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Our Very Reluctant Reflections on a Current Presidential Topic

Once upon a more polite time in American politics we would never have considered writing a word about a president’s penis, but in the age of President Donald Trump it’s yet another one of those many unprecedented topics one can’t quite avoid. Trump’s appendage first made its debut in the political conversation during the ’16 Republican primaries, when he assured his supporters that “I guarantee you there’s no problem, I guarantee,” and now it’s back in the news with a pornographic video performer and director’s far less flattering assessment.
The best-selling non-fiction book in America at the moment is journalism legend Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which depicts an administration full of people worried that the chief executive is dangerously unfit for office, but we expect that next week’s chart-topper will be by a pornographic video performer and director called Stormy Daniels. Recently released by the courts from a $130,000 non-disclosure contract to not talk about an alleged tryst with Trump back when his youngest son by his third wife was 4-months-old, Daniels has a “tell-all” book coming out that will surely be far more lucrative, and the most salacious parts have already leaked out, and what she says will probably offend Trump more than anything in that Woodward book.
Ever since the editor of the once-fashonable and still-well-remembered but long-defunct Spy Magazine in New York City wrote that then local celebrity Trump was a “short-fingered vulgarian” the current president has been famously touchy about the size of his hands, which is why his penis came up in the news in the first place. Late in the death throes of his ill-fated presidential candidacy Florida Sen. Marco Rubio decided to give Trump’s undeniably successful insult comic shtick a try, and poked at that button he knew Trump had about his hand size, and very subtly suggested that Trump had other insecurities as well. Rubio was widely denounced in most corners for getting down to Trump’s gutter level, however, and Trump’s guarantees on a Republican presidential debate stage that there was no problem down there brought roars of approval from his mostly male die-hard supporters.
At the time we thought it more even embarrassing than the era of President Bill Clinton and its unavoidable fellatio jokes about a naive intern, but the latest developments are worse yet. We suppose there’s an chance that Trump didn’t cheat on third wife a few months after the birth of his fifth child with a pornographic video performer and a Playboy centerfold model, and paid them both six-figure amounts not to say so because he’s just that kind of stand-up guy who wants to protect his wife, but other tawdry scenarios seem more likely. Which makes the porn star’s assessment of Trump’s penis more plausible, which Trump will surely find more infuriating than anything that Pulitzer Prize-winning Wood might claim.
Given that this is the age of President Donald Trump, after all, we’ll just go ahead and write out that a porn star called Stormy Daniels is now alleging that the presidential penis is “smaller than average” but “not freakishly small,” and resembles a certain mushroom-shaped character in a popular video game, along with other details which have since gone viral. This is all on the public record where you’re bound to run into it sooner or later, but we apologize if you saw it here first.
To be fair to Trump, we concede that Daniels is a pornographic video performer, and thus probably has an unrealistic idea of what constitutes an average penis size, and that perhaps she’s lying about what she calls the “least impressive sex I’ve ever had,” and that in fact Trump is the most well-endowed and selfless lover he’s ever experienced/.” At this point we’re inclined to believe she’s been in a position to know, however, and with great anxiety we await Trump’s reassurances about the presidential package.
Worst yet, all of this tawdry nonsense seems dangerously tied up with the rest of it. On issues ranging from international trade to longstanding military alliances to the currently swelling national deficit Trump has promised that only his uniquely endowed alpha maleness can rescue the country from his the nefarious plots of critics, but at this point we’re more inclined to believe a pornographic video performer and director that Trump isn’t all he claims to be. If Daniel’s descriptions of the presidential junk are at all accurate they might also exacerbate the current frostiness between the president and his First Lady, which is another one of those unavoidable stories these days.
In the meantime Trump’s Supreme Court nomination is stalled by credible charges of attempted rape, the “Russia thing” racks up ever-closer-to-Trump guilty pleas and cooperating witnesses, the president keeps feuding with his Attorney General, yet the economy seems to keep humming along. We don’t expect that in the end the president’s penis will have much to do with it one way or the other, but in this weird day and age it will likely play some part. For now all those snarky late-night television comics are having great fun with it, however, and we can’t say we ┬áblame them.

