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On the “I Hope You Get Cancer and Die” Style of Political Discourse

Our best advice and usual practice is to never wade into any political controversy on Facebook, and instead just offer happy birthday wishes and condolences for the loss of a loved one and compliments on the cuteness of your friends’ children and pets. Even so, we waded into more controversy and vituperation than we expected on Friday when we frankly told a couple of our friends we didn’t share their frankly expressed glee about the death of David Koch at age 79 after a decades-long battle with cancer.
If you’re not from Wichita or New York City and don’t follow the left-wing demonology closely, you should know that Koch and his brother Charles built their father’s multi-million dollar oil company into a multi-billion dollar oil and paper towel and plastic cup and cookie and various other things conglomerate, and they’ve spent much of their money on various causes. Charles stayed here in Wichita, where you can’t go to the local art museum or symphony or musical theater or zoo or a Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball game without noticing his generous contributions. David Koch cashed in after a cancer diagnosis and moved to New York City, where he seems to have enjoyed everything a rich guy can find in New York City, which we can hardly begrudge him as he spends two decades dying of cancer, and he was a generous donor to New York City’s arts institutions and gave billions more to build a cancer hospital and fund cancer research.
Both brothers donated billions more to political advocacy, though, and lots of reasonable people have reasonable arguments with the policies they advocated. By now the notorious “Koch Brothers” have a starring role in some less reasonable left-wing conspiracy theories the same  way multi-billionaire George Soros does in right-wing conspiracy theories. Their father was a pioneering petroleum engineer who got rich on a contract with Joseph Stalin to extract oil the Soviet Union’s best engineers couldn’t get to, he later became a founding member of the extreme anti-communist John Birch Society, and both brothers inherited his entrepreneurial genius and antipathy to bossy governments and preference for unbounded liberty and very low taxes.
Oftentimes they’d take it too far even for our libertarian instincts, just as the John Birch Society’s anti-communist zealotry often exceeded what our strongly anti-communist principles would prefer, and there’s no denying the very low taxes enacted by the Kansas Governor they funded didn’t pay for themselves as promised. There are all sorts of reasonable arguments reasonable people might make against many Koch-favored policies, but we figure that there are also still reasonable arguments reasonable people might make against bossy governments and for as much individual liberty as a free-market economist figures  a society can get away with. It’s all very complicated when you get down to the details, where the devil is said to be, but we hope we don’t go so deep into it that we start wishing a fellow human being gets cancer and dies.
Yet we have friends on the left that we know to be decent and loving people who exulted in the death of someone because of his different opinions on environmental and tax policy. Both Koch brothers advocated for same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana and abortion rights and as much left-approved individual liberty as a society can get away with, and neither were gun nuts nor supporters of President Donald Trump, and they held a variety of views on the Iraq war and various other issues our friends on the left would begrudgingly agree with, but apparently 100 percent fealty to the one true leftist faith is required to qualify as a human being. We’re told that Koch knew damned well he was poisoning the Earth, and that capitalism was a globalist conspiracy conceived to impoverish the fattened working class, and that he twirled his mustache and demonically laughed about it as he lit up cigars with hundred dollar bills stolen from the proletariat, so he therefore had it coming, and some of our friends seem to truly believe that their seething hatred of the man somehow demonstrates their moral and intellectual superiority.
There’s plenty of the same poisonous “I hope you get cancer and die” rhetoric on the right, of course, including from our internet troll of a President of the United States. We have friends on the right we know to be decent and loving people but are suddenly willing to enforce border laws with maximum cruelty and forgive anything President Donald Trump says or does so long as it gives “butt hurt” to the “libtards.” The right also demands  100 percent fealty to its one true faith, which used to prominently include Christianity, with its suddenly outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo about loving one’s enemies and judging not lest  ye be judged and come let us reason together, but  lately seems whatever hateful thing Trump is saying. Our leftward friends should give a listen to talk radio talker Mark Levin, who every weekday shrieks that they’re a bunch of dirty hippies who hate God and America and the Constitution and everything good, and that they should all get cancer and die, and will defiantly spit out that “Yeah, I said it.” He seems to make a good living riling up the faithful that way, but his business model clearly doesn’t include persuading any reasonable person who might tune in but is not already fully on board.
Neither side is at all persuasive to anyone not fully on board with their “I hope you get cancer and die” stuff, but both sides think the other side is winning with it, and are convinced that  even more hateful rhetoric is therefore required, so the hateful rhetoric will probably continue to escalate. Neither side will ever persuade  the other to commit the mass suicide that is  so hoped for, neither side will be shamed into silence by fear of a “tweet” or Facebook post, and at this point we can only hope they don’t start brawling it out and killing each other the way the Nazis and Commies used to do on the streets of the late Weimar German Republic. Our friends on the right will think us squishy globalist RINOs, and our friends on the left will call us corporatist sell-outs and capitalist running pig-dogs, and some on both sides might agree that both we and David Koch fall too short of the one true faith to be fully human, but we’ll be hoping that friendships persist, the center somehow holds, a less hateful conversation arrives us at some sufficient compromise solution to at least a few of our problems, and that no one gets cancer and dies.
In the end we’ll all be dead, and we’ll all have it coming, and none of us will have been either right about everything or wrong about everything all along,  so we’ll also hold out continued hope in that outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo about a merciful  God ultimately judging all our souls. Sorry to interrupt anyone’s gleeful orgy of hate,  but we implore our high-minded and self-righteous friends on both the left and the right to stick to the best policy arguments they can make, stop reveling in anyone’s cancer death, and leave the ad hominem attacks and outright hate speech to the more intellectually lazy and unabashedly hateful types.
There are already plenty of those on both sides, and for now they both seem to be winning.

