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The Disappearance of the USS John McCain

President Donald Trump swears he had nothing to do with hiding the USS John McCain from view during his recent state visit to Japan, nor excluding its crew from a presidential address to most of the rest of Pacific fleet’s sailors at the port of Yokosuka on Memorial Day, but we don’t believe him. Trump’s fans admire his bluntness, so we’re sure they won’t mind if we come right out and say that he’s an habitual liar and exactly the sort of small and petty person who would do that.
By now everyone knows that Trump had a very personal feud with the late Arizona Sen. John McCain III, for whom the warship is named, along with his four-star admiral father John MCcain II and and four-star admiral grandfather John McCain, each one a bona fide war hero, and that Trump isn’t one to let a feud end at the grave. Trump dodged the draft during the Vietnam War with a phony baloney note from the podiatrist who rented office space from Trump’s multi-millionaire father — again we expect that the Trump fans will appreciate our bluntness — but he dismissed the five years of torture that McCain endured in the notoriously brutal “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp because the naval aviator declined an offer of early release made due to his family’s prestige rather than leave his comrades behind and hand the enemy a propaganda victory. “He’s only a war hero because he got captured,” Trump infamously said. “I hate to tell you, but I like a guy who didn’t get captured, okay?”
That slur against every brave American who ever endured being a prisoner of war should have ended Trump’s candidacy right then, but it didn’t, and when he somehow became President of the United States Trump continued his war of words with the former Republican nominee and bona fide war hero and longtime public servant who had the gall to question Trump’s fitness for the presidency. McCain wound up casting the decisive vote against Trump’s campaign promise to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” and after that Trump ramped up the taunting “tweets” even as McCain was dying of brain cancer. Although we don’t care much for the health care law and would like to see it repealed we have to admit that Trump didn’t have any sort of replacement on offer, so we can forgive McCain’s vote and acknowledge that he might even have been right, but Trump is not the forgiving sort and is never wiling to admit that he might be wrong.
The Pentagon and the Navy and the White House spent much of Thursday passing around blame about why the USS John McCain had covered its name with a tarp, then delayed its much-needed repairs by sailing outside of television camera range, and why its crew was one of the two in the area not invited to a presidential speech on a ship named for someone Trump has no beef with. They all initially blamed it on unnamed lower officials, but wound up admitting that there was a directive from the White House to keep the ship out of any press photos. Trump wound up claiming he couldn’t be held to account for whatever some unnamed lower level White House officials might do, but reiterated his dislike of McCain, and said that “Somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him, okay? And they were well meaning.”
Both the war hero McCain and the draft dodger Trump prided themselves on blunt talk, and people 0n both sides seem to love it, so we’ll go ahead and say it again. The President of the United States is an habitual liar and a small and petty man.

— Bud Norman

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At Long Last, Mueller Speaks

Robert Mueller is a famously taciturn fellow, which is one of the many things we admire about him in this very verbose age of politics, but he had plenty to say in a carefully-worded nine-minute statement on Wednesday. The former Federal Bureau of Investigation director basically said that his special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” did not exonerate of President Donald Trump of any wrongdoing, as Trump insists, and that although Justice Department guidelines prevented him from seeking a criminal indictment Congress could and probably should consider some rather damning evidence his investigation turned up which suggest Trump committed impeachable offenses.
The Democrats and their media allies naturally exulted in the statement, and of course the Republicans and their media allies continued their attacks on Mueller’s character. From our perspective here on the political sidelines, only Mueller seems to have got the best of it.
Mueller reiterated his investigation’s conclusion that the Russian government had launched a three-pronged attack on America’s last presidential election on behalf of Trump’s campaign, which Trump’s own intelligence agency chiefs and pretty much every other sentient human being agrees with, although Trump continues to believe the assurances of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin that Russia did no such thing. Trump has thus far declined to take any actions preventing Russia or any other foreign power from doing it again, and even if that’s not an impeachable offense it makes Trump look very bad. Mueller also very carefully made clear that Trump had done things to keep the investigation from finding out about it, which Congress might or might not consider obstruction of justice.
The Democrats will probably try to make the most of it, and disastrously overreach in the process, as is their wont, but for now the Republican apologetics seem downright ridiculous. Trump triumphantly “tweeted” that “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent,” but that’s like saying that Trump pal O.J. Simpson didn’t kill his ex-wife and her boyfriend because he was found not guilty by a brain-addled jury in a politically-charged moment. Mueller made clear in his carefully worded nine-minute summary of his investigation’s 480-page report that an indictment would have resulted against anyone but a sitting president, due to a dubious Justice Department policy, and we can’t blame those damned Democrats for their gleeful response, even if it once again proves disastrous.
Trump’s right-wing talk radio apologists are relying on attacks against the character of Mueller, and allegations that he’s part of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow a duly elected American president, but they seem especially absurd when made in defense of Trump. Mueller was a head-of-the-class student and all-star athlete at his elite prep school while the fair-wealthier Trump was being sent to a military school because of his incorrigibility, and he interrupted his pursuit of a juris doctorate degree to win a Purple Hearth and other valorous decorations in Vietnam while Trump was exempted from service due to some bone spurs that were attested to by a podiarist who rented office space from Trump’s multi-millionaire dad. Mueller was a Republican when Trump was a Democrat and independent and Reform Party member, he rose through the ranks of government service and served as an excellent FBI director during both Republican and Democratic administrations while Trump was going through six corporate bankruptcies and thousands of lawsuits as a real estate and gambling mogul. Go ahead and call us Republicans In Name Only, but at this point we trust Mueller more than Trump.
From our seats on the political sidelines we won’t venture any guesses about how it all turns out, except to say it will turn out badly. If the sizable Democratic majority in the House of Representatives decides to impeach Trump the slim Republican majority in the Senate won’t allow the supermajority needed to remove Trump from office, and at this point there’s no telling how that might play with the electorate in the ’20 elections.
We’ll hold out hope that the truth prevails, no mater which of these damned political parties benefits, and expect that at least Mueller will go down in history with an impeccable reputation.

