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Reality Winner and the Winners of Reality

The great British novelist Evelyn Waugh used to come up with some of fictions’ most fascinating characters and give them the most delightfully ironic names, but we doubt even he could have invented a sweet-faced multi-lingual 25-year-old Air Force veteran and outspoken liberal and alleged national security secrets leaker called Reality Winner. In the age of a reality show president and his reality show presidency, though, such an unlikely character with such an improbable name is an actual person in the news.
Winner has been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with handing a purloined National Security Agency document about Russia’s meddling in the past American presidential election, and the rest of the story is believable only because no one could have made it up. It’s a mere subplot in a broader storyline about what President Donald Trump calls “the Russia thing with Trump and Russia,” which was already darned complicated, and Winner’s tale complicates it further.
So far all we know about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia comes courtesy of people with access to information to information they have leaked to the press, and what has then been confirmed the administration’s legally plausible but not altogether reassuring claim that the information was illegally obtained. Some of the damaging and inadvertently verified information has apparently come from the feuding innermost circles of the top-most Trump administration, most of it seems to have come from the permanent government bureaucracy and the holdovers from the President Barack Obama administration that are hanging around while the Trump administration gets around to filling that remaining 78 percent of appointed positions they’ve yet to name a nominee for, and for now there’s no telling where the rest of it has come from. Except for the administrations claims that the sources are all fake and must be immediately be locked up, we’d be inclined to dismiss it all as fake news.
The Trump administration has vowed to plug all those leaks, for principled reasons of law enforcement as well as naked self-interest, but so far the only alleged leaker they’ve nabbed is the aforementioned and improbably named Winner.
In the inevitable Facebook photos of a 25-year-old she looks like one of those beguiling young hipster women who hang around The Vagabond hipster bar where we argue with a gray-ponytailed but right-wing hipster friend of ours, and from the inevitable Facebook postings she seems to share the same fashionably left-wing political opinions. Unlike most young woman of our acquaintance, though, she’s fluent in the languages of Farsi, Pashto, and Dari, only two of which we were even previously aware of, and instead of going to college she volunteered her linguistic skills to the Air Force. After an honorable discharge Winner and her hard-to-find skill set found work with a private data-analysis company that contracted with the National Security Agency, where her impeccable Air Force record earned her a high security clearance, and at that point she allegedly came across an NSA document about how the Russian meddling had extended to the point that they tried to influence some local-level vote-counting.
She’s alleged to have copied the document and passed it on to an internet news site called The Intercept, which we had also previously never heard of, and so far as we can tell that’s why she’s the first alleged leaker to be nabbed. So far even the most sympathetic press accounts don’t do her legal case much good, noting that the neophyte leaker seems to have used office copy machines with their hidden code words and made other rookie mistakes, and they unhelpfully note all those Facebook posting about her disdain for Trump, and without drawing any conclusions we’d advise she hire a better attorney than the Trump administration is able to retain these days.
Trump’s stalwart defenders will be pleased that at least one of those leakers has been allegedly nabbed, and hope that others will be deterred from releasing any further discomfiting information, but no matter Winner’s fate they might still come out losers. The charges against Winner were discovered when the Intercept news site submitted its documents for government verification, which were duly confirmed in order to bring the charges, and so far a lot of leaks from more-savvy sources have been similarly confirmed. It doesn’t amount to anything undeniable, not yet, but there’s still a torrent of leaks from the feuding innermost circles of the White House and the vast bureaucracy that’s still unmanned and all the rest of it.
Should Winner be proved guilty of the charges alleged against her she’ll deserve the prison time that entails, as far as we’re concerned, yet we’ll hope her youthful idealism will carry through the consequences. As always we’ll be hoping that reality ultimately wins, which it always does, eventually, but in these days of reality shows days there’s no telling.

— Bud Norman

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Technical Difficulties

We’re writing this in a booth at The Vagabond, a friendly little hipster dive in the historic Delano neighborhood just across the Arkansas River from our even friendlier home office in the picturesque Riverside neighborhood. because our got-darned internet service went down. All the hipster dives have wi-fi these days, as we’ve long noticed from all the bearded hipsters we see staring into their machines instead of talking with one another and sharing dirty jokes and hitting on the hipster women the way human beings used to do in a bar, so for tonight we’ve reluctantly taken the old laptop on a rare trip out of the house and joined those lonely hipsters in their solitary musings.
It’s an infuriating inconvenience, and although we’re doing our best to be cordial to the pretty and pleasant young barmaid who generously shared the wi-fi password we’re starting to run out of patience with our internet provider. We’ll not mention any names, but it’s a long established company that was once so beloved that Americans called it “Ma,” and until very recently they had provided us many decades of reliable landline phone service, but we’ve recently cancelled the landline and had the number transferred to one of those newfangled cellular phones that everybody uses these days, which took way too many hours of bureaucratic hassles and time on hold to accomplish, and given that the switch-over happened at approximately the same time the internet went down we suspect that has something do with the problem. Several hours on the phone with people speaking hard-to-understand accents and quite a bit of time on on hold failed to rectify the problem, and they’re promising to send someone by between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. to solve a problem that we’re sure could have addressed without that hassle, and we’re not at all confident it will be resolved even by a real live human being in the flesh, but at this point we’re drinking one of the $2 beer specials and hoping for the best.
Back in the good old days before all this technological progress we were somehow content without any internet at all, but these days we seem somehow estranged from the entire world without it. We were reading up on the latest news from a variety of old and new sources, and contemplating the witty and sophisticated response to it all that we would send out to entire world, but that got-darned red light that started flashing on the modem wound up reconfiguring the whole got-darned day. Thanks to the The Vagabond’s wi-fi and the password that pretty and pleasant barmaid shared we’ll get something out to you, and with some hope that a real live human being in the flesh will be able to set things straight we plan another post for tomorrow, hopefully having something to do with the rest of the world, and w’ll try to restrain our temper in the meantime.

