busily prognosticating. We’ve seen far too many presidential elections to take any of it seriously, as pretty much every one of them turned out differently than what anybody expected at this early point in an election cycle, with the last time around being a perfect example.
Still, we can’t help noticing that despite his characteristic cocksureness President Donald Trump already seems nervous about his reelection chances.
Politico.com and then The New York Times reported that Trump’s own campaign polling shows him faring poorly against the leading Democratic candidates in several of the battleground states that narrowly handed him an electoral college victory, with the Times reporting that Trump had ordered his staff to lie about it, and Trump naturally responded that it was “fake news” fabricated by the “enemies of the people.” The American Broadcasting Company then reported it had copies of the internal polling which verified what the other media had released, and Trump’s campaign manager eventually admitted the numbers were real but insisted saying that it was data from three months ago and they they’d seen a dramatic shift in Trump’s favor since then, although he wouldn’t divulge the newer numbers. Over the weekend Trump fired his campaign pollsters, apparently for leaking the real unhappy numbers that Trump insisted the “fake news” had made up.
Throw in the facts that Trump won in 2016 with a mere 70,000 votes in four crucial states, all of which were within the pollsters’ margins or error, despite the losing the national popular vote by the three million million or so ballots that the pollsters predicted, and that no poll since has shown him within shouting distance of majority approval, except for the Rasmussen company that only surveys the oldsters who still have land line phones, which has never shown him over 50 percent, and we’re more inclined to believe the mostly reliable “fake news” rather than the constantly lying president. As of last March, at least, the president who promised his supporters they’d grow tired of winning seemed clearly to be losing.
Perhaps things have since turned around, as the president now claims, but he’s not releasing the updated numbers from the recently fired polling firm to back it up, and we can’t see what would have caused the claimed uptick in the polls. With the unemployment rate under 4 percent and the gross domestic product growing at an acceptably modest 3 percent rate or so Trump has rarely fallen under 40 percent in his approval ratings, but lately the economic data have been less rosy, and even a few congressional Republicans have timidly suggested that Trump’s trade wars with pretty much the entire world might have something to do with it. We haven’t yet entered any new wars, but his sworn enemies in Iran and the brutal North Korean dictator that Trump said he “fell in love” with are threatening them, and even a few congressional Republicans are expressing misgivings about how he’s handling that.
Last time around Trump had the good fortune to run against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and presumptive first woman president Hillary Clinton, who was arguably the worst major party presidential candidate ever, but even then he lost the popular vote and barely squeaked out an electoral victory in a few states she foolishly neglected. Much of the public had doubts about the thrice-married and six-times bankrupt and constantly sued and tax cheating real-estate casino-and-real-estate mogul’s character and honesty, and Trump has done nothing since then to reassure them that he’s the Christian leader God has chosen him to make America great thing. Nor has Trump come through with any of those great deals with the Democrats and the rest of the world that he promised to Rust Belt centrists would revive their outdated economic models.
Trump has taken extraordinary and extra-legal measures to build a few more miles of the wall along the southern border that he promised, although he no longer claims that Mexico will happily pay for it, and he’s enforced our immigration policies as cruelly as possible, and he has taunting nicknames for all of his critics, so that will probably placate most of the die-hard fans. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have won many converts.
Next time around Trump might get lucky yet once again, on the other hand. The leaked polls show him losing by wide margins in those key states to former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, who is a relatively mainstream politician compared to most of his 21 or so primary challengers, and currently enjoys a sizable lead in the primary race, but these damned Democrats are every bit as crazy as the damned Republicans, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the Donkey party chooses someone so far left they’re arguably worse than Trump. At our advanced age we can remember the election of ’72, when President Richard Nixon of all people won a huge popular and electoral landslide victory over the principled war hero but too-far-left Sen. George McGovern, which was shortly followed by Nixon resigning in disgrace as a result of the Watergate scandal. Although a lot has changed since then human nature has remained pretty much the same, and we can easily imagine something like that happening again.
We don’t much care for Biden, who is gaffe-prone and rightly called “Creepy Joe” by Trump for his behavior around women, even if he’s never grabbed any of them by the genitals, as Trump has bragged about doing. Nor do we much like any of the other Democrats, although that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar seem somewhat acceptable to us, which probably dooms them in the Democratic primaries. Neither do we have any respect for President Donald Trump’s character or policies, and we can at least be sure that he’ll once again be our Republican party’s nominee for president.
We’d like to think that November of next year is a long time away, and that anything could happen in the meantime, but at our advanced age we know that it’s just a blink of the eye and human nature doesn’t much change.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Round in Trump’s Bout Against Mexico

