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A Controversy Made to Executive Order

President Donald Trump’s executive order imposing temporary restrictions on admitting visitors and immigrants from certain certain Middle Eastern countries has kicked up quite a fuss, of course, and so far both he and his most fervent critics are looking rather foolish.
Most of the loud and anguished outrage of the left is against the very idea of imposing even temporary restrictions on admitting visitors and immigrants from any country, which is exactly the sort of leftist nonsense that got Trump elected. The arguments for unfettered immigration from countries where the more troublesome interpretations of Islam prevail are increasingly hard to make with each passing terror attack here and in Europe, and were soundly rejected in favor of Trump’s slightly less crazy rhetoric about “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what’s going on,” yet the respectable press and the rest of the loony left continues to embarrass itself in the effort. The executive order is far less sweeping than the campaign promise, and Trump seems to expect that we’ll figure out what’s going on well enough to let it lapse in a mere 120 days, and although the countries on Trump’s list conspicuously don’t include some terror-prone countries where he still has business holdings it’s also the same list the Obama administration used for its “no fly” restrictions that also restricted some innocent American citizens, and Trump is still allowing 50,000 refugees, which is less than what Obama had ordered for this year but about as much as he welcomed in while still in office, yet the left is once again invoking the Statue of Liberty and seemingly sympathetic asylum-seekers and still thinking it has a winning political issue.
Trump is unlikely to make the argument that his grand gesture isn’t really such a big deal, or that Obama wasn’t the open borders fanatic that everyone on both sides thought, but so far he’s done a surprisingly good job of not making it all about Islam. He rightly notes that past policies had admitted relatively few Christian refugees from Syria, where they were targeted for genocide, and with a similar concern for Bahais and Sikhs and other persecuted minorities the policy adheres to the unassailable and quite religiously-neutral logic of aiding those most in need, and we expect his clipped “tweets” will be more persuasive than our paraphrasing. We hope he’ll also reverse that Obama executive order that reversed the longstanding policy regarding Cuban refugees, which has resulted in several brave asylum-seekers that the left doesn’t care about being sent back to the cruelty of their homeland’s communist government, and that the left embarrasses itself trying to argue that at the same time they’re telling all those sob stories about brave asylum-seekers from the Middle East.
Even with such a half-assed measure and overwrought response and all the compelling arguments on his side, Trump has somehow managed to misplay such a winning hand. The executive order was apparently written by some high-ranking political staffers without any help from the high-ranking appointees who actually knew how to go about doing such sensible things, which is already a popular administration storyline in the press, and the result was predictably messy. Some specific language about immediate implementation meant that some green-card-holding people who had done nothing wrong wound up in airport hell as they made long-planned trips that concluded just after the order was signed, which led to some great sob stories for the press, some Middle Easterners who had bravely volunteered their help to to the American military during its recent activities in the Middle East were also affected, which also makes for a hell of a story, and all sorts of embarrassing clarifications and other retreats ensued. The exclusion from the list of all those Islamist countries where Trump still has business holdings will also be an ongoing controversy, even if it is the same list the reputedly open borders fanatic Obama used for his “no fly” list, and for the next 120 days or until our representatives figure out what’s going on there should be plenty of arguments that spring from this sort of fuss. Already Trump has fired an acting Attorney General left over from the Obama administration who objected, and it looks like he’ll have to fire a lot of other State Department employees who also object to his half-assed and almost Obama-esque measures, and the press will treat it like Nixon firing Archibald Cox, if Trump remembers that, and although his fans will love the familiar “you’re fired” shtick we’ll only be on his side until that inevitable “Saturday Night Massacre” when he fires the people insisting on the law.
We hope it all works out, but we expect that Trump and his most fervent critics and all the rest of us will wind up looking rather foolish.

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Installment in As Trump Turns

The big news from the presidential race on Wednesday was Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s latest shake-up of his campaign staff, and if you’re a binge-watching fan of Trump’s ongoing reality show it makes for some interesting plot twists.
A formerly peripheral character named Stephen Bannon has stepped into a starring role, an entirely unexpected yet predictably blond and comely character named Kellyanne Conway has been introduced, the ambiguously villainous Paul Manafort role has been reduced to cameo appearances, and the obvious implication is that the more or less traditional Republican nominee Trump we’ve seen lately will go back to being the boorish and braggadocios and insulting self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-casino-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who won the Republican nomination.
That Bannon fellow is the new “chief executive” of the campaign, and he once worked for the Goldman Sachs investment outfit that both parties are running against and then went on to produce a documentary about former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee and reality show star Sarah Palin among other ventures, has most recently been in charge of the Breitbart.com news site that has cheered on all of Trump’s most outrageous utterances since way back when there was still a chance the GOP might not nominate someone more traditionally Republican. The Conway woman is apparently a pollster who has long provided Trump with what he wants to hear over his varied private sector careers, and the assumes the more recognizable title of “campaign manager.” That Manafort fellow replaced the combative Corey “Let Trump Be Trump” Lewandowski as “campaign chairman” shortly after a controversy regarding Lewandowski’s allegedly rough treatment of a female reporter, ironically enough from Breitbart.com, ostensibly with the mission of molding Trump into a more traditional Republican nominee, and despite the recent press revelations about his shady dealings in the very same Ukraine that Trump insists the Russians haven’t invaded and might be entitled to in any case he’ll keep the now meaningless title during his cameo appearances.
The timing seems odd, because over the last several days that more-or-less traditional Republican nominee shtick seems to have been working for Trump. He read an obviously pre-written-by-someone-else speech from a tele-prompter about immigration and Islamic terrorism, and made the common sense case that America should be exceedingly cautious about accepting large numbers of immigrants from lands where Islamic terrorism is popular. This contrasted effectively with the Democratic nominee’s crazy talk that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism and her crazy message of y’all come in, and it left out all his own crazy talk about using bullets dipped in pig’s blood and chopping the heads off of terrorists and killing their families and routinely torturing detainees and trying even American citizens in military tribunals, so even the most traditionally Republican press organs were giving him some begrudging respect. We’re so hide-bound we couldn’t help noticing that he once again repeated his easily disproved lies that he’d been opposed to the Iraq and Libyan interventions from the outset, which reiterated his utterly ridiculous and not all Republican belief that the Middle East would have been happily stable and peaceable if not for America’s meddling influence, and that underneath all the tough talk was an “American First” isolationism, but at this point we’re among a small minority up against a bi-partisan consensus.
Trump followed that up with another pre-written-by-someone-else and tele-promptered speech in Wisconsin, not far from where nihilistic race riots were still raging in Milwaukee in the aftermath of a seemingly justified fatal shooting of an armed and dangerous black man by the police, and it also contrasted effectively with the response of a Democratic nominee who is obligated to both the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the reflexively anti-police administration that are making excuses for and subtly egging on the riots. We wouldn’t go so far as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did and call it “the best Republican speech ever,” as Abraham Lincoln’s addresses at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural still really swing for us, but we had to give it some begrudging respect. He even made a plausible appeal to the black Americans who are disproportionately the victims of crime, but we think a more or less traditional Republican nominee who doesn’t have a settlement with the Justice Department over his discriminatory renting practices or an expensive full-page ad calling for the execution of some black rape suspects who were later cleared by physical evidence in his background would be a better messenger.
In any case, the more tele-promptered and traditionally Republican shtick seems to have shaved a few percentage points off the comfortable poll-averaged lead that crazy Democratic nominee had built up while Trump was accusing a vanquished Republican rival’s father of being in on the Kennedy assassination and grousing that an Indiana-born yet “Mexican” judge shouldn’t have been presiding over one of the three trials regarding the scam Trump University and musing in the most indecipherable way about how “Second Amendment people” might forestall future Supreme Court picks and that the president being the literal rather than figurative “founder” of the Islamic State and any number of other unnecessary distractions he’d written into his ongoing reality show. Given that the Democratic nominee talks plenty crazy herself, we’re not at all surprised. The changes in the Trump plot line therefore make no sense to us, but in this crazy election year we’ll concede that’s probably because we’re more accustomed to politics than the reality show genre.