— Bud Norman

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The Death of a Dictator, and Perhaps His Dictatorship

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro at long last died on Friday, and this time it seems to be for good. His death had been rumored and even reported numerous times over the years, but the Cuban government has now acknowledged the fact, and it’s now safe to raise a toast with a Cuba Libre.
Castro seized power in Cuba on New Year’s Day in the year of our birth, then almost immediately started the mass executions and police state tactics that turned his lovely island nation into a hellish gulag, and has been a persistent problem to us and the rest of the world ever since. Our first inkling of how very scary the world can be came when he nearly provoked a cataclysmic global war by inviting the Soviet Union to plant nuclear missiles in his country, and he helped continue that constant threat through a long Cold War by sending soldiers and saboteurs to foment communist revolutions throughout South America and Africa. Even after the demise of the Soviet Union he continued to impose a dictatorship on his country, and to exert an insidious influence on politics everywhere.
Of course he had his apologists and admirers on the left here, who long agitated for normalizing diplomatic and economics relations with Cuba and eventually elected a president who would pursue that course. They touted the high literacy rates and universal access to excellent health care supposedly found in Cuba, cheered the same anti-democratic “peoples movements” that Castro supported around the world, and made the usual excuses for the murderous brutality and totalitarian suppression of fundamental human rights that came along with it. We’ve long been skeptical about those literacy rates and pristine hospitals, and been convinced by better proof about the nastiness of Castro’s regime. Over the years we kept reading about Cubans tying inner tubes together or turning bicycles and styrofoam boxes into paddle-driven boats to try to get the 90 miles or so from Cuba to the United States, although we can’t ever reading about anyone taking such extreme measures to get Cuba, and we’ve known enough of the fine people who somehow escaped to productive lives in America to believe their corroborating stories.
Over our years of newspaper reading presidents and prime ministers and popes and pop stars have come and gone, but the Castro name has kept popping up. Fidel’s brother Raul still clings to dictatorial power in Cuba, so we suppose we’ll keep seeing it for a while, but there’s always a chance that cult of personality that has largely propped up the dictatorship will pass along with the personality. There’s a new president in the United States, too, and he’s talking admirably tough about how very bad Castro had been, but he was also talking deals back in the campaign days, so perhaps that’s just a negotiating tactic to get himself and Michael Corleone and Hyman Roth a good casino deal.
We’ll hope for the best. Cuba has a glorious musical and culinary and literary and religious tradition that speaks to something profoundly joyful at the heart of its culture, but it also has an almost unbroken history of bad government. At the moment America hardly seems in any condition to instruct them on the matter of good government, and the Cuban people are going to have to assert the best of themselves if their condition is to improve, but at least the task should be easier without Fidel Castro around.

