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Rainy Days and Mondays

Monday was a gray and rainy day here in the middle of America, with all the right lanes of Wichita’s streets flooding on our drive home from chores, and judging by the news we read in our nice dry office once we arrived home things were desultory all over.
That awful Omarosa Manigault Newman woman was still in the news cycle, which does no good for anybody. She’s the former reality star who got a high-level gig in the White House when her reality show co-star President Donald Trump was elected, but was fired by chief of staff John Kelly and is now described as a “low-life” by Trump because of the tell-book she’s about to publish. On Sunday’s “Meet the Press” she released a surreptitiously recorded tape of Kelly’s heavy-handed firing in the top-secret “Situation Room,” which made everyone involved look bad, and on Monday she released another surreptitiously recorded tape of Trump himself telling her that hated to hear about her firing, which is also embarrassing for all involved. She claims to have further surreptitiously recorded conversations with the president’s daughter and son-in-law and other high-ranking Trump administration officials, which we don’t doubt, and expect it will make all involved look bad.
Back east on Wall Street all the stock market indices were down again, and so far as we can tell that’s mostly because of the Turkish government’s fiscal irresponsibility and general craziness. Due to long-ago Cold War exigencies the increasingly Islamist Turks are full-fledged North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, and although they’re not fully-fledged European Union members they’re a big enough chunk of the western world’s economy that their impending bankruptcy is roiling the global markets. We’d happily blame it all on the once again “Sick Man of Europe,” but in this case Trump has congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Edorgan on his recent promotion to de facto Islamist dictator, and is nonetheless waging war on both Erdogan and America’s democratically-elected leaders, and for now no one looks good in this stock market swoon.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A. Trump was meeting with the “Bikers for Trump,” and backing their improbable call for a boycott of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which has lately been forced to shift some manufacturing to export markets as a result of Trump’s trade wars. The oh-so-polite Washington Post was shocked to notice that some of the self-proclaimed “outlaw bikers” had some pretty sexist patches on their leather and denim jackets, and showed up at the White House on their beloved Harley-Davidson “hogs,” and that also doesn’t make anyone look good.
There’s some good economic news, what with the low unemployment rate and rising wages, but if you look closer there’s a dark cloud inside that silver lining. Job creation has actually slowed since the last 16 months of the hated administration of President Barack Obama, and those long-delayed increases in wages have thus far been outpaced by a conspicuous uptick in the inflation rate, which in bi small part to do with all those tariffs Trump has imposed. The federal deficit is as high as it was when the evil Democratic triumvirate of Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were running things in the aftermath of ’08 financial meltdown, and for now only the Democrats give even a hypocritical damn about it.
Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort is still on federal trial regarding tax evasion and bank fraud charges, too, with Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Roger Stone providing some of the damning testimony so far, and Manafort will soon face another federal trial regarding his failure to register as a foreign agent for a pro-Russian Ukrainian government during the campaign. Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Peter Strzok was fired for his anti-Trump “tweets” to the woman he having an affair with with during the presidential campaign, which gave the pro-Trump media plenty of reason to talk about their version of the real “Russia thing” scandal, but given all the extra-marital scandals and outraged “tweets” from the president that also looks bad for everyone involved.
Worse yet, the damned Democrats seem even crazier. They’ve got self-proclaimed socialists running in various districts, and a lesbian Native American mixed martial artist nominated up in Kansas’ third congressional district, and “antifa” terrorists making the white supremacists look placid during the ongoing race riots popping up around the country, and so far they’re still clinging to that awful Pelosi woman. There’s even talk of nominating a porn star’s lawyer for the presidency, on the grounds that he’s an audacious reality star and “at least he fights,”and that so far he’s gotten the better of  of the president who paid off his client,  and in this day and age it might well prove a winning argument. A sane and centrist Democratic party might stave off disaster long enough for a revived Republican party to set things right, as far as we’re still concerned, but on this gray and cloudy it seems a remote possibility.
The floods are reportedly far worse back in Pennsylvania, where our parents happily lived for a few decades until they returned to Kansas a couple of years ago, and as always we acknowledge that things are tough all over. The local forecast calls for another rainy day today before we get back to another hot and sunny Kansas summer day on Wednesday, and those poor kids who have to start another dreary school day on the unconscionably early next Monday will surely appreciate that. We’ll hold out hope, too, but no one comes out looking good in the end.

— Bud Norman

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Doubling Down on a Dumb Trade War

