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The Art of No Deal

President Donald Trump ran for office on a promise that his unsurpassed negotiating skills would deliver to a grateful America the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen. It hasn’t happened yet, and after an especially weird Wednesday in Washington, D.C., it seems unlikely to ever happen.
Trump had scheduled a morning meeting on the subject with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several other Democratic members of Congress, but according to everyone in the room he arrived 15 minutes late, didn’t shake any hands or take a seat, and left after saying there would be no deal on infrastructure or anything else until the Democrats called off all of their numerous investigations of him. After that he went to the White House rose garden for a 12 minute rant before the television cameras that was splenetic and boastful and untruthful even by Trump standards, and he reiterated his rhyming State of the Union threat that Congress couldn’t legislate until it ceased to investigate.
Schumer and Pelosi unsurprisingly made clear in their own statements to the media that they have no intention of halting the investigations, even if it means Trump doesn’t get to claim credit for the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen, and they seemed to mean it. Trump will run for reelection on the argument that he would have signed the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen if not for those darned Democrats’ stubborn insistence on their constitutional oversight rights, but Pelosi and Schumer were clearly unconcerned about that. In the two years that Trump had Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress nothing to do with infrastructure was passed, and the Democratic majority in the House and sizable Democratic minority in the Senate have far less incentive to give Trump something to boast about.
Which might be for the best, given the sort of godawful pork-laden and budget-busting monstrosity of a bill that the combined imaginations of Trump and Schumer and Pelosi probably would have concocted. On the other hand, America’s roads and bridges and airports and electric grids and telecommunications systems and all the rest of it are as always in need of repairs and upgrades, and even such old-fashioned laissez faire Republicans as ourselves have to admit that some federal assistance will be required.
There are other pressing problems that we must begrudgingly admit probably require federal solutions, too, but they’ll also have to await the results of the 2020 elections. In the meantime there are upcoming budget deadlines and the potential for a global economy-wrecking federal default on the nation’s financial obligations, and although one side or the other has always caved in just in time over the past many occasions this round could be different.
At this point both sides only care who will get the blame for whatever calamity that occurs, and each has reason to believe it will be the other side. Trump can be confident that his die-hard supporters will buy the sales pitch that he would have wrought Utopia if only those darned Democrats had stopped picking on him and acceded to all his demands, while the Democrats can rightly assume that the rest of the country will be more skeptical. Trump will rally the faithful by defying congressional attempts to subpoena his tax returns and bank records and the testimony of several former administration officials and family members, while the Democrats can endlessly and insidiously and reasonably speculate about what the president is trying so hard to conceal.
Our guess is that the Democrats will eventually get the best of it, with some help from a judicial branch that so far seems to be on their side, but we’ve occasionally been wrong about these things. By now we know better than to underestimate Trump’s wiliness, nor the gullibility of his die-hard supporters, nor the political ineptitude of the Democratic party.
So for now we’ll hope that the next bridge we cross will hold up, that the local efforts at flood control will suffice, our next airplane trip will be uneventful, and the lights and internet connection stay on here at the home office. We’ll also hold out fainter hope that whatever it is Trump wants to keep in the dark will eventually be brought to light, the Democrats don’t go too far crazy left with their next nominee,  the government eventually gets back to its usual ham-fisted attempts to address the nation’s more pressing problems, and the rest of a nation of free markets and free minds continues to muddle its way toward progress.

— Bud Norman

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The Ticking Clock and the Ensuing Blame Game

