Race and the Race

Democrats are constantly calling for a frank national conservation about race, as if it hasn’t ranked right up there with sports and weather and the sex lives of celebrities as one of the three or four most discussed topics of the past 240 years or so, but there are times when we wonder just how frank they want that conversation to be. Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate was one of those times.
If you haven’t been following the Democrats’ low-rated reality show, self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the cranky-and-kooky-old-coot next door character, has lately usurped the starring role from former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who started out as the heroine of the series. A couple of episodes ago a lot of fishy officiating and some suspicious coin tosses delivered an embarrassingly minuscule margin of victory for Clinton in Iowa, then the next week she suffered a rout in New Hampshire, but now the scene significantly shifts to South Carolina. Attentive viewers of the show will have noticed that Iowa and New Hampshire are so chock full of white people that even most of the Democrats there are white, while South Carolina’s white people are so overwhelmingly Republican these days that most of the Democrats in the state are largely black, and although no self-respecting Democrat would care to frankly converse about it that is the all-important backstory to this week’s episode.
The same unmentionable backstory would have you believe that our heroine and aspiring queen is much adored by her would-be black subjects, and there are polls to back this up, but some plot twist might await. She once served as Secretary of State for the First Black President, even though she was once his fierce rival, and somehow remains married to the first First Black President, although no one can quite remember why he was once so beloved by his black subjects, and the lovably-cranky-and-kooky-next-door-neighbor is from a state so white that the Eskimos have 200 words for it, and there’s also something slightly Jewish about him, which is another one of those complicated subplots in these Democratic shows that is best not frankly discussed, but there’s still some uncertainty. Sanders is offering free stuff and a guillotines-and-all revolution, which always have some appeal, the heroine and queen in waiting is looking more and more like a corrupt and incompetent villainess, which eventually dispirits even the party’s most die-hard fans, and Thursday’s debate offered both a chance to make their discreetly worded pitches to the South Carolina’s largely black Democrats.
Which apparently means trying to out-do one another with fulsome praise for the past seven years and a month or so of First Black President Barack Obama’s administration. A truly frank conversation would acknowledge that pretty much every economic indicator from unemployment to household wealth to home ownership to business start-ups indicates that it has been a disaster for black America, race relations have not improved, that the coming downturn is bound to be worse yet, but that went politely unmentioned in the Democrats’ South Carolina debate. Obama’s approval rating among black Americans still exceeds even the worse-than-Depression-era unemployment rate for black youths, and in Democratic politics fealty to his legacy is just as important as advocating minimum-wage hikes that will surely exacerbate that black youth unemployment problem.
The Democrats’ idea of a frank conversation about race is also full of indignant talk about rolling back the community policing and stiff-sentencing policies that drastically reduced the rates of murder and other serious crimes in black communities and throughout the nation at large, which we frankly cannot understand at all. Listening to rich white Democratic lady and the merely well-off white Democratic gentleman from the whitest state in the union you’d think that it was some mean old Republicans who passed all those community policing and stiff-sentencing policies that have locked up so many misunderstood young black men, but we were living in an inner-city war zone at the time and well recall that the rich white Democrat woman’s husband signed the bill they’re talking about the well-off gentleman from the whitest state in the union also voted for it and all of our black neighbors and most of the Congressional Black Caucus were also clamoring for get-tough measures. The “Black Lives Matter” movement, which no doubt includes a few of the thousands of black lives that were saved provably saved by those get-tough measures, is more concerned with the smaller numbers of lives lost to police shootings, however, and therefore so are the Democratic candidates.
A truly frank conversation about the matter would acknowledge that some of those police shootings were entirely justified, such as the one that set off all the rioting and arson and lawsuits and federal investigations in Ferguson, Mo., and that the ones that do arouse the most justifiable suspicion almost invariably occur in Democratic jurisdictions where every agency of the local government is corrupt and the local economies have been devastated by Democratic taxation and regulatory policies. The Democrats pride themselves on frankly noting the racial income inequality in America, and happily ignore the growing inequality over the past seven years and a month or so for the First Black President, but they won’t acknowledge the direct correlation between education or income, or the fact that Democratic-aligned teachers’ unions and Democrat-dominated academia and a general Democratic revulsion to private enterprise and innovation have prevented the voucher and charter school reforms that might address that glaring educational inequality.
In such a gloriously diverse country as America a truly frank discussion about race would also acknowledge that illegal immigration from mostly Latino countries has also had a mostly adverse economic and political effect on America in general and its black citizens in particularly, but there’s also a caucus coming in Nevada and the Democrats there are largely Latino, so the frankness of that conversation was proscribed. Both candidates dared to criticize the First Black President for recently deporting some of the trainloads of unaccompanied minors from Central America in recents years, following many years of non-enforcement of the laws and executive orders about unaccompanied minors that seemed to invite them all in, and although we doubt this played well with South Carolina Democrats they really don’t have any choice except for some Republicans named Cruz or Rubio, or maybe that Spanish-speaking Bush guy with the Latino wife, and it might even be Trump.
Any of those guys could make a convincing pitch to black Democrats in South Carolina or elsewhere, about breaking up the educational monopolies and the big city machines and the plans to make everyone equally poor, but that would require a truly frank national conversation and the democracy of reality television doesn’t yet seem ready for something that real.

