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Trump and his Cynical Critics

How remarkable it is that what’s best for America so often coincides with what’s best for President Donald Trump’s businesses. To cite just the latest example, by sheer coincidence an exhaustive search for the perfect place to host the upcoming G-7 summit wound up at a Florida golf course that just happens to be owned by Trump.
By all accounts the Trump National Doral outside of Miami is a ritzy joint with plenty of room for a large gathering of foreign officials, even if business have been down precipitously over the last couple of years, but in this cynical age some will inevitably suspect that the golf resort was chosen to enrich Trump. Perish the thought, according to White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who assured reporters on Thursday that “We used a lot of the same criteria used by past administrations,” even if no previous administration ever chose a Trump property for a summit. Mulvaney also assured the reporters that Trump won’t make any money from the arrangement, and although he didn’t explain why not only a partisan hater would doubt his word.
Trump has received bipartisan criticism for withdrawing American troops from Syria, which has allowed Turkey to seize large swaths of land from our erstwhile Kurdish allies, but only the presidents most mean spirited opponents would think the decision was at all affected by Trump’s personal bottom line. Back in the ’16 presidential campaign Trump admitted to a friendly talk radio show that “I guess I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two,” but surely that never entered Trump’s mind.
All that fuss about Trump withholding military aid from our Ukrainian allies unless they launched some investigations into corruption was entirely in the best interest of American national security, we’re sure, even if the investigations Trump requested happen to target a potential election opponent and could possibly confirm some fanciful conspiracy theories about why he lost the popular vote last time around.
The trade war Trump has also brought bipartisan criticism, with farmers and manufacturers and consumers taking a big hit for what looks to turn out to be a pretty much status quo trade deal, but it would be downright mean to think that the sweetheart deals First Daughter and senior White House advisor Ivanka Trump got from the Chinese at the outset of negotiations had anything to do with it. Surely it’s sheer coincidence, too,  that Air Force cargo planes were diverted to a civilian airport which happens to be located next to a Trump-owned golf resort where business has also been down lately.
Past presidents have divested themselves of their business holdings and placed their fortunes in a blind trust to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and released tax returns and other financial documents to reassure the public, but Trump figures he doesn’t need such old-fashioned formalities. He’s led such a selfless and blameless life according to the strictest ethical standards, after all, and when he tells you he always puts America first he can look you right in the eye and say “that I can tell you, believe me, OK?”
The die-hard fans trust him, and surely only the most cynical and suspicious  sorts would dare to doubt him.

— Bud Norman

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Monday is a New Day

The past weekend was bittersweet here in Wichita. The weather was mostly fine, but there were intermittent rainstorms and the nightly temperatures made clear that autumn has arrived, with another winter sure to follow. We were obliged to attend a couple of wakes for a dear friend of ours who died far too young. On Sunday the local newspaper where we worked for a quarter-century had a front page scoop that the mayor steered a multi-million dollar deal for the city’s water supply to some golfing buddies. Here and everywhere else in America the rest of the news was about a seemingly inevitable impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Despite it all, we found a few reasons to wake up with a hopeful feeling today.
There’s always a chance that the ever-changing Kansas climate will deliver us another mild winter, as we’ve had the past few years, and if that portends a climate change disaster for the rest of the world so be it. As fed up as we are with the demand Republicans we don’t think that voting for some damn Democrats will avert any looming catastrophes, as the Chinese and Indians and the rest of the world will continue to emit carbons even if America commits economic suicide, so we’ll hold out hope that God’s nature is resilient to the worst mere mankind can do.
As much as we’ll miss our dear friend Jon Janssen, we’ll take some solace in knowing that he died of a heart attack after a strenuous day of yard work rather than AIDS. Jon was a talented pianist and a gifted conversationalist and one of those good guys who loved his fellow humans and never wished harm on any of them. He was also a homosexual, and way back in the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic he was one of the very first to test positive for HIV, but for some reason he never progressed to the AIDS that killed so many of our mutual friends, and he bravely volunteered for the scientists’ grueling medical tests to find out why. We’ll hold out hope that Jon helped with the research that has kept so many people alive, and that with God’s mercy his kind and loving soul will persevere.
We do hate to see Wichita’s mayor implicated in a corruption scandal, as in this small town we have come to know him to be a likable fellow, with a charming wife, but we’re glad to see the local newspaper get the scoop. The byline on the story belongs to a young fellow we know from Kirby’s Beer Store, as he’s been hanging out there since his days on the across-the-street Wichita State University Sunflower, and we’re proud of his well-sourced and well-written work. We’ve often kidded him about how he missed out on the good old days when we had front page bylines on a fat and profitable newspaper, rather than the emaciated rag they turn out these days, but next time we see him we’ll buy him a Pabst Blue Ribbon for making the paper once again relevant. The mayor is up for reelection next November, and we’d already planned to vote against him because he tore down our beloved Lawrence-Dumont baseball stadium kicked out our beloved Wichita Wingnuts and built something uglier and modern that benefits some out of town contractors, but it’s nice to see that what’s left of our struggling hometown paper has bolstered the case for a new regime.
We’re no longer drinking buddies with the national media these days, but we mostly believe all these national stories that are driving the Democrats to impeach Trump, and we’re glad they’re on the job. In the coming cold and dark months they’ll probably have plenty more to report, and our old-fashioned Republican souls will be disheartened to hear it, but they’ll probably be right, and we’re always looking for the truth, as much as we hate to hear it.
Even on such a bittersweet prairie autumn evening as this, tomorrow is another day.