— Bud Norman

Phyllis Schlafly, RIP

Iconic conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly died on Monday at the age of 92, and upon hearing the news we couldn’t help fishing our old “Stop ERA” button out of the button jar and reminiscing about her glory days. The button has been kept mostly out of the light for the past many decades and is still a bright stop sign shade of red, but so much has been changed since we last wore it that it sometimes seems from a different world, and we can’t help wondering what such an endearing old anachronism as Schlafly might have made of it.
She first became involved in conservative politics as a supporter of the old school Robert “Mr. Republican” Taft before we were even born, became a noted anti-communist spokeswoman afterwards, and by the time we tuned into our first presidential election in ’64 her book-length pro-Barry Goldwater essay “A Choice Not an Echo” was selling millions of copies and making her an acknowledged leader of the supposedly sexist right. It wasn’t until the Equal Rights Amendment debate of the ’70s that she became a household name, though, and that was when we started paying attention.
The amendment was first proposed back in the Jazz Age of the ’20s, with the support of all the upper class lady folk and the flappers, but the women working in the sweatshops and on the farms felt they needed some sex-specific workplace regulations that the amendment’s language seemed to proscribe, introducing the internecine class warfare that has afflicted the feminist movement ever since, and after that it pretty much faded away. Early into the rockin’ 70s the simply stated idea that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” came roaring back, though, and for a long while it seemed pretty much an inevitability. By then it was hard to argue with the basic idea of equal rights for women, so in ’72 the ERA passed both chambers of Congress and was passed on to the states for ratification, with the backing of the platforms of both major parties and such conservative stalwarts as Ronald Reagan, and by 1977 it had been ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states, including our very own Kansas.
By ’75 or ’76 or so, though, people were beginning to wonder what sort of peculiar policies “The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation,” which was the briefly worded second article of the amendment, and to worry what craziness the courts might find even in that short and deceptively simple and seemingly benign first article, and what sorts of devils there might be in the details of that basic idea of equal rights for women. The young folks of today might find it quaint, but there were even worries that the ERA might ultimately result women being drafted into the military and creepy guys hanging around the women’s restrooms and showers. Quainter yet, the progressives of the day scoffed at the very idea they would ever suggest such foolishness, with all that women-in-combat stuff widely reviled by a feminist movement reviled by anything militarist and a young feminist and future Supreme Court Justice named Ruth Bader Ginsburg was writing an op-ed insisting that “Separate places to disrobe, sleep, perform personal bodily functions are permitted, in some case cases required, by regard for individual privacy. Individual privacy, a right of constitutional dimension, is appropriately harmonized with the equality principle. But the the ‘potty issue’ is likely to remain one of those ultimate questions never pressed to the final solution.”
As we well recall, it made for a contentious debate. Aside from all those thorny policy questions, there was also an ongoing cultural war about the broader implications of the feminist movement. The feminists frankly claimed that adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution would simultaneously ratify their most radical notions, and of course there was a backlash to that, and in all the ensuing controversy no one was more controversial than Schlafly. She became the old-fashionedly dignified face of the anti-ERA cause by pressing the conservative case against introducing language into the constitution that could lead into all sorts of consequences, and by pushing back against the more questionable assumptions of that already overreaching feminist movement. Needless to say, she was much beloved and much reviled.
Adding to both the love and the hate was that Schlafly was an undeniably formidable force. All the women she’d inspired to Goldwater’s true blue brand of conservatism were famously described as “little old ladies in tennis shoes,” but she was harder to dismiss. The daughter of a failed businessman and a highly educated housewife, she entered Maryville College at 16 and left at 19 with a Phi Beta Kappa key and a full scholarship to Radcliffe, where she earned a master’s degree in a year’s time. She worked at one of the earliest conservative think-tanks, wrote or edited 20 books, published an influential newsletter and spoke daily on more than 500 radio stations, was a regular commenter on the Columbia Broadcasting system in the ’70s and the Cable News Network in the ’80s, and always brought an old-school erudition and that old-fashionedly dignified face and a certain womanly bearing that the feminists could never quite match.
At the time Schlafly was somehow staving off any more ratifications and even getting several states to rescind while running out the clock on the Equal Rights Amendment, we were in high school and paying rapt attention. All the girls who inspired our romantic interest in those amorous days were of course avid proponents of the ERA, and then as now we were quite comfortable with their basic idea of equal rights for women, but we’ve never been able to help worrying about those devils that might be lurking in the details. We were also in favor of equal rights for all races, but had seen how that laudable idea had turned our schools in violence-ridden wastes of time, and those girls we pined for seemed to be doing well enough on their own, and the question of the draft and the “potty issue” didn’t seem something to be scoffed at. There was already a “separate but equal” precedent regarding public accommodations, with some judge or another out there eager to seize on it, and surely a law that conscripted people of one sex into combat duty but not another would violate an amendment with the plain language that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex,” and if it didn’t then what did it mean? Then as now we thought that having men use the men’s room and women use the women’s room was a sensible arrangement, and that sending only men off to war has had a similar social utility, and that in our society best efforts to “harmonize” such concerns with the “equality principle” the constitution ought to provide some wiggle room, which is why we wound wearing that “Stop ERA” button.
At the time we were less impressed with Schlafly’s more culturally conservative arguments for a more traditional notion of womanhood, being so very smitten with those self-fulfilled and enticingly assertive feminist girls, but after so many decades and so many changes we can’t say for sure that she was wrong about any of that. At this point we do feel vindicated for our long ago prediction that the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment wasn’t going to result in a dystopian future of barefoot pregnant women chained to stoves, and we’re pleased that all our former crushes have been free to make successes and failures of their lives, but we’ll lament seeing women being sent into combat and creepy men hanging around the ladies restrooms and showers, and we’ll continue to worry what further devils might yet be in the details of that basically sound idea of equal rights for all.
Schlafly stayed on the seen during the past controversial decades, and although we sometimes agree with her and sometimes didn’t we always had to give the opinions of such a formidable women due respect. Of course the left always hated her, and even in her more respectful obituaries there’s the old line about how she married a rich husband, and always taunted her feminist opponents by remarking how he “allowed” her to speak out, and offended the fundamental feminist principle of freedom of choice by choosing to embrace a traditional notion of womanhood. By the end of her long life the former Taft enthusiast and cultural traditionalist was embracing the candidacy of longtime Democrat and thrice-married Donald J. Trump more enthusiastically than we would have preferred, but we’ll forgive that final disagreement on the grounds that she was mostly against the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Not only is Clinton the latest devil in the details of that basically good idea about equality of the sexes, but she only got where she is due to her deal with a philandering husband, while Schlafly probably would have wound up just as prominent without help from her loving and loyal mate, and none of Schlafly’s critics will ever want to admit that.
Although she won the battle against the ERA, and scored a few other wins for conservatives since then, Schlafly seems to have lost the wars. Even the more conservative candidates in the Republican debates were endorsing the drafting of women last summer, the Republican nominee was critical of North Carolina’s attempts to retain the old restroom arrangements, and by now it’s a safe bet that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg won’t come riding to the rescue. The limited government notions of Goldwater seem hopelessly out of fashion in both parties, even if the isolationism of Taft seems to be making a comeback on the Republican side, and we can’t imagine that Schlafly died happy about it any of it. All the more reason we’re going to miss that formidable woman, and hope that she died happy with the personal life that her brave choices created.

