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Dick Dale, “King of the Surf Guitar,” RIP

Dick Dale has reportedly died at the age of 81, and unless you’re a true aficionado of rock ‘n’ roll music you might not realize what a big deal that is. The undisputed “King of the Surf Guitar” only had a few hits and a couple of brief moments of mass popularity during his long career, but between his innate talent and very weird personality he had a far more significant influence on the evolution of American music.
For one thing, Dale was the creator and master of rock ‘n’ roll’s ultra-cool surf genre, which yielded some of the 20th century’s best music. Surf music was also the link between the twangy and bucolic and ultra-cool rockabilly style and the distorted and urban and acid-soaked ultra-cool psychedelic rock that followed shortly afterwards, and Dale’s aggressively percussive and extremely loud guitar playing showed the way. Dale also played an important part in the technological development of the electric guitar and amplifier, which of course played an important part in the musical development of rock ‘n’ roll, and he exemplified the weird sort of rugged individualism that makes rock ‘n’ roll so ultra-cool.
Although he was born as Richard Monsour in frigid Boston in the depths of the Great Depression, Dales family moved to southern California in the booming ’50s, where he became an avid surfer and rockabilly guitar player. All that surfing resulted in a buff surfer’s physique, and he started playing those fleet-fingered rockabilly riffs with a noticeable muscularity, trying to express the exhilaration of riding the waves and shooting the pipes toward a sunny California beach. He played it VERY LOUd, too, courtesy of his friendships with legendary electric guitar luthier Leo Fender, who had previously used western swing legend Eldon Shamblin of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys fame as a guinea pig for his latest musical inventions.
By the late ’50s southern California’s avid surfers were packing the Rendezvous Ballroom in Newport Beach to hear Dale musically recreating their best rides on the waves at deafening volume on the very first Fender Stratocaster. By the early early ’60s pretty much every band in culturally influential southern California was playing surf music, producing such classics as The Chantay’s “Pipeline” and The Surfari’s “Wipeout” and The Markett’s “Surfer Stomp,” not to mention all those Beach Boys records the baby boomer’s still so dearly love, and Dale’s classic “Miserlou” and “Let’s Go Trippin'” and “Swinging’ and Surfin'” were among the genre’s nationwide hits. Dale even got to appear in some of the then-popular “beach movies” with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello and shapely bikini-clad girls and shirtless boys with surfer physiques. Then The Beatles came along and the popularity of surf rock and beach movies waned, but the influence of Dale and the style he’d created lingered.
To our ears The Chantay’s “Pipeline” is the precursor of all that great electric piano playing Ray Manzarek did for The Doors, the preeminent Los Angeles rock band of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The Beach Boy’s experimental “Pet Sounds” album pushed even The Beatles in a new direction. As the “King the Surf Guitar,” Dale had an even more outsized influence. One of the many weird things about Dale was that he was left-handed and thus learned to play the guitar upside down, which was one reason he became a mentor to the equally left-handed and upside down guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who is widely if incorrectly considered the most badass rock ‘n’ roll guitarist of them all, and such formidable players as Stevie Ray Vaughan also acknowledged his influence. Dale was the first guitarist known for literally shredding his extra-gauge guitar strings, and every rock ‘n’ roller who considers himself a “shredder” is an acolyte whether they know it or not.
Dale kept playing and wowing audiences through the lean years, including a memorable concert at Wichita’s Cotillion Ballroom in the ’80s. We were the music critics for the local newspaper at the time, and had the good fortune to interview him, although it wasn’t so much an interview as just letting him talk. He said he’d quit surfing as a result of a foot infection caused by the pollution on California’s beaches, but that he was snowboarding in Colorado instead, and he raved about the latest guitar technology, and had good and bad things to say about the latest music, and overall he struck us as quite a character.
He put on a memorable show at the Cotillion, and we remember walking out in the soaked and limb-strewn parking lot to see that there’d been a severe thunderstorm we’d not noticed because of how VERY LOUD and ultra-cool the performance had been. A while after that Dale had another fifteen minutes of fame when Quentin Tarantino used “Miserlou” to start off his big movie hit “Pulp Fiction,” and after that Dale kept playing VERY LOUD in ballrooms across the country to pay his mounting medical bills. He no longer had the buff surfer’s physique at that point, but by all accounts was still shredding the extra-gauge strings on his state-of-the-art Fender guitar. We’re not likely to hear the likes of Dick Dale again, but we look forward to hearing faint echos from the music of generations yet to come.

