Advertisements

America’s Annual Attention Deficit About the Annual Budget Deficit

Not so very long ago, American conservatives used to fret about the swelling federal debt. Back when the debt was swelling at the rate of a trillion dollars a year under President Barack Obama it was conservatism’s most pressing issue, and led to the Republican party regaining control of both chambers of Congress, which successfully cut the annual budget deficits to a mere half-trlllion or so. With the annual budget deficits back up to a trillion bucks under President Donald Trump, however, only the most old-fashioned sorts of conservative are worried about it.
Back during his improbable presidential campaign Trump made some wildly extravagant promises about paying off the entire national debt in four years, but he also made some similarly wild and extravagant promises about huge tax cuts and increased military spending and an expensive infrastructure bill and a big beautiful wall along the entire southern border and allowing no changes to such popular programs as Medicare. At other times the self-proclaimed “King of Debt” also talked about racking up even more debt because of the temporarily low interest rates, and rattled international markets by openly speculating on the sort of defaults and haircuts that he’d relied on during his failed career as a casino mogul, but for some reason a plurality of Rebublican primary voters trusted Trump’s assurances it would all somehow work out.
Now Trump is once again talking about cutting deficits, but he’s finding it hard to do given all the other promises he’s made. The sizable tax cut Trump signed into law might yet fuel enough economic growth to cut into the deficits, but for now and the foreseeable future it’s lowering federal revenues as spending go up. Trump got the record defense spending that he wanted, and although he’s now reportedly open to cutting it slightly he seems to have some ill-informed ideas about military technology and still wants an expensive military parade and has troops idly awaiting an epic clash with a few thousand unarmed asylum-seekers at the southern border.
So far as we can tell from Trump’s vague explanations his infrastructure plan relies largely on private investment that the private investors surely expect to be compensated for one way or another, but it’s still expensive, and unless he can get it passed during the lame duck sessions it’s unlikely the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will make it happen. The outgoing Republican majority in the House was only willing to cough up a measly couple of billion dollars for Trump’s big beautiful border wall, and the incoming Democratic majority is unlikely to be as generous as that, and Trump is threatening a government shutdown over it even as he resumes talking about cutting the deficit.
Trump is still holding to his campaign promises about allowing no changes to Medicare or Social Security, too, which makes it pretty much impossible to put a noticeable dent in the budget deficits. Everything in the federal budget other than the military and servicing the existing federal debt is relatively paltry compared to those programs, and even if Trump somehow were able to eliminate all the undeniable waste and fraud it wouldn’t compare to a month’s spending on what Trump has declared sacrosanct, and even the stingiest conservative must concede that there are certain expensive services a government can only provide.
The expert and apolitical trustees of the Medicare and Social Security funds are predicting both programs will go belly up right around the time we’re eligible for their benefits, but for now they’re both so popular that it would take a pretty courageous politician to dare suggest even the mild reforms that might forestall the disaster. Once upon a time such Republican politicians as House Speaker Paul Ryan dared suggest paying current beneficiaries according to the deal they’d signed on to, and a deal to those currently paying in that the government could realistically hope to make good on, but Ryan’s leaving public life after two years of signing off on trillion dollar deficits, and we don’t expect presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to suggest such essential reforms.
Nobody likes taxes and everyone likes their government checks and services, and most Americans are misinformed about the relatively paltry sums America is spending on foreign aid and abortion advice and subsidies for the arts and other resented-by-Republicans programs, and the administration of justice and maintenance of federal highways and other popular projects are more expensive than most Americans realize, so solving the political problem of deficits and debts is far more complicated than Trump made it sound back during the campaign. Despite his very stable genius and unaccountable knowledge of military technology Trump still doesn’t seem to have the answer, even though it’s long been apparent to the more old-fashioned sorts of conservatives, and he’s not the sort to tell his supporters anything they don’t want to hear.
Obama still deserves blame for the trillion dollar deficits that he needlessly racked up even during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and we’re sure Trump will continue to blame him, but Trump will also surely find someone to blame for the trillion dollar deficits he’s racked up in what he boasts is the greatest American economy ever, so we’re not hopeful the problem will be solved in time to pay for our golden years. In the meantime the government will be paying a few trifling millions of dollars a month to Trump’s golf resorts, but the Democrats in the House will probably tell Trump to keep his extravagant campaign promise to have Mexico pay for that big beautiful border wall and let him take the hit in the polls if he follows through on his threat of a government shutdown, that slender Republican majority in the Senate and Trump’s veto power will probably forestall the Democrats most expensive ambitions, so there’s a chance that at least America will head to the inevitable fiscal cliff at a slightly slower speed.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Quoth McRaven, Nevermore