— Bud Norman

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Do Not Remain Calm, Democrats, All is Not Well

Republican nominee Donald J. Trump took a slight lead over presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Real Clear Politics’ widely watched average of polls on Monday, and at least three pundits were urging that the Democrats not panic about it. Given what was going on both outside and inside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, those pundits’ pleas for calm recall that scene in “Animal House” where Kevin Bacon is urging the townsfolk fleeing a fraternity-induced riot to “remain calm, all is well,” just before he is squashed into the sidewalk, Wile E. Coyote style, by the terrified trampling horde.
Outside the Wells Fargo Convention Hall there were large groups of angry supporters of self-described socialist and Democratic runner-up Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wearing the same “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts and shouting the same “Lock her up” chants that were de rigueur at last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and even on the credentials-only inside the presumptive nominee hardly fared better. Surly Sanders delegates were booing any mention of Clinton’s name even during the opening prayer that the rigorously secular Democrats still offer for some reason or another, and kept it up even when Sanders himself was speaking on behalf of the presumptive nominee. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and Rep. Denbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was denied a speaking slot and will resign her post at the end of convention because of the leak of thousands of e-mails showing she had long plotted against Sanders on behalf of Clinton, endured a similar chorus of boos while addressing her home state of Florida’s delegates. Speeches by such liberal icons as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and First Lady Michele Obama and and illegal immigrant girl were better received, but hardly any reason to delay the panic.
Those Kevin Bacon-ish pundits pleading for Democratic calm could rightly point out that Trump’s lead is indeed slight, well within the margin of error, and that other usually reliable forecasting models continue to show Clinton with a lead, although also slight and well within their margins of error, and that of course the election remains a few months away, but a few months ago everybody had Clinton up nearly double digits so the clear trend is not encouraging for Clinton supporters. They rightly note that Clinton has far more money and a larger campaign apparatus, but the dissolution of her once formidable lead has come as she’s vastly out-spent her opponent on attack ads. They also note the Trump’s long forestalled lead came with the usual “convention bump,” but that was no usual convention the Republicans held and it didn’t get the “yuuge” ratings the candidate expects probably would have cost the usual candidate a point or two, and what’s going on in Philadelphia doesn’t seem likely to undo the damage.
Hope springs eternal in the Democratic soul, so there are also reassurances to the faithful that Trump will surely do something to disqualify himself from the race, but all hope has already been extinguished in our formerly Republican souls and we can’t think of any reason our leftists friends should have any. If they’re hoping that Trump will mock somebody’s handicap or disparage American prisoners of war or publicly boast about his penis size or peddle some bizarre and slanderous conspiracy theory about the Kennedy assassination he’s already done that, and much more, and got a bump in the polls every time. If they’ve got their fingers crossed that he’ll make some more dangerous statements about paying America’s creditors less than promised or not fulfilling our treaty obligations or taking The National Enquirer seriously, that all happened while he was taking his slight lead in the race.
Trump prevailed with such unprecedented tactics against a crowded field of better-funded and better-organized Republican challengers, who varied in quality but in every case were more appealing public figures than Clinton. What those pleading-for-calm pundits won’t tell their readers is that Clinton is such a thoroughly awful candidate in every way that her unfavorable ratings are now even higher than Trump’s, which is saying something that should provoke a widespread and bipartisan panic throughout the land. Her tenure as First Lady was mostly spent enabling her perv husband’s sexual assaults, which Democrats at the time applauded because at least he was pro-abortion, but these days the feminist wing that was supposed to go all sisterly solidarity for the First Woman President are carrying mattresses around campus to protest a mythical “culture of rape” with the Republican nominee praising the good works of Planned Parenthood and quite obviously insincere about his recently acquired anti-abortion principles nobody’s all that anxious about the looming theocracy these days. Her brief and inconsequential time in the Senate was mostly spent plotting her presidential run, which she lost to an even more junior and inconsequential Senator, and her run as Secretary of State was one disaster after another. She’s humorless, apparently in ill health, and every bit as mean and morally compromised as her more entertaining and robust opponent.
The longtime political operative doesn’t seem to understand this strange American moment nearly as well as the longtime reality television show star she’s running against, too, and thus has wound up on the wrong side of big issues. That 11-year-old illegal immigrant girl given a spot on the Democratic convention stage sure was cute, but no so cute as to dissuade the majority of Americans who are so eager for some semblance of immigration law enforcement that they’re even willing to indulge wild fantasies about giant walls that the Mexicans will pay for.
Her frequently stated belief that all Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people who have nothing to do with terrorism is more consequentially wrong than Trump’s wild overstatements about how they’re all out to get us and we have to start getting tough even on the Gallic French and Teutonic Germans who have been willingly living among them. Trump’s protectionist trade policies are so similar to the self-described socialists Sanders’ that he’s making an unlikely plea to Sanders’ supporters, and although Clinton has been dragged into pretty much the same disastrous and suddenly bipartisan position her past support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade-friendly policies make her seem the less sincere of the two remaining contenders.
She’s also stuck with the race-baiting “Black Lives Matter” movement that isn’t playing well outside the black community that was going to vote for any old Democrat anyway, while Trump is so law-and-order that he once called for the execution of the young black and hispanic men convicted of raping the “Central Park Jogger” and then continued to do even after they were exonerated by incontestable physical evidence, which won’t endear him to those black voters who were going to vote Democrat anyway and probably won’t much bother many of his own supporters. Trump is against Obamacare, which is good enough for his supporters, and although his vague descriptions of a replacement that would “take care of everybody” and the “government’s going to pay for it” probably won’t win him many new supporters at least it will make it hard for Clinton to pull out the usual heartless capitalist cliches. Trump’s newfound enthusiasm for government-paid child care and “LGBTQ” issues right up to and including that creepy guy hanging around the women’s restrooms and showers obviates much of the old Democratic playbook, too, and somehow in this strange American moment it didn’t keep him from romping to a Republican nomination.
At this point Democrats might as well start facing the dreary fact we were forced to confront last week that either one of these dreadful candidates might win, and that in either case the country is going to lose. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, we advise trample them as you flee in horror and leave them squashed on the sidewalk in Wile E. Coyote fashion.