— Bud Norman

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Beto and the Way-Too-Early Buzz

Thursday’s news was chock full of significant with stories, as an unexpected dozen Republican senators voted against President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, missiles were lobbed into Israel from the Gaza Strip, the United Kingdom still can’t find a way to make its Brexit from the European Union, Boeing’s 737 remains grounded around the world, and a couple of Hollywood celebrities have been charged with cheating their kids into fancy colleges. Even so, all the big news outlets found front page space and top-of-the-hour time to report that a former congressman and failed senate candidate named Beto O’Rourke has announced that he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The attention paid to this back page and bottom-of-the-hour story seems so inordinate, however, that we’ve decided to ignore all the rest of that stuff and write about and opine about it ourselves.
Let us begin by griping that it’s far too early to be writing anything about the 2020 presidential election. Did anybody at this point in the past many election cycles warn the country about the upcoming presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Barack Obama and Trump? Not sufficiently, at any rate, even at the end of a two-year-long slog, and we don’t expect the big news outlets will do any better at this point this time around.
Nor do we think this O’Rourke fellow is the next big deal that all the big news outlets seem to think he is. He was very popular representing the El Paso part of Texas during a few terms in the House of Representatives, but was little noticed elsewhere. He came close enough to knocking off stalwart conservative and entrenched incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a statewide race in such a reliably stalwart conservative state as Texas to tantalize a national Democratic audience, but in the end he did fall short by more than a couple of percentage points. O’Rourke’s undeniably a telegenically youthful and handsome and physically fit fellow with a punk rock band on his resume, which could pose problems for Trump in this reality show era of presidential politics, but it’s no guarantee he’ll win a Democratic nomination. Among the crowded field of Democratic contenders are some rather hot-by-politician-standards women, some of them women of color, and given the identity politics of today’s Democratic party the primary electorate might well prefer that to some white pretty boy, enough if he does have a Latin nickname.
One of the right-wing talk radio talkers is already calling O’Rourke “O’Dork,” which seems to be the height of conservative wit these days, and Trump took time during a news conference with the Irish Prime Minister to ridicule O’Rourke’s hand movements, asking “Is he crazy or is just the way acts?,” and he took care not do the usual weird imaginary accordion or flag-groping thing president does. The rest of the conservative media are similarly eager to take on his wild-eyed leftist extremism. Meanwhile, some of the late night comedy show hosts and the rest of the the liberal media are insinuating hat O’Rourke is a centrist sell-out. Late night network wag Seth Meyers is a relentless Trump-basher, and pretty darned funny about it, but he’s consistent enough to react to a Democrat’s quote as if Trump had said it, and when he read O’Rourke’s recollection to Vanity Fair of a campaign speech when “Because every word was pulled out of me, like by some greater force, which was just the people there,” and used the usual Trump impersonation, it got the same big laugh as one of Trump’s typically absurd quotes.
If this O’Rourke fellow really is the centrist sell-out his critics contend we him wish the best, even if he does seem to have a similarly annoying reality show appeal and knack for ridiculous quotes as Trump, as we’d rather not see the Democratic party go so far to the left as it very well might. At this point there’s no telling what the Democrats might do, however, and to the extent we’ve be following the race they have some relatively sane contenders, including a couple of relatively hot-by-politician standards and hot-for-their age women, which seems to matter in this age of reality show identity politics, and many Democrats seem more concerned with beating Trump than achieving a socialist utopia. Given the way things have lately been going in the courts and Congress and the economic forecasts, it’s also well within the realm of possibility that the eventual Democratic nominee won’t be running against Trump.
Starting Monday, therefore, we’ll resume paying more attention to the more pressing news of the day.

