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A Blue Moment in a Red State

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

— Bud Norman

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The Craziness in Kansas

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

— Bud Norman

And That Was Only Sunday

Our Sunday followed a frustratingly sleepless Saturday night, and entailed getting an old punk rock buddy down the street to help us jump-start our automobile, followed by a long drive into the countryside to visit an even older friend and re-charge the battery, so it was hard to keep up with a surprisingly busy news day.
When we got home and turned on the internet The Washington Post was reporting that President Donald Trump has “tweeted” an admission that yeah, that infamous meeting that this eldest son and son-in-law and currently-on-trial campaign manager had with a couple of Russians purporting to be representatives of the Russian government was, in fact, all about getting dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Of course, Trump’s “Tweet” found nothing wrong with that.
“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower This was a meeting to get information my opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere,” Trump “tweeted,” then adding that “I did not know about it.”
Which might or more probably might not prove a winning legal or political argument, but it’s yet another shift in Trump’s narrative about the “Russia thing,” and clearly indicates the direction that’s moving. The original Trump line was that no one in his campaign had any contacts with anyone from Russia, but after a couple of campaign officials pleaded guilty to lying about their contacts and the presidential son and son-in-law and campaign manager and various others started amending their security clearance forms to avoid similar charges the new story was they did have contacts with Russians but perish the thought they had anything to do with the campaign. When The New York Times forced Trump Jr. to disclose an e-mail chain about that Trump Tower meeting they insisted it was simply a courtesy meeting to talk about policies concerning American adoptions of Russian children, and even though the e-mail chain clearly showed the meeting had been proposed by Russians the Trump family new from past business associations were closely linked to the Russian government, and the meeting would be with Russian operatives who were working to help elect Trump, Trump has stuck to that adoption story up until now.
By now the story is that the Trump campaign did indeed have frequent contacts with Russians, and that some were with Russians they understood to be representatives of a Russian government effort to assist the campaign with opposition research, but that it’s no big deal, and in any case no one ever bothered to tell Trump about any of these perfectly legal and done-all-the-time meetings. Which is a tough place for Trump to be.
It is not legal for an American presidential campaign to accept a contribution of anything valuable from a foreign government, however, and in our long experience of presidential campaigns it is not done all the time. Even if the efforts came to naught, at this point a questionable assertion, Trump now acknowledges an earnest effort on his behalf to bring them to fruition, and sticklers for the law will note that a conspiracy to rob a bank is still illegal even if the vault proves empty. As for the questionable claim that Trump himself knew nothing of these legal and routing meetings, and that it’s all his son’s and son-in-law’s and former campaign manager’s fault  for such shenanigans, his longtime lawyer is now in serious legal jeopardy and reportedly telling the special counsel that Trump knew about the meeting before it happened, and there might be some corroborating evidence among the millions of documents and tape recordings that were seized by the feds in a raid on his home, office, and hotel room.
Meanwhile, Trump was also “tweeting” his displeasure with LeBron James, the supremely talented professional basketball player, who had some critical things to say about Trump during an interview with the Cable News Network’s Don Lemon. As usual Trump called tLemon as “the dumbest man on television,” and said that “He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!” Which made Trump look further ridiculous. As if the President of the United States engaging in a “tweet” war with a professional hipster isn’t embarrassing enough, James seemed to win in a rout. The current Los Angeles Laker is as arrogant as any other elite athlete, but Trump isn’t exactly a model of modesty himself, and James is widely admired for comporting himself as a dignified role model for the American youth who idolize him, and when he abandoned the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise he gave several million dollars of his earnings to establish a state-of-the-art school for at-risk children in his nearby hometown of Akron, Ohio, and Trump can’t make the same sort of claims.
The “I like Mike” part was apparently a reference to an ongoing debate among many basketball fans about whether James or Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan is the best player in the game’s history, but Jordan quickly issued “tweet” made clear he took James’ side in the debate with Trump. James had complained to Lemon that Trump has used sports to divide Americans, and the black athlete implied to his black interviewer that it was usually directed to black critics, and pretty much every black athlete and a whole lot of white and hispanic and Asian ones quickly “tweeted” their agreement. Worse yet, the spokeswoman for Melania Trump issued a more formal statement that the First Lady much appreciated James’ philanthropic works and would be open to visiting his newly-opened school in Akron.
Which is one of several stories we’ve noticed that lead us to believe that the First Lady is not a happily married woman, but we’ll leave that theory to a less stressful and slower news day.
There were also further escalations in Trump’s war with the press, with his daughter and counselor both disagreeing that they’re the “the enemy of the people,” and a bunch of far-left and far-right idiots brawled it out on the famously mellow streets of Portland, Oregon, and that great deal Trump struck with the nuclear nutcase dictatorship in South Korea is looking less and less promising. Throw in the ongoing trade wars and a sleepless night and automotive trouble, and it left us with a worrisome feeling.
It was good to see our friends, though, and we hold out hope that the battery’s got enough charge to get us to a replacement, and if it doesn’t we have a retired hippie friend around the block who can give us a charge, and if he’s not there the neighbors are very nice people. Given all the enemies Trump is assiduously acquiring, we hope he has such loyal and un-indicted friends to help out when he needs a hand.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Front On the GOP Civil War

