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Waiting for the Waters to Recide

America went twelve blissful years without a hurricane landing on its shores, but nature seems intent on making up for lost time lately, and the winds of two successive hurricanes have blown everything else out of the news. Last week Hurricane Harvey brought epic flooding to Houston, America’s fourth most populous city, this week Hurricane Irma seems likely to bring high winds and high water to almost everywhere in the state of Florida, where one of out 20 Americans live, and although so far it’s not as bad as feared it’s still very, very bad.
This is enough wind and water to fill the entirety of a 24-hour news cycle on its own merits, but it also brings compelling video footage of brave reporters being filmed by brave but nameless cameramen standing in the whipping winds and driving rains talking about how very, very bad the weather is, and no matter its political leanings no cable news network can resist that ripe opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Those ambitious reporters also find plenty of real heroism in those flood zones, too, featuring muscled first-responders and even more inspiring regular folk, and it always makes for great television. They’ve made a star of that daredevil pilot with the Gary Cooper-esque looks and taciturn speech who keeps flying toward the storm, hunted down a couple named Harvey and Irma Schulte in New Jersey who have been married for 75 years and have taken care of more than 100 foster children and were sad to hear about the storms, come up with some cute footage of the flamingoes at Busch Gardens walking in a straight line to a shelter, and covered pretty much every other angle we can think of.
Such rain and water and the rest of nature’s fury always brings plenty of tragedy, too, and no matter their political leanings all of the news media have also respectfully reported that. There are always human failings that worsen matters, too, and as always the media are on that story, but this time around they don’t seem as gleeful about.
So far the death tolls from these storms have been tragic for all included and anyone who knew and loved them, but they’re also so very much lower than the human cost of past lesser storms that there’s no denying the progress America has made in its ongoing struggle with nature. This should unite the country in a celebration of itself, along with all that footage of first responders and regular folk acting heroically in the worst of circumstances, but it doesn’t give any advantage to either side of the ongoing political divide.
We’ll leave it to President Donald Trump’s most staunch defenders to explain why he deserves any particular critic for things going so relatively well, but his most strident critics seem to find themselves unable to point to anything he’s done to make things worse. They can rightly ridicule his ham-fisted photo-op in dry and inland Texas, where he boasted about the big turnout of storm refugees, and his similarly ham-fisted follow-ups, but we doubt that anyone underwater cared much about that. The federal and state and local officials responsible for dealing with the storms have done their jobs in any case, along with all those remarkably heroic regular folks, despite what you might say about Trump or any other putative Republican.
All of those federal and state and local officials who have performed their duties imperfectly yet relatively well are the hated “establishment,” though, and those regular folk heroically pulling one another from the high waters are conspicuously multi-ethnic, so Trump’s most strident critics on both the most crazed fringes of the left and the more respectable right will have something to work with. Both Texas and Florida are Republican states, the former more so than the matter, but the cities that have been hit hardest skew Democrat, the federal officials involved are the “deep state” that Trump’s staunchest admirers blame for his poll numbers, and after the waters subside it’s going to be a matter of all sides dodging blame, claiming credit, and coming to some solution about how to pay for the rest of the country’s share for the unavoidable cost occasional nature’s fury.
We stubborn climate change skeptics enjoyed those 12 blissful years of no hurricanes landing in America, but all the climate change alarmists seem intent on making up for lost time during the recent disasters, and we have to admit a momentary disadvantage. That argument will continue into the sure-to-come calm days, and we doubt that anyone currently underwater will care much at the moment about that no matter his political leanings.
There was also a devastating earthquake in Mexico the past week, and wildfires in the drough-stricked America out west, Irma wiping out a couple of our impoverished and less-fortified Caribbean neighbors, a densely populous chunk of south Texas will drying out, and God only knowing what sort of natural disasters were occurring elsewhere. With only so much time in a 24-hour news cycle, however, those are relegated to the back pages and the scrollers beneath the radar images of that huge scary storm, and so is the rest of it.
The rest of it includes some intriguing developments in that “Russia” story we’re sure Trump was happy to see downplayed, as well some recently complicated politics deriving from Trump siding with the Democrats over the whole mess about how to keep the government open and with an ongoing line of credit to pay for these storm disasters along with all the rest of keeping the “deep state” and military readying for deployment to the Korean peninsula and the churches and the rest of the pulling one-another-out-of-the-water civil society going. We’re actually hopeful that Trump and those hated Republicans and hated Democrats in Congress will work it out, and that those hated Courts won’t foul it all it up, given how dire the stakes and how completely self-interested are all the parties involved.
After that we’re not as hopeful, but by now we’ve weathered enough storms to know that the waters always eventually recede, and that they reveal whatever they reveal. We have friends in east Florida who have evacuated or riding it out without power and waters lapping at the door, and one who retired a newspaper pension was is safely but discontentedly in an Atlanta hotel room, and the town of St. Petersburg where we happily lived during Kindergarten is next in the storms path, and for the moment that’s the big news.

