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Sometimes No Deal is the Best Deal

President Donald Trump came home from his big summit in Vietnam with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un without a great deal to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, much less a Nobel Peace Prize, but it could have been much worse.
In the days leading up to the summit Trump had touted his close personal relationship with Kim, saying he “fell in love” with the “honorable man” who is notorious for his brutal repression of the North Korean people and is clearly intent on building a nuclear stockpile to protect his family’s dictatorship, and there were worries that he’d wind up singing on any old deal that Kim proposed. Kim wanted either a complete or partial lifting of economic sanctions in exchange for a cross-his-heart-and-hope-to-die promise to end his nuclear weapons program, and to Trump’s credit he walked away from the negotiating table. Trump could probably have spun that deal as a great win to his die-hard defenders, even if more objective observers would have realized its worthlessness, but his more seasoned remaining foreign policy advisors apparently talked him out of it, and we’re glad they did. The die-hard Trump defenders were able to compare him to President Ronald Reagan and his famous walk-away from a summit with the Soviet Union in Iceland, and although we don’t think either president or the situations were very similar Trump does deserve our begrudging respect for leaving the summit empty-handed, and we hold it hope it ends as well as it did Reagan and western civilization.
Trump’s sales pitch that he could negotiate America out of any crisis with his irresistible charm and “Art of the Deal” negotiation skills never much impressed us, although it did take in a lot of suckers over his long career as a real estate and casino and pro football and airline and scam university operator, and we never expected it to end the decades old stalemate on the Korean peninsula. The past three generations of the Kim Jong dictatorships have left North Korea an impoverished a miserable nation, but the’ve been pretty good to the Jim Jong dynasty, and they’ve await been backed up the Chinese nuclear arsenal and lately have nukes of their own, as well as plenty of of conventional artillery within range of the populous South Korean and and Japanese capitals, and that leaves them with a pretty strong negotiating position with even the most charming and skillful negotiator.
Trump and his apologists can rightly claim at that least North Korea isn’t lobbing any more missile tests over south Korea or Japan or toward Guam and other American lands, and that high-level negotiations are underway, and that all the rhetoric about “fire and fury like no one’s ever seen” and who’s nuclear button is bigger has been tamped down, and although tat’s clearly a good thing we’re not much impressed. So far as we can tell the North Koreans have temporarily suspended their missile tests because they’re satisfied with the results so far, the high-level talks have been no more successful than the traditional low-level talks would have been over the past decades, and the various Kim Jong dictators were always eager for high-level negotiations even before Trump started “tweeting” all his trash talk. None of Trump’s predecessors dating back to President Harry Truman were able to solve the tricky situation on the Korean peninsula, and all of them saw North Korea’s military steady position improve, but they can all make the boast as much as Trump that at least South Korea was thriving and mushroom clouds appeared on their watch.
We’ve been living with that uneasy situation all our lives, though, and by now we’re so inured to it we assume it will outlast even Trump’s presidency. If it comes down to a nuclear exchange America and it allies have always been the presumptive “winner,” and despite Trump’s trade wars and other tough negotiating tactics with America’s allies we expect that scary balance of power will prove more persuasive to the North Korean dictatorship than Trump’s personal charm and artful negotiating skills.

So far there are no mushroom clouds, which means the news will continue to focus on Trump’s longtime lawyer’s testimony to Congress and other embarrassing domestic matters, and although we hold out the best for the future for now we’ll happily settle for that.

— Bud Norman

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A Slow News Day Spent Mostly Waiting for the Coming Faster News

There was the usual amount of news afoot on Monday, but most of it was about the Academy Awards and a vote in the House of Representatives about the little noticed National State of Emergency and other matters of fleeting interest. Most of the media seemed bracing for the big summit in Vietnam between American President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and what might follow that.
The conventional wisdom at the moment is that “Russia thing” special counsel Robert Mueller is politely withholding his report as a by-the-book courtesy to a president abroad conducting foreign affairs, and that when Trump arrives home something more important than North Korea’s ongoing nuclear program will happen. Try as we might to always be contrarians, this time the conventional wisdom seems wise to us.
Except for a whole lot of pomp and circumstance — or pomp and circumcision, as the great malaprop comic Norm Crosby might have more aptly put it — we don’t expect much earth-shaking news to come out of Trump’s summit with Kim. We mean that in the most optimistic and best way, as we don’t much worry about any mushroom clouds arising as a result, but we also don’t expect it will result in the elimination of the nuclear threat that Trump has already bragged about eliminating. Each of Trump’s national security agency chiefs have given sworn and live-on-television testimony to Congress that they believe Kim is not likely to give up his nuclear program, and submitted a 40-page written report stating the same thing, and although Trump has claimed that they were misquoted and misconstrued by the “fake news” we think they’re likely right. We hold out some hope that our former fourth district Kansas congressman and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on the job, as he’s always seem grounded-in-reality fellow, but our faith was somewhat shaken when he denied to a cable news interviewer that Trump had ever said anything like what he undeniably “tweeted” about the North Korean nuclear threat already being eliminated, and assured us he was still hopeful.
We’re hopeful there at least won’t be any mushroom clouds, but Trump seems rightly worried that whenever the Mueller report lands it will be a significant bombshell. The Democrats now running the House Oversight Committee have impolitely summoned Trump’s soon-to-imprisoned longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to testify while the president is abroad and attending to important foreign policy matters, and that will likely steal some attention. Cohen can’t talk about the “Russia thing” due to the ongoing investigation, but he’s expected to talk about his role in arranging hush money payments to pornographic video performers and nude models so as to get around campaign finance laws, along with other ethically and legally problematic business practices he has witnessed over his many years as counsel to Trump.</div>
It will take quite a breakthrough in Vietnam to keep that out of the news,

