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The Trumpinization of a Grand Old Party

The big story on Tuesday was President Donald Trump’s anticlimactic photo-op with North Korea’s nutcase dictator, but but Wednesday people were taking notice that he’d somehow strengthened his control of the Republican party.
Tuesday was also primary day in South Carolina and Virginia, and by Wednesday morning the Trumpier candidates had prevailed.
In South Carolina incumbent Rep. Mark Sanford, who had voted with Trump 87 percent of the time but occasionally criticized him on television, lost to a more full-throated Trump loyalist after a presidential “tweet” that Sanford wasn’t “helping MAGA.” In a Virginia senate primary, the Republicans picked Corey Stewart, another Trump loyalist who ran on his Trumpian affection for Confederate monuments and antipathy to illegal immigration and abiding belief that were good people on both sides of that deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Sanford had won his seat despite an unusually tawdry sex scandal while he was governor of South Carolina, as unusually tawdry sex scandals are of little concern to the erstwhile “family values” party in the age of Trump, but a bare majority of the state’s Republicans apparently found that 13 percent of the he voted against and the few times he went on television to criticize something Trump had said or done unforgivable. His opponent, state lawmaker Katie Harrington, had run a television advertisement promising that she wouldn’t appear on any cable news programs criticizing the president no matter what he might say or do or “tweets.”
Such North Korean fealty to the party’s dear leader will probably play well in South Carolina, where Trump is unaccountably popular, but Stewart will probably have a harder time with in Virginia. In the last presidential election Trump lost the state by five points to the awful Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee easily won last year’s gubernatorial despite Trump’s efforts, and the Democrats have been winning formerly Republican seats in most of the congressional and state and local races since Trump’s election. The damage has been especially acute in the mostly white and well-educated upper-class suburbs of the state, and although those are mostly federal government workers in Virginia the same problem has occurred in special elections almost everywhere since Trump was inaugurated.
Even here in reliably Republican Kansas there’s reasonable talk that the second congressional district, which is mostly the white and well-educated upper-class suburbs of Kansas City, is ripe for a Democratic upset. The mediocrity who replaced Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will probably prevail down here in the more blue-collar fourth district, but he won by an embarrassingly 7-point margin in the special election and actually lost the Wichita vote.
Tuesday also saw Tennessee’s Republican Sen. Bob Corker take to the Senate floor to fulminate about Trump’s crazy trade wars with our most longstanding allies, and grouse that so few Republicans supported his efforts to restrain such craziness, but he’s already announced he won’t run for reelection because his party won’t allow such heresy. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona has been similarly courageous in confronting Trump, but he’s also announced he’s not bothering with another Republican primary. Arizona’s senior Sen. John McCain has been especially outspoken in his critique of the draft dodger who scoffed at his heroic war record, but he’s battling a likely fatal disease. The few other Republicans who dare to disagree with whatever Trump says or does or “tweets” are damned careful and deferential about how they say so.
We haven’t had the chance to visit the rest of the country recently, but our guess as rock-ribbed pre-Trump Kansas Republicans our guess is that fealty to Trump no matter what he says or does or “tweets” is not a longterm winning strategy for the the Republican party. Which is a damned shame, because we still don’t like those Democrats.

— Bud Norman

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Pomp, Circumstance, and the Unvarnished Truth

