Parnas, Bolton, and the Impeachment Mess

The Democrats in the House of Representatives had some very compelling testimony and documentary evidence from credible witnesses when they impeached President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and since the news has been full of interviews and documents and surreptitious video recordings that seem to bolster their case. For now the president and his defenders would prefer the public not hear about it during the impeachment trial.
Two relevant witnesses who did not testify in the House but are very much in the news lately are former national security advisor John Bolton and a fellow named Lev Parnas, a Russian-born American citizen and associate of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani who is currently under federal indictment for funneling Russian and other foreign campaign contributions to Republican candidates. Both are problematic for the president’s defense.
Parnas and his lawyer have gone on two cable news networks to describe how he assisted Giuliani’s efforts on the president’s behalf to extort the Ukrainian government’s help in smearing potential Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, which is basically what all this impeachment brouhaha is about. He’s undeniably a shady character, being an associate of Giuliani and under indictment for funneling foreign money to Republican candidates and all, and Trump has said he doesn’t even the know the guy, but at this point we’re inclined to believe him than the President of the United States.
Presidents get their pictures taken with a lot of people, but the news media have come up with a lot of pictures of Trump and his sons and administration officials looking very chummy with Parnas, and Giuliani admits that Parnas and fellow indictee Igor Fruman were involved in his efforts on Trump’s behalf to get dirt on Biden from the Ukrainian government. Parnas has also handed over to the news media some surreptitiously taken audio tape that clearly shows Trump knew him well enough to host him at a dinner in Trump’s swank Washington hotel’s restaurant, and to share some laughs with him about ousting the Ambassador to Ukraine, which is one of the very suspicious subplots in this impeachment drama.
Bolton, who has reportedly written a soon-to-be-published tell-all book alleging that Trump did indeed demand the quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainians that Trump is accused of in the articles of impeachment, is another problem. He’s got a lucrative book deal, and after his rude defenestration from the Trump administration while this Ukraine business was going down he’s arguably a disgruntled former employee, but if he’s called to testify under oath before the Senate he’ll bring both a begrudging credibility from the right and a newfound respect from the left. Trump can’t credibly claim to hardly know the guy, as he once entrusted Bolton with the job of national security advisor, and they’ve been photographed together a gazillion times, and Bolton got the job because he was once a hero of the erstwhile Republican party’s most hawkish foreign policy wing. The liberals hated him for that, even if it brought him into conflict with Trump’s Russia-friendly and post-war world order policies, but if Bolton keeps a promise to honor a Senate subpoena and says what he’s expected to say, and what his book reportedly says he wrote, the liberals will dearly love him for that.
All the polls show the viewing public will disappointed if such intriguing characters in this his reality show aren’t given sufficient camera time, which is a problem for the Republicans, who had once hoped to dismiss the charges without any bother of witnesses and testimony. Recent news reports indicate a sufficient-for-a-majority number of four Republican Senators and maybe even as many ten will join all of the Democrats in a vote to allow witnesses and evidence in the trial, which will likely make it much harder for any of them to justify a vote for Trump’s acquittal.
On the other hand, Trump could call to the stand Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and moonlighting Office of Management and Budget director and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump attorney Giuliani, along with everyone else in the administration that’s been implicated in the mess, and let them clear up this whole whole mess up with their sworn testimony. He could also have his crack legal team and Senate allies call back to the stand the respected ambassador to Ukraine that he removed and the ambassador appointed by his Secretary of State to her succeed her and the respected military man and Purple Heart recipient and the million-dollar Trump donor who testified against Trump in the House impeachment hearings.
For whatever reason, though, Trump would prefer you just take his word for it that he did nothing wrong.

