Advertisements

Another Annus Horribilis

Years always seem to end in the dead of winter, when the trees are bare and the skies are gray and the prairie winds blow bitterly cold, and thus far 2015 is proving no exception to that desultory rule. In this case it seems altogether apt, as 2015 has been a desultory year. Even the most determined optimist would find it hard to identify much good news from the past six months of headlines, in any section of the paper.
The economy sputtered along steadily enough that the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates a teensy-weensy bit, and the unemployment rate didn’t seem so bad if you just excluded all the underemployed and the huge number of people who’d given up on finding any sort of work, but the working stiff’s wages were still stagnant and even the investor class was having the hardest time making a profit since the legendarily hard times of the Great Depression. The global state of affairs further deteriorated, with the Middle East exploding in an even greater than usual hatred and the deadly repercussions being felt as far away as Paris and San Bernardino, refugees from that troubled region and Central America and elsewhere in the Third World pouring into the west in such numbers that they overwhelmed the resources and generosity of the First World, and elite western opinion blaming it all on capitalism. Academia went utterly mad in 2015, government regulations proliferated at an unprecedented rate, the popular culture offered no compensatory movies or songs or novels or dance crazes that we noticed, and our favorite sports teams suffered frustrating seasons.
The new year that starts tomorrow promises an extra Leap Year day, an inevitable spring, and a long and leafy summer that will lead to an autumnal Election Day that could possibly put some of this right, but the past year doesn’t make us hopeful. So far the Democrats seem more riled up about impoverishing the rich than enriching the poor, and the polls predicts that they’ll nominate a woman who has parlayed political influence into extraordinary wealth to make the point, so there’s little chance for progress there. Meanwhile the Republicans, until recently infuriated by crony capitalism and Russian arrogance and a shallow popular culture, are threatening to nominate a man who brags about buying off politicians and revels in the praise of Vladimir Putin and was the star of a long-running reality television show to make their point. The infuriation of 2015 will make level-headed decision-making difficult in 2016, although we can hope the warmer weather will help.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

The Schlong Ride to the Presidency

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are having a nasty spat, and there’s a sex angle to the story, so that’s currently the big news of the presidential race. So far Trump seems to be getting the better of it, but no one is likely to emerge unscathed from such a tawdry affair.
The brouhaha began with Trump telling one of his constant interviewers that Clinton got “schlonged” in her last presidential campaign. If you’re from outside New York City or are otherwise so goyish you don’t speak even a bissel of Yiddish, “schlong” is a low sort of synonym for penis, and the past tense verb form is pretty much self-explanatory. Clinton could have taken the high road and ignored the remark, but that would have been entirely out of character, and she could have rightly objected on the grounds that Trump was using language ill-suited to presidential politics and being downright vulgar, but that would not seem so damning after the past seven years of presidential rhetoric and late night comedy show appearances, so instead she indignantly accused Trump of sexism. The alleged schlonging was by The First Black President, too, so some quarters of the press helpfully chipped in with accusations of racism, and we expect that somebody thought to accuse the self-described Presbyterian of cultural appropriation for using a Yiddishism, and in verb form at that, and the first wave of stories had all the usual outrage.
Clinton’s inevitable accusation of sexism offered Trump an opening, however, and he shrewdly seized the opportunity to remind the public of Clinton’s role in smearing the many women who have made allegations of everything from sexual harassment to sexual assault to outright rape against her husband. The press was obliged to report it, and although most media did so with the usual outrage the charge still stung. Former President Bill Clinton’s countless extra-marital schlongings aren’t merely metaphorical, and have done more damage to public standards than anything Trump might blurt out during an interview, and Hillary Clinton’s enabling role in all the tawdry scandals belie her claim to feminist glory. Throw in all the financial scandals that belie her populist warrior image, and all the lies told to obscure her incompetence and corruption, and the character question is very much a legitimate issue in the race.
Trump is quite right to raise the issue, but he’s the wrong person to do so. The billionaire real estate mogul and reality television star is thrice-married, boasts of his womanizing past with the same shamelessness as when he boasts of his wealth, has a long history of making disparaging remarks about the physical appearance of women he dislikes, and the fact that Bill Clinton is arguably even worse is damning with faint praise. Throw in his shameless boasts of buying off politicians to aid his gambling business and using the bankruptcy laws four times to pay less of his boundless fortune to his creditors than he promised, as well as his penchant for vulgarity, and his own character issues become a legitimate issue in the race.
Still, we’ll concede that Trump has once again proved to you can say the things that were previously thought unsayable. One can only hope that someone more eloquent and admirable can take advantage of that.