President Donald Trump’s latest war of words is with retired four-star Navy Admiral William McCraven, and so far as we can tell Trump is predictably getting the worst of it.
After earning a degree with honors from the University of Texas McCraven was commissioned the Navy and volunteered for it’s elite frogman and Seal units, then rose through the ranks during both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations, eventually being entrusted with command of the Navy’s special forces and European fleet, but he’s best known as the guy who led the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. One can hardly describe him as a “very low-IQ individual,” or impugn his manliness, and a name like Bill McRaven doesn’t easily lend itself to a taunting nickname, but McCraven’s been publicly critical of certain aspects of Trump’s presidency, so Trump is required by his immutable character to punch back somehow or another.
When McRaven’s name up during a Sunday interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, the most damning thing Trump could think to say is that “He’s a Hillary Clinton backer.” Wallace was trying to explain to his viewers that McRaven is a former Navy seal and all that when Trump interjected, and when Wallace tried to resume MccRaven’s impressive resume Trump once again interrupted to say, “Excuse me, but he’s a Hillary Clinton backer.” Eventually Wallace got to the part about the Bin Laden raid, and Trump sneered that “He’s a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer. Frankly, wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner than that?” Thus Trump stepped boldly onto the minefield.
Pretty much the whole interview was s public relations disaster for trump. He probably figured he was on friendly terrain at Fox, but he apparently hasn’t noticed that Wallace and Shep Smith and Brett Baier and a few other Fox journalists still tend to ask some embarrassing questions from time to time. and Trump was ill-prepared for that sort of thing. He claimed complete credit for some Republican victories in the midterm elections, and denied any blame for the more numerous losses. He also spouted some self-apparent nonsense about how Finland doesn’t have fires like California is suffering because they rake their forests, citing the Finnish president as his source, which resulted in the Finnish president denying to the world he’d ever said any such thing and lots of Finns making jokes about it on the internet, including one waggish Finnish woman who posted a photo of herself in the forest with a vacuum cleaner under the heading of “Just another day in Finland.” Trump also wound up making a rare admission of error by saying he probably should have observed Veterans day despite the rain and his busy schedule.
Even so, the worst fallout was from the feud with McCraven. By Monday McRaven was telling the Cable News Network that “I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their party, who uphold the dignity of the office and use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times.” We also didn’t back anyone in the last election, although we cast a protest vote for some suitable right-of-center protest candidate, and for all his faults we still miss George W. Bush and lately have a very begrudging newfound respect for the way that Obama at least didn’t go out of his way to start futile feuds with his fellow citizens all the time, so we think McRaven got the better of the exchange.
McCraven has left it to his many apologists to rightly note that he couldn’t have legally killed Bin Laden any sooner without presidential approval, and both Bush’s and Obama’s apologists can credibly argue that these things take time, no matter how impatient the immediate gratification sorts out there might be. Besides, even if McRaven is a damned Democrat it doesn’t mean he’s wrong about everything. McCraven once pursued a journalism degree his stellar studies at the University of Texas, and his public complaints about Trump’s ongoing war with the free press, which originally provoked Trump’s ire, sound fair enough to our ink-stained journalistic souls. We rather like how this McCraven fellow fights his war of words in pristine parseable English with facts at hand, and in general we like the cut of his four-starred naval admiral jib, and at the risk of sounding like Republicans In Name Only we can’t say the same for his latest foe.

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Our Way Into Autumn

There’s long been a venerable tradition in America that no politician dares make news over the Labor Day weekend, but President Donald Trump has little regard for even the most venerable traditions, so of course he interrupted Monday’s picnics and ball games and blissfully slow news cycle with perhaps his most outrageous “tweet” thus far.
“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well-publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time,” Trump “tweeted,” adding with apparent sarcasm “Good job Jeff…” After an elongated and exhausting Labor Day Weekend of bratwurst and beer and baseball and helping to mow and edge the oversized lawn of our very small church over in Delano we hardly know where to begin explaining how extraordinarily outrageous this strikes us, but we’ll try to start at the beginning.
The “tweet” apparently refers to the recent indictments the Justice Department has has won in two separate but duly constituted federal courts of New York’s Republican Rep. Chris Collins on insider trading charges, and then California’s Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter for using more than $250,000 of campaign funds for such non-campaign related expenses as family vacations and theater tickets. Trump is quite right that the indictments probably leave a couple of otherwise safe Republican House of Representatives seats in doubt, but it’s yet another provable lie that the investigations were launched by President Barack Obama’s administration, even if that did make a difference, which it doesn’t, and although both defendants are entitled to a presumption of innocence our old-fashioned Republican law-and-order sensibilities feel the people are also entitled to make their case without a President of the United States tainting the jury pool by “tweet.”
Never mind that annoyingly random capitalization and incorrect hyphenation of “midterms” — what’s with that all balderdash about the “Jeff Sessions Justice Department” that’s apparently thwarting justice? Attorney General Jeff Sessions is indeed in charge of the Justice Department, but only because Trump appointed him to the post and a majority-Republican Senate confirmed him, and he serves at the pleasure of an obviously displeased president, and Trump could fire him at any time he summons the reckless political courage to do so, and until then it’s actually the Trump Justice Department that Trump and his rally-goers are railing against.
Given the current extenuating circumstances our old-fashioned law-and-order sensibilities are inclined to offer a not all sarcastic “Good job Jeff” to the Attorney General, although we’d respectfully add the proper comma. Two duly consisted federal courts have found prima facie evidence that both congressmen had committed felonies, and although it remains to be seen if the Justice Department can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt we’ll trust more in the American justice system and the verdicts of two groups of twelve tried and true fellow citizens than “tweeted” prejudgments of President Trump.
The first-indicted Collins was the first congressional Republican to endorse Trump’s Republican candidacy, and the second-indicted Hunter was the second in line, which will surely strike to right-wing talk radio and Fox News opinions show audiences as damned suspicious, but we well recall that the first Republican Senator and entrenched establishment figure to sign on with Trump was Sessions. Trump rewarded Sessions with the plum Attorney General position, and Sessions returned the favor by aggressively pursuing Trump’s agenda on illegal immigration and environmental deregulation and various quarrelsome racial issues on the streets and in the schools and elsewhere in the public square. Sessions also recused himself from that whole “Russia thing,” though, and has pursued prima facie cases against even Republicans in an election year, and no matter how tough one is on the the border such transgressions cannot be forgiven.
By now we’re pretty sure that Sessions regrets his early endorsement of Trump’s candidacy and resignation from a safe Senate seat, and that Trump is mainly peeved at Sessions for hewing so closely to old-fashioned Republican law-and-order sensibilities. At this point in post-Labor Day America the President of the United seems to have made clear that he thinks the true purpose of the American justice system is to lock up his political enemies and vindicate his still-in-favor political allies, and we expect a cold and dreary autumn.

