Advertisements

Sen. John McCain, RIP

Over the past many decades we had several serious disagreements with Arizona Sen. John McCain, as did just about anyone of any political viewpoint who was paying attention to the news, but we always disagreed with all due respect to the man, as did any fair-minded and well-mannered person of any political viewpoint. McCain died on Saturday at the age of 81 after a courageous fight against brain cancer, and we worry that an age of rough and tumble yet duly respectful American politics might pass with him.
McCain always laughingly admitted that he didn’t earn much respect at the United States Naval Academy, where he was a legendarily mischievous midshipman and finished sixth-from-last in his class, but after that his military career was distinguished by strength and skill and physical courage and patriotic selflessness as extraordinary as anything in America’s horrible and glorious history of war. He’d only gone to Annapolis because his dad and granddad were both four-star Navy admirals with impressive war records, and several other ancestors had served with similar distinction, and the rebellious youth didn’t plan to make a career of the Navy, but he’d been inculcated with a sense of duty to God and family and country that required him to play some small part during his deployment. Although a deadly and unpopular was being in waged in Vietnam, McCain signed up for and then easily passed the Navy’s rigorous fighter pilot training program, and thus volunteered for combat duty in the worst of it.
He was top gun enough to return from 22 risky combat missions, including one very-near miss, but on the 23rd try he was shot down in enemy territory, where his gruesomely broken body was quickly captured by enemy troops, who immediately added several more serious injuries at they dragged him away. For the next five-and-a-half years he survived routine torture at the “Hanoi Hilton” — the most notorious prisoner-of-war camp since the Confederacy’s Andersonville prison — and made only the most meaningless concessions. At first the torture was worse than usual because the captors were aware that McCain’s father was commanding America’s Pacific Fleet, but the North Vietnamese then thought they might gain some political advantage and demoralize his fellows by offering him early release because of his family ties, and no fair-minded American of any political viewpoint can deny that McCain earned everlasting respect by signing up for a few more years of torture rather than hand the enemy a propaganda victory and his leave his men behind and betray everything he ever believed about God and family and country.
The undeniably tough old cuss somehow survived it all, and wound up limping out of a post-war Air Force plane to a brass-band-and-red-carpet hero’s welcome on a landing strip in his home state of Arizona in the good old United States of America. He finished out his Naval obligations in a series of desk jobs as he more or less recuperated from his injuries, and then he naturally went into politics. McCain’s gruesome yet undeniably all-American heroism made him a natural candidate for a House of Representative seat, but after all those years in a bamboo cage he could also articulate a persuasive case for the vigorous foreign policy and limited domestic government that was the Republican fashion of the time, and he soon demonstrated an unsurprising knack for getting by and getting things done with unpleasant but necessary compromises.
After a couple of easy House elections in oh-so-Republican Arizona, McCain succeeded the then-quintessentially conservative Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater in the Senate, and after that he both earned respect and caused serious disagreements with just about anyone of any political viewpoint. He voted with the ever-evolving Republican caucus on most fiscal matters, and was as hawkish as any of them on matters of national defense, but he also seemed to take a mischievous delight in bucking his party on certain of his party’s ever-evolving stands. Sometimes it was some long forgotten continuing budget resolution or another, on other occasions the border-state Senator with lots of Latino Republican voters was bucking the base on on the simmering matter of immigration, and our free speech sensibilities strongly disagreed with his awful McCain-Fiengold Act.
Way back in the long-forgotten headlines of the late-’80s McCain was one of the “Keating Five” Democratic and Republican Senators who were caught up in a corruption scandal involving donations from a shady savings-and-loans finagler right before the savings-and-loan meltdowns of ’89, and although he was largely exonerated by the subsequent investigations McCain repented by joining left-wing Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold in coming up with some campaign finance rules that we considered an affront to free speech. That was one reason we opted for Texas Gov. George W. Bush over McCain in the ’00 Republican primary, along with the fact that Bush had been a pretty good chief executive of a large and largely Latino state, and seemed less leery of dangerous and unpopular wars. Thus Bush made his case and we cast our vote with all due respect to McCain.
As things turned out President George W. Bush wound up signing that awful McCain-Feingold Act, and the Supreme Court eventually wound up overturning the worst of it in that Citizens United decisions the left is is still squealing about, and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, left the Republicans embroiled in a couple of unpopular wars. Bush nevertheless narrowly re-election against decorated combat veteran but defeatist Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and McCain vigorously campaigned for the Republican. After that the Iraq War become an even less popular slog, and McCain once again bucked the party by advocating a more vigorous effort rather than a retreat. When Bush followed the advice with a so-called “surge” the American casualties fell by more than 90 percent, McCain was vindicated and wound up winning the Republican nomination for the presidency.
McCain might have had a chance if the economy had kept going as well the war, but about a month before the election the stock markets melted down as a result of some long-forgotten subprime mortgage regulations from the long-forgotten administration of President Bill Clinton, and America was plunged into a deep recession. After eight years of constant media griping about Bush any Republican faced a hard race against a such charming and charismatic Democratic nominee as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, whose African heritage promised an improbable chance at national racial redemption that even McCain’s heroic war record could not trump. By the end McCain knew he was fighting another losing war, and he accepted his faith with a sense of honor to God and family and country.
Even by 2008 the the ever-evolving base of the Republican party wasn’t fully on board with McCain’s old-fashioned Republicanism, and he steadfastly refused to go along with their partisan fever for rather than his principles. When his Republican rally-goers denounced Obama as an “Arab” and anti-American scoundrel, McCain insisted that Obama was merely a decent American family guy with some crazy liberal ideas, and we think it was at that very point when the ever-evolving base of the Republican party abandoned him. McCain was frequently critical of Obama, and as far as we’re concerned he was completely vindicated in his criticism of Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq, but at that point the base of the Republican party regarded anything less than complete vilification of Obama as insufficient.
Way back in ’12 the Republicans wound up nominating the even more old-fashioned Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whose dad had been a centrist Republican governor and one-time presidential contender, but the ever-evolving Republican base was even less enthused and Obama cruised to reelection. After another four years of Obama’s odious administration the ever-evolving base of the Republican party had decided that such fair-minded and well-mannered candidates as McCain and Romney weren’t up to the fight against those damned Democrats, no matter how heroic their war records, and they wound up choosing President Donald Trump.
Say what you want about both Bush and Obama, and their bitter political fights with McCain, the candidates of all parties paid due respect to the man they opposed. By the late summer and early fall of ’16, Trump won the Republican nomination and then the presidency despite sneering on videotape that MccCain was “only a hero because he was captured. I hate to tell ya’, but I like a guy who didn’t get captured,” and another audio recording about grabbing women by their private parts,” and mockeries of people’s looks and physical disabilities, and boldly proclaiming a new style of presidential politics. So far it’s working better politically than the more polite practices of McCain and Romney, at least for now, although we still wish either of them had beaten Obama, and we still expect it to work out badly in the end.
In all of his obituaries McCain is getting far more praise than he did back when he challenged the media darling Obama, and almost as much as he did when challenged the media pariah Bush, but the right media have been less muted, and so far Trump has only briefly “tweeted” his prayers and respect for McCain’s family, and although the flags have been lowered to half-mast there’s no official presidential statement about it. Trump had family-doctor-attested bone spurs that prevented him from serving in Vietnam, even if they didn’t prevent him from playing golf and tennis and chasing casual sexual encounters in New York City’s swankier nightclubs while McCain was being tortured inside a bamboo cage, and being such a self-proclaimed tough guy Trump can’t recant his infamous slur that McCain was “only a hero because he got caught.”
At such a sad time and such a low moment in political disourse we hate to take a swipe at Trump, but McCain made clear that he would be honored to have both Bush and Obama speak at his funeral and would not appreciate Trump’s presence at all, and we can’t say we disagree with this final request. At the end of a horrific and heroic and admittedly imperfect life, the best of which he attributed to his years of getting by and getting things done in the public service, we pay due respect to McCain and his dying nostalgia for a more rough and tumble yet duly respectful era of American politics.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