‘Tis the season for college commencement speeches, and the controversies a few of them annually cause. Even the most controversial commencement speeches are usually forgettable affairs, but we did take notice of the one that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered on Wednesday to the most recent graduates of the Virginia Military Academy.
Tillerson was once the well-regarded and objectively successful chief executive officer of the multi-national and very big deal Exxon Corporation, but during his brief tenure as Secretary of State he was harshly criticized from both the left and the right. The left resented his corporate downsizing of the State Department and seeming abandonment of diplomacy as a means of American influence, the post-President Donald Trump right found him insufficiently committed to an “America First” isolationism and militarism, and even from our newfound perspective on the sidelines he was so clearly ineffectual we were glad to see him replaced by our formidable former District of Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo.
Even so, Tillerson’s bold address to the VMI graduates give us hope that he’ll prove one heck of an ex-Secretary of State. Although he never mentioned Trump by name, Tillerson opened the speech by talking of his own higher education in engineering and the need for structural integrity, the similar need to maintain the personal integrity that is prized by every great faith and every tradition, and the importance of maintaining longstanding alliances and the challenges of an ever changing world,and it was obvious to anyone on the left or right or on the sidelines that he was talking about Trump. He also described a “growing crises in integrity,” recalled his alma mater of Texas A&M New Testament motto of the “the truth shall set you free,” and warned that if citizens ‘becoming accepting of ‘alternative realiities’ that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on the pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”
Just in case it wasn’t clear enough that Tillerson was talking about Trump,Trump’s under-penalty-of-law financial disclosure forms were simultaneously admitting that he had indeed lied to the media and the nation aboard Air Force One about his $130,000 payment to a porno performer who quite credibly alleges a one night stand with the future president. Tillerson couldn’t have possibly predicted it, but Trump’s inevitably Nobel Peace Prize-winning negotiations with North Korea about its nuclear weapons program had hit hit a sudden snag, Trump’s bellicose “America First” stance on trade had complicated relations with out our longstanding allies in southeast Asia and elsewhere, and those widely reported reports that Trump’s sudden conspicuous friendliness to a Chinese telecommunications that was previously sanctioned for intellectual property theft on spying on Americans coincided with the Chinese government’s $500 million dollar investment in a Trump-branded development deal in Indonesia.
We’ll have to wait and see how that all turns out, as Trump likes to say, but in the meantime the guy he appointed and then fired as Secretary of State seems to have the upper hand with commencement speech. We always voted for the current Secretary of State when he was running for our fourth congressional seat here in Kansas, and hold out hope that he’ll somehow negotiate some settlement to the latest crisis on the Korean peninsula that doesn’t leave hundreds of thousands of people dead, but his ineffectual and defenestrated predecessor’s words about the need for integrity and acknowledging truth ring disquietingly true.

Pennsylvania and Pompeo and the Rest

The big story on Tuesday was supposed to be that portentous special House election in Pennsylvania, but of course President Donald Trump wound up grabbing all the headlines. He fired his Secretary of State, which would be newsworthy story in any administration, and given these peculiar circumstances there were enough subplots to fill countless side bar stories.
Although none of ever much liked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, some of us are sorry to see him go. He came into the job with no previous diplomatic experience, save for negotiation some big-money deals as the head of the giant Exxon corporation with the Russian government that were being hampered by American sanctions, so he started off on the wrong foot with the foreign policy establishment. He proved more of a hard-liner on Russia than Trump would prefer, so the establishment press came to regard him as a restraining influence on the president, but that only made him all the more unpopular with Trump and his hard-line supporters. Meanwhile Tillerson went ahead with his budget-cutting and downsizing plan for the State Department, which did not endear him to any of his employees, and in the end it didn’t spare Tillerson from his own boss’s wrath.