— Bud Norman

Looking Back Longingly

Way back in our teenaged days we had a summer job collecting signatures to get the Libertarian Party on the ballot in Kansas and Missouri, and the pay was not bad by ’70s high school kid standards, the work was interesting, and we liked the cause. Now that we’re looking around for some presidential candidate to vote for other than the Republican nominee for the first time in our adult lives, and suddenly feeling nostalgic even for the ’70s, we’re giving the Libertarians another look.
After ten years of second-rate public education and all the social engineering and other governmental bullying we’d already endured, not to mention all the Watergate hearings we’d raptly watched and the recent footage of the evacuation helicopters lifting off from the embassy in Saigon and the impending election of Jimmy Carter, the Libertarian Party had great appeal to our youthfully rebellious selves. We were already reading Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek and trying to slog through Adam Smith’s more archaic prose, and we’d lived through wage-and-price controls under a Republican administration and could already see the coming “stagflation” and Misery Index that a Democratic administration would surely bring, so the party’s free market purism made perfect sense. The Libertarians were mostly an unchurched lot who didn’t want religion imposed on them, but we had no desire to impose our religious beliefs on anyone, and indeed one of the tenets of our religion was that it must be freely chosen to do anybody any good, and they were also passionate about religious freedom and not at all the types to impose their non-religious beliefs on anyone. They were passionate about all the essential God-given and Constitutionally-protected freedoms, as we were, and then as now neither of the major parties were reliably stalwart about them.
The Libertarians were admittedly radical, and of course that had some appeal to such surly young ’70s punks as ourselves. They wanted to do away not only with all that Great Society nonsense that kept getting us beat up through junior high, but also to get rid of all that New Deal nonsense our beloved grandparents had voted for and our beloved parents had accepted as ineradicable facts of life with their votes for Eisenhower, and it didn’t bother us a whit. We had no confidence at that point that the government would be able to keep its promises to those of us at the very tail end of the already obviously awful Baby Boom generation, and figured we could do better with noticeable sums the government was already taking out of our meager summer job paychecks. Our surly ’70s punk cynicism extended to those hippy dippy teachers we’d already encountered, who were as bullying a bunch as we’ve met in a lifetime full of bullies, and we figured that if the government would limit itself to arresting and trying and imprisoning rapists and robbers and such as well as keeping the Commies at bay and a very few other things necessary to promote the common welfare we could handle the rest, and we appreciated that they thought so as well.
Although the Libertarians were the very antithesis of communism they were averse to doing anything about it until those Cuban paratroopers from “Red Dawn” started falling from the sky, which was a problem for us even in our younger days. We were also already reading Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov and Havel and all the samizdat writers, and the vindicated-by-history Reader’s Digest and National Review, and for idiosyncratic reasons we hated communism and every other collectivist ideology that would crush the individual who stood in its way, and our by-then long experience of bullies informed us that more collectively strong response was required.
That same summer we worked for the Libertarian Party we were rooting for Ronald Reagan’s insurgency campaign against Republican President Jerry Ford, and we even drove up to Kansas City to hang around the convention center where it fell short. The defeat made the Libertarians all the more appealing, but when the determinedly anti-commie and as pure-as-you’re-gonna-get free market capitalist and traditional values guy who didn’t seem all that interested in imposing them on anyone Reagan did win the nomination and the presidency we found what seemed a natural home in the Republican party and remained there until Tuesday night.
The Democrats are even worse than in the ’70s, which is saying something, so of course we won’t be voting for any of those. The Republican candidate is the worst ever, though, and promises to leave all those entitlement programs untouched and boasts of his very impure crony version of capitalism and has publicly threatened to punish his press critics and has no values at all and is quite willing to impose them on anybody and is in general the worst sort of bully we’ve ever encountered, so we won’t be voting for him, either.
Which prompts our reconsideration of the Libertarians. So far as we can tell they’re still free-market purists, which still makes sense to us. Those entitlements that the major party candidates both claim they can still somehow save still don’t seem worth saving, and we note that the Medicare trustees have pin-pointed that program’s collapse to the very year we’ll turn 65, just as our surly and cynical ’70s punk selves predicted. We’re almost certain to have to fend for ourselves in our old age, but we’ll still appreciate that the Libertarians thought we could do so. These days the social issues are at the point where the conservative survivors of the culture wars are being rounded up and lined up against a firing squad, and so far as we can tell the Libertarians are still passionate about religious liberty and disinclined to impose their mostly unchurched values on some Christian baker or photographer who who doesn’t want to go along with the collective’s momentary notions of morality. We have no idea where the party stands on some creepy male individual’s right to hang around women’s locker rooms, but both major party nominees are cool with that, so how bad could they be?
There’s still that crazy isolationism, but at this point neither of the major parties seem any better. The Democrat is that woman who offered the “re-set” button to Russia’s revanchist dictator Vladimir Putin, the Republican has openly expressed his admiration for his fellow bully and his campaign manager and top foreign policy advisor are both business partners with the former KGB agent, and meanwhile he’s threatening all our North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners that they’ll have to agree to his really great deals or he’ll let the whole thing go, so how bad could even the Libertarians be?
They’re a friendly and fun lot, too, these Libertarians. We still fondly recall traveling to Kansas City with a couple of older party workers to gather signatures that memorable summer, where we pleased to learn that Paul McCartney was playing a concert that evening at the old Kemper Arena. The older fellows rightly figured that the crowds outside the event would be amenable to signing a petition to get the Libertarian Party on the ballot, and when we arrived we found three long lines that we each began to pester. Meeting up at the pre-determined spot we were proud to say that we’d garnered some 100 signatures, the older fellow boasted of 120 or so, and the oldest said that he’d only gotten 10 signatures but had scored scalped tickets for everyone and a bag of marijuana. The concert was most enjoyable, and although we didn’t accept their generous offers of a toke we must have gotten what the kids call a “contact high,” because we remember thinking that Linda McCartney sounded great. Two summers later our summer job was interning for Republican Sen. Bob Dole, and it was also a good time, and we got to hang out with two future governors of our state and a lot of other very bright people, including one fellow who was proudly a member of the Prohibition Party, which some still appears every years on the Kansas ballot, and which we’ll also investigate, but we still fondly recall our Libertarian days.
The party hasn’t settled on a nominee yet, but the odds are he will again be former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. With both of the major party nominees being widely despised, and Johnson being almost entirely unknown, we give him an outside shot. He’s also an outspoken advocate of legalizing marijuana, and if he gets any traction with the issue we expect both major party nominees will soon also be on board, and given the more likely outcomes of this election some legal weed might come in handy.

