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The Kansas Weather and the Rest of the News

The neighborhood tornado sirens went off Sunday evening, which seemed odd given the light rain and even lighter winds we noticed outside the window, but we nonetheless did the Kansas thing and turned on the old-fashioned AM radio and checked the newfangled internet radar. Kansas is our favorite of the 49 very fine states we’ve visited, and we urge you to pay it a visit sometime, but you do have to be careful about the weather around here.
Kansas gets hotter than Hades in the summer, colder than the proverbial well digger’s ass in the winter, and the few in-between weeks of spring and fall are either eerily perfect or downright scary. On the good days you can drive around with the top down and watch a spectacular prairie sunset of shot gold, maroon and violet, dazzling silver, emerald and fawn, with the earth’s whole amplitude and nature’s multiform power consigned for once to colors — as Walt Whitman once memorably described it — but on the bad days Mother Nature is a mean old bitch old around here. Kansas goes through droughts when the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers slow to a trickle, and such rainy seasons that both rivers would have overflowed their banks and flooded our Riverside house if the damned know-it-alls at the City and County Halls hadn’t defied local anti-government opinion and dug the Big Ditch on the west side of town. Every spring, and to a lesser extent every fall, the state also gets lightning strikes and medicine-ball sized hail and ferociously high winds and car-window-shattering barometric pressure drops and torrential flash-flooding rains and Wizard of Oz-sized tornadoes that can quite literally kill you, and on several occasions we can well recall each of them have come quite close to killing us.
The Kansas weather hasn’t killed us yet, however, and we like to think the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he said “That which does not kill us makes stronger.” Life on the prairie can be harsh, but so can life be anywhere you might go, so maybe the weather has something to with Kansas being able to stumble along as well as it has since it righteously entered the Union as a Free State.
Despite the tornado sirens we only got a brief heavy rain and moderates winds on Sunday, although the unlucky neighborhoods to the west did get some hail that will probably involve an insurance claim or two, and that’s the way a lot of the media scares always seem to work out. Barring bad weather we’ll try to get back to the rest of the news today, and we’ll try not to be alarmist like some of the meteorologists around here, but we’ll also keep in mind just how bad things sometimes get.

— Bud Norman

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Someone Called Lil Nas X, Some Familiar but Dangerous Old Town Roads, and the Crossroads of America on a Sleepless Weekend

