Driving the Eerily Empty Streets

Forty million Californians are now under house arrest due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus, and millions more Americans across the country are voluntarily staying at home. For now, there’s not much to do even if you dare leave the house.
Being daredevils we ventured out last night to get some drive-through fast food, handed to us by a gloved cashier, and figured that as long as we kept the windows rolled up and the doors locked it would be safe to use some suddenly inexpensive gasoline to drive around town. The Old Town and Delano districts are usually packed with customers for the popular bars and restaurants there, but both were eerily dark and empty. The elaborate neon marquee of the grand old Orpheum Theater where we had hoped to perform in the annual Girdiron Show next month announced that it was indefinitely shut down, and our friends who produce and perform at the nearby Roxy’s Downtown theater are also on hiatus.
Our favorite dive bar is locked up, so is our second favorite dive bar, and although our church is still holding services it has cancelled classes and attendance is down. We can’t visit our parents because their retirement community is locked down and its residents confined to the apartments where the staff delivers meals, and now seems an inopportune time to drop in on our friends.
When the weather warms up again we’ll figure it’s safe to take a long walk through our picturesque neighborhood and its several parks, but the nearby art museum and botanical garden are both closed for the duration, and we’re advised to avoid coming within six feet of another human being.
This might be an overreaction or it might be necessary precautions — as we have no expertise in epidemiology and can’t say –but we do know that it’s not a happy situation. The economic repercussions from everyone staying at home will surely be severe, as so many of our friends are already all too aware, and the psychological effects might be worse. By nature human beings need to interact with family and friends and the interesting people you might encounter in a public place, and the patriotic call for “social distancing” requires real sacrifice.
If you have a job that can be done from home and are happily married with well-behaved children you can home school, it might not seem so bad and could even have its advantages, so count yourself lucky. If your business is shut down and you live alone or, worse yet, with someone abusive, these are hard times.

— Bud Norman

Trump Takes on California

More information leaked out about that mysterious whistle-blower scandal, which was the Drudge Report’s top story and making its way to the hourly reports on the local talk radio station by Thursday, but as we await more details the story that caught out eye was President Donald Trump’s threat to sic the Environmental Protection Agency on the city of San Francisco.
Trump has lately been on a lucrative fund-raising tour in California, and while there he’s waged several rhetorical and political battles against the state. He seems to understand that he’s not going to win California’s rich trove of electoral votes in any case, but that its dwindling number of over-regulated and over-taxed and under-appreciated Republicans will appreciate his attacks, not to mention all the red state voters who resent California’s outsized political and economic and cultural influence. He drew attention to the growing and increasingly troublesome problem of homelessness in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which is at least in part a result of those famously liberal enclaves’ bleeding heart indulgence, and said he’d have the EPA slap on a violation notice on the City by the Bay  for all the environmental problems its home population is causing.
Many years have passed since our last visit to ‘Cisco, which was back in days of the dirty hippies of Haight-Ashbury, but by all accounts the homeless are by now an even more significant annoyance  there. Trump mostly complained that they’re bad for his rich donors’ businesses, but he also argued that their drug needles and excrement and flowing through the storm drains into the ocean. San Francisco’s mayor, fittingly named London Breed, insists the city is investing in shelters and mental health programs to combat the problem, and the EPA declined to comment on Trump’s threat, but the president probably has a point.
Even so, Mayor Breed can also make a strong argument that Trump’s threat to withdraw California’s waver to set its own clean air standards poses a greater threat to the state’s environment than all those drug-abusing and defecating homeless people. California has long had the nation’s strictest standards for how much pollution cars can emit, which have become the entire world’s de facto standards as the world’s carmakers have sought access to the world’s biggest car-buying market, and it seems to have made Los Angeles’ air less smoggy brown that it used to look at the opening of every episode of Jack Webb’s ultra-conservative cop show “Dragnet ’68.” The carmakers have become accustomed to the higher standards, car-buyers no longer notice the extra cost, and as much as our conservative Kansas Republican souls resent bossy governmental regulation our old-fashioned federalist principles don’t want to force Californians to put up with dirtier air.
Like all good heartlanders we’re inclined to regard California as the land of fruits of nuts, but we must admit that even here in business-oriented and Republican-voting and tough-love Wichita there’s also a severe problem with the homeless. On a drive past downtown’s once-elegant Shirkmere Apartments you’ll find a Hooverville-sized encampment of desperate souls outside the social service agency across the street, and you can’t go from the fuel pumps to the front door of the QuikTrips on Douglas and Seneca or Broadway and Murdock without getting panhandled. The local library’s main branch had to move from the heart of downtown to just across the Arkansas River in Delano, where the homeless have already found shelter from the heat and cold.
It’s an environmental mess here, too, and the good people of the Presbyterian church across the street from the soup kitchen that feeds the homeless has reluctantly built a fence to prevent the defecations on their steps that routinely occurred, but for now at least we probably won’t be bothered by the EPA’s intervention. The sooner-or-later next Democratic administration might change that, and we’ll be quite peeved about it if they do, but at least we won’t be hypocrites when we object to outsiders telling us how to go about our business. We have no better idea about how to deal with the homeless problem than those snooty know-it-alls in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and we think it best that all 50 states and their biggest cities  figure it out for themselves. One of them is bound to come up with something better than what California or Trump can think of.

