The Good, the Bad, and the Coronavirus

The coronavirus has reduced to us keeping in touch with family and friends as best we can through the modern miracle of Facebook, which is not satisfying but at least better than nothing. Several of our musician friends have been streaming live concerts from their living rooms or basements or the otherwise empty Kirby’s Beer Store, a very fetching woman of our acquaintance has posted videos of herself reading aloud from a favorite novel, other friends are offering to deliver food and toilet paper and other essential items to the porches of those in need, and many more are posting much-appreciated messages of hope and encouragement.
Some of the people we encounter on Facebook are still in denial about the threat, and acrimoniously respond to anyone who dares criticize anything about President Donald Trump’s undeniably slow and inadequate and oftentimes irresponsibly dishonest response. Our guess is that a few of them are among those stripping the local grocery stores’s shelves bare by hoarding more than they’ll need with no regard for the pressing needs of others. Elsewhere in the news, we read of people trying to profit from this catastrophe at the great expense of others.
At the top of this list we’ll point an accusing finger at Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Republican George Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who sold large amounts of stock markets after getting early intelligence briefings that warned of the dire economic effects of the coronavirus even as they assured their constituents there was nothing to worry about. Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe and California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein also sold a lot of stock around the same time, but both claim it was done by the people managing their portfolios in a blind trust, both have invited ethics committee investigations to verify that, and neither were peddling happy talk to the public.
Burr was caught on tape telling a gathering of big-bucks donors early on that hard times were coming around again, Loeffler’s financial disclosures reveal that after a big sell-off in soon-to-be-hard-hit industries she put a lot of money in a telecommuting company that’s one of the few likely to benefit from an at-home economy, and even at Fox News some very conservatives voices are calling for both Republicans to resign and faces charges on insider trading.
Partisanship and petty political squabbling has thus far been immune to the coronavirus. When asked about the four accused senators at a daily press briefing where he’s supposed to be reassuring the public about the government’s response, Trump chided the reporter for not mentioning Feinstein, the only Democrat among them, and vouched for the character of all four, but especially the Republicans. Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is a frequent critic and the only Republican senator to vote for Trump’s conviction on an impeachment article, and when he was informed by a reporter that Romney was in self-quarantine Trump’s voice dripped with sarcasm as he said “Oh, that’s too bad.” Trump also uses the briefings to disparage the reporters who are providing the public with more accurate information than he presents, which is so often quickly contradicted by the federal government’s best health care experts, but the hard-core fans among our Facebook friends seem to love it.
We have Democratic friends who are as bad, and hope to use the virus to resurrect self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quixotic presidential campaign, and blame everything on the capitalist system that was chugging along well enough until recently, and largely created all the science and commerce and the governmental and social institutions that we still hope will help get us all through this. History will likely record that Trump did some things right and a lot of things wrong during this pandemic, assuming there will be history, and for now we’d prefer that everyone be more objective and civic-minded.
Despite everything all of the federal government is still meeting and telecommuting to come up with some multi-trillion dollar bailout and stimulus deficit-spending bill to slow the economy’s rapid slide into the abyss, and although almost everyone agrees that desperate measures are required there’s the usual partisan disagreement and petty political squabbling about what it should be. The Democrats instinctively want to subsidize the workers, while as is their wont the Republicans want to sustain the businesses that employ those workers, and as usual everyone is looking out for the constituents in their districts and states.
There must be some reasonably sufficient compromise that might do some good, we’d like to think, but it won’t be easy in a time when a pandemic panic has exacerbated all the partisanship and petty political squabbling. Even so, we’re heeding the encouraging messages we find from our friends on Facebook and holding out hope in America and the rest of humanity.
Sooner or later you’ll have to leave the house and drive on inexpensive gasoline to the store for beer and other essential items, where some brave clerk will dare come face-to-face with you to make the sale. If not you might have some brave nurse in a days old face mask provide you care for whatever ails you, or have some other brave soul deliver what’s needed to your door, and in most cases you’ll have no idea if they’re a damned Democrat or a damned Republican, or how they’ll vote in the next election, if that happens.
In any case, we urge you to be kind and grateful and friendly to anyone you encounter in virtual reality or actual reality these dark days, as we’re all going to need one another. At an earlier dark time in our nation’s history a wiser and more eloquent Republican President Abraham Lincoln urged that “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