After a long and mostly sleepless and stomach flu-afflicted weekend, which entailed an early-morning trip down to Oklahoma for the funeral of a beloved family member and a caffeine-fueled late afternoon drive back up I-35, and a near-wreck with some idiot who blew past a stop sign at ten miles an hour over the speed limit on the way home from the worship service we’d somehow made it to at the West Douglas Church of Christ, and then a much-needed nap and a couple of much-needed beers at Kirby’s Beer Store, we tried to catch up with the rest of the news. There was some cold comfort, at least, in finding that the rest of the world seems to have its own troubles.
One story that caught our eye was about some some rapper called Lil Nas X being removed from Billboard Magazine’s list of top-100 country-and-western top-sellers, where it had debuted in the 19th spot a few weeks ago and begun climbing up the chart. We’d previously never heard of Lil Nas X nor his his country-and-western song “Old Town Road,” but for various reasons we found it interesting nonetheless.
For the past half-century or so Billboard Magazine has been the definitive source of the weekly top 100 charts for American music and all its various branches, with all the authority of the Dow Industrial Average or the Bureau of Economic Analysis on the state of the broader economy, and for many years of our life we paid even more rapt attention to Billboard’s findings. The magazine has apparently dropped “Old Town Road” from its country-and-western charts because it’s insufficiently country-and-western, too, and as lifelong fans of country-and-western and all the other branches of the glorious tree of America’s music that all grabbed our attention. These days the debate about the culture is as dreary as the one about the economy, with the left talking all sorts of “cultural appropriation” nonsense about the interracial and cross-cultural pollinations that have made American culture in general and American music in particular so rich, and the right seemingly suddenly intent on making American great again with its own racialist agenda, and somehow some rapper called Lil Nas X and his “Old Town Road” is caught up in that.
We’re old and grew up in Kansas with all the kinfolk down in Oklahoma, so we also grew up with Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and Buck Owens’ Buckaroos and Merle Haggard and his Strangers playing on the 8-track or AM radio, and thus have some pretty fixed ideas about what constitutes country-and-western music. We followed the internet links to hear (and watch) Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” and although it doesn’t meet our strict standards we wouldn’t kick it off the country-and-western charts. The recording has some bucolic lyrics and some banjo licks “sampled” from previous recording, the video features some old west imagery from some violent cowboy shoot-’em-up video game, and it’s as least as country-and-western as anything we find on the radio on two drives between Wichita and Oklahoma City on Saturday, or any of the godawful bumper music that New York City-born-and-bred Sean Hannity uses on the right-wing talk radio show where he’s constantly apologizing to his heartland audience for the New York-City-born and bred President Donald Trump.
“Country-and-western” is a vague enough term to encompass everything from Jimmie Rodgers’ primitivism to the string-laden elegance of Patsy Cline, “rock ‘n’ roll” ranges from the soft rock of Simon and Garfunkel to the hard rock of The Ramones, “jazz” stretches from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane and beyond, and even the best of “it’s a black thing” “rhythm and blues” and “soul” and “hip hop” involve some talented white boys and European instruments and musical techniques who complicate the leftist racial narratives about that great stuff. Country-and-western is considered a white boy thing, but Rodgers and Williams and Wills and Monroe and Owens and Haggard always freely acknowledged everything they learned from their black friends, and we’ve found that if you want to fully enjoy the best of America’s great music you should set all of the left’s and right’s racial politics aside.
The definitions of “country-and-western” and “rock ‘n’ roll” and “jazz” and “hip hop” and the rest of American music gloriously diverse genres have mostly been defined by whatever the self-identified fans of those of genres have liked, and until recently they’ve done a pretty good job of it. Lil Nas X “Old Town” isn’t a great a recording by any of American music’s historic standards, but we’ve heard worse, and we hate to see it kicked off this week’s Billboard “country-and-western” charts, even if it’s still faring well on the “rhythm and blues” chart, which these days is the magazines old-fashioned way of saying “hip hop.” Billboard has always judged sales of “country-and-western” and “rhythm and blues” based on what the self-indentified “country and western” and “rhythm and blues” stores were selling, and although that’s harder to gauge in a time when all the kids are downloading their music off the internet it does seem that Lil Nas X was fairly popular with the country-and-western audience.
We rather like it that these young whippersnapper country-and-western fans are willing to embrace someone so obviously black he’s called Lil Nas X, and that black urban culture is culturally appropriating banjo licks and cowboy imagery, but we hope they all learn there’s better cross-cultural stuff on both sides of that divide, and start learning from that.
Meanwhile we notice that former Vice President and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden once again stands credibly accused of touchy creepiness toward women, and given the Democratic party’s currently strict standards that should be a problem for the him and the Democrats. We also notice that the leader of the erstwhile family values Republican party is President Donald “Grab ’em by the pussy” Trump, and that it doesn’t seem to be a problem for him or the Republicans. There’s also talk of Trump shutting down the border with Mexico, his ongoing trade wars and growing trade deficits with almost everyone else, most of the rest of the Democratic presidential field is so far to the crazy left that Biden’s creepiness toward women doesn’t seem so bad, and the economic and political news is almost as bad as what else is on the radio.
Even so, we’ll try to get a good night’s sleep and face another April Fools’ Day with help from the music and history of better times.

