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What Could Go Wrong?

President Donald Trump is now embarking on his first foreign trip since taking office, and we expect he’ll be glad to get out of the country. He’s spent the week griping to the graduates of the Coast Guard Academy that he’s been the most unfairly treated politician in all history, “tweeting” claims that the ongoing investigations into his campaign’s possible role in Russia’s election meddling are a “witch hunt,” and testily denying everything to a pesky pack of the press, so at least he’ll be able to change the subject for a while.
On the other hand, the conversation might well take another controversial turn or two before the nine-long-days trip is over. The celebrity apprentice president has already provoked controversies in his dealings with such friendly countries as Australia and Germany, which takes some doing, and the itinerary for his trip includes some far trickier encounters.
The tour starts out in Saudia Arabia, where the royal family has reportedly prepared to roll out $68 million worth of red carpet, which should be enough to satisfy even Trump’s sense of grandeur. So far Trump has been saying everything the Saudis want to hear about arms deals and their war in Yemen and other and other deals that are  dear to their hearts, but he’s also the guy who called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States, and until recently he was a vociferous critic of the country, and his planned speech on Islamic radicalism will require more carefully diplomatic language than Trump is accustomed to using. A visit to Saudi Arabia is fraught with peril for even the most seasoned presidents, and Trump is seemingly still starting a learning curve.
The next planned stop is in Israel, which is always tricky. Trump has long been outspokenly supportive of the Jewish state, and enjoyed a friendly relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he’s lately abandoned his campaign promise to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and reportedly blabbed some top-secrets shared by the Israelis to the Russians, and has long habit of making stereotypical Jewish jokes in public. His daughter and son-in-law are both Jewish, which provides some cover for such japes, but we expect his aides will be nervous for the duration of the visit.
After that Trump moves on to Italy and the vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis. Back in the campaign the Pope opined that Trump’s proposed wall along the border with Mexico wasn’t consistent with Christian values, Trump replied with characteristic bluntness that the Pope was “disgraceful” to say so, but both men are promising a friendlier conversation when they meet face to face. Absent any inappropriate jokes about a priest and a Rabbi and a Presbyterian minister walking in to a bar it seems a safe enough stop.
Next up is Belgium, where he’s scheduled to meet the king and queen and Prime Minister, and although they probably won’t be spending $68 million for the chat that should go fine. He’s also scheduled to meet the newly elected President of France, after Trump implicitly endorsed his Vichy-linked opponent in the recent French vote, as well as the president of the European Union, an institution both Trump and that Vichy-linked opponent have long outspokenly criticized, so that might also require more diplomatic language than Trump is used to using. There’s another meeting scheduled with the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Trump has lately concluded is not “obsolete,” as he frequently described it during the campaign, but he’s still grousing that its members are mostly a bunch of freeloading deadbeats, so there’s no telling how that might go.
Trump’s European trip then returns again to Italy, where he’ll take his place along the leaders of the G7 nations, and we hope he won’t mind sharing the stage with all of them. All those countries have pretty pesky presses of their own, though, and the American media will also be on hand to egg them on, and at that point the conversation might well take any number of controversial turns.
There’s always a chance Trump will return home with a lot of brand new best friends, and that the media won’t find anything to criticize, but Trump being Trump and the media being the media that’s not the way to bet.

— Bud Norman

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Funerals, Fences, Popes and Presidents

