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All Politics Isn’t Local, Alas

Today is election day here in Wichita, where the citizenry will exercise its democratic right to choose a mayor and an at-large school board member. These odd-numbered year elections are usually dull and low turnout affairs around here, but this time the mayoral race has been so ruthlessly fought it has attracted so much local media attention that even The Washington Post took notice, so turnout is expected to be somewhat higher than the norm.
The two candidates on the ballot are incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell and state Representative Brandon Whipple, but there’s also a write-in campaign by local businessman Lyndy Wells, who was barely edged by Whipple in the primary, and he’s well-funded enough to tout his numerous endorsements from locally prominent Republicans and Democrats. Given the low turnout and scant public opinion polling the local media can afford to do, not to mention the write-in campaign and all the other complications that have come up, we have no idea how it will turn out.
One of those complicating issues is an attack ad that ran on Facebook and YouTube, alleging that Whipple had sexually harassed a female intern at the Kansas statehouse. The ad, urging “Stop Brandon Whipple,” cited reporting by The Kansas City Star about sexual harassment of interns at the statehouse, but the stories made clear that Republicans were being accused of the misdeeds, and Whipple is a Democrat. Whipple immediately threatened to sue whoever ran the ad for slander, but at first it was unclear who who it was.
The local paper was able to link it to a New Mexico company called Protect Wichita’s Girls LLC, but state officials were unable to provide any further information. Eventually the local paper tracked down one of the voice actresses on the tape, who swore she’d been told it was a generic anti-sexual harassment and was embarrassed to find out she’d been part of such a shameless smear, which led to a 21-year-old named Matthew Colborn who had filmed the video in an office shared by Republican state Rep. Michael Capps and Wichita city councilman James Clendenin. Capps denied having anything to do with it, but the local Republican establishment has nonetheless been calling for his resignation, and now Capps is accusing the county Republican chairman of approving the ad.
Wichita’s local elections are officially non-partisan affairs, with no Ds or Rs next to the candidates’ names, but of course everyone knows who the Democrats and Republicans are. Usually it makes no difference to the civic-minded sorts who show up at the polls even on odd-numbered years, as local governance is pretty much a boringly non-ideological matter of paving the streets and keeping precious water flowing and maintaining some semblance of law and order and adding the occasional aesthetic flourishes to the city. These days both parties regard all politics at levels as blood sport, though, and in this battle the Republicans seem to have hoist themselves on their own petard, to borrow a phrase from the Bard.
Which was entirely unnecessary, as far as we’re concerned, because this could have been another pleasantly dull local election. Wichita’s a small enough town that we know Mayor Longwell and his charming wife, and he doesn’t seem a bad fellow, and some good things have happened in the city since he took office, but we’ll never forgive him for tearing down our beloved old Depression-era ballpark and proudly unaffiliated Wichita Wingnuts to build a fancy new stadium with some suspicious private investors snatching up the nearby lots in lovably un-gentrified Delano at a bargain price, and there are questions about his friendly relationship with the company that got the big-bucks contract to keep the water flowing. Whipple’s undeniably a Democrat, but so far as we can tell he’s not much of an ideologue, and he promises to be as transparent as possible while paving the streets and updating the pipes and all the rest of the wearisome business of running Wichita. Wells is a successful businessman with a long record of involvement with local causes, which seems to turn off a lot of the local Democrats, but we liked his business-as-usual approach enough that we voted for him in the primary over Whipple.
Whipple won the run-off by a hundred votes or so, and this time around we’ll be voting for him. Business as usual has become very chummy between public officials and private interests, and although public-private relationships have often worked out well for the city at large we think it best that the citizenry know in advance what’s going on. The low turnout in city elections has always meant that city and school district employees are overrepresented in the electorate, leading to a City Hall and school board more liberal than this very conservative city at large, so we’ve usually voted for the civic-minded businessman types and religious warriors to resist their worst impulses, and for the most part the city has progressed on this godforsaken patch pf prairie, at least to the point we don’t feel any pressing need to live elsewhere.
We know a lot of reasonable Democrats around here who basically share our views on paved roads and clean water and some semblance of law and order and all the rest of our local chores, and the necessity of carrying them out in the most transparent and stringently ethical way, and for now we’ll trust them more than the local branch of our once Grand Old Party.
In any case, we’ll expect Wichita to progress fitfully along as it always has, from its humble origins as an Indian trading post to its current top-50 status as a hub of high-tech aviation and agriculture and fast food franchising, with some surprisingly lovely neighborhoods and better-than-you’d-expect arts and music and theater scenes, and a lot of people well worth befriending.
We’d like to think that the rest of the country will work things out as amicably as Wichita probably will today, but we have our nagging worries. New media and constant us-against-them rhetoric from talk radio and the presidential podium have addled the brains of Republicans at all levels of government, the damned Democrats are as bad as ever, and it’s all irreconcilably ideological. Both parties talk about infrastructure and clean water and law and order and civil liberties and all that jazz, but most of it is delegated to the lowest levels of government, where the turnout is usually low, and mostly the national parties are concerned about whose side wins.
At this point in our grumpy old manhood we don’t much give a damn for either side, as we feel free to say in this age of frank and vulgar political discourse, and are more concerned about the roads and water and law and order and such. We also worry about the national debt and America’s standing as the leader of the free world those worrisome declines in business investment and the manufacturing index, as well as the suspicious deals that seem to have been made on the national and international level, but that’s ultimately up to the rest of the country.
For now there’s one of the city’s electronic traffic messages just up the street from us telling us we can’t turn left on 13th, even though there’s no apparent road work going on, and we’ve been turning left there for more than 25 years, dagnabbit, so that’s temporarily a more personal issue to our admittedly self-interested selves. At least we’ll get to gripe about to the next mayor we inevitably run into him around this still very small town of ours.
Nice to know, too, that what’s left of the once-grand Wichita Eagle where toiled for 25 years is still doing some good work on emaciated resources, and that what’s left of the rest of the local media is also keeping the citizenry riled up. There’s hope that turnout will reach a full 10 percent of the electorate here in Wichita, and that a free press will also inform the nation.

