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From Hero to Traitor, Overnight

Not so long ago, South Carolina’s Rep. Trey Gowdy was a hero to all the right-wing talk radio hosts and their listeners. He had an impeccably conservative voting record, a blunt way of speaking, and best of all he was the guy who spent years leading congressional investigations of President Barack Obama’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the deadly fiasco at an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Despite his long service to conservatism, however, Gowdy is now being pilloried by his erstwhile fans as a traitor to the cause. His traitorous crime is publicly stating that the Federal Bureau of Investigation wasn’t “spying” on President Donald Trump’s campaign, as Trump likes to put it, but rather investigating something about a hostile foreign government’s attempts to influence the election that they had good reason to believe merited investigating. Many of Gowdy’s former admirers regard the special counsel’s ongoing investigation as “witch hunt” being carried out by “deep state” conspirators intent on a silent coup of a duly elected president, as Trump almost daily “tweets,” so Gowdy’s refusal to endorse Trump’s copyrighted “Spy-Gate” conspiracy theory is clear proof that he’s in on the plot.
Some of the right-wing internet wags and maybe even some of the talk radio talkers are literate enough to say “Et Tu, Brute?,” but all the commenters and callers have expressied a more vulgar vitriol. They forget that Gowdy has at times come to Trump’s defense in the story of the day of the ongoing “Russian thing” realit showy, usually when they had a point, and remember all the times when he didn’t, usually when there was no credible defense to be made. They’re even damning Gowdy for the long and tireless investigations he led of the Benghazi affair, spitefully noting that they didn’t result in locking that hated Clinton woman up.
Meanwhile the left-wing types in the respectable media are relishing that even such a right-wacko as Gowdy agrees with their instinctive and seemingly well-founded belief that this “Spy-Gate” theory is a soon-to-be abandoned sub-plot in a “Russia thing” reality show that is heading to its inevitable conclusion. They’re giving Gowdy some “Profile in Courage” kudos for saying so, but they clearly haven’t forgiven him for that impeccably conservative voting record and blunt-spoken rhetoric all those years of hounding Obama and Clinton about that Benghazi thing.
Gowdy’s long career in public service has left him with few friends at the moment, but from the sideline seats our pre-Trumpian Republican and conservatives selves have been relegated to in the Trump era, we’re rooting for the guy. We still appreciate the impeccably conservative voting record on matters that predated Trump, and even his most blunt spoken rhetoric never cross any of th lines that are stepped over nowadays. His dogged investigation of Benghazi at long last proved conclusively to any objective observer that both Obama and Clinton had been lethally incompetent in their handling of the whole affair, from the ill-fated toppling of the Libyan dictatorship to the failure to prevent Islamist anarchy in its aftermath and the decision to send American diplomats and other citizens into the ensuing chaos and their failure to respond to numerous requests for better security, not to mention the lies they provably told in the following days.
There’s nothing criminal about public officials being incompetent, though, so we can hardly fault Gowdy for failing to lock ’em up. If incompetence we’re a criminal offense the prison population would surely swell and the wheels of government would come to a grinding halt. As old-fashioned and pre-Trump Republicans and conservatives we were never fond of that banana republic “lock ’em up” rhetoric in the first place.
Fortunately for Gowdy, he doesn’t seem to care much about what any of us might think of him. He’s one of several Republicans with impeccably conservative voting records who won’t be seeking re-election this year, and the former tough-but-fair prosecutor has told interviews that he misses a job where facts mattered, and like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and a few others with impeccably conservative voting records he admits that his failure to sign up with whatever conspiracy theory Trump comes up with makes him unelectable in a Republican primary for the moment.
Reality always prevails, though, and in the inevitable conclusion we expect that Gowdy and Flake and maybe Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and a few other factually stalwart pre-Trump Republicans will be vindicated. The Democrats won’t forgive their impeccably conservative voting records and the efew  occasions when they had to admit Trump had a point, but they’ll have to admit they’re the last Republicans standing, even if not in office, and we hold out hope they can rebuild.

— Bud Norman

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The “Tweets” of Crazed Celebrities