— Bud Norman

A Slight Republican Revolt in Congress

On Wednesday seven Republican senators helped pass a resolution opposed to President Donald Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and it’s expected that today enough Republicans will join the Democrats in voting for a resolution opposed to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to divert funds for a wall along the southern border. There aren’t enough of these restive Republicans to help the Democrats override the expected presidential vetoes, and most of the party remains willing to go along with anything Trump wants, but Trump should probably be worried about what happens after that.
The only apparent reason for the defections of the seven Republican senators who voted against Trump’s middle east foreign policy and the four announced senators and perhaps as many as six more who will be voting against Trump’s national emergency is that they’re standing on traditional Republican principles. Defying the wishes does not serve the political interests of any Republican politician at the moment, even the ones in the most purplish states and districts, as Trump is more popular with the party at the moment than any longstanding Republican principles. An occasional show of independence from the more broadly unpopular president might prove useful in a general election in a lot of states and districts, but a politician needs his party’s nomination to get there, and an annoyed “tweet” and a disparaging nickname from Trump has already knocked a lot of incumbents from their seats.
The purging of Republicans suspected of less-than-complete loyalty to Trump is one of the reasons the party has such a slim majority in the Senate and the Democrats have such a sizable majority in the House of Representatives, but for now the party is sticking with complete loyalty to Trump. Even so, Trump’s weird indulgence of Saudi Arabia’s worst behavior, and his outrageous power grab of the Congress’ power to appropriate public in pursuit of a damned dumb border wall, are both so antithetical to traditional Republican values that are still a few Republicans left in Congress who have to draw a line somewhere.
America has maintained a close relationship with Saudi Arabia since President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, and put up with a lot of bad behavior through the past many decades of Democratic and Republican administrations alike, but Trump’s effusive affection for the Saudi dictatorship exceeds the post-war bipartisan foreign consensus that was probably too indulgent all along. America also has some carefully-negotiated and strategically important military and economic arrangements with the government of Yemen that Saudi Arabia has been ruthlessly trying to topple, even such stalwart cold warriors as President Ronald Reagan would cut loose allies in the Philippines and South Africa and elsewhere when their human rights abuses became intolerable to a western conscience, and there is something suspiciously weird about Trump’s policy in the region.
Suspicious types such as ourselves will note that Trump has publicly boasted about the millions of dollars of business he does with the Saudis, and seemed to love the lavish red carpet they rolled out for him on his first state trip, and that the son-in-law Trump has charged with bringing about Middle East pace also has an ongoing business relationship with the Saudis, which does seem one apparent explanation. On the other hand, perhaps Trump just likes the Saudis’ style. He happily accepted dictator Mohammed bin Salman’s assurance that he had nothing to do with the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Turkish embassy, but he also accepted Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s assurance that he would never have meddled in America’s election, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s assurances that he felt terrible to hear about the death-by-torture of American Otto Warmbier in one of his torture chambers.
Perhaps there’s some hyper-sophisticated genius to to all of this that such lesser minds as ourselves and all of Trump’s top advisors and appointees and the consensus opinion of the intelligence and foreign policy experts can’t quite discern, but we can’t blame any traditional Republican for voting against it.
There’s all the more traditional Republican reasons, as far as we’re concerned, to vote against that national emergency declaration that Trump openly admitted in front of all the “fake news” cameras he didn’t really need to declare. As always there are serious problems at the border, but somehow the nation has survived and even thrived without a big beautiful border wall or orphaning blameless children and similarly harsh measures, and until recently Republicans were satisfied with that. Back when Democratic presidents were brazenly exceeding their constitutional executive powers Republicans used to rightly object to that, but for now most of them will loyal stand by as Trump usurps the Congress’ constitutional power to appropriate funds and the property rights of the landowners along the southern border who see no need for a big and beautiful and downright dumb wall.
What’s more, Trump is planning to use the national emergency declaration to build the wall with funds that had been appropriated for military spending in various states and districts around the country. Some Republicans will therefore wind up voting against military spending in the states and districts, and at that point the Grand Old Party will have abandoned one of its most cherished principles.
So we’re glad to see there at least a few Republicans left in Congress who aren’t completely loyal to Trump, and we’re especially happy to see that one of them is Kansas’ own Sen. Jerry Moran, who always struck us as a traditionally Republican sort of guy, He’s not up for reelection in this reliably Republican state until after the 2020 presidential election, and the state’s two big export industries aren’t sold on Trump’s protectionism and the churches have some mild discomfort about Trump’s character, and most of Moran’s fellow defectors are similarly well positioned, so perhaps they are making some political calculations.
We surely hope so, as we’d very much like to see some semblance of the traditional Republican party survive Trump.