— 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

Incitement to a Shooting

A suspect has been arrested for the shootings of two police officers during a protest last week in Ferguson, Missouri, and he does not appear to be a white supremacist. There was never any reason to believe that a white supremacist would go to a protest against against a police force accused of unjustifiably shooting an unarmed black teenager in order  to shoot two white officers, but a Democratic Missouri state Senator raised that unlikely possibility rather than admit that the shooting more likely had something to do with the anti-police fervor that he and others have whipped up since a white police officer shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson last summer.
According to press reports, the suspect has confessed to the shootings but insists he was aiming at some rival criminal rather than police. The suspect’s lengthy records of run-ins with the law suggests he just might be stupid enough to attempt a murder of a rival criminal in the middle of a protest rally and wind up striking two of the many law enforcement officers present instead, but the county attorney says that “We’re not sure we buy that part of it,” and it also strikes us as unlikely. Far more likely is the obvious conclusion that the shooter was motivated by an animus toward the police, and that he took the protesters’ chants for the murder of police to heart. Similar chants during the protests in New York City that followed another black man’s death at the hands of police there were answered with the murders of two officers, and those who have been encouraging the protests are understandably concerned that an outbreak of shootings against law enforcements will not win public support, which explains why some of the agitators are reaching for such far-fetched explanations as white supremacists trying to start a race war.
The protests against the police have already taken a public relations hit from the inconvenient facts of the case that started it all. A grand jury and the rest of the American public learned of physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that clearly proved the shooting of the black teenager in Ferguson was in self-defense, to the point that even Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department was forced to concede it could not bring federal charges the officer and had to settle for making a federal case out of the town’s traffic enforcement policies, and the broader claim of an ongoing war by the nation’s police against young black men has proved equally unfounded. Lacking any logic or facts, or even any sympathetic victims whose bloody shirts can be waved, the protesters have resorted to the sort of demonization that can only embolden people who already harbor a murderous rage against the police.
Which is not to allege any blame against the vast majority or the protesters, or anyone who has peaceably argued that reforms are needed to improve the policing of minority neighborhoods in America. Those responsible protesters have hurt their cause by linking it to what turned out to be a justifiable shooting of a rather unsavory young bully who was attempting to kill a policeman, and by their stubborn refusal to acknowledge the high levels of minority criminality that must be addressed by any solution, but they don’t bear any responsibility for the shootings of the police officers. Every protest movement is entitled to even strident free speech, and all attract a few crazies, and it is not conducive to free speech to blame the protest for the acts of an individual.
The anti-police protests, though, have too frequently indulged in rhetoric that seems calculated to provoke the movement’s most violent elements. Not just the recent chants about dead cops and the rap music that has been calling for the murder of police officers for years, but in its embrace of lies about a particular cop in Ferguson gunning down a “gentle giant” who was kneeling with his hands up. This lie was advanced at the highest levels of the federal government, with the White House sending emissaries to the funeral and the Justice Department helping to organize the protesters even as it launched an investigation in the Ferguson police department, as well as prominent print and electronic news organizations. It was a lie calculated to inflame the passions of neighborhoods already rife with violence and criminality, and those who told it share in the responsibility for two more brave police officers being shot.

