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Re-Negotiating the Cold War

America’s declaration of victory in the Cold War might have been premature. Cuba is still communist, and by the time its upcoming negotiations with President Barack Obama are concluded it’s likely that impoverished and totalitarian worker’s paradise will have the last laugh.
Cuban dictator Raul Castro has opened the bargaining about normalization of relations with demands that include America’s withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay and reparations for the past 55 years of American embargo and assorted other imperialist sins, and it strikes us as a shrewd negotiating tactic. Castro has apparently been watching America’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program and realizes how very generous our president can be when he’s eager to strike a deal, and he’s no doubt aware that Obama is a pure product of an American left that has always been sympathetic to Cuba’s communist dictatorship. We keep reading that Obama surely won’t cede to such outrageous demands, but we’re not at all confident that he won’t seize such a ripe opportunity to finally be rid of that Guantanamo Bay detention camp and spread some American wealth to an especially sleazy portion of the third world and prove his Nobel Peace Prize-winning solidarity with the oppressed workers of the world in the process.
Obama has already made a significant concession by telling the leaders of 35 nations at Summit of the Americas that “the days in which our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past.” This is an apparent reference to the Monroe Doctrine, which through 192 years of Democratic and Republican administrations successfully kept the European powers from meddling in Latin American affairs, then guided our efforts to keep the Soviet Union from meddling in the hemisphere, and has more lately prompted resistance to Iranian and Chinese meddling. The American left has long hated the Monroe Doctrine, especially when it was employed to thwart Soviet meddling, and will now be quite happy to leave all the meddling to Iran and the Chinese.
The Cubans will be eager to continue their own meddling in other Latin American countries, of course, and if they get another one of their demands met they’ll be able to do so without being included on the State Department’s list of terror-sponsoring governments. “We indeed have acted in solidarity with many peoples that may be considered terrorists” under the view of “imperialism,” Castro told the assembled leaders at the summit, adding that he was “referring to Cuba’s humanitarian missions in various developing countries.” These humanitarian missions have involved fomenting Marxist revolutions throughout Central and South America as well as Africa, and we suppose he’d also regard the Cuban dictatorship’s invitation to launch Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba as humanitarian, but almost all of it has met with favor from the American left and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. The promise that America won’t counter-meddle already constitutes a major victory for the Cuban dictatorship, and one can hardly blame them for pressing for further concessions.
The equally odious government of Venezuela, which was Cuba’s most important post-Soviet benefactor until America’s fracking boom lowered the price of crude oil and brought its economy to a Cuban level of despair, is also demanding an obsequious apology for all those years of Monroe Doctrine, but it seems they’ve already got that. So far Obama is insisting that there will be disagreements with Cuba and demands for greater freedom in prison nation, but except for Cuba’s horrific treatment of homosexuals we can’t see him finding much fault with the rest of its present system of governance. Obama also spent some of his time at the Summit of the Americas that domestic criticism of his negotiations with Iran “It needs to stop,” so the Cuban dictatorship’s habit of quashing dissent surely won’t be objectionable. There’s that communist economic system and all the material deprivation that it has imposed on the Cuban people for the past 55 years, but Obama will likely be obliged to note equality of all that poverty, and of course there will be frequent mention of the universal health care they’ve got down there. Castro has already absolved Obama of America’s sins, and Obama is likely to regard that as ample compensation for any concessions he might make.
Whatever problems Marxism has thus far encountered in Latin America, American meddling will no longer be one of them. Which is not to say that the commies will get the very last laugh in the western hemisphere. Whatever Obama wants to do will meet fierce resistance in Congress, even from some Democrats with large constituencies of refugees from Latin American Marxism, and even an American public grown inured to the administration’s obsequiousness will surely balk at paying reparations to the commie Cubans who stole legally contracted American holdings in Cuba and then pointed nuclear weapons at us. The green light for foreign meddling in Latin America might encourage the Marxists who are tyrannizing their own countries and supporting the terrorist assaults on freer nations in the hemisphere, but none have ever worked out, and none ever will. Even the most abject American apologies and bone-headed agreements won’t change that.

