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The Days Grow Short When You Reach September

Labor Day went well around here, with the Wichita Wingnuts heading into the double-A American Association playoffs with a 4-1 regular season finale win over the Salina Stockade that featured several defensive gems, a hospitable old hippie friend of ours charbroiling copious amounts of bratwurst and burgers and other red Kansas meat while handing out Pabsts and blaring old Doors records on the sound system, and the weather was nice and hot. Still, there was no shaking that melancholy feeling the holiday always brings.
Although the autumnal equinox is still a couple of weeks away and the warm weather is likely to linger past that, today nonetheless marks the end of the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. School is back in session, Congress is ending its recess, and by longstanding social agreement everybody else also gets down to serious business. The rigorously timed violence of football has already started to supplant the more leisurely paced and gentlemanly sport of baseball, the white shoes and straw hats are replaced by more somber apparel, school buses are once again slowing traffic, and conferences are being convened all over to assess the various messes the summer has left us in, and what might become of it in the fall.
The reconvened Congress finds itself with plenty of work to do. Summer’s end brought a thousand-year-flood that left America’s fourth-most-populous city under several feet of water, so they’ll have to find some way to pitch in on the calamitous cost of that, which wouldn’t be easy in the best of circumstances. In these circumstances they also face hard and fast end-of-the-month deadlines to pass a continuing spending resolution to keep the government fully open and a debt-ceiling increase to pay for it, which is always hard enough even without a thousand-year natural disaster to help pay for, and that’s not to mention the nutcase North Korean dictatorship that’s been making increasingly plausible threats to start a nuclear war that would make that thousand-year-flood look like a minor inconvenience.
There’s also the complicating factor of Trump, and everything he’s been up to over the summer. The Republican-controlled Congress was never technically in recess, for fear that Trump would make some crazy recess appointment to inoculate himself from the ongoing congressional probes into “Russia,” and nothing that has transpired during their unofficial vacation has likely been reassuring to them. Trump threatened to force a government shutdown unless all the spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and whatnot included funding for his campaign promise of a border wall, which is a cause few other Republicans and absolutely no Democrats are willing to fight for, but that was before the thousand-year flood happened so there’s some hope Trump once again won’t make good on his threats. He’s also ramping up the anti-immigration rhetoric on other fronts, and although there are plausible arguments for some of them this probably isn’t the best month to be making them.
Throw in the nutcase North Korean dictatorship threatening a nuclear war and Trump’s intemperate responses, the leaks about “Russia” that are reaching thousand-year-flood levels, and the more open animosity between the Republicans in Congress and the relatively newly-fledged Republican in the White House, along with the ongoing fact that the Democrats are as always a complete disaster, and it looks to be an anxious September. The political consequences of not offering needed help to the flooded fourth-most populous city of the country or allowing the government to shut down its assistance would be dire, though, and the federal default that would shortly follow a failure to pass another damned debt-ceiling increase would be comparable to a nuclear war, so we’ll hold out hope that all the self-interested parties involved will reach some mutually beneficial agreement just ahead of the hard-and-fast deadlines.
In the meantime we have own bills our to pay, as we’re sure you do, and we’ll trust that most of the rest of us will somehow get down to such necessary business. There’s still some baseball left to provide solace, and not long after that ends basketball season starts up, with the Wichita State University Wheatshockers looking like a championship contender, and there will always be another summer, perhaps one more lazy yet not quite so hazy or crazy as the past one, and hope springs eternal.

