Enquiring Minds Want to Know

The National Enquirer isn’t usually on our reading list, but on our last trip to the supermarket we couldn’t resist plunking down five bucks to see what was behind the tantalizing headline. “At last the truth about Russia,” that tabloid boasted over a picture some people familiar from the more respectable press, “What Trump Doesn’t Know!”
We were further struck that the front page also promised “Revealed: 10 spies murdered in 15 months to bury proof of Putin’s election hacking,” not to mention those pictures of Trump next to such infamous and now former associates as Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Carter Page. For more than a year now we’ve checked out the covers of the National Enquirer during our supermarket check-outs the same way Kremlinologists used to scrutinize the front page of Pravda, for the same reason that it provides the same official line, so the headline brought an intriguing plot twist.
Back in the ’80s The National Enquirer used to torment the young the celebrity billionaire Trump with salacious stories about the alleged infidelities of his wives and mistresses, but ever since he cultivated a a friendship with the tabloid’s editor in the early ’90s the coverage has been far friendlier. His presidential campaign received adulatory attention, while the rest of the Republican field was either ignored or scandalized. When retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was inching ahead in the polls the Enquirer ran a story alleging he’d left a sponge in a patient’s sewed-up skull, and when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was last the challenger it ran a picture purporting to show his father standing next Lee Harvey Oswald just before the assassination of President John Kennedy, and when it came down to Trump against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton there were all sorts of stories about her even worse than the ones the more respectable press were obliged to run.
Since his election Trump has been getting the same support from the Enquirer, with a recent front page proudly proclaiming the president’s war on dictators, with sinister photographs of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia Vladimir Putin, so it was quite a surprise to see them follow with another headline linking Putin to four people who have elsewhere been directly linked to Trump.
The article claims that Putin ordered meddling in the election that included the hacking and public release of embarrassing e-mails from the Democratic National Committee, an allegation which has of course been widely reported, but it leads with the “bombshell finding” that he also ordered the assassination of 27-year-old Clinton campaign aide Seth Rich and nine Russian operatives to cover it up, which of course has not been as widely reported. Although the article makes no mention of the aforementioned Stone, Flynn, Manafort and Page, who have been fired from their prior respective positions as longtime friend and National Security Advisor and Campaign Chairman and campaign foreign policy advisor over their Russian relations, which the more respectable press have reported are all under investigation, but it does run their pictures again on the inside, which is also darned curious.
Throughout the campaign Trump took an unusually friendly stand toward Putin, basking in the compliments Putin had reportedly paid him and talking about how great friendship with Russia would be and how obsolete the anti-Russian North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in one debate he said the hacking of the DNC e-mails was just as likely “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” and he dismissed a question about the occasional Putin assassination order by asking “Do you think we’re so innocent?” After the election he conceded the Russians had “probably” hacked the DNC, but continued to avoid saying that the Russians had done anything improper at all. The Enquirer story, therefore, seems to deviate from the party line.
This comes a week or so after Trump’s newly appointed Central Intelligence Agency gave a speech that reiterated the intelligence community’s consensus conclusion that the Russians did meddle in the election, days after the Republican head of the House committee that’s looking into the matter said that Flynn had likely committed a crime by not disclosing his contract work for the Russians and Turks, and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation still looking into Page, and God only knowing what such a “political dirty trickster” as the Enquirer euphemistically describes Stone is currently facing. By now there’s enough suspicion about it that all of the official investigations are likely to continue, and unlikely to lead to any conclusions that the Russians are blameless and even if they aren’t no one in the Trump campaign had anything to do with them, so our guess is that the National Enquirer is trying out a new party line that at least the president himself had nothing to do with it.
All of the reiterated charges and “bombshell findings” and guilt-by-association photographs are huddled under the headline “What Trump Didn’t Know,” after all, and his most vociferous critics will have to admit the possibility that he didn’t know anything about what was going on. If we were one of the infamously defenestrated four on the cover of this week’s National Enquirer we’d read between the lines to see that we count on any further favors from Trump, and would be lawyering up to tell whatever we have to tell, and hoping that people are more interested in Wynnona Judd’s daughter being jailed in a meth bust. The more respectable press is likely to keep looking into this Russian thing, though, and so will the FBI and the Republican-led House committee, without any interference from the Trump-appointed Attorney General who has recused himself from all that Russian stuff and the former Trump-friendly committee chairman who has done the same, so we expect more intriguing headlines.