— Bud Norman

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A Bad Day in Court

President Donald Trump’s die-hard defenders did their best to make the best on in talk radio and cable news show, but Tuesday was undeniably a bad day in court for their man. The president’s former campaign manager was convicted on eight federal charges of tax fraud and bank fraud in Virginia, while 200 miles away in New York City the president’s longtime lawyer was pleading guilty to banking, tax, and campaign finance laws. None of it proves that Trump conspired with the Russian government to win his office, as the die-hard defenders were quick to point out, but they had a harder time making any of it look good.
The former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted of hiding substantial foreign income from the tax collectors while hiding substantial foreign debts from the banks where he was applying for big-money loans, and a mistrial was declared on another 10 similar charges when the jury declared itself hung, and the trial had a lot of embarrassing details about what a sleazy fop he is. The now-proved-in-court crimes all happened before Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager, and Manafort was removed from the Trump campaign shortly after it was reported he had failed to file his lobbying business’ work with some Russian-tied entities, but that’s about the best the Trump apologists can say for it at the moment.
A clean acquittal for Manafort would have dealt a serious blow to the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the “Russia thing,” as it was the first federal case Mueller’s team has tried, eight convictions carrying potential longterm prison sentences will surely keep the “witch hunt” going, and so far it’s achieve five other guilty pleas including from the Trump campaign’s deputy manager and a former foreign policy advisor a short lived national security advisor, and it has another Manafort trial scheduled a couple of weeks from now in the District of Columbia, where the charges will involve alleged shady dealings with various Russia-linked entities, and the judge and jury are unlikely to be any more sympathetic than the one in rural Virginia.
Perhaps none of this has anything to do with anyone named Trump, as anything is at least theoretically possible, but in any case convicted felon Manafort’s ongoing legal troubles will surely keep the “Russia thing” in the news for weeks to come and leave the president’s defenders with plenty of defending to do. Trump himself has continued to defend Manafort as a “good guy,” and always notes that Manafort also worked for such Republican icons President Ronald Reagan and Sen. Bob Dole, but he also always understates how long Manafort was involved with the campaign and what role he played, so it remains to be seen if there’s a pardon in the works, and what sort of craziness might ensue.
Trump didn’t have any similarly kind words for his former longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, whose allocution of guilt in open court clearly explained that he had indeed committed the crimes he was charged with and had done so at the explicit instruction of now President Donald Trump. He used the same language from the indictment about “individual one” and “the candidate,” but even on talk radio was there no pretending that he wasn’t talking about Trump. Perhaps it’s not a crime to pay one’s personal lawyer to commit a confessed crime, as anything seems legally possible these days, but it still involves hush money payments to porn stars and Playboy playmates and The National Enquirer, and does nothing to enhance Trump’s self-proclaimed reputation as someone who only associates with very best people.
Worse yet, Cohen also represented Trump over many years in an effort to build a skyscraper in Moscow and various other dealings with Russian-linked entities, and if he has anything bad to say about that he now has every reason to say it. Perhaps Cohen has no such information to provide, as anything is theoretically possible, but given the laws of probability we’ll be expecting more developments in the “Russia thing” from Cohen. He’s now a convicted liar, as Trump’s defenders now huffily note — right wing radio shrieker Mark Levin gave us a chuckle by rhetorically asking “Who would hire this guy?” — but it’s now in his self-interest to tell the truth and he has a reputation for recording conversations, one of which has already been released and documents Trump and his client negotiating the hush money payment that the president famously denied know anything about. If there’s anything involving the Russkies he’s probably got documentation on that, and after a pre-dawn raid on his home and office and hotel room the special counsel investigation has all of that.
You had to scroll down to the bottom of the page to have seen, but California Rep. Donald Hunt, the second Republican congressman to endorse Trump’s campaign, was indicted along with his wife in a federal court on charges of using campaign funds for personal reasons. The first Republican congressman to endorse Trump’s campaign, New York’s Rep. Chris Collins, was indicted on insider trading charges a few weeks ago and has since suspended his reelection campaign. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Kentucky allowed a lawsuit by some Mexican-American protestors who were roughed up at a Trump campaign rally to proceed, and somewhere out there are lawsuits pending by a woman who claims to have defamed when Trump accused her of lying about him groping her, and several state attorney general also have an ongoing suit somewhere about Trump’s Washington hotel and its alleged violations of the constitution’s emolument clause.
Still, the thousands of die-hard defenders at yet another campaign rally, this time in West Virginia,” were still chanting “drain the swamp” and “lock her up,” and still booing the “fake news” on cue. Trump’s performance included the usual boasts about his electoral win and talk of the “witch hunt” that’s out to get him, but to our eye he seemed a bit off his usual cocky form after such a bad in court.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Imperfect Storm