— Bud Norman

Another Year “Tweets” By

We rarely “tweet,” partly because it sounds so newfangled and sissified, partly because we can’t compress even a quick cussing into so few characters, but there’s no denying that Twitter is now the national soap box. Whatever people are “tweeting” about is what people are talking about, no matter what topics the big-time editors and producers might prefer, and we try to pay some heed to the vox populi.
With the year winding desultorily down and all the pundits writing about their looks back with regret, we were especially intrigued by a chart showing what topics “trended” on Twitter over the past months. The chart suggests that the public’s news judgment is no more astute than those of the big-time editors and producers, and that passing fancies can be become national obsessions before they pass, and that our own priorities are as usual markedly different from the average American’s.
One of the first noticeable spikes on the chart came after President Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union, which we had forgotten completely. We’re sure we wrote something or another about it, probably something snarky, but otherwise have no recollection of the event taking place. If anyone can recall a single line of the speech, they’re unlikely to be “tweeting” it now. There’s a conspicuously smaller spike following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but we suppose that doesn’t fit into “tweet” size as neatly as a State of the Union speech. A far bigger spike followed the release of a wiretapped audio recording of a professional basketball team owner’s racist rant to his young mixed-race mistress, and given that he was an already disliked old man and the mistress was young and kind of hot there’s an understandable interest in such eavesdropping, but we had also forgotten about that matter. Another biggie was the Supreme’s Court Hobby Lobby decision more or less upholding religious freedom over Obamacare, a matter we followed closely, but we recall that many of the “tweets” were lamenting that some mean old church-goers weren’t being forced to pay for abortifacients.
Then “MH 17” pops up, and we had to go to a search engine to find out that meant the Malaysian airliner which went mysteriously missing back when the weather was better, which was an intriguing puzzler but never came to any satisfactory conclusion and was suddenly cancelled like one of those endlessly plot-twisting network series. The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, produced the highest total of “tweets” all year, most of them decrying such outrageous abuses. Some pro football player beating up his girlfriend provided another spike, then an even surge came after the mid-term elections installed Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress for reasons having little to do with anything people were “tweeting” about. After some “tweeting” about the Ebola Virus, which we haven’t acquired yet and had largely forgotten about, the biggest spike came when a grand jury declined to indict that Ferguson police officer, apparently because of the overwhelming physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that he had acted in self-defense, and then there was “tweeting” about Sony’s computer getting hacked and it’s widely-planned comedy release being blackmailed.
Much of “tweeting” public is admirably apolitical, and prefers to express pithy opinions about personal matters, so we were further interested to see what topics had produced the most “tweets” from liberal and conservative “activists.” We’re not sure how these people were identified, but it’s a plausible comparison. Apparently conservatives were most concerned with guns, Iraq, Obamacare, Benghazi, Israel, the Ferguson matter and another black man’s fatal encounter with police, then immigration and the mid-terms. This seems to comport with our conversations with conservatives, although the order would be re-arranged. We’re told that liberals were most concerned with the Ferguson matter, the mid-terms, Obamacare, Iraq, guns, the Koch Brothers, Israel, Russia and Ukraine, then marijuana. Our encounters with liberals suggest they have little interest in foreign countries so long as American corporations are not profiting there, but the rest of it, especially about the Koch Brothers and marijuana, sounds about right.
International crises and cops and robbers and the resulting racial contretemps and the occasional scandal from the sports world will no doubt keep Twitter twittering through the next year, along with the Koch Brothers and marijuana and State of the Union addresses and all the other perennial topics, but we’ll try to form our own judgments of what’s important. We can’t do any worse than the general public or those big-time editors and producers.