If America had a more cerebral and less celebrity-addled popular culture few people would much care what the likes of Roseanne Barr “tweets,” and that guy from “The Apprentice” wouldn’t be President of the United States. As things stand now, though, attention must be paid to both.
For those of you spent Tuesday in a coma, the American Broadcasting Company abruptly cancelled the highly-rated “Roseanne” sitcom after its eponymous star unleashed a series of stunningly stupid “tweets.” One claimed that former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton had married into the family of controversial left-wing billionaire George Soros. Another alleged Soros had collaborated with the Nazis when they occupied his native Hungary. In the one that got her fired just a few hours later, she joked that Valerie Jarrett, a black woman and former top advisor to President Barack Obama, was the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.”
We’ve never cared much for Clinton or either of her parents, but she clearly got the better of the exchange when she classily and correctly “tweeted” back that in fact her husband has no relation to Soros. Although we don’t think much of Soros, either, we’ve seen no proof that as a 14-year-old Jew in an occupied country he was ever friendly to the Nazis. Over the Obama years we had our complaints about Jarrett, too, but we always took care to state them without resort to such flat-out and stone-cold racist tropes as comparing her to a monkey. As far as we’re concerned, ABC made the right call.
The “tweets” were somehow shocking to bien pensant sensibilities even though they were not at all surprising. Barr has always been an obnoxious crazy-pants conspiracy theorist, going back to the days when the original “Roseanne” was a critically-acclaimed hit in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when only the people on the right seemed to notice.
The first run of her sitcom depicted a white working class family struggling to make ends meet during the supposedly horrible Reagan-Bush era, ostentatiously featured several homosexual characters, and delivered even the funny lines with an unmistakably feminist smugness, so the left largely adored her. When she delivered a deliberately screeching rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at a major league baseball game and followed it with a crotch-grab and a spit it was lauded as daring satire. When she embraced the “truther” conspiracy theory that President George W. Bush was responsible for the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon she was defended on free speech principles. When she posed for a magazine as Hitler making “Jew cookies” some tried to explain it as satire.
By the time Barr tried to win the far-left Green Party’s presidential nomination and wound up running as the nominee of something called the Peace and Freedom Party we largely ignored by almost everyone. Her sitcom had concluded with a low-rated final season that was widely panned by the critics and hated by the fans, her limited acting range had yielded only a couple of roles in flop movies, a reality show on an obscure cable network yielded minuscule ratings, and at first no one seemed to notice what a strange turn her craziness had taken. She embraced the “birther” theory that Obama had been born in Kenya and was constitutionally ineligible to be president, insisted that all the hotter stars in Hollywood were manipulated agents of the Central Intelligence Agency through its “MK-Ultra Mind Control” projects, appeared frequently on the Russian dictatorship’s “Russia Today” propaganda network on your cable dial, and wound up as one of the few Hollywood celebrities who endorsed the presidential campaign of that guy from “The Apprentice.”
After the inauguration of President Donald Trump, however, the programming executives at ABC were suddenly receptive to the pitch that a re-boot of “Roseanne” catching up with that same wisecracking struggling-to-make-ends-meet white working class family in this glorious Trumpian new day might have some appeal to the popular minority but electoral majority of Americans who ushered it in. The re-boot featured the entire original cast, including including the critically-acclaimed and generically Hollywood thespians who played the husband and daughter and sister of the title character, as well as the former child actor who had to take time off from an even bigger hit sit-com, but the advance publicity made clear that Barr’s titular and obviously autobiographical character was decidedly pro-Trump, and the premiere episode drew 18 million viewers and even some grudgingly positive reviews by critics who noted that the husband and daughter and sister got in a few jabs of their own. Shortly after that, he show was renewed for a second season.
Back in the three-network days of “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Fugitive” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” a mere 18 million viewers would have cancelled a show before its second episode, much less the 10 million viewers that the season finale drew, but in these days of a billion or so cable channels and the gazillion or so options on the internet those are both pretty impressive numbers for any old American broadcasting company. Trump gloated about it at one of his still ongoing campaign rallies, telling his die-hard fans that “the show is about us” and predicting that Hollywood’s greed would force it to adhere once again to their all-American values. After that, it was the post-Trump right that overlooked Barr’s craziness.
Trump was an even more prominent “birther,” so that craziness was easily forgivable. Although Trump never was a “truther,” be did win the Republican party’s presidential nomination parroting the left’s “Bush lied, people died” lie about the intelligence reports of intelligence about the Iraq War. Even Trump has never mentioned the “MK-Ultra Mind Control Project” during his conspiracy theorizing, but he and his die-hard fans and even ourselves have to admit there’s something pretty darned suspicious about who’s hot in Hollywood these days. As for the appearances on “Russia Today,” the Trump campaign’s foreign policy and the Trump administration’s first National Security Advisor was paid to sit next next to the Russian dictator at a dinner in honor of the propaganda network, so that’s no big deal. At this point, all the die-hard fans who hate those pro football players for kneeling during the national anthem have long-forgotten bar’s screeching and crotch-grabbing and spitting rendition of their beloved song. Trump didn’t mention Barr at his latest campaign rally, but he did recall some rapper at a Hillary Clinton campaign two years ago using the same foul language he had used at his events, and his apologists on talk radio and other conservative media rightly recalled all the leftist entertainers’ outrageous statements and outright craziness.
At this point pretty much everyone’s a hypocrite, except for those of us on the left and right who always spotted Barr as the pure product of a stupid and celebrity-addled popular culture. From our current vantage point on the sidelines of America’s cultural and political wars we feel free to make the calls against either side, and we say good riddance to both Barr and all the fashionable causes and crazy-pants conspiracy theories and reality show candidates se ever championed.

