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Ready or Not for Hillary

So it turns out that Hillary Clinton will be running for president, after all. It was all over the news on Sunday after she “tweeted” her announcement, which is apparently the high-tech way that hats are flung into rings these days, otherwise we might not have noticed.
Our annual involvement in an amateur theatrical production has lately brought us in daily contact with Democrats, our frequent meetings to discuss foreign policy with a gray pony-tailed neo-con pal at a local hipster joint provide plenty of opportunities for eavesdropping on Democratic discussions, we always peruse the “alternative” publications on offer there, our occasional appearances on the peripheries of the local art and music scenes routinely expose us to the latest in Democratic opinions, and of course of our infrequent visits to our Facebook are chockfull of Democratic venting, yet we rarely hear any mention of Clinton. Perhaps it’s because Kansas Democrats are too preoccupied with their red-hot hatred of our robustly Republican Governor and Secretary of State and Legislature to bother with their party’s presidential prospects, but the local Democrats’ lack of enthusiasm about Clinton is glaringly conspicuous. After the state’s mid-term elections last November one of our Facebook friends who long ago re-located to Maine, where even the Republicans are Democrats, tried to console her shell-schocked Democrat friends back home that the Republicans’ sweep would only make Clinton’s win in ’16 all the more satisfying, but that’s the only time we can recall any Democrat of our acquaintance even bringing up the name.
The press still regards Clinton as news, and is obliged to write countless column inches about her candidacy, but even there we can’t help noticing a distinct weariness with the topic. There’s lately been more buzz about that Martin O’Malley fellow, who was governor of Maryland or some other small eastern state that was reliably Democrat until he left office, but that buzz is the only reason we’ve heard of him, and we’d wager that at this early point in the campaign not one in ten of our Democrat friends and acquaintances have the slightest idea who he is, and except for some hopeful speculation about Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Vermont’s openly socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders getting in the race, which no Democrats we know are talking about, that seems to be the desultory state of the Democrat nominating process. Given such limited options, it’s no wonder our Democrat friends and acquaintances prefer to talk about that damned Governor and Secretary of State and Legislature we’ve got here in Kansas.
All of them will eventually line up behind whatever candidate the Democrats choose, and will couch their arguments mostly in opposition to the extremist right-wing conservatism of whatever the candidate Republicans choose, but at this point it’s hard to imagine they’ll have any of the religious fervor that informed their support of their messianic candidate of ’08  or even the self-righteous indignation toward the other side that dragged their all-too-human candidate across the finish line in ’12. They’ll be up against a Republican party which is talking a great deal about Clinton and even O’Malley and the other rumored possibilities, and with an increasingly red-hot hatred of their own, and the enthusiasm gap favors the GOP. Everyone in a wide and deep Republican field has such enthusiastic supporters that the intra-party sniping has already begun, much to the delight of the Democratic press, but we can readily imagine them all lining up behind the eventual nominee once the Democrats’ choice has been made.
Being temperamentally Republican we are inclined to gloominess, but at this point the race seems seems tantalizingly winnable despite the press and the seemingly permanent blueness of some populous states and the ever-present gullibility of the American public. Whatever candidate winds up winning the Republican nomination could still blow it, but even the Democrats don’t seem excited about that possibility, and we suspect they’d prefer four years of hating the incumbent to the difficult task of defending her..

