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Blind Loyalty and Its Perils

New York City attorney Michael Cohen, who once handled such sensitive legals chores as making hush money payments to pornographic video performers and Playboy models while pursuing multi-million dollar Moscow real estate deals for longtime client and then-citizen Donald Trump, was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Wednesday on various confessed federal charges. As bad as that sounds for now-President Donald Trump, the rest of the sordid details are even worse.
Some of the charges sending Cohen to prison are about some relatively small time scams involving New York City taxi medallions and routine tax evasions that have nothing to do with Trump, but he’s also pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations committed in the course of making those hush money payments to silence Trump’s alleged mistresses, and to lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Russia in order to be consistent with the lies Trump was telling the public. Trump’s remaining loyalists on talk radio and one of the cable news channels are spinning it as best they can, and Trump himself is claiming complete vindication, but the president won’t come out of this spin cycle smelling clean.
Trump is now claiming that his six-figures payments to the porno performer and the nudie model were a “private transaction” involving private funds, and obviously had nothing at all to do with the presidential campaign he was waging at the time, and were therefor entirely legal, but a federal prosecutor considered it a crime and a federal judge accepted a guilty plea on the charge from the very same lawyer that Trump once entrusted with such sensitive legal chores, so we have our doubts about Trump’s legal theory. Even if it was quite legal and no big deal, as Trump claims, an objective observer is left wondering why Trump chose to lie to the American public about  it while aboard Air Force One that he had nothing to do with it and was indeed entirely unaware of the payments.
Which leaves us all the more doubtful about Trump’s claims he never cheated on his third wife with either that porno performer or that nudie model, especially after his past boasting about all the fabulous babes he’s bagged in his tabloid-fodder infidelities against his first two wives, and although such hound dog behavior is not illegal it is the sort of thing that Republicans used to find objectionable.
Nor is it illegal to pursue a multi-million dollar real estate deal with an adversarial dictatorship while also pursuing the presidency of the United States, and so far as we can tell it’s legal to tell the American electorate a brazen lie that no business deals of any kind are being pursued with adversarial governments during presidential campaign, but that’s also the sort of thing that Republicans used to find objectionable. Cohen’s confession that he was pursuing a Moscow Trump Tower deal at Trump’s request while Trump insisted he wasn’t should be considered skeptically given his confessions to various perjuries, but the very fastidious prosecutor investing the “Russia thing” and the sentencing judge wouldn’t have given it credence without corroborating evidence, which we assume was obtained during raids on Cohen’s home and office and favorite hotel room. Trump is already arguing that it’s another legal and no big deal thing that he nonetheless chose to lie about, which might eventually prevail in a court of law, but it doesn’t make him look very good in the court of public opinion.
Which makes all the rest of the developments in the “Russia thing” look a lot less like a “WITCH HUNT!” and a “HOAX!” than a serious legal matter deserving thorough investigation. One of Trump’s former campaign managers is already in jail while awaiting sentencing on various charges including his work as an unregistered foreign agent for a Russian-aligned government, with Trump “tweeting” about his courage for not cooperating with the feds, and the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” is recommending and Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and his first administration’s national security advisor get off with no jail for several serious admitted felony charges because of his fuller cooperation with the investigation. Trump and his loyalists are already arguing that it’s entirely legal to pursue business deals with an adversarial foreign dictatorship while running for president and brazenly president and brazenly lying about it, and that might yet prevail in a court of law, but we’d like to think that some rump faction of the Republican party will join the rest of the court of American public opinion in taking a dimmer view of such behavior.
Cohen showed up in court for his sentencing accompanied by a pretty and youngish wife limping in a crutch and a couple of cute kids, and although we consider ourselves rock-ribbed law-and-order Republicans our occasionally bleeding hearts had some sympathy for him. Trump has “tweeted” attacks on his longtime attorney for being “weak” and “stupid” in the half-hearted cooperation with the special counsel, and Cohen even had to plead to guilty those charges. “Recently the president has tweeted a statement calling me weak, and it was correct,” Cohen told the court. “But for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.” He went on to say that he had trusted Trump’s moral compass more than his own, and that the personal failing that led to to his upcoming three years of imprisonment was “blind loyalty to Donald Trump.
There are persuasive arguments to be made for many of Trump’s policies, given that the unemployment rate is unusually low and the stock markets are still ahead of when Trump won office, despite the past year’s gains being largely wiped out by his stupid trade wars and the swelling national debt and the inevitable slight rise in interest rates, and of course those damned Democrats are as bad as ever. By now only the weak and stupid will blindly trust Trump’s character, however, and although they won’t likely run afoul of the law for doing so we expect they’ll also be judged harshly by history.

