The Border Battle Begins

The Republicans showed some fight on the issue of illegal immigration Wednesday, with a majority of the House of Representatives voting to withhold funding for the Department of Homeland Security to enact President Barack Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants, and we were glad to see it. Their efforts might yet prove futile, given the longer terms and weaker wills in the Senate and the full fury of the open borders lobby and the way Obama usually gets away with these things, but we’re heartened by the feistiness.
House Speaker John Boehner, long derided by the more robustly conservative members of his party as too accommodating to the president, even delivered a full-throated denunciation of Obama’s extra-constitutional attempts to re-write immigration that the most rabid right-wing radio talker would be hard-pressed to top. The speech cited the 22 separate occasions when Obama clearly stated that he did not have the legal authority to issue the executive orders being contested, noting that Obama has “ignored the people, ignored the constitution, and even his own past statements.” Although 26 Republicans helped the Democrats defeat an amendment that would have blocked an executive order deferring deportations of illegal immigrants who arrived here as children, and another seven bolted on an amendment to delay “immigration priorities,” the watered-down version got unified party support. There won’t be such unity in the Senate, where several Republicans have a long history of sharing the party’s big business wing’s preference for cheaper labor, but the House vote represents an overwhelming consensus among the grassroots that could jam the congressional phone lines and mailboxes and thus force a majority to go along.
Everyone expects the bill will be further watered down in the Senate, though, and even the weakest brew is likely to result in a veto that even the most improbably unified Republican party does not have the votes to override. The Republicans could still prevail by withholding funding for the Department of Homeland Security, but that would severely test any politician’s feistiness. Already The New York Times is describing the House vote as “approving legislation that would revoke legal protections for millions of unauthorized immigrants, including children, and put them at risk of deportation,” and the National Journal was making much of those “moderates” and “centrists” among the Republicans who voted against the amendments and worrying that the majority Republican position “could imperil their re-elections in 2016.” The Times cannot explain how an executive order to negate existing law is a “legal protection” for “unauthorized immigrants,” nor can The National Journal explain why the terms “moderate” and “centrist” enjoy such a positive connotation as they intend, and they don’t want to mention those dissenting Republicans would only imperil their re-election chances because they Represent majority-Latino districts that are never supposed to vote for Republicans in the first place, but it’s an indication of how a shut-down of the Department of Homeland Security would play out in the press.
The Republicans will happily cough up some generous amount to fund all of the department’s vital anti-terrorism functions, just not the parts that would invite millions more illegal immigrants and perhaps a few terrorists to happily traipse across the southern border, and this should prove a politically advantageous position. The Third World’s unfettered access to the United States of America is not widely popular, even in those Latino-majority districts that have unaccountably elected Republican representatives, and revanchist groups such as La Raza and the owners of companies reliant on cheap unskilled labor do not constitute a majority of the voting public. That tale about racist Republicans picking on poor brown children will be oft-told, however, and the president does have a way of getting away with these things.
This will all take weeks or maybe months to sort out, and we’ll keep attuned to the latest developments. In the meantime, we’re hoping for more Republican feistiness.

