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On the Folly of Either Opening or Closing America’s Southern Border

There’s no good argument for the “open borders” policy that some Democrats advocate, but President Donald Trump is having a hard time making the case for his recent threat to close the southern border completely. By Tuesday Trump seemed to be backing away from the threat, with numerous White House advisors and congressional Republicans and important industries urging him to do so, and we hope he’ll once again abandon a bad idea without admitting it.
By now no one denies that there’s a problem on the southern border, where there’s lately been a surge in refugees from several impoverished and violent Central American countries seeking asylum. but no one other than Trump thinks a complete closure of all traffic from the border wouldn’t create bigger problems. Mexico is America’s third-largest trading partner, and we do an estimated $1.5 billion dollars of business with it every day, and a lot of the traffic going in and out of the Mexico on a daily basis eventually results in hundreds of billions of dollars for the automotive and agricultural and other industries, and there are a lot of Americans accustomed to crossing the nearby border to purchase lower-cost goods, and a lot of Mexicans accustomed to crossing the nearby border to earn a living cleaning houses and mowing lawns and purchase goods not available in Mexico.
You can hate those Spanish-speaking and drug-smuggling and raping people from those south-of-the-border “shit-hole countries” all you want, but even Trump’s White House advisors and congressional Republican allies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agree that the economy would take a hit if we stopped doing any business with them. The Mexican economy would also take hit, so the Mexican government might oblige Trump by shooting any Central American migrants on sight, which would likely ease America’s current bureaucratic burdens at the southern border, but given the economic impact that’s unlikely to make America great again.
We’ve even seen reports that America would run out of avocados three weeks after a border shutdown, meaning we wouldn’t be able to order the delicious carne asada chips from the drive-thru at Tacos Lopez over on West Street, and that’s not the America we’ve long loved.
Despite the institutional power of all those White House advisors and congressional Republican allies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and basic common sense, Trump might yet carry out his threat to shut down the border. He was still saying on Tuesday that he really wanted to, and he prides himself on never backing away from even his dumbest ideas, and his aversion to those Spanish-speaking and drug-smuggling rapists from “shit-hole countries” seems to supersede even his business instincts. On Tuesday Trump seemed to struggle making any sort of argument for anything, grousing about the “oranges” or the Special Counsel investigation rather than its “origins,” and misremembered that his New York City-born father was born in a “very beautiful” part of Germany, and announced that he wouldn’t present his perfect health care policy until after he and the congressional Republicans win the 2020 election.
Between Trump and those crazy “open borders” Democrats there’s no telling what might happen, but we hold out hope we’ll still be able to get those delicious and guacamole-laden carne asada chips from Tacos Lopez three weeks from now.

— Bud Norman

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A Laugh Line at the United Nations

President Donald Trump opened his address to the United Nations on Tuesday with a boast that in less than two years he has already accomplished more than “almost any administration” in American history, and his audience of international diplomats responded with a hearty and clearly audible laugh. which was even louder than the laugh he got when told a Republican debate audience that “”no one has more respect for women than I do, believe me.” T rump then went off the teleprompter and ad-libbed that he “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay,” which elicited a smaller but seemingly more sympathetic laugh.
Later in the day Trump assured the American press that of course he’d meant the obviously exaggerated boast as a self-effacing laugh line, much like Pee-Wee Herman insisting that “I meant to do that” after falling off his bike, but he was clearly stung by the reaction. Back during his quixotic but somehow winning presidential campaign Trump used to rev up the rally crowds by telling them the entire world was laughing at America, but would cease to do so as he asserted his alpha maleness took office, and he’s obviously not all the sort to take ridicule lightly. He also seemed to realize how ridiculous his “I meant to do that” defense sounded to most of the world.
Trump’s typically Trump-ian boasts about his accomplishments are still standing-ovation applause lines to the big crowds of die-hard supporters who continue to show up at his ongoing campaign rallies, and we’re pretty sure he expected the same response from a gathering of global diplomats, but this time he was facing a far tougher audience. The rest of Trump’s speech pretty much reiterated his long stated intentions to withdraw America from the international order of diplomatic and trade and military alliances that have kept a relative global peace and resulted in unprecedented global prosperity since the last world war, and except for some polite applause at the end it got an icy reaction from a global audience of both diplomatic friends and foes. There was some righteous tough talk about our undeniable adversaries in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere, but Trump also managed to claim our British and European Union and North American and South American and southeastern Asian allies have laughingly taken advantage of us as well. He made some good points about the necessity of national sovereignty, but it was widely noted by both friends and foes that neglected to mention Russia’s brazen violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. By the end of the speech he had taken a forthright stand against an estimated 90 percent of the world’s population.
Which is probably fine by Trump, as he plainly intended the address to be heard by that potentially winning plurality of American voters at his raucous campaign rallies. He knows that they relish the enmity not only of of our undeniable adversaries, but also those effete Euro-weenies and wily southeast Asians and crafty Cannucks and rapacious Meskins who claim to be our friends, and they trust that overpowering his alpha-maleness will eventually vanquish them all.
We have our doubts about that, though, and are more inclined to trust in the international order of trade and diplomatic and military alliances that have kept a relative global peace and brought unprecedented global prosperity since the last world war. It’s been up-and-down ever since then, to be sure, but over the long haul the trajectory has been upwards, and we don’t much credit Trump for its recent success, while Trump’s claims that he can easily prevail over 90 percent of the world’s economy and diplomacy and military seem more far-fetched.

