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Happy New Year, All Things Considered

This is our last essay of 2017, and the way things have gone this year we’re glad of it. Journalistic tradition and the traditional slowness of the news cycle dictates that end-of-the-year essays be a look back at the past 12 months, a prognostication about the next 12, or a top ten list of the past 12 month’s something or another, but traditions don’t matter lately and we’re taking the news one day at a time.
The big story of the year’s last days, appropriately enough, is that it’s cold out there. Here in Kansas the daytime highs are lately struggling to get past freezing and rapidly dropping into single digit lows after the early sundowns, and when you add in the Kansas winds that are blowing down from the North Pole it feels far worse than that. To the northwest and the northeast it looks even worse on the weather maps, and it looks like a very long drive to the southwest or the southeast to get warm enough for our tastes.
Which kept us inside most of the day, and reading the rest of the desultory news. We noted that President Donald Trump “tweeted” about all the cold weather from the fabulous Florida resort where he was playing some holiday golf while a shifting truck block the news crews from filming, and he gloated about being vindicated for his controversial decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Being climate change skeptics ourselves we’ve also taken advantage of these annual cold snaps to kid our global warming alarmist friends, but we mean it as a joke rather than a serious scientific argument, and the “tweet” struck us as unpersuasive and un-presidential.
He also “tweeted” about a very minor flap between Vanity Fair magazine and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, with the former standing accused of making a slightly sexist joke about the latter in a little-seen video, and of course Trump ridiculed the magazine — “which looks like it’s on it’s last legs” — for “apologizing for the minor hit they took at Crooked H.” We’re skeptical about Vanity Fair and Clinton, as well, but that also struck us as something a president with some sense of dignity should be far too busy to do.
Meanwhile, down in Alabama, which still looks too cold for our tastes on those weather maps, the Republican Secretary of State of certified the upset election of Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, which was another big story of the day despite its inevitably since last month’s election night. Republican candidate Roy Moore was contesting the election results right up to the last minute, filing a court challenge alleging just enough voter fraud to reverse the outcome, but but after a Republican judge dismissed the suit the fait accompli was at long accomplished. It was a fitting end for one of the sorrier stories of the year.
Moore was arguably the worst nominee the Republican party ever nominated, the present competition notwithstanding. His inglorious career of public service and private enrichment and antebellum views about slavery and women’s rendered him upset prone even before several middle-aged women came forward to describe how he had pursued them when they were teenaged girls and he was a 30-something prosecutor. He was so awful he lost in Alabama, off all places, to a Democrat, of all people, and he never did concede that fact. His last-minute filing had a statistical analysis proving massive voter fraud in one particular mostly-black county, but one of the experts had also previously proved by statistical analysis that were was a massive conspiracy to kill President John Kennedy, and in the end the Republican Secretary of State and the Republican judge and the Republican sheriffs who had checked out some other claims included in the lawsuit all signed off on a Democratic senator.
Former Moore supporter Trump didn’t “tweet” anything about it, so far as we can tell, so Moore’s confederate cause seems at long last truly lost. What with that Vanity Fair versus Clinton flap and the ongoing “Russia thing” and another round of golf he had more important things to worry about, we suppose. The stock market was slightly up, the unemployment rate is still low, and the economy seems to be generally progressing along its pre-Trump trajectory, so Trump did find time to “tweet” about that.
All the meteorologists are telling us this dying year will come to a frigid end and the next year will start off just as bad, and all the political prognosticators are sounding just as dispiriting, but we’ll just take it day by day with a reasonable exception for better days. By late June the temperatures will be comfortably in the mid-90s around here, we’ll not gripe about the 100s of July and August, and the springs and autumns are always delightful except for the occasional severe storms. The economy has a good chance of surviving all the politics, and we hold out hope that rest of us will also survive the politics.
Our Wichita State University Wheatshockers head into their inaugural basketball season in the American Athletic Conference as the eight-ranked team in the country, by the time they finish what we hope will be a long run in the national championship tournament the pitchers and catchers will be reporting for spring training, with our New York Yankees looking very promising after some hot-stove season acquisitions for an already potent team, and that’s something far better to worry about that some flap involving Vanity Fair and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
All things considered, we can wish all our readers a very Happy New Year.

— Bud Norman

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On the Difficulty of Replacing an Establishment

