A “First Step Act” Towards Justice

By now we should know better than to be surprised by anything President Donald Trump might say or “tweet” or do, but we were nonetheless a bit taken aback by his endorsement of a bi-partisan Senate “First Step Act” that a newly elected Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will soon consider and probably pass. It’s at least slightly surprising because the act has bipartisan support, which Trump usually regards as sign of a sucker’s deal, and all the more so because the bill is arguably weak on the very sort of crime that Trump has vowed to be strong against.
The bill would lower mandatory minimum sentences for drug felonies, cut the “third strike” rule on a third penalty felony conviction from a life sentence to 25 years, reduce the disparity between sentences for the snorted powder cocaine that suburban white folks tend to use and the smoked “crack” cocaine that inner-city black folks tend to use, and it also reduces the mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving the use of a firearm in a drug deal or violent crime. Trump has already won a major Democratic concession that the new “three strikes” rule won’t be changed retroactively, and thus he can rightly boast that the bill would still leave a lot of dangerous people behind bars, but the self-proclaimed best-ever law-and-order deal-maker has clearly made some pretty significant concessions of his own.
Which might turn out well enough for both Trump and the Democratic party, and we expect it will even yield some net positive results for the public at large, but something in our hardened Republican souls expects some dire consequences as well.
That bi-partisan “First Step Act” is intended as a corrective to the exceedingly tough-on-crime legislation of the ’70s ad ’80s, but we’re old enough to remember that era well. The crime rate really was alarming back then, At one point here in Wichita we had a murder a week, which far surpassed even the death toll of “Wicked Wichita” back in its “Wild West” days, and outpaced the death toll of war-torn Belfast in Northern Ireland, and it was so bad that there was a national bipartisan consensus for stiff mandatory minimum sentences. Those laws disproportionately locked up black offenders, many of whom were no more guilty than the cocaine-sniffing white suburbanites who got off easier, but those crimes had such a disproportionate number of black victims that most of the Congressional Black Caucus and their mostly law-abiding constituencies also signed off on the tough-on-crime legislation.
Since then the crime rate around the country has fallen to a rate that it’s one of the feel-good stories of the last 30 years or so. Maybe it’s because both suburban white folk and inner-city black folk have figured out that sniffing or smoking cocaine is a bad idea, and maybe it’s because Roe v. Wade aborted a lot of wanted children destined to become criminals, and maybe it’s just a population that’s aging well past the prime crime-commiting ages, but we still think that locking up a lot of criminals has also had something to do with that remarkable drop in crime.
Over the last couple of years there’s been an uptick in the nation’s violent crime rate, but most of that is attributable to currently “wild west” Chicago and a couple of other large and lawless cities run by Democratic machines, so we can hardly blame Trump for having previously made such political hay of that embarrassing fact. Which makes it all the more surprising that the constantly alarmist Trump is now agreeing with those moderate Republicans and radical Democrats that things are now so calm we can start reducing mandatory sentences for gun-wielding felons.
At this point the ghetto “crack” cocaine epidemic seems to have gone the way of the videotape recorder and land line telephone around the country, and all the respectable drug-abusing white folks we know are smoking that increasingly legal marijuana rather than sniffing powdered cocaine, and we hope that some just legal system can reasonably deal with that. The “First Step Act” might well  bolster that 8 percent approval rating Afriican-Americans that likes to brag about, and probably won’t much bother even hid most racist white  his true believers. but on the other hand we don’t hold out much hope that Trump and those damned Democrats will come to any deal that reaches that  hard-to-find sweet spot between harsh justice and tender mercy.