— Bud Norman

The Sanders Series Comes to an End

The strange saga of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quixotic presidential campaign came to its inevitable inglorious end on Tuesday, and we have to admit that we’re sorry to see the series finale of such a compelling reality show. Sanders is a self-described socialist and an absolute kook whose policies would surely be the Venezuelan-style ruination of America, and it’s slightly discomfiting to our red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist souls that his campaign went so far into the July of an election year even in the Democratic Party, but there was a certain endearing quality to his kookiness and it was always great fun to see him bedevil that awful woman who had been picked by the party bosses before the battle even began.
All kids dug the balding and white-haired 70-something throwback to an Old Left that they didn’t even know had been supplanted by a New Left, even the gray-haired New Left throwbacks we know from the local arts and hipster scenes were “Feeling the Bern,” and our atypically homosexual and Democratic neighborhood here in an otherwise reliably Republican city in a reliably Republican state has long been sprouting “Bernie 2016” yard signs like dandelions, and even we found something endearing even if discomfiting about him. The best explanation in every case is that Sanders is indeed “authentic,” something that both parties and much of the rest of the country seems quite enamored of after so many years of politicians reading from poll-tested and focus-grouped texts, and neither we nor any of our more liberal friends ever once doubted that he quite sincerely believed all that nonsense he was shouting. He’d long been poor and never been conspicuously rich, despite a long career in politics he was so cleanly outside the party system he wasn’t even a Democrat until he sought the party’s nomination, and despite all the wacky anecdotes about his dirt-floor days and a family history that used to be considered scandalous and of course those ruinous policies no one has come up with anything on him that smacks of hypocrisy.
Which we’d like to think is the main reason he so long bedeviled that awful woman whose victory was already determined when Sanders started tilting at those Democratic windmills. Presumptive Democratic nominee and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the epitome of a politician reading from a poll-tested and focus-grouped text, and she’s never been as poor as she likes to brag about and she’s become very rich from her long tenure in the political process, and at this point even most Democrats will admit she might or might not believe any of that slightly-more-mainstream kookiness she’s spouting. It endears us to our Democratic friends that they still take such character issues in account, even as if discomfits us that they prefer a self-described socialist.
We can well imagine our Democratic friends’ pain as they watched their anti-establishment hero formally endorse the nomination of the establishment’s pre-ordained candidate on Tuesday, siding with a woman he had rightly denounced as aligned with the nefarious Wall Street sorts at the uppermost tier of every Democrats’ demonology, and accurately pointed out had voted for the Iraq War that the arch-demon George W. Bush had lied us into, and so far they seem rather sore about it. The “comments” section on our former employer The Kansas City Star’s story features people so miffed about it they’re vowing to vote for presumptive Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and other media have logged similar threats by the rank and file, and for the now the storyline even in the most Democratic outlets is that there’s party disunity afoot. Trump is already talking and “tweeting” about the undeniably rigged process that handed Clinton the nomination, even if she did win a majority of the primary and caucus votes, and making explicit appeals to the disgruntled supporters of a self-described socialist. He can legitimately make the case that he’s on board with that storyline about Bush lied and people died and sticks to his illegitimate claim that he knew better, but the self-described billionaire will be harder pressed to make an economic case to a bunch of kids who liked all the free stuff that Sanders was offering to be paid for by awful billionaires without exacerbating the disunity in his own formerly conservative party.
Our best guess is that some of those Sanders supporters will wind up voting for the Green Party’s admittedly authentic and scandal-free-except-for-being-a-kook Jill Stein, some will wind up voting for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, whose economic platform is the antithesis of the self-described socialist’s but is for legalized marijuana, which is likely to come in handy during the coming years no matter how this all turns out, few will vote for Trump and most will wind up glumly voting for Clinton. Sanders has volunteered his efforts to Clinton’s campaign, and if his fans aren’t so loyal that they’d vote for him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue they’ll probably follow him to the polls to vote against Trump. The possibility of a Trump presidency strikes the same terror in the soul of a Democrat that the possibility of a Clinton presidency does in a Republican soul, and that’s how the race is shaping up despite Sanders’ best efforts.
Even in the abject defeat of that awkward appearance with Clinton Tuesday, Sanders’ quixotic campaign has slewed a couple of windmills along the way. He’s dragged Clinton and the rest of the party to the left on such kooky ideas as free college education, the by now bi-partiasan consensus for protectionist trade policies, ever more profligate deficit spending, and henceforth being a self-described socialist and admitted agnostic won’t be immediately disqualifying traits in at least one of the country’s two major parties. It’s not much of a legacy, but it was interesting to watch.

