Monday is a New Day

The past weekend was bittersweet here in Wichita. The weather was mostly fine, but there were intermittent rainstorms and the nightly temperatures made clear that autumn has arrived, with another winter sure to follow. We were obliged to attend a couple of wakes for a dear friend of ours who died far too young. On Sunday the local newspaper where we worked for a quarter-century had a front page scoop that the mayor steered a multi-million dollar deal for the city’s water supply to some golfing buddies. Here and everywhere else in America the rest of the news was about a seemingly inevitable impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Despite it all, we found a few reasons to wake up with a hopeful feeling today.
There’s always a chance that the ever-changing Kansas climate will deliver us another mild winter, as we’ve had the past few years, and if that portends a climate change disaster for the rest of the world so be it. As fed up as we are with the demand Republicans we don’t think that voting for some damn Democrats will avert any looming catastrophes, as the Chinese and Indians and the rest of the world will continue to emit carbons even if America commits economic suicide, so we’ll hold out hope that God’s nature is resilient to the worst mere mankind can do.
As much as we’ll miss our dear friend Jon Janssen, we’ll take some solace in knowing that he died of a heart attack after a strenuous day of yard work rather than AIDS. Jon was a talented pianist and a gifted conversationalist and one of those good guys who loved his fellow humans and never wished harm on any of them. He was also a homosexual, and way back in the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic he was one of the very first to test positive for HIV, but for some reason he never progressed to the AIDS that killed so many of our mutual friends, and he bravely volunteered for the scientists’ grueling medical tests to find out why. We’ll hold out hope that Jon helped with the research that has kept so many people alive, and that with God’s mercy his kind and loving soul will persevere.
We do hate to see Wichita’s mayor implicated in a corruption scandal, as in this small town we have come to know him to be a likable fellow, with a charming wife, but we’re glad to see the local newspaper get the scoop. The byline on the story belongs to a young fellow we know from Kirby’s Beer Store, as he’s been hanging out there since his days on the across-the-street Wichita State University Sunflower, and we’re proud of his well-sourced and well-written work. We’ve often kidded him about how he missed out on the good old days when we had front page bylines on a fat and profitable newspaper, rather than the emaciated rag they turn out these days, but next time we see him we’ll buy him a Pabst Blue Ribbon for making the paper once again relevant. The mayor is up for reelection next November, and we’d already planned to vote against him because he tore down our beloved Lawrence-Dumont baseball stadium kicked out our beloved Wichita Wingnuts and built something uglier and modern that benefits some out of town contractors, but it’s nice to see that what’s left of our struggling hometown paper has bolstered the case for a new regime.
We’re no longer drinking buddies with the national media these days, but we mostly believe all these national stories that are driving the Democrats to impeach Trump, and we’re glad they’re on the job. In the coming cold and dark months they’ll probably have plenty more to report, and our old-fashioned Republican souls will be disheartened to hear it, but they’ll probably be right, and we’re always looking for the truth, as much as we hate to hear it.
Even on such a bittersweet prairie autumn evening as this, tomorrow is another day.