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— Bud Norman

Celebrities, Populists, and Celebrity Populists

Ukraine has apparently elected a populist celebrity with no previous political experience as its president, and we hope it works out better for them than it has for Italy, Guatemala, Peru, Liberia, Pakistan, the United States of America, and the other countries that have recently made similar choices.
The Ukrainian president-elect is Volodymyr Zelensky, a 41-year-old comedian best known for his starring role on the hit Ukrainian sitcom “Servant of the People,” about a comedian who somehow becomes president of Ukraine. We eagerly anticipate the English-dubbed version showing up on Netflix, as it’s apparently a compelling show. From what we can tell by the press accounts Zelensky’s character is constantly doing battle with the country’s entrenched and corrupt establishment, and although he doesn’t necessarily win he at least gets some humorous insults in, and according to a prominent Ukrainian political observer quoted in The Washington Post “People are voting for the plot of the show.”
None of the western press reports about the election say much about Zelennsky’s opponent, who might well have been just as awful as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the last American election, but it still strikes us as a fanciful choice. Zelensky will likely get some zingers in during his time in office, and his fans will surely love it, but recent experience indicates that only does so much good for a country.
Italy elected comedian Beppe Grillo as its leader, and although he’s gotten a lot of laughs the country is still the same corruption-ridden economic basket case it’s been for the past 100 years or so. Previously the Italians had elected multi-billionaire media mogul and crusading populist Silvio Berlusconi, but his several terms were frequently interrupted by indictments and convictions on various corruption charges, which majorities of the Italian people didn’t mind given his crusading anti-corruption populism.
In 2015 Guatemala elected anti-corruption comedian Jimmy Morales, who had also starred in a hit comedy about a comedian becoming president, but the country remained so violent and impoverished that a troublesome segment of its population is currently seeking aslyum in the United States. Liberia elected a popular soccer star, Pakistan elected a cricket star who’d become a national hero by leading the country to its only world championship, but neither has proved nearly so successful in playing the more complicated game of governance.
Once upon a time in America we could have rolled our eyes at such Third World craziness, but in the age of President Donald Trump’s we have no standing to sneer. Trump was elected by an electoral majority without any previous political experience partly because of his much-bragged about yet frequently-bankrupt business career, partly because he’d portrayed a tough-talking take-charge “you’re fired” businessman on the reality show “The Apprentice,” partly because he promised to use that experience to “drain the swamp,” and mostly because he had the good fortune to be running against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, who was arguably almost as corrupt.
Despite his political inexperience Trump has kept the American economy chugging along the same slow upward trajectory it was on when he elected, and during the two years his party controlled both chambers of Congress he won a budget-busting tax bill and installed a couple of conservative Supreme Court justices that any old establishment Republican would have championed, but mostly his fans love him for the zingers he gets in.
The people in the red “Make America Great Again” ball caps find Trump’s current hit reality show downright hilarious, but we admit we just don’t get it. They loved it when Trump mocked a reporter’s degenerative muscle disease, but it reminded of us how the kids at our elementary school laughed at the playground bullies’ mocking of the handicapped students, and they thought it funny that Trump called his Democratic nemesis Rep. Adam Schiff “Little Adam Shitt” in a “tweet,” but we thought it juvenile and vulgar and far beneath the dignity of the American presidency. A friend of our complains that the stuffily literal media took Trump seriously when he hilariously requested the Russian government to hack Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump himself has won laughs from his rally crowds by recalling how he said that during a raucous campaign rally where everyone was laughing and in on the joke, but in fact he said it at a somber press conference, where reporters pressed him to verify that he wasn’t joking, and the Mueller report makes clear that the Russian government didn’t get Trump’s sense of humor and attempted to hack the Clinton e-mails that same day.
Call us old-fashioned, but we preferred the more sly and subtle and profanity-free wits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. These days much of America is so contemptuous of its fellow citizens on the opposite side of the political divide that it will happily settle for even the most puerile zingers, though, and hold out little hold that our differences can be reconciled through civil and reason debate. Apparently much of the rest of the Third and second and First Worlds have reached the same desultory state.
Here’s hoping it works out better for Ukraine than it has elsewhere. Zelensky is reportedly pro-NATO and anti-Russian, which is more than we can say for Trump, so we wish him the best of luck with that. Besides, for all we know the other candidate was arguably even more awful.
Even so, and at the risk of being called old-fashioned, we think there’s still something to be said for seasoned public servants making serious and fact-based arguments in a civil and reasoned debate. Maybe someone should make a show about that, but it probably wouldn’t get big ratings.