— Bud Norman

Left Field, Right Field, and the Center of America

The best part of our gloriously warm and sunny Memorial Day evening was spent at the venerable Lawrence-Dumont Stadium just across the Arkansas River from downtown, where our beloved Wichita Wingnuts used some solid pitching and even better fielding to eke out an entertaining 1-0 win over the visiting Cleburne Railroaders. We relished every pitch and play wistfully, though, as this is likely the last season for the venerable ballpark and its beloved independent double-A team.
This is mostly a matter of local interest, of course, but it should also be noted by readers far from our humble prairie hometown. The city government and the handful of big-time local building contractors they always contract with are proposing to demolish an important piece of America’s baseball history to lure a Major League-affiliated team and perhaps get an upgrade to the city’s past triple-A status, and it also has national political implications that we discussed at length with our cigar-chomping old hippie friends in the smoking section along the first base line.
Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is the seventh oldest professional ballpark in the country, for now, and to our eyes is a beautiful example of classical American baseball architecture. Last season they took down the old manual scoreboard with a cut-out wooden goose that slid along the box score and dropped an egg in the opponent’s slot after a shut-out inning, and replaced it with a big video screen that has the current batters statistics and lots of ads and presumably more entertaining music videos, but otherwise the old ballpark imbues a visitor with a comforting frisson of a better era of baseball. If you’re the sentimental sort of fan that baseball seems to attract you’ll even get a slight sense of all the great play that has happened there over the past 84 years.
Lawrence-Dumont is so named in honor of the otherwise long-forgotten mayor of the city on opening day, and a still well-remembered cigar-chomping and fedora-wearing promotional genius and unabashed hustler named “Hap” Dumont. A brand new baseball park was a risky venture in the dustiest days of the Great Depression, but Dumont was able to lure a sufficient number of fans by concocting the National Baseball Congress championship of America’s semi-pro teams. To kick it off Dumont rounded up a few thousand bucks to get Satchel Paige, who was relegated to the Negro Leagues by segregationist tradition but was widely regarded as the best pitcher of his day, to desert his regular team for a couple of weeks and participate in his semi-pro championship, which set still-standing records and established a still-ongoing tradition. One of the best parts of the NBC is the “round-the-clock baseball” portion, which always draws a number of hard-core fans who want to brag about watching 24 hours of baseball and many more who seem to show up in a raucous mood just after the bars close, and who once memorably booed a 12-year-kid who was up way past his bedtime and dropped a foul ball hit his way.
Nobody knew their names at the time, but the NBC wound up drawing such future Major League stars as Ron Guidry and and Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro and Pete Incaviglia and Bob Eucker, and the various minor league teams yielded such future Major League stars as Lee Smith and Andy Benes, and according to local legend during one of the occasional college games Wichita State University Wheatshocker great Joe Carter hit a homer into the Arkansas River that was even more impressive than the walk-off homer he hit in the 1993 World Series to win the Toronto Bluejays their only title. There were countless others who play in the ballpark and made it to the bigs, even they weren’t as notable, and on Memorial Day the Railroaders’ line-up included the aforementioned and 53-years-old Palmeiro, who was still playing partly in faint hopes of a Major League comeback but mostly for the fun of playing with his son, a promising third baseman who’s batting average is currently a full hundred points better than the old man’s.
Even on a gloriously warm and sunny Memorial Day such an intriguing subplot didn’t fill a fourth of the venerable 6,400 seat ballpark, though, and one of the arguments the city and its big-time contractors are making for a new one is that a Major League-affiliated and maybe even triple-A team would draw more fans. We have our doubts, though. The people who do show up at Wingnuts games mostly have the tattoos and wife-beater t-shirts and tough look of the surrounding Delano neighborhood, which has a wild west history of its own, but they also have the cutest kids that they carefully watch over and explain the game to, and despite their affection for cowbells that disturb our political conversations with our cigar-chomping friends after every opposing out they’re a very charming lot of real deal baseball fans. Wingnut fans seem to like the outlaw status of unaffiliated baseball, which allows it to welcome the banned-from-Major-League-baseball great Pete Rose and hire his son as the manager, and doesn’t mind that Palmeiro’s remarkable Major League career was cut short by his proved steroid use and the fact that he lied to a congressional committee about using performance enhancing drugs, even though at the time he was a paid spokesman for Viagra.
Some number of more respectable east-siders and west-siders and suburbanites and their overly-watched kids might be lured to a Major League-affiliated team with a less goofy name in some fancy new ballpark, and the city government and its handful of big-time local building contractors are all making the same promise from the corny Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams” that if “If you build it, they will come.” If you’re the kind of minor league baseball fan who follows a player’s progress to the big leagues, though, you’d probably be showing at Lawrence-Dumont. Whatever features the sort of fancy new structure the city and its big-time builders might construct, it won’t be able to claim that Satchel Paige and Ron Guidry and Andy Benes once pitched there and the likes of Bonds and Palmeiro and Incvagilia and Carter once roamed the outfield and batted there.
Another argument for tearing the venerable old ballpark and piece of American baseball history down is that it has aging pipes and wiring and whatnot, and although we don’t doubt that’s true we’re suspicious of claims that the remedies would be less expensive than a whole new ballpark. The city and its handful of contractors are admittedly more expert on these matters than we are, but they also have their own self-interested ways of reckoning things, and we cast a suspicious eye on their stats.
These public and private partnerships pop up almost everywhere at the local and state and federal level, and we’ve noticed that somehow it’s always the poor folks and liberals who want to conserve that physical remnants of the best of our culture, and that lately it’s the conservatives who are chanting “burn it down.” One of our cigar-chomping aging hippie friends in the smoking section along the blinding first base line is a predictably liberal professor at the local university, the other is a semi-retired systems analyst and reluctant Trump supporter, but we all agreed it’s a damned odd thing.
Around here the far-right and the far-left always align to oppose whatever the city government and its big-time building contractors concoct, the former being offended by government involvement in private business and the latter offended by private business’ influence on government matters, and for now that’s the only hope for venerable Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The folks on the far fancier east side and west side and the suburbs seem more comfortable with these arrangements than those of us on the old side of town, and don’t seem to give much of a damn about the better era of baseball and the way some things used to be. Which made for a bittersweet Memorial Day, no matter how warm and sunny.

— Bud Norman

Another Memorial Day

Today’s a good day for burgers and beer and goofing off and other great American things, but one should also aside a few moments of gratitude for the brave soldiers and sailors and airmen who make them possible. In hopes of helping, we’ll observe our tradition of re-posting an essay we first published back in ’12. It’s still all too true.