— Bud Norman

If It’s Doomsday, This Must be Belgium

President Donald Trump’s die-hard fans probably loved his performance Wednesday at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Brussels, as he gave all those freeloading Euro-trash leaders the tough talk that always goes over so well at the endless campaign rallies, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin probably enjoyed it as well. Most of the rest of the world, though, shuddered.
All but two Republican Senators and every single Republican in the House of Representatives preemptively voted for resolutions that affirmed America’s commitment to the NATO alliance Trump was once again criticizing on the way to the summit. When Trump started the meetings off with a rambling breakfast rant about Germany being “captive to Russia” because of a natural gas pipeline project, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and NATO ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson and chief of staff John Kelly sat next to him with the same embarrassed look and awkward posture of the wife of a drunken husband spoiling an otherwise cordial  cocktail party. Unless you really relished the video of Trump socking it to the Euro-trash, it’s hard to see what America got out of it.
Trump did get the rest of the NATO members to reaffirm their commitment to increase defense spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product in the coming years, which they’d all be working toward since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine long before Trump was elected, and the NATO general secretary generously gave Trump all the credit, but then Trump insisted they immediately start spending 4 percent, which is even more than the 3.58 percent that America spends on defense. Trump is probably right that the pipeline deal between Germany and Russia was a bad idea, but of course he vastly overstated Germany’s reliance on Russian energy, and it’s unlikely he’ll convince German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was a literal captive of Russia when she grew up in East Germany, to back out during the NATO summit. We figure it’s even more unlikely that he’ll press the issue with Putin during an upcoming summit with the Russian dictator that he never seems to criticize.
All of the NATO members except for Turkey are bona fide democracies, except for Turkey, whose autocratic leader Trump never criticizes, and we doubt those country’s leaders will persuade their voters to accept the tax hikes or cuts in other government services to pay for an immediate quadrupling of defense to mollify Trump, who is widely reviled around the world as a bully and the very embodiment of an ugly American. Trump has some legitimate grievances with the the NATO arrangement, but every sane observer in the western world still acknowledge its existential importance, and his tactless style of diplomacy makes it harder for the essential alliance to reach a satisfactory resolution of these longstanding squabbles.
The die-hard fans and the Russian dictator love it, though, and we’re not sure which explains Trump’s rants. Despite the fissures in an alliance that won the Cold War and has mostly resisted Russia’s revanchist ambitions Trump’s rhetoric somehow delights those Americans who resent those smarty-pants Euro-trash countries, and we don’t doubt that figures in his calculations. There’s an ongoing special counsel investigation into the Russian meddling in America’s past presidential election that pretty much only Trump and his most die-hard fans and the Russian dictator accept as an actual fact, and we’d hate to think that past shady dealings with the Russkies is why Trump seems intent on undoing a post-war world order of trade relations and diplomatic alliances.