— Bud Norman

What’s Not in the News

There’s not much in the news this time of year, what with all the newsmakers being off on their expensive vacations, so now is as good a time as any to take notice of what’s not there. In the eerie silence of the current news cycle we can’t help noticing that several important stories seem to have prematurely vanished.
That awful deal with the Iranian government regarding its nuclear weapons program has largely gone unmentioned since President Barack Obama announced it was done, even though that’s not the end of the story. So far as we can tell nothing has yet been signed by either side, there’s no still public agreement about what’s been agreed to, even the United Nations admits that Iran’s recent inter-continental ballistic missile test violated any understanding of agreement, despite the administration’s infuriating pleas for leniency on behalf of the totalitarian theocracy, and Congress is wisely proceeding with fresh new sanctions that disagree with the whole awful deal. Given that the deal makes an Iranian bomb inevitable, which in turn would set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and thus make Armageddon imminent, one would think this would be getting more attention.
Obamacare is just as bad as ever, too, although that’s no longer news. By now the public knows that it won’t be getting an average $2,500 a year savings and won’t be able to keep its plans or doctors and that all the other promises that were made won’t be kept, but that was already obvious when the public went ahead and re-elected Obama back in ’12 and the media are no longer obligated to mention of that. They are forced to mention that premiums are going up, more plans are set to be cancelled, the poor who were supposed to benefit are paying ever more for less coverage, major insurers are pulling out of the exchanges and leaving the rest of the suckers in the long-predicted “death spiral,” and few seem to expect the law will survive into the next decade. Even the Republican presidential candidates rarely mention Obamacare, however, and even the most conservative news media don’t seem to ask about it.
Most of those Republican candidates also go unmentioned, of course, and judging by all the “Bernie” bumper stickers we’re seeing we think there’s more going in in the Democratic race than you’d know from reading the news. Perhaps when the all the newsmakers and news reporters get back from their vacations we’ll start to find out more about Donald Trump’s latest insulting “tweet” and all the reasons that Hillary Clinton’s latest scandal isn’t really that a big deal, but we can always hope they’ll starting paying attention to other things. In some cases the silence is becoming deafening.

— Bud Norman

‘Twas the Monday After Christmas

Christmas is entirely over, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are still a few dreary business days away, the weather has taken an awful turn, and suddenly spring seems far, far away. That’s pretty much the news, so far as we can tell from our usually busy sources, and after a long drive back from our kinfolks’ home in south Texas we’re too worn out to formulate any of those big think pieces that are supposed to fill these slow news days.
Although it’s only of more or less purely personal interest we will note that the long drive up and down that hellish stretch of I-35 was well worth the intermittent traffic jams and blemished scenery and grueling distance. We caught up with both the paternal and maternal sides of the family, who are all fine company, and with the cutest and most polite children, and it sure beat another plastic pouch of microwaved turkey and a round at Kirby’s Beer Store. We can also recommend that if you’re heading north from San Antonio the big bypass around Austin has unblemished Hill Country scenery blasting by at 85 miles per hour with no traffic jams and is well worth the extra few miles and few bucks of toll.
There was some driving rain along the way, and a few freakish winter tornados just a couple of counties to the east as we crawled through the Dallas-Fort Worth sprawl, but we’re sure the Paris climate accord will solve that sort of thing soon enough. Somehow we heard that former Sen. Jim Webb might for president as an independent, which raises all sorts of interesting possibilities, but this is now time to sort out what those might be. The stock markets re-open tomorrow, which might yield something, but in the meantime the president is enjoying another swank Hawaiian vacation and the Congress is off doing God only knows what, the college football games haven’t yet gotten underway, and there’s no reason not to stop writing right now and enjoy another bowl of our famously red-hot chili.