— Bud Norman

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Across the Street From Kirby’s Beer Store

While we were watching “Jeopardy!” and drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon at Kirby’s Beer Store on Thursday there was some big news going on across the street at Wichita State University. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was back in his hometown for a photo-op at WSU’s high-tech aviation training program and a friend’s wedding, and he brought along First Daughter and White House senior advisor Ivanka Trump, as well as a lot of questions about state and international politics.
Pompeo is up to his neck in the administration’s controversial Syrian policy and that hubbub about American-Ukrainian relations that seems to be leading to President Donald Trump’s impeachment, and here in Kansas and around the nation there’s been much speculation that he’ll get out of the administration while the getting’s good and come home to run for an open Senate seat that is pretty much his for the asking. This was the fourth time the Secretary of State has taken time out from his busy schedule of globe-trotting to vista Kansas in the past few months, and all the latest national and international news makes a nice safe sinecure in the Senate look all the more tempting, so questions were inevitable.
The local television stations were understandably grateful for the more star-studded than usual photo-op, and obligingly aired footage of the Barbie-esque Ivanka Trump doing her best impersonation of Rosie the Riveter, but one of the last standing reporters from the now emaciated local newspaper where we toiled for 25 years got a lengthy interview, and we’re proud to say he gave Pompeo a good grilling. The national media were largely shut out of the visit, so the local paper’s reporting was widely quoted and linked to by  some of the nation’s biggest media, which we hope helps with its clicks.
The reporter asked Pompeo if a photo-op in Wichita was the best use of a Secretary of State’s time at the moment, if the abandonment of our Kurdish allies in Syria undercut rest of the world’s faith in America’s alliances, some pesky questions about the Ukraine matter, and of course some peskier question about his possible future in Kansas politics, which at this point is also of national interest. For the most part Pompeo handled the interrogation well, deftly blaming President Barack Obama for some of the mess and dodging some questions that weren’t related to aviation workforce development and challenging the “predicate” of others, and our experienced local news watching eyes noticed he was more genteel than the usual Trump administration in bashing the media when being interviewed by his hometown paper. The hometown paper’s reporter also works for its corporate sister at what’s left of Kansas City’s hometown paper, even though the papers used to vie for statewide scoops back our in day, so any shrewd politician seeking statewide office would be well advised to at least be polite.
Pompeo is a first-in-his-class West Point grad and Harvard Law Review editor who made a fortune in the high-tech aviation business in Wichita, easily won four terms as the Fourth District’s congressman before becoming director of the Central Intelligence and then Secretary of State, and he remains a big deal here and all around this Republican state. The old-fashioned establishment wing of the Republican party is panicked by the possibility that the nomination will go to former state Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is so much an anti-immigration zealot and Trump impersonator that he lost the last gubernatorial election to a center-left Democrat — and a woman, at that — even in such an anti-immigration-with-certain-exceptions and reluctantly pro-Trump state as this, and for now Pompeo is the establishment choice while his close association with Trump only bolsters his chances in an already certain Senate race.
Close associations with Trump have often run awry, though, and by now Pompeo is surely shrewd enough to have noticed. In the interview with the local paper that was linked to an international audience he continued to insist he was solely focused on doing his job as Secretary of State, which is what one does in such a situation, but he seemed to leave open other possibilities of public service. Things are now going swimmingly with America’s foreign policy, Pompeo argued, but that might be all the more reason to get out while the getting’s good. Assuming the getting’s still good.
The Republican party’s representatives in Congress have have already largely repudiated the Trump Syrian policy that Pompeo has gone along with, and if Trump is impeached over that Ukrainian thing Pompeo likely will be as well, as he’s up to his neck in it, which would make for a damned interesting Senate race here in Kansas. We’ve watched enough Kansas Senate races in our many years to figure that any old Republican would continue the party’s eight decades-long winning streak, no matter what happens back in Washington, but we’d hate to see the state go through it. Although we proudly voted for Pompeo to represent our beloved Forth District four times, in the next Republican Senate primary we’ll cast our ballot for some center-right establishment woman you’ve never heard of, who we’re sure would just as easily beat any nominee that the Democrats might come up with.
That’s the view from the notorious dive bar just across the street where this story of national interest was unfolding, at any rate, and for now we stand by it. One of the Kirby’s regulars is an old friend who used to be a Democratic legislator and now holds a patronage workman’s comp judgeship, and he’s convinced his party has gone almost as crazy ours, and for what it’s worth he shares our bleak assessment of the situation.