— Bud Norman

The Perils and Potential of Republican Apostasy in the Age of Trump

There’s no doubt that pretty much every Republican in Congress goes home at night and complains at length to his or her spouse about something President Donald Trump said or did, and probably so do most of the people who work in the White House, but they rarely air their grievances in public. They’re afraid that Trump will “tweet” something nasty and give them a taunting nickname, and are sure that most of their party’s loyalists will consider them traitors to the cause.
There have been a few Republicans who have been willing to voice the occasional disagreement with Trump, mostly farm state politicians whose constituents have seen their profits diminished by Trump’s wars, along with a couple of others who were heading to retirement anyway, but so far only Michigan Rep. Justin Amash has been so bold as to say that Trump has committed impeachable offenses. Trump quickly responded via “Twitter” that Amash was a “total lightweight,” but it doesn’t seem to have intimidated the congressman, who wound up getting a standing ovation at his first public appearance in Michigan’s third district since he proclaimed his Republican apostasy.
The crowd at Amash’s “town hall” meeting in Grand Rapids on Tuesday obviously included a lot of Democrats, many of whom probably previously hated his staunch conservatism, but there were undoubtedly some Republicans who also stood up and applauded. One Republican woman in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap berated Amash for his disloyalty to Trump, and when the audience started booing her Amash pleaded that she be treated with respect and allow her to ask a question, which eventually turned out to be why Amash had become a Democrat. He responded that his record on such traditional Republican principles as fiscal conservatism is far more impeccable than Trump’s, and even the Democrats in the audience cheered. There was another Republican woman with a t-shirt emblazoned by something we couldn’t read who asked a similar question about Amash’s views on impeachment, and he responded with a brief restatement of his lengthy and factual and logical reasons for thinking Trump has committed impeachable offenses. He then rightly noted that the rebuttals to his arguments, including those from his party’s leadership, have all been ad hominem fallacies
Grand Rapids is the hometown of the late and vastly underrated President Gerald Ford, who took office in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and epitomized an old-fashioned sort of Republicanism that stressed fiscal conservatism and prudence in foreign policy and the character of an office-holder, and Amash strikes us as a perfect Representative for the district. He’s far more libertarian than Ford was, which we quite like, and we hope he’ll fare well in his next campaign. He’s already got a more Trump-loving primary challenger, who will surely win Trump’s endorsement, but if he somehow survives the challenge he’s a shoo-in for the general election, as Trump wouldn’t dare endorse the Democrat.
If he doesn’t win renomination, which is quite possible, it’s not necessarily the end of Amash’s political career. He’s not ruled out the possibility of challenging Trump as a Libertarian Party candidate in ’20, and he’s already raised his name recognition for any races that might happen in the inevitable post-Trump era of Republican politics, when some record of resistance will surely be helpful.
Republican critics of Amash insist he’s a publicity-seeking grandstander, and ironically they do so in defense of the unabashedly grandstanding and publicity-seeking Trump, but we figure his risky stand is better explained by principle than pragmatism. So far the lengthy and detailed and well-documented arguments he’s laid out for Trump’s impeachment have only been rebutted by ad hominem attacks and cries of apostasy, and there’s always hope that the better argument will ultimately prevail.
If Amash somehow survives Trump’s “tweets,” or finds himself better positioned outside the Republican party, it might even embolden a few other Republicans to tell the public what they’ve been telling their spouses about Trump.