— Bud Norman

About That Very Big Deal in Singapore

For now America is not exchanging nuclear missiles with North Korea, and there might now be slight more reason to hope that never comes to pass, but that’s about the best we can say for for that very big deal summit President Donald Trump had with nutcase North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in Singapore on Tuesday.
Kim signed a statement that his country “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and agreed to turn over remains of American soldiers killed in the long-ago Korean War, which is not bad but nearly not so good as the complete and verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs that Trump and had hopefully said he would insist on. North Korea has given similar assurances before, and this time around it got some very worrisome concessions for it.
The nutcase dictator of the world’s most backwards third-world hellhole not only got on the front pages and top-of-the-hour broadcasts of an entire globe’s media by shaking hands with the President of the United States on a stage festooned with an equal number of both country’s flags, but the whole wide world also heard Trump lavish embarrassingly fulsome praise on him. Trump had gone into the meeting after a disastrous meeting with our most important allies by opining that the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “weak” and “dishonest,” and one of his spokesmen saying there would be a “special place in hell” for Trudeau, but the president described the nutcase dictator of the world’s most backwards third-world hell as a “very talented” man who “wants to do the right thing” and a “very funny guy” who “wants to do the right thing for his people,” and mentioned what a “great honor” it was to have “a very special bond” with Kim and that “I trust him.”
It wasn’t in the jointly-signed statement, but Trump stated to all the world’s television cameras and newspaper tape recorders that he’s also agreed to cancel all the joint military exercises that America conducts annually with our South Korean allies to prepare for the still-lingering possibility that North Korea isn’t truly committed to peace. Trump even used North Korea’s language to say the “war games” were not only expensive but “provocative,” and although that surely pleased the adversarial dictatorship in China it was an unpleasant surprise to our allies in South Korea and Japan and elsewhere in southeast Asia.
America might yet get the remains of those fallen heroes from that long-ago Korean War, which would surely offer some comfort to their still-living wives and daughters and sons, but Trump didn’t insist that North Korea send back to their wives and sons and daughters the still-living human beings they’ve kidnapped from South Korea and Japan and our allies in southeast Asia. As Trudeau and the rest of the Group of Seven leaders have lately learned, even the most longstanding and reliable alliances America once had with the rest of the world don’t mean much to Trump.
Still, Trump has ratcheted down the “fire and fury like the world has never seen” rhetoric about “Little Rocket Man,”, and Kim is no longer calling his suddenly equal-on-the-world-stage counterpart a “dotard,” and for a now an exchange of nuclear missiles seems less likely. The world has a statement signed by the world’s two least credible leaders that they won’t be lobbing nuclear missiles at one another any time soon, and for now we’ll settle for that.

— Bud Norman

That Big Event in Singapore, According to Various Media

“Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard,” also known as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and American President Donald Trump, shook hands Monday on a Singapore stage festooned with American and North Korean flags, then sat down and smiled together for the cameras of the world’s media, and everybody agreed it was a very big deal. Of course there was also much disagreement about how to cover it.
The more cautious and respectable American press outlets, even those considered left-of-center and overly eager to report news casting a negative light on Trump, stuck mostly to the objective who, what, where and when it, and were especially cautious about the unavoidably subjective why of it, but they also frankly acknowledged what a very big deal it was. The Washington Post’s top-of-the-front-page headline was “Trump, Kim shake hands, begin historic summit,” and the “lede” paragraph — as we spell in the newspaper biz — quoted Trump’s prediction that “We will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.” The New York Times’ top-of-the-front-page headline was “Handshakes, and Hope for an Agreement,,” which was just as careful and also adhered to our preferred style of capitalizing headlines, and the “bullet items” — as we call them in newspaper biz — stressed that it was indeed a very big deal but also very complicated as to how it might turn out.
The Cable News Network, or the “fake news CNN” as Trump calls it,  was similarly cautious in its coverage., with the anchors talking about how historic it was and the guest commentators expressing both hope and worries.  Over at the MSNBC cable news network, where they frankly acknowledge a left-of-center perspective and unabashedly delight in anything factual they can come up with that sheds a negative light on Trump, even Rachel Maddow was acknowledging it was a big deal. She had several guests fluent in the Korean language with impressive credentials for commenting on the military and political and economic and diplomatic situation who had some pretty convincing reasons to be worried it will all go awry, but they all had to admit a possibility they still hoped for that things would turn out well.
Meanwhile, over at Fox News, Sean Hannity was already spiking the ball in the end zone in on Trump’s behalf. He parroted Trump’s attempts to downplay expectations, and that “it’s a process, a long a process,” and helpfully recalled all the times North Korea had duped past Democratic and pre-Trump Republicans and hopefully assured his viewers Trump wouldn’t make that same mistake, and ran some old footage of President Ronald Reagan confronting Russia. As far as Hannity is concerned, if Trump wins an unexpected-by-almost-everyone complete capitulation from Kim he’s a sure bet Nobel Peace Prize winner, and if he walks away without any agreement at all he’s the second coming of St. Reagan walking away from the Soviets at Reykjavik, so it’s a win-win for Trump either way. Due to the time zones the historic handshake occurred after the morning and afternoon right-wing talk radio talkers went off the air, and they’ll be on before today’s-in-Singapore’s actual summit begins, but we’re sure that Hannity and the rest of them will see it pretty much the same way.
The National Review and The Weekly Standard and the rest of the cautious and respectable pre-Trump right-of-center publications are weeklies, and go home to their wives and children at a decent hour, so they haven’t yet weighed in, but we expect they’ll have some of the same worries that were voiced on Rachel Maddow’s show. The Weekly Standard did get in a short story about the involvement of Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, the former National Basketball Association rebounding champion and “Apprentice” contestant who is somehow on the scene and somehow  figures in all of this, but that’s not hopeful, although Trump did rightly note he was once a hell of a rebounder despite being short by NBA power-forward standards. Even if Trump does walk away from today’s summit he’ll have granted an odious third world dictator a long-desired starring role on the sage he walks away from, and with an endorsement of his abysmal human rights record in dealing with his own people, and for many other reasons it’s not at all analogous to Reagan walking out of Reykjavik. Trump’s many domestic scandals and recent squabbles with our traditional allies do seem to make him more desperate for any old deal that odious third world dictator might be willing to cut, too. We like to think we’re a cautious and respectable pre-Trump right-of-center publication, and without any wife or kids to worry about we’re up late and watching the latest developments, so we’ll hedge our bets just like those other cautious and respectable right-of-center and left-of-center institutions we’ll go no further than saying that we’re hoping for the best but still have our worries.
At least Trump and Kim are smiling for the photo-ops, rather than calling one another “Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard.” As Trump is so fond of saying, “we shall see.”

