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Baby It’s Very, Very Cold Outside

The big story of the day is obviously the record-setting cold in the upper midwest and northeast, with six states suffering lower temperatures on Wednesday than the South Pole, but theres’s not much to be said about it and nothing to be done.
As always the skeptics of “global warming” will gloat how about how cold it is, as President Donald Trump has already done, but even such a cold snap as this one doesn’t disprove the man-caused climate change theory any more than the heat waves that will inevitably come next summer will prove anything. The temperatures hit a toasty 116 degrees in Australia while North Dakota was at minus-49 degrees, and although it’s still darned cold the South Pole is also warmer than usual. Such extremes are worrisome, to be sure, but don’t necessarily mean that we need to ban big cars.
Temporary power outages and strained natural gas pipelines in Minneapolis and a few other frozen cities should spur some conversation and perhaps even action on the country’s aging infrastructure, but if that happens it will probably be inn the states rather than at the gridlocked federal level. On Tuesday the heads of America’s intelligence agencies were warning Congress that the Chinese and Russians could pick a moment such as this shutdown major portions of the national power grid but on Wednesday Trump was “tweeting” that they “need to back to school.” The current death toll from the cold is seven, which strikes us as miraculously low given the number of homeless in America, but that persistent issue will also go unaddressed.
We can say that we wish our best to our neighbors to the north, even though they’re crazy to be there and better them than us.</div?

— Bud Norman

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Worldwide Threats and Other Worries

For those of us clear-eyed realists who are gloom and doom worrywarts, the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” by America’s collective intelligence agencies is always a must-read. This year’s edition is especially worrisome, especially when you notice how starkly different it is from President Donald Trump’s foreign policy priorities.
The 42-page document continues to stress the danger of the Islamic State, although Trump has declared complete victory over the terror gang and announced a withdrawal of all troops from the fight against it in Syria. Trump has proudly “tweeted” that he eliminated any threat from North Korea, but the intelligence agencies agree that the nutcase dictatorship is continuing to pursue a nuclear arsenal. The intelligence agencies also concluded that Iran is keeping to a deal to cease its nuclear weapons development, although the country continues to support all sorts of non-nuclear terrorism, while Trump continues to withdraw America from the deal and hasn’t yet negotiated a better one. Trump has yet to address the problem of Russian’s cyber-meddling in American democracy, and continues to countenance Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s instance he’d never do that, but the intelligence agencies are still alarmed.
The “Worldwide Threat Assessment” also concludes that the past two years of American trade policy and diplomacy have weakened ties with longstanding allies and prompted traditional friends to seek new relationships, and makes only brief mention of the southern border where Trump wants to build a big beautiful wall. As frightening as the 42 pages are, it’s more worrisome yet that Trump seems to disregard them.
Trump and his die-hard fans can assure themselves that these are the same intelligence agencies that have blundered America into endless wars useless alliances, and that they’re a bunch of fancy-pants Ivy League elitists who think they know everything, and that the “Worldwide Threat Assessment” is another example of the nefarious “deep state” conspiring to thwart Trump at every turn. We’ve been assured by Trump that he knows more about the Islamic State than the generals, and more about America’s military alliances than the four-star general who was forced to resign as Secretary of Defense, and that Putin sure seemed sincere when he said that the Russians weren’t meddling in our democracy, and that “my gut sometimes tells me more than anybody else’s brain can tell me.
Go ahead and call us gloom and doom worrywarts, but we are not reassured. Trump’s own appointees have signed off on the “World Threat Assessment” and testified to Congress about it, and they seem far more knowledgeable about world affairs than Trump’s unaccountably educated gut, and we think they’re more interested in a clear-eyed assessment of reality than advancing Trump’s populist political rhetoric. Even Trump’s own appointees agree with the carefully considered bipartisan consensus of expert opinion that has guided American foreign policy since the end of World War II, and although the results have admittedly been imperfect America and the rest of world have generally become more prosperous and free, and there hasn’t yet been a World War III, so we trust the brains of those fancy pants know-it-alls more than we do Trump’s gut.
There’s a lot to worry about in the world these days, but we feel slightly better knowing that at least some of Trump’s appointees and few brave congressional Republicans are worrying about it.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Line of Koch