That whole “Russia thing” has lately merged with those porn star and Playboy playmate scandals, and it all seems to be closing in on President Donald Trump.
Trump’s longtime lawyer and sex-scandal “fixer” Michael Cohen recently had his office and home and hotel raided by the Justice Department, and is widely expected to be indicted soon, and Trump’s most longtime lawyer is advising him that Cohen is almost certain to start providing state’s evidence in whatever matters might arise from all the seized files and recordings and other potential evidence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired has a best-selling book full of newsworthy allegations, with Trump offering explanations for the firing that contradict his past statements, and efforts by Trump loyalists to discredit James Comey have resulted in the leaking of some formerly classified memos he wrote after his conversations with the president that contain even more newsworthy allegations. Meanwhile, the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” that resulted from Comey’s firing, which has already secured several indictments and guilty pleas and has prominent Trump campaign and administration officials fully cooperating, plods irresistibly along.
Trump has now added former star federal prosecutor and legendary New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to a legal team that’s been depleted by defections and impending indictments, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed not to allow a vote on a bipartisan bill that would prevent Trump from firing the Justice Department officials he needs to replace in order to fire the special counsel and perhaps end the investigation into the “Russia thing” altogether. According to all the opinion polls he also has the support of about four-fifths of the Republican party, as well as the fierce apologetics of prominent voices on the talk radio airwaves and other right-wing media, but he nonetheless looks outgunned on all fronts.
Giuliani was a formidable lawyer who locked up a lot of New York City mobsters back in the ’80s, and his three terms as Mayor of New York in the ’90s saw crime and tax rtes decline dramatically while employment and and tax revenues and general quality of life soared, and his response to the Sept. 11, terror attack on the World Trade Center made him a national hero and Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 2001, but since then he’s been on a long losing streak. A sex scandal ended his second marriage and commenced his third, and once upon a time in the Republican party that sort of thing combined with the Republican party’s former suspicion of smartypants New Yorkers doomed his presidential campaign in the good old days of 2008. He cashed in with some lucrative lawyering and lobbying and consulting, but he largely faded from the news until he remerged as an advocate for his fellow New Yorker and serial philanderer and far less qualified friend Trump, who by then was palatable to a plurality of the Republican party.
Giuliani told the press that he expects to negotiate a quick end to the various criminal and counter-terrorism investigations regarding the “Russia thing,” which suggests to us that his legal skills have rusted over the past few years, and that his losing streak is likely to continue.
McConnell says he’s not going allow legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired because he doesn’t believe Trump would ever be stupid enough to fire him, but that doesn’t do Trump much good. A credibly accused child molester that Trump campaigned for lost a seemingly safe Senate seat in Alabama, Arizona Senator and erstwhile Republican hero John McCain is busy battling brain cancer, so the Republican majority in the Senate is down to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence, and McConnell is reviled as the epitome of the “Republican establishment” by the party’s pro-Trump “burn it down” wing and quickly losing control of his fractious and increasingly Trump-averse caucus. You can call the Cable News Network “fake news” all you want, but unless you think they can produce computer generated images more convincingly than Industrial Light and Magic they taped a full dozen big-name congressional Republicans who wouldn’t say on the record that they’re on board with Trump’s reelection.
Even if McConnell does somehow allow the president to fire the people he needs to fire the special counsel and put an end to the whole “Russia thing,” McConnell is quite right that it would be a damned dumb thing to do.
That fired FBI director’s best-selling book and widely publicized book tour is getting mixed reviews, as his seeming mishandling of the undeniably difficult problem of presiding over investigations of serious allegations of criminal activity by both major party candidates during a presidential election has made him a hated figure on both ends of the spectrum, and that storm should soon pass. Those memos Comey wrote in the lead-up to his firing are likely be more troublesome when these matters enter a court of law, though, and for all his undeniable and admitted flaws we’ll find Comey a more credible witness when it inevitably comes down to that.
At this point we can’t imagine what might shake that four-fifth of the Republican party’s faith in Trump, but we notice that some of the right-wing talk radio hosts are fulminating about Trump’s betrayals of his non-interventionist promises with his missile strikes in Syria and a possible betrayals on building a border wall and deporting all the “dreamers” and waging trade wars around the globe. By now all but the most protectionist and isolationist Democrats still hate Trump as much as ever, a fifth of the Republican party and at least a dozen prominent congressional Republicans are outspokenly unenthused about him, and our view from the sidelines sees Trump taking a licking on all fronts.

