Trump and the Tale of Two Tell-Alls

As if he didn’t already have enough problems to deal with, President Donald Trump has a couple of “tell all” books coming out soon that he has “tweet” angrily about and try to have censored. One is by his former national security advisor, John Bolton, the other is by his niece, Mary Trump, and based on what’s been previewed in the press by their publishers both books are damning.
At this point most of the media attention has been paid to Bolton’s “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” which alleges that Trump was not only guilty of using foreign aid to get reelection help from Ukraine but also sought assistance from China and other countries, that Trump is woefully ignorant of the world and pays scant attention to his intelligence briefings, indulges the world’s dictators in their most brutal methods of holding power, and openly mused about having American journalists executed. That’s just what’s been previewed, and presumably the full book if chockfull of similarly outrageous allegations.
Many of the media don’t know quite what to say about it, as Bolton is a controversial figure in his own right. He served on previous administrations and was known his decidedly hawkish opinions about foreign, which were sometimes a bit too hawkish for even for the Cold Warriors in the Republican establishment, and naturally he was reviled by the left. He seemed an odd choice for Trump, who has denounced not only the Iraq War that Bolton urged but pretty much the entirety of America’s post-World War II foreign policy, but he’d let his first national security go after he was found to have lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a second one reportedly was let go because Trump found his security briefings too boring and know-it-all, and Bolton was available and helped reassure all the hawks still remaining in the party.
The leftward side of the media is glad for any mud they can hurl at Trump but aren’t willing to forgive Bolton for his past transgressions, and they argue that Bolton should have been more forthcoming in time to testify at Trump’s impeachment trial. The rightward side of the media see him as a traitor to the Trump cause, even if he’s being true to his principles, and will pretend they didn’t once defense Bolton and his hawkish principles. Soon the reading public will be able to draw it’s own conclusions, and so far the books sounds entirely believable.
The House hearings that led to Trump’s impeachment proved that Trump tried to extort Ukraine for reelection help, and Trump told a national television interviewer that he saw nothing wrong with getting help from foreign governments, has openly asked both Russia and China for such assistance, so Bolton’s accounts about that are credible. Trump has said enough stupid things about the world in the past four years we have no difficulty believing that he wasn’t aware the United Kingdom had nuclear weapons and thought Finland was part of Russia and that he would be justified in invading Venezuela because “it’s part of the United States,” as Bolton alleges. Trump told interviewers during the campaign that America lacked the moral standing to condemn other country’s totalitarian tendencies, he looked the other way when the Saudi Arabian dictatorship brutally murdered a Washington Post columnist, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’d openly mused about killing some of the “enemies of the people” in the American press.
Bolton was often a bit too hawkish even four neoconservative sensibility, and we were disappointed when he agreed to be an ill-fitting piece in the Trump administration, and he should have spoken out sooner, but we’re inclined to believe what he has to say.
You’ll also be hearing a lot about “Too Much is Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” whose author is identified on the cover as Mary L. Trump, Phd. The daughter of Trump’s brother Fred, who famously died at an early age for alcoholism-related reasons, she fought a protracted court battle against her uncle over her grandfather’s will, which got so nasty that the current president even cut off the medical insurance that Fred Trump Sr. had been paying for Fred Jr.’s family. There’s clearly some bad blood among the extended Trump family, but Mary Trump’s doctorate is in clinical psychology, and her scathing diagnosis of her uncle also fits with everyone we know about the guy. The juiciest tidbit that’s been previewed so far is that Trump mocked and derided his father when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s disease, and that fits with Trump’s habit of mocking anyone’s weakness.
Trump is still hoping to block publication of both books, even if it seems a little too late to prevent the damage they might do him, and censorship never makes a politician look good. He’s claiming that by recounting any conversation Bolton ever had with the president he’s illegally releasing classified information, and that his niece is bound by a nondisclosure agreement she signed as part of the settlement in that family feud over Fred Sr.’s money. The Bolton book has been scrutinized by federal officials and found to be in compliance with the law, though, and Trump doesn’t look good as one of the very rare uncles who had a niece sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Trump has bigger problems than a couple of books that only confirm what people already knew, and he’d be well advised not to give them any further publicity. Trump fans will either choose to disbelieve what the authors have to say, or to believe that it’s no big deal. Those opposed to Trump were already opposed, and anyone who’s still on the fence probably doesn’t read books or even the snippets that are previewed in the press.