— Bud Norman

Kennedy Hands Trump a Final Win

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement on Wednesday, which is good news for President Donald Trump. No matter how many porn stars Trump pays or longstanding allies and trading partners he needlessly alienates or essential institutions he seeks to undermine, his die-hard defenders can always make the strong argument to pre-Trump conservatives such as ourselves that we’re better of with him making Supreme Court picks rather than that awful Hillary Clinton woman.
Trump got his first chance to pick a Justice because Republican Senate majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell — now widely reviled by the Trump-ian party as a squishy establishment type — ruthlessly held the seat open through the last year of President Barack Obama’s second term following the death of reliably conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, and Trump’s choice of the equally rock-ribbed Justice Neil Gorsuch further endeared him to his loyal supporters and earned begrudging praise from his party’s last skeptics. Kennedy’s retirement gives Trump an opportunity to replace him with someone even more rock-ribbedly conservative, and although we’re sure he’d appoint his abortion-loving appellate judge sister or idiot-sin-law to the seat if he thought he could get away with it, we’re also sure he’s shrewd enough that he’ll once again let the Heritage Foundation choose someone the fans will love and the conservative skeptics will begrudgingly respect and the Democrats can’t come up with any persuasive beyond-the-pale arguments about.
Kennedy was appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed with unanimous Republican support and several Democratic votes in the Senate, and he was not a judicial activist type who thought that whatever the consensus of liberal opinion believed was constitutional, but neither was he a reliably conservative vote in controversial cases. He acquired a reputation as the rare “swing vote” on the Supreme Court, and for whatever idiosyncratic reasons he frequently wound up on the winning side of many five-to-four decisions that wound up outraging the left some of the time and the right some of the time. In his final session he provided Trump with some much-needed five-to-four wins on the travel ban and a California case involving the free speech rights of anti-abortion advocates and another matter about the power of public unions, but his replacement will likely provide both the Trump-ian and pre-Trump conservatives with even more five-to-four wins over the coming decades.
There’s already concern on the left that the Supreme Court might even undo the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found a right somewhere in the penumbra of the Constitution for abortion in the first trimester and exceedingly complicated cases afterwards, which is well past the panic by point even by the left’s panicky standards, but they don’t have much power to stop it. They’ll put up a good fight in the Senate confirmation process, and do whatever they can with the filibuster rules the Republicans used to rely on in their days on the political desert, and make a not-quite-convincig argument that because Obama’s appointment had to await the next presidential election Trump’s pick should await the next mid-term election, but they’ll wind up with Trump winning a more conservative Supreme Court for a long while.
As much as we hate to see it redound to Trump’s political benefit, that’s fine with us. We’ve always believed the Constitution says what the words written in it say, and not whatever the current consensus of liberal opinion is, and we have to admit we do shudder to think of the nominees that awful Clinton woman would have chosen. If Trump’s picks prove the strict constructionists the Heritage Foundation claims they are they’ll probably uphold a special counsel subpoena of the president, and even if the Court does undo Roe v. Wade it will just set off 50 state legislative battles and countless street brawls which the rather recent and obviously insincere pro-life convert Trump will mostly lose.
No matter how stellar a pick the Heritage Foundation comes up with, however, we’ll still be infuriated by almost everything else Trump is doing.