— Bud Norman

With Apologies to Harold Arlen

Our annual theatrical turn in the Gridiron Show went well, as did the cast party, but it left us exhausted. So we’ll offer up one of the skits, which got some laughs.
(Scene opens at closing time in the Mar-a-Lago nightclub where PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP is slouched against the bar, the BARTENDER is wiping the counter, and a PIANIST tinkles closing time tunes nearby.)
TRUMP: Set me up again, damn it.
BARTENDER: Are you sure, Mr. President? You’ve been going at it pretty hard. By my count, this’ll be your fourteenth Diet Coke of the night.
TRUMP: I know my limits. Everyone says so. Everyone says no one knows his limits better than Trump, believe.
BARTENDER: Well, OK, sir. (Pours a Diet Coke.)
TRUMP: Besides, I’ve got troubles to drown.
BARTENDER: I’m sorry to hear that. Is it the national debt? The nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula? Trade wars? The Russia thing?
TRUMP: No, worse than that. The ol’ ball and chain is raggin’ on me lately. My wife, Melanoma, is icier than the Rock of Gibraltar.
BARTENDER: Well, I think your wife’s name is Melania, and I’m not sure the Rock of Gibraltar is all that icy, but hey, I hear you. What’s she raggin’ about?
TRUMP: Oh, she’s all pissed off just because she found out was a banging a porn star not long after she gave birth to our son, Bernard. Can you believe that?
BARTENDER: I think the kid’s name is Barron, sir, but I know what you’re talking about. I mean, women, right?
TRUMP: That’s right. I mean, c’mon, Malaria still had the baby weight, and this porn chick was at her peak. You should see what she looks like in action.
BARTENDER: I still think your wife’s name in Melania, and I actually have see that porn star in action. It’s just a couple of clicks away on the internet, after all, and I figure that by now pretty much everyone has seen it.
TRUMP: Uh, you didn’t see me in any of those videos, did you.
BARTENDER: No. Not that I recall.
TRUMP: Of course not, because it never happened. Fake news. (Leaning in.) Yeah, I totally nailed that babe. It was awesome. She loved it, believe me. I had to pay her a hundred and thirty grand not tell everyone how great I was.
BARTENDER: Whatever you say, sir.
TRUMP: Then you know what I’m talking about, am I right?
BARTENDER: Hey, who among us has not cheated on their mother of our newborn child with a porn star?
TRUMP: You’re all right, Joe. I might just have a cabinet position for you. Still, I can’t help singing the blues. (He saunters over to lean on the piano.) Play it, Sam.
PIANIST: Are you sure, Mr. Trump? It’s an awfully sad song.
TRUMP: You played it for her, you an play it for me. If she can stand it, I can stand it. Play it, Sam.
(PIANIST shrugs and starts playing “Stormy Weather.”)
TRUMP (Singing):”Don’t know why there is lipstick on my fly.
“Stormy Daniels.
“Now my gal and I are having trials.
“Keeps raining all the time.
“Ta-tas out to here, and she took it in the ear.
“Stormy Daniels.
“Just can’t get my poor self together.
“I’m weary all the time.
“So weary all the time.”

