The Upcoming Contentious Election

Our hope is that the coronavirus miraculously disappears in time for American voters to safely visit their local polling places, but we’re not so hopeful about that we aren’t thinking about how to run a fair election just in case. One possible solution is having registered voters cast their ballots by mail, and although we don’t like it we’d prefer that to not voting at all.
President Donald Trump seems to disagree. He’s recently “tweeted” threats that he would withhold federal disaster funding from Nevada and Michigan unless they abandon plans for widespread voting mail, saying that it’s illegal and an invitation to voter fraud, He’s not made any such threats against several states that have Republican governors and are more likely to give their electoral votes to Trump, but we’ll assume that’s because those states have systems that are tamper-proof and perfectly legal.
Even so, something about Trump’s stand offends our traditional conservative sensibilities. American elections have long been run by state and local officials, which is in keeping with federalist traditions and has long bolstered the public’s faith in the voting process because they’e easier to keep an eye on, which is the sort of time-honed thing that conservatives once wanted to conserve. A president strong-arming state and local officials for arguably self-interested reasons is another thing conservatives used to grouse about, and we’re not going to abandon that principle for the likes of Trump. Trump is also “tweeting” threats to defund the United States Postal Service, a constitutionally-mandated function of the federal government, and we’ve got conservative objections to that.
Pretty much every Michigander we’ve ever known have been delightful people, and Trump’s specific targeting of their state strikes us as very stupid. Michigan has seen a large number of coronavirus cases and Covid-19 fatalities, its manufacturing-based economy has been worse than decimated by the economic downturn, the central third of the state is literally underwater after a 500-year-rain storm and dam failure caused by lack of state and federal infrastructure spending. Given that Michigan gave its electoral votes to Trump last time, albeit by the slimmest of margins, we can’t see how withholding much-needed federal disaster aid feuding with Michigan’s more-popular-than-he-is Democratic governor and a state Attorney General who seems on solid legal footing by mailing applicati,s to vote for is going to help him in the state.
Trump and his more articulate allies can make a compelling case that voting by mail permits potential voter fraud, but they made the same arguments when Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million last time around, and we retain some faith in American ingenuity. Let Michigan and Nevada and all those Republican states come up with their own solutions for holding an election in time of potential plague, and let all those neighbors who are Democrats and Republicans and kooks work it out on the state and local level, where we can better keep an eye on them. Some good might come of it.
No matter what the United States collectively come up with not everyone will be satisfied. That’s partly due to humankind’s infallibility and even more to do with humankind’s tendency to think the universe is rigged. Trump will contest the results even if he wins, the Democratic nominee might well have some legitimate objections if he loses, and in either case much of a divided country will regard their democratic republic as illegitimate. The legitimacy of our of democratic republic is the thing we most wanted to conserve in our political life, and we’d hate to see it become another victim of the coronavirus.