— Bud Norman

Appropriating Culture, While There’s Still Some Left

Although our day was largely occupied by a glum early morning chore and some evening amateur theatrical rehearsals and the latest slap-the-forehead sort of news from the presidential primaries, we found a moment’s bemusement from one of those “viral videos” that routinely invade our daily reading of the news. This one didn’t involve any cute cat shenanigans, but rather captured a confrontation between an angry black social justice warrior and a dreadlocked white hipster, which might not be so cute but is at least as hilarious.
Someone who happened to be standing on a nearby stairwell with one of those ubiquitous cell phone video cameras caught the aforementioned black social justice warrior, an employee of San Francisco State University, telling the aforementioned white hipster student who happened to pass by that he had no right to be wearing his hair in a dreadlocked fashion. Anyone familiar with the latest academic jargon knows that this is a matter of “cultural appropriation,” and even the obviously stupid black social justice warrior and the obviously stupid white hipster know that, and the ensuing conversation and inevitable reality-show scuffle about this utterly stupid concept is more ridiculous than even our crazy cat can come up with.
If you haven’t been keeping abreast of the latest academic hilarity, “cultural appropriation” means that if you’re white and Western you’re not supposed to enjoy much less make use of anything that some non-white or non-western culture ever came up with. Western mathematics should have stuck with the Roman Numeral system rather than the simpler Hindu-conquered-by-Islamic system, James McNeill Whistler should have never done those beautiful Japanse-influenced paintings, Elvis Presley should have never done that much-improved cover of “That’s Alright, Mama,” a very alluring yet very white friend of ours shouldn’t be doing her belly-dancing, and the Nazis were at least polite enough to eschew the “Jewish physics” of Werner Heisenberg and his notions of an atomic bomb. We’re not sure how such strict standards would have improved the world, but we’d sure hate to miss that Elvis recording and those Whistler paintings, and our friend is a pretty good belly-dancer and in any case she’s got a right and we’d hate to be struggling with our bills at the end of the month with Roman numerals.
We’re not sure how this post-racist concept would have worked out for our non-white and non-western friends as well. That angry black social justice warrior employed by San Francisco State University was probably intending to drive home after work in an automobile, which is a product of white and western culture, and probably expected to see herself celebrated on the Internet, which is a product of an industry that is oft criticized for being insufficiently non-white and non-western, and she seemed to be wearing pants, which is another white and western invention. We also notice that no one objects when such outstanding African-American musicians as Wynton Marsalis and Kathleen battle do their much-improved performances of classical Baroque music, which is about as white and western as you can get, and we’re at least grateful for that.
That dreadlocked white hipster by no means strikes us as an exemplar of white and western culture or or whatever third-world fashion he’s trying to state, and his bizarre rant about ancient Egyptian culture is as stupid as what his harasser is talking about, and his haircut is every bit as ridiculous as the current Republican party’s presidential front-runner’s, but we figure he’s also got a right, too. Our meanderings around the internet turned up a more frank and jive-talking black fellow who came to pretty much the same conclusion, so at least there was some bemusement.