There’s an effort afoot to replace pretty much every last Republican in Congress with other Republicans more loyal to President Donald Trump. So far, it does not bode well for the party.
Anti-establishment fervor has already cost the Republicans a much-needed Senate seat in Alabama, of all places. Republicans in the state could have picked the guy who had been a reliable vote for whatever the party wants for the year he as an appointed replace for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but he’d been appointed by an unpopular governor and was backed by an unpopular senate majority leader, and Alabamians are in the same anti-establishment they’ve been in well before the Civil War. They could have also chosen an outspoken “tea party” congressman, who’s also an outspoken critic of the party’s establishment, but apparently his incumbency tainted him as just a bit too establishment.
Instead they chose Roy Moore, an unabashed theocrat who had twice been kicked off Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying the rule of law, had all sorts of crazypants opinions about matters ranging from slavery to women’s suffrage, railed at length about illegal immigrations but was unaware in a radio interview about the “dreamers” debate, and was quite credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and hitting on numerous other underage girls when he was in his early 30s. At least he wasn’t some milquetoast Republican establishment type, which is what a plurality of Republican Alabamians apparently care about most. A big chunk of the party wasn’t quite anti-establishment enough to vote for the likes of Moore, though, and black turnout was bigger that it was for either of President Donald Trump’s campaign, the youth vote went largely for the Democrat, the white women’s vote was well below what Republicans usually draw, and the Republicans wound up losing in Alabama of all places.
The Grand Old Party can hope that by the time the mid-term votes are being cast a short-attention-span public will have long forgotten Moore, as well as Trump’s enthusiastic support of his candidacy, along with the hated Republican establishment’s eventual begrudging and more muted support. They’ll have to avoid nominating similarly flawed candidates, however, and the anti-establishment wing of the party seems chockfull of them.
Out in Arizona there’s some enthusiasm for the Senate candidacy of one Kelli Ward, who has endeared herself to the state’s anti-establishment Republicans with her frequent criticisms of the state’s two Republican senators. They were hoping he would defeat Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been a reliable vote for the party’s agenda but also a harsh critic of Trump’s rhetoric and ethics, so he’s already announced he won’t seek re-election. He freely admits he would have likely lost a primary challenge, given the current anti-establishment mood of his party, but we think he might have fared better in a general election than Ward will should she wind up the party’s nominee.
She’s an osteopath and a State Senator and unabashedly conservative, which somehow doesn’t diminish her burn-it-down anti-establishment reputation, and all the right talk radio hosts like her. She doesn’t seem so awful as Moore and isn’t likely to have any sex scandals uncovered, so she’d be a favorite in a general election, but we suspect a more boring Republican would be a more prohibitive favorite.
Ward once went on Alex Jones’ conspiracy-theory-peddling “Infowars” program, and when he warned her to “watch your back” after criticizing Republican Sen. John McCain because “that guy is just such a gangster” she admitted she had considered her friends advice to get a remote starter for her car in case of a bomb and added that “We are always very cautious and I always have people around me who are providing security, which is great.” She ran a primary campaign against McCain in 2016, railing against all the heretical votes McCain has cast over a long career, and hoped to capitalize on McCain’s lack of enthusiasm for Trump, but she lost by a 51 to 39 percent margin, and of course McCain won easily in the general election.
She’s also such a build-that-wall hard-liner on illegal immigration that she sneers at the departing Flake as an “open borders guy,” despite his impeccably Republican voting record, and she lavished Trump with praising for pardoning Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for cracking down on native born American citizens who looked a little too much like illegal immigrants. That will play well with the Trumpian plurality of Republican voters, but Arizona has a long history of voting for the sorts of establishment Republicans Ward is slightly worried are wanting to kill her, and to the extent the party is associated with her it won’t help in more closely contested states any more than Moore did.
Trump has “tweeted” favorably about Ward in the past, especially back when he she was contesting McCain, that loser who is only considered a war hero because he got captured, but after she lost the praise was less frequent, but it picked up a bit when she was a potential challenger to Flake, or “Flake Jeff Flake” as Trump always calls him in his “tweets.” Flake’s not running, though, and some more boring Republican might be more likely to keep the seat, so we weren’t surprised by The Washington Post’s report that Trump merely “exchanged pleasantries” with her she showed up at Mar-a-Lago during his Christmas vacation. If she winds up with the nomination we’re sure he’ll be right back to “tweeting” her praises, but until then even Trump seems leery of these very anti-establishment types.
The effort afoot to burn down the establishment and replace it with more Trump-like politicians largely driven by former Trump political strategist and current Breitbart.com editor Steve Bannon, who backed Moore to the bloody end is still on board with Ward, but even he’s backing off from his previous pick to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan in his Wisconsin district. Ryan was once a Tea Party darling but is now another one of those hated establishment types, in large part because he’s occasionally admitted his embarrassment about something Trump had done or said or “tweeted,” but by now Trump has to admit the House has been far more effective than the Senate in passing his bills and doing his bidding on those pesky investigations of the “Russia thing,” and we figure that an effort by businessman Paul Nehlen to unseat him in the primary would be as futile as his last attempt.
Bannon was still backing Nehlen, though, until Nehlen “tweeted” about Jewish supremacy and his own pro-white views. He’d been on “alt-right” sites long before, accusing Ryan of spending taxpayer dollars to cover up sexual deviancy and “replace American whites with Anti-white substandard foreign H1B and H2B key pushers,” and expressed various other crazypants opinions on white nationalist programs, but by now even Bannon’s had enough.
The Republicans can surely find better candidates, but they’re going to have recruit more than the usual number. Ryan is reportedly among the many incumbents who won’t be seeking re-election next year, most of whom were reliable votes for the Republican agenda but never very enthusiastic about Trump’s rhetoric and ethics, and winning an open seat is always harder than winning re-election. Harder yet if fealty to an unpopular president is a requisite for a Republican nomination, and anyone with relevant experience on a resume is regarded with suspicion.

