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Whose Afraid of the Big, Bad Michelle Wolf?

Going into a happily eventful weekend here in Wichita, we were happily unaware of the existence of a woman named Michelle Wolf. By the time we got home from church and a dreary reading by some grad students in the local university’s creative writing program and much-needed beer at Kirby’s Beer Store just across the street, Wolf was even more viral than the President Donald Trump himself, despite his most virulent efforts.
As we now know all too well Wolf is a comedian best known for her short satiric contributions to the Comedy Channel’s “Daily Show,” one of several late-night over-the-air and through-the-cable channels devoted to celebrity guests and Trump-bashing, but what landed her in all the newspapers and endless hours of an otherwise weekend news cycle on the 24-hour news networks was a 19 minute routine Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual fancy-schmantzy and headline grabbing dinner. As one might expect of a late night comic, her humor about Trump was unabashedly harsh, and she was just as harsh about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House counsel Kellyanne Conway, who were seated uncomfortably nearby, and the routine met with mixed reviews and a dramatic spike in Wolf’s name recognition.
Trump’s die-hard fans were predictably appalled at the lack of respect for a sitting President of the United States, even if he was wasn’t sitting nearby, and took chivalrous umbrage at Wolf’s even harsher treatment of the two distaff Trump administration officials who did happen to be seated nearby. Even The New York Times’ excellent White House correspondent and longtime Trump tormenter Maggie Haberman — recently disparaged in a Trump “tweet” as a “third-rate reporter” he “has nothing to do with” — “tweeted” that she thought Wolf’s act went over the line. Other journalism types from both the left and the right shared their usual gripes about journalists getting all dolled up to hob-nob with politicos in the first place. Some Democratic politicos wound up on the cable news worrying that it would only feed Trump’s narrative that those “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” were out to get him.
While Wolf was getting scattered laughter and occasional applause from her elite Washington, D.C., audience, Trump was somewhere in Michigan wowing a revved up rally of his die-hard fans with an hour-and-19-minute insult comedy routine of his own. He tossed around the usual taunting nicknames and did his usual shtick about the weak Democrats, cast his usual aspersions against the more critical media, and got a big roar from the packed blue-collar crowd by telling them how much he preferred basking in their love to sitting next to some smart-mouthed late comedian regaling a bunch of Washington-type journalists and politicos who hated not only him but all his loyal supporters, and late Sunday, when Wolf’s agent was planning her contract re-negotations, the journalists and politicos were largely doing damage control.
Still, Wolf’s diatribe somehow got more column inches and air time than Trump’s, and she did have her defenders. The most convincing, as far as we’re concerned, came from the right. The National Review’s excellent cultural correspondent Katherine Timpf, whose precociously keen insights into the latest academic and pop cultural absurdities and youthfully geeky good looks have made her some something of a viral sensation, reasonably agrees that Wolf overstepped boundaries, but quite rightly argues that the die-hard fans of such a boundary-overstepping President of the United States as Trump are no longer entitled to gripe about any private citizen’s insult comedy shtick.
These viral viruses tend to pass quickly, though, and that Wolf woman will likely fade into obscurity soon enough, and eventually even Trump’s top-rated reality show is going to be cancelled, one way or another. We’re hopeful that freedom of the press will survive all this craziness, despite the press’ occasional overstepping of boundaries, and we hold out a slightly fainter hope for the institution of the presidency.
For what it’s worth, we thought that a couple of Wolf’s jokes were pretty good, most weren’t, and her delivery could have used a few years of vaudeville training. There’s another woman you’ve never heard of named Desi Lydic who also gets a few minutes on the “Daily Show” and is just as harsh on Trump and a whole lot funnier and kind of cute in a geeky way herself, and we’d like to see her or Timpf at a future White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. In any case the whole contretemps will soon blow over, in one direction or another, and we’ll be left with our nation’s degraded political discourse.

