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Kansas in the News

Kansas rarely makes the national news, which is fine by us, but on Wednesday the state landed two stories in all the big papers. One concerned a guilty verdict in a terrorism case, the other was about involved Kansas’ Secretary of State getting hit with a fine in much-watched court challenge to his his voter registration rules, and neither is the sort of publicity that our state needs.
The three men found guilty on terrorism charges weren’t radical Islamists, but rather self-described Christian “crusaders” in a self-appointed militia who were plotting to build car bombs and massacre the Somali refugees living in their hometown of Garden City. A formerly homogenous small town out in the sparsely populated western part of the state, Garden City become more ethnically diverse when a big meatpacking plant rescued the local economy back in the ’70s, refugees from Somalia were settled there shortly after the turn of the millennia, and by the beginning of this decade whites were no longer a majority in Finney County, a fact which apparently did not set well with the plotters.
During the four week trial at the federal courthouse here in Wichita, the defense argued that they were just engaging in “locker room talk” about killing Muslims with bullets soaked in pig blood, and were entrapped by a Federal Bureau of Investigation conspiracy, and perhaps it should worry President Donald Trump that a Kansas jury didn’t buy these familiar arguments. The average Kansan is just as uncomfortable with diversity and suspicious of the government as the next guy, but he won’t countenance blowing up the local mosque and massacring the local Muslims, and in the end he tends to settle on the facts rather than his suspicions.
Still, it doesn’t look good that such a trial occurred her in the first place. The deadliest domestic terror attack in American history, the 1995 bombing of a federal building just down I-35 in downtown Oklahoma City, was plotted in rural Kansas, the last murder of an abortion doctor occurred in a lovely Lutheran Church over on East 13th here in Wichita, and although the Kansas officials and witness were highly cooperative in bring justice to the bombers and a Kansas jury quickly convicted the abortion doctor’s killer, a certain craziness does seem to require our constant vigilance. We suppose that’s true everywhere, but it’s been a constant feature of the state it’s “Bleeding Kansas” days, and looks so much worse in contrast to the wholesome image we aspire to.
That story about Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach getting hit with the fine in that ongoing court isn’t great publicity for our beloved, either, and it should also worry Trump.
By now Kobach is well known far beyond Kansas for his crusade against illegal immigration and voter fraud and especially illegal immigrants voting fraudulently, and he’s successfully persuaded the past several very conservative Republican legislatures to pass new laws and grant him broader executive authority to execute them. This included requirements that voters produce certain sorts photographic identification cards to cast a ballot, provide a birth certificate or passport of certain other sorts of proof citizenship to register for the first time, and a few other measures. This outraged the left, made Kobach a hero to the right, and he wound up heading the commission Trump had created to prove his claim that votes fraudulently cast by illegal immigrants had denied him his rightful victory in the popular vote.
The federal voter fraud commission that Trump set up and Kobach headed came to a slapstick conclusion some months ago. Voting is mostly a matter left to the states and counties and localities, as it should be, and too many of them refused to cooperate, with all of the Democratic states objecting for self-interested Democratic reasons and a lot of Republican states refusing to cooperate for principled Republican reasons. One of the states that refused to hand over everything Kobach requested was Kansas, where the ever-suspicious-of-the-feds conservative Republican legislatures had passed laws against divulging such information. Trump still insists that he won the popular vote, but he gave up on Kobach’s attempts to prove it.
Since then illegal immigration and voter fraud have most given way to porn stars and the latest policy reversals in the news, but to the extent they linger they’re no longer doing either Trump or Kobach much good. The big, beautiful border went unfunded in that hated-by-everyone spending Trump signed a while back, the “dreamers” Trump promised to deport during his triumphant campaign are still here, and they’re polling better than the president, and there’s no telling where he stands on the matter at that moment, except for his continued insistence that the Democrats are to blame the executive order he signed that put their legal status in jeopardy. At the moment illegal immigration rarely appears on the front pages or at the top of the hour, and although the issue helped Trump when the presidency he should be glad of it.
Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Kobach seems to be having a hard time of it as well. We take a harder stand on immigration and voting issues than do the state’s Democrats, so didn’t mind casting our votes for Kobach in both of his races for Secretary. We found the photo ID requirement reasonable enough, as the average citizen is used to showing such papers to cash a check or buy a six-pack or board an airplane or transact many other legal activities, and although the passport and birth certificate requirements for registering seemed a bit officious we weren’t much bothered. The American Civil Liberties Union took a harsher view, however, and their lawsuit challenging the registration requirements seems to be going swimmingly.
The court has already issued an injunction against enforcement of the law, and the judge’s ruling that by “clear and convincing evidence” Kobach was in contempt of court for acting “disingenuously” to disobey that injunction, and the resulting $1000 fine, is just the latest indication that the defense is not going so well. A licensed attorney, Kobach is representing himself in the matter, and our pal Bucky Walters had an amusing satirical slapstick sketch about it in the recent Gridiron Show, with the judge reminding Kobach of the old maxim that “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client,” and Kobach replying that “In this case it will be just the other way around,” and so far that’s how it’s played out in the news.
Kobach is also running for governor, and it’s hard to explain to an outsider what a mess that is. He’d been hoping to ride his national status as anti-illegal immigrant hard-liner and voter integrity champion to the Republican nomination, but he’s up against his incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who assumed the office after Gov. Sam Brownback was tapped by Trump to be something called the ambassador at large for religious freedom, and both are vying for the Brownback vote. Brownback was wildly unpopular in the state when he left, though, as his tax-cutting agenda didn’t work out as promised, and the old-fashioned sorts of budget-balancing establishment Republicans who were overthrown by “tea party” have since been winning the primaries, and if one of them doesn’t win the Republican gubernatorial nomination we expect some centrist sort of Democrat could wind up winning the general election.
At this point, we expect that Kansas will happily settle on the least crazy candidates they can find on the ballot. The politics around here have been exhausting for a while a now, and we don’t notice any enthusiasm around here for building walls or deporting dreamers or blowing up mosques, and we’ll assure the other 49 states that for the most part we’re no crazier than the rest of you.