— Bud Norman

Partisanship and Presidential Pettiness

Several of our friends thought George W. Bush was a horrible president, but now tell us he’s been an exemplary ex-president. They admire that he’s hewed to the longstanding tradition of refraining from any criticism of a sitting president and avoiding partisan politics while devoting himself to non-controversial causes. We expect they appreciated a three-minute video released on Sunday urging Americans to put aside their political differences and help one another during the coronavirus crisis.
“Let us remember how small our differences are,” Bush said in the video. “In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”
Who could argue with that? Even President Donald Trump didn’t try, but he did use the video as an opportunity to take yet another swipe at Bush via “tweet.”
“Oh bye the way,” Trump “tweeted,” with his characteristic poor spelling. “I appreciate the message from former president Bush, but where was he during impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside. He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest hoax in American history!”
As always, Trump believes that anyone who doesn’t rise to his defense on every occasion is guilty of partisanship, and that those who do defend him no matter what aren’t partisans but rather true patriots. Trump’s impeachment trial was one of those controversies that ex-presidents are supposed to stay out of, as all four living ex-presidents did, and Trump should be grateful that they kept their opinions to themselves. All four almost certainly believed that Trump was guilty as charged, and should have been removed from office, so their silence probably required severe self-discipline.
A few hours after his sneering “tweet” about Bush, Trump “tweeted” an unexplained and unsubstantiated accusation that President Barack Obama “was the one running the Russia hoax.” He then insulted Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff, and once again threatened to withhold federal aid to states with Democratic governors who won’t cede to Trump’s demands on sanctuary cities, which is at slightly more specific than his threat to withhold states from Democratic-run states on general principle. Oh, and he also “tweeted” a boast about the golf courses he owns in Scotland.
It’s hard to see how any of this helps the country reach a bipartisan solution for the coronavirus problem, or somehow helps make America great again, but he clearly believes it serves his own political purposes. Trump has heaped scorn not only on Bush but also on the late Arizona Sen. John McCain and current Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who were the three previous Republican nominees for president, and except for an occasional nod to the “late and great” Abraham Lincoln — he apparently ads the “late” part just in case you haven’t heard the bad news — he doesn’t seem to have much respect for any pre-Trump Republican. At least he’s nonpartisan to that extent.
Trump’s die-hard fans have probably voted for Republican presidential nominees as long as they’ve been old enough to vote, but they probably don’t mind him trashing the more dignified party they once supported. “At least he fights,” they’ll tell you. That such vindictive grudge-holding only serves to make the President of the United States look small and petty to the rest of the world doesn’t seem to matter.