— Bud Norman

Pompeo vs. National Public Radio

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is having a nasty spat with a National Public Radio reporter named Mary Louise Kelly, and we’re sure that President Donald Trump and his most ardent admirers are loving it. The true Trump believers despise pretty much all media except for Fox News and the Sinclair Network and their favorite talk radio talkers, and have a special disdain for such fancy-pants and know-it-all outlets as NPR, so they love seeing those pesky reporters being treated rudely.
Since the age of 19 we’ve been involved in some journalism pursuit or another, and that’s been such a long, long time we’ve become inured to a certain amount of press-bashing. There was no way of avoiding someone’s anger when we covered Wichita’s divisive anti-abortion protests and pro-abortion rights counter-protests back in the ’90s, and even though we’d been interns in the office of Sen. Bob Dole and always voted for him he tried to score some points by lashing out at us, and no matter how meticulously we balanced the Republican and Democratic arguments in our coverage of ant campaign we always got hateful letters from one side or the other and usually both.
Although we well understand the conservative complaint that most of the press leans toward liberalism, and have made that case in countless editorial meetings and internet essays, but that nasty spat between Pompeo and Kelly seems another example of how it’s gone too far. We voted for Pompeo every time he ran for Kansas’ fourth district House seat, but we’ve lost a lot of respect for him since then, and in this case it appears he’s being dishonest and dodging legitimate questions and losing his temper in a way that Secretaries of State should never do.
It all started during a long-scheduled interview when Kelly asked Pompeo about the firing of Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, which is an important matter in the current impeachment trial of Trump, and Pompeo replied that “I agreed to come to on your show today to talk about Iran,” then angrily answered follow-up questions by insisting that he’d defended all State Department employees, and according to NPR he then “stood, leaned and silently glared at Kelly for several seconds before leaving the room.”
By NPR’s account, a few moments later Kelly was called into Pompeo’s private living room at the State Department, where he shouted at her for asking questions about Ukraine, which he insisted had not been agreed to when scheduling the interview. Kelly said Pompeo shouted “Do you think the American people care about Ukraine?,” with Kelly adding that he’d used the “f-word” a couple of times during the tirade. She also said Pompeo dared her to find Ukraine on a map with no names.
When NPR reported this, Pompeo charged that they’d violated a journalistic oath to keep the second conversation off the record. A later Pompeo statement called it “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this administration.”
NPR is indeed a left-leaning news organization, and they have that annoying soft-spoken and haughty-sounding way of broadcasting that always grates on our ears, but their account of the matter seems more true to our experienced eyes, and they don’t just make stuff up the way the Trump administration does. Both Iran and Ukraine are matters of public interest that any experienced journalist would want to talk about with the Secretary of State, and we can’t imagine that the seasoned Kelly and her seasoned producers would have agreed to leave Ukraine out of the interview. Kelly didn’t bring a microphone into Pompeo’s personal living room, but according the the rules of the journalism game that’s not the same as agreeing to go off the record, and we can’t imagine Kelly doing that. Pompeo confirmed the part about daring Kelly to find Ukraine on the map when he “tweeted” that “Ukraine is not Bangladesh,” but we can’t imagine that a woman with a Master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge University who has also extensively reported from south Asia would make that glaring mistake.
We can far more easily imagine that Pompeo was simply in no mood to answer any questions from a pesky reporter about the arguably impeachable Ukraine matter, which he’s up to his neck in and keeps looking worse with each passing day of audio and video recordings and other evidence in the hated mainstream media, and he became, for lack of a better word, unhinged, and in a way that Secretaries of State should never do. By now lashing out at anyone who asks a question rather than answering it is either a feature or a bug of the Trump administration, depending on your point of view. He was mostly well-hinged back when he had the relatively easy job of being Kansas’ fourth district congressman, with only the decimated Kansas media and its mostly Republican audience to contended with, but he lately seems under more stress.
The die-hard fans will continue to love the administration’s robust resistance to hated media, and believe they’re just speaking truth to power, but the rest of the country will want to some hear honest answers to the pesky but quite reasonable questions that are being asked of the people who are actually in power.

— Bud Norman

The Much-Panned Impeachment Trial

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is so far getting fairly good ratings, given all the diverse offerings available these days, but the television critics on the right find it boring. It’s a matter of utmost importance to the nation, they’ll admit, but they say it lacks sizzle and is not worth watching.
The critics have a point, as it’s not the sort of well-scripted and tightly edited courtroom dramas that viewers have become accustomed to, with no sex or nudity but a lot of legalistic blah-blah-blah. Democratic and Republican Senators alike were seen playing with fidget spinners reading books and dozing off during the proceedings, which have stretched into the morning hours. The outcome is seemingly predetermined, too, and most Americans have already made up their minds what they think about that.
The Senate Republicans are mostly determined to make the show as boring as possible. They’re adding plenty of their own legalistic blah-blah-blah, and trying to block a star-studded cast of former and current administration officials and Trump’s current personal lawyer from offering what would probably be riveting and ratings-grabbing testimony. The potential witnesses might be able to exonerate the president and expose a “deep state” conspiracy to depose him, for all we know, which would easily beat the last episode of “M*A*S*H” as television history’s most-watched show, but for some reason the Republicans would prefer the trial not get bogged down with witnesses and evidence and all that stuff.
Even so, we find it all quite riveting. We’ve sat through countless hours of legislative hearings and court proceedings and Ingmar Bergman movies and Joseph Conrad novels in our day, and spent much of our early teen years binge-watching Watergate hearings, and have learned to enjoy slogging through the slow-moving but fascinatingly complex plots about matters of upmost importance. This one features a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction hero or villain, depending on your point of view, and a variety of interesting characters that might or not be given any speaking parts, and what doesn’t happen will be as conspicuous as what does.
We should issue a “spoiler alert,” as the kids say, but Trump will almost surely be acquitted, and some 40 percent of the country will be fine with that. The rest of the country will think he was guilty, though, especially if the Republicans block any witnesses or testimony, and the season finale won’t be until next November.

