The Trials of the Centuries

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump has formally begun, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swearing in the Senate as sworn impartial jurors, and thus far it’s the trial of this young century. In many troubling ways, it reminds us of The People v O.J. Simpson, which was the trial of the last century.
In case you’re blessedly too young to remember, we should explain that Simpson was a Heisman Trophy-winning running back at the University of Southern California who went on to set several National Football League records with the Buffalo Bills, and then parlayed that and his good looks and congenial public image into lucrative careers as a rental car pitchman and sports announcer and sometime movie actor and household name. When he was charged with the brutal stabbing murders of his glamorous ex-wife and a handsome young waiter she’d been seeing, it was a very big deal.
When the story first broke that the ex-wife of a B-list celebrity had been murdered it got little play in most newspapers, but we had a very savvy editor at the paper where we worked and he put it on the front page, as he’d been around long enough to know that ex-husbands are usually a prime suspect in a murder case and that readers are suckers for sordid stories about even B-list celebrities. We spent countless hours of our newspaper’s time following every detail that came over the wires, right up to desultory climax, and are still watching Simpson grow old and the story plays out to its ultimate tragicomic ending.
Everything that was reported in the papers and admitted as evidence and testimony in a court of law pointed to Simpson’s guilt. He was previously convicted on two occasions of violence against his ex-wife, his blood was found at the murder scene and her blood was found in his car, there was a very rare glove found at the murder scene and testimony from the glove-maker that one of them was bought by Simpson’s then-wife at Christmas time, and after Simpson led the police on a highly-rated low-speed flee from justice the best alibi he had to offer was ludicrously weak.
None of which made any difference in the outcome. Simpson is black, his ex-wife and her reputed boyfriend were white, and in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots that mattered more to most of black America. The trial judge allowed the defense to argue a conspiracy by the same justice system that had let Simpson off lightly for domestic abuse conviction, and when one of the detectives was caught lying about the using the “n word” most of black America had made up its mind. The trial judge also allowed the defense to argue that Simpson’s ex-wife might have been killed by a Colombian drug that gang that mistook her for another blonde who had a thousand dollar or so cocaine debt, and most of black America seized on that improbable explanation.
The the trial was held in the mostly black district of downtown Los Angeles, rather than the upscale white suburb where the murder occurred, and the “not guilty” verdict was expected.
We were friends with both of the two black men in the newsroom at the time, and usually enjoyed our talks about sports and inter-office gossip and the rest of the news of the day during coffee breaks and other downtime, but the Simpson trial strained relationships. Both of our friends were highly intelligent and well educated and quite competent journalists who tended to look at things a with dispassionate objectivity, yet despite all the evidence neither was willing to concede even the possibility that Simpson was guilty as charged.
They had their reasons, we must admit. American justice has indeed imprisoned a lot of innocent black people, and imprisoned a lot more guilty black people fo longer sentences than they eserved, and Simpson was just the sort of black celebrity icon the man would want to bring down. We can see how these convoluted conspiracy theories were more compelling than the clearly evident facts of the case.
This time around Trump is on trial, and once again tribal allegiances seem more important than the clearly evident facts of the case. In one of those twists of fate one should by now come to expect it is highly intelligent and well educated and rapidly aging and increasingly outnumbered white men who are ignoring all the clearly evident facts of the case to will stick by their man. Trump stands accused of abusing his executive powers by withholding congressionally authorized aid to beleaguered ally Ukraine to extort political help against a Democrat party rival, and then obstructing Congress’ constitutional authority to look into it, and so far all the -press reports and sworn testimony and admitted by court documentary evidence indicates that, yeah, Trump did that.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the moonlighting White House chief of staff and Officer of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton might and Attorney General William Barr and private Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani might offer some exculpatory testimony, but for some suspicious reason Trump is barring them from doing so. The fans don’t mind it a bit, and will hope for as little information as possible so long as it ends in an eventual acquittal.
They have their reasons, too. Those damned Democrats are indeed a bossy bunch, and might well prove the ruination of our great country if given a chance. Relatively wealthy white men are also under rhetorical assault from the mainstream media and popular culture, and at least the stock market is up and Trump is appointing conservative judges and getting pro football players to stop kneeling during the national anthem.
So what if Trump did what he’s accused of doing in his impeachment trial, as all the evidence clearly indicates? Given how awful the damn Democrats are we can understand why most Republicans still think they deserve to lose. As guilty of murder as Simpson obviously was, we can well understand why some people had less faith in American justice, We try our best to be objective and non-partisan and not all racist about these things, and instead proceed with the established facts of the matter. In both trials of the past two centuries we’ve found the defendant guilty as all get-out, but for reasons having nothing to do with the facts of the case Trump will also likely be found not guilty.
“Not guilty” doesn’t necessarily mean “innocent,” though, and history will eventually convict both Simpson and Trump, what with all those stubborn facts and the objectivity that tine affords. Chief Justice Roberts will likely run a better trial than the judge in the Simpson case did, but there will be all sorts of conspiracy theories and other distractions, and the eventual inevitable acquittal won’t satisfy anyone any more than Simpson’s did.
It should be a hit show, though, so we’ll stay tuned in.