— Bud Norman

In Praise of America’s Least-Popular Man

The news has slowed down in the frigid holiday air, as it always does and always should, so we’ll seize the opportunity to say a few kind words about Kentucky’s Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. He’s probably the most hated politician in America, which makes our contrarian selves all the more warm to him, and we’re sure he could use some holiday cheer.
All the Democrats hate him, of course, because he’s not only a Republican but also the party’s Senate majority leader and thus bears the most blame for everything the Republicans did to thwart President Barack Obama during the eight years he was in office. Most Republicans also hate him, though, because all the talk radio hosts and the opinion journalists on Fox News have convinced them that McConnell and the rest of the dat-gummed Republican establishment didn’t do nearly enough thwarting. All the independents have a healthy suspicion of anyone from either party, so they also don’t bolster his horrid poll numbers.
We take a more pragmatic measure of man’s public service, on the other hand, and by our accounting McConnell’s done about as well as can be expected.
All those Democrats should be grateful for McConnell’s restraints on the Obama administration. For the first two Obama years there were big Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and there wasn’t much McConnell could do about it when they went for such big moves as Obamacare and that trillion-dollar “stimulus package” and various other budget-buusting do-goodery, which of course led to the not only a Republican majority in the House but a “tea party” majority at that. With the Democrats’ whittled-down Senate majority vulnerable to shrewd filibustering that soon led to half-trillion budget deficits of the George W. Bush administration, and although the Democrats lost the Senate and a lot of governorships and statehouse and county commission seats we suspect it would have been worst if the Democrats had been able to finish their to-do list.
All those Republicans, especially the Trump-loving ones who get their news exclusively from Fox and talk radio, should also give McConnell his due. There wasn’t much McConnell could do to stave off Obamacare and the “stimulus package” in those darks days of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi regime, but he somehow managed to convince the notoriously individualistic Republicans to stand together to deny those abominations a single Senate vote of bipartisan support. Even when the Republicans won a Senate majority to go along with a House majority there wasn’t much McConnell could do about Obama signing executive orders, but McConnell did play a key role in preventing hard-to-undo legislation and forcing Obama to sign executive orders that could just as easily be undone by any old future Republican president, and he did take a lot of heat for cooling a seat on the Supreme Court until any old future Republican president could make the appointment.
Those Trump-loving sorts of Republicans like to boast about all the Obama-era executive orders Trump has undone and that great Supreme Court pick he made, but they’re also the first to spit and cuss at the mention of McConnell’s name. They seem convinced that only Trump would have done what any old Republican president would have done, and that up until Trump the Grand Old Party was q quisling.
All those independents with their healthy of suspicion of anyone from either party should also acknowledge some gratitude to McConnell. He was a restraint on the excesses of the Democratic party during the Obama years, and in subtle but significant ways he’s also been a restraint on the worst excesses of the Trump years. He somehow managed to to herd all the Republican cats in the Senate to get on the big tax cut bill Trump wanted, which is probably going to bust the budget but maybe not to Obama-Reid-Pelosi levels, and he’s put all but Trump’s most egregious judicial nominees on a quick approval process, but he’s also had a more centrist influence. So far the Senate hasn’t authorized anything more than symbolic sums for Trump’s fantasy of a great translucent wall across the the Mexican border, the body remains committed to finding the truth about the “Russia thing,” and whatever quibbles you might have about his policies McConnell you will have to admit McConnell has carried them out in a quite gentlemanly way without any unnecessarily insulting “tweets.”
These days our healthy suspicion of anyone from either party is such that we find ourselves rooting for the effete establishments of both. We’re rooting for those Democrats who won’t go whole hog for Bernie Sanders-style socialism, rooting against the Trumpist Republicans, and hoping that the likes of Mitch McConnell and the rest of the gat-dummed establishment will stick around a while.

— Bud Norman

Christmas Eve at Mar-a-Lago

There’s a longstanding tradition that forbids American politicians from making news on Christmas, but President Donald Trump pays no heed to to even the most admirable longstanding traditions. He mostly kept to the golf course and family gatherings over the long weekend at his profitable Mar-a-Lago resort, and reportedly got a national security briefing and tended to some other presidential business, but of course he couldn’t resist a few controversial “tweets.”
Trump “tweeted” some effusive praise for the military, which does indeed deserve it, but he couldn’t help taking some undue credit for their recent successes. He also “tweeted” a “Merry Christmas” message, which American presidents have conveyed to the people long before the advent of “Twitter,” but as usual he took undue and downright blasphemous-to-our-ears credit for Christmas. For Christ’s sake — and in this case we mean that both literally and reverently — we’re quite sure the holiday would have survived without Trump.
Even on a busy Christmas Eve filled with golf and family gatherings and national security briefings, Trump still found time to criticize a high-ranking and soon-to-retire Federal Bureau of Investigation official for having a wife a who once ran for office as a Democrat, with the usual implied aspersions on the FBI in general, and that ex-FBI head honcho currently running a special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing” in particular. Perhaps it’s because he was haunted by an especially scary ghost of Christmas future, but Trump had to bring up the “Russia thing” even on Christmas Eve.
There’s never a day of the year when Trump isn’t talking about “fake news,” and even the Christmas spirit one feels on Christmas couldn’t keep him from “re-tweeting:a picture of him with a squashed bug labeled “CNN” on his show and  “tweeting” a gripe about the “fake polls” that show both him and his recently-signed tax cuts as widely unpopular. That apparently includes all the polls, as even the outlier Rasmussen Reports has his approval ratings well in the very low 40s and well under water, but we doubt Trump will convince a majority of Americans that a majority of their fellow Americans actually quite like him.
Trump didn’t take advantage of a congressional Christmas recess to fire that ex-FBI guy heading the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing,” and the economy is humming along nicely, and so far there are no mushrooms clouds on the Korean Peninsula, and we suspect Trump would be polling better if he’d lay off the “tweets,” at least on Christmas Eve.