— Bud Norman

We’ll See You in C-U-B-A

Press reports indicate that President Barack Obama’s image now occupies a place of honor on the Havana street posters that was once afforded to Che Guevara. When Obama touches ground on Cuban soil on Sunday to usher in a new era of diplomatic relations with that unfortunate island’s totalitarian communist government he will no doubt be flattered by the comparison to such a mass murdering terrorist thug as Guevara, whose ruggedly handsome and martial image still adorns many a hipster’s t-shirt and countless college dormitory walls and is by now as iconic as that upturned chin of Obama’s in the equally kitschy “Hope and Change” poster, but such aging Cold Warriors as ourselves can only sigh at what’s become of our supposed victory.
The first presidential visit to Cuba since long before it became it a totalitarian communist state is being hailed in much of the press as a crowning achievement of Obama’s foreign policy, even as those same media are obliged to admit that the eastern European and Middle Eastern and South China Seas and hasn’t been so nearly have been ore significant setbacks, but our perspective yields a differing view. We were born the same year that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and their fellow mass murdering thugs gained control of the country, and they’ve remained in the bad news long after such mass-murdering thugs as Yasser Arafat and the Ayatollah Khomeini and the apparatchiks of the Soviet Union and such exemplary leaders as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II faded away, and we’d held out faint hope that we’d outlast Cuban communism as well.
This hope now seems dashed, though, and we expect that for now it will be regarded as a crowning achievement of the current administration that he has supplanted the great Che Guevara on Havana’s street posters. We recall a recent conversation with a young fellow we rather like who thought that Obama’s Cuba policy regardless of whatever that country’s totalitarian government had done in the past was surely no big deal, and we noted that what Cuba had done in the past was steal billions of dollars of American investments in the country while murdering countless of democacry-and-freedom-loving dissidents to install a regime that invited nuclear weapons that brought the world to the brink of nuclear apocalypse and fomented disastrous revolution South America to Africa, and was appallingly anti-homosexual and racist and sexist to boot, and that it had done it all in our our very own lifetime, which doesn’t seem all that recent. Throw in the fact that our first girlfriend and one of our middle-aged crushes was with Cuban-Americans whose families who had escaped that hellish routine, and that one of them’s brother is also a good friend, and that two of our city’s best mayors have been Cuban-Americans and one of them was the father or our aforementioned first girlfriend, as well as all the hours we’ve spent grooving to Mongo Santamaria records, and that our choice for the next president is a Cuban-American, so we take our opposition to Cuba’s too-awful-to-deal-with government rather personally.
Obama’s line seems to be that American rapprochement with Cuba will surely insert its insidious capitalist influence and thus drag it ever closer to our more capitalist and gay-friendly standards, but we doubt he really believes in any of that. Our guess is that he admires its socialized welfare system and press restraints and ability to to send dissidents to the torture chambers, and hopes that his much admired rapprochement with the totalitarian government will nudge us ever closer to that model.
He’ll soon be gone, thanks to that presidential term limit that the Democrats insisted on during Eisenhower’s popular anti-communist administration, but the policy will likely linger. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton will be on board, and Republican front-runner and deal-making-businessman Donald Trump says he has no problem with the concept of dealing with the Cuban communists but promises a much better and really “yuge” deal, so the best case scenario is that scene from “Godfather Part Two” where they’re passing the gold-plated phone from Michael Corleone and Hyman Roth to set up casino with a well-endowed “superman” sex show. The insidious influences of capitalism might yet prevail, no matter the outcome of some Democrat-versus-Republican showdown, so at least we’ll hold onto that faint hope.
In the meantime those images of Obama’s upturned chin and Guevara’s scowling-yet-handsome visage are equally iconic, and we wish the best for the freedom-loving peoples of both the United States of America and Cuba.