Way back when we were proud to be Republicans, it was largely because of the Grand Old Party’s principled stand for red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism. When Republican nominee Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama during a campaign debate of picking the economic winners and losers, and mostly picking the losers, we stood up and cheered. Now the Republicans are obliged to defend President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade war against the rest of the world, and to ignore the fact that he’s picking the economic winners and losers and mostly picking the losers.
On Monday Trump escalated the trade war with China by threatening $200 billion of tariffs on that country’s exports to the United States, his earlier threat of a mere $50 billion of tariffs having failed to force China’s capitulation to his trade demands, and of course China immediately responded with threats of retaliatory tariffs. Of course the stock markets hated the news, and so did everyone else with a basic understanding of the global economy. It’s bad economic policy, has warped America’s foreign policy to the point that North Korea’s nutcase dictator Kim Jong-Un is a an honorable leader much beloved by his starving people and Canada’s democratically elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a weak and dishonest leader who awaits a special place in hell and all of our longtime allies are suspect, and in the long run it will prove bad politics.
Trump’s tariffs on steel and coal imports will surely be popular with people employed in those industries, but it will just as surely be unpopular with people who work in steel- and coal-buying industries, and anyone who buys anything made of steel or powered by coal, and the latter categories are by far a bigger voting bloc. There are also a lot of wheat farmers and airplane-makers who do a brisk trade with China and will surely be chagrined if China decides to buy from Argentina or Airbus, and a large chunk of Trump’s die-hard defenders will eventually notice that their shopping trips to Wal-Mart are suddenly far more expensive. The worst case scenario for a global trade war is the same as the last time a cocky and unprincipled Republican president tried it, which resulted in the Great Depression and eventually World War II, and even Trump will be hard-pressed to spin that outcome to even his most die-hard defenders.
The best-case scenario is harder to imagine. Red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism has always resulted in the creative destruction of longstanding industries, such as buggy-making and Blockbuster video stores, but it has reliably replaced them with something the public has always found better. China isn’t the reason that coal-mining now employs a mere 50,000 workers in America, which is mainly because of mechanization and nuclear plants and fracking of natural gas and all those windmills along I-35 and other more healthy ways to generate the nation’s energy. We sympathize with those last remaining coal miners, but red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism might well replace their jobs with something that doesn’t cause black-lung disease and an early death, and in any case they’re a small voting bloc.
Trump seems to believe the best-case scenario is back to the good old days when America mined coal and made all the world’s steel, and that his die hard defenders will prefer that to this high-tech age and what might come next. What might come next might well be far better, though, and we’ll bet on that rather Trump’s global trade war.

— Bud Norman

Shakespeare Vs. Trump

We’ve long noticed that one of President Donald Trump’s many peculiar tendencies is to “tweet” or tell a television camera whatever happens to be on his mind at the moment. His most die-hard supporters have always loved his “tell it like it is” style, but we’ve always thought it ill-suited to the presidency. Our preference is for Polonius’ advice to Laertes in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” to “give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any un-proportioned thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.”
Trump clearly has no patience for such old-fashioned and highfalutin advice, however, and thus often winds up “tweeting” or telling a camera something that is quite different from what was on his mind at an earlier moment. The latest example once again involves the bloody and damned complicated Syrian civil war, and America’s even more damned complicated role in it, and shooting from the hip has so far proved a poor tactic.
After the Syrian dictatorship apparently launched another deadly chemical attack on in its citizens recently, Trump “tweeted” and talked tough. He denounced the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad as an “animal,” and went so far as to criticize by name Russian dictator Vladimir Putin for his pro-Assad role in the civil war. By Wednesday he was “tweeting” that “Russia vows to shoot down any all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
All of Trump’s critics on the left were of course horrified by such bellicosity, but so were many of the die-hard supporters on talk radio and internet sites who had cheered his “tweets” of a few days earlier about pulling out of the Syrian civil war altogether. That earlier “tweet” had already been talked back considerably by various more careful administration spokespeople, and by Thursday Trump himself was “tweeting” back his more recent imminent threats. “Never said an attack on Syria would take place,” Trump implausibly “tweeted,” adding “Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
On our way home with some fish tacos from the great Tacos Lopez drive-through over on West Street we heard one of the anti-immigrant and isolationist talk radio hosts claiming credit for talking Trump into his latest strategic retreat, but we’d like to think it was due to the more informed and deliberative advice of the surprisingly sound Defense Secretary and United Nations ambassador and potential next Secretary of State that Trump somehow has on hand, and we hope even that wild-eyed but experienced third national security advisor who came on board Wednesday. There’s a strong case to be made for enforcing a red line against chemical attacks, especially if we’re able to cobble together the international support that Trump’s administration is reportedly seeking, and we’re open to any arguments for washing our hands of the whole mess, but we think it best that wiser and more knowledgable people than ourselves carefully deliberate these matters before the president “tweets” about them.
We certainly wish those wise old hands well. The Syrian situation is complicated enough, and Trump is making tough demands on a nuclear arms treaty the Iranian theocratic dictatorship even as he’s signaled he intends to hand them Syria on a silver platter, and that whole thing with Russia is pretty damned complicated, too. On the other side of the globe Trump is engaged “twitter” feuds and diplomatic dances with the North Korean dictator, and has lately refrained from taunting him as “Little Rocket Man,” and has been talking and “tweeting” tough about trade negotiations with our ostensible allies in democratic South Korea. The stock markets have sighed a green arrow sigh after Trump lately “tweeted” back his earlier tough talk about a trade war with China, and there are reports that he’s even considering reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Barack Obama had negotiated with China’s neighbors. Trump had long been critical of multilateral trade agreements in general, and ones negotiated by Obama in particular, but given the howls of pain coming from the stock markets and agricultural states and various other export industries it suddenly seems a more sensible approach to dealing with China’s undeniably unfair business practices than all-out trade war.
There’s some faint cause for hope, therefore, that some semblance of a more or less effective foreign policy might emerge from all this. We can’t imagine Trump coherently explaining it to the world, though, and count on lots of incoherent “tweets” and televised statements further complicating things along the way. He probably won’t hear it, bout our advice is the same the Bard might well have said  to Trump, to give thy thoughts no tongue nor “tweet,” nor any un-proportioned thought your action. As for the part about not being vulgar, we hold out no hope Trump will heed that sage advice.