— Bud Norman

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Barbara Bush, RIP

There was the usual torrent of news on Tuesday, including a Supreme Court decision regarding immigration that had Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the liberals to overturn a burglar’s deportation, more resignation announcements by prominent congressional Republicans, intriguing developments in the North Korean problem, the usual tales of porn stars and Russian intrigue, and a right-wing talk radio host who finds himself caught up it in all. As much as we’d like to opine on  these important matters, the biggest news of the day was the death of Barbara Bush at the age of 92.
Bush was the wife of one American president and the mother of another, a distinction shared only by the great Abigail Adams, and that alone makes her passing noteworthy, but it also marks the passing of a far more dignified and admirable era of American politics.
By now both liberals and conservatives have plenty of plausible complaints with the policies of both Bush presidencies, and we’ve got a few of our own, but we still regard both men as honorable and dedicated public servants. We regard the Bush family’s most hateful critics on both the left and the right as a conspicuous part of our current problems, and think that anyone with anything bad to say about the Bush matriarch is just a hateful person.
Born as Barbara Pierce in 1925 to a well-heeled and and even better-respected Back East family, she was always a class act. Although she considered herself “shy” and “square” Pierce was an excellent student and much liked classmate in her girlhood at an elite all-girls’s prep school, and by the age of 16 she caught the eye of a 17-year-old guy who was a straight-A student and star athlete at a nearby elite all-boys prep school, and would go on to be a decorated Naval aviator in World War II, successful entrepreneur, United States Congressman, United Nations ambassador, Central Intelligence Agency director, Vice President and then President of the United States. She left the elite all-women’s Smith College at age 19 to marry George Herbert Walker Bush, and seemed to play a prominent and impeccable role in his extraordinary career. Even as her husband wound up losing reelection to an Arkansas hound dog, largely due to the intervention of a coarse and egomaniacal billionaire, the First Lady remained atop the “most admired women” polls.
She also bore her husband a son, George Walker, then daughters Robin and Dorothy, followed by sons John and Neil. The George Bush with the single “W” wound up winning two terms as Governor of Texas and two more as President of the United States, all of which will be hotly debated for years to come, and despite his travails the First Mother’s poll ratings remained high. Her son John Ellis, who preferred by the acronym “Jeb,” wound up serving two successful terms as Governor of Florida, and although she openly she shared our own concerns about political dynasties she wound up supporting his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency. Dorothy and Neil Bush are less well known to the public, but in this day and age we assume that speaks very well to their character.
The photographic evidence shows that the “shy” and “square” Barbara Pierce was quite the elegantly eye-catching beauty back when she first caught the eye of that handsome straight-A student and star athlete and future war hero and President of the United States, but her hair apparently started whitening not long after her beloved daughter Robin died of leukemia at the age of three. The Washington Post’s respectful and excellent obituaries note that she stayed at  her daughter’s bedside during the bone marrow transplants and other futile treatments that her war hero husband could not bear to witness, and although she would later fondly recall the emotional support offered by her grieving seven-year-old son George W. she prematurely aged. By the time her still-handsome star athlete and war hero husband was running for president she had an undeniably grandmotherly look about her, but their apparent love for one another and her undeniable class greatly enhanced the ticket.
President George H.W. Bush waged a splendid little war on Iraq but deviated on taxes and other issues from the true religion of President Ronald Reagan, and there was one of those  little recessionary blips in the business cycle at the end of his first term, and with the help of a coarse and megalomaniacal billionaire that Arkansas hound dog kept him from a fourth Reagan-Bush administration. Both George H.W. and Barbara Bush accepted the defeat with characteristic grace, adhering strictly to the time-tested rules about not criticizing the victors in an American election, and they even wound up having a cordial relationship with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton that drove bot the left and right crazy.
President Bill Clinton and his harridan of a wife wound up doing all sorts of things that both the left and right criticized, and God knows we’ve still got our own complaints, but we never minded that the elder Bushes largely stayed out of it. That’s the longstanding rule that ex-presidents and ex-First Ladies have always adhered to, and as far as we’re concerned it’s one of the good ones, and in any case President George W. Bush’s heatedly contested electoral victory soon followed. How that turned out will be debated for years to come, and it undeniably wound up with eight dreary years of President Barack Obama, but somehow Barbara Bush, unlike the rest of us, wound up classy throughout the whole ordeal.
The eight dreary Obama years almost inevitably resulted in the past 16 dreary months of President Donald Trump, who eked out an electoral college win over President Clinton’s harridan wife by criticizing the entirety of America’s political history and promising a new beginning, but we think Barbara Bush was still classy about that. Even without a son in the race  she should have been opposed to such a coarse and egomaniacal billionaire and thrice-married to a nudie model trophy wife and bankrupt casino and strip mogul as Trump, even if Trump hadn’t absurdly maligned her husband as a “globalist” and her son as a  traitor who had lied America into war, and ridiculed her younger and better-suited-to-the-presidency son as “low energy,” we’re sure she would have offered her rare criticisms of the the even more more coarse and less classy megalomaniacal billionaire dominating the current coarser and less classy  political scene.
Ever since Trump won anyway the former First Lady and First Mother mostly kept her opinions to herself, and we appreciate that far more than than the president’s impulsive “tweets” about his past infidelities or foreign entanglements and whatever else is troubling him at the moment. For all the mistakes they indisputably made, Barbara Bush and her husband and children embodied a civility and civil-mindedness we already miss, and we’re sure that all those hateful people on both the left and the will eventually miss it as well. Shy and square and grandmotherly  and civil and civic-minded and elegantly beautiful are no longer in fashion, but they’re qualities due for a comeback.

