A Dreary Day for Democracy in Kansas

Today is primary election day here in Kansas, and for the first time we’re not looking forward. We’ll show up at our polling place, but more to keep our perfect record intact that because of any enthusiasm for any of the candidates.
The big deal is the race for the Republican nomination for a rare vacated Senate seat, and it’s been an orgy of mud-slinging. The two main contenders are former Kansas Secretary of Kris Kobach and former doctor and current First District congressman, although businessman Bob Hamilton’s well-funded campaign still has a long shot. All three are pro-gun, pro-life, anti-immigrant and pro-Trump, not necessarily in that order, so they only way they can distinguish themselves is by attacking the others.
Most of the accusations that have been hurled are true. Kobach’s anti-immigration zealotry has led to accusations of racism, and it turns out his longtime friend and campaign advisor has been donating to explicitly white nationalist causes and posting some very nasty things on white power sites. Marshall did indeed once try to run a a neighbor over in his pickup trucks, and did indeed get off virtually scot-free with help from political cronies. We’ve forgotten what Hamilton was accused of, but vaguely recall there was something to it.
Fortunately, there is a fourth option, although most Republicans won’t know that until they look at the ballot, as he has little name recognition and small amount of campaign money and left out of the mud-fight. He’s David Lindstrom, a former defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs who into business an became a Johnson County commissioner after hanging up his cleats. His campaign has stressed such pre-Trump Republican issues as balanced budgets and a sound agricultural policy. He’ll definitely get our vote.
We don’t much like our incumbent Fourth District Congressman Ron Estes, and will vote for any quixotic kook whose name might appear on the ballot. If there isn’t one, we’ll write in the name of our friend Bob Weeks, a stalwart fellow Never Trumper.
Still, we’ll rouse our limited and energy and our civic duty.

— Bud Norman

The Grand Unified Field Conspiracy Theory

Of all the wacky conspiracy theories afloat these days — and they are more plentiful than ever — the wackiest and most dangerous is QAnon. The theory is that President Donald is secretly working to round up and arrest a shadowy international cabal of well-positioned Satan-worshipping child molesters who have been running the world for decades. All of Trump’s critics, according the theory, are in on it.
As far-fetched as that might sound, a lot of people believe it, and President Donald Trump subtly encourages that belief. His son has “retweeted” QAnon posts, people in “Q” t-shirts have long been prominent and welcome at the rallies he used to hold, and he’s never refuted the theory, and he’s set to endorse several Republican House candidates who openly embrace QAnon. Given that the theory casts Trump as a messianic figure bravely fighting the powers of darkness, and explains his frequent misspellings random capitalizations in his “tweets” as code talk to the faithful, so he’s not likely to dispute it.
It all started when someone calling himself “Q,” which refers to the highest level security clearance, claimed he was working within the “deep state” and was aware of its international Satanic child molesting program. There’s no way of knowing who “Q” actually is, and nothing to back up his claims, but conspiracy theorists don’t require any proof to be convinced.

Some of “Q’s” prophecies have already been disproved by events. He told his followers that special investigator Robert Mueller was actually working with Trump against the cabal, and only pretending to be at odds with the president as cover. Some of the QAnon followers still probably believe that, but they’ll have to come up with something pretty ingenious to explain why. “Q” had also predicted that Trump would round up all the villains before they thwart his presidential reelection, but he has only three months to make that prediction come true, and we wouldn’t bet on it. Jeffrey Epstein an Ghislaine Maxwell did run a child ring and had such friends as former President Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew of Britain as well as Trump, but Epstein died of reported heart attack while in prison and Maxwell is in jail awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, and although Trump has wished her well she’s probably not powerful enough to escape justice. In any case, it’s not the mass round-up that “Q” promised.