On a long walk through old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass diving a street leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rife and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that tarnished a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American War and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and the the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war last for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before on to the more exciting tales of the ’60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial preeminence on the world state, and permanently altered, for better and worse, the the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and the giant Keeper of the Plains statue at the confluence of the rivers, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. El Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another monument lists the names of the many local men who died serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a more elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of the conflicted had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some Americans veterans of the war have publicly complained about the include of a non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt, not just by the world but by individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the Union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 18th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the Wichita boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city were are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markets to honor the men and women who have fought for this country, and of course a good many graves for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq War, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor those for fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive all of us, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishments of even tenuous democracies in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the defeats of Al-Qade and the Islamic State might yet prove a boon to humanity, and that faint hope is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the wars have been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for American in even the most controversial wars, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and be grateful.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Premature End Zone Celebration on the Korean Peninsula

Every football season some cocky running back or wide receiver starts his end zone celebration just short of the goal line, and winds up in a “viral” sports blooper video. Something similar seems to have happened to President Donald Trump with his much-ballyhooed but now-cancelled summit with North Korea’s tyrannical dictatorship regarding its increasingly threatening nuclear program, but that might yet prove a good thing.
When Trump accepted an oral offer for a face-to-face meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un he immediately started making his usual grandiose promises about how it would turn out. He publicly anticipated he would talk Kim into abandoning the nuclear ambitions his family had pursued for decades, that Kim would be “very happy about it,” and he would achieve an historic breakthrough that every previous president for more than the past half-century had failed to pull off, and the White House gift shop even started selling a commemorative coin. When the crowds at his never-ending campaign rallies stated chanting “Nobel” he clearly basked in the praise, and when a reporter asked if he deserved a Nobel Peace Prize he modestly declined to say so but with more characteristic immodesty added that “everybody else says so.”
Not everybody was saying so, of course, as the more seasoned and sober-minded foreign policy thinkers on both the left and right thought the promises were unrealistic and the ad hoc process of keeping them fraught with danger. They had to admit that Trump won a small but significant victory when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo negotiated the release of three Americans that North Korea had been holding hostage, but that was quickly diminished by Trump praising the “honorable” Kim for being so “nice,” and since then all the critics’ doubts have seemingly been vindicated.
Pretty much everybody had to admit that Trump’s attempts at diplomacy were an improvement on his rhetoric when North Korea started some unsettlingly successful tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the west coast of the United States. Trump’s immediate reaction to that was threatening to “annihilate” every inch of North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” and to taunt Kim on “twitter” as “Little Rocket Man,” along with some sightly veiled but very obvious jabs about Kim being short and fat. Kim responded with threats and “tweets” of his own that called Trump a “dotard,” proving that his translators have a far better English vocabulary and more sophisticated wit than the American president, and only the die-hard fans at the campaign rallies expected that to work out well.
The die-hard fans credited such untraditional diplomatic rhetoric when Kim moderated his own rhetoric, invited the international press to witness the demolition of a nuclear testing plant, released those three American hostages, and agreed to a time and place for a face-to-face meeting to discuss further steps, but since then things haven’t gone smoothly.
The unraveling is mostly a result of the irreconcilable differences that the friendlier diplomatic language could not mask, but the North Koreans are blaming it on some undeniably clumsy administration rhetoric on the cable news. National security advisor John Bolton told an interviewer that he was hoping for a agreement based on the “Libyan model,” an apparent reference to the 2003 agreement by Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi to verifiably relinquish his weapons of mass destruction programs to President George W. Bush, who had recently toppled the dictatorship of the eventually-hanged dictator of Saddam Hussein. The North Koreans took it as a reference to the 2011 toppling of Qaddafi and his brutal death at the rough hands his own people in the wake of a multinational air strike led by President Barack Obama, and the next day Trump seemed to make the same mistake.
Trump said that he didn’t have the “Libyan model” in mind because “we totally decimated that country,” and misused various variations of the word “decimate” several more times before insisting he wouldn’t do that to North Korea “unless we don’t get a deal.”
By now even Obama admits that the 2011 toppling of Qaddafi was a bad idea, as it left the country in a state of anarchy that led to the tragic deaths of an American ambassador and three unusually brave Americans at a far-flung consulate in the now infamous but formerly obscure outpost of Benghazi, which in turn led to the toppling of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s inevitable first woman presidency. It also sent a message to every tinpot dictator on the globe that America can’t be trusted to honor any agreements it might make to relinquish their weapons of mass destruction, which even such seasoned foreign policy hands as ourselves noted at the time. Trump likes to brag that he was against the Libyan coup from the outset, but there’s still a Youtube video from the time where he’s decrying Obama’s weakness for not yet toppling Qaddafi and even now he’s threatening to out-tough Obama if he doesn’t get a deal.
The next day Vice President Mike Pence gave a similarly confusing statement about the “Libyan model” on cable news, and the North Korean dictator then issued a statement calling Pence a “political dummy” and insisting America now faced a choice between a face-to-face summit or “a nuclear confrontation.” Shortly after that, Trump sent a letter to Kim which announced that “based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in” North Korea’s “most recent statement,” and that he now felt it “inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.”
The letter was addressed to “His Excellency Kim Jong Un, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the People’s Republic of Korea Pyongyang,” rather than “Little Rocket Man,” and gushed about Kim’s “time, patience, and effort with respect to recent negotiations and discussions relative to a summit long sought by both parties,” mentioned Trump “felt a wonderful dialogue was building up” between him and Kim, and seemed to hold out hope a future a summit might yet wind up winning them both a Nobel Peace Prize It also included some tough talk about America’s superior military arsenal, though, and that was what he emphasized on cable news to his domestic audience.
For now, though, despite his prodigious powers of bluster and fawning and artful real estate deal-making, Trump is still facing the same irreconcilable differences that every previous American president of more than half-a-century has faced. Trump has the same advantage in nuclear weaponry, but the same disadvantage of North Korea’s formidable conventional military forces proximity to the populous capital of our key allies in South Korea, and despite his bluster and flattery Trump doesn’t seem to be having any more luck than usual with North Korea’s more muscular and nuclear big brother in China, which also seems to be winning Trump’s promised trade war.
Trump is more unhindered than the past more-than-half-a-century of Republican and Democratic presidents by any bleeding-heart concerns about the human rights of the tyrannized people of North Korea, and more willing to taunt the dictator as short and fat and more willing to praise him as honorable and nice and a “smart cookie” who’s tough enough to kill his own kinfolk to stay in power, but that doesn’t seem the stuff of Nobel Peace Prizes. There’s still hope this will all work out well enough, though, at least as well as it has for more than a half-century of previous presidents.
For more than half-a-century of the atomic age the Korean peninsula has somehow been free of mushroom clouds, and for now that seems the best we can hope for and what both Trump and Kim seem stuck with. The truly historic treaties always happened after plenty of painstaking diplomatic preparations done the old fashioned way, and there’s no telling what might have happened if “Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard” had sat down to an ad hoc face-to-face summit between two of the world’s most dangerously shallow and self-interested and nuclear-armed heads of state, so the current resumption of familiar hostilities is somehow reassuring. There’s still a a chance, too, that the more seasoned and sober-minded foreign policy types in both countries might work something out that truly is historic..

