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The Democrats’ Debate, Part II

For the second night in a row there was a Democratic primary debate on Thursday, this time featuring another 10 candidates, and for the most part it consisted of the kind of loony left crazy talk that might yet get President Donald Trump reelected. We hate to say it, but here we are.
There are so many Democrats who think they have a shot at beating Trump that they had to divide the field into two 10-person debates, with another four or five or six or so contenders left out altogether, and once again the candidates were given a mere 60 seconds to explain how they planned to solve such complicated problems as illegal immigration and America’s imperfect health care system and its ongoing racial tensions. No one wound up speaking for more than a cumulative six minutes during the debate, which made it hard for anyone to stand out in the crowded field, but we’re inclined to believe the conventional wisdom of all the pundits that California Sen. Kamala Harris got the best of it.
Unlike on Wednesday night the National Broadcasting Company didn’t have any embarrassing technical difficulties to delay the debate, but it started with a cacophony of most of the candidates trying to out shout one another, which the moderators were unable to contain. It ended with Harris raising her well-toned arms and saying “Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their tables.” After that, she seemed to command the stage, for better and worse, as far as we’re concerned.
According to all the polls the front-runner in the race is former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, followed closely by the self-proclaimed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and then Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who didn’t make much of her time on stage during Wednesday’s debate, but neither candidate fared particularly well.
Biden didn’t make any of his usual gaffes that can be endlessly replayed on cable news, but neither did he have the bright shining moment that can be endlessly replayed, and he took a lot of flak from pretty much everyone. Some Democrat we can’t quite name started it off by recalling the time he heard Biden give a speech some 30 years ago about passing the torch of Democratic leadership to a younger generation, Biden had a pretty good response about he’s still carrying that torch, but he’s even older than Trump and looked it. On the race question that always preoccupies Democrats he was criticized for recently saying that he once worked segregationist Democrats to get some non-racist legislation passed, which is offensive to contemporary Democratic sensibilities and yet another reminder of how very old he is. Harris also criticized Biden for his stand against busing schoolchildren to achieve desegregation, which is an issue from way back when we were in elementary and junior high school, and although we then agreed completely with the stand Biden took and still do we figure that the relative youngsters who will make up most of the Democratic primary electorate don’t know much about history and their exquisitely sensitive racial sensibilities will be offended.
Most of the field also took aim at Biden for being in on President Barack Obama’s supposedly harsh immigration policies, which surely sounded weird to any Republican ears that happened to be tuned in. Trump likes to blame Obama for the harsh family separation and detention policies he’s controversially imposed, but he also likes to claim that he’s saved us from Obama’s America-hating policy of opening America’s borders to the gang-banging rapists and drug dealers that were flowing into the country. If facts still matter Obama set a record for deportations during his two terms, which was controversial among Democrats even though it prioritized deportations of the gang-banging rapists and drug dealers who were undeniably out there, but Biden somehow had a hard time defending such a sensible policy.
Sanders didn’t commit any endlessly re-playable gaffes, either, at least not if you’re the sort of loony left die-hard supporter who voted for him last time around, but neither did he have his breakout moment, and he didn’t take much flak from the rest of the field. Most of the candidates were trying go even further left in promising free medical care for citizens and non-citizens alike, as well as free college educations and guaranteed incomes and free this and free that, and they all seemed to believe it could be done without adding to our current trillion dollar deficits or 20-trillion-plus national debt. This is all loony left crazy talk, of course, and just the sort of thing that can get Trump reelected, despite the trillion dollar deficits he’s been racking up in what he brags is the best economy ever.
To our eyes and ears the sanest person on the stage was former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, but we’re still registered Republicans and our kooky  Democratic friends probably won’t take our advice when they cast their votes in next year’s Kansas primaries. Hickenlooper much endeared himself too ourselves when he got booed off the stage at a California party meeting by stating the obvious truth that kicking millions of Americans off their private insurance plans is bad policy and even worse politics, and he was met with icy silence on Thursday when he quite rightly said that if the Democratic doesn’t explicitly reject the socialist label Trump would be able tar them with it, which we heartily agreed with.
By most accounts Hickenlooper presided over good times in Colorado for two terms, even if the fact-checkers say he slightly overstates how good, and we hope he somehow sticks around in the Democratic race. He’s a boringly straight white male who’s endearingly lacking in charisma, given how disastrous the past two terms of charismatic presidents have been, and by current Democratic standards he seems quite tolerable. He made a fortune brewing beer, making him the first brewer since the great Samuel Adams of Massachusetts to be a governor of state, which we also find endearing, and he was governor when Colorado legalized marijuana, which is fine by us and should endear him to much of the Democratic party’s primary electorate.
In the first debate we found both Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar relatively sane and centrist by current Democratic standards, and there’s still a chance the Democrats won’t go so far to the loony left that they won’t wind up losing yet another election to the likes of Trump. As much as we hated Obama he lately doesn’t seem so bad, and for now neither does Biden. Trump and the Republicans are already calling Biden “Creepy Joe” because of his unsettling habit of rubbing women’s shoulders and sniffing their hair, but he hasn’t yet been caught bragging about any woman by the pussy. and at our age we find his old school approach to politics slightly reassuring.
That Harris woman is both a Californian and too far left for our pre-Trump Kansas Republican tastes, but she’s also a former California Attorney General who locked up and deported a lot of gang-banging rapist and drug-dealing illegal immigrants, and she seems relatively sane and centrist by current Democratic standards. She’s also a woman and multi-racial, so the Democrats will probably cut her some slack for her relative sanity and centrism, and we’ve noticed that in every interview she’s more well-spoken and fact-based than Trump, no matter what loony left rhetoric she’s spewing.
Trump is currently off to a G-20 summit where he’s insulting our allies and praising the world’s dictators, but he should take note that there’s still a chance the damned Democrats won’t blow the next election.

