Race, Class, Gender, and the New Rules

Race, gender, and class are the trinity of modern liberalism, and all three are becoming increasingly complicated.
While growing up in the heroic era of the civil rights movement we were taught that the race issue was a rather simple of matter of judging a man by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, but such simplistic notions of racial equality are apparently no longer applicable. The great civil rights cause of recent months has involved a black teenager who was fatally shot while attempting to kill a white police officer, and we read that the organizers of one of the many protests demanding the officer be punished for not allowing himself to be murdered are insisting that only “people of color” participate, although they will generously allow “non-people of color” to stand nearby in solidarity. Aside from the new civil rights movement’s curious insistence on a return to racial segregation, we’re also jarred by its terminology. “People of color” has always struck as uncomfortably close to “colored people,” a phrase that was banned from polite conversation way back in our boyhood days, except at meetings of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which seems to be exempted by some sort of grandfather clause, and we’re not sure if the unfamiliar description of “non-people of color” is meant to imply that we’re not people or just that we’re not sufficiently hued, but in any case the new rules will take some getting used to.
The latest news is also forcing us to reconsider our past lessons regarding what were once called the sexes but is now known as the genders. In our formative years the feminist movement insisted on that same simplistic notion of equal treatment that the civil rights movement once championed, to the point that such old-fashioned acts of chivalry as opening a door or offering a bus seat to a woman were considered insulting and women were allowed to be as irresponsibly promiscuous as the most libidinous man. Feminism thus defined proved predictably popular with the least chivalrous and most libidinous men, and the resulting bacchanal that is contemporary college life has predictably proved so unsatisfactory to those women who retain a traditionally feminine desire for love and commitment that it has been deemed a “culture of rape” and the feminists are now insisting that any woman who has been unhappily seduced be able to have the cad thrown out of school without due process. Contraceptives are still to be subsidized, and anyone who who thinks less of the women who choose to be irresponsibly are faulted for “slut-shaming,” but any man who still plays by the earlier rules would be well advised to get himself a lawyer. The issue is further complicated by the recent invention of several new sexual categories other than male and female, including such exotic and seemingly rare categories as transgendered and omni-gendered and a few others that we’ve had to look up on the internet because the dictionaries haven’t yet caught up with them, and we shudder to think how arcane the rules for their relationships might be.
Class used to be simpler, too. In our younger days rich people were all right so long as they earned their money in an honest and socially beneficial way, poor people were all right so long as their poverty resulted from hard luck or heredity, and most people considered themselves somewhere in between and thought themselves all right as well. Back then the rich people were presumed Republican, the poor people Democrat, and the folks in between chose sides according to their personal preferences. Now the very rich and the very poor tend to be Democrats, which imbues both with a sense of nobility, while the folks in the middle tend to vote Republican, which earns them a reputation as boobs. Because the Democrats’ candidates are invariably from the wealthier end of the party, usually having earned their wealth through political connections and speaking fees and marrying rich widows and other not very honest or socially beneficial ways, it requires a more complex theory of class than Marx and Engels ever conceived. The wealthiest and most liberal communities in America are the most segregated by both class and race, the poorest and most liberal communities can be counted on to continue voting for the policies that have created their segregated squalor, and the new rules somehow allow the former to retain their sense of moral righteousness and the latter to retain an even more spiritually satisfying sense of victimhood.
Keeping up with all these changes is proving exhausting, and we’re inclined to stop trying. Better we should keep on judging men by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, treating women with the respect we would want for ourselves, and assuming that the rich and the poor and the folks in between are all right unless we have reason we think otherwise. This might make us racist, sexist, and classist, but we’re unlikely to avoid those charges now matter how hard we try be up-to-date.

– Bud Norman

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Another Grand Jury, Another Controversy