— Bud Norman

A Kansas Republican’s California Dreamin’

At the risk of revealing our rather advanced age, we admit to remembering a time when the Republican party used to win some significant elections in the populous state of California. The California born-and-bred Richard Nixon won the state’s electoral votes in a failed bid the year after we born, then famously lost a race for the state’s governorship, prematurely taunting the press that they wouldn’t have Nixon to kick to around anymore, but went on to win the state’s presidential electoral votes in both the close call of ’68 and his landslide reelection year of ’72. The quintessentially Republican Ronald Reagan then won two gubernatorial elections in the state, served the state well in both terms, and in our young adulthoods thus won the state’s electoral votes in the 1980 presidential race, and California was among the record 49 states he won in his record landslide reelection in ’84.
Since then the Democrats have kept winning the state’s presidential votes every four years, but the Republican party at least kept a significant foothold among all the the Okies and Arkies in the central part of the state and the well-educated and well-off and over-taxed and over-regulated Republicans in Orange County and other suburban congressional districts. The California Republicans were always outnumbered by the California Democrats, but populous California has such an outsized number of congressional districts that there were usually enough Republicans to bolster the off-and-on Republican republican majorities in the House of Representatives. At the moment California is a big reason that the Republican House majority is once again off, however, with even those suburban districts flipping to the Democrats, and Orange County now entirely blue, and for the foreseeable future the Grand Old Party seems out of business in the Golden State.
A big part of the Republican party’s problem is the changing nature of California, of course. The state is a bit blacker and a whole lot browner than it was back when Nixon and Reagan were winning the state’s electoral votes, a large number of those Central California Okies and Arkies have moved back to Oklahoma and Arkansas, and a bigger chunk of the remaining white folk work in Hollywood or have high-tech jobs in the San Francisco area and are thus obliged to vote Democratic no matter how over-taxed and over-regulated they might be. California’s a crazier state than ever, too, from our old-fashioned conservative and entirely sane Kansas Republican perspective, and we must admit we can’t quite see how the party should accommodate it.
Even so, we must acknowledge that the Republican party has changed in ways that even the craziest Californian can rightly object to. These days the Republicans are openly the party of white inland Americans reasonably terrified by the California-ization of America, and although there’s a compelling argument to be made to those mostly hard-working black and brown Californians that they’re also over-taxed and over-regulated, the party lately seems less interested in making that argument than whipping up the same sort of odious identify politics among the state’s remaining white folks that California’s Democratic party has has long whipped up among its black and brown and guilt-ridden white folk.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have managed to lose almost all of those once reliably California Republican districts in the mostly white white and well-educated and well-off Republican suburbs. Part of that is probably that that big tax cut bill that the Republicans hoped to run on, which capped the tax deductions that high-property tax states such as California could deduct, thus leaving a lot of over-taxed Republicans in California and other high-tax Democratic states with an even higher tax bill. We remember discussing the matter with a Kansas Republican friend who thought that was a good idea, as those damned Californians deserved it for living in a Democratic state, but at the time we thought it was easier for him to say than a Republican congressman running for reelection in California or some other high-tax Democratic state, and after the Republican bloodbath in the past suburban Californian midterms we feel vindicated. We also suspect that the current Republican party’s suddenly unabashed sexual piggishness had something to do with all those well-educated and well-off yet over-taxed and over-regulated Republican women voting for Democrats,and claim vindication about that.
At the moment much of California is on fire, and the fires don’t seem to care much if you’re black or white or brown or male or female or rich or poor or somewhere in between, and we can’t blame any crazy Californian for concluding he Republican party largely seems to believe they had it coming. Republican President Donald Trump’s first “tweets” about the tragedy didn’t mention any sympathy for the victims or support for the first responders, but instead emphasized the state’s poor forest management policies and threatened to further withhold federal funding the emergency. When Trump at last appeared over the weekend at the fire’s edges he had kinder words for the firefighters, and was backing off his threats of withholding federal relief, but he continued to blame the state for its troubles. Trump couldn’t explain how he’d acquired such expertise in forest management during his real estate and reality show career, and all the people with real credentials about it said he didn’t know what he was talking about, and even the Finnish head of state that Trump cited as a consulting expert didn’t back up his claims, but as always he stood his ground.
The Trump-run feds have more jurisdiction over California’s public land than the state does, and according to longstanding Republican principles most of California is still privately held, however, so by now we can’t blame even the craziest Californian for believing that the Republicans in the other 49 states figure they had it coming. As much as we hope that Kansas never gets quite so crazy as California, we only wish that crazy state well. There are more Americans there than in any other state, and they contribute a similarly outsized share of our nation’s economic output, and we have to admit that at least some of those Hollywood movies and high-tech gadgets are beneficial to our lives. We also have some beloved kinfolk remaining in California, and although they’re up-to-date Republicans who probably figure the state had it coming we hope their houses don’t burn down, and we wish them all well. Even so, we can’t blame any of them for worrying and that the Republicans in the other 49 states will pitch in if worse comes to worst.
At the risk of sounding downright ancient, we’re still hopeful for an  eventual post-Trump 49-state Republican majority for low-taxes and light regulations and stick-together national unity that includes even some of those crazy Californians.