— Bud Norman

Just Another Manic Thursday

Information about the Ukraine thing was flowing fast and furious on Thursday, There was a torrent of self-serving leaks from both the White House and Congress, under oath testimony from the acting director of national intelligence, on camera pronouncements from both Republicans and Democrats, a slew of presidential “tweets,” and the belated release of the “whistler-blower’s” complaint that set it all in motion.
Various anonymous leaks indicate that the “whistleblower” is a Central Intelligence Agency official who had been assigned to duty at the White House, and his complaint alleges some serious misdeeds, including solicitation of the Ukraine’s government help in Trump’s reelection campaign, with help from the Justice Department, which a White House-released account of a presidential phone call with the Ukrainian president clearly confirms, as well as an effort to cover that up. The “whistleblower” wrote that “I am deeply concerned that the actions described constitute a ‘a serious or flagrant problem, abuse or violation of law or executive order,'” and that “I am also concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s attempts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”
The Democrats and their media allies were outraged, of course, and the Republicans and their media allies were left to insist that the dirt Trump was seeking on former Vice President and current Democratic primary front-runner Joe Biden is the real scandal. There was also talk of a “deep state” conspiracy to overturn the last election, and Trump was caught on a leaked audiotape telling a private audience that the “whistleblower” was “almost a spy,” and he got some nervous laughter by adding “You know what we used to do back when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little more differently than we do now.”
The expedited hanging Trump seems to either jokingly or ardently desire for his tormentor will be hard to achieve, though. Trump’s appointed acting directional of national television had earlier told a House committee that Trump’s appointed inspector general had agreed that the “whistleblower’s” complaint was “credible and urgent,” and he also told the committee that the “whistleblower” “did the right thing” and followed the law “at every step of the way.” After his initial hesitance to release the complaint, and his reliance on the White House’s legal office during two days delay, the Trump-appointed acting director of national intelligence admitted under oath that all along he’d been obliged by the law to pass it to Congress. If there is a “deep state” conspiracy afoot, it seems to pass legal and constitutional muster.
Perhaps there’s something to the Republican insistence that former Vice President and current Democratic front-runner Biden is the real villain of this convoluted tale. His son did make a lot of money in Ukraine while Biden was the point man for President Barack Obama’s strenuous efforts to influence the Ukrainian government, and we wouldn’t put anything past those damn Democrats, but so far the conspiracy theory’s timeline seems dubious, and all our other allies agreed on what Obama was seeking. In any case it doesn’t excuse what Trump has already admitted to doing, or his previous openly stated willingness to accept foreign interference in an election, and we can’t blame the damn Democrats for making political hay of it.
Even before the “whistle blower” and Ukrainian thing came along House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had cautiously given her blessing to an impeachment inquiry. Six separate committees lare now ooking into a special counsel report about Russia’s interference on Trump’s behalf during the last election and ten times that Trump attempted to hinder the investigation about it, the Trump-owned business that are making big bucks off his presidency, a hush money payment to a porn star that sent Trump’s personal lawyer to business, and a bunch of stuff we can’t quite remember on such a busy day.
Thursday’s plethora of news adds further momentum to the downhill slide toward impeachment, and makes it harder for Trump to persuade the country to lock up all the damn Democrats. The Democrats and a recent refugee from the Republican already have enough votes to impeach, and they reasonably expect to pick up after a few weeks of congressional hearings and subpoenaed documents and under oath testimony. Far less likely is that they’ll come up with a supermajority of votes in the Senate, which the Republicans hold by a razor-thin margin, but Trump has reason to be rattled, as he looks to be.
A few Republican Senators have expressed concern and cast procedural votes to force the release of documents, there are a record number of Republicans in the House who have decided to not seek reelection in their anti-Trump upscale suburban districts and have no reason to be loyal to Trump, and while most Republicans are digging in there are bound to be a few more defectors in the coming days. The “whistleblower” and the Ukrainian thing and what Trump has already confessed to are hard to defend, and those seven oversight committees might well turn up some skeletons in closets and smoking guns, and as it all ads uo it becomes wearisome to defend.
The momentum might well be to weak to remove Trump from office before the next election, and that’s probably the way to bet, but none of this can help his reelection chances. Were we the gambling sorts we’d probably bet that Biden won’t be the Democratic nominee, and that some loonier left sort of damn Democrat will be on the ticket, and for all of his or her inevitable flaws Trump will be hard pressed to get any dirt on him or her from any foreign powers.
Despite all the distractions the Senate overwhelmingly approved a stopgap spending resolution that closely remembered one passed earlier by the House, which prevents a government shutdown more easily than usual. The stock market is no longer booming but remains near its recent record highs, job growth has been slowing but the unemployment rate is still below what the economists used to call full employment, and for all the heightened tensions in the world none of them have yet brought us a new war, so Trump has that going for him. At least for now.

