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A Dreary Look at the Latest Standings

Around this time of every year two of our daily news-reading rituals are checking in on the Major League Baseball standings, with a particular eye on where The New York Yankees stand in the American League’s eastern division, and a similarly quick glance at the essential Real Clear Politics internet sites’ widely watched averages of all the political polls, usually with an even more fervent rooting interest in how the Republican candidates are faring. During this recently hot and humid and stormy early summer, both have been rather dreary chores.
At the moment our Yankees are a couple of games under .500 and tied for last place in their division, even if they’re still within shouting distance of their rather mediocre rivals and there’s plenty of season of left before the Fall Classic, but their in-the-red run differential proves they’ve been eking out their wins and getting blown out in their more numerous losses and after a full third of the season we’ve yet to find anything in all the statistics that inspires much hope for their championship chances. Meanwhile the Republican party’s presumptive presidential nominee is also behind but within shouting distance if not within the margin-of-error of the Democratic party’s worse-than-mediocre presumptive presidential nominee in the aggregate of all the polls, and there’s also plenty of season left in that game, but the obsessive sort of sports fan who delves deeper into the numbers will find few championship hopes.
Not only do the latest data show Donald J. Trump losing to Hillary Clinton by 5.8 percentage points, but the same poll he used to lavishly praise when it routinely and correctly showed him in the lead in the Republican primary races now has him losing by a landslide 12 percentage points, another poll that has so far proved prescient has a whopping 70 percent of the country regarding him unfavorably and a more-than-decisive 55 percent saying they’d never vote for him, which exceeds even the unusually high disapproval of his worse-than-mediocre rival, the electoral map is more daunting yet, and although Trump is within shouting distance in some big swing states he’s somehow in trouble in such small but reliably Republican states as Utah and Kansas. Worse yet, these numbers come after what should have been a good week for Trump.

The big story of the past week has been the mass murder of 50 people and the serious wounding of many more at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub by a nutcase Islamist who had phoned in his fealty to the nutcase Islamic State before committing his slaughter, and as horrific as it was we’d have expected any old presumptive Republican nominee to get a bump from it. Another all-too-common mass slaughter on American soil by and Islamist nutcase and tied directly to the nutcase Islamic State was once again weakly addressed by a Democratic administration that seemed more offended by the Republican nominee than the mass-murderer and was reduced to angrily explaining why it won’t use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” and had not so long dismissed the Islamic State that arose in the aftermath of its premature withdrawal from Iraq as “jayvee team” of terrorism, and although the presumptive Democratic nominee felt obliged to tell the press she was “happy” to call it radical Islamic terrorism it should have been a good week for any presumptive Republican nominee. During this hot and humid and stormy early summer, though, the presumptive Republican nominee seems to have lost this gimme game to his worse-than-mediocre rivals.
Maybe it’s the way his immediately “tweeted” response was to congratulate himself for having predicted another terrorist attack on American soil rather than offering thoughts and prayers to the victims and their loved ones, as if it would require some sort of Nostradamus to make such a prophecy, or the way he immediately pandered to the homosexual community that had been targeted in the murders and using the cacophonous neologism “bigly” in the process, or that his past stands on the Islamic State have ranged from bombing the barnyard epithet against them and sending in up to 30,000 ground troops to outsourcing the problem that alluringly strong Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, or the way he failed to make case the case that Obama’s policies and had led to the tragedy and instead said something in his typically un-parsable English that allowed to press to plausibly characterize it as yet another of his frequent bizarre conspiracy theories, but in any case Trump seems to have fared more badly in the polls than even the worse-than-mediocre President Barack Obama and the even more unpopular presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and their utterly worthless responses on the issue.
It’s all a shame, because even in such a hot and humid and stormy early summer it could have been different. The New York Yankees have the biggest media market and a winning tradition and despite all that salary cap socialism they have the most resources and could have made a couple of trades or free agent signings that would have at least put them in contention, and the Republican party had at least three or four and as many 16 other choices that would have a big lead over the worse-than-mediocre competition at this point. Although we’re no longer taking any rooting interest in the race we believe that the presumptive Republican nominee’s self-aggrandizing and opportunistic and illiterate response was at least better than the opposition’s willful denial of an ongoing problem their policies have promulgated, and we can’t help but think that if the Republicans had a team that knows how to play this game it would be sitting on a cheering lead about now.