— Bud Norman

Good News for Christmas

These are fearful times, but on this day all the news that’s fit to print can be found in The Gospel According to Luke, chapter two, verses eight through eleven:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
All we can add is our humble thanks to you for your readership, and our best wishes that you have a merry and joyous Christmas.

— Bud Norman

On Texas, Christmas Eve, and What Else Matters

Our holiday travels have now taken us deep into the heart of Texas, where most of the paternal side of the family now resides, and as much as we hate to be away from God’s own Kansas it’s good to be here. The weather is warm even by heart-of-Texas standards, which will no doubt encourage all the global warming alarmists, while reassuring all those social justice warriors who worry that a “white Christmas” is somehow racist, but we’re nonetheless enjoying the warmth of family on a Christmas Eve.
The drive down unlovely and casino-clogged and incongruously up-to-date I-35 was surprisingly grueling — who knew that a jaunt through relatively tiny Temple, Texas, would be even slower than the legendarily clogged Dallas-Fort Worth area or even out-of-control Austin — but for the most part we enjoyed a respite from the even more grueling news of the day. Most of the drive was spent listening to ancient family lore and the music of Ernest “Texas Troubadour” Tubb and Jim Ed Brown and Hank Snow and other mellifluously nasal old-time honky-tonkers on the folk’s newfangled Sirius radio system, and except for a brief update from the Fox News station and a quick reading of the news after our beloved aunt somehow recalled the password for the internet wi-fi that a more tech-savvy daughter set up for her we mostly ignored all the latest political and economic developments. Given what we found on those brief looks at the news, it was probably best to stick with the old-country music.
Barring something unexpectedly catastrophic, we’ll stick with Christmas carols and old-time country music and family lore today, and we urge you to do the same. There’s still good news out there, even if you have to turn off the news to hear it.

— Bud Norman

OKC is Doing OK

A holiday gathering of our extended family drew us down to the greater Oklahoma City area on Tuesday, and we are pleased to report the town is booming. Perhaps it’s just the Christmas season that’s put us in such a generous mood, but we’ll acknowledge that taxes and government have apparently had something to do with it.
Oklahoma City is a politically and culturally and religiously conservative town even by prairie standards, which largely explains its recent prosperity, and of course the most recent oil boom also has a lot to do with it, but even our most rock-ribbed Republican kinfolk will concede that a series city government-run and taxpayer-financed Metropolitan Area Projects have also played a part. The “MAPs,” as everyone calls them, renovated the Civic Center Music Hall, a convention center and the state fairgrounds, built a new main library and a canal that helped turn an abandoned warehouse district into the thriving drinking-and-dining area called Brick Town. Such improvements have prompted private investment, which has been helpfully coordinated with the very pro-business City Hall. The National Basketball Association’s Thunder is now the city’s first major league professional sports team, if you don’t count the University of Oklahoma Sooners football squad, and the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers baseball team is playing in a gorgeous new stadium. There’s a privately donated collection of impressionist art that was privately donated, big time shows are now routinely scheduled at various venues in the revived downtown area, and just about any chain restaurant you might want to eat has at least one location.
Such quality-of-life improvements has made it easier fur the city to lure all sorts of big and small business, which has helped diversify a local economy that was previously prone to the boom-and-bust cycles of the oil business, and no one seems to mind the slightly socialistic aspects of the MAPs. Conservative concerns have been allayed by a strict adherence to a pay-as-you-go policy, with the entire city chipping in through slight increases in sales taxes, and it was done at the local level and with the blessings of the voting public. The first $350 MAP payed for all those much-needed renovations, and the second paid for $700 million is in more desperately needed renovations to the local public schools, and the third will spend $777 million on trails, parks and sidewalks, which for some reason have long been rare in this city. That third one passed with only 54 percent of the vote, and there seems to be a sense that the next one will be a tough sale, but for now most Oklahoma Citians seem pleased with the results if not all of the methods. The city is adding jobs and new residents at a fast clip, and the old-timers like their city even better.
We would like it better, too, and we’ve had a soft spot for the city for all the years we’ve been coming here for the extended family gatherings. Mainly we like the extended family, who are mostly a politically and culturally and religiously conservative bunch, but we do like the city they’ve made.