— Bud Norman

Merry Christmas, 2017

Today is Christmas Day, and the only news worth mentioning is more than two millennia old. It was first noted in print in the Gospel according to Luke a few decades after the fact, but hasn’t been improved on since an angel of God first spoke  it to some lowly shepherds who were shivering in the cold outside a small town called Bethlehem.
“And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the peoples. For today in the city of David there has been born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'”
Except to wish you and all those you love a Merry Christmas, we’ll leave it at that.

— Bud Norman

Mulling the Matter of Mueller and Trump

President Donald Trump and his lawyers and all his unpaid supporters in congress and the Trump-friendly media seem quite cocky that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the past presidential election will completely vindicate Trump of any wrongdoing, but just in case they also want you to know that Mueller fellow can’t be trusted.
There’s an obviously coordinated effort by Trump administration and family members and the more loyal congressional Republicans and Fox News and several prominent talk radio hosts afoot to discredit Mueller and his staff, and it’s lately intensified. Donald Trump Jr. recently warned the “USA Student Action Summit” of college-aged Republicans that “there are people at the highest levels of America who don’t want America to be America.” Some Republican congressmen are calling for a special counsel to investigate Mueller’s special counsel investigation, citing some leaked e-mails and other evidence they believe prove it’s all what Trump himself often calls a “witch hunt.” The Fox Network’s “Judge” Jeanine Pirro wants unnamed-but-Mueller-affiliated peopled hauled off “in cuffs,” and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Mark Levin have lately spent most of their combined nine hours of broadcasts on a local talk radio station casting further aspersions on Mueller and his fellow investigators.
They always note that several members of Mueller’s team have given generous campaign donations to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, which is undeniably true and worth noting, but they never note that so did Trump’s top lawyer Ty Cobb and favorite daughter Ivanka Trump and that idiot husband of her’s who’s somehow a top senior advisor to the White House in charge of solving everything from America’s opioid crisis to Middle East peace, and that Trump himself was once a generous funder of Clinton’s senatorial campaigns and the Clinton family foundation that his supporters now want to investigate. They relish in the suspiciously leaked e-mails between a couple of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who were having an adulterous sexual relationship and sharing sharply anti-Trump sentiments, but they rarely acknowledge they also shared anti-Clinton and anti-Bernie Sanders and anti-pretty-much-everyone-else sentiments, and that Mueller reassigned both of those bitter agents as soon as he got wind of their outspoken political opinions.
The Trump apologists have some outraged and undeniably true allegations about the past administration’s tapped phones calls of Trump campaign and administration officials, but they don’t mention that the phones being tapped belonged to Russian officials, which Republicans and other conservatives have always wanted tapped. They might have some plausible legal arguments that the Americans on other side of those conversations shouldn’t have been “unmasked,” in the legal jargon, but they’d just wind up making the argument that it’s a bigger scandal that attempts to track a political nominee’s possible collusion with a Russian plot to affect an American presidential election is more abhorrent than the plot itself.
We’ve been Republicans long enough that we still feel the pain of President Richard Nixon going down for his ultimately undeniable misdeeds, and we assess the current situation accordingly. Given how complicated this is, our instinct is to take measure of both Trump and Mueller by some blind test of the two Republicans.
One of the two is a life-long Republican. He was born into a fairly well-to-do family as the son of a high-ranking DuPont executive, and excelled as a student and athlete at the rigorous prep school he was able to attend, and his high marks earned hi admission to Princeton, where he graduated with honors and bachelor’s degree in political science while starring on the lacrosse team. After earning a master’s degree in international relations from New York University he volunteered for service in the Marine Corps and won numerous combats medals including the Purple Heart for his service in the Vietnam War.
After Vietnam subject A earned a law degree from the University of Virginia, and after three years of distinguished service to a prestigious law firm in San Francisco commend a distinguished career of public service as a U.S. attorney in northern California. In the Reagan year of 1982 he was moved over to the Massachusetts district, where he enhanced his reputation by uncovering all sorts of Democratic misbehavior there. After another brief but noteworthy stint in Boston’s private sector he was nominated by Republican President George W. Bush as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was unanimously confirmed the senate, and served another two years in the post at the request of Democratic President Barack Obama.
He’s also been a lifelong Republican all along, and been married to the same woman, and is not only an Eagle Scout but generously endows a college scholarship for other Eagle Scouts, and as lifelong Republicans and improbable Eagle Scouts we can’t help but like the guy.
Subject B was a Democrat and an independent and Reform Party candidate before becoming the winning nominee and putative leader of the Republican party. He’s the son of a multi-millionaire real estate mogul who was once arrested in a Ku Klux Klan riot, and he was such a proudly defiant punk his father sent off to a military school, where he did well enough in sports but was such a middling student that he wound up at Fordham University for two years. His rich dad made enough contributions to the low-level Ivy League University of Pennsylvania that he was admitted there, and would always lie that he graduated from it’s more prestigious master’-level Wharton School of Business. After that a doctor found some bone spurs that prevented him serving in the Vietnam War but didn’t seem interfere with his much bragged-about-golf game, and he went on to a much-bragged about fortune in real estate and reality television that he freely brags was facilitated by political bribes, and survived several bankruptcies and lawsuits about his penchant for not paying bills and currently has an undeniably odd relationship with his third wife and a penchant for gratuitous insults to fellow Republicans.
Even the blind know by now that Subject B is the President of the United States and the putative leader of our Republican party, but if it comes down to who you’re gonna believe we can’t help a certain affinity for Subject A in our blind test. We’ll let them sort out their arguments in the court of public opinion and the inevitable courts of law and hope that some semblance of our old-fashioned Republicanism survives this awful mess.