— Bud Norman

On Finding the Right Lawyer

If you ever find yourself in serious legal jeopardy in the vicinity of Wichita, Kansas, and have deep enough pockets, we happen to know the attorney you should call.
Back in our court beat days on the local newspaper we saw him get a guy off for bilking an elderly couple out of their retirements with some phony-baloney annuities because the relevant state statute failed to mention annuities among all the phony-baloney sort of financial instruments that are prohibited here, an oversight the state legislature corrected a couple of weeks later. We heard some un-confirmable but entirely believable rumors about the big bucks he’d earned defending a nationally-known and much locally reviled late-term abortionist on 13 local misdemeanor charges that got national and international attention, and whatever the amount it proved well-spent after acquittals on all charges.
If you happen to find yourself in serious legal jeopardy in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., we can’t tell you who to call. After a couple of youthful summers in the city and all the news we’ve followed since we’re sure there’s plenty of top-notch legal talent to be had there, but you’ll have to ask the locals for their advice on which is best. Whoever that best D.C. attorney might be, President Donald Trump and his much-bragged about deep pockets seems to having trouble hiring him or her for this “Russia thing.”
One of Trump’s lawyers either recently quit or was recently fired, depending on whose account you believe, and Trump hasn’t yet announced a replacement. It was reliably reported it would be Joseph diGenova, a former Department of Justice Attorney now better-known as a Fox News contributor who alleges the whole “Russia thing” is a “fake News” “deep state” conspiracy, but then it was reported diGenova wouldn’t be joining the team due to “conflicts.” It was also reported that Trump solicited the services of Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general in the President George W. Bush administration and since then a legendary defense litigator, but his firm announced he wouldn’t accept the gig. Olson later opined to the news media that the “turmoil” and “chaos” in Trump’s White is “beyond normal.” After that it was reported that some hot-shot white collar lawyer from Chicago also turned down the gig.
Which is problematic for Trump, as the legal team he’s assembled on the other side of the “Russia thing” looks pretty darned formidable. You can call special counsel Robert Mueller a “fake news” “deep state” conspirator all you want, but he’s an Eagle Scout and decorated combat veteran and well-regarded Federal Bureau of Investigation director with a long, long history of successfully prosecuting cases, and he’s already won some notable indictments and some more notable guilty pleas in this investigation. The team of attorneys he’s assembled does indeed include some Democratic donors, as the Trump and his apologists like to note, but so does Trump’s team and Trump is a Democratic donor himself, and the prosecution team has chalked up some pretty impressive court verdicts against Russian mobsters and other money-launderers and international conspiracies,
Our long and desultory experiences of these matters suggests that it often comes down to who’s got the best lawyer, which does not bode well for Trump. He brags about his deep pockets and the fame and fortune that awaits any lawyer who takes on his case, yet he currently seems vastly out-lawyered. So far his personal lawyers have been losing in the court of public opinion battle to the shark representing an all-too-believable pornographic video performer who alleges a hilariously embarrassing sexual encounter with the future president, no matter how that might play out in a a court of law.
According to news reports this is largely because he’s regarded as a client who doesn’t heed legal advice, which is obviously true, and partly because he has a reputation for not paying his bills, which is reportedly and quite believably true. One of the better lawyers we know in town is a Democrat but otherwise a nice guy, who has helped out some people we’ve loved on a pro-bono or much-reduced rate, and on our last encounter at Kirby’s Beer Store he told us he’d take case Trump’s case only if he were paid fully in advance. That locally legendary legal shark is also a nice enough guy, too, and although we’re glad to not to have needed to run into him lately we’re sure he’d say the same thing.