— Bud norman

An Balance of Power and an Imbalance of Everything Else

For some reason or another a few of the votes cast in this crazy presidential election year are still being counted, but by now it seems certain that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will win the popular vote by a comfortable margin. This doesn’t change the more salient fact that Republican nominee Donald Trump won by a similarly comfortable margin in the electoral vote and is thus the president-elect, nor should it, but the final tally of votes cast across the country is still a fact worth pondering.
This crazy election year has resulted in a slight Republican majority in the Senate and a more sizable majority in the House of Representatives, a recent Republican of unproven Republicanism in the White House, a good shot at a Republican majority in the Supreme Court for another generation, and a number of Republican governors and state legislatures and county commissions and small town councils and school boards not seen since the days of Calvin Coolidge. At such a moment of seeming political triumphalism as this, unseen since the eight short years ago when Democratic nominee Barack Obama became president with a more impressive electoral majority and the Democrats had a bigger edge in the House and a filibuster-proof advantage in the Senate and another generation of the Supreme Court suddenly within reach, something in our instinctively gloomy conservative soul is struck by the unavoidable truth that the GOP has now lost six of the past seven presidential popular votes.
Take a look at an electoral map of any of the past several presidential election years, not just this crazy one, and you’ll immediately notice that the Republican red portions take up far more space than the Democratic blue portions. That long swath of blue running down the west coast and the blue patch in the southwest and those usual blue suspects in the northeast have as many people packed into them as that vast red splotch, however, and although they’re now narrowly missing a couple of those rust-belt states along the Great Lakes it would be foolish to assume the Democrats and their popular vote plurality are a vanquished foe. The recent Republican of questionable Republicanism who is now the president-elect has often seemed eager to please that portion of the popularity market, and some of the more longstanding Republicans who won more votes in their states are already set to clash with their newly-fledged party leaders on a variety of issues, and there’s no telling what strange bed-fellowships might spare us from or lead us into the worst of it. It’s bound to be contentious, and as the president-elect might say, that we can tell you, believe us, OK?
We’ll hold out faint hope that the same crazy constitutional system that somehow resulted in this crazy election year will once again withstand such craziness. Surely the founding fathers didn’t intend the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, any more than they would have desired the election of Hillary Clinton to that office, but from our perspective in the middle of the country we think they were wise to devise a system that prevented those small but densely populated blue dots from imposing their will on those vast yet sparsely populated red splotches, and made it hard for either one to ultimately vanquish the other. California and New York can do any constitutional yet crazy thing they want to so long as we hayseed Kansans and our mere six electoral votes are free to pursue whatever craziness we might choose, as far as we’re concerned, and we still think that’s the best arrangement for 50 very different states striving to form a more perfect union. Our liberal friends here in Kansas won’t like it, and we’ve got a rock-ribbedly Republican brother stuck in California who’s just as disgruntled, and there’s no guarantee that anyone will like how those matters of unavoidably national interest are settled, but it might just turn out to be at least tolerable to everyone.

