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The Autumn of Our Discontent

Summer ends and autumn arrives at early afternoon here in Wichita, and if there aren’t any clouds at the exact moment we hope to watch the sun shine through a prism onto the autumnal equinox stone at the solar calendar a couple of our artsy friends erected in a nearby park. Equinoxes and solstices are usually well-attended at the spot, if the sun if shining, not for any pagan reasons but just because some people in this eccentric neighborhood want to share the experience of the changing of the seasons and the passage of our limited time on Earth.
Meanwhile, everything else keeps changing, and little of it brings people together. At the moment the big political news is about a “whistle-blower” and President Donald Trump and his telephone conversation with the Ukrainian president, and both sides of our vast political divide agree that it’s an outrage.
So far the facts of the matter aren’t entirely clear, as the Trump administration has prevented Congress or the press or the general public from seeing the “whistle-blower’s” complaint, but that naturally frustrates Trump’s critics, and all the anonymous leaks and Trump’s own statements on the matter seem to suggest that Trump did indeed at least imply a demand for dirt on potential Democratic campaign rival and former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for military aid that had been passed by Congress. This is quite arguably a very big deal, especially when you take into account that Trump openly invited Russia to find dirt on his last presidential opponent and frankly said on national television that he’d accept similar help from any other government, and on the left they’re making a very big deal of it.
On the right they’re more concerned about the dirt Ukraine has on Biden, and insisting that’s bigger scandal. Biden’s undeniably wayward yet surprisingly successful son was somehow on the board of a big company in incredibly corrupt Ukraine, which came under scrutiny from a prosecutor investigating public corruption, and Biden is caught on tape bragging that as Vice President he withheld foreign aid to Ukraine unless the prosecutor was removed from power. That’s more than enough for right wing talk radio talkers to fill their three-hour time slots. Trump is also saying that although he doesn’t know the identity of the “whistle-blower” he does know it’s a partisan member of a “deep state” conspiracy against him, and that also plays well with the talk radio audience.
At this point we no longer have a rooting interest in anybody, and are trying our best to cling to unchanging principles. Go ahead and call us old-fashioned Cold War-era Reagan Republicans, but we still think an American president shouldn’t be strong-arming an eastern European ally valiantly trying to resist Russian domination. Nor do we think that foreign interference in an American presidential election should be tolerated. So far, the apologists are unconvincing,
The so-called “lame-stream” media are credibly reporting that the investigation of Biden’s son had long been stopped when Biden made his remarks about removing that prosecutor, who the Ukrainian media had identified as one of the more corrupt of the notoriously corrupt government’s officials, but it’s still suspicious how Biden’s son wound up on that Ukrainian board of directors. If it turns out that Biden is implicated in his own scandal that’s fine by us, as we have no particular regard for him or his son, even if it means that someone further left winds up winning the Democratic nomination and beating Trump. Nothing that Biden or even Hillary Clinton ever did provides any excuse for what Trump might have done, so at this point you can lock ’em all up, as far as we’re concerned.
Here’s hoping, though, for a prolonged Indian Summer and a mild winter.

