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The Lonesome Death of Jamal Khashoggi

The government of Saudi Arabia now acknowledges that dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey, but we’re assured by the government of Saudi Arabia that it had nothing to do with it. To hear the Saudi Arabian government tell it, the pudgy and 59-year-old Khashoggi started a fistfight with 15 Saudi Arabian government operatives who had been flown into Turkey for a polite conversation, and that it ended to everyone’s regret.
The story is so blatantly preposterous that even such loyal American friends of the Saudi Arabian government as President Donald Trump are expressing some skepticism, but it probably won’t much. matter. Khashoggi was a legal American resident and a writer for one of America’s most longstanding and prestigious newspapers, and the best evidence suggests that he was mutilated and then murdered and then dismembered on the orders of the Saudi Arabian government, but on the other had Saudi Arabia has done tens of millions of dollars of business with Trump and hundreds of billions of dollars of business with other American businesses.
All the right-wing talk radio talkers are stressing that Khashoggi had a past relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and was a noisome critic of a Saudi Arabian government so enlightened that it has lately granted some women the right to drive an automobile, as well as a writer for those enemies of both the Saudi Arabian and American people at The Washington Post, and to hear them tell it you’d think the guy had some mutilation and murder and dismemberment coming. Besides, as the President of the United States has frequently noted, he was merely a legal resident rather than a fully-fledged citizens, and his murder wasn’t committed on American soil, and Saudi-American relations are  very tricky.
The hundreds of billions of dollars of business that America does with the Saudi Arabians can’t be dismissed lightly, and they do indeed play a very complicated role in the exponentially more complicated Middle East foreign policy mess, and we’re open to an argument for the cold-blooded calculation that even the mutilation and murder and dismemberment of a single human being must be weighted against that. Even so, we’d rather the argument was made honestly, and without the apparent disregard for the fate of a fellow human being. Surely America is still great enough relative to Saudi Arabia to insist on such niceties.
Last week Trump got a big response from a Republican rally crowd by recalling how the state’s Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte had committed criminal assault against a reporter shortly before his election to Congress. “Any guy who can do a body slam, that’s my kind of guy,” said Trump, a former professional wrestler himself, followed by uproarious laughter. Even in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s now-acknowledged demise Trump has praised the Saudi prime and dictator Mohammad bin Salman’s “strong control” of his country, and he seems to have a similar affinity for strong men rulers everywhere, including the nutcase North Korean dictator that he told a cheering rally crowd  he “fell in love with.”
All this international business and politics is indeed damned complicated, and we can’t pretend to know how it should proceed from here, but we’d like to think that the mutilation and murder and dismemberment of a legal American resident and fellow human being should carry some weight in our country’s considerations, even if he did write for The Washington Post.

— Bud Norman

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Hiding in the Bushes

Say what you want about the “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” and “lame-stream media,” but we’re regular readers and big fans of The Washington Post. Pretty much every day it provides us with interesting and all-too-believable accounts of what’s going on in the world, and we were heartened to read on the Post’s pages Thursday that former President George W. Bush is stealthily supporting a select slate of Republican candidates.
Say what you want about the war-mongering Bush and the severe economic recession that came at the end of his administration, and say what you want about his war-mongering “Poppy” President George H.W. Bush, whose administration ended after 12 mostly successful years of Republican rules because of a mild and short-lived recession, but these days dearly we miss both of those guys. The first Iraq war was a diplomatic and military masterstroke as far as we’re concerned, and we think the son’s well-intentioned sequel might well have worked out if not for a subsequent impatient Democratic administration, and we blame the first Bush recession on the usual business cycle and the son’s more severe recession on the the crazed subprime mortgage policies of Democratic President Bill Clinton’s administration, and in retrospect we give the younger Bush credit for negotiating and singing the blank bipartisan bail-out check that seems to have prevented the bottom from falling out.
For all their undeniable faults, neither of the Bushes ever engaged in “Twitter” feuds with pornographic video performers and strategic American geopolitical allies, made excuses for the abhorrent behavior of our geopolitical foes, or recklessly interfered with the way things work in this in our very complex world economy. By now even those damned bleeding-heart liberals at The Washington Post seem to long for that bygone Republican party.
By now, though, most Republicans have signed up with the newfangled Republican party of President Donald Trump. Trump won his party’s nomination and then the presidency by arguing that the elder Bush failed to conquer Iraq, his son lied America into a foolhardy attempt to conquer Iraq, and that he alone could prevail against the almighty business cycles, and that every other Republican president who preceded him was a sucker. Which is probably why President George W. Bush feels obliged to campaign so stealthily on behalf of a select slate of Republican candidates that only an intrepid Washington Post reporter would notice.
Some of the candidates that the younger Bush is quietly helping are also loudly endorsed by Trump, but we’ll wish them well. Most of these day’s damned Democrats are as bad as ever, as far we’re concerned, so we’ll hold out faint hope for what’s left of the Republican party that used to be.

