Rainy Day Blues

Rain is falling on the just and unjust alike here in Wichita, and has been for most of the month, with no end in sight on the forecasts. The nearby Arkansas River is already flowing over the adjacent bike paths, the Little Arkansas River is no longer little, and West Street is once again a third river in town. At this point we’re thinking of stocking up on gopher wood and reacquainting ourselves with the cubit system just in case an ark is required, and it is not helping our mood.
There’s the gloominess of the constantly gray sky, the disappointing chill of the late May nights, and of course the stir craziness that comes from being rained indoors through three weeks and a Memorial Day weekend. In our case the curse is exacerbated by our habit of reading the news, which lately is even worse than the weather. The Islamic State continues its sadistic romp across the Middle East, impeded occasionally by forces backed by Iran, whose leader was bragging to his national military academy’s graduating class that the deal they’re working out with the United States won’t allow any inspections of military sites or interviews with the scientists working on their nuclear weapons program, and more formidable powers such as China and Russia seem to have noticed that the Pax Americana is no longer operative. Over on the domestic things seems just as gloomy, with the economy continuing to slug along on increasing debt and money-printing and interest rates that even the Federal Reserve Board is realizing must come up, the ongoing culture wars were best summed up by an excellent but depressing essay at National Review about how we traditionalists find ourselves “strangers in a strange land,” and even the sports pages offer nothing but the latest in the defeat in the New York Yankee’s prolonged slump.
Most infuriating are the latest rants of the global warming alarmists, who had promised us that the good days of the drought would last forever but are now trying to blame all this rain on us and our aging four-cylinder internal combustion automobile for causing “climate change.”
While we were homebound by the rain, and Iran’s Ayatollah was giving that nuclear pep talk to his nation’s most elite military academy, President Barack Obama was warning the graduates of the Coast Guard Academy that the greatest challenge of their career will be dealing with a changing climate. So far as we can tell the American military has been dealing with a changing climate throughout its history, with Redcoats and Spaniards and Prussian militarists and Nazis and Commies and lately Islamists proving thornier problems, and we’re not at all sure what the Coast Guard can do about our landlocked difficulties, much less the even worse situation occurring down in Texas and Oklahoma, and we’re quite sure that if human causes are to blame it’s probably more to do with the president’s jet than our aging automobile, so we can imagine that the graduating class gave the oration the same eye-rolling that we did. We’ve lived through prolonged enough droughts and incessant rains here on plains, and have read enough about the same phenomena in the journals of our pre-combustion engine forebears to know that they lived through their share as well, that we’re reluctant to accept that the weather is our nation’s most pressing problem. Given how bad the weather’s bad been, that is a depressing realization.
We’ll deal with all the wetness as best we can, and with gratitude that God and the Big Ditch and West Street will probably keep the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers away from our Riverside home and that the neighborhood’s basements don’t have the problem with leakiness as those snobs over in College Hill. Our collection of vinyl records and CDs includes such sustaining seasonal fare as Willie Nelson’s “Rainy Day Blues,” Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women,” Buddy Holly’s “Raining in My Heart,” The Door’s “Riders on the Storm,” Lena Horne’s sultry rendition of “Stormy Weather,” and Esther Phillips’ inspiring recording of “I Can Stand a Little Rain,” among other rainy standards, and the latest reports suggest that our beloved Wichita Wingnuts might be able to get a home opener of the baseball season in today. After that it’s all chances of rain in the forecast, and big green and yellow and red blotches on the radar, so we should be able to cope with it, but even the inevitable summer sunshine won’t help with the rest of it.

— Bud Norman

Memorial Day

Among the fallen heroes we honor today are some who fought in the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Ramadi in order to bring democracy to that country and cease its support for terrorism. Lately both cities have fallen into the hands of a sadistic terrorist gang calling itself the Islamic State, presidential candidates from both parties are questioning the decision to send American troops into Iraq in the first place, nobody seems to be asking it if was a good idea to withdraw them, and those who survived the ordeal are feeling forgotten and disrespected. We won’t take up time on a holiday best spent with barbecue and beer by arguing the wisdom of the American efforts in that country, or their apparently premature end, but we would like to let those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan know that they are well remembered by re-running a post from a Memorial Day past:


On a long walk through the old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass dividing a street leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rifle and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that has tarnished to a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American war and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time the monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and that the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war lasted for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only short mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before rushing on to the more exciting tales of the ‘60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial dominance, commenced more than a century of America’s preeminence on the world stage, and permanently altered, for better or worse, the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and its giant Keeper of the Plains statue, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. El Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another lists the names of the many local men who died while serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a rather elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of that conflict had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some American veterans of the war have publicly complained about the inclusion of non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt not just by the world but individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 18th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found clear over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city there are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markers to honor the men and women who have fought for their country, and of course a good many gravestones for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq war, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor the men and women who fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive us all, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishment of a democracy in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the military defeat of al-Qaeda will prove a boon to humanity, and that is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the war has been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for America in Iraq and Iran, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and to be grateful.