— Bud Norman

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Another Foreign Adventure

President Donald Trump is back at the White House after a Group of Seven summit in France, and it was as interesting as the rest of his foreign adventures. As usual Trump didn’t return with any economic or diplomatic or military deals worth bragging about, and as usual he had a number of cringe-inducing moments.
Trump skipped a meeting with the other heads of state about climate change, explaining that he was tied up at more urgent bilateral negotiations with the German Chancellor and Indian Prime Minister, but both leaders were clearly at the climate change confab. He told a reporter that he had entertained second thoughts about waging a trade war with China and that “I have second thoughts about everything,” and his communications team spent the rest of the next day explaining the very uncharacteristic statement by saying that the president misheard the questions and meant to say he regretted not waging the trade war with even higher tariffs. Trump did brag about the big trade deal he’d negotiated with Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained that he’d only agreed to continue negotiations.
There was some further bragging that  two high-ranking Chinese officials had called Trump to indicate their willingness to negotiate a quick peace in the trade war, which heartened America’s stock markets, but by the closing bell the Chinese government denied that any such calls has been made. The president also continued to hector the other leaders about allowing Russian dictator Vladimir Putin back into the club, despite Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea, which Trump blamed on former President Barack Obama because “Obama was outsmarted” and “it could have been stopped with the right whatever.”
Trump also claimed credit that there was any trade talk at all, even though several meetings on the topic were on the schedules handed out the international press at the onset. On the way home Trump “tweeted” that what all other the leaders’ most asked question was why he gets such bad press at home when he’s clearly doing such a bang-up job, a question which none of the world leaders asked publicly.
The next annual G-7 summit is set to be in America, so Trump also made a sales pitch to hold it at his golf resort in Doral, Florida. He spoke of how close it is to the Miami airport, helpfully explained that Miami is a large American city, and went on a such length about the gorgeous rooms and golf course scenery and ample parking that he sounded like a timeshare salesman in Branson, Missouri. Back home the usual nitpickers were making their usual nitpicking gripes about the emoluments clause to the Constitution and how presidents aren’t supposed to be enriching themselves with their office, and the world leaders whose constituents aren’t much enamored of Trump were rolling their eyes the way you might during a sales pitch for a timeshare in Branson.
Trump might yet swing the deal, though, and he needs it. Business is reportedly down in Doral since Trump became president, and Trump is lately griping that he’s losing billions he could have been making on paid speeches and other business deals he could be making if only he hadn’t so selflessly offered himself as a candidate for President of the United States. The nitpickers will nitpick, but Trump will pay them no mind. There’s a good chance the Democrats won’t get the Senate supermajority needed to kick him out office even in the more likely case they can muster an impeachment vote, while the die-hard fans haven’t minded the hundreds of millions his very frequent golf outings to his own wholly courses are costing the taxpayer, they and won’t begrudge him a few hundred million more in payments from foreign governments. By the time all those state attorneys general wend their way through the Trump-packed courts with their emoluments clause lawsuits he will at least be out of office.
The rest of the G-7 might well meekly going along with it, too, but we don’t see America getting a similarly sweet deal.

— Bud Norman

An Awkward Situation at a Global Summit

There’s another Group of Seven summit this weekend, and it will likely be interesting. The other six world leaders in attendance disagree with President Donald Trump about trade policy, climate change, the Iranian nuclear deal, China’s crackdown on Hong Kong protestors, Russia’s ongoing annexation of Crimea, the necessity of western military alliances, and pretty much everything else that’s likely to come up in the discussions.
They won’t come right out and say so, being appropriately reserved and dignified heads of state, but the rest of the six world leaders also regard Trump as a bullying and buffoonish caricature of an ugly American. Trump seems to relish the opprobrium of the elitist and globalist Cannucks and Eurotrash and inscrutable Orientals, and the die-hard fans seems to love him for it, but he’s unlikely to return from the summit with any of those great deals he’s promised his die-hard fas.
This time around the summit is being hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, and he’s reportedly doing his best to prevent Trump from blowing it up. The summits have traditionally ended with a joint communique assuring the world that its seven largest economies are pretty much in agreement about most things, but Trump blew that tradition up during the last summit in Canada, so Macron has decided to skip the part about telling the world how its largest free economies are generally in agreement about most things.
Which comes at a perilous time, as several of the G-7 countries are sliding into recession and the American economy is slowing, and Trump’s trade wars with China and the European Union and our southeast Asian allies are likely the reason, as far as the rest of the G-7 are concerned. Meanwhile, the dictator-for-life overseeing a slowing Chinese economy sees no reason to negotiate with a mere president who’s likely to be out of office in less than two years. None of those six other reserved and dignified world leaders have any incentive to offend America and its still formidable economy and military might, but they all now that Trump is highly unpopular with their constituents and any kowtowing won’t serve them well.. Here’s hoping it won’t blow up, but we can’t see this G-7 summit being a smashing success for anyone.