— Bud Norman

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Those Post-Labor Day Blues

One of the quadrennial cliches of presidential election years is that the American public doesn’t start paying attention to any of that political stuff until after Labor Day. We’ve always wondered if that were really so, given the usual ubiquity of politics, and in this crazy election year we can’t believe that anybody has been able to avert his gaze from the spectacle. If you are so lucky as to be just now tuning in the presidential race, though, suffice to say that it’s been dreadful.
Believe it or not, the two major party nominees are Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Donald J. Trump, the worst choices that America’s longstanding and once-venerable two-party system has ever puked up. We are slightly heartened that enough of the public has been paying attention that a vast majority regards both as dishonest and corrupt and utterly unfit for the office, but it looks as if one or the other will wind up president nonetheless. As we enter the supposedly crucial post-Labor Day stretch of the race Clinton is still clinging to a slight lead in the average of polls, but the unprecedented unpopularity of both candidates makes it daunting for even the most daring pundits to offer a prediction.
Those civic-minded sorts who take a post-Labor Day interest in the issues needn’t both boning up on the candidates’ stands, as they tend to shift from day to day. The Democrat can be counted on to take the typical Democratic positions, but not to an extent that would upset her Wall Street backers, which is why she had such trouble beating a full-blown nutcase and self-described socialist as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during the primaries. The Republican takes all sorts of un-Republican stands on issues ranging from free trade to the Iraq War to socialized medicine, which partially explains how his pluralities more easily defeated a large field of far more qualified challengers, and he’ll routinely switch sides and insist that he’d been on the same side all along.
Neither candidate seems at all concerned about the nation’s unaffordable debt, much less expressed a willingness to address the entitlement programs that is driving it, and both seem to have the disastrous belief they can expand the economy enough to solve that problem their own brilliant micro-management. The Democrat has a long foreign record in public that includes four years as Secretary of State, which were disastrous in countless ways, the Republican has no public service record at all but routinely lies about his past pronouncements and spouts all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories and has openly mused about not fulfilling America’s treaty obligations. Both are protectionist, although the Democrat was sort of forced into that by her full-blown nutcase of a self-describes socialist challenger and probably won’t go so far with it as to upset her Wall Street backers, while the Republican seems to have arrived at this very un-Republican position on his own and has consistently stuck with his belief that any trade deal in the history of the country he didn’t negotiate is a loser. The Democrat is more friendly to illegal immigration than the Republican, but by the time she gets done “triangulating” and he gets done “softening” that might prove a wash, and in any case it doesn’t seem the all-important issue it was back during the Republican primaries.
Our guess is that it comes down to which nominee the public finds more personally loathsome, and we can’t blame any pundit who declines to guess how that comes out. Which is basically where we find our country on this day after Labor Day, when the public supposedly starts paying serious attention to the such matters. There are also the Libertarian Gary Johnson and The Green Party’s Jill Stein in the mix, and although neither of them will be the next president they do make the race even tighter, and somehow even weirder, which is saying something, but that just makes a pundit’s job all the harder.
We’ll probably wind up writing in some pointless protest vote, and leaving it to the rest of you to decide which candidate is more loathsome, but at least you’re caught up to this point, more or less.

— Bud Norman

Labor Day and its Laborious Aftermath

Labor Day is the most bittersweet holiday. It affords a welcome day of rest from the labor that it honors, but unofficially marks when the carefree days of summer give way to the seriousness of autumn and winter. As much as we enjoy the bratwurst and beer and the day of rest, we still feel the annual resentment of the Huckleberry Finn freedom of summer vacation coming to an end with our forced return some stern schoolmarm’s classroom, along with all the adult responsibilities that are supposed to kick back in with the cooler temperatures, and this being a leap year we’re also obliged by a quadrennial political cliche to start paying even more attention to that dispiriting presidential race.
Here in Kansas, at least, we don’t acknowledge Labor Day as the actual end of summer. The kids have already been back in school for a couple of weeks, a form of child abuse we were happily spared back in our school days, those slowing-to-a-crawl school zone speed limits are back in effect along with all the rest of the adult responsibilities that never did really go away, and politics is a constant obsession even in off-years, so some arbitrary date on a calendar doesn’t mean much around here. The warm weather usually persists at least the first few weeks into September, sometimes even into October, until the big bluegrass festival down in Winfield and the Kansas State Fair over in Hutchinson have concluded no one around here will call it a summer, and we’ll keep wearing a straw fedora until the temperatures require a cloth cap, no matter what rules of hat etiquette they might have cooked up in the frigid northeast.
We’ll take today off, too, and enjoy family and friends and good food and the absence of labor, along with the strangely perfect weather we’ve been lately been having around here, and we suggest you do the same. Tomorrow is another work and school day, and there’s that dispiriting presidential election lurking in the day’s news, and it would be good to face it well rested.