The President of the United States cannot be bothered to attend the funeral of the most distinguished Supreme Court Justice of the past half-century, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul who is currently leading the Republicans’ race to become the next president is having a “twitter” fight with the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church over who’s the better Christian, and we are reminded yet again that we live in strange and contentious times.
President Barack Obama reportedly paid his respects to Justice Antonin Scalia while the late jurist lie in state, and that will have to do while Obama plots to seat a replacement who will undo all of Scalia’s good works. He’s insisting that the inevitable knock-down-dragpout barroom brawl to follow will be conducted in the most civil and mutually respectful way possible, and his spokesman has expressed his regret about his past attempt as a Senator to thwart another president’s Supreme Court appointment, which he now realizes is an awful thing for any senator to ever do to a president, and his friends in the media are earnestly hoping that the crazy right-wingers in the Republican party will be reasonable about a loony left-wing appointment despite their deep-seated racism, but it doesn’t seem off to a good start.
We expect the Republican response won’t include any of those racist slurs or subtle insinuations that the Democratic press is always so eagerly awaiting, but neither do we expect that it be at all polite, and certainly not so capitulatory as what the Democrats would consider reasonable. A few Republicans up for re-election in the most uncertain election year in anybody’s living memory might go wobbly, but those with safe red state seats, which aren’t even safe in these days of widespread burn-it-all-down sentiment, will feel the same pressure of public opinion not to budge an inch. They have the long history of resistance to lame duck appointments and the Democrats’ role in it on their side, as well, if anybody cares about that sort of thing anymore, so Obama can’t reasonably hope for any more respect than he’s shown.
As the late and great Yogi Berra famously noted, “You should always go to other people’s funerals or they won’t go to yours,” and once upon a more civil and mutually respectful era of political knock-down-drag-out barroom brawls a president would have least put on a necktie to announce the death of even an ideologically opposed Supreme Court justice.
Once up on that more civil and mutually respectful era, however, you didn’t get “twitter” fights between Republicans and Pontiffs. The whole mess started when Pope Francis paid an extended visit to Mexico that included a brief prayer near the host country’s border with the United States. The Pope is an Argentinian and adherent of the socialistic “social gospel” and pretty much typical of international liberalism on all matters except sex and certain age-old doctrines that only Catholic need concern themselves with, so the prayer was widely interpreted as a political message, so one might conclude he started it all. Still, it would have gone largely ignored by the press north of the border, however, and would have been entirely ignored by the staid old Republican candidates of the good old funeral-going and necktie-wearing days, but these days the party’s front-runner is a billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who couldn’t resist “tweeting” that the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics is “a pawn of the Mexican government.” Such is the diplomatic savvy of the man who promises to make America great again, and these days we shouldn’t be surprised that it prompted such a clumsy response from the socialist Pope that a boastful, foul-mouthed, handicapped-mocking, proudly cuckolding, thrice-married, four-times-bankrupt gambling mogul, who has explained he is a forgiveness-seeking Christian only to the extent that “I eat my little cracker, drink my little wine,” somehow comes off looking better.
Pope Francis, who surely deserves some respect as the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics, and can surely be forgiven for not fully understanding the complexities of the most uncertain American election year of anybody’s memory, was of course asked about Trump’s “tweets,” which he might have understood of are the utmost importance in these strange and contentious times, and through interpreters that we can’t vouch for he wound up saying that there was something un-Christian about Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Although we really do have great respect for the Catholic faith, and are rooting hard for the Little Sisters of the Poor to prevail in their court case and not have to pay that damnable Obamacare contraception mandate, something in our Protest and Republican souls must politely disagree. Our objections to unfettered illegal immigration are based the severe economic and cultural and political damage it has done in this country, but is also based on a belief that siphoning off the most industrious and resourceful citizens of the Third World who can thrive in America does no favor to their countries of origin, and that allowing those poorer countries to use the west as a dumping ground for their more unskilled and even criminal element allow them forestall the necessary reforms to make their own countries livable, and that the “social gospel” does provide the blueprint. Calling one’s faith into question over such matters is wrong, even by the degraded standards of American politics, and it puts us in the uncomfortable position of defending Donald J. Trump.
Which is not to say that we believe the Pope is a “pawn of the Mexican government,” any more than we believe that “Bush lied, people died” or all the “birther” claims or any of Trump’s crazed conspiracy theories, or that Donald J. Trump is a more exemplary Christian that the Pope or even the lowliest sinner who will confess that he falls short of the glory of God, but rather to say that we’re living in such strange and contentious times that Trump gets the best of it. He “tweets” his indignation that anyone would question anyone’s Christianity, even though Trump has lately been saying that pesky rival-for-frontrunner-status Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is not a Christian because he lies by showing old videos of Trump saying things he says he doesn’t believe anymore, and has mocked onetime-rival Dr. Ben Carson’s claims of finding a spiritual path from his childhood rage, which Trump said was “pathological” and therefore incurable and that Carson was akin to a child molester, and he’ll likely prevail. The socialist Pope isn’t popular, not even with us, no matter how respectful we strive to be, and Trump’s a hot item in the press, despite his negatives in all the polls, at least until he wins the nomination, when all the horror stories start to show up in the media he’s supposedly been so skillfully playing.
These are strange and contentious times, and we doubt any of these guys from the Vatican to the White House to top of Trump Tower to the cheap-rent headquarters of those pesky rivals have any idea how it will play out. The Democratic race offers no hope, and is in fact at least as big a mess even without any papal intervention, so we’ll wait and see. All we know with any certainty is that it won’t be civil, and neckties won’t be required.