Yet another grand jury has declined to indict a white a police officer involved in the death of a black man, this time in the Staten Island borough of New York City, and the latest round of racial tensions seems likely to continue for a while.
The death of an unarmed black teenager by the gun of a white police in Ferguson, Missouri, brought devastating rioting and looting and arson to that unfortunate town, and then another round of the same after a grand jury heard testimony and evidence that clearly indicated the officer was acting in self-defense. Reaction to the grand jury decision in New York City has thus far been less destructive, despite the efforts of a mob to disrupt the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, but it will suffice to keep the controversy about policing in black neighborhoods in the news for weeks to come. The latest case might yet prove even more volatile than the Ferguson incident, as the facts are less clear-cut.
The incident in New York City was caught on videotape, and what it reveals is at best ambiguous. Several policemen approach an extremely obese man, reportedly because he had been selling single cigarettes to passersby without paying the city’s notoriously high taxes on the product, and he is argumentative but not physically aggressive. When the officers attempt to handcuff the man he resists, but not in a way that can be construed as life-threatening given the lack of a weapon and the number of policemen involved. Several officers then bring the man down to the ground, one of them employing what the New York press has routinely called a “choke-hold” but might better be described as a “headlock,” and the officers pile on to handcuff the man as he is heard shouting that he cannot breath. As the tape ends, the officers are still piled on, the man’s head is still wrapped in a policeman’s arm, and the shouts by the man that he cannot breath continue.
The videotape leaves no doubt the decedent would still be alive had he acted more sensibly, but one can reasonably wonder if he might also have survived different procedures that could still have resulted in an arrest. There’s obviously more to the story than than what is seen on the videotape, and we assume the grand jury heard the rest of it, but there’s enough there to exacerbate the resentments of those who presume that police routinely act with disregard for the lives of black suspects. It’s at least a more compelling example for that view than what happened in Ferguson, where several black eyewitness corroborated ample physical evidence that the officer’s life was in danger and deadly force was warranted in response, but the initial reports in that case suggested a case of cold-blooded murder and weren’t effectively rebutted until the aftermath of the grand jury’s verdict.
The politicians and activists who prosper from racial strife will likely switch their attention to the New York story now that Ferguson’s rage has diminished in the cold weather and the even colder facts of that case, but they’ll have to settle for a story that is at best ambiguous. The videotape makes it harder to claim that putting cameras on America’s police will prevent such situations, but there’s still a case to be made that it could have prevented the premature judgment rendered against the Ferguson officer. What happened in New York might lead to better policies regarding arrests, but it should also continue to serve as a warning to those who would resist arrest in even the most ineffectual ways. It will also continue to distract attention from inordinate amount of criminality in black America, which kills far more black Americans than even the most reckless police departments, and we can only hope that the current controversies will soon fade enough for the country to consider that sad fact.

– Bud Norman

Staying Out of the Race

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced Tuesday that he will not be running for president, and it took us quite by surprise. It had never occurred to us that Portman might run, after all, and none of the many pundits handicapping the upcoming field seem to have considered the possibility. The announcement served its purpose of reminding America that there is a Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, however, and might even have led some to conclude that Portman is an important person.
Being in desperate need of some some self-aggrandizing publicity ourselves, and lacking anything else to write about on a slow news day, we have decided to follow Portman’s lead and announce that we are also not going to run for president. This will come as a bitter disappointment to the multitudes of Americans who have looked to us for hope in these dark times, and we cannot deny the alarming possibility that it might result in someone even worse winning the office, but we think it is for the best.
Longstanding political tradition requires a non-candidate to say that he has discussed the decision with his wife and children, but we are single and childless so we talked it over with the regulars at Kirby’s Beer Store. They were fine with it. Another longstanding tradition requires a non-candidate to explain his reasons for not running, and lest the public think that we are selfishly shirking our patriotic duty by declining our shot at the office will we oblige.
We would like to say that we are prevented from running by our ongoing sex scandals, but we have embarrassingly little to confess about that lately. Certainly nothing that would raise an eyebrow at a Georgetown cocktail party. Some might question our other numerous vices, our lack of any notable achievements in life, and our general low moral character, but recent history indicates that the general public isn’t so nit-picky about such things. The fault lies not in ourselves, contrary to Shakespeare, but rather in the stars.
There would be difficulty in raising the necessary funds, for one thing. Most of our friends are as destitute as us, and our campaign pledge to let businesses fight it out in the free markets of red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism is unlikely to appeal to any of the big-money donors. The Koch brothers might go for it, and one of them lives right here in town, but we don’t want to get cast in any of the crazy conspiracy theories they inspire. Prime-time network ad buys and styrofoam Greek columns don’t come cheap, so the cost of a modern presidential campaign is simply beyond our means for the foreseeable future.
Modern presidential campaigns seem to involve a lot of social media, as well, and we have little aptitude and less enthusiasm for that nonsense. Even such a taciturn statesman as President Calvin Coolidge could not compress his policies into a “tweet,” and we are no Silent Cal. Nor do we care to schmooze with smarmy comedians on the late night comedy shows that are now an obligatory stop on the modern presidential campaign trail, especially in this day and age when we’re unlikely to be sharing the couch with Charo. Hair stylists and fashion consultants and focus groups and the rest of the indignities of the modern presidential campaign are also irksome to us. We rather like the idea of eating hot dogs at state fairs and speaking from the back of railroad cars and engaging in heated but civil debates with our opponents, and we wouldn’t even mind a reasonable amount of baby-kissing so long as the little bastards have been properly cleaned, but we fear our candidacy must await a return to those halcyon days of old-fashioned politics.
Not that the job of president doesn’t tempt us, especially now that its powers have been so vastly expanded. The idea of being able to get on airplane without taking our shoes off is appealing, presidents seem to eat well, it would be nice to have someone take an interest in our college basketball tournament predictions, and although we don’t play golf the rest of the perquisites of the job seem ample compensation for its responsibilities. There’s always a chance one can do some good for the country, as well, but we expect the public might less appreciative of our efforts to stop doing things to them rather than attempting to do things for them.
If a draft movement continues to gain momentum we might be forced to reconsider, but for now we will keep our hat outside the ring. It’s a fine old hat, and we don’t want it soiled.