According to a largely overlooked report in The Washington Post, the “Koch network” is “turning away from partisan politics,” which strikes us as an intriguing development. The story has significant implications for President Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican party, and will surely be of hopeful interest to the Democratic party and the rest of the left, and it has a special local interest for us.
The multi-billionaire and big-bucks political donor to conservative causes Charles Koch has long been a leading villain of the conspiracy theories spun on the left, much as multi-billionaire and big bucks donor to liberal causes George Soros is the bogeyman of all the right’s conspiracy theories, which we’ve always found amusing.
It’s hard for us to believe that the headquarters of the diabolically ingenious organization secretly controlling everything is Koch Industries, which is located right next door to where we attended elementary school on the outskirts boring old Wichita, Kansas, and the company has always been a good neighbor. The local zoo’s award-winning ape exhibit was paid for by the Koch family, you can’t go to the city’s surprisingly excellent art museum or symphony orchestra or musical theater troupe without seeing Koch’s generosity prominently thanked in the program, the Friends University dance department that provides some of the the best of the city’s ballet offerings was started by the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation of his parents, and if you’re lucky to attend a Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball game they play in the very swank Charles Koch Arena, and the family has funded some charities for the poor as well. Wichita’s still a small enough enough town that we’ve had a couple of personal encounters with the internationally notorious Charles Koch, who lives not far from our parents’ swank retirement home over on the east side, and we’ve found him an affable fellow.
Koch has also spent a considerable chunk of his vast fortune funding anti-tax and pro-free market causes here and around the country and the world, which is why the left hates him so, but for the most part that’s been fine with us. The “tea party” movement that briefly fought for fiscal sanity was a genuine grassroots movements, but there’s no denying it was fertilized a bit by Koch’s money, and although the left recoiled in horror we wish it were still around. We’ve voted for most of the politicians that Koch has funded around here, and rooted for most the of ones he funded in other states and districts, and generally agree with his red-in-tooth-and-claw sort of capitalism. He’s carefully stayed out of the abortion politics and other social issues that are so contentious around here, and we think he’s been wise to do so.
There have been the occasional differences of opinion. Koch was a big backer of Gov.. Sam Brownback’s admittedly radical tax-and-budget-slashing agenda, which we eagerly voted for, but he continued to back it even after we had to begrudgingly admit it hadn’t worked out quite as promised. We’re also the sort of traditional Pax Americana Republicans who can’t agree with Koch’s characteristically Libertarian isolationist foreign policy, although we have to admit that’s one reason the conspiracy theories sound crazy. The one thing that Koch and Soros have agreed on over the years was their opposition to the Iraq War, and we note that despite their combined billions and alleged world-shaking influence they couldn’t stop that from happening.
Which makes it interesting to read in The Washington Post that Koch and his network of well-heeled and like-minded big bucks donors have “emphasized new investments in anti-poverty initiatives and reentry programs for former convicts.” At their annual meeting in a luxury resort the group “also announced a new education initiative.” Unstated but more important, they once again won’t be giving any money to the Trump campaign, much less the big bucks that Republican nominees used to get. Trump’s populist base will no doubt boast that it goes to show he can’t be bought, even by the most ideologically pure capitalist billionaires, but they’ll likely need both the money and the free market sort of voters it brings in.
Koch and his well-heeled buddies presumably like the tax bill Trump signed and the deregulations he’s ordered by executive action, as do we, for the most part, although they probably share our preference they’d been more carefully done. Trump’s military retreats from former spheres of American probably don’t bother them, either, although we think they should. On several other matters, though, Trump is estranged from both Koch’s libertarianism and our old-fashioned conservatism, which leaves the Republican party is in poor shape.
Trump’s trade wars are an affront to Koch’s free-market sensibilities, and although we’re not taking the same financial hit as our multi-national neighbor we share hit outrage. Koch is far more cool with mass immigrants than Trump seems to be, too, and although we don’t enjoy the same benefits of cheap labor neither do we support Trump’s panicked call for big and beautiful border wall. Over the two years Trump worked with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress the country racked up trillion dollar deficits, despite a booming economy that Trump frequently bragged about, and now that the Democrats have a majority in the House and growth is slowing that doesn’t look to get better, and we can hardly blame Koch and his well-heeled buddies for not wanting to fund more of that.
On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard defenders can rightly note that only likely alternative is the damned Democrats and George Soros and all the socialist conspiracies he’s funding, and we guess that Koch and most of his well-heeled buddies will agree with us that’s also pretty damned frightening. Even so, we’re pleased to see that our far richer and more influential neighbor has joined us here on the political sidelines, and we’ll be grateful if Koch can do for poor people and convicted felons as well as they’ve done for our local arts and sporting and economic  communities, and we’ll try out best to chip in..