— Bud Norman

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Meanwhile, In the Rest of the News

We woke up fully resolved to write about something other than radical Islamic terrorism or Donald Trump, but the day’s news hasn’t been at all cooperative. A thorough reading of our vast and eclectic news sources yielded little mention of anything else, not even any of the collegiate craziness that has lately provided us a bemusing diversion, and except for a pleasant stroll with the folks through the impressive “Illuminations” Christmas display at our city’s nearby botanical garden there was, as usual, nothing worth mentioning in our personal life, so we are left with nothing but a few stray comments about the filler items we encountered.
There was a double satisfaction in reading that former President Jimmy Carter’s cancer treatment is coming along well. Although we found little to like in Carter’s presidency, or his post-presidency, we’re not the sorts of internet trolls who wish ill on our political adversaries. The good news of his apparent recovery is even further sweetened by the fact it’s due to medicines and medical techniques invented in Israel, a very fine nation that Carter has described as an “apartheid state” and has urged sanctions against and has never been a friend to. None of the reporters at Carter’s press conference were impolite enough to note the irony, but we would have relished the opportunity to ask if he would have preferred a Palestinian procedure.
All well-informed citizens these days are regular readers of the indispensable Drudge Report, which has lately been breathlessly linking to the numerous stories about that pornographic film actor who’s been accused of rape by at least three of his female co-stars, which has some prurient interest. We’re not au courant on the current skin flick scene, and are admittedly unfamiliar with the work of James Deen, who is clearly intended to be confused with the broodingly handsome James Dean of an earlier and more innocent era of American cinema, but apparently his on-screen persona was that of the “boy next door,” and so far as we can tell that makes the allegations against him all the more shocking. Somehow we are not all shocked that a porn star, even the one next door, might turn out to be a sleaze, and as we’re not the sort to wish ill on any victims he might prove to have preyed on we will instead offer the advice they seek other employment opportunities.
┬áThere was some good news from Venezuela, of all places, where the opposition to socialist President Nicolas Maduro won a Congressional majority, even if Maduro was promising ahead of the results that “the revolution will continue.” The revolution has quite literally reduced the population to knife-fighting over the last scraps of toilet paper in that unfortunate country, and it seems likely to get even uglier, but there’s now hope for some satisfactory resolution and in any case the American press will be preoccupied with damning Trump and helping out whichever socialist the Democrats might nominate.
Of course there were also the elections in France, where the frankly nationalist National Front party was the big winner, but that’s all about radical Islamic terrorism and leads inevitably to a discussion of Donald Trump, and we’re still fully resolved not write about any of that. If by any chance you’re in the Riverside neighborhood of Wichita during this holiday season we highly recommend a leisurely stroll through Botanica’s “Illuminations,” and invite you to drop by afterwards, as we’re just a few blocks away, but otherwise we have nothing to offer but hope for a better news cycle today.