– Bud Norman

Tanks for Nothing

Several months before all the furor in Ferguson, Missouri, we were chatting with an old friend about the many police forces around the country which were lately acquiring such surplus military equipment as tanks and armed aircraft. Our friend is a conservative of the old-fashioned law-and-order variety and couldn’t understand the controversy that had briefly boiled up about it in right-wing circles, even if it was a result of an Obama administration program, but he had to admit we had a point when we wondered if the President and his Attorney General intended that the equipment would be used to put down a race riot. The notion that the government was gearing up to put down broader dissent against some planned outrage would have once seemed paranoid to both our friend and us, but we agreed that these days it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
The conversation came to mind when the most recent race riot broke out in Ferguson, following a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white a white police officer for the shooting of an unarmed teenager when irrefutable evidence showed that it was a case of self-defense, and the President and his Attorney General warned against excessive police force and a governor of the same party waited until much of the town had been burned and looted before deploying the National Guard. Our most dire fears have not yet been realized, but our suspicion that all that surplus military equipment sold to police forces was not intended to put down a race riot seemed clearly confirmed. Further confirmation came Monday when the President announced yet another of those executive orders he’s so fond of, this one ordering that the various agencies selling the equipment keep careful track of it and review any “significant” incidents in which it is used.
Seen in the broader context of the president’s efforts to assure the rioters that he understands their rage about police officers defending themselves against deadly threats, it appears likely that those reviews will find fault with any use of the equipment for such routine law enforcement responsibilities as putting down race riots. A generous interpretation would be that he’s merely trying to keep the story alive for a few more days to distract attention from his executive order legalizing five million or so illegal immigrants and thus inviting millions more in to enjoy the blessings of post-racial America, and that the executive order was merely meant to distract attention from the eight trillion or so of national debt that has already been added during his administration, or any of the scandals at the Internal Revenue Service or the National Security Administration or Department of Justice that make the more paranoid theories seem not at all far-fetched, but we still can’t help wondering how all the surplus military equipment is intended to be used.

