Advertisements

A New Deal For Black America from an Old White Guy

Republican nominee Donald Trump outlined a “New Deal for Black America” on Wednesday, and we have to admit that to such middle-aged white folks as ourselves it made a lot of sense. Even the skeptical scribes at the impeccably liberal Washington Post had to concede that his speech in the crucial and traditionally-Republican-yet-largely-black and suddenly swing state of North Carolina was “heavy on policy specifics,” especially by Trump standards, and it specifically addressed the educational and economic and criminal problems that clearly afflict too much of black America. How black folks of any age will respond remains to be seen, but our guess is that they’ll largely reject the messenger if not the entirety of the message.
We especially liked the part about charter schools and other parental choices for education, even if it wasn’t so bold as to come right out and mention vouchers and privatization, and we expect that much of black America will as well. The current system of one-size-fits-all education has resulted in an inarguable racial gap, educational outcomes are the most reliable predictor of economic outcomes, and they always will be unless there’s an economically disastrous and politically impossible quota system imposed on the country, and any old Republican nominee can make a persuasive case that for all their black-friendly reputation the Democrats are too beholden to those stubborn teachers’ unions to ever allow any significant changes in the cushy-for-teachers but ineffective-for-students current system. All the public opinion polls show that this is one of those internecine Democratic interest group conflicts that any old Republican nominee should be able to exploit, and Trump’s undeniably anti-establishment reputation makes it all the more exploitable, so we’ll give him credit for trying, even if more than the usual 95 percent of black voters ultimately don’t.
Without addressing that educational racial gap you really can’t address that economic racial gap, absent those quota systems that Trump surely wouldn’t consider, but Trump also proposed tax holidays and other economic incentives for investment in the most blighted black neighborhoods, and he managed to avoid his past suggestions that pretty much of all black America except his black celebrity friends live in such blight, and the scribes at The Washington Post seem slightly worried about it. Such hard-core capitalist and middle-aged white folks as ourselves have a mixed reaction to his proposals, some of which seem like the usual bad bets waged by government that realists would avoid, we can only imagine that Trump’s supporters on the defiantly white nationalist alt-right will be even more annoyed, and we can’t blame any black folks of any age for pointing out that at no time in his hard-core capitalist life did Trump ever lay down any bets on black America’s more blighted communities, except for maybe Atlantic City, where everyone else he was in business with went bankrupt while he boastfully pocketed millions.
Trump’s old-school Republican “Law and Order” themes should also arguably appeal to the lawful and orderly majority of black Americans, and have a special resonance with that law-abiding and ordered majority of black America’s minority who have to contend with black America’s most blighted neighborhoods, but we don’t expect his more specific policies will prove popular with most black folk. Trump and his now-ubiquitous surrogate former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani are by now associated with the “stop-and-frisk” policy that allowed police wide latitude to stop and frisk random pedestrians, who more often than not were non-white, and a generally indulgent attitude toward police shootings of civilians, who are also more often than non-white. Such middle-aged white folks as ourselves are willing to concede that most more-or-less reasonable searches as seizures in the most blighted areas of black America will mostly involve black folks, and that police shootings of civilians are more often than not quite justifiable no matter the races of the shooters or shot, but we’re also hard-core Constitutionalists who admit there’s some reasonable-search-and-seizure issues involved. We’re also such policy wonks that we have to wonder how much stop-and-frisk had to do with the undeniable drop in the number of murders and other crimes committed in New York City during Giuliani’s generally successful mayoralty, given all the other shrewd law enforcement measures he enacted, and we have enough law-abiding orderly black friends that we can understand their gripes about that time some cop made an entirely unreasonable search, and we can well understand why they might want a harder look at those times when the police shooting of a civilian wasn’t so clearly justified.
Any old Republican nominee should be able to make a nuanced case that the Democratic nominee and the rest of her party are going to get a whole lot of black lives that really do matter killed, and that in the meantime those lives will mostly be spent in economic inequality because of Democratic policies, and that it’s largely because of an educational gap that those teachers’ unions won’t allow the Democrats to address, but Trump has problems making the case that any other old Republican nominee probably wouldn’t have. His family business has been dogged settled cases over housing discrimination, he still insists that those vindicated “Central Park Five” defendants should be jailed despite scientific evidence to the contrary, his ham-fisted “What have you got to lose” line still resonates in the ears of all sorts of black Americans who have something to lose, those defiantly white nationalist supporters on the alt-right are still on board, and even such old-fashioned Republican and trying-hard-not-be-racist middle white folks as ourselves aren’t quite buying it. That Democratic nominee is at least as awful, whether you’re white or black or anything in between, so at this point in this crazy election year we don’t expect it will make much of a difference either way.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Debating to a Desultory Draw