As it turns out President Donald Trump won’t be imposing drastic new tariffs on Mexican imports, an idea he proposed that alarmed every serious economist and all the stock markets and big businesses and small farmers and even more than a few congressional Republicans, and he’s proclaiming a great victory about the concessions Mexico has yielded in response to the threat. At the very real risk of being called enemies of the people, we think Trump merely averted disaster.
Trump threatened the tariffs to get Mexico to do more to stop the flow of migrants from Central America, and Mexico has apparently agreed to deploy some military units to its southern border and detain on its own soil the asylum-seekers who have recently reached its northern border while the American justice system sorts out all the tricky legal details of their numerous cases. That’s enough that Hugh Hewitt, the conservative commentator and radio talk show host who was a fellow steadfast Never Trump type until Trump won the Republican nomination, proclaimed in the headline of an op-ed piece in The Washington Post — of all places — that “Trump’s big win leaves critics sputtering.”
With all due respect to the once-respectable Hewitt, the critics don’t seem to be sputtering. In its usual careful and confident cadence The New York Times reported that the Mexican government had already agreed to both demands months before Trump issued the threat, other conservative and liberal media have noted without any discernible stuttering that the Mexican government has been either unwilling or unable to make good on promises made in the face of Trump’s even crazier threat to shut down the entire border between Mexico and the United State. For now it’s probably best to wait and see if Trump’s big win resolves or even slightly eases the admittedly serious situation on our southern border, and to hold out only faint hope.
Trump responded to The New York Times with an extended “twitter” tirade, concluding that “the failing @nytimes, & ratings-challenged @CNN, will do anything to see our Country fail! They are truly The Enemy of the People!” He returned to “twitter” to gripe that if President Barack Obama had struck such sweet deals “the Corrupt Media would be hailing them as Incredible, & a National Holiday would be declared.” We’re supposed to pity Trump even in his moment of triumph, as there are clearly seditious sorts out there who dare question what he says, but it looks like sputtering to us, and poorly punctuated sputtering at that.
The disaster that surely would have followed those threatened tariffs or a complete border shutdown has for now been averted, though, and for now Trump is entitled to crow about that. Sooner or later Mexico’s nationalist instincts will be roused to resist Trump’s nationalism, on the other hand, and there’s no telling what Trump do then, except to say it will work out badly for all involved. Mexico will probably get the worst of it, which will allow Trump to claim another big win, but that doesn’t mean that America will be any better off.