— Bud Norman

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Bill Cosby, Greek Tragedy, and Yet Another Tabloid Scandal

Even on a day full of news of grave international import, the most compelling story here in the United States was probably comedian Bill Cosby being convicted on three counts of sexual assault. The tale is tawdry enough for tabloid fare, but it also involves complicated matters of race and class and sex and celebrity and various other downright vexing aspects of American culture, and you’d have to go back to the days of classical theater to find a more riveting tragic fall from the heights to the depths of human existence.
Even if you’re one of our several non-American readers or slightly more numerous under-30 American readers, you’re probably aware that Cosby was once a much beloved entertainer in this land. He was handsome and humorous and endearingly humble, his home-spun observational comedy had a familiar appeal to just about anybody. He had best-selling comedy albums, appeared on all the network variety shows, went on to co-star in a hit television series, had a Saturday morning cartoon, made some popular movies, starred in an even bigger hit television series, was a well-paid pitchman for various sugary foods, and earned the nickname of “America’s Dad.”
He was black, too, and of course that is unavoidably involved in Cosby’s rise and fall. His best-selling comedy albums and variety show appearances and prime-time co-starring role in “I Spy” were civil rights breakthroughs back in the ’60s, and both black and white audiences felt good about it. Cosby had ghetto cool, but he was not at all threatening, which white people appreciated and even the most burn-it-down sort of black radicals in the ’60s didn’t mind. He played an inner-city high school teacher in a fairly popular television show in the ’70s, then had a runaway hit with “The Cosby Show” in the ’80s playing a physician married to a lawyer with a cast of lovably mix-upped sit-com kids in a ritzy Philadelphia neighborhood. Some black and white critics complained that Cosby was presenting an atypical slice of black American life, but far more black and white fans praised him for an aspirational portrait of America’s possibilities, and he parlayed his popularity into a lucrative career in commercials.
As he got older and richer he gradually retired from show business, but he became more outspoken in his political opinions. The Temple University graduate and up-from-the-ghetto success story spoke the usual civil rights rhetoric about white racism, but he more frequently preached the importance of education and frankly stated that the middle class values of both black and white America were superior to the social pathologies of the black and white ghettos, and for the first time in his career Cosby was controversial. By the time rumors that Cosby was a serial rapist were widely circulated, it was because of the edgier black comedians sharing what was long regarded as common knowledge in show biz circles, along with some of the edgier feminist white comediennes, and after 60 or women had gone on record alleging that Cosby had drugged and molested or raped them Cosby wasn’t getting the same sort of support that O.J. Simpson enjoyed in his race and sex and class trial for a double murder he sure seemed to have committed.
When Cosby faced his first indictment a couple of years ago celebrity still had its California privileges, and the trial ended in a hung jury. The second time around the judge allowed an extra four of those 60 of Cosby’s alleged victims to tell their stories, which were unsettlingly similar to the complaining witness’ tale, and by then countless women had brought down numerous Hollywood and news media and political big shots accused of lesser outrages, and the guilty verdicts on all three counts of sexual assault surprised no one. No one rallied around the once-beloved entertainer, and neither will we, but everyone had some sense it was nonetheless a damn shame.
Cosby used to be an undeniably funny fellow, but his classic routines with their universal home-spun verisimilitude will never again sound the same. His classic sit-com about a classy American family will look too different for any future late re-runs, too. Cosby’s hectoring arguments about the superiority of middle-class values to ghetto pathologies are still valid, as far as we’re concerned, but they obviously now lack Cosby’s previous moral authority.
It’s good news, we suppose, that most black Americans no longer rally around even a sold-out-to-the-man sort of brother the way they once did with the odious and obviously guilty and already convicted wife-beater O.J. Simpson, although we worry that’s at least partly because they resented Cosby’s more sensible advice. It’s good news, too, that all those undeniably victimized women out there are getting some righteous payback on their victimizers, but we expect that sooner or later they’ll ruin some innocent fellow’s life. We note that some of the right-wing talk radio hosts who routinely stand accused of racism are among the few sympathizing with Crosby, but they’re usually suspicious of even the most credible women’s allegations that some powerful man has abused them, and they don’t deserve any credit for the opportunistic color-blindness.
It’s a damned shame, too, that such a handsome and humorous and seemingly humble fellow as Crosby, who did so much to enrich America’s culture, was also such a seriously flawed human being. By now we’ve read enough Greek tragedies and tabloid scandals to know that’s how things go, though. We’ll hold out hope that Crosby and his victims and the American culture and the rest of humankind continues its fitful pace forward, and that we all find peace somewhere along the line.