— Bud Norman

A Terrorist’s Reading List

We’re the snoopy sorts who will always seize the opportunity of a party to look over the nearest bookshelf, assuming there is one, and glean whatever insights it offers into the host’s mind. The fine folks at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence apparently share the same fascination with other people’s reading habits, and have helpfully compiled a list of the books that our brave fighting men seized during their raid on the home of the late Osama bin-Laden.
It’s a fascinating collection, although much of it is surprisingly familiar to anyone who has lately been invited to the home of an up-to-date American liberal. The list includes “Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies” and “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance” by Noam Chomsky, the esteemed linguist and far-left political analyst, “The Best Democracy that Money Can Buy” by far-left journalist Greg Palast, “Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower” and “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II” by far-left historian William Blum, as well as several other similarly fashionable far-left titles. We couldn’t find Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth” or anything by Maya Angelou or the “magical realists” of South America on the list, but otherwise bin-Laden seemed to share the same literary tastes as President Barack Obama or any other impeccable liberal. We’ve long marveled at the way pro-homosexual, pro-abortion, anti-God leftists have found so much common ground with Islamists who execute homosexuals and subjugate women in an attempt to impose totalitarian theocratic control, but their overlapping reading lists suggest they at least share the same dissatisfaction with western civilization.
When asked about his terrorist reader, Palast told Politico that he was embarrassed only because “It’s clear that Osama was more well-read than our president (though, in George W. Bush’s defense, there’s much to be learned from ‘My Pet Goat.’)” Never mind that Bush’s staff and the press corps that covered his presidency were astounded by his voracious reading habits, or that he routinely read more substantial fare than Palast will ever produce, the liberal urge to feel intellectually superior to that much-ridiculed president is apparently all the more urgent when the topic at hand is a mass-murdering terrorist such as bin-Laden. Palast also complained that investigative reporting is “a profession banned in the U.S.A. after September 11, 2001 — when journalists were replaced by Brian Williams and others wearing his hairdo,” but we recall plenty of journalistic investigations into Bush’s alleged perfidy that lasted a full seven years after that date, and it wasn’t until the Obama administration that the Department of Justice pressed criminal conspiracy charges against a reporter and the likes of Sharyl Atkisson found themselves stymied in their investigations at such media outlets as CBS News and the Brian Williamses and similarly coiffed anchors everywhere stopped questioning authority. We can sympathize with Palast’s disappointment that Bush never bought his books, since as far as we know Bush never bought one of ours, but it hardly seems a sufficient reason to prefer bin-Laden, even if the hit squad had found an old copy of “The Things That Are Caesar’s” in his house.
Evil mass-murdering terrorist that he was, we have to give bin-Laden credit for delving into a wider range of books than most of our left-wing friends. He also had such weightier fare as “The Oxford History of Modern War” by Charles Townsend, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Paul Kennedy, and “The U.S. and Vietnam 1787-1941″ by Robert Hopkins Miller, which goes back at least 175 years further than seems necessary. A practical man, bin-Laden also had such drier tomes as “Guerrilla Air Defense: Antiaircraft Weapons and Techniques for Guerrilla Forces” by James Crabtree, “Handbook of International Law” by Anthony Aust, and “Checking Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions” by Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson. We’ve not read any of these books, and therefor cannot comment on their merits, but we are eagerly awaiting the movies. “A Brief Guide to Understanding Islam” by I.A. Ibrahim was also found on bin-Laden’s bookshelf, so we also have to credit him with more interest than the usual left-winger in that subject.
Like so many of the left-wingers we know, bin-Laden also had an avid interest in conspiracy theories, as shown by his ownership of such books as “Black Box Voting, Ballot Tampering in the 20th Century” by Bev Harris, “Bloodlines of the Illuminati” by Fritz Springmeier, and “Conspirators’ Hierarchy: The Committee of 300″ by John Coleman, and “Secrets of the Federal Reserve” by Eustace Mullins. We’re awaiting the movies on these books, too, but on the basis of the titles alone we will assume they’re the sort of thing that only a left-winger or someone off the Arab Street would take seriously. More intriguing is bin-Laden’s interest in the various “truther” conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack, as evidenced by such books as “New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11″ by David Griffin, and we’d like think it irked hit that some people were trying to deny him credit.
Most striking, though, is the lack of anything entertaining on bin-Laden’s shelf. When we’re inevitably forced to go into hiding from the American government we intend to stockpile plenty of P.G. Wodehouse’s elegant comedies and Scott Phillips’ lurid thrillers and something of a more titillating nature as well, along with the usual how-to books and canned food and ammunition, and it makes us think all the less of bin-Laden that he couldn’t appreciate such fine writing. It’s nice to think that his final days were spent holed up in some desolate hiding place in a third-world hellhole without anything to fun to read, though, and we hope that if he had the internet he never stopped by here.