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Something Special in South-Central Kansas

President Donald Trump called our newfangled cellular telephone on Monday afternoon while Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz was speaking to us on a personal visit, which was also attended by reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times and a strikingly sultry young hipster woman representing Buzzfeed.com, and that came the day after Vice President Mike Pence called us, so at the moment we’re feeling rather special here in the Fourth Congressional District of Kansas. It’s all because of today’s special election to select a replacement for the locally well-regarded Rep. Mike Pompeo, who resigned his seat to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the surprisingly plausible possibility that an upset of national interest might be brewing.
Ordinarily the congressional elections here in our part of the very heart of flyover country are dull affairs, with the only suspense for the last couple of decades being whether the Republican would win by a two-to-one rout or some embarrassing low-double-digits margin, but this time around there’s an extraordinary collision of circumstances. The Republican National Committee is worried enough that it threw $92,000 into a last minute ad blitz, which will buy a big chunk of air time in this cut-rate media market, and they pestered both Trump and Pence to record the robocalls that have been reaching all the Republican phones around here, and convinced Cruz to fly into town for a rally at a local corporate aviation airport hangar. The Kansas Democratic Committee reportedly declined to spend a requested $20,000 for counter-advertising, probably because they don’t have it on hand, but the editors at The Washington Post and New York Times and Buzzfeed.com apparently sense enough Republican nervousness that they invested their meager travel budgets in a plane ticket and hotel and restaurant bill and other expenses in far-off Wichita. Knowing this corner of the prairie better than any of those Republican politicos or Democratic media bigwigs, there are a few reasons we think it at least slightly possible they might be on to something.
Just a few months ago Pompeo won yet another re-election with something close to that two-to-one score, but this time around the Republican candidate is Ron Estes, and Estes is no Pompeo. The current director of the CIA first won the Fourth Congressional seat back in ’10, when he replaced the reliably conservative but utterly forgettable Reublican Todd Tiahrt, who had resigned the seat to make an ill-fated run primary run for the Senate, and wiped the floor with a Harvard-educated Hindu that the Democrats had chosen just after President Barack Obama’s ’08 win convinced them that foreign names and Ivy League credentials were a winning combination even in Kansas. Pompeo had been first in his class at West Point and the commander of a tank unit on the Iron Curtain, an editor of the Harvard Law Review, the founder of a successful high-tech aviation business, could eloquently articulate the principles of conservatism to the formidable number of establishment Republicans around here and still connect with the more rough-hewn but also formidable Republican types, and he was too darned reasonable to scare even the most skittish liberal. Democrats were losing their entire House majority in all sorts of districts because of Obama at that point, and Pompeo thus easily won election over that smartypants Democrat. After that the Democrats ran a series of sacrificial lambs who revved up the base but didn’t have any potential political careers worth wasting, and suffice to say there weren’t any reporters from The Washington Post or New York Times at the three subsequent nearly two-to-one victory parties. Pompeo was a rising star in the Republican ranks before his elevation to the CIA post once held by President George H.W. Bush, and we dare say you haven’t heard the last of him.
Estes, on the other hand, is a recent State Treasurer of Kansas, which is not an enviable job in these years of annual budget shortfalls, and that’s pretty much all you’d know about him from his well-funded but utterly inept campaign, except that he’s a reliably conservative and otherwise entirely forgettable Republican. He’s declined to articulate his conservatism at any of the public debates that various groups tried to schedule, so Estes is mainly defined by the godawful ads that constantly run on the local talk radio and evening news broadcasts. One features him interacting in soft focus with stereotypical workaday Kansans while a pastel Kansas sunset sinks in the background, with his belly as prominently displayed as any of them, another shows him standing waist-deep in a sickly green swamp full of alligators and promising to drain it, and most of them are attack ads showing his Democratic opponent photo-shopped next to a very scary image of Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The ridiculous and much-ridiculed image of Estes standing waste-deep in that sickly green water is presumably meant to link him to his robocalling friend Trump and his famous campaign promise to “drain the swamp,” but Trump finished in a distant third in the Kansas caucus and was roundly booed when he appeared here during the event, and he only won the state’s electoral votes because he was running against Hillary Clinton, and almost no one around here believes