— Bud Norman

Amateur Hour on the World Stage

President Donald Trump was in Japan over the Memorial Day weekend, negotiating all sorts of foreign policy deals around the world, and we must admit it made us nervous.
Trump won office with an electoral majority despite a lack of any political or foreign policy experience on the promise that he’s the best deal-maker anyone’s ever seen, and his sizable number of die-hard supporters still believe it, but we maintain the doubts we’ve had all along. In his best-selling and ghost-written self-help book “The Art of the Deal” Trump bragged about how he got the better of talk-show host and game-show mogul Merv Griffin to acquire what was re-branded as the Trump Taj Mahal casino in New Jersey, but that soon went belly-up and has since been demolished. He boasted of how he won an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League, but his New Jersey Generals and the rest of the United States Football League won only $3 in damages, and soon went belly-up. Trump Airline, Trump University, Trump Vodka, Trump Magazine and various other Trump-branded businesses have proved even more expensively unsuccessful deals.
Trump never seemed to learn anything from any of it, except not to put his own money on the line, and none of it was adequate preparation for dealing with the devious likes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un or Russian dictator Vladimir Putin or the dictatorial mullahs of Iran. So far Trump has had more contentious relationships with the democratically-elected governments of our longtime North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allies and western civilization trading partners, and he hasn’t yet come up with any deals with anyone that much impress us.
He did negotiate a slightly better deal with Canada and Mexico over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said was the difference between the worst and best trade deals ever negotiated, but it remains to be seen if he can get any of the Democrats and quite a few Republicans from states hit hard by Trump’s wars against Canada ad Mexico to ratify it. There’s nothing on the table about a trade deal with the European Union, nor with the United Kingdom that is currently involved with a difficult divorce from the EU, and for now Trump doesn’t have much on the trade front to brag about, although we’re sure he’ll keep bragging.
That’s just money, of course, but on the arguably more important matters of war and peace Trump seems even more out of his depth. Even during the campaign Trump admitted to his die-supporters that he had only nice things to say about world leaders who had nice things to say about him, and so far that seems have guided his foreign policy toward the despotic but very flattering governments of Saudi Arabia and Russia lately North Korea, among other rogue nations. Our democratically-elected military allies in NATO and SEATO and trading partners in the EU and NAFTA have been disinclined to be so obsequious, on the other hand, which seems to explain why we’re tied up in interminable negotiations.
Which brings us at long last to what we set out to write about, which is the very nervous situation on the Korean peninsula, and how very nervous Trump makes us feel about that.
The situation on the peninsula has been nervous since several years before we born. In the immediate aftermath of World War II the Soviet Union was spreading communism to the west and south, the commies won control of China shortly after that and was infecting countries all over southeast Asia, and a Marxist dictatorship took over in the northern half of the Korean peninsula. America intervened in the horribly bloody war between North and South Korea to protect its democratic and capitalistic allies in the region, and although it ended in a desultory draw with the Chinese-backed North Korea along the demilitarized zone, South Korea is still a free country, with a modern economy and very sexy popular culture, and Japan and the rest of free and mostly thriving southeast Asia continue to do a mutually beneficial business with us, while North Korea is mired in poverty and darkness while developing a transcontinental nuclear missile capability.
Maintaining that tenuous status quo has been official American foreign policy ever since, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, and although North Korea has crept ever closer to nuclear power status it has thus far worked out well enough, as nervous as it’s been. The Trump administration is of course more ambitious than that, and months ago we were assured via “Twitter” that we could sleep soundly at night without fear of a nuclear exchange with North Korea. After some very provocative missile tests by North Korea toward South Korea and Japan, as well as one that could have reached the west coast of the United States, Trump started off the negotiations by threatening “fire and fury like no one’s ever seen,” and taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “rocket man” and joking about Kim’s height and and weight. That led Kim to the negotiating table with Trump, along with some preceding flattering letters by Kim, and when Kim tentatively agreed to a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula during a summit in Singapore Trump “tweeted” about his triumph.
The critics quibbled that all three generations of Kim dynasty dictators had been seeking the prestige of a seat at the negotiating table on any terms they could get with an American president or other western civilization leader since the stalemate of the war, that the Kim regime had only tentatively agreed to a vague term about “denuclearization” that it clearly took to mean the withdrawal of the land-and-sea-and-air-based nuclear threat that America posed to North Korea, and the summit didn’t make make them sleep any more soundly at night. For a while Trump could crow that at least North Korea wasn’t making any more missile tests, but that claim went belly-up by the time Trump landed in Japan.
Trump’s appointees to all of the intelligence agencies as well as his national security agree that North Korea has recently been testing medium-range missiles that could deliver a nuclear warhead to a target 300 miles away, but Trump shrugged it off with a “tweet.” The “tweet” read:
“The North Koreans fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
This might reassure those with an abiding faith in President Donald Trump, but it’s going to keep the rest of the world up at night. Those “small weapons” North Korea fired off couldn’t reach any of Trump’s properties on the west coast of the United States, but they’re well within range of Tokyo or Seoul, and we can well understand why the entire American foreign policy establishment and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or South Korean President Moon Jai In or Trump’s other polite hosts on this foreign policy junket are less sanguine. Trump’s trust in the vaguely-worded promises of such a brutal dictator as Kim confound us, but then again Kim has never written any flattering letters to us. Trump admittedly smiles Kim is taking potshots against Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, whose name Trump initially misspelled, and he doesn’t seem to mind that yet another brutal dictatorship is campaigning on his behalf.
Meanwhile Trump is stuck with a decades-old beef with a perhaps nuclear-armed and in any case militarily-formidable Iran, which is a major player in a Middle Eastern theater of conflict that Trump clearly wants no part of. The dictatorial mullahs who run Iran have nothing flattering to say about Trump, but they’re backed by Russian dictator Putin, who seems to have a swell mutual admiration society going with Trump, so there’s no telling how that might work out. There are also all those ongoing negotiations with our longstanding democratically-elected yet insufficiently obsequious allies that haven’t been yet been worked out.
Go right ahead and accuse of us being deep-state globalist establishmentarians, or suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, but at this point we place no faith in the president’s self-proclaimed unprecedented genius to work this all out.