— Bud Norman

The Strange Case of Jamal Khashoggi

Over the years we’ve read a lot of improbable cloak-and-dagger novels and watched many fanciful films about international intrigue, but we’ve never come across a story quite so fascinating as the real-life disappearance and almost certain murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Even with unfettered access to the very best findings of America’s crack intelligence agencies President Donald Trump will not say with any certainty what has become of Kashoggi, and we can’t claim to have any better information. but we are far more objective and fairly certain of a few established facts. Khashoggi provably entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2 to deal with paperwork for an upcoming wedding, and so far neither the fiancee who was waiting outside nor the consulate’s constant security cameras nor anyone else can testify that he ever came out. It’s also a verifiable fact that Khashoggi was considered an enemy of the people by the Saudi Arabian government, with no other obvious enemies who might have access to a Saudi Arabian consulate, and although that’s not conclusive proof of anything it’s worth keeping in mind.
So far the government of Turkey is officially coy about its conclusions, but unofficially it’s been leaking a flood of information to various world media that they have audiotape from Khashoggi’s cell phone of his brutal torture and murder and dismemberment, that on the day after Khashoggi’s disappearance their investigators found the consulate both thoroughly scrubbed and freshly painted, and they’ve got the flight records of 15 suspicious Saudis with provably close ties to their government and an autopsy specialist with a bone saw who flew into Istanbul just shortly before Khashoggi’s arrival at the consulate. Turkey’s government is lately almost as Islamist and authoritarian and untrustworthy as Saudi Arabia’s, and has its own complicated geo-political reasons to embarrass Saudi Arabia, but they’ve also got the sort of highly effective domestic security apparatus that could prove such claims, and would be just as happy to embarrass Saudi Arabia with the truth.
By now even such steadfast Trump loyalists as South Carolina’s Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham say that the Saudis look pretty damned guilty, and it would take a pretty imaginative novelist or screenwriter to come up with some other plausible plot twist, but Trump holds out for the possibility that some group of “rogue killers” might have killed Khashoggin in defiance of the Saudi government’s wishes.
;Some of those cloak-and-dagger novels we’ve read and foreign intrigue films we’ve watched had some pretty glaring plot holes, but even dime novels and $10 Hollywood movies could never come up with such a convoluted plot twist as that. Getting a group of “rogue killers” into a Saudi consulate in Istanbul just as an expatriate Saudi journalist and enemy of the Saudi people showed up would be tough enough for the “Mission: Impossible” screenwriters, much less why fellow enemies of the Saudi people would want to kill him, and never the mind the crews of rogue cleaners and painters who showed up in the immediate aftermath to scrub the alleged crime scene clean.
One never really knows, though, so perhaps Trump is right to hold out hope that neither Saudi King Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud nor current dictator Prince Mohammad bin Salman had anything do with whatever unpleasantness that might have transpired at a Saudi consulate. Back during the campaign Trump publicly boasted that he got along great with the Saudis because they did tens of millions of dollars of business with him, and they rolled out quite the red carpet for him on his first state visit abroad, and these days Trump can rightly argue that they do billions in business with far bigger American companies and as always play a crucial strategic role in America’s tricky middle-eastern foreign policy. Surely they deserve some benefit of the doubt.
Besides, as Trump as always reminds his interviewers, this Khashoggi guy wasn’t an American citizen, and even if he did get tortured and murdered and dismembered it didn’t happen here, so it arguably isn’t any of America’s business. Khashoggi was a legal American resident, which by law means he’s entitled to same protections of the state as anyone else living here, but what’s that against the millions and billions of dollars in trade that Trump and America get from the Saudis. That Khahshoggi guy also wrote for The Washington Post, long considered a leading light of America’s free press, but these days they’re also deemed enemies of the people.
The biggest mystery at this point is why Trump doesn’t just come right out and say, “Yeah, so what if the Saudis tortured and killed and dismembered this guy?” Khashoggi wasn’t even an American citizen, after all, and he wrote regularly for those enemies of the American people at The Washington Post, so we doubt that many of Trump’s die-hard defenders give much of a damn about what happened to that guy. What happened to that Khashoggi guy might slightly heighten the fervor of Trump’s opponents, but it probably won’t much swell their number.
In any case, this poor Khashoggi guy’s tale seems headed to a more desultory conclusion than any cloak-and-dagger novel we’ve ever read or any foreign intrigue film we’ve ever seen, and we worry that America won’t come out any greater.