Two of America’s most widely reviled people had a 90-minute nationally televised argument Monday night about which one of them is the worst, and expectations are that the audience was bigger than anything since the series finale of Jerry Seinfeld’s show about nothing. Even our happily apolitical brother in Colorado called shortly beforehand to say he was skipping the evening’s National Football League contest to watch the first presidential debate, which is saying something, but we expect that the massive audience was as disappointed as we were.
The so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump were no doubt disappointed that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton didn’t keel over or drop dead or at least require an extended bathroom break during the ordeal, as all their latest health rumors had predicted, and at the end of the 90 minutes she was even able to riposte Trump’s question’s about her stamina with a plausible boast about all the miles she’d logged and the hours of congressional inquiries about her various scandals she’d survived. Clinton was feisty enough for the hour-and-a-half to get in a few digs that had Trump on the defensive, make a disarmingly apologetic answer about that ongoing e-mail scandal, spin some heartwarming yarns about her small businessman pop and her toddler granddaughter, and generally strike that middle note between presidential and shrill.
Although we doubt that any of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters were swayed by Clinton’s performance, we expect that anyone still undecided about about which of these two widely reviled people is worst considered it the abject humiliation that Trump promised as he taunted his way through debates with a wide field of vastly more qualified Republican opponents. Clinton’s more reluctant supporters will probably concede, meanwhile, will have to concede that she also didn’t score any knock-outs.
Trump didn’t go on any racist tirades or mock anyone’s handicaps or boast about his penis size, as he did during his successful run through those vastly more qualified candidates on his way to the Republican nomination, and he even made a show of addressing his opponent as “Secretary.” He got in a few digs of his own, and even if none of them will be widely-looped soundbites today neither will be any of his already-familiar gaffes. After a half-hour or so When he finished with a boast about his superior presidential temperament it got a laugh from the studio audience, which had mostly been as quiet as instructed, but we doubt many were tuned in by that point.
Anyone paying any attention to the more substantive parts of the so-called debate were likely the most disappointed. The boring part started off with Trump asserting that since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed American manufacturing employment had declined, Clinton failing to note that American manufacturing output has also increased since then due to the technological innovations that have actually had more to do with that employment decline, and neither candidate sounding at all like the understood the economic realities of the moment. Clinton blasted the “Trumped-up trickle down economics” of her opponents tax plan, he failed to defend the Reagan economic record or make the arguments about her soak-the-rich nonsense, and it all devolved into a shouting match about how much money his rich dad had loaned him to start his much bragged-about business. Trump denied having “tweeted” that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese, which he actually did, and although we think it is a hoax we doubt it invented by the Chinese and have to score that a desultory draw. He criticized her awful decision to topple the Libyan dictatorship of the undeniably awful yet largely defanged Moammar Gaddafi, which led to all the lies she told about the lives lost in the aftermath in Benghazi, but she rightly pointed out that he had advocated the same policy, and we have no doubt he would have told the same sort of lies about the aftermath, so we now have to score even that deplorable and disqualifying episode in her career as a draw.
Clinton actually struck our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities as far more sane than Trump when she talked about the importance of honoring America’s treaty commitments and credit obligations, and we doubt that Trump’s “America First” isolation will have any appeal to her reluctant leftist supporters. Trump seemed more reasonable on the slightly-less-old-fashioned “law and order” theme, but we doubt that his appeals to America’s minorities will prove persuasive. Both caught the other on a couple of outright falsehoods, such as Trump’s oft-repeated lie that he was against taking out Gaddafi and Clinton’s newly-minted claim that crime rates haven’t been rising in New York City, but we expect that few people will bother to look any of it up. Clinton seemed to score a point when the conversation got around to Trump’s year’s long efforts to prove that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and his recent admission that “Barack Obama was born in the United States, period,” and after Trump spent several moments trying to claim that Clinton was responsible and that he deserved credit for proving Obama’s native birth Clinton got another laugh from the generally well-behaved crowd by simply responding “Just listen to what you heard.”
The next round of polling will deliver the final score, and in this crazy year we hesitate to offer any predictions, but we’ll be so bold as to call it a draw. Our brother called us before the big event because we used to be involved in high school and collegiate debate and we wanted our insights how it might work out, but we told this wasn’t any sort of debate we were used to but rather a reality television show that both of the participants knew better than we ever wanted to know. Our scant familiarity with the format suggests that the women Trump is doing poorly with didn’t like how he kept interrupting her, based on our experiences with women, and that the men Trump is leading with didn’t like the way she kept talking, based on our experiences with men, and that this is how presidential elections are elections now decided, based on our observations of how very awful things are these days.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Installment in As Trump Turns