— Bud Norman

Only the Very Best People, Trump Style

President Donald Trump frequently vowed during his improbably successful campaign that he would hire only the very best people, rather than the “political hacks” that he accused the past several administrations of picking, but so far it’s a promise he’s had much trouble keeping. On Wednesday alone there were four more problematic front page stories about Trump’s old and recent hires.
The most prominent story featured Admiral Ronny Jackson, Trump’s pick to replace his previous pick to head the vast and troubled Veterans Affairs Administration. Jackson has been the non-controversial White House physician since President George W. Bush’s administration, and won Trump’s admiration with a suspiciously effusive report about the current president’s health, which anew seems to have added an inch to Trump’s height and taken off a few pounds of his weight, but critics in both parties immediately argued that’s hardly a qualification to run a complex and long screwed-up bureaucracy with 370,000 employees spread out over all 50 states.
That was before more than 20 active and retired military personnel started telling Congress that Jackson’s management style in his much, much smaller office is abusive and demoralizing, that he tends to get inebriated at inopportune times, and hands out sleeping pills and wake-up potions so freely that he’s known around the White House as “The Candy Man.” After that Trump told the press he’d told Jackson that he’d fully understand why Jackson might decide to withdraw his nomination rather than face such scurrilous accusations and “be abused by a bunch of politicians who aren’t thinking nicely about our country,” and after the press seized on that Trump insisted he was sticking his by man. After that Jackson told the inquisitive press corps he would answer all the allegations at the confirmation hearings, but the latest report from The Washington Post has him telling his friends that he might withdraw from the nomination before those postponed hearings get underway.
If he’s not at all the mean and drunk Dr. Feelgood that more than 20 current and retired military personnel describe, we’d advise the telegenic Jackson to forthrightly answer their allegations at the confirmation hearings, and then admit that there’s bound to be somebody in a nation of more than 330 million people who’s better suited to cleaning up the Augean stables sort of mess that has been piling up at the VA over the past several administrations.
Just below that headline is the ongoing tale of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, and after the Jackson story inevitably fades into the distance that will regain prominence. Cohen has publicly admitted that one of the “fixes” he did for Trump was making a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop talking about a sexual encounter she claims she had with Trump not long after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and it looks as if he made a similar arrangement with a Playboy centerfold model through Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer, which has recently settled it’s own case. Because that all happened while Trump was running for president and involved some suspicious bank transfers he recently had his office and home and hotel room raided by agents from the Justice Department’s southern New York district, which was the big story a while back. The latest update is that Cohen intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the ensuing investigation.
Cohen has every right to do so, and Trump and his apologists will argue he has good reason given the vast Deep State conspiracy out to get him, but back when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices during the campaign they had a different view of the long forgotten Clinton campaign’s information technology guys who pled the Fifth. Even erstwhile “chief strategist” for the Trump campaign and administration Steve “tweeted” Trump’s past statements about how only mobsters take the Fifth, and there’s no shortage of audiotape of Trump’s talk radio defenders saying the same thing. Invoking Fifth Amendment rights seems a sound legal move for Cohen, which we’ll ascribe to the presumably more capable lawyers he’s hired, but it doesn’t do much to help with Trump’s political problems.
Cohen was also involved with Trump’s efforts to build one of his branded Trump Towers in the Russian capital of Moscow, negotiations for which were ongoing during a campaign when Trump was promising the American electorate he had no deals in Russia, and was on board during all sorts of suspicious meetings between the Trump campaign and various Russians, so of course all the information seized from his office and home and hotel room are bound to be of interest to the special counsel investigation into that even more problematic “Russia thing.”
Meanwhile, although it’s less titillating, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt is headed to Congressional hearings amid criticism from both parties. The left hates Pruitt for reigning in the agency’s zealous overregulation, but although even such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves appreciate there’s a bipartisan concern about the way Pruitt lives high on the taxpayer dollar with first class tickets and traffic-stopping motorcades and $43,000 soundproof booths straight out of “Get Smart,” and a sweetheart apartment deal he got from some lobbyists. Stalwart Republican and fellow Oklahoman Sen. James Inhofe said he has been pleased by Pruitt “rolling back regulations and restoring EPA to its proper size and scope, but these latest reports are new to me. While I have no reason to believe them, they are concerning and I think we should hear directly from Administrator Pruitt about them.”
Deeper in the news, interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney boastfully told a meeting of bank executives that as a South Carolina congressman he had a strict policy of never meeting with an out-of-state lobbyist until a significant campaign contribution had been paid. The CFPB was created during President Barack Obama’s administration by Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and bunch of other far-left types to protect consumers from predatory banks, and there are sound Republican reasons for reducing its size and scope, but a guy who openly brags to bankers about he’s open for business probably isn’t the best choice for the job.
And that’s just Wednesday’s headlines. Already long forgotten are the reality star who ran the communications department, the guy who didn’t get to replace her because of a profanity-laden rant to a New Yorker writer, the national security advisor who’s since pleaded guilty to perjury charges, the former campaign chairman under indictment for a whole lot of “Russia thing” stuff, the recently little-seen son-in-law in charge of everything from the opioid crisis to Middle East peace and reinventing government, and so many others that Rachel Maddow giggles uncontrollably whenever the list of small type departures fills the screen on her MSNBC show. Not to mention all the past employees of the New Jersey General and Trump Airlines and Trump Casinos and Trump University and numerous other failed Trump enterprises who didn’t prove the very best people.
Which is not to say that Crooked Hillary would have done any better at draining the swamp, which Trump and all of his apologists will surely note, but still.