— Bud Norman

Chief Two Toes, and Other Reasons for Memorial Day

Our old newspaper pal Hoot, also known as Skippy Sanchez, went to Facebook on Sunday and linked to a Memorial Day post that ran in the Central Standard Times five years ago about our late mutual pal Jerry Clark. We thought it a well-written tribute to a bona fide American hero, and decided to take the day off in Clark’s honor and re-run it.
Today is Memorial Day, and we plan to charcoal some meat, drink a beer, and fly our Kansas flag from the porch. In keeping with our holiday custom, we will also spend the day missing Jerry Clark.
Clark, who was also known as Clyde Suckfinger and Chief Two Toes, was a good friend from way back in our newspaper days. When we broke into the newly computerized newspaper racket at 19-years-old as glorified copy boys he was an aging photographer who’d been shooting since the days of the massive accordion-lens cameras with the searchlight-sized flash bulbs, but we hit it off immediately. He liked that we had been born in Manila in the Philippines while our dad was paying off his AFROTC debts by flying single-engine planes and doing various other First Lieutenant chores, as he had his own connections to Manila and the Philippines, and he liked that we were the very last ever hired to work at the late Wichita Beacon where he had started his ink-stained career.
The twenty-something college grads from fancy journalism schools who then dominated the paper’s reporting ranks were often embarrassed to have him along on assignments, with his rumpled suits and conspicuously ugly shoes and the ties marked with holes from the chemicals that splattered around in the dark room, not to mention his ribald sense of humor and uncomfortable candor and unabashed Kansasness, so naturally we regarded him as the coolest cat in the newsroom. At every opportunity we’d hang out with him in the darkroom or the smoker’s lounge and swap jokes, the dirtier the better, and he’d tell us tales of the good old days when the reporters wore fedoras and shouted “get me rewrite” into candlestick phones and everything was in glorious black-and-white. Most of the stories were funny or risqué, and always infused with a necessary cynicism about the business he was in, but he’d still choke up occasionally at the recollection of a murder or other grisly crime scene he’d been sent to, or the sorry state of the slums he’d documented during the paper’s occasional urban crusades, or the tornado that wiped out the tiny town of Udall just south of Wichita.
The photographs Clark took of the aftermath of that tornado were reproduced in publications around the world and won him a nomination for the Pulitzer prize, but you had to get to know him for a while before he mentioned that, or anything else he’d done that was worth bragging about. Eventually we got to know him well enough to hear about his Great Depression boyhood in an Atchison orphanage, where all the kids rooted for the Detroit Tigers because the team was rough and ugly and all the respectable town kids with parents rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals, and how at the age of 16 he spent a year of more or less indentured servitude at a bakery in Hutchinson. When he turned 17 years old Clark was inducted into the Army and shipped off to the Pacific to fight a war against the Japanese, and after a while he even talked to us about that.
One sunny summer day we noticed that Clark was less than his usual ebullient self, and assumed it was because the young whippersnappers from out of town who were then running the paper had pulled him off the street and relegated him to darkroom duty, but he scoffed at the idea and explained it was the anniversary of the very worst day of his war. He told how a landing craft had stopped too short of the shore on one of the many islands he had been obliged to invade, and how he had gone charging out of the deployed door and immediately sinking into the depths of the ocean under the weight of his helmet and gun and backpack and heavy boots. He somehow managed to jettison all the gear and make it to the beach, but he arrived there in the middle of a pitched battle without a helmet or rifle or rations or boots, and spent the rest of the day crouched in a hand-dug hole as machine gun fire whizzed overhead and mortar shells landed close enough to toss sand on his back. He had relived the experience once a year ever since, he said, and assured us that nothing those young whippersnappers running the paper could do seemed quite so bad.
On another occasion he told how his regular assignment after a beach was taken was to leap into the enemy foxholes further inland and either shoot or knife whoever he found there to prevent them from placing magnetic bombs on the bottom of the tanks that would pass over. He was neither boastful nor ashamed about it, and he’d always add that pretty much every other able-bodied American male at the time also had some nasty chores to do in the war, and we had to agree with him that it was of greater importance the Axis powers didn’t win.
On most occasions he told more light-hearted war stories. He liked to tell about the time he saw a zoot-suited Cab Calloway and his swinging orchestra while on leave in southern California, or the time he was in the boxing ring with Joe Louis, who served as a referee for one of Clark’s bouts against fellow training camp lightweights while the heavyweight champ was on a morale-boosting tour, or the friend and fellow soldier who contracted what Clark thought a particularly amusing case of testicular elephantiasis from a Singapore prostitute. Like most combat veterans, our friend preferred to remember the good times and funny anecdotes.
We’ve forgotten how Jerry Clark came to be known as Clyde Suckfinger, although we vaguely recall that it couldn’t be recounted in such a respectable publication as this in any case, but we clearly remember how he came to be called Chief Two Toes. One day in the early ’90s Clark took ill and was taken to the local Veterans Administration hospital, where we found him lying in bed with both feet sticking out of the blanket. One foot had only the big toe and the pinkie toe, and when he caught us looking at it he explained with a shrug that the other digits had been blown off by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Battle of Manila. He gave us his full account of the famous fight, which is still troubling to recall and far too gory to recount here, but suffice to say that it ended with him spending two years in a Hawaiian hospital partially recovering from his numerous wounds.
Clark also told us that one of the men who occupied the next bed wasn’t so lucky, and when he died Clark inherited a camera, which he spent the rest of his time in the hospital learning how to use. When he was eventually shipped back to Kansas he got off the train in downtown Wichita, walked a few blocks down Douglas to the Beacon Building and managed to convince the photography editor that he could take good pictures and wouldn’t be intimidated by any of the gore that newspapers loved to cover back in the day. That’s how Jerry Clark came to be a newspaperman, and he so loved the job he always said that he counted himself lucky, no matter how bad things got.
He spent the last years of his newspaper career relegated to the dark room, and whenever the photography editor would rap on the door and demand to know what he was doing in there he’d always say “I’m doing the three and the five,” which we found out was an allusion to an old Army joke that absolutely cannot be repeated in such polite company as our dear readers, and the whippersnappers from out of state who ran the paper forced him into retirement earlier than he wanted. At his retirement party the Vietnam vet who was then the photography editor made sure everyone saw Clark’s Purple Heart and numerous other decorations, along with many of the excellent photographs he’d taken over the years, and even the most callow of the college-educated reporters who’d been embarrassed to have him along on assignment seemed to realize how shabbily he’d been treated.
We like to think he got some revenge during several years of a seemingly happy retirement, savoring the loving company of his longtime wife and taking pride in a son who had gone off to sea with the Navy, and indulging in a variety of hobbies that did not involve photography or newspapers or war. We are happy to say that every time we’d see him he was in high spirits and low-brow humor.
Those doctors in Hawaii never did get all of the Japanese shrapnel out of his legs, though, which is how we came to visit him in the VA hospital. The war was still trying to kill him, he said, and he was still determined that it wouldn’t. He died a few years later in a seizure-caused car accident, and the medical report suggested it had something to do with the lead in his bloodstream. The war wound up killing Jerry Clark, after all, even if he’s not counted in the official and horrific death toll, but we think it a testament to his toughness and stubbornness and Kansasness that it took more than 50 years. That it never stopped the hearty laughs he’d get from a dirty joke or the pride he took in his son’s military service or the compassion for his fellow man that somehow persisted in the loving and gentle soul of such a fierce and fearsome warrior is all the more remarkable.
Chief Two Toes would be annoyed with us for saying such flattering things about him, and insist that he was no different from any of those other hard-luck sons of bitches who had the misfortune to don a uniform in a time of global war, so we’ll also take time out today to remember all of his brothers and sisters in arms. There are still concerns about the care that America’s heroes are receiving from the VA, which used to send Clark two pairs of those famously ugly shoes each year, one of each with a cardboard box to take up the space where his middle toes used to be, so we’ll try to keep agitating about that through another year and another election cycle.
By all means enjoy some charcoaled meat and a beer today, and fly a flag from your front porch, if the weather permits, but come tomorrow be ready to insist we do better by the likes of Jerry Clark.

