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A Hard-Earned Vacation

Today President Donald Trump starts a planned 17-day vacation at his swank private New Jersey golf club, and we can hardly blame him for wanting to get away from the swamps of Washington, D.C., for a while. Thursday brought fresh leaks of some embarrassing phone calls Trump had with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia, as well as the news that the special counsel investigating the matter of what Trump now calls “Russia” has convened a grand jury, and that’s despite the best efforts of tough new chief of staff who was installed after a major administration shake-up and another week of rebukes by everyone from the Boy Scouts to America’s police chiefs to the Republicans in Congress.
The ostensible reason for the time away is that the White House is replacing its 27-year-old air-conditioning and heating system, and after the couple of sultry summers we’ve spent in Washington that seems plausible enough, although we’re not sure if President Andrew Jackson would have though so, and the timing does seem suspiciously fortuitous. Trump had long criticized his predecessor for spending too much time on golf courses, just as his predecessor had even more hypocritically criticized his predecessor for the same thing, and with his own private golf course being reimbursed by the government Trump will probably take an even worse public relations hit than either of them, but by now it could be a lot worse. If Trump can keep his thumbs gripped to a golf club rather than tapping out a “tweet” on his telephone, and stay away from interviews and otherwise avoid compounding his problems while his lawyers and remaining staff do their best to sort things out, that would probably be 17 days well spent.
The leaks about those embarrassing phone calls with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia had already been partially leaked way back in Trump’s second week of the job, but despite the momentary embarrassment Trump was able to dismiss them as “fake news” with with the politely oblique help of the other countries involved, and it was quickly forgotten in all the other news that kept coming. This time around there are full transcripts of the conversations, which are even more embarrassing in full context, and the White House is neither confirming nor denying their veracity, and neither are the other two governments involved, and by now the guy embarrassing himself on those transcripts sure does sound an awful lot like Trump.
The phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull reveals Trump trying to weasel out of a deal the United States had during struck his predecessor’s administration to take in 1,250 refugees, getting the numbers involved and other basic facts of the deal wrong along the way, frankly worrying how it would “It would make me look terrible,” and abruptly ending the conversation after saying that he’d had a much more pleasant telephone call that day with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Worse yet, as far as Trump’s most loyal supporters might be concerned, in the phone call with Mexican President Pena Nieto he seemed to concede that he’d never really meant all that campaign rhetoric about making Mexico pay for a wall across the entire southern border, but expected the Mexican government to play along with it for the ruse for a while. Nieto bluntly said Spanish equivalent of “nyet,” so far the Republican majorities in Congress have been similarly reluctant to cough up the funding for a border wall, and this is not a good time for people to be reminded about it along with all the further “fake news” leaks that can neither be denied by confirmed by the White House.
The leaks about the special counsel convening a grand jury to issue all sorts of subpoenas in that “Russia” investigation have also been neither confirmed nor denied by the White House, so they’re also looking pretty credible, and although you can spin it so it’s not such a bad thing there’s no way of making it out to be a good thing. That special counsel has a formidable reputation as a dogged but by-the-book investigator, and according to the book the paneling of a grand jury implies some pretty darned prima facie evidence that something fishy’s going on, and for now all questions about it are being referred to the president’s and his family’s and staff’s outside legal counsel.
Given all the other leaks about “Russia” that have neither been confirmed nor denied over the past eight months or so, and instead been to referred to all the various outside counsels that are now involved, we can easily understand why Trump is wanting some rest and relaxation on a familiar golf course. Someone pretty high up in Trump’s administration  is leaking the latest leaks, too, so all the more reason to take some time off from whomever that might be. We’re sure he’ll still be in constant communication with the rest of the executive branch while he’s contemplating a chip shot, just as his predecessors claimed to do, and we hope he at least breaks par.
According to some rather embarrassing leaks to Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated, though, Trump is also  a notorious golf cheat who routinely claims to have broken par, and so far the White House neither confirms nor denies this.