— Bud Norman

A Tense Scene in Riverside

The rest of the world’s news seemed fairly uneventful by recent standards, so the big news on Tuesday in our fashionable Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, was the massive law enforcement presence just a couple of blocks to the north and a block to the west.
There were five Wichita Police Department patrol cars already in the area as we headed out on an afternoon chore, once of which stopped just ahead of us and blocked our way, as the cops around here are particularly fussy about citizens driving around, but he waved us ahead and we waved our thanks as we passed. By the time we drove home there were several more WPD patrol cars, a similar number of patrol cars from the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department, at least one from the Kansas Highway Patrol, a few heavily armored vehicles, and numerous men in full combat gear wielding actual assault rifles, and not just the semi-automatic kind that the gun-grabbers like to call “assault rifles” but the real deal.
Which is not at all what we usually see on a drive home. Most Riverside homes aren’t all that fancy, but almost all of them have a certain unpretentious 20th century charm, and they’re all nestled between the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers — both pronounced “Are-Kansas,” by the way — with several public parks and the art museum and the botanical gardens and a disc golf course and a real golf course, so it’s a fashionable neighborhood with all sorts of arty types and more than the usual number of of delightfully neighborly homosexuals, and it’s usually quiet and quite placid. We had a bike swiped from a back porch once, and a long while ago the “Riverside rapist” was terrorizing the neighborhood, and there’s the usual graffiti and other low-level crime you’d expect in the heart of any large American city, but in more than 25 years here we’ve never seen anything that so closely resembled a battleground.
We didn’t see any cars marked with the logos of any of the local media, which wasn’t surprising, given the late hour and the budget-cutting state of the local media. Once upon a time we’d have run down the street and flashed our credentials at the big city newspaper and demanded to know what was going on, but these days we’re not considered considered credentialed by the local authorities and don’t run very well, and the cops around here can be impatient with citizens asking question.
By happenstance one of our Facebook friends and actual friends lives exactly a few blocks north one and one block west where it was happening, and he’s one of those video-phone-owning and Facebook-posting types, so he was providing live coverage of it all from his porch. He could provide no explanation for anyone of it in his audio commentary, but had plenty of expletives to describe what was going on, and it indeed did look at least that curse worthy crazy. He posted that the cops were asking if he could use his bathroom, and we posted a question about what he’d learned, but he didn’t answer, and for all we know he told them to go around back and thus blew a journalistic scoop. Our friend’s a good guy, but he’s the type who might do that.
The first reporting from a credentialed local news source came from radio station KNSS, which did not surprise us. For most of the day KNSS is right wing talk radio and late night shows about the supernatural and unidentified flying objects and weird conspiracy theories, along with a lot of ads for tax debt experts and hail damage repair and other businesses, but they always fit a few timely and reliable minutes of reporting into every hour. It ranges from everything about the traffic tie-up at Kellogg and the Canal Route to the latest shenanigans at City Hall, and they gainfully employ our pal Ted Woodward, whose honesty and good intentions we will vouch for, even if it’s our personal opinion they’re working him into an early grave. They still maintain 24-hour shifts, too, which comes in handy when there are routine severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings or a very unusual amassing of military fire power down one’s block.
According to KNSS it all has something to do with a man who has a handgun and is “having a mental health crisis,” and we’re inclined to believe it. The poor suckers pulling the late shift at KNSS are usually pretty reliable, the cops around here aren’t inclined to lie to them, and these days it’s not hard to believe that there’s someone with a handgun and a mental health crisis just a few blocks away, even here in the fashionable Riverside neighborhood of Wichita.
Sorry to leave our readers in suspense, but for now we’ve no idea how this turns out. At this late hour we haven’t heard any gunfire, which is heartening, but even in our modern media age, where we all think we instantaneously know everything that’s going on in the world, that’s all we know about what’s going on a few blocks away. According to the latest report from the usually reliable 24-hour news team at KNSS, “police will provide an update on the situation Wednesday morning.”