— Bud Norman

The High Cost of College Elitism

There’s been a great deal of attention paid to the Justice Department charging 50 people, including a couple of very famous actresses we’d not previously heard of, for breaking various laws in an attempt to get their children into  a prestigious university. If the defendants are proved guilty as charged, it strikes us as an unusually dumb crime, as there’s nothing quite so overrated as a prestigious university.
There are indeed quite a few very smart people who come out of the Ivy League and other brand name schools, but in most cases they went in smart and would likely have come out of a typical land grant college just as smart. In many other cases, the elite schools turn out graduates who aren’t noticeably smart.
Way back in our school days we had a swell summer job working at the United States Supreme Court, where all the other summer employees were graduates of fancy prep schools headed off to fancy-schmantzy universities, and we were shocked to learn they were all so culturally illiterate that none of them had ever heard of Buck Owens and his Buckaroos. During our newspaper days we worked with a couple of Yale graduates who were nice enough guys but very mediocre journalists, and one of them a downright unreadable writer, and a Harvard Law School grad we used to run into at the Fabulous Tahitian Room wound up getting disbarred for dumb reasons. Both of the major party nominees in the past presidential election were graduates of Ivy League universities, and we wound up voting for an obscure independent candidate without bothering to find out where he’d gone to college.
A diploma from an elite university does make life a lot easier, which is why the rich and famous might well break the law to get their academically underperforming children into one, but it’s by no means the only path to success. President Ronald Reagan was the only alumnus of Eureka College we’ve ever heard of, President Harry Truman never attended college at all, and we prefer them to most of many the Ivy Leaguers who occupied the Oval Office. William Shakespeare and Mark Twain didn’t have higher formal education, but we like them better than any old creative writing graduate of an elite university. Bill Gates famously dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, which seems to have worked out pretty well for him. Andrew Carnegie dropped out of school at age 13 to work as an office boy, and wound up donating millions to build the sort of public libraries where he acquired his excellent education.
The elite schools have an undeniable snob appeal, and some people will always pay extra for that, but for most people the money would be better invested in a good mutual fund. An ivy-covered diploma might lead to a comfortable sinecure at some lesser university or a corporate law firm that likes to brag about its lawyer’s academic credentials, but we know at least three cow college graduate who are now full professors at elite universities, and the richest lawyers each year are graduates of no-name institutions who had to hustle and sue their way to big bucks. The easy life that comes with an elite school diploma often seems to induce a certain laziness, and the lack of curiosity that comes with the certitude one already knows it all.
America’s social and economic elite have always sent their offspring to the elite schools, which have retained their stellar reputations by turning out graduates who somehow became the social and economic elite, and the hoi polloi of America’s electorate long have always entrusted them with high offices in government and business, but we wish that would stop. We believe in a meritocratic society and economic system, and notice that credentials don’t necessarily confer merit. Once upon a time movie and extras and mailroom employees became movie stars and studio executives without college degrees or family connections. and the likes of Clarence Darrow and Abraham Lincoln could get a job as a law firm clerk and go on to legendary legal careers without the benefit of law school. We’re among the very last of the college drop-outs who went from copy boy to front page bylines at a metropolitan newspaper, and although we can’t claim to have so well as the countless legends from the golden newspaper age of fedora-wearing scribes shouting “get me rewrite!” into a candlestick phone, we do take a certain reverse-snobbish pride in that.
Computers have largely eliminated movie extras and mail rooms and office boys and copy boys and all the other traditional back doors into the white collar world, however, and robots are rapidly replacing a lot of the entry-level blue collar jobs that allowed smart and ambitious workers to keep learning what was needed to reach the next rung on the ladder to a comfortable retirement. We can well understand why parents might be willing to bend a rule or two to get their children into a better college than they deserve to be in, and although those 50 people haven’t been proved guilty we’re pretty sure that Fred Trump once did so to get our president into an Ivy League school, and we’re sure it happens all the time, but we wish they’d all stop.