— Bud Norman

Race, Class, Gender, and the New Rules

Race, gender, and class are the trinity of modern liberalism, and all three are becoming increasingly complicated.
While growing up in the heroic era of the civil rights movement we were taught that the race issue was a rather simple of matter of judging a man by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, but such simplistic notions of racial equality are apparently no longer applicable. The great civil rights cause of recent months has involved a black teenager who was fatally shot while attempting to kill a white police officer, and we read that the organizers of one of the many protests demanding the officer be punished for not allowing himself to be murdered are insisting that only “people of color” participate, although they will generously allow “non-people of color” to stand nearby in solidarity. Aside from the new civil rights movement’s curious insistence on a return to racial segregation, we’re also jarred by its terminology. “People of color” has always struck as uncomfortably close to “colored people,” a phrase that was banned from polite conversation way back in our boyhood days, except at meetings of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which seems to be exempted by some sort of grandfather clause, and we’re not sure if the unfamiliar description of “non-people of color” is meant to imply that we’re not people or just that we’re not sufficiently hued, but in any case the new rules will take some getting used to.
The latest news is also forcing us to reconsider our past lessons regarding what were once called the sexes but is now known as the genders. In our formative years the feminist movement insisted on that same simplistic notion of equal treatment that the civil rights movement once championed, to the point that such old-fashioned acts of chivalry as opening a door or offering a bus seat to a woman were considered insulting and women were allowed to be as irresponsibly promiscuous as the most libidinous man. Feminism thus defined proved predictably popular with the least chivalrous and most libidinous men, and the resulting bacchanal that is contemporary college life has predictably proved so unsatisfactory to those women who retain a traditionally feminine desire for love and commitment that it has been deemed a “culture of rape” and the feminists are now insisting that any woman who has been unhappily seduced be able to have the cad thrown out of school without due process. Contraceptives are still to be subsidized, and anyone who who thinks less of the women who choose to be irresponsibly are faulted for “slut-shaming,” but any man who still plays by the earlier rules would be well advised to get himself a lawyer. The issue is further complicated by the recent invention of several new sexual categories other than male and female, including such exotic and seemingly rare categories as transgendered and omni-gendered and a few others that we’ve had to look up on the internet because the dictionaries haven’t yet caught up with them, and we shudder to think how arcane the rules for their relationships might be.
Class used to be simpler, too. In our younger days rich people were all right so long as they earned their money in an honest and socially beneficial way, poor people were all right so long as their poverty resulted from hard luck or heredity, and most people considered themselves somewhere in between and thought themselves all right as well. Back then the rich people were presumed Republican, the poor people Democrat, and the folks in between chose sides according to their personal preferences. Now the very rich and the very poor tend to be Democrats, which imbues both with a sense of nobility, while the folks in the middle tend to vote Republican, which earns them a reputation as boobs. Because the Democrats’ candidates are invariably from the wealthier end of the party, usually having earned their wealth through political connections and speaking fees and marrying rich widows and other not very honest or socially beneficial ways, it requires a more complex theory of class than Marx and Engels ever conceived. The wealthiest and most liberal communities in America are the most segregated by both class and race, the poorest and most liberal communities can be counted on to continue voting for the policies that have created their segregated squalor, and the new rules somehow allow the former to retain their sense of moral righteousness and the latter to retain an even more spiritually satisfying sense of victimhood.
Keeping up with all these changes is proving exhausting, and we’re inclined to stop trying. Better we should keep on judging men by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, treating women with the respect we would want for ourselves, and assuming that the rich and the poor and the folks in between are all right unless we have reason we think otherwise. This might make us racist, sexist, and classist, but we’re unlikely to avoid those charges now matter how hard we try be up-to-date.

— 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

Tanks for Nothing

Several months before all the furor in Ferguson, Missouri, we were chatting with an old friend about the many police forces around the country which were lately acquiring such surplus military equipment as tanks and armed aircraft. Our friend is a conservative of the old-fashioned law-and-order variety and couldn’t understand the controversy that had briefly boiled up about it in right-wing circles, even if it was a result of an Obama administration program, but he had to admit we had a point when we wondered if the President and his Attorney General intended that the equipment would be used to put down a race riot. The notion that the government was gearing up to put down broader dissent against some planned outrage would have once seemed paranoid to both our friend and us, but we agreed that these days it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
The conversation came to mind when the most recent race riot broke out in Ferguson, following a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white a white police officer for the shooting of an unarmed teenager when irrefutable evidence showed that it was a case of self-defense, and the President and his Attorney General warned against excessive police force and a governor of the same party waited until much of the town had been burned and looted before deploying the National Guard. Our most dire fears have not yet been realized, but our suspicion that all that surplus military equipment sold to police forces was not intended to put down a race riot seemed clearly confirmed. Further confirmation came Monday when the President announced yet another of those executive orders he’s so fond of, this one ordering that the various agencies selling the equipment keep careful track of it and review any “significant” incidents in which it is used.
Seen in the broader context of the president’s efforts to assure the rioters that he understands their rage about police officers defending themselves against deadly threats, it appears likely that those reviews will find fault with any use of the equipment for such routine law enforcement responsibilities as putting down race riots. A generous interpretation would be that he’s merely trying to keep the story alive for a few more days to distract attention from his executive order legalizing five million or so illegal immigrants and thus inviting millions more in to enjoy the blessings of post-racial America, and that the executive order was merely meant to distract attention from the eight trillion or so of national debt that has already been added during his administration, or any of the scandals at the Internal Revenue Service or the National Security Administration or Department of Justice that make the more paranoid theories seem not at all far-fetched, but we still can’t help wondering how all the surplus military equipment is intended to be used.