Trump’s announced replacement is Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo, which is another interesting story. As much as we hate to name drop, we’ve actually schmoozed with the guy on a couple of occasions, which is one of the perks of being well-connected on the theatrical and political and social scenes here in Wichita, Kansas, which has somehow produced two CIA directors in our lifetimes, and we have to say we found him a friendly enough fellow. He’s a formidable fellow, too, top of his class at West Point and editor of the Harvard Law Review and founder of a successful high-tech aviation business here in town, and as traditional Kansas Republicans we enthusiastically voted for him in all three of his successful runs in our Fourth Congressional District. Why, wee still have a red-white-and-blue “I Like Mike” button on our desk, which we proudly use to prick the pinholes on our pesky electronic devices.
Pompeo gave an eloquent endorsement of Sen. Marco Rubio during the Kansas Republican party’s primary caucus down at Century II, and was among the Republican resisting Trump right up until the nomination, but since then he’s been more accommodating to Trump. Early on in his is CIA role he reaffirmed the agency’s conclusion that the Russian government had indeed meddled in the past presidential election, and that the “Wikileaks” operation leaking all the hacked Democratic e-mails was acting on Russia’s behalf, but he was careful not to implicate Trump. Over time he reportedly won Trump over with his schmoozing and his educational and military and business and Kansas conservative credentials, along with his increasing willingness to insulate Trump from any of that “Russia thing,” and we’re not surprised by Pompeo’s latest promotion.
Trump was reportedly considering firing Tillerson months ago, although dismissed it as “fake news” at the time, so there was naturally some speculation about why it happened on Tuesday. Tillerson had survived the reports that he’d called Trump a certain profane sort of “Moron,” which he neither confirmed nor denied, and Trump’s “tweets” about challenging his Secretary of State to an I.Q. test competition, and all the times that Tillerson had distanced himself on whatever story was dominating the day’s news cycle, from the Paris Climate Accord to the neo-Nazi rally in Virginia to the wisdom of negotiating with the North Korean dictatorship, so one can’t help wondering what straw at long last broke the metaphorical camel’s back.
The British government is currently indignant about a couple of political assassinations that were quite apparently committed on their sovereign soil by agents of the Russian government, and Tillerson expressed his shared indignation shortly after the White House press secretary had stressed that maybe the Russians had nothing to do with it, so naturally there was some speculation about that. Trump has since said that yeah the Russians probably did it, although he didn’t seem the least big indignant about it, and he’s previously expressed his opinion that hey what the hell we do lots of extra-terrritorial killings here in the good ol’ USA, so there’s some expected speculation about that.
If we were the type to indulge in conspiracy theories, we’d chalk Tillerson’s firing up to that portentous special House election in Pennsylvania. We stayed up all night to the results but it was still too close too call, but the Democrat was clinging to a slim over the Republican, and no matter how the lawyers work it out we’re sure Trump would rather not talk about that.
Trump won the district by 20 points in the election landslide, even better than the 15 or more point victories that Republicans had long expected, but since then things have changed. The Republicans have won most of the special congressional elections since Trump’s inaugural, but that’s mostly because they’ve been in districts or states where Trump promoted a popular Republican to a cabinet position, and all of the races have been conspicuously closer than the last time around. The Republicans even managed to lose a Senate seat in Alabama, of all places, for crying out loud, and a loss in northern Pennsylvania would bode ill for a lot of Republicans next November.
That Republican down in Alabama was credibly accused of all sorts creepy and criminal behavior, while that Republican up in Pennsylvania is more frequently criticized for being boring, unlike the pro-life and family values Republican incumbent who’d resigned the seat after his mistress told the press about he’d pressed to get an abortion. In both elections Trump held well-attended and raucous rallies in support of his fellow Republicans, and although in both in cases he talked mostly about himself they wound up well short of his victory margins, even the Republican lawyers somehow eke out a victory. which does not portend well for Trump or the rest of the Republicans in fall’s mid-term elections.
All politics really is local, though, even in the age of Trump. The Democrat in Pennsylvania was just as supportive of Trump’s crazy-ass steel tariffs as the Republican, and he was a handsome ex-Marine and former prosecutor who’d killed or locked up all sorts of sinister types, and was centrist on guns and such, and had the endorsement of the remaining steelmaking unions. The Republican down in Alabama was credibly accused of all sorts of creepiness, and the opposing Democratic took his own boring and centrist position, which eventually won the day.