— Bud Norman

On the Proper Papal Protocol, As Well As an Old Pope Joke

Although we are not Catholic, and in fact worship with an exceedingly Protestant church at the opposite end of the low-church-high-church spectrum, and although we strenuously disagree with the current Pope’s oft-stated anti-capitalist views, we vow that would be properly respectful in the unlikely event of a Papal visit. The current President of the United States seems to share the current Pope’s anti-capitalist sentiments, but while his religious views are somewhat murkier it is crystal clear that he does not share the same old-fashioned notions about homosexuality and abortion and transgenderism and whatever other newfangled notion the left has lately come up with, and perhaps as a result he seems to have violated a few rules of etiquette that even the likes of we would have honored.
We’re sure there are well-trained protocol experts in the administration, and given that the president is a Democrat there are bound  to be at least a few nominal Catholics left in the administration, but we hope they’ll accept a few suggestions regarding Papal visits from such amateur and Protestant observers as ourselves.
First, don’t load the rest of the guest list with people obviously chosen to embarrass the honored guest. The White House has arranged an appropriately swank State Dinner, which we hope the Pontiff will enjoy, but the rest of the seats will include a conspicuous number of homosexual Catholics and pro-abortion Catholics and transgendered Catholics and whatever other Catholics can be rounded up who defy the Catholic church’s teaching on whatever newfangled notion the left has lately come up with, which strikes us as rather undiplomatic. The more polite media report that “White House guest list for the pope irks some conservatives,” which suggest that only certain crazy people such as ourselves that you won’t be running into at a swank Georgetown party are likely to be bothered, but it’s also worth considering if that uncapitalized Pope might also be irked by the blatant disrespect. This is statecraft, after all.
Second, no matter how much you might share the guest’s anti-capitalist views, or how much you might enjoy the swell eats and the company of homosexual and pro-abortion and transgendered and otherwise fashionable nuns at a State Dinner generously funded by the capitalist system, don’t send your spokesman out to boast that you’re more Catholic than the Pope. White House spokesman Josh Earnest took the occasion of the Pope’s visit to boast that “Both men have talked, quite publicly, about their commitment to social justice, and both men have dedicated their, not just their careers, but their lives, to that effort.” He added some boilerplate about the president’s days as a “community organizer” in the impoverished neighborhoods of Chicago’s South Side, added a nod to Pope Francis’ similarly disastrous efforts on behalf of his that have had even more disastrous results on his even more impoverished homeland of Argentina, and left the listener with the impression that Earnest’s boss is the holier of the two. It’s a political pitch worth trying, we suppose, given the gullibility of the president’s remaining faithful, but once again it’s not exactly statecraft.
Lest we seem too punctilious about protocol, we’ll admit that every Papal visit reminds of the many Pope jokes we’ve heard over the years. We’re quite fond of the one about the Pope, the mafia, and the vows of celibacy, but that’s probably far too blue for our readership, and certainly for a Papal visit. Instead, we can’t resist re-telling an oldie but goody that even Pope Francis might find inoffensive.
The Pope — it could be any Pope of the last 67 years — is in New York to address the United Nations. As he starts to leave the airport he rolls the darkened back-seat window down in his limousine and tells the driver that he’d like to drive. The chauffeur protests that his boss might not like it, but the Pope pleads that they never let him drive anymore and he’d love to take the wheel one last time. The driver reluctantly moves to the back seat, the Pope sits down in the driver’s seat, and the limo peels off toward the expressway. When the limo hits 95 miles per hour en route a couple of Irish New York cops pull it over. The veteran cop walks to the limo, the window comes down, there’s a short exchange, and the cop walks back to the squad car.
The rookie asks, “Why didn’t you give him a ticket?”
“He’s too big to write up,” the veteran said.
“What was he, an alderman?”
“No, bigger than that.”
“The mayor?”
“Bigger than that.”
“The governor?”
“No, far bigger than that.”
“You mean, we pulled over the President of the United States?”
“No, even bigger than that.”
The rookie asked, “What could possibly be bigger than that?”
“Let me put it this way,” the veteran said. “His chauffeur is the Pope.”