— Bud Norman

On Pandemic Panics, Basketball Brawls, and That Impeachment Matter

At this point we’re desperate to opine to about anything other than the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, but there’s not much else in the news. A disease spreading in China might yet kill us all, and here in the Sunflower State there’s much talk about the big brawl that broke out between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats in the final seconds of their men’s basketball contest, but that’s about it.
The recent outbreak of the deadly and contagious coronavirus in Wuhan, China, which is China’s sixth most populous city and more populous than any American city, is indeed a tragedy and a matter of concern. The city is a crucial part of China’s very interactive economy, which is a crucial part of a very interactive global economy, and given all the international travel that occurs these days there’s no telling how that might wind up. Even so, we don’t worry it will wind up killing us all.
By now we’ve survived the Swine Flu and the Ebola Virus and AIDS and all sorts of pandemic panics and other apocalyptic scenarios, and we like our chances with this one. The ruthless commies running China are an unsavory lot, but we have to admit they’re ruthlessly efficient at cracking down on this sort of thing. Even during the Trump administration the American government tends to be less ruthless and more lax about these things, but so far they’ve kept us alive, so we expect they’ll do so again. With all due respect and sympathy to the many fine people of Wuhan, for now it’s not a Wichita problem.
That big brawl between the KU and K-State basketball squads was something to see and a much bigger deal around here, and the footage of massive athletes brawling into the handicapped section was endlessly replayed to sports fans around the country, and although it looked awful it’s ultimately much ado about nothing. We dropped out of K-State but retain an affection for its sports program and as lifelong Wichitans are mostly fans of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers and have no affinity for the haughty KU sports programs, so we look at it from the same biased lens as we do the Trump impeachment trial, but so far as we can objectively tell the hated Jayhawks are mostly at fault.
The melee started in the closing seconds of a lopsided KU victory, which was expected because the Jayhawks are their usual championship-contending selves and the Wildcats are lately mediocre at best, and the game was being played on the hallowed hardwood of KU’s Allen Field House, where the Jayhawks rarely lose. According to the voluminous but inconclusive video evidence the K-State benchwarmers who were playing out the waning minutes just wanted the game over with, but there was a taunt or a push by a KU player, and then a taunt and a push back by a K-State player, and then both benches cleared and the brawl wound up spilling over into the laps of the spectators in the handicapped section.
One of the KU players was clearly videotaped lifting a metal folding chair above his head, pro-wrestling style, with a KU assistant coach preventing him at the last moment from bringing it down on someone’s head, and so far the National Collegiate Athletic Association is coming down harder on the Jayhawks. Both teams will suffer suspensions, but the Jayhawks will suffer more, as their suspended players are more valuable, and they’re already underdogs to the Baylor University Bears in the Big XII conference race, while K-State is just fighting for a slot in the consolatory National Invitational Tournament, where they might do well.
It will all work itself out without any real bother to ourselves, we expect, so tomorrow we’ll get back to worrying about that impeachment trial. As we follow it we’ll be well reminded that sometimes ruthlessness works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