— Bud Norman

Our Most Honest and Dishonest President Ever

President Donald Trump is by far the most dishonest president we’ve ever witnessed, but from time to time he’s also the most honest in American history. When he’s not telling whoppers, Trump has an uncanny knack for blurting out the most embarrassing truths.
After he and his administration told a series of obvious lies about firing former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey because he’d been so unfair to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump came right out and told the National Broadcasting Company’s Lester Holt that he did it because of “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia.” Trump also claimed that neither he nor anyone on his campaign had any contact with any Russians during his presidential campaign, but that’s been exposed as a lie by his namesake son’s sworn testimony to Congress and the guilty pleas of his former campaign manager and national security advisor, and on Wednesday he blurted out to the American Broadcasting Company’s George Stephanopoulos he’d happily accept a foreign government’s assistance in his next campaign.
“If somebody called from a foreign government, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it,” Trump said. Norway is highly unlikely to meddle in an American presidential election, especially on Trump’s behalf, as Trump surely knows, but the president made clear that he’d have no problem accepting an assist from a more adversarial power that had illegally obtained information about a rival. “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.” Trump defended Donald Trump Jr.’s decision to take a meeting with Russian operatives promising purloined dirt on Clinton, which his admitted and self-published e-mail chains show him saying “I love it,” and gave no indiction about what level of foreign meddling by Norway or Russia would rise to the level that he’d let the Federal Bureau of Investigation know about it.
Our guess is that Trump would draw the line at any foreign meddling on behalf of his domestic political opponents.
Trump and his talk radio apologists are accusing Clinton of treason for partially funding the investigation of former British intelligence agency operative Christopher Steele that alleged Russian interference in the last election and the Russians having some salacious video of Trump during a stay in a Moscow hotel during a Miss Universe pageant, but we’re not buying any of it. As horrid a harridan as Clinton undeniably is, she never used any of Steele’s allegations during the campaign, and although the more salacious parts of his report are still yet unverified the main gist that Russia was working to elect Trump has been corroborated by all of the Trump appointees to America’s intelligence agencies. Given Trump’s much bragged about sexual history, we can’t even dismiss the more salacious claims in the Steele dossier.
The Trump fans who wouldn’t abandon him even he if shot a man on New York City’s Fifth Avenue won’t mind, of course. If it took the cooperation of the anti-American Russian dictatorship for Trump to beat that horrid harridan Clinton then so be it, they’ll figure, and they  won’t mind if he or any other Republican nominee needed their help to beat whatever fruitcake the Democrats might nominate next they also won’t mind that. Norway or some other western civilization ally might interfere on some Democrat’s behalf in the next presidential election, but that’s highly unlikely, and will be another matter.
For now we have Trump’s lies about how the Russians meddled on his behalf in the last presidential election, and his stubborn refusal to do anything about it, and his somewhat admirably upfront admission on national television that he’d welcome their help the next time around. None of the two dozen or so damned Democrats running for president in the upcoming election are at all appealing to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities, but neither is Trump, so we’ll see how it all turns out.

