Swimming Against the Mighty Amazon

The anti-capitalists on the left have always railed against the biggest retail sales giant of the moment. Back in the prairie populist days they warned that the Sears & Roebuck catalogue would destroy all local commerce, and by the early 20th Century it was the A&P grocery store chain that threatened to rule us all with a monopolistic fist. Until recently the scary corporate villain was the Wal-Mart discount store chain, but they’ve lately been usurped in both sales totals and political notoriety by the on-line retail giant called Amazon.
This time around, though, it’s putatively Republican and unabashedly capitalist President Donald Trump who’s leading the boos and hisses. Trump has frequently criticized Amazon, and he did so again on Thursday with yet another “tweet.”
“I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election,” Trump wrote. “Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state or local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous cost to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!”
Putting aside our usual complaints with the usual arbitrary capitalizations and use of parenthesis and that always annoying exclamation point, pretty much every word of it is embarrassing economic illiteracy and pure balderdash. Even worse, we’d say than what the left has always peddled.
In actual fact, rather than alternative fact, Amazon does indeed collect and then pass along sales taxes on items sent to the 45 states and many localities that have decided to require it by law. The other five states apparently have their own reasons for not requiring it, probably either purely ideological or brazenly corrupt, but we figure that’s their business, and Trump is in no moral position to criticize Amazon for not paying a penny more in taxes than is most strictly required.
Amazon does indeed use America’s postal system as one of its “Delivery Boys,” but so do all the rest of us who have sent a letter or utility bill payment or greeting card or Christmas package through the postal system. This is what the postal system does, after all, and it will take one hell of a “tweet” to explain how having the country’s biggest retailer as a client is bad for business. We can well believe that Amazon has negotiated a favorable deal with its delivery boy’s biggest client, but every analysis we’ve read suggests the delivery boy should be glad for the business in these days of on-line communications, and once again Trump is in no moral position to criticize their artful dealings.
There’s no doubt that Amazon will drive at least a few thousand Main Street brick-and-mortar retailers out of business, just as Sears & Roebuck and the A&P and Wal-Mart undoubtedly did, but the Republicans and the right in general used to chalk that up to the “creative destruction” of capitalism. The much-railed-against railroads delivered delivered Sears & Roebuck catalog’s low-priced items to people across the rural areas, including all the guitars used on all the great country and blues recordings of the time, and it worked out pretty well. The A&P chain did well because it used its market share to negotiate good deals with the wholesalers and then passed the discount along to its consumers, and more recently Wal-Mart has found itself in a position to negotiate profitable deals the likes of China and pass along the everyday savings to their grateful and often obese customers.
In every case, it all proved relatively momentary and nobody wound up ruling the world. These days nobody’s afraid of the big, bad Sears & Roebuck catalogue, the last of the far-flung rural A&P grocery stores went under three years ago, and Amazon has now passed Wal-Mart both in sales and as the leading target of the traditional left and the newfangled right.
Amazon is already using drones as an occasional delivery boy, which can’t be good for the postal system’s negotiating position, and there’s no telling what they’ll come up with next. Whatever Buck Rogers gizmo they come up with, though, we’re sure that some kid in some garage somewhere on the fruited plains is on the verge of something that will overtake Amazon in sales and villainy and low, low prices to the consumer. Perhaps it’ll be one of those “Star Trek” gizmos that immediately transmits whatever your desire and whatever your credit card will allow.
It’s not that we’ll regard it as a grand and glorious day. We’re the old-fashioned sort of Main Street Republicans who still nostalgically long for that ol’ corner store — if you’ve got a few moments to spare, our friend Jonathan Richman put it especially well — and we still resent almost everything from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue to the A&P to Wal-Mart to that newfangled Amazon thingamajig. There’s something tactile and human about brick-and-mortar and face-to-face commercial interactions, and we’d hate to see it go, but we don’t worry that any kid in any garage will soon match that.
Still, we’ll be rooting for Amazon over Trump in their momentary battle for rule over the world. Amazon has ever done us any wrong, as we’ve had nothing to do with them except for their publication of our e-novel “This Town Is Nowhere,” and at this point we have more complaints with Trump. We can’t help suspecting that part of Trump’s crusade against Amazon is because it’s owner, Jeff Bezos, is provably far richer than Trump claims to be, because Trump really is that petty. Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post, a nationaly-read newspaper that daily publishes news stories Trump would rather not hear, and that seems to have something more to do with this feud.
We don’t care much about Sears & Roebuck or the late A&P or Wal-Mart or the currently almighty Amazon, or whatever comes next, as we do little business with any of them, but the freedom of the press is dear to our heart. So is the constitutional prohibition of bills of attainder, which has long prevented the government from acting against any specific person or specific group of persons, and we don’t worry that Trump will wind up ruling the world.

