The Riot This Time Around

Yet another riot is raging after yet another fatal police shooting of a young black man, and in most respects it seems all too familiar. Al Sharpton and the New Black Panther Party and Eric Holder’s Justice Department and the national press and all the other usual rabble-rousers are once again on the scene, once again the facts of the shooting are infuriatingly unclear, and once again individuals and businesses and public institutions that obviously had nothing to with it are among the victims. What’s different this time around, in the previously unheard of town of Ferguson, Missouri, is the reaction from the right and left ends of the political spectrum.
On the right there have been the usual denunciations of the pathological lawlessness that pervades too many majority African-American communities, the same wondering why the death of a young black man at the hands of the police warrants so much more outrage than the vastly more numerous deaths of young black men at the hands of other young black men, and the routine insistence that a police officer deserves the same presumption of innocence that would be afford to any person accused of a crime. Such obvious truths must be stated, and if not for right-wing bastards such as ourselves as they would go unsaid, so the points are by now almost obligatory. This time, though, there’s been a different emphasis from the conservative side. From the most robustly right-wing talk radio ranters to the more reserved columns of the venerable National Review, there’s been a painstakingly made acknowledgement that the most damning version of  the police officer’s actions might well be true and that the response to the predictable demonstrations might be dangerously heavy-handed. The heavily militarized police forces that many conservatives have lately decried has been on full display in Ferguson, where armored vehicles and the sorts of machine guns once trained on Iraqi terrorists have been on the streets of a little-known midwestern town, and those critics have stubbornly refused to recant their views even when such military might is deployed against opportunistic looters and the more criminally inclined sorts of Fergusonians that would not ordinarily inspire a conservative’s sympathy.
Some on the left will go ahead and charge those critics with hypocrisy for a failure to speak out about the issue now, lacking any sufficiently incendiary soundbites from any prominent Republicans, but this is easily refuted. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was singled out for his silence on the armored response to the riots, but that was only because he was busily composing an updated diatribe against such law enforcement for Time Magazine. Those eminently respectable scribes at The National Review have remained consistent, too, as has the brilliantly pugnacious Canuck conservative Mark Steyn. Throw in Texas Sen. Mark Cruz and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash and our own misgivings about all that armor on the streets of Ferguson, and its fair to say that conservatism has been quite intellectually consistent. The only hypocrisy is on the part of the left, which is suddenly scandalized by a police force that was militarized by its beloved Obama administration. Even the Obama is administration is scandalized by inevitable results of its policies, it seems, and is apparently confident that it won’t be forcefully confronted with the contradiction.
No one on the right is abandoning conservatism’s inherent preference for law and order, of course, but as National Review’s headline writers put it, “More bobby sticks, fewer M-16s, please. The sort of rioting that has lately occurred in Ferguson is unfortunately routine in American history, and has traditionally been quelled with more low-tech methods, so traditionalists have good cause for continuing this policy. Almost all of those meddlesome bureaucracies now have their own armies to enforce their ever-expanding array of regulations, most of which aren’t so commonsensical as “don’t burn down the neighborhood convenience store,” and it no longer seems mere paranoia to wonder what sort of popular uprisings all that military power might yet be unleashed upon. The Department of Homeland Security has identified veterans and advocates of low taxes and limited government as national security threats, the “tea party” is routinely vilified as a brewing violent revolution, strict adherence to government’s wise mandates is the stated goal of modern liberalism, and no can seriously believe that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder intended all that military might at your local police force to intimidate some black youths angered by the plausible but yet unproved claim that a policeman in a previously unheard of Missouri town unnecessarily caused a young black man’s death.
On the left there is the usual talk of income inequality and racial prejudice and economic deprivation and all the usual rationalizations for burning down the neighborhood convenience store, but without the usual enthusiasm. This comes more than six years into the post-racial era of hope and change, after all, and by now even the thugs burning down the neighborhood convenience store have noticed that the current administration has done nothing to improve their lot in life. They might never notice that the right is demanding a thorough and unbiased investigation of their grievances, or protesting the harsh methods used to put down even their most peaceable protests, or advocating policies on issues ranging from immigration to entrepreneurship to gun rights that would improve their economic fortunesErick, or that Republicans aren’t the racist rednecks they’ve been led to believe, but it seems unlikely that the left will derive any benefit from the latest riot. That’s something different about this time around, and something hopeful.