— Bud Norman

Apples, Oranges, and Biker Gangs

You probably about heard about that big biker gang shootout down in Waco, just as you probably heard about the riots in Baltimore, and in both cases you probably concluded they were unfortunate incidents caused by unsavory people. Those who worry about such things, though, are worried the news media might have caused you to be more appalled by the latter than the former.
Almost all of the unsavory people rioting in Baltimore were black, many of the unsavory people shooting it out in Waco were white, and these days the ensuing coverage is to be judged accordingly. Over at Salon.com they were offended that the riot was typically described as a “riot” and the shootout as a “shootout,” while lawyer and “community organizer” Sally Kohn was among many who were offended that the rioters were often called “thugs” while those involved in the shootout as were more frequently dubbed “biker gangs,” all over the left side of the internet there was great consternation about the amount of attention being paid, and of course all of these discrepancies were blamed on the subtle racism of the American media. Such nuances are apparently intended to mislead the public into a racist opinion that blacks destroying black communities is a bad thing while giving a wink and a nod to “white on white crime.”
Which leads us to wonder what sort of coverage they would have preferred, and what damage it might do to the English language. What happened in Baltimore was a riot, after all, and what happened in Waco was a shootout. Neither term carries any racial implications that we are aware of, and we note that whenever opposing groups of unsavory black people shoot at one another, as occasionally happens, most news media usually call it a “shootout,” and when white people engage in violent public disorder, as occasionally happens, usually in the wake of some sports team’s championship, the same news media invariably call it a “riot.” If such sensitive sorts as Kohn think it racist to call the people who burned down a senior citizens’ home in Baltimore “thugs” they should take it up with the black mayor of Baltimore and the black president of the United States, both of whom also employed the term, and be reassured that “biker gang” carries a rather thuggish connotation. The coverage of the Baltimore riot lasted for several days, but only because the riot lasted that long, it followed similar rioting in the St. Louis area, and there were threats of more rioting in other cities due to the same lingering controversies of policing in black neighborhoods. The shootout lasted a relatively short time before local police were able to restore order, the nine dead were all willing combatants, the remainder were arrested and duly charged, there is no reason to believe that any other biker gang shootouts are imminent, and the continuing coverage is because the media rather like this kind of story.
Most of the media dislike black-on-black crime stories, which are far more numerous than the police shootings and deadly biker gang brawls and high society murders that always go on the front page, and it usually has to happen on a scale that requires calling in the National Guard to get more than six column inches deep inside the local and state section. This in part because black-on-black crimes are so common, in part because they expose the media to the now-inevitable charges of racial insensitivity, and in part because most of the media is itself so hyper-sensitive about racial issues that they’re willing to ignore a significant problem affecting black people to assuage their consciences. They’d much rather draw attention to a white-on-white shootout down in gun-crazy and Republican-voting Texas, and will happily ignore the fact that it wasn’t exactly a white-on-white shootout. The shootout pitted the “Cossacks” against the “Bandidos,” and as the nomenclature suggests it was more of a whites-and-Hispanics-upon-one-another gunfight, and apparently it had more to with the biker gang subculture’s strange rules regarding the patches worn on motorcycle jackets and the usual drug turf disputes than race, and a lot of the mug shots are ambiguous enough that some of the Bandidos could fit into that “white Hispanic” category that The New York Times created for George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense, so most of the media are happy to give the impression of “white-on-white crime.”
They’re happy to perpetuate the outdated stereotype of the biker gangs as an exclusively white phenomenon, too, even though black and Hispanic and Asian biker gangs have been in business since at least the early ’70s and are now a significant portion of the biker gang problem. There are various ways of reading the statistics about biker gangs, which comprise only 2 percent of the nation’s gang members but cause more trouble and over a vaster area than the more common neighborhood gangs, but none that suggest they aren’t a problem worthy of the attention that the waco shootout has brought. The racialist media critics seem to believe that white America gives a wink and a nod to such violence, but most white people we know have no tolerance for it, and we expect that the citizens of Waco will insist on the most severe punishments the law allows. Despite years of cinematic portrayals of biker gangs, from Marlon Brando’s mumbling “The Wild One” to all those drive-in features to the hilariously politically correct “Sons of Anarchy” on television, “biker gang” is still synonymous with “thugs” to most Americans of all races, and the only thing they have to recommend them is that they don’t mind that no one is making excuses for them.
Biker gangs are a problem, and the riots that threaten to break out over the coming long, hot summer are arguably an even bigger one, and both require some resolution. That will require honest discussions, and separate ones, and any attempt to conflate them is not helpful.