QAnon is a spinoff from the “Pizzagate” theory that was popular during the 2016, which theorized that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring from the basement of a specific D.C pizza parlor, and it inspired a gunman to invade the restaurant before discovering it had no basement and giving himself up local police, explaining that he’d received “bad intel.” QAnon has also inspired several acts and criminal cases, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has concluded it is one of the “anti-government, identity-based, and fringe political theories” that “very likely motivate some domestic extremists to commit criminal acts,”
Still, Trump will give the QAnon “community a wink and a nod, and welcome its support. The president is an avid fan of conspiracy theories, blaming his Russian and Ukrainian scandals on the “deep state,” and is already warning that a Democratic plot is afoot to use mail-in ballots to deny him a landslide reelection. Most sane people reject such fanciful conjecture, and although they’re dwindling in numbers we hope they’ll still prevail on Election Day.

— Bud Norman

Like Nobody’s Ever Seen

Not so long ago President Donald Trump was plausibly bragging about the best economy, and hoping that would carry him to reelection despite everything else. The latest economic figures suggest we’re now in the worst economy ever, however, and Trump is struggling to find another argument.
The jobs and gross domestic product numbers are undeniably gruesome. Another 1.4 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the past week, bringing the overall unemployment rate to 14.7, which is higher than in any previous post-war recession. Over the past three months the GDP shrank at an annualized rate of 32.9 percent, which is even worse than the worst quarter of the Great Depression.
The cause of all this the coronavirus epidemic, which is unlikely to away by Election Day, and is currently getting worse in many parts of the country. Trump does his best to defend his administration’s response, but but he’s not convincing any skeptics and even losing some supporters. He’s peddling a cure that most scientists believe would do more harm than good, relying on the advice of some very dubious doctors, and has resisted public health measures a consensus of medial opinion are urging. Some of his die-hard supporters will appreciate his defiance, but the rest of the country won’t.
Lacking a boast-worthy record to run on, Trump is instead pursuing two related strategies. One is o claim that his expected loss in the election will be due only to massive fraud by mail-in ballots, and the other is to argue that his Democratic opponents “sick people” bent on destroying everything good about America. Trump will have a hard-time arguing that the man he’s nicknamed “Sleepy” Joe Biden is up to such a gargantuan task, and there’s nothing in Biden’s 40 year record that suggests he want to do it.
Trump “tweeted” a suggestion that the election be delayed, but his most loyal allies in the Senate shot that down, and a few extra weeks of a deadly epidemic currently killing an American every minute and a continued Great Depression economy wouldn’t do him much good.

— Bud Norman

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Big Tech

Even in these hyper-partisan times, Democrats and Republicans alike can at least agree on one thing. Both sides share an intense dislike of the giant tech firms that dominate social media and on-line commerce.
The House’s top antitrust subcommittee called the chief executive officers of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to testify, and they all came in for harsh questioning from both sides of the aisle. The two sides didn’t have the same complaints, as Democrats are mostly worried the companies are using their considerable clout to crush potential competitors, while the Republicans are mostly worried the companies have a left-wing bias and are censoring right-of-center opinions.
Both sides came with evidence-backed questions the CEO’s had difficulty answering, but we can’t get on board with the booing and hissing.
We don’t worry much about monopolies, as they tend go away without any government intervention. Once upon a time there was worry that Sears & Roebuck would wipe out every Main Street retailer in America, but no one is afraid of the company anymore. More recently Wal-Mart was expected to dominate the retail sector of the economy, but it’s now a distant second to Amazon, which is so dominant that some big money will try to take a chunk out of its market share, and by that time Amazon will be too ponderous to respond to whatever new idea the competition comes up with. Apple is powerful, but it’s a stretch to say they have a monopoly on the rapidly developing computer industry. If you don’t like Google you can search the internet on Bing, which is owned by the Microsoft Corporation that once seemed poised to take over the world. Facebook doesn’t have any significant competition in social media business at the moment, but we notice that people routinely abandon it and assume they’re finding other ways to share pictures of what they’re having for dinner.
As for the worries about censorship, we only worry when the government is doing the censoring. We’re free speech purists, but we also support the right of any company decide what information it wants to disseminate. Some on the right are angry that a video calling itself Frontline Doctors has been pulled from most of the social media platforms for being skeptical about face masks and social business and economic restrictions, saying that hydroxychloroquine is a proved cure, but they also believes that some gynecological diseases are caused by women having sex with demons in their dreams and doctors are creating medicines with alien DNA and the Illuminati are developing a vaccine against religious belief. We can’t see why any conservative would want to equate that with conservatism, and conservatives should also distance themselves from the conspiracy theories and racist rants that are routinely banned. There are still other places to post such nonsense, and if they’re not as widely viewed there’s a free market reason for that.
It’s nice to see both sides united, if only for a moment and for far different reasons, but it’s hard to see them coming up with any legislative solution that will satisfy everyone. For now, we have bigger problems to worry about than Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