At the the risk of offending fellow Republican friends and family members, we’ll come right out and say in these blunt-spoken times that both Trump and his America -First-verusus-the -rest-of-the-world foreign policy policy  laughable. All the late night comics and their audiences are laughing at Trump’s braggadocio, and most of the world’s diplomats are now  joining in,and according to all the polls and foreign late comics are also doing so,  and that’s undeniably a problem that Trump’s alpha male and downright Nietzscheaan will to power will have to overcome..

— Bud Norman

A Rip-Roarin’ Fight, and No Result

Thursday night’s episode in the Republican presidential mini-series was the most entertaining yet, and for those interested in issues it was also the most informative, but it did little to advance the plot. Everyone did well, everyone took a few blows, and no one scored a clear victory.
Even the bit players did well, although not well enough to matter. Former computer executive Carly Fiorina managed get some attention on the undercard debate with jabs at Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s marital problems and rival Republican Donald Trump’s crony style of capitalism, but at this point it seems unlikely to get her back on the main stage. Ohio Gov. John Kasich wasn’t an annoying scold, representing a vast improvement over past debate performances, but that won’t make any difference for a candidate who is far too centrist for the party’s pugnacious mood. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who was briefly a front-runner in the race, was as always affable and admirable but couldn’t quite overcome the concerns about his policy chops that have caused his drop in the polls. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose calm and presidential demeanor only emphasizes that he is also too centrist for the moment, did well enough to hurt some of the other candidates but not enough to help himself.
There’s still an outside chance of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie contending for the nomination, what with the first primary being held in friendly New Hampshire, and that chance was probably improved by another strong performance. Being governor of a northeastern blue state has left Christie with some dangerously centrist positions of his own, but he defended his record on guns with vigor and even had a few achievements to cite, and at least his famously pugnacious style suits the fighting mood. Christie also tried to make up for his past literal embrace of President Barack Obama by calling him a “petulant child” for trying to impose gun regulations by executive action, and for the most part he was spared attacks by the others.
That’s probably because at this point the main players are Trump, a real estate mogul and reality television star, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who were mostly saving their jabs for one another.
The first clash came when Trump was asked about his recent insinuations that Cruz’ birth in Canada makes him constitutionally ineligible to become president, a lame reprisal of Trump’s unsuccessful “birther” arguments about Obama, and in his half-hearted stab at the issue Trump carelessly quoted the notoriously left-wing Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe. Cruz, who had already done a fine job of jabbing back at a New York Times hit piece over a long-ago loan that he reported on one form but not another, seemed to relish the fight. He shrewdly quoted Trump’s September assurances about his lawyers being satisfied that Cruz is indeed eligible, getting a good laugh by noting that the constitution hadn’t changed since then but the poll numbers have — a point Trump later laughingly conceded — and of course by noting that his former professor Tribe is a notorious leftist. When the former United States Attorney and Texas State Solicitor with a solid winning record in court cases waved off Trump’s suggestion that he take the matter to court, saying “That I won’t be taking legal advice from Donald Trump,” which got another big laugh, only the most died-hard Trump supporter or eastern bloc Olympic judge wouldn’t have scored the round for Cruz.
Trump got some points back when Cruz was asked about his statement that Trump represents “New York values.” Cruz initially got the applause by telling the noisily Republican South Carolina audience that people understand the term, which got a knowing a laugh, and he recalled a past interview when Trump admitted that his positions on a host of social issues are in line with the New York City rather than the Republican consensus, but he didn’t make much the needed clarification that he wasn’t talking about the hard hat worker riding the subway home to the Bronx, but rather the hipsters and university faculties and media grandees and ward-heeling socialists and blow-dried crony capitalists and creepy celebrities and everything else about the city that even those hard hat workers riding the subway home to the Bronx hate. This allowed Trump to speak with an uncharacteristic quietness about the city’s many undeniable virtues, and warm even our hearts by noting that the great William F. Buckley was a New Yorker, and eloquently recall its resilient response to the country’s most deadly terror attack, so even the eastern bloc Olympic judges will give him that round. He also effectively blunted what could have been a pretty good line, because people really do know what Cruz was talking about, so we give him a few extra points as well.
Cruz and Rubio also clashed, with both taking a few blows. At one point Rubio packed an 11-or-12-point litany of attacks at Cruz in a few brief bursts of sound, and even a former national collegiate debate champion such as Cruz couldn’t speed-talk fast enough to answer them all. Cruz later responded with Rubio’s past defection on the all-important issue of illegal immigration, which is pretty much the sole reason Rubio is stuck in third place rather than running away with this race, and once again Rubio had no defense other than mostly ineffective counter-attacks. On the whole, we’d say that Cruz got the better of it but that Rubio showed the aggressive style that Republicans seem to favor.
We note that Rubio used everything from Planned Parenthood to Common Core against Christie, who is widely perceived as his remaining competition as “the establishment candidate,” as if any sane candidate in either party would want that title in this particular election year, and also against Cruz, whose Senate insurgencies have made him as unpopular with the hated establishment as any of the candidates and thus endeared him to the party’s base, but he didn’t seem to have anything to say about Trump. That’s likely because Trump has lately been more concerned with Cruz and thus has had little to say about Rubio, so we credit both with tactical shrewdness, but we would have like to have seen two figuratively if not literally mess one another’s hair a bit.
Trump mostly did well, too. Aside from from the nice rendition of “New York, New York” he scored well with a question about South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s response to the president’s State of the Union address, in which her comments about not heeding the siren call of the angriest voices was widely understood as a criticism of Trump. Haley had already gotten a huge round of applause from her home state audience at the beginning of the debate, and he deftly praised her but admitted that he is indeed angry. An angry nation will surely understand, even if it can’t quite understand what Trump plans to do about it other than hire the best people and make America great again, and by the end of the evening Trump didn’t even seem the angriest man on stage. We think Trump got roughed up pretty well by all the candidates and even the otherwise disinterested and generally very good Fox Business News moderators on his proposal for punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, and trade matters in general, which is supposed to be the master negotiator’s strong point, but we suspect that went unnoticed by the large portion of the audience that was more interested in who got off the best insult.
Happily, though, we notice these debate audiences, if not the audiences at Trump’s rallies, seem to be tiring of his shock jock shtick, and that even he seems to be noticing. We counted three occasions when Trump was roundly booed for either boasting about his popularity or insulting the character of another candidate. After he called Bush a “weak man,” the boos were louder than Bush’s dwindling number of supporters could have possibly generated. On each occasion Trump appeared genuinely chastened, and we think he much preferred the warm applause from his more generous remarks about his hometown and South Carolina’s governor.
All in all, we still have no idea who’s going to win this thing.