As we start to write this the clock on The Washington Post’s internet front page is showing 23 hours and 51 minutes and 21 seconds left to avert a government shutdown, although it’s already down a few seconds more by now and time will be even shorter when you read this. There’s still plenty of time left to avert the worst possible outcome, which probably wouldn’t even be all that bad, but at this point we can’t see things turning out very well.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives managed to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government through February 16, but the chances of the Republican-controlled Senate passing a similar continuing resolution look bleak. The Republicans control the House by a sizable enough margin that they could afford to lose a few votes from some hard-liners on spending on immigration and other matters, and they even picked up a few stray Democratic votes with peculiar local politics. In the Senate the Republicans now have a razor-thin 51-to-49 margin thanks to the recent electoral debacle in Alabama, and the absence of Arizona Sen. John McCain due to health problems has sharpened that edge, and except for one senator from President Donald Trump-loving West Virginia none of the Democrats have any political incentive to help the Republican-controlled congress and the Republican president from averting the embarrassment of a government shutdown.
Even if the Republicans are willing to offer the kinds of concessions that would outrage their core voters and somehow get something passed on the Senate side, it would all have to be worked out in a conference committee, which takes some doing, and as we write this The Washington Post’s doomsday clock has ticked down to 23 hours, 29 minutes and 10 seconds. Even if everyone talked as fast as those guys who read the side effects disclaimers on the pharmaceutical advertisements and something got passed by both chambers, it still has to be signed by Trump, who is the wild card in everything these days.
These all-too-frequent continuing resolution debates are threat of always complicated, but this time it involves complicated questions about immigration policy and health care, and of course Trump also complicates things further. The Democrats want the continuing resolution to continue protections for illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children and can now prove their good citizenship, and the that’s polling so well the Republicans are largely willing to go along if they also stricter border enforcement from now on, which also polls well. Meanwhile there’s another deadline looming to reauthorize the Child Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage to the children of families too wealthy to qualify for Medicaid yet too poor to pay for private sector health insurance, and although it polls so well it’s always had bipartisan support the Republicans failed to meet a previous deadline for its reauthorization and the Democrats thus have a huge bargaining chip.
In a televised and much-discussed meeting with a bipartisan gathering of senators earlier in the week Trump promised to sign whatever they came up with regarding immigration, but he quickly backtracked to insist that what every they came up with would have to include funding for a big, beautiful wall along the Mexican border and various other strict border enforcement efforts, and that he was still willing to hold those upstanding illegal immigrants brought here as children hostage to get it. Then he was angrily denying his Chief of Staff’s comments to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a cable news network that Trump’s views on the big, beautiful wall and other border issues had “evolved” since his campaign days. Then Trump “tweeted” that he didn’t like the reauthorization of the CHIP program in Republican bills, staking out ground to the left of both the Republicans and Democrats by insisting it should be permanently reauthorized rather temporarily reprieved by a continuing resolution on spending.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was preemptively blaming the Democrats for a government showdown on Thursday, as Republican senate majority leaders are obliged to do, but he also frankly acknowledged to the press that “We don’t have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with,” and with a politely bowdlerized nod to a recent presidential comment that has even further complicated the immigration debate he added, “This has turned into an s-show for no good reason.” McConnell is not only hated by all the Democrats, as all Republican senate majority leaders are, he’s also hated by that large swath of the Republican party that has the Grand Old Party’s establishment, but we think he has a valid point.
We’ll also give due credit to the equally-loathed-by-both-sides Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for corralling enough of his herd of mavericks and enough stray Democrats to get something to pass in the House, and although he’s carefully avoided any public criticisms he can’t give much credit to Trump. If the government does shut down and those upstanding illegal immigrants start getting deported and whole bunch of kids lose their health insurance in 22 hours and 37 minutes and 33 seconds, as The Washington Post times it, it’s likely that at least a majority of the hated Republican establishment will have voted to avert it.
Our guess is that won’t make much difference in the opinion polls, among Democrats or a large swath of the Republican party or any of those self-described independents. The Republicans control both chambers of Congress and in a certain sense the White House, and those arcane rules about a sixty-vote majority being needed in the Senate and all the nuances of immigration and health care are far too complicated for most folks to consider, so the Republicans will probably wind up shouldering their usual blame for all these all too frequent government shutdown. The Republicans will divide themselves between those who blame the mercurial Trump or that set-in-stone Republican establishment, and the Democrats will unite in their indignation with both.
The good news for everybody is that government shutdowns aren’t so awful as they sound, and that if this one happens it will likely be short-lived. Sooner or later both that hard-nosed if out-of-his-water negotiator Trump and those more hep-to-the-game but lily-livered Republican establishment types will once again government operations and give all sorts of concessions to the Democrats, including several that poll so well that a savvy party would have been on board all along, and if it doesn’t include a border wall that was a stupid and badly polling idea all along.
The bad news for everyone is that the best we can expect is yet another continuing resolution to keep the government somehow afloat through February 16, with the same motley assortment of Democrats and Republicans that Trump guy all reviving all the same noisome arguments. Once upon a time in America the two chambers of America’s congress used to pass annual budgets, presidents would sign, some longer term agreements were also agreed upon, and the nation’s businesses and taxpayers and our foreign allies and adversaries could plan accordingly, and for the most part it worked out well.
That all broke down long before Trump took office, so we can’t blame him for that, but with 22 hours and 10 minutes and nine seconds remaining on The Washington Post’s doomsday clocked neither he nor that hated Republican establishment nor any of those damned Democrats deserve any credit for fixing it.