– Bud Norman

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So Long, Kathleen

We won’t have Kathleen Sebelius to kick around anymore, and we have to admit we’ll miss the pastime. We were heaping scorn on the woman long before the rest of the country got in on the fun, ever since she was elected Governor of Kansas 12 years ago, and her probably permanent departure from public life will make it hard to break the habit.
Sebelius resigned Thursday as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and although all the send-offs from the big papers and wire services were properly respectful they didn’t seem surprised. Given her undeniably botched roll-out of the administration’s all-important Obamacare boondoggle, as well as the extra-legal delays and waivers and other administrative sleight-of-hand, along with some dubious fund-raising schemes and some past tax questions and other problems the papers were obliged to mention, one might expect any responsible organization hold such a record to account. We were stunned to see it happen in the Obama administration, though, as it is habitually disinclined to admit failure.
Eric Holder has been at least as awful an Attorney General as Sebelius was a Health and Human Services Secretary, for instance, and he spent Thursday whining about how very unfair it is that he has to hear any criticism. No other Attorney General has ever been subjected to such harsh treatment, he griped, and one couldn’t help hearing a subtle suggestion that any white Attorney General could let loose armed thugs intimidating voters or declare that only victims of certain ethnic groups be championed by the Justice Department or be held in contempt of congress for stonewalling an investigation into his gun-running operation without anyone being so rude as to raise an objection. He did his whining to an organization founded by the notorious race-baiting, rabble-rousing buffoon Al Sharpton, which was predictably sympathetic, but we suspect an audience of Ed Meese and John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez and the rest of the past Republican Attorneys General would have been more skeptical.
At least Sebelius was willing to fall on her sword, and without resort to any insinuations that sexism had anything to do with it. Maybe she’s saving that for her inevitable memoirs, but for now it’s the sort of graceful departure the country once expected of its failed public servants. We can almost whip up a wee bit of sympathy for a one-time Kansas gal who was stuck with the unenviable job of implementing something so fundamentally flawed as Obamacare. She did shell out a gazillion dollars to some crony Canadian computer company for a widely-ridiculed web site, however, and just about everything else she did was capricious and corrupt, so it’s just a wee bit. Her reportedly voluntary but much-desired resignation was obviously intended to help in the administration’s effort to convince the public that the problem isn’t the law itself but just its previously inept implementation, so come to think of we can’t even give her much credit for that.
One of the shriller right-wing was angrily wondering the other day how this woman ever got elected as governor in such a conservative state as Kansas, and we declined his invitation to callers from the state to offer an explanation. The host is rather harsh, and we were concerned he might not want to hear that it happened because a recently triumphant and thoroughly revved-up religious wing of the Republican party won the nomination for a candidate so shrill and angry that Sebelius was able to pass herself off as pragmatic and reasonable and moderate sort of Democrat. She actually governed that way for her first time, or at least we don’t remember to being too riled about anything she did, and she stayed out of the news well enough to win re-election over another fire-breather. She then took a turn to the left, however, and was clearly looking to endear herself to the Democratic party’s liberal base rather than her own state’s more conservative voters. One low point came when the once-lovely little town of Greensburg was wiped out by a tornado, and Sebelius falsely claimed that recovery efforts had been hampered by a lack of National Guard equipment due to the Iraq War. The ploy worked well enough to gain Sebelius a prominent post in the Obama during its heady early days, and she no doubt thought that it would lead to even greater things, but her career now seems to have come to a more fitting conclusion.
Sebelius will likely find some sinecure on a corporate board or in academia or at some lucrative lobbying outfit, but the past talk of her presidential or vice-presidential possibilities won’t be repeated. The Democrats will be running another candidate for governor this year, and already have another pragmatic and reasonable and moderate sort of Democrat woman lined up for Lieutenant Governor, but we’re not expecting them to invite Sebelius to any of their campaign events.

– Bud Norman

An Oratorical Drone Strike

As we write this Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is still talking on the Senate floor, waging a filibuster against the confirmation of Paul Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
All the press reports have dubbed Paul’s effort an “old-fashioned” filibuster to distinguish it from the modern easy-to-use variety, which is any procedural maneuver to block a simple majority, and some could not resist a reference to the climactic scene of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” The marathon speech-making was intended as a protest against the Obama administration’s drone policies, which claim broad powers to strike against Americans without due process, but the tactic might have garnered more attention than the point it was making.

Which is a shame, because the drone policy deserves careful public scrutiny. In testimony before a Senate committee on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder offered an assurance that “the government has no intention” of carrying out drone strikes in America but nonetheless insisted it has a right to do so in an “extraordinary circumstance.” Holder cited the attack on Pearl Harbor and the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, as examples, but questioning by Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz revealed that more ordinary circumstances also suffice. Cruz asked “If an individual sitting quietly at a café in the United States, in your legal judgment, does the Constitution allow a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil to be killed by a drone?” A discomfiting amount of hemming and hawing followed before Holder replied that he did “not think that that would be an appropriate use of lethal force.” Only when pressed further by Cruz, who noted that he had asked about the legality rather than the propriety of such an attack, did Holder concede that there might be constitutional issues involved.