– Bud Norman

Bartender Blues

The big headline on the Drudge Report was “Plot to Poison Boehner,” and we couldn’t wait to find out whodunnit. Speaker of the House John Boehner is loathed by the lunatic left for his partisan obstruction of President Barack Obama’s agenda, and reviled by the radical right for his capitulations to that very same agenda, so suspects abound. It turned out to be the apolitical sort of of nutcase that is usually involved in these sorts of the stories, but it still makes for an interesting tale.
The alleged would-be assassin was the bartender at Boehner’s country club, and given that Boehner is desired by both the right and the left as a “Country Club Republican” even the most imaginative mystery writer would be hard-pressed to top that stereotypical detail. He was reportedly known to his customers as “Bartender Mike,” nomenclature usually found only in the most old-fashioned hard-boiled dime novels, and he reportedly told the arresting officers that he was Jesus Christ and blamed Boehner for being rude and causing the Ebola virus endemic, which adds a rather modern twist. The suspect also claims that the devil’s voice came over the radio to warn of Boehner’s evil, and the evidence reportedly includes a lengthy e-mail sent by the suspect to his father, a neighbor, and ex-girlfriend. There’s a history of mental illness, unsurprisingly, and thus far nothing to tie him to any political movement.
The lack of a political motivation will disappoint the more liberal portions of the press, which have been itching for some “tea party” type to try something newsworthy. There was a large batch of weaponry and ammunition found at the suspect’s home, which is something the press can go on, but then again the New Black Panther Party and Obama’s pal Bill Ayers and his Weather Underground had that stuff as well. Some will no doubt suspect that the satanic voice the suspect heard on the radio was Rush Limbaugh or some other right-wing talk radio host, and one might conclude from their broadcasts that Boehner is evil, but even his most vociferous broadcast critics never claim Boehner was responsible for the Ebola virus. Neither is there any reason to suspect a left-wing sort of extremism, and that part about claiming to be Jesus Christ pretty much rules out the possibility, so at least the press won’t have to deal with that. There is apparently no need to concoct any creative reasons that it has nothing to do Islam, too, so the press can be doubly thankful and let the story drop.
Some attention should be paid, though, because for all its bizarre details the story is a reminder that public officials of every political persuasion assume risks to the personal safety. America’s history is rife with assassinations and assassination attempts, and in most cases they have had little to do with politics and more to do with mental illness. It worth noting that most on the right and left will pursue their causes with resort to violence, a commendable state of affairs, but one should also keep in mind that there are a lot of crazy people out there. At the very least, we expect that John Boehner’s country club will begin more thorough checks on its bartenders.

– Bud Norman

The Brave New World and The Same Old War

The Pentagon’s Twitter account was hacked by Islamist terrorists on Monday, and everything about that seems strange.
There’s the disconcerting fact that the United States’ military “tweets,” for one thing, and the even more unsettling realization that an Islamic State terror gang best known for hacking heads off hostages is now able to hack the Pentagon’s computers. That the breach occurred while the President of the United States was giving a speech about “cyber-security” to the Federal Communications Commission adds another implausible twist to the plot. The very term “cyber-security” sounds strange to our old-fashioned and low-tech ears, and the missives that the Islamic State was able to post on the Pentagon’s “tweets” include such worrisome neologisms as “CyberCaliphate” and “CyberJihad.” The statements include threats on American military personnel and their families, too, and much gloating about the Islamic State’s cyber victory over the infidel American government.
It’s nothing to worry about, we are assured by the highest sources. Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren dismissed the incident as “little more than a prank, or as vandalism,” adding that “It’s inconvenient, it’s an annoyance, but in no way is any sensitive or classified information compromised.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was “something we take seriously,” but added that “There’s a pretty significant difference between what is a large data breach and the hacking of a Twitter account.” An unidentified intelligence officer told the press that “Hacking a Twitter is about the equivalent of spray-painting a subway car.” None of this, unfortunately, is sufficiently reassuring.
The hackers also posted the names and addresses of high-ranking military officers, at least for long enough to communicate the information to any terror networks affiliated with the Islamic State, and that’s data that the officers and their families will surely consider sensitive. We assume that Twitter serves some important function in the national defense, as well, and even a temporary loss of that capability should be regarded as more than an inconvenience. In light of the recent breach of the Sony Corporation’s computers that shut down a Hollywood movie release, as well as the past security breaches caused by a college drop-out security consultant and a transexual Army Sergeant,  there is also reason to worry that the pranksters might have more troublesome abilities. Any urbanites who can recall the lawlessness that followed the spray-painting of subway cars knows that even the most petty acts of vandalism must be thwarted to preserve order.
Even if the incident is as inconsequential as the highest sources say, it’s still an unhappy reminder of the dangers the world still poses. The Islamic State now controls a swath of the Middle East the size of Indiana as well as at least the out portions of the Pentagon computer system, and the president can no longer dismiss them as the “jayvee team” of Islamic terrorism. Al Qaeda was said to be on the run, but it has recently murdered 17 people in Paris to avenge their Prophet and are issuing new threats. “The tide of war is receding,” the president once proudly proclaimed, but even the Pentagon’s Twitter page says it is not.