— Bud Norman

Amateur Hour on the World Stage

President Donald Trump was in Japan over the Memorial Day weekend, negotiating all sorts of foreign policy deals around the world, and we must admit it made us nervous.
Trump won office with an electoral majority despite a lack of any political or foreign policy experience on the promise that he’s the best deal-maker anyone’s ever seen, and his sizable number of die-hard supporters still believe it, but we maintain the doubts we’ve had all along. In his best-selling and ghost-written self-help book “The Art of the Deal” Trump bragged about how he got the better of talk-show host and game-show mogul Merv Griffin to acquire what was re-branded as the Trump Taj Mahal casino in New Jersey, but that soon went belly-up and has since been demolished. He boasted of how he won an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League, but his New Jersey Generals and the rest of the United States Football League won only $3 in damages, and soon went belly-up. Trump Airline, Trump University, Trump Vodka, Trump Magazine and various other Trump-branded businesses have proved even more expensively unsuccessful deals.
Trump never seemed to learn anything from any of it, except not to put his own money on the line, and none of it was adequate preparation for dealing with the devious likes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un or Russian dictator Vladimir Putin or the dictatorial mullahs of Iran. So far Trump has had more contentious relationships with the democratically-elected governments of our longtime North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allies and western civilization trading partners, and he hasn’t yet come up with any deals with anyone that much impress us.
He did negotiate a slightly better deal with Canada and Mexico over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said was the difference between the worst and best trade deals ever negotiated, but it remains to be seen if he can get any of the Democrats and quite a few Republicans from states hit hard by Trump’s wars against Canada ad Mexico to ratify it. There’s nothing on the table about a trade deal with the European Union, nor with the United Kingdom that is currently involved with a difficult divorce from the EU, and for now Trump doesn’t have much on the trade front to brag about, although we’re sure he’ll keep bragging.
That’s just money, of course, but on the arguably more important matters of war and peace Trump seems even more out of his depth. Even during the campaign Trump admitted to his die-supporters that he had only nice things to say about world leaders who had nice things to say about him, and so far that seems have guided his foreign policy toward the despotic but very flattering governments of Saudi Arabia and Russia lately North Korea, among other rogue nations. Our democratically-elected military allies in NATO and SEATO and trading partners in the EU and NAFTA have been disinclined to be so obsequious, on the other hand, which seems to explain why we’re tied up in interminable negotiations.
Which brings us at long last to what we set out to write about, which is the very nervous situation on the Korean peninsula, and how very nervous Trump makes us feel about that.
The situation on the peninsula has been nervous since several years before we born. In the immediate aftermath of World War II the Soviet Union was spreading communism to the west and south, the commies won control of China shortly after that and was infecting countries all over southeast Asia, and a Marxist dictatorship took over in the northern half of the Korean peninsula. America intervened in the horribly bloody war between North and South Korea to protect its democratic and capitalistic allies in the region, and although it ended in a desultory draw with the Chinese-backed North Korea along the demilitarized zone, South Korea is still a free country, with a modern economy and very sexy popular culture, and Japan and the rest of free and mostly thriving southeast Asia continue to do a mutually beneficial business with us, while North Korea is mired in poverty and darkness while developing a transcontinental nuclear missile capability.
Maintaining that tenuous status quo has been official American foreign policy ever since, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, and although North Korea has crept ever closer to nuclear power status it has thus far worked out well enough, as nervous as it’s been. The Trump administration is of course more ambitious than that, and months ago we were assured via “Twitter” that we could sleep soundly at night without fear of a nuclear exchange with North Korea. After some very provocative missile tests by North Korea toward South Korea and Japan, as well as one that could have reached the west coast of the United States, Trump started off the negotiations by threatening “fire and fury like no one’s ever seen,” and taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “rocket man” and joking about Kim’s height and and weight. That led Kim to the negotiating table with Trump, along with some preceding flattering letters by Kim, and when Kim tentatively agreed to a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula during a summit in Singapore Trump “tweeted” about his triumph.
The critics quibbled that all three generations of Kim dynasty dictators had been seeking the prestige of a seat at the negotiating table on any terms they could get with an American president or other western civilization leader since the stalemate of the war, that the Kim regime had only tentatively agreed to a vague term about “denuclearization” that it clearly took to mean the withdrawal of the land-and-sea-and-air-based nuclear threat that America posed to North Korea, and the summit didn’t make make them sleep any more soundly at night. For a while Trump could crow that at least North Korea wasn’t making any more missile tests, but that claim went belly-up by the time Trump landed in Japan.
Trump’s appointees to all of the intelligence agencies as well as his national security agree that North Korea has recently been testing medium-range missiles that could deliver a nuclear warhead to a target 300 miles away, but Trump shrugged it off with a “tweet.” The “tweet” read:
“The North Koreans fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
This might reassure those with an abiding faith in President Donald Trump, but it’s going to keep the rest of the world up at night. Those “small weapons” North Korea fired off couldn’t reach any of Trump’s properties on the west coast of the United States, but they’re well within range of Tokyo or Seoul, and we can well understand why the entire American foreign policy establishment and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or South Korean President Moon Jai In or Trump’s other polite hosts on this foreign policy junket are less sanguine. Trump’s trust in the vaguely-worded promises of such a brutal dictator as Kim confound us, but then again Kim has never written any flattering letters to us. Trump admittedly smiles Kim is taking potshots against Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, whose name Trump initially misspelled, and he doesn’t seem to mind that yet another brutal dictatorship is campaigning on his behalf.
Meanwhile Trump is stuck with a decades-old beef with a perhaps nuclear-armed and in any case militarily-formidable Iran, which is a major player in a Middle Eastern theater of conflict that Trump clearly wants no part of. The dictatorial mullahs who run Iran have nothing flattering to say about Trump, but they’re backed by Russian dictator Putin, who seems to have a swell mutual admiration society going with Trump, so there’s no telling how that might work out. There are also all those ongoing negotiations with our longstanding democratically-elected yet insufficiently obsequious allies that haven’t been yet been worked out.
Go right ahead and accuse of us being deep-state globalist establishmentarians, or suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, but at this point we place no faith in the president’s self-proclaimed unprecedented genius to work this all out.

