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Happy Fifth of July

The sultry days of summer used to offer some respite from the relentless onslaught of news, but these days there’s no escaping the stuff. On Independence Day no American politician dares to violate the sacrosanct rule against making news, even the gleefully rule-breaking President Donald Trump, but the rest of the world cares less about the Fourth of July and had some cute Thai kids trapped in a cave, allies fulminating about Trump’s trade wars and spats about military spending, adversaries in Russia and North Korea and Syria and elsewhere are celebrating their recent victories, and on this Fifth of July all the desultory domestic news will be back.
The American and global economies are still in pretty good shape, but the American and global stock markets will probably have another down day because of the trade war Trump is intent on waging against the rest of the world. Although we observe that Americans are still generally quite pleasant with one another in their social and commercial interactions, the longstanding arguments about everything from immigration to abortion to abortion are becoming even angrier. The “Russia thing” grinds on, and Trump’s upcoming summit with Russian dictator and suspiciously good pal Vladimir Putin probably won’t put an end to that. Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt still stands credibly accused of more than a dozen outrageous corruption scandals, even if you approve of his deregulatory zeal, much of which we don’t mind ourselves, and it sure does look like Trump and his family are similarly profiting in previously unaccepted ways from their public service.
Along with everything else it makes for a bleak Fifth of July, but we try to put in in historical context. On the Fifth of July in 1776 our forefathers were embarked on a seven-year war that is still the deadliest in our nation’s history on a per capita basis, and on the Fifth of July in many other years the nation was mired in economic depression and deadly wars and far more heated domestic arguments, but so far America has persevered through it all.
Winning streaks always come to an eventual end, and eventually the American republic will come to the same end as its Greek and Roman models, but after the bratwurst and beer and fireworks and old friendships we enjoyed on the Fourth of July, we’ll start this Fifth of July with more yard work and a hopeful sense that we’ll end before our beloved America does.

— Bud Norman

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A Soggy Independence Day

The long holiday weekend has mostly been rained out around here, and even after a mostly dry but constantly cloudy Sunday the two rivers bounding our neighborhood are still swelling over the adjacent bike paths and the Big Ditch that the city fathers carved out on the west side to keep us above water at times like these is also full, but at least the forecasters are forecasting a clear and sunny Independence Day suitable for baseball and charcoaling burgers and drinking beer al fresco and shooting off fireworks without fear of setting off a grassfire in the still soggy fields. Most folks around here and around the rest of the country will happily take the day off from paying any attention to the stormy and soggy political news of this unprecedentedly crazy quadrennial presidential year, which is good news for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and formerly presumed First Woman President had another one of those disastrous news cycles that have so frequently interrupted the usual ongoing narrative about her historic and inevitable presidency, and she can only hope that most people weren’t paying any attention. First there was a well-documented and very damning report on her conduct as Secretary of State during the undeniably disastrous Benghazi incident, co-authored by our own well-liked Kansas Fourth District’s Rep. Mike Pompeo, and because it was already well-established that her conduct at every point was utterly appalling her more daring apologists were able to dismiss it was “nothing new.” Then came the news that her husband, a former two-term president and scandal-plagued disgrace in his own right, had happened to have a conversation about his grandchildren with the Attorney General who will ultimately decide if his wife is to be indicted on the very serious charges that her underlings at the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating, and that it happened in her private plane at a Phoenix Airport where he had been waiting around for 30 minutes before a supposed golf game that he intended to play in the 110-degree heat. Even the media that much prefer that storyline about Hillary Clinton’s historic and inevitable presidency had to admit that it looked bad and smelled fishy, and the resulting conspiracy ranged from the reliably left-wing Kathleen Parker’s worry that Bill Clinton was sabotaging his wife’s historic and otherwise inevitable presidency due to some subconscious impulse to the reliably right-wing Rush Limbaugh’s worry that Slick Willie is once again outwitting the hapless Republicans, but in any case the presumptive Democratic nominee can only hope that few people were paying attention.
While we were attempting to navigate our way through the least water-logged streets of downtown Wichita towards home on Saturday the presumptive Democratic nominee and formerly presumed First Woman President was enduring a three-and-a-half-hour interrogation by eight agents of the FBI regarding a drearily long and still on-going criminal investigation into her e-mail and “family foundation” fund-raising practices while Secretary of State, and it all looks so hopeful she can only hope that much of the country was too preoccupied to notice. Those who have been paying attention but are somehow not committed to her historic have already concluded that she’s guilty, guilty, guilty, so she’ll either be somehow indicted or suffer yet another awful news cycle of scandal when she isn’t and that private plane meeting will suddenly look all the fishier, and in this crazy quadrennial election year she might wind as the First Woman President in any case.
She’s running against the presumptive Republican nominee, after all, and the scandal-plagued Donald J. Trump managed to create a relatively insignificant “Twitter” imbroglio that allowed the media to offer another shiny distraction from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s ongoing scandals. That will be largely overlooked, too, though, and we urge that everyone take the day off from all of it and watch some baseball and charcoal some burgers and drink a beer al fresco and shoot off fireworks and enjoy what’s left of America’s stormy and soggy independence. At least it will make it all the harder to burn it to the ground, as almost every seems intent on doing.