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

Kansas in the Middle, As Always

Today is primary election day here in Kansas, and there are some interesting races afoot. Even if you don’t have the good fortune to live here in the Sunflower State, there are some with national implications worth watching.
The race getting the most attention, both here and around the country, is for the Republican party’s gubernatorial nomination. It’s a crowded field, but looks to come down to serving Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, which is pretty much a proxy war between the pre-President Donald Trump Republican party and the current model.
Trump officially “tweeted” his endorsement of Kobach on Sunday, but by then it went pretty much without saying. Donald Trump Jr. had already twice campaigned in the state for Kobach, who is clearly the most Trumpish candidate in the race.
Kobach was running for office on warnings about illegal immigrants and voter fraud years before Trump took up the cause, and he was appointed by Trump to head a federal commission to more than three million illegal immigrant voters had defrauded the president of his rightful popular vote victory. The commission was disbanded when both Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State refused to cooperate with its requests, and even Kansas had to withhold some information due to state law, but Trump appreciated the effort. More recently Kobach was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union over some very strict voter registration requirements, and although his self-defense failed to win the verdict, and wound up costing him some hefty fines, he made much of the fact that he’d fought with the hated ACLU. His campaign ads featured a red-white-and-blue jeep with a machine gun, kind words about Trump, and he took to calling his opponent “Lyin’ Jeff.”
Meanwhile, Colyer is running on low taxes but not so low that the schools aren’t funded and the roads aren’t paved and the budget is balanced at the end of year, which was a winning Republican platform in this state from the “Bleeding Kansas” days right up until the election of Gov. Sam Brownback.
When Brownback was elected eight years ago the “Tea Party” movement was ascendant, and he ran on a platform of radical tax cuts and deep budgets and a promise that the state’s economy would boom. It took some nasty internecine Republican politics to purge the legislature of the “establishment Republicans” who were wary of such extreme measures, and of course all the state’s Democrats were appalled, but he eventually got it passed. The tax theory was sound, and the budget was due for some cutting, but the details included a couple of tax loopholes that largely exempted every small business in state, and the resulting budget cuts went painfully deep. When the promised outcomes didn’t occur, “establishment Republicans” started winning seats back, and by the time Brownback left to become Trump’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom he was polling in the mid-20s.
Colyer was Brownback’s Lieutenant Governor, which is how he became the serving Governor, but he doesn’t mention that in his ubiquitous advertisements. Instead the medical doctor has patients attesting to his good character, talk about restoring the state’s formerly excellent reputation for public schools, and endorsements from the pro-life and pro-business groups and former Sen. Bob Dole and the rest of the “Republican establishment.” As boring as it might sound, boring sounds pretty good to a lot of Republicans and independents around here these days, and according to the conventional Kansas wisdom he’s a slight favorite to win the nomination.
Which makes Trump’s endorsement of Kobach slightly risky for his presidential reputation, and raises doubts about how much good it will do. Although Trump won Kansas’ electoral votes by the same lopsided margin that any Republican nominee would have had against Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, he finished a distant third in the Republican caucus, and his protectionist policies are not popular with the crucial farm vote in the state, and the best most of our Republicans friends have to say about Trump is that at least he’s not Clinton, which they admit is damning by faint praise. Trump is never boring, but boring is probably the better strategy.
There’s a nice boring race on the Democratic ballot, too, with a trio of centrist candidates promising to pave the roads and fund the schools and balance the budgets without any crazy tax hikes. The frontrunner is longtime state legislator and noted policy wonk Laura Kelly, who bores all our far-left Democratic friends who hold out hope Kansas will go full-blown socialist, but after eight all-too-interesting years the Democrats have a very good chance one of winning one of their every-other-decade governorships. We agree with the conventional wisdom around here that Colyer has the best chance of staving that off, and that Trump’s endorsement won’t rouse many Republicans and won’t play well the independents and just further rile up the already riled-up Democrats to vote for whomever their party nominates.
We’ll not venture any predictions, but we’ll admit to a certain nostalgia that boring old Republican party we used to vote for all the time, and will vote accordingly. If the ancien regime isn’t revived we’re not sure what we’ll do, but none of the Democrats are nearly so scary as that awful Clinton woman, and at this point we’ll pay Trump’s endorsement little heed.