— Bud Norman

The Past Bad Week, and the Next One

The past week saw 84 deaths from deadly terrorist attack in France and failed coup attempts in Cleveland and Turkey, three more police officers were killed and another three seriously worried in Baton Rouge, another young black man was shot and killed by police officers in Baltimore after he fired four rounds at them with a rifle, and this week doesn’t look any better. The President of the United States was only slightly less worse in his responses to these events than usual, the President of Turkey is so awful we weren’t sure who to root for during that short-lived coup attempt, and the failure of that coup attempt we were fervently rooting on in Cleveland means that the Republican National Convention will almost certainly nominate Donald J. Trump as that awful president’s successor, and we’d hate to be a police officer in the vicinity of Cleveland when that happens.
President Barack Obama’s response to the carnage in France was frank enough to acknowledge that it was “horrible,” and he even went so far as to call it an act of “terrorism,” but as usual he wouldn’t go so far as to characterize the clearly Islamist nature of it. He was clearly once again caught off-guard about the failed coup in Turkey, and was content to leave it to his hapless Secretary of State to explain why they were rooting all along for the Turkish president they once claimed a “special relationship” with and are now at odds with. Earlier Obama attended the funeral of five police officers gunned down in Dallas during a “Black Lives Matter” protest, and seized the occasion to make a case for the protest movement that has whipped up the anti-police hysteria that clearly has something to do with their deaths, but after three more officers were gunned down in Baton Rouge he more clearly took a stand against the murder of random policemen and urged that “We don’t need inflammatory rhetoric. We don’t need careless accusations thrown around to score political points of advance an agenda. We need to temper our words and open our hearts.” Which is all well and good, we suppose, expect that it was probably a rebuke as much to such anti-Islamist-terrorism and anti-killing-of-random-policemen such as ourselves as to those erstwhile allies of his who have been egging on the recent violence.
The Democratic Party’s all-but-certain nominee was no better. She took the opportunity of the carnage in France to reiterate her previously stated absurd claim that Islam has nothing to with these all to frequent tragedies, also seemed surprised by the coup attempt in the Turkey she had so assiduously courted as Secretary of State, and after the carnage in Louisiana she took her sweet time before coming out foursquare against the murder of random police officers and adding the usual caveats to indicate her sympathy to the movement that is clearly fueling the recent spate of it. Should there be further troubles in Cleveland this week we’ll eagerly await her nuanced response.
Following the failure of that coup attempt in Cleveland the all but certain Republican nominee will be Trump, who cannot be accused of being at all nuanced about his opposition to Islamist terrorism or the random murders of police officers, but can be credibly accused of “inflammatory rhetoric” and “careless accusations” and attempts to “score political points or advance an agenda,” and would probably be leading by double digits in all the polls if he could temper his words or had a heart to open. The “Bikers for Trump” who have served as semi-official security guards for his rallies, which have long been beset by the violent thugs who oppose him are predicting the scene outside the Republican Convention will resemble the “OK Corral,” which reminds our baby boomers selves more of the Altamont concert by the same Rolling Stones’ whose “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” introduced Trump’s vice-presidential pick at a weird press conference this past week,  and the all but certain Republican nominee clearly relishes a good fight, and taking all of the bi-partisan nuttiness in account we’re feeling lucky to not be a police officer in Cleveland this week.