— Bud Norman

Playing “The Dozens” With America’s Politics

If you’re as hip to ’70s era ghetto slang as we are, having endured a complicatedly multicultural junior high and high school education in the inner-city back in the day, you’re probably familiar with a game called “the dozens.” Basically, it’s a contest to see who can come up with the most crowd pleasing jibe about how fat and ugly the other player’s mama is.
It always struck us as a pointless enterprise, even if it only rarely resulted in a fistfight and was frequently amusing, so we’re disappointed to note that our nation’s political discourse seems to have devolved into a game of “the dozens.” Republican President and insult-comic-in-chief Donald Trump is currently engaged in a game of “the dozens” with the Democratic Speaker of the Hour Nancy Pelosi, and although neither side has yet said anything about how fat and ugly the other side’s mama is it’s still a tawdry spectacle.
Trump has recently declared that no Democratic legislation will be signed into law until the party ceases its various investigations of his businesses and campaign and inaugural committee and transition team and administration, and so far Pelosi doesn’t seem at all intimidated, as the investigations inexorably roll on and seem to be winning all the cases in the federal courts. Meanwhile no Republican legislation has any chance of being passed and signed into law until at least the next election cycle, and Pelosi seems quite comfortable with that.
Trump likes to refute his opponent’s arguments by giving them a taunting nickname, and until recently the best he could come up with for the House Speaker was “Nancy,” but he’s now calling her “Crazy Nancy.” He’s already applied the same “crazy” sobriquet to Sen. “Crazy” Bernie Sanders and various other Democrats and renegade Republicans, so he seems to be running out of material. Pelosi replied that Trump was goading an impeachment vote in the Democrat-controlled house that wouldn’t pass the slightly Republican-controlled house, and said his actions were “villainous toward the constitution” and require his family’s intervention. which Trump said was a “very sort of a nasty-type statement.”
There’s no telling what wins favor with the madding crowd these days, but our guess is that Pelosi is getting the best of this exchange. She’s indeed crazy according to our old-fashioned Republican tastes, but lately we’ve noticed she’s relatively sane compared to some of the Democratic presidential contenders, and that so far she’s advocating at least a few further investigations before proceeding with the impeachment of Trump, so maybe Trump has better targets for his insults.
In any case, we hope it all comes down to well-reasoned judicial opinions and a fully informed electorate. We hear Trump’s mama was so fat that on a scale of one-to-ten she was a 747, and that Pelosi’s mama was so fat she kept dollars in one pocket and pesos in the other, but given the stakes that shouldn’t matter.