— Bud Norman

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A President Popular by Default

President Barack Obama is unaccountably popular at the moment, with a bare majority of Americans expressing approval of him. That’s hardly Mount Rushmore stuff, and far short of the falling oceans and fundamental transformations he promised during the peak of his popularity during that first crazy presidential campaign of his, but for now it’s enough to make him the most popular politician in America. The only way we can account for it is the year’s even crazier election.
It’s not just that both of his major party would-be successors are wildly unpopular, with landslide majorities of Americans quite reasonably finding both dishonest and altogether unfit for the office, but also the way that their daily groan-inducing scandals keep the president contentedly out of the news altogether. Those obsessive sorts of news readers who dive beyond the front page headlines and delve deep into the rest of it are vaguely aware that the president recently paid a huge ransom to the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy for some hostages and then offered a preposterous explanation about why he didn’t, that Milwaukee has lately been burning from flames fanned by the “Black Lives Moment” the president has encouraged, that much of south Louisiana is underwater and the main form of federal assistance has been a memo sternly warning that rescue efforts not be racially discriminatory, and that the president has been playing golf and living it up with a bunch of rich white people on a lavishly-funded vacation to Martha’s Vineyard the whole time, but the rest of the country has been pleasantly preoccupied with America’s rout at the the Olympics and the latest gaffes from the president’s would-be successors.
We can recall past times when shady hostage deals went down with the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy and American inner cities burned and south Louisiana was underwater, and how it used to be a much bigger deal, but then again all that happened during slower news cycles and Republican administrations. During a slow news cycle in a Republican administration a president golfing and living it up with a bunch of rich white people while the rest of the nation churns along uneasily would be a major scandal, but with a Democratic administration and the happy distraction of a can’t-look-away-train-wreck of a presidential election such scandals suddenly become quibbles. The desultory state of the economy and that awful labor force participation rate that obscures the more happy-face unemployment numbers, the mounting debt that sustains the slow pace, the politicization of the Justice Department that allows the Democratic nominee to be running in the first place, the generally unsettled state of world, as well as the general cultural decline made apparent by the current sorry choices of presidential nominees, are all as easily relegated to the inner pages of your increasingly scant newspaper.
Any old well-funded Republican should be able to make something of it, but this year the nominee isn’t any old well-funded Republican but rather the not-quite-self-funding-self-described billionaire Donald J. Trump, and he hasn’t seized the opportunities. The self-described deal-making-artisan made a strong case against the ransom for hostages arrangement, but the press was able to focus on what he had later had to admit was a bogus claim that he’d seen secret video footage of the payment. He made a persuasive argument that the past many decades of Democratic machine politics have caused the plight of the recently burning inner cities, but his attempts to bolster his current 1 or 2 percent favorables among black Americans were rather clumsily phrased in the pitch that they’re all poor and uneducated and therefore have nothing to lose by voting for him, along with the rather fanciful even-by-Trump-standards boast that after four years in office he’d win 95 percent black vote. Trump showed up in Louisiana for a meaningless photo-op several days before the vacationing Obama plans to do the same, but unless starts spending some serious ad buy money we doubt it will do him the same good that it once did Obama when a Republican administration was in charge while south Louisiana was underwater.
Thus far the supposedly boundlessly wealthy Trump has been quite parsimonious about ad buys, and instead continues to rely on all the “free media” that has suddenly turned so hostile ever since he wrapped up the Republican nomination, not to mention all those gaffes, and yet he’s still within shouting distance in the national polls if not so much the states that add up to an electoral majority. That’s because a clear majority of Americans understand that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is dishonest and unfit for office, and we also take heart that a near-majority of them also think little of the current president. That so few of us have any regard for our next president, no matter how it turns out, is also heartening in an unaccountable way.