— Bud Norman

A Prayer for the Dead and the Rest of Us

We first learned of the past weekend’s mass murders in Florida while at our Sunday morning worship services. The very fine fellow who leads our congregation’s singing and offers its closing prayer is the sort of early-riser who eats a full breakfast and drinks a cup of coffee and looks over the day’s song list and catches up with the latest news before arriving resplendent at worship, whereas we’re the more nocturnal types who stumble more or less directly and somewhat shabbily out of bed and into our usual spot in the last row of pews at some point during the opening hymn, so it was news to us when he prayed for the redemption of those souls that had been taken in yet another of those all-too-common tragedies, and for the quick recovery of those who had been gravely injured, and for comfort to all those who know and love them.
Constant scanning of the local radio stations on the short drive home turned up nothing but ads and awful country music, so when we arrived at home we re-heated the coffee we’d earlier brewed but didn’t have time to drink and went to the internet for further details on the latest atrocity. Even the earliest dispatches we found reported that the attack had occurred at an Orlando nightspot that catered to homosexuals, and by the time that very fellow fine who leads our singing had left for the all-too-early morning Bible classes he had probably also heard about the murderer’s all-too-common Islamic beliefs, so we were pleased he had humbly admitted none of us yet knew all the facts and addressed our prayers only to the more pressing matter of the lost souls and the gravely wounded and the suffering of those who know and love them. Now that the all-too-predictably dreary facts of the matter are better established and the inevitable necessary dreary political debates are following, we appreciate that fine fellow’s priorities all the more.
Over on the secular left there’s the all-too-familiar clamor about America’s gun culture and the anti-homosexual stance of America’s conservative Christian culture and even some talk about how the latest carnage occurred because so much of America’s common sense culture has resisted the new rules about men using the women’s rooms and hanging around their public showers. The President of the United States acknowledged that the murders were terrorism but once again wouldn’t go so far as to describe its motivation, the presumptive Democratic nominee at long last called it “radical Islamic terrorism,” but everyone else on the secular left was trying to deny the plain fact that one member of its designated-for-protection minority groups had perpetrated such a horrible mass murder against one of its other designated-for-protection minority groups. None of it, of course, is likely to make any sense to the common sense majority of the voting public.
As usual nothing on offer by the gun-grabbing left would have prevented the murderer from obtaining the mundane weapons he used for his carnage, and he not only passed all the background checks for ownership even after two federal investigations but also passed muster to work for a security company often hired by the federal government, with his outspoken Islamism apparently being more a shield than a signal to investigators, and we’re sure if he’d tried his plot in a gay bar in the more gun-friendly jurisdiction of Wichita, Kansas, even such church-going types as ourselves have some dear and rather formidable homosexual friends who would have been armed and ready to lower the resulting death toll. The idea that western Christianity’s rigidly traditional yet ultimately forgiving belief in procreative sexuality as a social and spiritual ideal is responsible for Islam’s more stern and frequently murderous stance against the alternatives is laughable, and the notion that the ridiculous recent flap over men using the women’s restrooms and showers is more laughable yet.
These days the once-feared looming “Handmaiden’s Tale” theocracy of the “Religious Right” is reduced to defending its right not to bake a same-sex wedding cake or have nuns or Baptist entrepreneurs pay for contraception coverage, and with a presumptive Republican nominee who’s a thrice-married and boastfully adulterous and four-times bankrupt casino and strip joint owner who says he’s good with God because he “eats his little cracker” and “drinks his little wine” on infrequent Sundays there’s nowadays a certain unmistakeable secularism to the rest of the right. That presumptive Republican nominee has little to say about same-sex marriage or the right of people to not be involved in it, and has been utterly worthless on the matter of creepy men hanging around women’s restrooms and public showers on the federal government’s say-so, but he’s bound to gain some ground in the lately unfavorable polls by his full-throated denunciation of the secular left’s obvious nonsense.
Regular readers of this publication already know that we don’t place much hope in the presumptive Republican nominee’s ever-shifting yet always cocksure proposed solutions, either, so for now we’re left with that fine fellow’s prayer. The congregation we worship with is affiliated with one of those “politically incorrect” evangelical denominations that is invariably and and more or less accurately described as politically and theologically conservative, and despite those old-fashioned views we pray the same prayer as that fine fellow we know for the recently deceased no matter what their private lives, and no matter how vigorously we disagree with the religious beliefs of their killer we will pause to pray for their souls and those who were gravely injured and all those who know and love them, not matter what they say on the secular left and the secular right. There seems to be a battle between good and evil looming, and at this point we’re not looking to politics for redemption.

