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In Hiroshima and Trying to Find Where America Would Be First

President Barack Obama will soon make a visit to Hiroshima, Japan, and even if he doesn’t explicitly apologize for the atomic bomb that America once dropped on that unfortunate city his mere presence there will unmistakably imply it. This strikes us as not only an outrageously mistaken reading of history and an egregious diplomatic blunder, but also an unforced political mistake that hands a generous gift to presumptive Republican nominee Donald J. Trump.
Although we’re quite sure that Obama had no intention of helping Trump, and calculated that a lofty speech about the dangers of nuclear proliferation set against such a dramatic backdrop would contrast nicely with his would-be successor’s sometimes-bellicose and sometimes-isolationist and sometimes-entirely-incoherent ramblings on foreign policy, we think that he’s still not quite so adept at this reality television business as his would-be successor. Aside from the historical facts that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed fewer people than the Second World War’s conventional bombings on the rest of the country and fewer people than the Japanese Imperialists had slaughtered in the “East Asian Co-Prosperity Zone” they had declared, and most certainly spared millions of Japanese and hundreds of thousands of Americans from the far greater carnage that would have resulted from an unavoidable invasion, or that the remade-in-America Japan which resulted has lately been a most stalwart ally that would prefer not to have any of this brought up, the political miscalculation is probably the most stunning failure.
Even such lone and still clinging to desperate straws conservatives as ourselves will freely acknowledge that Trump would never make any such even implied apologies for any of America’s past actions, except for that “Bush lied, peopled died” thing that by now even Obama and everyone else agrees with, apparently except for ourselves and his would-be-Democratic successor who voted for the war, but we’re admittedly confident Trump wouldn’t be apologizing for such an easily defensible action as dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Trump isn’t much for apologies, even after mocking the handicapped and bragging about his penis size and making menstruation jokes and dissing American prisoners of war and a year’s worth of similar incidents that would have demanded an apology for anyone less confident in his rightness, even, we dare say, Obama himself, so he’ll no doubt ramp up his rhetoric about those inscrutable Japanese and their wily ways and remind everyone once again that he is by our own admission the unabashedly pro-American of the major party candidates. Apparently Obama doesn’t think this will still sell after seven-and–half years of his strong man rule, but we believe that during that time he’s lost touch with the country’s mood. Few of us have any familiarity with the Second World War these days, but even fewer of us are bothered that we dropped that atomic bomb on Hiroshima all those years ago, and Trump’s more pro-American position will surely tick up a few points in the polls.
Stepping aside from the reality show and trying to ascertain the actual reality, however, we find it all too dismal. That anti-nuclear-proliferation and Noble Peace Prize-winning president who’s been hung up on nuclear proliferation since his dope-smoking college days swung that awful deal with the Iranians that will likely spark a nuclear arms race in the guano-crazy Middle East, the would-be Republican successor he’s just handed such a gift to has openly talked about withdrawing the nuclear umbrella from South Korea and Japan and suggested they’ll have to nuke up on their own and start a nuclear arms race in the slightly-less crazy Far East, because that’s the best deal, believe him, and the would-be Democratic successor has an equally awful record of her own that accounts for four of the past seven-and-a-half-years of Obama’s awful foreign policy, and at this point there really aren’t any straws left to grasp at. We’ll concede that Trump’s unapologetically “America First” stand is appealing, but we wonder if he knows that was the slogan of the isolationists who would have allowed the rest of the world to be dominated by the Axis powers, and we note that his “convention manager” was a longtime lobbyist for some of the world’s worst dictators and one of those “best guys” he brought in as a top foreign policy advisor is a business partner and longtime confidant of the similarly unapologetic Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, and we note he veers from Code Pink anti-neo-con talk to “take their oil” on a dime, and there’s that worrisome talk about getting rid of our longtime Asian commitment thing along with that North Atlantic Treaty Organization deal that’s been so awful, so we harbor doubts if he has any well considered notions of what there is in that stubborn reality is in the best interests of America. We’ll acknowledge that his predecessor and would-be successor don’t trouble themselves such questions at all, but that’s hardly consoling.
We’re sorry to end on such a glum note, but that’s where we seem to find ourselves at the moment.

— Bud Norman

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An Ordinary Flap in an Extraordinary Year