— Bud Norman

On Finding the Right Lawyer

If you ever find yourself in serious legal jeopardy in the vicinity of Wichita, Kansas, and have deep enough pockets, we happen to know the attorney you should call.
Back in our court beat days on the local newspaper we saw him get a guy off for bilking an elderly couple out of their retirements with some phony-baloney annuities because the relevant state statute failed to mention annuities among all the phony-baloney sort of financial instruments that are prohibited here, an oversight the state legislature corrected a couple of weeks later. We heard some un-confirmable but entirely believable rumors about the big bucks he’d earned defending a nationally-known and much locally reviled late-term abortionist on 13 local misdemeanor charges that got national and international attention, and whatever the amount it proved well-spent after acquittals on all charges.
If you happen to find yourself in serious legal jeopardy in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., we can’t tell you who to call. After a couple of youthful summers in the city and all the news we’ve followed since we’re sure there’s plenty of top-notch legal talent to be had there, but you’ll have to ask the locals for their advice on which is best. Whoever that best D.C. attorney might be, President Donald Trump and his much-bragged about deep pockets seems to having trouble hiring him or her for this “Russia thing.”
One of Trump’s lawyers either recently quit or was recently fired, depending on whose account you believe, and Trump hasn’t yet announced a replacement. It was reliably reported it would be Joseph diGenova, a former Department of Justice Attorney now better-known as a Fox News contributor who alleges the whole “Russia thing” is a “fake News” “deep state” conspiracy, but then it was reported diGenova wouldn’t be joining the team due to “conflicts.” It was also reported that Trump solicited the services of Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general in the President George W. Bush administration and since then a legendary defense litigator, but his firm announced he wouldn’t accept the gig. Olson later opined to the news media that the “turmoil” and “chaos” in Trump’s White is “beyond normal.” After that it was reported that some hot-shot white collar lawyer from Chicago also turned down the gig.
Which is problematic for Trump, as the legal team he’s assembled on the other side of the “Russia thing” looks pretty darned formidable. You can call special counsel Robert Mueller a “fake news” “deep state” conspirator all you want, but he’s an Eagle Scout and decorated combat veteran and well-regarded Federal Bureau of Investigation director with a long, long history of successfully prosecuting cases, and he’s already won some notable indictments and some more notable guilty pleas in this investigation. The team of attorneys he’s assembled does indeed include some Democratic donors, as the Trump and his apologists like to note, but so does Trump’s team and Trump is a Democratic donor himself, and the prosecution team has chalked up some pretty impressive court verdicts against Russian mobsters and other money-launderers and international conspiracies,
Our long and desultory experiences of these matters suggests that it often comes down to who’s got the best lawyer, which does not bode well for Trump. He brags about his deep pockets and the fame and fortune that awaits any lawyer who takes on his case, yet he currently seems vastly out-lawyered. So far his personal lawyers have been losing in the court of public opinion battle to the shark representing an all-too-believable pornographic video performer who alleges a hilariously embarrassing sexual encounter with the future president, no matter how that might play out in a a court of law.
According to news reports this is largely because he’s regarded as a client who doesn’t heed legal advice, which is obviously true, and partly because he has a reputation for not paying his bills, which is reportedly and quite believably true. One of the better lawyers we know in town is a Democrat but otherwise a nice guy, who has helped out some people we’ve loved on a pro-bono or much-reduced rate, and on our last encounter at Kirby’s Beer Store he told us he’d take case Trump’s case only if he were paid fully in advance. That locally legendary legal shark is also a nice enough guy, too, and although we’re glad to not to have needed to run into him lately we’re sure he’d say the same thing.