The big news from the presidential race on Wednesday was Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s latest shake-up of his campaign staff, and if you’re a binge-watching fan of Trump’s ongoing reality show it makes for some interesting plot twists.
A formerly peripheral character named Stephen Bannon has stepped into a starring role, an entirely unexpected yet predictably blond and comely character named Kellyanne Conway has been introduced, the ambiguously villainous Paul Manafort role has been reduced to cameo appearances, and the obvious implication is that the more or less traditional Republican nominee Trump we’ve seen lately will go back to being the boorish and braggadocios and insulting self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-casino-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who won the Republican nomination.
That Bannon fellow is the new “chief executive” of the campaign, and he once worked for the Goldman Sachs investment outfit that both parties are running against and then went on to produce a documentary about former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee and reality show star Sarah Palin among other ventures, has most recently been in charge of the Breitbart.com news site that has cheered on all of Trump’s most outrageous utterances since way back when there was still a chance the GOP might not nominate someone more traditionally Republican. The Conway woman is apparently a pollster who has long provided Trump with what he wants to hear over his varied private sector careers, and the assumes the more recognizable title of “campaign manager.” That Manafort fellow replaced the combative Corey “Let Trump Be Trump” Lewandowski as “campaign chairman” shortly after a controversy regarding Lewandowski’s allegedly rough treatment of a female reporter, ironically enough from Breitbart.com, ostensibly with the mission of molding Trump into a more traditional Republican nominee, and despite the recent press revelations about his shady dealings in the very same Ukraine that Trump insists the Russians haven’t invaded and might be entitled to in any case he’ll keep the now meaningless title during his cameo appearances.
The timing seems odd, because over the last several days that more-or-less traditional Republican nominee shtick seems to have been working for Trump. He read an obviously pre-written-by-someone-else speech from a tele-prompter about immigration and Islamic terrorism, and made the common sense case that America should be exceedingly cautious about accepting large numbers of immigrants from lands where Islamic terrorism is popular. This contrasted effectively with the Democratic nominee’s crazy talk that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism and her crazy message of y’all come in, and it left out all his own crazy talk about using bullets dipped in pig’s blood and chopping the heads off of terrorists and killing their families and routinely torturing detainees and trying even American citizens in military tribunals, so even the most traditionally Republican press organs were giving him some begrudging respect. We’re so hide-bound we couldn’t help noticing that he once again repeated his easily disproved lies that he’d been opposed to the Iraq and Libyan interventions from the outset, which reiterated his utterly ridiculous and not all Republican belief that the Middle East would have been happily stable and peaceable if not for America’s meddling influence, and that underneath all the tough talk was an “American First” isolationism, but at this point we’re among a small minority up against a bi-partisan consensus.
Trump followed that up with another pre-written-by-someone-else and tele-promptered speech in Wisconsin, not far from where nihilistic race riots were still raging in Milwaukee in the aftermath of a seemingly justified fatal shooting of an armed and dangerous black man by the police, and it also contrasted effectively with the response of a Democratic nominee who is obligated to both the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the reflexively anti-police administration that are making excuses for and subtly egging on the riots. We wouldn’t go so far as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did and call it “the best Republican speech ever,” as Abraham Lincoln’s addresses at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural still really swing for us, but we had to give it some begrudging respect. He even made a plausible appeal to the black Americans who are disproportionately the victims of crime, but we think a more or less traditional Republican nominee who doesn’t have a settlement with the Justice Department over his discriminatory renting practices or an expensive full-page ad calling for the execution of some black rape suspects who were later cleared by physical evidence in his background would be a better messenger.
In any case, the more tele-promptered and traditionally Republican shtick seems to have shaved a few percentage points off the comfortable poll-averaged lead that crazy Democratic nominee had built up while Trump was accusing a vanquished Republican rival’s father of being in on the Kennedy assassination and grousing that an Indiana-born yet “Mexican” judge shouldn’t have been presiding over one of the three trials regarding the scam Trump University and musing in the most indecipherable way about how “Second Amendment people” might forestall future Supreme Court picks and that the president being the literal rather than figurative “founder” of the Islamic State and any number of other unnecessary distractions he’d written into his ongoing reality show. Given that the Democratic nominee talks plenty crazy herself, we’re not at all surprised. The changes in the Trump plot line therefore make no sense to us, but in this crazy election year we’ll concede that’s probably because we’re more accustomed to politics than the reality show genre.