that Trumpism is the solution to official corruption. Cruz was the big winner of the Kansas caucus, but he only drew 250 or so to the airport rally on Monday, and his speech focused on Supreme Court nominees that the House doesn’t get to vote on and the much-hated Obamacare bill that Trump failed to repeal in his first attempt largely because of conservative hard-liners such as himself, and he threw in some jokes so old the audience was chanting along with the punchlines, and he got a bigger response by noting Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer than he did during the single mention of Donald Trump, although Trump’s Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch got a deservedly nice hand. The behind-schedule rally also included speeches by a black Republican and two clean-cut College Republicans and the heads of the Kansas For Life and the Kansas Rifle Association, as well as a forgettable few minutes by Estes himself, but it had the same desultory feel of the rest of the campaign. Those endlessly televised photos of Minority Leader Pelosi are still pretty terrifying, but unlikely to scare Republicans off the couch and off to the polling place the way she did when was she was swinging the gavel as Speaker of the House during a Democratic administration, and there so little connection between Pelosi and the Democratic opponent that it had to be photoshopped. The Democratic opponent has a pretty Kansas-sized belly and photogenic Kansas sunsets in the background, too, and he’s brought in enough small donations from an energized Democratic party to make them pop up on pretty much every internet site a Kansan might visit.
The Democratic opponent is attorney James Thompson, and although he’s a political neophyte he’s not one of those sacrificial lambs that the party has usually offered up. His carefully-crafted ads tell a heartrending story of his impoverished and briefly homeless youth, how he found his way in the world by volunteering for wartime military service, parlayed that into an education and a law degree and a legal career that hasn’t yet yielded any scandals, and feature footage of his burly and hirsute Kansas self shooting a semi-automatic rifle on a rural range and not saying anything at all about the likes of Nancy Pelosi. With help from a a lot of small donors he’s been been able to widely air those ads even on the conservative talk radio shows, and you can’t go anywhere on the internet in this district without them popping up at some site or another. We even got a text message on our newfangled cellular phone that was intended for someone named “Latisha” to remind her to vote for Thompson at polling place over on the northeast side, and we’re old and white male and Republican and familiar with Wichita enough to jump to the conclusion that “Latisha” is a young and black and Democratic woman, which suggests Thompson’s got some sophisticated if hardly fool-proof get-out-the-vote techniques going for him. He’s also done the door-to-door and greasy spoon meet-and-greets and and shown up at all the debates to argue with the Libertarian candidate who’s bound to siphon a few votes away from the Republicans, staked out positions that won’t diminish the enthusiasm of the revved-up minority of local Democrats but don’t unnecessarily provoke any Republicans, and so spooked the state and national Republicans that they’re spending relatively big bucks and getting Trump and Pence and Kansas Caucus winner Cruz involved.
There’s also the fact that Estes is so inextricably linked with Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback that it doesn’t require photoshopping, and Brownback is currently the 50th most popular governor in America according to all the polls, having enraged all the Democrats with his tax-and-budget-slushing agenda, as well as the half of the Republican party he waged civil war on to make it happen, and that even such stingy Republicans as ourselves are miffed he’s managed to discredit our tax-and-budget-cutting principles. You can also throw in the fact that this is one of those April elections where turnout is bound to be low, and at this point the Democratic minority of Kansas is hell-bent for some sort of victory and and clearly winning the yard-sign war even outside our anomalously liberal neighborhood, the Republican majority is either complacent or dispirited or blissfully unaware that we’re holding an election in April of all months, and we can see why the likes of The Washington Post and New York Times and Buzzfeed.com are taking a bet on this election. Should the Republican prevail in this reliably Republican district it will be another dog-bites-man story relegated to a couple of inches on page B-3, with the plane tickets and hotel and restaurant expenses of a trip to Wichita written off, but if the upset does occur it can be spun into a rebuke of Republicans in general and Trump in particular right in the deep-red heart of the flyover country that’s worth space on the front page, so they might as well roll the dice.
The guys who write The Washington Post’s all-knowing “Plum Line” column and don’t have to fly to places like Wichita say that “it would take an earthquake” for the Democrat to prevail here, and we’re inclined to agree with that assessment, and after a lifetime of Fourth Congressional District politics we would advise that’s still  the way to bet, but they might not know that for the past few year we’ve been having earthquakes around here.