— Bud Norman

Pompeo and Circumstance

The “anti-establishment” sentiment in the Republican Party has been simmering to a point lately that almost anyone who ever held any office is now presumed guilty of something or another, which is a healthy inclination up to a point, but at some other point it becomes necessary to be more discerning. That “anti-establishment” sentiment has been simmering for a while now, after all, at least here in the heartland, long enough for the more vigilant sorts of Republicans to have installed some pretty darned good public servants in office, and we’d hate to see any of these promising political babies thrown out with the proverbial bath water.
Here in the south-central Fourth District portion of reliably Republican Kansas our rising-through-the-ranks Rep. Mike Pompeo has twice lately attracted the attention of the national press, and on both occasions we think he acquitted himself well. First he asked the Islamic Society of Wichita to withdraw a speaking invitation to a controversial cleric with ties to the Hamas terrorist organization, then he took a leading role in a Congressional investigation into the latest problems demonstrating how awful the Obama administration’s awful nuclear deal with the terror gang running the Islamic Republic of Iran has become. On both occasions he was widely criticized by many of the national and local media, of course, but we expect he further endeared himself to the vast majority of voters he’s won the past few elections.
Pompeo’s widely publicized request to withdraw that invitation was merely a request, thoughtfully explained in terms of cultural sensitivity, and implied no threats, but even here in Wichita many of the local media were worried about the inevitable violent backlash against the city’s relatively tiny number of Muslims. Even the Islamic Society of Wichita agreed that the proposed speaker’s suspect background did make him a culturally insensitive choice right around Easter and in a city where the mosque just across the corner from one of our favorite dives was once frequented by one of the guys who made the first attempt to bring down the World Trade Center, and they threw in some unsubstantiated concerns about how the allegedly threatened armed militias showing might affect the neighboring Lutheran church, and they got some good press out of it, but the Hamas-loving cleric didn’t deliver his rant and we figure it worked out about as well as any of those drivers with the “Coexist” bumper stickers could hope for.
Those nationally-circulated criticisms of that awful Iran nuclear deal struck our south-central Kansas Republican sensibilities as ridiculous, too, given how awful that deal is becoming every day. Now it’s to the point that even the Obama administration is acting indignant about the intercontinental ballistic missile tests that Iran has been pumping up, along with all the chest-thumping they’ve been doing ever since the deal was not signed by anybody but somehow sealed, and we’re sufficiently well-attuned to and typical of the local mood to be confident that Pompeo won’t suffer any political damage from his common-sense stand. We’ve even had some Islamic controversies around here at the county level, with our favorite penny-pinching County Commissioner giving an impromptu rant against Islamism we didn’t find at all offensive but which set the local media all aflutter, and another making the obligatory visit to the mosque, which had already received much favorable media coverage for its culturally sensitive stand against Hamas-affiliated clerics, and here in the very middle of America the local consensus favors a plain understanding of the millennia-old conflict.
Pompeo’s been pretty stalwart on everything else we consider important, and our occasional disagreements have been principled enough for our tastes. He’s a steady Second Amendment man, a budget hawk enough to oppose the ethanol-like win-penergy subsidies that are very lucrative and popular in these windswept parts, and usually a reliable opponent of President Barack Obama. He and another worthy-of-doubt conservative supported Obama’s plea for Congressional authority to act in Syria, which we thought futile given that the Secretary of State John Kerry was assuring all those Democrats in the benighted regions outside Kansas that it would be mere “pinpricks,” and we’re still not sure it would have been a good idea, but given how badly it’s worked out and how vaguely plausibly future historians might be able to blame it on Republican obstruction we’ll have to again allow a measure of doubt. He also supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which we publicly opposed because we plausibly presumed that any deal the Obama administration could be improved upon by a subsequent Republican administration, but we don’t doubt his crack staff has actually read the thousand-plus-page monstrosity and come to more knowledgable conclusions, so we’ll again give him the benefit of the doubt, even though the current Republican front-runner’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters would string him up for it. In any case we agree with Pompeo’s generally free-trade philosophy, which is largely shared here even among the angry white men in the Fourth District of Kansas, where the two biggest components of the local economy are agriculture and aviation, which also happen to be the first and second biggest export industries of the country. Those portions of the country where industries more vulnerable to foreign competition are the drivers of the local economy might consider Pompeo a globalist establishment tool, but they can’t deny he’s looking out for his constituents.
Pompeo first joined Congress back in ’10, when the longstanding Republican incumbent decided to make an ill-fated run at the Senate and he wound up winning a crowded and distinguished primary field. After the ’08 elections the local Democrats were beguiled by the notion that their well-funded and Harvard-educated and Indian-American think thank veteran would have the same effect on the Fourth District here in reliably Republican Kansas that a Ivy League exotic did on the nation at large, but the backlash against Obama had already begun here and the locals weren’t buying any of it, and Pompeo was not only the top in his class at West Point and an iron-curtain commander of an actual tank and editor of the Harvard Law Review just like that Obama guy but also a hugely successful and never-once bankrupt businessman in the high-tech aviation industry, and we think he’s one of the high-quality guys we can point to that the past years of anti-establishment activism have brought to public service. We  think that that everyone-describes-as-conservative and former collegiate national champion Texas Sen. Cruz, who was also swept into office on an already-simmering “anti-establishment” mood,  is also one of those guys, and the same the south-central Kansans in this reliably Republican-all-along state have agreed with their votes on a recent windswept day, and if that makes us establishment then so be it.

— Bud Norman

From Belgium to Arizona to the Latest “Tweet”