— Bud Norman

The Impeachment Show Commences

The House of Representatives has formally forwarded articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate, and there’s no way of knowing comes next, except that it will be complicated and divisive and inconclusive and ultimately harmful to America’s international reputation.
At this point the betting line is that the slim Republican majority in the Senate, which includes some sometimes principled members in iffy states, won’t vote to summarily dismiss the charges when it comes up in a week or so, and even if they did it probably wouldn’t be the smart political play. Only so much of the viewing public is paying any attention, but most of those unwashed masses want to hear the story told by sworn witnesses and any e-mails or text massages or hand-written notes or other verifiable documents that might flesh out this fascinating tale.
There’s already enough of it in the press and sworn testimony before the House and other public records to make for a prima facie case to the Senate, and if Trump succeeds in not offering any defense he’ll look bad to objective observers, which currently seem to be a majority of the electorate. Since Trump was indicted by the House one of his personal lawyer’s currently indicted clients and associates has gone on cable television to further implicate Trump in the charges of impeachment, and even though he’s under indictment and there all sorts of other a reasons to doubt his credibility he’s also a a client and associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, who also seems tied up in this mess, and given his current legal situation he has good reason to be forthcoming and truthful under oath, which makes for another interesting plot twist in this ongoing Trump reality show.
If there’s going to be a trial with all those pesky witnesses, Trump and his Senate allies are hoping they’ll include Hunter Biden, the son of currently front Democratic presidential presidential frontrunner who was apparently cashing in on Ukrainian corruption, will be among them, along with any other witnesses who can be culled from the “deep state” conspiracy against Trump, The charges facing the Senate jury are that Trump and his administration withheld congressionally authorized aid to our ally Ukraine in exchange for damning charges against the Bidens, then obstructed Congress and the justice system at large from finding about it, but on that point of law both Bidens and any other “deep state” conspirators can believably testify they know nothing about it.
Trump will either be convicted or more likely be acquitted by a Senate trial, but in any case it won’t look good in the international or historical courts of opinion.

— Bud Norman

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The Desultory State of the Democrats