— Bud Norman

To Vaccine, or Not to Vaccine

There’s been a spate of news stories about vaccinations lately, and we’re not sure why. It seems to have something to do with an outbreak of measles that started in California and has since spread to seven other states, Mexico, and the bloodstream of the nation’s politics as far away as New Jersey, as the press has avidly pressed all the prominent public figures about their stands on mandatory vaccinations. Most of the brouhaha seems to involve two of the more prominent potential Republican presidential candidates, rather than what the people who actually make current policy are doing, so we suspect all the coverage might have more to do with partisanship rather than the public health.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have both been pilloried for offering the opinion that perhaps in some cases vaccinations should be voluntary, with many pundits extrapolating that such anti-science craziness is running amok in the Republican party, but the storyline might lead to conclusions that the press does not intend.
Although we’re not inclined to support the presidential candidacies of either Christie or Paul their comments don’t seem so very extreme, and to the extent they are it’s hardly a craziness unique to the Republican party. Christie reportedly called for “balance” between individual rights and community health and “some measure of choice” before clarifying the comments by saying “there is no question that children should be vaccinated.” Paul waded into deeper waters by claiming vaccinations should be voluntary as they have been associated with mental disorders and saying that parents “should have some input,” which led to the resurrection of earlier quotes likening mandatory vaccinations to martial law, but he’s also done some clarifying by saying that he didn’t mean to find a causation rather than just a correlation between vaccination and mental disorders and the demonstrating his acceptance of vaccination as a medical practice by “tweeting” a photograph of himself getting a booster shot. Both men might be mistaken even in their most carefully clarified opinions, but neither seem to be on the lunatic fringe.
We have no expertise in any medical field that would entitle us to comment on the matter, but our general experience of civilization has inoculated in us a belief that individual liberty and parental rights should not weigh lightly on the scale counter-balancing communal concerns. Nor do we trust blindly in scientific expertise, which has never been infallible and lately seems more fallible than ever. If the people who truly do know what they’re talking about are verifiably correct that such coercive measures as barring un-vaccinated children from school are required to protect the reset of the population from outbreaks of deadly disease we have no problem with those policies, but that conclusion can only be verified by the most skeptical analysis. There’s a long history of public policy and jurisprudence on the question of mandatory vaccinations, with public debate pushing the scales on both sides at various times, and one can only hope that if the debate isn’t shut down prematurely it will lead to the most beneficial outcome this time around.
Skeptical analysis will strike some as a superstitious and anti-scientific attitude, and this may well be one of those occasions when skepticism is overcome by scientific proof, but it is by no means unique to any particular party or political philosophy. The eminently conservative National Review makes an eminently conservative case for mandatory vaccinations, while the anti-vaccination groups are largely funded by liberal donors. Such an influential pundit as Jon Stewart let Robert Kennedy Jr. go on about his anti-vaccination views,  and fellow agitprop comic Bill Maher voiced opinions that go beyond what Christie or Paul ever while said  token Republican guest former Republican Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist was calling him “crazy.” For as long as we can remember the pretty face of the anti-vaccination movement has been former Playboy model and reality television star Jenny McCarthy, and although we’re not sure of her political views on any other topic we doubt she’s a doctrinaire Republican. An instinctive distrust of the medical establishment is now more common among the holistic and homeopathic sort of liberals than it is among those simple rural Republican folk who used to fall for goat-gland quackery but now sign up for insurance that will cover all the latest medical marvels, and if we all die for lack of vaccination it will be hard to pin it on the Republican party or conservatism generally.
This all started in California, as we recall from a few paragraphs ago, and there’s no plausible way to blame the Republicans for anything that happens there. After several giddy stories about Christie’s and Paul’s apparent missteps The Washington Post got around to reporting that even presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton might take a mistaken step in the “political minefield” of vaccination politics, but in her case they worry that her past advocacy of mandatory vaccinations will be a liability and that her brief flirtation with the now-assumed-debunked theory that vaccinations cause autism will also be a problem. Given that Clinton is more likely to be the Democratic nominee than either Christie or Paul are to be the Republican standard-bearer, that story might stick around longer.
In case you’re wondering where the current president stands on this, be assured that a grand total of three reporters among the ravenous pack at the latest press conference put the question to the White House spokesman. It took all three tries and more than an hour, but at they at last elicited the answer that parents certainly should have their children vaccinated, and that therefore every parent will do so,  so the federal government need not force them to do so. This strikes us as very similar to the more controversial remarks by Christie and Paul, and just as incoherent, but it comes from the White House and is therefore assumed to be a very centrist and reasonable position. There were no question regarding the $50 million that Obama’s budget proposes cutting from vaccination programs for the uninsured, but we would have enjoyed hearing the response.
Having no children we don’t have to reach any decisions concerning pediatric inoculations, and unless any of our personal problems can be somehow attributed to some previously undetected form of autism we are grateful that our parents chose to follow the prevailing medical advice of decades past, although we’ve forgone any shots for many years now without any apparent ill effects, but we offer no advice to anyone regarding vaccinations. Whatever you might be forced to choose, you’ll probably make as good a guess as any politician.