<

The Borders Flare as the Center Collapses

The politics of illegal immigration has long been thorny, and a solution has eluded the past several presidents and congresses, but it suddenly seems even thornier in the age of President Donald and his Republican party’s slim and fissiparous majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.
All of the usual tricky questions about how to properly enforce current immigration laws in an effective yet humane and constitutional way, and what to do about the illegal immigrants who are already here, are still awaiting an definitive answer, and there’s still a wide chasm between the most welcoming Democrats and the most exclusionary Republicans. Trump’s longtime rhetoric and recent policies, of course, are making some sort of compromise solution all the more difficult.
Trump’s executive order to rescind President Barack Obama’s executive order for Delayed Action on Childhood Arrivals has made a pressing issue about the fate of the so-called “dreamers,” who were brought here as children and have since lived provably productive and tax-paying lives that have little troubled the American populace, which raises complicated political as well as policy and legal questions. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy has resulted in a couple thousand children separated from their parents and held in circumstances that administration can’t fully account for, and which the Trump administration has denied and blamed on Democrats and insisted is necessary to save the country from imminent invasion, and although he’s since signed an executive order to undo his policy that’s further complicated the debate. His rhetoric about “animals” “infesting” the country and warning of an “invasion” by “millions” of raping and drug-dealing types has brought a long-heated debate to a boiling point.
Trump and his spokespeople have lately taken a dizzying number of stands on these issues — we can’t resist re-telling our joke that he’s got more positions than Stormy Daniels — but he’s always consistently made it clear that he’s not at all fond of those brown-skinned people from “shit-hole countries” who keep showing up at the southern border seeking asylum. He’s spoken sympathetically of a “loving bill” for the “dreamers,” revved up his rallies with talk about the Democrats don’t think a Trump voter’s children are also dreamers, and he made a big show of reversing his family separation policy but not the the “zero tolerance” that he admits will continue to separate families. All those photos and video and audio of crying children and their unaccounted-for whereabouts might have cowed Trump into reversing the policy that 58 percent of Republicans supported, but now Trump is calling it all “phony stories” by the “open-borders” Democrats and their allies in the “fake news” media, who of course are enthralled by the murderous MS-13 street gang and want only the very worst for America.
To show that Trump is very, very strong on border enforcement, and perhaps to demonstrate that they’re not all racist about it, the Border Patrol recently caught a French woman who was visiting her mother in southern Canada and inadvertently jogged a bit out south of the American border, and was detained for two weeks.
There’s at least a kernel of truth to most of it, we must admit. A large influx of human beings from anywhere on the earth will inevitably include some highly undesirable people, and that MS-13 gang from El Salvador truly is a particularly gruesome example, and that suspiciously French 19-year-old did indeed jog into American territory. There are indeed some “open borders” Democrats out there, and we’ve read enough of Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” that we don’t need Trump to tell us how it would work out for America if they somehow got their way. A certain strictness of border enforcement will always be necessary for every country, but it remains if Trump’s will prevail as politics or policy or a legal matter.
Trump is clearly cocky that he will prevail on all three fronts, or at least the all-important political one. Even as he accused the Democrats of using the immigration issue for political advantage he told a group of Nevada Republicans that “Our issue is strong borders, no crime. Their issue is open borders, get MS-13 all over the country.” The Republicans in the House were scheduled to vote on a couple of hard-line and compromise bills, but Trump “tweeted” his advice they “stop wasting their time” and await his predicted “red wave” that would give the Republicans’ true one-party rule. He also “tweeted” that America was no longer obligated to fulfill its duly passed and signed treaty obligations regarding asylum-seekers or comply with the legal precedents that had followed, which is a bit more hard-line than even our rock-ribbed but tender-hearted and constitutionally conservative Republican selves can go along with.
The damned Democrats have all that undeniably heart-breaking photography and video and audio from the southern border, where the Trump administration is having a hard time getting its story straight on what’s happening there, although we’re assured it’s tougher but more tender than anybody has ever seen, so it might take more than a kernel of truth for Trump and his Republican loyalists to triumph. We begrudgingly acknowledge that most Democrats don’t believe in “open borders,” and that includes President Barack Obama, who made a priority of deporting MS-13 gang members and other felonious illegal immigrants rather than breaking up the families of possibly legal asylum-seekers, and even that horrible Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. They’re all far more lax about these matters than even our pre-Trump Republican selves, but for the moment they seem closer to the political center than all thousands at the on-going campaign rallies still chanting “Build that wall!”
By now even the faithful at the rallies don’t expect that Mexico will pay for the wall, and Trump is expecting the Democrats to pay it for as ransom for all the “dreamers” and the kids he got placed God knows where. Which further complicates matters. Pretty much no one but Trump and the faithful at the rallies believe the solution to the thorny illegal immigration problem is a “big, beautiful” and translucent and solar-generating wall across the entirety of the Mexican border, and all the Republican congressional districts along the proposed route think it’s a horrible idea and are threatening all sorts of eminent domain court challenges, and despite the chants at the rallies we don’t think Trump should be cocky about it.
Even at the Nevada rally Trump shared the stage with a far more moderate-on-immigration incumbent who’s facing a tough reelection race, and in Nevada as most of the country the Democrats are nominating candidates who aren’t “open borders” but advocate a more legal and humane means of border enforcement. Trump’s bet that he’ll get an end to some stupid immigration as well as his equally stupid border after a “red wave” might prove as disastrous as his bet on the Atlantic City Trump Taj Mahal.
Nor do we expect that good policy will somehow result. The border must be enforced, international treaty obligations and constitutional law and basic human decency must be respected, and at this point in this long and drawn-out game that seems a long shot.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Triumphant Retreat