— Bud Norman

The Borders Flare as the Center Collapses

The politics of illegal immigration has long been thorny, and a solution has eluded the past several presidents and congresses, but it suddenly seems even thornier in the age of President Donald and his Republican party’s slim and fissiparous majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.
All of the usual tricky questions about how to properly enforce current immigration laws in an effective yet humane and constitutional way, and what to do about the illegal immigrants who are already here, are still awaiting an definitive answer, and there’s still a wide chasm between the most welcoming Democrats and the most exclusionary Republicans. Trump’s longtime rhetoric and recent policies, of course, are making some sort of compromise solution all the more difficult.
Trump’s executive order to rescind President Barack Obama’s executive order for Delayed Action on Childhood Arrivals has made a pressing issue about the fate of the so-called “dreamers,” who were brought here as children and have since lived provably productive and tax-paying lives that have little troubled the American populace, which raises complicated political as well as policy and legal questions. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy has resulted in a couple thousand children separated from their parents and held in circumstances that administration can’t fully account for, and which the Trump administration has denied and blamed on Democrats and insisted is necessary to save the country from imminent invasion, and although he’s since signed an executive order to undo his policy that’s further complicated the debate. His rhetoric about “animals” “infesting” the country and warning of an “invasion” by “millions” of raping and drug-dealing types has brought a long-heated debate to a boiling point.
Trump and his spokespeople have lately taken a dizzying number of stands on these issues — we can’t resist re-telling our joke that he’s got more positions than Stormy Daniels — but he’s always consistently made it clear that he’s not at all fond of those brown-skinned people from “shit-hole countries” who keep showing up at the southern border seeking asylum. He’s spoken sympathetically of a “loving bill” for the “dreamers,” revved up his rallies with talk about the Democrats don’t think a Trump voter’s children are also dreamers, and he made a big show of reversing his family separation policy but not the the “zero tolerance” that he admits will continue to separate families. All those photos and video and audio of crying children and their unaccounted-for whereabouts might have cowed Trump into reversing the policy that 58 percent of Republicans supported, but now Trump is calling it all “phony stories” by the “open-borders” Democrats and their allies in the “fake news” media, who of course are enthralled by the murderous MS-13 street gang and want only the very worst for America.
To show that Trump is very, very strong on border enforcement, and perhaps to demonstrate that they’re not all racist about it, the Border Patrol recently caught a French woman who was visiting her mother in southern Canada and inadvertently jogged a bit out south of the American border, and was detained for two weeks.
There’s at least a kernel of truth to most of it, we must admit. A large influx of human beings from anywhere on the earth will inevitably include some highly undesirable people, and that MS-13 gang from El Salvador truly is a particularly gruesome example, and that suspiciously French 19-year-old did indeed jog into American territory. There are indeed some “open borders” Democrats out there, and we’ve read enough of Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” that we don’t need Trump to tell us how it would work out for America if they somehow got their way. A certain strictness of border enforcement will always be necessary for every country, but it remains if Trump’s will prevail as politics or policy or a legal matter.
Trump is clearly cocky that he will prevail on all three fronts, or at least the all-important political one. Even as he accused the Democrats of using the immigration issue for political advantage he told a group of Nevada Republicans that “Our issue is strong borders, no crime. Their issue is open borders, get MS-13 all over the country.” The Republicans in the House were scheduled to vote on a couple of hard-line and compromise bills, but Trump “tweeted” his advice they “stop wasting their time” and await his predicted “red wave” that would give the Republicans’ true one-party rule. He also “tweeted” that America was no longer obligated to fulfill its duly passed and signed treaty obligations regarding asylum-seekers or comply with the legal precedents that had followed, which is a bit more hard-line than even our rock-ribbed but tender-hearted and constitutionally conservative Republican selves can go along with.
The damned Democrats have all that undeniably heart-breaking photography and video and audio from the southern border, where the Trump administration is having a hard time getting its story straight on what’s happening there, although we’re assured it’s tougher but more tender than anybody has ever seen, so it might take more than a kernel of truth for Trump and his Republican loyalists to triumph. We begrudgingly acknowledge that most Democrats don’t believe in “open borders,” and that includes President Barack Obama, who made a priority of deporting MS-13 gang members and other felonious illegal immigrants rather than breaking up the families of possibly legal asylum-seekers, and even that horrible Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. They’re all far more lax about these matters than even our pre-Trump Republican selves, but for the moment they seem closer to the political center than all thousands at the on-going campaign rallies still chanting “Build that wall!”
By now even the faithful at the rallies don’t expect that Mexico will pay for the wall, and Trump is expecting the Democrats to pay it for as ransom for all the “dreamers” and the kids he got placed God knows where. Which further complicates matters. Pretty much no one but Trump and the faithful at the rallies believe the solution to the thorny illegal immigration problem is a “big, beautiful” and translucent and solar-generating wall across the entirety of the Mexican border, and all the Republican congressional districts along the proposed route think it’s a horrible idea and are threatening all sorts of eminent domain court challenges, and despite the chants at the rallies we don’t think Trump should be cocky about it.
Even at the Nevada rally Trump shared the stage with a far more moderate-on-immigration incumbent who’s facing a tough reelection race, and in Nevada as most of the country the Democrats are nominating candidates who aren’t “open borders” but advocate a more legal and humane means of border enforcement. Trump’s bet that he’ll get an end to some stupid immigration as well as his equally stupid border after a “red wave” might prove as disastrous as his bet on the Atlantic City Trump Taj Mahal.
Nor do we expect that good policy will somehow result. The border must be enforced, international treaty obligations and constitutional law and basic human decency must be respected, and at this point in this long and drawn-out game that seems a long shot.