— Bud Norman

Draining the Swamp, Building a New One, Then Repeat

Political corruption scandals, much like those “me too” sexual harassment and assault scandals that keep popping up, are a bi-partisan problem. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are immune to the all-too-human temptations of power, so the side with more power tends to be the one with the more scandals. For the moment the Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress and a putative member of the party in the White House, and they’re busily making the judicial branch Republican for the next generation, so it’s no surprise that mainly Republicans are getting pilloried in the political press these days.
The past week has seen a federal indictment of New York’s Republican Rep. Christopher Collins, who was the first congressional supporter of President Donald Trump’s candidacy and one of his most die-hard apologists, on some some pretty darned convincing insider-trading charges involving a company whose board he sat own while he also sat on congressional committees overseeing its industry. The week also saw Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Robert Gates admitting to various financial crimes during his pretty darned damning testimony against former business partner and one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who will later face another federal trial regarding his alleged shady and unregistered dealings with the Russian-backed Ukrainian government he represented.
All of which comes in the aftermath of the resignations of Trump’s picks to head the Health and Human Services Department and the Environmental Protection Agency resigning in the wake of mounting ethics allegations and some undeniably lavish spending on the taxpayers’ dime. Not to mention the ongoing “Russia thing” about Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and Trump himself, and an ongoing federal suit about violations of the constitution’s emolument clause, all of which is lately looking worse and worse by the daily developments.
There’s still a convincing argument to be made that the Democrats are at least as bad, or surely will be again just as soon as they inevitably regain power, and we well remember the satisfaction we once took in all the well-documtened outrages the Republicans once accurately pined on them. We’ll not join in the “lock ’em up” chants at the never-ending Trump campaign rallies, though, but we’ll try to be just as principled and objective in judging our putative fellow Republicans.
At this point no one in politics looks good, but we’re not chanting for any of them to locked up, and are instead holding out faint hope that America’s government will look more like it was described to us in civics class. Something in our post-lapsarian Judeo-Christian souls tells us that the temptations of power are irresistible, though, and the scandals will continue no matter which party is in power.