— Bud Norman

On the Importance of Protecting the Free Press Environment

Back in our newspaper days we were often forcibly kicked out of various places for being a reporter. Sometimes it was at fringe group rallies, other times it was at ghetto crime scenes we’d arrived at after the cops had split, and on one memorable occasion it was at a “gay rodeo” that apparently had gotten some previous bad press from more homophobic reporters than ourselves. Until the age of President Donald Trump, though, we’d never heard of a reporter being evicted from a governmental agency’s public meetings.
That actually happened to three reporters on Tuesday, as they attempted to cover the Environmental Protection Agency’s meeting with industry and regulatory officials on the rather dry subject of water contamination. A reporter for the Cable News Network was barred from the event, as was a reporter for an environmental internet publication called E&E News, and a reporter from the Associated Press was literally shoved out of the building.
The administration’s official explanation for the expulsions is that there just wasn’t enough room to accommodate everybody who wanted in, now matter how impeccable their press credentials, but all the reporters who did somehow get through the door attest that there were far more than three empty seats. The only plausible explanation is that the Trump administration is growing even bolder in its bullying of the free press.
Which is worrisome to our free speech sensibilities, as Trump has been a bully boy toward the press all along. During his surprisingly successful campaign for the presidency Trump promised that he would “open up the libel laws” so that he could sue any reporter reporting embarrassing news and “make lots of money.” During every campaign rally he led his followers in menacing chants against the nervously penned-up reporters in their midst, and forbade certain news outlets from access to to his campaign. As president he’s described the adversarial press not only as “fake news” but also by the Stalin-esque phrase “enemies of the people,” leaned on the Postmaster General to charge a few extra billion dollars to the Amazon e-commerce giant that happens to be run by the guy who also also owns troublesome Washington Post. He’s also “tweeted” about revoking the White House credentials of America’s most venerable news media, prosecuting reporters who report on leaked information, and groused that it’s a “disgrace” that the First Amendment allows a free press to “write whatever they want.”
Perhaps the only American who more resents a free press than Trump is EPA director Scott Pruitt, who has taken some Trump-level pillorying. Part of it is his because of his vigorous-even-by-Trump-standards deregulating, which our old-fashioned Republican souls are mostly but not altogether approving of, but it’s also because of “fake news” but all-too-verifiable reports about the sweetheart condo deal he got from some companies he was supposed to be regulating and his exorbitant spending of taxpayer dollars on air travel and such weird things as the “cone of silence” from the old “Get Smart” comedy, which our old-fashioned Republican souls cannot abide.
Pruitt has also reportedly used the cops’ flashing lights and sirens to get him to unofficial dinner reservations on time, and he strikes us as exactly the sort of guy who would use figuratively and literally rough even-by-Trump-standards tactics to get even for all those verifiable stories. This troubles our old-fashioned Republican souls, and after too many years of daily reporting it outrages our journalistic sensibilities.