— Bud Norman

The Hipsters are a Riot

The civil disturbance that occurred in Seattle over the past weekend has been described as a “hipster riot,” and the term seems delightfully apt. We’re kicking ourselves for not having secured the domain rights to hipsterriot.com, because it might just be the next big trend.
What happened in Seattle didn’t get nearly the attention paid to the riots in Baltimore, and some will suggest this is because the racist media prefer to publicize the violent rampages of oppressed black youths rather than admit that relatively pampered white youths are capable of the same sort of misbehavior, but our long experience of white guilt-ridden reporters suggests otherwise. Baltimore was more likely a bigger deal because the destruction was greater, with the Seattle rioters barely managing 16 arrests and three wounded police officers and a few burned-out automobiles and smashed storefronts before a rather robust show of law enforcement put an end to it, and such low-level rioting has been such a routine occurrence in Seattle since the big riot outside the World Trade Organization meeting back in ’99 that the city might as well mention it in the Chamber of Commerce brochures as proof of it’s cutting-edge hipster appeal. Still, we suspect it’s mainly because the white guilt-ridden reporters would rather make excuses for oppressed black youths with some plausible complaints about their police department run by their notoriously corrupt city than try to explain a relatively pampered bunch of white boys acting up on behalf of more government and calling themselves “anarchists.” This probably also explains the disproportionate attention paid to the two the riots by the president and other politicians, all of whom seem to have lost their knack for spotting the next big trend.
While a whopping 96 percent of Americans are bracing themselves for yet another long, hot summer of race rioting, we’re also anticipating an accompanying trend of hipster rioting. There’s a seemingly endless supply of hipsters these days, after all, even here in Wichita. We can remember a time in the late ’70s when the entire local hipster community could easily fit into The Cedar Lounge for an Embarrassment-Inevitable double-bill and barely violate the fire code, but these days there’s enough of them to sustain a dozen coffee shops spread clear from the far-east side to the far-west side as well as another dozen or so bars where there are more “alternative” bands playing than there the sorts of bands that they’re an alternative to, and judging by all the similarly unpressed and hirsute actors in the television commercials they’re apparently a major market across the country. Persuading them to riot shouldn’t be any harder than persuading them to get tattooed or grow lumberjack beards or buy all those electronic gizmos that so engross them in the local hipster establishments.
Rioting is the latest black youth craze, for one thing, and the hipsters have been following the lead of the ghettos at least since Norman Mailer was writing “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster” way back in the ’50s. The hipster rioters in Seattle added the black rioters’ complaints about the police to their own catalogue of complaints, and they have plenty more of their own. The young hipsters bear a large share of the nation’s one trillion dollar student loan debt, and will eventually be asked to chip on the federal government’s $17 trillion of debt, and it’s not as if the robust 0.2 percent growth rate in the Gross Domestic Product is going to provide the kinds of lucrative jobs that will help pay for it all, and the inevitable defense cuts will only encourage the Islamic radicals who don’t seem to cotton to even the hipsters with beards, and sooner or later even the most up-to-date hipsters will find themselves offending somebody with an organized grievance group, but of course none of that will be the reasons for the rioting. Instead they’ll find some corporation doing something they don’t like, or some church holding to it’s long-held notions about sexual morality, or some job-creating free trade agreement that’s still in effect, or they’ll notice that some highly productive square is getting paid more than they are, or some other last vestige of the old capitalist economic system, and they’ll riot for some big-government solution in the name of “anarchy.” It makes no more sense than their young black counterparts burning down their own neighborhoods demanding more of the same old big government solutions that made those areas so flammable, but riots needn’t make sense.
Perhaps some sense will eventually be imposed on the hipsters, as it has been on the owner of San Francisco comic book store who proudly supported the city’s generous increase in the minimum wage until it had passed and he realized that he would need to come up with an additional $80,000 in revenue keep his business afloat. The picture of his staff that appeared in The National Review’s rather hilarious account of his travails shows a stereotypically hip group of soon-to-be-unemployed youngsters standing around their obligatorily bearded boss, and although they look to be nice enough people we can’t help but think they’ve got it coming. Their city prides itself on its progressive and tolerant and hipper-than-thou attitudes, and is one of the most racially segregated and economically exclusive and intellectually rigid and easily ridiculed places in the country as a result, and we can’t help think it has a few riots coming as well.
If the hipsters were the ruggedly individualistic non-conformists they claim to be they’d be demanding less government, a less rigid enforcement of the latest social strictures, and they’d probably stop to wonder why they’re all getting tattooed and growing lumberjack beards buying the latest electronic gizmos. They probably wouldn’t be rioting, either, and if they were they’d be able to provide some more cogent explanation for it. We recall Marlon Brando’s leather-jacketed biker thug in “The Wild Ones” being asked what he was rebelling against, and mumbling “Whattaya got?” in response, and that made more sense and strikes us as far hipper than the big-government anarchy that those Seattle hipsters are going on about.