— Bud Norman

A Mixed Bag of Policy, Politics, and that Tax Bill

President Donald Trump at long last got a major piece of legislation to sign into law Wednesday, after the Republicans in congress rammed through a massive tax cut bill, but it remains to be seen if it will eventually count as a win. Trump and all those congressional Republicans are expecting the public will come to love the law, but for now it’s polling horribly and the Democrats are scoring the political points.
The bill runs more than 500 pages, and from our on-the-side-lines perspective it’s a rather mixed bag. Our guess is that the overall effect on the economy will be salutary, although not to the extent that the Republicans are hoping for, and that as usual the benefits won’t be equably distributed across the country, although not so inequitably as the Democrats are urging people to fear. Both parties should probably be hoping that it’s all largely forgotten by the time the next votes are cast in the mid-term elections.
The main feature of the bill is a slashing of the corporate tax rate from a world’s highest 35 percent to a more-typical-by-world-standards 21 percent, as  frankly and ill-advisedly admitted during a celebratory meeting with the congressional Republicans at the White House. Until then Trump had peddled the obvious fiction that the bill’s main feature is a big beautiful Christmas gift to America’s middle class, and he might come to wish he’d told the truth from the outset.
Although the Democrats were quite right to argue that few corporations pay that highest-in-the-world rate, it’s still true that all those deductions merely whittled that rate down and still left American corporations at a disadvantage in the competitive world market, and although it’s not likely to benefit the overall economy to the extent Republicans are hoping it won’t hurt and bit and will surely do some good. The stock markets had a slight downturn on Wednesday, but that’s because investors had already added in the anticipated passage of the bill during its recent record-setting runs, and we’ve no doubt there would have been a bloodbath of red if the bill hadn’t passed.
There’s a certain segment of the Democratic party and the more general left that resent anything that benefits corporations, but even such Democrats as President Barack Obama recognized that the economy can’t do without them for now and were also on board with a corporate tax cut. If that had been touted as the main feature of the bill, the Republicans might have coaxed a few votes from Democratic representatives and senators in districts and states where corporations are major employers and majors donors, which would have given some bipartisan cover in case things go wrong.
The bill also delivers some tax cuts to the middle class, although not all of it, and even many of the beneficiaries might conclude that it’s not as big and beautiful a Christmas gift as was promised. Despite all the populist rhetoric on both the left and the right the hate top 1 percent pay bear about half the country’s tax burden, the top 20 percent pick up 85 percent of the tab, and a full 60 percent pay either no federal income taxes or so little that any further cuts would only amount to little. If you’re in that 50-to-80 percent segment of the population that is paying you might get a notable if not princely amount each year until the cuts expire, but if you live in a nice house in a high-tax state or haven’t gotten around to having children or are paying rather receiving alimony or have other certain circumstances it might just turn out to be a tax hike.
How that turns out in the overall mid-term voting remains to be seen, but we will hazard a guess that those Republicans holding crucial House seats in such states as California and New York and Illinois are going to regret getting  rid of the state and local property tax deductions. The sorts of Republicans you find in those well-heeled districts with high-priced houses are already inclined to abhor the boorishness of Trump and his burn-it-down populism, and without a stake in a party-line Republican tax bill they won’t have any reason to support the party.
In those less well-heeled and more reliably Democratic districts the law is likely to further enflame the ever-raging fires of class resentment, no matter how salutary the overall economic consequences. All of those congressional Republicans have always denied that the law delivers a far bigger tax cut to the rich than it does the middle class, and Trump has assured his true believers that he’s going to take a huge hit because of it, but these arguments not only verifiably but also obviously untrue. The expert analyses of the bill vary wildly, and you can believe whichever you want based on how they share your ideological leanings until you complete your tax forms, but all of them agree that someone richer than you is going to reap bigger benefits than you.
That doesn’t bother us, as we’re the penurious but Republican sorts who harbor no class resentments, and we still hold out hope of snatching some small benefit from any overall salutary effect on the economy, but we do wish that Trump and all those congressional Republicans hadn’t so brazenly lied about it. The arguments for income inequality are complex and hard to make, but President Ronald Reagan persuasively made it during a longer and more thorough debate for his even bigger tax cut bill, and they always work better than a bald-faced lie. Trump’s lie that all the businesses he scandalously hasn’t divested himself of won’t benefit is particularly galling, and we can’t begrudge the Democrats the political points they’ll score because of that.
The law also repeals the provision of the “Obamacare” law that requires citizens to purchase not only health coverage but health care coverage of a certain type that may or may not be needed, which was the part we most hated about that hated law, but that’s also a mixed bag. Trump brags that he’s kept a campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, which is true enough because eliminating it’s individual mandate will ultimately sink the whole project, but because he hasn’t kept his campaign promise to replace Obamacare with something big and beautiful that will cover everyone at at a far lower cost it’s likely to end up with a lot of people losing coverage and many people more for what they’ve still got.
We do expect the effect on gross domestic product and unemployment numbers will be salutary, though, and hold out hope that some better health care policy will ensue from the coming calamity, so the Grand Old Party might yet survive all the public disapproval of the moment. During their big celebration party at the White House the congressional Republicans took turns lavishing praise on Trump in terms so obsequious they would have embarrassed a North Korean general, on the other, and in the long run the party will suffer consequences for such brazen lies as that.