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Lost Weekend

The past weekend probably wasn’t much fun for President Donald Trump or his most die-hard defenders. On Friday Trump signed a series of continuing resolutions to temporarily end the partial government shutdown, and none of them contained any money for the big beautiful border wall that he had insisted on when he was “proud to shut down the government for border security.” The same day saw the pre-dawn arrest of former advisor and longtime friend Roger Stone, the latest in a series of indictments brought by the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.”
Both stories struck most observers as bad for Trump, but he and several of his die-hard defenders did their best over the weekend to explain how Trump keeps winning.
Trump “tweeted” to the fans that although he conceded to the Democrats his one demand for border wall funding “This was in no way a concession,” and that if he doesn’t get his way when the deal ends in three weeks “it’s off to the races!” This was a hard sell even for such reliable media allies as The New York Post, where the front-page headline called Trump a “Cave Man,” and the Trump-loving conspiracy theory website thegatewaypundit ran the headline “Trump Caves.” Even Ann Coulter, the author of “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” declared that President George H.W. Bush was “no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as president.” We can’t imagine why Coulter chose to impugn the manliness of the last president Bush, who was a star athlete and bona fide war hero and the man who negotiated the west’s victory in the Cold War and drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but it goes to show how very disappointed some fans were on Friday.
Some Trump fans are made of sterner stuff, however. The always hilarious defenestrated administration official Sebastian Gorka is still loyal enough he insisted on Lou Dobbs’ Fox News show that Trump had pulled off a “master stroke,” even though the usually reliable host was saying that Trump had been “whipped by Pelosi.” The indefatigable Trump apologist Sean Hannity was telling his radio and television audiences that the president was sure to prevail within three weeks, as “he holds all the cards,” even though Hannity’s usually sycophantic radio show callers were disagreeing. As much as we admire quixotic effort, it’s a hard case to make. Trump was taking a beating in the opinion polls for his stubborn insistence on a border wall that has never polled well, the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is clearly emboldened, and it’s hard to see what changes in the next three weeks.
Trump didn’t even get his previously scheduled State of the Union address in the House chamber, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to change many minds if does the prime time gig. Seven Republican Senators had abandoned ship by the end of the partial government shutdown, which set new records for duration and bad press, and with several of them up for reelection next year in states that Trump didn’t win they’ll have little incentive to return to the fold of the true believers. The remaining faithful are confident that Trump will get his big beautiful border wall built by declaring a national emergency and unilaterally diverting funds that Congress had appropriated for other and more popular programs, but we expect that both the federal courts and the court of public opinion will have something to say about such a presidential power grab as that, and it will be a hard case for those self-proclaimed “constitutional conservatives” in the Trump-friendly media to make.
Beleaguered White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made a rare appearance on television to insist that the arrest of Stone had nothing to do with Trump, and most of the Trump-friendly media were indignant that such a fine fellow had been subjected to a pre-dawn arrest by combat-armed federal agents. It’s true that none of the seven counts in the indictment of Stone mention Trump, and that arrest did look pretty scary, but that apologists have another hard case to make.
Stone has had a decades-long relationship with Trump that included an advisor role in the earliest days of Trump’s presidential campaign, and he was still in regular contact with Trump while he was allegedly committing crimes on his behalf and allegedly lying to congress to jibe with Trump’s latest explanations, and we think it likely that the next round of indictments will mention Trump. He’s not at all a fine fellow, either, and in fact has long prided himself on his well-earned reputation as one of the biggest sleazes in politics since his days as a self-described “rat-****er”for President Richard Nixon, whose visage is literally tattooed on Stone’s back, and one can hardly blame the feds for fearing Stone might destroy evidence if tipped off in advance about his arrest.
Today starts another work week, though, with all those furloughed government workers back on the job, and there’s no telling what hay Trump and his die-hard defenders might make of it. Perhaps in three weeks time the Democrats will be doing the capitulating, and the “Russia thing” will be proved a WITCH HUNT!, and Trump will be rolling toward a landslide reelection and eventual inclusion on Mount Rushmore, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Far South of the Border