— Bud Norman

If It Quacks Like a Doctor

Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter account was restricted on Tuesday due to violations of the company’s policy against spreading disinformation about the coronavirus. His father spread the very same disinformation to q wider audience without consequences, but wound up looking justice as foolish.
Both Trumps shared a short video by a group calling itself Frontline Doctors, and emphasized a statement by a Houston pediatrician who said that there’s no need to wear face masks in public or practice social distancing or ban mass gatherings because she has used a mix of hydroxyclhoroquine, zinc and zithromax to cure 300 patients of the disease. There is no proof that a pediatrician with a small clinic in a strip mall has cured any COVID-19 cases, and o credible medical organization endorses these views, with the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization all having conducted studies showing it does not work and poses additional risks to people.
President Trump continues to tout the benefits of hydroxychloroqine, and seemed happy to hear from anyone share that view, and noted in Tuesday’s public health briefing that “I took it 14 days, and I’m still here,” and then endorsed Immannuel as “a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it.” When a reporter noted that Immanuel also believes many gynecological problems are caused by women having sex with demons in their dreams, and that pharmaceutical companies are using “alien DNA” to create medicines, along with other conspiracy theories, Trump backed off slightly.
“I can tell you this,” Trump said. “She on the air with many other doctors, they were big fans of hydroxychloroquine, but I know nothing about her.”
So Trump winds up admitting he’s basing public health policy on the word of someone he knows nothing about. Which is not reassuring.
Trump also criticized Twitter for restricting his son’s account, and groused about how many negative stories will appear on Google is you search for his name. Facebook and all the other major social media platform banished the Frontline Doctors, but Immanuel seemed unworried about it, “tweeting” “Hello Facebook put back my profile page and videos up or your computers will start crashing till you do. You are not bigger that God. I promise you. If my page is not back up face book will be down in Jesus name.”
Later in the press briefing Trump conceded that Dr. Anthony Fauci is more popular than himself, and wondered aloud why that might be, concluding “maybe it’s my personality.” We’re not at all fond of Trump’s personality, but there’s probably more to it than that. Fauci’s credentials as an epidemiologists are better than Trump’s and Immanuel’s combined, and most of what he says is the consensus of the world’s leading experts, and people might like Trump better if he followed the best advice rather than quackery of someone he knows nothing about.

— Bud Norman

When Coronavirus Hits Home

Our hometown of Wichita largely locked down at the moment, a response to the increase in coronavirus that followed a brief unlocking, and that’s unsettling enough. Worse yet, we’ve learned that we’re in the most infected part of town.
The 67203 zip code is a nice area, comprised mostly of the picturesque Riverside neighborhood and the adjacent historic Delano district, and the folks here are mostly friendly and don’t deserve this. We attribute the high infection rate to facts that it’s in heart of the city, and that Riverside’s many parks and art museum and botanical garden as well as Delano’s popular nightspots draw many visitors from all around the city. Also, people here tend to socialize with their neighbors more than in other parts of town.
These are usually selling points for the area, but not during a coronavirus epidemic. Suddenly it’s better to be of those boring suburbs no ventures into except to deliver packages and nobody even knows his neighbors.
There’s not much to do about it except to stay at home as much as possible and wear a face mask when forced to venture outside. We’ve already been doing that for what seems an eternity, and try to be even more strict about it until given an all-clear signal by the local health officials. At this point we’re willing toke our chances, but we don’t want to put any of our nice neighbors at risk.