Another deadly Islamist terror attack, this time in Brussels, Belgium, the capital of the European Union and headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The President of the United States spent a full 51 seconds expressing his concern about the matter before launching into some happier talk about his communist Cuban hosts, and then spoke about it again at somewhat greater length with a fawning interviewer from the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network while taking in a baseball game, and the usual talk about a religion of peace and worries about a backlash followed in the usual places, and then the news moved on to more novel stories.
Say what you want about the presidential primary races, there’s no denying their novelty. A bit of actual reality showed up in the Republican’s reality show, however, as the two remaining viable candidates both weighed in on the slaughter in Brussels. Front-runner Donald J. Trump, the self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-etcetera mogul, argued that some good old-fashioned torture would have prevented the tragedy, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was critical of both the administration’s continuing reluctance to address by the problem of Islamist terrorism by name and Trump’s apparent ambivalence about America’s European alliances in general and NATO in particular.
There’s some concern on the more or less respectable left that each terror attack further drives a frightened public into the arms of such a proudly tortuous tough guy as Trump, who once shaved the burly Vince McMahon’s head in a World Wrestling Entertainment production called “Battle of the Billionaires” and has bagged more babes than you’ll ever dream about, believe him, and that might yet prove worth worrying about. A double-whammy of attacks in San Bernardino and Paris knocked the mild-mannered neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson out of the race and into the arms of Trump a while back, and the Democrats understandably poll very poorly with their it’s-nothing-to-do-with-Islam stands, and Trump’s sizable horde of followers think anyone with a reluctance about torture is a “pussy,” which is apparently acceptable political parlance these days. There’s still some hope on the more or less respectable right that the public will be nudged to choose someone with a well-informed and keenly strategic mind and statesmanlike temperament, and pay enough attention to Trump’s rambling remarks and and impolitic impulses to notice that he’s not such a man, and that whatever well-justified frustrations we have with Europe they are an important part of our economy and the entire western civilization project, and that European alliances and NATO might yet come in handy again.
The death toll in Brussels didn’t stop the juicier parts of the Republicans’ reality show, however, as some naked pictures of Trump’s latest wife and a bit of libel against Cruz’ fully-clothed wife were both something novel to move to on. An anti-Trump political action committee not affiliated the Cruz campaign apparently had an internet page that featured the aforementioned naked pictures, with some copy suggesting this was not a particularly First Lady-like thing for a woman to have posed for and adding that anyone who was offended might consider voting for Cruz. Although the PAC was not affiliated with the Cruz campaign Trump apparently assumed it was, and he “tweeted” out that “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used an picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!
Trump’s libelous insinuation that he has reputation-ruining information against a rival’s wife and is withholding it at the threat of blackmail strikes us as a rather big story, too, but this won’t be the first time it’s gone largely unnoticed. A similar libelous insinuation and threat of blackmail was made against the Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs, who had contributed to another anti-Trump PAC that was running a long-overdue ad featuring some of Trump’s more outrageously misogynistic statements, and he also made a thus-far hollow threat to sue the Canadian-born Cruz over his eligibility to run for the presidency unless he also stopped saying critical things about Trump. He’s also promised to “open up the libel laws” so that anyone who writes anything “mean” about him will “have problems, such problems,” so it’s no surprise that he’s willing to let the public remain unaware of crucial information about a potential First Lady or overlook a looming constitutional crisis if they’ll just bow to his Nietzschean will to power. So far Cruz, who enjoys a reputation as a shrewd lawyer even among his most bitter ideological opponents, hasn’t bowed. He called Trump’s bluff on that birther nonsense and the issue has largely gone away, except among those Trump fans who also buy the Obama birther nonsense, and his “tweet” about his wife was “Pic of your wife not from us. Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you’re more of a coward than I thought,” which strikes us as rather gallant, if anybody cares about that stuff anymore. The son of the Chicago Cubs’ owner said it was “a little surreal when Donald Trump threatens your mom,” which is defense enough by the Cubs’ standards, and we can only imagine how the likes of the Iranian mullahs or the latest North Korean nutcase will be cowed by Trump’s insulting “tweets.”
Over on the Democratic side the front-runner, former First Lady etcetera Hillary Clinton was calling for more surveillance, presumably of the some sort that she used to damn George W. Bush for doing, and her still-remaining rival, self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was calling for “international unity,” which we suppose would be a nice thing, assuming everyone was unified on our side. We’re not at all sure what side they will ultimately choose, though, even if we can be assured they won’t be the ones doing the torturing, at least not to the terrorists, so we hope the Republicans and the rest of the country get this one right.
Tuesday’s results were a split decision, but probably don’t reflect any effects of the attack on Brussels. Trump’s big plurality win in the winner-take-all state of Arizona was all about his anti-immigration stance, and probably helped by the left-wing goon squads who tried to shut down his rallies, and Cruz’ landslide majority in Utah was mostly about how Mormons regard such an unscrupulous businessman and unsavory character as Trump. Clinton won Arizona, where her open borders stand plays well with the local Democrats, and Sanders won Utah and Idaho, where such an unscrupulous dealer and unsavory character as Clinton didn’t play well with the handful of Democrats, but the Democratic National Committee probably found another couple hundred of those of “super-delegates” out there and Clinton’s long-promised coronation seems more likely.
We offer our heartfelt condolences to the people of Belgium, and everywhere else from San Bernardino to Moore, Oklahoma, to to Paris to Mumbai that the barbarians have attacked, and wish that America was in better to shape to deal with it.

— Bud Norman

A New Year Opens in the Middle East

Unsurprisingly enough, the first big story of the year is coming at us from the Middle East. That constantly troubled region was already troublesome enough for the rest of the world, what with civil wars breaking out in Syria and Libya and Yemen and elsewhere and the refugees spilling into the west in unmanageable numbers and ballistic missiles test being conducted by aspiring nuclear powers and terrorist attacks occurring from Paris to San Bernardino, but now we’ve got that whole Shi’ite versus Sunni thing coming to a head with increased tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Shi’ite versus Sunni thing goes back more than 1,400 years, and so far as we can tell has something do with whether Mohammad’s family or closest friends should have inherited his spiritual authority, but we’ll skip ahead to the present day when Iran is the most powerful Shi’ite country and Saudi Arabia is the most important Sunni country and the old hatreds still persist. The two countries were already fighting proxy wars in Yemen, where Iran-backed rebels had overthrown the Saudi-backed government, and in an even more complicated war in the former portions of Iraq and Syria that are now controlled by the Islamic State, which is Sunni but threateningly crazy even by Saudi standards, where the Saudis’ ineffectual fighters are also opposed by the Iran-backed Syrian regime and their suddenly dominant Russian ally, but now the tensions have again  been significantly increased. After a couple of decades of imprisonment the Saudis chose the date of January Second to execute, by beheading or firing squad, 46 crazy-even-by-Saudi-standards Sunni terrorists and one prominent Shi’ite cleric. That lattermost execution seemed calculated to inflame Shi’ite sensibilities and quickly led to an arson assault on by an angry mob on the Saudi embassy in Iran, which was clearly tolerated by the otherwise repressive Iranian regime. Since then there’s been a suspension of diplomatic ties and talk of outright war, as well as the usual diplomatic dissembling.
It’s enough to roil the international stock markets and recall Iran’s past assaults on its guest embassies and spur conspiracy theories about how the plunging price of oil is provoking a mutually beneficial war, and it’s bound to affect the ongoing politics of the United States of America. Even such harsh critics are ourselves won’t blame the Obama administration for the more-than-1,400-year-old Sunni versus Shi’ite thing, but even the administration’s most determined apologists can’t muster an argument that the past seven years of American foreign policy have worked out well. The retreat from Iraq is looking very much like a mistake, even if America’s entry into the country is so widely regarded as a mistake that even the leading Republican candidates feel obliged to say so, and that awful deal giving Iran $150 billion and no meaningful restraints on the nuclear weapons program they’ve been flouting ever since it went unsigned is looking more awful than ever, the planned retreat from still-troublesome Afghanistan now looks as if it might await another administration or two, and even modern liberalism’s exquisitely well-intentioned guiding principle about abandoning traditional allies and extending open hands to traditional enemies is now clearly called into question.
The Republicans will be challenged to come up with a plausible solution to this more-than-1,400-year-old mess, and we have little confidence they will, but we expect that even the most stridently xenophobic and reactionary policies they propose will seem more plausible than whatever the Democrats can come up with. The Democrats are by now obliged to pretend that whatever ails the world surely has nothing to do Islam, and that whatever more-than-1,400-year-old problems do seem to be occurring can surely be blamed on George W. Bush’s crazy cowboy ways, and that at any rate climate change is the more pressing concern, so we expect they’ll find themselves in a defensive position by Election Day. There’s no telling what will happen between now and then, but another terror attack on the west seems more likely than an outbreak of peace.
We have little regard for the terror-supporting and theologically totalitarian but not quite so crazy as Islamic State regime of Saudi Arabia, and none whatsoever for the terror-supporting and theologically totalitarian and soon-to-be-nuclear-armed regime of Iran, and at this point our only rooting interesting in the region is for democratic and humane Israel and the last of the Christians and Yazidis and Zoroastrians and secular agnostics and other religious minorities in that dismal part of the world, and we won’t pretend to have solutions to this more-than-1,400-year-old problem. Something different is obviously called for, however, and one way or another we do expect that will eventually occur.