— Bud Norman

No Returns from the Tax Returns

As a general rule tax returns are pretty dull reading, but President Donald Trump is an exception to an awful lot of rules, so of course there was was some interest in the two pages of his 2005 filing that was somehow intriguingly leaked. There wasn’t enough in those two pages to justify some of the resulting coverage, as it turns out, but the resulting hubbub is also newsworthy.
The two purloined pages were reportedly mailed to a journalist and published Trump biographer of little renown, then passed on to Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC cable news network, whose program relentlessly hyped the finding for hours and then spent a full 20 minutes of the long-awaited showtime in further build up before disclosing that there’s really nothing very embarrassing to Trump in the two pages. It was revealed that Trump paid $38 million in income taxes that year, which was more than most Americans did, and it represented a percentage of his income greater than what President Barack Obama or self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders forked over, and there was nothing about deductions claimed for contributions to the Russian mob or anything like that.
We’d call it the biggest journalistic anticlimax since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault, but by now every other media in the critic in the country has already beat us to the analogy. All the ancien regime media cringed in embarrassment, and even such a fellow Trump-bashing liberal as the late night comedian Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist some piercing ridicule. Maddow is the most impeccably liberal voice on television’s most impeccably liberal channel, which has lately been racking up record ratings as liberals seek a “safe place,” but her fellows liberals are understandably miffed about how she muffed the far bigger story they still have hopes for.
Those tax returns reveal Trump would have paid even more if not for something called the Alternative Minimum Tax, which his tax reform proposals would repeal, but that’s a rather arcane policy point, and even such Trump-bashing conservatives as ourselves don’t believe that just because something’s bad for Trump it’s good the country, and it’s certainly not the sort of complicated economic argument you hype all day long and then have two pages of anti-climax to show for it. The bigger story that liberals would prefer to hype is that all we of know of the vast financial empire that Trump has not divested himself from is two pages of a 12-year-old tax return somehow includes only exculpatory evidence. A Trump campaign manager and National Security have already been forced to resign because of contacts with the Russian government Trump has thus far flattered, and his Attorney General had recused himself from an ongoing investigation in broader contracts between the campaign and Russia, and all that’s been released of the tax returns that would surely prove Trump himself has no financial ties with the Russian government were those two not-entirely-exculpatory pages. There are already rumors afloat that Trump himself leaked his $38 million tax bill, then preemptively tweeted his indignant denial of whatever MSNBC might report to cover his tracks, and although even the ancien regime media won’t touch that conspiracy theory we will note it’s at least as plausible as Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad being in on the Kennedy hit, and people are saying, and we’ll leave it up to Congress to investigate if it’s true or not, and let similar Trumpian standards of truth prevail.
There’s something fishy about Trump’s Russophilia even from our rightward Trump-bashing perspective, perhaps all the more so after so many years of Cold War vigilance, so we’re also annoyed that handsome Rachel Maddow fellow has momentarily muddied the media waters. With enemies of the people like these, Trump might be wondering, who needs friends?

— Bud Norman

Enter Salacious Headline Here

Just when we were starting to hold out hope that this unprecedentedly crazy presidential election race couldn’t possibly get any crazier, we came across the only slightly surprising news that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton “is a secret sex freak who paid fixers to set up illicit romps with both men AND women.” That juicy tidbit and its atrocious capitalization comes from the supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer, which last figured in the presidential race with the revelation that former Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, and is thus far the only national publication to endorse the publisher’s good friend and Republican nominee Donald Trump, so you can take it for whatever you figure it be worth, but there’s no denying it adds yet another level of craziness to the election.
Trump’s more die-hard supporters will rightly note that The National Enquirer’s past scoops about former Democratic contender and liberal darling Sen. Gary Hart’s fling on a yacht inconveniently christened “Monkey Business” and vice-presidential nominee and liberal darling Sen. John Edward’s love child that he tried to pin on a paid fall guy both proved entirely correct, and apparently it also saw Brad Pitt’s divorce from Angelina Jolie coming months before the fact, and at this point we wouldn’t put anything past anyone named Clinton, so in such a crazy election years as this maybe there’s something to it. The National Enquirer has also been known to get things wrong, though, including that costly libel about America’s beloved Carol Burnett being an obnoxious drunk and that more recent ridiculousness about Cruz’s dad and the Kennedy assassination, so the paper provides more through documentation our high standards of non-partisan journalism force us admit that at least one member of the Clinton family might not be a secret sex freak.
Normally we wouldn’t know what’s on the front page of The National Enquirer until we found ourselves in the check-out line at the local supermarket, but in this case we got the scoop on The National Enquirer’s scoop by checking in on the formerly reliable Drudge Report. The Drudge Report is a widely-read internet site that mostly features the latest headlines from other media, and its most die-hard supporters still fondly recall that it broke the story of former President Bill Clinton’s tawdry affair with a much-younger intern, and how it astutely linked to mainstream news stories with the leads that were buried deep within those mainstream news stories, and once upon a time it was the home page that popped up when we logged on to the internet. At some point in this crazy election it kept linking us to the loudly pro-Trump “Infowars” web site and its crazy conspiracy theories about the terror attacks of 2001 being an inside job and the school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, being a staged event, and what with our computer rushing to “Infowars” rather than the increasingly unreliable “Instapundit” site every time we typed “in” into our search engine we decided to make the endearingly old-fashioned conservative NeverTrump National Review site our home page.
In such a crazy election year as this one has to make such reassessments of previously reliable sources. If the stodgily principled National Review or the equally stalwart old-fashioned and conservative Weekly Standards asserts that Hillary Clinton is indeed a secret sex fiend who paid fixers to set up illicit sex romps we’ll gleefully believe it, and if the most mainstream liberal press is reluctantly forced to admit it as it did in the case of Hart and Edwards we’ll more or less gratefully take it as an undeniable fact, we promise that this publication will be heartened to pile on as well, because we truly do loathe those darned Clintons, and we did so even way back when the Drudge Report was debunking its more current claims that the male Clinton fathered a mulatto love-child and Trump was singing their praises and contributing to the campaigns and inviting them to his third wedding.
By this point in this crazy election year we don’t have any faith in anyone who has any good thing to say about either of these awful presidential nominees, even though all of them will eventually be proved right to whatever extent they spoke the worse of the other.