— Bud Norman

<

Sports, Politics, and the Global Chessboard

The quadrennial Olympic competitions always arrive on the same leap years as the American presidential elections, and usually provide some pleasant if nonetheless metaphorical distraction from politics, but in this crazy election year it hasn’t proved sufficient. Even after more than seven years of those awful Obama administrations America is still great enough to be well ahead in the medal count, and there have been the usual plentitude of inspiring tales of individual American effort along the way, but as usual it’s all being re-told according to the same dreary collectivist storylines of race and class and gender and of course how that Muslim-American woman will be competing in the fencing competition in a hijab. By this point, we’re more interested in the upcoming world chess championship.
Most of the rest of the world will pay no attention to the event, and we really can’t blame it, but we have our own idiosyncratic reasons for being enrapt. We first took up chess way back when we were so young we required baby-sitting and our amorous parents hired the local high school champ to watch over us during their occasional and much-needed nights on the town, and he taught us not only the moves but also the tactical and strategic fundamentals of the game in the hope that it would keep us more or less quiet and still until our parents arrived home with an evening’s wages. The ploy had little effect on our more athletic and fidgety older brother, but it led to a years-long and mostly successful rivalry with a more mathematically-talented younger brother and our own life-long fascination with the game. A few years later the ruggedly individualist and undeniably brilliant American champion Bobby Fischer faced off against the collectivist and daunting Soviet Union’s reigning World Champion Boris Spassky in a compelling single combat contest of the ongoing Cold War, and it got more press attention than any of those heroes of a terrorism-stained Olympics or even that classic National Basketball Association finals between The New York Knicks and The Los Angeles Lakers, and when Fischer easily prevailed against Spassky’s brilliance and the commie’s conspiratorial advantages despite his temper-tantrum-induced disqualification in an early game we became lifelong followers of the World Chess Championship.
That Fischer guy could play a game of chess as beautifully as Mozart could write a symphony or Michelangelo could paint a ceiling, but the son of a Jewish mother’s virulent anti-semitism and the American hero’s outspoken anti-Americanism and the champ’s all-around nuttiness eventually undermined his heroic status. The only other American considered a world champion was Paul Morphy of New Orleans, who earned the unofficial title by convincingly beating the world’s best back in the antebellum and pre-official-championship days, and he also wound up going crazy, but in his days at least it had more to do with his unfashionably pro-Union views. Spassky was eventually recognized as a half-hearted dissenter against Soviet communism and an all-around-sportsman and undeniably brilliant chess-player in his own right, but the brilliant but more doctrinaire Soviet Anatoly Karpov wound up winning the next title by default when Fischer insisted on the most insane terms for a title defense.
Karpov successfully defended the title against two Soviet commie challengers, then retained his championship in a phony-baloney draw against the proudly half-Jewish and defiantly anti-Soviet challenger Garry Kasparov in ’84. Kasparov won fair and square against Karpov in ’86, then dominated the chess world into the 1990s.
Some of the corrupt organizational squabbling you find going on all the time in boxing then followed, with a charming enough English fellow named Nigel Short holding one of the disputed more-or-less world titles for a while, but Kasparov generally remained on top before retiring to take up a full-time career in politics, which he admirably continues here and abroad to this day, and a most worthy but altogether boring and draw-prone champion from India named Viswanathan Andad wound up as the little-recognized champion. He nobly defended the title the against yet another Russkie, then wound up losing his title in ’13 to a handsome and buff and combative 20-something Norwegian named Magnus Carlsen, who everyone in the chess world considered a more telegenic and exploitable champion.
This time around the big chess event will take place in November and December in the South Street Seaport district of lower Manhattan in New York City, and although the brilliant if oddly-named yet all-American grandmasters Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana were upset in the preliminary matches by one of those inevitable Russkie challengers there’s still an intriguing Cold War feel to the championship. Carlsen’s challenger is the outspokenly pro-Putin and pro-Crimean invasion Russkie Sergey Karajkin, and given the champ’s unabashed identification with the free west and under-the-gun Scandinavia the battle lines are quite clearly drawn. Unlike the Cold War days of ’72 we’re in an American election year when the Democrat nominee offered a “reset button” to the Russkies and pulled back on a nuclear-defense deal with the Czechs and Poles and seemed to invite the recent Russian revanchism, and the Republican nominee and his in-bed-with-Russia campaign team were apparently unaware of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and seem quite content with Russia’s revanchism in any case, so our pro-western and pro-western-Ukrainian-type sympathies will be with some pretty-boy Norwegian rather than some nutcase half-Jewish and anti-semitic if undeniably brilliant and ruggedly individualist American this around.
Sports and politics are full of such ambivalent rooting, and even such an elegant game as chess isn’t immune to these complications.

— Bud Norman

Politics in a Murderous Age

One of the few positive developments in America over the past two decades had been a dramatic decline in murders and other crimes, but in the past year or so the trend has suddenly reversed. All the experts are debating the possible causes, and coming up with all sorts of politically expedient explanations, but our admittedly amateur analysis suggests it has something to do with all the anti-police activity that has been going on for the past year or so.
There’s still no unanimity of opinion about what was causing that long term decline, with some on the left crediting legalized abortion for reducing the number of unwanted children who would have grown up to be murderers and criminals and others citing the success of the long-ago ban on lead paint, and all the right-wing crazies insisting it was a result of all those tough-one-crime measures enacted about twenty years or so ago, so it’s no surprise that there is similar disagreement about the recent increase. The left is mostly blaming the widespread availability of guns, as usual, and the right-wing crazies are insisting that it’s a result of a recent retreat from the tough-on-crime measures, as usual, and as usual we’re inclined to the latter point of view.
That twenty year decline in the murder rate happened as gun ownership became more common, and state legislatures and federal courts mostly expanded the rights of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves with firearms, so it seems unlikely that the relatively small number of guns that have been added to the nation’s arsenal in the past year has brought the country to some sort of murderous tipping point. The past year or so has also brought riots, protests, hashtag campaigns, Department of Justice investigations into police practices, a “Black Lives Matter” protest movement that has cowed the Democratic Party’s presidential contenders, the usual number of lawsuits, a hit movie about a “gangsta rap” group whose biggest hit was “F**k Tha Police,” and the combined power of the entertainment and news media wringing their hands over the bloodthirsty racism of the nation’s law enforcement officers. At this point we can hardly blame any police officer for preferring to sit in his squad car on some anodyne street sipping coffee and eating doughnuts rather than risk the penalties that might result from actually enforcing the law, and our experience of human nature assures us there’s plenty of that going on lately, so it doesn’t seem at all coincidental that the murder rate started climbing right around the time all that nonsense started happening.
Our suspicion is further corroborated by the fact that the cities seeing the most alarming increases are the ones where the anti-police activity has been most intense. Milwaukee has experienced an alarming 75 percent increase in its murder rate since last year, and it coincides with the protests that followed a police shooting of black man in what was officially ruled a justifiable act of self-defense. The St. Louis area, which includes the riot-torn town of Ferguson, Missouri, whose police department is under federal investigation after yet another shooting of an unarmed black man that even the Department of Justice now admits was also a justifiable act of self-defense, has seen its murder rate rise by 60 percent. Baltimore, the scene of similar rioting after the death of yet another black man was killed during an encounter with the police, and which is also the target of a federal investigation, is third on the list of the most hard-hit with a 54 percent increase. Washington, D.C., where the Department of Justice is located, comes in fourth a 44 percent increase.
As even The New York Times gets around to admitting in the 38th paragraph of a generally good story about the murder boom, it’s mostly black lives that are being lost. The “Black Lives Matter” movement doesn’t seem to care, though, as it’s only concerned with those black lives lost during encounters with the police, no matter how justifiably the officers might have acted, and at the moment they seem to hold sway in one of the country’s two major political parties. Longshot candidate Martin O’Malley, who was inconveniently both the mayor of Baltimore and the governor of Maryland, has been forced to apologize for saying that “all lives matter,” surging candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has cowardly ceded his campaign platform to a trio of the movement’s bullies, and former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is still described as a front-runner, is now criticizing the bigger police budgets and longer sentences and other measures that she and her then-president husband once championed. Meanwhile the Department of Justice continues its investigations, the Democratic president who runs it continues to enflame racial grievances against the police, while the mayor of New York City, which has seen a 9 percent increase in its homicide rate over last year, which was up from the year before, is a fierce critic of “stop-and-frisk” and other aggressive law enforcement methods as well as a darling of the party’s left, and no one in the party can be heard to defend law enforcement.
This might help the Republicans’ chances in the upcoming election, but perhaps not. The murder rate is mostly going up in places that are Democratic strongholds, and are likely to remain so no matter how apocalyptic their neighborhoods become, and we suspect that only we right-wing crazies are appalled enough by all these murders to consider doing all the things that used to be bringing the murder deliriously down. Eventually the public’s impatience with rampant murder in the streets will insist on all that old-fashioned tough on crime stance, and we’re sure the Clintons will be right back with the crowd, but it remains to be seen if that moment will arrive by Election Day.