— Bud Norman

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Watching the Sausage Get Made

There’s a wise old saying, apocryphally attributed to Otto Von Bismarck, that “Laws are like sausages, it is better not see them being made.” In this reality show age of politics and food shows the gruesome spectacles are always on display, however, so Tuesday brought the live-on-television opening round of negotiations between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer over an upcoming spending bill. Suffice to say it provided more melodrama than anything the competing soap operas had to offer.
To sum up the episode up in a TV Guide-sized synopsis, Trump insists any spending bill include at least $5 billion for a big and beautiful wall across America’s entire southern border, Pelosi and Schumer don’t want want to give it to him, and Trump is threatening a partial government shutdown if they don’t. Most followers of the ongoing political saga already have a rooting interest in either Trump or Pelosi and Schumer, and will cheer their heroes and boo their villains accordingly, but for those of us worriedly watching from the sidelines it just seems a damned mess. At this point in the plot our best is guess is that there won’t be any significant funding for a wall, there will be a partial government shutdown of unknown duration, and no one comes out of it looking good.
Nobody looked at all good on Tuesday. Trump and Pelosi and Schumer each played their reality show parts to their usual hilts, and their discussion of the nation’s pressing issues was as full of sound and fury signifying nothing as a typical cable news show’s panel debates or one of those pro wrestling skits Trump used to participate in, with both sides asserting their dominance rather than making rational arguments based on agreed facts.
As far as that went, we’d have to say that awful Pelosi woman and that awful Schumer guy got the better of the power play than that awful Trump fellow. Trump boasted live-on-air that for the next few days he can muster the votes in House of Representatives to give funding for his border wall, but he also admitted that because of the 60-vote rule for spending bills he didn’t have the needed votes in the Senate, and Pelosi could rightly note that when a sizable Democratic majority is installed in the House early next month he won’t get any border wall funding there. The Democrats clearly have the stronger hand, to borrow a poker metaphor, and even after seeing all his casinos go bankrupt Trump still doesn’t seem to know when to cash in.
Trump can rightfully boast he somehow how has the powers of the presidency, including the veto power that would lead to a partial government showdown, but we can’t see how that does him much good. Even partial government shutdowns are always unpopular, and Trump once “tweeted” back during the Obama that they were proof of a failure of presidential leadership, now he’s boastfully threatening one, and although that big beautiful border wall is always an applause line at Trump’s rallies it also doesn’t poll well. Pelosi and Schumer are more veteran players of politics, which is still mostly played by the constitutional and legal and traditional rules Trump is still learning, so we don’t see them folding to a president who has preemptively claimed credit for an unpopular government shutdown over an unpopular wall.
A more objective and deliberative consideration of government and border security would be welcome, but both sides would be still look bad. Those damned Democrats are far too weak on border enforcement for our tastes, and some of them are downright crazy about despite Pelosi’s and Schumer’s assurances, but Trump’s longstanding pledge of a big and beautiful border wall has always struck as one of the most cockamamie campaign promises ever made. Even if Trump could keep somehow keep his even more cockamamie campaign promise to have Mexico happily pay for it, which he no longer mentions, the wall is opposed by most Americans residing near the southern border and all of their Republican and Democratic representatives, its cost would surely exceed Trump’s pie-in-the-sky budget estimates just in court expenses for eminent domain seizures that offend our old-fashioned conservative sensibilities, and the money could surely be better spent on high-tech surveillance, border walls at a few essential points, and cracking down on the vast majority of illegal immigrants who arrived via airplane and outstayed their visas.
A smart and fair and vigorous enforcement of America’s border laws would surely round up several employees of Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, and probably cause some Democrats much embarrassment along the way, so we don’t see that happening. Instead we expect a prolonged partial government shutdown and legislative gridlock, plenty of booing and hissing according to partisan preferences, and that separate subplot about the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” proceeding apace to its cataclysmic conclusion.
Oh well, at least it could be worse if either side were to win.

