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Chinese Torture

China has been feuding with the rest of the world for a while, and for now it seems to be winning. The economic powerhouse shows no sign of retreating from its trade war with the United States, is successfully pushing around such major American businesses as the National Basketball Association, and continues to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong and its Uighur and Kazakh and Uzbek regions with unabashed ruthlessness.
President Donald Trump has famously proclaimed that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” but so far that’s not how the one he started with China has turned out. The tariffs that Trump has imposed on Chinese imports have done harm to the country’s economy, but the American companies and consumers who pay them have also taken a hit, and the retaliatory tariffs the Chinese imposed have hurt the farmers and ranchers and manufacturing workers and service workers even worse.
The American manufacturing sector that Trump promised to restore to its blue-collar glory is now in recession, the white collar guys are cutting back on investment, and farm bankruptcies and suicides are up despite the billions of dollars Trump has doled out in subsidies. The overall economy has slowed, and although we’re still adding jobs it’s at a slower pace, and there’s no consolation in China’s woes or the slowing global economy.
All of which comes at a time when Trump is preoccupied with an impeachment inquiry and an already perilous reelection campaign, while Chinese dictator-for-life Xi Jinping can more easily withstand the economic pain of his people. Trump is the self-proclaimed master of “The Art of the Deal,” as well as a “very stable genius” with a “very big brain” and “unmatched wisdom,” but he finds himself in a disadvantaged position when negotiating with China. He’ll be tempted to surrender to China’s extortionist demands and sell it as the best deal ever, knowing that most of his die-hard fans will believe it, while XI will patiently await either that outcome or the results of the next presidential election, and the smart money seems to be digging in for a prolonged trade war with no happy outcome for anyone.
Meanwhile, the smart money in several major American industries seems willing to accede to China’s extortionist demands. One of the strongest arguments for a trade war with China is its extortionist demand that foreign companies doing business there agree to share their high-tech intellectual property with the country’s competing businesses, but many billions of dollars worth of American companies both big and small have figured it’s worth it to gain access to the market of more than a billion increasingly affluent Chinese.
The increasingly affluent Chinese consumers have a taste for America’s decadent popular culture, which is one of our country’s biggest export industries, and many of the big movie studios and recording companies and comic book publishers and internet streaming services have so far agreed to China’s strict censorship of what they sell to that vast Chinese audience, and have too often altered what they present to American audiences. The current glut of action-adventure movies that have degraded the America is largely because they’re mostly dialogue-free, and easily translated to a larger foreign market that is equally blood-thirsty in its cinematic tastes, but the studios are also steering away from anything politically offensive to the Chinese dictatorship that controls access to the increasingly affluent Chinese market.
The latest example is China’s feud with the National Basketball Association, of all people, which is hard to explain. Back during the Cultural Revolution the Chinese dictatorship tried to erase any western influence from the motherland, including classical music and impressionist art and the western literary canon and the Judeo-Christian tradition, but Chairman Mao Tse Tung was as avid a hoops fan as any Kansas boy and somehow the great American game of basketball was given a pass. Playgrounds and club teams flourished, the Chinese developed an appreciation of the game, and when the freakishly tall and talented Yao Ming started at center for the NBA’s Houston Rockets the increasingly affluent fans got to see him play against the most talented players in the world. It was a hit show in China, even after Yao’s remarkable career was ended by the injuries that usually affect 7’5″ guys, and the NBA has been raking in big bucks in the increasingly affluent Chinese market ever since.
The general manager of the aforementioned Houston Rockets issued a “tweet” that he stood with those Hong Kong protestors, though, and after that China announced it wouldn’t be televising the two NBA exhibition games that had been scheduled, and that the rest of the NBA season was also in doubt. That led the NBA’s commissioner to apologize for the “tweet,” and the enormously talented but entirely self-interested shooting guard of the Rockets to opine that he’d been treated very well by the Chinese during his exhibition game there, and it looked like a sellout of American free speech values to the even more lucrative Chinese basketball market. At this point the NBA commissioner is making clear that he apologizes for the “tweet” but not the American free speech values that allowed it, and he’s on the plane to China for those exhibition games even if they aren’t being televised, and some deal might yet be worked out. By coincidence Yao is now the commissioner of the Chinese Basketball Association, and we assume he has some sway with the Chinese dictatorship.
Those democracy-demanding Hong Kong protestors that the general manager “tweeted” about won’t find any succor, on the other hand, and the Trump administration doesn’t seem to care much about them during ongoing trade negotiations. Some high Chinese officials have been banned due to the crackdowns on the Uighurs and Kazakhs and Uzbekis, but those are all restive Muslim populations, so they shouldn’t count on Trump’s continued support as he pursues the greatest trade deal ever.
China’s a major world power, with economic and military and diplomatic strength to challenge the United States, and it doesn’t have to play by the rules of democratic western world, and it seems to understand that Trump’s self-proclaimed powers seem puny by comparison. China is also a foe of pretty much the rest of the modern world, though, and against its combined might they look puny. If some first world superpower were to give up its petty feuds with its erstwhile allies and lead a united front the Chinese would be at a negotiating disadvantage, and might be forced to allow free trade as well freedom to its people, but for now and the foreseeable future the Chinese are winning.