President Donald Trump prides himself on never admitting a mistake or backing off a stand, but on Wednesday he signed an executive order to end his own policy of separating children from parents detained as illegal immigrants. His Homeland Security secretary had previously said the policy didn’t exist, which was a lie, and Trump had also said it did exist but that he hated it and it was forced on him by a “Democrat law,” which was also a lie, and Trump and his die-hard defenders had also said the policy was unfortunately but necessarily strong, which might have been arguably true but is less persuasive in the wake of Trump’s executive order to end the policy.
We ran into one of Trump’s die-hard at the Vagabond dive bar over in Delano Wednesday night, and he was still defending the family-separation policy and was sorely disappointed that Trump had uncharacteristically caved to overwhelming public opinion, but we think our friend lost the ensuing conversation and his side was clearly losing the broader public debate. In every news medium but Fox News the coverage was full of cute and crying girls being ripped from their mothers’ arms, and and the administration’s media response was contradictory lies and endlessly-repeated footage Trump’s one-time campaign manager — not the one who’s currently in jail, but the one who manhandled a woman reporter at rally — responding to an account of a 10-year-girl with Down’s Syndrome being torn from her mother’s arms by sarcastically whining “Whaaah Whaah.” Needless to say, the administration was losing the news-cycle, bigly.
The opinion polls showed two-thirds of the country opposed to the policy, prominent and previously loyal congressional Republicans also disapproved, and Republican and Democratic governors withdrew their National Guard units from border enforcement, and a couple of major airlines apologized for flying some seized youngsters off to such far-flung locales as New York City and promised to never do so again. Every living First Lady went on record against the policy, including the one currently more or less married to Trump, along with First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and such a ratings-conscious president as Trump realized that no matter how contrary it was to his lifelong instincts he had to back off a stand.
Not that Trump admitted a mistake, of course. During a signing ceremony he still blamed the Democrats for a President George W. Bush-era law that he dishonestly says requires family separations as a matter of routine policy and couldn’t be undone by executive order, even as he boasted that he’s the first president since Dwight Eisenhower with the “political courage” to end the inhumane policy that he had been first to enact with an executive. He also reassured his die-hard defenders that he was still “very strong” on border enforcements, unlike the “open borders” Democrats who apparently enjoy Latino gang murders, even if he wasn’t willing to endure the sob-sister photographs and videotapes and audio tapes of cute brown-skinned toddlers crying for their mommas.
The news cycle probably doesn’t end here, though, despite Trump’s best efforts. The executive order Trump signed doesn’t address the two-thousand or so children who have already been separated from their parents and are currently alarmingly unaccounted for, and their fates will surely fuel some heartbreaking and all-too-real stories from the “fake news” for enough months to reach the mid-term elections next fall. Trump is still sticking the the administration’s announced “zero-tolerance policy” to prosecute every allegedly illegal border crossing, albeit with the parents and children confined in nearby cages, or “partitions with chain-mail walls” as a Fox News host put it, and there’s going to be newsworthy court cases going all the way to the Supreme Court about that. In the meantime federal law only allows the detention of foreign minors for 20 days, and although Trump recently lied to the National Federation of Independent Businesses that there are “thousands of immigration judges” there are in fact only 335, and due process requires complicated and time-consuming deliberations, so in 20 days or so the badly planned family separation policy will be dominating yet another a news cycle, barring any bigger developments in the trade wars or the “Russia thing.”
At this point, we’re mostly hoping those ninos will somehow be someday reunited somewhere with their madres and padres, and hold out fainter hope that America can still somehow enforce its borders in accordance with international law and basic human decency.