— Bud Norman

Pompeo and Circumstances

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo served nearly three and half terms as our congressman here in Kansas’s Fourth district before joining President Donald Trump’s administration as Central Intelligence Agency and then becoming America’s top diplomat. He was quite popular around here, routinely winning with more than 60 parent of the vote, and although the local liberals hated him for his old-fashioned conservatism they were never able to pin any scandals on him.
As a member the Trump cabinet, Pompeo now finds himself embroiled in several controversies. An inspector general who was investigating Pompeo from using a taxpayer paid aide to do personal, as well as declaring a national emergency to green light an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, was fired by President Trump, and after Trump said the firing was at Pompeo’s request that is three scandals. Pompeo also stands accused of holding expensive taxpayer-funded dinners for big bucks donors to the Republican Party who have nothing to do with foreign policy, which is a pretty embarrassing fourth scandal.
Pompeo admitted he asked for the firing of the inspector general but insisted it was a not a conflict of interest because he was unaware he was being investigated, but he also admitted that he had been given a written set of questions by the inspector general about both the aide an the arms deals.
There’s one exception: I was asked a series of questions in writing,” Pompeo said. “I responded to those questions with respect to a with respect to a particular investigation … I don’t know the scope. I don’t know the nature of that investigation — of what I would have seen from the nature of the questions that I was presented.” Except that earlier in the same news conference Pompeo said “I couldn’t possibly have retaliated for for all things I’ve seen — the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. It’s all just crazy.”
That’s as dismissively sarcastic a reply as Trump himself might offer, but it does amount to an admission that Pompeo knew exactly what that pesky inspector general was looking into when he requested the firing. It was the fourth firing of a pesky inspector general in the past six weeks by the Trump administration, on top of the firings of various pesky “whistle blowers,” and another worrisome example of how anyone in the federal government who doesn’t toe the administration’s line is putting his or her career in jeopardy, which is yet another administration scandal.
The defenestrated inspector general was also looking into the lavish parties Pompeo allegedly hosted on the tax payer’s tab, allegedly welcoming such guests as the chief executive officers of Chik-Fil-La and 7-Eleven and the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, along with others who had no apparent reason for being at a State Department dinner but were potential donors to potential future campaigns, and so far Pompeo hasn’t denied any of the allegations. Pompeo might have some reasonable explanation, but for now we’re expecting only another Trumpian dismissively sarcastic reply.
All of Pompeo’s problems began when he signed on with the Trump administration, and we believe that if he hadn’t done that he’d be sitting pretty right now. His seat in Congress was as safe as a government bond, as they used to say, and the the state’s open Senate seat that’s up for grabs in November would have been his for the asking. Pompeo’s got an impressive resume, including top of his class at West Point and editor of the Harvard Law Review and a successful high-tech aviation company here in Kansas, and he had a masterful knack for appealing to both the fire-breathing anti-establishment elements of the Republican party as well as the party’s establishment types who proudly voted for General Dwight Eisenhower and Senators Bob Dole and Nancy Landon and other erstwhile exemplars of moderate Kansas Republicanism.
Given his impressive resume and political instincts, a lot of us here in the Fourth Congressional district of Kansas thought Pompeo might even wind up as president some day. Pompeo is an obviously and unabashedly ambitious man, so there’s no doubt the same thought had occurred to him, and we suspect he bet that joining the Trump administration would be the shrewd move to get there. With all due respect to Pompeo, we think that in this case his political instincts failed him.
“We’ll always remember Pompeo’s rousing endorsement speech for the very Republican establishment Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at the Kansas Republican caucus in downtown Wichita’s Century II building, and how many of us booed candidate Donald Trump’s appearance and how Trump came in third after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Rubio. Trump wound up winning the nomination and then won Kansas’ electoral votes by the same 60 percent any other Republican nominee would have garnered against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, however, and Pompeo was glad to to accept an offer to hop on board. When he was elevated from CIA director to Secretary of State, with unemployment at record lows and the stock markets at record highs, he seemed poised to take some share of the credit for making America great again.
We’re not nearly as smart as Pompeo, but we’re nowhere near so intoxicatingly ambitious, and from our relatively sober perspective here on the political sidelines, after watching more Kansas politics than Pompeo has been around to see, we think he should have stayed here in the middle of Kansas. He could have supported Trump’s many sensible policies, criticized his more common vulgarism and and divisiveness and other outright corruption an many other offenses, and joined other Kansas Republicans to condemn the trade wars have hurt the state’s crucial agricultural and aviation sectors, and poised himself as a leader of the post-Trump Republican party’s return to greatness that America will much need, given how crazy the Democrats seem these days.
Instead Pompeo has hitched his proverbial wagon to Trump’s proverbial star, and so far that hasn’t worked out for anyone. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be sitting in a safe Alabama Senate seat if he hadn’t endorsed Trump and been rewarded with a Cabinet chair before being fire for dutifully recusing himself from the federal investigation of the campaign he’d worked on, and is currently in a tight battle to win his party’s nomination for the Senate because Trump continues to disparage him. Various Trump appointees appointees have have been fired for doing the right thing and now publicly oppose him, along with others who were hired for no apparent reason and then fired for good cause, and Pompeo might well be another casualty of the Trump administration. So far, no one who’s signed on with Trum0 hasn’t unscathed
Barring some deus ex machina that miraculously cures the coronavirus, and it magically goes away as if by miracle as promised, and the stock market is back at record highs and the unemployment on Election Day, Pompeo’s once-promising presidential ambitions might at an end. The good news is that with the coronavirus dominating the news few people with notice such routine scandals.

— Bud Norman

When Politics is Personal

Politics ain’t bean bag, as the cliche aptly puts it, but we can’t remember a time when it was quite so pro wrestling-like as it is today. Pro wrestling hall of famer and President of the United States Donald Trump seems to pride himself on flouting the traditional norms of decorum and civility in political discourse, and routinely insults his political opponents with charges of mental illness and criminal behavior and ugliness.
On Tuesday, for instance, Trump called Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a “waste of time” and “a sick woman” who “has a lot of mental problems.” In the same interview he reiterated his claims that President Barack Obama and various Federal Bureau of Investigation officers had committed especially egregious but unspecified political crimes. Trump also explained that he didn’t know the State Department inspector general who was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for possibly using aides to do personal chores as well as possibly making a corrupt arms deal with Saudi Arabia, but fired the guy because he was an Obama appointee and Pompeo wanted him gone.
The unsubstantiated and unspecified charges levied against Obama and the career public officials are unprecedented in our many years of following politics, as is Trump’s purge of any pesky inspectors general who might find anything embarrassing to the Trump administration, but these are apparently the new rules. To quote an oft-quoted line from The Godfather, “It’s strictly business, not personal.” The Pelosi slurs, on the the other hand, seemed strictly personal
On Monday Pelosi was interviewed by the Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper, and expressed concern about Trump’s announcement that he was using hydroxychloroqine to ward aff infection by the coronavirus. “He’s our president, and I would rather he was not taking something┬áthat has been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group — ‘morbidly obese, they say.” Say what you want about Pelosi’s political views, and we’ve had plenty to say about them over the years, but you should admit that the daughter of a famously ruthless Maryland politician has some bare knuckle skills of her own. With a finesse Trump will never master, she sounded concerned about the president’s health while also mentioning his obesity.
Trump fans will agree that Pelosi is a “waste of time” and a “sick woman” who “has a lot of mental problems,” and cheer him on for telling it like is, but we figure that the Pelosi’s objective observation of Trump’s obesity is also telling it like it is.
We’re lately feeling liberated from the old rules of civility and decorum and the rest of all that “politically incorrect” nonsense, so we’ll just come right out and say that Trump is fat. We’ll even go so far as to say that he’s a big fat fatty-pants with a ridiculous comb-over and white circles around his eyes in an otherwise orange and jowly face. None which is disqualifying, as we have to admit that Trump isn’t as fat as President William Howard Taft, who we consider a very underrated president, and he’s not so ugly President Abraham Lincoln, who is rightly regarded as the great president ever, Trump does routinely make an issue of other people’s height and weight and looks.
“I didn’t know he’d be so sensitive,” Pelosi responded on the MSNBC network, before adding “He’s always talking about other people’s avoirdopois, their weight, their pounds.” Which is provably telling like it is, and well within the bounds of the new rules.of pubic discourse.
Trump makes his own rules, and expect everyone else to play the old rules, but that’s not going to happen, How this sort of this sort political discussion leads the country out of the greatest public health crisis in more than a century and the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depressioon remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