— Bud Norman

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Modernity

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that a Colorado man named Jack Phillips does not have to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seven-to-two majority decision is so carefully and narrowly worded that it’s not entirely clear if everyone else is similarly at liberty, but we’ll chalk it up as a win for religious freedom and freedom in general.
Although Phillips’ does not routinely refuse the services of his Masterpiece Cakeshop to homosexual customers, he did politely decline a homosexual couple’s request for a wedding cake because of his Christian belief that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. Until recently that definition of marriage had been largely unquestioned in western civilization for more than two millennia, and until a relative blink of an eye ago even the likes of President Barack Obama had the same opinion, even now there are still a very large number of people who hold that view, and a fair-minded observer would admit that the social consequences of such changes being so hard to predict there’s still a chance it will ultimately prove wise.
Even if Phillips is wrong, we figure that’s his right. If the Colorado Human Rights Commission can compel him to bake a cake in violation of his religious beliefs, we shudder to think what else an American citizen might be compelled to do. In his decision Kennedy rightly noted that the CHRC seemed to regard the past two millennia of mainstream Christian belief as rank bigotry akin to the Ku Klux Klan’s racist terrorism, and rightly regarded that as an obvious assault on religious freedom, but in doing so he left open the possibility that other human rights commissions could persecute other traditionalists if they do so more politely. Modernity’s assault on the Judeo-Christian foundations of western civilization will surely continue, but for now only two members of the Supreme Court are on record saying that a Christian baker has to bake a gay wedding cake.
That homosexual couple has a right to get married, according to a Supreme Court decision penned by the same Kennedy, and it naturally follows they have a right to buy a cake to celebrate the occasion, but we don’t see why they have any right to force Phillips to bake it. They live in a populous part of Colorado that surely has plenty of bakeries happy to accept their business, and they seem to have turned Phillips into the CHRC in order to punish him for his beliefs and lifestyle, and the CHRC sure did seem to intent on criminalizing those still widely-held beliefs and that common lifestyle. We wish that homosexual couple a happy marriage, but we expect that in the long run they’ll be better off if the government doesn’t get back in the messy business of punishing unfashionable beliefs and alternative lifestyles.
There’s a nutcase cult up in Topeka’s that’s notorious for anti-homosexual protests at funerals and other private occasions, and if they ask some homosexual baker in that town full of desperate-for-business bakers to decorate a cake with their infamous “God Hates Fags” slogan we think that baker has every right to decline the offer. For now the culture wouldn’t tolerate it, and the forces of modernity have even dragged a Christian baker before the Supreme Court and found two Justices who would compel the poor fellow to a bake a cake, but not so long ago in our lifetimes even the New York City cops were raiding gay bars and the consensus of the American Psychiatric Association was that homosexuality was a mental illness. These things can change in the relative blink of an eye, we’ve noticed, and at this point we think it best that tolerance prevails.
We have a lot of Christian and quite a few homosexual friends here in Wichita, and naturally there’s some overlapping on the Venn diagram of our social circle, and of course they all have their own particular opinions about all of this. Happily, they all somehow coexist. Most of our Christians friends have jobs that don’t involve same-sex marriages, and if they did many of them probably decline the work, but none of them are waving any “God Hates Fags” signs at the few same-sex weddings around here and they try their best to be unfailingly polite to everyone they meet in the course of their jobs. Some of our homosexual friends are pretty outspoken about it, but even the most political of them have been bullied and wised-up and worn out enough they would much rather find another bakery rather than drag some pre-modern Christian neighbor all the way to the Supreme Court.
At this point we’re all living an alternative lifestyle,from somebody’s perspective,  and none of our beliefs can possibly keep up with the ever-sharpening blade of the cutting edge of bien pensant opinion, so we figure we’ll just go about business and hope that as usual most people do the same. We hope that Phillips fellow returns to a thriving business at his Masterpiece Bakeshop, and that the homosexual couple has a happy marriage and realizes how lucky they are everyone involved was able to go about their business.

–Bud Norman

Perfect Weather in a Time of Storms

We had to return a borrowed chainsaw to an old friend and nearby neighbor on Sunday afternoon, and because we were delinquent in doing so we also brought along an apologetic six pack of Coors’ “Banquet Beer.” The weather was as close to perfect as Kansas ever gets, some very pretty women were walking their dogs along the sidewalks of the picturesque Riverside neighborhood, and an excellent front porch conversation naturally ensued.
Our friend is even older than ourselves, so of course there was some mutual old man grousing about the current sporting scene, mostly about how all those three-pointers the pro basketball players launch these days have taken the game out of the paint where giants of our childhood imaginations used to roam, but also about whatever the hell became of boxing. We reminisced about several mutual friends who are now dead, and shared a couple of dirty jokes. Eventually the talk got around to the news of the day, and there was some delightfully cathartic grousing about that.
Our friend is a lifelong liberal and Democrat, and for much of his interesting life he was even a bartender living a rent-controlled apartment in New York City, but he admitted to us that he didn’t vote for President Barack Obama in the the second go-round and only voted for the admittedly horrible Hillary Clinton because she was running against now-Presisdent Donald Trump, and that he no longer has a rooting interest in politics. He’s never minded that we’re old-fashioned Kansas Republicans from the William Allen White and Dwight D. Eisenhower mold, and he respects that we didn’t vote for Trump and quite understands why we didn’t vote for Clinton, and well understands why we feel similarly disaffected from any party or movement at the moment.
A few blocks away our internet thingamajig was filled with bad news about America’s brewing trade war with our closest allies and our tenuous negotiations with a nutcase nuclear-armed dictator and the president’s lawyer going on the Sunday show to say the president can legally end the “Russia thing” any time he wants but probably won’t do so because it would be political suicide. Our friend and we agreed that it’s a sorry state of affairs, no matter which way you look at it, but we also agreed that it was a lovely day, and a very lovely woman who was walking her dog on the sidewalk across the street from hi front porch, and we admitted that it is amazing how the kids these days can hit those three pointers like even Larry Bird never could.
The forecast for today predicts more nearly perfect weather around here, and most of Wichita will be on its way to work by early morning, and the River Festival has started with a parade and fireworks and traffic jams, and although our New York Yankees might lose and the afternoon’s political news will surely be infuriating we’ll try to keep a proper perspective here in the picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas.