— Bud Norman

On the “I Hope You Get Cancer and Die” Style of Political Discourse

Our best advice and usual practice is to never wade into any political controversy on Facebook, and instead just offer happy birthday wishes and condolences for the loss of a loved one and compliments on the cuteness of your friends’ children and pets. Even so, we waded into more controversy and vituperation than we expected on Friday when we frankly told a couple of our friends we didn’t share their frankly expressed glee about the death of David Koch at age 79 after a decades-long battle with cancer.
If you’re not from Wichita or New York City and don’t follow the left-wing demonology closely, you should know that Koch and his brother Charles built their father’s multi-million dollar oil company into a multi-billion dollar oil and paper towel and plastic cup and cookie and various other things conglomerate, and they’ve spent much of their money on various causes. Charles stayed here in Wichita, where you can’t go to the local art museum or symphony or musical theater or zoo or a Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball game without noticing his generous contributions. David Koch cashed in after a cancer diagnosis and moved to New York City, where he seems to have enjoyed everything a rich guy can find in New York City, which we can hardly begrudge him as he spends two decades dying of cancer, and he was a generous donor to New York City’s arts institutions and gave billions more to build a cancer hospital and fund cancer research.
Both brothers donated billions more to political advocacy, though, and lots of reasonable people have reasonable arguments with the policies they advocated. By now the notorious “Koch Brothers” have a starring role in some less reasonable left-wing conspiracy theories the same  way multi-billionaire George Soros does in right-wing conspiracy theories. Their father was a pioneering petroleum engineer who got rich on a contract with Joseph Stalin to extract oil the Soviet Union’s best engineers couldn’t get to, he later became a founding member of the extreme anti-communist John Birch Society, and both brothers inherited his entrepreneurial genius and antipathy to bossy governments and preference for unbounded liberty and very low taxes.
Oftentimes they’d take it too far even for our libertarian instincts, just as the John Birch Society’s anti-communist zealotry often exceeded what our strongly anti-communist principles would prefer, and there’s no denying the very low taxes enacted by the Kansas Governor they funded didn’t pay for themselves as promised. There are all sorts of reasonable arguments reasonable people might make against many Koch-favored policies, but we figure that there are also still reasonable arguments reasonable people might make against bossy governments and for as much individual liberty as a free-market economist figures  a society can get away with. It’s all very complicated when you get down to the details, where the devil is said to be, but we hope we don’t go so deep into it that we start wishing a fellow human being gets cancer and dies.
Yet we have friends on the left that we know to be decent and loving people who exulted in the death of someone because of his different opinions on environmental and tax policy. Both Koch brothers advocated for same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana and abortion rights and as much left-approved individual liberty as a society can get away with, and neither were gun nuts nor supporters of President Donald Trump, and they held a variety of views on the Iraq war and various other issues our friends on the left would begrudgingly agree with, but apparently 100 percent fealty to the one true leftist faith is required to qualify as a human being. We’re told that Koch knew damned well he was poisoning the Earth, and that capitalism was a globalist conspiracy conceived to impoverish the fattened working class, and that he twirled his mustache and demonically laughed about it as he lit up cigars with hundred dollar bills stolen from the proletariat, so he therefore had it coming, and some of our friends seem to truly believe that their seething hatred of the man somehow demonstrates their moral and intellectual superiority.
There’s plenty of the same poisonous “I hope you get cancer and die” rhetoric on the right, of course, including from our internet troll of a President of the United States. We have friends on the right we know to be decent and loving people but are suddenly willing to enforce border laws with maximum cruelty and forgive anything President Donald Trump says or does so long as it gives “butt hurt” to the “libtards.” The right also demands  100 percent fealty to its one true faith, which used to prominently include Christianity, with its suddenly outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo about loving one’s enemies and judging not lest  ye be judged and come let us reason together, but  lately seems whatever hateful thing Trump is saying. Our leftward friends should give a listen to talk radio talker Mark Levin, who every weekday shrieks that they’re a bunch of dirty hippies who hate God and America and the Constitution and everything good, and that they should all get cancer and die, and will defiantly spit out that “Yeah, I said it.” He seems to make a good living riling up the faithful that way, but his business model clearly doesn’t include persuading any reasonable person who might tune in but is not already fully on board.
Neither side is at all persuasive to anyone not fully on board with their “I hope you get cancer and die” stuff, but both sides think the other side is winning with it, and are convinced that  even more hateful rhetoric is therefore required, so the hateful rhetoric will probably continue to escalate. Neither side will ever persuade  the other to commit the mass suicide that is  so hoped for, neither side will be shamed into silence by fear of a “tweet” or Facebook post, and at this point we can only hope they don’t start brawling it out and killing each other the way the Nazis and Commies used to do on the streets of the late Weimar German Republic. Our friends on the right will think us squishy globalist RINOs, and our friends on the left will call us corporatist sell-outs and capitalist running pig-dogs, and some on both sides might agree that both we and David Koch fall too short of the one true faith to be fully human, but we’ll be hoping that friendships persist, the center somehow holds, a less hateful conversation arrives us at some sufficient compromise solution to at least a few of our problems, and that no one gets cancer and dies.
In the end we’ll all be dead, and we’ll all have it coming, and none of us will have been either right about everything or wrong about everything all along,  so we’ll also hold out continued hope in that outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo about a merciful  God ultimately judging all our souls. Sorry to interrupt anyone’s gleeful orgy of hate,  but we implore our high-minded and self-righteous friends on both the left and the right to stick to the best policy arguments they can make, stop reveling in anyone’s cancer death, and leave the ad hominem attacks and outright hate speech to the more intellectually lazy and unabashedly hateful types.
There are already plenty of those on both sides, and for now they both seem to be winning.

