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Meanwhile, Here in Kansas

Thursday was hot and steamy and occasionally stormy here in Kansas, and an interview with a local low-rated and ultra high frequency television station’s libertarian talk show focused our attention on the state’s politics, but even here in the middle of the America there was no escaping the influence of President Donald Trump.
There’s an intriguing gubernatorial race afoot in this off-year state, which involves a lot of intra-GOP craziness and an even crazier Democratic party that stubbornly hangs around and some statewide political habits that go back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days when we waged a pre-civil war about the slavery issue and wound up entering the union as free soil on the side of the abolitionist Republicans. All of that pre-dates the improbable election of Trump and will probably wind up settling matters, but of course Trump plays his part.
The winner of August’s Republican gubernatorial primary most often wins the general election in November, if not always, and this year the race seems to between Secretary of Kris Kobach and current Gov. Jeff Colyer. It’s a complicated race given all the uniquely Kansas controversies that have roiled the state since the election of Gov. Sam Brownback, who handed the office over to Lt. Gov. Colyer last year when Trump appointed him to be something called Ambassador for Religeous Freedom, and Trump figures in other ways as well.
Even our mostly out-of-state readers might recognize Kobach’s name, as he’s earned a national reputation for his hard-line stance against illegal immigrants voting in American elections, and he was on all the national media when Trump appointed him to head a commission that would prove that some three millions of those illegal immigrants had robbed Trump of his rightful victory over “Crooked” Hillary Clinton in the popular vote.
The commission was ignominiously disbanded before holding a single public hearing, as both Republican and Democratic secretaries of states around the country refused to provide Kobach’s requested information, with even Kansas being obliged by state law, and never came close to validating Trump’s popular vote victory, but Kobach’s non-stop television ads still tout his connection to the president, and Kobach is positioning himself as the more Trumpian candidate. Donald Trump Jr. recently stumped for him in the state, and in the last primary debate he called his opponent “Lyin’ Jeff.”
Meanwhile, Colyer is staking out a more center-right position on most of the issues and dealing as best he can with all the problems from the Brownback days. We’ve always quite liked Brownback from the time the genial and genuinely well-intentioned farm boy and we were fellow interns for Sen. Bob Dole way back in the relatively sane ’70s, and back when the Republican establishment was intact we voted for him in both of his winning Senate races and when “Tea Party” movement for low taxes and limited government and general resistance to President Barack Obama were cause du jour for the Republican party we enthusiastically voted for him in all his campaigns. At his point, though, and after Brownback resigned office with the same poll numbers as when President Richard Nixon left office there’s no denying his administration-and-a-half came to a controversial end that Colyer has to contend with.
Getting Brownback’s aggressive tax-cutting agenda passed required purging many of the more cautious sorts of establishment Republicans from the legislature in acrimonious primary challenges, and after that a lost of more cautious establishment Republican types wound up winning another round of acrimonious primary challenges. Brownback’s economic theory was based on the same economic principles as the policies that President Ronald Reagan had pursued to revive America’s economy in the ’80s, and although there’s a compelling theoretical argument that they worked once again in the Kansas economy of the second decade of the 21st Century they objectively failed to keep the grandiose promise of economic growth providing more tax revenues at lower rates. Balancing the budget therefore required severe budget cuts, and although some of them made sense the lopped-off portions of the state’s education and human services programs offended the more cautious sorts of Republicans and outraged every last Democrat still hanging around in the state.
Colyer’s campaign ads stress his support for fully funding Kansas’ schools, which used to be a mainstay of Kansas Republicans’ rhetoric way back in our schooldays, and we notice he’s not promising any tax cuts to pay for it. None of Colyer’s speeches or radio and television advertisements make any mention of Brownback, nor does he have anything good or bad to say about trump, and although he’s as Republican as ever on expanding gun rights and restricting abortion rights he seems to embrace an old-fashioned and kinder and gentler conservatism that once routinely prevailed in this kind and gentle and quintessentially conservative state. How that works out in the age of Trump remains to be seen next month, and there hasn’t been much polling to date, but for now we’re holding out hope for Colyer.
Trump won Kansas’ scant six electoral votes by the usual 30 percent margin, but you could have filled in the name of anyone from Donald Duck to Adolph Hitler on the Republican ballot and it would have beat “Crooked” Clinton by the same blow-out, but he came in a distant third in the state’s Republican caucus and is regarded with ambivalence by the state’s Republican party. The state’s two biggest industries are agriculture and aviation, which happen to be America’s biggest export industries, and Trump’s global trade wars are being protested by all of the state’s entirely Republican congressional delegation.
Trump’s Supreme Court picks are popular here, as are his bold stands on standing for the national anthem and such culture war sideshows, but among both the country club members and the church-goers of this very polite and cautiously conservative state there’s a certain worry about Trump’s global trade wars and the “burn it down” attitude toward longstanding American and international institutions, and how very unproved and impolite this newfangled Trumpian conservatism seems to be.
Meanwhile the state’s Democrats have their own craziness to contend with. There’s a centrist farmer and former state representative from some small town named Josh Svaty who would probably be the Democrats’ formidable opponent in a general election, but he takes a “pro-life” position in the abortion debate and is therefore a long shot in a Democratic primary around here. Another contender is former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who was a pretty good mayor and someone we personally we know to be a genial and well-intentioned and noticeably African-American fellow, but the rest of the state regards Wichita as crime-ridden urban hellhole of Jewish bankers and homosexual seducers and dark-skinned street gangs, which is true enough, and so far his support seems limited to the party’s monied elites and the relatively big cities’ homosexual subcultures and the state’s widely-dispersed African-American voters.
What’s left of our state’s media can’t afford much polling these days, but so far we can tell the Democratic front-runner is longtime state Sen. Laura Kelly, from one of those snooty Lwarence-to-Kansas-City-suburb districts up in the northeast part of state, who has quite politely staked out an oh-so-slightly-left-of-center stand on the issues of the day, and she might prove a formidable opponent even here in old-fashioned Republican Kansas.
At this point we’re reluctantly for Colyer, and our deal old friend from the punk rock days who interviewed us on that low-rated and ultra high frequency libertarian talk show is reluctantly for Kobach, but we’ll wait to see how it all shakes out, and trust in the votes of our crazy-ass but genial and genuinely well-intention Democratic and Republican Kansans. We’ll choose between whatever they come up with, according to whichever nominee seems least likely to raise any unnecessary fuss we have to pay attention to, and if that means we wind up voting for a damned Democrat then so be it.