— Bud Norman

Another Vacation From History

Why did Nero fiddle as Rome burned? Because golf had not yet been invented.
That’s about the best joke we can come up with in these glum days of the republic, and of course it was inspired by President Barack Obama’s latest vacation. We don’t mean to begrudge the poor fellow some rest and relaxation, as he has a lot of responsibilities to dodge, but now does seem an odd to be heading off to the links. Not that we think it would do any good for him to be hanging around the White House during the ongoing crises, but even such supportive press pundits as the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank are thinking it makes for “bad optics,” as they say in the politics biz, and it leaves him wide open to cheap shots from less sympathetic pundits such as ourselves.
At least he was on the job right up to the very moment his helicopter whisked him away, dodging responsibility at a news conference for the current crucifixions-and-everything mess in Iraq. One of the reporters had the lese-majeste to ask if the current slaughter being inflicted on that unfortunate nation by the Islamic State in Levant gang that the president had recently dismissed as a “jayvee team” of terrorists had caused him to reconsider his decision in 2011 to remove all the American troops that had successfully been keeping a sort of peace there. “What I find it interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up,’ he replied, “as if this was my decision.”
We find it interesting that the president finds it interesting such an obvious question keeps coming up, and quite surprising that he would now claim it wasn’t his decision to bug out of the country. He ran for election on promise to do so, ran for re-election on the boast that he had kept that promise, and had cited the stable and peaceable Iraq that he had left behind as one of his administration’s greatest achievement. There was also some talk about the status of forces agreement that his predecessor had negotiated, although that always went unmentioned when he was boasting about the withdrawal, and some more talk about the impossibility of negotiating a new treaty that might have averted the present catastrophe, but it won’t make much difference except to the more dedicated people who voted for him because of the decision he now disavows.
Those die-hard fans will happily credit Obama with the decision to pull all of America’s troops from Iraq and simultaneously blame his predecessor for the catastrophic consequences, as is their wont. Back when the Solyndra company opened its shiny new factory Obama was eager to credit it to his stimulus bill, when it went belly-up he blamed it on a Bush-era program, and at both points his loyal fans nodded in agreement. The president tells the die-hard environmentalists that he’s fighting domestic coal and oil production tooth-and-nail, tells the rest of the country that he’s presided over an energy boom, and gets the same hearty applause on both occasions. He rails against the stingy Republican nay-sayers who won’t fund his transformative and expensive agenda, boasts about he’s halved the budget deficit since they took over from a rubber-stamp Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and can count on none of his fans getting suspicious. Until recently he could also count on the major media to politely ignore the contradictions. He can even rail against income inequality in between opulent vacations on fashionable Martha’s Vineyard and golfs on a famed course with well-heeled ex-jocks without the utter hypocrisy being highlighted on the late night comedy shows.
None of this does any does any good for the Christians or Yazidis ofr the less fruitcake varieties of Muslims who have lately been slaughtered in the most archaic ways by that jayvee team that the president had laughingly dismissed as nothing to worry about, and at this point we don’t think it will do any better for the Democratic candidates trying to win congressional seats in the upcoming mid-term elections. The press is starting to notice that the world is unraveling from a lack of American leadership, not just in Iraq but in Syria and Libya and Gaza and Ukraine and the South China sea, and and that 99 percent that the president stands for is starting to notice that they’re not invited.

— Bud Norman

Knocked Out on Boxing Day

These mid-week holidays are quite discombobulating for creatures of habit such as ourselves. Much of yesterday was spent confirming the day of the week, as it didn’t feel t all like a Thursday, what with the light traffic on the streets and all the college football on the television, and the rest of it was spent putting off the resulting chore of taking the trash out to the curb.
Our daily routine is largely devoted to keeping abreast of the day’s news, and that has also been thrown askew by the holidays. Most of the newsmakers have taken the week off, as have the news commentators we count on to get us good and peeved about the news, and there seems to be little going on in the world other than the post-Christmas sales and the usual frantic efforts to exchange unwanted gifts. The president took time out from his lavish Hawaii vacation to sign that awful budget bill, the stock markets were open for another day of irrational exuberance, and The Drudge Report had a full slate of stories about people acting badly, but there was nothing that provided a satisfying fix for a hard-core news junkie.
More ambitious writers would seize the opportunity for a big-picture essay, or pen something philosophical or folksy, but we just can’t muster the energy on the day after Christmas. The lazy writer’s time-honored options are the end-of-the-year wrap-up or a purely subjective best-of list or some predictions for the coming year that are meant to be forgotten before they are disproved, but we’re saving all of those for the holiday-interrupted week ahead. Something else might come up, but we get the feeling that all the newsmakers aren’t any more ambitious than we are at the moment.
So, let us be the very first to wish you a merry Christmas, and urge that you also take it easy enough to let the holiday spirit linger into the New Year.