— Bud Norman

Opening Day

There’s plenty of serious and seriously depressing news out there, as always, but it’s hard to shake a certain sense of hopefulness on baseball’s Opening Day. It’s one of our favorite secular holidays for a number of reasons.
Much like the upcoming sacred holiday, Opening Day heralds the imminent arrival of warmer weather, for one thing, and after another long Kansas winter that will be most welcome. The first games played in the northeast will be chilly, but by the all-star game break they’ll be sweltering, and they’ll still be playing when it cools down in October. There’s something reassuring about such certainties.
Also much like the upcoming sacred holiday, baseball’s Opening Day offers everyone the chance to start life anew with an unblemished record and a shot at immortality. When the day’s last out goes into the record books half the teams will have a losing record, the other half will be briefly undefeated, but the next day brings another chance to win or lose, by the end of the season the worst teams will have won some and the best ones will have lost some, and there’s also something reassuring about such certainties of life as that.
As with politics and the rest of real life, we all take sides in baseball, and on this opening day we like our guys’ chances in baseball a lot better than we do our guys’ chances in politics. It’s a long story involving our Okie heritage and the late, great Mickey Mantle, but we’re lifelong fans of The New York Yankees, who look to be pretty darned good this year. Last year their emerging core of youthful stars, including a Rookie of the Year who smacked 51 homers, came a game short of reaching the World Series, and during the cold winter they signed a free-agent slugger who knocked 56 out of the park.
On a presumably warmer night a few weeks from now the unaffiliated Double-A Wichita Wingnuts will have their home opener down at the aging but venerable local ballpark by the Arkansas River, and that’s when baseball becomes serious. We’ve seen the Wingnuts play some great baseball from our seats in the smoking section with a couple of cigar-chomping friends, and last year they fell just a couple of runs short of a league championship, and we’re expecting another great season from our guys.
It looks likely the city will then tear down that aging but venerable local ballpark, which is the seventh-oldest professional ballpark in the world and witness to performances by such legends as Satchel Paige and Ron Guidry and Barry Bonds, and replace it with some shiny new structure and an affiliated Triple-A team with a presumably less goofy name than Wingnuts. Our old-fashioned conservative souls hate it, of course, but in baseball and the rest of the secular worlds things don’t always turn out to our liking. We’ll be back on the news today, in between watching the scores, but we’ll take time out to wish your team the best of luck and to wish you a very happy Easter.

— Bud Norman

Something There is That Doesn’t Love a Wall, as Robert Frost Might Say

The two improbable promises President Donald Trump most frequently made during his improbable presidential campaign were a “big, beautiful” wall along the entirety of the Mexican-American border, and that Mexico would somehow gladly pay for it. More than a year into his presidency, Trump is still trying to to keep the former promise but has long since abandoned any pretense of the even more preposterous latter one.
The latest reports are that Trump hopes to fund his big and beautiful and at times see-through and perhaps even solar-energy-producing wall with money from the defense budget. He was recently forced to reluctantly sign a widely reviled $1.3 trillion spending bill that allotted a mere $1.6 billion to the wall, and all of the Democrats and a big chunk of the Republicans in Congress are averse to allotting a penny more, so Trump is reportedly telling friends he’ll just take the other $30 billion or so that the the most hopeful estimates suggest is needed out of the $716 billion or so that the spending bill added to the defense budget. It’s a matter of national security, as Trump sees it, and as Commander in Chief he figures he he can say how the military’s money is spent.
This is preposterous for several reasons, too, for several legal and political and practical reasons.
According to that pesky Constitution all federal appropriations, including those for the common defense, still have to be approved by Congress, where all of the Democrats and a big chunk of the Republicans think the wall is a stupid idea to begin with. Trump could try to shift the money from one defense department ledger to another by executive order, but so far those pesky courts have proved more loyal to that pesky Constitution on several of Trump’s improbable campaign promises.
Trump’s ongoing efforts to bully those damned Democrats and rebellious Republicans into paying for his big, beautiful also seem doomed to failure. The idea played well with the crowds who chanted “Build that wall!” at his campaign rallies, but whenever Trump would follow that up by asking “And who’s going to pay for it?” they’d also gullibly chant “Mexico!” At this point, no damned Democrat or rebellious Republican in Congress worries that their reluctance to build a big, beautiful border wall will have much affect on their reelection campaigns.
The left isn’t going to like it in any event, and there are still enough sane Republicans, especially in the border districts, who can make a strong conservative case against this nonsense. The massive amounts of money needed for a wall could be better spent on requiring and facilitating workplaces to confirm the immigration status of employees, checking up on the visa overstays who account for the vast majority of America’s illegal immigrants, as well as drones and other high-tech techniques that would better protect that still-pesky but lately placid border, not to the mention all the eminent domain seizures involved that used to offend conservative sensibilities. The money spent on a border wall would also build some battleships and warplanes and pay for some veterans’ surgeries that sane Republicans would still consider a more urgent priority, too, and even the crowds that are still chanting “build that wall!” at the ongoing campaign rallies probably don’t see it as our more most urgent national defense problem.
Then there’s the matter that Mexico was never going to pay for it in the first place, certainly not gladly, and how Trump will explain to his fans that the military giving up ships and airplanes and veterans’ surgeries is going to wind up paying for it. Trump can still has enough presidential power that the courts might let him get away with imposing some taxes on the money transferred by Mexican nationals or tariffs on goods and services brought in Mexico, but that will probably prove a bad idea in the long run and in the meantime the money could have just as easily been spent on much better ideas than a big, beautiful border wall.
By the mid-term elections the whole mess will probably be long forgotten, if Trump is smart enough. Every presidential election is notable for the preposterous promises made, with both Democratic icon Franklin Roosevelt and Republican icon Ronald Reagan blasting the budget deficits of their predecessors and something about a “missile gap” figuring in the 1960 race, and all the winners were smart enough to let the matter drop after their election.
Trump never quits fighting, which his pro-wrestling sort of fans seem to love. We can’t see him winning this battle, though, and with the mid-term Congressional elections so near at hand we’d advise him to let the matter drop.