— Bud Norman(/p>

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Just Another Manic Wednesday, and Probably Manic Thursday

Our Wednesday here in Wichita was largely spent complying with the city’s housing codes regarding weedy lawns and broken brick work and similarly embarrassing mtters, along with other desultory chores, but somewhere in between we garnered enough national and international news from the car radio and the internet to be apprised that things are tough all over.
Our only important appointment today is to tape an appearance on a local low-rated but ultra high frequency television station’s libertarian talk show, and the host is an old friend of ours from the punk rock days who has asked us comment on the Kansas gubernatorial race, so we also had the desultory chore of catching up on that. So far as we can tell Kansas’ politics is what the World War II GIs used to call “SNAFU,” if not so dreadful that we couldn’t come up with some light-hearted comic material about it, but we’ll save that for those lucky few who tune into the ultra-high frequencies in this relatively blessed part of the world.
As for the rest of it, we’re just too plum tuckered — as we old folks still say here in Kansas — to offer any in-depth analysis. We’ll get around to some of what we’ve noticed soon enough, but on this busy Thursday it’s probably best that we all mind our more pressing business.

— Bud Norman

Would He or Wouldn’t He? That Is the Question

The fallout from President Donald Trump’s private meeting and public news conference with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland on Monday was so bad it spilled over into Tuesday, with even the sycophants at “Fox and Friends” finding fault with his abysmal performance, and before the day was over Trump had beat a rare retreat. It looked less like the heroic rescue at Dunkirk than Bonaparte’s famously disastrous retreat, though, and guaranteed at least another another day’s bad news cycle.
In case you’ve been wisely averting your eyes, all the fuss started with Trump having a two-hour meeting with only Putin and himself and a sole Russian translator involved, which somehow raised only a minor and for-now-forgotten fuss but will probably yield many future bad news cycles. The bigger story on both Monday and Tuesday was the international news conference, where Trump told the whole world’s media that the sorry state of Russo-American relations was mainly the fault of past American presidential administrations and the ongoing efforts of America’s justice system and the pesky reporting of its press, making no mention of Russia’s numerous offenses against international law and human decency. He was clearly more concerned about the alleged dastardly deeds of his vanquished Democratic opponents than Russia’s than Russia’s three-pronged cyber attack on the last election, and often seemed to give equal credibility to Putin’s denials that it happened than he did the American intelligence agencies’ and congressional committees’ and his own administration’s top officials that it most certainly did.
At one point Trump was asked by one those pesky reporters who he believed, and offered the President of the United States a chance to warn the Russian dictator that had surely attacked American democracy not to do it again, and Trump replied that he’d spoken with his intelligence officials and “They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia … I will say this, I don’t see any reason would it be … I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Which was too much for even “Fox and Friends” to defend, and had poor Sean Hannity sputtering some incoherent apologia, which soon led to Trump making a rare admission that he had gotten one single word wrong.
Seeming to acknowledge the bad news cycle, Trump said “Now, I have to say, I came back, and I said, ‘What is going on? What’s the big deal?’ So I got a transcript. I reviewed it. I actually went back and reviewed a clip of an answer I gave, and I realized there is need for some clarification. It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just it case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.” The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it shouldn’t be be Russia. So just to repeat, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ And the sentence should have been — and I thought it would be a little unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”
As with most of Trump’s fourth-grade  verbal gobbledegook this requires further clarification for us, but so far as we can tell he’s making a very rare admission that he misspoke at least one contracted word, which we appreciate. He also seems to be blaming us and of all the rest of the world’s media and most of his country for not immediately understanding that of course he meant “wouldn’t” when he said “would,” though, and we don’t at all appreciate that.
Even if you do add that contraction of “not” to “would” the rest of the rest of the summit with the Russian dictator is still seemed damned obsequious, and even as Trump affirmed in his faith the conclusions of America’s intelligence community that Russia had cyber-attacked America’s democracy he ad-libbed that “Could be other people also, a lot of people out there,” which is not the conclusion of America’s intelligence agencies.
By the end of Tuesday’s bad news cycle Trump had not done much to reassure us or America’s most important allies that there’s not something awfully fishy about what he once called “This Rusher thing with Trump and Russia,” and regularly denounces as a “witch hunt” that’s the main impediment to friendly Russo-American relations, and he should expect another bad news cycle today.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Inevitable Descent into Helsinki