— Bud Norman

Scott Pruitt has Been Drained From the Swamp

Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday, so apparently there are still some limits left on outrageous behavior even in the era of President Donald Trump.
Pruitt was a controversial appointee even by the standards of the Trump administration, for reasons that were both arguable and ultimately inarguable. His de-regulatory zeal infuriated the left and endeared him to the right, but his peculiar and expensive and blatantly corrupt way of going about it had led to a full 14 ethics investigations and ultimately left with few allies even on the right. Eventually even fellow Oklahoman and salwart Republican Rep. Jim Inhofe was telling Oklahoma City’s Daily Oklahoman that “I was getting kind of weak on him myself” even as he was assured the state’s biggest paper’s readers that in a recent phone conversation with Pruitt “We went over these accusations one by one, and it turns out they’re totally wrong.” Trump “tweeted” his fulsome praise for all the regulations that Pruitt had de-regulated, but he also mentioned in the same “tweet” that he had accepted Pruitt’s sudden resignation.
Way back in the good old days when we used to fulminate daily about the regulatory zeal of President Barack Obama and the broader left we consistently argued that some of the many thousands of regulations they were annually imposing were bound by statistical probability to be good policy, and that a larger percentage of them were likely to be an unnecessary burden on a free market economy that doesn’t really want to kill anybody, and we freely admitted we didn’t have the time or expertise to determine which of those thousands of annual regulations were which. In these desultory days of Trump and the right’s seemingly willy-nilly zeal of de-regulations we’ve figured that Pruitt was probably undoing a lot of bureaucratic nonsense, and making the occasional deadly mistake, but we still lack the time and expertise to say which is which, and for the most part we’ve gone along with Trump and Pruitt the rest of the current Republican party about it.
Still, we don’t see why Pruitt couldn’t have achieve dsuch arguably advantageous policies without charging the taxpayers for first class flights to far-flung vacation destinations, or sending taxpayer-paid staffers on such bizarre personal errands as securing a certain sort of hand lotion from a particular luxury hotel or acquiring a used mattress from a Trump-owned hotel, or trying to acquire a Chik-Fil-A franchise or some other lucrative occupation for his wife, or charge taxpayers for the “cone of silence” thingamajig from “Get Smart” or accept a sweetheart rental deal from lobbyists with business before the EPA, or have his underlings pay his hotel bills with their personal credit cards and never re-pay them,  or any of the numerous other ethics investigations he instigated. ByThursday afternoon, even Pruitt and Trump agreed that Pruitt ha to go.
For now the EPA will be run by the agency’s already Senate-confirmed deputy director, who seems to have the same de-regulatory zeal as Pruitt but none of his outrageous and capsizing  baggage, which will surely drive the left wing crazy and give a smug satisfaction to the newly-constituted right wing. Our guess is that Trump is by now wised-up enough to stick with that politically fortuitous status quo, that a lot of needlessly burdensome regulations will repealed along with a few that result in the loss of some farmer’s life, that most voters lack the time and expertise to say which regulations are need and which are unnecessarily burden some, and that by the time the mid-term elections come around next fall Pruitt will be happily forgotten.

— Bud Norman

The Election Year of Anything Goes

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking,” the great Cole Porter once tunefully observed, memorably adding “But now, God knows, anything goes.” That was way back in 1933, so we shudder to think what the oh-so-sophisticated songwriter of that scandalous era would be thinking if he had stuck around for 2016. The latest rap and rock and pop cacophony would have surely appalled him, the rest of the popular culture would no doubt also dismay the sensibilities of the fellow who lamented that “Good authors, too, who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose,” and even such a classy and contentedly closeted homosexual of that bygone era as Porter would probably be confounded by all this current public enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms.
What he’d make of this crazy election year, well, God only knows.
This crazy election year has gone far beyond a glimpse of stocking to include stark naked pictures of a major party nominee’s third wife exposed on the cover of a New York tabloid, and more widely disseminated across that newfangled internet thingamajig without those minuscule but pesky stars over the naughtiest bits that even New York tabloids still feel obliged to use, along with some suggestively sapphic poses with an anonymous naked woman or two that easily meet the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s definition of pornography as “I know it when I see it.” That same major party nominee used to run a strip joint before it went bankrupt, has boasted in print about the many married women he’s bedded, once offered assurances about his sufficient penis size during a presidential debate, often cusses in front of the kids, seems to share the unaccountable current popular enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms, and for crying out loud he’s the Republican nominee.
Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee is the wife of former President Bill Clinton, the predatory serial philanderer best remembered after two terms and nearly 16 years of historical reflection as the punchline to countless late night comedy show fellatio jokes, and for crying out loud she’s running as the long awaited culmination of the feminist revolution. The long-presumed and still potential First Woman President is as always committed to the pro-abortion stand that her Republican opponent took right up until he decided to run as Republican and rather clumsily tried to be anti-abortion, and a lot of the older feminists are still grateful that she protected her pro-abortion woman against the women who spoke frankly about his predatory serial philandering, and a lot of the younger feminists find the Republican just as icky, so she might well get away with it. She’s not about to be outflanked for the creepy guy in the women’s restroom vote even if the Republican nominee is offering them concealed carry, she’ll always enjoy the advantage of that double standard that regards scorned women as admirable victims and betrayed men as laughable cuckolds, and even the current Republican nominee with the naked model third wife and newfound anti-abortion zealotry is unlikely to overcome the party’s cornball reputation for old-fashioned family values.
What’s most striking to us, and would surely get the attention of a resurrected Cole Porter or any other previous American, is that none of this seems to matter. The only interest that the more respectable press took in those naked pictures had to do with the fact that they were apparently taken in in America in 1995, and that the potential first lady’s first work permit was issued in 1996, raising doubts about her future husband’s stand against illegal immigrants taking jobs from natives. Some of the feminist sisterhood even came to her defense, the right to pose naked and especially to do the sapphic sorts of shots being the most up-to-date version of the cause that even the aging Democratic nominee didn’t want to argue with, and no one except such fuddy-duddies as ourselves would wants to be on record saying that there’s something somehow unsettling about naked pictures of one major party’s nominee’s third wife and his opponent being in no position to say anything about it. We grew up long after Cole Porter’s heyday but still in a time when the happily married Rob and Laura Petrie were sleeping in separate beds on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and when Lyndon Baines Johnson was holding bathroom press conferences and Richard Milhouse Nixon was creating the familiar phrase of “expletive deleted” but never doing it in front of the kids, and both the cutting-edge feminists and the retrograde family values types had an unease with the sort of objectification of women that recently appeared on the front page of that Republican-nominee-endorsing New York tabloid. Call us old-fashioned, but in this crazy election year we feel a certain nostalgia for the hopeful hypocrisy of those long-lost days.
We rarely find ourselves in sympathy with The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, but we rather liked his recent essay about how this crazy election will in one way or another be the culmination of the sexual revolution that coincided with the feminist revolution during those lamentable ’60s. He astutely likens Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s braggadocios sexism with the Brat Pack and Hugh Hefner and of course Democratic icon John F. Kennedy and the rest of the alpha males of the “Mad Men” era of early ’60s sexual liberation, and Clinton with the adversarial if equally libidinous feminism that reacted in the latter part of the decade. Regardless of the outcome of the next election one of the two will be ratified, Douthat suggests, and while we doubt we’re in complete agreement about which would be best he seems to share our concern that neither is at all satisfactory. For that matter, we can’t imagine that any self-respecting feminist or intellectually honest family-value types sees any hope in this crazy election year.
There are more important issues than such long-lost causes, we suppose, such as the ever-harder-to-dispute fact that the Democratic nominee was running an utterly corrupt influence-peddling “family foundation” while in public and that the Republican nominee who openly brags about buying influence was one of the donors during his exclusively private sector career, and that a certain level of personal and financial and political sleaziness is now assumed by both sides and it’s all a matter of deciding which is more objectionable. We can’t help thinking that the lowered cultural standards have something to do with the lowered political standards, and that the range of acceptable debate has shrunk even as the rules about how views can be expressed have expanded, and that Cole Porter and his better generation of contemporaries would be startled what happens when anything truly goes.

