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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

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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

The Ongoing Campaign’s National Insecurity Statement

Ever since the Reagan administration — and oh how we miss those days, by the way — the congress has required that presidents provide a general statement of their foreign policy objectives and plans to achieve them. Every president has complied, always with a low-key and little-noticed publication carefully written to avoid antagonizing any adversaries or alarming any allies, but of course President Donald Trump seized the opportunity to deliver yet another campaign speech on Monday.
There was some good stuff in the official written statement, we must admit it, despite that “America First” slogan that always reminds us of the pre-World War II era.. Trump vowed that America’s foreign policy would be back up by an ever-more muscular military, and warmed our old-fashioned Republican hearts by quoting President Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of “peace through strength,” although without attribution. He spoke of “rallying the world” to confront North Korea’s nuclear provocations, which holds out some hope of a diplomatic solution, and of reaching a better deal than the current deal to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, although he didn’t get very specific about what it would be or how he might get it. One sentence promised “gradual reform, not radical change, should be our guiding objective” in the Middle East, and there were other allusions to international alliances and American leadership that had a similarly reassuring steady-at-the-helm sound about them. He mentioned Russia as one of America’s more troublesome countries, but was vague about their interference in the past presidential election.
There was also a lot of nonsense from past national security statements that was left out, we must admit. Climate change wasn’t among the national security threats mentioned, no apologies were offered for pursing American interests, and didn’t describe the obvious threat of radical Islamist terrorism as “religious extremism.” On the whole, the brief written statement wasn’t half-bad by Trump standards.
The much longer campaign speech Trump delivered was far worse, though, for all the usual reasons. It began with his characteristic boasts about the tens of thousands of miles he’s travelled and the hundreds of world leaders he’s met as president, which reminded of us vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s similar campaign boasts about her tenure as Secretary of State, and it was quickly followed by some flattery about how the American people have been “among the greatest forces for peace and justice in the world.” That was followed by the characteristic boast that “just one year ago, you spoke out loud and clear. On Nov. 8, 2016, you voted to make America great again.”
Notwithstanding his three-million-or-so-vote loss in the popular vote, Trump then took the opportunity to criticize at least five of his most recent predecessors, although without mentioning any names. He criticized pretty much all of America’s current trade deals, which date as far back as Reagan, and he blasted “nation-building abroad while they failed to replenish our nation at home,” which clearly means President George W. Bush and the rest of the Bushes and the rest of the Republican establishment. He also spoke of how “they put American energy under lock and key” and “imposed punishing regulations and crippling taxes,” which can only mean Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and lamented how “they” had neglected to solve the North Korea problem, with the “them” presumably stretching back to the administration of President Harry Truman.
All of those darned “them” also negotiated all of the worst-ever trade deals that have done so much damage to the American economy, which Trump frequently brags is humming along better than ever, but Trump made his usual vague promises to set that right. Trump also blamed them for letting a lot of illegal aliens into the country, which is a fair enough point, but followed it up with the usual crazy talk about building a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border, even if he didn’t add the long lost crazy talk about making the Mexicans pay for it. Much of the speech was devoted to boasting about America is stronger than ever and standing up for itself like never before, but overall it struck as strikingly whiny.
Trump is quite right that pretty much of the entirety of American history, the past several presidential administrations included, have left him in a rather tough spot. Every president could say the same, though, as could any other world leader about his country and its past several governments. The best of them have never disparaged the past leadership of their countries or the people who put them in power and instead moved forward with steady-at-the-helm leadership, and the worst them have always made vague promises to set things right.
Back in the campaign Trump promised he would never apologize for America, despite a few missteps it has undeniably made, and he would do well to acknowledge that the entirety of its history has also left him a position most of history’s world leaders would have envied. America’s military does need a boost, but it had been the world’s mightiest for more than 75 years before Trump office, despite all those Democrats. The past decades of free trade have driven innovations and increased prosperity not only in America but around a relatively placid globe, and the past 11 months of Trump haven’t much changed that trajectory.
Trump’s campaign speech probably got about as much attention as those low-key and little-read previous national security statements did, but it probably got the usual scrutiny from our anxious allies and recently emboldened adversaries. If they glean the same impression we gleaned of a megalomaniacal yet desperate politician pandering to his base rather than conducting a steady at the helm of American foreign policy in the country’s interests, all the good stuff will be for naught.