— Bud Norman

Democracy at the Local Level

Tuesday was an election day here in Wichita, with the primary for mayor and three city council seats and an at-large seat on the school board at stake, so of course we did our civic duty and drove several blocks to a church up in North Riverside to cast our vote. Voting is a long ingrained habit of ours, even in these low turnout contests, and we are creatures of habit.
There’s always a certain satisfaction in exercising one’s franchise, but it’s changed over the years. When we were kids our elementary school was a voting place, and the Monday before every election day we’d get to go into the booths with the red handle that closed the curtains and click on the levers to cast our mock ballots for the candidates our parents had endorsed. Back then no one doubted the election results, and everyone accepted them no matter how it turned out, and there was something very Norman Rockwell about the process.
Nowadays you need a driver’s license or some other sort of photographic identification that they scan through a machine, which is fine by us, but we notice that doesn’t reassure those who are convinced illegal immigrants are deciding the elections. They also hand you a couple of computer printouts you run through a couple of computers in order to vote, which strikes us as rather convoluted, and we notice it also hasn’t done much to bolster public faith in the electoral process. The same anti-immigrant Secretary of State who got the photo ID requirement enacted resisted a system with a paper trail that could counter any foreign computerized meddling in Kansas elections, and we can’t blame our Democratic friends for being suspicious about that.
Another thing that’s changed is the media landscape, which is not as useful as it used to be in making our choices. The local newspaper is down to about 20 newsroom employees, the three local television statements are similarly understaffed and preoccupied with car wrecks and local crimes, and it’s hard to find any information about the various candidates. They still do the thumbnail sketches where the candidates get to say all the same things about good government and honest dealing, but that’s about it. Somehow we were unaware of the race for the at-large seat on the school board, which we care about even though we’re long out of school and have no kids, and were embarrassed to cast no vote in the race.
We follow local politics as best we can, though, and made our choice accordingly. One of the mayoral candidates ran ads on the talk radio stations that described a platform of repairing the city’s sidewalks and making Wichita a sanctuary city for the unborn, but we’ve not noticed the sidewalks in a state of disrepair and wonder how fetuses might find their way to sanctuary here, and he flier that showed him next to an embarrassed-looking President Donald Trump was another reason to write him off. Several of the candidates were the usual kooks who always run for local office, and only the incumbent and a couple of challengers seemed like serious people with relevant credentials.
Incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell has generally done a good job, and Wichita being such a small town and ourselves being so well connected  we personally know him to be a nice enough guy with a very charming wife, but he tore down our beloved Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and ran off our beloved Wichita Wingnuts to build a shiny new ballpark and attract a Major League-affiliated team, in a deal that gave some businessman or another some recently hot Delano property for a dollar a lot, and there’s no forgiving that. The two non-kook challengers were Lyndy Wells and Brandon Whipple, both businessmen with long lists of the boards and commissions of local agencies and charities they’ve served on. A former city councilwoman we always thought too liberal for our tastes but whose honesty we never doubted knocked on our door to to make a pitch for Wells, our very conservative businessman friend “Hatman” Jack Kellogg, who has lots of dealings with the city government, also endorsed Wells, and when a couple of trusted  realtor friends made the same recommendation we settled on Wells.
Not that we had anything against Whipple, who wound up slightly behind Longwell in the race for the two slots in November’s run-off. We can’t be sure that Whipple was a Wingnuts fan, or that he’ll be any less likely than the usual Wichita politician to go knocking down perfectly good buildings to erect something more shiny or new, but except in the unlikely case that what’s left of the local media comes up with some pretty serious dirt on him he’ll probably get our vote. If Longwell wins we figure Wichita could do a lot worst, as so many big cities seem to do.
So long as we get to vote, we’ll retain an optimistic feeling. While voting we ran into a longtime friend who lives down the street who had come to vote and brought his soon-to-be-third-grade son along to demonstrate what civic-minded citizens do on election day, and when they accepted a cookie and an “I voted” sticker from the nice lady at the door he thanked her for volunteering her time to democracy and had his son do the same, and that also gave us a hopeful feeling.
Here’s hoping the kid winds up with the best possible person serving in the at-large seat on the school board, no thanks to us or the local media.