— Bud Norman

The Complicated Situation and the Far Easier Lies at the Southern Border

Over the past few days we’ve heard President Donald Trump and several of his administration officials tell us that they are not separating children from parents detained as illegal immigrants, that they are but Trump hates it and does so only because the Democrats’ weak-on-illegal-immigration laws are forcing him to impose such draconian measures, and that actually it is a necessary and brilliant policy. According to all the available evidence, the only thing these contradictory claims have in common is that they’re all blatant lies.
We’re hard-liners on border enforcement, at least by pre-Trump standards, and would be open to a honest argument that the very complicated problem at the border temporarily requires such severe measures, but Trump and his administration characteristically found it easier to tell such contradictory and blatant lies. Trump and his administration assure us that the children separated from their parents are being treated humanely, and that the heartbreaking pictures and audio-tapes and first-hand accounts of traumatized toddlers are “fake news,” but after so many blatant lies about all sorts of things from crowd sizes to hush money payments to porn stars and meetings with shady Russia and now the president’s policy on border enforcement we are not reassured.
Which further complicates the already damned complicated broader debate about illegal immigration. According to the Cable News Network’s public opinion polling about the issue, about two-thirds of the country find those “fake news” heartbreaking pictures and audio tapes and first-hand accounts coming out of the border more convincing that what Trump and his administration are saying at the moment, and the right-wing talk radio hosts and other die-hard Trump defenders find themselves in the uncomfortable position of defending a policy that even Trump claims to hate and blames on those soft-hearted yet somehow cruel Democrats. By now a notable number of congressional Republicans are criticizing Trump and his administration about the family separations, including several who have previously been cowed by Trump’s popularity with the Republican party.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was quite blunt about Trump’s low character back when they were the finalists in the Republican presidential primary race and Trump was calling him “Lyin’ Ted” and “re-tweeting” memes about how unattractive Cruz’ wife is and touting a National Enquirer bombshell that Cruz’ father was in on the Kennedy assassination, and even withheld his endorsement at the Republican nominating convention, but by the time he started campaigning for a primary re-election race in a state that Trump easily won he was saying the most complimentary things about Trump.
Even in Texas those photographs and audio-tapes and first accounts are a political problem, though, and Cruz introduced a bill that would double the number of immigration judges and fund a quicker due process and stop separating families without felony records for an all-too-routine misdemeanor offense. By the way, Trump lied to a friendly audience of small business that there are “thousands” of immigration countries, and Cruz’ bill aims to more correctly doubles the current number from 350.
After he singularly forced a government shutdown about some continuing resolution or another we’ve long since forgotten Cruz was considered the most audaciously rock-ribbed conservative anti-establishment son-of-a-bitch in the GOP caucus by the liberal press, and was commensurately a hero to all the right-wing talk radio hosts, and he was a runaway winner in the Kansas Republican party’s caucus over distant third-place finisher Trump with help from our single ballot. As we drove home after a beer and some political talk at Kirby’s Beer Store one of the louder talk hosts was telling us that Cruz had at long shown revealed his deep-seated liberalism, though. According to that CNN poll some 58 percent of the Republican party around the country believes that Trump is entirely right to pursue the policy that the Trump administration has insisted doesn’t exist and that Trump himself says he hates and blames on the Democrats.
Cruz has proved a less principled politician than we once thought, but he’s lately gotten a lot politically shrewder than we once hoped for, and he clearly knows his home state better than we do, so he’s probably right that to bet that that those heartbreaking photographs and audio-tapes and first hand accounts from the border aren’t playing well even in Texas. By now Cruz has kissed enough Trump posterior and still retains enough anti-establishment son-of-a-bitch credentials to cruise through the Republican primary, despite his heresy of the latest of the news cycle, but by Texas standards he has now a tenuously close lead over his presumptive Democratic rival.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Rep. “Beto” O’Rourke is a white guy with an Irish last name who grew up in the border town of Laredo with a jocular and affection nickname, sort of the Spanish equivalent of “Bud,” bestowed by his childhood Spanish-speaking friends, and he’s better-looking and more personable and just as well-spoken as Cruz and has always taken carefully centrist positions on everything. and he’s astutely condemned family separations over a misdemeanor offense that could be quickly adjudicated if only if there enough judges. Cruz is pretty astute, as far as we’re concerned, to try to beat him to the benefits of the latest news cycle.
Even here in reliably Republican Kansas our elected Republican officials are publicly complaining about Trump’s border enforcement policies, although they’re more outraged about Trump’s trade wars that threaten the local agricultural and aviation sectors of the economy and run up the bill at the local Wal-Mart. Kansas’ continuous Republicanism goes back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days, and right through the Alf Landon and Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole days, and there’s still a Lincoln-ian sense of “malice toward none and charity towards” about it, and we share our elected officials’ sense that those heartbreaking photographs and audio-tapes and first accounts aren’t playing well here.
It boggles our mind to consider how this might be playing in the rest of the country, but no matter how figure it we can’t see it working out well for Trump and his administration. To complicate matters further, it comes during a week when the Congress might or might not pass legislation to resolve all the rest of the broader and damned complicated matter of illegal immigration, including the fate of the brought-here-as-children “dreamers” who were the the subjects of all those heartbreaking stories from the news cycles of a few months ago, and who are still polling well in all the surveys.
We will see, as the president likes to say. Trump is hoping those bleeding-heart Democrats who forced his seemingly inhumane policies will fund a big beautiful wall see-through and solar-energy-generating law across the entirety of the American border with Mexico to stop him from separating families, and that Mexico will eventually be happy to pay for the wall, and that all those hard-line defenders who want the “dreamers” kicked out and the bleeding-heart liberals who want to subsidize their MS-13 gang memberships will be happy with the results, but we wouldn’t bet on it.
Which seems a shame, as we’re still hard-liners on border enforcement by pre-Trump standards, and we’d hate to see those bleeding-heart Democrats get their long-hoped-for open borders. At the same time, but we don’t believe for a moment that those bleeding heart Democrats are responsible for the cruel measures that the Trump’s even more right-wing talk radio defenders are defending even as he blames it on the Democrats.
There’s no shaking a nagging feeling that a more perfect solution might have been found if both sides had engaged in a honest debate, rather than blatantly lying.