— Bud Norman

Trump and Elephants and Elephant Jokes

After the past two years or so of close observation we can usually predict President Donald Trump’s “tweets,” but over the weekend he surprised us by “tweeting” some misgivings about allowing trophies from elephant hunts into the United States.
The practice was forbidden by one of President Barack Obama’s gazillion or so regulations, and that’s usually reason enough to expect Trump would insist otherwise. Elephants are also one of those politically correct bleeding-heart liberal causes, which is ironic given America’s political symbology, so Trump would typically be even more opposed to the idea. Trump’s two elder sons are fond of posting pictures of themselves with the kills from their frequent big game hunts in Africa on the internet, too, so it’s triply surprising that Trump would deny them a tusk or two to show off to their friends.
Trump’s “tweets” aren’t in any way definitive, and he might yet go along with his own administration’s proposal to end the prohibition, but even Trump’s harshest media critics admit he seems to have a soft spot in his oft-questioned heart for elephants. Back during the campaign his sons were widely criticized by the politically correct bleeding heart types for all those pictures of the big game animals they’d killed — we recall chuckling at Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s defense that they were actually aiming at the natives — and Trump surprised us by failing to come to their defense. The politically correct and bleeding-heart liberal diva Cher was a particularly outspoken critic on “twitter,” and a particularly inviting target for Trump’s “twitter” counter-punching, but Trump responded with “Old story, one of which I publicly disapproved. My sons love hunting, I don’t.”
At this point we don’t what to make of it. There’s a persuasive conservative argument to be made that managed big game hunting offers the natives with economic incentives to perpetuate the species, but even Trump seems sympathetic to the politically correct and bleeding heart argument against shooting elephants. We have no fondness for Trump or his two elder sons, and we’ve been railing against politically correct bleeding-heart liberalism and Obama’s over-regulating tendencies for a lot longer than any of them have, so for now our favorite characters in this tale are the elephants.
No elephant has ever done us any harm, and they’ve provided us many jokes. Every time we’d see one of the younger Trumps posing over a dead elephant we’d recall Groucho Marx as Captain Spaulding bragging that on his African safari he’d shot an elephant in his pajamas, “and how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.” There was that great Jimmy Durante moment when he was being followed by an elephant and told a questioning passerby, “What elephant?,” and after looking over his shoulder said, “Oh, that elephant.” There are countless others, but our favorite elephant joke is about why the elephant drinks, and the punchline is “to forget.”
On a memorable visit to the Sedgwick County Zoo we once saw a zookeeper running a couple of the elephants through their daily calisthenics, which is really something to see, and they seem such magnificent examples of God’s creation that we can’t imagine any reason some rich kid would want to travel all the way to Africa to kill one. There are some stupid rules about selling pianos with ivory keys cut from the tusks of elephants that were killed a long time ago, and we wouldn’t mind seeing that deregulated, and a there are lot of those politically correct bleeding-heart regulations about animals that we’d also happily undo, but we won’t mind a bit if those rich kids who go all the way to Africa to kill an elephant don’t get to bring a trophy home.
If that puts us in the uncomfortable position of being on the side of both Trump and those politically correct bleeding-heart liberals, then so be it.

— Bud Norman

Trump and the Stubborn Persistence of Obamacare

For more than eight long years we griped almost every day about almost everything President Barack Obama did, and were especially critical of his crackpot Obamacare law. Lately we’ve been griping almost every day about almost everything President Donald Trump does, though, and we even have some gripes about he’s going about undoing one of the worst mistakes of Obama’s administration.
Despite Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and a Republican president in the White House, the Grand Old Party has thus far been unable to keep its seven-year-old promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, so Trump has chosen to hasten the crackpot system’s demise by executive action. First he signed an order that allows insurance companies to offer and consumers to choose low-premium but high-deductible programs that cover only catastrophic circumstances, which were previously disallowed by Obamacare, then he ordered a halt to federal subsidies for the low-income customers who have been forced to purchase the higher-premium but lower-deductible and more comprehensive coverage. Both moves would make perfect sense in an efficiently free market system of health care, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon, and both are admittedly designed to wreck the crackpot health care system we’ve wound up with instead.
Obama’s promises that Obamacare would save you thousands of dollars and allow you to keep your doctor and your plan and not add a dime to the federal deficit while covering everyone have since proved complete balderdash, just as we glumly predicted back when we were griping almost every day about Obama and Obamacare, but even then what our anti-authoritarian instincts most hated about the crackpot scheme was the tyrannical notion of government mandating that individuals purchase a product and then limiting their choices of what to buy. We’re therefore grateful that Trump that has struck a blow for the liberty of those young and healthy and relatively low-wage workers whose best bet on the health insurance market is a low-premium and high-deductible catastrophic plan, and we fondly recall those halcyon days when we were among them, but our middle-aged have to acknowledge that without their coerced subsidies the rest of the current system is destabilized.
An end to those federal subsidies for low-income workers stuck with the high-deductible coverage is on even more solid constitutional ground, as the crackpot Obamacare law didn’t include them and they’ve been paid all along by executive orders of very dubious constitutionality, but Trump proudly admits that it’s intended to hoist Obamacare on its own petard, although we doubt he’d recognize the Shakespearean reference. Without those subsidies many insurers will will have no choice but to pull out of many markets, leaving millions of Americans without any coverage at all, and millions more paying higher premiums for the plans they’re still stuck with under the still-existing Obamacare law.
Trump’s plan is that the resulting catastrophe will force the Democrats to come begging for some efficiently free market solution such as the Republicans have been promising for seven long years, which we’d much prefer over the long term, but in the short-term it seems unlikely to happen. The plan assumes that the public will blame Obama and his crackpot law’s inherent flaws, rather than Trump for faithfully executing it to the letter and thus blowing it up, and it seems a rare case when Trump has over-estimated the public’s intelligence. If Trump expects the congressional Democrats to be so moved by the plight of those uninsured and over-paying low income workers that they will come begging for a efficiently Republican free market solution, rather than allowing the press to pillory him for admittedly blowing things up and gleefully watching his approval ratings further plummet, we think he’s overestimating them as well. He can plausibly blame those congressional Republicans, but he won’t have anything to claim to credit for, and it will make a complicated mid-term election next year.
In any case we won’t be any closer to that efficiently free market health system we’ve yearned for far longer than the past seven years, what we’re stuck with instead will wind up imposing misery on millions of Americans earlier than necessary, and there will be plenty of blame to go around.

