Pompeo vs. National Public Radio

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is having a nasty spat with a National Public Radio reporter named Mary Louise Kelly, and we’re sure that President Donald Trump and his most ardent admirers are loving it. The true Trump believers despise pretty much all media except for Fox News and the Sinclair Network and their favorite talk radio talkers, and have a special disdain for such fancy-pants and know-it-all outlets as NPR, so they love seeing those pesky reporters being treated rudely.
Since the age of 19 we’ve been involved in some journalism pursuit or another, and that’s been such a long, long time we’ve become inured to a certain amount of press-bashing. There was no way of avoiding someone’s anger when we covered Wichita’s divisive anti-abortion protests and pro-abortion rights counter-protests back in the ’90s, and even though we’d been interns in the office of Sen. Bob Dole and always voted for him he tried to score some points by lashing out at us, and no matter how meticulously we balanced the Republican and Democratic arguments in our coverage of ant campaign we always got hateful letters from one side or the other and usually both.
Although we well understand the conservative complaint that most of the press leans toward liberalism, and have made that case in countless editorial meetings and internet essays, but that nasty spat between Pompeo and Kelly seems another example of how it’s gone too far. We voted for Pompeo every time he ran for Kansas’ fourth district House seat, but we’ve lost a lot of respect for him since then, and in this case it appears he’s being dishonest and dodging legitimate questions and losing his temper in a way that Secretaries of State should never do.
It all started during a long-scheduled interview when Kelly asked Pompeo about the firing of Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, which is an important matter in the current impeachment trial of Trump, and Pompeo replied that “I agreed to come to on your show today to talk about Iran,” then angrily answered follow-up questions by insisting that he’d defended all State Department employees, and according to NPR he then “stood, leaned and silently glared at Kelly for several seconds before leaving the room.”
By NPR’s account, a few moments later Kelly was called into Pompeo’s private living room at the State Department, where he shouted at her for asking questions about Ukraine, which he insisted had not been agreed to when scheduling the interview. Kelly said Pompeo shouted “Do you think the American people care about Ukraine?,” with Kelly adding that he’d used the “f-word” a couple of times during the tirade. She also said Pompeo dared her to find Ukraine on a map with no names.
When NPR reported this, Pompeo charged that they’d violated a journalistic oath to keep the second conversation off the record. A later Pompeo statement called it “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this administration.”
NPR is indeed a left-leaning news organization, and they have that annoying soft-spoken and haughty-sounding way of broadcasting that always grates on our ears, but their account of the matter seems more true to our experienced eyes, and they don’t just make stuff up the way the Trump administration does. Both Iran and Ukraine are matters of public interest that any experienced journalist would want to talk about with the Secretary of State, and we can’t imagine that the seasoned Kelly and her seasoned producers would have agreed to leave Ukraine out of the interview. Kelly didn’t bring a microphone into Pompeo’s personal living room, but according the the rules of the journalism game that’s not the same as agreeing to go off the record, and we can’t imagine Kelly doing that. Pompeo confirmed the part about daring Kelly to find Ukraine on the map when he “tweeted” that “Ukraine is not Bangladesh,” but we can’t imagine that a woman with a Master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge University who has also extensively reported from south Asia would make that glaring mistake.
We can far more easily imagine that Pompeo was simply in no mood to answer any questions from a pesky reporter about the arguably impeachable Ukraine matter, which he’s up to his neck in and keeps looking worse with each passing day of audio and video recordings and other evidence in the hated mainstream media, and he became, for lack of a better word, unhinged, and in a way that Secretaries of State should never do. By now lashing out at anyone who asks a question rather than answering it is either a feature or a bug of the Trump administration, depending on your point of view. He was mostly well-hinged back when he had the relatively easy job of being Kansas’ fourth district congressman, with only the decimated Kansas media and its mostly Republican audience to contended with, but he lately seems under more stress.
The die-hard fans will continue to love the administration’s robust resistance to hated media, and believe they’re just speaking truth to power, but the rest of the country will want to some hear honest answers to the pesky but quite reasonable questions that are being asked of the people who are actually in power.