— Bud Norman

Another Day, Another Argument

President Donald Trump has released a transcript of his telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that freely admits he sought a foreign leader’s help in digging up dirt on a potential political rival, and he insists that’s no big deal. All the talk radio talkers and most of the congressional Republicans agree, and the die-hard fans wouldn’t think it a big deal if Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue, but all of the Democrats and most of the rest of the country are taking a dimmer view of the matter.
There’s no explicit threat by Trump in the transcript, but his request that Zelensky investigate former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son’s business dealings in Ukraine came in the context of of a discussion about Trump withholding some much-needed military aid, and after Trump had chided Zelensky about Ukraine owing America a lot of favors. Zelensky is a former comedian and novice politician who came to power by starring in a hit sit-com about a comedian who becomes president, whereas Trump a political novice who came to power by starring in a hit game show where he played a successful businessman, but we think they probably well understood one another.
Even without any explicit threats or quid pro quo deals — which might yet be revealed by the still-classified “whistle blower” complaint that started all of this — there’s still something that strikes us as untoward about a president asking a foreign country’s help in swinging an election.
Trump clearly doesn’t think so, as he stood in front of national television cameras and asked Russia to hack Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail account, which they immediately tried to do, He now claims it was just a joke to regale a laughing rally crowd, but it was actually said at a news conference, where he affirmatively answered stunned follow-up questions about if he was serious. He also told the American Broadcasting Company’s George Stephanopoulos that he didn’t see anything wrong with accept a foreign government’s dirt on an opponent, and he went right ahead and released that transcript on Thursday.
Most Republicans probably agree, but we wonder what they’d think if the next Democratic president, who’s bound to come along sooner or later, did the same thing. Most Republicans would also take a dim view of a Democratic president enriching himself or herself at taxpayer’s benefits and from business dealings with foreign powers, refusing to disclose how much they’ve made from by withholding their tax returns, committing crimes to cover up affairs with porn stars that sent their personal attorney to prison, and consistently saying untrue things and generally behaving in an undignified way. For now, though, it’s just Trump being Trump.
After a while it all adds up, though, and a popular if not an electoral majority of the country is growing weary of it. The Democrats won a majority of the House of Representatives in the last mid-term elections, and they’re almost all on board with an impeachment inquiry that will involve seven different oversight committees looking into all aspects of Trump’s business and political dealings, which are likely to come up with something the Republicans will have a hard time explaining. Enough of the Democrats in the House voted to launch the impeachment inquiry to actually impeach Trump, and that seems increasingly likely to happen.
Less likely is the Senate voting to remove the president, as the constitution requires. The last mid-terms left the Republicans with a razor-thin majority in the Senate, but it takes a supra-majority of 67 to convict a president on impeachment charges, and for now it’s hard to imagine the needed nine Republican votes coming forward to kick Trump out of the White House.
That’s for now, though, and there’s no telling what those seven oversight committees and that pesky press will come up with by year’s end. Already Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah have dared say they don’t think an American president of either party should be asking for a foreign country’s campaign contribution, others have said the same thing off the record, and there’s still an old-fashioned conservative intelligentsia that’s cheering them on. We hope most of their colleagues agree, despair that few of them will dare say so, and figure there’s still a chance Trump will rack up one scandal too many, as he’s just that kind of guy.
Trump was defiant during a rare formal press conference at the United Nations, without the whirr of a nearby helicopter, and made his usual complaints about the “fake news” and “witch hunts” and the made-up scandals that stain his good name. He didn’t seem his usual pugnacious self, though, and we’re tempted to use an old Trump insult and say the performance was “low energy.” To our careful eye, Trump also seems to be growing weary of it all.