— Bud Norman

An Olympian Disappointment

The Olympic games get underway today, and in a more perfect world they would provide some much needed distraction from the awful presidential race that’s lately been getting all our attention. Alas, in this imperfect world the Olympics are just as much a gruesome spectacle of incompetence and corruption.
Before the opening ceremonies have even begun in all their quadrennial gaudy splendor the Olympics have already been tarnished by the International Olympic Committee’s usual greasy-palmed awarding of the games to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, where much of the local population is infuriated by the government’s spending of much-needed public funds to to the benefit of a few wealthy and well-connected parties, and is beset by rampant crime and one of those apocalyptic tropical diseases and all the inefficiencies of what is still a second-world country at best. The mess has caused many of the world’s top basketball players and golfers and other elite athletes to stay home, and we confidently expect that incompetence and corruption will also play a part in deciding the winners of several of the subjectively scored sports, and that better living through chemistry will once again play a role in the more rigorously timed and measured events.
Which is a shame, really, because the Olympics used to be the most riveting and inspiring thing on the fuzzy black-and-white three-channel televisions of our youth.
Our earliest memories of the Olympics date back to the ’68 games in Mexico City, when Bob Beamon jumped a full foot and a few inches farther than any human had ever jumped before, the future heavyweight champion of the world and grill-machine magnate George Foreman celebrated his gold-medal boxing performance by waving a couple of small American flags, the great Dick Fosbury forever changed the sport of high-jumping with his gold medal-winning “Fosbury flop,” and Kansas’ own Al Oerter became the first track and field athlete to win a fourth consecutive gold medal with another extraordinary throw of the discus. Even then we were aware of the student protests that disrupted the games, and how gold medal-winning Tommie Smith and bronze medal-winning John Carlos flashed the “black power” salute of an upturned and black-gloved fist while standing on the winner’s platform as the “Star Spangled Banner” played, and that Lew Alcindor had declined to the join the basketball team even before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other exceptional black athletes had boycotted the games, but America handily wound up winning the medal count and it bolstered our vague notions of American exceptionalism.
The ’72 Olympics in Munich were in living color, and featured the handsomely mustachioed Mark Spitz winning a record seven gold medals in swimming against a clearly cheating commie squad, the scariest-white-boy-you-ever-saw Dan Gable annihilating one steroid-pump commie after another on his way to a wrestling gold medal, skinny Dave Wottle and his backwards baseball cap coming from way way way behind to beat some fast muscle-bound commie in the 800 meter race, and as well as the hated Soviet Union beating an American basketball team that didn’t have the hippy-dippy Bill Walton or paying for play Julius Ervin on the most outrageously corrupt play-calling in Olympic history. Then there was the massacre of the Israeli team by a radical Islamist Palestinian terror group, and the quick exit of the Jewish Olympic hero Spitz, and Gable’s ill-advised grousing that his win had been overshadowed, and the questionable decision by American Olympic boss Avery Brundage to continue playing the games.
Since then the Olympics have proved less riveting. In ’76 the games went to nearby Montreal, Canada, and America came in an unaccustomed third place in the medal during its Bicentennial Year. The highlight from a patriotic perspective was a handsome young fellow named Bruce Jenner winning the decathlon and the unofficial “world’s greatest athlete title,” and of course he’s now better known as Caitlyn Jenner and was last seen as a honored guest at the Republican National Convention proving how very tolerant even the Republican are about men who think they’re women. America didn’t compete in the ’80 elections in Moscow after President Carter decided to boycott the games as retaliation for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Africa, which kept our junior high and high school classmate Darnell Valentine from a good chance at a basketball gold medal, and when the Soviet bloc boycotted the ’84 games in Los Angeles the Americans won so much they got bored with winning. The ’88 Olympics were in Seoul, we vaguely recall, and America was back in third place behind the Soviet Union and its East German puppets. The ’92 Olympics were in Barcelona, Spain, where professionals were at long last allowed to participate without any pretense of amateurism and the most memorable result was a basketball team featuring Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and nine other all-timers that seemed to prove once and for all how well capitalism works. Some homosexual-hating nutcase set off a bomb at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, and except for America’s return to the top of the medal count we can’t recall much else.
By the ’00 Olympics in Sydney there was no Soviet Union and the American victory in the medal count didn’t seem so exceptional, and Marion Jones had two return two of those golds when she was found to be a chemical cheat, and the ’04 Olympics in Athens are best remembered for all abandoned venues that now broke country built for the games. The ’08 games in Beijing were basically a propaganda campaign for China’s totalitarian government, just like the ’36 games in Munich where that same old Avery Brundage wouldn’t let Jewish-American athletes compete for fear of offend his fellow Jew-hating hosts and thus allowed the black Jesse Owens to wind up spoiling the show, and except for Michael Phelps breaking Spitz’ record with eight gold swimming medals we can’t recall a thing about the ’12 games in London.
This year’s Olympics would have been in Chicago if President Barack Obama had his way, and there were reports when he flew off to Switzerland with Oprah Winfrey to make the pitch for his hometown that he envisioned it as a worldwide celebration of the fundamental transformation of America he had wrought by his second term and is pitch to the IOC was mostly predicated on how it would give the Olympics meaning to have them held in his own sanctified hometown. Of course he also hoped it would benefit his longtime consigliere Valerie Jarrett and all the other well-connected slum lords in his Chicago circles, but we suspect the city at large is happy to let the even more crime-ridden city of Rio De Janeiro pick up the tab.
Still, we’ll hope for some uplifting diversion during the games. Surely someone will run faster or jump higher or lift a greater weight than any other human ever has, and there’s a Wichita kid competing with the boxing team, and he might have better luck than the great Wichita miler Jim Ryun or our old basketball-playing classmate or any other local boy has done in the Olympics since James Bausch won the decathlon and the “world’s greatest athlete” title way back in ’32, and there might even be a moment where a good guy or a good gal from any old country wins a moment of well-deserved glory. That would make for a nice diversion right about now, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