How Science Stuff Works

President Donald Trump made a surprising announcement on Monday that he’s been ingesting hydroxychloroquine for nearly two weeks to ward off the coronavirus. Assuming he is telling the truth, which is by no means a safe assumption, we can only wonder why the hell Trump would do that.
Hydroxychloroquine has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as either a prophylaxis or cure against the disease caused by coronavirus, and early scientific results from Veterans Administration hospitals and other hospitals here and abroad have found that covid-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die than other patients and have an increased risk of potentially fatal heart problems. Given such empirical evidence, those nosy “fake news” reporters from the “lame stream media” naturally asked why Trump was taking the drug.
I think it’s good,” Trump explained, choosing not to dodge the question by insulting the reporter. “I’ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it’s not good, I’ll tell you right. I’m not going to get hurt by it. It’s been around for 40 years.”
Trump is correct that hydroxychloroquine has been around for a while, as a provenly effective response to malaria and lupus and other obscure diseases, but that doesn’t mean it’s any more effective against coronavirus than it might be again pancreatic cancer or the common cold or dishpan hands. Those peskey reporters couldn’t resist a follow up question about what evidence Trump had to justify his actions.
“Here we go, are you ready? Here’s my evidence,” Trump defiantly replied, eschewing his usual insults about the reporter. “I get a lot of positive calls about it. The only negative I’ve heard was the study where they gave it — was it the VA with, you know, people that aren’t big Trump fans gave it.”
Trump had an uncle who was a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology and according to his unsubstantiated claims all the scientists at the Cwnters for Disease Control were awed by his scientific knowledge, and he claims to be a very stable genius with a very big, ugh, brain. We’ve taken this into consideration, but remain unassured that our president has the the slightest idea about what he’s saying.
Our dad was an outstanding avionics engineer and his dad was an autodidact oil patch foreman who famously figured out how to extinguish an oil well inferno, but you wouldn’t want us anywhere near your airplane or oil patch fire. A friend who’s a former professor at Harvard and currently runs the University of Texas’ genetic engineering program once opined we’re the smartest guy he knew, but that was more due to our witty repartee than anything useful, and we don’t claim to be very stable geniuses or have a very big, uh, brain. We did pass some seventh and eighth grade science courses despite some surprisingly rigorous public school teachers, though, and can confidently spot all sorts of fallacies in the President of the United States’ reasoning.
You’ll all hear all sorts of great things about lots of things from lots of people, but in our desultory experience of life as fairly intelligent people on that doesn’t mean they’re all true. We learned enough in the seventh and eight grades to know that you need control groups an double-blind testing and peer review and replication of methodology and all that other scientific mumbo-jumbo to reach a reasonable conclusion. We also confidently know enough to not reject advice just because it came from people who disagree with us on political or other matters.
And since when is the VA “people that aren’t big Trump fans”? The only reason the VA has distressing data about hydroxychloquine is because it’s been using it with Covid-19 patients, and the most likely reason for that is they were following Trump’s expert if entirely unscientific recommendations. So far they’ve not tried Trump’s suggestions of ingesting household disinfectants to either prevent or cure the coronavirus, nor has Trump, and we’re glad of that.
At this point our best hope is the President of the United States is once again lying his ass off by talking about taking hydroxychloroquine and recommending it for everyone. Why he would do that, though, raises more questions.
One possible explanation is that Trump and his family have a stake in the company that makes hydroxychloroquine. It’s only a small stake, providing only a tiny portion of the wealth Trump makes unsubstantiated claims about owning, and you’d have to be pretty darned cynical to think Trump would endanger the public health for such a relatively mere pittance. When you’re the only president in decades who hasn’t has put his wealth into a blind trust to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, however, such cynics as ourselves feel free to point it out. Some people are saying, you know.
The more likely explanation is that way back when the coronavirus had only killed a couple thousand Americans Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a “game changer” that would solve all of his and the country’s problems, and that something in his stubborn nature won’t allow him to back off a claim. Trump demoted the government scientist in charge of finding a coronavirus vaccine after the scientist disputed Trump’s claims about hydroxychloroqine, saying he didn’t know the guy but had “heard bad things,” and even though hydroxychloroquine had faded from the news cycle Trump does not let feuds die.
We’re admittedly laymen about all this, but our best advice is to not stay home and wash your hands and not ingest hydroxychloroguine or household disinfectants and hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Better Not to Know