— Bud Norman

A Busy and Upset Thursday, for Better and Worse

Thursday was a busy day for us, what with rehearsals for our annual theatrical turn and Kansas State University’s Wildcats pulling off a big upset in the national college basketball tournament and the trash needing to be taken to the curb, which made it hard to keep up with a busier than even usual news day.
The stock markets swooned as a trade war with China broke out, a former Playboy “playmate of the year” gave a lengthy interview about her past adulterous affair with then private citizen Donald Trump, and a national security advisor regarded as one of the steady hands in the White House was replaced with a hothead from Fox News, along with other noteworthy developments.
Candidate Trump ran on a promise to protect certain American industries with punitive tariffs, and President Trump has “tweeted” that “Trade wars are good and easy to win,” and after he fired the steady hand who’d been his economic advisor who’d urged restraint it was no surprise that he announced stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum on $60 billion worth of tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods. Neither was it a surprise when the European Union threatened retaliatory tariffs, nor when China announced them on Thursday, nor when stock markets around the world swooned on the news.
Perhaps the trade war will prove as good and easily won as Trump predicts, but we share all of the stock markets’ doubts. There is no historical precedent for a good and easily won trade war, after all, and they’ve all gone so badly they wound up with everyone losing. For all its faults the free-trading post-World War II global economic brought great prosperity and relative peace to both America and the rest of the world, and despite his salesmanship we can’t see Trump persuading all those other countries to give up their share of the pie.
Although it’s less likely to immediately affect your next 401K statement, the former Playboy “playmate of the year’s” interview with the Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper was of more than prurient interest. Not that there wasn’t plenty of prurient interest to be had, of course, what with a billionaire playboy and future president doing the nasty with his nudie model girlfriend while his nudie model wife was at home nursing their recently born son, but at this point in the post-President Bill Clinton era even the evangelicals seem rather jaded about that sort of thing. The bigger problem is yet another blow to Trump’s believability, because he’s denying the affair and the former Playboy “playmate of the year” seems by far the more credible of the two.
She’s got notebooks and photographs and hotel receipts and other corroborating evidence of an affair, and her on-camera account of the affair has a verisimilitude no actress can achieve. She freely acknowledges that the adulterous affair was mutually consensual, didn’t describe any of the unwanted groping that Trump has bragged about and numerous women have alleged, said that he was handsome and charming, sadly recalled how he had offered to pay their sexual encounters, and even insisted that she voted from Trump and still supports his presidency. So far she doesn’t seem to have profited from the past affair, and when she credibly says she doesn’t want to hurt Trump we can’t imagine what her motive might be other than to come clean.
Which only adds to the credibility of the pornographic video performer who is also alleging an adulterous affair with Trump right around the same time, and whose interview with the same Anderson Cooper is scheduled to air on Sunday’s episode of the Columbia Broadcast System’s “60 Minutes.” Trump likes to brag about how he drives the news ratings, and our guess is that on Sunday night Cooper and CBS will benefit from that more than he does.
The porn performer’s story has an even more prurient appeal than that centerfold model’s, as it doesn’t have any of the weepy and cliched I-thought-he-loved-me parts and includes salacious details about rolled-up copies of Forbes Magazine with Trump’s picture on the cover. She describes a more transactional relationship where provided what she considered routine sex in exchange for a chance to be a contestant on Trump’s reality show, and although she’s brazenly capitalizing on her notoriety with a “Make America Horny Again” strip club tour her story also has a ring of truth to our ears.
The $130,000 that Trump’s lawyer admits he paid the porno performer just before the election might constitute a violation of campaign finance law, too, which adds to Trump’s already expensive legal bills from the ongoing “Russia thing” and various other matters. Trump has lately been shaking up his legal team, with Washington’s most high-powered attorney declining the offer but a conspiracy theorist from Fox News joining the team, but their task of defending his credibility will be even harder.
The recent shakeups in the administration are also unsettling. The outgoing national security adviser was three star Army general H.R. McMaster, one of the steady hands who offered such sage advice to Trump as “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” in a recent phone call with dubiously reelected Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which Trump of course rejected, and the incoming national security advisor is John Bolton, who does not strike us as an upgrade. He’s a past United Nations Ambassador and longtime figure in national security circles, but his brusque style seems to have found a better fit at Fox News, where he routinely has urged Trump to follow his natural and nationalist instincts. He’s no more likely to restrain Trump’s impulsive temperament that the Fox News guy who replaced the steady hand economic advisor that warned against a trade war.
On a busier than usual Thursday news cycle, it all adds up a certain unease. It’s a sad state of affairs when a Playboy model and porno performer are more believable than a president, but here we are. The same recklessly impulsive fellow who got himself into those tawdry messes is now waging a global trade war and in charge of preventing the military kind, and he’s firing steady hands and hiring cheerleaders.
On the other hand, rehearsals went well, K-State whipped that snooty Kentucky squad and moves on to its 13th “elite eight” game, and we got the trash out to the curb.