— Bud Norman

A Troubled Lawyer and His Three Clients

The news was once again jam-packed on Monday, and included a blowout win by The New York Yankees and a very slight uptick in the stock markets, but the two separate but perhaps related headlines that stood out for us involved Russia and Sean Hannity.
If you’ve been following the whole “Russia thing” subplot in President Donald Trump’s latest reality show, you’re already aware that he won the Republican nomination on a platform that was conspicuously more Russia-friendly than any Democrat had ever dared, with fulsome praise for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and disparaging comments about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that had long thwarted Russia’s ambitions, and news of Russia’s meddling on Trump’s behalf and frequent undisclosed but since acknowledged contacts took place between the Russians and the Trump campaign have been prominent in the media ever since. Lately Trump has been boasting that no president has ever been tougher on the Russkies than Trump, including Truman and and Kennedy and Ike and Nixon and Reagan and all those wimps who temporarily won the Cold War, but the very latest news still sounds suspicious to our ears.
Trump has by now accepted his own appointees’ to the intelligence agencies consensus conclusion that Russia did indeed meddle in the last American presidential election on Trump’s behalf, and he didn’t veto a Russian sanctions bill that was passed by a veto-proof bipartisan majority in both chambers of commerce. American troops recently killed a couple hundred Russians in the Syrian civil war theater, he’s launched two retaliatory strikes against Russia’s Syrian allies after their chemical attacks on civilians, and even named Putin in a “tweet” criticizing his support for a “Gas Killing Animal.” His currently unfilled State Department and a formidably led Defense Department a remarkably sound United Nations ambassador have announced tough sanctions on Russian oligarchs and promised a extended opposition to the Syrian dictatorship.
Which sounds good  to our old fashioned neocon Republican ears, except that we don’t believe a word of it. Trump only grudgingly acknowledged Russia’s meddling in the last election, and still insists that it was Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton who conspired with the Russkies to hand Trump his improbable presidency, clearly regards it as no big deal. He’s been pretty darned slow in enforcing that veto-proof bill he signed imposing Russian sanctions, too. His missile strikes in Libya have carefully avoided Russian casualties, and the two hundred or so Russians he killed were not Russian soldiers but rather mercenaries opposing the Syrian dictatorship, so the Russian government has not been upset by it. The Trump administration’s recent expulsion of Russian diplomats reportedly annoyed Trump, and by Monday he was walking back his stalwart UN ambassador’s tough talk about sanctions.
Meanwhile Trump is dealing with all the legal subplots about pornographic video performers and Playboy playmates and the numerous women who claim in court filings and media interviews that Trump has groped them, and Michael Cohen, the lawyer and self-described “fixer” who long handled these sorts of problems for Trump has lately had no-knock search warrants executed at his home and office and most recent hotel room. There are also reports from the same newspaper chain which owes us a pension that the same lawyer was making contact with Russian officials in Prague during the campaign, and at this point both Trump and his longtime lawyer have some explaining to do.
As the court documents reveal, and the mainstream media have giddily disseminated, that Cohen’s main client was Trump. When he pressed in court he revealed that another client was a big Republican who had hired him to pay hush money to a big time Republican fund-raiser who had impregnated another Playboy playmate, and when pressed to name a third client he reluctantly named talk radio host and Fox News personality Hannity. The news broke while Hannity was on the radio waves, and he quickly emphasized that although he had sought Cohen’s legal advice it had nothing to do with paying off any playmates, pregnant or otherwise.
We’ll take the notoriously puritanical Hannity’s word for that, despite his apologetics for Trump’s many undenied and even boasted about adulteries, but we still got a chuckle out of it. Trump and Hannity and their hilariously incompetent lawyer are all properly embarrassed at the moment, as far as were concerned, and although there are many nits to be picked with the far more formidable legal teams arrayed against them, including that former Federal Bureau of Investigation director with the currently best-selling book, and given everything else it seems another bad cycle for Trump and his most die-hard supporters.