— Bud Norman

An Oddly Special Relationship

By now we should be inured to President Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior, as so many Americans seem to be, but we still frequently find ourselves cringing. The latest cringe was induced Tuesday when Trump ran a finger across French President Emmanuel Macron’s blue-suited shoulder and explained to the assembled media that he was wiping off some dandruff.
Trump’s die-hard fans no doubt found it hilarious, more high-browed apologists such as the “Dilbert” cartoonists will no doubt explain he was brilliantly establishing his alpha male dominance in the Franco-American relationship, but we’re sure the rest of the world found it rude and boorish. So far the rest of Trump’s first official state visit from a foreign head of state has proved just as undiplomatic and un-presidential.
Seldom-seen First Lady Melania Trump is getting rave reviews from establishment media for the apparently swell official state dinner she arranged, as well as her elegantly dignified comportment in front of the cameras, but Trump had to settle for the praise of the hard-core fans while the late night comics had great fun with the footage. Trump was filmed grabbing Macron’s hand on the White House porch and pulling him along like a reluctant pet, growled that a reporter’s perfectly reasonable query if Trump will pardon his legally beleaguered personal attorney was a “stupid question,” and touched Macron more often and more familiarly than a head of state should touch another head of state.
Macron arguably started it with that discomfiting kiss on the cheek thing that the French do, and he was also unusually touchy and huggy, even by French standards, but that only made it an embarrassing spectacle for both heads of state. So far as we can tell, the negotiations on weighty matters that the state visit is ostensibly about went no better.
Macron had come to the White House with the stated intention of talking Trump out of withdrawing from the nuclear arms agreement with Iran that President Barack Obama and France and five other European powers had negotiated, and it seems he intended to flatter Trump into acquiescence. Flattery is usually an effective technique with Trump, but it’s unusually hard to talk Trump out of his opposition to that Iran deal. He constantly railed against it as “the worst deal ever made” during his improbably successful presidential campaign, and returned to his campaign rhetoric as he sat next to Macron in front of world’s television cameras and microphones. The public posturing by Trump and Macron is sure to complicate their private discussions.
We’ve always shared Trump’s opinion that the Iran deal was awful, but at this point Macron can make a compelling case that for now we’re stuck with it for lack of a better alternative. By usually reliable press accounts several of Trump’s remaining foreign policy advisers have come to the same conclusion, as did several of his many recently defenestrated foreign policy advisers, and so have the heads of state those six other European powers that in on the deal. Macron has told his own people and the rest of the world that “There is no plan B,” it seems unlikely that Trump will be able to articulate a persuasive one during the private negotiations, and if either head of state caves they’ll have a lot of explaining to do with their hard-core fans.
Although we don’t follow French politics so closely as the American variety, we’re guessing Macron has more to lose. He’s an obviously ambitious fellow, some even say slightly Napoleonic, and clearly pines for pan-European and even global prominence, and if he manages to seduce Trump into the global elite’s consensus with his Gallic charm it will greatly enhance that project. If he fails, though, he’ll be left with his country’s late night comedians yukking it up about their head of state’s embarrassing and literal kissing-up to an American president, even by French standards. Trump is not at all popular in France, nor anywhere else in Europe or most of the rest of the world, and he’s especially unpopular in the world’s halls of power, so Macron’s literal and figurative outreaches to Trump could end very badly.
Which is all the more reason for Trump to stick to the campaign rhetoric that won over those hard-core fans. The fact that those faggy Frenchies and snooty Euro-snobs and wily Orientals and the rest of those “shit-hole countries” largely abhor Trump is all the more reason to love him, as far as they’re concerned, and he’s still right that the hated Obama’s Iran deal was truly awful. Even without a persuasively articulated “Plan B,” Trump could win a news cycle with the hard core fans, who would readily forgive all his faintly homo-erotic fulsome praise and physical embraces for Macron as a brilliant negotiating tactic. After that there’s no telling what will come, but it will probably be something else.
Meanwhile Trump is hoping his alpha maleness will strong arm the rest of the world into his “America First” trade agenda, and Germany’s more seasoned and formidable Chancellor Angela Merkel is the next scheduled official state visitor. There’s also a chance that Trump will be meeting somewhere and someday with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un about his country’s more imminently scary nuclear ambitions. In both cases, we’ll hold out some faint hope Trump will forego the campaign trail insult comic shtick, and articulate some persuasive plan instead.