– Bud Norman

A Good Day, All in All

There was a lot of good news on Tuesday. Republicans won control of the Senate, increased their majority in the House of Representatives, reelected a few governors who will now be formidable presidential candidates, and the drubbed Democrats are blaming their already unpopular president. Still, our reaction is a sense of relief rather than elation.
That unpopular president will remain in office for another two years to create all sorts of domestic havoc with his pen and phone and penchant for ignoring constitutional restraints, he’ll still have plenty of legitimate authority to continue his disastrous foreign policy, and the best one can hope for from the newly Republican Congress is that they’ll limit the damage. Although the president was brusquely rebuffed by the electorate that will likely make him all the more defiant of public opinion, and the election results cannot be seen as a widespread public embrace of any Republican principles rather a much-needed obstructionism. Several races were saved by a temporary truce between the warring factions of the Republican party, a welcome development, but the divisions remain and the elections will likely bolster the less conservative side. Such godawful Democrats as Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall survived the night, too, and such sizable states as New York and California remain lost causes.
Our reflexive Republican gloominess notwithstanding, however, there really was a lot of good news. The sound of “Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid” is soothing to our ears, and a more conservative and assertive House majority might well prod its Senate colleagues into a more confrontational stance. The surviving Democrats won’t feel any further obligation to rally around a lame duck president who did little to offer them help and often seemed intent on sabotaging their campaigns, and whatever mischief the president might attempt on his own is going to be a good issue for the Republicans to run on in the next presidential race should the country survive to that late date. That nonsense about a “Republican war on women” fell so flat it probably won’t be revived any time soon, shameful efforts to increase black turnout with talk of Republicans gunning down innocent black children in the streets didn’t prevent their candidates from losing in Georgia and North Carolina and other southern states, and even great gobs of money from labor unions and fashionably liberal billionaires and gullible unemployed hipsters living in their parents’ basements under a fading “Hope and Change” poster couldn’t buy a win in the most hotly contested races.
Some pretty impressive politicians also stepped into the spotlight, too. We’re expecting good things from Senator-elect Joni Ernst in Iowa and Representative-elect Elise Stefanik in New York and Utah’s Representative-elect Mia Love, among others who won their first races, and we can also hope that their hard-earned wins put a final nail in the coffin of that “war on women” nonsense. Gov. Scott Walker’s comfortable margin of victory in Wisconsin, which was his third win in four years after a brutal recall effort two years ago, and came despite the more bare-knuckle sort of tactics by the pubic sector unions he had bravely challenge, sets him up nicely for a presidential run that we would be inclined to support. Wins by the similarly successful governors Rick Perry of Texas, John Kasich of Ohio, and Rick Snyder of Michigan indicate that the party will have a strong field of candidates outside of Washington, D.C., to choose from. Almost as satisfying was that such odious Democrats as Texas gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis and incumbent Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Wisconsin gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke not only lost but wound up as laughingstocks in the process.
Things worked out well here in Kansas, as well, although it was too close for the comfort to which we have become accustomed. Gov. Sam Brownback had to sweat out a tight race, having annoyed the teachers’ unions and the Republicans who had been nicked by his budget-cutting and the hard-core Democrats who for some reason seethe with a red-hot hatred for every curly hair on his head, but he won despite the further disadvantage of not being able to tie a gubernatorial candidate to that unpopular president. We know Brownback to be a good man, but we’re mainly glad that the Democrats won’t be able to claim that his tax-and-budget-cutting policies had been repudiated.  In a race without an admitted Democrat, Sen. Pat Roberts won by a more comfortable margin, although not nearly what a Republican incumbent should expect in this state.  We attribute the victory mainly to that unpopular president and the putatively independent opponent’s inability to avoid an association with him, but also to the endorsements of such locally beloved conservative icons as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been at the forefront of a national effort to restrict voting to eligible voters, survived an challenge that had been well-funded from donors around the nation who seek make voter fraud easier. All the Republican congressional incumbents won handily, including the First District’s Tim Huelskamp, whose conservative fervency had so annoyed his own party’s leadership that he was stripped of important committee assignments and was at one point thought vulnerable. Our favorite Sedgwick County Commissioner won, too, despite the reservation of the Republicans with a business interest in county politics and the Democrats’ lavish backing of an heiress to a local black political dynasty.