President Donald Trump is facing an impeachment trial and numerous other pressing problems entirely of his own making, but he can console himself he’ll likely wind up running for reelection against a Democrat. Judging by the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses that kick off the primary election race, the Democrats have problems of their own.
According to all the many polls going into the debate there were four candidates within the margin of error for winning or losing the Iowa caucuses, with a few others with realistic hope of catching up, and according to our traditional Republican instincts and what our Democratic friends are telling us they’re all flawed. Our more emotional Democratic friends revile the so the so-called centrists in the race, while our more cerebral Democratic friends worry that their party is veering too far the left, and from our current perspective here on the political sidelines we don’t like any of the candidates any more than we do Trump.
Nothing that happened in Tuesday’s debate will likely change many minds.
At this point, and as usual, the Democrats are obsessed with all that race and class and gender stuff, so that started off the debate. Putative Independent yet Democratic candidate and self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was recently accused by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts of saying a female candidate could not win a presidential election, which is arguable given the nation’s history but nonetheless a gross breach of Democratic etiquette, and as both are among the four front-runners and vying for the emotional left-wing Democratic vote it was a very big deal. Warren stood by her claim, Sanders didn’t exactly deny it but pledged his support only Democrat who might win the nomination, and after some back-and-forth that also included the centrist Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the only other woman on the stage, he seemed to come out all right.
We have a mostly delightful but severely feminist Democratic friend who so loves Sanders she would sit out an election even against Trump if Sanders weren’t the nominee, and was outraged that her sister and the mainstream media would make such a slanderous claim, and we’re sure she’ll be satisfied with the answer.
The rest of the debate was mostly limited to foreign trade and international affairs and health care and homelessness and other boring topics of greater importance. We can’t say how the candidates fared with a Democratic audience in Iowa or elsewhere, but from our traditional Republican seats here on the political sidelines we were unimpressed by the entire field.
Our traditional Republican instincts are appalled by Trump’s assaults on the carefully established international free trade order that has enriched both America and the rest of the world over the past few post-Reagan decades, and we’re thus far unimpressed by what he’s negotiated in return, but the Democrats are mostly as protectionist as ever. Biden is old enough to remember a time when there was a bipartisan consensus for the free trade agreements that have since made America and the rest of the world richer, so we give him credit for his unapologetic stance in favor of the so-far so-good status quo, but for the most part the Democrats. Even the most centrist Democrats seem more isolationist in the rest of foreign affairs than Trump, and are annoyingly apologetic about it.
We’ll give the Democrats credit for at long last having a serious debate how to pay for their pie-in-sky promises about how to make health care more universal and less costly, but so far they haven’t come up with anything better than what Trump has to offer, which isn’t saying much. We’re glad they acknowledge the homeless problem, not only in Democratic states but in places like here in Wichita, but the best that can be said for their solutions is that they’re less intentionally cruel than Trump’s.
The growing national debt didn’t come up, much to the relief of both parties, and nobody stood out as the next President of the United States. Given our desultory choices we might pick the front-running pick Biden, in the unlikely case we were Democratic primary voters, but that within-shouting-distance Klobuchar has decisively won races against Republican men in Republican districts of Minnesota, and she seems as sane as anyone in politics these days, and quite electable as well. Our endorsement will surely doom her in a Democratic primary race, though, so we’ll withhold that for now.
One of the Democratic front-runners is openly homosexual, another has falsely claimed Native American status, another has been videotaped acting creepily around young women, and the other is a self-proclaimed socialist. Which would not ordinarily bode well for the Democratic party, but they’re lucky to be running against Trump.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is admittedly a homosexual, but he’s also a decorated military veteran, which is more than Trump can say, and Trump isn’t an exemplar of traditional Judeo-Christian morality. Biden has been videotaped acting creepy around girls and is gaffe-prone, but he hasn’t been heard boasting about grabbing women by the genitals and can’t keep up with the daily gaffes Trump’s fans don’t seem to mind. Sanders did falsely claim Native American heritage, but if it comes down to a one-on-one debate she’s feisty enough to cite all the false claims Trump has made over his spotty career. Sanders is a socialist kook, but he seems to actually believe all the nonsense he’s spewing, which makes him the more “authentic” candidate. That nice Klobuchar woman from Minnesota could do well in a general election, and might even win our vote and make a good president, but she’s still a long=shot in a Democratic primary race.
There’s a lot of politics between now and November, though, so we’ll try to enjoy the warm weather and hold out hope.

— Bud Norman

On What Many People Are Saying

Although we’ve done a lot of damned dumb things in life, we can at least boast that we’ve rarely fallen for even the slickest con man’s patter. Hypersensitive as we are to the English language, and being avid students of the art of rhetoric and the comedy of W.C. Fields, we can always spot the tricks a used car or time-share or snake oil salesman or other huckster uses to reel in the suckers.
Whenever making an obviously suspicious assertion they like to add “OK?” or “right?” and await the suckers’ hypnotically nodding acknowledgement of what they’ve been told. Their claims are always absurdly hyperbolic and couched in the most superlative adjectives, but most often too promising for anyone but such fatalistic sorts as ourselves to resist. They also like to throw in that some people are saying the same thing, and imply that you also want to be in the know, and that there’s something very wrong with anyone who says anything different..
By now you’ve probably figured out this is all leading up to yet another of our rants about President Donald Trump, who daily employs these tricks to peddle his suspicious claims and hyperbolic promises. We were set off by a Trump “tweet” arguing that many people believe the Senate should just summarily dismiss the impeachment charges against him without at any testimony or evidence or any sort of trial at all.
Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial based on the no evidence, no crime, read the transcripts, ‘no pressure’ Impeachment Hoax, rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat Witch Hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have,” he “tweeted,” adding “I agree!”
The argument at least has some truth going for it, as there are indeed “many people” who think this way, but there are also “many people” who think the Earth is flat and that shape-shifting Illuminati reptilians secretly run the world. They’re all entitled to their crackpot opinions, but so are we and the rest of a more skeptical world. We’ve read the “transcripts,” as well the sworn testimony and documentary evidence that got Trump impeached by the House of Representatives, and find it quite persuasive, so we’d like to hear a more vigorous defense from the president than what “many people” are saying.
Perhaps Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the moonlighting White House Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney, and Trump’s personal lawyer and shadow Secretary of State Rudy Giuliani could exonerate Trump, but for some reason Trump is blocking their sworn testimony, presumably because it would give credence to the “Democrat Witch Hunt.” Former national security advisor John Bolton has said he’ll testify in an impeachment trial if subpoenaed, and we’re among the many, many people who would love to hear what he has to say under oath about all this.
Despite a slim Republican majority in the Senate there’s a good chance there will be an impeachment trial, with witnesses and evidence and withheld testimony and evidence, and it will surely be embarrassing to Trump. The good news for Trump is that there almost certainly won’t be the needed supra-majority need to remove him from office, and he will thus be able to claim he was innocent of any wrongdoing all along, and that after he says “OK?” and “Right?” many heads will nod in agreement.
Many people will disagree, though, and we’ll find out on Election Day how many there are on each side.