— Bud Norman

Stock Market Swoons, Government Shutdowns, and the Alleged Wives-Beater in the White House

Thursday saw another four-digit drop in the Dow Jones average, another government shutdown after negotiations broke down on a budget-busting compromise bill no one liked, and the news still had to find room for another scandalous exit from President Donald Trump’s administration.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned his post after Britain’s Daily Mail reported that his two ex-wives allege he physically abused them, various media found corroborating police reports and court orders as well as an ex-girfriend with similar tales, and the first ex-wife released a picture of herself with the black eye she alleges he gave her, which ought to be scandalous enough. Worse yet, the media also reported that White House officials had long been aware that the allegations were the reason the Federal Bureau of Investigation never gave Porter the security clearance required to deal with all the classified materials that a White House staff secretary routinely handles.
Even if you’re the sort of die-hard Trump supporter who figures that the women probably had it coming, and give credit to any administration officials who were so bravely politically incorrect as to agree, you have to be unsettled by the national security implications. Apparently there are several high-ranking White House officials who also can’t pass security clearance muster, including top presidential advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s still the point man for China despite FBI warnings about his personal and business ties to a Chinese operative and still in charge of negotiating Middle East despite no apparent qualifications for that tough job, so it seems to be an ongoing problem. You can still rightly point to Hillary Clinton’s undeniably sloppy mishandling of classified material when she was Secretary of State, which is one of the many valid reasons she’s not the President of the United States, but that won’t solve the more pressing national security problems.
Most people will have a problem with the White House’s apparent tolerance of wife-beating, too, and Porter’s departure won’t help with a widespread public perception that Trump is a sexist pig. There’s also talk about how it reflects on White House chief of staff John Kelly, who a couple of days ago was vouching for Porter’s “high moral character” despite being aware of the FBI warnings about why they’d denied a security clearance, and whose spokesman later explained he wasn’t fully aware of the situation until the black eye picture was published. Kelly came into the White with a pristine reputation as a four-star Marine General, but he’s been criticized on the left for comments deemed racist and sexist, and by Trump for his assurances to the congressional hispanic caucus that Trump had “evolved” in his thinking about various immigration issues, and there’s speculation he’ll be one of the next to leave the Trump administration with a more sullied reputation.
The government shutdown might yet prove as short-lived as last month’s, and the market swoon might yet prove a much-needed correction on the way back to prosperity, but another scandalous example of the Trump administration’s crudity and incompetence won’t help with either situation.

— Bud Norman

Of Parades, Nicknames, and Other Political Spats

The stock markets were down again on Wednesday, but not to a panic-inducing extent, and the more reasonable sorts of Democrats and Republicans in Congress neared a compromise that would avert another government shutdown before tonight’s latest looming deadline, albeit a budget-busting one that neither side can celebrate. All in all it was a pretty slow news day, but as usual President Donald Trump provided plenty of what the newspaper people call filler.
Trump’s critics were able to fill countless column inches and big chunks of the 24-hour cable news cycle criticizing the Commander in Chief’s order for a grand military parade showcasing America’s might down Pennsylvania Avenue past the fancy Trump Hotel, and his most die-hard defenders couldn’t muster much of a defense for the idea. The District of Columbia’s city hall is worried about the damage that tanks and nuclear missiles might do to their expensively paved streets, and pretty much all the newspapers and all but one of the cable news networks had no shortage of retired generals and admirals saying on the record that it seemed a damned stupid deployment of tanks and nuclear missiles. Several of the more old-fashioned Republicans left in the party also opined that America has such an impressively big military stick that everyone already knows it, so it’s best to speak softly about it, unlike those envious regimes in North Korea and Iran and France and other godforsaken nations that routinely parade their relatively puny military hardware.
Even our Pop, a proud former Air Force officer and longstanding member of the military-industrial complex who’s an at-least-he’s-not-Hillary Trump supporter, admitted over lunch that the whole parade idea “sounds a little third-worldly.” The more die-hard sorts of Trump supporters will insist that the Commander in Chief merely wants to pay tribute to America’s fighting forces, and anyone who has objections to that is objectively un-American and arguably treasonous, but by now no one else doubts that like everything else the parade is more about Trump and his big stick than it is about anything or anyone else.
Meanwhile, on a slow news day we notice that Trump seems to be losing the nickname wars he’s long waged. He’s lately “tweeted” that New York Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on that pesky House committee looking into the “Russia thing,” is “Little” Adam Schiff, a diminutive description he’s previously bestowed on fellow Republican and Florida Sen. “Little” Marco Rubio, and although he creatively spelled  the Republican Tenessee Sen. Bob Corker as “Liddle Bob,” it’s starting to get stale. Around the same time Illinois’ Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth more damningly nicknamed Trump “Cadet Bonespur,” an apparently jocular reference to the military school Trump’s Pop sentenced him to and the spurious — if you’ll forgive the pun — medical condition that spared Trump from service in the Vietnam War but didn’t seem to interrupt his tennis and golf games and the constant womanizing he jokingly described as his own “personal Vietnam.”
That might seem a cheap shot at a sitting president, but in Duckworth’s case it’s undeniably been hard-earned. She made the remark in response to Trump’s jocular remark about treasonous Democrats failing to sufficiently applaud his State of the Union address, and although we disagree with most of her Democratic politics we can well understand why she resents “Cadet Bonespur” even jokingly impugning her patriotism for insufficient applause, She lost both legs in the Iraq War she willingly signed up for. Even Trump won’t dare “tweet” back that he likes a soldier who didn’t lose her legs for her country, even though he got away with similar disrespect for the heroic wartime sacrifices of Arizona[‘s Republican Sen. John McCain. Worse yet, Trump’s former die-hard defenders at Breitbart.com and on some of the right-wing talk radio shows are now calling him “Amnesty Don” because of his most recent stands on illegal immigration, and it’s going to take some pretty clever nicknaming to counter-punch that.
At this point we hold out hope Trump seems so ridiculous that the stock market will absorb a much-needed correction without panic and the rest of the economy will chug along without him, that the more reasonable sorts of Democrats and Republicans will come up with some desultory but veto-proof agreement to at least keep the government limping along, and that the filler will prove just as entertaining.