President Donald Trump made another trip to a swing state factory that manufactures face masks on Thursday, once again declining to wear a face mask, and as usual he said some interesting things to the assembled media. He continued to brag about all the coronavirus testing that’s going on, but also said that testing “might be overrated, it is overrated,” and then mused it could even be the reason the United States has so many coronavirus cases.
“And don’t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing,” Trump said. “When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”
Which leads us to wonder why Trump is so often exaggerating the amount of testing that’s going on. If we weren’t doing any testing at all, Trump’s reasoning suggests, we wouldn’t have any cases at all and everyone could go back to work and resume drinking in crowded bars and the economy would again be robust by Election Day
Although don’t have any more medical credentials than Trump, we think it possible that we’d still have many hundreds of thousands of coronavirus causes but not know about it. That might suit Trump’s political purposes, for now, but eventually everyone in the country will know someone in increasing pile of corpses, and in the long run he’d be better off finding to actually stop coronavirus infections.
To do that Trump will need the help of the most excellent medically credentialed people in government and academia and the private sector, but they keep saying gloomy things that don’t jibe with Trump’s upbeat rhetoric. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s most respected infectious disease expert since President Ronald Reagan’s administration, told a Senate committee this week that schools might not be able to open in the fall, and Trump told the press “That is not an acceptable answer.” On Thursday Dr. Rick Bright, until recently in charge of the government’s effort to find a coronavirus vaccine, criticized Trump’s response to the coronavirus before a Senate committee, warning of the “darkest winter and quoted another official saying “We’re in deep shit,” so Trump dismissed him as somebody he never even met but heard bad things about and a “disgruntled employee” bent on revenge for a well-earned demotion.
Somehow we are not reassured that the president didn’t know the man he had in charge of finding a vaccine for America’s greatest public health problem in more than a century, or that he demoted him based on what he’d heard from some people. Bright was demoted after publicly disagreeing with Trump’s endorsement of hydrochloroquine as a cure for coronavirus, which Trump and his media allies touted until studies came in showing it does more harm than good, and hydroxychloroquine faded from the news, at one point supplanted by Trump’s suggestion that infections of household disinfectants might work on coronavirus patients, but Trump was back sticking to his claims on Thursday.
At this point, we’re inclined to stop the reading the news. If we did, perhaps our president wouldn’t be saying and doing such stupid things.

— Bud Norman

Who to Believe? The So-Called “Experts” or What Some People are Saying?

To hear the government’s top experts tell it, the coronavirus crisis is very dire and likely to get worse if states prematurely lift restrictions on businesses and public gatherings and reopen schools.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday, via a video link due to his possible exposure to the coronavirus inside the White House, and warned that it might not be safe to open schools next fall. On the same day Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, made the same warnings. Dr. Rick Bright, until recently the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development in charging of finding a coronavirus vaccine, previewed his testimony on Thursday with a written statement warning that due to a lack of needed testing and tracing efforts a premature reopening could result in “the darkest winter in modern history.”
Which is why President Donald Trump and his spokespeople at Fox News and on talk radio would prefer you not listen to the experts, and instead hear their happy talk about a quick end to the epidemic and a rapid economic rebound in time for Election Day.
Trump told reporters he was surprised by Fauci’s answer to a question about reopening, and that “To me that is not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.” He went on to say that Fauci “wants to play both sides of the issue,” then predicting in the same run-on sentence that next year’s economy will be “phenomenal.” Redfield somehow escaped similar criticism, even through Trump and his spokespeople have been plenty critical of the CDC for allegedly over counting the coronavirus death toll. Bright was recently demoted from his job leading the government’s efforts to find a vaccine for coronavirus, so Trump dismissed him as a “disgruntled employee.”
None of which is quite convincing. Presidents probably shouldn’t find expert opinion unacceptable just because it’s bad news, and we have no idea what Trump means when he says Fauci “wants to play both sides of the issue.” Trump has been touting the extraordinary measures he’s taken against the epidemic but also insisting that it’s not really such a big deal and that states should defy his administration’s guidelines, while insisting he has “total authority” over the states’ restrictions but that it’s up to the governors and “I take no responsibility at all.” That’s what we call playing both sides of an issue.
The CDC can be justly criticized for a slow response to the crisis, but that might well be because its leadership was afraid of offending Trump, who was bragging that the coronavirus was contained and that cases would soon be down to zero and that the stock markets shouldn’t be spooked. Since then the Trump administration has been refusing to release more dire CDC reports, and was probably furious about the leaking of a White House task force report finding an astounding 1,000 percent — that’s right, 1,000 percent –increase in infections in the rural areas of rural states where Trump still enjoys political support. Bright was demoted after he publicly demoted after he disagreed with Trump’s endorsement of hydrochloroquine as a miracle, and subsequent studies have vindicated his judgment, so we can’t blame him for being a disgruntled employee, and don’t worry that he’s lying before Congress to exact his revenge.
These guys all have excellent academic credentials, and have been rewarded for good work by steady promotions to the top of their profession during decades of Republican and Democratic administrations alike, with Fauci’s distinguished career going all the way back to the good old days of President Ronald Reagan, and they seem unlikely conspirators in a conspiracy to prevent America from being great again. Trump’s scientific credentials are an uncle who was a professor of physics at the Massachussets Institute of Technology and as a genetic result he has “a very big, uh, brain” and how he wowed all the doctors at the CDC were by how much he knew about virology and epidemiology, and what some people say about his very stable genius, but he also went on live television and urged the government’s scientists to investigate the possibility of injecting household disinfectants into the human body.
So far all the public opinion polls show that a vast majority of the public is more inclined to believe the so-called experts than Trump, but that the Republican portion of the populace is increasingly siding with Trump. We attribute this partly to the normal human aversion to bad news, but also a populist resentment of pointy-headed government officials telling thrm what to do, and mostly to the average Republican’s blind faith in whatever narrative is most helpful to Trump’s political fortunes. No matter what happens during Trump’s time in office, even in the bleakest scenarios, they’ll always have someone else to blame.
Sorry to sound so gloomy and doomy, but we expect to be hunkering down for at least a few more months of the unbearable status quo, and aren’t counting on it all magically going away in time for school and Trump’s reelection. Our many Republicans friends are entitled to differ, and to act accordingly, but we’d advise them not to be over-confident.