— Bud Norman

Another Old Soldier Fades Away

President Donald Trump has announced that his chief of staff, the former four-star Marine General John F. Kelly, will soon make the latest inglorious exit from the administration. Kelly’s getting out while the getting’s still relatively good, as we see it, but not without his once sterling reputation tarnished.
Prior to signing on with Trump, Kelly commanded bipartisan respect. He not only had four stars on his shoulders but three bronze stars and numerous ribbons for valor in three wars and the 1982 Los Angeles riots on his chest, and he endeared himself to establishment Republicans without much annoying the Democrats as he led the Western European and then America’s Southern Command. When he replaced Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the former Republican party chairman who once epitomized the effete Republican establishment that Trump gleefully trampled, both Democrats and all sorts of Republicans expressed hope that the tough-as-nails Marine could somehow impose some sort of discipline on a seemingly chaotic White House.
By the time Kelly arrived several of those “very best people” that Trump promised to appoint had already been defenestrated, including the national security advisor who has since pleaded guilty on several felony charges and been recommended by the prosecution for a minimal sentence given his cooperation with numerous other criminal investigations involving Trump’s campaign and administration, and Kelly quickly ousted several more, including that Omarosa woman from “The Apprentice” and various other Trump-related reality shows who held some high-level administration post or another, which was at least high-level enough she was the most high-level black woman in the White House. For a while the remarkable man who had served so successfully in three wars and the 1982 Los Angeles riots seemed up to the task, but over the long run the Democrats were disappointed, and so were such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves, and even Trump himself had reportedly stopped speaking to him as he wished him well on his way out of the door.
One of those “very best people” that Trump had appointed and Kelly had to fire was White House staff secretary Rob Porter, whose resume included excellent educational and career credentials but also credible and legally-filed charges by two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend of domestic violence, and when Kelly did fire him after several disastrous news cycles he did so reluctantly and dishonestly and with kind words for the defenestrated employee and nothing to say about spousal abuse that tough old Marine general looked bad all the but the die-hard Trump fans. He grimaced when Trump spoke about the good people on both sides of a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but when all the military brass reassured their diverse personnel that they did not agree Kelly remained silent. When Trump wound up offending the family of a black soldier who had been killed in an unknown war in Niger he had ineptly tried to comfort, Kelly wound up insulting the family’s Congresswoman and personal friend, who is a ridiculous Democrat as we’re concerned, but the insult he made proved based on a lie and somehow wound up looking even more ridiculous. Along the way he also willing to make various other ridiculous defenses for indefensible White House missteps.
Kelly was also an outspoken proponent of Trump’s policy of enforcing America’s border laws as severely as possible, as was his hand-picked successor at the the Department of Homeland Security, but both fell into disfavor with Trump as border crossings into America’s still booming economy continued apace. The old school Kelly also seemed at odds with Trump on other issues, ranging from Trump’s penchant for nepotism and general lack of old school discipline, and particularly his disruptive policies toward the post-World War II era world order he’d fought so valiantly to defend. A while back Trump boasted that he knew far more about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization than the four-star Marine general who had once successfully led the West European Command, and that was when we knew that Kelly’s days as chief of staff were shortly numbered. As far as we can tell, Kelly wasn’t undone because of what he’d done wrong but rather because of what he’d done right.
At least it seems to have come a more or less fortuitous time. The special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” has lately come up with some hard-to-explain court filings involving Trump’s former campaign chairman and lawyer and national security advisor, the latest economic news isn’t much to brag about, a Democratic majority in the House is about to be installed, while much of the slim Republican majority in the Seate is revolting against Trump’s friendliness with Saudi Arabia, and for now it’s not clear who might replace Kelly. The presumptive replacement was Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, but it’s lately been reported that Trump is also consider ing dumping the obsequious Pence and Ayers has confirmed via “Twitter” that he doesn’t want the job and is also getting out of the administration while the getting’s still good.
Way back in the dark days of the Obama administration citizen Trump “tweeted” his dismay that the president had a third chief of staff in less than three years, but now Trump is searching around for the sucker to become his third chief of staff in less than two years, and we don’t expect any further “tweets” from him about it. As for Kelly, we wish him a happy retirement, despite it all.
We’ve known too many of those tough-as-nails men who fight our country’s battles to expect them to be politically correct about domestic abuse and racial issues and such, so we’ll chalk all of Kelly’s missteps up to being promoted by the wrong guy to the wrong job. He seems to have done his best to impose some discipline on Trump’s White House, and we admire any man who willingly walks into the quagmire.