— Bud Norman

Modern Telephones and Ancient Arts

One of the unexpected habits we’ve acquired over the last couple of years is watching Youtube’s full-length videos of the Public Broadcasting System’s nightly “Newshour.” The program still has that ostentatiously high-brow and oh-so-soft-spoken public broadcasting tone that used to annoy us, but in these assertively low-brow days of splenetic talk radio show shrieking we now find it rather soothing, and we’ve also noticed that it has a high batting average for accuracy and does a pretty good job of giving all sides of whatever top story of the day they’re covering some unedited soundbites.
PBS also finds a few precious minutes in its daily “Newshour” for interesting and important stories that aren’t the hot topic of the day, which at long last brings us around to the subject of our daily missive. On Tuesday “Newshour” had a segment about the growing number of performing artists — from stand-up comedians to classical musicians — who are trying to keep their  audiences from using their telephones during performances. Despite all that’s going on in the top stories of the day, we feel obliged to take a few minutes of our time to share their outrage.
Those newfangled telephones most people own these days have video cameras and digital audio recorders and “viral” videos and the latest baseball scores and answers to any questions that might pop into your head and pictures of some scant acquaintance’s private parts, and we’ve previously groused about how damned distracting and dumbing-down they can be. It’s a problem we’ve long noticed during dates and family gatherings and all sorts of civic events, so we can well sympathize with any old nightclub comic or concert hall virtuoso who looks out at an audience and sees people more engrossed by some glowing electronic rectangle and its “tweet” about a friend’s taco dinner than their carefully-crafted performances.
We’ve even noticed it here in Wichita, Kansas, and we’re sure the problem is worse is in America’s many bigger cities. Around here most of the performing arts we take in are either at the lowest dives in the roughest parts of the north and south ends, where the kids all seem to have those newfangled telephones but are more intent on drinking and digging the the sounds and perhaps getting lucky than whatever boring message some homebound friend had “texted” or “tweeted” them, or in the high-culture auditoria of downtown’s Century II, where the mostly genteel and graying audiences have their own old-fashioned reasons for savoring the performances they’ve paid for at a rather steep price for rather than looking at their glowing telephones.
Before every performance of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra or the Wichita Musical Theater — both of which are far better than you might expect, by the way — they always play a recording urging the audience to shut down those damnable newfangled telephone machines. The message was recorded by Samuel Ramey, an operatic bass singer from the small town of Colby, Kansas, who attended Wichita State University’s better-than-you’d-expect music and went on to a career that included bravura performances as La Scala and all the world’s great opera houses before returning to join his alma mater’s better-than-you’d-expect musical faculty, and although he’s best known for playing Lucifer in the great operas featuring that character his speaking voice sounds so much like what you’d you imagine God sounds like that you’d surely turn off your newfangled telephone.
Still, even here in our delightfully old-fashioned hometown we notice too many people more intent on documenting the moment rather than savoring it, everywhere from the lowest depths of Kirby’s Beer Store to the dizzying heights of Century II. There’s something timeless to be said for an idiosyncratic bar band in a north end dive or capable stand-up comic in a sleazy night club or a virtuoso musician in a concert hall, and there’s something to be listened to without the distractions of thpse damnable telephonic devices most people own nowadays.
While we’re at it, we’d also prefer that more people stop paying attention to the top stories of the day what’ else is on their newfangled telephones machines and start paying more attention to the wonderful and horrible things that are going on all around them.

— Bud Norman

Yanny, Laurel, Blue Dress, Gold Dress, Green Needles, Brainstorms, the “Russia Thing” and the “Deep State” Conspiracy

First there was that dress that some people see as blue and others see as gold, and more lately there’s that recording that some people hear saying “laurel” and others hear saying “yanny,” but for weird experiments in differences of perception. Some people look at what’s been reported in the news and testified to before congressional committees and courts of law and revealed by e-mails and other documents and see a conspiracy by the Russians and the campaign of now-President Donald Trump to illegally affect the presidential election, while others see a vast “deep state” conspiracy attempting to unseat Trump in a “silent coup.”
So it is with the latest twists and turns in the exceedingly complicated “Russia thing” reality show. The New York Times and the Washington post both reported late last week that an undercover informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation had at least three contacts with Trump campaign officials prior to the election, and we assume that most of their readers took that as evidence the FBI already had good reason to believe that something fishy was afoot. Those who see things Trump’s way usually like to call the papers “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” and insist that their reports are usually “fake news,” but in this case they accepted the “lame-stream media’s” finding as unassailable fact and damning proof that the “deep state” conspirators were “spying” on Trump even before his righteous victory.
Over the weekend Trump himself “tweeted” about it at unusual length but with the usual Arbitrary Capitalizations and stream-of-consciousness syntax and sneering mentions of “Crooked Hillary,” and announced that he was “hereby” — which he correctly spelled, this time — demanding a criminal investigation of President Barack Obama’s possible espionage on his campaign. By Monday deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who finds himself in the difficult job of overseeing the “Russia thing” after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was obliged to recuse himself from the whole, and announced that he was having a Department of Justice investigator general look into this latest plot twist.
People had different perceptions of that, too, of course. Many of the ones convinced that Trump cooperated in Russia’s meddling in the election thought Rosenstein was abetting Trump’s ongoing obstruction of the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” while most of those who see things Trump’s way were disappointed that he didn’t go whole-hog and appoint a special counsel to investigate the special counsel who’s currently investing that “Russia thing.”
From our current perspective here on the sidelines, with no rooting interest in either the Democratic party or our erstwhile Republican party, we fine ourselves sympathizing with this Rosenstein fellow. When Trump promoted the life-long Republican and career civil servant to his current position Trump called him a “great guy” and his press secretary said he was the “gold standard” of governmental integrity, but after he appointed the lifelong Republican and former FBI head honcho Robert Mueller as the special counsel to continue the investigation that had begun under the lifelong Republican FBI director that Trump admittedly fired because of his interest in the “Russia thing” he became a darling of the Democrats. At the moment he’s being pilloried from both sides, but we can’t blame him for splitting the difference.
Despite their disappointment about the lack of a special counsel to to investigate the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing,” those who see things Trump’s way on talk radio and other “conservative” media are certain that an investigator general will surely expose the “deep state” conspiracy. Despite their disappointment that Rosenstein agreed to even a inspector general’s investigation into the investigation, they’re still holding out realistic hope that he’ll find that the FBI had good and by-the-book reasons to have a trusted undercover agent ask a few questions about some numerous damned suspicious and now admitted contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign.
Whatever that poor fellow who somehow wound up as the inspector general for the Justice Department about the “Russia thing” might conclude — for now we don’t know his name, although it will surely be widely known when he writes his report — different people will surely have different perspectives. If he concludes that the FBI had reasonable reasons to have a trust undercover informant ask a few questions the people who see things Trump’s way will say that the career civil servant who had risen to the level of inspector general is part of the “deep state” plot, and if he concludes that FBI was “spying” on the Trump campaign others will conclude he’s complicit in Trump’s ongoing obstruction of justice.
From our man-without-a-party perspective here on the sidelines we don’t see anyone coming out of this “Russia thing” untainted, but expect that Trump and his apologists will get the worst of it. The FBI’s fired-by-Trump director clearly did mishandle its investigation into Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and other suspicious matters, whether you’re a Republican still annoyed that they didn’t “lock her up” or a Democrat annoyed that he openly investigated Clinton and publicly chastised her for the “extreme carelessness” of her e-mail practices but didn’t publicize investigations into the “Russia thing,” but for the moment we feel sorry for that poor fellow and longtime civil servant as well.
The next experiment of differences of human perspective to go “viral” will probably be a video of a weird device that says either “green needle” or “brainstorm” depending on which word you were thinking of. Sure enough, we defied the mathematical odds by hearing whichever of the two words we were thinking of every time.
Still, we believe in an objective reality regarding more prosaic matters such as the “Russia thing” and the the “deep state” conspiracy, and at this point our only rooting interest is that the truth will somehow prevail. Way back when O.J. Simpson was being tried for murder we perceived a wholly different reality than even our most sober-minded black friends, but by now they’ll pretty much admit that yeah the guy was guilty even though they still have understandable suspicions about the criminal justice system, and we’ll bet real money that even our most Trump-addled white friends will eventually come to the same desultory ambivalent conclusions about Trump and the “deep state.”