— Bud Norman

Going After the Family

On Friday President Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his post on the National Security Council and Gordon Sondland from his job as Ambassador to the European Union, in both cases because they testified before the House committees that eventually impeached the president. For good measure Trump also fired Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman from his NSC job, even though his only connection to the impeachment matter is that he’s the other Vindman’s brother.
Trump’s loyalists can rightly argue that all three served at the president’s pleasure, and presidents have broad constitutional authority to fire almost any executive branch employee for almost any reason, but in these cases the reasons look bad to anyone who’s not a Trump loyalist.
Alexander Vindman won several decorations during his service in the Iraq War, including a Purple Heart, and his integrity was never questioned as he rose through the ranks to his NSC job as the go-to guy on Ukrainian affairs, where his fluency in both Ukrainian and Russian was one of several hard-to-find credentials. When he complied with a congressional subpoena and testified under oath that he was aware of efforts by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and some associates to obtain help for Trump’s reelection in exchange for congressionally-authorized but withheld military aid, though, the Trump loyalists branded him a “deep state” conspirator. Vindman knew the Ukrainian language because he’d been born there and was a toddler when his father had escaped with the family to America, which Trump fans found mighty suspicious, and despite all the medals and the years of service to both Democratic and Republican administrations the fact that he’d given testimony detrimental to Trump was sufficient proof of treason.
Sondland is a self-made billionaire who had no relevant educational credentials or foreign policy or any other governmental experience when he became Ambassador to the European Union, and the only apparent reason he had the job was because he’d given a million dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee. Even so, he was also branded a “Never Trumper” and “deep state” conspirator after he testified about his personal involvement in the effort by Giuliani and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to get help for Trump’s reelection by withholding aid to the Ukrainian government. The White House declined opportunities to have Giuliani or Perry or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or the moonlighting Office of Management and Budget director and White House Chief of Staff or anyone else with relevant information take an oath and dispute the testimony, so we’re inclined to believe every word Sondland said.
Trump didn’t deny that the two were fired as retribution for their testimony, and instead accused them of “insubordination” for complying with congressional subpoenas and giving truthful testimony. That’s arguably within his constitutional authority, although there’s an argument that he’s confessed to a violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1513, which prohibits retaliation against witnesses, victims or informants, and that in any case it looks petty and vindictive, but at this point such arcane legal and ethical arguments don’t much matter. Trump no doubt believes that taking vengeance on his enemies is in the public interest, and all but one of the Republican majority bought the argument made in the impeachment trial that gives him the right to do whatever he wants.
Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was removed from her post even before she testified, and Ambassador Bill Taylor, who was called out of retirement after a stellar career of foreign service by Pompeo to be envoy to Ukraine afterwards has also been relieved of duty following his testimony. The inspector general of the intelligence agencies who passed a “whistleblower’s” complaint to Congress to start all this mess is expected to fired any moment, and anyone else who had anything to say that Trump didn’t want to hear during the impeachment affair is by now polishing his or her resume. They’ll all have it coming, as far as Trump and his loyalists are concerned.
The case of Yevgeny Vindman is harder to explain, as he was a well-respected senior law and ethics official on the NSC and had nothing to do with anything about Ukraine, and never said a word to the press or congress against Trump. He was clearly fired solely because he was the other Vindman’s brother, and unless you believe in the ruthless Mafia tactic of going after the  family that’s hard to justify.
At least they’ll fare better than they would have in Russia or North Korea or any of the other authoritarian states Trump so admires. Both Vindmans will be reassigned to other and less stressful military assignments, and Sondland is still a self-made billionaire, although a million bucks short for his support of Trump. Taylor is returned to a well-earned retirement that was so rudely interrupted when Pompeo lured him to the Trump administration, and Yovanovitch has her reputation and retirement benefits intact and could earn some compensation down the line from a  book deal. As for the rest of the targets of Trump’s revenge, they’ll probably wind up with good jobs and less legal jeopardy than Trump will deal with in the coming years.
On the same day he fired the Vindmans and Sondland Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast that he didn’t agree with the Bible about forgiving one’s enemies. He also seems to reject the Good Book’s sound advice about leaving vengeance to God.

— Bud Norman

On the Day After Acquittal, the Argument Continues

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump officially ended on Wednesday with his acquittal by all but one of the Republican majority members in the Senate, yet these sorts of matters never really end. Historians still argue about the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and the Sacco and Vanzetti case and the Scopes Monkey Trial and the O.J. Simpson verdict, with their political implications still clearly delineated and intensely felt, so the arguments about Trump’s impeachment trial will surely continue at least until Election Day.
All of the evidence and testimony that led to Trump’s impeachment by Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is still damning, and all of the evidence the Republican majority Senate refused to hear will eventually be heard. Former national security advisor John Bolton’s tell-all book will sooner or later be published in some form despite Trump’s best efforts at censorship, an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer named Lev Parnas will eventually give his side of a very interesting story in what’s likely to be a well-publicized trial, and the silence of such presumably exculpatory witnesses as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rick Perry and White House chief of staff and part-time director of Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney will be deafening.
The testimony and evidence the House of Representatives cited to impeach Trump on counts of abusing his office to withhold congressionally aid from America’s Ukrainian allies in exchange for help in reelection and then obstructed congressional efforts to find out about it went largely unchallenged during the Senate’s abbreviated trial, and was sufficient that a vast majority of Americans told all the pollsters they wanted to hear more. Even such stalwart Republicans as Tennessee’s Sen. Lamar Alexander and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the damned-if-she-does-and-damned-if-she-doesn’t Sen. Susan Collins of Maine acknowledged that Trump did indeed do what he was accused of, and that he shouldn’t have done it, even though they all voted to acquit because it’s not that big a deal, at least when a Republican does it.
Collins told a national television interview that she’s confident Trump won’t try it again after being chastened by impeachment. Murkowski admitted that Trump’s conduct was “shameful and wrong” but explained her partisan vote by saying that impeachment should be a bipartisan consensensus. Alexander said the American people should decide if Trump should run again in 2020. and Rubio explained his vote to acquit despite understanding of Trump’s guilt by saying “Can anyone doubt that at least half the country would view his removal as illegitimate — as nothing short of a coup d’tat?”
We don’t share Collins’ confidence that Trump has learned his lesson, but instead worry he’ll be emboldened by the once-again-confirmed lifelong lesson that he can get away with anything, and  he’ll try something even more brazen and crazier. Alexander surely realizes that only Republicans rather than the broader “American people” will decide if Trump runs again in 2020, and that they are not one and the same. Rubio has a good point about a large chunk of America viewing Trump’s removal as illegitimate, but we’re not sure it’s more than half, and can only guess how it’s spread around the electoral map, and as of now a whole lot of people regard Trump’s presidency as illegitimate, and he must have known his vote wouldn’t settle the matter.
Only Utah Sen. Mitt Romney broke from the Republican ranks to convict Trump on the first article of impeachment, which will surely be a matter of much discussion for some time to come. He made a far better explanation of his decision that we ever could, and we urge to you to listen to it here, and dare you  try to come up with a plausible rebuttal, but he’ll no doubt be pilloried in Trump’s “tweets” and the Trump-friendly media. They won’t be able to convincingly say he was selling out his principles for political advantage, though.
How it plays out in the coming months until Election Day is anybody’s guess, given how awful the damned Democratsundeniably  are, but over the long run we think that Romney will be on the few involved who comes out looking any good. We voted for him when he ran against President Barack Obama, who we must admit never questioned Romney’s character, and we’re proud of vote that today.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Union, Such As It Is