— Bud Norman

Abortion at the Bottom of the Page

Strolling down to the bottom of The Washington Post’s opening web page, we happened upon a story about Mississippi enacting the nation’s most restrictive abortion law. The law bans most abortions after 15 weeks of gestation, allowing exceptions for risks to the mother’s life or “bodily function” but not for cases of rape or incest, which is as far as you go from anybody’s reading of the Roe v. Wade decision, and once upon a time that would have been at the top of everybody’s front page.
A lawsuit was filed within an hour of the governor’s signing of the bill by the last remaining abortion clinic in the state, and the activists on both sides of the issue paid rapt attention, but we couldn’t help noticing how little attention was paid by most of the media and the public at large. The absence of coverage was conspicuous to us, as we well remember a time a when abortion was the most heatedly debated issue in America.
Especially around here. Wichita, Kansas, was once the very epicenter of the abortion conflict, to the point that it often tied up traffic and turned neighbor against neighbor and even hastened the end of a couple of marriages we know of. Kansas is a conservative and church-going state that somehow has the least restrictive abortion laws almost anywhere, and people used to fly in to Wichita from around the world to have very late-term abortions from one of the few doctors willing and legally able to perform the grisly procedure, so it was bound to happen.
Back in ’91 an anti-abortion organization called Operation Rescue came to town and rallied support for acts of civil disobedience to shut down the city’s last remaining abortion clinics, all of which were by then owned that internationally-known late-term abortionist. Their “Summer of Mercy” turned out tens of thousands of supporters at the local university’s mostly unused football stadiums, several hundred God-fearing and tax-paying and lawn-mowing types who were willing to be carried on to a police bus and be booked at the county jail for the misdemeanor of blocking public access by effectively shutting down the business. It was not only the big story of that very hot summer around here, as one of the clinics was inconveniently located on busy Kellogg Avenue and everyone had a unique opinion about all the ruckus, it was above the fold on newspapers everywhere and at the top of the hour on the nascent cable channels.
We were on the job for the local newspaper at the time, and wound up having burgers and beers at a bar next door to one of the abortion clinics with reporters from some of the biggest and swankiest newspapers. They were an OK lot, as far as we were concerned, and when we read or watched their accounts of the weird happenings in Wichita we couldn’t dismiss them as fake news, as it was pretty much what we’d witnessed, but they never quite conveyed the local viewpoint. They weren’t steeped in the history of “Bleeding Kansas” and its abolitionist zeal, which is still the state’s greatest boast, and they didn’t seem church-going types, and they didn’t understand what it’s like to live in an otherwise peaceable time with a bunch of church-going and very fine people and a doctor who has performed very late abortions for women from around the world. They understood that there were a whole lot of locals who are grateful for the abortions he provided at a more legally-protected and arguably more morally point in the pregnancy, which is worth noting, but their work didn’t have that discombobulating imbalance the story required..
Operation Rescue’s civil disobedience tactics polled badly, just as we predicted to all those big city newspaper types, and as it faded into obscurity the more mainstream anti-abortion organizations went into retreat. The abortion issue dropped to the back pages for a while, but we were having burgers and beers with the big-city newspapers again after a women came down from Oregon and unsuccessfully tried to kill that late-term abortionist. We were second string on that story to a woman who wound up writing a non-fiction bestseller about the radical anti-abortion movement, but we scored an exclusive interviewer with a protestor outside the courthouse who was supporting the accused assassin’s actions as justifiable homicide, and when we asked him why he hadn’t killed an abortionist he replied “Well, maybe I will.” About a year later all the papers were running the photos of a guy who’d shot and killed a couple of abortion clinic workers in Pensacola, Florida, and we immediately recognized the mug shot. That also polled badly.
The next time we ran in to the big city newspaper writers was when someone came down from the Kansas City suburbs and assassinated that local late-term abortionist. He walked into a lovely Lutheran church over on East 13th and shot the abortionist as he routinely attended services, shot his victim in the head, and didn’t deny it. All the big city newspaper writers asked worriedly ask if the the defendant would get off, given what a conservative state and city this is, and we correctly predicted that it’s the kind of conservative state and city where you’re not going to get away with walking into a church service and shooting a guy in the head, no matter what tate guy did for a living. Elsewhere the shooting polled even worse.
Since then the abortion issue hasn’t been so prominent here or elsewhere. Around here there’s still no Republican who dares run in a primary without taking a staunch anti-abortion stand, but they’re no longer expected to stress it, and most of our fellow church-going Republican types are presently more concerned with making excuses for their recently pro-life president’s apparent tawdry affair and hush payments with a pornographic video performer. The pro-abortion rights crowd has grown complacent after so many years of retreat by the anti-abortion side, too, and probably won’t be much aroused by a setback in a state such as Mississippi. Last year that lone Mississippi abortion clinic performed 78 abortions after the 15-week gestation period, which in most cases would have been obtained in neighboring states, and in the grand scheme of things that’s not such a big deal as President Donald Trump’s latest “tweet” or any the rest of the top-of-the-page news.
Abortion is a damned complicated issue, for both those personally involved and the public at large, and it involves complicated issues of law and liberty and a higher morality, and we can well understand why most people would rather not talk about it. Most of the right that scoffs at the notion you can prohibit firearm ownership also holds that you can effectively prohibit abortions, most of the left holds that can guns be eliminated but abortion cannot be, and at the moment neither side has much to gain from raising this uncomfortable topic.
Abortions and the abortion debate will continue, of course, and there will be setbacks and victories on both sides, depending on what red or blue state you live in. We’re still not sure where we stand on the issue, although we’re sure it’s not at either extreme, and we’re not at all eager for the next opportunity to talk about it.