— Bud Norman

The Cities Farther to West and Further to the Right

The Wichita Wingnuts baseball team has a wide lead in its Double-A American Association division, the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad will likely be ranked among the top 10 or so teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association when the pre-season polls come out, and despite everything the Wichita unemployment rate is a bit below the national average, so our civic pride is holding up pretty well these days. Still, we were a bit embarrassed to learn that we are only the 17th most conservative city in the country.
This alarmingly low ranking comes from no less an authority than The Economist, a very high-brow and oh-so-Tory publication from England that we have come trust. We have no idea how they compiled these rankings, conservatism being a rather hard-to-define and even harder-to-quantify concept, but the list does seem plausible. Coming in at the coveted number one spot is Mesa, Arizona, and our limited experience of the city suggests that it’s pretty darned conservative. There seem to be a lot of military veterans there, which does wonders for a community’s conservatism, and it seems fairly affluent, which is another good sign. Arizona is also the home of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, peace be upon him, and they clearly have an enviable number of wised-up old folks and a paucity of tattooed hippie freaks, so we won’t begrudge them the distinction.
Coming in at number two is Oklahoma City, a city we know well, as it is our ancestral hometown, and we think that if anything it is underrated. As recently as our grandfathers’ Dust Bowl days it was a yellow dog Democrat city in a yellow dog Democrat state, but as the party has moved away from the ferociously church-going and defiantly individualistic Okies the city and state have become even more Republican than even Wichita and Kansas, which have been solidly Republican since the Bleeding Kansas days when those slave-owning Democrats were slaughtering the local abolitionists. We still have plenty of beloved kinfolk in the Oklahoma City area, even if most of them have fled north to the Mesa-like suburbs, and will humbly acknowledge the more conservative nature of their communities.
Virginia Beach, which of course is in Virginia, and Colorado Springs, which of course is in Colorado, took the next two spots. Both are also rife with military veterans, sailors in the former case and airmen in the latter, and we are glad to see them ranked so high even at the expense of Wichita. Virginia and Colorado are both “purple,” prone to vote for either Republicans or Democrats in presidential elections, and it’s good to see some solid outposts of resistance in these crucial states. Jacksonville, Florida, is next up, and we don’t know what to make of that. Our only experience of the city was on an extended hitch-hike, which involves a hard-luck fellow we encountered under a bridge during a rainstorm outside Lakeland, and is too involved to allow re-telling here, but suffice to say we were more struck by the cacophony of different languages and the cosmopolitan feel of the dock areas than the city’s conservatism. Arlington, Texas, was next, and although there’s a distinctly George W. Bush aura to the city our most vivid memory of it was a bachelor party at the most elaborate and upscale strip bar we’d ever encountered. Anaheim, California, ranked seventh, making it an essential outpost of Republicanism in a Democratic state, and we are therefore proud to report that a brother of ours stranded in southern California is rooting for the Angels of Anaheim rather than the Dodgers of very liberal Los Angeles.
Omaha, Nebraska, comes in next, and despite our affection for The Economist we must object. The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers have abandoned the Big 12, the Creighton University Bluejays have split the Missouri Valley Conference, Omaha is the hometown of the notorious crony capitalist Warren Buffet, and we will never concede they are more conservative than Wichita. Tulsa, Oklahoma, is right behind, and we have mixed feelings about that. It’s one of those sui generis towns you have to experience first-hand, a strange and always enjoyable mix of Christianity and capitalism and criminality, but we’re not quite sure that the home of Cain’s Ballroom and Hot Lips Page and the Gap Band can ever be quite so conservative as our town. Then there’s Aurora, Colorado, another important bloc of votes in that purple state, and a nice a place to visit, and Anchorage, Alaska, which we suspect is ranked so high because the population is 95 percent single white males and only 5 percent exhausted women. Fresno, California, adds a few more votes against that state’s lopsided Democratic majority at number 13, Corpus Christi and San Antonio add to Texas’ lopsided Republican majority at numbers 14 and 15, and Nashville, Tennessee, also edges out Wichita, probably on the strength of its reputation as the capital of country music.
All of these are fine cities, but a certain chauvinism still resents seeing them considered more conservative than Wichita. Strange, too, to come in just head of Las Vegas, Nevada, also known as “Sin City.” If we could just trade a few of our hometown hipsters and dues-paying machinists for a couple of those grizzled old veterans in the military towns we’re sure we’d move up on the chart, and we also blame the trade unionism of the local aircraft plants and the subversive effect of a state university. Even so, we’re plum prairie proud to be so far ahead of the likes of Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Los Angeles and San Franscico, California, and Washington, D.C. We’ve spent enough time in each of these places to know what Wichita is far more livable, and that so are all of the cities ranked ahead of them in The Economist’s rankings of most conservative cities, and we don’t doubt that our relative conservatism is the reason why.