— Bud Norman

Charles Bishop, RIP

We awoke earlier than usual on Tuesday and donned a tie and coat for the the first time in ages, then drove 25 miles or so south of Wichita on Highway 81 to attend a funeral at the Belle Plaine Cemetery. Charles Bishop was being laid to rest, and it was important we be there.
Bishop was an elder and the preacher at the West Douglas Church of Christ, a small but staunch congregation in the rough Delano neighborhood where we weekly worshipped until the coronavirus shut everything down, and we liked and admired him, and he taught us much about Christianity and bolstered our faith in it. He had a formidable intellect and scholarly understanding of scripture, and in his sermons he would sometimes get bogged down talking about which New Testament translation of a certain scripture was truest to the original Greek, and although he’d always apologize for the digression we found it fascinating. We’d often tell him after services that we found him very rabbinical, and being a philo-Semitic student of the Old Testament he took it as the compliment we intended.
He was a most interesting fellow in a lot of ways. Born in Wellington in the Great Depression year of 1939 he grew up in nearby Belle Plaine, part of a fervently religious farming family that hewed to the Church of Christ’s strict rules against dancing and watching movies on Sunday. As a rebellious youth he argued that he couldn’t find anything about that in the scriptures he carefully read, and even as an aging preacher he didn’t back down from that, but from his youth to his death he was proud to preach about the love and forgiveness and giving spirit he had discerned from the scriptures. As he aged and faced his mortality, God’s grace and the sacrificial suffering of His son Jesus Christ became the usual theme of his carefully-researched and well-spoken sermons.
He preached it in Malaysia and behind the Iron Curtain of the Cold War, and didn’t quit until he was kicked out by the alarmed authorities. When back in Kansas in the big, bad city of Wichita he made a good living for his family as a pharmacist, having graduated with honors in pharmacology from the University of Kansas, and although he was a man of science he’d often preach against scientism, which he defined as a hubristic belief that science is the sole source of understanding the human condition. There was something slightly prideful about his arguments, but he’d freely admit that, and then give reasons why he was right that were hard to argue with.
On one rare occasion Bishop boasted he’d been a standout basketball player for Belle Plaine, with his six-foot-one-inch height and healthy youth allowing him to dominate the paint in small town high school games at the time, and if you coaxed him he had good stories about traveling by bus in Malaysia and behind the Iron Curtain, and the interesting people he’d met at various Churches of Christ. He was a good father and a loving husband, and after his first wife’s death he was a good to husband to an absolutely delightful woman we’re lucky to know, and unless you’re an anti-religious bigot we’re sure you would have liked him, too.
Belle Plaine is one of those very pleasant Kansas small towns that you might want to escape to in case of apocalypse, and it has a fabulous and famous arboretum you really should visit if you find yourself in south-central Kansas after the coronavirus, and the drive from Wichita is always scenic, and on Tuesday all the wheat was gorgeous green. A cold and wet and gray spring day at the Belle Plaine Cemetery is very bleak, though, especially when a congregation of Christians is socially distanced from one another and the specter of death suddenly seems omnipresent.
When we came home and fired up the internet we found that more 81,000 Americans had died of coronavirus, and that the government’s top public health expert was warning congress via video feed that thousands more will die if the government continues easing public health measures. The Supreme Court of the United States had a “virtual” hearing about whether President Donald Trump’s tax returns should be made public, Trump was “tweeting” more accusations that his critics are guilty of felonies and should be jailed, and another federal judge was making it hard for Trump’s Department of Justice to drop charges Trump ally Michael Flynn had already pleaded guilty to.
All the more reason we feel blessed to have known Charles Bishop, and to hear his compelling preaching that God is good and in the end His plan for all of us is perfect.

