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On the Murders Sunday in Las Vegas, Lawrence, and Elsewhere in the United States of America

Three people were killed and two others were injured early Sunday morning when at least 20 gunshots were fired on a crowded downtown street in Lawrence, Kansas, but you probably didn’t hear about it. Later that same day a shooter in Las Vegas killed at least 59 people and injured another 500 or so, setting a new American record, so that understandably took up almost all of Monday’s news.
By now mass shootings are almost numbingly routine, and despite the outrage and heartbreak they always provoke most Americans would be hard pressed to recall any details of the last one or the one before that, but this time might prove more memorable. There’s the record-setting death toll, the apparent use of a fully automatic weapon, the much older than usual age of the shooter, and an especially frustrating lack of any plausible explanation.
There’s never an adequate explanation for these slaughters, of course, but usually there’s some detail or two in the initial stories that gives some clue what going on the deranged mind of the shooter. Sometimes they’re named Mohammad and shout “Alahu Akbar” and had posted Islamic screeds on their Facebook pages, other times they’re white guys with haircuts and Facebook postings that announce their racial grievances, the guy who shot up the a Washington, D.C., softball field and wounded a Republican congressman had a deep-seated hatred of Republicans, and the guy shot up a political rally in Arizona and wounded Democratic congresswoman apparently did so because she had failed to an incomprehensible question he’d asked at a town hall, and usually they turn out to be kind of crazy that family and friends and neighbors had long noticed but never knew quite what to do about it.
None of that amounts to an adequate explanation, but it’s something to cling to as we humans instinctively search for some reassuring reason when tragedy occurs.
This time around the Islamic State terror gang claimed the shooter was a recent convert who had heeded their call to jihad, but they always they do that whenever someone kills random people, and it’s quite unusual for recent converts to any religion to keep quiet about it and so far everyone who knew the shooter says he never expressed any religious opinions at all. The target of the shooting was an outdoor country music festival, so there was immediate internet speculation that the shooter was someone who wanted to killed a lot of Republicans, which quickly led to some irresponsible right-wing sites fingering an innocent fellow with a lot of pro-Democratic Facebook postings, but apparently this shooter never expressed any political opinions of any sort, and was said to be a country music fan himself. According to everyone the armies of reporters have rounded up to interview, the shooter was an undeniably odd duck but not in a way that made you think he’d spray automatic rounds at a crowd of random strangers.
According to the neighbors he mostly kept to himself in his comfortable gated over-50 community in rural Nevada, and was often away from home for long periods of time during high-stakes gambling binges in Las Vegas. He’d apparently done well as an accountant and made some savvy real estate investments, and without any children to worry about he could afford the indulgence and still lavish gifts on his mother, so neither the neighbors nor his family found it worrisome. His brother gave a lengthy interview to a cluster of news cameras and microphones that was clearly too distraught to be at all disingenuous, and he was clearly surprised to learn that shooter had acquired a veritable armory or deadly weapons.
The usual post-mass-shooting debates about gun control are already underway, but this time around they’re all the more complicated for both sides. Apparently all of those weapons had been acquired legally, with the shooter’s previously pristine legal record and lack of any noticed mental health problems carrying him through all the required background checks, and automatic weapons have long been illegal, it’s too late to charge the now-dead-by-self-inflicted-gunshot shooter with the apparent crime of altering his semi-automatic rifles to fully automatic, and it’s hard to think of anything that would have stopped this guy without imposing onerous restrictions of the rights of the vast majority of peaceable gun owners. Those peaceable gun owners have long made the reasonable argument that if there’s some crazy guy shooting up a crowd you don’t want him to be the only one there with a gun, but in this case he was shooting from 400 yards away where none of those of presumably gun-toting country music fans would have known where to shoot, and if any of them had drawn their weapons during the panic the police and security on hand would have been well within their rights to shoot them.
The same dreary arguments will continue, nonetheless, along with the ancillary debates about why so many Americans wind up getting shot to death every year. Across most of America the murder rate has happily declined over the past few decades, those mass shootings and the daily carnage in Chicago and a couple of other cities notwithstanding, but the numbers are still high by first-world standards and merit national concern. Those mass shootings are by now a longstanding problem, too, dating back at least to a sniper attack from the University of Texas’ landmark tower in Austin in 1966, and back in ’76 a guy started shooting from the balcony of what was then the tallest building in our hometown of Wichita, and there was a kid shot up his junior high school in a nearby suburb back in ’85, and when we think about we can recall the schoolyard in Connecticut and the homosexual nightclub in Orlando and far too many details of other mass shootings.
An autopsy showed that the Texas shooter had brain disease, that guy in Wichita had just been jilted by his girlfriend, the junior high kid in the nearby suburb had endured the usual junior high bullying, the Connecticut shooter was so clearly crazy his mom had been warning the cops about him, the homosexual nightclub was another one of those “Alahu Akbar” incidents, and when we think about we can recall some semblance of a reason for all those other mass shootings. According to the police in the normally placid university town of Lawrence those three victims who died there early Sunday morning weren’t random targets, and that the violence was the result of some beef between low-lifes who have always used guns to settle their differences, and we note that the incident followed a rap concert at the school’s arena, so we’ll make the same stereotypical assumptions that some people make about country music concerts, and hope it’s all enough to satisfy our all too human need for some reason that tragedies occur.
None of it amounts to an adequate explanation, though, and we hope that America in its extraordinary greatness will take time out from the usual political to ponder why it has such a persistent and extraordinary problem with Americans getting shot to death, and how it might be addressed without stripping the vast majority of cherished rights.