— Bud Norman

Our Nostalgia for a Religious Right

Not so long ago Republicans were stereotyped as a bunch of blue-nosed religious fuddy-duddies, and a couple of stories that caught our eye on Tuesday made us nostalgic for that bygone era.
One unavoidable story was about President Donald Trump’s ongoing “Twitter” spat with a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels, which is another one of those cover-the-children’s-eyes things that didn’t happen to Republican presidents back in the party’s good old sexually repressed days. Daniels claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump back in his reality show days, a few months after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and although Trump denies it he’s been forced by public records to stop denying that he paid her $130,000 to stop stay quiet, and it’s been hard to keep the ongoing legal wrangling out of the papers.
At this point Daniels isn’t being at all quiet about it, as she’s figured out that her tawdry tale is worth far more than a mere $130 grand, and her recent best-selling tell-all book has included some rather explicit and unflattering descriptions of Trump’s penis and sexual skills, and these days it’s hard to keep that kind of thing out of the papers as well. Trump won a legal victory on Tuesday when a judge dismissed Daniels’ defamation suit against Trump for calling her claims “a total con job,” and she was even ordered to pay the defendant’s legal fees, with the decision explaining that “The court agrees with Mr. Trump’s argument because the tweet in question constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.”
At this point there really is no denying that “rhetorical hyperbole” and presidential “Twitter” feuds with pornographic video performers are now normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States, but that only makes us all the more nostalgic for pretty much every Republican president prior to Trump. We were also disappointed to see that the court didn’t even bother to put sneering quotation marks around “tweet,” but expect that the Twitter company’s lawyers will soon send it one of those threatening letters about using a trademarked term in a generic sense. Still, Trump couldn’t help gloating about his victory with one of his trademark ad hominem “tweets.”
“Federal Judge throws out Stormy Daniels lawsuit against Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees,” Trump “tweeted,” adding a link to his friends at Fox News. “Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the great state of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con job.”
The true-blue Trump fans will love it, because “at least he fights” and all that blather, and they probably won’t notice that if you parse that last sentence according to the strict rules of the English language he’s confessing to being a total con job. By now the vast majority of the Republican party is no longer the least bit embarrassed to have its president engaged in a tawdry “Twitter” war with a pornographic video performer, and a more elevated level of presidential rhetoric is no longer one of those cultural heritages that conservatives care to conserve. They also won’t mind that “Horseface” nickname a bit, as that’s also by now normally associated with politics and public discourse, but they should be worried that Trump has picked a fight with an equally shameless and very formidable “Twitter” foe.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present your president,” Daniels “tweeted” back. “In addition to his … umm … shortcomings, he has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self-control on Twitter AGAIN. And perhaps a penchant for bestiality. Game on, Tiny.”
Trump fans can say what they want about this publicity=seeking pornographic video performer, but they must admit that at least she fights, and rather effectively by the current cage match rules of politics and public discourse. Most people figure that Trump probably did do the deed with Daniels, very few people pretend to believe he’s not at all the unfaithful sort of fellow who would ever do such a thing, and they’re already making excuses for him even if he did, so we expect that “Horseface” will fare better against “Tiny” in their mutually embarrassing “Twitter” war. That “Tiny” nickname will surely enrage Trump, and delight his critics to a similar degree, and might even explain a few things, so it could well stick.
We had previously been unaware of the existence of Dennis Hof, but we were intrigued by his obituary in The Washington Post on Tuesday. Apparently the 72-year-old Hof was the owner of a legal Nevada brothel called The Bunny Ranch, and thus became a star of a long-running reality show about the operation on some cable network that aired occasional nudity, but we were mostly struck by the fact he was also the Republican candidate for his district’s state Assembly seat. We’d like to think that candidates who proudly traffic in women’s flesh still wouldn’t pass Republican muster around here, but in the last presidential election most Kansas Republicans found no tolerable choice but the candidate who once ran a strip club in one of his bankrupt casinos, and for now we don’t see either side seeking the higher moral ground.
Oh how we long for those good old days of the stereotyped and ridiculed rock-ribbed and religiously upright blue-nosed Republican fuddy-duddies.