— Bud Norman

Boeing, Spirit, Tragedy, and the Rest of Wichita and the World

Along with the New York Yankees and Boston Celtics and the Wichita State University Wheatshocker basketball teams and until recently the Wichita Wingnuts double-A baseball team, we take an avid rooting interest fortunes of the Boeing Company. Our beloved Dad spent most of his exceptional career as an avionics engineer and eventually high-ranking executive at the company, and he has considerable holdings in its high-priced stock, and the rest of our city is similarly invested in Boeing.
The population of Wichita, Kansas, doubled when its home-grown Stearman division of the Boeing Company was churning out the much-in-demand B-29 Bomber during World War II, and Boeing remained a significant chunk of the local economy while our beloved Dad was keeping the B-52 a state-of-the-art long range strategic nuclear bomber through the Cold War. Boeing moved out a while back, not long after our beloved Okie Dad moved on to Connecticut and then Pennsylvania and the Boeing helicopter divisions where they were fighting the lower-intensity wars against Islamist radicalism and other pesky post-Cold War problems, but Boeing gave a sweetheart deal on its offices and factories and well-trained worked force to its biggest sub-contractor, Spirit Aerosystems. Although Spirit also has lucrative contracts with Airbus, the European Union-subsidized rival to Boeing which now has an oddly bigger presence in the city than Boeing, and although our city’s economy has wisely diversified and is no long so reliant on Beech and Cessna and Learjet and the rest of “The Air Capital of the World’s” still sizable aviation sector, a dip in Boeing’s stock price is still a hard blow around here.
Boeing’s stock was down 5.3 percent on Monday, following the weekend’s crash of a Boeing 737 on an Ethiopian Airlines flight on Sunday, which followed a crash of the same model on an Indonesian airline flight that went down in October. China, one of Boeing’s biggest clients, has temporarily grounded the aircraft, several smaller countries have followed suit, and although the Federal Aviation Administration and our remaining allies in the European Union and the rest of the First World haven’t followed suit it’s bound to be bad for Boeing’s business, and for all its shareholders here in Wichita and around the world.
With all due sympathy and respect to those doomed fellow humans on the Ethiopian and Indonesian airlines, we hopefully expect that Boeing will persist. Forgive us our First World chauvinism, but we figure there’s at least an outside chance that the tragedies had more to do with the Indonesian and Ethiopian airlines than any snafus at Boeing or Spirit, and even if not we’re sure that both the Boeing and Spirit engineers are already on the over-time job of fixing whatever went wrong. We can’t quite be sure these young punks they have on the  job nowadays are quite so smart or dedicated as our beloved Dad, who once ended a family vacation to the Rockies after he heard on the car radio that a B-52 had been shot down in Vietnam to help take care of that problem, but Dad was once a young punk himself and is still a very shrewd investor, and he seems to trust them. We’re still nervous fliers, despite growing up in the “Air Capital of the World” with a brilliant avionics engineer as our beloved Dad, but by now we’ve learned to endure the occasional turbulence.

— Bud Norman

Another Welcome Hour of Sunlight

The biggest news on Sunday was that the clocks sprang forward by an hour, and as far as we’re concerned it was good news. We arrived at church and took our turn giving the communion message with an hour’s less sleep than usual, and then arrived at Kirby’s Beer Store to commune with our more friends after an extra hour of nap time, but other than that it was all good.
For one thing, the clock in our car that we never got around to adjusting last fall is once again telling us the correct time, although we’ll probably spend another week or two getting used to not having to mentally spring it forward it another hour. More importantly, for the next several months there will be an hour’s less darkness in the day. There’s not actually an extra hour of daylight, as God created both the heavens and earth and set our planet rotating around the sun and revolving and tilting on its axis according to His plan, and despite mankind’s advanced science and government and arrogance there’s nothing much we can do about it except to subtract an hour of daylight from the morning and add it to the evening, but we make it a practice to sleep until well past daylight and stay up long past dark at all times of the year, so it’s an extra hour of daylight to us.
One of our secular friends at Kirby’s Beer Store was complaining that he’ll be getting up in the dark for the next several weeks to get to his job on time at the Wichita State University across the street, and we’re sure there are some wheat farmers around here with the same complaint, and we sympathize with their plight, but on Sunday we mostly figured that’s their problem. Next fall the clocks will fall back an hour, and those unfortunate early risers will have their extra hour of sleep before church, and Kirby’s Beer Store will get an extra hour of business, so God’s perfectly synchronous plan for the universe and humankind’s arrogant scientific and governmental meddling with the clocks seems to work out out pretty equably for everyone in the end.
Even more importantly, the clocks springing forward is yet another harbinger of spring. Like the announcement that pitchers and catchers are reporting to major league baseball’s spring training, or the different sorts of birds we notice along the Little Arkansas River, or the incremental minutes of daylight that follow the damned winter solstice, it’s another indication that some combination of God’s perfect plan for the universe and the best of humankind’s intentions will alway deliver another rebirth of life from the dead of winter, and that something of good will follow. We’ll happily trade that for an hour of sleep we’ll eventually recoup one way or another.