— Bud Norman

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Baseball, Bi-Partisanship, and Human Tragedy

There was yet another one of those intermittent mass shootings again on Wednesday, this time on a baseball diamond in Alexandria, Virginia, but it was even more newsworthy than usual. This time the victims were a team of Republican politicians and their staffs practicing for the annual congressional baseball game pitting the GOP against the Democrats, the shooter was apparently motivated by his outspoken hatred of Republicans, and there was an unavoidable political angle to the human tragedy.
The last time a sitting member of congress was caught in the crossfire of one of those intermittent mass shootings she was a Democrat, Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded while six other people at her public meeting were killed, and a lot of people on the left were quick to blame the incident on the undeniably angry and inflammatory rhetoric that was then being hurled at President Barack Obama. This time it was the Republicans’ Majority Whip, Ohio Rep. Steve Scales, who was gravely wounded, and although good luck and efficient law enforcement prevented any deaths there was enough Republican blood spilled that some on the right were eager to blame all the undeniably angry and inflammatory rhetoric that has lately been hurled at Republican President Donald Trump.
The argument is at least as plausible as the last time around. Last time around the shooter was offended that Giffords dismissed his strange linguistic theories during a previous public meeting, which is not a cause associated with conservatism, and it was highly unlikely he’d been provoked by a little-seen pamphlet published by former Alaska Governor and failed vice-presidential candidate and reality star Sarah Palin, who had put a cross-hair graphic on a map of districts targeted for Republican challengers. Although we’ll admit some of the anti-Obama rhetoric at the time was pretty darned inflammatory, we also sensed they were also trying to get us to hold back on our more measured and reasoned criticisms of the scoundrel. This time around the shooter was on the internet record with all the usual liberal Democrat opinion and the visceral hatred that all too often goes along with it, he took care to confirm from a couple of witnesses in that the ballplayers were indeed Republicans, and it did happen after a D-list celebrity posed for a picture of herself holding an effigy of Trump’s severed head and the Shakespeare in the Park company re-imagined Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” with a Trumpian character getting the “et tu” treatment.
We don’t blame that tasteless comic or those pretentious thespians for Wednesday’s shootings, which would be almost as ridiculous as blaming Palin for the tragedy in Arizona, but that “climate of hate” does seem as hot as ever. That’s true of both sides, too, as we notice from our recent position on the political sidelines. During the campaign Trump talked about roughing up protestors and even offered to pay the legal bills of anyone who did, and when some of his supporters followed through too many on the right made excuses for that. A small army of masked thugs then inflicted worse violence on peaceable people trying to enter Trump rallies, and too many on the left tried to justify it. In constant editorials and internet videos and comments sections and barroom arguments people on both sides are describing the other side as very bad people deliberately trying to destroy America, and in a country where we have intermittent mass shootings that’s bound to eventually come into play.
The next time around might have a Republican or a Democratic victim, but in either case the arguments will be the same.
This time around most of the political and media and otherwise elite class is handling it well. Although we’ve had some pretty darned measured and reasonable criticisms of Trump, we have to say his statement on the tragedy was pretty much perfect. To offer a more back-handed compliment, we’ll note that it wasn’t at all self-referential and didn’t bite at a tempting opportunity to fire back at his critics. The shooter was an outspoken supporter of self-described socialist and failed presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Sanders immediately issued an obviously heartfelt condemnation of the shooting and offered his prayers for the victims. All the Democratic establishment reacted the same way, and the hated-by-Republicans mainstream media frankly acknowledged the awkward political facts of the matter and did nothing we noticed to make any excuses. Pretty much everyone on the left was loathe to defend that tasteless comic or those pretentious thespians, too, just as the more reputable people on the right declined to defend Trump’s “birther” claims or the more inflammatory attacks on Obama, so that gives us hope.
Both sides have vowed  to play that annual baseball game again today, too, and that’s also hopeful. The game raises money for some charity or another, and according to legend has been going on since Abner Doubleday, and it’s one of those political traditions that was established to foster a certain bi-partisan patriotism in congress. Baseball teaches that no matter how good you are you lose most at-bats, and among other profound lessons you eventually learn that the guys on the other team aren’t necessarily very bad people out to deliberately destroy America. There’s an anti-establishment mood apparent on both sides of the political divide these days, but here on the sidelines something in our old-fashioned conservative sensibility is hoping they won’t burn it all down.
There was yet another one of those intermittent mass shootings on Wednesday, too, this one in San Francisco, where someone killed three people at a United Parcel Service facility before shooting himself in the head. No connection to terrorism or Trump or Sanders or any of those other very bad people who are deliberately trying to ruin America, so far as we can tell, but it’s another human tragedy that warrants our prayers and public debate. Those debates will no doubt be contentious, and we’ll not hold back on our measured and reasoned criticisms of Obama and Trump and such kooks as Palin and Sanders and the rest of the scoundrels, and we don’t doubt our counterparts on the left will continue with their measured and reason criticisms, but we’ll take care not to incite anyone, and we’ll hope this bipartisan spirit of the moment will linger past the next cycle.
For whatever it’s worth, from our seats on the sidelines, when the big game starts we’ll be rooting for the Republicans as usual.