— Bud Norman

Abortion Back in the News, Darn It

The abortion issue is lately back in the news, and we admit we hate to see it there. Even after so many decades of noisome debate we don’t really know where we stand on the matter, and we notice that the more cocksurely opinionated people on both sides are further apart than ever, and at this point we figure that it will be left to far future generations of as-yet unborn babies to resolve it.
Emboldened by President Donald Trump’s last two appointments to the Supreme Court, the Alabama legislature has passed and the Alabama governor has signed a law that would punish any doctor who preformed an abortion at any stage of a pregnancy with a life sentence except in the case where the life of the mother’s life was threatened, and makes no exception for cases of rape or incest. The law is plainly unconstitutional according to the 1972 Roe v Wade decision, which has been a source of constant contention ever since, but Alabama is betting that a couple of Trump appointees on the Supreme Court will be able to overturn that hated decision.
Meanwhile, the other side seems to be digging into an equally extreme position. Self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders’ state of Vermont has recently passed and signed into law that guarantees a right to abortion rights up to the moment of childbirth, and arguably makes allowances for infanticide, and although the rest of the Democratic party hasn’t gone quite that far it’s still far out on the pro-choice side of the debate.
According to all the opinion polls most of the American public is somewhere in the middle about all this, and as much as we hate to admit we’re common so are we. Our beloved hometown of Wichita was the epicenter of the abortion debate back in the ’90s, when we were working for the local newspaper and local abortionist Dr. George Tiller was performing very early and very late-term abortions, and a very angry anti-abortion movement in this very Christian town caused traffic jams and mass arrests and public nuisances by effectively shutting the practice down for a short while. We’ve never had a serious pregnancy scare — knock on wood — so both our pro-choice and pro-life friends can reasonably claim we have no standing to opine.
They’re probably both right, of course, but we’ll nonetheless stand by our centrist position. We’ve been fortunate to know some very fine women who have shared very personal stories about their first trimester abortions, and our Christin faith tells us not to stand in judgment of them. No matter how it was conceived a fetus is a potential sacred human life, on the other hand, and certainly by the time it could survive outside the womb it is entitled to the full protection of the law.
We’d like to think that America’s political institutions and judicial systems will sort it all out, but we doubt it. The Republicans are currently led by Trump, a thrice-married and oft-bankrupt Casino-and-strip-club mogul who has publicly bragged about his extra-marital love life, and was a staunch pro-choice supporter until he decided to run for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, the Democrats seem likely to nominate someone who’s openly anti-life. and we hope that’s also not a winning stance.
The matter is more likely to be settled in the courts, but we don’t holda out hope it will end there. Even if those two Trump appointees overturn the Roe v Wade that guaranteed a right to first trimester abortions they won’t dare declare a constitutional right to life from the moment of conception and ban abortions altogether, and if they did it would result in one hell of an uproar. The very best the pro-life Republicans can hope for is that the matter is returned to the states, with Vermont going one way and Alabama another, and all the rest of the states arguing about it endlessly, with at least half of the states sending its citizens to the next state for an abortion, and the Republican Party probably coming out on the losing end.

— Bud Norman

Boeing, Spirit, Tragedy, and the Rest of Wichita and the World

Along with the New York Yankees and Boston Celtics and the Wichita State University Wheatshocker basketball teams and until recently the Wichita Wingnuts double-A baseball team, we take an avid rooting interest fortunes of the Boeing Company. Our beloved Dad spent most of his exceptional career as an avionics engineer and eventually high-ranking executive at the company, and he has considerable holdings in its high-priced stock, and the rest of our city is similarly invested in Boeing.
The population of Wichita, Kansas, doubled when its home-grown Stearman division of the Boeing Company was churning out the much-in-demand B-29 Bomber during World War II, and Boeing remained a significant chunk of the local economy while our beloved Dad was keeping the B-52 a state-of-the-art long range strategic nuclear bomber through the Cold War. Boeing moved out a while back, not long after our beloved Okie Dad moved on to Connecticut and then Pennsylvania and the Boeing helicopter divisions where they were fighting the lower-intensity wars against Islamist radicalism and other pesky post-Cold War problems, but Boeing gave a sweetheart deal on its offices and factories and well-trained worked force to its biggest sub-contractor, Spirit Aerosystems. Although Spirit also has lucrative contracts with Airbus, the European Union-subsidized rival to Boeing which now has an oddly bigger presence in the city than Boeing, and although our city’s economy has wisely diversified and is no long so reliant on Beech and Cessna and Learjet and the rest of “The Air Capital of the World’s” still sizable aviation sector, a dip in Boeing’s stock price is still a hard blow around here.
Boeing’s stock was down 5.3 percent on Monday, following the weekend’s crash of a Boeing 737 on an Ethiopian Airlines flight on Sunday, which followed a crash of the same model on an Indonesian airline flight that went down in October. China, one of Boeing’s biggest clients, has temporarily grounded the aircraft, several smaller countries have followed suit, and although the Federal Aviation Administration and our remaining allies in the European Union and the rest of the First World haven’t followed suit it’s bound to be bad for Boeing’s business, and for all its shareholders here in Wichita and around the world.
With all due sympathy and respect to those doomed fellow humans on the Ethiopian and Indonesian airlines, we hopefully expect that Boeing will persist. Forgive us our First World chauvinism, but we figure there’s at least an outside chance that the tragedies had more to do with the Indonesian and Ethiopian airlines than any snafus at Boeing or Spirit, and even if not we’re sure that both the Boeing and Spirit engineers are already on the over-time job of fixing whatever went wrong. We can’t quite be sure these young punks they have on the  job nowadays are quite so smart or dedicated as our beloved Dad, who once ended a family vacation to the Rockies after he heard on the car radio that a B-52 had been shot down in Vietnam to help take care of that problem, but Dad was once a young punk himself and is still a very shrewd investor, and he seems to trust them. We’re still nervous fliers, despite growing up in the “Air Capital of the World” with a brilliant avionics engineer as our beloved Dad, but by now we’ve learned to endure the occasional turbulence.