— Bud Norman

The Day After the Funeral

The stock markets and the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” and the rest of the news took a day off on Wednesday for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, but the pause offered little respite for current President Donald Trump.
In keeping with its classy ways the Bush family invited Trump to attend the state funeral at the National Cathedral, although they didn’t grant him the traditional eulogy that sitting presidents give for past presidents, and to his credit Trump was on his best behavior. He was clearly uncomfortable, though, sitting next to the former president he had falsely accused of being unqualified by virtue of a foreign birth, and the former president he had falsely accused of lying America into a war, and the former First Lady he has long vowed to lock up, as well another former president he has called the second-worst ever. Worse yet, Trump had to sit through several speakers praising Bush’s war heroism and expert statesmanship and gentlemanly demeanor and and genuine compassion for others and self-effacing sense of humor, and perhaps contemplate how even his most die-hard fans won’t be able to say the same at his own inevitable funeral.
Worst of all, Trump surely knew that the stock markets and the special counsel investigation and the rest of the news all resume today, and that it’s not likely to make him look good.
The rest of the world’s stock markets were open for business on Wednesday, and were just as panicked about Trump’s trade war with China as the American markets were on Tuesday, and today probably won’t bring that greatest-ever deal that Trump has promised with China. Trump might yet bully the all-powerful Chinese government and its formidable economy into submission, but for now the stock markets aren’t betting on it.
The mainstream media that used torment Bush for his mostly forgotten missteps spent most of Wednesday heaping praise on his war heroism and expert statesmanship and gentlemanly demeanor and everything else they suddenly miss about a bygone era of compassionate Republican conservatism, but they also found some time to speculate about some scary developments in the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing.” Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and short-lived administration national security advisor, the former three-starArmy Gen. Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty to some serious felonies and stands credibly accused of several more, and on Tuesday it was revealed in open court that the special counsel is recommending no jail time partly because of the defendant’s long and distinguished military record but mostly because he’d been a genuinely repentant and very helpful witness in three ongoing criminal investigations. Special counsel Robert Mueller is a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War himself and is no doubt taking Flynn’s undeniably distinguished pre-Trump career into account, but we doubt that Flynn would have gotten such a sweet deal without providing some pretty damning testimony along with documentation to back it up, so it will be interesting to see what Trump “tweets” about it today.
Trump is already “tweeting” some controversial “tweets” about his longtime lawyer and former campaign manager and a longtime pal with a very unsavory reputation dating back to the Nixon days, and his namesake son and favorite daughter and son-in-law are also caught up in “Russia thing” stories, and it’s getting harder for all but the most die-hard Trump fans to dismiss it all as “fake news.” The rest of the news, from the Korean peninsula to the soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, is similarly foreboding. Trump might yet strike that artful deal that makes America great again, but for now both ourselves and the smart money aren’t betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Casualties of the Trade War

Trade wars are good and easy to win, according to one of President Donald Trump’s most famous “tweets,” but the smart money on Wall Street seems to disagree. The Dow Jones Industrial average plummeted a scary 799 points on Tuesday, the other major stock market indices dropped a similar 3-plus percent, and the clear cause was Trump’s apparently ongoing trade war with China.
After a dinner meeting with Chinese President Xi Jiping at the G-20 gathering Argentina on Saturday Trump announced that he’d won such majors concessions from China as huge agricultural buys from American farmers and eliminating any tariffs on American-made automobiles, and was therefore prepared to pause a trade war that has thus far proved disastrous for both countries, which led to big stock market gains on Monday. By Tuesday the Chinese were denying they’d made anything like the extraordinary concessions that Trump had bragged about, Trump’s economic policy advisors were walking most of it back, and Trump himself was “tweeting” that “President Xi and I both want this deal to happen, and it probably will. But if not remember, I am a Tariff Man.” A later “tweet” shouted that “We are either going to have a REAL DEAL with China, or no deal at all – at which point we will be charging major tariffs against Chinese product being shipped into the United States.” Despite the poor grammar, the “tweets” clearly communicated that the trade war continues, and won’t be easily won, so the smart money on Wall Street responded accordingly.
On our way home from an evening chore we heard one of the right-wing talk radio talkers say that Trump had nothing to do with the stock market drop, and he somehow blamed it on the Apple and Boeing companies instead, but Trump and his apologists always find someone else to blame. We’re more inclined to believe the smart money opinion of the JPMorgan financial juggernaut, which told its investors in a trading note that “It doesn’t seem that anything was actually agreed to at the dinner and White House officials are contorting themselves into pretzels to reconcile Trump’s tweets (which seem if not completely fabricated then grossly exaggerated) with reality.” We’re not impressed much by JPMorgan’s prose style, either, but it does clearly communicate the truth of the matter.
Trump’s apologists would do better to argue that China’s trade policies well deserve an aggressive response, as they do indeed charge unfair tariffs and make the theft of American intellectual property a condition of doing business with American companies and benefit from the slave wages paid to many of China’s workers, but it’s harder to argue that Trump is winning. As bad as China’s trading policies might be, Trump was claiming full credit for a booming stock market and rising commodity prices when he declared the trade wars with China and most of the rest of the industrialized world, so he can’t dodge blame for things going downhill ever since. Trump’s bad habit of doing his end zone dance before he reaches the goal line make him look the more ridiculous to the American public and on the world stage every time, and harder for him to make that great deal he’s always promising. China’s dictator Xi doesn’t doesn’t have to worry about public opinion, and although world opinion doesn’t favor him it does take him seriously, and China’s economy is either the biggest or second-biggest in the world, depending on how you figure it, and prematurely boasting about the concessions you won from him probably isn’t the best negotiating strategy with a wily Chinese leader and his traditional Chinese obsession with saving face.
The sort of low-key and culturally-sensitive and behind-the-scenes negotiations that might have yielded improved trade relations between China and a formidable American economy and steadfastly principled  and experienced American president aren’t Trump’s style, however, and for now we expect more tariffs and “tweets” and stock market downturns. In the long run Trump might yet get the greatest deal ever with his bull-in-a-china-shop approach, if you’ll forgive the culturally insensitive cliche, but on Tuesday the smart money wasn’t betting on it.