— Bud Norman

Sympathy and Riots

Six years into the promised post-racial era of American history, we spent much of Monday anxiously awaiting the official start of the latest race riot. An announcement of a grand jury decision in Missouri that was widely expected to unleash mayhem on the tiny St. Louis suburb of Ferguson was scheduled in the late afternoon, then postponed until the early evening, but didn’t arrive until 8:15 or so here on the prairie. In the meantime there was news that the Secretary of Defense had resigned after an unusually short tenure and under suspicious circumstances, that the deadline for a grand bargain with the mad mullahs of Iran had passed with their nuclear weapons program still progressing, and that a couple of the stock markets had reached record levels, but it was all filler until the long awaited and utterly unsurprising news that no charges would be brought by the grand jury against a white police officer who had fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.
That thumbnail description of a white police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager sounds pretty darned damning and is accurate in a certain strict sense, at least enough to fuel a media frenzy as well as a more visceral frenzy on the streets of Ferguson for several weeks following the incident, but a more complicated and mitigating version of the story that had gradually seeped into the news made Monday’s announcement expected. Leaks from the grand jury indicated that eyewitnesses and physical evidence corroborated the tale told by the officer’s friends that the unarmed black teenager had attacked him and was struggling for the officer’s gun during the fatal encounter, and the counter-narrative that the cop had gun downed a kneeling teenager in front of multiple eyewitnesses for no reason other than the normal racial animus of America’s law enforcement always seemed less likely to pass the more dispassionate sort of scrutiny that would presumably be brought to bear during a legal proceeding. Dispassionate scrutiny of such facts is not a virtue of lynch mobs, however, so it was also widely expected that those who favored the gunned-down-on-the-street version of events would respond with what the more polite media call “unrest.”
As we write this the Drudge Report is already linking to stories of rioting and looting and arson and gunshots being fired. The story about the white officer gunning down the innocent black teenager on the streets for racist kicks is apparently still widely believed in many neighborhoods of Ferguson, much of the media have done little to dissuade them them of this assumption, numerous groups hoping to channel the local resentments in service of their various left-wing causes have been organizing in the city, and the Justice Department has launched an investigation of the Ferguson police and the White House has sent emissaries to the funeral of a man who might have attempted to kill one of its officers, so it was inevitable that at least a few troublemakers would seize the opportunity for the expression of long accumulated racial resentments and the acquisition of some free stuff. What the rioters and looters and arsonists and gun shooters hope to accomplish is unclear, as their victims are businesses and individuals that have nothing whatsoever to do with the shooting in question, and their crimes are unlikely to refute whatever racist attitudes might have been involved, but from what we saw on the cable news coverage that was playing at a local watering hole during a break in our writing they seemed to be having a grand old time.
The President of the United States went on television to urge peace and calm, an obligatory pre-riot oration that stretches back at least to the days of Lyndon Johnson, but even The First Black President had no more success in the effort than any of his predecessors. This time around the speech told the rioters that their anger was “an understandable reaction” given that they claim to believe “the law is being applied in a discriminatory fashion,” and the president explained to all those weren’t rioting that “We need to understand them,” and such sympathetic rhetoric followed the sending of those emissaries to the funeral of man who had tried to kill a cop and his Attorney General’s admonition to the surviving officers not to react too harshly to any rioting and looting and arson and gunfire that might follow a grand jury decision that was not to the mob’s liking, but it seems not to have soothed any of the savage breasts in Ferguson.
Perhaps a more forceful address emphasizing the eyewitness testimony and physical evidence that corroborated the officer’s account and the always far-fetched nature of that story about a cop gunning down an innocent teenager in the street would have been more effective, especially coming from The First Black President who had promised a gullible electorate that he had overcome his racial animosities and would teach the rest of the country to do the same, but by now no one expected that. The president’s party tried to use the Ferguson tragedy to energize black voters in southern states where the Senate and House races were thought to be close, warning black voters that a Republican victory would mean more innocent black teenagers being gunned down for no reason other than racial animus by white cops, and it continues to see political opportunity in the racial anger that is so starkly on display in Ferguson. The left also has an emotional investment in that story about white cops gunning down black teenagers, too, and eyewitness testimony and physical evidence cannot shake not its faith in its moral superiors over such brutes.
One can only hope that Ferguson recovers from its riots more successfully than did Newark or Camden, New Jersey, or Detroit or the Watts area of Los Angeles or any of the other localities that were afflicted by the similar unrest back when Johnson was delivering the presidential scoldings, but we are not optimistic. Even then the broader society tried to be understanding, with the Kerner Commission providing the official rationalizations for rioting and looting and arson and gunfire, but the areas burned to the ground by the very irrational hatreds of the mobs have still not regained the vibrancy and livability they once offered in supposedly less enlightened times, and even the generations of the Democratic governance that has been brought to bear on Ferguson doesn’t seem to offer much help. Perhaps a sterner response wouldn’t do any better, but sympathy for the rioters and looters and arsonists and gun shooters clearly does little to help their innocent victims.