— Bud Norman

A Busy Day After Election Day

There’s a longstanding political tradition in America that the day after an election is blissfully boring, with both sides paying lip service to the will of the people and making phony baloney promises of bipartisan cooperation. President Donald Trump’s newfangled version of conservatism has little regard for longstanding political traditions, though, and even before all the ballots had been fully counted in some very close races he was generating several unavoidable news stores.
Everyone who’s been paying attention to the top-rated Trump reality show knew that soon after the midterm elections he was going to somehow remove and replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but it was still a slight surprise that it happened so suddenly. Trump did observe the longstanding tradition of giving a press conference following a mid-term election, but instead of the traditional humility and happy talk Trump insulted his interlocutors as well as the defeated Republicans who had been insufficiently supportive of his presidency, and vowed that if the soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives dares use its constitutional power to snoop into Trump’s political and financial dealings he’ll take a “war-like stance.”
The forced resignation of Sessions is an unavoidably big deal, as it’s a major plot twist in the “Russia thing” that is still an unavoidably big deal in the Trump reality show. Sessions was the first Republican Senator with undeniable conservative bona fides to endorse Trump’s anti-establishment take-over of the Republican establishment, and he pursued Trump’s immigration and civil rights and anti-pothead policies more zealously than even Trump himself, but he also committed the unforgivable sin of recusing himself from the whole “Russia thing.” Trump is temporarily replacing Sessions with someone who’s publicly on record in favor of impeding that pesky special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” so what with a soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House that will be an unavoidably big deal in the coming days, even though a slightly-padded Republican majority in the Senate will probably confirm any permanent replacement that Trump might nominate.
There’s a longstanding yet unwritten Justice Department tradition that it not affect politics for at least sixty days before an election, and the old-fashioned establishment Republican running the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing” rigorously hews to such to-time-honored if unwritten rules, but the subplot was bound to wind up back in the news after some respectful pause from its relentless subpoenas and indictments. Trump has chosen to immediately put the story back at the top of the news cycle, and although he might be shrewdly getting ahead of the current 24-hour-news cycle it remains to be seen how he comes out in the long run.
Based on that combative press conference we’re not at all hopeful that Trump will strike any of his promised great deals with the soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House, and we think Trump is unduly cocky abut his slightly padded slim majority in the Senate, which now includes several members who are there in spite of rather than because of Trump. There are are several Republicans missing from the soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority largely because of Trump, too, including a Democratic seat won by a Native American lesbian kick-boxer here in Kansas, of all places.
Trump also wrote off all those Republicans who weren’t fully obeisant to Trump and tried to stand on their own Republican records,, but he should note that even here in Kansas there aren’t enough of the faithful to elect a governor, no matter how fulsome Trump’s endorsement might be.

— Bud Norman

An Odd and Unsettling Election Day

At some point this afternoon we’ll drive over to the lovely and friendly Woodland Methodist Church up in North Riverside to cast our midterm election votes, and although we’ve dutifully voted in every American and Kansas election since our long-ago 18th birthday this time will seem different.
This time we’ll be casting several of our votes for some damned Democrats, and in the Fourth District congressional race we’ll symbolically throw away our vote on the unknown Libertarian candidate as a “none of the above” protest, and we can’t venture any guess how any of it will turn out. In the past we’ve almost always voted a straight damned Republican ticket, and left the polling place fairly confident that at least here in Kansas we were on the winning side, but this time we’ll not venture any predictions about anything and have no rooting interest in the outcomes except for a faint hope that the center will somehow hold here in the center of the country.
The conventional wisdom of the polls and pundits is that the Democrats will gain control of the House of Representative by a slight or perhaps significant margin, and that thanks to a fortuitous electoral map the Republicans will retain control of the Senate and perhaps slightly pad its currently razor-thin margin in that chamber, and that seems both plausible and agreeable to us. We’re old-fashioned “Bleeding Kansas” Republicans from the racially egalitarian Party of Lincoln and the internationalist party of Kansas-raised President Dwight Eisenhower, but given the choice between the admittedly nationalist Republican Party of President Donald Trump and the crazier sorts of self-described socialist Democrats running in some far-away districts we’ll settle for a temporary stalemate.
Here in Kansas, at least, most of the damned Democrats seem willing to meet the damned Republicans halfway on a plan that will pave the roads and fund the schools and fulfill other essential state services without a tax hike, and we’ll note that most of the past Republican statewide and federal office-holders we once proudly voted for have also reluctantly agreed to the same desultory compromise. Even so, there’s no telling how things might turn out around here..
As for the rest of our currently  crazy country, where the damned and admittedly nationalist Republican party of Trump is apparently running neck-to-neck against the damned and admittedly socialist Democratic party of the moment, we’ll venture no predictions and just hold out faint hope that somehow the center holds.