— Bud Norman

On the Day After Labor Day

Today is the day after Labor Day, and it’s supposed to be very different from last Tuesday. According to the authoritative folklore the lazy, hazy days of summers are now officially over, no matter what the thermometer might say, and all sorts of new rules are suddenly in place.
White shoes and straw hats, for instance, are now a fashion faux pas until Easter. The part about white shoes is of little consequence to us, as we switched to the black Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars as year-round footwear long ago, but the straw hat thing is going to be more problematic. Around here the thermometer is still reaching three digits, and this might yet prove one of those summers that stretches into the Kansas State Fair and the big acoustic music festival down in Winfield, in which case the wool driving cap we favor in the fall and winter months would surely fry our brain, and our good friend “Hatman” Jack Kellogg, proprietor of Hatman Jack’s Wichita Hat Works over in the nearby Delano neighborhood, gave us a great deal last spring on a very handsome Panama fedora that often fetches compliments from pretty young women, so we’ll probably defy the fashion rules for another few weeks or so. Nobody around here pays any attention to the fashion rules anyway, and at least we can console our conservative heart that we’ll continue to put on a coat and tie for any funerals or weddings we have to attend.
Another rule, more recently enacted, is that football season is now fully underway. There’s nothing we can do about that, but it won’t divert our attention from the more pressing matter of baseball. Our beloved Wichita Wignuts clinched an American Association division title and playoff spot even before they defeated the Grand Prairie Airhogs by a score of 4-2 on Labor Day, with us and our beloved Dad in attendance at the historic Lawrence-Dumont Ballpark, and a New York Yankees’ victory and a Toronto Blue Jays’ loss leave our beloved Yanks only a half-game out of their division lead and with a comfortable cushion in the wild card race, so until the Big 12 conference schedule gets underway our priorities will be unchanged by the calendar. We did take note and were bemused, though, about that unintentionally ribald and hilarious half-time marching band blooper at the half-time of a gridiron contest between our Kansas State University Wildcats and the South Dakota State University Coyotes.
Another post-Labor Day rule is that we’re not supposed to take note of such frivolous things. On the day after Labor Day the kids are all back in school and their buses are once again slowing traffic, the recently tanking stock markets are back in business, business at large is back in business after all that laziness and haziness of summer, and the public’s attention is suddenly attuned to more serious matters. With an election year looming the Average American is now presumed to paying more sober attention to the presidential nomination campaigns, which we hope will lower front-running Republican candidate Donald Trump’s inexplicable numbers, and we can’t even guess what effect it might have on a Democratic race where formerly front-running Hillary Clinton now finds herself losing to self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. One can hope that this arbitrary seriousness will affect the meager chances of staving off the administration’s awful nuclear with Iran, and we’re pleased to note even on a Labor Day that our local congressman is still fighting it with a faint hope that those even more awful side deals between Iran an the International Atomic Energy Commission, and we’re glad that our congressman is on the job about it, but the mere turning of a calendar page doesn’t offer much hope.
The calendar does inevitably impose its will, however, in ways that even we and the added strength of popular opinion cannot resist. It’s a long, long way from May to December, as a favorite old song of ours notes, but the days grow short when you reach September. We couldn’t help noticing that the sky was already darkened to a Maxfield Parrish hue and the headlights were on by eight o’clock, and couldn’t help remembering back to that short time ago on the summer solstice night on this far western edge of the time zone when the sunshine lingered until a glorious 9:30 p.m. or so. We don’t have much to show for the intervening cycles of the universe, and yet hope to have done more before we reach that longest night, so we guess that now is as good a time as any to get back to business and be serious and acknowledge that football is actually happening. We’ll do our best at it, but so far today somehow seems a lot like last Tuesday.