— Bud Norman

An Olympian Disappointment

The Olympic games get underway today, and in a more perfect world they would provide some much needed distraction from the awful presidential race that’s lately been getting all our attention. Alas, in this imperfect world the Olympics are just as much a gruesome spectacle of incompetence and corruption.
Before the opening ceremonies have even begun in all their quadrennial gaudy splendor the Olympics have already been tarnished by the International Olympic Committee’s usual greasy-palmed awarding of the games to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, where much of the local population is infuriated by the government’s spending of much-needed public funds to to the benefit of a few wealthy and well-connected parties, and is beset by rampant crime and one of those apocalyptic tropical diseases and all the inefficiencies of what is still a second-world country at best. The mess has caused many of the world’s top basketball players and golfers and other elite athletes to stay home, and we confidently expect that incompetence and corruption will also play a part in deciding the winners of several of the subjectively scored sports, and that better living through chemistry will once again play a role in the more rigorously timed and measured events.
Which is a shame, really, because the Olympics used to be the most riveting and inspiring thing on the fuzzy black-and-white three-channel televisions of our youth.
Our earliest memories of the Olympics date back to the ’68 games in Mexico City, when Bob Beamon jumped a full foot and a few inches farther than any human had ever jumped before, the future heavyweight champion of the world and grill-machine magnate George Foreman celebrated his gold-medal boxing performance by waving a couple of small American flags, the great Dick Fosbury forever changed the sport of high-jumping with his gold medal-winning “Fosbury flop,” and Kansas’ own Al Oerter became the first track and field athlete to win a fourth consecutive gold medal with another extraordinary throw of the discus. Even then we were aware of the student protests that disrupted the games, and how gold medal-winning Tommie Smith and bronze medal-winning John Carlos flashed the “black power” salute of an upturned and black-gloved fist while standing on the winner’s platform as the “Star Spangled Banner” played, and that Lew Alcindor had declined to the join the basketball team even before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other exceptional black athletes had boycotted the games, but America handily wound up winning the medal count and it bolstered our vague notions of American exceptionalism.
The ’72 Olympics in Munich were in living color, and featured the handsomely mustachioed Mark Spitz winning a record seven gold medals in swimming against a clearly cheating commie squad, the scariest-white-boy-you-ever-saw Dan Gable annihilating one steroid-pump commie after another on his way to a wrestling gold medal, skinny Dave Wottle and his backwards baseball cap coming from way way way behind to beat some fast muscle-bound commie in the 800 meter race, and as well as the hated Soviet Union beating an American basketball team that didn’t have the hippy-dippy Bill Walton or paying for play Julius Ervin on the most outrageously corrupt play-calling in Olympic history. Then there was the massacre of the Israeli team by a radical Islamist Palestinian terror group, and the quick exit of the Jewish Olympic hero Spitz, and Gable’s ill-advised grousing that his win had been overshadowed, and the questionable decision by American Olympic boss Avery Brundage to continue playing the games.
Since then the Olympics have proved less riveting. In ’76 the games went to nearby Montreal, Canada, and America came in an unaccustomed third place in the medal during its Bicentennial Year. The highlight from a patriotic perspective was a handsome young fellow named Bruce Jenner winning the decathlon and the unofficial “world’s greatest athlete title,” and of course he’s now better known as Caitlyn Jenner and was last seen as a honored guest at the Republican National Convention proving how very tolerant even the Republican are about men who think they’re women. America didn’t compete in the ’80 elections in Moscow after President Carter decided to boycott the games as retaliation for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Africa, which kept our junior high and high school classmate Darnell Valentine from a good chance at a basketball gold medal, and when the Soviet bloc boycotted the ’84 games in Los Angeles the Americans won so much they got bored with winning. The ’88 Olympics were in Seoul, we vaguely recall, and America was back in third place behind the Soviet Union and its East German puppets. The ’92 Olympics were in Barcelona, Spain, where professionals were at long last allowed to participate without any pretense of amateurism and the most memorable result was a basketball team featuring Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and nine other all-timers that seemed to prove once and for all how well capitalism works. Some homosexual-hating nutcase set off a bomb at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, and except for America’s return to the top of the medal count we can’t recall much else.
By the ’00 Olympics in Sydney there was no Soviet Union and the American victory in the medal count didn’t seem so exceptional, and Marion Jones had two return two of those golds when she was found to be a chemical cheat, and the ’04 Olympics in Athens are best remembered for all abandoned venues that now broke country built for the games. The ’08 games in Beijing were basically a propaganda campaign for China’s totalitarian government, just like the ’36 games in Munich where that same old Avery Brundage wouldn’t let Jewish-American athletes compete for fear of offend his fellow Jew-hating hosts and thus allowed the black Jesse Owens to wind up spoiling the show, and except for Michael Phelps breaking Spitz’ record with eight gold swimming medals we can’t recall a thing about the ’12 games in London.
This year’s Olympics would have been in Chicago if President Barack Obama had his way, and there were reports when he flew off to Switzerland with Oprah Winfrey to make the pitch for his hometown that he envisioned it as a worldwide celebration of the fundamental transformation of America he had wrought by his second term and is pitch to the IOC was mostly predicated on how it would give the Olympics meaning to have them held in his own sanctified hometown. Of course he also hoped it would benefit his longtime consigliere Valerie Jarrett and all the other well-connected slum lords in his Chicago circles, but we suspect the city at large is happy to let the even more crime-ridden city of Rio De Janeiro pick up the tab.
Still, we’ll hope for some uplifting diversion during the games. Surely someone will run faster or jump higher or lift a greater weight than any other human ever has, and there’s a Wichita kid competing with the boxing team, and he might have better luck than the great Wichita miler Jim Ryun or our old basketball-playing classmate or any other local boy has done in the Olympics since James Bausch won the decathlon and the “world’s greatest athlete” title way back in ’32, and there might even be a moment where a good guy or a good gal from any old country wins a moment of well-deserved glory. That would make for a nice diversion right about now, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

— Bud Norman

Giving Thanks for the Holiday Pause

Our heartfelt thanks have been duly given, and we’re slowly coming out of our annual tryptophan coma, so it’s back to our usual business of going on about the sorry state of the world. There’s usually not much in the news during the long Thanksgiving weekend except the easily avoidable fisticuffs over Black Friday bargains, which is another thing to be thankful for, but we expect that by Monday the news will be back in force and we want to be braced.
Several intriguing stories have been temporarily replaced with holiday programming but are bound to be back on the air before all the Christmas specials start up. There’s that 13-month-old video of a fatal and highly suspicious shooting of a black man by police in Chicago, and the shootings at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis, and the spreading epidemic of protests at American universities over far less macro-aggressive racial matters, and a gnawing suspicion that it’s going to be a long, hot winter. Such unanticipated problems of the post-racial era will likely complicate the on-going debates about the refugees from the Syrian war and the broader issue of unfettered immigration, which will be going on through New Year’s and into the coming primaries.
There’s always a chance those obligatory annual Black Friday estimates will be disappointing, and that the Chinese economy will further suffer as a result, and that the long-feared rate hikes by the Federal Reserve will spook the markets that have so long relied on the intoxicating sweetness of quantitative easing, and that the economy will once again be a pressing issue. The Syrian civil war that’s fueling the aforementioned refugee crisis, as well as a recent spate of terror attacks around the world, will surely not go unnoticed even in a holiday news season. There’s also the big climate change conference coming up in Paris, which the President is touting as a huge blow against the terrorists, unless they manage to blow it up, in which case they would still be a less urgent threat than climate change, but barring any such mishaps we can’t see that story having any legs.
All of which will continue to affect those primaries, which are another thing to grouse about. In almost every cast those suspicious police shootings of black men seem to happen in Democrat-controlled cities, and in the case of that-suppressed-for-13-months-video it happened in a community that was once personally organized by the President himself and is now run by his former Chief of Staff, but we expect that all the Democratic candidates will try to out-do one another in their indignation about the Republicans and their weird insistence on the need for law enforcement and a right to self-defense. The Syrian stuff will make the Democrats all the more insistent in their belief that climate change really is the biggest threat America faces, which polls about as well as the gun-grabbing rhetoric, and the ramped-up share-the-wealth talk isn’t likely to sway a public that can’t help noticing how the wealth seems to be shrinking. Meanwhile the Republicans seem intent on picking whichever candidate can muster the greatest bluster about it all, and it’s hard to hold on to tryptophan-induced sense of serene gratitude.
There’s something to that Thanksgiving insight, though, and we’ll try our best to bitterly cling to it through the coming news. We hope you’ll let that holiday happiness linger at least through the weekend, too, although we can’t promise we’ll have any good news come in the inevitable Monday.