— Bud Norman

With One Week to Go

Some very consequential elections here in Kansas and from coast to coast are now a mere fleeting week away, but you wouldn’t know it from the front page headlines or any of the cable news networks’ top-of-the-our stories. Instead of any in-depth analysis of the very complicated economic and social issues to be decided next Tuesday, it’s all about the mad bomber who was sending improvised explosive devices to Democratic politicians and activists through the mail, and the hateful loser who slaughtered 11 Jews and injured several others as they worshipped God in a Pittsburgh synagogue, and those few thousand Central American migrants who are walking and hitch-hiking to the thousand-mile-away American border, and of course all the arguments about whose overheated rhetoric is to blame.
Those “enemies of the people” at the “fake news” Washington Post reported on Monday that someone had fired at least four bullets into the Volutsia County Republican Party headquarters in south Florida, and even without confirmation from Fox News and conservative talk radio we’ll assume the report is entirely true. We’ll concede that perhaps the Post’s daily reporting about Republican outrages had something to do with it, but the Post’s editorialists also make a convincing case that the rhetoric of President Donald Trump’s Republican party has something to do with the rest of the bad news, so for now there’s too much craziness afoot on all sides to calmly consider all the complicated economic and social issues that are on that ballot in just a week.
We’re doing our best to keep all those complicated economic and social issues in mind as we consider our electoral options, and to judge them according to our longstanding conservative economic and social principles, but one must also take account of the rest of the latest headlines into account. This election is being contested at a time when the economy is so healthy that the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates and therefore tanking the stock markets, and according to longterm trends the business cycle might well be up against its inevitable downturn, and for now we don’t trust either party to properly deal with it. We don’t much like the way both parties are pointing a damning finger at the un-American bastards on the the side, too, but we have to admit that our side is looking pretty damned stupid these days.
Here in Kansas there’s a close gubernatorial race between Democratic nominee and longtime state Sen. Laura Kelly and two-term Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and the big issue is tax policy. Twice-elected Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback proposed a program of radical and tax and budget cuts, and with the accord of a Republican legislative majority he helped get elected it was passed, but although we personally know Brownback to be a good guy his time-tested economic theories it didn’t pan out this time around and the state state wound up in a budget hole that required further budget cuts, some of which proved quite painful to the state’s roads and public schools and prisons and other essential services. The establishment Republicans that Brownback had primary-ed out to get his tax plan passed wound up primary-ing out the anti-establihments insurgents two years later, and with help from those damned Democrats they wound up largely repealing Brownback’s tax plan, and although the state ain’t exactly booming the state budget is closer to being balanced and the schools are still open five days a week, which is more than we can say for some school districts just to the south of us in even blood-red Republican Oklahoma.
Along with every living Kansas Republican ex-governor except our old pal Brownback, we’ve reluctantly decided to vote for the damned Democrat for governor this time around. She’s not proposing any further tax hikes but is promising to at least keep the roads paved and the schools open five days a week, which seems realistic enough. Kobach is promising that none of those few migrants still a thousand miles away from the southern border will ever vote in a Kansas election, and he once took the lead in trying to prove that millions of illegal voters robbed Trump of a rightful win in the last popular vote for the presidency, and he’s got Trump’s ringing endorsement, but for now that makes us all the more inclined to vote for the damned Democrat.
There are a few more down-ticket damn Democrats that we’re also thinking about voting for, as well. Here in our very fashionable and homosexual and damnably Democratic Riverside neighborhood of cosmopolitan Wichita our state representative is a crazed far-left guy we happened to grow up with back in suburban Bel-Aire, and although he’s a crazed lefty we also know him to be an honest and likable sort, and since we haven’t heard a thing from his Republican opponent, if there even is one, we might even give him a vote. So far we don’t know who the Republican candidate for Sectary of State is, and can’t find much fault with the Google maps creator who’s running on the Democratic ticket. Our part of Sedgwick County currently has such a rock-ribbedly small government Republican conservative County Commissioner that he routinely votes against locally beneficial programs the state an federal government are willing to pay for, and by now all the local business interests and other mainstream Republicans around here are fed up with him, and given that his opponent is such an attractive and amiable female folk songstress w’re inclined to vote for her despite the credible socialist leanings her opponent alleges in his mailings.
As much as we want to keep Kansas’ taxes low and its roads paved and its schools open five days a week, and as keen as we are to see that Sedgwick County keeps doing mutuably beneficial business with the private sector, all the rest of the headlines and the 24-hour news cycle figure in as well. All the rest of it is quite distracting, and quite divisive, but at least around here those damned Democrats suddenly seem reasonable.