— Bud Norman

On a Stormy Day at Home

Stuck at home on a cold and stormy Kansas day, we spent most of it reading the news. Needless to say, it did not cheer us up.
Turning to Facebook, which is the closest thing we have to hanging out with friends, we found some of nutty right wing friends recommending the latest conspiracy theory video and insisting that the coronavirus death toll is being grossly exaggerated if not entirely fabricated to further a left-wing “deep state” plot to keep everyone at home. They’re all avid supporters of President Donald Trump, so we wonder if they’re disappointed that their hero hasn’t yet thwarted this dastardly plot and locked up the conspirators, but for now they don’t say and we don’t dare ask.
One day Trump will tout the strict guidelines his administration came up with for easing the emergency restrictions, the next day he’ll be “tweeting” his encouragement to states to reopen businesses, and when he’s not vacillating between the positions he’s blaming China and President Barack Obama and distracting Democratic oversight hearings for the problem, and noting that things could be worse. What he hasn’t done, so far at least, is embrace the conspiracy theory that most of the executive branch of the federal government he’s in charge of, including the expert scientists Trump has praised and allowed to speak freely, are carrying out the most elaborate conspiracy in the history of conspiracies.
We also have many friends who are pretty loony left, but for now even the looniest of them are sounding compartively sane. They’re all posting words of encouragement to keep up the social distancing and hand-washing and face-masking-wearing to fight what they perceive as a major public health crisis, and we give them credit for posting ample amounts of information from credible sources to refute the conspiracy theories coming from sources of very dubious repute. They have their own theories that Trump has underestimated the threat posed by the coronavirus and is urging a premature return to business as usual for purely self-interested political reasons, but damn it, we find it harder to argue that.
One of our loony left friends is a very gentle and generous and loving soul but possibly the looniest of them all, and she’s still siding with Trump’s endorsement of hydroxychloroquine even after Trump and his allies on Fox News and talk radio have abandoned the cause, but we noticed all the comments tried to dissuade her and had ample amounts of information from credible sources. We were surprised to see a couple of liberal friends charge that there is a plot to create a false crisis and keep us all at home, but that Trump is in on it, but most on the left prefer the theory that the crisis is real and Trump has failed to adequately respond.
In a rare non-coronavirus story, charges against former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn were dropped by the Department of Justice. What one makes of that is also determined by whether he’s looking at it from the right or the left. If you’re on the overwhelming majority of what’s now the right that supports Trump no matter what it’s a victory for justice, a happy case of a solid soldier and good man prevailing over false accusations wrought by President Barack Obama’s conspiracy with corrupt federal officials to bring down Trump. If you’re on the left, it’s a case of a man who had already pleaded guilty to lying to public officials and was getting money as a lobbyist from Turkey while he advised the president on foreign getting a get-out-of-jail card from a politicized Trump Justice Department.
The other non-coronavirus news that penetrated the front pages and was talk of our Facebook friends circle was that two man have been charged for the murder of a 25-year-old man named Ahmoud Arbery in Georgia. Arbery is black, the two men charged with his murder are white, and as always in America that matters.
By all accounts so far Arbery was an average unarmed American guy with no criminal record out for his daily 2 mile jog when he was gunned down on an empty stretch of road between a forest. The two men charged with his murder are an ex-sheriff and his son, who by all accounts roamed the roads as an unofficial patrol, and there’s video that’s surfaced of them confronting Arbery as a burglary suspect and Arbery being subsequently shot, which after more than two weeks led to the arrest of the two men after two local district attorneys recused themself an the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over.
The left is calling it another example of America’s racist strain, and rightly so, but the right isn’t disputing that. Georgia’s Republican governor praised the GBI’s work, Trump said that Arbery’s death was “a very sad thing,” and no one we know is posting any offensive “memes” about Arbery’s deaths. Our diverse group of black friends often have diverse opinions about the topics of the day, but they all share the same worry that Arbery won’t get justice in an American court, and we try to reassure them that this time will be one of the many times justice has prevailed in America.
Perhaps the worst thing we hate about the Trump era even before all this coronavirus catastrophe is how often find ourselves siding with those damned Democrats we’ve been squabbling with for years, since way back when Trump was a Democrat. At this peculiar moment in history we find ourselves stuck at home and on the political sidelines, our only rooting interest being our hope the center somehow holds. We hopefully retain some hope in the principles and the institutions and American spirit that have somehow guided this nation toward greatness through hard times, no matter what sort of corrupt and incompetent officials had been elected to high office.