— Bud Norman

A Federal Elections Commission Filing With Legs

Those complicated financial statements that presidential candidates are obligated to file with the Federal Elections Commission every month are usually dull reading for all but us most inveterate political buffs, and unless they contain some notorious name among the contributors or some fishy expenditure they typically get but a few column inches and a couple of ritual tsk-tsks about all the big money in politics, but this time around in this crazy election year there are enough angles apparent in the figures to keep the story going for at least a few days.
The latest filings indicate that presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton raised $19.7 million in the month of May, which is not bad but not so garishly good by recent standards to justify any more than the usual tsk-tsking about big money in politics, while presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump raised $3.1 million, which is undeniably awful by recent standards and yet unlikely to earn the self-described billionaire any plaudits for keeping big money out of his campaign. At the end of the month the Democrat had $42 million in cash on hand, which is pretty good by recent standards, while the Republican was reporting a paltry $1.3 million on hand, which is about what you’d expect for a House seat candidate in a flyover district and probably less than the monthly advertising budget of that Mack Weldon underwear outfit that lately has had intrusive ads popping up at every internet site we visit. The Republican Party and its “Super PACs” report a similarly large lagging behind their Democratic counterparts, and that gaping gap alone is enough to fuel at least a couple extra days of media coverage.
Trump and his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters are already saying that the round-the-clock coverage his megawatt celebrity brings and his boisterous and violence-plagued rallies and the devastating insults of his widely-followed “tweets” will easily make up the difference, and after it sufficed to vanquish a promising field of 16 better-funded and far more qualified opponents in the primary races we can’t dismiss the possibility that they might once again be right. Still, the difference between $42 million and $1.3 million in cash on hand is is newsworthy, especially by Trump’s bottom-line way of looking at things, and it raises a lot of questions that Trump’s numerous opponents on both the left and what’s left of the erstwhile right are already asking.
Thus the Trump campaign will surely be on the defensive for a while, fending off questions that call into doubt all its grandiose promises, and while both the crazed left-wing Democrats and the last redoubts of old school conservatism are unleashing their resources they’ll have to hope that Trump’s phoned-in appearances on the Today Show and MSNBC’s obscure “Morning Joe” and the more obscure-yet Alex Jones’ “InfoWars” conspiracy channel radio can counter it. A few million dollars worth of air time on the popular reality shows that persuasively reminds voters about how the presumptive Republican nominee really did once mock a handicapped person for the amusement of his boisterous rally-goers will likely have some effect, and although a similar few million dollars could buy enough air time to persuasively remind all those reality-show viewers that the Democratic nominee has done countless things that were at least as disgusting it doesn’t seem likely to happen. Why not is hard for the the Trump campaign to explain.
The reality is that there are far more targeted swing state voters watching those reality shows than there are watching Trump’s phoned-in interviews on morning shows and afternoon cable fare and lunatic-fringe radio programs, and that the failure to financially make up the difference undermines many of the campaign’s claims. One is that the presumptive Republican nominee possesses 10 BILLION DOLLARS, with the capitalization always added, and that he would patriotically tithe a cool billion or so of it to Make America Great again, the capitalization once again added, so the latest FEC filing calls that into question. We were never swayed by the argument that influence-buying billionaires have so thoroughly corrupted the political system that we should only vote for self-funded candidates, the only one on offering being a self-described billionaire who openly boasts of all the influence-buying he’s done over his checkered career, and at this poorly funded moment it’s no more persuasive to anyone who’s been paying attention that 10 BILLION DOLLAR figure is not to be taken seriously. The most reliable sources estimate Trump possesses less than half of that amount, one author who claimed it was far less than a single billion wound up winning a prolonged libel suit, which included Trump’s sworn testimony that his estimation of his wealth depended on his daily feelings of self-regard, which range from yuge to very yuge, and by now it should be clear to even his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters that he wouldn’t part with a tenth of it even if he did have 10 BILLION DOLLARS just to Make America Great Again.
Which calls into question whether he really is the organizational and economic and deal-making genius that earned him that apocryphal 10 BILLION DOLLARS and will surely Make America Great Again, and already the left is having fun with a hash-tagged “Trump So Broke” internet meme, which includes some admittedly funny insult comic shtick about how he can’t afford a decent haircut and how his next trophy wife will come from Mexico, and worse yet there’s the more dour reluctance of what’s left of erstwhile conservatism to support his candidacy. As much as a majority of the Republican is still hoping for another nominee, the presumptive nominee is still sneering that he’ll do fine without them, yet he’s apparently depending on the hated party “establishment” that he and his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters have vowed to burn down for a field operation and some respite from the paid-media blitz, and there’s still a slight chance that the inevitably “establishment” delegates will make another choice.
For now we’ll continue to hope so, because that presumptive Democratic nominee is so indisputably awful that a just few million more from the party’s rank-and-file and billionaire donors might just prove effective on behalf of someone other than Trump.