— Bud Norman

After a Slow and Busy Weekend

For the next week or so the denouement of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination awaits the results of a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of his high school days, and for now the special counsel’s ongoing investigation of the “Russia thing” seems on a traditional hold until the mid-term elections, and although those mid-term-elections are already heating up in this cool fall weather they’re still more than a month away. In the meantime, we had a pretty good weekend around here.
The highlight of our weekend was accompanying our beloved Mom to the Saturday night opening of a new exhibit at the nearby Wichita Art Museum. She very much wanted to go, but these days our our beloved Dad isn’t getting around well, so she called to ask if we were willing to accompany her instead, and of course we couldn’t refuse the offer. Our Mom is the main reason we’re such culture vultures, as she dragged us every few months to the Wichita Art Museum and subjected us to the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s young people concerts and took us on weekly visits to the Wichita Public Library,as well as occasional visits to nights at the local theater, and we were eager to partially repay the debt and re-live the precious memories of our childhood.
The new exhibit at the Wichita Art Museum features some exceptional photographs of the subtly beautiful Kansas landscape, as well as some tough-but-true accounts of the off-beat Kansas farmers who keep it going, and if you happen to be in Wichita while it’s still up we highly recommend it. Our beloved Mom seemed impressed that we were friends with most of The Haymakers, the outstanding country-jazz-folky-and-bluesy outfit that played the opening, although the usual bass player was preoccupied due to his first-chair gig with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, and we were delighted to introduce her to several of our weird culture vulture friends, and they all seemed to enjoy meeting our beloved Mom, too.
The rest of the weekend was filled with a rousing but relatively early morning worship service at the West Douglas Church of Christ, followed by a long afternoon nap afterwards, and then some joke-swapping with a Navy veteran at Kirby’s Beer Store, and on the whole it was a pretty good weekend. All of the politics is for now unresolved, and won’t be for at least another five weeks or so, but in the meantime things seem to be working out well enough here on the south-central plains of Kansas.

— Bud Norman

A Blue Moment in a Red State

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

— Bud Norman

Rainy Days and Mondays

Monday was a gray and rainy day here in the middle of America, with all the right lanes of Wichita’s streets flooding on our drive home from chores, and judging by the news we read in our nice dry office once we arrived home things were desultory all over.
That awful Omarosa Manigault Newman woman was still in the news cycle, which does no good for anybody. She’s the former reality star who got a high-level gig in the White House when her reality show co-star President Donald Trump was elected, but was fired by chief of staff John Kelly and is now described as a “low-life” by Trump because of the tell-book she’s about to publish. On Sunday’s “Meet the Press” she released a surreptitiously recorded tape of Kelly’s heavy-handed firing in the top-secret “Situation Room,” which made everyone involved look bad, and on Monday she released another surreptitiously recorded tape of Trump himself telling her that hated to hear about her firing, which is also embarrassing for all involved. She claims to have further surreptitiously recorded conversations with the president’s daughter and son-in-law and other high-ranking Trump administration officials, which we don’t doubt, and expect it will make all involved look bad.
Back east on Wall Street all the stock market indices were down again, and so far as we can tell that’s mostly because of the Turkish government’s fiscal irresponsibility and general craziness. Due to long-ago Cold War exigencies the increasingly Islamist Turks are full-fledged North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, and although they’re not fully-fledged European Union members they’re a big enough chunk of the western world’s economy that their impending bankruptcy is roiling the global markets. We’d happily blame it all on the once again “Sick Man of Europe,” but in this case Trump has congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Edorgan on his recent promotion to de facto Islamist dictator, and is nonetheless waging war on both Erdogan and America’s democratically-elected leaders, and for now no one looks good in this stock market swoon.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A. Trump was meeting with the “Bikers for Trump,” and backing their improbable call for a boycott of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which has lately been forced to shift some manufacturing to export markets as a result of Trump’s trade wars. The oh-so-polite Washington Post was shocked to notice that some of the self-proclaimed “outlaw bikers” had some pretty sexist patches on their leather and denim jackets, and showed up at the White House on their beloved Harley-Davidson “hogs,” and that also doesn’t make anyone look good.
There’s some good economic news, what with the low unemployment rate and rising wages, but if you look closer there’s a dark cloud inside that silver lining. Job creation has actually slowed since the last 16 months of the hated administration of President Barack Obama, and those long-delayed increases in wages have thus far been outpaced by a conspicuous uptick in the inflation rate, which in bi small part to do with all those tariffs Trump has imposed. The federal deficit is as high as it was when the evil Democratic triumvirate of Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were running things in the aftermath of ’08 financial meltdown, and for now only the Democrats give even a hypocritical damn about it.
Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort is still on federal trial regarding tax evasion and bank fraud charges, too, with Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Roger Stone providing some of the damning testimony so far, and Manafort will soon face another federal trial regarding his failure to register as a foreign agent for a pro-Russian Ukrainian government during the campaign. Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Peter Strzok was fired for his anti-Trump “tweets” to the woman he having an affair with with during the presidential campaign, which gave the pro-Trump media plenty of reason to talk about their version of the real “Russia thing” scandal, but given all the extra-marital scandals and outraged “tweets” from the president that also looks bad for everyone involved.
Worse yet, the damned Democrats seem even crazier. They’ve got self-proclaimed socialists running in various districts, and a lesbian Native American mixed martial artist nominated up in Kansas’ third congressional district, and “antifa” terrorists making the white supremacists look placid during the ongoing race riots popping up around the country, and so far they’re still clinging to that awful Pelosi woman. There’s even talk of nominating a porn star’s lawyer for the presidency, on the grounds that he’s an audacious reality star and “at least he fights,”and that so far he’s gotten the better of  of the president who paid off his client,  and in this day and age it might well prove a winning argument. A sane and centrist Democratic party might stave off disaster long enough for a revived Republican party to set things right, as far as we’re still concerned, but on this gray and cloudy it seems a remote possibility.
The floods are reportedly far worse back in Pennsylvania, where our parents happily lived for a few decades until they returned to Kansas a couple of years ago, and as always we acknowledge that things are tough all over. The local forecast calls for another rainy day today before we get back to another hot and sunny Kansas summer day on Wednesday, and those poor kids who have to start another dreary school day on the unconscionably early next Monday will surely appreciate that. We’ll hold out hope, too, but no one comes out looking good in the end.