— Bud Norman

A Great Leap Backwards

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, as George Santayana once famously remarked, and President Donald Trump does not strike us an astute student of history. This doesn’t necessarily doom us to repeat history’s worst mistakes, but it has often proved embarrassing for Trump, at least for those of who do study history.
Trump has made public comments that suggest he believed Frederick Douglass was still alive and is recently getting the credit he’s long deserved, was surprised to learn that President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and that the slave-whipping President Jackson of Trail of Tears infamy had a “big heart” and would have averted a Civil War if only he’d been president a couple of decades longer, retold some disproved tales about General “Black Jack” Sherman executing Islamist prisoners with pig’s-blood-soaked bullets, and he continues to believe that he’s a historically popular and successful president despite all evidence. He also seems either unaware or unconcerned that his “America First” slogan was coined by the pre-World War II isolationist movement that thought America could peacefully coexist with an Axis-dominated world, and that the term “nationalist” is by now associated with other unsavory movements, and that a “leap forward” has certain unhappy connotations when used in the context of Chinese-American relations.
Trump has recently negotiated a cease-fire in the trade war he launched against China, which for now has a salutatory effect on the international stock markets, but it remains to be seen what the eventual armistice will look like. Trump is already touting major concessions, the Chinese are saying otherwise, and Trump’s underlings are putting the best face on it, and Trump is “tweeting” that it’s a “big leap forward.” Both Chinese and English-speaking people of a certain historical bent could help be reminded of China’s previous “Great Leap Forward,” Chairman Mao Tse Dong’s forced-collectivization policy that resulted in mass starvation and cannibalism and a human-made humanitarian disaster that rivals anything in history, Stalin and Hitler notwithstanding. Perhaps it’s just an unfortunate turn of phrase, as when the flawed but undeniably humane President Jimmy Carter said he thought a second term would have brought a “final solution” for Israel, but it’s still the kind of a thing that a well-educated president should know to avoid.
Meanwhile, back on the home front, the “Russia thing” seems to be heating up, and Trump seems to have forgotten all the lessons he might have learned from the “Watergate thing,” if he’d been paying any attention. That commie bastard Karl Marx famously remarked that history always repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, and we’ll be angrily annoyed if he’s proved correct once again.

— Bud Norman

Lock ‘Em All Up, If That’s What It Takes

President Donald Trump on Wednesday “re-tweeted” a “photo-shopped” internet “meme” that depicts 11 of his political adversaries locked behind iron bars, beneath the heading “Now that Russia collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?” The hard-core fans probably found it hilarious, and further that proof that at least their champion fights, but we we found it further frightening evidence of a slow slide toward banana republic authoritarianism.
The “re-tweet” came just eight days after The New York Times reported that Trump had once directed the Justice Department to commence criminal investigations of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and his Democratic presidential opponent Hillary Clinton, both of whom are featured in the “meme.” Trump’s apologists insisted he never did any such thing, and that even if he did it never came to pass, but the “re-tweeted” “meme” suggests he probably did give the order, and that it didn’t actually happen only because wiser heads somehow prevailed.
We have no affection for Comey, although we can muster some sympathy for an FBI director who had the bad luck to be in office during a presidential campaign with both major party candidates being the subjects of criminal investigations, and we have as much antipathy to that awful Clinton woman as the next guy, even if we think the everlasting ignominy of having lost to the likes of Trump should be sufficient punishment for anyone. Even so, all those campaign rally chants of “lock ’em up,” and Trump’s campaign promises to do just that, strike us a damned un-American way to make America great again. Locking up vanquished political opponents hasn’t made any of the South American or Eastern European or Middle Eastern or sub-Saharan African nations that do that sort of thing remotely great, and we can’t imagine it working any better here.
Meanwhile a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” has indeed locked up one of Trump’s former campaign managers and a former campaign national security advisor, and Trump’s former administrational national security advisor has pleaded guilty to felonies and awaits sentencing, with more campaign and administration officials and perhaps some Trump family members seemingly awaiting indictment, and that surely has something to with Trump’s angry “re-tweets.” Trump has frequently called the investigation a “witch hunt” and part of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow him, and often complained that it’s not investigating itself and his other enemies instead. The hard-core fans find this quite compelling, and more reason to resume their “lock ’em up” chants at the ongoing rallies, but it’s proving a hard sell to the rest of the country.
All the intelligence agencies agree that the Russians meddled in America’s past campaign to get Trump elected, so the talk radio theory that it was Clinton and the Democrats who colluded with the effort seems downright counter-intuitive, and so far there’s none of extraordinary proof few require or such an extraordinary claim. So far as we can tell both Comey and Clinton are by now every bit as politically powerless as ourselves, so we don’t think all the indictments and guilty pleas the special counsel has racked up are their ingenious revenge. Nor can we see how the allegations of Russian collusion on the part of the Trump campaign have been disproved, as the “meme” claims, and we eagerly await what the special counsel has to report.
In the meantime, and as always, we don’t find any satisfaction in watching anybody get locked up. With no rooting interest in either party at this point, as always we’ll be hoping that eventually the truth will prevail. That will probably involve locking somebody up, as it usually does, but for most of this sorry cast of characters we’ll gladly settle for them suffering ignominy throughout history for their deeds, and hope  the next government starts over with a clean slate.