— Bud Norman

Watching Liberty Booed Off the Stage at Two Conventions

Despite our particular aversion to the whole “reality show” genre of television, and our general disdain of the entire medium altogether, we did make a point to log onto the internet Wednesday evening to watch and listen to C-Span’s coverage of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ address to the Republican National Convention. Our oddball tastes in entertainment include an affinity for political rhetoric, and Cruz is as good at it as anybody these days, and his address did prove a most fascinating episode. The Senator seemed to deliver a robustly persuasive argument against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but he he only once mentioned the official Republican nominee by name, and at no point was there an unambiguous endorsement, so those who have been closely following the plot of this dreary tale are sure to have noticed some fascinating further ambiguities.
If you’ve been happily distracted from this dreary tale you need to understand that Sen. Cruz is better known to fans of the habitually lying official Republican nominee as “Lyin'” Ted Cruz, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, and that back when they were the last two contenders still vying for the nomination the now-official Republican nominee threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’ wife and “tweeted” out his gloat that she was uglier than the now-official Republican nominee’s plagiarizing-from-Michelle-Obama third super-model trophy wife, and claimed that Cruz was actually an oh-my-God punting-on-third-down Canadian and that his Cuban-born father had been in on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, based solely on the reporting of the official Republican nominee’s good friends at The National Enquirer, so the address was full of intriguing plot lines. There was a gracious and specific congratulation to the now-official Republican nominee who had shamelessly and ridiculously slandered Cruz’ wife and father and personal history, and a rousing denunciation of the undeniably awful presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but in terms that don’t reflect well on the now-official Republican nominee.
His strikingly brief address quite persuasively made the case that the traditional Republican value of freedom of speech is at odds with a presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee who would overturn the Citizens United ruling that people are free to criticize her, and generously neglected to mention that the official Republican nominee has promised that anyone who criticizes him will have “problems, such problems” should he win. He affirmed the right of homosexuals to pursue their preferences but stood up for the right of others not to be involved, without mentioning that both of America’s major parties now seem on board with more authoritarian post-sexual-revolution measures, and he spoke against open borders while also speaking well of the father who legally came to this country from communist Cuba and all the other legal immigrants who had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy. He spoke about giving parents a choice in educating their children, which neither party’s official or all-but-certain nominees ever mention, and the state’s rights on everything from marijuana to California-style taxation that also largely go unmentioned. All in all it was a stem-winding speech against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but hardly a ringing endorsement of the now-official Republican nominee.

Which of course wound up with him being booed off the stage by the Republican National Convention. He ended by saying that “We will unite the country by standing together for shared values by standing for liberty,” and in this sorry virtual reality show that seems to define our actual reality that will get you booed off any of the available stages. We’d have preferred that he defended the honor of the one wife of his youth and the pro-American immigrant father who surely had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy, no matter what craziness the official Republican nominee’s friends at The National Enquirer concocted, and been more frank about the lies being told by both of the major party candidates, but at this point we’ll argue that “Lyin’ Ted” was at least more truthful than either of the official and all-but-certain major party nominees and made a stronger case against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee than the now-official Republican nominee ever could, and we’ll hold out faint hope that next time around will be better.