— Bud Norman

Straight Outta the Movies

Although we pay little attention to the contemporary cinema, we couldn’t help noticing that the big hit of the past weekend was titled “Straight Outta Compton.” The essential Drudge Report was of course on the story, and when we hit its link to a story about the box office booty it transported back in time to the days when the murder rate was soaring and here in Wichita and just about everywhere else and we were working the music beat for the local newspaper.
Just as we had suspected, the movie is reportedly about N.W.A., an acronym for “Niggaz With Attitude,” which is the “gangsta rap” ensemble whose debut album was also titled “Straight Outta Compton.” Middle-aged and middle-American white guys that we are, we were quite familiar with the subject matter. Back in the the glorious ’80s, when vinyl records were still widely available, we used to frequent a local music shop where the proprietors were familiar enough with our tastes that they would sometimes recommend a new release, and although they knew we’re predisposed to old country and old blues and old rock ‘n’ roll and old jazz and old pop standards they also knew we were also keen to hear anything that sums up the current zeitgeist, so they urged that we purchase a copy of “Straight Outta Compton.” Sure enough, when we laid it on our turntable and turned up the volume we were memorably stunned by the ensuing sounds. The record was the aural equivalent of the most stomach-turning horror flick you’ve ever seen at a drive-in motive theater, with a compellingly abhorrent beat underling underlying extraordinarily vulgar and immediately believable lyrics about the carnage that was then occurring in the Compton portion of the Los Angeles metro area and almost everywhere else, our humble prairie hometown included, which had a sizable black population.
By chance the group soon announced a concert engagement here in Wichita, at a venue built to accommodate the big swing bands, so we did our day job and called up the record company’s publicity department to arrange a telephone interview with one of the group’s members. We wound up speaking with with Ice Cube, identified in the record as a “crazy-ass nigga named Ice Cube,” and were surprised to find him a most affable fellow. When we asked about the controversy that had naturally resulted from his group’s success he explained that he they were just telling the awful truth about what was going on in his “‘hood,” which was the du jour defense of “gangsta rap” back in those days, we asked if it machine gun murders was really all that going on in in his neighborhood, and if nobody was falling in love or going to school in starting a business or something other than owing down naggers with a machine gun, and he stammered his explanation that the carnage was the most important development for N.W.A. to be going on about. Since then he’s gone on to a successful career as a mainstream Hollywood actor, with fine performances in the fine Iraq War caper flick “Three Kings” and a couple of moves that about black American life that entail a wider array of black American experience than street murders, and we’d like to think that our stumping questions had something to do with that.
Affable as he’d been, our conversation with Ice Cube and our multiple playings of “Straight Outta Compton” led us to insist that our newspaper buy us a ticket to N.W.A.’s performance so we could write an eye-witness account of the resulting shooting. Our niggardly editors were skeptical of our promise that would be a shooting at the concert, which was taking place at the old Cotillion Ballroom that had been built for the big bands of the swing era, but we explained that they hadn’t heard the album. We were sure that of all the people enticed to that that concerts by “Straight OUtta Compton” some among them were going to take a shot a someone. We were slightly worried when the the concert went without incident, and the group explained that they weren’t going to do with their hit “F**K Tha Police” because it has proved troublesome, but as the group finished its closing numbers and the shots rang and the glass broke and the crowd rioted we were able to make deadline by phoning from behind an old-fashioned phone booth that gunshots were fired at a performance of “Niggaz With Attitude,”
Nobody died at that concert, but there were more murders in Wichita that year than were were in Belfast, Ireland, which was still in thrall of its “troubles,” and we’re still not sure if the “Niggaz With Attitude” and their “Straight Outta Compton” was exposing this dire situation or glamorizing it. We do recall reading a story about how every stop on N.W.A.’s tour, from Honolulu to Wichita to New York, involved gunshots. We haven’t seen the new movie, and probably won’t until it show up on Netflix, but we’re eager to see how it deals with these unpleasant facts.
The murder rates have sharply declined here and elsewhere since those bad old days, but we’re nonetheless worried that “Niggaz With Attitude” are once again at the top of the box office and back in the the news. It seems to coincide with the “F**k Tha Police” attitudes of a “Black Lives Matter” movement that that boos down any suggestion that all lives matter, even those black lives lost to the lawlessness that too often prevails in black neighborhoods because of a lack of policing, and with the racial animosities that have resurfaced since the election of the First Black President. Some may welcome the black empowerment of the the Niggazs With Attitude, but we hope they’ll note that death total is mostly black.