— Bud Norman</p

Those Darned Democratic Women

Two prominent Democratic women foolishly rushed into entirely unnecessary controversies on Monday, which should provide Democrats with a reminder that as bad the Republicans might be at the moment they have some serious problems of their own.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren got the day off to a bad start by publicizing the results of a DNA test which shows that she does indeed have some long-ago ancestor who was a Native American. During her first run for the Senate against former Playgirl model and unlikely Republican Republican Sen. Scott Brown she was widely ridiculed for her claims as a Harvard University professor that she was part Indian, and President Donald Trump has long loved mocking his outspoken critic and potential general election challenger as “Pocahontas,” and got a big a laugh from rally crowd by promising if he meets her in a presidential debate he’ll to pay a million dollars of his own money to a charity of Warren’s choice if she’d take a DNA test “that proves she’s an Indian.”
Warren apparently figured that the test results would make Trump look bad, as we’re sure she’s not so stupid to think Trump would pay up a million dollars. Trump told a gaggle of rain-soaked reporters that he’d never offered such wager, which did make him look bad when almost everyone network re-ran the footage of Trump saying exactly that, and by now even Trump seems to realize that the “Pocahontas” gag is so stale it’s no longer even provocative.
So why bring it up? By doing so, Warren invited Trump’s army of internet trolls to re-tell all the old jokes and “memes” of a feather-clad and war-striped Warren, and they could now giddily note that the percentage of her DNA derived from Native America makes her not only whiter than the average white person but whiter than Ivory soap. There’s no proof that Warren’s objectively impressive academic career benefited from her claims of American Indian heritage, but she did make mention of it on various forms, and it’s exactly the sort of loony identity politics on the left that the even the most ridiculous on the right can rightly make fun of. Various Native American groups have long objected to Trump’s repetitive “Pocahontas” jokes, but they also taken offense at Warrens’ claims of kinship, so at best we’d score it a desultory draw for Warren and another humiliating defeat for America’s political discourse.
On the same day, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton defended the sexual behavior of her hound dog of a husband back when he occupied the Oval Office, reviving all the old fellatio jokes on the right and arousing much disgruntled talk on a left that’s currently on a moral crusade against hound dog male sexual misbehavior. Clinton correctly noted that Monica Lewinsky was 22 years old when she consented to what the president would later call “an inappropriate relationship” with the then 49-year-old Leader of the Free World, and when her interviewer brought up all the feminist theories about power dynamics and all that she defied the sisterhood by saying it was no reason for her husband to resign.
The sisterhood all agreed with that back in the day, what with Roe v. Wade being danger if the Republicans ever regained the office and all that, but that was then and this is now, and at the moment the sisterhood is less indulgent of even the most impeccably liberal Democratic men’s hound dog ways. It’s a winning issue for the left, given the alarming number of women out there who seem to regard male sexual misbehavior as a pressing social problem, so the left doesn’t need Clinton out there reminding everybody that they’ve not always been so pure as Ivory soap when it comes to respecting young womanhood. Both of those dreadful Clintons have now outlived their usefulness to the Democratic party, yet remain favorite villains to rev up the fearful Republican faithful, and would be well-advised by almost everyone to retire from public life and enjoy their ill-gotten fortune and somehow long-lasting marriage.
Far better for the left to focus the attention on the right’s hypocrisies, as the Grand Old Party that once impeached President Clinton for his lies about offenses against young but legal womanhood is now, for some reason or another, regarded by a landslide majority of American women as a party of pussy-grabbing sexist pigs who mock women alleging sexual assaults. The left would also be better off if they stopped with all that white guilt-ridden identity politics nonsense, and focus attention on the equally nutty white pride identity politics that has a small but annoyingly significant toe-hold on the right, but they’ve once again blown that opportunity.
The Democrats have recruited a slew of formidable women candidates for a wide range of offices this year, even here in Kansas and Sedgwick County, including some decorated war veterans and barrier-breakers and Lifetime Network movie heroines, and given that a landslide majority of approximately half the electorates reasonably regards the Republicans as a bunch of sexually insecure and draft-dodging and pussy-grabbing sexist pigs we’ll expect they’ll do fairly well.
Still, at the risk of being accused of “mansplaining” or some other “micro-aggression,” we’d advise Clinton to step out of public life and Warren to step up her game before the looming mid-terms. These Democratic “babes” — as Rush Limbaugh calls them — have some pretty crazy ideas about the economy and social justice, as far as we’re concerned, but we have to admit they’re pretty much right about the Republicans these days being a bunch of pussy-grabbing sexist pigs, and we’ll hope that whatever the eventual disastrous outcome is it isn’t based on today’s dumb news.