— Bud Norman

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

A few columns ago our theological musings about humankind’s enduring desire for royalty provoked a comment from disgruntled reader, who rather snippily disputed our observation “That to say President Barack Obama lives like a king understates the matter by many millions of dollars.” He didn’t dispute the point so much as the “link,” which led to a report that the United States spends 20 times more money on the Obamas than the British do on their royal family, and to back up his dudgeon he provided a “link” of his own to a Washington Post “fact check” that reported the disparity is somewhat less than that. The Washington Post’s fact checkers are apparently the indisputable arbiters of truth on these matters, so we’ll concede the orders of magnitude, but we will not relent from our contention that the Prez is living awfully large.
This statement is a subjective opinion rather than objective fact, and therefore beyond the purview of the almighty Post’s almighty fact-checkers, but there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence to support it. The latest example, and the one that prompted this rant, is the president’s decision to have his dog flown into the family’s Martha Vineyard vacation on an especially expensive military aircraft. That’s royal treatment by any nation’s standards, and there is nothing on the internet that will convince us otherwise.
The news about the presidential dog comes courtesy of London’s Telegraph, because reporting embarrassing revelations about Obama is work that the American media won’t do, and the article includes several other intriguing tidbits about the cost of the latest presidential vacation. Among other amenities, the $7.5 million mansion where the Obamas are staying include a nine-acre grounds, basketball court, and such well-heeled neighbors as Ted “Cheers” Danson and Carly “You’re So Vain” Simon. Even as loyal subjects of the queen, the Telegraph’s scribes seem struck by the extravagance of it all.
Such conspicuous consumption goes largely unremarked here in the United States, however, at least in recent years. There used to be ample criticism of George W. Bush’s August retreats to his family ranch in Crawford, Texas, especially from the reporters who were forced to follow him to that sun-baked outpost of the hardscrabble prairie, but in the age of Obama a certain degree of presidential opulence is now regarded as appropriate by the chattering classes. In the early days of Obama’s presidency the press even reported his taxpayer-funded frolics with an undisguised awe, as if the glamorous days of John Kennedy’s “Camelot” had at long last returned, but lately they just look for something else to fill the summer lull in the news.
Perhaps that’s because they realize how bad it looks to people struggling to get by in a low-growth, high-unemployment economy. The president will eventually return from vacation to resume his constant castigation of the rich folks he blames for the nation’s woes, and offer the old reassurances about his feelings of solidarity with the common man, and continue to argue that the miniscule budget cuts imposed by the “sequester” are making life unbearable for such humble public servants as himself, so widespread news reports about the presidential pooch flying first-class a millionaires-only enclave in an MV-22 Osprey won’t help the effort.
He’ll still have plenty of defenders who will talk of how hard he works and quibble over the cost estimates and recall the old tale of the dog on the top of Mitt Romney’s car roof, but the hypocrisy will be hard for more objective observers to miss.