Such an expansive view of government power seems odd coming from Holder, who had been an outspoken critic of the previous administration’s harsh interrogation techniques, formerly insisted on civilian trials for such terrorists at Halide Sheik Mohammad, and whose law firm had noisily represented several of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but none of the senators bothered to question him about the consistency of his views. Many critics of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism protocols have undergone similar conversions since Obama took office, so perhaps the senators felt it wasn’t remarkable enough to warrant comment.

Some will contend that Obama’s critics are guilty of the same hypocrisy, and there probably are a few conservatives out there who would have felt quite comfortable with the new drone policies under the old administration, but Paul comes from strictly libertarian wing of the Republican and has been opposed to the war on terror’s expansion of government powers since the beginning. Although we have our doubts about Paul’s isolationist tendencies, they serve him well in this instance.

– Bud Norman

Too Hot For Politics

It’s summertime, when the living is supposed to be easy, and this is usually the slow news season when politics and other matters of national importance are supplanted in all the papers by stories about bath salt-crazed cannibals, natural disasters, and celebrity sex scandals. Not this summer, though, as the politics continues unabated.

This hot and hazy Thursday brings two stories that would dominate the front pages at any time of year, as the Supreme Court will unveil its long-awaited ruling on Obamacare and the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on holding the Attorney General of the United States in contempt of Congress. Both stories will drag out over the rest of the summer, regardless of what news today brings, and will inspire seemingly endless arguments and analysis.

Much of the analysis will concern how the developments affect the ongoing presidential race, which has been constantly intruding into the news. Presidential campaigns once took time off after the primaries and didn’t begin in earnest until the conventions, but like so many other worthy traditions that schedule has fallen by the wayside. One can also expect any number of unforeseen developments to command the attention of the civic-minded throughout the summer, too, including foreign crises, economic calamities, and assorted scandals.

The relentlessness of the political news is wearying, even for those of us who find it fascinating, and offers yet another argument for conservatism. A properly limited government wouldn’t require the constant attention of its citizens, and would allow time for such happier pursuits as baseball, lawn work, and addressing all of the problems that government hopes to solve but usually winds up exacerbating. Politics has insinuated itself into almost everything, but it should at least take the summers off.

– Bud Norman

Fast, Furious, Fercockta

An upcoming House vote on holding Attorney General Eric in contempt of Congress has forced reluctant news media to belatedly explain the Fast and Furious scandal, but so far no one has offered a satisfactory explanation of what the heck those government agents were thinking when they launched the now-infamous “botched law enforcement operation.” We don’t know, either, but offer the following scenario, an entirely fictitious account first presented as a skit at the annual Gridiron show, as one possibility.

(Scene opens at a hearing of a Senate investigating committee, with Senators Forehead, Cheeks, Chin and Lips seated at a table. Across from them is Chip Wilson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.)

SEN. FOREHEAD: This session of the Senate’s investigation into Operation Fast and Furious will now come to order. Our first witness is Mr. Chip Wilson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the man who devised this program. Mr. Wilson, could you please tell us what Operation Fast and Furious was all about?

WILSON: Certainly, Senator. Operation Fast and Furious was a program carried out by the BATF under the auspices of our supervisory agency, the Department of Justice. Basically, the program involved our facilitating the sale of more than 2,000 guns, grenades, and other weapons to various Mexican drug gangs.

SEN. FOREHEAD: You purposely helped in the sale of 2,000 guns, grenades, and other weapons to Mexican drug gangs?

SEN. CHEEKS: I’m sorry, Mr. Wilson, but I have to ask you this. Why on earth would you ever facilitate the sale of more than 2,000 guns, grenades, and other weapons to Mexican drug gangs?

WILSON: We wanted to see if anything bad would happen.

SEN. CHIN: Good lord, man, those guns have been linked to more than 200 murders. I think it’s fair to say that something bad did happen.

WILSON: Yes, and now we know. In that regard, at least, I think the operation has to be considered an unqualified success.

SEN. CHIN: Mr. Wilson, one of the murder victims was an American immigration agent. Several Mexican policemen and government officials were also killed.

WILSON: With all due respect, Senator, I don’t think it’s productive to quibble over who’s responsible for whose bloody murder. The important thing is that we now have definitive proof that Mexican drug gangs are not the kind of people you want to be selling heavy weaponry to. If you don’t think that’s important, Senator, well, frankly, I’m disappointed by how very incurious you are.