There are still a a few of President Donald Trump’s die-hard supporters and a couple more reluctant fans among our readership, mostly family members and old friends, and they occasionally let us know how weary they are of our constant criticisms. Like all Trump fans they seem to relish blunt talk, though, so we’ll just come right and out say that Trump has just concluded the most disastrous and disgraceful presidential trip in the modern history of diplomacy.
We’ve already written out our aghast objections to Trump’s behavior at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Belgium, where his bully boy diplomacy clearly weakened the alliance despite his parting boasts it was stronger than ever. Between slaps to the forehead we also expressed our disfavor with his behavior in Britain, where he insulted the Prime Minister and lied that he didn’t and acted like a stereotypically boorish American tourist around the Queen and annoyed the general population of both the United Kingdom as well as Ireland, and didn’t get any lucrative deals except for some much-need publicity for a struggling golf course he owns in Scotland.
Somehow, however, Trump saved the worst for the last with his much-ballyhooed meeting with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland. One hardly knows where to begin the describing the awfulness of the debacle, but we might as well start with Trump meeting Putin in the first place.
The appearance of the American president and the Russian dictator standing as equals on a stage with festooned with equal numbers of American and Russian flags was a needless concession to a tin-pot dictatorship that has lately been invading its neighbors, propping up brutal Middle Eastern regimes, shooting down civilian aircraft, assassinating domestic enemies on our allies’ soil, as well as launching a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s last presidential election. To compound this offense to America’s dignity, Trump also told a whole world’s media that he blamed “both sides” for the recent unpleasantness in Russo-American relations.
Trump had little to say about Putin’s invasion of his neighbors in Georgia and Ukraine except to nod as Putin said they’d agreed to disagree. Trump also had little to say about Putin’s support for those brutal Middle Eastern regimes, except to say he hoped to work out a deal that would also make Israel happy, which is a plausible but imperfect argument and one too damned complicated for Trump to make. Trump had nothing to say about Russia shooting down civilian aircraft or killing state enemies and the occasional unintended British life on British soil, and what he said about Russia’s three-pronged cyber attack on the past American presidential election was most disgusting of all.
The day Trump left on his disastrous diplomatic tour the special counsel investigation into the “Russian thing” announced a detailed and well-sourced indictment of 12 Russian officials for meddling, and laid out a convincing explanation of how they did it, and by now the only people who harbor any doubts about Russia’s role are Sean Hannity and this guy we know from Kirby’s Beer Store and Putin and Trump himself.
Trump acknowledged that all of his advisors had “said they think it’s Russia,” but added “I have President Putin — he’s just said it’s not Russia.” Trump said he couldn’t imagine any reason why Putin would have favored him in the election, although Putin later told that international press that he did indeed favor Trump, and Trump added that “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Unless you’re Sean Hannity or that guy at Kirby’s or another unusually die-hard and fact-resistant Trump fan, it was an humiliating performance, and raises all sorts of suspicions about that “Russia thing.”
Trump was conspicuously polite to the Russian dictator, especially in contrast to his characteristically rude treatment of the leaders of our democratically-elected allies, and was most harsh about his past two presidential predecessors and that “witch hunt” of a special counsel investigation that just handed down those detailed and well-sourced indictments of 12 Russian officials, and went on a rant about why the DNC’s computer server wasn’t seized and how frustrated he was that even a President of the United States couldn’t any answers. It’s hard to concoct any explanation that’s not fishy, but the die-hard fans are giving it their best.
The general gist of it seems to be that the “Russia thing” really is a “witch hunt” no matter what all those Trump appointees might say, and that the real scandal that will get the real villains shot for treason is on that DNC computer server, and that a friendship with such a puny economy and tin-pot dictatorship as Russia will do more to make America great than those freeloading Euro-trash in the European Union and United Kingdom or Great Britain or England or whatever you call it ever could. They’re also citing America’s past sins and making the “blame America first” arguments that the Democratic left once used to justify Democratic weakness in the Cold War and President Obama’s awful apology tours, and they’ve forgetten how outraged they used to be.
So far, though, neither Trump nor any of his apologists have yet been able to convincingly point to anything tangible that the great dealmaker Trump got out of this trip.