— Bud Norman

An Early Christmas and a Break From the News

It was still November and warmer than usual on the central plains Wednesday evening, but we nonetheless found ourselves ironing a button-down shirt and some pleated pants and donning a coat and tie to commence the Christmas season, which seems to come earlier every year. The occasion was a Christmas party the beloved folks were hosting at their swanky retirement home over on the newfangled and schmanty-fancy east side, and we must say it mostly provided a pleasant distraction from all the news and the rest of the modern world.
The other guests at the elegantly adorned table were a charming couple who have been married for nearly 70 years, and had been courting since he was in the second grade and she in the first, another delightful pair who had also been childhood sweethearts but only got together in her widowhood after many happy days, another dear woman recently widowed after as 66 years of fruitful marriage, as well as the beloved folks, whose sixtieth year of marriage seems their best yet, even closer and more heartfelt than in those carefree early days in exotic places that they still love to talk about. Our own romantic history isn’t so much worth talking about, especially with all the heartwarming conversation that was going on, so we happily sipped the wine that was served with each delicious course and vicariously soaked in the memories. Everyone at the table also told tales of the rigorous educations and successful careers that had brought them to that swanky retirement home, and the friends and children and hard times and belly laughs they had encountered along the way, as well as some fascinating talk about a couple of golf outings where one had a buddy who died on the green and another hit a hole-in-one. Our own educational and professional careers aren’t so much worth talking about, especially in such company, and we never did get the hang of golf, but it did our heart well to listen in.
Eventually the talk got around to politics, and we weren’t the least bit surprised that everyone else said they voted for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, the thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie model and six-times bankrupt casino-and-strip-club-mogul and former reality star and professional wrestling performer. None of them seemed at all happy about it, but they all noted that their only alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose romantic and professional history also isn’t worth talking about, so we couldn’t argue with their reasons nor their hard-earned presence. Our mom revealed that we hadn’t voted for Trump, so we quickly explained that we sure enough also hadn’t voted for Clinton, along with our rote statement that we were against her back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and saying she was the best Secretary of State ever, and in their wizened wisdom they seemed respectful of our choice.
In the America that our fellow Christmas revelers grew up in neither Clinton nor Trump would have ever been even momentarily considered for the presidency, but they’ve all seen some less-than-stellar presidents in their times, and on our way back from the men’s room we overheard another one of the residents talking about her grandson with the weird hair, and even on such a warmer-than-usual evening and such a convivial Christmastime celebration there’s no escaping the conclusion that times have changed. Our fellow revelers had been through many changes, some for the better and some for the worse, and they all seemed hopeful, so we took that with us on the way home.
You can quickly get from our folk’s swanky retirement home on the fancy-schmantzy east side to our old but fashionable neighborhood by taking the bypass and the canal route to 13th Street, but we decided to take the city streets that wind past Kirby’s Beer Store, the notorious bohemian dive bar where we stopped to take in a beer and some convivial conversation with the lovable losers we always find there. A couple of our younger yet seasoned musician friends gave us a complimentary copy of a seven-inch vinyl surf music revival record they’ve recently cut here in the central plains, we had a nice chat with a delightful and still idealistic young fellow we’ve recently met who is studying journalism at the university across the street and is seriously considering a newspaper career, which we can’t recommend but can’t quite bring ourselves to discourage, given our own well-remembered but currently unsatisfactory history in the profession, and all in all it was a nice stop in a day away from the news. Nobody seemed particularly pleased with that moment in history, but they had same fatalistic hope as at the earlier party, so we decided to carry that home as well.
There will be another round of news today, probably, but for now we’ll just try to pass along that same hope of wizened old age and idealistic youth as well as  our early wishes for a Merry Christmas.

— Bud Norman

Monday Blues

The latest headlines have induced in us a severe case of nostalgia for those heady days of ’08, when hope and change and all that jazz were ascendant. Things were so much simpler then, as it was widely understood that getting rid of all that cowboy capitalism and foreign policy of the previous administration and following the simpler and kinder path of community organizing by a new and darker one would surely set things right, while the latest batch of news has brought nothing but despair and importance and complexity.
One would be hard-pressed to describe a simpler and kinder path than the one America has followed since that hopeful year, yet the resulting change doesn’t seem to have set things at all set right. The economy has not yet roared back to its pre-bubble-popping expansiveness despite the inflation of new bubbles, the world seems as dangerous a place as ever, and at best the elections of ’14 only offer less of the same.
There’s not much point in reciting the glum economic statistics, which will be made all the clearer at your next fill-up, bit it might be worth noting that the Russians are laughing at America’s efforts to counter its recent annexation of the Crimean region of Ukraine’s old borders. Pulling missile defense out of Poland and the Czech Republic and offering nuclear reductions and otherwise “re-setting” relations with Russian has somehow failed to prevent this unfortunate turn of events, any better than tossing around printed-up money to Democratic constituencies did in reviving the economy, and if except for the occasional green shoots in the economy there’s little reason for optimism out there.
We’re told that the Republicans will do well amidst the gloom and intractability of ’14, which provides some hope of a sor-of change, but there’s always a likelihood that they’ll blow that so we’re left thinking of those good days of ‘-08. It was all so simple then.