— Bud Norman

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The Race is On, and Off to a Slow Start

The Democratic party held its first presidential primary debate Wednesday night with ten candidates on the stage, and another ten slated for the stage in tonight’s part two, and another six or so contenders are being left out of the mix. What’s sure to be a prolonged reality show got off to a rather boring start, we thought, but it might gain steam as the contestants begin getting voted off the island.
The debate started off with some embarrassing technical problems from the National Broadcasting Company, and the format that followed was also problematic. Each candidate was given 60 seconds to explain how he or she would solve such complicated problems as climate change and gun violence and a majority-Republican Senate, which is more than we could do even in our very fast-talking high school and college debate days, and they each wound up with less than eight minutes of air time to talk to the Democratic primary electorate. As a result we don’t think anyone clearly lost or won, but that didn’t stop all the pundits from picking winners as losers.
We were most impressed by Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who talked about how the Democrats need to regain their former reputation as the party of the working class instead of the Ivy League and Hollywood and certain racial and sexual identity groups, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who stressed her record of winning in Republican precincts and getting bills passed and signed with bipartisan support, but we’re still registered Republicans and won’t be voting in the Democratic primary. Our many Democratic friends probably saw it differently.
The polls say the front runner of the ten randomly picked candidates who had met the party’s threshold for inclusion in the debates was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and she didn’t make any glaring mistakes, but neither did she say anything that people will remember when the voting starts in the Iowa caucus some eight months from now. Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker seem to have at least improved their name recognition numbers, judging by the Google search results, along with New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and former San Antonio mayor and Housing Secretary Julian Castro, but none of them scored a knockout.
Gabbard is young and surprisingly physically attractive by political standards, and she also has an impressive military record that the aged and ugly and draft-dodging President Donald Trump can’t compete with, but she lost us when she made clear that she was even wimpier than Trump about enforcing a Pax Americana on a question about Afghanistan. Booker seems a bright fellow, but he also seems to exemplify the identity politics that Ryan rightly warned against. The white DeBlasio got a lot of Google searches when he mentioned his black son, but we think he’s been a disastrous mayor of New York City, even if he probably would win New York City and New York state’s votes by a landslide. Castro probably endeared himself to Spanish-speaking Democratic voters with some Spanish lines, and dealt a clear blow to former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s efforts to court that constituency, but we don’t habla much espanol and weren’t much impressed.
We were slightly surprised that none of the candidates went on at much length about Trump, although it’s a given that none of them like him and it’s pointless to argue about who hates him the most, but we were even more surprised to see that none of them took aim at former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, the front runner in all the polls who will hold center stage in tonight’s debate. The other nine candidates who qualified to share the stage with Biden will probably be more critical, but for now the Democrats don’t seem to be forming their usual circular firing squad.
At this point, we’re only hoping our Democratic friends choose the least kooky of their options.

— Bud Norman

The Race Is On

America and the rest of the world aren’t yet halfway through 2019, but the 2020 presidential election is already underway. Today brings the first Democratic primary debate between ten candidates, tomorrow brings another debate between yet another ten candidates, and so far as we can tell there are at least another five or or six Democratic contenders who are left out of the stages.
We’ll be watching both debates with rapt interest, as we’re slightly hopeful the damned Democrats don’t come up with someone who isn’t so loonily far left that he or she can’t beat President Donald Trump. It’s only a slight hope, though, as the damned Democrats these strike us as arguably even crazier than Trump and the damned Republicans. That very crowded field of Democratic contenders also worries us, even if there are a few among them we could tolerate.
Last time around there were a record-setting 17 candidates in the Republican primary, which meant that a candidate could be leading the field by with a mere 10 percent in the polls. As a former reality show star on television Trump had better name recognition than any of the distinguished senators and governors and successful business executives he was running against, which earned him the podium on the center stage of the debates, and his flair for show biz somehow overwhelmed all the more carefully deliberated and dignifiedly presented arguments of his lesser-known but more distinguished co-stars. He wound up winning a series of state primary races with a plurality of the vote, which fortified his front-runner status, but he never won a majority of the Republican primary votes until all the other contenders had dropped out. Since then at least 90 percent of the Republican party has been willing to defend any damned dumb thing he might say or do, and this time around the Democrats seem likely to make the same mistake.
For now the front runner in the Democratic race is Joe Biden, who was a longtime senator from Delaware and vice president during the administration of President Barack Obama, which is somehow well remembered by about 90 percent of those damned Democrats, and we figure that’s mostly due to reality show name recognition. Biden is gaffe prone, though, and doesn’t seem to have Trump’s uncanny knack for turning gaffes into public relations bonanzas, and all of the 25 or 26 other Democratic contenders are already subtly attacking him from the left flank, so at this point we’re not placing any bets on the current favorite. His latest gaffe was talking about how he used to strike deals on non-racial matters with the segregationist Democratic Senators who used to exist at the beginning of his very long political career, and although much of the Democratic party and the mainstream media were outraged it sounded quite reasonable to our Party of Lincoln Republican ears. The most flamboyant of the even further left Democrats could well wind up winning enough pluralities in the early primaries and eventually wind up in the White House with 90 percent of the damned Democrats defending any damned dumb thing he or she might say or do.
The only thing we can count on is that for the second time in our lives we’ll be voting for none of the above, and holding out faint hope the republic somehow survives.