President Donald Trump has had a good week so far. On Monday the Democratic party thoroughly botched the opening contest in its presidential nomination process, on Tuesday he got to brag on prime time television for an hour and half about his achievements with all the pomp and circumstance of a State of the Union address, and today he’s almost certain to be acquitted of the impeachment charges brought against him by the House of Representatives. He should enjoy it while it lasts.
That botched Iowa caucuses will be long forgotten by Election Day, and the damage to the Democratic party could have been worse. The embarrassingly long delay in releasing the results was prompted by concerns from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and a failure to address them would have further convinced his supporters that the Democratic National Party is rigging the game against him in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden. Sanders wound up in a tight race against South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg as the last votes were being counted, Biden was far behind in fourth place, and as incompetent as it clearly was the process didn’t seem corrupt.
Trump stuck to the script on the teleprompter, which was better written than his usual fare, and except for those audible sniffles that preceded every sentence the delivery wasn’t bad. He also had plausible reasons for bragging, as the unemployment rate is low and the stock markets are up, but Trump characteristically overstated how good things are now and how bad things were when he took office.
The gross domestic product grew at a perfectly respectable 2.3 percent rate last year, but that was down from the year before, and well below the 3 or 4 percent growth that Trump had promised, and worse than in the last years of the President Barack Obama’s administration. He only slighted overstated the job creation that occurred during the first three years of his administration, which is a bit below the number created during the last years of President Barack Obama’s administration. He claimed credit for America becoming the world’s leader in oil and gas production, but the country’s held that title since 2013. We don’t give Obama much credit for the upward trajectory of the American economy that Trump inherited and has more or less maintained, which mainly goes to the entrepreneurial genius of the American people and their still mostly free economy, but as Obama did Trump is claiming credit where credit is not due.
Trump also claimed credit for 12,000 new “factories” built during his administration, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 80 percent of them are “manufacturing establishments” with five or fewer employees, and overall the manufacturing sector of the economy is in a technical recession, with other “blue collar” sectors such as construction and mining seeing slower growth and farm bankruptcies rising, and most analysts blame that on Trump’s trade wars. The president boasted that the trade wars have yielded great deals, but the re-branded United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is little more than the usual biannual tweaking of the old North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump falsely claimed had destroyed a fourth of America’s manufacturing jobs, and the deals he’s still seeking with China and the rest of the world don’t look much more promising.
He also bragged that “All those millions of people with 401(K)s and pensions are doing far than have ever done before with increases of 60, 70, 80, 90 and even 100 percent,” but that’s obviously crazy talk. According to Census Bureau only 32 percent of Americans are invested in 401(K)s and pension plans, and according an analysis by Fidelity Investments the increase in their accounts has been more like 1 percent. There was a pledge to always force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions, even though the Trump administration continues to press a lawsuit that would completely undo Obamacare and it’s protections for preexisting condition and has offered no replacement plan. We also noticed Trump promised to get tough on all the big pharmaceutical companies while bragging how he’s streamlined the Food and Drug Administrations safety reviews, which Big Pharma probably won’t mind. He further bragged about criminal justice reform to release prisoners and paid maternity leave and planting new trees, which isn’t likely to endear to either or his admirers or his critics.
Unmentioned was the fact despite that the Greatest Economy Ever Trump is presiding over deficit spending even bigger than Obama saw when he had a Democratic Congress and severe recession to deal with, and that Trump had two years of a Republican Congress to strike the infrastructure deal Trump is still proposing and that’s less likely to win the support of all the Democrats Trump routinely mocks and taunts.
Trump’s impeachment trial wisely went unmentioned, too, even if the entirety of the speech was infused with an unmistakeable triumphalism about his inevitable acquittal today. Acquittal does not always equal exoneration in the court of public opinion, though, and Trump’s former friend O.J. Simpson might warn not to get too cocky about it. A few Republican Senators have been frank enough to say they’ll vote for acquittal even though they concede that Trump did do what’s charged with, and that it was something very bad which he ought not to have done, and a big chunk of the country will still feel outraged by the clearly rigged and evidence-free verdict even after the long slog toward Election Day.
On the other hand, Trump is such an eerily lucky fellow we sometimes suspect the famous deal-maker made a Faustian bargain, and he’ll have the good fortune to run against a Democrat. So far as anyone can tell the big winners in Iowa were the self-described socialist Sanders and the openly homosexual Buttigieg, which might be a step too far even in this age of taboo-breaking in both parties. Biden might make a more respectable showing in New Hampshire and regain his front-runner status in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, but he’s not a very formidable campaigner. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar did well in Iowa to remain in the race, and she’s a relatively sane centrist who has a long record of winning Republican votes and strikes us at the Democrats’ best bet, but this year that probably dooms her chances.
From our perspective here in the middle of the country and on the political sidelines, the state of the union is somewhat worrisome.