— Bud Norman

How to Be All Diplomatic and Stuff

The main problem with with President Donald Trump’s diplomacy, according to our analysis, is that he’s the most temperamentally undiplomatic person in the entire world. His latest trip abroad has provided supporting evidence for our theory at a rate of every 15 minutes or so.
Even before Trump embarked on a visit to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Belgium and then a less-than-state-visit to Great Britain and today’s summit with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland he couldn’t resist “tweeting” insults about America’s allies and telling the television cameras as he embarked Air Force One that he expected the meeting with Putin would be the easiest part. He started off the NATO meeting by complaining over breakfast a televised breakfast about a natural gas pipeline deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made with Russia, and spent the rest of the time publicly and privately chiding the heads of the other member nations about their deadbeat ways.
Our president left Belgium bragging that NATO was stronger than ever thanks to the defense spending commitments he’d strong-armed the deadbeats into, but French President Emmanuel Macron other NATO leaders told the world press that they’d only reaffirmed a pervious agreement about 2 percent of gross domestic product spending on defense by the next decade, and nobody believed that Europe had acceded to Trump’s extortionist demand for 4 percent spending starting right now. Trump left talking tough about his commitment to NATO, but he’d been conspicuously late to a meeting with the Eastern European nations most nervous about Russian revanchist ambitions, and the rest of the allied leaders and the international press that informs their voters left less sure of America’s commitment to its longstanding treaty obligations.
Trump didn’t demolish Stonehenge, ala Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” but his visit to Britain was similarly undiplomatic. On the way to the United Kingdom he granted a interview a London tabloid called The Sun and took the opportunity to harshly criticize his hostess Prime Minister Theresa May for ignoring his advice about leaving the European Union and saying it had torpedoed the free trade agreement that May had hoped to negotiate when she offered Trump the visit. The itinerary May had generously scheduled kept Trump away from London, whose Mayor Trump has been feuding with over “Twitter” and where tens of thousands of angry protestors and a giant blimp of a diaper-clad Trump clutching a cell phone were packing Trafalgar Square, and instead included a stroll with the Queen at the secluded and well-secured castle where Winston Churchill was born in front the military pageantry that Trump so enjoys, but even there he breached royal protocol ways that were bound to offend the refined sensibilities of the Fleet Street press.
There was no avoiding a joint press conference with May, so when faced with the inevitable questions about the interview with The Sun he dismissed it as “fake news” and talked instead about all the fulsome praise for May that they’d left out. Our guess is that he’d granted the interview to a tabloid with only a slightly better reputation that Trump’s favorite American tabloid The National Enquirer, rather than the Daily Scotsman or The Times of London or another of Britain’s eminently respectable broadsheets of record is that The Sun is owned by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Trump’s beloved Fox News Network in the United States, but he still threatened to unleash his own audio recording of the interview to expose them as “fake news.” He’s yet to make good on the threat, but even The Sun also makes audio recordings of the interview and what they’ve released verifies every word of what they printed, and although the fans back home might love it even the Murdoch-owned Sun readers in Great Britain were left the clear impression that the President of the United States is not only one of those very rude Americans who impose their presence on them but also a liar.
We don’t see any great trade deals coming out of the visit, even though Trump insisted that the “Special Relationship” is more special than ever, but at least Trump got some American and British taxpayer-paid recreation time and much-needed publicity for at one of his still-wholly owned golf resorts in Scotland. A few protestors and that diaper-clad Trump blimp got close enough to Trump’s round that he might have heard the roar or made out blip the blimp, and a paraglider from the far-left Green Peace party penetrated the airspace with a critical slogan waving behind, but we expect Trump still enjoyed the round. It’s the same course where the great Tom Watson beat the even great Jack Nicklaus by on stroke in the legendary “Duel in the Sun” at the 1977 British Open — or more simply “The Open” as the British insist — and we’re sure that with help from his caddie and the mulligans and gimmes generously allowed by his playing from his laying partners Trump surely set the course record.
Trump gets especially loquacious during these international trips, and his many interviews yielded enough diplomatic faux pas and outright falsehoods to provide an entire world of late night television comics with a week’s worth of material. He congratulated the England team in the World Cup soccer tournament on what turned out to a fourth-place finish, and wondered why people say “Britain” instead of “England” even as he was heading to Scotland, which is also a part of Britain, and at another point he seemed to believe that Ireland is still a part of the United Kingdom. During a rare interview with the Columbia Broadcast System’s “Face the Nation” described the European Union as a “foe” before mention China’s economic challenges and Russian revanchism, which he described as merely “competitors,” which is fine by the fans back home but raised plenty of eyebrows overseas.
Trump also boasted that he had better approval ratings among Republicans at this point in her first administration than President Abraham Lincoln, even though public opinion polling wasn’t invented until the 1930s, and surely ranks higher at the moment than Trump. Trump even claimed that he had “doubled and tripled” America’s gross domestic product in a mere 17 months, an obvious absurdity which is only off by $40 trillion dollars or so. If Trump truly had tripled the GDP in his short term, even such skeptics as ourselves would forgive everything else and put him a notch above that gangly guy who saved the Union.
Today Trump will have a very private meeting that Russian dictator, which he’d predicted would be the easiest of them all, and he might yet pull off a diplomatic masterstroke that will wow us and the the rest of the press. He’s assured a rally crowd where he led a chorus of boos against dying Republican Senator and bona fide war hero John McCain that “Putin’s fine, he’s people,” and after “tweeting” that a special counsel’s indictments of yet another 12 Russian officials for meddling in America’s past presidential campaign is still a “witch hunt,” and we don’t see him getting any great deals from Putin.
Stonehenge still stands, though, and we hold out some hope for the rest of our longstanding civilization.