— Bud Norman

The Problem With the Very Best People

President Donald Trump promised his enthusiastic voters he would have only “the very best people” in his administration, and he also made a lot of other extravagant promises about everyone having better and less expensive health care and the governments running on balanced budgets and such. It’s turned out that by “the very best people” Trump meant his son-in-law and his pals and anyone willing to tell Trump what he wants to hear.
Those brave messengers who dare bear bad to Trump tend to be quickly defenestrated, even though they tend to be the most credentialed people he’s got.
The latest example is Dr. Rick Bright, who earned his doctorate in immunology and molecular pathogenesis at Emory University and compiled an impressive resume in the public and private sectors and until recently was leading the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine program at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. He’s now transferred to a “less impactful position,” as a White House statement put it, and he alleges in a whistleblower complaint that it’s because he didn’t share Trump’s enthusiasm for investigating the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus and wouldn’t be involved in cronyism..
Trump has told the press he doesn’t the guy and hard never heard of him but has heard bad things about him, which is his modus operandi when getting ride of people, and notes that he was on the job back when President Barack Obama was in office, which Trump and his fans find suspicious. We fine it worrisome that didn’t bother to introduce himself to the guy in charge of finding a vaccine for the coronavirus.
This sort of bureaucratic reshuffling goes on all the time and is rarely worth noting, we suppose, but in this case Bright’s complaint seems both valid and very noteworthy. Trump did indeed often tout the potentially miraculous effects of hydroxychloroquine in his daily press briefings, with much of the Trump-friendly media on Fox News and talk radio chiming in, and Bright did go on the record in government documents and press interviews to expose his more skeptical opinions. We freely admit we don’t know any more about this medical stuff than Trump or the people at Fox and on talk radio, but we’re the curious sorts who delve into what the methodically scientific studies say, so we’re inclined to believe that Bright was right and Trump was wrong, and that’s probably the reason Bright was demoted.
Christi Grimm was until recently an inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, but Trump decided to replace her after she wrote a report that hospitals across the country faced a short of supplies needed to deal the coronavirus problem. Trump brags about how well he’s done suddenly creating everything a medical system might need to deal with an epidemic, and doesn’t want some previously anonymous bureaucrat saying otherwise, but it seems she was right and Trump was once again wrong, and we figure that’s the most likely explanation for why she was demoted. We’d encourage her to write yet another whistleblower complaint and invite even further House oversight hearings.
Over three long years we’ve noticed that sycophancy is more important to Trump than expertise. Marine General John Kelly and Army General H.R. McMaster had distinguished careers over decades of Republican and Democratic administrations and enjoyed excellent reputations when they became Trump’s chief of staff and national security advisor, respectively, but both were shown the door for their annoying habits of saying things Trump didn’t want to hear. There are plenty of criticisms to be made of erstwhile Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ fealty to Trump’s views on immigration enforcement and state’s rights and civil rights and many other important things, but his decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference in the previous presidential election was the right thing to do, and that’s what got him fired.
All of which was annoying enough back when the Stock markets were setting record highs and the unemployment rate record lows and the gross domestic product was expanding at the usual slow-but-steady rate, but given the current statistics and the more than 72 thousand deaths in a death toll throws by the thousands every day it’s downright alarming. Now is the time, as best we can tell, to listen to the people who have some credible reason to believe they know what the hell they’re talking about.
For now the smarty-pants are telling us that we’re going to be largely stuck at home and wearing masks on beer runs and will be poorer for a longer while lest we wind up killing hundreds of thousands of people, and we don’t want to hear that any more than Trump does. but we’re inclined to believe them. Trump had an uncle who was a professor of some non-medical scientific field at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he claims all the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control were all amazed by how how much he knew about this virology and epidemiology and scientific stuff, but he also advised the scientists to investigate the injection of disinfectants into the body as a possible cure, and we’re inclined to go with the degrees and the long records of public service.
Trump still has fans and media allies on the right who trust more in his hereditary gut instincts than any so-called “expert,” whose long and distinguished public service and bipartisan respect are proof of their role in a “deep state” conspiracy to prevent Trump from making America great again. We’ve also got a dear but loony-left friend who is saying pretty much the same thing about hydroxychlorine on Facebook, using weird right-wing sources to prove it’s same conspiracy that’s conspiring to prevent Sen. Bernie Sanders from making America great for the first time as socialist utopia.
By now Trump and his media allies have largely abandoned their advocacy of hydroxychloroquine, and they’re doing somewhat better at providing medial supplies, but no one will acknowledge ever being wrong. Events will soon push the fates of Bright and Grimm and Flynn and McMaster and all the other humble civil servants who dared question Trump off the news and into the history books, but the bigger story will be how this coronavirus problem played out. At this point, we’re betting on the establishment and its dissidents.

— Bud Norman

bright and hydroxy
grimm and ppe
jared and his pals
long history of good folks being defenestrated for doing their jobs