— Bud Norman

Resisting the Invasion in a Small Town

The tiny southern California town of Murrieta had entirely escaped our notice until Wednesday, when a large group of Murrietans blocked at the city limits a convoy of Homeland Security Agency buses that were attempting to bring in some of the tens of thousands of illegal aliens detained during the recent invasion of unaccompanied minors, but we now admire its spunk.
Such a bold act of civil disobedience is especially remarkable in California, a one party state where the one party is enthusiastic about illegal immigration and intolerant of any dissent, and the media reaction has been predictably disapproving. The Los Angeles Times devoted most of its coverage to the views of a local resident who had hoped to welcome the illegal immigrants into the warm embrace and financial support of the community, and was appalled by the alleged lack of compassion shown by her townsfolk, while other outlets seemed distressed by the American flags that were waved at the blockade. Perhaps the heroine of that Times story is correct about the self and xenophobic motives of her neighbors, and there is no doubting that her own intentions are altruistic, but even if we assume the worst about the the town it is still right to resist.
Impoverished youngsters seeking the freedom and prosperity of America are ordinarily sympathetic subjects for a sob story, but not when they’re mostly precociously tough teenagers from some of the Third World’s most notorious slums and are coming in overwhelming numbers that include a sizable share of gang members and disease-carriers and future wards of the welfare state. The concerned young woman in the Times story could surely muster some compassion for the legal residents of her town who are reluctant to assume the considerable cost of dealing with a sudden infusion of unskilled and unemployable and very much uninvited youths, or at least for the victims of the crimes and social disruptions that are sure to follow. If Murrieta is indeed the hotbed of unkind bigotry that the times would have us believe it only seems all the more unlikely that infusion of a few hundred foreigners will work out well for anyone.
If Murrieta were to offer its warm embrace and financial support and unthinking compassion to the unaccompanied alien minors it would have the even more unfortunate result of inviting a few more tens of thousands of them to join the invasion. Already the invaders are overwhelming the ability of the federal government to care for them, with social service agencies as far away and well-funded as New York City pleading for relief, so it seems inevitable that tiny towns such as Murrieta will soon exhaust both their resources and compassion. The president’s oh-so-compassionate executive order to defer deportation of unaccompanied minor aliens for two years started the invasion, and even he is now trying to stave it off with threats of sending the invaders home.
We don’t take those threats seriously, and we doubt that anyone in the slums of Central America does, so it is likely the invasion will continue and the blockades will pop up at the city limits of other tiny towns. The blockaders are advised to avoid anything so offensive to media sensibilities as an American flag, and to add the words “Sorry” and “We’d really like to help” to their placards, but we hope that one way or another they’ll hold the line.

