Meanwhile, Back in Wichita

There’s a lot going on in the rest of the world, what with the impeachment trial and the Israelis and the Palestinians and the North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs and the deadly Chinese coronavirus all that that, but there’s also plenty to worry about right here in Wichita. We’re slightly more hopeful, though, that we’ll work things out well enough around here.
The talk of our town is mostly about the lousy weather and the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad and the Kansas City Chiefs football team and the massive layoffs at one of the biggest local employers and a proposal to remake a big chunk of downtown along the Arkansas River. There’s nothing to be done about the cold weather, and the young ‘Shocks are back in the top-25 and the Chiefs are in the Super Bowl with a decent chance of winning, but the layoffs at Spirit AeroSystems have everyone worried and the downtown renovation plans are being hotly debated.
Opinion is somewhat more divided about those downtown redevelopment proposals, but we’re enjoying the company of the diverse forces arrayed against it, and are hopeful it will prevail. Forgive us for summarizing the controversy so succinctly, but the gist of it is that some well-connected developers want to knock down some locally beloved buildings and replace them with something newer and uglier and more expensive. That includes the Century II building, a distinctive round and blue-domed concert and convention hall which was opened in 1970 to commemorate Wichita’s centennial and still suits its purpose, and the adjacent former main branch of the Wichita Public Library, which is currently unoccupied after the city built a new location across the Arkansas River tto alleviate the homeless problem but is also a fine example of late 20th century architecture.
So far as we can tell the only the people in favor of it are the developers and politicians who stand to benefit and the newfangled “tear it all down” sorts of conservatives. Most conservatives around here prefer to conserve the best of the city’s hard-earned architectural and cultural heritage, and the local liberals have an odd but endearing affection for the venerable old buildings, and most conservatives hate these public-private partnerships because because the public is picking up some part of the tab, while most of the liberals hate them because private interests might benefit. Which makes it easier for us to converse with all sort of Wichitans about the local news of the day, and folks tend to be polite and open doors for others and say “howdy” around here, so we’re hopeful things will work out.
The rest of the news is further away, though, and we rarely encounter the people involved in the big events, so we’re less hopeful about how all that turns out.

— Bud Norman

The Fun of the Free Trade Fiasco

As much as we favor free trade, and would like to see more of it with most of the advanced Asian economies, we must admit it’s been fun watching President Barack Obama’s proposed Trans Pacific Partnership go down in flames. Even on one of the rare occasions when he seems to have the right idea, the president’s tendency to insult rather than argue with opponents, his secretiveness and opacity, his long record of being untrustworthy, his lack of legislative experience and personal relationships, and the rest of his usual leadership flaws are on such conspicuous display that even the Democrats are grousing about it.
This time around it’s the Democrats who are the targets of the president’s insults, so they’re mostly grousing about that. Longtime Democratic operative Brent Budowsky writes in The Observer that he has “never seen any president of either party insult so many members of his own party’s base and members of the House and Senate as Mr. Obama has in his weeks of tirades against liberals on trade,” and adds that “Mr. Obama’s tirades on trade have included accusations that these liberal Democrats are ignorant about trade policy, insincere when offering their opinions, motivated by politics and not the national interest, and backward looking toward the past.” We can’t recall Budowsky objecting when the president was saying Republicans want dirty air and dirty water, and telling them to “sit in the back,” or making countless similar accusations and slurs, but we’re pleased that he has belatedly come to the conclusion that  such invective is not presidential.
Nor is it very persuasive, judging by the president’s apparent inability to insult members of either party into line over the past four years or so, and even in the case of the Democrats it’s not at all accurate. Loathe as we are to defend Democrats, we’ll concede that most of the ones in the House and Senate have some familiarity with the arguments about free trade, even if they’ve reached what we consider the wrong conclusions, and we don’t doubt they’re all too sincere about the wrong things they say, and to whatever extent they have political motivations for opposing Obama we can only assume it is because they’ve wrongly concluded that a majority of their constituents and unionized donors will not benefit from free trade, and we actually would prefer that Democrats occasionally look backward to the past to see what has and hasn’t worked. Such well-intentioned stupidity should be met with reasoned and respectful argument rather than gratuitous ad hominem insults, but well-intentioned Republicans with better ideas have already learned that this is not the president’s style.
Irksome as the chore might be, we must also say in the Democrats’ defense that they’re right to complain about the president’s unwillingness to publicly divulge any of the details of the deal that he’s asking for fast-track approval to negotiate. The Democrats were willing to vote for Obamacare in order to find out what’s in it, a decision that many current and especially former members of Congress have come to regret, but this is about free trade rather than expensively and inefficiently bureaucratized health care so they’re not keen about the general idea in the first place, and thus we can hardly blame them for wanting a look at the fine print. We’re disappointed that even the most zealously pro-free trade Republicans aren’t just as skeptical, given the administration’s negotiations with Iran, and the very real possibility that Obama is motivated by western colonial guilt and has some sort of lopsided reparations deal in mind, and the noteworthy development that even Democrats no longer trust the guy, and so we find ourselves with most strange bedfellows on this issue.
A smoother presidential operator, armed with the unaccountable support of most of the opposition party, could probably prevail by taking a solid case to the American and pulling some parliamentary tricks and calling in some hard-earned favors from reluctant congressional allies, but both parties and even the press have by now figured out that’s not the president’s style. The president’s preferred style of insults and secrecy and demands that he be trusted invariably hardens the opposition, whether Republican or Democratic, and it seems likely to doom any chance of a good free trade agreement with most of the advanced economies of Asia, which would be great boon to the American economy, but we do admit it’s been great fun watching it nonetheless.
There’s always the possibility that the deal might be be a bad one, after all, so the missed opportunity of a good one is well worth the spectacle of the Democratic infighting. We note that the aforementioned Budowsky is especially insulted by the president’s especially pointed insults to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, “the most nationally respected liberal leader in American politics,” and that the apparently still-existing National Organization for Women is grousing that the president’s criticisms are due to “sexism,” and that a smart fellow over at the right-wing Federalist has looked at the Democrats and concluded that “This Is Elizabeth Warren’s Party Now,” so it is comforting to contemplate that Obama remains anathema to the right and is no longer the most nationally respected figure of his party on the left and is therefor the lamest of ducks. It is not comforting to think that the Democratic party has lurched even further to the left during the Obama administration, but the defeat of the Trans Pacific Partnership will leave Obama and all the Democrats without any significant legislative achievement on the economy since Dodd-Frank and the Stimulus Package and Obamacare, none of which are well-remembered, and those Iran negotiations and that Israeli-Palestine “peace process” and the “re-set” with Russia aren’t likely to yield anything worth bragging about on the foreign policy front, so one can only hope that the next administration will be more likely to come up with the best deal.
In the meantime we’ll cope with the sluggish economy, and hope for the best, and enjoy the spectacle of Democrats enduring those presidential insults.