— Bud Norman

J’accuse, Against Both Parties

For many years a woman named Juanita Broaddrick has publicly alleged that President Bill Clinton raped her in a hotel room while he was the Arkansas Attorney General, and we’ve always believed her. President Donald Trump believed her, too, or at least said he did when he invited Broaddrick and three other women who accused Clinton of sexual misconduct to a news conference in the aftermath of the release of the famous “Hollywood Access” tape that captured Trump boasting about his ability to get away with sexual assault.
Since then 13 different women have publicly accused Trump of the very sort of behavior he had bragged about, and  a former teen beauty contestant has accused him of invading a dressing room to ogle her in a state of undress, as Trump had bragged to shock jock Howard Stern about doing, and now a woman named E. Jean Carroll is publicly alleging that Trump raped her in a fancy department store’s dressing room while he was a name in the New York tabloid headlines and failing casino mogul. We believe them, too.
Broaddrick had no apparent motive for lying about Clinton, and ample reason to not expose herself to the public scrutiny and partisan opprobrium that her allegations inevitably brought. Clinton had already paid a sizable settlement to a low-ranking Arkansas civil servant named Paula jones who alleged he had exposed himself and made lewd suggestions in another hotel room, and he didn’t seem to mind his longstanding reputation for being a sexual predator, so given our general lack of respect for his character the accusations seemed plausible enough.
Carroll has a new book out that makes brief mention of the incident, but she’s a former writer for the “Saturday Night Live” comedy and a widely-read advice columnist and established author, and the press is by now inured to such allegations, so that doesn’t seem sufficient motive for her to lie about Trump and invite the death threats she’s inevitably received. She’s a registered Democrat who’s made contributions to Democratic campaigns, but so was Trump at the time of the alleged rape, and our experience of Democratic women is that they’re no more likely to make false allegations of rape than their Republican counterparts. As we’ve already mentioned Trump has boasted about the sexual misbehavior he’s been accused of, and he went on at length in his book “The Art of the Deal” about his aggressive and adulterous sexual appetites, and he’s carefully cultivated a reputation as a man who won’t take “no” for an answer.
Trump says she’s lying, of course, just as he says those other 14 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct are also for some reason lying. None of them have become rich and famous on their accusations, which Trump and his apologists said was their motivation, and all of them are still sticking to their highly credible stories despite all the grief and public embarrassment it has caused them. Meanwhile, Trump’s denials are not convincing.
At first Trump denied ever even meeting Carroll, but a picture of him and his then-wife laughing it up with Carroll and her then-husband at a fancy New York party made that hard to sustain. By Monday Trump was telling The Hill newspaper that “I’ll say with great respect, number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. Never happened, OK?”
This doesn’t strike us as at all respectful, for one thing, and the implication that he might have raped her if he’d found her hotter is not at all reassuring. Carroll strikes us an attractive woman of a certain age, and we can easily believe her modest claim that 24 or 23 years ago she happened to be one of the more attractive women in that fancy department store on that particular day. For another thing, we’ve noticed that whenever Trump says something twice and adds “OK?” to the end he’s usually lying.
We say that with great respect, by the way. OK?
Way back when Broaddrick and Jones were making their highly believable accusations against Clinton we were mightily disappointed by most of our Democratic friends. They’d all believed every word of Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, as well as anything salacious any woman had to say about any Republican candidate or office holder, and they were all the sorts of feminists who insisted on believing the woman in any he-said she-said situation, but they made an exception for Clinton. He was in favor of legal abortion and was otherwise in line with their notions of women’s rights, after all, and the only bulwark against the “Handmaiden’s Tale” theocracy that would surely result if another Republican ever became president, so they were willing to extend a very generous benefit of the doubt, and in many cases admitted they’d give Clinton a pass even if the allegations were true. Jones accused Clinton of pulling out his penis and telling her to suck it, having used a state trooper to bring her to his hotel room, and ultra-feminist Gloria Steinem gave him a free pass on the “one grope free” rule, as he eventually took “no” for an answer, which was pretty much the end of her reputation, and which she now regrets.
This time around we find ourselves even more disappointed with our Republican friends. The erstwhile party of “family values” and “character counts” and the gentlemanly Judeo-Christian tradition has reconciled itself to a thrice-married and six-times-bankrupt casino mogul who has publicly bragged about all the married babes he’s bagged over the years, and it’s willing to extended him a seemingly unlimited benefit of the doubt about everything, and the once Grand Old Party doesn’t seem to care much even if Trump has grabbed some women by the pussy over the years. They believed Broaddrick and Jones and any other women making allegations against Democrats, but this time is different. This time it’s the sort of alpha male behavior that Trump’s die-hard supporters seem to love, after all, and they always tell us he’s the only thing standing between us and the socialist hell that would surely result if another Democrat were ever elected president. Such self-proclaimed “religious right” leaders as Jerry Falwell Jr. have declared Trump a divinely chosen leader, and we expect they’ll eventually regret that.
We never intended this to be another pornographic web site, so we apologize about writing about men pulling out their penises and telling women to suck it, or men grabbing women by the pussy, and it’s more painful to write that we believe at least two of the presidents of the United States in our lifetime are probably rapists and certainly moral reprobates. That’s where we find ourselves, though, and we hold out faint hope that sooner or later both our Democratic and Republican friends will insist on something better.