— Bud Norman

The News on a Cold and Rainy Day

On a dreary and drizzly Wednesday, with the winds rattling the windows and winter still clinging bitterly to the gray-and-brown landscape, we dipped into the warmth and brightness of the Drudge Report. There was nothing particularly earth-shaking to be found there, unless you’re heavily invested in Twitter stock, but a few items provided the needed distraction.
We noted with some interest that the Democrats are contemplating using marijuana to improve their seemingly poor chances in the mid-term elections. It’s not that they plan to get everyone stoned on the way the polls, although we’ve long suspected a similar plot was involved in the last two presidential elections, but rather that they hope to bring out otherwise unenthused younger voters by putting various sorts of marijuana legalization referenda on the ballots. This seems a plausible plan, as marijuana is polling much better than the president these days, but hardly sure-fire. Even the most addled youngsters showing up to vote for legal weed might be inclined to ignore the Democratic congressional candidates intent on retaining an Obamacare law that redistributes what little wealth the young have acquired to well-to-do baby boomers in need of erectile dysfunction remedies, and a lot of pot-smokers tend to be libertarian types who also insist on gun rights and free speech and low taxes on everything. If the Democrats promise to make medical marijuana available to everyone through Obamacare the ploy would prove very effective, but thus far the Democrats aren’t so desperate.
The big headline of the was that President Barack Obama will be seeking the blessing of Pope Francis. Drudge’s waggish headline writers meant that figuratively, as we read the article, but we suppose an actual blessing from the Pope wouldn’t do any harm and would probably work better than one from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The two apparently plan to talk about income inequality, a topic they unfortunately agree upon, but we hope the conversation will eventually get around to why Obama is forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraceptive coverage. For all his misguided liberation theology about economic issues the Pope is steadfastly conservative on abortion and promiscuity and other causes dear to Democratic hearts, so he should be of limited usefulness to the efforts to bring out those pot-smoking hipsters the party is counting on.
In a sort of sports story, we read that Northwestern University’s football will be allowed to form a labor union. The team’s sluggish and inefficient play over the past several decades had led us to believe they’d been unionized all along, but it appears this is a new development. Sports journalists are speculating that the union movement could sweep across college athletics, and of course they tend to be enthusiastic about the possibility, but we have our doubts. The best football schools tend to be in right-to-work states, which is probably not a coincidence, and we expect that the best players there will simply opt to forgo paying union dues and keep taking their pay under-the-table. Time-outs are already long and frequent enough in college football games, too, and we dread the interminable work stoppages that will no doubt occur in unionized games.
That missing Malyasian airliner seems to have gone missing from the news, and without any definitive answers, and there’s yet another round of strange Obamacare delays and the frightening prospect of immigration reform and any number of other looming disasters, but they’re not fit for comment on such a dreary and drizzly day.

— Bud Norman

Crying for Argentina

The Catholic church on Wednesday chose Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as its new leader, henceforth to be known as Pope Francis, and one immediate consequence is that San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili is no longer the world’s most famous Argentine. The 76-year-old pope probably can’t drive the lane with the same acrobatic derring-do as his celebrated countryman, especially in those long robes favored by the Catholic clergy, but we’re sure he’ll bring other valuable skills to the job and we wish him well.
With Argentina enjoying a rare moment in the international news, it seems a good time to take note of a few other stories emanating from that troubled and often overlooked land.
One is the nation’s recent decision to stiff American bond holders out of about $1.3 billion of sovereign debt. A United States court has ordered the Argentine government to pony up the money, but its lawyer told the panel of judges last month that it doesn’t much care what a United States courts says. The move has left international financial markets worried about the possibility of a massive government default, which would be the heavily-indebted country’s second in the past 11 years, but the Argentine government is also unconcerned with the financial markets have to say.
Nor is the government concerned with the opinions of the Spaniards, who are vigorously protesting the Argentine government’s recent nationalization of the Spanish oil company YPF. Argentina paid a bargain basement price of no money at all for the company, which is the largest business in the country, and plans to run it as a state-owned corporation. Given the government’s notorious record of inefficiently running its many state-owned corporations, one can expect that the oil company will soon be worth what the country paid for it.
In a related development, the Argentine economy is in a shambles. The country has boasted of some impressive increases in its gross domestic product the past several years, mostly on the strength of rising commodity prices, but no one really believes the government’s boasts. Particularly dubious is the government’s claim of a 10 percent annual inflation rate, which sounds awful enough but is well below the 26 percent that more objective observers are reporting. The International Monetary Fund has grown impatient with the government’s statistical legerdemain and threatened to expel Argentina, but once again the Argentines don’t seem to care.
Firmly in charge of all this mess is President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a more comely version of the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. The widow of a past president and the current heir to the party of Juan and Eva Peron, which is somehow the only explicitly fascist party in the world that still enjoys the approval of the international left, Kirchner has cracked down on political dissent and anyone who questions the government’s economic statistics. Like all Latin American leftists she has also clashed with the Catholic church, which has an annoying habit of insisting that government is not the highest power over individuals, as she has sought to make contraception a universal entitlement and legalized same-sex marriages.
All of which might explain why the Obama administration has been taking such a painstakingly neutral stance on Kirchner’s saber-rattling threats to take the Falkland Islands away from the British. The tiny specks of land off the Argentine coast have been under British rule for 180 years, are almost entirely populated by English-speaking people of British descent, and by a landslide margin of 1,518 to three the country recently voted to remain a part of the British empire. These facts and a “special relationship” with Britain were sufficient for the Reagan administration to offer all its help to Margaret Thatcher when she had to tack the islands back from the Argentines in 1982, but the Obama administration has been so careful not to back Britain that in its statements of neutrality refers to the territory by its Argentine name. This has not played well in Britain, but neither Obama nor Kirchner cares about that, and any debt-ridden, numbers-fudging, dissent-quashing government that wants the Catholic church to help dispense birth control is unlikely to take a strong stand against another.
The new pope was reportedly a staunch critic of Kirchner during his years as Argentina’s bishop, which bodes well for his papacy. If he can drain the occasional three-pointer, he might go down in history as one of Argentina’s greatest men.

— Bud Norman