— Bud Norman

Why Sports is Sometimes Better Than the Rest of The World

The past weekend was cold and windy and slightly snowy here in Wichita, with plenty of state and national and international and personal problems for everyone to worry about in the upcoming week, but it worked out well for the local sports fans. In the grand scheme of things it’s not very important that the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad and the Kansas City Chiefs football team both won big games, but at this time of year in this part of the world one relishes whatever good news comes along.
Our beloved ‘Shockers blew a nine-point lead in the final minute of regulation on the road against the University of Connecticut Huskies, but hung on over two hard fought overtimes to escape with an 89 to 86 win. The victory runs their season record to 15-1, one of the six best in the country and second only to the Auburn Tigers’ and San Diego State Aztecs’ thus-far unblemished records, and after a home win earlier in the week against the University of Memphis’ then-22nd-ranked Tigers the ‘Shocks are alone atop the tough American Athletic Conference’s standings and will likely be in both of the top 20 polls today.
More than 50 years of rooting for the ‘Shockers have taught us to not be too hopeful, but we can’t shake a feeling that our boys are pretty darned good this year, maybe good enough for a couple of wins in the March tournament. They’re a very young team with one senior and six freshmen and four sophomores, and most observers expected them to be pretty darned good next year, but they’re already there, which has us looking forward to next year.
Wichita’s greatest sports passion is hoops, but folks also take their football seriously around here. The only college football in town is played by the Quaker-affiliated Friends University in the most tiny-school division, so local college fans are divided between the University of Kansas’ mostly hapless program and Kansas State University’s more respectable team and the perennial powers at the equidistant University of Oklahoma, but most of the football fans root for the nearest National Football League franchise, the Kansas City Chiefs. We’ve mostly given on watching football, what with the prolonged pauses for video reviews and the wife-beating and the head injuries and all, but we’re Wichitans and can’t shake a lifelong habit of rooting for the Chiefs when we check the scores.
We’re old enough to remember when the Chiefs won the IVth Super Bowl, way back in ’70, when star quarterback Len Dawson was smoking cigarettes in the locker room at halftime, and how happy everybody seemed about that. Our parents hosted a Super Bowl party for the neighbors, which was before that became a thing, the kids scrimmaged in the backyard afterwards despite the cold, and we’ve always wanted to enjoy that feeling again. Over the subsequent years the Chiefs have some great offenses and great defenses, but rarely at the same time, and every season has ended in a heartbreaking loss. The past few years the Chiefs have been pretty darned good, though, and this year they’re one win away from a shot at another Super Bowl title.
The Chiefs embarrassed themselves in the first quarter of their game against the Houston Texans, falling behind by three touchdowns, but we missed that and didn’t tune in until the second half when they finished off a 51-to-31 romp, so they looked good to us. The Tennessee Titans also scored a big upset win against the odds-on Super Bowl favorite Baltimore Ravens, which means that Kansas City and its superstar and non-smoking quarterback will be playing in famously loud Arrowhead Stadium as the odds-on favorite. Which means one can hold out realistic hope.
Which is no big deal, as we said before, but it seems to lighten the mood and bring people together around here. For reasons we cannot explain the Chiefs have a large following among Wichita’s lesbians, and all the ones on our block in the fashionable Riverside are flying Chiefs flags cheering loudly enough for us to hear them whenever the Chiefs score. If you find yourself standing in a long line at a bank or grocery store it’s something safe to talk about, even a sort of superficial bonding, and everyone’s a little cheerier despite the massive layoffs at the big aerospace factory in the south part of town because somebody at Boeing screwed up the 737 Max airliner.
We’ve lost enough games over the years to empathize with those fans in Memphis and Baltimore and Hartford and Houston, who surely have their weather and other problems to cope with, but we hope they’re brought closer together in commiseration, as always happens here in Wichita. As silly and pointless and head-injury-inducing as it might seem, sports has socially redeeming qualities.

