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The Third of July

As patriotic Americans we don’t want to spend the Fourth of July with another screed about the President of the United States, as it’s supposed to be one of those all-too-rare apolitical and non-partisan days, so we’ll get it off our chest on the Third of July. President Donald Trump seems intent on turning Independence Day into another one of his endless campaign rallies, with a heaping helping of militarism on top, and several million taxpayer dollars thrown in, with big-bucks donors getting front row seating, and we find it outrageous.
Starting with President George Washington it has been a time-honored tradition for presidents to stay out of the spotlight while the country celebrates the birth of America, except for a brief and humble statement acknowledging the occasion, but Trump cares little for time-honored traditions and always on insists on being the center of attention. He’ll be hogging a stage that’s been set up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, claiming credit for the traditional fireworks just as he claims credit for people saying “Merry Christmas” in December, with generals and admirals of the American military standing next to him as tanks and troops march down Pennsylvania Avenue as fighters and bombers fly overhead.
Trump is calling it a “Celebration of America,” as if it were his novel idea to celebrate America on the Fourth of July, but everything about it seems a betrayal of American ideals.
The basic idea of the Declaration of Independence that was signed on the Fourth of July in 1776 is that all men are created equal, none are above the law, none are irreplaceable, and America’s greatness derives from e pluribus unum. Trump openly brags about being exceptional, brazenly violates the rule of law and dares his opponents to do anything about it, has repeatedly said that “Only I can solve,” and claims full credit for supposedly restoring America’s greatness by his clear efforts to divide the country. If he somehow manages not to do so on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the Fourth of July we will be surprised, but his mere presence there seems to imply his usual political rally rhetoric.
America’s military might won our independence from Britain, and has maintained our freedom throughout some very difficult years ever since, so of course it deserves some gratitude on the Fourth of July. Still, the show of strength that Trump has planned is not the way to do it. The top military brass has made it clear to Trump that their soldierly humility makes them uncomfortable flexing their muscles in gaudy parades, the enlisted men and women would probably prefer to have a day off with their families rather than being props in a Trump propaganda ploy, and the whole thing seems more like something you’d see in the old Soviet Union or modern day North Korea rather than in the United States of America. The draft-dodging Commander in Chief bragged the parade would include the Sherman tanks, although there haven’t been any Sherman tanks for more than 50 years, and he also bragged there’d be the newest Abram tanks, although they’re actually called Abrams tanks.In Trump’s skewed worldview America is great because it can kick any other country’s ass in a war, but to our thinking America has that capability because a nation of free men and women and free markets that doesn’t want a fight with anybody made it rich enough and great enough to sustain such a formidable force.
As rich as America is it’s more than $20 trillion in debt, and racking up a trillion more every year even in what Trump calls the best economy ever, and Trump’s show of force won’t help with that problem. He’ll spend millions with the flyovers, millions more rolling tanks and other armored vehicles over streets that weren’t designed to bear such heavy loads and will surely require expensive repair afterwards, and he’s diverting some $2.5 million dollars appropriated for the upkeep of national parks to pay for the stage on the Lincoln Memorial and the other changes to the time-honored tradition of Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, D.C.
Way back in our early teens we had the good fortune to be in our nation’s capital for a couple of Independence Days, and we can say that even Trump couldn’t have made it any greater. They had great fireworks even then, which lit up the skies over the Washington and Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the Capitol and the reflecting pools and the rest of the gorgeous National Mall, and it was jam-packed with Americans of all hues and every variety, and nobody seemed to care much who was a Republican or who was a Democrat. Rich or poor didn’t make any difference, either, and there was a wonderfully palpable sense of e pluribus unum.
Tomorrow we expect there will be a lot of people in those red “Make America Again” ball caps showing up for another Trump rally, as well as a lot of people and that “Baby Trump” balloon showing up to protest the President of the United States, so at least a few fist fights will result. You can add the D.C. and Capitol Hill police department’s costs to the total bill, and subtract that from how great the Fourth of July used to be on the glorious National Mall of our nation’s capital. The big bucks donor who bought the front row seats for Trump’s speech and “Celebration of America” might not notice, but any average American who gets caught up in the potential riot surely will.
Our plan for tomorrow is to watch our city’s annual dazzling fireworks display in front of the Wichita Art Museum on the banks of the Little Arkansas River, which will light up the skies over the  Keeper of the Plains statue on the nearby confluence with the Arkansas River that marks the spot still  held sacred sacred by the plains Indians. We look forward to sharing the moment with Wichitans of all hues and every variety, and not caring who’s a Republican and who’s a Democrat. Wichita still has a palpable sense of e pluribus unum, and now that we’ve got this off our chest we won’t let the likes of Trump ruin that on a Fourth of July.