— Bud Norman

A Full Day of Outrageous Presidential Remarks

Even on the slowest news days an opinion writer can almost always count on President Barack Obama to provide some outrageous remark to fulminate about. On Monday, though, the president provided more than the usual fodder.
One hardly knows where to begin, but it might as well be with the official White House statement regarding the latest horrific beheading of an American by the Islamic State, the bloodthirsty terrorist gang that was once dismissed by the president as a “jayvee team” and is now in charge of much of Syria and prematurely-abandoned-by-America Iraq. The statement appropriately offers prayers and condolences to the victim’s family, and accurately describes the murder as “an act of pure evil,” but then veers into the most bizarre apologetics. Referring to the terror gang by its preferred acronym, and to the victim by the name he adopted during his captivity to them, the statement adds that “ISIL’s actions represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own.” The dubious claim that the Islamic State’s actions have nothing to do with Islam is by now an obligatory ritual that follows every act of Islamist terrorism, but that “least of all” defies any rational explanation. There’s no avoiding an implication that Muslims are far less inclined toward beheading infidels than the adherents of Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism of Hinduism or any other religion, which is clearly contradicted by copious evidence stretching from Iraq to Oklahoma, nor the conclusion that the president regards the victim’s conversion to his captor’s supposedly anti-Islamic creed as sincere. We can well understand a desire not to rile the non-beheading Muslim population, but the president’s remarks smack of a religious favoritism that is inappropriate and downright worrisome from an American leader.
Then there’s the report of the president’s advice to the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, to “stay the course.” The previously little-known St. Louis suburb has endured rioting and looting and arson and assorted acts of mayhem ever since a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, and now that it appears a grand jury which has heard all the physical evidence and eyewitness testimony will conclude that the officer acted in self-defense against a violent behemoth who attacked him and was struggling for his gun there is a legitimate concern that more rioting and looting and arson and assorted mayhem will soon follow. A generous interpretation of the president’s remarks would be that he urges them to “stay on the course” of peaceful protest, rather than the course that has been taken, but even the peaceful protestors he was addressing have stated that “Rioting and looting are the tools of those without a voice.” Better advice would be for the protestors to respect the conclusion of the grand jury, and the facts that led it to its conclusion, but apparently the president who promised a post-racial America would prefer that a majority-black town be utterly destroyed.
Slightly less irksome are the president’s disavowals of Jonathan Gruber, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economic professor who has been caught on videotape gloating about the deceptions that were used to ensure the passage of Obamacare and the stupidity of the American voters who fell for them. The president’s previous admission that he “stole liberally” from the professor is more convincing, given the $400,000 the president paid for the professor’s advice and the if-you-like-your-plan-you-can-keep-your plan deceptions that were indeed built into the law, so only the most stupid American voters are likely to be fooled once again. Given the bone-chilling weather that has arrived ahead of schedule here in Kansas we are more annoyed by the president’s boast that the Republican majorities that have been installed in both chambers of Congress by a clear majority of voters won’t be able to stop his executive orders to combat global warming, but on a day so full of outrageous remarks even that doesn’t warrant a full column.