— Bud Norman

What Comes Next, and Then After That

Everything might change by the time you read this, but as we write there’s no telling what happens next in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
The very unofficial whip counts of at least two major newspapers and a former Republican Senator say that only three sitting Republican Senators will join with all 47 Democratic and Democratic-aligned Senators to vote to allow witnesses to testify. That would result in a tie, but without any precedents to go on nobody seems to know if Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote in his constitutional role as President of the Senate or if the honor goes to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his constitutional role as presiding judge in the trial. A fourth Republican Senator who’s not running for reelection and has nothing to lose is currently being very coy about his vote, and Roberts is a famously unpredictable fellow, so we’re not making any bets with real money about how today goes.
Go ahead and bet the farm that the trial ends with Trump’s acquittal, if you have a farm, as there’s scant chance that enough Republican Senators will defy their party’s president and his loyal supporters in their states to vote for Trump’s conviction and removal to comprise the needed supermajority of the Senate. As to how that works for the two parties in the aftermath, that’s a dicier bet for both parties.
If the Senate allows the Democrats to call witnesses there will surely be some damning testimony, which is why Trump and the Republicans would rather not hear from them, but if it doesn’t that will also look pretty damned suspicious to every single Democrat and a majority of independents and even a stubborn few of us who have been Republicans far longer tan Trump has been. The Republicans can assert all of those witnesses are a bunch of lying left-wing tools of a “deep state” conspiracy who were through no fault of Trump’s hired as Trump administration officials, including that Ambassador to the European who gave a million dollars to Trump’s campaign and inauguration committees, but they don’t seem eager to swear in the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Energy or the White Chief of Staff and part-time Office of Management and Budget director who might clear all of this up. They’re even less eager to hear from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and and his two recently indicted associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Forman, who have all forthrightly explained for their own personal reasons to the national news media how they’re tied up in all this.
The Republicans might also call for the testimony of former Vice President and current Democratic nominee contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who once worked without any apparent credentials but very great compensation on a Ukrainian energy company while his father was given responsibility by President Barack Obama to oversee Ukrainian policy. Which looks pretty damned suspicious, as all of our Democratic friends freely admit. They’ve got some convincing exculpatory evidence about just how bad it was, though, and it’s not as if the Trump kids aren’t doing pretty well for themselves, and neither Biden has any personal knowledge of anything to do with the charges against Trump, unless they give up that “Perry Mason” moment in this tele-drama and tearfully confess that they were guilty all along, and Trump was acting heroically when he pressured Ukraine with congressionaly-approved public money to expose their venal corruption.
We wouldn’t bet on that, though, because that’s just crazy. Even so, for now it seems to us an even-money bet that the Democrats lose this winning hand.
The Republicans don’t offer many arguments, but they lots of assertions about this being a witch hunt and a farce and a travesty and a mockery pf justice against an obviously blameless man, and although they have little evidence there’s great invective against anyone who’d like to hear the available and relevant evidence. For now that should suffice, at least with the hard-core fans, given that according to most of the polls somewhere between 42 and 47 percent of the country approves of Trump, and last time around his 46.1 percent of the popular vote was sufficiently spread the states to win a victory in the Electoral College. We’re not a six-times bankrupt casino mogul like Trump, but we’d already bet good money Trump will lose yet another popular vote in the coming election, and still say his odds of once again defying the Electoral College odds are about even money.
Especially if the damned Democrats go crazy left with their nominee, which they seem likely to do. If they don’t they’ll most likely wind up with Biden as the nominee, and he’ll have a harder time pressing the case against Trump’s obviously impeachable offenses, given that his son was also getting rich, just like Trump’s. By next November both affairs might be largely forgotten, which would be a shame, as someone should be held accountable, but that’s how it usually works out. Any Republicans wishing for a far-left Democratic nominee should be careful what they wish for or bet ob, though.