Bud Norman

“Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard” Meet

As tempting as it is to make light of that tawdry president-and-the-porn-star affair, the more important story on Thursday was President Donald Trump accepting an invitation for a face-to-face sit-down with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. The talks will concern such such weighty matters at North Korea’s lately impressive nuclear weapons program and the 68-year-old war the has never officially ceased on the Korean peninsula, and involve two of the flightiest figures on the world stage.
In the nerve-wracking lead-up to the negotiations Trump had taken to calling Kim “Little Rocket Man” and “tweeting” taunts about his height and weight, with a better command of the English language and a more subtle wit Kim had retorted by calling Trump a dotard, both had exchanged threats to utterly annihilate the other’s country, and the introductions should be awkward. The opening position that Trump has vowed not budge from is that North Korea never forswear its nuclear ambitions, Kim is holding just as fast to his country’s bedrock position that it will never do so, so the rest of it will also probably prove complicated.
Still, it’s a hopeful development, if you’re the hopeful sort. The past 68 years of carefully calibrated diplomacy by Republican and Democratic administrations alike haven’t solved the increasingly worse problem on the Korean peninsula, so a first-ever face-to-face meeting between the North Korean and American heads of state might be worth a try. “To jaw-jaw is always better than war-war,” as the great Winston Churchill famously said, and an international negotiation attended by such serious fellows as Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might prove more useful than the recent “twitter” wars of schoolyard taunts. Trump’s opening position is quite sound, his administration has successfully imposed international economic sanctions that are having an apparent effect on North Korean’s thinking, and the past 68 years of Republican and Democratic administrations have bequeathed him some hefty military leverage as well.
Still, if you’re not the hopeful types it raises the unsettling question of what could go wrong. Kim is pretty much the madman that Trump portrays, but he’s got rational if self-interested reasons for his own unwavering position, and his conventional weaponry’s constant proximity to South Korea’s capital and most populous and friendship with formidable neighbor China also give him some significant leverage. He’s also got a point, alas, about Trump being something of a dotard.
Trump ┬ácomes into the negotiations from a somewhat weaker political position, as Kim is an absolute dictator who can have have any critics quieted, while Trump, to his apparent disappointment, is not. Trump has to deal with brouhahas about porn stars and steel tariffs and his son-in-law and “dreamers” and that “Russia thing” and his desultory opinion polls and whatever he last “tweeted” about, so for now he needs a big win in the media more than does Kim. If a big win turns out to be a 69th straight year without a nuclear conflagration we’ll take it, and Trump might as well, but there’s no telling with this guy. We’re reassured by some of the remaining non-son-law and very serious fellows remaining in Trump’s administration, but the face-to-face is tentatively scheduled for early May and given the recent turnover there’s no telling how many of them will still be around.
In any case, we’ll hope for the best, even though we’re not really the hopeful type.