— Bud Norman

The Greeks and the Rest of Us

The situation in Greece seems hopeless, no matter how its citizens vote on an emergency referendum Sunday, and the rest of the world seems in pretty sorry shape as well.
Apparently nobody in Greece can understand the 72-word question being put to the voters, assuming that the government is able to print up enough ballots and get them distributed to all the polling places on time, and it’s certainly Greek to us. So far as we can gather, however, a “yes” vote is for accepting the European Union’s seemingly generous offer to continue the loans that have been keeping the Greek economy barely afloat, although in exchange for draconian budget cuts and other austerity measures that will almost certainly be painful to the already pained average Greek, and a “no” vote likely means a Greek exit — or “Grexit,” as it’s become known — from the EU and its onerous demands as well as extravagant promises of continued government largesse, although in reality it will more likely cause the complete collapse of the Greek economy and start causing all those ample government checks to bounce right out of the last of the country’s failing banks.
The very young and stupid Greek Prime Minister and his socialist party are backing the “no” vote, on the argument that it will allow him to negotiate an even more generous deal with his EU creditors, but only the most rash would predict how that might turn out. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and that the rest of the EU elite would obviously prefer not to lose a charter member of their club, which might bolster the growing number of Eurosceptics in Britain and other important countries as well, and make it embarrassingly clear that their essential organizing policy of a one-size-fits-all currency for a fissiparous coalition of 28 countries that still stubbornly cling to some sense of national interest and have very differently-sized economies was unworkable all along. On the other hand, Greece has become so unproductive and such a pain in the EU’s economic posterior that the club might well decide it is best rid of it, and that if Greece instead becomes a client of Moscow that it would be a small victory for what remains of the West in the renewed Cold War.
In any event, the Greeks will still wind up broke and rioting in the streets against the reality that they can’t forever keep on sending out retirement checks to 50-year-olds and unemployment checks to the more than 50 percent of the 20-somethings who are without jobs and taxing the in-betweens to such an extent that they’ve all stopped paying taxes and produce children and future taxpayers at a dwindling rate and have it all total up to about half the country’s gross domestic product, even if has seemed to work just fine up to now. These schemes always work out for while, and it’s so great when they do that the mean-spirited fuddy-duddies who warned that it would all come to a bad end are thoroughly discredited, but eventually reality intrudes and it does come to bad end and there’s nothing for the idealistic and generous to do but riot in the streets. One is tempted to shake his head in pity and disgust at the Greeks, who once upon a long-ago time gave the world Plato and Aristotle and Euripides and Aristophanes and Sappho and all sorts of intriguing ideas about human nature, but those same long-ago Greeks have taught us to notice that such weakness to temptation is by no means a uniquely Greek thing.
While the Eurocentric American media has mostly paid attention to Greek’s travails, a few stories have leaked out that Puerto Rico is also on the verge of default and bankruptcy. The same sort of extravagant promises made by politicians, and eagerly believed a majority of the country’s voters, have led a large portion of the island’s residents to take advantage of its immigration relationship with the United States and move mainland, which of course has contracted the economy and increased the need for government relief and raised the debt and further hindered the economy and forced more people to flee. Greeks and Puerto Ricans are relatively minor players in the world economy, but Chicago, the third-largest city of the first or second largest economy depending on your accounting methods, whose municipal bonds are now rated as junk, is finding that the promises made to and believed by its vast number of its public servants were a few billion dollars more extravagant than its dwindling number of taxpayers could keep. Similar situations prevail in numerous other American cities and counties and states, as well, and of course the the debt of the federal government is keeping a relative pace with that of Greece. Unlike Greece in its post-Drachma days the United States can keep printing greenbacks to service that debt, and unlike the Euro or the Drachma the greenback is the world’s reserve currency, which seems to be working up to now, but only the rash would predict how that’s likely to turn out.
Lest we sound unduly pessimistic about America so soon before the Fourth of July, we would also note that China, which is the first or second largest economy in the world depending on which accounting method you believe, also has its debt woes. Even in the still more-or-less Communist country felt obliged to make extravagant promises to the people, the people were eager to believe, and now they’re stuck with the gargantuan tab for giant ghost cities and other ambitious make-work projects. Similar examples of human beings succumbing to human nature be found all over the globe, and probably in at least one of the countless tax jurisdictions where you live, and at various points throughout human history.
In between those various points of human history when the clash extravagant promises and economic reality turned out very badly, there were periods of prosperity and the self-sufficiency of citizens and the resultant improvement in human achievement that resulted from the lessons that had been so painfully learned. They all ended when enough time had past that the lessons were forgotten and the extravagant promises became all the more enticing, but the process tends to repeat itself.
There’s some faint hope, we suppose, that here in America these lessons will be re-learned from the examples of Greece and Puerto Rico and China and Chicago and the rest of the bankrupt parts of the world, and that perhaps the inevitable crisis can be forestalled until the next presidential election when the people will choose correct course. Only the most rash would predict how that might turn out, though. Our guess is that the next presidential election will more likely be about homosexual marriage and the latest celebrity’s sex-change operation and subsidized condoms the Confederate battle flag and whatever shiny objects the media might find, and of course the extravagant promises that politicians always make the people are always eager to believe. For now, at least, it all seems to be working out, or at least well enough to make those further extravagant promises sound plausible.