— Bud Norman

Baseball, Basketball, Science, School Teachers, and Supply and Demand

Mostly we follow the political and economic news here at The Central Standard Times, being the civic-minded and clinically glum types we are, but occasionally we’ll turn a hopeful eye to the sports pages. There’s usually some dreary political and economic subplot there, however, and so it is with the case of the big deal baseball story about Bryce Harper signing with the Philadelphia Phillies
In case you’re one of those atheistic commie pinko America-hating types who don’t closely follow our national pastime, Harper is one hell of a player. There’s a strong case to be made that he’s not as good a player as the more clean-shaven Mike Trout, who is under contract to the Los Angeles Angels for the next months and then seems headed toward a big payday, but after six spectacular seasons with the Washington Nationals Harper was clearly the best player on this season’s free agent market, so the bidding war wound up at $330 million for 13 years in Philadelphia. Our faith in the ruthless and sometimes crazy laws of supply and demand tell us that even that eye-popping amount is reasonable compensation given the large number of teams seeking a player with Harper’s rare statistics, even if the atheistic commie pinko America-hating types will want to compare it to a school teacher’s pay, and we note with some regret that Harper’s bottom-line agent had to take politics into account in the negotiations.
A presumably apolitical sports writer at The Log Angeles Times reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants offered Harper more money, but not enough more to compensate for the wide gulf of tax rates between California and Pennsylvania. California has the nation’s highest state income tax rate at 13.3 percent, Pennsylvania imposes a rare flat tax rate of 3.07 percent on both millionaires and minimun wage earners alike, and that makes hiring a rare talent such as Harper far more expensive in the Golden State. We imagine the same is true of those rare talents in the arguably more important science and technology and engineering and mathematics fields, not to mention school teachers, and being longtime red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists we can’t help noticing how excessive taxation and other political interventions distort markets.
Even the almighty market forces don’t determine the ultimate outcome in sports and life, though, and neither do the futile interventions of mere humans and their petty politics. The Phillies will likely be better with Harper on the roster, but he’ll only be one of nine guys in the lineup, and he can’t guarantee a championship. The Los Angeles Angels haven’t won much with the arguably Trout in the lineup, The Los Angeles Lakers paid big buck for the arguably best-of-all-time LeBron James in its starting five and seems likely to miss the playoffs, and some guys are we’ve never heard of and don’t seem to have any impressive stats on the Denver Nuggets are going currently toe-to-toe with the almighty Golden State Warriors in the National Basketball Association’s western division. Our beloved New York Yankees are expected to contend for a championship this next baseball season, despite that state’s high tax rate and other left-wing craziness.
Somehow the the high-tax states seem to be faring to be faring well in the arguably more important science and technology and engineering and mathematic fields, and their school teachers aren’t so restive, and we can only surmise that all sorts of geographic and demographic climatic factors somehow figure in it all. Here in our part of Kansas the Wichita State University Wheatshockers are above .500 in conference and overall play even in a down season, the University of Kansas Jayhawks have ended a 14-year run as Big XII conference championships but the Kansas State University Wildcats are still in the chase, and the local economy is doing pretty good despite all the trade wars and tax cuts and tax hikes and other human interventions in the free market and the best efforts of our fellow human beings.
At this point all we have to say , about both sports and politics, is let the best team win.

— Bud Norman

Bad Times for the Democrats, Too

The trade deficit and the national debt are at record levels, there are the usual number of new developments regarding various political scandals, as well as other stories embarrassing to President Donald Trump, but we also notice that the damned Democrats have their own problems.
The Democrats’ majority in the House of Representatives is currently squabbling over what to do about one of their two Muslim members’ “tweets” are undeniably anti-Israel and quite arguably anti-Jewish, and the party writ large is debating whether to veer slowly to the left or to hold hands and hit the pedal and hurl off like “Thelma and Louise” over the far-left cliff. So far the center-left holds the rhetorical advantage and all the positions of power, but we’re talking about the likes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, and there’s a palpable sense of worry in the party that it could lose yet again to the likes of Trump.
The flap about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s “tweets” won’t help the cause. Omar is from a Somali refugee family and represents a Minnesota district that has a surprising number of Somali-American voters along with the usual assortment of Minnesota liberals, and she holds the expected Muslim and liberal views about foreign policy, and the Republicans would understandably and dearly love to make the soft face peering out from chador the face of the Democratic party. The Democrats can’t quite bring themselves to rebuke Omar, but they’d dearly and understandably prefer some other face.
By now most Democrats either endorse or don’t much mind Omar’s anti-Israel stands, but when she “tweeted” that the American-Israeli Political Action Committee was buying Congressional support with “the Benjamins — a reference to the guy on the $100 bill, not the Old Testament figure — that seemed too much an ancient Jewish stereotype even for many modern day Democrats. Pelosi “signaled a willingness to advance a softly worded resolution related to anti-Semitism,” The Washington Post reports, but it was scuttled by opposition from New York Representative and left-wing daring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the other Muslim congresswoman and the rest of the off–the-cliff left wing of the party, and “now leaders are cobbling together a broader draft that would oppose many forms of offensive actions.” With further embarrassment, the Post’s correspondent noted that “It may seem trivial — a nonbonding resolution expressing opposition intolerance of all kinds — but this a critical test for leadership to bring the caucus back together.”
So far Pelosi and Schumer have been successful in keeping their party in its usual lockstep, to a point that Trump is openly envious, but this seems a tough test for even better leadership to pass. For decades the Democratic party rightly prided itself on its steadfast support fo the Jewish people, and President Harry Truman was the first world leader to recognize the state of Israel and Sen. Bobby Kennedy was shot down for his steadfast support of the Jewish state, but since then things have gotten complicated. After Israel somehow won a series of wars against the combined might of its more populous Islamic neighbors in the late ’60s and early ’70s the Democrats’ instinctive favoritism for the underdog naturally shifted to the Islamic victims of western colonialism, while on the home front the party shifted its attention from the Jews to a far bigger black voting bloc that often feuded with Jewish interests in the all-important big cities and had more of that old-fashioned southern anti-Semitism that polite people will admit.
The Democrats could get plenty of Republicans to join with them in voting for some vaguely worded non-binding resolution in favor of tolerance for all religious views, but these days that seems unlikely. Vague language about “All religious views” might be construed to include some Baptist who doesn’t want to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage, or some Muslim or Jew or Hindu with similar traditional convictions, and with sexual issues overriding religious issues these days the modern Democrat can only be so tolerant. Some day in the near future historians will wonder why so many of the last few church-going and Bible-believing Christians in America voted for a thrice-married and six-times-bankrupt casino-and-strip-club mogul, and we can only advise them to look at what he was running against.
The off-the-far-left-cliff wing of the Democratic party makes Trump’s economic policies look pretty good, too. Although it would take some doing they’d probably swell the budget deficits even more than Trump has, and their tax hikes would make even worse than Trump’s tax cuts have, and they same to have same absurd protectionist instincts as Trump. Their “Green New Deal”is almost as stupid as Trump makes it out to be, and their socialist utopia would probably look a lot more like Venezuela than Scandinavia. If future historians ever have to wonder why America would re-elect the likes of Trump we’d advise them to take a look at who he was running against.