–Bud Norman

A Good Day to Be in Switzerland

President Donald Trump spent the first day of his impeachment trial with all the global big wigs annually gathered in Davos, Switzerland, boasting about his unprecedented accomplishments and threatening trade wars against longtime allies and trading partners. Meanwhile, back in the states, the Republicans and the Democrats were bickering about how his impeachment trial should proceed.
The Republican position is that the whole deal is a witch hunt and a hoax and a farce and a mockery and a travesty a mockery of a travesty of justice, and that no evidence or testimony suggesting otherwise should even be considered, but that’s a hard sell to what remains of a center in a polarized electorate. The Democrats had some compelling evidence and testimony when they drew up their articles of impeachment in the House, more has been reported to the press and presented to the Congress since then, and there are a lot of people the viewing public would like to see and hear. The star-studded cast includes the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Energy and the White House chief of staff and a former national security advisor and Trump’s personal lawyer and a couple of his clients, so it’s hard to explain to a country where Trump has never won majority approval in any election or opinion poll why he doesn’t want an enrapt national television audience to hear their presumably exculpatory evidence and testimony.
This matters to a few Republican Senators running for reelection in iffy states, and a few others who are comfortably far enough away from reelection to vote on their old-fashioned Republican principles, which might yet outlast Trump, and thus the Republicans find themselves negotiating from a weakened position with the damned Democrats about what happens next. At one point, the Republicans reportedly floated the offer of allowing John Bolton to testify if they could also call Hunter Biden to the stand.
If you’re new to this riveting reality show, Bolton is one of Trump’s former national security advisors, and not the one awaiting sentence on felony convictions. He’s long been known as a Cold War hold-over and very hard-line security hawk, to the extent he was a controversial pick as President George W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador even among the old-school and internationalist Republican foreign policy establishment, and he was an even odder fit in the Trump administration. He was outspoken in his continued opposition to Russian aggression and support for the allies America had gained since its victory in the Cold War, and according to the sworn testimony of some of the witnesses called by the House he had described the administration’s dealings with Ukraine, which got Trump impeached, as a “drug deal” he wanted no part of.
Since then Bolton has been one of the many once-esteemed Republican foreign policy types defenestrated from the Trump administration, signed a lucrative deal for a presumably tell-all book, and gained a newfound respect from Democrats who once hated his Republican hawkishness but hope he’ll stay true to his stubborn Republican principle if he testifies. If so, he’ll be a more valuable witness to the Democrats than Hunter Biden will be to the Republicans.
To further catch up the new viewers in this this complicated plot, Hunter Biden is the son of former Vice President and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden, and he made a whole lot of money serving on the board of a Ukrainian company while his dad was in charge of America’s Ukrainian policy, and there’s no denying that looks bad. It looks so bad that one wonders why Trump be would be so stupid as to get himself impeached by withholding congressionally authorized to Ukraine in order to extort help in his reelection campaign, but Bolton’s testimony and the rest of the evidence might yet show that yeah, Trump is that stupid.
Neither Hunter Biden nor his dad have any relevant information to offer about whether Trump abused the powers of his office for personal gain and then obstructed congressional efforts to find out about it, which is the matter before the court, no matter what misdeeds they might have and probably did commit. The Republicans running this show are all old enough to remember “Perry Mason,” and might be hoping for that dramatic moment when one of the Bidens tearfully confesses that yes, they were guilty all along, and that it was the damned Democrats and Ukrainians who conspired to thwart Trump and American democracy.
We covered a lot of trials back in our newspaper days, though, and never witnessed such a “Perry Mason” moment. We’ve never seen a trial where the defense didn’t want to allow testimony and evidence from its presumably exculpatory witnesses, though, and over many years we’ve found that verdicts don’t always follow the facts. There’s no telling how this works out.

