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Pipe Bombs and Pipe Dreams

For now we suppose there’s an outside chance, as some of the right-wing talk radio hosts and their callers are already speculating, that whoever mailed five crude pipe bombs to prominent Democratic politicians and a rich donor to liberal causes and a major media company frequently critical of the current Republican government is some crazed leftist trying to make the right look bad. There’s a better chance it was some crazed person on the right, as we figure it, but in either case it’s a sad state of affairs.
The first of the pipe bombs arrived at the home of billionaire activist and generous bankroller of liberal causes George Soros. On Wednesday another arrived at the office of former President Barack Obama, and another at the residence of former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. A fourth was addressed to former Obama administration Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan at the Cable News Network, although Brennan is currently employed as an analyst by the National Broadcasting and MSNBC networks. The fifth was sent to an incorrect address for Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, but was sent to former Democratic national committee chairwoman and current Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose misspelled name was listed on each package’s return arrest. Another suspicious package was reportedly mailed to California Rep. Maxine Waters and intercepted in the congressional mail-room, but Federal Bureau of Investigation is not yet listing it among the incidents under investigation.
Perhaps it’s possible that some crazed leftist figured that any of these people would be acceptable collateral damage in a successful false flag operation to discredit the right, but we note there are also plenty of crazed people on the right who have an intense animus toward all of the intended victims.
President Donald Trump has recently accused Soros of financing an invasion of Latin-American and Middle Eastern terrorists currently walking their way across Mexico to America’s southern border. He spent years peddling the story that Obama was a Kenyan-born imposter who unconstitutionally became an America-hating president, and continues to lead chants at his rallies to have “Crooked Hillary” locked up for various thus-far unproved-in-court crimes. Trump revoked Brennan’s top-secret security clearance in retaliation for on air-criticism, and has criticized the career civil servant as a “political hack” and “very bad guy.” Trump has openly wished he had an Attorney General who would be as much a political hack on his behalf as he believes Holder was on Obama’s behalf, but that’s a rather back-handed compliment. As for Waters, a leading advocate of impeaching Trump, the president never fails to refer to her as “a very low-IQ individual.”
None of which is an incitement to murder, but Trump has urged rally crowds to rough up protestors, recently praised a Republican congressman for committing criminal assault against a reporter, continues to lead the “lock ’em up cheers” about a growing list of political adversaries, accuses such media as CNN and MSNBC of being “enemies of the people,” and often expresses a belief that his critics hate America, so it’s within the realm of possibility that some die-hard fan got a bit too riled up by the rhetoric.
The vast majority of law-abiding Trump supporters can rightly ask what about the harsh rhetoric heard on the left. Obama won the presidency telling his supporters to “bring a gun to a knife fight,” Clinton has recently told an adoring crowd of Democrats that civility toward Republicans is no longer possible, and Holder was widely quoted advising his party that “When they go low, we kick them.” Brennan did once say that Trump’s Russia policy was treasonous, Waters has urged on the harassment that Trump administration officials now routinely endure when they try to eat in a restaurant or shop in a store. and Soros has supported some unsavory causes. The left is just as paranoid about deep-pocketed conservatives activist Charles Koch as the right is about that Soros fellow, and now both men have survived assassination attempts. When a crazed leftist shot up a Republican congressional softball team’s practice back in ’17, seriously wounding Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and others, the right alleged that left’s rhetoric was a contributing cause, and they made a strong case.
But to venture an answer to the right’s favorite rhetorical question of what about the left’s language and behavior, we ask what about it? The left’s abominable language and behavior is no excuse for equally abominable language and behavior on the right, the current escalation of the war of words on both sides is likely to further escalate the alarming physical violence that gangs of young toughs on both sides have lately engaged in around the country. As lifelong Republicans who used to be considered conservative, we’d like to see our side once bring about a return to normalcy with malice toward none and charity to toward all, to borrow a couple of by now very outdated slogans of the Grand Old Party.
Trump has condemned the attempted bombings as “despicable acts” and said that “In these times we have to unify, we have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.” That uncharacteristically presidential statement got a big laugh later the same day when it was quoted at a symposium where Brennan was being interviewed, Brennan got another big laugh when he reacted by asking “That was said by Donald who?,” and for now we can’t begrudge the left’s giggles about it. The laughter might stop if Trump recants his praise of a criminal assault on a reporter, restrains himself from whipping up the rally crowds against the other “enemies of the people” in the press cages, withdraws his promise to pay the legal bills for anyone who punches a protestor, stops pressing for the imprisonment of his political opponents, and generally tones down the insult comic shtick, but until then his unifying message rings undeniably hollow.
Here’s holding out faint hope those damned Democrats dial it down a few notches as well, as there’s no denying they’ve also got some quite crazed and easily incited characters on their side, but these days they’re largely an undeniably nasty bunch who also seem eager to win by any means necessary and at any cost to the national comity.
Most of the Democrats and Republicans we know around here are reasonable sorts of people disinclined to mail pipe bombs, however, and seem willing to settle their differences at the ballot box. So for now we’ll hold out a slightly stronger hope that what’s left of the center will somehow hold.