— Bud Norman

Brown, Brownback, and Black

First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech in Kansas over the past weekend, and by all press accounts it was a big hit. The press here is every bit as liberal and inclined to fawn over her as it is anywhere else in the country, though, and the speech was delivered in a state capital that is full of government workers with the same liberal and fawning political proclivities as their public sector counterparts elsewhere. We suspect that the more authentic sort of Kansans shared our skepticism about her remarks.
Distaff Obama did not venture here with any hopes of turning our blood-red state blue, but rather to mark the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision that began the end of segregated schooling in America. Being very traditional Republicans from the Bleeding Kansas days we are opposed to any government-enforced segregation in public institutions, so we also celebrate the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, even if we wish it had been made on strict constructionism and radical Republican-inspired 14th Amendment grounds rather than all that silly social science playing-with-dolls nonsense that permeates the decision, but Obama went far beyond that bedrock principle with more up-to-date notions about diversity that warrant questioning. She argued that this year’s high school graduates should instruct their elders on the benefits of ethnic diversity in schools, bemoaned the success of retrograde racists in re-segregating America’s schools, and left an unmistakable inference that her husband’s brand of liberalism is the solution to lingering racial strife, all of which are unmitigated bunk.
“It’s up to all of you to drag my generation’s and your grandparents’ generation along with you,” the First Lady told Topeka’s diversely-educated graduating high school seniors, urging they correct any offensive opinions that their elders might utter. This seems laudable on those occasions when grandpa goes off on some racist rant about keeping the colored folks in their place, even if we’d urge a respectful “‘c’mon, gramps,” rather than a high-minded oration that might result in a slap to the uppity young ‘uns face, but we can’t help wondering how often that comes up in this enlightened day and age. Brown v. Topeka Board of Eduction was handed down 60 years ago, after all, so most of those graduates’ grandparents matriculated during the post-Brown hippie era and enjoyed the same benefits of a multi-cultural education. Our own experience of public school diversity suggests that the main effect is being beaten up and robbed of lunch money by children of all colors, and we still wonder if a school that stressed readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic wouldn’t have been preferable no matter the ethnic composition of the student body, but at it least it taught us not to go off on racist rants about keeping the colored folk in their place even in the comfort of a family gathering. Such rants are even more unlikely in Topeka, where much of the population is gainfully employed by some state-funded diversity program or another, so we are not surprised the youth of that city were so eager to accept the invitation to sassiness. These days racism is so broadly defined that any mild criticism of Obama administration policies is included, and permission to rebuke such outrages understandably plays well with Topeka’s youth.
“Many young people are going to school largely with kids who look just like them,” Obama told the graduates, who were left with the impression that her political opponents must be to blame for this unfortunate turn of events. The students and their parents mixed boos with a few cheers when Republican Gov. Sam Brownback was introduced at the speech, as the state’s press gleefully noted, although it’s understandable in a company town where the CEO is doing some necessary downsizing, but Brownback was predictably pro-Brown v. Board in his brief remarks and presides over a state with a far better record of desegregation than such reliably Democratic jurisdictions as New York or California, and such ham-fisted efforts as school busing and the current administration’s insistence on union rule and discipline-by-quota and resistance to quantifiable readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic are the most plausible reasons why so many well-heeled Democrats including the Obamas have pulled their children out of the public schools.
That bit about “kids who look just like them” rankled, too. We’re old enough to recall a time when it was considered an egregious breach of racial etiquette to comment on the resemblance between any two black people, no matter how doppelganger-like that similarity might be, but these days even the President of the United States and his First Lady seem proud to assert that peoples of certain color all do indeed look like. As people of pallor we resent implication that we resemble the late Marty Feldman, and we take umbrage on Denzel Washington’s behalf that anyone would think he looks like that guy who played “J.J.” on the old “Good Times” sit-com. It’s the sort of thing that grandparents should chide their grandchildren for suggesting, if that were still socially acceptable.
Worst of all, to our ears, was the unspoken but unmistakable claim that what’s needed is more of the divide-and-consquer identity group politics that is a hallmark of the Obama administration. The government should be color-blind in dispensing its services, as Brown v. Topeka Board of Education asserted, but it should leave the rest of it to the people to work out. It’s a tricky process but we’re doing a better job of here in blood-red Kansas than in the more enlightened states Back East and Out West, and the First Lady’s advice to rag on ol’ hippie grandpa for grousing about Obamacare issn’t helpful.