Maybe Pompeo’s appointment as Secretary of State will turn it all around, but we doubt it. He strikes us as a nice enough and serious enough fellow, but these are trying times.

— Bud Norman

The Threats Keep on a -Threatening

The Senate intelligence committee held hearings Tuesday on worldwide threats, and it all sounded pretty threatening. So far as we can tell the most pressing threat is to the credibility of President Donald Trump.
The hearings opened with testimony from Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray, which wound up dragging out the recent embarrassing storyline about the alleged wives-beater who was allowed to resign last week from his high-ranking position in the White House with fulsome praise from Trump. The president and his chief of staff both claimed to have been shocked by the allegations against staff secretary Rob Porter when they learned of them in a recent Daily Mail expose, but those pesky reporters kept pestering the White House press secretary about why the allegations hadn’t been exposed by an FBI background check, and why the agency hadn’t granted Porter the security clearance he needed to do his high-ranking job, which dragged the story through the weekend an into Monday. The answers weren’t quite clear, but they seemed to suggest that the FBI had failed in its duty to vet the White House staff.
Wray was appointed to the FBI directorship by Trump, but on Tuesday he declined to commit perjury and scapegoat his hard-working agents by sticking to the White House script. Instead he testified that his agency had given the White House a preliminary report last March that two ex-wives saidt Porter had physically abused them, and included corroborating police reports and court filings in a complete report last July. If chief of staff John Kelly is truthfully claiming that he only found out about Porter’s problem when the Daily Mail wrote about it, which seems highly unlikely, it does not speak well for the efficiency of the White House.
The hearing also heard about even scarier threats to the national security than a wives-beating staff secretary, and raised questions about how efficient the White House will deal with them.
Joining Wray at the hearings were Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo, and all agreed that the Russian government meddled in the last American elections in various nefarious ways and is keenly intent on doing so again in the next one. Wray assured the senators that the FBI is undertaking “a lot of specific activities” to counter the Russian efforts, but admitted that none were “specifically directed by the president.” Coats also spoke of unspecified specific activities, but acknowledged that “no single agency is in charge.” Pompeo defended his agency’s had work countering the Russian threat and promised more specific information in the closed session that followed, and given his reputation as an efficient man he probably had plenty to tell them, but despite his reputation as a Trump loyalist he didn’t mention anything about the president’s leadership in the effort.
All of which ties into that whole “Russia thing” storyline that has loomed so large in the Trump reality show, and none of which does him much good. Trump’s apparent insouciance about Russian attacks on American democracy is one of the most compelling reasons so many people suspect there’s something to this particular “witch hunt,” and despite his apologists best efforts to blame it on a “deep state” “silent coup” of corrupt FBI agents and CIA spooks we note that Trump’s own appointees aren’t backing them up.
To make things worse, Coats also testified that the federal government’s “increasingly fractious political process, particularly with respect to federal spending, is threatening our ability to defend our nation, both in the short term and especially in the long run.” Given the budget-busting spending bill Trump recently signed, and his own contributions to the fractiousness of the political process, that was hardly a ringing endorsement of his boss.
Perhaps it will be quickly forgotten, though, as that embarrassing storyline about the porn performer who alleged a past affair with Trump and Trump’s lawyer paying her $130,000 during the election was back in the news. The latest hook is that Trump’s longtime lawyer and spokesman and valued advisor is now claiming he made the payment out of his own pocket, for some undisclosed reason we cannot imagine, which he claims clears Trump of any campaign finance disclosure problems. There’s also talk that Kelly will soon be out as chief of staff, and Trump’s longtime lawyer had been rumored as a possible replacement, so we expect more threatening storylines to come.

— Bud Norman

The Tillerson Exit

There’s no way of predicting what President Donald Trump will do next, except that he’ll “tweet” something controversial, but we’ll go along with all the reports in all the big papers and networks in assuming that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is soon headed to administration’s exits. There’s also no way of predicting if this will eventually prove a good thing or a bad thing, but there’s no denying that it doesn’t speak well of the way things are going right now.
According to the consensus of respectable opinion Tillerson’s failure to fully staff the State Department and his efforts to make deep cuts to its budget have seriously undermined foreign policy aground the globe, but on the other hand he’s been one of the much-needed moderating influences in Trump’s administration. The consensus of conservative opinion holds that Tillerson has been insufficiently loyal to Trump with his efforts to seek a diplomatic resolution to North Korea’s nuclear provocations, his failure to endorse some of Trump’s more controversial “tweets,” and his overheard gripe that Trump is a gerund-form-of-a-certaincurse-word “moron,” and they give him no credit for his willingness to drain the Foggy Bottom swamp of all those “deep state” “globalist” “establishment” types. At this point we’re feeling a certain a sympathy for the poor fellow, but he doesn’t seem to have much support from anybody who matters.
By now we’re well outside both the consensus of either respectable or conservative opinion, but we will have our own gripes about Tillerson, so we don’t what to make of it.
When Trump announced his appointment of Tillerson, lathering on the usual Trumpian superlatives about his successful career as the chief executive officer of ExxonMobil, we were impressed by his corporate expertise but leery of someone who’s only foreign policy experience was negotiating a multi-billion dollar oil deal with the dictatorial Russian government and winning it’s official friendship medal, but in an administration full of surprises he surprised us by proving one of the hard-liners against Russia. Trump seemed surprised by it, too, and was clearly displeased, and after the “moron” commented was in the papers he challenged his Secretary of State to an “IQ test,” so that made us rather like Tillerson.
On the other hand, we have to agree with all those “deep state” “globalist” “establishment” types that the State Department seems rather skinny after almost a year of Tillerson’s stewardship. Trump has told interviewers that most of the unfilled positions are irrelevant and the only person that matters is himself, but one of those positions is an ambassador to South Korea, which sits on the same tense Korean peninsula as North Korea, and expect that many others could offer some expertise that might be useful to the business executives who are now running America’s running foreign policy.
All the reports in all the papers and all the networks suggest that Tillerson will soon be replaced by current Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo, and that also seems a relatively safe bet. Pompeo used to be our congressman here in the good old Fourth District of Kansas, and he’s a formidable fellow we enthusiastically voted for him in each of his congressional campaigns. He was top of his class at West Point, editor of the Harvard Law Review, founder of a successful high-aviation business, quite charming in our couple of encounters with him, and somehow managed to ride the Tea Party wave of anti-establishment fervor without splashing any water on the establishment. As CIA director he defied Trump by affirming the intelligence community’s consensus of opinion that the Russians had entered with the the past presidential election, then said it didn’t affect the outcome and later walked that back to the consensus of opinion that there’s no telling, and we’re not at all surprised he’s reportedly won the trust and affection of Trump.
There’s no telling how it will work out, though. As impressive as Pompeo’s resume is it doesn’t have anything on it regarding foreign policy experience, except for his brief tenure as CIA director, which had its highs and lows, and although we wish our fellow Wichitan well we expect he’ll be more interested in pleasing Trump. Pompeo has nothing to do with that “Russia thing,” at least, and we can hold out hope he’ll be a moderating influence. even if his business instincts continue the downsizing at the State Department.