— Bud Norman

Who Needs Evidence When We Already Know Which Side We’re On?

There are physical examinations and tax returns and and oil changes and various other unpleasant things that can’t be forever avoided in this life, no matter how one tries, and the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is one of those things. It’s an acrimonious topic, best avoided over family dinners, but there’s nothing else in the news that allows getting around it.
The very differing versions of the very complicated facts of the matter will surely dominate the headlines for the coming weeks, as the very complicated machinery of the constitutional system grinds how to proceed with the trial. At this point, most people have chosen their side.
So far as we can tell the damned Democrats want to introduce to the trial all the testimony they’ve elicited in congressional testimony and sworn documents from respected Trump-administration civil servants and a Trump donor and political appointee who allege Trump withheld congressionally authorized aid to our Ukrainian allies in exchange for help in his reelection, along with recent media interviews and the documents provided to Congress and perhaps the sworn testimony by an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who seems tied up in all this. They also impeach the president on the charge of obstructing their efforts to get to the bottom of it.
The Republican response has been that it’s all a “deep state” conspiracy by the damned Democrats to depose a wildly popular president, and that no testimony evidence should be allowed to dignify such a sham trial, even the presumably exculpatory testimony and evidence that might come from Trump’s Secretary of State and moonlighting Chief of Staff and Secretary of Budget and Management and Office and defenestrated national security and the still ongoing personal lawyer who seems up to his neck in all this. We have friends and family who find this quite persuasive, but as much as we despise the damn Democrats we like to hear and consider all the relevant information before making up our minds about anything. There’s also no plausible argument that Trump and the congressional Republicans aren’t obstructing that constitutionally mandated effort.
According to the latest polling a slim 51 percentage of Americans want Trump removed from office, which is well within a margin of error that might allow Trump to win again in the Electoral College, and there’s no denying the polls only predicted the popular vote in the last election, but it does not bode well for his reelection chances. A closer look at the numbers reveals even more bad news for Trump, as women voters and black voters and Latino voters and young voters and other growing demographics of voters want him out by landslide numbers, and even a slim plurality of us aging and increasingly outnumbered white male Republican respondents want a full trial with documentary evidence and sworn testimony and anything else that might either convict or acquit the president.
Barring any bombshell testimony from witnesses Trump and the Republicans might reluctantly allow to testify, at this point their best argument is that yeah, Trump withheld the aid to get election help and publicly refused to comply with congressional efforts to find out about it, but so what? “Get over it,” as Trump’s moonlighting chief of staff and Officer of Management and Budget said, adding “it happens all the time.” Maybe so, but we find that distressing, and suspect that “many people,” as Trump likes to cite, do as well.
The non-partisan Government Accountability Office has decreed it is indeed against the law for a president to withhold congressionally authorized appropriations, and that pretty much comports with our layman’s understanding of how the legislative branch legislates and the executive branch executes according to the Constitution, and so for the judicial branch that adjudges these things agrees. As for obstructing the damned congressional Democrats in their constitutionally approved “deep state” conspiracy efforts, Trump has made quite a show of that, and the fans love him for it, but they’ll change their minds the next time a Democratic president gets in trouble, which might be soon, and for now the rest of the pubic doesn’t like it.
Trump and his Senate allies might be damned if they allow any damning testimony and evidence into a Senate impeachment trial, but they’ll also be damned if they don’t, especially if they don’t introduce any exculpatory evidence or testimony that Trump has previously blocked, as it looks very bad. Maybe it won’t be so bad for Trump if the stock markets are still up and unemployment is still low on Election Day, and the damned Democrats go crazy left, and Trump’s support is sufficiently spread around the Electoral College map, but it still looks very bad.