Looking for Some Alternative to the Lesser of Two Evils

America’s last presidential election was perhaps the most desultory moment in our nation’s political history, with two of the worst Americans ever as the major party nominees. They advocated very different but equally appealing policies, and in the end it all came down to which candidate’s character you thought was more awful. This year isn’t looking any better.
Last time around both finalists for the highest office in the land were scandal-ridden scoundrels, and in eerily similar ways. Republican nominee Donald Trump was credibly accused by a dozen women of decades of sexual assault, and was caught on audiotape bragging about it in the most vulgar terms, but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was a longtime enabler of her ex-president husband’s just as egregious sexual piggery. The Clintons had a phony-baloney family foundation supported mostly by big-bucks donors courting Hillary’s Clinton’s influence as Secretary of State, but Trump had his own phony-baloney family foundation that did made all sorts of questionable spending including a big campaign contribution to a Florida Secretary of State who immediately withdrew from a multi-state lawsuit against the fraudulent Trump University that had bilked hundreds of suckers out of million dollars and Trump eventually settled that for $25 million and the family foundation was put out of business by the New York state courts, who also decreed that anyone named Trump would have to take an ethics course before they were ever again allowed to be involved a New York charity.
Both the Clintons and the Trumps had decades of financial shenanigans, ranging from the former’s Whitewater dealings to pretty much the entirety of the latter’s career as an oft-bankrupt billionaire mogul, but for the most part they got away with it. Clinton had to hide records of the millions she and her husband had made from giving speeches to special interest groups, but ran as an heiress to the mostly scandal-free administration of President Barack Obama. Trump had openly bragged about buying off Democratic and Republican politicians to get favorable treatment in his very fishy business dealings, and went to extraordinary lengths to hide his educational and military and health and tax records, but argued that made him the ideal guy to lock up “Crooked Hillary” and “drain the swamp.”
This time around looks to be every bit as tawdry. The apparent Democratic nominee after a truncated-by-coronavirus race is former Vice President Joe Biden, an underwhelming career politician with all the baggage you’d expect after four decades of riding trains to Washington, D.C., and Trump is once again the Republican party’s nominee. Biden’s son seems to have made a lot of money while in Ukraine while Dad was in charge of America’s foreign policy in that country, but the Trump kids have also been doing well in China and other countries while their father is president, and although the details of both stories are complicated it looks bad no matter how closely you look.
Both men now stand credibly accused of rape, too. A former Biden employee has come forward by her name, Tara Reade, to allege that 27 years ago then-Sen. Biden pushed against a wall in an empty hallway and penetrated her with his fingers. This is on top of another dozen women Biden’s behavior made them feel “uncomfortable,” and ample photographic and videographer evidence of Biden being somewhat creepily touchy with women. Some two dozen women have accused Trump of even worse behavior, of the sort he’s bragged about on a surreptitious audiotape and on Howard Stern’s nationally broadcast shock jock radio shows, and a woman named E. Jean Carroll has publicly come forward to allege that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the ’90s.
Which will certainly take a lot of the fun out of the next election for a lot of people, who might well conclude that we’re choosing between two rapists to lead our country.
Our sixty-some years of observing human nature have convinced us that women sometimes do make false allegations of sexual harassment and rape, but that it’s by far more common for men to sexually harass and rape women, so we’re usually inclined to believe women who have nothing to gain and much to lose with accusations against powerful men. We try apply that same standard regardless of the accused’s party affiliation, and we’ve long noticed Democrats and Republicans are about equally as likely to land in the docket. In this case, we can’t look at either man’s life history and say he’s too much a gentleman for us to even imagine him ever doing such a thing.
We’re instinctively disinclined to look at anything from the Democrats’ perspective, but if you want to get deep into the weeds of all this theDemocrats have the slightly better argument.
Reade is only now making her 27-year-old allegation, after staying silent through Senatorial campaigns and Biden’s vice presidential nomination, and he’s asked the Senate to release any complaints she might have made at the time, and she’s admitted to the press that she only filed a vaguely worded complaint about being “uncomfortable,” and Obama’s thorough vetting team didn’t turn up anything to keep him off the ticket. Carroll didn’t file any charges against Trump at the time, but she did report it to friends who are willing to come forward by name to talk about it, and she has a reputation as a journalist and comedy writer that she’s put at stake, and Trump denies it by saying she’s not his type, which leaves one to wonder on what type of woman he might rape.
As for all the financial shenanigans, whatever Biden’s ethical lapses he’s not become nearly so rich from them as Trump claims to be, and there’s no reason to believe his son got rich in Ukraine by the same sort of quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainian government that got impeached and should have had him removed from office, and Trump’s kids have done pretty well in Dad’s negotiations over the past three years. With apologies to Irving Berlin, we can hear them at the debates singing a rendition of “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Awfuler.”
There’s really no need to wade so deep into the weeds, however, as it really won’t matter much in the election. The public will wind up reconciling itself to a a presidential choice between two scoundrels who are obviously corrupt and quite possibly rapists. So far Trump hasn’t hypocritically seized on Biden’s rape problem, instead noting that powerful men are targets for such allegations, but that’s obviously self-interested and is likely to change between now and election day. A large segment of the Democratic party sticking to principle and trying to somehow find some other nominee, but we expect they’ll mostly fail line and turn out in November to vote against Trump.
A small but decisive minority of independent and independent-minded voters will wind up deciding the election, and what they do depends on what happens between now November, which we admit we have no way of knowing. There’s a chance that a couple hundred thousand Americans will be dead and millions more unemployed and bankrupt, with many more voting by mail if the postal service still exists because they’ve been cooped up at home and grocery shopping in face masks for months, and they’ll care more about that than the candidates’ grotesque character flaws.
Neither Trump nor Biden seem to have any answers for the crisis of the moment, though, nor any inspiring ideas about what to do when we eventually get past it no matter how badly it’s been bungled. Our Republican and Democratic friends alike are once again telling us it’s a binary choice and we have to pick a side, and that the fate of our nation once again hangs on it. Ignoring such shrill and panicked cries, for the second time in our lives we’ll probably pick some obscure protest candidate as a “none of the above” vote.
We’re trying to muddle through the current crisis and see beyond the weeds and past the swamp toward a country that can choose between two candidates of stellar character who strive to unite a great nation of 330 million free men and women behind a plausible program for a better future. We invite dispirited Republicans and Democrats and independents of all races and sexes and classes to join us on this quixotic quest.

— Bud Norman