— Bud Norman

On the Power to Wage War

The House of Representatives voted Thursday along mostly party lines to restrict President Donald Trump’s authority to wage war with Congress’ consultation and approval, and there’s a chance a few Republicans will join all the Democrats in the Senate to pass it in that chamber. One can only wonder what the vote would have been if a similar resolution had been offered four or five years ago when President Barack Obama was in office.
Our guess is that script would have been flipped. Back then the Republicans mostly hewed to high-minded constitutional principles about Congress’ sole authority to declare war, while even the most principled peaceniks of the Democratic party were willing indulge Obama’s frequent drone strikes at terrorist targets. Both parties’ opinions about an imperial presidency are contingent on which currently occupies the White House.
We would have voted to restrict presidential war-making powers back then, we’d do so again today if only we were in the Senate, and we much admire the few congressional Republicans willing to incur Trump’s “twitter” wrath with their intellectual consistency. Perhaps some of the Democrats who crossed party lines on Thursday to vote against the resolution also deserve our begrudging respect, but we notice most of them will soon be running for reelection in districts where Trump has a net approval rating.
There are reasonable arguments for granting a president broad authority as Commander-in-Chief, and the Republicans are using them all, just as the Democrats would have done four or five years ago. All of the reasonable arguments for not giving any one person the power to start a war are still sound, though, even if the modern Democratic party has no standing to make them.
When the founders gave Congress sole authority to declare war there were no intercontinental nuclear missiles that could hit an American target faster than Congress can convene, but it’s long been congressionally-sanctioned American policy to immediately nuke to extinction any country rash enough to lob a nuke at us. Congress hasn’t declared war on anybody since World War II, but it had the chance to give its constitutional advice and consent to military actions in Korea and Vietnam and Grenada and Nicaragua and various other hot spots around the world, with mixed results. The terror attacks of September 11, 2001 ushered in a new era of national security challenges, but Congress deliberated and passed sweeping expansions of domestic intelligence and police powers, and before he went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq President George W. Bush went to Congress with the votes of numerous Democrats, including two future Democratic presidential nominees and the man who’s now considered the front-runner for the next Democratic nomination.
All of those Democrats now rue their vote for the Iraq War, and the current Republican president falsely claims that he was against it all along and that his Republican predecessor lied us into the whole mess based on flawed intelligence reports. When he was a reality show star Trump also confidently predicted on “twitter” and “YouTube” that Obama would lie America into a war with Iran as the only to win reelection, with both claims proving false. Now he’s asking the country to trust him and his intelligence reports that his decision to kill Iran’s second-highest-ranking without bothering to notify even the most senior members of Congress’ intelligence and military committees, and most of the Republicans are predictably going along while most of the Democrats are balking.
As we judge it the Republicans would have had the better case for restricting presidential war powers four or five years ago, so for principled reasons we’ll swallow our Republican pride and admit the Democrats have an even stronger case this time around. The administration and its more legal apologists in the conservative media are arguing that Trump acted under the Bush-era authorization, but at this point that’s quite a stretch, especially with a Republican president who still claims it was based on lies. The numerous drone strikes Obama ordered had more to do with the fall out from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and for the most part they killed dangerous terrorists without starting any new conflicts. We didn’t much trust that Obama fellow, but neither do we have any faith whatsoever in Trump’s honesty and selflessness, and we believe that no one man should be empowered to wage war.
We first became aware of the wider world after President Lyndon Johnson cajoled Congress to pass the dubiously based Gulf of Tonkin resolution and commenced the Vietnam War in bloody earnest, and although it was arguably a noble effort and the American resolve it showed eventually won the wider Cold War, nobody thinks it ended well. Our unpopular theory is that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars will eventually be seen by as having demonstrated the American resolve that has largely contained the Islamist terror threat and seems headed toward ultimate victory in a century or so, but for now both parties repudiate the efforts and accuse one another of treason.
So far as we can tell from decades of reading the newspapers and history books, no leader has ever successfully prosecuted a war without the widespread and bipartisan support of his country. President Richard Nixon was ultimately forced by public opinion to accept a “peace with honor” in Vietnam that came awry after he resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal and the Democrats used their congressional majorities to withhold military aid from our erstwhile South Vietnamese allies. Bush’s congressionally-authorized but still controversial decision to invade Iraq might well have yielded positive results after he defied public opinion and ordered an effective “surge” of troops, but Obama’s premature withdrawal doomed that. Obama’s drone-happy anti-terrorism efforts were mostly fine by us but did not endear him to his party and did little to diminish its soft-on-terrorism reputation among Republicans.
So far Trump’s simultaneous promises of withdrawing America from the world stage while building up the military and its troop levels in the Middle East and other hot spots around the world are playing well with his base of voters, but he’s enraged all the damned Democrats, bewildered the longtime allies he’s disparaged and is now urging to take America’s place, and even lost some Republican support, even in Congress.
Trump might yet retain his imperial powers on the basis of some flimsy arguments and a slim but veto-proof Republican majority in the Senate, but we’d advise him not to use them. If worse comes to worst he’ll need to persuade a nation that action is urgently required based on the best possible information, and at this point he can’t persuasively argue “trust me.”