President Donald Trump has “tweeted” his displeasure with the Koch brothers and their formidable fundraising network, and all of our liberal and Democratic friends here in Kansas are enjoying the latest internecine conservative and Republican spat. From our old-fashioned Kansas conservative Republican perspective, though, we can hardly stand to look.
By now you surely know who Trump is, and well understand the passions he inspires on both sides of the political divide, but if you’re not a political junkie you might be less aware of the Koch brothers. They’re Charles and David Koch, who inherited their father’s multi-million dollar oil drilling and refining business and shrewdly parlayed it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise that not only refines most of the gasoline America uses but also carpets the country’s floors and builds the mattresses the country sleeps on wipes up its kitchen spills with paper towels. These days it’s just Charles, as David has resigned from public life as he continues a long battle against cancer, but their generous funding of pro-free market causes made both brothers and their John Bircher father a bogeyman of the left long before Trump arrived on the scene. Suffice to say that the left has long regarded anything Koch-funded with the same paranoia as the right’s response to anything that the left-leaning multi-billionaire George Soros has done.
Which makes a Trump vs. Koch feud so appealing to the left, and so difficult for us. We don’t like anything Soros funds, have our quibbles with certain Koch policies, and if you’re a regular reader you by now know that we don’t have much use for Trump.
We’ll have to admit to a hometown bias on behalf of Koch. Our elementary school was literally next door to the Koch Industries building, and although our former school has long since been razed and the Koch Industries campus has vastly expanded we find it hard to believe that any globalist conspiracies were ever hatched there. Charles Koch still shows up for work there everyday with a beautiful impressionist landscape by Kansas artist Berger Sandzen behind his desk, and it’s impossible to go to the symphony concerts or musical theater productions or art museum or zoo exhibits around here without seeing in the program that it was generously funded by Koch family, and he’s a big reason the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball squad is a perennial top-25 program. He was once a celebrity guest star at the local media’s “Gridiron” show, as well, and we found him a most friendly fellow when chatting backstage.
For the most part we’ve also appreciated his political philanthropy. We liked the emphasis on low taxes and limited government and a general live and let live attitude, although we disagreed with Koch’s libertarian stance on fighting Islamist terrorism and restricting illegal immigration, and in every case we figured it was Koch’s hard-earned money and free speech and none of our business how he spent it. Koch declined to support either Trump or the equally unqualified Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election, as we did for our own reasons, and he continues to disagree with Trump on matters ranging from trade policy to federal deficits to presidential temperament, as we do for our own reasons, so the feud was inevitable.
“The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade,” Trump “tweeted” on Tuesday. “I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas.” Trump boasted that Koch had praised his recently-signed tax cut bill and regulatory roll-backs and conservative Supreme Court appointments, as we have, alleged that Koch only opposed his protectionist policies to dodge tax on his multi-national earnings, then boasted that “Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn.” From here on the political sidelines in the middle of the country, it all seemed pure balderdash.
If “globalist” means being generally supportive of the carefully crafted arrangements that have been made for the past prosperous decades of global prosperity, we’re sure that neither we nor either of the Koch brothers will mind the pejorative. As for the Koch’s multi-billion dollar network of like minded big bucks donors being a total joke, we’d love to see Trump produce the tax returns that show he’s got more money in the bank. Koch is indeed weak on the border, but only to the same extent that Trump’s border wall is fantasy is too draconian. The acknowledged merits of the tax cuts and regulatory roll-backs and Supreme Court appointments in no way disprove that pretty much everything else Trump has done to create “Powerful Trade: has been catastrophically stupid. Trump can rightly boast that he’s President of the United States without the Koch network’s support, but his base of support is among those budget-balancing “Tea Party” types in the Freedom Caucus who have benefited from Koch’s support than Trump’s support over the years, and whose rural constituents are smarting from Trump’s trade wars lately, and it remains to be seen if Trump will ultimately outsmart those wily globalists next door to our former elementary school at every turn.
At this point we don’t really have any dog in the fight, as the old political expression goes, and in any case we have our own mishegas to deal with here in Kansas. The heavily Koch-funded Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback introduced a radical tax- and budget-agenda to win election, got it enacted after a Koch-funded “tea party” wave ousted the more skittish Republican incumbents in the primaries and, and then narrowly won reelection even though the promised tax revenue increases hadn’t materialized. By the time Trump tabbed him to be something called “Ambassador for Religious Freedom” Brownback left office with same polling numbers as when President Nixon took that final flight on Marine One, and although we always found Brownback a nice enough fellow in our Kansas encounters and thought his economic theories worth a try, he’s left our party in a mess.
So far Trump is backing long time slavishly devoted acolyte Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who seems to be trailing incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is talking about school funding and otherwise distancing himself from the Brownback agenda that got him elected as Lt. Governor and thus wound up with him in the governor’s office after that Trump appointment.
So far as we can tell, neither the Koch brothers nor Trump got it any of it right, and although none of the Democrats around here are very scary we don’t think they have any better ideas. We hold out some faint hope for what’s left of the Republican party that used to more placidly run things well enough around here, and guided our Republic through some perilous times, but jut in case we’re also hoping the Democrats don’t go crazy left.