— Bud Norman

A Two-Front, or More, War for Trump

President Donald Trump spent some of the past weekend lobbing actual missiles at Syrian chemical weapons sites, and the rest lobbing rhetorical missiles at former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey. In both cases, it remains to be seen how effective those attacks will prove.
The actual missiles lobbed into Syria were a justifiable response to a vicious dictatorship’s use of chemical weapons in its brutal prosecution of a civil war that America has reluctantly wound up in, as far as our old-fashioned Republican selves are concerned, and we were pleasantly surprised to note the strikes were carried out in coordination with the militaries of France and England the diplomatic approval of several other important allies. The last time Trump lobbed missiles at Syrian targets he got some rare bipartisan praise and a bump in the polls, but it didn’t deter the latest chemical attack by the Syrian dictatorship, and this time around some of his most vocal supporters are grousing about another one of those neo-con military-industrial complex establishment entanglements, so there’s no telling how it plays out now.
Trump had earlier “tweeted” the complete withdrawal of American forces from the entire Syrian civil war mess, claiming undue credit for the recent near-annihilation of the head-chopping and crucifying Islamist terrorist gang that had declared itself the Islamic State in much of Syria and Iraq, and he didn’t seem to mind that meant leaving the vicious Syrian dictatorship in permanent power to do what illegal atrocities it might. Nor did he he seem to mind that he was also allowing Syria’s equally odious dictator partnerships in Iran and Russia an extraordinary influence in the volatile and still strategically important region.
After the tear-jerking footage of the aftermath of the last chemical attacks were broadcast on all the networks, and the wise old foreign policy hands in London and Paris and Berlin and in Trump’s own administration and the bipartisan press argued that such a cruel violation international law must be met with a forceful response, Trump was “tweeting” a warning to Russia to get ready for a strike by his “shiny, new and smart” missiles. This apparently took the wise old foreign policy hands in London and Paris and the military brass in the Pentagon by surprise, so the next day Trump was “tweeting that the missiles might take a while, and the day after that we hit those Syrian chemical weapons sites. For now Trump has taken the position that America will sustain its diplomatic and economic as well as military influence in the region, but all reports suggest he’s been talked into that by by all those “deep state” and “New World” types, so those erstwhile non-interventionist talk radio hosts might prove more persuasive..
In any case the Syrian dictator is broadcasting images on the state-controlled Syrian media of himself walking calmly into work, visibly unworried by the paper tiger of the west’s ineffectual pinprick missile strikes, and on their state-controlled media neither Russia nor Iran seem at all unfazed, and despite the best efforts of Fox News and his most loyal talk radio allies Trump was unable to do the same.
Instead Trump spent much of the rest of the weekend “tweeting” insults about the FBI director he fired, calling him a liar and a “leaker” and “slime ball,” and otherwise undermine the credibility of Comey’s soon-to-published and already best-selling book. The advance publicity has already revived talk of Russian prostitutes urinating on one another in a Moscow hotel room at Trump’s request, the size of his hands and unusual hue of his skin, possibly impeachable attempts to obstruct justice, and counter charges by Comey that Trump reminded him of the organized crime figures he’d prosecuted earlier in his career, and it wound up hogging up much of the front pages and news hours from the missile strikes in Syria.
Our guess is that neither Trump nor Comey comes out of this battle metaphorically unbloodied. Comey did do some undeniably dumb things during his otherwise distinguished career, especially when he found himself directing the FBI at a time when both major party presidential campaigns were under investigation for some pretty appalling reasons, so the advance copies of the book are already getting some very mixed reviews from bipartisan media. On the other hand, many Americans will probably regard Comey as less a “slime ball” than the failed casino-and-strip bar magnate who’s also currently fending off legal problems with pornographic video performers and Playboy playmates and various women who allege he groped them, not to mention all the creepy recordings from Trump’s appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show and “Access Hollywood” and soft-core Playboy videos and his boasts in his best-selling self-help books.
Even if Trump succeeds in convincing his die-hard fans that Comey’s a a “leaker” and a liar and a “slime ball,” the increasingly scary investigation into the “Russia thing” by special counsel Robert Mueller that resulted from Comey’s firing continue. Despite attempts by Trump and his supporters to impugn the character of the Eagle Scout war hero with a distinguished and blessed by both parties career of public service leading that investigation, Trump’s “tweets” indicate he regards that investigation as a bigger deal than any old Syrian civil war.

— Bud Norman

Shakespeare Vs. Trump

We’ve long noticed that one of President Donald Trump’s many peculiar tendencies is to “tweet” or tell a television camera whatever happens to be on his mind at the moment. His most die-hard supporters have always loved his “tell it like it is” style, but we’ve always thought it ill-suited to the presidency. Our preference is for Polonius’ advice to Laertes in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” to “give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any un-proportioned thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.”
Trump clearly has no patience for such old-fashioned and highfalutin advice, however, and thus often winds up “tweeting” or telling a camera something that is quite different from what was on his mind at an earlier moment. The latest example once again involves the bloody and damned complicated Syrian civil war, and America’s even more damned complicated role in it, and shooting from the hip has so far proved a poor tactic.
After the Syrian dictatorship apparently launched another deadly chemical attack on in its citizens recently, Trump “tweeted” and talked tough. He denounced the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad as an “animal,” and went so far as to criticize by name Russian dictator Vladimir Putin for his pro-Assad role in the civil war. By Wednesday he was “tweeting” that “Russia vows to shoot down any all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
All of Trump’s critics on the left were of course horrified by such bellicosity, but so were many of the die-hard supporters on talk radio and internet sites who had cheered his “tweets” of a few days earlier about pulling out of the Syrian civil war altogether. That earlier “tweet” had already been talked back considerably by various more careful administration spokespeople, and by Thursday Trump himself was “tweeting” back his more recent imminent threats. “Never said an attack on Syria would take place,” Trump implausibly “tweeted,” adding “Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
On our way home with some fish tacos from the great Tacos Lopez drive-through over on West Street we heard one of the anti-immigrant and isolationist talk radio hosts claiming credit for talking Trump into his latest strategic retreat, but we’d like to think it was due to the more informed and deliberative advice of the surprisingly sound Defense Secretary and United Nations ambassador and potential next Secretary of State that Trump somehow has on hand, and we hope even that wild-eyed but experienced third national security advisor who came on board Wednesday. There’s a strong case to be made for enforcing a red line against chemical attacks, especially if we’re able to cobble together the international support that Trump’s administration is reportedly seeking, and we’re open to any arguments for washing our hands of the whole mess, but we think it best that wiser and more knowledgable people than ourselves carefully deliberate these matters before the president “tweets” about them.
We certainly wish those wise old hands well. The Syrian situation is complicated enough, and Trump is making tough demands on a nuclear arms treaty the Iranian theocratic dictatorship even as he’s signaled he intends to hand them Syria on a silver platter, and that whole thing with Russia is pretty damned complicated, too. On the other side of the globe Trump is engaged “twitter” feuds and diplomatic dances with the North Korean dictator, and has lately refrained from taunting him as “Little Rocket Man,” and has been talking and “tweeting” tough about trade negotiations with our ostensible allies in democratic South Korea. The stock markets have sighed a green arrow sigh after Trump lately “tweeted” back his earlier tough talk about a trade war with China, and there are reports that he’s even considering reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Barack Obama had negotiated with China’s neighbors. Trump had long been critical of multilateral trade agreements in general, and ones negotiated by Obama in particular, but given the howls of pain coming from the stock markets and agricultural states and various other export industries it suddenly seems a more sensible approach to dealing with China’s undeniably unfair business practices than all-out trade war.
There’s some faint cause for hope, therefore, that some semblance of a more or less effective foreign policy might emerge from all this. We can’t imagine Trump coherently explaining it to the world, though, and count on lots of incoherent “tweets” and televised statements further complicating things along the way. He probably won’t hear it, bout our advice is the same the Bard might well have said  to Trump, to give thy thoughts no tongue nor “tweet,” nor any un-proportioned thought your action. As for the part about not being vulgar, we hold out no hope Trump will heed that sage advice.