— 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

Benghazi and the Difference It Makes

Former Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton spent most of Thursday testifying to a House committee investigating the the tragic deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at a far-flung consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and by the end of it her handling of the matter was revealed as even more incompetent, dishonest, and thoroughly despicable than was previously known. Still, one can’t help forlornly accepting Clinton’s infamous argument that “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
What was previously known was damning enough, after all. Even by Election Day way back in ’12 it had been established that at Clinton’s urging the administration of President Barack Obama had bombed an odious but defanged dictator out of power in Libya and thus ushered in an power vacuum where various Islamist terror groups thrived, then ignored repeated pleas for more security by the unfortunate men and women who were sent into the resulting anarchy to serve the government, that when the long foreseen terrorist attack at last occurred they lied to the American public that it was the entirely unpredictable result of a spontaneous demonstration sparked by the local populace’s understandable outrage over an obscure YouTube video critical of Islam rather than a well-planned attack by the terrorist gangs that were assuredly being routed, then had the filmmaker imprisoned on a parole violation for exercising his First Amendment rights and assured the United Nations that “the future must not belong to those slander the prophet of Islam,” and withheld information from government and press investigators to cover it all up. None of this prevented Obama’s re-election, and even the resulting scandal about Clinton’s use of a private and unsecured and most likely illegal e-mail server in apparent attempt to keep further embarrassing facts away from public scrutiny hasn’t changed the media perception that she’s still the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
For reasons they cannot adequately explain to us, all of our Democratic friends are quite insouciant about the whole affair. Had it happened during a Republican administration we expect they’d share some at least some of our outrage about it, but in this case they find all sorts of excuses. None seem at all upset that we bombed some Middle Eastern dictator out of power, even though he’d verifiably surrendered all his weapons of mass destruction after the invasion of Iraq and posed no immediate threat to America’s national security, and even though they take a much dimmer view of such actions during Republican administrations. A columnist for a recently-defunct local “alternative paper” blamed the deaths on the daredevil recklessness of the ambassador, despite the repeated pleas for more security, and his readers seemed to accept that a Secretary of State should be doing whatever Clinton doing at the time to deal with such minor matters as the security arrangements for some remote consulate. That she blamed it on a spontaneous demonstration against some obscure and easily targeted filmmaker in order to help her administration’s re-election doesn’t seem to trouble a Democrats’ conscience, either, as they can ascribe any Republican criticism to rank political partisanship and their otherwise steadfast commitment to the most irreligious sorts of free speech ends short of any slander against the prophet of Islam. As for the highly irregular e-mail arrangement that now figures it in the scandal, even the only credible challenger to Clinton’s presumptive Democratic nomination says to great applause that he’s sick of hearing about it.
Pretty much everyone that’s not a true believer in the Democratic faith has already concluded that Clinton is incompetent, dishonest, and thoroughly despicable, too, so there seems little to be gained from another day’s further confirmation of what has so long been obvious. At this point, though, we appreciate even the most futile gesture.
The day’s testimony might not hurt Clinton’s electoral chances, but it can’t possibly help. Committee chairman and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy was able to get in some digs about how longtime Clinton family consigliere Sid Blumenthal, better known as “Sid Vicious,” who had some economic interest in toppling Libya’s odious but defanged dictatorship, was among the few people who had knowledge of Clinton’s irregular e-mail account while the ambassador in Libya did not. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan was able to cite some hard-attained e-mails from staff who were appalled that Clinton and other administration officials were peddling a false tale about spontaneous demonstrations against obscure YouTube videos, as well as an e-mail to her daughter admitting that it was well-planned terror attack, and to establish that the lie started with her. Our very own Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was able to establish that there were at least 600 requests from Benghazi for enhanced security, which forced the embarrassing response that “One of the great attributes that Chris Stevens had was a really good sense of humor. And I just see him smiling as he types this.”
That eerie moment will go mostly unnoticed by the public, and no hardened opinions will be altered by it, but we’re nonetheless glad it happened. There’s something to be said for establishing a factual historical record, no matter how inconsequential it might prove in the short term, and certainly that ambassador and those three other dead Americans deserve that. The unfolding facts can’t help Clinton, either, and there’s something to be said for that as well.