— Bud Norman

As the Left Turns

Our conservative friends have been feeling quite dispirited for the past five years or so, for obvious reasons, but these days we are noticing a growing glumness among our liberal pals as well.
There has been a palpable sense of disappointment with th president among our leftward acquaintances at least as far back the past presidential election, when it was not yet so pronounced that they couldn’t be whipped back into the party line by the frightening prospect of the fascist nightmare of fiscal responsibility and free-market contraception that would have surely followed the election of Mitt Romney, but recent events have clearly exacerbated the gloom. Revelations about the unnecessarily widespread snooping by the National Security Agency prompted some tentative grumbling about the government, the administration’s recent demands for missile strikes against the Syrian regime have prompted unprecedented criticisms of the administration, and there are signs of discontent among the usually reliable constituencies about other policies of the once-infallible President Barack Obama.

The NSA scandal was offensive enough to liberal sensibilities, featuring as it did a heroically unshaven whistle-blower and a George W. Bush-era program that had been expanded beyond even Bushian levels of national security state snoopiness, but the Syrian situation has been an especially bitter betrayal by their former hero. Obama had been the community-organizing peacenik with the courage to lift his chin and sneer at the bloodthirsty cowboy Bush’s unilateral and congressionally-unauthorized war against some harmless and loveable Baathist dictatorship in the Middle East over some unverified and slightly suspect accounts of chemical weapons, which along with the vague promises of hope and change and quasi-socialism were the reasons that liberals so adored him, and when Obama announced his intention to go to war against a Baathist dictatorship in the Middle East based on some slightly more suspicious accounts of chemicals, and without the broad-based coalition or congressional approval that Bush had somehow put together before his war, it was a bit more than the true-believing Obama supporter could bear. Throw in the undeniable ineptness of the entire Obama foreign compared to the supposedly stupid Bushies, on top of the apparent failure of the peace-through-conflict-studies that Obama attempted with such earnestness, and it’s downright infuriating to even the most mellow liberal.