— Bud Norman

On the Darkest Day, and the Days After

The news usually takes a holiday around Christmastime, and thus far we’re relieved to see that this year is no exception to the rule. We can’t quite break our yearlong writing habit, however, so we’ll briefly note the significant fact that the winter solstice occurred early this morning.
We don’t attach any pagan sort of significance to the event, but we’re always happy to see it arrive nonetheless. As the old song says, it’s a long, long way from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September, and it starts a slow and dreary slide into the darkness of winter, and while there’s still plenty of darkness and cold left until that long awaited vernal equinox it’s good to know that at least from now until the arrival of that gloriously sunlit summer solstice the days will grow imperceptibly yet incrementally longer. This astronomical certainty somehow heartens us, even as we glumly consider everything else we might write about.
The news is still out there, of course, even if the newsmen and newswomen are polite enough and preoccupied enough with personal matters to pay it as little attention as possible. There’s still the matter of whether a “Santa Claus rally” will soothe the stock markets’ recent freakout about an interest rate hike that can only be measured with a micrometer, and what that says about an economy that’s sputtering into a seventh straight Christmas shopping season of sluggish growth and stagnant wages. There are still at least few hundred million crazy people around the world who are trying to kill us, too, and that ongoing debate about how many of them we should welcome in our country as honored guests. The President of the United States assures us that none of it is quite so alarming as the threat of anthropogenic global warming and attributes any discomfort Americans might have about all this to cable news and racism, even as he prepares to take a carbon-spewing jet ride to Hawaii for another lavishly taxpayer-funded vacation, and the two front-runners in the ongoing contest to replace him are a man who sounds suspiciously like your drunk neighbor and a woman who makes Lucretia Borgia look like one of those Little Sisters of the Poor who are being forced by federal law to purchase contraception coverage in their mandated insurance plans.
Put it all together and it seems like the darkest day, but there’s something almost astronomical about these news cycles. Starting today the sunset comes about a minute later, so in a mere ten days there’s an extra ten minutes, and a month from now provides a whole half-hour of extra daylight. Just a month or so from now the Iowa caucus might reshape the Republican race, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation might even come down on that Borgia-esque woman in the Democrat race, and although you’d never know it by what they teach in American history these days the country has been through dark days before and found its way back to sunshine. Just three days from now is an even more significant date, when we’ll join with family to celebrate the age-old good news that still trumps all the bad, and in the meantime we will be hopeful.