— Bud Norman

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Well, At Least There’s Still More than a Year and a Half Left in the Race

The Cable News Networks has run the first significant Democratic presidential poll since the two-part and too-early Democratic presidential debates of last week. Given the results, we’ll mostly take a day off from our usual bashing of Republican President Donald Trump to note that the Democrats seem intent on nominating someone even arguably worse.
At the outset of the race the clear front-runner by double digits was former Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, who was also Vice President for eight years to President Barack Obama, who somehow remains popular in the Democratic party, even if much of the party now grouses that liberal administration we daily fulminated about wasn’t nearly liberal enough. Part of Obama’s enduring appeal in the party is that he was The First Black President ™, and given all the white flight to the Republican party over the past several decades of the Civil Rights era black voters are a sizable chunk of the Democratic primary electorate, especially in the southern states that hold early primaries, and Biden seemed to enjoy their gratitude that he’d been a loyal ally of Obama. The Democrats also retain a following among the Rust Belt white working class, even if Trump won enough of them last time around to squeak out an electoral majority, and the affable and commuter train-riding “Uncle Joe” and his aged self’s ties to an earlier era of populist Democratic politics made him seem well poised to win those votes back from Trump.
It was never likely to hold up, however, and seems to have taken a severe hit after just an hour of televised debate. The CNN polls shows Biden dropping 10 points, and although he’s still in the lead with 22 percent he’s only five percentage points ahead of California Sen. Kamala Harris, just six ahead of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and just eight ahead of self-proclaimed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He retains a bigger lead over the other 21 or 22 or so candidates, but several of them still have a chance to break out.
Biden’s hold on the black vote was always tenuous, given that he was running against a bona fide black man with verifiable slave blood in New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, who can also rightly claim to love in one of America’s most blighted and crime-ridden black ghettos, as well as California senator Harris, who has a Jamaican immigrant father and an east Indian immigrant mother, and grew up identifying and being identified as a black woman. Harris was the one who seized the opportunity during the debates, criticizing Biden for his way-way-back-in-the-’70s position against forced busing to achieve school desegregation, and it gave her a nine point bump in the poll while Biden took a ten point hit.
Harris is too far left and too much an “identity politics” candidate for our tastes, but she’s a former prosecutor and California Attorney General who always comes across as smart and well-informed in every interview, which contrasts to her favor with Trump, and she’s not quite so crazy as many of her competitors, so we warn both Biden and Trump to be worried. Given the current far left and “identity politics” predilections of the Democratic party, she seems a formidable opponent.
Biden’s hold on those aggrieved white Rust Belt blue collar workers was also tenuous, given that pretty much of the rest of the field was willing to outbid him with grandiose promises of free health care and guaranteed incomes and various other free stuff. Anyone who voted for Obama twice but then switched to Trump is not a true-blue Republican or conservative by our old-fashioned standards, and we suspect they were swayed by Trump’s even more grandiose and far-fetched promises of restoring the steel and coal and other Rust Belt industries to their long-long-ago ’50s glory, and now the rest of the Democratic party seems to willing to make to such gullible rubes even more grandiose and far-fetched promises. They can’t make the same make America white again promises as Trump, whose brand of identity politics also offends us, but Obama got their votes two times around and  we think they’ll once again fare well.
The estimable Washington Post editorial writer Eugene Robinson had an editorial on Monday taunting that we Never-Trump Republicans should reconcile ourselves to the idea that the Democrats are going to wind up nominating a Democrat. With all due respect to Robinson we didn’t need him to tell us that depressing news, and note that the three or four Democratic candidates we could conceivably vote for are all polling in the single digits, but we’re still hoping the party will come up with its least crazy possible nominee. Two major parties gone stark raving crazy are two too many, as far we’re concerned.
Our guess is that we’ll wind up once again throwing away our vote on some futile independent candidate, and that all our Democratic and Republican friends will accuse us of de facto voting for the hated other side. Once again, we’ll console ourselves that at least we threw our vote away on something better. How the rest of the country votes is up to the rest of the country.