Cravenly political types such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi and former Vermont governor and erstwhile liberal standard-bearer How Dean have remained loyal to Obama, and they’ll no doubt rope in a few more for the upcoming votes on war in Syria, but the liberals whose careers are not so closely connected to the political fortunes of the Democratic party are clearly more skeptical about the president’s war plans. The demonstrations haven’t reached any Bush-era levels, of course, but the grousing from the left has been widespread enough to require a begrudging acknowledgment by right-winters of a sudden intellectual consistency among the left. We are no fans of the Code Pink coalition of crazily anti-war women, but we have to admit to a slight respect for their heckling of Secretary of State John Kerry during testimony before the Senate, where he was also forced to give them some credit for maintaining the principles he had so foolishly endorsed in his long-haired youth, and it’s embarrassing to admit how much we enjoyed the spectacle of Kerry suffering the Alinskyite indignity of the at-home demonstration usually reserved for corporate executives and Republican politicians and other approved villains. Polling indicates the sentiment is widespread among the liberals less inclined to such tactics as home invasions, and the discontent is spreading into other issues.
Conservatives should be heartened to note that 40,000 longshoremen have broken ranks with the AFL- CIO over the union’s support for Obamacare, which they blame for all the costs and problems that conservatives have long warned of. The union movement in general has lately been restive about the president’s signature legislation, and when the equally crucial youth vote figures out they’re expected to sign up for more insurance than they need to pay for some old geezer’s hip replacement yet another loyal constituency will be in revolt. Should African-Americans ever notice their collective unemployment rate has been remained while their collective wealth has declined yet another key group of supporters might be less enthusiastic about voting Democrat come the next election, and even the oh-so-politically-correct arts establishment might been noticing that Obamacare has it out for them. The crucial academic community is suddenly under the administration’s regulatory sights, the press is still smarting from the Justice Department’s nosiness in the phone records of the Associated Press and even the legal threats against a Fox News reporter, and Obama know finds himself in the unusual position of being out of favor with the opinion-making establishment.
This turn of events will likely embolden the president’s conservative opponents, especially those who take a principled stand against his war aims, and it will be good to see some revived spirits among the ranks. Still, one hopes there won’t be any of the predictable overreach, or any unrealistic hope that the lefties have at least com around to the right way of thinking. Liberal opposition to the war has little to do with the conservative’s distrust of half-hearted action, and instead only resents the half of a heart that Obama is putting into it, and the liberal solution to Obamacare’s increasingly obvious flaws is a fully-fledged socialist system. Should the Republicans overplay their hands in the upcoming budget-ceiling debates and its inevitable Obamacare issues they might once again find themselves in the same bogeyman role that Romney wound up playing.
Even so, it’s nice to see the opposition as irked as we are for a change.

— Bud Norman

A Poor Excuse for an IRS

The Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of numerous conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status was quite the scandal a while back, so bad that even the media took notice, the president was obliged to express his outrage, and the government’s more dogged apologists were forced to come up with some sort of explanation. Those bold enough insist there was no scandal at all thought they’d finally come up with the proof, a document indicating that the IRS was also ordered to “Be On the Look Out” for liberal groups, but it now looks as if they’ll have to find another excuse.
Claiming that the agency was mistreating citizens equally was an odd enough defense to begin with, but more information from the Treasury Department’s Inspector General who originally exposed the scandal indicate that it also has the disadvantage of being untrue. In a letter to Rep. Sander Levin, the Michigan Democrat who has been making much of the document, Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George notes that the “BOLO” — in the IRS acronym — did not apply during the years being investigated, and that agency’s treatment of various groups was not equal in any case. In his politely worded slap-down of a letter George further noted that only six groups with “progressive” or “progress” in their names were cited as potential political cases between May 2010 and Mary 2012, while 292 groups with names suggesting a conservative leaning were listed, with 100 percent of the conservative groups subjected to review while only 30 percent of the liberal groups received the same treatment.
As much as some people would hate to believe that anyone in the government might want to punish its law-abiding critics for their exercise of free speech, George’s revelations are hardly surprising. The IRS’ unequal treatment of “tea party” groups followed the President’s expressed opinion that the groups were racist, the Vice President’s likening the groups to terrorists, the Mayor of New York City’s speculation that they were involved in a plot to bomb Times Square which predictably enough turned out to be the work of an Islamist extremist, and vulgar efforts to vilify the anti-tax-and-spend movement by journalists, celebrities, activists, and partisans too numerous to mention. When “tea party” groups are receiving unequal treatment from the IRS in such an atmosphere, it will take more than one document to suggest that it’s mere coincidence.
The latest excuse was better than the previous efforts to blame Republican budget cuts, which became all the more laughable in light of subsequent scandals about the IRS spending habits, but in the end it will only have the effect of getting the scandal briefly back in the news. With so many people willing to overlook this outrageous abuse of government power, the better strategy might be a shrug and hopes that yet another scandal will crowd it out of the news.

— Bud Norman