–Bud Norman

Losing the Cold War After All

There’s a lot to like about the Ukrainian people. Nothing warms an old cold warrior’s heart quite so much as the sight of an angry mob pulling down and smashing a statue of Vladimir Lenin, as demonstrators in Kiev did on Sunday, and any freedom-loving soul should sympathize with a long-oppressed people proudly demanding their independence.
They are getting little sympathy from the Obama administration, however, and that is yet another in a long series of foreign policy mistakes.
The current crisis is a result of President Viktor Yanukovich’s recent decision to scuttle a long-planned trade agreement with the European Union in favor of an economic alliance with Russia. Most Ukrainians are outraged by the move, which is understandable for a number of reasons. Europe is a more prosperous trading trading partner, and for all its flaws is also freer and more democratic than Russia. Ukrainians also carry vivid memories of the genocidal famine that Russia imposed on their country in the ‘30s, along with the other horrors endured during decades of forced membership in the Soviet Union, and they rightly perceive Yanukovich’s decision as capitulation to more Russian bullying and a threat to their hard-earned and still-fledgling independence. The predictable response has been weeks of angry but peaceful demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of citizens, and a forceful and increasingly violent response by the government.
Administration officials have offered perfunctory pleas for restraint, but no other support for the demonstrators. Secretary of State John Kerry has decided to skip a planned visit to Kiev this week, and during a press conference he conceded the popular support for the EU pact but pointedly declined to mention’s Russia role. President Obama has said nothing about the matter, and seems content to once again let the Russians have their way. “With Russia in mind,” reads a Washington Post headline, “U.S. takes cautious approach on Ukraine unrest.”
The administration’s apologists at the Brookings Institute think this wise, arguing that the EU should do the diplomatic dirty work on behalf of the Ukrainian people, allowing the U.S. to avoid giving any offense to Russia while Obama deals with more pressing matters in the Middle East and Asia. With all due respect to the once-prestigious think tank, this is utter nonsense. One would hope that the State Department is sufficiently well-staffed to have some time for the fate of Europe’s largest country, and the “re-set” of American foreign policy with Russia to a supine position has yielded so little in positive results that giving some offense is now clearly called for, and any distraction from Obama’s disastrous efforts at appeasement in the Middle East and Asia would be welcome.
Victory in the Cold War and the liberation of millions of people from Soviet domination was one of America’s greatest achievements in the 20th Century, and allowing Russia to re-establish its evil empire and resume its brutal oppression of neighboring states would be one of its greatest failures of the 21st Century.

— Bud Norman