— Bud Norman

Reflections on a Winter’s Night

Christmas was a happily low-key affair around here. With no family nearby and the streets treacherously icy we were content to stay mostly inside, enjoying the solitude and old recording of the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s swingin’ rendition of “The Nutcracker Suite.”
There’s something to be said for such a Christmas. We ventured out to hear a couple of songs by the hillbilly band that was playing at Kirby’s Beer Store, where a few of the hipster kids kindly pushed our light and rear-wheel-driven vehicle out of the ice-covered parking lot, and we had a couple of heartfelt telephone conversations with some longtime friends, but there was nothing to do that entailed the slightest stress. The schedule allowed for plenty of rumination, on matters ranging from the personal to the political, and the spirit of the day provided a welcome hopefulness.
All the personal stuff will remain personal, as is our wont, but it might interest a reader to know that we even found reason to be hopeful about the political. We are skeptical of the claims of an economic recovery and expect that the imminent enforcement of the Dodd-Frank bill and all the other recent regulations will outweigh whatever entrepreneurial spirit the private sector can muster, quite sure that the Obamacare news will grow even worse, and don’t expect any good to come of America’s clumsy relations with the rest of the world, but we do sense that Americans are becoming so discontent with it all that they’re ready to consider the hard measures that are the only alternative. They’re gradually growing wise to the notion that just a bit more government and a little more guidance by the elites is is all that’s needed, at least, so there is at least an opening for any articulate conservatives who might make the case for letting us unwashed masses work things out for ourselves.
Perhaps no such articulate conservatives will emerge, and maybe the Republicans’ internecine squabbles will rescue a Democratic party despite its manifest failures, but it now seems possible to hope otherwise. It might be nothing more than Christmas spirit, or the passing of the winter solstice and the certainty that days are growing imperceptibly but inexorably longer into an inevitable summer, but even in these dark and cold and icy days there’s still hope.