— Bud Norman

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What the Scandals Obscure

All the news lately is about the Democrats’ increasingly rapid rush to impeach President Donald Trump for all sorts of increasingly plausible reasons, and that might well redound to Trump’s benefit. There’s always an outside chance it all turns out to be a “deep state” conspiracy that vindicates the president and exposes all his enemies, and for now it’s distracting attention from some worrisome economic news.
You might have never heard of the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index, but the stock markets watch it closely enough they took a dive on Tuesday when it reported that for the second consecutive month the manufacturing sector of the economy was in contraction, this time more severely than the month before. Farm bankruptcies are lately up, too, along with farm suicides, and growth in both the overall American economy and the interconnected global economy is clearly slowing, with several big and important national economies already in recession.
Which is bad news for assembly line workers and farmers and stockholders and eventually everyone else in the entire world, but it’s also very bad news for Trump. Despite three years of unrelenting scandals and outrageous “tweets” and deliberate provocations Trump has generally stayed above 40 percent in the public opinions because the grow domestic product and stock markets were up and the unemployment was rate low. The trajectory wasn’t much higher than it had been during the last six years or so of the hated administration of President Barack Obama, but it gave Trump and his talk radio apologists something to brag about, so all the die-hard Trump fans and a lot of the more reluctant supporters were willing to put up with all the rest of it.
All the rest of it is pretty hard to put up with, though, at this point even for the die-hard fans, and harder still if Trump can’t run for reelection on the boast of the the greatest economy ever. He won his first Electoral College victory despite losing the popular vote by three million or so because of the Republican party’s longstanding hold on the prairie and southern states and a mere 70,000 votes spread around the usually Democratic Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan, where they bought into his promises that he’d revive the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Neither are faring at all well at the moment, many economists fear the service sector will be dragged down along with them, and if current trends continue for another 13 months Trump might well lose to even the looniest left nominee the damn Democrats might come up with.
There’s a strong argument to be made, after all, that Trump’s unilaterally waged trade war against most of the world is the primary cause, or at least has something to do with it. The tariffs have raised prices on foreign goods not only for the Wal-Mart customers but also for the manufacturers of everything that requires foreign parts, which is a lot stuff, which is bound to be bad for business. Of course the retaliatory tariffs have essentially barred America’s farmers from the lucrative global markets they’d come to rely on, but Trump boasts that “I sometimes see where these terrible, dishonest reporters will say ‘Oh Jeez, the farmers are upset.’ Well they can’t be too upset, because I gave them $12 billion and I gave them $16 billion this year.”
Of course Trump didn’t reach into his own pocket for that sum of money, which is more than Obama spent on the automakers’ bail-out, which at the time outraged all the farmers and the rest of Republican party, but we expect a lot of farmers will be mollified, along with a lot of laid-off factory workers, even if they still come out on the short end of the stick. Part of Trump’s appeal to these voters is his shared hostility toward the pointy-headed know-it-alls from the coasts who want to take away their semi-automatic rifles and reconfigure the ethnic makeup and sexual orientation of America, and they’re willing to endure the pain while Trump delivers the greatest trade deals ever.
>He’s not yet delivered one, though, and at this point he seems unlikely to strike one in time for reelection. The Chinese dictatorship can endure its people’s hardships more easily than an American president with a pesky free press and upcoming election ever can, and being stereotypically inscrutable Asian types they regard the next 13 months or so as a mere blink of the eye, whereas Trump likely sees it as a hellish eternity. Trump is still feuding with the European Union and the Brexit-ing British, along with most of South America and Africa and all the Asian countries that used to be on board with a Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty aligned against China, until Trump pulled out of the Obama-era pact. Restoring mutually beneficial trade among the nations seems out of reach for the next 13 months or so, much less the greatest trade deals ever.
The smart money on Wall Street seemed to think so on Tuesday, and we expect that the factory workers and farmers will also notice if Trump’s grandiose promises aren’t kept. There’s no longer any semblance of a free market Republican party and none of the damn Democrats are willing to abandon their traditional protectionist instincts and thus don’t have much to say about it, as they do seem more preoccupied with reconfiguring the ethnic makeup and sexual orientation of the country, so we’ll sit on the sidelines and see how it all turns out. If the economy isn’t rosy come election day, the rest of it will smell very bad.