— Bud Norman

Dave Bartholomew, RIP

The past weekend was full of news about war and peace and politics and possible economic problems, but we thought the big story was the death of Dave Bartholomew at the ripe old age of 100. It was another desultory reminder that a better century of American musical culture has also passed away.
You have to be an obsessively avid student of America’s glorious vernacular music history to know who Bartholomew was, but if you are you’ll know he was one of the very important guys who made it great. Back in the ’50s and early ’60s the essential American music city of New Orleans was right up there with Memphis as the rocking and rolling-est and rhythmic and bluesy place in the country, with the likes of Fats Domino and Little Richard and Lloyd Price and Lee Dorsey and Shirley & Lee and Jimmy Clayton and Professor Longhair and Ernie K-Doe and Clarence “Frogman” Henry and The Showmen making it damned hard for a hep cat music lover to decide where to do his drinking and dancing on any given night. Bartholomew never seemed to mind they were all more famous than him, but in most cases he was the songwriter and arranger and band leader and record producer and session trumpet player and musical visionary who brought it all together, and he was seemingly content that all his peers acknowledged it.
Bartholomew was born in a small town near New Orleans not long after the Crescent City gave birth to the quintessential American art form of jazz, and he started his musical career as as trumpet player in the big bands of the brilliant swing era that soon followed. In ’42 Bartholomew wound up in the Army, where he learned to write and arrange music and put it all down paper while on a very lucky assignment in an Army band, and after that he was pretty much set on his career path. The post-war years proved crazy for American culture in general and American music in particular, but Bartholomew seized the moment. Jazz and swing had given way to rhythm and blues and then the even more subversive rock ‘n’ roll, and Bartholomew knew exactly what to do about it.
Up the Mississippi River in the other essential American music city of Memphis there had always been a harder edge to the music ever since it gave birth to the blues. Such bluesmen as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King had piercing guitars and gravelly vocals, and with the unheralded poor white trash Sun Records boss Sam Phillips watching over such poor white trash boys as Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis they added that to their country-and-western laments and rock ‘n’ roll was born. Surf and psychedelic and hard and heavy metal and punk and post-punk rock soon followed, for better and worse, but under the watchful eyes of Dave Bartholomew New Orleans went its own way.
Farther down the Mississippi River in New Orleans they tended to ignore the hard times and laissez les bon temps rouler, and hew to the ancient and venerable  tradition of jazz, and Bartholomew made sure that New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll kept that up. The white Elvis Presley was the record-setting singer of early rock ‘n’ roll, but the black Fats Domino was always close behind, with his rollicking piano licks and good times feel, and the very black Bartholomew was always closely involved in every hit. He was in on other countless New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll classics as well. As much as we love that low-down Memphis rock ‘n’ roll we have to admit the New Orleans version was jazzier and more sophisticated, and we credit Bartholomew with the occasionally more elegant turns that rock ‘n’ roll has taken since then.
In most of the many decades after that Bartholomew continued to be involved in great New Orleans and American music as a trumpeter and writer and arranger and occasional record producer, recording some great Afro-Caribbean and straight jazz tracks, and he didn’t seem to mind much if he didn’t become as famous as he deserved to be. The most avid fans of America’s great vernacular music will appreciate what he did over his century on earth, at least, and we hope that and his rich musical legacy and God’s mercy will satisfy his considerable soul.