— Bud Norman

Ryan and the Old School of Republicanism Bow Out

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced Wednesday that he won’t be running for re-election, so for now his vituperative critics on both the left and right won’t have him to kick around anymore. These days we’re not sure where we land on the political spectrum, but from our current position here on the sidelines we’re going to mostly miss the guy.
Not so long ago when we and our readers considered us rock-ribbed conservative Republicans, Ryan was our guy. He not only talked the necessary talk about averting America’s quickly accruing national debt and eventual bankruptcy, but walked the necessary walk along the perilous path of the painful entitlement reforms and budget cuts that are required to keep America solvent without even more painful tax increases. Such sensible if unappetizing prescriptions naturally outraged the left, which produced widely-seen advertisements depicting Ryan throwing your beloved grandma off a cliff, and he politely but quite resolutely endured the slanders to stand his ground.
Such civil defiance of the Democratic left naturally endeared Ryan to the tax-cutting and budget-balancing “tea party” Republican right of the time, and thus he wound up way back in 2012 as the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket with presidential nominee Mitt Romney to reassure the party’s conservative base that Romney was all right. Romney on his own seemed a sound enough Republican to us at the time, and we still think he’d have been a far better president than incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama, but he’d somehow once been governor of the loony left state of Massachusetts, and had wound up signing into law something that looked an awful lot like the hated-by-Republicans Obamacare act that Obama had signed, and his pick of the steadfastly anti-Obamacare Ryan as a running mate and potentially heartbeat-away-from-the-resident was reassuring to the those of us on the right as it was appalling to those of you on the left.
Both Romney and Ryan wound up enduring the slings and arrows of the left with the civility and calmly convincing arguments we’d come to expect from the best of the Republican party, but they also wound up losing to the hated Obama, and since then the Grand Old Party hasn’t been quite it as it once was. It turns out that a lot of those “tea party” types we once rallied with like their Medicare and Social Security more than they hate the welfare payments that account for a far smaller share of that once-scary national debt, and by 2016 a decisive plurality of the Republican party had concluded that civility and calmly convincing arguments were no longer a match for the slanderous slings and arrows of the left.
Which wound up with putatively Republican President Donald Trump. Trump ran on promises that he wouldn’t mess with any tea partier’s Medicaid or Social Security, somehow balance the budget without any tax increases, build a “big, beautiful” wall too keep Mexicans away and somehow force the Mexicans to pay for it, and he outdid even the right-wing talk radio hosts in talking tough about all those damned Democrats and left-wingers, and he didn’t bother with any of those dull but calmly convincing arguments. Trump wound up losing the popular election by a few million votes, so he eked out enough ballots in a few states Romney narrowly lost, including Ryan’s own Wisconsin, that the former casino mogul and reality show star wound up winning the electoral vote.
Since then it’s been a different American political landscape in general and a wholly different Republican party in particular, and at the moment neither Ryan nor ourselves seem to know where we fit in all of it. Like us Ryan took a principled Republican stand against Trump early in the Republican primary process, and even after Trump had secured his party’s nomination he gallantly declined to defend Trump’s outrageous statements on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women by their where-evers, but since Trump’s election he’s been more conciliatory.
Aside from the occasional criticisms of Trump’s crudity, he successfully guided a Republican tax-cut bill through the House which also passed the Senate and wound up with Trump claiming all the credit when signed it. He made good on a promise to get the House of Representatives to repeal the hated Obamacare law, although a slimmer Republican majority in the Senate couldn’t do the same and Trump never got to sign it, and he dutifully endured the opprobrium that the right heaped on the GOP ‘establishment” and never questioned the new party’s religious faith in Trump’s divine deal-making abilities. The one-time champion of fiscal sobriety also spared Trump the political problems of a government shutdown by helping passage of a deficit-funded and worse-than-Obama budget busting spending bill that didn’t address any of the nation’s looming fiscal woes or those ginned-up immigration problems Trump is always railing about, and willingly accepted the slanderous slings and arrows of the right.
None of this will placate the newly-fangled right that regards Trump as the epitome of au courant conservatism, and the stubbornly old-fashioned left will still revile him as the son of a bitch who threw your beloved grandmother off the cliff, but from our view on the sidelines we take a more sympathetic view of Ryan’s career.
Our lazy asses don’t have to worry about reelection, however, as we never stood a chance of getting elected to anything in the first place, so we’ll not sit in judgment of a poor politician such as Ryan. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee in the last presidential election, after all, and despite everything we’ll readily forgive any Republicans who went ahead and voted for Trump. It was Trump’s populist campaign that made meaningful entitlement reform impossible, so we’ll generously assume that Ryan intended to keep the government operating just long enough to confront fiscal reality, and he generously allowed Trump to take credit for the big defense spending increase, and despite the rants of the right wing talk radio hosts he did persuade a majority of the House to repeal that damned Obamacare.
None of which will squelch the left’s glee at Ryan’s departure. Even as the recent Republicans decry Ryan as a “Republican in Name only” and “establishment” “deep state” “globalist” sell-out, the current Democrats still regard him as the guy who who pushed your beloved grandmother over the cliff. The more high-brow leftists still give Ryan credit for his civility and calmly stated arguments, but that’s all the more reason that Trump-loving Republicans will regarding him as a squishy sort of beta-male.
That scant plurality of remaining Trump-loving Republicans should note, though, that Ryan is just the most prominent of an unprecedented number establishment Republicans who no longer know where they fit on the political landscape and have decided not to seek reelection. At this relatively early point in the Trump era of the Republican party several GOP House seats in suburban districts and even a Senate seat in usually reliable Alabama have flipped to the Democrats, even the Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero was in danger of losing his own race, and no matter what uncivil taunts Trump might “tweet” that political landscape seems fraught for both the best and worst sorts of Republican candidate.
Ryan insists that he’s stepping down to spend more time his children, who have thus far known him as a “weekend dad,” and his more generous critics on both the left and right agree that he’s the decent sort of family man fellow who would take that into account. We’re sure it’s at least partially true, and we’ll wish him and the rest of his family well. Still, his temporary departure from the pubic stage doesn’t augur well for either the Republican Party or the rest of the political landscape, and the national debt is bigger than ever, and we expect an acrimonious outcome.