– Bud Norman

The Conventional Wisdom and the Race Ahead

There’s a seasonal shortage of news at the moment, with the politicians at home for the holidays and the stock markets still mulling over the Black Friday sales figures and the rage of the Ferguson rioters seemingly chilled by the early winter weather, so the pundits are availing themselves of the opportunity to speculate about the next presidential election. Our powers of prophecy are limited, especially about matters two years away, but lacking a more urgent topic we will be so bold as to venture a few thoughts about the matter.
The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton will inevitably be the Democrats’ nominee, but that was also the conventional wisdom at this early point in the ’08 election cycle and we all know how that turned out. According to the prevailing theory Clinton has all the name recognition, organization, and money, and no one in her party has the resources to challenge her, but all of that was also true in ’08. We are suspicious of conventional wisdom and prevailing theories in every case, but especially so about Clinton’s inevitability.
Since ’08 Clinton has added a four-year stint as Secretary of State to her lengthy resume, but even the State Department’s well-paid spokeswomen have trouble naming anything good that came of it while her critics can point to the “reset” with Russia and the failure to provide adequate security to the diplomatic staff in Benghazi and the scapegoating of a filmmaker in the aftermath among a number of very bad things came of it. The rest of that lengthy resume looks even less impressive than it did ’08, too. Her legal career was mostly known for her ability to parlay her husband’s more well-heeled constituents into clients until an audio recording surfaced of her chortling about the child rapist she had ruthlessly defended despite being convinced of his guilt, intermittent publicity tours by Monica Lewinsky will continue to remind a scandal-weary public that her time as First Lady was mostly spent defending her husband’s serial adulteries when she wasn’t firing White House travel agents for her friends’ benefit or attempting to foist some crazy health care scheme on the public, and at this point no one can remember anything from her brief time in the Senate except for some very harsh-sounding orating against a George W. Bush administration that will also be largely forgotten by the time ’16 rolls around. Her more recent career as a memoirist has proved equally disastrous, with countless gaffes and some surprisingly negative press accompanying her publicity efforts. In ’16 she’ll be eight years older than she was when the Democrats rejected her in ’08, and no more appealing.
The conventional wisdom further holds that this time around there are no challengers to Clinton who have the necessary credentials to be president, but this overlooks the fact that last time around the Democrats preferred a candidate with no qualifications for the job whatsoever. That “weak bench” all the pundits seem to mention is filled with equally unqualified potential challengers, which means that none of them will have less to explain on their shorter resumes, and any of them could at least claim to be a fresher face. One shudders think that a Saul Alinsky groupie such as Clinton is insufficiently liberal for the primary voters and caucus-goers of the Democratic Party, but her lucrative ties to big business and reputation for high living leaves her vulnerable to a challenge from a further left that is consumed with anti-corporate sentiment and obsessed with income inequality. Many of our liberal friends are already enthused by the possibility of nominating Massachusetts’ Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the fake Indian who will have been in the Senate for as long as the last Democratic nominee had been and is best known for delivering a ridiculous speech arguing that because government builds roads and hires cops businesses should be obliged to pay for any cockamamie idea the government comes up with.
Over on the Republican side, the conventional wisdom holds that the Republicans have a deep bench but no front-runner. Such mixed sports metaphors leave us unsure if this is a good thing or not, but we think it means Republicans are in better shape than the other team. The deep bench part strikes us as true enough, as the possible candidates include such a diverse lot as Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, as well as Rep. Paul Ryan as well as several past and present governors such as Texas’ Rick Perry, Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Florida’s Jeb Bush, and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Throw in pediatric neurosurgeon and non-politician Ben Carson and other a few dark horses who are bound to emerge, and it’s a very competitive field. If none are thought to be inevitable, that only suggests there is much to choose from.
The conventional wisdom is partial to one of the Senators or Christie or Bush, but that’s because the conventional wisdom always puts too much stock in name recognition, organization, and money. Cruz is beloved by conservatives for his willingness to employ all the constitutional means at his disposal on behalf of his stands, but those same tactics will make him easily caricatured as an out-of-control right winger. Paul is too much an isolationist for a party that hasn’t been isolationist since Eisenhower. Rubio has hurt himself with a soft-on-illegal immigration policy. Ryan was was Mitt Romney’s running mate and has since been perceived as too willing to make deals. All are unavoidably associated with Washington, which is currently regarded unfavorably by both parties as well as independents, and even the Republicans inclined to favor gridlock can argue that no one in Congress has made it gridlocked quite enough. The conventional wisdom’s infatuation with Christie and Bush is downright fanciful, as both have stacked out important positions that are anathema to the typical Republican primary voter. Christie’s suspicious bridge closings and infuriating embrace of President Barack Obama are enough to remove him from his contention, but he’s also shown a soft-on-Islamism streak and has views on gun control and immigration that are too northeastern for a party dominated by the south, middle-west, and west. Bush has also ruined his chances with his sentimental views on illegal immigration, and his outspoken support for a ridiculous Common Core that would federalize school curricula is another problem, and at this point the party faithful seem to have had enough of Bushes or any other dynastic line of politicians.
Our guess is that one of the other governors will likely wind up with the nomination. Several have impressive records of balancing budgets and promoting economic growth and not bossing their citizens around, all of which will have more appeal to the average voter than any Democrat’s promise to equalize incomes and enforce proper attitudes regarding homosexuality or whatever the civil rights cause of the moment might be, and several have made this case in states usually inclined to vote for Democratic presidential nominees. All have faced ferocious opposition from the public sector unions and legal establishments and press in their home states, so any debilitating scandals they might have should be well known by now. We’re most intrigued by Walker, who has won election and staved off a recall effort and then won re-election in a traditionally liberal state despite the best efforts of well-funded and ruthless enemies, and somehow retained a reputation for being polite.
The same conventional wisdom that admires Christie’s confrontational style regards Walker politeness as bland, even if Walker has proved himself adept at the most bare-knuckle sort of political combat, but we think the public might be inclined to appreciate a more low-key and accomplished candidate after eight years of soaring rhetoric and crashing results. Although we forget the title, we recall a novel that featured a political consultant character saying that the only campaign themes that had ever been invented were “bright shiny day” and “back to basics,” and after two terms of bright shiny days the Republicans could do well with the alternative. The Republicans face daunting demographic challenges and a stubborn presidential electoral map and the usual disadvantage in the mass media, as even the conventional wisdom can see, but with their deep bench and the opposition’s flawed front-runner they might have a fighting chance.