— Bud Norman

America First, Morality After That

President Donald Trump sat down for an interview with Lesley Stahl of the “60 Minutes” program that aired on Sunday, far away from the friendly confines of “Fox and Friends,” and of course it was full of news.
He suggested that Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, widely considered a restraining influence on Trump’s more rash foreign policy impulses, is “sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” and might soon be leaving the White House. He wouldn’t comment on how long Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be around, except to say “We’ll see what happens come midterms,” which suggests that something will happen after the looming midterm elections. He denied mocking the woman who alleged that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault while they were both high schools, although Trump sure did seem to revel in all the laughs he got talking about her at a recenta campaign rally. He effused about the trustworthiness of murderous North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but added “That doesn’t mean I can’t be proven wrong,” which is newsworthy for its uncharacteristic modesty.
More striking to us, though, was Trump’s continued affinity for murderous Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and murderous Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammad bin Salam, and his apparent insouciance about murderous dictatorships in general.
Although Trump  now grudgingly acknowledges that yeah, Putin probably did meddle in America’s past presidential election, which all of America’s intelligence agencies insist with complete certainty,  he added that China’s murderous dictatorship probably did the same, which no intelligence agency has suggested, and he seemed to shrug it all off as business as usual. Way back in the campaign Trump told friendly Fox News interviewer Bill O’Reilly that yeah, Putin occasionally a journalist or dissident or political opponent or two, but “There a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, do you think our country’s so innocent?,” and he told the far feistier Stahl the relies on Russia, and he noted with apparent satisfaction that Putin none of Putin’s recent assassination attempts have happened in America or to Americans abroad.
Trump has talked tough about “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if it’s proved the government brutally murdered and dismembered self-exiled Saudi dissident and Washington Post writer and legal American resident Jamal Kashoggi, as all of the world’s intelligence agencies and every sane observer has concluded, but we expect it will require some rather extraordinary proof before he’s nudged to say that yeah, they probably did it. Even if he is somehow convinced that the Saudi friends who treated to him to such a flattering state visit and do billions of dollars of business with American corporations of millions of dollars of business with his own still wholly-owned companies, he’s already pointed out that the alleged killing happened in Turkey, “and to the best of our knowledge, Kashoggi is not a United States citizen.” An American president should speak with more certainty about such easily learnable facts, and should also be aware the a legal residency in the United States also entitles one to the protection of the state, but Trump clearly thinks America lacks the moral standing to fuss about such things.
Trump bluntly told the country as much before he was elected. He said so not only to O’Reilly and his Fox viewers but to all the revved-up rally crowds that chanted along with his “America First” slogan, not knowing or caring it faithfully echoed the pre-World War II isolationist movement that thought Fortress America could get along just fine in a world otherwise ruled by the Axis powers. Long before he started his unlikely political career Trump had hired a ghostwriter to pen “The Art of Deal,” which explicitly described his Machiavellian worldview of everything in life from love to business to foreign relations as a zero-sum game that comes down to winners and losers, with the rules being strictly for suckers. Even as he successfully courted the evangelical Christian vote, he made it quite clear he didn’t believe in all that nonsense loving one’s neighbor and turning the other cheek and the meek being blessed.
On one warm and sunny Hawaiian December day in ’41 America realized that despite two oceans and a couple of placid neighbors to the north and south America could not get along just fine with the Axis powers, and with the help of some carefully cultivated democratic allies the country waged a costly but ultimately victorious war against those murder dictatorships. The allies also  much needed the help of a murderous communist dictatorship in Russia, which waged a fare more costly war but a sizable victory of it, as well as an unpleasantly authoritarian regime in China that soon fell to an even more murderous communist dictatorship, but somehow the free and democratic nations of the world cobbled together trade agreements and diplomatic arrangements and military alliances that have worked the necessary moral compromise out pretty well for most part over the past 70-plus, at least relative to most of humankind’s bloody and impoverished history.
There have been plenty of wars and moral compromises along the way, of course. Fighting Chinese and Soviet communism involved a couple of horrific wars that resulted in a still-troublesome tie on the Korean peninsula and a arguable loss to a unified and more-or-less capitalist Vietnam that now offers potential strategic advantages to the United States, and America has overlooked some unsavory behavior from anti-communist regimes and any country that can help keep the international economy well lubricated with oil. There were greater moral exigencies to be arguably considered at the time, though, and at no point did any Republican or Democratic president ever signaled that he didn’t much about such behavior. Those bipartisan fancy-pants “experts” got a lot of things wrong, but they also rebuilt former vanquished adversaries into formidable friends, nurtured the free and democratic nations they had rescued from murderous dictatorships, and we think they know better than Trump, and we’ll hate to see the last few of them leave his administration.
Trump is quite right that America has done a lot of killing, and that like any country populated by mere human beings we’re not so innocent, but we think he’s quite wrong to suggest America should begin to atone for its sins by giving the green-light to any of his favored murderous dictators to keep killing off any pesky journalists or political opponents or assorted dissidents. We don’t think it will help make America great again.