— Bud Norman

Stranger, and Worse, Than Fiction

Pity the poor fool who tries to write a legal potboiler or political satire novel these days. The most fervid imagination might devise a plot that combines Russian intrigue, Playboy centerfold models and a pornographic video actresses, ruthlessly efficient prosecutors and comically inept defense attorneys, a petulant and impulsive president with plenty of other subplots, and a slew of conspiracy theories to explain it all, but the publishers will find it hackneyed.
The combined talents of John Grisham and Jonathan Swift couldn’t top the last couple of days of headlines in your local newspaper.
Acting on a tip from the special counsel investigation looking into the “Russia thing,” federal agents have lately executed an extraordinary search warrant on the president’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” who has admitted paying $130,000 to a pornographic video actress in exchange for her silence about an affair the president denies ever happened. The payment can be construed as an illegal campaign contribution, as well as a reported similar payment of hush money to a Playmate centerfold model through the National Enquirer tabloid, which no fiction writer would have ever thought of, and there are reports the lawyer was also suspected of illegally dealing once-lucrative New York City taxi medallions, but what they find in the voluminous records that were seized from Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” might also shed some light on that “Russia thing.”
The petulant and impulsive president griped at length about it in front of all the network news cameras on Monday, prior to a cabinet meeting ostensibly about a response to Syria’s recent chemical attack on its own people in a Syrian civil war that Trump had earlier announced we’ll soon be pulling out off. He criticized his own Attorney General and deputy attorney general and pretty much the entirety of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the independent judiciary that had signed off even those extraordinary search warrants and indictments. He repeatedly used the words “disgrace” or “disgraceful,” hinted that people might be fired, and later “tweeted” that he was the victim of “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!”
You don’t have to delve into the depths of right-wing conspiracy theory sites to to hear sites to hear sympathetic arguments. Several of the hosts on influential Fox News network and several prominent talk radio hosts argue that a raid on a lawyer for information about one of his clients is an egregious violation of the sacred lawyer client-relationship, and is further proof that the “deep state” of professional employees in the DOJ and FBI and elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy are conspiring are conspiring to overthrow a duly elected American president. It is highly unusual for a search warrants to be executed any old defense attorney, there is indeed a more-or-less permanent federal bureaucracy which doesn’t much like the president, and all of them have their flaws, so there’s something to it.
Being the sorts of old-fashioned conservative Kansas Republicans that we are, though, we’re not at all convinced that our duly constituted system of government’s carefully considered laws and the independent judiciary that enforces them is more a “disgrace” than our petulant and impulsive president. So far as we can tell the legal concept of lawyer-client privilege is still well respected by the system, and that the duly-appointed prosecutors had to provide some pretty damned convincing evidence to the duty appointed judges to get such a warrant on the highly unusual exception where criminal activity by the lawyer is involved, and we note that almost everyone involved in the process is a Republican of longer standing than the president.
We’ll not dare venture a guess about what comes next, but the president is conspicuously hinting he’s going to fire people, has made quite clear that his longtime lawyer and “fixer” is on his own regarding that hush money to the porn actress, and he’s short another inept lawyer against those ruthless prosecutors who have thus far won warrants and indictments and guilty pleas from the independent judiciary, and has been having trouble finding suitable replacements. There’s no telling how this stranger-than-fiction tale might turn out, but our limited imaginations can’t see how it turns out well.