— Bud Norman

Strzok’s Star Turn

Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Peter Strzok has played a prominent and intriguing supporting role in the ongoing “Russia thing” reality show since its debut, but on Thursday he had a star turn in one of the series’ most watchable episodes when he testified before a testy and televised congressional joint committee meeting. Depending on whether you’ve been following the story through Fox News and talk radio or the other broadcast news networks and the last of the big newspapers, Strzok fared very well or very badly.
According to the Fox News hosts in the opinion hours and a full day’s worth of right wing talk radio, Strzok is the real villain of the show. He’s the high-ranking FBI agent who was involved in the end of the agency’s investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices while she was Secretary of State, which infuriated the right by its failure to lock her up, and he was also one of the agents who commenced a counter-intelligence investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election on behalf of Republican nominee Donald Trump, which continues to infuriate Trump and his fans. Strzok was also carrying on an extra-marital affair at the time and “texting” profanely anti-Trump diatribes to his mistress, which included ambiguous statements about “secret societies” and “insurance policies” and a promise to his paramour that he would prevent Trump’s election, and thus Strzok became the mastermind of the “deep state” “silent coup” plot by the “globalist” “elites” against Trump’s agenda to make America great again.
The other broadcast news networks and the last of the big newspapers are hard-pressed to make Strzok a heroic character in their version of the story, but they’ve got ample evidence that he’s not a villain, and certainly not such a diabolically ingenious one who might pull off the plot that’s been alleged.
There is a strong argument to be made that Clinton should have been locked up for her careless handling of classified information, but if you want to get all letter-of-the-law about it presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and former White House staff secretary Robert Porter and all the other administrations who have handled classified materials without the necessary security clearance should also be in legal jeopardy. As a high-ranking agent with a long record of successfully discovering and prosecuting Russian operatives and thwarting Russian plots he was also assigned to look into credible tips from longstanding allies that Russia was meddling in various ways with the American presidential election, and by now all of President Donald Trump’s FBI and intelligence community appointees and a bi-partisan group of Senators and pretty much everyone but the Russian dictator and the American agree that there was Russian meddling the needed to be investigated.
We’d also note that although Clinton didn’t get locked up her campaign was hit hard by an FBI announcement that although her e-mail practices weren’t criminal they were damned sloppy, and then again when they announced the re-opening of the investigation when some of the e-mails showed up on the computer of the perverted husband of a close aid, and that the FBI made no mention it was already winning warrants from Republican-appointed judges to investigate Trump campaign operatives’ undisclosed contacts with Russians. If Strzok and the rest of the “deep state” cabal at the FBI were conspiring to deny Trump the presidency, they did a damned clumsy job of it.
It’s true Strzok was carrying on a extramarital affair and using profane language about Trump in his “texts” to his illicit lover, which we do not approve of, but it strikes us a rather hypocritical argument to be made in defense of Trump. Strzok managed to cheat on his wife without making any six-figure payments to porn stars, which strikes us as better business sense than the president possesses, and his language is no more offensive than what Trump has used on the campaign trail and did not include any boasts about grabbing women by their expletives deleted.
Strzok’s apparent disdain for Trump doesn’t much bother us, either, as we’ve frequently voiced the same sort of opinions in more family-friendly language. A broader reading of Strzok’s “texts” and e-mails reveals that he had similarly harsh things to say about Clinton and her Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, just as we did in our more polite fashion, and that the only politician he seemed to like was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the last centrists standing and currently among our most favorite Republicans.
According to the Fox News opinion shows and all the conservative talk radio talkers Strzok was exposed as a villain at the hearing, while the rest of the broadcast news networks and big newspapers more prominently quoted the sources who thought Strzok got the best of the it. We urge that you watch the more than two hours of hearings the the “fake news” dutifully videotaped and make up your own mind. It’s more compelling television than any other reality show on the air or web, with America’s tribal divisions fully on trash-talking display in a joint committee meeting of the House of Representatives.
In the end Strzok will probably be remembered as a foul-mouth cheating husband rather than they guy who discovered all those Russian agents thwarted all those Russian plots, but as a supporting character rather than the villain of the “Russian thing.” The “Russia thing” reality show will drag on at least through the summer, and there are a lot of plot twists yet to come. For now we can turn our attention to Trump’s international tour, where he’s upsetting relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and his current hosts in the United Kingdom, with a summit with the Russian dictator coming up, and for now Strzok seems an intriguing but minor player in this weird tale.