— Bud Norman

No One is Unimpeachable

The damn Democrats are officially launching an impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump, with the blessing of very cautious House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and we can’t blame them. If a Democratic president was as credibly accused of doing what Trump stands credibly accused of doing a Republican majority in the House of Representatives would surely be doing the same, and we’d wish them well.
The proverbial straw that broke Pelosi’s rigid back is apparently the widely reported story about Trump asking the Ukrainian government to provide dirt on potential Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump swears he’d never do such a thing, and is promising to release a transcript of the telephone conversation with the Ukrainian leader to prove it, so far now we’ll wait to see how that turns out, but given Trump’s past statements aabout his about his willingness to accept foreign interference in an election we’ll read that transcript with a suspicious eye.
Even if the latest Trump scandal about Ukraine doesn’t prove damning enough, which is quite possible given how slippery Trump has proved during his long career as a celebrity, and how loyal the hard-core fans are, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives still has plenty to work with. There are the millions of dollars that are pouring into Trump-owned businesses with every presidential golf game, and more millions of dollars of arguably unconstitutional emoluments from foreign governments pouring into other Trump-owned properties, and the special counsel investigation that documented Russia’s meddling on Trump’s behalf and cited 10 different instances when Trump tried to impede an investigation into that, which used to be considered an abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
There are a number of other impeachable offenses Trump stands credibly accused of, from altering weather forecasts with a felt tip pen to his accommodationist policy toward Russia, and several more scandals we can’t currently recall might also appear in the impeachment bill, but for now that doesn’t much matter. Even if the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives votes to impeach Trump, as it might well do, there’s little chance that the razor-thin Republican majority in the Senate will provide the 67 votes needed to convict and remove a president.
If Trump is acquitted by the Senate in an impeachment trial he’ll run on for reelection as only the fourth president to be be impeached by the House of Representatives, and on unprecedented footing. All three of the previous impeached presidents faced judgment in their second terms. and although none were convicted in the Senate President Richard Nixon did resign rather than accept that inevitable fate. Trump might well use his vindication by a Republican-majority Senate to cast himself as a victim of a “deep state” conspiracy, and by a year from from next November he’ll probably have plenty of persuasive arguments against whatever nominee the damn Democrats come up with.
Rhese scandals have a cumulative effect, though, and we figure that come a year from next November the Democratic nominee will also have plenty to say. As Trump has boasted he really could shoot a man on Fifth Avenue and not lose a supporter, but he doesn’t seem to be picking up any new votes.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, On the Prairie Sports Pages

As much as we hate to see another summer pass, one of the compensations of autumn is that it soon brings basketball season. That’s a big deal here in hoops crazy Kansas, where all the universities and colleges and the big city and small town high schools and all the local playgrounds pride themselves on how well they play the beautiful game.
The big political story of the moment in is the ongoing argument about whether President Donald Trump or former Vice President and still front-running Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden should be hanged for treason because of the Ukrainian thing, but what caught our eye is the news that the University of Kansas Jayhawks are under scrutiny from the National Collegiate Athletic Association. On a calm and temperate autumn evening here in Wichita there’s a palpable feel of both the dismay and schadenfreude around here.
For those of you not who are blessed to be living in here in the heart of God’s country, we should explain that basketball exposes some class divisions around here. We grew up in the golden age of Wichita’s City League, when it was producing future professional stars, but these days the suburban leagues are holding their own in non-conference games, the small towns still continue to impress and come up with the occasional division one star and professional player, and for the most part it’s a friendly rivalry. The junior colleges in the Jayhawk League of community colleges produce a surprising number of professional players who couldn’t pass the pathetic minimum test scores for a division one are the big sporting attraction in a number of small Kansas towns, but that’s also mostly a friendly rivalry.
At the D-1 level of this hoops crazy state it’s more of a blood sport. The Kansas State University Wildcats have won numerous conference championships and often been top-20 teams, with a couple of Final Fours thrown in, and we don’t think that there are more than 40 states who can claim a college with a more impressive record. Our most beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers also have a lot of conference titles and top-20 rankings and a couple Final Fours to brag about, and given our coach’s coach-of-the-year-award-winning record there’s hope that they’ll be back in the top 20 and the tourney next March, when we hope Spring will arrive.
There’s no denying, though, damn it, that the KU Jayhawks sit atop the state’s basketball  hierarchy. They’ve been playing the game so long that basketball inventor James Naismith was once the coach, and over more than a century they’ve won a couple of contested and a few more un-contested national championships. They won 14 Big XII championships in a row before falling just short in the injury-riddled last year, routinely send players to stardom in the National Basketball Association, and along with Duke and North Carolina and Kentucky they’re one of the most blue-blooded of the sport’s perennial dynasties. Such a consistent record of excellence does demand some respect, of course, but to a Wildcat or ‘Shocker fan those Jayhawk fans can be damned annoying.
One wonders how they do it year after year, and we won’t be surprised if this latest NCAA probe provides some embarrassing explanation. KU’s basketball team and our still-beloved and similarly blue-blooded University of Oklahoma Sooners football team have occasionally been caught breaking rules. So have all the other blue bloods in the college football and basketball rackets over the past century or so, as well as both major party players in the political racket.
Perhaps there’s some perfectly reasonable explanation for everything, as there occasionally is in both the sporting and political realms, but we’re not bettors and will wait and see. In the meantime we’ll be rooting for the Wildcats and especially the Shockers, and wishing no malice against the Jayhawks, and hoping that it all the rest of everything ends with the the best team winning. Here’s also hoping that the ‘Shocks have a good run.