— Bud Norman

Taking a Kick at Soccer

We know little about soccer, having grown up on wholesome American games that allow the use of hands, as God and Abner Doubleday intended, but even we knew that the sport’s international governing body is corrupt. It was therefor no surprise to hear that legal action is being taken against them, but we were a bit startled that it was America’s Department of Justice that is doing it.
The Federation Internationale de Football is not based in America, as the foreign name and its galling misuse of “football” would suggest, and so far as we can gather from numerous press reports none of its alleged crimes took place here. Authorities in Switzerland, where the organization is based, and where the alleged crimes seem to have allegedly occurred, and where the populace presumably cares more about soccer than do Americans, are also taking action, so it’s hard to see why America’s legal system should be bothered. All of the 14 FIFA official indicted on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy are from other other countries, there’s going to be a lot of fuss over extradition, it complicates foreign relations with the numerous countries involved to the point that we have to admit Vladimir Putin has a point when he calls it “another case of illegal extra-territorial implementation of American law,” and none of the bribes they’re said to have accepted for awarding international tournaments seem to have been paid by Americans, who won’t be hosting any FIFA tournaments in the near future in any case, so the only point seems to be cleaning up a sport that few Americans bother to watch.
The smart fellows over at the Powerline web site are avid soccer fans, which strikes us as odd given their usually sound political opinions and excellent taste in music, and they contend that the Department of Justice is still sore that FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar despite the long trip to Zurich and personal lobbying of former Attorney General Eric Holder. It won’t be the least bit surprising if it is eventually proved in court that the Qataris prevailed by means of millions of dollars of illegal bribes, as such things are a feature of Arab culture and there is no other plausible explanation for awarding the world’s most-watched sporting event to such a remote and backwards desert hellhole as Qatar. The country’s pledge to air-conditioned stadia large enough to accommodate a soccer field and many thousands of spectators in the 100-plus degree summers has already been reneged on, the tournament has thus been moved to winter during the middle of the seasons of the professional leagues that supply the players, and the Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi laborers who have been imported to build the vast infrastructure that FIFA absurdly requires have died at the rate of one per day. Nor would we be surprised if this is all about Holder holding a grudge, as he always struck as that sort of guy.
Besides, the Obama administration was still smarting from its snub by the International Olympic Committee way back in ’09 when it award its games to Rio de Janeiro over of Chicago. Obama personally flew to Denmark to make the pitch, bringing along Oprah Winfrey, who might or might not be a big deal in Denmark, and giving a speech about how Chicago was his kind of town and recalling how “Nearly one year ago, on a clear November night, people from every corner of the world gathered in the city of Chicago or in front of their televisions to watch the results of the presidential election,” and basically suggested that having the Olympics culminate his eight years in office and welcome the world to his transformed America would give the games new meaning. All the press speculated that of course the deal was already done or no president would put his prestige on the line by making the trip, so when the Olympics went to an even more crime-ridden kleptocracy than Chicago it was the first bad press that the administration got after all the messianic treatment in ’08, and although the loss of the 2022 World Cup went entirely unnoticed we’re sure it still stung.
The blow to Obama’s and Holder’s egos notwithstanding, and despite the lucrative deals that Valerie Jarret’s Chicago buddies would have made preparing for the Olympics, and whatever deals might have been made for a World Cup, these are two games we’re glad America lost. These big international sporting events are lucrative to whatever network makes the sufficient bribes, and they transfix much of the world for a brief time, but they’re usually a severe burden on the communities that get stuck with them and the useless stadia they paid for. Even in soccer-mad Brazil there were riots in response to lavish sums that poverty-stricken country doled out to host the most recent World Cup, and the police are gearing up for more of the same during those ’16 Olympics that Chicago wanted. The only Olympics that we can recall proving profitable for a host was the ’02 winter games in Salt Lake City, and that was due to the organizational skills of Mitt Romney, which the public apparently found less impressive than that soaring “on a clear November night” rhetoric of Obama. The Olympics have lost much of their appeal since the end of the Cold War, not to mention all believable rumors about the IOC’s shenanigans, but they’re still a bigger deal to the real American sports fan than some FIFA contest with a bunch of foreigners kicking a ball around a “pitch” — we know that, too, along with with the corruption of the governing body — to a 1-0 score after some incalculable amount of time.
A country such as Qatar might decide that the millions in bribes and billions in soon-to-be-useless stadia and the daily deaths of Indians, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshi is well worth the prestige of hosting a highly-rated sports event, along with all the hooligans that soccer somehow always attracts, no matter how remote the backwards hellhole, but we’d like to think the United States of America can still earn its international prestige elsewhere.