— Bud Norman

A Russia to Judgment

Ever since the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” ended without any indictments of President Donald Trump, with  just his campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and and personal lawyer and national security advisor facing prison time,  Trump and his allies have been gloating about complete exoneration regarding everything they’ve ever been accused of. Alas, it’s starting to look like yet another case of Trump starting his end zone celebration a few yards short of the goal line.
Even the four-page summary of the nearly 400-page report on the investigation by Trump’s own Attorney General explicitly states that “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Now several of the investigators are telling The New York Times that the summary excluded evidence of actions by Trump and his associates that might not rise to the level of a indictable crime but are pretty embarrassing nonetheless, which seems not only plausible but downright probable to us.
The Democrats in Congress are naturally calling for the public to see the report in its entirety, and even as the Republicans claim the report utterly vindicates Trump they’re trying to keep the report under wraps. Our guess is that the Democrats will eventually prevail, either through court decisions or press leaks, and even if they don’t the Republicans will look bad for withholding information from the public. Perhaps the best argument for keeping the report secret is that it includes grand jury findings regarding investigations that are now ongoing in various state and federal jurisdictions, but that’s bound to come out eventually in some court or another, so the Republicans might as well start spinning it as no big deal right now.
Meanwhile, the Democratic majority on the House Ways and Means Committee is requesting six years of Trump’s tax returns, which he kept under wraps and will surely prove interesting, the Democratic majority on the House Oversight Committee is looking into why presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner was granted a top secret security clearance despite the concerns of the national intelligence agencies about his business interests and personal conduct, and they’re both likely to get that information. Even if they don’t, Trump and the Republicans will once again be in the awkward position position of arguing that the public doesn’t have a right to know about a report they assure us exonerates them of everything..
There’s also an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York about Trump’s hush-money payments to a pornographic video performer and and a Playboy Playmate, which is already sending Trump’s longtime lawyer to prison and clearly identifies Trump as the un-indicted co-conspirator “Individual One.” It’s also a sure bet the pesky press will continue to come up with something or another about Trump’s private businesses and presidential administration that’s hard to explain. That four-page summary of a nearly four-hundred page report clearly excludes something that Trump doesn’t want the public to know about, so a certain suspicion should linger past the 2020 elections.
At this point we don’t have any rooting interest in either the Democrats or the Republicans, but we’d advise our once-Grand Old Party to go right ahead and let it all hang out. The damned Democrats are going to believe the worst about Trump in any case, and the damned Republicans don’t much care what laws Trump might have broken so long as he cuts taxes and appoints conservative Supreme Court Justices and otherwise upholds law and order. The Democrats will probably come up with someone who’s y crazy left yet squeaky-clean on taxes and foreign-business dealings and porn star dalliances and the campaign finance laws concerning such affairs.
How that turns out is anyone’s guess, but we don’t see it working out well for anyone in any case.