— Bud Norman

The Autumn of Our Discontent

Summer ends and autumn arrives at early afternoon here in Wichita, and if there aren’t any clouds at the exact moment we hope to watch the sun shine through a prism onto the autumnal equinox stone at the solar calendar a couple of our artsy friends erected in a nearby park. Equinoxes and solstices are usually well-attended at the spot, if the sun if shining, not for any pagan reasons but just because some people in this eccentric neighborhood want to share the experience of the changing of the seasons and the passage of our limited time on Earth.
Meanwhile, everything else keeps changing, and little of it brings people together. At the moment the big political news is about a “whistle-blower” and President Donald Trump and his telephone conversation with the Ukrainian president, and both sides of our vast political divide agree that it’s an outrage.
So far the facts of the matter aren’t entirely clear, as the Trump administration has prevented Congress or the press or the general public from seeing the “whistle-blower’s” complaint, but that naturally frustrates Trump’s critics, and all the anonymous leaks and Trump’s own statements on the matter seem to suggest that Trump did indeed at least imply a demand for dirt on potential Democratic campaign rival and former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for military aid that had been passed by Congress. This is quite arguably a very big deal, especially when you take into account that Trump openly invited Russia to find dirt on his last presidential opponent and frankly said on national television that he’d accept similar help from any other government, and on the left they’re making a very big deal of it.
On the right they’re more concerned about the dirt Ukraine has on Biden, and insisting that’s bigger scandal. Biden’s undeniably wayward yet surprisingly successful son was somehow on the board of a big company in incredibly corrupt Ukraine, which came under scrutiny from a prosecutor investigating public corruption, and Biden is caught on tape bragging that as Vice President he withheld foreign aid to Ukraine unless the prosecutor was removed from power. That’s more than enough for right wing talk radio talkers to fill their three-hour time slots. Trump is also saying that although he doesn’t know the identity of the “whistle-blower” he does know it’s a partisan member of a “deep state” conspiracy against him, and that also plays well with the talk radio audience.
At this point we no longer have a rooting interest in anybody, and are trying our best to cling to unchanging principles. Go ahead and call us old-fashioned Cold War-era Reagan Republicans, but we still think an American president shouldn’t be strong-arming an eastern European ally valiantly trying to resist Russian domination. Nor do we think that foreign interference in an American presidential election should be tolerated. So far, the apologists are unconvincing,
The so-called “lame-stream” media are credibly reporting that the investigation of Biden’s son had long been stopped when Biden made his remarks about removing that prosecutor, who the Ukrainian media had identified as one of the more corrupt of the notoriously corrupt government’s officials, but it’s still suspicious how Biden’s son wound up on that Ukrainian board of directors. If it turns out that Biden is implicated in his own scandal that’s fine by us, as we have no particular regard for him or his son, even if it means that someone further left winds up winning the Democratic nomination and beating Trump. Nothing that Biden or even Hillary Clinton ever did provides any excuse for what Trump might have done, so at this point you can lock ’em all up, as far as we’re concerned.
Here’s hoping, though, for a prolonged Indian Summer and a mild winter.