— Bud Norman

A Sunny and Relatively Mild Weekend in the Ongoing “Russia Thing”

Except for Tiger Woods’ surprisingly near miss at the British Open and a scary hostage situation at a Trader John’s store in Los Angeles there wasn’t a lot of distracting news over the weekend, which left plenty of room in the news cycle for more talking head talk about the ongoing fall-out from President Donald Trump’s most recent foreign tour and the latest developments in the “Russia thing.”
One of our brothers is in town and the weather’s been as nice as one can hope for around here, so we might not have noticed if we hadn’t stopped by Kirby’s Beer Store for a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons on Sunday afternoon. A lawyer friend of ours, the only regular at the notorious northeast dive with a juris doctorate, was staring at his “smartphone” and chuckling gleefully as he read the written argument that the Federal Bureau of Investigation made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to obtain various warrants to investigate a  fellow named Carter Page way back when he was a little-known Trump campaign official in final days of the race against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton.
The document was mostly black lines of predictably redacted paragraphs, and our friend is a professional Democrat who owes his current low-level judicial position to his party’s meager number of appointments, but we’ve long known him to be one of the good guys and his arguments that that the un-redacted disproved Trump’s apologists proved convincing.
If you’re been obsessively following the whole convoluted “Russia thing” from either of the two available prospectives, you by now know that the FBI first got involved in the affair when it obtained those FISA court warrants, and that the Trump-ian perspective is that it was a worse-than-Watergate attempt to spy on the Trump campaign to benefit of “Crooked” Hillary’s effort, based only a discredited dossier by a foreign intelligence agent with Russian ties and paid for by “Crook” Hillary’s effort, along with a “fake news” article in some obscure internet site, along with other “deep state” shenanigans, but that’s all the harder to explain after the FBI made the highly unusual step on Saturday of publicly releasing even a heavily-redacted FISA warrant application.
As our Democratic friend undeniably points out, the document notes that the disputed dossier was produced by an English intelligence officer who had long proved a reliable source in many counter-intelligence operations, and frankly acknowledges the partisan funding of the document that talk radio had long insisted they concealed, which is more bi-partisan than talk radio wants to admit, and clearly hints that all the redacted parts probably reveal how the FBI had reason to suspect Page was an unregistered Russian agent even before he became one of candidate Trump’s top foreign policy advisors.
All the rest of it looks bad for Trump from our third perspective here on the political sidelines. That supposedly discredited dossier alleged the Russians were waging a three-pronged cyber-attack on the American election on behalf of Trump, and by now that’s the consensus conclusion of Trump’s very own top intelligence and defense and foreign policy appointees, and all the big social media companies and most of the country’s secretaries of state have confirmed two of those prongs with sworn testimony before congressional committees. The dossier also included some salacious and still-unsubstantiated about Russian prostitutes and rather unusual sexual fetishes, but given all the news about pay-offs to a Playboy playmate and and a porn star and the rest our president’s much-bragged about sexual adventuresome nothing seems unthinkable, and the warrants were renewed by Republican appointees to the Republican-created-and-renewed FISA courts during both Democratic and Republican administrations..
Not to mention all the fallout from that foreign trip when Trump was conspicuously friendlier to Russian than he was to America’s traditional allies and his own top national intelligence and defense and foreign policy appointees.
None of this convicts Trump of any impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, of course, but we think our Democratic friend is justified in exulting that it all means the “Russia thing” investigation will continue on its ominous course.