— Bud Norman

Reality v. the Reality Show

There are all sorts of serious issues afoot these days, such as immigration policy and yet another continuing spending resolution that’s soon required to keep the government funded, not to mention that whole messy “Russia thing,” and ideally they would all be resolved by the merits of angrily shouted arguments. These days, though, one must also take into account all the soap operatic subplots of the nation’s ongoing reality show in the age of President Donald Trump.
The United States Senate, once known as “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body,” took up the immigration issue on Tuesday with testimony from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and for the most part it was the serious sort of discussion of a serious issue one might wish from one’s government. Nielsen struck us as well-informed and well-spoken, made a better case for Trump’s policy of strict enforcement of current immigration laws and a more merit-based system than he ever could, and handled the Democrats’ mostly reasonable questions without resort to any of the taunting nicknames Trump routinely relies on.
She also struck us as a strikingly comely DHS secretary, which of course has nothing to do with the merits of her well-stated arguments, but it’s nonetheless worth mentioning in the context of this ongoing reality show in the age of Trump. We noticed that the Washington Post and the Associated Press ran the most unflattering pictures they could take along with otherwise fair coverage of the hearing, and if you’ll forgive some frivolous fan talk about the reality show we think we missed a bet. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is also quite attractive, as is that communications director Hick Hopes, who’s lately been subpoenaed by another Senate committee looking into that “Russia thing,” prime time spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway has her own Cruella Deville sort of appeal, and the left should be making the very convincing case that Trump prefers women’s beauty over brains.
Nielsen would have overwhelmed that argument with her well-spoken and well-reasoned testimony, though, if only a couple of Democratic senators hadn’t asked her about Trump’s widely-reported comment to a bipartisan gathering of senators about immigrants from what he called “shit-hole countries,” which has lately been the biggest subplot in our nation’s ongoing reality show. A credible Democratic senator is staking his political reputation by insisting the president did use that vulgarity, a credible Republican senator has more or less verified the account and even claimed some discreet credit for raising his objections to such language, which the Democratic senator has praised him for doing, and the president’s more sycophantic senators are only saying they can’t recall what the president said.
By now even Fox News is reporting that yeah, the president actually said that, and anyone who’s been following this reality show since Trump descended down that Trump Tower escalator to launch his campaign with a speech about Mexican rapists knows it sure sounds like something he’d say. When Nielsen said that she couldn’t recall Trump saying that at the meeting she’d attended, only that she’d heard foul language from everyone but herself and the senator who as asking the question, she lost not only lost all the credibility she’d earned with her well-informed and well-spoken arguments for Trump’s immigrations but also killed our emerging crush.
All of which complicates the far more serious matter of a looming deadline for dealing with all those telegenically sympathetic “dreamers” who will be kicked out of the country if action isn’t taken by Congress and signed by the president. Trump himself claims to be the sympathetic to the “dreamers,” but he’s also wed to the more rock-ribbed and hard-sorted sorts of Republicans who have some very serious arguments about why America should strictly enforce its immigration laws and enact others that are even more merit-based, and his by-now undeniable comments about “shit-hole countries,” and his DHS secretary’s futile attempts to deny it, have made those arguments harder to make.
Which in turn makes it all the harder to get yet another continuing spending resolution to keep the government running. These every-few-months-or-so annoyances are always complicated enough, but this time around the Democrats have that “dreamers” issue as a negotiating position, probably even Trump and surely the rest of the Republicans majorities in the House and Senate know they’ll take the inevitable  public relations hit for a government shutdown, and the argument is unlikely to be decided on the merits. If these sorts of things were decided on the merits, though, we’d have annual budgets passed budgets passed by bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress and signed by a president of one party or another, and honest people of both parties should admit that stopped happening long before the Trump reality show debuted
There’s also that ongoing “Russia thing,” too, and even Trump’s most die-hard apologists have to adit that’s pretty much unprecedented. Another Senate committee is calling for under-oath testimony not only from the aforementioned comely Hicks but also Trump’s former campaign and administration “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, now entirely disowned and dubbed “Sloppy Steve” by Trump, and that involves more reality show subplots than we can explain here. Bannon was quoted in the best-selling but widely disputed book “fire and Fury” that was was last week’s big story alleging that Trump’s son and son-in-law were “treasonous” by taking an admitted meeting with a Russian lawyer they knew to be connected to the Russian government during all that “Russia thing,” and his under-oath testimony about that will likely be the next big subplot in the nation’s ongoing reality show.
Elsewhere in the real world the stock markets are up, the unemployment rate is down, and despite the recent spate of cold weather around here most of the people we run into are pleasant enough. We’ll hold out some faint hope that our reality somehow prevails over all that nastiness in the reality show of the news.