— Bud Norman

A Fine Mess

The world was so much simpler just five years ago. Back in that heady era of hope and change all the smart people assured us that any unpleasantness anywhere in the world — but especially with those nice folks in the Islamic world — was surely the fault of George W. Bush and the mean old western civilization that he had somehow come to lead, and all could be put right simply by smarter and more soft-spoken and culturally sensitive diplomacy. The mere presence in the White House of Barack Hussein Obama, by virtue of his dark hue, exotic nomenclature, Islamic education, and soaring oratory, was all that was needed to usher in a new age of global cooperation.
Things are now more complicated, judging by a cursory glance at the latest headlines. In the very same Cairo where President Obama gave a much-ballyhooed speech that was supposed to solve everything there is a sort of civil war underway, with forces of the military regime killing hundreds of backers of the recently deposed democratically-elected government that took power after Obama helped bring down a longtime dictator. It all sounds very much like a simple case of authoritarian forces crushing the legitimate aspirations of the freedom-yearning people, just the sort of clear-cut good-versus-evil scenario that Obama was elected to rectify, but the democratically-elected government was run by a fanatical Islamist group with no intention of allowing anything like a real democracy to exist and even while out of power is on a murderous rampage against the country’s Christian minority and anyone else that opposes its unrestrained power. The American response has been similarly muddled, with Obama condemning only the Egyptian government’s actions but refusing to call it a military coup and continuing to offer it substantial aid, and the result has been that both sides now regard America as the bad guy.
Further complicating the situation is the continued deterioration of the entire region. An all-out civil war continues to rage in Syria despite the American president’s insistence that country’s odious dictator must step down and despite American aid to the equally odious Islamist nutcases who are fighting him. A slightly different variety of Islamist nutcases in Iran continue their steady progress toward acquiring a nuclear weapon they have vowed to use against Israel, which is shrewdly bolstering its missile defenses even as it releases terrorists to play along with the latest American goose chase after an elusive peace accord with the Palestinians, who have no unified government to negotiate with and are quite uninterested in peace in any case. Yet another collection of Islamist nutcases are biding their time until a promised American withdrawal from Afghanistan to re-assume power in that troublesome country, while still more Islamist nutcases are causing so much mischief in Iraq that its government is asking America to reconsider its arbitrary withdrawal of troops from that nation. Emboldened by the various American retreats and strangely resistant to American efforts to “reset” relations, Russia has further roiled the region with its meddling on behalf of Syria and Iran and its newfound friendship with a meddlesome Saudi Arabia. Oh, and we’re pulling people out of embassies across the region for fear of terrorism, too.
We offer no easy solutions to this mess, nor do we ascribe the greatest measure of blame to any party except for the Islamist nutcases who are intent on imposing a totalitarian theocracy on the region and eventually the world, but that is our point. The naïve idealism of five years has been exposed as a dangerous lie, and the administration’s unwillingness to repudiate it is making a sensible response impossible. At this point only bad guys and bad options are available, and the least worst of these should be chosen without regard to any five-year-old fantasies about soft power and America’s supposed sins. Letting the Egyptian military rout the dangerous Muslim Brotherhood while maintaining peace with Israel and protecting the country’s Christians might well prove in America’s interests, no matter how brutal the methods, and the administration’s absurd fiction that those Islamist nutcases represent democracy should not trump such considerations. There is an understandable temptation to simply stand back on the let the entire Islamic world descend into the murderous madness that it seems to relish, with the secular west satisfied to let the region’s dwindling numbers of Christians and Jews suffer whatever fate that entails, but even if America’s conscience were to be untroubled by the slaughter the economic consequences would be harder to ignore. America could mitigate the economic calamity of the Middle East’s oil production shutting down by more fully exploiting its own energy resources, but the administration’s naïve idealism about carbon footprints and big oil wouldn’t allow that.
Still, we are assured that peace is at hand because “that’s what our democracy demands,” so all that unseemly and provocative defense spending can thus be used to fund Obamacare and other programs that will transform American into utopia. The same western left that condemns its own civilization for its racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious intolerance hails as democracy the rise of an Islamist movement that condones slavery, subjects its women to genital mutilation, and executes homosexuals by the most brutal methods, and openly declares its murderous intent against infidels. Let the Islamists have the Middle East and they will leave us alone, we are told, just as the British and French were told that the Nazis would be satisfied with the Sudetanland. In a simpler world, it would all be true.

— Bud Norman

Election Day

At some point today we will don cap and jacket to stroll over the fallen leaves and past the humble bungalow houses toward a nearby Lutheran church, where we will cast our vote. After so many years in this old neighborhood it has become a familiar ritual, and we can anticipate that it will involve the same friendly banter with the curmudgeonly old retiree from the local university who always mans the polls, the same short chats with the familiar faces who somehow always show up at the same time, voting the same straight Republican ticket, and the same stroll home past the aging limestone elementary school for assurance that the kids are still stuck in class.
This time will be different, though, in some vague and disquieting way. Every election is the most important of our lifetimes, or so the candidates would always have us believe, but this one truly is of the utmost importance.
If Barack Obama manages to eke out a majority of America’s voters, it will nudge the country past a point from which no Republic has returned. A coalition of the government class and its dependents will have triumphed over those who are expected to pay its bills, a majority of Americans will have acquiesced to the government’s power to force individuals to purchase products they do not want and venerable religious institutions to act contrary to their most cherished beliefs, a cult of personality sustained by a corrupt and decadent media will have triumphed over truth, and the unsustainable costs of the new order’s ravenous appetites will careen the country toward economic disaster.
A victory by Mitt Romney will not necessarily avert these disasters, but it will make better outcomes possible. Romney and his running mate are honorable men, rooted in the best traditions of the country, who see the nation’s economic health with clear eyes and have demonstrated the political courage needed to take on the great challenge of setting the country back on to a path of freedom and self-reliance.
Thanks to our country’s brilliantly devised constitution it is within the realm of possibility that a Republican-controlled House of Representatives or a sufficient number of resistant state governments could slow the march toward the same welfare state model that is currently falling apart throughout Europe, Latin America and other benighted parts of the world, but an Obama victory would make the momentum almost impossible to resist. Even the most brilliantly devised constitution is only as strong as the men and women that the citizenry entrust with its care, and the people are always free to choose badly.
This will make for a long walk back from the voting booth, but we’ll walk with hope and a prayer for the country.

— Bud Norman