— Bud Norman

Two Scenes From the Campaign Trail

We spent much of Thursday celebrating the folks’ 60th wedding anniversary, which is such a rare accomplishment these days that we thought it worth mentioning, but we spent enough time perusing our usual news sources to come across two intriguing and starkly disparate accounts from the day in the still-slightly-in-doubt Republican presidential race.
The first was a report by Roger L. Simon of the much-ridiculed but usually reliable PJ Media, about a large and enthusiastic crowd at a rally for Donald J. Trump in California. If you’re not familiar with his work, Simon is a former hippy-dippy leftist who had some success in Hollywood as a screenwriter and some best-selling mysteries about a hippy-dippy detective, but at some point he went over to the right and became mostly a entertaining internet writer, until his more recent move to the Trump side. We still don’t doubt his veracity, and will glumly concede that the crowd was indeed as large and enthusiastic and even as diverse as he describes, and we’re old enough we can dig where the formerly hippy-dippy leftist is coming from when he likened it to a “happening,” nor do we disagree at all when he says “It’s all a little ‘Cult of Personality,'” but we’re starting to question his judgment when he adds after a dash that “but what the hell?”
We’re wondering what the hell ourselves when someone who had previously seemed so sensible concludes that a “little ‘Cult of Personality'” is gaining such momentum that it’s about to seize control of the executive branch of the federal government, and then sanguinely dismisses the thought with a hackneyed profanity. Considering that we’re talking about the bombastic, bumptious, braggadocious, buffoonish, bull-in-a-China-shop personality of self-described billionaire Trump, a real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul whose newfound conservatism is clearly as negotiable as anything else in his entire life, we’d think that someone who’s already been so thoroughly duped as Simon once was would be careful, as The Who might sing, that he “Won’t Be Fooled Again.” Simon likens the Trump crowd to the ones he once saw rallying to the cause of Bobby Kennedy, and the analogy is both apt and seasoned enough that it makes his writing still worth reading, but we suspect that something in the young and hippy-dippy writer that once yearned for the faux-revolutionary appeal of Kennedy’s cult of personality still lurks in the soul of an otherwise wised-up aging right-wing internet writer.
Meanwhile, long-shot lone challenger Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was wandering around the crowd at a more traditional campaign event in Elkhart, Indiana, where a young man strutted up and asked the candidate to sign his well-worn copy of “The Writings of Karl Marx.” Cruz smiled and agreed to sign, and the young punk was forced to admit that “You have a good sense of humor.” Cruz then told the cameras that he’d written “Millions of people have suffered because of this,” and added that as a son of of a Cuban immigrant he knew well of what he spoke, and the impudent young man had nothing to say but “Thank you, Sen. Cruz.” We found it a touching moment, and would like to think this sort of of human-to-human politics can still prevail in our fractious country. We can’t imagine Trump coming into such close contact with any of his adoring and likely to rip-his-clothes-off-like-teeny-boppers crowds, although we have managed to shake Cruz’s hand during this campaign, and if any of them were wielding any book other than “The Art of the Deal” or his other ghost-written tomes we can only imagine what would have happened, given his frequent invocations for his crowds to get rough with any protestors.
Once upon a time in America people of decent moral character and unobjectionable personalities would get elected to high public office by walking around the public square and meeting with both friends and the foes who can be engaged on a reasonable level and making persuasive arguments about what the country could and should do, but at the moment it seems that was way back when people could get married and if they were lucky enough to live long enough they’d be married for sixty mostly good years.

— Bud Norman

A Dark and Stormy Night

As we glumly contemplate the increasing likelihood that the next President of the United States will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, arguably the two most awful people in the country, some of our more upbeat friends try to console us that at least it couldn’t be possibly be worse than the past seven-and-a-half years or so have been. President Barack Obama’s recent tour of Europe lends some credence to the theory, but it doesn’t hold out any hope that things will get better.
In case you were too riveted by the two party’s competing reality shows, Obama did pretty much everything wrong on his trip. In England he offered an obviously inadequate excuse for sending a bust of Winston Churchill back home and threatened that if the country chose to opt out of the European Union in a referendum scheduled for June that he would put the country at “the end of queue” in trade negotiations, and in Germany he endorsed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s catastrophic immigration policies and touted their work together on the trade deal that Germany is first in queue for and most of the German public also understandably opposes.
Back in the “Hope and Change” days of Obama’s ’08 campaign a majority of the American electorate had some crazy hope hope that he would change the rest of the world’s mind about America after eight years of George W. Bush’s cowboy foreign policy, and the rest of the world fell for it, too. Most of England had high hopes for change that were dashed when Obama not only snubbed Winston Churchill but the current prime minister and the two countries longstanding special relationship at large. By the time he showed up seven-and-a-half-years later to try and bully the English into the sticking with the EU even the polite chap from the British Broadcasting System was emboldened to ask him what business of it was his.
There was a huge crowd of Germans at the Brandenburg Gate when Obama gave that wildly-reviewed speech about how communism and the Berlin Wall had fallen because the whole world stood together, even though he and all the people he’s appointed stood against the controversial Reagan policies that brought it about, but by now even the Germans are wised up. They hate the Islamization of their country that Merkel’s insane policies are bound to cause, they’re in a protectionist mood that is understandable if not quite logical, and they’re very much over that “hope and change” thing from ’08 and nearly nostalgic for that crazy cowboy George W. Bush.
As bad as it was, we can’t see it getting any better any time soon. Clinton’s victories on Tuesday made her nomination once again inevitable, and she was the Secretary of State during the first disastrous first years of Obama’s presidency. She was the one who sold out the Czechs and Poles and Hondurans and Israelis and countless other allies and offered that laughably mistranslated “re-set” button to the Russians, who are now as problematic for Englishmen and Germans and other European folk as the Islamists that Clinton insists have nothing to do with terrorism, and she doesn’t seem much of an improvement. There’s still faint hope she’ll be indicted or otherwise somehow be overcome by popular Democratic Party opinion and the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but we can’t see that working out any better.
Trump’s victories on Tuesday made him slightly less but still worrisomely inevitable as the Republican nominee, but we have no hope that change would be for the better. He wouldn’t be endorsing Merkel’s culturally suicidal immigration policies, at least, although there’s no telling how what he’ll say about Britain and the European Union, but he’d probably be ridiculing the looks of both country’s leaders and making unmeetable demands, and his past praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top-notch foreign policy expert’s long record of business dealings with and profuse apologies for Putin suggest he’d re-set relations with that country to something along the lines of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. We’re not entirely sure that long-shot Republican challenger Sen. Ted Cruz would be much better, given that even he uses “neocon” as a pejorative, but at this point he’s our best hope for a positive change.
Sorry to be so glum, but it was a dark and stormy day here on the prairie, and the evening’s news was even worse.