— Bud Norman

A Tale of Two City Elections

Tuesday was Election Day in Chicago, which you probably heard about even if you’re not a Chicagoan, and also here in Wichita, which you might not have noticed even if you are a Wichitan. The disproportionate national attention paid to the two elections is easily explained by Chicago’s far larger population and national prominence, but the disparate amount of interest within each city is more complicated.
Local politics is one of Chicago’s favorite pastimes, followed with the same obsessive interest that attends the Bulls and Bears and Black Hawks and Cubs and White Sox, and for good reason. No sport in Chicago is quite so rough, features such fascinating players, or exerts such a meaningful influence on the daily lives of the citizens as a mayoral race. Chicago’s politics doles out patronage to a large portion of the city, provides essential city services to favored neighborhoods, regulates businesses according to their political donations, creates ethnic coalitions that affect race relations, and even intrudes into the private lives of ordinary people in a variety of ways. In Chicago, people have reason to care who is elected mayor.
This time around the mayoral race featured incumbent Rahm Emanuel, the former investment banker, congressman, and White House chief of staff who was known for bringing the rough-and-tumble “Chicago Way” to each job, against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a former community organizer, alderman, state legislator and Cook County commissioner, which is really all you need to know about the sorry state of Chicago politics. The big issue was the city’s rather dire financial condition, as well as its frightening rate of violent crime, although such matters as the irksome red-light camera system the city has been using to raise revenues were also raised, and Emanuel was forced to apologize for a managerial style that has been brusque even by Chicago standards, but as always it largely came down to who could make the better deals to form the larger coalitions.
Garcia enjoyed the support of the city’s sizable Latino population due to his name, along with help from teachers unions upset with the numerous school closings, but Emanuel was favored by the big business interests whose neighborhoods were spared any school closings and even got a Barack Obama College Preparatory High School opened in the affluent near north side, and we assume that despite the efforts of Jesse Jackson he also enjoyed support from the city’s sizable black population due to his past association with the school’s eponym. Throw in more campaign funds, better name recognition, and some shrewd appeals to the various ethnic groups that comprise the city’s sizable white population, and Emanuel wound up winning another term. We’re still not clear on what he intends to do about the city’s mounting debt and unfunded pensions and other fiscal woes, although we expect whatever he does will leave that affluent near north side unscathed, but we have no reason to believe that Garcia would have handled it any better.
Here in Wichita, local politics is more easily ignored, to the point that even such political junkies as ourselves tend to focus more on the national and international news. The city’s workforce is relatively small and the biggest scandals the local newspaper can find there usually involve small-time expense account padding that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in Chicago, only the main thoroughfares are cleared of snow and even the richest neighborhoods are not favored with libraries or better schools, some businesses tend to enjoy preferential treatment but none are singled out for harassment, the past two mayors were Latino and black without anyone noticing, and except for the infrequent anti-smoking crusade or occasional pointless resolution about some social issue or another the city mostly lets people screw up their own lives. Besides, the city’s system of government doesn’t even grant that much power to the mayor, with most decisions left to a city council that is usually content to defer to the city manager and his staff of credential professionals. The resulting apathy and the springtime scheduling elections ensures a low turn-out dominated by teachers and city employees and activist types who routinely choose a city government more liberal than city, which reliably votes conservative in the county and state and national elections in the fall, but so far they haven’t provoked sufficient outrage to shake things up.
This time around it came down to city councilman Jeff Longwell against local businessman Sam Williams, and so far as we can tell the big issue was what to do about bringing water to this exceedingly landlocked city in a state with few rivers, no natural lakes, and a diminishing aquifer, which is a problem but not yet so pressing that the government is timing people’s showers,  as they’re threatening to do in California, along with some mud-slinging that seemed rather harsh by local standards but wouldn’t have offended even the most sensitive Chicago sensibilities. Both were white guys, which no one seemed to notice, both had resumes that could plausibly suggest some level of competence, and neither seemed to have any fool-proof plan for providing water. Longwell had the support of the business community, or at least the portion of it that’s been getting preferential treatment from the city during his tenure as a councilman, and we suspect the teachers and city employees and activist types were on his side, while Williams seemed to garner his support from the out-numbered regular folk who actually bother to vote on such a lovely spring day as Tuesday. We wound up voting for Williams, mainly because he had a somewhat back-handed endorsement from Sedgwick County Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau, whose principled stinginess and anti-government instincts we have come to admire, but when we’d heard that Longwell won it didn’t cause us any anxiety.
The low turnout might have been even lower if not for a local referendum to lower the penalty for first time marijuana offenses, which passed even though it has no legal effect because the marijuana laws are the state’s doing. Perhaps the turnout would have been greater if not for all the “yes” voters who forgot the election date or got lost on their way to the polling places, but in any case the short lines at our local voting place did not distress us. Some people judge a community’s civic-mindedness by the turn-out in an election, but in Wichita’s case the lack of interest suggests a very healthy lack of the city government’s importance. Wichitans can also boast that at least Rahm Emanuel isn’t their mayor.