— Bud Norman

Trump Takes on California

More information leaked out about that mysterious whistle-blower scandal, which was the Drudge Report’s top story and making its way to the hourly reports on the local talk radio station by Thursday, but as we await more details the story that caught out eye was President Donald Trump’s threat to sic the Environmental Protection Agency on the city of San Francisco.
Trump has lately been on a lucrative fund-raising tour in California, and while there he’s waged several rhetorical and political battles against the state. He seems to understand that he’s not going to win California’s rich trove of electoral votes in any case, but that its dwindling number of over-regulated and over-taxed and under-appreciated Republicans will appreciate his attacks, not to mention all the red state voters who resent California’s outsized political and economic and cultural influence. He drew attention to the growing and increasingly troublesome problem of homelessness in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which is at least in part a result of those famously liberal enclaves’ bleeding heart indulgence, and said he’d have the EPA slap on a violation notice on the City by the Bay  for all the environmental problems its home population is causing.
Many years have passed since our last visit to ‘Cisco, which was back in days of the dirty hippies of Haight-Ashbury, but by all accounts the homeless are by now an even more significant annoyance  there. Trump mostly complained that they’re bad for his rich donors’ businesses, but he also argued that their drug needles and excrement and flowing through the storm drains into the ocean. San Francisco’s mayor, fittingly named London Breed, insists the city is investing in shelters and mental health programs to combat the problem, and the EPA declined to comment on Trump’s threat, but the president probably has a point.
Even so, Mayor Breed can also make a strong argument that Trump’s threat to withdraw California’s waver to set its own clean air standards poses a greater threat to the state’s environment than all those drug-abusing and defecating homeless people. California has long had the nation’s strictest standards for how much pollution cars can emit, which have become the entire world’s de facto standards as the world’s carmakers have sought access to the world’s biggest car-buying market, and it seems to have made Los Angeles’ air less smoggy brown that it used to look at the opening of every episode of Jack Webb’s ultra-conservative cop show “Dragnet ’68.” The carmakers have become accustomed to the higher standards, car-buyers no longer notice the extra cost, and as much as our conservative Kansas Republican souls resent bossy governmental regulation our old-fashioned federalist principles don’t want to force Californians to put up with dirtier air.
Like all good heartlanders we’re inclined to regard California as the land of fruits of nuts, but we must admit that even here in business-oriented and Republican-voting and tough-love Wichita there’s also a severe problem with the homeless. On a drive past downtown’s once-elegant Shirkmere Apartments you’ll find a Hooverville-sized encampment of desperate souls outside the social service agency across the street, and you can’t go from the fuel pumps to the front door of the QuikTrips on Douglas and Seneca or Broadway and Murdock without getting panhandled. The local library’s main branch had to move from the heart of downtown to just across the Arkansas River in Delano, where the homeless have already found shelter from the heat and cold.
It’s an environmental mess here, too, and the good people of the Presbyterian church across the street from the soup kitchen that feeds the homeless has reluctantly built a fence to prevent the defecations on their steps that routinely occurred, but for now at least we probably won’t be bothered by the EPA’s intervention. The sooner-or-later next Democratic administration might change that, and we’ll be quite peeved about it if they do, but at least we won’t be hypocrites when we object to outsiders telling us how to go about our business. We have no better idea about how to deal with the homeless problem than those snooty know-it-alls in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and we think it best that all 50 states and their biggest cities  figure it out for themselves. One of them is bound to come up with something better than what California or Trump can think of.