– Bud Norman

The Calm on the Day After

By longstanding tradition there is no news worth writing about on the day after Thanksgiving, and this is probably for the best. Between the lingering soporific effects of the turkey and the noisome distraction of the disconcertingly premature Christmas music that is already on the radio it would be difficult to deal with a real issue. The networks and newspapers will make do with sordid tales about the Black Friday shoppers rioting at the local mall, and the anti-coroporate moralists will recoil at the sight and the economists will be watching to see what it portends for the all-important holiday season in the retail sector, but otherwise the most significant news is to be found on the sports pages.
More ambitious pundits will seize this opportunity to run something so profoundly all-encompassing and not tied to a specific story that it has long been in the drawer awaiting a slow enough news day, or perhaps something they came up with in a moment of holiday-inspired reflection, but we have neither to offer. The most interesting thing we’ve come across is the estimable Gertrude Himmelfarb’s reflections on Matthew Arnold’s 1869 treatise “Culture and Anarchy,” which contains some fascinating observations on the Hellenistic and Hebraic traditions in western civilization, but the jokes it suggested were too earthy and ethnic. An early winter has chilled our ambition, and although we could come up with something sympathetic about the stranded travelers at the snowbound airports or something sarcastic about global warming we’re too darned cold to muster the effort. A snowstorm and a holiday and the presence of heavily armed National Guardsmen seem to have quelled the rioting in Ferguson, and unless the Justice Department is inclined to further placate the mob with a civil rights prosecution we’ll be glad to have heard the last of that story. The president’s outrageous executive action to legalize a few million illegal immigrants will soon be back in the news, but until the Republican congressional majorities are sworn in early next year there won’t be much to say about it except that we’re still outraged. Around there are plenty of worrisome developments rom China to Russia to the Middle East, but except for the Islamic State being on the verge of another major victory in Iraq and Iran getting another six months of nuclear weapons developments there is nothing to vie with those Black Friday shoppers for news space. Economic mediocrity and Obamacare and assorted political scandals are still afoot, along with the usual misbehavior in the entertainment industry, but nothing that violates the longstanding tradition of no news on the day after Thanksgiving.
Give thanks for that, and let drowsy sense of gratitude linger for another day or so, and stay away from those Black Friday sales. Real issues will intrude through the Christmas music soon, and the same old battles will still need to be fought, and it might help to be rested.

– Bud Norman

Happy Thanksgiving, 2014

This is no time for our usual glum assessments of the latest developments in our political and economic and cultural life. Better you should enjoy the pleasures of family and friends and food and football, and give thanks that the politics and economics and culture haven’t yet regulated them away.
As we take stock of our own situation, we find ourselves mostly grateful for the blessings that derive from those last redoubts of life free from the great collective enterprises. We are thankful for the loving support of our family, the steel-forged friendships of our old companions, the comforting diversions of long-ago individuals stretching the great expanse between William Shakespeare and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and the small kindnesses of strangers we encounter on the streets. All of these occur on a fundamentally human level, joyously separate from politics and economics and culture and the rest of our usual concerns, and the rest of humanity’s endeavors should only seek to sustain them.
We give thanks, too, for the sunsets that fall over the Little Arkansas River, the memories of hot summer nights and the promise of more to come that sustain us through through the coldest days of winter, and to the God whose mercy and love created these miracles and inform the love and mercy we receive from our family and friends and all those kind strangers. We have our complaints with the rest of it, and will get back to that soon enough, but not today. Happy Thanksgiving.