— Bud Norman

Kansas in the News

Kansas rarely makes the national news, which is fine by us, but on Wednesday the state landed two stories in all the big papers. One concerned a guilty verdict in a terrorism case, the other was about involved Kansas’ Secretary of State getting hit with a fine in much-watched court challenge to his his voter registration rules, and neither is the sort of publicity that our state needs.
The three men found guilty on terrorism charges weren’t radical Islamists, but rather self-described Christian “crusaders” in a self-appointed militia who were plotting to build car bombs and massacre the Somali refugees living in their hometown of Garden City. A formerly homogenous small town out in the sparsely populated western part of the state, Garden City become more ethnically diverse when a big meatpacking plant rescued the local economy back in the ’70s, refugees from Somalia were settled there shortly after the turn of the millennia, and by the beginning of this decade whites were no longer a majority in Finney County, a fact which apparently did not set well with the plotters.
During the four week trial at the federal courthouse here in Wichita, the defense argued that they were just engaging in “locker room talk” about killing Muslims with bullets soaked in pig blood, and were entrapped by a Federal Bureau of Investigation conspiracy, and perhaps it should worry President Donald Trump that a Kansas jury didn’t buy these familiar arguments. The average Kansan is just as uncomfortable with diversity and suspicious of the government as the next guy, but he won’t countenance blowing up the local mosque and massacring the local Muslims, and in the end he tends to settle on the facts rather than his suspicions.
Still, it doesn’t look good that such a trial occurred her in the first place. The deadliest domestic terror attack in American history, the 1995 bombing of a federal building just down I-35 in downtown Oklahoma City, was plotted in rural Kansas, the last murder of an abortion doctor occurred in a lovely Lutheran Church over on East 13th here in Wichita, and although the Kansas officials and witness were highly cooperative in bring justice to the bombers and a Kansas jury quickly convicted the abortion doctor’s killer, a certain craziness does seem to require our constant vigilance. We suppose that’s true everywhere, but it’s been a constant feature of the state it’s “Bleeding Kansas” days, and looks so much worse in contrast to the wholesome image we aspire to.
That story about Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach getting hit with the fine in that ongoing court isn’t great publicity for our beloved, either, and it should also worry Trump.
By now Kobach is well known far beyond Kansas for his crusade against illegal immigration and voter fraud and especially illegal immigrants voting fraudulently, and he’s successfully persuaded the past several very conservative Republican legislatures to pass new laws and grant him broader executive authority to execute them. This included requirements that voters produce certain sorts photographic identification cards to cast a ballot, provide a birth certificate or passport of certain other sorts of proof citizenship to register for the first time, and a few other measures. This outraged the left, made Kobach a hero to the right, and he wound up heading the commission Trump had created to prove his claim that votes fraudulently cast by illegal immigrants had denied him his rightful victory in the popular vote.
The federal voter fraud commission that Trump set up and Kobach headed came to a slapstick conclusion some months ago. Voting is mostly a matter left to the states and counties and localities, as it should be, and too many of them refused to cooperate, with all of the Democratic states objecting for self-interested Democratic reasons and a lot of Republican states refusing to cooperate for principled Republican reasons. One of the states that refused to hand over everything Kobach requested was Kansas, where the ever-suspicious-of-the-feds conservative Republican legislatures had passed laws against divulging such information. Trump still insists that he won the popular vote, but he gave up on Kobach’s attempts to prove it.
Since then illegal immigration and voter fraud have most given way to porn stars and the latest policy reversals in the news, but to the extent they linger they’re no longer doing either Trump or Kobach much good. The big, beautiful border went unfunded in that hated-by-everyone spending Trump signed a while back, the “dreamers” Trump promised to deport during his triumphant campaign are still here, and they’re polling better than the president, and there’s no telling where he stands on the matter at that moment, except for his continued insistence that the Democrats are to blame the executive order he signed that put their legal status in jeopardy. At the moment illegal immigration rarely appears on the front pages or at the top of the hour, and although the issue helped Trump when the presidency he should be glad of it.
Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Kobach seems to be having a hard time of it as well. We take a harder stand on immigration and voting issues than do the state’s Democrats, so didn’t mind casting our votes for Kobach in both of his races for Secretary. We found the photo ID requirement reasonable enough, as the average citizen is used to showing such papers to cash a check or buy a six-pack or board an airplane or transact many other legal activities, and although the passport and birth certificate requirements for registering seemed a bit officious we weren’t much bothered. The American Civil Liberties Union took a harsher view, however, and their lawsuit challenging the registration requirements seems to be going swimmingly.
The court has already issued an injunction against enforcement of the law, and the judge’s ruling that by “clear and convincing evidence” Kobach was in contempt of court for acting “disingenuously” to disobey that injunction, and the resulting $1000 fine, is just the latest indication that the defense is not going so well. A licensed attorney, Kobach is representing himself in the matter, and our pal Bucky Walters had an amusing satirical slapstick sketch about it in the recent Gridiron Show, with the judge reminding Kobach of the old maxim that “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client,” and Kobach replying that “In this case it will be just the other way around,” and so far that’s how it’s played out in the news.
Kobach is also running for governor, and it’s hard to explain to an outsider what a mess that is. He’d been hoping to ride his national status as anti-illegal immigrant hard-liner and voter integrity champion to the Republican nomination, but he’s up against his incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who assumed the office after Gov. Sam Brownback was tapped by Trump to be something called the ambassador at large for religious freedom, and both are vying for the Brownback vote. Brownback was wildly unpopular in the state when he left, though, as his tax-cutting agenda didn’t work out as promised, and the old-fashioned sorts of budget-balancing establishment Republicans who were overthrown by “tea party” have since been winning the primaries, and if one of them doesn’t win the Republican gubernatorial nomination we expect some centrist sort of Democrat could wind up winning the general election.
At this point, we expect that Kansas will happily settle on the least crazy candidates they can find on the ballot. The politics around here have been exhausting for a while a now, and we don’t notice any enthusiasm around here for building walls or deporting dreamers or blowing up mosques, and we’ll assure the other 49 states that for the most part we’re no crazier than the rest of you.