The weather around here has been awful lately, but we’ve taken some comfort in reading about how much worse it’s been to the north and east. Similarly, no matter how bad America’s politics get we can still be glad that we’re not living in Venezuela.
Not so long ago in our lifetimes the oil-rich nation of Venezuela was prosperous and peaceful by Latin American standards, but the socialist regimes of President Hugo Chavez and then President Nicolas Maduro have wrought an unmitigated economic disaster. Unemployment is sky-high, such basic necessities as toilet paper are desperately hard to find, and the inflation rate is a staggering one million percent. Mass protests are filling the streets of the capital and other cities, the guy who lost the last presidential election under highly suspect circumstances is plausibly claiming to be the legitimate head of state, and it makes America’s protracted and seemingly intractable partial government shutdown look like no big deal.
President Donald Trump’s administration has pleasantly surprised us by siding with opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency, which is backed by those hundreds of thousands of protestors packing the streets, as well as the governments of several of the country’s South American neighbors. It’s surprising in part because Russia and the Venezuelan military and the more autocratic government of America are still backing Maduro, as well as the fact that Trump typically admires his strong man style of governance, and that Trump doesn’t usually much care what goes on south of America’s border so long as it stays there. We’ll attribute it to a traditional Republican revulsion for Latin American socialism and the clout of the very traditional Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but give Trump some credit nonetheless.
Which is not to say that it will prove helpful to Venezuela, and it’s possible it could make things worse. There’s an understandable if not entirely unjustified resentment of Yankee imperialism throughout Latin America, which Latin American dictators have long used to rally public opinion against even the best-intended and well-considered efforts to intervene in their affairs, and Maduro should and Maduro should be able make even more hay of it when the Yankee imperialist is the hated-throughout-Latin-America Trump. Maduro retains the the support of the military, which we doubt Trump wants to tangle with, as well as Russia and Cuba and Bolivia and other countries Trump is eager to make deals with, while China and Mexico and other important trading partners are staying on the sidelines, and Trump is known for making his own sudden expedient policy shifts to the sidelines.
Even so, for now Trump finds himself on the side of Canada and most members of the Organization of American States and those hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets, and we’re hopeful he’ll stay there. Chavez and to a lesser extent Maduro were once the darlings of America’s radical left, and the American right’s favorite cautionary tale about the consequences of socialism, and for now the right is clearly winning that argument. Although Maduro is a classic populist strongman autocrat and that Guaido fellow is a thin and youthful and handsome and glib fellow who reminds of a Venezuelan version of America’s Democratic center-left darling Beto O’Rourke, Trump is probably politically astute enough to know his stand will play well with all sorts of freedom-loving Americans.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world also seems worse off than we are here in frigid Kansas. Crazy Venezuelan-style left wing populism has much of Central America heading to the United States border, and crazy Trump-style populism is currently making things worse in Brazil and Poland and Hungary and Italy and the Philippines. The sensibly centrist governments of France and the United Kingdom are currently in crisis, too, with the streets of Paris once again burning and the Parliament in London trying to find its way out of a slumping European Union.
Better by far to be here in frigid Kansas than in China or Russia, or anywhere in Africa and the Arab world, or even the most up-to-date and well-heated cities of Asia and Europe. We’re still eagerly awaiting spring and the reopening of the federal government, and in the meantime we’ll warm ourselves with the knowledge of how much worse most of the rest of world’s unlucky folks have it.

— Bud Norman

The Son-in-Law Rises Again

The partial government shutdown is now in its 33rd day, and hundreds of thousands of government workers are going a third week without pay, with many of them calling in sick as a result, but the good news is that presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is bravely taking charge of the situation.
In case you’re unaware of the wunderkind’s remarkable resume, the heavily indebted real estate mogul has also been given responsibility for ending America’s opioid crisis and bringing peace to the Middle East and re-inventing the federal government, among other things. Although he doesn’t seem to have quite yet accomplished any of these Herculean tasks, he’s reportedly asserted himself into the shutdown negotiations, which look to be as intractable as any of his many other jobs. There’s much skepticism about his ability to pull any of it off, but the young fellow is apparently as self-confident as ever.
According to The Washington Post’s reporting Kushner is sure that the Democrats in congress will soon capitulate to President Donald Trump’s demand for five billion dollars or so of funding for the big and beautiful border wall that he promised his supporters, and that Trump’s smartest move is to remain obstinate in the demand. Kushner has a more impressive job description than we do, including the difficult task of being Trump’s son-in-law, but we nonetheless wonder where he gets such cockamamie ideas.
All of the public opinion polls show that a plurality of Americans don’t want a border wall, and a clear majority don’t think it justifies a partial government shutdown, and such veteran politicians and wily wheeler-dealers as Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seem to be enjoying the hit Trump has taken in polls. Trump is no longer making more than a token effort to argue that the Mexicans are eventually going to repay whatever money the Democrats might fork over, he’s now willing to let the Democrats call it something other than a big beautiful wall, and until the right wing provocateurs Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham spoke he was willing to capitulate on the whole idea, and for now he seems to have the far worse negotiating position. Several congressional Republicans are already planning to vote for a budget bill or continuing resolution to fully re-open the government that doesn’t include funding for the border wall, including all the congressmen who represent districts along the border.
There’s always a chance Trump’s rhetorical eloquence will persuade a majority of Americans that a big beautiful border wall is the most important issue facing the nation, perhaps when he delivers his State of the Union address in front of some raucous rally crowd in some deep-red state in the coming days, but so far that hasn’t happened. The president’s son-in-law reportedly played a role in getting the criminal justice reform bill passed, but that was a weak-on-crime bill that all the Democrats wanted and the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter and Ingraham didn’t talk about, and it doesn’t suggest he’s much a negotiator. Kushner is famous for rarely speaking in public, so it’s harder to assess his oratorical abilities, but based on what we have heard we don’t give him a better chance of swaying public opinion that his father-in-law. Our guess is he’ll be most useful to the president as an eventual scapegoat.
Meanwhile, Trump’s daughter-in-law is getting involved, and so far that’s not been helpful. Lara Trump, wife of the still-married Eric Trump, told a news outlet that those unpaid federal workers should “stay strong” and insist on a border wall before they get paid. The billionaire heiress said acknowledge that going weeks without a paycheck “is a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of country, and their children and grandchildren and generations after will thank them for their sacrifice right now.” She’s more well spoken that her father-in-law and brother-in law, but we expect that even more unpaid government workers will be calling in sick today.