— Bud Norman

On Finding the Right Lawyer

If you ever find yourself in serious legal jeopardy in the vicinity of Wichita, Kansas, and have deep enough pockets, we happen to know the attorney you should call.
Back in our court beat days on the local newspaper we saw him get a guy off for bilking an elderly couple out of their retirements with some phony-baloney annuities because the relevant state statute failed to mention annuities among all the phony-baloney sort of financial instruments that are prohibited here, an oversight the state legislature corrected a couple of weeks later. We heard some un-confirmable but entirely believable rumors about the big bucks he’d earned defending a nationally-known and much locally reviled late-term abortionist on 13 local misdemeanor charges that got national and international attention, and whatever the amount it proved well-spent after acquittals on all charges.
If you happen to find yourself in serious legal jeopardy in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., we can’t tell you who to call. After a couple of youthful summers in the city and all the news we’ve followed since we’re sure there’s plenty of top-notch legal talent to be had there, but you’ll have to ask the locals for their advice on which is best. Whoever that best D.C. attorney might be, President Donald Trump and his much-bragged about deep pockets seems to having trouble hiring him or her for this “Russia thing.”
One of Trump’s lawyers either recently quit or was recently fired, depending on whose account you believe, and Trump hasn’t yet announced a replacement. It was reliably reported it would be Joseph diGenova, a former Department of Justice Attorney now better-known as a Fox News contributor who alleges the whole “Russia thing” is a “fake News” “deep state” conspiracy, but then it was reported diGenova wouldn’t be joining the team due to “conflicts.” It was also reported that Trump solicited the services of Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general in the President George W. Bush administration and since then a legendary defense litigator, but his firm announced he wouldn’t accept the gig. Olson later opined to the news media that the “turmoil” and “chaos” in Trump’s White is “beyond normal.” After that it was reported that some hot-shot white collar lawyer from Chicago also turned down the gig.
Which is problematic for Trump, as the legal team he’s assembled on the other side of the “Russia thing” looks pretty darned formidable. You can call special counsel Robert Mueller a “fake news” “deep state” conspirator all you want, but he’s an Eagle Scout and decorated combat veteran and well-regarded Federal Bureau of Investigation director with a long, long history of successfully prosecuting cases, and he’s already won some notable indictments and some more notable guilty pleas in this investigation. The team of attorneys he’s assembled does indeed include some Democratic donors, as the Trump and his apologists like to note, but so does Trump’s team and Trump is a Democratic donor himself, and the prosecution team has chalked up some pretty impressive court verdicts against Russian mobsters and other money-launderers and international conspiracies,
Our long and desultory experiences of these matters suggests that it often comes down to who’s got the best lawyer, which does not bode well for Trump. He brags about his deep pockets and the fame and fortune that awaits any lawyer who takes on his case, yet he currently seems vastly out-lawyered. So far his personal lawyers have been losing in the court of public opinion battle to the shark representing an all-too-believable pornographic video performer who alleges a hilariously embarrassing sexual encounter with the future president, no matter how that might play out in a a court of law.
According to news reports this is largely because he’s regarded as a client who doesn’t heed legal advice, which is obviously true, and partly because he has a reputation for not paying his bills, which is reportedly and quite believably true. One of the better lawyers we know in town is a Democrat but otherwise a nice guy, who has helped out some people we’ve loved on a pro-bono or much-reduced rate, and on our last encounter at Kirby’s Beer Store he told us he’d take case Trump’s case only if he were paid fully in advance. That locally legendary legal shark is also a nice enough guy, too, and although we’re glad to not to have needed to run into him lately we’re sure he’d say the same thing.