All the state and local races were close enough that the Democrats around here had great expectations, so it was also nice to see their hopes dashed yet again. Tuesday might not prevent another desultory couples of years, but it did provide some compensatory satisfactions.

— Bud Norman

Gloom and Doom and Whom to Blame

We’ve been espousing gloom and doom for the past many years, and it seems the rest of the country has at last caught up to us. No less a mainstream source than the Politico web site has taken measure of the latest public opinion polling and distilled it into the headline “Everything is terrible.”
A cursory glance at the latest headlines easily explains the widespread sentiment. The post-war international order is breaking down across the globe, the social order is unraveling around St. Louis in a series of riots, an invasion of unaccompanied minors continues on the disappearing southern border, and as the youngsters head back to school their parents’ and teachers’ bake sales are being subjected to bureaucratic bullying. There are stray stories about a suspiciously strong market and an improving labor market, although if a closer look that the former is a result of inflationary money-printing by the Fed and the latter its mostly a matter of part-time jobs going to those invaders from the southern border, and most people seem more convinced by their diminishing bottom lines than by the press. At this point, judging by the Politico analysis, it’s just a matter of assigning blame.
The left-leaning publication seems hopeful that there’s enough of it go around stave off another mid-term shellacking by the Republicans, and cites the example of a Senate race in North Carolina where the Democratic incumbent holds a lead despite some being unfavorably regarded by a majority of the state, but it seems unlikely to be apportioned in equal measures. Foreign policy is mostly a presidential prerogative, and efforts to blame the current mess on the president who left office six years ago are growing tiresome, especially when they’re a result of decisions the current president has repeatedly bragged about. There’s no way of knowing what happened in the police shooting that touched off that St. Louis rioting, although it’s a safe bet that the liquors stores and Taco Bells that are being targeted had anything do it, and in any case it is yet another reminder that the president’s promised post-racial America has not yet arrived. That invasion on the southern border can hardly be blamed on the welcoming attitude of Republicans, not after they’ve been relentlessly portrayed as xenophobic racist rednecks, and the president’s executive actions to defer deportations of unaccompanied minors seems a far more likely explanation. The crackdown on school bake sales is directly attributable to to the current administration, as are countless other burdensome and silly regulations. Despite the best efforts of the press to pretend that Sen. Harry Reid isn’t the majority leader in the do-nothing half of Congress the Republicans only control one half of one branch of the government, and given the president’s low ratings on his economic policies there’s not likely to be much of a market for the idea that our current sluggishness is a result of too little Obamanomics.
There is plenty of blame to go around, of course, and among those registering their disgust to the pollsters are bound to be a number of liberals who believe the president just hasn’t been appeasing enough in his foreign policy or angry enough in his racial denunciations or friendly enough in his attitudes to southern border invaders or exhaustive enough in his micro-regulation of America’s diet, and that just a few more trillion dollars of federal spending would have set everything right, but we doubt there are enough of them who will march to the polls with hope and change in their hearts to affect the mid-term elections.