— Bud Norman

About That Speech

President Donald Trump’s address to the nation on Wednesday had the effect of easing the tension between the United States and Iran, and that’s a good thing. Even so, the performance struck us as strange even by Trump standards.
After entering the room through an eerie blue backlight, Trump began by saying “As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” He then said, “Good morning.”
Iran launched 22 rockets at an American base in Iraq on Tuesday, a retaliation for a drone strike the killed the country’s highest ranking general, but no casualties resulted and Trump declined to retaliate in turn and said Iran is “standing down.” That was enough to send the stock markets back up and bring sighs of relief in capitals around the world, but the triumphal tone is probably premature.
Iran still has plenty of asymmetrical ways to strike at the United States, and has long proved willing to use them. Since Trump withdrew America from an imperfect deal to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions the Iran regime has announced it no longer feels obliged to uphold its end of the bargain and is once again spinning centrifuges, and Trump doesn’t seem close to striking the perfect deal he promised. The six European allies who helped America with that imperfect deal are openly displeased with Trump for pulling out, among other things, and Trump hasn’t shown a knack for forging international coalitions.
There’s still some confusion about America’s standing in Iraq, as the government there has asked us to leave, and Trump is refusing to do so unless they pay for a base America built there after what Trump has said was an unjustified invasion of their sovereign territory, even as he continues to promise a retreat from the Middle East while increasing our troop levels there. He’s backed off from his threat to bomb Iran’s most important cultural sites, a war crime that civilized countries simply don’t commit, but he’ll probably continue to say things like that.
We’re assured that Trump is a very stable genius who is playing out brilliant geopolitical strategy, but we didn’t find the speech reassuring. Despite reading from a teleprompter scrip that clearly had been written in part by more restrained foreign policy and better wordsmiths, Trump still digressed from the topic at hand to claim complete credit for America’s healthy economy and take a gratuitous and not entirely accurate swipe at President Barack Obama. He audibly sniffed 58 times according to one count, he stumbled over such hard-to-pronounce words as “tolerate,” and noticeably several others. At no point did he explain how he’ll back up his opening boast that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon.
Congress will vote today on a resolution to restrict Trump’s foreign policy powers, and it looks like it will get a few Republican votes, which will further complicate things.
He refrained from any provocative playground taunts, on the other hand, so for now we’ll give him credit for that and hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

The Politics of War

The rising tensions and threats of war between America and Iran might or might not prove a brilliant geopolitical masterstroke by President Donald Trump, and only time will tell, but for now they don’t seem likely to help him with his various domestic political problems.
During another of the decades-long and all-too-frequent tense situations in Iranian-American politics, way back in the administration of President Barack Obama, citizen Trump confidently predicted Obama would start a war with Iran as the only way to reelection, and although Obama didn’t start a war and was reelected anyway Trump apparently maintains a belief that wars make a president more popular. There’s been nothing in recent history to back up this theory, and much to refute it, but Trump clearly isn’t a student of history, and we believe that despite his keen political instincts he misreads this moment in time.
Based entirely on anecdotal evidence, as there’s no reliable polling yet available, we don’t sense any public clamoring for a war with Iran, or anything that might provoke it. All of the Democratic party and their mainstream media allies are against it, as are such usually reliable Republican allies as Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and even the die-hard fans who believed Trump’s pie-in-the-sky campaign promises to extricate America from Middle Eastern entanglements are probably wondering what the hell as he orders troop build-ups in the region.
Iran is still the bad guy in this scenario, as far as we’re concerned, but so far Trump is not playing the good guy role well. Trump based his decision to start the current contretemps by killing Iranian hero Gen. Qasem Soleimani on intelligence agency reports that he was planning “imminent” threats against Americans, but he’d previously disparaged America’s intelligence agencies as hopelessly inept and corrupt, and his spokespeople have since equivocated about how “imminent” the threats were. Trump’s spokespeople have denied that Trump threatened to bomb non-military Iranian cultural sites, an indisputable war crime that he undeniably did threaten, and he’s since backed way from that.
There’s also some confusion about a letter from the Pentagon saying America will honor Iraq’s non-binding resolution asking us to exit the country, with Trump insisting he won’t pull out our troops unless Iraq pays us the for military bases we built there during what Trump has said was an unjustified invasion and occupation by a previous Republican president. At this point Iraq isn’t the only erstwhile American ally to question Trump’s policies, and only the true believers are backing him on the home front.
Whether there’s a war with Iran or not, there will be an impeachment trial for Trump in the coming weeks, and although he’s likely to be acquitted most of the country won’t believe he’s innocent of the charges brought against him. Neither war nor peace with Iran will change that.