— Bud Norman

Choosing One’s Outrage

There’s no telling what will offend some people’s moral sensibilities, or what will not.
A rare look at our Facebook page found several friends grousing about Israel’s meticulously limited response to the thousands of rockets that have lately been lobbed at its people by the Islamist terror gang Hamas, with one friend rather angrily demanding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance before a international war crimes tribunal, but none seemed at all troubled that an Islamist terror gang was raining rockets down on the random civilians of a civilized and democratic nation, or demanded that the perpetrators be treated as war criminal. A far greater number of Muslims have recently perished in the fighting in Syria and Libya and Iraq and Afghanistan and all the other places where internecine Islamist warfare rages, and for far less justifiable reasons, but judging by the relative lack of mainstream media coverage and Facebook chatter that doesn’t seem to trouble many consciences.
The guest list at that fancy White House gathering of African leaders is a similarly curious example of selective outrage. Among those getting the red carpet treatment and presidential promises of massive wealth redistribution are Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Oblang Nguema Mbasago, fresh from a killing spree that left all of his prominent political opponents dead, and Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, who advocates a policy of beheading homosexuals, along with the usual assortment of seedy Afro-Marxist thugs who have made such a mess of post-colonial Africa. These elegantly embossed invitations to the White House were handed out by the same administration that routinely derides its domestic political opponents as extremists bent on dirty air and dirty water, and who are implored in faux-hip-hop fashion to “Just stop hatin’,” and it strikes us as odd. Even the most stubborn American adherents of the millennia-old notions about same sex-same marriage draw the line well short of beheading homosexuals, and thus far even the kookiest musket-weilding and tricorner-hat-wearing “tea party” types haven’t offed anybody.
The beheading-of-homosexuals part might yet yet provoke some justifiable moral outrage among the left, where anything having to do with homosexuality gets some traction, and certainly arouses more outrage than the all-too-tempting idea of simply killing all of one’s prominent political opponents, but that also seems oddly selective. We are as appalled as anyone on the left by the treatment of homosexuals in the Islamic world and throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and would welcome  a more consistent American policy of protesting it, but we’d love to see the left make the same exceptions to its multi-cultural and morally relativist rules to protest the appalling treatment of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and other religious minorities in much of the world. The womenfolk are getting a raw deal in most of these fondly regarded underdog countries, too, and it seems especially odd that a modern feminism obsessed with the mating rituals of horny frat boys is indifferent to the forced genital mutilations and other brutal abuses that are common throughout a romanticized Third World.
Sometimes moral outrage is selected according to partisan obligations, like the Facebook friend who was fuming about our Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s reckless tax cuts and the resulting slight downgrade from one of the bond-rating agencies, but didn’t seem to mind when the nation’s creit ratings were downgraded after years of trillion dollar deficits under President Barack Obama. That same partisan prejudice prevented the press from highlighting Vice President Joe Biden’s hilarious repeated references to “the nation of Africa,” which is precisely the sort of thing that would have been endlessly re-played on the late night comedy shows if only Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin had said it. Oftentimes it’s that multi-cultural moral relativism that tolerates beheadings of homosexuals and genital mutilations in the more primitive and thus more spiritually pure countries, all in the name of progressivism, but insists that anyone from their supposedly more intellectually enlightened culture should be willing to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage or sign a consent form before a drunken college hook-up. In either case, one’s instincts should be set aside for a moment of more thoughtful consideration.

— Bud Norman