— Bud Norman

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Taxes and Texas and Other Disasters

The news was largely swept away by the flood waters that continue to wreak havoc on Texas and Louisiana, but the Republican party has officially commenced the tax reform part of its legislative agenda to make America great again. President Donald Trump kicked it off with a little-heard speech in Missouri, and it’s probably for the best that such an inauspicious start was largely swept away the flood waters.
We’re the old-fashioned conservative Republican types who like our taxes low and government lean, and we’ve shared to a certain wary extent in the stock market’s giddy expectation that Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and a more-or-less Republican president might nudge the economy in that direction, but for now we’re warier than ever. The speech sounded all the same populist soak-the-rich themes that Trump expounded during his burn-down-the-establishment campaign, yet seemed to promise all the usual old-fashioned conservative promises about tax cuts for the rich along with everyone else, but didn’t explain with any specificity about how they’re going to pull that off, much less while keeping all those newfangled and old-fashioned campaign promises about reducing the budget deficit and eventually even the national debt.
We doubt that any of those darned newfangled Democratic liberals with their tax-and-spend ways were swayed, even that long-established Democratic Senator from Missouri that Trump threatened by name during a strikingly partisan oration, and we are not assured that even the needed entirety of those of Congressional Republicans will be on board. It largely depends on the details that have not yet been revealed, of course, but whatever they might prove to be they’re bound to offend either the populist of or traditional wings of the Republican party, and in any case won’t please of those darned tax-and-spend Democrats.
Even in a best-case scenario a massive tax cut to whoever without similar cuts in the entitlement programs that are driving the annual deficits and mounting national debt would lead a a temporary budget shortfall, especially with all the increased defense spending that every corner of the Republican party is proposing, and the debate is lately even more complicated than that. The short term budget shortfalls the as-yet unspecified Republican proposals presumably propose assume they’d be offset by the savings they’d realized from repealing and replacing the hated Obamacare law, which somehow didn’t happen despite Republican majorities in Congress and a more-or-less Republican president, and the cost is likely to swell after the fourth-most-populous metropolitan area in the United States finds itself under even more literal water than the president’s approval ratings.
The cost of gasoline is already up by about 25 percent around here after the city that provides a fourth of America’s energy was flooded, the extra five bucks that motorists are paying per fill-up won’t be going to any of the other businesses around here, and the national economy hasn’t yet started to feel the effects of its fourth-most-populous city being underwater. Though we wish them the best all those Republicans are wading into this debate with strong headwinds and few few victories to bolster them, and we expect their allies on the stock markets will be hedging their bets on the promises that had been made to them, which also won’t help. That’s not to mention all the already complicated talk about continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and funding for crazy campaign promise about building a tall wall across the entire Mexican border, along with the rest of the bipartisan craziness of late.
There’s also all that drip-drip-drip flooding about “Russia,” the latest nuclear saber-rattling from the nutcase North Korean regime, and a general sense that we’re all in the midst of one of those one-thousand year floods. A severe cut in America’s steepest-in-the-world corporate tax rates really is a good idea, even if they do pay an effective rate that’s more-or-less competitive after all the tax exemptions that might or might not be retained under the as-yet-undisclosed Republican proposals, but that’s a pretty dry subject given all the recent floods. There’s an old-fashioned conservative Republican case to be made that cuts in the top rates that will benefit the poor folks those rich folks will wind up hiring, but Trump promised that he and his fellow billionaires would take a hit without revealing the tax returns that would prove his claim, and he’s still a poor advocate for low taxes and lean government and old-fashioned conservative Republicanism.
Those darned Democrats and their tax-and-spend ways don’t seem to have any better ideas, so for now we’re bracing for one of those occasional thousand-year disasters.