— Bud Norman

Tough Talk and Hard Realities on Illegal Immigration

President Donald Trump became president largely by talking far tougher on illegal immigration than any American politician had ever done. Much of his rhetoric was an obvious overreaction to an admittedly serious problem, and included promises that went beyond what a president can constitutionally keep, but it worked for him as a presidential candidate.
As president he’s lately run up against some of the legal and political realities that were always going to keep him from keeping the crazier promises, he’s gradually taken a more bleeding heart attitude toward the so-called “dreamers” that he’d once threatened to deport, and reluctantly signed a budget-busting spending bill that provides only chump changed for the “big, beautiful wall” he’d promise would stretch across the entire U.S.-Mexican border and doesn’t deport any so-called “dreamers.” Some of the hard-core campaign fans are disgruntled, including some that write syndicated columns and host syndicated talk radio shows and appear on the network news, and without much else to do about it Trump is once again talking far tougher on illegal immigration than any American politician has ever done.
Still flush from his electoral victory and its hard-line rhetoric, Trump undid by executive action the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals executive action that President Obama had instituted to defer deportations of certain longtime yet illegal residents who had been brought here as children, called “dreamers” because the law Obama couldn’t get passed had the acronym DREAM Act, but that got tangled up in legal challenges and caused a predictable political backlash. A lot of the so-called “dreamers” are undeniably solid and upstanding semi-citizens, many serving in the military or acquiring educations that will presumably benefit the country, much of the media find them very telegenic, and Trump wound up promising he would find some compassionate and “loving” solution to their legal status.
Now he’s back to “tweeting” to the fans that “DACA IS DEAD!” while trying to reassure all the so-called “dreamers” and their many sympathizers that it’s all the Democrats’ fault because they didn’t fully fund his “big, beautiful” border wall when they had the chance. This strikes us as a hard sell, and we doubt that many media will help much in the effort.
He also once again announced his attention to deploy America’s military might to secure the southern border, and this time around the Fox News network is emphasizing stories of “caravans” of a thousand or so potential asylum seekers trekking by from Central America through Mexico to the Texas border, and he once again demanding the Mexican government take immediate action. There are long upheld constitutional provisions against using the military to enforce domestic laws, and damned good reasons it that his four-star general of a chief of staff and all the black helicopter crowd and most sane Republicans have accepted, no matter how hard-line they might be on illegal immigration, and Trump admitted he hadn’t yet spoke with his Secretary of Defense or any congressional Republicans about it, so that will also be hard to pull off.
There’s precedent for calling in the National Guard, but you have to go through governors to get that done, and they’ve got political and legal problems of their own, so it remains to be seen how that will work out. As for the part about forcing to Mexico to act, Trump seems to have completely given up on his popular campaign promise about getting them to fund his “big, beautiful” border wall, and that don’t seem to be flinching on Trump’s talk about a trade war or any more than Chinese have been, and it also remains to be seen how all of that works out.
Trump has some sensible but typically overstated complaints about past immigration policies, and the tough talk might placate some of the fans, and we have to admit it’s had a salutary affect on the number of people trying to illegal cross our southern border. That’s been a diminishing problem for a while now, though, starting back in those dread Obama days shortly after actual trainloads of illegals started showing up on the border, and if the currently fully-funded Border Patrol can’t deal with that “caravan” of asylum seekers according to current laws we’ll be inclined to think it’s just another one of those lazy public sector unions.
The fans might love the tough talk, and the rest might not mind the usual results, but we’ll wait to see how it all works out in the courts and in politics and in the long run.