— Bud Norman

Give it a Rest

President Barack Obama will soon be on vacation in ritzy Martha’s Vineyard, staying in an elegant mansion courtesy of a wealthy supporter whose red-in-tooth-and-claw version of venture capitalism makes Mitt Romney look like a hippie entrepreneur along the lines of Ben and Jerry, yet the poor fellow still won’t be getting any rest. We know this because Obama has once again “pivoted” back to the economy, thus completing more pivot moves than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ever attempted in his long career, and as always he has vowed that he will not rest until all is well.
Judging by the anemic economic growth rate announced on Wednesday, it will likely be a while before Obama can fully kick back. It seems an awful waste of the taxpayers’ money to shell out for another vacation that won’t be restful, so we’d like to helpfully suggest a few things that the president stop doing in order to foster a healthier economy. Whatever energy is spared can then be applied to golf, skeet-shooting, celebrity hobnobbing, or any other recreations the president might enjoy.
If the president were to simply stop enforcing an Obamacare law that provides overwhelming incentives for employers to hire part-time rather than full-time workers, for instance, the effect on full-time hiring would be salutary and would free up plenty of spare time. The president has already announced his intention to put off enforcement until after the mid-term congressional election, lest it have negative consequences for his party, but putting it off forever would also put off those negative consequences forever and thus spare his party a good deal of tiresome explaining in the 2016 election.
There are people out there eager to build a pipeline to carry oil from the Canadian shale fields to American refineries, which would require thousands of jobs to build and provide literal fuel for many thousands more, so the president should spare himself the enormous effort he has been expending to stop them. While he’s at it, he could also end his time-consuming and thus-far futile attempts to create “green energy” to replace the oil that he’s working to keep out of the country. The oil is otherwise going to wind up being burned by the Chinese, who aren’t vacationing type, so it’s not going make any difference even if all that man-made global warming stuff isn’t nonsense.
Much of the president’s time is spent on a quest to impose higher tax on rich folks such as his summer home landlord, and it could be better spent working on his golfing technique. The tax hikes would have a deleterious effect on economic growth, while a smooth golf swing never hurt anybody. Obama could continue to foster the public’s resentment of the rich folks he chooses to vacation among, as that seems to be a hobby rather than a job requirement, and so long as people stop paying attention it would do little harm. Also, the president so loves the unemployed that he is working for immigration reform measures that would bring millions more of them into the country, but he could stop doing that.
There are a number of other things the president could stop doing in order to improve the economy, especially in regard to the enormous number of new regulations that he’s busily been enforcing, and it would also allow him to pursue a more carefree style of life. Some might argue that there are many jobs involved in blocking pipelines and imposing regulations and so forth, but we expect those people would eventually find some more productive line of employment. Perhaps those unemployed regulators could spend some much-needed time with their families, although probably not at Martha’s Vineyard, and they would also find that sometimes doing less means doing less damage.

— Bud Norman

Permanent Vacation

It’s only the sexual hypocrisy that society finds galling. Whenever a big-haired televangelist or family values-spouting politician gets caught with a hooker, or is discovered in some similarly salacious behavior, the ridicule rains down and the offender is roundly condemned in the press.

The hypocrisies more common to the left are somehow more tolerable. An environmentalist who rides a private jet to a conference to rail about carbon footprints, a poverty activist who pockets a six-figure income, or a politician who campaigns on a soak-the-wealthy platform while living the lifestyle of the rich and famous can expect that the gap between his rhetoric and his behaviors will go largely unremarked.

Which is probably why Michelle Obama doesn’t mind being photographed by the paparazzi as she slaloms down the fashionable and high-priced slopes of Aspen, Colorado.

There is a sensible rule against commenting on First Ladies, and one shouldn’t begrudge a First Lady some time off the job, as hectoring everyone to eat their vegetables and being a celebrity is no doubt tiring work, but the spectacle of Michelle Obama indulging in her family’s 16th lavish, extended, and largely taxpayer-funded vacation demands that an exception be made. This is the same First Lady, after all, who advised that American women “Don’t go into corporate America” and boasted that she and her husband had made the choice “to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry.” The same First Lady who decried America as “just downright mean.” The same First Lady whose husband has declared that “At some point you’ve made enough money” and is running for re-election with an explicit appeal to class resentments.

The young leftists railing against the wretched excesses of the hated “one percent” don’t seem to mind, and the late night comics and the high-brow pundits aren’t making much of it, but perhaps it won’t go unnoticed by the many Americans who will be forgoing vacations entirely because of hard times and high gas prices.

— Bud Norman