— Bud Norman

The Next 99 Days

Several stories we read on Sunday noted the presidential election was 100 days away, so by our calculations there are only 99 days to go. President Donald Trump spent much of Sunday golfing with former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, but starting today he should spend more time in the office.
The latest batch of public opinion polls were released on Saturday, and they’re even worse for Trump than the last batch, which were very bad. Trump can believe that each of the 19 polls released are “fake news,” but just in case they’re not he’ll need to deal effectively with very serious problems in the country.
The coronavirus will eventually “just go away,” as Trump has long promised, but it probably won’t happen in the 99 days. So far, with the death toll past 146,000 and cases spiking and hospital filling up in parts of the country he’ll need for reelection, the public seems unimpressed with his response. The states were the worst increases are occurring were states that Trump urged to fully reopen their economies earlier than health officials had advised, and all of their Republican governors are now restoring the measures and even ordering face masks in public, yet Trump continues to urge a laissez faire coronavirus response. The problem is bad enough that Trump reluctantly cancelled his convention in Florida, but he believes it not so bad that children can’t be back in school by mid-August, although most public health experts and the administration of the elite private school Trump sends his youngest son disagree.
So long as the coronavirus persists the economy will remain at its Great Depression level, and Trump seems indifferent to the tens of millions of unemployed who are set to lose the government largesse they’re counting on to pay rent and buy groceries. Nor does Trump want to offend the free market Republicans who are rightly worried about the exorbitant cost, although it probably won’t help the economy if tends of millions stop paying rent and buying groceries, and so he doesn’t have any alternative solutions to offer.
There’s also been outbreaks of rioting and looting and property destruction around, and although that would be bad news for most presidents in ordinary circumstances it actually gives Trump a glimmer of hope. He clearly intends to frighten the country to such an extent that they’ll turn to Trump, but that also carries political risks. Rioting and looting and property destruction are not at all popular, but sending militarized secret police units into cities where they are not wanted and beating and teargassing peaceful protests as well as violent rioters is also unpopular. Once again, Trump seems to have no middle-ground solution.
The president will probably spend most of the next 99 days trying to convince the public that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe is a greater threat than anything Trump is dealing with now. He’s already accused Biden of wanting to defund the police and hand the country to the “left wing mobs,” as we as wanting to “abolish the suburbs” and “ban windows” and “shut down” America’s energy industries except for those cancer-causing wind turbines, but it’s going to be a hard sell even for such a formidable salesman as Trump. “Sleepy Joe” has been Trump’s preferred taunting nickname, but it doesn’t sound very scary, and we expect that many Americans would now appreciate a president sleepier then Trump. Trump had also derided Biden as a “career politician,” which is true given his 40 years of public service in the Senate and as Vice President, but by now an experienced hand might seem appealing to a lot of Americans, and there’s nothing in that 40-year record that indicates he might turn America over to rampaging mobs or abolish the suburbs or ban windows and close a vital sector of the American economy.
Seventy-four-year-old Trump also likes to question the cognitive abilities of the 77-year-old Biden, but that would be more effective he stopped boasting about his ability to distinguish a lion from a camel and recited the words Person Woman Man Camera TV in order and count backward from 100 by seven. Biden has long been gaffe-prone, and will have many gaffes in the next 99 days, but none will probably be on the order of suggesting COVID-19 patients be injected with bleach or sending best wishes to an accused sex trafficker.
Trump still has 99 days, though, and he’s a resourceful fellow. Except that despite his best efforts to prevent early voting starts in early September in many states.
— Bud Norman