— Bud Norman

The Much-Panned Impeachment Trial

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is so far getting fairly good ratings, given all the diverse offerings available these days, but the television critics on the right find it boring. It’s a matter of utmost importance to the nation, they’ll admit, but they say it lacks sizzle and is not worth watching.
The critics have a point, as it’s not the sort of well-scripted and tightly edited courtroom dramas that viewers have become accustomed to, with no sex or nudity but a lot of legalistic blah-blah-blah. Democratic and Republican Senators alike were seen playing with fidget spinners reading books and dozing off during the proceedings, which have stretched into the morning hours. The outcome is seemingly predetermined, too, and most Americans have already made up their minds what they think about that.
The Senate Republicans are mostly determined to make the show as boring as possible. They’re adding plenty of their own legalistic blah-blah-blah, and trying to block a star-studded cast of former and current administration officials and Trump’s current personal lawyer from offering what would probably be riveting and ratings-grabbing testimony. The potential witnesses might be able to exonerate the president and expose a “deep state” conspiracy to depose him, for all we know, which would easily beat the last episode of “M*A*S*H” as television history’s most-watched show, but for some reason the Republicans would prefer the trial not get bogged down with witnesses and evidence and all that stuff.
Even so, we find it all quite riveting. We’ve sat through countless hours of legislative hearings and court proceedings and Ingmar Bergman movies and Joseph Conrad novels in our day, and spent much of our early teen years binge-watching Watergate hearings, and have learned to enjoy slogging through the slow-moving but fascinatingly complex plots about matters of upmost importance. This one features a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction hero or villain, depending on your point of view, and a variety of interesting characters that might or not be given any speaking parts, and what doesn’t happen will be as conspicuous as what does.
We should issue a “spoiler alert,” as the kids say, but Trump will almost surely be acquitted, and some 40 percent of the country will be fine with that. The rest of the country will think he was guilty, though, especially if the Republicans block any witnesses or testimony, and the season finale won’t be until next November.

— Bud Norman

On Pandemic Panics, Basketball Brawls, and That Impeachment Matter

At this point we’re desperate to opine to about anything other than the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, but there’s not much else in the news. A disease spreading in China might yet kill us all, and here in the Sunflower State there’s much talk about the big brawl that broke out between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats in the final seconds of their men’s basketball contest, but that’s about it.
The recent outbreak of the deadly and contagious coronavirus in Wuhan, China, which is China’s sixth most populous city and more populous than any American city, is indeed a tragedy and a matter of concern. The city is a crucial part of China’s very interactive economy, which is a crucial part of a very interactive global economy, and given all the international travel that occurs these days there’s no telling how that might wind up. Even so, we don’t worry it will wind up killing us all.
By now we’ve survived the Swine Flu and the Ebola Virus and AIDS and all sorts of pandemic panics and other apocalyptic scenarios, and we like our chances with this one. The ruthless commies running China are an unsavory lot, but we have to admit they’re ruthlessly efficient at cracking down on this sort of thing. Even during the Trump administration the American government tends to be less ruthless and more lax about these things, but so far they’ve kept us alive, so we expect they’ll do so again. With all due respect and sympathy to the many fine people of Wuhan, for now it’s not a Wichita problem.
That big brawl between the KU and K-State basketball squads was something to see and a much bigger deal around here, and the footage of massive athletes brawling into the handicapped section was endlessly replayed to sports fans around the country, and although it looked awful it’s ultimately much ado about nothing. We dropped out of K-State but retain an affection for its sports program and as lifelong Wichitans are mostly fans of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers and have no affinity for the haughty KU sports programs, so we look at it from the same biased lens as we do the Trump impeachment trial, but so far as we can objectively tell the hated Jayhawks are mostly at fault.
The melee started in the closing seconds of a lopsided KU victory, which was expected because the Jayhawks are their usual championship-contending selves and the Wildcats are lately mediocre at best, and the game was being played on the hallowed hardwood of KU’s Allen Field House, where the Jayhawks rarely lose. According to the voluminous but inconclusive video evidence the K-State benchwarmers who were playing out the waning minutes just wanted the game over with, but there was a taunt or a push by a KU player, and then a taunt and a push back by a K-State player, and then both benches cleared and the brawl wound up spilling over into the laps of the spectators in the handicapped section.
One of the KU players was clearly videotaped lifting a metal folding chair above his head, pro-wrestling style, with a KU assistant coach preventing him at the last moment from bringing it down on someone’s head, and so far the National Collegiate Athletic Association is coming down harder on the Jayhawks. Both teams will suffer suspensions, but the Jayhawks will suffer more, as their suspended players are more valuable, and they’re already underdogs to the Baylor University Bears in the Big XII conference race, while K-State is just fighting for a slot in the consolatory National Invitational Tournament, where they might do well.
It will all work itself out without any real bother to ourselves, we expect, so tomorrow we’ll get back to worrying about that impeachment trial. As we follow it we’ll be well reminded that sometimes ruthlessness works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

