Holding Steady in Changing Winds

The state of Mississippi has removed a confederate symbol from its flag, the state of Oklahoma has voted to expand Medicaid coverage, Kansans are mostly willing to go along with mandatory face masks, and the latest polling also shows that such reliably Republican states as Georgia and North Carolina and Texas are up for grabs in the next presidential election. This should be frightening to President Donald Trump, but he’s still stubbornly defending the confederacy, trying to undo “Obamacare” and leave millions uninsured during a pandemic, and refusing to be seen in a face mask.
Trump has an undying faith in his gut instincts about public opinion, which made him a reality television star and somehow got him elected to the presidency despite losing the popular vote by some three million ballots, but his reelection strategy strikes us as counter-intuitive.
If the great state of Mississippi — or “Mississippi Goddamn,” as the great jazz singer Nina Simone called it — is abandoning the confederal cause, and so is the NASCAR stock car racing circuit and the Navy and Marines, we think that at long last the confederacy truly is a lost cause. There seems to be an emerging social consensus that black lives matter, and despite the sporadic violence that’s come of it Trump’s 1968-era “law and order” message isn’t playing well in 2020..
We had our clearly stated ideological objections to “Obamacare” when it barely won congressional approval and was signed into law, and to such big government programs in general, but at the moment even Oklahomans are wanting to expand health insurance to their fellow citizens. Trump promised to not only repeal “Obamacare” but replace it with something that would cover everybody at a greatly reduced cost, but he hasn’t announced it after three and a half years in office, and once again he seems out of step with these crazy times.
We hate wearing face masks as much as the next guy, and will miss the erotic frisson of full facial nudity, but the know-it-all experts say it will help us from getting infected and infecting others, so we’re willing to put up with it for a while. Even here in Kansas most of our fellow live-free-or-die citizens seem to agree, and we think there’s a chance the Democrats might pick up their firste Senate seat since the Great Depression. Trump moved the Republican convention from North Carolina to Florida because of face mask and social distancing rules, but Florida’s seen a very scary spike in coronavirus cases and now has similar rules, and Trump once again seems behind the news cycle.
Trump is still promising that the coronavirus will magically disappear, the economy will once again roar, and that America’s race problems can be “very quickly and easily solved,” but he only has four months to pull that off. Trump’s gut instincts not withstanding, it seems a risky strategy for reelection

— Bud Norman

The Ever-Present Eyes of the Cell Phone

Several of the non-coronavirus stories that have somehow penetrated the news are a result of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras. They’ve captured the shooting on an unarmed black man in Georgia, a Minnesota policeman with his knee pressed against another unarmed black man who died during his arrest, along with a couple of widely disseminated nonviolent but seemingly racist encounters between white and black people.
One might conclude that there’s been a recent viral outbreak out of racism, but our guess is that these incidents aren’t any more common but are more likely to be videotaped and posted on the internet. All sorts of obnoxious behavior is winding up on the internet these days, often resulting in public shaming and even more severe consequences for the miscreants, ranging from losing jobs to being charged with crimes.
One might hope that this phenomenon will have some deterrent effect against people behaving obnoxiously, but so far we haven’t noticed that happening. Most of our interactions with other people, which have been somewhat limited the past few months, are quite pleasant, bolstering our hope that people of all ages and sexes and races and class are basically OK, but there still seems to be the usual number of them who just don’t get how awful they’d look on a viral video. By now most of them have cell phone cameras of their own, and will pull them out to make you look bad, but if you keep your calm and act reasonably they’ll still wind up looking awful.
We have a still camera and a video camera on our old-fashioned and relatively dumb “flip phone,” but being defiant Luddites we’re proud to say we have no idea how to use them, much less upload anything visual on the internet, and we mostly regard these newfangled machines as another annoyance of modernity. People use them to show their friends the fancy meal they’re eating and share “selfies,” that quintessential neologism of the moment, and to our admittedly Gutenberg-era conservative way of thinking it has a aggravating effect on an already self-obsessed culture. We’d also hate to have our worst moments be videotaped and go “viral” on the internet, although we do our best not to do anything virulent, and wonder about a brave new world where our every venture into the public space is watched by both public and private cameras.
Some good might come of it, we grudgingly admit. There are now a couple of cases of white men allegedly killing black men for no apparent reason that might have been swept under the racial rug if not for some seemingly damning cell phone footage. In the Minnesota case the videographers were bystanders who caught it from different angle, and in the Georgia case it was captured by a man now accused of being an accomplice.
When President John Kennedy was assassinated in broad daylight in the public square there happened to one guy in the crowd who caught it on a hand-held film camera, and the footage has been argued about ever since. We truly hope nothing like that ever happens again, but if it does we expect the investigations and commissions and historians will have thousands of videotapes from every possible angle. All these videos might well result in the guilty being punished and the innocent exonerated, and we hope that comes to pass.
We don’t hold out much hope that human nature will be much improved by it, though.