— Bud Norman

Would He or Wouldn’t He? That Is the Question

The fallout from President Donald Trump’s private meeting and public news conference with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland on Monday was so bad it spilled over into Tuesday, with even the sycophants at “Fox and Friends” finding fault with his abysmal performance, and before the day was over Trump had beat a rare retreat. It looked less like the heroic rescue at Dunkirk than Bonaparte’s famously disastrous retreat, though, and guaranteed at least another another day’s bad news cycle.
In case you’ve been wisely averting your eyes, all the fuss started with Trump having a two-hour meeting with only Putin and himself and a sole Russian translator involved, which somehow raised only a minor and for-now-forgotten fuss but will probably yield many future bad news cycles. The bigger story on both Monday and Tuesday was the international news conference, where Trump told the whole world’s media that the sorry state of Russo-American relations was mainly the fault of past American presidential administrations and the ongoing efforts of America’s justice system and the pesky reporting of its press, making no mention of Russia’s numerous offenses against international law and human decency. He was clearly more concerned about the alleged dastardly deeds of his vanquished Democratic opponents than Russia’s than Russia’s three-pronged cyber attack on the last election, and often seemed to give equal credibility to Putin’s denials that it happened than he did the American intelligence agencies’ and congressional committees’ and his own administration’s top officials that it most certainly did.
At one point Trump was asked by one those pesky reporters who he believed, and offered the President of the United States a chance to warn the Russian dictator that had surely attacked American democracy not to do it again, and Trump replied that he’d spoken with his intelligence officials and “They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia … I will say this, I don’t see any reason would it be … I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Which was too much for even “Fox and Friends” to defend, and had poor Sean Hannity sputtering some incoherent apologia, which soon led to Trump making a rare admission that he had gotten one single word wrong.
Seeming to acknowledge the bad news cycle, Trump said “Now, I have to say, I came back, and I said, ‘What is going on? What’s the big deal?’ So I got a transcript. I reviewed it. I actually went back and reviewed a clip of an answer I gave, and I realized there is need for some clarification. It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just it case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.” The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it shouldn’t be be Russia. So just to repeat, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ And the sentence should have been — and I thought it would be a little unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”
As with most of Trump’s fourth-grade  verbal gobbledegook this requires further clarification for us, but so far as we can tell he’s making a very rare admission that he misspoke at least one contracted word, which we appreciate. He also seems to be blaming us and of all the rest of the world’s media and most of his country for not immediately understanding that of course he meant “wouldn’t” when he said “would,” though, and we don’t at all appreciate that.
Even if you do add that contraction of “not” to “would” the rest of the rest of the summit with the Russian dictator is still seemed damned obsequious, and even as Trump affirmed in his faith the conclusions of America’s intelligence community that Russia had cyber-attacked America’s democracy he ad-libbed that “Could be other people also, a lot of people out there,” which is not the conclusion of America’s intelligence agencies.
By the end of Tuesday’s bad news cycle Trump had not done much to reassure us or America’s most important allies that there’s not something awfully fishy about what he once called “This Rusher thing with Trump and Russia,” and regularly denounces as a “witch hunt” that’s the main impediment to friendly Russo-American relations, and he should expect another bad news cycle today.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Inevitable Descent into Helsinki