— Bud Norman

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Skyrockets in Flight

The past month, for all its many flaws, was at least easy on the utility bills around here. Although a stubborn winter persisted into the usual spring it did not require us to run the gas-fired furnace at any point, and the few days of high temperatures had us opening windows but not running the electrified air-conditioning, so our energy costs fora the billing period seemed almost reasonable. We plan to savor the satisfaction of writing those two-digit checks we sent off over the weekend, because summer will soon be sizzling on the plains and the Obama administration is intent on making our bills skyrocket.
You could be forgiven for having missed the news, given the media obsession with that five-dangerous-terrorists-for-a-deserter swap the administration had announced a day earlier, but new rules imposed by presidential fiat that will cause electric bills to skyrocket were trotted out by the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday. The stated reason for these new regulations is to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent over the next 16 years, which we are promised will save thousands of lives otherwise lost to asthma attacks and reduce the rate of employee absenteeism, as well as rescuing the earth from global warming and the sexual infidelity that it seems to be causing in the more affluent neighborhoods of south Florida, but we don’t doubt that it also will also cause our air-conditioning expenses during the inevitable prairie heat waves to skyrocket. We base this on the assurances of President Barack Obama himself, who was candid enough during his ’08 campaign to admit that “under my plan of a cap-and=trade system electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket”
You could be forgiven for having missed that quote during the ’08 presidential race, too, as Obama spoke it in a rare moment of candor to a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board that was not inclined to publicize the outrageous boast and instead left it embedded two or three clicks away on a web site where it seems to have gone unnoticed even by the McCain for President for campaign. This led to a President Obama appointing an Energy Secretary who desired that Americans pay as much for a gallon of gasoline as their over-charged European counterparts, which also went unmentioned by most of the media during those heady days of hope and change, but those who were paying acute attention understood that the price of staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer and getting around all year would skyrocket. It’s not cap–and-trade, which even the filibuster-proof Democratic Congress of ’08-to’10 wouldn’t dare pass, but it’s the closest Obama can come  given the the rapidly diminishing restrains of the constitutional system.
In a Memorial Day radio address that was also widely overlooked, President Obama said the newly-imposed carbon emissions would have a salutary effect on the American economy. The theory, as it’s been explained to us by the grandees of the liberal press and the hirsute hipsters who frequent the same dives we do, is that raising the cost of the most readily available and cost-effiicient sources will spur an economic boom in the the currently unaffordable sectors but politically well-cnnected sectors of the energy sector, but none of these arguments promise continued lower utility bills. The  bills will also be higher for everyone we buy things forms, and we’ll not be the only ones buying less of what everyone has to sell when they raise prices to pay for skyrocketing electricity bills, but anyone with an alternative-energy scam who has made the requisite campaign contributions should do well.
Sooner or later we’ll relent to turn on the air-conditioning, even if we’re the hardy types who wait  several days into that annual stretch of 100-plus temperatures, but we’ll take some satisfaction in the political repercussions. The EPA’s never-mind-Congress rules are likely to help Republican candidates in embattled Kentucky and by now rock- olid West Virginia and other parts of coal country, as well as Indiana and other states where 80 percent of the electrical air-conditioning comes from coal, and even in the safest Democratic districts it will be hard to blame those swelling utility bills on the Republicans. Arguing that global warming requires such expensive measures will be harder while simultaneously arguing that a harsh winter was the reason for that little noticed contraction the economy during the lat quarter, and when even National Public Radio and the America Broadcasting System and CNN are playing up the deserter angle on that five-dangerous-terrorists-for-a-deserter-swap it’s going to be hard to sell that higher-energy-costs-are-good-for-the economy claptrap.