— Bud Norman

Re-Negotiating the Cold War

America’s declaration of victory in the Cold War might have been premature. Cuba is still communist, and by the time its upcoming negotiations with President Barack Obama are concluded it’s likely that impoverished and totalitarian worker’s paradise will have the last laugh.
Cuban dictator Raul Castro has opened the bargaining about normalization of relations with demands that include America’s withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay and reparations for the past 55 years of American embargo and assorted other imperialist sins, and it strikes us as a shrewd negotiating tactic. Castro has apparently been watching America’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program and realizes how very generous our president can be when he’s eager to strike a deal, and he’s no doubt aware that Obama is a pure product of an American left that has always been sympathetic to Cuba’s communist dictatorship. We keep reading that Obama surely won’t cede to such outrageous demands, but we’re not at all confident that he won’t seize such a ripe opportunity to finally be rid of that Guantanamo Bay detention camp and spread some American wealth to an especially sleazy portion of the third world and prove his Nobel Peace Prize-winning solidarity with the oppressed workers of the world in the process.
Obama has already made a significant concession by telling the leaders of 35 nations at Summit of the Americas that “the days in which our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past.” This is an apparent reference to the Monroe Doctrine, which through 192 years of Democratic and Republican administrations successfully kept the European powers from meddling in Latin American affairs, then guided our efforts to keep the Soviet Union from meddling in the hemisphere, and has more lately prompted resistance to Iranian and Chinese meddling. The American left has long hated the Monroe Doctrine, especially when it was employed to thwart Soviet meddling, and will now be quite happy to leave all the meddling to Iran and the Chinese.
The Cubans will be eager to continue their own meddling in other Latin American countries, of course, and if they get another one of their demands met they’ll be able to do so without being included on the State Department’s list of terror-sponsoring governments. “We indeed have acted in solidarity with many peoples that may be considered terrorists” under the view of “imperialism,” Castro told the assembled leaders at the summit, adding that he was “referring to Cuba’s humanitarian missions in various developing countries.” These humanitarian missions have involved fomenting Marxist revolutions throughout Central and South America as well as Africa, and we suppose he’d also regard the Cuban dictatorship’s invitation to launch Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba as humanitarian, but almost all of it has met with favor from the American left and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. The promise that America won’t counter-meddle already constitutes a major victory for the Cuban dictatorship, and one can hardly blame them for pressing for further concessions.
The equally odious government of Venezuela, which was Cuba’s most important post-Soviet benefactor until America’s fracking boom lowered the price of crude oil and brought its economy to a Cuban level of despair, is also demanding an obsequious apology for all those years of Monroe Doctrine, but it seems they’ve already got that. So far Obama is insisting that there will be disagreements with Cuba and demands for greater freedom in prison nation, but except for Cuba’s horrific treatment of homosexuals we can’t see him finding much fault with the rest of its present system of governance. Obama also spent some of his time at the Summit of the Americas that domestic criticism of his negotiations with Iran “It needs to stop,” so the Cuban dictatorship’s habit of quashing dissent surely won’t be objectionable. There’s that communist economic system and all the material deprivation that it has imposed on the Cuban people for the past 55 years, but Obama will likely be obliged to note equality of all that poverty, and of course there will be frequent mention of the universal health care they’ve got down there. Castro has already absolved Obama of America’s sins, and Obama is likely to regard that as ample compensation for any concessions he might make.
Whatever problems Marxism has thus far encountered in Latin America, American meddling will no longer be one of them. Which is not to say that the commies will get the very last laugh in the western hemisphere. Whatever Obama wants to do will meet fierce resistance in Congress, even from some Democrats with large constituencies of refugees from Latin American Marxism, and even an American public grown inured to the administration’s obsequiousness will surely balk at paying reparations to the commie Cubans who stole legally contracted American holdings in Cuba and then pointed nuclear weapons at us. The green light for foreign meddling in Latin America might encourage the Marxists who are tyrannizing their own countries and supporting the terrorist assaults on freer nations in the hemisphere, but none have ever worked out, and none ever will. Even the most abject American apologies and bone-headed agreements won’t change that.

— Bud Norman

Normalizing Dictatorships

A communist dictatorship seized power in Cuba the year of our birth, and has been nothing but trouble to the world ever since. The dictatorship pointed nuclear weapons at the United States which almost triggered an apocalyptic war, fomented similarly dictatorial revolutions throughout Latin America and Africa, emptied its prisons onto American shores, and even after the demise of its Soviet patron has continued to abet the mischief of its fellow pariah states and imprison its own population in a totalitarian gulag. Now we read that America will normalize diplomatic relations with this cruel government, and can only wonder that it has taken so long.
The left hasn’t had much enthusiasm for opposing any sort of communism at least since George McGovern won the Democratic nomination, after all, and has always had a special sympathy for the Cuban variety. Countless documentaries and feature films, pamphlets, symposia, and the breathless testimonials of too many hipsters in Che Guevara t-shirts have portrayed Cuba as a tropical workers’ paradise where rhythmic and revolutionary cumbias fill the air and high-quality free health care is available to all. We never heard of anybody tying a bunch of inner tubes together and trying to get to Cuba, while hundreds of thousands have resorted to such desperate measures in order to get out, but the myth persists. Normalizing diplomatic relations with the communist dictatorship will prolong its power, but the left no longer sees this as a problem.
In his last campaign debate the president chortled to his opponent that the Cold War was long over, clearly amused that such confrontational thinking still happened, and indeed that epic conflict was so long ago that the collective memory has faded and only the liberal myths prevail. It was so long ago that the current president was smoking that high-quality Hawaiian pot with the “Choom Gang” when the west was winning the conflict, and went on to tell an adoring crowd of Germans at the former site of the Berlin Wall that it was because the world stood as one, and the former long-haired hippie who testified to Congress that it was futile for American to resist communism is now the Secretary of State, and the idea that communism wasn’t really so bad after all is now a fixture of the campus curriculum. The hammer and sickle never achieved the same intolerable status as the swastika, even if it represented the same brutal totalitarianism, and the likes of the mass-murdering Che Guevara became fashionable attire.
By now the decision to open an embassy in Havana will probably be of little political consequence. The left will be pleased with their president’s daring, the Americans of Cuban heritage will be mostly outraged but of few numbers, maybe not even enough to swing to Florida’s electoral votes back to the Republicans, and the old-timers such as ourselves who proudly recall a time when America was the reason communism’s evil didn’t prevail probably would have voted Republican in any case. The Cold War is long over except for those unfortunate folks in Ukraine and Cuba and the South China Sea who are dealing with its unpleasant aftermath, the threat of a nuclear conflagration has been downgraded to the possibility that Iran or North Korea or another of Cuba’s allies will someday launch one, and the left is already looking for rationalizations if that ever happens.