— Bud Norman

Smart and Stable Is as Smart and Stable Does

There’s something slightly unsettling about hearing an American president reassure the public that he’s intelligent and emotionally stable, as President Donald Trump felt obliged to do over the weekend. It reminds us of President Richard Nixon’s assurance that “I am not a crook.” or President Bill Clinton’s vow that “I did not have sex with that woman,” or Fredo Corleone’s cry in “The Godfather Part II” that “I’m smart, not like everybody says, like dumb, and I want respect,” and we remember how all those turned out. Trump’s boasts that “I’m, like, really smart” and “a very stable genius” have a similarly ominous ring.
Trump has been conspicuously defensive about his smarts and sanity ever since he took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his improbable campaign for the presidency, but his sensitivity has been heightened by the publication of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which has lately been flying off the shelfs with a considerable publicity boost from Trump’s futile efforts to prevent to its publication and his ongoing insistence that it’s all fake news. The book depicts a dysfunctional White House trying to cope with a not-very-bright and downright childish president, with some pretty unpleasant quotes coming from people once very close to the president, which prompted Trump’s “Tweets” and public remarks about being “like, very smart” and a “stable genius.”
As he did throughout his improbably successful campaign for the presidency, Trump answered his critics with characteristic braggadocio. He boasted of his academic excellence at a top-notch college, the billions of dollars he’d made in private business, his status as the star of highly-rated reality television show, and the fact that he’d won the presidency on his very first try. Such cocksureness played a large part in his improbable electoral college victory, along with an admittedly uncanny knack for convincing West Virginia coal miners that a billionaire New York City real-estate and reality-show mogul was their messiah, and it might work now. All of it was questionable all along, though, and we still suspect it worked mainly because the alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump did indeed graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, which indeed plays its football and basketball games in the prestigious Ivy League, but he spent his first two years at second-tier Fordham University before his father’s money got him into Penn and nobody there recalls him as an exceptional scholar and his academic records are as tightly as restricted as President Barack Obama’s. He has made billions in business, but nobody who follows the big money believes he’s made even half what he claims, and most contend he would have done better by investing his inheritance in a solid mutual fund and spending his time reading up on history and public policy, and there were many embarrassing bankruptcies and business failures along the way. He did indeed improbably wind up as President of the United States, but there hasn’t yet been a public opinion poll showing most Americans glad of that.
As much as we’d like to we can’t deny Trump has a rare genius for making his character bugs seem a a feature to enough of the voting public to pull off an improbable electoral college victory, even it was against the likes of that horrible Clinton woman. Trump’s otherwise alarming tendency to say any crazy thing that popped up into his head was lauded as refreshing honesty, his glaring racism and sexism were celebrated as a blow against “political correctness,” the illiterate crudity of his ad hominem responses to any valid criticisms was cheered the “authenticity” of his “punching back twice as hard,” and a lot of West Virginia coal miners and other disaffected white folk in flyover cover wanted to vicariously live the gaudy decadence of his boastfully adulterous and self-indulgent lifestyle in a way they never did with Bill Clinton’s zaftig affairs.
As appalled as we were by that horrible Clinton woman and her hound dog husband and had been since way back when Clinton was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the greatest Secretary of State ever, we never believed a word of it, no matter how many times Trump said “believe me.” The guy who draws the “Dilbert” cartoon and other thinkers would try to explain how Trump was a “master of persuasion” whose seemingly un-parsable pronouncements were the cutting edge of political rhetoric, and we had to admit that he was far better than we or Socrates or Daniel Webster could ever be a persuading broke suckers to sign up for Trump University or the rich fools who owned United States Football League franchises to go head-to-head with the National Football League and somehow win in the civil courts, but we doubted it could have the same effect on the presumably more sensible you hope to find in the Congress and federal judiciary and the free press and other institutions promised to vanquish. We also doubted that all those taunts and nicknames and National Enquirer stories would culminate in any positive policy results.
Trump and his apologists will point to the recent stock market records and holding-steady jobless rates and the absence of any nuclear mushroom clouds on the Korean peninsula, and they have a point that of course they’ll vastly overstate. Trump’s de-regulating executive orders and the tax bill the Republican establishment delivered to his desk have no doubt nudged the stock markets on an even higher trajectory that they’d been since before he took office, but at least one or two of those de-regulated regulations are likely to fuel some future scandal with multipole fatalities, that tax bill is polling horribly, and job creation has actually slowed compared to the last two years of Obama’s administration. The North Korean dictator that Trump has taunted as the “short and fat” “little rocket man” with a nuclear button that’s not nearly so manly as Trump hasn’t yet exploded any nuclear missiles, and he’s suddenly opening talks with South Korea that Trump claims credit for but isn’t involved in, and the rest of the world seems just as pleased to leave Trump out of it.
Meanwhile there’s the whole “Russia thing” and that messy business of what to do with all the “dreamers” who were unwittingly became illegal immigrants as children and yet another continuing resolutions that’s needed to keep the federal government running, along with numerous other matters that Trump hasn’t yet comprehensibly commented on. as well as a lingering concern that there’s something no quite right about the president. The worry is widespread enough that Trump spent a weekend “tweeting” and telling reporters that he’s very smart and sane, and reports suggest that its shared in hall of power of both allies and adversaries, and that’s bound to have eventual consequences.
Trump might have been an excellent student at that top notch college, but the seventh-grade English teacher at our otherwise second-rate junior high school would have riddled his “tweets” with red marks for spelling and punctation and syntax and general comprehensibility. He’s no doubt richer than we are, but even our limited entrepreneurial abilities could have at least broke even with a casino and we know enough about football not to go head-to-head with the NFL and we’re too kind-hearted to sucker anyone into investing in a phony baloney real estate course, and until he offers up his tax returns and the rest of the full disclosure that presidents are supposed to offer up we’re skeptical of any claims he makes. If we make it through the year without any mushroom clouds over the Korean peninsula we’ll give him some credit for that, but we’ll never agree that the nuclear button size comparisons had anything to do with it.
We’ve had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the years, and we’ve long noticed that not a single one of them ever bragged to us that they’re, like, really smart, and all of them would have scoffed at being called a genius. Nor have any of the very stable people we’ve happily know ever felt the need to reassure us that they’re, like, very stable. We’ve also had the good fortune to know some highly ethical people, too, and none ever had to contrast their ethics with those of that awful Clinton woman.