— Bud Norman

The Democrats’ Shrewdly Boring Show

The Democrats might well be pursuing a sensible political strategy, but from a television programmer’s point of view they simply have no idea how to put on a reality show. Saturday night’s debate, carefully scheduled against football games and other more compelling fare to make sure no one was watching, is a perfect example.
We had high hopes for the episode, given the intriguing plot twists that had somehow seeped into the news prior to the broadcast, but they were quickly dashed by a group hug reminiscent of the final “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Those who are still following this yawn-fest already know that someone on the campaign staff of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the plucky David character in the tale, had been caught reading confidential material on the computer system of former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plays the role of Goliath in this all-too-familiar storyline. There was briefly some uncharacteristic acrimony, with Clinton likening the incident to the Watergate break-in, and Sanders grousing that the Democratic National Committee’s threat to deny him access to the party’s voter records was just its latest attempt to sabotage his upstart campaign, but it all ended with Sanders’ groveling apology for the fired employee’s actions and Clinton’s magnanimous forgiveness. If the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of Wherever or the Republican Party behaved so wussily their reality shows would have been cancelled several seasons ago, but somehow the Democrats always get renewed.
To those who have been following the more action-packed cage match that is the Republican primary, it all seems unaccountable. There are plausible reports that the Sanders staffer inadvertently wound up with access to the DNC computer, which is apparently about as fool-proof as that Obamacare web site or the unsecured and illegal e-mail server that Clinton used for all her diplomatic electronic correspondence as Secretary of State, so Sanders had some pretty good spin if it he’d been willing to use it. He’d already declared that he was “sick and tired of hearing about her damn e-mails,” and of course he’s not going to make any more general complaints about the Democratic party’s apparent high-tech incompetence, but still, it’s hard to imagine even the most genteel of the Republicans passing up such a golden opportunity.
Even the viewers who are still rooting for Clinton will admit that she’s thoroughly dishonest, corrupt, ruthlessly amoral and entirely self-interested, just like all the most popular characters on all the reality shows, and just like all the ones who are the last to be kicked off the island or wind up with the hunky bachelor, and Sanders strategy of ignoring those unpleasant facts are hard to explain. Sanders is an unmitigated kook whose only domestic policy is to rip that goose wide open and grab all the golden eggs and whose foreign policy is to pretend that people aren’t trying to kill us, but at least he’s honest enough to concede that he’s a socialist and there’s little doubt he actually believes all that nonsense he spouts, which is pretty refreshing these days and is no doubt the source of Sanders’ limited appeal. He should pressing that advantage rather than retreating with an apology, and exploiting the plain fact that the Democratic Party is indeed thwarting the democratic process on Clinton’s behalf.
Sanders probably spends more time with Democrats than we do, so perhaps he’s correct in assuming they’re not quite so fed up with their party’s leadership as the Republicans clearly are with their own, but he’d surely benefit from stirring that pot at least a little bit. He’s probably also right that his supporters don’t regard Clinton with the same seething hatred that Republicans have for her, or for their own inter-party opponents, but given that Clinton is nearly as far left as he is his only advantage is on the character issue. A Democratic Party that demonizes wealth in general and Wall Street in particular and is suddenly more concerned with climate change and student debt and a “culture of rape” and “Black Lives Matter” than terrorism is expected to nominate a woman richer than Romney with a war chest of Goldman Sachs donations who flies around in private jets and charges universities $300,000 for a half-hour speech and enabled her husband serial sexual assaults and supported his mass incarceration and other tough-on-crime stances. That’s all Sanders has, given that Clinton is pretending to be as far left as he is, and it’s the reason he’s ahead in New Hampshire and within shouting distance elsewhere, and if he’s too high-minded to address this crucial point, just as he’s too high-minded address himself to that radical Islamic terrorism thing, there’s really no reason for him to stay in the race.
The obvious conspiracy theory for the right, which at least imbues some interest in the Democrats’ boring race, is that Sanders is only following the pre-written script needed to fill the obligatory time in a contracted-with-the-networks show about a supposed democratic process. By now it’s starting to seem plausible, but we do find him quite convincing in the role, and we know from countless conversations that his supporters are entirely on board. They’ll all glumly switch to Clinton if she wins, but only for fear of whatever crazed right-wing monster those hated Republicans come up with, so we think there’s still a chance of an embarrassingly real race, and that in any case Clinton will not emerged unscathed.
No matter how gentlemanly the Vermont socialist treats the former First Lady, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is continuing to look into that unsecured and illegal e-mail server of hers, and her assurances that none of her classified communications were breached by China or Russia or the surprisingly savvy IT guys in ISIS are surely undermined by the revelation that some stoned hippy-dippy staffer on the Bernie Sanders campaign was reading her campaign’s most cherished voter information, and sooner or later even the most compliant press will be forced to write something about. Whatever crazed right-wing monster the Republicans come up with will say that’s no lady, that’s Bill Clinton’s wife, and make sure to spend enough money that the matter will be brought to the public’s attention. Throw in all the subpoenaed e-mails that demonstrate how Clinton didn’t know how to use e-mail, and her public excuses about not wanting to use multiple devices and not knowing what “wiping a server” means or any of that other newfangled gadgetry, and of course that famously failed Obamacare web site, and at the very least she’ll look rather out-of-date.
Dishonest, corrupt, ruthlessly amoral and self-interested are one thing, but out-of-date is also the death knell for reality show star. If the Republicans can come up with a crazed right-wing monster who somehow managed to stay on the island didn’t get fired by the the star of “The Apprentice,” the Democrats would probably do well to go with that apologetic Bernie guy.