— Bud Norman

What’s Good for General Motors …

Being the hard-nosed and hard-hearted sorts of old-fashioned conservatives who embrace Adam Smith and Milton Friedman and their red-in-tooth-and-claw school of laissez faire capitalism, we’ve always voted against those damned Democrats for fear they’d arrogantly think they could run our incomprehensibly multi-trillion dollar economy better than the free markets comprised of the free men and women  who actually make it happen. Now we’ve got a Republican president who arrogantly thinks he better knows how to run both big and small corporations better than the executives who have made them successful, however, and at the risk of being called Republicans in Name Only we can’t say we like that any better.
The constantly feuding President Donald Trump’s latest feud is with the iconic and still-formidable General Motors Company, where the brains behind the operation have decided that their long-term fortunes require them to shut down five plants and lay off 14,000 workers in the United States, which Trump would prefer they not do, and he’s threatening whatever punishments he has at hand if they go ahead and do it. Most of those plants and workers are in some of the industrial midwest states that provided Trump his improbable electoral victory based on his promises he would protect manufacturing jobs, so we can well understand his political calculations, but Trump’s underlying economic theory is not so obvious.
General Motors’ explanation is that by shutting down those five plants and laying off those 14,000 workers they can reinvest the money they’re currently losing in more efficient plants with workers building more profitable products in the scarily looming days of self-driving cars and other high-tech automotive gizmos, and that if they don’t the whole company and all of its workers might eventually be out of business. We don’t know any more about the automotive industry than Trump seems to, but given General Motors’ long tradition of existence to its workers and customers we’re inclined to believe its executives have a better grasp of the company’s situation than we or Trump have. We’ve long observed that success of capitalism involves some creative destruction, and this looks like one of those situations.
We have sincere sympathy for those 14,000 thousand workers and everyone in those five communities that will see a major segment of their economy shut down, even if they don’t affect our non-existent political careers, but we’d hate even more to see the rest of General Motors’ hard-working employees eventually be put out of work in a futile effort to sustain an unsustainable status quo. We’ll always remember how our beloved Boeing executive Dad used to agonize over the layoffs he was sometimes forced to make to keep that company the world-beating entity it is today, Life is undeniably tough in the red-in-tooth-and-claw free market world, yet it does seem to get better over the long run, and so far we haven’t found any damned Democrats or damned Republicans who can credibly claim to make it better yet.
So far this Trump fellow’s meddling in the economy strike us as arrogantly intrusive as anything that even a self-proclaimed socialist such as Sen. Bernie Sanders or any damn Democrat might have done if they’d had the chance. Republicans used to complain that Democrats wanted to choose the winners and losers, but Trump’s trade wars have provoked retaliatory tariffs and thus chosen the steel-making sector of the economy over the steel-using sector that includes General Motors, the coal-mining industry over the many industries that would prefer to use less expensive and more environmentally-friendly sources of energy, and he also prefers the mom and pop Main Street retailers over an e-commerce giant offering better prices whose owner also happens to own that troublesome Washington Post. So far it’s worked out well enough, but recent trends and ancient history suggest it won’t last forever.
Trump is still feuding with the iconic and steel-buying Harley-Davidson motorcycle company, which shifted some work to Europe to get around Trump’s trade war with that entire continent, and now he’s threatening tariffs that would raise the cost of the Apple Computer Company’s hugely popular designed-in-America but made-in-China I-Phones by a hundred bucks or so, which probably won’t play well with young voters.  Apple dominates the huge high-tech sector of the American economy that has lately been taking a beating on the stock markets, which was helped wipe out all of the last year’s overall stock market gains, so the threat strikes us as both economics and bad politics.
Trump is currently blaming the stock market’s recent swoon on the guy he appointed to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, which has recently nudged interest rates up slightly to a point that’s still far lower than historic norms in response to what Trump boasts is the great American economy ever, but we trust that the Fed knows more about monetary than Trump or we do. The inflation rate is a full 11 points or so lower than the worst we’ve seen since way back in the ’70s, but it is outpacing the modest gains in wages that Trump likes to brag about, and the Fed seems to be acting according to the time-honored economic principles that the free market has mostly thrived on. Lower or at least steady interest rates would be a short-term gain for the president, especially after two trillion dollars of debt that’s been racked up by his administration despite the best American economy ever, but in the long run we’ll better trust better than Trump the time-honored economic principles and the creative destruction of the free markets.
Nowadays that makes us Republicans in Name Only, and we have no faith any damned Democrat would do any better than Trump has, so for now we don’t have much say in the matter. Those immutable laws of economics and their awesome market enforcements are more powerful than  anything n the universe anything but God, however, and General Motors and Harley-Davidson and the Federal Reserve Board still hold some significant sway, and we expect they will eventually prevail over such puny forces as Trump or those damned Democrats.