— Bud Norman

Fasten Your Seatbelts, as Today’s News Will Be a Bumpy Ride

Wednesday was a pretty slow news day by recent standards, but today will almost certainly be different. Attorney General William Barr has announced a news conference to discuss the special counsel investigation’s report about the “Russia thing,” a few hours later a reportedly “lightly redacted” version of the 400-page-or-so is scheduled to be revealed, and the resulting arguments about it will surely dominate the conversations on television and newspapers and in bars and dinner tables across the country.
Barr has already released a four-page summary of the report — he doesn’t want anyone to call it a summary, but we can’t think of a suitable synonym — which revealed that the investigation found no proof a conspiracy between the Russian government and the campaign of President Donald Trump, and did not reach a conclusion about obstruction of justice. Ever since Trump has repeatedly claimed complete exoneration by the report, even though Barr’s brief account of the report explicitly said “it also does not exonerate him,” but he’s stepped up up his attacks on the investigators and clearly seems worried about the public getting to read a lightly redacted version of what they came up with.
Some of the investigators have anonymously told The New York Times that Barr’s condensed version painted a too rosy picture of their work, and we expect that despite the light redactions the full 400 pages will give Trump’s critics something to bite into. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has said he’s preparing a counter-report to the report that supposedly exonerates his client, Attorney General Barr is eager to tell the public what to think about the report before it gets a chance to read it, and Trump and his most strident media allies are openly talking about charging the investigators for treason for writing the report they claim completely vindicates them.
The investigation has already won indictments against 13 Russian nationals for for interfering with the past American presidential in various ways, and indictments and guilty verdicts guilty pleas against Trump’s campaign chairman and co-campaign chairman National Security Advisor and longtime personal lawyer, and various other administration officials have had to revise their security clearance forms to include numerous contacts with Russian officials, but we already know no charges are currently pending against Trump himself. That’s a huge disappointment to to large segment of the population that would prefer to see Trump out of office, but we expect that some congressional Democrats will find some of those vaguely-defined high crimes and misdemeanors that are impeccable.
Trump and his talk radio apologists and other die fans, as well as a few congressional Republicans, will likely find some reason to charge those dastardly investigators with treason, and have them hanged by the neck until they are dead, even if they did completely exonerate The president by declining  to charge Trump himself. The Trumpian right remains enraged by the investigation that they swear exonerates Trump, and it might yet get is revenge.
We’ll see how it  turns out, as Trump likes to say, and for now we haven’t the foggiest idea. The only prediction we can make with any certainty is that he matter won’t be settled  by the end of this day, and that today will nonetheless prove interesting.

— Bud Norman

What Goes Unbuilt to Build a Wall

As every civic-minded American newsreader already knows by now, President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to re-appropriate a few billion dollars from the defense budget to build a big beautiful wall along America’s southern border. By now you should also know that majorities in both chambers of Congress voted to block the action, but Trump vetoed it, and it seems unlikely that a super-majority in the Senate will be able to override it, and despite some court challenges Trump seems likely to eventually get some wall money.
We commend you for having followed it that closely, but if you’re as obsessively civic-minded a newsreader as we are you might want to know from where those few billions of dollars will likely be re-appropriated.
A couple of intrepid reporters at The Washington Post were curious enough to look into it, and although we’re supposed dismiss their findings as “fake news” from “enemies of the people” their conclusions sound plausible enough to us, and better sourced than what Trump usually has to say about what some people are saying. Much of the report is based on a list that the Defense Department reluctantly released under pressure from Congress that identifies $12.9 billion of military construction projects that been funded but not yet contracted, which according to the convoluted theories of the vaguely written law that Trump is invoking are fair game for presidential re-appropriation. The Pentagon has ruled out defunding the projects they expect to finalize contracts for within the year, which leaves only $4.35 billion available, and Trump has announced he expects to spend $3.6 billion of it on his wall, an a civic-minded newsreader can make an educated guess about which projects are most vulnerable.
There are 10 projects with a combined cost of $403 million slated for Puerto Rico, which has no electoral votes and has long seemed of little concern to Trump, so they seem likely to be slashed. The projects include a school for military children on former Air Force base and improved training for the Puerto Rican National Guard, which previous Defense Departments and congresses had considered important to the national security, but Trump will easily able to explain to the die-hard fans that $403 million worth of wall along a few miles of the southern border is more important than anything that might happen in Puerto Rico.
There’s another $745 million to be had from the European Deterrence Initiative, which includes 23 projects spread throughout Europe and was launched by President Barack Obama back in 2014 after Russia’s assaults on the sovereignty of Ukraine and Crimea, that’s surely a tempting slice of the budget to Trump. He can still tell the die-hard fans that no president has ever been tougher on Russia, and that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is a nice guy who’d never do anything to hinder American democracy, anything Obama did had to be wrong, and all those supposedly allied countries where the money was being spent are all taking advantage of us and laughing behind our backs. What’s more, none of those countries have any electoral college votes.
Another $258 is slated to be spent in Guam, which is mostly a strategically crucial military base but has no electoral votes, and the rest is spread out over eight states. The Washington Post generously provides a graph showing how much spending had been slated for each state, and without bothering to dig into what the projects are we assume the cuts will be made according to how many votes each state is expected to deliver in the next electoral college. That’s bad news for Washington and Maryland, good news for Texas, and probably the best news of all for states the Republicans hope they can possibly flip and suddenly have to worry they might lose. The math might require that some Republican district or another will take a hit, but Trump can still count on its Representative’s support.
Which is no way to appropriate money for the national defense, of course, but we suppose it’s always been so. The smart defense contractors always spread their work around the country just enough to sway congressional and electoral college majorities, the smart politicians always defend their home turf’s share, and we notice that a significant portion of Obama’s spending went to such reliably Democratic states as Washington and Maryland, even if we also notice that Boeing is still big in Washington and has always gotten its share based on merit. Even so, the politics of this particular moment seem especially peculiar.
For one thing, we’re not at all persuaded that a big beautiful wall along the entire southern border is a pressing national security need, much less the stuff of a state of national emergency. Our assessment of the worldwide threats to national security finds far more pressing needs, and the very official-souning “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the National Intelligence Community” seems to agree with us. According to all the polls everybody but the die-hard Trump fans are similarly unimpressed, and so are majorities of the people’s representatives in both chambers of Congress also disagree, even if they can’t muster a super-majority in the Senate to override a veto.
For another thing, the few measly billions of dollars that Trump intends re-appropriate will only pay for a relatively few miles of it, and much of that will be tied in legal fees fighting the landowners who have been happily living along an unwalled border objecting to the government’s eminent domain seizure of their private property. An affinity for private property and an aversion to government seizures used to be a defining characteristic of American conversation, which is yet another thing we don’t like about the politics of the moment.
Conservatives also used to believe in the Constitution, which gives the legislative branch the power to appropriate funds and doesn’t mention the executive branch doing any re-appropriating, and that’s even one more thing we don’t like about the politics of moment.