— Bud Norman

If Only Obama Knew

The scandal about the Veterans Administration grows more infuriating by the day, and we are assured by a high ranking official that the President Barack Obama is “madder than hell than about it.” Whether he is angry about the off-the-books waiting lists and substandard service that possibly cost the lives of as many as 40 people or the potential political costs of their public revelation is unclear, but in either case his anger is at least somewhat reassuring.
That “madder than hell” declaration is accompanied by the usual promises that any problems will be forthrightly addressed and quickly solved, and some high-ranking VA official or another has already resigned shortly before his long-planned retirement date, but by now it’s hard to take all that seriously. The president is still standing by the VA Secretary, who haas politely declined to upstage his boss by declaring that he is merely “mad as hell” about what was going on during his watch, and the outrage has become increasingly unconvincing with repetition. Similar outrage was expressed by the president about the Fast and Furious scandal, and he still stands by the Attorney General who was cited for contempt of Congress for stonewalling an investigation into the truth of that deadly matter. More presidential anger attended the four deaths by terrorism at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, but the high-ranking officials are now saying “Dude, that was, like, two years ago.” The president again waxed livid about a few Cleveland-based rogue agents of the Internal Revenue Service harassing his political enemies, but when a high-ranking official invoked a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and it became apparent that the plot seeped deep into Washington he dismissed it as one of those “phony scandals.” The pattern is so obvious that even the slow-witted wags of the Republican National Committee have noticed, putting together an amusing montage of the president’s recurring wrath, and it seems unlikely that this time around will yield actual results.
Even so, it’s heartening that the VA story has sufficient legs to force yet another statement of the president’s anger. Every time Obama goes into his angry mode he sounds so very convincing that the average voters wind up wishing that he could be president so he might do something about it, and one can only hope they’ll eventually notice that he has been president for more than five years. The president’s spokesmen are disputing reports that he knew about the VA’s deadly practices back in ’08, and insist that he only learned of it by reading the latest newspapers, and even if that date sticks he’ll have the ready excuse of blaming it on the all-purpose scapegoat of the George W. Bush administration, but there’s faint hope the public won’t buy it yet again. Presidents have traditionally been expected to know more than what they read in the newspapers, and for all his faults George W. Bush can’t plausibly be blamed for what Obama hasn’t done over the past five years.
The dangerous inadequacies of the VA certainly do stretch back to the Bush years, and probably all the way back to its very beginning. Congressional Republicans are responding to the problem with a proposal to allow the VA Secretary to actually fire someone, rather than risking any political problems by calling for the firing of a former Four Star General who became a Democratic darling by criticizing Bush’s Iraq War policies, and it demonstrates the inherent problems of efficiently running a federal government bureaucracy. This should raise questions about the ability of a federal government bureaucracy to administer health care for everyone, and not just a relatively small number of veterans, and we expect the president will be angry about that. Pretty much the entire Obama agenda is based on the argument that government knows best and can be trusted, and in any case Obama deserves such trust, and the argument is not bolstered by the latest revelations about the VA.

— Bud Norman

Blaming the Victims

The first phase in dealing with an imminent doom, according to the famous Kübler-Ross “stages of grief” theory, is denial. The second phase, according to the Democratic Party’s playbook, is blaming the Republicans.
So it has gone with the slow, painful death of Obamacare. At first the Democrats were insistent that all was not only fine but also dandy with the health care reform law, but once even the morning newspapers and the late-night comics started kicking at the corpse that pretense has become impossible to maintain. Although the White House is still insisting that all is well, much like Kevin Bacon’s character in the climactic riot scene at the end of “Animal House,” the rest of the party has moved onto that necessary step of finding a suitable scapegoat.
The most reliable play in the party’s playbook is blaming George W. Bush, of course, but certain well-known facts make it difficult to execute in this case. Even the least informed of the low-information voters are aware that Obamacare is a creation of the Obama administration, with the very name being one obvious reminder of this fact, and the president has done too much bragging about it to deny responsibility now. The best minds of the liberal blogosphere are no doubt hard at work trying to contrive some plausible way to blame Bush, or at least Dick Cheney, but thus far the theory has not been unveiled.

There are a few other Republicans left in Washington, so the Democrats know which direction to point their fingers as they shout “j’accuse,” but the accusation requires a more fertile imagination than the average non-Democrat is likely to possess. Not a single Republican voted for Obamacare, not even a single one of those squishy RINO types from the northeast, and almost all of them have repeatedly reiterated their opposition in a series of votes to de-fund, delay, or downright repeal the hated law. To further exonerate the Republican Party, even as it enrages the rank-and-file, all of those votes have done nothing to obstruct the relentless implementation of the law.
This doesn’t prevent the Democrats from blaming Republican obstructionism for the law’s increasingly apparent problems, of course, nor does it diminish the Democrats’ indignation. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the most indignant politician ever, has accused the Republicans of “sabotage.” Former Vermont governor, Democratic National Committee chairman, and noted screamer Howard Dean has taken a similar line, saying the Republican have “thrown monkey wrenches” into the exquisite gear work of Obamacare. President Obama himself has accused the Republicans of “rooting for failure,” with a sports fan’s faith that rooting somehow affects the outcome of a game, and seems ready to fully shift the blame once he is at last forced to give up his denial.
A couple of explanations for the Republicans’ culpability are currently being auditioned before a friendly Democratic audience, which has been predictably receptive, but it remains to be seen if they will play to a wider audience.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has blamed the brief partial shutdown of the federal government, which he in turn blames on the Republicans, for the widely-reported failure of the Obamacare web site. This will no doubt seem quite convincing to any Democrats still eager for evidence that he partial shutdown of the federal government was a bad thing, but less-partisan observers will note that the web site’s disastrous launch coincided with the shutdown and it’s shoddy design by the Democratic-connected firm of Shemp, Curly, and Moe predated any thought of the shutdown by several years. Anyone gullible enough to believe this argument will need to apprised that there was a partial government shutdown, and brought up to speed on how it was the Republicans’ insane insistence on a one-year-delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate was responsible for the horrible consequences that no one noticed, and what an “individual mandate” is, and never mind that several Democratic Senators are now calling for its one-year delay, so it becomes a difficult argument to make.
The other Republicans to be blamed are the 26 governors who declined to set up Obamacare exchanges in their states, leaving the thankless chore to the federal government that had concocted the crazy idea, but this is also a hard sell. Here in Kansas the Democrats are seething that our very Republican Gov. Sam Brownback declined to create a state exchange, but they’re the same people who tell us that Obama is the most brilliant and virtuous person in the history of mankind and that Brownback is both moronic and venal, so it’s hard to see why they’d prefer to see the latter administering their health care than the former. All those Republican governors are said to be moronic and venal, but they don’t seem to have nearly the problems or done any of the damage that can be attributed to the allegedly brilliant and virtuous Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who did the job they declined.
Much of the public is predisposed to blame Republicans for anything that goes wrong, and the Democrats can always count on the supportive news and entertainment media to encourage that predisposition, but this time it’s going to require more extraordinary efforts. The Republicans didn’t design Obamacare’s slapstick web site, and were wise not to try, and even after the glitches and bugs and abysmal failures have been worked out the higher premiums, bigger deficits, decreased care, and increased bureaucratic nuttiness that was inherent in the law from the time every single Republican voted against it will become too check-writing clear to be denied or blamed on anyone but the Democrats.