— Bud Norman

Looking Ahead at Anger

In such a crazy election year as this we’ll leave it to all those poor pollsters and the more presumptuous sorts of pundits to predict who’s going to win that awful presidential race, but we will venture a confident guess that no matter how it turns out there are going a lot of very angry people. How angry remains to be seen, and we’d also prefer not to speculate about that.
The New York Times is worried that some supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump will resort to armed insurrection should their man be denied the presidency, and has quite believable quotes from his fans in several states admitting that possibility with various degrees of enthusiasm for the project, and although we’d usually be inclined to consider that mere left-wing media propaganda we heard pretty much the same threats coming from one of the more effusive right-wing talk radio hosts while driving home on an otherwise lovely evening from a nice dinner with the folks. Trump’s recent talk of a “rigged election” and his vow to keep the country in suspense about whether he’ll accept an unfavorable result certainly doesn’t diminish the chances of post-election unpleasantness, and there’s no denying the videotaped evidence he’s encouraged rough behavior by his most so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters, so we can’t say that the once-venerable Gray Lady’s worries are entirely unjustified.
We do regard it as rank left-wing-propaganda-by-omission, however, that they aren’t also fretting about how some supporters of Clinton might respond to a still-at-least-slightly-possible Trump victory on election night. Trump’s supporters have been attacked by vicious mobs at several rallies, Republican offices have been fire-bombed and vandalized, and the theft of Trump yard signs has become so common that The Washington Post acknowledged it by running an op-ed from a convicted sign-stealer. Clinton has carefully courted the support of a “Black Lives Matter” movement that spilled over into violent and destructive riots in several cities, whatever’s left of that destructive “Occupy” movement and a broader campus left that has students scaring speakers away and professors calling for “muscle” to remove any pesky journalists, and certainly done nothing to diminish their red-hot hatred of Republicans in general and Trump in particular. The more left-wing media might have reason to regard a Trump win as only slightly possible, but we’d like to see them acknowledge that the likelihood of any widespread problems resulting from that is also worrying.
We hold out some hope that either outcome won’t result in anything of remotely civil war proportions, but not for very hopeful reasons. All the polls and plenty of anecdotal evidence suggest that most of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters are past their prime rioting-in-the-streets age, and although some of them are still pretty feisty and pretty much all of them are gun-owning we can’t see them mounting anything that could reasonably be called an insurrection. Should all the polls and anecdotal evidence be proved false and Trump wins, we expect a far worse response, given that the angry will be younger and include a whole lot of recently experienced urban rioters and what Trump might aptly call “bad hombres,” but we expect that the campus left will retreat into safe spaces, the fires will burn themselves out before Trump starts to impose his promised law and order is required to put down anything approaching an insurrection, and after a brief panic the stock markets and the rest of that hated “establishment” will start negotiating deals with the self-proclaimed master deal-maker and four-times-bankrupt casino mogul.
There will be much ill-feeling among much of the the country no matter the outcome, and as Trump might say, that we can tell you, believe us, OK? For as long as we can remember politics ain’t beanbag, as one of our favorite old sayings goes, but this crazy election year’s awful presidential race has featured an unprecedented amount of mud-slinging, and so far as we can tell from our pox-on-both-their-houses perspective all of it has stuck on both of these awful candidates, so we expect that post-election recriminations are also likely to be more troublesome than usual. We’re pleased to note that neither candidate has a clear majority in any of the polls, however, because that means no matter who wins there’s still a chance that most of our fellow Americans will have righteously joined us in not voting for either her or him. Probably 90 percent of the country will have voted for one of the other, which is not so pleasing, but we can respect their reasons for doing so at this sorry moment in our binary world. No matter the outcome of this awful presidential race in this crazy election we promise that won’t be rioting in the streets, and even though we do have a handgun around just in case of the worst possible scenarios we won’t be fomenting any armed insurrection.