— Bud Norman

Barbara Bush, RIP

There was the usual torrent of news on Tuesday, including a Supreme Court decision regarding immigration that had Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the liberals to overturn a burglar’s deportation, more resignation announcements by prominent congressional Republicans, intriguing developments in the North Korean problem, the usual tales of porn stars and Russian intrigue, and a right-wing talk radio host who finds himself caught up it in all. As much as we’d like to opine on  these important matters, the biggest news of the day was the death of Barbara Bush at the age of 92.
Bush was the wife of one American president and the mother of another, a distinction shared only by the great Abigail Adams, and that alone makes her passing noteworthy, but it also marks the passing of a far more dignified and admirable era of American politics.
By now both liberals and conservatives have plenty of plausible complaints with the policies of both Bush presidencies, and we’ve got a few of our own, but we still regard both men as honorable and dedicated public servants. We regard the Bush family’s most hateful critics on both the left and the right as a conspicuous part of our current problems, and think that anyone with anything bad to say about the Bush matriarch is just a hateful person.
Born as Barbara Pierce in 1925 to a well-heeled and and even better-respected Back East family, she was always a class act. Although she considered herself “shy” and “square” Pierce was an excellent student and much liked classmate in her girlhood at an elite all-girls’s prep school, and by the age of 16 she caught the eye of a 17-year-old guy who was a straight-A student and star athlete at a nearby elite all-boys prep school, and would go on to be a decorated Naval aviator in World War II, successful entrepreneur, United States Congressman, United Nations ambassador, Central Intelligence Agency director, Vice President and then President of the United States. She left the elite all-women’s Smith College at age 19 to marry George Herbert Walker Bush, and seemed to play a prominent and impeccable role in his extraordinary career. Even as her husband wound up losing reelection to an Arkansas hound dog, largely due to the intervention of a coarse and egomaniacal billionaire, the First Lady remained atop the “most admired women” polls.
She also bore her husband a son, George Walker, then daughters Robin and Dorothy, followed by sons John and Neil. The George Bush with the single “W” wound up winning two terms as Governor of Texas and two more as President of the United States, all of which will be hotly debated for years to come, and despite his travails the First Mother’s poll ratings remained high. Her son John Ellis, who preferred by the acronym “Jeb,” wound up serving two successful terms as Governor of Florida, and although she openly she shared our own concerns about political dynasties she wound up supporting his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency. Dorothy and Neil Bush are less well known to the public, but in this day and age we assume that speaks very well to their character.
The photographic evidence shows that the “shy” and “square” Barbara Pierce was quite the elegantly eye-catching beauty back when she first caught the eye of that handsome straight-A student and star athlete and future war hero and President of the United States, but her hair apparently started whitening not long after her beloved daughter Robin died of leukemia at the age of three. The Washington Post’s respectful and excellent obituaries note that she stayed at  her daughter’s bedside during the bone marrow transplants and other futile treatments that her war hero husband could not bear to witness, and although she would later fondly recall the emotional support offered by her grieving seven-year-old son George W. she prematurely aged. By the time her still-handsome star athlete and war hero husband was running for president she had an undeniably grandmotherly look about her, but their apparent love for one another and her undeniable class greatly enhanced the ticket.
President George H.W. Bush waged a splendid little war on Iraq but deviated on taxes and other issues from the true religion of President Ronald Reagan, and there was one of those  little recessionary blips in the business cycle at the end of his first term, and with the help of a coarse and megalomaniacal billionaire that Arkansas hound dog kept him from a fourth Reagan-Bush administration. Both George H.W. and Barbara Bush accepted the defeat with characteristic grace, adhering strictly to the time-tested rules about not criticizing the victors in an American election, and they even wound up having a cordial relationship with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton that drove bot the left and right crazy.
President Bill Clinton and his harridan of a wife wound up doing all sorts of things that both the left and right criticized, and God knows we’ve still got our own complaints, but we never minded that the elder Bushes largely stayed out of it. That’s the longstanding rule that ex-presidents and ex-First Ladies have always adhered to, and as far as we’re concerned it’s one of the good ones, and in any case President George W. Bush’s heatedly contested electoral victory soon followed. How that turned out will be debated for years to come, and it undeniably wound up with eight dreary years of President Barack Obama, but somehow Barbara Bush, unlike the rest of us, wound up classy throughout the whole ordeal.
The eight dreary Obama years almost inevitably resulted in the past 16 dreary months of President Donald Trump, who eked out an electoral college win over President Clinton’s harridan wife by criticizing the entirety of America’s political history and promising a new beginning, but we think Barbara Bush was still classy about that. Even without a son in the race  she should have been opposed to such a coarse and egomaniacal billionaire and thrice-married to a nudie model trophy wife and bankrupt casino and strip mogul as Trump, even if Trump hadn’t absurdly maligned her husband as a “globalist” and her son as a  traitor who had lied America into war, and ridiculed her younger and better-suited-to-the-presidency son as “low energy,” we’re sure she would have offered her rare criticisms of the the even more more coarse and less classy megalomaniacal billionaire dominating the current coarser and less classy  political scene.
Ever since Trump won anyway the former First Lady and First Mother mostly kept her opinions to herself, and we appreciate that far more than than the president’s impulsive “tweets” about his past infidelities or foreign entanglements and whatever else is troubling him at the moment. For all the mistakes they indisputably made, Barbara Bush and her husband and children embodied a civility and civil-mindedness we already miss, and we’re sure that all those hateful people on both the left and the will eventually miss it as well. Shy and square and grandmotherly  and civil and civic-minded and elegantly beautiful are no longer in fashion, but they’re qualities due for a comeback.