— Bud Norman

Independence Day

The past several Independence Days have been bittersweet. It is still sweet to celebrate the ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that gave birth to our nation, but there’s no escaping a bitterness when looking around at what has become of them.
Almost everywhere is evidence of the decline and fall of America. The news briefs on the radio invited us to take heart in the latest job numbers that have pushed the unemployment rate down to a more or less respectable 6.1 percent, but they were too brief to mention that the number of working age Americans not working actually increased, that the number of full-time jobs actually decreased, and that the more the U-6 rate which includes the underemployed and involuntary part-time workers and discouraged workers remained at a Depression-era 12.1 percent. That $17 trillion of debt and all the bubble-inflating money printing that has kept the numbers even at these sluggish levels also went unmentioned, and of course there was no time to consider if the looming disaster of Obamacare and its incentives for employers to hire part-time workers who rather than pony up for the mandates on full-time workers has anything to do with it.
Obamacare and all the rest of the thousands of regulations and taxes and assorted governmental intrusions into the economy are clearly part of the problem, but there’s a nagging suspicion that it’s not all that’s gone wrong. The government is bossier and more lawless and as as incompetent as ever, as shown by the relentless storers about everything from its use of the almighty Internal Revenue Service to punish the dissenters to the endless waivers and delays and recess appointments and far-reaching executive orders issued by the president to the infuriating mistreatment of American veterans by their health care service or the administration-made invasion of illegal immigrants unfolding on the nation’s southern border, but none of that would have happened if the public hadn’t allowed it.
Another one of the great ideas that gave birth to our nation was a notion that America and its and government aren’t quite the same thing. The government had important work to do, and over the years it has done it with varying degrees of success and ethical behavior, but the heavy lifting was done by the likes of Thomas Edison in his laboratories and Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club and Milton Friedman in his office at the University of Chicago’s School of Economics and those guys eating lunch on the beam of the New York City skyscraper in that iconic photograph. The people used to do great things, and the government would let them, but for whatever reason we’re seeing less of it these days. Nowadays the great inventions are new social media and libido-boosting pills, the music no longer swings or bops or boogies or rocks but rather just thuds a monotonous nihilism, the big economic idea seems to be that no one should be allowed to get rich, and the photographer in search of an iconic image will have to find a disgruntled fellow in casual Fridays attire sitting glumly in an office cubicle. There’s still some space left between the government and the people, but it isn’t being put to good use.
Fireworks are already being ignited around our neighborhood in defiance of the city’s ridiculous ban, though, and the people of a small town in southern California have just risked the wrath of the high-minded media to repel an invasion of illegal immigrants, and some encouraging polls show people are wising up about the government. Ideas such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not easily extinguished, and might yet reassert themselves. There’s still some room left to make them happen again, and people who still prefer them to free contraceptives or the state’s protection from an oversized soft drink, and reason for hope.
A former Miss Texas has invited over to her swank lakeside home for a party, and a hipster pal down the street has asked that we join him in blowing things up along the banks of the nearby Arkansas River, and we’ll charcoal some hamburgers and bratwurst in between and revel in the sweetness of the American idea. Come Monday we’ll resume our modest efforts to make it come true again, and we urge you to do the same.

— Bud Norman

Fourth of July

Chaos reins in the streets of Cairo, more cars have gone off the track in the great Obamacare train wreck, and the case against George Zimmerman also seems to be crashing, but there will be time enough for that later. Today is Independence Day, and it should be spent savoring the blessings of being an American.
So turn off the news, fire up the grill, light a firework, put some patriotic music on the stereo, and maybe take a moment to be grateful to the extraordinary men and women who set the country on its path to glory on this day back in 1776. Setting things back on course will require the values those men and women championed, and we’ll also need to be well rested.
Happy Independence Day.

— Bud Norman

A Week Out of Whack

This is Thursday, so far as we can tell, but somehow it doesn’t seem so. Planting a holiday in the middle of a week has a discombobulating effect, and it might be some time before we regain our natural rhythm.