— Bud Norman

A Grim Milestone and Bad News Cycle

The banner headline on all the papers Wednesday the death toll from the coronavirus passing the 100,000 mark. The 100,000th death was no more tragic than the 99,999th or the first, but headline writers can’t resist a round number.
Across the country the death rate has slowed over the past few weeks, but it’s increasing in several states, and as Americans emerge from their homes and get back to business the numbers are likely to worsen. President Donald Trump acknowledged the grim milestone by “tweeting” that “The Lamestream media” and “Do-Nothing Democrats” and boasting the death toll would have been far higher if not for the actions he took, while White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere helpfully added that “President Trump’s prayers for comfort and strength are with all of those grieving the loss of a loved one or friend as a result of this unprecedented plague.”
The death toll surely would have been higher if not for the travel restrictions and business shutdowns and “social distancing” that have occurred, most of which was done by state and local governments and individual citizens, but it arguably could have been lower if all that started earlier, and Trump is now urging an arguably premature end to it, and we harbor doubts that that Trump ever prays for others. This is a bad news cycle for Trump, and he seems to know it.
At the moment there’s nothing else in he headline to help Trump. The stock markets have recovered somewhat despite Great Depression unemployment rates and gross domestic product contractions, but that’s mostly due to an eye-popping $3 trillion deficit that once upon a time would have appalled Republican sensibilities, and is of little comfort to the tens of millions of unemployed. The death toll is declining nationwide, but increasing in states Trump needs to win. News about Trump’s continuing purge of inspectors general and “whistleblowers” and court fights about congressional oversight and feuds with any journalists who might his criticism also penetrate the news in the age of the coronavirus, but that doesn’t help.
The other big non-coronavirus story is about the black man who died shortly after being arrest by the Milwaukee Police, which is big news because a white officer was seen on videotape and cell phone photographs pressing his knee on the seemingly pacified suspect’s neck, which has resulted in predictable unrest, This followed after some attention-grabbing news about a black man in Georgia who shot on videotape by a white man while jogging, and has revived the centuries-old debate about race and America. Trump has quite quietly done the right thing by authorizing his Justice Department to look into these matters, which his most unabashedly racist supporters won’t notice or mind, but given Trump’s record of exhorting police to treat suspects roughly and calling black athletes “sons of bitches” for putting a knee down during the national anthem to protest racial injustice he won’t get many new voters.
For now Trump doesn’t have any compelling success stories, just reasons why everything would have been so much worse if not for him, and evidence-free accusations against the evil people arrayed against him. There’s a long hot summer and an early between now and Election Day, and there’s a chance that by then the coronavirus might miraculously disappear and the economy will be revved up and America’s race problem will be solved, but we’re not counting on it.