— Bud Norman

The Conventional Wisdom and Its Pitfalls

One should always be skeptical of the conventional wisdom, or at least occasionally reconsider it. Not so long ago it was hard to find a poll or pundit best-selling non-fiction publication that didn’t proclaim the Republican party’s opposition to unrestrained illegal immigration and discomfort with ethnic identity politics in general and certain queasiness about abortion and noticeable reluctance to embrace same-sex marriage would lead to its demise, what with the changing demographics and the hip young voters and the arc of history bending toward liberalism and all, but for the moment all of these issues seem to be working against the Democrats.
One day after the Republicans in Congress held hearings featuring the heartbreaking testimony of several Americans whose beloved family members have been killed by illegal immigrants, President Barack Obama expanded his executive actions to exempt an estimated 80 percent of the nation’s illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation. The president’s actions were explained in the usual terms of compassion, of course, but the lack of compassion for those murdered and rape and robbed by the more unsavory of those illegal immigrants has not gone unnoticed. Certainly not in Texas, where the Department of Public Safety has counted 611,234 crimes, including 2,993 murders, committed by illegal aliens since Obama took office, dreary enough numbers that are understated because they only include those illegal aliens who were previously fingerprinted by state and federal authorities. Among the national total of people killed by illegal immigrants is the young Kate Steinle, who was shot and killed while walking in the “sanctuary city” of San Francisco by an illegal immigrant with multiple felony convictions, and although no one in the administration has even spoken her name, except for a Department of Homeland Security official who mispronounced it, the president has announced his intention to veto a bill that would withhold federal funds from the “sanctuary cities” that protect the likes of her murderer. The polls and pundits and best-selling non-fiction publications will be hard-pressed to explain how the Democrats derive any advantage from this.
So far the main beneficiary seems to be Republican contender Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and reality-show star and noxious blowhard, whose outspoken and wildly overstated insistence that every illegal immigrant has murderous and rapine intent has drawn all the media attention and thus propelled him to the top of all those questionable polls in the Republican nomination race, but we expect that some other candidate with similar but more carefully spoken views will eventually prevail and enjoy the same political benefits. Throw in the effect that illegal immigration is almost certainly having on the wages of low-skilled and unskilled workers, the added strain on an already overwhelmed social welfare system, and the inevitable consequences of modern liberalism’s insistence that the broader society assimilate to the new arrivals rather than the other way around, and the Democrats, who have lately been talking a lot about the wages of unskilled workers and the need for a more generous welfare system and communitarian values, seem to have chosen the weakest of all possible positions on the issue.
There’s always the race issue to be played, of course, but that’s also lately become more complicated. Those low-skilled and unskilled laborers whose wages are depressed by illegal immigration are inordinately black, and several of the families who gave those heartbreaking testimonies about their loved ones who were murdered by illegal immigrants were also black, and the lily-white contenders for the Democratic nomination are already having a hard time dealing with a “Black Lives Matter” movement that will boo a candidate off a stage for suggesting that other lives matter at all, and given the temporary racial make-up of the country it’s hard to see how the Democratic Party’s attempts to divide the country will add up to an electoral majority. Throw in the Democrats’ staunch defense of affirmative action policies that punish Asian-Americans for their education efforts, along with the economic and quality-of-life effects their policies have on native-born Hispanics and blacks as well as whites, and Donald Trump won’t be the only the Republican contender savvy enough to question the conventional wisdom.
Meanwhile, the country remains as divided as ever on the question of abortion, and the hidden-camera accounts of Planned Parenthood officials sipping wine and supping at fine restaurants as they negotiate the price of aborted fetuses can only push public opinion in the Republicans’ direction, and the rest of those social issues that were supposed spell the Republicans’ demise are also working out contrary to the conventional wisdom. Three separate polls taken since the Supreme Court’s decree that same-sex marriage was somehow intended by the 18th Century ratifiers of the Constitution, just like the right to a first trimester abortion, all show a decline in support for the decision as well as a marked increase in support for the right of businesses to refuse participate in same-sex nuptials. The Democrats can claim the cause of tolerance, but until they’re willing to tolerate any dissent on these issues the claim will be unconvincing.
The Republicans can still easily lose the advantage, especially if they nominate a real estate mogul and reality-show star and obvious buffoon such as Trump, but it won’t be because they’ve stuck to principles more timeless than the conventional wisdom.