— Bud Norman

Illiberalism and Free Speech

The deadly Ebola virus has flown from west Africa to the United States, the head-chopping terrorists of the Islamic State are within striking distance of Baghdad, and the stock markets are retreating in the face of dire economic news, and there are more scandals and screw-ups and sob stories afoot than can possibly be fit into a lead paragraph, but at least we’re free to gripe about it. Even that small compensation is increasingly endangered, though, and that might be the worst of it.
The latest outrage against free speech comes from the formerly sane community of Houston, where the municipal government is threatening a contempt of court charge against a group of Christian pastors if they don’t turn over copies or recordings of any sermons mentioning homosexuality, “gender identity,” or the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. Throughout the past governments within the United States of America have not concerned themselves with the content of sermons in the nation’s churches, a blessing conferred by the First Amendment to the Constitution and the sanity that once prevailed in our communities, but of course homosexuality and “gender identity” and openly lesbian mayors are now more important than such timeworn traditions. The subpoenaed pastors had been part of a coalition that included 400 Houston churches opposed to a city ordinance that would end sex segregation in public restrooms, among other things, so there was a special urgency to scrutinize their opinions.
Such fashionable causes seem especially censorious, and have frequently proved intolerant of any chicken sandwich shops or computer geniuses or t-shirt printers who won’t conform to the expected enthusiasm for homosexuality or trans-gendered identities or whatever they’re peddling on the premium cable channels, but the modern left’s intolerance of dissent is spreading into other issues. The Internal Revenue Service’s unequal treatment of conservative groups, that proposal to amend the First Amendment to allow for regulation of political speech, all those stories out of academia about speech codes and bans on conservative speakers, the pesky litigiousness of climate scientists, the denunciations of pro-capitalist private citizens from a Senate floor that is exempted from any libel suits, and a seemingly endless stream of similar stories all testify to the left’s ardent desire that any dissenters be made to shut up.
There’s not much chance of us right-wing bastards complying, however, and it should make for an interesting battle. The left has been getting the best of it lately, but Houston seems the wrong place to pick a fight and unisex restrooms a most unpromising issue. Our experience of Houston suggests that most of its women will not be pleased to share restrooms with the sort of creepy men who will insist on invading their formerly segregated space, the men will be just as put off by the far more infrequent women who prefer their facilities, and that even the most heathen among the will sympathetic to the pastors who raised objections. Our experience of the city further leads us to believe the Democratic coalition that elected the city’s first openly lesbian mayor is largely comprised of black and Hispanic voters who aren’t entirely comfortable with the latest addition to their identity group coalition, and there is likely to some backlash even if some court doesn’t rediscover the First Amendment. It’s easy enough to suppress the free speech of an unpopular minority, but a multi-racial majority that includes a whole lot of women is going to problematic for the left. Targeting Christian churches who hew to a traditional disapproving but tolerant view of homosexuality for scrutiny while forbidding investigation of mosques that advocate an even harsher attitude will also be a hard sell, but until the heads start getting chopped off in Houston we expect liberal sensibilities will continue to insist on such inconsistent notions of tolerance.

— Bud Norman