— Bud Norman

The Trump Slump Continues

You might not have noticed, what with all the attention being paid to the still ongoing partial government shutdown and all the undeniable problems it’s causing for a whole lot of Americans, but the “Russia thing” is looking even worse than ever for President Donald Trump.
The past few days have brought a New York Times report that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the possibility that Trump was acting on behalf of Russian rather than American interests shortly after he took office, reports from pretty much every news outlet that read the ineptly redacted court filings by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort revealing Manafort had admitted to sharing polling data with the Russian operatives that all the intelligence agencies agree was engaged in a disinformation effort on behalf of Trump’s campaign, and a subsequent Washington Post report that as president Trump had sought to keep his conversations with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin a secret from not only the general public but also his diplomatic and national security staff. Trump and his dwindling number of die-hard defenders have plenty to say about it, but to the rest of the country it looks pretty damned bad
If you’re fully on board with Trump’s efforts to make America great again, you’re probably already convinced that FBI’s undenied investigation into Trump’s Russia ties is just further “smocking gun” of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow a duly elected American president, but if you’re not that’s a hard case to make. Unlike Trump, the FBI and its overseeing Department and Justice and the independent federal judiciary that have to sign off on everything it all operate according to longstanding rules and laws and traditions, and if this entire staid constitutional order is somehow more lawless than Trump then God help us all. Trump had already fulsomely flattered the Russian dictator and said America had no moral standing to condemn his extra-judicial killings of journalists and other dissidents, altered the Republican platform to a more Russia-friendly position regarding its annexation of Ukraine, spoke hopefully of lifting sanctions on Russia for its violation of a neighboring country’s sovereignty, disparaged the North Atlantic Treaty organization as bad as the North American Free Trade Agreement, and at that point our President Ronald Reagan-era selves can hardly blame the FBI and its overseeing Justice Department and overseeing federal courts for wondering why.
Trump now boasts that he’s been harder on Russia than any previous president, but we’re old enough to remember Reagan’s victory over the Soviet Union way back in the Cold War, and have read enough history to know that President Theodore Roosevelt won the first Nobel Peace Prize by negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War that acknowledged Russian had gotten its ass kicked, and we conclude that Trump’s claims for superior toughness do not much impress. Extra sanctions have indeed been imposed on Russia since Trump’s inauguration, but that’s only because bipartisan and veto-proof majorities in both chamber of Congress have insisted on, and the Trump administration has been slow to execute them, and recently the administration’s Secretary of the Treasury has has struggled to explain why a Russian oligarch who figures in the “Russia thing” has been given an exemption from the sanctions.
That was only Trump’s campaign manager whose lawyers have inadvertently admitted he handed over polling data to the Russkie’s disinformation efforts, and not Trump himself, and with the guy already in prison for probably the rest of life that will probably we expect he’ll take all the blame for that on all the talk radio shows. Even so, it looks bad.
The part about Trump keeping his conversations with the Russian dictator private even from his top advisors is his even harder to explain. There’s always the possibility that Trump’s Russophile foreign policy was an ingeniously conceived plan to make America great again, and thus he had to keep it secret from the “deep state” conspirators arrayed against him, as his exquisitely educated gut tells him more than any of the brains of the very best people he’d appointed to advise him, but we’d still like to have some public record of what Trump said to that Russian dictator. As for now, we and the foreign policy establishment and a majority of the public will assume the worst.
Meanwhile, that record-setting partial government shutdown doesn’t seem to be polling well for Trump, and a troublesome number of congressional Republicans are abandoning ship, and his last ditch option of declaring a national emergency to usurp the constitutional order of the newly-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to appropriate funds for his campaign promise of a border wall probably won’t poll well. More sensible Republicans such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have argued that the next inevitable Democratic president could just as easily declare a national emergency about climate change to get all sorts of crazy liberal environmental regulations imposed, or after the next inevitable mass shooting at a school or shopping mall impose all sorts of crazy liberal gun rights restrictions.
The last time a president’s national emergency powers were challenged in the Supreme Court was when President Harry Truman tried to end a steelworkers’ strike during the Korean War, and even though all of the Supreme Court justices had been appointed by either President Franklin Roosevelt or Truman he lost that case by a 9-to-zero decision. Trump doesn’t have a war or any other extenuating circumstances to bolster his case, as Truman did, and he’s got both liberals and Federalist Society types of conservatives to persuade, so we don’t expect he’ll fare any better. Trump promised his die-hard fans they would grow weary on winning so much, but for now he seems to be losing on every front.

— Bud Norman

The New York Times’ Flattering Account of President Donald Trump’s Finances

The New York Times is still on its full-time job of tormenting President Donald Trump, and its latest attention-grabbing effort is a lengthy and exhaustively researched report alleging that “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father.” For now Trump’s tax lawyers and other spokespeople are denying it, and friendlier press outlets are reporting he’s threatening to sue, but we wonder why they bother.
Back during one of the general election debates Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton suggested that one of the reasons Trump was defying decades of political tradition by refusing to release his tax returns was because it might show that he’d been dodging his fair share of taxes for years, and rather than deny the charge Trump interrupted to boast “That makes me smart.” Throughout the campaign Trump presented himself as an uniquely shrewd sort of wheeler and dealer who knew America’s corruptly rigged political and economic system better than anybody, and thus argued that only he could put those talents to use on America’s behalf and restore our benighted nation to its former glory.
He never explained to our satisfaction why he’d decided at the ripe old age of 69 to cease his lifelong sybaritic lifestyle of gaming the American system and begin living out his remaining days by selflessly making America again, but a plurality of Republican primary voters fell for it, and by now an overwhelming majority of Republicans are on board with his promises, which he repeatedly assures us we can believe. By now, we figure that Trump might as well take proud credit for the undeniably ingenious wheeling and dealing that The New York Times describes.
Doing our old newspaper hand best to sum up the countless column inches that jump across several pages of The New York Times in a lede paragraph, the young Donald Trump accepted several hundred millions of dollars from his real estate mogul dad, did the old man a favor around tax time in the process, and then ended up laying a suspiciously light tax bill himself. Given that the Internal Revenue Service never raised a fuss about it, and that it is indeed smart to pay as few taxes as possible, Trump is no doubt tempted to brag about it.
The apparent problem is that The New York Times’ account belies Trump’s self-mythologizing about being a self-made multi-billionaire. Back in the old days politicians used to boast that they were been born in a little log cabin they’d built with their own two hands, but Trump won a Republican nomination and eventually the presidency by boasting that he’d made $10 billion from a “small loan of $1 million” from his father, and he’s surely loathe to relinquish such such a hardscrabble up-by-one’s-own-bootstraps Horatio Alger tale.
The best estimates of the usually reliable financial press puts Trump’s wealth somewhere between three and four hundred billion, which is well short of what he brags about but is still pretty impressive, and even if you accept the Times’ account that he started with more than $400 million from his dad it’s a pretty good return on investment over Trump’s long life. So far as we can tell he might have done just as well with any of the certificates of deposit or interest-paying savings accounts or various other financial instruments that the rigged system provides, and avoided the embarrassments of the United States Football League and the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip club and various other failed business ventures, but we’re currently in no position to deny that he didn’t come out in better financial shape than ourselves.
These days Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses are mostly invested in branding the Trump name, yet he’s somehow fallen down along everybody’s list of billionaires,  although  many of his still wholly-owned and Trump-branded properties continue to do million-dollar business with the Secret Service and the press corps and various foreign diplomats during his frequent stays, and for now he can plausibly argue that makes him smart. It remains to be seen, though, if it will make America great again.