— Bud Norman

A Mid-Winter Weekend in Wichita

The past weekend was full of national and international news well worth pondering, what with the latest developments in the impeachment trial and the mostly bad reviews of the big trade agreement with China and all the rest of it, but local events proved more preoccupying. There was another earthquake that awoke us from our post-church nap on Sunday, both bitter losses and a huge win for the local sports teams, heartbreaking news that a dear old friend of ours from the local music scene had died, and another glorious celebration of the city’s very vibrant subculture at Kirby’s Beer Store’s annual Meat Fest.
The earthquake was unsettling, as they always are, but we looked around and saw no apparent damage was done and quickly resumed our nap. They’ve been happening less often since the Okies started regulating all the fracking they’re doing for oil and gas, and the price of oil and gas is still low around here, so we regarded it as no big deal and made our way to the Meat Fest.
Our beloved Wichita State University basketball team had a horrible week, losing to a lesser Temple University Owls squad on the road and then suffering a Saturday home loss to a University of Houston Cougars team that we have to admit is probably better, and they’re likely to fall several spots in the rankings. They’re still an ahead-of-schedule freshman-laden team with a fairly promising half-a-season left and a very promising season awaiting next year, however, and after Sunday’s American Conference Championship game the Kansas City Chiefs are heading to their first Super Bowl in 50 years. As much as Wichitans resent Kansas City’s condescending big city attitude, pretty much everybody around here roots for the Chiefs, and even at Kirby’s Beer Store, even during Meat Fest, the win was carefully watched and wildly celebrated.
If you should ever find yourself in Wichita we urge you to enjoy the many fine restaurants and the surprisingly fine collection at the Wichita Art Museum, or the unexpectedly excellent offerings of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and Wichita Musical Theater, and to drive through the picturesque College Hill and Riverside neighbors and take in the Keeper of the Plains as the beautiful sunsets fall over the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers, and take in all the other impeccably old fashioned and classy charms of the city, but we also recommend Kirby’s Beer Store. It’s a tiny and dingy dive in the heart of the ghetto and just across the street from the WSU president’s residence and next door to a currently defunct laundromat, but enjoys a national and international reputation as a delightfully eccentric joint with a delightfully eccentric clientele.
The mostly older and university-employed afternoon regulars make for formidable competition in the ritualistic daily watchings of Jeopardy!, and provide plenty of the interesting conversation that is so hard to come by these days, but after dark the bar is usually full of subcultural twenty-somethings hypnotically swaying to the weirdly wide range of music that Kirby’s nightly offers. Some of it is cacophonous awfulness to our aged and highly educated ears, but you’d be surprised how much of it is fresh and fun and very well done. At the this point we’d put the local music scene, which begins at Kirby’s Beer Store one leads up to the concert hall at Century II, up against most of those condescending big cities.
Kirby’s has been around since ’72, and for the past quarter century or so has hosted an annual Meat Fest at mid-winter, which involves the regulars grilling all sorts of meat for one another anyone else shows up on the frigid patio during an opening-to-closing and well-attended four-day music festival. For the most part they book the best acts of the past year, and for the most part it’s an impressive showcase. This year’s lineup didn’t include The Haymakers or Sunshine Trucking or anything with Nathan Williams, among several other excellent Wichita musicians, and there were a couple of bands we found cacophonously awful, but there was a lot to like.
If you like your rock ‘n’ roll hard and fast and full of catchy pop hooks False Flag ICT delivered it’s usual solid set, and our pal Jesse Howes once again demonstrated that the saxophone is a punk rock instrument with The Giant Thrillers, and those Dios Mofos also sounded pretty good. If you prefer something more acoustic, there’s a long-haired and bearded guitar-and-mandolin and bass trio called Pretend Friend that we highly recommend, and a more pinkish long-haired and bearded banjo-and-guitar-and-bass trio called The Calamity Cubes that we quite like.
Petitions were passed around to save the iconic Century II building and its perfectly fine concert theaters from greedy developers, which is a matter of local concern to all sorts of culture vultures, and a good time was had by all. For many of us there was a certain pall cast over the affair, however, by the death on Saturday of Tom West.
West had his first beer at Kirby’s on the first day it opened back in ’72 as a replacement to A Blackout, the notorious hippie bar the cops had recently shut down a few blocks away, and he was well liked by everyone he met there. If you’ve seen “The Big Lebowski” you might imagine him as a more countrified and overall-wearing version of “the Dude,” with the same sublime counter-cultural insouciance, but that wouldn’t quite get it. “Fats” — as he didn’t mind being called — was sui generis. He spent his last days in the south-of-Haysville town of Peck, and if you’ve seen “Green Acres” you can quite accurately imagine it as “Hooterville,” but he was a knowledgeable and resourceful fellow and his even more countrified-looking wife can dazzle you with her knowledge of history and current events, as well as her quilting.
He was also a top-notch guitar picker and a mainstay of the local music scene for a long while. He was the formative leader of such locally influential groups as The Cornfed Rubes and The Bluegrass Spiders, any always welcome guest at the Winfield Festival and other jam sessions, and arguably the inventor of the hipster-meets-hayseed style that makes Wichita music so cool. He’d drop into Kirby’s every year around Christmas time and bring candy that he and his wife had made, and on other occasions he’d come in and pass around peculiar-looking cigarettes, and everything was always mellow with Tom West, which came in handy on a cold winter day in Wichita.
The Meat Fest bacchanal always winds down on Sunday with biscuits and gravy and sausage and mostly acoustic and folky sets, and West would have been pleased. There was a fine set by the beguilingly emotive Kaitlyn Meyer, who West had praised last year, and the Meat Fest also introduced to the Wichita barroom stage the remarkable talent of a local 15-year-old girl named Evann McIntosh. You can see for yourself that she’s quite good, and she wowed a crowd of afternoon regulars and her family and friends during her set, was utterly charming in a brief conversation, and she didn’t even get the three free Old Milwaukees that Kirby’s performers are usually paid.
All in all, it gives us hope that he earthquakes will dissipate and spring will come, that the ‘Shockers will be in the tourney and the Chiefs will be Super Bowl champions, and that the best of Wichita will persist. We wish as much for the rest of the world.