— Bud Norman

Another Muddled Situation in the Middle East

The Iranian military shot down an American drone aircraft on Thursday, and neither side disputes that. Pretty much everything else about the incident is unclear, however, as is the rest of the increasingly tense relationship between the two countries.
Iran claims the drone was within its sovereign airspace, making the craft fair game to be shot down under international rules, but President Donald Trump claims to have conclusive proof from his intelligence sources that the aircraft was in neutral airspace, which makes the downing an arguable act of war. This further muddles an already muddled situation between the two countries, which is further complicated by the fact that both countries currently have very unpredictable leadership.
The problem started long before Trump way back in the administration of Jimmy Carter when a harsh theocratic dictatorship seized power in Iran, as far as we’re concerned, although they do have a plausible argument it started with America’s backing of the harsh but secular and America-friendly dictatorship of the Shahs way back in the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. In any case, the first thing the theocratic dictatorship did when it took power was to take fifty-two American diplomats hostage, and hold them in inhumane conditions for 444 days until President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, and things between the two countries have been complicated ever since.
We concluded at the time, and to this day believe, that the hostages were released because the nutcase Iranian theocracy had concluded Reagan was going to be far tougher on them than Carter had been, and all of our Democratic friends were equally convinced that Reagan was just as willing to start a global conflagration with even the Soviet Union, so we still figure there’s something to be said for tough diplomacy. Reagan’s administration wound up trading arms with the Iranian theocracy for some hostages it and its terrorist gang proxies still held and using the extra profits to fund anti-communist forces in Nicaragua, on the other hand, and neither the sticks nor the carrots of the subsequent Democratic and Republican administrations have adequately solved the Middle Eastern problem.
With help from six of our most longstanding and militarily formidable European allies and the mighty combined weight of their economic sanctions President Barack Obama persuaded Iran to agree to a temporary shutdown or at least a shutdown of its nuclear weapons program. Critics such as ourselves argued at the time it was only temporary shutdown and arguably just a slowdown of Iran’s nuclear bomb program, and did nothing to curtail its intercontinental missile program or funding of terrorist gang proxies throughout the Middle East, or the nefarious meddling in every Middle Eastern crisis that popped up, and that given the western leverage a better deal could have been reached. All that still rings true, but Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal and and despite his much-bragged about negotiating skill hasn’t yet delivered the promised better one, and things remain unsettled.
Trump has reimposed severe economic sanctions on Iran’s already struggling economy, but none of those six longstanding and militarily formidable European allies have followed suit, and without their combined economic weight and assured military alliance the Iranians are less likely to blink. Trump has been squabbling with all of our longstanding allies around the world ever since he took office, and nutcases though they are the Iranian theocrats have surely noticed, and they might also sense other signs of weakness.
Trump ran for office as a a tough guy who wouldn’t let America be pushed around, but he also ran as Vietnam War draft dodger who alleged President George W. Bush lied America into a Middle Eastern quagmire, even as he criticized Obama for his premature withdrawal from the Iraqi conflict that Bush had allegedly lied us into, and while in office his foreign policy has been similarly schizophrenic. Currently he’s got some old school Cold War Republican internationalists  as Secretary of State and national security advisor, and for embarrassing reasons has no Secretary of Defense at all at the moment, yet he retains his cocksure and surprisingly risk-averse and isolationist instincts, and so far it’s led to a muddled message in the current crisis.
Trump “tweeted” that Iran had made a “very big mistake” by shooting down the drone, adding the usual exclamation mark at the end, but he later clarified that. Trump’s most ardent apologists always tell us we should take his rhetoric seriously but not literally, but in this case Trump explained that he was being literal rather serious. Trump explained he meant to say that Iran had made an actual mistake, with some trigger happy lower-ranking military officer launching the shoot down the $100 million yet unmanned drone without orders from the nutcase theocratic dictatorship, which is just one of those those things that happen in such a complicated world and no reason for nations to go to war.
Trump has also given credence to Iran’s explanations of a couple of attacks on oil tankers on the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran’s terrorist proxies have claimed credit for and which Iran has plausibly claimed it had nothing to do with. Trump’s old school Secretary of State and national advisor have blamed have blamed Iran for threatening a shipping lane crucial to the economies of our longstanding European allies and the rest of the world, but Trump himself has dismissed both incidents as “very minor,” and the self-described tough guy seems in no mood for a fight.
Which is probably for the best, given the current circumstances. We doubt that the nutcase theocratic regime in Iran is any more eager for a fight with the far more formidable United States military, as nutty as the theocratic regime might be, so there’s hope the desultory status quo will last until at least the next American presidential election.
In a more perfect world America wouldn’t have a president who has repeatedly cast international doubt on the conclusions of America’s intelligence, and one who has continued to negotiate with the puny likes of Iran as the leader of a unified coalition of the democratic and militarily and economically formidable western world, but here we are. We can’t say that any of these damned Democratic contenders for the presidency would fare  any better, on the other hand, so for now we’ll hold out hope for even the most desultory sort of  peace.