— Bud Norman

Overtimes and Sex Scandals in Prime Time

The “60 Minutes” program’s much-hyped and long-delayed interview with a pornographic video performer named Stormy Daniels was delayed another half-hour or so on Palm Sunday by the University of Kansas Jayhawks’ overtime victory in a barnburner of a game with Duke University’s Blue Demons in the college basketball tournament, but the compelling lead-in probably boosted the ratings.
Although the interview proved somewhat less salacious than some reality show fans might have hoped for, and got bogged down in a bunch of blah-blah-blah about apparent campaign finance violations and other legal matters and less prurient issues, it still made for must-see-TV. The pornographic video performer was dishing the dirt about her alleged decade-old sexual relationship with then fading reality-show star and now President Donald Trump, which allegedly happened not long after Trump’s third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and it takes a pretty stiff Republican neck to turn away from that.
Daniels said that she spanked the future president with a rolled up a copy of a Forbes magazine that had his picture on the cover, as she had done in a long-suppressed but recently published interview with the “In Touch” tabloid, but insisted that it was more jokey than kinky. She explained that on their intimate evening together in a bungalow at the Hollywood Hills Hotel he had tried to impress her with the magazine cover, she responded that she wasn’t impressed and was tempted to spank him with it, that he obliged by pulling down his pants but not his briefs, and after a couple of smacks they both had a good laugh about it. She says he treated her differently afterwards, though, and then goes on to tell a prime-time-in-these-tawdry–times tale of a pornographic video performer’s unprotected sexual encounter with a future president.
All that blah-blah-blah about campaign finance laws and other less prurient matters seems to back it up. Trump’s longtime “fixer” of a lawyer has publicly admitted that just after the “Access Hollywood” tape and just before the election he paid Daniels $130,000 not to talk about such things, and insists he did so out of the kindness of the heart and without the knowledge of his client. So far as we can tell that’s either a laughable lie and dis-barrable offense or an apparent violation of campaign law and probably something to do with the tax code, or Trump was paying a porn performer not to talk about something he insists never happened, which is perfectly legal so far as we can tell but doesn’t look at all good.
Daniels recalls times she took Trump’s phone calls on her speaker phone in front of her incredulous porn industry friends, who could presumably recall that to some to noisome deposition-taking attorneys, intimates that she has corroborating e-mails and text messages, and her own rather ferocious and seemingly far more competent attorney has recently “tweeted” a picture of a digital video disc in a safe deposit box as a warning not to doubt her account. There’s also the interview that “60 Minutes” correspondent Anderson Cooper had conducted for his more full-time gig with the Cable News Network with a former Playboy “playmate of the year” who alleged a similarly convincing but more saccharine account of her affair with the future president around the same time, and both the porn star and the playmate come across not only better-spoken than the president but also more believable.
In both cases we thought Cooper did a well enough job at the old journalistic fair-and-balanced shtick. He confronted both women with their past statements and all the legal blah-blah-blah, rightly noting that the porn performer had made previous denials of any affair, but he also let the fully clothed and seemingly wised-up women provide their plausible answers, and we don’t blame Cooper if they came off more convincing than the president. By now such tawdry details as that jokey and only-slightly-kinky spanking with a rolled up copy of Forbes with Trump on the cover rings all too true, as much as we hate to admit it or even contemplate it, we can’t imagine how it might help Trump.
On the other hand, it might not hurt Trump much. Back in the days of President Bill Clinton the left used to make excuses for such tawdry behavior, by the time Trump was running against his harridan of of wife the right was just as lenient about its guy, and by now almost anyone who is appalled by the present prime-time network fare stands credibly accused of hypocrisy.