— Bud Norman

Rumblings in California

The fault lines running through California are becoming active, and we don’t mean that in the seismological sense.
For some time we’ve been eagerly anticipating the fissures within the liberal coalition to start cracking, leading to a long-overdue political earthquake. Modern liberalism isn’t so much an ideology as a loose confederation of ethnic and economic interest groups, whose interests are often in conflict, and even the rigid discipline that the Democratic party somehow commands cannot keep it stable forever. The big shake-ups and crack-ups that occasionally roil across America’s cultural and political life often originate in California, and two recent stories out of the Golden State suggest that it might be happening again.
One concerned the California Assembly’s attempts to restore affirmative action at the state’s universities, a cause dear to liberal hearts. Affirmative action is especially dear to the hearts of liberal blacks and Latinos, who are allowed admission to the more desirable universities with inferior qualifications than other applicants, but is not as popular with liberal Asians, who often are the other applicants who are denied admission despite their superior qualifications. The old system that California voted down was so convoluted that whites with lesser academic credentials were favored over harder-working Asians, which endeared the scam to liberal whites even if didn’t quite fit with their rationale that affirmative action is rectifying past injustices, but most of the Democrats in the Assembly were eager to restore it.
The measure now seems unlikely to pass, however, because the Asian-American members of the party are refusing to go along. There are enough of them that when you add their total to the Republican Party’s puny representation it can quash such nonsense, apparently, and if they start to realize how often their economic interests coincide with those mean old white men from Orange County or wherever the last few California Republicans come from it might even thwart a lot of the other bad ideas that become law in California.
The other story concerned the far-left’s ongoing crime spree against the high-tech industry. With “economic inequality” currently the favorite gripe of liberalism the more active liberals in Northern California have lately been vandalizing the opulent buses provided by the Google company to its well-paid employees, and in recent days they’ve become tipping over those tiny “smart cars” favored by the high-tech workers. Silicon Valley has been a reliable source of funds and votes for the Democrats for many years, the Google buses are intended to cut down on traffic congestion and fuel consumption and global warming and all those other things that liberals profess to hate, but for now it’s apparently more progressive to hate anyone making a certain amount of money. Those tipped-over “smart cars” even sported the obligatory Obama for President bumper stickers, but even such displays of righteousness will not spare you the wrath of income inequality mob. Some are claiming those Obama bumper stickers suggest the work of right-wingers, as if mobs of mayhem-minded Romney voters are terrorizing the streets of San Francisco, but it would be hard for even the party-loyal anarchist to find a car in that city without one.
The Google executives who’ve found angry mobs on their front yards are loyal Democrats, but perhaps they’ll reconsider as it becomes apparent that the guillotine is being sharpened for them as well as those rich industrialists. Silicon Valley is as steadfastly capitalist as any Kansas oil field, after all, and it’s hard to see how they’ve benefited from all the regulations and taxations they’ve helped to impose on all their customers. We’ve always suspected their leftist leanings were mostly motivated by a desire to be hip, but as they age into proper industrialist maturity and realize that angry mobs and vandalized buses are now the height of hipness they might even take their natural place in the Republican party.
Or maybe not. The discipline of the Democratic party has proved strong, and they’ve been able to cobble together new confederations out of different ethnic and economic interests as some the old ones prospered just enough to move on, and they might be able to whip up enough race- and class-baiting to keep the current one intact. If so, we’ll need fault lines of the seismological sort to solve the California problem.

— Bud Norman

The Celebrities are Revolting

As a general rule we pay no attention to the political pronouncements of celebrities. Film and television actors, pop music performers, comedians, models, and the various other sorts of beautiful people who comprise the celebrity class have no apparent expertise outside their fields of endeavor, after all, and these days they don’t seem to have much talent for anything at all.
Nonetheless, we were intrigued to read that Bill Maher, host of a cable television talk show of some notoriety, was recently heard on the program grousing about his high taxes. The comments came after his guest Rachel Maddow, the boyishly handsome left-wing news commentator, delivered a long rant about the Republican budget proposal complete with the obligatory sarcastic claim that “it says the big problem in America right now is that rich people do not have enough money, they need relief from confiscatory tax rates.” This prompted Maher to respond “You know what? Rich people — I’m sure you’d agree with this — actually do pay the freight in this country … I just saw the statistics, I mean, something like 70 percent. And here in California, I just want to say to liberals, you could actually lose me. It’s outrageous what we’re paying — over 50 percent. I’m willing to pay my share, but yeah, it’s ridiculous.”
The observation is hardly original, and indeed the statistics that Maher “just saw” are well known to anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to conservative arguments during the past many years of tax debates, but it is a hopeful sign when the likes of Maher are offering it. A formerly funny comedian known for his foul-mouthed blaspheming and smug self-certainty, Maher has evolved over the years from an idiosyncratic iconoclast to a drearily doctrinaire liberal who contributed $1 million to Barack Obama’s soak-the-rich presidential campaign and consistently toed the same redistributionist line that Maddow was predictably peddling.
This probably doesn’t signal that the celebrity class will soon turn to the Republican side, but it is yet another indication that the taxes on the highest income earners — especially in such celebrity-infested states as New York and California — have reached a point that more outspokenly liberal rich folks are finding objectionable. Maher joins fellow unfunny comedians Whoopi Goldberg and Jon Lovitz in stating so, along with professional golf star Phil Mickelson and a few other athletes, and if more celebrities feel emboldened to join them it could have pleasant political ramifications.
The recent hatred for the rich has been peculiarly inconsistent, with business executives, entrepreneurs, professionals, and other productive citizens bearing the worst of it while athletes, entertainers, and people who are celebrities for no particular reason continue to bask in the warmth of the public’s affection. One likely explanation for this inconsistency is the tendency of celebrities to embrace liberal causes and thus display their compassion for the little people, unlike those ruthless capitalists who merely provide socially beneficial products and services and seem to be intent on profiting from it, but another possible reason is that they celebrities are better-looking, provide mindless diversion from mundane day-to-day existence, and have publicists who allow the fans to vicariously live the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Should the celebrities rise up en masse to protest on behalf of their fellow one-percenters, the public’s fervor for class warfare might abate.
Or perhaps not. Even Maher’s adoring audiences might decide that they no longer care for someone so greedy as to expect a full half of his paycheck, and even those celebrities who keep their resentments to themselves might sooner or later decide that all the rich must pay for their success. Robespierre and other well-heeled radicals of the French Revolution stoked the fires of class resentment until they found themselves under the guillotine’s blade, and the French aristocracy was far more entertaining and not nearly so annoying as today’s celebrities. We note that even Barack Obama’s press secretary was recently reduced to snarkily responding to a rare question about the president’s regal lifestyle, insisting that multi-million dollar vacations are only fair compensation for someone who cares so deeply about the poor, and Obama is the celebrity-in-chief.
If the beautiful people do find themselves being rounded up in the coming Reign of Terror, at least the public will be showing an admirable consistency.