— Bud Norman

The Moral Equivalence Contest’s New Contenders

When confronted with some foreign evil, the American liberal has a strange impulse to insist something morally equivalent is wrong with his own country in general and its conservatives in particular.
We’ve long noticed this tendency, and for many years having been ranking the most outrageous examples. So far the winner is still a friend of ours who, during a discussion about the old tradition in India of burning a widow alive on her husband’s funeral pyre, insisted that western culture does things to women that are every bit as bad, although she couldn’t quite think of any on the spur of the moment, followed by another a friend, a music-loving hippie who insisted that Afghanistan’s Taliban was no worse than the George W. Bush administration and contended that the Taliban’s complete ban on music was negated by a local college radio station’s cancellation of his favorite program. President Barack Obama sometimes seems intent on winning our competition, and his claim that Americans shouldn’t “get on a high horse” about the Islamic State chopping heads off because many centuries ago the Crusaders did some nasty things in their defensive war against a similarly brutal Islamic imperialism is certainly worth consideration, but this week also saw a couple of new contenders.
One is Samantha Power, Obama’s representative in the United Nations, whose recent commencement address at Barnard College told the women accepting their $250,000 degrees from that elite institution how very bad they have it. She recalled the sexism that once excluded women from colleges, and although she acknowledged that women now earn about 60 percent of all colleges she assumed that her distaff listeners were still troubled by “persistent self-doubt,” “fear of making mistakes,” and letting those doubts “get in the way of your voices being heard.” Our experience of young women is that their self-esteem has been carefully nurtured by modern education and popular culture, they’re no more afraid of making a mistake than your average Obama administration member, and that nothing gets in the way of their voices being heard, and we were entirely unsympathetic to all the personal anecdotes that followed about juggling motherhood and UN diplomacy, but what struck us as especially absurd was Power’s portentous note that there is a higher proportion of women in the Afghanistan parliament than in the United States’ Congress.
It was part of a spiel about how women’s rights have advanced in that formerly Taliban-ruled country to the point that it now has a national women’s cycling team, with no mention that this admittedly positive development is entirely due to an invasion and occupation by American forces that began during a previous administration, or any acknowledgement that those cyclists will almost surely be back in burqas shortly after the Obama administration’s planned retreat, and we suppose it can be taken as an upbeat exhortation to continue the march of women’s rights, but the tendency toward moral equivalence was unmistakable. Powersalso mentioned that young woman who has been carrying a mattress around Columbia University all year to protest its failure to punish the young man she alleges raped her, even though the evidence suggests that the the university and the city police declined to take any action for lack of evidence that she was raped, and the alleged rapist has numerous e-mails and other communications suggesting that she’s the sort of troubled young woman who haul a mattress around a university campus for an entire year, and generally spoke as if womanhood were at least as much a travail in America as in Afghanistan or anyplace else. We can only hope that $250,000 buys enough education at Barnard College that there audience will know better than believe such nonsense.
The other recent contestant in our moral equivalence idiocy contest is someone named William Saletan, who took the digital pages of Slate.com to explain why Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is just like all the Republican candidates for president. He doesn’t allege that any of the Republicans hopefuls have been chopping off heads or doing any of the other deadly things that have brought the Islamic State such notoriety, but he does claim that they sound a lot alike. He notes that al-Baghdadi has said that he is waging a war of Muslims against non-Muslims, just as the Republicans have said that al-Baghdadi is waging a war of Muslims against non-Muslims. As if that weren’t damning enough, Saletan also notes that al-Baghdadi has said that his version is Islam is incompatible with western values, and that there are verses in the Koran and Hadith that urge violent jihad against non-Muslims, and sure enough many of those Republicans agree. He further notes that al-Baghdadi has warned Muslims that America has no respects for their rights, and although he can’t think of anything the Republicans have done to confirm this warning other than some gripes about a mosque being built near the former World Trade Center location and former Sen. Rick Santorum’s complaint that we’re not dropping enough bombs on al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State he still thinks that the IS and the GOP are pretty much the same. Indeed, he concludes that the GOP is “working for Baghdadi” by opposing it, and signs off with a haughty “Remind me again who’s naive.”
Perhaps it’s us who are naive, but to our ears the GOP candidates and al-Baghdadi don’t sound any more alike than Hitler and Roosevelt did when the former said his country was at war with us and the latter agreed that we were indeed at war. Of course, the modern liberal would also find some moral equivalence there.