— Bud Norman

A Busy and Upset Thursday, for Better and Worse

Thursday was a busy day for us, what with rehearsals for our annual theatrical turn and Kansas State University’s Wildcats pulling off a big upset in the national college basketball tournament and the trash needing to be taken to the curb, which made it hard to keep up with a busier than even usual news day.
The stock markets swooned as a trade war with China broke out, a former Playboy “playmate of the year” gave a lengthy interview about her past adulterous affair with then private citizen Donald Trump, and a national security advisor regarded as one of the steady hands in the White House was replaced with a hothead from Fox News, along with other noteworthy developments.
Candidate Trump ran on a promise to protect certain American industries with punitive tariffs, and President Trump has “tweeted” that “Trade wars are good and easy to win,” and after he fired the steady hand who’d been his economic advisor who’d urged restraint it was no surprise that he announced stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum on $60 billion worth of tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods. Neither was it a surprise when the European Union threatened retaliatory tariffs, nor when China announced them on Thursday, nor when stock markets around the world swooned on the news.
Perhaps the trade war will prove as good and easily won as Trump predicts, but we share all of the stock markets’ doubts. There is no historical precedent for a good and easily won trade war, after all, and they’ve all gone so badly they wound up with everyone losing. For all its faults the free-trading post-World War II global economic brought great prosperity and relative peace to both America and the rest of the world, and despite his salesmanship we can’t see Trump persuading all those other countries to give up their share of the pie.
Although it’s less likely to immediately affect your next 401K statement, the former Playboy “playmate of the year’s” interview with the Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper was of more than prurient interest. Not that there wasn’t plenty of prurient interest to be had, of course, what with a billionaire playboy and future president doing the nasty with his nudie model girlfriend while his nudie model wife was at home nursing their recently born son, but at this point in the post-President Bill Clinton era even the evangelicals seem rather jaded about that sort of thing. The bigger problem is yet another blow to Trump’s believability, because he’s denying the affair and the former Playboy “playmate of the year” seems by far the more credible of the two.
She’s got notebooks and photographs and hotel receipts and other corroborating evidence of an affair, and her on-camera account of the affair has a verisimilitude no actress can achieve. She freely acknowledges that the adulterous affair was mutually consensual, didn’t describe any of the unwanted groping that Trump has bragged about and numerous women have alleged, said that he was handsome and charming, sadly recalled how he had offered to pay their sexual encounters, and even insisted that she voted from Trump and still supports his presidency. So far she doesn’t seem to have profited from the past affair, and when she credibly says she doesn’t want to hurt Trump we can’t imagine what her motive might be other than to come clean.
Which only adds to the credibility of the pornographic video performer who is also alleging an adulterous affair with Trump right around the same time, and whose interview with the same Anderson Cooper is scheduled to air on Sunday’s episode of the Columbia Broadcast System’s “60 Minutes.” Trump likes to brag about how he drives the news ratings, and our guess is that on Sunday night Cooper and CBS will benefit from that more than he does.
The porn performer’s story has an even more prurient appeal than that centerfold model’s, as it doesn’t have any of the weepy and cliched I-thought-he-loved-me parts and includes salacious details about rolled-up copies of Forbes Magazine with Trump’s picture on the cover. She describes a more transactional relationship where provided what she considered routine sex in exchange for a chance to be a contestant on Trump’s reality show, and although she’s brazenly capitalizing on her notoriety with a “Make America Horny Again” strip club tour her story also has a ring of truth to our ears.
The $130,000 that Trump’s lawyer admits he paid the porno performer just before the election might constitute a violation of campaign finance law, too, which adds to Trump’s already expensive legal bills from the ongoing “Russia thing” and various other matters. Trump has lately been shaking up his legal team, with Washington’s most high-powered attorney declining the offer but a conspiracy theorist from Fox News joining the team, but their task of defending his credibility will be even harder.
The recent shakeups in the administration are also unsettling. The outgoing national security adviser was three star Army general H.R. McMaster, one of the steady hands who offered such sage advice to Trump as “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” in a recent phone call with dubiously reelected Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which Trump of course rejected, and the incoming national security advisor is John Bolton, who does not strike us as an upgrade. He’s a past United Nations Ambassador and longtime figure in national security circles, but his brusque style seems to have found a better fit at Fox News, where he routinely has urged Trump to follow his natural and nationalist instincts. He’s no more likely to restrain Trump’s impulsive temperament that the Fox News guy who replaced the steady hand economic advisor that warned against a trade war.
On a busier than usual Thursday news cycle, it all adds up a certain unease. It’s a sad state of affairs when a Playboy model and porno performer are more believable than a president, but here we are. The same recklessly impulsive fellow who got himself into those tawdry messes is now waging a global trade war and in charge of preventing the military kind, and he’s firing steady hands and hiring cheerleaders.
On the other hand, rehearsals went well, K-State whipped that snooty Kentucky squad and moves on to its 13th “elite eight” game, and we got the trash out to the curb.

— Bud Norman

An Another Day, Another Mass Murder

America has a longstanding problem with troubled people committing mass murder, as you’ve probably noticed, and every time it happens there’s always plenty of political finger-pointing. This week alone featured the 17th school shooting of the year, as well as an accused serial bomber blowing himself up as the police attempted to arrest him, and both incidents provided plenty of fodder for partisans.
It’s not at all clear if the shootings Tuesday morning at Maryland’s Great Mills High School were intended to be another mass murder, as the first victim had an unhappy personal relationship with the shooter and the second victim ¬†might well have been collateral damage, and the situation quickly ended when an armed security guard shot and killed the perpetrator. Neither of the first two shooting victims died, thank God, and although they suffered serious injuries they didn’t get the same notice as the victims of more record-setting shootings. The carnage was too relatively limited by recent standards to get a lot of national attention, but the obvious political implications provoked much comment on the right.
A tragic situation that might well have been far worse was halted by a good guy with a gun, and that does undeniably score a few points for the right in the ongoing debate about America’s every month or so problem with school shootings. The left’s position is that guns are the problem, the right’s response is that guns can be the solution, and in this case latter of the two seems to have the better argument. The idea of pistol-packing kindergarten teachers is as ridiculous as ever, but the right’s broader proposal to protect schools with the same armed attention as banks and sports arenas and other big businesses seems all the more reasonable.
The suspected serial-bomber who blew himself up down in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday provides better fodder for the left. He’s a fresh-faced 23-year-old white guy, and although he seems to have been tormented by peculiarly personal demons he had published opinions on the internet about ethnic and religious minorities and homosexuals that are by now associated with the right. All of his bombs were mailed to black or hispanic neighborhoods, too.
That guy who shot up the Republican softball practice last year was a self-proclaimed leftist Democrat, most mass shootings were apparently motivated by purely personal and nonpartisan reasons, and neither side of the political divide is immune to these once every month or so mass shootings America endures. Several mass shootings have been halted by good guys with guns, but in such record-setting circumstances as the Las Vegas massacre they were of no possible avail. In the case of that headline-grabbing mass shooting down in Florida, even the good guys with guns came up short.
Both the “Black Lives Matter” left and the Trumpian right have their unique complains with America’s law enforcement at the moment, for complicated reasons. So far the coppers are faring at least as well than we’d expect t0, though, and we think the problem lies somewhere in the peculiarly personal demons of the American soul. There must be some solution, be we don’t expect to find it on neither the right nor the left.