— Bud Norman

The Wising-Up of a Country

In such strange times as these we were heartened to read that 61 percent of America of thinks the president is a liar. Ordinarily we would find this a worrisome development, but in these extraordinary circumstances we consider it good news that the suckers are wising up.
The poll was conducted on behalf of the Fox News network, so feel free to dismiss it as just another fabrication by the vast right-wing conspiracy. There’s lately been a conspicuous lack of polling that indicates widespread trust in the president’s honesty, however, and we’re inclined to think the 61 percent figure sounds suspiciously low. Only a plurality of 37 percent of the poll’s respondents believe the president lies “most of the time,” with another 24 percent who will only go so far as to say he lies “some of the time,” and we’re left wondering what the rest could possibly be thinking.
Just off the top of our head we can recall the president assuring Americans that they if they liked their health care plans that they could keep them under Obamacare, that the average American family would save $2,500 a year on his premiums, and that all Americans would be covered. We remember a campaign promise that his health care reforms would not include an individual mandate, along with promises that no one making less than $250,000 a year would see any sort of tax increase, that the irresponsible and un-patriotic deficits of the Bush administration would be halved with four years, and that after too many years of drone strikes and interventions America’s international standing would be restored by smart diplomacy. There was that whopper on the late night comedy show about the murderous attacks on America’s consulate in Benghazi being a spontaneous reaction to some obscure YouTube video, and the whole bit about al Qaeda being on the run, the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative groups being the work of a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, and talk of the “most transparent administration ever,” and if we were inclined to spend the next several days on Google we’re sure we could come up a long list of other things that can be described as blatant lies.
Die-hard apologists for the administration could probably come up with numerous examples of the president being more or less honest, and if you count all his idle chit-chat about the weather and sleeping time they might even make a case that his lies don’t fill “most of the time,” but it’s hard to fathom how anyone could think they don’t take up at last “some of the time.” Another 20 percent allowed only that the president lies “now and then,” which seems overly generous, and 15 percent insist the president “never” lies, which seems downright worshipful and ridiculous. It’s been a couple of millennia since there was anyone on Earth who never lied, and the president clearly is not the second coming of that fellow.
The same poll shows the president’s approval rating at 42 percent with only 51 percent disapproving, so apparently there is a large number of Americans who believe he is a liar but don’t mind. We’ve even met a few earnest liberals who have offered apparently sincere explanations that the lies were told in the service of some greater good, such as foisting a health care reform law on the country that doesn’t keep any of its promises but screws things up badly enough to make an even worse single-payer system possible, and they clearly believe they are justified in telling further lies. They are acting out of deeply-felt affection for the average working American, as they explain it, and apparently the poor fellows are just stupid to handle the truth.
The latest poll shows that 39 percent of Americans haven’t yet figured out that the president lies somewhere been “most” and “some” of the time, so maybe those earnest liberals are on to something.

— Bud Norman

The Second Term Around

A second term agenda has been conspicuously absent from Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. There’s been plenty of sneering criticism for some things that Mitt Romney has said he wants to do, far more sneering about some things that Obama falsely claims Romney wants to do, and a few small proposals such as the ever-popular soak-the-rich tax hikes, but nothing in the way of a grand scheme to fix the nation’s many lingering problems.

The oversight is so glaring that even the president’s most stalwart supporters have noticed, and some have gone so far as to suggest that he offer such a plan in order to bolster his recently declining electoral prospects. This seems reasonable enough, given the apparent difficulty of selling more of the same, but it’s hard to imagine what he might come up with that will woo back any lost voters.

Any plan released at this late date will naturally raise questions about why Obama has waited so very long to unveil it. Some will suspect that it was intended to avoid the critical scrutiny of the media, as if that would ever happen, while the most realistic skeptics will assume it a ploy to prevent Romney from having a go at it during the debates. Those still enamored of Obama will be thrilled with whatever he might come up with, but the rest of the country will immediately be wondering why he hadn’t attempted such a brilliant agenda to begin with. The plan would have to be rolled out in yet another Big Speech, as well, and there have been so many of those over the past four years that many Americans would pay it no mind.

Obama likely has a number of big ideas that he is eager to impose on the nation if given the opportunity, but probably has been keeping them to himself because he believes that they won’t be very popular. All of Obama’s ideas involve spending great gobs of money, a point that won’t be lost on a public that finally seems to be properly worried about the country’s mounting debt, and they always require an almost religious faith in governmental power that has lately become harder to sustain. Although Obama will occasionally hint at how very far left he would go when off the teleprompter, as in his infamous “you didn’t build that” oration, he has mostly tried to sustain an image of moderation.

Such reluctance to be frank has severely hindered Obama’s efforts to even tout the ideas he has proposed. When Obama was hammered about energy prices during the first debate he seemed itching to shout out that of course he had sought increases, that he had told people he would during the first campaign, and that everyone will someday be thanking him when we’re all driving on $20-a-gallon biofuels because he’s pumped the cost of Gaia-killing gasoline to $21 per gallon, and that if anyone out there didn’t like it they could just buy a Chevy Volt or leave the suburbs and live in the city like a real person. He restrained himself, of course, and offered an obviously bogus explanation of how much he truly loves gas and coal and all the fossil fuels, confident that his friends at the Sierra Club would know he was fibbing but hopeful that no one else would figure it out.

Perhaps if the election comes to seem out of reach Obama will at last unleash his inner radical, and go down with his full Alinskyite furor proudly on display. The true believers will love it, but the rest of the country will likely decide that Romney isn’t so scary after all. Expect to hear more sniping about Big Bird and binders, then, and any distraction available to keep you wondering from about what he really has in mind.