— Bud Norman

Those Crazy Christians

Christians still comprise a significant percentage of the American population, at least according to the polls we see from time to time, but so many people seem to have no familiarity with them. We notice this from time to time in our social encounters with people who assume we share their agnostic or atheistic or otherwise enlightened notions of the universe and proceed to speak of Christians as some sort of remote and primitive tribe, and in widely disseminated news outlets that attribute that all sorts of strange opinions to Christians that we’ve never heard one utter, and in even a symposium at last week’s Catholic-Evagenlical Leadership Summit at Georgetown University featuring a best-selling author and the President of the United States.
Harvard professor Robert Putnam, best known for the book “Bowling Alone,” got the ball rolling with an interview with The Washington Post, in which he said “The obvious fact is that over the last 30 years, most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for. That is the most obvious point in the world. It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.” When Putnam repeated the claim at the Georgetown, President Barack Obama chimed in that “Despite great caring and concern, when it comes to what you’re really going to the mat for, the defining issue, when you’re talking in your congregations, what’s the thing that is really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians, or as Catholics, what have you, that (fighting poverty) is oftentimes viewed as ‘nice to have’ relative to an issue like abortion.”
This might seem “the most obvious point in the world” to a Harvard professor or a President of the United States, but it will surely come as a surprise to anyone who actually lives among the Christians of America. Even the editors at The Washington Post know a couple of Christians from the Religion News Service who had the numbers at hand to refute such nonsense. They note that in 2009 America’s churches donated more than $13 billion to overseas relief and development, which is more than the secular charities could muster, and even looks pretty good compared to the $29 billion the federal government spent, largely with the taxes paid by Christians. In 2012 the evangelical group World Vision spent about $2.8 billion caring for the poor, which would put them 12th among the world’s nations. The Catholics, whom we also consider Christians, our president’s clumsy locutions notwithstanding, spend about $97 billion on health care networks, many billions more on colleges and schools, and another $4.6 billion to various national charities.
Even the most diligent research will fail to account for all good works done to alleviate domestic by done by America’s churches. Our own small congregation at the rough edges of a working class neighborhood chips in for a local orphanage and offers whatever help it can to anyone who walks in, our parents’ congregation in the Philadelphia suburbs runs a food distribution center with its time and money, and every Christian we share church chat with tells of a similar endeavor. Diligent research shouldn’t even be required to notice this phenomenon, as a daily drive through almost any city or town in America will take one past the various shelters and soup kitchens and hospitals and assorted charities created and run and supported by Christians, and in to contact with someone who has benefited from these efforts, and perhaps even one of those Christians who made who put a buck in the collection plate and did some volunteer work to make it possible. Those professors and presidents who dare to take the daring anthropological plunge in to the most remote portions of Christian America might even find that the natives aren’t quite so sexually obsessed as they’ve imagined.
At our small congregation on the rough edges of a working-class neighborhood that stuff rarely comes up, and in a lifetime of worshipping with this very conservative church we can’t recall many times when it ever did. We listen to the talk radio and read the web sites and newspapers and magazines that conservative Christians follow, and notice that the social issues aren’t such a hot topic there as they seem to be in the more ostentatiously secular media. The combined budgets of the best-funded organizations devoted to the social issues are supposedly American Christianity’s main concern spend in the mere millions, and are vastly outspent by Planned Parenthood alone, and of course the occasional protests heard on those conservative Christian media are vastly out-shouted by the more ostentatiously secular media. To complain that American Christianity is obsessed with the social issues to the extent that it ignores other pressing problems is not only divorced from reality, it seems rather unsporting.
Nor do we concede that those social issues are unrelated to those other pressing problems, or that American Christianity’s last resistance is unjustified. Issues of sexual morality have much to poverty and the general social well-being. A society of people raised by baby mamas and baby daddies will be poorer and more generally unpleasant than one raised by husbands and wives, no amount of federal spending will change that time-honored fact, those crazy Christians out there in the hinterlands and the socio-economic elites of our time seem to be the only ones who understand this, and those crazy Christians out there in the hinterlands and the only ones who will come right out and say it, so we hope they don’t go away or agree to shut up.
Much of American Christianity has already agreed to shut up, and its focus on the social issues has been devoted to accommodating the latest trends, and its churches seem to be losing congregants to whatever’s on television at those hours of a Sunday morning. Many continue to insist on traditional notions of sexual morality, even as they divvy up the church funds to the orphanage or the food distribution center or whatever its charity might be, and at this point they’re just hoping that they’ll be able to be live by these beliefs after the latest trends take root. Those churches are struggling, too, but we expect they’ll persist, as they have the past two tough millennia, and we believe the world will be better for it.
Yet apparently it looks different to a Harvard professor and a President of the United States. Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” was about the decline of bowling leagues and increase of individual bowling and the decline of fraternal orders and social organizations generally, and was well reviewed by both liberal commentators who decried the retreat into private live and conservatives who found proof of a government’s encroachment on the free association of individuals into effective groups, and we’d have expected him to notice that the churches are among the last effective non-governmental groups. We’d also have expected more from any President of the United States, especially one who has proclaimed his Christianity almost as much as he has criticized the faith.