— Bud Norman

Taking a Kick at Soccer

We know little about soccer, having grown up on wholesome American games that allow the use of hands, as God and Abner Doubleday intended, but even we knew that the sport’s international governing body is corrupt. It was therefor no surprise to hear that legal action is being taken against them, but we were a bit startled that it was America’s Department of Justice that is doing it.
The Federation Internationale de Football is not based in America, as the foreign name and its galling misuse of “football” would suggest, and so far as we can gather from numerous press reports none of its alleged crimes took place here. Authorities in Switzerland, where the organization is based, and where the alleged crimes seem to have allegedly occurred, and where the populace presumably cares more about soccer than do Americans, are also taking action, so it’s hard to see why America’s legal system should be bothered. All of the 14 FIFA official indicted on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy are from other other countries, there’s going to be a lot of fuss over extradition, it complicates foreign relations with the numerous countries involved to the point that we have to admit Vladimir Putin has a point when he calls it “another case of illegal extra-territorial implementation of American law,” and none of the bribes they’re said to have accepted for awarding international tournaments seem to have been paid by Americans, who won’t be hosting any FIFA tournaments in the near future in any case, so the only point seems to be cleaning up a sport that few Americans bother to watch.
The smart fellows over at the Powerline web site are avid soccer fans, which strikes us as odd given their usually sound political opinions and excellent taste in music, and they contend that the Department of Justice is still sore that FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar despite the long trip to Zurich and personal lobbying of former Attorney General Eric Holder. It won’t be the least bit surprising if it is eventually proved in court that the Qataris prevailed by means of millions of dollars of illegal bribes, as such things are a feature of Arab culture and there is no other plausible explanation for awarding the world’s most-watched sporting event to such a remote and backwards desert hellhole as Qatar. The country’s pledge to air-conditioned stadia large enough to accommodate a soccer field and many thousands of spectators in the 100-plus degree summers has already been reneged on, the tournament has thus been moved to winter during the middle of the seasons of the professional leagues that supply the players, and the Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi laborers who have been imported to build the vast infrastructure that FIFA absurdly requires have died at the rate of one per day. Nor would we be surprised if this is all about Holder holding a grudge, as he always struck as that sort of guy.
Besides, the Obama administration was still smarting from its snub by the International Olympic Committee way back in ’09 when it award its games to Rio de Janeiro over of Chicago. Obama personally flew to Denmark to make the pitch, bringing along Oprah Winfrey, who might or might not be a big deal in Denmark, and giving a speech about how Chicago was his kind of town and recalling how “Nearly one year ago, on a clear November night, people from every corner of the world gathered in the city of Chicago or in front of their televisions to watch the results of the presidential election,” and basically suggested that having the Olympics culminate his eight years in office and welcome the world to his transformed America would give the games new meaning. All the press speculated that of course the deal was already done or no president would put his prestige on the line by making the trip, so when the Olympics went to an even more crime-ridden kleptocracy than Chicago it was the first bad press that the administration got after all the messianic treatment in ’08, and although the loss of the 2022 World Cup went entirely unnoticed we’re sure it still stung.
The blow to Obama’s and Holder’s egos notwithstanding, and despite the lucrative deals that Valerie Jarret’s Chicago buddies would have made preparing for the Olympics, and whatever deals might have been made for a World Cup, these are two games we’re glad America lost. These big international sporting events are lucrative to whatever network makes the sufficient bribes, and they transfix much of the world for a brief time, but they’re usually a severe burden on the communities that get stuck with them and the useless stadia they paid for. Even in soccer-mad Brazil there were riots in response to lavish sums that poverty-stricken country doled out to host the most recent World Cup, and the police are gearing up for more of the same during those ’16 Olympics that Chicago wanted. The only Olympics that we can recall proving profitable for a host was the ’02 winter games in Salt Lake City, and that was due to the organizational skills of Mitt Romney, which the public apparently found less impressive than that soaring “on a clear November night” rhetoric of Obama. The Olympics have lost much of their appeal since the end of the Cold War, not to mention all believable rumors about the IOC’s shenanigans, but they’re still a bigger deal to the real American sports fan than some FIFA contest with a bunch of foreigners kicking a ball around a “pitch” — we know that, too, along with with the corruption of the governing body — to a 1-0 score after some incalculable amount of time.
A country such as Qatar might decide that the millions in bribes and billions in soon-to-be-useless stadia and the daily deaths of Indians, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshi is well worth the prestige of hosting a highly-rated sports event, along with all the hooligans that soccer somehow always attracts, no matter how remote the backwards hellhole, but we’d like to think the United States of America can still earn its international prestige elsewhere.

— Bud Norman