<div style=”text-indent:20px;” At this point we figure it’s probable that whatever crazy-ass leftist or relatively centrist nominee the Democrats come up with will win either a majority or plurality of the popular vote in the next election, but it’s well within the realm of possibility he or she would also win the more crucial Electoral College vote. However that works out we can’t see it working out well for the commonweal. Our constitutional order is hard to maintain, and for the time being nobody seems to be helping out.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Back in Wichita

There’s a lot going on in the rest of the world, what with the impeachment trial and the Israelis and the Palestinians and the North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs and the deadly Chinese coronavirus all that that, but there’s also plenty to worry about right here in Wichita. We’re slightly more hopeful, though, that we’ll work things out well enough around here.
The talk of our town is mostly about the lousy weather and the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad and the Kansas City Chiefs football team and the massive layoffs at one of the biggest local employers and a proposal to remake a big chunk of downtown along the Arkansas River. There’s nothing to be done about the cold weather, and the young ‘Shocks are back in the top-25 and the Chiefs are in the Super Bowl with a decent chance of winning, but the layoffs at Spirit AeroSystems have everyone worried and the downtown renovation plans are being hotly debated.
Opinion is somewhat more divided about those downtown redevelopment proposals, but we’re enjoying the company of the diverse forces arrayed against it, and are hopeful it will prevail. Forgive us for summarizing the controversy so succinctly, but the gist of it is that some well-connected developers want to knock down some locally beloved buildings and replace them with something newer and uglier and more expensive. That includes the Century II building, a distinctive round and blue-domed concert and convention hall which was opened in 1970 to commemorate Wichita’s centennial and still suits its purpose, and the adjacent former main branch of the Wichita Public Library, which is currently unoccupied after the city built a new location across the Arkansas River tto alleviate the homeless problem but is also a fine example of late 20th century architecture.
So far as we can tell the only the people in favor of it are the developers and politicians who stand to benefit and the newfangled “tear it all down” sorts of conservatives. Most conservatives around here prefer to conserve the best of the city’s hard-earned architectural and cultural heritage, and the local liberals have an odd but endearing affection for the venerable old buildings, and most conservatives hate these public-private partnerships because because the public is picking up some part of the tab, while most of the liberals hate them because private interests might benefit. Which makes it easier for us to converse with all sort of Wichitans about the local news of the day, and folks tend to be polite and open doors for others and say “howdy” around here, so we’re hopeful things will work out.
The rest of the news is further away, though, and we rarely encounter the people involved in the big events, so we’re less hopeful about how all that turns out.