– Bud Norman

Romney Rides Again

The Washington press is abuzz that Mitt Romney seems poised for another run at the presidency, but we wonder how many of the people who will be voting in the Republican primaries and caucuses share the excitement.
There’s no wondering why the press is excited. The investment mogul and former Massachusetts governor and past Republican nominee adds a familiar name to to their too-early-to-read campaign reports full of little-known governors and congressional long shots, sets up an intriguing storyline about the inevitable fight for big-money donors and the party establishment’s support against a former Florida governor with the familiar last name of Bush, and otherwise serves a favorite press narrative about top hat-wearing and moustache-twirling plutocratic Republicans and their internecine battle with the tin foil hat-wearing conservative crazies. Romney will also be a legitimate contender for the nomination, given all that big-donor money and establishment support and the fact he was once palatable enough to the people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses to become the past nominee, so there are even valid journalistic reasons for the attention being paid.
Presidential re-runs are not unprecedented, of course. In the early 1800’s Charles Pinckney was twice the candidate of the Federalist Party, losing both times, which helps explain why there is no longer a Federalist Party. Grover Cleveland won, lost, then won again for the Democrats in the late 1880s. William Jennings Bryan won the Democratic nomination three times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with his brand of prairie populism, and lost the general election in each case. Thomas Dewey was twice the Republican nominee in the ’40s and twice the loser to Franklin Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson was twice the Democratic nominee in the ’50s and twice the loser to Dwight Eisenhower. Nixon was the Republican nominee in ’60 and lost but came back “tanned, rested, and ready” to win in ’68, so unless you remember how that turned out the record isn’t entirely gloomy.
There were those polls a while back showing that Romney would have won a re-match with President Barack Obama, too, and the next batch of surveys will no doubt show that he has a lead on all the candidates whose names are being thrown in the mix. Whoever survives the early blows between Romney and Bush will have the “establishment” support to himself while a wide field of contenders are still battling for “conservative” bloc, and that does provide a plausible plot for the Romney scenario. Money and organization and professional expertise matter, as well, and Romney will have plenty of them. There’s also an argument to be made that he would be a good president, and we proudly made the argument that he would have been better than Barack Obama, and that also matters even if it won’t be a part of the press narrative.
All of that will earn Romney a look from Republicans, but we expect it will be quite skeptical. A more robustly conservative candidate running an effective national campaign could have beaten Obama at any point in the last two years, which Romney failed to do when he had the chance, and that lead you see in the next batch of polls is over a group of more conservative Republicans that have not yet announced their candidacy much less launched a campaign. Among those little-known governors and congressional long shots are some impressive candidates, and they comprise a field far more formidable than Romney faced last time around.
Texas’ Gov. Rick Perry imploded with poor campaigning after a surgery and the weight of the deals he had made on immigration to win a crucial share of the Latino vote in his home state, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was tarred by personal scandals and lobbying ties and the years of vituperation by the left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum couldn’t resist being lured into divisive social issues, former pizza magnate and future talk show host Herman Cain had a sex scandal, “tea party” favorite Rep. Michelle Bachmann dropped out early on, promising former Minnesota Gov. Tom Pawlenty dropped out for no apparent reason even earlier, and the likable and competent Romney suddenly seemed the best shot. This time he’ll face the likes of Gov. Scott Walker, who has won three elections to serve two astoundingly successful terms despite the most furious efforts of the Democratic left, Governors Rick Snyder and John Kasich of Michigan and Ohio, respectively, who have won re-election in their crucial states with the same sort of conservative policies, as well as a fully-recovered Perry who managed to demonstrate his anti-illegal immigration bona fides before leaving office, and the likes of Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul and Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz, who have shown the sort of boldness conservatives desire on economic issues and represent the polar ends of a crucial intra-party debate on foreign policy.
Any candidate that emerges from that field should be able to win the nomination. Our guess is that the Romney will win the fight with Gov. Jeb Bush for the “establishment” mantle, given that Bush has irrevocable positions on illegal immigration and that horrible “Common Core” curriculum that the federal wants to impose on local education systems that are anathema to all but the wealthiest Republicans, but the Washington press doesn’t seem to understand that “establishment” is now a most foul epithet among the people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses. The intense scrutiny that the other contenders have already endured suggests there won’t be scandals to knock any of them out of the race, and they’ll have strong arguments to make about Obamacare and regulations and taxes and getting the government out of the way that the technocratic Romney will have trouble countering. He’s a legitimate contender, but by no means a front-runner.
We might be proved wrong, of course, in which case our only consolation is in knowing that Romney would be a better candidate than anyone the Democrats might put up.