— Bud Norman

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

President Donald Trump seems to be implicated in yet another scandal, this time with with possible national security consequences, but for now only a few highly placed sources know what it is. For now, that’s the scandal.
What is known is that on Aug. 12 an unnamed intelligence official filed a “whistleblower” report, which inspector general Michael Atkinson found credible and a matter of “urgent concern,” which requires informing the congressional oversight committees. Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to share the report, however, citing “privileged communications,” setting off a legal and political spat that should be a bigger story when Atkinson is called to testify before the House intelligence committee in a closed session.
For now the rest of the story is coming from anonymous sources and mere speculation. The Washington Post has an intriguing story citing two unnamed “former U.S. officials” that the whistleblowers complaint has something to do with “Trump’s communications with a foreign leader,” and involved a “promise” that the whistleblower and the inspector general found quite troubling. Further anonymous leaks will likely follow today’s closed session with Atkinson, but the White House is declining to comment and so far that’s all the public has to go on.
One needn’t be as suspicious and obstinately Never Trump as ourselves to speculate that there’s something in the complaint which looks very bad for the president. The appearance of a coverup is so strong, and so damning, an objective observer can only wonder what more damning evidence the administration is trying to cover up. Trump has frequently been loose-lipped about national security secrets, and it’s not at all implausible that he was trying to strike some corrupt deal with a foreign leader.
Maybe not, as fairness dictates we must add, so we’ll eagerly await whatever comment the White House eventually offers.

He Lies, But At Least He Fights

One of President Donald Trump’s former campaign managers spent more than five hours testifying to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, and it was quite a show.
If you can’t quite recall the name of Corey Lewandowski, he was the guy who managed the Trump campaign before Paul Manafort, who is currently serving time in federal prison for various financial and perjury crimes. Lewandowski was caught on videotape manhandling a female reporter, and although the local officials decided the incident didn’t rise to the level of criminal assault he was fired from the campaign, but Trump continued to praise his pugnaciousness. After winning election Trump continued to consult with Lewandowski, and according to the special counsel investigation of Robert Mueller the president asked private citizen Lewandowski to order then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curtail the investigation, one of several instances in the report which document attempts by the president to obstruct justice, which is what the House Judiciary Committee wanted to ask about.
Lewandowski was every bit as pugnacious as Trump could hope for, and spent most of the five hours dodging questions on the claim of executive privilege, although he’d never been an employee of the executive branch, and asking his interrogators to read long portions of the special counsel’s report, and impugning their motives for asking such pesky questions, and personally insulting some committee members. At one point a questner compared Lewandowski’s testimony to the tooth fairy, and Lewandowski castigated for him for undermining his children’s faith in the fairy tale.
Despite his best efforts, Lewandowski did ultimately admit under oath that Trump had in fact asked him to tell Sessions to kibosh the special counsel, which Lewandowski had told the special counsel about under oath, so the Democrats running the committee got what they were after. It remains to be seen if the general public cares about a rather clear cut if clumsy attempt by the president to obstruct justice, which came to naught when Lewandowski went “on vacation” without carrying out the order, which he had no legal authority to make in any case, but if public opinion continues to turn against Trump it might prove handy ammunition.
The most striking moment to us was when Lewandowski freely admitted that he outright lied on Ari Melber’s MSNBC show when he said that “I don’t ever remember the president ever asking me to get involved with Jeff Sessions or the Justice Department in any way, shape, or form, ever.” If you’re not familiar with Melber’s program he’s a typically leftward biased MSNBC host with an annoying penchant for allusions to hip-hop lyrics, but he doesn’t just make things up, and he asks hard questions of people on both sides and gives them a chance to answer, truthfully or not. “I have no obligation to be honest to the media,” Lewandowski unapologetically explained, adding “They’re just as dishonest as anyone else.”
Trump “tweeted” effusive praise for Lewandowski’s performance, and Lewandowski “tweeted” during a break in the proceedings about a potential run for the seat of famously mild-mannered Democratic Sen. Jean Shaheen in New Hampshire. We’ll leave it to the people of New Hampshire to decide that matter, but we’ll also hope they keep in mind that Lewandowski freely admits he feels fully entitled to lie to the American public on national television. That seems to be the current standard, but it shouldn’t be.