— Bud Norman

If It’s Doomsday, This Must be Belgium

President Donald Trump’s die-hard fans probably loved his performance Wednesday at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Brussels, as he gave all those freeloading Euro-trash leaders the tough talk that always goes over so well at the endless campaign rallies, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin probably enjoyed it as well. Most of the rest of the world, though, shuddered.
All but two Republican Senators and every single Republican in the House of Representatives preemptively voted for resolutions that affirmed America’s commitment to the NATO alliance Trump was once again criticizing on the way to the summit. When Trump started the meetings off with a rambling breakfast rant about Germany being “captive to Russia” because of a natural gas pipeline project, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and NATO ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson and chief of staff John Kelly sat next to him with the same embarrassed look and awkward posture of the wife of a drunken husband spoiling an otherwise cordial  cocktail party. Unless you really relished the video of Trump socking it to the Euro-trash, it’s hard to see what America got out of it.
Trump did get the rest of the NATO members to reaffirm their commitment to increase defense spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product in the coming years, which they’d all be working toward since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine long before Trump was elected, and the NATO general secretary generously gave Trump all the credit, but then Trump insisted they immediately start spending 4 percent, which is even more than the 3.58 percent that America spends on defense. Trump is probably right that the pipeline deal between Germany and Russia was a bad idea, but of course he vastly overstated Germany’s reliance on Russian energy, and it’s unlikely he’ll convince German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was a literal captive of Russia when she grew up in East Germany, to back out during the NATO summit. We figure it’s even more unlikely that he’ll press the issue with Putin during an upcoming summit with the Russian dictator that he never seems to criticize.
All of the NATO members except for Turkey are bona fide democracies, except for Turkey, whose autocratic leader Trump never criticizes, and we doubt those country’s leaders will persuade their voters to accept the tax hikes or cuts in other government services to pay for an immediate quadrupling of defense to mollify Trump, who is widely reviled around the world as a bully and the very embodiment of an ugly American. Trump has some legitimate grievances with the the NATO arrangement, but every sane observer in the western world still acknowledge its existential importance, and his tactless style of diplomacy makes it harder for the essential alliance to reach a satisfactory resolution of these longstanding squabbles.
The die-hard fans and the Russian dictator love it, though, and we’re not sure which explains Trump’s rants. Despite the fissures in an alliance that won the Cold War and has mostly resisted Russia’s revanchist ambitions Trump’s rhetoric somehow delights those Americans who resent those smarty-pants Euro-trash countries, and we don’t doubt that figures in his calculations. There’s an ongoing special counsel investigation into the Russian meddling in America’s past presidential election that pretty much only Trump and his most die-hard fans and the Russian dictator accept as an actual fact, and we’d hate to think that past shady dealings with the Russkies is why Trump seems intent on undoing a post-war world order of trade relations and diplomatic alliances.

— Bud Norman

Those Thai Kids are Safe, and We Hold Out Hope for the Rest of Us

Tuesday’s news was full of the usual worrisome developments, but at least those dozen Thai boys and their soccer coach were at long last rescued from that awful cave they’ve been trapped in since June 23, which gave us a hopeful feeling about all the rest of it.
In case you’ve been trapped in a cave of your own for the past few weeks, the youth soccer team and its coach went on a routine spelunking adventure but found themselves trapped beneath a mountain when an unexpected torrential rain storm flooded all the exit routes. Nine days passed before a SCUBA-diving rescue crew could find them hungrily huddled in an improbable air pocket, a seeming miracle that was broadcast around the world by waterproof television cameras, but even then it seemed another 13miracles would be required for all of them to get out alive. More torrential rains made it difficult to bring food and oxygen to the unlikely survivors, a brave Thai naval frogman and former Buddhist monk died in the effort, and getting them all through the tunnels filled with muddy water and back to safety seemed impossible.
All of which made for compelling television around the world, even though the realists and fatalists among us figured all along that this hit reality show would end tragically for everyone involved. Four of the children were eventually rescued and rushed to hospitals by heroic methods a few days ago, though, and another four were treated to the same action-adventure movie heroics the next day, but it wasn’t until Tuesday that the rescuers beat the torrential rains and rescued the final four players and the 25-year-old coach who had bravely volunteered to be the last one out, and only then did such such realistic and fatalistic sorts as ourselves breath a sigh of a relief that miracles do indeed happen and that some times they even come in bunches of 14 or more.
The ingenious and heroic exploits of the rescuers make for a riveting based-on-a-true-story action adventure movie that will surely be coming soon to a theater near you, and there are all sorts of feel-good subplots to the story. Thailand’s dubious government came through for those poor kids and and their soccer coach, and an entire world offered its sympathy and help. Even President Donald Trump took time out from his “America First” agenda to “tweet” his sympathy and offer some American help that proved somewhat useful, but it was the brave and ingenious Thai and more nearby Australian and British divers who pulled off the miracle, and in a rare moment of global unity everyone everywhere celebrated the feat.
Despite our realistic and fatalistic sensibilities, it reaffirms our religious faith in miracles and bolsters our hope that the rest of the news might also turn out more or less well. Here’s hoping that all those Thai kids and their selfless soccer coach lead long and satisfactory lives, and that so do the rest of us.

— Bud Norman

For Kavanaugh, Because Why Not?