There are still a a few of President Donald Trump’s die-hard supporters and a couple more reluctant fans among our readership, mostly family members and old friends, and they occasionally let us know how weary they are of our constant criticisms. Like all Trump fans they seem to relish blunt talk, though, so we’ll just come right and out say that Trump has just concluded the most disastrous and disgraceful presidential trip in the modern history of diplomacy.
We’ve already written out our aghast objections to Trump’s behavior at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Belgium, where his bully boy diplomacy clearly weakened the alliance despite his parting boasts it was stronger than ever. Between slaps to the forehead we also expressed our disfavor with his behavior in Britain, where he insulted the Prime Minister and lied that he didn’t and acted like a stereotypically boorish American tourist around the Queen and annoyed the general population of both the United Kingdom as well as Ireland, and didn’t get any lucrative deals except for some much-need publicity for a struggling golf course he owns in Scotland.
Somehow, however, Trump saved the worst for the last with his much-ballyhooed meeting with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland. One hardly knows where to begin the describing the awfulness of the debacle, but we might as well start with Trump meeting Putin in the first place.
The appearance of the American president and the Russian dictator standing as equals on a stage with festooned with equal numbers of American and Russian flags was a needless concession to a tin-pot dictatorship that has lately been invading its neighbors, propping up brutal Middle Eastern regimes, shooting down civilian aircraft, assassinating domestic enemies on our allies’ soil, as well as launching a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s last presidential election. To compound this offense to America’s dignity, Trump also told a whole world’s media that he blamed “both sides” for the recent unpleasantness in Russo-American relations.
Trump had little to say about Putin’s invasion of his neighbors in Georgia and Ukraine except to nod as Putin said they’d agreed to disagree. Trump also had little to say about Putin’s support for those brutal Middle Eastern regimes, except to say he hoped to work out a deal that would also make Israel happy, which is a plausible but imperfect argument and one too damned complicated for Trump to make. Trump had nothing to say about Russia shooting down civilian aircraft or killing state enemies and the occasional unintended British life on British soil, and what he said about Russia’s three-pronged cyber attack on the past American presidential election was most disgusting of all.
The day Trump left on his disastrous diplomatic tour the special counsel investigation into the “Russian thing” announced a detailed and well-sourced indictment of 12 Russian officials for meddling, and laid out a convincing explanation of how they did it, and by now the only people who harbor any doubts about Russia’s role are Sean Hannity and this guy we know from Kirby’s Beer Store and Putin and Trump himself.
Trump acknowledged that all of his advisors had “said they think it’s Russia,” but added “I have President Putin — he’s just said it’s not Russia.” Trump said he couldn’t imagine any reason why Putin would have favored him in the election, although Putin later told that international press that he did indeed favor Trump, and Trump added that “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Unless you’re Sean Hannity or that guy at Kirby’s or another unusually die-hard and fact-resistant Trump fan, it was an humiliating performance, and raises all sorts of suspicions about that “Russia thing.”
Trump was conspicuously polite to the Russian dictator, especially in contrast to his characteristically rude treatment of the leaders of our democratically-elected allies, and was most harsh about his past two presidential predecessors and that “witch hunt” of a special counsel investigation that just handed down those detailed and well-sourced indictments of 12 Russian officials, and went on a rant about why the DNC’s computer server wasn’t seized and how frustrated he was that even a President of the United States couldn’t any answers. It’s hard to concoct any explanation that’s not fishy, but the die-hard fans are giving it their best.
The general gist of it seems to be that the “Russia thing” really is a “witch hunt” no matter what all those Trump appointees might say, and that the real scandal that will get the real villains shot for treason is on that DNC computer server, and that a friendship with such a puny economy and tin-pot dictatorship as Russia will do more to make America great than those freeloading Euro-trash in the European Union and United Kingdom or Great Britain or England or whatever you call it ever could. They’re also citing America’s past sins and making the “blame America first” arguments that the Democratic left once used to justify Democratic weakness in the Cold War and President Obama’s awful apology tours, and they’ve forgetten how outraged they used to be.
So far, though, neither Trump nor any of his apologists have yet been able to convincingly point to anything tangible that the great dealmaker Trump got out of this trip.