— Bud Norman

The Divided States of America

Once upon a time a little-known state senator from Illinois gave a speech to the Democratic National Convention and wowed the delegates with a speech that famously declared “There’s not a black America and a white America and a Latino America and an Asian America, there’s the United States of America.” So stirring was his unifying rhetoric that the obscure state senator was elected President of the United States just four years later, and six years into his presidency the country seems more racially divided than at in any time in recent memory.
Take a close look at the polls around the country and you’ll quickly notice the glaring racial gaps. There’s a tight Senate race in Georgia partly because the Democrat is heiress to a political dynasty dating back to the days when that state was among her segregationist party’s solid south but mostly because she now somehow has the support of 84 percent of black voters to bolster her meager 23 percent support among whites. Another close race in North Carolina has the Democrat running neck-to-neck because she’s adding 87 percent of the black voters to her 30 percent share of the white vote. In Arkansas the Democrat is running behind with only 77 percent of the black vote added to the usual 30 percent of the white vote. The Democrat in Louisiana is behind her race because a mere 65 percent of the black vote is insufficient to make up here 20 percent support among whites. In California the incumbent Democratic governor is currently losing a majority of the white vote, but seems destined to roll to re-election on the basis of strong support from black and Latino voters. The same racial and ethnic disparities are apparent in states and districts where the minority vote is less consequential to the outcome of the elections, but even there the implications for racial comity between groups with such distinctly different preferences about how to be governed are not at all encouraging.
Various explanation for this racial divide have been offered, and one can choose among them according to his ideological preference. Democrats will insist that the federal government has not only been the guarantor of minority civil rights but also their political and economic benefactor, and that a minority of whites bravely willing to relinquish their historically privileged position provides the democratic majority needed to continues that government’s relentless expansion. Republicans will argue that the relentless expansion of government threatens individual liberty and the economic and cultural dynamism it creates, and when the vast majority of minority inevitably reject this arguments the few racists remaining among the conservatives will claim vindication for their belief that only white men are equal to the harsh demands of liberty. No matter the outcome of those close races, race relations will be further strained.
In the past several election cycles the Democrats have also benefited from a “gender gap” that saw the Republicans’ significant advantage among male voters overwhelmed by an ever more significant disadvantage among women voters, but those nagging poll numbers suggest that this time around the Republicans are still winning with men and have recently gained parity or even a small edge with women. The always implausible claim that Republicans are waging a “war on women” provoked laughter from the audience at a recent upstate New York congressional debate and have led Colorado’s Democratic Senate nominee Mark Udall to be widely known as “Mark Uterus,” and pre-feminist levels of female participation in the workforce workforce and other unsettling economic facts have caused many women to question the Democratic party’s solutions to their problems and consider the possibility that both sexes have an equal stake in increasing economic opportunities through free market solutions, so the Democrats have resorted to ever more incendiary methods to increase their racial advantage. In key states where the minority vote can be decisive the Democrats are raising the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, despite the evidence widely reported by usually supportive press outlets that the policeman acted in self-denfese, and Republican efforts to prevent voter fraud with photo identification requirements and other common-sense reforms are offered as further proof of the Republican party’s racism. These efforts are also likely to exacerbate America’s racial tensions, but staving off an expected Republican landslide in next weeks mid-term election is apparently a higher priority than unifying rhetoric.
This ┬ástark disagreement between the races about how America should be governed won’t end with the mid-terms, and will probably be worsened. Republican majorities in the Senate and House will be all the more resistant to the policies that are proposed as righteous retribution to the country’s racial minorities, congressional Democrats who survive the white backlash will be emboldened to make more explicitly racialist appeals to non-white voters, and the free-market and free-individual reforms that would benefit everyone be more unlikely to happen.
The next presidential election will afford an opportunity for the Republicans to make their limited government appeals to groups that have disproportionately benefited from the relentless expansion of government, and we hope they’ll take full advantage. The pitch won’t alienate many whites, and we’re hopeful it will appeal to the self-reliant and freedom-loving non-white people that we resolutely believe are out there. Sooner or later the Democrats’ uneasy coalition of blacks and Latinos will begin squabbling over their unavoidable economic and political competitions, women will realize their fortunes are tied to the same economic conditions that affect men, and a policy of neutrality rather than preference will prove the only viable option. In the past several election cycles there has been a spate of stories about how the Republicans’ need to reach out women and racial minorities to remain competitive, but if the conventional wisdom holds up a week from now there will be stories about how the Democrats need to address their problem with white men, and to the event that limited government and increased individual liberty are a white male thing that will be good.

— Bud Norman