President Donald Trump has nominated federal appellate judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, which is a quite fine pick as far we’re concerned. That’s just our opinion, though, and we expect the rest of the country’s hearted arguments about it will last long after his inevitable confirmation.
Anyone that Trump or even a more normal Republican president might have nominated would have met outraged opposition from the left, of course, but in these strange days a certain portion of the right is also disappointed by the choice. Kavanaugh has a long record on the federal bench of deciding cases based on the objective facts and the most plain reading of the constitution that conservatives such as ourselves have always insisted on, but he only got the chance because he appointed to the federal bench by Republican President George W. Bush after exemplary service in the Bush Justice Department, and these days that certain majority portion of the Republican right has as much disdain for the Republican party prior to Trump that they have for the Democratic left.
There were reportedly even more provocative potential Supreme Court nominees among the semi-finalists and finalists in the reality-show roll-out of Kavanaugh’s appointment, but the left will surely still muster its full outrage about the appointment. The left has good reason to fear the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing will be overturned, the Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage will be undermined by conscience exemptions for Christian baker and wedding photographers, and that the District of Columbia v. Heller decision affirming an individual’s right to keep and bear arms will be bolstered, and that Citizens United and Gore v. Bush and all the other decisions that so outraged leftist sensibilities will never be overturned.
None of which bothers us much. We rather like that Kavanaugh has a Bush pedigree, as we much preferred that era of the Republican party, and even the most “burn it down” sort of conservatives have to admit that any Supreme Court appointee  with any credible credentials that Trump might choose got his or her shot because of that hated pre-Trump Republican establishment. As for all those complaints from the left, we’d offer the same rebuttals on behalf of Trump’s nominee as we would for any old nominee any old Republican president might have picked.
Harvard’s notoriously contrarian Law Professor Alan Dershowitz hA lately a Trump apologist about the “Russia thing” but is now alarmed that the Supreme Court will find a constitutional right to life at the moment of conception and thus ban all abortions, as that is indeed the logical conclusion of right-to-life absolutism, and although much of the left is sounding the same alarms we think it’s overwrought. The far more likely outcome is that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, and thus return America to the day before’s law that each of the 50 states could regulate abortion as they chose, and although that that promises and insufferable debate and poses a damned complicated moral issue it’s a clear-cut political victory for the left.
The occasional same-sex marriage will likely continue to happen even with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, and with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court ourt it will be more likely that the occasional bakers and photographers and others will decline to participate, but in both cases we can live with that. We somehow have a rather fancy handgun hidden somewhere in our home, and our plain reading of the Second Amemdment’s not-all-clear language assures us we have every right to do so, but our liberal friends can be reassured we have no intention to shoot them. As far as our ink-stained First Amendment sensibilities are concerned the Citizens United case was about the government’ attempts at prior restraint of a documentary critical of that awful Hillary Clinton woman, and even if there was corporate money involved we thought it a sound decision. That Gore v. Bush decision seemed sound to us at the time and still does, no matter how the current Republican party might hate anything with the word “Bush” in it, but by now even our most bitter liberal friends are largely over it and even pining for the good of days of Bush.
Long before Trump signed on with the Republican party we’d assured our liberal friends that a strict adherence to the Constitution doesn’t threaten liberal values, as the Constitution is still, even by modern standards, a radically liberal document. We like to to point the example of Justice Hugo Black, the ex-Ku Klux Klan leader that iconic Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt appointed in order to appease the white southern racists who were then a key component of the Democratic coalition, and who went on to be a hero of the Supreme Court’s civil rights revolution because yeah, that 14th amendment’s plain language made clear that even separate-but-equal discrimination wasn’t constitutionally permissible, even if the unrepentant racist still thought that it was a damned fool idea.
Even so, we don’t trust anybody these days. We note that Kavanaugh was first appointed by a Bush, and was long opposed by the left, and is now likely elevated to the Supreme Court by the newly reconfigured Trump Republican party, and we have to admit that until the last few days we’d never heard of Brett Kavanaugh. On the whole, though, we’ll pays our money and takes our chances on the guy.
Maybe it’s the impressive Ivy League academic records or the prestigious Bush-era appointments or the impeccable streak of rulings based on the the facts and the law, but Kavanaugh strikes us as the kind of guy who’d be reluctant to overturn that long-ago United States v. Nixon decision that compelled a president to cooperate with a investigation into his various alleged wrongdoings. During his acceptance speech on live television Kavanaugh had some embarrassingly fulsome praise for Trump’a deep and abiding respect for the judiciary — even prior highly-praised-by-the-right appointment Justice Neil Gorsuch admitted he was embarrassed by Trump’s frequent “tweeted” attacks on the judiciary — but once he no longer has to go along to get along we hold out hope a Justice Kavanaugh will confront Trump’s inevitable upcoming legal battles strictly according to the facts and a plain reading of the Constitution.