— Bud Norman

A Rainy Day of Gloomy News

Wednesday’s weather here in Wichita was rainy and chilly and gray, so there was little to do in a shut down city than stay at home and read the equally gloomy news.
One prominent story was about the forced departure of scientist Richard Bright from his head post at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which Bright said was prompted by his public warning that “government should invest the billions of of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that that lack scientific merit.” One needn’t have a Ph.D. in immunology, as Bright does, to know that he was talking about hydroxychloroquine, a drug that President Donald Trump and the prime time lineup of Fox News opinion show hosts have touted as a cure for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Hydroxychloroquine has proved effective against malaria and other diseases, but no studies have shown it can cure Covid-19 and recent studies have suggested it can cause fatal heart arrhythmia in patients suffering from that disease. Trump has a tendency to defenestrate anyone who dares publicly disagree with him, and officials ranging from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to former national security advisor H.R. McMaster to the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt have all been ousted not for the mistakes they made rather for things they did right. The president’s penchant for dismissing not only expertise but the experts themselves is especially worrisome in the time of a global pandemic that is killing thousands of Americans each day.
In happier story, Trump was apparently persuaded to criticize the Republican governor of Georgia for lifting all the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in that state earlier than what the consensus of expert opinion recommends. Trump hasn’t recanted his advice to protestors in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia to “LIBERATE” their states from restrictions imposed by the Democratic governors of those states, but his willingness to criticize a Republican governor is nonetheless encouraging. It’s most likely a preemptive move to avoid blame for the outbreak of new coronavirus cases that is almost certain to ensure, but at least he’s listening to knowledgable advisors rather than trusting his gut instincts for a change.
Elsewhere in the news, Trump also stated that Naval officers are authorized to “shoot down” any Iranian ships that continue to harass the American fleet. Trump apparently isn’t hep to military lingo, in which you “shoot down” enemy aircraft and “sink” enemy vessels, but otherwise we can’t criticize the statement. Longstanding policy allows American ships to defend themselves against any imminent deadly threat, but Trump was probably wise to emphasize it to the erratic Iranian mullahcracy. The story got bottom-of-the-page coverage because the top of the page is all about the coronavirus, but it is related to the extent that the Iranians might have decided to exploit America’s current preoccupation with coronavirus to harass American ships. There are already conspiracy theories on the left that Trump is itching for a war with Iran to divert attention from his handling of the coronavirus, but we doubt it, as Trump was eager to run for reelection on a peace-and-prosperity pitch and would like to have at least one of the two to brag about come November.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also made headlines by telling a radio interviewer that he’d rather let states running debts dealing with coronavirus while their economies are collapsing as a result of the epidemic declare bankruptcy rather than receive more federal aid. Trump and numerous other Republicans quickly disagreed, another encouraging development, but it was another reminder of the expensively unprecedented mess the country is currently in.
Via Facebook we learned that one of our favorite people is losing her brave battle against pancreatic cancer, and there were no baseball box scores to pore over, so it was a rather desultory day. Our Okie relatives on Facebook shared a picture from Tuesday of a tornado with a rainbow clearly visible in the background, so we’ll take some hope in that and try to get a good sleep and wake up this afternoon to a better day.

— Bud Norman

Another Night of Mixed Results

The final rounds of the special election season came on Tuesday, with the same usual mixed results as before. Once again the Democrats fell short of victory in two more reliably Republican districts, but once again by margins that should worry many of the more vulnerable congressional Republicans up for re-election in ’18.
Those anxious Republicans can take some solace in the fact that the Republican prevailed in Georgia’s sixth congressional district despite the record-setting millions of dollars that Democrats from around the country threw into the race. The district is mostly the well-educated and well-heeled and mostly-white suburbs of Atlanta, and has been held by the Republicans for 40 years, including the entire famous tenure of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but when a youthful Democratic candidate fell just short of a majority in the open primary his party sensed an upset. The national press paid outsized attention, the money from Hollywood and other Democratic denizens poured in, and there was much anticipation of an outcome that could be easily spun as backlash against President Donald Trump.
We’re far out of range of the broadcast commercials that were no doubt incessantly aired in Georgia’s unfortunate sixth district, and not very familiar with the local politics of the district, but so far as we can tell from all that outsized national press attention neither candidate tried to make the race about Trump. The Democrat presumably and reasonably believed that his opposition to Trump went without saying and instead focused on some local issues, which the Democrats in the rest of the country will no doubt regard as a fatal mistake, while the Republican reportedly ran as an old-fashioned establishment type who rarely mentioned Trump, which will surely annoy some Republicans and provide a lesson to others. Trump won the district in the presidential election by 2 percent, which was much lower than his margins in the less-educated and less-well-heeled and even whiter districts in the rest of the state, and the old-fashioned Republican who rarely mentioned Trump won by a slightly larger yet closer-than-usual margin, so the pro-Trump and anti-Trump people can make whatever they want of all that.
Less attention was paid and fewer donations were made to another race in the fifth district of South Carolina, which is less well-educated and well-heeled and more white than that Georgia district, and where Trump prevailed by more landslide margins, but that was also an embarrassingly close call. The Republican took just over 51 percent of the vote, far underperforming the the Republican in the election just eight months or so ago, and although local politics no doubt played a part there’s no spinning how that’s good for Trump.
All of the special elections have been in Republican districts where the incumbent was promoted to a cabinet-level position by Trump, which means that their would-be Republicans successors were necessarily well less qualified candidates, and of course the opposition is going to more energized than those less well-educated and well-heeled Trump supporters who are cocksure their man can take of himself. Still, the results are decidedly mixed.
The Democrats won’t be able to raise the kind of money for each mid-term race at the rate they did in that Georgia election, but neither will the Republicans. The Republicans did wind up winning all four of the races, albeit while losing percentage points that would flip a whole of districts. Trump retains a steadfast and significant percentage of voters, Trump’s detractors seem to have even bigger numbers, and it’s how they’re spread around the electoral map that seems matter. All politics really is local, too, so it’s hard to tell how that will play in out the hundreds of House seats and third-or-so of Senate seats up in a year and a few months from now. Of course there’s also no telling what might happen in a year and a few months from now.
Until then the Republicans retain the White House and the same majorities they held in the House and Senate before all this fuss, but for now they don’t seem to doing much with it, and the Democrats are still falling tantalizingly short of a victory to call their own.