— Bud Norman

The Craziness in Kansas

The politics in Kansas are quite crazy at the moment, even by the prevailing national and global standards of political craziness.
More than a day after the primary polls closed on Tuesday we still don’t know who the Republican gubernatorial nominee is, although Secretary of State Kris Kobach holds a lead of fewer than 200 votes over serving Gov. Jeff Colyer in the initial count. Such a slim margin of victory requires a recount or two, which for now will be overseen by Secretary of State Kobach, which has raised some concerns with Colyer and his supporters, and it will be interesting to see how that works out.
Whichever candidate wins, we do at least know that he’ll be facing longtime state legislator Laura Kelly as the Democratic nominee in the general election, and in this cray year in Kansas we expect she’ll be formidable opponent. President Donald Trump won Kansas’ electoral votes by the usual 30 point rout, but that’s only because running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as he was a distant third in the Republican caucus and his protectionist policies aren’t playing well here and neither is his rich tough guy from New York shtick. Kelly is scandal-free so far as we can tell, talks knowingly of technical adjustments to state policies rather than radical transformations, is plain-faced and plain-spoken in a reassuringly Kansas way, and either Republican will have a hard time making her out to be nearly so scary as that awful Clinton woman.
Meanwhile, the Democrats went crazy in a very un-Kansas way up in the Third Congressional District, where they chose a lesbian Native American and former mixed martial arts fighter named Sharice Davids as their candidate. We have nothing against lesbians or Native Americans, but we draw the line at mixed martial arts, and it objectively strikes us bad politics even by the Kansas Democratic party’s sorry standards. The Third is morstly comprised of largely black and poor Wyandotte County and the predominantly wealthy and white Kansas City suburbs of Johnson and Miami counties, the sort of district that’s been losing Republican support in all the special elections since Trump got elected, but it’s still Kansas, for crying out loud, and we can only bear so much intersectionality of gender identity politics around here.
The Democrats might have blown a ripe opportunity to flip another suburban Republican seat in the Third, but in the Second Congressional District they took the more characteristically Kansan cautious choice. Their nominee, Paul Davis, is a straight white male and a longtime legislator and former gubernatorial party nominee who won the district in his bid, and he easily defeated the candidate that self-described socialists Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander and New York’s Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-both campaigned for. and he’s always played well in a district that includes the crazy college town of Lawrence and well as the government-infested state capital of Topeka.
Current Rep. Lynn Jenkins announced months ago that she wouldn’t be seeking re-election in exactly the sort of prosperous and well-educated district that Republicans have been losing since Trump’s election, but the Republicans came up with a formidable challenger of their, at least as far as we can tell from down here. He’s an Army veteran, and he beat out two other Army veterans, one of them a retired law enforcement officer, and he seems the polite and well-mannered sort of suburban who would never think of grabbing a woman by her wherever. By the time all the outside money pours into what will surely be a “toss up” race they’ll be both seen as the slimiest individuals you’ve ever laid eyes, but until then we’re hoping for a nice clean fight.