— Bud Norman

On the Latest Questions About Trump

Every American president since George Washington has been accused by his critics of all sorts of unsavory things, but only rarely has it been widely suggested that the guy has gone completely bonkers. A striking number of people are now saying that about President Donald Trump, however, and reliable sources suggest those people include several high-ranking members of Trump’s administration.
On Tuesday The Washington Post released segments of “Fear,” a soon-to-be-released and already best-selling book by its veteran reporter Bob Woodard which quotes numerous anonymous but high-ranking administrations talking about how they strive everyday to protect the American public from the most dire consequences of their boss’s uninformed and impulsive and downright petty instincts. On Wednesday The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed piece by a high-ranking administration official headlined “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” which seeks to reassure the public that “many of the senior of the senior officials inside (Trump’s) administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
By both accounts many of the people closest to the President understand and act accordingly that in terms of intellectual and temperamental and moral and basic mental health fitness Trump is likely to do something consequentially crazy, and although Trump and his still-loyal spokespeople call it all “fake news” we’re reluctantly inclined to hopefully believe all of it.
Woodward and his fellow youthful late-night crime beat colleague Carl Bernstein broke the story of the Watergate break-in way back in the ’70s, and according to the old-fashioned newspaper rules of the time they got to follow the story it’s conclusion, which resulted in President Richard Nixon’s resignation and a Pulitzer Prize for the now-legendary journalism team of Woodward and Bernstein, and since then the now-wizened Woodward’s work has withstood the withering criticism of the next eight presidents he has investigated. Most of Woodward’s journalistic first drafts of history have been painstakingly even-handed, acknowledging each administrations’ failures while eviscerating its failures and admitting how very complicated these things are, and even if this book is more weighted to criticism we’ll count on Woodward’s 40-plus-years record of impeccable sourcing and meticulous tape-recording of double sources more than we do Trump’s dubious record of public statements.
Trump is already saying that the high-ranking anonymous administration official who penned that alarming op-ed in today’s edition is just a “fake news” figment of the “failing” New York Times’ imagination, but he’s also “tweeting” that whoever it is be immediately be turned over to be tried on a charge of treason, and we don’t doubt that the author of their anonymous op-ed piece is an actual high-ranking administration official. The New York Times is indeed as liberally slanted as those right-wing talk radio show hosts will warn you, and over the past century-and-half or so they’ve clearly gotten some things consequential things clearly wrong, but we’ll reluctantly admit that in all that time they’ve generated less outright “fake news” than Trump has “tweeted” in just the past three years or so.
Trump and his apologists can rightly boast that the unemployment rate is down and the stock markets are still up since his election, and that no new shooting wars have lately broken out, but it’s harder to argue that it couldn’t have been achieved by any other Republican president without all the Trump-ian craziness, and that it might not have happened at all without the restraining influences of the very best people he somehow wound up appointing to his administration. Pretty much every day Trump tells a press gaggle or “tweets” something that is jarringly discordant with longstanding norms or present reality, and pretty much everyday the “fake news” broadcasts it, and although every single day we try to keep our eye on the unemployment rates and the stock markets it’s hard to shake a bad feeling about all of this.