— Bud Norman

How to Be All Diplomatic and Stuff

The main problem with with President Donald Trump’s diplomacy, according to our analysis, is that he’s the most temperamentally undiplomatic person in the entire world. His latest trip abroad has provided supporting evidence for our theory at a rate of every 15 minutes or so.
Even before Trump embarked on a visit to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Belgium and then a less-than-state-visit to Great Britain and today’s summit with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland he couldn’t resist “tweeting” insults about America’s allies and telling the television cameras as he embarked Air Force One that he expected the meeting with Putin would be the easiest part. He started off the NATO meeting by complaining over breakfast a televised breakfast about a natural gas pipeline deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made with Russia, and spent the rest of the time publicly and privately chiding the heads of the other member nations about their deadbeat ways.
Our president left Belgium bragging that NATO was stronger than ever thanks to the defense spending commitments he’d strong-armed the deadbeats into, but French President Emmanuel Macron other NATO leaders told the world press that they’d only reaffirmed a pervious agreement about 2 percent of gross domestic product spending on defense by the next decade, and nobody believed that Europe had acceded to Trump’s extortionist demand for 4 percent spending starting right now. Trump left talking tough about his commitment to NATO, but he’d been conspicuously late to a meeting with the Eastern European nations most nervous about Russian revanchist ambitions, and the rest of the allied leaders and the international press that informs their voters left less sure of America’s commitment to its longstanding treaty obligations.
Trump didn’t demolish Stonehenge, ala Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” but his visit to Britain was similarly undiplomatic. On the way to the United Kingdom he granted a interview a London tabloid called The Sun and took the opportunity to harshly criticize his hostess Prime Minister Theresa May for ignoring his advice about leaving the European Union and saying it had torpedoed the free trade agreement that May had hoped to negotiate when she offered Trump the visit. The itinerary May had generously scheduled kept Trump away from London, whose Mayor Trump has been feuding with over “Twitter” and where tens of thousands of angry protestors and a giant blimp of a diaper-clad Trump clutching a cell phone were packing Trafalgar Square, and instead included a stroll with the Queen at the secluded and well-secured castle where Winston Churchill was born in front the military pageantry that Trump so enjoys, but even there he breached royal protocol ways that were bound to offend the refined sensibilities of the Fleet Street press.
There was no avoiding a joint press conference with May, so when faced with the inevitable questions about the interview with The Sun he dismissed it as “fake news” and talked instead about all the fulsome praise for May that they’d left out. Our guess is that he’d granted the interview to a tabloid with only a slightly better reputation that Trump’s favorite American tabloid The National Enquirer, rather than the Daily Scotsman or The Times of London or another of Britain’s eminently respectable broadsheets of record is that The Sun is owned by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Trump’s beloved Fox News Network in the United States, but he still threatened to unleash his own audio recording of the interview to expose them as “fake news.” He’s yet to make good on the threat, but even The Sun also makes audio recordings of the interview and what they’ve released verifies every word of what they printed, and although the fans back home might love it even the Murdoch-owned Sun readers in Great Britain were left the clear impression that the President of the United States is not only one of those very rude Americans who impose their presence on them but also a liar.
We don’t see any great trade deals coming out of the visit, even though Trump insisted that the “Special Relationship” is more special than ever, but at least Trump got some American and British taxpayer-paid recreation time and much-needed publicity for at one of his still-wholly owned golf resorts in Scotland. A few protestors and that diaper-clad Trump blimp got close enough to Trump’s round that he might have heard the roar or made out blip the blimp, and a paraglider from the far-left Green Peace party penetrated the airspace with a critical slogan waving behind, but we expect Trump still enjoyed the round. It’s the same course where the great Tom Watson beat the even great Jack Nicklaus by on stroke in the legendary “Duel in the Sun” at the 1977 British Open — or more simply “The Open” as the British insist — and we’re sure that with help from his caddie and the mulligans and gimmes generously allowed by his playing from his laying partners Trump surely set the course record.
Trump gets especially loquacious during these international trips, and his many interviews yielded enough diplomatic faux pas and outright falsehoods to provide an entire world of late night television comics with a week’s worth of material. He congratulated the England team in the World Cup soccer tournament on what turned out to a fourth-place finish, and wondered why people say “Britain” instead of “England” even as he was heading to Scotland, which is also a part of Britain, and at another point he seemed to believe that Ireland is still a part of the United Kingdom. During a rare interview with the Columbia Broadcast System’s “Face the Nation” described the European Union as a “foe” before mention China’s economic challenges and Russian revanchism, which he described as merely “competitors,” which is fine by the fans back home but raised plenty of eyebrows overseas.
Trump also boasted that he had better approval ratings among Republicans at this point in her first administration than President Abraham Lincoln, even though public opinion polling wasn’t invented until the 1930s, and surely ranks higher at the moment than Trump. Trump even claimed that he had “doubled and tripled” America’s gross domestic product in a mere 17 months, an obvious absurdity which is only off by $40 trillion dollars or so. If Trump truly had tripled the GDP in his short term, even such skeptics as ourselves would forgive everything else and put him a notch above that gangly guy who saved the Union.
Today Trump will have a very private meeting that Russian dictator, which he’d predicted would be the easiest of them all, and he might yet pull off a diplomatic masterstroke that will wow us and the the rest of the press. He’s assured a rally crowd where he led a chorus of boos against dying Republican Senator and bona fide war hero John McCain that “Putin’s fine, he’s people,” and after “tweeting” that a special counsel’s indictments of yet another 12 Russian officials for meddling in America’s past presidential campaign is still a “witch hunt,” and we don’t see him getting any great deals from Putin.
Stonehenge still stands, though, and we hold out some hope for the rest of our longstanding civilization.