— Bud Norman

A Moment of Doubt

A great despondency has descended over conservatives over for the past five years or so, and with good reason, but it might cheer them to consider how very dispirited a liberal must now feel.
The conservatives’ despair is one of powerlessness, most acutely felt in the aftermath of the recent failed government shutdown battle to de-fund Obamacare and wound up with the right-wing insurgents getting bad press and battered poll numbers and plenty of Obamacare, but there’s always a chance another election cycle or two could restore them some power. The liberals’ despair derives from having power and finding that nothing they do with it works as promised, which is most abundantly evident from the aftermath of the Republicans’ failure to de-fund Obamacare, and this cannot be so easily rectified.
Such is the cocksureness of modern liberalism that even the manifest failures of Obamacare have not shaken the faith of the true believers, nor lowered the upturned chins of the president and his administration as they assure a rate-shocked nation that it will come to love paying more of its ever more hard-earned money for coverage they don’t want or need in order to subsidize the poor choices of people they don’t know and probably wouldn’t like, but among the less stridently faithful signs of doubt are beginning to appear. First-person stories by reporters who have lost the health insurance coverage that they liked and were promised by the president that they could keep are now a staple of even the most reliably liberal press organs, formerly loyal mass media satirists from Jon Stewart to Saturday Night Live are now mocking the administration’s ineptitude in implementing Obamacare, and it’s likely that millions of suddenly un-covered Obama supporters without printing presses or television cameras have reached the same angry conclusions. A few hardy journalists and entertainers have dug in to make the argument that Obama might have lied about people keeping their coverage and saving a bunch of money on it but only because people are too stupid to understand that losing their coverage and paying more for less is a better deal, but they can’t be enjoying it.
Liberalism in general doesn’t seem to be much to fun these days. The increasingly evident problems with Obamacare are the most depressing, given that it was supposed to the greatest achievement of the greatest president of all time, but none of the rest seems to be working as planned. When the pork-laden and deficit-swelling “stimulus” bill objectively failed to make good on any of its promises the true believers could argue that at least it kept the economy from sliding into depression and the earth from sliding out of its orbit and into the sun. but four years and seven trillion dollars of debt and millions of discouraged workers later the president’s economic record requires even more inventive defenses. Scandals ranging from Fast and Furious to the Pigford settlement to Solyndra to the president’s extravagantly expensive lifestyle to the Internal Revenue Service’s assaults on free speech and the right to petition for grievances can be easily ignored, given the media’s eager complicity, but it still makes a holier-than-Bush attitude harder to maintain. Increased drone strikes and pointless Afghanistan troop surges and a national security snooping apparatus that exceeds the wildest dreams of crazed Dick Cheney also make the Obama administration’s foreign policy hard to defend the earnest Bush-hater, and the “lead from behind” maneuvers that have handed the Middle East over to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and a soon-to-be-nuclear-armed Iranian theocracy make it hard to explain how a more Nobel Peace-prize winning appeasement strategy would have fared any better.
Things have gotten so bad that even the gray-bearded and hidebound liberal columnist for the local “alternative weekly” that caters to the hipster crowd is grousing about Obama. He seems to believe that the only problem with Obama are a computer glitch that should have been fixed, and overly protective Nation Security Agency, and that uncharacteristic itch to go to war with Syria a while back, but at least he’s willing to admit to some dissatisfaction with his great leader. At the hipster coffee bar where we pick up the “alternative weekly” most of the regulars don’t evince any interest in politics at all. Five years ago the same hip and tattooed denizens of the bistro were all abuzz about hope and change, and were committed to occupying this or that, but these days they seem more preoccupied by whatever gossipy text messages are flashing on their cell phones. All of the liberals of our acquaintance seem eager to talk about something other politics, and less certain that they can deliver on their promises of utopia anymore than their great leader could deliver on a promise that people could keep their insurance, and the great liberal moment seems to have passed.
This does not mean the conservatives’ moment has arrived, of course, and it will be another year before any political power can be restored to their movement, but it seems likely that the conservatives’ anger will grow stronger and the liberals’ cocksureness weaker in the meantime.

— Bud Norman

An Honest Moment in the Media

Another lousy jobs report came out on Friday, and it is an encouraging sign of a newly recovered feistiness in the mainstream media that they mostly acknowledged it was a lousy jobs report. The unemployment rate dropped down a tick to 7.3 percent, which in the recent past would have been the headline atop all the stories proclaiming happy days are here again, but this time it was widely reported that the reason was a further increase in the number of discouraged workers who have given up any hope of finding a job and thus were no longer counted among the unemployed, that most of the jobs which had been created were only part-time, and that 7.3 percent is still a lousy number even as it grossly understates the economy’s woes.
Such frankness about the facts of life in the age of President Barack Obama has been seeping into the rest of the news lately. Coverage of the president’s threatened military action in Syria has been conspicuously unenthusiastic, and no longer pretends that recent foreign policy in its entirety hasn’t been disastrous. Almost all of the widely predicted problems with Obamacare are now given attention, even if the predictions and those who made them go unmentioned, and the administration’s fanciful claims for the law’s successes are treated with a sudden skepticism. There’s been enough news to provide the media with a plausible excuse to ignore the still-unfolding scandals of Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service’s partisan behavior, the Justice Department’s crackdown on journalism, the National Security Agency’s indiscriminate snoopiness, and other serious matters, but they often rate a passing mention in the increasingly frequent critiques of the president’s performance and contribute to a growing perception in the media of a diminished presidency.
This abrupt change in the formerly worshipful media is a welcome development for the president’s long-time opponents on the right, but not wholly satisfying. As nice as it is to see that so many of the media are at last admitting what can no longer be denied, they have not yet given the president the same scathing coverage that was inflicted on his predecessor. The politeness of the press is still particularly evident in its reportage about the economy, which despite its recent bluntness is mostly brief and perfunctory and usually tied to obligatory stories such as the latest jobs report. We were employed by one of the big newspaper chains back when the unemployment rate was stuck around 5 percent during a Republican administration, and can well recall all the tear-inducing human interest stories about unemployed machinists that were commanded to emphasize that dire economic crisis, and such sob-sister efforts are now conspicuous by their absence from the front pages of the contemporary press. Any journalist hoping to “personalize” the current economic doldrums need only buy a beer at any of the hipster hang-outs around here, where unshaven and unemployed young people with pointless degrees and mortgage-sized debt loads are happy to share their hard-luck tales, but editors somehow remain uninterested.
Perhaps the editors correctly perceive that their readers have little interest in the subject, and that even those unemployed youngsters don’t want to hear about it. The conservative media also pay less attention to the economy than might be expected, liberal pundits seem to prefer to ignore the matter altogether, and those in between are presently distracted by the new National Football League season. Everyone seems to agree that the situation is to dreary to talk about and unlikely to be resolved through discussion. A Reaganesque policy of aggressive tax cuts and de-regulation and private sector initiative is an impossibility so long as Obama or a like-minded Democrat remains in office, that tax hikes and regulatory binges and public sector supremacy of Obamanomics will be at least somewhat restrained so long as the House of Representatives remains in more or less Republican hands, and so there’s not much point in arguing which is better. Related issues such as Obamacare’s creation of a part-time economy are leaking into the news, and there is some uncertainty about issues such as immigration which will greatly affect the economy, but bigger issues will swept aside until at the mid-term elections still more than a year away.
By the time that moment of reckoning comes around we expect the press will revert to its usual politeness, and that any problems with the economy will be attributable to the slight “sequester” budget cuts and that Obamacare’s only problem will be the Republican obstructionism that has delayed its implementation. The unemployed hipsters at the local hang-outs will probably buy it, a few of them will find their way to polls, and many of those relegated to public assistance will be inclined to believe those who promise to keep it coming rather than those who offer the possibility of a job. Those who would oppose the president’s policies should seize the opportunity of this moment of clarity, as it is not likely to last long.