— Bud Norman

Of White People and the New York Times

  • The latest addition to The New York Times’ editorial board is a young woman named Sarah Jeong, and although it wasn’t the most momentous story on Thursday it was the one that caught our eye. After so many decades in the newspaper business we still follow the big hires, and this one comes with one of those racial brouhahas we can’t resist commenting on.
    Jeong is of Asian heritage, as you might have already surmised from the name, and she’s a liberal, as you might have already surmised from her hiring by The New New York Times, and although those obvious facts should have little bearing on the story of course it does in this day and age. So far Jeong’s generally white and mostly right-of-center critics aren’t criticizing her for being Asian, but these days almost everyone in the public eye has a history of spouting off on social media and other internet niches in controversial ways, and Jeong apparently has a history of writing rather harsh things about white people. The bowdlerized versions of several “tweets” require numerous asterisks to convey her chosen epithet about white people, and another expressed that “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get from being cruel to old white men.”
    Being old white men our first instinct is to take offense, but there’s so much offense to be taken these days by almost everybody that we’re trying to stay off the stuff, and by now we know these things are always complicated.
    Jeong’s defense is that she’d been “trolled” by seemingly white and explicitly racist commenters on the internet, and was only responding in kind. We don’t doubt that a liberal writer with a noticeably Asian name has been subjected to obnoxious harassment by racist old white men in the comments section of an internet site, and can well understand why she might be provoked to respond in unkind, but we’d like to think that such an august American newspaper as The New York Times would hold its editorial board to a higher standard. On the other hand, we’d prefer a Republican president who doesn’t feel obliged to punch back ten times harder in similarly stupid fashion against any caustic internet commenter, and by now we realize that we can’t always get what we want.
    Jeong’s defenders are also reviving the familiar argument that she can’t be guilty of racism because she’s not white, which is as noisome to our old white ears as ever. The argument holds that racism is not merely an animus toward other races but rather a political system or the majority oppressing the minority, and that non-white are therefore blameless by their powerlessness, agency, and even the most well-intentioned white folks are guilty by virtue of how well things might be going for them.
    The argument has never held up in the ope skies of our real lives. We’ve had many fine African-American and Hispanic and Asian and Native Americans friends in our lives, but we’ve also encountered people in each group who had a prejudiced dislike to us based on our skin tone, and if they’re racist by the politically correct definition they’re aspiring racists who would happily oppress us if they could. We’ve had street and school hall encounters with minorities where they held all the power, and can well understand why the guy in the “Make America Great” ball cap at the latest Trump rally doesn’t consider himself more privileged than than the latest hire on The New York Times’ editorial board.
    Still, we can’t blame any of our current woes on the systemic anti-white oppression that somehow persists in the era of President Donald Trump, and we’ll not worry that Jeong’s missives from the editorial pages of The New York Times will much disturb us. There were some conservative “tweets” lamenting that the estimable National Review columnist Kevin Williamson lost a prestigious job at The Atlantic Monthly because of some past “tweets” about abortion that went far beyond even our pro-life sympathies, and finding double standard in the liberal media, and although he’s controversial in conservative circles for prescribing the same harsh get-off-your-ass  medicine to the white underclass that conservatives has always preached to the minority underclass he’s suddenly a darling of the Trump-ian right. He came out squarely on the side of The New York Times’ right to hire whomever the hell it wants, and that’s pretty much all we have to say about it.