— Bud Norman

An Especially Surreal Day in the All-Too-Real Trump Reality Show

By now we should be well inured to these weird celebrity reality shows, but we were nonetheless taken aback by rapper Kanye West’s guest appearance Thursday on President Donald Trump’s hit television program. In case you somehow it missed it, it was a fascinatingly bizzarre mix of “The Jerry Springer Show,” “The Real Housewives of Wherever,” and that show whose name we forget that was about the ongoing mental breakdown of Flava Flav.
Despite being old white guys with old white guy musical tastes, we’ve been aware of West’s existence for some time now, although we can’t claim any familiarity with his music. He’s been a very successful rap “artist” for some time now, and young people we know with more up-to-date and less discriminating tastes than ours have vouched that he’s actually quite good at it, but we mostly know him for his frequent intrusions into the rest of the news.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans he used the podium of some music awards show or another to say that President George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” He later crashed the front pages when he crashed the stage at some music awards show or another to snatch the microphone out of the hands of a pop chanteuse named Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech and complain that the award should have gone to his friend Beyonce, who is apparently another popular hip-hop performer of some repute, which prompted then-President Barack Obama to call him a “jackass.” Since then he’s become more famous as a co-star of the hit Kardashian family reality series, as he’s married to the famously callipygian co-star Kim Kardashian and is thus somehow related by marriage to co-star and former Olympic decathlon winner Bruce Jenner, who is now more highly celebrated as a transgender woman.
More recently, he’s been in the news because of his outspoken support of Trump. A while back he made headlines by ending a concert with a rambling pro-Trump rant, then again the next day when his spokespeople announced that he was seeking mental health treatment. Just a week or so ago, he was back in the news when was the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” and started into another rambling pro-Trump as the final credits rolled. The stunt went un-aired but was widely reported, and earned West his nationally-televised guest-starring turn in the Oval Office on Thursday.
If you some haven’t sat through the whole thing we’d urge to summon the courage to do so, because it’s perhaps the most perfect example of celebrity reality show grotesquery we’ve come across yet, and a damning indict of the celebrification of our politics. Clad in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap and some coat-and-tieless street gear, and using street language similarly unsuited to the past dignity of the Oval Office, West went on an unhinged rant for the ages. He derided the 13th amendment that abolished slavery, bragged about bringing the Adidas sports shoe company from a billion dollar deficit to a multi-billion dollar profit, talked about a hydrogen-powered Air Force One to for the “Flyest president ever,” promised to restore Chicago’s manufacturing base and it’s high murder without stop-and-frisk. He also confessed, as if he were on the old “Oprah” reality show, that he supported Trump at least in part because he’d grown up in single-mother home without “male energy” and that the family he’d married into was similarly lacking in “male energy.”
Reigning reality show alpha male Trump sat silently behind the historic Resolute desk with his arms crossed through the whole 11 minutes, never once interrupting to tell his guest to take off his cap and pull up his saggy britches and stop saying “motherfucker” and start showing some damned respect for the Oval Office. Trump was no doubt annoyed by all the airtime West was taking, not to mention that touchy-feely talk about no stop-and-frisk, as well as West claiming preemptive credit for any Chicago revival that might occur, but what he could he do? West was mostly saying very flattering things about him, which always obliges Trump to say nice things in return, and he’s hardly in any position to criticize a fellow reality show star for a self-aggrandizing and obviously exaggerated and inappropriately vulgar and clearly unhinged rant.
Besides, Trump clearly covets a bigger-than-usual Republican share of the black vote. Trump has a history of discriminating against black tenants applying to live in his apartments, continues to call for the execution of black and hispanic men who were once convicted but have since been clear by scientific evidence for the rape of a white woman in Central Park, and more recently found “very fine people” among a deadly neo-Nazi mob in Virginia, but the black unemployment rate is currently low, and Trump can claim that some of his best friends are black. He’s not only got the foul-mouthed and clearly crazed West on his side, but all-time football great and convicted spousal abuser Jim Brown was also in the Oval Office on Thursday. Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, an undeniably tough basketball rebounder and defender, a cross-dressing trash-talker who was a reality show star on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” and a pal to North Korean dictator Kim Jung long before Trump was, is also on board. Trump also has the friendship of boxing legend and convicted rapist and boastful wife-beater “Iron” Mike Tyson, as well as boxing promoter Don King, who overcame a couple of manslaughter convictions to make fortune exploiting such naive black boxers as Tyson.
Trump’s penchant for braggadocio and bling plays well in certain parts of the hip-hop world, where his admitted pussy-grabbing tendencies aren’t much of a problem, and West still seems to have some sway with that mostly-male audience, so it might nudge Trump’s approval ratings among black Americans into the low single digits. The mostly white and male supporters who were rihghtly outraged back when Obama hosted a similarly foul-mouth rapper probably won’t mind, as it’s not as if Trump actually shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, and they surely won’t notice that West’s unhinged rant came while Hurricane Michael was devastating the East Coast, so it might have done him some good.
Even so, we don’t see how it helps make America great again. You don’t have to be crazy to be a Trump defender — although it helps (insert rim shot here) — but this West fellow is is quite clearly off his rocker. There’s something disconcerting, too, about watching a President of the United States sitting with arms folded behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office during such an unhinged rant and then offering such effusive praise. If that makes us Republican in name only, then so damn be it.