— Bud Norman

A Weekend With Partial Government

The federal government has been partially shut down since midnight last Friday, but around here you would have hardly noticed it over the weekend. Maybe it’s because the federal government is always partially shut down on the weekends, or the almost tolerable winter weather we’ve lately had, or everything else that’s going on around here and the rest of the country, and as bad as partial federal government shutdown inarguably is it didn’t seem a big enough deal that any of the responsible parties have any incentive to resolve it soon.
After watching Friday’s desultory news late into the night We slept through most of Saturday morning, and by the time we arrived at the local “women’s march” in front of the Wichita City Hall the speeches had concluded and the crowd was dwindling. Even before the federal government partially shut down a comely young woman outside the Vagabond bar in Delano had handed us a handbill about the event, which we immediately understood to be the feminist sisterhood’s collective outrage about President Donald Trump, and we had been looking forward to it ever since. As aging white male Republican heterosexual Christian conservative Republicans we have our own reasons for being outraged about Trump’s presidency, and by now we’re quite sympathetic to all the gripes by women of color and women in general and even those darned liberal women, and with all the required apologies and assurances that at least we’re not all creepy about it we’ll confess the girl-watching is always pretty good at these sisterhood gatherings.
A couple of handsome young Wichita police officers told us they estimated the crowd at its peak between 300 and 500 people, although they admitted they weren’t much good at estimating crowd sizes, which is not a bad turnout for a liberal rally in this town even on a tolerably warm winter day, and we saw on an afternoon’s internet surfing that hundreds of thousands had shown up in more populous and it all added up to the millions around the country, which suggests to us that all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons had gripes with Trump even before the federal government partially shut down.
Saturday night was the second night of the “Meat Fest” at Kirby’s Beer Store, and if you ever find yourself in Wichita, Kansas, on a tolerably warm mid-January weekend we highly recommend you attend this annual event. Kirby’s is a subterranean low level dive bar right across the street from the residence of the president of Wichita State University and just adjacent to a ghetto laundromat, its clientele is comprised of counter-cultural types stretching from the beats to the hippies to such to Republican but punk sorts such as ourselves, and as you head to an evening all those bearded and tattooed and tight-pansted sorts of hipsters we don’t what to call. Once a year they offer two nights of free charbroiled meat along with a jam-packed line-up of the local weird talent they offer on a pretty much nightly basis, and on Saturday night that featured an excellent set by our old friend Alberto Alfonso’s one-man-band which included a rousing rendition of Frankie Laine’s theme song to “Blazing Saddles.”
The rest of the acts were too loud and noisome to our ears, but there was free char-broiled meat, and with the requisite apologies and assurances that we weren’t at all creepy about it we’ll say the girl-watching was pretty damned good. All in all, we were pleased that another “Meat Fest” went full-steam ahead even as the federal government partially shut down.
Somehow we still made it to worship services at the West Douglas Church of Christ on Sunday morning, where we were honored to be asked to deliver the opening prayer, which gave thanks for the relatively warm weather and all the preceding cold weather that made it seem almost tolerable, and no mention was made of a partial government shutdown. After that we took a nap, then shook our heads while reading the latest internet accounts of the American president’s alleged but very believable account of of a sexual tryst with a porn star he paid an alleged $130 thousand dollars to hush up about it, even though she’d already given an interviews to a tabloid about how he liked to be spanked with a rolled-up copy of Forbes magazine with his picture on the cover, and the latest admittedly funny story has her capitalizing on her notoriety by appearing at strip clubs with the promise to “Make America Horny Again.”
By early Sunday evening we were back at Kirby’s Beer Store, where they were no long offering free charbroiled met but did have a jam-packed lineup of weird local musical offerings. Three of our fellow old-tmers and good friends were there, one a predictably liberal gay guy and another a conspiracy-theory nut from one of the local aviation plants and the third a pragmatically old fashioned professional Democrat lawyer who’s currently a disability judge, and it in our brief conversation about the partial government shutdown we all agreed it wasn’t that bit a deal and there’s plenty of blame to spread around.
So far as we can tell the sticking points in this partial government shutdown are about funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and those designated “dreamers” who are illegal immigrants because they were brought here as blameless children, and we all agreed that sooner or later the Republicans are bound to cave on all of that. There’s a convincing argument that no Democrat should should even partially shut down the government over something the Republicans will eventually cave to, and a similarly convincing argument convincing argument that the Republicans shouldn’t allow a partial shutdown over something they’re eventually cave to anyway,and no plausible argument that Trump is the great deal maker he always claimed to be. The conspiracy nut noted that we were making the same glum assessment of the situation as that Joe Scarborough guy on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, which is embarrassing enough, but we all pretty much agreed it was true.
Once upon a time the entirely believable accounts of the president and the porn star would have been a bigger topic of conversation, along with all the news about the “Russia thing” that was scrolling on the muted television, but all that chatter was pretty jocular. The relatively young folks on the small stage of Kirby’s Beer Store were mostly acoustic and playing at a volume that allowed for old-timers’ political discussion, and we have to admit it mostly sounded pretty darned good. Although we can assure you we weren’t at all creepy about it, and were careful to also compliment one handsome young man, we also noticed that a couple of the performers were rather comely young women.
Today is Monday and all the responsible parties will probably spend it pointing fingers at one another, and they’ll all have a reasonable enough argument to make for themselves, but here in Wichita we’ll trust that the rest of us will muddle through it somehow.

— Bud Norman