— Bud Norman

Trump Jumps the Shark

The folks who provide entertainment programming for television often use the expression “jump the shark,” which derives from the episode late in the last season of “Happy Days” when Fonzie ski-jumped over a tank of sharks, and it’s meant to convey when a show has run out of ideas and become completely ridiculous. On Thursday President Donald Trump’s long-running yet low-rated reality show arrived at its “jump the shark” moment.
On Tuesday Trump’s own heads of his own administration’s intelligence agencies testified under oath and camera before Congress about various national security issues, and differed with the president on matters ranging from Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs to China’s and Russia’s cyber-terrorism intentions to the remaining strength of the Islamic State to the need for a big beautiful wall along the entirety of the southern border. On Wednesday Trump “tweeted” that the men and women he had appointed to assure America’s safety were “passive and naive” and “wrong” and “should go back to school,” which was embarrassing enough. By Thursday Trump was telling an impromptu news conference that it was all “fake news,” as his chiefs had all assured him they were merely misquoted and were in fact entirely in agreement with him, and at that point President Fonzie looked likely to crash into the sharks.
Go right ahead and believe that the undeniably hostile-to-Trump news media overemphasized the intelligence agencies’ many disagreements with Trump, but if you think the Trump appointees were misquoted or taken out of context you can easily watch their full testimony from Congress’ own C-Span or any of the networks that covered it live, including Fox News. You can also read the intelligence agencies’ 42-page “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report at their own official “.gov” website, or request a copy from the Government Printing Office. It might all be a “deep state” conspiracy that created all the networks’ video footage with computer generated imagery, and then hacked into the government’s web domain and printing warehouses to plant that phony document, and is now coercing Trump’s appointees not to confirm his latest claims that their testimony was “fake news,” but if so the conspirators are so damned good that resistance is certainly futile.
Trump also told the “fake news” cameras that his border wall is currently being built, claimed credit for the portion build years before his administration near San Diego, and predicted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would soon be humbly begging him to build a wall, and boasted of such successes that no one will care if he doesn’t get a wall built. The die-hard fans will buy all of it, but most of the rest of the country seems to be growing weary of the storyline.
For now all the hostile-to-Trump news media and all the late night comedy shows are having great fun with it, and we’re eager to hear what all the right-wing talk radio talkers and the rest of the obsequious-to-Trump news media have to say. On several occasions over the past many years Trump has asked his die-hard supporters to believe him rather than their lying eyes, and they’ve always been willing to do so, but this time the more reluctant supporters aren’t playing along.
Not only are Trump’s own appointees to head the national intelligence agencies stubbornly insisting on their clear-eyed assessments of the actual facts rather than Trump’s “alternative facts,” but so are several other members of his foreign policy-making team, as well as a decisive number of congressional Republicans. Trump boasted that he had wiped out the Islamic State when he announced a controversial decision to withdraw all American forces from Syria, but his Secretary of State and national security advisor seem to have talked him into to only a partial withdrawal, his intelligence agencies continue to warn that the Islamic State still poses a threat to America and its allies, and on Thursday Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and a majority of his Republican caucus joined in a 68-to-23 vote for a resolution rebuking Trump’s claims and announced policy on Syria.
A similar number of Senate Republicans have voted to protect a special counsel investigation into Russia’s cyber-meddling in America’s elections, which the intelligence agencies all agree is ongoing, despite Trump’s assurances that he’s been assured by the Russian dictator that it’s all a “witch hunt.” There seems a be a similar skepticism in the Senate about Trump’s boasts that he’s eliminated the nuclear threat from North Korea, or soon will, which the intelligence agencies also dispute. Based on the latest reports about the congressional negotiations underway to pass some sort of funding agreement to keep the government open for a while longer, the Republicans seem to agree with the intelligence agencies that big beautiful border wall isn’t such an urgent need as Trump insists.
The president probably has a more loyal following among the Republicans in the House of Representatives, but they’re a minority in that chamber, and Trump’s version of the truth is currently running into a great deal of resistance from his own party and own administration and the rest of the government. Worse yet, his reality show is jumping into the shark tank of actual reality.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Far South of the Border