— Bud Norman

An Awful Deal and Its Political Implications

Anyone who’s been paying the slightest attention to the Republican presidential nomination race has by now noticed that the party’s rank-and-file are in full tar-and-feathers revolt against its elite leadership. The big budget deal that newly-fledged House Speaker Paul Ryan has negotiated is not like to sooth things.
Although Donald Trump’s latest “tweet” is probably getting more attention, the deal is just awful by any rock-ribbed standard of Republicanism. There’s $1.1 trillion dollars of spending, which is bad enough, and it includes full funding for Planned Parenthood despite revelations of its baby-parts business, continued contributions to the Green Climate Fund that pays American penance for the country’s alleged global warming sins, no reins on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power-grabbing “clean waters” regulations over the puddle in your backyard, and money for all those “Syrian” “refugees” that the Obama administration wants to import from the most crazed areas of the Middle East. Even the big business wing of the party is betrayed by the deal, with provisions to spare some financial institutions from the burdens of the Dodd-Frank monstrosity dropped and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bossy Consumer Financial Protection Bureau still exempted from any congressional control, so it’s hard to imagine any portion of the party outside of Washington that will find it acceptable.
Part of the deal is another deal that extends about $600 billion of business tax breaks, which is fine by traditional Republican thinking but only of immediate importance to the affected businesses and their employees without any commensurate spending cuts is not likely to satisfy the rest of the part. There’s something about allowing the export of American oil and a couple of other reasonable provisions that have enraged some of the more far-left Democrats, enough for Ryan to make the strange boast that nobody is happy with the deal, but we can’t help but noticing that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid seem very eager to get it passed. Our fellow Republicans will like notice as they warm their tar and pluck their feathers, too.
This might bolster the front-running Trump, who will surely have something scathing to “tweet” about it, and it could play to his strength as a legendarily tough negotiator, which even such strident critics as ourselves cannot dispute, but it’s more complicated than that. His surging rival is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has earned a reputation as one of the few congressional Republicans willing to engage in the government shutdown brinksmanship that this deal was clearly intended to avert, and Trump has lately criticized Cruz for being a “a bit of maniac” in his opposition to similarly awful deals in the past, although he backed off that after his talk radio pals who had cheered Cruz on each time stopped gushing, so if Cruz is deft he could also easily benefit from the party’s outrage. There’s a case to be made that the current deal isn’t so awful for the party as the fall-out from another round of government shut-down brinksmanship, which would bring down such opprobrium from the press that even Trump’s “tweets” could not drown it out, and if the more-or-less “establishment” candidate Florida Sen. Marco Rubio can successfully make that case he might wind up the beneficiary. That’s a tough case to make to the typical Republican primary voter these days, however, and Rubio already has a tough case case to make regarding his past heresies on the all-important illegal immigration issue.
The deal isn’t entirely done yet, with crucial votes awaiting in Cruz’ and Rubio’s Senate, so we’re eager to see how it plays out. The deal itself should be the big story, and there should be some way of working out something better within the current political arrangement, but that doesn’t seem very likely. At this point we’re only hoping that it will help an enraged Republican party make better choices in the future, and if Ryan’s lousy deal at least makes that possible we’ll at least give him and that creepy new beard of his some scant amount of credit.

— Bud Norman