– Bud Norman

The Gathering Storm

Another 12 lives have been added to the casualty list from the Islamic fanatics’ war against the West, this time at the offices of a French satirical magazine that was deemed insufficiently reverent toward Mohammad, and there are the usual worries among the chattering classes that Islam will be blamed. The long-awaited backlash against Muslims in the west hasn’t happened yet, and the West’s governments and opinion-makers are as eager as ever to prevent it, but they are right to worry. Each new outrage tests the public’s patience and draws the world closer to an inevitable confrontation between the west and its sworn enemies.
America has already launched costly battles in Afghanistan and Iraq in response to the terror attacks on its soil on Sept. 11, 2001, and even as it withdraws from those conflicts with little regard for the consequences Europe is being forced to confront the broader war within its own borders. Shortsighted immigration policies have left many European nations with large Muslim populations that are rapidly growing while the indigenous ethnic population is at or below replacement levels, and the newcomers are not assimilating to the existing cultures but rather attempting to impose their own culture on their hosts. A generous welfare system and a condescending multi-culturalism seem to have only exacerbated the resentments in the Muslim ghettos that have sprung up across the continent, which are often radicalized Islamic states within the state. The excellent British writer Theodore Dalrymple offers a chilling description at City Journal of the situation in his adopted country of France, where bureaucratic planning has created a segregated ring around the major cities where the police and firemen and emergency medical personnel are afraid to go, filled with angry young men whose culture is defined by its opposition to the nation at large. He describes how the resulting crime and disorder are affecting the lives of ordinary French citizens, and how they have thus far resigned themselves to the situation, and how the arbiters of elite French culture have even championed the anti-French subculture of the ghettos, but the disorder has now killed 12 at a satirical magazine and will soon move on to the gay bars and will eventually threaten everything that even the enlightened French culture will inevitably find worth fighting for.
Already there are worries that there will be increased support in France for Marine Le Pen’s National Front, which has not had much success in shedding the image of her father’s unabashed fascist policies but is the only political party that has forthrightly challenged the creeping Islamization of France. Anti-immigration parties are finding increased support across Europe, and although the European and American press like to describe them all as “right wing” some are merely urging reasonable restrictions on immigration and assimilation policies for those already in the country along with the same sort of economic agenda that conservatives offer in America, but there are parties with a more authoritarian style that will also make gains in countries where the more established parties refuse to offer viable solutions to the pressing problems posed by an increasingly radicalized Muslim population. Wherever any resistance to the Islamic immigration is considered beyond the respectable limits of discourse, the disreputable parties will become increasingly popular.
The United States has a smaller, albeit growing, Muslim population, and it is not segregated and alienated to the same extent as In Europe. Nor are the parameters of the debate about Islam’s uneasy coexistence with the West so severely restricted, despite the best efforts of politicians and the academy and the establishment press and the entertainment industry. The death toll from radical Islam’s war against the West is nonetheless high here, and likely to grow higher, and the same willing blindness to the problem too often prevails at the highest levels of power. The anti-social ethos that Theodore Dalrymple describes in the ghettos outside Paris is eerily similar to what is found in the ghettos within America’s cities, right down to hip-hop music and fashion and government-subsidized bling, and the reaction by America’s intellectual elites to its anti-social and police-hating ethos is pretty much the same, and all that’s missing is radical Islam’s appeal to the spiritual void of those angry young men and its promise of something more meaningful. Post-modern Europe has nothing similar to offer, and America needs to recall the vision that once served that purpose.
The same apologetic and appeasing offer of debilitating support that America has offered its ghettos since launching a “War on Poverty” is what it now offers the Islamic world, but generous welfare systems and a condescending multi-culturalism are no more likely to work here than in France.