— Bud Norman

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Politics and Other Family Matters

Politics has always been a topic best avoided at family gatherings, but we’ve lately noted that’s especially true these days. The subject of President Donald Trump and the current state of the Republican party and conservatism in general is especially fraught for our conservative and Republican yet Never-Trump selves in our dealings with certain members of our conservative yet more loyally Republican family, but we’re pleased to say it’s not so acrimonious as it seems to be for Arizona’s Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and at least six of his siblings.
Gosar is up for reelection in Arizona’s reliably Republican fourth congressional district, where his brothers Tim and Gaston and David and his sisters Jennifer and Joan and Grace are all currently starring in a widely-aired campaign television ad for Democratic challenger David Brill.
We’ve not paid enough attention to Arizona’s fourth congressional district race to have any idea who the hell this Brill fellow is, and for all we know he’s one of those far-left Democrats we’ve always opposed. Gosar says that his siblings are “six angry Democrats,” and that “These disgruntled Hillary supporters are related to me by blood, but like lefties everywhere they put political ideology before family,” adding the “hashtag” of “#MAGA 2018,” and for all we know that explains the family dynamics. Even so, everything we know of Gosar suggests he’s one of those far-right Republicans we look askance at in these Trumpian times.
Gosar’s six dissenting siblings might well be a bunch of Hillary-supporting angry Democrats, for all we know, and we truly share his distaste for that type, but for all we know they might also well be old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves who will carry party loyalty only so far. If so, and if that Brill fellow turns out to be one of those more-or-less reasonable Democrats, we’d probably take their side at what will surely be an acrimonious family Thanksgiving dinner
Back here in Kansas’s fourth congressional district we’re faced with a tough choice between a Trumpian Republican and the sort of left-of-center Democrat we’ve always voted against, and we’re seriously considering voting for the centrist Democrats in the state’s gubernatorial and our neighborhood’s county commission races, and we’re planning to talk mostly about the University of Oklahoma’s Sooner football team next Thanksgiving. The family is all conservative and Republican, which leads to all sorts of fraught conversations these days, but at least we’re all on board with the Sooners. The Sooners are undefeated and firmly ensconced in the top-ten ratings and still very much in the running for a national championship this season, but the last couple of wins have been hard-fought against mediocre competition, and there’s no telling what we might be all giving thanks for on that hopefully friendly family Thanksgiving..