— Bud Norman

Gut Instincts and Complicated Situations

President Donald Trump promised on Monday that within 24 to 48 hours he will announce a “major decision” about the Syrian dictatorship’s recent chemical attack on its own citizens during that country’s long and bloody civil war. “Nothing is off the table,” Trump added, and he promised “It will be met, and met forcefully.”
So for the next 24 to 48 hours, if not much longer than that, one can only speculate what that forceful response will be. He’ll be getting advice from his newly-installed and third national security advisor, a recent Secretary of State, several brass-laden generals, and a United Nations ambassador who’s proved pretty savvy, but they’ll be laying out unsatisfactory options and Trump tends to go with his gut rather than expert advice. Trump’s gut is hard to predict in this case, because it’s a damned complicated situation.
The long and bloody war in Syria is being waged against the second-generation dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, which no decent person likes, but is backed by the military might of the Iranian theocracy, which no decent person likes, as well the mightier military of the Russian dictatorship, which even Trump is lately having second thoughts about. On the other hand, one of the various factions waging war against Assad is the Islamic State, the head-chopping and crucifying bunch that has supplanted al-Qaeda as the world’s most deranged Islamist terror gang, and no decent person likes them. There are other factions, too, including those plucky Iraqi Kurds who have sustained the sort of democracy that President George W. Bush envisioned when he launched the second Iraq War. You’ll even find some factions who purport to be fighting for something like modernity, although they seem to have the lesser hand.
You’ll also find a few thousand American troops in the mix, and they find themselves in an especially damned complicated situation. They were first sent there by President Barack Obama, whose incoherent foreign policy had once dismissed the Islamic State as the “JV team” of Islamist terrorism and praised Assad as a “reformer,” then went to a limited war against both, and they’re still there in the Trump administration’s incoherent foreign policy, which had boasted that it will soon pull all American troops out of the theater after their great victory over the Islamic State but is now promising a forceful response to the Assad dictatorship’s outrageous chemical attack on its own people. In both administrations American troops have clashed with both Assad and Islamic State forces, and it’s always been clear who they’ve been against, but never quite clear who they were for.
Even the simplest wars are complicated enough, but in this case all the political implications will be mind-boggling for Trump’s gut. He ran for president on the promise to be even more isolationist than Obama, and went far further in criticizing the Bush-eras of Republican foreign policy, but he also derided all of his presidential predecessors as a bunch of wimps who’d gone easy on Islamist terrorists and the Syrians and Iranians, even as he gave the Russians a pass, so it’s hard to say what his gut tells him now.
One of Obama’s most conspicuous and poll-damaging foreign policy fiascos was declaring a “red line” against Assad’s use of chemical weapons and then failing to back it up after the Assad regime gassed its own people for a second generation, and Trump got bipartisan praise and a bump in the polls after he responded to another chemical attack with a relatively harmless cruise missile strike on Syrian airbase. That didn’t deter Assad and his allies from the most recent attack, though, not after Trump announced he would soon be pulling all American forces from the theater, and another missile strike might not have the same political effect.
Trump might choose to wage a more aggressive war against the Assad regime, then take all their oil, as he’s talked about, which would be as tough as he’s always promised to be, but it would also break his promises about being even less Bush-ian than Obama, and more recent promises about pulling all forces out of Syria. Waging a more aggressive war against the Assad regime entails a more aggressive war against the Iranians and Russians, and despite Trump’s tough talk his gut doesn’t seem to have the stomach for that. As for taking their oil, Syria actually doesn’t have much of it, and it would be a violation of the same Geneva Convention as Assad’s gas attack.
Diplomatic pressure could bring the world’s dislike of both the Assad dictatorship and it’s allies and what’s left of the Islamic State to inflict greater economic damage, but Trump also ran against international coalitions, and is lately threatening hardball negotiations with all our trading powers, so even that surprisingly strong UN ambassador is going to have a problem pulling that off.
Trump is rightly if pettily noting that all of his presidential predecessors failed to avert the damned complicated situation he finds himself in, and we have to admit it is a damned complicated situation. None of the available responses seem satisfactory, even if you leave Trump’s naked political self-interest out of the equation.
Any country’s chemical attack on its enemies, especially its people, is an affront to international law and human decency that cannot go unchallenged. Lobbing a few missiles at an empty air base won’t do much, though, and a war to effect regime change will entail all the things Trump criticized about the Bush years. That Obama-like promise to pull all American forces out is already proving problematic. All of which is further complicated, of course, by the ever expanding “Russia thing” here at home, which has lately required a harder administration stand against Russia.
The only thing we’ll bet on is that our erstwhile Kurdish and putatively pro-modernity allies will wind up losing, and that the outcome won’t be happy for anyone involved. Still, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