— Bud Norman

Of Islam, Anti-Islam, and Other Extremisms

Both of the apparent front-runners for the nominations of America’s two major political parties have now weighed in on the latest deadly instance of radical Islamic terrorism, and a long-dreaded clash of civilizations suddenly becomes all the more inevitable. One party continues to insist there is no such thing as radical Islamic terrorism, at least a daunting plurality of the other party is willing to embrace the most extreme measures to combat it, and no one is getting noticed by advocating a more hopeful path down the middle.
Although former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton still steadfastly refuses to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” and prefers to more politely speak of a “perverted form of Islam” and “jihadism,” she and her party have lately been talking some tougher talk. Her former boss has acknowledged that the recent massacre in San Bernardino was an act of some sort of unspecific terrorism, and even went so far as to hint it had something to do with that perverted sort of Islam, his Attorney General is walking back talk about prosecuting any criticism of even the perverted sort of Islam that might cross over from First Amendment bounds to “edging toward violence,” there’s an effort to get everyone on the “no fly list” from buying a gun, and Clinton wants to crack down on the politely-named movement’s internet communications. All of which seems calculated to postpone that clash of civilizations until the most inopportune moment for the west.
A begrudging presidential acknowledgement that what happened in San Bernardino was terrorism heartening, as was the long awaited acknowledgement that what happened in Fort Hood was as well, and it’s nice to hear an Attorney General affirm her commitment to the First Amendment, although we still wish her earlier statements hadn’t made it necessary, and we expect that with pressure from recently terrorized France and Russia that the bombing of the Islamic State will soon become more effective, but they’re only going so far as their dreadful poll numbers will push them. That talk of a “perverted form of Islam” ignores the apparent meaning of more than 100 Koranic scriptures commanding jihad, or “jihadism” if Clinton prefers, as well as the past 1,400 years of Islamic clashes with the west, which predate global warming or George W. Bush or the statehood of Israel or western imperialism or any of the Democratic party’s usual excuses, and it raises understandable doubts about their ability to combat that which they dare not name.
The tough talk about denying guns to those on the “no-fly list,” which all the up-to-date Democrats were rightly decrying as a ridiculous abuse of due process for any innocent sucker that happened to land up there, including former Sen. Ten Kennedy and some conservative journalists and 70-some employees of the Homeland Security Department, an agency which we’re assured is efficiently protecting us, is transparently part of a broader effort to deny guns to all law-abiding citizens. Clinton’s call for a crackdown on the Islamic State’s use of “social media” makes a certain amount of sense, but there’s also a certain suspicion that it’s part of her party’s publicly stated broader plans for regulating the internet, and there’s even a vague worry on our part that our own electronically published worries about the past 1,400 years of clashes between Islam and the west might be considered “edging toward violence.”
In any case, we are not all reassured that the Democratic party or any of its potential leaders are able to frankly confront the current crisis. Their continued insistence on an unprecedented flow of immigration from the Middle East, including tens of thousands of refugees from Syria, most of whom are fighting-age young men who are neither Syrian nor refugees from any war, along with their general preference for open borders, along with all that blather about beginning to start to commence a dialogue that will lead to a process that will lead to a framework for a potential understanding that will someday result in an agreement to solve this mess, suggests they are not serious about any of it. Their unwillingness in every issue, both foreign and domestic, to stand up for core western values, save its tolerance for Islam in all forms, only compounds an unavoidable mistrust.
Such cowardly obfuscations and willful blindness to harsh reality creates an opportunity for any politician shrewd enough to speak more bluntly, and of course Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is both shrewd and blunt enough to seize it. In front of a typically large crowd of adoring fans in South Carolina Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” which goes beyond any of his rivals’ principled stand against that influx of supposed refugees, beyond even our own steadfastly Christian and rooting-for-western-civilization position, and into a realm that the more squishy moderate middle of America is likely to find uncomfortable. We expect that most of America will find Trump’s position the more sensible and comfortable of two extremes that have been offered, as we reluctantly admit we do, but we hold out hope that a more sensible solution can be found somewhere in between. All that blather about the majority of Muslims preferring peace and prosperity to war and poverty can’t be all wrong, given how human nature prevails in every corner of the world, and we’ll surely need some of their help as we’re forced to wade into the chaotic Muslim world, but Trump’s rhetoric cannot help in enlisting their essential support.
If you’re willing to listen to the entirety of Trump’s interminable South Carolina speech, you’ll notice that there’s little reference to to the history of western civilization and its longstanding clash with Islam, or the superior nature the Judeo-Christian west and its tradition of religious tolerance and careful democratic deliberation, but mostly an appeal to the public’s understandable outrage, and some self-regarding revisionist history about the Iraq War that does not jibe with his newfound bellicosity, and a whole lot about how very rich and successful and popular and utterly awesome is Donald Trump, and that none of it is at all Churchillian. The crowd goes wild, just as those Obama crowds used to go wild hearing about very special he is, with the same unquestioning approval of how his unique awesomeness will surely solve that 1,400-year-old squabble between the west and Islam, but we are left with the same lingering doubt.
The only possible Democratic nominee other than Clinton is a self-described socialist who thinks climate change is the bigger problem, but at least the entirety of the Republican field, even the most squishy establishment of them, is taking a more clear-eyed view of the matter than that. None of those challengers will get nearly as much media attention as Trump, who has reaped the benefits of being the hated press’ favorite target, but we hope their more carefully considered positions will be given some consideration by the Republican party’s primary voters.