— Bud Norman

Fighting Fire with FIRE

No matter how bad the news is these days, the most dispiriting part of every story is usually the comment sections. It’s not just the depressing proof of how very illiterate are the products of our public schools, but the constant reminders of how very rude and red-hot angry and ready to rumble our politics have become.
On Saturday we came across a short item in National Review’s “The Corner” section about how a group clad in “Make America Great Again” ball caps and similarly opinionated t-shirts had shouted down a pair of liberal speakers speakers at California’s Whittier College with chants of “lock him up,” “build that wall,” and “respect our president.” It wasn’t the scariest story we read over a weekend of dreary news, but it did strike us as a disturbing development. Such thuggishness has long been common on the left, which has all too frequently resorted to even more violent behavior to deny the free speech rights of conservative speakers and those who would like to hear them, but it has also long been a point of pride on the right that our side doesn’t stoop so low, and it’s hard to admit it now does.
Our fellow old-fashioned conservatives at the venerable National Review had the same reaction, as did the invaluable conservatives at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which first reported the story. FIRE usually reports on the more common attempts by the left to stifle free speech on campuses, and the all too frequent violence that occurs, but they’re principled enough to have document the same sort of thuggishness on the right. We’d like to think that most of our fellow Republicans are also offended, but the comments sections make clear that some are quite ready to fight it out in the streets with full late-Weimar Republic gusto.
By now we’re inured to hearing such sentiments from the callers on the more histrionic talk radio shows, but it’s still unsettling to see them in the comments section of such a high-brow right-wing rag as National Review.
Some of the commenters hopefully speculated that it was actually left-wingers shutting down the liberals in a “false flag” operation to discredit the right. Although most right wing speculation about “false flag” mass shootings and such is pure crazy talk, there have been documented cases of occasional lefties stirring up trouble at otherwise peaceable conservative gatherings while dressed as Nazis, but in this case FIRE has videotape showing some pretty convincingly middle-aged angry white guys even Hollywood’s best casting agent would have been hard-pressed to find, and few were buying that line.
More common were the comments that it’s about time the right started to resorting to the left lowest tactics. “Fight fire with fire” was a recurring cliche, and the more recently popular “punch back twice as hard” came up. Some thuggish leftists have been doing the same thing and even worse for quite a while now, the argument goes, and the left seems to be winning everything lately except for the White House and the Senate and the House of Representatives of most of the statehouses, ergo the right should do the same. This is most unconvincing to such old-fashioned Republican sensibilities as ours, which at our age have no taste for street-brawling, but certain segments of both the left and the right are itching for an escalation.
We’d like to think that most of the Democrats would also prefer a maximum of free speech and a minimum of street-brawling, and the more venerable liberal news sources seem to agree, so the problem of giving a controversial speech in a public square is probably for now manageable, but a certain combativeness as already infected the mainstream of politics. Democrats who look back wistfully on President Barack should acknowledge his rhetoric about bringing guns to knife fights and jump-starting that “punch back twice as hard” cliche, and all those conservative speakers who have shut down, but Republicans should acknowledged by the abandoned the high ground with President Donald Trump cease from all assaults on free speech.
Except for that unpleasantness in the early 1860s and a few notable labor disputes and race riots, America always has almost always worked out even its most heated arguments with maximal free speech and minimal street brawls, and what with the stock market up and the unemployment rate down we should be able to keep that streak going. For now, at least, let us fight with water.

— Bud Norman

An Uneasy Labor Day

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

— Bud Norman