– Bud Norman

This Time In Paris

The President of the United States once declared to the United Nations that “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” and a group of terrorists made the point more emphatically on Wednesday when they killed 12 people at the office of a French publication that had dared to print cartoons they considered slanderous to their Islamic faith. They might yet be proved right, but one can hope that the resistance will continue.
The murders in Paris are only the latest atrocities in a longstanding war against anyone making critical comments regarding anything Islamic, which began during Mohammad’s lifetime and has been especially troublesome since the fatwa was issued by the mullahs of Iran against Salman Rushdie in 1989. Since then the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh has been brutally murdered, the publishers of a Danish publication have gone in hiding, riots have raged through Egypt over a rarely seen YouTube video, and now 12 brave Frenchmen are dead. The response from the same western civilization that once protected free speech as a foremost value has thus far been acquiescent. The Dutch politician Geert Wilders was tried under his country’s restrictive “hate speech” laws for questioning the wisdom of unfettered immigration from Muslim countries, the masterful essayist Mark Steyn has found himself on trial before a Canadian “Human Rights Commission,” and Van Gogh’s courageously outspoken collaborator Aayan Hirsi Ali has been forced to leave the country for America and been banned from the graduation ceremonies of this country, where the maker of that rarely seen YouTube video was also sent to prison on questionable parole violations after the government officially condemned his views and falsely blamed him for the murder of four Americans at a consulate in Libya. The same American government questioned the judgment of that French publication for offending Muslim sensibilities, too, and has made a habit of declaring every act of Islamist terror “un-Islamic.”
This time around the response has been somewhat more forceful, with the President calling the attack “cowardly” and “evil” and appropriately offering America’s condolences and assistance, but there was no mention of anything to do with Islam, and his spokesman’s earlier statements even avoided the word “terrorism.” The Secretary of State went so far as to mention “extremism,” but neglected to mention exactly what was being brought to an extreme. After his previous equivocations France’s President Francois Hollande went with “cowardly” and upped that to “an act of exceptional barbarism,” but said nothing to suggest that the “no-go zones” where Islamist rule prevails on French soil would be invaded, or offered any assurances that might stem the tide of Jewish immigration from France that will soon it leave it virtually Judenrein, and there was the usual speculation that the disreputable parties of the nativist right would benefit from the failure of the reputable parties to acknowledge that this has anything to do with Islam. Those brave artists and journalists and intelligentsia across the western world who pride themselves on their withering attacks against Christianity or Judaism of capitalism or civilization or anything else that won’t provoke a violent reprisal are thus far eerily silent.
There are reports of large demonstrations across Europe protesting this outrage in Paris, which follow even earlier reports of growing resistance throughout the continent to the notion that the future must not belong to those who would slander the Prophet of Islam by disagreeing with anything his more irrational adherents might now choose to believe. If the popular sentiment is still strong enough perhaps the most disreputable parties won’t be empowered to deal with the problem, but both here and in Europe a frank acknowledgement of reality must become respectable. The terrorists who struck in Paris and are itching to strike here won’t be deterred until they understand that they cannot impose their will on the world, and that the future belongs to those who have a better idea.

– Bud Norman

The New Congress and Its Fitful Start

Conservatives have hoped that the newly installed Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress will be like the cavalry coming to the rescue in one of those old John Ford westerns, but the session is off to a start more reminiscent of the old “F Troop” series.
The first official act of the new congress was to elect the same old Republican leadership, which conservatives had long found too timid in their confrontations with the president even before they ended the last session with a whimpering acquiescence to a “Cromnibus” budget deal that did little to limit the president’s hated executive order granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and was otherwise so pleasing to the president that he actually phoned some of his party’s legislators to lobby on its behalf. Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell was elevated from minority leader to majority leader in routine fashion, but Ohio’s Speaker of the House John Boehner had to endure a bit of drama in order to retain his post. He only lost 25 Republicans votes to a variety of candidates that were never serious contenders, but that was enough for The Washington Post to describe it as “the biggest revolt against a House speaker in more than 150 years” and feed a popular press narrative about those crazy conservatives and their wacky war within the Republican party. The party leadership enjoys the good guy role in this tale, with The New York Times touting Boehner’s pledge to “restore function and civility to a body that has become a symbol of disorder for most Americans.”
Within hours such narrative-spinners as Politico were gleefully reporting that Boehner’s desire for “function and civility” had compelled him to punish a few of the dissenting voters by stripping them of desirable committee assignments. This is a common and longstanding practice by the leaders of both parties in order maintain a necessary unity, but in this case it is more likely to exacerbate the party’s divisions. The conservative activists who are largely responsible for the Republicans holding a majority in the House of Representatives will understandably be less enthusiastic about toeing the party line, and no more intimated by the results. Among those voting against Boehner was Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas’s First District, who had already been stripped of a coveted seat on the Agriculture Committee for his past confrontations with Boehner but survived a primary challenge and a general election by candidates who tried to make an issue of it and survived to cast another vote against Boehner, and we don’t expect that he or any of the other rebels will be more compliant in the future.
Nor does it help for the party leadership to corroborate the media depiction of the conservative faction as a bunch of crazies. If the Republicans don’t confront the president on illegal immigration and become even more aggressively tight-fisted on budget they will eventually face a full revolt from the party’s most important voters, and when tit comes down to the inevitable confrontation with the the president the media won’t be giving them any more good guy roles. Plans to get a veto-proof vote on the XL Keystone Pipeline as the start of a busy schedule of other poll-tested bills that president will hate are a good strategy, and a reminder that McConnell and Boehner and the rest of the leadership didn’t get their establishment credentials without some of the political strategy that their more ideological and less pragmatic challengers too often lack, but the bigger battles won’t be won without the conservative’s support and sound ideas.