— Bud Norman

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What Goes Down Must Come Up

After Wednesday’s brutal day on America’s major stock markets President Donald can no longer brag about their record highs, but if he wants to attempt a complicated and counter-intuitive argument he can claim some credit for the rosy economic conditions that have caused the recent swoon.
The markets tanked because the Federal Reserve Board now intends to slightly raise the artificially low interest rates that fueled the markets’ record run, which is because by now they’ve successfully brought the economy to below full employment and a potential 4 percent growth rate in the gross domestic product, and for now it’s more worried about an inflation rate that’s slightly outpacing the long-awaited wage increases that have lately occurred. According to the perverse logic of the stock markets, good news is bad news, just as back when high unemployment and low GDP growth were bringing interest rates down and raising the indices up bad news was good news.
All of this damnably good news started shortly after the big financial meltdown of ’08, which was caused by the subprime mortgage social engineering of President Bill Clinton’s administration but came to fruition in the final days of President George W. Bush’s administration. Bush and most of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress — including both both of the party’s presidential nominees — responded with a big bailout of some major banks that annoyed people on both the left and the right, and the Fed started printing money at a rate that alarmed any conservative old enough to remember the hyper-inflation of the ’70s. In retrospect, though, the center-left and center-right compromise seems to have more or less worked.
The economy was already officially out of recession by the time President Barack Obama was elected by a scared-to-death electorate and passed a pork-laden “stimulus package” through the overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress, and after that a historically slow recovery slogged along on the easy money the Fed was printing. We’re still convinced that Obama’s anti-business regulatory and tax policies slowed the recovery, and that only the Fed’s foolhardy money-printing sustained it, but after a scared-to-death electorate elected a Republican majority in the House of Representatives in the “tea party” wave of ’10 there were no more “stimulus packages” or other major interferences and thus things improved slightly. As much as we still disdain Obama-nomics and hate to give the guy credit for anything, we have to admit that during the last two years of Obama’s presidency the economy was on a clearly upward path.
By the time a scared-to-death-of-something-or-another electorate gave an electoral majority to Trump, the unemployment rate was a respectable 4.8 percent and the GDP was growing at a not-great-but-not-bad 3 percentage points or so. As much as we disdain Trump’s trade wars and attempts to restore the coal-driven and low-tech economy of the ’50s, and as much as we hate to give the guy credit for anything, we also have to admit that economy has been on pretty much the same upward trajectory ever since Trump’s inaugural speech promise that “The American carnage ends right here, right now.” Trump’s exceedingly business-friendly regulatory and tax policies have no doubt helped, and his stupid trade wars and economic nostalgia haven’t yet hurt much, and by now the economy is rolling along at a rate we can’t blame the Fed for applying some slight pressure to the brakes.
Trump is already grousing about it, though, as he’d much rather be bragging about record stock market highs and new land speed records in economic growth and how nobody has ever seen anything like it. As much as we hate to give the guy credit for anything, we have to admit it’s another brilliant political ploy. If your stocks are down it’s because of that damned fellow who’s Chairman of the almighty Fed, that quintessentially quasi-governmental institution that actually runs everything according to all the leading “deep state” conspiracies since the days of President Andrew Jackson, and has nothing to do with Trump, who is surely an innocent bystander and fellow victim.
Trump did in fact appoint Jerome Powell as the chairman of the Fed, and Powell was confirmed by a Republican Senate, but so was Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed by Trump and confirmed by a Republican Senate, and for now both are suspected conspirators in a “deep state” plots to overthrow Trump. Those smarty-pants know-it-alls at the Fed have a darned convincing case for raising the prime interest rate to a few notches lower than historical norms, tough, and if it keeps the economy chugging along at a optimal if not the-greatest-anyone’s -seen rate without inflation we’re sure Trump will be glad to claim the credit, and boast about how great it could have been if only he had been in charge. At this point the labor market is tight enough that further economic growth will require an increase in immigration, and Trump should also be grateful if the Fed spares him that dilemma.
These days our only interest in the stock market is in the long run, and over that dreary amount of time it’s survived the Great Depression and Stagflation and the Dot.com and subprime bubbles, and it’s even survived Obama and we figure it will probably survive Trump. We give some of the credit to those smarty-pants know-it-alls at the Fed, but most of it to all those anonymous schmucks who get up every morning and go to some office or factory or shopping mall and make the decisions and do the work that keeps our still mostly-free economy slogging along through good times as well as bad times.

— Bud Norman

Haley’s Comet Changes Course

There’s a lot to be said about United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement that she’ll soon leave the post, but the first thing we have to say is that we’re sorry to see her go. We thought she did a fine job under difficult circumstances, and we worry that her replacement won’t provide the same restraining adult influence on President Donald Trump’s worst foreign policy instincts.
Of course most of the political chatter on Thursday was speculation about why she’s leaving, and why now, and what she might do next, and of course there were plenty of theories to go around about each question.
Haley’s explanation that after four years in the South Carolina legislature and eight years as governor of the state and two years at the UN she’s in need of a break seems plausible enough, but she also appears fit enough that people couldn’t help speculating about other reasons.
One popular theory is that she’s getting out of the Trump administration while the getting’s good, which also seems plausible enough, given what’s likely to come along after the mid-terms, when the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” resumes indicting people, and a plausible Democratic majority in the House of Representatives might start its own troublesome investigations. She’s the first person to leave the Trump administration with reputation largely intact, and she might well be the last.
Another plausible theory is that Haley has a choice of many better-paying jobs in the private sector, and that after 14 years public service she could use the money. State legislators and governors make a good salary in South Carolina, as do ambassadors to the UN, but without graft you’ll never get so rich as we expect our celebrities to be. One of her home state’s oldest newspapers has reported she’s deeply in debt, according to a Washington Post columnist her parents’ home is reportedly in foreclosure, and there’s little doubt that Haley’s proved smarts and toughness and personal appeal, not to mention the connections she’s made in the course of a meteoric career, could well fetch a price on the open market to rectify all that quite quickly.
Why now is another interesting question, which has spawned many interesting theories about the rising influence of national security advisor John Bolton and the controversy regarding Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but our best answer is why not now? There are the usual suspicions about why she’s announced her resignation before the mid-terms, but there would have been the usual suspicions about why she did so after the mid-terms, and there’s never a time that isn’t preoccupied with some Trump controversy or another. Trump doesn’t have to name a replacement until late November, and would be well advised to wait until the voting’s done, so now struck us as good a time as any.
What she does next is by far the most intriguing question, and has already spawned much speculation that will eventually be tested by time. We’ll go out on a limb and predict that you haven’t heard the last of her. For now she’d be well advised to cash in on her opportunities at some more-or-less respectable multinational corporation and get on a sound financial footing, lay low while the Trump administration plays out, then remerge from the inevitable wreckage to rescue the once Grand Old Party. She seems uniquely well positioned to do so.
Haley is such a talented politician that even as the daughter of Sikh Indian immigrants she won two terms in the legislature of arch-conservative South Carolina, and then two terms as its Republican governor. Her governorship was notable for its traditional business-friendly and budget-balancing Republican principles, as well as the economic good times that resulted, but she also permanently lowered the Confederate battle flag from state buildings, more generally urged her fellow South Carolinians toward racial and sexual equality, always conducted herself with a ladylike respect for others, and otherwise violated what she surely knew were rapidly becoming the principles of the Republican party.
Haley was an outspoken opponent of Trump’s candidacy, but he wound up winning the South Carolina primary and eventually the Republican nomination anyway, and after that she was more muted in her criticisms. After Trump wound up winning the presidency she wound up as his UN ambassador, despite all the bad things they’d said about one another. In her new job she was tougher on Russia than Trump seemed to prefer, and frequently differed with the president on those race and sex controversies he’s always caught up in, but she was a loyal enough soldier that she left with Trump’s effusive praise. She’s vowed not to run against Trump in ’20, but at the young age of 46 she’ll still be in good shape for the ’24 race, and we wouldn’t rule out the possibility that she won’t have to run against Trump in ’20.
Somehow or another the Republicans have gained a reputation as a party of ugly old white men during Trump’s presidency, and an attractive young dark-skinned woman would be the perfect antidote. Her traditional business-friendly and budget-balancing Republican principles would also play well with the general public against the crazy tax-and-spend socialist those damned Democrats are likely to nominate, her elegantly ladylike demeanor and unifying rhetoric would play well with the independents turned off by Trump’s boorish demagoguery, and even the most fervid Trump fans would have to admit that she left to Trump’s effusive praise.
On the other hand, she might well find that she prefers a quietly anonymous and highly lucrative life in the private sector, and we wouldn’t blame her if she did. Even so, we’ll go out on a limb and predict you haven’t heard the last of her, and in any case we’ll wish her the best.