— Bud Norman

A Blue Moment in a Red State

After a full week of counting and re-counting votes, the Kansas Republican party at last has a a gubernatorial nominee. The by-the-skin-of-his-teeth winner turns out to be Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and we expect he’s in for a tough general election.
Although a reliably Republican state in congressional and presidential elections, Kansas hasn’t rewarded either the Republicans or Democrats with a third consecutive term since the 1960s, when conservative Democrat Robert Docking won four straight two-year terms, and the past eight years of Republican rule haven’t gone so well. For seven of those years the governor was former Senator Sam Brownback, whose radical tax cut agenda required purges of establishment Republicans in some ugly primary fights and didn’t deliver the promised economic boom and enhanced revenues, and after he resigned to become something called Ambassador for Religious Freedom in the administration of President Donald Trump his Lieutenant Governor and accidental Gov. Jeff Colyer could do little to reverse the state’s fortunes in a year’s time, even though his fellow establishment Republicans had won a second round of ugly primary fights against the hard-liners and some common-sense fixes to the tax code were enacted.
Kobach further complicates the Republican’s problems. He only beat Colyer by a hundred votes or so, with about 60 percent of the party voted for another of the crowded field of candidates, and his audaciously far-right stands on various issues will be a hard sell to a state that’s lately reverting to its cautiously center-right character. Nationally-known for his obsessions with illegal immigration and voter fraud, Kobach won our votes in two races for Secretary of State with such common sense reforms as photo identification requirements for voting, but since his reelection many Kansans such as ourselves think he’s taken things a bit too far.
He was tabbed by Trump to head a federal commission to prove that more than three million illegal immigrant voters had robbed the president of his rightful win in the popular vote, but that went down in flames when both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state refused for both Democratic and Republican reasons to comply with the commission’s demands for their voter data, with even Kansas refusing on the basis of state law to comply with all of it. Some rather stringent voter registrations requirements that we’re not sure we could comply with were challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, and when Kobach represented himself in the lawsuit he not only wound up on the losing side of the verdict but racked up thousands of dollars in contempt of court fines and much public ridicule in the process. Kobach has fully embraced the snarling Trump style of campaigning and credits the president’s endorsement for his victory, but more than 70 percent of Republican caucus-goers voted against that in ’16 and about 60 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t fall for it in ’18.
Longtime state legislator Laura Kelly won more than 50 percent of the Democratic party’s votes against a crowded field that included such formidable challengers as former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer and the folksy rural legislator Joshua Svaty, and we can’t imagine any Democrat in the state opting for Kobach. Democrats are only about 30 percent of the state, but that’s always a good start in any race, and our guess is that most of Kansas’ numerous independents are leaning Democratic about now, and that many of the state’s stubbornly independent Republicans are getting fed up with their party. Trump won the state’s six electoral votes by the usual Republican landslide, but he was running against the historically horrible Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and such a scandal-free and not-at-all-shrill centrist as Kelly is unlikely to inspire such widespread loathing in the Grand Old Party.
The wild card in the race is independent candidate Greg Orman, a rich businessman making his second electoral run in Kansas. Back in the state GOP’s anti-establshment fervor of ’14 longtime Sen. Pat Roberts narrowly escaped a primary challenge, so Orman ran an independent campaign to the right of Roberts, and the Democratic nominee was so lame that the party withdrew him from the ballot and hoped that Orman would at least remove a sitting Republican from the Senate, but he wound up losing by a lopsided margin and Roberts is still in office and at least resisting Trump’s stupid trade wars. This time around Orman is running on the argument that a two-party system of democracy is a rigged game that has brought the state to its knees, and that only a rich businessman can make Kansas great again, and he’s offering few specific plans.
This strikes us as a losing argument around here, but there’s no doubt some significant number of Kansans will fall for it, so it’s a question of whose voters it will attract. The answer, we dare say, is that the vast majority of Orman’s support will come from the Trump-endorsed Kobach’a column.
Kobach’s national notoriety will probably funnel plenty of out-of-state money to Kelly’s campaign coffers, too, and we expect she’ll spend that far-left money on some very centrist advertisements. We don’t expect Kansas’ nationally notorious mega-donor Charles Koch will make up much of the difference, given Koch’s libertarian views on immigration and genteel aversion to the snarling Trump style of campaigning, and the funding gap will be a problem in the expensive media markets up in those well-educated and well-off Kansas City suburbs that are typical of the places where the Republicans have been having a hard time lately.
November is a long time from now, but the days grow short when you reach September, as the old song says, and on this rainy August day we’re wishing Colyer had won. As things now stand, we might have to vote for a damn Democrat.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Front On the GOP Civil War