— Bud Norman

Another Overseas Adventure

Every time President Donald Trump travels overseas he seems to say a series of things that have us slapping up foreheads, perhaps even more prolifically than he does when does when stateside. His recent trip to Osaka, Japan, and then a few steps into North Korean territory was no exception.
The trip was immediately proceeded by Trump insulting his Japanese hosts by grousing to Fox Business News that our longtime ally has been taking advantage of America’s generosity since the mid-’40s. “We have a treaty with Japan — if Japan is attacked we’ll go in and fight World War III. We will go in and protect them and fight with our lives and treasure. We will fight at all costs,” Trump said, adding that “But if we’re attacked Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch it on Sony televisions, the attack.”
Trump doesn’t seem to realize that Japan is constrained by the constitution that America imposed on it by force in the aftermath of World War II to only self-defense capabilities, and that it has used often those resources on America’s behalf if a non-combat but nonetheless helpful support role throughout the Cold War and in the various wars we’ve fought against radical Islamism in the Middle East, nor that were carefully considered geo-political balance-of-power reasons for that treaty, which still make sense. The average Fox Business News viewer also doesn’t know that, on the other hand, and neither do the die-hard fans, so Trump probably didn’t care much how it badly played in most of the American media and pretty much everywhere in Japan and the rest of east Asia and everyone else at the G-20 and around the world.
Trump was also feuding ahead of the trip with most of the rest of America’s longtime allies and trading partners at the Group of 20 Economic Summit in Osaka, but as usual he was more polite in his face-to-face encounters with the rest of the world’s leaders. He had only nice things to say to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and was on his best behavior with all the European democracies he routinely accuses of ripping us off, but as usual he saved his most obsequious behavior for the murderous likes of Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammad Bin Salman and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
The Saudi Arabian dictator was invited by Trump to stand next to him in the middle of the official G-20 photograph, despite his obvious role in the murder of an American resident and Washington Post journalist, among other recent atrocities. As usual Trump was just as chummy with the Russian dictator, at one point sharing an inside joke with Putin about the Russian election meddling that the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office National Intelligence and the other 13 intelligence agencies and their Trump-appointed leaders all agree did actually happen. The die-hard fans love Trump’s shock jock sense of humor, but the rest of it thought it wasn’t a joking matter.
Worse yet, to our ears, was when Trump yukked it up with Putin about the “fake news.” Trump admitted his envy that there doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem with critical coverage of the government in Russia, where he might or might not know that at least 26 journalists have suspiciously died during Putin’s time in power, but they wound up commiserating with one another that it still sometimes happens even in Russia. America’s “fake news” still got to the pepper the president with questions, though, the foreign trip press conference being one of those rare presidential traditions even Trump can’t ignore, and once again he gave answers to their pesky questions that had us slapping our foreheads to a bright red.
Putin’s trip to Osaka was immediately proceeded by an interview with a British publication in which he said that “Western Liberalism is obsolete,” and when asked to respond Trump said that San Francisco and Los Angeles were in a sorry state because of liberal leadership, which suggests he didn’t quite understand the question. The die-hard Trump supporters might not know nor care, but the rest of the world clearly understood that Putin was talking about the classical Western Liberal tradition of individual rights and representative governments obligated by rule of law to recognize those rights, and not west coast liberalism as it’s understood in the modern context. We share Trump’s contempt for the latter meaning of liberalism, but we do worry he doesn’t share our affection for the the former sense of the term.