– Bud Norman

A British Sex Scandal Hops Across the Pond

Fleet Street is once again in an uproar over yet another one of those fancy-schmantzy British sex scandals they get over there, this one involving a billionaire investor and convicted sex criminal who hosted orgies full of nubile teenaged girls on his yacht and at his Caribbean mansion, and allegations that Prince Andrew was among the participants, but the American press has thus been far more restrained about the possible political ramifications back here.
Fleet Street has also gone over the flight logs and other libel-proof evidence and gleefully reported that former President Bill Clinton, who is the husband of president-in-waiting Hillary Clinton, was also a frequent flyer on the billionaire investor and convicted sex criminal’s private jet and a frequent guest at that scandalous Caribbean mansion. The young woman making the allegations against Prince Andrew has not alleged that Clinton was involved in any sexual escapades while the guest of his billionaire investor and convicted sex criminal friend, but it’s enough to put fresh material on “Bill Clinton” and “sex scandal” on your search engine results, and to remind the public of all the previous sordid tales that will also pop up, and to prompt a few think pieces about a lingering problem for Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.
During a post-holiday and pre-congressional session news lull this should be enough generate some speculation. There are private jets and Caribbean mansions and underage girls involved, all of them rather attractive judging by the photos that Fleet Street has unearthed, and one can only imagine the media feeding frenzy that would ensue if a Republican’s various phone numbers and e-mail addresses had been found among documents seized from a billionaire investor and convicted criminal uncovered during a lawsuit with his former attorneys which has lately become the talk of the British press. The Clintons can count on more circumspect coverage, as they always have, but whatever does seep through will have no upside for the anticipated Hillary Clinton campaign. The part about billionaire investors and private jets and Caribbean mansions and private access to the former president won’t play well with a Democratic party that likes to think itself at war with the One Percent, and the part about underage girls won’t work well with the “Republican war on women” theme that the presumptive first woman presidential nominee no doubt hopes to revive, and almost everyone is unsettled when the word “pedophile” starts showing up in the search engine results along with a candidate’s last name. Fleet Street prefers the more elegantly Romanesque original English spelling of “paedophile,” and the girls involved are all post-pubescent so the more accrued accurate term would be “ephebophile,” but in any terms it is not good politics.
One would prefer to believe that neither a British prince nor a past American president is guilty of any scandalous doings with underaged girls, but neither have reputations that preclude any thought of the possibility, at least on Fleet Street. The woman making the allegations against Prince Andrew, who it should be noted will soon be cashing in with a tell-all book, says she only met Clinton twice and reports nothing more than that, but is quoted as saying the circumstances of the meeting were such that she was surprised someone in his position wouldn’t be more careful.

Voters considering a Hillary Clinton candidacy, even Democrats, might consider the possibility that further such surprises will be a feature of her presidency. When the ancient Romans weren’t wasting time putting an “a” and an “e” together for no particular reason they were fond of saying Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, and that’s still practical advice regarding a president’s husband.