President Donald Trump has “tweeted” his displeasure with the Koch brothers and their formidable fundraising network, and all of our liberal and Democratic friends here in Kansas are enjoying the latest internecine conservative and Republican spat. From our old-fashioned Kansas conservative Republican perspective, though, we can hardly stand to look.
By now you surely know who Trump is, and well understand the passions he inspires on both sides of the political divide, but if you’re not a political junkie you might be less aware of the Koch brothers. They’re Charles and David Koch, who inherited their father’s multi-million dollar oil drilling and refining business and shrewdly parlayed it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise that not only refines most of the gasoline America uses but also carpets the country’s floors and builds the mattresses the country sleeps on wipes up its kitchen spills with paper towels. These days it’s just Charles, as David has resigned from public life as he continues a long battle against cancer, but their generous funding of pro-free market causes made both brothers and their John Bircher father a bogeyman of the left long before Trump arrived on the scene. Suffice to say that the left has long regarded anything Koch-funded with the same paranoia as the right’s response to anything that the left-leaning multi-billionaire George Soros has done.
Which makes a Trump vs. Koch feud so appealing to the left, and so difficult for us. We don’t like anything Soros funds, have our quibbles with certain Koch policies, and if you’re a regular reader you by now know that we don’t have much use for Trump.
We’ll have to admit to a hometown bias on behalf of Koch. Our elementary school was literally next door to the Koch Industries building, and although our former school has long since been razed and the Koch Industries campus has vastly expanded we find it hard to believe that any globalist conspiracies were ever hatched there. Charles Koch still shows up for work there everyday with a beautiful impressionist landscape by Kansas artist Berger Sandzen behind his desk, and it’s impossible to go to the symphony concerts or musical theater productions or art museum or zoo exhibits around here without seeing in the program that it was generously funded by Koch family, and he’s a big reason the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball squad is a perennial top-25 program. He was once a celebrity guest star at the local media’s “Gridiron” show, as well, and we found him a most friendly fellow when chatting backstage.
For the most part we’ve also appreciated his political philanthropy. We liked the emphasis on low taxes and limited government and a general live and let live attitude, although we disagreed with Koch’s libertarian stance on fighting Islamist terrorism and restricting illegal immigration, and in every case we figured it was Koch’s hard-earned money and free speech and none of our business how he spent it. Koch declined to support either Trump or the equally unqualified Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election, as we did for our own reasons, and he continues to disagree with Trump on matters ranging from trade policy to federal deficits to presidential temperament, as we do for our own reasons, so the feud was inevitable.
“The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade,” Trump “tweeted” on Tuesday. “I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas.” Trump boasted that Koch had praised his recently-signed tax cut bill and regulatory roll-backs and conservative Supreme Court appointments, as we have, alleged that Koch only opposed his protectionist policies to dodge tax on his multi-national earnings, then boasted that “Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn.” From here on the political sidelines in the middle of the country, it all seemed pure balderdash.
If “globalist” means being generally supportive of the carefully crafted arrangements that have been made for the past prosperous decades of global prosperity, we’re sure that neither we nor either of the Koch brothers will mind the pejorative. As for the Koch’s multi-billion dollar network of like minded big bucks donors being a total joke, we’d love to see Trump produce the tax returns that show he’s got more money in the bank. Koch is indeed weak on the border, but only to the same extent that Trump’s border wall is fantasy is too draconian. The acknowledged merits of the tax cuts and regulatory roll-backs and Supreme Court appointments in no way disprove that pretty much everything else Trump has done to create “Powerful Trade: has been catastrophically stupid. Trump can rightly boast that he’s President of the United States without the Koch network’s support, but his base of support is among those budget-balancing “Tea Party” types in the Freedom Caucus who have benefited from Koch’s support than Trump’s support over the years, and whose rural constituents are smarting from Trump’s trade wars lately, and it remains to be seen if Trump will ultimately outsmart those wily globalists next door to our former elementary school at every turn.
At this point we don’t really have any dog in the fight, as the old political expression goes, and in any case we have our own mishegas to deal with here in Kansas. The heavily Koch-funded Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback introduced a radical tax- and budget-agenda to win election, got it enacted after a Koch-funded “tea party” wave ousted the more skittish Republican incumbents in the primaries and, and then narrowly won reelection even though the promised tax revenue increases hadn’t materialized. By the time Trump tabbed him to be something called “Ambassador for Religious Freedom” Brownback left office with same polling numbers as when President Nixon took that final flight on Marine One, and although we always found Brownback a nice enough fellow in our Kansas encounters and thought his economic theories worth a try, he’s left our party in a mess.
So far Trump is backing long time slavishly devoted acolyte Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who seems to be trailing incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is talking about school funding and otherwise distancing himself from the Brownback agenda that got him elected as Lt. Governor and thus wound up with him in the governor’s office after that Trump appointment.
So far as we can tell, neither the Koch brothers nor Trump got it any of it right, and although none of the Democrats around here are very scary we don’t think they have any better ideas. We hold out some faint hope for what’s left of the Republican party that used to more placidly run things well enough around here, and guided our Republic through some perilous times, but jut in case we’re also hoping the Democrats don’t go crazy left.