— Bud Norman

The Real Rules of Debate

A pleasant chore had us driving across town and listening to talk radio on the AM radio Monday afternoon, so by chance we heard one of those occasional few-second sound bites that somehow explain everything. Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who is somehow the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, was entertaining another huge crowd of his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters with his usual Don Rickles riffs on his opponents. This time he was laughing off Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s challenge to a one-on-one debate over the important issues of the day, and gloating that although Cruz was a former national collegiate debate champion “in college debate I don’t get to interrupt him every 15 seconds.”
Which pretty much explains why the likes of Trump is front-running against a former national collegiate debate champion who is described by his most liberal professors as brilliant and described by everyone as a rock-ribbed conservative and was fighting the “establishment” that Trump so effectively rails against way back when Trump was still writing five- and six-figure contribution checks to it. Cruz and his long record as Texas’ Solicitor General and maverick Senator has a persuasive case to make for his candidacy in a supposedly rock-ribbed conservative party, and he makes it quite well if you’re one of those political junkies who will listen to it in more than a few-second soundbites, but it’s not at all an overstatement to say that in the ears of the rest of the public it has indeed been interrupted at least every fifteen seconds by Trump.
That liberal media all of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters abhor has given him more air time and column inches and whatever the on-line equivalent of column inches is than the rest of the Republican field combined, and until he clinches the nomination will continue to withhold all the really damning stuff they undeniably have on him, and at this point even that unfortunate reality talk show guest who really does sort of bear a certain resemblance to a female Ted Cruz and took up an offer to perform in a porn video because of it had to admit that she hadn’t previously heard of the guy.
Trump has already proclaimed his love for the “poorly educated,” and we’re sure that his many so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will share his scorn for collegiate debaters and other fancy-pants egghead types, but at the risk of sounding metrosexual or something we’d still rather see the important issues of the day settled according to the rules we followed during our own high school and collegiate debate careers. There were no interruptions every 15 seconds, which Trump actually brags about, although he once criticized the formidable Carly Fiorina for doing because she is after all a mere woman, and both sides got to state their case, answer interrogations about their arguments, offer rebuttals, and make closing statements that addressed each relevant point. Factual evidence was required, some logical conclusion from that evidence was expected, and an ability to express oneself at a grade level required for the complexity of the question at hand also counted. If it were conducted on these strict terms, we would very much love to see a one-on-one debate between Trump and Cruz.
Trump is shrewd enough to understand all the professional wrestling and reality show and scam university rules that he’s now playing by, though, and even the guy whose Atlantic City house-rules casino and strip joint went bankrupt is smart enough to avoid that sucker’s game. Still, these days he might even carry the day the in a Marquis de Queensbury sort of verbal brawl.
One of the most memorable epiphanies of our epiphany-fllled debate career came when we were high schoolers arguing against some rural team’s case to ban super-sonic jet transports based on claims they would cause disastrous air pollution, an arguments we had good evidence to refute even then, and has long since turned out to be another one of those ’70s worries that never came to pass. Our colleague, an hilarious and charismatic and quirky and even further right-wing fellow than us whose late Dad was not only a John Bircher but a Minuteman, and who wasn’t so inclined to research things or seek a rational argument as we were, simply laughed off the very idea because of course, as everyone knows, a super-sonic aircraft would be moving too fast to leave any air pollution. We grimaced at the absurdity of the argument, because even though our marks in English were higher than in Science we could immediately see the utter stupidity of it, but even through our determinedly shut eyes we could see the judge nodding in agreement and the opposing team panicking at such an irrefutable refutation of their seemingly well-sourced argument. It was sophistry carried to a point best described by a familiar barnyard epithet, but it did carry us into the elimination rounds where the judges were more carefully chosen and the opposition was not quite so stupid, where as it turns out even our best evidenced and rational arguments efforts did not carry the day.
Such sophistry might yet carry Trump to the Republican party’s nomination, which might arguably be a a fitting retribution for its sins, and his last remaining opposition will surely have to deal with the every-15-seconds-interruptions, but we wonder how well it will play in the elimination rounds where the judges are more serious. The opposition will either be a self-described socialist and thus easily-refuted Senator or a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State whose character flaws rival those of her pal the Republican front-runner, and if the Republicans don’t choose the thrice-married bragging-about-his-affairs with married women failed gamblig-and-strip-joint mogul the alternative will inevitably be smeared as a Bible-thumping theocrat who according to Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer is also a womanizing hypocrite with a wife who’s not as hot as Trump’s latest trophy wife and a dad who was in on the JFK assassination, so who knows how it will all turn out. Not by collegiate debate rules, certainly, and that’s a shame. This is the real world where a plane emitting so many air pollutants in a flight does so regardless of how fast it’s flying, the better argument is being made no matter how often its interrupts, and an the incredulous reactions of the poorly educated voters don’t really care in the end.