— Bud Norman

The Covington Kids, the Native American Drummer, and the “Hebrew Israelites”

Until recently we’d never heard of Covington Catholic High School, nor the town of Park Hills, Kentucky, but at the moment they are both unavoidably famous.
One of those “viral videos” that frequently infect the internet showed some Covington students wearing “Make America Great Again” ball caps in a tense encounter with a Native American drummer on Saturday at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the aftermath of an anti-abortion rally, which by Sunday led to all sorts of outraged coverage from left-leaning media about arrogant white youth menacing a an aged minority group member in the age of the President Trump. On Monday another longer video of the same incident from a literally different perspective was released which showed the Covington students had been harassed by some nearby members of a black religious cult known for its hatred of white people, which led to all the right-leaning media grousing about the “fake news” vilifying Trump-supporting white folk. On Tuesday both sides and the Native American drummer in the literal middle of it were all still arguing about what happened.
On the one hand it was no big deal, as no one was injured and such racially and politically charged unpleasantness goes on everyday outside of cell phone camera range, but on the inevitable other hand we can’t blame either side for trying to make a big deal of it.
The original video showed a young MAGA-cap-wearing fellow staring at the Native American drummer with what can reasonably be described as a sneering smirk, and some of his classmates are doing the “tomahawk chop” gesture and shouting something or other that didn’t sound at all friendly, and given that it came at the end of anti-abortion rally it did seem a nicely succinct summation of the liberal narrative about the age of Trump. The Native American drummer they were clearly mocking is elderly and a respected tribal leader and decorated war veteran, too, and the short video looked undeniably bad from its certain perspective.
The libertarian-leaning Reason magazine then came up that longer video from a different perspective, however, and it clearly showed that while awaiting a school bus to bring them home the students had peacefully endured the profane and racially charged insults of a nearby group of “Hebrew Israelites,” a weird cult that preaches black people are the true Jews of the Old Testament and everyone else is damned to hell, and that the Native American drummer, who happened to be there because he’d been involved in an indigenous people’s rally had placed himself between the two groups in an apparent attempt to calm the situation. He chose to direct his drumming at the white students, who might or might have understood his intentions, and although they were arguably disrespectful they were non-violent and didn’t do anything that can be construed as threatening. The “Hebrew Israelites” had been taunting the white students with anti-homosexual slurs, too, and are well-known for their anti-Jewish sentiments and general hatefulness, and it was so hard for the left-leaning meaning media to explain that many were in retreat on Tuesday.
The right-leaning media went on the offensive, plausibly arguing it was an example of the “fake news” rushing to judgment about Trump supporters. Trump himself weighed in via “Twitter,” and is reportedly planning a meeting with his disparaged fans. We can hardly blame them for making the best of the opportunity.
Some of the the left-leaning media are admitting the situation was more complicated than they’d supposed, but still think that a smirking bunch of MAGA cap-wearing and “tomahawk-chopping” white boys at a rally against reproductive rights deserve whatever opprobrium they get, so the debate will probably last through today. No one’s likely to get the best of it, however, and we expect the incident will be long forgotten by all but those were personally involved.
All sides are looking for heroes, but they’re not likely to find any that will last past the next news cycle. Those obnoxious “Hebrew Israelites” are clearly villains from any side’s perspective, but they’re such an ineffectual fringe cult that the right can’t make them much of a bogeyman and the left needn’t muster any defense for them. That Native American drummer might have had the best intentions in inserting himself into the confrontation, and despite his war heroes we can hardly blame him at his advanced age for addressing his drumming to to the skinny white Catholic school kids rather than the burly black power street activists who’d been taunting them, and he strikes us as neither heroic nor villainous. The Covington kids were clearly nonviolent and blameless of any misdemeanor, and it’s worth noting they are after high school-aged boys, so worse could have been excepted, but that one did have what can reasonably be interpreted as a self-entitled smirk and one of his classmates was pulling his shirt off in the cold in a provocative way and they were doing that “tomahawk chop” thing that Native Americans reasonably find offensive, and even as dumb high school kids they could have acted better.
Looking at it from all the cell phone camera-recorded perspectives, it strikes us as just another example of the unpleasantness that all too frequently occurs in our politically polarized society, which we frequently witness even here in Wichita but never bother to record on our old-fashioned flip phone. We blame human nature and Trump and his equally crazed enemies, and the more impulsive right-leaning and left-leaning media, and the occasional Native American drummer who ill-advisedly walks into the middle of it, and all of us on the sidelines who wonder what to do about it and the worse that’s sure to come.