— Bud Norman

God on the Left

God was back in the news this week, and even for those of us who believe He is omnipresent He was popping up in some unexpected places.
The Almighty made a few cameo appearances, for instance, at the presidential inaugural. This will come as no surprise to those who believe that President Barack Obama is the Almighty, but more skeptical observers such as ourselves were startled to hear God mentioned so often during the inaugural address. Obama modestly credited God with the gift of our freedom, but added that “It must be secured by His people here on earth,” and he apparently had it on the highest authority that this could only be achieved by full implementation of the Obama agenda. He then implored the country that “a little girl born into the bleakest poverty” should know that “she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own,” and given the increased numbers of little girls in poverty since Obama’s first inauguration the plea seems especially urgent. Obama also said that his oath was to “God and country,” and ended with the traditional presidential request that God bless America, but God’s most prominent appearance came when the president claimed that his “green jobs” program “is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”
Nobody in attendance booed any of the mentions of God, as they did at the Democratic National Convention that nominated Obama, but the president’s decidedly secular base of support must have felt a bit uncomfortable. Several of the more ardent Obama fans of our acquaintance have assured us such talk is merely shtick intended for the rubes, that the president is far too smart to really believe any of that God nonsense, and such prominent supporters as the professional blasphemer Bill Maher have said the same thing, but these same people were fashionably insouciant about the president’s “spiritual mentor” bellowing a plea for God’s damnation on America. We do not claim to know Obama’s true religious beliefs, but we suspect he does believe he has God’s blessing for his hugely expensive and disastrously ineffective “green” boondoggles. With science offering little support for Obama’s claims about climate change causing “the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” he will have to find a more persuasive argument in theology.
We have lately come to think of California as the most godforsaken place in the union, but God also made an appearance in the gubernatorial inauguration there. He even got a co-starring role along with Montaigne and Yeats in the oration by Gov. Jerry Brown, who re-told the Genesis story of Pharaoh’s dream of seven cows and Joseph’s sage interpretation that Egypt should set aside a portion of the coming seven harvests for the subsequent seven years of famine. California is currently flush with cash from the recent soak-the-rich tax hike that “Gov. Moonbeam” championed, and will be back to yearly deficits just as soon as the state’s last remaining rich people can re-locate to Texas or Florida or some other temperate and income-tax-free jurisdiction, so Californians would be wise to heed this ancient Hebrew financial advice, but we doubt that the free-spending Democrats of the Assembly will be persuaded by some Old Testament scripture.
God also weighed in on the gun control debate, in form of the National Cathedral’s Very Rev. Gary Hall, and it turns out He does not approve of the Second Amendment. Hall offered a statement to that effect at a press conference for Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a state that is apparently in the grips of a full blown religious mania, as she unveiled her unprecedent gun-grabbing bill. This should be sufficient to keep the secularists from objecting to the very existence of a National Cathedral, which does seem slightly antithetical to the First Amendment’s prohibition of any law respecting an establishment of religion, and we expect that the anti-gun nuts won’t object to having God along so long as He’s on the right side of the issue. Any ministers who cite Jesus’ admonition to the apostles that “he that has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one” should expect to be chided for dragging God into the matter.
There is something satisfying about hearing people on the Left acknowledge God’s existence, and we hope that to whatever extent their beliefs are sincere they will be enriched by religion in their personal lives, but we’d hate to see them gain any political advantage by claiming God’s endorsement. The left is bossy enough in its cocksure belief that they’re bringing heaven to earth, and if they got it in their heads that they’re also bringing social justice to heaven it would be unbearable. We close with the words of C.S. Lewis, who looked deeper into the wisdom of God’s word than most.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satisfied; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

— Bud Norman