— Bud Norman

The Truth is Way Out There

Our usual source for news about unidentified flying objects is the “Coast to Coast” radio show that comes on after midnight, but recently we’ve been finding it in a such staid publication as The Washington Post. The federal government has lately acknowledged it once ran a secret program to investigate UFO sightings, one of its former intelligence is giving interviews about some interesting findings, and three videos have been released by the Department of Defense showing some pretty darned hard-to-explain things going on the sky.
One of the videos was shot from the cockpit of a Navy F/A Hornet fighter plane in 2004, and shows a wingless object darting darting around the skies between San Deigo and Ensenada, Mexico, at speeds exceeding any known aircraft and executing maneuvers that seem to defy the laws of aerodynamics. Two pilots from the VFA-41 Black Aces fighter squadron are heard on the soundtrack wondering in salty terms what it might be, and when the Washington Post tracked one of them down 13 years later he still had no explanation except that it was “Something not from this earth.”
The former squadron commander is by all accounts a sane and sober fellow, despite all the kidding he’s taken from friends over the years, and even without the official government video we’d have no reason to doubt his account. By now there’s no simply no denying that some strange things are in the air.
One day way back in our sixth grade year we raised a hand to request permission to use the restroom, and when we stepped out of the annex classroom we looked up to see an oblong silver object that was moving rapidly across the vast fields north of the school. Although it was far away we could clearly see it had no wings, was leaving no contrail, and was traveling far faster than a blimp would even on a windy Kansas day. We endured a lot of kidding about it from the friends were eagerly told, but they’ll vouch we were sane and sober back then, and many years later, while perusing that science-fiction thingamajig called the internet we happened upon a picture that was taken a few years earlier in Wichita which depicts something that looks a lot like what we saw that sunny day.
Even our febrile sixth grade imaginations didn’t assume it was something from outer space, though. Wichita is the “Air Capital of the World,” after all, and back then Boeing and some of the other local airplane companies were doing some pretty cutting-edge defense work. Our pop was running the avionics program for the B-52 bomber, and sometimes he couldn’t help sharing some highly classified tales of such Buck Rogers stuff as laser beam targeting and a gizmo called a cruise missile, and we were well aware that even the hardest-to-explain things going on the sky aren’t necessarily from outer space.
Pop has his own UFO story that he likes tell, dating back to around the time we were born. He was a lowly lieutenant in the Air Force flying his beloved single engine “Swallow” back to Clark Air Force Base from a radar base on a remote Philippine island where he had somehow found himself in charge, and along the way he spotted something oddly shaped blasting past him a rate that exceeded the capabilities of any known airplane. He’d been cleared to land and was preparing to do so when the control tower radioed back to cancel the clearance, which was highly unusual, and when he at long last landed he was quickly and roughly escorted to an empty room where a couple of scary-looking men with a lot of brass of their uniforms sternly warned him to never ever tell any stories about what he might have seen that day. A few  years later Francis Gary Powers was shot down and captured while making a surveillance flight over the Soviet Union airspace in a U-2, the government was forced to admit the existence of the previously top-secret aircraft in the ensuing negotiations to get Powers back, and when pictures of it appeared in every newspaper in the world Pop immediately recognized it as the same strange thing he’d seen, and finally figured he could tell Mom about it.
What those Navy pilots saw is even harder to explain, as are the events on another official Department of Defense video, and of course there’s no ruling out that it’s not of this earth. Still, astronomers have such high-tech telescopes to have pretty much conclusively confirmed that no other planet in this solar system has life on it, they’re pretty sure that neither does anything else in the entire galaxy, and you’d have to go a very long way to find the explanation beyond that. There’s still no satisfactory explanation for the fast-moving and unaccountably maneuverable “foo fighters” that scared the hell out of numerous fearless fighter jocks on both sides of World War II, but the most likely theory is that the menacing balls of light were a natural phenomenon akin to the St. Elmo’s Fire that used to scare the hell out of fearless sailors, and the outer-space theories make no sense at all.
It would be darned hard to explain what’s on those videos as natural phenomena, and harder yet explain it as equipment malfunction when you have sane and sober Naval pilots still swearing they saw the very same thing with their own eyes. It would be impossibly hard to explain it as something man-made, we suppose, unless you happen to be one of those rare geniuses who comes up with such previously inexplicable things in the sky as airplanes and rockets and satellites and the remote control dune buggies still sending pictures back from Mars. Anyone who could come up with that thing that was zig-zagging through the laws of aerodynamics between San Diego and Ensenada would have to be the greatest genius yet, but that person’s bound to happen someday, and there’s a whole lot of things right here on earth that we find very to explain.