— Bud Norman

Why We Like Mike For Secretary of State

There’s an oversized “I Like Mike” button atop our collection of political and punk rock buttons next to the laptop we write these missives on, and despite everything we were glad to read that our former Congressman and recent Central Intelligence Agency director and Secretary of State appointee Mike Pompeo narrowly passed muster with the Senate’s foreign relations committee and is therefore expected to be confirmed as the country’s top diplomat by the rest of the Senate.
We enthusiastically voted for Pompeo every time he ran for Kansas’ Fourth Congressional seat, and have mostly cheered on his subsequent rise to national power. He’s an obviously serious man, having graduated top of his class at West Point and edited the Harvard Law Review and commanded a tank unit on the borders of the Iron Curtain before starting a highly profitable high-tech aviation firm here in Wichita, where aviation remains a huge chunk of the local economy, and he was always more formidable than any of his Democratic opponents. One the few occasions we’ve run into him around town, he’s also proved a likable enough fellow.
He first ran after a rather undistinguished but longstanding Republican Congressman made a futile bid for Senate seat, and the Democrats thought they would capitalize on President Barack Obama’s recent victory by running an unabashedly liberal but Ivy League-educated Harvard Law graduate with brown skin and a foreign-sounding name, who happened a friend of ours, but Pompeo’s even more impressive resume and stalwart Kansas conservatism won in a rout.
Pompeo faced only perfunctory opposition in the rest of his races, and quickly rose through the Republicans ranks back in Washington, D.C., including on a controversial stint on the investigate committee investigating Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s embarrassing role in the deadly terror attack that killed an American ambassador in Libya in the aftermath of an ill-advised missile strike, and he seemed to us the embodiment of the kind of old-fashioned Kansas Republicanism we long ago signed up with. A couple of years ago President Donald Trump’s impulsive and casually “tweeted” rhetoric usurped that cautious and carefully-worded sort of conservatism, but Pompeo’s rise to power continued. Trump tabbed Pompeo as his as CIA director, and although Pompeo defiantly confirmed the intelligence community’s consensus opinion that yeah, the Russians had interfered in the last presidential election on Trump’s behalf, he was somehow diplomatic enough about it to stay in Trump’s good graces.
The Democrats on the Senate committee were all instinctively opposed to any Trump appointee, and Kentucky’s contrarian Republican Sen. Rand Paul, whose instinctive isolationism is greater even that Trump’s, so the nomination once looked in doubt. But by Monday Trump plied enough flattery and threats against Paul, who would have been hard pressed to explain a “no” vote to his constituents, so Pompeo was spared the unprecedented humiliation of winning confirmation from the Senate without the blessings of its foreign relations committee. There are several Democratic Senators who would have to explain to their Trump-supporting voters why they vote “no” on one of his most serious nominees, Republicans of all sorts will fall in line, and by now it’s a near certainty that Pompeo will be the country’s top diplomatic.
Those progressive Democrats who will certainly vote against Pompeo will muster persuasive arguments about his old fashioned Kansas Republican views about same-sex marriage and the Islamic faith and America’s obligatory role in the world, and both the Paul-ist and Trump-ist segments of the newfangled Republican Party will have their own plausible complaints, but the more sensible middle of the country and its Senate will eventually conclude, just as the fourth Kansas congressional district here in the middle of the country long has, that you could do a whole lot worse than Pompeo. Even the editorial board of The Washington Post has concluded the country is unlikely to do any better, and despite our misgivings these days about both those damned Democrats and any old Trump appointee, we still like Mike.