— Bud Norman

The City and the ’70s

The headline at the Drudge Report shouted “Tensions in NYC like ’70s,” and we shuddered at the thought. We well remember what New York City was like during that dismal decade, and had hoped it would never again get so bad.
Those too young to recall the urban nightmare need only watch the movies of the era, now running on late night television as cautionary tales. In “The Out of Towners” Jack Lemmon is mugged, kidnapped, beset by mass transit and sanitation strikes, nearly killed by a manhole explosion, and attacked by protestors outside a United Nations embassy, and that’s a light Neil Simon comedy to start off the decade. “Panic in Needle Park,” Fort Apache: The Bronx,” “Death Wish,” “The French Connection,” the gunning gag about Central Park muggings in “Where’s Poppa,” and of course “Taxi Driver,” with its memorable lines about a hard rain washing all the scum off the streets and its blood-splattered climax, are all more realistic accounts. “The Warriors” and “Escape From New York” belong to the decade’s vast genre of dystopian futurist movies, by they’re not far off the mark. The era is still fondly recalled by the coke-addled denizens of Studio 54 and the artsier sorts who thought all the graffiti-covered and trash-strewn mayhem was somehow invigorating, but those who had to make their way to work and back home to an exorbitantly-priced have no such nostalgia.
We still recall a telephone conversation during the late ’70s with a college chum who had moved to the big city. Expecting to be regaled Runyon-esque tales of Gotham, we were surprised to hear him describe an urban nightmare more redolent Heironymous Bosch. Our friend was a small town Kansas boy, but he was also a pony-tailed hippie and a liberal, and he frankly confessed that he had no idea how the time might go about saving itself. Taxes were already so sky-high that any further increases would only drive more taxpayers away thus result in even less revenue, he conceded, and social services were generous enough to lure all sorts of troublesome characters to the streets, and the criminals were being treated with as much sensitivity as even America’s most progressive city could muster, so our friend was stumped. The best advice he could offer was to not let our own hometown get in such bad shape.
Not long after that the city was so short on ideas that it elected Rudy Giuliani as Mayor, and he famously cut taxes, but new restrictions on social services, and started enforcing order on the streets. Although counter-intuitive to New Yorkers, the program put the city’s finances in good enough order to fund basic services, the economy improved enough to provide jobs for former welfare cases, and the crime rate fell so dramatically that tourists were tempted to take walk through Times Square or Central Park. It worked so well, in fact, that New Yorkers took the good times for granted and assumed it was safe to return to the city’s old ways of doing things.
Higher taxes on the richest workers who have largely supported the city, more free stuff for the ones who aren’t working at all, and more sensitivity toward the criminal class were the platform that got Mayor Bill de Blasio elected. When several of his officers were involved in a fatal encounter with an unarmed man who was illegally selling cigarettes and was unwilling to be arrested for it, he didn’t call for an investigation of the questionable methods that caused the death, or ask for the city’s respect for a grand jury that declined to press charges, or question the city’s tobacco policies that created the black market the man was dealing in, but rather spoke of how his biracial son was endangered by the city’s police and egged on the protests that chanted for the murder of police. The chanters got their wish on Saturday, when two New York City police officers were gunned down by a man who had proclaimed his motive of revenge on the internet, and already the headlines liken the tension to the ’70s.
The cops in New York have no desire to return to that violent decade, and we hope that the rest of the city is similarly disinclined. People seem to have to relearn the lessons of the past from time to time, however, even when those lessons are playing on the late night movies.

— Bud Norman

Another Grand Jury, Another Controversy

Yet another grand jury has declined to indict a white a police officer involved in the death of a black man, this time in the Staten Island borough of New York City, and the latest round of racial tensions seems likely to continue for a while.
The death of an unarmed black teenager by the gun of a white police in Ferguson, Missouri, brought devastating rioting and looting and arson to that unfortunate town, and then another round of the same after a grand jury heard testimony and evidence that clearly indicated the officer was acting in self-defense. Reaction to the grand jury decision in New York City has thus far been less destructive, despite the efforts of a mob to disrupt the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, but it will suffice to keep the controversy about policing in black neighborhoods in the news for weeks to come. The latest case might yet prove even more volatile than the Ferguson incident, as the facts are less clear-cut.
The incident in New York City was caught on videotape, and what it reveals is at best ambiguous. Several policemen approach an extremely obese man, reportedly because he had been selling single cigarettes to passersby without paying the city’s notoriously high taxes on the product, and he is argumentative but not physically aggressive. When the officers attempt to handcuff the man he resists, but not in a way that can be construed as life-threatening given the lack of a weapon and the number of policemen involved. Several officers then bring the man down to the ground, one of them employing what the New York press has routinely called a “choke-hold” but might better be described as a “headlock,” and the officers pile on to handcuff the man as he is heard shouting that he cannot breath. As the tape ends, the officers are still piled on, the man’s head is still wrapped in a policeman’s arm, and the shouts by the man that he cannot breath continue.
The videotape leaves no doubt the decedent would still be alive had he acted more sensibly, but one can reasonably wonder if he might also have survived different procedures that could still have resulted in an arrest. There’s obviously more to the story than than what is seen on the videotape, and we assume the grand jury heard the rest of it, but there’s enough there to exacerbate the resentments of those who presume that police routinely act with disregard for the lives of black suspects. It’s at least a more compelling example for that view than what happened in Ferguson, where several black eyewitness corroborated ample physical evidence that the officer’s life was in danger and deadly force was warranted in response, but the initial reports in that case suggested a case of cold-blooded murder and weren’t effectively rebutted until the aftermath of the grand jury’s verdict.
The politicians and activists who prosper from racial strife will likely switch their attention to the New York story now that Ferguson’s rage has diminished in the cold weather and the even colder facts of that case, but they’ll have to settle for a story that is at best ambiguous. The videotape makes it harder to claim that putting cameras on America’s police will prevent such situations, but there’s still a case to be made that it could have prevented the premature judgment rendered against the Ferguson officer. What happened in New York might lead to better policies regarding arrests, but it should also continue to serve as a warning to those who would resist arrest in even the most ineffectual ways. It will also continue to distract attention from inordinate amount of criminality in black America, which kills far more black Americans than even the most reckless police departments, and we can only hope that the current controversies will soon fade enough for the country to consider that sad fact.