— Bud Norman

Choosing Between Scylla and Charybdis

There’s a very complicated situation in the Middle East, as always, and President Donald Trump is of course “tweeting” about it.
A drone attack destroyed much of a major Saudi Arabian oil field, and although a Yemeni rebel group that has been fighting a bloody defensive war with Saudi Arabia and is allied with Iran has claimed responsibility the State Department and America’s intelligence are blaming the Iranian government. Trump’s first “tweet” on the matter said “There is reason to believe we know the culprit, but are locked and loaded depending upon verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed.”
Trump’s “tweet” was characteristically hard to parse, but there was no mistaking a certain belligerence in its tone, as well as certain deference to the Saudis, who have concluded the Iranians are to blame, and Trump and his spokespeople have spent the past two days dialing that back. The Pentagon would reportedly prefer not to fight a war on Saudi Arabia’s behalf, even if the Saudis pay for it, as Trump has suggested, and Trump has repeatedly assured the news media that he does not want another war, although he continues to boast of how ready the military is to wage one.
Our best guess is that Trump genuinely wants to avoid any new Middle East wars. Trump ran as a peacenik, even going so far as to accuse President George W. Bush of lying America into a war with Iraq, a claim previously made only by the far left, and although he fancies himself a tough guy he takes even more pride in his dealmaking prowess, and a new war in the Middle East would be embarrassing. So far Trump hasn’t been able to keep his campaign promises to extract American forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, and critics will plausiblyblame his unilateral withdrawal from a nuclear treaty with Iran for provoking any conflict that might follow, and there will also be troublesome questions about why Trump seems so eager to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia’s awful government.
As Trump’s favorite Rolling Stones song says, though, you can’t always get what you want. The Iranian government is even more awful than Saudi Arabia’s, and Trump will not want to negotiate a new nuclear deal from a position of weakness. He also “tweeted” a grip that the “fake news” media had peddled the lie that he was willing to meet the Iranian dictatorship without any preconditions, which prompted all the networks except Fox News to gleefully replay all the videotape of Trump and his spokespeople repeatedly and explicitly saying he was willing to meet without any preconditions, so he clearly doesn’t want to be seen as an accommodationist.
The Iranians have become increasingly provocative since America reimposed economic sanctions, seizing commercial oil tankers and threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz and shooting down an America drone in international air space, and if they continue to escalate their misbehavior even the most pacifist president will eventually have to do something about it. America can’t apply any more economic sanctions, as we’ve already cut off all trade with the regime, which so far hasn’t had the effect that was hoped for, and given Trump’s tenuous relations with the rest of the world he’s unlikely to recruit other countries to join the boycott.
Thanks to fracking and other new technologies America has produced enough energy to sustain its economy since the final years of President Barack Obama’s administration, with no thanks to either Obama or Trump, but oil is an internationally traded commodity and a blow to a major supplier such as Saudi Arabia will result in high prices at your local pump. The global economy was already slowing before the latest Middle East flare-up, in large part because of the global trade war Trump started, so a war would be very bad for everyone’s business, including Trump’s reelection campaign.
If the Iranians continue to impede the flow of oil and thereby cause a global crash that would also look bad. For now Trump finds himself in a damned-if-you and damned-if-you-don’t situation, he has no national security advisor and only an acting Secretary of Defense, he seems beholden for some reason or another to the Saudis, and so far his much bragged about gut instincts and dealmaking prowess haven’t proved impressive.
Here’s hoping it all works out somehow.

— Bud Norman