— Bud Norman

Strzok’s Star Turn

Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Peter Strzok has played a prominent and intriguing supporting role in the ongoing “Russia thing” reality show since its debut, but on Thursday he had a star turn in one of the series’ most watchable episodes when he testified before a testy and televised congressional joint committee meeting. Depending on whether you’ve been following the story through Fox News and talk radio or the other broadcast news networks and the last of the big newspapers, Strzok fared very well or very badly.
According to the Fox News hosts in the opinion hours and a full day’s worth of right wing talk radio, Strzok is the real villain of the show. He’s the high-ranking FBI agent who was involved in the end of the agency’s investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices while she was Secretary of State, which infuriated the right by its failure to lock her up, and he was also one of the agents who commenced a counter-intelligence investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election on behalf of Republican nominee Donald Trump, which continues to infuriate Trump and his fans. Strzok was also carrying on an extra-marital affair at the time and “texting” profanely anti-Trump diatribes to his mistress, which included ambiguous statements about “secret societies” and “insurance policies” and a promise to his paramour that he would prevent Trump’s election, and thus Strzok became the mastermind of the “deep state” “silent coup” plot by the “globalist” “elites” against Trump’s agenda to make America great again.
The other broadcast news networks and the last of the big newspapers are hard-pressed to make Strzok a heroic character in their version of the story, but they’ve got ample evidence that he’s not a villain, and certainly not such a diabolically ingenious one who might pull off the plot that’s been alleged.
There is a strong argument to be made that Clinton should have been locked up for her careless handling of classified information, but if you want to get all letter-of-the-law about it presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and former White House staff secretary Robert Porter and all the other administrations who have handled classified materials without the necessary security clearance should also be in legal jeopardy. As a high-ranking agent with a long record of successfully discovering and prosecuting Russian operatives and thwarting Russian plots he was also assigned to look into credible tips from longstanding allies that Russia was meddling in various ways with the American presidential election, and by now all of President Donald Trump’s FBI and intelligence community appointees and a bi-partisan group of Senators and pretty much everyone but the Russian dictator and the American agree that there was Russian meddling the needed to be investigated.
We’d also note that although Clinton didn’t get locked up her campaign was hit hard by an FBI announcement that although her e-mail practices weren’t criminal they were damned sloppy, and then again when they announced the re-opening of the investigation when some of the e-mails showed up on the computer of the perverted husband of a close aid, and that the FBI made no mention it was already winning warrants from Republican-appointed judges to investigate Trump campaign operatives’ undisclosed contacts with Russians. If Strzok and the rest of the “deep state” cabal at the FBI were conspiring to deny Trump the presidency, they did a damned clumsy job of it.
It’s true Strzok was carrying on a extramarital affair and using profane language about Trump in his “texts” to his illicit lover, which we do not approve of, but it strikes us a rather hypocritical argument to be made in defense of Trump. Strzok managed to cheat on his wife without making any six-figure payments to porn stars, which strikes us as better business sense than the president possesses, and his language is no more offensive than what Trump has used on the campaign trail and did not include any boasts about grabbing women by their expletives deleted.
Strzok’s apparent disdain for Trump doesn’t much bother us, either, as we’ve frequently voiced the same sort of opinions in more family-friendly language. A broader reading of Strzok’s “texts” and e-mails reveals that he had similarly harsh things to say about Clinton and her Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, just as we did in our more polite fashion, and that the only politician he seemed to like was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the last centrists standing and currently among our most favorite Republicans.
According to the Fox News opinion shows and all the conservative talk radio talkers Strzok was exposed as a villain at the hearing, while the rest of the broadcast news networks and big newspapers more prominently quoted the sources who thought Strzok got the best of the it. We urge that you watch the more than two hours of hearings the the “fake news” dutifully videotaped and make up your own mind. It’s more compelling television than any other reality show on the air or web, with America’s tribal divisions fully on trash-talking display in a joint committee meeting of the House of Representatives.
In the end Strzok will probably be remembered as a foul-mouth cheating husband rather than they guy who discovered all those Russian agents thwarted all those Russian plots, but as a supporting character rather than the villain of the “Russian thing.” The “Russia thing” reality show will drag on at least through the summer, and there are a lot of plot twists yet to come. For now we can turn our attention to Trump’s international tour, where he’s upsetting relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and his current hosts in the United Kingdom, with a summit with the Russian dictator coming up, and for now Strzok seems an intriguing but minor player in this weird tale.