— Bud Norman

Stephanopoulos and an Unsurprising Scandal

As much as we relish a good scandal, they rarely tell us anything we didn’t already know about the people involved. Consider the current contretemps concerning George Stephanopoulos of the American Broadcasting Company and his failure to disclose the $75,000 contribution he made to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. It seems to be a big deal because it makes Stephanopoulos look like a partisan hack rather than the objective journalist he claims to be, and the sleazy sort who won’t disclose his conflicts of interests, but none of that will be surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to his career.
Stephanopoulos in usually described as a “former political advisor to President Bill Clinton” but is better remembered as the guy in the Clinton “War Room” who was always ordering in the napalm strikes, and he’s continued in the same role ever since joining the ABC news division. His critics are charging that the undisclosed $75,000 contributions to his old employer’s favorite charity sheds new light on his recent combative interview with the author of a book exposing the corruption of that same foundation, in which Stephanopoulos asserted that his network colleagues could find no “shred of evidence” to support the book’s claims and alleged that the author was unbelievable due to his past association with the George W. Bush administration, and their point is well taken. Still, even before the revelations about Stephanopoulos’ rather hefty contributions to the Clintons the interview was widely ridiculed for its assertion that there was nothing of note in a book that had already been largely corroborated by The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as the ridiculous spectacle of Stephanopoulos accusing anybody of being a partisan hack. The estimable journalist Byron York even took the occasion to remind readers of a column dating way back to 1996 when Stephanopoulous took the ABC job that predicted pretty everything that has transpired since.
The latest scandal should be helpful in some ways, nonetheless. A few savvy Republicans have taken the opportunity to decline interviews with ABC news, and pretty much all of them have come to the common sense conclusion that Stephanopolous shouldn’t be invited to moderate any more of they party’s primary debates, although they should have figured it out last time around when he kept pressing all the candidates with impossibly hypothetical questions about contraception that had no point but to further the Democrats’ planned campaign theme that the Republicans were waging a “war on women.” The widespread coverage of Stephanopoulous’ contributions and the general acknowledgement that it is indeed a scandal, along with the widespread coverage of the shady nature of that foundation he contributing to, should further erode the Clintons’ popularity, although that should have vanished long ago due to their countless scandals. A sort of apology has been no doubt painfully extracted from Stephanopoulos, which provides some satisfaction, although ABC has generously accepted it and seems ready to move on to the next biased report.
There’s also a faint hope that more people will stop regarding Stephanopoulos’ journalism as anything but partisan political hackery, although we expect that much of what’s left of ABC’s viewership will mind that at all.

— Bud Norman

The Fun of the Free Trade Fiasco

As much as we favor free trade, and would like to see more of it with most of the advanced Asian economies, we must admit it’s been fun watching President Barack Obama’s proposed Trans Pacific Partnership go down in flames. Even on one of the rare occasions when he seems to have the right idea, the president’s tendency to insult rather than argue with opponents, his secretiveness and opacity, his long record of being untrustworthy, his lack of legislative experience and personal relationships, and the rest of his usual leadership flaws are on such conspicuous display that even the Democrats are grousing about it.
This time around it’s the Democrats who are the targets of the president’s insults, so they’re mostly grousing about that. Longtime Democratic operative Brent Budowsky writes in The Observer that he has “never seen any president of either party insult so many members of his own party’s base and members of the House and Senate as Mr. Obama has in his weeks of tirades against liberals on trade,” and adds that “Mr. Obama’s tirades on trade have included accusations that these liberal Democrats are ignorant about trade policy, insincere when offering their opinions, motivated by politics and not the national interest, and backward looking toward the past.” We can’t recall Budowsky objecting when the president was saying Republicans want dirty air and dirty water, and telling them to “sit in the back,” or making countless similar accusations and slurs, but we’re pleased that he has belatedly come to the conclusion that  such invective is not presidential.
Nor is it very persuasive, judging by the president’s apparent inability to insult members of either party into line over the past four years or so, and even in the case of the Democrats it’s not at all accurate. Loathe as we are to defend Democrats, we’ll concede that most of the ones in the House and Senate have some familiarity with the arguments about free trade, even if they’ve reached what we consider the wrong conclusions, and we don’t doubt they’re all too sincere about the wrong things they say, and to whatever extent they have political motivations for opposing Obama we can only assume it is because they’ve wrongly concluded that a majority of their constituents and unionized donors will not benefit from free trade, and we actually would prefer that Democrats occasionally look backward to the past to see what has and hasn’t worked. Such well-intentioned stupidity should be met with reasoned and respectful argument rather than gratuitous ad hominem insults, but well-intentioned Republicans with better ideas have already learned that this is not the president’s style.
Irksome as the chore might be, we must also say in the Democrats’ defense that they’re right to complain about the president’s unwillingness to publicly divulge any of the details of the deal that he’s asking for fast-track approval to negotiate. The Democrats were willing to vote for Obamacare in order to find out what’s in it, a decision that many current and especially former members of Congress have come to regret, but this is about free trade rather than expensively and inefficiently bureaucratized health care so they’re not keen about the general idea in the first place, and thus we can hardly blame them for wanting a look at the fine print. We’re disappointed that even the most zealously pro-free trade Republicans aren’t just as skeptical, given the administration’s negotiations with Iran, and the very real possibility that Obama is motivated by western colonial guilt and has some sort of lopsided reparations deal in mind, and the noteworthy development that even Democrats no longer trust the guy, and so we find ourselves with most strange bedfellows on this issue.
A smoother presidential operator, armed with the unaccountable support of most of the opposition party, could probably prevail by taking a solid case to the American and pulling some parliamentary tricks and calling in some hard-earned favors from reluctant congressional allies, but both parties and even the press have by now figured out that’s not the president’s style. The president’s preferred style of insults and secrecy and demands that he be trusted invariably hardens the opposition, whether Republican or Democratic, and it seems likely to doom any chance of a good free trade agreement with most of the advanced economies of Asia, which would be great boon to the American economy, but we do admit it’s been great fun watching it nonetheless.
There’s always the possibility that the deal might be be a bad one, after all, so the missed opportunity of a good one is well worth the spectacle of the Democratic infighting. We note that the aforementioned Budowsky is especially insulted by the president’s especially pointed insults to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, “the most nationally respected liberal leader in American politics,” and that the apparently still-existing National Organization for Women is grousing that the president’s criticisms are due to “sexism,” and that a smart fellow over at the right-wing Federalist has looked at the Democrats and concluded that “This Is Elizabeth Warren’s Party Now,” so it is comforting to contemplate that Obama remains anathema to the right and is no longer the most nationally respected figure of his party on the left and is therefor the lamest of ducks. It is not comforting to think that the Democratic party has lurched even further to the left during the Obama administration, but the defeat of the Trans Pacific Partnership will leave Obama and all the Democrats without any significant legislative achievement on the economy since Dodd-Frank and the Stimulus Package and Obamacare, none of which are well-remembered, and those Iran negotiations and that Israeli-Palestine “peace process” and the “re-set” with Russia aren’t likely to yield anything worth bragging about on the foreign policy front, so one can only hope that the next administration will be more likely to come up with the best deal.
In the meantime we’ll cope with the sluggish economy, and hope for the best, and enjoy the spectacle of Democrats enduring those presidential insults.