— Bud Norman

An Unduly Hard Month of May in the Current Age of Reason

This month of May has already taken a deadly toll on the intellectual life of America, in ways both figurative and literal. Aside from all the daily dumbing-down of the United States that you’ll note in the headlines and talk radio chatter, we’ve also lost some of the very best minds from the previous better era of high culture and academia.
Earlier this month we penned a heartfelt farewell to Tom Wolfe, who was the greatest American writer of the past half-century in our opinion, and now we find ourselves respectfully noting the past week’s deaths of both Richard Pipes and Bernard Lewis, who in our opinion were the two most formidable thinkers of their time in their essential academic fields
Neither Pipes nor Lewis were ever nearly as household-name famous as any of the Kardashians or the latest rap star or that lawyer for a porno performer who’s lately been on the cable channels causing all sorts of problems for the President of the United States, but in the long run we expect they’ll prove far more consequential.
Pipes, who died on May 17 at the age of 94, was a Harvard professor of Russian and Soviet history. That sounds pretty boring by current pop culture standards, and that Harvard professorship will immediately raise suspicions among the current version of conservative talk radio chatter, but his scholarly analysis of the Cold War, which was a hot topic at the time, played a key role in bringing that conflict to a for-now successful conclusion for what’s left of Western Civilization and classically liberal democracy.
Despite his Harvard professorship and the academic fashions of his moment, which politely agreed that international communism was an historical inevitability, Pipes daringly predicted that the Soviet model’s fundamental flaws doomed it to failure that a robust challenge from a more culturally and economically vibrant and militarily stronger West could more quickly bring about. President Ronald Reagan had already reached the same conclusion, but he still drew on the depth of Pipes’ analysis as he pursued that agenda, and he was quite effective in noting to the press and public opinion that his policies had the imprimatur of a some fancy-assed Harvard professor who scholarship was unchallenged even by his critics. Both Pipes and Reagan suffered the derision of the left, which was probably harder on the academic Pipes, but for now they seem vindicated by history.
Lewis, who died Saturday at the ripe old age of 101, was a longtime professor of Middle Eastern studies at the equally fancy-pants Princeton University. That sounds pretty boring to the popular culture and suspicious to the talk radio chatter, too, but he also did Western Civilization a huge favor by defying academic fashions about the great global civilizational clash that was unleashed at the end the Cold War.
Lewis was born into a middle-class Jewish American family around the same time T.E. Lawrence, who had majored in was was then called “Orientalism” at an elite British University, was leading an Arab revolt to help Britain’s efforts in World War I. By the time Lewis was pursuing his higher education in the same discipline it was called Middle Eastern studies, but he went at it with the same diligence and cultural confidence as “Lawrence of Arabia.” He mastered Hebrew far beyond what his Bar Mitzvah reading required, became equally fluent in Farsi and Arabic, modestly joked that he could “make the noises” of another 11 languages, and dug deeply into all of the cultures those languages represented and reported his finding in pristine English prose.
Although he inevitably found plenty of good and bad in all the cultures he surveyed, as well as the intrusive and all-too-human culture he came from, Lewis never shied from the necessary judgments needed to make sense of it all. He frequently defied the academic fashions of his time by opining that fundamental differences between the Islamic and more or less Judeo-Christian cultures made a “conflict of civilizations” inevitably in an increasingly small world, and that in the long run the world would be better off the more culturally and economically and military stronger West prevailed.
Despite his undisputed scholarship and Ivy League credentials, in the 1990’s Lewis was challenged as the premier Middle Eastern scholar by Columbia professor Edward Said, whose surprisingly best-selling book “Orientalism” charged that the academic field was still tainted by a Occidental bias against the poor victims of the West’s rapacious colonialism. The debate was still raging when some suicidal Islamist terrorists crashed hijacked airplanes into the Wold Trade Center and the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania farm field way back in ’01, and for a while there the debate between Lewis and Said was a hot topic. Both sides have since had considerable influence on subsequent events, for better and worth, but for now Lewis has been more influential, and we expect that in the long he will be vindicated.
For now, though, one month’s loss of the likes of the clear-eyed likes of Wolfe and Pipes and Lewis gives some worry,  especially when the rest of the news and talk radio chatter is so alarmingly divorced from the sort of fact-based and dispassionately objective analysis these men once provided.