— Bud Norman

The Art of No Deal

President Donald Trump ran for office on a promise that his unsurpassed negotiating skills would deliver to a grateful America the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen. It hasn’t happened yet, and after an especially weird Wednesday in Washington, D.C., it seems unlikely to ever happen.
Trump had scheduled a morning meeting on the subject with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several other Democratic members of Congress, but according to everyone in the room he arrived 15 minutes late, didn’t shake any hands or take a seat, and left after saying there would be no deal on infrastructure or anything else until the Democrats called off all of their numerous investigations of him. After that he went to the White House rose garden for a 12 minute rant before the television cameras that was splenetic and boastful and untruthful even by Trump standards, and he reiterated his rhyming State of the Union threat that Congress couldn’t legislate until it ceased to investigate.
Schumer and Pelosi unsurprisingly made clear in their own statements to the media that they have no intention of halting the investigations, even if it means Trump doesn’t get to claim credit for the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen, and they seemed to mean it. Trump will run for reelection on the argument that he would have signed the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen if not for those darned Democrats’ stubborn insistence on their constitutional oversight rights, but Pelosi and Schumer were clearly unconcerned about that. In the two years that Trump had Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress nothing to do with infrastructure was passed, and the Democratic majority in the House and sizable Democratic minority in the Senate have far less incentive to give Trump something to boast about.
Which might be for the best, given the sort of godawful pork-laden and budget-busting monstrosity of a bill that the combined imaginations of Trump and Schumer and Pelosi probably would have concocted. On the other hand, America’s roads and bridges and airports and electric grids and telecommunications systems and all the rest of it are as always in need of repairs and upgrades, and even such old-fashioned laissez faire Republicans as ourselves have to admit that some federal assistance will be required.
There are other pressing problems that we must begrudgingly admit probably require federal solutions, too, but they’ll also have to await the results of the 2020 elections. In the meantime there are upcoming budget deadlines and the potential for a global economy-wrecking federal default on the nation’s financial obligations, and although one side or the other has always caved in just in time over the past many occasions this round could be different.
At this point both sides only care who will get the blame for whatever calamity that occurs, and each has reason to believe it will be the other side. Trump can be confident that his die-hard supporters will buy the sales pitch that he would have wrought Utopia if only those darned Democrats had stopped picking on him and acceded to all his demands, while the Democrats can rightly assume that the rest of the country will be more skeptical. Trump will rally the faithful by defying congressional attempts to subpoena his tax returns and bank records and the testimony of several former administration officials and family members, while the Democrats can endlessly and insidiously and reasonably speculate about what the president is trying so hard to conceal.
Our guess is that the Democrats will eventually get the best of it, with some help from a judicial branch that so far seems to be on their side, but we’ve occasionally been wrong about these things. By now we know better than to underestimate Trump’s wiliness, nor the gullibility of his die-hard supporters, nor the political ineptitude of the Democratic party.
So for now we’ll hope that the next bridge we cross will hold up, that the local efforts at flood control will suffice, our next airplane trip will be uneventful, and the lights and internet connection stay on here at the home office. We’ll also hold out fainter hope that whatever it is Trump wants to keep in the dark will eventually be brought to light, the Democrats don’t go too far crazy left with their next nominee,  the government eventually gets back to its usual ham-fisted attempts to address the nation’s more pressing problems, and the rest of a nation of free markets and free minds continues to muddle its way toward progress.