— Bud Norman

An A+ Plus Grade for Hypocrisy

Back when we spent most days bashing President Barack Obama, one of our criticisms was that he kept his academic records secret. Then-private citizen Donald Trump was similarly critical about it, and told the Associated Press back in 2011 that “I heard he was a terrible student — terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard? I’m thinking about it. Let him show his records.”
Now that we spend most days bashing President Trump, we feel obliged to note that Trump has also refused to release his academic records, and in fact has gone to  extraordinary lengths to keep them secret. His longtime lawyer recently testified to Congress that he was directed to send threatening letters to every school Trump had attended, and The Washington Post reports some wealthy Trump were seeking to remove the records from his military high school as early as 2011, when Trump was mulling a run for the presidency.
Many of the same people who were fine with Obama’s refusal to release his records are now outraged by Trump’s lack of transparency, and of course many Trump supporters who pilloried Obama’s stand are fine with Trump doing the same thing. We try to be more consistently principled, though, and we don’t like such secrecy now any more than we did then. To be frank — and we know how Trump’s fans love frankness — we think it’s probably worse this time around.
There was some speculation that Obama wanted his records kept secret because they showed he’d been the beneficiary of affirmative action admissions policies, which might well be true, but it would be more hypocrisy for Trump or any of his defenders to fault Obama for taking advantage of the system. Trump’s hearsay evidence that Obama was a terrible student seems improbable, given that Obama was listed on his commencement program as a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, where he was elected editor of the prestigious law review by his peers. More conspiracy-minded types speculated the records would show he was listed as a foreign student, but no less an authority than Trump himself has now declared that “Obama was born in Hawaii — period.”
Obama must have had some motive to keep his records secret, but there’s no reason to believe it’s any more nefarious than Trump’s motive for doing the same. In Trump’s case, there’s also more reason to believe it was because he was a terrible student.
On the commencement program for Trump’s graduation from the University of Pennsylvania he’s one of the minority of students not listed as having earned honors, one of his professors at the school recalls him as “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had,” and none of Trump’s classmates or teachers are on record remembering his brilliance. The spelling and syntax and vocabulary of Trump’s “tweets” wouldn’t pass muster in a sixth grade English class, most sixth-graders are able to explain the causes of the Civil War that Trump still wonders about, and Trump’s knowledge of science and geography and mathematics seems just as limited. There’s no evidence that Trump was the excellent student he frequently to claims to have been except that he somehow got elected president, but Obama somehow got elected and then reelected with with bigger majorities than Trump in both the Electoral College and popular votes, yet Trump still wanted to see his records.
In an ideal democratic republic the voters would know everything about the candidates they’re voting for, from their school records to their latest medical checkup to their tax returns and financial dealings, but from now on presidents will likely  get away with keeping all of that a secret. The Democrats will gripe about is]t when a Republican is in office, the Republicans will hold their outrage for the next Democratic president, and we’ll be consistently principled and perpetually annoyed.