— Bud Norman

Circular Logic in an Oval Office

President Barack Obama’s Oval Office address on Sunday wasn’t so awful as we had feared, and probably won’t prove so awful as the last one, in which he proudly announced the full withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but that’s not saying much. Although we couldn’t bring ourselves to watch it, and therefore missed out on the reportedly unsettling and thus far unexplained sight of him standing before his desk rather than seated at the usual president position behind it, our reading of the transcript was not reassuring.
The speech begins by noting the ethnic diversity of the victims of Wednesday’s massacre in San Bernardino, California, as if that somehow makes it worse than a more homogenous slaughter, but at least it was quickly followed with a frank admission that what happened was an act of terrorism. By now the facts of the matter are so well-established and widely-reported that even Obama’s stubborn instincts cannot deny them, but we’ll credit him for at long last acknowledging the well-established and widely-reported fact that the long-ago massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, was also an act of terrorism. All of our ex-alcoholic pals tell us that the first step toward recovery is admitting there is a problem, so we are heartened to see that after seven years in office the president has taken a nudge in that direction. He even acknowledged that the previously unspecific sort of terrorism had something to do with “a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the west.”

We’re assured that for the past seven years the president has “confronted this threat each morning in my intelligence briefing,” but we can’t help recalling the Government Accountability Office’s reports that the president had been skipping 58 percent of those briefings, or the more recent reports that he only listens to information regarding a limited number of groups that he considers a terror threat, so we’re not convinced. The president also noted that “our success won’t depend on tough talk,” so neither were were convinced by the tougher than usual talk that followed.
There was a promise that “our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary,” but given the president’s previous scoffing about military solutions, and his continued insistence that air strikes and special forces will suffice, again we are not confident. There was also a promise to continue to provide training and assistance to “tens of thousands” of supposedly moderate Syrian rebels, but given the junk we’ve been providing our supposedly moderate friends in Ukraine, and the less-than-ten fighters we’ve actually had on the ground recently, that also seems a bad bet.
A third promise made was that America will step up its offensive against the Islamic State, which the president consistently refers to by the unusual acronym ISIL for fear of mentioning that first word, and he notes that our cooperation with Turkey and France has lately increased, and although he doesn’t mention Russia, which has also lately suffered from Islamic State’s now-global terror network, we can believe that there’s now sufficient international political pressure for Obama to keep that promise. Whether he knows how to do it without strengthening the hands of Turkey and Russia and Iran and other players in the region remains to be seen, and past history suggests otherwise, but at least its a somewhat hopeful development.
The fourth promise was that “with American leadership, the international community has begun to establish a process — and timeline — to pursue ceasefires and a political solution to the Syrian civil war.” This, of course, inspires no confidence at all. There was some hopeful talk about “reviewing” the procedures that waived in one of the San Bernardino killers on a passport from Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or some other unestablished Middle Eastern problem country, but no mention of whether the many thousands of refugees from similarly problematic countries will also be subjected to these improved methods.
Of course there was some talk about what do back here in the homeland, and that was the least inspiring portion of the speech. There was the predictable call to deny gun sales to anyone on the “no-fly list,” even though the “no-fly list” is such a ridiculous compilation of random names that now includes numerous employees of the Homeland Security Department and once included Sen. Ted Kennedy and could easily include you if you’re annoyed office mate decides to make an anonymous call and was until recent an outrage to the leftward side of civil libertarian movement, but at least there weren’t any threats of an executive action to repeal the Second Amendment. There was a call to make it harder to purchase the sort of “assault weapons” that were used in the attack, which aren’t really assault weapons and are currently owned by millions of law-abiding Americans who might wind up using them against the next attackers, but it did seem rather perfunctory.
Of course there was the obligatory scolding about how “it is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.” It was all rather mild compared to his Attorney General’s previous speech threatening to prosecute any remarks about Islam that “edge toward violence,” and to literally make a federal case out of any playground comments that might be construed as anti-Islamic bullying, but it still suggested a certain tolerance of even the most perverted interpretations of Islam. The obligatory call for religious tolerance omitted any condemnation of anti-Jewish bigotry, even though Jews are the most frequent victims of religious hate crimes in America, and there was no condemnation of the New York Daily News’ sneering dismissal of the thoughts and prayers of Republicans or its editorial claiming that one of the San Bernardino victims was no better than his killer because of his proud statements on behalf of Jewish heritage and Christian beliefs, and we would have preferred an acknowledgment of how very tolerant America has been over the past two decades of Islamist terrorism rather than another unnecessary scolding.
The speech ended with the president saying “may God bless the United States of America,” and although his more secular admirers were probably irked by it at least we took some comfort in that.