— Bud Norman

The Islamist Threat Survives the Charm Offensive

As recently as the past presidential election the administration was assuring the country that the threat of Islamist terrorism had all but disappeared. Osama bin Laden was dead and General Motors was alive, the stable and democratic Iraq that America had left behind was one of the administration’s greatest achievements, that unpleasantness in Libya was a mere matter of an internet video that had unnecessarily offended Muslim sensibilities, and a deft mix of multi-cultural sensitivity and lethal drone strikes had left the Islamists on the run. There was no longer any need for an American military presence in the Middle East, such such measures as the previous administration’s harsh interrogation policy and Guantanamo Bay prisoner of war camp were no longer necessary, and the number of guns could now be reduced to pre-World War II levels in order to pay pay more butter.
It was an appealing point of view, and if you were willing to overlook that 13 deaths that resulted from the “workplace violence” of a man shouting Alahu Akhbar at a Texas army base or the ambassador and the three other Americans who died as a result of that unnecessarily offensive internet video or the slaughter being inflicted by Islamists in a variety of countries it was persuasive enough to win the administration re-election. Lately, however, the administration has been striking a more worrisome tone. No less an administration official than the Secretary of Defense is describing the Islamic State in Levant, the terrorist group that the president dismissed as a “jayvee” team last January and has since conquered a portion of Syria and Iraq the size of Belgium, as “beyond anything we’ve seen.” Among assets ranging from captured American military equipment to billions of dollars of stolen money to an overpowering ruthlessness, the group also claims more than 500 soldiers who hold western passports that will be waved through any airport in the United States, and a Democratic Senator loyal to the administration is among those warning that the president’s hometown Chicago seems a likely target. Even the president himself was obliged to delay his tee time at the Martha’s Vineyard golf course to deliver an impassioned remark about the beheading of an American journalist captured by ISIL, although he did assure the public that his Attorney General was working up an indictment and that the good guys always win.
The more worrisome tone has resulted in some action, including air strikes against ISIl that have apparently slowed its advance toward Baghdad, some of those always foreboding military advisors heading back to the once stable and democratic Iraq they had left behind, and a complete withdrawal from the Libya that our earlier airstrikes had liberated from a quiescent dictator and descended into the chaos that led to all the unpleasantness over that unnecessarily offensive internet video and where the Islamists now control the airport on the shores on the Tripoli. All of this is well and good, we suppose, and the administration should be commended for what must be a painful acknowledgment that the president’s Cairo speech and his boyhood days in an Indonesian madrassa and his uncanny ability to not do stupid stuff haven’t resulted in the promised world peace. We doubt that this administration is willing to deviate any further from its past campaign poses, though, and that leave us all the more worrisome.
Those western passports flying in from Syria and Iraq probably won’t get any more scrutiny than those of the wheelchair-bound old Eglish ladies behind them in the the line, lest the administration be accused of racial profiling, which it only countenances in the case of white police officers involved in a shooting. Our intelligence community might get wise to a terror plot against Chicago if it runs through your phone or internet connection, but they won’t learn about it by harshly interrogating a prisoner who has been brought to Guantanamo Bay. We’ll continue to seek diplomatic solutions, much like the ones that that have been going on with Iran during the past many years of their progress toward a nuclear weapon, but it’s hard to imagine even the most diplomatic diplomatic gaining any substantial concessions from the people who chop the heads off American journalists. Another aircraft carrier has been sent to the South China Sea to counter the aggressions that the Chinese hate lately made to take advantage of America’s suddenly many distractions in the Middle East and eastern Europe, but we don’t expect that the administration’s next budget proposal will include the money for what the Navy says it needs. Those military advisors might have some good ideas for the under-funded and under-armed allies who face our same enemies, but perhaps they’ll also tell them to fight with the same restraint that has been urged on our Israeli allies in their most recent fight against the same barbarism.
The Islamist threat to the world order has been around since it started attacking trade caravans some 1,300 years ago, and has driven as far into the western world as the Iberian Peninsula and the gates of Venice, and was seizing American sailors before our country had been around long enough to give any offense to Muslim sensibilities, and was never going to be pacified with profound oratory or even the most exquisitely sensitive treatment. The good guys have gotten the better of it for most of that that arduous time, and might yet ultimately prevail, but it’s going to take guns rather than butter and a willingness to admit that a war is ongoing.