— Bud Norman

The Worst Deal Ever Gets Even Worse

Several weeks ago we reached the conclusion that the nuclear accord the Obama administration has reached with Iran is the worst deal ever struck in the history of diplomacy, and since then it looks even worse. There have been revelations of contingent side deals between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran that the administration has signed on to without reading, constant taunts by the Iranians about how they have defeated the western powers and are now free to continue their sponsorship of international terror and pursue nuclear weaponry, and proof that the administration is going headlong into this disastrous deal despite the opposition of a majority of the American public and its elected officials.
The existence of the two side deals was discovered by our very own Kansas’ fourth congressional Rep. Mike Pompeo during a fact-finding mission in Vienna, although he he wasn’t able to learn what the side deals say, just that the administration has apparently agreed to them even though it was also unable to learn what was involved, and given how very awful the known facts of the deal are we’re going to assume the worst about the unknown. In the highly unlikely event that the deals ultimately prove more or less benign there’s still the worrisome fact that the administration is signing off on them without notifying Congress, which strikes us as pretty darned unconstitutional even by the degraded standards of the moment, and the relative lack of attention being paid to this alarming development is an an alarming development in itself.
Then there’s all that gloating by apocalyptic suicide cult running Iran about how it’s nuclear programs and international sponsorship of more low-tech terrorism and general global trouble-making will continue unabated with the blessings of the Americans and their equally gullible western partners. One of the “tweets” by Iran’s “supreme leader” featured a illustration of President Barack Obama committing suicide along with text about predicting the futility of western resistance to Iran’s ambitions of global dominance, which is certainly more extreme than anything the “Tea Party” or any domestic opponents of the administration have ever dared. Even Secretary of State of John Kerry, whose enthusiasm for anti-American barbarism dates all the way back to this days as a hippie protestor of the Vietnam War, admits that he’s “disturbed” by such imagery and language. He’s not so disturbed that he’ll reconsider the disastrous deal he’s made, of course, but it’s a telling admission nonetheless.
Given that this is supposed to be a representative democracy there’s also something troubling about the fact that all the disastrous known deal and the possibly even worse unknown deals are all proceeding despite the fact that a clear majority of the country seems to know better. There are polls that ask the country if they support a deal that would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting the economic sanctions against that country, with the predictably supportive response, but even those reveal that most Americans somehow understand that this particular deal won’t achieve that that response. There’s perhaps still a slight chance that Israel and the Sunni Arab countries and the western powers within reach of the inter-contentinental ballistic systems that Iran is free to develop under the proposed agreement will somehow survive this awful agreement, but it’s far less likely that our constitutional system of representative democracy will be unscathed.