Middle-of-the-week holidays have a notoriously negative effect on worker productivity, which is not our forte no matter the vagaries of the calendar, and given the consistently sluggish state of the economy of late we expect this official lull should be particularly enervating. The government has attempted to rectify the problem by moving some presidential birthdays and other observances to Mondays, regardless of the actual date of what is being observed, but for obvious reasons they are unable to move the Fourth of July to the Second of July.

The news business always maintains at least a skeleton crew on Independence Day, even though there’s rarely any news that needs to be covered. Politicians traditionally avoid intruding on the public revelry, the stock markets are closed, the press release writers are enjoying the day off, and even the criminals tend to take it easy. That leaves the obligatory sappy feature story about people celebrating at the lake or someplace photogenic, but of course the people being written about are too busy celebrating to ever read the stories. On occasion some natural disaster will intervene without the slightest regard for anyone’s vacation schedule, and this year it was the big eastern storm of six whole days ago that still has left a million or so homes without power, but those people aren’t going to read the stories because they’re without power.

Foreign news of some significance will sometimes arise on the Fourth of July or some similar occasion, foreigners being rudely indifferent to America’s holidays. This time it was the deranged government of Iran launching a series of long range missile tests, accompanied by the usual saber-rattling rhetoric, a ominous development that is sure to rattle the oil markets and could lead to war and unthinkable disaster. The story was easily overlooked on the Fourth of July, but will be impossible to ignore over the coming days.

Worrying about such things is what the coming days are for, though, and anyone who chooses to attend to more personally satisfying pursuits on the lazy day will hear no condemnation from us. We’ll return to more weighty matters on Friday, which will seem like a Tuesday, and Tuesdays are always good for us.

— Bud Norman

On Independence Day

The nights leading up to Independence Day have been strangely quiet in our neighborhood. There’s been an occasional burst of fireworks, but nothing like the continuous barrage of explosions that lasted through the nights for an entire week in past years.

This is a welcome development, in some ways. We’ve reached that grumpy old man stage of life where the sound of fireworks after midnight or so has us standing on the porch shaking a fist at the young whippersnappers, and the firefighters are no doubt grateful for the decline in combustions during the current hot and dry spell. There will probably be fewer dimwitted children blowing their fingers off this year, too, and we suppose that’s also a good thing.

Still, the silence is somehow disquieting. We’re not so old that we can’t remember the reckless fun we once had celebrating American independence with Chinese fireworks, and even though we no longer indulge in the pastime we resent the local government’s constant efforts to regulate all the risk out of boyhood. It’s also worrisome that even the youngsters seem so unquestioningly compliant with all the rules.

The silence also seems to scream that the economy is bad. The city of Wichita used to pride itself on its spectacular Fourth of July fireworks displays in the heart of downtown, with pyrotechnics provided by a world-renowned local company reflecting off the Arkansas River to the accompaniment of the local symphony’s rendition of “The 1812 Overture,” but for the fourth year in a row it’s been cancelled due to budget constraints. Apparently the same thing is happening all over the country, even in the cities that haven’t declared bankruptcy. Given the scarcity of summer jobs, or any sort of jobs, the neighborhood urchins are probably forgoing their amateur fireworks displays for the same reason.

Worse yet, we can hear in the silence a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the American experiment that was begun on this date back in 1776, just as we can see it in the conspicuously smaller number of flags and red-white-and-blue bunting that are flying on the neighborhood’s porches this year. Such unabashed expressions of patriotism have long been considered gauche by the fashionable left, of course, but lately even the old-fashioned right hasn’t been in the mood for it. This is partly a consequence of all those rules and the bad economy, but the doubts seem to go deeper than that. Across the ideological spectrum there is a widespread distrust not only of America’s institutions, both public and private, but also a nagging suspicion of the citizenry itself.

We have our doubts, as well, and express them here on a daily basis, but they shall not diminish our enjoyment of this Fourth of July. On this day we shall set aside our partisan disputes, unless some liberal is just begging for it, and enjoy the good feeling that still comes from being an American. We shall play Ray Charles’ recording of “America the Beautiful,” accept a friend’s invitation to a party at her swank lakeside home, drink a beer or two, and perhaps even violate one of the local fireworks ordinances.

Despite the current state of America, the idea that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is still something to be celebrated. It should be celebrated noisily, rambunctiously, even recklessly and in defiance of onerous rules. Then, when the celebratory fireworks have fallen to the ground in ashes, we should all cease this cacophonous silence and set about using our remaining freedoms to make the great country again.

— Bud Norman