— Bud Norman

Georgia On Our Mind

Although it’s an admittedly odd thing to do on such a pleasantly warm evening as we had here in the Fourth Congressional District of Kansas, we spent much of Tuesday night following the returns from the special election being held far away in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. It’s the first political test of the Trump era since last Tuesday’s special election here on our home turf, which got a lot of national attention, and the Georgia race is getting a lot scrutiny for pretty much the same tea-leaf-reading reasons, so naturally we were interested to see how it turned out.
It was clear all along that the front-runner in the 18-candidate field was Democrat Jon Ossoff, which is an eye-raising fact in such a reliably Republican district, but given the district’s convoluted way of doing things there was plenty of suspense about whether he’d pass the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff that would probably result in a runoff. By the time we started getting drowsy in a more western time zone the news was that the Democrat had indeed scored a landslide plurality, but failed prevent a run-off against whatever Republican had limped into second place with from the crowded field. The district has been Republican since Georgia’s own Jimmy Carter, and was long held Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero Newt Gingrich, and has been red ever since, so the betting line is that all the Republicans and a sufficient number of the independents will line up against the Republican in the run-off schedule for June 20, but in the meantime we expect the Democrats and all their media allies to do some serious gloating about the outcome in such a presumably safe republican district.
They’re entitled to it, just as they were with the mere 7 point win by the Republican in our own reliably red district just a week earlier, but in the end it probably won’t have any more effect on the upcoming and predictably partisan votes in Congress. The next significant rounds of congressional elections are nearly tow years away, which is so long an amount of time that no sane person should dare any prognostications, but already the Republican pundits are noting that recent trends suggest the Republicans should retain their advantages, and the Democratic pundits are plausibly hoping that the recent past is no predictor of the future in the Trump era but already proclaiming moral victories.
The Democrats have to admit they fell a full seven points short of victory in last Tuesday’s election around here, which sounds like a lot but is a full of 25 percentages shorts of what the Republicans are used to, and they didn’t get the needed 50 percent in that Georgia district, but they did come close enough to crow about the plurality landslide. We don’t know Georgia’s Sixth District nearly so intimately as we do Kansas’s Fourth District, but we have tried to familiarize ourselves with the political terrain there, and from our currently disinterested perspective both parties seem to have their problems.
This Ossoff character in Georgia is only 30 years old, which makes him a disqualifyingly young whippersnapper from our aged Kansas perspective, and he seems a rather traditionally doctrinaire sort of Democrat, which is worse yet as far we’re concerned, but even the conservative media haven’t told us anything about his Republican challenger except that he wound the 15 percent or so necessary to make a run-off. All the local press and big city papers say that Georgia’s Sixth District is an affluent and well-educated and thoroughly suburban area next to Atlanta, and they don’t need to tell us that Kansas’s Fourth District is dominated by Wichita, a reliably Republican but ethnically and economically urban center that went Democratic by a slight majority while the rest of the entirely rural district went Republican enough to ensure that embarrassing 7–point victory margin.
,Both results suggest to us that both parties have plenty to worry about at the moment, and so does the rest of the country.