— Bud Norman

The Politics Around Here

Kansas holds a primary one week from today, and the state is already awash in politics. Yard signs are proliferating, the mailbox is full of fliers, the pitchmen for identity theft protection agencies and the guy from the Good Feet Store have been chased off the talk radio airwaves by campaign commercials, and some of the races are intriguingly nasty.
All of the action around here is on the Republican side, as usual. The state’s beleaguered Democrats always pick their candidates well in advance of the primary at some committee meeting or another, where a strange cabal of airplane plant union bosses and political science professors and some die-hard lefty activists left over from the good old Prairie Populist days take care not to choose anyone who might have a chance in the long-awaited favorable election cycle. There’s some faint hope of knocking off incumbent Governor Sam Brownback, a budget-cutting anti-abortion stalwart who is hated by the state’s Democrats with a red-hot fervor usually reserved for the likes of Dick Cheney or Sarah Palin, but the supposedly mainstream candidate they’ve come up with is not only a Democrat but also from Lawrence and will have a hell of a time explaining those embarrassing facts to the rest of the thoroughly Republican and decidedly non-college town state. Meanwhile, all the Republican races are being hotly contested between the go-along-to-get-along crowd and the tar-feather-and-pitchforks folks.
Even. Sen Pat Roberts, who has been winning elections in the state since it joined the Union just prior to the Civil War, has lately been forced to resort to some strenuously negative advertising to stave off a primary challenge by Kansas City-area radiologist and political neophyte Dr. Milton Wolf. Wolf’s shoestring campaign got off to a good start with free publicity about his distant family relation to President Barack Obama and scathing commentary on everything Obama has done, and picked up further free steam from media reports that Roberts hasn’t actually lived in the state for years, but was derailed through the summer by news accounts of how the kindly doctor had posted his patients’ x-rays on his Facebook page with darkly humorous commentary. Lately one of those anti-establishment Republican groups have taken to the airwaves with a compelling critique of all the debt and failed grand bargains that Roberts has voted for after so many decades of practical politics, and a prominent national talk radio host has championed Wolf’s cause, but Wolf’s name recognition remains low and he’s yet to make the case for himself. Wolf’s challenge is serious enough that Roberts is unaccustomedly spending campaign money on a primary, and we’re still undecided how we’ll cast our own vote, but our sense is that Roberts will survive and suffer little damage in what should be an easy general election campaign against whoever it is that the Democrats have already offered up as a human sacrifice.
The weakness of Wolf’s campaign should be taken into consideration when reading the inevitable stories about the establishment-versus-insurgents rift within the Republican, but other races indicate where the rift is actually occurring.
Here in the Fourth Congressional, which includes relatively densely-populated Wichita and the rest of relatively sparsely populated south-central Kansas, an incumbent who is still an impeccably insurgent sort even after two terms is being challenged his predecessor from the Bush-era of the Republican establishment. Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt always ran as a rock-ribbed Republican, and voted as one often enough to thrice win re-election, but to distinguish himself against his post-Tea Party opponent and explain his past spending votes he’s made an old-fashioned pitch to bring home the earmarked pork to the district in general and its key aviation industries in particular, with his ads making special mention of an “aviation zone” project that his opponent declined to fund. Rep. Mike Pompeo, the incumbent, has responded with spots arguing that the aviation industry needs to be freed from burdensome regulation rather than subsidized, touting his own proposed legislation to achieve that, and noting he is a successful aviation entrepreneur backed by all the titans of the local industry. Tiahrt still enjoys the loyalty of many of the substantial number of anti-abortion voters in the district, who played a key role in his initial upset victory and were always rewarded with his undying loyalty, but Pompeo’s voting record on abortion issues has not been faulted by any of the anti-abortion scorekeepers, and the Pompeo campaign has also been airing ads with religious right hero and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee extolling the incumbent’s solid family values. We’re solidly for Pompeo, partly because the top-of-his-class West Point grad and high tech business success strikes us as a far more intelligent fellow, but also because we’re more worried about paying off the debt than bringing home the bacon. Despite some recent tightening in the polls we’re still expecting most of the Republican voters in these parts will reach the same conclusion.
There’s no telling what stories the national media will tell about the Fourth District race, but at least they won’t embarrassed by any attention paid to Sedgwick County’s Fourth District Commission race. The battle between incumbent Commissioner Richard Ranzau and longtime state Sen. Carolyn McGinn is our favorite political pastime of the the summer, much as the Wichita Wingnuts’ campaign in the Double-A American Association is our current sports passion, and we like to think that both of these seemingly local concerns potentially portend the future of the United States of America. Any national media in search of a more rock-ribbed Tea Party insurgent anti-establishmentarian will find no one more closely resembling their favorite stereotypes than Ranzau, who has become locally famous by County Commission standards for voting “no” against almost everything. He’ll spend a Sedgwick Countian’s hard-earned tax money on water and roads and locking up the roustabouts and all of the few other things than even a Republican originalist such as Abraham Lincoln would have sanctioned a county commission doing, but when it comes to the rest of the hogwash that the do-gooders and the teachers’ unions cook up he’s been on the losing end of a lot of four-to-one or three-to-two votes. So principled is Ranzau in his stinginess that he has even voted against programs that would be paid for entirely by federal funds, a response to the nation’s $17 trillion dollar debt that the local media, machine Democrats, and even the more of Chamber of Commerce-y sorts of Republicans regard as utter madness. Ranzau could happily dine in the hippest bistros of San Francisco or New York or anywhere else outside Sedgwick County in complete anonymity, although the other customers would probably notice something suspiciously Sedgwick County Republican about his ill-fitting brown jacket, but among the polite opinion in Riverside and downtown and the other semi-fashionable portions of the Fourth District he’s as reviled as a Koch brother.
Running against Ranzaus and his outrages is McGinn, an exemplar of the more respectable sort of Republicanism that has prevailed in Kansas pretty much since the Reconstruction era. She can legitimately claim a fairly conservative voting record on spending in her ads, in which she proudly declares “I demand accountability,” but she also boasts of having the “courage” to vote for “investments” in the future of the county. We’ve covered enough economic-development conferences and hearings and bill-signings to recognize the reference to the same old eco-devo boondoggles that have become such an entrenched part of federal and state and county and local government it takes little courage to vote for them, so we’re inclined to to Ranzau’s and Pompeo’s preference for lower taxes and fewer regulations. McGinn seems a fine woman, conservative enough by the standards that prevailed through most of our lives in the Republican Party, and we don’t worry that Sedgwick County will perish by rule, but we’d like to see Ranzau’s underfunded re-election bid prevail. We enjoy taunting our more polite neighbors about him, much as we enjoy taunting them with our admiration for the Koch brothers, and would like the think the rest of the Republican party is just as serious as he’s been about the government’s proper roles..