    — Bud Norman

That Big Event in Singapore, According to Various Media

“Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard,” also known as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and American President Donald Trump, shook hands Monday on a Singapore stage festooned with American and North Korean flags, then sat down and smiled together for the cameras of the world’s media, and everybody agreed it was a very big deal. Of course there was also much disagreement about how to cover it.
The more cautious and respectable American press outlets, even those considered left-of-center and overly eager to report news casting a negative light on Trump, stuck mostly to the objective who, what, where and when it, and were especially cautious about the unavoidably subjective why of it, but they also frankly acknowledged what a very big deal it was. The Washington Post’s top-of-the-front-page headline was “Trump, Kim shake hands, begin historic summit,” and the “lede” paragraph — as we spell in the newspaper biz — quoted Trump’s prediction that “We will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.” The New York Times’ top-of-the-front-page headline was “Handshakes, and Hope for an Agreement,,” which was just as careful and also adhered to our preferred style of capitalizing headlines, and the “bullet items” — as we call them in newspaper biz — stressed that it was indeed a very big deal but also very complicated as to how it might turn out.
The Cable News Network, or the “fake news CNN” as Trump calls it,  was similarly cautious in its coverage., with the anchors talking about how historic it was and the guest commentators expressing both hope and worries.  Over at the MSNBC cable news network, where they frankly acknowledge a left-of-center perspective and unabashedly delight in anything factual they can come up with that sheds a negative light on Trump, even Rachel Maddow was acknowledging it was a big deal. She had several guests fluent in the Korean language with impressive credentials for commenting on the military and political and economic and diplomatic situation who had some pretty convincing reasons to be worried it will all go awry, but they all had to admit a possibility they still hoped for that things would turn out well.
Meanwhile, over at Fox News, Sean Hannity was already spiking the ball in the end zone in on Trump’s behalf. He parroted Trump’s attempts to downplay expectations, and that “it’s a process, a long a process,” and helpfully recalled all the times North Korea had duped past Democratic and pre-Trump Republicans and hopefully assured his viewers Trump wouldn’t make that same mistake, and ran some old footage of President Ronald Reagan confronting Russia. As far as Hannity is concerned, if Trump wins an unexpected-by-almost-everyone complete capitulation from Kim he’s a sure bet Nobel Peace Prize winner, and if he walks away without any agreement at all he’s the second coming of St. Reagan walking away from the Soviets at Reykjavik, so it’s a win-win for Trump either way. Due to the time zones the historic handshake occurred after the morning and afternoon right-wing talk radio talkers went off the air, and they’ll be on before today’s-in-Singapore’s actual summit begins, but we’re sure that Hannity and the rest of them will see it pretty much the same way.
The National Review and The Weekly Standard and the rest of the cautious and respectable pre-Trump right-of-center publications are weeklies, and go home to their wives and children at a decent hour, so they haven’t yet weighed in, but we expect they’ll have some of the same worries that were voiced on Rachel Maddow’s show. The Weekly Standard did get in a short story about the involvement of Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, the former National Basketball Association rebounding champion and “Apprentice” contestant who is somehow on the scene and somehow  figures in all of this, but that’s not hopeful, although Trump did rightly note he was once a hell of a rebounder despite being short by NBA power-forward standards. Even if Trump does walk away from today’s summit he’ll have granted an odious third world dictator a long-desired starring role on the sage he walks away from, and with an endorsement of his abysmal human rights record in dealing with his own people, and for many other reasons it’s not at all analogous to Reagan walking out of Reykjavik. Trump’s many domestic scandals and recent squabbles with our traditional allies do seem to make him more desperate for any old deal that odious third world dictator might be willing to cut, too. We like to think we’re a cautious and respectable pre-Trump right-of-center publication, and without any wife or kids to worry about we’re up late and watching the latest developments, so we’ll hedge our bets just like those other cautious and respectable right-of-center and left-of-center institutions we’ll go no further than saying that we’re hoping for the best but still have our worries.
At least Trump and Kim are smiling for the photo-ops, rather than calling one another “Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard.” As Trump is so fond of saying, “we shall see.”

— Bud Norman