— Bud Norman

A Tale of Two Cities

You could have knocked us over with a feather from an organically-fed free range chicken when we learned that Portland, Oregon, does not have fluoridated water. This surprising tidbit came to us courtesy of the Slate.com internet newsmagazine, which reported about an upcoming referendum on a proposal to begin adding fluoride to the city’s water supply, and it caught our eye because our very different town of Wichita, Kansas, had voted last November to reject a similar plan.
The local pro-fluoride forces made much of the fact that only four other large American cities don’t use the stuff, an obvious attempt at peer pressure, but we can’t recall them ever mentioning Portland is one of them, perhaps because Portland is widely considered such an impeccably hip civic peer that it was assumed no one would be embarrassed by the association. Slate, a news outlet also widely considered impeccably hip, is clearly confounded that such a paragon of progressive politics as Portland hasn’t embraced the practice and seems slightly flustered by the realization that the city’s progressivism is the reason why.
Among the groups the joining the cleverly-named Clean Water Portland coalition to lead the resistance to fluoridation are the Pacific Green Party, Nutritional Therapy Association, Organic Consumers Association, the Oregon Association of Acupuncture, and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, although Slate takes pains to claim that the lattermost group is the “only local organization representing people of color that has come out against fluoride” and tries for the first time in the history of liberal journalism to dismiss the group’s political significance. Judging by the boisterous behavior described at town hall meetings and other political events it seems that the grassroots opposition to the initiative is similarly counter-cultural in its leanings. Slate reports with apparent alarm that the anti-fluoride forces are also joined by The Cascade Club, “a local libertarian think tank,” as well as the Kansas Taxpayers Network, described as “a far-right group that recently merged with the Americans for Prosperity,” but it concedes that the anti-fluoridation campaign in Portland carefully eschews conservative rhetoric and that “Such tactics would never work in this liberal city.”
The leftward opposition to fluoridation does not come as such a surprise to us, as all of the relatively small band of Occupy Wall Street sorts in the otherwise proudly un-hip town of Wichita were also adamant in their objections. Groups such as the aforementioned and Kansas Taxpayers Network were more prominent in the local debate, and naturally had no reluctance to couch their arguments in unabashadly conservative terms, but the far-lefties around here were an influental part of the alliance. We couldn’t help teasing the ones we’re friendliest with, regaling them with our imitation of Sterling Hayden’s “fluoride is a commie plot” speech from “Dr. Strangelove,” but they took it in good humor and for the most part seemed to get along with their unlikely allies.
Another unlikely alliance sprang up on the other side of the debate, with the more upscale liberals joining with the more moderate conservatives in citing the consensus of the academic establishment and insisting that Wichita get in step with the rest of the country. Upscale liberals and moderate conservatives are always very much impressed with the consensus of the academic establishment, and around here they’re both very sensitive to perceptions that we’re out of step with the rest of the country, so perhaps it wasn’t such an unlikely alliance. Fluoride advocates such as the Slate reporters tend to overstate the unanimity of scientific on the subject, and fail to mention such dissenting research as a study from oh-so-respectable Harvard University that links fluoride to a decline in human intelligence, but there does seem to be enough of a consensus for the people who are cowed by that sort of thing.
The far left, though, for all its faults, retains an admirable skepticism of establishment opinion. Slate explains that the anti-fluoride campaign in Portland relies on “attachment to the environment and natural health care, as well as the current mistrust of pretty much all institutions.” That last cause is the one that allowed the far- left to work so peacefully with its far-right counterparts on the anti-fluoride campaign here, and it could point the way to alliances on other issues. Wichita also had a referendum a while back on the city government’s sweetheart deal with some out-of-town hotel developers who had taken a strange interest in local politics during the preceding fund-raising efforts by some local politicians, and the crony capitalism deal was soundly defeated with votes from conservatives appalled by the cronyism and liberals offended by the capitalism. The same coalition on a national scale could help eliminate all the public-private boondoggles buried in the stimulus bill and various other Obama initiatives, although it will be hard to pry even the most far-left activists away from their party loyalties. If they can ever be made to understand that the essence of the liberal project is to further empower the institutions they distrust, however, anything is possible.