— Bud Norman

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Politics, Hoops, and the Politics of Hoops

March madness has descended over the globe, and we don’t mean the mess in Ukraine and the South China Sea and all over the Middle East and at the Federal Reserve Board or any of the rest of the world’s reigning insanity. We’re talking about the excitement attending the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship basketball tournament, a matter that is arguably of less importance but generates far more wagers and press coverage. At least the president’s priorities are in order, as he has once again found time in his presumably busy schedule to fill out his brackets.
The presidential picks have become a much-ballyhooed annual event over the past five years, and are always presented with appropriate pomp and circumstance on the almighty ESPN cable network. So far the president’s picks haven’t proved more prescient than any other office-bound amateur’s, but ESPN takes them seriously enough to have come up with some fancy “Barack-etology” graphics and a nauseatingly fawning program featuring the president himself, and the rest of the media are obliged to take note. No one ever notes that the president seems to be watching an awful lot of college basketball while the world comes apart at the seams and the economy continues to sputter, so the White House can assume with some confidence that enhancing the president’s basketball-watching regular guy image compensates for any damage to done to his reputation as a serious statesman.
Our main interest in the story was that the president did not predict our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers squad would prevail, despite their thus-far- unblemished record and number one seeding, but this did not surprise us. The ‘Shockers are lightly regarded by many experts because they play in the lightly-regarded Missouri Valley Conference rather than one of those fancy-schmantzy football-playing conferences, and their impeccable underdog credentials are offset by their undeniable political incorrectness. Our boys play in the Charles Koch Arena, named for the local half of the billionaire businessmen brothers who are the Democratic party’s favorite boogeymen, the defensive-minded coach makes his recruiting trips on corporate jets loaned by the local corporate jet-makers, another popular whipping post of the progressive movement, and the team is whole-heartedly embraced by the God-and-gun-clutching denizens of this old-fashioned town smack dab in the middle of that vexing red splotch on the electoral map. There’s no political point in the president pandering to Wichita or anywhere in Kansas except perhaps Lawrence and the more, ahem, “urban” portions of Kansas City, Kansas, so most ‘Shocker fans were not expecting his endorsement.
The president apparently prefers the Spartans of Michigan State University, which is also unsurprising. Michigan is a bluer state than Kansas, although the unions have recently been on the run there and it seems in danger of growing purple, and the Spartans are  a good team who also play in one of those fancy-schmantzy football-playing conferences. Just as the pridefully egalitarian types tend to insist on Ivy League credentials for high public office, they also tend to be downright elitist in their basketball prognasticating. While perusing the comment boards on the latest college basketball news the other day we saw a posting by a fellow we happen to know who was dismissing our beloved ‘Shockers as the equivalent of Cowley County Community College, and we found it amusing because we happen to know him as a self-professed Marxist professor of some sort at at some prestigious College Back East. He went to the University of Kansas, where James friggin’ Naismith himself once coached and Wilt Chamberlain once roamed the lanes and there are more storied basketball stories than you can bear to hear to a KU alum recount, and we think it a hoot that our friend learned both his Marxism and his basketball snobbery there.
As is our strict policy here, we offer no predictions regarding the outcome of anything. Such prudence ensures that we’ll have a better track record than the president, whose picks from the Baltics to the brackets have proved questionable, and we don’t claim his expertise in these matters. We certainly can’t say we have the spare time to devote to scouting every team in the field that the president apparently enjoys. Even so, we’ll admit to a faint hope that a politically incorrect underdog from that God-and-gun-clinging red splotch in the middle of the U.S.A. will do well.