— Bud Norman

In Search of Silver Linings

How bad was the jobs report released on Tuesday? So bad that the unemployment rate went down by a fraction, the stock markets went up by a percent, and Democrats openly admitted their disappointment.
None of these seemingly positive developments should be mistaken for good news, however, given the currently convoluted nature of the American economy. The unemployment rate dropped only because many thousands more Americans gave up any hope of ever finding a job and joined the record number of economic drop-outs. The stock markets surged only because the jobs report was so dismal that it will almost certainly force the Federal Reserve to continue the incessant money-printing that has fueled the deceptive rally. Even the grudging acknowledgements of failure from the Democrats offers little solace, as it’s all a set-up to blaming the “sequester” budget cuts and the temporary partial government shutdown and other Republican perfidy.
An increasingly anxious American public isn’t likely to be misled about the state of the economy by obviously obfuscated unemployment numbers or obviously overpriced stock markets, but there’s always a good chance that that it will buy the part about Republican perfidy. Both the “sequester” and the partial government shutdown had little effect on most Americans, and went entirely unnoticed by almost all of the significant number of blissfully ignorant folks who avoid reading or hearing the news, but there’s a nasty ring to both of them that can be easily exploited. Any fair-minded observer would concede that the Democrats share at least some of the blame for both the “sequester” and shutdown, and that the currently dismal numbers come long after the former and before the latter, but the fair-minded are an insignificant voting bloc these days. One could make a strong argument that Obamacare, other excessive regulations, higher tax rates, growing governmental debt, and the ever more apparent incompetence of a government that daily acquires ever more control of the country have more to do with the sluggish economy than a slight cut in misspending or paid vacations for nonessential government workers, but strong arguments are easily countered by caricatured villains.
Should the Democrats succeed in their blame game, there’s really no good news in the jobs report at all. There are 148,000 new jobs, and we’re glad for that tiny minority of newly-hired workers, but that number is lower than the already-puny annual average and doesn’t offset the exodus of former job-seekers from the work force. At a time when good news is actually bad news we try to remain hopeful that the bad news presages the good news that the people will at last become fed up and try to reverse course, but the people might just agree that what’s required is more of the same.