— Bud Norman

Self-Interested Heroes and Bureaucratic Screw-Ups

There was yet another American mass shooting on Sunday, this time at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville where a green-jacketed but otherwise naked man randomly fired shots from a semiautomatic rifle at the staff and customers. Four people were killed and two others were critically injured, but it could have been worse. This mass shooting featured a bona fide hero who limited the carnage, and the flaw in the system that allowed it to happen in the first place was quickly identified and might yet be corrected.
One of the customers was 29-year-old James Shaw Jr., who had passed up a more a crowded Waffle House to get a late-night meal with an old friend after a night of revelry. He instinctively dove for cover at the sound of the first shot fired. but when the shots briefly ceased for what he figured was either a gun jam or reloading some higher instinct caused the unarmed Shaw to leap at the gunman and wrestled the weapon from his hands. The gunman fled as soon as Shaw tossed the weapon behind the restaurant’s counter, with Shaw choosing not to give chase, and although a suspect has been identified he’s still on loose, but there’s no telling how many lives Shaw saved.
As is usually the case with bona fide heroes, Shaw insisted he wasn’t one. Although he was clearly relieved that lives had been spared by his action, he told bluntly told reporters that “I want everybody to know that I did that completely out of a selfish act. I was completely doing it just to save myself. I’m not a hero. I’m just a regular person, and I think anybody could have done what I did if they are pushed into that kind of cage. You have to either react of you’re going to fold, and I chose to react because I didn’t see any other way of living, and that’s all I wanted to do. I just wanted to live.”
Shaw further explained that “I kind of made up my mind, because there was no way to lock that door, that if it was going to come down to it, he was going to have to work to kill me.” Although he disavowed any heroic intent, he did describe himself as a college-educated AT&T employee and proud father of a four-year-old daughter, and said he considered himself “a pretty cool guy to be around.” He said he had no military or police training, other than his fights to get his daughter to bed on time, and attributed his actions to human nature.
Shaw’s disarming modesty — no pun intended — only enhances his heroism, as far as we’re concerned. The surviving Waffle House patrons have all expressed their heartfelt gratitude, including that longtime friend that Shaw freely admits he checked on only after the naked and unarmed gunman had run into into nearby woods, and the poor fellow will surely be overwhelmed today by the media’s interview requests and the nation’s admiration.
At least he won’t be made a political cause celebre, though, as he doesn’t fit the profile. The right’s argument about a good guy with a gun being the solution to a bad guy with a gun doesn’t apply here, as Shaw didn’t have a gun, yet Shaw’s admittedly self-interested heroism doesn’t fit well with the left’s arguments about anything. President Donald Trump recently boasted that even if unarmed he would have rushed into that mass shooting at a Florida high school that has reignited the gun debate, but it would be awkward for him to share a photo-op with a black man who’s obviously a pretty cool guy to be around and has more modestly demonstrated actual unarmed heroics, and if the left the tries to exploit that we expect this Shaw fellow will continue to insist he was just trying to his save his own black skin and try to get on with the rest of the life he so he richly deserves.
The suspected gunman has been identified as the same nutcase who had been arrested for an attempt last year to climb the White House gates in an attempt to meet with Trump to discuss something or other. The early news reports don’t make clear how those charges turned out, except that they did result in the confiscation of all the suspect’s guns and the revocation of his Illinois firearms license. Somehow or other the guns were eventually returned to the suspect’s father, who apparently returned them to his unlicensed son, and if not for a self-interested hero’s unlikely appearance it would have gone far worse. Another recent mass shooter had convictions for domestic abuse in military that would have prohibited him from owning a weapon if they had been reported to the civilian courts’ registers, and the kid who shot up that high school in Florida had promised to do so on Facebook and pretty much everyone who knew him didn’t doubt he’d actually do it, and that’s an all-too-common occurrence in these mass shootings.
We’re still steadfast defenders of the natural and constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but by now it’s clear that a few of our fellow citizens should be denied that right, just as a few of our fellow citizens are routinely and rightly denied other rights, and by now we’re getting better at identifying them, and we might yet start act accordingly and according to sensible laws.
In the meantime, we doff our caps to the self-interested but undeniably heroic Shaw, and wish the best for him and his four-year-old daughter.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Imperfect Storm