SEN. LIPS: Mr. Wilson, I am shocked that this cockamamie operation of yours ever won approval from the Department of Justice. When did Attorney General Holder learn of this?

WILSON: I recall that Attorney General Holder testified before this very committee that he learned of it in May of 2011, so I’ll go with that.

SEN. LIPS: We have e-mails from you and other officials discussing this matter with him that are dated well before that.

WILSON: Hmm.

SEN. FOREHEAD: What I’d like to know, Mr. Wilson, is how a person such as yourself ever wound up an employee of a federal agency.

WILSON: Well, Senator, ever since I was a kid there was nothing I loved more than drinkin’, smokin’ and shootin’ off guns. So when I heard that there was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, well, it seemed a good fit. I soon discovered that I had been somewhat misled by the name about the kind of work they do there, but by then I was a government employee, and as you know, there was no getting rid of me at that point.

SEN. CHEEKS: Mr. Wilson, do you have any professional or academic credentials for your job?

WILSON: Well … KU. Senator, if it makes you feel any better, I have recently accepted a reassignment and will be leaving my current post.

SEN. FOREHEAD: Well, I’m sure we can all be grateful for that.

WILSON: Yes, I’m taking over the administration of the new health care program. It should be very interesting to see what might go wrong there.

– Bud Norman

Faster and Furiouser

This Fast and Furious business keeps getting worse for the Obama administration.

A House oversight committee voted on Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over requested documents about the “gun-walking” fiasco, and it’s likely that next week the full House will do the same. Most Americans hold Congress in some degree of contempt, and Holder’s invocation of executive privilege raises the sort of complicated legal issues that send the average voter in search of a celebrity sex scandal or a box score, but the story should nonetheless undermine public confidence in the president and his appointees to some extent.

A contempt of Congress vote is the sort of thing that the major media outlets feel obliged to report on, no matter how much they’d prefer to ignore it, and in this case it will require that they give their readers and viewers some background information about the Fast and Furious operation. A government program that provided Mexican drug gangs with thousands of weapons and resulted in the death of an American law enforcement agent and hundreds of Mexicans apparently is the sort of that major media outlets don’t feel obliged to report on, at least not during a Democratic administration, and even the fact that an Attorney General’s sworn testimony was contradicted by documents  got little play in the news, so many Americans will be hearing the basic facts of the scandal for the first time. None of those facts reflect well on the administration, nor do any of them have anything whatsoever to do with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, so the best that the Obama campaign and its media allies can hope for is to limit the damage.

Holder’s refusal to turn over the documents is seemingly part of the damage control effort, but it will inevitably raise suspicions about what it is that he doesn’t want the public to know. Given how very embarrassing the already known facts are, and the political cost of provoking a contempt vote that puts the tragic story into prominent play, the obvious conclusion is that the documents are pretty darned damning.

The rest of the Democrats’ responses seem similarly counter-productive. The ever-loyal Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is blaming the Bush administration, even after Holder’s Justice Department officially gave up on that ploy, while other Democratic apologists are blaming the controversy on Republican racism, even though the charge necessarily implies that the death of a couple hundred Mexicans is no big deal. We suspect that many Americans are already weary of hearing Bush and racism offered as excuses for the administration’s failings, and in this case it will likely prove especially grating.

Scandals that don’t directly affect the average voter’s pocketbook rarely prove decisive in an election, even when the major news media are inclined to stoke public outrage, but this one can only hurt the president’s chances. It will be hard to argue that same people who ran the Fast and Furious operation should be entrusted to run the economy.

– Bud Norman

School for Scandals

A Democrat friend of ours — we have several of them, for some reason — assures us that the recent scandals arising from the Fast and Furious operation and a series of national security leaks won’t have any effect on the president’s re-election bid. This seems to be a common assumption among Democrats, including the president.

They’re right to the extent that the economy will be the most important issue in the race, and they have ample reason to be cynical about the public’s interest in complicated stories that don’t directly affect the average American’s pocketbook, but we suspect that they’re underestimating how very bad these stories make them look. With official investigations underway and a bi-partisan outrage simmering in Congress, even the friendliest news media are finding it impossible to continue ignoring the scandals, and they will have nothing to report that isn’t embarrassing to the administration.

The House Oversight Committee will vote next week on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for withholding requested documents about the Fast and Furious operation, which is the kind of thing that major news organizations are obliged to report no matter how distasteful they might find it, and the stories will necessarily entail informing the public that there was a Fast and Furious operation to begin with. This can only be hurtful to the re-election as there is no way of explaining the cockamamie scheme, which entailed permitting the sale of hundreds of weapons to Mexican drugs gangs and predictably resulted in hundreds of deaths, that doesn’t make the administration seem dangerously incompetent. The stories will also have to acknowledge the fact that Holder has indeed been withholding the requested documents, raising the inescapable suspicion that those documents must contain something that the administration is very eager to conceal. Every story will also remind the public that Eric Holder is the Attorney General of the United States, another fact that can only undermine confidence in the man who appointed him.