— Bud Norman

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On the Idea of a Woman as President

On Monday we ran into a young woman friend of ours who’s a staunch Democrat, and were slightly surprised to learn that she’s not running for president. We joked that pretty much every other woman who’s a staunch Democrat is in the race, as California Sen. Kamala Harris had just announced she’s joining Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Senator Kristin Gillibrand and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in the already-crowded field, but our friend didn’t think it was a joking matter.
Although our young friend is very much an I-am-woman-hear-me-roar sort of feminist, she looked around to make sure anyone else wasn’t listening and then confessed that she wasn’t comfortable with the idea of the Democrats running another woman for president. She needlessly assured us she’d dearly love to see a woman become president some day, but explained that at the moment her most pressing concern was defeating President Donald Trump in the next election, and confessed she was worried that at the present moment in the sexist United States of America any woman nominee couldn’t accomplish that.
At the risk of being accused of “mansplaining” or some other “micro aggression” against feminist sensibilities, we comforted our young that she was being an hysterical flibbertigibbet.
There are indeed plenty of sexist pigs remaining in America, and we can’t deny that the current president is one of them, but we argued that’s no reason for young feminist friend to despair. As  awful a woman as she was Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million or so and only lost the electoral vote by some 80,000 votes spread out over four key crucial states, and given that Trump’s approval ratings are even worse than when he was elected any less awful woman Clinton — a very low bar –stands as good a chance as any man of beating him after the past two years and what’s sure to come in the next two. We also noted the Kansas is by no means America’s most politically correct state, which is one of the things we love about it, yet it recently elected its third Democratic governor and rejected the Trump-endorsed white male Republican. The recently installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives feature a record number of women, including a Native American lesbian kick boxer from right here in Kansas,  several of whom have all the media listening them to roar, and a tattooed folk-singing single mother is now our district’s Sedgwick County Commissioner, and we figure that in modern day America a woman stands as good a chance as anyone in any American election.
None of the Democratic women who have thrown their hats into the ring are to our liking, but then again neither are are any of the Democratic who figure to be in the race, and for old-fashioned Republican and conservative reasons of our own we’re eager to see a president other than that Trump fellow. Our advice to our young feminist friend was to choose whatever candidate or either sex who could win a majority of still mostly centrist America. We’re old enough to remember the election of ’72, when the crooked and unpopular Republican President Richard won a 49-state landslide because the Democrats when too far to the left, and although our young friend hadn’t been born at the time she seems to have learned the lesson, as much as she wants an eventual socialist paradise.
That Harris woman from California is way too far left for our tastes, but she’s a former tough-on-crime prosecutor and seems calmly deliberative and restrained in all her many television interviews, but that probably means she’ll seem too centrist to a lot of today’s radical Democrats, but we still think she’s a contender. That Gillibrand woman from New York was an appealing centrist when she was a congresswoman from a suburban swing district but when far left when she ran for statewide office, and will probably spend the primary race explaining away her previous and more sensible positions. Warren is running on the same platform as self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who might be campaigning on an octogenarian’s walker, and although she’s now impeccably politically correct that Gabbard woman from Hawaii has some explaining to do about past “tweets” regarding homosexuals.
We’d give all of them a fighting chance against Trump, but we told our young friend that we figure there’s better than a 50-50 chance he won’t be the nominee in 2020, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the first woman President of the United States turns out to be a Republican. Former two-term governor of South Carolina and recent United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley is young and ready, her governorships featured old-fashioned Republican fiscal rectitude and the permanent lowering of the Confederate flag from state buildings, her service in the Trump administration was marked by a more traditional foreign policy from her boss and a quiet resignation letter, and the Republicans could shake their reputation as the party of old white men by nominating a central young dark-skinned woman, and even our feminist Democratic young woman friend said she’d go along with that.
Sooner or later some white or dark-skinned woman is going to become president of the United States, and that’s fine by us, so long as she’s a good one.