— Bud Norman

Parnas, Bolton, and the Impeachment Mess

The Democrats in the House of Representatives had some very compelling testimony and documentary evidence from credible witnesses when they impeached President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and since the news has been full of interviews and documents and surreptitious video recordings that seem to bolster their case. For now the president and his defenders would prefer the public not hear about it during the impeachment trial.
Two relevant witnesses who did not testify in the House but are very much in the news lately are former national security advisor John Bolton and a fellow named Lev Parnas, a Russian-born American citizen and associate of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani who is currently under federal indictment for funneling Russian and other foreign campaign contributions to Republican candidates. Both are problematic for the president’s defense.
Parnas and his lawyer have gone on two cable news networks to describe how he assisted Giuliani’s efforts on the president’s behalf to extort the Ukrainian government’s help in smearing potential Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, which is basically what all this impeachment brouhaha is about. He’s undeniably a shady character, being an associate of Giuliani and under indictment for funneling foreign money to Republican candidates and all, and Trump has said he doesn’t even the know the guy, but at this point we’re inclined to believe him than the President of the United States.
Presidents get their pictures taken with a lot of people, but the news media have come up with a lot of pictures of Trump and his sons and administration officials looking very chummy with Parnas, and Giuliani admits that Parnas and fellow indictee Igor Fruman were involved in his efforts on Trump’s behalf to get dirt on Biden from the Ukrainian government. Parnas has also handed over to the news media some surreptitiously taken audio tape that clearly shows Trump knew him well enough to host him at a dinner in Trump’s swank Washington hotel’s restaurant, and to share some laughs with him about ousting the Ambassador to Ukraine, which is one of the very suspicious subplots in this impeachment drama.
Bolton, who has reportedly written a soon-to-be-published tell-all book alleging that Trump did indeed demand the quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainians that Trump is accused of in the articles of impeachment, is another problem. He’s got a lucrative book deal, and after his rude defenestration from the Trump administration while this Ukraine business was going down he’s arguably a disgruntled former employee, but if he’s called to testify under oath before the Senate he’ll bring both a begrudging credibility from the right and a newfound respect from the left. Trump can’t credibly claim to hardly know the guy, as he once entrusted Bolton with the job of national security advisor, and they’ve been photographed together a gazillion times, and Bolton got the job because he was once a hero of the erstwhile Republican party’s most hawkish foreign policy wing. The liberals hated him for that, even if it brought him into conflict with Trump’s Russia-friendly and post-war world order policies, but if Bolton keeps a promise to honor a Senate subpoena and says what he’s expected to say, and what his book reportedly says he wrote, the liberals will dearly love him for that.
All the polls show the viewing public will disappointed if such intriguing characters in this his reality show aren’t given sufficient camera time, which is a problem for the Republicans, who had once hoped to dismiss the charges without any bother of witnesses and testimony. Recent news reports indicate a sufficient-for-a-majority number of four Republican Senators and maybe even as many ten will join all of the Democrats in a vote to allow witnesses and evidence in the trial, which will likely make it much harder for any of them to justify a vote for Trump’s acquittal.
On the other hand, Trump could call to the stand Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and moonlighting Office of Management and Budget director and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump attorney Giuliani, along with everyone else in the administration that’s been implicated in the mess, and let them clear up this whole whole mess up with their sworn testimony. He could also have his crack legal team and Senate allies call back to the stand the respected ambassador to Ukraine that he removed and the ambassador appointed by his Secretary of State to her succeed her and the respected military man and Purple Heart recipient and the million-dollar Trump donor who testified against Trump in the House impeachment hearings.
For whatever reason, though, Trump would prefer you just take his word for it that he did nothing wrong.

— Bud Norman

On Pandemic Panics, Basketball Brawls, and That Impeachment Matter

At this point we’re desperate to opine to about anything other than the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, but there’s not much else in the news. A disease spreading in China might yet kill us all, and here in the Sunflower State there’s much talk about the big brawl that broke out between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats in the final seconds of their men’s basketball contest, but that’s about it.
The recent outbreak of the deadly and contagious coronavirus in Wuhan, China, which is China’s sixth most populous city and more populous than any American city, is indeed a tragedy and a matter of concern. The city is a crucial part of China’s very interactive economy, which is a crucial part of a very interactive global economy, and given all the international travel that occurs these days there’s no telling how that might wind up. Even so, we don’t worry it will wind up killing us all.
By now we’ve survived the Swine Flu and the Ebola Virus and AIDS and all sorts of pandemic panics and other apocalyptic scenarios, and we like our chances with this one. The ruthless commies running China are an unsavory lot, but we have to admit they’re ruthlessly efficient at cracking down on this sort of thing. Even during the Trump administration the American government tends to be less ruthless and more lax about these things, but so far they’ve kept us alive, so we expect they’ll do so again. With all due respect and sympathy to the many fine people of Wuhan, for now it’s not a Wichita problem.
That big brawl between the KU and K-State basketball squads was something to see and a much bigger deal around here, and the footage of massive athletes brawling into the handicapped section was endlessly replayed to sports fans around the country, and although it looked awful it’s ultimately much ado about nothing. We dropped out of K-State but retain an affection for its sports program and as lifelong Wichitans are mostly fans of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers and have no affinity for the haughty KU sports programs, so we look at it from the same biased lens as we do the Trump impeachment trial, but so far as we can objectively tell the hated Jayhawks are mostly at fault.
The melee started in the closing seconds of a lopsided KU victory, which was expected because the Jayhawks are their usual championship-contending selves and the Wildcats are lately mediocre at best, and the game was being played on the hallowed hardwood of KU’s Allen Field House, where the Jayhawks rarely lose. According to the voluminous but inconclusive video evidence the K-State benchwarmers who were playing out the waning minutes just wanted the game over with, but there was a taunt or a push by a KU player, and then a taunt and a push back by a K-State player, and then both benches cleared and the brawl wound up spilling over into the laps of the spectators in the handicapped section.
One of the KU players was clearly videotaped lifting a metal folding chair above his head, pro-wrestling style, with a KU assistant coach preventing him at the last moment from bringing it down on someone’s head, and so far the National Collegiate Athletic Association is coming down harder on the Jayhawks. Both teams will suffer suspensions, but the Jayhawks will suffer more, as their suspended players are more valuable, and they’re already underdogs to the Baylor University Bears in the Big XII conference race, while K-State is just fighting for a slot in the consolatory National Invitational Tournament, where they might do well.
It will all work itself out without any real bother to ourselves, we expect, so tomorrow we’ll get back to worrying about that impeachment trial. As we follow it we’ll be well reminded that sometimes ruthlessness works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