— Bud Norman

The Weather and the Rest of It

There’s plenty of important news afoot today, as always, but around here and in much of the rest of the American heartland the big story is the weather. It’s wet, chilly, and bringing down catastrophic thunderstorms and hailstorms and tornados and flooding rains from the Texas panhandle to Lake Michigan.
So far our beloved hometown of Wichita has been spared the worst of it, but it’s been bad enough that we’ve lately been keeping a nervous eye on the sky and the Nexrad radar and the seven-day forecasts at wunderground.com, none of which are saying anything hopeful. Nearby communities are largely underwater, friends of ours in the outlying areas have been stranded in farm homes that are suddenly islands, and on Tuesday some very fine Kansas towns not so very far to the north of us were threatened by tornados that largely preempted our afternoon “Jeopardy!” viewing.
We’re also keeping a nervous eye on the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas Rivers that border our home in Wichita’s fashionable Riverside neighborhood, as well as the canal that runs along the overpass Canal Route through the middle of town and the Big Ditch that was dug in over on the west side, and although they’re all far higher than usual they seem safe enough for now, but the seven-day forecast calls for at least another week of heavy rains and chances of severe thunderstorms, so that’s something to worry about.
There’s plenty else to worry about in the rest of the news, as always, but one of the benefits of a harsh prairie upbringing is a certain soothing stoicism. Things can only get so bad, we’ve noticed, and despite our instinctive fearsome awe of God’s nature our prairie Protestant nature is assured by God’s promises of grace that everything will more or less work out in the end.
In the meantime, we’re obliged here on Earth to deal with both nature and human nature and the resulting problems as best we can. It’s a damnably tough job, but here’s hoping at least the weather will better. We’ve  confirmed that amazing Holzhauer guy won yet another huge payday on “Jeopardy!,” the feud between the executive and legislative branches continues to grind out in the judicial branch, the Kansas weather is always uncertain, and that some things can be counted on.

— Bud Norman

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In Defense of Rep. Amash and a Very Few Other Republican Apostates

Way back in our high school and college days we passionately participated in scholastic debate tournaments, and although it was considered a nerdish pursuit by most of our classmates it had a lasting salutary influence on the way we look at politics. The sport taught to us to consider political questions with a dispassionate objectivity, carefully weighing the logic of the arguments made by both sides and the validity of the evidence presented, then considering the counter-arguments for any fallacies or false facts that had been presented.
Debates aren’t always won according to these gentlemanly and scholarly rules, of course, even in a scholastic debate tournament and especially in the rowdier and more low-brow public arena. We remember winning a match where our partner argued that there was no need to ban supersonic airliners because they’re flying too fast to cause air pollution, and also recall losing several rounds to even more preposterous arguments. During the last Republican presidential debates the failed casino mogul Donald Trump was declared the victor over Princeton University’s former national collegiate debate champion and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with nothing but ad hominem attacks and outright falsehoods, and boasted to the press that Cruz wasn’t so tough when the rules allowed for rude and insulting interruptions of his carefully crafted arguments.
Even so, we’d like to think that questions of the utmost public interest can still be settled by facts and logic and respectfully deliberative debate. Which at long last brings us to the current acrimonious “twitter” debate between President Donald Trump and Republican Michigan Rep. Justin Amash.
Trump is by far the more famous of the two, we must admit, but this Amash fellow strikes us as pretty formidable. He’s in his third term representing Grand Rapids and the rest of western Michigan’s third district, and has earned a reputation as a penny-pinching libertarian who will occasionally defy Republican party leadership on matters of Republican principles, even going so far as to vote against spending bills that continue to ratchet up the national debt and to object to trade policies that burden his district with retaliatory tariffs. That was bad enough for some Republican tastes, but a couple of days ago he so far as to agree some with some of the damned Democrats that Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
The talking heads on the Trump-friendly networks and radio talk shows and internet “podcasts” all exploded, naturally, but our ears were open to Amash’s arguments, and we found them persuasive. He started off with a succinctly “tweet”-sized statement of “principal conclusions,” which included that: Attorney General William Barr mislead the public about the report by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian government interference in the last presidential election; the report indicates Trump committed impeachable offenses by attempting to interfere with the investigation; that “Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances”; and that “Few members of Congress have read the report.”
Having followed all this stuff with a nerdish obsession we find it hard to argue with a single word Amash wrote, and at this point in the “twitter” wars are glad to see anyone laying out plausible arguments rather than misspelled screeds, and even more heartened to see that Amash correctly wrote “principal” rather “principle,” which even we had to confirm was correct.
Trump had no problem formulating a response, however, quickly “tweeting” that Amash was “a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, ‘composed’ by 18 angry Democrats who hated Trump … he would say that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION … Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”
Trump’s die fans will surely find it convincing, and gloat that “at least he fights,” but by ingrained habit we glumly note that Trump never seems to fight back except with ad hominem fallacies and unsubstantiated claims. Amash might seem a “lightweight” and “loser” compared to the far more famous and wealthy Trump, but that does’t mean he’s wrong, and he seems to have the better argument. In subsequent “tweets,” all written in “tweet-sized” but according to the Queen’s pristine English and old-fashioned rules of rhetoric, he correctly noted that the Mueller reported cited several lied-about-under oath contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, at least 10 instances where Trump unsuccessfully tried to quash any further investigation into those contacts. The report then made clear it was constrained by Justice Department guidelines from seeking indictments, and plainly left it up to the damned Democrats and the rare maverick Republican in Congress to decide if any of that constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that the Constitution considers impeachable offenses. So far, so far as we can tell, Trump and his die-hard fans have no answer but schoolyard taunts and substantiated claims that his critics should be hanged for treason.
We don’t find it convincing, and although Amash is taking the sucker’s route along the high road in the debate we’ll say on his behalf that neither is any of the rest of Trump’s typically illiterate “tweet.”
For one thing, Amash seems admirably on board with what we’ve long considered the great Republican ideas and policies. He’s voted more often than not with what Trump wants, and more impressively has a 99 percent rating with the Club for Growth, a 94 percent rating from Americans for Prosperity, 87 percent with the American Conservative Union, and 85 percent with Heritage Action for America, and there’s no denying he’s better on budget deficits than Trump ever pretended to be. If Trump wants to call him a publicity seeker, which is pretty much the perfect example of the pot calling the kettle black, Amash can convincingly claim he’s chosen a principled way of getting attention.
Amash’s “tweets” have already provoked a primary challenge from a Michigan legislator who describes himself as a “pro-Trump, pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-Second Amendment, pro-family values Republican.” Trump very narrowly won Michigan’s electoral votes in the last election, and is behind in the state polls against all the leading Democratic candidates at the moment, but his inevitable endorsement of Amash’s challenger will surely have some weight in a 2020 Republican primary. Amash is by no means anti-life or anti-jobs or anti-Second Amendment or anti-family values, and especially in that last category we have doubts about how committed Trump is to any of these causes, but these days being anti-Trump is a problem for almost any Republican anywhere, and after winning three elections we’re sure Amash knows that.
The 2020 primary is still more than a year away, though, and there’s always a chance that by that point Amash will be able to proudly campaign as one of the few Republicans who was willing to stand up to Trump. Maybe not, and probably not, but at some point in the further future we expect that principled Republicanism will make a comeback, either before or after the country goes as bankrupt as a Trump casino, and that Amash will have standing to make the arguments. None of Amash’s Republican colleagues have endorsed his views, but for the most part they’ve declined to condemn them, and on both sides of the aisle most of these weather-watching politicians seem to be hedging their bets.