— Bud Norman

Back to the Post-Labor Day Reality

Labor Day weekends are usually light on news, and this past one was thankfully no exception, but there’s no way to avoid news altogether. The great state of Texas suffered a second mass shooting in a month, a major hurricane battered the Bahamas and threatened to do the same to the southeast coast of America, and President Donald Trump got in another round of golf.
To be fair to Trump, which we try our best to do, there’s not much he could have done about either the mass shooting or the hurricane. Better he should be golfing than “tweeting” a brand new feud that offends allies or spooks the stock markets.
There’s no getting rid of America’s millions of privately owned guns, and no way of predicting who’s going to lose a job and start shooting up the highway between Midland and Odessa, and so far none of the media reports have shown that enhanced background checks or any of the other popular solutions would have prevented the tragedy. We’ll frankly admit that we have no good ideas about how to stop or at least slow these all-too-common massacres, so we can hardly blame Trump and all those very best people he’s surrounded himself for failing to find the magic elixir. The president is expected to offer some hope and comfort to the loved ones of the victims, and we hope he’ll prove better at the task than he has on all the previous occasions.
There’s not much anybody can do about a hurricane, either, although the internet news site Axios reported Trump had floated the idea of bombing them with a nuclear missile. Trump insists this is “fake news,” and we sincerely hope that on this occasion he’s right, but we can’t quite dismiss it as completely implausible. Trump wore a “FEMA” ball cap as he videotaped a message about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency was a well-oiled machine ready to manage any emergency that a fully-fledged and mostly English-speaking state of the union might encounter, and he once again admitted that he’d never heard of a Category Five hurricane. The current Hurricane Dorian is the fifth Category Five hurricane to threaten the United States and its territories during Trump’s time in office, so that’s not at all reassuring, but we’ll hold out hope that hurricane stays at sea and in the worst case the bureaucrats at FEMA are more knowledgeable about these things.
Today school is back in session, the stock markets reopen, the trade wars with China and the rest of the world resume, politics goes in to full swing, that hurricane might or not wreak havoc on the southeast coast of America, and it’s a sure bet that Trump will “tweet” something outrageous. The local forecasts give ample hope for several more warm and sunny days here on the central plains, and the coming winter might prove just as mild as the passing summer has been, but we’re forecasting stormy weather in domestic politics and international relations and the global economy and the actual weather.
Even so, we hope you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend.

— Bud Norman

Placing Preemptive Blame

President Donald Trump is assuring the American public that the economy won’t go into recession for so long as he’s in office, and that if it does he’s certainly not to blame. Somehow that does not inspire confidence.
The stock markets have been up the last couple of days and the unemployment rate is still unusually low, while the gross domestic product has lately crawled forward at an Obama-era pace, but there are reasons for Trump and the rest of us to be nervous. The treasury markets recently went into an “inverted yield curve,” an obscure statistic that has presaged every recession of the last 50 years, business investment has lately been down, the federal deficit is up beyond Obama-era levels, such major economies as Great Britain’s and Germany’s are sliding into recession, China’s behemoth economy is rapidly slowing, and since July there has been a 6.4 percent decline in consumer confidence. The global smart money doesn’t seem to have much faith in Trump’s leadership, and increasingly sees it as yet another reason to be nervous.
All of which amounts to another conspiracy against Trump, of course. Trump explains that the “fake news” media — which now includes Fox News — is drumming up potentially self-fulfilling recession prophecies in order to deny him a landslide reelection. The media are merely reporting the official government statistics, but Trump is also skeptical of official government statistics. Back when President Barack Obama was in office and the stats showed slow but steady economic improvement Trump opined that the bureaucrats were cooking the books to make the boss look good. When Trump became president and the bureaucrats continued to report the same slow but steady trajectory he happily embraced it as official government statistics, but apparently anything that doesn’t look good is coming from the “deep state” cabal trying to make the new boss look bad.
Trump is also preemptively blaming Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has not done the severe interest rate-cutting Trump thinks is needed to prevent the upcoming recession that Trump assures us is not going to happen. Powell’s policies are quite prudent if the economy is the well-tuned ad humming machine Trump claims it is, and will come handy if that’s not the case and there are still interest rates to be cut, but if worse comes to worst Trump will have a handy scapegoat in the man he appointed to head the Fed.
No matter what, Trump will insist his global trade wars had anything to do with any global economic difficulties that might occur. He still insists that China is paying those billions of dollars of tariffs rather than the Wax-Mart shoppers, even as he backs off from his latest tariff threat for fear that Christmas shopping might not be as brisk, and there’s not reason a global trade war has anything to do with a downturn in the global economy.
Trump ran for president on the argument that all the military alliances and trading partnerships America had negotiated since the end of World War II were a raw deal, despite the relative global peace and prosperity that followed here and mostly abroad, and a promise that he’d knock it all down and negotiate a far better deal for the United States. So far he’s been fairly successful at the knocking it down part, but he’s not yet negotiated that sweetest deal ever.
None of the world’s dictators nor any of its democratically elected leaders have any reason to bail Trump out by agreeing to his demands for American hegemony, so that sweetest deal ever seems even more elusive. If they face any popular backlash to an economic downturn, both the dictators and the democratically elected leaders will happily and plausibly blame Trump.
On the other hand, the next recession might not happen before the next presidential election. There’s always a next recession, no matter who is president, what with the business cycle being an un-repealable law of economics, but they’re hard to predict. We’ve noticed they usually come at an inconvenient time for Republican incumbents, but despite his six casino bankruptcies Trump has often been lucky in his life.
An alarming 74 percent of the economists polled by the National Association for Business Economics expect a recession by 2021, but they probably have it in for Trump, and we remember the old joke about how economists have predicted the last 30 of the past ten recessions, and we hope they’re wrong. Not for Trump’s sake, of course, as we can’t stand the guy and will gladly blame his wrecking-ball economics if the global economy crashes to the ground, but because we don’t like recessions.