— Bud Norman

On Labor Day

Today is Labor Day, when America celebrates its workers by giving them a day off from labor, but we thought we’d sit down and write something about it anyway.
Some say Labor Day is intended to celebrate the labor union movement, but they’ve always struck us as a bunch of pinkos, and here in the proudly right-to-work state of Kansas we’ve never seen it that way. Some of the workers at the local aircraft factories gather down at the Machinists’ Hall on the south side to make a big deal about it, and we hope they enjoy their hot dogs and beer and end-of-the-summer picnic as much as the rest of us, as they’re a good bunch of guys and gals by and large, and they’re even inclined to vote Republican when their gun rights or some other irksome sort of government busybody-ness is seen to be at stake, but we are nonetheless are inclined to justify our day of idleness by thus honoring all those who labor and are heavy-burdened, regardless of whether their employment is bargained collectively or by the choice of a free-born individual. These days only 6.6 percent of the private sector workforce is unionized, far down from from a mid-’50s peak of 35 percent, and gradually moving further downward with each passing Labor Day, and the dwindling crowds down at the Machinists’ Hall reflect that objective fact, and only those hidebound types who still swell up with tears every time they hear Joan Baez singing “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night,” and of course the people that Obama administration appointed by hook and crook to the National Labor Relations Board and the rest of the federal bureaucracy, seem to care.
The latest jobs report suggests that this overwhelmingly non-unionized sector of the country isn’t faring very well, with the official unemployment rate dropping to an almost respectable 5.1 percent but the real rate that includes those who aren’t even bothering to fill out applications anymore at more alarming 10 or more percents, as even the self-described socialist and sudden Democratic Party presidential front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders admits, and the growth in wages has barely kept apace a similarly suspiciously low inflation rate, but few think that a lack of union meddling is the culprit. Wichita isn’t so bad off as Detroit, which had a lot more hot dog-eaters and beer-drinkers at the United Auto Workers’ Labor Day picnics than the Machinists’ could ever draw around here, and most of us around here will assume that it not entirely coincidental. Whatever problems the American economy confronts, and there seems to be an endless supply of them at the moment, union goons and work stoppages and regulatory schemes that don’t take into account that increased employment compensation must follow increased productivity are not likely to prove satisfactory solutions.
Meanwhile, over in the more rapidly expanding public sector, union membership is still stuck in that Eisenhower-era Golden Age achievement of 35 percent. They’re plenty powerful enough to warm the soul of the late Joe Hill, too, and their members enjoy more compensation and job security and perquisites than their more largely non-unionized compatriots in the private sector. This does provide an argument for private-sector unionism, we suppose, but we can hope that people committed to careers with companies that do enjoy such protections from ruthless competition would be susceptible to the counter-argument that the public sector unions have grown too powerful and become a drag on the overall economy. We’re still hoping that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will get his due credit for taking on the public sector unions in his state, and surviving their brutal reprisals, but for now the latest Donald Trump reality show is getting higher ratings.
Better, then, to hoist a Labor Day beer to the average workingman and the average working woman. We mean that “working woman” in the most respectful way, of course, and to those who are offended we offer our most sincere apologies and our most heartfelt assurances that we only meant to be inclusive. It is altogether fitting and proper, as Abraham Lincoln might have said, that as a nation we take a day off to honor the labor that would otherwise be done. In the third chapter of Genesis we learn that work is a curse that God placed on Adam and his descendants, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground,” in the third chapter of Colossians it is described as a blessing, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not human masters,” and our long experience of work suggests that both of these seemingly contradictory notions are true. Those who endure work’s burdens and exhilarate in its joys therefore deserve that moment of reflection and swig of beer.

We’ve got some seafood and steak that we’ll put on a tiny little charcoal grill in the backyard, and we’ll do our annual playing of Merle Haggard and the Strangers wailing those “Workin’ Man Blues.” It’s a big job just gettin’ by with nine kids and a wife, as the song explains, “but I’ve been a workin’ man dang near all my life, and I’ll keep on workin’, as long as my two hands are fit to use. I’ll drink a little beer in a tavern, and cry a little bit of these workin’ man blues.” There’s a heroic guitar solo by James Burton that seems to celebrate the satisfactions of a workin’ man’s life, and Merle’s whisky-smooth vocals sum up its miseries, and there’s some politically incorrect posturing about welfare, and no mention of unions. That song and Labor Day always make us happy to be Americans, so today we can only say, “Hey, hey, the workin’ man, a workin’ man like me.”