— Bud Norman

In the Mean Times of Trump

Way back when we registered to vote as members of the Republican party on our 18th birthday it was the “party of Lincoln,” the Great Emancipator who preserved the Union by brutal means but then vowed to heal its wounds with “Malice toward none and charity toward all.” At this late date in our lives the Grand Old Party is the party of President Donald Trump, and we can’t help noticing the malicious and uncharitable turn it has lately taken.
Not just in the insult comic rhetoric Trump employs at his never-ending campaign rallies, or the mean-spirited and blatantly self-interested way he chooses to to enact even his most defensible policies, but also in our conversations with dear old Republican friends we used to consistently agree with. We used to agree on strict border enforcement policies, for instance, but these days we seem to disagree about whether the border laws can be strictly enforced without traumatizing thousands of children and perhaps losing track of hundreds of them, and whether that that pesky Constitution and its noisome judges and all those treaty obligations America has pledged its scared honor to in past administrations should have anything to do with it.
We’ve lately had a couple of conversations with conservative friends we have long known as good guys always willing to do a favor for a friend in need, and were surprised to hear them defending the family-separation policy even Trump had already disavowed and blamed on those darned Democrats. Neither had been informed by their favored news sources that the Trump administration is failing to meet a court order to reunite those those thousands of children with their parents, and and seemed to admit in sworn court proceedings that they weren’t entirely sure where all of those children were, and both of our friends were uncharacteristically callous to the fates of the children involved.
Both insisted all those Dickensian orphaned-by-Trump urchins of those sob sister stories in the mainstream media were better off than they ever were in the countries their parents had fled, and although the Trump administration isn’t letting anyone into the facilities where the children are known to be held they’re willing to take Trump’s word for it. They’re also both quite sure that almost all those people who made the perilous journey with their children to America to flee their undeniably dysfunctional home countries and apply for asylum according to America’s laws and longstanding sacred honor international treaty obligations did so to leech off America’s welfare system and join the notorious MS-13 gang. Neither was aware that Trump had “tweeted” a complaint about a formerly conservative Republican senator’s proposal to double the number of federal immigration judges in order to deal with a sudden backlog, and further groused that the existing law and the judges who enforced it and America’s longstanding sacred honor treaty obligations all had to go, and neither was much unsettled by our accepted assurances that it was from Trump’s own “twitter” feed and not “fake news” from their less-favored news sources.
Such is the state of “constitutional conservatism” in Trump’s Republican party.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric from the top of party is meaner yet. Last Thursday Trump regaled yet another large campaign rally crowd in Montana, ostensibly on behalf of a Republican Senate candidate he briefly mentioned, and he ratcheted up his insult comic shtick yet another notch. He got another big laugh be reporting his longstanding gag of calling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is “Pocahontas,” based on her past dubious claims of having Native American heritage, and sneaked in a jibe about how he’d have to confront her ever so gently because “we’re in the ‘#MeToo’ generation,” which protests the frequency of sexual harassment and sexual in America. We’re no fans of Warren, but by the gag seems very stale, and although we believe every male or female citizen deserves a fair hearing in the courts of public law and public opinion, we can’t help noticing how eager even our longtime and gentlemanly Republican friends suddenly seem to dismiss even the most plausible complaints about about fellow Republicans grabbing women by their wherever.
More bothersome yet, Trump also aimed his insults at past Republican nominees we proudly voted for. Trump didn’t dare mention the name of Arizona Sen. John McCain, but the draft-dodging reality show star with a lifelong career of self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement got about 6,000 Republicans in lustily boo a dying war hero and past Republican presidential nominee who had devoted his life to often painful public service. The booing was about McCain’s decisive vote to not repeal and replace the hated Obamacare law, but the bill wouldn’t have entirely repealed Obamacare and certainly didn’t replace with the everybody-covered-at-a-fraction-of-the-cost replacement that Trump promised during his pie-in-the-sky campaign, and no matter what you think about McCain’s vote the boos rang unmistakably mean to our ears.
Past Republican president and bona fide war hero and lifelong public servant George H.W. Bush is also dying, and without mentioning the name Trump also ridiculed Bush’s “thousand points of light speech.” The phrase was from a famous speech penned by Reagan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan about the thousands of individual and collective efforts of America citizens to provide charity to the country’s poor, and Trump scoffed that he never understood what it was talking about, and not nearly so clear in meaning as “Make America Great Again” and “America First.” This struck us as the fourth-grade vocabulary understanding of political rhetoric of Trump and his die-hard fans, and malicious and uncharitable and downright mean.
Trump didn’t bring it up during the Montana rally, but he’s also feuded with previous Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and previous Republican President George W. Bush, and he’s even dared criticize President Ronald Reagan’s North American Free Trade Agreement and embrace of amnesty for illegal aliens and failure to pick Trump as the guy to negotiate the end of the Cold War, and he’s clearly contemptuous of pretty much the entire pre-Trump Republican party.
Trump has given President Richard Nixon a pass, but he’s currently seeking to undo the world trading order and western military alliances that President Dwight Eisenhower nurtured. Trump seems committed to the same sort of Smoot-Hawley protectionism that President Herbert Hoover used to create the Great Depressions, although we doubt he’s aware of any Republican party history prior to his birth, or perhaps his hostile takeover.
Trump always refers to his party’s first nominee as the “late, great Abraham Lincoln” — always adding that “late” part in case you haven’t heard the bad news about Honest Abe — but he doesn’t seem much of a fan. He infamously told a friendly interviewer that Democratic party founder unrepentant slave-holder and unabashed racist President Andrew Jackson could have averted at all that Civil War unpleasantness that happened under Lincoln’s watch. We don’t doubt that draft-dodging Trump would have pursued the civil war with the same brutality of Lincoln, and not lost a moment’s night sleep over it, but we can’t imagine him proposing to restore the Union with malice toward and none and charity toward all. Even our most kind-hearted Republican friends don’t seem to have much interest in that these days.
Which is a shame, because we and our Republican friends can continue to agree that the Democrats are as bad as ever and getting even crazier left by the moment. A Republican resistance is more needed than ever, but one that spoke of malice toward none and charity toward all and a thousand points would be preferable to one that seems to revel in its meanness. Our conservative friends cite the meanness on the left, our liberal friends say they’re only responding in kind, and we miss the Democratic party of such centrists as Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Sen. Scoop Jackson and the Republican party that existed so long before Trump.

— Bud Norman