— Bud Norman

Madison Avenue and the Hipsters

The Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ improbable success in the early rounds of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual championship basketball tournament recently prompted us to tune into prime-time network television for the first time in many years, and the experience has left us struck by the ubiquity of hipster culture. It’s not so much the tattoos and over-sized shorts and tonsorial strangeness of so many of the players, although that is a jarring contrast to the clean-cut and defiantly old-fashioned cagers we recall from the days of Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, but rather all those unshaven young fellows with their shirts hanging out who populate the advertisements.
Our limited television viewing is usually devoted to the late-night fare on the low-budget ultra-high-frequency stations, where the programming is dominated by ancient sit-coms and the advertising is mostly on behalf of bail bondsmen, thrift stores, pawn shops, workers’ compensation lawyers, and other businesses catering to a lower-class audience that can’t or won’t shell out for cable’s over-priced fare, so this development took us by surprise. Madison Avenue’s enthusiastic embrace of what used to be called the “slacker” type also seemed somewhat counter-intuitive, as we would not expect the proudly unambitious sorts portrayed in the spots to be the likely consumers of the pricey goods being pitched. Having fashionably disheveled youngsters in the fast food and beer commercials make some sense, as those products are easily affordable by the low-paid denizens of parents’ basements, but it is a most baffling development that these days even most slovenly youngsters are apparently well-equipped with the latest electronic gizmos, sporty cars, and retirement investment plans.
Perhaps the target audience for these high-end advertisements is not the latte-sipping bohemian but instead the hard-working and dutifully conformist company man who quietly yearns for the supposed freedom of the skate-boarding and panhandling youngsters he passes by on his way home from a grueling day at the office. Simply buy our product, the ads seem to promise, and you too can be a youthful rebel and strike a blow against mindless consumerism.
This theory would explain the presence of Iggy Pop, of all people, in an advertisement for Chrysler automobiles, of all things. Pop was once the epitome of punk rock menace, prowling the stage of seedy venues with his emaciated and scarred torso proudly bared as he sang his anthemic “Lust For Life,” snarling its memorable refrain of “Of course I’ve had it in the ear before,” but that was before the punk rockers starring in today’s commercials were born. Only someone edging in the Chrysler demographic is likely to have the slightest idea who Pop is, much less recognize his weathered visage in an advertisement too cool to mention his name, and his tacit endorsement can only be meant to suggest that his equally well-heeled contemporaries can reclaim some of their lost rebelliousness by purchasing a car once stereotypically associated with middle class suburbia. Although we retain a certain fondness for Pop’s music, and cherish memories of Wichita’s original punk rock band, The Lemurs, performing a heartfelt rendition of his “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the ploy leaves us even less interested in owning a Chrysler.
We are disinclined to judge people by their apparel, and indeed are in no position to do so, as the dress code here at The Central Standard Times is notoriously lax, but this celebration of hipster culture has disquieting political implications. Several American cities have banked their futures on an economic theory of the “creative class” which holds that a town can do without an industrial base or noisome children so long as it has enough espresso bars to attract the cool kids, a notion so convoluted  that even its most famous proponent is now expressing doubts about it, and even such a stalwart base of rock-ribbed conservatism as Wichita has devoted a couple of city-subsidized neighborhoods to the hipsters. Worse yet, if the hipster is held up as a social ideal it cannot benefit a Republican party that is routinely and properly associated with its office-working, lawn-mowing, child-bearing antithesis Liberal politics is as essential an accessory to the modern hipster as rectangular spectacles, three days of stubble, and an ironic sense of humor. Perhaps it should also be pointed out that Chrysler was bailed out by Obama, with the bond-holding retirees and politically-unconnected dealers getting the worse of it, so Chrysler might enjoy some hipness after all.
Still, we find some hope out there for the squares. The Wheatshockers’ board-banging forward Carl Hall has shorn his dreadlocks and gone with a slightly Urkel-esque buzz-cut ‘do for the tournament, and now his team finds itself in the “Sweet 16” with a good chance at making the “Elite Eight.” It might be mere coincidence, but we doubt it.

— Bud Norman