— Bud Norman

Another Trashy Ad

Have you hugged your garbageman recently? At the risk of appearing plutocratic, we must confess that we have not.

Being so very thoughtless, we might never even have noticed this oversight if not for an advertisement now airing on behalf of Barack Obama’s presidential re-election campaign. The ad features a man who collects Mitt Romney’s trash complaining that while other people on his route routinely make a point of shaking his hand, giving him hugs, and otherwise expressing their immense gratitude for his humble efforts, the Republican presidential nominee has failed to do so.

Produced and paid for by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is much indebted to the president for helping to keep its members overpaid if under-appreciated, the ad offers Romney’s appalling lack of hugginess as proof of his heartless contempt for the backbreaking labors of the common working man. They seem to expect that a significant number of voters will be so offended by Romney’s behavior they will rush to the polls to express their outrage, but we wonder how many there will be.

Most people, in our experience, do not hug their garbagemen. We do express our thanks to the sanitation workers by only hauling the trash out to the curb for collection every other week or so — for such Gaia-hating right-wing bastards, our carbon footprint is embarrassingly small — and by paying the full bill — even though there’s probably an Obamatrash program that would stick some rich guy with the tab — but that’s about the extent of our kudos. On the rare occasions when we happen to be standing on the lawn during trash collection we will offer the workers a wave and a traditional Kansas “howdy,” but they seem a manly bunch and not at all the sort who would welcome an uninvited hug. Perhaps Mitt Romney’s posh neighborhood can afford a more sensitive sort of garbageman, but if so that would probably be a more effective point for stirring up class resentments against him.

We’re also skeptical of the implied claim that Obama is far chummier and more physically affectionate with his own garbagemen. Despite our famously vivid imagination, we just can’t quite conjure the image of Obama inviting the White House garbageman into the Oval Office to hang out with Jay-Z, Beyonce, The Pimp With a Limp, and the rest of the gang. This will no doubt be attributed to Obama’s altruistic desire not to interfere with the garbageman’s important duties, but we’re finding it increasingly hard to be simultaneously impressed with the  president’s famously glamorous lifestyle and his common touch.

The middle class has been buried the last four years, to quote precisely the words of Vice President Joe Biden, and it’s going to take more than a hug to change that. It’s going to require a change of economic policy, and that’s going require a change of presidents, even if it’s someone who is not the huggy type.

— Bud Norman

On the Slavery Issue

We rarely inveigh against slavery anymore, not because of any fondness for it but rather because we have long assumed that in these enlightened times one’s abolitionist opinions can go without saying. Imagine our surprise, then, upon hearing that the Republican party’s presidential nominee is intent on restoring the peculiar institution.

Vice President Joe Biden made that extraordinary claim while speaking Tuesday at a campaign event in Danville, Virginia, where he told a cheering crowd that Mitt Romney and his party are “going to put y’all back in chains.” He appeared to be looking a mostly African-American section of the audience as he said it, and unless “y’all” is a Delawarism that we weren’t previously aware of it also sounded very much as if the remark was intended for their benefit.

In the interest of providing context, lest we be accused of misquoting the famously quotable Biden, the line was wedged into the middle of a tirade about Romney’s proposed financial regulation reforms and his running mate Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. After looking over the Ryan budget rather carefully and finding no provision for the restoration of slavery, we can only assume that it’s buried somewhere in one of Romney’s Wall Street position papers.

Any financial regulatory reform that entails the restoration of slavery will likely be found unconstitutional, probably on thirteenth amendment grounds, but then again one can’t really count on the Supreme Court for anything these days, and in any case it’s quite appalling that Romney would even want to do such a thing. Setting aside any moral qualms about the proposal, it seems a most unpromising political position. One wonders about the focus groups the Romney campaign used to the test the idea.

Perhaps it’s not so surprising, however. The Obama campaign has already helpfully informed us that Romney is a dog-torturing, gay-bashing, tax-cheating, Swiss bank account-holding cad who killed a guy’s wife, and is one of those rich guys to boot, so it isn’t much of a stretch to him as a latter day Simon Legree as well. There’s still plenty of campaign left, too, and it will be interesting to see what accusation the Obama crew will come up with to top this one.