— Bud Norman

Bitterly Clinging to the Last Remaining Certainties

During the past week our usually quiet and placid block of this prairie city was rocked by an earthquake and a home invasion. Both are almost unheard of around here, and therefore unlikely to reoccur, but that’s only contributed to what was already an unsettling sense of uncertainty about the state of the world.
The earthquake was minor and momentary and caused no reported damage, but it was sufficient to rattle our rolling chair and then our nerves. It wasn’t so bad as the one that happened late last year, which was several seconds longer and so much stronger it shook the lamp fixtures, but it was all the more unnerving because it was happening a second time. We had lived more than a half century on the plains before experiencing an earthquake, and our childhood education included annually rehearsed instructions on what to do in case of tornadoes but no one had ever bothered to tell us how to respond an earthquake, so the idea that this might now be a regular event seemed yet another irksome thing to worry about. All the local lefties are blaming it on the hydraulic fracking for oil and natural gas that’s been going on down in Oklahoma, which we cannot disprove, but we are reassured to note that on that same day fracking was going on in places where there weren’t earthquakes and earthquakes were happening where there wasn’t any fracking, Some sort of end times scenario from the Book of Revelation seems at least as a likely, and if human agency isn’t involved we will be glad.
The home invasion that happened just across the street and a couple of doors down cannot be blamed on anything other than humans, which makes it all the more threatening. We first heard about it on the local talk radio station, with the mention of our neighborhood and our street and our block piquing our attention, and then got the rest of the details from a couple of alarmed neighbors. It seems the 60-year-old woman at the home was chatting with a 50-year-old woman friend when two men burst through the door wielding handguns, forced the women into a bathroom while ransacking the house for a small amount of cash and booty, then sped away into the night. A few years back the “Riverside Rapist” terrorized women in the neighborhood for several months until he was apprehended, and since then the occasional bike has been swiped from a back porch and the police have been infrequently dispatched to adjudicate the domestic disputes that happen in even the best neighborhoods, but otherwise the violent crime seemed anomalous. Our fashionably old-fashioned neighborhood isn’t so swank that a criminal would expect to find an especially risk-worthy reward here, and it’s the sort of well kept and seemingly solid area that the Broken Windows Theory predicts will deter crime, but it’s still not possible to believe that it can’t happen here.
The neighborhood is so fashionably old-fashioned that it’s become a liberal enclave in this otherwise conservative city, with a conspicuous number of hipsters and homosexual and other childless households, and the vast majority of yard signs that pop up every election season advertising that the homes probably aren’t protected by a firearm, and we suspect the crime is even more discomforting to our neighbors. The two we spoke with about the crime are both single women, who rightly suspect that such cowardly criminals are more likely to target a home without a male, but they still seemed embarrassed to divulge the pertinent information that the men who invaded their neighbor’s home were black. Another man who also happened to be black was recently spotted on another neighbor’s porch late at night, both women told us, and they apologetically advised that that we be lookout for similar activity. We noted that the recent spate of ideal weather had drawn large numbers of homeless people to the picturesque riverbanks that border the neighborhood, and that their number had lately spilled into the streets, and both women acknowledged the same concern with an apparent sense of guilt. Riverside doesn’t like to believe that race and homelessness can ever be predictive of criminal behavior, and being forced to do so upsets the certainties that people rely on.
As wised-up right-wing bastards we have no compunction about regarding the saggy-pantsed black men or the old men carrying their belongings in a shopping cart with some suspicion when they appear on our lily-white and middle-class street, and we have a white male’s privilege in knowing that knowing that invading our home carries a slightly higher and probably effective risk of anyone on the street invading our home, but there’s no shaking a sense that everything is a little less certain. Deadly diseases that we once thought were confined only to the most third world regions of Africa are now in a Dallas hospital. The people of Moore, Oklahoma, once thought that of all the many things they had to worry about beheadings by radical Islamists were not of concern. It was once unthinkable that the Internal Revenue Service would be used to harass an administration’s political enemies, or that people who millennia-old definition of marriage would be denied employment opportunities because of their opinions, or that our country would be at war while the politicians refused to call it that, or that a Republican Senator in Kansas would would find himself in danger of not being re-elected. Each days’s perusal of the Drudge Report reveals another story we never thought would have happened, and the comments sections at each story has responses we never thought we’d hear, and it’s getting harder to think of anything we can be certain about.
The door is locked and weapons are ready in the unlikely case of a home invasion, and we’re boned on what to do in the even more unlikely case of the earth shaking until the buildings collapse, and the rest of it we’ll just have to get used to. God and guns and our own abilities are still certainties in life, and we’ll bitterly cling to them.

— Bud Norman