— Bud Norman

Retreat from the Commons

President Barack Obama dropped by Georgetown University for the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Tuesday, and it’s remarkable how much idiocy, hypocrisy, and truly frightening authoritarianism he could pack into a few briefs remarks.
The topic was poverty, which Obama is very much against, and he endeavored to explain why he hasn’t yet gotten rid of it. As it turns out it’s everybody else’s fault, especially people who belong to health clubs and send their children to private schools, and of course Fox News. With a few gazillion extra dollars at his disposal Obama could easily eliminate poverty, you see, but between the influence of those health club members and private school parents and Fox News the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell have become too stingy and mean-hearted to authorize the spending. “We shouldn’t pretend that we have been making those same investments, we haven’t been,” Obama said, adding ominously that “There’s been a very specific ideological push not to make those investments.”
As a graduate of Honolulu’s swankiest prep school and a couple of Ivy League institutions, who sends his own children to Washington’s swankiest prep school and does his girlish work-out routine in the very private gymnasium at the White House, Obama is perfectly positioned to see that “Part of what’s happened is, is that elites in a very mobile, globalized world are able to live together, apart from folks who are not as wealthy, and so they feel less of a commitment to making those investments.” We thought he might have been talking about the “folks” he runs into during his frequent vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, but so far as we can tell they all have good enough tax accountants that they can afford to Democrat, and there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough of them to comprise a significant voting bloc, so apparently such insidious affluence has trickled down to such middle class indulgences as health club memberships and parochial schools. “Those who are doing better and better, more skilled, more educated, luckier, having greater advantages, are withdrawing from the commons,” Obama explained. “Kids start going to private schools, kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks, an anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.”
All of which is hooey. Those parents who send their children to private schools continue to pay the local property taxes and federal income taxes that are providing record amounts of spending on public education, and in our experience they’re as keen as anybody to get a greater return on their investment, and they even support charters schools and voucher programs and the other necessary reforms that Obama and his friends in the teachers’ unions are blocking. Those who pay for health club memberships continue to pitch in on the parks, even if the parks are getting more dangerous in this Obama age of policing, and we suspect that most of them are only anti-government to the extent that they’d like to be able to pump some iron or ride those silly exercise bikes or indulge in some other sort of self-improvement nonsense that isn’t available at the local playground. If such selfishness has engendered an anti-government ideology, it is only to the extent that most people still want to retain some private space of freedom, and it doesn’t seem to have slowed the seemingly inexorable pace of public spending.
There’s still Fox News, though, and it seems to have brainwashed an entire nation into believing that Obama shouldn’t be able to spend those extra gazillions of dollars. Noting with characteristic Alinsky-ite cynicism that politics is a matter of who the middle class can be made to blame for its troubles, Obama went on to say that “If you’re struggling — if you’re working but don’t seem to be getting ahead, and over the last 40 years sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top or to be mad at folks at the bottom, and I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving got traction. And look, it’s still being propagated. I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu. They will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. They’re all like, ‘I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obamaphone,’ or whatever.” We mean, this is supposed to be like the greatest orator in history or whatever, but we find it unconvincing nonetheless.
Our meager entertainment budget doesn’t cover cable, so we were unaware that Fox News was now broadcasting a “constant menu” of Ebenezer Scrooge bah-humbugging about are there no prisons or workhouses, but we get out and about often enough that we don’t doubt they have any trouble finding enough “folks” who don’t want to work and just want a free Obamaphone to fill countless hours of programming. They could no doubt find some more sympathetic poor people to interview, although all the other media seem to have beat well-covered, but being so incorrigibly conservative they’d probably take note of the economic sluggishness and increased competition from illegal immigration and growing tax burdens that have occurred during the Obama years. Such dissent is preventing Obama from eliminating poverty, so he recommends that “We’re going to have change how the media reports on these issues.” That pesky First Amendment will no doubt complicate his efforts, although it isn’t proving much of an impediment these days, and the public’s preference for news that is corroborated by the reality they encounter while they’re out and about will also make the likes of Fox News reluctant to change its honest if poverty-inducing habits, but governments have managed to deal with this in places like Russia and Venezuela so surely America is up to the challenge.
If the government were make the common spaces more appealing and leave plenty of room for private space, and spend its educational dollars as wisely as the countries producing better students at a lower cost, and approach the problem of poverty with a realistic understanding about the various causes of the problem and to what extent the debilitating dependence that even the most well-intentioned programs create is one of them, we’re certain there would be less of that anti-government ideology going on out there. Easier to force the public into the commons and read them the latest government pronouncements, though, and the ones who have been properly educated in the public schools won’t notice the difference.