Biden might very well be incorrect about Romney’s pro-slavery sentiments, of course. He was apparently under the mistaken impression that he was in North Carolina when he made the speech, after all, and he has gained something of reputation over the years for saying outrageously stupid things. He’s not backing down, and the campaign’s spokeswoman has declined to disavow the comment, but we’re still awaiting some proof of the allegation before rendering a final judgment.

We don’t care for slavery, but we’d sure hate to have to vote for the ticket with Biden.

— Bud Norman

Turning Up the Hate

A short time ago at a local tavern we were quietly conversing with a friend about the nation’s politics, but despite our best efforts the conversation wasn’t quiet enough to avoid the attention of a nearby eavesdropper who interjected herself into the dialogue to announce that she hated Mitt Romney. The way she spoke the word “hate” suggested that it was a very deliberate choice, not meant in the hyperbolic way that someone might say they hate broccoli or a certain sports team, and she spat out the Republican nominee’s name with such salivating disgust that her hatred was moistly palpable.

Although it seemed odd that anyone would muster such a sputtering hatred for Romney, who strikes us as a rather pleasant fellow, and not nearly extremist enough for our tastes, we weren’t so curious that we encouraged any further conversation with the woman. Such emotional political outbursts are all too common these days, and we’ve seen enough of them to know when there’s no point in talking.

There are those on the right who regard their political opponents with a similar hatred, and we can think of at least a couple of them who host national radio talk shows, but in our experience a red-hot political hatred is now far more common on the left. Most of our conservative friends and acquaintances will freely state that they hate what they see as the results of Obama’s policies, and some have gone so far as to admit that they don’t share the favorable personal opinion of the president that so many people keep expressing in polls, but we can’t recall any who have come right out and said that they hate the man. The prevailing sentiment on the right seems to be an ardent wish that Obama will soon be enjoying a happy and uneventful retirement.

Certainly the left is more unabashed about its hatreds. During the Bush years a carefully cultivated hatred of the president was downright de rigueur, to be exhibited with the same smug satisfaction as when flashing a new tattoo or three days’ growth of facial hair. Politicians, pop stars, moviemakers, late night television comics, reality show performers, and anyone else needing to cultivate a cutting-edge public image felt obliged to shriek their hatreds, and no one in the more respectable quarters of liberaldom felt the need to apologize for it. Hating Bush remains a popular liberal pastime to this day, although the Tea Party, the Koch Brothers, rich people in general, the Catholic Church, churches in general, and various industries and occupations are also widely hated. Here in Kansas the governor and the secretary of state are popular objects of liberal hatred, and we suspect that every state has it own demonology of the left.

We’ll leave it to the social scientists to explain why the peace-and-love crowd has long been so hepped up on its hatreds, but we suspect that it has somethng to do with their apparently sincere belief that the right is the only thing preventing them from creating a utopia. We’re quite sure the hatred of Romney will be deliberately encouraged by the Obama campaign because it won’t have anything else to run on. “A prominent Democratic strategist aliged with the White House” bluntly admitted to Politico’s reporters that they intend to “kill Romney,” a choice of words that would be considered shocking if it came from a Republican campaign, and it is already clear that the incumbent would rather talk about his opponent’s personal finances than his own public record.

Thus far Romney seems determined not to respond in kind, sticking instead to the kindly criticism that Obama is a nice guy who’s not up to the job, and we hope he’ll continue to do so. Hatred might prove a winning electoral strategy, but governing will prove easier if Romney wins without it.

— Bud Norman

A Wrong Turn at the Border

President Barack Obama’s recent decision to not enforce the immigration laws in the cases of young people who were brought to the country as children, “do not present a risk to national security or public safety,” and meet certain other criteria is widely assumed to be political ploy intended to shore up support among Hispanic voters. This theory is so widely believed that Obama’s political director, David Plouffe, went on CNN to announce that “this is not a political move.”

The official denial did nothing to allay the suspicions of others, and pretty much confirmed ours, but it is not clear the new policy is a smart political move. There’s a limit to the benefits, and there could very well be a greater cost.