The Republican presidential campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz committed one of those unforced errors the other day, and it’s a doozy. A high-ranking staffer “tweeted” his outraged reaction to an erroneous report in a college newspaper that rival Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had casually disparaged the Holy Bible, the story was quickly retracted, the high-ranking staffer was quickly fired, and there was much indignation from Rubio and some inevitable snarky “tweeting” from the front-running Donald J. Trump, and at the very least it’s a whole news cycle that Cruz did not need at this moment in his beleaguered campaign.
In an ordinary election an apology and a sacrificial firing would probably suffice, and after a day or two of press flagellation that matter would be long forgotten, but this is no ordinary election for Cruz. His hard-earned tough-guy anti-establishmentarian image has made him a target of the “establishment,” or whatever remains of it, but so far he’s gone only one-for-three against the tough-guy anti-establishmentarianism of a boastful billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who also boasts he can make the right deals with whatever’s left of the “establishment.” Despite his Baptist preacher’s son credentials he’s even losing a lot of the evangelical Christian to a thrice-married gambling mogul who mocks the handicapped and boasts about all the married women he’s bedded and really did try to have an old widow thrown out of her home, and now he’s forced to publicly apologize to Rubio, who was virtually tied with him for second place in South Carolina and is suddenly the darling of the not inconsiderable number of Republicans who are starting to think that maybe an “establishment” isn’t the worst thing that can happen to their party.
So both of Cruz’s rivals in what is shaping up as a three-way race stand to benefit, and perhaps even beyond the news cycle. Both Trump and Rubio have been relentlessly questioning Cruz’s honesty, and although their accusations have often been lies some of it is bound to stick after a while, so admitting that a campaign has even inadvertently spread a falsehood does not help. It’s not the first time, either, after another staffer passed along an erroneous report from the Cable News Network that fading rival Dr. Ben Carson was dropping out of the race just before Cruz won a crucial victory in the Iowa caucus, which the second-place Trump was happy to claim was a theft of his rightful victory, and they also sent out those awful letters telling people they’ve checked on their voting records, and there’s been enough of it unsettle some potential supporters. The incident also raises the question of why Cruz would have hired a high-ranking staffer who wasn’t suspicious of a college newspaper report claiming that such a savvy politician as Rubio, of all people, had disparaged the Holy Bible, of all things, and in front of Cruz’s Baptist preacher father and his own young son and one of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras at that.
We don’t doubt the sincerity of Cruz’s apology, and we’re sure that he had no intention of questioning another candidate’s faith, and we wish this were an ordinary election where that would suffice, but this crazy time around the apology is probably the worst of the damage done. Trump has openly questioned Cruz’s faith, and he once regaled an Iowa crowd by ridiculing Carson’s biographical story of overcoming a childhood temper through prayer and Christian faith, saying he was still “pathological” and akin to a pedophile, even though he did later wax indignant about what Cruz did to his good friend in passing along that erroneous CNN report, and he never apologizes, just as he never apologizes for disparaging women’s looks or mocking handicapped people or belittling American servicemen who suffered wartime captivity for their country or using the most vulgar language in front of the old women and young children, and this time around about one-third of the Republican electorate seems to love him for it. Not acknowledging or apologizing for an obvious mistake, apparently, is what it takes to make America great again.
Which leaves the aggrieved Rubio as perhaps the biggest beneficiary from this campaign brouhaha. He still has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do — as fellow Cuban-American Desi Arnaz used to say — about that crazy immigration deal he cooked up with those dastardly Democrats, which raises questions about his own honesty and competence, but there are honesty and competence questions about everyone. We could go on all day posing questions about it to Trump, and perhaps even longer about either of the potential Democratic nominees, but for at least a news cycle Rubio has an edge over the other guy that will meet Trump in a two-way race. We’d like to see whichever victor emerges go into that matchup without being too bloodied by the preliminaries, and hope that Trump suffers a few more slips he’s forced to not apologize for, but everybody needs to improve their game.