— Bud Norman

Between Brawls and Debates

On an otherwise slow news day, a couple of stories in The Washington Post caught our eye. One was about a brawl that broke out between some parents at a Little League baseball game in Lakewood, Colorado. The other was about a supporter of President Donald Trump allegedly assaulting a newspaper reporter outside Tuesday’s big reelection announcement rally in Orlando, Florida.
The stories might well strike you as entirely unrelated, and perhaps they are, but we read them as just two more in a daily diet of tales about America’s gradually slide into trash-talking and sucker-punching incivility, which seems to have picked up pace over the past few years. There’s no blaming Trump for human nature’s most savage impulses, of course, but we can’t say he’s done much while in office to encourage what President Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
Which is not to say the damned Democrats are any better, or aren’t arguably worse. The left includes the black-masked Antifa and other gangs that often smash both windows and heads during otherwise peaceful protests, and for all its good intentions the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality has led to deadly attacks on blameless law enforcement officers. The equally well-intentioned Me Too movement against sexual assault and harassment has harmed the reputations of celebrities whose only crimes seem to be acting like slightly less than perfect gentleman, and conservative youngsters are being kicked out of fancy colleges for some stupid things they said on the internet in their high school days.
There are also plenty of pundits on the left, not just on the far fringes of the vast internet but also in the mainstream media, who encourage such behavior by casting their ideological opponents as spiteful enemies of the common good for their insistence on such radical notions as property rights and individual liberty and low taxes to pay for a limited government. Many high-ranking Democratic office-holders use the same extreme and provocative rhetoric, in some cases as they pursue the highest office in the land, and they’re not setting a good example for Little League parents anywhere.
Alas, neither is the current President of the United States. Trump refrained from urging the crowd to beat up protestors, as he repeatedly during the ’16 campaign, but he goaded the crowd into once again chanting “lock her up” about his vanquished and currently irrelevant opponent Hillary Clinton, and as always he stoked the crowd’s already red-hot hatred of those “enemies of the people” in the free press “fake news” media who were then broadcasting his remarks to the nation. The guy who is charged with assaulting the reporter from the Orlando Sentinel was also charged with public inebriation, and seems to have been kicked out of the rally for that offense, but the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board had endorsed anybody but Trump that same day, and we guess that the alleged and caught-on-video assaulter been emboldened by what he’d heard before being kicked out of the rally.
Some Trump apologists we know and love tell us he’s the leader they’ve longed for who fights fire with fire, and punches back ten times harder, as it’s come down to street-level and existential battle with these damned America-hating Democrats. They hear it on the eight straight hours of talk radio that a local station broadcasts, in most of the evening opinion shows on the Fox Network, and on Tuesday night they could have turned to any news channel and hear Trump accusing his opponents of “un-American conduct” and warning “they want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as they know it.” We have to admit it’s frightening stuff, even a call to arms, but we find it unpersuasive.
There are indeed some dangerously deranged people out there on the left, but most of the damned Democrats we drink beer and do business with and encounter in our neighborhood walks are patriotic and well-intentioned people who happen to have some very stupid ideas about certain things. Lately they’re all talking about whom to choose from a very crowded field of contenders for their Democratic presidential nominee, and they all seem to be weighing who’s mostly likely to beat Trump with the most leftward platform. In these strange times, we find ourselves wishing them the best in figuring it out, along with the advice they choose the least stupid and most electable of the candidates. We’re urging such centrist candidates as Colorado Gov. John Hicklenlooper and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and despite being a Democrat from California with some very stupid ideas the Democratic California Sen. Kamala Harris impresses us with her calm demeanor and carefully parsed answers in every interview. In any case, we don’t expect Trump will once again have the good fortune to run against Hillary Clinton and her long-forgotten e-mails
Many of the Democratic presidential candidates want to impeach Trump, others want to impeach him but only after a fair trial, while some want him to face federal and state charges after he’s removed from office next election, and at this point any of these options would be agreeable to our formerly Republican selves. They’re all running on specific policy positions, however, and although most of those stands strike us as damned stupid we have to give them credit for that. Any candidate of either party who wants to return to debating policy matters rather than questioning the other side’s patriotism and calling for them to be taken out on stretchers will earn our consideration.
Our mostly civilized experience of American life tells us that in a civil and carefully deliberated debate property rights and individual liberty and low taxes to support a limited government would prevail over some of the stupid socialistic ideas so many of the damned Democrats are currently peddling. Infuse that with the idealism of the party of Lincoln’s call for “malice toward none and charity towards all” and we think a Grand Old Party would be cruising to an electoral victory. It’s hard to imagine such words coming from party of Trump, though, so we’ll hunker down here at home and see how it all plays out on the streets, and await a president who appeals to the better angels of nature.