— Bud Norman

A Trump Retreat in the Trade War

The stock markets were all up on Tuesday, mostly due to President Donald Trump backing off his threats to impose the further tariffs on Chinese imports that have lately been dragging the stock markets down. Trump is loathe to admit a mistake, but he hates a slumping stock market even more.
By backing off his threat of another 10 percent tariff on $300 billion of such popular Chinese imports as cellphones and laptop computers, at least until the Christmas buying season is well underway, lest retail sales suffer, Trump has tacitly admitted that all his talk about how the Chinese are paying the billions of dollars in tariffs rather than the American consumer was pure balderdash. He won’t openly admit it, of course, and his die-hard fans will indulge him the fiction, but the smart money in stock markets and the rest of the world know the score.
Trump somehow became President of the United States on the argument that he wrote “The Art of Deal,” and that as the world’s greatest negotiator he would deliver the greatest trade deals in the history of the world, but for now he’s more intent on maintaining a slow but steady economic status quo. This makes it harder for him to deliver on his promise of that greatest trade deal ever with China in time for his reelection day, as he has clearly blinked in these high-stakes negations and the Chinese are stereotypically wily enough to notice, but if the stock markets are up and the unemployment rate is down ob election day the die-hard fans won’t mind.
This all comes as the brutal Chinese dictatorship is brutally cracking down on pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, which Trump cares little about and rightly assumes that most of the voters in America care even less about. and he is not going to express any indignation about that. Trump claims that his very close friendship with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping is the reason that Sino-American relations are going so swimmingly, and he’s not one to let a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors get in the way of a such a beautiful friendship.
November is a long ways off, and the next November even longer off, and there’s no telling how things might be by then. We’ll hold out hope that economy will be chugging along at a slow but steady rate, prepare as best as we can for the worst, and not expect that Trump or any damned Democrat will strike the greatest deal ever made.

— Bud Norman

The Latest News from the Trade War

The big story on Tuesday was another round of Democratic presidential primary debates, where the center-left types reportedly clashed with the more leftward types, but our brother and his wife are in town and the weather’s been far too nice to bother with that at the moment. When we got home we were more stuck by the latest on news on the ongoing trade war with China.
President Donald Trump has “tweeted” his assurance that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” but his trade war with China has thus far proved neither good nor easy to win. Trump and his die-hard fans have been telling us for at least a year that China is down on its knees begging for any trade agreement Trump might grant them, but the latest presidential “tweets” signal that the Chinese are willing to hold out for better terms until at least the next presidential election, when they might get the chance to negotiate with another administration. Naturally Trump is blaming the Democrats for daring to choose someone who might challenge him, and promising that if he gets reelected he’ll deliver the greatest trade deal the world has ever seen, a trade deal so great your head will spin.
We don’t have much faith any of these Democratic contenders will do any better, but neither do we worry our heads will fatefully spin with what Trump brings about. The trade war is is definitely harming China’s economy, as Trump triumphantly “tweets,” but only the most slack-jawed yokel in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap believes that America is benefiting from all those billions of tariff dollars the Chinese are pouring into our best-ever economy. The tariffs are being paid by the MAGA-cap-wearing suckers lined up at Wal-Mart with a basketful of Chinese goods, the world’s two biggest economies are both taking a hit, the rest of the world’s economy are slowing as a result, and it all makes it somewhat more likely another administration will finish the negotiations. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, described by Trump as a “close friend,” doesn’t have to worry about any upcoming election campaigns, and survive an economic slowdown more easily than any head of state from a more or less democratic nation.
Once upon a time in the Grand Old Party we could have imagined well-credentialed Republican experts dealing with China, and such establishment presidents as Eisenhower and Nixon and Reagan and a couple of Bushes guiding them along. China is indeed an unfair trading partner, stealing intellectual property and occasionally manipulating its currency and charging unfair tariffs, but they’re doing that to the rest of the world, too, and we think a unified world could convince them to stop. Trump has instead chosen to start trade wars with the rest of the world, but most of these Democrats are even more isolationist and protectionist than Trump, and those well-credentialed Republican experts who use to handle these matters in a way that furthered global peace and prosperity are sitting next to us on the political sidelines.
On such a sunny summer day as this, ¬†and with our brother and ¬†sister-in-law in town, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