— Bud Norman

The Trials of the Centuries

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump has formally begun, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swearing in the Senate as sworn impartial jurors, and thus far it’s the trial of this young century. In many troubling ways, it reminds us of The People v O.J. Simpson, which was the trial of the last century.
In case you’re blessedly too young to remember, we should explain that Simpson was a Heisman Trophy-winning running back at the University of Southern California who went on to set several National Football League records with the Buffalo Bills, and then parlayed that and his good looks and congenial public image into lucrative careers as a rental car pitchman and sports announcer and sometime movie actor and household name. When he was charged with the brutal stabbing murders of his glamorous ex-wife and a handsome young waiter she’d been seeing, it was a very big deal.
When the story first broke that the ex-wife of a B-list celebrity had been murdered it got little play in most newspapers, but we had a very savvy editor at the paper where we worked and he put it on the front page, as he’d been around long enough to know that ex-husbands are usually a prime suspect in a murder case and that readers are suckers for sordid stories about even B-list celebrities. We spent countless hours of our newspaper’s time following every detail that came over the wires, right up to desultory climax, and are still watching Simpson grow old and the story plays out to its ultimate tragicomic ending.
Everything that was reported in the papers and admitted as evidence and testimony in a court of law pointed to Simpson’s guilt. He was previously convicted on two occasions of violence against his ex-wife, his blood was found at the murder scene and her blood was found in his car, there was a very rare glove found at the murder scene and testimony from the glove-maker that one of them was bought by Simpson’s then-wife at Christmas time, and after Simpson led the police on a highly-rated low-speed flee from justice the best alibi he had to offer was ludicrously weak.
None of which made any difference in the outcome. Simpson is black, his ex-wife and her reputed boyfriend were white, and in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots that mattered more to most of black America. The trial judge allowed the defense to argue a conspiracy by the same justice system that had let Simpson off lightly for domestic abuse conviction, and when one of the detectives was caught lying about the using the “n word” most of black America had made up its mind. The trial judge also allowed the defense to argue that Simpson’s ex-wife might have been killed by a Colombian drug that gang that mistook her for another blonde who had a thousand dollar or so cocaine debt, and most of black America seized on that improbable explanation.
The the trial was held in the mostly black district of downtown Los Angeles, rather than the upscale white suburb where the murder occurred, and the “not guilty” verdict was expected.
We were friends with both of the two black men in the newsroom at the time, and usually enjoyed our talks about sports and inter-office gossip and the rest of the news of the day during coffee breaks and other downtime, but the Simpson trial strained relationships. Both of our friends were highly intelligent and well educated and quite competent journalists who tended to look at things a with dispassionate objectivity, yet despite all the evidence neither was willing to concede even the possibility that Simpson was guilty as charged.
They had their reasons, we must admit. American justice has indeed imprisoned a lot of innocent black people, and imprisoned a lot more guilty black people fo longer sentences than they eserved, and Simpson was just the sort of black celebrity icon the man would want to bring down. We can see how these convoluted conspiracy theories were more compelling than the clearly evident facts of the case.
This time around Trump is on trial, and once again tribal allegiances seem more important than the clearly evident facts of the case. In one of those twists of fate one should by now come to expect it is highly intelligent and well educated and rapidly aging and increasingly outnumbered white men who are ignoring all the clearly evident facts of the case to will stick by their man. Trump stands accused of abusing his executive powers by withholding congressionally authorized aid to beleaguered ally Ukraine to extort political help against a Democrat party rival, and then obstructing Congress’ constitutional authority to look into it, and so far all the -press reports and sworn testimony and admitted by court documentary evidence indicates that, yeah, Trump did that.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the moonlighting White House chief of staff and Officer of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton might and Attorney General William Barr and private Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani might offer some exculpatory testimony, but for some suspicious reason Trump is barring them from doing so. The fans don’t mind it a bit, and will hope for as little information as possible so long as it ends in an eventual acquittal.
They have their reasons, too. Those damned Democrats are indeed a bossy bunch, and might well prove the ruination of our great country if given a chance. Relatively wealthy white men are also under rhetorical assault from the mainstream media and popular culture, and at least the stock market is up and Trump is appointing conservative judges and getting pro football players to stop kneeling during the national anthem.
So what if Trump did what he’s accused of doing in his impeachment trial, as all the evidence clearly indicates? Given how awful the damn Democrats are we can understand why most Republicans still think they deserve to lose. As guilty of murder as Simpson obviously was, we can well understand why some people had less faith in American justice, We try our best to be objective and non-partisan and not all racist about these things, and instead proceed with the established facts of the matter. In both trials of the past two centuries we’ve found the defendant guilty as all get-out, but for reasons having nothing to do with the facts of the case Trump will also likely be found not guilty.
“Not guilty” doesn’t necessarily mean “innocent,” though, and history will eventually convict both Simpson and Trump, what with all those stubborn facts and the objectivity that tine affords. Chief Justice Roberts will likely run a better trial than the judge in the Simpson case did, but there will be all sorts of conspiracy theories and other distractions, and the eventual inevitable acquittal won’t satisfy anyone any more than Simpson’s did.
It should be a hit show, though, so we’ll stay tuned in.

— Bud Norman

The Impeachment Show Commences

The House of Representatives has formally forwarded articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate, and there’s no way of knowing comes next, except that it will be complicated and divisive and inconclusive and ultimately harmful to America’s international reputation.
At this point the betting line is that the slim Republican majority in the Senate, which includes some sometimes principled members in iffy states, won’t vote to summarily dismiss the charges when it comes up in a week or so, and even if they did it probably wouldn’t be the smart political play. Only so much of the viewing public is paying any attention, but most of those unwashed masses want to hear the story told by sworn witnesses and any e-mails or text massages or hand-written notes or other verifiable documents that might flesh out this fascinating tale.
There’s already enough of it in the press and sworn testimony before the House and other public records to make for a prima facie case to the Senate, and if Trump succeeds in not offering any defense he’ll look bad to objective observers, which currently seem to be a majority of the electorate. Since Trump was indicted by the House one of his personal lawyer’s currently indicted clients and associates has gone on cable television to further implicate Trump in the charges of impeachment, and even though he’s under indictment and there all sorts of other a reasons to doubt his credibility he’s also a a client and associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, who also seems tied up in this mess, and given his current legal situation he has good reason to be forthcoming and truthful under oath, which makes for another interesting plot twist in this ongoing Trump reality show.
If there’s going to be a trial with all those pesky witnesses, Trump and his Senate allies are hoping they’ll include Hunter Biden, the son of currently front Democratic presidential presidential frontrunner who was apparently cashing in on Ukrainian corruption, will be among them, along with any other witnesses who can be culled from the “deep state” conspiracy against Trump, The charges facing the Senate jury are that Trump and his administration withheld congressionally authorized aid to our ally Ukraine in exchange for damning charges against the Bidens, then obstructed Congress and the justice system at large from finding about it, but on that point of law both Bidens and any other “deep state” conspirators can believably testify they know nothing about it.
Trump will either be convicted or more likely be acquitted by a Senate trial, but in any case it won’t look good in the international or historical courts of opinion.