— Bud Norman

America’s Annual Attention Deficit About the Annual Budget Deficit

Not so very long ago, American conservatives used to fret about the swelling federal debt. Back when the debt was swelling at the rate of a trillion dollars a year under President Barack Obama it was conservatism’s most pressing issue, and led to the Republican party regaining control of both chambers of Congress, which successfully cut the annual budget deficits to a mere half-trlllion or so. With the annual budget deficits back up to a trillion bucks under President Donald Trump, however, only the most old-fashioned sorts of conservative are worried about it.
Back during his improbable presidential campaign Trump made some wildly extravagant promises about paying off the entire national debt in four years, but he also made some similarly wild and extravagant promises about huge tax cuts and increased military spending and an expensive infrastructure bill and a big beautiful wall along the entire southern border and allowing no changes to such popular programs as Medicare. At other times the self-proclaimed “King of Debt” also talked about racking up even more debt because of the temporarily low interest rates, and rattled international markets by openly speculating on the sort of defaults and haircuts that he’d relied on during his failed career as a casino mogul, but for some reason a plurality of Rebublican primary voters trusted Trump’s assurances it would all somehow work out.
Now Trump is once again talking about cutting deficits, but he’s finding it hard to do given all the other promises he’s made. The sizable tax cut Trump signed into law might yet fuel enough economic growth to cut into the deficits, but for now and the foreseeable future it’s lowering federal revenues as spending go up. Trump got the record defense spending that he wanted, and although he’s now reportedly open to cutting it slightly he seems to have some ill-informed ideas about military technology and still wants an expensive military parade and has troops idly awaiting an epic clash with a few thousand unarmed asylum-seekers at the southern border.
So far as we can tell from Trump’s vague explanations his infrastructure plan relies largely on private investment that the private investors surely expect to be compensated for one way or another, but it’s still expensive, and unless he can get it passed during the lame duck sessions it’s unlikely the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will make it happen. The outgoing Republican majority in the House was only willing to cough up a measly couple of billion dollars for Trump’s big beautiful border wall, and the incoming Democratic majority is unlikely to be as generous as that, and Trump is threatening a government shutdown over it even as he resumes talking about cutting the deficit.
Trump is still holding to his campaign promises about allowing no changes to Medicare or Social Security, too, which makes it pretty much impossible to put a noticeable dent in the budget deficits. Everything in the federal budget other than the military and servicing the existing federal debt is relatively paltry compared to those programs, and even if Trump somehow were able to eliminate all the undeniable waste and fraud it wouldn’t compare to a month’s spending on what Trump has declared sacrosanct, and even the stingiest conservative must concede that there are certain expensive services a government can only provide.
The expert and apolitical trustees of the Medicare and Social Security funds are predicting both programs will go belly up right around the time we’re eligible for their benefits, but for now they’re both so popular that it would take a pretty courageous politician to dare suggest even the mild reforms that might forestall the disaster. Once upon a time such Republican politicians as House Speaker Paul Ryan dared suggest paying current beneficiaries according to the deal they’d signed on to, and a deal to those currently paying in that the government could realistically hope to make good on, but Ryan’s leaving public life after two years of signing off on trillion dollar deficits, and we don’t expect presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to suggest such essential reforms.
Nobody likes taxes and everyone likes their government checks and services, and most Americans are misinformed about the relatively paltry sums America is spending on foreign aid and abortion advice and subsidies for the arts and other resented-by-Republicans programs, and the administration of justice and maintenance of federal highways and other popular projects are more expensive than most Americans realize, so solving the political problem of deficits and debts is far more complicated than Trump made it sound back during the campaign. Despite his very stable genius and unaccountable knowledge of military technology Trump still doesn’t seem to have the answer, even though it’s long been apparent to the more old-fashioned sorts of conservatives, and he’s not the sort to tell his supporters anything they don’t want to hear.
Obama still deserves blame for the trillion dollar deficits that he needlessly racked up even during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and we’re sure Trump will continue to blame him, but Trump will also surely find someone to blame for the trillion dollar deficits he’s racked up in what he boasts is the greatest American economy ever, so we’re not hopeful the problem will be solved in time to pay for our golden years. In the meantime the government will be paying a few trifling millions of dollars a month to Trump’s golf resorts, but the Democrats in the House will probably tell Trump to keep his extravagant campaign promise to have Mexico pay for that big beautiful border wall and let him take the hit in the polls if he follows through on his threat of a government shutdown, that slender Republican majority in the Senate and Trump’s veto power will probably forestall the Democrats most expensive ambitions, so there’s a chance that at least America will head to the inevitable fiscal cliff at a slightly slower speed.