The Very Early Presidential Polling

The world hasn’t yet revolved halfway through 2019, and the next presidential election isn’t until the 11th month of 2020, but all the political prognosticators are already busily prognosticating. We’ve seen far too many presidential elections to take any of it seriously, as pretty much every one of them turned out differently than what anybody expected at this early point in an election cycle, with the last time around being a perfect example.
Still, we can’t help noticing that despite his characteristic cocksureness President Donald Trump already seems nervous about his reelection chances.
Politico.com and then The New York Times reported that Trump’s own campaign polling shows him faring poorly against the leading Democratic candidates in several of the battleground states that narrowly handed him an electoral college victory, with the Times reporting that Trump had ordered his staff to lie about it, and Trump naturally responded that it was “fake news” fabricated by the “enemies of the people.” The American Broadcasting Company then reported it had copies of the internal polling which verified what the other media had released, and Trump’s campaign manager eventually admitted the numbers were real but insisted saying that it was data from three months ago and they they’d seen a dramatic shift in Trump’s favor since then, although he wouldn’t divulge the newer numbers. Over the weekend Trump fired his campaign pollsters, apparently for leaking the real unhappy numbers that Trump insisted the “fake news” had made up.
Throw in the facts that Trump won in 2016 with a mere 70,000 votes in four crucial states, all of which were within the pollsters’ margins or error, despite the losing the national popular vote by the three million million or so ballots that the pollsters predicted, and that no poll since has shown him within shouting distance of majority approval, except for the Rasmussen company that only surveys the oldsters who still have land line phones, which has never shown him over 50 percent, and we’re more inclined to believe the mostly reliable “fake news” rather than the constantly lying president. As of last March, at least, the president who promised his supporters they’d grow tired of winning seemed clearly to be losing.
Perhaps things have since turned around, as the president now claims, but he’s not releasing the updated numbers from the recently fired polling firm to back it up, and we can’t see what would have caused the claimed uptick in the polls. With the unemployment rate under 4 percent and the gross domestic product growing at an acceptably modest 3 percent rate or so Trump has rarely fallen under 40 percent in his approval ratings, but lately the economic data have been less rosy, and even a few congressional Republicans have timidly suggested that Trump’s trade wars with pretty much the entire world might have something to do with it. We haven’t yet entered any new wars, but his sworn enemies in Iran and the brutal North Korean dictator that Trump said he “fell in love” with are threatening them, and even a few congressional Republicans are expressing misgivings about how he’s handling that.
Last time around Trump had the good fortune to run against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and presumptive first woman president Hillary Clinton, who was arguably the worst major party presidential candidate ever, but even then he lost the popular vote and barely squeaked out an electoral victory in a few states she foolishly neglected. Much of the public had doubts about the thrice-married and six-times bankrupt and constantly sued and tax cheating real-estate casino-and-real-estate mogul’s character and honesty, and Trump has done nothing since then to reassure them that he’s the Christian leader God has chosen him to make America great thing. Nor has Trump come through with any of those great deals with the Democrats and the rest of the world that he promised to Rust Belt centrists would revive their outdated economic models.
Trump has taken extraordinary and extra-legal measures to build a few more miles of the wall along the southern border that he promised, although he no longer claims that Mexico will happily pay for it, and he’s enforced our immigration policies as cruelly as possible, and he has taunting nicknames for all of his critics, so that will probably placate most of the die-hard fans. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have won many converts.
Next time around Trump might get lucky yet once again, on the other hand. The leaked polls show him losing by wide margins in those key states to former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, who is a relatively mainstream politician compared to most of his 21 or so primary challengers, and currently enjoys a sizable lead in the primary race, but these damned Democrats are every bit as crazy as the damned Republicans, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the Donkey party chooses someone so far left they’re arguably worse than Trump. At our advanced age we can remember the election of ’72, when President Richard Nixon of all people won a huge popular and electoral landslide victory over the principled war hero but too-far-left Sen. George McGovern, which was shortly followed by Nixon resigning in disgrace as a result of the Watergate scandal. Although a lot has changed since then human nature has remained pretty much the same, and we can easily imagine something like that happening again.
We don’t much care for Biden, who is gaffe-prone and rightly called “Creepy Joe” by Trump for his behavior around women, even if he’s never grabbed any of them by the genitals, as Trump has bragged about doing. Nor do we much like any of the other Democrats, although that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar seem somewhat acceptable to us, which probably dooms them in the Democratic primaries. Neither do we have any respect for President Donald Trump’s character or policies, and we can at least be sure that he’ll once again be our Republican party’s nominee for president.
We’d like to think that November of next year is a long time away, and that anything could happen in the meantime, but at our advanced age we know that it’s just a blink of the eye and human nature doesn’t much change.