— Bud Norman

The First Lady’s Regrets

Times are tough all over and we don’t want to hear your gripes, especially if you’re the First Lady of the United States of America. Still, Michelle Obama took the occasion of Tuskegee University’s commencement ceremony to lament that nobody knows the troubles she’s seen.
The more polite pressmen over at The Hill described the speech as “Michelle Obama speaks of emotional toll of being first black first lady,” without the usual respectful capitalization in the headline, which is no doubt some sort of racist slight, and The New York Daily News went with an even more anodyne “Michelle Obama delivers Tuskegee University commencement address,” which could easily be understood as censorship of the truth she was she speaking to power or some such racist explanation, but we’ll go right ahead and call it the whining of a spoiled brat. To say that Obama lives like a queen is a gross overstatement, given the wide disparity between what America’s ostensible republic spends on her and what any official monarchy spends on its queen, and how Obama has more ostentatiously flaunted her privilege than any uneasy head that wears a crown would ever dare, and how relatively obliging the media coverage is, so her ordeal as First Lady hardly inspires our pity.
She recalled that when her husband was winning election as President of the United States someone described their celebratory fist-pump as a “terrorist fist-jab,” that someone else accused her of “uppity-ism,” and that yet another person somewhere or another referred to her as “Obama’s baby mama,” and we don’t doubt a word of it, this being a populous country full of 320 million people who say all sorts of nasty things about one another. It seems a rather small inconvenience compared to the compensations of being First Lady, though, at least from our perspective as regular American schmucks who routinely endure worse insults despite our straight white Christian male privilege, and often from the First Lady’s husband’s administration. She generously concedes that other potential presidential wives were subjected to questions about what kind of First Lady she might be and what causes she might champion, but said that “as potentially the first African-American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?” All we can remember of the ’08 press was coverage of her muscled arms and middle-class upbringing and a few snide conservative press pieces about her resentful and poorly-written thesis at Princeton and her well-paid gig as a “diversity officer” at a hospital receiving even greater amounts of money from a state where her husband was a prominent Senator, but we can see how that questions about too loud and too angry were worth asking, and at this point we’re keen to know just how emasculating is enough.
The First Lady of the United States went on to empathize with her fellow African-Americans who have felt “invisible” for the past many decades, as if she hasn’t been all too visible, and shared her fears of those pesky traffic stops by police officers, as if she knows what it’s like to be even a white male driving a red convertible without a safety belt, one of those pointless violations that her party adamantly supports even though it increases the chances of a a newsworthy encounter between the police and an unarmed black male. Just like her party has supported policies that have kept black unemployment high and black household income down and effective law enforcement in black neighborhoods subdued. Obama also told her audience not to become cynical, to continue supporting the same Democratic candidates that have prevailed over the past decades in Baltimore and the rest of those of oppressed portions of America, but we hope that the graduate of such an august institution of higher learning as Tuskegee University will have some questions.

— Bud Norman


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