— Bud Norman

Déjà Vu All Over Again

The news from Iraq is very bad, and discomfortingly familiar. Anyone old enough to be haunted by the televised images of those helicopters lifting off from the embassy in Saigon, our erstwhile friends and allies clinging desperately to the skids in fear of the approaching enemy at the the desultory end of a long and hard-fought war, is already dreading the same scene being reprised in Baghdad.
The fall of Saigon occurred two years after America’s military had left the unpopular war in Vietnam, and was accomplished by a single column that marched down the country with no fear of the American air strikes that could have annihilated the troops. The impending fall of Baghdad will be accomplished by a ragtag army of terrorists traveling in sports utility vehicles with no fear of an American military that could easily repel them, but the American military was pulled out of the unpopular war two years ago and likely won’t be coming back. Many of the last Americans remaining in the country have already been evacuated from an air base in the terrorists’ path and plans have already been made for the evacuation of the Baghdad embassy, where our erstwhile friends and allies will likely be clinging to the helicopter skids in fear of the approaching enemy, and thus another long and hard-fought war seems to be coming to another desultory end.
The analogy is imprecise, as historical analogies always are, but the two events have the same glum feeling. The results will once again be horrific, and the same improvable arguments about who’s to blame are have already begun.
Just as the fall of Saigon led to violent upheavals in Laos and Cambodia, and left America’s South Vietnamese allies in the brutal hands of their communist conquerers, the march of that ragtag army of terrorists toward Baghdad began in war-torn Syria and will have repercussions throughout the Middle East and beyond. The communist takeover of all of Vietnam entailed inhuman re-education camps and spread boatloads of refugees around the world, even if the Vietnamese communists proved pikers compared to the mass-murdering zealots of their ideological compatriots in Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, while the terrorist army marching on Baghdad has already demonstrated a medieval cruelty in its conquests of Iraq’s second- and third-largest cities. The fall of Saigon represented a defeat in a larger and more crucial struggle against communism, and the fall of Baghdad will be at least as disastrous a moment in the fight against the Islamist ideology of that ragtag terrorist army.
Many of those who had opposed America’s war in Vietnam  welcomed the fall of Saigon it as sweet vindication for their stand, regardless of its consequences, and we expect that those who opposed the America’s war in Iraq enjoy the same reward after the fall of Baghdad no matter how bloody it proves. Just as the hawks of the Vietnam era argued plausibly but improvably that a couple of carrier-launched sorties could have enforced the peace that had seemingly been negotiated two years earlier, the last remaining Iraq hawks are arguing plausibly but improvably that the great victory loudly proclaimed two years earlier by the president could have been preserved by his quicker and more nimble response with the necessary military force. Neither side can offer with any certainty a happy scenario that would have resulted from their preferred policy, but once again the wrong lessons are likely to be learned.
Anyone reading the smart magazines or watching the movies in the immediate aftermath of the defeat in Vietnam knows that resisting communism’s international expansion was futile, and one can expect that the same sources will now explain the resistance to Islamism’s growing reach. The defeat in Vietnam was followed shortly by the election of a president who prided himself on not having an “inordinate fear of communism,” and his sanguine philosophy prevailed through the spread of communism of in Central America and Africa until the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan forced him to take such stern measures as boycotting the Moscow Olympics. The current president has taken an even more preening pride in his sensitivity to even the most Islamist strains of Islam, but will likely claim sweet vindication when the beheadings commence in Baghdad. The smart magazines and the movies will concur, and the Islamists’ expansion will continue apace.
That scrap in Vietnam can be seen in retrospection as a mere battle in the broader war against communism, and that ultimately turned out well, That brief but disastrous interlude of a merely ordinate fear of communism, along with a naive embrace of an Islamist regime in formerly friendly Iran, as well as a sputtering economy, led to the election of an old-school cold warrior whose confrontational approach to the Soviet Union led to its demise. One can hope for such a happy ending to the latest debacle, but it remains to be seen
That scrap in Iraq will eventually be recorded as just another battle in the war between Islamism and the west, which has been waged from Mohammad’s attacks on the trade caravan’s of the long lost word order his day to the Gates of Vienna to the Iberian Peninsula to the skyscrapers of Manhattan, but it will probably be at least a couple of years after the defeat before America rejoins the war. The current president has already proclaimed victory, the presumptive next president is the Secretary of State who voted for the Iraq as a Senator but quickly joined the coalition clamoring for defeat, and there’s an unsettling sense that it will take another few thousand Americans killed on homeland soil to rouse the country’s martial spirit. That presumptive next president is defending the current president’s decision to release five high-ranking terrorist leaders, much as the leader of that ragtag army marching on Baghdad had been released, by saying that it only threatens still-occupied-by=American-forces-Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan and not any American interests. America has arrived at a moment when it does not have an inordinate fear of Islamism, and might not recover in time.
The chaos and terror atop that embassy in Saigon was all the more unsettling because it seemed so symptomatic of the times, when American influence seemed at a low ebb throughout a troubled world and at home the economy and culture and spiritual core of the country all seemed in precipitous decline. With America’s enemies emboldened from the Crimea to the China Seas and the pop culture consumed with bigoted basketball team owners to homosexual defensive backs, there’s a depressingly familiar feel to the latest news.
History never repeats itself verbatim, however, and there are any number of possible outcomes in Iraq. News reports indicate that the insanely Shia rulers of the nutcase Iranian regime that came in to power back in the ’70s might defeat the insanely Sunni ragtag terrorist Army that is descending on Baghdad. Anyone not insanely Shia would be hard-pressed to see this as a positive outcome, however, and none of the other possible scenarios are promising, The American people might yet steel themselves for the challenges ahead, but we fear it will require unspeakable horrors.