— Bud Norman

The First Casualty of the Trade War

Trade wars are good and easily won, President Donald Trump assures us, but we have to admit they make us nervous. Somehow we can’t find a single case in the past several millennia of economic history where a trade war was anything but disastrous and anybody actually won, and with the bluntness Trump’s fans so admire we’ll just come right out and say that we don’t expect his generalship will make his ongoing trade wars come out any better.
Since taking office Trump has been taking on pretty much the entire world, having won the presidency partly on the gripe that the entire world has been taking advantage of America ever since it emerged from the post-World War II ashes as the world’s preeminent economic and military and cultural power, but his biggest battlefront has been with China. On Friday Trump further raised the tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from an already-high 10 percent to 25 percent, which he apparently is allowed to do under the current constitutional order, and before the closing bell on today’s stock markets China is expected to retaliate in kind. The stock markets have been wildly down and then incrementally up throughout the squabble, on fears that Trump is screwing up a carefully built post-World War II international economic order that has for the most part brought increased peace and prosperity to the world and then faint hopes that the great dealmaker might yet deliver on his promise of the greatest deal ever made.
China is indeed a devious trading partner that dumps its excess supplies on world markets and steals intellectual property and occasionally manipulates its currency and exploits more or less slave labor, as Trump claims and even the looniest Democrats agree, so we’ll not deny that a tough negotiating stance is required. Even so, China has emerged from its post-World War II ashes with an economy that is huge by any measure and even bigger than ours by some suspect measures, and it’s a major client of the agricultural and aviation export industries that make up a huge chunk of our beloved Kansas economy, and we’d prefer it was dealt with in a cautious, carefully deliberated way, informed by history and the best expert opinion. Cautious and carefully deliberated and informed by history and expert opinion is clearly not Trump’s style, on the other hand, so for now we’ll remain just as nervous as the stock markets.
We’re just as rank amateurs about all this global economic order stuff as Trump, but with a bravado he might admire we’ll say we’ll go right ahead and say we would have played it differently. China is indeed taking advantage of America in various insidious way, but it’s doing the same to the rest of the world, so we would have availed ourselves of that Leader of the Free World status America’s wiser leaders rightly earned in the post-war years to unite the rest of the Free World and its overpowering economic might against China, which would surely realize it couldn’t take on the rest of the planet, and might even agree to free trade and human rights and full membership in the modern world. Rank amateurs that we are, we note that even the looniest Democrats and the most impeccably credentialed old-fashioned Republican foreign affairs and trade policy experts seem to agree.
Trump is a bolder sort of fellow than ourselves, however, and he chose to take on the rest of the world, so we have no choice but to hope he’s right. His routine renegotiation of the re-branded North American Free Trade agreement has a few billion in upsides for Wisconsin dairy farmers and a few other industries, which Trump claims are the difference between the worst and best trade deal ever negotiated, but it’s currently stalled in the Republican-majority Senate because of the tariffs Trump used in the negotiations that are currently hurting the economies of states held by free-trade Republicans. Meanwhile in the rest of the Free World the European Union is going through a nasty divorce from the United Kingdom. and Trump is taunting the British Prime Minister with sneering “tweets” and threatening the EU with higher tariffs, and demanding they all pay more for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Trump’s Latin American foreign policy seems in retreat in Venezuela, we can’t discern any policy for the “shit-hole” countries in Africa, North Korea is once again conducting missiles test in Asia, where we’re threatening trade wars against everyone, and the possibility of a united front against those undeniably devious Chinese seems remote.
Trump and his most ardent admirers would have us believe that he’s a self-made multi-billionaire who can easily best these Chinese bums in international trade negotiations, but we’ve read enough of the “fake news” to know that he’s a billionaire’s son who’s gone bankrupt six times in casinos and strip-clubs despite house odds and bare breasts, and ran airlines and football teams and scam universities and other ventures in into the ground, and given his well documented business record we don’t trust in his acumen to run an international economy. He’s lately been crowing about all the money his tariffs have been bringing to the federal treasury, but his national economic council director Larry Kudlow had to acknowledge on one of the Sunday news shows that the money is coming from American consumers rather than China, and sooner or later the average Wal-Mart shopper will notice that Trump tells a lot of lies about his trade wars. Our guess is that those wily Cheese have already noticed, and that we’re in for a bumpy ride.