— Bud Norman

Dancing in the End Zone

A certain amount of taunting and chest-thumping is now an almost obligatory rite of victory in America. This unfortunate trend can be seen in those silly minstrel shows that professional football players perform after every touchdown, in the anonymous trash-talking that is misspelled on the message boards of internet game sites, and lately even in remarks by the President of the United States.
In the aftermath of a perceived victory over the congressional Republicans in the government shutdown standoff, President Barack Obama was as sneering and snotty as an overly-tattooed power forward after a slam dunk when delivering a short speech on Thursday. “There are no winners here,” Obama said, but he had preceded that with a “Let’s be clear” that signaled he didn’t mean a word of it. His attitude throughout the speech was unmistakably triumphalist, albeit unaccountably angry for a putative winner, and he was not at all magnanimous toward his presumably vanquished opponents.
The president showed even less respect for the truth, peppering the speech with dizzying number of exaggerations, half-truths, and outright hogwash. He repeated the dubious claim that a government default would have inevitably followed the passing of the debt ceiling deadline, portrayed the largely unnoticed government shutdown as a major catastrophe, argued that the mere $600 billion budget deficit of the moment is proof of his fiscal rectitude rather than the restraint forced on him by his Republican antagonists in the House, then once more made the argument that unrestrained government is essential to the country’s economic heath. He spoke loftily of the need for growth, as if his policies haven’t been the main impediment to the achieving that goal, and declared that “the American people are fed up with Washington” as if he hasn’t held the most powerful position in that capital city for the past five years.
All the blame, as always, was laid at the feet of those pesky Republicans who dared to defy his imperial edicts. Although he condescended to praise the “reasonable” Republicans who eventually capitulated to his demands, he scolded the “extremes” of the party who “don’t like the word ‘compromise’” and aren’t “willing partners.” Obama is reckoned to have won the shutdown showdown because he was able to compromise less than even his most unwilling adversaries were prepared to do, and by “reasonable” and “willing” partners he clearly means Republicans willing to go along with every detail of his insane agenda, but he does seem to believe that he deserves credit for his generous willingness to work with those anarchistic hostage-taking old-folk-hating terrorists in that other party.
The president’s great victory merely postponed the same old fussing and fighting for a few months, when yet another debt ceiling will be reached and the same old argument that it would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility not to go a few hundred more billion dollars in debt is once again trotted out, but he believes it entitles him to proceed without any bothersome dissent from his vanquished foes. Not only are those Republicans in the House of Representatives are expected to stay silent, but also “the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio, and the professional activists who profit from conflict.” Including the “professional activists who profit from conflict” is an especially audacious choice, coming from a man who touted his years as a community organizer to win election, and it’s not as if Obama has demonstrated any sort of aversion to the right sort of lobbyists during his time office, but the disdain for the folks exercising their First Amendment rights to criticize his actions is also quite worrisome coming from a president.
Obama went on to taunt his opponents to “Go out there and win an election. Push to change it, but don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country’s about.” Coming from the man who promised to “fundamentally transform” the country, and was eager to vote against raising the debt ceiling when a Republican was in the White House, and apparently believes that his convoluted socialized medicine scheme is what our predecessors spent over two centuries building, this is rich. Those Republicans who bravely voted against handing yet another few hundred billion dollars of debt to the president did win elections, and they won them on a promise to get rid of Obamacare and at least slow the growth of an ever-expanding government. Such resistance might offend Ocala’s sense of entitlement, but it is very much a part of the system he claims to uphold. Elsewhere in the speech Obama indicated that he will use the next few months of increased debt to pursue immigration reform that will sign up a few more million Democratic voters and a farm bill that continues to churn out corporate and social welfare, and he seemed offended in advance by the predictable resistance.
After some blather about the selfless government employees who endured a lengthy paid vacation during the shutdown, Obama ended with some old-fashioned hope-and-change rhetoric about everyone working together to do whatever his heart might desire. He graciously allowed that there will be some differences of opinion, but with chin aloft he intoned that “It can’t degenerate into hatred.” Not like those anarchistic, hostage-taking, old-folk-hating Republicans, you know.