— Bud Norman

Playing Tough in a Tough Game

The late and great comedian Rodney Dangerfield had a joke we liked about how tough his high school was. “I’m telling you, it was really tough,” he’d say, tugging nervously at his collar before adding, “after the football team sacked the quarterback, they would go after his family.”
That jibe somehow came to mind as we were reading about the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives’ wide and widening investigations into the businesses and campaign and transition team and inaugural committee and administration of President Donald Trump. Letters of inquiry and warnings of subpoenas have been sent not only to Trump’s longtime personal secretary and senior vice president of the Trump Organization and the longtime Trump Organization chief financial operator and keeper of secrets, as well as White House associates Hope Hicks, Sean Spicer, and Steve Bannon, but also Trump’s namesake son Donald Trump Jr. and other son Eric Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
We’re telling you, politics is really tough — tug nervously on your collar for full effect — and that newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives seems ready and eager to play it tough.
Which is not to say that they’re wrong to do so, and we guess that as Trump tugs nervously at his collar he gives them some begrudging respect for it. Trump has always prided himself on his toughness, and as recently as last Saturday was describing his critics as “very sick people” who “hate America” and are “like a crazy person.” He’s alleged all sorts of criminal and downright treasonous crimes against previous presidents and other political opponents, Republican and Democratic alike, and he’s not been shy about going against their families. Back when the Republican nomination was down to him or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump “re-tweeted” an internet “meme” with an unflattering shot of Cruz’ wife juxtaposed against a gauzy glamour photo of Trump’s third trophy wife, and threatened to “spill the beans” on the relatively homely housewife. When one of Trump’s longtime lawyers started spilling the beans on Trump’s hush money payments to porno performers and other business practices, Trump “tweeted” to the Justice Department and the rest of the country that it was more important to find out about the lawyer’s father-in-law’s dirty dealings. We almost forgot, but he also directed everyone’s attention to a National Enquirer scoop that Cruz’ father might have been in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, but by now even such a rock-ribbed Republican as Cruz seems have for forgiven and forgotten and bended to Trump’s will.
Politics is indeed a tough game, with some very tough players on both sides, but for now the rules of the game seem to favor that ruthlessly tough Democratic majority in the House, as well as some well-established matters of fact. Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is soon headed to a three-year stay in federal prison for various crimes, so he had nothing to lose when he stopped by a congressional hearing to testify that he committed his various crimes on behalf of and at the request of Trump, and he had various documents to back him up, and he credibly named the Trump Organization’s longtime secretary and vice president and its chief financial operator as corroborating witnesses, so letters of inquiry and threats of subpoena seem reasonable. We’re not at all Democrats, even if at this point we’re not blindly Republican, and we’d also like to hear what those potential White House witnesses have to say under oath and penalty of law.
At this peculiar point in history, we don’t even mind that those damned Democrats are going after the family. Donald Trump Jr. has already coughed up an e-mail chain admitting that some Russians he knew to be tied into the Russian dictatorship had told him they had some dirt on Trump Sr.’s opponent as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” to which he replied “I love it!” The younger Trump took that meeting, it’s now acknowledged, and after a number of now-acknowledged lies have been told about he seems fair game for another round of congressional testimony. Eric Trump is one of the executives in charge of President Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses and a trustee of the recently ended family charity, and given that the Justice Department’s southern district and the special counsel investigation and the many media inquiries into various matters about that he also seems a fair target.
As for that son-in-law, he frankly reminds us every son-in-law joke we ever heard. As it turns out the very best person that Trump could find to bring about peace in the Middle East and end America’s opioid crisis and reinvent the federal government was his son-in-law, who according to a credible and mostly undenied New York Times report got a top level security clearance from his father-in-law despite the objections of the intelligence and national security agents who had investigated him. What with politics being such a tough game we’ll add that Kushner’s dad is a felon who was on c0nvicted on tax evasion and witness intimidation charges by Trump’s short-lived transition chief and former federal prosecutor and New Jersey governor and vanquished campaign rival Chris Christie, and that the story is even tawdrier than that. If those damned Democrats haul him before Congress to testify why those intelligence and national security investigators didn’t want to give him a top secret security clearance, we won’t mind a bit, and will be eager to hear his live-on-television and under-oath and penalty of law answers.
Politics is indeed a tough game, but with no particular dog in the fight at the moment we’ll sit back and see how it plays out. We still retain a rooting interest in America and the truth, though, and will anxiously await the outcome.

— Bud Norman