– Bud Norman

The Chill and the Boom

There’s no way to stretch out the holidays any further, and unless you’re lucky enough to occupy a high government office it’s time to get back to work and the long, hard grind through winter. For us that means resuming our reading of the news, among other things, although with all those high government officials still on vacation there’s not much there except the miserable weather.
Last year around this time the weather was just as miserable, but many of the media were eager to use that as an explanation for the upcoming miserable data showing a quarterly contraction in the economy. This time around the same media were disappointed that the holidays distracted attention from a robust 5 percent in the gross domestic product over the past quarter, and don’t seem eager to speculate how the frigid temperatures prevailing just about everywhere north of the Florida keys might slow the long awaited Obama boom. This is no time to be touting the president’s, so they’re filling the news hole the airtime with talk of that GDP figure and the the recent decline in gasoline prices and the slow but steady growth in the jobs market and the record highs in the stock market. Except for the college and professional football playoffs and the usual internecine Republican squabbles and the miserable weather there’s not much else, so their giddiness is understandable.
They won’t want too much attention paid to the economic news, of course, lest the public notice how the rosy reports differ from it own frost-bitten reality. The smart guys at Zero Hedge always manage to find the dark cloud within any silver lining, and they noticed that much of that 5 percent growth last quarter was achieved by an increase in consumer spending on higher health insurance premiums that was supposed to be counted in the contracting winter quarter that the government had already written off and was instead added to the far most robust report they’re now crowing about. Such Chinese-style statistical legerdemain is by now a common feature of the long awaited Obama boom, as is the apparent assumption by many of the media that paying higher health insurance premiums rather than the lower ones promised during the Obamacare sales job is a benefit to the economic well-being of the nation, and has thus gone largely unmentioned by many of the media.
That slow but steady growth in the jobs market has not raised the labor participation rate from the lowest level since the ’70s, largely because the number of legal and illegal immigrants has increased at a slightly faster and just as steady rate. The president’s extra-constitutional to confer amnesty on millions of illegal immigrants and thereby invite millions more is being touted by many of the media as part of his remarkable comeback after the mid-term election shellacking, along his with extra-constitutional agreement with the Chinese to combat global warming, but they probably won’t too much attention paid to that.
Those plunging gasoline prices are hard to ignore while shivering next to the pumps, but it will take a lot of doing by many of the media to make anyone think that the president’s policies have anything to do with it. The same president who made a campaign promise of skyrocketing electrical rates and appointed an Energy Secretary who openly pined for European gasoline prices and has denied drilling permits on federal land deserves no credit for America’s frackin’ oil boom, and any attempt he makes to claim credit will only make him seem all George W. Bushy and diminish his standing with the environmentalists of his party. The happily deflationary effects of lower gasoline prices will only encourage the Federal Reserve to keep up the money-printing that has fueled those bubbly record stock market indices, however, and somehow the president will get credit for that without losing his standing among the Wall Street-hating socialists of his party.
Nor will many of the media wonder if the Republican obstructionism and gridlock they’ve decried the past four years have anything with those rosy numbers they’re touting. Since the Republicans gained control of the House of the Representatives after two years of complete Democratic control of the Congress and presidency, and the officially reported deficits have gone down and government spending as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product has also declined, both which conservative economic theory considers a spur to economic growth, but better to report on those crazy conservatives’ challenge to the relatively timid House leadership. No use pointing out that most of the nation’s economic growth has occurred in states controlled by Republicans, either, especially when the governors of the most successful of them are among the contenders for the ’16 presidential race that is already affecting the reporting of many of the media.
Judging by the miserable weather forecasts we probably won’t be getting out of the house until then, and although the question seems of little interest to much of the media we can’t help wondering what effect it will have the economy if the rest of the country is similarly to get out to the store, but at least we’re back on the job and following what there is the of the news.