— Bud Norman

Summer Gives Way to Campaign Season

Labor Day has come and gone, and by tradition Americans will now put away their white shoes and straw hats and start paying attention to politics. We have no idea where the white shoe rule comes from, but we haven’t owned any white shoes for the past several decades, what with the black Converse All-Stars being more dignified for our advanced age, and thus we pay it little heed. The straw hat rule was obviously concocted back in New England or some other northern clime where autumn weather arrives on a more fashion conscious schedule than it does here on the plains, so despite our ardent desire not to give offense to etiquette we’ll simply ignore that one for another couple of hot summer weeks or so. We’re the sorts who obsessively follow politics even through the summertime, so that rule also has little effect on us, but at least it makes some sense.
During the next two months there will be campaign commercials, soundbites, scandals, yard signs, billboards, fliers, barroom arguments, and all other forms of politics sufficient to sate the most unnatural appetite until the next round of elections in a couple of years or so. Our suspicion is that the adage about people not paying attention to politics until after Labor Day was coined by political professionals who didn’t want to begin the chore of campaigning until they had rested sufficiently on a full summer’s vacation, and wisely realized that an earlier start would be even more annoying to the amateurs. Besides, two months and a few days should be long enough a campaign for even the most low-information voter to figure out which candidate is the stingy poor-people-hating anti-government Tea Party fanatic and which is the God-hating Marxist tax-and-spend lunatic, and to choose according to taste, so Labor Day seems as good an arbitrary date as any to start the campaign season.
We will be interested to see what those political Rip Van Winkles who have been blissfully sleeping through this mild summer will think when they awaken to the current mess. If they were roused from that enviable slumber by the shrill sound of Vice President Joe Biden shrieking to a Labor Day union gathering that “It’s time to take our country back” they might get the impression that it’s all because those stingy poor-people-hating anti-government Tea Party fanatics have had full of control of the country, but after a couple cups of coffee and two months of non-stop television spots juxtaposing your local Democratic candidate next to an unflattering picture of President Barack Obama they might regain a hazy memory of the last desultory election cycle. The more sober and less sanguine mindset that people have when wearing dark shoes and cloth hats might even lead many voters to consider how the Democratic party’s policies have contributed to the lingering economic malaise, all those unaccompanied minors crossing over to the southern border to a school and social welfare agency near you, all those invasions and beheadings and swimming pool take-overs on the international scene, as well as an alphabet soup of scandals in the federal bureaucracy, but we expect that a certain number will be more concerned about the Republicans’ mythical War on Women and the nefarious influence of the Koch Brothers and all that income inequality that the president keeps bringing up in between $32,000-a-plate fundraisers.
Our guess is that more people will be concerned about jobs, the invasions in Ukraine and Texas and Arizona and elsewhere, and all those scandals by a government the Democrats are promising more and more of, and that it will take some ingenuity on the part of the Republicans to blow this advantage. The Republicans have proved up to the challenge in the past, though, and those people who don’t pay attention until after Labor Day can be easily lulled into another midsummer’s night dream.

— Bud Norman

On Labor Day

There’s something slightly melancholy about Labor Day. The holiday announces the end of the lazy days of summer, when the children return to school, the adults turn their attention to politics and other unpleasant chores, and the days grow short as we reach September.

There’s an ambivalence about the meaning of the holiday, too. Many people regard the day as an honor to all those who labor under the curse of Adam, as a good a cause for celebration as any, but in fact the holiday is intended to honor the capital-L Labor of the union movement, which hardly seems worth honoring at all.

Whatever beneficial role the union movement might have played in the past, it has now fallen into widespread and well-deserved disrepute. Membership in private sector unions is at a historic low and falling, the vast majority of the working class that the unions claim to represent want nothing to do with them, and the union bosses are regarded with a low level of trust. Some of the unions still have enough political clout to wind up in control of General Motors, but that could soon prove temporary.

The public sector unions remain a formidable force, but they might have also reached a peak of influence. After losing the recall election to the heroically union-busting governor earlier this year in Wisconsin, birthplace of the public sector union and home to a larger-than-usual number of leftist loons, they seem to be in an unlikely position to prevail in the inevitable upcoming battles with other governors and state legislatures. Without the government-granted power of coercion they seem to shed members at a rapid rate, and that is likely to become the norm. The teachers’ unions are also powerful, and a major impediment to the much needed reforms, but even they suddenly seem vulnerable to scrutiny by a public that can’t help noticing how very stupid the young people seem these days.

Which is no reason not to fire up the grill and charbroil a couple of burgers in honor of all the workingmen and workingwomen out there, and to hoist a beer or two in their honor. Those unsung slobs have done a remarkable job of keeping America fed, fueled, caffeinated, and contented despite the catastrophic leadership of their betters, and that more than justifies an extra day of summer at the lake. As the great Merle Haggard once put it, hey, hey the workingman.

— Bud Norman