— Bud Norman

The Ongoing Campaign’s National Insecurity Statement

Ever since the Reagan administration — and oh how we miss those days, by the way — the congress has required that presidents provide a general statement of their foreign policy objectives and plans to achieve them. Every president has complied, always with a low-key and little-noticed publication carefully written to avoid antagonizing any adversaries or alarming any allies, but of course President Donald Trump seized the opportunity to deliver yet another campaign speech on Monday.
There was some good stuff in the official written statement, we must admit it, despite that “America First” slogan that always reminds us of the pre-World War II era.. Trump vowed that America’s foreign policy would be back up by an ever-more muscular military, and warmed our old-fashioned Republican hearts by quoting President Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of “peace through strength,” although without attribution. He spoke of “rallying the world” to confront North Korea’s nuclear provocations, which holds out some hope of a diplomatic solution, and of reaching a better deal than the current deal to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, although he didn’t get very specific about what it would be or how he might get it. One sentence promised “gradual reform, not radical change, should be our guiding objective” in the Middle East, and there were other allusions to international alliances and American leadership that had a similarly reassuring steady-at-the-helm sound about them. He mentioned Russia as one of America’s more troublesome countries, but was vague about their interference in the past presidential election.
There was also a lot of nonsense from past national security statements that was left out, we must admit. Climate change wasn’t among the national security threats mentioned, no apologies were offered for pursing American interests, and didn’t describe the obvious threat of radical Islamist terrorism as “religious extremism.” On the whole, the brief written statement wasn’t half-bad by Trump standards.
The much longer campaign speech Trump delivered was far worse, though, for all the usual reasons. It began with his characteristic boasts about the tens of thousands of miles he’s travelled and the hundreds of world leaders he’s met as president, which reminded of us vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s similar campaign boasts about her tenure as Secretary of State, and it was quickly followed by some flattery about how the American people have been “among the greatest forces for peace and justice in the world.” That was followed by the characteristic boast that “just one year ago, you spoke out loud and clear. On Nov. 8, 2016, you voted to make America great again.”
Notwithstanding his three-million-or-so-vote loss in the popular vote, Trump then took the opportunity to criticize at least five of his most recent predecessors, although without mentioning any names. He criticized pretty much all of America’s current trade deals, which date as far back as Reagan, and he blasted “nation-building abroad while they failed to replenish our nation at home,” which clearly means President George W. Bush and the rest of the Bushes and the rest of the Republican establishment. He also spoke of how “they put American energy under lock and key” and “imposed punishing regulations and crippling taxes,” which can only mean Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and lamented how “they” had neglected to solve the North Korea problem, with the “them” presumably stretching back to the administration of President Harry Truman.
All of those darned “them” also negotiated all of the worst-ever trade deals that have done so much damage to the American economy, which Trump frequently brags is humming along better than ever, but Trump made his usual vague promises to set that right. Trump also blamed them for letting a lot of illegal aliens into the country, which is a fair enough point, but followed it up with the usual crazy talk about building a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border, even if he didn’t add the long lost crazy talk about making the Mexicans pay for it. Much of the speech was devoted to boasting about America is stronger than ever and standing up for itself like never before, but overall it struck as strikingly whiny.
Trump is quite right that pretty much of the entirety of American history, the past several presidential administrations included, have left him in a rather tough spot. Every president could say the same, though, as could any other world leader about his country and its past several governments. The best of them have never disparaged the past leadership of their countries or the people who put them in power and instead moved forward with steady-at-the-helm leadership, and the worst them have always made vague promises to set things right.
Back in the campaign Trump promised he would never apologize for America, despite a few missteps it has undeniably made, and he would do well to acknowledge that the entirety of its history has also left him a position most of history’s world leaders would have envied. America’s military does need a boost, but it had been the world’s mightiest for more than 75 years before Trump office, despite all those Democrats. The past decades of free trade have driven innovations and increased prosperity not only in America but around a relatively placid globe, and the past 11 months of Trump haven’t much changed that trajectory.
Trump’s campaign speech probably got about as much attention as those low-key and little-read previous national security statements did, but it probably got the usual scrutiny from our anxious allies and recently emboldened adversaries. If they glean the same impression we gleaned of a megalomaniacal yet desperate politician pandering to his base rather than conducting a steady at the helm of American foreign policy in the country’s interests, all the good stuff will be for naught.