— Bud Norman

Another Day in a Long, Hot Summer

Another day, another two police officers killed in the line of duty, and it suddenly seems a very hot summer. The latest deaths were inflicted inside the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan, where a detainee at the nearby county jail was apparently being led to a hearing and somehow managed to wrestle away an officer’s gun. So far as we can glean from the numerous yet sketchy press accounts this might or might not have something to do with the recent spate of police killings that have recently been inspired by a broad anti-police protest movement, but in either case it’s another sign of a something ongoing and troublesome.
The shooting followed ambush assaults on officers in Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri over the weekend, which happened around the same time as the riots in Illinois and Minnesota and Louisiana that seriously wounded dozens of others, which followed the sniper fire at a “Black Lives Matter” rally in Texas where five officers were killed and several others wounded, and already the law enforcement death toll is up 44 percent over last’s year grim total. The most recent spate of deaths have also followed the widespread attention paid to internet videos that showed two young black men being killed by police officers, the sort of thing that has spawned the “Black Lives Matter” movement and its ensuing anti-police sentiment, and it seems all too likely in the nervous wake of so many cop-killings there might be more such videos hitting the internet soon, and that end is not yet in sight.
All of it is set in the broader context of the rapidly deteriorating state of race relations that has occurred since the inauguration of the First Black President, which was supposed to usher in a post-racial era of America. Shortly after that inauguration the newly fledged president’s Justice Department decided to let some New Black Panthers who had clearly been menacing white voters at a Philadelphia polling place off the hook, and not long afterwards he wound up in an embarrassing “beer summit” with a white cop because he had prematurely judged a situation involving a black Harvard professor, and when a volunteer community watchman with Hispanic heritage but a Jewish-sounding name wound up shooting a young black man who was sitting atop him and banging his head against the concrete sidewalk the president remarked that decedent looked just like the son he’d never had, and in each of the racially-tinged law enforcement incidents that keep popping up in America the president has reliably reached the same premature conclusions. He had an official representative at the funeral of young black man killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, some weeks before his own highly politicized Justice Department was forced by the irrefutable facts of the case to concede that it was entirely the fault of the thuggish young black man for assaulting an officer and grabbing at his gun and that all the accounts of a “gentle giant” on his knees pleading “Hands up, don’t” shoot before his execution that spawned the whole “Black Lives Matter” movement was all lies.
The underlying claim that police sometimes act badly and that black Americans are statistically more likely to be on the hurting end of it is not a lie, of course, but as always the truth is quite complicated. There are no doubt some unjustified killings of young black men and women by non-black police officers, and although we won’t jump to any conclusions we admit that video from Minneapolis looks very bad for the non-black officer involved, and even the one in Louisiana where there are some potentially exculpatory reports about what happened before the cameras were rolling surely deserves the thorough investigation that it seems to be getting, and even as we await further evidence before reaching any conclusions we concede that nothing’s been reported yet that doesn’t make the one in Minneapolis look very bad for the officer, and we readily agree that these black lives do indeed matter. The far greater number of black lives taken by black murderers also matter, though, and they’re on the rise in Baltimore and St. Louis and Chicago and New York and other cities where the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the First Black President’s highly politicized Justice Department have discouraged the proactive policing that had previously led to a significant decline in the number of black lives lost. Even the most pure-hearted followers of the the “Black Lives Matter” movement are badly misguided, from our admittedly pale perspective, and the rest of their progressive agenda seems just as counter-productive.
The First Black President has also ordered his Department of Education to bully local school districts into punishing miscreant students according to strict racial quota systems, which means that the worst black students will be around to interfere with the educations of the best of the black students in America’s most dangerous school systems, and he’s ordered his Department of Housing and Urban Development to bully certain jurisdictions into accepting a certain amount of potentially criminal diversity, which doesn’t seem to have done much good for anybody. Although the black unemployment rate has lowered during the post-racial era that’s marred by the same worrisome labor force participation rate that calls that statistic into question across the racial spectrum, and the unemployment rate for black teenagers is still at Depression levels and not likely to get any better if the First Black President gets the minimum wage hike he wants, and household incomes and business start-ups and every other economic indicator is just as bleak. In all the cities where the “Black Lives Matter” movement has gained ground the local governments have long been ruled progressive Democrats, and that fact seems to have gone largely unnoticed.
Nor does there seem to be honest discussion about it. None of those numerous but sketchy reports about the deaths of law enforcement officers in St. Joseph mention the race of shooter, which is standard journalistic practice even though every black and white and any hue-in-between reader is eager to learn that fact no matter how pure-hearted they might be, and the entire discussion about this undeniably racially-tinged issue seems somehow intent on denying its racial implications.
The First Black President of the United States has cut short a pointless visit to Europe to travel to Dallas to speak about the recent deaths of five white police officers there, and although we expect another exercise in moral relativism we cling to faint hope that hell say something eloquent and unifying and post-racial. The presumptive Democratic nominee to succeed him took the opportunity of five white cops killed by sniper fire from a clearly white-hating black man to lecture white people about how they must “listen to the fears of African-Americans.” The presumptive Republican nominee was uncharacteristically more circumspect, “tweeting” about both the tragedy of the slain officers in Dallas and the black men who had been videotaped dying at the hands of police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, which annoyed some of his more fervent white supporters, but we hold out no hope that he’ll be the unifying figure who brings this awful mess to a happy conclusion.
The Republican National Convention will convene in less than a week in Cleveland, and it promises to be contentious inside and just as downright riotous outside, and the convention of those godawful Democrats a couple of weeks later might prove just as 1968 godawful, and there’s something ongoing and troublesome about our politics that a more honest country would acknowledge.

— Bud Norman