Person Woman Man Camera TV and Other Problems For President Trump

The coronavirus news keeps getting worse, and it’s not likely to start getting better any time soon. Wichita has shut down the bars again, meaning  we won’t be drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and play chess and grouse about President Donald Trump at Kirby’s Beer Store for a while, and the situation in Jacksonville, Florida, is dire enough that Trump won’t be able to have the big raucous Republican convention he wanted.
Cancelling the RNC except for some “virtual” gatherings on the coronavirus-free internet not only denies Trump the sort of spectacle he’s long counted on, but it’s yet another admission that his many boasts about containing the coronavirus were untrue. Meanwhile, the rare non-coronavirus stories aren’t much help.
Even coronavirus could stop the news that Trump pressured his ambassador to Britain to pressure the government to pressure the people who run the British Open to hold it a tournament at a money-losing golf course in Scotland owned by the Trump Organization. In more normal times a president using the power of his office no matter the diplomatic consequences to enrich himself would be a big deal, but these days most people won’t hear about it. Still, we thought it worth mentioning.
Trump had hoped to divert the nation’s attention with a vigorous “law and order” stance, but so that seems to have backfired. There have been peaceful protests across the country over the past hot months against racial injustice and police brutality, and they’re polling better than Trump. Racial justice is now more popular than ever, and Trump has responded with a defense of the heroes of the Confederacy. There have also been some violent riots, which do not poll well, but sending military-armed federal agents with no identification on their camouflage uniforms to cities who would rather handle their own affairs is also not popular. Trump’s response has unleashed videos of a 50-something Navy veteran being billy-club for approaching the officers, moms and dads and the Portland mayor being teargassed for no apparent reasons, seemingly random people in the vicinity of a protest being whisked off to undisclosed locations in unmarked vehicles, and to many Americans this isn’t what they mean by “law and order.”
At the moment the most talked-about non-coronavirus story in America is “Person woman man camera TV,” which has launched thousands of “viral” memes on the internet, and that’s not good for Trump. The president is quite touchy about his cognitive abilities, and frequently cites his perfect score on a test created to find if someone has dementia as proof his fitness for office. In a disastrous interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace last week Trump denied the test — which includes drawing certain times on clock and distinguishing a camel from a lion — is easy for anyone not suffering dementia. He took a lot of ridicule about it, so he’s more recently brought it up with another interviewer, boasting about how he could remember the words “person woman man camera TV” in order, and insisting most people couldn’t do it, and certainly not presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, which of course has invited more ridicule.
Elsewhere in the news there’s something about heightened tensions with China and Russia, and fights in Congress over what to about the Great Depression-like economic numbers, but none of that is likely help Trump. Despite Trump’s best efforts to prevent, early voting starts in less than three weeks, too.