The weather around here has been awful lately, but we’ve taken some comfort in reading about how much worse it’s been to the north and east. Similarly, no matter how bad America’s politics get we can still be glad that we’re not living in Venezuela.
Not so long ago in our lifetimes the oil-rich nation of Venezuela was prosperous and peaceful by Latin American standards, but the socialist regimes of President Hugo Chavez and then President Nicolas Maduro have wrought an unmitigated economic disaster. Unemployment is sky-high, such basic necessities as toilet paper are desperately hard to find, and the inflation rate is a staggering one million percent. Mass protests are filling the streets of the capital and other cities, the guy who lost the last presidential election under highly suspect circumstances is plausibly claiming to be the legitimate head of state, and it makes America’s protracted and seemingly intractable partial government shutdown look like no big deal.
President Donald Trump’s administration has pleasantly surprised us by siding with opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency, which is backed by those hundreds of thousands of protestors packing the streets, as well as the governments of several of the country’s South American neighbors. It’s surprising in part because Russia and the Venezuelan military and the more autocratic government of America are still backing Maduro, as well as the fact that Trump typically admires his strong man style of governance, and that Trump doesn’t usually much care what goes on south of America’s border so long as it stays there. We’ll attribute it to a traditional Republican revulsion for Latin American socialism and the clout of the very traditional Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but give Trump some credit nonetheless.
Which is not to say that it will prove helpful to Venezuela, and it’s possible it could make things worse. There’s an understandable if not entirely unjustified resentment of Yankee imperialism throughout Latin America, which Latin American dictators have long used to rally public opinion against even the best-intended and well-considered efforts to intervene in their affairs, and Maduro should and Maduro should be able make even more hay of it when the Yankee imperialist is the hated-throughout-Latin-America Trump. Maduro retains the the support of the military, which we doubt Trump wants to tangle with, as well as Russia and Cuba and Bolivia and other countries Trump is eager to make deals with, while China and Mexico and other important trading partners are staying on the sidelines, and Trump is known for making his own sudden expedient policy shifts to the sidelines.
Even so, for now Trump finds himself on the side of Canada and most members of the Organization of American States and those hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets, and we’re hopeful he’ll stay there. Chavez and to a lesser extent Maduro were once the darlings of America’s radical left, and the American right’s favorite cautionary tale about the consequences of socialism, and for now the right is clearly winning that argument. Although Maduro is a classic populist strongman autocrat and that Guaido fellow is a thin and youthful and handsome and glib fellow who reminds of a Venezuelan version of America’s Democratic center-left darling Beto O’Rourke, Trump is probably politically astute enough to know his stand will play well with all sorts of freedom-loving Americans.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world also seems worse off than we are here in frigid Kansas. Crazy Venezuelan-style left wing populism has much of Central America heading to the United States border, and crazy Trump-style populism is currently making things worse in Brazil and Poland and Hungary and Italy and the Philippines. The sensibly centrist governments of France and the United Kingdom are currently in crisis, too, with the streets of Paris once again burning and the Parliament in London trying to find its way out of a slumping European Union.
Better by far to be here in frigid Kansas than in China or Russia, or anywhere in Africa and the Arab world, or even the most up-to-date and well-heated cities of Asia and Europe. We’re still eagerly awaiting spring and the reopening of the federal government, and in the meantime we’ll warm ourselves with the knowledge of how much worse most of the rest of world’s unlucky folks have it.