That whole “Russia thing” has lately merged with those porn star and Playboy playmate scandals, and it all seems to be closing in on President Donald Trump.
Trump’s longtime lawyer and sex-scandal “fixer” Michael Cohen recently had his office and home and hotel raided by the Justice Department, and is widely expected to be indicted soon, and Trump’s most longtime lawyer is advising him that Cohen is almost certain to start providing state’s evidence in whatever matters might arise from all the seized files and recordings and other potential evidence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired has a best-selling book full of newsworthy allegations, with Trump offering explanations for the firing that contradict his past statements, and efforts by Trump loyalists to discredit James Comey have resulted in the leaking of some formerly classified memos he wrote after his conversations with the president that contain even more newsworthy allegations. Meanwhile, the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” that resulted from Comey’s firing, which has already secured several indictments and guilty pleas and has prominent Trump campaign and administration officials fully cooperating, plods irresistibly along.
Trump has now added former star federal prosecutor and legendary New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to a legal team that’s been depleted by defections and impending indictments, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed not to allow a vote on a bipartisan bill that would prevent Trump from firing the Justice Department officials he needs to replace in order to fire the special counsel and perhaps end the investigation into the “Russia thing” altogether. According to all the opinion polls he also has the support of about four-fifths of the Republican party, as well as the fierce apologetics of prominent voices on the talk radio airwaves and other right-wing media, but he nonetheless looks outgunned on all fronts.
Giuliani was a formidable lawyer who locked up a lot of New York City mobsters back in the ’80s, and his three terms as Mayor of New York in the ’90s saw crime and tax rtes decline dramatically while employment and and tax revenues and general quality of life soared, and his response to the Sept. 11, terror attack on the World Trade Center made him a national hero and Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 2001, but since then he’s been on a long losing streak. A sex scandal ended his second marriage and commenced his third, and once upon a time in the Republican party that sort of thing combined with the Republican party’s former suspicion of smartypants New Yorkers doomed his presidential campaign in the good old days of 2008. He cashed in with some lucrative lawyering and lobbying and consulting, but he largely faded from the news until he remerged as an advocate for his fellow New Yorker and serial philanderer and far less qualified friend Trump, who by then was palatable to a plurality of the Republican party.
Giuliani told the press that he expects to negotiate a quick end to the various criminal and counter-terrorism investigations regarding the “Russia thing,” which suggests to us that his legal skills have rusted over the past few years, and that his losing streak is likely to continue.
McConnell says he’s not going allow legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired because he doesn’t believe Trump would ever be stupid enough to fire him, but that doesn’t do Trump much good. A credibly accused child molester that Trump campaigned for lost a seemingly safe Senate seat in Alabama, Arizona Senator and erstwhile Republican hero John McCain is busy battling brain cancer, so the Republican majority in the Senate is down to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence, and McConnell is reviled as the epitome of the “Republican establishment” by the party’s pro-Trump “burn it down” wing and quickly losing control of his fractious and increasingly Trump-averse caucus. You can call the Cable News Network “fake news” all you want, but unless you think they can produce computer generated images more convincingly than Industrial Light and Magic they taped a full dozen big-name congressional Republicans who wouldn’t say on the record that they’re on board with Trump’s reelection.
Even if McConnell does somehow allow the president to fire the people he needs to fire the special counsel and put an end to the whole “Russia thing,” McConnell is quite right that it would be a damned dumb thing to do.
That fired FBI director’s best-selling book and widely publicized book tour is getting mixed reviews, as his seeming mishandling of the undeniably difficult problem of presiding over investigations of serious allegations of criminal activity by both major party candidates during a presidential election has made him a hated figure on both ends of the spectrum, and that storm should soon pass. Those memos Comey wrote in the lead-up to his firing are likely be more troublesome when these matters enter a court of law, though, and for all his undeniable and admitted flaws we’ll find Comey a more credible witness when it inevitably comes down to that.
At this point we can’t imagine what might shake that four-fifth of the Republican party’s faith in Trump, but we notice that some of the right-wing talk radio hosts are fulminating about Trump’s betrayals of his non-interventionist promises with his missile strikes in Syria and a possible betrayals on building a border wall and deporting all the “dreamers” and waging trade wars around the globe. By now all but the most protectionist and isolationist Democrats still hate Trump as much as ever, a fifth of the Republican party and at least a dozen prominent congressional Republicans are outspokenly unenthused about him, and our view from the sidelines sees Trump taking a licking on all fronts.

— Bud Norman

Kansas in the News

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

— Bud Norman

Barbara Bush, RIP

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

— Bud Norman

A Troubled Lawyer and His Three Clients

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

— Bud Norman