— Bud Norman

Gut Instincts and Complicated Situations

President Donald Trump promised on Monday that within 24 to 48 hours he will announce a “major decision” about the Syrian dictatorship’s recent chemical attack on its own citizens during that country’s long and bloody civil war. “Nothing is off the table,” Trump added, and he promised “It will be met, and met forcefully.”
So for the next 24 to 48 hours, if not much longer than that, one can only speculate what that forceful response will be. He’ll be getting advice from his newly-installed and third national security advisor, a recent Secretary of State, several brass-laden generals, and a United Nations ambassador who’s proved pretty savvy, but they’ll be laying out unsatisfactory options and Trump tends to go with his gut rather than expert advice. Trump’s gut is hard to predict in this case, because it’s a damned complicated situation.
The long and bloody war in Syria is being waged against the second-generation dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, which no decent person likes, but is backed by the military might of the Iranian theocracy, which no decent person likes, as well the mightier military of the Russian dictatorship, which even Trump is lately having second thoughts about. On the other hand, one of the various factions waging war against Assad is the Islamic State, the head-chopping and crucifying bunch that has supplanted al-Qaeda as the world’s most deranged Islamist terror gang, and no decent person likes them. There are other factions, too, including those plucky Iraqi Kurds who have sustained the sort of democracy that President George W. Bush envisioned when he launched the second Iraq War. You’ll even find some factions who purport to be fighting for something like modernity, although they seem to have the lesser hand.
You’ll also find a few thousand American troops in the mix, and they find themselves in an especially damned complicated situation. They were first sent there by President Barack Obama, whose incoherent foreign policy had once dismissed the Islamic State as the “JV team” of Islamist terrorism and praised Assad as a “reformer,” then went to a limited war against both, and they’re still there in the Trump administration’s incoherent foreign policy, which had boasted that it will soon pull all American troops out of the theater after their great victory over the Islamic State but is now promising a forceful response to the Assad dictatorship’s outrageous chemical attack on its own people. In both administrations American troops have clashed with both Assad and Islamic State forces, and it’s always been clear who they’ve been against, but never quite clear who they were for.
Even the simplest wars are complicated enough, but in this case all the political implications will be mind-boggling for Trump’s gut. He ran for president on the promise to be even more isolationist than Obama, and went far further in criticizing the Bush-eras of Republican foreign policy, but he also derided all of his presidential predecessors as a bunch of wimps who’d gone easy on Islamist terrorists and the Syrians and Iranians, even as he gave the Russians a pass, so it’s hard to say what his gut tells him now.
One of Obama’s most conspicuous and poll-damaging foreign policy fiascos was declaring a “red line” against Assad’s use of chemical weapons and then failing to back it up after the Assad regime gassed its own people for a second generation, and Trump got bipartisan praise and a bump in the polls after he responded to another chemical attack with a relatively harmless cruise missile strike on Syrian airbase. That didn’t deter Assad and his allies from the most recent attack, though, not after Trump announced he would soon be pulling all American forces from the theater, and another missile strike might not have the same political effect.
Trump might choose to wage a more aggressive war against the Assad regime, then take all their oil, as he’s talked about, which would be as tough as he’s always promised to be, but it would also break his promises about being even less Bush-ian than Obama, and more recent promises about pulling all forces out of Syria. Waging a more aggressive war against the Assad regime entails a more aggressive war against the Iranians and Russians, and despite Trump’s tough talk his gut doesn’t seem to have the stomach for that. As for taking their oil, Syria actually doesn’t have much of it, and it would be a violation of the same Geneva Convention as Assad’s gas attack.
Diplomatic pressure could bring the world’s dislike of both the Assad dictatorship and it’s allies and what’s left of the Islamic State to inflict greater economic damage, but Trump also ran against international coalitions, and is lately threatening hardball negotiations with all our trading powers, so even that surprisingly strong UN ambassador is going to have a problem pulling that off.
Trump is rightly if pettily noting that all of his presidential predecessors failed to avert the damned complicated situation he finds himself in, and we have to admit it is a damned complicated situation. None of the available responses seem satisfactory, even if you leave Trump’s naked political self-interest out of the equation.
Any country’s chemical attack on its enemies, especially its people, is an affront to international law and human decency that cannot go unchallenged. Lobbing a few missiles at an empty air base won’t do much, though, and a war to effect regime change will entail all the things Trump criticized about the Bush years. That Obama-like promise to pull all American forces out is already proving problematic. All of which is further complicated, of course, by the ever expanding “Russia thing” here at home, which has lately required a harder administration stand against Russia.
The only thing we’ll bet on is that our erstwhile Kurdish and putatively pro-modernity allies will wind up losing, and that the outcome won’t be happy for anyone involved. Still, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Last Friday’s Awful Spending Bill