— Bud Norman

If I Had a Hammer

Etiquette requires a respectful silence about any less-than-exemplary qualities of the recently deceased, but an exception should be made in the case of Pete Seeger. The obituaries for the famed banjo-strumming folkie, who died Monday at the age of 94, have been all too adulatory.
Lionized in life and death by the likes of The New York Times as a “Champion of Folk Music and Social Change,” and honored by the President of the United States as a man “who believed deeply in the power of song” and “more importantly, believed in the power of community,” Seeger did indeed exert a powerful influence on America’s musical culture and politics. That influence was mostly baleful in both cases, however, and there’s simply no use hemming and hawing about it at the graveside. The hipper corners of the conservative press have already duly noted that Seeger was an unapologetic communist who long advocated changing society by Stalinist methods, a defining fact of the man’s life which the president and the more respectable media outlets have politely ignored, but it should also be noted that his main contribution to American music was reducing its most glorious traditions to mere pap and agitprop.
Seeger first came to the public’s attention in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s as a member of The Weavers, who achieved such widespread popularity with their smooth and polished renditions of old rural standards that they inspired an abundance of suburban hippies fancying themselves folk singers to converge in the remotest corners of Greenwich Village in the early ’60s and set off a “folk boom” that reverberates to this very day. This is considered an admirable achievement by Seeger’s more awestruck obituarists, but one can only wonder how many of them still subject themselves to the cloyingly precious and oh-so-political dreck that mostly came out of that scene. The local old-folks AM radio station that we listen to for Tony Bennett and Peggy Lee classics has an infuriating tendency to mix in Joan Baez and The New Christy Minstrels and The Kingston Trio and the rest of those buttoned-downed and well-pressed folk boomers, and it always causes us to hit the scan button in search of some right-wing talk radio host’s rant.
There was some good that came of the folk boom, as is bound to happen when you’ve got a million earnest young well-scrubbed white kids strumming guitars on every street corner, but it was rarely half as good as what it emulated. The Weaver’s sweetly-sung recording of “Goodnight, Irene” was a far bigger seller than the one by Leadbelly, the convicted murderer and barroom-brawler who authored the durable romantic tune, but it  lacked the rough edges required to make its romanticism truly heartfelt. A similar tendency is found in most of the so-called “folk music” of the ‘60s that followed the Harvard-educated Seeger, as most of the feisty young rebels from affluent families could never quite replicate the rough and rowdy sound of the sharecroppers and coal-miners and cowboys on whose behalf they claimed to sing. For the real deal American music you could listen to the oil patch Okies in Bakersfield and their Fender electric guitars, or the pimple-faced sons of Midwestern factory workers banging out industrial strength three-chord rock ‘n’ roll ditties in their two-car garages, or some zonked-out old black men in leopard-skin leisure suits playing the seedier bars of Memphis or Chicago, but that was all just a bit too authentically proletarian for the tastes of the collegiate and strictly-acoustic bohemians in Greenwich Village.
Real deal American music was thought insufficiently political, too, and we will never forgive Seeger and his many acolytes for trying to correct that. The rich vein of traditional American folk music that the folkies mined did include an occasional song about disgruntled workers and community action, but for the most part the American folk sang little about Bolshevism and a lot about love, and a disturbingly large amount of the time about death and natural disasters, with very patriotic and even jingoistic sentiments commonly espoused, and the biggest portion of the very best of the catalogue are songs expressing a fervent religious belief that a doctrinaire Marxist such as Seeger would have decried as the opiate of the masses. Songs of tragedy and faith have no use to a cultural movement openly dedicated to “social change,” however, and thus Seeger and his cover-artists tried to impose a political program on those private emotions of life that music can best address. Lavish tributes to Seeger by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and other recent stars demonstrate how his ideological approach has permeated every genre of American music, and this should not be counted as a success.
As with Walt Whitman’s epic “Song of Myself,” the very best of America music is a celebration of the creator’s individuality and an invitation to the listener to celebrate his own individual self. At its best American music is primitive and rustic and urbane and sophisticated, earthy and spiritual and rebellious and loyal, and always makes palpable the exhilarating freedom to choose from any or all of the mutually-exclusive options. The music that Seeger made in his long and lucrative career celebrated only the collective, was limited by its creator’s severely constrained view of life and America and life in America, and will be long forgotten in a far-off but long-awaited time when the real deal American music is still playing on the late-night airwaves.

— Bud Norman