— Bud Norman

The Wide World and Sports

Maybe it was because the stock markets and the politicians and the culturati took the day off in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., but the all the big news on Monday seemed to be about sports. At this unhappy moment in our history even the sports pages can’t offer refuge from economics and politics and culture, however, so reality seems to have intruded on all the stories.
The Winter Olympics are about to begin, for instance, and thus far the headlines have mostly been about the possibility of a terror attack. Although there are always worries about security at any international gathering the last significant terror attack on the games took place in Munich back in ’72 and was directed against the Israeli athletes, who are for obvious reasons not prominent in the winter events except for their Russian émigré figure skaters, but because these games are taking place in Russia there are understandable worries that Islamist nutcases will want to take revenge for that country’s efforts at self-defense in Chechnya and other Islamic outposts of its past empire. This time around there is a specific threat from the “Black Widow,” a deranged woman whose terrorist husband was killed in his deadly efforts, and one can only hope that Russia’s security forces will live up to their reputation for ruthless efficiency.
Winter sports have no appeal to us, as skiing is not a common activity here in Kansas and the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers rarely freeze solid enough for figure skating or ice hockey, but we wish all the participants well. The other big story from these games concerns the Russian government’s recent attempts to discourage homosexuality, which has annoyed the west’s left far more than the Ukrainian famine or the purges or the gulags or anything the country’s former communist regime ever did, but here’s hoping that even the biathletes have a safe and successful competition.
As in every January, another big story is the Super Bowl. This year’s match-up features some team from Denver and another from Seattle, neither of whom are the Kansas City Chiefs, so we’ve paid little attention to all the Xs and Os and other minutiae of the pre-game analyses, but as always it provides plenty of manufactured social implications. The cheeky fellows at The Drudge Report dubbed the game “The Pot Bowl” to draw attention to the fact that both contestants reside in states that have recently liberalized their marijuana laws, but we suspect this might be mere coincidence. If legal marijuana truly does produce championship football we expect that Texas will quickly make pot-smoking mandatory, and that all the states with teams in the collegiate Southeast Athletic Conference will soon follow suit, so we await a definitive scientific judgment on the matter.
Another prominent piece of the pre-Super Bowl hype was a Seattle player’s on-air rant against one of the San Francisco squad that fell in the National Football Conference play-off game. We missed most of the game while attending a friend’s birthday party and have no idea what he was going on about, but we caught the post-game interview and it was vituperative enough to worry us that the fellow might do a drive-by shooting at whoever it was that had “dissed” him. Perhaps it was justified, as professional football is a rough game, but it seemed a unpleasant reminder of the kinds of deplorable people that America venerates each fall and winter, as well as the even more consequentially deplorable people that rule our economy, politics, and culture throughout the year.
Ah well, at least all three of our big-time Kansas universities are among the ranked teams in college basketball. The Wichita State University Wheatshockers are in the coaches’ top four, and there is hope for the world in the sports pages.

— Bud Norman

Presidential Funeral Etiquette

Attending funerals isn’t an especially challenging chore. All you have to do is dress in formal but not flashy attire, maintain a somber expression throughout the proceedings, and avoid speaking ill of the guest of honor. It’s so simple, in fact, that the job is routinely entrusted to vice presidents.
Even so, President Barack Obama somehow managed to cause not just one but two separate controversies on Tuesday while attending the funeral for former South African President Nelson Mandela.
One flap involved some seemingly inappropriate levity with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt during the service. A series of widely-disseminated photographs show the two sharing laughs while Mandela is being eulogized, even as the dignitaries seated around them remain properly glum, and it can only be hoped that they’re not scoffing at the kind words being said. Some small amount of chuckling is permissible at funerals if shared between old friends recalling some endearing anecdote about their shared relationship with the deceased, but this is not a likely explanation for the yucks as neither Schmidt nor Obama ever met Mandela. In one of the photographs the pair smilingly pose for a “selfie” on the small camera Obama holds at arm’s length, which is a breach of etiquette at any funeral even in these coarse times. The photographs also suggest a sort of flirtatiousness between Obama and Schmidt, who is fairly attractive by head of state standards, and judging by the sour look on Michelle Obama’s face she seems to have noticed it as well.
A more significant controversy concerned Obama’s handshake with Cuban dictator Raul Castro. The gesture thrilled such excitable news commentators as CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who squealed with delight that Mandela “brought people together in life and he continues to bring people together today,”, and it gave former President Jimmy Carter hope that it will lead to friendlier relationships with Cuba, but more sensible observers such as Arizona Senator and failed presidential candidate John McCain were put off by such cordiality toward a murderous communist dictator. White House officials were quick to downplay the handshake, insisting it was not a “pre-planned encounter,” and noted that Obama’s eulogy included a subtle swipe at the unnamed countries that fail to lie up to Mandela’s ideal of freedom. The handshake was more noteworthy than the forgettable eulogy, which was also a sort of “selfie” that suggested Mandela’s greatest achievement in life was inspiring the career of Obama, but it’s nice to know that the president is at least sensitive to the soft-on-communism charge that has dogged him throughout his political career.
All in all, it was a rather poor funeral performance by the president. On the other hand, at least he didn’t bring his dog.

— Bud Norman