– Bud Norman

Thug Life

The eyewitness testimony and physical evidence presented to a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, indicate that 18-year-old Michael Brown led a thug’s life and died a thug’s death. This unhappy conclusion hasn’t prevened numerous other thugs from rioting and looting and burning buildings and firing random gunshots in the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who fired the fatal shots when Brown attacked him and struggled for his gun, nor did it prevent some presumably less thuggish pundits and politicians from attempting to justify the mayhem, but it is worth noting nonetheless.
Such sad facts of the matter, alas, are easily lost in the inevitable racial acrimony. Initial reports about last summer’s shooting accurately stated that a white police officer had fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, and in the absence of any other relevant information much of the media went with the story that in front of numerous witnesses the cop had for no plausible reason other than racial animus gunned down a soon-to-be college student who was kneeling in the street with his hands up. Despite its apparent implausibility the story was believed widely enough to fuel several days of rioting and looting and burning of buildings and firing of gunshots, and for the President of the United States to send an emissary to Brown’s funeral, and for much of the press to stick to its story.
By this point the story of the blameless black victim of white America’s murderous racism is simply too tempting not to run with. As far back as the ’80s Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” was satirizing the modern racial controversy rituals with the sharp-eyed detail of a cynical reporter characterizing the victim as an “honor” because one of his teacher’s had said that anyone at his high school who didn’t stab a teacher deserved the designation, and the same technique has since become a staple of modern journalism. The previous celebrity victim of America’s lethal racism was a black Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin, portrayed by much of the media as Skittles-loving, tea-drinking and baby-faced 12-year-old even as a jury heard evidence that the hulking and haggard 17-year-old had phoned a friend about the “creepy ass cracker” who was watching him and was pounding the aforementioned creepy ass cracker’s head against the pavement when the fatal shots were fired. The even more formidable Brown was often described as a “gentle giant,” even after the release of a surveillance camera’s videotape of him and a colleague strong-arm robbing a convenience shortly before his fatal encounter with the police officer, and the image persists even after the release of the convincing eyewitness testimony and physical evidence that Brown had struggled for the officer’s gun and was lunging at him “like a football player” as the fatal shots were fired.
Even in the face of such unsettling facts the broader story about America’s irredeemable racism has irresistible appeal to some people. For the thugs it provides a convenient rationale for rioting and looting and burning buildings and firing random gunshots and other enjoyable activities. For politicians who rely on the racial grievances of impoverished ethnic minorities to bolster their coalitions with super-rich white folks it’s an obvious argument. For the professional race hustlers it’s all in a day’s work. Harder to explain are the comfortably cocooned apologists for rioting and looting and arson and gunfire who proudly consider themselves “progressive.”
Over at the once-venerable Time Magazine they’re running a piece “In Defense of Rioting,” which will probably prove unpersuasive to the mostly-minority businessmen who’ve recently seen their hard work burned to the ground on behalf of a thug who tried to kill a cop. They also have a story on the humber of police who have lately committed “justifiable homicide,” with the term framed with sarcastic quote marks as if it had recently been invented by some cabal of racists who are somehow still in charge of the language, and strain hard to make it seem significant. The story goes so far as to note that “black teenagers were 21 more times likely to be shot dead by an officer than white teenagers,” which only suggests that it is extraordinarily unusual for a white teenager to fatally shoot a black teenager, and leaves the more skeptical reader to wonder if a black teenager might be more likely yet to shot to death by another black teenager. The political class is obliged to at least express disapproval of rioting, but it will speak of “justifiable anger.”
Such willful blindness to the racial realities that most Americans understand all too well is largely a result of nostalgia. Once upon a time in America there were ample blameless black victims of white America’s murderous racism, with such exceptional men as Medgar Evers and James Chaney and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. among the martyrs, and those who championed their cause of civil rights did so with an exhilarating sense of righteousness. Their efforts succeeded in making segregation illegal and changing public attitudes about race and establishing vast government programs of more questionable value, and although matters of race have since become less black-and-white in any sense of the term there’s still a longing for that exhilarating sense of righteousness that shouts of racism once provided.
All those years of America’s tragic racial history might explain why Michael Brown led a thug’s life and died a thug’s death, but that made no difference to the police officer who had a hulking young man going for his gun and taunting that he was too cowardly to protect himself. Nor does it make any difference to the mostly minority businessmen whose hard work has been burned to the ground by other thugs, or to that majority black men and women who are trying to make their way in the broader society and hoping that its racial attitudes won’t revert to its old suspicions, or to any of the people of all races in all parts of this country who are routinely menaced by thugs emboldened by the rationalizations offered by people who pride themselves on being “progressive.”