— Bud Norman

Apocalypse Now

As we write this a shutdown of the federal government seems imminent, so we’ve already begun our preparations for the promised apocalypse. We’ve stocked up on barely-legal semi-automatic weaponry and have plenty of ammunition, which should be more readily available if the Department of Homeland Security goes on furlough, and have cancelled our plans to visit a national park.
Women, minorities, the elderly, and visitors to the national parks always seem to suffer most during these intermittent shutdowns, judging by the histrionic coverage that invariably follows in the traditional media, but we’re keeping the extra firepower on hand just in case the more dire predictions of complete societal breakdown are at long last realized. Having grown up in the ‘70s era of dystopian futurist motion pictures we have a vague notion of how to survive a complete societal breakdown, and having lived through the entirety of the ‘60s we have some real-life experience of it, so we feel ready for anything this latest government shutdown might bring. We’re hopeful it won’t require the Mohawk hairdos and football padding featured in the “Mad Max” movies, as that is not a good look for us, but otherwise we say bring it on. Should we happen upon a half-buried Statue of Liberty in the near future, we’ve already rehearsed the part where we drop to our knees and shake a fist while shouting “Damn you, damn you to hell.”
A more realistic worry is that the Republicans will be blamed for whatever minor inconveniences ensue, and even by the time of the ’14 mid-term elections the public’s wrath will still be stoked enough to result in a predominantly-Democratic Congress and empowered Democratic president much like that one that begat the regrettable Obamacare law which seems to be the cause of the current fuss. This is a distinct possibility, if the conventional wisdom is any guide, and we have no doubt the consequences would be far more catastrophic than anything the most feverish Hollywood imaginations of the ‘70s could conceive. Even so, the Republicans’ foolhardy stand against Obamacare is well worth the risk.
For one thing, the most dire predictions seem far-fetched. Government workers who are delayed their overpayment might well remember the affront a year from November, but they’ll be voting Democrat in any case. For the rest of us the shutdown will be long forgotten by that far-off date, while the myriad annoyances of Obamacare will still be very much with us, so it will require even more than the usual Republican ineptness to allow the Democrats to re-take the House. The latest polling by CNN is given is the usual Democratic spin, but a closer look at the numbers suggests that the Obama’s regal refusal to negotiate with the Republicans on his namesake healthcare legislation is not playing well with the electorate. There’s an outside chance that the Republicans might even benefit from the imbroglio, and looking ahead to the inevitable full implementation of Obamacare and its full complete unpopularity he resistance might even prove a political masterstroke. That would top anything in the movies, but it’s within the realm of possibility in this crazy day and age.
Once those twenty-something dullards out there realize that Obamacare does not mean free health care, but rather paying for privilege of being uninsured, the already desultory number of supports is going to further plummet. Whatever the effects of the government shutdown, the party that that insisted upon it rather than accept any delay in this stupid law will be held accountable.

— Bud Norman

Jumping the Gun

The horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon dominated the news again Tuesday, even though there was nothing new to report. There were the sympathetic portraits of the victims and celebratory tales of the kindness and heroism that also occurred, both of which are obligatory rites of journalism in the aftermath of such tragedies, but nothing to answer the crucial questions of who was responsible.
Journalists are obliged to write something about such events, however, and after 35 years of working for newspapers we can attest that most of them are loathe to admit when they have no answers. We’ve had numerous editors over the years who insisted on answers to unanswerable questions, apparently under the impression that the ultimate truth is just another phone call and any failure to provide it is a dereliction of journalistic duty, and in today’s dwindling labor market too many reporters are eager to oblige them even without any sound proof. There are always the sympathetic portraits to write, which make for grim duty but contribute some small human aspect to the truth, as well as the celebratory tales of kindness and heroism, which are also a true part of the story and certainly merit celebration, but in his heart the typical reporter of our experience wants to be able to point a finger of blame.
All the better if one is able to point that dreaded finger at the preferred villains, which explains the eagerness of so many in the establishment media to note that the culprit might be a right-wing extremist. At this point it is quite true that it might be so, given that no definitive evidence has been uncovered to prove otherwise, but it would be just as true and just as pointless to note that it might also be a left-wing extremist or an Islamist extremist or any number of other sorts of extremists. The main evidence offered for the right-wing extremist theory is that the attacks occurred on the day that income taxes are due, but the more pertinent fact would seem to be that it occurred on the day of the Boston Marathon.
Other sources would prefer to implicate Islamist terrorists, which seems at least as plausible as any other explanation. There is some circumstantial evidence for the theory that is worth reporting, such as the similarity of the bomb to the improvised explosive devices that have been used against American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it does not constitute proof of anything. Should the theory be proved it will surely be followed by reminders that the work of a few extremists should not reflect poorly on a broader ideology, a point that those blaming right-wing extremism have not made on behalf of conservatism, but to much of the press Islamist terrorists are not the preferred villains.
Journalists needing something to write about as they await real information about the Boston Marathon bombings have no lack of material. The on-going debates about guns and illegal immigration have been so completely overlooked in the aftermath of Monday’s bombing that a savvy Senator might well choose to rush through something that would provoke widespread public outrage in different circumstances, and there’s a trial of an abortion doctor going in Philadelphia that much of the press has been looking for reasons to ignore.
The bombings in Boston are of the utmost importance, of course, but that’s all the more reason to wait until there are hard facts to report.

— Bud Norman