— Bud Norman

Pompeo Stays Put, For Now

According to both The New York Times¬†and The Wichita Eagle, which are usually reliable sources, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo won’t be coming home to Kansas to run for an open Senate seat. This is a big deal all over an uneasy world, but especially so here in our beloved Sunflower State.
The news was surprising to us, but only slightly so. Secretary of State is a more prestigious title than junior Senator from Kansas, and far more lucrative in a post public service career, but we’re sure that even such an ambitious fellow as Pompeo was tempted to return home to Kansas’s welcoming arms. Any old Senate seat is plenty prestigious and potentially lucrative, Pompeo almost certainly could have had a safe one for as long as he wanted. and with a presidential impeachment trial looming and a potential war with Iran brewing and Pompeo up to his neck in all of it the Senate surely seemed a more placid sinecure.
He was intrigued enough by the possibility to spend a lot of time in Kansas in for someone with such a busy international schedule, some of which was spent having discussions about fundraising with the state’s biggest Republican donors, and he was encouraged to resign and run by some high-level Republicans in the state and national party.
The Republicans are facing an unfavorable Senatorial election map next November and worry about retaining their slight majority in the chamber, so current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted Pompeo to lock down the Kansas seat, Trump gave his blessings to the idea, and the state’s Republican party establishment was equally keen on the idea. Kansas has been reliably Republican in federal elections since it entered the Union as a free state after its bloody prologue to the Civil War, and will probably vote Republican once again no matter how the primary turns out, but it’s within the realm of possibility that it won’t.
For now the frontrunner in a crowded Republican primary field is former state Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lost a gubernatorial race to impeccably moderate Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly back in November ’18. As the state’s Secretary of State Kobach earned a national reputation for his tough stance against illegal immigrants voting in Kansas elections, which led to Trump appointing him to head a federal commission to prove that Trump would have won the popular vote if not for more than there million illegally cast votes, and he now fully identifies as a a Trump loyalist, but so far none of it worked out for him.
The voter identification laws that Kobach lobbied for are reasonable enough, so far as we can tell from our regular voting, but the Harvard grad with the Yale Law School degree decided to represent himself in a lawsuit brought against him by the American Civil Liberties Union, and he wound up proving only nine cases of voter fraud and paying significant fines for contempt of court and proving the old axiom about how a lawyer representing himself has a fool for a client, or vice a versa. Kobach’s federal commission was disbanded before proving that Trump actually won the popular vote, in part because such Republican states as Mississippi and Kansas defied his orders on state’s rights grounds, and his continued fealty to Trump hasn’t been much help.
Trump easily won the state’s electoral votes last time around, but that was because he was running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and he’ll probably win again next time around, but that’s because he’ll probably be running against some even crazier Democrat. Which is not to say Trump is particularly popular around here. He finished a distant third in the Kansas caucuses back in ’16, the trade wars that have plunged commodity prices haven’t played well with the farmers and cattlemen, his anti-Hispanic rhetoric doesn’t resonate in a state whose southwest quadrant is economically dependent on Hispanic immigrants, and neither the church-going small town Christians nor the educated suburbanites like his style.
The Kansas Republican party is currently in a sorry state, too, for a variety of reasons of strictly local interest. Our old pal Gov. Sam Brownback, who we know to be a good and well-intentioned guy, purged all the cautious Republican types from the legislature and enacted a radical agenda of tax cuts and spending cuts, and although we liked the idea in broad outlines the details turned turned out to objectively blow a hole in the state budget, with deficits piling up despite severe cuts to what even old-fashioned Republicans would consider essential state services. There were various other scandals about corruption and voter suppression, too. That’s how Kobach wound up losing the governorship to an impeccably moderate Democrat, and McConnell is right to worry it’s within the realm of possibility he might wound up losing to a similarly moderate Democrat in a Senate race.
We wouldn’t say it’s probable, though. The crowded Republican field includes Kansas Senate President and impeccable Kansas conservative Susan Wagle, who is almost as irksome to the state’s Democrats as Kobach, and Rep. Roger Marshall from Kansas’ ranch-and-farm First District, who has occasionally dared to voice disagreement with Trump’s trade wars and immigration policies, and either could win the primary and then the general election. At this point Kobach seems a less sure bet, but we wouldn’t bet against him given the state’s long history and stubborn nature.
Pompeo would have been the surest bet for that safe Senate seat, given his extradorinaiy name recognition and formidable fund-raising prowess and the lingering affection he enjoys here in the Fourth District, where he easily won four terms with our votes, especially if he could somehow distance himself from Trump. According to our usually reliable reliable sources at The New York Times and The Wichita Eagle he’s clinging tight to Trump’s ship of state through times of impeachment trials and impending war, however, and we hold out faint hope he gets through it with his once impeccable reputation intact.