— Bud Norman

Peace, Love, Tolerance, and the Hard Facts of Life

The more we learn about Wednesday’s horrific massacre in San Bernardino, the worse it looks for the peace and love and tolerance side of each of the acrimonious debates that always follow these sorts of tragedies.
While much of the peace and love and tolerance side of the divide spent most of Wednesday hoping that it would turn out to be another rare case of white Christian males motivated by a homicidal hatred of the Planned Parenthood clinic that was reportedly a mere 1.3 miles away, it turned out to be a man and a woman of Middle Eastern descent who considered themselves devout Muslims. All the Republican presidential candidates spent the day awaiting more facts and offering thoughts and prayers for the victims in and their families in the meantime, which was widely ridiculed by the more secular sorts who thought it more appropriate to being paying homage to all the gun control catechisms rather than any of that God-bothering stuff, and The New York Daily News went so far as to headline it’s tabloid cover with “God Isn’t Fixing This,” but even in this post-religious age we expect that those Republicans candidates got the better of that exchange.
The male half of the murderous duo was an employee of the San Bernardino County Health Department that was targeted, leading to faint hopes that it was just another one of rare cases of “workplace violence” that happen in a country where gun rights are allowed, much like that Army psychiatrist of Middle Eastern descent who was shouting “Allahu Akbar” as he shot down thirteen men at women at the Fort Hood Army Base, but the multiple reports of a massive arsenal and thousands of rounds of ammunition and numerous bombs and radio-controlled delivery systems found in his house, along with the apparent planning involved in the massacre and his previous travels in the Middle East and his electronic contacts with the more radical elements there all suggest this wasn’t a spontaneous reaction to some office spat. By the end of the second day even President Barack Obama was speculating about “mixed motives” for the shooting, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was glumly conceding that the shootings were an act of terrorism, although she still wouldn’t say of what sort. All of the Democratic presidential candidates and seemingly the rest of the party have steadfastly eschewed any reference to radical Islamic terrorism, which leaves them on the ridiculous side of all the resulting exchanges about a variety of related.
The assurances of the administration and its party that the there is no such thing as radical terrorism, that the pesky terrorist groups and lone wolf and lone couple-of-wolves terrorists who insist otherwise are simply mistaken, that the Islamic State that has recently inflicted an even deadlier toll on Paris and Ankara and Beirut is merely a “jayvee teams” that is “on the run” and “contained” and being “degraded” while on the way to be shortly “destroyed,” and that a conference about “climate change” is the most powerful rebuke to such nothing-to-do-with-Islam annoyances, all suddenly seem less credible. Those old saws about terrorism being a result of rampant anti-Islam sentiment and lack of opportunities afforded to Muslims in the west aren’t holding up well, either, given that the male murderer was gainfully employed by his local government and living in comfortable home in a well-regarded community that was amply stocked with weapons and ammunition and pipe-bombs and radio-controlled delivery systems, even if he wasn’t the son of a billionaire, like Osama bin Laden, and he seems to have no trouble importing his murderous wife from the Middle East, and even in supposedly Islamophobic America the neighbors who were slightly suspicious of conspicuous radicalization were reluctant to say anything for fear of being accused of Islamophobia.
Neither do the facts of this case help those who are arguing that peace and love and tolerance requires allowing many thousands of refugees from the war-torn Middle East in the country. We’re assured that the refugees are mostly children and elderly widows, and although most of them are actually fit young men of fighting we’re assured that their backgrounds will be thoroughly checked, but a murderous male and the murder wife whose immigration was routinely allowed suggest the government might so efficient about such things as it claims to be, and once again we expect they’ll get the worse of the exchange.
The peace and love and tolerance side of the debate still seems hopeful that the incident will help them persuade the country to disarm its lawful and patriotic citizens, but we expect that the more pragmatic portion of America will be clinging to its guns all the more bitterly in the aftermath of this event. None of the “common sense” solutions put forth so far would have prevented the murders in San Bernardino, or any of the all-too-frequent mass shootings that truly did not have nothing to do with Islam, and all of them would make it harder for the average American to defend himself when they do inevitably occur. Even if the San Bernardino murders had been the long-anticipated yet never-realized act of crazed Tea Partiers, we think the peace and love and tolerance side of the debate would still have fared badly.
Still, we hope there’s some practicable measure of peace, love, and tolerance in the solutions that are pursued, no matter how debased those noble values have been rendered by their high-minded advocates. The righteous outrage of the French people to the similarly motivated but even more deadly attacks on Paris have vaulted the unsavory Le Pen party to the top of the polls, similar events in other European countries have benefitted similarly unsavory parties, everywhere in the west where the established and respectable parties have adopted a policy of unfettered immigration and self-debasing multi-cultularism a potentially dangerous backlash is brewing, and there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t happen here. The Democratic Party seems committed to pretending there is no such thing as radical Islamic terrorism and that even if there is the only solution is to disarm the American people, so it therefore falls on the Republican Party to formulate a more sensible response that is honest and frank but not inflammatory or authoritarian. We’re cautiously hopeful that might prove true, and quite convinced that the peace and love and tolerance side of the debate is currently getting the worst of it.

— Bud Norman