— Bud Norman

The White House Loses Hope, but Endures More Sessions

Keeping up with all the complicated subplots in President Donald Trump’s latest reality show is exhausting work, and hardly leaves any time to binge-watch anything else. The show features a wider and even wackier cast of characters than “The Simpsons,” writes them off faster than “The Sopranos,” and Wednesday’s episode featured the departure of one of the hotter co-stars and left another less comely but more consequential co-star hanging from a metaphorical cliff.
White House communications director Hope Hicks announced that she would be leaving her post soon, and although the departure of a White House communications director would usually be buried on the back pages and at the bottom of the hour this got better play. This isn’t your usual White House, and the 29-year-old Hicks isn’t your usual White House communications director.
A former teen fashion model from an upper-crust Connecticut family, Hicks was graduated from Southern Methodist University and then briefly worked for a well-regarded public relations firm before taking a PR job at the Trump Organization in Trump Tower with Ivanka Trump’s fashion company. While on the job she demonstrated a somewhat icy sort of feminine beauty and a slavish loyalty to all things Trump, the two qualities Trump most admires in a woman, so despite her lack of any previous political experience he hired the then 26-year-old to help out with his campaign. Following Trump’s improbable election, she wound up in a challenging job at the White House.
All the more challenging at this particular White House, where a communications director is quite frequently required to communicate things that are obviously untrue. Hicks rarely spoke in public, even though she came off endearingly humble whenever she did, which further endeared her to a boss who doesn’t like the supporting cast hogging the spotlight, but she still wound up in the news from time to time. She was involved in the drafting of the president’s son statement regarding his meeting with Russian agents that he understood to be involved in Russian effort to swing the presidential election, which was quickly walked-back. She was also involved in crafting the statement about the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter, who left because two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend, and was reportedly dating Porter at the time, which led to a crackdown on security clearances that has lately left the president’s son-in-law in hanging from a metaphorical cliff, so that also made the news.
Over the past year or so Hicks has been involved in so many laughably untrue White House communications that she’s wound up giving testimony to both a special counsel investigation and an investigative Congressional committee, and her resignation comes the same day it was reported she admitted to Congress that she had told “white lies” on Trump’s behalf. This might be mere coincidence, as both Hicks and Trump have stated that they still love one another and hope to work again, and there’s talk of unspecified “other opportunities,” which could conceivably range from a PR job with one of the last Trump-friendly corporations to a gig on a less convoluted reality show. We can readily believe that Hicks has long considered resigning, considering the stresses of her job, and doubt that Trump would fire someone for telling “white lies” on his behalf. In any case, we’ll wish her well.
Despite all our complaints with the guy we’re also wishing well for Sessions, who’s currently hanging from that metaphorical cliff after the latest episode. Sessions was once a well-respected conservative hard-liner and the first of his to kind to his endorsement of Trump’s questionable contrastive bona fides, and was duly rewarded for his slavish loyalty with the long-coveted position of Attorney General, but since then it’s been one of those convoluted subplots. He had to recuse himself from that overarching “Russia thing” story arc after admitting that he’d mislead Congress about his contacts with Russia as a campaign official, as his legal profession’s code of ethics clearly required him to do, and Trump has never forgiven him for such disloyalty.
Trump has since frequently “tweeted” his annoyance that Sessions isn’t more robustly interfering with the special counsel’s investigation into the “Russia thing,” and on Wednesday he “tweeted” that it’s “disgraceful” Sessions isn’t more vigorously pursuing the talk radio counter-connspiracy theory that it was actually the Democrats who conspired with the Russians to swing the election in Trump’s favor. Sessions released his own defiant statement that he has been ¬†following established ethical protocols, .and would continue to do so long as he remains Attorney General, so future episodes should be suspenseful.
Trump isn’t the least bit bothered by the rest of Session’s right wing agenda, which includes a full-throated defense of his immigration policies that are bound to alarm all the bleeding hearts and a crackdown on state-sanctioned marijuana that’s bound to annoy a couple of our otherwise Trump-supporting friends in Colorado and California. We have our own gripes about the guy, mainly his early endorsement of the president who now torments him, but his obstinate and ethical refusal to obstruct the pursuit of justice in the “Russia thing” is not among them.
This cliff hanger might well end up with Sessions hanging on the cliff, at least for another couple of episodes, given that there’s no obvious replacement who could win Congressional approval and the early departure of an Attorney General is harder to spin than even the most comely 20-something White House communications director. However it turns out, we expect the next White House communications director is going to have a hell of a time with it.

— Bud Norman

The Good Neighbor Policy

The United States has long benefited from its location, with vast oceans between us and all the troubles that are always brewing in Asia and Europe, and only two abutting countries to deal with. Except for that unpleasantness back in 1812 and some fuss over “fifty-four forty or fight” a few years later we’ve generally gotten along well enough with Canada, and although our relationship with Mexico has occasionally been more contentious we haven’t fought a full-fledged with war with it for 170 years.
Maintaining such friendly relationships with the neighbors has been a longstanding tradition of America’s foreign policy, but President Donald Trump is that newfangled sort of conservative who doesn’t care much about longstanding traditions. He’s threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement if it’s not re-negotiated to his satisfaction, pressed various trade disputes with Canada, and his dealings with Mexico started with a campaign announcement that accused the country of sending rapists and drug dealers into America as a national policy, and things have not since become any friendlier.
Trump’s most recent diplomatic outreach toward our neighbors to the south, a telephone conversation with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, reportedly ended with a “testy” Trump still demanding that Mexico pay for the massive wall he wants along the entirety of the border and Nieto canceling a tentatively planned state visit to the White House rather than talk about it further. This is at least the second time Nieto has declined a visit rather consider Trump’s demands, and given how absurd the demands seem to pretty much every single Mexican voter and how important making Mexico pay for a wall is to Trump and a significant chunk of his supporters it probably won’t be the last time.
Which further complicates an already complicated relationship with the folks next door, which in turn further complicates all sorts of other problems that could easily be amicably settled by more cautious stewards of America’s longstanding foreign policy traditions. Trump is opening his planned renegotiation of the NAFTA treaty with a promise to his most loyal supporters that it will ultimately put America first, which puts the governments both of our neighbors in the awkward position of explaining to their voters why they agreed to second or third place, and we don’t see the as-nationalist-as-the-next-guy people in either country to the north or south being cowed by Trump’s bullying tactics. Neither is Trump’s international reputation as a blustering bully boy likely to yield any successful negotiations with the dangerous and lucrative Asian and European nations that lie just a few days shipping or a few hours of intercontinental ballistic missile travel across those once-vast oceans.
Meanwhile, here at home, Trump’s demand that Mexico pay for his big, beautiful wall is also complicated several domestic disputes. There’s an increasingly pressing question, for instance, of what to do with all those illegal immigrants — mostly from Mexico — who were brought here through no fault of their own as children and are provably not rapists or drug dealers. Their presence was tolerated under an executive order of questionable constitutional provence by President Barack Obama, and although that order was rescinded by Trump even he has since expressed sympathy for their plight and doesn’t seem to have the heart to kick them out, which has disappointed many of his loyal supporters. Trump is currently taking the position that the so-called “dreamers” can stay so long as the Democrats cough up $25 billion in funding for his promised big and beautiful border wall, but he’s also still promising that the Mexicans are going to pay for it, so that’s pretty darned complicated.
Our own long personal history with neighbors to the south and north and east and west has from time to time been complicated, but we’re pleased to say it’s mostly been amicable, and very rarely come to blows. The longstanding traditions that have guided us through it all are never being bullied but never being a bully, striving for solutions where everyone wins, and working the messier matters through the existing legal institutions, and don’t insist that the neighbor to south pay for the big and expensive wall you want block his view. We recommend this approach to the country at large.

— Bud Norman