— Bud Norman

On the Odd New Detente with the Damned Old Russkies

One of the foremost reasons we’ve long suspected that there’s something more to the “Russia thing” than a “WITCH HUNT!” is President Donald Trump’s undeniable Russophilia. It’s been apparent from the start and was once again on full display again Tuesday’s news.
Trump boastfully acknowledged to the press that during a president-to-dictator phone call the president congratulated the dictator on his landslide victory over the last unbanned-from-the-ballot opponent in an obviously phony-baloney race, and his press secretary acknowledged that he didn’t bring up any of that unpleasantness regarding the people that Russia quite clearly poisoned on the sovereign soil of our longtime ally Great Britain. Instead the president and the dictator focused on areas of possible agreement, according the press secretary, and the president himself called it a “very good call.” Certain Republicans and most Democrats were appalled, but no one should have been appalled.
During his unlikely presidential campaign Trump boasted of his close personal relationship with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and although he later denied any relationship with Putin at all he wound up predicting they’d eventually be good friends. He praised Putin’s “strong leadership” and reveled in similar compliments from the dictator, and scoffed at the emerging reports of Russian interference in the election, saying it was just as likely some obese fellow in his New Jersey bedroom. Trump denied that Russia had invaded Ukraine, then clarified that he meant Russia had indeed done so but only “in a sense.” Trump also touted the many advantages of a Russo-American alliance in dealing with such threats as the Syrian civil war and terrorism in general and Chinese trade or whatnot, and described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance as “obsolete.” Even the erstwhile Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was taken aback when Trump defended Putin’s indisputable assassinations of journalists and political rivals by saying “We do plenty of killing here.”
As president Trump has mostly hewed to the same Russo-friendly foreign policy. He’s eventually conceded to all of his intelligence agencies’ conclusion that the Russian did meddle in the last election, but still figures some fat guy in Jersey might have also been in on it and show far has shown any little interest in doing anything about it. His aides, by now mostly fired or on their way out, at long last persuaded Trump to affirm America’s commitment to the NATO agreement, although he continued to castigate them all as freeloaders. He claims credit for the sanctions that even most the Republicans in Congress insisted on, but he took his own sweet time about it, and although his United Nations ambassador and recently-fired Secretary of State took strong stands on the Russkies poisoning people on British soil Trump hasn’t “tweeted” a thing about it.
Trump’s defenders point to the “dozens” or “near 200” Russkies killed by American forces during a recent skirmish in the war going on in Syria and Iraq, depending on which media reports you read, but the lieutenant general that was on the ground and in charge says they were mercenary forces not aligned with the Russian government and the American forces got permission to wipe them out from the frustrated Russkie command. They also note that war is going so quite swimmingly in defeating the Islamic State, the vilest villain in the conflict, but at this point it’s hard predict how American and Russian and that very odious Syrian dictatorship come out of it. They also note that Trump has been trumpeting a surge in military spending, but what should Russia care if it’s not about them? In the aftermath of that president-to-dictator phone call both Trump and his press secretary said the two heads of state of would soon met to discuss way ways to avoid an arms race.
The most benign explanation seems to be that for entirely disinterested reasons Trump truly admires Putin’s authoritarian rule, thinks our long trading and military partners are a bunch of freeloaders, and that however things turn out in Syria or elsewhere at least you don’t worry about the Islamic State anymore. It’s an openly held opinion on some of the far right message boards, and has slightly more carefully-worded apologists on talk radio and certain other conservative media, but that’s a hard sale these days. A small but significant percentage of Republicans are still standing on the same Cold War-era and Russo-phobic foreign policy ground that President Barack Obama ridiculed just just six short years ago, and all the Democrats seems to have suddenly found the same anti-Russian religion.
Given all the rest that’s going on in the “Russia thing,” it still looks suspicious to us. As we wondered back during the primaries, what the heck kind of Republican talks like that?