— Bud Norman

The Beat Goes On in the Heartland

Wichita is a surprising city, and even after more than half a century here we have recently been surprised to discover that the local music scene is better than ever and suddenly as good as you’ll find in far bigger cities.
Kirby’s Beer Store held its annual “Meat Fest” on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and you should have been there. The notorious little ghetto dive bar has been holding the event in the dead of winter for the past couple of decades are so, and it always features plenty of free meat grilled on the patio, a non-stop lineup of local bands, and a massive crowd of young and old hipsters, but this year’s edition was the best we can recall. The hot dogs and sausages and burgers and pulled barbecue barbecue were delicious, and the music even more so. We didn’t get to hang around long enough to hear all of the 38 — count ’em, 38 — local acts, but we heard enough to confirm that Wichita at the moment is one of America’s most musical cities.
Aside from the quality and quantity of the output, we were also struck by its diversity. On Thursday we heard an intriguing jazz-rock-hip-hop quarter called the Lewelheads, the next night was a hard-rocking but straight-up country-and-western outfit called Sunshine Trucking, and Saturday’s highlight was a rough-edged punk band with a slightly country woman singing called Herd of the Huntress. Sunday brought an assortment of small group and solo acts, including a sleepy-eyed six-foot-six or so fellow of approximately 280 pounds who bills himself Tired Giant and had some heartbreaking songs about his alcoholic dad, a dreadlocked young white woman named Juliet Celedor, and a hard-to-define trio of bass and cello and guitar called Sombre Sangre. Local hard rock legends Black Flag also performed, as did the popular blues chanteuse Jenny Wood and the venerable jazz guitarist Sterling Gray, and the always excellent guitarist and singer Tom Page did a set, and we’re told we missed a whole lot of other good stuff.
Somehow some of the city’s best missed the lineup, too. The top-notch folk-country-jazz-blues Haymakers couldn’t be there, Folk rocker and standards singer Nikki Moddelmog and her crack brand were unavailable, and although the lovely rock chanteuse Lalanea Chastain was in the audience she never took the stage, and there’s a very hot young trumpet-playing jazzbo named Nathan williams who didn’t appear with either of his two very good outfits. Not to mention all the great show tune singers and gospel shouters in town who didn’t get an invitation.
Not bad for a mid-sized city in the middle of the country, but Wichita does have its advantages. Folks have been playing music all along around here, and the city has produced such notable performers as rockabilly legend Marvin Rainwater and hippie heroes The Serfs and the all-time great punk band The Embarrassment, as well the punk-bluegrass Split Lip Rayfield with its small but fervent internal cult following, and a surprising number of globally acclaimed opera singers. Here in the middle of the country Wichita was a regular stop for all the great jazz bands of Kansas City’s heyday, as well as northern stop for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and all the great western swing outfits, the southern bluesman also played here on a regular basis, and Wichita always welcomed all the hard-rocking bands from the industrial midwest during the ’60s and ’70s. The music departments at Wichita State University and Friends University supply the city with well-trained classical and jazz players, too, and the city’s churches provide plenty more thoroughly educated musicians, not to mention all the autodidacts that Wichita seems to spawn.
Wichita’s big enough to have talented people from each of America’s many rich musical traditions, but it’s small enough that they all wind up meeting one another and playing together and creating some intriguing combinations of styles you won’t find elsewhere. The city is racially diverse, as well, and lately several of its best bands feature talented white and black and Latino and Native American and Asian players, and the teenagers and the twenty-somethings and even the players we fondly remember from our long-ago youth on the Wichita music scene also get together.There’s a variety of venues of various sizes that offer them a place to play, and the city government has even started a free bus service along the stretch of Douglas where you’ll find most of them. Lacey Cruse, another talented singer, was recently elected to the Sedgwick County Commission, and music retains a powerful influence in Wichita.
Throughout America’s rich musical history such cities as New Orleans and Chicago and Memphis and Nashville and New York and Los Angeles have always played an outsized role, and at times such locals as Akron, Ohio, and Athens, Georgia, and Minneapolis and Oklahoma City have their eras of prominence, but American music lovers shouldn’t overlook Wichita, especially now.
If you’re out of town and can’t make here for a night at Kirby’s or Barleycorns or the Shamrock or the Artichoke or the Cotillion or that new Wave place over in rocking Old Town, we suggest you venture out in your own hometown to see what’s cooking in the local dives. What’s on the radio and television these days is mostly awful, and the best American music has always popped in the most unusual places, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something better.