— Bud Norman

Fox or Not, That Is the Dem’s Question

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg had an hour long “town hall” appearance on the Fox News network Sunday, and he wound up getting a standing ovation from the studio audience and rave reviews from much of the rest of the media. Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has recently vowed not to appear on Fox News at all, calling the network a “hate-for-profit racket,” which also got much applause from rank-and-file Democrats as well as rave reviews from many media.
So far Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and a fewother Democratic candidates have accepted invitations to appear on Fox, while several other contenders are have joined in the boycott of the network. The primary results will prove who’s made the smarter choice, and we’re not in the habit of giving advice to Democrats but our best guess is that getting coverage from Fox is a good idea.
There’s no denying that most of the Fox opinion show hosts are unabashed apologists for President Donald Trump, but the news reporters tend to play it straight, the “town halls” are conducted by the tough-but-fair Chris Wallace, and any Democratic candidate who can’t handle the hard questions will eventually be exposed by the other networks. Besides, there are a lot of people watching Fox, and some of them might even be persuadable.
The exposure is especially useful for a candidate such as Buttigieg, who is atypical contender even by today’s standards. He’s a mere 37 years old, the mayor of mid-sized South Bend, Indiana, and openly homosexual, and until he became a media darling he was little-known, but he could be a formidable opponent for Trump. His youth shouldn’t be any more an issue than Trump’s advanced age, his political experience exceeds Trump’s, and Trump has no standing to criticize anybody’s sexual behavior. Buttigieg also served in the military, has excellent educational credentials, is well-spoken in eight languages, and is centrist enough that Trump will have a hard time portraying him as a left-wing crazy.
The “town hall” went enough for Buttigieg that Trump was complaining about Fox broadcasting it.
“Hard to believe that @FoxNews is wasting airtime on Mayor Pete, as Chris Wallace likes to him,” a two-part Trump “tweet” said. “Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems. They got dumped from the Democrats boring debates, and they just want in. They forgot the people … who got them there. Chris Wallace said, ‘I actually think, whether you like his opinions or not, that Mayor Pete has a lot of substance … fascinating biography.’ Gee, he never speaks well of me — I like Mike Wallace better … and Alfred E. Newman will never be president!”
One hardly knows where to begin finding fault with this “tweet.” There’s the obviously bad idea a major news network shouldn’t be covering a major party’s presidential primaries, for one thing, and Trump’s grousing that he doesn’t get sufficient sycophantic support from Fox is also ridiculous. Trump misspelled the name of Mad Magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman, too, which is hard for readers of our age to forgive, and readers younger than ourselves probably won’t get the reference at all. Even if some people notice some similarity between Neuman and Buttigieg — which we don’t, by the way — Trump won’t beat the Democrat on handsomeness.
There are surely some Democratic primary voters who will resent any candidate appearing on Fox, but surely many more who will applaud a willingness to wade into what is widely considered enemy territory, especially if the candidates perform as well as Sanders and Buttigieg are thought to have done. Any Democrat who wins the nomination will eventually have to engage with the network in the general election, anyway, so they might as well start now.
Both Sanders and Buttigieg took the opportunity to criticize Fox News’ opinion programs, by the way, and with Trump now badmouthing the network might be able to credibly revive its “fair and balanced” slogan.

— Bud Norman