— Bud Norman

The Beat Goes On in the Heartland

Wichita is a surprising city, and even after more than half a century here we have recently been surprised to discover that the local music scene is better than ever and suddenly as good as you’ll find in far bigger cities.
Kirby’s Beer Store held its annual “Meat Fest” on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and you should have been there. The notorious little ghetto dive bar has been holding the event in the dead of winter for the past couple of decades are so, and it always features plenty of free meat grilled on the patio, a non-stop lineup of local bands, and a massive crowd of young and old hipsters, but this year’s edition was the best we can recall. The hot dogs and sausages and burgers and pulled barbecue barbecue were delicious, and the music even more so. We didn’t get to hang around long enough to hear all of the 38 — count ’em, 38 — local acts, but we heard enough to confirm that Wichita at the moment is one of America’s most musical cities.
Aside from the quality and quantity of the output, we were also struck by its diversity. On Thursday we heard an intriguing jazz-rock-hip-hop quarter called the Lewelheads, the next night was a hard-rocking but straight-up country-and-western outfit called Sunshine Trucking, and Saturday’s highlight was a rough-edged punk band with a slightly country woman singing called Herd of the Huntress. Sunday brought an assortment of small group and solo acts, including a sleepy-eyed six-foot-six or so fellow of approximately 280 pounds who bills himself Tired Giant and had some heartbreaking songs about his alcoholic dad, a dreadlocked young white woman named Juliet Celedor, and a hard-to-define trio of bass and cello and guitar called Sombre Sangre. Local hard rock legends Black Flag also performed, as did the popular blues chanteuse Jenny Wood and the venerable jazz guitarist Sterling Gray, and the always excellent guitarist and singer Tom Page did a set, and we’re told we missed a whole lot of other good stuff.
Somehow some of the city’s best missed the lineup, too. The top-notch folk-country-jazz-blues Haymakers couldn’t be there, Folk rocker and standards singer Nikki Moddelmog and her crack brand were unavailable, and although the lovely rock chanteuse Lalanea Chastain was in the audience she never took the stage, and there’s a very hot young trumpet-playing jazzbo named Nathan williams who didn’t appear with either of his two very good outfits. Not to mention all the great show tune singers and gospel shouters in town who didn’t get an invitation.
Not bad for a mid-sized city in the middle of the country, but Wichita does have its advantages. Folks have been playing music all along around here, and the city has produced such notable performers as rockabilly legend Marvin Rainwater and hippie heroes The Serfs and the all-time great punk band The Embarrassment, as well the punk-bluegrass Split Lip Rayfield with its small but fervent internal cult following, and a surprising number of globally acclaimed opera singers. Here in the middle of the country Wichita was a regular stop for all the great jazz bands of Kansas City’s heyday, as well as northern stop for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and all the great western swing outfits, the southern bluesman also played here on a regular basis, and Wichita always welcomed all the hard-rocking bands from the industrial midwest during the ’60s and ’70s. The music departments at Wichita State University and Friends University supply the city with well-trained classical and jazz players, too, and the city’s churches provide plenty more thoroughly educated musicians, not to mention all the autodidacts that Wichita seems to spawn.
Wichita’s big enough to have talented people from each of America’s many rich musical traditions, but it’s small enough that they all wind up meeting one another and playing together and creating some intriguing combinations of styles you won’t find elsewhere. The city is racially diverse, as well, and lately several of its best bands feature talented white and black and Latino and Native American and Asian players, and the teenagers and the twenty-somethings and even the players we fondly remember from our long-ago youth on the Wichita music scene also get together.There’s a variety of venues of various sizes that offer them a place to play, and the city government has even started a free bus service along the stretch of Douglas where you’ll find most of them. Lacey Cruse, another talented singer, was recently elected to the Sedgwick County Commission, and music retains a powerful influence in Wichita.
Throughout America’s rich musical history such cities as New Orleans and Chicago and Memphis and Nashville and New York and Los Angeles have always played an outsized role, and at times such locals as Akron, Ohio, and Athens, Georgia, and Minneapolis and Oklahoma City have their eras of prominence, but American music lovers shouldn’t overlook Wichita, especially now.
If you’re out of town and can’t make here for a night at Kirby’s or Barleycorns or the Shamrock or the Artichoke or the Cotillion or that new Wave place over in rocking Old Town, we suggest you venture out in your own hometown to see what’s cooking in the local dives. What’s on the radio and television these days is mostly awful, and the best American music has always popped in the most unusual places, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something better.