–Bud Norman

Who Needs Evidence When We Already Know Which Side We’re On?

There are physical examinations and tax returns and and oil changes and various other unpleasant things that can’t be forever avoided in this life, no matter how one tries, and the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is one of those things. It’s an acrimonious topic, best avoided over family dinners, but there’s nothing else in the news that allows getting around it.
The very differing versions of the very complicated facts of the matter will surely dominate the headlines for the coming weeks, as the very complicated machinery of the constitutional system grinds how to proceed with the trial. At this point, most people have chosen their side.
So far as we can tell the damned Democrats want to introduce to the trial all the testimony they’ve elicited in congressional testimony and sworn documents from respected Trump-administration civil servants and a Trump donor and political appointee who allege Trump withheld congressionally authorized aid to our Ukrainian allies in exchange for help in his reelection, along with recent media interviews and the documents provided to Congress and perhaps the sworn testimony by an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who seems tied up in all this. They also impeach the president on the charge of obstructing their efforts to get to the bottom of it.
The Republican response has been that it’s all a “deep state” conspiracy by the damned Democrats to depose a wildly popular president, and that no testimony evidence should be allowed to dignify such a sham trial, even the presumably exculpatory testimony and evidence that might come from Trump’s Secretary of State and moonlighting Chief of Staff and Secretary of Budget and Management and Office and defenestrated national security and the still ongoing personal lawyer who seems up to his neck in all this. We have friends and family who find this quite persuasive, but as much as we despise the damn Democrats we like to hear and consider all the relevant information before making up our minds about anything. There’s also no plausible argument that Trump and the congressional Republicans aren’t obstructing that constitutionally mandated effort.
According to the latest polling a slim 51 percentage of Americans want Trump removed from office, which is well within a margin of error that might allow Trump to win again in the Electoral College, and there’s no denying the polls only predicted the popular vote in the last election, but it does not bode well for his reelection chances. A closer look at the numbers reveals even more bad news for Trump, as women voters and black voters and Latino voters and young voters and other growing demographics of voters want him out by landslide numbers, and even a slim plurality of us aging and increasingly outnumbered white male Republican respondents want a full trial with documentary evidence and sworn testimony and anything else that might either convict or acquit the president.
Barring any bombshell testimony from witnesses Trump and the Republicans might reluctantly allow to testify, at this point their best argument is that yeah, Trump withheld the aid to get election help and publicly refused to comply with congressional efforts to find out about it, but so what? “Get over it,” as Trump’s moonlighting chief of staff and Officer of Management and Budget said, adding “it happens all the time.” Maybe so, but we find that distressing, and suspect that “many people,” as Trump likes to cite, do as well.
The non-partisan Government Accountability Office has decreed it is indeed against the law for a president to withhold congressionally authorized appropriations, and that pretty much comports with our layman’s understanding of how the legislative branch legislates and the executive branch executes according to the Constitution, and so for the judicial branch that adjudges these things agrees. As for obstructing the damned congressional Democrats in their constitutionally approved “deep state” conspiracy efforts, Trump has made quite a show of that, and the fans love him for it, but they’ll change their minds the next time a Democratic president gets in trouble, which might be soon, and for now the rest of the pubic doesn’t like it.
Trump and his Senate allies might be damned if they allow any damning testimony and evidence into a Senate impeachment trial, but they’ll also be damned if they don’t, especially if they don’t introduce any exculpatory evidence or testimony that Trump has previously blocked, as it looks very bad. Maybe it won’t be so bad for Trump if the stock markets are still up and unemployment is still low on Election Day, and the damned Democrats go crazy left, and Trump’s support is sufficiently spread around the Electoral College map, but it still looks very bad.

— Bud Norman