— Bud Norman

A Nervous Situation in the Middle East

Let us make clear from the outset that we believe the nutcase theocrats running the Iranian dictatorships are, as always, the bad guys in their relations with the United States. Let us stipulate further that President Donald Trump might or might not have been justified in ordering a military strike that killed top-ranking Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who was undeniably one of the worst people in the Middle East, and that only time and further revelations will tell.
Having said so, we admit it makes us very nervous that Trump is calling the shots for America in its latest spat with Iran. The Iranians have vowed vengeance for the death of Soleimani, Trump has vowed retaliation for anything they might do against American interests, and it’s going to take some complex strategic thinking and expert diplomacy and a cautious hand to avoid either a disastrous war or an embarrassing American retreat. but nothing Trump has ever said or done in his life suggests he is up to that task.
Trump explains that he ordered the killing of Soleimani because of intelligence reports about imminent threats to American lives, which we’d ordinarily be inclined to believe, but Trump has spent the past many years telling the world that America’s intelligence agencies can’t be trusted. He blames them and President George W. Bush for the second Iraq War, takes Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word for it they are wrong about Russia’s meddling in the past and upcoming presidential elections, and passes along conspiracy theories that the “deep state” spooks were out to get him even before he became president. Which makes it hard for him to sell a provocative military strike to a domestic or global audience on the basis of a America’s intelligence agencies’ reports.
At times like these it’s good to have friends around the globe, but if he somehow stumbles into a full-blown war with Iran Trump and America will probably have to go it alone. Trump’s trade wars and “twitter” taunts and all-around ugly Americanism have alienated our longtime allies in Europe and Asia and Africa and Australia, done little to help economic or diplomatic relations with our adversaries, and even provided the very bad guys of Iran with a plausible case in the court of global opinion that they’re the aggrieved party.
The whole mess arguably started when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the treaty America and six crucial European allies struck with Iran to curtail its nuclear weapons program. The deal that President Barack Obama and the Euro-weenies negotiated was weaker than what Trump and we had hoped for, but it did forestall the Iranian nuclear threat for another decade or so, in which time anything might happen, and according to all the intelligence agencies Iran was in compliance. Trump brusquely dismissed the intelligence agencies’ conclusions and withdrew anyway, keeping a campaign promise to undue Obama’s folly. The other six allies did their best to ensure that Iran would at least keep up its sworn obligations, Trump didn’t get the great deal for America he expected Iran would come begging for, and now Iran has announced it will resume its nuclear weapons program, and the Iraqi government has passed a non-binding request that we leave their country..
These threats of apocalyptic Middle Eastern war have come and gone over the course of our lifetime, and although some of them have turned out tragically we always had a comforting sense that steady hands were guiding the ship of state through the storm. This time around, we’re more uneasy.
Trump fans love his blunt-spoken style, so we’ll come right out and say that he strikes us as an uninformed, impulsive, shallow, and utterly self-interested reality show star who finds himself facing an impeachment and is willing to do anything to once again avert a looming ad well-deserved disaster. He’s threatening to destroy Iranian cultural sites in violation of international law, telling Congress that his blustering “tweets” are all they need in the way of constitutional niceties, and doing nothing to expand his coalition of MAGA-capped rally-goers. All the four-star general and admirals and and wise old men of the foreign policy establishment have been banished from his administration, he mostly relies on his son-in-law and Mar-a-Lago friends and the instincts of his uneducated gut, and so far that hasn’t worked out well. Back in Obama’s day there was another dust-up with Iran, and Trump confidently predicted that Obama would start a war because it was the only way he could win reelection, which proved doubly wrong, as Obama didn’t start a war and won reelection anyway. If anyone is cynical enough to suggest that Trump is now acting for his political interests rather than the nation’s, Trump can hardly call it treason.
We’ll hope for the best, but none of the damn Democrats seem any better, so we’ll remain nervous.

— Bud Norman