— Bud Norman

With Less Than a Month to Go in These Rainy and Dreary Election Days

We’d like to believe that the November 6 elections and the rest of that damnably cold month are still far off, but a chilly rain has been falling on both the just and unjust around here for the past few days, all the local lawns are sprouting yard signs for some candidate or another for some office or another, and that damnable calendar tells us that the reckoning is now less than a month away.
At this point we’ll not venture any predictions about how it all might turn out, except that it probably won’t turn out the way we’d prefer. Our best guess is that the Democrats will win a bunch of races and the Republicans will win a slightly smaller yet effectively similar amount, and that it will wind up with at least a two-year political stalemate, which is about the best we can hope for these days.
Given the undeniably rosy gains in the gross domestic product and unemployment and stock market and other economic indices the Republicans should be cruising to an electoral landslide by now, but given how very horrible the Republicans are about pretty much everything else in the news cycle the Democrats should be faring more than the mere single digit lead in the generic polling they’re clinging to these days. We don’t much trust President Donald Trump’s cocksureness that he’s going to sucker the rest of the world into the same sort of sweet deal that he won from talk show host Merv Griffiin to buy the now-razed Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club, but we’re also pretty cocksure that the unabashed socialism of far too many Democrats these days would be even more catastrophic, so we’ll hold out hope that our remarkably resilient free market economy is left to continue moving up and down and yet generally upward.
As for the rest of it, the Democrats seem to enjoy the advantage at the moment. For now the big story is still the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice, which has the base of the Republican party enthused, but it’s also got the fairer sexes of the Democratic party thoroughly enraged, and we guess our many Democratic women friends’ rage will outlast our many male Republican friends’ exultation about a Supreme Court Justice whose name they’ll probably forget in less than a month’s time. The Republicans have reportedly resorted to a campaign theme that the Democrats represent “mob rule” that would ruin a good man’s reputation with one scarlet woman’s allegation of sexual misbehavior, but women account for about half the vote around here, and we’re pretty sure that there are more women among our friends who have have victims of sexual behavior than there are men of our acquaintance who have ben falsely accused of sexual misbehavior.
Even here in reliably Republican Kansas the Republicans seem to have their hands full. The rural First District and our own-urban-Wichita-and-surrounding country Fourth District seem safe enough for the Grand Old Party, but up in the Second and Third districts that bisect the Kansas City metropolitan area’s affluent white suburbs and hard-luck black ghettos the Democrats are polling so well that the Republicans are withdrawing national ad money. The Democratic candidate for governor is well within all the polling’s margin of error, too, for a variety of peculiarly Kansas reasons too complicated to explain here, and for a variety of other peculiarly complicated Kansas reasons we’d wager some small amount on her chances of ultimately winning.
It’s close enough that Trump himself flew into Kansas over the past weekend to headline another of is sold-out rallies on behalf of gubernatorial candidate and long-time political ally Kris Kobach and the rest of the loyal Republican ticket. He fired up the sell-out crowd with talk about how all the Senate Democrats had signed up with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s “Open Borders Bill,” which does not exist, and derided Democratic nominee Laura Kelly as a gun-grabbing “far-left” candidate, which she is not.
For whatever reason the Republicans seem to be having trouble winning both minority women voters and the better-educated sorts of white women voters around the country ever since Trump became president, and here in Kansas there are enough of them to maybe swing an election or two or three. All politics is local, though, so we have no idea how it will play out in your precincts, but around here and for right now the best  we’re hoping for a political stalemate that allows the rest of the country and its attended free markets to thrive for the time being.

— Bud Norman