— Bud Norman

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly News

The economic news has been undeniably good lately, with the unemployment rate lower than it’s been since the height of the Vietnam War and the gross domestic product growing incrementally faster than it has in more recent history, but the rest of the stories in the papers look bad for President Donald Trump.
Although Trump has been doing a celebratory end zone dance ever since the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” ended without any indictments against him, the problem still lingers. Attorney General William Barr had a hard time answering the Senate judiciary committee’s questions about his rather rosy four-page assessment of the report’s 400-plus pages, then declined the House judiciary committee’s request to go through a more thorough grilling about the matter, and now there’s talk of a contempt of Congress citation. Barr had testified to the Senate that he had no problem with special counsel Robert Mueller’s own bad self giving his account of the report to Congress, but Trump has since declared that he won’t allow any further questions from anyone about the report that he claims completely exonerates him, and that doesn’t look good.
The damned Democrats in Congress are asking all sorts of other pesky questions, and Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin is contesting a law which seemingly requires him to turn over the presidential tax records that might yield answers, which also doesn’t look good. The courts will eventually settle all of it in one way or another, but the state and federal judicial system is also pursuing 16 criminal cases that were referred to other Justice Department jurisdictions and therefore redacted from the special counsel’s report, and we expect all of those to look bad. There’s also ongoing news about the illegal immigrants Trump seems to have hired and exploited at his still wholly-owned businesses, the security clearances he granted for family and friends despite the objections of intelligence officials, a few lawsuits filed by state attorneys general alleging that Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses impeachable violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and a few other problems too numerous to recap here.
So far America isn’t entering any new wars, but the old low-level ones in Syria and other hotspots continue, and Trump is leaving a military option open for Venezuela’s disastrous but purely domestic problems, and he sending a carrier fleet to counter the recent bellicosity of Iran, which Trump promised would never dare challenge America so long as he was president. Trump also promised the American public it could sleep soundly at night without worrying about a North Korean nuclear threat, and although it was obviously premature he was able for a time to note that at least North Korea wasn’t doing any missile tests, but lately they’ve been once again testing missiles.
While the economy continues to chug along, Trump can only claim so much credit. Despite two years of Republican control of both chambers of Congress the only significant legislation affecting the economy that was passed and signed into law was a big tax cut, which so far resulted in the kind of budget deficits that the hated President Barack Obama sanctioned in the darkest days of the Great Recession, and at a time when Republican orthodoxy would be paying down the national debt. Trump has used his executive powers to roll back a lot of ridiculous federal regulations, but a lot of airline travelers and other consumers are likely to note he’s also reversed some reasonable ones that saved them some serious money. As orthodox Republicans we still blame Obama for the late and initially sluggish recovery that followed the Great Recession, which we still insist was caused by the Democrat’s crazy Clinton era subprime mortgage lending policies, but as objective observers we have to admit the economy has lately been more or less on the same upward trajectory that it had been during the final days of the Obama administration. Fairness compels us to admit that at least Trump hasn’t screwed that up.
Being no fans of either Obama or Trump, we give all the credit to the remarkable resilience of America’s free market economic system and the steady hand of those quasi-governmental know-it-all bards at the Federal Reserve Board. Despite our amateur advice they kept the economy going through the dark days by printing up dollars and distributing them at near-zero interest rates, which eventually started something of a boom, so we humbly admit it didn’t result in the hyperinflation we’d worried about and was possibly a good ideal. Now that Trump is bragging about the greatest economy ever, which according to both Republican orthodoxy and the left wing’s Keynesian economics is a time for higher interest rates and quantitative easing of the money supply and paying down debt, Trump is trying to get the Fed to keep the monetary pedal to the metaphorical peddle. Alas, his own chosen Fed chairman disagrees, and Trump’s two latest nominees to the Fed board have been obliged to withdraw their names from considerations because they’re both so ridiculous that even some congressional Republicans wouldn’t go along.
During his surprisingly successful presidential campaign Trump promised to make America great again by bullying the country’s trading partners into more favorable trade deals. “Trade wars are good and easily won,” Trump tweeted to the nation, with the same cocksureness as when he assured us we could sleep soundly without fear of North Korea’s nukes, but so far that’s also not turning out well.
Trump got some billion-dollar concessions for America’s dairy industry when the renegoiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he claimed was the difference between the worst trade deal ever and the best trade deal ever, but his rebranded US-Canada-Mexico Treaty is having a hard time getting ratified by the Senate, where the Republicans still hold a slight majority. Republicans in agricultural states, which as always are crucial to the party, are reeling from from the declining commodity prices that have resulted from the rest of the world’s inevitable retaliation against Trump’s tariffs, and other Republicans from states where their export-driven economies don’t need Trump’s protections are also restive.
Meanwhile,Trump’s trade war with the far more formidable opponent of China doesn’t seem either good nor easily won. Trump continues to play hardball with the Chinese, threatening to up the tariffs on Friday if they don’t accede to his demands, but the congressional Republicans from states and districts that used to do a lot more export business with China are balking, and of course even the Democrats from the states and districts that might benefit from Trump’s protection from China’s imports are disinclined to side with the president, and anyone paying higher prices on the Chinese-made goods at at Wax-Mart is likely to be irked.
The good news for Trump is that for now the economy seems to be chugging along well enough, and that so long as it does and nobody gets nuked a sufficient number of voters spread around the electoral map won’t care much about the rest of the news. The bad news for Trump is that the economy tends to go up and down no matter who’s in the White House, and unnecessary trade wars and military interventions in Latin America never seem to help, and if the economic news sours the rest of the stories in the papers in 2020 will suddenly be outrageous.