— Bud Norman

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The Desultory State of the Democrats

President Donald Trump is facing an impeachment trial and numerous other pressing problems entirely of his own making, but he can console himself he’ll likely wind up running for reelection against a Democrat. Judging by the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses that kick off the primary election race, the Democrats have problems of their own.
According to all the many polls going into the debate there were four candidates within the margin of error for winning or losing the Iowa caucuses, with a few others with realistic hope of catching up, and according to our traditional Republican instincts and what our Democratic friends are telling us they’re all flawed. Our more emotional Democratic friends revile the so the so-called centrists in the race, while our more cerebral Democratic friends worry that their party is veering too far the left, and from our current perspective here on the political sidelines we don’t like any of the candidates any more than we do Trump.
Nothing that happened in Tuesday’s debate will likely change many minds.
At this point, and as usual, the Democrats are obsessed with all that race and class and gender stuff, so that started off the debate. Putative Independent yet Democratic candidate and self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was recently accused by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts of saying a female candidate could not win a presidential election, which is arguable given the nation’s history but nonetheless a gross breach of Democratic etiquette, and as both are among the four front-runners and vying for the emotional left-wing Democratic vote it was a very big deal. Warren stood by her claim, Sanders didn’t exactly deny it but pledged his support only Democrat who might win the nomination, and after some back-and-forth that also included the centrist Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the only other woman on the stage, he seemed to come out all right.
We have a mostly delightful but severely feminist Democratic friend who so loves Sanders she would sit out an election even against Trump if Sanders weren’t the nominee, and was outraged that her sister and the mainstream media would make such a slanderous claim, and we’re sure she’ll be satisfied with the answer.
The rest of the debate was mostly limited to foreign trade and international affairs and health care and homelessness and other boring topics of greater importance. We can’t say how the candidates fared with a Democratic audience in Iowa or elsewhere, but from our traditional Republican seats here on the political sidelines we were unimpressed by the entire field.
Our traditional Republican instincts are appalled by Trump’s assaults on the carefully established international free trade order that has enriched both America and the rest of the world over the past few post-Reagan decades, and we’re thus far unimpressed by what he’s negotiated in return, but the Democrats are mostly as protectionist as ever. Biden is old enough to remember a time when there was a bipartisan consensus for the free trade agreements that have since made America and the rest of the world richer, so we give him credit for his unapologetic stance in favor of the so-far so-good status quo, but for the most part the Democrats. Even the most centrist Democrats seem more isolationist in the rest of foreign affairs than Trump, and are annoyingly apologetic about it.
We’ll give the Democrats credit for at long last having a serious debate how to pay for their pie-in-sky promises about how to make health care more universal and less costly, but so far they haven’t come up with anything better than what Trump has to offer, which isn’t saying much. We’re glad they acknowledge the homeless problem, not only in Democratic states but in places like here in Wichita, but the best that can be said for their solutions is that they’re less intentionally cruel than Trump’s.
The growing national debt didn’t come up, much to the relief of both parties, and nobody stood out as the next President of the United States. Given our desultory choices we might pick the front-running pick Biden, in the unlikely case we were Democratic primary voters, but that within-shouting-distance Klobuchar has decisively won races against Republican men in Republican districts of Minnesota, and she seems as sane as anyone in politics these days, and quite electable as well. Our endorsement will surely doom her in a Democratic primary race, though, so we’ll withhold that for now.
One of the Democratic front-runners is openly homosexual, another has falsely claimed Native American status, another has been videotaped acting creepily around young women, and the other is a self-proclaimed socialist. Which would not ordinarily bode well for the Democratic party, but they’re lucky to be running against Trump.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is admittedly a homosexual, but he’s also a decorated military veteran, which is more than Trump can say, and Trump isn’t an exemplar of traditional Judeo-Christian morality. Biden has been videotaped acting creepy around girls and is gaffe-prone, but he hasn’t been heard boasting about grabbing women by the genitals and can’t keep up with the daily gaffes Trump’s fans don’t seem to mind. Sanders did falsely claim Native American heritage, but if it comes down to a one-on-one debate she’s feisty enough to cite all the false claims Trump has made over his spotty career. Sanders is a socialist kook, but he seems to actually believe all the nonsense he’s spewing, which makes him the more “authentic” candidate. That nice Klobuchar woman from Minnesota could do well in a general election, and might even win our vote and make a good president, but she’s still a long=shot in a Democratic primary race.
There’s a lot of politics between now and November, though, so we’ll try to enjoy the warm weather and hold out hope.

— Bud Norman