— Bud Norman

The Doomsayers Have Their Day

The doomsayers have a lot to say these days, and most of it is all too plausible. There’s also been a lot of happy talk from the White House lately, especially about the economy and that 5.1 unemployment rate, but it’s not nearly as convincing.
Even the suddenly front-running Democratic candidate and self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is getting big cheers from his far-left fans by scoffing at that 5.1 percent figure, which conservatives already know is severely understated by excluding the record numbers of those who aren’t even bothering to find work or those working part-time jobs or taking jobs for which they are obviously over-qualified. Even the usually uninformed folks of no political persuasion who occupy the middle have noticed their stagnant wages, and that most of those news jobs are going to legal and illegal immigrants, so they might have also noticed the latest trends are not positive.
Sanders probably won’t mention it in his otherwise frankly gloomy and doomy stump speeches, but what anemic economic growth  has occurred over the past six years of “recovery” was largely financed by extraordinary amounts of debt, not just here but in Europe and China and almost everywhere in the less consequential parts of the world economy, and not just among the countries’ governments but also their private sectors. The Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements, considered “the world’s top financial watchdog,” now notes that since 2006 the combined public and private debt of the world’s developed economies has jumped 36 points to a daunting 265 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Meanwhile the Federal Reserve Board of the United States, which is either the first or second biggest economy in the world depending on what accounting systems you prefer, is contemplating at long last allowing interest rates to soar beyond zero, which those Swiss bankers reasonably worry would might reconfigure the global ledgers in all sorts of troublesome ways. Much of the United States’ debt is owed to China, which is either the first or second biggest economy in the world, depending on what accounting system you prefer, but they’ve also managed to rack up a mountain of debt on building uninhabited cities and other make-work extravagances, and there’s no telling what measures that country’s communist leadership might resort to. The European Union, which includes most of those “developed economies,” is currently preoccupied with one of those occasional invasions by the Muslim world that they’ve had to put up with for the past several centuries. Perhaps debt can be perpetually incurred, but otherwise nowhere in the world does there seem to be any happy endings on offer.
All that debt did by one hell of a stock market run, here and elsewhere, with all the freshly-printed money having nowhere to go in a zero-interest world, but here and elsewhere that seems to be at long last coming to the same sorry end as all Ponzi schemes. The Chinese are resorting to the old Maoist adage about all power growing out of the barrel of a gun to deal with the situation, with stockholders being threatened with severe retaliation if they sell any shares in tanking companies, and the unlikelihood that even President Barack Obama and newly-anointed Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn or any other EU official would dare to employ such methods makes the situation all the more uncertain.
Robert Schiller is a professor of economics at Yale University and a Nobel laureate in his science, and we are neither, but our gloomy and doomy temperament inclines us to agree with his worried assessment that “It looks to me a bit like a bubble again with essentially a tripling of stock prices since 2009 in just six years, and at the same time people losing confidence in the valuation of the market.” One needn’t be a Yale professor or Nobel laureate to have noticed that the American economy has not tripled in strength and size over the past six years, or kept apace of the growing debt and surge of legal and illegal immigration, and that the rest of the world hasn’t been managing its affairs any better, nor to draw the obvious conclusions. Every roller coaster ride we’ve ever taken has eventually ended at ground level, and we can’t shake a bad feeling that the world’s stock markets will prove true to this rule.
We read that the stock markets are further spooked by the sudden realization that Donald Trump might actually be the Republican nominee for President of the United States, and that the equally embarrassing fact of self-described socialist Sanders as the front runner makes it possible that he might actually win the office, and this causes us even further gloominess and doominess. There’s little hope to be found in Europe, where the self-described Hollande is still running and some English guy with no discernible identity is Prime Minister of Great Britain and Germany’s Angela Merkel is talking crazy-talk about immigration one day and her usual common sense the next, with no time to talk about debt or stock markets or other economic issues. The Chinese communists are both Chinese and communists, and at the risk of sounding stereotypical we found them quite inscrutable. In any case, we find little reason for optimism.
On the other hand, the local QuikTrip convenience stores are now selling their lowest-octane gasoline for $1.99 a gallon, an economic stimulus the administration hasn’t been able to thwart despite its best efforts, the earthquakes that have occasionally troubled our fracked region might not have anything to do with that, and Americans have proved a shrewd people in other uncertain times, and one can still hold out hope that neither Donald Trump nor Bernie Sanders will ever be this country’s president. This doesn’t guarantee a hopeful outcome, especially with Hillary Clinton as a the next-most plausible alternative, but at least it allows for the possibility or the best and precludes the worst.

— Bud Norman