— Bud Norman

A Trumpian Thanksgiving

Presidents traditionally refrain from making news on Thanksgiving Day, but of course President Donald Trump is not a traditional president. While the rest of the country was feasting with family and friends and giving thanks to God for it all, Trump was making the day all about himself with a variety of newsworthy outbursts, and when asked what he was grateful for he replied, “I made a tremendous difference in our country.”
Trump started the day with a “tweet” wishing a “HAPPY THANKSGIVING DAY TO ALL!,” which except for all the Trumpian capital letters is the sort of anodyne statement that most presidents would have settled for, but after that he started seeking attention.
There was a phone call to all the men and women in the military currently deployed overseas, which would have been a nice gesture if he’d limited himself to some fulsome thanks and best wishes, but Trump is not one to limit himself. At one point Trump asked one Naval officer if he preferred the old steam-powered system or the newfangled electromagnetic system for catapulting fighter jets from an aircraft carrier — he’s long made clear he prefers the steam-powered system, and seems quite confident that his expertise in the matter is better than the admirals’ and their experts — and was clearly disappointed when the officer bluntly endorsed the electromagnet method. At another Trump asked yet another officer to endorse his trade policies, and was once again clearly disappointed when the officer replied that he hadn’t noticed any trade problems in the part of the world he’s current patrolling. There was a couple of times when Trump asked questions about troop deployments that arguably revealed sensitive information to the world, and inadvertently suggested that Trump doesn’t know such important information.
Trump also renewed his war of words with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the judiciary in general, and of course lobbed a few more verbal grenades in his ongoing war of words with the press. He reiterated that he doesn’t believe the Central Intelligence Agency’s report that it assesses with “a highest level of confidence” that Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of an American resident and Washington Post journalist, and is more inclined to believe the dictator’s assurances the he feels even worse about the slaying than Trump himself. He threatened deadly force against a large group of asylum-seekers heading toward America’s southern border, and then threatened to shut down the entire border with America’s second-biggest trading partner, and then reiterated a threat to shut down the American government if the soon-to-be Democratic majority in the House of Representatives doesn’t give him billions to build a wall along the entire border. There was more than the usual number of misstated facts, too, about everything from the CIA’s assessment about bin Salman to the number of jobs that Saudi Arabia funds in America and how bad the economy was in the last days of President Barack Obama and how well it’s been doing since Trump was elected.
Despite his busy schedule, Trump fit in a round of taxpayer-funded golf at his opulent Mar-a-Lago resort in warm southern Florida, as well as a what sounds like a delicious meal of turkey, ribs, Chilean sea bass, Florida stone crab and beef tenderloin. He’ll probably need the recreation and repast, as there’s no longstanding tradition against presidents making attention-grabbing news on Black Friday. God and football hogged all the attention Thursday, and Trump can’t rightly object that today will be mostly consumed by crass consumerism and Wal-Mart riots, but we expect he’ll continue to attempt to dominate all the news cycles through Christmas.

— Bud Norman