Meanwhile, back in the states, California Sen. Kamala Harris was getting headlines by reviving the ’70s era of busing school children to different school districts to achieve racial desegregation in an attack on Democratic primary front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden, so Trump was of course asked about that. We thought it stupid for any Democrat to dredge up a long-dead ’70s issue that was damned complicated at the time and eventually turned out badly for the Democrats’ political standing, but Trump seemed to think it only had something to do with school districts providing students transportation to their local schools. The dark-hued Harris had an inspiring story about she was luckily bused to a fancy and liberal Berkeley school as an elementary student, we’re a few years older and several shades paler and less happily remember the racial tensions at our newly integrated junior high school, so we figure we’re both entitled to our opinions at the time about the long-forgotten issue, but Trump was already a graduate of an all-white school who didn’t seem to notice what was going on elsewhere at the time. He promised the pesky reporters that he’d soon have a surprise announcement of a brilliant policy to solve the busing problem, but he offered no specifics, and as far as we’re concerned he looked damned ridiculous.
After that Trump made history by being the first American commander-in-chief to step foot on North Korean soil since the country came into existence with the stalemate of the Korean War. It was an historic photo opportunity for both the the American president and the North Korean dictator, and both men seemed to relish it together, and both were very chummy, and there’s always a chance it might avert the exchange of nuclear missiles that the past 50-plus years of Republican and Democratic administrations have worried about. On the other hand there’s also a chance that the fat guy with the bad haircut who murdered his brother and uncle to gain power is playing Trump for a chump, and the he’s not so immune to flattery as Trump, who has gushed about he’s “fallen in love” with the dictator who writes him such nice letters.
Even in the immediate aftermath of his historic photo-op Trump was grousing to the pesky reporters that any speculation it might not amount to much is “fake news,” but we’ll go ahead and speculate it might yet turn out that way. We also notice it was followed by an interesting case of the free American press asserting its First Amendment rights even on foreign soil, and Trump’s newly-appointed press secretary Stephanie Grisham getting slightly roughed up in the process.
It all started when the American president and the North Korean dictator agreed to a historic first-ever American news conference on North Korean soil, and the North Korean security forces apparently didn’t get word of it. Being the pesky and pushy people they tend to be the American reporters stormed into the conference room, the security forces responded with the usual authoritarian sternness, and quite a scuffle apparently resulted. To her credit Grisham was apparently screaming the whole time that they were allowed in by mutual agreement, and took a few bruises by doing so, so as longtime newspapermen we hope she learned something about what reporters occasionally go through and how scary it might be to cover a typical Trump rally.
We also read that as the reporters were eventually allowed to enter The Washington Post correspondent Seung Min Kim was temporarily held up, as the natural born American but Korean-descended reporter was briefly barred because the North Korean security forces insisted on “only U.S. reporters,” but that the rest of the press corps vouched for her all-American credentials and eventually got her in.
We hope it all works out for the best, and that this Grisham woman proves better than the long-forgotten press secretary Sarah Sanders, and that a free press and our longstanding alliances and various other norms of political behavior somehow persist.

— Bud Norman

The Democrats’ Debate, Part II

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

— Bud Norman

The Race is On, and Off to a Slow Start

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

— Bud Norman

The Race Is On

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

— Bud Norman

J’accuse, Against Both Parties

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

— Bud Norman

Dave Bartholomew, RIP

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

— Bud Norman

Another Muddled Situation in the Middle East

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

— Bud Norman

Between Brawls and Debates

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

— Bud Norman