— Bud Norman

If It’s Doomsday, This Must be Belgium

President Donald Trump’s die-hard fans probably loved his performance Wednesday at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Brussels, as he gave all those freeloading Euro-trash leaders the tough talk that always goes over so well at the endless campaign rallies, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin probably enjoyed it as well. Most of the rest of the world, though, shuddered.
All but two Republican Senators and every single Republican in the House of Representatives preemptively voted for resolutions that affirmed America’s commitment to the NATO alliance Trump was once again criticizing on the way to the summit. When Trump started the meetings off with a rambling breakfast rant about Germany being “captive to Russia” because of a natural gas pipeline project, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and NATO ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson and chief of staff John Kelly sat next to him with the same embarrassed look and awkward posture of the wife of a drunken husband spoiling an otherwise cordial  cocktail party. Unless you really relished the video of Trump socking it to the Euro-trash, it’s hard to see what America got out of it.
Trump did get the rest of the NATO members to reaffirm their commitment to increase defense spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product in the coming years, which they’d all be working toward since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine long before Trump was elected, and the NATO general secretary generously gave Trump all the credit, but then Trump insisted they immediately start spending 4 percent, which is even more than the 3.58 percent that America spends on defense. Trump is probably right that the pipeline deal between Germany and Russia was a bad idea, but of course he vastly overstated Germany’s reliance on Russian energy, and it’s unlikely he’ll convince German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was a literal captive of Russia when she grew up in East Germany, to back out during the NATO summit. We figure it’s even more unlikely that he’ll press the issue with Putin during an upcoming summit with the Russian dictator that he never seems to criticize.
All of the NATO members except for Turkey are bona fide democracies, except for Turkey, whose autocratic leader Trump never criticizes, and we doubt those country’s leaders will persuade their voters to accept the tax hikes or cuts in other government services to pay for an immediate quadrupling of defense to mollify Trump, who is widely reviled around the world as a bully and the very embodiment of an ugly American. Trump has some legitimate grievances with the the NATO arrangement, but every sane observer in the western world still acknowledge its existential importance, and his tactless style of diplomacy makes it harder for the essential alliance to reach a satisfactory resolution of these longstanding squabbles.
The die-hard fans and the Russian dictator love it, though, and we’re not sure which explains Trump’s rants. Despite the fissures in an alliance that won the Cold War and has mostly resisted Russia’s revanchist ambitions Trump’s rhetoric somehow delights those Americans who resent those smarty-pants Euro-trash countries, and we don’t doubt that figures in his calculations. There’s an ongoing special counsel investigation into the Russian meddling in America’s past presidential election that pretty much only Trump and his most die-hard fans and the Russian dictator accept as an actual fact, and we’d hate to think that past shady dealings with the Russkies is why Trump seems intent on undoing a post-war world order of trade relations and diplomatic alliances.

— Bud Norman