– Bud Norman

Sympathy and Riots

Six years into the promised post-racial era of American history, we spent much of Monday anxiously awaiting the official start of the latest race riot. An announcement of a grand jury decision in Missouri that was widely expected to unleash mayhem on the tiny St. Louis suburb of Ferguson was scheduled in the late afternoon, then postponed until the early evening, but didn’t arrive until 8:15 or so here on the prairie. In the meantime there was news that the Secretary of Defense had resigned after an unusually short tenure and under suspicious circumstances, that the deadline for a grand bargain with the mad mullahs of Iran had passed with their nuclear weapons program still progressing, and that a couple of the stock markets had reached record levels, but it was all filler until the long awaited and utterly unsurprising news that no charges would be brought by the grand jury against a white police officer who had fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.
That thumbnail description of a white police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager sounds pretty darned damning and is accurate in a certain strict sense, at least enough to fuel a media frenzy as well as a more visceral frenzy on the streets of Ferguson for several weeks following the incident, but a more complicated and mitigating version of the story that had gradually seeped into the news made Monday’s announcement expected. Leaks from the grand jury indicated that eyewitnesses and physical evidence corroborated the tale told by the officer’s friends that the unarmed black teenager had attacked him and was struggling for the officer’s gun during the fatal encounter, and the counter-narrative that the cop had gun downed a kneeling teenager in front of multiple eyewitnesses for no reason other than the normal racial animus of America’s law enforcement always seemed less likely to pass the more dispassionate sort of scrutiny that would presumably be brought to bear during a legal proceeding. Dispassionate scrutiny of such facts is not a virtue of lynch mobs, however, so it was also widely expected that those who favored the gunned-down-on-the-street version of events would respond with what the more polite media call “unrest.”
As we write this the Drudge Report is already linking to stories of rioting and looting and arson and gunshots being fired. The story about the white officer gunning down the innocent black teenager on the streets for racist kicks is apparently still widely believed in many neighborhoods of Ferguson, much of the media have done little to dissuade them them of this assumption, numerous groups hoping to channel the local resentments in service of their various left-wing causes have been organizing in the city, and the Justice Department has launched an investigation of the Ferguson police and the White House has sent emissaries to the funeral of a man who might have attempted to kill one of its officers, so it was inevitable that at least a few troublemakers would seize the opportunity for the expression of long accumulated racial resentments and the acquisition of some free stuff. What the rioters and looters and arsonists and gun shooters hope to accomplish is unclear, as their victims are businesses and individuals that have nothing whatsoever to do with the shooting in question, and their crimes are unlikely to refute whatever racist attitudes might have been involved, but from what we saw on the cable news coverage that was playing at a local watering hole during a break in our writing they seemed to be having a grand old time.
The President of the United States went on television to urge peace and calm, an obligatory pre-riot oration that stretches back at least to the days of Lyndon Johnson, but even The First Black President had no more success in the effort than any of his predecessors. This time around the speech told the rioters that their anger was “an understandable reaction” given that they claim to believe “the law is being applied in a discriminatory fashion,” and the president explained to all those weren’t rioting that “We need to understand them,” and such sympathetic rhetoric followed the sending of those emissaries to the funeral of man who had tried to kill a cop and his Attorney General’s admonition to the surviving officers not to react too harshly to any rioting and looting and arson and gunfire that might follow a grand jury decision that was not to the mob’s liking, but it seems not to have soothed any of the savage breasts in Ferguson.
Perhaps a more forceful address emphasizing the eyewitness testimony and physical evidence that corroborated the officer’s account and the always far-fetched nature of that story about a cop gunning down an innocent teenager in the street would have been more effective, especially coming from The First Black President who had promised a gullible electorate that he had overcome his racial animosities and would teach the rest of the country to do the same, but by now no one expected that. The president’s party tried to use the Ferguson tragedy to energize black voters in southern states where the Senate and House races were thought to be close, warning black voters that a Republican victory would mean more innocent black teenagers being gunned down for no reason other than racial animus by white cops, and it continues to see political opportunity in the racial anger that is so starkly on display in Ferguson. The left also has an emotional investment in that story about white cops gunning down black teenagers, too, and eyewitness testimony and physical evidence cannot shake not its faith in its moral superiors over such brutes.
One can only hope that Ferguson recovers from its riots more successfully than did Newark or Camden, New Jersey, or Detroit or the Watts area of Los Angeles or any of the other localities that were afflicted by the similar unrest back when Johnson was delivering the presidential scoldings, but we are not optimistic. Even then the broader society tried to be understanding, with the Kerner Commission providing the official rationalizations for rioting and looting and arson and gunfire, but the areas burned to the ground by the very irrational hatreds of the mobs have still not regained the vibrancy and livability they once offered in supposedly less enlightened times, and even the generations of the Democratic governance that has been brought to bear on Ferguson doesn’t seem to offer much help. Perhaps a sterner response wouldn’t do any better, but sympathy for the rioters and looters and arsonists and gun shooters clearly does little to help their innocent victims.