— Bud Norman

What Enquiring Minds Want to Know

On a recent trip to our nearest supermarket we perused the covers of all the gossip rags on display during the long wait at the check-out stand, and were surprised to learn that the father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. After losing some hope in the long-shot prospects for the presidential campaign of Cruz, we were pleased to see that he’s at least still as newsworthy as some Kardashian or another.
Our budget is lately pared down to the bare essentials, so we didn’t purchase the latest edition of The National Enquirer, but as internet access remains a bare essential we did the usual search engine enquiry into the matter. Apparently the notoriously unreliable supermarket tabloid has come up with a picture that shows Lee Harvey Oswald handing out some Fair Play for Cuba Committee literature in New Orleans with a guy who might or might not be Cruz’s father standing nearby. They even have a couple of credentialed “experts” willing to say to The National Enquirer that the guy in the photograph might or might not be Cruz’s father, and so the reader is invited to extrapolate that Cruz’s father was obviously the second gunman in the Grassy Knoll, and that Cruz is obviously continuing this insidious plot to keep America from being great again.
Although we are harsh critics of the more respectable press, we reluctantly concede that this doesn’t even rise to their low level. The National Enquirer has previously insinuated that Cruz has cheated on his wife with at least five different mistresses, with only the admittedly sybaritic Nixon-era dirty-trickster going on the record about alleged rumors that it might or might nor have happened, and they’ve tried to tie him to a District of Columbia madam scandal by noting that one of her cell phone records came from Texas, which might or might not have come from Texan Cruz, and so far we their efforts have convinced that Cruz must be a remarkably upright fellow if this is the best The National Enquirer can up with.
The more conspiracy-minded sorts will note that the publisher of The National Enquirer is the aptly-named David Pecker, who happens to be an old friend of fellow bankruptcy-filer Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-reality-show mogul’s whose last remaining obstacle to the Republican nomination is somehow the allegedly adulterous and whore-mongering and Kennedy-killing Cruz. We also note that Trump’s not only admitted but much bragged-about sex scandals don’t rate a mention in The National Enquirer despite his reality-show-star status, and that Cruz seems to be the only Republican target of their thinly-sourced and clearly-linked-to-Trump insinuations.
Even the most respectable press have steered clear of such disreputable reportage, except for a few skeptical accounts of what’s going on the supermarket check-out lane tabloids, and we don’t worry that much of the still-undecided public will buy any of it. Much of the public that’s already decided on Trump will believe every word of it, though, just as they still contend that Cruz is actually a Canadian even after countess courts and election boards have ruled otherwise, and endlessly repeat that lie about the brain-addled neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson being lied about just before the Iowa caucus, and pretend that Cruz wasn’t for a border fence back when Trump was calling Mitt Romney’s relatively milquetoast self-deportation policies “mean.”
One hates to think that the likes of The National Enquirer’s Pecker can influence an election, but these days it remains to be seen.

— 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