— Bud Norman

Cherchez la Femme, For a Change

The latest sexual harassment scandal comes from right here in Kansas, so of course there’s a peculiar twist to it. This time the notable target of the allegations is a woman, Andrea Ramsey, who withdrew from the race for the third congressional district’s Democratic nomination after The Kansas City Star called to ask about a lawsuit her former employer had settled with a man who alleged she had subjected him to “unwelcome sexual comments and innuendos.”
Ramsey denies the charges, notes it was her employer who settled the suit with a cash payment but no admission of guilt, and insists that if she had been a party to the suit she would have endeavored to clear her name. In a brief statement announcing her withdrawal from the race, however, she added that “In the rush to claim the high ground in our roiling national conversation about harassment, the Democratic Party has implemented a zero tolerance policy. For me, that means a vindictive, terminated employee’s false allegations are enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to decide not to support our promising campaign. We are in a national moment when rough justice stands in place of careful analysis, nuance, and due process.”
Indeed, the DCCC issued its own statement that “If anyone is guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault, that person should not hold office,” and that it’s holding Democratic candidates to a very high standard. Ramsey had previously won the endorsement of Emily’s List, a well-heeled outfit that supports women candidates, but it also issued its own statement supporting the candidates withdrawal and wishing her well.”
We’re sure that both the DCCCers and the Emily’s Listers hated to do it, as Ramsey would have made a formidable nominee. Kansas is a reliably red state, but its third district is mostly comprised by the mostly affluent suburbs of Kansas City, which gave a slim majority of its votes to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the last election, so Republican incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder is considered vulnerable. Since Republican nominee Donald Trump became president those mostly affluent suburbs have proved a problem for his party in special and off-year elections almost everywhere, even here in the more rock-ribbed fourth district, where a gun-toting and outspokenly centrist Democrat gave the Republican a real scare and actually wounding up winning Sedgwick County with its big city of Wichita and surrounding suburbs, and the dramatic drop-off in Republican votes in the suburbs of such purplish states as Virginia and Pennsylvania suggest it’s a very scary trend for the GOP.
Which makes it hard for the Democrats to defenestrate a real contender in a state such as Kansas, but then again it must have also been hard for them to do the same to such a popular figure and potent fund-raiser as Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and such a longstanding civil rights icon as Michigan Rep. John Conyers, but they went right ahead and did that, despite the similarly disputed nature of the allegations. The Democrats are deadly serious about a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, and Ramsey is right to note that they don’t care much about due process, even if she didn’t publicly object until her own head was on the chopping block, and sooner or later someone’s going to be vindicated and a backlash will ensue, but until then it might be well worth the cost.
If the backlash doesn’t develop by next November the Democrats can at least credibly claim a high ground in our roiling conversation on harassment until the crucial mid-terms. The Republicans have lately been defenestrating its misbehaving congressional members at a rapid rate, with almost as much moral outrage as they mustered for the accused and quickly defenestrated Democrats, but there’s as yet no window big enough to throw their grab-’em-by-the-wherevers President through it. The Republicans just lost a Senate seat in even deeper red Alabama, thanks in some part to defections from affluent suburban Alabamians, but there’s no so getting past the president’s full-throated endorsement of a nutcase credibly accused of having an unsavory interest in teenaged girls back when he as a 30-something prosecutor. Women are slightly more than half of the electorate in every election, and our guess is that much more than of women will have a problem with that.
Probably even more than that in those affluent suburbs where the women might otherwise be tempted to vote the upcoming Republican tax bill and the salutary effect Trump’s rapid de-regulating has had on their stock portfolios. In our white collar experience they’re almost as likely to tell “me too” stories as are the barmaids and factory women we’re more likely to chat with after hours, and college educated types are more likely to make a federal case of it. Most of our women friends, who range across the entire socio-economic scale, regard Trump as one of those creeps they’ve had to deal with too often in the past, and we can’t blame the Democrats for taking advantage of that.
We usually nod in agreement whenever our women friends tell their “me too” stories, because based on what we’ve seen after so many years in offices and bars we rarely doubt their accounts, and we more rarely raise our concerns about due process and the inevitable backlash. Even when the backlash comes we’ll still hold to our old-fashioned notions about respectful treatment of women, and be glad that our women friends will attest that at least we’re not one of the creeps they’ve to off had to deal with too often in the past. We trust that when the backlash comes they’ll be more open to arguments about due process, and we hope that it works out in the end.
In the meantime that won’t do any good for Andrea Ramsey, who has been offered by the feminist sisterhood as the first sacrifice of their own on the altar of the greater good. We have no idea if she actually did what that man alleged, and although we can remember several times when female co-workers mad sexual comments and innuendoes, and a few times when they were unwelcome, we didn’t make a federal case of it. None of those women were our boss, though, and empathy only gets you so far to the truth. As far as the politics of the moment go, though, it’s hers and some unlucky guy’s tough luck if their innocent. Still, like Emily’s List we wish her well in her future endeavors.

— Bud Norman