— Bud Norman

Kansas Politics Takes a National Stage

Kansas rarely makes the national news, which is fine by us and most other Kansans, as it’s usually something embarrassing, but we were intrigued to see the latest development in our state politics on the front page of The Washington Post. The paper reports that Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to come home and run for a Senate seat that’s recently opened up, which is pretty darned intriguing for a number of reasons.
The Senate seats for Kansas are rarely open, as Kansans pragmatically tend to reelect the Republicans with the seniority and significant committee assignments needed to protect the farmers and airplane builders and natural gas drillers and other key components of the state’s economy, but 2020 will be one of those occasions. At the relatively young of age 82 Sen. Pat Roberts has decided to end a locally legendary political career that started way back in the ’60s — that’s the 1960s, although it sometimes seems to have stretched back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days of the 1860s — and there’s already a crowded field of notable Republicans vying to succeed him.
The rumored candidates include former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration hard-liner who made a failed effort to prove that at least three million illegal voters robbed President Donald Trump of a popular vote victory in the last presidential election, and wound up losing the last Kansas governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly. There’s also former Gov. Jeff Colyer, who took office after wildly unpopular Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to became President Donald Trump’s ambassador for religious freedom, whatever that is, and then lost the Republican gubernatorial nomination by a few hundred votes but probably would have the general election if he’d been nominated. Another frequently mentioned name is Matt Schlapp, who used to be an aide to long-forgotten Fourth District Rep. Todd Tiahrt and has since gained a high profile on Fox News and talk radio as the chairman of the American Conservative Union, and whose wife, Mercedes, is Trump’s director of strategic communications, whatever that is. Such well-regarded state legislators as Rep. Roger Marshall are also reportedly in the running.
Despite such a formidable field, the Republican nomination would be Pompeo’s for the asking, and given that the only time Kansas has ever elected a Democrat to the Senate was for one term back in the Great Depression, the general election would be easy. He’s a first-in-his-class graduate of West Point, a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, a successful entrepreneur in Wichita’s high-tech aerospace industry, and after Tiahrt abandoned his Fourth Congressional seat for an ill-advised and ill-fated Senate run he won four congressional elections by landslide margins. His service as Trump’s director of the Central Intelligence and then Secretary of State have surely endeared him to the Trump-loving sorts of Kansas Republicans, and his occasional differences of opinion with Trump on such important matters as Russia’s meddling in the last presidential election will satisfy the large and growing number of Republicans who are weary of Trump’s generally shoddy character and the endless trade wars that have hard hit the agriculture and aviation sectors and his strange preference for coal over natural gas.
In normal circumstances no savvy politician would rather be a junior Senator from a sparsely populated state rather Secretary of State, but Pompeo is surely savvy enough to know that the Trump administration is not normal circumstances. Pompeo might or might not know what Trump has been saying to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin during the occasional conservations, as Trump keeps it a very closely guarded secret, but in either case Pompeo probably shares our concern it won’t end well. With a presidential resume and presidential ambitions, Pompeo might decide he could make a better run as a centrist junior Senator from Kansas who did his best to warn of Russian meddling and restrain Trump’s worst instincts rather than a hard-line loyalist who went down with the Trump ship.
It’s intriguing, too, that McConnell is urging Pompeo to jump from the Trump ship into the Senate. By all accounts Pompeo is Trump’s most favorite cabinet member, probably because it’s hard for Trump to find lackeys with such excellent credentials, and a third Secretary of State of in four years would be hard for Trump to explain, especially after Trump calling his first choice “dumber than rocks,” so it suggests that McConnell might be hedging his bets on the Trump presidency. The map for the 2020 Senate races is even more unfavorable for the Republicans than 2018 races were for the Democrats, and the way things are going they won’t have any presidential coattails to cling to, and we can’t blame McConnell for being more worried about his status as majority leader than he is about Trump’s presidency. Kansas is a reliably Republican state in federal elections, but last November it elected a Democrat as governor over Trump’s heartily endorsed Republican, and up in the Third District, the sort of well-educated suburban jurisdiction the Republicans been losing ever since Trump took office, they even elected a Native American lesbian kick boxer, so McConnell is probably wise to back to the surest bet.

— Bud Norman