— Bud Norman

Hoping the Third Time’s a Charm at the Department of Defense

Army secretary Mark Esper has been named acting defense secretary, making him the third person to head the Department of Defense of during Trump’s two-and-a-half years in office. Here’s hoping he has better luck at the job than his predecessors.
Esper got the nod after acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrew his nomination for the official post because of a domestic violence scandal. Unlike the three previous Trump administration appointees and the former Trump campaign official who resigned due to domestic violence scandals, in this case it was Shanahan’s now ex-wife who was arrested for battering him. That’s still something Shanahan didn’t want to have to explain at a confirmation hearing, and he was probably even less eager to answer questions about a son’s arrest for beating his mother with a baseball bat, and why Shanahan told the police and courts it was a case of self-defense.
Shanahan was preceded by Jim Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general with a spotless reputation who breezed through his confirmation hearings and won bipartisan respect for his performance in the job, but he wound up resigning in less than a year, making it clear in his resignation letter that he disagreed with President Donald Trump on several important issues of national security. “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malignant actors and strategic competitors are strongly held,” Mattis wrote. “Because you have to the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down.”
Esper’s confirmation hearing for his Army post didn’t turn up any scandals, so it’s unlikely the next round will dig up some dirt that the Trump administration’s notoriously lax vetting process overlooked. It’s also unlikely he’ll dare to differ with Trump with about anything, no matter how obviously wrong Trump might be.
The Democrats on the confirmation committee will probably have some questions to ask about Esper’s tenure as top lobbyist for Raytheon, the military’s second biggest contractor, but they would have had the same questions about Shanahan’s long career as high-ranking executive at Boeing, the military’s biggest contractor. The Democrats will probably have the same questions for any fourth nominee Trump might put forward, as he’s clearly comfortable with the military-industrial complex, and has jettisoned all the multi-starred generals and admirals he once bragged about for daring to disagree with him.
Esper’s outstanding resume includes the dean’s list as West Point, a master’s degree from Harvard’s school of government, and a doctorate in philosophy of all things from George Washington University. He served in the 101st Airborne Division during the first Gulf War, was chief of staff at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, and has held various government posts in the executive and legislative branches.
Despite such impeccable credentials, he was Trump’s third choice for Army secretary after the first two withdrew their nominations, in one case because the nominee didn’t want to divest his business holdings in defense-related business, in the other because of controversial comments about transgender bathrooms and Islam.
Esper will have to answer some tough questions from the Democrats about his handling of several sexual assault and harassment cases he handled as Army secretary, but the Republicans who hold a sight majority in the Senate probably won’t much care about that. We expect he’ll once again be easily confirmed, and will wind up doing as good a job as can be expected in an administration where the president and his national security advisor and Secretary of State are feuding about how to handle Iran’s recent aggression . He no doubt knows far more about defense issues than Trump does, as do Trump’s national security advisor and Secretary of State,  but Esper also seems shrewd enough to not let the boss know that.

— Bud Norman

Another Round of Anxiety About Iran

Iran’s Islamist dictatorship has been a thorny problem for America and the rest of the world ever since it took power way back in the days of President Jimmy Carter, and it seems thornier than ever at the moment. A thousand or so American troops are headed to the Middle East to back up the thousands already there and the Naval fleet that was recently dispatched to the region, Iran is threatening to reactivate its nuclear weapons program and deploys its terrorism capabilities, and the rest of the world is arguing what to do about it.
President Donald Trump is a self-proclaimed “very stable genius,” and his fans insist he’s playing three-dimensional chess while all his domestic and foreign adversaries are playing checkers, but we are not reassured.
We don’t blame Trump for the current tensions, as our disdain for the Iranian regime is more longstanding and exceeds even our disdain for Trump. If Iran’s nutcase theocracy treated its people humanely and dealt fairly in its business with the rest of the world and wasn’t steadily pursuing its stated goal of Armageddon there wouldn’t be any problem at all. They were a pain in the world’s butt before anyone ever heard of Trump, and probably will be after he exits the the world stage, and we hopefully expect the rest of the world agrees.
The rest of the world seems to have noticed that Trump’s inchoate foreign policies haven’t helped, on the other hand, and we agree reluctantly agree with the global consensus that he’s probably made it worse.
There were compelling arguments that the deal President Barack Obama and the leaders of six of our most essential and most longtime European allies could have been better, and at the time we made those arguments here, but Trump’s decision to unilaterally pull out of the deal clearly hasn’t yielded the more perfect deal Trump promised. By pulling out of the deal Trump restored the crippling economic sanctions that had forced the Iranians’ earlier concessions, although six major European allies continued to do business with the regime, which further complicated Trump’s already complex trans-Atlantic trade and military and diplomatic relationships, and the Iranian regime so far hasn’t backed down. The intelligence communities of every western country, including the American intelligence agency heads appointed by Trump, had agreed that Iran was in compliance with the weak and temporary deal that at least prohibited them from acquiring the necessary materials for nuclear bombs, so Iran’s regime is making the argument that if Trump has pulled out of the deal and resumed sanctions they’re entitled to resume their nuclear program. Our erstwhile western trading and military and diplomatic allies, who tried mightily to persuade Trump to maintain the status quo, seem to find the regime’s argument plausible.
Two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz have recently been attacked, threatening a supply line of oil essential to the western worlds’ economies, and former Central Intelligence Agency director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he has proof the attacks were carried out by Iran. The Islamist terror group Taliban has claimed credit for the attacks, and although they’re closely tied to the Iranian regime they aren’t necessarily under its control, so for now our erstwhile allies taking a more skeptical view of the evidence. We’ve long taken the American intelligence community’s word, and we voted three times for Pompeo as our fourth district Congressman here in Kansas, but Trump has repeatedly said that they were all wrong about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, and Russia’s meddling in the past presidential election, and most recently about a program to have the capability for cyber-attacks against the Russian infrastructure in response to their cyber-attack threats against us.
Based on the past 40 years of watching the Iranian regime we can easily believe they’re responsible for the attacks on those oil tankers, but there’s always a chance they weren’t, and in either case Trump will have a hard time convincing the world that he went to war with Iran based on the American intelligence community’s conclusions.
Trump won the presidency on the argument that the rashly hawkish President George W. Bush had lied the country into an all-advised war with Iraq, and the wimpishly dovish President Barack Obama had prematurely withdrawn from that war and offered Iran too many concessions for a verifiable agreement to halt its nuclear weapons program, and that his own  long career making business deals would allow him to hit that sweet spot between tough guy and peacenik. So far it hasn’t worked out any better than Trump’s bankrupt casinos, with our allies no longer trusting us and our adversaries no longer fearing us, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that Trump’s “very stable genius” will avert the worst of all the possible outcomes.