–Bud Norman

Who Needs Evidence When We Already Know Which Side We’re On?

There are physical examinations and tax returns and and oil changes and various other unpleasant things that can’t be forever avoided in this life, no matter how one tries, and the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is one of those things. It’s an acrimonious topic, best avoided over family dinners, but there’s nothing else in the news that allows getting around it.
The very differing versions of the very complicated facts of the matter will surely dominate the headlines for the coming weeks, as the very complicated machinery of the constitutional system grinds how to proceed with the trial. At this point, most people have chosen their side.
So far as we can tell the damned Democrats want to introduce to the trial all the testimony they’ve elicited in congressional testimony and sworn documents from respected Trump-administration civil servants and a Trump donor and political appointee who allege Trump withheld congressionally authorized aid to our Ukrainian allies in exchange for help in his reelection, along with recent media interviews and the documents provided to Congress and perhaps the sworn testimony by an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who seems tied up in all this. They also impeach the president on the charge of obstructing their efforts to get to the bottom of it.
The Republican response has been that it’s all a “deep state” conspiracy by the damned Democrats to depose a wildly popular president, and that no testimony evidence should be allowed to dignify such a sham trial, even the presumably exculpatory testimony and evidence that might come from Trump’s Secretary of State and moonlighting Chief of Staff and Secretary of Budget and Management and Office and defenestrated national security and the still ongoing personal lawyer who seems up to his neck in all this. We have friends and family who find this quite persuasive, but as much as we despise the damn Democrats we like to hear and consider all the relevant information before making up our minds about anything. There’s also no plausible argument that Trump and the congressional Republicans aren’t obstructing that constitutionally mandated effort.
According to the latest polling a slim 51 percentage of Americans want Trump removed from office, which is well within a margin of error that might allow Trump to win again in the Electoral College, and there’s no denying the polls only predicted the popular vote in the last election, but it does not bode well for his reelection chances. A closer look at the numbers reveals even more bad news for Trump, as women voters and black voters and Latino voters and young voters and other growing demographics of voters want him out by landslide numbers, and even a slim plurality of us aging and increasingly outnumbered white male Republican respondents want a full trial with documentary evidence and sworn testimony and anything else that might either convict or acquit the president.
Barring any bombshell testimony from witnesses Trump and the Republicans might reluctantly allow to testify, at this point their best argument is that yeah, Trump withheld the aid to get election help and publicly refused to comply with congressional efforts to find out about it, but so what? “Get over it,” as Trump’s moonlighting chief of staff and Officer of Management and Budget said, adding “it happens all the time.” Maybe so, but we find that distressing, and suspect that “many people,” as Trump likes to cite, do as well.
The non-partisan Government Accountability Office has decreed it is indeed against the law for a president to withhold congressionally authorized appropriations, and that pretty much comports with our layman’s understanding of how the legislative branch legislates and the executive branch executes according to the Constitution, and so for the judicial branch that adjudges these things agrees. As for obstructing the damned congressional Democrats in their constitutionally approved “deep state” conspiracy efforts, Trump has made quite a show of that, and the fans love him for it, but they’ll change their minds the next time a Democratic president gets in trouble, which might be soon, and for now the rest of the pubic doesn’t like it.
Trump and his Senate allies might be damned if they allow any damning testimony and evidence into a Senate impeachment trial, but they’ll also be damned if they don’t, especially if they don’t introduce any exculpatory evidence or testimony that Trump has previously blocked, as it looks very bad. Maybe it won’t be so bad for Trump if the stock markets are still up and unemployment is still low on Election Day, and the damned Democrats go crazy left, and Trump’s support is sufficiently spread around the Electoral College map, but it still looks very bad.

— Bud Norman

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


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

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