— Bud Norman

That’s Show Biz

All hell could have broken loose the past few days without our noticing. This past week was devoted to our annual appearance on the local stage, and amateur theatrics is an all-consuming activity.
On our drives to and from the aged but still elegant Orpheum Theater in downtown we caught word on the radio that the stock markets are tanking, Ukraine is heating up, and some feisty Nevada ranchers have somehow managed to stare down the Feds, but there wasn’t time to dive into all the details with our usual thoroughness. We tried to keep apprised of the Ukrainian situation well enough to know if our cheeky skit about the matter, which featured Vladimir Putin and a bear hoofing to “Singin’ Ukraine,” was veering into bad taste, but otherwise we were too preoccupied with ironing costumes and memorizing lines and placating temperamental cast members to keep abreast of the rest of the world.
The show closed its three-night run on Saturday, but the cast party went well into Sunday and the rest of the day was devoted to watching the final round of the Masters and recuperating from the grind of show biz. A lack of talent spared us any singing or dancing, and our three short scenes were carefully written within the severe limitations of our acting ability, but it nonetheless proved quite exhausting. Theater is a collaborative art from, which necessarily entails other people, and that always wear us out. The mostly media-affiliated folks who put on the annual “Gridiron” shows for charity and ego gratification and a good bunch, at least, and by now we think they’re almost used to us.
Our humble efforts got some good laughs, more so the first two nights, for some reason or another, and it once again proved an enjoyable experience. After 47 years the “Gridiron” show is a local institution that brings out all the other local institutions, so it’s a good way to immerse one’s self in the city for a short while. We got to schmooze with our district’s reality conservative congressman, Rep. Mike Pompeo, and the director of the nationally-regarded Music Theater of Wichita company, who’s always been nice to us despite the occasional bad reviews we’d write back in our newspaper days, as well as some old friends and comely women. The county commissioner from Haysville was obliged to be less friendly than usual this year, due to his constituents’ recent umbrage at the jokes the show traditionally makes about the town, and there was no one there from the local television station that fired a fellow cast member for inadvertently uttering an expletive at the end of a news cast, which of course was a recurring gag in the show, but on the whole everyone was nice enough.
The show was unusually right-wing this year, too, which was a welcome change from the usual fare that you’d expect from a mostly media-affiliated troupe. That’s partly because the show has recently added some younger folks who are surprisingly sensible about politics, and partly because the past year’s news has been dominated by Obamacare and foreign affairs and other issues that demand ridicule if they can’t plausibly be blamed on Republicans. A staunch lefty on the cast was lamenting the lack of Koch Brothers-bashing, but when we wondered what they should be ridiculed for she couldn’t come up with anything but a hateful glare. The same hateful glare came back when she noticed that the cast party’s host had aluminum and plastic commingling with his other trash instead of being placed in proper recycling bins, but a few glasses of wine she was back to her usual pleasant self, and in any case it didn’t affect our comedy very much.
A day’s rest should have us ready to confront reality, and we’ll even be glad to be back to it.

— Bud Norman