— Bud Norman

The Progressives’ Assault on Progressivism

The latest outbreak of the nationwide academic craziness epidemic is occurring at prestigious Princeton University, and seems to mainly be about expunging the institution’s past association with President Woodrow Wilson, so we have very mixed feelings about the matter. As stuffy old prairie Republican autodidacts we have no patience for the campus hijinks of pampered Ivy Leaguers, and any attempts to expunge the past are an affront to our Burkean sensibilities, but of course we can’t resist some satisfaction in seeing Wilson’s reputation at long last under assault from the left.
Way back in the days of our public education Wilson was still regarded by our approved textbooks’ opinion as the exemplar of progressivism. There was some embarrassed acknowledgement that he led the country into World War I, and that his populist rival William Jennings Bryan had quit his post as Secretary of State in protest of the still-debated decision, and that certain provisions of the Constitution were effectively repealed by the Sedition Act for the duration of the war, but otherwise Wilson always seemed to come in a close second to President Franklin Roosevelt as one of the Democratic Party’s great presidents. Back then Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were duly acknowledged as Republican rivals, even if Lincoln’s unabashed capitalism and constitutionalism were always unmentioned while T.R.’s more free-wheeling progressivism was always stressed, but Wilson was very much a member of that same presidential pantheon. Wilson was acknowledged as the father of a newfound philosophy that would bring war-time coordination of industrial efficiencies to peacetime economies through the latest scientific power over human nature, and bring eternal peace through a League of Nations if only the Treaty of Versailles weren’t too harsh on those poor Germans and Ottomans, and of course you know he was once President of prestigious Princeton University, in contrast to that hayseed prairie populist Bryan who didn’t even go to college and lost three elections for the Democrats and wound up as the anti-evolutionist villain in “Inherit the Wind.”.
Even at that young age, and with the usual youthful yearning for heroes and all the addling effects of a public school education, it all seemed rather suspicious. Being seditious sorts we read beyond the approved textbooks to learn that Wilson’s war-time restrictions on the Constitution were seemingly intended to last well into peace-time, that the post-war economy never really recovered until the the hated Coolidge’s “return to normalcy,” that the whole government-economy idea never has worked out, and that the League of Nations didn’t prevent a World War II, and probably not because the Treaty of Versailles was too mean to the Germans. We were also unsurprised to learn that Wilson was an unapologetic racist who praised the Ku Klux Klan and re-segregrated the federal government after policies that had been imposed by Republicans from Roosevelt all the way back to such supposed Republican retrogrades as Ulysses S Grant. By that point we were even cynical of that Princeton pedigree, which still loomed large in the Wilson myth.
All of which further mixes our feelings regarding the current controversy at Princeton University. The students demanding his name be banished from the university’s history don’t seem concerned with all those dead doughboys of World War I, who were no doubt war-monger Republicans, and they aren’t the least offended by his disregard of the right of free expression, which is currently all the rage on America’s campuses, and certainly not by his cocksureness that such Ivy League educated gentlemen as himself could more efficiently run an economy than a society of free men and women, which is taken as a given, but rather all that racism. So far as we can tell all the World War I stuff that so troubled our textbook-writers is long forgotten, but that infamous White House screening of “A Birth of Nation” and the re-segregation of the federal government and all the rest of the old-school stone-cold racist stuff can no longer be overlooked. Our reading of the history that most of the current Princetonians have probably never read suggests that America’s game-changing entry into World War I was about the only saving grave of Wilson’s presidency, given the Lusitania and all the other sunken American ships and the German campaign of sabotage on American soil and intercepted Zimmerman memo that outlined a plot by Germany to revanche the southwest quadrant of the United States to Mexico and the possibility of longtime allies France and England falling to a world order dictated by Prussian militarism, and that even Wilson’s idealistic and utterly naive post-war diplomatic blunders do not deny him some credit for sending in those doughboys.
Even the most Orwellian efforts cannot change the fact that Wilson was once the President of Princeton University, too, and that it was perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his career. A presidential trivia question that always stumps our liberal friends is what two United States Presidents previously served as presidents of Ivy League universities, and they’re never able to recall that one was Dwight Eisenhower, who briefly served as president of Columbia University after a more noteworthy career in the military and before a more noteworthy two terms as President of the United States, they all know that Woodrow Wilson was once President of Princeton University, although they never remember he also served as Governor of New Jersey. That famous connection once added a certain sheen to Wilson’s reputation, and in turn his formerly textbook-approved standing once added to Princeton’s prestige, so we wonder if the protesters demanding his repudiation understand how their actions might diminish the economic value of the Princeton degrees they’ll probably wind up with. The whole effort reminds us of the ancient and recent Islamist conquerers who immediately set about destroying all the artifacts of the civilizations that preceded them, or the Khmer Rouge that proclaimed a Day One of history after its slaughter, or the villains in every dystopian novel or movie who set out to re-write the past and all its good examples and dire warnings. or even those more benign and seemingly well-intention efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from the top of the Gen. Robert E. Lee muscle car in the old “Dukes of Hazard” television show, although in one of these cases was anyone so bold as to throw away the prestige of an Ivy League degree.
Although we revile the anti-constitutional authoritarianism and economic control and credentialed elitism and outright racism of Woodrow Wilson, we can’t help thinking he’d be pleased with his legacy in both international affairs and academia. His greatest hope of the post-war era was that American subordination to some sort of international tribunal would yield international peace, an an ephemera still chased after by his bi-racial and supposedly post-racial successor, and during his tenure as President of Princeton his pedagogical philosophy was that “The purpose of a university should be to make a man as unlike his father as possible.” All of Wilson’s dreams seem to have to been finally achieved, and nobody on either the left or right seems at all happy about it. Our feelings, certainly, are mixed.

— Bud Norman