— Bud Norman

“Operation Cross-Fire Hurricane” and Its Controversies and Spin-Offs

The whole “Russia thing with Trump and Russia” that has tormented President Donald Trump since even before he took office has lately become all the more complicated lately, what with the latest revelations about “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”
Thanks to to the diligent journalism of The New York Times, we now know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a few agents looking into suspicions about the Russian government’s meddling in the last presidential election and the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with that effort in a highly secretive investigation code-named “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” a full 100 days before any votes were cast in Trump’s unlikely electoral college upset. As one might expect, The New York Times’ bombshell scoop has set off a lot of spinning on both sides of the political spectrum.
in his “tweets” Trump always calls the paper the “failing New York Times,” and his die-hard defenders always sneeringly call it the “The New York Slimes,” but in this case they’re not complaining that “The Old Gray Lady” is “fake news.” In this case they think it vindicates their longstanding theory that the FBI and the broader Justice Department and thus the administration of President Barack Obama and the rest of the “deep state” were engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow Trump’s presidency with a “silent coup” even before he was so improbably elected. Meanwhile, on the left, they’re highlighting the fact that a few savvy feds were suspicious about Trump’s Russian-friendly stances and Russia Trump-friendly stances all along.
In any case both sides seem to agree that The New York Times is entirely accurate in its account of the origins of the still-ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing,” and from our recent perspective on the sidelines the left seems to be getting the best of it.
Trump and his die-hard defenders had previously theorized that the whole “Russia thing” conspiracy began with a former British intelligence officer’s shocking report about Trump and Russia that was originally commissioned by some anti-Trump Republicans but later subsidized by the Democratic Party and the campaign of its nominee Hillary Clinton, but that’s no longer operative on talk radio. For now they accept the Times’ account that it all began when a Trump campaign staffer got drunk in a London pub and bragged to an Australian diplomat about the Trump campaign’s cozy relationship, which quickly led to an FBI watch of that staffer and then a campaign foreigb policy advisor and much-higher-raking foreign policy and then the campaign manager. This is all the proof you need, to hear the talk radio talkers tell it, that your federal government’s law enforcement agencies and judiciary were in on a “deep state” “witch hunt” to unseat Trump even before he was seated.
Which seems plausible enough in these crazy times, but there are some troubling and no longer denied facts that give one pause.
The drunkenly talkative staffer who bragged to the Australian diplomat that Trump was getting dirt on Clinton is Carter Page, who was previously on the FBI’s radar as a suspected agent and has since been seriously indicted on various charges. The campaign foreign policy adviser was George Popadopolous, who has already pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI and is cooperating with a special counsel’s ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing.” The higher-ranking campaign foreign policy is retired four-star Marine general Michael Flynn, who briefly served as the Trump administration’s national security advisor, but he’s already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his lucrative contacts with the Russians and is said to be cooperating with the “witch hunt” rather than face various other charges that have been brought. One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort hasn’t pleaded guilty to anything yet, despite the numerous indictments he’s facing and all his previous federal filings as an agent for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian dictatorship, but his former lobbying partner Rick Gates has already entered a guilty plea for his perjury about past Russian contacts and is now cooperating the “Russia thing” investigations.
Senior member of the the Manafort, Black, Stone & Kelly lobbying-for-dictators firm Roger Stone, a scandalous figure since his days as one of President Richard Nixon’s self-proclaimed “rat fuckers,” hasn’t yet been indicted or even interviewed by the special counsel investigation, but that suggests the special counsel’s slow but steady investigation is saving him for next-to-laston its interrogation list..
At this point the left is gloating that they’ve nearly got the goods on on Trump, and what’s left of the right since Trump was elected is indignant that we only know about it because of some “deep state” conspiracy, and although for the moment they both agree on The New York Times’ version of the facts we don’t see it ending well in any case. The left is prematurely closing its case, the right is prematurely invoking Nixon’s defense that “if a president of the United States does it it isn’t illegal,” and in these times the rest of country probably won’t much give a damn in any case.
We didn’t much care for that awful Clinton woman, and were disappointed when the FBI investigations into her scandalous e-mail practices and other shady dealings didn’t yield any indictments or guilty pleas, but at least that FBI director Trump wound up firing publicly admitted to an investigation of the the matter and publicly excoriated her for her “extreme carelessness” in matters of national security, and announced a re-investigation after he longtime aide’s husband’s laptop full of selfie-sex pics was discovered. That cost that awful Clinton woman the election, as far as she’s still concerned, and as far as we’re concerned she deserved it.
Trump and his die-hard defenders are now grousing that the  Obama-era FBI was spying on the Trump campaign, but we don’t much care for them, either, and despite our longstanding doubts about the FBI and the “deep state” everyone now seems to admit they didn’t let word of their early and now well-documented suspicious become public until long after Trump had been inaugurated. If “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” was an illegal conspiracy to prevent Trump from becoming president it was an objectively spectacular failure, and it remains to be seen how the conspiracy theories on the right will save Trump’s presidency.
That awful Clinton woman is still as awful as ever, as far as we’re concerned, but she’s by now undeniably and thankfully irrelevant, while that awful Trump fellow is also currently under investigation for hush money payments to porno performers and payments from the Chinese government after concessions to a dubious Chinese telephone company and a $500 million payment by the Chinese government to a Trump-branded development in Indonesia and a whole lot else. At this point, we’re only hoping the truth will out.

— Bud Norman