— Bud Norman

Abortion at the Bottom of the Page

Strolling down to the bottom of The Washington Post’s opening web page, we happened upon a story about Mississippi enacting the nation’s most restrictive abortion law. The law bans most abortions after 15 weeks of gestation, allowing exceptions for risks to the mother’s life or “bodily function” but not for cases of rape or incest, which is as far as you go from anybody’s reading of the Roe v. Wade decision, and once upon a time that would have been at the top of everybody’s front page.
A lawsuit was filed within an hour of the governor’s signing of the bill by the last remaining abortion clinic in the state, and the activists on both sides of the issue paid rapt attention, but we couldn’t help noticing how little attention was paid by most of the media and the public at large. The absence of coverage was conspicuous to us, as we well remember a time a when abortion was the most heatedly debated issue in America.
Especially around here. Wichita, Kansas, was once the very epicenter of the abortion conflict, to the point that it often tied up traffic and turned neighbor against neighbor and even hastened the end of a couple of marriages we know of. Kansas is a conservative and church-going state that somehow has the least restrictive abortion laws almost anywhere, and people used to fly in to Wichita from around the world to have very late-term abortions from one of the few doctors willing and legally able to perform the grisly procedure, so it was bound to happen.
Back in ’91 an anti-abortion organization called Operation Rescue came to town and rallied support for acts of civil disobedience to shut down the city’s last remaining abortion clinics, all of which were by then owned that internationally-known late-term abortionist. Their “Summer of Mercy” turned out tens of thousands of supporters at the local university’s mostly unused football stadiums, several hundred God-fearing and tax-paying and lawn-mowing types who were willing to be carried on to a police bus and be booked at the county jail for the misdemeanor of blocking public access by effectively shutting down the business. It was not only the big story of that very hot summer around here, as one of the clinics was inconveniently located on busy Kellogg Avenue and everyone had a unique opinion about all the ruckus, it was above the fold on newspapers everywhere and at the top of the hour on the nascent cable channels.
We were on the job for the local newspaper at the time, and wound up having burgers and beers at a bar next door to one of the abortion clinics with reporters from some of the biggest and swankiest newspapers. They were an OK lot, as far as we were concerned, and when we read or watched their accounts of the weird happenings in Wichita we couldn’t dismiss them as fake news, as it was pretty much what we’d witnessed, but they never quite conveyed the local viewpoint. They weren’t steeped in the history of “Bleeding Kansas” and its abolitionist zeal, which is still the state’s greatest boast, and they didn’t seem church-going types, and they didn’t understand what it’s like to live in an otherwise peaceable time with a bunch of church-going and very fine people and a doctor who has performed very late abortions for women from around the world. They understood that there were a whole lot of locals who are grateful for the abortions he provided at a more legally-protected and arguably more morally point in the pregnancy, which is worth noting, but their work didn’t have that discombobulating imbalance the story required..
Operation Rescue’s civil disobedience tactics polled badly, just as we predicted to all those big city newspaper types, and as it faded into obscurity the more mainstream anti-abortion organizations went into retreat. The abortion issue dropped to the back pages for a while, but we were having burgers and beers with the big-city newspapers again after a women came down from Oregon and unsuccessfully tried to kill that late-term abortionist. We were second string on that story to a woman who wound up writing a non-fiction bestseller about the radical anti-abortion movement, but we scored an exclusive interviewer with a protestor outside the courthouse who was supporting the accused assassin’s actions as justifiable homicide, and when we asked him why he hadn’t killed an abortionist he replied “Well, maybe I will.” About a year later all the papers were running the photos of a guy who’d shot and killed a couple of abortion clinic workers in Pensacola, Florida, and we immediately recognized the mug shot. That also polled badly.
The next time we ran in to the big city newspaper writers was when someone came down from the Kansas City suburbs and assassinated that local late-term abortionist. He walked into a lovely Lutheran church over on East 13th and shot the abortionist as he routinely attended services, shot his victim in the head, and didn’t deny it. All the big city newspaper writers asked worriedly ask if the the defendant would get off, given what a conservative state and city this is, and we correctly predicted that it’s the kind of conservative state and city where you’re not going to get away with walking into a church service and shooting a guy in the head, no matter what tate guy did for a living. Elsewhere the shooting polled even worse.
Since then the abortion issue hasn’t been so prominent here or elsewhere. Around here there’s still no Republican who dares run in a primary without taking a staunch anti-abortion stand, but they’re no longer expected to stress it, and most of our fellow church-going Republican types are presently more concerned with making excuses for their recently pro-life president’s apparent tawdry affair and hush payments with a pornographic video performer. The pro-abortion rights crowd has grown complacent after so many years of retreat by the anti-abortion side, too, and probably won’t be much aroused by a setback in a state such as Mississippi. Last year that lone Mississippi abortion clinic performed 78 abortions after the 15-week gestation period, which in most cases would have been obtained in neighboring states, and in the grand scheme of things that’s not such a big deal as President Donald Trump’s latest “tweet” or any the rest of the top-of-the-page news.
Abortion is a damned complicated issue, for both those personally involved and the public at large, and it involves complicated issues of law and liberty and a higher morality, and we can well understand why most people would rather not talk about it. Most of the right that scoffs at the notion you can prohibit firearm ownership also holds that you can effectively prohibit abortions, most of the left holds that can guns be eliminated but abortion cannot be, and at the moment neither side has much to gain from raising this uncomfortable topic.
Abortions and the abortion debate will continue, of course, and there will be setbacks and victories on both sides, depending on what red or blue state you live in. We’re still not sure where we stand on the issue, although we’re sure it’s not at either extreme, and we’re not at all eager for the next opportunity to talk about it.

Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Against the Tide

President Donald Trump’s “tweets” are clearly intended to convey cocksureness and toughness, and that’s how the die-hard fans see them. To our eyes they always look differently, and this past weekend’s voluminous output struck us as downright anxious and weak.
The most frequent of the topics Trump “tweeted” about was the Russia thing, of course. He gloated about the firing of a career Federal Bureau of Investigation official just 48 hours away from becoming eligible for a full pension, further impugned the character of the former FBI director he previously fired, and accused the bureau itself of widespread corruption in the process. Trump repeatedly “tweeted” about the special counsel’s investigation being a witch hunt — or “WITCH HUNT!” as he prefers to call it — and for the first time mentioned the name of Robert Mueller, the formidable former FBI director in charge.
The die-hard Trump fans will be pleased that “at least he fights,” as they always say, but we doubt that Mueller, a much-decorated combat veteran who once left a cushy California law practice to take on the crack cocaine dealers of Washington, D.C., is much intimidated by “tweets.” Mueller’s hunt has already yielded numerous indictments against 13 Russians and several figures close to Trump’s campaign and transition team and administration, along with a couple of guilty pleas, including one from Trump’s former national security advisor, and by now many Americans are waking up hopeful that more indictments and guilty will show up in the news.
Mueller has reportedly subpoenaed the financial records of the Trump Organization, the oxymoronic name of the president’s still wholly-owned international business empire, and God and Mueller only know what that’s likely to turn up. Our guess, based on what we’ve learned about Trump over the past several decades, is that it’s likely — oh, what the heck, standards of discourse being what they are these days, damned near certain — that there’s something pretty damned damning in those ledgers.
There are still laws on the books and an independent judiciary to enforce them, a Congress that plays some role, as well as a free press to let the public know how that turns out, and for now all of that is on Mueller’s side, so all a president can do is “tweet” about it. At least he fights, we’ll concede, but he so often leads with his chin.
There’s a convincing case to be made that the recently fired FBI official had it coming, as an independent inspector general appointed by President Barack Obama had concluded he’d been less than forthcoming on his dealings with the media during the bureau’s investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump would have done well to let the “fake news” glumly report that exculpatory fact. Instead he issued that gloating “tweet” and extrapolated that it shows widespread corruption in the FBI and a rigged system that’s out to get him and that “Crooked Hillary!” is the one who should be locked up, not him. Which only fuels the “fake news” narrative that the firing was a brazenly vindictive political ploy to discredit a career civil servant and potential witness in the “Russia thing,” and intimidate any other possible witnesses, and unless you’re a die-hard fan it makes Trump look petty and mean rather than cocksure and tough.
We don’t expect any other potential witnesses will be much intimated. A couple of congressman have already offered the fired FBI official another 48 hours of gainful government employment so that he can qualify for his full pension, and he’s bound to find other opportunities. James Comey, that fired FBI director that Trump routinely impugns “tweeted” back that “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.” This is an apparent reference to a book by Comey to be released in mid-April, which is already an Amazon best-seller and moving up the charts since Trump’s “tweets,” and we expect he’ll make a convincing case for himself. Say what you want about that botched investigation of “Crooked Hillary’s” e-mails, which was as badly run as Trump Airline or the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club, Trump is at a disadvantage in a contest of character.
The “fake news” have plenty of actual facts to rebut the rest of the president’s conspiracy theorizing, too. He “tweeted” that the House investigative committee on the “Russia thing” had exonerated him, but that was just most of the for-now Republican majority, with the Democrats objecting, and the Senate and special counsel and free press investigations are still underway. Trump once again “tweeted” about the undeniable fact that most of Mueller’s team are Democrats and have donated to Clinton’s past campaigns, but federal law prohibits hiring based on party affiliation or past campaign donations, everyone on the team has stellar credentials regarding such worrisome matters as money-laundering and several are fluent in Russian, and Trump’s own lawyer and Trump himself have contributed “Crooked Hillary’s” past campaigns.
Trump could impulsively “tweet” that he’s decided to fire Mueller, which you know he really really wants to do, but by law he’d have to get the deputy attorney general to do it, as the Attorney General has had to recuse himself from the whole “Russia thing,” and he’d probably have to fire the Republican guy he appointed to be deputy general and find somebody willing to go down in infamy to do the deed. Anyone old enough to remember the “Saturday Night Massacre” episode of the Watergate scandal knows how messy that can be, however, and although it’s frighteningly plausible we don’t see it ending any better this time around.

— Bud Norman