– Bud Norman

Friends and Enemies and Their Proper Treatment

There was little mention of it in the American press, which was understandably preoccupied with the the president’s executive orders regarding illegal immigration and the upcoming race riot in Missouri and other pressing domestic matters, but last week President Barack Obama thoroughly annoyed Australia.
En route back from China’s Asia-Pacific conference, where he’d grandly announced a deal with the host country that would reduce America’s carbon emissions in exchange for a guffawed promise that in 16 years the Chinese would consider doing the same pointless damage to their own economy, Obama stopped his jetliner in Australia to continue his efforts against anthropogenic global warming. During a speech in Brisbane that was added at the last minute to the president’s schedule he made repeated references to climate change, spoke in worried tones about the ecological health of the Great Barrier Reef, and.seemed to criticize Australia for inefficient use of energy. Australians, the vast majority of whom recently voted in a conservative government because of the depressing economic effects of the previous government’s cap-and-trade policies, and who have taken expensive steps to ensure the ecological health of the Great Barrier Reef, and whose fondness for their freedom of mobility around their vast empty country can only be explained by the “Mad Max” movies, understandably took it as an insult. One of the big Australian newspapers found that the American embassy staff had advised against the speech, reported that the Australian Prime Minister and other officials were not given the usual diplomatic courtesy of an advance copy, and noted that “Historians of the US-Australia relationship are unable to nominate a case of a visiting president making such a hostile speech for the host government.”
Such disrespect for America’s most stalwart allies has been a consistent trait of the Obama administration. It started with his decision to return a bust of Sir Winston Churchill to Great Britain and honor its queen with an I-pod full of his own speeches, then went on with the reneging on a missile defense deal with Poland and the Czech Republic, continued through the undiplomatic treatment and anonymously foul-mouthed descriptions of Israel’s Prime Minister, and is still playing out over the XL Keystone Pipeline and a conspicuously nit-picky enforcement of the norther border and other petty issues with Canada, among numerous other examples. The “open hands” and “reset buttons” have been reserved for such adversaries as the Iranians and Russians, who have benefitted greatly such friendliness while offering little in return but bomb-making and land-grabbing trouble, which seems a peculiar way to conduct a foreign policy.
At this late point in his presidency, however, Obama seems to care little about public opinion in any country except perhaps the ones where he hopes to redistribute the west’s wealth. The same cap-and-trade policies that the Australians rejected were also rejected by America’s Congress even when Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House and Harry Reid controlled a supermajority in the Senate, but Obama continues to impose as much of them as he can through executive action. The long delays in construction of the XL Keystone Pipeline that are infuriating the Canadian government are also infuriating the American public, but expect a veto that will bring at least another two year’s delay. An executive order to stop enforcing America’s immigration laws for an estimated five million illegal aliens is proving so widely unpopular that even such formerly steadfast supporters as the black American punditry and the “Saturday Night Live” writing staff are critical, but he seems ready to defend it to the point of a politically advantageous government shutdown. If the Australians feel insulted by the president’s blatant disregard for their opinions, at least they have some idea how Americans feel.

– Bud Norman

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