— Bud Norman

The Upside of Global Warming

The winter has thus far been mild in these parts, to the point that it’s almost been tolerable, with no snow worth mentioning and certainly none worth shoveling. All of the farmers and the most dedicated lawn care enthusiasts have been clamoring for more precipitation of any kind, and it would be selfish of us to wish otherwise, but our only complaint is that local global warming crowd has lately been even smugger than usual.
Other parts of the globe are reportedly colder and snowier than normal, so we assume that the global warming crowds in those places are talking about “climate change” rather than “global warming.” If not, they are condescendingly lecturing the skeptics about the difference between weather and climate, which is what they always do around here when the weather refuses to confirm to their predictions. They’re a steadfast lot, these global warming types, as unwavering in their faith as any church-goer of our acquaintance.
Global warming’s allegedly catastrophic consequences can justify almost anything the liberal hearth might desire, from industry-killing cap-and-trade to massive tax increases and regulations to the abolition of capitalism, so it’s not hard to understand the appeal. Christie Hefner of the oddly named Center for American Progress went so far as to blame global warming for Chicago’s extraordinarily high murder rate, which conveniently exculpates both the city’s erstwhile community organizer, President Barack Obama, and its current mayor, former presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Hefner is the daughter of the celebrated pornographer Hugh “Hef” Hefner, and a former chief executive officer of his Playboy empire, which has done as much warming as any company over the years, but her faith will no doubt earn her forgiveness from respectable society.
We’re thinking of getting some of that religion ourselves, now that we know global warming can also justify laziness. This intriguing tip comes from U.S. News & World Report, which cites a report from The Center for Economic Policy and Research that Americans should work less to reduce the effects of global warming. To give an idea of just how dire the situation has become, the report’s author even argues that “If the world were to follow a more European model of work, we would expect fewer hours, less output, and lower emissions of greenhouses gases.”
Now, that is saying something. Although we are widely regarded as lazy, and have been routinely chastised for it ever since our school days, even on our most idling days we have never dared aspire to a European level of laziness. We pride ourselves on our ability to do very little in the way of productive labor, a knack that has provoked awe in some onlookers, but we have always acknowledged the natural superiority of our European cousins in this regard.
Our current religion regards sloth with disdain, and even deems it a deadly sin, but the church of global warming seems to take a more reasonable attitude. Indeed, global warming seems to offer not just absolution but beatification for doing nothing. Once converted, we could stop offering embarrassed excuses for leaving a job undone and start claiming credit for our courageous contribution to the ecology. Should anyone chide us for an afternoon’s repose, we will turn an upward chin and angrily demand to know why they are trying to kill those poor polar bears.
A few more hours in bed watching “Dobie Gillis” re-runs and reading old Wodehouse novels should have the planet back in the pink, and we expect the planet’s more industrious inhabitants to compensate our efforts generously. This global warming stuff might just be the one true faith, after all.

— Bud Norman

School’s Out

Summer vacation has been indefinitely extended for the public schoolchildren of Chicago, a result of a strike by the school teachers’ union in that troubled city, and most of them probably don’t mind at all. For almost everybody else, though, the strike is an absurd nuisance.

The Chicago Teachers Union called for the strike after rejecting Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s offer of a 16 percent raise over four years in exchange for requirements that teachers pay more for their health insurance and submit to periodic evaluations of the membership’s teaching skills and perhaps even face eventual firing if the skills are found wanting. Given that the average teacher in the Chicago public school system makes $76,000 per year, which is about $29,000 per year more than the average Chicago taxpayer, and that they only pay 3 percent of their health care costs, which is a number the average Chicago taxpayer will envy, and that only 15 percent of the average teacher’s fourth grade students can read and that only 56 percent of his students will ever hold a meaningless high school diploma, the offer seems all too generous. Indeed, the union’s position is so extreme, so unreasonable, so outrageous that not even Rahm Emmanuel could accept it.

The strike is not only denying nearly 400,000 young Chicagoans an education, such as it is in that city, it is also inconveniencing parents, causing hunger among a large of number of students who had come to rely on the school system for regular meals, and stretching the resources of a police force that was already unable to stem a catastrophic wave of murders and other violent crimes. With a whopping 71 percent of budget-beleaguered Illinois’ educational budget already devoted to retired teachers’ pensions, even worse consequences of a big teachers’ union win will likely be felt in years to come.

Chicago’s reliably left-wing media had no trouble finding parents who support the strike, but we suspect that if they’d bothered to look they would have also found many more who are opposed. Although teachers may not be among the hated 1 percent they are at least well compensated enough to resented by liberals who have been conditioned to resent the better-off, and whatever conservatives remain in the city are bound to be outraged by almost every aspect of strike. The longer the strike lingers and parents have to figure out what to do with their unruly brats, public is bound to become increasingly angrier.

Which also creates a problem for Barack Obama. Because Emmanuel was once a key member of Obama’s administration, and because Obama is a pure product of Chicago’s notorious political machine, he can’t speak out against the city’s offer. On the other hand, because he’s a Democratic politician, he can’t speak out against a teachers’ union. Predictably enough, he has resolved this dilemma by courageously not speaking out at all.

Republican rival Mitt Romney has no such constraints, and immediately took the opportunity to criticize the union. Aside from the kids who get the days off of school, he’s likely to be the only beneficiary of the whole mess.

— Bud Norman