With Apologies to Harold Arlen

Our annual theatrical turn in the Gridiron Show went well, as did the cast party, but it left us exhausted. So we’ll offer up one of the skits, which got some laughs.
(Scene opens at closing time in the Mar-a-Lago nightclub where PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP is slouched against the bar, the BARTENDER is wiping the counter, and a PIANIST tinkles closing time tunes nearby.)
TRUMP: Set me up again, damn it.
BARTENDER: Are you sure, Mr. President? You’ve been going at it pretty hard. By my count, this’ll be your fourteenth Diet Coke of the night.
TRUMP: I know my limits. Everyone says so. Everyone says no one knows his limits better than Trump, believe.
BARTENDER: Well, OK, sir. (Pours a Diet Coke.)
TRUMP: Besides, I’ve got troubles to drown.
BARTENDER: I’m sorry to hear that. Is it the national debt? The nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula? Trade wars? The Russia thing?
TRUMP: No, worse than that. The ol’ ball and chain is raggin’ on me lately. My wife, Melanoma, is icier than the Rock of Gibraltar.
BARTENDER: Well, I think your wife’s name is Melania, and I’m not sure the Rock of Gibraltar is all that icy, but hey, I hear you. What’s she raggin’ about?
TRUMP: Oh, she’s all pissed off just because she found out was a banging a porn star not long after she gave birth to our son, Bernard. Can you believe that?
BARTENDER: I think the kid’s name is Barron, sir, but I know what you’re talking about. I mean, women, right?
TRUMP: That’s right. I mean, c’mon, Malaria still had the baby weight, and this porn chick was at her peak. You should see what she looks like in action.
BARTENDER: I still think your wife’s name in Melania, and I actually have see that porn star in action. It’s just a couple of clicks away on the internet, after all, and I figure that by now pretty much everyone has seen it.
TRUMP: Uh, you didn’t see me in any of those videos, did you.
BARTENDER: No. Not that I recall.
TRUMP: Of course not, because it never happened. Fake news. (Leaning in.) Yeah, I totally nailed that babe. It was awesome. She loved it, believe me. I had to pay her a hundred and thirty grand not tell everyone how great I was.
BARTENDER: Whatever you say, sir.
TRUMP: Then you know what I’m talking about, am I right?
BARTENDER: Hey, who among us has not cheated on their mother of our newborn child with a porn star?
TRUMP: You’re all right, Joe. I might just have a cabinet position for you. Still, I can’t help singing the blues. (He saunters over to lean on the piano.) Play it, Sam.
PIANIST: Are you sure, Mr. Trump? It’s an awfully sad song.
TRUMP: You played it for her, you an play it for me. If she can stand it, I can stand it. Play it, Sam.
(PIANIST shrugs and starts playing “Stormy Weather.”)
TRUMP (Singing):”Don’t know why there is lipstick on my fly.
“Stormy Daniels.
“Now my gal and I are having trials.
“Keeps raining all the time.
“Ta-tas out to here, and she took it in the ear.
“Stormy Daniels.
“Just can’t get my poor self together.
“I’m weary all the time.
“So weary all the time.”

— Bud Norman

The Show and the News and Real Life Go On

An otherwise successful opening to the annual local Gridiron Show was marred by a family medical emergency that occurred just afterwards, and instead of drinking it up with our fellow cast members we spent the remainder of Thursday night and the first two hours of this morning in a nearby hospital.
So far as we can tell from the doctors’ carefully worded statements, things will likely turn out just fine, although our beloved Dad wound up spending the night in the hospital for a night of observation. At his stubborn insistence we took our beloved Mom home and then returned to headquarters for a glance at the news, hoping to keep our years-long writing streak intact with at least a brief post.
The lately essential Washington Post’s web site was filled with the usual depressing news. China has escalated its recent trade war with America, although this time the stock markets didn’t seem to mind. During a campaign stop in West Virginia President Donald Trump literally tossed out the carefully worded script that had been prepared for him, complaining that he found it “boring,” and instead went on one of his usual stream-of-consciousness rants full of taunts against his perceived enemies and plenty of outright falsehoods. There was also an interesting piece about the final statements of some recently ousted Trump administration officials, and their all-too-credible accounts of Trump’s chaotic management style.
At the bottom of the page we found the most depressing report, that Kevin Williamson has been fired from The Atlantic Magazine after just one column. If you’re not familiar with the name, Williamson has a long history in newspapers and magazines and was most recently a prominent columnist for The National Review, where he frequently annoyed many of that venerable conservative journal’s readers with his principled conservative Never Trump stance and by advocating the same tough-love solutions for the white underclass that conservatives have always advocated for the black underclass, and as far as we’re concerned he’s the best political polemicist of the day, our own formidable selves notwithstanding.
Although Williamson’s principled conservatism had so annoyed National Review’s Trump-loving readers, his hiring by The Atlantic outraged it’s more stridently liberal readers. As the oldest and most venerable monthly magazine in The Atlantic has published influential and widely anthologized essays by still-famous writers on both the left and the right over it’s more than 150 distinguished years, under the leadership of legendary editors from both sides of the political spectrum, and Williamson’s keen analysis and elegant writing is well worthy of that august tradition, but of course there were angry e-mails and “tweets” and some attention paid by more traditional media.
These days, liberals are no more interested in reading keen analysis and elegant writing from some damned conservative than conservatives are in reading any keen analysis and elegant writing from some damned liberal.
Eventually Williamson’s critics came up with some off-the-cuff and not all written-down comments three years ago on a couple of internet “podcasts.” Like most conservatives and a large chunk of the country at large, Williamson has moral objections to the practice of abortion, based on his widely-held belief that human life is sacred and begins at the moment of conception. In those unearthed “podcasts,” Williamson took this belief to its extreme but logical conclusion that the law should therefore consider abortion murder, and despite his his usually carefully considered writing he conversationally used some controversial language about hangings.
Despite our own moral objections to the practice of abortion, this is taking things further than we’re comfortable with, and many conservatives agree, and so does the biggest chunk of the population at large, including all those outraged liberals who have some equally extreme ideas of their own about abortion and the sanctity of life, so of course it was too much for the venerable Atlantic. We can hardly blame the magazine, given the current political climate, but it does seem a damn shame.
At the end of a long, long day we expect that such a formidable writer as Williamson will land on his feet, and that such a formidable fellow as our beloved Dad will do the same. Until next Monday, you beloved readers, we expect the news will continue, and the show must go on, so we wish everyone the best.

— Bud Norman