— Bud Norman

Et Tu, Drudge?

Ever since it started linking to Infowars and Gateway Pundit and other crackpot conspiracy theory sites we’ve gotten out of the habit of reading The Drudge Report, but we’ll still occasionally take a look to see the latest spin on behalf of President Donald Trump. Imagine our surprise, then, when the high-traffic internet site’s top headlines were  Trump’s lowest-ever public approval rating in the Rasmussen poll and then “Shutdown Turns Nightmare Govt Paralyzed.”
Trump’s approval rating in the latest Rasmussen poll is 43 percent, which is still higher than in any other poll, but given the source it’s a worrisome number. Rasmussen has long had a reputation as a Republican-leaning firm, and consistently been an outlier among the polling on Trump, and has recently reported his approval rating over 50 percent. In in the past its polling has been vindicated by election results, but it’s policy of only calling land line phones seems outdated, as the only remaining people with landslides are either very wealthy or very old and are thus more inclined than the rest of to appreciate Trump’s tax bill and nostalgic appeals to a bygone era of manly coal miners and steel workers and not so many Mexicans. That Trump can’t garner majority approval from such a favorably skewed sample should cause him to reconsider several things he’s doing.
It’s bad news that the likes of The Drudge Report was trumpeting the numbers, too, and worse yet when the Trump-friendly site is guiding its millions of viewers to a story about how the recording-setting partial government shutdown is causing long delays at America’s airports as unpaid federal security officials start calling in sick.
The more reliably pro-Trump media are arguing that the shutdown is no big deal, as all those lazy federal workers are going to get paid eventually, and that there’s something to be said for a small government in the meantime, but the “fake news” keeps countering with all-too-real stories about how those government workers won’t be compensated for the interest they pay borrowing money to pay their bills, the hundreds of thousands of government contract workers who won’t be compensated, farmers having trouble getting the subsidies they were promised when Trump’s trade wars drove commodity prices down, and all sorts of regular people having problems that will go uncompensated. According to all the opinion polls, including Rasmussen, most people seem to agree the partial government shutdown is bad for America.
Trump is blaming it on the Democrats’ obstinate refusal to appropriate a measly few billion dollars to build a big and beautiful wall along the entirety of America’s border with Mexico, but after Trump told the Democratic congressional leaders a national television that he would be proud to shutdown the governor for his wall and would blame them the opinion polls show most Americans disagreeing. Trump and his defenders argue that without a big and beautiful wall America’s southern border will soon be overrun by caravans of terrorists and gang members and fecund families itching to cast illegal votes for Democrats, but the opinion polls suggest he’s losing that argument in the court of public opinion as well.
Trump ran for president on the boast that he’s the greatest negotiator in history, and despite his several bankruptcies and more numerous failed businesses a sufficient plurality of the electorate provided him with an electoral victory, but for now he seems in a bad negotiating position. His most hard-core fans will be dispirited by any concessions to the Democrats on funding a big and beautiful wall along the entire southern border, but the Democrats have their own hard-core supporters to worry about and no apparent reason to make any concessions to Trump. The longer this already-longest partial government shutdown continues the worse it will get for Trump in the polls, eventually even more Republicans will succumb to political reality, and it will be interesting to see what the greatest negotiator in history will come up with.
For now the stock markets are slugging along and no new wars have broken out, but that means except for a record-setting increase in America’s trade deficit with China the only other news in the papers is about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s suspicions that Trump is a Russian operative and Trump’s former campaign manager admitting he shared polling data with the Russkies and Trump keeping his discussions with the Russian dictator a secret from his own administration. None of that seems likely to help Trump’s poll numbers, either, and we’ll be checking in occasionally to see what The Drudge Report has to say about that.

— Bud Norman