— Bud Norman

The “Russia Thing” Comes to an End

The nearly two-year-long special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing with Trump and Russia” has come to an anticlimactic conclusion, with a four page summary of its findings issued by the Attorney General stating that it did not find President Donald Trump or his campaign guilty of conspiring with the Russian government to affect the last presidential election. That’s great news for Trump and his fans, who are claiming complete exoneration, even if the four page summary of the voluminous report issued by Trump’s own Attorney General says that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, “it also does not exonerate him.”
For now Trump and his fans can plausibly claim vindication, however, and we’re sure they will. The special counsel’s investigation concluded the Russian government did meddle in the past election on Trump’s behalf, and brought an indictment against 12 specific Russians, and it won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against Trump’s campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and campaign foreign policy advisor and other campaign operatives for lying about their numerous contacts with Russians during the campaign, among other things, but it’s still a big deal that no one named Trump was indicted at the end of the investigation. For now it’s a huge disappointment to the Trump foes who had so dearly hoped the special counsel investigation would end the Trump presidency, but we’re sure they’ll keep trying.
There’s bound to be something embarrassing to Trump in the voluminous full report that didn’t make the four-page summary issued by his Attorney General, and in the coming days the big story will be the congressional Democrats’ efforts to make it all public, and the Trump administration’s effort to keep it out of view. Some of the report will surely be redacted so that the investigation’s counter-intelligence sources and methods aren’t revealed, but we expect that eventually the president’s foes will feast on the rest of it. Press reports indicate that the special counsel handed off a number of suspected crimes outside its scope to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, mostly to the very aggressive Southern District of New York, and there will be no way of keeping that out of the news.
Trump and his supporters will continue to insist that it’s all a “witch hunt” and a “hoax” and “witch hoax,” but the fact that the “deep state conspiracy” declined to frame them for “collusion” somehow undermines their claims. Special counsel Robert Mueller remains a decorated Vietnam war hero and former Federal Bureau of Investigation director who earned bipartisan praise and appointments over his long and distinguished career of public service, and if Mueller’s conclusions disappoint his Democratic fans they also make his Republican critics’ slurs against his character look slanderous. The rest of Mueller’s work will play out in American courts of law, and we expect that in the end Mueller’s character will fare better than Trump’s.
Nothing in the Attorney General’s four-page summary of the special counsel investigation’s report exonerates him from the already proved charges that his campaign associates repeatedly lied under oath about contacts with Russian operatives, or that he himself lied to the public during the campaign about his business dealings with Russia, or that he broke federal campaign laws to cover up alleged affairs with a pornographic video performer and a Playboy playmate, or that his foreign policy has been unaccountably friendly to Russia and other authoritarian regimes. Nor does even the four-page summary of the report indicate that Trump isn’t a vulgar and dishonest and bullying and entirely self-interested fellow.
Nothing in even the four–page summary of the special counsel’s report indicates that Trump’s trade wars and budget deficits and feuds with longstanding allies are making America great again, and the latest economic data suggest they are not, and that’s what will probably decide the next election not matter what scandals beset Trump. For now the Democrats seem intent on nominating some some suicidally socialist candidate who could easily lose to Trump not matter what scandals might accrue, so for now we will glumly await that conclusion without any expectations.

— Bud Norman