After helping the Clinton administration arrange the presidential pardon for notorious fugitive financier and loyal campaign contributor Marc Rich, Holder came into his office with a questionable reputation, then proceeded to further infuriate his many critics by dropping a won case of voter intimidation against members of the New Black Panther Party, lecturing the American people about their cowardly reluctance to engage in conversation about race, forcing states into court for enforcing their immigration and voting laws, seeking a criminal court trial on American soil for terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and generally being an annoyance to the country. Several congressmen have lately demanded that Holder resign for his role in Fast and Furious, and at this point he must be considered a political liability for the administration.

The perception that Holder is a political actor rather than an impartial law enforcement official has spilled over to the controversy about the four major security breaches that have recently wound up on the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. Holder has appointed two Justice Department officials to look into the matter, one of them an Obama campaign contributor, but congressional Republicans are understandably skeptical about their impartiality and are therefore demanding a special investigator. Special investigators are another of those things that major news media feel obliged to report, and the results are never pretty. In this case there are serious concerns about the government’s ability to protect the country, and the details all undermine the president’s carefully cultivated tough-on-terrorism image.

Worse yet, there is nothing in these stories that can plausibly be blamed on Republicans in general or Mitt Romney in particular, and thus far no one has come up with a convincing spin that makes Obama look good. The scandals are bad for the president’s re-election, and it’s only a question of how bad.

– Bud Norman

Brainwashed Blues

Politically obsessed readers of a certain age might recall that Mitt Romney’s father lost a chance to become president due to the injudicious use of the word “brainwashing.”

For those too young or too old to remember, George Romney had become a business legend by rescuing the American Motors Corporation from failure, parlayed his fame into the governorship of Michigan, and was successful enough in the job to be considered a leading contender for the presidency in 1968. Romney had come back from a fact-finding mission to Vietnam in 1965 as an outspoken supporter of America’s military efforts there, but had become a critic of the war by 1967, and he explained his change of mind by telling a television reporter that the generals had given him a “brainwashing” during his trip. Republican primary voters decided they didn’t want a candidate whose brain was so easily susceptible to washing, and thus Richard Nixon became president.

The incident was brought to mind by a video from 1995, recently uncovered by the invaluable Brietbrat.com site, which features current Attorney General Eric Holder employing a far more troubling use of the term “brainwash.”

Holder, then a U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, is seen telling the Women’s National Democratic Club that the government should employ the news media, the entertainment, sports and advertising industries, the public schools, and all other available resources to inculcate in the public an attitude that it’s “not cool, not acceptable, that it’s not hip to carry a gun anymore.” Just when the more paranoid listener will be musing that what he describes sounds very much like brainwashing, Holder adds with no apparent embarrassment that “we need to do this every day of the week and just really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.”

There is much to criticize in the speech, including Holder’s recommendation of famously crack-addicted Mayor Marion Berry as a possible star for the public service advertisements as someone who “has credibility with young people,” but his unabashed belief that the government should be in the business of brainwashing its citizens is outrageous.

All the more so because he was urging that the government do it in order to enforce a law that was later declared unconstitutional as a violation of the Second Amendment, but such enthusiastic use of relentless propaganda methods by the government for any reason is frightening. Holder will likely protest that he didn’t mean brainwashing as it is defined in our Random House Dictionary — “a method for systematically changing attitudes or altering beliefs, originated in totalitarian countries, esp. through the use of torture, drugs or psychological stress techniques — but the “informational campaign” he laid out precisely meets the secondary definition of “any method of controlled systematic indoctrination, esp. one based on repetition or confusion.”

Alas, similar techniques are consistently used by the presidential administration that Holder serves. From the Hollywood-produced advertising and pop star paeans of the campaign to the blatant attempt to use the National Endowment for the Arts to coerce the “arts community” into shilling for Obamacare and other initiatives, the constant staged events and television appearances, and the Hollywood-produced ads and pop star paeans of the present, something suspiciously akin to brainwashing is constantly at work. There has been widespread speculation that the infamous Fast and Furious Operation was meant to provide more anti-gun for Holder’s Department of Justice, and this video will do little to quell that suspicion.

The careless use of the word “brainwashing” cost George Romney a good job, and it should do the same for Holder.

– Bud Norman

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