— Bud Norman

Chest-thumping and Finger-pointing

The President of the United States was in a noticeably sour mood on Monday, which is understandable. Things have been going so badly for him lately that even the journalists he took time to address have been noticing, what with his failure to whip up any enthusiasm for so much as an “unbelievably small” missile strike on Syria and the economy still sputtering along and much of the public beginning to figure that his signature Obamacare is a boondoggle, and as he took the stage he was even being upstaged by the mass murder occurring at a nearby naval facility. The surly speech he proceeded to snarl out despite the distraction, alas, is not likely to help with any of it.
After a brief acknowledgement of “the tragedy that’s unfolding not far away” the president even more briefly addressed the recent events regarding Syria, but his heart didn’t seem to be in either subject. His reference to “yet another mass shooting” hinted at yet another round of efforts to enact more pointless gun control laws, but he’s clearly not enthusiastic about it after his last attempt suffered a humiliating legislative defeat, and we suspect he was being cautious as it wasn’t even yet known if the shootings could be plausibly blamed on the Tea Party. He’d already given a network television interview over the weekend that tried to portray his capitulation to his gleeful Russian tormentors on the Syrian issue as a diplomatic masterstroke, and was thus content to humbly explain that his agreement to outsource the problem to Vladimir Putin was “an important step” that might someday eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons “if implemented properly.”
With all that out of the way the president then spent the next several minutes boasting about the fine job he’s done on the economy, which no doubt came as a surprise to any people with personal experience of it. He noted that the unemployment rate has fallen without mentioning that it’s mostly because a record number of Americans have stopped looking for work and are not longer counted in the statistics, boasted of record production of natural gas as if he hasn’t been an impediment to it, gloated of the record amount of renewable energy being produced as if it’s even a negligible portion of the energy being consumed, and touted the “investments” made in new technologies without conceding how many of them have ended in bankruptcy. Space and reader interest will now allow a full refutation of the rosy scenario proffered by the president, but suffice to say that a far greater portion of the speech was devoted to assigning blame for the lousy state of the economy.
The culprit, unsurprisingly enough, are the Republicans. “The problem is, at the moment, Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be focused on how to growth the economy and build the middle class,” the president said, adding with characteristic snark that “I say ‘at the moment’ because I am still hoping that a light bulb goes off here.” He explained that the Republicans are only interested in cutting funding for education, scientific research, and infrastructure, which have apparently replaced poor people and old folks as the things conservatives hate most, and that any cuts to these sacred projects would result in economic calamity. He then scoffed at concerns about the deficit, proudly and dubiously claiming that he would soon halve the deficits that he had indisputably doubled in each of his first four years in office, and seemed to suggest that the budget cuts forced on him by Congress had nothing to do with it. Indeed, the president insisted that the “sequester” cuts that he once proposed and now blames on the Republicans are responsible for almost all of the nation’s economic ills. “That’s the opinion of independent economists, too,” he added, without mentioning any by name. If the Republicans don’t agree and persist in seeking any budget cuts they pry out of the president, he added, it’s because they don’t want people to have jobs.
“Congress’ most fundamental job is passing a budget,” the president said, and with such a straight face that he might not even be aware that the Congress went his entire first term without doing so because the Democrats were loathe to go on the record as supporting the president’s unprecedented spending. Although the president wasn’t so insistent on the Congress doing its most fundamental job at that time, he’s now downright strict about it because he wants a budget that includes full funding for his Obamacare law and is eager to blame the Republicans for anything that happens without one. “I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants,” the president sniffed, even though the relatively few Republicans threatening to de-fund Obamacare say they’ll offer a budget with almost everything the president wants except that, and he seemed genuinely annoyed by the dissent.
The president obviously takes Obamacare personally, and given the law’s increasing unpopularity with the public it is not surprising the topic makes him so very testy. He continues to insist that the law will cause everyone’s insurance premium rates to go down and won’t hinder job growth and will fully insure the nation, even though none of those promises are actually coming true, and he continues to insist that it’s a malicious myth that it causing increases and will include health care rationing or cause employers to offer only part-time jobs so as to avoid its costly mandates, even though all of those things are actually happening. All the part-time employees who are paying higher health insurance bills and hoping that grandma won’t be told by the government to take a pill rather than get a life-extending operation might not persuaded by the president’s huffiness.
The last of the president’s true believers might be heartened by his pugnacious oratory, and cheer on his denunciations of those rascal Republicans, but anyone who doubts that higher taxes and more regulations and endless borrowing are the basis of prosperity is less likely to be persuaded.

— Bud Norman