Here at the Central Standard Times we write our Friday posts on Thursday and then take a couple days off from the news, but since then the Republican majorities in the House and Senate passed a $400 billion spending bill that suspended the national debt limit for two whole years and Republican President Donald Trump quickly signed it. Being the grumpy old-fashioned Republican sorts that we are, we spent much of the weekend grousing about it.
The deal includes a couple of hundred billion bucks to bolster America’s military, and while we’re generally in favor of that we have our worries about what the failed casino mogul who is currently Commander in Chief might do with it. The other couple of hundred billion bucks goes to various and usually counterproductive Democratic bleeding-heart programs, and although we’re generally opposed to such nonsense we’ll hold out hope it at least temporarily placates them. The deal at least keeps the government running for another couple of years, which our old-fashioned Republicans sensibilities suppose has some benefit, and it puts off that messy illegal immigration for another few days, which gives us a few days off from worry about that, but it does so with an enormous swelling of the federal deficit, which we cannot abide without becoming craven hypocrites.
The big Republican tax-cut bill that was all the big news a few news cycles ago might yet bolster economic growth enough to result in a net increase in tax revenues — and that corporate tax cut seems especially promising — but in the meantime it’s going to add a few hundred billion of decreased revenues to the added $400 billion in spending and result in one of those trillion dollar deficits last seen in the darkest days of the early administration of President Barack Obama. Those eye-popping digits inspired the Tea Party revolt in the Republican party, which wound up wresting control of the House and then the Senate and ultimately resorting the fiscal sanity of the mere half-trillion dollar deficits of the President George W. Bush year, but since then the party has changed.
Trump ran on on extravagant promises that with his managerial genius he could wipe out America’s $20 national debt within eight years, and offered his own several successful business bankruptcies as proof, but he also promised not to touch the entitlement programs that are mostly driving America’s debt, and far more than all that cold-hearted military spending or bleeding-heart domestic programs. Somehow most of the Tea Party types who hated those establishment Republicans who’d tolerated Bush’s half-trillion dollar deficits bought into Trump’s anti-establishmentarian rhetoric, after that even such stalwart establishment types as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the once-redoubtable House Speaker Paul Ryan willingly went along with the next trillion dollar deficit, and at this point we figure were among the very last of those old-fashioned Republicans who are dismayed by it all.
Our own Republicanism goes back to good ol’ President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his obsessively budget-balancing ways, and oh how we still like our fellow Kansan Ike, but we also remember when the wage-and-price-controlling President Richard Nixon proclaimed that “we’re all Keynesians now,” and even after such long experience none of the current Republican policies make any sense. It seems clearer than ever that America’s finances should be on more solid ground than a Trump casino and strip club, and the latest budget deal doesn’t make any sense even according to the convoluted but occasionally useful thinking of John Maynard Keynes. Trump continually boasts of the low unemployment rate and high growth of the overall economy he has wrought in a mere year, yet insists on a double amphetamine injection of tax cuts and a trillion dollars of stimulative tax spending, which has lately legitimate inflation concerns that have scared the Federal Reserve Board into threatening interest hikes that have lately spooked the stock markets that Trump was recently bragging about. When the next inevitable recession comes around, and we hope it’s later rather than sooner, it will be a more indebted federal treasury that is called on to bail it out.
Kentucky’s Republican Sen. Rand Paul called his party out on its hypocrisy, and even managed to shut the government partially down for a few inconvenient moments while doing so, and there’s somewhere between 20 and 30 Republican House members in the “Freedom Caucus” that sprang from the “Tea Party” movement who also resisted, so God bless ’em for their stupid and futile gesture. The putative Republican yet anti-establishment president and the rest of the party, including such erstwhile establishment types as McConnell and Ryan, were all on board. The Republican party also seems wavering from long held positions on wife-beating and cheating with porn stars and and dissing the federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which also bodes ill to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities.
Of course those darned Democrats and their profligate bleeding-heart ways aren’t helping the fiscal and general economic things at all. Say what you want about that budget-busting deal to avert another so-what government shutdown, we’ll wager you’ll get more bang for your buck out of that couple hundred billion spent on defense than you will out of that couple hundred billion spent on social programs. The current Democratic indignation about Republican deficit spending is at least as hypocritical as the past Republican indignation about Democratic profligacy, and offers no solution to the problem.
Ah, well. We had a heartening church service on Sunday, and hold out hope that despite all those newfangled Republicans and forever darned Democrats the rest of us will somehow work this out.

— Bud Norman