The new policy will likely please some Hispanic voters, but there is no way to calculate how many. Not all Hispanics are eager to open the borders, and those who are probably would have been just as persuaded by the argument that a Republican would likely impose a stricter border security policy than has Obama. What’s more, those Hispanics who do like the new immigration policy might not like it quite enough overcome their disapproval of Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, his war against the Catholic Church, and of course the many policies that have resulted in an economy so lousy that economy that can’t provide enough jobs for the people already here.

Hispanics aren’t the only segment of America worried about the persistently and extremely high unemployment rate, of course, nor will they be the only ones to wonder how allowing an extra million or young people to join the job will affect that unhappy situation. Even the editors and reporters of the Washington Post, who would much prefer to be writing about Mitt Romney’s high school bully days, are wondering how the extra workers are going to affect the “aspirations of legal Americans.” The high-income, highly educated voters that once supported Obama won’t feel threatened by the cheaper labor of young illegal immigrants, but neither are they so enthusiastic about illegal immigration that the new will policy will provide a reason to ignore their this gives them no reason to overcome their other newfound objections to his tax proposals and other economic ideas. The lower-income voters who previously voted for Obama, especially the black and youth blocs, will have yet another reason to stay home.

Unless the Attorney General can somehow get all those illegal immigrants registered to vote, it’s hard to see how Obama comes out ahead on this move.

— Bud Norman

The Re-Organization Man

Work for an organization of any size for any length of time and you will eventually be re-organized.

Over many years in the newspaper business we went through it often enough to notice two kinds of re-organizations. The first kind, and by far the most fearsome, was forced by economic necessity. With revenues shrinking due to those darned internet sites and other changes in the news industry, these re-organizations involved significant numbers of lay-offs and forced the remaining staff to either do more with less or, as on most occasions, simply do less. The other kind, relatively benign and more easily survived, is motivated by some manager’s desire to fool the higher-ups into thinking that he’s actually doing something. These re-organizations mostly involve a change of nomenclature, such as calling the various departments “teams” rather than “departments,” and usually wind up with the same people doing the same things but with new business cards.

The plan announced Friday by President Barack Obama to re-organize a small portion of the federal government — or “streamline” it, as CNN’s headline approvingly phrased it — strikes us as one of the latter kind of re-organizations. With $15 trillion in debt and a bigger payroll than ever, the government so obviously requires downsizing that even such a devotee of big government as Obama can see it. Obama’s proposal is considerably smaller than what is necessary, however, and there is reason to believe that he might not be serious about making even such minor changes.

The plan would eliminate the Commerce Department, something conservatives have long fantasized about, but replace it with a new and as yet unnamed agency that would retain almost all of the old bureaucracy and also include the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the Trade and Development Agency, and the Small Business Administration. By the White House’s own reckoning the plan would cut only 1,000 to 2,000 jobs — all through attrition, meaning that people with jobs that don’t need to be done can stay at work until they decide to take their generous pensions — and save only $3 billion over 10 years, which is about one-third of a day’s spending by the government. All of which spoils the conservative fantasy while upsetting liberals with a special interest in one of the affected agencies, meaning that the plan is unlikely to win approval from congress.

This suggests that Obama is merely trying to make his bosses, meaning the voters mulling whether to renew his contract or not, think that he’s doing something. The plan allows Obama to claim he’s not really the big government devotee that the past three years and $4 trillion have made him seem, and instead pose as a ruthlessly efficient manager paring down a bloated bureaucracy. If the plan doesn’t pass because of bi-partisan opposition, he can still claim to be doing with a battle with a “do-nothing” congress while counting on the support of the placated Democrats who voted against him.

The generally administration-friendly National Journal goes so far as to say that the president is trying to “Out-Romney Romney,” which exposes the flaw in his re-election strategy. Obama will dearly want to attack likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney as a ruthless downsizer who laid off workers in the name of mere economic efficiency during his days with the Bain Capital firm, an argument that will come from his community organizer’s heart, but it would be starkly inconsistent for him to do so while boasting of his own ruthless downsizing.

Our guess is that he’ll go ahead and do both, inconsistency be damned, and hope that nobody notices.

— Bud Norman