Down here in the middle of Wichita and the surrounding bounty of the Fourth Congressional District things are no crazier than usual. The Republicans re-nominated Rep. Ron Estes, who easily withstood a challenge from Ron Estes, which is not one of the sloppy mistypings we occasional commit. Turns out there’s another Ron Estes in the Fourth, and no one knows if it was a Democratic dirty trick or just for personal yucks, but he paid the nominal filing fee and got on the ballot. The Secretary of State’s office decreed that the incumbent Estes would be identified as Rep. Ron Estes, while the challenger would lack the honorific and have a middle initial added, which made things pretty clear, so it’s worth noting that the other Ron Estes got 18.6 percent of the vote.
The Democrats re-nominated attorney James Thompson, who came within seven points of beating Estes in the special election that followed Rep. Mike Pompeo’s appointment to head the Central Intelligence. A seven point would be shameful for a Democrat in a lot of districts, but around here it was a 23-point improvement on the usual butt-whippings, and by a sliver-sized margin he actually won Sedgwick County, which is mainly urban and ethnically and socio-economically diverse yet instinctively conservative Wichita, and the crazy Democrats we run into around here never give up hope that we’ll soon be a socialist paradise.
Thompson came within shouting distance in that special election partly because the Republicans were contented and the Democrats riled up by Trump’s victory, and Thompson’s ads featured semi-automatic rifles and talk of his military record and absolutely nothing that could be considered scarily far-left. This time around he let Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez come and campaign for him, which hasn’t impressed our far-left Democratic friends has our more seasoned and pragmatic Democratic friends slapping their foreheads. Estes is just another Ron Estes, and certainly can’t compare to the shooting star of his successor, who is now Secretary of State and plotting every move according to presidential ambitions, but we expect the Fourth won’t flip anytime soon.
Meanwhile, and as usual, everything seems so serenely sane out there beyond the city in the vast and sprawling First Congressional District of Kansas. If you’re a fellow urbanite who longs for wide open spaces, with gently rolling hills of native grasses and lush crops unmarred by strip malls and modern architecture, and Frank Capra-esque small towns full of kind hearts and gentle people, you can still find it in the First. The district encompasses all of harsh and mostly empty western Kanand bumps up against the other districts to the east. The district includes some rough towns that never got over their old west ways, and the many southeast Asians and northern Africans they’ve brought into man the meatpacking plants that largely sustain the district’s economy out west has introduced some uncomfortable racial and socio-economic diversity to once lily-white communities, but they seem to manage their business well enough.
The Republican renominated incumbent Rep. Roger Marshall, and although the Democrats didn’t bother to hold a primary his past opponent Alan LaPolice will be on the ballot as an independent,so it’s pretty much a done deal that Marshal will win a second term. He won his first term by knocking off Republican incumbent Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a burn-it-down anti-establishment who’d been elected in the dark days of President Barack Obama and the Tea Party fervor of the time. When Huelskamp’s never back-down and punch-back-tens-times-as-hard style got Kansas kicked off the House Agriculture committee for the first time ever and wound up delaying a farm bill and it’s much needed-subsidy checks over some fiscal principle the First regained its sanity and chose the more mild-manner Marshall, who is more in line with Bob Dole and all the other future Senators and establishment types the First has sent to higher office, and so far they seem to like him.
Things might be just as crazy as in your neck of the political woods, and if so we wish you well. If it works out for the worse, we hope you have a nearby safe space to beat a hasty retreat.

— Bud Norman

Kansas in the Middle, As Always

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

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