— Bud Norman

Kansas Politics Takes a National Stage

Kansas rarely makes the national news, which is fine by us and most other Kansans, as it’s usually something embarrassing, but we were intrigued to see the latest development in our state politics on the front page of The Washington Post. The paper reports that Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to come home and run for a Senate seat that’s recently opened up, which is pretty darned intriguing for a number of reasons.
The Senate seats for Kansas are rarely open, as Kansans pragmatically tend to reelect the Republicans with the seniority and significant committee assignments needed to protect the farmers and airplane builders and natural gas drillers and other key components of the state’s economy, but 2020 will be one of those occasions. At the relatively young of age 82 Sen. Pat Roberts has decided to end a locally legendary political career that started way back in the ’60s — that’s the 1960s, although it sometimes seems to have stretched back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days of the 1860s — and there’s already a crowded field of notable Republicans vying to succeed him.
The rumored candidates include former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration hard-liner who made a failed effort to prove that at least three million illegal voters robbed President Donald Trump of a popular vote victory in the last presidential election, and wound up losing the last Kansas governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly. There’s also former Gov. Jeff Colyer, who took office after wildly unpopular Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to became President Donald Trump’s ambassador for religious freedom, whatever that is, and then lost the Republican gubernatorial nomination by a few hundred votes but probably would have the general election if he’d been nominated. Another frequently mentioned name is Matt Schlapp, who used to be an aide to long-forgotten Fourth District Rep. Todd Tiahrt and has since gained a high profile on Fox News and talk radio as the chairman of the American Conservative Union, and whose wife, Mercedes, is Trump’s director of strategic communications, whatever that is. Such well-regarded state legislators as Rep. Roger Marshall are also reportedly in the running.
Despite such a formidable field, the Republican nomination would be Pompeo’s for the asking, and given that the only time Kansas has ever elected a Democrat to the Senate was for one term back in the Great Depression, the general election would be easy. He’s a first-in-his-class graduate of West Point, a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, a successful entrepreneur in Wichita’s high-tech aerospace industry, and after Tiahrt abandoned his Fourth Congressional seat for an ill-advised and ill-fated Senate run he won four congressional elections by landslide margins. His service as Trump’s director of the Central Intelligence and then Secretary of State have surely endeared him to the Trump-loving sorts of Kansas Republicans, and his occasional differences of opinion with Trump on such important matters as Russia’s meddling in the last presidential election will satisfy the large and growing number of Republicans who are weary of Trump’s generally shoddy character and the endless trade wars that have hard hit the agriculture and aviation sectors and his strange preference for coal over natural gas.
In normal circumstances no savvy politician would rather be a junior Senator from a sparsely populated state rather Secretary of State, but Pompeo is surely savvy enough to know that the Trump administration is not normal circumstances. Pompeo might or might not know what Trump has been saying to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin during the occasional conservations, as Trump keeps it a very closely guarded secret, but in either case Pompeo probably shares our concern it won’t end well. With a presidential resume and presidential ambitions, Pompeo might decide he could make a better run as a centrist junior Senator from Kansas who did his best to warn of Russian meddling and restrain Trump’s worst instincts rather than a hard-line loyalist who went down with the Trump ship.
It’s intriguing, too, that McConnell is urging Pompeo to jump from the Trump ship into the Senate. By all accounts Pompeo is Trump’s most favorite cabinet member, probably because it’s hard for Trump to find lackeys with such excellent credentials, and a third Secretary of State of in four years would be hard for Trump to explain, especially after Trump calling his first choice “dumber than rocks,” so it suggests that McConnell might be hedging his bets on the Trump presidency. The map for the 2020 Senate races is even more unfavorable for the Republicans than 2018 races were for the Democrats, and the way things are going they won’t have any presidential coattails to cling to, and we can’t blame McConnell for being more worried about his status as majority leader than he is about Trump’s presidency. Kansas is a reliably Republican state in federal elections, but last November it elected a Democrat as governor over Trump’s heartily endorsed Republican, and up in the Third District, the sort of well-educated suburban jurisdiction the Republicans been losing ever since Trump took office, they even elected a Native American lesbian kick boxer, so McConnell is probably wise to back to the surest bet.

— Bud Norman

An Odd and Unsettling Election Day

At some point this afternoon we’ll drive over to the lovely and friendly Woodland Methodist Church up in North Riverside to cast our midterm election votes, and although we’ve dutifully voted in every American and Kansas election since our long-ago 18th birthday this time will seem different.
This time we’ll be casting several of our votes for some damned Democrats, and in the Fourth District congressional race we’ll symbolically throw away our vote on the unknown Libertarian candidate as a “none of the above” protest, and we can’t venture any guess how any of it will turn out. In the past we’ve almost always voted a straight damned Republican ticket, and left the polling place fairly confident that at least here in Kansas we were on the winning side, but this time we’ll not venture any predictions about anything and have no rooting interest in the outcomes except for a faint hope that the center will somehow hold here in the center of the country.
The conventional wisdom of the polls and pundits is that the Democrats will gain control of the House of Representative by a slight or perhaps significant margin, and that thanks to a fortuitous electoral map the Republicans will retain control of the Senate and perhaps slightly pad its currently razor-thin margin in that chamber, and that seems both plausible and agreeable to us. We’re old-fashioned “Bleeding Kansas” Republicans from the racially egalitarian Party of Lincoln and the internationalist party of Kansas-raised President Dwight Eisenhower, but given the choice between the admittedly nationalist Republican Party of President Donald Trump and the crazier sorts of self-described socialist Democrats running in some far-away districts we’ll settle for a temporary stalemate.
Here in Kansas, at least, most of the damned Democrats seem willing to meet the damned Republicans halfway on a plan that will pave the roads and fund the schools and fulfill other essential state services without a tax hike, and we’ll note that most of the past Republican statewide and federal office-holders we once proudly voted for have also reluctantly agreed to the same desultory compromise. Even so, there’s no telling how things might turn out around here..
As for the rest of our currently  crazy country, where the damned and admittedly nationalist Republican party of Trump is apparently running neck-to-neck against the damned and admittedly socialist Democratic party of the moment, we’ll venture no predictions and just hold out faint hope that somehow the center holds.

— Bud Norman