–Bud Norman

The Very Early Presidential Polling

The world hasn’t yet revolved halfway through 2019, and the next presidential election isn’t until the 11th month of 2020, but all the political prognosticators are already busily prognosticating. We’ve seen far too many presidential elections to take any of it seriously, as pretty much every one of them turned out differently than what anybody expected at this early point in an election cycle, with the last time around being a perfect example.
Still, we can’t help noticing that despite his characteristic cocksureness President Donald Trump already seems nervous about his reelection chances.
Politico.com and then The New York Times reported that Trump’s own campaign polling shows him faring poorly against the leading Democratic candidates in several of the battleground states that narrowly handed him an electoral college victory, with the Times reporting that Trump had ordered his staff to lie about it, and Trump naturally responded that it was “fake news” fabricated by the “enemies of the people.” The American Broadcasting Company then reported it had copies of the internal polling which verified what the other media had released, and Trump’s campaign manager eventually admitted the numbers were real but insisted saying that it was data from three months ago and they they’d seen a dramatic shift in Trump’s favor since then, although he wouldn’t divulge the newer numbers. Over the weekend Trump fired his campaign pollsters, apparently for leaking the real unhappy numbers that Trump insisted the “fake news” had made up.
Throw in the facts that Trump won in 2016 with a mere 70,000 votes in four crucial states, all of which were within the pollsters’ margins or error, despite the losing the national popular vote by the three million million or so ballots that the pollsters predicted, and that no poll since has shown him within shouting distance of majority approval, except for the Rasmussen company that only surveys the oldsters who still have land line phones, which has never shown him over 50 percent, and we’re more inclined to believe the mostly reliable “fake news” rather than the constantly lying president. As of last March, at least, the president who promised his supporters they’d grow tired of winning seemed clearly to be losing.
Perhaps things have since turned around, as the president now claims, but he’s not releasing the updated numbers from the recently fired polling firm to back it up, and we can’t see what would have caused the claimed uptick in the polls. With the unemployment rate under 4 percent and the gross domestic product growing at an acceptably modest 3 percent rate or so Trump has rarely fallen under 40 percent in his approval ratings, but lately the economic data have been less rosy, and even a few congressional Republicans have timidly suggested that Trump’s trade wars with pretty much the entire world might have something to do with it. We haven’t yet entered any new wars, but his sworn enemies in Iran and the brutal North Korean dictator that Trump said he “fell in love” with are threatening them, and even a few congressional Republicans are expressing misgivings about how he’s handling that.
Last time around Trump had the good fortune to run against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and presumptive first woman president Hillary Clinton, who was arguably the worst major party presidential candidate ever, but even then he lost the popular vote and barely squeaked out an electoral victory in a few states she foolishly neglected. Much of the public had doubts about the thrice-married and six-times bankrupt and constantly sued and tax cheating real-estate casino-and-real-estate mogul’s character and honesty, and Trump has done nothing since then to reassure them that he’s the Christian leader God has chosen him to make America great thing. Nor has Trump come through with any of those great deals with the Democrats and the rest of the world that he promised to Rust Belt centrists would revive their outdated economic models.
Trump has taken extraordinary and extra-legal measures to build a few more miles of the wall along the southern border that he promised, although he no longer claims that Mexico will happily pay for it, and he’s enforced our immigration policies as cruelly as possible, and he has taunting nicknames for all of his critics, so that will probably placate most of the die-hard fans. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have won many converts.
Next time around Trump might get lucky yet once again, on the other hand. The leaked polls show him losing by wide margins in those key states to former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, who is a relatively mainstream politician compared to most of his 21 or so primary challengers, and currently enjoys a sizable lead in the primary race, but these damned Democrats are every bit as crazy as the damned Republicans, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the Donkey party chooses someone so far left they’re arguably worse than Trump. At our advanced age we can remember the election of ’72, when President Richard Nixon of all people won a huge popular and electoral landslide victory over the principled war hero but too-far-left Sen. George McGovern, which was shortly followed by Nixon resigning in disgrace as a result of the Watergate scandal. Although a lot has changed since then human nature has remained pretty much the same, and we can easily imagine something like that happening again.
We don’t much care for Biden, who is gaffe-prone and rightly called “Creepy Joe” by Trump for his behavior around women, even if he’s never grabbed any of them by the genitals, as Trump has bragged about doing. Nor do we much like any of the other Democrats, although that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar seem somewhat acceptable to us, which probably dooms them in the Democratic primaries. Neither do we have any respect for President Donald Trump’s character or policies, and we can at least be sure that he’ll once again be our Republican party’s nominee for president.
We’d like to think that November of next year is a long time away, and that anything could happen in the meantime, but at our advanced age we know that it’s just a blink of the eye and human nature doesn’t much change.

— Bud Norman