— 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

War Stories and Apologies

Much ridicule has already been heaped upon NBC News’ anchorman Brian Williams for his exaggerated war stories, and even more for the apology he posted on Facebook, so we’re loathe to add any more to the pile of scorn. Better to take the opportunity of all the distracted attention and favorable comparisons to confess our own exaggerations and offer our own apologies.
Not that we begrudge Williams’ many critics their gleeful mockery, and we don’t condone Williams’ false braggadocio or accept his seemingly insincere claims of contrition. Williams’ embarrassment is a boon to the conservative cause,  as it further calls into question the veracity of his entire reliably liberal network and provides yet another rejoinder whenever some liberal sneers about Fox News, and it even forces the press to recall presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s similarly fabulist tale of zig-zagging across the tarmac dodging Bosnian sniper fire, which is always good for a chuckle or two if you try to envision it, so some measure of schadenfreude would be too much for even the most compassionately conservative soul to resist. There’s also something slightly infuriating to a hawk’s sensibilities about an NBC anchor, of all people, trying to glom on to a bit of Iraq War glory, and when you watch the guy’s newly dredged-up appearance on the Late Night With David Letterman program, holding the audience in thrall with the umpteenth telling of a rocket propelled grenade hitting his helicopter and how “we” brought it safely down and won the day, with the supposedly wised-up host falling for it to such an extent he utters “war hero” as he heads into a commercial break, there’s a certain temptation to find out what five-star restaurant the guy will be eating at tonight and show up to punch him in the nose. Still, we humbly decline to heap any further ridicule.
Who among us, after all, has not “misremembered” being shot down in a helicopter by a rocket propelled grenade? We’ve had some bumpy airline landings in our time, and after all the drinks that it takes us to get through an airline flight we could have easily mistaken any of them for a bombing mission on the Memphis Belle. Perhaps our neighborhood is just getting a bit seedy, but it seems that lately one encounters so many rocket propelled grenades in the course of a day’s chores that it’s hard to remember when it did or didn’t happen. We note that all of the NBC crew that always accompanies Williams on his death-defying missions seem to have “misremembered” the events as well, or at least declined to offer any corrections, and the NBC management seems to have had little trust in the memories of the numerous servicemen who have written over the past 13 years of Williams’ re-tellings to offer an alternative version of events, and anyone who’s seen “Rashomon” knows how tricky memories can be.
Despite our own constant endeavor for truth, honesty, and journalistic integrity, even we have been known to exaggerate our wartime exploits. In the interest of full disclosure we will confess that, despite our claims one beery evening at the old Cedar Lounge, we were not the first to land on Omaha Beach. We were in Omaha once, and were the first to arrive at a picnic on a sand dune along the Missouri River, but the part about taking out a Nazi machine gun nest was apparently “misremembered,” as we have since learned that the D-Day invasion took place 15 years prior to our birth. We offer our apologies to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and all the other brave men who made that great victory possible. Contrary to what we once told a rather comely young woman at a cocktail party, we were not among the last holdouts of the French Foreign Legion at Dien Ben Phu. That battle apparently also preceded our birth, so we seem to have “conflated” it with a hazing incident at a Boy Scout camp, and in any case it made no impression on the young lady, who had never heard of Dien Ben Phu, so we regret the error. We find ourselves in the humiliating position of apologizing to the French. To retract a story we once told in a job interview, neither did we ever lead an undersea army against SPECTRE’s nuclear-armed scuba mercenaries to save Miami from total destruction, which is apparently the climactic scene of the James Bond thriller “Thunderball,” although we still insist that could have happened. We offer our apologies to Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, and especially to Sean Connery, who actually was James Bond and actually did that.
We’ll let the taunters “tweet” their tsk-tsks, the satirists spew their snark, the pundits propound their disappointment, and the ravenous pack of press folk eat their own, but we’ll take the high ground. That’s a lesson we learned way back when we served with Gen. John Sedgwick, eponym of our very own Sedgwick County, during the Battle of Spotsylvania against those bloodthirsty rebs, but there’s a rip-roaring a story for another time.

— Bud Norman

The Shutdown, Obamacare, and the Jobs Report

As we write this the latest jobs report has not yet been released, but it is so widely assumed to be horrible that the stock markets took an early plunge on Thursday and the administration has already started blaming the Republicans.
This time around the administration’s rationale is that nobody was hiring because of the government shutdown, which of course was entirely the fault of those mischievous Republicans, but the familiar ploy might prove harder to execute. This time around will require reminding a forgetful public that there was a government shutdown, which went largely unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t so unfortunate as to be taking trip to a national park during the brief interregnum, as well as a plausible explanation for why anyone in the private sector would have been deterred from hiring someone just because some non-essential public sector employees were enjoying a paid vacation at some private sector and happily operating locale. There was a chilling terror of a governmental default and consequent economic apocalypse, we are told, but anyone who had such an irrational fear could have only gotten such a crazy idea from the administration.
Blaming the government shutdown also runs the risk of reminding voters that it had something to do with the Republican’s unified opposition to Obamacare, which the administration is now hoping will be soon forgotten. Even the most loyal media were compelled to concede that the roll-out was a glitch-ridden fiasco, and the resulting ridicule was followed by harrowing stories of disillusioned Obama voters suddenly finding themselves without health insurance and facing exorbitantly higher costs as a result of Obamacare, and attempts to blame the Republicans and their unified opposition to the law have thus far proved unconvincing. The poll numbers have reached such a sorry point that the president went to the endlessly forgiving reporters of the NBC network to say how sorry he was for all the people who liked their insurance but lost it despite his repeated pledges that if they liked it they could keep it, period, even if it is the greedy insurance company’s fault. Even such a half-assed apology, delivered with the apparent arrogant expectation that it somehow will make things right to the president’s screwed-over former voters, amounts to an act of desperation by an administration so disinclined to apologize to anyone but Islamist terror regimes and communist tyrannies.
Today’s dismal jobs report does reflect the economic activity during the government shutdown, a point that will be widely noted in the obligatory news reports, but it also coincided with the botched Obamacare debut. That event also called into question in the full faith and credit of the federal government, and in ways that are seemingly permanent. Obamacare offers incentives for workers to cut back on their hours and earnings in order to qualify for its subsidies, and irresistible incentives for employers to cut back on their workers’ hours and earnings, and the administration is left with the unenviable task of convincing people those workers and companies are to blame to reacting according to their economic self-interests.
As the government shutdown fades further into an already memory, and the consequences of Obamacare linger in the jobs reports, apologies and finger-pointing will prove even less persuasive.

— Bud Norman