– Bud Norman

“This Town Is Nowhere,” On Sale Now

There’s probably bigger news out there somewhere, but around here the big story of the day is that “This Town Is Nowhere” is at long last on sale.
“This Town Is Nowhere” is a novel of our own creation, and we rather like it, so we feel entitled to a certain pride of authorship and another day off from our usual snide analysis of the news. It’s only an e-publication, available through Amazon and Kindle, and we remain steadfast Luddites who have never resorted to such newfangled gimmickry for literature, but there’s still a certain satisfaction in having put such an old-fashioned yarn somewhere out there on the new frontiers of technology.
It’s an odd piece of work, we will concede. After a compelling Old West prologue that has little to do with the subsequent plot, the novel opens on on the first day of the 1972-’73 school year at a second rate junior high in the middle of the country, where a fellow who had briefly been a popular rock ‘n’ roll guitar player in the ’50s is now grouchily teaching math, one of his typically stupid students is daydreaming significantly, and the guitar-playing math teacher’s brother, who had briefly been the singing star of the band, is still rockin’ and rollin’ out on the lost highway of American music. The typically stupid student awkwardly becomes a protege to the former brother, falls under the even more dubious influence of the latter, and between the two he gets wised up a bit as the brothers plod along toward their own disparate fates. Such a scant plot fills a couple hundred typewritten pages, and who knows how many electronic tablet pages, by meandering off on topics ranging from the jargon of public educators and the corresponding breakdown of the public education system to the frustrations of adolescence and the frustrations of middle to the unique combination of the Devil’s music and God’s music that has made American music such a troublesome and essential part of our national character, with some thoughts about our national character in general thrown in.
The structure is peculiar, too. An otherwise straightforward chronology and omniscient narration is occasionally interrupted by long monologues recalling preceding events, and some events are re-told from the perspectives of different characters. There are segments that seem short stories apart from the rest of the plot, others that are historical essays full of allusions to largely forgotten blues or country musicians and geo-political events, and others that sound like those chords tossed into a medley to get from one song to the next.
Our first novel, “The Things That Are Caesar’s,” which is still available on good paper, as God intended, also through Amazon, that all-important entity, was about similarly sleazy characters but focused on religion and politics and the occasional collisions of the two. It didn’t sell a lot but was well reviewed and earned us some invitations from local book clubs that had thought it was quite thoughtful and amusing, and we rather liked that one as well. Several enthusiastic readers described it as very “cinematic,” and it does sometimes remind of us those great cynical Preston Sturges movies from the ’30s and ’40s.. This one is more about the broader culture, with occasional digressions on how the decline of the culture has preceded a decline in politics, although of course God figures in it again. It’s a bit more literary, to the extent that any movie adaptation would be harder to come up with, but at our age and with the movies they’re making these days we don’t think that’s such a bad thing..
Lest “This Town Is Nowhere” sound a bit too highly literary, be assured there’s also plenty of violence and foul language and sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The title and a basic premise for the story came to us many decades ago, when we were immersed in rockabilly records and chain-reading the works of Jim Thompson, the great Okie dime novelist and literary darling of all the fancy French critics, and we like to think that some of the bawdier scenes might recall his brilliance. There’s a certain P.G. Wodehouse affectation in some of the narration, and we owe much to the onomatopoeia and other descriptive language of the great Tom Wolfe for the musical interludes, and the basic idea of the old man and the boy is probably due to too much Robertson Davies, and there’s no way any real American can avoid the Mark Twain thing, but the story is set in the ’70s and the middle of the country so there’s no escaping a certain roughness in the story. Most of it comes from stories we’ve been told by white kids and black kids, including one ghetto-smooth fellow we met in D.C. one summer who smoked his first marijuana cigarette at the invitation of Cab Calloway, one of the all-time greats and the original “Reefer Man,” and a long-haired psychedelic guitar-player of our acquaintance who started playing bluegrass gospel to get off drugs and was quite accomplished in both styles of music, and wizened old folks in the country and our idiot peers in the suburbs, or what we’ve read of the epic battles between Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Phil and Don Eberly and all the feuding siblings of musical history, or the incredibly cool Louis Prima’s even cooler brother staying home in New Orleans and never getting famous, or the great rockabilly bass-thumper Ray Campi teaching at a southern California junior high, or remarkable fellow who we once witnessed cleaning up a teenaged companion’s vomit off the floor of a bar just to avoid a fight, or  our own embarrassing encounters with real life along the lost highway. All in all, we think it’s a story about American music that could be true.
Though often bleak, we think a certain humor and hopefulness comes through the tale. In inflation-adjusted terms the story is for sale at about the same affordable price that Jim Thompson used to ask, and we’re not embarrassed to ask the same. There’s bigger news out there somewhere, but we’ll spend today on “This Town Is Nowhere.”

– Bud Norman

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