— Bud Norman

The Coronavirus Briefs Reboot

President Donald Trump resumed his coronavirus press briefings on Tuesday after a two month hiatus, and it was strikingly different from his previous shows. It probably won’t get the boffo ratings that Trump boasted about before, but at least it will get better reviews.
The first round of coronavirus press briefings were the most compellingly bizarre spectacles this side of Netflix’ “The Tiger King.” They featured up to two hours of Trump angrily berating reporters for their questions, pushing his top health experts away from the podium to contradict what they were saying, and making extravagant promises that everything was under control and America would soon be roaring back to business. He stopped doing it after extemporaneously saying to a live nationwide audience that perhaps covid patients should be injected with bleach or other household disinfectants, and well-deserved and widespread ridicule ensued. Trump said the briefings were a waste of time because of how the fake news media twisted his words to make him look bad, but reports indicated that Trump’s most trusted advisors persuaded him was the live-on-air that was dragging his poll numbers down.
This time Trump mostly stuck to the script during a taut thirty minutes at the podium, and he struck a very different tone. He freely admitted that “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” which is very uncharacteristic of man who prefers to talk about how everything’s great and it’s going to get so much better your head will spin, and he added “That’s something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”
He also urged Americans to wear face masks while in public, despite his long resistance to doing so himself. He once again boasted of the extensive testing that’s being done in America, although he recently told a rally crowd he’d asked health officials “to slow the testing down, please” and has proposed cutting funding for the tests. All in a surprisingly somber voice and civil demeanor, with no castigation of the reporters and none of his insult comic shtick about Democrats, but it remains to be seen how long her can keep that up.
Trump had some trouble answering questions about his infrequent mask-wearing while in public, but the only big gaffe came in response to an off-topic question about Ghislaine Maxwell, who currently in jail facing charges that she groomed underage to have sex with notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who officials say committed suicide in federal prison after being convicted of rape and other sex crimes. “I wish her well,” Trump said, admitting that he Maxwell and Epstein from frequent encounters on the Palm Beach, Florida, social circuit. Trump ordinarily dismisses anyone he knows who is in trouble as people he hardly knows, but in the case of Maxwell there’s too much photographic proof of the friendship, and we guess he didn’t want to seem a fair weather friend.
Trump’s longtime association with Epstein and Maxwell wasn’t much of a problem when he was running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose hound dog of an ex-president also had close ties to the couple, but this time around the Democratic nominee isn’t named Clinton. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden might choose to take the high road and not exploit the Trump-Epstein-Maxwell relationship, but not everyone opposed to Trump will be quite so polite. Expect “I wish her well” to become a widely seen internet “meme.”
What matters more is what Trump does to slow the spread of the virus, and on Tuesday he didn’t lay out any specific plan. At least he didn’t exude improbable optimism and make extravagant promises, and we suppose that’s a start.

— Bud Norman

Crazy Like a Fox

One of the more interesting things President Donald Trump is an extended interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, which chock full of Trump saying interesting things, was that “I’m not a fan of Fox. They’ve changed a lot since Roger Ailes.”
Which seemed an odd thing to say during his 92nd presidential interview with Fox, or 10 times more than the number of interviews he’s granted to any other network, but we’re not surprised he was nostalgic for the days of Ailes. The late Ailes was a media consultant for Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before becoming chairman and chief executive of Fox News and building it into a ratings powerhouse as a conservative alternative to the existing cable news networks. He was ousted in 2016 due to the high cost of settling with 23 women employee who had sued for sexual harassment, including two of Fox’s most prominent female reporters, then became a campaign advisor to Republican presidential nominee Trump, who was not offended by Ailes’ alleged behavior.
Fox News was largely unchanged by Ailes’ departure, remaining a conservative alternative to the other cable news outlets and apparently maintaining hostile workplace environment for women. Despite big ratings pundit Bill O’Reilly was shown the door when his sexual harassment lawsuits became to expensive to settle, and now there’s another round of lawsuits. This one involves former anchor Ed Henry, who was fired July 1 for “sexual misconduct in the workplace,” and now stands accused by longtime Fox Business News employee Jennifer Eckhart of a sadistic rape. The same lawsuit alleges she was fired for complaining about a “toxic work environment,” and also claims that other Fox employees, including star opinion show hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, sexually harassed her.
This is Carlson’s second recent scandal, by the way, following the revelation his now-fired head writer had for years used a pseudonym to post outrageously racist and sexist post on white nationalist web sites.
None of this will likely trouble Trump’s mind, of course, but he has other issues with the network. The early morning primetime opinion hosts remain as slavishly devoted to Trump as ever, but the straight news reporters in the afternoon occasionally report things Trump would rather not hear, and have an annoying habit of interviewing Democratic politicians as well as Republicans, and their polling has long displeased the president. Wallace is a very tough interviewer, which Trump surely knew when he agreed to the interview, and all the ringside observers think Wallace won by points if not a technical knockout.
So now all the cable news networks are “fake news” except for the One America Network and the Sinclair Network, which are steadfastly sycophantic to the president but only reach a small percentage of America’s televisions. The good news for Trump is that if all the current polls prove true and he loses reelection by a wide margin he’ll have something to blame.

— Bud Norman