— Bud Norman

Politics, Hoops, and the Politics of Hoops

March madness has descended over the globe, and we don’t mean the mess in Ukraine and the South China Sea and all over the Middle East and at the Federal Reserve Board or any of the rest of the world’s reigning insanity. We’re talking about the excitement attending the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship basketball tournament, a matter that is arguably of less importance but generates far more wagers and press coverage. At least the president’s priorities are in order, as he has once again found time in his presumably busy schedule to fill out his brackets.
The presidential picks have become a much-ballyhooed annual event over the past five years, and are always presented with appropriate pomp and circumstance on the almighty ESPN cable network. So far the president’s picks haven’t proved more prescient than any other office-bound amateur’s, but ESPN takes them seriously enough to have come up with some fancy “Barack-etology” graphics and a nauseatingly fawning program featuring the president himself, and the rest of the media are obliged to take note. No one ever notes that the president seems to be watching an awful lot of college basketball while the world comes apart at the seams and the economy continues to sputter, so the White House can assume with some confidence that enhancing the president’s basketball-watching regular guy image compensates for any damage to done to his reputation as a serious statesman.
Our main interest in the story was that the president did not predict our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers squad would prevail, despite their thus-far- unblemished record and number one seeding, but this did not surprise us. The ‘Shockers are lightly regarded by many experts because they play in the lightly-regarded Missouri Valley Conference rather than one of those fancy-schmantzy football-playing conferences, and their impeccable underdog credentials are offset by their undeniable political incorrectness. Our boys play in the Charles Koch Arena, named for the local half of the billionaire businessmen brothers who are the Democratic party’s favorite boogeymen, the defensive-minded coach makes his recruiting trips on corporate jets loaned by the local corporate jet-makers, another popular whipping post of the progressive movement, and the team is whole-heartedly embraced by the God-and-gun-clutching denizens of this old-fashioned town smack dab in the middle of that vexing red splotch on the electoral map. There’s no political point in the president pandering to Wichita or anywhere in Kansas except perhaps Lawrence and the more, ahem, “urban” portions of Kansas City, Kansas, so most ‘Shocker fans were not expecting his endorsement.
The president apparently prefers the Spartans of Michigan State University, which is also unsurprising. Michigan is a bluer state than Kansas, although the unions have recently been on the run there and it seems in danger of growing purple, and the Spartans are  a good team who also play in one of those fancy-schmantzy football-playing conferences. Just as the pridefully egalitarian types tend to insist on Ivy League credentials for high public office, they also tend to be downright elitist in their basketball prognasticating. While perusing the comment boards on the latest college basketball news the other day we saw a posting by a fellow we happen to know who was dismissing our beloved ‘Shockers as the equivalent of Cowley County Community College, and we found it amusing because we happen to know him as a self-professed Marxist professor of some sort at at some prestigious College Back East. He went to the University of Kansas, where James friggin’ Naismith himself once coached and Wilt Chamberlain once roamed the lanes and there are more storied basketball stories than you can bear to hear to a KU alum recount, and we think it a hoot that our friend learned both his Marxism and his basketball snobbery there.
As is our strict policy here, we offer no predictions regarding the outcome of anything. Such prudence ensures that we’ll have a better track record than the president, whose picks from the Baltics to the brackets have proved questionable, and we don’t claim his expertise in these matters. We certainly can’t say we have the spare time to devote to scouting every team in the field that the president apparently enjoys. Even so, we’ll admit to a faint hope that a politically incorrect underdog from that God-and-gun-clinging red splotch in the middle of the U.S.A. will do well.

— Bud Norman